No research done, wrote from the heart. Mistakes are mine. You can’t have them just read them. Hope you enjoy!
Two of the bushwhackers held him up, one on each arm. They steadied him as the third man repeatedly threw blow after blow to the face and the stomach area. The man would occasionally stop to catch his breath and pull Johnny’s hair up to see his face. “You sure do look prettier now.” Then he’d rip more blows to his stomach causing Johnny legs to rise up in a natural reaction to the pain. “Steady there, boys. I ain’t done.” It was evident that the man was taking pleasure in the beating. Blood was spewing out of Johnny’s mouth with every blow. His head wobbled from side to side. The blows were so frequent and fast coming that he started to feel numb. ‘Dios, let me black out.’
There was a sense of satisfaction for the men every time Johnny would groan. Slumped in their arms and feeling heavier for them, he was dropped to the ground. He managed to curl up into a ball and avoid any more blows to his head from their kicks.
Finally, Johnny got what he wished for; darkness engulfed him, just as one last kick was delivered to his ribs. They left him there and walked away. “I do believe this bastard will now mind his own business.” The wind carried a gregarious laugh as they mounted their horses. “Let’s go git that other business taken’ care of.”
Scott waited and started to worry. ‘He should have already been here. How long does it take to walk to her house?’
Earlier on, there was a new girl had intrigued Johnny. He didn’t approach her right off, but kept on eye on her from a distance. He observed her very closely. Truth is he was tired of starting relationships that ended up hurting him more than it was worth. He liked what he saw in this girl and didn’t want to move in too fast.
Scott was very much aware of his brother’s misfortune with relationships and was enthralled as he watched his Johnny take interest in her. It was like watching a predator approaching a prey circling cautiously around before pouncing to secure the target. He was mindful of keeping his mouth shut and avoided making any comments that might upset his little brother.
Their frequent trips into town made it possible for him to scrutinize his maneuvers. He had spent three months wavering for the right moment to approach her and she knew it, but had enough so she initiated their meeting by accidentally bumping into him as she ran out of the general store. She seemed more pleasant in person than he’d ever imagine. Things just got better after that, much better.
There was something very different with this one, though, Scott couldn’t help but wonder. ‘Could this one be the one for him?’ Scott was somewhat protective and he just observed his little brother from a distance, hoping he didn’t need to be there to catch him should he falter.
The cattlemen association was having a small convention in Stockton and many ranchers were meeting in Green River before heading out to Stockton. Murdoch was the one handling any news and answering questions. He wanted his boys to be there so they could help with any extra assignments that might be needed by a member of the CMA. That week had many people coming and going from town.
As usual, along with the ranchers, came strangers looking to be hired on as a ranch hands. Those strangers had Johnny on edge, especially the ones who wore their guns low. He kept his hat over his eyes trying to avoid any recognition.
Well it was one of those strangers that started the problems for Johnny Madrid Lancer. Even though he had not been called out for a few months, closer to a year, there was always that threat and he knew it.
He was especially weary of those men who wanted revenge. They were the worst danger. Men seeking out revenge usually sought it out in any form or fashion regardless of who got hurt. So he kept his guard up everywhere he went.
Murdoch continued with busy and found that they needed more time to close some deals. Needless to say, Johnny was exuberant to hear that they would have to stay for another week helping Murdoch.
He’d manipulate his errands and would quickly find a way to spend time with her. Of course, it helped that Johnny knew and respected Atzi’s uncle.
They’d share casual conversation at the beginning. There was something special about her that intrigued him. Her earthiness and aura was humble and genuine. She wasn’t beautiful, but down right pretty enough. Her eyes had enough charm to hypnotize anyone that dared to look into them. They were unique, sincere and they laughed. He didn’t care for beauty, at least not on the outside. He had had his share of beautiful women and some were just plain shallow. Her beauty came from deep inside. As they talked, they found that they shared many of the same ideals.
Even as he mentioned his past to her, she just took it in stride. It really didn’t face her one bit. Her mannerism and acceptance to his past was sincere and honest. She too had a small past, which is the reason she was now staying with her uncle. It wasn’t a past as dark as Johnny’s, but she still had her troubles and learned to deal with them thanks to her family. The weight of the world seemed to roll off both their shoulders as they bonded their affection for each other.
They sincerely enjoyed each other’s company. He was still apprehensive, but only for brief moments. It was his nature and she understood. He’d look forward to walking her home everyday after her errands in town. She’d look for any reason to run those errands for her uncle as well.
As she was shopping at the general store, he caught a sight of her carrying some packages and quickly ran over to assist her. Just when they were getting ready to cross the street, Johnny caught a glimpse of a rider coming at them in a fast gallop.
He managed to drop the packages and carried her over to safety. The rider past them then stopped and turned his horse around.
Johnny had his hand on the handle of his gun and was ready for action. He moved her behind him and told her not to move. The rider approached them. “Well, Madrid seems you’ve found yourself a new friend.” He tilted his hat. “Ma’am.” His look sent chills down her back. Her reaction was to move closer to Johnny. Johnny did not flinch.
“Take care of yourself.” He looked at her with cold fierce eyes and then glared back at Johnny. “Johnny.” Riding off, he let out a menacing laugh.
Johnny stood there watching the rider until he was completely out of sight. Turning his attention back to her, he asked her, “Do you know him?”
Picking up some of the packages, she let him know. “No, should I?” She was noticeably bothered by the question. “It seems he knew you though.” Looking at him, she waited for his response.
He picked up some of the packages and stood there in deep thought. “Seriously, I’d like to say that I know him, but I don’t.” He reached up to her elbow. “Come on, let me walk you home.” They walked quietly.
Mentioning the event to her uncle, Johnny suggested that she not go to town or any other place alone. Her uncle’s reaction was a clear indication to Johnny that he might just know who that rider was, but he didn’t push it any further. He’d just wait until the time was right.
Johnny told Scott about what had happened and expressed his concern for his new girl friend. Scott offered to help in any way he could. It was discussed that one of them would be on the look out for her whenever she needed to come into town.
She appeared to be annoyed by their assumption that the mysterious man was out to get her.
Johnny knew better and made time to discuss the rider with her uncle. After their lengthy talk, it was decide that they would not tell Atzi the reason behind their precautions.
Keeping a secret bothered Johnny, but he had promised her uncle. He did however mention the reason to Scott. Scott understood the uncle’s reason, but also agreed with Johnny feelings about keeping it a secret from Atzi. “Johnny, she should know. It’s not like she doesn’t know about her father’s past or her uncles for that matter.” Johnny just nodded.
“I promised Scott. I’ll talk to Michael again.” They went to have a beer. Scott knew that he’d continue to help out his brother not matter where the turn of events lead.
Val arrived at the saloon and joined the brother for a beer. Johnny told about Mikes past and the mysterious rider. Val was immediately on it and sent out wires inquiring about Atzi’s father and uncle. All they had to do was wait and be on full alert.
Both Lancer men kept a close eye on her, if one couldn’t walk her to and fore, then the other would, but she was never left alone doing her errands.
Val finally received some news and immediately shared the wire with Johnny. Trouble was deeply brewing. That man with revenge on his mind was indeed after his girl.
He had told her that he’d walk her to the seamstress’s shop and asked her to wait for him. This in mine, he made his way over to her house and decided to tell her the truth regardless of the promise he had made her uncle. She needed to know and to confront her uncle about it.
As he arrived at her house, he noticed that the front door was opened. He ran in and saw the aunt sitting at the table crying. Johnny quickly approached her, “Ma’am please, tell me what’s wrong!”
“Oh Johnny, they have her and Mike went after them. He’s going to get them both killed.” She looked at him with despair in her eyes.
“Ma’am which way did he go?” Standing half in and half out of the door he waited. “Please ma’am, let me help. Which way?”
“It’s too late Johnny. His past caught up with him, just like it’s going to catch up with you. That’s what happens when you take on a career as gun fighters. Don’t you see, it’s too late!” She just kept crying.
He had had enough of her crap and walked up to her. Lifting her up roughly by the shoulders, he insisted. “Listen to me. TELL ME WHICH WAY… NOW!”
She told him and slumped back into the chair as she cried out. “This is why he never wanted children. This is why you shouldn’t have children. You hear me Johnny?”
He had heard her and it struck a nerve in him as he mounted to go after them.
Back to the beginning:
Following the trail, he slowed down as the tracks became fresher. Deciding to walk now, he dismounted Barranca. Quietly he moved closer to where he thought they might be camping. Suddenly, someone grabbed him from behind and held him tight. He fought as best he could, but they had him and one had a gun to his head. “Give it up Madrid! We know how ya’ think and knew ya’d come looking for ya’ gal.” They removed his gun belt and dragged him to the bushes where the beating began.
Scott got tired of waiting and rode over to the house. He found the aunt just as Johnny had, sitting at the table crying. “Ma’am? May I come in?” He waited and she didn’t respond. He looked around. “Ma’am? It’s me, Scott Lancer. Have you seen my brother Johnny?” He walked in a few steps.
“He’s dead!” She screamed at him.
Scott stepped back and felt his world spin. “Wha…. what do you mean, he’s dead?” You’re not making any sense. How do you know this?” This time he went up and knelt next to her. “Tell me what you do know.” He reached and placed his hands on hers. This kindness got her attention.
“He went after them Scott. I told him it was too late and he didn’t listen.” She looked down at his hand. “They never listen. They just go off half cocked and shoot each other.” Looking at him she added. “That’s the life gun fighter pick you know. They don’t think about the future, just the now and it gets them killed or… “ She started to cry again. “They get someone they love killed just like your brother. He’s dead just like the rest, dead.”
Scott just knelt there for a short while taking in what she had just said. “You’re not sure… I mean you don’t know he’s dead. You didn’t see him get shot, did you?” He stood firm and stared at her. “Answer me. Did you see him get shot and die?”
“No, I just know he is dead. They all die eventually, gun fighter. They don’t live long.” She was now stone faced and looked out ahead without any emotion left for her to show, but she did offer him one last bit of information. “He went looking for them towards the west down that road.” She pointed then went back to staring.
Scott ran out and gave chase. He slowed down when he spotted Barranca grazing by some bushes. “Damn!” He dismounted and yelled, “Johnny!” He didn’t know where to look. He stood there and listened for any sound that his brother might make and then there it was, a soft moan. He followed it and stopped to listen some more. ‘Come on little brother…’
Johnny was semi-conscious as he heard his brother call out to him. He tried to answer, but all he could manage was a moan. He couldn’t move, every inch of his body was burning with pain. He spit out some more blood as he tried once more to call out for Scott.
There it was again; it was enough to get Scott to Johnny’s side. “Johnny, God.” He bends down and turned him over and held is head. He couldn’t believe what he saw. His little brother’s face was swollen beyond recognition and there was blood oozing from what seemed to be every part on his face. Scott tried to clean him up with his bandana, yet the more he’d clean the more blood would appear. He was afraid to move him, but couldn’t leave him. So he carefully lifted his brother’s battered body up and carried him over to his horse. Johnny couldn’t help but groan from the pain for there wasn’t a spot on his body that didn’t hurt, as careful as Scott was trying to be, it just didn’t help with the pain. It was a difficult task, but he managed to get Johnny mounted.
Scott held on to his brother who just slumped forward like a rag doll. As they rode back to town, Scott kept trying to comfort Johnny, “I’ve got you brother. I’ve got you. Please stay with me.” Scott felt a tear trail down his cheek. ‘Get a grip man. Get him to safety then fall apart.’ He had to ride slow, even if he desperately wanted to gallop his horse at full speed.
Murdoch was standing on the boardwalk of the hotel smoking a cigar discussing ranch business with one of the rancher when he spotted Scott’s horse and trailing behind him was Barranca without a rider. He focused as he walked off the boardwalk, “My God, Johnny!” He ran to help Scott.
“Murdoch, he’s hurt bad, real bad. Get Sam hurry. I’ll ride over to his office.”
Murdoch ran to Sam’s office yelling for him. “Slow down Murdoch. What’s wrong?” Sam stepped out of this office and saw Murdoch exasperated face. “Man, tell me. Which one is hurt?” He looked over Murdoch’s shoulder and saw Scott riding in with Johnny in his arms. “Damn, Murdoch, quick let’s get him inside. Hurry.”
They carried him in carefully and placed Johnny on the examining bed. Val stormed in after a while. The rancher had gone over to inform him of what was transpiring.
“Scott, what the hell happened?”
Scott just sat there staring as his hand with his brother’s blood on them. “I don’t now Val. I found him, half dead, Val, half dead!”
Val looked back and forth from Scott to Murdoch. “Murdoch?”
“I don’t know either. I saw Scott riding in with Johnny.” Murdoch sat next to Scott. “Come on son, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“NO, I’m not leaving until I know Johnny is going to be all right.” Scott moved away from his father’s hands.
“Son, I’m not saying to leave. We can get you cleaned up in Sam’s kitchen. Come on. Val will call us if Sam comes out with news about Johnny. We’ll just be in the next room.” He placed his hands on his leg.
“OK. Val, we’ll be in the next room.” Scott walked slowly looking at the door expecting Sam to walk out.
The three men sat there for what seemed like hours. Sam’s assistant walked out. She had tears in her eyes and avoided eye contact with the men. She just carried some bloody bandages into the kitchen. This made all three men shiver.
She quickly went back in with more bandages, but managed to tell them that Sam was working real hard to save Johnny.
“To save Johnny! My God, I can’t loose him, no God please.” Murdoch couldn’t help but cry and place his hands over his face. Scott quickly stood up and walked to the window. Val was too numb to move. He just sat there and stared.
More time went by. No one said a word. The door opened slowly and Sam walked out, shoulders slumped and wearing a tired expression. He sadly looked over to all three men who were now standing side by side anxiously waiting.
“We almost lost him.” He sat down and rubbed his forehead. “What devil would beat someone to near death?” He just shook his head.
“Sam please, is he going to be OK?” Murdoch walked closer to his friend.
“He’ll live Murdoch.” He looked up at them. “He’ll live, but he is hurt bad, real bad. The damage he received… is… was life threatening. We’ll have to keep an eye on him every minute he is here.” Sam stood.
“I have Mrs. Hernandez watching him for now. She’ll get me if there is any change.”
“Sam, is he still in danger of… of dying?” Murdoch needed to know.
“Yes. It’s up to him and God now. I will be changing his bandages frequently to help prevent infection. I’ve placed a tube in his nose to get nourishment and medicine into him. I will monitor him round the clock, Murdoch. I am not letting that boy die.”
Walking into the kitchen, he added. “Go get some rest. I’ll need you two refreshed and alert when it’s your turn to watch him. He will not be moved for a few days, which means he will be staying here with me. Go now and no arguments.”
“Wait Sam. Can we see him first?” Scott asked.
“I’m sorry, yes, of course, but make it quick. I mean it when I said I need you two rested.”
The three went in and stood still when they spotted Johnny lying so still and almost lifeless. His soft breathing was the only indication he was still alive. His face was gravely swollen and horribly beaten. Sam had his body covered with a sheet so they couldn’t see the damaged on his body, but they could only imagine. Murdoch was the first to approach his baby boy. He wanted to gently placed his fingers on his cheek, but couldn’t find a spot that wasn’t hurt, so he bend down to kiss the top of his head while whispering, “I’m here son. I love you. Get well Johnny.”
A soft moan was heard and Johnny slightly tilted his head towards the voice.
Murdoch called out, “Sam?”
Sam ran in and quickly checked Johnny out. He smiled. “The medicine is wearing off. He heard you. Go on talk to him and then I am giving him some more medicine to keep him asleep.”
Scott did just that. “Hey little brother. I’ll be here with you so you let me know if you need anything. OK. I love you. Sleep safe and don’t worry none.”
Val just looked down and placed his hand on the sheet. “Well amigo. I’ve got you back, so you rest up and git better, ‘K?”
Johnny moved his head with a slight nod and tried to give them a small smile and couldn’t. Sam gave him his medicine. They watched him until his breathing became steady and soft. Everyone left to get some rest, but they knew it would be a difficult night to sleep.
Scott and Val sat and discussed a plan to get the men who had hurt Johnny. They rounded up some of the best ranch hands to join them. Murdoch and Sam stayed to keep an eye on Johnny.
When the posy rode off, the split into two groups and Scott rode with Val. He knew it would be better since Val knew whom they were up against. The second group was more of a diversion.
Val and Scott had stopped to talk to Atzi’s aunt. She was more coherent and gave them all the information they needed to know.
“What she said matches up with the wires I got, Scott. It seemed that Mike and Moss were a part of a gang that had robbed a bank a long while back. When the gang parted ways, part of the bank money disappeared and them brothers were blamed for it.” Val was explaining this to Scott as they rode off.
“They had succeeded in hiding out for a long time. Mike didn’t have any children for fear of retribution, but Moss fell in love and his wife had a girl. Moss went as far as to change his name, but secretly kept in touch with Mike. Unfortunately, bad luck caught up with Moss and he was found out. When both Mike’s brother and wife were killed, Mike went to take care of their affairs. His niece had nowhere to go. He agreed to leave her with the grandmother. He had enough money to send her off to get an education, but needed to get things straighten out before those plans could be followed through.” Val finished his story.
Scott assumed the rest. “He never did, did he?”
“Nope Scott, he never did get that chance. As four years went by and the grandmother died, Mike had to bring Atzi to live with him.”
They both new that time and patience was their enemies’ best attribute. Johnny had received the wrath of the men who sought their revenge, regardless of who got hurt.
Johnny was oblivion to what was going on around him during the next few days. Every person who had at one time received help from Johnny was knocking at the doc’s door offering to watch over him. Murdoch fought Sam and insisted on staying with his son, but fatigue would set in and he had to accept the assistance of others.
Scott and Val continued on their quest. Every track and sign they’d find was later lost. Having to admit defeat, they decided to return home. Scott was especially dismayed that they could not find his brothers attackers.
On their way back, they came across some fresh tracks and decided to give it one more shot. As they approach a campsite, they noticed that it was Mike and his niece. Scott couldn’t believe his eyes and quickly rushed out of the bushes only to be stopped with a gun barrel staring down at him. “Whoa, slow down there, Mike, it’s me Scott Lancer.”
Mike just stood there with a hard cold stare one that resembled Johnny Madrid. “Don’t ya’ know to never snick up on a campsite without warning!” He re-hosted his gun just as quickly as he had removed it. This was the first time Scott had seen Mike persona as a gun fighter.
“Sorry, I should have known, it’s just that we’ve been looking for you for the past three days.” He glanced over Mikes shoulders and saw his niece sitting quietly with her knees up to her chest staring out into the bushes. “Is she all right Mike?”
Mike turned to see his niece. “Yeah, as best she can be. Still in shock over the entire ordeal.” He grabbed some water and went to give some to her. “Come on honey, drink some more for me.”
She looked at her uncle and smiled as she reached for the canteen.
“How long you’ve been here Mike?” Val asked.
“Just set up, not but fifteen minutes.” Mike walked back to the fire and added some more branches. “Take a seat and I’ll fix us some coffee.”
“Had time to pack some coffee, huh?” Val acted very suspicious.
“Nope, did have time to get what those bastards left behind though. Any more question you need answered sheriff?” Mike was tired and extremely irritated with Val.
“Sorry Mike, just need to know what happened is all.” The sheriff sat.
Mike sat after he prepared the coffee and covered his niece with a blanket. He started to explain the entire incident.
“Well, I guess you know about the train robbery a few years back.” He looked at Val.
“Yep, never caught the robbers.” Val kept his sights on Mike. “Ain’t that right?”
“Yes sir, they never did.” Mike just smiled. “Seems that three of those robbers couldn’t, shall we say, hold on to their money.”
“You mean the money they stole. Money that wasn’t theirs in the first place?”
Val did not trust him any further than he could throw a house.
“Look Val, do you wanna hear this or just fucking arrest me?” Mike stood ready to fight.
“Val please let the man continue. Take your badge off for this time and listen.” Scott rebuffed.
“Fine, go on.” Val just huffed a sigh of disgust.
“Just to clear the air, sheriff, my brother and I did not keep any of the money!” He sat back down. Atzi stood up and walked to sit next to her uncle. She wrapped herself in his arms. He kissed her gently on the forehead and continued.
“Seems they were robbed one drunken night.” He laughed. “Moss and I were already traveling to get clear of them hombres. So they automatically assumed we had done it. Well they were damn wrong. Moss and I got wind of their false accusation when we met up with one of the gang members. He told us they were set on killing us both.” He stopped to wrap the blanket around his niece.
“Wasn’t that man a part of the robbery?” Scott asked.
“No son, he had joined them after the robbery and decided it was safer to be alone than with them when they started plotting against us. He said they were crazy with hate. So Moss and I decided it best to split up and sent each other wires occasionally from different towns, just ta’ let each other know we were alive.”
Val and Scott were very attentive as was his niece.
“Well, Moss fell in love and had this beautiful gal here.” He laughed and kissed her again. “I went to visit cuz I just had to see my new niece. I tell ya’ I fell in love with her immediately, but I feared for the three of them. Moss and I talked about the safest plan to keep them from harms way. It was then that we decided it best for him to change his name and entire ‘act’. You know take on a different role in life. He did very well for himself as a general store owner and raised a few life stock. Only lasted fourteen year until they found and killed him and Gloria.” Atzi just hugged her uncle tighter.
“Thank God Atzi was with her grandmother when this happened. Moss had always given her instruction on what to do should something happen to him. Unfortunately she had to…. “ He held his breath then let out a deep sigh. “I had to go and identify the bodies, couldn’t rightly let her do it. Told her to stay with her grandmother.”
“Weren’t they waiting for you? I mean that’s what I’d do.” Scott was curious how he managed to sneak by them.
“Oh yeah, they were waiting for me, but, well, a priest could easily come and go and I did, as a priest.” He turned to his niece. “Come on honey. Go lay down and get some sleep. You’ve been through hell. Go rest.” She kissed her uncle and bid her goodnights to Val and Scott.
“Then what happened Mike?” Val poured himself more coffee.
“I went to visit my little girl and her grandma. I helped them move and once again, that child had to change her identity. Her grandma was only to happy to do the same as long as she could keep her safe as her guardian. I couldn’t bring her home with me, so I left them some money that Moss had in the bank. Well earned money, I might add.” Mike turned to check his niece who was now sleeping. “Poor baby, it’s been rough on her.”
“How did they find you?” Scott wanted to hear more.
“Don’t know. Atzi stayed with her grandmother for the next four or five years until her grandmother got ill and died. She knew where to locate me and did. I had hitched up with Valeria by then, so bringing her to live with us just seemed the right thing to do since we didn’t have any kids of our own.”
“She wasn’t exactly a child any more Mike?” Scott nodded questionably.
“I know Scott, I know. Still she was in need of a place to stay and I am her only living relative so it wasn’t a matter of her age, just her security… so I thought. Didn’t want her making rash decisions to survive when she had me.” Settling back on his bedroll, he thought out loud.
“I swear I don’t know how those bastards found me. I took every precaution possible.” He looked puzzled.
“What happened out there?” Val had his badge back on.
“I caught up with them and just in time. One was starting to get mit’ friendly with my girl there. Shot the fucker right in the balls, I did! He ain’t ever gonna hurt another gal again. I shot the second one between the eyes and…” He pounded his fist into the ground. “The third one, Butch, he got away. I couldn’t give chase cause I needed to get Atzi.” He covered himself with the blanket.
“Did ya’ just leave them out there for the buzzards?”
“Hell, if I could of dug a hole for them, I would of, straight to hell, but yeah, Val, I left them there for the buzzards. Poor birds need ta’ eat don’t they?” He closed his eyes. “Just hope they don’t get indigestion from it.” He was done talking.
Scott and Val just looked at each other and then went for their bedrolls.
Next morning they all got an early start back to town. Clarissa did not know what had happened to Johnny and they did not volunteer any information. Val had ridden up front with Mike and told him. Mike felt real bad for Johnny; he had liked the kid from the start, especially since they shared a similar past. He had never told anyone of his gun fighting days and it was best, even for Johnny.
As they rode in, Mike noticed that his place looked out of sorts. “Val, didn’t you say you visited Valeria before setting out?”
“Yeah, Mike we did. She was fine and helped us out, even offered us some coffee.” Both men became alert now. “Slow down Mike. Let’s take it slow, remember the one that got away. Scott stay here with Atzi and stay alert.” They rode up closer to the house.
Mike noticed that the door was kicked in and felt his blood fall to his feet. He looked at Val in alarm. Val signaled him he was going towards the back to count to ten then go in.
Mike rushed in through the front and Val through the back. Val checked out the kitchen and bedrooms, then made his way to the front. What he saw made his blood curl. Mike was on his knees holding Valeria in his arms. Val looked up and saw a rope hanging from the beam of the living room, which Mike had obviously cut to get her down. He gave Mike a few minutes as he went to signal Scott to come closer.
“Scott take Atzi to the doc and keep her there will ya’.”
Scott saw Val’s face and knew it was bad, so he just nodded without questioning him.
Val returned to the house. Mike was still on the floor hugging his Valeria. Resting his hands on his waist, Val cleared his throat. “Mike? Bud, I am sorry.”
He heard a mumbled thank you as Mike stood up and wiped his cheeks. “Can ya’ help me out Val. Need to get her to the morgue and then…. “ Val stopped him.
“Mike let me take care of it for you. You go on to your niece. Scott took her to Docs.” He walked up to Mike and placed his hand on his shoulder offering some comfort.
“Nah, Val, I need to do it, but thanks. Can ya’ bring the wagon up front for me, please. I’ll get her ready.” He bent down to pick up his lover.
Val went on ahead to get the wagon. As Mike placed her on the couch and covered her with a shawl, he noticed a note on the table next to the couch. With shaky hands, he opened the letter and started to read.
Val walked in to announce that the wagon was ready and found Mike sitting on the large living room chair with a dumbfounded look. “Mike?”
Mike looked up at him. “She did it Val. Valeria told them I was here with Mosses’ kid. Butch came back here and… raped her, then… she hung herself.” He handed the note to Val, who proceeded to read it.
“Did you finish reading it?”
“No, I stopped after the part where she mentioned she was raped and then….”
“Well, it tells ya’ why she did it, Mike. Why she told Butch you was here. Maybe you should read it all. I’ll wait outside when you’re ready.” He walked out and waited.
Mike showed up and stood on the porch. “ I never knew. She never said anything. I would of…. “ He looked inside. “You know, Val, maybe you should take care of this for me. I’m going to check on my niece.” He walked over to mount his horse and rode off.
Val shook his head, “Women. Damn fools.” He walked in to the house and proceeded to take care of Valeria.
Atzi was inconsolable when she found out what had happened to Johnny. She was allowed to see him and that’s when she lost her composure. They had to practically drag her out. “Why? He didn’t do anything to them. He was innocent!”
Sam had to give her some sleeping powder to calm her down.
Just as she was falling into a deep sleep, Mike walked in. They told him how upset she was and he agreed they had done the right thing and thanked Sam.
Scott stood there curious to know what had unfolded back at Mike’s house. He looked at him as Mike kissed his niece on the forehead and covered her up. He then walked into the living room and asked to speak to Murdoch. They both stepped outside. Scott just kept wondering and decided to go sit with his brother.
Val showed up one hour later. “Hey Scott, how’s my amigo doing?” He went up and placed his hand on Johnny’s leg.
“He’s better, but still no prize on recovering fast.” Scott stood back and watched Val affectionate demeanor towards his little brother.
“Well, are you going to tell me what happened at Mike’s place?”
“Ain’t pretty Scott, ain’t pretty.” They both sat. “Is he sound asleep?”
“Yes sir he is and he won’t hear us, now please tell me.”
“She gone and hung herself Scott. Couldn’t live with the guilt of having caused Mike so much trouble. Damn fool woman.” He slapped is knees. “Bastard raped her Scott, then she hung herself.” He just kept shaking his head.
“Val?” Scott was shocked at it all.
“Apparently, Valeria didn’t take it to well ta’ having Atzi come and live with ‘em. She never said anything to Mike. So she took it upon herself to find Butch, under the condition that he not hurt Mike, but get rid of his niece. She never expected Mike to hightail it after her.”
“What? Why not, my God she is her niece as well.”
“Not really Scott. Mike and her never married and she’d never met her before.”
“And… what did she think? God, not that Mike and Atzi were….” Scott stood up flabbergasted at the thoughts that might have been twirling in the woman’s jealous mind.
“Yup, Scott that’s exactly what she thought!”
“Val, it isn’t true. You heard Mike. He loved her like his own.”
“Damn Scott I know that. Mike is decent folk. He’d never and he didn’t ever think such horrible thoughts. I mean that’s his brother’s daughter, but that woman didn’t think much of that part. Stupid women and their jealous spirit, it can drive them to do pure evil Scott.” Val stood to walk out. “Hey, what are Murdoch and Mike talking about out there?”
“Don’t know. Mike just asked Murdoch to step outside and they went out.”
They heard a moan.
“Hey there little brother. Did we wake you?”
“M-m-um-hum.” Johnny gave a flicker of a smile underneath his swollen lips.
“Sorry there amigo. You feeling well enough to go get a beer?”
“M-m-m, not ‘day. M-m-ma-be, mar-row.” That’s about all he could muster between tight teeth and a swollen mouth.
“Ok then, tomorrow it is. I think I am going to go get myself some shut-eye then. Take care of your brother Scott. See ya’ tomorrow amigo.”
“M-m, nit Val”
“Kind of hard talking between clinched teeth huh?” Scott moved Johnny’s bangs from his forehead.
“Yup.” Johnny tried to open both eyes but only managed to get one open. “where Mer-doch?”
“He’ll be here soon. He’s outside with Mike.”
Johnny’s one eye got wider. “Ow-w-w, Mik’ ok? Atzi ok?”
“Their both safe Johnny. You can relax. She’s asleep in the next room. She came to see you but you were asleep.”
“No, wan’ her… ta’ see me. Not… like dis. Pleaz.”
“OK, little brother. I’ll see what I can do. Go back to sleep. Sam will come in soon enough and wake you when he examines you.”
“K.” He closed his eye.
Murdoch stood and watched Mike ride off. It saddens him when a man has to make such drastic decisions, but thankful that he is able to help out a friend.
Scott walked out and saw Murdoch standing on the porch real pensive. “Care to share your thoughts sir?”
“Scott? How’s Johnny? Has he awakened yet?” He slapped Scott on the shoulder. “Come on let’s go see him.”
“He’s fine sir. Yes, he woke up for a minute, but is asleep again.”
“Good, that’s what he needs, plenty of sleep. By the way, looks like you could use some sleep as well. Go on son, I’ll stay with your brother for now. You go sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Murdoch eyebrows lifted which was a clear indication that what he had just said was an order not a request.
Scott just smiled and nodded then disappeared into another room.
Murdoch ran his hands through his hair and walked into to sit with his youngest.
When Atzi woke up, she was not permitted to go stay with Johnny. She didn’t agree with their reasons, but knew Johnny well enough to respect his wishes. The one thing she couldn’t understand was why her uncle had left her behind under Murdoch Lancer’s care. Murdoch had explained every thing to her and Scott. Scott agreed with Murdoch’s decision and was happy to help out in any way possible.
Murdoch took the time to explain what was happening to Johnny. Seeing that he was now able to stay awake for longer periods and was now attempting to eat, he sat next to him and told him about Mike. “It seemed that Mike felt it unsafe for her to live with him, not while Butch was still running around seeking revenge. He decided to go out, search, and stop that madman. Mike wanted her with people he knew would protect her, but before riding off he had asked me if we were up to the task. Not wanting to put any member of the Lancer family in more jeopardy, he needed to clear it with me first.”
Johnny just nodded his head a bit and listened.
Murdoch continued. “His second choice was to send her to a secluded area where only he would know and would not tell any one of this location, not even you son.”
That last statement made Johnny appreciate and love is father more as he reached out to hold his hand whispering. “Thank you.”
In actuality, Murdoch had no choice for he knew how Johnny felt about this girl and didn’t want his son’s heart to be broken again, besides, he too liked Atzi for Johnny. They’d figure it out, after all that’s what family does.
Sam walked out of Johnny’s room and announced, “A few more days and he’ll be good as new, at least in his eyes.” He laughed at Johnny same old excuses and logic as he tried to convince Sam to let him up and out. Only this time there was another special reason for his urgency and Sam almost gave in to him, almost, but not quite! Sam took a sip of his drink, ‘She can keep him company and still, until then, I need to take advantage of her presence and get some much needed rest!’
Mike felt sure that leaving his niece with the Lancers was a safe bet. Murdoch was an honorable man and knew he’d watch after his niece and her money. Before he rode off, he informed Murdoch that he would not visit Atzi until Butch was dead, but that he’d wire them on occasion to let them know he was alive. He rode off with a smile as he thought about the young couple. Nothing would give him more pleasure than to be able to attend their wedding and he would, even if it was from a distance as he kept a close eye on the events watching out for Butch, or next to his niece if he succeeded in killing him first. Either way, he would not miss it for the world.