Word Count 1,082
Originally Posted to Yahoo Lancer groups on March 1, 2006 Revised November 15, 2013
Anger surged through Murdoch Lancer like a runaway fire racing through dry grass–red hot and unstoppable. His right hand clinched. The muscles of his jaw flexed, and his teeth gritted. A puff of his breath clouded the winter air. His arm drew back and his tightly-wound fist flashed forward, bare knuckles smashing into their target with a thunderous crack.
A loud groan burst from Murdoch’s throat, his vision blurred, and his legs went weak. For a moment, he thought he would end up on the ground in an unconscious heap.
“Feel better?” The words sounded far away as strong fingers grasped Murdoch Lancer’s arm–steadying him and keeping him from falling.
Fearing his voice would prove as shaky as his legs, Murdoch merely nodded.
“Hand’s bleeding. Might wanna take care of that before T’resa sees it,” Johnny Lancer said.
Again Murdoch tipped his head in agreement. His son was right, but then the boy generally was.
“Can you move it?” Johnny sounded more than a little concerned.
Slowly Murdoch uncurled one finger and then another. Each movement brought a wince and a groan.
“Hurts that bad, huh?”
Murdoch gritted his teeth and nodded.
Johnny scowled. “Think ya broke anything?”
Murdoch shuddered inside. His other son was due home in three days. Skinned knuckles would be on the mend by then. A break would not, and Scott wouldn’t easily be fooled into believing the injury was purely accidental.
“Want me to hitch up Zanzibar?” Johnny said.
“No!” The word came out much sharper and louder than Murdoch intended. He bit his lip and forced his voice to soften. “It’ll be fine. See.” He grimaced as his snail-paced fingers spread and drew together a few times. “I wouldn’t be able to do this if it were broken, would I?”
Johnny shrugged–his eyes skeptical as he looked into his father’s face. “I guess you’re right.”
“Just needs cleansing and a bandage. In a couple of days it’ll be good as new,” Murdoch said with more confidence than he felt. The hint of a grin on his son’s face told him Johnny had seen right through his bravado.
“Sure,” Johnny replied. He scowled at the barn door as though inspecting it for damages.
“I didn’t break it,” Murdoch said defensively.
“Sounded like it.” Johnny rubbed his chin as his smile grew more mischievous. “Glad it wasn’t me ya was mad at.”
“I wasn’t mad.”
“Uh, huh.” Johnny tipped his head up and down. “Mind tellin’ me, then, whose face you were rearranging?”
Murdoch’s back stiffened. “Nobody’s,” he said as he turned away from the barn.
Johnny let out a soft snort and backed up to where he was facing his father. “Wouldn’t be that new husband of Marcy’s, would it? I mean you did high-tail it back here from Sacramento in a hurry. I thought you were planning to stay ’til Monday and come back with Scott.”
“Marcy’s perfectly welcome to marry anyone she chooses,” Murdoch retorted.
Johnny shrugged–that infuriating little hunch of his shoulders accompanied by a knowing grin. He balled his fist and motioned with them as he spoke in a soft drawl. “Guess you was just gettin’ warmed up. I mean . . . there’s nothing like a good jab or two with your fist to get the blood boiling . . . shed the winter cold. The barn door was just a little closer than you thought, right?”
“Exactly,” Murdoch said and walked past his son. He should never have told Johnny about being invited to Marcy’s wedding. It was bad enough that Scott had been there to see him nearly make a fool of himself.
Footsteps joined Murdoch’s, and he felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder. He ignored it and held to his course. With any luck, Teresa would stay another night with Maria’s daughter, and he wouldn’t have to explain his injured hand to her before tomorrow.
“You thought of what you’re gunna tell T’resa? She’ll ask ya what happened. That about punchin’ the air to warm up might not be too convincing . . . if ya know what I mean.”
Johnny’s words mirrored Murdoch’s thoughts. “I could tell her someone slammed the barn door into my hand,” Murdoch said, his footsteps continuing at a steady rhythm.
“Yeah.” Johnny drug out the word as though he had more on his mind. It wasn’t long in coming. “And just who might that someone be?”
An idea began to form in Murdoch’s mind. “Guess,” he said.
“So you want me to take the heat . . . that it?” Johnny chuckled–the sound music to his father’s ears. “Well, you picked a good day for it, Old Man. I’ve been freezing all day.”
Murdoch had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. “Glad to be of help, Son,” he said once he had his mirth in check. “I wouldn’t want you to get sick. Not with all the work Scott’ll be lining up for us.”
“Thanks. You’re all heart, Old Man.”
Murdoch choked back another laugh at his son’s sarcasm. “You’re welcome, my son,” he said, feeling lighter than he had all day.
The encounter with Johnny had lifted his spirits and cooled his anger. Murdoch pushed from his mind the happy couple who would be sharing a candle-lit dinner at the finest hotel in San Francisco, and he focused on getting to the house and tending to his injured hand.
More than hour later, Murdoch sat in the comfortable, leather chair by the fireplace and sipped on his third drink. The pain in his bandaged hand had eased. He figured he would forget all about his skinned knuckles and the hole in his heart by the time the glass was empty. With any luck, he would wake up tomorrow and find that today had all been a dream.
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