Word Count 1,170
Johnny and Scott rode into town Saturday for some long awaited and much
needed time off. It was early May and the workload had been back breaking. With all the new calves and foals and so much branding to be done, Murdoch had sent them off. He was tired of listening to them moan in pain.
Several men were gathered at the livery and they rode up to see what the fuss was about.
“I don’t believe it,” Red Marshall was saying.
“I’m telling you, gentlemen. No one can beat this horse,” the obvious owner stated with pride.
Johnny walked over and looked at the animal. He was a beautiful specimen to be sure. Strong back, muscular hindquarters. He was definitely a racer.
“Do I have any takers?” the man was asking.
“For what?” Johnny asked.
“For a race. I’m challenging all takers.”
“What are the stakes?” Scott asked.
“One hundred dollars.”
Johnny whistled lowly. “That’s a lot of money, mister.”
The man shrugged.
“You can take ‘im, Johnny,” Red said.
“Yeah, Barranca can beat this nag,” Bill Hardin chimed in.
Johnny smiled at their enthusiasm.
“You have a fast horse?” the owner asked.
“Yeah, he’s fast but he’s not a racer.”
“Well, if you don’t think he can handle it…”
“Come on, Johnny. Shut this loud mouth up. We’ll all chip in, won’t we, boys?” Red called out. They all nodded and yeahed.
Johnny wanted to smack him. He didn’t want to race. He wanted a cold beer. He looked at his brother who nodded. Sure, easy for you to say, he thought.
“You ridin him?” he asked the man.
“Me? Heavens, no. My jockey is in the barn. Peter!” he called.
A boy of about fifteen walked out of the barn. He was small in stature. Johnny figured he weighed maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. He had to smile. He smelled a con.
“How many times have you raced this horse?”
“Well, a dozen or so. I’ll be honest with you. He’s never lost,” the man stated with pride.
Scott shouldered up to his brother after getting a look at the rider. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, brother. That kid weighs nothing and he’s using an English saddle. Weighs a lot less than yours.”
Johnny chewed his lower lip. “How far?”
He looked at Barranca. He knew the horse could do a mile without even breathing hard. The question was, did he want to take the chance?
“I’ve already staked out the length. There are markers along the road,” the man persisted.
Johnny looked at him, then at the boy who smirked. He shouldn’t have done that. His eyes went to the crowd. “I don’t want to hear one word if I lose,” he said to them all.
Whoops went up in the air as the men started handing over money. Instantly, side bets were being made. Scott smiled and slapped his back and Johnny shot him a look.
Johnny extended a hand to the man and introduced himself. “Jacob Seely,” he gave his name.
The start/finish line was quickly made. Johnny removed his gunbelt and handed it to his brother. He walked over to Barranca and spoke in his ear, explaining what was happening. He led the horse to the starting line and let him nose the competition who wasn’t pleased with the intrusion. The stallion balked and snorted.
Barranca nickered and tossed his head and Johnny smiled. “You tell ‘im.”
Peter mounted with a leg up from the owner. He took the reins lightly and Johnny watched the way he seated himself. The kid was definitely comfortable.
He mounted up himself and sat low in the saddle. Peter looked at this and grinned. Johnny let him think what he liked.
“Who will start the race?” Seely asked.
“Let Scott do it,” Red called.
“Very well,” Seely bowed slightly.
Scott stood aside and raised his gun in the air. When he felt they were both ready, he squeezed the trigger.
Both horses took off like lightning and several men jumped on their mounts to track the race.
They were neck and neck at first. Then the stallion took the lead. Johnny could see the kid was pushing him hard and he waited. A short whip appeared in the boy’s hand and he used it ferociously. The stallion widened his lead.
Men were sitting on hillsides rooting them on, disappointed that the stallion was winning but encouraging Johnny all the while.
They made the turn that was the halfway mark, both horses taking it tightly.
Johnny kept a mental calculation of how far they had to go. With a quarter mile left, he leaned low into Barranca’s neck and spoke in Spanish to the palomino. Barranca increased his speed substantially and started to gain.
Peter looked back and saw Johnny coming up fast. He used the whip to urge his steed on. They could be seen coming back into town now. Just yards from the finish line. It was close but Scott didn’t think Johnny was going to make it in time. He held his breath and positioned himself right along the line. Seely did the same on the other side.
Ten yards from the finish, Barranca was a neck behind. “Ahora!” Johnny yelled and the horse took off in a burst of energy. Barranca nosed past the stallion and stretched his long legs, passing the finish line with ease.
Shouts of joy could be heard from the spectators as Johnny slowed the horse into a trot. He rounded the barn and came back to the crowd. He was breathing a lot harder than Barranca.
He was encased in people congratulating him and he took it for a few minutes before raising a hand to stop their cheering.
“How about a beer?” Scott shouted and they all headed for the saloon.
“Thanks, brother. Didn’t think they were gonna let me breathe,” Johnny laughed.
“Mr. Lancer, that is a very fast horse,” Seely said as he walked up. He handed Johnny the hundred dollars with a grimace.
“Thanks. It was a good race.”
“Yes, for you. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to sell him?”
Johnny shook his head. “No, Barranca’s not for sale. If you’ll excuse me, he needs a rub down.”
“I’ll do that for ya, Johnny. Go have your beer,” Carl, the livery owner offered.
Johnny hesitated until Scott grabbed him around the neck.”Let’s go enjoy those winnings.”
He relented and smiled. “Okay, just brush him down real good, okay?”
Carl nodded and waved them off. Scott propelled his brother across the street until Johnny pulled back on the boardwalk.
“How’d you know I’d win?” he asked.
Scott cocked a brow. “I didn’t. But, I figured once Barranca got a look at that stallion, he’d give his whole heart. I wasn’t betting on you, brother. I was betting on the horse.” Scott shot him a wink and strolled on inside the saloon.
Johnny smiled and shook his head, then followed his brother.
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