Collected Short Stories by Dori

After Zee
(The) Apple . . . Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree
(The) Bath
Call of the Wheel
Chase a Wandering Father
Clothes Make The Man
Home Is Where The Heart Is
—–(THIRD PLACE Lancer Writers Awards : Best Drabble)
(A) Lesson in Manners      
Listen
(The) Long Johns
Pardon My French
(The) Patient Fool
(The) Quilt
(An) Unexpected Blessing

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After Zee

An episode tag for Zee

Word count: 600

The transformation was complete—the courthouse was a saloon once again.  Officially, this had been the case as soon as the judge pounded his gavel and announced that the bar was open, but most people were too caught up in the drama surrounding Scott Lancer and the beautiful dark-haired girl—his former prisoner—to worry about obtaining refreshments.

Even after Johnny headed to the bar and made his request—“How about a drink?”—most people remained avid observers of the interaction going on in the street.  Beer in hand, leaning over the batwing doors, Johnny had witnessed—along with the rest of the town—the far from chaste kiss that Zee had bestowed on her erstwhile jailer.

Now Johnny sat alone at a table, nursing his drink and watching the model citizens of Green River go back to their business.  None of them seemed the least bit concerned about the fact that their cowardly actions had left a good man hung out to dry.  Perhaps it was his cynical nature, but he hadn’t been surprised in the least that not one person had the backbone to stand their ground when Zee came up with that story about being Tom Mangrim’s daughter.  Except Scott! With a rueful smile, he remembered thinking it was just like his high-minded brother to stubbornly force the whole town into following the law.

At the time, however, Johnny—unlike the rest of Green River—shared his brother’s reservations about Zee’s identity.  He may have felt contempt for the spineless actions of those milksops, but he had also been convinced that the only danger Scott faced came from that untamed hoyden and her reckless antics. 

Johnny had been pretty unmerciful—teasing his brother about not being able to handle one little girl, but he’d never expected the kind of trouble that Tom Mangrim had brought in his wake.  The townspeople had been justifiably reluctant to admit to the events surrounding Zee’s jailbreak, but the prisoner herself had been more forthcoming.  Zee told him about his brother’s grim determination to stand alone against Mangrim and his whole gang, when the easy thing to do would have been to simply turn aside and wash his hands of the whole mess. 

Of course, Mangrim had been running a bluff, pure and simple.  But when Scott came out of that jail, rifle in hand, he had no way of knowing that, and Johnny took an enormous amount of pride in his brother’s courage, nerve and just plain grit.    

The younger Lancer had been miles away from town that day, and unaware of the imminent menace, but that didn’t keep him from regretting the fact that he’d been unable to be there to watch his brother’s back.  It was probably because of those feelings of guilt that he was a bit remorseful about giving Scott such a hard time the day of the robbery—letting him do all the loading and teasing him about the shortcomings of his Harvard education. 

Offering up an apology was out of the question.  Scott would certainly insist that it was unnecessary.  Johnny was just going to have to figure out his own particular penance.  He watched his brother walk back into the saloon and pushed out a chair in invitation.

Judging by the enthusiastic way Scott had returned that kiss earlier, he might appreciate an afternoon or two off, so he could head to town.  Johnny made a silent decision—a few hours of extra chores was a small price to pay, and he would willingly do so in honor of his brother, the hero.

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~ end ~

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The Apple . . . Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

Word count: 95

“Just because he’s my son doesn’t mean he doesn’t carry his own weight around here!”

The gruff paternal announcement was accompanied by a disapproving frown.

“I’m sure he had a good reason for leaving the job unfinished.”

“Scott, stop trying to cover for him!”  The disapproving frown deepened into a fierce glare.  “Besides, what makes you think there’s any sense of responsibility behind that reckless, cocky……….”

With a broad grin, Scott interrupted this burgeoning tirade, “Because, Johnny, the kid is just like his “Old Man’’, and I’ve known HIM for over twenty years!”

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~ end ~

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The Bath

Word count: 935

Johnny watched with satisfaction as billows of steam rose from the wooden tub.

Teresa deserved some credit for this… after one look at his filthy appearance, she’d filled every pot in the kitchen and put them all on to boil.

Lugging those extra buckets of hot water had been exhausting, but it was going to be worth it!  And there was an additional kettle resting atop the banked fire in the hearth…this was one bath that wouldn’t be cut short because the water had turned cold.

His muddy boots had been discarded back in the kitchen, and now it was time to get rid of the rest of these sodden, reeking clothes. 

Stripping quickly, Johnny took fleeting inventory of the scratches, bruises and pulled muscles he’d collected during the course of this endless day.  He’d started before dawn.  Long stretches of barbed wire fencing had needed repair.  One of the streams had been choked by mounds of stout brambles.  His leather gloves and pants had offered some protection from the razor-sharp thorns, but he hadn’t been left entirely unscathed.  And—finally—he’d ended up wrestling a bawling, pea-brained heifer from a particularly smelly bog.

Lowering his much-abused body into the inviting warmth, he hissed slightly at the stinging from those open cuts.  Closing his eyes, he allowed the almost-sensual pleasure of the soothing water to slowly drain the tension away.  Johnny reflected wryly that if he’d thought those first long weeks of ranch work had been rough, the last couple of days made them look like a picnic in comparison.

There were several reasons for this, of course.  It was an especially busy time of year…the ranch had lost several good workers in the past month…and Scott was still not fully recovered from the bullet he took during that fracas with Stryker and his sons. 

Johnny grinned.  His brother would tackle any chore on the ranch that was reasonable for a man with one bum arm—and a bunch that were damn well unreasonable—but he still wasn’t fit to handle the most brutal work out there.

Which was probably one reason why Murdoch had sent his older son on that business trip to Stockton……to keep him from overdoing before he was completely healed.

So the brunt of the load had fallen to Johnny, and he was OK with that.  Resting the back of his head on the rim of the wooden tub, he decided that the difference was Murdoch’s attitude.  The old man was keeping a light hand on the reins and hadn’t put the spurs to his son since the incident with that wild stallion.

In return, Johnny was trying hard to show his father that he could be trusted to do a job of work… was responsible and reliable even when the going got tough.  Grimacing a bit at some of his more persistent aches and pains, though, he couldn’t help but wonder if that message was starting to get through.

His train of thought was interrupted by a heavy knock at the door.  Instinctively he slid down until the water was lapping at his chin.  He and Scott had faced Teresa together, and held a hard line—she WOULD knock before barging into either of their bedrooms.  Unfortunately—after knocking—she didn’t always wait for an invitation to enter before waltzing on in.

“Come in!”

Murdoch’s massive frame filled the doorway. 

Johnny’s eyes widened at the sight of the bottle in his father’s hand, and widened still further when he noticed the pair of glasses.  “Ya know, I’d never have taken you for a tequila drinker, Murdoch.”

“Well, Johnny, I admit I’m a bit more susceptible to the lure of well-aged Scotch,” the older man pulled a chair up, “but this occasion just calls for good ‘sipping’ tequila.”

“And what occasion would ‘this’ be?”  Johnny watched, bemused, as the old man poured a healthy two fingers into each tumbler.

“I’m drinking a toast to my son,” Murdoch replied, “an occasion I have put off for far too long.”

Handing one glass to the speechless recipient of this honor, he went on in a halting but determined voice, “Things have been pretty rough around here lately, but it’s helped me realize how much I can count on you.  I don’t just mean taking on these extra chores…you’ve proven that you have strength and good judgement…”

“Along with arms… and legs… and guts?”  Johnny’s mild jest was one way to hide the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

“Plenty of those too… ” Murdoch agreed with a chuckle.  But he was totally serious when he raised his glass and added, “I realize I can’t take any credit for it, but I want you to know how proud I am of the man you’ve become.”

The next few minutes were pretty much taken up with drinking tequila, discussing how good the tequila was, and then drinking more tequila.

Eventually, however, Johnny reached out and picked up the gold pocket watch setting on a nearby table.  Flipping it open he murmured, “I better finish up… Teresa’s gonna have supper ready before long… don’t want ta be late.”

Murdoch shook his head, “You take your time, Johnny.  Just this once, supper will be served at your convenience.”  Glancing around the room, he spotted the kettle warming on the hearth and emptied it into the tub before making his way out of the room.

“Hey, Murdoch… thanks!”

After the door closed, Johnny took up the bar of soap and began vigorously lathering his arms and chest.  Aches and pains forgotten, he splashed with abandon, marveling at the amazing, restorative power of a good bath….

~ end ~

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Call of the Wheel

Episode tag to Cut The Wolf Loose

Word count: 195

“Keep that wheel turning!”  Scott’s attention—his entire focus—centered on the numbers he was manipulating mentally.  Feverishly he arranged his chips.  “Four… number seven…and number twelve.  Here we go!”

“Scott?”  Johnny approached his brother.

“Yeah, Johnny, what can I do for you?”  Absorbed in his game, Scott barely spared him a glance.

Surrounded by the rowdy crowds and commotion of the gaudy street fair, the younger man relied on body language—leaning close and touching his brother’s back lightly—to convey the significance of his request.

“I need somebody to talk to.”   

Those subtle, unspoken clues were totally wasted on the gambler.   He was in the throes of his obsession.  “Well, not right now—not right now, because I got my system worked out here and if everything works right I’ll …….”

“Hey, it’s important!”

Scott’s flippant reply—a smart remark about the wheel being important—died on his lips when he took a moment to really look at his brother.  With a decisive motion he pushed his chips toward the dealer.

*******

The two men walked off together, leaving the all-important wheel behind. 

“So, Brother, what’s on your mind?”

“I think I’m in love…..”  

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~ end ~

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Chase a Wandering Father

Word count: 555

“We might want to think this through a little bit, Johnny.”

“Aw, Scott…..!”  Johnny was obviously not in the mood to listen to the cool, calm voice of reason.  “You know what the old man is riding into down there. Walker and Madison have got themselves a real shooting war going on!  Somebody makes a wrong move……the whole thing’s gonna explode.”

“And Murdoch believes he can help defuse the situation.”

Crossing his arms and leaning on the top rail of the corral fence, Johnny growled, “Well, one of us should have gone with him.”

“He explained his reasoning………he has a long history with both men and felt that he’d have a better chance of getting them to listen if he went in alone.”

When his brother’s only response was an angry shrug, Scott added smoothly, “Besides, aren’t you the one who once said something about Murdoch being a big boy……that he doesn’t need us around all the time?”

“Yeah……..and while I was saying that…..what was Murdoch doing?  He was getting shot by Mrs. Haney.”

“We might not have been able to stop that from happening even if we had been there…..and we sure didn’t make things any better by following him.  The Haneys probably would have nursed him back to health—and sent him on his way—just as quickly without our interference.”

“OK, but does that mean we shouldn’t try to back him up now?” 

Scott shook his head.  “He’s not going to be pleased if we disregard his orders.  You do remember how firmly he pinned our ears back when we made an excuse to go check up on him at the prison farm.”

“But we couldn’t leave well enough alone,” Johnny admitted ruefully.  “From what those cons said, Murdoch had things pretty much under control until they caught sight of us.  That’s when they figured he was lying about not having any guards around and took him prisoner.”

“And a man died,” Scott recalled grimly.  “Probably the only reason he didn’t really rake us over the coals for that one is because he knew we’d have to live with that knowledge.”

Johnny ran one hand through his already tousled hair and sighed in frustration.  “It’s not that I don’t think the old man can take care of himself.”

“I’d say Murdoch pretty much proved that when we tracked him down to Blessing,” Scott agreed.  “All WE got for our trouble was two solid days of back-breaking work….rounding up that breeding stock all on our own.”

“Yep, he was on to us…….that’s for damn sure.  It was worth it though…….just to get ta watch him wipe up the street with that border town trash.”

Both brothers grinned appreciatively, remembering just how handily their father had won that particular battle.  Out-numbered and unarmed, he’d defeated the brutal gang that had been robbing stages and pressing innocent men into illegal slave labor.

“So…..” Scott slid a sideways look at his brother, “It sounds like our best plan of action would be to follow Murdoch’s instructions and wait here.”

“He really doesn’t need a couple of sons worrying about him, I can’t argue with that.”

There was a long pause…then each man pushed away from the corral and spoke almost simultaneously.

“I’ll go saddle the horses.”

“Meet you in the barn with our gear in ten minutes.”

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~ end ~

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Clothes Make The Man

Word count: 850

“There, Scott…..!  Do you believe me now?”

“Well, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t, Johnny…..but you’re right!”

“Look at him….!  Last week I couldn’t talk him into coughing up ten cents for a haircut, and today he’s walking around with one of Zeke’s four-bit, extra deluxe specials—including a shave and an extra dose of that smelly hair tonic. 

“I’d say he also went a bit heavy on the “eau de cologne’!”

“Kinda makes your eyes water, don’t it?”

“And all this is because of a woman?”

“Yep….!  Val and me was there when she stepped down off of the stage.  It turns out she’s from back east….here to visit her sister, the banker’s wife.  I ain’t never seen Val act so loco as he did over that female.  He’s bound and determined to ask her to the church social tonight.”

“I guess love can make a man do crazy things!”

“What the hell….!  Would ya look at that, Scott?  He ain’t even wearing his guns.”

“Perhaps he fears they would spoil the lines of that form-fitting waistcoat he’s sporting.”

“And where the devil do ya think he found that hat?  It could almost be the one you was wearing on the stage….that day we first met.”

“Actually, Johnny, I think that IS my hat.  You see, Lone Crow’s kids asked if they could have it…….said they were making a scarecrow for their mother’s garden.  I couldn’t foresee having any further use for it, so……”

“Yeah…..?  Well, it does go real nice with his outfit, don’t it?”

“So….is that the lady who’s stolen Val’s affections?”

“That’s her…!”

“I don’t blame him for being smitten—a veritable profusion of the most desirable feminine attributes.”

“All gussied up like she is….I can’t blame Val for thinking he’s gotta dress like a dude to have a chance with her.”

“And making a good job of it, I’d say….!  I’ve not seen any one make a finer bow in any of Boston’s most elegant drawing rooms.  And……is he kissing her hand?”

“Ha…!  I guess he’s been learning a little something from watching my example.”

“From this vantage point…….Val’s charm just might be doing the trick.”

“Hey…..ain’t that Jesse Taylor?’

“The foreman from the Bar J spread….?  I think so, but it’s hard to tell under all that dirt……looks like he’s been sleeping in the rough for a week or two.”

“Smells like it too…!  Hombre ought ta know better than to try being a third wheel in a cozy little set-up like that.”

“Apparently Val’s paramour has good manners, because she’s not brushing the lout off.”

“Uh..oh….!  That’s a little more than good manners, ain’t it, Scott?”

“When the lady in question walks off……arm in arm with another man…it’s a pretty sure bet that any chance of romance has flown the coop.”

“Val looks madder than a wet hen….!  This might be a good time ta…..”

“I’m right behind you, brother!”

*****

“DANG IT….!!  Quit skulking back there in the shadows and get out here…both of you…!!  I may have left my pistols behind, but I still got two fists that work real fine!”

“Hi, Val…!  Scott and me was just checking out Barranca’s fetlock.  We’re afraid he might of pulled it during the ride into town.”

“Aw, give it up…!  I seen what you was checking out, and it wasn’t no horse’s leg!”

“No…no, Val….we just…”

“She dumped me…!  Ain’t no bones about it..!  And do ya want ta know the funny part?  She said she appreciated my ‘kind attentions’ and knew I had to be a ‘fine gentleman’.  But she’d kind of had her fill of fine gentleman back in Philadelphia.  Said this was her first visit to California and she was all agog to keep company with an authentic ‘Western’ man…..a real cowboy.  Guess Jesse Taylor fit the bill a little better than I did in these duds!”

“That is a shame, Val.  Perhaps matters would have gone in your favor if you’d paid heed to some words of wisdom from George Washington.”

“Now, you’ve said some fool things before, Scott, but what in Holy Hannah does George-blessed-Washington have to do with anything?”

“He wrote a book of rules for civilized behavior and one of them says—“Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stocking sit nearly, and clothes handsomely.”

“Yeah…..?  Well, did he happen to write a rule about folks getting their noses punched when they stick’em into other people’s business?”

“Now, Val……calm down.  I’ve got another rule of ‘civilized behavior’ for you.  It may not be as high-faluting as Scott’s is, but I stand by it.  They say misery loves company…..but I say misery loves tequila shots.  What do you say we head over to the cantina and see if there’s anything to my rule?”

“I’ll even stand the first round—as an apology for sticking my nose where it didn’t belong…!”

“Well….I suppose…..!  Just so long as nobody says nothing about women…..or Philadelphia….or haircuts…..or Jesse Taylor….or church socials….or……..

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~ end ~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

Word count: 470

Could this never-ending pile of mending have come from just three men?

Well…two, really.

Murdoch might need the occasional sock darned or come up missing a button or two, but the lion’s share of these tattered, ripped and torn garments belonged to Scott and Johnny. Between them, they could keep an army of seamstresses busy from dawn to dusk.

With a resigned sigh, Teresa reached for the shirt with the faded blue flowers and the ragged gap beneath the armhole. She must have grabbed it with a little more force than was necessary because when a button on the cuff tangled with the edge of the wicker sewing basket, the whole thing was upended. Shirts, socks, pants and underwear spilled onto the floor.

Exasperated, Teresa dropped to her knees and began gathering up the scattered items. Before she could stuff everything back where it belonged, she glanced down at the nearly empty basket and saw a piece of folded cloth lying on the bottom.

Spreading the fine linen out on her lap revealed the sentimental, but incomplete adage–”HOME IS WHERE THE HEA…”–stitched in brightly-colored, silk floss. A border of green ivy had been embroidered around the edges.

Memories came flooding back. She’d planned on giving Daddy the sampler for his birthday, working on it in secret while imagining how pleased and proud he’d be. This was to be proof that his little girl was growing out of her tomboy ways and finally taking an interest in female furbelows. Instead, of course, she’d remembered his birthday by placing flowers on his grave.

With the passing of time these unexpected remembrances brought as much comfort as pain. Daddy could never truly be gone when he was so much in her thoughts.

A scrap of overheard gossip once described her as a ‘poor orphan girl’, but she didn’t feel like an orphan. Orphans didn’t have families, and she’d watched her family take shape before her very eyes.

It hadn’t happened overnight. Murdoch said—at the first—that his sons hated him. And certainly the old hacienda had echoed at times with the sound of angry male voices. Both boys had tried to leave. Johnny soon after he’d arrived and Scott as recently as a few months ago.

But Teresa knew…

They’d as soon have cut their tongues out as say the words, but it was there, as plain as day.

And Daddy would be so pleased, knowing she was happy—was surrounded by people who loved her.

Gentle fingers smoothed the wrinkled fabric. The mending could wait. Daddy’s birthday was coming up once again. She would finish this piece. Framed, hanging in a place of honor, it would serve as a constant reminder—not of loss—but of the enduring power of love.

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS.

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~end~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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A Lesson in Manners

This drabble contains lines from several Lancer episodes which have now been reassigned to a different character.

Word count: 475

With lilac-scented air and the glow of a full moon, the courtyard at Lancer should have been the most romantic of settings.  Unfortunately for Teresa, any possible ambience was completely spoiled by the presence of her companion, Arthur Worthington III. 

Arthur and his father had been houseguests at Lancer for several days.  The elder Worthington was an important businessman, and Murdoch was throwing this shindig tonight to introduce him to the local community. 

Young Arthur—like Scott—had the advantage of an Eastern upbringing and had been educated at a fine university, but in Teresa’s opinion, the similarities ended there. This young man used his erudition only to belittle and ridicule.  While his comments were snide, they were phrased subtly enough to make it difficult to accuse him of rudeness. 

He was also subtle in another way.  Teresa had been the target of more than one womanizing cowboy, but their actions were open, direct and seemed easier to deal with.  Arthur’s most innocuous comments had a lecherous meaning just below the surface, and she could feel—rather than see—the lascivious intent behind those veiled glances.

**********

Reluctant to make a scene in the midst of this business/social gathering and lacking any real evidence on which to base an accusation, Teresa had allowed herself to be maneuvered into this little tryst.  Arthur seemed to be enjoying her obvious discomfort, smirking when his latest double entendre brought a vivid blush to her cheeks.

“Anymore cute remarks—I’ll have to teach you some manners.”

The disembodied voice seemed particularly unnerving—emanating as it did from the deepest shadows—so, at first, Arthur felt a bit of relief when Lancer’s younger son appeared.  But that relief was short-lived.

Arthur couldn’t explain the sudden dryness in his mouth.  Young Lancer had done nothing but walk sedately across the courtyard to stand before them.

“You have a fine, polite way about you, but you sure can get under a person’s skin,” Johnny’s smooth, relaxed drawl couldn’t have sounded less threatening, but the visitor—suddenly afflicted with a stammer—was unable to utter a coherent thought.

The dark-haired cowboy flicked a careless finger across the tip of Teresa’s nose, before giving her a gentle nudge toward the house. 

Despite his shaking knees, Arthur lost no time in following her, but found his escape was effectively blocked by a tall, blond immovable obstacle. 

“Why, Mr.  Worthington, please don’t rush off.”  That cultured Boston accent was deceptively friendly.  “My brother is extremely anxious to demonstrate some of the skills we practice here in the west.  You’ll find he’s very accomplished.”

“Just hard to shake a lifetime of training,” Johnny responded modestly.

Arthur swallowed hard and watched bleakly as Scott escorted Teresa out of the courtyard. 

Teresa couldn’t suppress a slight giggle as she cast one final glance at her erstwhile tormentor—now truly repentant.  “I think Mr. Worthington has learned one thing at least from this evening.  Lancer takes care of its own.”

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~ end ~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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Listen

Word count : 550

The old adobe hacienda often rang with the boisterous chatter of crowded parties, the rumble of heated family discussions and even the clamor of an occasional gunfight.  Tonight the ranch house was calm and peaceful.  Muted by thick walls and high ceilings, the only disturbances were the ordinary, unimportant sounds of a household on the brink of slumber.  But sometimes it’s the most insignificant details that truly tell the tale. 

~~~~~

Listen…

A staccato ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ meant Teresa was bustling down the hallway.  At a guess, she’d thrown a warm dressing gown over her nightdress, but taken the time to lace up sturdy everyday shoes. 

No doubt she was off to replenish the supply of coffee and sandwiches.  It was something she saw to no matter who was burning the midnight oil…working on Lancer’s never-ending mounds of paperwork.  No protests served to convince her that this extra effort was unnecessary.  Caring for the Lancer men-folk was her responsibility and a privilege she guarded with fierce pride.

A faint, affectionate smile crossed his lips as the footsteps faded into the distance.

~~~~~

Listen…

Spurs bounced along the floor with a metallic jingle.  After dozing for some hours down in the Great Room, Johnny was finally heading to bed.

Thanks to a full slate of ranch chores and a day that started about the time his ‘social activities’ in Boston used to end, Scott was dead tired most evenings.  But he still wasn’t comfortable following his brother’s example—nodding off over a game of checkers or sprawled out on one of the over-stuffed easy chairs.  It was a just bit too undignified for his taste.  He preferred to do any snoring in the privacy of his own room.

Over time though, he’d come to realize that Johnny’s willingness to relax his guard that much was an amazing sign of trust.  His brother had learned a lot of lessons the hard way, and one of them was not to give anyone too much credit.  So being open and vulnerable around his family showed how much he had changed.  

A door closed with a gentle click, interrupting his thoughts.  Perhaps he was reading too much into his brother’s casual habit, but it pleased him to believe that Johnny felt safe here.  One had a right to expect such sanctuary in the place you called ‘home’.

~~~~~~

Listen…

There was no mistaking that steady, measured tread.  It was solid and uncompromising, just like the man who made it.

His father swung a lot of weight in these parts… and deservedly so.  Murdoch had carved an empire out of the wilderness, held it against all comers and still retained a sense of compassion and decency.  Physical strength and moral character aside, though, he wasn’t always the easiest man to live with.  Even Teresa admitted that he had his faults. 

Still—hearing those footsteps—an image came to mind of a very small boy waiting for a giant of a man to come and hear his goodnights.  Altogether too foolish and wistful a thought to ever be spoken aloud, and one he would never admit to in the light of day. 

But what he’d once told Murdoch was true—the past didn’t always die that easy.  And perhaps…in some cases…it shouldn’t.

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“Let the person who has ears…..listen!”  Matthew 11:15

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~ end ~

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The Long Johns

Word count: 290

Comfortably ensconced on a settee in the Great Room, Teresa bent once more to her task.  A positive mountain of freshly laundered socks and undergarments had already been folded neatly and placed on the cushion beside her.  Now she reached down into the wicker basket and brought up the last item—a pair of shabby, faded, disreputable-looking long johns.

Holding them up before her, Teresa grimaced, dismayed at their condition.  The drawstring at the waist had broken and been knotted—twice.  Both knees were patched.  Worn knit drooped and bagged in a number of places where its owner was definitely lean, firm and anything-but-saggy.   

Fingering the soft fabric, Teresa hesitated.  This tattered garment should really be consigned to the rag-bag, but there wasn’t much hope of that happening. 

On a few other occasions, she’d discarded some of Johnny’s oldest, most decrepit shirts, and he had immediately retrieved them.  In the face of her protests, he’d insisted they were “just getting broke-in good.”

Always a realist, Teresa recognized a lost cause when she saw it!

Smoothing the long underwear over her lap to fold it, she noticed that the material in the seat was even more threadbare than the rest…..practically non-existent in fact.  Without a doubt, the next time Johnny wore these—or the time after that—he’d pull them up over his hips and find his backside was covered by…..nothing….absolutely nothing!

It was some time before Teresa could wrest her thoughts from the very agreeable image suggested by this predicament, and then—blushing hotly—she hurriedly gathered up all the clean clothes so they could be stowed in various bureaus and dresser drawers.

For the rest of the day, nobody could quite solve the mystery of Miss O’Brian’s persistent, secretive smile.

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~ end ~

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Pardon My French

Word count: 985

“Hey, tell me how to say it one more time, Scott!

The tall blond regarded his brother with amused tolerance.  “I thought you spoke French, Johnny.”

“Well, sure…!  I picked up some words from old Maximilian’s soldiers, but none of them are anything I’d use…talking to her!”

The lady in question was a raven-haired beauty, seated—aloof and enticing—on a bench in a corner of the barn.

Attending this evening’s community social had been Scott’s idea.  The two men were stuck in the little backwater of Cold Springs until Murdoch’s stage arrived the next afternoon.  A local dance seemed preferable to spending the night in either their dismal hotel room or the sole—unfortunately rat-infested—saloon.

In the beginning, Johnny had viewed all this homespun entertainment with a jaundiced eye, but his attention had been captured immediately when ‘she’ walked in.

Being in unknown territory, he’d conducted a quick reconnaissance to determine that there was no possessive husband or jealous suitor lurking in the background.

A chatty, helpful matron had been more than willing to supply all the needed information.  It turned out that Mademoiselle Chenard had traveled all the way from France to make her home with relatives here in California, and her English was almost nonexistent.  Of course, more than a few of the young men in town had tried to fix their interest with such a lovely girl, but she remained unaffected by their blandishments. 

Scott had tried to convince his younger brother that he might be biting off more than he could chew in this case.  But Johnny merely grinned—a slow, confident, wickedly knowing smirk—and insisted, “Come on, brother, I finally found some use for that fancy Harvard education you’re always bragging about…!”

And so, the older man came up with a polite greeting, a cleverly phrased compliment and a respectful invitation.  A few minutes of concentrated practice followed, until Johnny proclaimed that he was ready to make his move.

Ladling another cupful of spiked punch, Scott settled back to watch his brother’s progress.

A number of heads turned as the dark-haired cowboy made his way across the busy dance floor, but—whether by true ignorance or feminine wiles—the object of his pursuit appeared unaware of his approach.

While too far away to overhear the conversation, Scott was able to recall the rehearsed dialogue from memory.  First came the proper introduction……and the lady saw fit to nod graciously.  Then his brother reeled off that carefully thought-out piece of flattery, and she seemed to lap it up as a cat does cream.  Finally Johnny extended his hand and finished with a mannerly request for a dance. 

That’s when the mademoiselle displayed a set of reflexes that would have made Johnny Madrid proud.  She drew back her hand in an instant and delivered a ringing slap.

Speechless in the face of her outraged demeanor, there wasn’t much Johnny could do but retreat gracefully.

Unable to hide a smile at the younger man’s glum expression, Scott murmured, “That went well…!”

“Hell…!  I don’t know what I did wrong!”

“At a guess, I’d say you managed to mangle my beautifully worded invitation to dance into something a whole lot less…..socially acceptable.”  Scott slapped his brother on the back and added with exaggerated concern, “Perhaps you should have taken the advice of a very wise man….”

Johnny groaned, “Not George Washington……again….!”

“The man said—“Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in your own language…”

Before Scott could finish the quotation, his brother interrupted with a vivid demonstration of exactly what kind of French he’d learned from those soldiers of Maximilian.

“…and that as those of quality do and not as the vulgar!”

It only took a few more rounds of alcohol-laced punch to iron out any bad feelings between the brothers, however, and soon after, the two men lost track of each other.

A buxom redhead identified Scott as a stranger in their midst, and made it her mission to see him properly welcomed.  Reciprocating her overtures of ‘friendship’ kept him fully occupied, and it wasn’t until the evening was drawing to an end that he once again caught sight of Johnny.

The rear portion of the barn was surrounded by stacks of hay bales that effectively ensured privacy for anyone who sought seclusion there.  It didn’t surprise Scott in the least to learn that his brother had taken advantage of this little nook, but his jaw did drop when he saw Mademoiselle Chenard—with flushed cheeks and a few bits of straw left in her hair—tucked neatly into the crook of his arm.          

He couldn’t help but stare—open-mouthed—as Johnny bid the Frenchwoman a very, very fond adieu. 

Meeting up with his brother again on the street, Scott was unable to contain his curiosity.

“OK, boy……out with it…!  How did you work that miracle?”

“I just decided that old George was a smart man, and I should follow his advice,” Johnny answered.

“And exactly how did Mr. Washington’s sage counsel aid you in making that remarkable conquest?”

“Well, he said to speak your own language and that’s what I did.  It wasn’t French, English or even Spanish, but it sure did the trick!”

The gleam of understanding in Scott’s eye matched his brother’s tone of smug arrogance. 

“Not only that, brother, but you just proved the importance of the rest of the maxim…..?

Johnny cocked an eyebrow and waited.

“Sublime matters treat seriously…!”

There was a brief pause, and then both brothers began to laugh. 

Johnny recovered first, and—between snickers—stammered out, “I was real serious about it…..no question.  And I sure can’t argue that it was pretty sublime…..!”

With a final chuckle, he threw an arm around his brother’s shoulders, guiding both of their footsteps back to that dismal hotel—with the memory of a far-from-dismal night to see them through til morning.

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~ end ~

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The Patient Fool

Word count: 930

“I think he’s coming out of it…!”

His long career had included unnumbered nights spent dozing beside sickbeds, so Dr. Sam Jenkins was alert and observant immediately after waking.  He rose and took in the situation at a glance.

“I think you’re right, Scott,” he agreed.  “The family is anxious, of course….why don’t you go give them the news.”

Half-way to the door, the tall blond came to a halt as the doctor spoke once more.

“Scott, I know everyone is going to want to see him as soon as possible.  But I need some time alone to assess his condition and make sure he’s stable.  Could you please ask them to wait until I call……before coming into the room?”

Forcing a reluctant nod, the younger man took several more steps before Sam added in a gentle but firm tone, “That means you, too.”

Shoulders hunched, Scott left the room, shutting the door carefully on his way out.

With a physician’s observant eye, Sam took note of pulse and heart rate, checked for any fever, and watched with relief as deep blue eyes began to flicker with awareness. 

A normally dark-hued complexion that was now almost as white as the sheets pulled up around well-muscled shoulders and the moan that escaped from dried, cracked lips both gave testament to a great deal of agony.

As the patient roused, Sam murmured reassurances in a calm, steady voice, “Take it easy, Johnny……  Lay back and keep still…….” 

“Sam…..?” 

“Everything went as well as could be expected……you just need to rest and give yourself some time!”

“But…..I don’t understand….!  What am I doing here……?  The last thing I remember is………,” befuddled by pain as much as confusion, Johnny’s hoarse whisper trailed off into nothing.

For the moment, Sam concentrated on mixing some laudanum in water and supporting the young man’s head so he could drink.  But after checking various vital signs once again, he revisited Johnny’s tentative statement.

“What is it you do remember?” Sam probed.  “Do you recall feeling ill……pain in your stomach……nausea….?”

“Why……?”  Johnny seemed a bit more conscious of his surroundings now, and a bit more insistent in his demand, “What happened to me…..?”

“All right,” the old doctor was too familiar with this particular ‘irresistible force’ to be inclined to argue the point.  “You had an acute attack of appendicitis…..!  If I hadn’t been able to perform immediate surgery, you would have died!”

“But…..how come I can’t remember you being here….or me knowing anything about this operation before now?”

“Because you’d already collapsed by the time I arrived.  Your family was concerned that you were ill and had sent for me to come and take a look at you….. otherwise I would have been too late.  That’s why I was asking about what symptoms you were suffering from prior to the attack…..it can help me diagnose how long the condition was chronic before it became acute.”

“Huh…..?”

“The bellyache, Johnny…….” Sam’s questions became more direct.  “Any puking…..?  Did you feel like you were running a fever?  You were obviously sick enough for other people to notice, so I would think it would have made an impression on you.”

“OK……,” the young man sank further back onto his pillows and sighed.  “I was kind of off my feed for a while, and my gut was giving me some trouble.”

“Is that right, Johnny…?” The doctor’s tone was deceptively benign, “And how long did it last……this lack of appetite and problem with your gut?”

“Maybe two weeks….give or take.  Sometimes it wasn’t real bad, it was only along towards the end it got a little rough.”

“And you never bothered to come see me…..consult me about these serious complaints!”

“I didn’t want anybody making a song and dance about what might have been nothing but some colic brought on by too many green apples…!”

“I see….colic from green apples!  And which school of medicine gave you a degree which qualified YOU to make that diagnosis?”

Dr. Sam Jenkins didn’t often cross the line between man of medicine and giver of free advice, but he took a giant leap this time….!

“A very famous man…….you may have heard of him—George Washington—had some very appropriate counsel for chuckleheads like you.  His exact words were, ‘In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein’.”

“And what does that mean when it’s not all dressed up for company…?”

“Oh, I think I can put it in words you’ll understand,” Sam almost growled.  “There’s an old saying that a man who defends himself in court has a fool for a client.  Well, a patient who treats himself has a fool for a doctor……and Mr. Washington and I both know just how wise a decision that is!”

Johnny gave a faint snort of derision, but it was obvious that this whole exchange had tired him more than he wanted to let on. 

And—his brief spasm of exasperation having run its course—Sam immediately set about making the incorrigible scamp more comfortable, and preparing him for a reunion with his very worried loved ones. 

But he raised one last admonishing finger before hastening off to fetch Scott and Murdoch and to give the rest of the household a favorable report.

“Just take this as a warning, young man….!  You’re facing a long recovery period, which I will be supervising very closely.  If you do any more ‘playing’ at being a physician……you’ll find out just how hard-headed a doctor can be when he has a ‘fool’ for a patient!”

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~ end ~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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The Quilt

Word count: 455

There are some who would have described the scene as comical, and indeed, it was not without its amusing aspects.  However, Scott Lancer didn’t feel the slightest inclination to laugh. 

His brother, Johnny Madrid Lancer, was a man who had faced death many times over.  Scott, himself, had witnessed this on more occasions than he cared to remember.  Johnny’s demeanor in each of these cases had been the same: icy blue eyes which never wavered, the line of his mouth, set, with perhaps the hint of a lopsided grin.  Calm—deliberate—fearless.

This same man was now staring at the simple, brown-paper wrapped parcel with the kind of wary apprehension most men would employ when regarding a coiled rattlesnake.

*********************

Earlier in the evening, he and his brother had been sitting at their ease in the Great Room.  While Scott had been absorbed in one of the leather-bound books from their father’s shelves, Johnny had been content to simply lie there, sprawled on the comfortable sofa, drowsing in front of the fire.

When their father entered the room carrying the package, it was immediately apparent that this was something out of the ordinary.  Murdoch’s normally dour, pragmatic expression now betrayed trepidation and some other emotion, difficult to identify. He placed the object on the table in front of his younger son.

“I was cleaning out some things in my closet and I came upon this.  It belonged to you when you were a child.  I thought you might want to have it.”

******************** 

Johnny finally seemed to recover himself and, with a few deft movements, the contents of the parcel were revealed.

The child-size quilt was bedraggled, worn, even threadbare in places.  The once bright colors of its kaleidoscope design were dull and faded.  One could imagine, just by looking at it, how smooth and soft it would feel to the touch.

Scott watched his brother.  Those hands, those deadly hands, which could draw and fire a pistol in an awe-inspiring display of speed and accuracy, were struggling not to tremble as they reached for the ragged blanket.

**************** 

Scott and his brother were sitting at their ease in the Great Room.  While Scott’s attention appeared to be focused on the leather-bound book in his hands, he was absorbed in watching his brother.  Johnny was content to simply lie there, sprawled on the comfortable sofa, drowsing in front of the fire.  The shabby quilt covered only the smallest portion of his recumbent form.  And occasionally, just occasionally, his hand would gently stroke the tattered cloth. 

There are some who would have described the scene as comical, and indeed, it was not without its amusing aspects.  However, Scott Lancer didn’t feel the slightest inclination to laugh.

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~ end ~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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An Unexpected Blessing

An episode tag for Devil’s Blessing – but if you haven’t seen the episode, the story is really very self-explanatory.

Word count: 775

“Are you sure you want to eat supper here in town before heading back to the ranch?” Scott asked as they descended the stairs from the rooms above the blacksmith shop. 

“Yep, I’m hungry enough to eat Gus’s piebald mare, shoes’n all.”  Johnny couldn’t help smirking a bit, “Winning always makes me hungry.”

Scott took the lead as the two men followed the shortcut behind the livery stable toward the town’s main street.  It was dark enough for the stars to have come out, but the illumination of the waning moon was sufficient to light their way.

“I assume you’ll be paying for this lavish feast, since you cleaned me out with that last hand,” Scott commented dryly.  “And I would prefer steak to horse, thank you.”

“See, Scott, when you’re playing poker, you gotta learn ta …..” Abruptly, Johnny abandoned his good-natured, but merciless attempt to torment his brother.  With one smooth, practiced motion, his gun was in his hand as he searched warily for any signs of danger.  ”What??” he demanded in an imperative whisper.

Scott had been rounding the corner of the livery stable, when he’d come to a sudden stop.  Now he stood with his back flattened against the wall, as though hiding from view.

“Remember when Murdoch told us he’d have to miss this week’s poker game?” he asked quietly.

“Sure,” Johnny replied in a puzzled tone.  “He said he was meeting up with an old friend who was in town for a few days.”

“Funny,” Scott said wryly, “she doesn’t look so old from here.”

Johnny peered around his brother’s body.  Even in this uncertain light, Murdoch Lancer’s tall, imposing frame was distinctive.  And the two brothers were also able to get a very good look at the attractive, blonde woman who was gazing up at their father in a very intimate manner.

“Whooee!” The younger man whistled under his breath.  Sneaking another peek, he holstered his pistol and added, “How come so many of Murdoch’s old friends look like that, and mine all look like Val Crawford?”

“Oh, Murdoch’s just following that very old tradition,” Scott murmured coyly.

The two men exchanged a glance and recited in unison, “The affinity of Lancer men for beautiful women.”

“Don’t she look kinda familiar to you, Scott?” 

“You know, she does.” 

After a bit more scrutiny, Johnny suddenly exclaimed—“Hey!”—only to be firmly shushed by his brother.

“I figured out where we saw her,” he went on in a more subdued voice.  “She was there—in Blessing—when Murdoch wiped up the street with those punk gunslingers.”

“You’re right,” Scott nodded.  “As I recall, she held a gun on one or two of the desperados during that little fracas.”

At this point, neither of them was willing to turn their backs on the little scene being enacted before their eyes.  Under their fascinated gaze, the elegantly dressed lady reached into her reticule and pulled out a small object.  They weren’t close enough to eavesdrop, but Murdoch was obviously objecting to something she was saying. 

“What is that?”

The words were barely out of Johnny’s mouth, when the lady appeared to win whatever battle of wills was underway between the couple.  She slipped the ring onto Murdoch’s finger, but didn’t resist when he kept her hands firmly in his grasp.  He drew her nearer, and the kiss that followed was long, lingering and definitely more than friendly.

It was possible—though by no means certain—that Johnny and Scott might have recovered whatever sense of decorum they still possessed and withdrawn from this tender scene in a timely manner.  Fortunately their self-discipline wasn’t put to the test.  Murdoch and his lovely companion left instead, walking arm in arm down the boardwalk and disappearing through the door of the Cattleman’s Restaurant. 

The long and pregnant silence that followed was broken when Scott remarked conversationally, “You know, what we did was truly inexcusable.  No gentleman would have behaved in such a manner.”

“It’s a good thing Mudoch never raised no gentlemen,” Johnny responded with a wicked grin.  “Besides, don’t you wanna know what happened in that town?  We never got the whole story about what kind of trouble Murdoch really got into in Blessing.”

Scott seemed to speculate for a moment.  “You think we should just walk in there, join them at dinner, and try to get the whole story from that woman?”

“Yep.”

“Murdoch will be mad as fire.”

“Yep.”

“He’ll stay up nights thinking of ways to make us pay.”

“Yep.”

“And the man really does deserve his privacy.”

“Yep.”

“So, you ready to go get that steak now?”

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~ end ~

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Dori directly.

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