First Posted on LTAN in Jan. 2011
The heavy oak door of the hacienda jerked open. BAM! It collided with the foyer wall. Johnny stormed out of the house and headed straight for the barn.
Murdoch started after him but turned back when Scott stopped him by grabbing his arm. “No, Murdoch, you need to give him some time to cool down. He won’t be going further than the barn, he knows better than to try.”
“What he needs is to come back in here and rest as he was told,” Murdoch replied, pointing first towards Johnny, and then to the floor of the house. “I don’t understand that boy. He balks every time I try to talk to him.” The frazzled father ran his hands through his hair in agitation.
Scott shook his head and huffed out a weary breath. “I don’t think he is used to having someone asking questions about what he has done, or telling him what to do and when to do it for that matter.”
Murdoch sighed, “If he would just answer a simple question, that’s all I want.” He jabbed his own chest with a rigid forefinger for emphasis. “Well, that and to follow the doctor’s orders. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on him but I need to know what happened in Mexico. Why doesn’t he understand that I need to know, is that so hard to understand?”
“Yes, I think it is for Johnny, at least for now. And your needing to know doesn’t necessarily mean that he is willing to tell you.” Scott looked thoughtfully towards the barn.
Shocked by that statement, Murdoch looked towards the barn as he said, “I think we’ve given him enough time. I want him back in here and resting like Sam said.” He started out the door with Scott following him.
When they reached the barn, they could hear voices inside, Johnny’s and Cipriano’s. Scott grabbed his father’s arm and indicated they should stay where they were and listen.
“You know who I am, what I am, don’t you?” Johnny snapped in a biting tone.
“Si, Niño, I do,” Cipriano proclaimed. His mustache twitched as he frowned at Johnny’s tone.
“You got a problem with that?” Johnny sounded defensive.
“No, Niño, I know what you have done for our people. Word travels to us from relatives in Mexico,” Cipriano replied with cool reserve; crossing his massive arms.
“Murdoch has a problem with it. He doesn’t trust me.” Johnny’s chin lowered to rest on his chest. He sounded almost hurt.
Murdoch gripped Scott’s arm. He noticed Cipriano looking straight at the two of them.
Johnny continued, “He gave me listening money and offered me a third of the ranch to kill Pardee and still thought I’d thrown in with that man.” He drew lines in the dirt floor with the toe of his boot. “He saw what Pardee and his men were capable of doing and thinks I’d do the same.” Johnny sounded bitter now. He sighed, “You saw what they did to Gaspar and his wife. How could he think I’d join up with anyone who could do that?” He flung his arms outwards as he spoke and ended with a tight self-hug, his head bowed in defeat.
“He does not think that,” Cipriano declared, reaching out he grasped Johnny’s chin and lifted his face to look at him. He continued, “He just doesn’t know you as our people do. He needs you to tell him what you have done for our people, and then he will know what kind of man you are.”
Johnny snorted and fidgeted out of his grasp. “He asked about Mexico and the Rurales. He got some report from the Pinkertons and was wavin’ it at me.”
“Ah, the Rurales, we had heard you were captured and what they had planned for you. We prayed for your safety. The Pinkertons got you away from them?” Cipriano inquired, squeezing Johnny’s tense shoulder in an action of relief and comfort.
Johnny looked up at Cipriano, thinking. Then he snorted again, “Almost got me killed. Stupid Pink waved money at them for my release and thought they would be honorable. If I hadn’t of grabbed his gun we’d both be dead.” Johnny shivered and it didn’t escape Cipriano that there was more that he hadn’t said.
“Niño, you need to tell him that and also what you aren’t telling me.” Cipriano shook his head, the intent in his dark eyes serious.
Johnny looked sharply at him. Cipriano could see him thinking about it. “No, that is something I don’t want to talk about, won’t talk about.” He shivered again. “He doesn’t need to know how close it was.” His voice was almost a whisper.
Murdoch gripped Scott’s arm again. He wanted to go to Johnny but needed to hear what he was saying more.
“Besides, he still thinks I am capable of doing what Pardee and his men did,” Johnny spat, the bitter taste of the words painted on his scowling face. “What he didn’t think about is that they would have done the same to him and Teresa if we had lost. Only difference is, they would have left Teresa alive and that’s worse than what they did to Gaspar’s wife.” His face paled slightly but his rant continued, “Why wouldn’t he listen to what I was sayin’? Why didn’t he want to discuss it before you left with Scott? He was alone here with Teresa. What if Scott didn’t get back in time? I tried to tell him to let me do my job but he thought I had joined up with Pardee. How could he think that?” Johnny’s voice had risen in volume by the last sentence and he punctuated it by slamming his fist on the barn wall. It sent a shock wave of pain through his back and he sucked in a sharp breath and bent double.
Cipriano was holding him by the time Murdoch and Scott got to him. Murdoch had his arms around him in a second. “Easy, Johnny, just try to relax.”
Johnny tried to straighten up but the solid wall that was Murdoch held him too close. That wall was warm too, he could feel it seeping into his back and easing some of the pain. “I’m okay, I’m fine.” Maybe if he said it enough he would believe it himself.
Murdoch and Scott both chuckled at the statement.
“No, I don’t think you are ‘fine’,” Scott stated, “Maybe you will be if you’d come back in the house and rest.”
Murdoch steered Johnny towards the door. He turned his head and mouthed “thank you” to Cipriano. Cipriano just smiled at him. Scott was on the other side of Johnny now and they supported him between them.
“Well, I ain’t goin’ upstairs,” Johnny protested, almost pouting.
“No, son, not upstairs, but at least as far as the sofa to rest, will you do that for me?” The calm manner in which he was able to reply to Johnny’s petulance surprised the big man as his heart had been racing ever since the moment he saw his youngest double over in pain.
Johnny sighed, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” His body felt heavy and his steps leaden.
Scott could feel himself taking more of Johnny’s weight. Scott figured he would be asleep as soon as they had him on the sofa and wished they were there already. He looked over at Murdoch and could see the worry on his face. Scott smiled and shook his head.
Once they were inside and Johnny was on the sofa Murdoch made a bee line for the whiskey decanter. He poured a stiff drink and downed it in one gulp. Scott noticed his hand shaking. “Murdoch?” he whispered, “Are you all right?”
Murdoch looked at Johnny on the sofa, “I will be. You do realize what Cipriano was saying and Johnny wasn’t saying, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I think I do. You almost didn’t find him in time, did you?” Scott walked over and poured himself a drink and offered the bottle to Murdoch. Murdoch nodded and accepted the refill. He went and sat behind his desk and Scott took a seat in front of it. They both looked over at Johnny sleeping on the sofa.
Murdoch sighed, “I don’t think he’ll ever admit how close it was but according to the report he was next in line.” He shook his head and continued, “The report said he took the agent’s gun and shot the Rurales as they were about to shoot the agent and Johnny. I don’t know how many there were but it had to be at least three or four. I don’t know how he did it.”
Scott smiled but it morphed into a grimace as he added, “Strong survival skills.”
Murdoch nodded, “I guess. I suppose he has needed them over the years.” Johnny shifted on the sofa and sighed. Both Murdoch and Scott looked at him again. “I wish he would tell me how he ended up in front of that firing squad.”
“Yes, Scott?” Murdoch answered, his eyes still trained on Johnny.
“Don’t take this wrong, but you are going to have to prove to Johnny that you do trust him. Until he knows that for sure he will never be able to trust you.” Scott put emphasis on the last word. “He will always be wondering what you really think of him and he will never tell you anything about his past until feels he can trust you.”
Murdoch nodded and then sighed, “I suppose you’re right. I should get Maria to brew some of that tea she makes for him. I know he doesn’t like it but I have a feeling he will need it when he wakes up.”
Scott laughed. “If I were you, sir, I would let Maria give him the tea. He’s more likely to drink it for her than he is for you. He seems more willing to do what she asks.”
“You do have a point, son. I think I will let her know where he’s been and what he’s done to himself.” Murdoch was chuckling when he walked out of the room leaving Scott to watch over Johnny.
Johnny stirred on the couch, blinked his eyes open and looked around. Murdoch and Scott weren't in the room, but, whoa, there was Maria calmly sitting in a wingback chair and if her narrowed eyes and puckered mouth were any indication, she was not happy. "Maria?"
Maria sighed and clasped her hands as though in prayer. "Why Niño, why do you act so foolishly?" She picked up a mug, got up and walked to the couch.
Johnny eyed the mug suspiciously. "I don't need that, I'm fine."
Shaking an accusatory finger in his face, she berated, "You are not fine and you will drink this. Your papa told me what you did and your back is hurting."
Johnny's eyes widened. She sounded upset and he didn't want to anger her more; so he slowly sat up and took the mug looking down at it.
Maria sat down next to him on the sofa and asked again, "Why, why did you go out to the barn? You know the doctor said you were to rest."
Johnny sighed as he stared into the mug as if looking for answers. "He wanted me to tell him things I didn't want to talk about."
"Drink, Niño, and tell me what the questions were." Maria touched the mug to reinforce her order.
Johnny took a sip from the mug, sighed and sipped again as he searched for the words to explain. Simple seemed best. "He wants to know about what I was doin’ in Mexico."
"Oh, Mexico." Maria whispered, crossing herself and looking heavenward. "Things you feel better left unsaid?"
"Si, better unsaid and forgotten. Murdoch said the first day that the past is gone and what matters is here and now. Only he wants to know about my past when he doesn't want to talk about his." Johnny knew he sounded bitter but couldn't help it. "That don't seem fair, does it?"
Maria patted his arm. "Finish your tea, I'll be right back." She left without another word as Johnny sat there sipping on the tea. A minute later Maria was back with a plate of cookies and a tall glass of milk.
"This should help get rid of the taste of the tea, Niño," she said smiling at him. "Mind you, you cannot have them until the tea is gone."
Johnny gulped down the last of the tea, put the mug down and reached for the tray. "Gracias, Mamacita."
Maria sat next to him on the sofa. "Niño, give yourself time and your papa time. He is a good man. It will take time to understand but he does trust you."
Johnny snorted, "Sure has a funny way of showin’ it, shoutin’ and wavin’ papers around."
Maria patted his knee and got up. "Think about it, Niño, and rest. I am cooking a good dinner for you and expect you to eat."
Johnny's head was down looking at the plate as he nodded, "Si, Mamacita, I'll think about it."
When Scott and Murdoch returned Johnny was asleep on the sofa again. Scott smiled, "Should I wake him, sir?"
Murdoch chuckled, "I don't think that will be necessary." He watched as Johnny's eyes blinked open and he struggled to sit up and get his bearings. "Son, I think you would be more comfortable upstairs."
Johnny took a deep breath through his nose. He could smell wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen. Maria was outdoing herself for dinner. "Nope, I promised Maria I'd eat a good dinner."
Scott laughed, "I'm sure she'd be willing to bring you a tray, Johnny. Come on, I don't want to have to carry you up later on."
Johnny scowled and looked at Murdoch, who was smiling almost affectionately.
"Johnny?" Scott's voice was low and Johnny knew what he wanted.
He sighed, a weary yet satisfied sound. "Yeah, okay, I'll go upstairs."
Scott and Johnny left the room together walking slowly to Johnny's room. Once there Scott had a few questions to ask. "Johnny, why are you so determined to be outdoors?"
Johnny shivered slightly and stood scowling at the window. He shrugged his shoulders and winced. Even if he didn't admit it to anyone else, hitting that wall had been a bad idea. He sighed and Scott stepped around him to open the window.
"I dunno, Scott, I guess I just don't like bein' cooped up." He shivered again and it had nothing to do with the breeze coming in the window. He turned and went to his bed and sat on the edge.
Scott had moved to the chair and had his legs stretched out."Ah," he said.
Johnny looked at him, it sounded like Scott understood. He was a bit puzzled and it showed.
"So, you don't like being cooped up and you don't like answering questions either." Scott was smiling at him.
Johnny shrugged again and winced. He really was going to have to remember not to do that for a while. "Just never had to explain myself to anyone before and don't see the need in startin’ now."
Scott nodded; a sage reflective look pinched his face. He thought for a moment and said, "Are you taking him at his word when he said the past was gone?"
"Yeah, if that works for him it should work for us too. It don't matter where the Pink caught up with me to give me the message. Bet he got a report on you too. Did he wave it in your face?" Johnny chewed his bottom lip as he waited for an answer.
"No, Johnny, my agent was a bit more circumspect about where he caught up with me." Johnny raised an eyebrow. "Cautious in what he said about where we met." Scott grinned.
"So, where did you meet?" Johnny grinned.
Holding up his hand and raising and shaking his index finger in a no-no fashion, Scott informed him, "No, little brother, a gentleman never tells."
After the sound of a knock, Scott rose and opened the door. Maria entered with a tray. "Your father is waiting for you downstairs, Señor Scott."
Scott leaned in to whisper something to her as he left the room. Maria smiled, "Don't worry, Señor, I will take care of it."
Johnny was off the bed and walking towards the small table under the window. Maria met him there and placed the tray on the table. Once he was seated she kissed his cheek. "Eat, Niño, I will be bringing something else to you later."
Startled by the kiss, Johnny ducked his head to hide his reddening face, nodded and started to eat as she left the room.
Two days later, Johnny was lying on a long chaise on the porch. The sun beamed on his face and a faint breeze in the air had him smiling. He heard the scuff of a boot and turned his head. "Hey, Murdoch."
"Johnny." Murdoch stood near him, his face etched in deep thought. He nodded and pulled a chair over and sat. "I've been wanting to talk to you." At Johnny’s wary expression he quickly added, "No, son, talk, not ask questions…at least, not now."
Johnny nodded, looked down and asked, "So, what do you want to talk about?"
Murdoch didn't speak right away. Gathering his thoughts, he sighed, "Johnny, that first day I said some things that, in hindsight, probably weren't the best choice of words."
Johnny raised an eyebrow. It sounded like Murdoch was trying to apologize about something. He smiled a little as Murdoch continued. "I was surprised that both of you showed up together. I was expecting Scott but didn't know when you would arrive." Johnny nodded and Murdoch continued. "I will admit it threw me and I reacted. I could have handled it better. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I do trust you and I always did." He almost wiped his brow, so relieved was he to finally have the words out.
"What about what you said about me and Pardee and that business about not knowing what to think of me?" Johnny sounded hurt.
"I was worried and upset that you didn't want to go with Scott.” Murdoch shrugged, a sheepish visage replacing his normally stern one.
"I might've if I'd known what he had in mind. Why do you think I wanted to discuss his plan before he left?" Johnny asked. “He might have been in the Cavalry but he don’t know nothin’ about how a man like Pardee operates. You trusted him just because he was in the army and you didn’t trust me because of what I am without knowin’ anything about me.” Johnny was getting angry. He got up and walked to one of the pillars and leaned against it. He sighed, “Why wouldn’t you listen to what I was sayin’ and get Scott to talk it out with me? You left yourself wide open and Teresa and Maria right along with you. That ain’t right.”
“Johnny…” Murdoch paused. Johnny was right and he knew it. What if Pardee had come back while Scott was on the trail? He swallowed back the bitter bile the thought caused and started again, “Johnny, I don’t have an excuse for what I did. I admit that I agreed with Scott because he had been in the army. I made an assumption and right or wrong I have to stand by it. But you are wrong in thinking I disagreed with you because of what you were, it was more a matter of your age as compared with Scott’s.”
Johnny snorted, “Murdoch, I’ll bet I’ve seen and done more than Scott even if I am younger. And I sure seen more men like Pardee than he ever will. I have a lot more experience than him when it comes to men like Pardee and what they will do. And yeah, I knew him but that don’t mean I would fight on his side. I saw what he did to Gaspar and his wife and I knew he’d done it before and would do it again. What do you think he’d have done to Maria and Teresa if he had won? You ever think of that? I sure did.” Johnny scowled as he wrapped his arms about his chest and hugged himself.
Murdoch paled, it had never occurred to him that Teresa would have been in danger and he wished he didn’t know it now. “Johnny.” He shook his head to rid it of unwanted images and started again. “Johnny, I don’t know what to say. I should have listened and I regret that I didn’t. Can we start from now and go forward? I promise I’ll try to remember you have more experience than Scott in some areas. I do trust you and hope that you can come to trust me. Is that enough for now?” Murdoch held his breath; praying at the same time as he waited for Johnny’s reply.
Johnny thought for a moment, and then nodded, “It’ll do for now. We start from here with no questions about the past.” Johnny smiled a little thinking about what Scott had said and he sure wanted to know where Scott had been when he got the word Murdoch was looking for him. He took a breath and turned to Murdoch. He looked serious as he declared, “But I want one more promise from you.” He paused, “If you ever decide to start askin’ questions then I have the right either not to answer or, if I do answer, I have the right to ask you a question too.”
Murdoch immediately put out his hand, “You have my word on that.” Johnny looked at Murdoch’s hand and then into his eyes. He studied his father’s face for a moment more, smiled and took Murdoch’s hand and shook it.
5 Scott Again
At dinner it was obvious to Scott that something had happened. He could tell by Johnny’s actions and posture that he was more relaxed around Murdoch than he had been in the past and Murdoch seemed almost happy. Johnny looked up at Scott and smiled. Scott was now determined to find out what had happened and decided Johnny was the more likely one to tell him. His chance came after dinner when Johnny pled fatigue and headed upstairs.
Johnny’s door was still open when Scott arrived. Johnny was trying to remove his boots and Scott shook his head, it was obvious that Johnny’s back was still troubling him. “Let me help, brother,” he said. Johnny smiled and sat on the edge of the bed sticking a foot out towards Scott. Once the boots were off, Scott went to open the window. When he turned around Johnny was propped up in bed still fully dressed right down to his socks. “Aren’t you going to get ready for bed?” he asked.
“Nah, Maria will be up here in a minute. She promised to bring me some more of that tea and the chaser.” Johnny replied, smiling.
“Chaser? What is a chaser for that tea?” Scott inquired, a grimace contorting his face over the memory of the one time he tasted the bitter brew.
Johnny laughed, “She brings cookies and milk. Sure gets rid of the taste.” The tip of his tongue darted out and licked his lips in anticipation.
Scott sat in a chair near the bed, stretched out his legs and started the questions. “So, little brother, what went on today?”
Johnny grinned and his eyes twinkled with devilment. “What do you mean?”
Nudging Johnny’s leg with his boot, Scott stated, “You know, something happened between you and Murdoch. What was it?”
Johnny laughed as he pushed Scott’s foot away from his thigh. “We came to a sort of understanding and an agreement.”
Huffing with impatience, Scott retorted, “I figured that much. What sort of understanding?”
Johnny lowered his head as he revealed, “We start from here just like he said the first day. He doesn’t ask anything about my past and I don’t ask about his. If he asks, I don’t have to answer and if I do, he has to answer a question about his past.” Johnny stared down at the quilt, drawing small circles with restless fingers. He looked up at Scott and grinned. “Maybe you should try to get the same deal. That way he can’t ask about where the Pink found you.” Johnny laughed again, “I sure would like to know the details.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively.
“It seems to me, little brother, that I already told you that a gentleman never discusses that sort of thing.” Scott tried to sound stern but failed. Just then there was a tap at the door. Both brothers turned to watch as Maria entered carrying a tray with one mug, two plates of cookies and two glasses of milk.
“Seems to me, Mamacita, that there should be two mugs,” Johnny teased.
“No, Nino, your brother does not need the tea. And do not get up I will put yours beside the bed.” She carried the tray to the small table under the window and allowed Scott to remove a plate and glass. Then she placed the tray on the bedside table. “Drink all of the tea, Nino, I will be checking.” She smiled, kissed Johnny on the cheek and left the room.
Scott was startled that Johnny didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the loving gesture in fact he looked like he enjoyed it. Now there was something to ponder, his independent little brother that hated any sign of affection seemed to be eating up the attention from Maria. “So, where were we? Ah yes, you were telling me I should make the same agreement with Murdoch that you did. Maybe I should make the same agreement with you too.”
Johnny laughed again. His mood lighter than it had been in the past. “You could try to make the same agreement with me but I can drive a real hard bargain.” He raised his glass in a sort of salute before draining it. He sighed and leaned his head back.
“Are you tired Johnny? Should I leave and let you sleep?” Scott sat up, removing his feet from the side of the bed.
Murdoch walked in, “John, do you need help getting ready for bed?”
Johnny’s eyes were closed but a slow smile crept across his mouth and he asked, “Is that a question, Murdoch? If it is I get to ask one too.”
Murdoch smiled down at him, “No, John, it isn’t a question about the past and the agreement doesn’t extend to the present.”
“Worth a try though. And, yeah, I could use a little help.” Johnny was so relaxed his body seemed to melt into the mattress.
Scott got up to help Murdoch with removing Johnny’s socks and between them they helped him out of his clothes and into a nightshirt. Murdoch was tucking him in when Scott turned down the lamp and left the room.