Sure enough. Behind the oh-so-thoughtfully hung picture was a fist-sized hole.
Keely said, "Uh-oh."
"You better believe uh-oh." He replaced the picture and counted to ten before he faced Colby and Colt. "What happened?"
"We stayed in the house like you told us," Colby blurted out. "And Colt bragged that he could punch as hard as Rocky Balboa. So I was holdin' a pillow-"
"And Colby thought it'd be funny if he pulled it away at the last second. My fist hit the wall and went clean through it," Colt finished.
"Geezuz," Keely repeated.
"Dad. You ain't s'posed to swear," Colt pointed out.
"Least he didn't say the f-word. Though I think Ma hates takin' the Lord's name in vain swear words worse than the f-word or the c-word."
How the f**k did these boys know the c-word?
"It rhymes with lock," Cord said helpfully.
Okay, not that c-word.
"Ain't no one asked how my hand is," Colt grumbled.
"Or my stomach," Cam said from over by the couch. Which was missing all the cushions. Cushions that Cam was sprawled out on, on the floor, holding his gut.
"What happened to your stomach? And the couch?"
"Colt punched me. It's okay, Dad, don't get mad at him. I asked him to. But then it hurt really bad 'cause I'm pretty sure Colt does punch as hard as Rocky and I kinda…threw up."
"You threw up in the fuc-" don't swear, don't swear, "-in the livin' room?" Was that why the cushions were scattered to hell and back? Was he tryin' to cover it up? "On the couch?"
Cam rolled his head back and forth on the cushion. "No, I barfed in the bathroom. I got most of it cleaned up."
"You will get all of it cleaned up because I ain't on barf-mopping duty," he warned.
"How come Keely's still half-nekkid?" Cord asked.
"Good question." He looked at Colby, then Colt. "Why didn't one of you boys help her get dressed?"
"Ma always does that."
"Hey, I tried to get pants on her but she screamed in my face and tried to hit me," Colby said. "So I let her be nekkid. But she did get her boots on by herself."
On the wrong feet, Carson just noticed. "Girlie, you need to put some clothes on."
She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed. "'Kay. Wanna weaw a dwess. I'm a giwl, not like dem."
"And thank God for that," he muttered and shifted her higher on his hip. He glanced at the clock. It was only eleven a.m. Too damn early for a tumbler of whiskey.
Then he noticed he was one kid short. "Where's Carter?"
Colby and Colt looked at one another like they just remembered they had another brother. "Uh, he went to feed the dogs."
"You were supposed to help him and show him what to do."
"How long ago did he go outside?"
They both shrugged.
Carson motioned Cord over and handed him Keely. "Help her get dressed in a dress."
"Where are you goin'?"
"To find Carter." He pointed at Colby, Colt and Cam. "When I get back this place better not look like this, understand?" Then he leveled the only threat that would work. "I mean it, boys. No one is eatin' lunch or getting so much as a crust of bread until this place is cleaned up to your mother's standards."
That made them hop to it.
Then Carson went in search of his youngest son. The kid wanted chores like his brothers and Carson had been putting him off, it was just easier to do even the little things himself. He whistled for the dogs.
Weird they weren't around. They were always underfoot.
He headed to the barn. "Carter? You in here?"
He cut to the last empty stall where they kept the dog food. The bag of dog food that'd been half full…was now completely empty. No sign of the dogs or his son.
That's when he noticed the side door that led to the back pasture was cracked open. He pushed it open all the way and stepped onto the packed dirt. "Carter?"
All at once a sobbing boy launched himself at Carson. Alarmed, Carson picked him up and said, "Are you hurt?"
"I think I killed Beast and Sassy!" Then he sobbed so hard Carson couldn't understand the rest of what he said.
"Slow down, son."
More hiccupped crying.
Once he'd settled, Carson said, "Where are the dogs?"
Carter pointed to the stock tank.
What the hell? "Where? I don't see them. Are they in the tank?"
Still carrying Carter, he walked over and sure enough, the dogs were lying on their sides, bellies bloated, panting heavily. Then he caught the ripe scent of barf and saw two enormous piles of vomit, mostly comprised of undigested chunks of dog food. At least the dogs weren't laying in it. He wasn't cleaning up kid or dog barf.
"You wanna tell me what happened?"
"I went to get the scoops of dog food and Beast and Sassy followed me into the stall. And they started eatin' and eatin' and they wouldn't stop! Not even when I tried to pull them away. So I made a trail of food and they followed me outside. But then they started drinkin' and drinkin' from the stock tank. They wouldn't stop that neither. Then they started throwin' up, like a lot, and they laid down and I thought maybe they was dead."