Word Count 19,235
11th in the The Surprise series . If you haven’t read the previous stories there may be some references that are confusing.
Source: Indian Legends and Songs, by Guy Chaffee Earl, 1980. The setting is in the Owens Valley near Independence , California , in the middle 1800s.
“…large human tracks were seen one morning in some moist earth near the mill at San Carlos , the bare feet being distinctly impressed therein. Measurement showed the foot to be eighteen inches long, with a breadth at the toes of six, the stride being about six feet and apparently made while walking and not running. After an interval of a few days the tracks one morning again were seen, and after a like interval the remarkable impressions were made for a third time. At the same time the footprints were repeatedly seen at Bend City and at Chrysopolis. There was no one, white, black, yellow or red known to have a foot anywhere near so big. Indians when shown the footprints and asked if they knew who made them, wisely shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Heap no see, call him Bigfoot,’ and with a wave of the hand toward the Inyo range said, ‘He live there.’ They acted in a strange and awed manner. The mystery was never solved and was the cause of much theorizing and speculation. I often wondered about the matter, never arriving at any solution, but the incidents afforded boundless field for guessing… Certain it is, there was abundant material for legend….”
Copyright and permission to reprint granted by Peter Guttilla, April 26, 1995
Murdoch watched as the two men approached the house. He had been anxiously awaiting their return for several days and fervently hoping his ranch would finally get back to normal once they returned. He wasn’t really expecting it to, but he could always hope. It seemed that lately, Lancer had turned into a circus, and he wanted it to stop.
He knew he had been hard on his sons, but it was merely a matter of self – preservation. Things had gotten out of hand, and it was time he stepped in and put a stop to all of the nonsense. He just wanted the boys to do what they had been ordered to, and for a change not mess things up even further.
He felt a twinge of guilt at what he had forced Johnny to do, and he was worried that his younger son might have tried to get out of doing what was needed. He just hoped Scott had been able to make sure the deed was done.
He needed his sons to help him around the ranch, and that lovesick female of Johnny’s had kept his son just too busy to do his chores, and that was simply unacceptable. She had to go, even if Johnny didn’t want her to. Murdoch had to put Lancer first. If those boys of his were allowed to make the rules, he’d be lucky to have a ranch left. As it was, it would take some time to get back to normal.
His mind came back to the task he had set his boys off to do, and it once again flashed through his mind that he might have made a mistake. Johnny had been awfully upset when he had been given the orders. Murdoch had tried to reason with him, but Johnny wouldn’t listen. His son didn’t want her to leave, and that was that. It had taken several days and downright blackmail to get Johnny to see reason, but he had finally reluctantly agreed.
Murdoch shook his head when he remembered how she had acted like a lovesick puppy around Johnny, shooting him adoring glances every time he looked at her. Of course, Johnny’s glances had been just as adoring. The two of them sure had been good together. Murdoch shook his head again. What was done was done; at least he hoped it was. He was worried that his sons would come up with another one of their crazy plans and somehow things would be worse off than before.
He looked critically at the two men as they approached, and decided they didn’t look too guilty, and they were definitely alone. Maybe things would finally be back to normal, whatever that was. Since Scott and Johnny had come home, he wasn’t too sure anymore. With a chuckle, he walked over to the bar and poured a glass of scotch, then turned toward the window and waited for his errant sons to enter the house. The front door slammed, and he waited a moment until the footsteps stopped in front of his desk.
“Well?” he asked hopefully, without moving.
“All done,” Johnny said quietly.
Murdoch turned and looked at his elder son for confirmation. Scott glanced at his brother, and then nodded slowly. “ Mission accomplished, Sir. Agnes is no longer a Lancer.”
Murdoch visibly relaxed and he let his gaze slide over to Johnny. When he noticed his son’s woebegone demeanor he shook his head slowly. With a sigh, he went back to the bar and poured a glass of tequila, then walked over and shoved it into Johnny’s hand.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” Murdoch said sincerely.
“You never liked her, anyway,” Johnny said accusingly.
“That’s not true!” Murdoch protested. “I just thought you spent too much time with her instead of doing your chores.”
“She just wanted to be with me!”
Murdoch sighed. “Exactly, and you couldn’t do your work with her around. Johnny, we have a ranch to run. We all have to pull our own weight.”
“Well, that would have been a little hard, wouldn’t it?” he said sarcastically.
“I was speaking figuratively,” Murdoch said icily. “Scott knows what I mean, that’s why he made sure Helen left.”
Johnny glared at his older brother. “He didn’t really care about Helen, or he wouldn’t have made her leave.”
“I DID care about her,” Scott protested. “I just knew what my priorities were, that’s all.”
“So you just dumped her!”
“I didn’t exactly ‘dump’ her,” Scott said through clenched teeth. “If you remember, you thought that it was a good idea at the time, too.”
Johnny glared back at Scott for a moment, and then sighed and hung his head. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s hard, that’s all.”
Murdoch once more put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Give it some time. You’ll feel better about it pretty soon. You won’t be tied down anymore, and you know she DID cause us all a lot of trouble.”
“She didn’t mean to.” Johnny stared sadly at the drink.
“Come on, son. I know how much you cared about her, but you know she couldn’t stay. She just didn’t fit in here. She wasn’t brought up to live on a ranch.”
Murdoch sighed. “I know she did. She tried because of you, but she wasn’t happy.”
Johnny jerked his head up. “Yes, she was!”
“Johnny,” Murdoch argued. “No she wasn’t. You know she drank continually.”
“If you just would have given her a little more time…”
“Johnny,” Murdoch said sternly. “She just wasn’t cut out for life out here, and you know it. And there was no way I was going to support her drinking habits. She’s gone, and that’s all there is to it.”
“She didn’t drink all of the time,” Johnny said stubbornly.
“Thank goodness,” Murdoch exclaimed as he looked in distaste at his glass of scotch. “If she did, we wouldn’t have a ranch left. As it was, she finished off all of my imported Brandy.”
“I can’t help it if she didn’t like tequila.”
Murdoch shook his head. “You know we’re all better off without her. Besides, she’s probably much happier back where she belongs. She did live there most of her life.”
“Maybe,” Johnny acknowledged unwillingly. “I just hope she doesn’t get lonely without us.”
Murdoch’s brows shot up and his voice rose. “Lonely? LONELY? How can she get LONELY with TEN other elephants to keep her company?”
Johnny shrugged. “She doesn’t know she’s an elephant,” he said plaintively.
Murdoch glanced over at the brand new staircase, and then let his eyes wander over to the newly patched walls and the expensive new furniture gracing the Great Room. His eyes slid to the newly installed French doors and then finally rested on the scratch marks on the floor where Agnes had squashed furniture when she had collapsed in a drunken stupor.
“That much is obvious,” he agreed dryly. “The difference is, when one of us has too much to drink, we don’t usually destroy the whole hacienda.”
Johnny shrugged. “Usually not,” he agreed. He looked at his father. “But she only did that…”
“Four times,” Murdoch interrupted.
“I thought it was three,” Johnny argued, “But who’s counting?”
“I am!” Murdoch growled. “I didn’t even COUNT the times she destroyed the barn.”
“Five,” Scott volunteered.
Johnny glared at his brother. “Whose side are you on? Besides, I remember a certain camel friend of yours that did just about as much damage as Agnes.”
Scott glared back and took a step forward. “I beg your pardon! Helen was a well behaved lady compared to Agnes!”
“Most ladies I know don’t belch and spit in people’s faces,” Johnny argued, leaning into his brother’s face. “Of course, I don’t know about the ladies you date.”
“I haven’t had a chance to date ANY ladies lately, because I’ve been too busy repairing all the damage that YOUR elephant caused!”
“And I haven’t had time to do anything because I was too busy going on another of your wild goose chases. Or should I say camel chases?”
“At least she didn’t eat us out of house and home. Oh wait; she couldn’t do that because she DESTROYED our home.”
“BOYS!!!!” Murdoch roared. Stop it RIGHT NOW! BOTH of those animals did their best to destroy this ranch, as did the two of you! Now I FINALLY have the hacienda back in one piece, and I plan on keeping it that way. Is that understood?”
“We get blamed for everything. The squirrels were definitely Teresa’s fault, and the staircase was mostly Nick’s fault,” Johnny said sullenly as Scott nodded in agreement.
Murdoch looked at his sons in amazement. “Nick was merely trying to avoid being trampled by an elephant.”
Scott nodded his head. “Exactly. If he would have cooperated and let Agnes squish him instead of running up those stairs, some of the damage could have been avoided.”
“I’m sure that at the time, Nick was not exactly worried about the damage,” Murdoch growled.
“Yeah,” Johnny grumbled. “I’m sure he wasn’t. HE didn’t have ta fix it.”
Murdoch shook his head in exasperation. “You boys aren’t entirely innocent, and you know it. Anyway, it’s all over now. Helen is living happily with a bunch of other camels at the fort, Agnes is living happily at the circus where she belongs, and I am living happily at Lancer with no elephants, no camels, no turkeys, and no squirrels.”
Johnny snorted. “I don’t know how you can lump Agnes in with those other troublemakers. I’d still rather have her here than those damn turkeys.”
“I’m not sure of that, but now we don’t have any of them, and I aim to keep it that way.” He glared at both of his boys. “No…more… animals, do you understand?”
Johnny looked up hurriedly. “Ya mean no more cattle?” he asked hopefully.
Murdoch glared back. “Cattle . Lots of cattle,” he clarified. “Also horses. A few chickens. An occasional pig. But absolutely NO elephants, no camels, no geese, and no squirrels. No lions, no monkeys, no parrots, and no whales. And PARTICULARLY NO MORE TURKEYS ! Is that understood?”
Johnny busily bit the inside of his cheek as he mentally reviewed what his father had said. “All right, no more turkeys,” he agreed.
Murdoch turned his attention to his older son, who, after shooting his brother a quick glance, hesitantly nodded in agreement.
With a sigh of relief, Murdoch nodded to his boys. “Good. I’m glad you agree. This is a working cattle ranch, and we don’t have the time or the space for anything else.”
Johnny nodded slowly. “What about…”
“NO!” his father exploded. “Now get back to work!”
The boys turned on their heels and marched out of the Great Room. Once outside, Johnny heaved a big sigh of relief. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about babysitting any more damn turkeys.”
Scott’s eyebrows quirked up. “No,” he said slowly. “We DO have to worry about our father killing us, however. I never should have let you talk me into bringing Morty home with us. I knew it was a bad idea.”
“Come on, Scott. You like him too, and you know it. I didn’t have to talk that hard to get you to agree.”
“You didn’t talk at all! You put a gun to my head!” Scott protested.
“You still coulda said no.”
“At the time, it didn’t seem like a good idea,” said Scott dryly.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, what’s done is done, and you DID promise to help me and not to squeal.”
Scott shook is head in disbelief. “I doubt if I’ll have to “squeal’. Just how long do you think you can keep Morty a secret, anyway?”
Johnny shrugged. “Maybe I won’t have to.”
Scott looked at his brother in disbelief. “Don’t have to? Do you have a death wish?”
“If you were listening carefully, you know that I agreed to no more turkeys,” Johnny argued.
“Johnny, you KNOW what Murdoch meant!”
“What he meant and what he said were two different things.”
“I think our father was VERY specific.”
Johnny smiled. “Yeah, he was, wasn’t he?”
Scott shook his head. “You heard what he said. No more animals, and he SPECIFICALLY said NO monkeys.”
Johnny turned and looked at his brother. “Scott, I’m surprised at you. You should know that technically, a gorilla is an ape, not a monkey.”
Scott rolled his eyes at his brother as they walked toward the barn. “I guess it’s your head. Anyway, now what?” Scott asked.
Johnny looked at his brother quizzically. “What do you mean?”
“I MEAN, little brother, what are you going to do with Morty?”
“I’m not gonna do anything with him,” Johnny shrugged. “At least not until I can convince Murdoch that he’s totally harmless and won’t cause any trouble. Then I plan to bring him back to the hacienda.”
“And HOW, may I ask, are you going to convince our father that a full grown four hundred pound gorilla won’t cause any trouble?
“We,” Johnny smiled. “How are WE going to convince him.”
Scott shook his head. “Oh, no. Not this time. This is ONE plan I have no intention of participating in.”
Johnny fingered his gun suggestively. “After all of your hare brained plans, the least you can do is go along with me on this one.”
”What hare brained plans? All of my plans were perfect!” Scott declared indignantly. “Just because YOU messed them up…”
“Scott, I ain’t gonna argue with you. Just back me up on this, or I’ll tell the Old Man just whose plan it was to redo the hacienda, to buy that perfume we gave Teresa, to join the circus,” Johnny counted off the plans on his fingers as he continued, “Who decided to escort that pig up north, who decided to wrangle those camels, who was responsible for ….”
“All right, all right. But ALL of those plans would have worked beautifully if you and the Barkleys hadn’t been involved.”
“Believe me, next time we won’t be,” Johnny said fervently. He stopped and looked at his brother. “So how are we gonna do it?”
“I have no idea,” said Scott dryly. “Maybe we can teach him how to wrangle cattle. Murdoch would love another hand that he wouldn’t have to pay.”
“That’s a great idea,” Johnny beamed. Then his forehead wrinkled. “I think he’s a little heavy for Barranca to carry, though. I think we might have to use Blaze.”
Scott looked at his brother incredulously. “Murdoch’s horse?”
Johnny shrugged. “Why not? Murdoch doesn’t ride much anymore. And if poor Blaze can haul Murdoch around, he shouldn’t have any trouble at all with Morty.”
Scott shook his head. “Somehow, I just don’t think it would work.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t think we have a saddle big enough.” He looked at his brother hopefully. “Any other suggestions?”
“None that won’t get us killed.”
“Morty wouldn’t kill anybody!” Johnny protested indignantly.
“I was talking about Murdoch,” confessed Scott.
Johnny nodded glumly. “Yeah, you do have a point. We’ll just have ta make sure nobody sees Morty for a while.”
Scott shook his head. “Johnny, just how are we going to keep him a secret? Someone is bound to find out. He IS a little hard to miss.”
“Easy. No one goes up to that east line shack anymore. We’ll just keep him up there until we teach him some manners and teach him how to do something useful. Then Murdoch can’t send him away.”
“And what are we going to tell Murdoch why we’re up there all the time?”
Johnny shrugged. “You can come up with that. I can’t think of everything.”
Murdoch looked back and forth from Scott to Johnny. “And you want to go up to the line shack because you were both exposed to Bubonic Plague while you were at the circus,” he said in a disbelieving tone.
“Yes, sir,” Scott said hopefully.
Murdoch scowled and looked at Johnny. “Why don’t you go into town and have Sam check you out?”
“We wouldn’t want to expose him,” Scott hurriedly explained, before his brother had the chance to reply.
Murdoch’s scowl deepened. “But it’s ok to expose me?”
Johnny shifted uncomfortably. “Well, we figured you were already exposed before we knew about it.”
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. “And just how DID you find out about it?”
Johnny opened his mouth, then shut it with a snap. He looked at Scott hopefully. Scott opened his mouth, closed it again, then took the plunge. “We received a telegram.”
Murdoch’s eyebrows shot up. “And just when did this telegram arrive?”
Scott started to reply, then looked at Johnny. Johnny licked his lips worriedly. “About noon ?”
“Uh huh,” Murdoch said quietly as his glance went back and forth between his sons, and then finally came to rest on Scott. “And you’re sticking to that story?”
Scott stood the stare for several seconds, and then his face crumpled. “Actually, we’re going up to the cabin to teach a gorilla some table manners,” he confessed as Johnny looked at him incredulously.
Murdoch nodded. “Uh huh.” He tapped his fingers on the desk as he continued to study the two men. “All right,” he finally said. “You two go on up to the east line shack for a week or two. Just make sure that cabin is in perfect order when you leave. Unless you think you’ll be too sick to do any work?’ he growled.
“No, sir,” they replied in confusion.
“We’ll fix up that shack even if we have to drag ourselves along on our hands and knees,” Johnny said sincerely as Scott glared at him.
“Don’t overdo it,” Scott whispered.
Murdoch gave them one last glare, and then made shooing motions with his hand. “Go, get out of here. But I’d better not see you back here for at LEAST a week, is that understood? And make sure you teach that gorilla to us a napkin properly,” he said sarcastically.
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison, as they turned and walked quickly out of the house.
Murdoch watched their retreating backs, and shook his head. Bubonic plague. He thought his boys had a little more brains than that. They could have at least TRIED to come up with something believable. If he hadn’t been so eager to get rid of them, he certainly would have had their heads for that sarcastic answer about the gorilla. Of course, the bubonic plague story was about as believable as them teaching a gorilla table manners. He snorted. He wondered what the two of them were really up to. He just might have to ride up to the line shack and find out. In the meantime, he planned on having a peaceful, stress free week or two without the boys.
“I can’t believe you actually TOLD him what we were gonna do up at that cabin!” Johnny exclaimed as they walked around the back of the house toward the kitchen.
“I couldn’t help it,” Scott said. “The way he was looking at me, I HAD to tell him.”
Johnny shook his head. “And the bubonic plague? Couldn’t you have come up with something a LITTLE more believable? Like rabies?”
“I seem to be running out of good excuses lately,” Scott said dryly. “I HAVE had to come up with quite a few in the last several months.”
“I can’t believe Murdoch was dumb enough to buy your story and is actually going to let us go up to that cabin to teach Morty some manners.”
Scott looked at his brother incredulously. “I DON”T think he actually believed any of that story.”
Johnny looked at his brother cautiously. “You don’t?”
Scott rolled his eyes in exasperation. “No particular reason.”
“Then why do you think he told us to go?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“I have no idea, but I’m not complaining. Not if we can get out of wrangling cattle for a couple of week.”
Johnny nodded. “I guess. And we’ll have a couple of weeks to get Morty ready to meet Murdoch.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “I think it’ll take more than a couple of weeks.”
“Nah. I’ll have him eating out of my hand in a day or two.”
“I don’t doubt that. It’s using the napkin afterwards that I’m worried about.”
“You don’t really think Murdoch will make Morty use a napkin, do you? I mean, I still don’t have the hang of it yet,” Johnny said worriedly.
“Believe me, whether Morty uses a napkin or not will not affect Murdoch’s reaction to him in the least.”
“Good. You had me worried there for a minute.”
Scott rolled his eyes once more. “Johnny, what I’m trying to say is I don’t think Murdoch will let Morty stay even if you taught him to read the newspaper and smoke cigars.”
Johnny’s brow furrowed. “Of course he wouldn’t. I don’t think he’d let ME stay if I smoked his cigars and messed up his newspaper.”
“I mean…” Scott shook his head in resignation. “Never mind.”
“Anyway, we’ve got ta take some food up to him. He’s probably pretty hungry by now.”
“I’M pretty hungry now,” Scott complained. “That damn ape ate all of our food on the way home.”
Johnny yanked the door to the kitchen open and slipped inside. He picked up a gunny sack in the corner and began to sweep everything remotely edible into the sack.
“Teresa is going to kill you,” Scott observed.
“Us,” Johnny corrected. “She’s going to kill us. And I don’t aim ta starve ta death before I die.”
With a sigh, Scott grabbed another sack and went to work.
A few minutes later the boys crept out of the house and headed toward the barn. As they walked by Jelly’s room, Scott nudged his brother and pointed to the old man’s door. It was barricaded with pieces of lumber and old crates, and had a string of tin cans draped over the whole mess. Johnny reached over and gave one of the cans a tap. Immediately a gun barrel appeared through a small hole. Johnny grabbed the barrel and yanked.
“What the heck do you think you’re doin’, Jelly! You could kill somebody!”
First Jelly’s whiskers appeared, and then the rest of him slowly came into view. “I thought you was a Bigfoot,” he explained.
Johnny shook his head in confusion. “What does the size of my feet have ta do with anything?”
“Not big feet, big FOOT!”
“Jelly, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. I don’t know about you, but both my feet are the same size.”
Jelly’s face turned an alarming shade of red and he started hopping up and down. “I ain’t talkin’ about your feet!”
“You’re not?” Johnny asked in confusion.
“No! I’m takin’ about Bigfoot, Sasquatch!”
“Jelly” Johnny said threateningly. “I don’t particularly mind you sayin’ I have big feet, but I ain’t no sassy squash!”
“I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT A MONSTER!” Jelly screamed.
“What kind of a monster?” Scott intervened.
“A giant, hairy one with a wicked bad temper!” Jelly explained.
Johnny shook his head. “You should have just said you was after Murdoch. He DOES have big feet. But I don’t think he wants to be called a sassy squash, either.”
“I’m not takin’ about Murdoch!” Jelly yelled. “And I’m not after anything! I’m hiding from a monster!”
“Jelly, there are no such things as monsters,” Scott said patiently.
Jelly’s jaw jutted out. “That’s not what the injuns say. They say there’s a sure enough monster running around these parts. Some of ‘em call him Sasquatch, some of ‘em call him Bigfoot, and some of ‘em call him Mountain Man, but they ALL call him something.”
Scott smiled. “I’ve heard those stories, and believe me, Jelly, that’s all that they are, is stories.”
Johnny nodded. “I’ve heard ‘em too. And in all the time I’ve wandered all over these hills, I’ve never seen a trace of one.”
Jelly’s jaw stuck out further. “Don’t mean they aren’t out there, either. Just cause YOU haven’t seen one.”
“And I suppose you have,” Scott asked.
“Then why are you hiding?” Johnny asked.
“Clay saw one.”
Johnny snorted. “Clay sees a whole lot of things when he’s been drinking.”
“He wasn’t drinking. He was workin’. He said he was up by that old line shack on the East Ridge when he saw it. Said it was big and hairy and screamed real loud at him. Would of eaten’ him, too, if his horse was a little slower.”
“Jelly, I don’t know what he saw,” Johnny explained, “but it wasn’t a monster, I guarantee it.”
“You’re sure?” Jelly said hopefully.
“I’m sure. It was probably a coyote.”
“Clay knows a coyote when he sees it,” Jelly harrumphed.
Johnny shrugged. “Ok, so maybe it was a bear.”
Jelly though a moment. “Yeah, I guess it coulda been.” He reached over and grabbed the string of cans. “Guess I can take down this junk, huh?”
Johnny smirked. “Unless you’ve made Murdoch mad at you.”
Scott whispered to his brother, “Or unless Morty got out of that line shack.”
Johnny’s face went white and he slowly turned and looked at his brother. “He couldn’t get out…could he?”
Scott shrugged as he grabbed his brother’s arm and led him away from a suspicious Jelly. “Whether he did or didn’t, Jelly is the last person you want to know about Morty,” Scott whispered.
Johnny wrenched his arm away from his brother as soon as they were out of earshot. “Yeah, but what if he really did get away?” Johnny asked, close to panic.
Scott shrugged again. “We’ll have to ride up to the shack and see. Hopefully, Jelly really DID see a Sasquatch.”
Johnny looked at his brother dubiously. “You think it’s possible?”
Scott shrugged. “With Jelly, ANYTHING is possible. Now come on and let’s get out of here, before he notices we have the whole kitchen in these sacks.”
Johnny and Scott hurriedly saddled their horses and headed toward the east line shack. As soon as they were clear of any prying eyes, Johnny reined Barranca close to Charlie.
“How do you think we’re gonna catch him if he IS loose?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“You,” corrected his brother. “How are YOU going to catch him.”
“ME!” Johnny howled. “Why ME?”
“Because he’s your pet.”
“You wanted him, too!”
“I wanted him only because it was a choice between the gorilla and a bullet between the eyes, and even then it was a close decision. YOU are going to catch the gorilla. I will fix up the cabin!”
“There ain’t nothin’ ta fix! We fixed it all up and cleaned it so it was spotless last time we were up there!”
Scott shrugged. “Ok, then I’ll work on the stable and get that all ship –shape. In fact, I’ll even be in charge of the food, ok?”
Johnny glared at his brother for several seconds and then nodded glumly. “All right, but I better get more ta eat than beans. I have the feeling catching Morty is gonna be hard work.”
Scott pointed at the sacks tied onto the backs of the two horses. “Never fear, little brother, you’ll eat like a king. Besides, there’s always the chance that Morty didn’t get out.”
“And you’ll still do all the cleaning and cooking, right?”
Scott scowled. “Well, if he didn’t get out it doesn’t really seem fair…”
Johnny’s gun immediately appeared. “You wanna think real careful about what you’re gonna say, big brother.”
Scott glared at his brother for a moment, and then shrugged. “All right, it’s a deal I guess.”
Johnny smiled as he slipped his gun back into its holster. “Maybe this deal won’t be so bad after all. I mean, how hard can it be ta catch a four hundred pound gorilla?”
“About as hard as it is to catch a six ounce squirrel, a ten pound turkey, or a thousand pound camel,” smirked Scott.
Johnny bit his lip worriedly as he thought about what his brother had said. “Are you SURE you don’t want to split those chores?”
“Not a chance.”
“But we could…”
With a sigh, Johnny shook his head. “You sure are mule headed today.”
“No, I’ve just finally gotten smart.”
“You could still give me a hand. I AM your brother, after all.”
Scott reined Charlie to a halt and faced Johnny. “First, that is the ONLY reason I’m going with you up there. Secondly, I am NOT going to help you catch that ape. We made a deal, and I expect you to stick to it. Thirdly, I don’t want to hear one…more…word…about it, or I’ll go back home, understood?”
Sullenly, Johnny nodded his head. “Ok, but don’t expect me to go along with any more of your crazy plans.”
Scott nodded. “My plans are NOT crazy, but it’s a deal.”
An hour later, Scott and Johnny rode up to the line shack. Johnny gave another sigh as he looked at it. He and Scott had whitewashed it a month before and it was sparkling clean. They had cleared all the brush from around it and even put on a new roof. His brother sure had gotten the best part of the deal. With another sigh he dismounted and glanced up at Scott, who had a smug look on his face. Scott studied the shack for a moment, and then turned his attention to Johnny.
“It looks like it’s still in one piece. Maybe Morty IS still inside. Why don’t you go look?”
Johnny looked back at his brother suspiciously. “Why do you want me to look?”
Scott’s eyebrows lifted. “Because I remember exactly how Morty greets people.”
“It’s just his way of showing how much he likes people.”
“Getting squashed by one of his hugs I can take. It’s the kissing that I can do without.”
Johnny bit his lip worriedly. “Are you sure…”
With an exaggerated sigh, Johnny walked up to the door and knocked.
Scott looked at him incredulously. “Are you expecting him to answer it?”
“No, but he’ll probably make a noise, and then I’ll know where he is before I go in.” He put his ear to the door for a moment, and then shrugged. “Nothing.”
He knocked again and listened intently. The third time he knocked, Scott swung down from his horse.
“Let me listen!” he ordered impatiently.
Johnny stepped back as Scott put his head next to the door and knocked loudly. The next second, Scott was on his back with the door on top of him, and Morty on top of the door.
“Get…him…off..,” Scott panted.
“Just a minute, I don’t want to scare him,” Johnny explained.
Scott reached down and managed to grab his gun from its holster. He pointed it at the sky and pulled the trigger. Immediately, Morty took off, using Scott’s head as a launching pad. Scott lay there a few minutes, and then with a grunt, he heaved the door off of him and pulled himself to his feet. He tried desperately to catch his breath as he watched Johnny climb back on Barranca.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Johnny shrugged. “After Morty.” He glared accusingly at Scott. “You scared him half to death. He’s probably in the next county by now.”
Scott closed his eyes. “All right, if you want me to, I’ll help you catch him, since it is sort of my fault he took off.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. “No what?”
“No, you don’t have to help me. We DID have a deal, after all.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “WHY don’t you want me to help you?”
Johnny shrugged. “No reason, just…”
“Well, Morty HAS been in that shack with a lot of food for quite a while, and well, …do you remember what happened when you put that squirrel in your saddlebag?” Johnny didn’t wait for his brother’s reaction as he spun Barranca around and headed down the trail.
Scott swallowed convulsively as he watched his brother’s retreating back. He couldn’t quite believe what he had heard. The squirrel that had pooped all over the inside of his saddlebag had been bad enough. But a gorilla… He couldn’t even imagine. He shuddered involuntarily and then finally he slowly turned and looked inside the cabin. He couldn’t quite make out the interior, and wasn’t really sure he wanted to. He stared for a moment and then cautiously took a step forward. It was pretty dark in the cabin, but he didn’t see anything amiss. Maybe Johnny had been pulling his leg. He relaxed slightly and took a deep breath in relief as he stepped forward once more. His eyes widened dramatically as a nauseating odor reached his nostrils and he frantically covered his nose with his hands as he plunged backwards, away from the cabin.
Johnny rode quickly down the trail, chuckling to himself as he imagined his fastidious brother facing the mess inside the cabin. He knew HE would burn down the cabin rather than clean that smelly disaster. Johnny just hoped Scott had a better work ethic than he did. Murdoch would probably be a little upset if they burned down the line shack instead of cleaning it.
Nope, his brother would just have to suck it up and get that cabin back in shape. Thank goodness Scott had insisted on that deal, or Johnny would be helping him clean up that mess instead of going after Morty. He frowned slightly as he realized he still wasn’t out of the woods. He had to find, and somehow capture, that gorilla before Murdoch got wind of it and they got into trouble. Just how to go about capturing it by himself was the question.
After thinking about it for a while, Johnny turned his horse toward the ranch. Morty had eaten all of their food on the way home, and apparently eating was his favorite pastime. All he had to do was bait some traps with Morty’s favorite snacks, and the gorilla would be his. It would be easy.
Teresa came around the corner of the house. She was planning on making a nice salad to go with dinner and she knew she had plenty of vegetables to choose from in her garden. She had worked hard on it all spring and she was proud of the abundance it had produced. She knew that she should be able to win at least a few ribbons this year at the fair, both for her fresh vegetables and with her canned ones. As she daydreamed about winning every blue ribbon, her garden came in sight. She stopped dead and her eyes widened.
Murdoch scowled at the young man standing in front of him. “So you forgot to take food up to the cabin.”
Johnny nodded. “Yep.”
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. If there was one thing his younger son never forgot, it was food. “And you came all the way back here to get some.”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, I had ta get the food somewhere. And I didn’t think you’d want me ta go into town and buy it.”
“No, no, I wouldn’t want you to do that.”
“So I came here.”
“And you decided to wipe out Teresa’s ENTIRE vegetable garden?”
“I was hungry?” Johnny explained hopefully.
“You don’t even LIKE vegetables!” Murdoch roared.
“I wasn’t getting them for me,” Johnny hurriedly backtracked. “I mean, I was hungry, and that made me take more, but I was getting them for something…someone else,” Johnny babbled.
“Never mind. If you needed food that badly, why couldn’t you just shoot a deer or something up at the cabin?”
Johnny’s brow wrinkled for a moment. “I don’t think he likes meat.”
“WHO doesn’t like meat?” Murdoch thundered.
“Scott?” Johnny ventured.
Murdoch’s eyes opened wide. “SCOTT doesn’t like meat?”
Johnny realized his mistake. “Um, no. I guess that the rabies has somethin’ ta do with that,” he explained hopefully.
“Your brother has rabies?”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. I mean he’s sure not actin’ right.”
“Maybe you have it, too,” Murdoch observed.
“No, I don’t think so,” Johnny said. “I’m fine.”
Johnny shook his head. “It’s Scott that has rabies,” he clarified.
Murdoch asked incredulously. “And you’re not worried about him?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nah. Scott’s tough. He’ll be ok.”
“He’s really sick?”
Johnny shrugged as he thought about what his brother was doing about now. “Yep, probably pretty sick.”
“And you’re not worried?” Murdoch reiterated.
“Uh huh. So you left him when he was sick to come down here and wipe us out of food.”
Johnny wrung his hat in his hands. “I didn’t want him ta starve ta death if he had rabies.”
“What about you?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny cast his eyes downward. “As long as Scott can eat, I don’t mind goin’ hungry.”
“I mean,” Murdoch explained. “How do YOU feel?”
“Ok,” Johnny said cautiously.
“No sudden craving for vegetables?”
Johnny shuddered. “Nope.”
“Well, then I guess you’re right, you don’t have rabies.”
Johnny’s eyes opened. “You mean that’s really a symptom?”
Johnny shuddered again. “Hope I never get it.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Murdoch glared at his son for another moment and then motioned toward the huge bag Johnny had next to him.
“And that’s all you’ll need? You don’t want any other supplies?”
“Nope. This should do it.”
With a sigh Murdoch sat back in his chair. “All right, go on. I’ll calm Teresa down somehow and convince her not to shoot you. But to be on the safe side, I don’t want you back here in a couple of days, asking for more food, understood?”
“And make sure Scott eats all of those vegetables.”
“And make SURE that cabin is spotless!”
Johnny hesitated a moment and then nodded. Murdoch hadn’t said anything about the cabin smelling good. “Ok.”
“Now get out of here.”
Johnny grabbed the bag, slung it over his shoulders and bolted from the house.
Murdoch shook his head slowly. He just had to ride up to that shack and see what the heck was going on. He was afraid his sons were crazy.
Johnny spurred Barranca out of the courtyard, the huge sack of vegetables tied precariously behind the saddle. As soon as he was safely under the arch, however, he pulled the horse down to a sedate walk. As badly as he wanted to get away from Murdoch’s questions, he certainly was in no hurry to get back to that cabin. He figured the longer Scott had to work on it, the better. Besides, if Scott were tired enough, he wouldn’t put much energy in plotting revenge. Johnny shivered as he imagined his brother trying to clean up that mess.
As he rode along, he thought back on the conversation between himself and Murdoch. He had a sinking feeling that maybe he had messed up, but he couldn’t figure out how. After all, he had stuck to Scott’s stupid story of being sick, and he thought that he had talked his way out of the slight error about Scott not liking meat. Johnny shrugged. It didn’t matter. Even if Murdoch wasn’t completely convinced, there was no way the old man was going to ride all the way up to that cabin and check things out. No, they were perfectly safe as long he didn’t have to go back to the hacienda for a while.
Several hours later, Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt in front of the cabin. So far, so good. At least it was still standing, and Scott was evidently inside. He took a few cautious sniffs, but couldn’t smell anything unusual, just the smoke coming out of the chimney. That had to be a good sign. In fact, it just might mean dinner was ready. He sat there in indecision for a minute or two more, but his growling stomach settled the matter and he slowly swung down. He untied the food bag from his saddle and set it down, then led Barranca up to the hitching rail.
He tied Barranca up, then dragged the bag of food onto the porch. “Scott!”
He took another cautious whiff, and then stepped toward the door. “Scott!”
Scott opened the door and quizzically looked at his brother. “What are you hollering about?”
Johnny studied his brother. “Just wanted to make sure you were ok.”
“Well, anyway, I’m back,” Johnny explained lamely.
“I can see that. Did you catch him?”
Johnny shook his head. “Not yet. I had ta get some ammunition first.”
“You’re going to shoot him?” Scott asked in surprise.
“Nah, I mean I had ta get somethin’ ta bait the traps with.” He pointed at the sack.
Scott shook his head. “Well, dinner’s ready. You can bait the traps later.”
Johnny watched his brother carefully. “Aren’t you mad that you had ta clean up that cabin?” he finally asked.
Scott shrugged as he turned and walked toward the stove. “Well, I was at first, but it really wasn’t too bad. The odor went away in about an hour, and most of the mess was on that old rug. I threw that away.”
Johnny nodded in relief and stepped inside the shack. As he stepped over the threshold, he saw a simmering pot on the stove and took a deep whiff. Immediately he gagged and ran back outside.
Scott came to the door once more and watched as his brother coughed and retched. “What’s wrong with you?”
After several minutes, Johnny finally looked up. “I thought you said you got rid of that smell!” he accused.
Scott took a big whiff. “I did.”
“No you didn’t!” his brother insisted.
“Johnny, I have been working in the cabin all day. Don’t tell me the smell is still here!”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve been in there all day? And you haven’t left the cabin?”
Scott shook his head. “Not since the first half hour or so. Why?”
Johnny closed his eyes. “Remember brandin’ time?”
“What does THAT have to do with anything?”
“Remember when Teresa rode out and just about got sick smellin’ all that singed hair and stuff?”
“And you and me couldn’t figure out what she was talkin’ about?” Johnny continued implacably.
Scott’s forehead furrowed. “We couldn’t smell it because we had been around it all day.”
Scott looked back inside the cabin. “No way. I would be able to smell THAT no matter what.”
“Take a whiff,” Johnny suggested.
Scott cautiously took a small sniff. “I still can’t smell anything unusual.”
“Then come out here for a few minutes.”
With a sigh, Scott stepped out onto the porch and nodded at the sack on the ground. “So what’s in the bag?”
“My ammunition,” Johnny smirked. “Old Morty won’t be able to resist all of those prize vegetables of Teresa’s.”
Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “And she let you have them?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, sort of,” Johnny admitted. “At least she didn’t shoot me.”
“What about our father?”
“She didn’t shoot him, either.”
“I MEAN, what did they have to say about you stealing all of Teresa’s vegetables?”
“Not much. Actually, Murdoch was probably glad ta get rid of them. I don’t think the Old Man likes vegetables any more than I do.”
“So they just let you have them?”
“Well, sort of. I did have to go over the story of you being sick again, though.”
“You were supposed to be sick, too, remember?”
“How was I supposed to be sick if I was at the ranch getting’ vegetables?”
Scott shook his head in resignation. “By the way, it appears Clay DID see Morty after all. The back door of the cabin was wide open when I went in.”
Johnny’s brow furrowed. “Then why did he poop inside?”
“Just to annoy us, probably. Anyway, how are you going to catch him, assuming you still want him?”
“Of course I want him! I’ll just make some snares and bait each one with some food. When he goes for it, he’ll find himself hanging by his feet.”
Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “And just how are you planning on getting him down, assuming you DO catch him?”
Johnny looked uneasy. “Well… we’ll just…”
“YOU. You will just…” Scott clarified.
“All right,” Johnny scowled. “I’ll get him down, don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried in the least,” Scott smiled.
“Why don’t you go stick your head back in the cabin,” Johnny suggested.
Scott shrugged, and then looked back at the cabin. “Well, here goes,” he said.
A moment latter, he had joined his brother. He took several huge breaths before trying to speak. “I can’t believe I couldn’t smell that!”
“Neither can I,” agreed Johnny. “But the important thing is what about our dinner?”
“What about it?”
“It’s still in the cabin!” Johnny exclaimed worriedly.
“Is food ALL you ever think about?”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Except for girls, yeah.”
Scott rolled his eyes. “If food is so important to you, YOU go in and get it!”
“Why me?” Johnny protested.
“Because I happen to like vegetables,” Scott smirked as he walked toward the bag of food.
“Don’t touch that sack!”
Scott turned around and saw Johnny Madrid pointing a gun at him. He hesitated a moment, and then scowled at his brother. “Do you REALLY want either of our tombstones to read ‘He died for a tomato?’”
After a moment Johnny reluctantly slipped his gun back into its holster. “Aw, come on, Scott. I need that stuff ta catch Morty.”
“Then I would suggest you go in the cabin and get our food. Now! Before I remember how hungry I am and eat all your prize vegetables.”
With a sigh, Johnny turned toward the cabin. He stared at it for a minute, then took a deep breath and made a mad dash for the door. Ten seconds later, he was back beside his brother, beaming triumphantly as he placed the pot on a nearby stump.
“What about the biscuits?” Scott asked.
“Don’t push your luck.”
“What do we drink?”
“I have a canteen.”
“And the dishes?”
“We can eat outta the pot.”
“And the silverware?”
“We can use our fingers.”
“It’s soup,” Scott explained.
“So we drink it,” Johnny ordered. He grabbed the pot and brought it up to his face.
“What kind is it?” he asked as he took a deep whiff.
The next second, the soup was flying through the air.
“What did you do that for?” Scott asked angrily.
“I ain’t eatin’ no monkey-poop soup!”
“There was NO monkey poop in that soup!” Scott protested.
“Maybe not, but the smell sure as hell was!”
“I thought it was fine when I tasted it!” Scott protested.
“You THOUGHT it smelled o.k. in that cabin, too!”
“That wasn’t my fault!”
“Well it sure as hell wasn’t mine!”
Johnny glared at his brother for several seconds, then shrugged. “I guess we can eat somethin’ else.”
“Like the vegetables?” Scott asked innocently.
“Vegetables are NOT food.”
“Yes, they are.”
“No way. Besides, we brought plenty of real food up here,” Johnny countered. “We’ll just cook some over a campfire.”
“You’re right. We did bring plenty of food,” Scott agreed. “BUT IT’S ALL IN THE CABIN!”
Johnny froze and his eyes widened. “What the hell did ya go and do that for?” Johnny exploded.
“To keep it safe, like we always do.”
“It’s safe, alright. Even a skunk wouldn’t touch it now. So what the heck are we gonna eat?”
“Why don’t we just go hunting?”
Johnny shook his head in exasperation. “Don’t you remember what happened when Morty got loose? They told us at the circus he was deathly afraid of gunfire. After what you did, if he hears one shot, he’ll probably be in the next state.”
“He’s not in the next state now, and maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if he were,” Scott said icily. “Why don’t we quit while we’re ahead.”
“You call this bein’ ahead? Murdoch will kill us when he smells that cabin, and we’re about ta starve ta death!”
“There’s always the vegetables,” Scott suggested.
“Johnny, they’re not that bad.”
“If it’s the difference between you starving…”
Scott shrugged and headed for the sack. “Well, I’M going to eat. You do what you want.”
He reached down and opened the sack. Just as he peered in, he was tackled and sent flying. Angrily, he picked himself out of the dirt and launched himself at his attacker. Too late, he realized that it had been Morty who had rammed into him, not Johnny.
“Way ta go,” Johnny yelled as Morty slammed Scott to the ground once more. “Just keep him occupied while I get a rope!”
Scott staggered to his feet. “How do you expect me to…” as he went flying through the air again.
Scott landed next to a wood pile and he tried desperately to pull air into his lungs as Morty approached. “Hurry…up…with…that…rope…” he panted.
“I’m tryin’,” Johnny groused as he tried to make his horse stand still. “But Barranca ain’t cooperatin’.”
Scott watched warily as the gorilla came closer. “Johnny!”
Morty reached over and grabbed Scott around the neck, then puckered his lips for a kiss.
“JOHNNY!” Scott shrieked. “HELP!”
“I said I’m comin’. Hold your horses!” He looked at his brother and smirked. “Or your gorilla, as the case may be.”
Johnny finally got the rope untied from the saddle, and calmly shook it out as he approached the gorilla, who was busily kissing Scott. Johnny watched for a moment, then quipped, “I guess I’d better tell Mary you got somebody else, next time we’re in town.”
“MMMM GGNNN KLLLL MMMOO.”
Johnny correctly interpreted his brother’s threat. “Well ya don’t have ta get huffy,” he said as he tossed the rope. Johnny grinned as it settled around Morty’s shoulders. “See, I told ya I’d take care of it,” he said brightly.
“SNB TTTT!” Scott mumbled.
“I don’t understand…”
The next second Johnny went flying as the gorilla gave a huge yank on the rope. Johnny crashed into the ground, then dizzily sat up, shaking his head to try to clear it. Meanwhile, Scott had leaped to his feet in an effort to avoid the ape.
“I Y TTLDDD YYYYYTTT SNNNNB TTTT” Scott repeated as he frantically wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
Johnny shook his head. “Either I hit my head harder than I thought, or you’re speaking a foreign language.”
“I TOLD YOU TO SNUB IT!” Scott clarified as he stood over his brother and continued wiping his mouth.
“Oh. Why didn’t ya say so in the first place? Anyway, it’s a little late now,” Johnny said sarcastically. “If you hadn’t a been so busy kissin’ Morty, maybe I coulda understood you.”
“I wasn’t kissing him, he was kissing me, and unless you want your headstone to read something MUCH worse than that you were killed by a vegetable, you WON’T say anything more about it,” Scott ground out.
A loud grunting turned their attention to the ape. Both men watched Morty casually pick up the overturned pot of soup and smell it carefully. After a long sniff, he flung it across the yard and walked over to the sack of vegetables. After a brief inspection, he picked it up and sauntered out of the yard.
“I told ya those vegetables would bring him in,” Johnny said triumphantly.
“Well, NOW what?” Scott exclaimed. “That damn monkey just stole all of our food!”
“And I keep tellin’ ya that WASN’T food!”
“Well, whatever it was, we don’t have it anymore.”
“No big loss.”
“And tell me again, WHAT are we going to eat?” Scott demanded.
Johnny looked worried. “It looks like you’d better go on down to the ranch and get some more supplies.”
“And WHY, little brother, should I be the one going?”
Johnny shrugged. “Ok, I’ll go. YOU can set those traps.”
“Oh, no. That was YOUR job, remember?”
Johnny shrugged once more. “That’s your call, but I can’t do both.”
Scott quickly debated with himself as to which he’d rather do. He studied his brother’s face, but Johnny was all innocence. His brother HAD been a little too quick to say he’d go to the ranch, however.
“Never mind, I’ll set the traps.”
Johnny grinned. “Whatever makes you happy, brother.”
“WAIT! I changed my mind. YOU set the traps and I’ll go to the ranch.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Great. Just make sure you get more food ta bait those traps with.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “Are you SURE Murdoch wasn’t mad about those vegetables?”
“What does THAT mean?
“It means I’ve seen him a lot madder.”
“So he WAS mad! YOU go back to the ranch. I’ll fix the traps.”
Johnny shook his head. “Whatever. Just make up your mind before we starve ta death.”
Scott studied his brother for a moment, and then nodded decisively. “I’ll set the traps.”
“Ok. And try ta figure out how ta get rid of that smell while you’re at it.” Johnny looked up at the sun. “It’s gettin’ late. I’ll probably stay at the hacienda overnight and start back first thing in the morning.”
“And just where am I supposed to sleep?” Scott demanded.
“In the cabin…”
“Or in the lean-to…”
“It leaks and smells both.”
“Or in the yard…”
“And risk getting kissed by that beast? No. I’LL go to the ranch! You can sleep here
“Are you sure?”
“YES!” Scott marched to the lean-to and quickly saddled Charlie, then headed the sorrel out of the yard.
“Don’t forget the food!” Johnny ordered.
Murdoch stood glaring at the young man standing before his desk.
“That fruit from those trees was the last thing Teresa had left to enter in the County Fair competition. Now tell me once more EXACTLY why you stripped them bare?”
“We were hungry?”
“And what happened to all of the food that Johnny took with him?”
“We ate it?”
“Johnny? Ate all of those vegetables?”
“He was sick.”
“Obviously.” Murdoch frowned and took a quick sniff of the air, then went back to his conversation. “What about you? Are you feeling all right now?”
Scott nodded his head. “I’m fine. Evidently I wasn’t exposed to the Bubonic plague after all.”
Murdoch’s eyebrows went up. “I thought you had rabies.”
Scott thought furiously. “I thought I said…I mean I thought I had…I mean I had bubonic plague, not rabies.”
“Not according to Johnny.”
“Johnny said I had rabies?”
Murdoch nodded, then took several large whiffs of the air in front of him.
“I think he was confused,” Scott explained.
“Well, anyway, I’m fine now,” Scott babbled.
“That’s debatable.” Murdoch stood up and leaned forward, sniffing as he came closer to Scott. He frowned, then sat back down. “No bubonic plague, no rabies? No measles, no mumps, no pain in your little toe?”
Scott shook his head.
“What about your brother? You said he was sick.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, now.”
“Again, that’s debatable.”
Murdoch took one last tentative sniff, then decided he really didn’t want to know. “All right, take that stuff and get out of here before Teresa commits mayhem, although I know EXACTLY how she feels.”
Scott scooped up the bag and hurried out of the house. He was going to kill his little brother when he saw him. He couldn’t believe he had been so stupid as to tell Murdoch he had rabies. No one in their right mind would believe that.
He hurried out to the barn, where he had left Charlie. As he passed Jelly’s room, he heard the handyman muttering to himself. He cautiously poked his head through the door, and was startled to see numerous rifles laid out on the old man’s bed.
“Jelly! What are you doing? It looks like you’re going to start a war!”
Jelly continued cleaning the rifle he was working on. “Nope, just takin’ precautions.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up. “Against whom?”
“Not whom. What.”
“All right, against what?”
Jelly looked up at Scott, his jaw jutting out belligerently. “Against that monster that you said didn’t exist.”
“Jelly, I told you before, there’s no such thing as monsters.”
“Well, there’s SOMETHIN’out there all right. My rheumitiz is botherin’ me, and all the stock is actin’ real jittery. Plus, Mike swears he saw it, strollin’ across one of the pastures just like he owned it. Damn near started a stampede when he did it, too.”
Scott sighed heavily. “Jelly, believe me, it’s not a monster.”
“Then what is it, Mr. Smarty-pants? “Cause it sure ain’t no coyote.”
Scott debated with himself for a second, and then realized that their secret was bound to come out anyway, once Johnny had managed to catch the beast.
Scott shook his head resignedly. “Jelly, it’s not a coyote, and it’s not a Bigfoot. It’s a gorilla.”
“A gorilla. An ape. MONKEY.”
“Don’t you be callin’ me names.”
“I’m not calling you anything. I’m trying to explain what you’re seeing. It’s a big monkey.”
Jelly nodded in agreement. “Yep, that’s what Clay and Mike both said it looked like. Only it was about nine feet tall, and had big long fangs! And I ain’t waitin’ for it ta come kill us all. I aim ta get it first.”
“Jelly, I’m trying to tell you, it’s not dangerous.”
“And just how would you know?”
“Because,” Scott sighed again. “Because Johnny and I brought it back from the circus when we took Agnes back.”
Jelly’s eyes widened. “You brought a monster back on purpose? Murdoch’s gonna kill you!”
“It’s not a monster, and yes, Murdoch is probably going to kill us. IF he finds out. So you can’t say ANYTHING to ANYONE, understand?”
“Are you SURE it ain’t dangerous?”
Jelly scowled at him. “Maybe we ain’t talkin’ about the same thing. This thing’s great big.”
Scott shrugged. “Well, it’s not nine feet tall, but it is a pretty good size.”
“And it has big long fangs…”
“It doesn’t have fangs, but Mike always did like to exaggerate.”
“I don’t think it’s the same at all. Mike said it smelled enough to make your eyes water, even fifty feet away.”
“That’s it!” Scott exclaimed triumphantly. “It’s our gorilla, guaranteed.”
Jelly took a tentative sniff in Scott’s direction. “Maybe it was you they were talkin’ about. You don’t smell like no bed of roses yourself!”
Scott lowered his head and took and took a few whiffs. “What are you talking about? I smell just fine!” he exclaimed indignantly.
Jelly’s eyebrows went up. “Well, if you smell fine, then I guess I don’t have ta take any more baths.”
“Do you take any anyway?”
Jelly’s jaw jutted out. “Now that’s beside the point. I don’t want you or your brother sayin’ anything more about me takin’ no baths. I’ve been tellin’ you for years that soakin’ a body in water like that just ain’t natural. I took a bath once, and that’s why my rheumatiz is so bad. I shudder ta think what it would be like if I took another one. Besides, if we was meant ta get wet, we woulda had fins. And since we don’t, getting wet like that is bound ta do ya in sooner or later.”
“Well then, you should live a long, long life,” Scott said dryly.
“I aim to. And you and Johnny are gonna die young.”
Scott scowled at the handyman as he thought of all the trouble Johnny had caused with his animals, and what Murdoch was going to do when he found out about Morty. “Well I don’t know about me, but my brother is definitely living on borrowed time!”
Jelly beamed triumphantly. “I see ya finally started ta agree with me. See, when ya stopped takin’ them baths ya started thinkin’ straight.”
Scott opened his mouth, then slammed it shut. He could be here all day and never win an argument with Jelly. “Well, anyway, don’t go shooting that gorilla, understood? He’s not going to hurt anyone.”
“You SURE somethin’ that big is harmless?”
Jelly looked at the sack of food sitting beside Scott. “Is that why you and Johnny took all of Teresa’s food? For that monkey?”
Scott sighed. “Sort of. We’re trying to catch him.”
“I…really…don’t…know. You’ll have to ask my beloved brother that question.”
“He ain’t here.”
“Obviously. HE’S back at the line shack, laughing to himself because he tricked me into facing Murdoch.”
“I thought you was the smart one.”
“I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Well, anyway, if that monkey is so all fired friendly, why don’t ya just walk up ta him and grab him?”
“Because,” Scott said in exasperation. “He’s also VERY strong and doesn’t particularly like to be grabbed.”
“I wouldn’t want to be grabbed by somethin’ smellin’ like you, either,” Jelly cackled.
“I DON’T smell! I was just in the house with Murdoch, and he didn’t notice anything!”
“Maybe he just didn’t want ta say,” Jelly snorted.
Scott opened his mouth, then a vision of Murdoch cautiously leaning forward and sniffing swam into view. Scott closed his eyes in defeat. “I MAY smell a little, but it’s just because that monster grabbed me!”
Jelly’s eyes got big. “I thought you said he weren’t no monster!”
“It’s just a figure of speech!”
Jelly shook his head in confusion. “I thought you said he didn’t want ta get caught. If he’s so hard ta catch, why did he grab YOU?”
“He didn’t want to get caught, he just wanted to…to… Never mind!” Scott was NEVER going to admit being kissed by that ape, especially to Jelly.
“You SURE he didn’t grab ya ta eat you?”
“If he was trying to eat me, do you think I’d be here?” Scott asked sarcastically.
Jelly studied Scott a moment. “Nah, I guess ya got a point. With those fangs of his, he’d a done you in, sure.” He nodded toward the sack lying next to Scott. “So you aim ta trap him with them apples?”
Scott nodded wearily. “More or less.”
“You sure a big side a beef wouldn’t catch him faster?”
“No, I TOLD you he’s a vegetarian.”
“I thought you said he was a goriller.”
“A GORILLA, and he’s also a vegetarian.”
“Ain’t that somethin’ like sayin’ he’s a horse AND a cow?”
Scott sighed deeply. He was beginning to get a headache. “It means he eats only plants.”
Jelly’s brow furrowed. “Any kind a plants?”
Scott rolled his eyes. “No just edible ones.”
“What kind a plants are those? Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen an edible plant.”
“Jelly, it’s NOT a name of a plant, it MEANS a plant that’s able to be eaten!”
“By who? I mean my idea of what’s ok ta eat sure ain’t the same as a cow’s.”
Scott’s headache was getting worse. “It means it’s ok for HUMANS to eat.”
“I though you said it was a monkey.”
Scott glared at the handyman, not wanting to answer, but when he saw Jelly’s jaw starting to come out, he figured he’d better. “They eat almost the same things as we do,” Scott ground out.
“Obviously not the same as Johnny!”
“No! But right now I’m not sure I would call Johnny a human.”
Jelly nodded. “I can’t argue with that. So monkeys eat the same thing as the rest of us.”
“More or less.”
Scott nodded wearily. “Except meat. And he’d probably eat certain plants we wouldn’t eat, like some flowers. He’d also probably eat grain products. But NO meat.”
Jelly chuckled. “Johnny sure ain’t a vegetablarian, is he?”
“No, definitely not.”
Jelly thought for a minute. “So why do you want ta catch that monkey? There a reward out for him or something?”
Scott gave up. “Something like that.”
Jelly nodded knowingly “Just like that Easter Bunny.”
“Jelly, I’ve got to go. Just remember, DON’T say anything to anyone, and DON’T shoot it!”
“OK. You can count on me.”
“I’m sure I can,” Scott said dryly.
Jelly watched as Scott rode away, and then he frowned. “Those boys aim ta keep that reward all to themselves. Well, maybe I’ll just go on my own hunt.” He weren’t no dummy. He could come up with his own plan to catch that beast. The only problem was, Johnny and Scott had pretty well wiped out all the eatable or ateable or whatever it was plants on the whole place. He thought for a while about what Scott had said, and then he grinned. Maybe not. He had a plan.
Scott rode away from the hacienda, cursing softly to himself. He was wondering, not for the first time, if everyone on this whole ranch was crazy. It might be something in the water that was causing it, but whatever it was, it seemed to be getting worse. He glanced down at the sack of fruit he had plucked from the trees and shook his head. He wondered if Murdoch had believed anything that he had told him, and with a sigh, decided he probably hadn’t. Scott shuddered. Of course, his father had probably been too busy wondering what that awful smell was to think about what he was actually saying. What REALLY upset him was after the way his father had looked at him, he probably thought Scott was crazy rather than everyone else. He reached down and tried to shift the sack. He had only gone a mile and his leg was already sore from those damn apples bouncing against his leg.
All he knew was that he was going to KILL Johnny when he got back to the cabin.
By the time he had gone a few miles, he was ready to dump the apples in the nearest ditch. Every time Charlie broke into a gait faster than a walk, the bag swung back and forth until his leg felt like it was one big bruise from ankle to hip, and his thoughts of murder were getting worse. For his brother’s sake, he hoped that the cabin smelled like Teresa’s flower garden and the traps were all set, or Johnny was going to die a long, painful death.
An hour later, Scott breathed a sigh of relief as he topped a rise and saw the cabin far below. After a moment’s thought, he painfully stepped down from his horse. His leg just couldn’t take one more bump. He grabbed Charlie’s reins and started toward the line shack, cursing his brother with every step. A few minutes later, he glanced over to his left and came to a sudden halt. He stood staring for a moment, and then shook his head in disbelief. If that was the best Johnny could do, they’d NEVER catch Morty. A big loop of rope was spread out on the ground in plain sight, with plenty of room to get around it on all sides. He snorted and went on, but soon came to another snare laid out on the ground, with no attempt to hide it. He couldn’t believe Johnny would actually think those traps would work. Morty wasn’t exactly dumb, and would certainly just walk around them.
As he walked, the traps became more numerous, and he finally came to one that was right in the middle of the path he was on. He rolled his eyes and laughed at his brother’s incompetence as he stepped to the right, easily avoiding the snare. A second later, he was jerked off of his feet and went sailing, upside down, toward the sky. As he flew by Charlie, he desperately grabbed at the saddle, hoping to stop his ascent, and managed to snag the sack of apples. He hung on gamely and tried to soothe the startled horse, which was getting ready to bolt. He had just managed to calm him somewhat when the bag began to tear. A moment later, the bag ripped in two, and Scott shot upwards, along with most of the apples. A moment after THAT, the fruit began to rain down on the hapless man as he swung by his ankles.
When his heart finally stopped racing and the swinging had more or less stopped, he took a deep breath and assessed the situation. His arms couldn’t reach the ground so the only alterative was to try and undo the rope. He swung back and forth trying to reach the knot, and finally managed to snag it, but it was too tight to undo and he reluctantly gave up. He yelled for his brother, but knew he was still too far from the cabin to be heard. Finally, he called Charlie, hoping the horse hadn’t run far. A knife was in his saddlebags, and if he could just get that, he could cut himself loose and go kill his brother. He yelled until he was hoarse, and finally Charlie sauntered into view.
“Good boy, Charlie, come here!”
The horse approached slowly, and then suddenly dipped his head as he smelled the apples on the ground. He grabbed one, and calmly started chewing.
“Come on, boy, over here!”
The horse’s head came up, and he took another step, but was soon distracted by another apple.
The horse nodded his head, and then grabbed another apple.
“CHARLIE! RIGHT NOW!”
The horse looked at him serenely, pieces of apple falling from his mouth. Charlie considered his master for a moment, then seemed to make his decision and he dropped his head once more.
Scott looked around at the hundreds of apples scattered around and cursed. By the time Charlie worked his way close enough to be grabbed, either he would be dead of starvation, or his horse would be dead of colic. He managed to grab his gun out of its holster, and after momentarily considering shooting his horse, instead emptied it at the sky. Johnny would HAVE to hear the shots. As he relaxed as best he could in his upside down position, he realized belatedly that he should have kept one bullet back for his beloved brother.
Ten minutes later, he heard Johnny crashing through the bushes behind his back.
“It’s about time you got here, little brother! Now CUT ME DOWN!”
“I SAID CUT ME DOWN!!!”
Two jaws munching apples.
“If you don’t stop eating and cut me down, I’m going to shoot you!”
“What the hell are you doing? You don’t even LIKE apples!” With a great effort, Scott swung furiously around and came face to face with Morty.
With a scream, Scott tried to turn back around, but before he could, Morty grabbed him and gave him a huge apple filled kiss on the lips.
Scott watched Morty warily. The stupid ape and his stupid horse seemed to be getting along famously. They were both contentedly munching apples. The only difference between the two was that Charlie didn’t give him kisses every two minutes. Worse yet, Morty had apparently decided that Scott must be starving to death, so he kept sharing his apples with him. Protesting did no good; Morty simply pried Scott’s mouth open and shoved the apple in, then kept his hand over his mouth until Scott finally choked the apple down. If he survived this catastrophe, he never wanted to eat another apple again. He wondered where his stupid brother was. He’d better get here pretty soon or Scott was going to kill him with his bare hands.
Johnny heard the gunshots and grumbled to himself. That had better not have been his stupid brother. If Morty had heard those shots, he was probably long gone, and he wasn’t about to move all of the snares he had set. Except for the time he had spent getting rid of Morty’s smell in the cabin, he had spent all day working on those traps. If Scott had scared Morty away, he was a dead man. He set a few more snares, but his mind wasn’t on his work. The longer he thought about it, the madder he got. He had worked hard all day, and Scott simply had to ride to the ranch and pick up a few supplies. His brother was probably feeling pretty smug that he had tricked Johnny into staying here. Angrily, he turned Barranca toward where the shots had come from. If it WERE Scott that had fired them, it just might be the last thing he did.
After a half an hour, Barranca whinnied, and Charlie answered. Johnny headed toward the sound, and a few minutes later, he approached one of the first of his traps. He pulled Barranca to a sudden halt and his mouth dropped open as he stared in disbelief. A moment later, he started to laugh.
Johnny held his stomach and roared with laughter. A moment later, he sat down, still holding his stomach and laughing hysterically. He looked back at the apparition in front of him, and burst into a fresh round of laughter.
Johnny tried to struggle to his feet, but it was no use. His legs collapsed and he fell to the ground once more, overcome with laughter.
Wiping the tears from his eyes. Johnny finally struggled to his feet and approached his brother. As he got closer, Scott took a swipe at him and Johnny stepped back.
“You’d better be nice, brother, or I just might leave you there.”
Scott glared at Johnny and took another swipe at him. Johnny shrugged.
“Your choice,” he said calmly as he turned away.
Johnny turned back around, and with much effort stifled another spate of laughter. “What’s that you’re saying? I can’t quite understand you.”
Johnny shook his head, chuckling. “I still don’t understand. Why don’t you just pull that huge apple out of your mouth and then maybe I could tell what you’re saying?”
“Stuck? How can it be stuck? Besides, why did you put that huge thing in you’re mouth, anyway? Serves you right for bein’ such a glutton.”
Scott glared at his brother, cursing himself for using all of his bullets.
Johnny stared back innocently. “If I get you down, are you gonna play nice?”
“I can’t hear you,” Johnny said with a smile.
Johnny shrugged and turned away. “Well, at least I know the traps work. Of course, I didn’t catch Morty. I guess he’s too smart ta get caught. I guess I’d better go work on some more traps.” He peeked back at his brother, who was staring resolutely off into the distance. Johnny watched Scott for a moment, and then shrugged. “Ok, if you don’t want down, I guess I’ll go about my business.”
Scott held out until Johnny was stepping onto Barranca, then he realized he’d never be able to kill his brother if he couldn’t get down and get that damn apple out of his mouth. His jaw was already aching from being stretched so wide.
Johnny turned and looked at Scott. “Did you say something?”
“All right, just hang tight till I get you down,” Johnny said, chuckling at his own wit as he nudged Barranca closer.
With a supreme effort, Scott managed to not hit his brother when he cautiously came within striking distance. His eyes widened when Johnny pulled a knife out of his boot.
Johnny shrugged. “Well, I have ta get you down somehow. Better hold your hands out.” With a swipe, he reached over and cut the rope holding his brother.
Scott crashed to the ground and immediately leaped to his feet, mayhem on his mind.
“If you want me ta get that apple outta your mouth, you better behave,” Johnny warned.
Scott froze, and then shut his eyes in defeat. Murder could wait until that damn apple was out of his mouth. THEN he could kill his brother. And Morty. And Murdoch. And Jelly. And what the hell, why not Teresa while he was at it.
Johnny swung down off of Barranca and walked over to his brother, studying his gaping jaw. “How the heck didja manage ta get that thing in your mouth, anyway? I’m gonna need a crowbar ta get it out.”
Scott’s eyes widened dramatically. “NNNNNNNNNNUUUUHHHHH.”
“Well, I could use dynamite.”
Scott shook his head vehemently.
“I guess I’ll have ta cut it out.” He held out his huge knife, and Scott shook his head even more emphatically.
“I guess I could shoot it out.”
Another violent head shake.
“Well then how the hell do you suggest I do it?” Johnny groused.
Scott shrugged. Johnny stood studying him for a moment, and then Barranca nudged Johnny on the shoulder, trying to get at the apple sticking out of Scott’s mouth. Johnny brightened considerably. “That’s it! Come on, Barranca, chow down!
“What the hell did ya do that for?” Johnny yelled a minue later as he scrambled to his feet.
Scott looked at him in disbelief. “For one thing, your horse just ate my lip!”
“He did not. It was just a little nibble.”
“He mistook my lip for a piece of apple. It will never be the same again!”
Johnny shook his head in disgust. “It ain’t even bleedin’. He squinted his eyes and looked at Scott. “Well, maybe just a little.” He brightened. “But he sure got that apple out quick!”
“Maybe if he had taken a little more time, I wouldn’t be disfigured for life!”
“You’re such a baby. You get more cuts and scrape than that workin’ those cows.”
“At least I’m not in danger of being EATEN by those steers.”
Johnny looked around. “Speakin’ of being eaten, where’s the rest of those apples. I need ta bait those snares.”
Scott glared at his brother. “They’re gone,” he snarled.
“What do you mean, gone? Where did they go?”
“In…my…stomach,” Scott ground out.
You ate ALL of them?” Johnny asked in disbelief. “Boy, are you gonna have a bellyache, and it’ll serve you right! You KNOW we needed those apples ta trap Morty.”
“Give me your gun!” Scott ordered
Johnny looked at his brother warily. “Why?”
“No particular reason,” Scott said calmly.
Johnny stared at Scott. “Noooo, I don’t think so.”
“Why not? “
Johnny shook his head. “Cause for some reason, I think you might be mad at me.”
“Now why would I be mad at you?”
Johnny shrugged. “I have no idea, but a minute ago you just decked me for no reason.”
“I know, and it wasn’t nearly satisfying enough. Now GIVE ME YOUR GUN!”
A groan reached their ears, and both men swung around and looked at Charlie.
“Hey, Scott, I think your horse has a bellyache, too.”’
“I sincerely hope so,” Scott answered.
Johnny looked at his brother. “What are ya mad at HIM for? Boy, you sure are grumpy lately. I’M the one who should be grumpy. I’ve been workin’ my tail off getting’ rid of the monkey smell in the cabin and settin’ all those snares. You had ONE simple task and you couldn’t even do that.”
Scott looked at his brother hopefully. “You got rid of that smell?”
“Sure did. Doesn’t smell like Morty at all any more.”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “I find that hard to believe.”
“It’s the truth.”
“How did you do it?”
“I tried scrubbin’ it, and that didn’t work, so I came up with a plan. You’ll see as soon as we get back to the cabin.”
“I don’t believe you. I bet the smell is still there.”
“What do you want to bet?”
Scott glared at his brother. “If I can smell any trace of that ape, you give me your gun.”
Johnny thought for a minute. “Ok. But if you can’t, you come up with some more bait.”
“A bait that works.”
“Still a deal.”
“And if it DOESN’T work, you get to do all of the repairs on the cabin.”
Scott thought for a minute. There was NO WAY Johnny could have gotten rid of that smell. “Done.”
“Ok let’s get back to that cabin so you can come up with some more bait.”
Scott walked over to Charlie, who protested when Scott tried to mount, but Scott was in no mood to make life easy on his horse. “You’ll just have to suck it up, Charlie, because I’m not walking. Maybe next time you’ll listen to me!”
As he rode along, Scott tried to decide just who he should shoot when he got his brother’s gun. He guessed he couldn’t shoot Charlie, or he’d have to walk home, but Barranca was DEFINITELY going down.
When they got to the cabin, Scott swung down and cautiously approached the door, sniffing as he went. He didn’t smell anything, but then again, the door was closed. Johnny watched in disgust for a moment, and then he strode up to the door that Scott was carefully sniffing, and shoved it open.
The next second, Scott was diving backwards, his hand over his nose.
Gagging and sputtering, Scott turned toward his brother. “What the hell did you do? It’s worse than ever!”
Johnny brightened. “Well, when I was out settin’ those traps. I must have left the door open. I came back, and this cute little family of skunks was wanderin’ around the cabin. That’s when I got the brilliant idea. I just shut the door, then broke a small hole in the window and started tossin’ rocks in. It worked like a charm! No more Morty smell!”
Scott’s mouth dropped open as he stared at his brother.
“You…you…you…never mind, just give me your gun!”
Johnny’s eyes widened. “No way! We made a deal!”
“YES, WE DID! If you didn’t get rid of the smell, you gave me your gun! And you DEFINITELY did NOT get rid of that smell!”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope, the deal was I had ta get rid of MORTY’s smell, and I did!”
Scott started to say something, then thought back on the conversation and slammed his mouth shut. He tried to talk once more, and then shut it again.
Johnny chuckled. “Scott, you look somethin’ like a dyin’ fish. Now you better find something ta bait those traps with!”
“That was the most STUPID idea I’ve ever heard of!”
“Do you have a better one?”
“YES!!!!!!!” Scott turned around and marched to the lean –to. He grabbed the huge jug of kerosene, walked over to the cabin and sloshed it all over the door, then quickly opened the door and threw the jug inside. When he reached for a match, Johnny grabbed him.
“What the hell are you doin’?”
“What we should have done in the first place! I’m burning this thing to the ground!”
“Don’t forget, you have ta fix the WHOLE thing, unless you have some bait hidden in your pocket.”
Scott took several deep breaths, trying to prevent his head from exploding. Finally, he turned and stalked over to Charlie and ripped open his saddlebag. He grabbed something and turned and tossed it at Johnny.
Johnny caught it and looked at it in puzzlement. “What’s this? A bribe?”
“NO I figure if that damn ape is so smart, you’ll have no trouble catching him with a bottle of Murdoch’s best Brandy! Now get out of my way! Unless, of course you’d like to step inside the cabin for a moment! ”
Murdoch wearily rubbed his eyes. His headache was getting worse and he didn’t think it was going to get better any time soon. With a sigh, he opened his eyes and looked at the man standing in front of him.
“So tell me again WHY you dug up ALL of Teresa’s prize roses?”
“Cause they’re eatable,” Jelly responded.
“You mean edible?”
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed in disbelief. “And you couldn’t think of anything better?”
Jelly shrugged. “Well, there wasn’t much left in the garden after Scott and Johnny were through with it.”
“What about the bunkhouse chow?”
Jelly snorted. “They didn’t have nothin’ but beef stew, and that’s no good.”
“And you think rose bushes are better?” Murdoch asked in disbelief.
“Well of course. I’ve seen deer chompin’ on those regular.” He chuckled. “And I ain’t never seen Johnny eatin’ ‘em, so I figured they was fine.”
Murdoch rubbed his eyes once more. “So you figured anything Johnny eats wouldn’t be good.”
“That’s right. That’s what Scott told me.”
“He told you not to eat anything Johnny eats?”
Murdoch stared at the handyman. “Why don’t you start over,” he said more calmly than he felt.
“Scott said ta catch a vegetable man ya had ta use a plant, and since him and Johnny had already taken all of Teresa’s vegetables, I figured I’d have ta come up with somethin’ else.”
Murdoch’s eyes opened wide. “You mean THAT’S what those boys are doing? Using her vegetables for some type of bait?”
“And just WHAT are they trying to catch?”
“I told you, a vegetable man! At least that’s what Scott called it.”
Murdoch closed his eyes. “A vegetable man,” he repeated wearily. “Is that the ONLY name he used?”
Jelly scrunched up his face. “Nope, he said it was a…a…aaa…a…Gopher!” he exclaimed triumphantly.
Murdoch stared. “A gopher.”
Jelly nodded his head. “A gopher. A vegetable man gopher.
“And may I ask WHY you’re all trying to catch this…gopher?”
Jelly snorted. “Well, the boys wouldn’t say, but I figured they was tryin’ ta get a reward. So I figured I could catch it instead and sell it to that circus that’s comin’ into town for the fair.”
Murdoch rubbed his eyes. His headache was getting worse. “And what makes you think the circus would buy a gopher?”
Jelly drew himself upright. “Not just ANY gopher! A vegetable man gopher!”
“And what does a vegetable man gopher look like?” Murdoch asked resignedly.
“Well, according ta Clay, it is great big, with long shaggy hair and great big fangs!”
“Clay saw it?”
Murdoch’s brow furrowed. “That doesn’t sound like any gopher I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, I didn’t think so, either. I thought it sounded like a Bigfoot!”
“A BIGFOOT? Jelly, there’s no such thing.”
“That’s what Scott said.”
“And what did Johnny say?”
Jelly chuckled. “No, HE thought it was a sassy squash.”
Murdoch’s brow furrowed. “A squash. Is THAT why you thought it was a vegetable man?”
Jelly’s eyes grew wide. “NO! Scott was the one that said that. I TOLD you, I thought it was a Bigfoot, but I figured Scott was the smart one and he knew what he was talkin’ about.”
“It appears that’s debatable.” Murdoch shook his head and made a shooing motion with his hand. His headache was just too bad to figure it out. “Go on, Jelly, go catch your vegetable man. Just don’t take any more of Teresa’s plants. She’s sitting up in her room with a shotgun trained on her garden, ready to shoot the next person that gets near it.”
Jelly chuckled. “Don’t know what she’s guardin’. There ain’t nothin’ left.”
Murdoch watched as the handyman walked out of the house. Every person on this ranch was crazy. What he needed was a drink. Slowly, he stood up and walked over to his liquor cabinet. He didn’t have any idea what his boys and Jelly were doing, and at this point, he didn’t really care, as long as they left Teresa’s plants alone and stayed away from him for at least another week. Maybe even a month. He figured it would take at least that long for his head to feel better.
He opened the cabinet door and looked inside for a long, long time. Then he carefully shut the door and strode out of the house. His headache would be MUCH better after he killed his sons. And Jelly. And what the hell, maybe Teresa too, while he was at it. Her screaming sure hadn’t helped his headache any. Maybe after he killed all of them, THEN he would have some peace and quiet.
An hour later, he looked down into the valley that the line shack was nestled in. It looked peaceful enough from up here. Maybe he should just turn around and ride home. He didn’t know if he really wanted to know what was going on. He hesitated a few moments, and then remembered his missing bottle of brandy, and resolutely spurred his horse down the hill.
After several moments, he came to a snare in plain sight, lying on the ground. He studied it carefully and rode around it. Apparently, Johnny was losing his touch. And WHATEVER he was trying to catch must be a heck of a lot bigger than a gopher. Knowing Jelly, he had totally messed up the word anyway. As Murdoch rode along, he tried to figure out other animals whose names started with a ‘G’, but the only two he could come up with was giraffe and gorilla, and he KNEW it wasn’t either of those. He wasn’t even going to try to figure out the vegetable man part.
Suddenly, his eyes widened. There, in front of him dangled his precious bottle of brandy. He rode closer, then slowly dismounted. Not quite believing his eyes, he stepped closer and reached for the bottle.
Scott sat in the lean to that they used as a stable, alternately glaring at his brother and both of the horses. He really couldn’t figure out just which one he was going to kill first, but Johnny was definitely in the running.
“What’re ya glarin’ at me for?” Johnny asked. “I didn’t do nothin.”
“It’s your damn gorilla,” Scott scowled as he tugged the blanket a little closer around his shoulders.
“YOU’RE the one who poured kerosene all over our cabin! Besides, you should be thanking me for not lettin’ you burn it down.”
“WHY?” Scott ground out. “It sure isn’t doing US any good. We’re still out here freezing to death because we can’t get near it!” He looked up at the sky through a hole in the roof. “And it’s not even dark yet. It’s going to get a whole lot colder.”
“Yeah, but at least you’re not going to have to rebuild the whole cabin by yourself.”
“ME? What makes you think I’D have to rebuild it alone?”
Johnny shrugged. “Well, your bait sure doesn’t seem ta be working, and that WAS the deal.”
“Give it time,” Scott growled. “Besides, we’ll STILL have ta rebuild it, because NO ONE can stay in it the way it smells.”
“It don’t smell like skunk anymore,” Johnny said brightly.
“No, just kerosene. And the first person that goes in there and lights a match is going to land on the moon.”
Johnny shrugged. “It’s gonna be winter soon. No one’s going to be up here ‘till next year, and by then the kerosene should be pretty much gone.”
“And what if someone DOES come up here?”
Johnny shrugged again. “We just play dumb.”
“Easy for you,” Scott observed.
“You worry too much.”
“Only when I’m around you.”
Johnny and Scott sat bolt upright “What the hell was that?” they both asked.
They stared at each other as another long, drawn out scream reached their ears. Suddenly Scott smiled. “It appears I won’t be fixing the cabin by myself, after all. Apparently my bait worked.”
Johnny scrambled to his feet and headed toward the door. “It’s about time you contributed something to this project. Let’s go.”
Scott glared at his brother’s back, then grabbed his hat and followed.
Johnny skidded to a halt. “I didn’t know gorillas could curse.”
“I didn’t know they could TALK,” Scott replied.
Johnny shrugged. “Guess Morty is brighter than we thought.”
“Uh huh,” Scott replied thoughtfully.
Johnny came to another abrupt halt. “Wonder what other curse words he knows. Maybe we could learn something,” he grinned.
“I’m sure we could,” Scott said tightly. “But I don’t think that’s a gorilla.”
“What the hell else could it be?”
Scott closed his eyes. “Doesn’t that yell seem just a teensy bit familiar?”
Johnny listened carefully as another long, drawn out curse reached his ears. Suddenly, he turned white. “Murdoch,” he breathed. He turned and grabbed Scott by the shirt. “What do we do?”
Scott smiled. “We? WE aren’t going to do anything. It’s YOUR trap.”
“And it’s YOUR bait! He KNOWS I didn’t steal it, because he was drinkin’ some when I left.”
Scott glowered at his brother. “I guess we have two options. One, we can go cut him down, then pack up and leave the state. Two, we can leave him there and pack up and leave the state.”
“Or three, we can shoot him and stay at Lancer!” Johnny exclaimed triumphantly.
‘I THINK someone might get a little suspicious, don’t you?” Scott said sarcastically.
“Better than goin’ ta Mexico ,” Johnny grumbled.
Another string of curses reached their ears, then a burst of gunshots. Johnny visibly relaxed. “Well, at least we won’t get shot.”
“Are you sure you counted right?” Scott asked worriedly.
Johnny rolled his eyes. “No, I’ve never had ta do it before.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” Scott said hesitantly. “So what do we do?”
Johnny bit his lip worriedly. “Maybe if we just leave, he won’t know it was us.”
It was Scott’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’re right. I’m SURE he’ll blame Teresa.”
Just then the sound of some huge beast crashing through the underbrush came to their ears. Johnny grabbed Scott’s Arm. “Morty,” he whispered.
“So?” Scott said icily.
“We can grab him!”
“YOU can grab him if you want. I’m done!”
“O.K.” Johnny said calmly. “But if he gets away from me, he’s gonna go after you.”
Scott stared at his brother for a long time, then turned and hid behind a tree. “Fine. I’ll help you grab him. But THEN I’m done!”
Johnny nodded as he hid behind a bush. “When I say NOW, we’ll both jump on him.”
The cracking of bushes and the sound of small trees breaking came closer. Johnny saw a flash of brown. “NOW!” he screamed.
Johnny rubbed his jaw, trying to get it to work again, while Scott was trying to open at least one of his swollen eyes. He finally managed to pry one open, then immediately shut it again.
“WELL!” Murdoch roared.
“We didn’t know it was you,” Johnny mumbled through his swollen jaw.
“AND JUST WHO DID YOU THINK IT WAS?”
“THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT YOU’D SAY!”
Murdoch glowered at them for another few moments. “I HOPE FOR YOUR SAKE THAT CABIN IS IN PERFECT ORDER, BECAUSE I’M GOING TO GO IN THERE AND DRINK THIS WHOLE BOTTLE!” he yelled before turning on his heels and stalking away, his bottle of brandy snuggled in his arm.
Scott watched as his father marched away. “That went well.”
“Yeah, it did, didn’t it?” Johnny said happily.
Scott looked at his brother incredulously and shook his head. “I was being sarcastic.”
“Well, he didn’t shoot us, did he?”
Scott looked up at the sky. “The day isn’t over.”
Johnny looked up. “Nope, but almost.” He froze for a moment, then looked at his brother in terror.
Scott’s eyed opened wide as the same thought came to him, and both men turned and bolted toward the cabin.
Murdoch strode up to the cabin and threw the door open, cursing because it was so dark inside. He reached in his pocket for a match and drew it across his boot.
“Well, we’re back where we started,” Scott snarled as he yanked the blanket over his head. “Only now we can’t go home for the next billion years or so.” He glared at the hole in the ceiling of the lean to and tugged once more at the blanket, trying to keep the water off, but it was a losing battle. He looked over at his brother, who was lying almost completely underneath Barranca.
“You’re going to get your head kicked off.”
“Barranca wouldn’t do that,” Johnny answered.
“I can always hope.”
“Why are you mad at me? This is YOUR fault!”
“MY FAULT! Why is it MY fault? It was your damn ape that caused all of this!”
“And YOU’RE the one who drenched that cabin with kerosene.”
“I had no choice! It smelled like hell!”
“Maybe, but the smell sure wouldn’t of blown up the Old Man!” Johnny snorted. “And if ya had ta blow him up, you could have at LEAST done it right! As it is, all ya did was blow the cabin ta smithereens and make Murdoch madder.”
“Don’t worry. By the time we get the cabin rebuilt he’ll have calmed down. It’s going to take us forever. I don’t think there’s one piece of wood left that’s bigger than a large toothpick.”
Johnny’s eyebrows went up. “What do you mean “WE? WE had a deal.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, we did. The deal was if my bait didn’t work, I’d have to fix the cabin. Well it worked.”
Johnny sat up. “What do you mean, it worked? Morty didn’t get anywhere near it!”
“That wasn’t the deal,” Scott smiled. “You never specified HOW it was supposed to work, or what it had to catch.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open, then snapped shut. He glared at his brother for a moment, then sank back down. “Oh, hell. I’m beginning to hate that ape.”
Johnny looked down at the deer tracks, trying to figure out just how long ago they had been made. He had been trying to wrangle some food for two days but all of the game seemed to have disappeared. If he went back to the cabin empty handed, he’d not only never live it down, Scott just might kill him. In fact, he just might kill himself, if he didn’t die of starvation first. He thought he had been pretty smart sticking Scott with trying to rebuild the cabin with nothing but a bunch of sticks, but now he was beginning to think he had made another mistake.
With a sigh, he started to follow the tracks. He couldn’t figure out where all of the game had gone, unless Morty had finally gotten smart and decided vegetables weren’t that great. Of course, from what he had seen, there wasn’t much edible vegetation left, either. SOMETHING sure had been busy eating, but all Johnny knew was it hadn’t been him.
He briefly wondered how his brother was coming with the cabin. There hadn’t been much undamaged wood to work with, but Murdoch had made it plain that THEY were going to have to pay for any supplies, so he and Scott had agreed to use every splinter they could find and hope it was enough. He still couldn’t figure out how the explosion managed to destroy the line shack so completely and only singe Murdoch’s tail feathers. It sure hadn’t destroyed Murdoch’s temper.
Johnny heard a sound off to his right and he froze as he saw a large buck sauntering across a clearing. He brought his rifle up slowly to his shoulder, when suddenly the deer looked back in alarm and then fled. A moment later, a roar sounded from the bushes that was even louder than Johnny’s cry of rage.
“DAMMIT Morty! If I starve ta death, I’m gonna KILL you!”
Johnny scanned the surrounding shrubbery, but there was no sign of any movement. With a final curse, he started tracking the deer once more.
It was almost dark when Johnny finally caught up with the buck. He raised his rifle, and a moment later a shot rang out. Johnny had just taken a few steps when something grabbed his rifle and wrenched it free. Johnny glimpsed a shaggy brown coat before he was lifted up and went flying into the nearest tree. As he sailed through the air, he saw the shaggy creature stride over to the fallen deer and hoist it over his shoulder before once more disappearing into the underbrush. The thought flickered in his mind that Morty sure had grown; probably from all the food he’d been stealing lately. It sure hadn’t improved his manners, though. If anything Morty was getting rougher. As soon as he landed in the tree, Johnny launched himself toward the ground. He stumbled as he landed and went sprawling. He lay there for a moment until a familiar smell hit his nostrils, and he jumped to his feet, frantically wiping his face with his sleeve.
“MORTY!! YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!” he screamed as loudly as he could without opening his mouth as he ran in the direction both the ape and his dinner had disappeared. He ran as fast as he could, murder on his mind. He was beginning to tire when a large hand shot out and grabbed him. Johnny twisted around and saw Morty grinning at him.
“Don’t you smile at me, you overstuffed baboon! First you frighten off my deer, then you toss me into a tree and steal my kill! Now give me my dinner! NOW!”
Morty grinned wider and eagerly nodded his head.
“I mean it, Morty! You either give me my dinner, or you’re going to regret it!”
Morty nodded his head once more, then reached down and grabbed an apple from the ground.
“THAT ain’t dinner! I MEAN the deer!” Johnny yelled as he backed away from the animal. He came to an abrupt stop as his back hit a large tree.
Morty grinned toothily and held out the apple.
“NO!” Johnny screamed as Morty took advantage of Johnny’s open mouth and stuffed the apple into the gaping hole. As Johnny tried desperately to get away, Morty grabbed the man around his chest and gave him a huge kiss, then picked up another apple.
“Well, what do you think? Scott asked his brother hopefully as they stood in front of the cabin.
Johnny stared at the building and shook his head. “I don’t know, Scott. He might not notice the missing porch and hitching post, but he’ll probably notice the missing floor.” He scrutinized the cabin some more. “And he DEFINITELY will notice that there’s no roof.”
Scott gave the cabin a careful appraisal, then sighed and nodded. “You’re right. But we’ve used every single piece of wood we could find, and there just isn’t any more. You heard Murdoch say he was going to tell Bill not to give us any credit at the sawmill.”
Johnny frowned at the building for several seconds, and then smiled slowly. “He didn’t say anything about telling the sawmill in Spanish Wells not to sell to us!”
Scott’s eyes widened. “From here it would take us two days to get there and back!
Johnny shrugged. “So? Do you have a better idea?”
“How are we going to get the supplies back, assuming they let us have some?”
“We’ll borrow a wagon.”
“Somehow I don’t think it will be that easy.”
“Come on, Scott. What could go wrong? Besides, once we get done with this cabin, we can go home and forget all about this mess.”
“And forget about Morty?”
Johnny shuddered. “I hope I never see that damn ape again. He spent an hour stuffing apples down my throat.”
“What do you think he did to me?”
“Yeah, but you LIKE apples.”
“Not anymore,” Scott said fervently. He thought for a moment, then finally nodded. “All right, let’s go. I’m tired of eating my own cooking.”
Jelly looked at his carefully laid traps and mumbled to himself. Catching that overgrown gopher was a lot harder that he thought it would be. He had set traps all over the place, using Teresa’s rose bushes, but so far he hadn’t caught anything. Apparently, Scott didn’t know what he was talking about. Of course, it MIGHT be because he just wasn’t setting the traps in the right spot. He scrunched up his face as he thought about where Clay and the other men said they had seen the vegetable man. After several moments, Jelly picked up the scraggly remainder of Teresa’s roses, and headed for the barn. He would hitch up the team and go out to where the beast had been sighted. With any luck, he could catch him and be home in a day or two.
A half of an hour later, he was heading the team up to the east line shack, armed with Teresa’s rose bushes and several long pieces of rope.
Teresa sat in her room, watching her vegetable garden. A shotgun loaded with bird shot sat next to her, and she occasionally reached over and touched it to make sure it was still there. She didn’t know why her beloved gardens had been targeted, but she was going to make sure she didn’t lose even one more leaf. Her eyes closed for a moment, and she started to nod off. She had been guarding her garden for several days now, and she had just about decided it was a waste of time. A moment later, her head snapped up and she stared out the window at a large, hairy form sauntering through her garden. Her eyes narrowed as it walked over to her last few shrubs and leaned down to sniff. A hand snuck out and grabbed a stalk from the shrub. Her eyes narrowed as she brought the rifle to her shoulder and pulled the trigger.
Her eyes widened as the figure grabbed his behind and yowled in pain. A split second later, he whipped around, trying to find the location of his attacker, and she quickly ducked down as Murdoch started cursing and then tore off his new coat and inspected the damage. He looked around angrily and a moment later, a large form ran up to him and grabbed him by the chest. After several exuberant kisses, Morty picked the rancher up and took off.
Jelly sat up when he heard the door of the cabin slam shut. He had put a trail of rose bushes leading up to the door of the line shack, and then positioned a few inside. He had rigged the door so when anyone touched one of the inside bushes, the door would slam shut and lock. He scrambled to his feet and started for the cabin, but stopped in his tracks when he heard the loud growling and snarling coming from inside. He cautiously approached the cabin and peered through the window.
His eyes widened as he saw the creature inside, and he gulped loudly. No matter what Scott had said, it sure looked dangerous to him, and if it wasn’t a monster, it sure came close. It had to be at least eight feet tall, and its fangs looked pretty impressive. He sat back down and started to think. He could wait until the boys came back to the cabin; it was apparent Scott and Johnny weren’t done fixing the shack. He could get them to help him capture the beast. Of course, if he waited for them, he would have to share the money he’d get for the monster. He thought about it another minute, and then resolutely stood up. His jaw jutted out as he grabbed a coil of rope and opened the door. A horrible smell assaulted him, and a moment later, the beast charged. Jelly waited until it was within striking distance, and then rapped it smartly on the nose.
The brothers guided their horses wearily up to the cabin. Scott swung down and glared up at his brother. “YOU can take care of the horses.”
Johnny glared back. “It’s not MY fault Murdoch had told the saw mill in Spanish Wells, too!”
“So NOW what do we do?”
“I really don’t care,” Johnny replied as he swung down. “I just want to get in that cabin and start a fire. It’s freezing.” He grabbed the reins and headed toward the lean to, as Scott turned and walked toward the cabin.
Johnny had just unsaddled Barranca when Scott joined him and threw him a blanket.
“What’s that for?”
“To sleep on,” his brother replied.
“It’s freezing out here! What’s wrong with the cabin?
“Apparently, Morty paid it another visit. But don’t worry, we’ll be nice and warm.”
“How do you figure that?”
“I just set the cabin on fire.”
A month later, the two brothers looked down at the hacienda from the bluff in back of the house.
“Well, what do you think?” Scott asked.
“I think we should have come in at night,” Johnny observed. “Easier ta get away in the dark.”
“We DID finally get that cabin rebuilt; he can’t STILL be mad,” Scott argued.
“No,” Scott conceded, “but I’m going down there anyway. I’m tired and I’m cross, and I’m sick of eating my own cooking. The only good thing about this past month was we didn’t see that damn gorilla even once.” He nudged his horse down the hill.
Johnny nodded as Barranca fell in next to Charlie. “Yeah, you’re right. After everything that happened, I hope I never see that damn ape again. He was nothin’ but trouble.”
“I wish you would have come to that conclusion a little earlier. It would have saved us a lot of grief.”
When they pulled their horse to a halt next to the barn, Clay came out and grabbed the reins as the men dismounted. “Glad to see you. It’s been pretty quiet here since Jelly’s been gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?” Scott and Johnny both asked.
“ San Francisco , then he said he might go see Paris .”
“ PARIS !”
Clay nodded. “He said he always wanted to travel, and now he had the chance.”
Johnny snorted. “What happened? Did somebody die and leave him a bunch of money?”
“Nope. He caught a genuine Bigfoot. The circus paid him $5000.00 for it. By the way, he said to tell you boys thanks. He never would have caught it if you hadn’t told him what to use as bait, and he said he would have been too scared to try if you hadn’t told him it was harmless.” Clay chuckled. “He said when it was trapped inside the cabin, it was yelling and growling something fierce, but he just smacked it on the nose and told it to shut up. I guess it was chicken at heart, because Jelly said he didn’t have any trouble with him at all after that.”
Johnny chuckled. “Maybe we should try that with Murdoch.”
Clay shook his head. “I wouldn’t if I were you. He’s been in a pretty bad mood ever since Teresa shot him.”
“Teresa shot him?” Scott asked incredulously.
Clay nodded. “Yep. He came stalking through the garden about a month ago. It was pretty dark, and he had his new coat on. Anyway, she thought that it was some animal trying to steal what was left of her garden, and as he walked under her window, she let him have it with both barrels. You could hear him yelling and cursing clear in Spanish Wells, and it didn’t help that he couldn’t sit down for three weeks.”
Johnny shook his head in disbelief as they walked away. “Poor Murdoch’s had a pretty tough month, hasn’t he?”
Scott nodded. “But I’m not going to feel sorry for him yet. He has a way of sharing his pain.”
Johnny’s brow furrowed. “Scott, it doesn’t make sense.”
“That the circus paid Jelly so much money for Morty. I mean we BOUGHT him from the same circus, and we only paid $200.00.
Scott came to a halt with a puzzled expression on his face. “You’re right; it doesn’t make sense. Maybe they just wanted him back.”
“WHY would they want HIM back?”
“Who knows? As long as I don’t ever have to see him again, I really don’t care.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, I guess. But if your bait had worked, we could be the ones goin’ ta Paris .”
“We STILL may be going if Murdoch’s mood hasn’t improved.”
They hesitated for a moment by the door, then after taking several deep breaths, they pushed the door open.
“Hello, boys! I thought you’d be home soon.”
Scott and Johnny cautiously approached their father, who was sitting by the fire, sipping a brandy.
“You’re not mad?” Johnny blurted.
Murdoch chuckled. “Of course not. By the way, I want you to meet my new friend.” He turned toward another chair, where Morty was sitting with a newspaper on his lap, sipping brandy.
The boys’ eyes got wide and their mouths dropped open. “Morty?” Johnny squeaked.
“Morty, huh? I’ve ben trying to come up with a name for him.” He looked at Johnny with narrowed eyes. “Just how would you know his name?” Murdoch asked suspiciously.
“He guessed,” Scott said quickly.
“Uh huh,” Murdoch replied slowly. He suddenly smiled. “I never could understand what you boys saw in all of those animals, but since this guy has been here, I understand. He actually saved my life when your maniac sister tried to murder me. I intend to keep him the rest of my life.”
“Which may not be long,” Johnny grumbled quietly. He looked up at his father. “Besides, I think Scott and I have sort of lost our taste for exotic animals for a while.”
“Well, Morty is different,” Murdoch explained with a smile. “Unlike YOUR pets, he’s better behaved than either one of you.”
Scott managed a sickly smile. “If you’ll excuse us, Sir, we really need to get cleaned up for dinner.”
Murdoch nodded. “At my ‘suggestion’, Teresa went to visit the Barkley’s for a while, so we’re on our own for meals. I do have plenty of vegetables, though. Morty seems to prefer them.”
With a moan, Johnny swung around and bounded up the stairs, with Scott in hot pursuit. “I’m gonna starve ta death for the rest of my life,” Johnny complained to his brother. And we’re gonna have ta share our house with that…that…Monster! At least until Morty shows his true colors and Murdoch shoots him.”
“Uh huh,” Scott said thoughtfully.
Johnny thought for a minute and then smiled. “Murdoch hates apples, doesn’t he?
“Well, all we have to do is wait until next November and Morty will be gone!” Johnny exclaimed triumphantly’
Scott looked over quizzically. “Why November?”
“That’s when Teresa’s apple trees will start droppin’ apples! The first one that Morty stuffs in the old man’s mouth will be his last – guaranteed!”
“What’s wrong with you? You don’t even act like you care. Of course, you’ve got nothin’ ta worry about!” Johnny groused. “You LIKE vegetables, don’t you?”
“Believe me, not as much as I used to, and I definitely HATE apples. But that’s not what’s bothering me. Doesn’t something seem strange to you?”
“Besides the ape sitting in Murdoch’s best chair and drinking his brandy when he won’t let us near either one?”
“Noooo,”Scott said slowly. “Johnny… if Morty’s here…what in the hell did Jelly sell to the circus?
The Easter Bunny
The Mountain Man – FIRST PLACE Lancer Writers Awards: Best Humorous Story
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