Word Count 2,606
No Beta, all mistakes are mine
Lancer Writer October 2020 challenge: Things my Mother told me
He had witnessed the boys’ antics on occasion when he came to Green River but never gave it too much thought. Boys were boys; that wouldn’t change. He’d even gotten a few good laughs when Dexter and Conrad Smithson knocked ol’ Mayor Higgs headlong into the horse trough as they ran unsupervised through town.
Johnny had watched as Higgs stormed out of the Widow Hargis’ store looking like he’d been done a wrong and in need of help when the twin terrors raced around the corner, collided with Higgs’ substantial bulk, and kept right on going. The Mayor didn’t know what hit him. He spun around, looking much like a whirling top, only to lose his balance as he tipped off the boardwalk and plunge headfirst into the trough. Water sloshed over the sides and created a sizable puddle in the street.
Now, that in itself was humorous, but the thing that sent Johnny into the fit was seeing Higgs come up out of the water, gulping air like a giant, fat fish. Thinning hair plastered down over the man’s balding pate, and his eyes wide with shock reminded Johnny of an ol’ hoot-owl, soaked with rain and wondering how his supper had managed to escape. No, no hoot-owl ever looked that stupid…
It started with a snort but began to build and soon was threatening to blow out of control. Johnny Lancer had to get himself out of there, and now!
He had to make a quick escape away from the scene, knowing there would be no control over the belly laughs that were about one second from liberation. Johnny quickly reined Barranca down the street and dismounted. There, he barged his way into the sheriff’s office, threw himself in a chair, and howled until his sides were sore, and he could pull himself together enough to tell Val what happened.
The twins were notorious around the town for misbehaving and were always in trouble. Anyone with a lick of sense that saw those two blazes of red hair coming down the boardwalk usually crossed to the other side of the street… just in case, and hoped for the best. It was a known fact the Widow Smithson had more on her plate than she could handle. For the most part, she looked worn and tired, as if she didn’t get a full night’ rest. And it was no wonder.
The next trip to Green River, Johnny pulled Barranca to a stop and watched with interest as Sheriff Crawford marched his red-haired, freckle-faced detainees across the street, their dirty chins down on their chests and bare feet kicking at the dirt. With hands clutching the backs of the bib overalls, Val steered them into the sheriff’s office. Mrs. Smithson brought up the rear of the procession and wrung her hands in embarrassed frustration. She looked to be cryin’, Johnny thought. Hell, Val looks like he’s cryin’!
Humm, wonder what them little hellions did now? Well, he’d let Val handle it. Johnny had things to do and places to be. Lancer ranch business couldn’t wait. Not this time. As he went about his way, a duet of wailing drifted down the street. Was that the boys, or Val? He thought with a smirk. Johnny smiled and wondered if Val was glad now that he never married and had kids. At this moment, he guessed Val was just fine with his bachelor status.
Johnny chuckled all the way home, thinking about Val having to discipline Dexter and Conrad Smithson. But Johnny knew in all truth, Val would have made one helluva father. He may be a slob and rough around the edges, but any kid of his would take responsibility for his actions.
It was a beautiful, late morning ride. The sun was shining and not too hot. The birds were singing, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The day started with Murdoch asking Johnny to ride into town and sign papers at the bank. Then he surprised Johnny by saying he could have the rest of the day off. Had he heard the old man right?
So, when the rare opportunity presented itself, Johnny jumped on it, and here he was, on his way to Green River to spend a leisurely afternoon, and probably evening, too. Just maybe he and Val would have lunch at Señora Garcia’s café. It was Thursday; she had her special chili on Thursday. Throw in some tamales, and he’d be all set. Then, a few beers at the Angel’s Nest, and if his luck held, there would be a poker game. And, what the hell, as long as he was there, he just might visit with one of the girls upstairs.
The smile crawled across the handsome face as he thought of his plans. Yup, gonna be a real nice day. Until the blast from an explosion caused Barranca to halt, then sidestep and toss his head. Johnny got the horse under control and spurred him toward town. What the hell’s goin’ on? Barranca sensed the urgency and raced down the road, leaving puffs of dust to float after him.
The smoke hung heavy in the air. A tangle of Green River’s citizens extricated themselves from the human pile in front of Ellie’s Dress Shop. The ladies frantically straightened their clothing, hoping the dress they wore stayed down to cover them. A chorus of ‘Oh, dear’ and ‘Oh, my goodness’ harmonized with the gruffer curses from the men.
An overturned wagon lay upside down, the tongue snapped and splintered, then buried in the ground. There was no sign of the team, and the remains of a load of fenceposts were strewn like an armload of dropped kindling. From what he could piece together, the wagon came close to running these folks down. As one, they jumped out of the path, only crash together and fall out of harm’s way.
Fence posts littered the street as if marking a trail. And a trail it was, from the flipped wagon to the loading dock in the back of the mercantile. Down the street, a bucket line formed as the townsfolk tried to get the blaze under control that threatened the rest of the gunsmith shop. The back room was already a loss, blown sky-high, now charred and smoldering.
Up the street, Johnny could see Tully Williams sitting in the dirt, a ladder on his shoulders, and his head between the rungs as he clutched his leg in obvious pain and yelling for someone to get Doc Jenkins. A broken window with shattered panes and tools lay all around.
Johnny looked on in disbelief. What happened in Green River? He watched as Val stopped to question the folks nearly run down by the driverless wagon. All Johnny could hear were raised voices, nothing distinct, yet. But, it appeared no one knew what happened. Tempers flared, and Val looked as if he needed help.
“Sheriff Crawford, ya gotta do somethin’!” Harry Conley demanded.
“We was almost kilt, Val! Jus’ what the devil’s goin’ on in this here town?” Gus Blake grumbled.
“Now, just calm down, everyone, calm down so’s I can do my job!” Val barked. Then, he asked all the pertinent questions, and no one had any answers for him.
“Need a hand, Val?” Johnny asked as he walked his amigo up the street, following the trail of fenceposts.
From the corner of his eye, Johnny spotted a clue. “Gonna check on somethin’ over here, Val. Meet cha at your office.” And not waiting for a reply, Johnny left Val to do his best and straighten out the chaos that erupted in his town.
Coming silently around the corner, Johnny heard the panicked voices, voices knowing they were in trouble… again.
“Think maybe we kin head ta the border? They won’t think ta look for us there!”
“Yeah, good idea! We kin stop at home an’ ask Ma ta make us some sammiches, then leave before anyone’s the wiser!”
“Best bring us some matches cuz ‘m scared of the dark.”
“Yeah, an better bring our slingshots, ya know, for protection on the trail!” Suddenly, there was a huff of disgust. “What’d ya hafta scare them horses for?”
“What’d ya mean? All I did was lighted off that there firecracker…”
And now it made sense. Johnny could only shake his head. And he did the only thing he could do.
“You boys got somethin’ ta say?” Johnny asked as they hid behind bales of straw. They made to run, but he caught them both by their collars and held on tight.
“Settle down! NOW!” And they stopped their struggles. He could almost feel the thunder of their hearts beating right through the worn material in his hands.
“Do you boys know what you did?” Johnny asked. Neither boy said anything, and Johnny gave them a little shake. “Well, do ya!”
“Umm, not all of it, but we kin ‘splain! See, Conrad, here, he lighted a firecra…”
Johnny sighed. “No, I don’t wanna hear any excuses. I wanna know if you know exactly whatcha did?”
Neither boy spoke.
“Alright, before I turn ya in ta the law, an’ ya know Sheriff Crawford ain’t gonna happy about this, I’m gonna tell ya somethin’. Ya both caused a lot of trouble for a lot of folks taday. Hardworkin’ folks, just mindin’ their own business, an’ you two come along an’ because ya didn’t stop ta think of what could happen from your little joke, folks got hurt an’ property was destroyed.” He let go of their shirt collars and turned them to face him. “Ya need ta think about what you’re doing before ya do it. Now, you’re gonna take responsibility for your actions. Ya understand?”
Johnny watched as two chins began to quiver, and tears filled the brown eyes to overflow.
With another deep sigh, Johnny herded the Smithson twins around the corner and down the boardwalk to Green River’s sheriff’s office.
Val Crawford opened the door and stopped in his tracks as he watched Johnny come down the street with the small, dreaded rowdies, one on either side and quivering chins to boot. A hand on each of their shoulders discouraged them to even think about running. Val dropped his chin to his chest. I shoulda known…
“Whatcha got there, Johnny?”
He stopped, not letting go of the carrot-topped miscreants. “Ya got somethin’ ta tell the sheriff, boys?”
Johnny waited, Val waited, and nothing. Until…
“Sheriff Crawford! I want to know what you’re going to do about this?” demanded the Widow Hargis. The tiny woman came down the street, leading the team of runaway horses, broken reins, and… draped in the Widows laundry. White underclothes, now filthy and torn, caught in the harness and around the horses’ necks.
“Ah,” Val was stumped. He wasn’t going to wash the Widow’s underthings!
“Well, Sheriff Crawford? What are you going to do?”
Johnny shoved the laugh aside and gathered himself as best he could, then met Val’s eyes with a ‘Ya owe me one’ look. “I think ya need ta be askin’ these two. Widow Hargis. See, they’re the ones that started this whole thing. Was gonna get their Ma ta make them some sandwiches, run out ta Mexico an’ try an’ get away. Weren’t ya?” He gave the little shoulders a nudge.
A chorus of “Yes ’um,” was murmured. At that moment, Mrs. Smithson hurried across the street. She was pale, frazzled, and desperately looked to the faces around her for help.
Widow Hargis was not going to give in. She cleared her throat and took command of the situation. “Mrs. Smithson, Sheriff, with your permission…” she gestured to the sheriff’s office.
The grin that blossomed on Val would have been Johnny’s undoing had it not been for the presence of the boys’ mother.
Mrs. Smithson took a deep breath. “Yes, please,” she nodded her head in relief.
“Be my guest, Miz Hargis!” Val boomed.
Both boys burst into tears that did not affect Widow Hargis. Euleleah Hargis, with a hand on the shoulder of each, much as Johnny had done, shepherded the twins into the jailhouse and closed the door.
The last thing Johnny, Val, and Mrs. Smithson heard was the Widow when she said, “My mother used to say, ‘Stop that crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!’”
It was a long day, and not the day Johnny had hoped to have. He stayed in Green River long enough to lend Val a hand, setting wrong back to right, and after finding no serious injury, all he wanted to do was to go home. The fenceposts were loaded onto another wagon and taken away. There was nothing he could do about the ruined storeroom at the gunsmith’s, so his job here was finished.
The Lancer adobe arch never looked so inviting as it did now.
With a sigh, Johnny Lancer walked into the great room, poured himself a tall glass of tequila, then sagged his weary body on the comfortable couch. He kicked off his boots, took a drink, tipped his head back on the cushions, and closed his eyes.
Murdoch and Scott looked up from the ledger in surprise and confusion.
“Johnny? Are you alright, son? We didn’t expect you home so soon.”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah, I’m fine. Green River isn’t, though.” His eyes remained closed.
In unison, Murdoch and Scott asked, “What happened?” wondering if Green River would need their help.
Johnny sighed. “Smithson boys.”
It was amazing the images those two words roused in their brains.
Scott huffed. “Well, they’re only boys; how much trouble could they cause?”
Johnny burst out laughing. He sat up, took another drink, and told the tale.
“There was an explosion. When I got ta town, the first thing I saw was folks getting’ ta their feet, lookin’ like they almost got run down by a wagon…”
Johnny relayed the chain of events, noting that both Murdoch and Scott had all they could do to keep their mirth under control for most of the telling. There were no serious injuries, and Bert Huckleberry could rebuild the storeroom. That took the edge off the situation. He shouldn’t have been smoking that close to the gunpowder, anyway! But Susie Parker’s scream when the runaway team hit the ladder and knocked it out from under Tully Williams as he attempted to fix the second story broken window scared him, and Bert dropped his cigar near a spill of the powder. He missed getting himself blown to kingdom come as he ran out the door when the scream reached his ears.
Sustaining only a sprained knee, Tully would be fine. And, so would the Widow Hargis’ laundry.
That was it. Scott dissolved into laughter, and Murdoch had to look down at the troubling ledger as he pursed his lips to keep from joining them.
“The last I heard was the Widow tellin’ them boys ta stop their cryin’ or she’d give them something ta cry about!” Johnny finished with a chuckle.
Scott cleared his throat. “Yes, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned spanking to correct some of those issues…” and he made a slapping motion with his hand.
“Oh, Scott…” Murdoch began. “Be careful what you wish for. It may come true!”
Widow Hargis’ laundry was cleaned and mended.
The Smithson twins still cannot sit. And there were no sammiches for them, either.
They are beginning to understand that what goes around, comes around…
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