The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Cynthia Kay

 

 

Ah, Shucks!

Johnny had had perhaps one of his best days since coming to Lancer. Although Murdoch had assigned him to some less than pleasant tasks that morning, everything went like clockwork – for once – and he had been given his choice of hands so, of course, he chose the best. Johnny knew his father would be pleased that the work had been completed and that the west range was all set for the herd that would be moved there next week.

Barranca picked up on his master's euphoria and practically pranced under the arch coming home. In Johnny's present mood, Barranca knew he would be receiving a relaxing grooming, perhaps an extra ration of oats, and maybe even an apple or a couple sugar cubes besides. The horse protested somewhat when his master jumped out of the saddle and handed the reins to Pedro. As Johnny stood talking to the hand with his back toward the palomino, Barranca swung his muzzle around and shoved his master behind the shoulder just hard enough so that Johnny needed to take a couple steps forward to steady himself.

“Hey amigo, what was that for?” Johnny turned and stroked the palomino's nose. “We had a great day, yes?” Barranca nodded his head up and down causing Pedro to chuckle. “You'll get your just rewards, give me a minute will ya?” Barranca again nodded his head then gently laid his muzzle on Johnny's shoulder for a moment as though in apology. “Anyway Pedro, give him a good brushing and an extra helping of oats and make sure to put clean water in Barranca's tub. I'll come out after supper and give him his tratamiento especial (special treat).”

Pedro laughed and pointed. Johnny turned to Barranca who was vigorously nodding his head up and down. “Since when do you understand Spanish?” He teased, patting the horse's neck. As Pedro lead Barranca into the barn, Johnny strode toward the front door whistling and pulling off his gloves. Once inside, he tossed his gloves on the hallway table and hung up his hat and rig. Glancing around the great room he found it empty which was unusual for this time of day when, if nothing else, Murdoch would be working on the books.

“Hey, where is everybody. Murdoch? Teresa?” He yelled, looking up the front staircase.

“We're in the kitchen Johnny. Come see what your brother brought us.”

Scott had been gone almost two weeks. He had taken two horses up to the Morgan spread just this side of San Francisco in hopes of negotiating a contract. Johnny had missed him but now he was home. Could his day get any better? His spurs jingled against the tile as he trotted toward the back of the house. Scott was standing at the end of the table. He met Johnny's eyes and gave him a bright smile just before his little brother nearly tackled him with a convivial hug and a pat on the back.

“Welcome home big brother. I missed ya!” Johnny released his embrace but kept one arm draped around Scott's shoulders. It was then that he noticed a small wooden crate on the table. Murdoch and Teresa smiled at the special bond between the brothers before Murdoch spoke.

“Scott brought us a surprise but he wouldn't let us open it until you got here. So Scott, what have we got here?” Murdoch asked, standing with the fingertips of both hands tucked into his back pockets.

“I love surprises!” Teresa gushed. “Please let us open it. I can't imagine what it could be.”

Scott literally beamed. “Oh just a little something, or should I say somethings?” He had a twinkle in his eyes and gave Teresa a wink.

Stamping her foot lightly, she crossed her arms and pretended to be angry. “Scott Garrett Lancer you stop your teasing! If you don't open that crate right now I'll do it myself.” Scott and Johnny looked at each other with arched eyebrows, both their mouths forming a silent “o”. When Teresa used your middle name one knew she meant business.

Murdoch walked over to the cabinet near the back door and, opening the center drawer, picked up a claw hammer and a pry bar. He carried them back to the table and offered one to each son. Without saying a word, he glanced at Teresa and then waved his index finger at the crate; a silent plea to do as his ward had demanded before things got out of hand.

Johnny used the claw hammer to begin loosening the nails holding down the cover while Scott started at the opposite side with the pry bar. Within moments the top was loose, lifted off and tossed on the table. Johnny, of course, had to be the first to look inside. Bending down with his hands stuffed in his back pockets, his brows drew together. A white cloud began wafting its way upward. Was this the big surprise? Johnny inhaled deeply.

Scott immediately reached out and pulled his brother aside by the arm. “Johnny, don't breath in those fumes!” He examined his brother's face and saw a faint flush creeping across his cheeks and forehead. Johnny swayed a little then put one hand against his forehead as his eyes began to water. “Murdoch, help me get him into a chair.” Murdoch immediately took his youngest son's other arm in one gigantic hand while pulling out one of the chairs and guiding his son toward it.

“Is he going to be alright?” Murdoch asked Scott all the time watching Johnny carefully. Scott took a deep breath and sighed, hands resting on his hips.

“Yes, he should be fine.”

“What is that stuff?” Teresa asked, taking several steps backward.

“Dry ice. It keeps things cold without getting them wet or melting all over like regular ice. It's made from carbon dioxide.”

Johnny set both his elbows on the table and held his head in his hands, looking down at the floor. Murdoch's eyebrows drew together. “Teresa, get him a glass of water please. Scott if this dry ice is dangerous I think we should take it outside immediately. I don't want the rest of us to be affected by it like your little brother here.” Teresa handed Murdoch the glass of water and he encouraged Johnny to drink some.

“How are you feeling son?” Johnny lifted his head, drank down a couple sips of the water and rolled his eyes toward his brother.

“Was this your surprise Boston? Is that why you wanted to wait to open it until I got here, so you could kill me?” Johnny's voice grew louder with each word he spoke.

“I'm sorry little brother. I didn't expect you to . . .”

“Oh save it!” Johnny retorted, dropping his head back into his hands. Murdoch glowered at his eldest son and raised one eyebrow.

“Sir, I swear it's perfectly safe under most conditions. I didn't expect Johnny to practically stick his whole face into the crate and definitely didn't expect him to inhale the vapors. I should have known better.” He added, looking directly at Johnny who simply turned his head and sneered at his older brother. “The effects should wear off in a very short time.”

“And those effects would be . . .? Murdoch asked.

“Flushed skin, headache, his heart might pound a little. I don't think he got a deep enough whiff to cause the more severe symptoms.”

“Which are?” Now both of Murdoch's eyebrows were arched.

Scott swallowed hard. The excitement of his surprise had certainly deflated quickly. “Shortness of breath, muscle twitches, confusion . . . I was reading the pamphlet on the stage. It's called “hypercapnia” and before I forget, DO NOT handle the dry ice without wearing heavy gloves as it can cause immediate frostbite. Did you hear me little brother?”

Johnny massaged his forehead with his fingertips for a moment before turning his gaze on Scott. “Loud and clear, Boston. Loud and clear.” Johnny pushed back the chair and started to stand, wavering slightly but holding up his hand when Murdoch stepped forward to help. “Well, now that we've had our little surprise, I'm going upstairs and lie down. You sure know how to take the joy right out of a man!”

“But that's not the surprise.” Scott exclaimed. Reaching into the crate, he grabbed the handle of a lidded metal bucket and set it on the table. “This is the surprise.”

Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa looked at each other and then back at Scott. “Well I hate to burst your bubble, Boston, but we got all kinds of metal pails in the barn. In fact the feed and grain has hundreds of ‘em, all stacked up nice and neat like. I ain't never seen one packed all duded up with that there deadly ice stuff in a wooden crate. Things must be different in San Francisco. Just what did this here metal pail cost you all fancy packed like that?”

Murdoch and Teresa were trying hard not to laugh; Teresa holding the fingers of one hands over her lips and Murdoch clearing his throat several times. Leave it to Johnny to express this thoughts so clearly and abruptly.

“It's not the bucket, dear brother. It's what's inside the bucket that's the surprise.” Scott defended, spreading a wide smile across his lips in hopes of lightening the mood.

“Well then open it up and let's have a look see. I can hardly stand the suspense!” Johnny's voice held obvious sarcasm. Scott reached for the pry bar and carefully ran it around under the edge of the bucket's cover. Putting the tool down, Scott took hold of the lid in two places and, just before lifting it off, circled his gaze around the group and grinned. Finally lifting off the lid, he took a step back.

“Tah-dah!” He exclaimed, holding one hand palm up and toward the container.

Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa bent slightly forward to look inside then straightened and looked at one another. Murdoch smiled but the other two just shrugged their shoulders. Johnny was about to reach into the pail and pick one up but suddenly stopped short.

“Can I pick one up without getting some kind of disease or something?” Scott nodded.

“Of course, go ahead.” Johnny pick up one of the contents and studied it carefully, turning it over in his hand before tossing it back into the pail.

“This is your big surprise? A bucket full of rocks?” Murdoch laughed and clamped one hand down on his son's shoulder.

“Those aren't rocks, son. They're oysters!” He looked at Scott with a wide grin. “I haven't had fresh oysters in years. These must have cost you a fortune!”

“Not exactly a fortune, Sir, but enough. I enjoyed them one night at supper and just couldn't resist bringing a bucketful home. I knew you would relish them and hoped that Teresa and Johnny would like them too. We should eat them right away though so they don't go bad. How about tonight as an appetizer?” He looked at Teresa.

The girl fiddled with the top button of her blouse as all three sets of eyes turned upon her. “Well, sure.” She smiled and tried her best to speak cheerfully. “That would be fine but I don't know how...”

“Oh, Johnny and I will prepare them. It can be tricky sometimes and good strong hands are a definite requirement. It can get a little messy. Do you have an old sheet or two we can spread on the table and over the floor?” Teresa nodded. “Murdoch, do you want to help?”

Murdoch pursed his lips and shook his head. “No son. I think I will let the two of you handle the preparation and I will just satisfy myself with enjoying the finished product.” With that, he poured himself a cup of coffee and walked down the corridor to the great room. Teresa walked into the laundry room and came back carrying a couple old sheets which she handed to Scott.

“Have you got a large platter that will fit in the cold box once we've got the oysters arranged upon it? Oh, and a couple large bowls?” Teresa nodded and went about gathering the requested items. Scott crossed to the cupboard and shuffled through the drawer in search of a couple stout sharp knives. He then disappeared out the back door to return a couple minutes later with two aprons and two pair of heavy gloves usually worn during the use of the forge. Johnny surveyed the group of items with a worried look on his face. He began to wonder if Murdoch had knowingly refused to help. There was obviously more involved in cleaning these oyster things than met the eye. Scott put both hands on his shoulders and steered him back a few steps before preparing the area. He began by spreading one sheet over the surface and moving out a couple of the chairs to spread the other sheet on the floor. Next he tossed the crate aside and centered the bucket on the table between two chairs. He placed the platter next to the bucket and one of the large bowls in front of each chair lying a knife beside it. Surveying his arrangement with hands on hips, he gave a slight nod of his head.

Scott picked up one of the aprons and, slipping the circular shoulder straps over his head, tied the waist straps around his back. He handed Johnny the other apron and waited for his little brother to follow suit. He then pulled out the end chair and waited until his brother was seated before sitting in the one to Johnny's right. Smiling the entire time, he pulled on a pair of the heavy gloves and picked up the knife. Johnny followed suit but with a pensive expression on his face. Scott reached into the bucket, picked up one of the oysters and held it in his left hand.

“Okay Johnny, this is how you clean an oyster.” Johnny leaned slightly forward and studied Boston's moves closely. First Scott thrust the point of the knife in the seam where the two halves of the shells joined. Liquid and a little fine grit flowed out into the bowl beneath his hands. Scott then twisted the knife to cut the two sides of the shell apart. He tossed the empty part of the shell into the bowl and held the other half in the palm of his hand. He then ran the knife all around and under the flesh inside until the oyster slid freely. He gently laid the shucked oyster on the platter. “See. It's easy! Now you try.”

Scott watched closely as Johnny reached into the bucket and retrieved another one. As he was about to bring it toward him, his brother grabbed his wrist. “That one is no good. Throw it in your bowl and grab another.” Johnny looked into his brother's face quizzically. “See Johnny. That shell is already partially open.” Scott took the oyster from his brother's hand and rapped it sharply on one half of the shell with the butt end of the knife. “This oyster is dead. If it would have still been alive, the shell would have snapped closed.” Scott dropped it into his bowl. Seeing that Johnny obviously didn't understand his explanation, he clarified. “You can only shuck a live oyster. If the shell is partially open and doesn't snap tightly shut when thumped on like that, the oyster is dead and could – in the very least – make you quite ill if you ate it. We just throw those away. Doesn't happen too often.”

“You are trying to kill me aren't you?” Johnny whispered suspiciously. “First with this dry ice sh—crap and now with dead seafood. What exactly did I ever to do you?”

Scott chuckled. “Nothing Johnny. I love you dearly and would never intentionally do anything to harm you. The dry ice fumes were simply an accident and as for the dead oyster? Well, I didn't let you shuck it much less eat it, did I?” He could see Johnny thinking his words over carefully before a slight grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“So you love me ha? Well, then I guess it would only be polite to love you back!”  Scott reached out and ruffled his little brother's hair with his gloved hand. “Hey! I don't want oyster pee in my hair! Cut it out!” Johnny reached in and pulled out another oyster, holding it up for his brother's inspection before placing it in his hand. Scott nodded and rested his arms on the table in order to lean forward and guide his brother in the proper technique. The oyster was sharp and hard to get a good grip on and Johnny struggled with the knife actually bending the tip. He tried again and again to no avail. He laid the oyster shell on the table and held it down with one hand while trying again with the knife. Johnny face reddened with effort and frustration as he used all his strength to pry apart the shell. Johnny finally tossed the knife on the table and sat back in the chair to catch his breath. Scott knew his little brother did not like to fail and would exhaust himself trying to perfect this skill. “I got a better idea.” Johnny huffed between labored breaths. He rose, walked down the corridor toward the front door and returned holding his gun.

“Johnny!” Scott exclaimed. “You can't shoot it!” Johnny snickered.

“I ain't gonna shoot it, least wise not in the house.” Turning the gun around so that the butt end was toward the table, he lifted his arm above his head and was just about to strike down with all his might on the shell when Scott jumped up and stopped him.

“What are you thinking? You can't open the shell by slamming it with the handle of your gun. Geez! Now who's trying to kill who?”

“Whom.” Johnny replied.

“What?”

“You said ‘who'. You're always tellin' me it's supposed to be ‘whom'!” Johnny had such an innocent look in his eyes that Scott couldn't stay mad. What a time for his little brother to remember the grammar lessons he had tried to instill in him. Scott closed his eyes for a second and exhaled in a sigh before letting go of Johnny's arm. “This is how I crack walnuts. Works real good too.” Scott rolled his eyes and grabbed the gun from his brother's hand. He turned on his heel and stomped down the hallway to return the Colt to its holster. Returning to the kitchen, he untied the apron from his brother's waist, lifted it over his head then held out one hand – palm up – until Johnny pulled off the gloves and laid them across it.

“Go put these away.” He muttered, tossing the items at his brother.

“I thought you wanted me to help?”

“I thought so too but, on second thought, I think it would go faster if I just cleaned the oysters myself. Why don't you go take a nice, relaxing bath and don't forget to wash the oyster pee out of your hair.” Johnny grinned. There was more than one way to get out of doing something. As he strolled out the back door, Scott huffed through clenched teeth, dropped heavily down into his chair and thrust his hand into the bucket to pick up another shell. Grumbling under his breath the entire time, he soon had shucked the last oyster and squeezed it onto the crowded platter. There had only been two ‘bad' oysters in the bunch. Scott was pleased. Tugging off the gloves, he picked up the platter and smiled with pride. Beautiful! Simply beautiful! He placed the plate carefully into the cold box and walked back to the table to clean up his mess. He was just finishing wiping down the table when Johnny sauntered in the back door wearing only his boots and a towel tied around his waist.

“All though Boston?” He asked, grinning. Scott looked up without raising his head and nodded. “I left some hot water for ya.”

“Gee thanks!” Scott murmured.

“Any time, big brother, any time!” Johnny proceeded to ascend the back stairs while Scott carried the soiled sheets to the laundry room where he decided to drop them in one corner rather than put them in the basket on top of the other clothes. He didn't think Maria or Teresa would appreciate the fishy smell permeating the rest of the laundry. Wiping the back of one hand across his forehead, he started unbuttoning his shirt while walking out to the bath house. He had been looking forward to sinking into a tub of hot water and just plain relaxing after his stagecoach ride and especially now after performing his latest task. He chuckled as he sank into the waiting water. ‘Oyster pee!' He shook his head. Where did his little brother come up with these things?

At supper that night, Scott insisted that he be the one to carry in the platter of oysters. With great flair, he placed it in the center of the table. Murdoch beamed and rubbed his hands together before reaching for a shell but hesitated as his oldest son cleared his throat rather loudly. Looking up at Scott's face, he drew back his hand and waited. Scott was standing between his chair and the table. Picking up an oyster shell, he held it high.

“On this most special occasion may I propose a toast, if you will.” He waited until his father, his brother and Teresa stood. Murdoch immediately picked up the oyster he had been going for before and held it high. Teresa and Johnny exchanged glances. Noting their trepidation, Scott amended his toast. He realized the two had probably never eaten oysters before and didn't know quite how to go about it. “Ah, that is . . . to the two men present that have had the opportunity to savor these delicate morsels in bygone days and to the memory of their first taste.” Scott and Murdoch gently clicked their shells together, held the broad end of it to their lips, tilted their heads back and let the flesh slide into their mouths. Righting their heads, they chewed a couple times then swallowed. Murdoch closed his eyes in oyster ecstasy.

“Oh son, these are excellent. Excellent! Thank you so much for thinking to bring them back from San Francisco. I have not had the chance to partake of fresh oysters in several years and there is nothing to compare.” Murdoch reached out and gave Scott's shoulder a squeeze. Everyone sat down. With a great effort of not sounding condescending, he turned in his chair slightly so as to catch both Teresa and Johnny in his gaze.

“Are you two going to try some?” He studied the look exchanged between them. Hesitantly they both reached forward and picked up a shell. Scott smiled. “Now, hold the wide end of the shell up to your lips.” He watched and silently snickered as both of them wrinkled their noses in unison. “It's easier to eat one if you tilt your head back a little. Then just open your mouth and let it slide off the shell and onto your tongue. Bring your head up, chew it once or twice – but no more than that or it will get mushy – and swallow. You might want to hold your napkins under your chins until you get the hang of it just in case a little of the juice dribbles.” He and Murdoch watched as each young person tried it. As Teresa bit down the first time, she quickly moved her napkin up in front of her mouth thinking she was going to be sick but did manage to swallow. Johnny slid the oyster in his mouth and was clearly holding it on his tongue, a thoroughly disgusted look wrinkling his face and a sudden pallor lightening the tanned skin on his cheeks. Finally he swallowed the offending delicacy whole and quickly took a deep drink of water. Scott and Murdoch laughed before each helping themselves to another.

“Just how hungry did the first person to eat these oyster things have to be? Poor cuss must have been starvin'!” Johnny asked.

Murdoch shrugged his shoulders at Scott. ”Must be an acquired taste.” He said with Scott nodding.

“You mean to tell me I have to eat more of ‘em in order to like ‘em? Ain't never going to happen!” Johnny shuddered and Teresa, with a most sincere look of apology in her eyes which were focused on Scott's, nodded slowly in agreement. “I'll stick with good old prairie oysters.”

“Young folks today!” Murdoch teased. “Just don't have any idea what they're missing.” He picked up another shell and waited for Scott to do the same. “Now it's my turn to purpose a sort of toast.” He cleared his throat and held his shell up high and toward his son's. “'Twere better to be born a stone of ruder shape, and feeling none, Than with a tenderness like mine And sensibilities so fine! . . .”

Scott quickly interjected, “Ah, hapless wretch! Condemn'd to dwell forever in my native shell, Ordained to move when others please, Not for my own content or ease; But toss'd and buffeted about, Now in the water and now out.” Again the two touched their shells together before tossing back the delicacy.

Johnny started slowly clapping. “Now that was downright pretty! But I still ain't gonna eat ‘em.” Scott and Murdoch rolled their eyes then Scott bent closer to his brother's ear.

“Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac you know!” He whispered. Johnny turned and gave his brother a quizzical look as Scott returned to his original position.

“A what?” Johnny asked under drawn eyebrows.

“An aphrodisiac,” Scott repeated.

“What the hell . . .”

“John!” Murdoch scolded, shifting his eyes to Teresa.

“Excuse me Teresa. What is an afro . . .”

“Aphrodisiac”, Scott corrected.

“Scott!” Murdoch scolded, shifting his eyes toward Teresa again. Scott blushed slightly.

“I'll explain later.”

“Darling?” Murdoch smiled at his ward. “Something sure smells good. Should we have our main meal now before it gets cold?”

“Of course. How addle brained of me.” Teresa rose, excused herself and hurried into the kitchen to retrieve their main entrée. When they had finished Teresa asked Scott what she should do with the remaining appetizers.

“Just put them back in the cold box. We'll need to eat them up tomorrow through or they'll go bad and we'll have to throw them out.”

“You mean they can get worse?” Johnny teased. Scott replied with a narrowing glare of his eyes. They brothers played two games of chess, Johnny slightly distracted as he was wishing Teresa would get tired stitching and go to bed. Finally, in the middle of the third game, she wished them all sweet dreams. Waiting until he heard her bedroom door close, Johnny pretended to accidentally flip the chessboard onto the floor; the pieces scattering everywhere. Scott scowled at his little brother knowing he did it on purpose and supposing it was because he was winning. After all, the score had been tied at one to one.

With mock sincerely, Johnny said, “Oh Scott. I'm so sorry. Clumsy me! Here, let me pick up those pieces. Maybe we can remember where they all were and . . .” Scott grabbed his king out of Johnny's hand.

“Never mind!” He muttered. “I'll beat you the next time.” Scott sat the chess piece on a square of the board and stood up to pour himself a drink. Taking a deep swallowed, he strode past his brother and out through the French doors onto the patio. Johnny picked up the remaining pieces and placed them in their appropriate spaces on the board. Rising, he tucked the fingers of his hands into his front pockets and meandered over to and through the multi-paned doors to join his brother. Scott was standing with his hands resting on one of the curves of the low adobe wall surrounding that side of the house. Glancing back over his shoulder to see who was behind him, he picked up his glass of scotch and took another deep swallow.

Johnny approached his brother slowly, head down, and stood off to Scott's left toeing a small stone with his boot. “I am sorry, Scott.” He said sincerely. “It wasn't a nice thing to do, especially since it would have been your game. I reset the board. Any time you say, okay?” Scott nodded his head with a slight lean to his left and finished his drink. An awkward silence hung between the men for some time. “I'm sorry too that your surprise didn't exactly work out the way you planned. I guess me and Teresa kinda spoiled it for ya.”

Scott turned to look into his brother's eyes and saw the sincerity of his words. “I don't blame you. It was probably a foolish waste of funds in the first place. I knew Murdoch loved oysters and I just wanted to introduce the two of you to them hoping you would find them just as appealing. I started eating them as a young teen. I guess the taste really is acquired just like I've had to learn to like Mexican food – especially those hot peppers you can't seem to live without.” Scott grinned a little and rubbed his stomach. Johnny smiled and scoffed softly.

“Ya, I guess that's an acquired taste too.” Johnny returned his attention to the small stone near his boot. “Hey Scott?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I was wonderin'… now that Teresa's gone to bed and all...”

Scott nodded in understanding and chuckled. “You want me to explain what an aphrodisiac is, correct?” Even in the darkness Scott could see the beginnings of a blush sweep over Johnny's cheeks. Scott motioned his little brother over to a nearby bench and they sat down side-by-side. Scott struggled for a moment with exactly how to explain the concept to his little brother. Finally he spoke, keeping his focus on the stars. “The word comes from the Greek word Aphrodite who was the goddess of sexuality.” Without looking he felt Johnny shift a little uncomfortably. “Throughout history certain foods became associated with an increased desire to . . . well, you know.” He glanced at Johnny who simply nodded. “Any way, it was thought by eating one of these foods – especially if the consumer was male – that a substance within the item would not only stimulate the body' natural response to… ah… and prolong the feeling of… satisfaction afterward…”

Johnny appreciated his brother's attempt to explain such personal information in such a delicate way and decided to let him off the hook. “So what you're saying is I'll draw faster, shoot later and live happily ever after.”

“Little brother, you do have very unique ways of phrasing things.” Scott smiled and shook his head.

“So oysters is one of them there foods that… well, you know. Are there others?”

Scott nodded. “Yes, quite a few in fact. Figs, coffee, honey, chocolate, strawberries, wine, even asparagus.”

“Asparagus? Why asparagus?”

Scott looked Johnny directly in the eyes. “Because of its shape.” He raised his eyebrows until he saw understanding flash in his little brother's smile.

“Boy, you must be rarin' to go all the time the way you eat asparagus. I thought it was just because you liked the taste! You devil, you!” Johnny elbowed his brother gently in the side.

“I eat it because I DO like the taste. It has nothing to do with . . . Oh, why do I bother. Good night.” Scott picked up his glass and went inside. Using his outstretched fingers, Johnny ran back through the list ticking off each item on a different finger. Let's see he liked coffee, honey, strawberries, wine – sometimes, not the white stuff though, and he LOVED chocolate. He nodded his head. It seemed he liked enough of the other things so that he wouldn't have to eat oysters or a green vegetable. Tucking this new tidbit of information in his brain, he too went inside, climbed the stairs and climbed into bed.

About four o'clock the following morning, Scott's thirst woke him up. He tried drinking a glass of water out of his bedside pitcher but it was warm and didn't seem to alleviate his need. What he really wanted was a big glass of icy cold milk. Yawning, he pulled on his robe leaving it to hang open and padded his bare feet down the hall to the rear stairs. He rubbed his eyes stepping into the kitchen. He wasn't sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing.

Sitting at the kitchen table was his younger brother with plates and bowls spread out in a fan shape in front of him. Scott was surprised to see the plate of leftover oysters among them. He got a glass and poured himself some milk out of the pitcher Johnny already had out then slumped in a chair yawning again. “What are you doing?” He asked incredulously.

“Eatin',” Johnny replied, his mouth full.

“Ya, I can see that. I thought you didn't like oysters. Why do you them sitting out here?” Johnny shrugged, picked one up and slurped it down his throat, making the most grotesque face afterward. Scott surveyed the food more closely. In addition to the oysters there was chocolate cake, strawberry jam, a crock filled with honey and coffee was brewing on the stove. Suddenly Johnny's early morning buffet made sense.

“Aren't these the exact same foods I told you would . . .” Johnny nodded, reaching out to scoop up a spoonful of jam.

“We didn't have no fresh strawberries. I figure this is just as good. Swallowing, he refilled the spoon with honey and shoved it in his mouth then slurped down another oyster. Scott shuddered. “Helps disguise the taste.” Johnny stated.

Scott folded his arms and laid them on the edge of the table then dropped his forehead down to rest on them. “Oh Johnny!” He mumbled. Lifting his head to rest his chin on his arms he watched his little brother eat the remaining oysters. “Don't you think you're overdoing it a little?”

Johnny shoved some chocolate cake in his mouth and shook his head. “Nope.” He answered. “It's Saturday.”

“So…?”

“So, it's Saturday and I got the day off. Don't have to wait to go into town until tonight. I can spend the whole darn day in the saloon – if you get my meaning.” He winked and Scott dropped his forehead down on his arms again. “You know, you and Murdoch didn't leave many oysters for me. I bet you ate most of them didn't you?” Scott nodded but didn't fess up to the ones he had enjoyed while cleaning them. “So . . .?” A slow smile spread across Scott's lips. Standing, he finished his milk then reached over and grabbed a thick slice of chocolate cake.

The brothers finished off the whole pot of coffee - foolishly -  before returning to their rooms to try to get a little more sleep. Freshly shaved they each put on their dressiest ‘goin' into town' shirts, polished their boots and met back in the hall. Holding their index fingers up in front of their lips, they snuck down the front stairs and out the door. Slinking their way over to the barn, they hurried inside and saddled their horses. Johnny didn't need to worry about Murdoch but Scott had not been given permission to while away his entire Saturday and so appeared a little nervous. Johnny pointed out, however, that Murdoch's horse was gone and so was probably already out on the north range where he had mentioned the previous day his need to inspect the fence. 

As the brothers led their mounts slowly side-by-side down the road, they raised one hand to slap that of the other man just as they passed under the arch. Within seconds, they were riding at a fast gallop toward Green River. They had a feeling that somehow the town might never be the same!

 

 

~ end ~

Author note:
It is generally accepted that dry ice was first observed in 1834 by French chemist Charles Thilorier. In his experiments, he noted that when opening the lid of a large cylinder containing liquid carbon dioxide, most of the liquid CO2 quickly evaporated. This left only solid dry ice in the container. In 1924, Thomas B. Slate applied for a US patent to sell dry ice commercially. Subsequently, he became the first to make dry ice successful as an industry. In 1925, this solid form of CO2 was trademarked by the DryIce Corporation of America as "Dry ice", thus leading to its common name. That same year the DryIce Co. sold the substance commercially for the first time; marketing it for refrigerating purposes.

There are many food items in the world that evoke the question, “How hungry did the first person to eat that have to be?” But few such dishes can rival the raw oyster for unpalatable appearance and general “ick” factor. If undaunted by the oyster's rough, rock-hard, nearly-impossible-to-open shell, the undoubtedly famished first taster would then have confronted the gray, slimy, almost phlegmatic appearance of its plump body. Once beyond any primal gag reflex though, this seminal slurper would have been surprisingly rewarded with the oyster's delicate, toothy texture, rich flavor, and salty liquor.

Oyster shells are usually oval or pear-shaped, but will vary widely in form depending on what they attach to. They are generally whitish-gray in outer shell color, and their inside shell is usually a porcelain white. They have extremely strong adductor muscles to close their shells when threatened.

Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster" but evidence of oyster consumption goes back into prehistory, evidenced by oyster middens found worldwide. It was once assumed that oysters were only safe to eat in months with the letter ‘r' in their English and French names. This myth is based in truth, in that in the Northern Hemisphere, oysters are much more likely to spoil in May, June, July, and August.

Traditionally, oysters are considered to be an aphrodisiac, partially because they resemble female sex organs

Fresh oysters must be alive just before consumption or cooking. There is only one criterion: the oyster must be capable of tightly closing its shell. Open oysters should be tapped on the shell; a live oyster will close up and is safe to eat. Oysters which are open and unresponsive are dead and must be discarded. Some dead oysters, or oyster shells which are full of sand may be closed. These make a distinctive noise when tapped, and are known as 'clackers'.

Opening oysters requires skill. The preferred method is to use a special knife (called an oyster knife, a variant of a shucking knife), with a short and thick blade about 5 cm (2.0 in) long.

Insert the blade, with moderate force and vibration if necessary, at the hinge between the two valves.

Twist the blade until there is a slight pop.

Slide the blade upward to cut the adductor muscle which holds the shell closed.  

Inexperienced shuckers can apply too much force, which can result in injury if the blade slips. Heavy gloves are necessary; apart from the knife, the shell itself can be razor sharp. Professional shuckers require less than three seconds to open the shell.

Opening or "shucking" oysters has become a competitive sport. Oyster-shucking competitions are staged around the world. Widely acknowledged to be the premiere event, the Guinness World Oyster Opening Championship is held in September at the Galway Oyster Festival. The annual Clarenbridge Oyster Festival 'Oyster Opening Competition' is also held in Galway, Ireland.

'Twere better to be born a stone Of ruder shape, and feeling none, Than with a tenderness like mine And sensibilities so fine! Ah, hapless wretch! condemn'd to dwell Forever in my native shell, Ordained to move when others please, Not for my own content or ease; But toss'd and buffeted about, Now in the water and now out. (Quote by - William Cowper)


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