An Unanswered Question by Laraine

Word Count 5,565

ON THE TRAIL.   OCTOBER 1866

Murdoch Lancer was enjoying himself on this cool, crisp autumn day.  He was returning back to his home, Lancer, after a two-week trek on a cattle buying trip to Carson City.  His foreman, Paul O’Brien, had accompanied him, along with several of his ranch hands, and Murdoch had sent them home a few days early.  There had been a speaker in town that Murdoch wanted to listen to and talk with, and he knew his young hands would not be particularly interested.  Plus, he knew that Paul was anxious to get back to his 15-year old  daughter, Teresa, at Lancer.  In their absence, the young girl had stayed in the home of Senior and Senorita Cipriano, long-time Lancer employees—and friends.

As his horse, Barron,  kept up a swift, but comfortable stride, Murdoch Lancer took in the feel of the cool air, and breathed deeply.  He felt good.  A year earlier, he had had a bout with pneumonia, which left him with a shortness of breath for months.  Then, last spring, he had suffered a broken leg in an accidental fall out of a tree he was pruning.

Teresa O’Brien had scolded her “Uncle Murdoch” and let it be known he wasn’t 20 years old anymore.  Thanks, darling, he had mumbled.  But it was true.  He was getting older, and running his 95,000 acre ranch, which he soon hoped would be 100,000 acres if future purchases came about, was getting difficult.  If only he had his sons with him. . . . .

His oldest son, Scott,  was 22 now, and as far as he knew, had returned to his studies at Harvard.  Through a legal agreement, Scott’s grandfather, Harlan Garrett, with whom Scott resided in Boston, was required to notify Murdoch Lancer, on a yearly basis, of his son’s achievements, or, God forbid, if something had happened to Scott.

It was through these notifications that Murdoch learned his oldest son had joined the war between the states at the age of 18, much to his grandfather’s objections.  And although Murdoch and Harlan Garrett despised each other,  the Bostonian, by personal letter, did have the decency to inform Murdoch that Scott was a prisoner at Libby, and to pray for his safe return.  And, when Scott was safely back home, Garrett did relay that information to Murdoch.

How he wanted to contact his oldest son.  But he felt this was not the time.  He felt that Scott would need some time to readjust, to get himself together, and perhaps, to get through college before having to deal with  the added burden of his father’s contact.  Plus, deep down, Murdoch Lancer had the fear he would be rejected by Scott; after all, who knows what his grandfather had told him through the years.

But somehow, Murdoch Lancer knew when the time would be right to contact Scott.  When he had that special feeling in his heart that right now, he just didn’t have.

And perhaps, it was because of the uncertainty of the whereabouts of his youngest son, Johnny.  He would be 19 now, if he were still alive, and the gruff rancher was sadly beginning to have his doubts.

For 17 years, since his second wife, Maria, had taken off in the night with their two-year old son, Murdoch had been searching for them.  The both of them, at first.  The first four years had been a continuous search for his wife and son.  Then, as his ranch progressed, and the need to get on with his life became evident, the search had gone to twice a year.

Finally, he hired the well-known Pinkerton agents to locate his missing family, but for the past several years, there had been no sightings or stories relating to a Maria or Johnny Lancer.  It seemed like they just fell off the face of the earth.  And the search then became more for his son than his wife.

Murdoch felt  that his wife was an adult and could take care of herself, but he worried for the care and upbringing of his still young son. What if she was dead and the child were left on his own, or he was dead, or both were dead.  Or if they were both somewhere where they couldn’t contact him.  Or, if Johnny even knew who his father was.  So many unanswered questions.

Then last year, the last Pinkerton agent on the case had suggested Murdoch save his money and stop the search for his son.  That at the age of 18, Johnny Lancer was old enough to contact his father on his own, without his mother’s consent.  If he wanted to.  And from all accounts, it seemed as if Mr. John Lancer, if still alive, didn’t want to be found.

Murdoch had considered this, but it was the not knowing that gnawed at his soul.  He knew that his oldest son was being taken care of, provided for, and didn’t lack for anything.  And if the unthinkable did happen, he would be informed.  But his youngest. . .if he was dead, he wanted to know it.  He wanted to know when and how, and where his resting place was.  So he could make sure it was decent.  And even Maria, he couldn’t rest without knowing her fate as well.

And if his black-haired, blue-eyed youngest son was still alive, he wanted to know that, too, damn it.  He wanted to see what he looked like, he wanted to hear his voice, he wanted to hear his story.

And so, as Murdoch Lancer headed home, he decided he would continue his search for his youngest son.  And tell the Pinkerton’s to put another agent on the case. . . .

 .

The young, bearded man was tired and hungry when he came upon the remnants of a shack, at sundown.  He would rest here tonight, in this perfect spot.  The shack’s remains would provide him with covering, the stream behind it provided plenty of water, and it was well enough hidden where he could be alone but still have a view of anyone that might pass by on the trail.

He had crossed the border back to the United States a few weeks before, where for the past two years he had been in Mexico and the surrounding border towns.  Getting into trouble.  Working at odd jobs. And making women happy.  But the last woman he made happy was, unbeknownst to the 19-year old, married, so he high-tailed it out of Mexico as fast as he could.  One thing he didn’t believe in was taking another man’s woman.  But she didn’t tell him.  And he didn’t ask.  And although it was funny to him now, he was never so scared in his life as when the wronged husband yelled and almost tore down the bedroom door, and the young man fled, ever so quickly, grabbing only his clothes, to the security of the bushes outside the window, taking enough time to haphazardly dress himself, climb on his horse, and be on his way.

He prepared his “home” for the night; surveying the area, settling his horse, getting his dinner, and building a fire. 

It was dark now, and cool.  The warm breezes of Mexico and the border were behind him and the cool mountain air took some getting used to.  How he longed for a hot cup of coffee to soothe his scratchy throat and to warm him up.  But it would have to wait, as his provisions were low and coffee was not a priority on his “must have” list.

The fire was warm and it crackled, and the unfortunate rabbit that was in the wrong place at the wrong time proved to be an adequate dinner.  After he had eaten, the young man brought his knees up against his chest, and shivered.  He was always cold in weather below 70 degrees.  Must be a result of growin’ up in Mexico, he surmised.  And, he wondered to himself, how he ended up here, in the mountains of northern California, anyway.

He grabbed his gun and got ready for the night. . .the long night, ahead of him.  It wasn’t his first, and it certainly wouldn’t be his last.  He would stay awake the night, keeping watch over himself.  Protecting his person from wild animals, snakes, and people.  And although he didn’t think anyone knew he was even here, he knew there was always the chance that somewhere, someone was following his every move.

Murdoch Lancer was right on schedule. His schedule.  He would spent the night in  Forest Hills and arrive back at Lancer the following evening.  But when Barron picked up a stone and came to an abrupt halt, Murdoch swore slightly, as he didn’t want to be delayed.  But his anger quickly turned to concern for Barron, his trusted horse for so many years.

Murdoch checked the horse’s hoof and removed the stone, but the animal obviously had a bruise as his stride had a slight limp.

Since nightfall was approaching, he realized his goal of reaching the small town of  Forest Hills would not be met; instead, he would have to spend the night on the trail.  A few hours of rest for Barron would help; tomorrow, he could ride into Forest Hills and have the hoof checked out at the town’s livery stable before continuing his journey home.

Although it had been at least four or five years since Murdoch had traveled this stretch of country, he was familiar with the area and knew of the perfect place to spend the night.  A deserted shack was in the area, with a stream and protection from the trail.

 He had been there many times; years ago, in his younger days, himself, Paul O’Brien, Cipriano, and a few other long-gone Lancer hands had spent two days there, waiting for a turn of bad weather to end.  And the group of men had made a grand time of it.  At that time, the shack was then a recently abandoned home, in good shape, and provided comfort and warmth to wary travelers who couldn’t make the 20 or so miles into town.  As time went on, the abandoned home became a shack; and his last stop there, it was literally falling apart.  He wondered if it was even still there.  But still, the stream and the trees would  remain and would provide him with what he needed for the short time he would be there.

It took the gruff rancher an hour or so to get his bearings, to remember some familiar landmarks that have the tendency to change with the years.  But he was soon on the right track and was on his way to the popular stop-over on the way to Forest Hills.

It was dark as he approached the clearing, and he noticed a campfire.  Wouldn’t you know it, he thought, someone else obviously had the same idea he did.  Murdoch Lancer was always cautious when approaching a camp.  He had always been lucky in meeting decent people in the past, but still, the thought was always there that someone a bit, unsavory, may be camping, or hiding, out.

His fears were dampened a bit when he noticed one young man tending the fire.  However, his fears were heightened when the young man raised, and cocked, his pistol, pointing it at the rancher.

But Murdoch was experienced in situations like this, and kept his cool.

“Evenin,” he said.  “Noticed your fire.  My horse here needs to rest his left hoof for a few hours.  Didn’t know anyone would be here.”

The young man viewed him, suspiciously.  “You know about this place, do you?” he asked.

Murdoch noted the remnants of the once inviting structure.  “Sure do, Boy.  Stopped off here a few times through the years, probably when you were still in diapers.”

The young man looked annoyed, then a small smile appeared.

“Well, I just kind of ran into it.  Didn’t think anyone would be here.”

After an uncomfortable silence, Murdoch spoke, abruptly.

“Look, Boy, I do need to rest my horse, and I planned on doing it here.  But I don’t want to intrude.  It makes no difference to me.  Sorry to have bothered you,” and he began to head further on up the trail.

“Wait!” came the young man.  “You wouldn’t happen to have some coffee on you, would you?”

“Why, yes I do.  I have plenty of provisions.  Experience has taught me to always travel prepared.”

The young man responded.  “Well, I usually do, but I had to leave Mexico in a hurry.  Jealous husband.  I’m lucky I escaped with the clothes on my back, let alone my saddlebags.”

Murdoch frowned, but chuckled to himself at the same time.

The young man was embarrassed.  “I…I didn’t know she was married,” he said softly, as if trying to explain his actions to a parent.

After a small silence, the young man slowly spoke.  “Look, if you don’t ask a lot of questions, and don’t try to make a lot of conversation, and share your coffee with me, well, you can join me.  I ain’t hidin’ out or nothing, just don’t feel much like talking.”

“I understand.  I have no problem with that,” Murdoch replied.  He retrieved the coffee and supplies from his saddlebag and tossed them to the young man.  “Start the coffee, I’ll tend to my horse,” he said, with a wink.

Within a few minutes the coffee was made, Murdoch was heating up some beans, and the young man had shared his remaining rabbit meat with him.  Murdoch watched as the young man drank the hot coffee.

“Mmmm, this is good.  Nice and hot.  Feels good on my throat.  It’s been a bit scratchy the last few days.”

Murdoch considered the young man before him.  He couldn’t really see his face; besides the fact it was already nightfall, he had a week-old beard, and he wore his hat low on his head.  But he had black hair down to his shoulders, and Murdoch knew he couldn’t of been more then 20.  And he was thin.  Like he hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks.  And although the young man had been seated, or kneeling tending the fire the entire time since Murdoch arrived, the way he wore his gun belt, low, around his slim waist, was a giveaway that this kid, in Murdoch’s eyes, was a gunfighter.

And his demeanor was one of nonchalance, seemingly unmoved but yet, caring.  And Murdoch surmised that the face behind the beard, the shoulder-length hair, and hat, was a handsome one.

They made small talk.  About the weather.  They talked about horses.  The young man had a passion for them, Murdoch could tell, just by the way he spoke about them.  But first names were never given.  The young man called Murdoch “Mister.”  Murdoch called him “Boy” at first, but later, seeing his annoyance, changed his reference to him to “Son.”

And for the first time in some 17 years, Murdoch Lancer had called someone “Son.”  It felt good.

Then out of the blue, the young man asked, “You got any kids?”

Murdoch didn’t quite know how to answer.  He wasn’t about to get into his life history with some young stranger.  And in the past, when asked by acquaintances at cattle conventions or meetings who didn’t know of the rancher’s loss through the years, he would always just say he had two sons, but they resided with their mothers out of state.

But the question from the young stranger caught him off guard, so Murdoch simply responded, “I have one son who is attending school back east.  And I have a niece, who will be turning 16 soon.  And I had another son, but he’s been gone a long time. . . .”

 .

The younger man had assumed Murdoch had a son who had died a long time ago.  “Sorry you lost your son.  How old was he when he died?  If you don’t mind me asking?”

Murdoch was startled at the question.  But for the sake of the situation at hand, he simply stated, “He was two years old.”

Murdoch felt a burning in his insides, as he more or less admitted that his youngest son could be dead.

The young man spoke.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to get personal.  I’m breakin’ my own rules.  Just curious, I guess.”  He sounded regretful for the turn of the conversation.

“It’s all right.  Don’t worry about it.  No harm done,” Murdoch said.

After checking the horses, a companionable silence fell between the two men.  Then the younger man said he would stand watch for the night.  He held his pistol and again brought his knees up to his chest.  And he shivered.

Murdoch’s heart broke at the sight.  “You don’t have a covering or jacket, Son?”

“Well, I did have a nice jacket, but it got left behind when I made my. . .escape, you know, from that lady’s husband.”  His face looked pained over the whole experience.

“Oh, yeah, you did tell me that.  Well here, wear my jacket.  I can’t stand to see someone freezing.”

“Are you sure?” the young man asked, incredulously.

“Yes, I’m sure.”  After a pause, Murdoch asked, “When was the last time you slept?”  When the young man briefly removed his hat earlier, and the light from the fire shone on his face, Murdoch noticed the dark circles under his eyes, and the drawn look on his face.

“It’s been a few days, I guess.  I don’t sleep real well out here you know.  I’m always afraid of something sneaking up on me.  Not so much afraid of people, I can see them, but you know, animals, or snakes, or rats.  Rats just scare the hell out of me.”

So, Murdoch quickly determined that this kid hadn’t slept in days; was freezing and had no jacket or supplies; probably hadn’t eaten well, either; and was scared to death of rats.   It was all he could do to not reach out and give this kid a bear hug in his big, strong arms.

Instead, he made a suggestion.

“Why don’t you let me stand watch?”

The young man studied him with narrow eyes, and softly, but firmly,  advised, “I don’t think so.  Ain’t nobody gonna stand watch but me.  I might be lettin’ you share my camp, but I don’t know you from Adam.  Y’all liable to stab me or cut my head off or something while I’m sleepin.”

It took everything Murdoch Lancer had to hide the laughter he felt inside him as he considered the dramatics of this young man.  After all, if he was going to kill him, he sure would find an easier, and neater, way than cutting off his head.

“Son,” Murdoch responded, “if I had wanted to do you in, I would’ve done it already.  I’ve had plenty of chances.  After all, its just you and me out here.  No one would know. . .” and a wicked laugh came from the gruff rancher.  And he thought to himself that it had been a long while since anyone, except perhaps Teresa, had made him feel this way—happy, silly, like a kid, playing a wicked game with another kid.

The young man was silent, and Murdoch could tell he was thinking seriously about what he had just said.

“All right, I’ll make a deal with you.  You watch the first three, four hours, I’ll do the rest.  ‘Sides, a little shut eye does sound mighty inviting.  Just remember, though, I’ll have my pistol on you, and always, one eye on you as well,” he said, matter-of-fact.

“It’s a deal,” Murdoch advised, secretly chuckling to himself and thinking that he really did like the young man in front of him.  Something about him, his innocence and yet, his maturity and worldliness at the same time.

The young man pulled Murdoch’s jacket around him and removed his hat.  He lay on his right side, with his right arm bent at the elbow beneath his head, and held and pointed his gun, ever so lightly at Murdoch, with his left hand.

“Night,” he said.

“Good night, son.  If it’s all right with you, I’m just going to grab some things from my saddle bags. . .” Murdoch advised his young friend.

“Suit yourself,” the young man mumbled.

Murdoch rose and walked over and checked out Barron, along with the young man’s horse.  Both animals seemed content, and Murdoch retrieved his knife and a block of wood from his saddle bags.  He had learned through the years that whittling something, anything, from wood during a night watch helped him to stay awake.

And although he hadn’t been in this situation for awhile, he hoped it still worked and he could stay awake and keep watch over this unpredictable young man.

Murdoch was gone, two, maybe three minutes at the most, and when he returned to his place at the campfire, the young man was asleep.  Soundly.  Murdoch could tell by his breathing that he was asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.  And the gun, well, it had dropped out of his hand and lay harmlessly on the ground.

Murdoch carefully crept over to where the young man lay, picked up the gun, latched the safety, and placed it safely beside the sleeping. . . .boy.  And a sudden urge came over the gruff rancher to stroke the long, black hair of the sleeping form in front of him.  And a long-hidden image of a two-year old, black-haired little boy sleeping in his bed at Lancer came to his mind.  He remembered that last night, how he had stared at his sleeping little son for hours.  And the horror of the next morning when he discovered he had been stolen. . .by his own mother.

He shook himself out of his reverie and returned to his spot, occasionally poking the fire to keep it going.  He wrapped himself up in his blanket and began to whittle  A small token for Teresa.  She liked butterflies, so that’s the form that began to emerge from the block of wood.

Time moves by slowly in the dark hours of the night.  And although he tried, Murdoch found himself dozing off.  He got up and walked around some, placed some more wood on the fire, and drank some coffee.  But he had forgotten just how long the a nighttime campfire can be.

The young man had been sleeping soundly,  hardly moving, and Murdoch’s feeling that he was a babysitter to this kid on this particular night wasn’t exactly an unpleasant one to him.  He could feel the air become colder as the night wore on, and he huddled up in his blanket.  Suddenly, he heard sounds and movement coming from the sleeping form at the other end of the campfire, and realized the young man was cold.   Even with Murdoch’s jacket around him, the young man was shivering.  And Murdoch’s heart wept.

Despite the cold and ignoring his own comfort, Murdoch removed the blanket from his shoulders and gently placed it over the restless young man.  But the young man awoke abruptly, grabbed for his gun, and in a panic,  began to fight Murdoch.  But Murdoch was not afraid, since he knew the safety was on the gun, and realized the boy was not yet aware of his surroundings.

Murdoch grabbed him by the shoulders and in a soothing voice told him it was all right, he was with a friend, and not to worry.  The young man calmed down, and as he opened his eyes, blue eyes met blue eyes, and Murdoch felt like he was looking at a reflection of his own eyes.  And he realized he had never seen eyes on anyone else quite so blue.  Except for  one other person. . . . . . .

 The young man stared at Murdoch, and realized where he was, and who he was with.  He smiled a small, grateful smile, then murmured, “I’m cold.”

“I know.  Here.  Take my blanket.  You’ll be warm,” a sympathetic Murdoch replied.

“But what about you?  Won’t you be cold?” the boy asked, as he wrapped the blanket around himself and laid down on his back.

“I’ll be fine.  I’ll stay close to the fire,” Murdoch said, as he wrapped the jacket around the boy as well.

“Well, if you’re sure.”  The blue eyes closed, and after a minute, the young man’s body relaxed as the warmth of the blanket caressed his body, and he again fell into a sound sleep.

As the light from the campfire danced on the young man, Murdoch studied his features.  Yes, behind the stubbly beard and the long, black hair, was a very handsome face.  With striking eyes.  He studied the face; his eyelashes were dark, and long; his tanned skin still soft with youth, but rugged at the same time.  And the way his hair, which was parted in the middle, draped just to his shoulders.  And for a minute, he reminded Murdoch of. . . her. . .

He gave into temptation and softly, gently, stroked the boy’s  hair and his face, and placed the boy’s right arm underneath the blanket.  And the sleeping young man sighed softly, and a small smile came across his face.

Murdoch suddenly and inexplicably felt frightened, and moved away from the boy back to his place at the fire.  It wasn’t a feeling of fear; he was no more afraid of him then he was of Teresa.  But the feeling inside his heart, and soul, was what frightened him.  The feeling that he felt so long ago, and hadn’t felt in years.  It was a. . .paternal feeling, the way  he felt when he was. . .a father.

It was the way he felt the first time he held his infant son, John, in his arms.  The same feeling he felt when he fed him, changed him, and carried him on his shoulders.  The same feeling he had when it was the three of them–mother, father, and son, riding a horse-drawn buggy on the grounds of Lancer, or eating a picnic lunch on the north range.

But that feeling was a feeling left only for his son, not this boy.  This stranger.  That until five or six hours ago, Murdoch hadn’t known existed.

So why did he have this feeling that was so, paternal.  Perhaps it was the young man’s need for someone, for something, for caring; hell, for love.  And perhaps it was Murdoch’s need to reach out to someone young, and in need, who needed and wanted, someone to care for them.  Whatever it was, the feeling left Murdoch Lancer feeling confused, and at the same time, wonderful.  And  tears began to fall from the soft, caring eyes of the gruff rancher.  Tears for the loss of not one, but two sons, and tears for this unique young man, no, young boy, that slept ever so trustingly in the presence of Murdoch Lancer.

 .

The young man awoke, slightly, but could not open his eyes.  He didn’t want to anyway, the need for more sleep was great and this one time, he knew he could fall back to sleep.  For he was warm.  And he felt safe.

He could sense the presence of the older man around him.  As he kept the fire going, as he walked about.  And once, the young man felt the older man tighten the blanket around him, and place his arm under the blanket.  And he could feel a large, rough hand gently stroke his hair and face.  And he knew he was being looked at, but he felt no shame or fear.

And a feeling came over the young man; a feeling he hadn’t felt for a very long time.  It was the same way he felt, as a child,  when his mother would hug him, or dry his tears, or tussle his thick, black hair.  It was a feeling of warmth, of security, of belonging.  It was a feeling of. . . love.

And he wondered why he would have this feeling for this stranger—a nice man, but a stranger all the same.

And just before he let himself fall back into sleep, he wondered if this is what it felt like to have. . . .a father.

When the young man finally awoke, it was morning, and the sun was beginning to warm the chilled air.  He didn’t speak, but silently watched the older man prepare breakfast.  One thing the old man said was true—he sure did travel prepared.  For the breakfast smelled wonderful, and the old man, seeing he was awake, poured him a cup of steaming coffee and brought it over to him.

“Morning,” Murdoch greeted cheerfully.  “Sleep well?”

“Yeah, thanks.  I was nice and warm, too.  Oh, here’s your blanket and jacket.  Hope you weren’t too cold, though.

“No, I was fine.  I was just. . .worried you would be cold, that’s all,” Murdoch replied.

The young man felt humbled that someone would care about his well-being.

The two men ate their breakfast, and talked small talk.  Both were careful not to reveal to much personal information about themselves, and they didn’t really know why.  Murdoch felt the want, the need, to tell the young man who he was, where his ranch was, and hell, even to offer him a job.

And the young man felt the want, and the need, to reach out to Murdoch, to tag along with him.  To go home with him.  Wherever that was.

The start of the new day, and both men needed to be on their way.  Murdoch was headed home, after having Barron’s hoof checked out.

And the young man, well, he was on his way to wherever his horse took him.  To wherever someone, anyone, might need his services.

The young man prepared to leave first.  He climbed up on his horse, and with a tinge of regret, bid Murdoch Lancer good-bye.

“Bye, Mister.  I really. . .enjoyed. .your company.  You’re a nice man,” he uneasily said, since it was very rare when he gave anyone, especially an older man, a compliment.

Murdoch looked up at him, and he felt a sadness in his heart that he didn’t understand.

“Take care of yourself, son.  Keep safe.”  Then Murdoch retrieved a $20 gold piece from his jacket, and tossed it to the young man.

“Here, by yourself a new jacket.  And get a shave, and a haircut.”

The young man caught the coin, and in a puzzled tone, asked “Why are you giving me this?  I can’t take it.  I. . .don’t deserve it.”

Murdoch smiled and replied, “I’m giving it to you because I want to.  No other reason. And you, too, are a nice young man.”  Murdoch smiled as the young man shyly looked down.

Then Murdoch continued.  “Look, son, if you ever. . .need a job, you can come to my ranch in. . . . . “

“No! Stop!” The young man said, panic in his tone.  “Please don’t tell me where you’re from, or what your name is.”

Then he became very quiet, and his tone turned to one of pleading.  “See, if I know your name, then you become real to me.  Another person in, and out, of my life.  And I’ll remember you, and I’ll always wonder about you.  But if I don’t know your name, then you’re not real.  You mean nothing to me.  You’re just someone who shared my camp and gave me some money.  And I won’t remember you.  And I don’t like to remember people.  Because when you remember someone, someone you know you’ll never see again, you miss them.  And you want them.  And you can’t have them.  And it hurts.  And, I just don’t want to hurt anymore.”

Tears formed in his blue eyes, and he lowered his hat to hide them from Murdoch.  He composed himself, and a smile lit up his face, the first time Murdoch had ever seen him smile, revealing a row of perfect, white teeth.

“Much obliged for the money.  You didn’t have to do that.  And it will be used wisely,” he happily advised.

Murdoch nodded his understanding of the young man’s reasoning.  But really, he was puzzled by it. And his heart wept for this kid.  And really, that’s what he was.  A kid that, for whatever reason, Murdoch cared about.  And would never forget.

“Adios,” the young man said.  He tipped his hat, winked, turned his horse toward the trail, and rode away.  And as he rode, he felt a sense of loss.  But he didn’t know why.  He hadn’t lost anything.  Not anything tangible, anyway.  But maybe, he had lost something else.  A feeling of belonging, perhaps.

And Murdoch stood by the trail for a long time,  also feeling a sense of loss.  The loss of feeling needed.  Of feeling wanted.  Of feeling like a father.

And a question came into his mind that he couldn’t bear to ask himself.  For he was afraid of the answer.  For maybe some questions are better left unanswered.

But still, it remained with him, the unanswered question that Murdoch Lancer would forever ponder:

“WAS THAT MY SON?”

~end~
NOVEMBER 2003
 

.

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