Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters or pretend to, I just borrow them once in a while when the muse comes knocking.
Note: The Latin phrase “tempus fugit” translates to “time flies.”
Scott Lancer kicked his horse into a gallop as he reached the turnoff to Lancer, his family’s ranch. The last mile lay ahead after a ten day trip away from home. He’d be back in time for dinner and the sense of happiness that engendered still surprised him. Six months earlier, he’d arrived in California at the age of twenty-four and met two strangers; today they were his father and younger brother and the family hacienda was truly home. He smiled to himself and urged the horse on.
Out of the corner of his eye, Scott spotted a horse tethered to a tree up ahead. Immediately recognizing his brother Johnny’s palomino, he pulled up on the reins. “Whoa, whoa boy,” he called to his own stallion as all of his senses came to alert. He squinted into the darkened clearing, already beginning to worry. Then he spotted his brother casually sitting on a log under a tree and sighed with relief.
“Johnny,” he said.
“Hey yourself, brother.” When Johnny made no move to get up and join him for the short ride home, Scott dismounted and tethered his own horse beside Barranca. Something was going on here and one thing he’d learned about the brother he’d met for the first time only six months ago, Johnny would share it in his own good time. Scott strolled over to the log and took a seat beside the younger man. Then he waited.
“Well, I did it again,” Johnny eventually sighed.
“You’re going to have to give me a clue, brother. Did what?”
Johnny was silent for a moment. “Got into it with the ole man.”
Scott nodded and exhaled slowly. “I see. What set it off this time?”
“It started when I got home late for supper last night.”
“But that wasn’t your fault….”
“Yeah!” Johnny responded, surprise underscoring his words. He looked over at Scott. “How’d ya know that?”
Scott fought back a smile. “It’s never your fault.”
Johnny started to agree, and then it must have hit him Scott might have meant that sarcastically. He slanted another glance at his older brother but saw nothing but sincere sympathy in his face.
“So, don’t tell me you’ve been sitting here since last night,” Scott continued.
“Nah. It started last night. Then this mornin’ he gave me the job o’ muckin’ out stalls. That’s how I knew he was still mad.”
“I mucked them stalls out so they practically shined.”
Scott smiled. “I’m having a hard time understanding what the problem is then. “
“Yeah, you’d think he’d let up, but no…. This afternoon he tells me he wants me to leave tomorrow to go with Cip and check the northern line shacks. That’s a five or six day trip! “
“Uh-huh….” Scott was honestly confused. Johnny liked the Segundo, Cipriano and generally enjoyed those work assignments that took him away from herding cattle, branding cows and mucking stalls. His younger brother was a free spirit, more independent than Scott thought healthy and he usually liked to get out from under Murdoch’s thumb. Especially when said thumb was pressing down hard on his head.
“I tole him no. I wasn’t goin’. And then he just exploded!”
Scott’s eyebrows rose on this news. He could only imagine how their father had taken that response, especially when the “tune-caller” was probably already put out with Johnny from the day before. He pressed his lips together as he considered what would have caused Johnny to refuse to go.
“Okay….” he finally said. “I’m stumped. I thought you liked those kind of jobs. A chance to get away for a few days, ride free, no one looking over your every little move…. At least, that’s what I’ve been told in the past by someone who looks a lot like you.”
Johnny frowned. “Yeah, I do, usually. But you’ve been gone for ten days. And if I went, I’d have to leave at dawn tomorrow, and be gone five days, maybe six if some work needs to be done on one of them shacks.”
Scott nodded, agreeing with the younger man’s assessment. “And….?”
Johnny gave him a look of incredulity. “Ya think I shoulda just up and left, when you were comin’ home?”
Scott suddenly understood. “Oh…. Now I get it,” he said. Then he found he couldn’t hold back the smile it brought to his face. “I’m glad to hear you missed me.”
Johnny shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “Well…. It’s just that… I like it better when we’re all home.”
Scott swallowed a lump that suddenly appeared in his throat. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Me too.” Rising, he turned back and put out a hand to help Johnny up. “So let’s go home, brother.”
“You may hafta stand ‘tween me and the ole man when we get there,” Johnny said, taking the hand up.
“Did you tell him why you didn’t want to go?” Scott asked as they walked toward their horses.
“No. He didn’t give me a chance. Just exploded—“
“So, you just said no? And did you do it in front of Cipriano?” Johnny’s silence was as good as an answer. Scott groaned inwardly. “And—please say no – did you call him ‘old man’ when you said it?”
Johnny grimaced. “Well… I was still pretty steamed ‘bout muckin’ stalls all day…. “
Scott knew his father well enough to know Murdoch would have led with his temper. And apparently so had Johnny. “Did it occur to you he was trying to make peace, offering you a chance to get away for a few days?”
“But… I tole ya, I didn’t want to get away,” Johnny answered impatiently. “Not when you were just comin’ home. And anyway, if he waited a few days, you and me could go ‘stead of me and Cip.”
Scott nodded in understanding. “Maybe that didn’t occur to him.”
Johnny snorted. “Seems pretty obvious to me.”
Scott smiled. “I know it’s obvious to you. Unfortunately, you and he seem to share the same temperament. Push back first, then ask questions….”
Johnny scowled but didn’t protest as the two of them mounted their horses.
“In the future, try taking a deep breath, count to ten and then ask Murdoch if you can offer another option,” Scott said. “If you both just explode every time you don’t agree with something the other says, this will keep happening.”
Johnny turned to Scott as they rode side by side but he remained silent for a half minute or so. “How ‘bout ya tell Murdoch to start countin’ and breathin’ too?” he drawled, then he kicked his horse into a gallop and let Scott try to catch up with him.
When they arrived back at the ranch, Johnny loitered with the horses until Scott caught his eye and gestured toward the hacienda with a nod of his head. The two walked together into the house but then Johnny dropped back, staying behind Scott as they entered the Great Room. The older brother bit his lip to keep from smiling at the former famous gunfighter’s obvious fear of their father’s wrath. If his old compadres could only see him now, they’d hardly recognize Johnny Madrid in the younger Lancer son. But Murdoch surprised them both.
“Scott! Welcome home! And you too, Johnny, I was getting worried about you,” the big man boomed. His genuine smile put Scott at ease immediately.
“Good to be home, sir. The contract negotiation went well, better than we’d hoped. I think you’ll be pleased.”
“That’s wonderful. I want to hear all about it. How about a drink, boys?”
Scott nodded, and looked to Johnny, who seemed honestly flummoxed by the turn of events. “Oh, nah, thanks anyway,” he said. “I gotta clean up first. I smell like horse sh-…. I mean, uh—“
Murdoch and Scott both laughed. “We know what you mean,” Scott said. “It would be hard to miss…..”
Johnny colored slightly, then sniffed a little indignantly. “Well, I guess I’ll just head to the bathhouse then. I don’t want to hold up dinner—“ He blushed again and looked as if he’d just stepped in what was causing the offensive odor he’d mentioned earlier. He obviously hadn’t meant to remind his father of his transgression of the night before.
“Fine, son,” Murdoch responded. “The drink will be waiting for you when you get back.”
Johnny smiled gratefully. “Okay.” He started for the door, then turned back for a moment. “Scott says I didn’t get my Mama’s temper,” he said. “He says I got yours.”
Scott nearly coughed up his brandy. “Temperament,” he croaked at Johnny’s retreating form. “I said tempera…ment….” His voice trailed off and he continued to stare at the now empty doorway. He cleared his throat and slowly looked back to see how Murdoch had taken this bit of news. The grin on the big Scot’s face made him smile with relief.
“He’s one of a kind,” the older son said, shaking his head.
Murdoch laughed. “Yes….”
“Thank God,” they finished in unison. The two men laughed.
“It does appear my younger son got my …. temperament,” Murdoch finally said as he clapped Scott on the shoulder. “Luckily though, my firstborn seems to have inherited my business acumen. Sit down and tell me all about the contract, my son…..”