The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Barb A

 

 

FFor The Love Of Betty
A/N: It's summertime and I'm reading Nora Roberts, so there's nothing deep here, just a story about nickels and notions. :D



There was a commotion in The Spider. It couldn't have been called a fight, because in Green River that wasn't novel enough to call a patron's attention away from their drink. No, something else had the new bartender concerned. Scott looked around his brother to see.

“Look at' em. Just look at ‘em,” Win Carbe said, and set off immediate alarms in Johnny's defense system. His eyebrows crooked together and the look of concern deepened at the way Win pronounced ‘just', with equal parts indignation and resignation.

Two revelers stomped their way towards them, veering off at the last minute. Their voices reached the saloon's rafters in slur as they laughed over a vulgar joke of two Texans and a pair of sheep.

Crisis averted, Johnny tugged his hat down. “They're drunk, Win. That's all.”

“I don't care about' em being drunk. Hell, half the saloon's three sheets already and it's not even five o'clock. Laverty's Bar L just finished a drive.” He grabbed a dubious-looking bar rag. “But if I had a nickel for every time a drink was spilled, I'd be a rich man.”

“You two hold it right there,” Win commanded, startling them with his harsh voice. “Don't move.”

“Well, looky here,” said one of the drunks. “Someone's been sittin' in the parlor one too many times.”

“I mean it,” Win shouted and hustled over to the offending spillage on the mahogany counter. With a deft right hand it disappeared into the rag.

“Yeah, try this on for size,” said the second drunk, laughing as he started to tip his glass.

“Jesus, Wyatt, don't spill it on purpose. You got any money for more?”

“No I don't and that's a real fact, Jimmy.” Wyatt considered, then brightened. “But I know someone who does.” He tossed back his whiskey.  “Let's go find Quinn.”

Jimmy smiled wide. “I'm on it like burrs to a cinch.”

Wyatt pushed away from the bar and caught his partner's arm just as he was executing a fancy spin. Together, they bumped and stumbled out the batwing doors.

“What's got you so particular all of a sudden?”

Win's eyes narrowed at Johnny's question. “What, a man can't be clean?”

Johnny shrugged. “When we were in here a couple of weeks ago, you were spillin' drinks along with the drunks is all. What's going on?”

“I ain't no roustabout anymore, Johnny. This bartender job is steady like, with regular pay. Now that I'm a part of the establishment, I hate to see good liquor going to waste.”

Jonny nudged Scott's elbow with his own. “Oh, come on. Religion or a woman?”

Win pinked about the neck. “It ain't no religion.” He leaned his elbows on the bar. “Boys, they say love can change the world.”

Scott laughed. “Who is this lady who has you so enamored?”

“What?”

“Who is she?”

Win reached down below the bar and pulled out a tintype set in a fancy brass frame. “This is my Betty.”

Scott's grin vanished. The substantial, dimpled Venus, clad in what could only be described as a diaphanous white gown had a demure come-hither smile under a crown of carefully woven daisies. He knew that smile. Oh yes, he did. Only the flowers of choice had been roses.

The brittle-blond giant was part bouncer for the Spider, or had been anyway. She also bounced along horizontally after hours, but at a different pay scale. Come to think of it, Scott hadn't seen her in any capacity for over a month.

Johnny looked thoughtful as he studied the picture, tapping it in that slow way he had when looking at two of a kind but needing a full house. He raise an eyebrow and cocked his head to the stairs.

Win's face darkened. One hand hovered, then he snatched the picture back.

Scott cut him off. “She's beautiful , and therefore to be wooed. She is a woman, therefore to be won.”

“Say, you aren't thinking about stepping in on my territory are you?”

He could feel himself blanch. “No! It's a quote by William Shakespeare.” At Win's blank look, he continued, “From Henry VI?”

Johnny and Win stared at him. “Never mind.”

“You gonna set up housekeepin'?” Straight to the point as always, was Johnny.

“I didn't want to see the parson so soon, but things are different now.”

“Yeah? How?”

“She said ‘yes'.” Win's eyes took on a dreamy look. “I have to raise some capital first, though. A gal like that needs to keep her style.”

At the end of the bar, Asa Gardner, the granary operator, was heard reiterating the rule about wet corn on the scale—that is, it was strictly forbidden. His voice took on a none-too-subtle quaver that could easily escalate to shouting. As he addressed the general yet uninterested populace, the beer in his glass swished and slopped over the rim.

“Just one nickel, that'd do it.” A slow smile poked its way across Win's face. “One nickel for every drink spilled and Betty and me would be set.”

Silent wasn't exactly the word to describe their wait, given that there were all manners of men, and a few women, carousing around them. But Scott didn't like it when Johnny was quiet. He preferred a running narrative. It was soothing, like the rumbling of a slick wagon wheel. 

“If I were Win, I'd aim a bit higher than a nickel,” he prodded, trying to get a rise.

Johnny didn't even look at him, turned his empty tequila glass around in his hands. Artful, a magician's trick to show off dexterity. “You got any money?”

“Not on me.”

Johnny pushed his glass to the opposite edge of the bar and let his fingers rest. “Well, that makes two of us.”

“I can't imagine he'd take it anyway.” The bartender weeded through a handful of bills that Asa waved at him, selected one and pushed the others back into the man's hand. “Honesty and pride are bothersome traits in a place filled with opportunity.”

“So.” Scott didn't make it a question, knew better than that. “Are we leaving?”

 

^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Halfway home, Johnny turned in the saddle and stretched out one arm, slightly provocative, partly inviting. “Win would be rich if he really had a nickel for every spill.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It's, uh…I just feel like helping' im.”

Scott slowed his horse to a hoof dragging amble. “You've been with Betty, haven't you?”

Johnny's brow crumpled. “What? No.” He stretched the ‘no' out, and it hit three or four different tones.

Scott was onto something. He remembered that Saturday night—or rather Sunday morning—Johnny had awoken him by leaning against the wall to take off his boots. It wasn't so much the muffled scratching against plaster or the jingle of dropped spurs, but Johnny was humming an out of key version of ‘Clementine'. Must have been a month ago at least, when Murdoch was in Modesto. “I didn't know your talents extended to daisy chains.”

Johnny pretended like he didn't know what Scott was talking about, but there'd been a twitch, his eyes had flicked to the side for one telling second.

Scott grimaced and held up his hands like he was crestfallen. His feigned disappointment was in direct proportion to his secret glee. But he'd be damned, because helping Win Carbe win the hand of the bountiful Betty was as firmly entrenched in Scott's mind as it was in Johnny's.

A preposterous idea formed, one that he pushed away because of the sheer frivolity, but it hopped back into his thoughts with amazing alacrity. Scott sidled his horse up to Barranca. “All right, let's talk setup and expenses.”

“Hold up, are we goin' for liquor or beer?”

Now that was a question. “Liquor?”

Johnny nodded. “Seems about right, but we'd be in competition with old man Trujillo. Unless we gave him a cut of the profits to not make any this year.”

The savvy farmer supplemented his income after harvest by using dried corn to make whiskey. And he sold to the Spider. Everyone knew it, but Scott had forgotten about him. “What profits? We haven't even discussed initial investments. Let's see, last time I looked, corn is about forty cents per bushel. Wheat is a dollar.”

“We'll need barrels.”

“At twenty-five cents per barrel. How many?”

“How do you know how much a barrel costs? And I don't know how many.”

“Who did the books last month, brother? The ranch has several.” He watched a notion form in Johnny's head so obvious he might as well been talking aloud. “And no, I don't think we should involve Lancer in any part of this.”

“Seems to me, we already are.”

Touché. They'd go with two barrels to start.

“Where's he gonna do all this? Shouldn't that be part of the set-up?” Johnny shifted in his saddle. “Win takes a room over at the Widow Hargis's boarding house. There's no way she'll let him keep whiskey there.”

At least not without sharing in the profits, thought Scott. “It's not like he could set up in the saloon, he'll have to build or rent a place. A one room cabin, perhaps.”

“With lumber and work, it'd be about a hundred and fifty even. Plus the land, which isn't added in. Rent'd go cheaper, ten to fifteen a month.”

“We'll go with rent. The only other thing I can think of are the glasses—say they're about two cents per glass.”

It was quiet for a few moments as they both digested the bits of information. “Win's gonna need some help and if it ain't us—and Murdoch doesn't need to breathe down our necks any more than he does already—then it's gotta be somebody else,” Johnny said.

“You're right, he'll need someone to drink the liquor in the first place then someone to mop up the spills. Assuming Win will be pouring, of course.”

“Hey, Scott, maybe two someones need to drink. More drinks equals more spills equals more nickels.”

“We'd have to pay the drinkers. Probably. Though Wyatt and Jimmy would be cheap, and they seemed relatively eager.”

“So where are we to start this thing up?”

“Assuming we have one spill per six seconds…”

“Why six seconds?”

“The math is easier. That makes it ten spills per hour and ninety spills per workday at five cents per spill.”

“That's four dollars and fifty cents. Double it with Wyatt and Jimmy both, and it's nine dollars a day. Or almost three thousand a year, give or take.”

“That would be a nice nest egg for Betty and Win, if the bride and groom can wait a year.” And if Wyatt and Jimmy somehow managed to survive.

Johnny whistled through his teeth. “That Betty is some woman.”

“I've never seen anyone more erotic. I watched a burlesque show in Illinois once that didn't hold a candle.”

“Wait a minute.” Johnny jabbed an accusing finger at Scott's chest. “You been out walking in the garden yourself.”

Scott didn't understand. And then, did.

“Oh, that,” he murmured. Scott shrugged like he didn't know, but Johnny's eyes narrowed.

“Those were your roses, then?”

He could feel his lips thin out. Of course they were his flowers. And now his brother knew, too.

Johnny was half out of his saddle, weeping with laughter.

He had to raise his voice to be heard. “As I was about to say, three thousand dollars would be the net income. The total profits per spill would have to be figured with the cost of the total process.”

Johnny sobered, a grin still there, but only flashed on the right side, where he likely thought Scott couldn't see it. “I guess Win wouldn't be rich after all.”

He thought about Betty, one last, mind-searing time. “No, not rich, but at least he'd be able to afford his own flowers.”

 

 

~end~
7/27/2014

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