Shadows of Things to Come
by  Kit


Disclaimer:  I’d include one if my on-line dictionary was functioning and I could find the definition, but, hey:  Shit happens.  No cussing.  (In the story.)

Author’s Note:  Giving credit where credit is due, I plead guilty of venturing into SF’s AR domain; but only for a little while.  (She did give me permission, though.)  I promise everyone will remain relatively unharmed.  I.E., the relatives in this story will not kill each other; although it might be tempting.



Scott Lancer lay on his bed, his right leg hanging over the side and totally uncovered; the pale flesh stark against the multi-colored patch-work quilt.  He was deeply asleep, the thumb of his right hand still wet and very close to his partially open mouth: a good indication that he had been truly fatigued, and -- like his little brother Johnny -- still took comfort occasionally in a bit of thumb-sucking.   He had been playing with his hair, too; which was considerably mussed at the moment.

The scream came then.  It was an ear-piercing, ear drum puncturing shriek; octaves higher than the norm, and Scott’s response was instantaneous.  His entire body stiffened as he was jolted awake; pale blue eyes wide open as he bolted upright and dropped to the floor at a dead run.

Johnny’s bedroom was directly across the hall; the door open and the soft light from the overhead lantern giving a mist-like quality to the room.  Scott, being the second youngest in the house, made it before anyone else.  Slamming open the door even wider, he raced across the threshold and headed directly for his baby brother’s bed.

EEE…EEEE.EEEEE.EEEEEEE!!”  The high-pitched screech came without interruption, Johnny’s face plum purple and getting darker.  He was upside down, hanging by one foot and one hand over the side rail; the long dark curls standing on end and shiny with tears and spit.  The toddler was morphing between pants-peeing fear and major temper tantrum, and the volume was rising.

Scott quickly moved to the side of the crib, ducking as his baby brother’s free fist swung at his head.  “Papa!”  he shouted; trying hard to grab hold of his brother; at the same time attempting to somehow push his struggling sibling up and over the wooden railing and back into the bed.

“No, Squat!!” Johnny sobbed, pounding his brother’s back with his free hand.  “No want in bed!”  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.  “Want out!”  The high-pitched scream resumed, the volume growing.

Scott was still holding on, but he was clenching his teeth.  Johnny’s mouth was right next to his ear, the baby managing somehow to scream and spew snot at the same time; and doing both things without even pausing to take a breath.  “Stop fighting, Johnny, and let me help,” Scott pleaded as he levered his brother onto his shoulder.  For someone so compact, Johnny felt like a ton of bricks.

Murdoch Lancer stumbled into the room from the adjoining bedroom.  He was in his night shirt and wearing only one slipper, his hair wild on his head and sticking out above his ears.  An equally disheveled Harlan Garrett appeared in the hallway and also ghosted into the room.

Quickly, the tall Scot regained his composure; his long legs crossing the room to reach the side of the crib.  Gently, he reached out, his left arm closing around Johnny’s upper torso; his right hand patting Scott’s shoulder as he relieved his elder son of his struggling burden.  It didn’t take him long to untangle Johnny’s leg from the up-and-down slats; or to unpeel the plump little fingers from the top railing.

Checking to make sure the toddler’s diaper will still dry, he straightened out the child’s night shirt and planted his little bottom firmly against the mattress.  “Quiet down, Johnny,” he soothed.  He waited for the sobs to subside before speaking again.  “Do you see the moon, son?” he asked, nodding towards the curtain-less window.

Johnny’s breaths were coming in short, shoulder-shaking hitches.  He turned his head slightly to stare out into the night.  “Squat says the moon made outta cheese,” he murmured.  His eyes narrowed as he pointed a dimpled finger towards the sky.  “Someone take a bite, Papa,” he reasoned, noting the near sliver of a new moon.  “Pretty soon be a-l-lll gone.”  The last words were accompanied by a dramatic sigh and the lifting of both hands.  And then the child’s eyes widened as a new thought assaulted his over-active brain.  “‘Musta been a big mouse, Papa.”  His panic levered up a notch, several notches.  “Papa give Johnny gun so Johnny can make mouse dead!”

Scott giggled.  Murdoch scrubbed at his own face with both hands, feeling the stubble beneath his fingertips.  It was far too late to be dealing with his baby boy’s warped logic, but it was clear the child needed some reassurance.  “There is no mouse, Johnny,” he sighed, patting the boy’s head.  “It is night time,” he continued.  “You can see the moon, because the sun is sleeping.”  His voice lowered.  “Like you need to be sleeping,” he finished.     

Totally ignoring his father’s declaration, Johnny leaned forward, cocking his head to look around Murdoch’s considerable bulk; a smile coming as he spotted his Grandfather.  “Hey, Ha,” he chirped.  He reached out with both hands, wiggling his fingers, clearly wanting to be picked up.

Instinct prompted the older man to move forward; only to stop mid stride.  It was two o’clock in the morning, and as indulgent as he could be with his grandsons, he also clearly recognized an impending con when he saw one.  “Your Papa is right, Johnny.  You should be sleeping,” he scolded.  “You’ll never grow to be as tall as Scott if you don’t get the proper amount of sleep.”

Hoping to forestall another outburst, Murdoch reached out a hand to rake his fingers through Johnny’s soft curls.  Johnny’s height -- his lack of height -- was a sore point with the younger boy, and the child had attempted at least a dozen hare-brained schemes to grow: fertilizer in his boots and once hanging suspended from a rope on a tree branch in an effort to stretch his body.  A change of subject was clearly in order.  “Did you have a bad dream, son?” Murdoch asked solicitously.  “Is that what woke you up?”

The diversion worked.  “No,” Johnny said, the frown already easing.  “Johnny got to pee.”  His eyes widened as the pressure in his lower belly increased.  “NOW!”

Scott quickly bent down and scrambled to retrieve the chamber pot from beneath the crib.  At the same time, Murdoch picked up the toddler, expertly unpinned his diaper, and set him on the floor.

“Not here!”  Johnny pouted, stomping his foot and pulling his nightshirt up to bunch at his waist.  “Johnny a big boy.”  His bare butt dimpled as he sucked in his little belly and his back stiffened.  Immediately, he bolted towards the hallway to head for the bathroom; dribbles of pee marking his escape route.  Scott immediately tagged after him, carefully avoiding the puddles.

Harlan cleared his throat.  “I really do think, Murdoch, it’s time to consider taking down the baby’s crib, and putting Scott’s old bed in here.  If Johnny’s urges are strong enough that he’s waking up…”

Murdoch speared his father-in-law with an incredulous stare.  “You can’t be serious,” he said.  The two men rarely argued about the boys, except perhaps about which one of them was the guiltiest of spoiling them; and then usually agreeing it was the housekeeper, Maria, who was the most indulgent.  “Johnny up and about at night without our knowing where he is or what he’s doing?”  The gurgle of a flushing toilet -- the second time the noise had occurred -- seemed to add credence to his argument.  “No, sir,” he declared, stubbornly shaking his head.  “Johnny will remain in his crib, and that’s the end of it.”

Harlan Garrett made a valiant attempt not to smile, and failed miserably.  He ducked his head and pretended to wipe something from his upper lip. If Murdoch Lancer had his way, both of his boys would stay exactly as they were: small children firmly in his control. “Now, son,” he wheedled, “Johnny was obviously trying to climb out of the crib.”  He hesitated.  “He could have been hurt…”

From down the hallway, the toilet flushed for a third time; Scott’s voice rising above the rush of water, the words coming with great exasperation.  “No, Johnny…”

A series of high-pitched giggles echoed from within the tiled bathroom, followed by the sound of splashing and then the swift patter of bare feet thumping down the carpeted hallway.  Johnny’s, of course, with Scott’s slightly heavier tread coming afterwards.  Murdoch saw a flash of bare flesh streak by the open doorway, a totally naked specter disappearing into the darkness.  Sighing, he headed for the hallway, only to find his way blocked when Scott skidded to a halt at the threshold.

“Johnny flushed a towel down the toilet, Papa,” Scott huffed.  “There’s water everywhere…” With that, the blond took off, following the fading sound of his brother’s laughter.

Murdoch let out a long, shuddering sigh.  “And that, Harlan, is exactly why Johnny will remain in his crib!”


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Hands on his hips, a frustrated Murdoch Lancer stood next to his son’s crib.  Johnny had been finally corralled, dried off, diapered and was now clad in a fresh night shirt.  And he was absolutely refusing to lie down.

So there he sat, in the center of his crib; his short, little legs crossed Indian style: his hands knotted into tiny fists.  He was rubbing hard at his eyes; pausing ever so often to use his thumbs and forefingers to spread his eyelids in a stubborn attempt to keep his eyes open.  “Johnny not sleepy,” he grumbled, his lips pursing in an all too familiar frown.  “See!” he pouted, lifting his head to glare at his father; his thumbs and forefingers spreading his eyelids even farther apart, so far the intense blue iris’ were ringed with white.  “Eyes not closed, Papa!”

The demonstration would have been more convincing if Johnny’s compact, round butt wasn’t betraying him.  But no, the child’s fatigue was causing him to lean sideways, like a wobbly toy, and he tilted over onto his side.  Angry his body had deceived him, Johnny let out a terrible wail.  “Bwaaaah!!!”  He rolled over on his back, extended his legs, and began kicking the mattress, with both feet.

Murdoch swiped a long-fingered hand across his face, counting to ten before speaking.  The fact it was now three o’clock in the morning was not helping his disposition.  “John,” he began, using his stern father voice, “that’s enough!”  He reached into the crib and flipped his son over onto his stomach and began gently massaging his back.  In reality, he was holding the child down.  “Now shhhhh!” he cajoled, his voice lowering until he was almost crooning.  “Shhhhh!”

Johnny drew his knees up beneath his belly, his solid little rump pointing skyward.  It appeared he was responding to his father’s tender caresses.  His eyelids fluttered, and his right thumb disappeared into his mouth; accompanied by a rhythmic, wet sucking sound.

Murdoch held his breath; his touch even lighter now as he made several more slow circles between Johnny’s shoulder blades, the tempo easing.  Then, holding his breath and giving the child’s back a final, light-fingered pat; he began backing away from the crib.

He felt ridiculous; a grown man reduced to tip-toeing out of a bedroom in his own house.  Still, if he was going to salvage any sleep before the sun came up…

Johnny’s eyes popped open as soon as the door swung shut.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Murdoch eased his long frame into his bed, allowing a slow sigh to escape as he settled into the comfort of the thick mattress; enjoying the quiet.  He felt a small twinge of guilt, but it was fleeting.  No, the decision two weeks ago to move Johnny’s crib into the adjoining bedroom had been a good idea.

Johnny had never been one of those babies who slept through the night.  Now, as an extremely active toddler, his internal clock was totally unreliable.  In spite of a full and busy day, it took a great deal of time to get Johnny to wind down; and the boy constantly fought sleep.

And he was creative.  Pushing things out of the crib onto the floor had been a favorite past time from very early on; and when that didn’t work to his satisfaction, he rocked.  The crib was on casters, and as soon as Johnny was old enough to get up on his hands and knees he had learned he could get attention by simply rocking back and forth, back and forth.  First would come the thump-bump as the headboard of the crib beat a steady tattoo against the wall; followed by the screech-screech of the porcelain casters as the small bed crept across the floor.  And when those tactics failed, Johnny would sing.  Loudly; and very out of tune.

Scott, who had been blessed with perfect pitch, was convinced he did it on purpose.  Murdoch agreed. 

The big man yawned; his jaws cracking.  There were definite advantages to having a thick wall between his room and Johnny’s.  Compared to the last few years, it made for a remarkably quiet night.  Well, what was left of the night, anyway.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny was standing up in his crib.  He was thinking about his brother.  “Squat,” he muttered, his eyes narrowing.  Squat had told Papa about the towel in the toilet, and Papa had smacked Johnny’s butt.  Hard.

The little boy was cogitating.  His lips parted slightly, the tip of his tongue appearing at the corner of his mouth.  He had a plan. 


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Scott Lancer was having trouble falling to sleep.  He lay flat on his back, the forefinger of his right hand twirling strands of blond hair against his forehead.  It was really hard being a big brother, he mused.  Sometimes it was really hard to keep Johnny out of trouble; harder still to not always tell Papa when Johnny was doing something wrong.

Papa had a lot of rules.

The boy sighed; deeply.  One of Papa’s rules had to do with lying.  That one was kind of confusing.  Tonight Papa had said that not telling everything about something naughty Johnny had done was the same as not telling the truth.  While Papa had said he didn’t want Scott to be a tattle-tale -- the boy shuddered at the thought -- he did expect him to tell the truth about whatever had happened.

And then Papa had asked how Johnny had gotten ahold of the toweling Maria always stacked so neatly atop the gravity tank above the toilet.  Johnny couldn’t reach those towels.

The boy’s hair twirling increased in tempo.  He’d taken the towel from the shelf.  But only to clean himself off after Johnny had peed on his leg.

And Johnny had done it on purpose.  Johnny was always peeing in places he shouldn’t; inside or out.  He’d just aim and shoot; bugs, caterpillars and even birds.  He was fast, and he hit them, too.  Every time.

Boy, he sure hoped Papa never asked him why Maria couldn’t grow any flowers in her pot beside the kitchen door.    


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny was working hard to gain his freedom.  He sure didn’t want to repeat his last mistake; nor did he want to risk tumbling out of the crib and landing on his head.  He’d done that once before, and it had sure hurt.  Nope; that wasn’t happening again.

Pulling himself up slightly on the high head board, he slipped the toe of his left foot between the soft mattress and the flat board that was the crib’s bottom.  The pad was about three inches thick; wool and cotton with heavy ticking and a rubber sheet Maria kept over the cloth in case of “accidents”.   And it really wasn’t all that heavy.

Grunting, the little boy managed to pry the mattress up on its side.  It didn’t take all that much more work to heft it over the top of the railing; gravity prevailing as the pad tumbled free and thudded softly against the floor.

Johnny suddenly realized he was now three inches shorter than he had been when he was standing on the mattress.  A frown marred his otherwise angelic features; but he stubbornly refused to be deterred.  Using his toes like a monkey, he inched his way up the wooden bars; flung his leg over the top of the railing, and let go.

Ker- plop.  Arms akimbo, he landed on his belly, dead center on the mattress.  Johnny was instantly on his feet and heading towards the door.  The heavy oak portal, which had been left slightly ajar, swung open and the little boy peered out into the hallway.

Careful to pull the door as far shut as Papa had left it, Johnny tip-toed into the hall; cat-pawing across the carpet as he headed for Scott’s bedroom.  Scott’s door had also been left open a bit; just enough to allow a sliver of light from the hallway lantern to wash across the carpet.  Gently, Johnny pushed the door open, watching as the ribbon of light widened to illuminate first the floor and then the side of Scott’s bed; and then Scott’s pale face.

Scott was sound asleep.  Johnny watched him for a while, his eyes narrowing as he remembered his sore bottom and the three hard smacks Papa had given him after the water had been all mopped up.  Then, quietly, Johnny tiptoed around to the other side of the bed.  Sticking his head under the covers, he snake-crawled up onto the bed, burrowing next to his brother.  He held his breath as Scott stirred; staying perfectly still as his long-limbed brother rolled over onto his side.

And then, snuggling up to his brother’s back, he peed.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Murdoch Lancer was seriously questioning what he had done in his past life that had caused God to bless him with two sons who had very strong sets of lungs.  This time, it was Scott who had roused him from his well-earned slumber.

Sighing, the tall Scot levered himself up from his bed.  This time he didn’t even bother with attempting to find his slippers; he simply padded barefoot into the hallway.  “I’ll take care of it,” he muttered, waving a hand as Harlan poked his head out of the door.  “It’s probably just a bad dream.”

Scott was sitting on the edge of the bed when he entered the room; deep sobs causing the boy’s shoulders to rise and fall in a steady rhythm.  “Sorry, Papa,” he whimpered; pulling back the damp covers.

Murdoch shook his head.  Scott was always hardest on himself.  “It’s all right, son,” he murmured; turning to retrieve a fresh night shirt from the armoire and shaking it out.  “Everyone is entitled to an accident now and then,” he soothed.  He was whispering when he eased his son out of the damp clothing.  “You don’t want to wake your brother up, do you?” he asked, turning to nod towards the hallway.

Scott shook his head.  His nose was running and he really needed a handkerchief.  Papa used a dry corner of the top sheet to wipe his face; and then briskly rubbed the dampness from the rest of his body.

Slipping the clean night shirt over his son’s head and working carefully with the boy’s rubbery arms; he picked the child up and gave him a quick hug.  He knew instinctively the youngster needed some reassurance.  “You can sleep with me, son,” he whispered; patting the boy’s back.  “Maria will make things right in the morning.”


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


“The niños are still sleeping, Patrón?” Maria asked in a hushed voice as she poured a steaming mug of very strong coffee.

Weary, Murdoch nodded his head.  “It was a very long night, Maria,” he breathed.  “Johnny tried to get out of his crib, he managed to create all kinds of havoc in the bathroom, and…”  He paused to take a long drink of the dark liquid, welcoming the jolt to his system, “…and Scott had an accident in his bed.”  His tone was apologetic.  “I’m afraid I left quite a mess upstairs, Maria.  I’m sorry.”  The apology was heartfelt.

The woman smiled.  She reached out, feeling the tightness in the big man’s shoulders; and gave him an affectionate pat.  “Los muchachos serán muchachos,” (Boys will be boys), she consoled her employer.

Murdoch held out his empty cup for a refill.  “I’m going to let them sleep in,” he announced.   He smiled.  “At least for awhile.”

An obviously exhausted Harlan Garrett entered the kitchen, his feet dragging.  The older man had dark circles beneath his eyes, and there were several nicks on his cheek where he had cut himself shaving.  “At least they are quiet now,” he sighed taking his seat at the foot of the table.  He smiled broadly when Maria placed a large mug of steaming coffee at his place.  “Thank you, my dear.”  He, too, was rewarded with a gentle pat to his shoulder.

They sat for a time in companionable silence, enjoying the peace.  Maria bustled about them, serving them each a large, freshly warmed dulcidas; the sweet raisin tamales that were a family favorite.  A sweet-sour sugar and cinnamon sauce covered the treats; the air rich with the aroma of spice. Murdoch smiled up at the woman.  “Dessert first?” he teased.

“You will need the energy,” she answered.  “And it will fill you until I make a proper breakfast for the niños.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny Lancer had had an adventure filled night.  He was in the barn now, sitting on a bale of straw; picking little bits of bedding and warm horse droppings from between his bare toes.  His nose crinkled a bit at the odor, which he really didn’t think was all that bad.  Squat don’t know nothin’, he thought smugly.  Horse ‘nor don’t stink.

The toddler fidgeted a bit as he felt the dry straw poking his butt, and he reached back to scratch.  It was enough to raise the hem of his soiled and ripped night shirt; his bare bottom beginning to itch.  He had left his wet diaper behind in Scott’s bed; a thought that caused him to giggle.

Around him, the barn was coming alive.  Papa’s horse, Buck, was making blowing noises in his empty feed box; and Mamácita’s laying hens were pecking in the dirt at the animal’s hind feet.  Johnny watched the hens, mesmerized by their soft clucking.

And then the rooster came marching in.

Johnny hated the rooster.  The feeling was mutual. 

The staring contest began.  Johnny eased himself off the bale of straw.  Picking up a stick from the floor, he advanced on the wary cock that was preening in front of its harem.  The little boy took aim.  “Bang, bang!” he shouted, surprised at how loud his voice sounded.  His next move was to reach through the stall sideboards to grab a fistful of brightly colored tail feathers.

The rooster jumped straight up in the air; wings spread, claws extended.

Buck snorted.  The big bay gelding, normally a well tempered animal, took umbrage.  Kicking out with its right hind foot, the horse sent the rooster tumbling across the straw littered floor; feathers flying. 

Johnny doubled over in laughter.  His joy was short lived.  The rooster recovered swiftly; landing on its feet and reversing course to charge forward at a full run; its neck extended, green-tipped wings flapping.  Johnny turned around and started running; his short legs pumping.  But the rooster was quicker.  Two quick pecks to the boy’s poorly protected rear were direct hits.

Heart beating rapidly, Johnny headed for the ladder that led up to the barn’s loft.  It didn’t matter he wasn’t supposed to climb that ladder; not with the rooster so close behind.  He scrabbled up the wooden slats and dived into the mounds of hay.  Belly-crawling back to the edge, he grinned down at the still rampaging cock.  And then, yawning, he promptly fell asleep.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


It was amazing, Murdoch thought, just how much work he could get done when his boys weren’t underfoot.   Not that he didn’t love having his sons around.  But sometimes, when they were “helping”…  He chuckled at the thought.  Scott was a good and diligent worker and an eager student.  Johnny, on the other hand…  He smiled.   Sometimes, Johnny had the attention span of a gnat, and there were times when he could be just as annoying.

He entered the hacienda to find Harlan in the hallway, checking his watch.  “Harlan,” he greeted.

Harlan returned his son-in-law’s greeting with a nod.  “Maria has decided now would be a good time for the boys to join us for a proper breakfast,” he smiled.

The aroma of bacon, eggs and fresh coffee was wafting in from the kitchen.  From the Great Room, the sound of the grandfather clock beginning to chime added to the seeming normalcy of yet another day.  Murdoch silently counted off the tolls.  Eight.  “I’ll fetch the boys,” he said, hanging up his hat.

Feeling reenergized, the tall Scot mounted the stairs by twos.  He reached the top of the stairs in time to see Scott emerging from his own room, already dressed.  “Good morning, son,” he smiled.

“Papa,” Scott greeted.  His cheeks colored.  “My bed,” he began shyly.

Murdoch put a finger to his own lips, signaling for an end to his son's unnecessary apology.  “I’ve already spoken to Maria, Scott.  She said not to worry; she’ll take care of things.”  He gestured for the boy to come to him; giving him a quick hug and then turning him around.  “Let’s go get your brother, son.  Maria’s made a big breakfast,” he reached both arms around the boy’s slim shoulders and rubbed his stomach with both hands, “and I, for one, am very hungry.”

Scott’s face lit up in a teeth flashing smile, his cheeks dimpling.  “I know Johnny will be hungry, Papa!  Johnny’s always hungry.”

Together, father and son crossed the hall.  His right hand still on Scott’s shoulder, Murdoch swung open the door.  “Time for breakfast, little man…”   


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


The entire estancia was in a state of panic.  The fire bell had been rung; hard enough it had almost spun free from its bracings.  A small army assembled in the courtyard; some of the men mounted, others standing at near attention as the Patrón began barking orders.  Harlan Garrett was pacing up and down on the broad patio.  Scott, somber faced but on full alert, was standing next to Maria, stroking her hand.

Cipriano was standing at Murdoch Lancer’s side; listening as the Patrón finished addressing the men.  “We will find him, compadre,” he murmured.

Murdoch’s jaws tensed.  “Yes, we will,” he declared.  He shook his head.  “I can’t believe he got out of that crib without me hearing him; let alone got out of the house.”

Cipriano smiled.  “Juanito is a clever child, Patrón; sometimes too clever for his own good.”

The two men stood for a time, and then began their search.  Beyond them, the vast crew of vaqueros was methodically moving towards the pastures and the fields.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Scott had begun his search as well.  Unlike the adults, he approached the job with the unique perspective of not only a child; but a big brother.  He was going to look in all the places Johnny was forbidden to go by himself; because those were precisely the places Johnny would go.

He started in the hen house, carefully avoiding the smashed eggshells that littered the floor and frowning as he saw the still damp yolks that were smeared against the walls.  It was hard to figure out what Johnny liked most about throwing the eggs, the sound or the mess.  Whatever it was, Scott remembered, Mamácita said Johnny was never, ever going to help collect eggs again.  That single thought caused him to pause.  Johnny hated chores.  He was always trying to figure out ways to get out of doing things he didn’t want to do, even if it meant he got in trouble.

Which was exactly why Scott always had to pick up all the toys after they were done playing.  Johnny, he decided, could be very sneaky.

The pig sty was next; Scott’s keen sense of smell doing him no particular favor.  Ignoring the smell, he circled the enclosure, kicking at the fence in frustration when he saw the small hole that had been scooped out of the damp earth next to the watering trough.  It wasn’t hard to figure out just whose tiny fingers had been digging in the muck.  Dutifully, he began counting the mass of squealing piglets.  Six.  There should have been nine.

Everywhere Scott went he found evidence his little brother had been there before him.  In Maria’s private garden he found two overturned pots.  The gate to the small corral where Señora Delgado kept her milk goats was standing wide open, the nanny still tethered to the small shed; her teats full and her kids gone.  Scott shook his head.  Papa had caught Johnny once, trying to ride one of the little goats.  Papa had sure been mad.

He had saved the barn until last; going in through the double back doors; hesitating at the threshold as his eyes adjusted to the near darkness.  Buck whickered in greeting; restlessly moving against the stall’s heavy gate.  Scott approached the gelding, reaching out to pat the animal’s nose. 

There was a rustling noise in the rafters; a soft stirring in the loft, and Scott looked up.  A new noise came then; a wet, dribbling sound he knew only too well.  “Johnny,” he muttered.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Mamácita.”  Scott called out to the woman, his voice a mere whisper.  He had come into the kitchen through the back door, sneaking in from the garden entrance.

The woman turned, her mouth dropping open as she spied the younger Lancer son.  Scott’s hand was firmly knotted in the fabric at the back of Johnny’s neck.  And Johnny…

She was on the child in less than a heartbeat.  Her hands flew over the boy from top to bottom, checking him everywhere; lifting his night shirt and turning him around to inspect every inch of his body.  He was filthy.  His once white night shirt was spotted with everything from dried egg yolks to what appeared to be -- and smelt -- like pig droppings.  And his feet…

Picking the child up, she carried him over to the sink.  “Go get your Papa, Scott,” she ordered.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


“In the barn,” Scott said, looking up at his father.  “He was up in the hayloft.”

Murdoch’s right eyebrow arched.  “I see,” he muttered; not quite happy with what he was hearing.  “And how did you get him down?”  It was a good fourteen foot drop from the loft to the barn floor.

Scott’s expression mirrored his father’s.  “We climbed down, Papa,” he replied.  “I was very careful.”

The seriousness of his son’s response caused Murdoch to rein in his annoyance.  “Good job, son,” he said; patting the boy’s shoulder.

Mamácita is giving him a bath in the kitchen sink,” Scott volunteered.

“I bet she is,” Murdoch sighed.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny had been thoroughly scrubbed and was now being vigorously dried.  Maria was not a happy woman.  She had scolded him the entire time; washing his hair twice because she knew he hated having it washed even once.

He hated the spanking with the wooden spoon even more.

Murdoch entered the kitchen with a degree of trepidation; Scott right on his heels.  Johnny’s high-pitched howls was a pretty good indication Maria had been satisfied the child was uninjured, but that he was guilty of a multitude of sins large and small; the least of which was the fact he had dared to climb out of his crib and sneak out of the house.

“Maria,” he called softly.

The woman had just finished buttoning Johnny’s red shirt.  The look on her face was testimony to the fact she did not suffer fools lightly; and Johnny had certainly played the part.  “Go to your Papa,” she ordered, giving the little boy a final smack on his behind with her spoon.

Mamácita beat Johnny’s bare butt!” the child wailed.

Murdoch bit back the smile.  He bent forward, catching the boy in his arms.  “And with good reason,” he said sternly.  “You were a very bad boy, Johnny.  You scared Mamácita very much; and Ha, and Scott, and Papa.”

Johnny’s chin jutted out.  “Mamácita’s mean!” he pouted.  Using his shirt sleeve, he swiped at his runny nose.  Then, in a move clearly intended to get sympathy, he rubbed at his bottom.  “Johnny’s butt hurt,” he sobbed.

“Not as much as it would if Papa had spanked you,” Murdoch said.  He gathered the child in his arms and stood up.  “Scott, go tell Cipriano I need to speak with him, please.  And tell him we’ve found Johnny.”  He watched as his elder son sprinted for the door, and then turned his attention back to his youngest.  “As for you, young man, you are going to be keeping me company in the Great Room.”

Johnny popped his thumb into his mouth and began sucking.  He knew exactly what ‘keeping me company’ meant, and he didn’t like it one bit.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Johnny’s little blue, straight-backed chair -- the one with the woven hemp seat -- was sitting in the corner behind Murdoch’s desk, facing the wall.  The toddler was sulking, swinging his legs back and forth.  Papa had taken his boots away after he kept thumping the heels against the chair’s legs.  Not that that had stopped him.  He’d kept kicking the chair legs with his stockinged feet until Papa had picked him up and swatted him once on his behind.   Papa was mean.  Mamácita was mean.  And right now, he didn’t like Squat very much, either.  

Murdoch Lancer was standing with his back to his son, one finger tapping on the piece of paper that was sitting on his desk.  “Just a few modifications, Cip,” he said, speaking to his Segundo.  “Something to insure Johnny stays put when he’s been put to bed.”  His head canted to his right as he heard a soft shuffling from behind.  “Don’t even think about it, Johnny,” he snapped, not even bothering to turn around.

Johnny’s eyes grew big as he dropped back into his chair.  Squat’s right, he thought, Papa’s got eyes in the back of his head!  Squirming in his seat, he turned around to look, wondering how Papa could see with all that hair on his head.  His gaze shifted to Cipriano, who frowned at him and shook his head.  Tio’s mean, too, Johnny pouted.  He folded his arms across his chest, and leaned back in his chair.  Even Ha had scolded him.  All big people are mean, he decided.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~

It had been a long morning, and Murdoch was grateful lunch was over and it was almost time for Johnny’s nap.  They were in the bathroom now, the fifth trip so far and counting.  The big man’s chest lifted in a sigh.  Johnny was poised in front of the porcelain toilet, and had yet to produce so much as a droplet of water.  “All right, son,” he breathed.  “I think we’re done here.”  He bent forward, making the necessary adjustment to the toddler’s pants.   “Nap time.”

Johnny knew better than to stomp his foot.  Besides, he was really curious about all the sawing and hammering he had been hearing all morning long.  Every time he’d told Papa he had to pee, he’d hoped he could find out what was going on; but it didn’t happen.  Papa would carry him up to the bathroom, and had stayed right there until his business was done; and then it was back down the stairs to his chair.  Next time Johnny get outta bed, Johnny gonna hide that chair.

Murdoch carried his baby into the hallway, pausing at the top of the stairs as Scott stepped up into the hallway.

Mamácita said you wanted to see me, Papa,” Scott greeted.

“Yes, son.”  He reached out, tousling the boy’s hair.  “Johnny’s going down for his nap, and I think it would be a good idea if you lay down for awhile, too.”

Scott’s mouth dropped open in surprise.  It had been a long time since he had been made to take a nap.  “But, Papa,” he began.

“No buts, young man,” Murdoch interrupted, his tone severe.  “None of us got very much sleep last night, and I think it would be a good idea if you rested for awhile, too.”

Scott didn’t like the idea very much, but he knew better than to argue.  He studied the carpet at his feet for a bit, and then looked up.  The first thing he saw was Johnny’s tongue sticking out at him.  Much as he wanted to, he didn’t return the gesture.  “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Murdoch smiled.  “Now let’s get your brother to bed, and we’ll all have some peace.”

Scott followed his father into Johnny’s room.


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


The modifications to Johnny’s crib had been extensive.  The bottom of the little bed had been lowered significantly so it was mere inches from the floor.  Longer and sturdier spindles had been added to the side rails; and -- topping it off -- a hinged lid had been affixed to the to the left hand side.  About the only thing remaining of the original design were the porcelain casters.

Murdoch deposited his precocious toddler into the redesigned crib, standing back a bit to admire the craftsmanship.  The top of the side railing was a good foot higher than Johnny’s head.  Satisfied his baby boy was going to stay put, Murdoch lowered the lid into place and fastened it shut.

“Papa,” Scott breathed, his eyes widening as he peered around his father’s broad frame to gaze at his brother.  Johnny’s face was pressed against the side rails of the newly remodeled crib, the fingers of his right and left hands curled around the uprights and framing his cheeks.  “Is Johnny in jail?”

Murdoch’s lips parted in wide smile.  “Of course not, Scott.”  He chuckled at the absurdity of the idea.  “What on earth would make you think your brother would ever be in jail?”


~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~


Scott opened his bedroom door and peered into the hallway to make sure the coast was clear.  Johnny had stopped crying and the house was eerily quiet.  Checking again to make sure no one was about; the youth stepped into the hallway.

Tip-toeing, Scott made his way across the hall.  He was careful to be very quiet.  Johnny’s door had been left ajar; as it always was during the night and at nap time.  Ha always opened their bedroom doors before he retired for the night; so he could hear his boys if they needed him.  Scott smiled at the thought.

Gingerly, he opened the door; holding his breath in case the hinges creaked.  And then he peeked around the edge; his hand immediately going to his mouth to stifle the giggle.

Johnny was hanging suspended from the slatted top of the crib, his little finger firmly wound around the wood; his bare feet poking through the ribs and crossed at the ankles.  He hung for a time, completely still; looking for all the world like the monkey in one of his bedtime story books, the monkey that hung upside down from a tree limb. 

And then he began to sway; back and forth, back and forth.

Thump-bump.  And then, screech, screech, screech.  Scott watched in awe as the bed began to creep across the floor.  He turned then, hearing the sharp pock-pock of his father’s leather heeled boots against the tiled floor at the bottom of the staircase.  Sometimes, Papa even walked mad.

Turning around, the youth scooted towards his own bedroom; disappearing behind the door just as his father mounted the stairs.  He cringed when he heard his father’s bellow.  “Johnny!”






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