The Surprise by Terri

Word Count 14,010

1st in the Surprise Series

Chapter One

Johnny tried to wipe the mud from his face, but only succeeded in spreading it around a little bit. Taking a last futile swipe, he reached back down to the struggling calf and finally succeeded in getting a good grip on its two hind legs. With a resolute yank, he dragged the ungrateful calf out onto the bank. Slogging up out of the mud, he turned and watched as the calf trotted away to join its anxious mother. Sighing, he walked over to Barranca and yanked the canteen from the saddle and poured it over his head, trying to get even a little of the gumbo like mud off his face and out of his hair. Shaking his head, he watched as the mud flew in every direction.

He looked anxiously up at the sun, trying to figure exactly when he should start back to the ranch. It was a finely honed science to arrive at the Estancia at the perfect time. If he arrived too early, he would have to listen to a lecture from Murdoch about quitting early, but even worse, the lecture would detain him enough so that he wouldn’t stand a chance of beating Scott. On the other hand, if he arrived too late, Scott would win anyway. And today there was even more at stake. Tonight was the Lancer brother’s weekly trip into town.

He studied the sun again, and tried to estimate just where Scott would be working today and exactly when he would be arriving. Finally, the tension was just too much. He leaped up onto Barranca and started towards home. He was about two miles out when he saw his brother approaching the Hacienda from the opposite direction. The two brothers saw each other at the same moment, and immediately spurred their horses towards the stable.

The two horses came flying into the courtyard at the same time, scattering chickens and cowboys alike. The two men flew off of their mounts and threw the reins to waiting hands, who were used to the mad dash at the end of the day. Scott was slightly ahead of Johnny when the bellowing roar from their father stopped them both in their tracks.


Johnny looked over at the object of their mad dash and felt a sudden impulse to just turn and make a run towards it, but common sense prevailed and he resignedly joined his brother in making their way into the Great Room through the patio doors.

Murdoch watched as his sons approached the desk. They looked like a couple of errant schoolboys instead of two grown men. He had just about had it with their childish behavior and this stupid race every day. He didn’t know what it would take to put an end to it, but he was going to stop it one way or the other.

“All right, what are you both doing home so early? There must be at least an hour of daylight left.” Murdoch’s voice was deceptively gentle. “Maybe you’re sick?”

He watched as Johnny and Scott exchanged glances and then shook their heads almost together.

“Maybe there was some sort of emergency that you had to warn us all about?”

Again the heads shook in near unison.

“Then the only reason I can think of for you to come tearing in here like that is that you’re eager to do more work.” Murdoch’s eyes narrowed and his voice rose steadily. “After you walk down and cool your horses, you can start loading that hay up into the hayloft.”

“But Murdoch…we was supposed ta go into town tonight.”

Murdoch’s glare was enough to freeze any further complaint. “I guess you can go, AFTER the hay is put away.”

Scott unwisely decided to put his two cents in. “But Murdoch, we’re filthy and covered with mud. The rains the last couple of weeks have made a mess of everything. How about if we clean up and then take care of the hay first thing in the morning?” He asked hopefully.

Murdoch studied the two mud encrusted men, shaking his head slowly. “The hay.”

Murdoch noticed the dirty look the two boys shot each other as they walked out, and decided to make the rules clear. “And when the two of you are done, you come see me before you do ANYTHING else, is that understood? I have had ENOUGH of this stupid race, understand?” Murdoch shook his head as the two men left the house and headed for the barn. ‘Boys!’ He thought.

Johnny and Scott worked in silence in the barn. Scott stood down below and loaded the hay onto the pulley, and Johnny unloaded it once it reached the top. It had taken them nearly an hour to cool and groom their mounts and ensure they had food and water. Johnny felt a pang of guilt at the way he had left Barranca in Jose’s hand to take care of, but he had lost the race with Scott twice because he had stopped to take care of his own horse, and he was bound and determined to win today.

Almost three hours later, the two brothers trudged back into the Great room to face their father.

Murdoch watched them approach once again, and smiled to himself. Maybe he had found the way to stop this stupidity once and for all. As the boys came to a halt in front of them, he took in their tired demeanor.

“You boys all done?” He asked.

The boys nodded their heads.

“Good. Now remember that next time you think about running those horses inside the arch, and I don’t want to see any more of this nonsense. Understand?”

The two men darted furtive looks at each other before nodding.

Murdoch watched them for a moment with narrowed eyes. Finally, he released them. “All right, you can go.”

Johnny looked up at Scott for a split second before he took off towards the door at a dead run, with Scott pounding after him. They skidded through the French doors and jostled their way out through the courtyard, leaving Murdoch with his mouth hanging open.

Chapter Two

Johnny was in a foul mood. He had won the race yesterday fair and square, and he had been cheated out of his prize. He and Scott had bolted out of the house, and as they crossed the courtyard, he had managed to trip his brother, sending him sprawling in the mud. He had raced into the shed that housed the bathhouse, laughing to himself over Scott’s misfortune, and then come to a sliding halt as he heard the unmistakable sound of Jelly singing to himself on the other side of the door. He stood there in disbelief as Scott came limping up, then turned to his brother with a sorrowful look. “It just ain’t fair.” Scott looked at him with a sympathetic look while Johnny turned and stomped off to the horse trough to clean up.

Johnny shook his head in frustration. Something had to be done about the bathing situation. The Bathhouse at Lancer was old and outdated, and not efficient enough for the many people that used it. The water heater took forever to get the water hot, and only held enough for one tubful. The first person to use the tub had plenty of steaming water to luxuriate in, and usually enough to reheat the tub a few times if the bath was leisurely. The problem was, the person who came second would not only have to wait for the first person to finish their bath, but wait an hour or more for the hot water to return. It usually just wasn’t worth the time or the effort. When Johnny had first come to Lancer, he thought the bathhouse was a great luxury, but since then he realized its faults.

He glanced up as Scott came riding up, and walked over to his brother as he dismounted. “We have to talk.” Scott said tersely. Johnny followed his brother over to a tree, where they sat down in the shade.

Scott started without preamble. “We have to do something. I have no intention of racing you to that shed for the rest of my life. We have to talk to Murdoch tonight. Agreed?”

Johnny shook his head. “Talkin’ ain’t gonna ta do it Scott. We already tried that and he point blank refused. I thought he was gonna have a heart attack or somethin’ at the thought of spendin’ all that money.”

“We’ll have to convince him it’s a good idea. It’s an investment. The house will be worth more with modern plumbing.”

Johnny looked at his brother skeptically. “He ain’t gonna sell it, Scott. Who cares what it’s worth? I still think my plan was better.”

Scott shook his head. “We can’t blackmail our own father.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’d shoot us.” Scott replied seriously. “No, we have to convince him it’s a good idea. Maybe we can get Teresa on our side.”

“We can try,” Johnny replied glumly. “But there’s no way the Old Man’s gonna part with any money. HE doesn’t have ta worry about it. He can take a bath while we’re out workin our tails off, and he can always pull rank; he’s done it before.”

Scott looked thoughtful. “There has to be SOME way to get him to agree.”

Johnny shrugged. “We can try ta talk to him again, but I ain’t holdin’ my breath.”

Scott nodded his head. “Do you want to call a truce for tonight? No sense making him mad before we have a chance to talk to him.”

Johnny grinned. “O.K. As long as I get the bath first.”

That evening at dinner, both Scott and Johnny were on their best behavior. They listened as Teresa chattered away about the goings – on in town, and nodded gravely as Murdoch told them about the rumor that Stock prices were going to fall. After dinner the three men retired to the Great room, where Murdoch poured them each a drink. He turned to the two men. “I have been thinking a lot about what the two of you said last week about modernizing the house, and I’ve decided it’s a good idea.”

Johnny and Scott grinned at each other in disbelief; they couldn’t believe that the Old Man was really going to listen to their ideas.

Murdoch went on. “I talked to the Thomson’s from Green River the other day when I went to town, and they told me that they just had some work done on their house. Mrs. Thomson was very persuasive about the benefits. She said she didn’t know how she had gotten along all these years the way it was before. Mr. Thomson also told me that the bank was very happy to lend him the money because it increased the value of the house so dramatically. We won’t have to borrow the money to do it, but I think we should do what we can to keep the value of the house as high as possible. I realize that it’s going to be expensive, and we all may have to cut down on our personal spending for a while, so I want to make sure that we’re all in agreement about it.”

Scott jumped in. “Oh, we are, sir. Both Johnny and I think that anything we can do to modernize the house and increase its value would benefit all of us.”

Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Are you willing to cut down on those weekly poker games for awhile?”

Johnny nodded his head eagerly. “Sure, It’ll be worth it.” He grinned. “Anything to keep up the value of the house.”

Murdoch looked relieved. “Good. We’ll get started as soon as we get the check for that last shipment of cattle from the government. I can’t tell you what this will mean to Teresa. She was so afraid that you wouldn’t be willing to spend the money on it, and personally, I was a little worried that you wouldn’t go along with my plans, either. I’m glad you boys realize the importance of keeping the house up.”

Scott was nodding as he listened to his father. “What plans did you have, Sir?’

“I plan on having the Great Room painted and re-plastered. It’s beginning to show its years.”

Johnny smiled. “That’s O.K.” He looked at Scott. “As long as Teresa gets what SHE wants.” He said seriously.

Murdoch grinned at the two men. “I’m proud of you. I don’t know too many men who would be willing to sacrifice for a new kitchen.”

Chapter Three

“A new kitchen?” Johnny said hollowly.

“Yes,” Murdoch beamed, “Teresa has wanted one for so long, and I’m so happy she can finally get it.”

Scott looked at his father with confusion. “When we discussed improving the house, we were talking about modernizing the plumbing.”

Murdoch waved his hand, “Yes, but I think a new kitchen is much more important. Besides, it will make Teresa so happy.” Then as an afterthought, he added. “We will probably get the plumbing done eventually, but we certainly can’t afford it now, not with the other improvements. There are a lot of things that have to be done around here before we worry about updating the bathhouse. Besides, it’s just fine the way it is.”

“Just what improvements are you planning on doing to the kitchen?” Scott asked woodenly. He looked over at Johnny, who was gazing at his father with a thoughtful look on his face, and fingering his holster, definitely not a good sign.

“Everything.” Murdoch beamed. “New floor, new plaster on the walls, new stove, new sink and pump, all the conveniences. I even plan on having the old root cellar cleaned out and more shelves and storage area put in. We’ll put in more cupboards and storage area in the kitchen proper, too.” Murdoch was obviously getting excited about the prospect.

Scot saw an opening. “Instead of getting an old fashioned pump, why don’t we modernize the plumbing and put in a new water system into the kitchen at the same time. After all, we want Teresa to have the best.” He said, trying his best to sound sincere.

Murdoch seemed to consider it for a moment. “No, if and when we get the plumbing done, then we can replace it. Until them she can use the pump. It’s not that inconvenient.”

“But sir,…..”

Murdoch wasn’t listening to his son. “I can’t wait to be able to do that for her; she works so hard and asks for so little.”

Any further arguments died in Scott’s throat. His father sure was good at making him feel guilty. He turned and looked at his brother. Johnny’s narrowed eyes and contemplative expression that he was aiming at his father told Scott that he was planning something. He just hoped that something didn’t include firearms.

That evening after everyone had gone to bed, Scott snuck over to Johnny’s room. He rapped softly once on the door, then pushed it open. He found Johnny sitting on the bed, looking depressed. His brother turned to him. “Well, that went well. I told ya we shoulda tried my idea.”

Scott shook his head. “No, we have to come up with a battle plan.”

Johnny brightened considerably. “Battle?”

Scott waved his hand in Johnny’s general direction, “Figuratively speaking, of course.” Scott smiled, Johnny looked downright disappointed.

“We have to come up with some way to force Murdoch into adding at least two indoor bathing rooms.”

“I don’t know how we can do that. He’s not gonna spend that money now that he’s committed ta puttin’ in a new kitchen.” Johnny’s voice rose slightly. “What good is a new fangled kitchen? Maria and Teresa do just fine with the old one. Women!” He snorted.

Johnny thought a moment. “Maybe we could just refuse to bathe for awhile.”

Scott shivered. That certainly wasn’t his first choice. “You really want to go without bathing when we’re working in that mud all day?” Scott saw Johnny’s hesitation and decided to squelch all thoughts in that direction. “And what about Inez? Are you going to go in and see her looking like a pig?”

Johnny thought for just a moment before he shook his head. “Bad idea.” He mumbled.

“Exactly. The trouble with you is that you never think things out. You always jump into things without a plan. Me, on the other hand, ALWAYS plan things out. That’s why my ideas always work.”

Johnny shrugged. “O.K. SO what’s your plan this time?”

“Well,” Scott started, “I was thinking. Maybe if something happened to the old bathhouse…..” Scott looked at his brother and grinned.

A slow smile started to form on Johnny’s lips. “Brother, you’re a genius.”

“Didja do it?” Johnny was watching Scott intently as his brother stuffed rags into the vent of the old water heater. Scott was having trouble making the rags stay up in the vent, they kept trying to slip out. Finally Scott looked at his brother and nodded.

“It won’t take long for the pressure to build up and then BOOM! Our worries will be over.”

Johnny nodded eagerly. “No way the Old Man is gonna be able ta keep from getting us a new bathhouse now.”

Scott grinned. It had been an inspired idea, and he was proud of himself for thinking it up. They would have their plumbing, come hell or high water. With a chuckle, Scott stood up. “Come on, brother. Let’s get out of here. We don’t want to be anywhere around this thing when it blows.”

Johnny looked worried. “Ya sure everyone’s gonna be gone?”

Scott nodded. “Don’t worry, I’ve thought of everything. Jelly took Teresa into town, Murdoch’s lying down because of his back, and all of the hands are out working. Nothing can go wrong.”

Johnny looked at this brother fondly. “You’re absolutely sneaky, Scott. I like that.”

Scott looked modest. “It was nothing. Just remember whose idea this was when it’s all over.”

Johnny nodded. “Don’t worry, I will.”

The boys snuck back into the house to wait for the inevitable explosion. They entered the kitchen where Maria was starting dinner, then went through to the Great room where Scott poured a couple of glasses of whisky, then offered a toast. “To Great Plans!”

Johnny raised his glass and returned the toast. This was going to be good.

Upstairs, Murdoch was having trouble resting. His back was killing him, and he couldn’t get comfortable. Sighing, he finally decided he couldn’t take it any longer. What he needed was a nice long relaxing soak in some hot water.

Chapter Four

Johnny was nervous. It was taking a lot longer for the explosion than he thought it would, but Scott just assured him that when it came, it would be that much more powerful. They had been waiting for the inevitable outcome for several hours, and Johnny’s nerves were about at the breaking point.

“They’ll be finding bits and pieces of Lancer bathhouse clear in Green River.” Scott chortled.

Johnny grinned. He could always count on Scott to come up with a good plan. He walked over to the French doors for the hundredth time and gazed out towards the shed, drumming his fingers on the side of his pant leg. All of a sudden he froze. Maria was heading towards the shed. Panicked engulfed him. “Hey Scott! We got a problem!”

Scott hurried over to where his brother stood, but by that time Maria had disappeared into the outer room of the bathhouse. “What?”

“Maria just walked in to the shed.” The words were scarcely out of his mouth when he heaved a sigh of relief. “It’s O.K. She’s comin’ back out.”

Scott also began to breath again. “Thanks goodness. I wonder what she was doing in there?”

Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know. The only time she goes in there is when she’s pickin’ up our dirty clothes to be washed.”

Johnny and Scott looked at each other in horror. “You don’t suppose……” Scott started.

Johnny turned and ran quickly up the stairs and then bounded back down a moment later. “He ain’t there.”

They looked back towards the shed, weighing the possibilities.

“If we go runnin’ in and rescue him, he’ll know who did it. He’ll have our hides.” Johnny said.

Scott bit his lip. “Maybe it’ll hold until he’s done?” He asked hopefully.

Johnny grabbed at that possibility. “Sure it will. No reason for it to go off now. It’s held all mornin’.”

The two men looked towards the shed nervously.

“What has gotten in to you two?”

The two men jumped a foot at the sound of Maria’s scolding voice. “You are acting strangely; I told your father this on his way out to the bathhouse.”

Johnny immediately became very still. “What did you tell him, Maria?”

Maria shrugged. “Just that you two are not yourselves; that you have been slinking around all morning, and that you took many rags and went into the bathhouse together. I did not understand what you could be doing. I thought Senor Lancer maybe had asked you to clean it, that he wasn’t happy with the way I was keeping it, but he assured me that it was fine.”

Scott felt the blood leave his head. He abruptly sat down, beating Johnny to the chair by a fraction of a second. Johnny settled for the floor.

Maria focused a last incredulous look at the two men before walking into the kitchen, shaking her head.

Johnny thought about all of his options; he had kept up his practice, he supposed he could still make a living as a hired gun if he had to. And if he went to Mexico, he could disappear and no one could ever find him. That might be a good thing. He was just wondering whether to leave now or wait until he was thrown out when his brother spoke. “I guess we could always hope there’s brain damage.”

Johnny looked hopefully at his brother. “Ya think that’s possible?”

Scott shook his head glumly. “Probably not.”

The explosion, when it came, was everything Scott predicted it to be. Bits and pieces of shed drifted down all over the courtyard like confetti. The pipe from the roof of the shed sailed through the air and landed in a horse trough by the barn. The two brothers froze for a moment, looking out at the courtyard and watching a pair of Murdoch’s long johns billow down in the breeze. They turned and looked at each other with their mouths open, then finally turned and went reluctantly outside towards the wreckage.

They slowed down as they approached the remains of the shed; uncertain as to where to start. Johnny was wondering whether he’d be smart to just jump on Barranca and take off; he had the feeling that the next several years were going to be exceedingly unpleasant. The two men poked cautiously through the rubble, neither one of them really wanting to be the one who found their father. As they worked their way to what used to be the center of the shed, they heard the upside down bathtub make some horribly loud and descriptive curses. Approaching cautiously, they looked at each other with resignation before finally grabbing the cursing bathtub and pulling it right side up.

A very angry and wet Murdoch arose from the rubble like the specter of death. Scott knew that although it was not humanly possible for smoke to come out of a person’s ears, his father was doing his best to give it a try. Scott looked uneasily at Johnny and wondered how he was going to talk his way out of this mess. Swallowing his apprehension, Scott stepped forward and offered his arm to his father. “Are you alright, sir?”

Murdoch’s mouth opened a few times and shut a few times, but no words came out. However, the look that he gave Scott immediately dried up any further attempts at communication. Ignoring Scott’s arm, Murdoch stalked over and grabbed a shredded towel that was hanging down from the branches of a nearby tree and stormed into the house.

Scott sat down abruptly on a piece of the roof as Johnny came up and stood next to him. “I told ya blackmailing would be safer, and besides. getting’ shot woulda been a whole lot quicker than what he’s got in mind for us.”

At this point, Scott decided, he would have to agree.

Chapter Five

Scott and Johnny decided that the safest course of action for them was to lie low and hope that Murdoch was simply in a bad mood because of his “accident” and not because he knew there had been any foul play. They decided that they would probably benefit from cleaning up the offending wreckage as soon as possible, both to appear industrious and to get rid of any incriminating evidence.

They were both working diligently when Jelly and Teresa drove back into the yard. Jelly’s mouth gaped open like a landlocked fish, while Teresa’s eyes got as big as saucers.

“What in tarnation happened?” Jelly looked around the yard in confusion.

“It looks like the heater in the bathhouse finally decided to commit suicide.” Scott said seriously.

“Was anyone hurt?” Teresa’s concern was evident in the worry lines on her forehead.

“Only Murdoch’s dignity.” Johnny smirked.

“He was in there?” Both Jelly and Teresa asked at the same time.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Scott muttered. Then he caught sight of Teresa’s worried face. “But he’s fine, really.”

“I wonder how it coulda happened? I clean that heater out every week. It ain’t been actin funny at all.” Jelly looked around as if trying to get an answer, and his attention was caught by a sock dangling from one of the horse’s ears. As he watched, the horse lazily shook its head, sending the errant sock into the water trough. “Shore musta been somethin’” he said.

Much to Johnny and Scott’s relief, Murdoch was in no mood to socialize for the rest of the day. Teresa took his tray up to him that evening, and Scott and Johnny were starting to breath a little easier. It looked like they might survive after all. After Teresa went to bed, the two men sat in the Great room and had a drink.

“Well, that was another great plan,” Johnny said.

“Well, how did I know he would go out and take a bath in the middle of the day? He never has before.”

Johnny shrugged. “Do ya think he knows?”

“Oh Yes, HE KNOWS” said a deep voice from the shadows of the stairs. Murdoch stood up and approached his errant sons. “ Now do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?”

Johnny and Scott looked at each other expectantly. Scott finally broke the silence. “Well, go on, tell him.”

“Me? It was your plan.” Johnny glared at his older brother.

Murdoch waited expectantly, his toe tapping the wood floor of the estancia. “All right boys, I’m waiting.”

Finally Scott hesitantly explained their plan, then stood there waiting for the guillotine to fall.

“So all of this was about getting a new bathhouse?” Murdoch said calmly.

Johnny’s nerves were once again as taut as a fresh strung bow. He nodded jerkily, and wondered briefly how Murdoch planned to kill them.

Murdoch nodded slowly. “I see. You thought that if you got the old one out of the way, I’d be forced to build a new one.”

Johnny and Scott exchanged looks. “Well, not exactly forced, it would just be something that had to be done.” Scott tried to explain.

“I understand. I know you boys would never dream of trying to force me to do something I didn’t want to do.”

Johnny nerves had finally had enough. “OK Murdoch, You win. Just go ahead and shoot us, or do whatever it is you’re gonna do, ‘cause I can’t take any more of this nice act.” Scott nodded in agreement.

“Act?” Murdoch asked innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And Johnny, I’m surprised at you. You know I don’t believe in violence.”

Both of his sons watched Murdoch warily, ready to bolt at the slightest movement in their direction by the older man.

“Did you get the mess cleaned up?” Murdoch asked quietly.

Johnny answered. “Yeah, pretty much. It’s all piled by the barn. Figured it’d be easier to get to there.”

“Get to?” Murdoch inquired.

“Yeah. We may need a few more supplies, but some of the material can be re-used.”

“You’re right, it can.” Murdoch agreed. Only you need to put it closer to the house.”

Scott and Johnny’s faces lit up. “We do?”

Murdoch nodded seriously. “You do. Now why don’t you boys go to bed and get busy first thing in the morning moving that pile closer to the house.”

With confused looks, the two young men turned and walked towards the stairs. “Somethin funny’s goin’ on, I can feel it.” Johnny complained.

Scott turned and looked back towards their father. “Maybe there really was brain damage.”

The next morning the boys were out moving the pile of usable boards closer to the house. It was hard, dirty work, but the thought of finally getting a decent place to bathe in the house spurred them on. After several hours they finally hauled the last of the sorted lumber to its final resting place. Murdoch came out with a glass of lemonade. “You boys sure got through that in a hurry.” He commented.

Scott nodded. “We can’t wait to get started. I figure we can order the rest of what we need from San Francisco.”

Murdoch nodded. “Yes, but we need to make sure we get that check first.”

Scott looked up in surprise. “I didn’t think the check from the army was going to be that large,” he said. “Are we going to be able to pay for everything out of that one check?”

“Oh, yes, it should be able to cover everything we need.” Murdoch said casually.

Scott looked at his father suspiciously. “Water heaters and supplies are expensive.”

Murdoch nodded. “I know. But that’s really not my concern, since we’re not buying one.”

Scott’s mouth dropped open. “But you said we’d need to re-use the lumber.”

Murdoch grinned. “Yes, I did. I figure we can save quite a bit on supplies for Teresa’s kitchen by using what’s left of the bathhouse.”

Johnny looked gloomily at his father. “We’ve been had, brother.”

Scott wasn’t about to give in yet. “But where are we supposed to bathe?”

Murdoch smiled. “That gentlemen, is your problem.”

Chapter Six

It had been three weeks since the Great Bathhouse Disaster, as Johnny called it, and they were still washing up in the horse trough. Murdoch and Teresa regularly went over to the Thomson’s to bathe, but for some reason, Scott and Johnny weren’t invited. Johnny finished rinsing his hair, and ducked under the ice-cold water. Grabbing for the towel with his eyes closed, he cursed as he knocked it onto the ground in the dirty corral. Keeping his eyes shut, he grabbed angrily at it, then shook it out and used it to dry his hair. Finally done, he turned and walked into the house.

Teresa looked up as he walked in and immediately burst into laughter. “What’s so funny?” he asked suspiciously. She walked up to him and grabbing his arm, led him to the hall mirror. He looked into the mirror and saw that the towel had obviously not landed in the dirt. He stormed out of the house and went back to the horse trough.

As soon as Scott and Johnny came home the next afternoon, they knew there was something wrong. Teresa was subdued and Murdoch was downright disagreeable; not that he’d been very congenial towards his two sons lately anyway. Scott looked expectantly between Murdoch and Teresa, wondering which one would finally spill the news.

Finally Murdoch broke the silence. “We got a letter from the army today. That shipment of beef was denied by the inspectors because they crossed through some land where Anthrax had been diagnosed.”

Johnny looked up. “Were the cattle sick?”

Murdoch shook his head. “No, but it doesn’t make any difference. They won’t buy the beef.” He turned towards Teresa. “We’ll try to put in that kitchen next spring, honey. We just don’t have the money to do it right now.”

Teresa flashed Murdoch a small smile. “I know. It’s OK. I’ll have more time to plan on what I want this way.” She pushed her food around for a few more minutes before excusing herself and leaving the table.

Murdoch sighed, then went into the Great Room to read.

After dinner, Johnny grabbed Scott’s arm and dragged him out to the veranda. “All right Scott, I don’t care what ya come up with, but whatever it is you’re gonna come up with, I want you to do it NOW. I’m sick ta death of washin’ up in a horse trough.”

“Believe me, brother, so am I. But I don’t see Murdoch changing his mind, and especially now when we aren’t going to get that check.”

Johnny thought a minute. “How much money ya think we need?”

Scott shrugged. “We should be able to get the supplies and equipment for under two hundred dollars. That is, if we do all of the work.”

Johnny nodded his head. “I spotted a herd of wild horses the other day up by Black Mesa. All I have ta do is catch em, break em, and send em to the remount station over by Blackwell. They should bring me five hundred dollars, easy.”

Scott shook his head. “And how do you propose to do that, little brother, with Murdoch watching your every move? Besides, how do you think we’ll be able to put the plumbing in without Murdoch knowing about it?”

Johnny though for a minute, then said brightly, “We’ll just have ta get rid of him. Teresa too, for that matter, or she’d try ta talk us into buildin’ her a kitchen.”

Scott thought for a minute, then smiled at his brother. Johnny, you’re a genius.”

“Are you sure you boys can handle everything?” Murdoch asked anxiously as he climbed into the buggy.

“Don’t worry, sir, we’ll take care of everything while you’re gone.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Murdoch growled.

Johnny grinned. “Relax, Murdoch, the ranch’ll still be standin when ya get back.”

Scott reached over and kicked his brother as Murdoch turned and gave his younger son a scowl. “It had better be. And it had better be standing JUST like I left it, understand?”

Johnny’s smile faltered a bit, then he said brightly. “Ya mean ya don’t want us ta do any work?”

Scott was afraid that his father was on the verge of violence. And if Johnny was hurt, their hopes for a bathhouse would evaporate. He quickly stepped up to the buggy and handed his father a suitcase. “Have a good trip. You too, Teresa.” Murdoch grabbed the case, and with one last scowl for good measure, he turned and started the horses out of the yard. Scott sat down on the short veranda wall and looked at his brother.

“All right Johnny. We have exactly four weeks to bring this plan together.” He looked pointedly at his brother. “Start breaking those horses. I’m going to go get our order from Jess.”

Johnny hopped down and headed for Barranca, and Scott swung up on Charlie and headed towards Spanish Wells. Scott thought about the plan he had devised. It was really very simple. Teresa fancied herself as a writer, and had written several plays and submitted them to contests. Scott had contacted a friend who owed him a huge favor and sent one of Teresa’s plays to him. Barry happened to produce plays for a small production company in New York. Barry had written Teresa and told her that her play was being produced, and invited her to come and view it. Of course, Murdoch couldn’t turn her down after her disappointment at her lost kitchen, and as it would be improper for Teresa to travel alone, he had been forced to go along with her. Both Maria and Jelly had been disposed of with equally brilliant subterfuge, and were now visiting relatives.

As soon as Murdoch had made the arrangements, Scott had “borrowed” some money from their emergency fund that Murdoch kept in the safe, and ordered supplies from San Francisco. The supplies were now sitting in Jess’ barn, already loaded onto a wagon. Johnny had rounded up the horses and had them stashed in a corral out at one of the line camps and had already started working a few of them.

All he and Johnny had to do was to get the horses broken and sold to repay the money, and install the plumbing. He and Johnny both figured that Murdoch wouldn’t make them take it out once it was in, especially if it hadn’t cost him anything. Scott chuckled gleefully. This time, he knew nothing could go wrong.

Chapter Seven

Johnny came home and washed up in the hated horse trough. He smiled. Another week or so, he’d be able to soak in style. When he was done, he walked over to the courtyard where Scott was picking through all of the supplies. Johnny saw several strange contraptions that didn’t look like they had anything to do with bathing. He went over and examined one more closely. “What’s this?” He asked his brother.

Scott grinned. “That, my dear brother is a water closet.”


“A water closet. It’s for… you know.”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “For what?”

Scott sighed. “My father just had one installed in his house in Boston. It keeps you from having to go outside when you have to answer nature’s call.”

Johnny looked at the object suspiciously. “Ya mean it goes IN the house?”

“Uh huh.”

Johnny shook his head. “I can tell ya right now Boston, Murdoch ain’t gonna like that idea at all.” He looked at the contraption again. “And I’m not sure I like it either. I thought we was just gonna get bathtubs.”

“That’s what’s wrong with you, Johnny. You don’t have vision. This will be a great improvement, and a lot easier to put in while we have the walls torn apart.”

Johnny froze. “Walls torn apart?”

“Well, yes. How did you think we were going to get all of this installed and working without making a few minor holes?” He said calmly.

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know, but I don’t like the sound of that. You’re not the one that Murdoch threatened.”

“Johnny,” Scott said patiently. “To get the baths installed in the house, we are going to HAVE to make some holes for the pipes. Now do you want to keep washing up in a horse trough for the rest of your life?”

Johnny shook his head slowly. “No, but if you make holes in the walls of Murdoch’s house, I may not have ta worry about it.”

Scott grinned. “Trust me, brother, everything will be just fine. Now here, help me carry this stuff into the house and we’ll figure out where it all goes.”

Two hours later, Scott had mapped out exactly where he wanted to put everything. He had used two unused bedrooms on the second floor and planned on putting a bathtub, a water closet, and an automatic pump with a new sink in each of them.

Johnny saw all of the extra goodies that Scott had gotten “You tellin’ me ya got all of this for two hundred dollars?” Johnny asked suspiciously.

“Well, no, it was a little more than that, but you said you’d be getting more for those horses.”

Johnny nodded slowly. ‘Yeah, If nothin goes wrong.”

Scott shook his head in disgust. “Quit being such a pessimist. Nothing can go wrong. I planned everything, didn’t I?”

Johnny thought back to the fiasco with the bathhouse explosion. “Yeah, brother, ya did.”

“All right, let’s figure out just where these pipes should go before we start breaking the walls.” With a wince at Scott’s choice of words, Johnny followed his brother back upstairs.

That evening, Scott studied the rather detailed directions that came with the various supplies as Johnny sat on the couch and watched. Scott glanced up at his brother. “You know you could help figure this out.”

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know nothin’ about that stuff. Besides, I’m doin my part in breakin’ those horses. That was the agreement.” He watched his brother for a few more minutes before standing up. “I’m gonna turn in. Night.”

Scott barely acknowledged Johnny as he continued to study the plans.

The next morning Johnny left before Scott was even out of bed. The horses were giving him more trouble than he thought they would, and he had only broken six horses yesterday. He planned on making up for it today. He wanted to have at least twenty head broken by the end of the day.

Johnny came home that evening tired and cross. Those darn horses seemed to have something personal against him. He had been bitten, kicked, and stomped, and he figured he’d go to bed early tonight. As he walked into the house, his mouth dropped open. There were holes all over the Great Room, and a huge pile of rubble lay on Murdoch’s precious floor. Johnny swallowed hard, then hearing a noise in the kitchen, raced in to see what was goin on in there. He almost tripped over Scott, who was down on the floor studying some more plans. Above his head, there was a gaping hole with several pipes dangling from it and hovering like a spider over Scott’s head. For just a moment, Johnny almost wished the spider were real. He had the feeling they were headed for a disaster. Johnny turned, and without a word walked into the Great Room, expertly avoiding several piles of junk, and grabbed a bottle of tequila. He figured he was definitely going to need it.

The next several days passed without any appreciable progress, at least to Johnny’s eyes. The only thing that seemed to advance were the number of holes in the various walls, floors, and ceilings. When he came home in the evening, he made a point of not noticing them. He figured if he didn’t see them, he could pretend they weren’t there. Scott, meanwhile, chattered happily about the progress of the whole project.

A week later Scott announced that they were ready to put the bathtubs and water closets in place. “All of the pipes are in and hooked up. We just have to install the fixtures, and we’ll be ready to go.”

Johnny looked around nervously at the gaping holes that surrounded them. “And fix the holes, right?”

“Of course. That won’t take long. A day or two at the most. We should be done with the whole thing in plenty of time.”

Johnny sighed. “If you say so.” He said dubiously.

Scott looked at him in astonishment. “Don’t you trust me?”

Johnny studied him for a moment before letting his gaze roam around the demolished room. “No.”

Chapter Eight

The next morning, Johnny agreed to stay and help move one of the bathtubs upstairs before leaving to work the horses. Scott had gotten the largest tubs available, and they were very impressive. And very, very heavy. They had tied ropes around one of them, and tried to pull it up the stairs, but they just couldn’t do it without ruining the wooden steps. As it was, Johnny figured they’d have to fix several gouges and scrapes before Murdoch and Teresa came home. After the fourth unsuccessful attempt, Johnny leaned back against the wall, panting. “OK, Boston. Now what?”

Scott thought for a moment. We’ll have to use a pulley.”

Johnny looked at the top of the stairs. “That’s a good idea, but there’s only one problem. What’re ya goin ta hook the pulley to?”

Scott raked his hand through his hair. “Why do I have to come up with all of the answers? Why don’t you try to be useful for once?”

“Cause I ain’t the one that got us into this mess.”

Scott shot his brother an evil look, and then said resignedly, “We’ll just have to figure out a different way to get that bathtub onto the second floor.”

Johnny shook his head. “There ain’t no other way, the back stairs are too narrow, and this thing’ll never fit up ‘em.”

Scott thought for another minute until he finally came up with a solution. “I’ve got it!”

“I doubt it.” Johnny mumbled.

Scott was too excited to notice Johnny’s lack of enthusiasm. “We’ll bring it right into the bathroom!”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “I thought that was what we’re been tryin’ ta do all mornin’.”

“Yes, but we’ve been going about it all wrong. We should have done it the efficient way.”

“And what way would that be?” Johnny asked suspiciously.

“We can tie a pulley around the Oak tree right outside of the bedrooms. Then all we have to do is swing it right into the room where it belongs.”

Johnny shook his head. “Scott, you’re crazy. There ain’t no way that tub is gonna fit through the window.”

Scott grinned. “Who said anything about a window?”

An hour later, much against his better judgment, Johnny was shimmying up the Oak tree outside of his window. He would have made better progress, but his eyes kept getting drawn to the gaping hole in the side of the house that Scott had put there with a sledgehammer. When he figured he’d gone high enough, he undid the rope that was tied around his waist, and cautiously standing up, he fastened it to a large branch overhanging the roof. Murdoch had been after both he and Scott to trim that branch for a while; it was a good thing they hadn’t gotten to it yet. He snugged down the heavy rope and checked the knot. Giving it a final tug, he turned and started to cautiously make his way down to the ground. About twenty feet down, he let his eyes wander back to the huge hole, and put his foot down wrong on the branch. He flailed for balance, then finally resigned himself to his fate and let himself fall through the branches.

Scott had tied the other end of the rope securely around the tub, making sure it couldn’t slip off. He looked around as Johnny came limping around the corner. “What happened to you?” He said, taking in the small twigs sticking out of his brother’s clothes.

“Nothin. Let’s get this done.” Johnny growled.

Scott reached over and plucked a leaf that was sticking out of Johnny’s ear. “O.K. Now you go upstairs and help guide it in, while I handle the horse and guide it from down here.”

Johnny limped up the stairs, wishing he’d never heard of a bathtub.

Johnny made his way into the bathroom and reached out through the hole and grabbed the rope. “O.K. Scott, let ‘er buck.”

Scott waved at him, then urged the horse forward. The rope tightened, and the bathtub swung lazily through the air. Johnny guided the tub as it made its journey through the tree. When it had been raised as far as it would go, Johnny pulled on the rope to bring the tub inside. It came towards him about a foot, then stopped as it got caught on some small branches. He gave a harder pull, and felt a tiny bit of give. Wrapping the rope around his waist, he got closer to the hole then threw himself backwards, yanking the rope as he went.

Instead of the small branch giving, the large branch that the pulley was attached to gave with a snap, and the tub hurtled towards Johnny, catching him in the stomach and sending him backwards into the room. A second later, the branch, preferring to have its own entryway, punched a second hole in the wall and landed on top of the prone man.

Scott saw the catastrophe from the ground and ran upstairs as fast as he could, frightened of what he would find. He ran into the room and glanced at his brother, who was working hard to get some air into his lungs. Scott went over to the bathtub and ran his hands over its surface. “Thank goodness. I thought for sure that you had scratched it.” Scott shoved the massive bathtub against the wall, then looked at his brother. “Hurry up. We still have the other one to do before lunch, then you can go work on those horses. We’re running out of time.”

Chapter Nine

Johnny was pleased with the progress he had made with the horses. He had purposely been leaving early in the morning and staying out until almost dark. Anything was better than watching the dismantling of the Lancer hacienda. Johnny had resigned himself to his fate. He figured Murdoch and Teresa would be back in another two weeks. That gave him another two weeks to live. Well, at least he would get a decent bath before he died. Scott had told him that they could try out the bathtubs tonight. The thought made him nudge Barranca into a slightly faster gait. With his sore muscles, he couldn’t wait.

After dinner the two men went up to the bathroom closest to Johnny’s room.

Johnny looked at the bathtub with trepidation. “You mean all I gotta do is turn these knobs and I’ll have water for my bath?

Scott nodded enthusiastically. “That’s right. One for the cold water and one for the hot.”

‘And when I’m done, all I gotta do is pull the stopper out?” At Scott’s nod, Johnny continued. “Where does the water go?”

“Outside. The pipe runs out and drains into the garden at the side of the house.”

Johnny pointed at the water closet. “I hope that doesn’t drain there, too. Teresa might not be too pleased.”

Scott shook his head. “Of course not. The directions gave me detailed instructions on how to drain it so it dispersed under the soil.”

Johnny looked at him dubiously. “If you say so. All I can say is these things better work. Ya still got all those holes to patch.’

Scott shook his head. “Always the pessimist. You just make sure you get the money for those horses. I’ll take care of the rest.” Scott turned and left Johnny’s room. “Prepare to have the experience of your life.”

Johnny cautiously approached the bathtub. He didn’t think he had ever seen one quite so large. He could stretch out full length, and had plenty of room to move around. Even though he had cursed its size and weight while they were trying to get it into the room, he sure appreciated it now. He had hung a blanket over the huge hole they had put in the wall, but there was still cold air seeping around it. The chill and the aching in his body made a hot bath sound like heaven. He aimed to fill up that tub to the brim, and soak for at least an hour.

He cautiously turned one of the knobs and was instantly rewarded with a gush of water. After only a few moments, the water turned hot. He watched for a moment in amazement, then turned the other knob slightly. Feeling the water, he sighed happily and got undressed. He dumped his clothes in a pile on the floor and stepped cautiously into the tub, then lay back against the edge, heaving a contented sigh. Let Murdoch do his worst; this was definitely worth it.

He stayed there for quite a while, and when the water cooled off, he ran more deliciously hot water. He couldn’t believe that Scott had actually done it. His brother was right, there was no need to worry. Murdoch couldn’t get mad about this; he and Teresa would enjoy it too. And they still had more than a week to patch all of the holes and get things back in order. As he relaxed, he heard a slight noise. He tried to listen, but the trickling water was masking the sound. He reached up and shut the water off and listened again, but whatever it was had stopped.

The next time the water got cool, Johnny realized he had to let some out. He cautiously pulled the plug, expecting something to go wrong, but the water flowed smoothly down the pipe. After he had let out several inches, he turned the knob so the hot water was trickling in and lay back once again. Again, he heard the noise. It seemed familiar somehow, but he couldn’t quite place it. Deciding to ignore it, he allowed himself to wonder what Murdoch would say when he got home and saw the improvements. He figured Teresa would probably be on their side, at least after she’d tried out the new bath system.

He leaned back against the side of the tub once more, knowing he should wash up but feeling too lazy and relaxed. He decided it wouldn’t hurt to just lie here a little while longer. His eyes slid shut and he drifted off to sleep.

A sharp noise like a gunshot woke him up. He sat up quickly, causing a wave in the tub and splashing water over the sides. Cursing, he looked over the edge of the tub. Evidently, he had been asleep for some time, as the water was overflowing the tub and had formed a sizable puddle on the floor. Scott was going to have his head. He reached forward and yanked the knob to the left, turning it off. Just as he was about to stand up, the report came again, only louder this time. He felt the tub begin to sink, and he grabbed the edge to keep his balance.

More water sloshed out onto the floor as the tub tipped forward and then back. It finally leveled off, and the floor gave one more agonized groan before admitting defeat and collapsing. Johnny grabbed the tub in a vain attempt to keep from falling, but since the tub was falling too, it didn’t do a whole lot of good.

The tub hit with a crash, and a tidal wave of water cascaded out of the tub and on to the stove, where the tub and Johnny had momentarily come to rest. However, in an instant, it was on the move again, as it tipped forward and slid to the floor. The momentum pushed it forward, and with the help of the water and the slippery floor, it went scooting towards the open door of the root cellar. Johnny just had time to grab the sides once more before it disappeared down the cellar steps.

Scott raced to the kitchen, still holding his glass of scotch tightly in his hand. He followed the path of destruction and peered nervously down into the dark cellar.

Johnny looked up at him with an unfortunately totally readable expression. “Do you mind getting me a towel?” He ground out.

Chapter Ten

After taking his undignified ride in the bathtub, Johnny had stomped off to his room and gone to bed. He was afraid that if he talked to Scott, he just might kill him. Scott was obviously under the same impression, and wisely avoided going anywhere near Johnny’s room for the rest of the night.

The next morning when Johnny got up, he found Scott in the kitchen, once more poring over plans. “What da ya think your doin’” Johnny asked.

“I realize now where I went wrong. The supports in the ceiling obviously weren’t enough to support the weight of the bathtub, the water, and YOU.” The last was said with a glare in Johnny’s direction; as if it were all Johnny’s fault the ceiling had collapsed. “The only bright point is that at least now we know we have to support the tubs. It would have been horrible if the tub would have fallen with Murdoch or Teresa.”

Johnny stared at his brother. “And of course it wasn’t horrible that it fell with me.”

The sarcasm was lost on Scott, who was concentrating once more on the plans. “No, of course not. Now we have time to fix it.”

The last statement was too much for Johnny. “Fix it? FIX IT? Have you taken a good look at the house lately? There are more holes in it than a prairie dog town, the plumbing still isn’t working, the root cellar is demolished, and Teresa’s stove looks like a bathtub fell on it! And,” he added, “We only got ten days left before the executioner’s home.”

Scott waved his hand airily in Johnny’s direction. “Details. I can finish with the plumbing today while you’re putting the finishing touches on those horses. Jess said he was going over to Stockton tomorrow; I can have him pick up a new stove then.”

Johnny interrupted. “And Plaster. Don’t let him forget. We need lots of plaster.”

Scott nodded. “And plaster. Paint too. Murdoch will be so pleased that we re-did the Great Room that he’ll probably give us medals.”

“Yeah, he’ll give us metal all right, question is whether he uses the rifle or shotgun to deliver ‘em.” Johnny said gloomily.

Scott shook his head in exasperation. “What is it with you? Why are you always so darn miserable? I’m telling you, this will work. You just have to have to trust me.”

Johnny sighed. “O.K. I should finish up with the rest of the horses today, and I can drive them over to Blackwell tomorrow.” He looked at Scott curiously. “I thought you spent most of the money already. Where are ya getting’ the money fore the stove and plaster?”

Scott nodded. “I used almost all of it, but we can pay for the remaining supplies with the extra money you get for the horses. Just make sure you come back with that check.”

When Johnny got back to the house that evening, he was more sore and tired than he could ever remember being. He sure was glad that he was done breakin’ those nags. He couldn’t ever remember a more cantankerous bunch. He grinned. The army sure would have their hands full.

Scott was sitting in the Great Room reading a book. Johnny walked up to him “Didja get the plumbing finished?”

“Of course. It was a piece of cake. It’s all ready to go. I’ll just make a few adjustments and check it tomorrow while you’re gone. When you get home, we can start in on the plaster.”

The trip to Blackwell went reasonably well. It wasn’t a long trip, which was just as well, because both he and Barranca were exhausted from chasing down errant horses. He drove the horses into an empty corral and with a sigh, locked the gate. The old man that kept an eye on the horses for the army came over and greeted him “Johnny, how’s it goin?”

“Not so great, Bill. I hope the army’s in the mood ta buy some good horses.”

At Bill’s glum look, a pang of unease shot through Johnny. “What’s wrong?”

Bill shook his head. “They’ve got some wet behind the ears lieutenant doin’ the inspectin’. He’s turned down almost every horse that’s been brought in.”

Johnny swallowed hard. “Haven’t they been any good?”

“They’ve been fine, at least ways most of em have been.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Bill scowled. “He won’t buy nothin’ he can’t ride hisself. And he can’t ride.”

Johnny felt his world collapsing. The horses he had brought were barely broke. That was the way the army usually bought them; they preferred to put their own schooling on their mounts. Besides, almost everyone was a good enough rider to ride a green horse. “Just how bad is he?” He asked with wild hope. He knew if he came home without a check, he wouldn’t have to worry about Murdoch. Scott would kill him.

Bill snorted. “The first day he was here he tried ta get up on the wrong side.”

Johnny closed his eyes and shuddered. Then he looked at Bill again with a desperate look. There had to be a way. “Does he check all of the horses in a bunch?”

The old man shook his head. “Only a couple.”

Johnny heaved a sigh of relief. “Then I’ll make sure he gets the right couple.”

Bill smiled. “Hope it works,” he grinned.

Johnny stood around for over an hour, watching the lieutenant carefully. The young officer obviously didn’t like getting his hands or his boots dirty. He usually cut out a horse fairly near the front of a bunch, closest to the gate. Johnny walked over to the corral where his bunch was, and mounting Barranca, rode into the pen. He cut out the worst ones and chased them to the back of the corral. As he saw the officer approaching, he gently hazed a couple of the better- behaved horses to the front.

The officer walked up to Johnny. “Are you the owner of these horses?” He asked. At Johnny’s nod, he looked the cowboy up and down. “I hope you can break horses better than you dress.”

Johnny opened his mouth, then clamped it shut again. He thought that the army just might frown on him shootin’ the idiot. And worse, it might put a snag in him getting’ a check. He watched as the man walked up to several of the horses, waving his arms and getting them all riled. Then again, he thought, maybe the army would thank him. The lieutenant walked back over to where Johnny was sitting on Barranca, desperately trying to keep the right horses where they ought to be.

The officer attempted to pat Barranca on the nose. “Nice horse.”

Johnny nodded. “Thanks.”

“Is he for sale?” Johnny nearly choked. “Nope.”

“Too bad. I’ve always wanted a Palomino.” He looked out over Johnny’s bunch. “There’s a nice one over there. I think I’ll take that one as my own personal horse.”

Johnny felt the sweat break out on his forehead. The man had just managed to pick out the rankest horse in the bunch. “Believe me, ya don’t want that one.”

The officer turned and gave Johnny a look that reminded him eerily of Murdoch. “Don’t tell ME what I want.” He turned to the old man and pointed to the Palomino. “Saddle up that one. Now.”

Chapter Eleven

Johnny and Scott sat in the Great Room, sipping some of Murdoch’s best Brandy. The last time that some of the precious liquid had disappeared, their father threatened to kill anyone who even looked at it again. Since then, the two young men had studiously avoided it. Until now. At this point, it really didn’t matter. They had both resigned themselves to the fact that they were not long for this world.

Johnny finished his drink, and sloshed over to the bar to pour himself another one. Maybe if he got totally bombed, he wouldn’t see what a shambles the house was in. On the other hand, he would have to be careful not to pass out or he might drown.

The only bright spot of this whole mess had been watching that smartass lieutenant go sailing through the air and land in the horse trough the day before. He had come up spluttering something that Johnny couldn’t quite catch, but had gotten the general drift of. Johnny had watched in dismay as the hopes for a check went stomping right out of the corral. On the way out the officer had turned to Johnny and ordered him off of the property, and then slipped and fell in the mud. Johnny grinned as he remembered. Some people just had a knack for making themselves look stupid.

He sighed and watched the water dribbling down the walls of the Great Room. If he had seen something like that earlier, he would have flown into a panic. But somehow the wholesale destruction around him was just too overwhelming to even contemplate, and he felt strangely calm.

He had gotten home late from Blackwell, and tried to sneak into the house without Scott’s noticing. He had left the horses with Bill, who said he would try to sell them for whatever he could get for them. Johnny sure wasn’t going to drive them back to Lancer. Besides, if Bill sold them, maybe he could use the money for travel expenses for him and Scott. He heard they were hiring cowboys down in Bolivia. That seemed like it might be far enough away to guarantee that Murdoch couldn’t find them.

Scott had met him at the door. “Well? How much did you get?” Johnny had walked past him to the sideboard and poured himself a drink.

Scott was insistent. “I hope you got more than the five hundred you were counting on; that stove was more expensive than I thought it would be.”

Johnny had merely looked at his brother, and after making sure that Scott’s gunbelt was hanging safely in the hall, he sat down on the couch. Scott had sat down next to him. “Well? Don’t keep me in suspense. How much?”

Johnny took one last gulp before reluctantly putting the drink down on the table. No use spillin’ good tequila when his brother hit him. “Nothin’.”

Scott looked confused. “What do you mean, nothing? How much did you get for the horses?”

“Like I said, nothin. They didn’t want them.”

Scott had turned pale. “They didn’t want them? Why not?”

Johnny shrugged. “The officer couldn’t ride’ em.”

Johnny watched, entranced when Scott’s face actually turned purple. The only other person he had ever seen do that was Murdoch.

“I thought you broke them!”

Johnny sighed. “I did. I can’t help it if the kid couldn’t ride. He was one of those educated, stupid lieutenants from back east. He didn’t know nothin.”

Scott turned a darker shade of purple. “I’m going to forget you said that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed. When I wake up, you WILL have a plan to get us that money.”

Johnny had tossed and turned all night, and still hadn’t come up with anything better than robbing the bank. Somehow, he doubted if Scott would go for that, but maybe if he give him another day or two he might.

That was last night. This morning, he had greeted Scott and had immediately gotten his head chewed off. “I can’t believe you couldn’t sell those horses. I ask you to do ONE little thing, and you foul it up. Look at this house! Look at all the work I did while you were gone. Did I foul anything up? No. I can’t believe….”

That was when the wall in the Great room had collapsed in a torrent of water. Johnny watched open-mouthed while his brother was swept off of his feet by the flood and disappeared out the door.

Numerous other waterfalls had appeared in the ceiling and walls, and Johnny had escaped with his brother outside. Now, they were merely sitting in the Great room, contemplating their demise. They had managed to shut all of the water off and stop any further leaks, but the water was still seeping out of the walls. They had made a half- hearted attempt to get the water off of the floor, but it was just a little too overwhelming, and they had retired to the couch with the bottle of Brandy instead.

Johnny looked around the demolished house. Johnny couldn’t imagine Murdoch being the least bit understanding about it. And there was no way they could fix all this, not in the few days they had left. Even if they could, when Murdoch discovered the money was gone, it would all be over.

He waded back to the couch and sat down next to Scott. His brother had been sitting in the same spot for over an hour. Every time Johnny said something, he just turned glazed eyed towards him and mumbled something about plans. Johnny sighed. “Come on, brother, lets go ta bed. We can start workin on cleanin’ this up tomorrow.” Scott turned his blank eyes towards his brother and started to say something, then shut his mouth with a snap. Johnny wasn’t sure if Scott’s state was caused by the whole bottle of Brandy they had drunk, or by shock. Either way, Johnny figured he’d be better by morning. That is, he thought gloomily, he would be if the roof didn’t collapse.

Chapter Twelve

Johnny came slowly awake as Scott shook him. Finally he sat up. “What?”

“Come on brother, we’ve got work to do.”

Johnny squinted at his brother. He had obviously survived the night, unfortunately. “Go away. Scott. I just got ta sleep an hour ago.”

Scott threw Johnny’s clothes on the bed. “That’s your problem. Let’s go. If we’re going to have any chance of getting this place fixed up, you’re going to have to do some work. Now COME ON!”

Johnny allowed his brother to drag him out of bed. “What’s the use, Scott?” We’ll never get it all done before they come home.”

“We can at least get the kitchen and the Great Room done. Maybe we can convince him that we were trying to re-do those two rooms as a surprise.”

Johnny snorted. “He ain’t stupid, Scott. He’s gonna take one look at the bathtubs and those fancy water closets of yours and know EXACTLY what we were up to.”

Scott grinned. “Who says he has to see them?”

Johnny looked confused. “What do ya mean? Of course he’ll see them.”

“Not if they’re not here.”

Johnny shook his head. “I ain’t followin’ you.”

“Look, all you have to do is to take the bathtubs and the water closets back over to Jess. Tell him to sell them for whatever he can get for them. Maybe we can use the money to buy some new rugs for the Great room, fix the furniture, finish with all of the repairs, and pay for the stove and plaster.”

“But we still will be short the emergency money.” Johnny said worriedly.

Scott shook his head. “Come on, Johnny. When does Murdoch even check it? He hasn’t used that money since we’ve been here, ands we can get it paid back within a few months, especially if we get a check for those horses. Trust me, he’ll never know it’s gone.”

“But if we do that, we’ll still be without a bathing room. And I thought that was the point of all of this.”

Scott nodded. “It was. Now our main concern is survival.”

“Scott, those tubs are heavy. And do you remember how much trouble we had getting’ those things upstairs? The water closets weren’t that easy, either. Not that you’d know. If I remember correctly, you were standin there watchin’ most of the time.

“I was directing you so you wouldn’t fall. And what went up can certainly come down.”

Johnny shook his head. “I vote for just leavin’ em where they are. Murdoch can only be so mad, and it would sure save a lot of work.”

“That’s why you’re always in trouble. You just don’t think things out. If Murdoch doesn’t see them, he has NO REASON to be mad. Now hurry up. I’ve disconnected the pipes and capped them off. All you have to do is get everything over to Jess. And while you’re there, be sure to pick up the stove and plaster.”

“And what will YOU be doing?”

“I’m going to clean up the rest of the water and put the furniture out to dry. Now get going.”

By the time Johnny gat back with the stove and plaster, Scott had all of the furniture from the Great room outside drying. Jess had reluctantly bought the equipment back and gave him less than half what Johnny had paid for it. Johnny barely had enough money to pay for the supplies he needed.

Johnny went over and looked at the furniture, especially Murdoch’s desk. He had to admit, the damage wasn’t that bad. The water hadn’t gotten very high, and mostly it was the legs of the furniture that needed some work.

He walked into the kitchen and saw Scott down in the root cellar, trying to soak up some standing mud with rags. He grinned at his not – so- fastidious brother. “Hey Scott, wouldn’t it be easier ta put down a new layer of dirt on the floor ta soak up that water?” He turned and walked away, grinning, as a muddy towel sailed past his head.

Later that evening, both Scott and Johnny were somewhat surprised at the progress they had made. They couldn’t plaster yet, because of the dampness, but they had fixed and improved the root cellar, added a few cupboards to the kitchen, and had installed a new sink and automatic pump that was to have been used in one of the bathrooms. And it didn’t leak.

The next several days were spent in trying to patch the numerous holes around the house. Johnny would fill the holes with boards, and then Scott would come and plaster over the wood. In the Great Room, there were so many holes that Scott finally gave up and just put a new coat of plaster on all of the walls and the ceiling. Three days before their family was due home, the boys decided that if they forego sleeping, they just might make it.

The large hole in the side of the house that they had used to bring the bathtub in and the one that the tree had made were the last holes to be patched. The two boys stood staring at the gaps in awe.

“I don’t remember ‘em bein that big.” Johnny said.

“They weren’t, until you widened them!” Scott said.

“Well it wasn’t like I done it on purpose.” Johnny grumbled.

“Maybe not, but YOU can patch them.”

Me? Why me? I didn’t make ‘em, ‘sides, it was your idea ta put em there in the first place.”

“Yes, it’s only fair. I went to all the work to make them, now it’s your turn to do something. You get to patch them.”

Johnny looked up at the side of the house again. “How am I supposed ta get up there, let alone haul enough plaster up there ta fix that hole?”

Scott shook his head. “No problem. We’ll get some boards and wedge them into the tree. You can stand on the boards as you patch.” He handed Johnny a trowel. “I’ll mix up a big batch of plaster up in the room, then you can haul it out and set it on a board in the tree. It’ll be easy, trust me.”

Johnny reluctantly followed his brother’s advice, and with Scott giving him directions from the opening, Johnny managed to wedge some boards firmly in the branches. He took some other boards and started to patch up the hole in the wall, while Scott stirred a huge caldron of plaster.

When the wall was fixed as well as it could be by the boards, Johnny walked over to the nearby window. “Hey, Scott, ya done with that plaster yet?”

“Yes, I’m bringing it over now.” A few moments later, Scott appeared at the window. “This tub is awful heavy, maybe we should just leave it in the windowsill and you can walk back and forth to get the plaster.

Johnny grumbled about the extra work, but had to agree with Scott. The tub was extremely heavy, and he wasn’t sure if the boards would support its weight. And after the fiasco with the bathtub, he was very conscious of the consequences of too much weight. There was no way he was going to repeat that catastrophe.

Johnny walked over and got a scoop of plaster, then retreated to the opposite end of the board to patch the gap. “Hey, Scott, what da ya think? I’m not sure if this plaster is gonna hold.”

Scott leaned out of the window to get a better look, but he couldn’t quite see. He leaned a little farther, bumping the tub in the process. He grabbed at it to stop its fall, but only succeeded in knocking it more off balance. He watched the tub hit the end of the plank with a crash, flinging the opposite end up. Scott watched with an open mouth as his brother sailed through the air.

Chapter Thirteen

Murdoch stopped the buggy on the rise overlooking Lancer. He and Teresa sat there for a moment, glad to be home. The trip had been fun, but the whole time he had been gone, there was this niggling fear that something was wrong. He had told Teresa about the dream he had a week or so ago, where they came home and the house had been just a pile of rubble. They both had a good laugh over that. Teresa had told him that even Scott and Johnny couldn’t do THAT much damage.

Even so, he breathed a little easier once he actually saw the Hacienda. As they pulled up into the yard, Murdoch felt even more relaxed. He didn’t see anything wrong anywhere. He noticed the boys had even trimmed the branch of the tree overhanging the roof. He laughed at himself for thinking there had been something wrong and the boys couldn’t take care of the ranch for a month.

The door to the hacienda opened, and Scott and Johnny walked out to greet them. Murdoch’s ayes were immediately drawn to a large cast on his youngest son’s left arm.

“Oh Johnny, what happened?” Teresa cried, jumping off of the buggy and running over to him.”

“Don’t worry Teresa, Sam says it’ll be fine. Just had a little fall.”

Murdoch approached. “I assume you got bucked of?”

Johnny met Scott’s eyes before answering. “More or less.”

Murdoch’s eyes narrowed, and he turned to face his oldest son, noticing for the first time that he was sporting a black eye. “And what happened to you? You look like you got kicked by a mule.”

Scott’s eyes flicked towards Johnny as he answered his father. “More or less.”

Murdoch snorted. “I hope that “mule” looks worse than you do.”

Scott grinned as Johnny shot him a dirty look. “Oh, definitely, sir.”

Johnny grabbed Teresa by the arm, “Come on honey, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Teresa let Johnny guide her into the house and through the dining room into the kitchen.

Teresa stopped in amazement at the change in her kitchen. She looked around for a few moments, slightly overwhelmed, then turned and grabbed Johnny and gave him a big hug. “Thank, you. I don’t know what to say!” She let go of Johnny and rushed over to Scott and gave him a similar hug.

Murdoch walked in and looked at the remodeled kitchen with a critical eye. “Did you boys do this all yourselves?”

“Yes, sir.” Scott tried to look modest.

Murdoch nodded. “You did a great job.” He glanced towards the sink. “I see that you got an automatic pump. Did you have any trouble installing it?”

Scott glared at this brother, as Johnny seemed to be overcome with a coughing fit. “No sir. It was really fairly easy to install.” He wasn’t lying either. The pump was the only piece of plumbing in the house that hadn’t been bound and determined to kill him.

Scott walked towards the dining room, then turned and looked at his father. “If you’ll follow me, we have a surprise for you, too.”

Murdoch walked into the Great Room and stopped in surprise. The whole room, plus the dining room had been given a new coat of plaster and paint. There were several new rugs on the floor to replace the old ones, and the furniture looked like it had been freshly scrubbed.

Murdoch turned and looked at his sons. ‘I owe the two of you an apology. I was worried that you would wreck the place while I was gone.” He chuckled. “I even had a dream that you had destroyed the house.”

Johnny opened his mouth to reply, and Scott gave him a swift kick. “I’m wounded that you could even think that, Sir.”

Murdoch nodded in agreement. “Like I said, I owe you boys an apology. In fact, I know I’ve been unfair about the bathhouse situation. “To tell you the truth, I was halfway expecting to come home and find that you’d built one.” He chuckled. “I was halfway hoping you had.” Murdoch looked around once more. “I tell you what. Since it’s obvious that you boys know what you’re doing, why don’t you order some supplies for two new indoor bathing rooms.”

Murdoch paused. “I was going to hire out the building of a new bathhouse as a surprise, but since you boys are so handy, we can get two better indoor ones if you do all of the work yourselves. Go ahead and go all out, and order enough to make two complete bathrooms. You two can do all of the installation, and there’s plenty of money in the emergency fund to order the supplies. You can get it out of the safe and wire it with your order, so there’s no hold up. I’m tired of having to go over to the Thomsen’s to bathe. If you put in the order now, the supplies should be here in a week or so, and the installation shouldn’t take more than that. I’ll expect the new facilities to be done within a couple of weeks.”

Murdoch thought that maybe Scott and Johnny weren’t feeling very well. They were awfully quiet at dinner, and then both retired almost immediately. He shook his head. Sometimes he just didn’t understand his sons. He thought they would be thrilled with the prospect of new indoor bathrooms, but they didn’t seem very enthusiastic. However, they had obviously been working hard. Maybe they were just tired. He walked over to his liquor cabinet and bent down to get his last bottle of Brandy that he’d been saving.

Scott walked over to Johnny’s door and rapped lightly on the wood before entering. Not surprisingly, his brother was stuffing supplies into his saddlebags. Johnny looked up at Scott, and stuffed another shirt into the already bulging bags. Scott walked over and fingered the bag. “Where do you think you’re going?”


“Come on, Johnny. You can’t leave just because Murdoch’s going to be mad.”

Johnny never stopped packing. “Scott, he ain’t goin’ ta be mad, he’s gonna be furious. And I, for one, ain’t gonna stay and watch my own murder.”

“So you’re just going to leave me here to face our father’s wrath by myself?”

Johnny paused, then looked up and met Scott’s eyes. “Yep.”

Johnny grabbed the bags and stepped towards the door. Scott reached out and grabbed his shirt. “Johnny, you can’t go. Besides, Murdoch will never find out. We can get the supplies and get the job done now. We’ve already made all of the mistakes. If we do it this time, NOTHING can go wrong, trust me.”

Johnny cautiously set his saddlebags down and looked at his brother hopefully. “What about the money for the supplies? Where are ya plannin’ on getting that?”

Scott sat down on the bed and looked up at Johnny. “Don’t worry brother, I’ve got a plan.”

~ end ~

Surprise Series
The Surprise
The Gifts
The Dates
The Easter Bunny
The Chase
The Exchange
The Homecoming
The Squirrels
The Duchess
The Deal
The Mountain Man – FIRST PLACE Lancer Writers Awards: Best Humorous Story

To The Gifts 

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

One thought on “The Surprise by Terri

  1. Laughed out loud at this! Scott and Johnny, left to their own devices and with a plan, are kinda scary. lol Good job!


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