Toy Horses (Part 1) by MaryB

Word Count 4,582

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Scott Lancer staggered tiredly up to the Beacon Street mansion. It was not the latest hour he had ever returned home after an evening out with “friends”, but it was late enough. Or early enough. He wasn’t sure and he didn’t feel motivated to fumble for his watch and find out whether midnight had come and gone.

He sighed to himself. He wasn’t even drunk. He was tired. Soul numbingly tired. Tired of his life, certainly tired of his lifestyle. Tired of who he had become.

Someone opened the front door for him and silently took his cape, hat and gloves. He leaned on the entry hall table, hands splayed out before him and listened to the servant’s retreating footsteps. They had learned not to question him. He used to have a good rapport, even relationship with the household staff. He sighed again. Something else he had somehow lost.

Voices broke through his self-absorbed fog. That surprised him. Why was his grandfather up at this hour, and who would he be talking to? Pulling himself upright, Scott looked down the hall and saw a sliver of light escaping through the study doors.

It actually gave him a moment of comfort to think he was not the sole cause of the butler’s silence. He started quietly past the partially open door. One did not disturb Harlan Garrett’s business dealings.

He halted abruptly at the mention of his own name.

“So how is Scott?”

“Scotty? He’s doing well. Coming back to himself after the war, finally.”

Scott blinked. ‘Coming back to himself’? Is that how others viewed his current pathetic state? But Grandfather continued.

“He’s out tonight with companions.”

“Building his own network?”

“A beginning, I believe. He is certainly making connections around the city.” A chuckle. “I’ve even had to pretend stern disapproval at the complaints of a few young ladies’ fathers.”

“Pretend?” The unknown speaker sounded amused as well.

“Well, conquest is in the Garrett blood. Scotty just needs to master discretion. But he’ll learn.”

Scott burned with mortification that his bumbling humiliations – which he thought he’d kept discreet – were amusing his grandfather.

“Conquest, eh? And is Scott himself one of your Garrett conquests? Your long battle with his father would make it seem so.”

“In a sense, yes. But I would not consider my interactions with Lancer a battle, but an annoyance.  Don’t give the man credit as a worthy opponent.”

“You have to admit he has been persistent.”

Harlan gave an un-gentleman like snort. “Tedious is more like it. A letter every birthday, and some paltry gift every Christmas. Tedious as clockwork.”

“Paltry? I would hardly think so. The man owns a hundred thousand acres of the richest land in California, as I hear it. Quite beautiful, too.”

 There was another derisive sound. “Livestock and dirt. How beautiful could it be?”

“And all these years Scott has known nothing of his attempts to regain custody.”

Scott’s eyes opened wide and his breath caught as he tried to understand what he was hearing. His father had wanted him?!

“Scotty is mine! He took my daughter out there to die.”

“So you took his son.”

“And I’ve given him a better life than cows and dirt. There is no comparison to what he could’ve done. Scotty will be a success. Heir to the Garrett empire.”

“Still, if he ever finds out…”

“He won’t. Every missive has been intercepted. Even those clumsy Pinkerton agents he keeps sending to sneak invitations have been easy enough to waylay.”

“All the letters and presents were destroyed?”

A regretful sigh. “It is against the law to destroy another’s mail. I have never directly broken the law. No, they are all collected safely out of sight. And will remain that way.”

“Out of sight. Like his brother?”

Scott jerked at the word. Brother?! Surely, he misheard.

Harlan practically hissed this time. “Do not refer to Lancer’s half breed whelp as Scotty’s brother. The whole thing is an atrocity. I will never understand it. How he thought a common Mexican whore could take Catherine’s place.”

“In all fairness, she wasn’t a whore until she and the child were on their own…But I did always wonder if you had a hand in her walking out on Lancer. It did interrupt his custody case quite nicely.”

Garrett flipped moods and chuckled again. “Yes, it did. Derailed it completely. A failed marriage and a missing son was more than enough to seal my claim. But, interestingly, I had nothing to do with it. She left quite on her own.”

“And all these years Lancer’s agents never found them?”

“Obviously, I hire better people. “

“You still keep tabs on them?”

“Oh, the woman died years ago. For awhile, I admit, my people had a bit of trouble keeping track of the boy. Then once they found out who and what he was, it was easier.”

“John Madrid? I would say it should be easier. He’s rather famous down there, isn’t he? And still Lancer doesn’t know who he is?”

“Bah! The man is a menace to society. “

“It couldn’t have been easy, raising himself in the streets.”

“Other people have been poor and don’t become hired killers.”

“They say he is the best at what he does. You have to admire someone at the top of their trade.”

Garrett’s voice became a snarl. “There is nothing admirable about it. He doesn’t even seem to hold onto the money he makes. But no matter. He’ll be dead soon. Gunfighters never live long. Sometime soon his luck will run out and that loose end will be taken care of with no effort on my part.” The bang of a glass onto the table made Scott jump. “How ever did we get onto this subject?”

“I asked about Scott.”

“Oh, yes. My Scotty…”

Scott dashed to his room, shut the door and turned the key. Something he had not done since before the war. Since the prison camp he couldn’t bear to be locked in anywhere. But now the  door wasn’t to keep him in, but to keep the horrors out.

He sank down onto the bed, shaking and nauseous.

His father wanted him. Had always wanted him.

Grandfather had kept him from having a father.

And a brother. He had a brother. And Grandfather had allowed his brother John to grow up in poverty. Orphaned and alone.

His grandfather had taken away everything he had ever wanted. Everything he…

Scott suddenly sat up straight, all his selfish misery gone. His brother was in danger! He was living a precarious existence and their father didn’t even know it.

Between one breath and the next Scott knew what he was going to do. What he had to do. Going to his desk he took paper and pen and began to plan.

________________________________________

Harlan was not surprised when Scotty did not make an appearance at breakfast. He didn’t even know when the boy had gotten in last night. He had a lunch engagement, meetings and a dinner party that kept him busy, and so it was a day later when he finally sat down at the desk in his study and found the envelope addressed to him.

‘Sir,’ it read, ‘ I have come to a sudden, painful and necessary decision. I need to travel some of the world in order to find my place in it. Your efforts on my behalf all these years have assured that I have the skills I need to succeed. You have taught me well. I will certainly keep you informed of my whereabouts. Your grandson, Scott Garrett Lancer.’

Harlan read the note again, then glancing at the clock for confirmation of the time, he bellowed for his ever present, just out of sight “assistant.”

A few hours later, the assistant and his crew were receiving a scathing dressing down.

“And just how did you lose my grandson?!”

The man didn’t even blink at the harsh tone, or the fourth iteration of the same question. “He went to the club as always. Some known companions came and went during the afternoon. Then he and an acquaintance from school years, Stephen Granger, emerged and went to the docks. They shook hands, then Granger left and Mr. Scott boarded the ship just in time for it to set sail. They literally pulled up the plank after him, as if they were waiting.”

Behind his back, Garrett was gripping his hands in frustration. “And do you think this Granger was involved in Scott’s decision?”

“It doesn’t appear so. They have had no contact since school. None at all that anyone knows of. Granger has been out of work for months and tends to mooch off of friends at the club. He probably got a tip from Mr. Scott for carrying his satchel.”

“Where is Granger now?”

“I, ah, don’t know, sir. We didn’t follow him immediately and can’t pick up a trail now. He didn’t return to his boarding house. He may have been robbed along the docks for all we know.”

Garrett fumed at the incompetence of these fools. He had hired them to keep Scotty safe and they bungled it. “You are all dismissed. Permanently!”

________________________________________

Scott leaned back in his seat and watched the world go speeding by past his window. He hoped Stephen was enjoying his journey as well.

What a pure stroke of luck it had been to run into Granger at the club. Out of work and estranged from his family he had jumped at the chance to play decoy and enjoy an all expense paid trip to Europe.

Both blond and with similar initials, it took only a simple swap of clothes in the back room to trade identities. Both the ship passage and his own train tickets had been purchased by other friends as they came and went throughout the day. It had all fallen into place so quickly and easily, if Scott had possessed any religious leanings, he would have suspected divine interference!

He smiled to himself at the notion. Then his eye fell on the trunk at his feet and the smile evaporated. That trunk, and its contents, were the final nail in Harlan Garretts coffin. For in Scott’s mind his grandfather, the man he had adored all of his life, was dead and gone.

At first he had been so shocked and angry, he felt nothing but fury at the betrayal. But now with time and distance between him and Boston, he was beginning to grieve his loss.

It had not taken as long as he thought it would to find the trunk in the attic. One glance at the letters and packages inside was all he needed to confirm everything. He had searched out the oldest package and opened it with trembling hands. And wept.

The man who had sat for hours and meticulously carved the little horse would not have abandoned him without a thought. Scott had closed the lid, determined to open each and every gift in his father’s presence as it should have been. As he looked now at the horse he had unconsciously pulled from his jacket pocket, he suddenly wondered if John had a similar pile waiting for him. His mind pictured someone huddled over a table working on toys and gifts for two children he would never see. He gripped the horse. How could his…!

No. He wasn’t going to give those thoughts any more time. He was going forward. His best revenge was to live happily with his father.

He looked around at other passengers on the train, a few of them men probably Murdoch Lancer’s age. What did he look like? He knew that he himself favored his mother with blond hair and small blue-grey eyes. Did he share any features with his father?

He would soon know.

________________________________________

Lancer. It spread out before him, more beautiful than anything he could’ve imagined. He glanced down at the slow- moving cows roaming across pastureland. “Livestock and dirt. How beautiful can it be?” He shook his head to clear Garrett’s bitter words from his thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, he slapped the reins and drove the carriage down towards the white buildings in the valley. Entering through an archway, he drove up to the large house and pulled to a stop. Ranch workers all around him paused in their endeavors and watched, one hand on the rifle they all had close by.

He nodded to a large Mexican man who stepped forward from the rest. The man gave him a guarded return nod. Stepping down slowly and carefully from the carriage, he was all too aware of all of their eyes on him. It reminded him eerily of the prison guards during the war. He exchanged another look with the large man, then went to the front entrance.

A young woman answered his knock on the heavy wooden door. “Yes?”

He smiled. “Is Murdoch Lancer available?”

“Yes,” she repeated and stepped back. ‘Won’t you come in?”

“Thank you.” He followed her into a small foyer, removing his bowler hat and marveling at his own calm.

The woman, girl actually, stepped down into a large room off to the right. It was elegant, yet comfortable. But Scott’s attention was riveted by the man behind a large desk.

“Murdoch, someone to see you,” his young guide announced informally.

“Oh?” The man looked up in surprise and maybe a little annoyance at the interruption. He stood, grabbed a cane and stepped around the desk. “How can I help you?”

Scott tried to speak. Tried to remember his rehearsed opening speech. In the end, all his could do was reach into his pocket and hold out the little wooden horse.

The big man before him blinked in puzzlement at the toy. Then a look of pure disbelief spread across his face.  They locked eyes. “Scott?” his voice was breathless.

A nervous smile. “Yes, sir.”

His father put out his hand. After a second Scott reciprocated and had his hand completely enveloped in a firm grip. “Scott. I’m…I didn’t know…”

“Ah, yes. I apologize for my unannounced intrusion.”

“Intrusion! My god, anything but!” Realizing he still held his son’s hand, he let go and waved at the couch. “Sit down. Drink?”

“Yes, thank you.”

And so they sat. Glasses untouched, staring awkwardly.

“I suppose I should explain,” Scott finally began.

“Alright.”

Scott took a breath. “One evening, a short time ago, I overheard a conversation where my grandfather was bragging about keeping me away from you, intercepting your letters and gifts, even blocking your agents from delivering invitations.”

Murdoch’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Blocked? Then you never received…

“I have never received a single communication from you in my life. I have thought for 24 years that you gave me up and was not interested in me. And not understanding why.”

Murdoch nodded at the toy still in Scott’s left hand. “And the horse?”

Scott looked down at it. “After hearing his confession, I searched and found a trunk in the attic containing all of your letters and gifts. I opened this one but saved the rest to…” he paused and looked up at his father shyly. “I had hoped to open the rest here. With you.”

“Oh, Scott.” Murdoch put a hand on Scott’s knee.  “I can’t begin to tell you what this means to me.”

“I have an idea, sir. If I had known…” he shook the thought away. “I suggest we concentrate on the here and now.”

“I couldn’t agree more. The past is past. We’ll start right now!” He slapped his son’s knee for emphasis. “What are your plans? Do you have luggage?”

Scott smiled at his father’s enthusiasm. “It’s in the rented carriage. I didn’t want to assume an invitation, but I had hoped to stay.”

“Of course! This is your home.” He turned toward an open doorway in the corner of the room. “Teresa!!”

The girl from before came back into the room. Scott automatically stood up.

“Teresa, darling. A miracle! This is Scott!”

A large smile split her face. “Oh, Scott!” She practically skipped over and gave him a hug. “How wonderful! Are you here for good?”

Still startled by her display, he cleared his throat. “It is my intention.”

Murdoch was also smiling. “Teresa is my ward. Your little sister in all but name.”

“Well, I’m delighted to meet you, Little Sister.” He returned her smile, then turned back to his father. “Speaking of siblings, I need to talk to you about John.”

Murdoch’s face fell. “I didn’t know if you knew about him. But it doesn’t matter, they can’t find him. He’s lost to us.”

“No, sir, he’s not. It’s another horrible fact I learned that night. My grandfather has always known where he was.”

“What!?” Murdoch’s eyes sparked with rage.

“It’s worse than that. Evidently his mother passed when he was young and he grew up alone.”

“Oh, lord, no.” Murdoch closed his eyes briefly in grief.

“He became quite a proficient gunman to survive. And he goes by a different name. Which is why you couldn’t find him.”

He looked up. “A different name?”

Scott took a breath. “John Madrid.”

The glass Murdoch had still been holding slipped from his fingers. “No!”

“I’m sorry, sir. I believe it to be true.”

“No. How could my Johnny…?”

“He’s had a hard life, sir.” Scott was worried about Murdoch’s reaction. He felt the need to defend his little brother. “His choices may have been limited.”

“Limited, yes. But, Scott, do you understand who Johnny Madrid is?”

Scott’s features grew stern. “Yes, sir, I do. He’s my bother.”

“No, son. John Lancer is your brother. Or would have been.”

Disappointment flooded through him. His father was imperfect after all. It was irrational to have thought otherwise, yet after his grandfather’s betrayal, part of him had wanted his father to somehow balance the scales. “Are you ready to give up on him so easily?”

Murdoch shot to his feet. “Easily!” He paced angrily to the fireplace, then spun and looked at his son. “Easily? Twenty years I’ve searched and prayed. I’ve hired agents, I spent months combing Mexican villages, following false leads. No, Scott, I don’t give up easily.”

Scott stepped away from Teresa and stood in front of his father. “But who were you searching for? A little boy? Twenty years have passed. No matter what he was it would be different that what you knew.”

Murdoch looked him in the eye for a moment, then went to the large window behind his desk and looked out. It had the feeling of something he did often. Scott followed as far as the desk.

Murdoch continued gazing out at the distant hills. “I love this land more than anything God ever created. He gave it to me to work and build. To have something to leave behind to the people I love. To you and your brother. Year after year, this land, this ranch, kept me going when nothing else did.”

Scott looked, really looked, at the man before him. He could so easily have let life’s unfairness break him. But he didn’t. “I’m sorry, sir. I was out of line. I have no right to assume I understand.”

He continued to look at the horizon. And beyond. “I don’t know what to do for him.”

“Whatever we do, it has to be soon.”

His father turned back to him at that. “What do you mean?”

“He’s a gunfighter. The profession does not lend itself to long lives. Another thing I heard that night. That soon enough Johnny’s luck would run out.”

Teresa gasped, and came over behind Scott. “We have to do something!”

Murdoch looked at her fearful face. “We will darling. I’ll go into town first thing tomorrow and wire the Pinkerton office with an update of who to look for.”

Scott sighed relief and nodded agreement.

“Teresa, why don’t you show Scott up to his room. I’ll have some men bring your things.”

Scott caught his father’s eye. “Thank you.”

“For what, son?”

“For…” How to explain. “For being who you are, I suppose.”

Murdoch looked thoughtful, but all he said was. “Dinner is at six.”

________________________________________

Scott followed Teresa up the stairs and into a very pleasant room. Very unlike the bedroom back in Boston. Which was mostly why it was pleasant. Two ranch hands were right behind them with his bags and trunks. “Very nice.” He put his hat on a bedpost.

“It’s your room,” Teresa told him.

It seemed an unnecessary comment. ”I assumed that’s why we’re standing in it.”

“No. I mean, it’s always been your room. No one else uses it.”

The implications of that simple statement verified the whole complicated story. Then another thought occurred to him. “Does Johnny have a room?”

“Yes.”

“May I see it?”

She gave him one of her big beautiful smiles, and led him out through another door. The room they entered was furnished much like his own. Scott walked around, feeling the emptiness.

“I’ve come in here often,” Teresa confessed. “Yours too. I would think about you and wonder where you both were and what you were doing just then.”

Scott stopped in front of a trunk that sat at the foot of the bed. Was there any chance? He knelt down and reached for the latch.

“Don’t!” she put a hand on his arm. “No one opens that.”

He nodded in understanding. “I know,” he told her cryptically. He lifted the lid and saw exactly what he thought he would.

Teresa joined him on the floor and looked at the contents. “What are they?”

He smiled a very sad smile. “A letter for every birthday, and a present for every Christmas. Like clockwork.” He closed the lid and latched it.

After a moment Teresa said softly, “I’m glad you’re home, Scott.”

And without a doubt in the world, he knew that’s just where he was. “So am I, Teresa. So am I.”

.

Scott stood with his father in the small telegraph office. It was silly, he knew, but for some reason, he needed to personally see the information sent. He had traveled across a continent for this and he wanted to know for sure it happened.

Murdoch finished writing out the message to be sent by wire to the Pinkerton Agency in San Francisco. With only a slight hesitation he handed it over to the telegraph operator. The man was sworn to confidentiality, but there was always a first time.

Fred took the paper and read it over without expression. He took the pencil stub from behind his ear and counted the words. “Did I ever tell you about the time I visited my brother in Laramie, Mr. Lancer?”

Murdoch sighed at the idle chat, but answered politely as he waited for the bill. “No, I don’t believe so.”

“Well, while I was there, there was a bank robbery. One of the varmits drug a woman out in the street with a gun to her head to keep everybody in line, I reckon.”

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other. It seemed they both had a sick feeling where this was going.

“Anyways, nobody stood up to ‘em for fear of her getting hurt. Then this young feller stepped out and told ‘em they needed better manners. They insulted back and forth a minute, then, pow!” He mimicked pointing a gun. “That young feller shot the robber right between the eyes. Then spun around and winged the other two. Never seen nothin’ like it.” Fred looked at Murdoch. “That young feller was Madrid. And the woman he saved was my sister-in-law. I’ll send this for you, Mr. Lancer, no charge. And I hope you get yer boy back.”

Murdoch stared at him for a moment. “Thank you, Fred. I…thank you.”

The operator nodded and settled himself by his telegraph.

.

Teresa emerged from the town mercantile with packages of suitable ranch clothes for Scott in hand. The two Lancer men walked up to her still in a bit of a daze.

She frowned. “Is something wrong?”

“Wrong? No.” Murdoch relayed the story about Laramie.

Her frown changed to a broad smile as Teresa hugged her foster father. “They’ll find him now and bring him home I just know it.”

________________________________________

Father and son poured over the map that was stretched across the desk. The raids by the “land pirates” were becoming more and more bold. Horses stolen, fences cut, fields burned. More than one neighbor had given up and fled the valley. As they discussed options and strategies, the sound of a wagon pulling up in front of the house caught their attention. Teresa went to the windows to look out.

Scott stood up straight. “Who is it?”

“I don’t know.” She watched as a graying man stepped down and adjusted his suit jacket. She met him at the door and brought him into the great room.

“Mr. Lancer?” the man asked, gravely.

“Yes?”

“I am Theodore Bradley, from the Pinkerton Agency. We have corresponded over the years.”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Bradley. What can I do for you?”

Bradley paused. “It concerns the search for your son John.”

Everyone visibly tensed at his tone. Teresa took a step closer to Murdoch.

“I assume you have news,” Scott kept his voice level.

“This is my eldest son, Scott,” Murdoch introduced.

Bradley merely nodded. “I have no way to say this easily. John Lancer, aka Madrid, was killed in Mexico two weeks ago.”

Murdoch sat down, Teresa gasped, Scott clenched his fists. Bradley continued.

“He was sentenced to a firing squad. It appears my man went to the location. By all evidence there was a shoot out and all, including my agent, was killed.” He paused again. “I am so deeply sorry, Mr. Lancer. My regrets to you and your family.”

“Can,” Murdoch began, swallowed, and tried again. “Can we bring his…him home?”

Bradley inhaled. “I’m afraid not. There is no way to identify…” he glanced at Teresa. “I’m sorry.”

“I see.” Murdoch stood back up and extended his hand. “Thank you for coming in person. I will settle my account as soon as possible.”

Bradley shook hands with him and Scott and saw himself out.

Teresa was standing as if in shock. Murdoch put an arm around her, and she pressed her face into his shoulder. Then she pulled away angrily. “It’s not fair!” she cried and fled the room.

Scott still had his fist clenched and was looking down.  “A day sooner. Hell, an hour sooner. I had the information…”

“Scott…”

“If only I had wired you instead of waiting until I saw you.”

“Scott, don’t.”

“He would be alive and home now if I had.”

“Stop it, son. This is not your fault.”

Scott took a breath and let it out slowly to try and control his emotions. Finally, he looked at his father’s grief-stricken face. “Teresa’s right.” And he, too, left the room.

Murdoch found them a short time later in Johnny’s room. They were sitting on the bed, Scott’s arm around her shoulders. He sat down on her other side and she leaned into him.

“I was so sure he was coming home,” she sniffed. “I even changed the sheets.”

They said nothing else for a long time.

To Be Continued in Toy Horses Part 2

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
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 MaryB directly.

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2 thoughts on “Toy Horses (Part 1) by MaryB

  1. You know I read the story before but it moved every time I read it again.
    All your stories are su beautiful and sweet but also intriguing and with a lot of adventures inside.
    I love them all and I am waiting for more!
    Grazie Silvia

    Like

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