The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Clementine

 

 

For What You Are About To Receive, Boston

What sort of a hard, mean gunfighter rides across the land with a big, foolish grin on his face?

Each time I realized I was smilin’ like a simple, fuckin’ yokel I would glance quick around and plaster a ferocious scowl on my clock. There wasn’t no-one around of course, and pretty soon I’d find I was beamin’ again.

It was the thought of my brother’s face that kept tickling me so.

It was true he could aggravate me like no other man, even the Ol’ Man, but the bastard could also make me pleased in my innards more than anyone just about alive, I reckoned.

Me and Pancho came tearing around the last rise above Lancer and the whole impressive spread was there laid out below us. Green as all hell with big, blue shine where the bodies of water were. Long, silver threads which were the streams and creeks and such. I did love the colours of Mexico, but my life there had been hard many times, whereas here the hard times I’d had were mostly my own doing, I was pretty certain, so Lancer to me was something more than just a real pretty land.

It was three days before Christmas Day which everyone at the ranch was fussin’ about in some way. Murdoch wanted all the usual work done proper, but he also wanted the day to be a time of ‘peace and plenty’ for every ‘soul’ on the spread. Maria wanted all the extra cooking done to perfection and the hacienda clean like Mary and Joseph were coming to our place to have Jesus. When I pointed that out I got so many whacks to my ears and everydamnwhere that I’d tripped over and then she’d really got stuck into me. Her torrent of smacking and yelling about blasphemy had brought Murdoch to my rescue and he’d calmed her down but then sent me off with the mother of all cracks which had lifted me off my feet and shot me right out of the kitchen. Maria was still mad at me, but I knew once she got my present she’d melt like she always did when I set my mind to charmin’ her.

Scott went about whistling a set of different tunes than he usually did, and he said they were Christmas Carols, but he didn’t tell me who she was. He was happy to go into town more, to check for parcels from Boston, and these real fancy coloured cards which came from Scotland for Murdoch. I was happy to go with Scott and share a beer.

Murdoch went up in the attic and brought down an old Nativity set which he said Scott’s Mama had brought with her from Boston. In Mexico those sets were put up without a big baby Jesus in it until Christmas Eve, so it looked strange to me. Not having Noche Buena (poinsettia) everywhere was different too.

 I was taking all of this in much more than I had the year before. Then I’d been recovering from a gunshot for one thing, and also from spending twelve years living a pretty rough sort of life, and the last couple being a shootist on the prowl who had actually begun to make it, even at my age. A hot gun with a cold heart. Only not near as cold as I desperately wanted it to be, and wanted everyone to believe it was. Dios, I had been working hard to get cold as I could, that was for damn sure.

Murdoch finally tracking me down and bringing me to Lancer where I shoulda grown up, that had been a lot for me to deal with, beside the gunshot wound. I’d acted then like I had a good, solid grip on everything, ‘specially on me, but underneath I don’t reckon I’d ever had a solid grasp of who I was and I fuckin’ sure never felt like I fitted into the world or with any of the desperadoes I often found myself among. So the last Christmas at Lancer had been like everything else then, confusing and really just too damn much for me to deal with.

This year though was some different. Murdoch continued to be determined to straighten me out as much as he could, even though I was pretty much stubbornly set on stayin’ myself – bent as that maybe was. I was no fuckin’ match for my Ol’ Man though, and as annoying as that was, I knew he was changing me. In some ways that wasn’t such a bad thing. I could look forward to all the treats Maria was cooking up, and I could see how other people were looking forward to Christmas and not feel exactly threatened by how different I felt.

Jesus, I’d even got presents for Murdoch and Scott and Maria and Sam. Murdoch paid for them, even his own, account of me being broke because he was a cheap bastard who never paid me the wage I was worth. And Scott said he was not lending me not one dime until I paid back all of the dollars I still owed him. He said it was time I learned ‘friskal responsibility’, whatever the fuck that was.

Buying gifts sure didn’t come easy. A man needs to spend his time thinking on horses and guns and getting some trim, the important things, not on what thing to get for someone else to enjoy. Murdoch was clear though, that I was to buy the things, and they were to be carefully considered, or he’d take a fuckin’ switch to me. Really?  That didn’t sound too Christian or in a Christmas spirit to me.

He was on about the learning too though. He wanted me to learn about ‘obligations and selflessness’. Seemed to me that me learning stuff constant was neverfuckinending, and his main way of amusin’ himself.

It was easy to buy the right thing for Maria. I just put a new sifter on the ranch stores list. She’d been looking for her old one for over a week and was real puzzled as to where it could have got. It was down at the pond where it was perfect for catching frogs and such. Fishing didn’t interest me, but I’d been trying to cadge a kiss from ripe and luscious Pilar and my hope was that giving her little brother some bait might soften her up (and help with my problem of hardening up whenever my pecker was near her). So far the fish bait hadn’t been good Pilar-bait, but I was still hopeful.

The present I’d got for Murdoch cost a fortune. His. It was a writing set I’d spotted at Baldemeros. All this paper in a timber box, and also these new pockets for putting letters in and putting the address on the front. Mr Baldemero said they were called en-vel-opes. Real fancy and just the sort of thing that Murdoch put a lot of store in.

I’d got Sam a Mexican embroidered belt from Baldomeros. He lived in black suits and I thought it was time to fancy him up a bit. I was thoughtful though, and didn’t buy the one with red stitches as I knew that would be astoundin’ to him, so I’d chose the one with silver flowers.

Scott’s present was what was making me grin. The thought of it, and how Scott’s face would go shocked and red as a hot sunset, and how he would splutter…I was real pleased with myself and looking forward to that.

>>>>>>> 

“Scott!”

There was no-one in the Great Room so I barged on ahead to the kitchen, calling his name and ignoring the scolds Maria was sending my way.

“Boston!”

As I burst out of the kitchen I heard Scott’s own grumbling.

“Is the house on fire? Has Copernicus re-evaluated his assessment of the heavens?”

I stood at the bottom of the stairs as my older brother came down them, rolling his eyes and buttoning up a clean shirt.

“I got you something!”

He stopped still and raised an eyebrow, a smile pulling at his mouth.

“Come on!” I crowed as I spun around and headed back into the Great Room.

He followed me in slowly and as soon as he was in the room I reached into my shirt and pulled out the present.

The little, reddish-brown pup mewled and squirmed at being disturbed from its cosy nest. I thrust it towards Scott.

The shocked look on his face was everything I’d thought it would be. His mouth popped open and he went all red as his hands reached out and took the fat little body and held it up to head height. A huge grin lit up his whole face.

“Johnny!”

The pup yipped and Scott looked at me and laughed and his eyes were shining so much I felt my own eyes shine way too much for a gunfighter to ever admit to.

“It’s a puppy!” I crowed, like he damn well mightn’t have figgered that out himself.

“A puppy!” he repeated, like maybe he hadn’t.

“And not just any old pup, Boston – this here is a son of Rusty – you know?”

“Rusty!” Scott put those shiny eyes on me again and I had to gulp down a knot in my throat.

Rusty was what Scott had called a dog he’d found a while before, but had to return to the rightful owner.

“Yeah! I been waiting for the Bentley’s bitch to whelp Rusty’s babies, and then Sheriff Creane told me that Rusty had got to the Sterling’s bitch before he covered the Bentley’s, and she’d dropped her litter. So I hot footed it over there and I got the pick!”

“A son of Rusty’s – I can’t believe it!.”

Scott looked so delighted I felt like doing a rain dance.

“What’s this? What are you two up to?” Murdoch’s voice rumbled from the doorway.

Scott turned and held the little critter out towards him.

“Look Murdoch – Johnny just gave me a pup!”

Pa’s face broke into a big grin. He came across the room and gathered the pup into his big mitts and inspected it.

“It’s Rusty’s pup, Pa. Remember Rusty?”

Scott said that all excited, something he tried to hide most times. He was always trying to act like he knew everything because he was always trying to convince me that he was a man and I was just a kid. The other thing that showed he was excited was that Scott very rare called Murdoch ‘Pa’ and I don’t think he realized he’d just done it, but it tickled me to hear it, and I could see by the look on Murdoch’s face that it tickled him too.

“Rusty’s eh? Well, what a fine present, Son. A really fine present, Johnny.”

His smile warmed me. He held the pup to his chest and what did the damn little mutt do? He decided it was time to take a leak.

Murdoch’s smile disappeared real quick as his shirtfront turned dark with pee. It was surprising just how much piss a little dog like that could hold. Murdoch plonked the pup on the floor and I bust out laughing and Scott said he’d better take the pup outside. Murdoch bent a grouchy eye on me and told Scott it was a bit late now.

“I’ll go wash.” He sounded grumpy, but I could tell he weren’t that bothered.

Scott was standing with his arms folded as he watched his present go stumbling around on the floor. He was still smiling fit to bust and he turned that smile on me.

“Johnny, I hardly know what to say. I think this is the finest present anyone has ever given me.”

I was about to laugh when he jumped on me without any warning. He spun me around and was ruffling my hair fierce and I was laughing and cussing and trying to free myself as we over balanced and toppled over the back of the couch. We landed on the seat for a moment before thumping to  the floor in a tangle.

We were still wrestling and trying to best each other when Murdoch came back in shouting at us to watch the furniture. The pup was yipping fit to bust and we were tiring, and laughing, and then laughing even harder when Maria came in and gasped.

“The little chuco is doing his business on my clean mat! Mierda! Take that chatarra sucia (grubby little scrap) outside this minute! Andele!”

None of us could get outta there fast enough, including Murdoch. Once outside Scott hunkered down and put the pup on the ground where the chitarra sucia immediately fell over his own feet. I was straightening out my clothes, as was Scott, when Murdoch put a hand on Scott’s shoulder.

“What are you going to call him, Son?”

>>>>>>>> 

Christmas was delicious. We had roast turkey and roast potatoes and roast just about everything. The turkey was stuffed the Mexican way, but not hot, but with other meat and rice and almonds and raisins and such. Maria had made it that way the first year Murdoch was at Lancer and he’d had it that way ever since. Jeez, was I glad of that. Not that I ever had anything like it any Christmas I could remember. Mama was not one to hang around a stove cooking up a meal any night of the week, let alone on a good drinking night like Buena Noche (Christmas Eve). But this Christmas, after eating ourselves silly we had Scottish plum pudding and custard, and bunuelos as well, and my stomach was in heaven.

We’d been eating high off the hog all December, it being the month when the three of us had our birthdays. That’d meant more top meals and a gift each as well, so by now Murdoch must’ve been pretty broke, I figured.

I was pleased everyone liked what I got, and that pleased Murdoch as well. He said that I ‘melted the cells of Maria’s heart’, which was a good thing. It wasn’t the sifter that did it. I’d decided maybe that kitchen tool wasn’t quite enough for someone who fed me nine times a day and coddled me in between, when she wasn’t hitting me. So I’d also got her a silver necklace of a butterfly with a tiny opal on its body. Rogelio Garza in Morro Coyo did real fine smithing work and I’d slipped in to see him one day when I was supposed to be herding with Cip’s two oldest boys. It cost a lot, but I knew Murdoch wouldn’t ever be cheap where Maria was concerned.

>>>>>>> 

Scott called the pup Rufus, and explained to me that it meant ‘red-haired’ in Latin, so it was a fit name for the son of Rusty, who was really called Blue by Luke McMaster who owned that dog. I don’t guess Luke ever knew a Latin word in his life.

The little bastardo shoulda been called Youbloodymongrel, because that’s what everyone on the ranch was thinking when that pup caused more trouble than every other critter on the spread, and that included all the cows who were the dumbest creatures on earth.

He howled every night, sounded like a passel of starved babies, and Murdoch gave in and let him sleep in a basket in Scott’s room. Then he howled until Scott slept with him. And of course Mr Proper wasn’t never having no dog in his bed, so for a week Scott slept on the floor.

What Rufus didn’t steal, he chewed, and then he chewed whatever he’d stole. No matter how often Scott took him outside and waited for him to do his business, he disdained to do any of it on grass or ground, preferring to do it inside on the floorboards or even better, on the rugs. He soon learned to dodge Maria’s feather duster, and so did Scott. One day poor ol’ Boston was searching the rooms upstairs for him when Rufus had snuck downstairs and got a good grip on the tablecloth and pulled half of it off, with dishes and cutlery and all, before Maria thumped him.

He didn’t mind a good vomit either. He never knew when to stop eating, and would just cast up his accounts – usually on the mat – and trot off like that was a job well done.

He got into Maria’s garden, and dug up everything that his short legs could manage. He didn’t get hit or yelled at that time because he also dug up a buried ball of twine and when Maria reached him he was so tangled in that he was crying enough to break her heart. Supper was an hour late as she spent well over that time gently getting him loose.

Of course Maria and Murdoch was both getting real testy, but they tried to be patient ‘cause both of them knew what young animals were like, and they both knew that Scott was just as grumpy with all of his new duties, but also how that little pup had his owner wrapped ‘round his little paw. Scott would be mad and rant like a drunk whoremaster one minute, but then be talking guff to the ‘wee miscreant’ – Murdoch’s favourite name for him – the next minute.

“You didn’t mean to eat the boot black and then throw it up, did you Rufe,” he would say, all gentle. “You didn’t mean to knock over the ash tin, did you Rufe.” Or, “you didn’t mean to roll in the cowsh-pat, did you Rufe.”

Yep, Scott was under that dog’s thumb something pitiful.

The only one enjoying all this chaos and Scott being so devilled, was me. I’d hardly ever seen Scott so rattled, and he said one night how he sure wouldn’t be planning to get married and have young’uns till he was about twenty years older. Bringing up one pup was just about more than he could cope with.

The other good thing was that I hadn’t been hit and had hardly been squalled at for four whole weeks. Everyone was too busy being aggravated by Rufus.

Seemed our whole lives were bein’ ruled by one fat, little perrito, and it soon got worse.

Rufus was too quiet when Scott carried him down for breakfast, and then he wasn’t interested in the food which he usually wolfed down. He went into the corner of the kitchen and curled into a ball. When Scott picked him up and set him down at the mush he turned straight back and flopped down again.

Scott looked amazed, but Murdoch got up outta his seat and went to the pup and fondled his head, and put a big finger on the mutt’s little nose.

“You think he’s not well, Murdoch?” Scott tried to sound unconcerned, but it wasn’t working.

“He must feel a bit peelie,” Murdoch said, using a word from his old country. “He might have eaten something – God knows he loves to do that – that’s disagreed with him. Just let him be, Son. I’m sure he’ll come right directly.”

Scott hunkered down, and I waited for the love talk. Any minute he’d be saying ‘You didn’t mean to eat anything bad, did you my bebe querrido, but if you want to air your paunch you just bring it all up and my hands are here ready to catch it for you.’

Instead he just laid a hand on the little head and looked glum.  And instead of being tickled, I suddenly felt like I had the fantods too.

>>>>>>> 

God knows Rufus won us all over real smart, but Scott was gone on him, though he tried to pretend he wasn’t. Gone or not, I would’ve done exactly what he did the day Waldo Pratt misused the little critter.

I happened to be just riding up to the barn when Waldo came outta there flying backwards and Scott came right after him. As Waldo landed on his back Scott launched himself and squashed his enemy right into the hard ground.

He sat up fast and belted Waldo across the jaw, but then the two of them toppled sideways as Waldo bucked Scott off him.

I’d unforked like lightning, and was holding Pancho’s reins and keeping us out of the way.

“You fucking son of a bitch!” Scott yelled as he threw himself at Pratt again.

Pratt was ready though, and caught ol’ Boston a lefty which snapped his head back. He immediately sent his right fist into Waldo’s belly and brought his left ‘round to smack him a beaut in the right eye. Waldo went down to his knees, but straight off heaved himself forward and took Scott’s legs out from under him and the two of them rolled over about three times, both swinging as much as they could. The dust rose round them in a big swirl.

“Go Scott!” I encouraged him, though he sure didn’t need it.

He leapt back to his feet and hauled Waldo up and belted him, but Waldo took it and braced his right leg behind him and punched Scott straight back and also brought his knee up. Scott was savvy enough to twist away so he didn’t get caught in the cajones, but he took the blow on the hip and that sent him staggering back, and Waldo pitched into him with a flurry of punches which sent Scott sprawling. He jumped up though, but suddenly grabbed his left arm. I realized he’d fallen awkward and done some damage, and I ran forward just as Waldo snotted Scott right in the nose. Scott went down like a sack of rocks and I crashed into Waldo and took him to the ground, just as Isidro and Felipe, the bunkhouse cook, arrived on the scene and grabbed hold of me and Pratt.

“Para esto de inmediato!” (stop this immediately) Isidro growled.

“Scott’s hurt” I said, shaking myself free of Felipe, “that’s why I pitched in!”

Pratt was wiping his bleeding face with his sleeve, breathing hard. His right eye was cut and already closing.

I went to Scott and saw straight off that his arm was bent unnatural. He was holding it and gritting his teeth, breathing hard too. Isidro was there on the spot and gently took Scott’s elbow.

“Felipe” he said, “Envía a alguien por el doctor por favour” (send someone for the doctor please)

“He started it! I ain’t being blamed for this!” Pratt grumbled.

I gave him a filthy look as I walked Scott towards the hacienda. I heard Isidro telling him to go clean himself up and finish whatever work he was supposed to be doing.

“Isidro, would you please find the pup – he’s somewhere in the barn.” Scott was talking over his shoulder.

“Si, Senor Scott.”

I hustled Scott inside, yelling for Maria, and in no time at all she had him bundled on the couch. His arm, which was surely broke, was resting on a cushion, and she’d cleaned his face up. His shirt was covered in blood from his nose, but she said we’d see if we could change it once Doctor Sam arrived. Otherwise we’d have to cut it off. Boston’s nose looked pretty flat to me, and both his eyes were bruising up. He sure looked a mess.

After a brandy he was sipping on a coffee and he told me how he’d been in the tack room, and he’d had Rufus with him as he was still a trifle poorly. Rufus had gone out into the barn, and Scott went to check where he was just as Pratt came in. Rufus had approached him and Pratt had sworn at the pup and kicked him across the barn! Scott checked the howling pup and then saw red and the fight was on.

I felt like going and finding Pratt and pounding him myself, but Scott said better to let Murdoch handle it. We both knew that Murdoch wouldn’t tolerate any hand mistreating any animal.

When Murdoch saw the state Scott was in, he was like me, wanting to go find Pratt and thrash the daylights outta him. Instead, he had a scotch and went and found the bastard and fired him. He told him the fight with Scott was not the reason, but he wouldn’t stand for any man abusing any animal on his land, so Pratt could collect what was owed him and clear out.

Sam came out and set Scott’s arm and tweaked his nose, which luckily wasn’t broken, just squished a little. Scott moaned more when he did that than when his arm was tended to. Doc checked over Rufus as well. Sam said Scott’s arm was a clean break and would be fine in a few weeks. He’d keep tweaking Boston’s nose so it would soon be as pretty as ever. And the pup was just fine.

>>>>>>>> 

That night Rufus slept on Scott’s bed and I slept on the floor, on the pallet Scott had been using when he’d slept on the floor earlier that month. I thought maybe ol’ Boston might need a drink or something, so I should be there to help if he needed it. I shoulda known I’d spend half the night takin’ that damn pup out to pee. I hardly got a wink of sleep.

It was four in the mornin’ when I stumbled back into Scott’s room and dumped the goddamn pest onto Scott’s bed yet again, but instead of curling up on the end like usual he crept his way along the bedclothes until he was at Scott’s hip, and he curled up there, and Scott’s hand found him and settled on the little critter.

I shook my head. Jesus but that gift of mine had been nothin’ but trouble from the day I brought him home. He did look appealin’ though, nestled in with my big brother, who looked peaceful as all gettout too. A few drops of laudanum probably helped with that.

I grabbed hold of the Indian blanket and wrapped it around myself and hunkered down next to the bed to try and get a little shuteye.

Dios – now Rufus was whining in his sleep. It reminded me of his daddy Rusty, when he’d nearly killed all three of us in the mine that time.

Little did I know that Rufus would one day do the opposite – save Scott’s life.

But that’s another story…

 

 

~ end ~
February 2020

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