Not mine; don’t care; Fox can kiss my sweet patootie. Rough Language, some sexual innuendo; Johnny learning to be a big brother.
Murdoch Lancer stood on the front porch, watching the activity in the corral. Scott, Johnny and Teresa had just returned from Green River, and it was clear that something had occurred while they were in town. He had been tempted to intervene as soon as he heard Johnny begin to shout; the younger man’s voice carrying well beyond the pen. Scott was another matter. It was clear from his posture he was not happy with his brother, but he was attempting to keep their quarrel private. Johnny, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care that the men who were working with the stock were within hearing.
It appeared Scott was justified in his anger. Teresa was running towards the house, and it was clear from her face she was upset. Murdoch scowled and stepped out to meet her; opening his arms to the girl when she reached him. “It’s going to be all right, Darling,” he murmured, patting the girl’s head, not quite sure what “it” was yet, but determined to get to the bottom of things.
She accepted his hug, and then pulled away. “I’m sorry, Murdoch,” she sniffled, digging into her waist band for her handkerchief. “I am just so damned mad at him!”
“Teresa,” the big man scolded. He placed his hands on her arms, gently, just above her elbows. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He was actually relieved that she was just angry; that it was not something more serious. “With Johnny,” he said. It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. “Why are you angry with him?” he asked, lifting her chin with the forefinger of his right hand.
She blushed a bit. “For swearing, for one thing.” When she looked up at her guardian, she smiled. “It was for a lot more than saying ‘damned’,” she continued. “And for saying it in front of Molly Pritchard, right before he hit…” She covered her mouth with her hand, sorry she had said too much.
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. “Hit who?” The words were no sooner out of his mouth when he heard Johnny’s voice rise again.
“Fuck you, Scott!” Johnny shoved his older brother, and followed the first push with a second, angry that he had not succeeded in knocking his brother on his ass. He tried another shove, hoping the third time would be a charm. “And fuck T’resa, too, if she thinks…”
Murdoch gently moved Teresa aside, his face livid. He headed toward the corral, his long legs carrying him swiftly across the yard.
Johnny saw Scott’s eyes widen; laughing as his older brother appeared to falter and back away. One more push, he thought smugly, he’ll be flat on his ass…
The smack sounded across the courtyard like the crack of a high-bore rifle; Johnny suddenly finding himself rising up on his toes as Murdoch’s flat right hand connected with his leather-clad behind. He spun around, reaching back to massage his rear with his left hand, and found himself nose to chest with his father. “Jesus, Old Man!”
Murdoch’s face was a remarkable shade of red. “House!” he barked. “Now!”
Johnny was still rubbing his butt, and not really sure he wanted to leave the safety of the yard. He reconsidered when he saw three of the hands pause in their chores, the hemp bound bales of hay they had been hoisting into the hayloft still at their feet; the rope dangling loose from the pulley. The men were obviously anticipating what they thought they were about to see. He saw their whispered conversation, the subtle nods; the exchange of money. The sons-of-bitches, he thought. They were wagering, making bets. Well, Johnny thought, grinning slyly, let’s see if they’re bettin’ on this! Determined, he spun away from his father, and -- fists clenched -- charged across the yard.
His shoulder connected with Eduardo Ferro first, tumbling the man backwards into Jinx Isherwood. The third man, Ramon Silva tried dancing out of the way only to end up falling backwards over a bale of hay; his legs sticking up in the air. Johnny dove between Silva’s legs, his fists beating a steady tattoo against the man’s chest before he drew back and landed a solid blow against the man’s exposed chin. He cocked back for a second strike only to feel Murdoch’s right hand close around his wrist and he was dragged forcibly to his feet.
Cipriano had just ridden into the yard. He dismounted while his horse was still moving, surprisingly agile as he stormed across the yard and into the fray. Wading into the collection of arms and legs, he began hauling the vaqueros to their feet. “Basta!” he roared. “Enough!” A storm of protests erupted, and he silenced them with a single, abrupt wave of his hand. He turned, facing the elder Lancer. “Patrón?”
Murdoch’s face was a contrasting map of shades of purple. He was still holding on to his younger son. “See to them, Cip,” he growled, nodding at the three men; all of whom bore the marks of Johnny’s fists. He turned to his elder son. “Scott,” and nodded in the direction of the main house.
Scott nodded curtly, his face only shades lighter than his father’s. He spied Cipriano’s son, Mateo, and spoke softly to the young man. “Would you see to the horses, please?” Then, following in his father’s wake, he headed for the hacienda.
Teresa opened the door for them, standing back wide-eyed as the three strode through the door and into the hallway. She watched as Murdoch paused, debating his next move. He decided on the Great Room.
Johnny tried to buck free from his father’s grasp; inhaling sharply as he felt the older man’s fingers dig deeper into his right arm just above the wrist. “Dammit, Old Man! Let go!”
Murdoch ignored his son’s pleading, dragging the younger man with him as he strode forward. Reaching the desk, he nodded to the right hand chair. “Sit,” he ordered.
Johnny sat; clearly unhappy. His disposition did not improve as -- out of the corner of his eye -- he saw Scott settle in to the chair next to him. Murdoch had taken his usual seat on the throne.
“What happened in town?” Murdoch wasted no time getting to the point.
Scott shot a quick look at his younger brother. “Tell him,” he ordered.
“Fuck you!” Johnny breathed. He hunkered down, lifting his left leg to lay it across his right thigh. He began playing with his spur, spinning the rowel; stopping it, then spinning it again in the reverse direction.
“Scott?” Murdoch was leaning forward in his chair, his elbows resting on his desk.
“Teresa was visiting with Molly Pritchard outside of Baldemero’s when Lee Maxwell joined them. Lee asked Teresa if she would consider going with him to the welcome home party the Meyers are hosting in Morro Coyo for their daughter, Virginia.” He turned again to his brother when he heard Johnny’s contemptuous snort. “When Teresa hesitated a bit, Lee apologized for being forward, and then asked me if it would be all right if he asked Teresa.” Scott took a deep breath. “I told Lee I thought Teresa was old enough to make her own decisions regarding invitations, and Johnny took exception.”
Another snort from the youngest Lancer.
“And?” Murdoch asked, expectant.
Scott waited a heartbeat, hoping his younger brother would respond. It wasn’t happening. “Johnny told Lee to fuck off; that it would be a cold day in Hell before Teresa went anywhere with someone who spent their Saturday nights whoring around with the girls from the Silver Dollar.”
“Fucking around,” Johnny corrected.
“Lee told him to watch his mouth.” Scott looked at his brother. Johnny was playing with his spur again, picking at minuscule bits of dirt that had collected in the finely linked chain.
Murdoch’s fingers were drumming against the desk top; a good sign he was losing patience. “And I suppose that’s when your brother hit him?”
Johnny had lost interest in his spur. His right hand was now clutching at his upper left arm, his fingers kneading the flesh just above his elbow. “He’s too old for T’resa,” he said.
“He’s the same age as Scott,” Murdoch intoned, his tone flat.
Johnny grinned across at his elder brother, his tone cocky. “Yeah. That’s what I said, he’s too old for T’resa.”
Murdoch’s jaws were flexing. He pointedly ignored his younger son, speaking directly to Scott. “And he used that foul language in front of Teresa? In front of Molly Pritchard?” Molly Pritchard was seventeen; slightly younger than Teresa, and someone Teresa had known all of her life. She was a sweet thing; the youngest of five children raised by genteel parents, and certainly not someone accustomed to gutter language and street brawls.
Scott nodded. He was about to say something when he was interrupted by voices in the hallway. At once, he recognized Val Crawford’s quiet drawl.
Murdoch leaned back in his chair, waiting. It didn’t take long.
“Murdoch.” Val’s greeting was subdued. Hat in hand, he stood between the two Lancer brothers. “Lee Maxwell filed a complaint,” he announced. He dug into his pocket, withdrawing a paper and laying it on Murdoch’s desk. “And the Baldemero’s want paid for the busted window.” He turned to eye the youngest Lancer. His hands were clenched tightly around the brim of his hat now, and it was taking all he could muster not to use the Stetson as a weapon. “By rights, Murdoch, I should be carryin’ his sorry ass back to my jail.” He inhaled, looking again at Johnny. “But I figured,” he smiled, “him bein’ a minor, maybe it would just be better if I left him in his Daddy’s custody until the hearing; which I figure should be in about ten days.” The grin faded. “I don’t want to see the kid in Green River until then, ‘less you’re haulin’ him in for church.”
The elder Lancer simply nodded. He leaned back in his chair, digging into his front pants pocket and withdrawing two twenty dollar gold pieces. “For the window,” he said, shoving them across the desk. He looked across the room to the large Grandfather clock. “We’re about ten minutes away from lunch, Val. You’re welcome to join us.”
Johnny was shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Murdoch was quiet; way too quiet. He wet his lips, stealing a quick glance at his brother, cringing a bit when he saw the small bruise that was just beginning to color on his lower left jaw. Scott hadn’t said a word about that; the sucker punch he had landed right after his older brother had pulled him off Lee Maxwell. No longer able to stay still, he stood up. “Guess I should get cleaned up for lunch,” he ventured.
“Guess again,” Murdoch growled. “Go to your room, John.”
Dumfounded, the younger man turned to face his father. “What!?”
Murdoch was on his feet now. “I said ‘go to your room’,” he repeated.
Scott stood up. He grabbed Johnny’s arm. “Maybe you need some help, little brother,” he declared. “Besides, now that Murdoch and Val are finished with you, I have a few things I’d like to discuss.” He pulled his brother with him as he headed toward the hallway.
Johnny broke away as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He contemplated heading for the front door, only to find his way blocked by his father and the lawman. Turning around, he sprinted up the stairway. Reaching his room, he shoved open the door, crossed the threshold and immediately slammed the door shut. Not satisfied with the dull thud, he reopened the door full wide and heaved it shut with all the power he could muster; right in his elder brother’s face.
Scott was having none of it. He opened the door and stepped into his brother’s room, back kicking the door shut. “Not this time, baby brother!” he raged.
“Fuck you, Scott! FUCK YOU!!”
The door to the hallway opened just as Scott slapped his brother’s face. Stunned, Murdoch watched as his eldest son delivered the second blow; this time a wicked back-handed slap that knocked Johnny off his feet and onto the bed.
“Scott,” Murdoch entered the room, reaching out to grab Scott’s arm.
Scott shook off his father’s hand. “This is between Johnny and me,” he said softly. “Please, sir.”
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. He looked past his eldest son, his eyes probing the slim figure sitting on the edge of the bed. Johnny was rubbing his cheek with the back of his hand; his eyes blinking rapidly, his expression one of pure shock. Murdoch nodded his head. Abruptly, he turned around and headed back into the hallway, shutting the door behind him.
Scott was beside the bed now. He stood, looking down at his younger brother. “Are you ready to listen?”
Johnny’s jaws tensed. He was still rubbing the side of his face. It wasn’t that he and Scott hadn’t had their share of disagreements, or that they hadn’t -- on occasion -- actually come to blows. But this was different. Scott had slapped him, smacked him like he was some kid breaking wind at the dinner table. Or like some spoilt brat that had spoken out of turn…“Don’t ever do that again, Scott,” he whispered. “You got no right.”
“And you have the right to talk filth in front of Teresa; in front of her friends? Choose whom she will date, whom she won’t?”
The younger man’s head came up, suddenly. “Lee Maxwell is a fu…..” he stopped himself, aware of Scott’s even more intense scrutiny, “…sack of shit! He spends every Saturday night, fu…..” Jeez, it was hard to not say the word, “screwin’ everything that walks on two legs at the Silver Dollar and the Red Dog, and prob’ly a couple of sheep we don’t know about!”
Scott raised his hand. “You play with the same ladies at the Silver Dollar and the Red Dog, amongst other things. What makes you so different from Lee Maxwell?”
Shit. Scott and his fuckin’ logic. “I ain’t tryin’ to date our baby sister!”
Amen to that, Scott thought, thankful for blessings large and small. “Oh-h-h. I see.” He was trying hard not to smile. He gestured for his younger brother to scoot over, and sat down on the bed beside him. “You’re formulating a Big Brother Book of Rules regarding your little sister. And I assume the first thing on the list is whom she is permitted to date, and just when.”
Johnny swung around to look at this brother, his eyes narrowing. “That’s right.”
“So that would explain your fist fights with Davy Edwards, Mike Danvers, Todd Erickson, Jim Peters…” Scott’s right eyebrow arched. The list, he realized, could go on for a long time. Teresa was a very popular young lady, and Johnny had been keeping score. “Just who do you think worthy of our little princess?” he teased. “The Simmons twins? Their brother, Reese?”
“Hell, no!” Johnny spat. “Ned and Tim…” he let the words drift off. He wasn’t about to admit to his older brother that the Simmons twins were every bit as familiar with the upstairs rooms at the saloons in Green River and Morro Coyo as he was. And Reese had cut a pretty wide trail through both establishments, too.
Scott was having too much fun to let it go. “One of the ranch hands, perhaps,” he ventured, keeping a straight face.
Johnny punched him. “You nuts, Scott? Some two-bit cowpuncher that don’t even own more’n old nag and some piece of crap saddle?”
“Well, I do have some friends in Boston…”
“What!? Some brother lookin’ to get even, or maybe a ex-husband lookin’ to kick your ass!?” Johnny shook his head.
“Perhaps one of your friends,” Scott suggested. “Val. He’s got a full time job, he’s kind to dogs and small children…”
“And old enough to be her fuckin’ father!” Johnny snorted. He raised his hand in the universal peace sign. “Sorry.” He wasn’t about to risk getting his ears boxed again. “This ain’t funny, Scott.”
Maybe from where you’re sitting, little brother. “Johnny, it isn’t your job. If anything, this is Murdoch’s problem.”
“An’ when he ain’t around?” Johnny persisted.
“Murdoch did a rather splendid job with that pompous little ass from Sacramento, Johnny. When he tried to push things with Teresa, our father put his foot down, and that was the end of it. I’m sure he can take care of anyone else that might be similarly inclined.”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah, and it took him a month to get it straightened out.” He thought about the dude, remembering how he kept sniffing around Teresa; quoting poetry, always showing up at the front door with bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolate candy. Chocolate candy, he mused. He had swiped a couple of the boxes and ate so much of the stuff he almost puked. “I coulda settled it in about two seconds,” he laughed sarcastically.
“The point is,” Scott smacked Johnny’s hand as the younger man began plucking loose threads from the quilt they were sitting on, “I’m not about to stand by and let Teresa do anything foolish. On the other hand, she is old enough to make her own choices about who she sees.”
Johnny was already shaking his head. “Nope.” He thumped his chest with a single finger. “I’m her big brother, it’s my rule, and no one’s makin’ a move on her ‘til I say so.”
Scott stood up and stretched. “So you plan on spending the rest of your life punching out her potential suitors…”
“If that’s what it takes,” Johnny promised.
“Then you’ll also be spending the rest of your life sitting up here in your room contemplating the errors of your ways because Murdoch disagrees with your methods.”
That smile, finally. The one that started in the sapphire blue eyes and spread across his entire face. “Well, the Old Man ain’t goin’ to live forever…”
Scott laughed. “Don’t bet on it.” His mood changed. “You’re going to have to apologize to Teresa, you know. And Molly.”
Johnny was still grinning. “Can’t go to Green River for ten days,” he crowed, remembering Val’s ultimatum. “By then, Molly will have forgotten.” Given half a chance, he thought, I’ll help her forget. He shook the thought away. Molly was Teresa’s friend, and that made her off limits.
“No, she won’t; and neither will I or Teresa.” He crossed the room, hesitating, his hand on the knob. “No one speaks to Murdoch or I like you did today, Johnny; or the way you spoke in front of Teresa and Molly. Not in polite company.” He didn’t give a rat’s ass how his brother talked when they were working. “You know better.” He shook his head when Johnny tried to interrupt. “I’ve heard you with the girls at the Silver Dollar, little brother, and the children here at the ranch; in town. You never use that kind of language unless you want to set someone off. Don’t do it again.”
Johnny was on his feet, too; his posture not as relaxed as before. “Long as you remember what I said about smackin’ me, Scott,” he said softly. “Don’t you do it again.”
Scott smiled; that tolerant, older sibling smile. “Then behave,” he said. “Big Brother Book of Rules: you make a mistake, it’s my job to correct it.” He went out the door, closing it gently behind him.
He waited at his window until he saw Val leave, then took the back stairs down to the kitchen. Teresa would be there, he knew, cleaning up after lunch. “Hey,” he greeted.
She turned, canting her head as she faced him. The smile came easy. “Does Murdoch know you’re down here?” she asked warily. She really didn’t like it when Johnny was in trouble with Murdoch, and usually worked overtime to make sure he wasn’t. It was a full time job.
“Nope.” He brightened, nodding at Maria as she eyed him suspiciously and then left the room. “Scott told me I had to.” It wasn’t too much of a lie, just a small stretch.
“What?” Teresa was at the sideboard, pouring a glass of lemonade. She sat it on the table, and pulled a plate out of the warmer.
Johnny slid into his chair, grateful that Teresa didn’t mind bending the rules. He took a bite out of the still warm tamale. Shredded beef, and spicy. Chewing thoughtfully, he considered his next words and decided not to tease. “Sorry about the cussin’ in front of you and Molly.” That part was true. She was waiting; he could tell. “And sorry about punchin’ Lee.”
She laughed; her brown eyes dancing. “No, you’re not,” she chided. She wasn’t a particular fan of Lee Maxwell; not that she’d admit that to her brother. “In fact, I think you enjoyed it.”
He took another bite of the tamale. “Some,” he admitted, shrugging. He lifted his right hand, scratching his ear; stopping when he realized she was about to tell him he needed a haircut.
“You need a haircut,” she scolded.
Shit! She’s getting’ as bad as Scott. “Hairs just fine,” he grouched. He nodded to the chair across from him; watching as she sat down. “I’m your brother, you know,” he murmured. “Your big brother.”
She smiled, her head tipping forward slightly; the dark hair falling softly around her face. “I know, Johnny,” she said softly. “But not that much older,” she reminded him. There was only slightly more than a year between them. “And girls grow up faster.”
He had just taken a drink of his lemonade, his lips pursing at the tartness. “And what the hell does that mean?”
She reached out, touching his hand. “It means, big brother, that I know all about the bird and the bees,” she whispered, watching his face. “Oh, Johnny, do you really think that I don’t know what it is you boys want when you ask for a … date?” She laughed. “It starts like this,” she said, standing up, shaking slightly to loosen up. “You saunter up,” she pretended to sweep a hat off her head, and ambled across the room in a pretty decent imitation of Johnny Lancer, “bow -- just a little bit --” she gestured with her hand for him to stand up. Curious, he complied. “And then, you give us… the eye.” She stepped back, just a bit, her eyes narrowing as her head came up. Slowly, her gaze dropped to his feet and began the slow crawl up his body.
“T’resa!” he croaked. He resisted the urge to clasp his hands in front of his fly.
She said nothing, just continued her slow appraisal. His knees, his slim thighs; a narrowing of the eyes as her gaze approached his crotch. The flat belly next, and then -- her eyes widening slightly -- his chest, where her eyes lingered as if she was measuring breasts, and finally, his face. His eyes. “And then,” her voice dropped, the next words coming whisper soft with a slow drawl. “‘Ma’am, you got the purtiest little mouth; and I can see it’s just beggin’ for a kissin’…’”
That got him riled. “And just who the Hell has been sayin’ that to you!?” he demanded.
She held up her hand, counting with her fingers, “Davy Edwards, Mike Danvers, Todd Erickson, Jim Peters…”
“I’ll kick the fu… shit out of them,” he growled.
She hid the smile behind her hands, biting her lower lip to stop it. Sitting back down in her chair, she waited for him to join her. “I love having a big brother,” she said. “Two big brothers. And I appreciate that you think it’s your job to protect me, and to defend my honor, and to keep me out of trouble…” She took a deep breath. “But I don’t need a watch dog.”
He raked his fingers through his hair. This family shit was beginning to be a pain in the ass. “You need me to be lookin’ out for you,” he argued.
“Murdoch does a very good job of looking out for me,” she sighed. Sometimes, her foster father do too good of a job watching out for her.
“But he’s not always around,” he countered.
“Oh, Johnny,” she breathed. “If you and Scott and Murdoch had your way, I’d be in a convent until I was thirty, and then you’d only let me out for Christmas and birthdays!”
He leaned back in his chair, his eyes narrowing as he considered the idea. If only he could be sure that there weren’t any priests in a convent; or handymen, or altar boys… “Might not be a bad idea,” he said finally.
“That will be a cold day in Hell,” she snorted.
He reached out, tapping her cheek with his flat hand. “Scott smacked me for cussin’, you know,” he announced.
She perked right up. “Well, good for him! And I wasn’t swearing. Hell is a geographical location.”
He grunted. “Yeah. Try tellin’ Murdoch to go there, and see what happens!” Changing the subject, he studied her face for a time. “I’m still your big brother,” he proclaimed. “You mess up, you do somethin’ I don’t think is right, and Scott won’t be the only one doin’ the smackin’!”
“Oh, really,” she challenged. She leaned back in her chair, her head canted as she surveyed her brother through narrowed eyes.
He shoved his chair back. “So help me, T’resa! I’ll put you over my knee, and blister your a… behind!”
She looked at him for a long time. “I’d like to see you try!” she dared.
He was standing up now, waggling a finger at her. “Yeah?”
Teresa stared up at him, seeing more of Johnny Madrid in his eyes than she cared to see. She threw up her hands. “All right, I wouldn’t want to see you try,” she surrendered. Pointing a finger, she gestured for him to sit down, her face serious. She waited for him to settle back in. “Listen, Johnny. I have no intention of ending up bare-foot and pregnant with a bunch of stair-step babies tugging on my skirt. I’m not a little girl, Johnny, and -- when I found out the truth about my mother --” she wondered if Murdoch was aware that she knew that her mother, like Johnny’s had run off “-- I stopped believing in fairy tales. I’m not going to do anything stupid.”
He wanted to believe her, but he was old enough and wise enough to know that the heart was sometimes the biggest betrayer of all. “I’m still gonna be your big brother,” he murmured. “It’s my job.” Scott’s line, but it fit.
She reached out, patting his hand. “Fine. But please don’t take your job so seriously all of the time. Green River is running out of eligible young men who are willing to risk asking me out, and I don’t want you doing bodily harm to whoever else is available; not in Green River, and not in Morro Coyo.” Her eyes began to dance. “Of course, there’s still Tim and Ned Simmons. And Reese!”
“T’resa!” Johnny shook a finger at her.
Behind them, beyond the hallway, they heard the door to the Great Room opening. “Teresa! Is there any fresh coffee?”
The two siblings exchanged a quick glance. “Murdoch!” This said in unison.
Teresa stood up quickly, grabbing Johnny’s plate and glass and dumping them into the dishpan. “Shoo!” she ordered, nodding towards the back stair case.
He gave her a quick kiss, and beat a hasty retreat. No way in Hell the Old Man was going to catch him in the kitchen.
After some thought, he decided to make it a round trip. He stood at the top of the stairs, just out of sight, watching as the Old Man returned from the kitchen with a hot cup of coffee. Then, allowing time for Murdoch to get back to his desk, he started down the stairs.
The doors to the Great Room were open. He hesitated at the threshold, and then knocked lightly, just once, on the timbered doorjamb.
Murdoch looked up from his desk and frowned. “I don’t recall sending anyone upstairs to fetch you,” he said, closing the ledger. He gestured for his son to join him.
“Yeah.” Johnny stood in front of the desk, the fingers of his right hand busy; as if he was wearing his rig and fingering the Colt. “Need to talk,” he said.
The older man nodded. “Sit.”
God, he hated these chairs. ‘bout as comfortable as the benches in a confessional, he mused. He sat. He began rubbing his right arm with his left; up and down, his fingers loose against the soft cotton sleeve. “Me an’ Scott talked,” he began. Without thinking, he lifted his hand to his cheek, and just as quickly dropped it back to his arm. “‘Bout the cussin’,” he breathed.
Murdoch reached out, taking his pipe from the rack. Johnny watched as his father measured out the tobacco, tamped it in place, and lit up. There was something ceremonial in the older man’s moves; a quiet discipline that never varied. “Then I assume what we will be discussing is the fight in town, here at the ranch, and the broken window.” It took a few puffs to get the pipe going. Silently, the elder Lancer wondered just how many windows he had replaced in Baldemero’s, or the Silver Dollar.
“Guess so,” Johnny reckoned. “Didn’t like what Maxwell said to T’resa,” he said. He reached out to pick up the brass match box from Murdoch’s desk, changing his mind when he saw his father’s eyebrow rise. Both hands dropped to his legs, one atop each thigh, rubbing.
“And just what was that?” Murdoch asked.
It was an unexpected question, and Johnny realized he didn’t have much of an answer. To Hell with it, he thought. The Old Man could see through his fibs every bit as good as Scott could. Good thing he was better at playin’ poker than tellin’ stories. “He asked her to a party in Morro Coyo.”
There was a soft puffing sound as Murdoch worked on the pipe. “That’s all. Just asked her to a party?”
Johnny’s eyes closed briefly, the distress obvious. It was a piss-poor excuse, he realized. “Maxwell’s an ass,” he replied. “T’resa can do better.”
Murdoch nodded in agreement, but he wasn’t about to let his son off the hook. “This isn’t the first time this has happened, John. And your language in front of Teresa and Molly Pritchard was inexcusable.”
The younger man raised his right hand. “I know. Already talked to T’resa about that.”
Whoops, he thought, screwed that one up proper. “And Scott…” his face clouded.
The elder Lancer decided to let the Teresa thing pass. “Scott takes his job as your big brother seriously, Johnny. He takes issue with your language, and I think, today, he reached his limit.”
Johnny’s hands were clenched, as waist level, the fingers flexing. “He slapped me. Twice.” He didn’t know what he wanted from his father; sympathy, understanding. Something. “You have an older brother, Murdoch?” he asked suddenly.
Taken aback, Murdoch considered the question before answering. “No, Johnny.” He sighed, taking yet another puff on the pipe before continuing. “I had an uncle. He was older than I was; about the same difference in age as there is between you and Scott. We grew up together, in Inverness. There were times…” He smiled a bit, remembering. His voice softened. “His name was William -- for William Wallace, the one they called Brave Heart. William means ‘noble warrior’; and that’s what he was. He fought my battles for me sometimes, when I was just a boy. And, when he thought I needed it…”
Johnny had come forward slightly in his chair. He loved it when the old man talked about his childhood in Scotland; bits and pieces of a life he wondered about, what it was that made the Old Man who he was. “He’d smack you?” he asked.
Murdoch smiled. “Once,” he wondered if he should share this story, “when I was sixteen, he took me out behind the house and whaled the tar out of me. Like I was ten years old.”
The younger man’s eyes widened. His father was six feet six inches tall, and had -- he knew -- been unusually tall as a young man. It was hard to think of anyone being able to smack the Old Man, let alone dust his britches. “No shit,” he breathed.
“William was also tall,” Murdoch said.
“For what?” Johnny asked, curious about the whipping.
Too late now to stop, Murdoch mused. “For telling my father to go to Hell,” he answered truthfully. It had sounded even more offensive in his native language.
Surprised, Johnny slumped back in his chair. He finger-combed his hair, turning the gesture into a hard head-rubbing. “And you took it? The whipping?”
“He was the closest thing to a big brother I had, John. I was wrong -- disrespectful -- and I’d said something to my father I never should have said, no matter how angry I was. It was insulting, and William took great pains to make sure I wouldn’t make the same mistake a second time.” There was more than the whipping he remembered. He remembered the hurt in his father’s eyes, and the disappointment.
“So you think what Scott did was okay?” There was a hint of challenge in his voice.
“I think you should consider yourself fortunate it was your big brother that decided to correct you, and not me,” Murdoch answered. He was smiling slightly when he said the words.
“I’m T’resa’s big brother,” Johnny said, frowning. “You tellin’ me that if I smacked her a…” he corrected himself, “rear-end for doin’ something she shouldn’t, you’d tell her she was fortunate it was me, and not you?”
Murdoch felt a strong need to take another puff on his pipe. The last time he had warmed Teresa’s bottom was when she was twelve and he caught her skinny-dipping with Cipriano’s sons and daughters. She was very lucky it had been him, and not her father, Paul. There had been a great deal of bottom-warming that day. “That would depend on what she had done,” he reasoned. “However, what we’re talking about here is your punching Lee Maxwell, the fight here at the ranch, and breaking the window at Baldemero’s.” Again, he thought.
“I’m T’resa’s big brother,” Johnny repeated stubbornly. “I was watchin’ out for her.”
The elder Lancer leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk. “John, there is such a thing as tactful negotiation.”
“That what you did with that yahoo from Sacramento?”
Murdoch buried his face in his hands, spreading his fingers a bit to look at his younger son before looping them together beneath his nose. Resting his chin on his thumbs, he tried again. “I was giving Teresa the opportunity to make up her own mind,” he intoned.
“Shoulda shot him,” Johnny smirked.
“And cut off your supply of chocolate?” The older man laughed. He saw the younger man’s cheeks redden. “I can’t let this pass, Johnny,” he said, his mood changing. Standing up, he went over to the table where his Talisker’s was safely ensconced, and poured a measure. “Val said you are not to come into Green River for ten days. I’m extending that to include Morro Coyo. You’re going to spend the next ten days splitting your work time between ranch chores…” he raised his glass “… and chores in the house. You’ll be under Scott’s or Cipriano’s supervision in the mornings, and in the afternoon…”
The young man sighed. Shit! “Just for bein’ a big brother?” he interrupted.
It was Murdoch’s turn to sigh. Johnny was like a dog with bone full of marrow he couldn’t reach; never giving up. “For starting a fight with Lee Maxwell, cursing in front of the girls, and breaking the window at Baldemero’s store, and fighting with the hands.” He faced his son, smiling when he saw the pout. “Perhaps you can use your afternoons to hone your big brother skills,” he suggested. “I’m sure Teresa will be able to find some things to keep you occupied that you could do together…”
Johnny stood up. He could see it now: stacks of dishes waiting to be washed, the garden, windows, the house so many fuckin’ windows! And the dusting. He paled, his gut tensing. Jeez. What if she got it in her head to make a new dress!? Esperanza, Cip’s daughter, usually ended up wearing the new dresses while Teresa pinned and stitched them, but she was pregnant now and looked like she was carryin’ twin watermelons. A vision of himself standing on the kitchen table in a dress while Teresa snipped, nipped and tucked caused his belly to roll again. He extended both hands in front of him.
“What’s this?” Murdoch asked.
“Send for Val,” Johnny begged. “Let him lock me up.” Ten days in Val’s jail had to be better than ten days under house arrest with Teresa bossing him around.
Murdoch laughed. “I think not. Buck up, son. It’s only ten days.”
Johnny shook his head. He looked up, watching as Scott came into the room. His elder brother was smiling, and it was obvious he’d been in the kitchen talking with Teresa. “Shoot me,” he said, looking directly at his brother. “Please.”
Scott walked over to the table behind the couch and poured himself a drink. He took a long sip. “Don’t tempt me,” he smiled. Turning, he shared a look with his father. “I was just with Teresa and Maria,” he announced. “Teresa was showing me that new bolt of cloth she picked up in Green River. Very pretty,” he said. “Red.” He pretended to frown. “Not too red,” he amended. “Anyway, she’s going to make a new dress.” Biting his lower lip and ignoring his brother’s sharp intake of breath, he took another drink, turning slightly to wink at his father. “Something to wear to the party at the Meyers place in Morro Coyo.” Behind him he could hear his brother grinding his teeth. “Seems she’s decided her big brother,” he turned and saluted Johnny with his glass, “should take her to the dance…”