Summary: Murdoch Is Not Having a Good Day…So No One Else Is Either!
Usual Disclaimers Apply
Word count: 1,943
Murdoch’s roar in general was much worse than his bite, but today everyone was stepping lightly around the patriarch, being extremely careful of not upsetting the apple cart for even a insignificant provocation. The gigantic man was in a steady snit, snarled at everyone during breakfast as he and Cip handed out the daily list of chores. Afterwards, he snapped at Maria when she cautiously tiptoed into the Great Room to refill his coffee mug.
“I ASKED FOR ABSOLUTE SILENCE AROUND HERE, NO INTERRUPTIONS WHAT SO EVER!” he yelled at the petite, black-haired woman. “THAT MEANS YOU TOO, MARIA!”
“No disculpo, Patron. Perdoneme por favor (Excuse me. Please forgive me),” Maria replied as she poured the hot brew. She silently backed away from the red-faced man, who had been angrily dipping his pen into the ink well then scribbling hard and fast on paper. Maria had seen lots of numbers, the patron’s normally combed hair was standing up on end, as if he had been raking his hands through it in frustration, coffee sloshed upon the desktop from where he slammed the mug down, which she wiped the spills away with the edge of her apron, fussing not at him but at this mess he had made.
“MARIA! DO NOT BOTHER ME AGAIN! I MEAN IT OR YOU ARE FIRED! YOU AND CIP CAN CLEAR OUT OF HERE AT ONCE.”
“Si, Patron,” she answered. She shot him a look that could be described as apprehension, confusion or maybe just concentration, almost as if she was pondering if she should slip poison into his noon day meal to end his and everyone else’s misery.
An hour later…Maria could hear the man’s ongoing exasperated grunts…she peeked around the corner to see him still scribbling on paper, arms flaying as he crossed things out then balling the latest sheet of paper into a tight mass before flinging it to the floor. She shook her head as she returned to her kitchen to start the lunch meal. Another hour ticked by as the grandfather clock chimed the noon hour when suddenly there was the loud report of a shotgun blast from within the Great Room.
Johnny and Scott had been busy in the barn, making an inventory of the hardware supplies. Jelly dropped a can of whitewash that he had just opened to check the contents, managed to coat himself when the noise jolted him. All three looked at each other in total surprise. While Jelly picked up a rag to blot at the mess, instead made the spill larger as he wiped the rag against the whitewash.
“What the hell? Sounds like a shotgun blast!” Johnny exclaimed.
“From within the house?” queried Scott.
Jelly grumbled, “Tarnation, will ya look at this here mess?”
“Never mind that, we better go see what that was all about!” shouted Scott as he dropped what he was holding onto. The trio ran towards the Great Room.
Maria had been preparing Murdoch’s favorite noon day meal to soothe the savage beast, residing in the other room, shrieked from the earsplitting blast. She dropped the mixing bowl of batter she was stirring for Murdoch’s favorite applesauce cake. The contents splattered down the front of her work apron, all over the counter space, slowly dribbled a trail of flour, sugar, raisins, nuts and applesauce down to the adobe tiled floor. She somehow avoided stepping in the mess as she high-tailed into the Great Room.
Teresa, behind the barn, was carrying the latest load of the Lancer’s shirts to be pegged onto the clothesline, jumped with a start. The basket she had been carrying flew from her hands, spilling the damp contents to the sandy soil. She was completely heedless of the notion that the clothes would now need to be rinsed out again, as she lifted her skirts to run inside the Great Room, clothes pegs flying from her apron pockets, leaving a trail of wooden pegs in her wake.
From all entrance points into the Great Room, the family and close acquaintances of Murdoch Lancer, congregated, stopped their forward momentum as their eyes focused on the sight that was before them. They were shocked to see that the man’s large body was slumped across his wide oak desk. In the air a combination of blasting powder and smoke filtered through the room, along with body parts.
“MURDOCH!” everyone yelled as they rushed to the fallen man, searching frantically for an entrance wound and flowing blood that needed to be stopped.
He looked up from the desk, eyes bleary and red, his forehead marked from pounding it into the desk, his hands and face smeared with black ink, ink stains splattered down the front of his one pristine checkered shirt. Everyone held their breath as his white knuckled hands tightly gripped the smoking double-barrel shotgun.
“Are you alright, sir?” Scott dared to ask with caution, looked intently at his sire. “Are you wounded?
“Well, what then, sir?”
“Ol’ man, ya scared the shit out of us. What the hell goin’ on?” Johnny questioned as his eyes searched his father, then around the room, taking it all in and what was bit by bit floating to the floor.
Teresa cried, “Murdoch, what happened?”
“Madre de Dios!” wailed Maria, her hand pointed towards the far wall.
“Lordy, what brought that on I wonder?” asked Jelly, looking at the feathers and once white stuffing dropping to the floor in the cloud of smoke that was dissipating. Murdoch’s prized stuffed pheasant was no more, only a gaping hole in the wall where the colorful, long-tailed bird had once majestically roosted, on top of the bookcase, where he watched over the Great Room proceedings for many years. Poof! He was no longer.
Murdoch tossed the empty gun towards Johnny, who deftly caught it, “It was either that damn bird or him.”
“Him? Who are you talking about, sir? Surely, not Jelly?
“Johnny?” Scott asked with trepidation, concerned what his impetuous little brother had done now to warrant such an uncharacteristic display of aversion from their father. He couldn’t think of a single thing, but that meant little when it came to the craftiness Johnny could display when he wanted to.
Johnny’s eyes widen at Scott throwing out his name, put in his two cent’s worth, “Ya pissed at Boston for somethin’, ol’ man?”
“NO! NOT YOU TWO…YET. HIM!”
Scott shrugged his shoulders at Johnny, Johnny looked at Jelly. Jelly hitched his shoulders up as he turned up the palms of his hands, as confused as the rest of them. Teresa looked at the mess of papers on the floor and the desk, while Maria crossed herself.
“Murdoch at the risk of repeating myself, could you perhaps elaborate as to just who you are or were ready to shoot?”
“The fucking tax collector.”
“Oooohhhh,” said Teresa, clicking her tongue at Murdoch’s explanation. “I forgot that it’s that time of year again.”
Johnny looked confused, “Somebody want ta fill me in? Murdoch, why the hell are ya so pissed?”
Murdoch stood up to his full height of six foot five inches, ink smears and all waved a piece of paper under Johnny’s nose, “You want to know why I’m so pissed? I TELL YOU WHY!”
“Now boss, calm down, don’t get so excited. It ain’t good for you and ‘tain’t nothin’ you can do about that,” said Jelly, who held out his hands to take the shotgun from Johnny, glad that no one else had a rig strapped on.
“’TAIN’T NOTHIN’” I CAN DO ABOUT THIS?” he snarled turning toward Jelly, who edged backwards a step or two, gulping at the wrath Murdoch was exhibiting. He couldn’t recall another time when Murdoch had been so irritated.
“Murdoch, what the hell’s wrong?” Johnny asked still confused over the paper Murdoch was waving around like a flag flapping in a high wind.
“THIS YEAR’S GOD-DAMN TAX BILL THAT I HAVE TO PAY!” THAT’S WHAT IS WRONG!”
Scott reached up to snatch the paper from Murdoch’s hand. He looked over the itemized list, whistling at all the rows and columns of expenses and costs levied against the Lancer’s vast holdings. He scanned the document and pointed at the grand total at the bottom of the page for Johnny to see the total of the property taxes.
“$3,254?” the boys said in unison.
“AND DON’T FORGET, 55 CENTS,” shouted Murdoch as he paced up and down, raking his hands through his hair. “That’s the money we were going to use to purchase another three Braham bulls this year.”
“Murdoch, just what the hell is all this you’re payin’ for?” asked Johnny as he looked down the list before giving it back over to Murdoch.
“TAXES! For capital improvement of the town, for Sheriff Crawford and his deputy salaries, for Mayor Higgs and the town council expenses, for roads, for the new city hall we’re building and mostly to educate the town’s children,” roared Murdoch. “I’m paying to educate other people’s children.”
“Yes sir the schoolhouse, its assets, the books and the teacher’s housing and salary, all accounted for and itemized line by line.”
“GREAT! Never sent one of my children to that damn school but yet I’m paying through the nose for its operational costs and that teacher.”
“We’re paying, sir, you, Johnny and me,” Scott pointed out. “After all it’s our duty to see that the youth of the community have a decent education to better themselves.”
Murdoch stopping pacing, turned to look squarely at Johnny, pointed his finger at Scott, “You’re right about that, Scott. Johnny, starting Monday morning, bright and early, I’m enrolling you in the Green River school. It’s high time you took advantage of the education I’m paying for.”
“WHAT? LIKE HELL! I AIN’T GOIN’!”
Murdoch poured himself a stiff drink, gulped it down, making the exact same face he did when he told Johnny and Scott they would be heading into mining country in search of his old friend’s daughter, Melissa Harper. He had listened to his sons’ excuses for not going and his sons’ steadfast refusals to do as they were bid. They damn sure did not get out of that and no way in hell would Johnny worm his way out of attending school. He’d see to it that he got his money’s worth while making sure Johnny got his education.
“YOU’RE GOING! EVEN IF I HAVE TO HOG-TIE YOU DOWN TO A BENCH! AND SIT THERE WITH YOU!”
“LIKE FRIGGIN’ HELL I’M GOIN’. SEND SCOTT, HE LIKES SCHOOL! I GOT OTHER THINGS TA ‘TEND TA!”
Scott sensed this was as good as a time as any to take his leave and allow his father and brother to skirmish this battle without his interference or choose a side, dropped the tax bill back on top of Murdoch’s desk. He crooked his index finger to beckon Jelly, wrapped his arms around Maria’s and Teresa’s waists backed the ladies and himself out of the room.
“HEY, WAIT A FRIGGIN’ MINUTE! WHERE THE HELL ARE YA ALL GOIN’?”
“Brother, this is between you and Murdoch. I’ve already earned my college degree,” he winked at Murdoch, while the others chuckled.
Johnny stared at Murdoch, “I AIN’T GOIN’ TA SCHOOL! NO FUCKIN’ WAY!”
“We’ll see about that young man,” stated Murdoch with his unyielding stubborn stare. “You’ll follow my orders.”
“AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.”
“Oh yes, it will.”
“Don’t think for one minute, that you’re going to tax me, young man. I get enough of that from the tax collector. You’re going and that’s the last word on this matter.”
“OH NO IT AIN’T…”
Patti – March 27, 2010
Readers’ Note: Happy (Early) April Fool’s Day!
I couldn’t resist the temptation of combining two upcoming events – April Fool’s Day story for you readers at the possibly that Murdoch did himself in, along with the upcoming Tax Day, where people in the US are fed-up with many aspects of the government waste and becoming more vocal about it. You didn’t really think I’d do away with any of the Lancers now did you?
April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day is a day celebrated in many countries on April 1. The day is marked by the commission of hoaxes and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, enemies, and neighbors, or sending them on a fool’s errand, the aim of which is to embarrass the gullible. Traditionally, in some countries, such as the UK, Australia and South Africa the jokes only last until noon, and someone who plays a trick after noon is called an “April Fool”. Elsewhere, such as in Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, The Netherlands, and the U.S., the jokes last all day.
The origin of April Fools’ Day is unknown. One likely theory is that April Fool’s Day comes from the Persian tradition of Sizdah Bedar, which is believed to be the oldest prank-related tradition in the world still alive, celebrated by Persians as far back as 536 BC. Another theory is that the modern holiday was first celebrated soon after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar; the term referred to someone still adhering to the Julian Calendar, which it replaced. In many pre-Christian cultures May Day (May 1) was celebrated as the first day of summer, and signalled the start of the spring planting season. An April Fool may have been someone who did this prematurely. Another possible origin lies in the fact that when King Charles IX of France officially changed the first day of the year from April 1 to January 1, some of his subjects continued using the old system.
In the eighteenth century the festival was often posited as going back to the time of Noah. According to an English newspaper article published April 13, 1789, the day had its origin when Noah sent his dove off too early, before the waters had receded; he did this on the first day of the Hebrew month that corresponds with April.
A possible reference to April Fools’ Day can be seen in the Canterbury Tales (ca 1400) in the Nun’s Priest’s tale, a tale of two fools (Chanticleer and the fox), which took place on March 32 (hence April Fools’ Day!).
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