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Keeping Score by Kathy K.

Word Count 9,880

Originally appeared in the 2006 Homecoming Souvenir Magazine


It was the second night in a row Scott Lancer had missed supper with the family and Jelly didn’t like it. He didn’t like it because he didn’t like the reason for it and the reason for it was yappin’ again, grating on his nerves.

“We sure had a great time today, didn’t we Johnny? I gotta tell ya I’ve never seen so much beautiful horse flesh in one place. I could’a watched them for hours. You sure have a beautiful spread here Mr. Lancer….”

Rick Munson never seemed to shut up. Was it just a week ago he had shown up at Lancer to “pass some time with his old pal Johnny” as he had put it? It seemed a lot longer ago than that to Jelly and he was growing weary of the interruption it had made into their normally predictable routine.

What grated on him the most was what it was doing to Scott. With Johnny busy entertaining, Scott was the one picking up the slack – something Jelly knew he was glad to do for his brother – but something that Jelly thought was becoming a bit much. Scott was working from sunup to sundown, handling the assorted work crews and making sure everything was being covered and nobody seemed to be noticing but him.

 He had said as much to Scott the night before when he had found the boy in the kitchen alone, picking at the plate of food that had been saved for him. Scott had told him to calm down about it – said Johnny worked as hard as anybody around the ranch and certainly deserved to have some time to spend with an old friend.

 While Jelly agreed with that he still felt it was pretty presumptuous of this Munson character to just amble in here and expect that he could have Johnny all to himself as if pulling him away from his responsibilities would have no consequences. And if truth be told he was getting a little annoyed with Johnny too for not realizing what effect this was all having on his brother.

And now tonight again, for the second time in a row, Scott was out working late and going without his supper. “The boy’s too thin to begin with,” he huffed to himself. “He don’t need any help gettin’ thinner!”

Mercifully their guest had stopped talking long enough for the meal to finish and now he and Johnny were making their plans for the night. “Seems to me ya might want to wait long 2006 Homecoming Souvenir Magazine 19 enough for your brother to get back and see if he wants to go with you,” Jelly said pointedly to Johnny. “He might like to do a little relaxin’ too ya know!”

Murdoch caught Teresa’s eye from across the table and smiled. They knew Jelly was not overly fond of Rick Munson or anyone for that matter that he saw as coming between “his” boys. With some tender nurturing, the brothers’ relationship had developed into a strong, close one and Jelly was not about to let anything interfere with that if he had anything to say about it. Murdoch cast a bemused smile in the direction of his blustering number one ranch hand as he picked up the plates and headed to the kitchen on the pretense of helping Teresa with the dishes. He was going to stay out of this one.


They were still in the kitchen when Scott came in through the back door. The sky had darkened now and with it had come the familiar quiet of day’s end. His son was moving slowly and Murdoch couldn’t help but notice the weary slump to the normally straight shoulders and erect back.

“Another long day, son?”

Scott smiled quietly as he glanced down. It was a habit Murdoch had come to associate affectionately with his oldest and he couldn’t help but smile to himself as he recognized again the warm feeling of familiarity he now shared with his sons and the simple pleasure it gave him.

 “Things took a little longer than I expected,” Scott said, looking back up at his father with tired eyes.

 Murdoch nodded knowingly. Things had a way of doing that on a ranch of this size. “I’m afraid we’ve already eaten. Johnny and Rick are anxious to get going to town.” “That’s fine. I’m really not that hungry.”

 If Murdoch had been aware of Jelly’s earlier appraisal of his oldest son’s slender physique he would have been in full agreement. Although slim by nature, Murdoch often worried that Scott was too thin. Where Johnny always seemed to be popping something into his mouth, it seemed that whenever Scott was tired, preoccupied or worried, his appetite was the first thing to go.

 “You really should eat something, son. We’ve saved you a plate.”

 “I will,” Scott reassured him but headed for the stairs anyway.

 Murdoch could see his son was tired and knew he really should just let him go but couldn’t resist the impulse to stop him. “Going up already? At least come have a glass of brandy with me. Johnny’s about to leave and we’ll have the house to ourselves. I’d like to hear about your day.” He’d missed seeing his son at dinner the past few nights. Days on the ranch were busy and afforded little time for leisurely conversation but evenings, when they all came together at the table and talked, made up for it and it never felt quite right when one of them was absent. It had become his favorite time of day. He liked nothing better than sitting back and listening to the sound of his children’s voices.

 Scott returned Teresa’s sympathetic smile appreciatively as he slowly followed his father into the great room. He really just wanted to get cleaned up and settle down with a good book but it wasn’t often he and his father got to spend time alone and Murdoch seemed to really desire it tonight. And, if he was honest, maybe he did too. He hadn’t really had too many people besides himself to think about before coming here and while there were definite advantages to that it was at times a rather lonely existence. Being part of a family might mean putting your own agenda on hold once in a while but it was worth it.

Johnny and Rick were gathering up their things to leave as they entered the room. “Hey brother! You finally made it! ” Johnny said looking up with a grin. “What’s the matter? You slowin’ down in your old age? You shoulda had that job done two hours ago easy!”

Scott answered his brother’s affectionate teasing with an easy smile of his own. “Yeah, I’ll have to do something about that, I guess,” he said quietly.

Jelly, who had been biting his tongue all evening except for his earlier hint to Johnny, could stand it no longer. “He would’a been done two hours ago if he hadn’t first had to take care of the chores somebody else forgot to do before takin’ off on some joyride this mornin’!”

 “Jelly…” Scott sighed. He knew Jelly harbored good intentions but he wished sometimes the handyman would just let them speak for themselves.

Johnny turned his attention from his brother to Jelly. “Who?!” he asked indignantly.


“Me?!” It was clear Johnny was at a loss over what Jelly was referring to. “What’d I forget to do?”

 “Oh, let’s see! Could it ‘a had somethin’ to do with all them bales ‘a hay waitin’ to be stored away? Things like that don’t just take care of themselves, ya know!” It was apparent Jelly was warming to his subject, getting more and more fired up as he went along.

 “All right, all right.” Murdoch didn’t try to hide the weariness in his voice. “There’s no use going on about something that’s already done.” With a remonstrative look at his younger son he continued on however, “Johnny do try to remember that, guest or no guest, there are some things that have to be taken care of around here? I hope you’re remembering that tomorrow you and Scott need to get that creek bed up in the north pasture cleared. Spring rains are coming soon and I don’t want any problems with flooding up there.”

A noticeable silence greeted Murdoch’s warning and Johnny cast a quick look at Rick before looking bleakly back at his father. “Oh.”


 “Uh, yeah. I just promised Rick we’d ride out to Oak Ridge tomorrow. “Thought we’d do a little fishin’ at the lakes up there.” “Johnny…” “Um, Mr. Lancer?” Seeing that his friend was going to need some support on this one, Rick Munson interrupted before Murdoch could go on. Putting on the most sincere face he could muster, the young man continued. “I’ve only got another day or two and then I’ll be leavin’. All I’ve heard Johnny talk about for the last coupla days is how good the fishin’ is around here and I’d really like to give it a try.” With a nod toward Scott he added with a smile. “I hear you’re the fisherman in the family, Scott. Caught some nice ones Johnny tells me.”

“Look, Rick…” Murdoch began, but this time it was Scott who interrupted.

“Murdoch, I can get the job started in the morning. We can get it finished by supper if Johnny joins up with me around noon.” Turning to Johnny he added, “It won’t give you as much time as you might like, but Rick can at least try his luck for a little bit.”

 Johnny nodded appreciatively at his brother and then looked questioningly at Murdoch. “Is that all right Murdoch?” and then added with a shrug and an impish smile, “I did promise.”

 Murdoch sighed resignedly. Scott really was being much too gracious about all of this but then he really wasn’t surprised. Both of his sons were very generous, hardworking young men, never selfish with their time, and he knew as Scott did, that Johnny would be doing the same for his brother if the tables were turned.

“All right. All right. But remember – noon, Johnny. I want that bed cleared by tomorrow!”

 “Noon – got it,” Johnny echoed with a smile. Turning his attention to Scott he gave his brother an affectionate slap on the arm. “Thanks brother. I owe you one.”

He seemed to hesitate then for a minute. He had been running out a lot since Rick came and he did miss talking with his brother. “Why don’t you come to town with us, Scott? We’ll wait while you grab somethin’ to eat.”

Raising his hand in protest Scott just laughed. “No Johnny, really. That’s okay. I don’t think I’m up for much more than a hot soak in the tub and a good book tonight. You and Rick go. I’ll catch you next time.” He saw no purpose in adding that he felt a little like a third wheel when Johnny and Rick got going on things from the past or that listening to them only reminded him of the fact that he and his brother had none. Johnny didn’t need to know that or, for that matter, that there was more than one reason for his willingness to be working so much.

“You sure?”


“What about tomorrow then?” Johnny asked and a mischievous smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “You could show us how it’s done.”

 Scott couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of trying to keep his restless brother and his equally impatient friend quiet long enough for a fish to bite, but a quick look at his father was enough to tell him that Murdoch didn’t think much of the idea of both of his sons taking the morning off and he knew that to keep the peace somebody better be up in that north pasture bright and early in the morning.

“I think we better leave things as they are, Johnny. Maybe the four of us can take some time for fishing again when things quiet down a little. I’d still like a shot at that new hat.”

 “C’mon Johnny. We already wasted enough time here tonight. We’ve got a lotta ground to cover.” Rick Munson’s impatient voice broke in on the brothers.

 “Yeah, yeah, okay Rick. Just hold on a minute, huh?” Johnny started to turn, then hesitated again. “Hey Scott? Thanks for takin’ care of that hay this mornin’ for me, huh?” Blue eyes lit up in a warm smile and with the slightest nod Scott answered, “Not a problem.”

With a nod in return Johnny turned and with Rick in the lead, walked out. Scott stood watching him go and Jelly stood watching Scott. It was evident the young man missed having his brother around these past few days but Munson had said he was leaving in a day or two and Jelly thought then things would get back to normal. He sure hoped so. Normal was how he liked it.


The house was quiet when Murdoch finally ascended the stairs himself. Johnny and Rick weren’t home yet. He didn’t know how these young people did it – what was it called – burning the candle at both ends? He shook his head. Had he done that too at their age? He thought he must have, but then again, it seemed so long ago he really couldn’t remember.

Making his way to his own room he thought of his other son. Scott really had been working too hard lately and it was starting to show. He made a mental note to himself to be sure and thank Scott in the morning for all the extra work he had been doing for his brother these last few days. He’d have to make it a point to give his oldest a day or two off when their guest left and things returned to normal.

As he made his way down the hall he noticed Scott’s door was standing slightly ajar and a light was shining from it. Had Scott stayed up late after all? Murdoch smiled. Probably reading. He knew all too well that when Scott got interested in a book he couldn’t put it down. But when he rounded the corner the sight that met him caused his smile to warm and his step to slow. There lay his son, fully dressed, sound asleep on top of his covers. Too tired to even pull them back Murdoch thought. He noticed Scott’s supper untouched on the table by the bed but had to smile when he saw the biscuit with one bite out of it still in the boy’s hand. He must have been asleep the minute he hit the pillow.

 Moving closer to the bed, Murdoch allowed himself the sight of his grown son lying there so quiet and still. Almost absentmindedly he let his fingers track lightly over the thick blond hair, being careful not to waken his sleeping boy and smiled at the thought of how far they had come. This was a moment he appreciated. A moment when without observation he was free to give in, even just this little bit, to the emotions his sons brought out in him. These feelings that were still quite new to him, feelings he probably would deny with a scowl if called on, but feelings he nonetheless recognized as becoming more and more a part of his daily life.

 All too quickly his thoughts were interrupted by the picture of a five year old little boy looking up at him with big blue eyes. It was the picture he had carried with him of this son for years. His only picture. Almost without warning the regret of the years swept over him again. How many nights had he missed with Scott? Putting him to bed, watching him sleep? How could he have been so foolish as to listen to Harlan Garret when the old man had said he would leave Scott in Boston if he really loved him?

Murdoch now knew all too well that if he had really understood what loving his son meant back then, he would have had him with him. That nothing could have kept him from that. That no court battle or threat of one could have stood in the way. It hurt now to think that Scott had known that. All his years growing up, Scott had known that and had lived with the pain it caused.

That his son had forgiven him, had allowed their relationship to grow without explanation for all of those years, spoke volumes as to the young man Scott had become and standing there, Murdoch suddenly felt undeserving of his forgiveness.

He wondered if the day would ever come when those feelings of regret and remorse would pass. When the sight of his son would bring only pleasant memories instead of these unkind ones. He trusted that it would. He trusted that time would allow it. He trusted his son for it.

 The late night breeze blowing through the open windows suddenly brought a shudder to him and he pulled an extra blanket up from the foot of the bed to cover his sleeping boy.

“Sleep well, son”, he said softly. “Tomorrow’s going to be another big day.”


 “Another big day, huh?” Jelly stood rocking back and forth with his hands in his pockets watching Scott saddle up. “Think you’ll get it all done? Murdoch ain’t gonna like it if you don’t.”

Mischievous eyes turned toward the old man. “Now Jelly, you sound like you’re a little worried. What’s the matter? You afraid Murdoch’s going to take it out on you if things don’t go to his liking?” Scott hid the smile from his face. He hated to admit it but he loved getting a rise out of Jelly. There was something almost like a game about it and the often disgruntled handyman made the winning so easy. “If you’re worried, why don’t you come along and help?”

 “Got my own things ta do – you know that. Just don’t want you gettin’ in trouble with the boss is all.”

 “Well, I appreciate that, Jelly, but there’s no need to worry. You know as well as I do that Murdoch’s bark is worse than his bite. Anyway, we should have no trouble getting things done by suppertime – especially if I can convince Johnny’s friend to lend a hand. I kind of think it’s time he earns his keep around here a little bit, don’t you?”

“Huh! Don’t expect that to happen none too quick! Knowin’ him, he’ll prob’ly just stand there with his hands in his pockets, talkin’ your ear off while you do all the work. Some people are like that, ya know.”

Scott smiled, turning to leave. “Yes, Jelly,” he said fondly. “I do know.”


 The bearded old man straightened, trying to ease the stiffness in his aching back. He’d been busy in the barn all day, taking care of all those little things that had a way of never getting done on a place like this, as busy days stretched into busy weeks. Going from one mundane task to the next his thoughts had strayed back to the conversation of last night and he smiled with satisfaction to think of the boys working together today. It was a good thing he had opened his mouth and helped the boss see what was going on. Sometimes he just didn’t know what this place would do without him there to keep things straight.

His thoughts had strayed further than usual today and he’d found himself thinking about his early days here at the ranch. He wasn’t proud of the way it had all come to be but he was  grateful that it had. His life had changed dramatically when he had come to Lancer. Despite the bad start, he had found a generous, forgiving family here – the family he had never had, and it had not been long before he’d felt like one of them.

 It was the boys that pulled at him the most. They were good boys, the both of them. Boys to be admired and respected for the young men of principle and character they had grown to be. He’d often thought that if he’d ever had the opportunity to have sons, he’d have wanted two like these. In fact, it had startled him to realize one day that without even realizing it, he had come to love Murdoch Lancer’s sons as if they were his very own. Of course, he had no intention of ever telling them that. He’d gotten quite good at hiding that little hum that started up inside of him every time the boys were around …

 “Hey, Jelly.”

 …..and today would be no different.


 Jelly’s expressionless gaze traveled on past the boy’s shoulder and the two horses being led into the barn. Following it, Johnny turned, and approached the rest of the way walking backward.

 “What are you lookin’ at?”

“Nothin’. Just wonderin’ where your brother is, is all. He comin’ right behind you?”

Johnny gave a slight shrug, turning back. “Scott? I don’t know. Haven’t seen him all day. Why?” The all too familiar scowl that never seemed to be far from the old handyman’s face greeted him. Johnny returned it with a quizzical look of his own. “What?”

“You haven’t seen him all day.” There was just the slightest hint of annoyance in Jelly’s voice. “Like I don’t know you’re just tryin’ to get me all riled up and excited so’s the two of you can have a good laugh together.”

“The two of us. Who? Me and Rick? Why would we want to do that?”

 “No, not you and Rick!” Jelly was clearly sounding more and more annoyed. “What would I care what he does?”

“Then who? Me and Scott?! Jelly, I just got done tellin’ you I haven’t seen Scott all day!”

With a look of sheer exasperation the old man opened his mouth, as if ready to let fly, and then stopped. He sagged just a little. “You mean that too, don’t you?”

 It was Johnny’s turn to sound annoyed now. “Jelly, what are you going on about? I’ve been gone all day with Rick and Scott’s been doin’ what? – somethin’, somewhere for Murdoch, I’m sure. You know, if you’ve got something on your…..”

Johnny pulled himself up short, a bleak look settling suddenly on his face.  “Oh, shit.”

 The frustrated curse hung for a moment. “The creek. – I was supposed to meet Scott at the creek.” Raking his fingers through his dark hair, he looked forlornly at Jelly. “I forgot.”

The old handyman rolled his eyes. “You forgot. – You forgot. Seems like you’ve been forgettin’ quite a lot lately, don’t it? You’d think after..”

“All right, Jelly. All right. I get it'” The interruption wasn’t without some aggravation. “I messed up – again.” His hands on his hips, Johnny blew out a disgusted breath. “I take it Scott’s not back yet?”

“Would I be lookin’ for him, if he was?”

Johnny looked downright disgusted, although Jelly wasn’t sure at just who. “No. I guess not.” Throwing up a hand he let it fall to his side. “Alright, well then, there’s really only one thing for me to do, isn’t there? ” Pulling himself up into his saddle he smiled forlornly. “Tell Murdoch and Teresa not to hold dinner for us. I got a feelin’ we’ll be eating late.”

 Following the horse and rider out of the barn, Jelly recanted his earlier mood. “Here.” He handed Scott’s jacket up to the other Lancer son. “Weather’s changin’. You best take this along for your brother. He left it this mornin’ and I figure he might be needin’ it before you both get back.”

 Johnny grinned down at the gruff exterior. “You know, Jelly. Sometimes I don’t know what we’d do around here without you lookin’ after us.”

With an air of righteous self-importance the old handyman tugged on the front of his vest, straightening his shoulders and looking for all the world like the prized cock in the hen house. “Yeah, well, just don’t you go forgettin’ that neither,” and then called rather indignantly after the retreating back, “and a word of thanks now and then might go a long way too!”

Turning to head back into the barn he smiled satisfactorily to himself at the exaggerated, “Thank you, Jelly,” that came floating back to him.


 Scott sighed, pushing his hat further back on his head. It was time to face the fact that this creek bed was not going to get cleared today – at least not all the way. It had proven to be a bigger job than he had anticipated and he had known already by late morning that even with Rick’s help he and Johnny were going to have trouble finishing up by supper.

Now with the late afternoon sun making it’s way slowly to the horizon, and his brother’s apparent forgetfulness, it was nothing short of a lost cause. He knew he could stay and keep at it for a few more hours until darkness fell, but even with that the job wouldn’t get done and it might only serve to make Murdoch more disgruntled than ever. He decided the best course of action would simply be to call it a day and start over with his brother’s help in the morning.

He smiled wryly to himself. There would be no doubt about that. His brother would be there to help him, of that he could be certain. There would be no more days off, Murdoch would make sure of that. He had to laugh at the thought of the scene sure to transpire in the great room later tonight. “Oh little brother, I’m glad I’m not you,” he said out loud with a smile. “I wouldn’t trade places with you right now for a month’s wages.”

The thought had crossed his mind earlier that Johnny’s absence could be the result of something more than forgetfulness but he had quickly discarded that worry. He had seen how easily his brother and Rick had fallen back into the camaraderie they had shared, and he knew something like that lent itself to forgetfulness about time and responsibility. He understood it. It had happened to him on more than one occasion when he’d been with friends and although it brought that twinge of regret again over what he and Johnny had missed, he didn’t begrudge it of his brother. They had been working hard ever since arriving at Lancer and he was glad for the respite his brother was enjoying right now from it. He could identify with the need for it and how good it must feel. He did remember with some satisfaction however the smile that had crossed Johnny’s face the night before when he had mentioned their hat contest from a while back. It was a reference that Rick didn’t know. It was, Scott suddenly realized, one of the memories that he and his brother were slowly starting to build themselves and it warmed him to think about it.

It wasn’t the only thing he’d been thinking about. For whatever reason, working alone today, his mind had been wandering. He’d found himself revisiting little things that had occurred since his arrival here in California. Maybe it was the quiet. Maybe it was that small part of him that had grown accustomed to working with his brother and was now missing him just a little. He didn’t know but it satisfied him to realize how nice it felt. How comfortable.

Tugging his gloves free, he tucked them absentmindedly through the back of his belt, as he looked to where his horse stood quietly grazing. Knowing he was in for a full day’s work he had taken the saddle from his horse’s back early in the morning, allowing the animal to roam and graze comfortably. At least one of them would be well rested for the ride home.

He’d always appreciated the power and grace of a good horse and looking now at his own he remembered the day he had picked this beautiful animal to be his. He’d noticed him right away, having seen the challenge offered in the toss of the head and the flare of the nostrils.

Cip had noticed too. Cip had, in fact, in his quiet way, noticed a number of things about both the horse and the young man watching him, things that no one else had seemingly taken the time yet to do.

Scott had been down at the corral for the better part of a morning, watching this new addition to the stable, talking to him, stroking the soft muzzle whenever the animal would come close enough to allow it. Cipriano had walked over and with a knowing smile asked if he’d wanted to take a chance on this spirited one.

 He’d answered that there seemed to be a few things he was thinking of taking a chance on, to which the segundo had nodded his approval. The question had finally been asked of the horse himself then, “What do you say, Chance? Do we take one, you and me?” and Chance is what it had been ever since – a good fit – a good partner – a good friend. Scott whistled and the sleek chestnut lifted his head, responding without hesitation to the familiar sound.

 Leading the animal down to the creek bed Scott let him drink, before heading back to where his saddle and blanket lay by some fallen logs. It had been a comfortable place to lay back for a nap after eating his lunch at noon and he was almost tempted to steal another quick one before heading back, but the thought didn’t linger long. It would be just his luck Johnny would choose exactly that moment to show up and accuse him of sleeping the day away and he knew he’d never hear the end of it. Besides, the temperature was changing, and although he felt no need to button the shirt sleeves he’d rolled up earlier on his dark blue shirt, he had forgotten his jacket, and he didn’t really want to be stuck out in the cold without it. Better to just get on his way.

 Still smiling at the thought of the scene sure to unfold in the Great Room later that evening, Scott scooped up the blanket lying next to his saddle. Turning to lay it across the strong back, he sensed a definite change in his mount and gave the skittish animal a reassuring pat, speaking quietly to him as he straightened the blanket.

 “Easy. Easy. We’re going.”

Thinking back on it later, he would remember the almost surreal aspect the next few moments took on. He’d felt more like an observer than a participant – reaching for the saddle, hearing the unmistakable warning, feeling the searing pain – all of it almost in slow motion, yet all of it happening within seconds.

He’d gone for his gun instinctively, shaking the rattler off as he did, the snakes body jumping when he twice found his mark. His reflexes had continued to govern the moment. Without any hesitation he’d grabbed for his saddlebags, grateful that they had not already been thrown over his horse’s hindquarters before the frightened animal had taken off in a desperate attempt to get away from his fear.

His sharp knife had cut the flesh cleanly, quickly. Drawing on the wound, he’d spat out blood, ignoring the unwelcome taste of iron in his mouth. He’d repeated the necessary action a number of times until he felt he’d done all he could. Taking up the canteen that lay at his side, he’d irrigated the wound thoroughly. Tying off the bandana to act as a tourniquet was the last desperate action to staving off the threatening effects of the rattler’s poison.

 Other than for the initial bite, he hadn’t felt any pain. Until now – and now he felt it plenty. His arm was throbbing and seemed almost on fire. He wondered how much of that was the result of the bite and how much was the result of his own treatment. He’d known from a young age what to do for a snake bite, he’d just never had to do it before and he wasn’t sure he had done it right. He figured it wouldn’t be long before he’d know. He also knew it wouldn’t be long before the snake’s poison would start to take effect. He needed to think clearly while he still could. His horse was gone. If he tried to walk home he’d never make it, of that he could be sure.

He knew that as the poison took effect he’d be hard pressed to remain standing, let alone stay on a direct course home. He’d run the risk of losing his way and laying somewhere unseen along the path, possibly never being found until it was too late.

He leaned back against the upturned saddle, keeping his arm low and still. He’d have to watch the tourniquet and make sure he loosened it from time to time, but he could better stay here where he knew someone would come looking for him and where he wouldn’t do further damage as the poison worked. Here where he knew he could be found.

 He closed his eyes as a shiver ran over him. It must be getting colder he thought. And he must have worked harder than he had realized because suddenly he was very tired. That was it, wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure but as he lay back further into the saddle at his back he figured it was another thing he’d know before too long.


 Johnny reined in his tired mount, mindful of the miles Barranca had traveled in this long day. He had hoped when he’d left Jelly that it wouldn’t be long before he’d meet his brother coming home, but that was starting to look like it wasn’t going to happen. Even though the sun was fast losing it’s place in the sky, he knew there were a couple of hours of light left – enough light at least for a man to get in some extra work if he needed to. And he knew Scott. Scott would use whatever hours he had – especially if he was close to finishing.

All the more reason to get out there then. He owed his brother some time. He’d send Scott home and finish up himself. After all, it was only fair that Scott should be the one sitting down to supper on time tonight.

His stomach growled at the thought. He was hungry and had been looking forward to tasting some of that fine trout he and Rick had caught today. He had to admit he was kind of glad now that he had sent Rick up to the house with their catch before taking the horses to the barn. After being with his friend all day he needed this little bit of peace and quiet. He kept forgetting how talkative Rick was and he was realizing just now how much he missed the comfortable quiet he was used to with Scott.

Thinking over the day’s fishing, he had to smile. It was a wonder he and Rick had caught anything at all. Fishing and talking didn’t go together any better than fishing and guns did. Scott had finally gotten through to him on that point, although it had taken a lot of perseverance and patience. – Perseverance, patience – and quiet. Yup. Three things you needed to be a successful fisherman. Guess it was no wonder then that his brother was so good at it. To his way of thinking, Scott had all three of those things down pat.

 Johnny let out a contented sigh. These were the first minutes he’d had to himself all week. They felt good. Just as good as the week itself had felt. It had been good to see his old friend again. They shared a past and that was important. It was part of who he was. But it wasn’t all that he was and he understood that a little bit better right now moving along in the quiet at this leisurely pace. He had enjoyed this week because Scott had worked to make sure he could. He smiled again. Fishing wasn’t all his brother had down pat. Right about now it was looking to him like Scott had this brother thing down pretty good too. He’d learned a little about fishing from Scott just by watching. He figured he’d just learned a little about being a brother the same way.

Barranca started and the sudden action pulled Johnny from his thoughts. The horse had heard it and so had he. That all too familiar sound of gunfire – distant but unmistakable and coming from the direction he was headed. Scott.

Sparing an anxious look to the distance, Johnny urged Barranca into a gallop, finding it suddenly necessary to cover the miles between himself and his brother as quickly as possible. Pushing the already tired animal as much as he dared, he told himself that the shots he’d heard didn’t have to mean anything and he knew there was truth in that. It was probably Scott himself who had fired the shots and there could have been any number of reasons for it. He could have been trying to break up a stubborn clump of tree roots or maybe some other uncooperative piece of brush. Hell, his brother could be shooting at rabbits for all he knew. He could just see Scott bringing them in too, telling everybody he’d figured he better provide something since they’d all starve if they had to depend on the day’s catch for supper. That was probably it. Scott’s little idea of a joke. There was no reason to panic.

 He worked steadily at the distance between them, frustrated that it was taking him so long. He’d only just reassured himself again of his brother’s sorry sense of humor when a sudden movement up ahead caught his attention. Scott’s horse, head bent to crop at the tall grass, was slowly making his way towards him. Choking back the knot that suddenly forced it’s way into his throat, Johnny slowed his own mount and approached the roving animal carefully so as not to spook him. “Easy.” Gathering up the loose reins he ran his hand down the familiar white blaze. “What are you doing out here like this, old man? Huh? Where’s Scott?” He could explain the shots if he tried hard enough but he couldn’t explain this. “All right, brother,” he let out into the empty space, “Now you’ve got me worried. You better have a good reason for all of this.” but the words did little to ease his worry. Putting spurs to horse, Johnny headed for the creek bed. He needed to get there and something told him he needed to get there soon.


It didn’t take long to spot him. Scott looked to be asleep. Had it not been for the horse he’d trailed behind him for the last few miles, Johnny would have believed in fact that he was. But his brother knew horses, there had never been any doubt about that, and letting one get away from him was not his style. No, he wasn’t asleep. But what then?


 No response came for the soft inquiry or the light touch that accompanied it. Concerned, Johnny’s eyes tracked down his brother’s chest. Allowing his hand to follow, he stopped at the sight of the bloodied arm that lay cradled and supported in the other. Experience brought immediate recognition for the telltale signs and drew anxious eyes back to the pale face and then beyond. The rattler lay still, just a few feet from them. The shots.


 It was only a whisper but it was enough. The sound of his name, so softly spoken, brought Johnny’s focus back to his brother. Brushing his fingers over the thick blond hair that lay scattered across Scott’s forehead, he anchored them in the damp hairs at the nape of his brother’s neck. His voice was even, reassuring. “I’m right here Scott. It’s all right.”

Shifting ever so slightly, Scott turned his head towards the familiar voice although his eyes didn’t open. “My arm.”

 “I know. I saw it.” Johnny wiped his thumb over the beads of sweat collecting on his brother’s warm cheek. “Looks like you did a good job on it.” A smile flickered despite his worry. “Looks like you did a good job on the rattler too.”

The gentle ribbing was enough to force Scott’s eyes open. Fever, however new, was already in them but so was a smile and that went a long way to reassuring his worried brother. “You’re not the only one who knows how to use a handgun, you know.” Johnny’s own smile broadened. “I’ll remember that the next time I think about doing something that makes you mad.” He sobered just a little, biting down on his bottom lip. “I’m gonna have to take a better look at it, Brother.”

 A nod was all the permission needed. Taking as gentle a hold as possible, Johnny lay the damaged appendage across his leg. Scott’s arm was already an unhealthy shade of black and blue and there was significant swelling around the bite. It was hot and looked incredibly painful. Easing the tourniquet off, Johnny carefully fingered the ugly wound. The action caused Scott to flinch but he didn’t draw back, concentrating instead on holding his arm still for his brother’s inspection.

“Sorry.” Johnny hadn’t missed the determined effort put forth by his brother not to move nor the sharp intake of air that had accompanied it.

“It’s alright. It can’t be helped.”

A memory flickered bringing the smallest of smiles as Johnny spared a quick look for his brother and then at the darkening sky. No, it couldn’t be helped.

Black clouds, coupled by the waning hours of the day, were giving extra urgency to getting out of there and getting out of there quickly. It was beginning to look like they’d be weathering more than one storm tonight and he had no desire for either of them to do it wet and cold. They needed shelter.

 Johnny knew they’d never make it home before everything, weather or otherwise, hit – not riding double and not with Scott in the shape he was already in. It made more sense then to head for the line shack that had provided him and others needed shelter from time to time out here in the far north pasture. It was closer and although it wouldn’t be the best of accommodations, he doubted Scott was going to care very much about that. They’d find a bed there and whatever else they needed to make it through this difficult night. There would be nothing else they could do now anyway, not even at home. Scott was just going to have to ride this out. It wouldn’t be easy Johnny knew, but he had no doubt Scott could do it. Any man who could ride out a year in a Confederate prison and all of the atrocities that had come with it, could ride out a snake bite. He just hoped his brother had managed to get some of the poison out before it had begun to do its damage.

“Scott?” His brother had settled back down against the overturned saddle but the struggle had already started. The fever was beginning to climb, however slowly, and his breathing was starting to come harder. The effects of the poison had taken firm hold already and Johnny knew Scott was feeling none too good about now. “We gotta get out of here, Brother. There’s a storm comin’ and you don’t need to be out in it.”

 Scott swallowed, trying to hold back the nausea that was quickly setting in. “It’s a long way home.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why we’re not goin’ there. I think we oughta head to that line shack not too far from here, how ’bout you? It’s not the best of solutions but it’ll do.”

 Scott nodded. He was tired. Tired and hurting and already too sick to care what they did. He was more than willing to give all decision making over to his brother. “Help me up.” Sliding a leg up he started to struggle forward but Johnny pressed a hand to his shoulder. “Just give me a minute, okay? I need you to lie still a little longer. “

 Scott made the effort to focus on his brother’s activities, wondering if the dizziness and blurred vision he’d been experiencing for the last while was causing him to see things. It almost looked like Johnny had worked apart a bullet and was pouring gunpowder onto the wound. “What are you doing?”

“Tryin’ an old trick I’ve seen used on snake bites. It’s supposed to work like a charm.” Keeping a wary eye on his brother he added, “It’s gonna hurt some though.”

Scott’s eyes closed briefly. “It already does.” Getting them open again he fixed a steady gaze on his brother. “Go ahead.”

There was trust in those few words and Johnny didn’t miss it. Scott was turning this all over to him and counting on him to do what he himself no longer could. Well, he’d willingly let his brother carry him once or twice since they’d met. Now he was more than ready to do the same in return.

“All right. Hold still.” Not wanting his brother to have any time to think about what was about to happen, Johnny quickly struck the match he’d pulled unnoticed from his pocket and set it to the powder. And then he simply held on as Scott twisted away in pain.


 Johnny eased his brother down onto the thin mattress. They’d gotten there fairly quickly but so had the rain, leaving them both cold and wet. Well, they were out of it now. Looking around he knew this had been the best decision. Besides the much needed bed, there was wood for a fire and enough food and water to meet their needs. He also knew it had been better for Scott than if they had pushed for home. The miles to the shack had taken their toll but they had at least been short and now Scott could give all the strength he had to the fight ahead, instead of putting it into what would have been a long ride.

 And Scott would fight. He knew that and ever since his earlier little foray into the field of medicine he had felt oddly reassured that his brother would win. He’d replayed the scene now at least a dozen times, each time catching himself smiling despite the seriousness of the situation. The cry that had escaped Scott’s lips as he’d lit the gunpowder had been more a strangled expression of disbelief than of pain – in fact it had been as close to a laugh as anyone could get while in that bad a shape. Scott had curled in agony, drawing his knees reflexively to his chest, his arm held tight in his good hand but his words, choked out through labored gasps had been laced with something at least close to laughter and had allowed the ridiculousness of the situation to give much needed relief. “God, Johnny! Are you crazy?” Almost despite himself Johnny had laughed out loud at Scott’s uncharacteristic outburst. Wrapping his arms around his brother’s lean frame in an effort to help him to his feet, Johnny had assured him that they probably both were but it was only after he had promised never to hang out his shingle or share his secret with Sam that Scott had finally allowed him to get him up and on their way.

Johnny smiled again but this time it was not simply at a memory but at the very form of his brother. Anyone who could see even the least little bit of humor in any of this got his vote for making it and he would do everything he knew to help that along. “All right, brother. Let’s get to this.”

As quickly as he could Johnny got a fire going. He’d already removed Scott’s boots and wet jacket and covered him with a warm blanket. He was going to have to remember to thank Jelly again for sending Scott’s jacket along. He’d used it to cover his brother while they’d ridden, and it had kept at least the worst of the rain off of his already shivering sibling. Grabbing for the metal basin previously left lying on the table, he filled it at the pump and set about ripping up an old shirt he’d found. It would serve the purpose of helping to cool his brother down. A cool rag on the wound would help ease some of the pain too.

 He filled a pitcher with water and snatched a single glass from the shelf. “Scott?” Kneeling beside the low cot that served as the only means of rest in the small structure, he tried to rouse his brother. “Scott? Come on brother, I need you to wake up and drink a little for me.”

Scott shifted. Fevered eyes opened to fix on those fired not by fever but by worry. “Hey.” Johnny smiled his encouragement. His light touch on his brother’s blond head helped to anchor Scott in the moment. “Can you take some of this for me? We’ve got to get some liquids into you if we’re going to bring this fever of yours down.”

Supported by Johnny’s arm, Scott managed a few swallows before turning away. As gently as possible, Johnny lay him back against the one thin pillow, and turned his attention to the basin. He lay the cool rag on his brother’s hot forehead.

 And so it went. The long night stretched on for what seemed an eternity. Johnny never left Scott’s side, fighting as desperately as his brother for every bit of ground gained, battling even harder when it seemed that Scott couldn’t. At times Scott was agitated, his heartbeat frighteningly fast, fueled as it was by fever and the adrenaline in his system brought on by the snake’s venom. During those moments Johnny could do little but hold on to him, assuring him that everything was going to be all right, that he wasn’t alone.

“You’re doing good, Scott. You hear? You just hold on.”

At other times the precious balm of sleep, however exhaustive, would quiet Scott’s unrest and Johnny would gratefully use that time to bath his brother’s face and chest with cool water, offering small sips of liquid as Scott could take them.

Slowly but surely, after what seemed like endless hours of worry, the moments of calm stretched into longer periods until Scott quieted fully and slept. Reassured that the fever was no longer climbing, Johnny lay the cloth aside. He grabbed at a stool that lay discarded on the floor and brought it to his brother’s bedside. Leaning forward he rested his head in the crook of his arm, wearily closing his eyes. How long ago had he left the ranch looking for Scott? Had it really only been just the evening before? It seemed like a lifetime. It certainly felt like they’d been through enough to fill one.

“It can’t be helped.” The words came back to him as he drifted off for what little sleep he might be able to find before darkness lifted. The very first words his brother had ever spoken to him, repeated today unawares. He wondered if Scott realized it. He doubted it. He doubted Scott was going to remember much of any of this.

“It can’t be helped.” No, there are a lot of things that can’t be helped he thought. Like falling on top of somebody when a stage starts up suddenly. Like causing someone pain for the greater good of helping. Like coming to care for a man in a way you never imagined you ever would.


 The morning sun found it’s way under the closed eyelids, forcing them open to what lay around him. It took a moment to focus but when Scott did, it was on the face of his brother.

 “Mornin’.” Johnny’s voice was quiet but the smile that lit up the deep blue eyes and tanned face spoke volumes. Scott registered the vague impression that those smiling eyes were also very tired and the face lined with worry.

 “Is it?” Scott’s own voice was hoarse from pain and fatigue. He was so very tired and the struggle to keep his eyes open seemed to be a little too much right now. He gave it up and let them slide closed.

Johnny was talking. He’d been talking all night. At least it had seemed to Scott that he must have been because every time he’d struggled awake it was his brother’s voice he had heard. He listened again to the soft rhythms that had seen him through the dark. “Yup. You made it through. You had me worried once or twice but you did it.”

 Scott didn’t move, didn’t even try to look around him again or search for his brother’s face. It just felt too good to lay there against the pillow and know that there wasn’t a thing he needed to do or think about. His brother was there, willing to do it for him.

“You don’t look so good,” he managed.

He didn’t have to bother looking to know his brother was still smiling. He could hear it. “Maybe not, but you should know, you look worse.”

 A slight shudder ran over him, then quieted. “I can believe it.”

He heard Johnny move and felt strong hands bring him up to meet the water he was craving. “Need more?”

He nodded and drank again. “Thanks.”

 “No problem. There’s plenty.” “I didn’t mean just for the water.”

 “No? For what then?” There was no mistaking the self-castigating sigh. “For dumping all that extra work on you all week – or for almost killing you yesterday with my snake bite remedy?” The smile again, but this time it was fading and he opened his eyes because he knew he needed to.

Those tired eyes were fixed intently on him. “I should have been there, Scott. I’m sorry.”


“No, listen. I’m not sayin’ it would have changed things or made any kind of difference. I’m just sayin’ I should have been there. It was where I was supposed to be… with you. And I’m sorry if I forgot that for a while.”

 Scott nodded and Johnny knew he understood. His brother looked worn out and was a long way from being done with this but the worst of it had gone and taken with it the fear of losing what was probably the best thing he’d ever known. It was time to go home – with his brother.

 “Come on. What do you say we get you home to your own bed, huh? I’m bettin’ a better mattress and a nice comfy night shirt would feel real good about now.”

His brother smiled. It wasn’t much of one but it was enough. “Good luck finding one.”

Johnny returned the smile only this time his didn’t fade. “Not to worry brother. I’ve got plenty you can borrow.” “Thanks – I think”

 “No problem. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that’s what brothers are for?”


 “Good seein’ you again, Rick.”

It was early, the morning sun just starting to show itself in the eastern sky. With a full day ahead and the promise of clear weather Rick should make good time. He was already a day or two late getting started, and needed to be on his way. Hopefully the job he had lined up in Marshall’s Creek would still be waiting for him when he got there.

“Thanks for helpin’ out these last couple of days, huh?”

 “Hey, what are friends for? Sides, it’s been a real experience workin’ with your friend Jelly while you’ve been busy. Likes to talk, but he’s okay. Taught me a few things that just might come in handy some day.”

Johnny smiled at the thought. “Yeah, well, give Jelly an audience and he’ll take advantage of it, that’s for sure.”

“Well, I didn’t mind a bit.” Rick paused only briefly, nodding towards the hacienda. “You’ve got a good thing goin’ on here, John. A real good thing. I’m happy for you. You deserve it.”

Reaching out Johnny grasped his friend’s hand in a firm handshake. “Don’t make it so long between visits next time, huh?”

“I won’t. I promise. In the meantime, you take care of that brother of yours, ya hear? I’m glad he’s gonna be all right. I gotta admit I like knowin’ you got somebody like him at your back.”

 “I’ll do that. I’d say I owe him one anyway.”

Rick smiled, gathering up his horse’s reins. “You know, Johnny. You might think talkin’s the only thing I’ve done around here all week. But I gotta tell you, I did some listenin’ and watchin’ in between and after a week of it, there’s one thing I can tell you for sure.” Swinging up into the saddle, he looked down intently at his friend. “You’re brother? He ain’t keepin’ score. And for that alone, my friend, I envy you.”

The crunch of gravel behind him roused Johnny from thought as he watched his friend leave. A warm smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and with a tilt of his head he turned towards that voice he knew all too well drifting now from the shadows of the veranda. He could just imagine the look on the whiskered face that accompanied it.

 “Man knows what he’s talkin’ about, I’d say. Might pay ya ta listen when he talks.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE Johnny’s remedy for rattlesnake bites can be found at: “Rub the wound full of Gunpowder and then Pour on a good Charge on the top of all and then Put fire to it and Burn it that will Cure it on all dum brutes” – Campo storekeeper Luman H. Gaskill (San Diego County)



Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email KathyK directly.


5 thoughts on “Keeping Score by Kathy K.

  1. What a fabulous story! You did a good job keeping everyone’s personality consistent with what we saw in the show. And you presented us with a believable, interesting plot. This was nicely done and will be re-read. Thank you.


  2. Thank you for this beautiful story. So well written that we can think that we are watching an episode of the series.


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