Word count: 1,125
Scott and Johnny had covered quite a distance on their journey north towards Stockton . It was a hot day so they had made several stops to give the horses a break, but there had been little talk between the two brothers. Both seemed focused on only one thing—getting to Stockton , picking up the infamous El Diablo and returning home to Lancer.
Finally as the shadows began to deepen, Johnny called a halt. “Reckon we might as well make camp near the creek over there.”
“Creek?” Scott strained his eyes but saw nothing.
“There’s a fair size creek over beyond those rocks. Can’t see it ’cause of the trees. Stopped there last time I was up this way.”
“Sounds good to me. My butt’s already protesting.”
“Been out of the cavalry too long, Boston .” Johnny gave him a brief smile.
“You’d think I’d have a callous two inches thick by now, wouldn’t you? I mean Murdoch keeps us busy, doesn’t he?”
“Sure does. Guess he thinks it’s the only way to learn what ranchin’ all about.”
Between the two of them, the brothers quickly set up a small camp and put some coffee on to cook. They had already decided not to do much cooking since Teresa had earlier packed some sandwiches. Once the horses were taken care of, Johnny stretched out on his bedroll while Scott sat near the fire idly drawing in the dust with a stick.
“Johnny, I want you to know that I was telling the truth about Audra. She and Mrs. Barkley are in San Francisco .”
Johnny watched his brother for a moment and then replied, “I know it.”
“What? You. . .I thought you figured I was lying just so I could see Audra on my own.”
“Weell, the idea did go through my head, but once I sent a telegram to Heath. . . .”
“And just when did you do that?”
“‘Bout ten minutes after you sent yours to Nick. Got an answer right away.” Johnny gave him a broad grin.
“But you didn’t say anything!”
“Just like you didn’t say anything ’bout the pie!”
Scott dug at the dirt with the stick. “Guess you think that was my idea, don’t you?”
Johnny sat straight up, a look of bewilderment on his face. “Hell no! I know it was Francesca’s way of gettin’ back at me for ruinin’ her dress. ‘Course I s’ppose it mighta been brotherly of you to tell me about it.”
“I was going to, but Teresa was really afraid you’d just walk out on her. I tried to tell her you wouldn’t let the kids down, but well, she. . . .”
“She what?” A grim look settled on Johnny’s handsome face.
“She’s afraid of you.”
The sapphire eyes opened wide as the younger man tried to get his tongue around the word, “Af-fraid?”
“Not that you’d hurt her or any of us, but she’s worries about your. . .past.”
“That don’t make sense.”
“She’s afraid about how you’ll react in certain. . .situations.”
“You mean like havin’ a pie tossed at me?”
“Exactly. She’s only read about gunfighters in those dime novels of hers. To her they’re all bigger than life and don’t have a sense of humor.”
“But she’s gotta know I’m not like them fellas,” Johnny protested.
“Of course she does, but she just couldn’t imagine that Johnny Madrid would take a pie in the face and laugh about it. The night before the performance she came to me, crying. She told me what Francesca intended to do. I told her not to worry. Just to bake the pie and I’d throw it. I figured if you had to blame someone it would be me.”
“Took a big chance there, didn’t you? Could have drilled you full of holes!”
“With an empty gun? No, I thought you might be upset, but I think I know you well enough by now to realize that I was in no danger.”
“Am I that easy to read?”
“Sometimes. Most of the time you keep whatever you’re feeling deep inside, but I saw you up on that stage and I knew you were enjoying yourself. Every time you twirled your moustache, the kids would giggle and you’d do it again. I knew you were having the time of your life and I couldn’t imagine a man like that being too offended by a pie in the face. I must confess though, I almost didn’t go through with it.”
“For one minute I had this cold fear that you’d close yourself off and we’d lose what we have between us.”
“But you did decide to throw the pie.”
Scott nodded. “Do you want to know why?”
“I already know.”
“‘Cause that’s what the part called for. I know you too, brother. You do what you have to, even if it costs you.”
“I. . .I guess you do know me. I just couldn’t let Teresa and everybody down and more importantly, I knew you’d understand. There’s more to you than you want people to see. I’ve noticed the way you are when you’re enjoying yourself with kids. I had to believe that you could laugh at yourself too.”
Johnny grinned at him. “Got that right. Man who can’t laugh at himself isn’t much of a man. Never felt I could afford to do it much before I came to Lancer. Now it feels good to be able to laugh and make people feel happy instead of afraid of me, of my name. ‘Course I still wish that pie had been chocolate. Teresa better make sure it is for next year.”
“I’ll. . .I’ll do the villain part next time. . .if you want.”
“Nossir, I’m the star and ‘sides you’d look ridiculous in a handlebar!”
“I suppose I would at that. Anyway if it’s any comfort to you, kissing Annelise was no fun. She must have chewed on a bulb of garlic right before the play. I almost passed out from kissing her so many times.”
“Actually, it was probably that sauce she had for lunch.” Johnny scratched behind one ear.
“Well, when you and Teresa were gettin’ the stage set up and ready to go, I took Annelise out to lunch. I kinda encouraged her to try this new dish at the cantina. Got lots of garlic in it.” Sapphire eyes glanced wryly at the other man.
Scott started to laugh. “I guess that makes us even—you get a pie in the face and I get a garlic kiss.”
Johnny joined in the laughter. “Yeah I guess it does. Now let’s get some sleep. Wanna be on the trail early tomorrow. El Diablo is waiting.”
To El Diablo —>
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