Word count: 2,860
It was the same question each member of the family asked as they sleepily paraded down the stairs to breakfast.
It was Teresa’s day off so she had not been near the kitchen all morning. Instead, she spent two wonderful hours simply lying in bed, listening to the activity outside as the ranch came to life for another day, and the smells of Maria’s cooking wafted up the stairs, finally coaxing her out from beneath the warm covers. Life was good. Sometimes it was just a little better.
Scott collapsed into the kitchen chair, red-eyed and tired as a dog. He had been hornswoggled into playing poker with Jelly and some of his cronies until long after midnight and regretted every dollar he lost and every drink he drank.
Murdock, his mood solemn as usual this time of morning, simply shrugged. “He said he wasn’t hungry and headed for the stables.”
“Johnny not hungry?” Scott asked around a mouth full of scrambled eggs.
“That’s what he said. I figured he joined you and Jelly in your late night card game and was nursing a hangover.” He eyed his oldest son with a raised eyebrow. “Nursing one yourself, I see.”
Scott ignored the jibe, “No, as a matter of fact, Johnny went straight to bed when we finished work last night. Didn’t even take time to eat.”
“You mean Johnny missed two meals?” Teresa put down her fork and looked at everyone sitting around the table, “And that doesn’t worry any of you? Johnny never misses a meal. Something must be wrong.”
“Si,” Maria said as she brought in a fresh pot of coffee, “something is wrong with Senior Johnny…the poor chico has dolor del diente.”
“Pain in the tooth,” Teresa translated. “Johnny has a toothache.”
“Si, muy malo…very bad. The tooth, he needs to be tiron…yanked.” She patted her cheek, “Poor chico…muy malo…muy malo…”
“You told him that?” Scott asked incredulously. Johnny would be running for the hills by now.
“Si. It is the truth. Tiron is the only way. I give him willow bark for the pain, he puts it so…” she took an invisible pinch of willow bark and stuffed it in her mouth… “The pain will be better. But just for today, tomorrow. But next day…She headed off to the kitchen still talking… “Muy malo…next day…muy malo.”
Scotch watched Maria disappear into the kitchen, “Come to think of it he was acting kind of off yesterday. “ Scott remembered. “Hardly said two words all day. I figured he was still mad about going to Sonora tomorrow. He had a date with Bessie Friday night.”
“Well, work comes before dates.” Murdoch groused. “In any event, you’d better have a look at your brother. Toothache’s can be a serious matter if they’re not taken care of.”
Scott nodded and hurriedly finished his breakfast and made for the stables. This was one confrontation he wasn’t sure he was ready for.
He found Johnny brushing down Barranca, something he did when he was troubled or bored. Since it was too early in the morning for boredom, Scott opted for troubled.
“Hey little brother, we missed you at breakfast.” He jumped up on the stall and sat watching. “Not hungry?”
Johnny shook his head.
“You should eat something, we’ve got that culvert to clear out this morning. That little trembler we had the other day was just enough to dislodge those rocks. I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’ll ever get use to these little earthquakes around here. Never felt one in Boston.”
Scott frowned when he didn’t get a response. He remembered how Johnny had howled with laughter at Scott’s reaction to the small earthquake, telling him he’d better get used to them. It was a way of life in California, then sneaking into his bedroom later that night and shaking the bed until Scott was half way out the door with only his nightshirt on. Johnny had laughed so hard he had nearly choked.
“Something bothering you Johnny? Want to talk about it?”
Again only a shake of the head. When Johnny wanted to be stubborn there was none better at it.
“Ok, suit yourself.” Scott sighed, “Be ready to ride in an hour.”
Johnny nodded and Scott jumped down from the stall, shaking his head. It was going to be a long day.
“So…?” Teresa was at the kitchen door waiting for him, “did you find anything out?”
“He wouldn’t say a word.” Scott noticed Murdoch was standing by the stove pouring himself another cup of coffee. The old man was worried. Something he would never admit to. “I think Maria may be right about a toothache.
You know, a dentist just opened an office in Green River last month.” Murdoch said, handing Scott a cup of coffee. “Maybe Johnny should go see him.”
“Good luck getting Johnny within a hundred feet of a dentist’s office.” Scott snorted. “You can barely get him to see Doc Jenkins when he’s half dead.”
“I know, but if he’s as miserable as you say he is…”
“He is. And then some.”
“Then we are going to have to get him into that dentists chair somehow. Even if we have to hog tie him and drag him in there.”
“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary…” Teresa said coyly, “I think I have an idea.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow at his young ward, “What kind of devious plan do you have floating in that pretty little head of yours?”
“You’ll see,” she smirked. “You’ll see.”
Johnny hardly said three words throughout the entire day as he and Scott cleaned out the culvert. The few words he did say were more growls than intelligible words, and Scott took the hint. He sure hoped whatever Teresa had in mind worked…and fast. Another day of this and he would end Johnny’s misery and his with a solid left hook to Johnny’s chin.
The next morning the plan was set into action. Teresa had made all the preparations and sat smugly at the table waiting for everyone to arrive for breakfast. Scott and Murdoch knew what they were supposed to do, so did Maria and Jelly. It all hinged on Johnny being Johnny.
Fifteen minutes later Johnny came bounding down the stairs, sliding into his seat and gulping down half a glass of milk before grinning. “Boy am I hungry. I could eat a whole cow and still have room left over.”
“Well, you look like you’re feeling better little brother,” Scott observed.
“That I do, Boston. Just a little off my feed yesterday. But now I’m raring ta go. Thought we could tackle that section of fence by Placer Point.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Scott agreed as Teresa placed a hearty steak topped with eggs in front of him.
“Then you two had better eat a good breakfast,” Teresa said as she placed a steak in front of Johnny. “You especially Johnny, I don’t want you passing out from lack of food out there in the hot sun.”
“Not,” Johnny grinned as he cut into the steak, “with this under my belt.”
Johnny was half way through his steak when Scott suddenly yelped in surprise and pain. Johnny jumped out of his chair reaching for Scott. “Scott?”
“My tooth,” Scott cried in surprise, looking at the steak, “I think I broke my tooth.” He wiped at his mouth and produced a nasty piece of bone Teresa had palmed in his hand before breakfast.
“Oh Scott, I’m sorry!” Teresa ran around the table. “Let me see.”
“Just let me have a quick look.”
“Come on, Boston,” Johnny urged, “Teresa’s just trying to help. Be a good boy and open wide.”
Scott gave him a look that would have killed and looked up toward Teresa, opening his mouth.
“That doesn’t look good, Scott. That tooth is cracked right in half.”
Murdoch leaned over her shoulder to take a look too. “Nasty.” he agreed. “I heard a dentist opened up in Green River last month, maybe it’s time he met one of the Lancer boys.”
“I don’t know, Murdoch,” Scott mumbled through his hand clenched tightly against his mouth. “Going to a dentist in Boston is one thing…but out here.”
“Come on Scott, he can’t be all that bad. I bet he’ll fix ya right up.” Johnny tried to keep a straight face, but the corners of his lips kept twitching.
“Either that or I can get the pliers and pull it myself right now.” Murdoch offered.
Scott’s eyes widened. “No…no thanks Murdoch, I think I’ll take my chances with the new dentist, thank you anyway.”
“That’s the way to go, Boston. I’m proud of you.” Johnny smirked.
“Leave him alone, Johnny, he’s in pain..” Teresa scolded. “Would you mind taking us into town, Murdoch?”
“I would love to honey, but I’ve got a meeting here at noon and I just can’t get away. Johnny…would you mind taking Teresa and your brother into Green River?”
“Sure, no problem, I can find somethin’ to do while Scott’s in the dentist’s chair.”
Scott scowled at his younger brother and mumbled through is hand, “You’ll pay for this little brother.”
Johnny grinned and headed for the door. “I’ll hitch up the team.”
As the door closed behind him, the room fell into a strained silence until everyone erupted into fits of uncontrollable laughter. “You are good, son,” Murdoch laughed, dabbing at the tears in his eyes. “You are really good.”
Scott used the napkin to dry his eyes, “I’m glad he left when he did, I was about to burst out laughing. Did you see the look on his face, I do believe the boy was enjoying himself at my expense.”
Teresa patted him on the shoulder, “Well, the shoe will be on the other foot in a little while. Here,” she produced a wad of gauze, “stuff this in you cheek. There,” she looked at Scott, his right cheek bulging like a chipmunk’s with a nut in his mouth, “you look the part. Now remember, you’re in pain.”
Scott’s smile faded and he lowered his head, a heartfelt moan of pain bringing forth more giggles from Teresa.
The long trip into Green River turned out to be far more painful for Johnny than he expected. The delight at the prospect of Scott sitting in a dentist chair was soon stilled by the return of the throbbing pain in his own tooth. It had reared it’s ugly head more than once in the past few months, but this was the worst. He knew if he could just ride it out it would go away again, like it always did. But, boy or boy, this was the worst it had ever been. He cursed each rut and hole the wagon wheel hit and he tried to steer the horses around the worst of them. He glanced beside him and saw Teresa, lost in deep thought. He sighed in relief that she was not in a talking mood.
Scott sat in the back of the buckboard, noshing on the unsavory gauze in his mouth. He looked up over his shoulder and saw the strained lines of pain on Johnny’s face again. The toothache was back. He noticed when Johnny helped him into the back of the wagon that his brother’s hands felt overly warm and sweaty. The boy had a fever. Well, if all went according to plan, in a few hours the tooth would be gone and Johnny would be madder than a drenched cat.
When they finally reached town Johnny pulled in front of the dentist’s office. Scott reluctantly climbed out of the back of the buckboard. Looking at the officious lettering on the door. ‘Dr. Nathaniel Bower. D.D.S.’ he cringed.
“Hey,” Johnny smiled, his voice slightly slurred from his own bad tooth, “It’ll all be over before you know it.”
“I’m thinking maybe I should have taken Murdoch up on his offer. He could have pulled it last night.”
“Come on, you’re here now, ya might as well get it over with.”
“I have an idea.” Teresa offered. “Johnny, why don’t you take Scott over to the saloon and have a drink to calm his nerves. I’ll let the dentist know that we’re here and he’ll be ready when you get back.”
Scott nodded with agreement and grabbed Johnny’s arm before his brother could say a word.
So far so good, Teresa beamed. Poor Johnny, he didn’t know what he was in store for.
Scott and Johnny sided up to the bar.
“Tom, a whisky and a tequila por favor, Scott needs some liquid courage.”
The bartender grinned at Scott’s swollen cheek. “What ya doing Scott, storing nuts for the winter?”
“Very funny, Tom. Just pour the drinks.”
“Ya headed over to that new dentist in town?”
“I saw him myself,” Tom said as he poured Scott a glass of whiskey and then poured a glass of tequila from a bottle he had under the bar for Johnny. “Not bad once you got over being tied down in that chair of his.”
“Tied down?” Scott looked toward his brother appealing for mercy. He found none.
Johnny threw his head back and downed the tequila in one gulp trying to keep it from touching his throbbing tooth. Scott sipped at his whisky, finding it hard to swallow with the gauze in his mouth.
“He’s quick and fair thought.” Tom added.
Five minutes later Scott was still nursing the whiskey. “Ok Boston,” Johnny smiled, “you’ve stalled long enough…let‘s…” Johnny grabbed the bar as the room suddenly spun violently. He watched in disbelief as Scott smiled and pulled a wad of gauze from his mouth and downed the rest of the whiskey before grabbing his arm as he slid toward the floor on legs that turned to butter. Someone else grabbed his other arm and he was dragged out the swinging doors across the street toward Teresa who was standing in front of the dentist’s office with a pleased grin on her face.
“I know,” Teresa said as they maneuvered him through the reception office and into a waiting dentist’s chair, “you didn’t want to come here…” her voice was full of compassion, but tinged with a hint of laughter, “but, you have to have that tooth looked at.”
“You put something in my drink.” he accused, his voice sounding hollow in his head.
“Just a mild sedative.” Dr. Bower said, “A highly unorthodox way of getting a patient into my chair, but I was assured it was the only way. Now, help him into this chair right here.”
Johnny found he had absolutely no strrenght in his arms or legs to fight off Scott and…Murdoch’s smiling face wavered before him. “…Murdoch…?”
“Sorry son, it was the only way.” Together he and Scott got Johnny into the chair and stood back as the dentist opened Johnny’s mouth.
“Oh, my, yes. That is a nasty tooth Mr. Lancer. I’m afraid it will have to come out.”
The last thing Johnny remembered was something sweet and syrupy drizzled down his throat.
Johnny awoke to find himself lying in his own bed, his clothes gone, replaced by a nightshirt and an ice pack cooling his throbbing cheek.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up.” He heard Scott’s voice to his left.
Johnny moved his head only slightly but the room spun wickedly and he decided against it.
“Doc said you’d feel better in a few days. He had a devil of a time getting that tooth out. By the way, he said we got you there just in time. That abscess was moving into the bone. You may be feverish for a few more days, that infection got a good hold on you. Dumb move, little brother, you know people die from a bad tooth like that.”
Johnny tried to open his mouth to yell every obscenity he could think of at his brother but his mouth was too swollen to even part his lips.
“Johnny…you’re awake.” Teresa said with delight. “How do you feel?” She leaned down and stroked his hair, “You poor thing. Next time you’ll know better than to hide a toothache like that.”
Johnny glared between the two of them. He motioned that he wanted paper and pencil. Scott grinned and returned a second later from his bedroom with a pad of paper and a pencil.
You are in big trouble Boston. He wrote.
“Me???” Scott snorted, “Don’t look at me. It was all Teresa’s idea. She set everything up. Right down to spiking your tequila in the saloon.”
Johnny looked up into her innocent face, but the blush on her cheeks told him that it was true.
Teresa??? He wrote.
“You were not about to go to the dentist on your own. Oh Johnny, I’m sorry to have tricked you, but you left us no choice. You know, you can be the most stubborn man on this earth, besides Murdoch that is.”
“Did I hear my name used in vain?” Murdoch demanded as he walked into the room. “How are you feeling son?” he asked.
Muy malo. He wrote.
“I’m sure you do. But that won’t last long. In a few days you’ll feel like your old self again.”
Johnny closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe what they had done to get one miserable tooth pulled. The thought struck him that they must love him to go to that much work. A slight smile would have played at his lips if it could. He felt Teresa pull the covers up over his shoulders and kiss him lightly on the forehead and drifted to sleep. At least he would get a few days vacation….
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