“Leave me alone.”
Ignoring the pain-filled petulance in Butch’s voice Danny told him, “You sound like a two year old. Now shut up. I don’t have time for whatever nonsense you’re thinking. If you’re too afraid for your lily white reputation I’ll see if someone will take you to the church and you can sleep on a pew until Sunday service in the morning. The new preacher will like that. He’s even worse than you when it comes to bar maids and I quote ‘other females of ill repute.’”
Trying to wrench away from her with absolutely no success Butch growled, “Oh no you won’t.”
Completely disregarding his wishes Danny told him, “Give me problems and watch me.”
It wasn’t easy but eventually Danny got Butch up the RV steps and draped him over Tito’s bed.
“I’ll help you get your boots off because if I don’t you’re just likely to go head first onto the floor and I’ll trip over you coming in.”
In a slightly different voice Butch said, “Daniella …”
Unwilling to listen to whatever Butch was about to say Danny said, “Give it a rest already. If I see Mr. Hunter – or one of his runners - I’ll let him know where you are. Maybe he’ll have a better idea where you can stay if this still doesn’t suit you.” And with that Danny turned and left Butch staring at a closed door.
Heading to the tavern she stopped, realizing that Butch’s horse was still tied to the rail. She untied the reins and led the animal to the stable to be taken care of by Ronnie. “And tend him well,” she told the boy. “The horse is a good one, part Spanish pony and they’re expensive and if you don’t know that you should. Plus I have no idea how long Mr. Pinder has had him on the road. And if I find out you’ve shirked …”
“No. Never Danny. I’ll look after him the way I do the puppies. I swear I will.”
“You’d better. Because if you don’t …”
Ronnie swallowed hard knowing that getting on the wrong side of Danny might mean being sent back to the orphanage and he’d never go back there if he could help it. Besides, she wasn’t wrong … just grouchy. But being on Danny’s good side could make all the difference in the world. A boy got fed around here and Danny would call him off of a chore to make sure he got to lick the beaters when she was making cakes. She fed him out of her own garden on Sundays. There were full apprentices making pay that didn’t get treated half so well. She also helped him with his homework so he could pass his school tests even if he was up working late the night before. And the other good thing about Sundays is that she always made sure that he got time off to play just like the other boys even if it meant having to take up some extra work on herself. Yeah, Danny was grouchy, but she was all right; the people that ran the orphanage were a lot grouchier. He turned and started taking care of the militiaman’s horse and thought, “Besides, Danny might be scary when she got a mad on but that Pinder fella could be a lot scarier.” Ronnie had seen him find the man that had roughed Danny up and had tore into him from one end to the other. He didn’t think Danny knew about it and he wasn’t stupid enough to get in the middle of whatever trouble there was between her and Pinder. He liked his place now that he’d found one and he liked licking the batter from the beaters and having Sundays off. Why upset the orange cart?
For her part Danny had a longer than usual night. The extra lawmen in town made some of the regular customers nervous. Made some of the travelers even more nervous. People were so snippy and a few left early taking their tips with them. Rather than watch a potentially good night go to rubbish Danny told Cindy to get her butt up to the small dais in the dining room and do a little singing to see if it wouldn’t calm people down.
“I can’t sing!”
“Bull. Just sing a little and then we’ll switch off.”
“You can sing?! Then you do it. I need the tips.”
Danny needed the tips too because there was another payment coming to keep Joey in school and she didn’t want to use all of her savings to do it … but there wouldn’t be any tips if she couldn’t figure a way to change the mood. So she grabbed the old acoustic guitar that Tito and Joey had sometimes played for customers on slow nights and showed everyone who had taught her brothers to play. Danny had learned from her Poppy and they were still some of her best memories.
Mostly she played but she did sing a few songs in her deep, sultry voice. She didn’t sing often because it made her sound like a different woman than she was. And because men tended to act silly towards her afterwards. The music she played was a combination of slow and mellow to fast and upbeat, some romantic, some fun, some patriotic, and some a little on the naughty side later in the evening after the families had left. From traditional American folk music to the music of her father’s heritage to regional favorites to acoustic versions of old rock songs that she remembered. It had been several years since she had played even half that long and by the time the last customer left she had blisters on almost every finger.
“You saved the night Danny!” Mr. Maddox whooped as he was counting up the night’s receipts.
Mrs. Maddox smiled and nodded but said, “Hush or you’ll wake the guests Dear. Cindy, Nancy it is too late for you two to be out on the road, someone from the decency committee might stop you and create problems. Get a couple of pallets from the closet and you can stay in Ronnie’s room. The boy is already asleep in the kitchen. Danny …”
Danny had a few things left to do before she could call it a night and said, “I’d better go check on the patient. Mr. Hunter said he would check in but I don’t know if he hauled him off to the quack’s office or left him for me to bury.”
Mr. Maddox asked, “What’s this? What patient?”
“I’ll explain in a bit Dear.” To Danny she said, “I want you to take everything in that tip jar with you … and don’t you dare spend any of it on Ronnie, you already spoil him close to rotten. As for the patient, you just remember what I said and keep a skillet handy and stay out of his reach until he is fully awake. For all I like Butch Pinder, there have been mornings I would have been just as happy to have pushed him down the stairs he’s so foul.”
Agreeing to be cautious Danny gratefully stuffed the tips from the jar into her pocket and then made her way over to the RV to find a guard stationed outside the door. “What on earth?! Lonny Ralston what is going on? Did he actually go and die and you’re holding the wake?”
A growl from inside let Danny know that someone was not in a happy mood.
“Lovely,” she muttered. “Just what I need after a long night on my feet. Yo, Prince Charming … can I at least get my things so I can sleep in the kitchen?”
Mr. Hunter opened the door and said, “Actually I’d prefer if you’d stay with him Danny. Sit on him – or bash his head in if need be. He is somehow under the misapprehension that he is going to be in the posse tomorrow.”
“Oh, so I get to babysit Godzilla. Thanks ever so much.”
More growling from inside made Danny roll her eyes. Mr. Hunter looked momentarily concerned until she winked at him. “My hide is thicker than his is. Go ahead and take Lonny off with you please. Butch I will tolerate to honor my mother … but I’m not having any other man snoop around my place.”
Mr. Hunter was too tired and knew Danny and knew better than to waste time arguing when she was in a certain mood. Besides he was no different from anyone else and assumed she had plenty of experience with men in all their glory, just she was more circumspect about it than Cindy was.
After she had watched Mr. Hunter and Lonny ride off Danny entered the RV. “What? You aren’t asleep yet? Want something to knock you out? You’ve got the choice of chamomile tea, warm milk, or getting your head bashed in further with a skillet. Which will it be?”
In a far from gracious voice Butch snarled, “You know what they’ll think.”
“The same thing that everyone thinks, including you. That I’m no better than the whores that walk the road after dark. Whether I stay in the RV tonight or not won’t change anyone’s mind because they are already made up.”
“Butch, I’m not in the mood. I’m doing this in Eddie and Momma’s memory. For them. Not for you. Not for me. So shut up and just accept it if you can’t appreciate it because I am too tired to argue. You make me argue and I guarantee you’ll regret it. I have to be up early in case Donna doesn’t show up. She’s been doing that a lot lately … not showing up. And with the way my luck runs she’ll do it again in the morning or she’ll run off in the middle of the breakfast crowd though with tomorrow being Sunday all there will be is a brunch buffet table where people serve themselves. However, the food still has to be cooked and the tables still have to be cleaned and the dishes still have to be washed. So which is it going to be?”
Butch sighed. “You really don’t care do you?”
“About what people think? No, I really don’t. Caring what people thought never gained me a single thing and usually just caused me nothing but grief. I never had to worry about Tito or Joey so much, just Nita and now that she’s taken care of …” Danny stopped with a shrug. “Now that it’s just me and I figured out that despite me trying so hard and working so hard people decided they could paint me the way they want to regardless … well now I just don’t care even the smallest fraction. It makes things easier.”
“Not even the people at church?”
“Who them? They’re the worst … or I suppose,” she hesitated before saying more honestly. “It isn’t all of them because there are some good people amongst them; but the worst of them seem to come from there. I know most of them are just worried for me and don’t really know what to think. I tried to prove to them but that new guy … Brother Jack … he’s bound and determined to think I’m some kind of what he calls a harlot, like those in the Bible. His face went all pruny every time I came to service and it was causing too much friction in the church so I just stopped going. People should be able to go to church and not have to have the kids constantly being bombarded with sex talk from the pulpit. Makes me wish I had fewer scruples and would tell people exactly why Brother Jack had to find a new parish.”
“And that is?”
“None of your business. Wasn’t any of mine when I heard it either so I’m not going to spread gossip that I can’t prove.”
“But you believe whatever you heard. Why?”
“Because of who told me and under what circumstances. Now drop it. I’m done with that line of work.”
“Really?” Butch asked cynically.
“Yeah. Just like I don’t care what people think of me anymore I’m not going to try and better anyone else’s lives by holding back trouble unless it somehow betters mine significantly at the same time. I’m done with it all. And for tonight I’m done with you. You need to rest and I need to sleep what I can.”
“Are you deaf? Leave me alone. You should be happy. I’ve finally listened to all of your lovely lectures and now you won’t have to deal with me anymore for anything. Just show a bit of appreciation for that by not doing anything stupid and getting me in hot water with Hunter. I don’t need the kind of trouble he can cause me.”
“Hunter would never …”
Danny interrupted Butch with an unladylike snort. “He’s human isn’t he? And a male human at that. Never trust anyone not to cause trouble.”
She went forward and sharply drew the curtain to her sleeping area. She’d tried sleeping in Tito’s bed and even in the bed that Delia and Nita had once slept on but she couldn’t get any rest so it was back to the old captain’s chairs. It was almost like sleeping sitting up but she’d done it that way for so many years she decided it was too much work to change bad habits.
Danny’s eyes popped open before the rooster crowed. The sun wasn’t up but the sky wasn’t as dark as it was when she’d finally fallen asleep which told her sun up wasn’t that far away. She’d slept fully clothed so all she had to do was grab a wash cloth and try and creep out.
Her hand was on the door knob when Butch muttered, “What time is it?”
“Just before dawn. Go back to sleep.”
“Need to see a quack?”
Danny sighed and only by sheer will did she not kick the man in the head. “Butch, you are treading on thin ground. If you need something for the pain just say yes … or no. Don’t give me attitude. Don’t give me mouth or whatever your morning routine is with everyone else. I really don’t care. I do not care how injured you are. I am not a great person in the morning either. You push me one more time and I will flay you and I promise I am a lot better at it than you are … you’re mean, I’m vicious. So, do you need something for the pain?”
After a few moments a reluctant yes slipped passed Butch’s lips.
“Fine. Give me a few minutes and I’ll fix you a tray. I’ll have Ronnie bring it over before he catches the Sunday School wagon. If you upset him I’ll borrow a horse and drag you into the forest and teach you exactly how pissy mean I can be. Ronnie has a part in the program at church today and he does not need to start his Sabbath day off with the likes of your foulness. Understand?”
Danny would have still liked to kick him in the head but as she was trying to be a better person even if she had told Butch she didn’t give a rip anymore she left the RV. She didn’t even slam the door which was almost a miracle in and of itself. She didn’t even poison his breakfast … just doctored up not only his tea but his juice as she suspected he would ditch the tea and try and pretend he’d let her dose him.
After making sure that Mrs. Maddox could manage with the help that showed up she went back to the RV and smiled grimly when she found Butch snoring. There is more than one way to skin a cat.