As Ever
by  S.

 "Johnny, you've got to get up!" Scott Lancer made another valiant effort to hoist his brother from the depths of the bed where he was sleeping. "JOHNNY! Murdoch told you that you had to go check on the saw mill." This time the older brother tried shaking, but nothing would pierce the alcohol-filled slumbers of the younger man.

Beginning to feel desperate, Scott walked over to the pitcher of water on the chest nearby. Carrying it back, he started to pour a thin stream onto the disheveled black hair of his sibling. Seeing that the water was nearly ice cold, the young man immediately sat up shouting in anger, but his sapphire eyes remained closed.

As the water trickled down across Johnny's cheekbones, Scott flung a towel in the other man's face. "Johnny, I'm sorry I had to do that, but. . . ."

Strong, calloused hands grabbed Scott by the collar. "You are a dead man, Boston. My head hurts like hell and you come in here and try to drown me?"

"Sounds like you must have had a good time at Val's birthday party last night," remarked Scott in a cheerful tone.

"Ooooh, I think I'm the one who's dead. How can anyone survive with a head like mine?" replied the suffering man.

"You're going to be suffering more if you don't collect Barranca and head up to the sawmill!"
"I don't have to go there, the buzzing's already in my head!" Sinking back down on the slightly wet pillow, Johnny tried to return to his painless oblivion.

"Johnny, do you want me to go up to the sawmill for you? I guess we can trade jobs for the day."

The dark mop nodded slightly, then a groan was heard, followed by a pathetic whisper, "Bless you, Brother. You've saved my life."

"Okay but just remember you owe me one. Murdoch will be back by noon so you'd better get up by then and ready to help with the books."


"Sure, we were going to do some accounting today--lots and lots of tiny little numbers in tiny little rows."
Johnny Madrid wrapped his slightly soggy pillow around his head and moaned dramatically.

Knowing that Teresa would keep an eye on his brother, Scott headed out to the stable to collect his horse. Then, he set off at a brisk trot.

An hour later Teresa brought in a cup of steaming coffee to put down on the table beside the bed. "Johnny, here's some coffee for you. Murdoch will be here in three hours."

A muffled grunt was her only answer.

After another hour had passed, the brown-haired girl returned with another fresh cup of coffee to replace the previous one. She thwacked the man in the bed with an extra pillow. "Johnny! Murdoch will be here in two hours!"

This time there wasn't even a grunt. 

At 11:00 AM, Teresa made her last effort, She carried in a piece of freshly baked chocolate cake and waved it under Madrid's nose. When the eyes didn't open and the body didn't move, Teresa knew that she would have to tell Murdoch Lancer that his younger son had sadly passed away.

Promptly at noon, the tall rancher dismounted from his horse, walked into the kitchen and inquired about the whereabouts of his sons. In a perfectly calm voice, Teresa informed him that his older son had left for the sawmill. Seeing the look of puzzlement on his lined face, the girl merely informed him that there appeared to be a dead body in Johnny's bed--if her guardian cared to check it out.

Scowling with displeasure, the patriarch moved down the hall to his son's bedroom. As Teresa had said, Johnny could have been mistaken for a sorry corpse had there not been echoes of snores emerging from his lips. Standing there seething with anger, Murdoch debated on which punishment he should inflict first. He had warned his dark-haired son not to get stinking drunk at Val's party--and it was more than obvious that he had disobeyed.

Suddenly, the snoring took on a different tone as two bleary eyes opened and took in the tall figure standing at the end of his bed. For one brief instant, Johnny devoutly wished he had his gun at hand, but sadly he was defenseless and unprepared to meet the wrath of an irate Scot.

However, the voice which caressed his ear was not one of anger but of concern. "Teresa tells me that you're a bit under the weather, John. How sad!"

Johnny blinked. His eyes tried to focus on the big man. Yes, it actually was his father. "Uh, I'm sorry. I guess I had too much whiskey last night."
Murdoch moved closer and then actually sat on Johnny's bed. "You should give up that rotgut and stick to a real man's drink--scotch. Now, why don't you drink some hot coffee and then go take a hot bath to sweat out some of the alcohol? Then we can talk."

The fearless gunfighter shivered. "Talk?"

"Yes. I'll tell you about the time Jacob Cobb and I went on a three-day drunk. Oh no, maybe I'd better skip that one. That was just after your mother left."

Johnny frowned. "Yeah, I don't feel much like talkin' 'bout my mother."

"Oh, I understand. Your stomach must be queasy. Maybe Teresa has some fresh biscuits. Those will help. I'll go get them and the coffee. You just lie there and relax."

Johnny Madrid lay there waiting for his father's return which did not take long. Carrying in a tray with a mug of coffee and several biscuits, Murdoch deposited them on Johnny's lap. "Eat up, Son. You need to keep up your strength."
For the next hour Murdoch kept up a running account of the times he had consumed too much hair of the dog. He had gently chided himself for his fondness for the potent beverage of his homeland. Since Johnny had never even seen his father indulge in more than a snifter of brandy, he could not imagine his father under the table.

At the end of the hour, Murdoch encouraged his son to rise and take a long hot bath which would prepare him to concentrate on the ranch books. Johnny had done so and then returned, hair still damp from the bath. Telling his son to sit in the chair at the desk, Murdoch had confidently smiled and then left him to the books--all ten of them.

By dinnertime, the gunfighter had made a dent in the tomes, but there was still much to be done when Scott walked into the hacienda. The slender young man sagged with fatigue, but he made an effort to smile when he saw his brother working away. "Having fun, Brother?"

"Sure am, Boston. Now, I can see why your grandfather is so fond of these things."

"Good. Maybe Murdoch will let you do them all the time?" 

The look in the sapphire eyes was priceless.

"Maybe Murdoch will let him do what?"

The two brothers glanced up at their father. "Johnny seems to like working with all those figures."

Madrid growled, "I only like certain types of figures!"

Murdoch focused on the blond man. "I think you've got a good idea there, Scott. For the next couple of months, at least, we'll make Johnny in charge of the books."

"Gee thanks, Boston!" remarked the newly appointed accountant.

"No problem, Johnny. Now, I think I'll go get cleaned up before dinner. Oh, by the way, Murdoch, that cat that has been after the cattle is dead. I buried him near the sawmill."

"Good. He's cost us enough beeves. Well, go get cleaned up. Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes. Johnny, why don't you take a break now? You can continue after dinner."

Mutter, mutter.

"Did you say something, Brother?" 

"Oh, go soak your head!"

The blond walked into his room, stripped off his shirt and began to clean the claw marks that trailed down his arm. Coating them with salve, he then wrapped a bandage around the area before putting on a clean shirt. It had been just another eventful day at Lancer.



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