Bad Company by Dori

Word count: 2,040

Sauntering down the hallway, Johnny calculated the odds on being able to filch a slice of the apple pie he’d smelled baking earlier.  If Teresa was in charge of the kitchen right now, he could kiss his chances goodbye.  Not only would she turn him down flat, she’d find a good place to hide the dessert until it was served with supper that night.

But Maria…..?  There was a different story.  She had an undeniable soft corner for her little ‘Juanito’.  Some wheedling and a few Spanish blandishments…and he could just about taste that tender crust and sweet cinnamon-apple filling.

Just as he was set to give in to temptation, a distraction came in the form of a loud thud, followed by a couple of exclamations—muffled, but clearly of the vulgar, four-lettered variety.

Staring at the door, Johnny’s curiosity warred with his raging sweet tooth, but finally curiosity won out.  Without benefit of knocking, he entered the room—and felt his jaw drop in surprise.

If there was one place in the hacienda that was usually neat to the point of military precision—this was it.  But instead of the normal—‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’—condition, there were piles of books, clothes, fripperies and knick-knacks covering every flat surface.

An extremely large crate sat open in the middle of the room.  It looked as if the heavy lid had been propped against the side of the box, but had fallen to the floor—probably causing the resounding thump Johnny had heard.

The explanation for those unrefined imprecations was also apparent, as Scott rubbed his shin and fixed the hapless wooden slab with a baleful glare, before moving it to a far corner of the room.

He turned an even more baleful glare in his brother’s direction when Johnny let fly with a long, low whistle. 

“Hey, Scott, if you’re planning to open a dry goods store here at Lancer, you’ll have both the Widow Hargis and Senor Baldemerro out for your blood.”

“I’m rather busy right now, Johnny.  So if you have nothing more to contribute than smart remarks…..”

The younger man responded to this very pointed suggestion by clearing a space on the bed and making himself comfortable.

Recognizing a lost cause when it bit him in the ass, Scott did his best to ignore his brother, digging through the chest and coming up—improbably–with a child’s sterling silver rattle and a handful of baby clothes.

“Something you ain’t telling me, brother?” Johnny smirked.

There was a long, slow, tight-lipped pause, and then Scott evidently decided that the object of his pent-up spleen wasn’t really his annoying younger brother.

“It’s my grandfather’s fault,” he finally ground out.  “I’ve failed to follow through on my promise about trying to make it back to visit sometime, and I’m afraid he hasn’t taken it in very good part.  This is his subtle idea of a reprimand.”

“What….sending you all this junk?” Johnny asked incredulously.

“It’s actually more effective than it might seem,” Scott replied.  “At the very least it will take me hours of work to deal with this mess and I’ll certainly be thinking of Boston while I’m doing it.”

After a moment’s thought, Johnny shrugged.  “Just have a couple of the hands haul the chest out to one of the sheds….problem solved.”

“Ah, but the old gentleman was crafty enough to think of that eventuality.  He placed a few mementos on top of the rubbish–things that he knew I truly would want to save.  That way I have to sort through it all to make sure I don’t miss something important.”

“For example,” Scott picked up a battered leather-bound volume and thumbed through the pages.  “Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift—a collector would say it was worth a mere pittance—but I must have read the story a dozen times as a boy.  I value it more than any first edition.”

“OK, so once you’ve rescued all your ‘treasures’, what are you gonna do with the rest?”

Scott was delving once again into the depths of the over-stuffed container.  He came up with a gilded ceramic cherub in his hand, and gestured towards the various heaps and stacks.  “Some of it can simply be disposed of, and I’ll repack whatever I want to store out in the barn.  As for the remaining useful items….I’m sure Teresa can find someone willing to give them a new home.”

It might have looked a lot like disorder, but Johnny realized the clutter was really organized into the exact categories his brother had just outlined.  Poking through a mound of objects that were probably going to be consigned to outdoor storage, he came across a small framed tintype.  The tow-headed youngster in the fancy suit appeared to be about ten, and that expression of solemn determination hadn’t changed much in the last fifteen years. 

“Why, look at that—Scott, you photographed well even when you was just a kid!”

At first his brother didn’t even glance up from his work, but then Johnny added in an off-hand manner, “You might think about giving this to Murdoch….I bet he’d be real pleased.”

“I’ll think about it.”  The tone was noncommittal, but the picture was stowed next to the prized copy of Gulliver’s Travels.

A slightly uneasy, tentative silence followed, lengthening until Johnny pounced on a long, flat, rectangular case and demanded, “What the hell is that?”

Scott seemed willing to take a break from his self-imposed task.  Unfastening the clasps, he opened the hinged box—revealing a pair of elegant, polished steel weapons.

“These are foils, Johnny.  They’re used for fencing……which is…..”

“Yeah, yeah….. I already know that don’t have nothing to do with stringing barbed wire or splitting logs,” his brother interrupted, grasping one of the handles.

Slicing the blade through the air in a graceful arc, he continued, “I’ve seen some of the hidalgo’s back in Mexico using these things to fight duels.  Always seemed to me like a pretty silly way to do the ‘dance’—grown men jumping around and chasing each other with these skinny, little swords.  Is that the kind of parlor tricks you got up to back in Boston?”

“I learned the skill when I was quite young,” Scott admitted, “and also took lessons while I was at Harvard.”

“Hmmmmm….” Johnny’s snicker was flippant but companionable.  “I guess if we ever run out of bullets here on the ranch, it might just come in handy.”

The grin that spread across Scott’s face was the first indication of genuine amusement he’d shown since he’d started this whole project.  It died a short death, however, when his brother made yet another discovery while rooting through the chest.

The tiny infant slippers had been cast in bronze and placed atop mahogany pedestal.  Affixed to the base was a small plaque engraved with the name—Scott Garrett Lancer and a date of birth.

Johnny eyed it with unholy glee.  “Oh, you weren’t planning on hiding this away, were you, brother?  Why I think it ought ta have a place of honor—maybe on the old man’s desk….or setting on the mantle…..!”

The embarrassing keepsake was wrested from his hands without ceremony and thrust beneath a bundle of old muslin nightshirts. 

“I believe I’ve already mentioned that I’m busy, Johnny.  If you’re not going to help, then please just leave me to get the job done in peace…!”

“Aw, Scott….I didn’t mean to cause no problems.  Give me another chance to show how ‘helpful’ I can be…!”

Johnny’s contrition might have sounded genuine to an ear less experienced than his older brother’s.  Even though it was against his better judgment, Scott did relent and for a short time both men toiled—unpacking, sorting, discarding and repacking—with at least a semblance of harmony.

Near the bottom of the crate, they fished out a parcel—wrapped in ornate paper and tied with velvet ribbons, it seemed quite out-of-place among the various castoffs and oddments.  Feeling just as mystified as his brother, Scott tore the wrappings free with less than his usual calm restraint.

Inside the package was an old-fashioned needle-work sampler mounted in a simple pine frame.  The somber colors of the stitching had faded and the linen background was slightly grubby, but it was still easy enough to read :

Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.
George Washington

Regarding the pompous homily with a jaundiced eye, Johnny asked, “So…this is yours?”

“I’m afraid so.  It hung on the wall above my bed for almost as long as I can remember.  Grandfather insisted……” Scott’s voice trailed off as he noticed a fine velum envelope tucked behind the frame.  Recognizing Harlan’s distinctive handwriting immediately, he broke the wax seal with a slight feeling of trepidation. 

My Dear Scotty,

I thought Mr. Washington’s sage advice could be of value to you—given your current circumstances.  Although blood ties have their place, heed this excellent reminder of the pitfalls to be wary of when associating with men of inferior breeding and low morals.

Yours with respect and affection,

Not until he came to the end of the terse note and crumpled it in his clenched fist did Scott realize he’d been reading aloud.  And he was too caught up in his own feelings of pushed-to-the-edge exasperation to pay attention to his brother’s reaction at first.  But gradually it became apparent that Johnny had stiffened, donning that impenetrable ‘Madrid’ mask meant to keep the world at arm’s length.

“Grandfather’s judgment can be a bit…warped….in certain matters,” he began.

“No…no, it kind of makes sense when you stand in his boots,” Johnny brushed his excuses aside.  “What he really wants is for you ta go back to Boston, but if he can’t have that… he’d like ta be sure you’re doing all your ‘associating’ with high class folks and taking care not to step in any ‘pitfalls’.

“Oh, I take his meaning clearly enough,” Scott looked grim.  “But both of you ought to be well aware by now that I make my own decisions and form my own opinions!”

In the face of his brother’s righteous indignation, Johnny found his stony façade wavering imperceptibly…..allowing a hint of warmth to seep into those ice-cold blue eyes….

“Yeah, can’t argue there, but…why, Scott?  Sure, you didn’t know anything about Madrid’s reputation when you first got out here, but it didn’t take long ta change that.  It was Madrid’s past almost got you killed when them Buscaderos came visiting.  Seems like that would pretty much prove your Grandfather’s point for him.”

There was a ring of gut-wrenching, heart-felt honesty to Scott’s words when he spoke.  “Mr. Washington speaks rather glibly about the lofty sense of superiority one gains from ‘being alone.’  But the experience isn’t always as rewarding as he implies.  I have been alone—in crowded society ballrooms, on the battlefield, in a fetid prison camp—and I find the company of my brother…good, bad or indifferent…to be a vast improvement.”

During the short pause that followed, both men worked assiduously at not meeting each other’s eyes. 

Finally Scott cleared his throat loudly and announced, “Just to set the record straight, by the way—it was your reputation as a ‘breaker-of-young-girls-hearts’ that caused all the trouble with Violet and her jealous boyfriend.  And I’d stake my expertise in that area against yours any time…!”

“Hey, we already fought that battle once…and I lost,” Johnny reminded him.  “Ain’t in the mood for more arm wrestling right now anyway.”

“But…” he drawled, “I know what I am in the mood for…..some of the warm apple pie that’s just going to waste down in the kitchen!”

“I believe Teresa and Maria intend that for tonight’s dessert.  They won’t part with any of it easily,” Scott warned.

“You can count on that,” Johnny agreed.  “I bet the two of us could come up with a plan though—like one acts as a decoy while the other makes the snatch…!”

“Is this one of those instances where associating with bad company is going to sully my spotless reputation?”

“Damn straight!”

“I’m in!”


~ end ~



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 Dori directly.


2 thoughts on “Bad Company by Dori

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this story. Writing about the brothers together is a lot of fun. Thanks for the lovely comments.


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