Punks-a-Tangy Phil’s Predication by Patti H.

Word Count 16,328


A February 2nd Groundhog’s Day Tale 

Usual Disclaimers Apply 


Comments:  More of my “Perils of Johnny Tales in time for Groundhog’s Day.  Positively not Lancer canon…some scripted lines and references but purely written for fun.  References made to events from both “His Moral Fiber” and “Old Acquaintances Should Be Forgot (Part I & II)” pieces…helpful to read first but will still be able to follow this new story line.  Enjoy!   

Does Punks-a-tangy Phil see his shadow? 

Will there be six more weeks of winter? 

Caution:  Occasional spur-of-the-moment cussing!


“Damn it, Johnny!  Will you just shut up and listen to me!” Scott said with forceful directness as his breath turned into wisps of vapor.  He reached over and nimbly punched Johnny’s upper shoulder, the striking blow ineffectual since Johnny was bundled up in a thick warm winter jacket with his hat pulled down snug on his head.  “How can I tell you the story if you won’t shut up and listen…” he grumbled a bit more good-naturedly, all the while shaking his own head in disbelief at his younger brother’s impetuous behavior.

“Hey, Boston, don’t blame me….ya just take too long ta answer one simple question, that’s all.” Johnny grinned impishly at Scott, giving him a quick wink.  “All I want ta know is who the hell is Punks-a-tangy Phil?  I don’t need no damn history lesson…. we ain’t in school!”

“You should be,” muttered Scott to himself.  “As the story goes…,” he began telling the story for the third time.

Johnny slapped his gloved hand to his forehead, yelling, “DIOS SCOTT!  Will ya just answer my friggin’ question!  I ain’t interested in hearin’ any of your elaborate recitations…there ya see ya ain’t the only one that knows $10.00 words Boston!  I’m cold….I’m tired…I just want ta be somewhere warm, cozyin’ up with somebody warm, if ya get my meanin’,” he said with his teeth chattering.

“Gees Johnny….aren’t you in a rare pucker this morning?  I thought perhaps I could keep you entertained and your mind off your miseries…guess not…so brother, don’t shoot the messenger.  And in answer to your question….Punxsutawney Phil is….well he’s…uhhh….he’s ahhh….”

“Git it said brother while I’m still young,” Johnny quipped as he gave Scott a quick grin.

“Okay….he’s a groundhog…” Scott finally said, now waiting for the onslaught of questions he knew would soon be forthcoming from his brother.

“A groundhog?  Dios!  What the hell is that suppose ta be?  Is that what ya call a wild pig back East?  Don’t think I’d ever heard tell about ’em before, or much less seen one of those critters.  Do ya eat them on Groundhog’s day…is that what your tradition is all about?  Sorta like turkey on Thanksgiving?  What do they taste like?  And don’t ya even try ta tell me they taste like chicken…I heard that said about Rocky Mountain Oysters until I’d tried ‘em and brother don’t ya let anyone tell ya that they taste like chicken ‘cos they don’t…they taste….. well….like what the hell they are….bull’s testicles!”

“Say, Scott, where do we get one of ‘em groundhogs?  Do we have ta get one sent from the East?  How big are they?” asked Johnny.  He looked perplexed at discovering about one more strange holiday celebrated by the folks in the east during their ride checking fence lines.  Damage from recent snow, ice and wind storms had the entire valley seeking shelter for the past few weeks of grueling winter weather that hit after the New Year started.  He finally ran out of questions along with his breath as he fell silent, shivering while looking at his brother for answers. 

Scott, riding astride Charlemagne, looked with wide-eyed astonishment at the onslaught of Johnny’s discourse.  “Ahhh Johnny?  Are you quite finished?  Are you now going to shut the hell up and listen to the rest of my story about Punxsutawney Phil?  Which just might answer a few if not ALL your mind-boggling questions!!  Or are you going to keep rapid firing more of them?” asked Scott, rolling his eyes at his brother’s long list of questions.

Johnny glanced over to his brother, gave Barranca a pat on his neck and said, “If this ain’t gonna take too long Boston…what’s that saying Murdoch likes to use? Oh yeah….proceed.”

“Brother, you just asked me … oh I don’t know was it six or seven or eight questions?  I lost count of the precise number.  And don’t you dare think about answering me…that was a statement, not a question.  There’s a big difference between the two,” said Scott, as he gave Johnny a quick glance, pointing and waggling his index finger at him.

“By the way brother, do you have an important rendezvous to keep that I don’t know about?” queried Scott, looking more closely at his brother, while raising an eyebrow.  “Please tell me that you’re not planning on heading into town…you know as well as I do that you’re still on a short leash with Murdoch remember?  And brother, you better not be meeting up with those so-called friends of yours, Rambler and Buck or are they still going by Smelly and Stinky these days?”

“No Scott, I don’t have any ron-day-voo, other than the work Murdoch gave us both ta be doin’ which we’re doin’, while I freeze my ass off.  It’s just sometimes ya have the longest stories ta acquaint me with. …and well my ears get ta ringin’ from listenin’ ta ya yakkin’ for so long….that’s all big brother.  Johnny grinned, who in reality was known for relating extensive tales once you got him to share his exploits, which wasn’t often.  “And ta answer your other question, I haven’t seen Ram or Buck since that card cheat’s trial.  Ya know as well as I do, Murdoch would skin me alive if I set foot in any town until my consequence has been paid in full…only got until the February social and that’s just around the corner.”

Scott shook his head in disbelief at his brother’s logic….sometimes Johnny could say the most outrageous things and have the unmitigated audacity to get away with it.  Scott pondered that this had to be due to Johnny’s remarkable ability to be able to appease the other person with the brightest and widest shit-eating grin he had ever seen.  Along with the knack of making it seem like it was entirely the other person’s fault for even mentioning anything remotely mistaken.  “Yes, he’s cagier than a wily fox…this little brother of mine,” Scott mused as they rode the trail.

“Well, looky who’s now just sittin’ thar not sayn’ a word.”  Johnny said before tacking on his  customary, “Git it said, Brother, before I die of old age!”

“JOHNNY SHUT UP, before I get down and knock that silly grin off your face and wash your face in the snow!” Scott retorted with vigor.

“Whoa there Boston….I’m done.”  Laughed Johnny, all the while knowing that Scott wasn’t really mad at him despite all their back and forth bantering…it was all in good fun…. just waiting to see which of them would get the last word with this latest go around.

“It’s about damn time too little brother!  So….according to the German tradition, on Candlemas Day, which is February 2nd, the Groundhog pops out of his shelter to see if winter is almost over.  If he sees his shadow he jumps back into his den and then takes at least another six-week nap…until spring hopefully begins in earnest by mid-March.  If the day is cloudy and he doesn’t  see his shadow, he’ll stays out of his den, and the weather, legend has it, becomes more moderate with each passing day as they days have more sunlight.  Legend is that groundhogs are very shy, timid creatures, and the sight of his own shadow is what scares him,” Scott rushed the tale out as quickly as possible to not be interrupted again.

“So how’s Phil know it’s February 2nd?  He have a calendar hanging on the wall of his den?” quipped Johnny.

“No.  Johnny that would be a pretty good trick and if I had a groundhog that could do that.  I would  take him out on sideshow tours and make some decent money going from town to town, selling off that remarkable talent.  I could let farmers know how soon winter would be over so they could jump-start their crops,” said Scott as he rode with a reflective look in his eyes.  “But back to your question, Candlemas is an ancient festival that marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day of the year and the spring equinox.

“And if I remember correctly, Johnny, the Scots started the tradition in the States and there’s one version of a poem, that goes something along these lines:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another fight.

If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,

Winter won’t come again.

If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,

The half o the winter’s to come and mair;

If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,

The half o the winter’s game at Yule.”

“Well how about that,” said Johnny, and he let out a sharp ear-piercing whistle in appreciation as he stared at his brother.  “Looks like Harvard paid off for ya Scott, ta recite something like that!  So are we suppose ta now get us a Punks-a-tangy Phil in time for Groundhog’s day?  Cain’t we just check Murdoch’s shadow?” asked Johnny, suddenly guffawing as he pictured them checking their father’s shadow to determine how much longer winter would keep its grip on the Valley.

“Little brother…can you let me finish?  The town officials of Punxsutawney, PA began the tradition of holding a town gathering early in the morning of the big day – similar to a county fair, with vendors selling donuts, roasted chestnuts, popcorn, hot chocolate, and extremely heavily-laced hot toddies.  Typically there’s a bonfire so bystanders can keep warm while the speeches are being made.  Then the mayor and other town officials get all dress-up in top hats and their Sunday best to make proclamations before knocking on Phil’s door to wake him up for his appearance.  I can’t imagine that the folks in Green River, Spanish Wells or Morro Coyo would know what to make of it….” laughed Scott.

“Yeah, can ya see Higgs all decked out?” added Johnny.  “Hey now…there’s an idea Scott…what do ya say about ya and me making this thing happen here?  We can get us a Punks-a-tangy Phil and celebrate Groundhog’s Day over in Green River…ya know tie it in with the February Social; they’ll be plenty of folks already in town for that since it’s on a Saturday.  I’ll be back in Murdoch’s good graces by then…ready ta kick up my heels and have a good time,” Johnny said excitedly.  “Ya know this would give me somethin’ ta look forward ta…betcha we can get Val ta help out.  He can make a fine speech…except I don’t think we can count on him ta get all duded up.

Scott looked at his brother in amazement.  “Johnny you really want to plan this?”

“Well, brother…. Teresa would help run things; ya know how she goes on about makin’ a big deal about gettin’ folks together ta have a good time.  She loves bossin’ everyone around….gettin’ things ready!  And ya can get the speech makin’ done since you’re so clever and ya can help organize the town folks ta make it into a big celebration since ya know how the whole she-bang is suppose ta be run.  Hey, Scott, maybe even Murdoch will lend a hand and make a speech, ya know as the President of the Cattlemen’s Association he can talk about this year’s plans.”

“And just what would be your contribution towards this, little brother?” asked Scott with a note of skepticism in his voice as he felt tinges of doubt nipping at his sub-conscience.

Johnny grinned widely and said with a swagger of confidence in his voice, “Me?  I’m gonna round-up our Punks-a-tangy Phil…. now that I know pretty much what we need and when we need it.”

“Now you listen to me Johnny, if we’re going to do this….you need to give me your word that you will not make this into another one of your fiascos,” said Scott as he pointed his finger at this brother, speaking with authority.  “No pranks…no goof-ups…no mistakes that aren’t your “fault”….you hear me little brother?”

“Oh come on, Scott, ya know I wasn’t ta blame for what happened in Morro Coyo and Green River,” said Johnny as he grinned at Scott.  “I don’t go lookin’ for trouble…. but trouble sure knows where ta find me on its own when it wants ta!”

“That’s what I’m talking about Johnny.  For someone who doesn’t like his “fun organized” you end up in the wildest predicaments I’ve ever known to happen to any one person.  Promise me, brother, that you’ll return with nothing but a groundhog or reasonable facsimile of one from this region…and I get to approve it’s selection before it goes anywhere near town.  Deal?

“Sure thing Scott…ya do your part and I’ll do mine,” promised Johnny.  “Ahhh, Boston, since I can’t go into Green River yet, while don’t ya ride into town and get things kicked-off?  I’ll go back ta Lancer ta fill-in Murdoch and Teresa with our idea.  Ya wouldn’t happen ta have one of those picture books ta show me what this Punks-a-tangy Phil looks like so’s I hunt for the right animal?  I’m not plannin’ on makin’ this into any ole snipe chase when I go huntin’.”

“I may have a drawing of a groundhog in one of my old college natural science books.  I’ll look for it later for you.  Alright Johnny, I’ll go talk with Val and the town officials.  You go on home, let  Murdoch and Teresa know if I’m not back in time for dinner to start without me…I may stay the night if it gets too late!”

“Bye, Scott, see ya later,” grinned Johnny as he turned Barranca around to head back home.  Over his shoulder he shouted to Scott, “Ya tell Val I miss seein’ his smilin’ face, brother!  And don’t forget ta say “Howdy” ta the gals over at Miss Laura’s too, Scott!”

Scott shook his head at his brother’s remarks, “Smiling face indeed….last time I checked Val was grumpier than an old maid wearing her tightest shoes and corset while attending her sixth June wedding, praying to catch the bride’s bouquet yet one more time.”  He watched as his brother glided Barranca over a fallen tree, shouting in glee at the sheer joy of riding freely.  “No, Brother, I doubt very much that Val will be pleased to hear that we’re planning on roping him into dressing up to celebrate Groundhog’s Day.  Maybe I should have brought you along for this encounter,” he mused as he headed Charlemagne towards Green River.  “I’ll be sure to send your sincerest regrets to the ladies!” he shouted out to Johnny, who stopped to give Scott a thumbs-up signal before galloping off towards home.

Johnny arrived back home, jumped off of Barranca and tied him up in front of the hacienda’s front door.  He rushed inside, shouting for Teresa and Murdoch, “T’resa where are ya?  Where’s Murdoch??”

Teresa, wiping her hands on her apron, came into the Great Room from the kitchen, “Johnny, what’s with all the shouting?  Is something wrong?  Where’s Scott?  Is he okay?”

Johnny grinned as he grabbed Teresa by her shoulders and laughed, “Dios T’resa why do ya always think something’s wrong?  Me and Scott have come up with an idea and need your help and Murdoch’s ta make it work!”

“Oh do tell!  Tell!  Johnny, don’t leave me hanging on,” Teresa implored.

“Hold your horses, where’s Murdoch?” he asked again as he looked around not seeing him.  “Is he in the kitchen?”

“No, I think he’s in the barn with Cipriano discussing their plans to strengthen the cattle lines this year.”

“Then, Miss Nosey…you’ll just have ta wait until I get him in here,” said Johnny as he watched Teresa stamp her foot, throw her hands into the air and stomp back towards the kitchen, murmuring, “Men!”

“I heard that!” he shouted after her.

She turned and stuck out her tongue at him before yelling, “GOOD!”

Johnny laughed at her before heading to the barn, where he found Murdoch and Cipriano, the Lancer’s Segundo engaged deep in conversation about their plans for spring.  “Well, at least we’re ridin’ on the same train,” he thought. “I cain’t wait until it’s warm again.  Dois! It’s been colder than an ol’ Billy goat’s be-damn teats this winter,” he thought to himself as he shivered some more.

“Johnny!  Back already…how’s the fence line?  Holding up okay?  Where’s Scott?” asked Murdoch as he and Cip turned to the younger man.

“Hiya Cip, Murdoch.  Scott headed into Green River.  The fence line looks good, only a few posts shifted and needed ta be shored up.  Hey Murdoch, since ya and Cip are makin’ plans for spring….me and Scott…I mean…Scott and me was talkin’ and came up with an idea…which is why he went into Green River.  If ya done here I want ta talk with ya and T’resa,” said Johnny stringing his thoughts together quickly.  “But inside where it’s warm.”

“Sure, Johnny, sure…I’ll be up to the house in a bit.  Why don’t you get yourself cleaned-up for dinner and meet me in the Great Room when you’re finished?” said Murdoch as he dropped his bear size hand on his son’s shoulder, giving it a grip.  “Cip can you have one of the hands take care of Johnny’s horse for him?”

“Si Patron, it will be done,” replied the loyal Segundo as he returned Johnny’s warm smile.

“Gracias Cip…Murdoch see ya soon!” said Johnny as he hurried towards the house, flapping his arms to warm up.

Scott dismounted in front of the Sheriff’s Office and tied Charlemagne to the hitching post.  He opened the door and was happy to discover that Val, sitting behind his desk with his feet propped up on the desk, drinking a steaming cup of coffee.

“Well, Scott what do I owe the pleasure of ya company? Not lookin’ fer ya brother are ya?  ‘Cos he ain’t here and he’d better not be in town yet, if he knows what’s good fer his carcass,” grumbled Val as he continued to enjoy his own special strong brew.  His brew was one that few people liked, as he tended to use the same grounds repeatedly in a frying pan, adding fresh grounds only when absolutely necessary, resulting with grounds swirling around in a poured cup of coffee.

Scott pushed his hat back on his head then pulled off his gloves, “No Val, I know where Johnny is – safe and sound on Lancer property…just like he promised.  I heard you have some special coffee brewing…do you mind if I help myself to a cup?  It’s darn cold out there today.”

“Special coffee,” he snorted.  ”Suppose ya brother told ya that one.  Sure go on help yourself.  But ya just might want ta use the strainer over thar ta keep some of the grounds out…unlessin’ ya like your coffee crunchy.”

“No, not particularly.  Thanks for the warning Val,” said Scott as he poured himself a cup using the strainer to capture as many grounds as possible, knocking them back into the pan after he filled his mug.  He gave Val a refill, grounds and all before placing the frying pan back on top of the pot-bellied stove then pulled a chair alongside the Sheriff.

“Just go on ahead, make yourself comfortable, don’t let me stop ya,” groused Val as he took a long drag on his mug.

“Don’t mind if I do Val,” grinned Scott.  “Val, I’ll get right to the point and not take up too much of your time.  Have you ever given it any thought about holding a celebration here in Green River?”

Val eyed Scott suspiciously before saying, “Celebration fer what exactly?”

“Oh the winding down of a prolonged, freezing, brutal winter with the anticipation of bright sunny days to come with the advent of spring.  You know when farmers plant their crops, and ranchers build their stock lines and many young men and women’s fancies turn to love, especially with the February social and Valentine’s Day just around the corner,” Scott explained making a flourish of gestures as he spoke.

Val looked sideways at his friend’s older brother before saying, “Are ya feelin’ okay Scott?  What’s all this mumbo jumbo you’re spouting?  Farmers?  Ranchers?  Love?  Celebration?  If there’s a connection I’m just not seein’ it.  What are ya plannin’ on celebratin’?  Not your brother’s return ta my town?”

Scott grinned at Val, “Well no, not exactly Val, although that is coming up soon.  No, Sheriff, I was explaining to Johnny earlier today about Groundhog’s Day and how it’s the harbinger of spring…”

“Now hold up right thar Scott, just what in the tarnation is a ‘groundhog’ and what the hell is a ‘harbinger’?  Neither one sounds like I’d be interested in what ya or Johnny are cookin’ up.  No sirreeee…doesn’t sound like anything I want ta be involved in already.”

“Val, hear me out before you pull up on the reins on what could be a grand way to bring in some much needed revenue to the town’s coffers, maybe enough to get you a raise.  Or maybe get a part-time deputy so you can take time off when you want.”

Val looked over at Scott, “How come every time ya and your brother come up with an idea, the hair on the back of my neck crawls and feels like an itch I can’t scratch?”

Scott pushed his hat back on his forehead and looked perplexed at Val, “Now Val, this is a good idea.  It will bring in people not only for the social, but for the day’s activities.  You know people spending their hard-earned money are good for a town’s survival and growth.  Now just listen Val, before you say no.  Here’s what we’re planning on doing and we’ll need your help to organize the town council and get the word out about Groundhog’s Day in Green River.”  Scott filled him in on their ideas and waited to see what his reaction would be.

“I still don’t know about this Scott…ya better not plan on me makin’ any speech and gettin’ all dressed up fer some dang critter!  Seems plumb crazy ta me.  Are ya sure your brother ain’t up ta something?  Something that will backfire?  Ya two ain’t been smokin’ any loco weed, have ya?”

“No, Val no loco weed for either of us.  This really is a bona fide celebration back East that draws hundreds of people who spend money enjoying the celebration.  If we had more time to promote the day we could really draw in a substantial crowd to our little town.  Maybe next year people would come from as far away as Modesto and Sacramento,” said Scott as he found himself getting more enthusiastic about the day.

“Well, Scott, I guess maybe ya and me oughta go out talk ta the town council.  Git yourself up.  Let’s go see Mayor Higgs.  That big pain in my….”

“Posterior?” supplied Scott grinning.

“Nope, was gonna say ass if ya don’t mind,” growled Val as he put his battered old hat on top of his head.  “I know with that brother of yours, ya heard that word before a time or two.”

“Just think Val, with the town coffers filled, maybe with a raise, why you could purchase a new hat to replace that worn out thing you perched on top of your head.” smiled Scott.

Val gave him a hard look and snarled, “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my hat, I just got it broke it the way I like it….so Scott Lancer, ya mind your own business.”

Scott held up his hands in defense and said, “My apologies, Val, didn’t mean to upset you, it was only a suggestion.”

“Fine….let’s go git this done, I’m sure I won’t have a minute of peace until ya got this idea in the works and get everybody’s all churned up over it…groundhogs of all things!” he said as he rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and yanked the office door opened.  “Lord, why me?”

Over dinner Johnny told Murdoch and Teresa of their plans to make February 2nd a day of fun and celebration to coincide with the February social.  Murdoch watched, with a gentle smile playing upon his face, as the two talked excitedly about their ideas and how to carry them out.  He reminisced over how much time he had lost by not having his sons around watching them grow-up together.  He felt especially proud of his young son’s ability to throw himself full force into making plans with his ward, despite his “not likin’ my fun organized” proclamations.

“Well, Johnny, the only question I have is where are you going to find a groundhog around here?  They’re not native to our area and you only have a few weeks’ time to get your hands on one,” Murdoch stated.

“I know…I know….that’s the “sticky wicket” as Scott called it earlier today.  But I promised him I would come through.  I mean after all, that’s the main attraction ta the day.  Ya got any ideas about that Murdoch?” asked Johnny as he finished off the last piece of chocolate cake.

“Short of having one sent from back east, which it may not survive the trip or arrive in time.  I wonder what we can use as a possible replacement.  Hold on a minute.  You said Scott has a book with animal drawings, let’s get it and see what we can come up with as a substitute,” suggested Murdoch as they rose from the dining table.  “Teresa do you know where Scott put his books?”

“Sure Murdoch, I made room for them on those two shelves, here let me look while Johnny stokes the fire,” replied the dark-haired girl.

Johnny smiled at his “sister” before turning his attention to the fireplace.  Adding a few more logs to ward off the evening chill, he assumed his typical position of standing with his backside to the fire, letting the flames warm him up before taking a seat on the sofa.  Murdoch handled Johnny an after-dinner drink of tequila to take care of warming his insides, then sat down in the high-back winged chair alongside the fireplace, sipping his brandy.  Teresa joined them, bringing over a over-sized tome that had to weigh several pounds and opened it, turning the pages as she and Johnny looked at the life-like animal drawings.

“Here’s a groundhog!  Why it looks similar to the California badger doesn’t it Murdoch?” asked Teresa as she held the book for Murdoch’s review.  “Except that the groundhog doesn’t have any stripes on its coat from the looks of this drawing.”

“Teresa, you’re right about that.  Johnny, this might be the answer to your “groundhog”.  The badger is about the right size and can easily be found in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Murdoch as he compared the drawing of the groundhog to his recollection of badgers and their behavior.

“Kinda looks like an overgrown cat with a long nose,” said Johnny as he examined the drawing of the badger Teresa found.  “Do ya suppose Scott would object ta using our own western version instead of his?”

“Why would he?  Time is of the essence in this matter.  I’m certain you and Scott will be able to find a badger in no time at all,” replied Murdoch.  “Especially since they hibernate at this time of year.  But you’ll need to find their burrows to locate a colony of badgers and those are plentiful in the valley.

Johnny grinned.  “Nah, Murdoch, it’s just me doin’ the catchin’, Scott’s gonna be busy with the rest of the plannin’, ya know makin’ up speeches and T’resa, she’ll be busy with getting’ all the other things organized, ya know women things, like food, music and decorations.  Tomorrow mornin’ I’m gonna see about findin’ Punks-a-tangy Phil.  Ya don’t think we’ll have ta call him by another name, do ya?”

Murdoch laughed as he closed the book. “Johnny, I think that name will do just fine.  Has a ring to it!  You should bring along a jar of honey, those badgers are just like you, they all have a sweet tooth.  You’ll want to keep your catch fat and sassy as well as complacent if it stirs from his slumbers.”

Scott and Val meantime spoke with the “ever-popular” Mayor Higgs who took charge of the planning like if it was his entire idea.  “Now boys you know I’m in charge here in Green River, and I get to decide what we do and who does it.  That’s why I was elected Mayor, to make all the important decisions that affect Green River.”  He missed the exchange of glances over his head as Scott and Val shook heads, rolled eyes and sighed at the sheer audacity of the town’s short, balding, pain-in-their-asses mayor.  He’d been elected by default since no one else wanted the job and everyone knew they would never hear the end of Higgs’ whining and complaining if he actually got voted out of office.

“Now, Scott Lancer, you tell that rapscallion brother of yours that I’ll be the one holding up the groundhog…not him…after I make a speech, of course,” he concluded.  “I don’t want him pulling any shenanigans marring this auspicious day.”

“Oh don’t you worry, Mayor Higgs, Johnny doesn’t have any intention of being anywhere near you on this day.  His contribution to this errr….auspicious event, will be to provide the town with the actual groundhog,” Scott said as he turned to Val to whisper, “Unbelievable!  You just knew he’d anything to take credit for Johnny’s idea.  I hope the groundhog relieves himself on our mayor the first chance it gets.”

Val choked back a laugh and whispered, “Ya got that partner, right on top of his big shiny head!”

Mayor Higgs, oblivious to what anyone else was saying, continued with HIS plans for the day, “I’ll make a speech about how our town is growing, prospering and how my store has brought in new merchandise to keep up with the needs of our visitors and as well as the locals.  This day will bring in more business so I’ll need to order additional merchandise for my store, maybe have extra help on hand.  My daughter, Arabella, and her friend Becca will be on the stage with me, they will perform a ribbon-cutting ceremony over the creature’s cage before I bring him out for the public to witness this event.”

“Yessir, I see the mayor is enjoying stealing Johnny’s thunder,” Scott said through gritted teeth.

“Oh now Scott, ya know Johnny won’t mind, just as long as he has a nice cold beer or two after the ceremonies,” grinned Val.  “Hell by the time this rolls around, he’ll be happier than a fox in the hen house, just bein’ able ta come back into town.  Ya just better keep your eyes on the boy, so’s he don’t git himself into any trouble and I have ta bar him from Green River again.”

“Sheriff, Johnny will be on his preeminent behavior, you have my word on that,” promised Scott as the two shook hands behind the back of Higgs who was still going non-stop about all his plans for the “Mayor Higgs’ First Annual Green River Groundhog Day Celebration Social.”

Early the following morning Johnny prepared for his hunting of badgers.  He was bringing a pack horse that held two sturdy cages, along with a pick axe, a shovel, burlap sacks and provisions for several days as he set out upon his quest. 

Murdoch had made a few suggestions as to where in the valley he should search for the animals, along with instructions to be home within three days time, with or without his “Punks-a-tangy Phil”.  He didn’t mind the boys getting involved with activities that were for the benefit of the surrounding communities, but after all, they did have “a mighty big ranch to run that doesn’t run itself.” 

Since his sons return to Lancer, Murdoch found that not having his sons around for even short periods of time made him irritable.  He liked having them around as much as possible since they had missed so much of their early years together as a family.  When they weren’t around, Murdoch looked forward to their return and especially their joint meals and time spent in the Great Room enjoying each other’s companionship.  The sound and actions of his sons, playfully teasing each other or competing in a game of chess or checkers never ceased to amaze him. Seeing them watching out for the other’s back, caring for the other when one was injured or sick, made Murdoch marvel at the thought of his sons finally home under his roof. He smiled softly as he watched Johnny ride off.  “Be back…three days’ time, son,” he called after Johnny, who shifted slightly in the saddle to give him a wave of acknowledgement.

Murdoch thought to himself, about how much progress he and Johnny were making towards understanding the other person’s thoughts and ideas to work together amicably.  Along with Scott, as he continued in the role of peace-maker, both Murdoch and Johnny were arguing less and sharing more than either one had been able to do when they first joined forces as a family.  Oh sure, there were some rough patches, when neither one could or would give in to the other.  When angry words spoken in haste, hurt feelings, but both were finding their way with the other, especially when Murdoch decided that he did need to put his foot down on occasion as the tune caller. 

Sometimes Murdoch was the one who needed to walk away and cool off until he could calmly explain to either son his expectations.   And the boys had learned that eventually there were consequences to be paid for their actions.  But day-by-day, the bond between father and sons – brother to brother – was built, growing stronger, more resilient.  Yes, Murdoch had much to be grateful for as he continued watching one son ride off as the other son was returning home.  He watched as the two briefly stopped and spoke with each other, the words he couldn’t hear, but the body language of the brothers he could see was relaxed as each other reached out to playfully poked and jabbed the other.  Johnny threw back his head in laughter at something Scott told him.

Yes, Murdoch was a proud and happy man to know that he had such warm, generous, thoughtful sons.  He waited patiently for Scott to dismount in front of the hacienda. “Well Scott, how are things in Green River?”

“Oh, about what you can expect, Murdoch.  Val’s dragging his heels and Mayor Higgs is all puffed up and acting like an overstuffed peacock strutting around, boasting about “his” ideas and “his” plans for the celebration.  That man hasn’t learned anything about community welfare and awareness.  It’s all about him, him, him.  Him and that horse-faced daughter of his!  We need to elect a new mayor is what needs to be done!”

Murdoch turned his head so Scott couldn’t see his wide grin before looking back and replying, “Now Scott, you know as well as I do that no one else wants his job.  So we have to put up with his over-bearing demeanor for the time being until someone does comes along that wants that job and is willing to put down roots in the community.  Just let him think he’s the brains behind the idea.  We all know the truth even if he doesn’t.”

“Come on inside, you must be hungry and wanting to clean-up.  Suppose Johnny told you what he’s up to?”

“Yes sir, he did and yes sir, I am hungry and could use some clean clothes.  There wasn’t a room available in town so I bunked with Val in the jail.  He needs someone to do some major cleaning in there, maybe wash those blankets and air out those mattresses.  I swear I could still smell the remnants of Johnny’s friends, Buck and Rambler.  I didn’t have the most pleasant night’s rest in the least.”

Laughing, Murdoch clapped his arm around Scott’s shoulders as they turned to walk inside.  “Teresa,” he called out, “Scott’s back and he’s hungry!  How about rustling some food together while he cleans-up?”

“Sure, Murdoch,” called back Teresa as she and Maria began putting together a plate of breakfast food.  Murdoch came into the kitchen and helped himself to another cup of coffee and smiled at his young ward, feeling very content with his life.

“So, Miss Teresa, I suppose you already have some ideas running around inside that pretty little head of yours for this celebration?” Murdoch asked as he watched her prepare the plate and gather utensils for Scott’s breakfast.

“Don’t you know it, Murdoch!  I have lots of ideas for decorations!  Do you think I can run into Morro Coyo today to meet with some of the other ladies to get them involved?”

“Whatever you need to do Teresa, this is turning into quite an endeavor that the boys came up with.  I hope providence is smiling upon the outcome,” he said as he drank his coffee. “One thing is for certain, I know we’ll be pleased to see the end of this winter.  Is it my imagination are our winters getting longer and colder?  Or is that just me?”

“Oh Murdoch, I think at this time of year, we’re all so tired of being cooped up for days on end and are all looking forward to the return of the sunshine.  Of being outdoors in fresh warm air, the smell and color of the blooming wildflowers returning from their slumbers and the start of a new growing season,” said Teresa as she gathered up the tray with Scott’s breakfast and started to take it upstairs.

“Hold on there missy, I’ll take that.  I have a few things to discuss with Scott and I know that while he’ll be grateful for the food, he won’t appreciate you barging in on his bath!”

Teresa giggled and blushed beet red at the mischievous thoughts running inside her head, picturing Scott in his bath.  “Here you go Murdoch, I do have other chores to attend to” she said, twirling her skirts as she walked away.

Johnny rode towards the valley, singing his favorite song, “The Old Chisholm Trail, at least as many of the verses he knew.  There had to be close to a hundred or so verses as each time he heard it sung he learned new verses:

“Come and gather round fellars, and listen ta my tale
I’ll tell ya all my troubles on the ol’ Chisholm Trail
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

On a ten dollar horse and a forty dollar saddle
Started out punchin’ them long horn cattle
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

I jumped on my horse, grabbed hold of the horn
I’m the best cow puncher that ever was a born
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

I’m on my horse and I’m goin’ on the run
I’m the quickest shootin’ cowboy that ever pulled a gun
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

Up in the morning before daylight
When I go ta sleep the moon shines bright
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

A ropin’ and a tyin’ and a brandin’ all day
I’m workin mighty hard for mighty little pay
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

Oh it’s bacon and beans most every single day
I’d as soon be eating this prairie hay
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

I’m going ta the ranch ta draw my money,
Goin’ into town ta see my honey
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.

Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea, youpy yea
Come a-ti yi youpy, youpy yea.”

Johnny finished singing the song as he noticed two riders heading towards him from the direction of Green River.  He stopped Barranca as he watched them pull up alongside of him, “Howdy Johnny, where ya headin’?”

“Howdy Rambler, Howdy Buck, where ya two been holdin’ up lately?” grinned Johnny as he greeted his old pals.

“Oh ya know, here and there.  Ya been stayin’ out of trouble boy, and keepin’ your pa happy?” asked Rambler as he smirked at his friend.  “We heard ya were barred from comin’ into town.  Hope it wasn’t ‘cos of us,” he chuckled along with Buck.

“Oh, ya might have had something ta do with it.  Had ya’d stuck around while I was trapped by them two hollerin’ she-cat devils.  Far as I reckon, Murdoch’s been happier than a pig in a mud holler with me for the time bein’,” he said with his eyes twinkling.  “Guess that can change in the blink of an eye, depending on where we stand.”

“So what’s goin’ on?  Where are ya off ta with that pack horse?” questioned Buck.  “You ain’t fixin’ on high-tailin’ it out of here are ya?

“No Buck, I’ve got a job ta do that’s all,” he said as he filled them in on his plans and asked if they were interested in riding along to help out.

“Johnny, sure, it ain’t like we’d got any other plans.  It’ll be like old times riding the trail with ya and campin’ out,” said Rambler.  “Exceptin’ we didn’t bring along any firewater ta pass around the campfire.”

Rambler and Buck grinned at each other and Johnny said, “Sure, Ram, just like old times.  We ain’t gonna need any firewater on this trip, need ta keep our wits together since we’re huntin’ critters.  Come on let’s get goin’, see if we can’t find us a Punks-a-tangy Phil or two before nightfall.”

The three whooped and took off in a gentle lope, mindful of the pack horse needing not be pushed to hard or too fast with his load.  When they slowed down to a walk, Johnny explained exactly what they were looking for as they rode across the valley, stopping ever so often to get down and check out part of the terrain to see if it could be a burrow. 

Swapping old stories of past adventures, the trio kept themselves entertained, laughing hard at some of their mishaps, including their recent incarceration over New Year’s in the Green River jail, compliments of a crooked card cheat, his cronies and Mayor Higgs’ insistence that they be locked up.  Both Buck and Rambler passed the night and better part of the next day asleep from too much drink combined with having been knocked over their heads.  Johnny was left to suffer from their frequent and obnoxious bouts of long, odorous flatulence attacks, earning them the nicknames of “Smelly” and “Stinky” before he was sprung by Val the following day.

Johnny had known Ram and Buck for a number of years, on and off they had ridden together, shared campfires, bottles, poker games and scrapes along with hiring out their guns whenever and wherever they could get work during range wars or just punchin’ cattle.  Johnny knew they would watch his back as he would watch theirs; he just never wanted to spend another night with them locked up in the pokey, especially if they consume any meal consisting of black-eyed peas, eggs, pickled pigs’ feet and collards….he involuntarily shuttered at the thought of that lethal combination and what it had produced.

“Hey, Johnny, those raised mounds over thar look promisin’… don’t ya think?” asked Buck as he pointed across the open land.

Johnny looked in the direction he was pointing and said, “Maybe, worth checkin’ out at least.”  They headed towards the raised rows that ran crosswise over the area.  Dismounting, Johnny grabbed a shovel, asking “have ya ever seen a badger before boys?”

Rambler shook his head no, shrugging his shoulders, “Nahhh, never had a need ta go lookin’ for one before this, Johnny boy.  Ya know what we’re searchin’ for don’t ya?”

Johnny smirked, “I know what ya two know, this is kinda like shootin’ in the dark, ya never know what you’ll hit or what you’ll miss.  Just hope whatever we find will pass for a ground hog.”  Johnny took the shovel and pushed it down into the ground, which was firm from the cold.  “Hey there Buck, mind pickin’ up that pick and puttin’ it ta some use, see if ya can open the ground right here?”

“Okay Johnny, let’s see what lies below,” he answered as he swung the pick into the earth, breaking up the soil easier than the shovel had. 

Once Buck broke through the ground, Johnny used the shovel to cast aside the dirt, while Rambler used his hands to move some of the larger clumps of earth.  “It looks like it could be a burrow, maybe we should dig every few feet across this mound until we hit pay dirt,” said Rambler as he continued tossing aside the earth.

“Hey Ram, get the cages will ya?  I think there’s something in there…. ya see the fur?”  Johnny pointed with the tip of the shovel.  “Looks like we got one of ‘em!”

Rambler stopped chunking earth clumps and released the ties holding the cages in place.  He brought the cages over to where Johnny and Buck were gently moving the earth to expose the varmints.  Turns out that they hit pay dirt on their first dig, by stumbling upon a boar, a sow and three cubs, all curled together still hibernating against the cold in one tight ball of fur, claws, tails and long noses.

“Let’s put the female and her cubs together in one cage and the male in the other one.  Hope the male won’t get all crazy at bein’ apart from his woman.  If we’re lucky just maybe they’ll keep on sleepin’,” said Johnny as he gently picked up the female and put her inside the bigger cage with the cubs.

The male badger weighed close to 20 pounds of solid muscle mass.  Ramble almost dropped him trying to fit him inside the cage.  The badgers had remained deep in slumber with only slight grumbling and snorting noises as they were slightly jostled from their burrow into the cages and tied into position on the pack horse.

“Well, I must say that was a lot easier than I thought it could have been,” said Johnny as he tied the pick and shovel back into place.  “I had planned for this ta take three days.  So amigos, I guess we can now find a suitable place ta make camp tonight and have ourselves a night…just like old times again…or if ya rather we could head back ta Lancer and have a home-cooked meal, soft, comfortable beds to sleep in and tequila, compliments of Murdoch.  What do ya say?”

Buck and Ram looked at each other and grinned before turning back to Johnny, “What in the hell do ya think we think Johnny boy?  Cold hard ground ta soft warm beds?  Heated beans and bacon over the campfire ta a home-cooked meal with tequila ta wash it down?  Yahoooo!  We thought ya’d never ask!” yelled Rambler.  “What took ya so long ta ask us ta your home?”

“Oh I don’t know, figured I’d get around ta it sooner or later.” Smiled Johnny.  “Well, mount-up boys and let’s move along, that sun will be down in a coupla of hours and I rather not be stuck out here any longer myself.”  He ducked his head down, “Guess I’m kinda getting’ use ta the soft life and wasn’t lookin’ forward ta sleepin’ on the cold hard ground myself, or sharing beans with ya two varmints!”

Back at Lancer, Johnny and his friends rode directly into the barn and dismounted.  Several hands working inside came over to help with their horses and gear.  Everyone was standing around trying to get a good look at the badgers Johnny had brought back when Murdoch and Scott joined the crowd.

“Johnny!  Back so soon.  Let’s see what you have there,” said Murdoch as the hands went back about their chores, making room for the boss to see the badgers.  “Looks like you brought an entire family.  That was fast work Johnny and I see you have brought home guests as well.”

“Mr. Lancer, nice ta see ya again,” said Buck as he rubbed his hand on the seat of his pants before extending it shake Murdoch’s hand.  “Scott, nice ta see ya too,” he said as he offered his hand.  “We ran into Johnny on the trail and gave him a hand in findin’ these critters, so’s he offered us ta come back here instead of stayin’ out on the trail tonight.  Hope ya’ll don’t mind.”

“No, of course not boys, this is Johnny’s home and any friend of his is most certainly welcomed here at Lancer,” said Murdoch as he smiled at Johnny.

Scott had been looking at the badgers with interest and turned to Johnny, “Well brother, not quite what I expected but I guess one will do the job.  That stripe down their backs is a dead give away that it’s not a groundhog, but I’m probably the only one who will know the difference.  You should have heard Mayor Higgs going on about this like it was his entire idea.  Maybe we should use the big one, I’d like to see him pick that one up and hold it up for the crowd to see.”

“Do you think they’ll be content to stay in those cages for now or should we move them into another enclosure?” asked Scott as he looked them over.

“I don’t know Scott, they’re diggers so what can we put them in that will hold until next week?” asked Murdoch.

Scott looked bemused as he pondered the idea,” I don’t know, was hoping you would have an idea.”

“What about an empty water trough?” Johnny asked.

“Hmmmmm, that’s not a bad idea Johnny, you can line it with dirt and hay and use chicken wire on top to keep them inside if they get restless,” said Murdoch.

Scott looked at his little brother with a new appreciation at just how knowledgeable he was despite his lack of formal education.  He had an abundance of common sense and the extraordinary aptitude to resolve problems swiftly.  “Good thinking, Johnny.  Here let’s get the trough from outside.  Buck? Rambler?  Can you give us a hand to empty it and haul it into the barn?”

With everyone pulling their own weight at the task, the badger family was soon located inside their new home away from home.  Everyone was ready to head inside to clean-up, enjoy a hot home-cooked meal and settle in for another night of bone chilling cold complete with snow flurries.  Johnny, Buck and Rambler were in high spirits to have made the journey back to the ranch instead of spending it out on the trail as they watched the snow falling through the large window behind Murdoch’s desk.  After dinner in front of the roaring fire drinks were enjoyed with loud laughter as more tales were told about their previous adventures.

The day of February 2nd was approaching; preparations were well under way as Teresa worked with feverish energy to make bright red and pink heart and flower decorations for the social.  Scott had drafted and redrafted the speech to explain the importance to everyone about Candlemas Day.

Johnny was chomping at the bit to ride Barranca into Green River to see how things were progressing there for himself.  But recalling his promise made to Murdoch he smirked as he thought about recent consequences they had discussed in the barn so Johnny maintained his moral fiber by making do with Scott’s evening reports at dinner.  Johnny kept out of trouble or perhaps trouble wasn’t looking for him, as he kept busy with barn chores and visits to the badgers, watching them do nothing much but sleep and snore.

He decided to braided new leads to be used when spring time finally did arrive in the valley when he could get back to the job of breaking wild horses for the U.S. Army’s Calvary units.  Barranca’s coat gleamed with shiny luster and had filled out from his frequent treats that Johnny brought him.  No doubt about it Johnny was ready for this winter to be over and done with to get back in the saddle and enjoy his wild carefree rides on his golden horse.

Johnny was finishing another lead when he heard the slow deliberate drawl of Val from behind him, “Well, Johnny, if ya ain’t a sight for sore eyes.  Green River ain’t been the same without your grinnin’ face poppin’ up!”

“Val!” Johnny shouted as he turned around to greet his amigo.  “Oh boy!  Am I glad ta see ya!  I’ve been wishin’ for something ta happen or someone ta show up here.  It’s been too quite ta suit me!”

Val grinned at Johnny’s outburst, “Well, let me have a look at what ya caught for the big day.  I want ta make sure ya ain’t bringin’ a wild pig or a jackalope ta the festivities.”

“Awww, what’s the matter Val, don’t ya trust me?” asked Johnny matching Val’s grin with one of his own.

“Oh it’s not ya I don’t trust.  I’d just need ta make sure ol’ Higgs don’t have any reason ta get pissed at me if something goes wrong.”

“Why ya ol’ cogger!  What da ya mean if something goes wrong?” questioned Johnny as he pulled Val over to the water trough and said, “See Val, nothin’ but a family of sleepin’ badgers, they’re been like little angels in heaven all week long.  Why if ya listen closely ya can even hear ‘em snore.  Go on, ya pick out the one ya want ol’ Higgs ta hold up.”

Val looked closely at the badgers, “Been sleepin’ all week huh?  I don’t care which one as long as it stays sleepin’.  Ya pick one, Johnny.”

“Scott thinks we oughta use the boar since it’s closest ta the size of a groundhog.  I reckon he also wants ta make Higgs sweat by liftin’ him up.”

“Fine by me, amigo.  Ya know I’m really lookin’ forward ta getting’ all this nonense over and done with.  Ya plannin’ on bringin’ that varmit in the day before?”

“Only if ya don’t plan on tossin’ me into your pokey,” said Johnny as he playful slugged Val on his upper arm.

“Only if ya don’t give me a reason ta,” responded Val as he returned the slug into Johnny’s upper arm.  “And ya bring along ya pa and brother.  We can play some poker, give me a chance ta win back some of my money I lost ta ya last time we played.”

“I’m sure they’ll be happy ta join in and get away from all of T’resa bossiness over the social.  Ya would think there never before had been a dance the way she’s been carryin’ on.  Stay for dinner and ya’ll see what I mean…why do ya think I’m out here in the barn?  I’m keepin’ away from all her orders and her never-endin’ supply of red and pink hearts and flowers.”

The day before the celebration, the Lancers packed up the buckboard with all of Teresa’s decorations, their Sunday best for the social and Punks-a-tangy Phil, who had been moved to the enclosure that Johnny and Scott had built.  A solid box, complete with a fresh bed of hay and a sliding door that was tightly latched.  Johnny and Scott rode their horses trailing behind Murdoch and Teresa in the buckboard where they could keep their eyes opened to anything falling or escaping from the wagon. 

Teresa kept up a constant chatter of bubbling excitement with Murdoch barely able to get a word in edgewise.  The further they rode along, the more content Johnny and Scott were to be able to stay far enough behind the wagon away from Teresa’s non-stop babbling about the dance and who was going to be there. They knew all in good time they would be “volunteered” by Murdoch to help their “sister” hang decorations from the rafters.  They weren’t in any big hurry to get into the mix of all the decorations and young ladies who were determined to make this dance extra special with Valentine’s Day approaching. 

The brothers were fairly certain that Teresa had her cap set on winning the admiration of several of the local eligible young men and they had already been directed by Murdoch that “they needed to keep their eyes on her during the dance at all times.  They were charged with making certain she didn’t go wandering off with any of those young men.”  Johnny and Scott grinned at Murdoch’s cautionary instructions, thinking it might be entertaining having the local boys squirm under their watchful scrutiny.

Arriving in Green River, they noticed adjacent to the church, a wide platform with rails and banners running along three sides with six steps leading to the top had been constructed.  There was plenty of open standing room for the crowds to congregate along the sides.  A podium stood front and center of the stage and near it was a low table, where Punks-a-tangy’s enclosure would fit right nicely.  Someone had put a welcome banner over the door of the church that read: ”Green River’s Punxsutawney Phil Day.”

The Lancers pulled to a stop at the church to drop off the dozen boxes of decorations and party supplies hauled in the wagon.  Several of the town’s young ladies, including Arabella Higgs and Becca Wilson were already present.  Teresa opted to stay to begin decorating.  Both Scott and Johnny tipped their hats, smiling at the rushing girls and the mad rustling of their skirts along with the mix of voices all directing someone to “do this … no that goes over there … can you help me with this? … where are the scissors? … I need you to hold this … where should this go?….have you seen the streamers?” 

Johnny avoided eye contract with Arabella and Becca as he looked down and realized that his spurs were right there on his boots, he began backing up ever so softly and quickly to get out of the way.   Scott laughed at his brother’s cat-like graceful motions to not get any nearer to any of those fast-rustling skirts, moving every which direction and said, “What’s the matter Johnny?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Funny Boston, real funny,” murmured Johnny as he mounted Barranca, pulling his hat down tight to his head.  “Don’t let me forget ta take these off before we head back over here, will ya promise me that Scott?” asked Johnny.

“YOU need reminding, little brother?  I would have thought you of all people would have learned your lesson about those contraptions and I do mean contraptions around the ladies,” joshed Scott.

The brothers followed Murdoch as he drove the wagon to the front of the hotel and climbed down from the seat.  Murdoch reached into the back of the wagon to remove their bags saying, “Boys, I’ll get us checked into our rooms, while you take the horses and wagon to the livery.  Oh and ah Johnny, make sure that your critter is secured in the back of the wagon with the tarp drawn over him.  Then meet me back here.  We’ll have lunch in the dining room while Teresa is busy with her decorating.  Afterwards, we’ll head over to see what if anything we can do to assist the ladies.”

“Okay, Murdoch,” answered Johnny.  “We shouldn’t be too long, maybe just pop our heads in ta let Val know we’re here.”

“And I want to drop off Higgs’ speech so he can review it before tomorrow morning.  Don’t want him flubbing his lines and getting it all wrong.  Now would we?” asked Scott trying not to break out in laughter at the thought of Mayor Higgs messing up his lines.

Murdoch shook his head no, before answering, “No Scott, we don’t want that to happen.”

The morning of February 2nd started with a flurry of activity as townsfolk and visitors alike crammed the streets and broadways in search of food and vantage points to watch the celebration.  Stores had opened early and were busy with folks shopping, as were the street vendors, hawking their wares.  Brightly-colored handkerchiefs and banners were strung over the streets and from building facades gaily waved announcing the festivities.

The Lancers had been up before dawn as was their normal habit and enjoyed an early breakfast rather than having to wait for a table to clear of any occupants.  After they had dined, Scott and Johnny headed over to the livery stable to check the stock, along with the star attraction of the morning.

“Never knew a critter ta be surrounded with so much activity on his account and he’s just sleepin’ right through it all, Boston,” Johnny grinned.  “Must be nice.”

“Let’s hope he stays that way through the celebration little brother.  That will suit me just fine if we have no mishaps, you know?” said a serious looking Scott as they placed the heavy tarp back over the cage and strapped it back in place.

“Come on let’s see when Val wants Punks-a-tangy moved ta his perch,” said Johnny as he back-handed Scott in his stomach.  He slung his arm across Scott’s back as they made their way out of the livery stable.

At the Sheriff’s office Val was gulping down his fourth cup of coffee, looking out the window observing the size of the crowds when he noticed the Lancer brothers heading in his direction.  “Uhh oh, looks like its getting’ near show time.  I’d better get this git-up on before they start fussin’ at me for not bein’ ready,” he thought as he swapped his old shirt for a clean dress shirt, a button-down vest and corduroy dress coat.  He was fiddling with the string tie when the door was flung open by Johnny.

“Howdy Val, whooooeeee, don’t ya look all gussied up!” smiled Johnny at the cleaned-up appearance of his typically disheveled amigo.  “Hey Scott, your clothes look good on Val.”

Scott looked surprised at Val wearing his clothing, and dryly asked, “My clothes???  Your idea I presume, brother.”

“Yeah, guess I forgot ta let ya know Val was gonna be needin’ something ta wear, just glad it’s a bit less elaborate than the last shirt he borrowed from ya,’ Johnny smirked at his brother.  “I looked for ya before I got ‘em when he came out ta the ranch but ya weren’t around.  Val will be careful.  Won’t ya Val?”

Val looked down at the clothes and back to Johnny, “Why sure amigo, I ain’t aimin’ on fixin’ any wagon wheels in this git-up.  Just make my little announcement and come back here ta get back into my own duds.”

“See Scott, no worries,” grinned Johnny.  “Ya want Val ta look nice when he’s saying his piece, don’t ya?”

Scott rubbed his forehead and looked pained, “Next time will you ask me first before loaning out my clothes?”

“Sure Boston, anything for ya big brother,” Johnny replied looking very pleased with his conquest of Scott’s clothes.

“Well Val, think we should move Punxsutawney into position?” asked Scott.

“Not we Scott, ya and Johnny will move the box, while I supervise.  Ya don’t want me ta mess up your pretty duds now do ya?” drawled Val, as he perched his battered old hat ontop of his head.

“No, no Val, I don’t want my clothes getting mused by you,” agreed Scott as he wondered just how he got involved with the entire process in the first place, he then remembered he started it by sharing memories of his past with Johnny.

The trio walked back to the livery stable and Johnny and Scott carefully picked up and carried the tarp-covered cage out of the doorway.  Val directed the way through the congested street, getting onlookers to move out of their way until Johnny and Scott gently placed Punxsutawney’s box on the table, carefully removing the tarp.  Hearing no rustling from inside the cage they felt relieved in getting Phil into position without waking him up. 

The brothers joined Murdoch and Teresa to wait for the celebration to begin, while Val paced back and forth at the bottom of the reviewing stand, practicing his portion of the morning’s festivities as he reviewed his script that Scott had provided for him.

By 9:00 am a capacity crowd had gathered around the platform’s viewing sides.  Behind the stand a small band had assembled and were tuning their instruments.  Once they were ready they began playing several lively tunes, much to the crowd’s enjoyment, as they waited for the town dignitaries to step up onto the platform.  Punxsutawney’s enclosure was on its assigned spot, with a ribbon stretched across the top, ready to be cut by Arabella and Becca to signal the start of his appearance to forecast the remaining weeks of winter weather to be expected in the San Joaquin Valley.

In the crowd standing alongside a tall, oak tree bare of leaves stood the Lancers, Teresa and  Murdoch had dressed up in their Sunday best, along with some of the crowd.  Johnny’s backside was perched against the rough bark of the tree, with one boot braced against it and his arms crossed, while Scott stood next to him pointing and grinning at Val’s nervous pacing.  They were soon joined by Buck and Rambler who had come over to greet Johnny and his family as they took up residence on either side of Teresa waiting for the big event to unfold.  The pair appeared to be vying for Teresa’s attention as they continued paying her compliments, while Scott and Murdoch sharply watched the pair.

Murdoch came up alongside Johnny and softly whispered in his ear, “What are those two up to with Teresa?”

“Ahhhhh Murdoch, they’re just passin’ time,” shrugged Johnny not seeing any harm in Buck and Rambler talking to Teresa, with the three Lancers men standing right there.

Scott hearing Johnny’s comment smarted off, “Well, as long as that’s all they’re passing.”

“Huh?” Johnny asked with a perplexed look upon his face before he figured out Scott’s remark, which made him laughed hardily as he realized the dry humor behind Scott’s comment.  “Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that, brother.  Thanks for bringin’ it back ta my attention.”

“Anytime, little brother, anytime,” Scott smirked, as he kept his eyes glued on Buck and Rambler.  “I do believe, they’re about to get started,” he said drawing everyone’s attention towards the reviewing stand.

Major Higgs, the town council members and Val were assembled at the base of the steps.  Arabella, decked out in a lacy multi-layered, hooped dress, complete with an oversized bustle in bright pink, which offset the bright red and pink ruffled layers of her dress, climbed up the stairs first.  She was closely followed by her own shadow, Becca, who was wearing of all things an identical dress, looking like a twin to Arabella.  They positioned themselves on either side of the podium with their hands held in front of their bosoms, clasped their fingertips top to bottom, elbows up and out, in preparation for singing an opening number.

Johnny turned his head towards his brother, holding one hand to the side of his face, blocking Murdoch’s view of his face, squinted his eyes and grimaced in disbelief as he whispered to Scott, “One of ‘em is a sight all by herself, who in the hell thought it would make any sense ta dress ‘em up in the same getup?  They look like escaped clowns from a travelin’ sideshow or primin’ to be harlots at Miss Laura’s!” he chortled, choking back laughter.  

Scott grinned and ducked his head down, shaking it back and forth, “I don’t know, brother, but hey looky there, you remembered to remove your spurs,” he noticed while he had his head down, trying very hard not to laugh at the vision in front of him.

“Shush you two,” Murdoch whispered loud enough for their benefit as he looked over at his sons.  “It’s starting…behave.”  Johnny and Scott exchanged one more quick look before adverting their attention back to the platform.

Johnny ribbed Scott and whispered, “Hey Boston, don’t look now but I believe Arabella is winkin’ at ya.  Why don’t ya give her a nice friendly wave and make her day?”

“Shut-up Johnny,” Scott replied tensely.

Murdoch placed himself between his two sons and said, “Shush…I’m not saying it again, boys.”  Since Murdoch was a good head taller than Johnny, he couldn’t now look over at Scott, but both boys were thinking the same thought, “Damm it!  Murdoch’s gone and spoiled our fun!”

The band began playing the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic“, while on the platform Arabella and Becca continued gawking at Scott as they opened their mouths to warble along with their own comprised lyrics to the music that was playing:

“Let the scientific fakirs gnash their teeth and stamp with rage

Let astrologers with crystals wipe such nonsense from the page

We hail the King of Prophets, who’s the world’s outstanding Sage


Glory!  Glory!  to the Groundhog,

Glory!  Glory!  to the Groundhog,

Glory!  Glory!  to the Groundhog,


Some of the stunned onlookers gasped at the tune selected by the words used to replace a very familiar solemn patriotic Civil War song.  While others crinkled their faces at the onslaught falling upon their ears as they endured the obvious tone-deaf singers croaking out the song.  Some of the children made a few booing and hissing sounds, only to be quieted down by red-faced mothers.  All present were greatly relieved that there was only one verse in their offering. 

Mayor Higgs stood alongside his off-spring, beaming proudly, clapping loudly and encouraging the crowd to join along.  Some did, ecstatic that there was only one verse and that the dim had died.  Albeit it was a slow and painful death but at least it was finished.

“OH BROTHER!  Wasn’t that just the worst attempt at singing ya ever did hear?” asked Johnny behind Murdoch’s back.  Scott was standing perfectly still, eyes not moving as he gulped hard when he saw Arabella raise her hand and wave right at him.

The Mayor seized the moment to move behind the podium to speak stridently to the gathered crowd with his speech that rattled on and on and on and on.  He completely ignored the speech Scott had prepared for him.  He prattled on and on and on and on about how the town of Green River was growing leaps and bounds by his single-hand leadership.  How he intended to make it the “Jewel of the West” under his guidance, speaking in his whiney, high-pitched, nasal voice. 

The council members were glaring at the man, praying he would either shut the hell up, stick with the damn program or that lighting would strike him down or any combination.  Finally Thomas Vaughn took matters into his own hands as he approached the mayor and said to the crowd, “Thank you Mayor for your truly insightful speech.  We all appreciate your hard work, don’t we folks?”  He pulled the mayor aside, allowing for the next portion of the ceremony to begin.

Higgs looked over at him and said, “Now see here Vaughn I wasn’t finished.”

The council had surrounded Higgs as Vaughn leaned in whispering, “We think we heard enough for one day, Higgs, stick with the rest of the program or get off the stage.  You dirty, low-down mangy dog.”

Arabella and Becca moved to take their position behind the podium and fortunately only recited their next piece, that being the Candlemas poem that Scott had carefully written down for them.  The crowd collectively released a sign of relief, fearing more singing many members in the front row had involuntarily stepped back away from the stage to escape the potentially horrible sounds right over their heads.

At the conclusion of the poem the crowd displayed their exhilaration by loudly applauding as the girls beamed with delight at the crowd’s reaction, not comprehending the true reason behind the thunderous applause.  They returned to their positions on either side of the cage, each picking up scissors cut the ribbon over the cage to signal the Mayor to continue with the unveiling of Punxsutawney and learn of his eminent predication.

Higgs moved back to the podium and informed the crowd, “Now in a few seconds here I am going to knock on Phil’s burrow.  I will bring him forth to see or not to see his shadow.  Are y’all ready?  I think we need to call for Phil’s attention to this momentous occasion.  How about joining me in a chant?  He started it off with a rousing “We want Punxsutawney Phil! Phil! Phil!” urging the crowd to join in.

The crowd began the chant, first slowly then picking up their tempo and getting more boisterous with each utterance, “We want Punxsutawney Phil! Phil! Phil!  We want Punxsutawney Phil! Phil! Phil!  We want Punxsutawney Phil! Phil! Phil!  We want Punxsutawney Phil! Phil! Phil!”

Mayor Higgs raised his hands high in the air for silence, asking the crowd a second time, “Are y’all ready?  Let’s get it on then!”  The trumpeter in the band stood up heralding several long musical blasts prior to Mayor Higgs sharply banging three forceful knocks on the top of the enclosure, unlatching the door, he paused to wait for Val’s portion of the ceremony, as he took his turn behind the podium.

Val shifted his eyes towards the heavens before starting his announcement, looked over at Higgs like he wanted to punch his lights out, cleared his throat and said in a thunderous voice, “Ladies and gents, boys and girls, may we present ta you, the premier weather-forecasting groundhog of Green River, the seer of seers, the prognosticator of prognostication….. Punxsutawney Phil!”  The crowd roared their approval with applause, cheers and more chants for Phil.

Mayor Higgs reached inside the enclosure and with his two chubby hands felt fur and grabbed a tight grip onto Phil’s soft body dragged him out of his nest.  With his head turned to look at the crowd, Higgs raised Punxsutawney Phil high over his head, expecting the crowd to continue roaring their approval.  He was puzzled to hear them gasp in unison as he watched the crowd quickly stepping backwards, turning away from the stage.

“Huh?  What’s the matter with you people?” asked Higgs as he looked upwards to the critter.  He was shocked to see what he was holding high above his head when he was rewarded by a steady powerful blast of skunk secretion.  Hitting him in his face, immediately polluted him, his clothes and the air around him with the pungent combination of odors that smelled like rotten eggsgarlic and burnt rubber!

Screaming in disgust he dropped his arms, releasing the skunk from his clutches, the skunk fell on all fours to the stage, momentarily stunned; it sprayed anything and everything in his pathway.  It next drenched the voluminous dress of the slack-mouthed Arabella as she was clinking onto Becca.  Arabella found her voice and begun screaming in misery as the skunk’s overactive stink glands saturated Becca’s own ample dress, both girls were now shrieking to beat the band. 

Meanwhile, the actual band had in fact collectively dropped their instruments to the ground, turned tail and ran away from the platform.  One of them managed to step directly inside the overturned snare drum.  He elected not to stop and remove it but rather ran with it hanging around his boot, making a distinct rattling noise with each gait he took.

The skunk did an quick about-face pointing his backend at Val, arcing and shooting his liquid stench directly onto Val’s or in this case Scott’s borrowed clothes before the skunk turned around yet again spraying the entire town council, who had been trying to push their way down the stairs.  The skunk took a running leap from the platform into the thinning throng, freezing every few paces to spray in anger and confusion as it was trying to escape all the trampling feet and screaming commotion.  He finally found his way to the town’s edge, down the road and vanished into the tree line. 

Val had pulled out his six-shooter, spinning around trying to see where the varmint had gotten to when he drew in a sharp intake of air, grimacing in revulsion.

Val gasping for air faced the fleeing crowd yelling, “DAMN YA JOHNNY LANCER, where in the hell are ya, ya son-of-a-bitch!  I’m gonna lock ya up!  Ya lily-livered jackass!  I’m gonna lock THAT BROTHER OF YOURS UP!  BOTH OF YA’s for the rest of your natural born-lives and throw AWAY the key for this goddamm stinking, rotten low-down, double-dealing, back-stabbing, underhanded trick ya two pulled!  WHERE THE HELL ARE YA TWO?  Show ya faces YA fuckin’ shit-heads!  When I git my hands on ya, ya’ll wish ya NEVER messed around with me and that ya was NEVER born!” 

All the while the other members on the stage were coughing, gagging and trying to wipe the stink from their faces, only making matters worst as they rubbed their hands on their clothes and transferred the stink directly under their noses, making their eyes water along with gasping and choking sounds made by all.  Arabella and Becca had fallen hard onto their behinds from all their cries of protest, fortunately their over-sized bustles had cushioned their falls.  They suddenly realized they were in fact sitting in pools of skunk secretion, crying in horror they pulled each other up from the platform floor, ending up with some of the mess on their hands as they pushed off the floor.

“DADDY!! Look at my beautiful dress and at Becca’s they’re ruined and WE REEK!!!!!  How can we go to a dance tonight looking like this and smelling like we do?  DADDY!!!  You’re the mayor in this flea-bitten town…DO SOMETHING!!!” shrieked Arabella.  “I want you to horse-whip that Johnny Lancer!”

“Not now Arabella, I can’t see a thing…that filthy damn skunk sprayed me in my eyes and some of it landed inside my mouth….my mouth tastes like privy….I’m gonna throw-up…” moaned Higgs as he continued rubbing at his eyes.

Johnny standing in attention back by the tree alongside Murdoch, Scott and Teresa was as shocked as anyone else in the crowd witnessing the spectacle unfolding in front of him.  Out of the corner of his eye he couldn’t help but notice that Buck and Rambler were doubled over with fits of glee.

Buck chortled out between his rowdy laughter, “Oh my gawd Ram that was a hum-dinger of a switcher-a-roo!  That was a stroke of genius, swapping out that badger fer the skunk!  Did ya see Higgs’ face when he saw what he was holdin’ on ta?  He was slapping his hat against his leg, belly laughing.

“Buck, I ain’t never seen anything funnier than that before!  How many times did that skunk bulls-eye Higgs up thar on the platform?  That will learn him ta look before he reaches for something sight unseen.  Oh gawd…my side hurts from laughin’ so hard!” Sniggered Rambler as tears began streaming down his face.

Scott looked at Johnny, Johnny looked at Murdoch, and if looks could kill the intensive glares Murdoch directed at Rambler and Buck would have struck them both dead right there on the street.  While poor Teresa stood there flabbergasted at what had occurred, she opened up her hand bag to remove a perfumed linen hankie to hold up to her nose to thwart the odorous smells permeating the air, stinging her eyes, giving her a headache.

“Boston, don’t think that skunk took time ta check for his shadow…what ya think?” Johnny drawled, as he looked towards the trees where the varmint was last seen.

Scott and Murdoch turned their full attention to Johnny at his comment.  Johnny noticed that while Murdoch’s lips were held together in a tight grimace, Scott’s bottom lip was quivering as he tried to control any mirth from escaping from his mouth.  “Johnny this situation lost its humor when that skunk started his defensive tactics,” Murdoch solemnly said.  “Scott that will do, I don’t need you encouraging him into thinking that this situation is amusing.”

“Lo seinto, Murdoch,” Johnny replied as he lowered his stare and kicked at the dirt.  “What should we do about all this?” he asked waving his arm around to indicate the mess and chaos.

“Boys, first you’ll start by escorting these trouble-makers to the jail and lock ‘em up.  Teresa did anything hit you?  No, well that’s a relief.  I want you to go back to the hotel and wait for me there, lay down and put a cold compress on your head to help your headache too, darling.  Boys, you stay put at the jail while I sort this mess out with Val and the others,” ordered Murdoch, taking charge of the situation.

“Yes sir,” agreed Scott as he grabbed a hold of Buck’s neck, and Johnny grabbed Rambler’s.  “Off we go gents,” said Scott as he half dragged Buck in the direction of the jail.

“Yes, sir, Pa,” said Johnny as he gave Rambler his longest, hardest most intimating Madrid stare he could at the betrayal of his so-called friends against his family, the town and Val.  Who was now pissed at him for something he had no hand in, as well as no idea that these two wise-asses had pull this stunt.  Johnny wanted to strangle them and just might if they didn’t move their sorry asses off to the jail.  He turned his head towards his friend shouting, “Val, Scott and me, we didn’t do this!  It really and truly is not our faults!  Trust me amigo, we got the culprits and are lockin’ ‘em up for ya!”

“JOHNNY LANCER!  When I git my hands on ya boy, ya goin’ wish ya stayed put in Mexico!” yelled Val in the general direction of Johnny’s retreating backside.

Murdoch approached the platform, wrinkling his nose at the smell as he bravely moved towards Val, “Now hold up there Sheriff Crawford, despite what you may believe, Scott and Johnny had absolutely nothing to do with this disaster.  I promise you not a thing.  You need to believe your eyes and not what’s in your heart right this very minute.  My boys are taking those two no-account saddle tramps over to your jail, where you need to keep them until we can figure out how to punish the miscreants and get Johnny to stay far, far away from them in the future.”

Murdoch continued, “Once you’ve calmed down and think things over, you’ll have similar thoughts like mine.  Tell me, just why would Johnny or Scott want to mess up this celebration that they worked long and hard to pull together?  There isn’t any reason for them to do that now is there?  Nor for Johnny to sully his return to Green River.  He’s been looking forward to returning to this town and spending time with you again.”

“Yeah, I guess so Mr. Lancer…it’s just every time that boy shows up he manages ta test my last reserve.  I know its how his life seems to go, even when it’s seems ta be in control.  And dang-it all Mr. Lancer he’s always around when trouble comes a-callin’.  Guess it wouldn’t be Johnny if all hell wasn’t breakin’ loose around him.”

“Sheriff, I don’t mean to rush you along but you and the others need to get out of those clothes so we can burn them.  Let’s hope Higgs has enough tomatoes, juice and lye soap in stock at his store so all of you can wash that stench away,” grimaced Murdoch.  “All you men head over to the bathhouse and drop your clothes just outside the doorway.”

“Girls, allow me to announce your arrival at the hotel first.  Please stop your bawling, it’s not resolving anything at all.  Give me a head start to the hotel, then you’ll need to go to the back door and remove all of your …. err ….. leave all of your … err …. items at the door.  I’ll have blankets waiting to wrap in while the staff gets tubs, hot water, tomato juice and some strong lye soap ready for you.”

“But what about our beautiful dresses?” Arabella sobbed.

“Never mind them, they’re ruined and will be burned.  I’ll have some of the women fetch you any necessary things you’ll need from your father’s store.  Now girls, move along,” directed Murdoch.  “You’ll feel much better once you get out of those things and freshen yourselves.

After getting Arabella and Becca settled at the hotel Murdoch headed next to the jail.  Opening the door he discovered his sons were performing their civil guard duty with their feet propped up on Val’s desk, drinking coffee, giggling like two errant school boys over the latest calamity.  They seemed to be ignoring Buck and Rambler loud yells to “come on Johnny, let us outta here.”  Both sheepishly jumped to their feet as soon as they realized that it was their father standing in the doorway, scowling at them.

“Boys, I see everything is under control here.  Scott, I want you to run down to the livery stable and bring back two pitchforks.

Scott grabbed his hat and said, “Yes sir” as he walked out the door, closing it behind him.

“Johnny, you wouldn’t happen to know where Val keeps leg irons, do you?”

“Sure Murdoch, they’re over in that cabinet.”

Murdoch found them and handed them to Buck through the bars.  “Put those on boys.”

“Awww gee Mr. Lancer, what are ya plannin’ on doin’ ta us?” asked Buck. 

Rambler stood alongside Buck and said, “Yeah ol’ man…just what in the hell are these fer?”

“You’ll soon see.  As for you Rambler, don’t give me any more of your disrespect again boy.  Things may go better for you IF and that’s a mighty big IF, you fully cooperate with me and obey my orders. You two made a mess out there and now there’s work to be done to restore this town back into some semblance of order.  And you two will be doing the work without complaints.  I hope we have reached an understanding,” said Murdoch giving them both his most intimating stare.

Buck had been holding onto the leg irons and turned to give a pair to Rambler, “Here Ram, better put ‘em on.  He used ta be a lawman and I don’t think we’d better piss him off any more than he already seems ta be.”

“Johnny?  Are ya just gonna stand there and let your pa do this?” asked Rambler.

Johnny flashed his pearly whites in a big grin and said, “Yep Ram I am…just remember I’m backin’ him,” as he placed his right hand on top of his six-gun in a relaxed pose.  Murdoch smiled his appreciation at hearing his son’s words.

Scott returned with the pitchforks as Murdoch was releasing Buck and Rambler from their cell, shuffling their feet, clanging the chains of the irons as they moved across the wooden floor boards.  Scott stood holding the pitchforks, as Murdoch marched the prisoners out the door.  “Scott, take Buck over to the bathhouse.  Have him retrieve all the soiled clothes and take them down to the platform.”

“Johnny, you’re in charge of this one.  Take him over to the hotel’s back door and get the ladies’ ruined gowns and whatnots.  I don’t care if they can’t carry them all in one trip, but I want everything up on that platform.  Then burn it all.  Before you start a fire have these two fill and carry buckets of water to have on hand.  We don’t need them burning the church down with any ill-conceived idiotic ideas that could pop into their heads.  And if that one gives you any trouble, shoot him in his big toe.”

Rambler gawked at Murdoch before saying, “No Sir, I ain’t gonna give Johnny any trouble, a’tall  Sir.”

“I figured you come around to my way of thinking and tune calling, boy,” said Murdoch.

Scott and Johnny escorted their assigned prisoner with pitchfork in hand to perform their tasks.  It took several trips to get all the smelly clothes, discarded blankets and shoes.  The Lancer boys kept as much distance as possible as they trailed behind their prisoner holding out their pitchforks filled with the damaged clothes.  Townspeople watched from the boardwalks as the activity was under way.  Horses tied to hitching rails, shied away, with nostrils flaring and whinnying protests as the passing stench reach their sensitive cavities. 

A couple of young teenaged boys fired pebbles from their slingshots hitting Buck and Rambler several times before Murdoch grabbed their slingshots away.  He issued them a stern warning not to interfere else their backsides would feel his wrath and shooed them away.  The boys turned tailed away from him and right into the waiting hands of their own fathers who grabbed them by their collars and shook them hard to gain their undivided attention.  “Mr. Lancer, don’t ya worry none, we’ll take care of our youngun’s.  Ya just take care of those bad apples.”

“Thanks men.  I appreciate your help,” said Murdoch as he dusted off his hands.  He watched the fathers escort their charges down the street.  Murdoch was fairly confident those boys’ backsides would soon be catching fire.  The fathers were partially lifting the boys’ feet off the ground with grips on their collars as well as on the waistbands of their pants.  He grinned at his own sons and said, “Never too old, boys.”

Johnny and Scott looked at each other and grinned, thankful that they had clean consciousness in the latest fiasco that happened to hit Green River.  Nope, no consequences they had to pay.  Scott ribbed Johnny and quipped, “Johnny, for once you’re off the hook with Murdoch.”

“Ya got that right, Boston.  I told ya I wasn’t gonna do anything.  Ya see I’d told ya it’s never my fault.”  Smirked Johnny as he watched his two friends dumping the smelly garments on the platform.  “Ya should have heard Murdoch at the jail, givin’ these two the what for while ya were gettin’ those pitchforks.  For a sec…I thought I was in one of those “come ta Jesus meetin’” when Ram called him “ol’ man”, ya should have seen the veins pop on Murdoch’s neck.”

“I’ve seen them before brother, when you’ve called him that,” chortled Scott as he draped his arm around Johnny’s neck and gave him an affection squeeze.  “Yessir, those veins of his do pop out when he’s mad.  Oh and Johnny, you owe me a new shirt, a new coat and a new vest.  You see them up there on the platform instead of back in my room at Lancer?”

Johnny looked and dropped his head down, “Ahh ya got me there Scott. I forgot about borrowin’ them.  Lo seinto, hermano, lo siento.”

Soon the blaze was underway, sending dark billowing clouds of twisting smoke high into the air as clothes and wood burned to the ground, thankfully eliminating much of the lingering stench.  Murdoch handled shovels to Buck and Rambler and had them turn dirt over the ashes, checking for sparks and pouring water over any to prevent any possible problem.

When Murdoch was satisfied the fire was completely out, he had Johnny and Scott usher Buck and Rambler back to the jail to the applause of the townspeople lining the street, as they shuffled along trying not to trip over the chains that jerked at their feet.  “Good job Murdoch!”  “That’s showin’ ‘em!”  “They’re lucky you’re here!  I’d a tarred and feathered them and rode ‘em out of town on rails!”  “Someone should catch a skunk and give ‘em a taste of their own medicine!”

Murdoch stopped in front of the jail, pronouncing, “Folks, the show is over, go on about your business and allow my boys and me to take care of this until Sheriff Crawford gets back on duty.  Thank you all for your support!”

Val marched over to the cell, wearing some new store bought clothes that had been brought over to him, while the town council members had clothes bought to them from their wives.  He actually had a brand new hat that he was busy worrying the brim, trying to shape it to his liking as he crossed to the jail.

Johnny and Scott jumped to their feet when the door was swung opened, “Hey Val, lookin’ good!  Not smellin’ too bad, now.  Hey those are nice duds,” said Johnny as he gave out a sharp whistle.  “First time I’ve seen ya lookin’ so …. so …. unrumpled!”

“Nice hat,” said Scott, not wanting to press his luck with Val who looked fairly peeved.

Val pushed past Scott and Johnny to stand directly behind his desk and asked, “Does somebody want ta fill me in on what took place today?”

Murdoch who had been pouring himself a coffee, stood in front of Val to say,” Sheriff Crawford, your prisoners obviously pulled a prank, mainly to get back at Mayor Higgs for having them tossed into jail over New Year’s.  They saw an opportunity and they took advantage of it.  Neither Johnny or Scott were involved, you have their word and mine on that.”

He paused, had some coffee and continued, “I’ve already had these two clean-up a good portion of their mess.  But it seems to me that the church will need a fresh coat OR two of paint, inside and out to get rid of the stench, after they wash the walls down first with some strong lye soap.  I suggest these two work off the damages they caused by performing community service.  I’m certain Mayor Higgs and the other town councilmen have special projects they need done that they can do.  I recommend you keep them in leg irons while they’re out doing their work.  Keep them contained on short leashes.  Since the circuit judge won’t be back for another two months I think sentencing these two to sixty days labor is a fair penalty.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

Val sat down hard in his chair, “Well Mr. Lancer, ya seem ta have it all worked out don’t ya?”

“Hey, what about us, don’t we get ta say anything?” yelled Rambler.

Johnny, Scott, Murdoch and Val all turned their heads to looked at him and said together in one loud voice, “NO!”

Val grinned and said, “As long as after the sixty days, I can escort these two out of Green River and prohibit them from returning here or Morro Coyo or Spanish Wells as long as I’m the sheriff in these parts.”

Johnny grinned at Val, Scott and Murdoch before saying, “Sounds more than fair ta me.”

Murdoch gripped his son’s shoulder and smiled at Scott, “Boys I think we should leave Val, get Teresa, have lunch and then head on home since we can’t have a dance tonight anyway.  What do you say?”

“Sure Murdoch.  Only thing, I still want ta know if Punks-a-tangy Phil saw his shadow?” asked Johnny.

Everyone looked at Johnny in surprise and Scott said, “Why?”

“I’m just ready for this winter ta be over that’s all Boston,” Johnny said, as Scott grabbed him into a head lock and mused his unruly locks even more.

“You’re really thinking that an actual or stand-in groundhog can predict the weather?” Scott asked incredulously.

“Well, Scott the way ya went on and on about it, I figured there must be something ta it.  Otherwise ya wouldn’t have wanted ta make such a big fuss out of this day.  So for sure and truly this is YOUR fault!” Johnny quipped as he quickly pulled open the office door and ran with Scott in hot pursuit!

While Murdoch and Val stood there, shaking their heads and laughing as the brothers ran up one side of the street, down the other.  Coming to a complete stop at the saloon’s batwing doors, breathing heavy as they were laughing, they draped their arms around the other’s shoulders and entered the saloon.

“Now there’s an idea I can git behind and for once the hair on the back of my neck ain’t standin’ up and botherin’ me,” drawled Val.  “Mr. Lancer will ya join me for a beer?”

“After you Sheriff Crawford,” said Murdoch as he closed the door to the office.

The End

Patti H. – February 12009

*** Borrowed from “The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge” of Quarryville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which composed in 1899 a song about groundhogs sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Patti H. directly.


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