Sadly, Southernfrau is no longer with us. Her stories are archived here for her friends to remember her by. Enjoy her legacy to Lancer.
Word Count 1,935
The Lancer surrey sped along at a fairly fast pace. With Ha in the buggy to hold onto Johnny, Murdoch could concentrate on the road and driving. The air still held a biting chill, especially now that evening was upon them and the bright warming rays of sunlight were slowly slipping behind the mountains. The winter sun combined with the wind had done an admirable job of beginning to draw some of the excessive moisture from the ground and the road was not quite as muddy as it had been that morning. Murdoch inhaled a satiated sigh of affection as his eyes studied his little family.
Scott sat sandwiched in between his father and grandfather. The normally fastidious child was sporting a black eye and his clothes were torn and dirty. He was a content little boy. His world had been in an uproar earlier, but the return of Ha and the revelation and solution of the cause of Johnny’s hysterical fit, had enabled him to relax back to child from worrywart. His blond head bobbed as he fought the call of sleep that a full belly and the soothing motion of the surrey induced. Finally he slumped sideways against his Papa, who gently pulled him further down until his head rested on his thigh.
Johnny lay sprawled across Ha’s lap, even in sleep his little limbs twitched with restless energy. He was completely worn out from his day of adventure. It was truly amazing that such a small child, only 31 inches in height, could make such a giant impact and impression on those around him. What was even more astounding was the nimble quickness of his mind. The intelligent little guy could find his way around, over or under any situation, and when need be, he turned hard down stubborn and defiant and went through the obstacle.
Harlan Garrett felt warmth, not the physical temperature type of the child nestled against his side, or even the shared body heat of the one stretched limply and trustingly across his lap, but the warmth of love and acceptance. Feeling as though he were being watched, Harlan shifted his gaze to his son-in law and acknowledged his knowing look. The two men smiled at each in compatible complicity. There was no need for words, both accepted and were quite aware these two boys were their life.
A strong relationship had formed between the two in their endeavors to provide a loving and stable environment for the children. Harlan had at one time despised Murdoch Lancer, a man he now loved like a son. He felt Murdoch had stolen his world when he took Catherine so far from her Boston home. Now he felt as though there was nothing he wouldn’t do for this man and he knew the feeling was reciprocated.
Two little boys had helped the men to see pass their differences and enabled them to truly get to know the character and heart of each other. And now they were family, not all by bonds of blood but bonds of love.
Johnny jerked and mumbled in his sleep; Ha fondly rubbed his back and cooed soothingly to him, until he settled once more. As he comforted the child his mind turned back to lunch. After all the drama at the doctor’s office, the family had departed for the hotel restaurant to fill little growling tummies. Lunch had been quite an affair with Johnny’s exuberant personality and propensity for literal interpretations garnering the amused attention of the other patrons of the eating establishment.
Alternating between rubbing and patting Johnny’s back, Ha was once again consumed by a snickering attack. Murdoch was beginning to think the abrupt meeting of the floor and Ha’s head in the doctor’s office had brain damaged the older man as he fought to contain his mirth.
“Harlan, dare I asked what has you so tickled?”
“D…d….ducks!” He finally managed to stutter out between rumbling chuckles.
At the mention of ducks, Murdoch fought the urge to throw his head back and roar with laughter. However he had to restrain himself or chance waking the boys. In the fading light of day both men could see the twinkle of fond remembrance in each other’s eyes as their minds recalled the events of lunch.
Murdoch, Ha and the boys were seated and waiting for their food to arrive. Johnny was sitting in Ha’s lap chewing on a breadstick to tide him over, the snack Maria had packed having been forgotten during the afternoon trauma. Feeling a little jealous that Johnny had Grandfather’s attention Scott struck up a conversation about the business trip.
“Ha, do you go out to eat when you have to stay in San Francisco or do you have a cook?”
“I stay in a suite of rooms at the Courtyard at Knob Hill. I either eat in their dining room or go out to some other restaurant.”
“Do they have Mexican cantinas,” asked Scott thinking about Maria’s cooking that he was accustomed too.”
“I’m not sure, Scotty. I’ve never been to one there. I usually try places with cuisine that’s not available at home. It can be a pleasant experience, expanding one’s taste palate.”
“Cuisine? It means foods native to other countries.”
“Did you try a new one this time?”
“Yes, I did. I found a new Chinese place with the most wonderful Peking duck.”
The mention of duck got Johnny’s attention, as he loved all manner of animals. He pulled the soggy end of his breadstick from his mouth, dripping saliva and dropping pasty clumps of sodden bread on Ha’s suit sleeve.
“What did he see, Ha?”
“What did who see, Johnny?”
“The duck that was peeking!”
The two adults at the table went into gales of laughter. Scott joined in though he wasn’t sure what was so funny and he would kind of like to know what the duck was peeking at too.
“Oh my, Johnny. It’s called Peking duck after a city in the country of China. It wasn’t a live duck. It’s a special way to cook the duck.”
“Okay,” Johnny mumbled no longer interested if it wasn’t a duck that did tricks like the animals at the circus Ha took them to see. The entrance bell jingling as the door opened to admit more customers got Johnny’s attention.
A man and woman entered the establishment. The man was exceptionally lean, almost on the emaciated side and his frail look was emphasized by the extreme largeness of the woman with him. She swayed to the side as she walked, which accentuated the swish of the volumes of cloth her skirt was composed of. As she lumbered with breath panting effort by their table, Johnny pointed with his chewed and mangled breadstick.
“Look, Squat. Does that fat lady eat bunches of peanuts?”
Scott’s face reddened to a deep crimson, he slid down in his chair until just his eyes and the top of his blond head were visible. Sometimes having a baby brother was too embarrassing for words, especially when some of the older boys at school teased him. Johnny was always drawing attention to himself.
“Johnnnnnnnnnnny!” hissed Scott. “Would you be quite? That lady can hear you saying that.”
“So . . . Squat, is she fat like an elephant cause she eats bunches of peanuts like the elephants at the circus?”
Murdoch decided he needed to intervene, he leaned forward and whispered, “Johnny, we don’t speak out loud about how people look, they may hear us.”
“Oh, don’t she know she’s fat?”
Scott groaned and tucked his head under the table. Sometimes he wished Johnny couldn’t talk yet because he always seemed to be saying the wrong thing. Baby brothers were a lot less trouble when all they did was eat and sleep.
The opportunistic arrival of their food ended the inappropriate discussion. Johnny became pre-occupied with his fried chicken and didn’t even notice when the odd couple left as he ate.
The silent reminiscing was broken as Harlan spoke out softly.
“I still can’t fathom Johnny robbing the bank. The child takes everything so literally. It seems like it was so long ago that Scott was that age, but I don’t remember him being quite so…” Ha trailed off at a loss for words.
“Go ahead and say it Harlan, Johnny is a terror. You know it and I know it, and as long as people laugh at his antics it will get no better.”
“Oh no no no…I really don’t appreciate you calling my grandson a terror.”
Murdoch snorted, and turned to look at his father-in law with a bemused expression of resigned acceptance. “And just how would you describe him, Harlan?”
Harlan Garrett was an extraordinary businessman, he could be as diplomatic as the next person when it suited his purpose and achieved his goal. “I would say Johnny is forth-right individual who doesn’t give up easily and views the world from his own unique angle.”
“Spoken like a true grandfather, who refuses to see any of his grandchildren’s negative attributes. But then again I shouldn’t be surprised, after all Johnny was robbing the bank for you!”
“True . . . and you might want to consider finding a new bank.”
“Why, I felt like they were very understanding, you know they could have accused me of putting him up to it!”
“That’s true also, but regardless, the fact remains you trust a bank that a three year old almost got away with robbing. Of course he is an extremely intelligent child, but a child none the less…just how easy would an adult find it?”
Murdoch turned stunned and dazed features on Harlan. “Good grief, I hadn’t even thought about that.”
Ha smirked as he calculatingly replied, “So now you know why they were so understanding.”
Scott shifted in his sleep and accidentally slung his arm onto Johnny’s backside, the little boy whimpered in pain at the unintentional hit.
Murdoch grabbed Scott’s arm and nestled it front of the child, against his chest. Ha pacified Johnny with gentle pats to the small back.
“This little man is going to have a sore behind for quite a while from that big splinter.” Sympathized Ha.
“Well maybe some good will come from this painful experience, perhaps the hurt will remind him he has been told repeatedly not to slide down banisters.”
“It could have been worse, he could have tumbled down the stairs and broken a bone.”
“Now that I think about it, he was lucky. That was an outside staircase . . .” Murdoch’s voice went weak and the color drained from his face as the cold reality washed over him. “Oh dear God, that was a free standing railing, he could have dropped over the side at the top and fallen twenty feet!”
The two men snapped their heads around and stared at each other in mute horror over what might have been. The actuality of the danger from the situation made both adults fight the rise of bile in their throats.
After the shocking revelation loosened it’s grip on their hearts, minds and stomach, they solemnly promised each other that Johnny would never be out of their sight in town again.
The surrey rolled steadily home, amidst the quite soberness of Murdoch and Harlan.
Reaching the rise of the south mesa overlooking the large white hacienda, the buggy stopped and the two men sighed and announced softly so closely together it seemed like a whispered echo….Home again…Home again.
The Brat Pack Series AU
Author’s note on the Brat Pack here
My Brother, The Brat
Another Day in the Life
Breakfast: A Proper Way to Start the Day
Taking the Town by Storm
Home Again Home Again
Itching to Break Out
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
Gifts of Love
The Easter Bunny Cometh
Just a Victim of Circus’Stance!
Ask and You Shall Receive
The Gospel According to Johnny
Serving Up Trouble
No More Monsters Under the Bed
Wrinkled Potatoes and Old Tomatoes
O Come Let Us Adore Him
Carving Out Fun
Look Before You Eat
Cover Up (written with Kit)