Word Count 11,748
Thanks to Doc (Terri Derr) for help with the beta. All mistakes are mine. While the Long Valley Caldera in California exists, the resort and spa at the caldera are my creation.
The sun’s first rays, golden and warm, crested the mountains. A blanket of light crept across the valley floor, chasing the shadows away and turning night into day.
Three riders reined to a stop on the rise overlooking a semi-desolate landscape.
“Well, boys, there it is.” Murdoch swiped the air in front of him. “Long Valley Caldera.”
Smiling, Johnny stood in his stirrups and shifted his hat back from his head. The smile quickly turned to a frown.
“It’s a hole in the ground!” The disappointment was evident in his voice. “We rode all this way and got up before the ass crack of dawn to see a hole in the ground?”
A giant bowl-shaped depression spread out in front of them. Dotted with steaming thermal hot springs, it seemed to go on for miles.
The sound of creaking leather broke the morning’s stillness as Scott shifted in his saddle. “Little brother, it was your idea to get up before the ‘ass crack of dawn,’ as you put it.”
“I just wanted to get there.”
Johnny’s slight pout brought on another bout of laughter from his brother.
“We know, son,” Murdoch straightened. “You’ve talked about nothing else since we decided to come.”
“I thought they’d be more than …. than this. I just expected…” he shrugged, “well, more.”
“I’m sure there is more just down the road. What do you say we go find it.”
As the sun climbed higher, Scott thought about the evening almost a month earlier when it had all started.
They’d been in the Great Room, relaxing after dinner, when he’d discovered the article in the latest edition of the Sacramento Bee. He’d immediately come up with what he knew was his best idea since leaving Boston and settling in California five months earlier.
Murdoch was in his chair, pipe in hand and an open book in his lap. Johnny was in his usual place, lying face down and dozing across the ottoman, a thin stream of drool dripping from the corner of his mouth while Teresa and Maria were finishing up in the kitchen.
After re-reading the article, Scott eased out of his chair and tiptoed across the room.
“Sir,” Scott kept his voice low, making sure Johnny couldn’t hear, “did you see the article in the Bee about the new resort opening?”
Scott handed the folded newspaper to his father, cringing when the paper made a crumpling noise.
“Yes, I saw it,” Murdoch replied.
“Shhhh,” Scott put a finger to his lips and looked over his shoulder, relieved that Johnny hadn’t stirred.
“Why are we whispering?” Murdoch responded, lowering his voice and following Scott’s gaze.
“I don’t want ….,” he softened his voice even further, “Johnny to hear.”
Murdoch nodded his understanding and mouthed the word, “Oh.” Then looking back at Scott.
“What do you have in mind?” Murdoch replied as quietly as his normally booming voice would go.
“A trip. Just the three of us.”
Johnny stirred and sat up.
Sighing, Scott knew the boy had heard them talking.
“You talking about going on a trip?” Johnny yawned and stretched. “And why are you two whispering?”
“I don’t believe your brother wanted to disturb you,” Murdoch responded with a smile.
Scott knew Johnny had no idea what they were talking about, but he’d go along if it meant getting out of herding cattle and planting fence posts.
“So,” Johnny sat up straight and focused his sleepy eyes on his father and brother. “Where are we going?
Murdoch looked at Johnny and then back to Scott. “I think it would be a wonderful idea, but do you think your brother …?”
“Murdoch, I believe Johnny would enjoy it.”
“Look, it’s an easy ride, for the most part, two or three days. We don’t have to put him,” Scott threw his thumb over his shoulder towards Johnny, “on a cramped stagecoach, and think about how much time you’ll have with just the two of us. It will be our first vacation together. Besides, I think it would benefit Johnny to have the experience.”
From the expression on Johnny’s face, Scott could tell he liked the idea.
“I …. don’t know, son. I’ve been to the spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was a wonderful experience, but the entire spa treatment might be a little much for Johnny.”
“You two do know I’m right here.” Johnny popped up onto his knees like a jack-in-the-box. “If you’re talkin’ about going somewhere, count me in.”
Scott saw a slight smile on Murdoch’s face as he looked down at his youngest.
“A new resort and spa opened on the California-Nevada line on the other side of the Sierra Nevadas. I thought we could take a vacation.”
“Vacation? Ain’t never had one of those. I’ve holed up a time or two. Is it like that?”
“Yes, it is. Only without you having a bullet hole in you to heal,” Scott answered, knowing the few stories his brother had told him about being shot and having to hide out.
“John, the full spa treatment is very relaxing, but….”
“Hell, Murdoch, I could stand a little relaxin’, and so could Scott. When do we go?”
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other and then at Johnny.
“Johnny, maybe you should read the article in the paper about the new spa.”
Johnny scurried across the floor towards Murdoch’s chair.
Scott saw Murdoch’s eyes soften and wondered if he was being reminded of the days before his blue-eyed little boy learned to walk.
Murdoch handed Johnny the newspaper and pointed to the article prominently displayed on the front page of the San Francisco Bee.
‘New Resort and Spa Opens at the Long Valley Caldera’
The long awaited Long Valley Caldera Resort and Spa has opened its doors. Located near the Nevada state line, south of Mono Lake and northeast of the Mammoth Mountains, it will be the ultimate vacation destination in California. While numerous hot springs operate in the area, Long Valley Caldera Resort and Spa will be California’s largest and most complete facility.
The thermal hot springs in the area have been developed into a spa similar to those in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Many who worked in Arkansas have added their expertise to the new resort.
A complete spa experience, au naturale, will consist of soaking in the healing mineral waters of the caldera, steam bath, and, of course, a Swedish massage.
The Long Valley Caldera Resort Hotel has 220 spacious rooms, including 10 luxury suites.
The resort’s restaurant is honored to have Chef Augusto Escoffier, who studied under famed French chef Alexandre Étienne Choron. A wide range of fresh fish, pastries, and, of course, wine pairings await every guest.
Reservations are now being accepted.
Johnny read and then re-read the article.
“So, you want us to go to this resort?”
“Yes,” Scott responded. “What do you think?”
Johnny shrugged. “All right.”
“You know what to expect? Right?”
“Sure, I went to the Valles Caldera in New Mexico once. Nice place. So, when do you want to go?”
Both Murdoch and Scott smiled.
Murdoch responded, “Next week?” He looked at Scott.
“That would work out perfectly. We can finish the branding in two days and be ready to ride out by Monday.”
“All right. I’ll wire the resort and reserve a suite for us.”
Johnny rubbed his hands together. “Oh, boy, this is gonna be fun. Just think, old man, you’ll have us all to yourself for two whole weeks.”
Scott watched Murdoch’s smile slowly fade. “Yes, two whole weeks.”
Murdoch looked up at his oldest and signed. “Scott……?”
“It’ll be alright, sir. Trust me.”
The days quickly passed, and finally, when the time came to leave, the Lancers rode under the arch and headed east. It took three days to traverse the rugged trail through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but now they were getting close, and containing Johnny’s enthusiasm had been almost impossible. That is, until he looked out over the desolate landscape of the caldera.
Scott straightened in the saddle and tipped his hat back on his head. Blonde bangs fell onto his forehead, giving him a boyish look.
“How large is the caldera?”
“Close to 20 miles across.” Murdoch pointed to the horizon where mountains surrounded the valley on three sides. “It’s one of the largest calderas in the world.”
“You researched it before we came?”
“I did.” Murdoch glanced at Scott. “I take it you did also?”
“Yes, geology fascinates me. It must have been a massive eruption.”
Murdoch nodded. “I understand there are several earthquakes daily, even after all this time.”
“What are you two talking about?” Johnny’s frustration was showing.
“The caldera.” Scott pointed to the steaming pools covering the area’s rocky floor.
“What do you say about an eruption?”
“The caldera was formed when a volcano erupted thousands of years ago. When it was over, the land sank, leaving behind what you see now. To anyone’s knowledge, there hasn’t been activity in the caldera in the last three centuries. There are, however, numerous earthquakes every day.”
“All right. That’s real interesting. So, is this thing gonna blow up again any time soon?”
“There’s no way to know.”
Johnny nodded his head and huffed. “So, what are we gonna do?”
“We’re going to go on and enjoy our vacation together,” Murdoch responded.
“That’s more like it.” Johnny grinned. “So, where’s this resort you’ve been talking about?”
“A little further south, at the foot of the Mammoth Mountains. We should be able to see it soon.”
“All right then, let’s get moving. Time’s a wasting.”
Murdoch and Scott smiled as Johnny kicked Barranca into a trot and headed south.
“Are you sure about this, Murdoch?” Scott settled back in his saddled and waited for his father’s reply.
“Scott, you’ve asked that before, and yes, of course, I’m sure…,” he hesitated. “Well, at least we’re together, and I’m looking forward to time with you and your brother.”
“The last few days have been nice with just the three of us camping out. I want this trip to be special for Johnny. One he’ll remember. He hasn’t had many happy memories to hang onto.”
“I know he hasn’t, son, but we’ve started making new memories, ones we can all hold onto.” Murdoch strained to see the dust cloud disappearing in the distance. “We’d better catch up with Johnny.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll slow him down so we can ride in together.”
As Scott rode away, Murdoch smiled, pride swelling in his chest. During the last three days, he’d ridden side by side with his sons, talking and laughing. Each evening, they’d camped at sunset, falling into an unspoken agreement as to who did what. Johnny settled the horses while Scott set up camp and started the fire. Somehow, Murdoch found himself the designated cook and discovered he didn’t mind.
After dinner, Johnny and Scott took care of washing the skillet and plates as Murdoch arranged the bedrolls and settled back, waiting for the boys to return.
Sitting by the campfire, drinking from one of the bottles of liquor brought from home, scotch for Murdoch and Scott and tequila for Johnny, they’d talked, each sharing something of themselves, drawing them closer together. Even Johnny had let slip bits and pieces of his past.
For Murdoch, the dreams of two decades had come true in the last few months. He had everything he’d ever wanted, and now, he was following his sons towards the location of their first vacation together.
Scott caught up with Johnny and slowed him down with the wave of a hand.
“Hold up, brother. You need to wait for Murdoch.”
“I just wanta get there.”
Johnny reined back on Barranca and glanced over his shoulder. Satisfied Murdoch was coming; he put Barranca into a slow walk.
“I know you do, but this trip means a lot to him, and I believe he would like us to ride in together.”
Johnny laughed. “You mean like he shows us off when we ride into town together?”
“Something like that.”
Johnny looked back again and then at Scott. “Brother, you….”
“Well, I want this to be a trip we’ll remember. I want to do the old man proud.”
“I don’t believe that will be a problem, Johnny. All he wants is to create memories of us that he doesn’t have.”
“Look, if …. well, it’s just ….”
“Get it said, brother.”
Johnny smiled, remembering that first morning after they’d come home. Scott had used those exact words, but now they were said with affection.
“Scott, I’m not like you and the old man. You know how to act around people who go to these places. Where I grew up, we didn’t have no fancy resorts. If I start to do anything that would embarrass either of you…. well, you’ll let me know. Won’t you?”
Reaching out and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “You’ll do just fine, and yes, if you do something out of place, I’ll let you know. That’s my job as your big brother.”
“You sure you get paid enough for that job?”
“You mean I’m supposed to get paid to watch out for you?” Scott laughed and shook his head. “If that’s the case, I need to ask Murdoch for a raise.”
Johnny pressed Barranca forward and called over his shoulder, “Good luck with that.”
“Whoowee, will you look at that!” Johnny jumped out of his saddle and landed lightly on the ground. “I ain’t never seen the likes of a place like this.”
Scott stepped down from his horse and put an arm around his brother’s shoulders.
Smiling, he replied, “Didn’t I say you’d like it?”
“You sure did.”
“So, sir,” Scott asked as he watched Murdoch slowly and stiffly dismount, “what do you think?”
Murdoch took in the sprawling three-story white building and the large painted sign across the front proudly proclaiming ‘Long Valley Caldera Resort Hotel.’ Sitting on the structure’s peak was a louvered copper-roofed cupola with a weather vane spinning in the wind.
Dozens of resort guests, relaxing in the cool breeze off the Mammoth Mountains, occupied white rocking chairs that dotted the wrap-around porch.
“It’s amazing.” He stretched his back and heard a slight cracking sound.
“Are you alright? Is your back hurting?”
“I’ll be alright,” he grimaced, rubbing his low back. “It’s been a long time since I’ve spent this much time in the saddle.”
Scott didn’t have to add ‘and before you took a bullet in the back.’
“Sorry you came?”
Murdoch straightened, put a hand on Scott’s shoulder, and smiled. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. How about you?”
“No, sir. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of the trip.”
Murdoch nodded towards the manicured lawn to the hotel’s right. “It looks like you and your brother might find something to do.”
Scott noticed a few women in lightweight cotton dresses strolling the grounds, parasols twirling over their heads and giggling when they spied the Lancers.
“Yeah,” Johnny answered, his eyes glued to the bevy of ladies staring at him.
Murdoch cleared his throat, “John!”
Johnny tore his eyes away from the women and frowned.
“That can wait.”
The boy’s expression changed from a frown to a slight grin as his eyes glinted with the prospect of meeting the ladies.
“How many days did you say we were staying?”
“Five,” Murdoch answered, trying not to smile. “Come on, Casanova. We need to check in, and I personally can’t wait to get into a hot tub and start relaxing.”
“I believe the welcoming committee is on its way now.” Scott pointed to a tall, thin man dressed in a red waistcoat and black tie, walking down the hotel’s steps and towards them with three teenage boys in tow.
“Sirs.” The man bowed slightly. “Welcome to the Long Valley Caldera Resort and Spa. My name is Charles.”
Murdoch extended his hand. “Murdoch Lancer.”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Lancer, we’ve been expecting you.” Charles accepted Murdoch’s hand and looked at Scott and Johnny. “These must be the rest of your party.”
“Yes. My sons, Scott and Johnny.”
Charles shook first Scott’s hand and then Johnny’s.
“Your suite is ready. I’ll show you to the registration desk, and these lads,” he motioned the boys forward, “will take care of your horses.”
“Thank you,” Scott replied with a smile and handed the smaller of the boys his reins.
“I’ll take care of your horse for you, Mister.” A dark-haired boy stepped forward, accepting Murdoch’s reins.
Murdoch gladly handed over his horse. “Thank you, young man.”
Johnny looked down to see a ginger-haired boy with freckles smiling at him and holding out his hand.
“He’s a mite touchy,” Johnny replied. “I’d better get him settled. Can you show me where to stable him?”
The boy nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Turning, the boy motioned Johnny to follow him.
Glancing over his shoulder, Johnny saw Murdoch and Scott step onto the porch. He smiled when Murdoch put his arm around Scott’s shoulders and pulled him close.
Scott could talk all he wanted about how much this trip meant to Murdoch, but Johnny knew what it meant to his brother, to both of them. Getting to spend time with their father, just the three of them together, was worth the last three days of riding to get to this place.
Scott stopped on the porch and turned, looking over the green grass surrounding the building. A steady stream of carriages traveled up and down the road to the resort, depositing or picking up guests.
In the distance, Scott could see where the manicured lawn ended and the rocky bed of the caldera began. Steam rose from the scalding ponds surrounded by rocks and green grass.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Scott glanced over his shoulder to see Murdoch standing at the double glass doors that led to the resort’s lobby.
“Yes, in its own way. They’ve done an amazing job of building the resort and distinguishing between it and the caldera. I would never have expected this……” he waved his hand towards the desolate yet beautiful landscape. “I hope Johnny enjoys it here.”
Murdoch watched his youngest son leading Barranca to the stable. “I’m sure he will. I only hope he survives the spa.”
“He read the newspaper article and said he understood what to expect.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Scott, do you honestly believe he knows what ‘au naturale’ means?”
Scott laughed. “I doubt it, but I wouldn’t call Johnny shy or reserved.”
“We can talk about this later. Right now, let’s check in and get cleaned up. I need to rest my back.”
Stepping into the hotel’s lobby, Murdoch stopped and gawked. He’d been to some of the most elegantly decorated establishments in Britain and the United States, and still, he’d never seen anything like it.
Slowly turning, he looked at the massive room’s primary light source: floor-to-ceiling windows with etched ruby red glass transoms at the top.
Unlike most hotels that sported dark wood paneling, this light and airy lobby’s twelve-foot-tall walls were painted a light cream color and trimmed in white crown molding and baseboards.
A large rock fireplace supported one wall, highlighting the pressed tin ceiling and polished hardwood floors. A carpet runner covered the center walkway and ran past the front desk to the other end of the room, where it met a sweeping staircase that disappeared into the second floor.
Murdoch glanced to his right to find Scott also taking in the room.
“Yes, it is. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but nothing like this.”
“This way, gentlemen.”
Murdoch and Scott looked up to see Charles motioning them towards a long desk to the right of the lobby.
“This is Everett Parker, our day manager,” Charles introduced one of the two men standing behind the desk. “Everett, these gentlemen are the Lancers.”
“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” Parker spun the registration book around. “Please sign in. I’ve got three keys for you.” He glanced around the lobby. “There are three of you?”
“Yes.” Murdoch picked up a pen and signed his name. “My youngest son will be here in a few minutes after seeing to his horse.”
Scott stepped up and signed the register.
“Do you want to wait for your son before going to your room?”
Murdoch looked towards the open French doors, considering going upstairs and letting Johnny catch up.
Scott saw the indecision on his father’s face. “Sir, I’ll wait for Johnny. Why don’t you go up and get settled?”
Murdoch smiled. “No, we’ll both wait.”
“You know he can’t get into trouble just coming from the barn?”
“I know it, and you know, but does he?” Turning back to Mr. Parker. “We’ll wait. I’m sure he’ll be here in a ……,” he paused at the sound of spurs jingling. He looked at the lobby door. “There he is now.”
Johnny walked through the front doors, entered the lobby, and stopped short. He took in the room with the same awe Murdoch and Scott had experienced.
Parker glanced toward the lobby doors and saw the dust-covered cowboy enter. He started to ask the young man to leave when he felt a hand on his arm.
Looking up, Charles was leaning in. “Mr. Parker, that is the third Mr. Lancer.”
Parker’s eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything.
Charles and Mr. Parker watched as the young man in the blue floral shirt paused and took in the room. Their eyes settled on the gun on the boy’s hip at the same time.
Scott turned to see what the men were looking at. When he saw the expression on his brother’s face, Scott knew the boy was on the verge of backing out the door.
Murdoch must have realized the same thing as he strode across the lobby and put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“We’ve been waiting for you.”
Johnny pulled against his father’s hand. “Look, Murdoch, I…. Maybe, I should ……”
“You’re just fine, son. Now go sign in, and we’ll go to our room and clean up.”
Murdoch guided Johnny to the desk, picked up the pen, and put it in his son’s hand. Pointing to the register, he said, “Sign.”
Johnny did as instructed. Setting the pen down, he looked at the two tense employees and smiled. “Howdy.”
The men relaxed and smiled back.
“Mr. Lancer,” Parker nodded, cleared his throat, and pointed to the prominently posted sign behind the desk.
‘No Firearms Allowed.’
“It won’t be a problem, Mr. Parker,” Murdoch responded while tightly holding Johnny’s arm. “My son won’t wear his gun while on the resort grounds.” He looked down at Johnny and smiled. “Isn’t that right, son?”
Johnny took a breath before responding, “Yeah, that’s right.”
“Very well, Mr. Lancer.” Parker turned his head to look at Charles. “Will you show the Lancers to their suite?”
Johnny and Scott fell in next to Murdoch as they followed Charles up the wide staircase and down a long hall. Stopping at room 210, Charles opened the door and moved aside.
Murdoch stepped inside, followed by Scott and Johnny.
“There are three bedrooms and the sitting room.” Charles crossed the sitting room and pushed open each of the bedroom doors. Large bay windows allowed natural light to fill the rooms. Each bedroom had a thick feather mattress covered by white linen sheets, a down comforter, and topped with a cotton duvet.
“The facilities are in here.” Charles opened a fourth door revealing a large clawfoot tub and a water closet.
The three teenage boys who had helped them outside entered the sitting room carrying their bags.
“Just leave everything here.” Murdoch pointed to the sofa. “We’ll sort it out.”
The boys looked at Charles, who nodded. They put the bags on the sofa and turned to leave.
“Wait.” Scott pulled a few coins from his pocket and handed one to each of the boys.
Three voices responded, “Thank you, sir.” With smiles on their faces, the boys hurried out of the room.
“I hope you enjoy your stay with us,” Charles said as he backed out of the room. “If you need anything, pull the bell rope near the door. Someone will be up as soon as possible.”
“Thank you, Charles.” Scott tipped the man and closed the door after he’d left.
Scott looked around the spacious room. “Very nice, Murdoch.”
“It should be,” Murdoch huffed. “The cost….”
Scott raised a hand, cutting him off. “No, sir. We are not thinking of the cost of this vacation. It’s the first time the three of us have been together away from the ranch. Cost be damned.”
Murdoch looked at his sons and smiled. “You’re right. Cost be damned.”
Johnny looked at the open doors to the bedrooms, grabbed his saddlebag, and with a hoot, chose his room. “This one’s mine.”
Murdoch walked into the room, noting it had a much larger bed than the other two rooms.
“No, son, this is my room.” He walked to the bed, picked up Johnny’s saddlebag, and tossed it to him. “You and your brother sort out the other two. I don’t think I’d be comfortable in those smaller beds.”
With a grin, Johnny looked at Scott. “Toss you for which room you get.”
“No, no tossing. I’m taking this one,” Scott said as he moved to the second room with his saddlebags. “Older brother’s prerogative.”
Johnny shrugged. He walked across the smallest of the three rooms and looked out the window. “Well, at least I have a view of the ….” He paused and frowned. His room overlooked the roof of the spa next door.
Huffing, he put his saddlebags on the bed and shook his head. Sometimes it just wasn’t fair being the youngest.
Once in their suite, Murdoch’s only wish was to take a soaking bath and nap. Scott and Johnny had other ideas and decided to explore the grounds. They’d just stepped onto the hotel’s front porch when Johnny stopped and grabbed his brother’s arm.
“Scott, look at that.” Johnny pointed to two young ladies walking across the perfectly manicured lawn.
“Very nice, aren’t they?”
“No, I don’t mean the girls. I’m talking about what they’re wearing. Ain’t never seen anything like that before.”
“It’s a bathing costume, which all proper ladies wear when swimming. They have an outdoor pool here.”
The garments were commonplace along the New England beaches, and Scott had often seen women dressed in cumbersome swimming gowns.
“But it looks like they’re wearing a dress. It sure don’t look comfortable.”
“I wouldn’t think they would be. Most are made of wool and get heavy when wet; I believe they even have weights sewn into the seams to keep them from floating. However, it protects the lady’s modesty.”
Johnny laughed. “Well, better them than me.”
Scott smiled but didn’t want to tell Johnny the men’s bathing costume was almost as ridiculous. He’d brought his two-piece, blue striped suit with him. Murdoch said he didn’t plan to go into the outdoor pool or the surrounding hot springs, so he had forgone one. They’d discussed Johnny and decided to buy him one at the resort.
“Let’s go talk to them.” Scott walked the length of the porch dragging Johnny with him.
“Excuse me, ladies.” Scott tipped his hat and then elbowed Johnny, who did the same.
The two young women smiled and batted their eyelashes. “You two are such gentlemen,” the taller woman commented as she flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Aren’t they, Annabelle?”
“Oh, yes, Amanda Jane, they truly are.” Annabelle blushed and dipped her head. Looking up, she had a broad smile on her face. “It’s hard to find true gentlemen these days.”
Scott smiled at the girl’s antics. It wasn’t the first time he’d played this game.
“Where are our manners?” Annabelle said with a slight southern accent, her eyes fixed on Scott. “My name is Annabelle Collins, and this is my sister, Amanda Jane.”
“Ladies.” Scott tipped his hat again. “My name is Scott Lancer.”
Scott felt something punching him in the ribs. Turning, he saw Johnny standing beside him with a grin on his face.
“Oh, yes, and this is my brother Johnny.”
Johnny pushed passed his brother. Taking Amanda Jane’s tiny hand in his hand, he bowed at the waist and kissed it.
“Ma’am, it’s a true pleasure.”
“Oh, it’s a delight meeting you, Mr. Lancer.”
“The name’s Johnny. The only Mr. Lancer we know is our old man.”
“Well, then Johnny, you and Scott must call us by our first names,” Annabelle proclaimed.
“We saw you ride in earlier. I just love the color of your horse,” Amanda Jane stated. “You looked so handsome riding him.”
“Thank you. Maybe we can go for a ride while we’re here.”
“Oh, heavens no,” the girl raised her shoulders and shuddered. “I just hate horses. Smelly things. I’d never consider getting on one; however, I wouldn’t object to a buggy ride.”
“I think we can arrange that.” Johnny glanced at Scott, giving him an opening.
Scott jumped right in. “And what of you, Annabelle, do you like buggy rides?”
“I certainly do. Why there’s a young man back home who comes by on Sundays.”
“So, you have a beau?”
The young lady blushed and dipped her head. Then cutting her eyes up at Scott, she smiled.
“Well, not really, and anyway, he’s not here, now, is he?”
The brothers looked at each other and tried to hide their smiles.
Quickly changing the subject, Amanda Jane asked, “You’re here with your father?”
“We are,” Scott answered. “How did you know?”
“Word travels fast when someone new checks into the hotel. I can’t wait to meet him.” Amanda Jane looked at Annabelle and giggled. “If he’s anything like the two of you, he must be very handsome.”
“Then perhaps you two ladies can join us for dinner tonight?” Scott offered. “That is if you don’t have anyone to dine with.”
“Well, we are here with our mother,” Annabelle announced. “Perhaps she can join us?”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” Amanda Jane joined in. “I’ll let mother know.”
Scott frowned slightly but, seeing Johnny’s smiling face gave in. “That would be wonderful. Shall we say we meet in the dining room at seven o’clock?”
“Perfect.” The sisters responded in unison.
“See you then,” Johnny waved as the ladies strolled away.
Johnny sighed, looking at Scott with a boyish grin on his face. “I’m really gonna like this place, brother. I think this is the best idea you ever had.”
“What d’you mean? You don’t think those two are really something?”
“Yes, I do, but Johnny……”
“Aw, Scott, I know what they were trying to do. It ain’t the first time some girl batted her lashes at me. Don’t mean I can’t enjoy the attention.”
“No, it doesn’t. Well, come on. We’d better let Murdoch know we’ll have company for dinner.”
Johnny laughed. “So, which one do you want, Amanda Jane or Annabella?”
“What do you say we let the ladies choose?”
A shy, coy smile graced Mrs. Estelle Collins’s face as she led her daughters into the resort’s dining room precisely at seven. Floating across the dark paneled room, she held out a hand as she approached Murdoch.
“Mr. Lancer, I presume?”
Murdoch took the extended hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Collins. My sons didn’t exaggerate when they said your daughters were charming. However, they didn’t mention their mother was just as lovely.”
“Oh, Mr. Lancer, you flatter me.”
Scott watched as she blushed and dipped her head just as Annabelle had done earlier.
Looking up, Mrs. Collins quickly ran her eyes over Scott and Johnny. “I haven’t had the honor of meeting your sons yet.”
Amanda Jane stepped forward and took Scott’s arm while Annabelle grabbed hold of Johnny. The two boys looked at each other and grinned. The choice was made.
“Mother, this is Scott.” Amanda clung to the oldest Lancer.
“And this is Johnny.” Annabelle imitated her sister.
“My, my. You are both as handsome as your father, even if you don’t look a thing like him.”
Johnny glanced at Murdoch and saw his cheeks redden before responding, “Thank you, ma’am.”
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Shall we sit?”
Once everyone was seated, wine poured, and appetizers served, the six chatted among themselves. They were on their second glass of Chardonnay when Mrs. Collins broached the subject Scott knew was coming.
“Now, Mr. Lancer….”
“Murdoch, Mrs. Collins. Please, call me Murdoch.”
“Murdoch, what business are you in?”
“Ranching, Mrs. Collins.”
“Estelle. Please call me Estelle.” She batted her eyelashes and reached out to touch Murdoch’s hand. “Ranching? That sounds like a lot of work.”
“It is a lot of work but rewarding knowing you’re building something for the future. I’m afraid we don’t often get a chance to get away from the ranch. However, when we read the resort had opened, Scott convinced me it would be a good experience for all of us.”
“Where is your ranch?”
“The San Joaquin Valley on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a good three-day ride from here.”
“Is there a.….,” she patted her lips with a napkin, “Mrs. Lancer?”
“Not for some time.” Murdoch glanced at his sons, then redirected his gaze. “What about you? Is there a Mr. Collins waiting for you in….?”
“Reno. Our home is in Reno, and no, my dear Henry is no longer with us.” She dabbed the corner of her eyes. “But let’s not speak of such sad things.”
“I agree,” Murdoch nodded. “Ladies, have you taken the waters yet?”
“Oh, yes. Most relaxing. I take it you haven’t had the opportunity?”
“No, we have our first spa experience tomorrow morning.”
“Wonderful. I know you’ll enjoy it.”
The waiter approached the table to put their main courses in front of them. “Tonight, we have pheasant with mushrooms, pearl onions, and a wine sauce.”
“It looks delicious.” Estelle picked up her fork and took a healthy bite. “The food here has been exceptional. Chef Augusto Escoffier trained in France, you know.”
“That’s what we read.” Scott took a bite and nodded. “It’s delicious.”
Murdoch and Scott were smiling as they watched Johnny’s reaction to the meal. While everyone complimented the waiter on their dinner, Johnny looked at the plate in front of him and frowned. It was a quarter of what he would typically eat.
“Doesn’t it look wonderful, Johnny?” Amanda Jane enthusiastically. “I just love the food here.”
“Yeah, wonderful,” Johnny responded and started eating. He was finished in less time than it had taken the waiter to set the plates on the table.
Scott had taken another bite and saw Johnny eyeing his plate. He shifted his chair and pulled his plate as far from his brother as possible.
Murdoch waved the server back to the table and whispered something to him. A few minutes later, a second plate materialized in front of his youngest son. Johnny looked at Murdoch and mouthed the words ‘thank you.’
Murdoch gave the two younger women at the table an appraising look. Both were beautiful, blonde-haired, and pale-skinned. He couldn’t help noticing the attention they were paying his sons and how Scott and Johnny were eating it up.
“Ladies, I can’t believe you don’t have a young man waiting for you at home.”
Amanda Jane laid her fork down and sighed before responding. “Truthfully, Mr. Lancer, there is someone, but I’m not sure he’s serious.”
“Is this the same young man you mentioned earlier?” Scott asked.
Smiling, Amanda Jane nodded.
“Tell us about him. What’s his name?”
“Clayton.” Amanda Jane lowered her head and blushed. “His name is Clayton.”
“Clayton Forsyth,” Annabelle jumped in excitedly.
Amanda Jane gave her sister a disapproving look.
“Oh, he’s considered quite the catch in Denver, and he’s….,” Annabelle continued undeterred.
“Yes,” Amanda Jane interrupted, raising her voice and a hand to silence her sister. “Thank you, Annabelle, but I’m more than capable of describing Clayton.” She turned her attention back to the men at the table and smiled. “Where was I…oh, yes, Clayton is very tall and muscular, with blond hair and ever so handsome. His father sent him to school back east, so he’s educated and intelligent. I swear he knows everything.”
Johnny smiled at Amanda Jane’s description of Clayton Forsyth. No wonder she’d chosen him earlier. It was as if she was describing Scott.
“He sounds perfect,” Scott said, giving Johnny a sideways glance.
“I don’t know about perfect, but Clayton is considered the most eligible bachelor in Reno. Let’s see. What else? Oh, yes….,” she breathed, her eyes gleaming, “he has a green bean this long.” She held up her hands, indicating a distance of at least two feet. “I’m not an expert on such matters, but it’s the longest one I’ve ever seen.”
Murdoch had his fork almost in his mouth when Amanda Jane’s statement registered with him. He laid the fork down and looked at Scott, who was wide-eyed and covering his mouth with a napkin.
“It’s true,” Annabella added eagerly. “I’ve seen it too.”
Amanda Jane glared at her sister with a hint of jealousy. “When did Clayton let you see his green bean?”
Estelle raised both hands to quiet her daughters.
“Now, girls, let’s not fight. I’ve also seen Clayton’s green bean, but it can’t compare to his father’s zucchini. It’s just as long and considerably bigger,” Estelle announced. “I must say it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but…” she frowned, “for some reason, his tomatoes are extremely small.”
It was Johnny’s turn to react. He’d just taken a mouth full of white wine when the last comment caused him to strangle and cough, spewing liquid across the table.
“Johnny, are you alright?” Annabelle was out of her seat and pounding the choking man on the back.
“Fine,” he gasped. “I’m fine.”
She started beating his back again.
“That’s enough, Annabelle.” Johnny waved her away. “I just need to catch my breath.”
“Clayton appears to be ……an extraordinary a man,” Scott choked out.
“Yes,” Estelle enthusiastically responded. “The entire family is impressive, and they have the largest vegetable farms around Reno. If I’m not mistaken, they sell throughout several states.”
“Well,” Murdoch exhaled and took a healthy drink of his wine, “that explains a lot.”
Scott laughed, “Yes, it does.”
The waiter approached the table. “Would anyone care for more meat or vegetables? We have stewed tomatoes, sauteed green beans, and baked zucchini.”
The Lancers looked at each other and shook their heads.
“What a coincidence, we were just discussing green beans and zucchini.”
“And don’t forget the tomatoes,” Johnny piped up with a grin.
“Would you care for any, Ma’am?” the waiter asked.
“No, I don’t think so.” She looked at her daughters. “Girls?”
Annabelle and Amanda Jane shook their heads.
Another waiter approached the table carrying a tray laden with pies, cakes, and puddings.
Over coffee and dessert, the ladies prattled, and the men ate and smiled politely.
Once they’d finished eating, Murdoch pushed back from the table.
“Ladies, I believe we’re going to call it a night. We’ve had a long day and a longer one tomorrow.”
“Of course, Murdoch,” Estelle responded, hurriedly standing. “Perhaps, we’ll see you tomorrow after your spa.”
“I’m sure we will.” Murdoch glanced at Scott and Johnny. “Boys?”
Scott laid his napkin down and stood. “Good night, ladies.”
“Good night, Johnny.” Annabelle kissed the younger Lancer’s cheek.
“Night, Annabelle. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, you will. Perhaps, we can take that buggy ride.”
Johnny smiled as he followed Murdoch and Scott out of the room.
The Lancers walked back to their suite in silence, and it wasn’t until the door was closed behind them that they burst into laughter.
Johnny collapsed into a chair and looked at his Scott. “Well, brother, are you enjoying yourself?”
“Yes, I am, but I don’t think I’ll ever look at a green bean the same way ever again.”
“Or a zucchini,” Murdoch added with a laugh. Stretching, he yawned and added, “I’m going to bed. Goodnight, boys.”
“Night, old man. Night, Scott.”
“Good night, sir. Get a good night’s sleep, brother. We have a big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I can hardly wait,” Johnny yawned and closed his door.
It was almost 9:00 a.m. when Murdoch led the way from the hotel to the adjacent building with the sign ‘Long Valley Caldera Spa.’
They stepped inside and joined four ladies there for their day at the spa.
Johnny tipped his head and smiled. “Morning, ladies.”
The young women giggled and bunched together. One brave girl replied, “Good morning. I see you plan to enjoy the waters today.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Johnny flashed another smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“As am I,” Scott stepped around his brother and dipped his head. “Ladies.”
Again, the ladies giggled and started to move closer to Scott when an older gray-haired woman stepped into the room, fixed her eyes on Scott and Johnny, and raised her thin pointed nose in the air.
Under the older woman’s scrutinizing eyes, Scott stepped back on his brother’s feet.
“Damn it, Scott. Watch where you’re walking.”
“Language, young man,” the woman sputtered and placed herself between the girls and the Lancers.
Scott and Johnny half turned to see Murdoch giving them one of his ‘behave yourself’ looks.
Without another word, the older woman herded the girls to the other side of the room.
While waiting their turn, they took in the structure’s magnitude. The spa’s reception area was a large, long room with white walls and alternating black and white tiles on the floor. Across the front were tall windows allowing the warm morning sun to fill the space.
On one wall was a large sign:
Long Valley Caldera Spa
Our complete treatment includes:
Soothing Soaking bath – 20 minutes
Hot Towel Body Wrap – 15 minutes
Healing Sitz bath – 10 to 15 minutes
Steam Cabinet- 5 minutes
Refreshing Needle Shower- 2 minutes
Cooling Room – Relax for 10 minutes
And finally, a Swedish Massage – 20 minutes
“It’s like the one I went to in Arkansas,” Scott whispered after reading the sign.
Murdoch nodded and was about to respond when a man dressed in a white cotton shirt and pants near the desk raised his hand and asked for silence.
“Ladies, your attendants are waiting for you through the double doors to your right.”
A woman dressed in a white cotton dress opened the doors, and the five women hurried through, chatting excitedly.
Once the ladies cleared the room, the man turned back to the men. “Gentlemen, please follow the attendant through the doors on your left.”
The men walked through swinging doors into a spacious dressing room. Lining each side of the room were curtained cubicles, each with a chair and a locker.
“Hello,” a muscular man of medium height met them as they entered the room. He held a piece of paper in his hand and quickly read it. “I believe you are the …. Lancers?”
Murdoch nodded. “Yes, I’m Murdoch, and these are my sons, Scott and Johnny.”
“My name is Gregory, and, except for the massage, I will be with you throughout your spa experience. Now, if you will enter one of the changing rooms, take off your clothes, place them in the locker, and wrap the provided towel around your waist. I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready.”
Murdoch and Scott immediately stepped inside one of the changing closets and pulled the curtained door closed. Johnny hesitated and then did the same. Less than thirty seconds passed before he stepped out, boots in hand, and looked around.
“Mr. Lancer, is there a problem?”
“Yeah,” Johnny answered, “you want me to take everything off?”
“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”
“But….” Johnny started, but the sound of Murdoch’s voice cut him off.
“John, do as Gregory told you. It will be alright.”
Johnny stepped back inside and pulled the curtain. Frowning, he sat quickly and slipped out of his shirt, pants, and underwear. Standing, he picked up the toga-like towel, wrapped it around his waist, and threw one end over his shoulder. Looking down, sighing when he realized he still had his socks on. He sat down and pulled them off. Putting all his things in the locker provided, he turned and slowly pulled the curtain aside.
Johnny stuck his head out and looked around. Scott and Murdoch were waiting for him at the room’s far end.
“Are you ready, son?”
“I guess so. Just wasn’t expecting to do this.” He waved at the towel wrapped around his waist.
“You read the newspaper article. It said ‘au naturale’.”
Johnny’s head shot up. “That means being in my birthday suit?”
“I’m sure you don’t have anything Gregory hasn’t seen before.”
“Well, don’t mean I want him seeing what I’ve got.”
“Brother, try to relax. You’re going to enjoy this.”
Stepping out, Johnny got his first good look at his father. The large towel wrapped around Murdoch made him look like a picture of a Roman in one of Murdoch’s books.
Johnny’s eyes settled on the long hairy legs showing under the towel. He started to smile, but the expression on Murdoch’s face stopped him.
Gregory was smiling as he approached the towel-clad men. “Until you finish your spa treatment, I would like permission to use your first names. Do you have any objections? With three Mister Lancers, it will make it easier to address you.”
“That’s fine, Gregory,” Murdoch responded with a laugh. “We often have the same problem at home.”
“Gentlemen, this way.” Gregory opened a heavy wooden door, allowing the three men to walk ahead. “The first part of your treatment is the soaking tubs. We try to keep the water temperature at 102 degrees.”
Murdoch led the way while Scott ensured his hesitant brother was in front of him as they went through the door exiting the changing room.
The adjoining room was filled with steam and contained dozens of clawfoot cast iron bathtubs, each surrounded by white curtains.
Gregory took Murdoch to his soaking tub first and pulled the curtains closed. Within two minutes, he was back to escort Scott to his bath. Johnny looked around and seriously thought about backing out and forgetting the whole thing.
“This way, John.” Gregory directed Johnny to the tub between Murdoch and Scott.
Steam rose in a thin mist from a six-foot-long porcelain-lined tub. At one end was a water spout with two handles.
Seeing the confused look on Johnny’s face, Gregory explained, “The handle on the left is for hot water directly from the springs, and the one on the right is for colder water.”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
Gregory held a large towel up to provide Johnny with some privacy. “Take off your towel and step into the tub. Be careful as it is slippery.”
Johnny unwrapped the towel from his waist and laid it aside as he lifted a leg and climbed into the steaming water.
The moment he sat down, he slid along the smooth bottom, his head slipping under, and didn’t stop until he hit the tub’s end.
Sputtering, he came up, arms flailing, water splashing onto both sides of the small enclosure. “What the hell.”
“Are you alright?” The attendant reached into the water and pulled Johnny back to the top of the tub.
“Yeah,” cough…cough…. “I’m fine. Didn’t expect it to try and drown me.”
“It is slippery.”
“John, language,” Murdoch’s voice boomed from Johnny’s right.
“Johnny, try to relax,” Scott repeated his earlier statement.
“You keep saying that, but I can’t relax if I can’t breathe.”
Johnny looked up at Gregory, who handed him a folded towel.
“Put this under your neck, sir. It will be more comfortable than the tub’s edge.”
Taking the towel, Johnny laid it over his neck and leaned back. Relaxing, he closed his eyes.
“I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” Gregory announced as he closed the curtains on the small enclosure.
Slowly, Johnny felt himself start to slide again. When his chin dipped below the water, he grabbed the side of the tub and struggled back to the top. Every time he tried to relax and let go, he’d dip below the surface and come up sputtering.
A low rumbling sound filled the room, and the walls and floor shook briefly. Water in the tub splashed over the sides.
Alarmed, Johnny pulled himself back to the top of the tub. “What was that?”
Gregory’s calm voice could be heard outside the enclosure, “A minor earthquake. We have them all the time. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I read that there are several a day,” Scott replied from his tub.
“Yes, sir. We have them daily; some are stronger than others, some we barely feel.”
With the discussion of the earthquake over, the room was silent, and Johnny went back to figuring out how to keep from sliding in the tub. Frustrated, he looked around the enclosure. Beside the tub sat a small wooden footstool. Reaching down, he picked it up and tossed it to the foot of the tub. The stool clattered against the porcelain and tried to float.
Johnny took his feet, pushed the stool underwater, and braced against it.
“What was that noise?” Scott asked. “Johnny?”
“Nothing. It was nothing.”
“It didn’t sound like nothing,” Murdoch added.
“I’m just trying to relax like you keep telling me.”
Johnny leaned back and sighed. The water did feel good, and now that he wasn’t sliding, he could relax. The wooden stool kept trying to float, and Johnny kept pushing it down with his feet. Little by little, the stool hit the hot water handle, turning it on.
Johnny sighed, finally enjoying the soak when he felt the water getting hotter. Opening his eyes, he looked at the spout that was now adding more hot water. He sat up, and his feet came off the stool, which floated to the surface, hitting the cold-water handle. Soon the tub was filling to the point his body was floating. He struggled to reach the handles as the water began pouring over the sides and spreading in all directions.
“Murdoch, your twenty minutes is up,” Gregory announced, opening the curtain to help the eldest Lancer out of the soaking tub. Looking down, he found water pooling on the floor.
Murdoch stepped out and picked up his towel.
Gregory backed out and grabbed the curtain to Johnny’s enclosure, yanking it open. His eyes widened when he realized what was happening. The youngest Lancer tried reaching the water handles, only to slip back into the water.
Gregory reached the handles in three steps and turned off the water.
Johnny tried to stand and slipped, falling back. Finally, two pairs of hands reached down and grabbed him by his arms, pulling him up so he could step out of the knee-deep water.
“What happened?” Murdoch bellowed.
Johnny stood naked in front of his father, water dripping from his hair. He looked around the flooded floor and then at Murdoch.
“The water turned on, and I couldn’t get to it to turn it off. I…. I think it was the earthquake that did it.”
“How did the water……? Never mind, I don’t want to know.” Murdoch shook his head and sighed. “We told you to relax.”
Johnny raised his eyes and fixed them on Murdoch. “Hell, old man, I slipped on my ass so many times there was no way I could relax.”
Murdoch reached down, picked up a towel, and handed it to his son. Johnny wrapped it around his waist and stepped out to see Scott and Gregory waiting.
Scott eyed the ever-expanding body of water.
“Scott,” Murdoch put a hand on his oldest son’s arm and shook his head, “it’s best you don’t ask.”
Scott looked at Johnny. “Well?”
Pushing the wet hair from his eyes, Johnny shrugged, then replied innocently, “Earthquake.”
Scott cocked his head and looked at Murdoch. “Earthquake?”
“I told you not to ask.”
“Are you ready for the next treatment?” Gregory interrupted, trying to hide the smile.
“There’s more?” Johnny looked longingly towards the door to the changing room.
“Of course, there’s more. Now come on.” Murdoch turned and followed Gregory to a line of wooden tables lining the wall. Looking back at his youngest son, he added, “And don’t pout.”
“I ain’t pouting,” Johnny muttered.
Johnny watched his father and brother stretch out on the tables. Gregory put hot towels over their entire bodies, wrapping them around their feet and tucking them in on the sides. Gregory placed a cool towel on their foreheads as the only relief from the heat.
“John?” Gregory pointed to a table.
Johnny sat on the edge of the table and swung his legs around. Within minutes he was also enveloped in hot towels.
“So, how long do we have to stay like this?” Johnny asked, starting to feel the heat rising in his body.
“Only fifteen minutes.”
Johnny closed his eyes and wondered what he could do to get out of the rest of the spa treatment.
“Relaxing, isn’t it, brother,” Scott sighed.
“Yeah, real relaxing. I feel like one of them lobsters you got me to eat the last time we were in San Francisco.”
“It helps to open the pores and let your skin breathe.”
“My skin might be breathing, but I’m having a hell of a time……”
“Johnny, stop complaining and try to relax.”
“You two keep telling me that, but …….”
“Shhh,” both older men said at the same time.
True to his word, fifteen minutes later, Gregory was back, unwrapping them and moving them along to the next stage.
“Next is the sitz bath.”
Johnny stopped and cocked his head. “What’s a sitz bath?”
“It’s a soothing water bath you sit in that relieves pain in your bottom and private parts.”
“What if I don’t have no pain in my bottom or private parts?”
“Many who spend extended time in a saddle have found it beneficial.”
“All right, Scott. I’ll go along with it.”
“Yeah, I know. Try to relax.”
Gregory led the way to the next room, where they found several men covering themselves with towels, squatting in small porcelain sinks.
“No way,” Johnny started backing away.
Scott stepped up next to his brother and whispered, “Johnny, give it a try. You might like it.”
Murdoch and Scott took their places, and Gregory covered them with an extra towel. Johnny squatted and then plopped down. The porcelain felt cool until warm water started spilling into the basin and flowing around his bottom.
Scott looked at his brother. “What do you think?”
“I think I’d rather be sitting in a creek back home. Tell me again what this is supposed to do?”
“Wait for the water to get warmer. It helps ….”
“Whoa,” Johnny yelped as hot water began to flow. He looked at his father and brother. “You two really like having your balls scalded?”
“They are not being scalded,” Scott replied with a shake of his head.
“Yeah, I know…. relax.”
“And quietly,” Murdoch added.
“We keep this up, and Clayton Forsyth’s tomatoes won’t be the only thing small,” Johnny mumbled.
“Did you say something, John?”
“No, I didn’t say a word. I’m just sittin’ here relaxing.”
Fifteen minutes later, Gregory was back ushering them into steam cabinets lining the other side of the wall.
Scott gave Johnny a quick look and decided not to ask.
Gregory wrapped towels around all their necks and, one by one, helped them to step into the steam boxes.
Gregory took extra care getting Johnny situated. He closed the doors on the metal boxes, and soon, only the three men’s heads were visible.
Before Johnny could ask, Gregory raised a hand and spread his fingers, “Only five minutes.”
Sweat was beading on Johnny’s forehead, his hair hanging over his eyes, and his face beet red by the time Gregory opened the door and freed him.
“Please tell me it’s over.” Johnny tried to get his breath. “Can we go back to the hotel now?”
“Only one or two more treatments, and then we can go back. I believe I’m looking forward to a nap.” Murdoch pulled his towel around him and followed the attendant.
It was called a needle shower but didn’t feel like needles as several thin streams of cool water sprayed out, washing the sweat from their bodies.
“You’ll have ten minutes to cool off before your massage.” Gregory handed out fresh towels to everyone. “I’ll be back for you once your rooms are ready.”
As they sat cooling off and waiting, Johnny couldn’t help himself.
“Murdoch, this massage….?”
“I had one down in El Paso once. There was this pretty senorita at the cantina, and she gave a real good massage.”
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Well, this isn’t that kind.”
“Oh.” Johnny sighed. “So what kind is it?”
Murdoch ignored the question as a pretty blond wearing a white smock called out, “Murdoch Lancer?”
Standing, Murdoch followed the girl.
A few minutes later, another dark-headed woman appeared and called Scott’s name. Johnny started smiling, thinking things were absolutely looking up.
Murdoch and Scott were waiting for Johnny when he walked out of the dressing room and into the reception area.
One look at the expression on the boy’s face told them all they thought they needed to know. They’d seen the dark look many times but never directed at them.
As they turned to go, Murdoch’s blond called out, “Mr. Lancer…. Murdoch, it was very nice meeting you. I hope you enjoyed your day at the spa.”
Murdoch raised a hand and waved. “Yes, very much, Alice. Thank you.”
Scott’s masseuse, a little older than Alice, stepped out of a room and stood beside her. “Scott, it was nice meeting you also.”
“Beverly, thank you. I feel wonderful.”
Another door opened, and a tall, sandy-haired man with a muscular body sashayed across the room to stand next to the two women.
He looked their way, smiled, and then waved. “Bye, Johnny.”
Johnny dipped his head, but a blush started creeping up his neck and onto his face. “Yeah, thanks, Guy.”
Murdoch and Scott stared at Johnny, who turned without a word and headed for the door.
Johnny stomped off, muttering, “Not one word. Not one word from either of you.”
They were almost back to the hotel when Scott dared to ask, “Johnny, was that……?”
“Yeah, that was Guy. While you two had the pretty girls, I got him.”
“He looked… very capable,” Murdoch said, trying to control the smile on his face.
“Yes, skillful,” Scott choked back a laugh.
“Yeah, Guy knew what he was doing, alright. He worked on muscles I didn’t know I had.”
Murdoch and Scott dropped back and let Johnny go ahead of them. Both men were trying to stifle their laughter.
After a few steps, Scott stopped and grabbed Murdoch’s arm.
“Do you think we should talk about getting Johnny something to wear while bathing outside?”
Murdoch’s eyes widened. “Lord, no! At this point, I think he’d shoot both of us if we tried to get him into one of those.”
Scott laughed. “I’m afraid you’re right.”
Murdoch laughed. “I would imagine he’d want to wear his gun.”
“Can you see Johnny Madrid wearing a two-piece striped bathing costume and a Colt on his hip? The Long Valley Caldera Resort and Spa would never be the same again.”
“No, but I’d give anything to see him in the bathing costume. I wonder……”
Scott hurried ahead and threw an arm around his brother’s shoulder. “Admit it, brother. You enjoyed the spa, didn’t you?”
“Now that it’s over,” Johnny replied with a reluctant smile. “Yeah, I did.”
“Wonderful. Then the next time, you’ll know what to expect.”
Johnny stopped and pulled back. “Ain’t gonna be no next time, Boston.”
“Oh. I thought you enjoyed it.”
“Not that much.”
“All right. You won’t have to go with us later in the week,” Scott grinned. “I have a suggestion then.”
Johnny gave him a suspicious look. “What?”
“How about you and I go for a swim in one of the outdoor pools?”
Johnny grinned. “That, I’d like.”
“There’s just one thing. We need to get you a bathing costume.”
Johnny stopped short and pulled away. “What do you mean…. costume? Not like those women were wearing yesterday?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that.” Scott tightened his hold on his brother’s shoulder. “Men have totally different attire. There are suits for men to swim in. I already have mine with me in the room.”
“I have my cut-offs….”
“No, brother, those won’t work, not for here.”
“So, where do I get one of these outfits?”
“They have a shop at the hotel where you can buy the appropriate attire.”
“Yeah, well…. what does the ‘appropriate attire’ look like?”
Scott smiled. He knew he had the boy hooked.
Johnny sat in one of the rocking chairs on the hotel’s front porch and watched Scott, his head down, walking across the lawn.
“Where you been, Boston?”
Scott looked up and smiled. He stepped onto the porch, sat in the rocker next to his brother, stretched his leg, and crossed them at the ankle.
“I just took a walk.”
“You missing Amanda Jane?”
Scott smiled and shook his head. “No, actually, I was enjoying the peace and quiet.”
“She was something, wasn’t she? Didn’t you get tired of her talking about Clayton Forsythe?”
“The lady was smitten. I’m positive Clayton is in for a surprise when Amanda Jane gets home.”
“You mean they’re gonna get hitched?”
“If Amanda Jane and her mother have anything to say about it.” Scott shifted in the chair and sighed. “So, are you missing Annabelle?”
“Not really. Kinda glad it’s just us again. Didn’t get to spend much time alone with you and the old man with them around.”
“Speaking of which, where is our father?”
“Not sure. I haven’t seen him since Mrs. Collins and the girls left for home this morning.”
“Do you think we should go looking for him?”
“No need,” Murdoch was walking towards them. “I’m right here.” Murdoch eased himself into the rocker on the other side of Johnny.
“What have you been up to, sir,” Scott asked.
“I decided I needed some alone time, so I went back to the spa this afternoon alone. Then took a long nap.”
“Feeling better,” Scott asked.
“I wasn’t feeling bad, just……” Murdoch frowned, searching for the right words.
“Boxed in?” Johnny pipped up.
“Yes, exactly. It was nice meeting Mrs. Collins and spending time with her, but she could sometimes be a bit much.”
Scott laughed. “We know what you mean. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to Amanda Jane. She could come up with some of the strangest things to say out of nowhere.”
“Ain’t it the truth? Scott, remember when we were down at the pool yesterday, and she asked you if that bathing costume you had on was too tight?”
Scott chuckled and blushed. “Yes, thank you for reminding me.”
“What did she say?” Murdoch asked, his curiosity peaked.
“Nothing worth repeating,” Scott responded and sat up straighter.
Murdoch turned and looked at Johnny. “Will you tell me?”
“All right, I won’t tell him the exact words, but …. Well, you remember how Gregory explained that sitz bath to us?”
Johnny laughed. “Amanda Jane wanted to know if Scott’s private parts….”
“Johnny,” Scott blushed and pleaded.
“I get the idea,” Murdoch laughed.
A peaceful silence fell over the front porch as the shadows from the Mammoth Mountains began inching towards the hotel.
Murdoch looked first at Scott and then Johnny. Their downturned heads made him wonder if they weren’t missing Amanda Jane and Annabelle; however, neither seemed upset when the girls left.
“Johnny, is something wrong?”
Johnny raised his head. “No…. well…., he hesitated, sighed, and looked away.
Scott spoke up, “What Johnny’s trying to say is this isn’t the vacation he…. we expected.”
Murdoch frowned and cocked his head. “How so?”
“We expected to spend more time together, just the three of us. More time with…. you.”
“I feel the same way. It was nice spending time with Estelle and talking to her, but all I could think about was what you were doing. I wanted to be with…. my boys.”
Johnny smiled. “Yeah, we missed you too, old man.”
“John, will you ever stop calling…. Never mind, I’m getting used to being called an old man.”
Johnny laughed. “Well, you wouldn’t know it was me talkin’ if I called you anything else.”
Scott laughed. “Murdoch, you know it’s true.”
Murdoch smiled. It was good to hear his sons laughing.
“We still have a few days before we head home. What do you say to the three of us going for a ride tomorrow?” Murdoch suggested. “We can explore the caldera. I understand there are several small hot springs further south.”
“You mean someplace I can wear my cut off’s instead of that red zebra suit Scott bought me?”
“John, I think you looked very handsome in your swimming costume.”
“I agree, little brother. You were very handsome.”
Johnny huffed. “Didn’t like the way it felt, especially around my….” he grinned and looked at Scott, “private parts.”
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
Murdoch settled back and relaxed. The banter between his sons was music to his ears. He’d waited a lifetime to have them with him and treasured each day they were with him now.
The sound of the front door slamming shut reverberated through the hacienda, rattling windows and jarring pictures on the walls.
Teresa and Maria hurried out of the kitchen in time to see the youngest Lancer storming up the front stair, a stream of Spanish curse words left in his wake.
The front door opened again, and this time, Murdoch and Scott stepped into the room, both men smiling, looking healthy and happy.
“Murdoch. You’re home.” Teresa ran across the room and threw her arms around her guardian.
“It’s good to be home.” Murdoch returned her hug.
Seeing Scott, she let go of Murdoch and hugged him.
“I want to hear all about the trip and everything you did.”
“And we’ll tell you the entire story right after we’ve had a chance to clean up and have dinner. Right now, I want to sit down and relax.”
Teresa looked towards the stairs. “What’s wrong with Johnny? Didn’t he enjoy your vacation?”
“But…. what happened? He was looking forward to the trip. Wasn’t the spa as nice as the newspaper said it was?”
“Oh, the spa was all as advertised,” Scott joined in. “The rooms were spacious and the food the best I’ve had since ……” He looked around to see Maria, fists on her hips and eyes narrowed. “Well, of course, it didn’t compare to Maria’s cooking, but we made do.”
Maria smiled but then looked towards the stairs. “Then what is wrong with Juanito?”
“We stopped off in Green River on the way home.”
“So?” Teresa cocked her head, confused.
Murdoch pulled out a folder and handed it to her.
“A memento of our trip. Scott made the mistake of showing these to Val. I doubt the man will ever let the boy live it down.”
Teresa opened the envelope and pulled out a photograph.
Her eyes widened. “It’s……”
“Yes, it’s Johnny, and we’re lucky to have gotten it. Getting him to stand still long enough for the photograph was one thing. The hard part was getting him into the bathing costume.”
“He’s so …. cute. How in the world did you get Johnny to pose for it?”
“Oh, it wasn’t us. It was Annabelle,” Scott said.
“Yes, Johnny couldn’t resist her winning charms,” Murdoch chuckled.
“Who’s Annabelle?” She raised a hand. “I know, and it’s part of the story.” She turned to Scott. “What about you? Did you ….?”
Murdoch laughed. “Yes, he did.”
Murdoch pulled out another photograph.
“Oh, Scott, I love it.” She turned to look at Murdoch. “But, Murdoch, where are the pictures of you?”
Murdoch chuckled. “There was no way I was going to get into one of those outfits or have it immortalized in a picture. No, sweetheart, I did not go swimming or have my picture taken.”
Putting an arm around each of the men’s waists, Teresa guided them towards the stairs. “So, tell me. Really, how was the vacation?”
Scott grinned. “Teresa, it was the best we’ve ever had.”
Yes, I know color photography wasn’t perfected until 1906; however, the first color photograph was taken in 1861 by Thomas Sutton. I couldn’t resist presenting our boys to you in color versus black and white.
Long Valley Caldera
Second only to Yellowstone in North America is the Long Valley caldera in east-central California. The 200-square-mile caldera is south of Mono Lake, near the Nevada state line. The biggest eruption from Long Valley was 760,000 years ago, which unleashed 2,000 to 3,000 times as much lava and ash as Mount St. Helens, after which the caldera floor dropped about a Mile, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Some of the ash reached as far east as Nebraska.
The largest tourist attraction in the caldera is the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area: the area offers skiing and snowboarding in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. The Hot Creek tourist attraction was closed to swimming in 2006 due to increased geothermal activity.
What worries geologists today was a swarm of strong earthquakes in 1980 and the 10-inch rise of about 100 square miles of the caldera floor. Then, in the early 1990s, large amounts of carbon dioxide gas from magma below began seeping up through the ground and killing trees in the Mammoth Mountain part of the caldera. When these sorts of signs are present, it could mean trouble is centuries, decades, or even YEARS away, say volcanologists.
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17 thoughts on “Caldera Getaway by SandySha”
This was a fun story. I’m still laughing!!!
Thank, you, Belinda. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Oh this had me chuckling, and then I saw the photos of Johnny and Scott! 🤣 Great story and thank you for the beautiful photos and information about the area too. It’s stunning.
Tina, Thank you for the comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.
Wonderful story! I said no to the sitz bath the first time I saw it. I’m with Johnny. LOL
I said no to the sitz bath also.
Wow that was such a fun, feel good story….Thankyou so much. I can just imagine Johnny in that spa session….he is so innocent in so many ways and you have picked up on them perfectly. I loved the way you also included some phrases from the actual episodes. So well done…..and those great photos at the end 😊😊…. I have such a wide grin on my face….lots of fun…Thankyou again. 🤗🤗
So glad you enjoyed it.
This was such a cute story. It was funny and witty, yet still in character.
This is a wonderful story-what an episode of Lancer it would have made! Can’t you just picture JS and WM in those striped suits?
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Great story, no one is hurt, nothing from the past nudging, an enjoyable read
Loved this story. I laughed out loud several times. You should have included a photo of Scott in his “too tight” swim suit. Thanks for a fun story.
Thank you for your comments and for reading it.
This was so much fun! A lot of interesting and entertaining little tidbits of information, too. But I just can’t imagine how you got Johnny and Scott to pose for this pictures!
Love this, l bet Val was howling and rolling til his sides ached. Lol. Thanks for sharing and keeping Lancer land alive. JML always ♥️