The Key by S.

#2 of a quadrilogy of stories

Masks
The Key
Lucifer
The Diary

Word count: 1,696

“Teresa, have you seen my hat?”  Lancer’s owner emerged from his room, a worried look on his face.

The small woman looked over at her guardian and coughed.  Then she coughed again.  Dust descended in clouds from her shoulders and head.  “N-no,” she gasped.  Tr-ry your r-room.”

A look of frustration crossed the older man’s face.  “I just looked in my room and why are you so dirty?”

“Dirty?”  The woman’s lower lip began to tremble.  “Dirty?  You men don’t understand anything!”  Dropping the broom she held in her hand, she flounced out the door.

Murdoch Lancer stood there bewildered.  Teresa HAD been filthy and he still didn’t know where his hat was!   Wandering aimlessly around the great room, the rancher continued to look for the missing item.  The day was much too hot, even as early as it was, to go out and sun stroke.

“Looking for something, Murdoch?”   Scott Lancer entered the room through the main door, stopping next to the grandfather’s clock. 

“My hat.”

“Try your room,” Scott suggested.

“I just looked there!”

“Teresa told me that’s where it is!”

Murdoch moved closer to his older son.  “And you’d believe her rather than your own father?”

“For some things, yes.   Of course, I must admit it was difficult understanding her when she was crying so hard.”

“Crying?  I didn’t mean to make her cry,” Murdoch protested.

“She’s exhausted because she was up in the attic trying to finish what we started the other day.”

“Finish up?  What are you talking about?”

“The two of us were up there not long ago.  I helped her move out some of the trunks and furniture so she could clean.”

“You were up there too?”

“She couldn’t do it alone.  I did most of the heavy moving.  She did the cleaning.”

“Oh.”

Murdoch Lancer walked over to his desk and sat down.  “Did you. . .did she find anything?”

“As I said, trunks, boxes with old patterns in them, broken furniture.  Oh, and a desk was tucked away in a dark corner.  It looked like a woman’s writing desk.  I moved it downstairs and polished it.  It must have been beautiful once, but now the wood is beginning to crack from the heat.   Maybe we should bring it down for Teresa to use?”

“No!  I mean, it’s not. . .it doesn’t belong to Teresa.  It’s mine.  I’d prefer that no one else touches it.  I’ll go upstairs and make sure that it’s well-wrapped.”

“I don’t understand.  Teresa never said anything about it belonging to you and your knees wouldn’t even fit under it.  Besides, it’s locked and doesn’t have a key.”

“I. . .I have the key, but the desk really isn’t your concern.”

Scott’s blue eyes shuttered over for a moment, but he stayed in place.  “Then who does it concern?  Nothing is going to make me believe that you ever used that desk. It’s about half the size of the one where you’re sitting.”

“What does it matter who it once belonged to?  Everything in this house belongs to me—the desk too.  Now, don’t you have work to do?”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t right this minute.   When I saw Teresa crying, I thought I could help.”

“Always the peacemaker, aren’t you?”  Murdoch drummed one long finger against his massive desk.

“What does that mean?  I thought you were all in favor of peace?”

“Sometimes.  Sometimes you have to fight, like with Pardee.”

“I agree.  That’s why I fought in the War.”

“And the reason you came to Lancer.”

Scott crossed his arms, staring at the older man.  “Is that what you think?  I didn’t even know about Pardee until you told Johnny and me,” the blond reminded his father.

“Well, that’s true, but you must have realized it was something important, something to do with Lancer or why would I have you come all this way and pay $1000 for an hour of your time?” Murdoch focused on his older son’s face, trying to find the truth in those cerulean eyes.

“Maybe I thought you had finally decided you wanted to meet your son.  Would that be so strange?”

The oldest Lancer rubbed the back of his neck.  “I suppose not, except why would I assume you’d come all that way, even for the money?”

Scott sat down on the couch, crossing one long leg over the other.  “Because you’re a gambler?”

The tall man’s mouth dropped open.  “Are you serious?  Do you think I’d risk my life’s work on anyone or anything?”

“But didn’t you do just that?  Oh not the $1000.  That was just to get us here.  You figured that once we saw Lancer, met you, Teresa, and each other that we couldn’t resist staying.  Of course, being you, it was necessary to throw in a share of the ranch as the icing on the cake, so to speak.  What man could resist a share in an empire, right?”

“No reasonable man could.”

“And that’s Scott Lancer.  I’ve spent most of my life being reasonable—except for my stint in the Union cavalry of course.”

Despite the early hour, the rancher felt tempted to have a glass of scotch, but being Murdoch Lancer he resisted the urge.   “So my offer fell right in with your plans?  Is that what you’re saying?”

The younger man leaned forward slightly.  “Oh, I don’t deny that I was looking for adventure.  After the War, I was searching for something more in my life than a desk with dusty tomes.  When the Pinkerton man contacted me, I couldn’t resist.”

“Including the money?” Murdoch questioned.

“I would say I earned it over those 3,000 miles, but I have a feeling I would have come even without the offer.”

“So I could have saved myself the $1000?”

Scott started to smile then his lips tightened.  “Maybe.  Perhaps all you would have needed was a telegram saying, ‘I’d like to get to know you.  Could we talk?'”

“You expect me to believe that?” Murdoch snorted.

“You’ll never know for sure, will you?  It was easier to put the whole relationship on a business basis, wasn’t it?”

The big man’s eyes dropped.  “It seemed reasonable.”

“Oh, I don’t blame you.  I understand business too.  Numbers make sense, feelings don’t always add up.  You forget that I lived for twenty-five years with an accountant.  I love my grandfather, but he isn’t anymore forthcoming about his feelings than you are.  I’ve become used to it.  I guess that’s why I haven’t pushed you for the answers to questions I’ve had since I was old enough to be aware that a man named Murdoch Lancer was my father.”

“I told you that I wasn’t going to apologize for what happened all those years ago nor the years in between.”

Scott stood up and stretched.  He had risen quite early that morning.  “I’m not surprised.  Maybe I thought that once you got to know me, you’d change your mind and be more forthcoming, but old dogs don’t learn new tricks, do they?  It’s safer for you to say that we should move forward rather than look backward.  Maybe it is, but Johnny and I are the ones who have lost so much of our rightful past.”

“What do you want from me?  Some kind of sob story about losing two wives and two sons, working night and day to build this ranch, spilling my blood just to have a better life?  Well, all of that’s true and it’s not going to change just because we talk about it!”

Scott stood up to place his hands on the desk so that he was only a few inches from the formidable man.  “What I want is for there to be trust and honesty between us.  I’ve done my best to earn your respect so perhaps it’s time for you to start earning mine by telling me why you don’t want me to look in my mother’s desk.”

Startled, the big man tried to bluff.  “What makes you think it’s Catherine’s?”

“Because my grandfather told me that she insisted on bringing it with her to Lancer.”

“Why. . .why didn’t you say so before?”

“Because I hoped you’d willingly give me the key.”

The craggy face tightened.  “I’m. . .I’m not sure what is in the desk.  I believe her diary is in there.  Maybe some letters from your grandfather.  I locked it the day I returned from Carterville and I’ve never opened it again.”

“Why not?”

“She was gone.  You were gone.  What difference did it make?”

Scott held out one hand.   Murdoch hesitated for a moment before opening a drawer and taking out a metal box.  Unlocking the box, he took out a delicate key and handed it over.  “Whatever is in the desk is now yours.”

Scott smiled.  “Thank you.  You won’t regret this.”

“I don’t intend to.  Whatever is in there is for your eyes only.  I don’t want to hear about it.   I have memories of my life with Catherine.  That’s enough.”

Scott closed one hand tightly around the scrolled key.  “Very well.  At least you have memories.  Until now, I’ve had very little of my mother.”

Moving quickly, he climbed the stairs to the second floor, and then pulled down the steps to the attic.   Sneezing as he reached the top, Scott walked hesitantly over to the piece of furniture in the corner under a sheet.   At first the key refused to turn but then it slipped into the open position.   In the drawer was a book with ‘Catherine Garrett’ inscribed on it and some letters, wrapped in a ribbon.  Carrying them like crystal, Scott carefully descended the steps and went to his room.

One long finger caressed the worn cover and the inscription.  Closing his eyes, he could picture the woman in the painting at home in Boston and the small photograph that Murdoch owned.  Lying down on the bed, Scott opened the book and began to read.  He didn’t even hear Teresa re-enter the house, find a certain hat in Murdoch’s room, plunk it on her guardian’s desk and then return to work in the attic.

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-end-

To Lucifer —->

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