DISCLAIMER: Well, let me see. Don’t care who owns them; only care that people still love the series. If that offends anyone over at Fox, get in line. I don’t like your slant on the news, either!
Johnny takes a bath.
It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner when Johnny Lancer snuck into the hacienda through the patio doors. As light footed as ever -- and in his stockinged feet -- he padded across the tiled floor and onto the carpet, his feet whispering as he headed for the table behind the couch. Eyes narrowed, he stood for a time, studying the thing that was before him; a slight frown forming as he shook his head. Too fuckin’ big, he thought dejectedly.
Casting a quick look around the room -- at the doors leading to the hallway, the kitchen and the dining room -- he pulled the stopper from the glass decanter and snitched a quick drink of tequila directly from the bottle. Instinctively he winced, and dragged his shirt sleeve slowly across his mouth. He could almost hear the Old Man. ‘John! In this house we drink from glasses, not from the bottle!’ Oh, well. He took a second drink, his eyes busy again.
Setting the bottle back onto the table, he began pacing the room; intent on his mission. And then he spied what he needed; just to his right. Moving quickly, he picked up the big leather ottoman from in front of Murdoch’s chair; struggling with its bulk as he moved it into place beside the tall bookcases. Gingerly, he stood up; wishing for the umpteenth time he had inherited at least some of father’s height; rising up slightly on his tip-toes to snag his quarry.
He decided to take both. Pleased with himself, he dropped down from the ottoman and headed quickly for the stairs leading to the second floor.
Scott Lancer was whistling as he headed up the stairs, taking them by twos. He made a quick left when he reached the top, heading for his bedroom. Good planning had resulted in an early finish to what could have been a very long day; and the young man mentally patted himself on the back. It was Friday, it was early; and -- once he was bathed and changed into fresh clothes -- he was going to town!
Collecting a fresh shirt and pants -- as well as a change of underwear and clean socks -- Scott headed back out into the hallway. He was whistling again as he passed Johnny’s room, coming up short at the door to his right. Smiling, he shook his head. It had been great news when Murdoch announced they were putting in the new plumbing! There was now a small bathroom downstairs just off the pantry, and this one, slightly larger -- in the spare room just above the kitchen. It did rile him a bit that his father had picked the room right across the hall from Johnny’s bedroom, but then -- he thought -- that had been the whole idea. Anything to stop Johnny’s prolonged trips to the outhouse.
He reached out, his hand closing around the door knob; frowning a bit when he realized the door was locked. Perturbed, he made a fist, rapping on the wood with two bent fingers. “Teresa?” When there was no response, he tapped again. “Teresa!”
Scott tried the knob again, wiggling it back and forth. Laying his ear against the smooth wood, he heard the sudden splashing of water. Again, he turned the knob. “Johnny!?” This time there was no small amount of annoyance in his voice. His younger brother had taken off like a bat out of hell when he had been told they were finished for the day, in pursuit -- Scott thought -- of Teresa’s chocolate cake. Johnny was always looking for chocolate cake.
Frustrated, the older man knocked on the door for a third time; this time harder. “Johnny! Open this door!”
“Go ‘way!” the other answered. “I got here first!!” More splashing.
Scott stooped down slightly, neatly stacking his change of clothes on the floor beside the door. He reached into his front pocket, pulling out a small, multi-bladed knife, smiling a bit as he unfolded what appeared to be a miniature skeleton key. Biting his bottom lip, he began his assault on the lock.
Triumphant, Scott felt the tumblers rotate as he worked the small pick. Withdrawing the blade, he stood up and opened the door.
Johnny was in the tub; his face bright red as he sat up suddenly, both hands invisible beneath the water. His left hand was behind his back; his right between his legs. Drawing his knees up, the younger man eyed his elder brother, frowning as he scooted back a bit; his back rigid. “That,” he nodded pointedly towards the now open door, “another one of them Boston etiquette things you always bragging’ about? Pickin’ a lock?”
“Acquired skill,” he answered; not saying where he had learned, a fleeting memory of Libby coming back to haunt him that was just as quickly brushed away. Refusing to feel guilty about his intrusion, Scott placed his hand inside the tub, canting his head as he realized the water had already started to cool. It felt silky, though, and there were still remnants of bubbles; tiny white caps in a small ocean. He sniffed then, his right eyebrow arching as he recognized the sweet scent of Teresa’s lilac bath salts. “Lilac, little brother?” he teased.
Johnny shrugged. “Wanted some bubbles,” he grinned.
“Oh.” Scott’s smile matched his brother. “Run out of gas?” he asked, the smile growing; memories of a hung-over Johnny and the Simmons’ twins and their fart-bubble battle during a sobering-up swim in the pond just above Ribbon Creek.
The younger man had the good grace to actually look embarrassed; his hands still submerged in the water. “Salts work better,” he announced.
“I’ll remember that when it’s my turn to bathe,” Scott said. “Which is just about now.”
Johnny was already shaking his head. “Ain’t done,” he breathed.
“I’ve got a date in town, Johnny,” the elder brother declared. “Besides, you stay in there too long, you’ll end up looking like a prune; whilst other portions of your anatomy shrink to the point they are nothing but a distant memory.”
The younger man scoffed. “Maybe your portions, big brother. Mine just soak up all this agua and get bigger.” He laughed. “The water was two inches deeper when I got in here, ya know!”
It was Scott’s turn to laugh. “Right.” He reached for the chain to the rubber drain stopper.
“BOYS!” The voice boomed up at them from the downstairs; from a spot Scott reckoned to be at the doorway of the Great Room. He let go of the chain, listening as his father’s heavy footsteps headed for the bottom of the stairs and began the slow climb.
“Now what have you done?”
The two young men exchanged a quick look; surprised that they had spoken exactly the same words at the same precise moment. The raucous laughter came easily. “Up here!” Scott shouted. And then, to his younger brother, “I have not done one thing I have to worry about,” he stated. “And you, little brother?”
Johnny’s head dropped; the damp curls falling across his forehead and effectively hiding his blue eyes. He simply shrugged, but there was a hint of a worried smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Murdoch came through the doorway. “I was just in the Great Room,” he began, “and the place is in a total state of disorder!”
Scott’s eyes closed for a brief moment. Disorder to his obsessively neat and systematic father could be something as innocuous as one of his many books tilted slightly off kilter on the bookshelf. “Sir?”
Getting right to the point, Murdoch responded. “Someone,” he cast a severe look at his younger son, “left the stopper off the bottle of tequila. The ottoman was shoved clear across the room, and…”
There was more coming. Scott could sense it, and wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear. Murdoch’s back had been bothering him for the past two days, and it hadn’t done much to improve the older man’s mood. “And…?”
Murdoch caught the aggravation in his elder son’s voice and chose to ignore it. “And two,” he held of the appropriate digits, “of my ships are missing.” He waited.
Scott’s gaze swung to his younger brother, and it struck him suddenly, the youth’s strange position in the long, deep tub. Johnny was backed up a bit, to something; certainly not the end of the tub, and his knees were still cocked; his right hand deep in the water between his legs. He looked uncomfortable. He also looked guilty.
“Surely not the Mary Piper, Sir?” the elder son asked, trying hard to look serious. The model ship was huge and usually sat on the table behind the couch; or the large chest next to the dining room door. No one ever moved the ship. No one except his father.
“No, Scott,” Murdoch answered, his right eyebrow arching. Somehow, he knew his elder son knew something he didn’t know, and he was not amused. “The two clipper ships; The Flying Cloud and the City of Philadelphia.”
“Oh, here you all are!” Teresa stepped across the threshold. “Maria wanted to know if…”
“Jesus Fucking H. Christ, T’resa!” Johnny exploded. He looked like a man between the proverbial rock and a hard place as he sunk down lower in the water in an attempt to cover his naked chest. “I’m in the bath tub here!”
“JOHN!” This from both Murdoch and Scott as they both swung their heads towards the tub and nailed the youngest Lancer with a cold glare.
The young girl’s hazel eyes narrowed, and she didn’t even attempt to hide the smile. She waved a hand at her elder brother. “Oh, pooh!” she groused. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before, Johnny! You’ve got more covering you now then you did when…”
Two head swung back in the direction of the young woman. “TERESA!” Again, the word came in unison from father and son.
“Well, I have,” she snorted. Stepping in front of her guardian, she toed the pile of dirty clothes on the floor. “You didn’t even bring any clean things in here, Johnny. What were you going to do, put these back on!?” She bent forward and scooped up the clothing; lifting her hand in mock horror and pretending to pinch her nose at the implied odor. Then, picking up another scent as she released her fingers. “Lilac. You’re using my bath salts!!” she accused. With that, she turned and stomped towards the door, turning slightly as she remembered her original mission. “Maria wanted to know if we could eat in the kitchen tonight. We waxed the dining room floor this morning, and it’s not quite dry.”
Murdoch waved the young woman away, but not before she turned again to the tub. “You will replace my bath salts,” she declared, shaking a long finger at her red-faced brother. Then, bending forward slightly, she tentatively lowered her hand, the same finger hovering just above the surface of the now still water. “Something’s floating in there,” she said.
Scott reached out, grabbing the younger girl’s wrist; avoiding looking at whatever it was she thought she was seeing, aware of certain body members and their buoyancy. “I’m sure the kitchen will be fine,” he breathed, ushering the girl towards the hallway. He gently pushed her across the threshold and shut the door.
Murdoch’s voice again. The big Scot was standing beside the tub, looming over his youngest. Both hands were cocked on his hips for a time, and then, with his right hand, he reached down. His fingers were poised just above the water.
Scott was standing with his back pressed against the door; as if he suspected that Teresa was still lurking around somewhere in the hallway. From his position, he had an excellent view of the entire bathroom; of his father and brother.
The Lancer patriarch was staring down into the murky water as if transfixed. Johnny was no longer sitting stock still; he was fidgeting now, as much as he could in the position he was still sitting. He looked in pain and scooted forward a bit, his left arm still awkwardly crooked behind his back. Murdoch was still staring into the water.
Beneath the waves Johnny had just created, Murdoch could see a small pennant fluttering. His hand plunged into the water, closing around the uppermost portion of a ship’s mast. “Aha!” he exclaimed triumphantly, pulling the ship from the cloudy depths. “The Flying Cloud!” he announced. The model clipper looked as if it had been through a nor’easter, and had survived. Barely. Eying his younger son, he lifted his free hand and waggled his fingers at him.
Reluctantly, Johnny pulled his left hand from behind his back. The City of Philadelphia was in even worse shape than its sister ship; the bowsprit, which had been poking Johnny in his backside, slightly askew. “They float for shit, ya know.”
Scott raised his right fist to his mouth in an attempt to stop the laughter and failed. “You were playing!? In the bathtub? With our Father’s ships?”
Johnny shot his brother a dirty look. “You know how stupid those things look, just sittin’ on a shelf? You keep tellin’ me this is a workin’ ranch; everything needs to earn its keep? Well, I felt like I needed some entertainin’, and I…”
“Rushed in where angels fear to tread?” Scott finished. He moved to the side of the tub, his voice lowering as he bent down close to his brother’s ear. “Our Father’s ships?” he repeated; clamping his jaws shut tight in yet another failed attempt to stop the laughter.
Murdoch was sitting down now; his rump firmly planted against the hard wooden cover of the chain-pull toilet. He was shaking his head, his gaze shifting to from one model ship to the other as he assessed the damage. He was quiet, much too quiet.
Tentatively, Scott reached out. “Sir, uh…” He chose his next words very carefully. “I’ve had some experience with model ship building, Father. If there’s any damage, I’m sure…” Fingering the loose spar on the City of Philadelphia, another thought occurred to him. Johnny would have had to somehow detach the model ships from their wooden bases; a fact confirmed by the slight scarring he observed on the ship’s hull.
“No,” the older man said, his voice markedly calm. “It’s time your brother learned a thing or two about ships and model ship building,” he intoned. He stood up; both clippers still clenched in his hands. “You,” he said, looking directly at his younger boy, “stay put.” With that, he marched out of the room; never once looking back.
Johnny sunk down farther in the water, debating. Giving it up, he shut his eyes; his head disappearing beneath the water.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Scott reached out, grabbing a handful of his brother’s dark hair and pulling his soggy noggin out of the water. “If you think you’re going to drown yourself and leave me here all alone to face our father’s wrath, you have another thought coming, little brother!”
There was a sputtering sound as Johnny felt himself yanked upright. He grabbed at his brother’s wrist with both hands. “That hurt, Boston!” he pouted, rubbing hard at the top as his head as Scott finally let go.
“Not half as bad as you’re going to be hurting when Murdoch comes back! You think it smarts when he pops you on the behind when your wearing those leather pants, wait until he smacks your bare, wet posterior!” Scott was only half joking. He wasn’t quite sure what Murdoch had in store for his younger brother, but he didn’t believe for one minute it was going to be any form of ship repair.
Johnny shivered a bit when he sat up. Now he was worried. “They don’t even float right,” he groused. He held his right hand out, his brow wrinkling as he saw the prune-like lines forming on his fingertips; then flattened his hand above the water. “They fall over on their sides. What kind of ship floats on its side?” he demanded.
“One that’s about to sink,” Scott answered too quickly. Restless, he began pacing. “You know what Murdoch feels about people touching things that don’t belong to them without asking, Johnny. Whatever possessed you…?”
“How the fuck do I know?” the younger man interrupted. He knew damned good and well what Murdoch felt about people taking things that didn’t belong to them without asking; a rule he seemed destined to be constantly testing.
Scott reached out, his hand closing around the hot water faucet. He turned on the spigot; watching the steam rise as the water poured from the spout. “Open the drain a little,” he ordered, “so we can warm this water up a bit.”
Johnny did as he was told. Behind him, he heard his father’s footsteps as the big man appeared again in the doorway and stepped across the threshold.
“Scott.” Murdoch jerked his head in the direction of the hallway. He was carrying a fresh change of clothes for his younger son in one arm. The other arm was crooked around a medium sized box.
The elder son frowned a bit; not sure what his father was intending. “Sir…”
Another sharp nod at the hallway from the older man; a clear indication he was not about to brook any disobedience.
Scott sighed. He cast a look at his baby brother, amazed that his sibling seemed resigned to an uncertain fate. Then, stepping closer to his father, he opened his mouth to voice his objections to having been asked -- commanded -- to leave; only to change his mind when he peered into the wooden box. He smiled then, unable to hide the surprise, and stepped out of the room.
Murdoch carefully laid his son’s clean clothes atop the wooden-topped privy. The box he still held carefully in his arms. Then, in a surprise move, he turned the box upside down.
Johnny watched in amazement as a waterfall of small, painted animals cascaded down from somewhere above him; the miniature creatures bobbing beneath the water to reappear again, as if swimming in a vast sea. There was a bigger splash as a large, flat-bottomed boat dropped into the tub, the craft righting itself to sway lazily against the wake from the still running water. He saw his father’s hand reach out to shut off the faucet.
“Noah’s ark,” Murdoch said softly, settling down awkwardly on one knee beside the tub; looking everywhere but at his son. “Cipriano and I carved and painted these for you for your first birthday,” he breathed. “All the animals, two by two.” Obviously pleased with himself, he continued, this time lifting his eyes to meet his son’s. “Noah,” he pointed to the carved, bearded figure permanently in place on the great boat’s foredeck, his finger moving as he pointed to the rest of the Biblical patriarch’s family. “His wife, his sons; and their wives. And,” he continued, “the dove.” The small white bird was perched on Noah’s tiny, extended forefinger, an equally delicate olive branch made of thin wire and tiny painted leaves clenched in the bird’s miniscule beak.
The younger man’s eyelids fluttered; the soft velvet fringe wet-black against his tanned cheeks. Reaching out, he picked up a carved horse and its mate; both palominos. ‘The finest compañeros de palominos in the San Joaquín…’ he remembered, thinking of the pride he had heard in his father’s voice when the man had said the words.
Murdoch reached out, displaying a small hook just beneath the roof of the ark. He opened the hinged lid to display the rows of stalls that lined both sides of the ship; his finger lingering on the largest on at the rear end. “For the elephants,” he murmured.
Johnny’s eyes searched the water until he saw the animals; something Scott had shown him in pictures, along with camels and gnus and zebras and other strange animals he never heard of in those long years of poverty and squalor when he was a child. He picked up the pair of pachyderms, and placed them gently in their proper slot. “Thanks, Murdoch,” he whispered.
Groaning, the older man stood up. “We all need to play, Johnny,” he said softly, reaching out to tousle the younger man’s hair. His tone changed, but not that much. “You listen for the clock,” he admonished. “I won’t tolerate you being late for supper, you know.” He turned, and headed for the door.
“I know, Papi,” the younger man whispered. “I know…”