(Eighth story in the Destiny Series)
In the distance, Mexican vaqueros are gathered near the road, one or two are yelling something. Can’t hear too well from here but it sounds like they’re greeting us.
How come Lancer kicks Mama and me out and has Mexican vaqueros working for him? Dios, they’re probably underpaid and treated like dirt. I’ve seen it so often in the past. But... there’s something wrong. As we get nearer to them, I notice they seem happy enough as some wave their hats and almost bow to us when we pass in front on them. They all have huge smiles plastered on their faces. Dios! There’s even a black vaquero among them... and a few gringos, too.
I snort. Ol’ Man Lancer’s got a lot to answer for. But, enough with that... we’re here. Dios, the hacienda is huge... and beautiful. There must be 30 rooms or so in it. And it’s very Mexican in style, just like the haciendas in Mexico. No wonder Mama felt resentful those few times she mentioned my father in front of me.
As soon as the buggy stops, Scott jumps off and helps the girl down. Ain’t he the polite one, huh? Well, if I had stepped down first, I’d have helped her but he beat me to it. Suddenly, I grin... Boy, it starts well. I’m already thinkin’ about competin’ with the dandy... uh, I mean my brother.
Speaking of him, he glances at me. I think he’s about as unsure as I am. I let him take the lead and I follow a few steps behind. I feel better watching my own back than having to rely on this... brother of mine. I snort – I wonder if he knows how to use a gun. Probably not! What with him so dandified and wearing frilly things. Yeah, he’s Mr. Frilly all right and useless in my world.
Gotta stay focused now, we’re inside. The girl shows us to a huge door and leaves. Scott knocks after he glances at me. From inside, we hear a strong “It’s open”. First time I hear HIS voice... strong, hard, guttural. I find myself wondering how Scott feels about it. Heck! I don’t even know how I feel.
Anyway, we look at each other and my... brother... finally pushes the door open and enters. I’m right behind him and when I raise my head, my eyes travel to a man who walks toward us, leaning on a cane. Dios! He’s tall, so frigging tall... taller than Scott who is taller than me. I have to crane my neck to look at him and I don’t like that, not one bit.
Seems I don’t take much after him... and neither does Scott, come to think of it, aside from being tall too that is. Maybe I’m not his son. Maybe that’s why he threw Mama and me out, because I’m not his. But then, if I’m not his son that means Scott isn’t my brother. Damn! And here I was, almost getting used to this idea of having a brother.
Scott removes his hat but I keep mine. Don’t want the Ol’ Man to see too much of my eyes. I’m afraid he’ll see through me if he does. Damn Madrid, get a hold of yourself. Remember, you’re supposed to be one tough son of a bitch.
I watch Lancer from under the brim of my hat while he watches both of us.
“No, thank you.” Scott says as he moves forward a bit.
Murdoch looks at me... “You drink, don’t you?”
“When I know the man I’m drinkin’ with, yeah,” I respond with disdain. Dios, I’m angry, hurt, pissed off... you name it. I just hope he won’t notice.
He smiles a bit, as if he’s remembering something and he throws at me a “You’ve got your mother’s temper.” Then, he turns slightly toward the dandy – I have to remember that unless I’m not the Ol’ Man’s son, he’s my brother, not just ANY dandy – and tells him, “You’ve got your mother’s eyes”.
Couldn’t he have found something else to say? So, I have my mother’s temper, huh? I’ll show the bastard what temper is... I snicker. Guess I’m worse than my Mama where temper is concerned. I finally remove my hat. Let him see my eyes, let him be burned by my hatred.
“I want a drink”, I hear him say. I watch carefully as he turns and walks toward a small table where a decanter and a few glasses sit. He pours himself a drink.
Boy, he sounds pissed. Let’s piss him off even more. I move forward and throw my hat on a nearby chair... “You got somethin’ to say, Ol’ Man, say it.” I don’t even have to force myself to show contempt in my voice; it’s dripping of its own.
Yep, it works. He turns toward me very quickly... as if he’s been slapped in the face. I can see in his eyes he thinks I’m insolent. Good. I don’t see why I should respect him. Not after what he’s done to Mama and me. Then, pretty quickly for someone leaning heavily on a cane as he does, he moves over to his desk, grabs a black folder, flips it open and produces two thick envelopes.
“One thousand dollars a piece,” he says as he puts the envelopes on the desktop. He moves behind his desk and sits down. “You better count it.”
Of course I’ll count it. What does he think? I don’t trust him.
“I’m plannin’ to,” I tell him as I grab one envelope, open it and start to count the bills. Dios! I am getting angrier by the minute. I have to restrain myself. Can’t blow up right now. Gotta wait for the right moment. Madrid never loses his cool. Breathe in and out, slowly. Okay, I’m in control now.
“Come and get your money,” I hear him tell Scott as I keep counting. That’s funny, there’s a gentle tone to his voice now.
“I’ll settle for this drink,” answers Scott. I can feel him moving nearer to me.
“You’ll do as you’re told.” Murdoch’s voice is harsh now. Guess he’s used to bein’ the boss man.
Scott’s “Will I?” comes out hard, dry... defiant even. So much so that it makes me raise my head a little. Now, this is getting interesting. Maybe the dandy isn’t quite what I thought he was. He seems to have some backbone.
My inner thoughts are shattered as Lancer speaks again.
“I want no favors from either one of you,” the Ol’ Man says, quietly.
I watch slyly. I’m real interested to see what Scott will do.
He smiles and snickers. “Far be it from me to spoil a family reunion,” he says as he comes to stand beside me and grabs the other envelope.
He slaps it in his hands, doesn’t even open it and puts it in his jacket and all with a small smile. Me, I’m still counting... but I might need to recount cause I’m kinda distracted as I watch both Scott and the Ol’ Man.
“Thanks.” Scott’s voice comes out with a very sarcastic tone. Can’t help but approve. I like it. “What do I call you? Under the circumstances, ‘Father’ hardly seems...”
“Call me anything you like,” Lancer cuts him. “We’re strangers to each other. Maybe that’s my fault, maybe it isn’t.”
Oh boy. Now he’s more than pissed off. He’s getting angry. That calms me down a bit.
“No apology necessary,” Scott starts.
“You’ll get no apology from me”, he says. And then, he seems to come to a decision. “The air needs clearing, let’s clear it.” He gets up and comes between Scott and me. He addresses Scott first.
“Your mother’s family thought she was daft to marry me, not a year off the boat from Inverness, and maybe they were right. You were born, she died. I left you in their hands. Period.”
Oh, oh... so the dan... my brother is older than me. And he hasn’t been raised here; obviously the Ol’ Man’s blaming Scott for his mama’s death. Interesting.
Seems the man can’t keep his wives or his kids... and where the heck is Inverness? Shit! He’s turning to me now...
“A couple of years later, I met your mother down at Matamoros. She... We got married. Two years after that, I woke one morning, found her gone, you along with her.”
‘She what?’ I wanted to say but what comes out of my mouth is “That ain’t the way I heard it.”
I’m starting to get angry again and I absolutely have to control myself. Suddenly, the sides of my jacket seem very interesting.
“I don’t care what you heard. It’s past. Bad or good, right or wrong, it’s past and gone. We’re talking about now...” He moves over to the big window and looks out. “What’s happening out here, to this ranch.”
I tuck my hands into my waistband while Scott sits on the corner of the desk. That way, I can resist shooting Lancer. Wouldn’t be too wise doing it in front of Scott.
“The girl, Teresa, said you’re having some trouble.” That’s funny. I do like the way he says her name. It rolls on his tongue.
“Last Fall, somebody made off with one of our horses. My Segundo and I trailed him to a place called Morro Coyo.”
I find myself listening attentively now.
“We walked right into it. O’Brien was killed and I ended with this leg that’s gone sour on me. Since then, my fences have been cut, beef stolen, workers frightened off, burned out. Three months ago, I had 150 vaqueros, now I’ve got 18.”
“Well,” I said softly, unable to hide the disappointment in my voice, “then that’s the... ranch that you’re worried about, huh?” Dios! What was I hoping? That he’d regret what he’s done to Mama and me? That he’d welcome me back with open arms?
His eyes, when he looks at me, are fierce. Then he turns and faces the window again.
“I love this ground more than anything God ever created. I’ve got a gray hair for every good blade of grass you see there. They’re trying to drive me off this place.”
“Who?” I can’t help asking.
He turns toward us.
“You’ll hear them called land pirates. That’s close enough.”
“You mean to tell me men can just come along and drive you off your land?” Scott asks, disbelief clearly showing in his voice.
“They’re doing it. Since I was hit, they’ve taken three estancias.”
“What about the law?” Scott asks again.
“There isn’t any,” he answers as he moves away from his desk. “They’ve killed two good men – Joe Carvahal from Modesto and Petersen from San Jose. The others quit,” he continues as he pours himself another drink. “Found business elsewhere,” he adds as he sits on his chair. Leg must be bothering him.
“The only law we got here is pack law. The big dog gets the meat. By Summer, they’ll own half of the state,” Murdoch Lancer continues.
I move nearer to him. “Big dog got a name?” I ask.
“Day... Day Pardee.”
“You know him?”
“Oh yeah, I know him. He’s a gunfighter and he’s pretty good.”
Then, I smile and move nearer to the Old Man. Let him squirm a bit. He should be afraid. Day’s a ruthless bastard. I’ve seen first hand what he’s capable of doing and it ain’t pretty. I should know, I rode with him!
“Yeah! I’d say you have some kind of trouble.” And this time, it’s amusement I can’t keep out of my voice.