Word Count 1,830
The look on my Ol’ Man’s face is priceless. Let him squirm a bit. Pardee ain’t no saint, me neither. But Pardee… Well, Pardee’s a real son of a bitch. Hard man with a cruel streak a mile wide. I remember that time when he… Mierda! I should pay more attention to what’s going on, not think about ol’ times with Pardee.
“Just how many men does he have, this Pardee?” I hear my brother ask.
“Twenty or twenty-five.”
“That doesn’t put him in a class with Attila the Hun.”
I glance over my shoulder to where Scott still sits, on the edge of our father’s desk. Who the Hell is this Attila? And what a strange name! Can’t believe Brother Scott would know men as ruthless as good Ol’ Day.
“You’ve got the floor,” Murdoch says to Scott. He must know this Attila, too, because he doesn’t seem put out by the name.
My brother gets up and crosses the room to stand in front of a wall with a huge map next to a… a ship sitting on a cabinet. What the heck is a ship doin’ here? Maybe something to do with the ship our Ol’ Man said he took to come here… when he left the Inn Vernès, wherever that may be. Never heard about that particular inn and I do know a lot about inns. Well, maybe not the sort of inns my Ol’ Man would go to. Must be why I never heard of that one.
Yep, I remember those few days I’ve spent in… Damn! What’s wrong with my mind? I need to stay focused. Could get killed with thoughts wandering in all kinds of places! Guess I’m lucky I’m not facing a man in the street. Might be the end of me.
I watch Scott as he paces the room and keeps on talking. “Well, it seems to me you have a very simple military problem here,” he says, as he passes his hand over the map. “One, find the enemy.” As he says this, he glances at Murdoch. “Two, engage him. Three, destroy him.”
He turns to face our father and me as he finishes his piece. Man, he does look full of confidence. And look at how he stands, so straight. Me, I’d be afraid of breaking if the wind were to blow too hard or if I were to fall off my horse. Not natural to stand like that.
Funny how Murdoch glances at me. As if we shared the same thoughts. Me, well, I just look back at Scott and then, I can’t help myself and I start to laugh.
Oh boy, this brother of mine ain’t too happy with me. “Something funny?” he says, in a crisp voice.
It’s obvious to me that Scott has no idea what kind of a man Pardee is. I glance over at Murdoch – he’s taking another drink and is still perched on the edge of that table behind the sofa. Me, I sit on the arm of the chair beside me. While Scott turns and walks toward us, Murdoch puts his glass down and then, he rests a hand on his knee.
“Hmmm, he’s saying it’s not that kind of a fight,” he tells Scott about why he thinks I laughed. Then, to me, “But you could be wrong. I’ve got eighteen good men, only the best stayed. You two make twenty.”
I snort and then, I laugh again – that half laugh I use when something strikes me as being ridiculous or peculiar or plain crazy. “Now, wait a minute. This is listenin’ money. Now, all of a sudden, you’re talkin’ ‘bout gun money. Well, let me tell you somethin’, that’s extra. That don’t come on no lunch.”
Who does he think he is? Just because I happen to be his son means I’m gonna work for free? Dios! Last time I did that, I ended up in front of a firing squad. And with Pardee along, that could mean bullets in the back, no less, or a long and very painful death. The guy knows all about how to torture a man and make it last. I’ve seen him perform and I’m not really keen about getting on his wrong side. Not that he scares me… Well, maybe a little, if I’m to be honest. Can’t trust a man like Pardee.
The Ol’ Man doesn’t seem put out as he tells me, or rather us, “I want more than your guns.”
“What more?” I ask.
Gotta watch myself. My temper is starting to boil again. I can see Scott standing right behind Murdoch and he doesn’t look as if he’s gonna add something but he sure listens to us.
“I want your arms, and your legs and your guts, if you’ve got any,” our father continues. And just as he finishes with this speech, he turns to look at Scott and then, back at me. Guess he means both of us, not just me.
I look sideways at Scott before I reply.
“All right. Say I,” and I do insist on that I, “come up with all these arms, legs and guts you’re talkin’ about, what do you come up with?” And I smile as I say that. Let’s see what he’s gonna say now.
“Everything you see out there,” he replies as he points out the large window behind his desk.
From the corner of my eyes, I can see Scott turning his head to look out the window even as I get up and walk towards it to have a good look at the “everythin’” the Ol’ Man’s talkin’ about. Behind me, I hear Murdoch say, “One hundred thousand acres, twenty thousand head of beef, and the finest campañeros y palominos in the San Joaquin.”
I stand with my thumbs hooked in the front of my belt. Can’t let show how impressed I am so I try to look as impassive as I can, much like I do when I face a man in the street. I’m ready to bet that even Boston’s as impressed as I am. Wonder if there’s anything that big back East, where he’s from.
“One third, huh?” I turn back to face my Ol’ Man now that I’m in full control of my feelings. “You wouldn’t mind putting that down on a piece of paper, would you?” I say and I immediately add a sarcastic “No offence.”
Murdoch Lancer steps over to me and pulls out a long billfold from his jacket pocket. Boy, he’s so friggin’ tall. Gonna need to find a way to stop looking so small when I’m near him. Maybe I could start wearing boots like Tiny Tim used to wear to look taller. The poor guy was at least a head shorter than me but with a streak as wide as Day’s. Boy, was he vicious! He and Day were well-paired, until he fell out of favor with Day and met his maker.
“Will this do?” he says as he offers me a piece of paper he’s taken out from his billfold.
Seems he’s already figured this “one third offer” needed to be written down. I take the piece of paper while Scott approaches.
“Agreement of partnership,” the Ol’ Man says. “Equal shares to each of us, but I call the tune. Agreed?”
Dios! He’s quick. That kind of thing needs careful consideration. Scott nods yes. Mierda! I wonder if all business talks are settled this fast back East. Gonna need to explain to him not to accept any offer as quickly. Could cost him a lot… even his life if he’s not careful.
I take a quick look at the paper and I smile at Murdoch as I shake my head and hand him it back. “You didn’t sign it.”
“Nothing for nothing,” he says, taking the agreement back from me. “You’ll get your share of this ranch when you prove to me you’re man enough to hold it.”
Mierda! Men have died for less than that. Man enough, huh? I’ll show him. “And when’s that?” I ask, as I held my temper in check once again.
“When you get the man that put the bullet in my back.”
“That’s the one.”
“Well, let me tell you, Ol’ Man. You want a lot.” Damn! He doesn’t know what he’s asking. It would take a fool to go up against Pardee, particularly without any well-thought plan and with so few people to back him up. People who obviously have no idea how to deal with men like Pardee and his gang.
Murdoch looks at me. I look at him. For a moment, there’s a battle of wills but all he adds is: “Take it or leave it.”
As I’m about to answer, a bell suddenly rings. Murdoch jumps and says, “Fire! Come on!” and I find myself rushing out of the room along with Scott and the Ol’ Man.
The scene outside is horrible. Fields are burning while men and horses hurry past. We rush to try to stop the fire from spreading to the nearby buildings. We’re all working hard. Even the women help by handing buckets of water to some of the men.
The girl, Teresa, is right beside Murdoch, with a bucket. Gotta say she seems to have grit. Doesn’t seem particularly afraid.
“Isn’t there something we can do?” I hear her ask the Ol’ Man.
“No. The field’s gone, Darling. It’ll burn itself out by nightfall.
Then, he speaks to us. “Take a good look at it! It’s the third field that Pardee has destroyed. I told you you’d have to fight to hold onto this place. What do you say?”
After a short pause, Scott speaks. “I’ve already given you my answer.”
I half turn at those words. I’m really gonna have to talk to him.
“What about you, Boy?” our Ol’ Man asks as he looks at me.
I’m boiling inside. First, he’s telling me I have to be man enough to earn my share of the ranch. And now? Now, he’s calling me “Boy”. He’s damn lucky we’re too busy right now or he might face the wrong end of my gun.
“I hate to see my property go up in flames,” I surprise myself saying.
“Our property,” Scott adds.
I can see a ghost of a smile forming on our father’s face. I choose to let go for the moment. Now’s not the time to argue over things. The Ol’ Man needs help… Heck! All the people around here need help. I know how Pardee operates, I know how ruthless he can be. I can’t just up and go and leave all those innocent folks to deal with Pardee and his gang. Nope, I just can’t.
Mierda! I guess that once again, I’m gonna do somethin’ that I may regret later on. Once again, I’m gonna end up facing guns… and plenty.
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