“Stay with me, cadet,” Fahy replied. “We’ll have some devilment tonight.”
But Buck had come west for a break from devilment.
The day glistened like a golden carpet to the west and Buck felt the nip of sunburn and weariness as the soldiers tended a massive fire with choice cuts of rare buffalo brought in by Indian traders to the north and a wild turkey shot on the hills. Buck had imagined something more in the desert than sunken-faced soldiers and debased Indians in their cast off military clothes. No one else minded the quick chill replacing the day’s heat.
“Why don’t you take off your scarf—it’s pretentious and off putting, to be honest, young fellow,” Fahy suggested as he poured Buck more scotch to drink.
Buck untied the cravat, exposing the vicious-looking, half-healed scar.
“Jaysus!” Fahy moaned. “What the hell—oh, cover it up again, please! Not before a meal!”
Buck followed orders.
“What’s the story, cadet?” Fahy asked.
“There’s no story but that it won’t heal,” Buck said, sipping his scotch.
A few favored non-commissioned officers helped with the barbecue and shared the drink. Out of the shadows came the missionaries and William.
“Party over!” joked Fahy.
“Will I pour you all a drink?” Buck offered in an intoxicated whisper. “It’s from my father’s collection. He’ll never know it’s gone.”
The missionaries as a group declined.
“Cadet, you’ve forgotten good old Bill,” Fahy said. “You’ll have a drink, won’t you, Bill? It’s a celebration after all. Certainly you can take one drink. You’re no fun without one and maybe Papa Kenyon will let you off the hook for one night.”
Buck looked on innocently.
Kenyon said, “Lieutenant Fahy, I see what you’re up to and I don’t like it. We’ve come as a gesture of good will. Now leave Mr. Weldon alone.”
Fahy laughed, poking the fire. “Bill, do you have ANY mind of your own or have you been completely brainwashed by this sour old man?”
“I’m not under anyone’s thumb and I’ll speak for myself,” William said with false bravado, glancing at Buck. “One glass is hardly anything and I’ve done a lot of good work for you, Mr. Kenyon. I’m entitled to a small bit of enjoyment, sir, just this once.”
“It’s like you’re an indentured servant, Bill. I’ve never seen the likes of it,” Fahy said.
“William, I have your best interests at heart,” Kenyon said.
“You want to control me!” William replied, handing a mug to Buck, who hesitated but then poured him a large helping from the fancy bottle.
“You asked for my help, William,” Kenyon reminded him.
“Yes, and thank you, but I don’t need your help anymore. I have things under control—I promise you.”
“William, you’re an adult. Do as you wish,” Kenyon said, but the other missionaries grumbled.
The soldiers laughed and shared another round. William gulped the scotch. He stood away from Kenyon, but not quite with the military men, who now under the influence, drew Buck in as their own.
“So . . . Buck, you’re on furlough . . . how come you’re not with your friends?” William asked—just wanting to be included.
Buck’s face fell. He had no friends and leave it to William to remind him. “Hey, Willy, spell lieutenant.”
“What?” William’s face soured.
“That’s right, why don’t you spell it for us?” Buck said.
“Oh, Bill isn’t all that bright upstairs,” Fahy said, pointing to his temple.
“My brother and I played tricks on Willy, didn’t we?” Buck said to William. “We convinced him to be in a spelling contest, taught him the words wrong. He got up there on his gimpy leg—he always had these headaches—we taught him every word wrong and he trusted us—ha-ha.”
The soldiers laughed. Buck was getting sick with just a few drinks in him.
William took the open bottle near the fire and filled his cup again. Kenyon called him, but William ignored it.
“What else, cadet? Any other stories?” Fahy asked.
“Oh yes, many. There was the time we stole his father’s cane—he’s a cripple from the war. It was at church and Lieutenant Weldon—well, he’s proud and he’d have stumbled, so he waited till everyone was out of church and then him and Willy took the side door. We hid in the bushes breaking our hearts laughing at them as they searched for their carriage, clinging to each other only to find their horse moved around front where they’d have to be seen. I remember watching Mr. Weldon trip–and Willy’s face,” Buck didn’t laugh with the others. “My father beat us with that stick till it broke. It was the only time he hit us. Well, we got Mr. Weldon a new, gorgeous stick—a Grand Army of the Republic one—out of our savings—my father forced us.”
“No, my mother gave my father that for Christmas!” William said.
“Willy, your mother couldn’t afford shit and your father wouldn’t have taken it from us.”
Fahy wanted fun, not memories. “How about we eat?”
“It was a damned mean thing to do to you, Willy,” Buck said, his words slurring and his head beginning to spin.
William took another drink. Kenyon came up behind him. “Son, you’d better eat something.”
“Get away from me, you bastard! You’re not my mother!” William said, shoving Kenyon.
Fahy rushed up. “Kenyon, this is my fault. Don’t let Weldon ruin your night. He’ll be the same old self in the morning.”
“Yes, I’m afraid he will. The meat’s burnt to a crisp,” Kenyon replied.