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Counting the Almightys


The announcement of Harlen Garrett’s upcoming arrival inspired two simultaneous reactions: Johnny’s extended whistle pitch from high to low and Murdoch’s long draw on his snifter. The perception of the good stuff playing a child’s piston flute while cascading down his father’s throat popped into Scott’s head unexpectedly, causing the slightest muscle twitch in the rib cage to begin its journey to laughter.


“John, bring me the decanter.”


Scott leaned forward, rested forearms on thighs and studied his own snifter cradled in his hands while a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Murdoch's spoken directive of spirited necessity had graduated the twitch to a spasm that predicted a painfully humorous discussion was in the makings. For the moment, avoiding eye contact seemed prudent.


The designated Great Room waiter, sporting a serious persona that failed to disguise his growing amusement, delivered the patriarch’s request to the middle of the cluttered desk, thus giving the decanter a new purpose in life as an impressive paperweight. With pistolero chimpanzees and amoursious octopi falling short in holding a candle to firsthand entertainment, Johnny claimed a closer seat for conversation and settled in.


“Is that exasperating child responsible for this Boston invasion?” Zeus called upon the paperweight to refresh his drink.


“Sir, are you referring to Kinsey?”


“Son, who else has been chiseling away at my patience since the day they arrived?”


Each brother pointed a finger at his sibling. It couldn’t be helped.


“Bad timing on the levity, boys.” Murdoch’s tone suggested a successful avoidance of rib-tickling. His stare confirmed it. It appeared any appreciative humor in the current discussion would be heavily one-sided.


“No, sir. Kinsey had nothing to do with this. She was just as surprised as I… I mean, we were… are… all surprised.”


Ah, I wouldn’t be agreein’, ScottyGarrett. Look at yer father’s face. That’s not bein’ surprised. That man’s been gobsmacked.


As a child, Scott deemed Winnie’s word gobsmacked damn funny. Thinking of it now not only proved that its mirthfulness was timeless, but it also described Murdoch’s expression more accurately. The muscle spasm of laughter rose to Scott’s chest and released a laugh cloaked in a cough.


“Are you finding my scotch too strong for your taste tonight, son?”


“No sir, Just the right amount of smoothness and greatly appreciated, as always.” Composure hung by a thread.


Murdoch rose and journeyed to the large arched window dominating the room, choosing the beauty of moonlit land as his new audience. Reprieved from scrutiny, Scott righted himself and tossed his previously stifled smile to Johnny, who hid his guffaw under a swipe of the hand.


Patience. Scott had learned over time his father required quiet pondering for some of their conversations to continue. Grateful for the moment, Scott sipped his scotch and reflected on his own way to proceed.


“You said the end of the month?” Confirmation of the unwanted guest’s arrival ceased the Great Room clock’s tick-tock countdown of silence.


“Yes, sir. Grandfather’s letter indicated he and Roberta -”


“Roberta?” The patriarch’s attention returned to his oldest. “Who in Sam Hill is Roberta?”


“Roberta Westcott. Seth’s mother.”


“Hold up.” Johnny’s full focus joined his father’s. “Grape Crusher has a mother?”


An eyebrow raised. “Well, little brother, he certainly didn’t hatch from an egg or grow on a vine, although chances are Gossip From Around the Globe would consider it a possibility.” Scott crossed his ankle to a knee. “Grandfather and Mrs. Westcott became acquainted when planning social engagements for our stay in Boston. When our visit east derailed, Grandfather decided on a holiday west as an alternative. Seth’s mother embraced the idea and chose to travel with him.”


Advice rumbled across the room. “What that poor, naive woman needs to embrace is good judgment and to choose a better traveling companion.”


According to Phillip Westcott, his daughter-in-law was neither pitiful nor gullible. Scott reduced the two fingers of scotch in his glass to one. Odds had it that a discussion similar to one here at Lancer was taking place at the Westcott Winery. May the saints save Seth’s sanity.

Perhaps it was the return of quietude to the room that allowed the clock’s rhythmic cadence to assist his father in counting up the days. Or maybe the window-framed scene of tranquil moonlit hills permitted a few past spoken words to reconnect in the patriarch’s memory. Scott was uncertain of the query’s progression, but not surprised when Murdoch finally asked it.


“This extended holiday of Harlan’s - what does that mean… exactly?”


“Well, like most holidays, Grandfather is taking time to travel, relax and reconnect with loved ones.”


“You’ve targeted the wrong word in my question, son.”


“That S hangin’ at the end of your X-pla-NAAAA-shun, brother, might need a clearin’-up bullseye drawn around it too.” Johnny’s slow drawl matched the upturning of a grin parenthesizing his raised sip of scotch.


Scott’s chin dipped with a smirk at his brother’s roundabout reference regarding how many family members actually qualified as Harlan Garrett’s loved ones. “I’m under the impression, gentlemen, the Harlan Holiday plans to extend itself long enough to celebrate the marriage of one dangling S and her fiancé.”


“That little girl’s wedding isn’t for another two months! Son, have you any idea how long that is? And unless your answer is too long, I suggest you pass on a reply.” Murdoch ran his hand through his hair. “God Almighty.”


Shooting a sideways glance to his right blessed Scott with a view of Johnny mouthing the word one while discreetly holding up an index finger. The counting of their father’s God Almightys had begun.


“Harlan better have a firm grasp on reality during his extended visit. A ranch doesn’t run on its own and this is no damn holiday.


Murdoch’s feet carried him to stand and stare at Emerson, Melville and Whitman residing on a bookshelf, appearing to seek guidance from one of the gentlemen. “God Almighty.” Even the great authors couldn’t broaden the patriarch’s vocabulary this evening.


Scott held up two fingers as tally marks for Johnny’s mental count while expressing a positive perspective. “I’m confident Grandfather is aware of the priorities concerning my responsibilities.”


A grunt of disapproval brought Murdoch back to the carved oak desk. Flipping open his cedar-lined humidor, a Cuban was selected and tucked into a shirt pocket. A match followed before the teakwood box lid snapped shut. “I commend your foolish confidence in predicting when a rattler will strike.”


“I know you view this as an irritating inconvenience, but with all due respect, sir, may I remind you members of this family weren’t the only ones gathering gray hairs after Jupiter left the rails. Grandfather deserves the opportunity to be welcomed.”


“My memory serves me just fine, young man. However, perhaps some repose will improve yours. Good night.” Long strides carried Murdoch out of the room with final words of prayed deliverance. “God Almighty.” Long strides continued the man’s journey out of the hacienda with the slamming of its main door.


“That went well.” Johnny’s inflection of his matter-of-fact statement left little doubt it hadn’t.


Scott rose to retrieve the decanter. “What are you basing your conclusion on? Only three God Almightys or our father’s suggestion I retire for the night?”


“When was the last time you were sent to your room?”


“I believe I was nine.”


“Then you’re way overdue.”


Refilling his own glass, the teller of childhood tales refreshed his brother’s before returning to the overstuffed chair, stretching out his legs and continuing the story. “I catapulted a silver spoon into a dinner guest’s wine goblet. If memory serves me correctly, her name was Mrs. Willowby. I do remember the spilled red wine did little to compliment the woman’s bodice or the seat of my britches.”


Johnny snorted a laugh. “Yeah, I bet it didn’t. Paints an amusin’ picture though.” A sip was taken. “Think once this holiday commences I’ll steer myself clear of both old men, if you don’t mind.”


“Right. Are you planning on bunking with the line shack mouse for two months?”


“Might be better company.”


Scott raised his snifter in agreement. “Can’t argue the point.”


Silence between the brothers allowed the Great Room’s clock to once again speak its mind by chiming out the late evening hour.


“Half-pint’s insistin’ I have a female escort to her wedding.”


“Oh?” Johnny’s jolting reversal in conversation had left Scott’s brain with the briefest of responses.


“Female escort. What the hell is that? Makes it sound like I need a guide to find my way through enemy territory. Come to think of it, that might be an accurate description.”


Scott shook his head. Matchmaker Miss Providence strikes again. Leticia Lopez would no doubt be added to the guest list.


“So I thought I’d ask the McGuire twins. You think Kinsey would mind one of those dangling S’s bein' added to escort?”


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