Clouded Memories by Desert Sun

Word Count 2,503

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Note:  This story was originally written for the February 2013 Story Challenge at the Lancer_Writers group on Yahoo.  Memory was the theme of this challenge.  Although this is probably not quite what Anna, the author of the challenge, had in mind, I did do as she instructed.  I gave my “imagination free rein.”  I made a few revisions here and there in February 2015 prior to archiving at the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook, but the basic story is unchanged.

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 It’s funny how a man’s memory can play tricks on him.  He can be so sure that something happened a certain way, when in truth that may not be the case, at all.  The pictures in his mind may have gotten distorted or scrambled together over the years without him realizing it.  Such was the case for Murdoch Lancer somewhere in his late eighties.

A small girl with black hair that hung in long curls around her shoulders gazed up at Murdoch–her eyes pleading.  “Grey Grampa, will ya tell us a story.”

Murdoch grunted.  What did she mean by grey?

Another pair of eyes searched Murdoch’s face.  These belonged to a tawny-haired boy.  “Please, Great-Grandfather.  We love your stories.”

Several children sat in a half-circle on the floor in front of Murdoch.  All had their eyes fixed on him.

Murdoch pulled his lap-rug up a little snugger against his chin.  Whose children were these?  He didn’t even remember having grandchildren.  How could he be a great-grandfather?  He let out a sigh.  Oh, well, it didn’t matter.  He supposed he could find some story that would entertain them until they went home . . . wherever that was.

“Any particular story you want to hear?” Murdoch asked in a raspy voice.

The small girl, who had just spoken, waved both hands in the air.  ““I wanna hear ’bout A’blene.”

“That’s my favorite story, too.  Will you tell it to us, please?” the tallest child said.  His somber eyes brought a vague memory of another boy to Murdoch’s mind.

“All right, but you have to be very quiet.”  Murdoch looked sternly into each face.  He hated being interrupted.  His sons were always cutting in when he was trying to tell them something.

A dark-haired boy, who was sitting beside the curly-haired girl, gave her a poke with his elbow.  “Maria, that means don’t go buttin’ in where ya ain’t s’posed to.”

Maria smacked the boy’s arm with the back of her hand.  “I won’t, ‘less Grey Grampa needs minded.”

Anticipation glowed on the face of each child.  Murdoch rested his head against the pillow on the back of his padded chair that was near the end of the dark-green sofa.  He didn’t know where the flowered one had gone.  Too late to fuss about it now.  It’d have to wait until his sons came home.  Maybe they could tell him.  Right now, he had a story to tell before he had a range war on his hands.

Murdoch shifted his legs into a more comfortable position on the ottoman in front of him.  He cleared his throat and let his mind take him down memory lane to a place called Abilene.

 “Let’s see.  It was the year of . . . well, several years ago, anyway.  I don’t recall the exact one.  Scott was in Boston sorting out his grandfather’s Legacy, and Johnny was helping his cousin Chad escape out of Mexico.  I had taken several carloads of beef to the Bowie stockyards in Abilene.

Back then Abilene was a wild and wide-open town.  There wasn’t a lawman within a hundred miles, and high riders–some would call them Buscaderos–were threatening to take over the whole country.   Pardee, the leader, must have had a hundred and fifty men.   A few were fast with a gun, too.  The rest were just plain mean and ornery.

After the stock was penned up, I waited at the hotel for the buyer to show up.  That’s when some of Pardee’s men decided to cut the wolf loose and raid the town.  Bullets were flying everywhere, splintering wood and shattering windows.  This was no bluff.  These men were on a vendetta that could turn half the town into death bait if not stopped.

 I ducked below the windowsill in my room and peeked out during a lull in the shooting.  Two men were dragging Angel Day and her sunshine girl, Glory, down the street.  Another caught up to one of Jelly’s boys and pushed the kid into an alley.  It sure looked like there’d be no more blue skies for Willie Sharp.  Pardee’s devils thought they had the blessing and could do whatever they wanted.

Well, I showed them I was no blind man.  I knocked out a corner of the window and went to work with my rifle.  Before they knew where the bullets were coming from, I nailed a dozen or more.  My men joined in and we really put the fear of God into them.  They high-tailed it toward the Sierras.”

“An’ you got made the sher’f, huh?”  Maria grinned up a Murdoch.

The dark-haired boy elbows her.  “Shush.  Ya was told not to talk.”

Maria stuck her tongue out at the boy and then looked at Murdoch.   “But ya did.  Didn’t ya, Grey Grampa?”

Murdoch nodded.  “Yes, I did.  I surely did.”  He scowled.  Where was he?  Oh, yes, talking about cleaning up Abilene.

The tawny-haired boy leaned closer.  “What happened next, Great-Grandfather?”

Murdoch rubbed his chin.  “Well . . . when the people realized I was their lifeline, they insisted on making me the sheriff.  I asked how many men I could count on to help out.  They had a splinter group of five or six.  One man without a gun claimed he had a wedding to go to, but that turned out to be humbug.  Hackett was nothing but a scared crow.

I did have a few good men of my own that had proven their measure.  My deputy Joe Barker and my handful of vaqueros were sure to give this new experiment their best shot.  However, since most of the ranchers around there were tied in a knot over losing their American dream, I wired my sons.  I wanted to be sure I had a Warburton’s edge over Pardee.”

Maria hugged herself with her arms and wiggled.  “Tha’s when Grampa Johnny an’ Unca Scott gots there at the same times, huh?”  She got another poke in the ribs from the elbow of the boy at her side, and she kicked him in the ankle.

The boy let out a howl.

Murdoch rolled his eyes.  “Here . . . that’s enough. Now where was I?  Oh, yes. Maria’s right.  That’s exactly what happened.  Johnny took the wrong stage and ended up farther east.  He got as far as Charlie Poe’s and hopped the last train of the day headed west.  The conductor would have tossed him off, but Scott stepped in and paid his fare.  I was in the Blood Rock saloon when they came in.  We had a drink and talked about old times.  I offered them each a third of this ranch if they would help turn that Abilene lion into a lamb.  Of course, they had to agree that I called the tune.”

“What tune did ya call?” Maria’s eyes looked like big marbles.

The dark-haired boy rolled his eyes and looked at the girl.  “It weren’t no song kind of tune. It means he got to boss ’em around an’ tell ’em what ta do.”  He turned back toward Murdoch.  “Ain’t that so, Great Gramps?”

Murdoch nodded.  He should reprimand the boy for butting in, but those blue eyes reminded him too much of another child.  “Yes.  That’s right.  Now where was I?  Oh, they agreed to my terms and we all got settled in over at the hotel.  After a night full of dreams about falcons, Johnny gave chase to a wild horse to give to Pony Alice, and Scott bought gifts for his little darling, Julie.”

Maria framed her face with her hands.  “Is that when the bad mens set the fire?”

Murdoch ignored the interruption.  O’Brien’s daughter, what was her name?  Teresa?  She was always coming up with questions, too.  Where was she?  Her mamma hadn’t come and taken her, had she?

“Did ya hear me, Gray Grampa . . . about the mens settin’ the fire?”

“Yes.  Yes, of course.”  Murdoch nodded at her.  “It burned Juniper’s camp to the ground.  Even the best fix-it-man couldn’t turn that rock heap into sunlight again.  Scott wanted to grab a lamp and head right out into the wilderness after them.  Johnny had a different plan.  Not wanting to side with either of the rivals, I stayed in town and hung out at the Lorelei cafe in case my boys happened to smoke those black McGloins into the open.

I kept Foley and a couple good men with me.  Joe knew the area, so I sent him with Scott.  Johnny went looking for a person unknown who could help him find Pardee.  You see Pardee didn’t know he was a Lancer.  Johnny told him he was a gunfighter named Madrid.”

Maria shivered.  “Grampa Johnny’s weely fast, huh?”  She got another poke from the boy beside her.

“Yes, he is.” Murdoch looked around at the other children who had been listening in rapt silence.  He frowned and ran his thumb down one side of his nose.  Where was he?

Murdoch drew in a breath.  Oh, yes.  “So . . . at daylight, Scott came back and said Pardee took the bait and thought all the men were out of town.  I got everyone scattered out on the roofs and ready to give Pardee a welcome to Genesis once Johnny turned prodigal and lead him and his men into my trap.

It was high noon when Johnny showed up.  He rode right down the middle of the street.  I had told my men to hold their fire until I gave the signal.  When Johnny jumped his golden horse into Zee’s corral, we started shooting.  Pardee’s men scattered in every direction.  Most acted like they’d seen a black angel and decided to look for business elsewhere.  That left Pardee with less than twenty-five men.”

“Then they shooted Grampa Johnny an’ he falled off his horse!”  Maria grinned triumphantly up at Murdoch.

Murdoch tried to scowl at the girl, but the corners of his mouth insisted on twitching upward instead.  “Yes.  That’s when Johnny got shot.  He fell on the ground and acted like he was the shadow of a dead man until Pardee’s men were between me and him.  Then he got up and started shooting again.  Scott and I ran out and joined him.  Pardee and his best men came at us, but we didn’t leave a one of them standing.”

“Then ya gived back yer badge, said bye-bye to Lizzie, an’ comed home, huh?”   Maria nodded once and smiled at Murdoch.

Someone coughed from somewhere behind Murdoch and spoke in a soft drawl.  “You sure that’s the way things happened?”

Maria jumped up and put her hands on hips.  “Grampa, don’t tease.  It’s not p’lite.”

Another voice spoke from somewhere out of Murdoch’s sight–the tone scolding.  “Yes, Grandpa Johnny.  Don’t you know it’s not polite to question one of Murdoch’s stories?”

Murdoch twisted to see who was behind him.  Them again.  They always seemed to be lurking around someplace.  What were their names?  They reminded him of his sons, only they were much older.   “Are you questioning my memory?”  He gave each of the men a scowl.

The shorter of the two men smiled.  “Nope.  Just makin’ sure Maria was tellin’ the right ending to your story.  That’s all.”

“Of course, she did.”  The one who reminded Murdoch of his son Scott winked at the one who bore a resemblance to the younger of Murdoch’s sons.  “She’s heard that story often enough to repeat it word for word.”

Murdoch bristled.  “Where are my boys?  I thought they were supposed to be here in time for lunch.”

“Well, you know how boys are?”  The shorter man smiled and winked again at the older version of Scott.  The men walked around the far end of the sofa and stood with their backs to the fireplace.   Maria joined them and took hold of the hand of the one who looked more like Johnny.

Murdoch frowned.  Those two were always winking at each other like they had a secret.  He didn’t particularly like it, either.  Who did they think they were, anyway . . . and why didn’t his boys do something about them?

 “Yes, I know how boys are.”  Murdoch gave the men another glare for good measure.  “But it’s time they grew up and took some responsibility.  I didn’t make them partners for nothing.  I expect them to carry their weight around here.”

The man holding Maria’s hand scuffed the floor with the toe of one boot, the corners of his mouth twitching.  “Now, Murdoch, don’t go getting’ in a pucker.  I’m sure they’ll be along soon.”

Murdoch glowered at him.  “Well, they better be.  In the meantime, what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.”  The man’s smile grew.  “Tell another story?”

Maria looked at Murdoch and jiggled up and down.  “Yes!  Tell a story.  Tell a story.  Please!”

“That sounds like an excellent plan to me,” Scott’s aging double said.

““Only if the two of you promise to leave us alone.”  Murdoch glared at the men.  “I won’t have either of you contradicting me.  You’re always contradicting me as if I’m an old man in my dotage.   I’ll have you know . . . my memory is as good as any man’s.  Just ask my boys when they get here.  They’ll tell you.”

The two men winked at each other again.  The one pried his hand loose from Maria’s and told her to go sit beside her brother.   Then both men left the room.

“Well, now.  Where was I?”  Murdoch looked into the eager faces of his audience.  It didn’t matter who they were.  At least, they knew the truth when they heard it and hadn’t questioned so much as one word of his story.

“You was ’bout to tell us another story.”  Maria’s teeth gleamed and her eyes sparkled.

Murdoch relaxed his head back against the pillow and smiled.  “Yes.  Yes, I was.”

So it was that once again Murdoch traveled down memory lane and dazzled his young listeners with thrilling tales of Lancer life in the old west.

~*~The end~*~.

Note to readers:  Murdoch’s story to his great-grandchildren incorporates most, if not all, of the Lancer episode titles–including the title of an episode that was scheduled for production but never filmed.  They are not in any particular order.  Also, some of the longer titles were broken up or only part of the words used.

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