There he stood; his head bowed down wondering, 'Why me?'
"OK, Madrid, oh excuse me…. Mr. Lancer, down on your knees."
Obediently, he knelt, "Yeah, yeah, I know the drill. Just curious as to why you've come after me?"
"Oh, Mr. Lancer, it's not you I am after. Do you like to fish?" Johnny looked up questionably confused, 'Fishing?'
"Ah, I can see you are a bit baffled by my question. See, well, I need bait and you dear sir are mine!" he snickered while knocking Johnny out cold.
"OK then, drag that man over to the cot and remove his shirt, tie him up to the post, wrist and ankles. I'll decide his fate later."
Johnny was dragged and dumped on the cot grunting as he was thrown without any concern for his comfort. His head banged up against one post, he attempted to open his eyes but the pain on his head was too much and the added bump just made it harder, so he succumbed to the darkness once more.
He could hear whispering and then the voices got louder. He kept his eyes closed trying to clear his mind from the pain. He steadied his breathing to avoid any attention to the fact that he had awakened. He needed to hear the conversation.
"My plan is well on the way. Did you deliver the package?" He stood there solemn glaring down on Johnny's unconscious body.
"Yes sir, it's been delivered with all the expectations." The obedient man replied.
"First we need to get Madrid out into the open where they can get a good look at the consequence should they refuse to follow my instructions. We will not be lenient on our torture, but we will not kill the man, yet!" The man giving the orders once again glared over to Johnny's body.
Johnny wanted to leap up and throw his body towards that man that was obviously planning to use him in a very disturbing manner, but he needed to hear more of the plan and needed to know what they wanted. 'What…what do they want? and who are they?'
"So Mr. Lancer is awake. Nice try sir, but I know you are listening intently. Are you curious to know what my plans are? Bring him over to that chair."
Once more he was dragged and tossed onto the chair where he almost lost his balance as he landed forcefully, but the man reached over to steady him.
"I am guessing your have a major headache, hum?"
Johnny raised his brows and stared, "Very perceptive being that you were the one who gave it to me."
The man laughed. Looking over at Madrid, he pulled a chair up in front of him and sighed. "Ok, here's the plan. Your newly found father has something I want and you are going to help me get it." He raised his eyebrows trying to get a reading for Johnny's reaction and smiled. "Ah, stone faced. I like that. Here is more then, he owns a piece of property that he has not bothered to invest into, but I happen to know it is worth a lot more than he is remotely aware of." Once more he looked for a reaction, smiling he placed his elbows on his knees and lend in closer to Johnny. "Want to know more?"
Johnny just stared at him. "I'll take that as a yes." He closed his eyes and sighed, then continued, "You see I have offered to purchase that piece of property, but your greedy father doesn't seem to want to part with it, especially since it is surrounded by pasture for his precious cattle. Hum…seems that's all he wants his land for, his cattle." Looking at Johnny, he frowned, "…and his sons."
Johnny continued with his cold blank stare. "Where do I fit in this plan of yours?"
"Ah, the million dollar question. See boy, you are going to get me that property, at least while I get what on that property."
"Yeah and how long will that take, getting what's on that property?" Johnny was wanted to get on with it and wanted to know how long his 'torture' was going to last, being that he has been through this and really wasn't looking forward it.
The man stood up and pointed a finger at Johnny, "That sir depends on your father and how much he loves you and wants you home." With that he walked away and out the front door leaving Johnny to study his surrounding. He sat there for what seemed like hours, bored and anxious to get on with whatever was pending for him.
The door opened and two very big muscular men walked in. Johnny shivered ever so slightly wondering if his torture was about to begin at the hands of this 'monsters'.
He looked at them attempting his best Madrid look. They just sighed and untied his wrist but not his ankles. One finally spoke with a voice that matched his body, husky and hard, "Here boy, boss wants ya' to eat and drink something' before da' party begins and we'z gonna be right here to watch."
They place a plate and drink in front of him. He glanced down on it and thought, 'what the hell, might as well die on a full stomach.' He carefully tasted the food, 'hum, not bad', and ate slowly, very slowly. The pace of eating caused one of the men to snicker and relax a bit. Johnny smiled, "Care to join me fellows. Don't rightly like to eat alone and having others watches me eat. I've been taught to share." He shoved the half eaten food a bit closer to them.
"Nah, but we appreciated the offer, boy. Now finish up so we can take you to do your business or we will have to let you wet and soil your pants leaving you with a dandy smell." He laughed and looked at his partner. "Hey Abel, you like torturing a man who stinks of shit?" The laughter got louder. The other man answered, "Shit No!"
Johnny laughed a bit, "Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't like being tortured 'if fen I smell like you two do, but then I'll be paining some and it won't matter after a while."
The laughter stopped. Johnny felt a sudden slap across the face. "Now boys, I thought you were going to let me tend to my personal business before the torture began." He wiped the trickle of blood from his lip and smiled.
"Hear that Abel, he thought that tiny kiss on the cheek was torture. Get moving kid." They lifted him up and pushed him towards the door. The sun was bright and Johnny stood adjusting his vision. He was finally able to see the camp and the activity that stirred about. It was more than he could imagine. 'God what the hell is going on?'
"A sight…don't you agree? Probably has you wondering more about my plans, am I right Mr. Lancer?" Johnny turned to look at his captor. The men behind him pushed him forward and led him to the outhouse. Johnny did his business as slowly as possible still in shock and more confused than before.
He was led back into the shack and tied up again. He sat there finding that his breathing was becoming erratic with panic. 'What the hell is happening? Why me? God…Murdoch, I need you now!' He closed his eyes and practiced his rhythmic breathing, one he learned from his Indian friends, one he used during these turmoil times.
Time moved slowly, again. Suddenly, the door opened up and there stood a giant shadow. He couldn't make out whom it was as the sun was shining from behind and he had not had time to adjust his vision to the sudden brightness. The figure quickly moved closer to him and grabbed his face in two large hands. Not knowing who is was, Johnny shook his head to release himself from the grip and started to curse, "Hush, son, it's me Murdoch!"
Johnny sighed and lends his head closure to his father'. Murdoch cradled his baby boy's head into his arms. "Murdoch, what is going on? Who are these men? What do they want?" Murdoch held his sons face and looked at him. "Well, he is one who seeks out monetary value and more."
"Oh, well, that answers it all. Now how about you untie me and let's get going, 'k?"
Moving his body indicating his where his wrists were tied.
"Son…I can't. You'll have to wait. God knows I wish I could trade places with you, but they haven't hurt you…. badly AND I am not going to let anything happen to you. I promise. You'll be out of harms way soon." He caressed his sons face and looked down, whispering, "I should have sold him that piece of land…. God, I am so full of regrets."
Johnny sympathize with his father, "I trust you Old Man. Just try to hurry things along. Don't think they're too willing to offer me more luxurious accommodations." He looked down, "How's everyone at Lancer? Tell them not to worry." Knowing that he had to wait for the outcome to take place later he felt more exasperated, "God, Murdoch, it's hard when you don't know what's going on and you loose track of time?" He looked up searching for answers.
"John, we'll get you out soon. We are working real hard to keep things under control. Greed does crazy things to people, but I will give up my entire ranch to get you back safely. Do you understand? Nothing means more to me than you and Scott. Do you hear me son?" still holding his face, he caressed his cheeks with his thumbs.
Johnny just nodded, " 'K, I'll be fine. Just get it done Old man…." He looked up as Murdoch was ushered to the door, then he turned before walking out, "John…I love you son."
Johnny never wanted to hug his father as badly as he did just then, "Love ya'…." and the door closed leaving his acknowledgement in mid air.
He was getting antsy and angrier with every passing minute, hours and what seemed like days. He was shuffled from chair to bed, fed, taken out to tend to his business and back into the shack with an occasional slap or belt to the face or ribs. 'God, I really need to keep my mouth shut, but this wait is killing me.' Back on the cot, he laid there, with thoughts filling his mind until he would drift to sleep for a short bit then he'd wake up and stare or think again. Every time he'd attempt to fight free from the binds they'd tighten them more and it would cut into his flesh. His hands, arms, legs and feet were numb from the restrain.
The door opened and he was lifted up roughly and dragged out to an open area. He adjusted his sight viewing the campfire. 'Night time…what day?'
"Well Mr. Lancer, it seems we've hit a stalemate and my instruction were not being followed. Time to 'dance' as you gunfighter say." Johnny's concern intensified as he was led to a large tree and his arms were lifted up above his head. His wrists were then tied to a large branch and he was lifted up. He was barely able to reach the ground and partly dangled. He felt the pain on his wrists and shoulders. Closely his eyes in an effort to forgo the pain, he shivered as he felt the coolness of the night. Wishing they hadn't removed his shirt to send to Murdoch, he shivered some more.
"Comfy Mr. Lancer?" He walked around Johnny's dangling body. Johnny gave him the Madrid stare. "Hum, well, sorry can't make…. you more comfy. That's up to your Pa'"
He swung Johnny's body and walked away instructing, "Now, make it…um, five…a hard five."
One of the muscle men walked up to Johnny and looked at him smiling the wicketist smile, then lifted his fist, huffed and let his fist ram hard, right into Johnny's gut.
'Shit….' His breathe left him and he struggled to regain it back. The man waited. Readying himself for another blow, Johnny closed his eyes and then he felt it. 'God it's hurts…can't breath...' This time there was not wait time. The three remaining blows came consecutively harder. Then the man decided to give Johnny a bonus blow, not to his rib cage, but to his face. With that, Johnny slipped into the abyss of darkness.
Once again, he heard voices. He heard his own moans and grunts then more voices and felt a touch on his skin, which caused some discomfort to his ribs and gut area. He attempted to open his eyes, but they seemed to have been sewn shut. 'Why can't I open my eyes?'
"Easy boy, easy…. how dare you? He is defenseless and you beat him. What kind of animal are you?" That voice sounded very familiar. "Doc…?", Johnny murmured.
"Easy John. I can't cut you down, but I can bind your ribs and."
"You will not touch him or help alleviate any discomfort for Mr. Lancer, at least not until his father sees fit to FOLLOW MY INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER!!!" The angry voice was heard throughout the camp. "Tend to my injured man. GO NOW!"
Johnny managed to get one eye open and saw the men pushing Doc Jenkins away from him. Doc fought them and looked at Johnny with major concern. Johnny just gave him the slightest grin and went back to his dark world.
'Bright, oh so bright, red, orange, yellow…wow…. hear it…. loud…brother you sure know how to show me a good time. Ain't ever seen fireworks before Scott. They are loud with all that popping and those bright colors. Hate the smell of the smoke. Ow…how did I get burned? Why does it hurt Scott? Did one fall and burn me…Scott?'
"…Scott…? Did I get…burned by one of them fire…crackers…it. hurts?"
"Easy Johnny…I got you. No fire…crackers, easy" They untied him. He opened his eyes. "What…were are they…the firecra…"
"He's out." Doc checked his eyes and stroked his hair. "Let's get him home and taken care of."
"Stop touching me. It hurts." He threw his hand out in an effort to stop the ministration on his injuries. "Got to be done Johnny, need to check your progress, now hold still." The doc continued his examination.
Johnny opened his eyes and slowly glared over to Doc, who smiled at him, "Welcome back John. Still hurt huh?"
“What the hell… hap-pened? God!" He barely managed to express himself as he shifted his body to get comfortable, but he felt more pain.
"Easy John, let us help you." Murdoch reached over and gently lifted his boys up higher against the headboard. Johnny smiled, "Ok, someone gonna tell me what the hell happened during my absence? God it hurts Doc."
"I'll tell you everything son, but right now I need you to let Doc finish his examination and you need to rest up some more." Murdoch sat carefully on the side of the bed while caressing his hair. "Guess that your hair is the only place you don't hurt." His father smiled and did not stop his affectionate caress.
"I swear I hear him purring Murdoch. Keep it up if it allows me time to finish my job here." Doc smiled at the boyish expression on the gunfighters face.
"Hey doc, do you think I grew an inch the way they had me hanging?" Johnny smiled and slanting in closer to his father’s caressing. "That's not funny John." Murdoch responded as he snapped his fingers on Johnny's head. "Hey, don't add to the injuries Pa'."
"Actually Murdoch, it's a good sense of humor that keeps this boy from succumbing to his ill fated disasters and… I thought it was funny." Exhaling, Doc gently slapped Johnny's thigh. "Good to go John. Just take it easy and the healing will proceed. Just have some major bruising inside and out." Murdoch stop pestering that boy and let's go have some coffee and fix Johnny something to eat and drink. "Hungry, John?"
"Uh, huh, could use a bite to eat and some more of Pa' s pestering while he explains the ruckus I was blindly involved in…" Johnny just gave Murdoch a stern look still expecting to know what had happened.
Both men walked out the door and Johnny realized he was left prompted up against the headboard and he had slide into a very awkward sitting position. "Uh, guys, Murdoch, Doc, need help here. Ow…not comfortable, ouch, shit, that's smart. Hello….anyone there? H E L L O…God…ouch, shit…"
"Seems they decided that you could manage on your own brother, did I hear you call out for help? That's a first." Scott moved over to the bed and stared at his now weirdly positioned brother. "Well I have to admit you look a lot better than I'd anticipated. Now what can I do for you?" He placed himself straight in front of his little brother pretending that the obvious was not visible.
"Funny brother, don't think I won't remember this next time you get hung up."
Scott helped Johnny over to a chair. "Not bad brother. You managed with quiet a bit of effort on your own. So, how are you really feeling and what did Doc say?"
"Feeling pain and some soreness, mostly and doc didn't really say anything other than the usual, rest…blah, blah, blah, same song and dance." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Scott, why doesn't Murdoch want to tell me the whole story? I really hate being kept in the dark."
"Ah, avoiding the whole story because of… guilt. Well little brother, seems a very greedy man thought there was gold in 'them dar' hills' and there is, only it is known as fools gold." He looked at Johnny who looked at him fuzzily. "Gold, huh, fools gold, 'k?"
"Yep, brother, Apparently Murdoch knew all along about the minerals that exist on our land and Mr. Greedy didn't believe him, so he set out to prove our father wrong using you as bait." Johnny bowed his head, "Again." he whispered.
"Hey, are you alright there little brother?" Scott reached out to lift his chin with concern.
"Yeah, just tired of being the punching bag either for Madrid or other dealings with…. ah, just need to stop sulking I guess." He stared out the window.
Scott proceeded to rearrange the bedding and turned to Johnny, "Come on brother. Let's get you back in bed so you can rest up some more. We were lucky the injuries weren't too bad, just very painful!" He reached to help steady Johnny.
"We, huh, lucky it was 'we' who got the bulk of the injuries." He settled on the side of the bed. "Hell Scott. Still don't know how I get myself into this, just tired, plain and simple." He lay down and shifted into a position that didn't cause very much pain.
"Guess it could have been worse. So what happened? I mean at the end when I was, 'we' were unconscious and hanging around?" He closed his eyes.
"Mr. Greedy got himself some greedy boys working for him and they all turned on themselves. By the time we stormed the camp, seems they had managed to shoot each other, catch fire to their tents and some even got away with bags of fools gold." He sat on the side of the bed watching for any signs of discomfort from his brother.
"Greed does that to a man, lucky me. Damn I swear I was at San Francisco watching all them fireworks you had shown me. Kept seeing all these bright colors and hearing all popping sounds, even thought I had burnt myself with one. Felt real." He looked up at Scott.
"Reckon I can understand how your subconscious would work itself into connecting your surroundings with something you've experienced. Just glad I found you alive and with no more injuries." He waited and continued, "You kept trying to talk telling me something about firecrackers, smoke and burns. Now, I know what you meant by that. The burning sensation was probably the pain you were feeling as I cut the ropes and lowered you down to the ground." Now it was his turn to glance down.
They both just stayed in silence. "So what happened to Mr. Greed? You know I never got his name." Scott looked up at him, "He was shot by one of his goons, one that got away." He stood up hearing Doc and Murdoch reaching the door.
"Well, well, brothers together. Why so solemn? We should be celebrating Johnny's return." Murdoch placed the tray down on the nightstand.
Johnny glanced over to the tray as he smelled the food. 'Damn that smells good.'
Murdoch lifted the towel covering the food. "Tamales, rice, and beans, good, um, wholesome food. Couldn't get any better."
They all sat around the bed and let Johnny eat as Murdoch told them about Mr. Greed. He told them all about his business ventures and mineral rights on Lancer land and apologized for not having shared this information with them early on. He felt that they were getting their feet wet with the ranching business that any other business dealing with Lancer could be told and learned as needed. He felt very guilty about what had happened.
"Don’t matter if we'd known about the mineral rights on Lancer anyway Murdoch. Seems he had every intention of dealing with you his way and he really didn't divulge any information that let me know what he was after. Murdoch, he'd still have proceeded with his plans regardless of who he held as bait. I just happen to be at the right place at the wrong time. No need to feel guilty over what happened to me, really, I am fine Murdoch."
Murdoch stood to grab the tray when he saw how his son's eyes were starting to droop with exhaustion. "Guess we'll let you rest." He placed his hands on his hair and caressed him a bit. "Love you son. Go to sleep."
The three men walked to the door and Scott turned to see Johnny snuggled into the covers and close his eyes. "Murdoch, I swear I heard him purring when you stroked his hair."