Apologies to the wonderful Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Word count: 1,202
Scott Lancer let his lean body slump against the forgiving softness of the couch in the great room. Every part of his body seemed to ache with a knife-sharpness that would not allow him to find release, but even the most serious of the pain, centered around his ribs, was nothing to what he knew he would soon face as a result of the melee in town.
Somehow the temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees as the tall, formidable figure of Murdoch Lancer emerged from Johnny’s room to approach the side of his older son. Jaw clenched, the patriarch just stared at the blond young man before asking in an ice-spiked voice, “What happened and who started it?”
“I. . .I’m sorry, Sir. Johnny and I were just having a beer at Maude’s and. . . .”
Interrupting his son’s explanation, Murdoch’s voice warmed to its task. “I thought I told you to just go into town and take care of the business at the bank. What were you doing at Maude’s? You know what happened last month when Johnny got into a brawl. I thought I warned you not to go in there again!”
“Yes, Sir, but Sindy was there and Johnny was thirsty. We only planned to be there for a few minutes.”
Murdoch walked over to his desk to take his seat. From this small space the rancher had ruled his empire for twenty years, but there was no way to rule two stubborn sons unfortunately. “So you went to Maude’s then what happened?”
“We were just talking when some men from the Double Bar B came in. We. . .Johnny and I that is were going to leave, but Sindy wanted one more dance with Johnny so. . .so he did. Then some of them, including that Cade Barton, started talking really loud and began to make remarks about things.”
“So they start talking and Johnny ends up with a sprained ankle and a bump on his head? Would you kindly explain to me why he is now in bed instead of doing a day’s work?”
“I can try. You see, well, Cade started saying things about you, calling you an arrogant tin God who thought he was better than anybody just because you own 100,000 acres.!”
Murdoch’s nostrils flared, but he clenched his hands and said nothing.
“Johnny could see something was going on and came over just in time to hear the next remark.”
“Now, wait a minute here. Are you telling me that you let Johnny get out of control and start another fight? Can’t I trust you after the last time he got into a fight over a girl. Why didn’t you hustle him out of there? I always assumed you were the one with common sense. It looks like I was wrong!”
Scott’s eyes dropped to his hands. “He didn’t do anything. He just stood there. I mean I think he wanted to do something, but there were six of them.”
“So what happened that finally set him off?”
“Well, Cade kept talking and saying things about you mostly, but we remembered what you told us the last time we got in a fight and you had to pay for the doctor so. . .so we ignored him even though he made references to you and some unnatural practices with sheep among other things.”
Tiny puffs of smoke emerged from Murdoch’s ears or perhaps they were only wisps of hair, but the tall man rose abruptly, knocking off a ledger. “Damn! I’m going to ride over to the Double Bar B and talk to the Bradford Brothers! I know a few things about them and this is going to stop. I know Johnny wasn’t hurt much this time, but I will not have my reputation besmirched by two men who have only been in the valley for less than six months and then send their thugs into town to start a fight with my son!”
Scott’s pale face flushed as he shifted uncomfortably. He really needed to get lay down, but this had to be settled first. “Uh, Murdoch, they didn’t throw the first punch!”
“What? I thought from what you said that Johnny controlled himself for once?”
“He did, well, actually, he had to since a couple of the Double Bar B men grabbed him by the arms and wouldn’t let go. He stomped on the foot of one and sprained his ankle, but. . .but I threw the first punch.”
Murdoch sat down in the chair with a thud! “You what? Damnation, what is the matter with you? You know I expect more from you than that! I thought you’d be a role model for your brother. After all, he didn’t have the advantage of a civilized upbringing like you did and now you start a fight and he gets hurt?!”
Scott bristled at that accusation, but knew that it was at least partially true. “After I threw the punch, Johnny broke loose and helped me take on the six men. Fortunately, Maude brought out her shotgun and ordered them out. I wrapped up Johnny’s ankle and took care of his head before we headed home. That’s. . .that’s about it.”
“Oh no, that’s not it! First of all, I want to know what Cade said that caused you to belt him. Did it have something to do with me?”
“What then? Surely they didn’t say anything about Teresa?”
“No, it was nothing like that.”
Trying to hang on to what was left of his temper, Murdoch loudly insisted, “Tell me what he said or I swear you’ll be branding cows by yourself for the next ten years!”
“When. . when I suggested to Johnny that we just leave and ignore Cade, the blowhard started to say things about Boston .”
” Boston ?”
“He said I was just like all those namby-pamby easterners without any guts for a fight. He said he wasn’t surprised because everybody knew Bostonians were either snobs or trash who came from across the ocean to take jobs away from honest men. It. . .it got worse, but when he said something about Robert Shaw and other Union officers, I. . .I lost it and hit him. He deserved it and I’m not going to apologize, but I am sorry that Johnny was hurt. I never wanted that to happen.”
The tall rancher stared at his older son. “All right, at least he’s just got a bump on his hard head and only needs some rest, but I expect you to you to take care of the work he should have completed today and for as long as he’s unable to work. Is that understood?”
“All right, then get to it. I’ll see you at dinner.” Murdoch stood up to return to Johnny’s bedroom to make sure that his younger son was still sleeping.
Scott awkwardly rose to his feet and made his way to the door. The sigh of relief which emerged from his dry lips was cut short as his ribs flared with pain, but at least he was still in one piece—or nearly so.
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