Believing is Seeing
Based on the TV Western Series – LANCER
“You’re late—again,” Murdoch Lancer growled at his younger son, as Johnny came in and sat down at the dinner table. Murdoch was a stickler for punctuality at the evening meal. However, Johnny had proved to be adept at ignoring Murdoch’s edict to be on time.
Johnny immediately stood up and glared at Murdoch. “Maybe you’d prefer I left.”
“Sit down!” Murdoch forcefully commanded. Johnny looked defiant. “Sit down, John,” Murdoch repeated, quietly this time, waiting until Johnny was seated to speak again. “What I’d prefer is that you at least try to be on time, or let us know if you’ll be late. This is the third night this week you’ve been late.”
“Yeah? Well, I’d love to be on time, ol’ man, but it sure wasn’t my fault—not tonight or them other nights either,” Johnny responded, sounding weary.
“What’s the problem, Johnny?” Scott asked. Murdoch and Johnny had butted heads often in the four months the brothers had been home. Scott had found himself in the role of peacemaker on more than one of those occasions, and readily stepped in now to try to head off another confrontation between the two.
“Same as the other nights,” Johnny answered, flashing a grateful smile at Scott for his intervention. “The fences are down in the morning and the herd is scattered to….” He stopped abruptly, mindful of the presence of Murdoch’s young ward, Teresa O’Brien. “Well, it’s been scattered and we’ve had to round them up and fix the fences. There’s no sign of any riders, no big cats or bears, wolves neither. But something must be spooking ‘em. Cip and I spent the last couple of hours tonight trying to find tracks. We gave up when it got too dark. We’ve got nightriders posted around the herd now.”
“Good idea, son” Murdoch noted, his tone now one of approval. “Have them report to us first thing in the morning before they turn in.”
“Cip’s already told ‘em,” Johnny replied, turning his attention to his meal. Cipriano, or ‘Cip’ as Johnny had referred to him, was Murdoch’s segundo, or second-in-command. He had been of invaluable assistance to both Scott and Johnny since their return, helping them learn all the things necessary to keep a ranch the size of Lancer running smoothly.
A little later, Johnny heard Scott come out on the veranda. Scott looked…. What? Johnny wasn’t sure and he felt a clench in his gut. Johnny had been concerned for awhile now that Scott was thinking about leaving Lancer. “Not if I can help it,” he thought to himself.
“Hey, brother,” Johnny called softly. It took a moment before Scott turned to face him, as though he had been miles away. “What’s ya thinkin’ on so hard, Boston?”
“Nothing much. Just thinking about how much I like it here,” Scott answered. It was the truth. Boston and all of its entanglements seemed more than the three thousand miles away that separated them geographically. Scott missed his grandfather but not much else about the eastern city. Nonetheless, he was thinking of returning.
“Me, too,” Johnny agreed. He looked intensely at Scott before sayinig, “I hear a ‘but’ in there, brother. Talk to me.”
For a moment it didn’t seem as though Scott was going to respond. But, he had to talk to someone and didn’t feel he could talk to Murdoch. They were closer than Scott had thought would be possible when you hadn’t met your father in 25 years, that was true. He knew his father was overjoyed that the family was finally together. Scott was, too. Still, he didn’t know if he could stay, not with the way things stood right now.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work out, Johnny,” Scott finally said.
“You don’t know if ‘what’ isn’t going to work out?” Johnny replied.
“This, all of it, Lancer,” Scott said, with a sweeping motion of his right hand.
“That’s a lot, Scott. Mind whittling it down some? What about all of this is bothering you?” Johnny smiled.
There was no answering smile. Scott’s expression was dead serious as he replied. “In Boston, I had the respect of the men at Grandfather’s business—and not just because I was his grandson. Grandfather is an excellent businessman, but his people skills leave a lot to be desired. I had their respect, they trusted me. And, in the Army, I know I had the respect of the men in my unit. In both, I knew what I was doing. Here, I feel about as useful as teacups in a saloon. The men don’t respect me, and why should they? I don’t know anything about cattle or horses except how to eat the one and ride the other. There’s no way for me to relate to the men. All I know is the books! If I had wanted to be an accountant, I’d have stayed in Boston where I could make a better name for myself in Grandfather’s business. I’ve been thinking that’s what I should do,” Scott finished quietly.
As he listened, Johnny was encouraged by the note of longing in Scott’s voice. Scott didn’t want to leave and that’s all that mattered to Johnny right now. But, how to get him to stay and give it a chance? Just for a little while longer? How? “How long’d it take you to become that accountant, Boston? Did you learn it all in four months? And all that soldiering business—learn that overnight, did ya?” Johnny asked, hoping Scott would see that time was all that was needed.
“I know what you’re saying, Johnny. It’s not the work. It’s the men. I’ve seen the way they are with you, laughing and joking. They shut up the minute they see me. I don’t see how things can work out when they don’t respect me,” Scott lamented.
“Whoa now, Scott. Who says they don’t respect you? I can’t speak for all of the men, but as far as the vaqueroes are concerned, it’s because they respect you that they act the way they do. You’re always teasing me about you being the ‘big brother.’ Well, that’s your problem with them, ya know. Murdoch—he’s the patron, God to them. Well, you’re the oldest son, second to God. That ain’t gonna change, brother. For the others, well, you just gotta get your hands a little more dirty, Boston, like you were doing while I was laid up. The men were just learning what you could do when Murdock pulled you back inside to do them books. Let the old man do his own books. Get out there with the men and learn what it takes to be a rancher. Remind Murdoch there’s more to it than the books. Make him see. You’re good at that,” Johnny encouraged.
“You really think so?” Scott asked, hopefully it seemed to Johnny.
“Yeah, I do. You’ve saved my sorry hide a few times in there with him—like tonight,” Johnny joked.
“I have, haven’t I?” Scott said with a genuine smile.
“Don’t let it go to your head, Boston,” Johnny admonished, and they laughed together, two brothers who enjoyed each other’s company.
The next morning, Frank came in to see Murdoch. Scott and Johnny listened as he reported all was quiet with the herd the night before. “The men didn’t see anything, boss.”
“Thank them for me, Frank,” Murdoch asked.
When Frank had gone, Johnny spoke. “Cip and me, we’ll take another look around for tracks, Murdoch.”
“Yes, why don’t you do that, son. It’s lucky we have the time right now. Much later and we’d have been in the middle of moving the herd. Still, I want this ended soon. Understand?” Murdoch replied.
“Yeah, I hear you. I’ll let Cip know we have to move fast on it,” Johnny answered.
“Would you like me to ride along?” Scott asked, hopefully, of both Murdoch and Johnny.
Murdoch looked at Johnny, indicating he should answer. “Not yet, Boston. Don’t want too many of us out there. It could mess up any tracks. Bad enough with the herd and the nightriders,” Johnny answered. “Maybe next time.”
“Sure,” Scott answered, his disappointment clear, the doubts of last night apparent on his face and in his voice again.
“The ol’ man wants us to move fast on this,” Johnny informed Cipriano as they rode out.
“Where is your respect, chico?” Cipriano lightly admonished.
“I know, I know,” Johnny contritely replied. “It just slipped out.”
“Too many times it slips out. Your father is upset by it always, no?” Cipriano looked meaningfully at Johnny.
Johnny ducked his head, knowing Cipriano was right to call him on this. But, thinking about it, Johnny remembered a couple of times when he’d used the ‘old man’ term affectionately with Murdoch, and Murdoch had accepted it in kind. “No, not always,” he said softly.
Cipriano was surprised, then smiled at the young man. “Come, chico. We have much to do.”
“Yeah, and we best get it done quick. Scott’s been thinking of leaving for a while now. Last night he talked about it a little. I talked him into givin’ it more time, but it’s best we get this done and over quick as we can so I can head him off,” Johnny said.
The two men headed out toward where the herd was pastured.
Back at the Lancer hacienda, Murdoch and Scott were working on the ledgers preparing for the end of the month payroll to take place the next day. Murdoch glanced up to find Scott staring out the window, a wistful look on his face. He remembered Scott’s obvious disappointment when Johnny had declined his help in tracking whoever or whatever was disturbing the herd, and knew Scott would prefer to be outdoors right now instead of poring over the ledgers. Murdoch said, “I know this can all be a little boring, son, and that you’d rather be out there with Johnny and Cipriano, but I do appreciate the help. When we get your new bookkeeping system in place, this sort of thing will take less time and be easier—on all of us. Especially Johnny. I don’t want to get him involved in the books until we’ve got the changes made. Or, is something else bothering you?”
“What?” Scott replied, startled for a moment. Regaining an outward composure, he answered, “No, nothing in particular.”
“Three people really would be too many to track whoever—or whatever—is doing this, Scott,” Murdoch said.
“I know,” Scott reluctantly acknowledged.
“Do you, son?” Murdoch asked gently, knowing there was more to Scott’s wistfulness than he was admitting.
Scott nodded, but then decided to speak up. “It’s just that, well, a month or so ago it would have been me out there with Cip.” Realizing he sounded jealous, Scott hastened to add, “I know I’m being unreasonable. Johnny’s a better tracker than I am, I know.”
Murdoch smiled, albeit grimly. “Don’t apologize, Scott. I know how you feel. A few months ago, I would have been out there with Cip. It’s not unreasonable to feel the way you do; in fact, it’s perfectly natural. You spent a lot of time learning about the ranch from Cip while Johnny was healing. But, in this case, you’re right. Johnny is a better tracker than either of us. Cip even admitted Johnny is better than he is, and that’s saying a lot. Of course, Johnny had to learn to be a good tracker, I guess.” There was a note of sadness in Murdoch’s voice.
Murdoch admitted to himself he didn’t really know too much about either one of his sons. He hadn’t raised either one of them. Johnny’s mother, Maria, had been Murdoch’s second wife. Murdoch’s first wife, Catherine, had died giving birth to Scott. Catherine’s father, Harlan Garrett, had been present at the birth, having come from Boston to take Catherine away for her safety and that of the coming child due to a brewing land war then, similar to the one Murdoch and his sons had just weathered with Day Pardee. Murdoch had stayed behind to protect the ranch. After Catherine’s death, Garrett had taken Scott to Boston instead of San Francisco, as planned. Later, Garrett had decided to keep Scott, to raise him in Boston. He was a powerful man there and had threatened Murdoch with severe legal actions to the point that Murdoch reluctantly gave in.
Two years after Catherine’s death, Murdoch had met Johnny’s mother, Maria. Their relationship was pure fire. But, though the relationship was stormy, Murdoch had believed they loved each other. Then, suddenly, with no warnings or note, when Johnny was less than two years old, Maria left with another man, taking Johnny with her. Murdoch searched in vain for his wife and baby but could not locate them. He turned to the Pinkerton agency to continue the search. Still, almost twenty years would pass before he saw Johnny again.
Just over four months ago, a Pinkerton agent had arrived just in the nick of time to save Johnny from being executed by a rurale firing squad just south of the border between Mexico and California. At that time, Johnny was going by the name of ‘Johnny Madrid’ and was a fairly well-known gunfighter. The agent had bribed the guards into releasing Johnny then informed Johnny that his father wanted to see him and was willing to pay $1,000 for one hour of time. Murdoch had sent a similar message via the Pinkertons to Scott. Now that Scott was of age, Murdoch knew it was no longer Garrett’s decision whether or not Scott would come. Scott had accepted, and, by coincidence, he and Johnny had arrived on the same stage. When they arrived, they learned of the land war with Day Pardee, that there had already been attacks on the ranch during one of which Teresa’s father had been killed and Murdoch had become her guardian, and that they would be expected to help fight Pardee in return for equal partnerships in the ranch with Murdoch. Both sons had agreed to Murdoch’s terms, but each had their own plan for achieving success. In the end, they had been successful, their separate plans blending together, even if unintentionally. Day Pardee was killed and his men defeated. Johnny had been seriously wounded in the back, but now was fully recovered and the partnership papers legally signed.
Murdoch Lancer knew his sons had all the ‘arms, legs, and guts’ he had demanded of them, but he didn’t know if they were going to end up staying or not even though they had signed the paperwork. A bond had immediately formed between the brothers that grew stronger every day, but Murdoch wasn’t sure that bond was strong enough to hold if one of them decided to leave. And, Murdoch feared if either one of them left, he would lose both of his sons. What was surprising to Murdoch was that it was Scott thinking of leaving.
Scott’s voice broke Murdoch out of his reverie. “At least it’s cooler in here,” Scott joked.
Murdoch laughed. “I have to agree with you. Still, I know you’d rather be out there. You’ll get plenty of opportunities while Johnny learns the books, though.”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Scott replied sarcastically.
“I’m sure he won’t, but he’s not a hand at Lancer; he’s one of the partners and will have to do his share of all the work, including the books,” Murdoch replied adamantly.
“I agree, but, still, he won’t like it. Unlike us, he prefers that weather out there,” Scott smiled. “And I know for a fact he doesn’t look forward to learning the books. I’m not sure what kind of education he has,” Scott broached a subject that had not been spoken of before regarding Johnny’s murky past.
“He seems to have enough, at least for now. Between us, we should be able to teach him what he needs to know,” Murdoch replied, his own uncertainty of Johnny’s past evident in his voice.
“The men will miss him on those occasions. They really like him,” Scott replied. The wistfulness was back in his voice, even if he was unaware of it.
“Do I detect a hint of envy, Scott? It seems unlike you. What is it, son?” Murdoch noted.
“I suppose…. It’s nothing,” Scott replied.
“Tell me what it is, son,” Murdoch urged.
“I don’t know how we got on this subject,” Scott said instead, turning his attention back to the open ledger.
Murdoch pulled the ledger back to himself and closed it. “Scott, if something is bothering you, I want you to tell me about it. You and Johnny seem to have a good relationship. I don’t want anything separating you.”
Scott sighed. He really hadn’t intended to get into this subject with Murdoch or anyone else for that matter. It was his problem and he felt he should be the one to decide how to handle it. “It’s nothing really, Murdoch,” he tried.
“Then ‘nothing’ will be less with the telling,” Murdoch answered.
Scott could see Murdoch wasn’t going to let up. Scott was always trying to get Johnny to share, to trust them. It was his turn, he guessed. “It’s just…. Well, it’s not Johnny really.” Scott stopped, unsure how to proceed, then said, “I’ve been working with the men longer than Johnny has yet I know they haven’t accepted me in the same way they’ve accepted him.” There, he’d said it. He hadn’t intended to tell Johnny last night, and certainly hadn’t intended to tell Murdock today. But, suddenly, it felt as though a burden had been lifted from him.
“Scott, you have to understand their point of view, especially the vaqueroes and Cip. They’re old school,” Murdoch said. He tried to explain. “You’re my older son. To them, you’re the next patron. That makes you the boss when you’re out there with them.”
“That’s what Johnny said, too. But what about Johnny? He’s an equal partner—the same as you and I are,” Scott protested.
“Yes, he is, and I’ve made that clear and the men respect that. But, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re the oldest son. And, too, the vaqueroes have all heard of ‘Johnny Madrid.’ He’s a kind of folk hero on the border. I’m afraid neither of us can compete with that, Scott,” Murdoch explained.
“I just wish they’d be a little less formal around me,” Scott replied.
“They will be in time, son. I’m sure they will,” Murdoch reassured Scott. Murdoch felt better now. It sounded as though Scott preferred Lancer to Boston. Soon, he’d know for sure, Murdoch thought. He reopened the ledger and he and Scott finished preparing the payroll.
Johnny was on time for dinner for a change. “Well? Find anything?” Murdoch asked gruffly. Johnny looked uncomfortable. “Don’t tell me you and Cip weren’t able to find anything!” Johnny shook his head. “All day, and nothing?!” Murdoch was incredulous.
“Not exactly, but….” Johnny started.
“What do you mean, ‘not exactly’? Either you found something, or you didn’t!” Murdoch all but shouted.
“You gonna listen to me or not, ol’ man?” Johnny asked quietly, but deadly.
Murdoch curtly nodded. “Go ahead.”
“The fact that we didn’t find anything seems to prove what Cip and I thought all along,” Johnny said.
“And that was?” Murdoch asked, his patience clearly running thin.
“We’re dealing with a pooka,” Johnny announced.
Murdoch sat back in his chair, a surprised look on his face. “A pooka? Are you sure? I haven’t heard of one of them around here.”
“What’s a pooka?” Scott asked. “Is it Spanish for a grizzly bear? I thought they were almost gone from around this area.”
“No, Scott, it’s not Spanish for a grizzly,” Johnny answered. “I really don’t know how to describe it. For one thing, they’re pretty hard to get to see, but they’re like an animal of some kind. They travel mostly at night and will tear down fences, scatter herds, trample crops—you name it.”
“Sounds a lot like Pardee,” Scott laughingly observed, and Johnny smiled. “But how do you go about getting rid of it if you can’t see it or track it, and it doesn’t show up when we have nightriders out? We don’t have the men to keep a lot of nightriders out with the herds every night.”
“That’s a good point, Scott. Johnny, did you and Cip come up with any ideas?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny speculatively looked at Scott. “Just one.”
“Why are you looking at me like that, little brother?” Scott inquired, with a touch of unease.
“Well, Boston, it seems you’re just the man for the job,” Johnny replied. “You and that rifle of yours—you being such a good shot with it and all.”
“Thank you, I think,” Scott answered. “But, I thought you said pookas travel at night and you have a hard time seeing them. Add to that the fact that I’ve never seen one. You know, I’d have to be able to see it and recognize it to shoot at it.”
“There’s a way, but you may not like it,” Johnny broached.
“And that would be what?” Scott asked, wary of the answer.
“Well, the pooka is also known as a bit of a drunk, Scott. Likes his whiskey. He’s been known to attack riders after dark if they’re drunk and he thinks they’ve got any whiskey on ‘em,” Johnny elaborated. “Right, Murdoch?”
Murdoch nodded. “That’s right, Scott.”
“You’re not suggesting I get drunk on whiskey so this pooka will show himself, are you?” Scott said, incredulous at the thought.
“What good would that do, Boston? You’d probably end up shooting yourself in the foot and missing the pooka altogether. That would ruin your reputation as a top shot with a rifle, brother,” Johnny replied, shaking his head.
“It wouldn’t do my foot any good, either, if I shot it instead of the pooka. So, what is the plan?” Scott asked, really leery of the answer now.
“If Murdoch here agrees, Cip and I plan on rounding up some of the men like we’re going to ride watch over the herd. Then, instead, we’ll build a campfire and pass a bottle or two around. We figure if we act like we’re drunk, and the pooka sees the bottles, he’ll show himself. Then, brother, it’ll all be up to you,” Johnny smiled his confidence in the plan.
“When were you planning on doing it?” Murdoch asked.
“No time like tonight, Murdoch,” Johnny answered.
“That doesn’t give us much time to get things ready,” Murdoch noted.
“You said you wanted it over quick, Murdoch,” Johnny took pleasure in reminding his father. “Besides, tomorrow is Saturday night. The men all want to go into town—pay day and all. This way, they can celebrate getting the pooka instead of riding herd and missin’ out on town.”
“Good point,” Murdoch reluctantly acknowledged.
“Well, Boston?” Johnny looked expectantly at Scott.
Scott was still skeptical. “Why me? You or any one of the men should be capable of shooting it,” Scott pointed out.
“I told Cip you’d ask about that. I said you don’t miss nothin’. But, he said there was no other way,” Johnny said.
“What are you talking about?” Scott prompted.
“What?” Johnny replied, pausing a moment. Seeing the look of exasperation on Scott’s face, he continued. “Oh, yeah. Anyway…. Well, Scott, it’s like this—and don’t tell the men I told you.”
“You haven’t told me anything to repeat—yet,” Scott answered, some exasperation stealing into his voice.
“Well, you’ve got to promise,” Johnny was relentless.
“All right, already,” Scott almost yelled. “I promise not to repeat what you’re supposed to be telling me.”
“Gee, Boston. There’s no need to get so riled up. Ain’t all that much to it,” Johnny replied.
“Just tell me,” Scott said, his voice tight but resigned.
“All right, all right. I’m getting to it,” Johnny replied. “Well, the men, they fought for Lancer and all against Pardee and they were okay with that. But, a pooka’s a different thing, Scott. There’s a lot of stories out there about pookas, legends and all. Truth is, the men are a little spooked by ‘em. They’re really counting on you to get it for ‘em.”
“Why not ‘Johnny Madrid’?” Scott wanted to know.
“Well, now, I offered, Scott. I really did. But, they ain’t got the confidence in me when it comes to a pooka that they’ve got in you and your rifle. I must say it hurt a little when they finally got ‘round to telling me—or Cip did. Seems they’re hoping you’ll see this pooka before it gets too close for a pistol to deal with and take care of it with your rifle and all,” Johnny explained.
“In the dark?!” Scott was astounded.
“Hey, brother, they believe in you. They saw you get ol’ Day,” Johnny’s voice his held own admiration—and thanks—for Scott. “So, what do you say, Boston?”
In spite of himself, Scott felt pleasure in the men’s confidence in his ability, but he still doubted it would be possible, in the dark, to see and recognize a pooka before it was close enough for a pistol to take care of—especially for a gunman of Johnny’s caliber. “You’ll be there to back me up?” Scott asked.
“I’ll be there, but you won’t need me, Boston,” Johnny replied, with confidence.
“And I’ll be there, too,” Murdoch spoke up. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pooka.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows. “You’ve actually seen one?” he asked, his eyes dancing mischieviously.
“No,” Murdoch said, self-righteously. “But, my family back in Scotland knew a man who did,” he explained.
They finished dinner and got ready to go. “I don’t suppose you or the men have the whiskey we’ll need,” Murdoch said, looking at Johnny.
“Well, we thought you’d want to do the honors, and all. It’s your party, after all,” Johnny replied, grinning. Murdoch shook his head and went over to the liquor cabinet and took out a couple of bottles of whiskey. “No tequila?” Johnny noted.
“Pookas don’t like tequila, and I don’t want to scare him off,” Murdoch replied evenly. Johnny burst out laughing and headed out the door, shaking his head at the thought that his ol’ man had got the best of him on that one.
Murdoch, his sons, and the Lancer men rode watch over the herd for about an hour after dark then set up a camp. Once the fire was going good, Murdoch retrieved the whiskey from the pouch hanging on his saddle. He motioned the men to gather close and be seated around the fire. Still standing, with Scott and Johnny standing on either side of him, Murdoch said, “Men, I want to express my appreciation to all of you who were able to be here tonight. I understand you drew straws to see who would be able to come. It means a lot to me that so many of you wanted to be part of this tonight. Thank you; gracias.”
Scott thought it was a strange speech to make. How did Murdoch know the men had drawn straws to be here tonight? What was going on? He watched as Murdoch took a sip from one of the bottles of whiskey, then passed it to him. Sensing what was expected of him, Scott also took a sip and passed it on. Murdoch took the other bottle, opened it and took a sip, then passed it to Johnny. Likewise, Johnny took a sip and passed it on. Then, the Lancers joined the men around the fire. More bottles had miraculously appeared and were shared. Soon, they were all feeling the effects of the liquor. The men were good-naturedly swapping stories about girlfriends, wives, lovers, past jobs, old ‘war’ stories, tales of past cattle drives—all the kinds of things that men share around a fire. Murdoch looked at Scott, who was seated between his top hand, Frank, and Cipriano. Scott was laughing at something Jose, seated nearby, had just said, and Murdoch smiled, too. Then, Murdock looked at Johnny, who was seated on Murdoch’s right, and who was busy teasing Willie about his new love interest. Johnny, too, seemed relaxed—more relaxed than the former gunfighter usually allowed himself to be in such circumstances.
Murdoch felt a contentment steal over him that he had only been able to hope for when his sons first came home. Then, he hadn’t been sure what his sons would be like, whether they would like him, or whether he would like them. Would they fit into ranch life? It was so different than anything either of them had experienced before. The last four months had been an uncertain time while they all felt each other out, got to know one another. Now, Murdock desperately wanted them to stay and, for the first time, felt confident they would.
Johnny caught Murdoch’s eye just then and they smiled at each other, both satisfied with the way things had turned out. Johnny raised a bottle of tequila in silent toast, a grin spreading across his face when he saw his father recognized the bottle of tequila. The firelight danced in his smiling eyes. Uncharacteristically, Murdoch reached an arm around Johnny’s shoulders and gave them a quick squeeze. “Thank you, son.” The get together tonight had been Johnny’s idea of a way to show Scott how much the men admired and respected him. Where Johnny had come up with the idea of a pooka, Murdock had no clue.
“De nada, papi,” Johnny replied, meeting his father’s eyes. Were those tears there, or just the reflection of the firelight? “Are you all right?”
Murdoch nodded. “Tonight, I could conquer the world, son,” was Murdoch’s emphatic, if somewhat choked, reply.
Scott had glanced over just then and seen the look that passed between his father and brother, although he could not hear their exchange of words. He felt a warm, comfortable glow that had nothing to do with the campfire or the whiskey he had consumed. Maybe there really were pookas, although Scott doubted it. But, whether they existed or not, Scott was quite certain he wasn’t going to see one tonight—no matter how drunk he or any of the others got. It hadn’t been too hard to figure out that he had been ‘had’ tonight—and he had a pretty good idea who had been responsible for the ‘pooka’ story. But, he had also figured out why, and that is what had given him the warm glow he was experiencing. The story behind this get together may have been contrived, but the comraderie was not. Scott looked at the faces around the campfire and smiled in appreciation. They were good men; honest and hardworking. He was pleased and, yes, proud, that they wanted to include him in their fraternity and had taken part in this elaborate ruse to let him know how they felt. Smiling, he gave ear to a joke being told by Seth, laughing with the others at the absurdity of the punchline.
As he came into the kitchen for breakfast the next morning, Johnny slapped Scott on the shoulder then made his way around the head of the table, behind Murdoch, to slip into his chair across from Scott. “Hey, Boston! Too bad that pooka didn’t show up last night. Maybe we’ll give you another shot at him some time.”
“What makes you think he didn’t?” Scott asked innocently.
“You telling me you saw him, brother?” Johnny teased.
“Let’s just say I’m sure I saw something out there last night that was a bit mischievous,” Scott answered.
“Yeah! Well, why didn’t you get him then?” Johnny prodded.
“Well, like you said, he can be quite hard to see. He keeps himself pretty well hidden, or so he thinks, but I’m sure I caught a glimpse of him last night. And, no matter how elusive he is, I plan on seeing more of him,” Scott replied meaningfully.
“I don’t know, Boston. Pookas don’t show themselves too often--unless they want to,” Johnny replied, in kind, his eyes dancing.
“Yes; pookas can be quite elusive, but worth the wait to see,” Murdoch agreed. He smiled at his sons. “Dig in. We’ve got a lot of work to do today before we head into town tonight.”
Johnny and Scott looked at each other in surprise, which quickly turned to pleasure at the thought of Murdoch joining them in town tonight.
“Maybe you’ll see that pooka tonight, Scott,” Johnny teased, as they all dug into their breakfast.
“No doubt I shall, little brother,” Scott replied, his voice reflecting his contentment.
Author’s Note: I’ve taken a bit of liberty with the pooka, which is primarily known as an Irish fairy. I’ve extended its territory to include Scotland so that Murdoch would have been familiar with pookas even if he didn’t know how Johnny knew about them.
Per legend, in Ireland the pooka most often appears as a dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane, roaming the countryside at night tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock, trampling crops, and wreaking general havoc, although it is known as other manifestations in different parts of Ireland.
Outside of Ireland, the most famous pooka may be Harvey, from the James Stewart movie by the same name. In the movie, Stewart is a bit of a rum pot and for that reason can see this big white rabbit (6 foot 3 inches), which he called a pooka. If you haven’t see the movie, it’s quite fun and worth the couple of hours—especially if you’re a Stewart fan. And, Josephine Hull, as Stewart’s sister in the movie, is a riot. I believe she won an Oscar for the role.
Anyway, the movie Harvey is the only reason I’ve included an affinity for whiskey for my pooka in this story. The background I found on pookas does not indicate they are any more addicted to whiskey than the rest of us!
Snicklefritz, who, being a good Baptist, has never consumed enough alcohol of any kind to have ever seen a pooka, Irish though I may be!