Word count 29,945
6th in the The Surprise series . If you haven’t read the previous stories there may be some references that are confusing.
Johnny and Scott froze in the entryway.
“I wonder which one of them is in trouble now,” Scott whispered.
Johnny shrugged. “Knowing our luck, probably both of them.”
“Well, at least Murdoch has someone to yell at besides us.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, he’s STILL yellin’ at us,” Johnny snorted.
“Should we try to make a run for it?”
Johnny shook his head in resignation. “He’d catch us eventually.”
Scott nodded in agreement, and then the two marched bravely into the Great Room, where Murdoch sat glowering at them from behind the desk.
Johnny took a bewildered look around and noticed the Great Room had undergone significant changes since that morning. “What happened in here? Teresa lose her temper?” Johnny smirked. Then his gaze went further into the room and he froze, suddenly aware of just who had caused the mayhem.
Scott looked around the room in awe. It looked like a freight train had come through the room, and the freight train in question now appeared to be sleeping soundly next to the stairs. Then only thing still relatively untouched was Murdoch’s precious model ship, standing forlornly in the middle of the wreckage. The sofa was in pieces, as was a nearby chair, and the sideboard had been swept clean of bottles.
The scowl on Murdoch’s face remained fixed as he stared at Johnny. “If I were you, BOY, I wouldn’t get too cute. And I’ll give you ONE guess as to just who caused all of this, and it WASN’T Teresa, although she did an admirable job of losing her temper after she saw this mess.”
As Johnny worriedly bit his lip, Scott took a relieved breath. At least Helen wasn’t responsible. It looked like he was in the clear. However, there WAS that nagging worry as to why Murdoch had yelled for both of them. Scott felt the tension come back.
Murdoch continued glaring at Johnny. “It seems as though your girlfriend has a craving for liquor. I foolishly left the patio door open, and she decided to help herself. The only problem was, the door wasn’t QUITE big enough.”
Johnny and Scott’s eyes were drawn to where the patio door had been. Now there was simply a hole, with splinters of wood and glass strewn around the opening. Teresa’s drapes were hanging drunkenly off of the rods.
“Evidently she had been drinking for quite a while before I caught her. She had time to polish off my entire stock of imported brandy.”
Both Scott and Johnny winced. That alone was enough to ensure their fate.
“When I tried to chase her out, your drunken friend managed to destroy the room before collapsing on top of my favorite chair.”
Johnny glanced over to where Agnes was peacefully sleeping. Yep, he was pretty sure he saw an oak leg sticking out from under her massive bulk.
Murdoch pointed toward the center of the room. “The ONLY thing that saved her from a shotgun blast was the fact that she didn’t destroy that model. If that had been touched, both you and she would have been toast.”
“I’m sure she didn’t mean it,” Johnny explained lamely. “I’ve been gone a while, and she probably missed me.”
“Well, just to reassure you, I WON”T miss you if you don’t get her out of here and clean up this mess. NOW!”
Johnny looked at his father in bewilderment. “Just how am I supposed ta do that? She’s passed out! It’s not like I can just lift her up and carry her out!”
As much as Murdoch wanted to insist, he knew his son had a point. “All right, but as soon as she’s awake, I want her out of this room!” He stood up. “And rest assured, this WILL be coming out of your pay!”
Murdoch walked toward the stairs, and Scott started to follow him out. Murdoch glared at his older son. “And just WHERE do you think YOU’RE going?”
Scott tried to shrug nonchalantly. “It was AGNES that did it, not Helen.”
Murdoch nodded his head. “I guess that’s your decision if you don’t want help your brother. Besides, you’re going to have to get up AWFULLY early tomorrow.”
Scott felt the specter of doom descending. “Why?”
Murdoch shrugged. “Helen got hungry this afternoon.”
Even though he knew better, Scott couldn’t resist asking. “And?”
Murdoch shrugged again. “And…she decided the food in the turkey pen looked absolutely irresistible.”
Scott shut his eyes. “AND?”
“And she decided to go in and help herself to some.”
Scott opened one eye cautiously. That certainly didn’t sound too bad. He watched his father warily. “So what’s the problem?”
Murdoch turned and smiled at his older son. “She apparently forgot to close the gate after she left.”
Scott once more slammed his eyes shut. “How many?” He whispered desperately.
“All of them. At last count we had exactly four hundred and eighty three, and I expect to have exactly four hundred eighty three birds back in that pen by tomorrow night.” He glared at both boys in turn. “ALIVE!”
Scott turned white and spun around. He went over to the demolished sideboard and started rummaging frantically in the debris.
Murdoch proceeded up the stairs, then turned and called over his shoulder. “Don’t bother. I already looked. She drank it all.”
With a moan, Scott sank down into what remained of the couch, and then looked hopefully at his brother. “Guess we’d better start cleaning this mess up.”
Johnny shook his head. “No ‘we’ about it. I guess I’D better get busy.”
“You’re not going to let me chase down those darn turkeys all by myself, are you?”
Johnny shrugged. “You were gonna let me clean up this mess by myself ‘till ya found out what Helen had done, and you KNOW how I feel about those birds.”
Scott swallowed hard. “Johnny, please. I feel the same way you do, but I CAN”T catch those turkeys by myself and you know it. I tell you what. I’ll take half the blame for this mess if you help me catch those darn birds.”
At that moment, Agnes decided to wake up. She rolled onto her stomach and then pushed her front feet out in front of her. Johnny scrambled backward as the elephant wobbled to her feet, her head just barely clearing the ceiling. Agnes stood precariously for a moment, and then took a tentative step forward. She immediately lurched sideways, and Johnny once more jumped backwards to avoid getting squished. As he moved, he tripped on a rug and went flying, but luckily managed to catch himself by grabbing a table. Johnny watched in resigned horror as the table tipped up and the model ship went flying through the air.
He shut his eyes as the sound of a crash echoed through the room. “Deal,” he told his brother.
The next evening, Johnny and Scott stood in the barn, trying to get up enough courage to enter the house. They were tired and dirty, and they had definitely had enough of turkeys to last them the rest of their lives.
“What do you think he’ll do to us?”
Scott shook his head. “I have no idea, but I’m sure it won’t be pleasant.”
Johnny shook his head. “I hate turkeys.” He looked over at his brother. “Ya didn’t tell him about his ship, did you?”
“I’m NOT stupid. I told him that we put it in your room for safekeeping.”
Johnny stared at his brother in panic. “MY ROOM! Why did ya tell him that?”
“It’s your elephant.”
“And what happens when he wants to put it back in the Great Room?”
Scott shrugged. “We’ll think of something.”
“No! YOU’LL think of something. I’m not the one that told him it was there.”
“Maybe we can tell him it’s being cleaned or something.”
Johnny looked at his brother hopefully. “Do ya think he’ll buy it?”
Scott shook his head sorrowfully. ‘Not in a million years.”
Johnny reached over and plucked a turkey feather from his brother’s hair. “What are we gonna tell him about those stupid birds?”
Scott shrugged in resignation. “I have no idea.”
Johnny shook his head. “I TOLD ya we shoulda done it my way.”
Scott glared at his brother. “And I told YOU that Murdoch was very specific. He wanted them ALIVE.”
“Well, I coulda winged ‘em,” Johnny sulked. “It would be better than rollin’ around in the dirt all day, and we woulda gotten a heck of a lot more of ‘em than twenty eight.”
Scott sighed. “I HATE turkeys.”
“Do you really think Murdoch will make us find ALL of those birds? Half of ‘em are clear down in Mexico by now.”
Scott grimaced. “With any luck he will, and then we can stay down there and we can live the rest of our lives in peaceful oblivion.”
“I TOLD ya we shoulda gone down there months ago. It woulda saved us a lot of grief.”
“Well, the way I see it, if we get rid of the turkeys life will improve considerably around here.”
“Life would improve considerably if we got rid of Murdoch, too.”
Scott shook his head impatiently. “We already discussed that. You KNOW we can’t murder our own father.
“Explain to me again exactly why not?”
Scott shook his head in exasperation at his brother. “No.”
“You were perfectly willin’ ta blow him up!”
“I had a perfectly good reason to blow him up then!”
“And ya don’t now? Do you have any idea what he’s gonna do to us when we tell him we could only catch twenty-eight of those fancy feather dusters?”
“I already told ya, eggs don’t count.”
“I hate turkeys.” Finally Scott sighed and looked at Johnny hopefully. “Maybe we can buy some replacements.”
“Do you have some money I don’t know about? You KNOW Murdoch’s been takin’ all of our wages ta pay off the contracts to that circus.”
“And the new circus tent.”
“And don’t forget the hay for Agnes and Helen.”
“And Sam’s bill for Murdoch’s broken leg.”
“And the cost of those hands he had ta hire ta help with round-up.”
Johnny and Scott looked at each other glumly. “We SHOULD have stayed with the circus,” Scott said. “At least THERE we were making money.”
Johnny nodded in agreement.
Finally Scott sighed. “Are you ready to go in?”
Johnny dropped his head for a moment and then looked at his brother and smiled. “Sure. But you go first.”
Scott nodded glumly and headed for the house, with Johnny following closely behind. They tiptoed into the house, and made a dash for the stairs, but they had only gone a few feet when Murdoch’s bellow stopped them. With an identical sigh, the boys turned around and headed into the Great Room.
“WELL?” Murdoch asked.
“It’ll probably take us another day or two ta catch ‘em all.” Johnny explained.
“I see. And just how many DID you catch?”
Johnny bit the inside of his lip and looked at his brother, but the cat seemed to have gotten Scott’s tongue. “Twenty…Nine,” Johnny finally admitted hopefully.
“Twenty-Nine,” Murdoch repeated in disbelief.
“Yeah, but they’re all alive,” Johnny said brightly, before a frown crossed his features. “Well, mostly.”
Murdoch drummed his fingers on the top of his desk and contemplated his sons. Finally, Scott broke the silence. “Come on, Murdoch! You can’t seriously expect us to round up all of those turkeys! They’re scattered all over the country by now!”
Murdoch continued staring as he answered, his voice gradually rising as he talked. “We have a contract with the army to delivery four hundred and fifty turkeys to their buyer by the fifteenth of November. That’s less than five weeks away. If you gentlemen will remember, we ALSO have both cattle and horse contracts with the army. In fact, they’re our main customers, so we want to keep them REAL happy. Now, if we DON’T deliver those turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, they’re NOT going to be happy. In fact, they might be SO not happy that they cancel our other contracts. And if THAT happens, BOYS, you will be herding turkeys for the REST OF YOUR LIVES, because THAT will be all we can AFFORD! SO, I don’t care HOW you do it, but that pen had BETTER have at least four hundred and fifty LIVE turkeys in it by the fifteenth of November. UNDERSTAND?”
“We could buy ‘em.” Johnny said hopefully.
Murdoch turned his gaze on Johnny. “I THINK,” his father said icily, “that MIGHT cut into our profits. What do you think?”
“Ya mean ya want ta make a profit on ‘em, too?”
Murdoch started breathing deeply and his face began to turn purple. When he reached for Johnny’s throat, Scott grabbed his brother and headed for the stairs, yelling over his shoulder, “We’ll take care of it, Sir. Don’t worry!”
Murdoch watched as they disappeared up the stairs. That was what he was afraid of, that his boys would handle it, just like they’d handled everything else the last few months. He looked toward his wiped out liquor cabinet and moaned. He hated that elephant.
“I don’t want to hear one more word about it!” Victoria ordered, her hands on her hips. “Murdoch Lancer was nice enough to offer to let us stay at his house while we were in town for the cattle auction, and that’s where we’ll be staying, and I don’t want to hear one more word about it!”
“I’d rather sleep in a hollow log,” Nick grumbled.
“And that’s where you WILL be sleeping for the rest of your life if you can’t get along with the Lancer boys,” Victoria threatened calmly.
“Getting along with the Lancers is IMPOSSIBLE! They’re crazy, and you know it!” Nick shook his head. “And they’re also DANGEROUS! Somebody’s always getting shot or bitten or hit on the head or banged up somehow whenever they’re around. A man has a right to protect himself!”
“Nick, we won’t be there that long, and I expect you to play nice. Is that understood?”
Nick bit back a reply. He knew his mother wasn’t going to give in on this one, and he was outnumbered. He glared at Heath, who was enjoying this exchange immensely. For some reason Heath LIKED Scott and Johnny, a serious personality flaw as far as Nick was concerned. He glared at his brother. “All I can say is you’d better make sure you keep your friends on a leash, or I JUST might forget my manners.”
Much to Heath’s amusement, Nick dropped his eyes. “Yes, Mother,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll be good.”
“See to it that you are. You’re still not too big to turn over my knee.”
Nick looked up at his mother hopefully. “If I can’t shoot either of them, can I at least shoot one of their saddles?”
“You WHAT?” Johnny and Scott chorused.
“You heard me. I invited Victoria Barkley to stay with us while she was attending the cattle auction in Green River.”
Scott shook his head impatiently. “No, the OTHER part.”
Murdoch looked at his son with an innocent look. “What? That Heath will be accompanying her?”
“Keep going,” Johnny said.
“That Nick will be coming too?”
“That’s the part,” Johnny said, spinning on his heel and heading for the door, followed closely by Scott.
“BOYS! You stop RIGHT THERE!”
Scott and Johnny came to a reluctant halt.
“I expect you to act like gentlemen and behave yourselves.”
“That won’t be a problem, because we have no intention of being anywhere in the area of Nick Barkley.”
“Oh yes you will. You still have, what, four hundred turkeys to catch?
“Four hundred fifty –five,” Scott muttered, as Johnny elbowed him in the side.
Murdoch nodded. “You aren’t going ANYWHERE until they’re all safely back in that pen.”
Johnny glared at his father. “Does Jelly know that Nick will be here?”
“As a matter of fact, he does, and he’s just fine with it.”
“Uh huh,” Scott said.
Murdoch slammed down the book he had in his hand. “The two of you won’t have time to get into a fight with Nick; you’ll be too busy catching those birds. Now I don’t want to hear one more word about it, UNDERSTOOD?”
“But Murdoch, Nick’s crazy,” Johnny started.
Johnny and Scott reluctantly nodded, then turned and made their way quietly up the stairs. Johnny followed his brother into his room, and closed the door. “Well?”
Scott unbuttoned his shirt and shook his head. “Well, what?”
“Well what are we gonna do? You and I both know that there’s NO WAY that the four of us can be together for more than a few minutes without somebody killin’ somebody else. And if I have ta listen ta Nick’s bellowing for more than a day, I KNOW who’s gonna be goin the shootin’ and I DON”T think Murdoch’s gonna be very happy.”
Scott threw his shirt onto the chair. “You heard Murdoch. We have to get enough birds back in the pen in time for thanksgiving. If it weren’t for those darn turkeys we could…” Scott’s voice drifted off, and a smile came to his lips.
“All we have to do is replace those turkeys, and we’ll be home free,” Scott mused.
Johnny snorted. “You make it sound easy. I hate ta break the news to ya, but there’s NO WAY we’re gonna catch all of those birds. We already caught the easy ones.”
Scott’s smile got wider. “Who said ANYTHING about catching those turkeys? I said we had to get birds back in the pen, ready to ship. It doesn’t HAVE to be THOSE turkeys.”
Johnny shook his head again. “Like I said, we don’t have any money.”
“We won’t NEED any money,” Scott said conspiratorially. “Brother, I have a plan.”
Nick stomped out of the house, grumbling to himself, and Heath hurriedly caught up. Heath grabbed his older brother’s arm. “Come on, Nick, it won’t be that bad.”
“Oh, WON’T IT?” Nick growled.
“Look, Johnny and Scott will probably be doin’ so many chores they won’t have TIME to even TALK to us. Besides, isn’t it worth it to get away from our own chores for a while? I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get away from those turkeys for a while, I think I’ll shoot every single one of them.”
“DON’T remind me whose fault it is we have those birds, anyway.”
Heath sighed. “It wasn’t exactly their fault, and you know it.”
“Can’t you think of SOMETHING good about visiting Lancer? I, for one, plan on asking Teresa to the Halloween dance!”
“What makes you think she’d even go with you?”
“I plan on getting her a present than no woman could resist.”
Nick looked at his brother cautiously. “As long as it’s not that perfume that got my saddle shot.”
“Nope. This is FAR better.”
Nick looked at his brother dubiously. “All right, but if any of them come after you with a shotgun, DON’T hide behind me!”
Heath clapped his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You know what’s wrong with you? You worry too much. You need to relax and have some fun!”
“The only fun I want is to get even with at least ONE of those idiots at Lancer.” Nick stopped and looked thoughtfully at his brother. “Halloween, huh?” A slow smile crept over Nick’s face. “Maybe I’ll take your advice and have some fun after all. Brother, I have a plan.”
Victoria Barkley stood with her arms folded, studying her two sons. She knew something was going on, but so far she had been unsuccessful in prying whatever it was out if them. They both looked completely innocent, which made her all the more suspicious.
“All right, tell me again why you have to ride to Lancer a day early?”
“I told you, we want to stop on the way and look at some stock that we heard was for sale down around Colton.”
Victoria’s eyes narrowed. “Isn’t that where the Meyers Brothers circus is giving a performance now?”
Nick’s eyes got wide in surprise. “Is it? Well, don’t worry; I have NO intention of getting anywhere NEAR that place again. I don’t particularly relish the thought of getting chased by those mad dogs.”
She nodded in agreement. He would have to be crazy to go through that again. She looked over at Heath. “What about you?”
Her youngest son shook his head emphatically. “No, ma’am. I have no intention of getting chased, either.”
Victoria’s eyes narrowed. She certainly didn’t believe them, but her sons weren’t crazy, either. “All right, I will see you at Lancer. But if you boys don’t behave yourselves before I get there…” She let the threat trail off.
Nick grabbed his hat and shepherded Heath out the door. “No, ma’am. We won’t get into any trouble, and we’ll be as nice as can be to those two…to Johnny and Scott.” He gave Heath a shove. “Come on, Heath, we have to be going.”
Victoria watched as her two boys hurried out of the house. She had the feeling that she should forbid them to leave early; she knew they were up to no good. Victoria stood there thinking about the running feud between two of her boys and Murdoch’s and smiled. Both she and Murdoch had their hands full with those four. The thought crossed her mind that maybe she should let Murdoch have some fun and let him ride herd on all four of them for a while. Maybe he could stop the nonsense. The more she thought about it, the more she thought that she’d wait an extra day or two to leave. Besides, after that circus fiasco, Scott and Johnny deserved whatever they got.
Heath looked worried as they rode out of the yard, and Nick pulled alongside him. “What’s wrong?”
Heath shrugged. “I didn’t like lying to mother.”
Nick looked at his younger brother in exasperation. “We didn’t lie! WE ARE checking out stock. I just didn’t say what kind, and I have NO intention of getting anywhere near that circus, I’m leaving that to you. And I’m SURE you have no intention of getting chased by that pack of mangy hounds, do you?”
Heath looked at his brother and started to grin. “Do you think Mother knew something was up?”
Nick snorted. “She’s NOT dumb. Of course she did. But she probably figured we’ll be doing what she would like to do to those two if she could get away with it. You heard what she said about them when that circus tent came down on her.”
Heath’s grin widened. “Well, since you put it that way, what are we waiting for?”
Nick smiled back. This actually might be fun.
Johnny shook his head. “I STILL don’t know how you’re gonna get those turkeys away from the Barkleys. Nick ain’t gonna just give ‘em to us, and we still don’t have any money. I don’t mind getting’ killed, but I DO mind my headstone reading’: “Turkey thief”.
Scott shook his head in exasperation. “We won’t HAVE to steal those turkeys. Nick is going to make sure we get them, one way or the other.”
“Why would he do that? He’s not exactly friendly, and he SURE wouldn’t do anything ta help us out of this mess. In fact, he’d probably do anything to get us INTO a mess.”
Scott sighed. For being a gunfighter, sometimes his brother was awfully naïve. “What is the ONE thing that would make Nick a happy man?”
“Scott, it won’t do us much good ta get those turkeys if we have ta let Nick kill us ta get ‘em. Sort of defeats the purpose of keepin’ us outta trouble, dontcha think?”
Scott shook his head in frustration. “All right, the second thing that would make him happy.”
“Makin’ us miserable?”
“Exactly. He’d do anything to make us miserable. And what is the one thing that would totally ruin our lives?”
“Gettin’ those dang turkeys back,” Johnny said glumly.
Scott nodded sagely. “So, all we have to do is convince Nick that we’d kill ourselves if we got more turkeys, and I can guarantee you that pen will be full before you can say “turkey dinner.”
Johnny stared at his brother for a while. “But we WILL be miserable.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, but only for a couple more weeks, and in the meantime, Murdoch won’t kill us, so we’ll all be happy. And just as soon as those turkeys are delivered, we can forget about being turkey farmers and go back to wrestling steers out of mud holes and getting our heads stomped on by outlaw horses. We’ll be in heaven.”
“What if Murdoch decides to get more turkeys?” Johnny asked dubiously.
“I’ve already taken care of that. I’ve spread the word that if ANYONE sells even ONE turkey to the Lancer ranch, Johnny Madrid would be gunning for them.”
“Oh, great. If I lose, my headstone will STILL read: “He died for turkeys.”
“Can you think of a BETTER cause to die for than keeping turkeys off of this ranch?’
Johnny sighed and shook his head glumly.
“All right, now all we have to do is to act like we are OVERJOYED that those dang birds have disappeared.”
“There ain’t no actin’ to it. I AM overjoyed.”
“See, I told you it would be easy.”
Johnny sighed. “Are you SURE we can’t just kill Murdoch? It would be a WHOLE lot less stressful than dealing with Nick and those turkeys.”
Nick and Heath rode under the Lancer arch two days later. They had ridden over to Colton, and then stopped off briefly in town to take care of some business. The cattle auction wasn’t due to start for another two days, so they had plenty of time to relax at the ranch before they had to go into town, and that’s JUST what they planned to do. Their mother had been working their tails off lately, and they were going to have some fun while they could. They were going to relax and forget they had even heard of ranching, stringing wire, and most of all, forget there were any such things as turkeys.
Scott peeked through the bushes and then whispered to his brother. “All right, here they come!” Both men started talking in loud voices.
“I mean it Scott!!! If I have ta spend ONE MORE DAY with ANYTHING feathered, I think I just might kill myself!”
“That goes for me too! If Murdoch thinks were going to keep looking for those stupid birds, he’s badly mistaken.”
“If I do find ‘em, I sure ain’t gonna catch ‘em. What does he think we are, stupid?”
“Well, all I can say is I’m sure glad those darn birds are out of my life once and for all!”
“If Murdoch thinks we’re gonna get more, I’m gonna SHOOT him!”
Nick nudged Heath. “I TOLD ya they were all crazy,” he grinned, and then rode a little closer to the talking bushes. “What’re you boys doing in there, anyway?”
Scott poked his head out of the bush. “Oh, hi Nick. What’re you doing here?”
“Your father asked us to stay a few days. What are YOU doing in THERE?”
Scott looked innocent. “Oh nothing. Just having a talk with my little brother.” He grabbed Johnny by the arm and dragged him out of the shrubbery.
Heath smiled. “Do you ALWAYS do your talking in bushes?”
Scott shook his head. “NO. Only sometimes, when we’re trying to not do something.”
Johnny nodded his head. “We’re tryin’ ta NOT catch turkeys.”
“Is it working?” Heath asked.
Scott nodded. “So far it’s working beautifully. Now if you’ll excuse us, gentlemen, we have to go back to not working.” Scott pulled Johnny with him into the bushes and disappeared.
Nick shook his head and rode toward the house, with Heath following closely behind him. Nick kept looking back at the bushes, but they were no longer talking. After they had gone about fifty yards, Heath spoke up, “Now see, they aren’t crazy.”
Nick opened his mouth to say something, and then shut it. If Heath didn’t notice anything unusual about that encounter, HE certainly wasn’t going to enlighten his brother. Then another thought crossed his mind. Maybe whatever the Lancers had was contagious. He looked at Heath out of the corner of his eye and quickly moved his horse further away from his brother. The two men rode up to the front of the house and dismounted.
“Nick, Heath, I’m glad you got here so quickly.”
Nick and Heath spun around and stared into the garden, where their mother and Murdoch were apparently enjoying some lemonade. So much for two days of peace. With a sigh, the two men made their way over to the garden. “Mother, Mr. Lancer.”
Murdoch shook hands with the two young men, and then offered them some lemonade. Heath and Nick accepted gratefully, and sank into one of the chairs sitting incongruously in the yard. Heath looked around and noticed several pieces of furniture scattered around the garden. “I didn’t notice this last time.”
“It wasn’t here last time,” Murdoch growled. “We can’t use the Great Room for a while, it was destroyed.”
Heath’s eyes got big. “How?”
Murdoch snorted in disgust as he pointed to what was left of the door leading to the Great Room. “Johnny’s girlfriend tore her way into the room to get at my imported Brandy and managed to drink my entire stock.”
“ALL of it?” Heath squeaked, his eyes locked on the massive hole in the wall and the bits of furniture piled in the corner of the garden.
Murdoch nodded glumly. “Every last drop. Then she got drunk and destroyed all of the furniture before she passed out.”
Nick finally dragged his eyes away from the damaged wall before looking at Heath in triumph. “Told ya so.”
Victoria spoke up. “I’m glad the two of you got here early. It seems as if Scott and Johnny could use some help.”
“You got that right, but I’m NOT a psychiatrist,” Nick mumbled as Heath poked him in the ribs with an elbow.
Victoria continued, “It seems as though the two of them have misplaced a few birds, and I told Murdoch you would be more than happy to help them find them.”
“What KIND of birds?” Nick asked suspiciously.
Victoria took a sip of her lemonade. “I believe they were turkeys.”
Murdoch nodded. “Scott’s camel wandered into the turkey pen and left the gate open. Now Scott and Johnny are trying to catch the escapees.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Nick mumbled once more.
Victoria’s eyes widened slightly. “Don’t bet on what?”
“Good. Now I expect you two to go out and give Murdoch’s boys a hand. Between the two of you, you SHOULD be able to round up those birds in no time.”
“But MOTHER,” Heath complained, “We were PLANNING on relaxing and having some fun. You TOLD us this was supposed to be a vacation!”
Victoria nodded. “Now what could be more relaxing than spending time with some good friends? Right Murdoch?”
Murdoch nodded. “Right, and I know Scott and Johnny will appreciate it. Thanks, boys.”
Resigned to their fate, Nick and Heath drained their lemonade and then stalked back out toward the bushes.
“I KNEW IT!” Nick shouted. “I knew that SOMEHOW I was going to actually have to be around those two idiots!”
“Nick, calm down. Look on the bright side. You still have your plan to get even.”
Nick glared at his brother. “Fat lot of good it will do me if I hang for murdering one of them before that! Besides, I’m not sure I’m going to do ANYTHING to Johnny. I’m not worried about him, but I don’t want his girlfriend mad at me. That woman has one serious anger management problem.”
Nick tore through the bushes where he had last seen Scott and Johnny. “Just wait until I get my hands on those two. I think they ‘lost’ those turkeys on purpose just to make me mad.”
“Come on, Nick, how would they know that Mother and Mr. Lancer would make us help them find their lost birds?”
“I have no idea, but it’s STILL their fault! Now be quiet, or they’ll know we’re coming, and I REALLY want to surprise them.”
Heath decided not to point out to his brother that with his growling they could hear him coming a mile away, and he’d be lucky if they didn’t shoot him thinking he was a grizzly bear. Heath made sure he stayed behind his brother, just in case.
Nick finally pushed some particularly thick shrubbery aside, and found Scott and Johnny calmly sitting and eating their lunch. He glared at them for a moment, and then Scott held something up to him. “Cookie?”
As Nick started to hyperventilate, Heath calmly grabbed the offering from Scott’s hand and sank down next to the two Lancers. Johnny handed his friend a small flask, and Heath took a swig and smiled.
“WHAT DO you think you’re DOING?” Nick bellowed. “That’s consorting with the enemy!”
Heath shrugged. “I’m hungry.”
Nick looked back and forth between Scott and Johnny. “And what are YOU TWO doing sitting here? YOU’RE SUPPOSED to be finding those turkeys!”
Johnny shrugged. “Sure ya don’t want a cookie?” At Nick’s silence, Johnny held up a small wrapped package. “How about a piece of Maria’s apple pie?”
Nick stared at the parcel for a moment, his taste buds obviously warring with his sense of retribution. Finally, he joined Heath on the ground and Johnny calmly handed over the pie.
“You know that your father thinks you’re looking for those lost turkeys,” Nick said accusingly through a mouthful of pie.
Scott shrugged nonchalantly. “We ARE looking, can’t you tell? We can’t help it if those stupid birds aren’t where we happen to be looking for them.”
Heath shrugged. “Makes sense to me.”
Nick looked back and forth between the three men. “You have ALL lost your minds,” he observed.
Scott looked at Nick. “Do YOU want to spend the rest of your life taking care of turkeys?”
“No, and I don’t plan on it, either!”
Johnny shrugged. “Neither did we, but Murdoch found out just what a GREAT punishment it was, and now that’s all we hear about is those dang birds. I’ve forgotten what a cow looks like. I even see turkeys in my dreams!”
Scott nodded. “And if we FIND them, we’ll have to go back to taking care of them. So they are going to STAY lost.”
“That’s just the point. Mother told us to help you find them, and SHE won’t let us off the hook until every last one is rounded up,” Nick bellowed.
Scott shrugged. “If you want to try it, be our guests, but we have been looking for three days, and so far, we’ve only found thirty three.”
Heath looked up at Johnny. “Just how many are missing?”
Johnny did some fast calculations in his head. “Four hundred and fifty. Give or take a few.”
The pie spewed out of Nick’s mouth. “You’re supposed to round up FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY TURKEYS?”
Scott nodded. “And they have to be ALIVE.”
Johnny nodded calmly. “So, the way I see it, you can either go out and spend the next week lookin’ for those overstuffed feather dusters or you can stay here with us and keep your mouth shut.”
Nick thought for several moments before he grabbed the flask from Johnny’s hand and downed a healthy slug. “You have any more pie?”
Victoria and Murdoch sat in the garden the rest of the day, enjoying lemonade and reminiscing, and were sitting there when their four wayward sons rode in and started unsaddling their mounts.
“They look exhausted. Do you think we’ve been too hard on them?” Victoria asked.
Murdoch thought back to his squished furniture. “Nope.”
“At least they don’t appear to have killed each other,” Mrs. Barkley observed.
“Then they must really be tired,” Murdoch offered.
“How many do you think they’ve caught?”
Murdoch chuckled. “None.” He cast a sidelong glance in her direction. “Have you ever tried to catch a wild turkey?”
“No, I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”
“It’s impossible. I have NO idea how they managed to catch the ones that they did. Besides, I only turned fifty of them loose. Those boys will be dragging in here every night, too exhausted to stand, which should ensure US of a nice, peaceful, relaxing week.”
Victoria looked at her friend in disbelief, and then started to laugh. “Why Murdoch Lancer, do you mean you staged the whole thing?”
Murdoch nodded. “Scott didn’t even question it, and for that matter, neither did Johnny. They were too busy trying to figure out how to get out of catching those birds to check out my story. They were ALSO a little too worried about their futures after they saw what Agnes had done to the Great Room. I must admit, she had great timing; I had already turned those turkeys loose when I came back and found Johnny’s elephant in the Great Room. With all of the Halloween pranks that were pulled last year, I figured I’d get a head start this Halloween.”
“What did you do with the rest of the birds?”
“They are safely ensconced at a local farm, ready to be turned over to the army.”
Victoria chuckled. “You had better hope that none of those boys find out what you’ve done.”
Murdoch laughed. “You either. YOU’RE the one that suggested Heath and Nick help Scott and Johnny.”
“Murdoch Lancer, YOU are downright sneaky!”
“The boys forced me to learn fast. I figured the only way that we’d all survive this week was to keep them all too tired to get into trouble.”
Victoria looked over at her friend. “Do you think it will work?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Not a chance.”
The boys entered through the kitchen door, hoping to avoid their parents, but unfortunately, Victoria and Murdoch were still seated at the table.
“Boys,” Murdoch greeted them. “Sit down and have some supper.”
The four young men warily approached the table. There was a brief scuffle as all four of them went for the chair closest to the door, but Nick finally won out, and the others had to settle for the more dangerous locations.
Maria started filling plates from the stove, and slid them in front of the men. Murdoch waited until the four young men had relaxed slightly before clearing his throat. “So how many birds did you catch today?”
Johnny shot a look at Scott, who promptly dropped his head. Johnny took one last longing look at his supper, and then sighed. “One.”
Victoria’s eyebrows went up and she fixed Nick with a stare. “The FOUR of you only managed to catch ONE BIRD all day?”
Nick reluctantly put his fork down. Slowly, he nodded. “They’re awfully hard to catch,” he muttered.
His mother continued to fix him with a glare, and Nick’s appetite vanished like Johnny’s had a few moments earlier.
“Four grown men spent ALL DAY trying to catch ONE TURKEY?” Murdoch asked in disbelief, turning his gaze on Scott.
Scott hurriedly took another bite of meat before meeting his father’s gaze. “Well,” he said lamely, “as Nick pointed out, they ARE awfully hard to catch.”
Heath watched the fate of the others and took advantage of his momentary respite to quickly shovel a few more bites into his mouth. A large piece if meat was halfway to his mouth when his mother shifted her attention to her youngest.
The fork faltered in mid air. “Well, what?”
“Why did you only manage to catch one turkey?”
The fork clattered back down onto his plate, the meat forgotten. “Cause they’re hard to catch?” He offered hopefully.
Victoria glowered at her wayward sons. “I PROMISED Murdoch you would help Scott and Johnny catch those birds. I don’t care HOW LONG it takes you; you are staying at this ranch until EVERY LAST ONE of those turkeys is back in the pen. DO…you…understand?”
Heath took the news philosophically. He liked Maria’s cooking better than their own cook, and besides, if catching those birds meant sitting in the bushes eating pie, it didn’t sound half bad. Nick, on the other hand looked like he might be going into shock.
Murdoch looked quickly over at Victoria, who was smiling at him in triumph. He felt panicked at the thought of all four of the boys staying at the ranch. Visions of total annihilation swam before his eyes. “Really, Victoria, that won’t be necessary. I’m sure my boys can handle it,” he babbled. He looked beseechingly at his sons. “Isn’t that right?”
Scott and Johnny studied their father for several moments, and then Scott shook his head with a smirk. “Actually, it HAS been a lot harder than we thought it would be. Maybe it WOULD be a good idea to have some help.”
Johnny snuck a look at Nick and saw a satisfying purple shade starting to creep up his neck. Johnny hurriedly agreed. “Yeah, we could use some help. I think they should stay here as long as it takes ta catch all of those turkeys.” He looked at his father hopefully. “But do we have ta stay too?”
Nick lunged at Johnny, who masterfully avoided him but managed to send the roast flying onto Scott’s lap. Scott jumped up, catching his foot in the table leg, and the whole table tottered precariously. Victoria calmly stood up and grabbed her plate as Murdoch tried desperately to get control of the wobbling pitcher of milk balanced on the edge of the table. He had just reached it when Heath decided to grab it, too. Their hands collided, and the pitcher went flying into the air. Johnny caught it as it was coming down, saving the pitcher, but drenching himself in the process. He jumped to his feet, tipping the table up and sending a large bowl of mashed potatoes sliding. Unaware of the stealthily approaching potatoes, Nick reached down on the floor and tried to pick up what was left of his dinner. A moment later, the vegetables launched their surprise attack. Nick sat up abruptly, the bowl upside down on his head, and globs of white clinging to his nose.
Nick opened his mouth, but a glance at his mother reminded him that there was a lady present, and he closed his mouth with a snap. He stood up stiffly and took two steps before deciding that it didn’t matter, he was going to say it anyway. He turned around and his mother put her hands on her hips.
“NICK,” she said threateningly.
Nick’s temper fought with his common sense, and for once, his temper lost, at least for the time being. He shot Johnny one last glare before turning and marching resolutely toward the stairs.
The rest of the boys took one look at their parent’s faces and quickly followed Nick, deciding that their odds of surviving were SLIGHTLY better with the angry Barkley. After all, there WERE locks on their bedroom doors.
Murdoch watched the rest of the boys’ undignified retreat and then heaved a huge sigh. He back down at the destroyed table, and Victoria wiped some potatoes from her seat before sinking down into her own chair.
Murdoch looked at his friend in disbelief. “You set me up!”
Victoria smiled. “Not really. You set yourself up when you started that prank.”
Murdoch put his head in his hands for a moment. “It’s too late now. If I tell them, they’ll kill me.”
Victoria nodded calmly. “Yes, they will. For that matter, Heath and Nick just might kill you, too. So as I see it, the only choice you have is to keep your mouth shut and gracefully accept Heath and Nick’s help for say…the next three weeks.”
Murdoch looked at her with narrowed eyes. “Why do you want to get rid of them so badly?”
Victoria laughed. “Murdoch Lancer, look around you! If you had the chance to get rid of your two sons for three weeks, you’d jump on it immediately, and you know it.”
Murdoch nodded glumly. “You’re right. But I’m still not sure it’s worth it. They’ll destroy the ranch before killing each other and then me.” He looked at her hopefully. “Maybe they won’t find out.”
Victoria nodded her head. “Of course you can decide not to go through with it, but if I don’t get my vacation, I can guarantee the boys will find out about it.”
“Victoria Barkley! That’s Blackmail!”
Victoria nodded. “Yes,” she said sweetly. “It is.”
Nick grumbled as he fought his way through the bushes. He didn’t care if he had to stay up all night for the next week, he was going to find all of those turkeys and get away from the madmen at this ranch. As far as he was concerned, they were all crazy. He thought he just might ask Jarrod what it took to get someone committed. If Nick had his way, every single person on the Lancer ranch would end their days in the loony bin. He just hoped it wasn’t contagious; both Mother and Heath seemed to be acting a little strangely. He shook his head, he had better hurry up and find those birds and get his family to safety. He crept forward again, grumbling “Here turkey, here, turkey- turkey.”
Johnny heard Nick’s ill-tempered march through the bushes, and he lowered his voice. “I still don’t know about this plan, Scott. Havin’ Nick around just might be worse than havin’ those turkeys here. At least the turkeys weren’t tryin’ ta kill us, and we could kill a turkey now and then. Murdoch might be sort of mad if we wrung ole Nick’s neck.”
Scott shook his head. “Don’t worry; he won’t be here that long. Eventually he’ll HAVE to realize that there are several hundred turkeys just sitting over at his ranch, and then the trap will be sprung.”
“We could remind him.”
“NO! If we suggest it, he’ll not do just on general principle. We just have to sit tight and wait for him to figure it out.”
“I don’t know, Scott. I’m gettin’ awful tired of hangin around in these bushes. Seems like there ought ta be an easier way.”
“Just give him another day or two. Even NICK ought to be able to figure out the solution by then.”
“In the meantime, we gotta make sure Nick doesn’t find us. I STILL don’t know why he was mad at US! What did WE do?”
Scott shook his head. “We didn’t do anything. Nick’s just crazy. He’s mad at EVERYONE.”
“Yeah, well, he’s not lookin’ ta kill EVERYONE, just us.”
Johnny nodded. “And Jelly.”
Scott shrugged. “All we have to do is stay out of his way until he remembers those turkeys are at his ranch.”
Johnny nodded glumly. “How’s Jelly comin’ with that turkey call, anyway?”
Scott shrugged. “I have no idea, but if it’s anything like his other inventions, we’d better watch out.”
“Yeah, the last time he said he’d invented somethin’ I ended up flat on my back for three days!”
Scott grinned. “We’ll just make sure Nick tries it out first.”
Johnny grinned back. “Sounds like a plan ta me.” He peeked out of the shrub. “Do ya think we’d better at least PRETEND ta look for those dang birds?”
Scott nodded slowly. “I guess. But THIS time, DON’T find any!”
“That wasn’t my fault,” Johnny replied sullenly. “The darn bird flew right into my arms.”
“You could have dropped him.”
“I DID! He followed us back to the ranch, remember?”
Scott sighed. Sometimes Johnny’s way with animals was very annoying. Scott started to say something, and then hunkered down lower in the bush. Someone was approaching and Scott had no intention of letting Nick find them. They only had one piece of pie left, and Scott had no intention of using it as a peace offering.
The bushes rattled noisily, and the two brothers got ready to run. Finally a whiskered face peered at them from the other side of the shrubbery.
“Jelly!” Johnny scolded. Why didn’t ya tell us it was you?”
“Cause I didn’t know it was YOU, Mr. Smarty-pants.”
“Well it is. Now what do you want?”
Jelly proudly held out an object. “Here it is. A gen- u- wine turkey call.”
“But Jelly, we don’t WANT ta catch those birds.”
Jelly stuck out his chin. “You mean I went ta all that trouble for nuthin’?”
With a sigh, Scott reached for the call, but Jelly pulled it back. “I gotta show ya how ta use it.” He put the call to his lips and blew. The racket that was produced made both Johnny and Scott cover their ears. Johnny snatched the call out of his friend’s hands. “There’s NO WAY that thing is gonna get turkeys ta come. IN fact, after hearin’ that, they’re probably all in the next county by now.”
Scott smiled, and Johnny realized what he had just said. Johnny put the call to his lips and he blew on the call several times. Nothing happened, and Johnny smiled at his brother before trying it again. He once more used the call, and without warning, a form came leaping through the bushes and landed with some force on Johnny, sending him sprawling on his back.
Nick’s eyes got wide when he saw just who and what he had captured. “YOU!” he bellowed. He looked around and saw Jelly, and his eyes widened even more. Jelly bolted to his feet and took off through the bushes, screaming about murder. Nick jumped to his feet and tried to launch himself after the fleeing man, but Johnny reached out and grabbed Nick’s foot, sending him sprawling into the bushes.
Scott wisely removed himself and the last remaining piece of pie from the immediate vicinity, and stood watching as Nick struggled to regain his footing.
Finally, Nick lunged to his feet and tackled Johnny, sending them both crashing back into the bushes. Johnny got up and swung at Nick, sending him flying. Scott and his pie calmly stepped back another foot and watched as Johnny and Nick discussed their differences.
Scott stood a short ways away and ate his pie until a particularly vicious lunge by the two combatants caught him unaware and the jolt sent his pie into the shrubbery. He looked sadly at the remains of his dessert, and then with a sigh, he joined his brother in the discussion.
The three men sat and looked at each other without talking. All of them were slightly worse for wear, and none of them appeared to be in a good mood. Finally Scott broke the silence. “Look, Nick, as long as we have to work together, why don’t we call a truce?”
Nick looked at Scott in disbelief. “Because I don’t want to get killed, that’s why! Anytime I’m anywhere around you two, something bad happens.”
“Aw, come on. Nick,” Johnny said. “It ain’t THAT bad.”
“Want to bet?” Nick glowered. “The two of you and Jelly could have won the war by yourselves by signing up on the opposite side!” He looked around. “Just where is Mr. Hoskins, anyway?”
Johnny shrugged. “Don’t be mad at him.” He dug into his pocket and brought out the turkey call. “See, he made a turkey call so you could find those birds quicker. Sort of a peace offering.”
Nick looked at the call suspiciously. “Does it work?”
Johnny grinned. “It fooled you, didn’t it?”
“Why don’t you want it?” Nick asked suspiciously.
“Because WE don’t WANT to find those turkeys, remember?”
“Then WHY do you want me to use it?”
“We’re just tryin’ ta be nice.”
“Somehow, I doubt that!”
Nick scowled at Johnny for a moment, and then grabbed the call and put it to his own lips and blew. Nick shrugged. “I guess I’ll give it a try. Nothing else seems to be working.” He glared at the two men. “But if ANYTHING happens to me because of this call, I am going to kill you…slowly. And I don’t care what Mother says!”
“Come on, Nick, what could POSSIBLY go wrong with a turkey call? You’re awfully suspicious.”
“When it comes to you two, that’s the only way to stay alive!” Nick scrambled to his feet, and trudged off through the bushes, sounding the call every few feet.
Johnny looked at Scott. “Wonder if it’ll work?”
Scott shrugged. “Who knows? Even if it doesn’t, it can’t hurt anything.”
Johnny looked at the rapidly disappearing Nick and nodded. “I guess.”
Nick proceeded slowly through the bushes, calling every few minutes. So far, he hadn’t seen any sign of turkeys, and he was beginning to wonder if the Lancer boys had put one over on him again. He gave another call, as loud as he could this time, and he heard a soft call coming from a stand of thick trees up ahead. He slowed down and blew softly once more, and was rewarded with another answering call. Chuckling, he advanced slowly, so he wouldn’t frighten the wary bird. As he got next to the trees, he gave one last call, and stepped into the shade.
It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light, but he didn’t see any sign of turkeys. He called once more, and was answered by a chirping sound coming from a huge tangle of brush. Nick grinned; the turkey call actually seemed to be working. The turkey was definitely coming closer, and it was a big one from the sound of it. He snuck closer, and then swept the bushes aside with his hands. His eyes widened as he spied the animal that had been answering his call, and he turned to run, Agnes hot on his heels.
Murdoch and Victoria were sitting on the porch, enjoying the peaceful surroundings. Murdoch was still feeling a little upset about the way Victoria had tricked him, and he was letting her know it.
“I still can’t believe you’re blackmailing me into keep those boys.”
Victoria calmly took a sip from her lemonade. “And I can’t believe all of the problems YOUR boys have caused lately.”
Murdoch sighed. “Neither can I. I THOUGHT they were reasonably intelligent, but I have had my doubts the last couple of months.”
“They HAVE managed to get themselves into quite a few messes, that’s for sure.”
Murdoch looked at his friend hopefully. “Don’t your boys ever get into trouble?”
Victoria nodded her head. “Occasionally. But they never get involved in the kind of disasters your boys seem to get into regularly. Your boys seem to have a knack for making themselves look ridiculous.”
Murdoch nodded glumly. “That they do.”
A loud trumpeting was heard from a distance, followed by an angry bellow. Victoria and Murdoch looked up and shaded their eyes in order to see the cause of all of the racket. A cloud of dust was fast approaching the hacienda, and it took a few moments for the two older people to realize that it was caused by the fast approach of Agnes. In front of her was a panicked Nick, who was doing his best to stay in front of the runaway elephant.
As he ran, Nick kept making shooing gestures toward the elephant, and bellowing for her to go away. Agnes calmly ignored him, and continued her headlong flight. Victoria watched in open- mouthed amazement as her son disappeared into the barn with the elephant in hot pursuit. An amazing cacophony of moos, bellows, neighs and screams erupted from within, and a few seconds later, dozens of men and animals came bursting out of the doors.
A moment of silence descended before Nick once more came running into view, bolting out of a small side door. Murdoch and Victoria both winced as the whole side of the barn seemed to erupt and the elephant resumed her chase. Nick caught sight of the two people on the porch and came running in their direction. Murdoch and Victoria both jumped to their feet and dove behind their chairs as Nick launched himself up the steps and disappeared into the house, through the newly repaired French doors.
Agnes didn’t hesitate; she dutifully followed Nick into the house, leaving splinters of wood and broken glass in her wake. Murdoch winced once more as enormous crashing sounds erupted from inside, and he knew that Nick had chosen to escape up the stairs.
When silence once more prevailed, Murdoch got calmly to his feet and offered his hand to Victoria. “Now what were you saying about your boys?
Nick sat on the bed and stared at his brother. Heath was afraid that Nick might be going into shock, and he hurriedly poured a glass of water and handed it to him. Nick drank it in one long swallow, and then slammed the glass down on the bedside table. He turned his attention to the glass and glared at it. “They don’t even have decent whisky in this house.”
Heath started to enlighten him, but then closed his mouth. His brother had had enough shocks for one day without informing him he had gulped down water instead of whisky. That information might be enough to put his brother right over the edge.
“Look on the bright side…” Heath started before Nick’s glare stopped him in his tracks.
“We are stuck at Lancer for who knows how long,” Nick growled. “DON’T tell me there is a bright side, because there isn’t any.” Nick buried his face in his hands. “I can’t BELIEVE Mother left us here with these madmen.”
Heath shrugged noncommittally. “Come on, Nick. It IS only fair you stay here and help Murdoch fix the house and barn. After all, you’re the one that messed it up.”
Nick straightened up and glowered at his brother. “I MESSED IT UP? I’M not the one that tore a hole in the side of the house and flattened the stairs! That was Johnny’s ‘girlfriend.’ I had NOTHING to do with it.”
Heath shrugged. “That’s not what mother said. She said you purposely headed for the house, instead of leading Agnes off somewhere where she couldn’t do any damage.”
Nick shook his head in amazement. “And I don’t suppose any of you would have cared if that overgrown monstrosity would have flattened me instead of the house.”
Heath shrugged once more. “Probably not. Look Nick, all we have to do is to help Scott and Johnny find the rest of those birds, build new stairs, mend the French doors, and fix the hole in the barn, and we can leave.”
Nick stared at Heath. “Is that all? Well I have news for you brother, with Scott and Johnny around to help us, we’ll be here THE REST OF OUR LIVES!! And after that I’ll go to jail, because I’m GOING to KILL BOTH of them!”
Heath wanted to give his brother some sympathy, but he was a little afraid to go near him right now, and he decided to wait until Nick calmed down a little bit.
Nick put his face in his hands one more time, and then suddenly sat straight up. “I have no intention of spending the rest of my life looking for turkeys, and I don’t care how good Maria’s pies are. I know where there are at least five hundred birds that the owners are just DYING to get rid of.”
Heath looked at his brother suspiciously. “Where?”
Nick smiled for the first time since meeting Agnes. “Now where do you think, brother?”
Heath shook his head. “I THINK Mother will definitely notice that those birds are gone.”
Nick shrugged. “So? She won’t care as long as we make a profit on them.”
Heath shook his head. “I’m not going to buy my own birds. You can count me out.”
“You won’t have to buy them. We’ll wait until Scott and Johnny are desperate, and then make THEM buy them.”
“What makes you think they’ll be desperate?”
Nick simply smiled. “Trust me.”
Scott and Johnny returned to the house late that afternoon. They figured they had spent enough time lurking in the bushes, and since they had run out of food they had decided to come home. They hadn’t seen or heard Nick since they had given him Jelly’s turkey call, and they were both hoping that he had gotten lost.
Scott and Johnny pulled their horses to a halt just outside the Great Room and stared at the giant hole in the wall. Scott looked over at Johnny. “Wasn’t that fixed this morning?”
Johnny shrugged. “I THOUGHT so, but I was in too much of a hurry ta leave ta really notice.”
Scott shook his head. He could have sworn that hole had been fixed, but apparently he was wrong. That’s what happened when you were around turkeys every day.
The two boys walked into the Great Room and skidded to a halt. “Now I KNOW we had stairs this morning,” Scott mumbled.
Johnny nodded. “Yep. Seems I remember those all right.” Johnny looked around in confusion. “Wonder what happened.”
“Maybe Nick lost his temper,” Scott smirked.
“Actually,” Murdoch said from his desk, “You’re half right.”
Johnny looked around uneasily. “Agnes?” He croaked.
Murdoch nodded. “She chased Nick right through the barn and into the house. Unfortunately, she was a little too big for the stairs.”
Johnny winced and shut his eyes. When the screaming didn’t start, he opened one eye just to make sure Murdoch wasn’t going for his shotgun. Amazingly, his father was still seated, and actually looked fairly calm.
“All right, what’s the catch?” Johnny asked.
“Catch?” Murdoch asked innocently. “There’s no catch.”
This time Scott spoke up. “Sir, we demand to know why you are not at this moment killing us.”
Murdoch shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know where you boys get those ideas. Anyway, I’ll see you in the morning. I’m going to bed.” He looked at his sons. “You’d better try the back stairs, and if I were you, I’d avoid Nick’s room. Last time I saw him he seemed a little cranky.”
Johnny frowned. “I wonder why Agnes was chasin’ him.”
Murdoch shrugged. “He wasn’t too coherent, but he was babbling something about a turkey call.”
Scott froze. “A turkey call?” He repeated.
Murdoch nodded. “Oh, and by the way, Heath and Nick are going to be our guests for several weeks. Isn’t that nice? You boys can work together to clean this place up and catch those turkeys.”
Scott went over to the sideboard and poured two glasses of brandy and then as an afterthought he grabbed the bottle. Without a word he headed for the door, then turned around and grabbed another bottle. Spinning around, he marched out the hole in the side of the house with Johnny following close behind him.
“Where are you going?” Murdoch asked in confusion.
“We’re sleepin’ in the barn. And if ya want us, don’t sneak up on us, ‘cause we’re shootin’ anyone that comes near us,” Johnny called over his shoulder.
Johnny started awake, trying to hold his head and grab for his gun at the same time. He finally decided it was more important to make sure his head stayed attached to his body, and he grabbed his head with both hands as he looked wildly around, trying to find the source of the commotion. He made the mistake of turning his head toward the sound, and he waited for his head to roll off from the sudden movement. He held on tighter.
“Get UP! RIGHT NOW! I’ve found one!” Jelly was hoping up and down and waving his hands wildly in the air. “I FOUND ONE! Hurry UP or it’s gonna get away!”
Johnny glared at the handyman for a moment before lying back down with a groan, one of the empty bottles serving as a pillow.
Scott sat up unsteadily and tried to focus his eyes on the three Jellies’ that were standing in front of him. “Found WHAT?” he whispered, then winced as his own voice echoed in his head.
Jelly hopped some more. “A TURKEY! What else would I be lookin’ for?”
Scott joined his brother on the ground. “Stop JUMPING! You’re making the whole barn move. Besides, we TOLD you, we don’t WANT to find any turkeys,” Scott ground out. “If you find one, chase it away.”
Jelly stuck his chin out belligerently. “Well, you’ll wanna find this one for sure! It’s HUGE! Bigger than all the rest of ‘em combined.”
“And just WHY would we want a huge turkey? The regular sized ones are bad enough,” Johnny offered.
“”Cause it’s probably worth a fortune. It must weigh more’n me.”
“Sure it does, Jelly.”
“You don’t believe me?” The handyman asked angrily.
Johnny managed to roll over and glare at the old man. “Last time I believed you I spent a week tryin’ ta catch an imaginary critter and makin’ a fool of myself. Not ta mention gettin’ scratched, kicked, bit and tromped on. I’m not going to make the same mistake this time. Whatever it is can just go right back where it came from.”
“That one WASN’T imaginary. It just wasn’t what you thought it was.”
Johnny sighed. “And I really don’t care what this one is, either. I’m going back to sleep.”
Jelly started hopping again. “I’m tellin’ ya, there’s a giant turkey out there. Now come on out and look before it gets away.” He pulled on Johnny’s arm, trying to get his friend to his feet. Johnny tried to pull away, but he was hampered by the fact that he wouldn’t let go of his head.
Finally Scott turned his bleary eyes toward Jelly and came to his brother’s rescue. “If I come out and look at it, will you leave us alone and let us go back to sleep?”
Jelly’s eyes bugged out and he stuck his chin out even more. “If’n you can go back ta sleep with a monster runnin’ around loose, that’s fine with me, but I aim ta catch it. It’s gotta be worth somethin’.”
With a sigh, Scott tried to sit up. It took several tries, and a little help from both Jelly and Johnny, but he finally staggered to his feet. “All right, Jelly, lead on.”
“Scott, wait, ya can’t go after a monster without protection. Here, take my gun.”
Jelly watched in confusion as Johnny solemnly handed his brother a carrot and Scott tried for several seconds to check to see if it was loaded. Finally, Jelly grabbed Scott by the arm and dragged him away.
Johnny watched as Jelly disappeared out the hole in the wall that Agnes had made. Scott hit the wall several times before Jelly came back and grabbed his arm and guided him through the opening. Johnny tried to stay in a sitting position long enough to see if Scott actually saw anything, but he was getting tired of holding his head onto his body. Finally, Johnny decided that the way his head felt he didn’t really want it attached anyway, and he cautiously let go. He was slightly disappointed when it stayed attached, and he collapsed with a groan onto the hay.
Quite a while latter, Johnny heard Scott shuffle back into the barn. Without opening his eyes, Johnny started whispering. “So, didja see it?”
“And what was it?”
“A giant turkey,” Scott slurred.
“Oh, that’s nice. Is Jelly gonna leave us alone now?”
“Uh huh. The turkey took off and Jelly’s gonna go ask Nick to give him his turkey call back.”
It took a minute for the words to register, and then Johnny made the mistake of trying to sit up.” WHAT?”
Scott shrugged. “That’s OK. There were three Jellys. ONE of them is BOUND to survive.”
Johnny collapsed back into the hay once more, reassured that everything would be all right. “OK, if you say so. Goo’night.”
“Was it REALLY a giant turkey?”
“Looked like it to me.”
“Ok. Just wanted ta make sure it wasn’t another Easter Bunny.”
Scott thought hard before finally answering. “Nope, it didn’t have any clothes on, and it had feathers.”
“”Don’t sound like the Easter Bunny.”
“Do you think Nick will kill Jelly?”
Scott thought again. “Probably.”
“OK. Just as long as he does it quietly. Goo night.”
Scott sat bolt upright as he tried to figure out what that horrible racket was. At first he thought it might be a mad bull, and then he decided it was probably a grizzly bear. Whatever it was, it was doing his head absolutely no good at all. With any luck, the beast would come in and put him out of his misery. He looked over at his brother, who was snoring softly, cuddling an empty bottle. He couldn’t believe Johnny could actually sleep through that racket.
Finally, Scott began to realize that the grizzly bear was yelling at Jelly, and he smiled to himself. If Jelly wanted to make money with some strange creature, he should capture that bear. Scott thought that a talking bear would be worth a whole lot more than a giant turkey. He’d have to tell Jelly in the morning but right now he was going to go back to sleep. Scott grabbed his own bottle and tried to fluff it before giving up and putting it under his head. He made up his mind to talk to his father about investing in some better pillows, too.
Johnny gazed lackadaisically at the form sprawled next to him. He couldn’t figure out how someone could sleep in such an uncomfortable position. His brother was actually using the empty brandy bottle as a pillow, and his arms were spread-eagled in the hay. On foot was propped up on the wall, and the other was bent almost backward. For some strange reason, Scott was clutching a carrot tightly in one hand. Johnny studied him for a moment, and then cautiously looked around. Most of the horses were gone, and the sun appeared to be high overhead. He couldn’t believe they had slept through all of the commotion as the wranglers left to work. Murdoch was going to have their hides.
He staggered to his feet, holding on to the side of a stall for support. The barn tilted crazily, and he grabbed the stall door with both hands. When he had managed to make the barn stop moving, he cautiously let go and felt his head. He was mildly surprised to find that it was still attached; he could have sworn he remembered losing it last night.
He looked back at the sleeping form of his brother and thought about waking him up, but decided Scott probably wasn’t in too good a shape anyway. Unlike him, Scott just couldn’t hold his liquor at all. Johnny managed to find his way out of the barn without getting lost, and he walked over to the horse trough, meaning to dip his head, but he overextended a tiny bit and landed head first in the water. He finally managed to figure out just which way was up, and he came spluttering to the surface.
Hearing the commotion, Jelly came running over and dragged Johnny out of the trough by his arm. “What in tarnation’s the matter with you? You scared all the horses half ta death with all that splashin’ around.” Jelly looked around. “Where’s Scott?”
Johnny pointed to the barn, but wisely decided not to talk at this point. Jelly’s voice was bad enough, and his own would be a whole lot closer.
Jelly moved in front of Johnny and put his hands on his hips. “SO?”
Johnny narrowed his eyes as he gave up and realized that he’d have to talk sometime. “So, what?” He whispered.
Jelly huffed impatiently. “SO…have ya figured out a plan yet ta catch it?”
“THE GIANT TURKEY!”
Johnny slammed his hands over his ears and whispered in confusion, “What giant turkey…and whisper, will ya?”
“The giant turkey that was here last night.”
Johnny took a step forward and sniffed suspiciously at Jelly’s breath. “You been into the horse liniment again?”
“ME!” Jelly spluttered, “That’s callin’ the kettle black!” Jelly shook his head emphatically. “Where’s Scott? He’ll tell ya.” Jelly marched into the barn yelling for Johnny’s older brother.
A moment later, Johnny heard Jelly’s strident voice coming from the barn, and he felt a moment’s pity for his brother, but was grateful that Jelly had turned his attention elsewhere. Johnny sat down to wait, and several minutes later Scott staggered out of the barn and headed for the horse trough. He spent the next several moments trying to drown himself, and then finally gave up and collapsed next to Johnny. Scott looked over at his brother. “You look terrible.”
Johnny nodded. “It’s that rot gut brandy Murdoch insists on gettin’. Next time we’re gonna drink a whole bottle each, I get ta pick just what we’re gonna drink.”
Scott nodded carefully. “Tequila COULDN’T be worse than this.”
Jelly had been watching them both with a worried expression on his face. “SO, what’re we gonna do about it?”
“About what?” Scott asked.
Johnny saw that Jelly was getting ready to yell, so he interrupted. “Jelly, there ain’t no such thing as a giant turkey.”
“Scott, tell him! You saw it!”
Scott continued holding his head and mumbled, “I saw a LOT of things last night.” He looked at Johnny suspiciously. “Did you paint Agnes pink?”
Johnny stared at his brother worriedly. “No, why?”
Scott shook his head carefully. “No reason,” he mumbled.
Johnny thought for a moment. “You didn’t paint Helen, did ya?”
“Not that I remember.”
“All right, “Johnny said cautiously, not really believing his brother.
Scott squinted up at the sun. “We’d better get to work or Murdoch is going to kill us. He took a step and staggered slightly. “Actually, that MIGHT not be a bad idea.”
“Yeah, I thought of that, but Scott, guns are noisy,” Johnny offered solemnly.
“WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO ABOUT THAT TURKEY?” Jelly yelled.
Scott contemplated him for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. “Have Nick help you. By the way, where is Nick?”
“He’s in the house with Heath, they’ve been workin’ on that staircase since dawn,” Jelly huffed.
Scott locked eyed with his brother. “Then WE’RE going back out to look for those turkeys. I don’t think my head could survive another discussion with Nick.”
Johnny nodded in agreement, and turned back toward the barn to get the horses.
Jelly could contain himself no longer. “If you’re just gonna ignore that monster out there, that’s fine with me. Just don’t come cryin’ ta Jelly when he eats all the livestock and then goes after you.”
“I tell ya what Jelly. You send that big bird out to us about suppertime, and I guarantee we’ll do somethin’ about it. We oughta be hungry by then.”
“Ya CAN’T kill it,” Jelly protested. “Ya gotta capture it alive!”
Johnny shook his head. “I heard THAT before. Anything strange lookin’ gets with a hundred feet of me today, I’m gonna shoot it. And that includes Nick.”
Scott nodded in agreement. “We’ll see you tonight. If Murdoch asks, tell him we’re out hunting turkeys.”
Jelly watched as the two men disappeared into the barn, and shook his head. He couldn’t understand how they could be so calm when some dangerous monster was getting ready to destroy the ranch. He guessed it was up to him, Jellifer B. Hoskins, to capture the beast. Then they’d see.
By early afternoon, both Scott and Johnny were feeling a little more clear headed. They spent that afternoon not catching turkeys and making sure they avoided Nick. As they had no idea where the irate Barkley was, they had to keep a pretty sharp lookout for him. They had no intentions of getting murdered on their own ranch. Scott and Johnny finally took refuge in a grassy area next to a stream, and sprawled lazily in the grass.
“Do ya think he’ll find us here?”
“How should I know? That stupid elephant of yours will probably lead him straight to us.”
“She ain’t stupid.”
“NO, but she’s DEFINITELY yours. I still don’t know why Nick’s mad at me.”
“Nick’s mad at everybody.” Johnny looked at his brother. “I thought you said he’d deliver those turkeys as soon as he knew we didn’t want ‘em?”
“Don’t worry, he will. He hasn’t really had time to go get them yet.”
“Well, he’d better hurry up. We need those turkeys real quick.”
Scott shrugged. “We might have to do some of the chores Murdoch has him working on to give him time to get the birds.”
“Do we have to?” Johnny asked petulantly. “I’d much rather not catch turkeys all day.”
“If we don’t want our own father to kill us, it might be prudent. Besides, if we don’t get those turkeys pretty soon Murdoch is going to realize that we’re doing absolutely nothing, and then we WILL be dead.”
Johnny nodded resignedly, and then looked at his brother hopefully. ‘Didja bring anything ta eat?”
“I have two pieces of beef jerky, and a flask of brandy.”
Johnny grabbed a piece of jerky from Scott’s hand, but shuddered when his brother offered the flask. “You can have the brandy. I’m swearin’ off drinkin’ for a while.”
Scott nodded. “Good idea.”
“Do ya think Nick is thinkin’ about gettin’ those turkeys pretty soon? If this doesn’t work, we’re gonna have at come up with another way ta get those birds.”
Scott shook his head. “Trust me; everything is going according to plan. Just keep complaining and saying how much you hate those turkeys, and he’ll have them here by this weekend.”
Johnny watched his brother dubiously. “All right, if you say so, but somehow I don’t think it’ll be that easy.”
Scott glared at his brother. “Come on, Johnny. I’ve thought of everything. What could possibly go wrong?”
Johnny looked glumly at his brother and grabbed the flask of brandy.
Nick stopped and wiped the sweat from his brow. He had made pretty good progress on the stairs, and he was proud of his work. He and Heath had been working on the shattered staircase since early this morning, trying desperately to get it done. Heath wasn’t in a particular hurry, but Nick wanted to get back home as soon as possible. He was afraid if he stayed he’d either be arrested for murder or he’d wind up just as loony as the rest of the people on this ranch.
They had made great progress on the repair, and Nick attributed that to the fact that Johnny and Scott hadn’t appeared all day. For that matter, neither had anyone else. Murdoch Lancer had gone into Green River to pick up some supplies, and after breakfast the women had gone over to a neighbor’s house to visit.
Heath went over and poured a glass of lemonade for himself and Nick, and then plunked down on the one couch that was left. He contemplated his brother seriously. “I STILL don’t understand how you’re going to get Johnny and Scott to pay good money to replace a bunch of birds that they’re tryin’ that hard not to find.”
Nick threw down his hammer and walked over and picked up the lemonade. “Heath, the trouble with you is you never plan anything. What is the ONE thing that would make Johnny and Scott’s life absolutely miserable? That they’d pay any amount of money to avoid?”
Heath thought for a few seconds. “Having to take care of more turkeys?’
Nick shook his head impatiently. “No! Even more than that.”
Heath looked perplexed for a moment until comprehension dawned. “Having us stay here.”
“Exactly,” Nick grinned.
“So all we have to do ….” Heath started.
“Is act like we’re enjoying ourselves so much that we don’t want to leave. We’re going to be REAL nice to the two of them, and make sure they know just how much we DON’T want to get rid of our turkeys. Johnny might not figure it out, but I’m sure Scott will realize that he’s not going to get rid of us unless he replaces those birds. If we’re REAL lucky, they’ll even help us with the rest of the chores we’re supposed to be doing.”
Heath smiled. “All right, but for some reason I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. This IS Scott and Johnny we’re talking about, remember?”
Nick waved his hand at his brother. “Trust me, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?”
Murdoch sat in the bar at Green River, sipping a drink and talking to his old friend, Sam Jenkins.
Sam laughed. “Do you mean to tell me that Victoria left you babysitting all four boys?”
Murdoch nodded grumpily. “It isn’t funny. I thought she was more trustworthy than that.”
Sam chuckled. “Well, from what you tell me, it IS your fault. Shame on you for tricking those boys like that! They’re probably working themselves to death trying to catch a bunch of stupid birds that don’t even exist.”
Murdoch snorted. “Somehow, I doubt that. I tell you Sam, I can’t WAIT to get rid of all of those stupid birds for good. They’ve caused more problems than you can ever imagine.”
“I can imagine quite a bit, especially when it comes to those boys of yours!”
“I know. That’s why I pulled this stunt. First, to get even with them for some of the pranks they’ve pulled, especially last Halloween, but also to keep them occupied and out of trouble when Nick and Heath were here. I didn’t need those boys at each other’s throats.”
“It doesn’t sound like it worked too well.”
Murdoch nodded. “Oh, yes, it worked. They haven’t killed each other yet, anyway. And those birds are safely ensconced over at the Danson’s place. All I have to do is hold on a little while longer. Trust me, Sam, nothing can POSSIBLY go wrong.”
Victoria Barkley was sitting in the parlor of her house, talking with Jarrod. She had just returned home, minus her two other sons, and she had explained to him how she had set Murdoch up. He was showing some skepticism about his mother’s plan, however. “Aren’t you afraid Nick will kill Scott and Johnny?”
“Oh, come now, Jarrod. You make Nick sound absolutely out of control. I’m sure Murdoch will keep him so busy he won’t have TIME to plot anything.
Jarrod shook his head. “I’m still not convinced you should have left them there for three weeks.”
Victoria shook her head. “Come now, Jarrod. Trust me. What could possibly go wrong?
Johnny and Scott waited until after dark before venturing into the house. They figured if Nick was still on the warpath that the chances of losing him in the dark were a whole lot better than if he took out after them during daylight hours.
Cautiously, Johnny stuck his head into the Great Room and saw Heath and Nick sitting comfortably by the fire, each of them with a drink in their hands. Nick looked up and saw Johnny, and a big smile erupted on his face.
“JOHNNY!” he bellowed, “We’ve been wondering where you and Scott were. You sure missed a great supper.”
Johnny looked back at Scott, who shrugged, and Johnny opened the door a little bit wider.
Heath went over and poured two more glasses of brandy and held them up. Johnny looked at the glasses suspiciously, and then cautiously entered the room, Scott following closely on his tail. Heath came over and handed the two men their drinks, and then returned to the lone couch and sat down. Nick was sitting at the other end of the sofa, which left the floor for Johnny and Scott. The two men decided to stand to get a better head start, because they knew that SOMEONE would be after them before long.
Heath grinned. “You must have been working hard today. We missed you at both lunch and dinner.”
Scott nodded in confusion and then looked at the half finished stairs. “It looks like you two were working hard, too.”
Nick beamed at Scott. “We sure were, but I almost hate to finish the work around here.”
“Why’s that?” Johnny asked.
“Because I really like it here. In fact, I think I’ll really take my time hunting those turkeys.” He swirled his drink around his glass and nodded, “Yes sir, I could get used to this.”
“Where’s Murdoch?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
“He went to bed early,” Heath offered.
“Uh huh,” Johnny replied, keeping his eyes glued on Nick.
“Actually, I’m afraid it’s going to take quite a long time to catch all of those birds,” Nick said innocently. “I was telling Heath earlier that’s it’s too bad we couldn’t get some somewhere else to replace the ones you lost. In fact I was even trying to figure out a way to bring our supply of turkeys over here, but Mother would have a fit if she had to lose all that money.”
Nick shrugged and took another drink. “Actually, now I think it’s just as well. We’ll be able to stay here for a good long while and get to know you boys better.” He finished the drink in one long gulp. “I think I’ll turn in, good night, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Heath set his glass down and shrugged at Johnny, and then followed his brother. Scott watched as Johnny remained motionless for quite some time. Scott was beginning to worry when suddenly Johnny bolted to his feet and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Scott asked.
‘I’m going ta find some turkeys!” Johnny growled. “I KNEW your plan wouldn’t work.”
“Of COURSE it will work, you just have to have faith. Give it some time! Do you think Nick WANTS to stay here? He’s bluffing!”
Johnny snorted. “I AIN’T givin’ it any more time.”
“And where do you think you’re going to find turkeys this time of night?”
“I have no idea, but I KNOW I ain’t gonna find any in the house,” Johnny yelled as the door slammed behind him.
Scott stared at the door for a few moments, and then stood up and poured himself another glass of brandy. The problem with his brother was that he never had a plan.
Johnny headed out without any particular destination in mind, but as he rode, he thought that he just might know a place that had a bunch of turkeys. The Dansons always raised turkeys for the holiday season, and he’d just about bet that they had some extras they’d be willing to get rid of. He shook his head. Anybody in their right mind would be willing to get rid of any of those dang birds that they had.
He headed Barranca toward the small ranch, and let his thoughts wander. He wasn’t sure just what Nick Barkley was up to, but he didn’t care to find out. He just wanted him gone. Johnny sighed; at least Murdoch had been in a decent mood lately. He couldn’t figure out why, but he wasn’t going to rock the boat, that was for sure.
The thought of boats reminded Johnny of Murdoch’s model ship. He had looked all over for someone who could repair it, and finally found an old man in Spanish Wells. It was going to cost Johnny quite a bit, but if he could get it fixed and back in the house before Murdoch realized anything was wrong, it would be worth it. Johnny shook his head, he had been lucky so far, and Murdoch hadn’t mentioned it.
It was close to nine o’clock by the time Johnny rode into the small barnyard, and immediately the air was echoing with the sounds of hundreds of disgruntled turkeys. Johnny worriedly studied the house and was relieved when he saw the lamps were still lit. He had no intention of sleeping in the barn with those darn birds.
Marty Danson opened the door to find out who his late night visitor was, and waved at Johnny. “Come on in! My Pa’s out of town for a week or so, and I could use some company.”
Johnny tied up Barranca and entered the house where Mr. Danson and his son, Marty lived. They had been the Lancer’s neighbors for almost twenty years, and were good friends.
“What can I do for you, Johnny? Everything All right?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”
“I sure will if I can.”
“I was wondering if you had any turkeys you’d be willing ta sell.”
Marty looked confused for a moment. “You need more?”
Johnny sighed. “Scott and I sort of lost the last bunch.”
“I didn’t realize you had that many.” He grinned at Johnny. “I was under the impression they weren’t exactly your favorite animals.”
“Believe me, they’re not. But Murdoch is going to have both Scott’s and my head if we can’t come up with those missing birds.” He hesitated. “I may have ta pay you later.”
Marty shrugged. “That’s OK. You can pay us anytime. You can have what I got, maybe three hundred. Is that enough?”
Johnny sighed. “I guess it’ll have to be. Sure sounded like you had more out there, though.”
“Well, with the four hundred and thirty your father brought over here the other day, we have about seven hundred and fifty.”
Johnny stared at Danson.
Danson shook his head. “Didn’t you know he brought them here?”
Johnny slowly shook his head.
“Maybe I wasn’t supposed t say anything.”
“Oh yes you were,” Johnny said softly. “Did Murdoch say anything?”
Marty shrugged. “Just for us ta keep ‘em her until the army buyer was ready for ‘em.”
Johnny nodded, and Marty asked worriedly, “You’re not mad, are ya?”
“Not at you,” Johnny replied calmly.
“Ya probably don’t want those other turkeys now, do ya?”
Johnny smiled wickedly. “Oh, yes, I want them. I want every last one that you can spare.”
Heath watched as his brother paced around the room muttering to himself. Finally Heath shook his head. “I don’t think it’s going to work. They’re not going to fall for it.”
Nick shot his brother a glare and resumed his pacing. “Well, it had better work. If I have to be nice to the two of them one more time…”
“Aw, come on, Nick, it’s not that bad.”
“DON’T tell me that again. I’LL decide what’s not too bad, and spending time with Scott and Johnny is DEFINITELY BAD.”
“Well,” Heath started cautiously. “We could just bring the birds over here and leave them.”
Nick glared at his brother for a moment, and then nodded. “That’s just what we might have to do. If we wait for them to figure it out, I’ll probably get squished by a giant tomato or something. Right now I don’t care WHAT it costs, it’s better than staying here.”
Heath shrugged. “I guess. I STILL don’t know what you have against them, though. I think Scott and Johnny are pretty nice.”
Nick stared at Heath. “And I think you are out of your mind.”
Heath shrugged. “Well, for some reason, around here that seems pretty normal. I mean, you haven’t exactly been acting like you’re playing with a full deck lately, either.
Nick nodded miserably. “I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.” He looked at his brother. “Do you think maybe it’s contagious?”
Heath shrugged. “Maybe it’s something in the water.”
“I KNEW there was a reason I was sticking with brandy, even though the stuff they have here is awfully weak.”
Heath smiled. HE sure wasn’t going to enlighten his brother. Besides, he and Johnny had their own stash of tequila in the barn, so at least he wasn’t going to catch anything.
Johnny came riding into the barnyard several hours after he left. He had been thinking the whole way home, and he thought he just might have a plan to pay Murdoch back. This time he wasn’t going to leave the planning to Scott. For some reason, his big brother’s plans just didn’t quite work out, and Johnny was going to take no chances. After swearing Marty to secrecy, he had made arrangements with Marty to deliver the birds whenever Johnny needed them, but Johnny wanted to make some other plans first. With any luck, he could get some cooperation from Nick and Heath; although he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to get close enough to Nick to explain his plan. After all, that boy was crazy, and it just might be contagious.
Johnny swung down off of Barranca, and Jelly was immediately in his face.
“Didja see it?”
“See what, Jelly?”
Jelly stuck out his chin. “See the giant turkey!”
Johnny sighed. “Jelly, I told ya already, there ain’t no such thing.”
“Of COUSE there is. Even Scott saw it!”
Johnny shook his head. “I tell ya what, you and Scott catch it, and then I’ll come see it, OK?”
“That’s just it. I can’t catch it; I need your help.”
“No way. I ain’t fallin’ for THAT again.”
“All right, just come with me and let me show it to ya, and then maybe you can give me some ideas on how ta capture it.”
Johnny looked longingly at the house and then turned and reluctantly followed his friend. “Why don’t ya just shoot it?”
Jelly shook his head emphatically. “Uh UH! It’s gotta be worth somethin’, and I aim ta collect the reward.”
Jelly snuck through the bushes, cautioning Johnny to be quiet and quit tripping over things, which was rather difficult in the dark. Finally, Jelly crouched down and cautiously parted the bushes and peered into a nearby field. He looked around for a moment, and then triumphantly motioned for Johnny to look.
With a sigh, Johnny moved forward and looked into the moonlit pasture. He looked for a long time, and then finally sat back down and studied Jelly. “I don’t see nuthin’.”
Jelly’s eyes bugged out of his head and he pushed Johnny aside and looked out himself. There it was, standing right in the middle of the field. He sat back and looked at Johnny, his eyes narrowing. “What do ya MEAN ya don’t see it? It’s standin’ there plain as day! Look again!”
Johnny shrugged and looked again, then sat back down. “Like I said, I don’t see nothin.”
Jelly started to hyperventilate. “What do you MEAN you don’t see nuthin’?” He yelled. The handyman grabbed the bushes and swept them aside, and the startled creature took off, disappearing into the shrubbery on the other side of the field.
“Now see what ya done? Ya made me scare it. Now I’ll never be able ta catch it!”
Johnny shrugged. “Can’t catch somethin’ when there’s nothin’ there ta catch.”
“JOHN LANCER you can’t sit there and look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t see it!”
Johnny shrugged again. “Nope, I didn’t see nothin. And neither did you.”
Jelly jumped up and down. “Whatdya MEAN I didn’t see nothin!!!!”
“I MEAN Jelly, that whatever the heck that thing is, you don’t WANT ta see it.”
Jelly’s face scrunched up as he tried to follow Johnny’s reasoning. “But it’s worth a lot of money!”
“Nope,” Johnny shook his head emphatically. “It’s worth a lot of TROUBLE! Remember that Easter Bunny we found?”
Jelly nodded slowly.
“Well, I have the feeling this thing’s gonna be whole lot more trouble than some poor little giant rabbit. This thing looks like it’s just waitin’ ta kick my head off, and probably yours, too.”
Jelly stared at Johnny for a moment as he tried to figure out what Johnny was getting at. Finally, the light dawned. “So I didn’t see nuthin’, even though I did.”
“And you didn’t see nothin, either.”
“What about Scott? Did he see somethin’?”
“I have no idea what Scott saw, but I’m sure if he did, he didn’t.”
“What if somebody else sees it? What if Nick or Heath sees it?
“I’m sure THEY won’t see anything, either.”
“What about Murdoch?”
“If HE sees it, that’s his problem.”
Jelly thought about it for a while, and then slowly nodded his head. “I didn’t see nuthin.”
Johnny smiled and clapped the old man on his back. “Now you’re getting the idea. Let somebody else be crazy for a change.”
Jelly smiled. “Yeah. Maybe Ole’ Nick WILL see the dang thing. I know I haven’t seen anything strange around here.”
“Right. I mean, everybody knows Nick is crazy anyway. Maybe this’ll prove it.”
Johnny left Jelly muttering to himself and walked into the house. As expected, no one had waited up for him, but as he walked past Nick and Heath’s room he saw a light still on. He hesitated for a moment, and then proceeded down the hall to Scott’s room. He barged in, and Scott came up out of a sound sleep and looked around in confusion. His bleary eyes finally settled on his brother, and he flopped back down onto the mattress. “Oh, it’s you. Go away.”
Johnny walked over to his brother’s bed and pulled the blanket off of him. “Come on, get up. We gotta talk.”
Scott shut his eyes and buried deeper into the bed while hanging on to the remaining sheets. “Is the house on fire?”
“Is anyone dead?”
“Then leave me alone!”
Johnny grabbed the sheets and tugged. “Come on, Scott. Believe me, it’ll be worth it.”
Scott opened one eye and regarded his brother suspiciously. “We’re not going to see Jelly’s giant turkey, are we?”
“NO! Now GET UP!” Johnny took a firm grip on the sheets and gave a mighty tug, sending Scott sprawling on the floor. Scott looked up at his brother in disgust and finally pulled the sheet back out of his brother’s hand and wrapped it around himself before standing up.
“This had BETTER be good,” Scott said icily.
Johnny nodded. “Believe me, it’s worth getting’ up for.” He took Scott’s arm and started to drag him toward the door.
“Where are we going?” Scott said asked a panicked voice. “I’m not decent.”
“You’re decent enough for Nick and Heath, and they’re the only ones that’ll see ya. Now come on.”
Scott hit the brakes. “I am NOT going in their room like this. Let me get dressed.”
“What DIFFERENCE does it make?”
Scott pulled himself to his full height. “I have the feeling that whatever you are planning on telling them is going to get us killed, and I at LEAST want to die with my drawers on.”
Johnny realized that his brother had a valid point and plopped down on the bed to wait. Several minutes later, Scott and Johnny pushed the Barkley’s door open and stalked into the room.
Nick was sitting by the table sipping a glass of water, and Heath was sprawled on top of the bed. Nick glowered at the two men who had barged in. “Doesn’t anyone around here ever knock?”
Johnny shrugged and smiled. “Oh, just think of me like a brother.”
The water went down the wrong way, and Nick choked, spewing water all over the table. Scott immediately went over and clapped him on the back, and Nick tried to fight off that attack while trying to keep from choking. Heath sat up and watched in interest as his brother finally managed to regain his composure. Nick glared at both Scott and Johnny. “WHAT…DO…YOU…WANT?”
Johnny went over to the bed and plopped down next to Heath, who smiled at his friend. Johnny turned toward Nick. “You’d better be nice ta us, ‘cause I got some information that might be worth somethin’ to ya.”
“What could you POSSIBLY know that would be worth money?” Nick ground out.
Scott studied his brother suspiciously. “Yes, what?”
Johnny looked around at the other men and smiled. “What if I were to tell you that The Great Turkey Escape was a put up job?”
“What do you mean?” Scott asked.
“We can’t find any turkeys ‘cause there aren’t any ta find.”
Heath shook his head. “I don’t follow you.”
“Well now THAT isn’t surprising,” Nick snapped.
“I mean that our dear father only SAID that the turkeys escaped. In reality, they’ve been over at the Danson’s the whole time.”
“Why would he do that?” Heath asked.
Johnny shrugged. “Who knows?”
“Are you SURE?” Scott asked suspiciously.
Johnny nodded. “I took a little ride over there tonight. Murdoch brought the Danson’s over four hundred turkeys to be picked up by the army.”
Scott plopped down on Nick’s bed. “Do you mean that we’ve spent the last several weeks going to all of the trouble of NOT catching turkeys when there really haven’t been any turkeys to catch?”
Johnny nodded. “I THINK, brother, that we’ve been had.”
Nick started to laugh. “I think you have been, too. What idiots!”
Scott turned slowly toward Nick. “Well, at least we didn’t go out looking for turkeys and manage to find an elephant.”
Nick clamped his mouth shut, and then a thought hit him and he turned toward Heath. “You don’t think Mother knew about this, do you?”
Heath shrugged. “She DID seem awfully glad to get out of here, and she and Murdoch DID seem awfully happy.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “All right, what are we going to do about it?”
“Well, I think if Ole’ Murdoch wants us ta find turkeys so much, I think we should oblige him, don’t you?”
Scott and Heath nodded solemnly, but Nick still looked doubtful. “If you think I’m going to tromp through those bushes, especially when there’s a mad elephant out there…”
“Now, Nick, did Johnny say ANYTHING about tromping through bushes?”
Nick stared at Johnny. “All right, what did you have in mind?”
Johnny shrugged. “We have to get all the turkeys we can lay our hands on. But there is just one small catch.”
Johnny shrugged again. “Well, if Lancer suddenly becomes Turkeyland, there’s no way Scott and I are gonna stay here.”
“SO?” Nick asked suspiciously.
“So,” Heath volunteered, “you boys are more than welcome to come stay with us for a while. I’m sure Mother would be delighted, wouldn’t she, Nick?”
Nick went over and grabbed his glass of water and downed it in a long gulp before turning back toward Johnny and Scott and appraising them for a long moment. After all, Mother had abandoned the two of them to their fate, so Nick figured she just might deserve a dose of the Lancer boys. “I’m sure she would.” He glared at the glass he was holding. “And at least we have decent whisky at our house.”
Scott smiled. “Good. Now we can figure out just where to get the turkeys. Heath, why don’t you go pick up the ones at your ranch, and Johnny can get the ones from the Danson’s. I’ll go to into Spanish Wells, Green river and Moro Coyo and buy all the stock I can from the small farmers. Just don’t have them delivered until tomorrow. Murdoch is going into town tomorrow morning, and won’t be back until early afternoon. We’ve got to make sure they all arrive at the same time, when we’re long gone. ”
“What do you want me to do?” Nick asked.
Scott glanced quickly at his brother, warning him to be quiet. “I thought you could go over and pick up some birds from our neighbor, the Widow Potter.”
Johnny choked, and Nick looked at the gunfighter suspiciously. “What’s wrong with him?”
Scott glared at Johnny. “Don’t mind him; he’s just upset because he has a little crush on her and he wanted an excuse to go over there.”
Nick smiled. “Well that’s too bad, Johnny boy, but that’s the breaks. She’s all mine.”
Johnny grabbed Scott’s arm and dragged him out of Nick’s room. He pulled his brother back to his own room and shut the door, and then stared at his brother for a long moment. “Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?”
Scott looked at Johnny innocently. “What?”
“What? Nick is going ta kill us, that’s what!”
Johnny looked at his brother as if he were insane. “Because I’D kill us if I pulled a stunt like that. Widow Potter is going to eat Nick for breakfast, and then Nick’s gonna come after us.”
“Now Johnny, think about it. How would WE know he wouldn’t like her?”
Johnny stopped, sidetracked by Scott’s logic. “OK,” he agreed cautiously. “But he’s gonna KNOW that you were lyin’ about me havin’ a crush on her.”
“BECAUSE! No one in their right MIND would have a crush on that…lady!”
Scott shrugged. “I rest my case. Nick will believe it, no problem.”
Johnny stared at his brother as he tried to figure out if he’d been insulted. “Are you sure?” He asked suspiciously.
“All right, if you say so,” Johnny said reluctantly. “Now how are we gonna pay for all of these turkeys? I don’t know about you, but I’m flat broke.”
“Easy. Murdoch has credit all over the valley.”
Johnny gaped at his brother. “You mean we’re gonna make MURDOCH pay for ‘em?”
Scott shrugged. “Why not? He’s the one that started this war.”
Johnny shook his head slowly. “Yeah, and I have the feeling if we’re not careful he may one the one finishing it. I hope you known what you’re doin’.”
Scott shrugged and then smiled. “Won’t it be worth it to see his face when all of those turkeys show up?”
Johnny smiled back at his brother. “Yeah, as long as I’m not within’ range of his gun.”
Scott shook his head. “We’ll be long gone. I just hope Victoria Barkley doesn’t extradite us.”
Johnny nodded. “I don’t care WHAT she does to us as long as she doesn’t send us back here. I have the feeling Murdoch’s NOT going to be in a good mood for a long time.”
“No problem. We’ll just stay there until he calms down.”
“I hope Mrs. Barkley and Audra know how to make tamales,” Johnny said wistfully.
Murdoch came down the stairs the next morning, whistling a tune. He couldn’t remember ever being in this good a mood. For once, he was going to get the best of those boys and head off any nonsense before it got started. The boys didn’t suspect a thing, and everything was working out perfectly. He hesitated when he stepped off of the stairs and looked into what used to be the Great Room. Well, almost perfectly, but it would be worth it see the boys’ expressions when he told them what he’d done.
He walked into the kitchen and came to an abrupt halt. The four young men were sitting at the table in perfect harmony. He looked at them suspiciously and then slid into his own seat. He snuck a glance at Nick, and was startled to see him actually grinning. Murdoch smiled politely. “You seem like you’re in a good mood today, Nick.”
Nick grinned. “I’m in a GREAT mood. I’m going to go over this morning and pay a visit to a lovely young lady. Maybe with any luck she’ll go with me to the dance.”
Murdoch nodded. “When you get back, maybe you can help Scott and Johnny look for more of those turkeys.”
Nick nodded. “Sure, Mr. Lancer, Heath and I would be glad to. Anything to help out our friends.”
Murdoch watched Nick warily, wondering if the young man had been drinking before breakfast, but he finally decided to let it go. “Do I know the young lady you were hoping to take to the dance?”
Nick shot a look at Johnny and wondered briefly if Murdoch would be upset that he beat Johnny out of a date, but finally he shrugged. “I know Johnny has been trying to court her, but I figured I’d try my luck. She might appreciate someone with manners for a change.”
Murdoch shook his head. “What’s this young lady’s name?”
Both Scott and Johnny held their breath as Nick answered. “Miss Potter. I believe she lives on an adjoining farm.”
Murdoch cautiously and slowly leaned over, and without taking his eyes off of Nick, he sniffed the young man’s coffee. He looked perplexed, and sat slowly back in his chair, his eyes narrowed. He looked over at Scott and Johnny, but they seemed to be taking the news in stride. His gaze rested on Johnny. “So you were planning on courting her?”
Johnny nodded as he scooped another spoonful of eggs into his mouth. “Yep. But she’s real hard ta get ta commit ta anything. I only stepped in after Scott gave up. She refused at have anything ta do with him. If Nick wants ta try, it’s all right with me.”
Murdoch sat back and shook his head. If Nick wanted to go out with Widow Potter, that was his business, but he’d have to have a LONG talk with Johnny. He had NO intention of winding up with that woman as a daughter-in –law. His eyes shifted toward Scott, who was apparently calmly accepting what his brother had said. Scott looked up and caught his father’s eye and then smiled and shrugged.
Murdoch tore his eyes away from his son and turned his attention back to Nick. . “Well, good luck.”
Nick nodded. “Thanks, Mr. Lancer. I think I’ll head over there now, so I can get back in time to look for some of those turkeys.”
Murdoch watched Nick leave, and then the rest of the boys stood up and walked out. Murdoch sat at the table for a few moments, trying to figure out what was going on, and then walked into the Great Room and grabbed a bottle of brandy. To hell with it being early, he needed a drink.
Nick rode back into the yard after his meeting with the widow Potter. He should have known that Scott and Johnny weren’t being honest with him. He’d been lucky to get out of there with his life. He had been close to panic when he had had a brilliant idea, and the widow apparently thought so, too, because she promised to deliver five hundred turkeys to Lancer the following day. Nick chuckled quietly. He was going to get the last laugh after all.
After putting his horse away, he walked out of the barn, and then froze. Standing in the middle of the yard was the biggest bird he’d ever seen. He looked cautiously around, and finally spied Jelly working on a wagon wheel.
Jelly startled and looked up at Nick, ready to run.
“DO you SEE that thing?” Nick asked the handyman in hushed tones.
Jelly looked around and shook his head. “I don’t see nothin’.”
“That Giant Turkey!”
“Nope, don’t see nothin’.”
Nick looked back and forth between the bird and the old man. “It’s RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE YARD!!”
Jelly shrugged nonchalantly. “There ain’t no such things as giant turkeys, and I STILL don’t see nothin’.”
Nick walked over to Jelly and stood with his hands on his hips as the handyman continued fixing the wheel. . “Are you telling me that you don’t see that monstrosity that’s standing right in the middle of the yard?
Jelly looked at Nick and stuck his chin out. “I don’t see nothin’ cause there’s nothin’ ta see. Ain’t no such thing as giant turkeys, and if they ain’t real, then I ain’t seein’ nothin’.”
Nick looked perplexed as he tried to figure out Jelly’s logic. “Have Scott and Johnny seen it?”
Jelly nodded. “Scott saw it, but he was seeing’ pink elephants, too, and pretendin’ a carrot was a gun. Course, he figured it out when he tried to load it. At least I think he did. Johnny didn’t see nothin, even though he did, but he didn’t. At least he said he didn’t.”
Nick didn’t even try. He took one last look at the bird and headed for the house. He was very disappointed; he had thought that at least ONE of them would think it was a giant turkey. He had gone to a lot of trouble buying that bird from the circus; the least they could have done was see the dang thing.
Johnny cautiously approached the house, wondering if Nick was back yet. He certainly didn’t want to come across him by himself. He tried to peer into the barn to see if his brother’s horse was inside, but he couldn’t quite see. He certainly didn’t want to go inside; it was a perfect place for an ambush.
He stood indecisively for a few moments, and then saw Murdoch in the window of the Great Room. He figured even Nick wasn’t crazy enough to kill him with witnesses, so Johnny started in that direction. After going a few feet, he stopped. Nick was inside with Murdoch, and as far as Johnny could tell, they were getting along splendidly. Johnny thought furiously, and decided to go back to the barn. After all, Murdoch certainly hadn’t been too pleased with him lately; maybe he and Nick were plotting his murder together. He decided he’d just wait until Scott came home; after all, there was safety in numbers.
An hour later, Scott rode in, and Johnny came out of his hiding place. “Didja get some?” Johnny asked.
Scott nodded happily. “I was able to purchase four hundred and fifty birds, all charged to Murdoch’s private account.”
Johnny grinned. “I sure hope Murdoch’s plannin’ on eatin’ a lot of turkey.” He looked at Scott. “Nick and Murdoch are inside talkin’. By the way, I was able ta sneak Murdoch’s model ship back into the Great Room. It isn’t perfect, but hopefully he won’t notice.”
Scott shrugged. “Keep your fingers crossed. Murdoch treats that ship like gold. By the way, are the Danson’s turkeys going to be delivered tomorrow?”
“Yep. I managed to talk him into delivering the ones Murdoch was keepin’ there, too. Marty will be delivering over seven hundred birds.”
Scott snorted. “Well, at least SOMETHING’S going right.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, at least so far, but Nick’s gonna be furious about the widow and I thought I’d wait till you got back before goin’ in.”
Scott shrugged. “He can be as furious as he wants, as long as he managed to sweet talk her out of those birds.”
Johnny cautiously opened the door, and when Murdoch saw him, Johnny pushed it open wider and stepped inside, Scott at his heels. Johnny turned to his brother and whispered; “Back off, or I might run ya over if Nick goes for me.”
Scott dutifully stepped back a few feet. After all, that put him nearer the door, too. As they approached, Johnny kept a wary eye on Nick, but he seemed as if he were in a good mood.
“JOHNNY! SCOTT!” he boomed. “Just the men I wanted to see!”
Scott and Johnny froze as Nick continued. “I want to thank you for letting me meet such a fine young lady. She’s absolutely the sweetest thing I’ve had the pleasure to meet in quite a while.” He came over and pumped both of the startled men’s hands.
Scott and Johnny looked at each other and shrugged. It figured that Nick would like her; she was probably just his type. Scott glanced at his father and then asked Nick cautiously, “Were you able to talk to her about what we had discussed?”
“ABSOLUTELY! No problem at all.” He turned to Johnny and grinned. “And you will be DELIGHTED to know that she was more than eager to go to the dance with you. I KNOW how much you had been trying to convince her to go with you, so I took it upon myself to ask her for you.”
Johnny froze for just a moment before he launched himself at Nick.
Murdoch sidestepped out of the way and grabbed his beloved ship as the two men rolled across the Great Room. He scurried behind his desk and watched as the newly refurbished room took yet another beating.
Murdoch came downstairs, wondering if there would be any house left. After Johnny and Nick had gotten through with the Great Room the night before, it looked like a herd of Agnesses had stampeded through it. When he and Scott had finally separated the two, he had ordered the three boys to clean up the mess and fix anything that was broken, and then Murdoch had taken his ship and stalked off to bed, dreaming of vengeance against his dear friend, Victoria Barkley.
He walked through the Great Room, and he had to admit, they had done a passable job of fixing it back up. He looked around cautiously, and noticed there were no dead bodies lying around, so the boys must have come to an agreement of some sorts. Murdoch smiled. Poor Nick was outnumbered; his brother had left on an errand and wouldn’t be back until this morning.
He walked into the kitchen and found all four boys sitting quietly at the table, eating an early breakfast. He looked at them in surprise. “You boys are up early.”
Scott nodded. “We plan on getting an early start.”
Murdoch grinned. “Going out to catch more turkeys?”
Heath shook his head. “No, sir. Johnny and Scott thought they’d come back to our place for a while. I’m sure my mother has a lot of things at the ranch to keep them busy.”
Murdoch did his best to hide his glee. Of course, he would be short on help while they were gone, but for some reason, they hadn’t been doing that much lately, anyway. Whatever revenge he could exact on Victoria would be well worth any inconvenience on his part. How better to get even with her than to give her a dose of her own medicine. He glanced over to where Nick and Johnny were scuffling over the last piece of sausage, and he nodded slowly. “That sounds like a good idea. However, there’s the matter of those turkeys that you boys promised to find.”
Scott looked up at his father in surprise. “They’re all in their pen, and they must have multiplied while they were running wild, because we counted 500 birds this morning.”
Murdoch froze. “What? Where did you find them?”
Johnny had managed to dig Nick in the ribs with his elbow, and flipped the sausage onto his own plate. “Oh, we found them here and there.”
Murdoch looked at the boys suspiciously. “And you found all of them last night?”
Scott nodded, and Murdoch studied his younger son. “Johnny?”
Johnny glanced up at his father, and Nick took advantage of his foe’s lack of concentration and stabbed the sausage with his own fork. Johnny shot him an evil look and answered his father. “What?
“You found ALL of those turkeys last night?”
Johnny sighed. “Well, not exactly. Like Scott said, I think they multiplied, ‘cause we managed ta get our hands on a few more than we lost.” He turned toward Nick and pounded him on the back, making the sausage fall off of Nick’s fork. “Nick here found a lot of them.”
At Murdoch’s raised eyebrow, Nick put his fork down and tried to explain. “Well, I had a lot of help. Jelly’s turkey call really saved the day.” Nick watched helplessly as Heath reached over and grabbed the sausage off his plate and stuffed it into his mouth while Johnny unsuccessfully tried to stop him.
Nick stood up in disgust. “Well, we’d better get going, it’s getting late.” The other three young men stood up and walked out of the kitchen, with Murdoch trailing along behind him. He followed them outside, and then he walked over to the turkey pen. There were certainly about five hundred turkeys there, and for some reason he felt that somehow he’d been had, but he wasn’t sure how.
Murdoch looked over to the barn where the boys were hurriedly saddling up their horses, and suddenly a large bird wandered nonchalantly across the yard. He froze. “BOYS! Look at this!”
Scott turned toward Murdoch and shrugged. “Look at what?”
“What bird?” Johnny joined in.
“That giant…whatever it is!”
All four boys looked around, bewildered. “We don’t see anything,” Heath finally offered.
“You sure you’re feelin’ OK?” Johnny asked. “Maybe we’d better stay home.”
Murdoch panicked at that thought. “No, no, it’s all right, I’m not sure what I saw. I guess I don’t see anything, either. You boys go on and have a nice time.” He watched as the bird picked its way across the yard.
Scott and Heath grinned at each other but a shrill scream from the house quickly wiped the smiles off of their faces. They all bolted toward the kitchen, where the yell had come from, and found Teresa in mortal ballet with Helen. Teresa swung the mop and whapped the camel over the head, but Helen calmly continued drinking the rest of the pancake batter.
She shook the mop in Scott’s direction. “Scott Lancer, you get this…animal OUT OF MY KITCHEN! NOW!”
Johnny and Nick started laughing as Scott and Heath tried to push Helen away from her feast while she blithely ignored them. Finally Nick decided to help, and walked up and grabbed Helen by the neck. The camel calmly appraised the man, and then spit at him. Nick ducked and dove for cover under the table. The camel tried to follow him, and then backed up, the table firmly planted on her back and the batter precariously balanced on the top.
Murdoch watched the melee in the kitchen for several moments, and then looked out toward the barn, where the giant bird was sauntering around the yard. He turned back and saw Jelly ambling toward him with some rope. “JELLY! DO YOU see that bird?”
Jelly didn’t even break stride. “Nope, don’t see a thing. Never did, never will.”
Murdoch looked back just as the bird disappeared into the barn. Maybe Johnny was right, maybe he’d better go lie down. He watched as Jelly calmly walked into the kitchen and handed Scott the rope, and a few moments later Murdoch heard a terrible racket in the kitchen. He heard Teresa giving the boys some not so ladylike suggestions, and a second later, Heath went flying out of the kitchen door. Murdoch wasn’t sure if it was Helen or Teresa who had thrown him, and at this point, he really didn’t care.
He smiled to himself; Victoria was going to have his head for sending all of the boys to her ranch, but it would be worth it to have a few days of blissful peace. He turned back toward the house, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw several wagons approaching. Curious, he walked out to meet them.
Murdoch heard the commotion coming from the wagons before they were even through the arch, and his brows furrowed. Why would someone be bringing more turkeys out to the ranch? He watched as the wagons got closer, and saw Marty Danson in one wagon and Harvey Leonard from Spanish Wells in the other. He felt a moment’s panic when he realized that Marty might say something he shouldn’t, but then he figured it didn’t really matter; it was almost time to let the boys in on the joke anyway. He just hoped they didn’t get violent.
As he was trying to figure it out, he realized that he no longer heard any sounds coming from the kitchen, and he spun around. All four of the boys were bolting toward their horses. Murdoch chuckled, thinking that either Helen or Teresa had gotten the best of them, but then he realized the boys were shooting alarmed glances down the road. Murdoch’s eyes narrowed again, and he realized SOMETHING was afoot. “BOYS!! Hold it RIGHT THERE!”
All four young men came to a sliding stop and turned toward him. Johnny gave his father a disarming smile, sending Murdoch’s senses on high alert, and he realized that they were just as apprehensive about the wagons as he was. He decided to bluff.
“Do you boys have any idea why there are two wagonloads of turkeys coming into our yard?” Murdoch asked calmly.
Four heads shook in unison and Murdoch looked back toward the wagons. All four of the young men took advantage of Murdoch’s momentary lapse of attention to make another effort to get to their horses, but Murdoch once again spun around and stopped them with a glare. “Why don’t we all just stay here and see if we can clear up the mystery?”
The boys darted looks back and forth between themselves and the rapidly approaching wagons, and Murdoch knew that whatever was going on, they were at the bottom of it, and they weren’t very comfortable about it, either.
Harvey pulled the wagon to a halt in front of Murdoch and jumped down. “Here ya go, Mr. Lancer. Four hundred and fifty prime turkeys. Where do ya want them?”
Murdoch stared at Harvey for a moment, and then turned slowly around and studied the boys. He glanced back and noticed there were a lot more turkeys in Marty’s wagon, and he wondered again just what was going on. Whatever it was, the boys were looking mighty suspicious. He turned back to the boys, wondering if there was some way to kill all four of them without drawing anyone’s attention. He was reasonably sure Victoria wouldn’t mind.
Scott smiled nervously and finally spoke up. “Well, we’d better be going.”
“Oh, no,” Murdoch breathed. “You’re going to unload all of these birds and build pens before you go ANYWHERE.”
“But Mr. Lancer, they’re not OUR birds!” Heath complained.
“Well, they’re not mine, either.” He turned his gaze on his two sons. “It seems that you’ve acquired some new pets. I would think that Agnes and Helen keep you busy enough without wanting a bunch of turkeys. I didn’t realize you enjoyed having those birds around so much.”
Harvey came up and pulled on Murdoch’s sleeve. “Mr. Lancer, I was wondering if I could get paid now. I sort of need the money.”
“PAID? ‘I’ have to PAY for those birds!” His face turned an alarming shade of red and he looked back at the boys, who were dividing their attention between watching him and watching another wagon approaching, this time with the Widow Potter inside.
Johnny bit his lip nervously for a moment, and then made an executive decision. He bolted. He might have been able to face Murdoch’s wrath and possibly the turkey’s racket, but Widow Potter was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Scott, Heath and Nick followed their leader faithfully, and leaped onto their horses and tore out of the yard, with Murdoch’s bellowing gradually fading into a distant rumble.
They tore up the road, flying by the Widow’s wagon and then settling their horses down to an even gallop. They didn’t think Murdoch could catch them, but they were taking no chances because several more wagons were also headed down the road, all filled with gobbling turkeys. About a mile further up the road, they came to a very familiar buggy. Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt next to the buggy and the doctor smiled at the young men. “You boys look like you’re in a hurry,” Sam commented.
“Yeah, well, we thought we’d take off before Murdoch murdered us.”
“Oh,” Sam said calmly. “That’s nice.”
“I think he’s gone crazy,” Scott observed.
Sam nodded calmly. “So everything’s normal?”
Scott looked at Johnny, who shrugged. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Sam studied the two boys. “Anything I should know about before I go out there and talk to your father?”
Scott shook his head. “No…except for maybe the turkeys.”
Sam’s eyebrows went up. “The turkeys?”
Scott nodded. “Yes, the turkeys that are at the ranch that aren’t supposed to be at the ranch that Murdoch has to pay for. Of course, he might forget all about the birds by the time Widow Potter’s done with him.”
“Yeah,” Johnny added. “Guess Ole Murdoch’s gonna get ta take her to the dance.”
“Murdoch is taking Widow Potter to the dance?”
Scott nodded. “It looks like it.”
Sam turned back to Johnny and raised his eyebrows, and Johnny nodded. “Yeah. Ya see, Murdoch had us lookin’ for turkeys that weren’t really there, but Scott and I didn’t want ta find ‘em anyway, so we looked where they weren’t, but sometimes they were. But then Nick here found an elephant instead of a turkey, so he and Heath had ta stay and fix the stairs. In the meantime, Jelly was tryin’ ta find the giant turkey that didn’t exist, but nobody saw it even though they did and then Murdoch saw it, but it doesn’t exist, so he didn’t. Then I found the turkeys that weren’t lost, and we figured we’d get more of ‘em that weren’t lost so Murdoch would learn his lesson. Anyway, Nick went over to the Widow and promised I’d take her to the dance ‘cause I had a crush on her after she dumped Scott, but now she’s gonna have to go with Murdoch.”
Sam looked at Scott, who nodded and said, “Yes, that pretty well sums it up.”
Sam looked at Nick and Heath. “Did that make sense to you?”
Heath nodded, and Nick looked at him in disgust. “I TOLD you it was contagious. Now it even makes sense to ME!” He turned toward the Doctor. “You’ve got to help me, Doc. I think I’m crazy.”
Johnny nodded. “Well of COURSE you’re crazy. I never doubted that for a moment.”
“Well, if Nick’s crazy, then you’re REALLY crazy,” Heath offered.
Sam watched the four men cautiously, and then decided to make good his escape before they got violent. He clucked to his horse and took off down the road toward Lancer. He just hoped Murdoch wasn’t crazy, too.
Chapter Twenty One
“JELLY! You DO see THESE turkeys, don’t you?” Murdoch swept his hand toward the eight wagons, full of birds, parked in the Lancer yard.
Jelly studied the wagons, unsure if he should be seeing them or not. After all, it seemed to him that having this many turkeys in one place was pretty impossible, too. He sure wished Johnny was here to tell him if he was seeing them.
Jelly sighed. Even if it WAS impossible, it was pretty hard to deny their existence, especially while they were making such god-awful racket. “Yeah, I see ‘em.”
“GOOD! Now get all of these wagons into the barn and start unloading them. We’ll figure out just what to do with them later.” Murdoch turned on his heel and strode toward the house, wondering if there was any way to keep the boys at the Barkleys. After all, finders keepers. He hesitated just outside the door when the giant bird strolled in front of him, but he figured if no on else saw the dang thing, he wasn’t going to either, and he continued into the house. As he shut the door, he looked back and was not surprised to find the creature had disappeared.
Jelly quickly had the drivers move the wagons into the barn and started unloading the crates. He didn’t know WHAT they were going to do with the birds, but one thing was for sure, HE wasn’t going to take care of them. Agnes and Helen were bad enough.
Sam pulled up to the house thirty minutes later, and walked into the Great Room. Murdoch was sitting on a squashed chair and Sam wondered what exactly had happened to it. The doctor went over to the bar and helped himself to a drink. He was going to see if Murdoch could explain what Johnny had been ranting about. Sam went over and sat on the sofa next to Murdoch.
Murdoch looked at the doctor. “Well?”
Sam looked at him in confusion. “Well, what?”
“What did you think about our new guests?”
Sam shook his head. He certainly didn’t know Heath and Nick well enough to comment, but they seemed like nice enough young men. “I think they’re very nice.”
Murdoch wondered how ANYONE could think turkeys were ‘nice’, but he decided to be polite and let Sam think what he wanted. “They sure make a lot of racket.”
Sam nodded, unsure of what to say. “Well, so do Johnny and Scott.”
Murdoch nodded, only half listening. “I need to get rid of ALL of them; they’re just too much trouble. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, but I do know that I’m going to get rid of them one way or the other. I might try to sell them; after all, I have to get at least part of my money back. The trouble is, I just don’t know who would want them.”
Sam looked at Murdoch cautiously. “Sell them?”
Murdoch nodded. “Yes. I thought about sending them to the army, but they probably have enough just like them.” Murdoch shrugged. “I might have to resort to giving them away, but even then, it might not be enough. If I can’t get rid of them through legitimate means, I might have to just shoot them and bury them somewhere. All I know is that they’re not staying here.”
Sam sat, staring at Murdoch in shock and wondering if his friend was really crazy after all. Murdoch glanced up at Sam and lowered his voice. “By the way, did you see it?”
“See what?” Sam asked cautiously.
“The giant…turkey,” Murdoch whispered.
“No,” the doctor whispered back. “Was I supposed to?”
“I don’t know. Everyone says he doesn’t exist, but I know what I saw. Of course, he disappeared right in front of my eyes, but then I WAS concentrating on all of those other turkeys out there.” Murdoch leaned closer to Sam. “Have you EVER seen so many turkeys in your life? There are thousands of them.”
“Where?” Sam asked quietly.
Murdoch looked at Sam, wondering what was wrong with him. “Where do you think? Outside, of course. The only wildlife that comes in the house, besides the boys, is the elephant.”
Sam slowly shook his head. “I didn’t see any turkeys, even giant ones.” He hesitated. “You let the elephant in the house?”
Murdoch shrugged. “She just comes in when she wants a drink.”
“I see. Is that often?”
Murdoch thought for a moment, “No, she only goes on a drinking binge occasionally.”
As fascinating as the present conversation was, Sam realized he was getting sidetracked. “So you think you might have to shoot them?”
Murdoch shrugged. “Shoot them, wring their necks, chop their heads off, it doesn’t matter.” He looked at Sam worriedly. “But I don’t want Teresa to think I’m mean. You don’t think she will, do you?”
Sam stared at his friend before answering soothingly, “No, I’m sure she doesn’t think that. Murdoch, I think you need a vacation. A nice quiet place where you can relax for a while.”
“Are there turkeys there?”
Sam shook his head. “No, no turkeys. How about it?”
Murdoch looked suspiciously at his friend. “Will the boys be there?”
Sam thought back to how the young men were acting when he had seen them on the road, and answered truthfully, “I don’t know, but probably not for a while.”
Murdoch nodded. “All right, as long as there are no turkeys, elephants, or boys. When do I leave?”
Victoria shook her head and managed to sound somewhat sincere. “I’m SO sorry you boys have to leave when you just got here. You know that you and Agnes are always welcome.” Her eyes shifted to the large gray elephant munching calmly in her vegetable garden.
“Thank you, Mrs. Barkley, but we have to get back to run the ranch.”
Victoria nodded. “I hope your father is feeling better, soon.”
Johnny nodded. “Oh he’ll be fine. Sam says he should be able to be released in a couple of months.”
Victoria felt badly about Murdoch. He had seemed so normal the last time she saw him, and she wondered what could possibly have caused his breakdown. As the boys rode off, Victoria had an absolutely inspired thought. As soon as her old friend was back home, she and her boys would go and visit for a while. That ought to cheer him up.
~ end ~
The Easter Bunny
The Mountain Man – FIRST PLACE Lancer Writers Awards: Best Humorous Story
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