"Boys, and 'er, Lou. Listen up, I'm only gonna tell ya this once."
Everyone looked up at Teaspoon who stood in the bunkhouse doorway. All wore expectant faces, some of them dreading what he might say - since it may be cause for them to draw straws once more.
But it wasn't quite that dire. Not quite. "There's a nasty cold epidemic passing around town and I don't want none of you boys to catch it. And that includes you too, Lou. So I have a foolproof preventative cure and I expect ya'll to ad-here to it." Teaspoon paused for effect because he so loved having everyone's attention. Pulling on the straps of his suspenders and swaying back on his feet a little, the way he was often wont to do, he continued. "Yes, sirree, I've got just the thing to keep ya'll well." He smiled, quite proud of himself by keeping his audience enthralled - or so he thought.
"Well? What is it, Teaspoon? We ain't got all day. Ya did say you wanted us to replace the barn roof today." Jimmy asked. He wasn't really eager to start the work, not with the temperature as low as it was, but he was tired of waiting on Teaspoon. Jimmy knew how the old man liked to drag things out when he was telling a story.
"Glad you asked, Hickok. Glad you asked." Walking over to the counter, Teaspoon snagged an onion. "Here's what I want ya'll ta do." He ceremoniously plunked the onion on the table and sat down. And there he sat - in silence.
It was Cody who spoke up next. "What, Teaspoon? Ya want us to stare at it?"
Teaspoon merely shook his head and smiled.
Jimmy understood. "Eat it. That's what ya want us to do, isn't it?" Shaking his head in denial, he said, "Sorry, Teaspoon, that's what you like to do, but there's no way I'm eatin' a raw onion." Jimmy stood up and started for the door, but Teaspoon stopped him.
"Sit down, Hickok. Don't know why you're all fired up ta get workin'. And it ain't just eatin' the onion ya need ta do. Ya gotta make a sandwich outta it." When protests started to come from around the room Teaspoon lifted a finger and quickly added, "And ya'll gotta wash yer hair".
Leaning back in his chair, Teaspoon smiled at the chaos he'd created and felt rather proud. He let the bickering go on for a few minutes longer then he stood up and announced, "I'll make sure Rachel knows to make ya each an onion sandwich and instead of getting' ta work on the barn ya'll can take turns heatin' water so's ya can each wash yer hair. Lou, I'm sure Rachel wouldn't mind ya usin' her house iff'n ya want. And Ike, well since ya don't have to worry about the hair part you can help carry the water into the bunkhouse. After ya'll are done with yer hair, ya can eat and then work on the barn. That'll give ya'll time for the hair ta dry proper-like. Wouldn't want ya to catch a head cold out there 'cause yer hair ain't dry." Teaspoon laughed and slapped his thigh. "On second thought, guess ya don't have to worry about the catching a cold part." Teaspoon shook his head and grinned at his own little joke and walked back out of the bunkhouse.
Two hours later all the riders sat around the table with various stages of drying hair, waiting on Rachel and the onion sandwiches.
When they spied Rachel with the platter of sandwiches, everyone scrunched up their faces. Cody actually looked horrified that he'd have to eat something as unappetizing as that. When he had awoke that morning he was looking forward to the usual delicious meals Rachel fixed for them.
Rachel looked at Cody's expression and immediately felt some sympathy for him, knowing what was more than likely going through his head. "Don't worry." She said. "I'm still planning to make ya'll a nice meal in a little while. But Teaspoon's got it in his head this is what will be best." Handing out the sandwiches to each of the leery riders, she said, "I cooked the onions in some butter to try to add a little flavor." With a pinched smile, she added, "It makes them taste a little better."
Lou took a small bite and all eyes went to her, trying to gauge her reaction. She chewed for a bit and then feeling as if she were being watched she looked up. She swallowed and simply asked, "What?"
Cody couldn't contain himself and asked, "Well? What's it like?"
"Like an onion sandwich. What'd ya think it'd taste like, steak?"
"Oh." Said Cody, clearly at a loss for anything else to say.
Slowly, one by one, they all started to eat their sandwiches. All except Cody. Something of an oddity having Cody the only one not eating anything.
Rachel, noting Cody, suggested, "Cody, I'm not sure, but I think if you wait 'til it's cold it's not going to taste any better."
"I s'pose you're right, Rachel." He sighed heavily and took a bite - and grinned. "Hey, this is real good." He took a hearty bite and asked, "Can I have another?" She handed him another sandwich and he wolfed it down in two bites. He looked at Rachel, silently asking for more and she shook her head.
"Sorry, Cody, I only made the one extra. I'll be startin' in on supper real soon, so don't worry, there's more food on the way. When ya'll are done, Teaspoon said he wanted you to get to work on the barn roof. He's worried the weather might turn worse soon and didn't want any more of the hay to get wet."
So they finished the sandwiches and the riders grudgingly put on their coats and made their way out to the barn and the supplies that had been picked up earlier in the week.
About an hour later the snow started and then the temperature really dipped down. Still they kept working, eager to get it done and be in out of the cold. An hour after that the sleet started and they all packed it in for the day before they fell off the roof.
Later that night while they were sleeping, it started.
Jimmy had a coughing fit that could wake the dead. Buck started sneezing. Ike's nose was runny. Lou only had a headache, but it was the worst she had ever had. Kid complained of a sore throat. Noah woke up sweating and feeling hot. Cody slept through it all. They all eyed him with suspicion. Jimmy threw a pillow at him, thinking if they couldn't sleep then Cody shouldn't either.
Cody woke up shouting, "Hey!" Looking around the room and seeing them all sick he had to wonder what was going on. "What's going on?" Cody had always been one to articulate his thoughts well.
"We're sick." The Kid managed to croak out.
"But we all ate them sandwiches, how can you be sick?"
"You didn't really think that was goin' to work, did ya?" Lou asked.
"Well, I'm not sick." He was thoughtful for a moment and then had a sudden inspiration, "Hey, I know! I ate two of 'em and you all only ate one. That's it. That's the problem."
"Yeah, sure, Cody, whatever." Buck replied and promptly sneezed.
Slowly they each fell back onto their pillows and tried to get back to sleep. Off and on during the night one would wake up feeling sicker than before, but would drift back off.
Early the next morning, Teaspoon banged the door open as loudly as he could and announced his 'good morning' and was met with bleary eyes. Except for Cody. Cody slept the sleep of the dead - as he always did.
"Well, what's the matter with everyone? Ya'll look like ya were rode hard and put away wet."
He strode over to Cody's bunk and kicked the underside, startling Cody awake. "Hey! Leave me alone. Just 'cause you all are sick, don't take it out on me." He pulled his pillow over his head and curled up to go back to sleep. But Teaspoon had other ideas.
"Time to get up, Mr. Cody."
"Oh, uh, Teaspoon. Didn't know that was you." He said sheepishly.
The stationmaster turned to eye the other occupants of the room and slowly shook his head. Disbelief marred his features. He asked what was wrong with each rider and he patiently listened while they rattled off their complaints. When Teaspoon swung around to face Cody, Cody sat up in his bunk a little straighter and proclaimed, "I'm healthy as a horse. I ate two of your sandwiches yesterday and I ain't sick. Not like some people I know."
Teaspoon inwardly smiled, saving his thoughts on that one for later, he sat down at the table and faced all his riders. "I know just what ya'll need ta do." Groaning could be heard all around. "Lou, ya need to go back ta sleep, but first put a pair of scissors under yer pillow. That'll take care of yer headache." She looked at him puzzled, but he didn't pause for her to say anything. "As for you, Noah, I've got a special tea I can make ya. I ain't telling ya what's in it, just that it has ta do with a rabbit. And Kid, some kerosene oil and butter will do the trick." Teaspoon rattled on with some more inane ideas on how to best care for their ailments while everyone watched with something akin to fear and amazement at some of the concoctions he came up with.
"Now, Jimmy, you've got a choice. I'll tell ya the one I'd prefer first. I'll get Rachel to bake up a mess of onions and then all ya have ta do is drink the juice from that."
"Teaspoon, I've had it with your onions. It didn't work yesterday so why am I supposed to think it'll work today?" He asked between clenched teeth.
Seeing Jimmy's anger reflected in his eyes, Teaspoon sighed. "Yer not gonna like this next one, but it'll work just as well as the onion juice woulda."
Jimmy mumbled something that sounded a lot like, "I doubt it."
"Well then. I'll just need to go get a shovel and visit the cow out back ta get what I need. When I come back I'll want ya ta gargle with the mixture three times a day and yer coughin' will stop." Teaspoon made to get up, but Jimmy stopped him.
"No, no." Jimmy exclaimed, fearful of exactly what Teaspoon needed that involved a shovel and the cow. After hearing some of the other remedies he had a feeling it had something to do with cow patties. "I think the onions will be just fine."
Teaspoon eased back into his chair, knowing Jimmy made the right decision. After all what better cure-all was there than onions...unless it was bear grease.
"Well alright. I'll get started on all yer…"
"Teaspoon Hunter! What do you think you're doing?" Rachel stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, with a total look of exasperation. "All they need is a little care, some sleep and plenty of fluids. And I don't mean onion juice or tea made from…well I'm not even going to say it. You really thought those onion sandwiches were going to keep them from getting sick? They were outside in the freezing weather working on a barn roof that would have been just fine 'til it warmed up some. It coulda just been patched. Shoot, Teaspoon, Russell, Majors and Waddell even shut us down because the pass is closed right now because of the bad weather. Now I know there's chores to be done 'round here, but a body shouldn't be out in this weather any longer than possible. Just let me take care of 'em this time and forget this onion business. What they all need right now is some chicken soup. In fact, if I can pull you away from your duties, Dr. Hunter, maybe you could go get that chicken I need and bring it to the back door?" And with that, Rachel quit the room.
"Well, Teaspoon, I guess she told you, huh?" Cody remarked. Blissfully unaware he was digging his own grave.
Everyone looked at Cody with bated breath, wondering what was going to happen next. It wasn't long in coming.
Teaspoon quietly rose from his chair with the precision of a lion stalking his prey. "Mr. Cody! Since yer the only one well in this room all those chores Rachel was talkin' 'bout are going to fall on yer shoulders 'til they all feel better. Is that understood?"
Cody could do nothing except nod. He knew he must have crossed a line somewhere, but he just didn't know where.
Teaspoon left with Cody closely on his heels. Jimmy's coughing started back up and Buck was overcome by a fit of sneezing. Ike reached for his handkerchief and rubbed his nose. Noah was already falling asleep. As Kid started to lie back on his pillow he noticed Lou quietly slipping out of her bunk. He silently watched as she rummaged around in her trunk. Closing the lid she reached up to her pillow and slid something shiny beneath it and then she climbed back up and lay down.
Kid thought real hard for awhile, trying to figure out what she had just done. Then he smiled as it came to him. Scissors.