In response to the question: Why did Murdoch try to send Johnny out of the house, with no warnings, to where Stryker and sons awaited with guns?
"Well?" Scott asked.
Murdoch paced a few times, then sat down, hard enough that his drink sloshed to bead on the desk’s top. "I was hoping to avoid this."
Scott raised a brow.
"I met a man in town," Murdoch said, unlocking one of the desk drawers. He pulled out a pamphlet, staring at its cover in silence before finally turning to gesture out the darkened window. His next words sounded more as though he were talking to himself. “You know I love this ground more than anything God ever put on this earth."
Murdoch usually only came up with that little gem after he'd had a lot to drink. Not that Scott didn’t suspect it to be the truth.
"The truth is,” and now he was talking to Scott again, “the ranch is in trouble. The fight with Pardee, the lost cattle. . .We need about $10,000 to save it."
Scott wondered if the laudanum he’d taken for his arm was making the room tilt. "Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked. “No, wait, one thing at a time. You tried to send Johnny out, no warning, where Stryker's men could have shot him. What does that have to do with your damn ranch?"
"Our ranch, Scott! Our ranch!" Murdoch swallowed the rest of the drink, fingering the pamphlet in his hands as he did so. "Sometimes you have to send part of the herd to market to save the rest.” He stared at the papers a little longer, then strode to the fireplace and flung them into the flames. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he said, and left.
Scott hissed, sucking at his fingers as he dropped the smoking papers to the floor. He stomped out the small flames that blackened the curled edges. The imprint was still legible: New World Insurance and Securities Company. The handwritten part took a little longer, at least to sink in: Life Insurance Policy, John M. Lancer.
A policy, $10,000 for Johnny’s accidental death payable to Lancer. Taken out by Murdoch.
Just like the one Scott’d taken out on Murdoch himself.
He carefully folded the charred sheets as best he could, tucking them into his shirt.
“Our ranch,” he said to himself, smiling, wondering if Johnny was still awake. In the months he’d been here he’d come to love this ground more than anything God ever put on this earth.