Word count: 1,674
“Scott Lancer, you just hold it a minute. I need to talk to you!” Teresa O’Brien had emerged from the kitchen just in time to catch Scott who was heading outside.
The blond man turned around slowly to face the brown-haired girl. “Can’t it wait, Teresa? I’m really busy right now.”
“Busy? You think you’re busy? In one week we are putting on “Lulubelle’s Lament” and I don’t even have a villain yet!”
“Why don’t you talk to Johnny? I’m sure he’d be much better in that part than I would!”
“I heard that, brrrothher.” Ice dripped from the last word.
“Oh, Johnny, I didn’t see you sitting there.” Scott smirked. “But it certainly is true that you would do full justice to the part.”
The dark-haired man slicked his hair back with one hand and with a twist of arrogance to his lips, announced, “Teresa has already offered me the part of the hero. I get to kiss Annelise Thornton since she’s the lady hero.”
“Annelise Thornton as the heroine,” Scott whistled, “that will be something to see. She is quite an armful.”
Teresa flashed the older Lancer son a scathing look. “She is a fine choice. In fact, I picked her myself. She actually did some acting while she attended Miss Terwiliger’s School for Cultured Young Ladies.”
Both Scott and Johnny snorted at the pompous title of the school, but Scott placed a serious look on his face and kept it there. “Well, that does sound impressive. I’m sure she’ll do your play justice and with Romeo Lancer here as the male lead who would even be looking at the villain?”
“That’s not the point, Scott Lancer. You know the money from the play goes to help the orphans and I want the best cast possible.”
Scott stood a little straighter and smiled at the young woman. “That’s kind of you, Teresa, I did have a taste the thespian world while at Harvard, but it really wasn’t for me.”
“Too spicy, I’ll bet. All you easterners got those weak stomachs,” Johnny gibed.
Teresa whirled around to say something to Johnny, but then the young woman could see Scott trying to move away out of the corner of her eye. “You just stand still, Scott Lancer! You’re not going anywhere until you agree to do this!”
“I have to go talk to Murdoch. I’ll be right back.” Faster than Johnny after a pretty girl, the former cavalry officer knocked at his father’s door and entered.
Teresa started pacing around the great room, hands on hips. “Your brother is a coward, Johnny!”
” Boston ? Why would he be afraid of being in the play? What did you say it’s about again? I mean besides the parts where I kiss Annelise?”
Teresa gave him a tenuous smile. “You’ll just love it. Francesca Hewitt wrote it. You know she likes you so she made your part extra special.”
“Francesca Hewitt? Which one’s she?”
“The one you took to the Valentine’s Dance last year,” she reminded him.
“But she said I behaved worse than an overgrown schoolboy and never wanted to see me again and all I did was step on the skirt of her dress!” Johnny scrunched his face up at the memory. The woman had yelled bloody murder at him and had demanded to go home. Since she lived several miles from town, he had missed all the fun and dancing.
“Johnny, the whole bottom half of her gown was ripped off. She was standing there in her. . .her. . .
The sapphire-eyed man sniffed. “Guess that wasn’t too good, but I did give her that tablecloth to wrap around her. . .her. . . .”
“That was very sweet of you, Johnny. It’s just too bad that you didn’t pick up the bowl of punch first. That color wasn’t too becoming to Francesca.”
Johnny gulped. “Are you sure she wants me in this play? I mean. . . .”
“I know what you mean, Johnny dear, and you don’t have to worry. Francesca told me that she forgives you. In fact, she said she couldn’t think of anyone who would fit the part better than you!” Teresa’s smile broadened into a grin.
“Did you say something?”
“I was just wondering how much money Scott would want to play the hero!”
“Johnny Madrid Lancer! You’d bribe your own brother to get out of doing your civic duty?”
“Aw, I just know he’d be better ‘n me. I kind of fancy myself as one of those fellas with the handlebar moustache who goes around twirlin’ ’em and cackling somethin’ evil like,”
Teresa started. “You’ve read the play! I’ve kept it under my mattress. How did you find it?
She started to head for her room to check her copy of the epic but stopped when Scott returned to the great room, followed by his father. In his best town crier’s voice, he proclaimed, “Hear ye, hear ye, Murdoch has an announcement.”
After clearing his throat, the rancher, in his most serious tones, gave them the glad tidings that Scott would not be available for thespian duties because he was undertaking a dangerous journey to Stockton that would enable Lancer to stay in business for one more day, even though cattle prices were still down. The tall man gave a loud sigh and then retired to his room to read the latest copy of the “Cow Owner’s Gazette.”
Johnny instantly jumped to his feet. “We all know what you’re goin’ to Stockton for! You’re plannin’ on goin’ after Audra again. Thought we had an understandin’.”
“Johnny, I am not going to see Audra. Nick is going to let us borrow El Diablo!”
“What? I don’t believe it. Nick would never let that bull out of his sight. I think he’d sell Jarrod first!”
“Now, Johnny, Nick is very fond of his brother, but he succumbed to my persuasive ways and will let us use El Diablo for breeding purposes. I have single-handedly saved this ranch, just as our esteemed father said.” His snickers echoed all over the room.
“Did you say something, brother?”
“How much did you bribe Murdoch to let you go? I can do it better ‘n you. I got a way with animals, remember?”
“This is a bull, Johnny. Mean and vicious. He hasn’t heard of your reputation with horses, kittens and earthworms. Besides, it was my idea!” Scott’s hands clenched and unclenched.
“So you admit it? You just thought it up so you could get out of playing the villain! Well, I’m way ahead of you on that score. I’ve decided to play the villain so I guess you can be the empty headed hero! That is if Teresa wants to bother with you!” Johnny flounced over to the couch and took a seat as if to say, “So there!”
Teresa, who had been standing there listening to the two brothers go at it, squeaked out a question. “Would. . .would you like to be the hero, Scott? Johnny seems determined to play the villain.”
“Well, I, uh, would I get to kiss Annelise?”
The girl nodded.
“Alright, I’ll do it then. I’ll wire Nick that I’ll pick up El Diablo in a week.”
“You mean we’ll pick up El Diablo in a week!” Johnny’s chin came up.
“If you insist, but I swear to you Audra’s not going to be there!” Scott’s chin and his dander were also up.
“Oh, I believe you, Boston , but it will be nice to see Nick, Jarrod, and Heath again,” the younger man replied sweetly.
Teresa reached up to whisper in Scott’s ear. Scott listened and replied, “That’s right. Nick warned Johnny that he’d shoot him if he caught him kissing Audra again.”
“Aw, he was just kiddin’.” Johnny’s right eyebrow arched. ‘Sides, don’t you think we should start rehearsin’? I want to be letter perfect for my big performance.”
ONE WEEK LATER
As the final curtain came down on the rough-built stage near the Orphanage, shouts of delight and thunderous clapping filled the night while Scott Lancer, dressed all in white, continued to kiss the lovely pink-clad Annelise Thornton. Unfortunately, it was not the triumph of good over evil that drew the spontaneous cheers and whistles, but the sight of one Mortimer K. Snirkle as played by John Madrid Lancer.
The sinister varmint, who had schemed to have his evil way with the lovely Lulubelle Babble, had met his dastardly end at the hands of the hero, I.M. Hansom, known as ‘I’ to all of his many friends. Challenged to a shootout, the hero had nearly succumbed to Snirkle’s perfidy, but once again good won out when the weapon of choice, a fruit pie, hit Mortimer right in the moustache.
The cast took seventeen curtain calls and flowers were showered on Annelise and Teresa. Val Crawford was even heard to yell, “Hit him with a pie again, Scott!” Since the Green River lawman was in attendance only to subdue troublemakers, this was seen by the townsfolk as a tactless remark. Besides, Teresa had baked only one pie.
Hours later back at Lancer the fallen villain continued to grumble at his director and adversary. “How come nobody told me ’bout the pie in the face?” he complained.
“I’m sorry about that Johnny dear, but it was one of those last minute decisions by the author. She didn’t want to scare the children by having Scott pretend to shoot you so she came up with the pie idea.”
“Did you say something, brother?”
“So how come if it was a last minute idea, you just happened to have a pie lyin’ around and if it had to be a pie, why not chocolate? I don’t like gooseberry!”
“Next year, Johnny dear. Reverend Baker wants us to put on the play every year from now on since we made so much money!”
Johnny was still picking gooseberries out his hair when he and Scott left for Stockton .
To Journey North —>
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