With Johnny in town drawing to an inside straight and the engaged couple seated upstairs sharing a bedside candlelit dinner, Harlan Garrett held court over roasted chicken to a smaller than usual audience.
“Yes, it will be good to reminisce. Phillip and I remained friends well past our childhood. In fact, we both wooed Scotty’s grandmother!”
“But you won her heart.” Teresa, enjoying the romantic retelling of two dashing young men pursuing a lovely lady, encouraged the evening meal tale to continue.
“Ah, my dear girl. It was the Good Lord who saw fit to answer my prayers and bless me with Pearlette.” Harlan leaned in with a smile. “Not my savoir-faire.”
As the elder Garrett weaved the past in and out of his newly announced travel plans to Westcott Vineyards, Murdoch’s spreading smile kept pace with the butter being smeared on his biscuit. Evidently, the thought of a reprieve from the Lancer house guest was digesting quite nicely.
On the other hand, Scott felt his amicable persona gradually melting much like the ice in their water goblets. He’d heard this story of passionate pursuit once before while dining at the Parker House during a post-holiday trip back to Boston. What was to be an evening shared by grandfather and grandson to ease their strained relationship resulted in yet another burned bridge between the men with the invitation of a surprise table companion, Phillip Westcott.
Surprises. My grandfather has gathered quite a long list. Scott took on the difficult task of holding his tongue regarding the latest surprise that Seth had shared upon his arrival.
“How long do you plan on staying at the Westcott’s?” Murdoch’s smiling face struggled to present his question in a nonchalant tone.
“A week. Perhaps a bit longer. I’d say it all depends on my niece’s complete recovery to travel and Scotty’s parole from ranch duties.” Harlan’s wit only gained his own solitary chuckle. “I think we can all agree they both should have the opportunity to visit a few days at the vineyards before fetching me home.”
All agree? Not necessarily. Watching his father’s slow pondering chew on a bite of poultry, Scott visualized his chore list lengthening while Doc Jenkins rebandaged Kinsey’s ankle. Clearly, discussions needed to occur, however, seeking more private and separate conversation settings for the Lancer/Garrett patriarchs seemed prudent considering the inevitability of lively opinions. An imaginary coin flipped into the air, making a call on who to speak with first. Heads: Lancer. Tails: Garrett.
Leaning against the bedroom door frame with crossed arms, Scott stared at the back of his grandfather as he packed for his journey. “You’re investing in Westcott Vineyards.”
A folded shirt’s travel to an opened carpetbag hesitated briefly before reaching its destination. “My grandson’s lack of a query inflection suggests a response is not required.”
“When were you going to tell me?” Scott let the question have a moment on its own before continuing. “A query requiring a response.”
“And spoken with a hint of disrespect.” The travel valise snapped shut. “Which I will choose to ignore.” Harlan seated himself on the bed while gesturing toward an empty chair. “Sit.”
“Beg. Roll over.”
“Goddammit, Scott. Sit down.”
Profanity. Very good. The defensive wall of his grandfather’s pompous authoritarian attitude had been breached. Satisfied, Scott occupied the bedroom chair and allowed quiet to blanket the room.
The older man’s hands brushed his trousered thighs as if to sweep away a few specks of lint and a lap full of annoyance. “Your kenspeckle dismay with my decisions continues to baffle me.”
“Rarely do I have issues with your decisions, sir, however at times their delivery could certainly stand improvement.”
Harlan dipped his chin to the side while raising a palm in defense. “All right. Today's delivery was rather awkward at best due to Phillip inadvertently springing my surprise prematurely. I assume it was Seth who brought you the news. Am I correct?”
“Yes and the sprung surprise wasn’t premature. In fact, from my understanding it was way overdue.”
“My boy, if you understood as well as you claim then can my investing in the Westcott Vineyards honestly be called a surprise?”
Silence in the room shouted Scott’s no.
“Very well.” With a smile, Harlan rose from the bed to place a hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “Now, allow these weary bones to retire. They will be spending most of tomorrow bouncing down dusty roads. Further conversations regarding this matter can wait until you and dear Kinsey join me at the Westcott’s.”
Standing, Scott turned to leave with one brain itch needing answered. “How much did you invest?”
“Why the exact amount you did… to the penny.” Arms swept out in front of the elder Garrett. “Equal shareholders, you and I. What better way to break ground for our adventures in California?”
“Is The Rattler packed up?”
Noting his father’s eyes not leaving the pages of his current novel, Scott gathered the man was embracing a moment of quietude in the Great Room and desired a simple answer. “Yes.”
“And Westcott… where might he be? Still in that little lady’s bedroom?”
Scott smiled. “Sir, have you forgotten a time when you were a young man?”
“No. Which is why I’m asking.” A page turned. “And now it’s the reason I don’t want an answer.”
Good book. Smoking pipe. Overstuffed leather chair. His father’s appearance was one of a contented man looking forward to normalcy returning to his life on the ranch. Let him have the evening. Scott determined sharing Harlan Garrett’s latest shenanigans could wait until tomorrow.
Drifting into the kitchen led Scott to the discovery of an unfinished bottle of wine. An eyebrow raised at an empty jelly jar destined for the storage shelf. Any port in the storm. Called into service, the jar took on the duties of a glass while wine poured from the bottle and a seat was taken.
Scott took in his surroundings. Lately he’d found himself gravitating to the hacienda’s kitchen which, like most kitchens, offered a comfortable sense of belonging with its aromas and conversations. Although visually different, sitting here brought back memories of the Garrett family kitchen and the ever-present Winnie.
And her Jameson. Well, old gal, I surely wish you were sharing a drink with me now.
The creaking sound of an opening side door raised the hairs on the back of Scott’s neck. The moment quickly passed at the sight of not a ghost of a friend, but that of a little brother heading for the ice box. Pulling out a supper plate of leftovers, the sullen Johnny plopped into an empty chair.
An older brother’s finger pointed to the food. “A man about to gnaw on a cold chicken leg while sporting the expression saying Lady Luck graced another gent’s poker hand with her caress is not a good sign.”
“Neither is a fella sittin’ in a kitchen by himself drinkin’ outta a jelly jar.”
“It is a fact. Misery loves company and you, sir, have sat at the right table.”
“Jesus, Scott. Who loses a hand holdin’ a full house, Aces high with a pair of Kings kissing their asses?”
“A fella who isn’t holding a Royal Flush.” Sip. “How much are you out?”
“An amount the ol’ man don’t need to hear.” Johnny scrutinized the aforementioned poultry leg and took a bite. “So brother, what’s your misery?”
A deadpan reply was in order. “Grandfather is purchasing a second residence in Sacramento along with shares of Westcott Vineyards.” Sip.
A snort escaped through Johnny’s nose before he could swallow, wipe his mouth and release a gut laugh that bounced off the walls. “Hell, I do believe those dealt cards beat a Royal Flush.”
“You won’t get an argument from me.”
“I haven’t gotten around to telling him.” Sip.
Johnny’s nod of approval slowly lost momentum with a dipped brow. “Hold up. Where’s Westcott?”
Sip. Sigh. Looks like the deal of tonight’s cards wouldn’t be improving anytime soon.
Leaning against the stucco arch with a final swig of morning coffee in his mug, Johnny observed. “Grape Crusher sure didn’t last long in the company of your grandfather.”
Considering the two travelers to Stockton had left promptly after breakfast, Scott squinted in the direction Johnny faced to solve his puzzling comment. The buggy, kicking up dust down the lane, was missing Seth’s horse tied behind. “That’s not them.” Closer inspection revealed a single driver.
“Is this the Lancer ranch?”
The stranger’s first question once he’d arrived and approached the brothers was not out of the ordinary. Nor was his appearance although his tailored suit suggested a businessman. It was the gentleman’s accent, an accent a certain young lady tried hard to contain, that first twitched a muscle in Scott’s neck. “It is. I’m Scott Lancer.” A casual hand gesture corralled all present. “My brother Johnny.”
“I understand Miss Kinsey Furlong resides at this dwelling.” The man, unimpressed with his greeters, glanced about as if his words would magically produce the girl.
The twitching muscle tightened. “I don’t believe I caught your name, sir.”
“Godfrey Mannheim. I’m here representing the Yarra family of Melbourne.” The man paused for a slamming afterthought. “And their deceased son, Thomas.”
Scott’s racing mind calmly produced a simple request. “Johnny, go find Murdoch.”