Rocks, Balls and Rabbit Holes by Rita H and Viviane R

Word Count 6.165

Let us start with thanking Wendy, Janet and Elgie, our betas, who fearlessly took it upon themselves to closely scrutinize the Lancer family and their reactions to whatever we made them go through and to uphold the purity and correctness of the English language. Unfortunately, some of their efforts were like water off a duck’s back to one of said Lancers…. 

This bit of madness was concocted on September 19, 2008 in London, England after a very long day of sightseeing and the trip to Coventry and the 40th Lancer Anniversary Gathering still in front of us.  We were sitting in the Crown Plaza Hotel restaurant, pooped from our adventures when it appeared on the telly, and both of us groaned. This is what happens when two overactive minds are overtired and insanity takes over… 

Rita H. & Viviane R.    

.

 

Murdoch Lancer reined in his big horse at the top of a rise and gazed down on the land below. He rarely visited this parcel of the Lancer ranch, although it was only an hour or so away from the white hacienda he called home. The lush grass gently swayed in the breeze, but the rugged landscape with sandpits and muddy or overgrown ponds made it of little use, even dangerous for rising cattle on it. He dismounted and moved closer to the edge to get a better idea of the incline and the distance to the valley floor, when his foot dislodged a small stone, sending it rolling down the slope where it landed with a bounce in a hole in the ground.

Almost immediately, the long ears of a rabbit appeared, head turning from left to right in search of the cause of the avalanche that disturbed his slumber.  On the ridge, a chuckle escaped the Lancer patriarch at the antics of the small animal. Then seized with an old familiar urge, his grey blue eyes sought out another appropriate sized rock.  Lining it up, he began shifting his foot back but stopped shy of actually making contact. Struck by inspiration, he strode back to his horse and removed his rifle from its scabbard on the saddle.

Refusing to listen to that little inner voice – which suspiciously sounded like his son Johnny – telling him that guns were not toys, Murdoch walked back, glanced furtively about the area, and quashing the last bit of guilty feeling, grasped the rifle by its barrel.  Then bending over the stone, he used the stock of the weapon to give it a sharp tap, sending it rolling down the slope just as the first one had done.  But this time the stone skimmed over the hole and, immune to Murdoch’s glare, continued blithely on its path until finally coming to rest in the green grass of the valley below.

Thinking, ‘I don’t have time for this nonsense,’ he nonetheless began searching for another candidate, lining it up for round three, unaware of another pair of blue eyes watching him.

Stopping on the rise just beyond his father’s vision, Scott pushed back his hat and leaned on the pommel of his saddle, quite puzzled. What the hell was his father – his usually sane father – doing hitting rocks with his rifle?  His prize rifle? The one he won by beating both Scott and Johnny for it!

Murdoch was now two for four and running out of suitably sized stones.  Finally locating another one, he lined it up precisely so, made sure his stance was perfectly aligned, took a few practice swings, then let go just as a voice broke his concentration.

“Excuse me, sir, but what are you doing?!”

Startled, Murdoch flubbed the shot, hitting the ground just a tad too hard, setting off the rifle and barely avoided shooting himself in the process. His hat was not so lucky!

Swiftly Scott dismounted, running to his father’s side, “Murdoch, are you alright!”

Embarrassed, the other man gruffly shook off his son, “I’m fine! Just fine! What the devil are you doing here?”

The blond Lancer looked miffed at the rebuke. “I asked you first – what are YOU doing? And in answer to your question, I was supposed to meet you here, remember?”

Even more disconcerted, Murdoch mumbled something incomprehensible, picked up his gun and ruined hat and mounted his horse, riding off without any kind of logical explanation, leaving Scott pondering his father’s mental state.

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

All through the day, Scott couldn’t get his parent’s strange behavior out of his head. He couldn’t quite describe the look on Murdoch’s face as he hit the stones.  The old man had looked alternatively very pleased with himself or most put out. Something was amiss! Scott decided the best course of action was to discuss the matter with Johnny later on.

Dinnertime was a strange affair that evening. Usually a pleasant time when the family gathered and discussed the events of the day, that night was marked by a grouchy, scowling Murdoch who barked at everyone – especially after Teresa asked him why his new hat had a hole in it. He threw Scott a dirty look on more than one occasion and at dinner’s end, disappeared up to his room with a full bottle of his best sipping whiskey.

The moment they heard the upstairs door slam shut, both Teresa and Johnny converged on Scott.

“Whooie, Boston! What’s with you and the old man?  Those are the looks he usually saves for me!”  Johnny crowed, glad not to be on the receiving end of his father’s ire for once.

“Yes, Scott,” Teresa folded her arms over her chest, giving the blond a severe look. “You must have really made him angry at you, whatever it was! I’ve never seen him like that.”

“I,” Scott dramatically pointed to himself, claiming his innocence, “have done nothing, have said nothing and…” and an image flashed through his head.  Ahhhhh! Suddenly Murdoch’s peculiar behavior up on the hill made sense.

Scott looked from one sibling to the other. “Johnny, Teresa, thank you, you’ve been a tremendous help.” Turning about face with military precision, he left the room, exiting in the same direction as his father.

Johnny glanced at Teresa, rubbed his neck, shrugged his shoulders, then bellowed after his departing brother, “Scott!”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Two weeks later, Scott met up with Johnny on the rise where he had witnessed Murdoch’s odd actions.

“Okay, Scott, I’m here. Now what?”

The older man slung an arm around his brother’s shoulder and with his other arm made a sweeping gesture at the vista before them.  “Johnny, my boy, cast your eyes about you and imagine if you will, Lancer’s very own private golf course!”

The dark haired Lancer blinked, blinked again, then staring up at his brother… “A WHAT?!!”

“A golf course. Murdoch’s birthday is coming up and I can’t think of a more perfect gift.”

“Well, that’s just great, brother, except…WHAT THE HELL IS A GOLF COURSE?!”

Scott winced and rubbed the ear nearest to Johnny, the ear that had just been deafened by his brother’s outburst.

With infinite patience Scott pulled out a slim book from his inner pocket titled, ‘The Golfer’s Handbook’, and launched into a lengthy and detailed explanation of the game of golf.

“Well, Johnny. There is general agreement that the Scots were the earliest golf addicts but who actually invented the game is open to debate. We know that golf has existed for at least 500 years because James II of Scotland, in an Act of Parliament dated March 6, 1457, had golf and football banned because these sports were interfering too much with archery practice sorely needed by the loyal defenders of the Scottish realm! It has been suggested that bored shepherds tending flocks of sheep near St. Andrews became adept at hitting rounded stones into rabbits’ holes with their wooden crooks. It’s commonly accepted today to say that golf, as we know it, originated in Scotland sometime in the eleven-hundreds.

“Golf is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you may exhaust yourself, but never your subject.  It is a contest, a duel, or a melee, calling for courage, skill, strategy and self-control.  It affords the chance to play the man and act the gentleman…It means going into God’s out-of-doors, getting close to nature, fresh air, exercise, a sweeping away of mental cobwebs, genuine re-creation of tired tissues.  It is a cure for care, an antidote to worry.  It includes companionship with friends, social intercourse, opportunities for courtesy, kindliness and generosity to an opponent.  It promotes not only physical health but moral force. It is a test of temper, a trial of honor, a revealer of character. ”

Somewhere along the line, shortly after the rabbit holes, Johnny’s mind lost track of the lecture, only to resurface at the point where Scott was expounding, “Consider it a challenge! Think of it as being called out!”

“By what?” Johnny sneered scornfully.  “The rabbit in the hole?”

The older brother scolded, “You’re not exhibiting the proper respect, Johnny! And just think how pleased Murdoch would be.”

“With what?” Johnny was now truly baffled.  What did shepherds knocking rocks into rabbit holes have to do with Murdoch being pleased. Why would the old man be pleased? “What do rocks and rabbit holes have to do with Murdoch?”

“You haven’t been paying attention!” Scott admonished.  “Golf is a Scottish game, our father is Scottish, remember? We could lay out a golf course for his birthday.  A place that would be like a little bit of Inverness, remind him of his heritage.”

“Okay, okay! I guess digging a couple of holes for Murdoch ta knock rocks into wouldn’t be too much.”

“Ummm, Johnny…”

Something in the tone of Scott’s voice raised every gunfighter’s instinct in the younger brother. “What?” Johnny asked, suspiciously.

“Well…you see…A golf course is a little more than two holes.”

The blue eyes narrowed, “How many more?”

Scott knew that look; he prudently took one step away from the former pistolero and held up the book, pointing to an oval shaped diagram.  “Eighteen.”

Johnny’s head whipped around. “EIGHTEEN?  Why can’t he just aim for the same two holes nine times each?”

“Very good Johnny, and you always tell me you can’t do the books!”  Scott grinned at his dark haired sibling. “But you see, the holes aren’t close together. Look here.” The Bostonian held up the book, referring once more to the diagram.  “That’s part of the game. They’re spread out at set intervals, and each hole has its own set of obstacles or hazards.”

Johnny’s fingers began tapping against his thighs.  Never a good sign.  “Now let me get this straight.  You want to dig eighteen holes for Murdoch to knock rocks inta…”

“Not rocks, Johnny – balls.”

“Balls?”

“Yes, balls.  Special golf balls.”

Johnny reached out, pulled the book from his brother’s hand and studied the drawing.  This was becoming more involved by the minute. His eyes flickered from the book to the landscape.  He blew out a puff of air from his nose, then shifted his attention back to his brother.

“One more time – you want to dig eighteen holes all spread apart for the old man ta knock ro-…I mean, balls into and you think Murdoch’s gonna appreciate us tearing apart his pasture and filling it with ‘hazards’?  His land? The same land that’s given him a grey hair for every good blade of grass?  Now let me say Scott, to do that, you’ll really need… BALLS! He’ll hand us our asses!”

Scott shook his head in exasperation.  “Now, Johnny my boy, don’t you think I’ve done the research on this subject?  Murdoch used to play occasionally back in Scotland.  As a boy he caddied (that means he carried the equipment, clubs that is ) for the laird of his home town.  He loves the game, said he wished he could have played more. And don’t you think I made sure I chose just the right piece of land?  This plot isn’t used, and to the best of my knowledge, Murdoch has no plans for it.”

“Not yet.” Johnny disagreed.  The more he studied the diagram, the more reluctant about Scott’s plan he became.  Because somehow, when this idea backfired, Johnny knew he’d be the one paying for it.

Realizing that Johnny was setting to dig in and bury the whole project, Scott quickly took charge.  “I’ll take responsibility for the whole venture, whatever happens.”

“You will?”

“My word of honor.” The blonde snapped to attention, clamping a hand over his heart.

Johnny mulled over Scott’s proposal for a few minutes.  His brother was really enthused over this idea and somehow the idea of offering their father a real gift was appealing. So against all his screaming instincts, he decided to cooperate.  “Okay, how are we gonna pull this off?”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Johnny was looking forward to a nice quiet evening. Scott was in San Francisco for ten days, Murdoch was at a Cattlemen’s Association meeting in Green River for the evening and Teresa was at the  Bar T helping Maura Talbot put up preserves. Maria would be occupied in the kitchen.  For the first time in weeks, the younger Lancer could relax all by himself.

Since he’d allowed himself to be roped into Scott’s idea of a golf course for the old man, it seemed he was the only one doing any of the work.  He had to do all his own chores for the ranch, and then it was off to the pasture and all its cockamamie redesign.  After spending hours digging up this and laying down that and then pacing from the frigging hole to the box filled with sand that Scott had called a tee, because there were required distances between each tee and hole, it didn’t get any better when he got back to the hacienda!

He was as tired of making up excuses for his tardiness as he was sure Murdoch was of hearing them.  Then after gulping down a barely warm supper, there was Teresa asking all sort of questions.  It seemed that his loving brother had let the petite brunette in on the plans and had left her in charge of pestering him on the project’s progress. As Teresa put it, “Scott left me the book and told me, ‘make sure Johnny follows directions.’”

‘I’ll give him directions!’ Johnny silently fumed. ‘Right to el infierno!’

He had decided to go straight home this day, no Scott or Teresa nagging; no Murdoch bellowing. He sauntered into the Great Room, spurs jingling a happy sound as he approached the sideboard, pouring himself a double shot of tequila. Ahhh, it was smooth going down! Smiling, he poured another one and took it to the sofa, where he flopped down and rested his head against the back. The fire was blazing nicely, casting a pleasant warmth into the room.  A mouth-watering aroma wafted in from the kitchen, and the sound of the swinging door proclaimed his dinner was arriving.  He anticipated Maria’s warm maternal voice cajoling him to sit up and eat.  A sweet sleepy smile slowly oozed over his face…

“Johnny! Wake up!  I need to know how many balls you have…”

Johnny’s eyes flew open, wondering what created the greater shock – Teresa’s voice or the question.

Without thinking, he responded, shouting, “If you ain’t figured that out by now…”

“Johnny!”  She smacked him hard on the head.  “Must you be so uncouth?”

“Well, I ain’t the one askin about a man’s privates!”

“I am NOT asking about your…your…” Teresa’s hands gestured to the vicinity of his groin. “Privates!

“Scott wants me to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to, and one of those things is to make the golf balls.  So how many balls have you made?”

Johnny blinked up at her owlishly, “Ain’t you supposed ta be at Miz Talbot’s?”

The girl smirked, “We finished early and Mr. Talbot brought me home.  Now stop trying to change the subject; did you make the balls or not?”

“ ‘n just how am I supposed to make them and when?”

“Wait a minute.” With a flounce of her skirt, Teresa left the room, only to return seconds later with the book Johnny had come to despise.

With a speed that made Johnny suspect she had the page memorized, Teresa flipped the tome open to a page and placed it in his hand, speaking in a superior tone.  “Right here, it says you can make golf balls with leather and chicken feathers.”

Johnny let his eyes quickly skim over the page, then looked at his foster sister. “ ‘n where am I supposed to get that many feathers?”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Wednesday, Murdoch looked pleasantly surprised at the dishes Maria and Teresa brought in. “Chicken and dumplings! Thank you, Teresa, my favorites. To what do we owe this pleasure?”

Teresa shot a look at Johnny who cautiously kept his eyes on his plate. “Nothing special, Murdoch, I just felt in the mood.”

Friday night,  Maria placed a covered patter in front of the Lancer patriarch,  then beamed a wide smile at Johnny before leaving the room. 

Murdoch glanced at his son before removing the domed cover and discovering its contents,  “Fried chicken!  Well, this is certainly a treat!” and dug in.

Sunday dinne – Murdoch held out a chair for Aggie Conway. The blond woman sniffed the air with appreciation,  “Oh, Murdoch, it smells delicious!  Roasted chicken, isn’t it, Teresa?”

Tuesday night – Murdoch preceded Johnny into the Great Room, announcing, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse! What do you say, son?  A nice thick steak, smothered in mushroom gravy and onions? Baked potato and corn?”

Pausing by the hat rack, Johnny mumbled under his breath, “I wouldn’t count on it.”

“Say something, son?”

“Ah, no, Murdoch, just thinking aloud.”

“Well, here are the ladies, right on time.  So, Maria, what are we having tonight?”

Sending Johnny a sympathetic glance, Maria answered, “Chicken fricassee, Senor.”

Thursday evening – Murdoch met Johnny in the barn with two saddled horses.  Johnny stared at the animals, puzzled.  “What’s going on, Murdoch?”

The older man grabbed Johnny’s arm, pulling him towards one of the horses. “You’re coming with me to town. We’re going to meet Scott’s stage and stay for dinner.”

“You’re kiddin! You going to town? On a week night!”

“It’s survival of the fittest, son. And right now the fittest need red meat!  Let’s go!” 

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Monday afternoon, Murdoch paced the Great Room, impatiently waiting for Sam Jenkins.  He had sent Walt into town this morning to fetch the physician, due to his great concern over his younger son’s state of mind.

The day before, Johnny had pulled a disappearing act; no one knew of his whereabouts and quite oddly no one, including Scott, seemed concerned. Now Murdoch was aware that if anyone was capable of taking care of himself, it was Johnny.  But the boy seemed to be awfully tired lately and even more disconcerting, made no protestations to Teresa’s chicken dinner spree.

Murdoch decided to head to the Talbots and talk to Maura and Jim. See if maybe they knew what might be going on with his son.  As he saddled his horse, he heard loud, Spanish curses wafting down from the hay loft.  It was Johnny’s voice and if he wasn’t mistaken, Murdoch was sure he heard something about chicken, rocks and stuffing Scott down a rabbit hole!

Moving as quietly as a man his size could manage, the eldest Lancer climbed up the loft ladder and peered cautiously over the edge.  Johnny sat crossed legged on a bale of hay, at an angle to his father’s line of vision, holding something small in one hand and… Murdoch blinked, feathers in the other? And was he pushing them into what seemed a leather pouch? As much as he wanted to call out to the boy, Johnny’s gun was within reaching distance and it was never a good idea to startle his son.  Slowly, Murdoch backed down the ladder and left the barn. 

Once back inside the house, he poured himself a large measure of good brandy while pondering his options.  Murdoch finally decided to call in Sam Jenkins in the morning.

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Sam Jenkins slapped the reins, urging his horse to go faster as he headed towards the Lancer arch.  Walt had been pretty clear that his presence was urgently needed at the ranch, but the hand couldn’t give him any details other than, ‘Mr. Lancer says you need to get there quick.’

And there was Murdoch standing in the doorway, peering anxiously down the road.

Pulling the buggy to a stop, Sam barely had the time to get down, when the tall Scot grabbed him by the arm and pulled Sam into his PRIVATE office.  Uh-oh! Things must be dire indeed!

“Who’s hurt?  How bad? Where is he?”  Sam rattled off a list of questions, dreading the answer, certain that Johnny had once more defied fate.

“It’s Johnny, but he’s not hurt. Well…not exactly.  And it’s Teresa, but she’s not hurt either.  And Scott, too…but…”

“I know, he’s not hurt either!”  Sam shouted. “What the blazes is going on here?”

“My family is going crazy…has GONE crazy!  I don’t know, Sam, but none of my children are acting normally!”

Sam started to relax a bit – at least no one was hurt. Attempting to inject a little humor for his frazzled friend, he quipped, “Well, Murdoch, first you need to define normal in relationship to your children.”

“That’s not funny, Sam!”  Murdoch glowered, failing to appreciate the doctor’s levity.  “No one’s acting normally.”  He started counting off on his fingers. “First, lately all Teresa seems to know how to cook is chicken…”

“Chicken?” Sam looked baffled. “What’s wrong with chicken?”

“Every night of the week? I know having beef all the time get monotonous, but she’s carrying this poultry thing a little too far!”

“Is that it for Teresa?”

“Is that it?  Isn’t it enough?” Murdoch growled.

“Okay, okay. So tell me about Scott.”  The doctor tried to placate the other man.

“Scott…well, Scott is…I guess, I’m just overreacting, but Scott seems fine.”

“Scott seems fine?” Sam echoed, completely lost at this statement.

“Yes, he’s doing his job, cheerful, unconcerned about anything, humming at lot.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

“He’s not fussing over Johnny.”

“Not fussing over Johnny?  Any reason he should be?”

“Well, yes.  But he doesn’t know about it!”

Sam reached the end of a rapidly fading patience.  “Murdoch, I’m starting to think the problem is NOT with your children!”

“Wait until you hear about Johnny.” Murdoch ignored Sam’s remark.

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Sam made his way up the stairs to Johnny’s room.  The concerned parent had kept the boy home, and Sam had to wonder how Murdoch had managed that feat. He knocked and as he waited for a response, the doctor heard violent sneezing.  Concerned now, he turned the knob, opened the door and stood open mouth at the scene before him.

Feathers floated through the air, landing on the floor, the drapes, settling on the bed where Johnny sat with the bedside table in front of him.  On the tabletop, small balls of leather were aligned in a row, and the dark-haired Lancer was furiously stabbing them with a lethal looking blade, releasing more feathers into the air and up his nose. 

Before Sam could stop himself, he exclaimed, “Looks like something ‘fowl’ is afoot! I wouldn’t have thought you could fit so many feathers in such a small pouch!” and regretted his words immediately when his eyes met the ice cold blue stare of Johnny Madrid.

The gunfighter started to rise from the bed, his right hand tightly gripping the knife.

Sam backed up, poised for flight, “Now, John…”

Johnny’s advance was abruptly halted when he inadvertently breathed in a feather and sneezed several times in succession. Taking advantage of the momentary pause, Sam strode purposefully into the room, took hold of Johnny’s arm leading him back to the bed and sat him down. 

Addressing the boy in a no nonsense voice, the doctor demanded an explanation. “What is going on here? Do you know your father is out of his mind worrying about you and Scott…”

“SCOTT!”  Johnny jumped up, shouting! “Don’t you mentioned that sidewinder’s name ta me! He takes off ta Frisco ‘n gives lists to Teresa, ‘n they ain’t the right lists either, ‘n then expects me ta pull it off! I’ve had it up ta here with chickens, balls and rabbit holes!”

Poor  Sam was now completely confused.  First Murdoch ranting and raving, now Johnny and it seems the connecting factor was chickens! But what’s this about balls and rabbit holes?  And trying to get any clarity on a situation from Johnny was like pulling teeth – very stubborn teeth.  But Sam vowed to persevere!

“Now, Johnny, you’re not making any sense at all.” Sam soothed. “Why don’t you start from the beginning and tell me what this is all about?”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

“ ‘n the last straw was when Scott, in that condescending way a his, says, ‘I told Teresa I’d get the equipment, so why did you waste your time making balls.’ Like I enjoyed eating all that fuckin chicken fer dinner ‘n stuffin feathers inta these little sacks! ‘n now the old man thinks I’m plum loco! He ain’t never gonna get off my back, ‘n I’ll never finish digging those fuckin holes! Then Scott will say it’s all my fault if Murdoch’s gift isn’t ready by his birthday!”

The blue eyes looked beseechingly to the doctor, “Please, Sam, there anyway you can get Murdoch ta leave me alone so I can finish?”

Sam’s inner lip was bloody by the time Johnny finished his tale, biting down on the tender flesh to keep from bursting out in laughter. It simply wouldn’t do with Johnny in this state and his Colt in ready reach! There was a piece of lead with someone’s name on it in the barrel and Sam was damned it would be his!

He carefully arranged his facial features and sympathetically patted Johnny on the arm.  “I think what you boys are doing is wonderful!  I’m sure Murdoch is going to be very surprised and very pleased.  And I’d be very happy to help.  First thing I’ll do is tell your father there’s nothing wrong with you that a little time off wouldn’t cure.  Would a week do it?”

Johnny mulled it over, “Not by myself, and Scott’s just been plain useless. He says he’s doing all the ‘behind the scenes’ work, ordering equipment and ‘supervisin’!”

“Maybe you could get a couple of the hands to help?”

“Naw, can’t take the chance that someone’d talk, ‘n if Jelly gets wind of it…you know he can’t keep a secret, Sam!”

“Well, there must be someone, John.”

Johnny’s face brightened, breaking out in a mischievous grin.  “I know, I’ll get Cipriano!  Tio might be the only one I can trust to fool the ole man!”

“Well, my boy, seems like we have a plan. You enlist your uncle and I’ll do my best to keep Murdoch distracted and occupied.”  

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

In the end, Murdoch’s surprise had to be modified from eighteen holes to nine when Johnny adamantly refused to relocate several families of rattlers and skunks in residence in the area that was supposed to be the first sand trap.  So the course was redesigned Madrid style, when he plugged the handbook with a neat set of bullet holes, eliminating the north corner. 

Saturday, the day before the big unveiling, Scott paced from each hole to its tee with meticulously measured steps. As he walked between the ninth hole and tee, a frown appeared on his handsome face. He returned to the tee and retraced his steps back to the hole, then he reversed the process.  A deep sigh escaped his lips and his shoulders slumped as he beckoned his brother over.

Watching the blonde’s exacting footsteps, the bright blue eyes darkened ominously when Scott gestured for Johnny to join him.  As he casually sauntered over, Johnny released the safety on his holster, just in case.

 “What’s your trouble, brother?”  There was a decidedly frosty edge to Johnny’s soft voice.

The older man shook his head sadly, “I’m sorry, Johnny, but there’s a mistake here.”

“A mistake?” The voice was even softer, and while Scott failed to take notice as he was absorbed in his calculations, Cipriano did not.

“Yes, according to my design, taking into account the uphill and downhill holes, as well as the placement of the hazards, there should be a minimum of five thousand yards total. You only have four thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight.  You’re missing two yards or six feet.”

“That right?” The slow, Texas drawl suddenly appeared in Johnny’s speech as he looked to his uncle, who was edging closer to the horses.  Cip did not want to have to explain to the Jefe why he suddenly had only one son.

“Yes, you’re going to have to fix it before tomorrow.” Scott again missed the warning. “We want this to be perfect for Murdoch.”

“Well, Boston,”  Johnny tipped his hat forward, “Which direction you prefer?”

Irritated, Scott snapped,  “I don’t care, just make it six feet.”

Madrid’s voice unexpectedly reached his ears, “No problem, brother, then I vote for six feet straight down!”

The last words Cipriano heard as he made a fast exit from the scene were:  “Johnny, what are you doing? Can’t you take a joke!  Johnny, put away the gun!!!”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Murdoch bid Sam good-by for the day and returned to the sanctuary of his study.  Heaving a deep sigh, he pulled out paper and pen and began writing farewell letters to his children. 

He was dying, he knew it and his family was keeping it from him, but he was on to their secret.  He was not a stupid man; why else was Teresa panicking every time he tried to leave the hacienda and Scott stopped talking whenever his father entered the room? And why was Sam here everyday if not to check on his deteriorating condition?  But the strange thing was he didn’t feel ill.  He felt great, never better.  Yet, his boys seemed to be avoiding him at all costs; even Cipriano couldn’t look him in the eye.

And several days ago, he ran into Johnny coming back from the range with a set of shovels over his shoulder.  When Murdoch asked him about the tools, Johnny mumbled something about “just digging a hole.”  From the mournful expression on his boy’s face, the eldest Lancer could only surmise what the ‘hole’ was for.

Then just the other day, there was a strange conversation he had overheard between Johnny and Cipriano that had sent chills down his spine.  Something about ‘wishing I could put him out of his misery sooner.’ Could Johnny possibly be contemplating ending the old man’s pain? Never, not his boy!  Well, while Murdoch didn’t appreciate being kept in the dark, he would thank them for their consideration and efforts to make his last days comfortable in these letters.

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Sunday morning over breakfast, Teresa cheerfully announced that after church the whole family would be going on a picnic.  During the service, where the sermon was about family doing for one another, Murdoch glumly considered his fate and couldn’t ignore the fact that Scott kept fighting back a satisfied smile, while Johnny fidgeted continuously, gnawing nervously on the stampede cord of his hat.

Finally the endless service concluded, and the family returned to the ranch to load up the wagon for the picnic.  Murdoch decided then, “Why don’t you kids go on with out me? I’m feeling a bit tired.”

A look of horror appeared on all three faces. While Teresa exclaimed, “Oh no, Murdoch, this is our last chance to go all together on a picnic, and the weather is so beautiful. Please Murdoch, it won’t last long, I promise.”  Meanwhile, Johnny was halfway up on his horse preparing to fetch Sam.

“Um, Sir,” Scott cleared his throat, “you know, Teresa’s gone to a lot of trouble preparing this picnic, so why don’t you just come for a little while. You might enjoy yourself and stay.”

Short of telling them he knew what they were trying to do, Murdoch gave in and climbed back on the buggy.

Scott was not heading for the usual picnic spot and as the buggy took an unfamiliar turn, Teresa turned around and said, “Murdoch, would you please put on this blindfold?”

Alarmed, Murdoch stared at the black strip of cloth, and Johnny’s words about ‘puttin him out of his misery’ echoed in his head. He tried evading the request, “Why do I need a blindfold, dear?”

“Trust us, Sir, it will be painless.”  Scott’s soothing tone carried from the front of the buggy. “And you’ll be happy for it.”

The old man wanted to trust his son, so Murdoch conceded to the request, but out of the corner of his eye, he noted the grim face of his younger son and his heart sank.  He recognized the resolute mask of Johnny Madrid and resigned himself that it was all over but the burial.

The sun was warm on his face, the wind ruffled his hair and he mentally crossed his fingers that just this once Madrid would miss his target.  Then he heard Scott’s whisper, ‘On the count of three… one…two…three….

Murdoch whipped off the blindfold; if he was going, he was going like a man!

“SURPRISE!!!”  A wall of voices greeted, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MURDOCH!”

All his friends and neighbors had gathered together to celebrate, the Talbots, Aggie Conway, Val Crawford, Cipriano and his family, Jelly and a good portion of the Lancer hands.  Sam Jenkins stood next Johnny, an arm over the young man’s shoulders and beaming a big smug smile.

Tables were laden with food and drink, an enormous cake rested in a place of honor surrounded by gifts. Murdoch blinked;  he couldn’t believe his eyes: leaning against the front of that table was a bag of golf clubs!

Then, before he could say a word, Teresa pulled him to the edge of the rise and there, spread out before him was a beautiful golf course.  A club was held out, Scott said, “Happy Birthday, Sir!” and Johnny quipped, “Watch out for rabbits, old man! They can be ornery when challenged!”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Later that night, the family had retired to the Great Room.  It had been a wonderful day, and everyone glowed with happiness and contentment.  Scott sat in his favorite chair, reading; Teresa was curled up on the sofa, industriously sewing some new project, and Johnny, as usual, lay stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace, napping.  Murdoch’s eyes roamed over each member of his family and his heart swelled with love and pride.  “Boys, Teresa,” he began, “if I didn’t say this before, then let me tell you now.  This was the BEST birthday I’ve ever had.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful present! I can’t wait to test out my golf course tomorrow and you better beware boys.  I was quite the golfer in my day!”

Scott looked up from his book, “Looking forward to the challenge, Sir. We should call it an early night if we’re going to get a game in before chores.”

“You’re playing in the morning?”  Teresa asked. “Then I better get this finished tonight.” 

“Johnny!”  The petite brunette stretched out her leg and kicked her slumbering brother in his well shaped butt.  “Wake up, Johnny, I need you to try something on.”

“What?”  A dazed Johnny started out of his sleep, blinking stupidly at the disturbance. “Try what on?” Then getting a good look at the material she held in her hand, he glanced over to Scott and teased, “Hey Boston, I thought you got ridda those fancy plaid britches! What’s Teresa doin with’em?”

“Actually, brother, those are yours.”  Scott calmly turned to the next page in his book.

Fully awake now, with eyes opened wide as saucers, Johnny stared at the offensive cloth.  “You’re kidding! Tell me you’re kidding.”

“Well, Johnny, it’s required attire. Remember ‘play the man and act the gentleman’? A golfer has to look the part the same way a gunfighter does.”

“And actually, Johnny, they’re not pants, they’re knickers.  See!”  Teresa proudly held up the finished product for display.

Johnny gaped disbelievingly as he jumped up and roared, “They’re bloomers! NO way is Johnny Madrid wearing any fucking bloomers!”

A trio of voices cried in unison, “JOHNNY, NOOOOOO!!!!

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

The ball flew through the air, bounced a few times, then rolled towards the hole, stopping one inch short of the opening.

Johnny Lancer huffed in disgust. ‘One fuckin inch!’ The grayish colored orb sat there, mocking him.

Johnny Madrid took the challenge and pulled on the black leather glove. With the silver conchas reflecting the sun, he spun into a crouch, pulled his pistol and…

The pistolero blew away the smoke from the gun barrel, and with a satisfied sneer, “Hole in one!”

~ L ~ L ~ L ~

Murdoch removed the ball from the hole, took one look and bellowed, “JOHNNY! WHY IS THERE A BULLET HOLE IN THE BALL?!?!?”

.

~end~

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