(A sequel to The Ghost of Johnny Madrid)
Motives and Secrets
“Did you get a chance to look over the additional information I uncovered, Sir?” Ryan asked as he stood in front of the Judge’s desk, his posture reminiscent of a man at attention before his commanding officer.
Judge Wakeman smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Yes. I looked it over this morning. Very commendable job,” he nodded then straightened up, grasping the rather thick document that sat in the middle of his desk. He looked at it almost lovingly for a moment before letting it fall back onto the surface with a resounding smack. “What do you think of it?” he asked pointedly.
Ryan smiled. “I think I’d hate to have you for an enemy.”
“Well said, though perhaps an understatement.” The Judge returned the smile, though his eyes glistened coldly. “However, what I’d really like to know, is what do you think of our Johnny Madrid-Lancer?”
“I’d say he’s led one colorful, dangerous and rather curious life,” Ryan stated. “It’s amazing, really, given his propensity and flair for the dramatic, that he hasn’t already ended up lynched somewhere along the line before now.”
The Judge laughed bluntly. “Well, I have a feeling it’s probably been tried. I just haven’t uncovered that little story—yet,” he added.
“I must say, though, that I can now sympathize with your son’s plight,” Ryan continued. “He was up against not only a professional, but a master.”
The Judge’s humor dissipated quickly. “My son,” he paused, almost seemed to want to spit, “should have been able to handle Madrid, and would have too, if he’d only had the sense to take care of the problem at the onset instead of letting Madrid build his hand.” The Judge suddenly rose to his feet. “Madrid was certainly not at his peak when this all started. We know now that he’d been seriously wounded… Hell, he’d lost his memory and was walking around, not even remembering for sure who he was or how he’d come to be here! Yet he still managed to outwit my son. Who, in his stupidity and short-sightedness, allowed a game to continue that should never have even been allowed to start. At the very least, James should have immediately reached Madrid with an offer, one worthy of his abilities.”
Ryan opened his mouth to protest then quickly closed it. He knew that the Judge’s view of Madrid was colored by his own view of his son’s lack of competency.
“My son,” the Judge continued, “woefully miscalculated this Johnny Madrid—attributed almost a mystical quality to him. But he’s only human!” The Judge slammed a tightly clenched fist onto the desk. “A mere mortal like everyone else! He’s not exceptional, save for his talent with a gun and the persona he’s perfected to go with his craft. He’s the same as you and I! And that’s what my son failed to realize! Failed to utilize! Madrid—just like everyone else in this world—has an Achilles’ heel.”
Ryan, sensing where the Judge was headed with his tirade, smiled obligingly and nodded toward the file. “And Madrid has two. This laudanum problem and the murder bounty.”
The Judge stalked around his desk, coming to stand in front of his subordinate. “There’s another.”
Ryan raised an eyebrow.
“His family,” the Judge breathed.
“His family?” Ryan asked. “From all accounts, the two brothers get along quite well with each other, and though he doesn’t seem to have an especially close relationship with his father, they appear to work well together. Mr. Lancer, after all, came out here looking for him.”
The Judge’s expression turned malignant. “You’re missing something, Mr. Ryan. Something of utmost importance.”
Ryan hesitated, knew better than to say anything more. “Sir?”
“Think about it. Mr. Murdoch Lancer.”
Ryan fought the urge to step back away from the tightly penetrating stare of his employer. “I’m afraid I still don’t follow.”
The Judge took in a deep breath, seemed disappointed. “The owner of the largest ranch in the entire San Joaquin, one of the largest in the state, the past president of the Cattleman’s Association, a man who could be running for office, if—”
“—if not for having a gunfighter as a son,” Ryan finished.
The Judge smiled though there was nothing akin to warmth in his cold eyes. “Oh, I love playing this game. Discovering a foe’s weakness is even more enjoyable than the actual kill, don’t you think, Mr. Ryan?”
Ryan nodded readily, but the chill up his spine almost made him shiver.
The afternoon breeze was blowing into the room causing the thin curtains to flutter. Scott got up from his seat, crossed to the window, and slid the pane until the window was half closed. As he sat back down, he gave a small sigh, his attention momentarily shifting to DarkCloud as the doctor stretched a leg out. He then turned back to regard his brother’s sleeping form. “I can’t help feeling a bit unprepared,” he murmured. “I’d started getting used to the idea that Harley was going to be around to help.”
“Things will work out,” DarkCloud assured.
Scott hesitated a moment before saying, “Johnny sounded so angry.”
“Well, Harley’s leaving caught him as much off guard as it did you,” DarkCloud replied as he drew his leg back in and straightened up in his chair. “And I’m afraid, with the medicine he’s taking, he’s feeling more vulnerable—lashes out when he really doesn’t mean to. Try not to take things he says too seriously.”
Scott turned to DarkCloud and regarded the doctor with bemusement. “So, I shouldn’t believe a word he says?”
“No, not that at all. Just listen with a cautious ear. There will be a lot of truth buried under the irritation and belligerence. You just need to ignore the extra garbage.”
Scott smiled wryly, then folded his arms and leaned back. “When can we expect him awake again?”
DarkCloud adjusted in his chair, leaned an elbow on its arm and nodded toward Johnny. “I’d rather he slept through the night. With all that happened earlier today, I’d like to give him a chance to rest. I’d like to give us all a chance to rest.”
Scott smiled at the pronouncement, then his expression turned pensive. “What am I going to say to him when he does wake up?”
DarkCloud regarded Scott with a bemused grin. “Scott, after what I witnessed earlier today, I don’t think you need to worry about that at all. You’ll think of something.”
Scott chuckled. “Something eloquent, yet with just the right amount of intimidation, right?”
DarkCloud nodded, swallowed a laugh. “That’s about it.”
After sitting by his brother’s bedside for a few hours, DarkCloud chased Scott off to bed. Reluctantly Scott followed doctor’s orders with the understanding that if Johnny did wake up, DarkCloud was to come and get him immediately. DarkCloud agreed, though he emphasized that he expected Johnny to sleep for a good share of the night.
In their room, Scott found his father reading the medical book. Murdoch looked up, the expression on his face giving Scott the distinct feeling he was about to say something. Scott paused for a moment, waiting to see what his father had to say, but with a nod Murdoch seemed to reconsider and turned back to his book.
For an hour, the two of them lay on their own beds, each one reading their respective books, until Murdoch broke the silence by asking if Scott was ready for sleep. Though Scott said he was, he fully knew that his thoughts were on how he was going to handle Johnny when his brother did awaken.
After lights were out, Scott attempted to settle down, made every effort to relax and fall asleep. He was aware that he needed the sleep, but such knowledge proved useless. Sleep continued to elude him. After a few hours, Scott gave up all pretenses and quietly got up. As he was opening the door, Murdoch murmured, “Let me know how he is.”
Scott paused and turned around, the smile on his face unseen in the dark room. “If there’s any change, you’ll be the first to know.”
When he entered Johnny’s room, Scott found both doctor and patient asleep.
DarkCloud, however, opened his eyes and looked at Scott with mild amusement. “Go ahead and have a seat,” he stated softly with a nod toward the empty chair.
Scott gave DarkCloud a sheepish grin. “Murdoch’s snoring.”
DarkCloud chuckled and straightened up in his chair slightly. “Murdoch’s probably just as wide awake as you are. Your whole family’s useless when it comes to following doctor’s orders. You know that, don’t you?” At Scott’s apologetic shrug, DarkCloud muttered, “I don’t know why I even try.”
Scott laughed softly and lowered himself into the vacant chair. Once settled, he gazed at the bed where his brother lay. “Any change?”
DarkCloud shook his head. “He’s been sleeping quietly, which is just what he needs right now. About an hour ago, I gave him a small dosage of morphine again, to help him rest easier. In fact, I’ve decided to stay consistent with his medicine for the next day or two. It should give him a chance to catch up. I’m hoping it’ll make things easier for him in the long run. He really needs a chance to get his strength back.”
Scott nodded, then asked, “How…how much longer do you think this’ll all take?”
DarkCloud glanced at Scott and shook his head. “I really don’t know, Scott. Probably longer than you’re hoping. The really hard part will take a bit more than a week, maybe even longer, but then this medicine…” DarkCloud shrugged. “Its effects sometimes will linger.”
Scott nodded dismally, his thoughts straying to some of the men he’d seen after the War, who still carried the curse of the ‘old soldier’s disease.’ He sighed, slumped down in his chair and rested his head in his hand…
morning sunshine filtered through the haze of a silvery dawn.
Johnny looked out across the yard, the railings and posts of a
weather-beaten porch interrupting his view.
Yet somehow their obstruction was comforting, warm and welcome.
next time you’ll win.”
turned his head. Jamie sat
cross-legged near him, a grin spreading across his face like a rain swollen
river. “You think?” he replied
and grinned back.
I know,” Jamie laughed. “Eventually
everybody’s gotta have a chance at winnin’!”
a laugh, Johnny slid the pile of cards that had been lying in front of him
toward the young boy. He felt
voice jarred Johnny’s sense of wellbeing into a sudden feeling of uncertainty,
and he found himself looking straight into the eyes of Andy Cutler.
The young boy, just a few years older than Jamie, with light, amiable
features, regarded Johnny smoothly.
widely, Andy squatted near the two players, then gave Jamie a friendly nod
before he turned to Johnny. “Hi,
Johnny! What’cha doin’ here?”
doin’,” Andy laughed.
teachin’ me ‘bout gunfighters,” Jamie responded importantly as he began an
awkward shuffle of the cards.
That’s what he taught me!”
I didn’t!” Johnny interrupted tersely.
boys turned to him in bewilderment, Jamie dropping a number of cards onto the
porch in his distraction.
you did,” Andy replied simply as he crossed his legs Indian style and sat
he’s the best, ain’t he?” Jamie confidently interjected as he began to
pick up the dropped cards.
Johnny protested. “That’s not
what I was trying to teach you!”
weren’t?” Andy asked, puzzled. “But
you’re so good at it. The way you
played ol’ Dan Marvin and Toby Jenks was pure pleasure to watch.”
shook his head. “No, Andy.
No! You’ve got it all
scowled, his head cocked to the side. “Johnny,
I don’t understand. Didn’t you
want to help me?”
me?” cut in Jamie, his eyes wide with disappointment.
Yes, of course I wanted to help you,” Johnny replied quickly.
“But—but I don’t want you to go buildin’ it into something else.
I don’t want you to go wishin’ to be like me…”
not?” Andy asked.
why not?” Jamie echoed. “Ain’t
ya helped people?”
protected people and their property?”
doesn’t always turn out that way,” Johnny argued. “Things go wrong. And—and
sometimes innocent people get killed.”
people respect you…look up to you—”
No, they don’t!” Johnny snapped.
“What you see isn’t respect or admiration!
It’s fear! It’s disdain
and contempt! It’s mistrust—”
trust you…and respect you, Johnny,” Andy cut in.
you’re wrong!” Johnny stood up. “You’re
both wrong! What I do—it’s not
good! It’s not right!
There’s nothing decent about it! It’s
just about death and power! I never
became a gunfighter to do good! I
became a gunfighter because I hated! Because
I wanted to make people pay! Because I wanted revenge!”
“Is that really the reason?”
voice caused Johnny to whirl around; the porch, the house, the yard and the boys
suddenly disappeared into a deep, gray, swirling mist.
Johnny called out into the void.
dark figure of his mentor stepped out of the fog, studied Johnny quietly a few
seconds before he repeated softly. “Is
that really the reason you became a gunfighter?”
course it is!” Johnny snapped.
raised an eyebrow. “Think,
Johnny reacted, put out a hand and drew in a quick breath. Slowly his eyes focused, took in the rough-hewn ceiling, realized it looked vaguely familiar.
He blinked, turned his head.
DarkCloud sat near him, hands clasped between his knees as he shifted forward in his chair.
“Wha…?” His voice cracked, he felt water trickle between his lips, wanted to find out where he was. He felt he ought to know…it seemed familiar…in a way… “Reveles?” he asked.
DarkCloud shook his head, then turned to look behind him.
Johnny had to work to get his eyes to focus. Then gradually out of the haze of gray-hued colors, he made out Scott standing nearby. “Scott?” he asked. Scott’ll know what Reveles is telling me. He’ll be able to figure it out. “What…” Swallow. “Reveles…tell…me…?”
He fought to keep his eyes open, saw the look of confusion on his brother’s face, knew he hadn’t made himself clear. He’d try again. He had to make Scott understand… Later…when he could get his eyes to stay open… He just needed a short nap first…then he’d do…whatever it was he thought he needed to do…
Scott watched as Johnny succumbed once more to the oblivion of sleep. With a furrowed brow, he turned to DarkCloud. “I thought he was going to wake up.”
DarkCloud stood up and sat the cup back on the table. “I thought he was, too.” He sighed, shook his head as he ran his fingers back through his hair and turned once more to look at his patient. “Is this good or bad?” he mumbled.
DarkCloud shook his head unhappily. “He’s been asleep pretty much the entire night. I hope this means he’s resting well, conserving the energy that he needs to heal. But I would have thought he’d awaken by now. Maybe I should cut back on the medicine more. I hadn’t wanted to. But maybe I’m wrong.” Putting one hand to his mouth, he growled softly, then brought both hands to his face where he tiredly rubbed his forehead. “I swear, I’m gonna go into a different business when this is all over.”
“Something that doesn’t require such long hours, huh?” Scott smiled.
DarkCloud laughed. “No, I was thinking more along the lines of something that doesn’t require so much thought.”
“Hear it through the grapevine that the railroad will probably have some openings for rail layers.”
DarkCloud nodded thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Just might have to look into that.”
Scott laughed, then turned his attention to his brother. He hesitated for a moment, then said, “Johnny seems to be dreaming a lot.”
“I know,” DarkCloud agreed. “That’s why I worry that when he’s sleeping, it’s not a really restful sleep. And that’s what he really needs.” He sighed. “I thought perhaps after his memory came back that the dreams would leave him be, but they don’t seem to have released their hold yet.” He shook his head sadly. “I just don’t know why. Maybe…maybe it’s the medicine that’s bringing them on.” He sighed heavily. “I just don’t know.”
“He dreamt a lot before?”
DarkCloud nodded, grew thoughtful. “Quite a bit. I think his memories were trying to work back in. He mentioned that he’d see flashes of people, places…but could never quite get them to make sense. There was…there seemed to be a lot of death in them.” DarkCloud turned and looked at Scott. “I felt that perhaps the dreams were haunting him. He wouldn’t talk about them much, but I could tell. I think they contributed to his…the feelings of hopelessness, the depression that seemed to have taken over there…near the end…”
“His desire to end it,” Scott finished quietly.
DarkCloud continued to meet Scott’s eyes then nodded slowly.
“Do you know what he was dreaming about just now?”
DarkCloud grew pensive. “Not really. As I said, he really wouldn’t discuss it. I’d just get small things here and there. Mostly it was people dying, people that he knew. Reveles, whom he just mentioned. That bothered him a lot. And someone named…” DarkCloud paused a moment as he searched his memory, “Isham. And then there was this girl, I believe the name was Laura. I’m assuming she’s the one in the bounty.”
Scott felt his chest tighten and he had to look away. Death. So much death, Johnny. He forced the thought down and turned back to DarkCloud, a thought occurring to him. “Did he ever mention a Cisco?”
To Scott’s consternation, it was DarkCloud’s turn to look away. “Possibly,” he answered vaguely as he walked to the table to search in his medical bag. “I—I think so.”
“There’s something. What is it?” Scott asked.
DarkCloud glanced back, shrugged. “Nothing really. Johnny just mentioned him once or twice.”
Scott’s gaze narrowed slightly. He could tell there was something DarkCloud wasn’t telling him. But the doctor looked away as he turned back to rummage in his bag once more before closing it and walking back toward the bed.
“He did mention someone by the name of Simon,” DarkCloud said. “A Padre Simon.”
Scott tilted his head suspiciously, knew DarkCloud was attempting to change the subject. “Simon, you say?”
Though DarkCloud kept his attention trained on Johnny, Scott saw him nod. “I heard the name mentioned a couple of times,” DarkCloud said with a noncommittal shrug.
Scott thoughtfully stored this piece of additional information.
Johnny flinched, gasped—struggled against the pain—put a hand out to block its progress…
He opened his
eyes. Slowly the distorted shadows
solidified, and he found himself staring at DarkCloud.
The first rays of pale morning light were filtering through the curtain,
challenging the lamp on the table for prominence in the room.
“DarkCloud,” Johnny gasped, swallowed. Noticing his hand extended in front of him, he let it fall back beside him on the bed. He then did a quick scan about the room.
“Scott and your father are out,” DarkCloud responded. “They were going to grab some breakfast, then Murdoch planned to head over to Solero’s and check on your horse.”
“Barranca,” Johnny breathed, closed his eyes for a second and nodded. “Harley said—” He opened his eyes. “Harley’s gone.”
DarkCloud nodded. “Yes. Yes, he is.”
Johnny sighed slowly, his jaw tightening as he stared wordlessly up at the ceiling.
“Johnny. It’ll be okay—You’re going to be okay,” DarkCloud said as he put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
At the gesture, Johnny turned his head, keeping his expression impassive as he met the Indian’s eyes.
“Johnny. I feel I should…apologize. I haven’t been…” DarkCloud hesitated then with a shake of his head he continued, “Johnny, I failed to understand, to take everything into account. I don’t know… I guess I was so relieved at the news that you’d regained your memory—that your family was here—that you’d survived the shoot-out when I hadn’t thought it was possible…” he faltered again, then forged on. “I failed to realize how the past month’s events have affected you—would still have to be dealt with. I was quick to throw the laudanum issue at you, but ignored the other repercussions. I’m sorry.”
Johnny raised his hands to rub tiredly at his eyes, then gave a soft grunt as he carefully pushed himself to a sitting position. He felt DarkCloud’s hand tighten on his shoulder, an unspoken word of support which Johnny decided to allow. Then he glanced wryly at DarkCloud. “I think I prefer you yelling at me.”
DarkCloud chuckled softly. Then after making sure his patient was steady, DarkCloud released his hold and sat back in his own chair.
Johnny took another slow, measured breath. Then carefully he moved the thin blanket away from his legs with his left hand, and keeping his right elbow pressed in against his side and his palm against his chest, he shifted around until he was sitting on the edge of the bed.
While keeping an eye on Johnny’s movements, DarkCloud reached for the pitcher of water and poured a cup, which he then handed to Johnny, noting that Johnny still needed to grip it with both hands to keep it steady. He waited until Johnny had taken a long drink and lowered it, sighing as he glanced down at the floor.
“Johnny, I am sorry about Harley. But we’ll get through this; it’s just going to take some time. You have our support.”
Johnny didn’t look up, just shook his head tiredly. “You’re gonna make an issue of this, aren’t you?”
DarkCloud raised his eyebrows, then smiled at the bowed head. “Just enough until I feel absolved.”
“You’re absolved,” Johnny responded dryly.
DarkCloud chuckled, then put his hand out once more to touch Johnny’s arm.
Johnny looked up from the cup of water he had steadied between his knees and gave DarkCloud a wry look. “DarkCloud, I’m fine.”
“No, you aren’t,” DarkCloud responded in a quiet, even voice as he met his friend’s eyes. “But you will be.”
Johnny gave a soft snort followed by a slight shake of his head. Then taking in another slow breath, he carefully and cautiously straightened his back.
DarkCloud dropped his hand and watched discreetly, noticing the wince that Johnny was unable to hide. “How are you doing now?”
Johnny pointedly ignored the question. “What day is it?”
“Then Harley left—?”
“Yesterday, early in the afternoon. You collapsed, remember?” DarkCloud explained.
Johnny’s expression turned puzzled. “It seems like it just happened…or…” he paused, put one hand to his forehead, rubbed it tiredly. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry about it, Johnny. The last week is bound to be a blur. You’re still pretty weak. You haven’t been eating well, you just managed to escape pneumonia, and you’re still running a fever from the wound you received a month ago.”
Johnny opened his mouth, seemed ready to protest, but DarkCloud waved it away and continued. “There’s also the medications we’re using.”
Johnny shook his head bitterly and looked back down. “Lord, DarkCloud, you’re like a dog with a bone.”
DarkCloud gave his own half-smile. “Then, Johnny, there’s the memories of over two years that have been thrust back on you.”
“It’s not the two years,” Johnny said, hazarding a dark look through hooded lashes. “It’s the twenty-two years.”
DarkCloud met the gaze sadly, nodded his understanding. “But your memory did come back at the shoot-out, when…” DarkCloud paused as Johnny’s expression suddenly deepened into a frown, his eyes slowly trailing off to a corner of the room to stare, unblinkingly.
For a long moment Johnny didn’t answer. Then slowly he whispered, “Scott.”
DarkCloud continued to watch as Johnny closed his eyes and slowly raised his hand to his throat. “One bullet,” he murmured so softly that DarkCloud had to fight the inclination to lean forward. “I heard it…felt it. That’s when…I heard…the voice… It was…it was…Scott’s voice.”
Johnny’s eyes opened; eyes suddenly blazing with the fire of remembrance. “I heard him call to me. And it all came back.” He paused, blinked. “Next thing I knew, I—I was facing him. I could see him running. He was running—toward me. For—for a split second—” he hesitated again, seemed surprised by what he was going to say. “I forgot the shoot-out—forgot everything. But then I saw a bullet graze Scott’s arm, and I remembered why I was there and I knew I had to save him, get him out of there!” Johnny continued, the words coming faster now, more urgent. “He was gonna get killed, DarkCloud! And I turned to fire,” Johnny’s arm rose slightly, fingers curled as if gripping a gun. “I got off a shot. Knew I’d gotten one of the men—but there were more coming—one was aimed at Scott—and then—”
Johnny stopped, blinked as his left hand rose to his chest, the intense concentration leaving his face and his eyes to be replaced by shocked confusion. “And then I was shot.” He blinked again, his eyes searching out DarkCloud. “I was shot,” he repeated again in a voice numb with disbelief. “I should be dead.”
DarkCloud’s own brows furrowed in confused concern for a moment before he slowly nodded. “Yes, you were wounded.”
Johnny shook his head, looked down at his hand lying against his bandaged chest. He could feel the pain from the wound, the ache of brutalized ribs and muscle. There had been no mistake. He’d taken a bullet to the chest. Common sense dictated the outcome was death. No one walks away from a bullet to the chest. No one. Not even … a legend.
He felt a hand on his knee. Glancing up he saw DarkCloud studying him carefully. “Johnny. You were shot. But the medallion—”
DarkCloud nodded. “Yes. The medallion you were wearing. It stopped the bullet. You still ended up with a couple of cracked ribs and a nasty flesh wound, but you’re alive. It made quite a mess of the medallion, however.” DarkCloud allowed a slight smile.
But Johnny’s expression became distressed. “Scott—Murdoch. They were both there. They saw—”
“Yes, Johnny,” DarkCloud finished. “They saw you shot. They thought—we all thought—you’d been killed.”
his eyes. The vision of Scott and
Murdoch, their faces full of fear, shock, panic, disbelief, appeared to him like
suddenly remembering a vague dream…or nightmare.
And the feeling that he was going to die accompanied the vision…and
then the despair consumed him…despair that they’d had to witness his
death…his death as Madrid…a death that would only confirm what they’d
always known, that this was the way his life would eventually end.
And words from Scott, spoken long ago, filtered back to him from out of
the past…You’ll be dead before
He forced himself to shake off the words…the scene…the feelings…
“When did…” He looked down, unable to face his friend. “DarkCloud, how long were they there…how much did they see?”
“We tried to get to you before Wakeman showed up, but we were too late. You were facing that new gun of his when we arrived.”
Johnny started to look up, but couldn’t. He sighed. “I’m sorry they had to see that.”
Johnny inhaled quickly, looked up, his pallid skin and rapidly blinking eyes reminding DarkCloud that he was soon going to need to get some food and medicine into his patient.
“We need to get you something to eat,” DarkCloud stated firmly in an abrupt change of topic. He stood up, went to the table and picked up a plate with a couple of cheese wedges, a small hunk of bread, some sliced cucumber and a peeled orange. “This should do the trick,” he said taking the empty cup from Johnny before placing the plate on his lap.
Johnny looked at the plate for a second. The orange looked surprisingly sweet and refreshing, setting his mouth to watering at the mere sight. Slowly he picked up a slice, the muscles in his jaw tensing as he willed his hand to remain steady.
He bit into the orange, tried to relish the tangy flavor, but his thoughts and DarkCloud’s hovering made enjoyment difficult. He knew the doctor was concerned, just wanted to see him eat something. He picked up another slice and though he tried again to control the tremors, he was not as successful this time.
Johnny kept his gaze down; he had no desire to talk any more. He needed to be left alone. A chance to sort things out…decide what his options were…how best to handle an impossible situation.
DarkCloud waited, sensing Johnny’s unease and inner discord. When Johnny didn’t respond, he tried again, reaching out to lightly touch Johnny on the shoulder. “Johnny. You—you once said you should have died up in the mountains, but that you’d been given another chance. Well, Johnny, you must be pretty exceptional. You weren’t given just one chance; you were given two.”
Johnny looked up.
DarkCloud lifted his hand from Johnny’s shoulder, pointed toward the bandaged chest. “I’d say that’s pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you?”
Johnny closed his eyes, bitterly shook his head.
“Yes, Johnny,” DarkCloud continued. “I know what you’re thinking. That this part of your life, the part that’s Madrid, has now been exposed…revealed to your family. But they care about you and are trying to understand. You mean a lot to them, Johnny. They want to help. They’re trying to deal with everything that’s happened, just like you are. And to do so, they need to know this other side of you.”
“Know me?!” Johnny cut in sharply, his eyes flashing open. “Murdoch has never really wanted to know who Madrid was…who I was…am…” Johnny faltered, looked away before continuing. “They’ll never — it’s not possible for them to, DarkCloud. It’s too much to ask.”
“I think I know Madrid pretty well, and I rather like him,” DarkCloud replied softly, then added with a lopsided grin, “He’s a lousy patient, but not everyone’s perfect.”
Johnny gave a tired snort, glanced back down at the plate. However there was a hint of a smile on his face.
DarkCloud straightened up, studied the bowed head. “Will you be okay by yourself for a few minutes?”
Johnny glanced up, tried to keep from nodding too quickly, but was sure DarkCloud had sensed his relief at finally being alone, if only for a few minutes.
DarkCloud turned and picked up the clay container. “This vapor’s gone cold. I’d like to get it refilled. Scott should be up in a couple minutes.” He paused in front of Johnny. “Are you sure you’ll be fine?”
Johnny nodded again, picked up another orange slice, and though he couldn’t quite control the tremors, he managed a smile as he held it up. “As long as I don’t have to share the orange, I’ll be quite content.”
“It’s all yours. And, Johnny,” DarkCloud hesitated, then motioned slightly toward the table. “There’s a cup of tea ready for you. It might be wise if you’d drink it.”
As the door closed, Johnny leaned his head back and sighed. Finally, a few quiet moments by himself, out from under the constant scrutiny and the ceaseless hovering. He brought both hands up to rub his face tiredly, inwardly groaned. If only his father and brother hadn’t shown up. If he’d been allowed to have played out his part and Harley had stayed, helped him get rid of the medicine again. If only he’d avoided the bounty hunters in the first place and he’d just gotten rid of the gun like he’d planned…
He shook his head. Instead there were four dead bodies from the mountain and five more from the shoot-out, a couple more from Salinas and a raised Kansas bounty that could no longer be ignored…
…and now Harley was gone…
…and Scott and Murdoch were here…
…and he was going to have to deal with the questions, the looks. There was no longer any chance of conveniently burying the past in a long forgotten grave. The ghost of Madrid was awakened—and he demanded his due.
Only Johnny didn’t know if he had the strength to face him down any more.
Murdoch walked through Solero’s Livery Stable to the back paddock where the owner had told him he’d find Johnny’s horse.
Barranca stood, head half-raised, the soft, dark eyes watching Murdoch.
“Hey, boy,” Murdoch called softly.
Barranca shook his head, blew through his nostrils, but didn’t move.
Murdoch hesitated, then stepped up to the gate. He entered cautiously, careful not to startle the animal who had already been through so much in the last few weeks.
Barranca gazed at him a moment, then slowly walked forward. Murdoch held out his palm, which was full of oats he’d pilfered as he’d walked through the stable. Barranca snuffled appreciatively, sending a spray of oats out in each direction, then nuzzled his lips into the outstretched hand.
Once Barranca had finished, Murdoch walked along the animal’s side, rubbing one hand along the well-shaped head, then down his long, graceful neck. “You’re looking even better than when I saw you in Salinas,” Murdoch murmured. “No worse for wear. Harley sure took good care of you.” He stopped and sighed. “Wish it could be so easy with Johnny.”
Barranca turned his head slightly, gazed at Murdoch. Murdoch smiled sadly. “You were a good choice for Johnny, weren’t you?”
Barranca seemed to nod his head, then lowered it to the ground in search of scattered oats.
Murdoch closed his eyes, leaned against Barranca’s back. It was all so clear. Like it had been yesterday. Sitting in the buggy, watching his newly arrived sons down at the corral. Johnny having just broke Barranca to ride, and then Scott sending a challenge to Johnny when he’d taken Barranca around to show off his own riding skills, which had been honed during the war. It was a risky display given that Barranca was newly broke to ride, a dare that had surprised Murdoch with its boldness and audacity.
But then came the astonishment when Johnny spurned the direct challenge given by his brother. It had been all in fun, a blatant yet good-natured challenge between siblings, a ‘let’s see what you can do’ taunt. One that Murdoch had expected his youngest son to accept, especially given what he’d learned about his character and background. Yet Johnny had turned it down. Turned it down without so much as a backward glance.
That act, along with the accompanying attitude of blasé indifference had forced home a truth to Murdoch. The reality that, though Murdoch might have hoped for a reconciliation and a fresh start toward being a family, his youngest son had no such inclination. The worst part was in coming to terms with Johnny’s true feelings toward them. Love, he had known, was too much to hope for; something he didn’t know if he’d ever truly feel himself. Hatred he’d been more prepared to deal with…an emotion he’d felt able to confront. No, it was neither one of these. It was indifference. Total indifference. Johnny hadn’t cared one way or the other what Scott thought of him, felt not the slightest desire to prove anything at all. Not to Teresa or the hired hands…or even to his father, for Murdoch had caught the barest flicker of acknowledgement that his son had caught sight of him as he’d driven up.
There had been nothing, though. It was then that Murdoch knew hatred would have been easier to deal with. Much easier. Johnny’s indifference had forced Murdoch to acknowledge that he held no importance in his son’s life. There was no battle to be fought when there was only apathy.
Murdoch sighed again, opened his eyes and rubbed his hand once more along Barranca’s back. Perhaps if he’d told Johnny the truth about the Pinkertons to begin with, he’d have been able to battle hatred. Back then, it might have given them a goal. But now, he feared the truth would only gain him the dark, vacant stare of the gunfighter, Madrid, and he’d not even have the hatred to confront anymore. Madrid would just leave, without so much as a backward glance. And if that happened, Murdoch knew he would lose Scott, too…and a piece of himself…
Clay pot in hand, DarkCloud headed for Rosti who was leaning against the bar in conversation with one of the local ranchers. On spying DarkCloud, Rosti gave a mock shake of his head and grimaced at the pot. “More? Please tell me you’re joking.”
DarkCloud shook his head and smiled back. “Afraid not. However, I do have some good news. From now on, I’ll just need one batch made up for the evening,” he said as he sat the container on the bar.
Rosti slid it closer and laughed. “Well, that’s bound to come as good news to not only me and my wife, but to every patron who walks through that door!”
DarkCloud chuckled appreciatively, then scanned the room. “I thought Mr. Lancer and Scott would be here.”
“I expect them both back in a coupla minutes. Mr. Lancer’s gone over to Solero’s, then Mr. Angelou came in asking for help in loading a large crate. Scott offered to help. Shouldn’t think he’d be too much longer.”
“I’ll just wait for him while you get me a new batch. Oh, and do you have any fresh tea?”
Rosti nodded. “I’ll get them both. I know it’s a bit early, but can I get you a beer while you wait?” Rosti asked before he picked up the container.
DarkCloud gave a light sigh. “I’d say that today will probably be one of those days that could benefit from a beer. Thanks.”
Rosti smiled and grabbed a mug. “Glad to help.” After filling the mug liberally and placing it in front of DarkCloud, he picked up the pot and headed toward the back kitchen.
“So, Madrid is getting better, huh?” the rancher asked. “Heard he almost died.”
DarkCloud picked up his beer and smiled. “Mr. Mackey, you of all people should know better than to listen to rumors.”
“Well I heard,” the rancher leaned in closer, “that Madrid took a bullet to the chest, but a Saint miraculously intervened, saving his life.”
to look down, quickly raising the mug to his lips in order to hide an amused
this is how rumors get started. Saved
by a Saint. Only a legend could
earn this sort of notoriety…
DarkCloud put his beer down and looked at the man whose expression showed hopeful sincerity. Suddenly DarkCloud amusement evaporated. Who was he to destroy the man’s faith? Yet he couldn’t just let a tale like that start…
“Mr. Mackey. It’s wasn’t quite like that.”
“No?” The rancher looked disappointed, almost crestfallen. “But I heard it from—”
DarkCloud put up a hand. “He had on a Saint’s medallion, Saint—”
Mr. Mackey quickly supplied, looking relieved.
“I know that. The bullet
hit the medallion instead. Saint
Francis saved Madrid’s life.”
DarkCloud knew his mouth was gaping and quickly shut it.
“Ain’t that what happened?” Mr. Mackey asked.
“Well, yeah. That’s pretty much it.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I—I guess there is none.”
“’Course not. It’s just like Father Alvarez told everyone at Mass last Sunday. Saint Francis saved Madrid, ‘cuz Madrid saved our town.”
“Yeah,” DarkCloud nodded. “I guess that’s pretty much exactly how it happened.”
For a few minutes, Johnny sat without moving, simply letting the quiet wash over him. He briefly thought about lying down, but was tired of lying, tired of sitting, tired of everything… He sighed, wondered where Scott was. If what DarkCloud said was true, it’d been quite awhile since Harley had left. Had he slept the whole time? He couldn’t remember anything since…
Johnny closed his eyes, remembered with embarrassment the confrontational scene that had played out, remembered how Scott had forced his hand and stood his ground. Did Scott really understand what he was getting himself in for? Probably not. This wasn’t Boston.
He groaned then looked at the last sections of orange, slowly picked one up and put it in his mouth. Once more he found himself enjoying the tangy sweetness, even more so now that no one was watching him. He felt so dry, so drained, like a long-lost canteen blown full of sand.
He picked up the last two slices, slid the plate onto the bed and shakily stood up. He felt immediate irritation with his legs as they wavered unsteadily, necessitating that he reach for the back of the chair to steady himself. As he did so, his eyes fell on the tea DarkCloud had prepared; tea laced with laudanum. His disgust at his situation, at the whole entire mess erupted from deep within, and he swore vehemently, felt like striking out, but had enough sense to know that any such abrupt movement would promptly send him to the floor where his disgust would then be compounded by embarrassment. That was something he’d had enough of already.
Carefully, he straightened up, and with clenched teeth and his arm up against his sore side, he shuffled toward the window. As he did so, he brooded on how pathetically and slowly he moved, like an old man infirm with age, certainly a long way from the purposeful stride of the legendary Johnny Madrid, and he snorted his derision at the picture he made.
Once he’d reached the window, he leaned his shoulder against the frame, put one of the two last orange slices in his mouth and gazed outside.
At first the unfamiliar scene disoriented him, but then he realized he was no longer on the west side of the hotel. He now faced the east, toward the Diablo and Gabilan Mountain Ranges…and toward Lancer.
He closed his eyes and let his head droop against the rough wood that framed the window.
Lancer. A ranch. A place. A name. A home. But was it his name? Was it his home? What was Murdoch thinking now? Was he going through the list of Johnny’s other failures? Adding all that had recently happened, and what he’d learned had happened, to that file Johnny was sure was stored in the old man’s memory, the list of his deeds—or misdeeds— that had been so perfectly and chronologically laid out for the Lancer patriarch in that Pinkerton’s report? Or perhaps he’d been so shocked by the whole disgusting business that he was wishing his youngest had accomplished his original goal, and ended his life, and thus the shame that Murdoch carried in having a gunfighter for a son.
Johnny sighed, crossed his arms against his chest, felt the ache of his ribs, the throb of the wound, and hugged himself. He remembered so distinctly a time just over two years earlier when he’d experienced the same feelings of condemnation and shame. Yet he’d only acted from instinct, a sense of self-preservation.
Behind closed lids, the scene played for him again, and he saw the old man, Sam Stryker, and his son, Eli, showing up at the ranch, accusing Johnny of stealing their horses. Johnny fully knew they hadn’t been tracking the horses like they claimed, knew Murdoch could sense it too. He’d expected, or hoped, that his father would side with him, would trust him, and see the men for what they were. Instead his father told them to take the horses, would have even given away the stallion, fully knowing his decision had stripped Johnny of any authority, and openly showed that he held no respect for his younger son’s opinion. He would have lost the stallion, too, if he hadn’t dug in his heels and had to balk like a stubborn child.
Johnny’s face tightened, his eyes clamped shut even tighter, a desire to block out the next scene…
The son, bent on taking the stallion anyway, despite Johnny sending him down for a mouthful of dirt, and goaded by his father, had attempted the ultimate folly—drawing on Johnny Madrid.
Johnny shook his head. He still didn’t know why he had turned his back. He wasn’t sure, even now, if it was because he had really felt the Strykers were all talk and no action and would not be so foolish as to try to draw against him, especially in front of witnesses. Or…was it because he’d deliberately baited the kid, had hoped he’d go for the cheap shot like the milksop coward Johnny knew him to be, just so that he could have the pleasure of shooting him? The kid had had no chance, but he didn’t know it. He’d had no idea against whom he was drawing, and sure as hell wouldn’t have attempted it if he’d known.
And then, to face Murdoch’s look of disappointment and disgust. The feeling of shame that settled on him. The fear of once more being deemed unworthy. The truth that was conveyed when Murdoch had ignored his question, “What was I supposed to do?”
Murdoch’s refusal to answer told him what he’d needed to know. His father saw him as a liability—a cocked gun ready to go off at the slightest provocation—an embarrassing situation just waiting to happen.
Johnny swallowed thickly, forced back the tears that always threatened to arise at the memory. Knowing deep down at that moment in his life, all he’d been hoping and praying for, was for his father to say, “Thank God you weren’t killed.”
But he’d only received silence…
Scott entered Rosti’s and was on his way to the stairs when he heard his name. He turned in mid-stride, smiling as he recognized his caller, and stopped.
“DarkCloud,” he greeted. “I guess Murdoch’s back already.”
DarkCloud shook his head as he walked away from the bar and motioned to a corner table. “No, he isn’t. But I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”
“He’s not?” Scott asked as he took a step toward the stairs. “Then who’s with Johnny?”
“No one.” DarkCloud settled a hand on Scott’s shoulder and propelled him toward a chair at the corner table.
“But you said—”
“Take a seat, Scott,” DarkCloud cut in.
Reluctantly, and with one eye on the stairs, Scott sat down.
DarkCloud sat down in the seat next to Scott and placed his drink on the table. “Johnny’s fine,” he emphasized. “I just left him.”
“He is awake then?”
“Yes,” DarkCloud nodded. “And I know what I said about someone needing to be with him, and it holds true for the most part, but I think every so often, we need to back off a bit now. Give Johnny a few minutes to himself…sort of a chance to catch up on everything without feeling like he’s being watched.”
Scott rubbed his thumb and index finger across his chin, all the while maintaining his focus on the stairs, then sighed. “Yeah, I think I see what you’re saying.” He dropped his hand to his lap, leaned back in his chair and regarded DarkCloud. “No need to make him feel any more under guard than necessary, I suppose.”
DarkCloud smiled, then his attention shifted toward the entrance of the saloon and he put a hand up. Scott turned around to find Murdoch heading toward their table, an expression of confusion on his face.
“He’s okay,” Scott said as he leaned over and pulled out another chair for his father.
“I just want to give him a few minutes to himself,” DarkCloud answered.
Murdoch nodded as he slowly sat down. “Probably a good idea, after all that’s happened.”
DarkCloud leaned one elbow on the table. “It gives me a chance to suggest a few things as well.”
“Like what?” Scott asked.
“Well,” DarkCloud paused to study both men. “Johnny’s finally starting to come out of the haze that he’s been under the last week. I’m hoping that he’ll be able to keep a longer grip on reality and not slip back into unconsciousness so quickly, now that I’m starting to gain more control of how to adjust the medication. I told Scott that for the next day or two, I’d rather not make any other changes in the amount he’s given. I’m hoping that it’ll give him a chance to start putting things back together. He may have gotten his memory back earlier, but just now he’s beginning to be able to make it all connect.”
“How do you mean?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, like a
few minutes ago, it just occurred to him that you were here during the
shoot-out. And,” DarkCloud added,
“he’s just remembered taking that shot to the chest.”
Scott inhaled sharply, his hand automatically going to his pocket. “You say he’s just remembered these things?”
DarkCloud cocked his head. “Maybe not so much ‘just remembered’ as just recently started to fit them all back together.”
Scott looked at Murdoch, but his father’s expression remained stoically reserved.
“So what does that mean for us?” Murdoch asked.
“Nothing, really,” DarkCloud replied. “I’m just explaining why it might be a good idea to allow him a few minutes here and there, some quiet time to patch the pieces of his memory back together. I think he’s feeling a bit disoriented and confused. I’m guessing there’s a lot of issues he’s trying to resolve right now.”
Murdoch nodded slowly, his expression impassive.
“But there is something you could do that will help him in two ways.”
“What’s that?” Scott asked.
“Well, though I don’t want to be decreasing his medication right now, I would like to see if we could lengthen the time between doses. I had spaced them closer together with smaller amounts to get us past that first hurdle, but now I’d like to see if we can go just a bit longer between.”
“And how do we help with that?” Murdoch asked.
“By providing a distraction.”
“A distraction?” Scott asked dubiously. “Like what? Lighting firecrackers outside his window, turning a snake loose in his room?”
“No,” DarkCloud shook his head. “I was thinking more along the lines of talking to him.”
“Talk—what?” Scott asked skeptically. “How’s that supposed to help?”
“In two ways, as I said,” DarkCloud replied. “First, it’ll take his mind off his need for the medicine as the dosage wears off. Second, it’ll probably be helpful for him to talk about things as he’s sorting through his memories.”
“You’re suggesting that we get Johnny to talk as a way to take his mind off the current situation,” Murdoch quietly assessed.
Scott raised both eyebrows. “Getting Johnny to talk when he’s feeling healthy and in a good mood is hard enough. I think I’d rather try to have a discussion about the weather with an irritated mongoose.”
DarkCloud smiled. “Perhaps. But I have a feeling now is the perfect time to get Johnny to talk. In fact, I think he needs to.” At Scott’s skeptical expression, DarkCloud continued, a grin appearing on his face, “Yes, it may make him uncomfortable at times, however I have a feeling you’re up to the challenge.”
Scott sighed and leaned back in his chair, bringing one hand up to rub his forehead. “Okay. I see what you’re saying. And you’ve been right so far.” He sat back up and put his hands on the table. “So, shall I head of there now, or wait a bit longer?”
“No,” Murdoch cut in.
Scott looked at his father in surprise.
“I’d like to go up first, Scott, if you don’t mind.”
Scott shook off his surprise. “Sure,” he said tentatively. “If you prefer.”
Murdoch nodded. His expression remaining unreadable, he turned to DarkCloud. “Anything else I should know?”
DarkCloud shook his head slowly. “No, not really. I left him with a bit of food and a mug of his tea, which I’d like for him to drink. He was shaking a bit when I left, but not doing too badly. I’ll be up in another ten or fifteen minutes to see how he’s doing and bring him a fresh batch of tea.”
Murdoch nodded and stood. He glanced quickly at Scott, murmured a curt, “Thanks,” turned and headed for the steps.
Outside the door to his son’s room, Murdoch paused. He wasn’t sure what had come over him to request to speak to Johnny alone. It had been an overwhelming feeling when it had struck, but now, outside the door, he felt unsure.
Cautiously he opened the door, his eyes seeking out the bed, only to find it empty. Taking a step into the room, he saw his son huddled against the window frame, arms crossed protectively, head bowed. And suddenly Murdoch was struck with how much Johnny reminded him of another time, a time two years earlier. Only then, Johnny had been sitting on the edge of Murdoch’s desk while he underwent the cold, berating scrutiny of Murdoch’s disappointment. All because of an unfinished fence and fifty head of cattle. Fifty lousy cattle. He had thousands of head of cattle, but only one Johnny. And in stubborn pride, he’d chosen the cattle over his son.
Why? A real love of cattle more than people? The honest disgust of his son taking the life of another, despite the fact that it was done out of self-defense? Or had it been from a real wish that his son, the gunfighter, leave? For then he’d have been able to bury his own shame and avoid the possibility of the truth being discovered—the truth that he’d known where to find his son, yet had chosen to let him continue on alone.
Murdoch silently closed the door, took another step, then hesitated. “Johnny?”
Johnny visibly stiffened at Murdoch’s voice and turned toward the door. The look that first flashed across his face, though masked within seconds, told Murdoch that Johnny was not just surprised, but also uncomfortable, to see him.
Murdoch nodded an awkward greeting while Johnny self-consciously straightened up, one hand seeking out the windowsill, while his other dropped uncomfortably to his side.
“Murdoch,” Johnny greeted in a dry, raspy voice.
Murdoch took immediate note of Johnny’s rapidly blinking eyes, the slightly parted lips through which he was taking quick, shallow breaths, his hair hanging limply against his forehead. And though his son was perspiring, he seemed to be shivering, as if cold.
Murdoch scanned the room for the tea DarkCloud had made up and located the mug sitting on the table, apparently untouched. He knew, though, that Johnny would be irritated if he mentioned it, but at the same time he could tell his son needed desperately to sit down and take some medicine.
With a resolve to appear casual, Murdoch walked to the two chairs near the bed and brought them both around to the table. Then he picked up the plate of food that was lying on the bed and set it on the table.
“It looks pretty good,” he said conversationally as he sat down on one of the chairs. He picked up a piece of cheese and bit into it.
“I—I ate all the orange,” Johnny pointed out stiffly before walking slowly toward the other chair and carefully lowering himself into it.
Murdoch deliberately kept his attention on the plate, could sense his son’s annoyance at the difficulty he had in moving. He wanted to offer to help him, put a hand out for support, but doubted the offer would be appreciated. He understood Johnny needed to regain some sense of independence after being totally dependent for so long.
Johnny leaned back slowly in his chair, disgusted with his infirmity. He felt like he’d run full out a mile and all he’d done was to lean against a wall for a bit and then take a few steps. He was breathing hard and he knew it. He tried to control it, slow it down, but was aware that he was accomplishing little. Prickly beads of sweat were running down his back and neck, soaking into the bandage. He tried to reach for a slice of cheese, but was dismayed to see his hand shaking so violently that any pretext he’d tried to convey of being in control was thoroughly negated and he brought his hand back to his lap, swearing under his breath.
Grimly Johnny clenched his teeth and looked away. “I’m fine,” he hissed.
He felt a hand touch his arm, fought down the urge to jerk it away. His embarrassment was already complete; there was nothing to gain by showing wounded pride. He had none.
“I’m sorry, Johnny. Truly I am. I know this must be hard for you—”
The words burned him more than the hand on his arm and he sighed bitterly. “Am I that pathetic that even you feel a need to apologize?” he asked, turning a stricken look toward his father. “Please don’t apologize.”
“Don’t apologize!” Johnny snapped, pulled his arm away and pushed up from the chair.
“Johnny!” Murdoch interjected. “I was not implying that you were pathetic!”
“Well, I am, aren’t I?” Johnny retorted. “Isn’t that what you’re thinking? Isn’t that what you’ve been thinking ever since you came into town? Ever since you found out what’s been going on? There he goes again! My son, the gunfighter, off to drag the Lancer name through the mud once more! Well don’t worry—I only used my real name this time!”
“John!” Murdoch stood up. “Calm down! Immediately!”
Johnny shook his head and backed up. He wanted to stop, but couldn’t. The words and feelings were all too real, and he no longer had the strength to stop them. “Why? Isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for, for over two years? Proof of what you’ve been saying and thinking all along. My half-breed, gun-hawk son who woulda been dead down in Mexico if I hadn’t sent the Pinks out to save him.”
“That’s not true, Johnny, and I think you know it. You’re saying things because—” Murdoch faltered.
“Why?” Johnny demanded. “Because of the laudanum? The morphine? The wonderful drugs DarkCloud gave me so that I could play out one last gunfight?”
“John, please. I don’t want to discuss that issue now.”
“No? Why not? I noticed that report you have in your desk didn’t include anything about the laudanum. Aren’t you wondering how your detectives missed that shameful little detail in the life of Madrid…my life? With the money you obviously spent, I’d think you’d be disappointment they hadn’t been more thorough. Probably wondering what else they managed to miss, aren’t you? I mean, that’s a pretty big one, isn’t it?”
“I know some of the details, Johnny. I know you’d been shot up badly. I’ve…I’ve often wondered about those scars on your back. And I marveled that you’d managed to survive. But mostly,” Murdoch paused as his voice caught in his throat. “Mostly, Johnny, I wish you’d been able to come to me for help.”
“Oh, right!” Johnny gave a sarcastic snort. “Tell me the truth, Murdoch. If I had shown up on your doorstep a few years ago with a bounty on my head, a bullet in my back and a bottle of laudanum tucked under my arm, what would you have done? Huh?” Johnny barely paused before continuing. “It wouldn’t have worked, would it? Not from your side. Not from my side. ‘Cuz a few years back, the only thing I cared to hear about you was that you were dead and the burden had been lifted from me.”
Murdoch caught his breath, fought back the urge to reply sharply. Though his hands clenched and unclenched tightly at his side, he managed to keep his expression and tone calm. “Is that why you agreed to come to Lancer when I first sent for you?”
Johnny regarded Murdoch coldly, his expression totally devoid of emotion, the mask of the gunfighter firmly in place. “Curiosity, a thousand dollars and the desire to find out if you hated me as much as I hated you.”
“I didn’t hate you, Johnny.” Murdoch found himself looking away from the cold stare, the hard expression of a gunfighter who had faced death so often, that the blood of the dead seemed to flow behind his eyes. A shiver crawled down his spine…one that settled in the old wound caused by Pardee’s gun. He forced himself to look up, prepared to meet the gunfighter. He was caught off guard, however, when he saw that Johnny had taken a step to the side, his left hand now placed on the table as he hunched forward, the palm of his right hand pressed against his chest, his breathing shallow and labored. “Johnny,” he said grimly as he stepped to his son’s side. “Sit down and drink some tea, would you.”
“You mean laudanum, don’t you?” Johnny looked up, a flicker of Madrid passing behind the pain-filled, weary eyes.
“Tea, laudanum, medicine, a really strong belt of liquor. I really don’t care what you want to call it,” Murdoch replied tersely. “It’s what you need right now and what your doctor has ordered. Let’s not argue about it.”
Johnny let his head droop. Something inside him wanted to fight—to throw out the words that had been buried so long—but he found himself too drained to continue. He felt so useless, so empty. There was a slight pressure on his shoulder and he looked back up. He was disconcerted to see that Murdoch appeared as no more than a wavering blur that moved rhythmically to the ebbing and roaring in his ears. The pain in his chest was becoming unbearable, each breath a torture. Who was he kidding? He not only needed that laudanum; he wanted it.
Only not with Murdoch watching.
Murdoch raised an eyebrow, the ‘please’ catching him by surprise. He sensed how much the word had cost his son. He could also see that Johnny was losing his ability to mask the pain, though he was trying to fight against the growing discomfort. He also knew his son was incapable of continuing the battle much longer.
“I can’t leave you like this, Johnny. Why don’t you sit down and drink your tea before you collapse? DarkCloud will be back up soon with some…some medicine…”
“I need you to leave,” Johnny looked back up, his eyes now tightly set once more.
“John, I just tried to explain that—”
“Murdoch,” Johnny paused, swallowed back a groan. “Don’t you get it? Not with you here.”
Murdoch pursed his lips, his own jaw grimly set. “Sit down. Now. You’re too big and I’m too old to go picking you up off the floor.”
Johnny tried to continue his glare, but his knees started buckling and he sank weakly into the chair.
Murdoch slid the mug in front of him. “Drink it.”
Johnny inhaled sharply through his teeth, his posture becoming tight and rigid. Then picking up the mug between two shaky hands, he glared at it a second before lifting it to his lips. It was lukewarm and bitter, but he had decided to finish every last damn drop, despite Murdoch watching him…because Murdoch was watching him…knowing Murdoch was watching him… Once finished, he sat the mug down with a loud smack. “Satisfied?” he snapped.
Murdoch barely raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”
Before Johnny could come up with a retort, the door opened and Murdoch turned to see who had entered. Johnny, however, kept his focus stubbornly on the empty mug.
Scott held the door open for DarkCloud, who quickly crossed the room to return the clay pot to the bedside table. With Johnny’s back toward the door, Scott couldn’t read his expression, but he’d seen a flicker of relief pass over his father’s face at their appearance. He had a feeling it had been an edgy discussion once again.
“How are we doing?” DarkCloud asked with a quick look in Johnny’s direction before he turned to Murdoch.
Murdoch gave a slight shake, then inclined his head toward the empty mug. “He just finished it.”
“Yeah, I just finished off the damn laudanum,” Johnny echoed bitterly as he crossed his arms.
Murdoch looked away, his jaw clamped tightly shut while a look of disappointment and sadness appeared on his face. Then with a smile that lacked any real assurance, he headed toward the door. “I’ll be in the room,” he said as he nodded a stiff goodbye to Scott.
Scott turned back to Johnny, saw that DarkCloud had picked up the empty mug and was pushing the plate of food closer toward Johnny.
“You haven’t eaten.”
“I ate the orange,” Johnny replied, a hint of belligerence in his voice.
“Fine,” DarkCloud replied archly as he sat down on the other chair. “Now eat the cucumber.”
“I don’t want any cucumber,” Johnny growled.
“Then eat the cheese.”
“Dammit, DarkCloud. I’m not hungry!”
“Johnny, you haven’t eaten enough to keep a small child going, much less a grown man. The medicine’s affecting your appetite. It’s keeping you from eating—”
“I’m not eating,” Johnny’s head snapped up as he glared menacingly at the doctor. “’Cuz I’m not hungry!”
“Too damn bad,” DarkCloud retorted. “You’re gonna eat anyway!”
Scott saw Johnny’s shoulders slump as his brother leaned his head back against the chair. “DarkCloud, not right now. I feel sick,” Johnny replied softly, his voice no longer able to hide his pain and tiredness.
Scott stepped up closer until he stood directly behind his brother. Johnny’s eyes were closed, yet his arms were still crossed, hugged tightly against his chest. Scott suddenly had the feeling that he could envision his brother as a two-year-old. A tired, hurting, two-year-old.
There was a sigh, yet his brother still didn’t open his eyes. “What, Scott?”
“I’d like to see you eat something.”
“And if I don’t?” Johnny asked, his voice heavy with fatigue. “What are you gonna threaten me with this time? A firin’ squad? Well, I already done that.”
Scott tried to keep the smile out of his voice, though he knew DarkCloud saw it on his face. “Now that you mention it, I have given it a lot of thought over the past few weeks, and well, you know how big brothers are supposed to beat up on little brothers? The way I have it figured, you owe me roughly twenty-two years. And,” he shrugged indifferently, “I’m ready to start collecting any time you want.”
Slowly Johnny opened one eye. “You are a sly, cunning Yankee, aren’t you?” He opened the other eye, and Scott noticed the first hint of a smile. “You wait until you have me at a total disadvantage, then threaten to beat me up.”
“Well, brother,” Scott replied in mock seriousness. “As it’s the only chance I’ll probably have to kick your butt, I figure I better take it.”
Johnny’s smile spread even more. “Seem to remember a Bostoner who dealt a pretty good punch.”
“Yeah, but you’ve had plenty of time to study my famous Feint and Jab Technique.”
“So, true,” Johnny sighed. “Yeah, I guess I can see how this is gonna be your only chance.”
“Then are you going to eat, or do we go a few rounds?”
“Guess I have no choice,” Johnny replied, sighed again, straightened up in his chair; the action elicited the beginnings of a cough, which caused Johnny to press his left hand to his lips while his right moved to his chest. For a second he didn’t move, seemed to need the time to control the pain. Finally he relaxed, cleared his throat. “Damn,” he said. “I thought that tea of yours would be doin’ more by now.”
“Johnny, you know even better than I do that the laudanum wasn’t enough before you faced Wakeman, so it sure isn’t going to be enough now.”
Johnny closed his eyes and bowed his head, uncomfortably aware of Scott behind him. He opened his eyes, tentatively tried to draw in a deep breath, aborted the attempt, then bitterly brought a hand up to rub his forehead. “Then what good is it doing, DarkCloud? Huh? I don’t see the sense.”
DarkCloud leaned forward. “I couldn’t very well just stop the laudanum. I didn’t know really how much or how long you’d been taking it. Then when we began giving you the morphine injections, we compounded the problem. Now I’m going to try to lengthen the time between your dosages, especially of the morphine. But you still have injuries we need to be careful of, and which are going to cause you considerable pain that I’d like to control. These injuries also need more time to heal. And Harley told me how difficult it was—the other time... We can’t do it like that, Johnny. Not this time. Not with those injured ribs, and that side wound that’s still trying to heal. You understand that, right?”
his eyes and nodded reluctantly before letting out a faint, bitter snort. Way to go, Johnny.
Just a few weeks ago, you thought you had nothing to gain by living any
longer, actively sought a release from life…thought the only real consequence
to worry about, was to make sure that you took care of the job you’d been
hired to do in such a way that Jamie wasn’t left with memories of a hero to
idolize. Yet, now you’re back in
that hell you thought you’d never have to revisit, that you promised to
avoid…and this time you managed to bring along spectators.
People who you had hoped to hide this side of your past from.
People whose…whose respect you’ve tried so hard to earn…only now…
How could things have gotten so fouled up? He hated the feeling of not being in control, not being able to handle things just as he wanted, of being weak and needing help. God, he hated that more than anything. Being dependent, needing help, those were weaknesses he’d vowed at a young age never to show. And now, Johnny Madrid, in all his glory, couldn’t have gotten down the steps to the saloon for a drink without help. Hell, he couldn’t have made it down the stairs to the outhouse but had to piss in a pot.
A sharp rap at the door brought Scott and DarkCloud’s attention around, though Johnny remained unmoving.
DarkCloud went to the door, opened it part way. “Rosti,” he greeted.
“The tea. Fresh batch,” Rosti announced, his eyes traveling across the room to where Johnny sat with his back to the door. Rosti bit his top lip thoughtfully before he called out in a voice bolstered by determination. “Good to see you’re doin’ better, Mr. Madrid. The town’s been prayin’ for you—” he faltered, almost stopped. “We’re all mighty glad you’re gettin’ better. If you need anything—anything at all—we’ll do our best to get it for you.”
Scott looked down at Johnny, noticed his brother’s eyes were now open, but instead of a pleased expression, Johnny appeared grieved by the news.
“Thanks, Rosti,” Johnny replied without turning around. “But I’m fine.”
Rosti gave first Scott, then DarkCloud, a sheepish nod before he turned and left.
DarkCloud shoved the door closed with the toe of his boot, then carried the steaming pot of freshly brewed tea to the table. “The last one probably didn’t taste very good. It’d gotten pretty cold. This one’ll taste better.”
“DarkCloud,” Johnny cut in dryly, “it don’t matter how hot it is. Nothing’s gonna improve its taste.”
DarkCloud shrugged his shoulders indifferently then proceeded to pull a dark, amber-colored bottle from his medical bag. “Well, then, would you rather drink your laudanum straight?”
“Will I still have to drink the tea?”
“’Afraid so,” DarkCloud replied with a suppressed smile.
“Then mix it,” Johnny replied tiredly, leaned gingerly forward and picked up a piece of cheese. “Might as well get it over with in one shot.”
DarkCloud suppressed a smile, picked up the mug, filled it three-quarters with tea, then topped it off with the laudanum. “Now the idea, here,” he said as he placed it in front of Johnny, “is that you drink this all up, too.” He pulled a pocket watch out and flipped it open. “I’d like to see if we can go another hour, perhaps two,” he hazarded a quick glance in Scott’s direction, “before I have to give you the morphine. The laudanum’s not as strong, but I’m hoping it’ll tide us over, help take the edge off the pain and keep the tremors to a minimum.” He paused, then added to Scott, “If he gets suddenly dizzy and faints—”
“I don’t faint,” Johnny cut in grimly.
“Fine,” DarkCloud gave Johnny a patient nod. “If he gets dizzy and collapses—” DarkCloud heard a faint snort, but continued, “let me know immediately. Same for profuse sweating, blurry vision, difficulty breathing—”
“This is beginning to sound like more fun all the time,” Johnny interrupted as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. He turned a sour look on Scott. “Like to trade places? Wouldn’t wanna be accused of hoggin’ all the fun.”
Scott managed a
smile, then reached out to grip Johnny’s shoulder encouragingly.
“I think maybe this time I’ll just lead us both out of this party.
That okay with you?”
Johnny’s expression remained unreadable for a moment, then a half-smile crept into the corner of his mouth before he looked down. “I guess we’ll go with your plan this time, Brother.”
Scott returned the smile.
“I’ll be back in about an hour,” DarkCloud said, heading for the door.
Scott took a step to follow. “Where will you be?”
“At the shop. I need to do a few things.” He gave Scott a reassuring nod, then continued for the door. Once there, he stopped and turned around. “And try to get him to eat, without causing any bodily harm, will you, Scott?” DarkCloud smiled.
The sound of the door closing echoed through Scott’s chest. He glanced down at Johnny, wondered if the sudden silence seemed as daunting to his brother as it did to him. Suddenly he remembered DarkCloud’s suggestion of getting Johnny to talk in order to keep his mind off the symptoms caused by the morphine. Eat, drink and talk. As he ran his fingers through his hair, Scott did a quick visual sweep of the room while he tried to contain his sudden feeling of being at loose ends. He needed a plan and quick. He then spied the water pitcher. Deciding that having his own glass of water would give him something to hold on to, as well as being a visual encouragement to Johnny to drink his own tea, Scott stepped to the small table and poured a cup before sitting down.
Scott reached over, plucked a slice of cucumber off the plate and bit into it. “You should have some, Johnny. Nice and fresh, really crisp. Some lady from town just brought in a couple this morning.”
“Subtle, Scott, subtle,” Johnny said with a sigh as he reached for a slice. “I got a feelin’ you weren’t a spy in the war, were you?”
Scott suppressed a half-grin before he took another bite. “Oh, don’t be so sure, little brother. I may have some war stories that would still surprise you.”
“Oh, of course. How could I forget, Doctor Scott.”
Though his expression hadn’t changed, Scott could sense an undercurrent of challenge in Johnny’s tone. Quickly he realized that this was not the time to do battle over that subject. He retreated by casually taking a sip from his cup and was relieved when Johnny, albeit with obvious reluctance, reached for his own mug of tea.
Think, Scott. Think. Change the subject to something positive…something…
“Huh?” Johnny furrowed his brows.
“Harley,” Scott repeated, almost surprised by the thought. “I—uh—I’m really glad I got a chance to meet him.”
“Yeah,” Johnny agreed, took another sip from the tea. “He was always a good friend.”
“I can tell. He was very concerned about you.”
Johnny nodded impassively, took another sip.
Scott bit his lip, felt like he was floundering. “How’d you meet him?”
“What?” Johnny gave Scott a sidelong look.
Scott returned the suspicious look calmly. “Harley. How’d you meet him?”
Johnny turned his attention full on Scott, his eyes narrowing as he cocked his head to the side. “You wanna know how I met Harley?”
Scott leaned back in the chair, rested the cup of water on his leg. “That’s what I asked.”
Johnny studied Scott, a mixture of surprise and misgiving in his eyes. Scott met the look unflinchingly until Johnny suddenly dropped his gaze, reached a hand out to the plate and picked up the biscuit. He then tore it into two and dropped half of it back onto the plate.
“It’s a long story,” Johnny said before biting into the half he held.
Scott shrugged, took a casual sip of the water, then crossed one leg over his knee at the ankle. “I’ve got nothing but time.”
Johnny gave Scott another hard look and shook his head. “It’s not all that interesting,” he said, then shoved the rest of the biscuit in his mouth.
“Well, I’m interested,” Scott replied, took a sip of the water. “He’s an interesting man—strong loyalties—convictions. I was surprised to—”
“What?” Johnny asked sharply. “To find I’d ridden with a man like Harley? Someone so loyal and law-abiding, so totally adapted to a normal life?”
Scott kept his expression calm in the face of Johnny’s sudden outburst. “No, Johnny. That’s not what I was going to say. I was simply surprised to meet one of your friends up in Salinas.”
“Oh,” Johnny turned back to the table, picked up the mug.
Noticing his brother’s hand trembling slightly, Scott had to bite back the urge to admonish his brother to finish the tea.
Johnny took a sip, then instead of placing the mug back on the table, he clasped it between both hands. “A poker game.”
“I met Harley in a poker game. Wes, too. They were both losing to a flashy gambler.”
Scott waited for Johnny to continue, but instead his brother took another sip of the tea.
“Must be more to the story than that.”
Johnny sighed, leaned back to stare at the ceiling. “More to the story,” he echoed. Slowly he lowered his head, but instead of looking at Scott, he focused once more on the mug. “There’s always more to the story, isn’t there?” he murmured before taking another sip. After setting the cup back on the table, Johnny unsteadily pushed himself to his feet using the arms of the chair for support. For a moment he seemed to lose his balance. Scott saw him waver, the action almost costing Scott his resolve to allow Johnny to do for himself as much as possible.
Johnny closed his eyes, leaned against the table and forced back the sudden waves of vertigo, which had caused the room to spin sickeningly. He wasn’t sure if it took a couple seconds or a couple hours, but when he opened his eyes, Scott was watching him quietly. However, there was a look in Scott’s eyes that told Johnny that if he’d started to go down, his brother would have been there to catch him. And for a second, he let the idea comfort him. But then he forced the wall back up, pushed the feelings away, found the needed strength to continue, and straightened up. In an attempt to appear more in control than he actually felt, he picked up the mug of tea, managed to get it to his lips for a long sip before turning away from the table. Using the window as a focus, he walked across the room. Then he put one hand out and pulled the thin curtain to the side. Without real interest, he watched one of the local farmers hauling a sack of grain over his shoulder as he made his way among the corrals toward his barn.
“Were you in the poker game?” Scott prompted from his seat, pulling Johnny’s attention back to the room.
Johnny let the curtain fall back in place, gave his brother a quick look over his shoulder before leaning his side against the wall near the window. “Yeah, I was in the game.” He paused, glanced down at the mug. “I’d been riding solo for ‘bout a year after…after leaving Reveles.”
“Reveles. The man you—we ran into a few months back?” Scott asked.
Johnny nodded stiffly, took a sip of his tea.
“You were about, what? Eighteen?”
Johnny shrugged with indifference. “Seventeen, I guess.”
Scott was silent a second as he tried to conjure up a picture of his brother at seventeen, riding into a town, alone, with a reputation already attached to his name. Had he been passing through the town on his way to another job, or had he been working for someone there? Had he entered the game for relaxation or for need of money?”
“So Wes and Harley were getting taken, huh?” Scott mused out loud. “Good thing you came along.”
Johnny looked up again, his face expressionless. He shifted position so that his back pressed against the wall and a faint look of amusement crept along his face. “You have no intention of lettin’ up, do you?”
Scott raised an eyebrow innocently. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Johnny’s hint of a smile spread across his face and he shook his head in surrender. “I told you, it’s not all that interesting, Scott. It was a poker game. This gambler was cleaning them out and I called him on it.” He paused. Scott sensed his brother was swallowing a smile. “Once I showed him the errors of his ways, he gladly returned the money he’d swindled off everyone.”
Scott smiled back. “Oh, I have no doubt of that. And I get the feeling I would have enjoyed watching you. Perhaps the next time I see Harley, I’ll have to ask him to tell me his version.”
“It’s pretty much the same as mine,” Johnny replied dryly, took another sip of the tea. He sighed, turned to look out the window again, but this time he didn’t bother to move the curtain. He wasn’t really interested in the scene outside. He heard a movement as Scott adjusted in his seat. Turning slightly, he watched out of the corner of his eye as his brother reached out to grab a piece of food off the plate, then lean back in his chair and take a sip from his glass once more.
Sometimes, when he saw Scott like this, he had the feeling he was watching Cisco. The similarities didn’t come from looks, except for them both being tall and lean. No, the similarity was more in temperament, their tendency to carefully analyze situations and their reluctance to use force before all avenues of reason and verbal argument had been tried.
Then there was the ease with which they had both moved into the role of his self-appointed guardian.
Scott sat back in his chair and regarded Johnny with interest. He had hoped his questions would have prompted more of a discussion with his brother, however Johnny seemed as distant as ever. He heard Johnny sigh, then he saw him lean his head against the window frame.
“Met Cisco soon after,” Johnny whispered softly. “Wes’n Harley, they already knew Cisco…were working with him.”
Johnny’s voice drifted away, yet he didn’t move. Scott waited, wondered what Johnny was thinking about, wished his brother would share it with him.
“I’d come into a town, had decided to take in a game before bed—”
deliberately raised his eyes from the cards in his left hand and tilted his head
slightly to the side to gaze fixedly across the table at the man who sat
opposite him, whose narrow, angular face was accented by a neatly trimmed and
“You plannin’ to use slick aces all evening or just for your first
The entire room instantaneously fell silent as the quiet accusation
seemed to echo across the room, immediately dampening the rowdy atmosphere like
fog in a harbor.
Two of the other men at the table cautiously began to push their chairs
away, a fact not lost on the man who had just dealt—the man who now found
himself caught under the tight scrutiny of a pair of startlingly dark blue eyes.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the gambler replied
tightly, in a voice that he hoped betrayed no fear.
He tried to read the young man in front of him, and was startled to
realize he couldn’t. He seemed
young yet old, handsome yet hardened. The
gambler himself was a man who’d made his living reading other men, but this
one he couldn’t; and it was an uncomfortable sensation.
watched the man’s eyes search his face, a flicker of alarm passing behind
them, and he let his own eyes crinkle in amusement; but his lips held no smile
or warmth. “You askin’ for a
I think you must be mistaken—”
gonna stick to that version, or you want me to tell everyone what you’re
holding on the top there?”
gambler’s throat tightened. There
was no hint of fear in his opponent, nor a flicker of doubt in either the young
man’s words or his eyes. Swallowing
uncomfortably, the gambler tried to slide a smile onto his face in order to
assure the other men at the table of his complete bewilderment of the
proceedings. He was dismayed to
note, however, that his opponent held their attention exclusively.
sorry if you think there’s been some cheating going on, but I assure you—”
He spread out his hands.
assure you,” Johnny cut in coldly, “that unless you repay every man at the
table what you took from him, I’m gonna be forced to clean my gun this
evening. Which’ll put me in a
very bad mood, as I just gave it a thorough cleaning last night after I took
care of another skunk.”
gambler’s smile froze. In the
space of two heartbeats, he realized he’d lost—and his only chance was to
fold and hopefully walk away with his life.
gave another slick smile, held his palms out in a sign of defeat, then gave a
wry nod as he deliberately slid his winnings to his front and counted out an
appropriate pile to each of the men at the table.
men quickly and nervously pocketed their money, though no one moved as the
gambler counted out two coins, which he then slid toward his opponent.
All at the table knew that the young challenger had held his own against
the gambler, yet were curious to see how he’d react to the offer.
taking his eyes off the gambler, Johnny dragged the two coins across the top of
the table until they were positioned next to his cards. Then, his eyes hard with
amused provocation, he turned his palm up in a clear indication that he expected
gambler became agitated. “That’s
what I won off you.”
want the rest,” Johnny replied simply.
was the barest sound of a collective inhale as the men at the table and those
sitting nearby held their breaths to hear how the gambler would reply.
said to repay what I won,” the gambler added his own edge to his words.
“The rest of it is my own stake.”
slowly cocked his head to the side, then just as slowly raised one eyebrow.
He leaned forward slightly, but it was enough to give the flavor of a
threat, and the gambler flinched, shifted back in his seat, the look in his eyes
similar to a man who’s just stirred up a rattler’s nest and was waiting for
the first strike.
it my fee for the lesson,” Johnny replied easily as he reached out and slid
the rest of the money to his own pile. Then
he reached across and flipped over the gambler’s cards.
Three aces appeared. “Never
cheat unless you’re sure you’re better’n your opponent.”
He sat back, flipped over his own cards; four kings lay face up.
“And I ain’t even that good,” Johnny added, stood up and picked up
the money. “Now if you got a
problem with the lesson, you just let me know.
I’ll be glad to discuss it in more detail out in the street any time
men at the table watched as Johnny casually folded the money and slid it into
his jacket pocket. Then with a
smooth nod of his head, he drew the hat string away from his neck, sliding his
hat back in place. With a final,
cool glance around the table, he turned and walked out the door.
of the men who had been sitting at the table turned to each other, their
expressions showing their admiration for the young man’s boldness.
the hell was that?” the larger of the two young men asked as he gave an absent
scratch at the dark stubble of beard on his chin.
say that,” the thinner, fairer colored man enunciated, “was exactly what Cisco
says we need.”
gunfighter?” the larger man asked.
partner nodded. “A gunfighter who
knows how to outplay and outmaneuver a slick gambler into backin’ down…”
The thin man stood up. “Come on,
Harl. Let’s go talk to him.”
stayed where he was, regarding his friend with disbelief.
“I don’t think he’s the sorta man who wants to be interrupted,
ain’t gonna interrupt him. We’re
just gonna talk to him.”
shook his head. “I gotta feeling
he don’t wanna talk, neither.”
hell, Harley,” Wes grabbed the larger man’s arm and made a futile attempt to
pull him out of his chair. “We
oughta at least thank him for getting back our money, buy him a drink, maybe.
No harm in that, is there? In
fact, it’s right proper and neighborly.”
Reluctantly Harley stood and followed Wes toward the door of the saloon. “I don’t think he’s lookin’ for neighbors, neither,” he mumbled.
Scott waited, wondered if his brother was going to say any more. He’d been surprised at the sudden outpouring of words. But now nothing more seemed forthcoming. Johnny had abruptly stopped just as quickly as he’d started.
“So, that’s how you met Wes and Harley?” Scott prompted. “Did they buy you a drink?”
“Drink?” Johnny looked up, blinked, a vague look of confusion on his face. “Uh,” he swallowed, shook his head as if trying to clear it. “They, uh, no, they followed me out of the saloon.”
Scott’s brows furrowed as he saw the haze that was slowly descending on his brother and realized Johnny was starting to lose the battle against his own body for its need for the medicine. He studied his brother for a couple of seconds, unwilling to start a scene by acting too hastily. But in that short moment of time, he could see that his brother was going to be needing help—and soon.
“Johnny,” Scott said, casually standing up. “Perhaps you’d better come sit down.”
Johnny seemed to stare right through Scott, his eyes unblinking. “No,” Johnny mumbled, tried to shake his head, wavered unsteadily. “I—I think—it’d be better—if I—sat down.” As the last words left his mouth, Johnny leaned his back against the wall and slowly sank to the floor.
Scott shoved the vacant chair out of his way, reaching his brother just as he came to his knees. “Okay, Johnny,” Scott grabbed the mug out of his brother’s hand and placed it on the floor. “Let’s get you into the chair.”
“No,” Johnny mumbled with a weak shake of his head. “I’m fine here.”
Scott smiled, but his grin quickly evaporated as Johnny began shaking uncontrollably, a moan echoing from deep within his chest. Scott grabbed him, tried to draw him close, but Johnny shook his head and tried to pull away. He was forced into submission, though, as the pain once more attacked and he slumped into his brother’s arms with an uncontrolled moan.
“Shhh. It’s okay. I’ll get DarkCloud.”
“No,” Johnny groaned. “No.”
“Time,” Johnny rasped, trembled violently, fought it down, then turned a suddenly ashen face to his brother. “Not—been—long enough.”
“What do you mean?” Scott argued, bit his lip as Johnny shook again with such force that Scott had a difficult time keeping him within his grasp. “It’s been long enough. You know what DarkCloud said. It’s not worth re-injuring one of your wounds. I’ll get Murdoch to go after DarkCloud.”
“No, I don’t need—”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, Scott,” Johnny groaned, swallowed heavily as he felt his stomach beginning to take exception to the food he’d eaten earlier. “I—”
“Johnny, I’m not going to sit here and watch you suffer. You need—”
“I don’t want you to leave!” Johnny gasped out.
Stunned at the proclamation, Scott froze as his mouth dropped open. He then felt Johnny tremble again, heard him bite back a cry of pain, and realized his brother was stubbornly fighting a battle he’d long lost. With utmost care, Scott lowered Johnny’s head to the floor, saw that his brother had opened his eyes and was watching him, although he was now unable to speak. “Johnny, I—I have to get Murdoch. I’ll be right back, I promise.” He gave his brother’s arm a quick squeeze and jumped to his feet. Flinging open the door, he yelled across the hall, “Murdoch!”
He didn’t even have the chance to call out a second time before the door to their room opened.
Murdoch took one look at Scott. “Where’s DarkCloud?” he asked.
“His shop,” Scott answered tersely with a quick backward check on his brother lying on the floor. By the time he’d glanced back to the hall, Murdoch was heading down the steps. Scott closed the door and hurried to Johnny. “I’m not leaving,” he stated firmly. “You’ve got me now for the long haul, you know.”
Johnny nodded weakly and closed his eyes.
Scott smiled, lowered himself to the floor beside his brother, a strange sense of relief flooding over him.
The Judge allowed, with measured civility, Sheriff Denning to open the door to the room where his son, James, lay, his head resting on his clasped hands, his eyes staring at the ceiling.
“Thank you, Sheriff,” Judge Wakeman smiled and nodded, aware that his son was quickly pushing himself to a sitting position.
“Quite all right,” Sheriff Denning gestured. “Your son is certainly permitted to speak with his lawyer.”
At this pronouncement, James Wakeman gingerly slid off the bed. Keeping his weight off his injured leg and focusing behind his father, he noted another gentleman standing in the shadows.
Judge Wakeman walked into the room, the lawyer following closely. After the door was closed, James sighed with relief. “You’ve found a lawyer.”
“Of course,” his father replied archly. “I acted immediately. I don’t just react.”
James looked down, embarrassed to have once more been reprimanded like a small child in front of another person. He knew the Judge’s hiring of a lawyer had less to do with wanting to keep him from serving jail time as it did from his father’s desire to avoid any negative publicity that might reflect badly on himself.
James Wakeman understood his place well.
“This is Mr. Brimhall. He’s here to ask a few questions. He’ll be handling your case not only from the aspect of the trial coming up, but he’s going to be looking into uncovering other helpful pieces of information.”
James nodded at Mr. Brimhall. The gentleman, a few years younger than his father, had a rather round, soft face, deep-set eyes hidden behind thick spectacles and a receding hairline. The effect gave him an air of gentle sincerity. But James knew his father and the type of men he hired, and was quite positive the lawyer in front of him was as ruthless and cold-blooded as any criminal he’d ever represented.
“Shall we get started?” Mr. Brimhall sat the large, leather satchel he held in his hands on the table, opened it, produced a folder of paper, a writing utensil and ink. “These are the facts as I have them. Feel free to add anything else as you think of it.” Mr. Brimhall cleared his throat. “You desired to gain control of the Soledad area and after normal legal channels had dried up, began a series of raids on property and cattle, a number of lives being lost in the process.”
“None of which my men were actually caught at,” James cut in.
Mr. Brimhall nodded. “You’d secured the aid of a number of warehouse proprietors here in Salinas to make sure no new supplies were delivered to Soledad. Things had pretty much come to a head when the town hired Johnny Madrid along with another small-time gunfighter by the name of Tucson.”
“Don’t forget the Kid,” James added.
“I didn’t,” Mr. Brimhall replied curtly. “Now, Mr. Madrid comes up here and secures a shipment of supplies and when he’s way-laid by your men, he totally outmaneuvers them, killing one and injuring a couple of others.”
“However, our only real witnesses are Madrid and Tucson, the Kid now being dead,” Mr. Brimhall added. “Correct?”
James nodded again.
“Then over the course of the next few days, Madrid poisons a couple of wells, pulls down a number of fences and breaks into your house where he steals a ring and cuts the undercarriage of your buggy.”
“There’s also the sand in the bed and the snake,” James added.
“Of course,” Mr. Brimhall replied. “Then the next time Madrid appears in town, he embarrasses you in a restaurant and the next morning he’s in a gunfight with some young kid he’s just been recently seen working with, correct? This kid, however, had been hired by you to take care of Madrid, but his plan backfires and even though you’ve placed a few other men up along the rooftops, the plan fails.”
James nodded sullenly. “The plan should have worked.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because that kid was sure Madrid was in no condition to take him.”
“And what made him believe that?”
“Because he’d noticed some things—heard some things, that suggested that when Madrid appeared in Soledad, he’d been shot and wasn’t doing too well. He’d also found out that Madrid was using laudanum.”
“And so was willing to bet that he could take on Madrid, huh?”
“With his life,” James replied.
“I guess he learned not to bet against Madrid,” Mr. Brimhall responded dryly. “Apparently Madrid, even injured and taking pain medication, is a rather formidable opponent.”
James snorted loudly. “I sure as hell can attest to that! You should have seen him like I did down in Soledad!”
Mr. Brimhall looked up from the paper in his hand. “So you say. However, you’re jumping ahead a bit, aren’t you?” He looked back down at the list. “Now then, you decided the only way to take care of Madrid was to eliminate him when he turned down your offer of employment. You discover a connection to a local blacksmith by the name of Harley, and a connection to a young boy of the family that he stayed with when he first arrived in Soledad. You kidnap Harley’s wife and child in an effort to keep Harley from interfering and also kidnap this Jamie in order to draw Madrid out into the open, betting that the injuries he’d sustained in the ill-conceived gunfight were going to be severe enough to leave him unable to make an effective stand against your new gunfighter, Kincaid.”
“And he was injured. Badly,” James interrupted. “He was seen stomped on by a horse. People thought he was dead.”
“People also saw him walk out of the hotel and get on a horse.”
“Damned if I know how!” James growled. “He shouldn’t have been able to move!”
“I’m not disputing your claim,” Mr. Brimhall said. “I’m merely pointing out that he did leave the hotel. Sheer willpower, knowledge that if he didn’t leave town immediately you might have a chance to strike again, a hell of a lot of laudanum, or all three. That’s what we’re not sure about.”
“In any case, when you reached Soledad with your men, you find that Madrid is waiting and fully prepared to meet you.”
“There was no way he should have gotten out of there alive,” James hissed. “Even if he was perfectly healthy. He was way outnumbered. That damned brother of his—”
“I’m getting to that,” Mr. Brimhall interrupted. “You say that Madrid was surprised to see his brother, what’s his name?” Mr. Brimhall looked down to consult his paper.
“Scott,” James growled. “Lord, I’d love to get my hands on him.”
Mr. Brimhall raised an eyebrow sarcastically. “Can we take care of this little difficulty first before you go creating any new ones?”
James grimaced uncomfortably.
“Now, you say Madrid was surprised to see his brother, correct?”
“Damned yes, he was surprised! Turned his back square to us, dropped his gun arm, even—”
“And no one shot him?” The Judge exploded from where he’d quietly been standing, listening to the conversation. “Who the hell do you have working for you?”
James seemed to retreat, while Mr. Brimhall glanced at the Judge and gave a slight shake of his head. “I need every piece of information, please.”
The Judge’s expression became stony. Then crossing his arms, he stalked to the far corner of the room.
“Harley’s wife was fighting me like some sort of crazy lady,” James explained weakly. “It was all I could do to hold onto her.”
“Prisoners rarely cooperate,” Mr. Brimhall remarked dryly. “Remember that. Now, where was I? Okay, you said Madrid was surprised to see his brother.”
“Yes. Someone managed to get off a shot that grazed Scott’s arm and that seemed to set Madrid off like a lit fuse. Up until that time, he was almost lackadaisical—uncaring—other than his interest in getting the hostages to safety. I think, until Scott showed up, we still had the upper hand, even if he did take out Kincaid.”
Mr. Brimhall nodded thoughtfully, made a note.
“Okay, so now we’re left with a couple more pieces here. Though you’d acquired half that incriminating paper, they took it back. There were witnesses in Soledad, the most damning of which is Murdoch Lancer and this sheriff from Paso Robles. Of the eight men that went down to Soledad, five were killed. But during the course of the gunfight, Madrid was hit with a bullet to the chest.”
“Yes. I saw it myself. So did everyone else. He took a bullet to the chest and was grazed in the neck, too.”
Mr. Brimhall nodded, jotted some more notes. “Now then, your father here mentioned another detail. Morphine.”
“Yes,” James nodded emphatically. “I heard a lot of talk from my room. Especially the first night. At one time, it was pretty much assumed that Madrid was going to die. I could even hear people talking about it outside in the street. I overheard that Indian doctor talking to Madrid’s father about how they’d been using laudanum and morphine to get him through the gunfight. I—” he paused thoughtfully. “I even overheard something mentioned to the effect that DarkCloud allowed it because Madrid didn’t think he’d make it through anyway.”
Mr. Brimhall nodded. “That makes sense.”
“Anyway, there was some talk about the morphine, how much to use, how badly he was hurt…” James paused, then hissed under his breath, “That damned medallion.”
“Ah, yes. The bullet,” Mr. Brimhall nodded. “Do you know there’s talk in Soledad that Saint Francis saved Madrid’s life?”
“It was a Saint Francis medallion,” Mr. Brimhall explained.
James snorted. “Oh, well then, if I had known he had such lofty connections, I would have said a couple Hail Mary’s first.”
The proclamation elicited the barest hint of a smile from his lawyer.
James grinned. “I also happen to know they were running low on morphine when I left, but I don’t know if low meant a couple day’s worth or a couple weeks.”
Mr. Brimhall nodded. “Could be useful. Anything else?”
James was silent a moment as he concentrated. “Not that I can think of offhand.”
“If you think of anything else, no matter how insignificant it might seem, let me know. I will make a point of stopping by briefly twice a day.”
Mr. Brimhall put away his papers, then followed the Judge to the door. There he turned and patted the satchel he held. “Yes. I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
“How do you have that figured?” James asked.
Mr. Brimhall smiled kindly. “Why, James Wakeman. You were taken advantage of by the most ruthless and dangerous criminal to ever enter these parts.”
“Why yes. This Johnny Madrid is a notorious killer, a gunfighter with a price on his head. He was hired by that town just because you expressed an interest in spreading your holdings further south and they wanted a monopoly on the new railhead. Madrid and his men terrorized you, broke into your house, stole items of value, destroyed personal property and when you ran into him in a restaurant in Salinas, he abused you verbally and threatened you. Later that night, one of his men came to see you to tell you that he’d be willing to testify against Madrid in court for you and that he planned to tell Madrid that he no longer wanted any part of his dirty dealings. You were concerned for this young man’s safety and admonished him to remain with you, however he felt certain that there was nothing to worry about. The next morning, though, you were worried about what this young man had told you. Therefore you decided to send a couple of your men to check on him, just to make sure Madrid didn’t get out of hand when the young man told him he wanted no further part in his methods of terrorism.
“However Madrid did take exception. And in the bloody gunfight, Madrid coldly and brutally shot down the young man. Unfortunately though your men were there, they were powerless to help and instead drew Madrid’s wrath. Madrid was kicked by a wounded horse, but being a heavy opium user, he was able to make his way back to Soledad.
“Madrid also had a contact up here. A local blacksmith who was feeding him information. His wife came to you, said her husband was going to beat her and their son, as he was in a drunken rage. She begged you to keep her and the boy safe. You agreed, not aware that the whole thing was a ruse; that she was just supposed to stick close by in order to overhear any useful information and send it on. She tells you that Madrid is planning to kidnap a local Soledad boy in order to get more money from the town. Hearing this, you immediately send some of your men down to protect the boy.
“At this point, you’ve decided things can’t continue like this. You head down to Soledad in an attempt to talk to Madrid, to get the problem resolved. However he’s waiting for you and as a warning to you about what he has planned if you don’t cooperate with the town’s plans, he brutally murders your bodyguard. The ensuing gunfight is simply you and your men trying to protect themselves. The blacksmith’s wife shows her true colors when she ends up causing such a commotion that you aren’t even able to protect yourself.
“The evidence that Madrid was quite aware that everything he was doing was illegal is apparent in his decision to go by his gunfighter name in an attempt to keep his family from finding out. His surprise at their arrival is indisputable to everyone who was there. He was caught in the act and knew it.”
Mr. Brimhall nodded, patted his satchel once again, looked from the Judge to James. “So, do I have it down correctly?”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” James smiled.
was kneeling beside the body of his mentor, the older gunfighter’s eyes filled
with pain…and relief. Beside him,
Johnny sensed the presence of his brother, Scott, and knew if he glanced up,
he’d see concern and worry. But
he couldn’t bring himself to look at his brother.
You had me,” Johnny quietly asked.
you missed on purpose,” Johnny replied.
left you something to remember me by, though,” Reveles answered then grimaced
back a wave of pain.
mentally felt the wound on his arm. “Why
didn’t you take me out?”
looked at him sadly. Nearby Johnny
felt Scott move, then a hand gripped his shoulder, yet he still couldn’t force
himself to look into his brother’s eyes.
so tired of the past,” Reveles answered, his voice raspy and weak, though his
ashen face was grim with a determination to finish. “The ghosts. They
come back to haunt. It’s too late
for me, but I hope we’ve destroyed one of yours.”
closed his eyes, felt tears of bitterness, swallowed tightly.
care of Johnny. Love him.”
flinched at the words, his eyes quickly opening. He saw Reveles staring with a startling fierceness that was
at odds to the words spoken. And
then, just as suddenly, the life flickered and grew dim, and the eyes lost their
shook his head. “No, Reveles!”
He put his hand on the lifeless chest.
“No! I don’t understand!
You can’t leave like this! You’ve
got to tell me! What am I supposed to remember?!”
Reveles’ eyes opened and he stared hard at Johnny. The pain, the tiredness, the sadness now gone.
Johnny. And remember.
I told you. I was a
desperate man. Bitter.
And though I taught you everything I knew, you were always different. I sensed—I knew—you were better than me... You never
coveted the glory, the fame. Praises, adoration, notoriety was never your goal.
So you never became desperate. Because
you never truly wanted to be a gunfighter. It wasn’t truly in you.
It’s a part you learned to play; while you waited.”
to really live. Waited for a place
to belong. Waited for acceptance, a
looked away, his eyes trailing to his hand on Reveles’ chest, confused,
embarrassed by his old mentor’s words.
why you left me,” Reveles continued softly. “You knew you couldn’t ride
with me any longer and keep your soul. You
sensed the emptiness in me and fled like light before the darkness.”
Reveles shook his head and sat up. “Didn’t
you hear anything I said?”
shifted backward, crossed his arms tightly, protectively.
“I’m trying. I’m trying.”
put a hand out toward Scott. “Look
at your brother.”
shook his head. “No.”
can’t.” Johnny put his head down and closed his eyes.
Johnny faltered, opened his eyes and glared down at his crossed arms.
“Because…he’s…he’s seen me.
He knows…what I’m really like.”
Johnny. He’s seen a part you
play. It’s not the real you.”
it is!” Johnny retorted fiercely, his eyes flashing as he glared at Reveles.
“Madrid’s who I am. A
gun for hire! A killer! A—”
Reveles interjected. “A ghost,
Johnny! Simply a ghost,” he
echoed more softly. “Madrid’s
just a ghost. And it’s time to
lay him to rest.”
shook his head. “I—I can’t.
I don’t know how.”
start with trust, Johnny. Trust,
hard work and the ability to face the past.
Only by facing it can you truly let go.
And you’ll only be able to let go when you’ve learned to trust.
And only you can decide if it’s worth the work…and the risk.
I can’t help you with that. But
there’s someone here who can.”
sucked in his breath, felt fear in his chest as Reveles shifted his gaze once
more toward Scott.
decide, Johnny. Is holding on to
the ghost of Johnny Madrid more important than a family, a home, a soul at
comfortable with Madrid,” Johnny whispered.
“Comfortable? Yes. But happy? Only you can decide that.”
Scott took another bite of the sandwich he held in his hands, then opened the door to his brother’s room. DarkCloud was standing, bent over Johnny’s bed. Immediately Scott pushed the door closed and made for the bed.
DarkCloud glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. “No,” he whispered, straightened up and took a couple steps toward Scott. “I heard a slight change in his breathing. He’ll probably be waking up soon. I’m going to go down and get some more tea and a bit of food for him. If he awakens before I’m back, try to keep him calm. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
Scott nodded and moved to the side of his brother’s bed as DarkCloud headed out the door. He gazed at his brother a few seconds before he leaned over and put a hand to Johnny’s forehead. He could still feel the warmth of a slight fever, but breathed a sigh of relief at the knowledge that it was abating, though slowly.
After trying to push himself too hard, and collapsing from the effort, Johnny had been forced to succumb to a pain-free, drug-induced, oblivious sleep for the rest of the morning. DarkCloud was not happy with the decision, but was also getting irritated with Johnny for constantly fighting him on the use of the medications they’d begun, and for pushing his body past the point of common sense and reason. A bit of exasperation Scott whole-heartedly shared with the doctor.
“Johnny,” he whispered to himself with a shake of his head. “What am I going to do with you?”
Johnny moaned softly, flinched.
Scott leaned in closer and put his other hand on his brother’s arm. “Johnny. It’s Scott.”
Johnny moaned again and rolled his head away. “Why? You had me.”
Scott’s brows furrowed. “Johnny. It’s okay.”
Another moan, a slur of incoherent words following. Scott sat down on the edge of the bed, moved both hands to his brother’s shoulders. “Johnny.”
Scott hesitated, suddenly knew what his brother was dreaming about, and he closed his eyes. And in his mind, once again, he was a witness to the startling transformation his brother could go through when the need to be Madrid arose. A survival skill his brother had been forced to perfect out of necessity and self-preservation.
Scott knew that Johnny had been particularly upset at having been drawn into the gunfight with Reveles. He also knew his brother felt both a sense of betrayal and guilt by what had happened with Reveles, and had felt uneasy at having Scott there as a witness to the events. Scott had intended to talk to his brother about it—had planned to do so once Johnny had been given a couple of days to recover. Yet somehow, once the couple of days had passed, it had become even more difficult to bring up such a clearly uncomfortable subject, especially as Scott would then have to ask the question that most bothered him: why did Johnny have a personal bounty out on him. While the sheriff may have seemed unconcerned, the idea that someone out there wanted his brother bad enough to pay for it, had bothered Scott deeply, yet he’d been unable to confront Johnny with his concerns. Instead, he’d kept his worrisome thoughts to himself and waited until he’d reached Lancer to talk to Murdoch about it. But Murdoch had not been much help…and had not really seemed surprised by the news. That knowledge had stunned Scott more than anything, though now he knew why. The Pinkerton report. And the fact that the Texas bounty was a mere drop in the bucket.
Scott opened his eyes as he felt Johnny flinch under his hand. Once more there followed a moan and a string of unintelligible words. Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder. “Johnny,” he softly called.
“Madrid’s who I am.”
Scott froze as Johnny shook his head, groaned softly, his eyes fluttered as if he was trying to force himself awake.
are the things you have to ask about…you must force out into the open if you
ever want to understand your brother. They
are a part of who he is. Harley—Wes—Reveles—Cisco
are all an intricate part of who Madrid is…who Johnny is.
Without them, there wouldn’t have been a Madrid—and without Madrid,
there probably would no longer be a Johnny Lancer.
Your brother would have been just one more dead statistic orphan down
around the border. You owe Johnny
the respect to learn about and accept the past, which made him who he is.
That past got him to where he is today…that past saved him…
Suddenly Johnny’s body convulsed under his hand….
A tremor passed through his body—actually enveloped him in a strangely disjointed way. Almost like an earthquake, moving in on all sides and from everywhere at once. It puzzled him, drew his attention away from the warmth of oblivious sleep.
Then as the tremor passed, he was suddenly seized by a cutting pain to his side and chest. Instinctively he tried to move away, yet the pain clenched more tightly, unwilling to loosen its stranglehold, and he heard a cry echo in his ears, recognized it as his own.
In mockery of the pain he was already in, the bodily earthquake began once more, and he gasped for breath, surprised at the intensity and swiftness with which it attacked.
He could hear the voice, had to mentally connect the appropriate muscles needed to open his eyes, blurred as his senses were by the crashing waves of pain.
Scott was leaning over him, his blue eyes dark with worry.
“Can you hear me? Try to hang on just a minute more. Can you do that?”
Johnny tried to open his mouth, but only managed a strangled groan as he rolled into a ball on his side.
He felt something touch his cheek, reacted strongly as the slightest pressure seemed to erupt into a firework of pain…tried to strike the object away.
Scott pulled the wet cloth away, was confused by his brother’s pain-filled groan. Something had to be done… Where’s DarkCloud…?
He tossed the rag back into the basin and bent down close to Johnny’s face. With one hand he grasped his brother’s shoulder while the other he gently slid under his cheek. “Johnny. Johnny. Look at me. Open your eyes. Johnny.”
Out of the haze of pain, Johnny heard his name called repeatedly. In sheer reflex he opened his eyes, but he didn’t even try to focus.
Scott saw that Johnny was in too much pain to understand him, knew his brother had reached a point where something had to be done. Quickly he glanced about the room, saw the laudanum bottle sitting on the table, grabbed it and flipped off the cork. Then he slid a hand under his brother’s shoulders, rolled him to his back, and lifted his head up off the bed.
As the bottle came into contact with his mouth, Johnny’s first instinct was to push it away, to offer up a sharp retort that it wasn’t necessary. But he couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop his teeth from chattering, and the cold sweat that bathed him was making it impossible to think clearly, began to lurch up through his belly, producing the strong urge to throw up.
Though his brain screamed at him to stop, he found himself struggling forward toward what he knew was in the bottle. Scott supported him with one hand and held the bottle to his lips with the other, as Johnny feebly made an attempt to grab it himself.
“Slow, Johnny. It’s going to take a bit to work,” Scott murmured softly as he pulled the bottle away. “Try to relax. DarkCloud will be back up in a couple of minutes. He went downstairs, but he said he’d be right back. Try to hang on, okay, brother?”
Johnny wanted to reply, wished to tell Scott he was doing just fine, dammit. But all he could do was envelope his chest tightly with his crossed arms in what he was sure was a futile attempt to keep his body in one piece.
Scott tightly gripped his brother’s knee while he leaned over and set the bottle back on the table, then grabbed up the rag, rewet it quickly, and brought it to Johnny’s brow. That Johnny was in pain was obvious. The tremors bordered on full-fledged convulsions, his skin was clammy and pale, his eyes wide and glassy, the breathing so harsh and broken by swallowed moans and chattering teeth, that it reminded Scott of the worst cases of scarlet fever he’d seen during the war.
“Where the hell’s DarkCloud,” Scott muttered under his breath as he leaned over to rewet the rag, already hot from Johnny’s feverish brow.
In answer, the door to the room opened and Scott quickly rose to his feet, stepping out of the way.
DarkCloud took one look at Johnny and hurried to the table where he sat down the tray he was carrying. He reached into the medical bag that was already on the table and drew out the wrapped syringe. “Sorry. It took me longer than I thought.”
Scott gave a shake of his head. “He’s pretty bad. I gave him some laudanum.”
DarkCloud nodded, casting another quick glance at his shaking patient. “How much?”
“I don’t know for sure. A couple of swallows.”
“Laudanum’ll take too long anyway,” DarkCloud replied as he turned back to pick up the morphine bottle.
Scott sat back down on the edge of the bed, put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. He had to grit his teeth against the urge to swear out loud at the circumstances that had reduced his brother to such depths of pain and desperation that he’d had no where to turn but to a medicine he knew he shouldn’t have started taking again. He found himself praying the same silent prayer that he’d wake up and find it had all been a bad dream, and that Johnny was once again his healthy, cynically humorous self.
then you’d have gone on your merry way—not truly forcing yourself to know
your brother. Remember—there’s
a reason—there’s something to be learned, to be gained—there’s a plan
and a reason for all of this…a reason. There
has to be a reason!……..
Two semesters of theology sure have come back to haunt you!
Johnny cried out, lurched to his side, almost rolling off the bed as the intense tremors left him gasping in pain. Careful to keep one hand on his brother’s arm, Scott started to slide down to allow DarkCloud next to the bed.
It was the first word he’d heard his brother utter and from the groan that quickly followed, Scott could tell that it had cost Johnny much in the way of concentration.
“Johnny, DarkCloud’s here. Breathe slowly. He’s getting some medicine ready.”
Johnny, his eyes closed, shivered, gulped for air, then tried to lift his head off the bed.
“Stay still!” Scott barked, sharper than he’d intended, and he glanced at DarkCloud. “Hurry up with that stuff, will you!”
DarkCloud gave him a curt nod, indicating he was ready, shoved a chair out of his way, then knelt down beside the bed.
“How much are you giving him?” Scott demanded.
“Just enough to take the rawness off the pain. He’s just had laudanum, too, which’ll be kicking in soon, so I don’t want to overdo it. He probably still won’t feel too well, but he’ll be doing a damn site better than he is right now, that’s for sure.”
Johnny had long past given up trying to listen—just knew that DarkCloud’s presence meant the pain was soon to stop. He could sense that Scott was nearby, tried to find the thread of emotion to that fact, wondered if Scott’s presence bothered him or was a comfort, but for now could feel nothing other than the immediate desire to end the pain.
The prick of a needle penetrating his skin elicited a hiss, not of pain, as he’d already passed the pinnacle where more pain could be registered, but a hiss of surprise and expectation. He held his breath, waiting for the cascading warmth that would soon chase the pain and tremors away and allow him to regain control of his own body.
Had it taken seconds or minutes, Johnny couldn’t tell, but the red haze of fire that had been engulfing him slowly melted away under the cooling fingers of welcome relief. He shivered, this time from cold, as his body responded to the quick drop in temperature, then just as quickly the cold was replaced by tingling warmth. Release at last.
And suddenly he realized he could think, that his brain could once again register facts and ideas other than escape. The roaring in his ears had been replaced by the alternating clanking and pinging of hammering drifting in through an open window, and he realized he was lying on his injured side. The thick, uncomfortable bandages were hard and lumpy. He could feel that his right arm was hanging limply over the side of the bed while his left was pulled in close to his body, though no longer clenched tightly against his chest, and his head, he realized, was teetering close to the edge of the bed.
He heard a voice—DarkCloud’s, and felt a movement on the bed as a hand squeezed his shoulder, then a cool cloth touched his exposed cheek, trailed along his neck. He was startled to find it felt so cool and so comforting. For a moment he just wanted to lie completely still, savor the release, the cooling cloth, the lethargic warmth that chased away pain.
It was Scott’s voice. Suddenly the scene from earlier, and his current agonizing throes came back to him like a bad dream, and he felt a desire to locate a dark hole to hide in.
Johnny doubted that faking sleep was going to waylay his stubborn brother. The only thing left to do was to open his eyes and complete his embarrassment by meeting the look of pity he knew he’d see.
Scott’s face wavered into view, as it took Johnny a few seconds to correct the focus, but instead of pity, he found only worry mixed with relief.
He blinked, gave a tight swallow as he attempted to push up and was shocked to discover that not all the pain had been dissolved. His eyes shot accusatorily toward DarkCloud as he involuntarily gave a hissed moan.
“Sorry,” DarkCloud reached out toward Johnny’s hand that hung over the side of the bed. “I’d rather not give you any more. You’ve just had a rather good dose of laudanum too, remember? Let’s see how you’re doing in a little while, okay?”
Johnny scowled, haltingly replied. “I’d be inclined to believe you, if—if I didn’t know— how much you love to torture me.”
DarkCloud shot a look of amused relief and laughed, Scott soon joining him as the heavy weight of tension dissipated.
Suddenly there was a sharp rap on the door and Murdoch entered. A vague smile of greeting passed his lips as he looked from DarkCloud to Scott, a scowl quickly taking over as he noted Johnny’s sweat-drenched body curled on its side.
“Johnny?” He quickly stepped forward, slamming the door behind him.
“It’s okay, now.” DarkCloud stood up. “I’m afraid I’d waited too long before giving him another dosage. He had seemed to be resting easy so I thought it best to leave him be…” DarkCloud finished apologetically.
At the mention of the morphine, Murdoch saw Johnny’s eyes close, a bitter tightness around his mouth appearing before he drew in a breath and raised his head off the bed, sliding his arm under for support as he slowly pushed his shoulders off the bed.
“Son,” Murdoch stepped between DarkCloud and Scott to put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Take it easy. Don’t overdo it.”
it easy. Don’t overdo it.
Words to an invalid…words used by those who are strong to those who are
weak… He’d been wrong…
Now his embarrassment was complete for the day…
He sighed, felt a twinge in his side and chest, opened his eyes and tilted his head back to look his father in the eye, his own expression carefully orchestrated to impart no information nor any feeling.
He finished pushing up to a sitting position, Scott standing to allow him to slide his feet around so that he could sit on the side of the bed. As he did so, the wound in his side surprised him with a quick bite, and he inhaled sharply, leaning suddenly over to his side, his elbow pressed in against the pain.
“DarkCloud?” Murdoch demanded.
Johnny hissed with disgust and pushed Murdoch’s hand away. “I’ll be fine,” he snapped and forced himself to sit straight. “Just give me a moment.”
“You don’t look fine to me,” Murdoch argued with a sharp look at DarkCloud.
“As I said, it was my fault. He had a rough go of it before—”
“There was no rough go of it,” Johnny contradicted curtly then forced himself to his feet.
DarkCloud cocked his head, his lips pursed thinly. “I don’t want you pushing it too far, Johnny.”
“Pushin’ it too far is the only way to get anywhere,” Johnny replied tersely.
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow and glanced at Scott before replying. “Pushing it too far could also land you back in bed under full sedation…and that is if you’re lucky and don’t put yourself in your grave.”
Johnny shot DarkCloud an ominous look, which was returned with quiet patience, then he took a belligerent yet shaky step away from the bed.
“Johnny—” Scott’s voice held a note of caution as he moved in closer, his hand outstretched in a gesture of assistance.
“Back off, Brother,” Johnny warned darkly, his eyes tight.
Murdoch reached out and grasped Scott firmly by the elbow. “He’s fine, Scott,” Murdoch said, then added in a low, even voice as Scott turned to him in disbelief. “Let him be fine,” he enunciated even more softly.
Scott blinked, then slowly nodded.
DarkCloud took a step back. “I brought you up some lunch, a stew and some fruit. There’s also some tea, but I’m not going to mix any medicine in it.” He paused, studied Johnny a moment. “How are you doing?”
“I’ve been better,” Johnny replied without humor.
DarkCloud grinned. “Well then, you drink up that tea and get some food in you. We’ll see how you’re feeling in another hour, give the medicines a chance to work.”
“Listen to your doctor, Johnny.” Scott added, but Johnny deliberately turned away.
DarkCloud paused, an unsatisfied look on his face. “I’m going over to the shop. I should be back within an hour. I’m expecting to get called out for Mrs. Wilkinson’s baby sometime in the next day or two. Her husband just caught me downstairs to say that she’d been up most the night with false labor.” He stopped and looked at Scott meaningfully. “That’s why it took me so long. Anyway, she’s due any time now, so I expect nature was just having a bit of a dress rehearsal.” He paused, his look adding extra weight to his next sentence. “I’ll need to talk to you later. Oh, and there’s a cup of coffee for you there, too.”
Scott smiled. “Thanks.”
“And, Johnny,” DarkCloud admonished, the sharpness of his tone drawing his patient’s attention. “Tell your brother how you’re doing, okay? Don’t make him guess.” DarkCloud started to turn away, then paused once more, an irritated look of warning on his face. “And would you drink all that tea?”
“Would you like me to go get us some lunch?” Murdoch asked after DarkCloud had left.
Scott shook his head. “I grabbed a sandwich earlier. You go on down and get something.”
Murdoch nodded, hesitated, then turned to Johnny. “I think I’ll go for a walk, maybe stop and check on Barranca again.” He smiled as his son looked up at him. “He’s doing just fine. Harley took good care of him. Perhaps you’ll be feeling well enough to go see him yourself in a day or two.”
Johnny dropped his eyes. “Yeah, maybe,” he answered vaguely.
Scott looked at his father, gave a hint of an apologetic shrug, then watched as Murdoch turned and left the room. He gave a long sigh, then mentally forced the discouraged look he’d seen on Murdoch’s face out of his mind. Abruptly he walked to the table, moved the plate off the tray, positioned the mug nearby, then finished by sliding one of the chairs over to the table. “Lunch is served, Sir,” he announced theatrically, waving his hand with a flourish as he moved to stand behind the chair like a waiter in a fancy restaurant.
Johnny raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Besides a doctor and a spy, you’ve also taken a turn as a French waiter, hmmm?”
Scott smiled. “Of course. It was the only way to meet those lovely French maids.”
Johnny snorted, shuffled to the chair and sat down.
Scott heard Johnny sigh in surrender. Then as his brother picked up the mug, Scott slid the extra chair around to the table, picked up his own mug, blew softly on the hot liquid, took a sip, then sat down just as Johnny was setting his mug back on the table. Discreetly, Scott shot a quick glance at the mug, noted it was half gone. As he looked up, he found his brother watching him, a half-smile on his face.
Scott smiled sheepishly. “Caught in the act, huh?”
“Red-handed,” Johnny replied. He leaned forward, picked up the spoon and absently stirred the stew. “Despite what you think, Brother, you’d have made one lousy spy.”
His attention on his lunch, Johnny missed the veiled look Scott shot him. Then with a shake of his head, Scott leaned back in his chair, rested his elbows on the arms and took another sip of his hot coffee.
Seemingly resigned, Johnny took a bite of the stew. Then with a sigh, he put down his spoon. “I’m really not hungry.”
“You know you need to eat.”
Johnny nodded, fingered the edge of the bowl then pushed it away. “I just can’t.”
“At least finish the tea, would you? You may not be afraid of DarkCloud’s wrath, but he terrifies me.”
Johnny snorted, looked up at Scott, his eyes crinkling slightly. “How about you drink it then?”
Scott laughed. “Nah. Got a feeling ole DarkCloud would suspect when he smelled my breath anyway. How about you finish it and I go get some shaving supplies instead?”
Johnny seemed to consider the idea then nodded. “I wouldn’t mind gettin’ rid of this,” he said as he scratched at his chin. “Itches somethin’ fierce.”
Scott stood up and tapped the rim of the half-empty mug. “Get going, then, or I’ll beat you.”
“A race, huh?”
Scott smiled. “Just give me half a chance and I’ll leave you in my dust.”
Johnny picked up the mug. “Don’t be so sure.”
Chuckling, Scott headed out the door to his room.
Murdoch stood, arms crossed rigidly in front of his chest, his face toward the Diablos. He stood between Rosti’s and the neighboring feed store. For several minutes he didn’t move, seemingly intent upon the endless barren, brown mountains which separated the Salinas Valley from the Lancer spread.
Arms still tight against his chest, Murdoch swung around and spied his caller. Relaxing his posture, he stepped up onto the boardwalk as DarkCloud walked toward him.
“He’ll be okay.” DarkCloud glanced toward the second floor. “I was just up there. The laudanum’s working now, so he’s feeling even better. I told them I’d be back up in another hour.” He then looked at Murdoch with a smile. “Scott’s planning on giving Johnny a shave.”
Murdoch managed a smile, then he lifted his gaze toward the upper windows and sighed. “This is going to take quite awhile, isn’t it?”
DarkCloud glanced at Murdoch and gave a cheerless nod of his head. “The effects of this narcotic will be felt for some time, I’m afraid.” DarkCloud sighed, then pursed his lips unhappily. “There’s a fine line between the good that this medicine does and the bad. And I’m afraid we—I—am not that clear on where that line should be drawn.” He sighed heavily again, then rubbed his forehead. “It can be a wonderful tool to control pain, but I feel—” he paused, shook his head. “I just feel like we don’t know what we’re doing with it.”
Murdoch nodded. “I understand.” He settled his hands on his hips and glanced down the street, quiet on this Sunday afternoon. Abruptly he walked to the edge of the boardwalk, then paused at its end. “There’s been a lot of pain in Johnny’s life,” he said without turning around.
DarkCloud nodded. “I’ve seen the scars.”
Murdoch was silent a couple of seconds. “How did he survive?” He turned around, his expression betraying the private torment behind the question. “How did he ever survive, DarkCloud?”
DarkCloud gave a sad shake of his head. “It must have taken a lot of will…a strong desire to live—”
“Hatred,” Murdoch interrupted bluntly.
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow.
Murdoch swallowed and looked away. “When Johnny came to the ranch, after I’d sent for him, there was a lot of hatred in him. Hatred for me. Bitterness.” He turned back to the doctor. “He had to raise himself when Maria—his mother—was killed. He had no one. No one. I wish I had known what had happened. I wish I could have helped.”
“There was no way for you to know.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Murdoch replied. “Johnny didn’t know I was trying to find him—or the truth that I hadn’t thrown his mother and him out to fend for themselves. Johnny blamed me for his mother’s death, for the way his life turned out…for the pain he had to endure. And those feelings are back now. When he lost his memory, those feelings took hold once more. I can feel it—see it—in his eyes... And I think to myself, I can’t face it again. Not again.”
“But it’s not the same this time,” DarkCloud argued softly. “Those feelings and those memories may be fresh and strong now, but they are tempered by the existence of those two years when he was home, when he was a part of the family. He just needs a little time to blend them together once again. It’ll take a little time, but it’ll happen.”
“I hope you’re right,” Murdoch sighed, was silent a few seconds. “Those scars on his back,” he paused, seemed to need to catch his breath before he could continue. “First time I saw those scars… It was shortly after he came to Lancer. We were under attack by a land pirate, a man he actually knew and had even worked with when he…back before.” Murdoch swallowed, bowed his head. “At one point, I came to believe Johnny may have been working with him, had decided to side with Pardee. But instead, Johnny made the decision to protect Lancer against this other gunfighter. He was wounded in the attack.” Murdoch paused, closed his eyes. “I—I had written him off—decided he wouldn’t be able to make the adjustment—wouldn’t be worthy of a share in my empire. But Scott had faith where I had none.” Murdoch opened his eyes, continued sadly, “I guess maybe I just knew too much.” He sighed, then shook his head. “After we had fought off Pardee and his men, Teresa, my ward, ran into the house to get hot water and cloths while Scott and I took Johnny into the house. I remember—I remember tearing the back off his shirt so that we could get to his wound…and that’s when I saw those scars…” Murdoch paused, swallowed with difficulty. “I was shocked…stunned… And that’s—” He swallowed again, had a hard time meeting DarkCloud’s gaze. “That’s when I realized just what the cost had been for my son, the price he’d paid for Maria and my stupidity, our inability to get along… And Johnny became more than the rogue embarrassment in the Pinkerton report, more than just a stranger who happened to share my blood. He became my son who had paid a high price to survive. A price no one should have to pay. And I—I gained respect for his determination to live.”
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow. “Did you ever tell him that?”
“No. No, he wouldn’t understand,” Murdoch answered with a defeated shake of his head as he turned away to stare down the street.
“You might be surprised.”
When Scott returned with the shaving supplies, he was pleased to find Johnny actually eating, and decided to go grab himself a bowl of stew while he had the opportunity.
The bowl of stew was promptly requisitioned and Scott was back upstairs within minutes. And while Johnny hadn’t shown much enthusiasm in his eating, he had eaten and this knowledge increased Scott’s confidence that they were finally on the right track. So Scott ate, allowing Johnny the opportunity to pick at his food, finishing a few more bites in the process. And as the hour wore on, Scott noticed his brother relaxing, his face no longer lined by pain. The effects of the medicine….
Before long DarkCloud had shown up and given Johnny a quick visual appraisal, while Scott explained that he planned to give his brother a shave. DarkCloud had approved of the plan, then informed them that he’d go take care of other business but would return shortly.
Scott returned their dishes, gathered a basin of warm water from Rosti, laid out the supplies, then set about giving his brother a shave. Roughly fifteen minutes later Scott was swiping the last vestiges of beard from his brother’s face. He’d been trying to hurry, as it hadn’t taken long before Scott realized what was supposed to be a minor diversion for his brother had turned into a major torment. Trying to sit still seemed to be a near impossibility for Johnny. Scott had tried to keep up a steady stream of conversation full of bits of news, Jelly’s new foal, Teresa’s garden, the two men who’d been newly hired back at the ranch….anything that could be discussed without creating an argument, as Scott was quite certain that having Johnny bolt upright while a knife was near his throat would have probably been heavily frowned upon by DarkCloud.
Things had gone well the first ten minutes or so, but as the project was nearing completion, Scott could tell that either Johnny was becoming increasingly bored with his narrative or else he was beginning to feel a need for the medicine. Johnny’s breathing was becoming faster and he’d started drumming his fingers on the arms of the chair all the while rocking one knee back and forth nervously.
Scott passed the shaving blade over the last spot, took another quick look to satisfy himself that the job was well done, then picked up the moist towel. “Finished,” he announced. And none too soon.
Johnny grabbed the towel from Scott’s hands and quickly wiped away any last remaining cream from his face. “Now I’ll have to add barber to your list of former occupations.”
“Only when I couldn’t find work as a spy,” Scott responded airily as he stepped back like an artist examining his masterpiece. “Well, look at that!” he continued with a slight chuckle. “Underneath that scruffy old beard, I found Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny’s eyes appeared over the towel as he momentarily paused, the towel still held to his face. He gave it another half-hearted swipe then brought the towel down to his lap. He sat quietly a second, seemed lost in thought.
Concerned, Scott’s brows furrowed. “Johnny?”
Johnny gave an off-handed shrug. “It’s nothin’, Scott. Just—” he stopped, shook his head, an embarrassed half-smile vaguely visible on his face. “It’s just nobody’s called me that in a long time. Lancer, I mean. It seems odd to hear it again.”
“I know,” Scott replied, then added hesitantly, “I’ve noticed that to everyone here, you’re Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny nodded, held Scott’s look a couple of seconds before he dropped it. “I can’t seem to lose him—the Madrid part, I mean. I’ve tried, but—” he shook his head and sighed.
Johnny looked up. “What?”
Scott leaned a hip against the large table and crossed his arms thoughtfully. “When did you start using the name Madrid? I know you told me once it was the name of a man who’d been like a father to you, but that he’d been killed while you were young. Did you and your mother always use that name?”
Johnny studied Scott a moment before replying stiffly, “No, I don’t think she ever used it.”
“What do you want to know, Scott, huh?” Johnny stood up, one hand remaining on the back of the chair. “It’s a name I decided to use when I needed one. And I needed a fitting name that would help me secure the respect, admiration…and fear…that I’d need for my profession.”
Scott seemed to consider the information, then careful to keep his voice and gaze even, he asked, “And did you gain the respect, admiration…and fear?”
Johnny inhaled, turned away to walk toward the window. “Yes.”
“And that was what you wanted?”
Johnny pivoted sharply, one hand gripping the windowsill. “Yes,” he replied tersely. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes darkly, walked the length of the room toward the bed. “’Cuz I had none.”
Scott paused and chewed his bottom lip, his heart heavy as he watched Johnny reach the bed, grip the bedpost for a moment, then turn and start toward the window once more. “Was it Reveles who helped you pick a name?”
Johnny halted, his expression clearly agitated now. “What’s with you, Scott? Why all the questions?”
“Because I want to know; I’m trying to understand.”
“Understand what?” Johnny demanded.
“Understand you, where you came from, what made you who you are.”
“Why the sudden interest?” Johnny scowled.
“I just feel that it’s time to know.”
“You mean you want to know why I became a gunfighter, don’t you?” Johnny challenged.
Scott met Johnny’s gaze unflinchingly. “Yes. That, too.”
A flicker of respect crossed Johnny’s face before he turned and walked toward the dresser near the far wall. Once he reached it, he stopped, put both hands on the top, then closed his eyes and leaned his head back. For a moment he didn’t move, then in a subdued yet tense voice he murmured, “Why don’t you go to Murdoch. He’s got a Pinkerton report on me I’m sure he’d let you read.”
“I know,” Scott answered simply. “He already offered.”
Though Johnny hadn’t appeared to make a move, his now clenched hands did not escape Scott’s notice.
“Kept you awake at night, didn’t it?” he asked, a hint of sarcasm now threading through his tone.
Scott shrugged. “I didn’t read it.”
“Why not?” Johnny demanded curtly before he pushed away from the dresser and started walking the length of the room to the door.
“Because, while I’m sure it’s a rather complete, neatly organized report full of dates, places and people, it won’t be able to supply me with what I really want to know,” Scott replied evenly. “Only you can do that.” He then shrugged with feigned disinterest. “Plus, my interest in reading material falls more in the line of poetry.”
Johnny shook his head, wiped his palms against his plain, cotton long-johns, turned and started for the window once more, his breathing starting to come in small, controlled puffs. “Read the report, Scott. I’m sure it’s got all you need to know.”
Scott sighed, disappointed that his attempt at humor had not cooled a rather hot topic. “Johnny, how about if you come and sit down.” Straightening up, he turned and grabbed up the pitcher of water. “I’ll get you something to drink.”
“I don’t need anything to drink,” Johnny snapped.
“Well, your pacing is making me nervous.”
“I could say the same for your stupid questions,” Johnny answered sourly.
Scott poured some water into the empty mug and placed it on the table. “Come on. Have a seat. And I’m sorry if my questions are bothering you.”
“I ain’t bothered,” Johnny retorted. “I just figure it’s none of your damn business.”
Scott poured a cup of water for himself and sat down in a chair, his eyes never leaving Johnny’s pacing form. “John. Come on, sit down,” he indicated the opposite chair. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
Johnny stopped, sighed deeply, rubbed both hands along his face then trailed them through his hair. He cast a wary glance toward the chair, like it was an animal ready to bite, before he crossed to it and sat down heavily. With a disgusted growl under his breath, which produced a barely suppressed cough, he leaned forward and pulled the mug towards him, taking a long drink before setting it back on the table. Without even looking at Scott, he knew he was being watched carefully and regretted that he’d snapped at his brother for no real reason. Scott was, after all, asking valid questions. It was just that Johnny wasn’t sure he felt ready to give the answers…or to go where those answers might lead next…
Scott watched his brother carefully, thought about apologizing again, but decided it would only make matters worse. He noticed Johnny’s avoidance in looking at him, that he was keeping his eyes on his hands…hands that were now betraying his rising need for more of the medicine. He watched as his brother flexed his fingers a couple of times, clenching and unclenching them. Then with a sigh, they were then brought to his forehead where he rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and hid his face behind his palms.
Scott leaned forward, concerned. “Johnny, you okay?”
“Reveles said I needed a name,” Johnny said, his voice low, almost muffled behind his hands. “I’d just out-shot him for the first time. ‘Course they were a line of different sized sticks stuck in the ground—and they don’t shoot back at ya. But it was the first time….”
“So, what am I s’pose to call you, now, huh?”
Johnny leaned back against the rock to study his mentor. Reveles, though only slightly taller than average, seemed to carry himself with an attitude that made even taller men feel as if they didn’t quite measure up. But now he leaned casually on his side and stared across the campfire at Johnny, his dark eyes reflecting the flames. Johnny blinked as a breeze momentarily blew the smoke into his face.
“You know,” Reveles continued,
absently picking up a small twig and flicking it into the fire.
“You gotta have a name for yourself now, Juanito.
Can’t just go callin’ you Johnny, el pistolero.”
glanced down at his own folded hands, also reached for a twig, thought about
sending it into the fire, but decided to snap it instead.
laughed. “There’s a helluva lot
of Johnny’s, my boy. And I think
you’re destined to rise above the rest. I’m
just tellin’ you, you oughta think about it.
Need somethin’ to bend a person’s ear…catch and hold their
interest, you see.”
watched as Johnny bent his dark head, picked up another twig and began to
absently drag it through the dust in front of him.
got another name,” Johnny whispered.
you do. Didn’t you mention your
mother was a Rivera?”
head snapped up. “I can’t use
raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
eyes darkened then he dropped his gaze. “I
can’t use her name,” he murmured. “She
wouldn’t,” he paused and shook his head before looking back up.
Reveles was surprised to read a flicker of sadness in the young man’s
eyes, though his young protegee quickly masked it before continuing tightly,
“She wouldn’t have wanted this for me—she—” Johnny glanced back down
and resumed tracing with the stick. “She used to have dreams…dreams that often came true.”
waited, expected Johnny to continue, but he didn’t. “So. She was
gifted…a seer. That is good.”
looked back up; sighed, snapped the twig then threw both pieces into the fire.
“Not really,” he said as he leaned back heavily against the rock and
clasped his hands between his bent knees. “She
said she dreamed she’d marry the man who fathered me.
She said,” Johnny faltered, glanced up at the night sky. “She said it came to her in a dream that she was pregnant
and must marry the man. Her
father—he was not pleased at first. He
had wanted my mother, his favorite daughter, to marry the son of one of his
friends. But my mother refused.”
went against her father’s wishes?” Reveles looked impressed.
merely nodded. “She was as
beautiful as she was willful and wild.”
raised an eyebrow at the description, but said nothing.
continued, “She told her father she was to marry the gringo deputy.”
Reveles laughed loudly. “You got
a lawman for a father?!”
gave a broad, derisive snort, picked up another twig and tossed it into the
fire. “He ain’t my father!”
gringo bastard tossed me and my mother out of the house one night when I was
two,” Johnny continued angrily, his hands suddenly clenched into tight fists.
“We would have been food for the mountain lions and coyotes, but my
mother had seen in a dream that he would turn on us—that he was ashamed of his
Mexican wife and half-breed son! We
were nothin’ to him but an embarrassment.
He was gringo, and he didn’t want a reminder of the mistake he’d made
put a hand out and laughed amiably in an attempt to dispel Johnny’s rising
anger. “Well, good thing you left
when you did! Can you imagine Mr.
Lawman havin’ a gunfighter as a son?”
shrugged bitterly, his voice once more calm, though his eyes still flashed with
barely controlled anger. “He was
a rancher, really. Just was holding
a deputy job when he met my mother. After
they were married, he went back to his ranch.”
that? Ever been there?”
expression became icy and malignant. “No,
I ain’t looked him up—but I plan to someday.
I plan to look him up and down real hard and let him feel fear as I
decide whether he’s worth the air he’s breathin’.”
wicked grin suddenly crossed Reveles’ face. “You could use his name,” he
suggested. “That oughta rattle
his innards some when he hears ‘bout you!”
snorted loudly and leaned forward. “No.
I don’t want him to know nothin’ ‘bout me—‘til I’m in front
of him and it’s too late. Then
he’ll know. Then I’ll tell him that the embarrassment he’d hoped
he’d destroyed has returned to claim revenge…revenge for my mother’s
death…and for my life.”
watched the flash of hatred and bitterness.
He was surprised at the ferocity, as Johnny had generally displayed a
subdued, though quietly intense temperament.
He’d been a studious apprentice and now an unpretentious companion.
In the close to two years the boy had spent with him, he’d very rarely
mentioned any family, or even anything to do with his past.
In some ways, it was like he’d fallen out of the sky that day he’d
ran into him beside the road. At
first he’d been amused yet rather intrigued by the dirty young boy who’d
tried to hold him up. He’d even
been surprised to learn he was about thirteen, as his short, slight build had
made him appear younger.
misgivings, Reveles had let the young boy tag along with him.
At first he treated him like little more than a well-trained dog, but
then he realized there was a lot of intelligence behind the dark, hungry, blue
eyes. He fed him, gave him a place to sleep, even bought him a horse, while
Johnny took care of the camp chores, oiled his guns, ran his errands.
one day, after a few months, Johnny had come up to Reveles while the gunfighter
was adjusting his specially modified revolver.
Reveles had looked up and was surprised by a strange light in the boy’s
is it?” Reveles had asked.
me to shoot. I don’t want to have
to fear anything or anybody, never again. I
want people to either respect me or fear me. I want to be like you.”
had slowly raised an eyebrow, studied the determined look on the young boy’s
face. He had read in his words not
just a hunger and desire for power, but a desperate need to control his own
you think you’ve got what it takes to become a gunfighter?” Reveles had
given the words a sarcastic lean.
haunting, blue eyes had never wavered. “I
know I can be the best gunfighter there ever was,” he stated boldly, yet the
daring statement lacked the insolence one would expect.
Instead the boast was given almost matter-of-factly.
found himself laughing at the audacious claim.
“And what makes you so sure of that?”
I have nothing to lose……”
shook the memories off, looked across the campfire at his protégé and asked
once more, “So what name do you plan to use?”
Reveles squinted in confusion.
about Madrid? It’s a damn sight
far away if you’re thinkin’ of goin’ there!”
shook his head. “I’m gonna use
Madrid as my name.”
cocked his head thoughtfully, bent off a long piece of wild grass and chewed on
the end. “Yup.”
He nodded appreciatively. “Madrid.
Johnny Madrid. I like it.
What made you think of that?”
took a deep breath and his eyes hardened as he gazed off through the fire.
“Madrid was the name of the only man who wanted me—protected me—died
trying to save me and my mother.” He
looked back at Reveles. “It is a
fitting name to wear while I seek revenge.”
revenge. Revenge on those who are
responsible for destroying the helpless, for taking advantage of the weak and
innocent. My stepfather, he
fought—even though he must have known there was no chance to survive.
I was young, but still I remember the screams of his death, of his
pleading for our lives, yet he never begged for his own life.”
Johnny paused, though his focus was lost in time.
“It is well that I take his name and seek revenge.
Revenge against all who try to hurt those who can’t defend
studied the young man in front of him. He
mused how he was so young, yet seemed so old.
“Admirable,” he murmured. “But
I wouldn’t put too much stock into protecting the helpless.
You’ll soon realize, they usually don’t pay.”
don’t care about the money.”
chuckled. “Just try eatin’
gratitude for a coupla weeks. Then
you’ll start caring about the money.”
gonna protect those that have no one else to turn to.”
Juanito, my boy!” Reveles shook his head.
“Listen. You think the
helpless and the poor, they’re gonna take care of you when you need it? Ha! They got a way of turnin’ on you just as well
as the rich bastards. You’re
gonna learn that you’re only as useful as you are good.
And your reputation is gonna be what gets you the jobs.
Now you listen to me, and listen good. Better to work for the money; at
least you got something to show for it when it’s all said and done.
‘Cuz when it’s all said and done, you ain’t gonna have nothing but
Scott waited, wondered if his brother had reached the end, hated to interrupt if there was more. But then his brother suddenly bit back a soft moan, inhaled sharply, his hands going down to grip the arms of the chair while he leaned his head back.
“Johnny?” Scott quickly stood up, immediately coming to his brother’s side.
Johnny opened his eyes, smiled weakly. “Okay, consider yourself informed. I feel like shit.”
Scott couldn’t help but smile despite Johnny’s waxy complexion. He put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I’ll go get—”
He stopped as the sound of approaching footsteps in the hall, then turned expectantly, relief showing on his face as DarkCloud entered the room.
DarkCloud shut the door. “Just in time, I take it.”
The Indian went around to the far side of the table and opened the medical bag. As he began to gather his needed supplies, he motioned toward Scott.
Reluctantly Scott released his hold on his brother’s shoulder, though Johnny gave no indication that he was even aware Scott had left. He’d closed his eyes once again and was breathing slowly and deeply, obviously intent on holding the rising pain at bay.
“What do you need?” Scott asked softly, though his attention was still on his brother.
“What I need,” DarkCloud said as he picked the small vial of morphine up off the table, “is to have you learn how to do this.”
“What?” Scott demanded, his eyes wide in alarm. He quickly shot a look in his brother’s direction before continuing in a more subdued voice. “I don’t think—”
“Scott,” DarkCloud interrupted. “I’m going to be off delivering a baby soon. Now it may only take a matter of a couple of hours, or it may take most of a day, I don’t know. Babies have a habit of doing the unexpected at the most inconvenient times.” He paused and with a playful smile, leaned over to nudge Scott. “It’s part of their charm.” He straightened back up and held out the bottle of opaque liquid. “What I do know, however, is that we can’t afford to have another episode like what happened this morning. So watch carefully. I need to show you how much I’m using at this point.”
“I don’t really think this is a good idea,” Scott protested.
“I agree,” Johnny added as he leaned forward with a soft groan. “I think I’d rather do it myself.”
“Let me consider that option for a moment,” DarkCloud said as he cocked his head thoughtfully. “No.”
Johnny turned just enough so that he could shoot DarkCloud a withering look. “You’d rather have Dr. Scott, the Boston Barber, to do it?”
“I’d rather we didn’t have to do this at all,” DarkCloud replied dryly. “However, since we don’t have that as an option, I’ll give you a choice. It’s either your brother here, or I’ll ask your father.”
Johnny’s look became positively lethal. “DarkCloud, some day, I got a feelin’ we’re gonna come to blows.”
“Most probably. But until that day, I’m in charge.” He turned back to Scott and held up the vial and syringe once more. Carefully he drew a small amount of the morphine into the syringe, sat the bottle back on the table then held the syringe out for Scott’s examination. “First make sure there are no air bubbles, like this,” DarkCloud pressed the end of the syringe slightly until a couple of small beads of the medicine dripped out of the point. “Did you see how that’s done?” he asked, glancing up at Scott.
Mouth dry, Scott managed a weak nod, then shifted uncomfortably, aware that Johnny was watching him.
“The amount is really important, Scott. You must understand that. Too much will put us back where we were a few days ago, or even worse could kill him.”
There was a harsh snort from Johnny as he leaned his elbows tiredly on to the table, his hands clasped into a fist that pressed against his forehead. “Here’s your chance, Scott.”
Scott turned with irritation. “I don’t find this funny, Johnny.”
Johnny barely opened one eye, his face now shiny with sweat. “Neither do I, Boston.”
Scott pursed his lips, watched as Johnny, his eyes once again closed, lowered his head onto the top of the old wood table with a low moan.
“I’d like to have you do this yourself,” DarkCloud continued.
Scott shook his head, his face suddenly losing its color. “I don’t think so. I—I never really watched…” he faltered.
“DarkCloud,” Johnny’s voice cut in, harsh, yet low, a plea hidden within a growl. “He doesn’t want to do it. Don’t make him. I can do it myself.”
DarkCloud gave the figure lying on the table a small shake of his head. “Johnny, take a look at your hands. You’re shaking so badly, you couldn’t tie a knot, and you want to go sticking a needle in your arm?”
“I’ll take care of it before it gets too bad,” Johnny replied tightly without opening his eyes.
“No, you won’t,” DarkCloud countered. “Because you’ll push it just like you always push it. It’s just how you are, Johnny.”
In answer, Johnny muttered an unintelligible word.
Heart thumping uncomfortably against his chest, Scott put a hand up. “I’ll do it.”
DarkCloud looked at him seriously. “Then you pay attention this time.”
Scott managed a curt nod, though he could feel sweat suddenly beading across his brow. The thought that just the day before, he’d been threatening to do exactly what now made him panic, ironically occurred to him. Only then, he’d been angry—angry and irritated with his brother. And desperate. But now he wasn’t. He felt only sadness and empathy. Okay, and a rising panic.
“Now then,” DarkCloud said as he stepped to Johnny’s side, “give me your arm.”
Johnny unfurled his arm from where he’d had it crossed over his head. His face was now turned away and Scott couldn’t see if his eyes were open or not. In either case, he was relieved not to have his brother watching him; the whole thing was going to be difficult enough.
DarkCloud bent over, drawing Johnny’s arm toward him, positioning it flat on the table. He gave another nod to Scott who reluctantly leaned over.
Scott had a hard time keeping his eyes on the bruised arm. Ever since he’d arrived nine days earlier, he had tried, whenever possible, to avoid facing the reminder of what had happened the previous month…just like you tried to avoid Johnny’s past for the last two years…
“…and I know it’s a bit difficult, but try to find a spot that hasn’t been used too much. I try to alternate which shoulder I use…”
Scott blinked, realized he’d missed part of what DarkCloud had been saying.
DarkCloud looked up at him, the syringe now poised over the muscle of Johnny’s shoulder. “Are you listening?”
“Of course,” Scott replied with a hint of irritation.
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow, then turned back to his work. “Relax, Johnny.”
“I’m trying,” Johnny replied in a muffled, terse voice.
Scott watched DarkCloud give a slight shake to his head then he tightened his grip under Johnny’s arm and slowly forced the metal needle into the skin. “Take your time, no need to hurry. You only need to go about a half an inch in, just enough to reach the muscle. Pull the plunger back gently to check that you’re not in a vein, and if there’s no blood, then push the plunger in so,” DarkCloud said as he slowly released the drug. Finished, he quickly removed the needle, a drop of blood instantly welling up where the needle had been withdrawn.
“And don’t jerk,” Johnny added, his voice still muffled beneath the elbow of the other arm.
Scott suddenly released his breath, realizing he’d been holding it the whole time, and watched as DarkCloud produced a small square of cloth, which he pressed against the spot where he’d injected the morphine.
“Are you sure you’ve got that now?” DarkCloud asked as he straightened up.
Scott wordlessly nodded, quite certain that he looked as sweaty and pale as his brother looked, and positive that DarkCloud knew he wasn’t sure of anything.
DarkCloud studied Scott silently for a second, seemed to want to say something then turned away. “After you’re done, run a small amount of alcohol through the syringe, wipe it off, and wrap it back up, okay?”
“I’ve watched you do that,” Scott answered, hoping his voice didn’t betray his total uncertainty of the entire event.
The look he received from the doctor told Scott that DarkCloud saw right through his misgivings and reluctance. “Scott?” his voice was a soft question.
Scott shook his head curtly, his eyes on his brother’s still form. “I’ll do it.”
DarkCloud hesitated, then nodded and put the supplies away. When he turned back, he gave Scott a reassuring smile. “I’m going down to get something to eat. I’d like to see Johnny take a nap this afternoon.”
“I don’t nap,” came Johnny’s still muffled voice.
DarkCloud smiled, replied to the huddled form, “Siesta. I meant to say siesta.”
“Hmmm,” Johnny murmured in agreement.
DarkCloud turned his attention back to Scott. “I’ll be a few minutes. I need to catch your father if I see him. Do you need anything?”
Scott nodded. “No, thanks.”
DarkCloud walked over to Johnny and bent down. “I’d also like a chance to change those bandages of yours when I return, if you don’t mind.”
“I was wondering when you’d say that,” Johnny’s voice responded sarcastically from its hidden depths.
DarkCloud gave Johnny’s upper back a friendly pat, nodded again to Scott, and left.
After the door closed, Scott took a deep breath and forced his tense muscles to relax. He was dismayed to find just how the last few minutes had shaken him. Then the words spoken by Harley came back to him…We’ve been to Hell and back together. We’ve seen each other at our darkest…at our worst… That’s our bond. That’s what you envy. So that’s my gift to you…
He sighed again. Well, if a trip to Hell and back was the only way to reclaim Johnny, then so be it. He just wished the trip didn’t have to be so bumpy.
Suddenly Johnny moved, a slow unfurling of limbs, and he lifted his head, his eyes searching out Scott’s. There was a hesitation, an undercurrent of reluctance to confront the other full-on, but both sets of eyes managed to overcome the urge to withdraw in an evasive maneuver.
Johnny lifted his hand, made a faint motion. “It’s okay, Scott. Sorry you had to—”
“No,” Scott stepped forward. “I should apologize. It’s just, well, DarkCloud took me by surprise, is all.”
Johnny managed a wry grin. “His specialty.”
“How are you doing now?”
Johnny shrugged, glanced down at his hands lying palm up on the table. “Better,” he replied softly. He sighed. “Scott, I—”
Scott waited. “What?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nothing,” he replied, then closed his eyes, leaned his head back against the chair and took a deep breath. “Don’t tell DarkCloud, but I think a nap is just what I need. It’s been a long day already.”
Scott smiled, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “Sure, Johnny.” He hesitated, wondered if his brother would look at him again, but he seemed content to just sit with his head back against the chair.
Avoiding me. Avoiding me, because I almost let him down.
I’m trying… But it was
just so unexpected…
“And I’m sure you could use a break,” Johnny suddenly stated, his eyes still closed. “I’ll be fine for a bit, if you want to go downstairs, or take a walk, or something.” He took in a quick breath, opened his eyes, and straightened up, a slight wince showing in his face at the action, which he quickly hid behind a reassuring smile. “Really, Scott. Give yourself a break. Go grab a beer. If you really want to do me a favor, sneak one past DarkCloud.”
Scott tried to smile, but knew it couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Sure, Johnny. You know I used to be a smuggler, too, don’t you?”
Johnny smiled. “Comes as no surprise.”
Reluctantly Scott stood up, gave his brother the best smile he could manage under the circumstances, then left the room. Once he had the door closed, he put his palms out against the opposite wall, leaned over, and with closed eyes took a long, slow, deep breath. He was reminded of an episode, years earlier, his first semester at Harvard. Rhetoric class. There had been an assignment given, a speech to be debated and delivered in front of the entire class, and some way Scott had gotten the dates mixed up with a Theology term paper. He’d entered the Rhetoric class woefully unprepared and the professor and the other students had torn him to shreds in the topic he was to have prepared. He had vowed never to let that happen again—and he hadn’t. But that was the feeling he was left with now. A feeling of being unprepared and of having failed in a very important test. He had failed Johnny. He took another deep breath, opened his eyes and stood up. Then he made another quiet vow to himself. Johnny would never, ever see him taken by surprise like that again.
Johnny heard the door close, had noted the hint of sadness on his brother’s face and knew he had made his brother feel as if he were being sent away. But he needed some time to himself—a chance to recover some firm footing again. DarkCloud’s unexpected decision had surprised him almost as much as it had Scott.
Then there were Scott’s questions. Questions which had left him feeling vulnerable and confused, a feeling he neither welcomed nor wanted; it reminded him too much how he’d felt right after his mother had died…and how he’d felt when he’d realized Reveles had been playing with his life, too. It had been hard to accept that he was as much an amusement or an experiment to Reveles than an adopted son, though Johnny had wholly accepted Reveles in the part of stepfather.
Once again, Johnny my boy, you learned the hard way not to trust anyone. They’ll only disappoint you.
He glanced across the table to the bed, thought about lying down but realized he’d probably only just be falling asleep when DarkCloud would return to change his bandages. He put a hand to his side, pressed carefully around the wound. With wry amusement he wondered at the immediacy of the morphine. Just moments ago, the pain from his chest wound was so bad that he could hardly breathe, and the wound in the back had felt like a hot knife. But where there had recently been pain, there was now instead only a strange numbness.
He shook his head. He didn’t like this morphine; it acted too quickly. He preferred the laudanum. There you could feel it slowly working…and slowly wearing off. This was too much like being drawn on from behind. It snuck up on you, leaving you feeling disoriented and woefully unprepared, and he didn’t like being unprepared. He couldn’t understand why DarkCloud insisted on dragging this out. He always preferred to face his enemy straight on.
He stood up, stretched gingerly, felt only a twinge, picked up the mug then went to the side table and refilled it with water. He hoped Scott would be able to get him a beer; he was getting mighty sick of tea and water.
“You were looking for me?” Murdoch asked as he walked up to the bar.
DarkCloud nodded. “I need to talk to you, if you have a moment,” he said.
Murdoch nodded, leaned against the counter. “What about?”
“Well, first of all, I want you to be aware that I’ll probably be gone for awhile in the next day or two, Tuesday at the latest I’d think, as Mrs. Wilkinson is due with that baby of hers any day. I just showed Scott how to administer the morphine,” he paused, looked apologetic, “Thought maybe it’d be easier for Johnny if he did it.”
Murdoch nodded grimly. “How’d that go?”
DarkCloud shrugged. “He’ll do it if he needs to.”
Murdoch nodded again. “Anything else?”
“Yes. We’ve got a problem. I’m running out of morphine. I’m going to need to send someone up to Salinas to get some more.”
“I thought you had enough for awhile,” Murdoch frowned. “Are you using it up that fast?”
“No,” DarkCloud shook his head. “I thought I’d be fine for at least another week or so, but I just found out this morning that the extra bottle I have could be tainted. It doesn’t have a proper seal and I don’t want to risk using it.”
“How many days until you run out then?”
DarkCloud frowned. “Three days, four at the most. I wish I had known this a couple days ago. When the Sheriff headed up to Salinas I could have sent someone along. Or even when Harley left yesterday. I’m going to send a note to Matthew, tell him what’s happened and ask if he could go up tomorrow.”
Murdoch seemed to consider the idea. “I wonder if he’d mind if I went along.”
“Went where and with whom?”
Murdoch and DarkCloud turned as Scott walked up. He settled his hands on his hips as he regarded the two expectantly.
“Salinas. With Matthew,” Murdoch answered.
Scott raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Well, that answers where and with whom. Now how about telling me why?”
Murdoch nodded toward DarkCloud. “Apparently we’re running low on morphine. DarkCloud just informed me that the last bottle he has could be bad. It isn’t sealed properly.”
Scott glanced at DarkCloud.
DarkCloud nodded. “Those things sometimes happen in shipping. It’s a good thing I discovered it, though.”
“Murdoch,” Scott looked displeased. “That’s a long way. Why don’t I go up instead?”
Murdoch shook his head. “I think it’d be better if you stayed here. Better for Johnny, in any case. DarkCloud’s just informed me that you know what to do if he’s gone. I don’t. Besides, I’d like to send a wire back to the ranch, keep Jelly and Teresa informed of what’s going on.”
At Scott’s dubious expression, Murdoch grimaced. “Well, not really informed of everything, but let them know we’re okay, that Johnny’s okay, and we’ll be returning before too much longer.”
His expression still one of opposition, Scott asked, “When do you have to go?”
“Tomorrow. If Matthew could be ready.”
Scott shook his head. “I don’t like the idea of you going up without me, but I suppose.” He shrugged. “Maybe you could stop by and see Harley. Tell him ‘thank you’.”
Murdoch smiled and nodded his head. “I think I could do that.”
Eyes closed, Johnny stood in the middle of the room, face hidden from view, as he deliberately and slowly massaged his forehead. He sighed repeatedly, more from a desire to center himself, clear out his thoughts and his mind, than an action of lament. After a moment, he dropped his hands and opened his eyes, and as he did so, he caught sight of a wooden frame lying on the top of the large dresser. He went over to it and fingered the rough wood a second before picking it up. It was an old mirror.
He held it a second, then hesitantly tilted it so that he could see his reflection. As his face wavered into view, he let out a breath, surprising himself with the strange relief he felt on finding his reflection in its smoky depths. But his relief was short-lived as he realized, with some dismay, just how sick he really looked. As he put a hand to his face, he wondered if letting Scott give him a shave had been a good idea, as his cheeks were hollow and sunken, his coloring unnaturally pale. His eyes, dull and void, looked back at him as if from the bottom of a deep, empty well. He looked a lot older than he had just a month ago, drained and devoid of life.
Subconsciously his hand went to his chest.
An empty well: drained, worn out and depleted…that was how he felt.
His sigh this time was one of quiet admission. As he went to lay the mirror down, he noticed there were ridges along the back of the dresser to hold it upright. He paused a second, then resolutely set the mirror into the grooves, positioned it, then ran his hand down his face to the wound on his neck. Silently he tilted his head to get a better look, a bitter smile crossing his otherwise expressionless face as he reflected on how close that bullet had come to ending his life right there.
Instead he was now left with a red, raw, still swollen wound that though on a solid path to healing, would still leave him with a scar, a rather visible one this time.
Perhaps he’d have to get into the permanent habit of wearing a bandana, he mused.
With his eyes locked on his reflection, he took two steps backward and lowered his hand to the cloth bandage across his chest. The mirror, though, was small and he could only make out the top half of the bandage.
Impulsively, he turned and went to the table, opened the medical bag and withdrew a pair of scissors, then quickly walked backed to the mirror. With a sudden urgency he began to cut away the bandages, the fabric falling with a faint rustle to the floor. As the last strip fell away, he tossed the scissors on the table, took a deep breath, adjusted the mirror once more and stepped back.
Immediately his eyes were drawn to the dark purple, depressed laceration in the center of his chest, the edge of which was thick, puffy and seeping, the heart of a multi-colored bruise that radiated outward, gradually lightening to a yellowish-green as it reached his shoulders.
He looked down at his chest, slowly lifted a hand to gingerly touch the area, felt compelled to by the lack of pain worthy of such a wound. He knew damage such as that deserved unbelievable agony, a constant biting, incapacitating pain.
one that would remind you that you are alive.
now it’s dulled by the use of DarkCloud’s drugs.
He stared at the wound a moment, almost seemed unable to comprehend that it existed, then he slowly shook his head and looked back up at the mirror. “How the devil did you manage that one, Madrid?” he muttered softly.
When his reflection refused to answer, he gave a derisive snort and turned his attention to the wound in his side.
He hadn’t seen it in awhile, was pleased to see that, though still ugly, the entrance wound was scarring over nicely. He had to twist slightly and hold his arm out of the way in order to get a good look at the wound in his back. The signs of infection which he’d last remembered seeing were now gone, yet it still looked far from being healed. He twisted a little further in order to get a better look, but was pulled up short by a jabbing pain. He hissed a curse under his breath and held his position as he waited for the pain to subside. Once the initial shock and surprise was overcome, he let out his breath and gave the wound another bitter glance before turning back to the mirror.
His eyes stared back coldly, blood-shot and shadowed by dark circles. He put a hand to his face, rubbed his eyes in a gesture of fatigue then brushed back the long hair that hung in his face. The action was accompanied by another drawn-out sigh as he bitterly wondered what course to follow next.
Madrid, you’ve been through this before…
… “I’m trying to understand…”
Johnny glanced back down at his chest wound, the vision of his brother’s stunned and panic-stricken face appearing to him; a look that would be forever engraved in his memory. He’d witnessed it as he felt himself collapsing in Scott’s arms, the effects of the morphine, the wounds, along with the shock of his returning memory, had all combined to render him speechless and immobile. He clearly remembered the feeling of death descending upon him and the fierce bitterness as he realized his brother was there as a witness to his ending…the death of a gunfighter in a dry, desolate town in the middle of nowhere. And the look on Scott’s face as Johnny’s life seemed to slip away, drain through his limbs to pour out into the dust at their feet. Yet even as the heavy darkness descended, Johnny had a final desire, a last wish, to let Scott know that he remembered…before it was too late. And the words: “I’ve been gone so long…”
They were all he could say, yet he hoped they would be enough to reach Scott, to let him know…then maybe he’d understand.
Or would he?
Johnny opened his eyes again, glanced sadly at his reflection. He wondered if Scott really understood what a long, ugly trip he was getting himself into. He doubted it.
He took a deep breath, felt the twinge of pain, welcomed the physical reminder of his existence, placed his hands on the edge of the dresser, and with elbows locked, he let his head drop forward.
Would he be able to make peace with his past? Would Scott and Murdoch? They no longer had the option of discreetly ignoring a painful subject. He’d hoped by trying to fit in, by learning to toe the line, that the past could be erased. But it wasn’t going to be—at least not for him. His past was filled with too many dark areas that were unable to withstand the light of day, the light of a normal life.
He was going to have to decide if he was Madrid or Lancer. Madrid would be easier—no one to answer to, no need to prove or redeem. Lancer meant facing his former life, owning up to his history before those he admired, paying for his debts…
And there were a hell of a lot of debts…
DarkCloud pushed open the door then froze in mid-step, almost sending an unprepared Scott stumbling into him from behind.
Confused and startled, Scott opened his mouth to protest, but was cut short by a sharp, warning look from DarkCloud. Unable to see past the half-opened door, Scott stepped back while he shot a quick glance back to his father, who also stood waiting in the hallway.
DarkCloud stepped into the room then pushed the door almost closed behind him. He knew Scott and Murdoch were anxious about his strange behavior, but the sight of Johnny, leaning forward dejectedly against the dresser, the bandages lying on the floor around him, had startled him. DarkCloud quickly took stock of all visible wounds, but nothing appeared damaged. That knowledge, in itself, brought its own relief. Yet Johnny’s stance was still unsettling.
Johnny stiffened, raised his head, caught the reflection of DarkCloud in the mirror. “Wasn’t quite my intention.”
“What wasn’t? The mess you made of my work?” DarkCloud replied with forced levity as he carried a new mug of tea to the table.
Johnny shook his head without smiling. “No, that was deliberate. Needed to know where I stood.”
“So, now maybe you understand why we need to take it slow?”
Instead of answering, Johnny let his head sag forward once more.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“We’re puttin’ too much pressure on Scott,” Johnny said, gave a sigh as he carefully straightened up and turned around. “This is too much for him. He’s been through a lot already…things he’s not used to. And I don’t think he’s looking well, either.”
smiled. “True, but the two of you
both look better than you did just a week ago.”
Johnny didn’t return DarkCloud’s smile. Instead he turned away, glanced at himself once more in the mirror, then made his way to a chair where he idly rubbed a forefinger along the top rung. “I know what Harley was trying to do. But it was a mistake.”
“How can you say that?” DarkCloud asked as he began to prepare some new bandages.
“Cuz’ I know Harley. His heart was in the right place, but he wasn’t aware of…of other factors involved.”
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow. “Seems I’m a bit in the dark here, too. Do you mind telling me what we’re talking about?”
“There’s a decision that needs to be made, DarkCloud. And Scott’s not going to be happy with either one.”
“How about your father?”
“I have a feelin’ Murdoch has long suspected,” Johnny said, giving the chair a tap before turning and walking away.
DarkCloud paused, his expression slowly changing to understanding. “You’re talking about whether you should return to the ranch or not, aren’t you?”
Johnny turned slowly, looked at DarkCloud silently for a moment, then gave a sigh that seemed to empty him of all life. “DarkCloud, I’m not sure where I belong anymore. I…I thought I did. I thought I had figured out a way to—to fit in. But it was all just an act…a mirage in the desert. Just wanting something isn’t gonna make it happen.”
DarkCloud paused, cautiously sought out his friend’s eyes before replying. “Tell me just one thing, Johnny. What do you want?”
Johnny met DarkCloud’s look and held it. “I—I don’t know.”
“Don’t know? I don’t think that’s true. I think you do know.”
“DarkCloud,” Johnny cut in sharply, his eyes snapping angrily. “There are things…”
“Hold it. Just hold it!” DarkCloud commanded as he held up a hand. “There’s only two choices here. And to me it seems obvious the choice to make. Either you go back to being Madrid, whose only desire, if I remember correctly, was to end his life, or you go back to being Johnny Lancer, who has a brother and a father who care about you, a ranch to call home—a future, for God’s sake!”
“You make it sound simple.”
“It is simple! You’re just being difficult!”
There was a long pause as Johnny deliberately kept his expression indifferent. “No, DarkCloud. Unfortunately I’m not being difficult. I’m just trying to take my time and look at all the ramifications.” He suddenly grinned, seemed amused. “Scott would like that. Ramifications.” He shook his head, dropped his gaze to the floor, his sudden amusement just as quickly forgotten. “If I were to be totally unselfish…” There was a pause. “It would be hard to give it up, though,” he finished quietly.
DarkCloud hesitated, felt at a loss, knew both Scott and Murdoch were standing outside the door listening to everything. He wanted to pursue the subject—hell, he wanted to attack and make Johnny back down, to offer his family something hopeful, something positive, but he could think of nothing left to say. He could see in Johnny’s eyes the private battle he was dealing with, his own anguish at the words spoken, knew it would do no good to continue the argument. He sighed. “Johnny, you realize your family cares a great deal about you.”
“Yes, I know that. Perhaps too much.” He took a deep breath, tilted his head back and closed his eyes. “Scott… This isn’t good for him.” He looked back down. “He—he expects things to always work out for the best. But they don’t. I learned that long ago. Storybook endings are few and far between.”
“DarkCloud—” Johnny put a hand out in warning, his expression turning forbidding. He inhaled, closed his eyes a second then met DarkCloud’s concerned expression with one that was trained to show no emotion. “I thought the reason you were here was to change bandages.”
The conversation had been terminated.
Scott felt Murdoch’s silent presence beside him. He turned, glanced dismally at his father, who met his look with a sad shake of his head. Giving a curt nod down the hallway, Murdoch turned and headed toward their room while Scott glanced unhappily at the partially closed door before quietly following his father back to their room.
After entering and closing the door, Scott leaned back heavily against it and crossed his arms. “Well, I guess that answers some questions, doesn’t it?”
“It doesn’t really tell us anything, Scott. Don’t go jumping to conclusions here.”
Scott snorted. “Oh, come on, Murdoch! Johnny almost came right out and said he wasn’t planning on returning to Lancer.”
“That is not what he said,” Murdoch replied in a carefully even voice as he picked up a shirt, shook it out and began to fold it; an action totally unnecessary. “He’s confused, just like DarkCloud told us he would be. He’s working at piecing everything together again—trying to find his way back. And we’ll just have to help and guide him as best we can.”
“But you heard what he said about me. He doesn’t even think I’m up to helping him. He’d rather have Harley!” Scott savagely gestured toward the north as he pushed himself away from the door. “And it’s all my fault he feels that way. I let him down.”
Murdoch’s brows furrowed. “How’d you let him down?”
Scott hissed bitterly, paced across the floor. “When DarkCloud asked me to learn how to give Johnny the injections, I—I,” he shook his head, stopped then turned toward Murdoch. “I almost couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it.”
“But you did.”
Scott snorted. “That’s only because dashing out of the room would have been even more embarrassing.” He sighed and rubbed his face. “Johnny could see right through me. He knew that all I really wanted to do was bolt from that room.”
“But you stuck around,” Murdoch emphasized.
Scott snorted derisively. “I don’t think I exactly impressed Johnny with my tenacity.”
“And I think you’re being too hard on yourself. He’s just worried about how this is affecting you. He’s worried about you, just like you’ve been worried about him,” Murdoch said, meeting his son’s anger calmly.
“I’m fine!” Scott growled.
Murdoch raised an eyebrow and smiled. “You sound just like your brother.”
Scott looked surprised then smiled and lowered his head. “Yeah, I guess so.” He sighed and shook his head before looking back up. “But how about what he said about a decision being difficult? What does he mean? He said you maybe knew something. What?”
Murdoch suddenly sobered, turned back to study the shirt he held in his hands. He shook his head. “No. No, I don’t. I guess we’ll just have to wait until he’s ready to tell us.”
“I wish I knew,” Scott muttered, turned around to glare at the door.
“Johnny will let us know in his own time,” Murdoch replied softy. Then he closed his eyes and tilted his head back as if in prayer. He knows.
A short while later, DarkCloud stopped by Scott and Murdoch’s room. He avoided mentioning the earlier incident as he knew Johnny’s family was uncomfortable about what had happened. Instead, he strongly suggested that everyone get in some rest while Johnny was asleep, and he took great pains to include himself, along with another reminder that he felt quite certain that he’d be called for baby delivery before too much longer, which meant the Lancer men would be left to pick up the slack regarding Johnny’s care.
After DarkCloud left, Murdoch looked at Scott. “Don’t know about you, but I know I’m not going to get any sleep. I’m going to go take a walk and then read a bit.” He picked up his book. “It probably would be a good idea if you got some rest, though. You were up with him last night, and if DarkCloud’s gone this evening, you’re probably going to have to stay with him tonight.”
Scott nodded reluctantly and settled down on his bed. However, he found himself unable to fall asleep. Johnny’s voice, the sadness and distress in it, the confusion as he mentioned his inability to figure out who he was and where he belonged…then the way he revealed his misgivings about Scott’s strength in seeing this through. All of this came crashing down on him in the quiet. He was exhausted and knew it, and tried unsuccessfully to force the thoughts out of his mind. He tried working mental math problems, gave imaginary speeches to peers on the necessity of the preservation of the Union and the need to retain federal authority over state’s rights. He began a list of every girl he’s kissed, decided that wasn’t such a good idea, and turned it into a list of servants he could remember working for his grandfather, as there had been many, since Mr. Garrett was a difficult man to work for.
Scott smiled. Compared to Mr. Harlan Garrett, Murdoch was an exceedingly fair and even-minded employer. He might ride his sons a little harder than the rest, but his attitude toward his employees was almost one of generosity.
Scott yawned, stretched his arm over his head, knew he’d accomplished little more than an exercise in mental torment for the last hour and decided to raise the white flag. He was tired, but sleep wasn’t about to come.
He rose, stretched out cramped limbs—the small sizes of the beds made sleep impossible anyway—picked up his own book of poetry, and went out into the hall. He crossed to Johnny’s room where he paused outside. He wondered if anyone was with Johnny or even if his brother was asleep. Carefully he opened the door and peeked in. Johnny was lying in his bed, curled on his uninjured side, probably in an effort to keep off his still sore back, Scott surmised. But no one was around. Silently Scott entered and closed the door, then went to one of the chairs. He settled in, propped his feet up on the other chair and opened his book. This was probably about as relaxed he could hope to get. With a little luck, perhaps he’d come across a nice piece of verse filled with references to a quiet sultry afternoon spent in the company of a beautiful woman and a lazy river. Or fishing. Fishing would be good, too.
Scott nodded to himself. Maybe he’d find a nice piece that would allow him to doze off to a happy, carefree dream. That was what he needed.
walked into the saloon, immediately spied his brother sitting at a table facing
the doorway, an uncomfortable look quickly passing across Johnny’s face as if
he’d been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
walked to the table.
a long way for nothin’, Brother.”
you won’t mind if I sit down for awhile.”
go right ahead,” Johnny replied vaguely.
took off his hat, laid it on the table, slipped off a glove, picked up a glass
and bottle. “Yes, sir, I see what
you mean. This is really a great
a funny thing. I was just riding
through town. I never expected to
find you here. With all that talk
about freedom, it’s a funny thing to find you all jammed in between these four
Wes and I, we’re gonna take off tonight.”
said, have you—”
I heard you. Yeah, we’re gonna
head south. There’s a range war
brewin’ and uh, well, we heard they were hirin’ guns.”
gonna kill time; amongst other things.”
be dead before you’re thirty.”
comes to us all, don’t it, Brother?”
when you go, you won’t even leave a small ripple.”
it, Brother? I mean, uh, sermon’s
over, ain’t it?”
the only good thing that’s ever happened to you in your whole life and
you’re gonna get up and just walk away from it?
And all for nothing. But I
guess that’s all you’ve got going for you from now on.”
spun around, the saloon suddenly vanished, and instead he found himself standing
in front of Murdoch.
it better to find out now? If this
life—If what’s so important out there--
Isn’t it better to find out now instead of two years from now?”
he’s my brother.”
he’s my son,” Murdoch replied. “But
we can’t force him to stay if he doesn’t want to.
He wouldn’t be happy. We
wouldn’t be happy. He’s got to
make the decision on his own.”
if he decides to return to being Madrid?”
we accept it,” Murdoch answered. “We
accept it and learn to live with it.”
don’t think I could,” Scott shook his head.
was a long pause, then Murdoch looked down, his expression heavy with sadness.
“I don’t think I could either. That’s
why I’d rather he leave now. Before…before
we all care too much…”
Scott jerked, the book falling out of his hands and onto the floor as he banged his head into the back of the chair. Eyes wide open, he took in a slow, deep breath, gazed about the room in an effort to assure himself that he was still in Johnny’s room and Murdoch wasn’t around. It had all seemed so real.
He lowered his feet to the floor, bent over and picked up the fallen book, then stood up and moved his chair closer to Johnny’s bed.
Johnny was still on his side, his breathing heavy but even; sleep still his companion.
Scott pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. An hour had passed since he’d entered the room. He glanced at the book of poetry wryly. Perhaps next time he’d choose a little more Wordsworth and a little less Keats.
Scott sighed, settled down once more in his chair. The dream brought back the uncomfortable memory of the time when Johnny had almost left before. Had left.
But if Scott had been upset with the idea of losing his brother then, the very thought of losing him now after two years of getting to know him, of living and working with him, realizing what having a blood connection to another soul really meant to him, would be positively devastating. And though Murdoch wouldn’t admit it, he knew that their father, too, would be irreparably wounded. Not a visible wound, but a mental one that would leave another type of scar. Their father didn’t like to talk about it, tried to pretend that he could deal with the past, that what had been, had been, and had no impact on the future, but Scott saw through his profession of indifference and knew that he was avoiding the truth. Not because he wanted to, but because it hurt too much. If Johnny really left, chose to go back to his former life…Scott shook his head sadly…he couldn’t even imagine what would become of them all. Nothing would be the same.
Scott closed his eyes and sighed. There was really only one option for them. They had to get Johnny to see that returning to Lancer was the only right decision.
his eyes, grinned to himself as he studied his brother’s sleeping form. Well, it’s the only
option I’m going to see that he has.
An hour later, Scott had decided to make a trip out back to the facilities. When he re-entered Rosti’s, he found DarkCloud was at the bar talking to the owner and Murdoch. Scott headed to the bar to join them, Murdoch looking over at his approach and smiling.
“So, did you get any sleep?” Scott asked DarkCloud.
DarkCloud shrugged, gave a slight shake with his head. “Well, a little,” then he grinned sheepishly and added, “Not much.”
Scott smiled. “I gave up, too.”
“I knew better than to even try,” Murdoch added.
Rosti looked from one to the other. “What’s with the sudden afternoon siestas?”
DarkCloud laughed lightly and shook his head. “Just my idea of catching up on a bit of sleep. I’m expecting a long night coming up with Mrs. Wilkinson and her baby.”
Rosti nodded. “Oh.”
“So, did I miss anything good?” Scott asked.
“Hmmm?” DarkCloud asked.
“Conversation,” Scott prompted. “You were all looking quite intent when I walked up.”
“Oh,” DarkCloud grinned. “Not especially. I was just telling Murdoch that I received a message from Matthew, and he said he could go up to Salinas tomorrow.”
Though Scott nodded, he crossed his arms. “I still wish we could wait…or I could go up instead. I don’t like the idea of you going up there,” he said to Murdoch.
“Scott,” Murdoch cut in gruffly. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I did quite fine before you boys came along, and I am quite able to make a trip up to Salinas and back.”
“I’m not suggesting that you’re not up to it,” Scott countered. “I’m just saying that I wish I could go instead.”
“Scott,” Murdoch tilted his head down, fixed Scott firmly. “You know it’s better for Johnny if I’m the one to go up. We both know you need to be here.”
Scott met his father’s look, held it a couple seconds, then nodded. “Yes. I know. I just feel uncomfortable having you go up.”
“Matthew’s made the trip plenty of times,” DarkCloud added. “He’ll be fine. They’ll go up on Monday, be back Tuesday night.”
Scott nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He smiled, uncrossed his arms then gestured toward the stairs. “Guess I’ll go on up with Johnny.”
DarkCloud nodded. “I’ll be up in a few minutes, too.” Then he turned to Rosti. “What do you have cooking? I’ve been smelling something wonderful all day?”
“A nice roast beef,” Rosti replied. “The missus had it started early this morning.”
“That sounds perfect,” he nodded, then added with a grin, “And don’t forget I’ll be needing some—”
“Of that horrible smelling stuff,” Rosti sighed. “Yes, I know. You’ll want a fresh batch for this evening. I’ll get it going in an hour or so. Kinda enjoy not havin’ the smell around, you know. Scarin’ away business, it was.”
DarkCloud laughed. “I think you’re exaggerating.”
Rosti shook his head. “Nope,” he replied simply.
“I’ll see you’re compensated for any business loss, Mr. Rosti,” Murdoch cut in. “And for all your time and trouble in helping out my son. You’ve been extremely generous and accommodating.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Lancer,” Rosti put a hand out and shook his head. “You don’t owe me nothin’ for helping out Madrid. I consider it part of the bargain we made. Hell, if it weren’t for him, I woulda probably lost my business. And now, with that new line headin’ practically to my door, well, business’ll be fairly boomin’ before long! Everyone’ll be comin’ down, wantin’ to take in the waters and—”
“Waters?” Scott asked, confused.
“The hot springs,” Rosti nodded toward the west.
“Healing waters,” DarkCloud added. “The Indians first showed the mission padres. It eventually became mission land. Nothing’s been done with it recently. I would like to get Johnny up there, if he were strong enough to make the trip. The waters are very therapeutic. I’ve been sending a boy up there every other day to bring me back a couple of skins full. I’ve had Rosti use it to make up the vapor and for the tea.”
Rosti nodded his agreement. “Yeah, before the trouble started with Wakeman, we used to get people from San Francisco making the trip down by stage. Not often, but they’d come in every once and awhile. Now with the railroad…” he gave a knowing shrug in an indication that he believed nothing more needed to be said.
“That railroad’s gonna change everything!” The small group turned as Calientes entered the saloon and headed for the bar. The store owner gave a broad smile and continued, “It’s gonna sure change things around here.”
“You’re putting an awful lot of stock in that railroad, aren’t you?” Murdoch asked.
Rosti and Calientes looked at each other in surprise. “Well, of course,” Rosti said. “We’ll be the end of the line going south. Anyone wantin’ to head to Los Angeles will have to switch to a stage here, and they’ll probably want a warm meal and a nice bed for the night before starting on that journey!” He laughed. “And we’re the first real sign of civilization heading north, and after that long and dusty ride, they’ll—”
“Be wanting a warm meal and a nice bed,” Scott laughed.
“And a bath,” Rosti added.
“Soledad’ll turn into a real city,” Calientes nodded. “And the travelers just might need a few wares. We’re also putting in a stock yard for the cattle shipments, and they’ll also be needing to resupply.”
Murdoch grinned at Scott. “You sound like you men have put quite a lot of thought into this.”
Rosti nodded. “We have. Solero’s plannin’ on investing in a couple of buggies to take the people up to the springs, and Ober, the blacksmith, is plannin’ on expanding his business. I’m gonna be addin’ on some more rooms as soon as possible.”
“You’re expecting things to happen that fast?” Murdoch asked.
Rosti laughed. “Mr. Lancer, a railroad crew is supposed to be coming in some time today or tomorrow. They’re gonna get a start on the turntable they need built.”
“I hear they want to have it all connected within the next year,” Calientes nodded.
Murdoch raised an eyebrow. “Then things really were at a head here, weren’t they?”
Rosti nodded emphatically. “We knew Wakeman was aware of the railroad’s timetable; he knew the potential for this area. And the railroad, well they didn’t care less who owned the land down here.”
DarkCloud cut in. “We’ve been an ignored pocket for years, pretty much allowed to go about our business without any interference. A few Mexicans, a few Indians, a few newcomers. But becoming the railroad terminus changed all that. Suddenly we had great potential…and Wakeman wanted this land. Once he heard that the railroad had picked this spot, our troubles began. He first tried to buy us out, before it even became public knowledge that we were to be the new railroad terminus. But nobody wanted to sell. We like it here. We’ve always lived here.”
“Yeah,” Calientes suddenly laughed. “It was a joke there for awhile, all us wonderin’ why Wakeman wanted our land. He was cool and shrewd at first. Just offerin’ us what one would expect the land to be worth. But when he kept getting turned down, then he started offerin’ us more. That’s when we really started wonderin’ what was up.”
“Not long after that, we heard about the railroad, then it all became clear,” Rosti added with a nod. “All suddenly made sense, and that’s when things started gettin’ ugly.”
“He was getting pretty desperate,” Calientes continued. “He hired himself some gunmen, people started getting killed, property was getting damaged.”
“And that’s when Madrid showed up,” Rosti smiled. “Talk about prayers bein’ answered.”
Calientes nodded emphatically. “No disrespect to Tucson, but I can see now it was gonna take a Madrid to solve our Wakeman problem.”
Scott and Murdoch glanced at one another, each uncomfortably aware of the hero status Johnny had acquired in this town.
An hour later, Scott was sitting silently, watching his brother. DarkCloud had left to go get some fresh tea and to check on when the roast beef would be done, leaving Scott in charge. The sound of a soft gasp sent Scott quickly leaning forward. He slid one hand up to Johnny’s shoulder while he reached for the cloth lying on the rim of the basin of cool water with the other. After wetting it, he gently wiped his brother’s forehead.
Johnny’s eyes slowly opened and he blinked hazily before giving Scott a weak grimace of a smile.
“Johnny,” Scott greeted. “How are you feeling?”
Johnny hesitated before swallowing tightly, a stiff nod following. “Better.” He coughed harshly, his eyes clenching until the pain had passed. “How long?”
“You mean, how long you’ve slept?”
“Close to three hours. It must be,” Scott glanced toward the window, “oh, about five o’clock.”
Though his brows knit in confusion, Johnny once more gave a nod.
Scott reached over and gave his brother’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, dropped the cloth along the rim of the basin, then leaned down closer. “DarkCloud just stepped out for some warm tea and food. There’s some tea left from earlier, but it’s rather cold, so if you can hold—”
“I’m fine,” Johnny answered curtly, closed his eyes as he swallowed again, then took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
Scott folded his hands on his lap and suppressed a smile. Though his brother seemed to exhibit the same stubbornness as always, Scott couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that DarkCloud’s medicine made it more difficult for Johnny to remain in control of the mask he usually kept for these occasions.
Noticing that Johnny was watching him carefully from under his dark lashes, Scott briefly wondered whether his brother was aware of his thoughts. Uncomfortable, he dropped his gaze.
Johnny pursed his lips and swallowed tightly. “Move,” he commanded.
Scott looked back up and raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
Johnny managed a sour look. “I want to get up.”
“Oh,” Scott said, quickly rising to his feet, though he kept one hand lingering along the side of the bed, a protective stance Johnny found both amusing and irritating.
Scott looked at his brother with mild concern. “Are you sure you want to get up? You’re not looking—”
Scott stopped as Johnny’s sour look turned to one of disgust. “You’re worse than an old mother hen,” he said as he slowly forced himself to his feet.
Scott laughed. “I guess I’ve been called worse.”
“No doubt,” Johnny deadpanned as he leaned forward to hold on to one of the bedposts and inhaled deeply. He held his breath for a couple of seconds before letting it out. Shakily he straightened up, but felt his knees start to buckle. As he was reaching to add his other hand to the bedpost, he felt Scott firmly grasp his arm while his brother’s other hand circled around to his back for support.
His expression one of self-disgust, Johnny glanced at Scott out of the corner of his eyes as he fought down the urge to pull away. Though he hated showing any sign of weakness, he had even less of a desire to end up on the floor once again. Last night’s memories…that was last night, wasn’t it? Or was it? I can’t seem to keep it straight… were all too painfully fresh.
Scott’s eyes registered his understanding and he nodded toward the chair. “How about if we sit down and wait for Murdoch and DarkCloud to bring us up some of Rosti’s special roast beef?”
With a show of reluctance, Johnny accepted Scott’s help in making the couple paces needed to reach the chair. Once there, Scott kept a hand on Johnny’s arm until his brother was seated. Then he grabbed the other chair and slid it around to face his brother’s. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Don’t supposed you ever did get that beer?”
Scott laughed. “No. DarkCloud had me under tight surveillance.”
“Figures,” Johnny muttered.
With a grin, Scott leaned over and grabbed up the pitcher of water and a mug, filled it, then placed it in front of his brother. He waited patiently as Johnny firmly grasped the mug in both hands and took a long drink. “Would you like some more?”
With a shake of his head, Johnny handed the mug back. “No, thanks.”
Scott placed the mug on the side table, then leaned back in his chair, noting that his brother’s gaze had dropped to his lap. Scott followed the look and saw that Johnny’s hands were clenching and unclenching, his thumbs rubbing nervously against the back of his hand. “Johnny—”
“Scott, don’t,” Johnny cut in softly, his voice barely above a whisper. He took a deep breath before lifting his eyes to face his brother. He met Scott’s gaze a few seconds before he self-consciously clenched his jaw and drew in another sharp breath, his hand going to his mouth as he fought back another cough. “I—” he paused, a barely repressed tremor shook his body and he quickly crossed his arms against his chest. Scott automatically leaned in, but Johnny gave a slight shake of his head before looking away. “Scott—before—”
“Johnny,” Scott lay a hand on his brother’s knee. “I only want to help.”
Johnny closed his eyes. “I know you do, Scott. But really, I wish you weren’t here.”
Scott blinked, surprised by the comment. “But earlier—” he stopped, shook his head. “Johnny, I’m your brother. I’m not here to make you uncomfortable; I’m here to help.”
Abruptly Johnny pushed to his feet, forcing Scott to pull away. He wavered a second, steadied himself with the back of the chair, then took a couple steps to the small table, his back toward his brother. “It’d be easier for me if you weren’t here, Scott.”
“Would it really?” Scott asked then paused. “I don’t think you really mean that. I know it wouldn’t be easier for me.” He paused again, waited for some sign from his brother, but Johnny remained motionless. Scott rose to his feet and moved closer. “Johnny, listen to me. Look at me!” Scott put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, the action finally eliciting a response as Johnny lifted his head to cast a guarded look at Scott. “When you left, it almost killed me. You have no idea what hell I’ve been through; what it’s been like for all of us not knowing where you were. So don’t you dare go saying it’d be best if we weren’t here. All we want to do is help. But we can’t unless you let us.”
“Let you,” Johnny echoed, his jaw tightening as he glanced away. “I can’t do that, Scott.”
Scott heard his brother inhale before turning, a haunted expression on his face. “It’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Scott snorted. “What do you—”
“It’s dangerous to let others know your weakness. They can use it against you later.”
Scott’s brows furrowed as he shook his head. “But we aren’t just others, Johnny. We’re your family.”
“Maybe so. But it’s still dangerous,” Johnny replied softly, then jerked as his attention was drawn to the sound of the door opening.
“Anyone here ready for some of Rosti’s excellent roast beef?” DarkCloud asked as he stepped in, Murdoch following behind.
Scott looked up and smiled. “I know I am. I’ve been smelling it cooking all afternoon.”
DarkCloud looked at Johnny. “How about you, Johnny?”
Johnny looked up and shrugged. “I’m not very hungry.”
“Sure you are,” DarkCloud admonished. “And to aid you in working up a really appropriate appetite, I have a special surprise planned.”
Johnny’s look quickly became suspicious. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
DarkCloud smiled back benevolently. “Come now, Johnny. When have you ever known me to spring unpleasant surprises on you.”
“DarkCloud,” Johnny said, his voice carrying a soft threat, “I’d tread very carefully if I were you. Remember the manure.”
“Manure?” Scott asked, glancing quickly from DarkCloud to his brother.
DarkCloud’s smile twitched in suppressed amusement. “Just a private joke,” he said.
Scott looked at his father who shrugged his unfamiliarity with the turn the conversation had taken.
“I’m not sure what you both are talking about,” Murdoch stepped in. “But what DarkCloud was referring to, was simply a change of scenery—”
“What?” Johnny asked.
“A change of scenery,” Murdoch repeated with a nod out the door. “We set up the food in our room.”
“Your room?” Johnny asked, one eyebrow raised.
“I think that’s a fine idea,” Scott agreed, stepping forward.
Johnny looked at Scott in disbelief. “You just doubted I could make it from the bed to the chair.”
Scott grinned widely. “And look how well you did.”
“With your help,” Johnny countered.
“So I’ll help you across the hall.”
“No, you won’t,” Johnny argued, but there was a hint of amusement hidden behind his eyes.
Murdoch crossed to the door, reopened it, and walked out to the hallway where he turned and gestured.
Scott shot Johnny a wry look. “Now you’re not going to bark at me if I offer to help, are you?”
Johnny barely raised his head to glare from under his long hair. “Not only bark, but probably bite, too. Especially if nobody gets me a pair of pants. I ain’t goin’ out in the hall like this,” he stated with a gesture toward his longjohns.
“There’s nobody around,” Murdoch said. “You’re fine just as you are.”
Johnny shook his head. “I am not leaving without some pants on.”
A grin crossed Scott’s face and he put his hands on his hips. “Well, I suppose I could be induced to help. But if you start growling, I’m going to let you fend for yourself.” He turned and went to the dresser where he pulled out a pair of pants.
“That’s right. Leave me in my time of trial,” Johnny sighed. “With nothing on but some bandages and my longjohns. Forlorn and abandoned.”
Scott bent down, and with DarkCloud’s help, they guided Johnny’s legs into the pants while he kept a tight grip on the back of the chair, Murdoch having moved up closer in case Johnny lost his balance.
“Don’t worry,” DarkCloud smirked from where he knelt. “You cut a darn nice figure in your longjohns. I’d be glad to adopt you if no one else does.”
“Especially with that cute butt of his,” Scott added with a wink across at DarkCloud.
“That’s it,” Johnny cut in, grabbing the waistband of his pants away from Scott and DarkCloud. “I don’t think either of you are very amusing.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Murdoch said from the hallway. “I’m getting quite a chuckle out of it.”
Johnny glanced up, grimaced, then sighed dramatically as he buttoned his pants. “You all have no sense of decency, ganging up on an wounded man.”
Scott chuckled, winked at DarkCloud. “So, is Mr. Fancy Britches ready?”
Johnny straightened his shoulders, assumed a dignified air. “I am.”
“Do you want some help?”
Johnny proceeded to the door, his chin held high. “I can do it myself.”
DarkCloud went out the door first, joining Murdoch, and the two continued across the hall, leaving Scott and Johnny to follow.
Moving slowly and carefully, with Scott shadowing a pace behind, Johnny made his way to the other room, pausing once in the hallway to catch his breath. Together they entered the sparsely furnished room. Two small beds lined opposite walls, one set of drawers sat near the door while two armless chairs sat around a small square table in the middle of the room. Johnny smiled to himself, suddenly amused at the picture of Murdoch’s large frame trying to fit into one of those beds. He realized Murdoch couldn’t be sleeping very well at night either.
The small table was laden with a large quantity of food, the crown of which was a platter filled with hunks of juicy beef surrounded by various vegetables.
“Now doesn’t this look appetizing?” DarkCloud asked from the doorway.
Johnny raised one eyebrow, sighed. He knew any protestations on his part were going to go unheeded.
“Belly up,” Scott joked, pulling one of the chairs out.
Johnny gave a shake of his head, but there was a smile on his face as he made his way to the proffered chair.
“Murdoch,” Scott indicated the other chair. “And I’ll take the bed.”
“I believe Rosti’s dishing mine up as we speak, so if you’ll excuse me,” DarkCloud said. “And Johnny?”
Johnny looked up.
“Drink your tea,” DarkCloud reminded, then turned and left the room.
With a grimace, Johnny picked up the mug that sat in front of his plate and took a sip. He had to admit that he was getting so used to the bitter taste that he hardly noticed it anymore.
Scott quickly dished up the meal and pushed the bed closer to the table so that he could sit on the edge while they ate. To avoid an uncomfortable silence, Scott asked Murdoch how Barranca was doing, and what he thought of the town, as Murdoch had been out more than he had. Though Johnny listened, he seemed reluctant to join in the conversation. It also did not escape Scott and Murdoch’s notice that though Johnny was making an attempt at eating, his heart wasn’t really in it, as he did more rearranging of his food than actual eating of it.
After Murdoch and Scott had finished, and Johnny had managed to eat at least a token amount, Murdoch stood. “Anything else I could get you, Johnny?” he asked.
Johnny shook his head. “No. I’m fine. Tell Rosti it was good.”
Murdoch and Scott exchanged glances, knowing Johnny had barely touched his food.
“I’ll tell him,” Murdoch said then continued conversationally. “Do you need anything, Scott?”
Scott shook his head. “No, not really. I’ll finish a few more bites here then bring the dishes down.”
Murdoch nodded aware that Scott was actually finished, but was hoping that if the food sat there a little longer then Johnny might be inclined to eat a bit more.
“Then if you don’t need me, I’ll probably go down and visit with Rosti for awhile. I heard Mr. Angelou was supposed to be stopping by this evening, too. We may set up a couple of rounds of cards.”
Scott smiled, then nodded to Murdoch. “We’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Murdoch fixed Johnny with a serious look. “Don’t let that brother of yours get into any trouble, okay?”
Johnny’s expression registered surprise then he grinned, his eyes flicking towards Scott’s in amusement. “I’ll make sure he keeps out of trouble. Though you know how he is, sometimes I can’t do a thing with him.”
Murdoch nodded, managed to keep his expression deadpan. Good to see this side of you again, Son. “Isn’t that the truth,” he said as he turned and left the room, leaving Scott chuckling quietly.
“You know, he’s really handling this pretty well,” Scott said after the door had closed.
“Yes. I suppose he is,”
he said, looking away uncomfortably. “I
haven’t exactly been easy.”
“We didn’t come here expecting easy,” Scott added, reaching out to dish up a small helping of mashed potatoes onto his plate.
Johnny’s gaze dropped to his hands. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Johnny,” Scott sat forward, his food forgotten. “I didn’t mean it to sound that way. It’s just that—”
“I know. I know, Scott,” Johnny sighed, leaned his head back against his chair and stared at the ceiling. “That’s why it would have been better if you weren’t here.”
Scott waited a
moment before asking, “And if I hadn’t shown up?
What would have happened?”
“What do you mean?” Johnny asked, looking at his brother.
“I think you know very well what I mean,” Scott contradicted. “I think we both know you had no intention of making it through that gunfight alive.”
Johnny’s expression became hard. “The end’s gotta come some time.”
“But you seemed in an awful rush to get to yours,” Scott insisted. “If I hadn’t shown up—”
“What? You want me to thank you for coming to my rescue, saving me from my own death wish—”
“Johnny!” Scott interrupted sharply.
“Well, maybe I deserved to die!” Johnny snapped back, rising unsteadily to his feet. “Maybe you, maybe Murdoch, maybe everyone woulda been better off if you hadn’t shown up, and I’d finished what I started.”
Scott fought back the urge to bolt up and confront his brother, but managed through sheer determination to remain in his chair. In a voice that he had to work hard at to keep composed, he asked, “And what exactly was that? Bury Madrid?”
Johnny’s expression remained cold. “Yes.”
“But then you would have been buried with him.”
“At the time…it looked like the only way.”
Scott tilted his head to the side, tried to calm his wildly beating heart, was painfully aware of the letter in his pocket. “What about this town?”
Johnny shook his head, took a step back along the side of the chair. “The town was taken care of. Wakeman wasn’t gonna be a problem anymore. Jamie would be unharmed.”
“Oh, now I understand,” Scott nodded slowly, clasped his hands. “The martyr’s death.”
“What are you talking about?” Johnny demanded angrily.
Scott raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “Very simple. You wanted the martyr’s death, so people would discuss for years to come, how Johnny Madrid gave his life to save a town and the lives of three hostages.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, I don’t?” Scott replied softly. “You were seeking redemption.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Don’t talk about things you know nothin’ about.”
Scott met Johnny’s hostile stance with his own carefully relaxed one. “I think I understand a lot better than you give me credit for.”
Johnny’s expression remained hard. “You don’t understand me at all.”
“You… or Madrid?”
“Neither,” Johnny snapped.
Scott smiled slightly. “You know, I’ve developed a particular affinity for Madrid.”
Though he felt his knees starting to buckle, Johnny managed to keep himself erect, his expression unreadable. “You’ve never really met him,” he replied coldly.
Scott’s smile widened slightly. “Well, then, Mr. Madrid. Why don’t you have a seat and tell me all about yourself.”
Johnny froze, could feel his breath coming fast and tight, tried desperately to control it, but his focus seemed too thinly spread out, could find no extra energy to continue the fight. He could feel the pain starting to eat its way back in, felt his control starting to slip, needed badly to sit back down.
“Have a seat, Juanito, before you fall down.”
Johnny blinked, shook his head, looked at Scott with confusion…met that calm, clear-eyed look of Cisco…no, Scott…
Scott raised one eyebrow. “I said, sit down, John, before you collapse in a heap,” Scott enunciated softly, wondering if he ought to stand up and offer his brother a hand. He decided to follow his original course. “Why don’t you sit down, drink that tea DarkCloud left for you, and you can finish telling me the story of how you met Cisco.”
As Johnny’s hand trailed to the chair back, his eyes sought out the mug sitting on the table before coming up to meet Scott’s. “I’m not in a story-tellin’ mood.”
Though his words were antagonistic, Scott could see that the mask had been dropped, the belligerence and fire was gone. Instead, his brother just looked weak and unhealthy. Scott pushed Johnny’s plate to the center of the table and sat the mug in its place. “Drink.”
Johnny didn’t move, but his eyes stared at the mug. “Cisco called it poison,” he whispered.
Scott looked at the mug, then back at his brother. “I—I suppose it is. But we need to get you well again, Johnny, before we can take care of that problem. You know that.”
Johnny didn’t look up. “Cisco said I was poisoning my soul.”
Scott raised an eyebrow, wondered at the peculiar choice of words, especially from one of his brother’s earlier friends. But then, hadn’t there been something in that letter Harley had given him…? Yes, something about—about being in danger of losing his soul.
Johnny sighed, closed his eyes a moment then sat back down in his chair. He reached a shaky hand out to grip the mug then hesitantly brought it to his lips. After taking a long drink, he cradled it in his lap, then leaned back in his chair, a wince forcing him to halt his movement for a second. He took another drink before meeting Scott’s eyes. “You wanna know what happened when I met Cisco, huh?” He closed his eyes wearily, paused a moment. “Cisco was smart, you see. He had a plan. He knew his little group needed one thing to be really effective.”
“A gunfighter,” Scott supplied.
and opened his eyes. “Only
problem was he didn’t like what he knew they needed.”
He snorted bitterly. “Isn’t
that the way it always it?”
When Scott didn’t reply, Johnny shook his head. “So, after getting me to join them, he spent the next year and a half trying to get me to quit.”
“I don’t understand,” Scott said.
Johnny looked away. “I didn’t either…at first.”
“So, he wanted to work with you, but—”
“I was waiting for him in a saloon,” Johnny suddenly interrupted, his gaze trailing across the room, coming to rest on the window. “Harley and Wes set up a meeting. I wasn’t even going to show up at first. But there was something different about them,” he shrugged.
Scott waited for his brother to continue, knew though he appeared to be staring out the window, he was actually seeing another time…a saloon meeting that took place years earlier…
leaned lazily back in his chair, his posture a well rehearsed camouflage to the
intense scrutiny his eyes were giving every corner of the room as well as each
and every occupant. Lazy
indifference masked a tightly compressed spring waiting for its release.
This was Johnny Madrid; a role he had perfected until it required no
thought or effort…he simply was…
watched for the two men who had approached him earlier about a possible job, two
men he’d just that afternoon saved from a thorough fleecing by a gambler with
lots of flash but little talent. Johnny
had been amused to observe the local cowhands try their luck against the man who
‘professed’ to be just a traveling businessman.
But even someone with little sense should have been able to detect the
absurdity of the man’s claim. Carefully
manicured fingernails, no tell-tale stains of ink on the fingers, the preference
to turn all conversation away from his own business (a sure-fire way to unearth
any phony businessman) and the interesting way in which he deftly handled not
only the cards, but also the men at the table.
Unfortunately, as far as Johnny was concerned, the gambler’s glib charm
didn’t make up for his lack of ability.
saloon door swung open and he spied the two men who had approached him.
Between them walked a third man; rather tall and handsome, on the other
side of twenty by a few years, with extremely dark eyes to match his raven black
hair and moustache, a smile already on his lips as he made his way through the
crowded saloon. He walked between
his two companions as if he were used to being flanked by their presence.
With sureness and ease, he made his way to Johnny’s table.
There they all stopped, Johnny not having moved a muscle during their
this is the man we were telling you about,” the cowhand Johnny had learned was
Wes introduced. “This here’s
our friend, Cisco.”
Johnny barely raised an eyebrow as he gave the newcomer a casual once-over.
The young man met his gaze unflinchingly, his smile never evaporating as
often happened when Johnny turned his carefully developed expression of
indifference on most individuals.
to meet you,” Cisco greeted. “Wes’n
Harley have told me some amazing things about you.”
allowed his gaze to flick depreciatingly toward the two men.
turned. “Go get a bottle, Wes.” Then
he turned to the second man. “Harley,
some glasses, por favor.”
Harley and Wes nodded and made their way to the bar while Cisco turned back to
Johnny and indicated a chair. “May I?”
gave a wordless nod.
smiled, pulled the chair out and took a seat.
Then, without wasting any more time, he leaned forward, laid his hands
out on the table in a gesture of trust, and said, “From what Wes and Harley
told me, you are a gunfighter.”
expression remained unchanged. “Perhaps.
Why? You lookin’ to
eliminate…a difficult situation?”
quickly shook his head. “No.
That’s not what I’m here about.”
Johnny asked, a flicker of interest escaping before he was able to rein it in.
Cisco repeated. “They told me how
you took care of that gambler—”
gambler weren’t nothing but an overly confident two-bit card shark, who
weren’t all that good to begin with,” Johnny interrupted depreciatingly.
“His only redeeming quality was his highly developed sense of
self-preservation. Saved me from
makin’ a mess of this establishment and having to answer a lot of stupid
and Wes said you handled him like a professional.”
I did was look at him and tell him to pay everyone back.
And as I said, he was eager to cooperate.” Johnny snorted as he reached
out to pick up his glass. “And
if you’re lookin’ for someone good at the game, you don’t want me.
I ain’t a player. I just
happen to know a few tricks. That
fella this afternoon was nothin’ but a green player. The cowhands, they fell
for his flash. But anyone with any
sense shoulda seen through his ruse.”
Wes and Harley didn’t,” Cisco replied.
“And they’re usually pretty good about reading people.”
shook his head, took a sip of his drink and sat it back on the table.
“Then they better take a coupla lessons.”
paused, studied the young man before him a second before continuing.
“So, you’re not a gambler,” he nodded.
“But you are good with a gun. Wes
and Harley said you implied so.”
smiled. “What I want to know is
why you want to know? You say you
don’t have a specific problem needin’ some special handlin’. What is it you do want then?”
nodded, took in a deep breath. “We’re
a team, Wes, Harley and I. We work
together. We find jobs we want to
take on, not always the sort of jobs others might want, but we do okay, we make
brings me back to my first question. What
do you want with me?”
shook his head. “Nothing.
Right now we just hired on to Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Martin out south of town
about five miles from here. There’s
been some difficulty between them and the owner of the Broken Double Bar—”
Abbott,” Johnny cut in with a slight smile, folded his hands and rocked back
in his chair slightly. “Yeah, I hearda him,” he nodded.
suddenly stopped and leaned back, his looked tightening.
“You not already in contract, are you?”
no, I ain’t,” Johnny shook his head, his eyes crinkling.
“Hear he’s not someone you want to annoy though.”
bit his lip, noticed Wes and Harley making for the table and signaled for them
to hold up. “No, he’s not,”
Cisco leaned forward once again and lowered his voice. “He’s got a lot of control in this area.
Owns a lot of the property. And
he’s lookin’ to expand.”
me guess,” Johnny said with a hint of a smile.
“His expansion plans happen to include Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Martin’s
nodded. “Between them they own
the largest body of water around here. When
there’s a bad drought, like there was last year, it’s one of the few places
that didn’t dry up.”
don’t ol’ Mr. Abbott just lease from them when there’s a bad year?
Or are your two employers too greedy to share?”
not the problem. They’re
perfectly willing to cooperate as much as they can, just not at the expense of
their own herds. However, Mr.
Abbott is running too many cattle for the amount of pasture and water he’s
got, and he knows it. Most years,
when the rains are heavy, he makes it, but last year made him realize he
couldn’t continue the way he was. Problem
is, he don’t want to cut back any. So
he’s looking at acquiring some more water, only Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Martin,
they don’t want to sell.”
nodded. “So what do you hope to
hired on to help protect his property. If
Mr. Abbott tries anything, we’re there to see that his plans aren’t
shrugged. “Sounds like you got it
covered then. Don’t see why you
tapped the table with his finger absently.
“Wes is fair with a gun, Harley too.
Me, I’m not all that good. I’m
more of a planner, a decision-maker. What
we’re lacking in this group is someone who can really handle a gun.
Someone who can…” he paused, seemed to search for the right word.
“Someone who knows how to command a situation with just the right flair
in order to make a point.”
laughed as he let his chair down. “And you’re hopin’ that’s me.”
I’m not much for workin’ with anyone and I’m not lookin’ to get tied up
with anyone neither. I prefer to
make my own decisions.”
can appreciate that. We’ve done
fine as we’ve been and I’m sure we’d continue just fine without you,”
Cisco agreed coolly. “Just like
you’ll do just fine without us. However,”
he added, “I think if we did combine, we could become quite a force.”
paused, cocked his head to the side and smiled slightly.
“What makes you think I would take you up on your offer?
In my profession, working for a couple of small-time ranchers against
someone, who quite frankly, would probably pay a hell of a lot better, is
generally not considered smart business sense.”
was Cisco’s turn to smile as he leaned an elbow on the table, a finger coming
to rest against his chin. “Let me
ask you one question.”
raised one eye as he nodded his assent.
Johnny Madrid, aren’t you?”
expression erupted into a broad grin and he chuckled as he drew one leg up,
crossing it at the ankle over his knee. “What
makes you think that?”
smiled. “From Wes and Harley’s
description. They hadn’t any
idea. But I thought it was possible
from their recounting of this afternoon’s events.”
I said, that gambler wasn’t all that big a deal, he just thought he was,”
As I said, I thought it was just a possibility, I didn’t know for sure.
Just a similarity in description, was all. But then I walked in and saw you,” he paused, let his
phrase rest between them.
stiffened, suddenly aware that Cisco was staring at him intently, unlike anyone
else he’d ever met. For the first
time in a long time he struggled for an appropriate response, one befitting the
persona of Madrid, but he floundered…and this puzzled him…
continued to meet the dark eyes for another moment, then leaned one elbow on the
arm of his chair while with his other hand he began to absently rub the back of
his boot, his eyes dropping to scrutinize some minor aberration.
When he looked back up, Cisco was still silently watching him, waiting…
ain’t never met you,” Johnny finally replied, aware that his answer
confirmed Cisco’s appraisal, yet he didn’t care.
He was intrigued by this Cisco.
what do you want?”
want Johnny Madrid. I came here
expecting a back-alley gunfighter punk with nerves of steel and a love for
killing, but instead I found you.” He
nodded, more to himself than to Johnny. “Sure,
I’ve talked about teaming up with someone with an ability to handle a gun, but
I generally find that I can’t stomach being in their company; they make me
sick. However, you I’ve heard
about. I just didn’t know if you
truly existed or if you were the product of exaggerated stories born of the
peon’s longing for a champion.” Cisco
put a hand up to block Johnny’s interruption.
“Granted, I also know the other talk.
That you’re dangerous, a murderer, a man one also doesn’t want to
irritate,” he smiled humorously at the reference. “However, I’m smart enough to know that it’s the men
with the money and power and authority who tend to be the most incensed by your
choice of causes and the means with which you handle them.”
perhaps they are right. Perhaps I
am just as dangerous and deadly as they say.
Perhaps,” Johnny paused meaningfully, “you don’t want to go irritating me.”
smiled, shook his head. “No,
Madrid. I’m sure I wouldn’t
want to irritate you. And I’m
sure you’re just as dangerous and deadly as a scorpion to your enemies.
However, there’s a significant difference between you and the other
gunfighters I’ve met. And that’s what I noticed right off.”
raised an eyebrow, chuckled slightly. “Oh,
yeah? And what’s that?”
still have a soul.”
Johnny shook himself, turned away from the window, saw Scott watching him cautiously.
“Are you okay?”
Johnny nodded, felt a cough welling up through his chest then groaned as his muscles tightened. He pressed the heel of his hand against his chest wound before he managed to turn it into a clearing of the throat.
Scott pursed his lips, realized DarkCloud hadn’t returned yet, and there was no medicine in the room other than the half-finished mug of tea.
“So, that’s the story,” Johnny finished, seemed to realize he was still holding the mug, took a sip then made a face at the lukewarm taste. “I rode with Cisco, Harley and Wes for awhile after that.”
though he felt strangely unsatisfied. Who
is this Cisco, and why would he say Johnny was poisoning his soul?
Suddenly the door opened and DarkCloud entered, medical bag in hand. “I figure you might be needing some medicine soon, and since I just found out I have someone at the shop waiting to have a broken arm set, I decided there was no time like the present.” As he piled Scott’s plate on top of Murdoch’s, his eyes quickly scanned the contents of Johnny’s mug. He gave Scott a dark look, but it was met with a sharp shake of the head. DarkCloud sighed in resignation then put the medical bag on the table and opened it. He took out the syringe and the morphine bottle, quickly measured an appropriate amount, then handed the syringe to a startled Scott. “Your turn.”
“Oh.” Scott turned a stricken look toward his brother while Johnny shook his head in bitter submissiveness.
“Go ahead. I suppose he’s right,” Johnny muttered.
Scott looked up at DarkCloud who signaled with a nod of his head. He then tentatively glanced back at his brother. Though Johnny’s eyes were averted, Scott could tell by the tightness of his jaw and ashen complexion, that it was time. Scott looked back down at the syringe in his hand.
Cisco have used this? Or would he
call this poison? Am I helping or
am I hurting? But if he’s in
Resolutely Scott stood up. “Clear off some more room,” he ordered.
DarkCloud quickly moved the dishes onto the tray while Scott took the half-empty mug from his brother’s grasp.
“Let’s get this done, Brother,” Scott said tightly. “I have no wish to see you curled up on the floor.”
Johnny barely looked up. “Likewise.”
Heart pounding, Scott motioned for Johnny to take a seat.
With a tightly clenched jaw, Johnny made his way to the chair. He could feel Scott watching him, had seen the fleeting look of panic and abhorrence on his brother’s face at the thought of the task at hand. As he sat down, he kept his teeth clenched to insure no moan escaped. Displayed pain and discomfort would only add to the burden Scott was dealing with.
Why did Scott and Murdoch have to be here? Why was DarkCloud doing this to them? Didn’t he understand the position it was putting Scott in? How could anything be the same between them again? Hell, nothing was going to be the same anymore, anyway. Too many wounds had been reopened, too many secrets exposed. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it sure was a hell of a lot easier to deal with.
Scott let his own gaze flick to DarkCloud’s face then to the back of Johnny’s bowed head before he took in a deep, silent breath and wiped his hand on his hip. As he went to the empty chair, he forced himself to search out Johnny’s eyes as he sat down. For a second Johnny didn’t look up, but then Scott heard him take a deep breath as he raised his head. The look that Johnny settled on him almost caused Scott to lose his breath. It wasn’t his brother, Johnny, who now sat in the chair in front of him, but Madrid, the gunfighter. The look was cold, impersonal and uncaring.
Why’s he doing that? What’s he trying to prove? Or…or is he doing it to help? Harley said in uncomfortable or dangerous situations, Johnny will revert to what he knows best, and that’s how to be Madrid. So, whose comfort is this supposed to help? His or mine? Is it easier for him to do this as Madrid or does he think it’s easier for me if I don’t see him as my brother right now?
Scott swallowed thickly, could feel his palms sweating. He wanted to wipe his hands again, but knew he didn’t dare show any hesitation or uncertainty. “Which arm do you prefer?” Scott asked as coolly as he could.
Johnny raised an eyebrow and snorted. “Oh, please, Boston. You think I care?” He leaned forward, an almost imperceptible tightness of his tone. “I just wanna get this over with.”
In the corner of his vision, Scott could see DarkCloud standing, passively watching. Scott was torn between the desire of having DarkCloud help him through the procedure and the relief of not having the doctor looking over his shoulder.
DarkCloud stood, hands clasped in front of him. He could sense Scott’s consternation with him, but knew it was something that needed to be done. Given the circumstances, given the conditions they were dealing with and the real possibility that he’d be called off soon to help with the delivery of a baby, DarkCloud had to make sure there was someone else around who could administer the morphine in his absence. He knew Scott wasn’t happy about it, he knew Johnny wasn’t happy about it. Hell, he wasn’t happy about it, but there they were. Johnny needed the medicine, and DarkCloud wasn’t going to take the chance of putting his patient through unnecessary pain and the possibility of re-injuring wounds if he were gone.
DarkCloud watched as Scott positioned Johnny’s right arm on the table. He thought about leaving the room, aware that he was probably adding to both Johnny and Scott’s discomfort, but he didn’t feel at ease leaving Scott in case something should go wrong.
He turned toward the window, hoping the action would help Scott feel more relaxed.
Scott saw DarkCloud turn away. He knew Johnny wasn’t aware of the doctor’s action, but he found himself silently thanking the doctor for the privacy it afforded him. He glanced at Johnny’s face, but the mask was still in place. He looked quickly down at Johnny’s bruised arm and shoulder, took a calming breath, then with his left hand he gripped under his brother’s arm as he’d seen DarkCloud do. Then with steeled resolve, he positioned the needle near the shoulder muscle. Heart thumping, he licked his lips, realized immediately he’d shown his fear. Quickly he glanced up. “Johnny, I—”
“Just do it,” Johnny interrupted tightly, his eyes hard.
The cold words, the hard eyes, left Scott feeling suddenly alone. “I don’t like to hurt you, Johnny.”
The mask fell away, Johnny quickly closed his eyes. “I’m already hurting, Scott.”
Scott closed his own eyes for a second to block out the words that were spoken. Then before his resolve could falter, he quickly inserted the needle. He drew out the plunger slightly, noticed blood.
“Damn, DarkCloud, there’s blood. What do I do?”
DarkCloud turned around, took a step forward. “Start over.”
Scott glanced up quickly, eyes wide. “Start over?”
“You’re kidding,” Johnny muttered.
With clenched jaw, Scott quickly withdrew the needle, repositioned it, and tried again. This time when he pulled back, no blood appeared. Swallowing a sigh of relief, he gently pushed in the plunger, releasing the morphine. He heard Johnny catch his breath, but didn’t look up until the needle was withdrawn and he’d placed a finger over the small puncture.
Need to remember the piece of cloth!
As the thought occurred to him, a small square of fabric appeared in his sight. He looked up with surprise. It was DarkCloud.
DarkCloud gave him an encouraging nod. “If that happens again, you can try to reposition the needle while it’s under the skin, but I find that it’s easier to just start over.”
Scott nodded, forced himself to breathe evenly though his heart was pounding. He put the piece of cloth over the drop of welling blood, then laid his palm over it and glanced again at the doctor.
DarkCloud nodded toward the medical bag. “Now clean the syringe and store it,” he said. “If you need anything else, I’ll be downstairs.” With a quick pat to Johnny’s other shoulder, DarkCloud turned and left the room.
Scott glanced quickly at his brother, but Johnny’s eyes were still closed. However his lips were no longer thin and white, and his face had lost some of the tense control of a few minutes earlier. Scott wondered if his brother was now free from the pain, if he had done everything correctly. Concerned, he prepared himself to face Madrid again. “Johnny?”
But it was his brother behind the eyes that opened.
Johnny gave a bitter smile, glanced to where Scott’s palm was pressed against his arm. Self-consciously, he pulled away, forcing Scott to awkwardly release his hold. “Sorry. Not exactly what you signed up for, is it?”
“When?” Scott asked, feeling there was something more than a flippant line behind the words spoken.
Johnny glanced at Scott, shrugged, lowered his gaze.
“When I found out you were my brother?” Scott prompted.
Johnny looked back up, wary surprise in his eyes.
Scott leaned back in his chair, picked up the cloth that DarkCloud kept the syringe wrapped in, and carefully folded it up and set it on the table before meeting his brother squarely on. “I think there’s something you and I need to discuss.”
Johnny started to shake his head. “Scott, I—”
“Shhh. It’s time for you to listen. I think you owe me that.”
Scott raised an eyebrow and leaned forward. “Yes. Owe me.” He took a deep breath, kept his gaze firm. “You haven’t any clue what your disappearance did to me—to all of us. The fear that gripped me when I found out about the Kansas bounty, the confusion brought on by discovering that gun of yours was missing—”
Scott waved his hand, cutting Johnny off. “I said, listen.”
Johnny closed his mouth, but his expression became guarded.
“You have no idea the days I spent trying to search for you, of the disagreements that developed between Murdoch and myself regarding the best course of action to follow, or what it was like to hear that you were here, hired on as a gunfighter—”
“Bet Murdoch loved that—”
“I told you to listen!” Scott repeated sharply, then narrowed his eyes. “How about what it did to us to go into a bar in Salinas and hear you’d almost been killed.”
“And the dead bounty hunters, and the men up in Salinas, and the men out in the gunfight right here in town, just in time for you to watch.”
“And now this, right?” Johnny snapped back, then closed his eyes with a bitter sigh and leaned his head back. “Just like you…just like Murdoch always knew I’d end up.” He opened his eyes. “Dead before you’re thirty.”
The words echoed back to Scott from the past. But instead of facing Madrid, he was facing a very tired, very bitter Johnny.
Scott took a deep breath, realized he had to secure Johnny’s knowledge that he believed in him. “Look at me.”
“Look at me,” Scott commanded.
Reluctantly Johnny opened his eyes while Scott reached out and placed his palm over Johnny’s tightly folded hands. “Johnny, what can I do to convince you that you’re wrong; that no matter what you tell me, what I find out, or what I see, that I’ll always be here for you? You’re my brother. I’m not going to turn away. Ever.”
Johnny hesitated. ‘How can you say that, after—after—”
“For some reason, you seem to be under the misconception that I feel like I’m better than you, or that the differences between us are too great to overcome.”
Johnny studied Scott closely, one eyebrow raised in grim acknowledgement. “You gotta admit, Scott, we’re more different than alike.”
“Oh, really?” Scott asked. “I don’t see it that way.”
“Come now. You were raised in Boston and—”
“You were raised in Mexico,” Scott interrupted. “I know. That’s a pretty lame example.”
“There’s more to it than that,” Johnny retorted.
“Like what?” Scott demanded.
“You were brought up educated, while I—I got my education in the streets. And while you went to social gatherings and parties, I attended gunfights and saloon brawls. While you narrowly escaped the ladies with designs on marriage, I narrowly escaped hangings and firing squads. While you made your living working for your grandfather, I made my living on the death of others. Have I made my point?”
Scott didn’t flinch. “While you lost your mother, I lost mine. While you grew up hating your father for your belief that he kicked you out of the house, I grew up hating him for not caring enough to find out how I was. While you searched for acceptance and validation by being the best gunfighter around, I searched for it by reckless behavior, in joining the war as much for the real cause as in the hopes I’d find some happiness, or at least acceptance, as a war hero.”
“I was a gunfighter, Scott—”
“A gunfighter who fought the battles no one else would. You killed from self-preservation and a sense of justice. So, I guess in a way, you are right. Only you’re better than me.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “I don’t understand.”
“I joined the war to escape my life, to escape grandfather and all his rules. Where is the honor in that? No one made me kill. I signed up for it.”
Johnny looked at Scott with surprise. “But you were protecting—”
nothing,” Scott interrupted. “I
took the dangerous jobs no one else wanted, not out of honor or a feeling of
patriotism, but because I wanted to prove I could.
I wanted to be something other than the accountant grandfather wanted me
to be.” He paused a moment, then
smiled. “So, you see, Johnny.
We aren’t so very different. We
both have our own ghosts that we have to take out and confront from time to
time. They’re ugly things and
only seem to get uglier the longer they’re ignored.”
“Matthew’s plannin’ to go to Salinas!” Jamie announced loudly as he burst into the cabin.
“What? Since when?” Grace demanded as she let the wooden platter drop heavily on to the table, the abrupt movement causing a half dozen slices of the freshly cut bread to lean precariously on their side.
“Jamie!” Matthew admonished strongly as he entered behind his brother. “I believe we had a talk about that mouth of yours just this morning.”
“Yeah, and yesterday, too.” Jamie nodded unabashedly. “I jus’ keep forgettin’. Don’t mean to. The words just sorta leak outta my mouth before my brain can remember they’re supposed to keep inside where they can stay a secret.”
“Secret?” Grace’s lips pursed and her hands went to her hips.
Matthew sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “You want to just stop now before you have me in really deep trouble?”
“You want me to be quiet now, huh?”
Matthew grimaced. “It would sure be a nice change.”
“Okay,” Jamie agreed and sat down at the table. “I’d rather eat anyways.”
“And I’d rather hear about this secret,” Grace said without taking her eyes off of Matthew.
“It’s not a secret,” Matthew argued. “Not really, anyway. Young Jameson gave me a note from DarkCloud after church today. He needs someone to go up to Salinas on Monday.”
“Tomorrow? And why you? Why can’t Scott go?”
“Seems DarkCloud is expecting to be delivering Mrs. Wilkinson’s baby any time and Scott needs to be here to help take care of Johnny.”
“I could take care of Johnny,” Jamie interjected. “I helped when he was here, ‘member?”
“Yes, you did,” Matthew reassured his younger brother and gave his hair a tousle, unaware that Jamie shot him a disgusted look.
“Well, I don’t see why they couldn’t just wait a few more days until the baby’s here and then have Scott go,” Grace argued unhappily.
Matthew dipped his head, his eyebrows raised in warning. “You know that medicine DarkCloud is using with Johnny. Well, he’s almost out and needs some more. There’s no time to wait for the baby.”
“Oh,” Grace replied softly.
“What medicine?” Jamie asked, straightening up immediately.
“Medicine he needs to get better,” Grace patiently answered. “Now why don’t you eat something and leave us to talk.”
“There’s only bread on the table, and I ate two slices already.”
Grace glanced sharply at the table, sighed, and went to the counter where she picked up a platter of meat and vegetables.
Jamie decided to take advantage of the distraction and gave his brother’s sleeve a tug. “DarkCloud’s givin’ him other medicine, ain’t he? Not that stuff that’ll make Johnny sick, right?”
“What?” Matthew turned to his brother in surprise. “What do you know about it?”
“I hear you talk,” Jamie replied simply.
“Looks like we need to be watching our own mouths,” Matthew muttered, a look from Grace indicating her agreement.
Jamie sighed impatiently. “So, is it the same medicine or not?”
Matthew hesitated a second, then sat down on the bench next to his young brother. Leaning one elbow on the table, he turned to him seriously. “Yes, Jamie, it is basically the same medicine.”
Jamie looked shocked. “Oh, that was not a very good idea. DarkCloud’s not going to be happy when he finds out.”
“Well, then that’s why Johnny’s been so sick—”
“No, Jamie,” Matthew said as he put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “He’s sick because he almost died in the shoot-out. He’s sick because he wasn’t taking proper care of the wounds he’d gotten up in the mountains.”
“But the medicine—”
“Jamie, the medicine is helping him heal now, helping him to get well.”
Jamie’s expression remained unconvinced and he crossed his arms. “I think you shoulda let me go visit him after church.”
“Jamie, there was no time. I had to get back here and get extra chores taken care of if I’m to leave in a couple days. Right? Maybe next weekend we can stop after church and visit Johnny.”
“A whole ‘nother week?” Jamie exclaimed in sheer disbelief.
At the sharp look he received from both Matthew and Grace, he slunk down in his seat. “Good thing I asked Father Alvarez to visit Johnny.”
“What?” Grace demanded, her eyes going wide in alarm.
“When?” Matthew insisted.
“After church when you weren’t lookin’,” Jamie replied morosely.
“That’s obvious,” Matthew grumbled as he shot his sister a look of pure exasperation.
Jamie, his position unchanged, barely raised his head. “I told him I thought maybe Johnny needed some spiritual guidance…or to confess or somethin’.”
“You—?!” Grace took a step back, unable to speak, her mouth dropping open in utter shock.
Matthew broke out laughing, as much from Jamie’s revelation as from the look he saw on his sister’s face.
“Matthew!” Grace pleaded.
“Sorry,” Matthew put a hand to his lips, had to bite them to keep from laughing. He took a deep breath and fixed Jamie with a serious look. “That was probably not a good idea—”
“Sure it was,” Jamie argued, his sour expression indicating his unhappiness at being laughed at. “Father Alvarez said it was a very good idea—that he’d been plannin’ on goin’ to see Johnny himself. He also liked my idea of visiting with Scott and Mr. Lancer, too,” Jamie finished with a superior attitude.
“Oh, my.” Grace shook her head and raised her hands, palms up. “He’s your brother.”
“He’s your brother, too,” Matthew countered.
“Yeah,” Grace raised an eyebrow. “But I asked for a sister, remember?”
Matthew grinned and started chuckling. “Ah, but think how boring things would be with just tea parties and rag dolls.”
“I try,” Grace remarked dryly, but Matthew noticed that she, too, was hiding a smile.
Matthew sighed, turned and began to dish up meat onto his plate. “Nothing to be done about it now, I suppose. And with a little luck, I’ll be gone up in Salinas anyway.”
“Thanks,” Grace muttered.
“So, how’s Madrid doin’?” Mr. Angelou asked as he gathered up the cards from the previous hand and readied them to deal.
Murdoch forced himself not to show his irritation at the use of the name ‘Madrid’ and managed a smile. “He seems to be doing much better.”
“Think he’ll be able to make it down soon?” Solero asked before taking a sip from his glass.
“He was sittin’ up when I saw him earlier,” Rosti put in.
“Oh?” Angelou said as he began to deal around the table.
“Yes,” Murdoch confirmed. “He’s getting around a bit more all the time. But it’ll probably be a few more days.”
“It’d be good to see him up and around again,” Tucson added.
“Hmmm,” Solero nodded then shifted his focus to the cards in front of him.
“This town owes him a debt we could never repay,” Rosti added as he picked up his cards.
Angelou cleared his throat. “Don’t forget. The town did offer him a fair deal—”
Rosti narrowed his eyes at the rancher and added a sharp nod of his head toward Murdoch. Angelou turned sheepish, his coloring darkening with embarrassment. “That is to say,” he cleared his throat. “He needed help, we needed help, so we all came to a mutually beneficial agreement that—”
“It’s okay,” Murdoch cut in. “I understand completely. No need to explain.”
Rosti gave Angelou a quick glare then turned to his own cards.
The noise of the doors swinging open barely registered to the five men who were intent upon the cards they’d been dealt.
“On the Sabbath?”
The words spoken, however, had an immediate effect. The men looked up to find an older gentleman of short stature standing near their table, his arms hidden within the folds of a long, dark brown robe. His hair was cropped short, face neatly shaven, his eyes a dark black that held the barest hint of amusement at the effect his presence had caused.
“Father Alvarez!” Mr. Angelou gasped, dropped his cards onto the table and stood up, his chair falling backward.
Rosti quickly put down his own cards. “Father,” he grimaced.
Tucson looked up with slight confusion, shrugged and dropped his own cards onto the table.
Father Alvarez glanced about the table and smiled, stopping when he reached Tucson. “I take it you are the man people refer to as Tucson?”
Tucson nodded reluctantly.
“I haven’t seen you in church, son.”
Tucson’s eyes went wide. “You ha—well, I—”
“Don’t you think that the new sheriff of Soledad ought to be exhibiting a good example to its citizens?”
“Well, I s’pose…” Tucson gulped, then nodded.
“Good. Then I can expect to see you next Sunday, right?”
Tucson grimaced weakly. “In church, right?”
“Church would be best, as I don’t generally make a habit of saying saloon sermons,” Father Alvarez responded, then cocked his head with a smile toward Rosti. “Though perhaps there’s a need.”
Rosti opened his mouth, his eyes wide in alarm, but before he could say anything, Father Alvarez turned back to Tucson. “Mass begins at nine thirty.”
“Nine thirty,” Tucson repeated faintly.
Seemingly satisfied, Father Alvarez turned his attention to Murdoch who had, during the course of the discussion, laid his own cards on the table and quietly watched the proceedings.
“Father Alvarez,” Murdoch stood up and put out his hand. “I’m—”
“Murdoch Lancer,” Father Alvarez smiled and extended his own hand. “I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing you at Mass, either.”
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Well, I—”
“I understand,” the priest interrupted kindly. “It’s hard to leave a loved one’s side in their time of need.”
Murdoch nodded awkwardly.
“Actually,” the priest continued, “that’s why I came.”
“Someone’s sick?” Angelou asked as he self-consciously sat his chair upright.
Father Alvarez turned. “Well, unless there’s been a recent change that I’m not aware of, I heard Mr. Madrid was.”
“My son?” Murdoch asked, clearly surprised.
Father Alvarez turned back and nodded. “I generally give comfort to the sick and their family.” A slight smile crossed his face. “Besides, I had a very devoted member of my parish ask me, as a personal favor, to make an effort to meet with you and your son. It was a suggestion, I must confess, I had been remiss in my duties not to have seen to earlier. I hope you can forgive me.” He gave a slight bow of submission.
Murdoch’s eyes widened slightly and he quickly cleared his throat. “No problem, Father.” He hesitated awkwardly. “Johnny’s upstairs with Scott and DarkCloud right now.”
“That’s fine,” Father Alvarez indicated one of the other tables. “This gives me a chance to talk to you first.”
Murdoch opened his mouth to protest then managed to swallow the objection. “Of course,” he said. “Very thoughtful of you.”
The priest nodded, took a step toward the table, then paused and bent over to lay a hand on Angelou’s shoulder. “I’m sure any winnings from tonight’s game will find its way into the church’s offerings.”
The four men at the table all quickly nodded then watched as Father Alvarez and Murdoch made their way to a far table.
Murdoch waited until the priest had taken his seat before sitting down. He folded his hands carefully and placed them on top of the table. “Is there anything in particular I can help you with, Father?”
The priest smiled and shook his head. “No, Mr. Lancer. I’m here to help you.”
“Well, I’m really not sure what you could do, Father.”
“Generally I find that when a person is sick, their family is in need of comfort—”
“That may be true,” Murdoch shook his head and opened his hands. “But I’m fine, really.”
“You are?” The priest asked, an eyebrow raised. “You aren’t worried about your son’s health? You aren’t concerned about what could happen? You aren’t bothered by the thought that he could have died? About what might have happened if he had?” There was a pause. “Or about what might have been left unsaid?”
Murdoch’s mouth dropped open, his surprise in how succinctly and easily the old priest had laid out his very thoughts. He blinked, grasped for the appropriate words with which to respond, but they seemed to elude him.
The old priest tilted his head slightly and leaned forward. “My words seem to surprise you?”
“Well, yes—I mean, no,” Murdoch shook his head, cleared his throat gruffly while Father Alvarez smiled patiently at him.
“People think because I’m a priest that I don’t really know what’s going on. But sometimes, not having the cares and worries of my own family and a preoccupation with acquiring worldly possessions, I’m able to focus more, learn and listen. I generally know more about what’s going on than I’m given credit for.” He paused, his voice soft. “When a father’s relationship with his son is strained, the questions are usually the same.”
Murdoch sat back in his seat. “I’m not sure what you’ve heard, or what you’re trying to accomplish, Father Alvarez, but—”
“Mr. Lancer. You are a man of considerable wealth, are you not?”
Murdoch’s face tightened before he nodded curtly. “I don’t see—”
“A man of your wealth, your position in the community, most likely worked very hard to achieve his goals—expects no less from those around him. And it must be difficult for you to suddenly find yourself with two grown sons whom you had no hand in raising, no opportunity to instill your values. I’m sure it can be trying when their values and expectations clash with yours.” Without pause he continued. “Your oldest. He grew up back East, correct?”
Murdoch nodded. “He was raised by his grandfather.”
The old priest nodded. “And Johnny?”
Murdoch took in a deep breath, drew his hands down to his lap. “Is there a point to this?” he asked tightly.
“In your position within the valley, it must be difficult to have a gunfighter for a son.” Father Alvarez hesitated a second, allowing his next phrase extra emphasis. “Or is it instead an asset?”
Murdoch’s expression turned insulted and he leaned forward. “If you are implying that I make use of my son’s reputation, you are very much mistaken.”
Father Alvarez nodded sagely. “I rather thought not. Though I have heard only random mention of your estancia, the use of force to bully smaller ranches has never been mentioned, at least to me.”
“And it better not be,” Murdoch snapped. “I abhor violence and the use of force.”
“So, Johnny is something of a difficulty for you instead.”
Murdoch’s jaw clenched as he pushed back in his chair once again. “Where are you going with this?”
Father Alvarez smiled warmly, steepled his fingers and leaned back in his own chair. “Did you know that I met Johnny a few years back.”
Murdoch’s expression registered surprise at the turn the conversation had taken.
“Of course, I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me. I was just one of a number of priests that happened to have been at Caborca when he showed up with Padre Simon. I had gone there to plead my case for the support to reinstate Mission Soledad as an operating church.” He sighed and chuckled. “Father Cabot thought I must be mad. Mission Soledad? He said to me. No one wants to go there! That is an appointment that has always been akin to being exiled. Why in the name of Heaven do you want to go there?”
Father Alvarez chuckled at the memory, shrugged and looked at Murdoch. “Ah, but my great-uncle, he used to be one of the missionaries here. I have the letters he wrote to my mother. While the mission seemed to carry its own curse—sickness, floods, lack of support both religious and governmental—my uncle found beauty here. He enjoyed the solitude, the ruggedness…” The priest paused and laughed. “Though his letters don’t speak fondly of the cold, wet, windy winters.”
“So you met Johnny down in Caborca?”
Father Alvarez smiled and nodded. “We had heard a couple days before their arrival that Padre Simon had hired himself a gunfighter to help him deliver a church’s relic to the seminary there. He was worried for its safety, as the area his church was located in was on the verge of a revolution, which did come to pass some short time later. However, many of the fathers were outraged that Padre Simon would do such a thing, but Padre Simon had a habit of following the Lord’s path in his own style. When they did arrive I, like many of the other priests, expected Padre Simon’s gunfighter to be unlikable, bullying, intimidating man with a short temper and a disdainful attitude. Instead I was surprised to see, when I entered the common square, a quiet young man with the darkest blue eyes and an attitude more of discomfort than belligerence. That’s when I discovered that Padre Simon’s gunfighter was Johnny Madrid.
“I briefly exchanged introductions with him, but it was clear that he was uncomfortable in our midst. However, Padre Simon never left his side, treated him with the same respect that he treated everyone, insisted that Johnny be welcomed at the evening meal.
“I remember he showed up, more to please Padre Simon, I suspect, than anything. He ate quickly and excused himself. After he’d left, Padre Simon had sighed, shook his head with sadness. ‘I wish I could help that boy lay his ghosts to rest,’ he said.”
Father Alvarez paused, looked at Murdoch meaningfully. “Isn’t that an interesting thing to say? Lay his ghosts to rest.”
Father Alvarez shook his head and closed his eyes. “The words and the tenderness with which he spoke surprised us all.” Father Alvarez paused before continuing. “Later that night, I was in the chapel. It was quiet then, a peaceful time to reflect and pray……Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi…”
Father Alvarez opened his eyes. “I stopped. I could sense that someone else was there, watching me. A strange feeling. But I knew, without a doubt, that someone else was present. It had startled me, and I momentarily forgot where I was in my prayer. Then I realized, to my amused chagrin, that I was probably only hearing the rustling of one of the many monks and fathers who were also visiting the seminary, that I was being too overly sensitive. I’d spent too many years in the small, quiet, pueblo where my church was located, and was unused to the commotion of a large abbey. Once more I started…
“…Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi—
“And I felt it again. Not a sound, really, but a feeling…
“And then the words that echoed from behind me….
“I turned, expected to find one of my brothers hidden in the shadows of the vestibule. But at first I could see nothing. I stepped forward, almost had to reach the doorway, before I could make out the figure enveloped in the shadows.
“It was your son, Johnny Madrid.” Father Alvarez smiled. “His Latin wasn’t perfect, but he knew the appropriate response. I asked him where he’d learned it, but he’d merely shrugged and looked away. ‘I’m sorry,’ was what he said. ‘I was afraid you’d forgotten the next part’.” Father Alvarez laughed softly. “Yes, I found your son to be a very interesting young man. Haunted perhaps, but then, we all have our demons, don’t we?” He looked at Murdoch. “Some are easier to hide …or exorcise, some society is more willing to tolerate, but we all have them.”
Murdoch and Father Alvarez both looked up to see Scott approaching the bar, a tray of dirty dishes balanced in his hands. Any surprise he may have felt on seeing his father talking to a priest had already been dealt with and a pleasant smile was the only thing visible on his handsome face. He placed the tray on the bar, then turned and made his way to their table where he stopped, extending his hand in greeting.
Murdoch quickly stood and gestured. “Father Alvarez, my son, Scott.”
The priest gripped Scott’s hand a moment, studied Scott’s face silently before giving a slight nod and smiling. “Please join us.”
Scott looked at Murdoch, then indicated the stairs with a slight nod of his head. “Is DarkCloud around? We just finished up there,” he added meaningfully.
Murdoch nodded. “He walked through here earlier. How’s Johnny doing?”
Scott hesitated, shot a quick look at the priest. “We had a bit of a discussion,” he answered vaguely. “He was feeling better when I left. I thought I’d go check on Barranca.”
“I checked on him earlier,” Murdoch answered.
“Well, then, you’re free to join us,” Father Alvarez said, gesturing toward a chair. “I would appreciate a chance to talk to you, too, before I pay a visit to your brother.”
Murdoch hid the smile that came to his lips behind his hand as he watched his eldest try to regain his composure.
“You’re planning to visit with Johnny?” Scott asked after swallowing his shock.
Father Alvarez nodded. “That’s my intention.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Father. Johnny—he—well,” Scott looked at Murdoch for help.
“I’m afraid what my son is trying to explain, is that it’d probably be best if you waited a few more days. Johnny’s not been well. And he’s having a difficult time recovering.”
“All the more reason I should see him now,” Father Alvarez explained calmly. “He is probably in need of spiritual comfort, don’t you think?”
“I don’t think you understand,” Scott interrupted as politely as he could.
“Oh, I may not know everything, but as I was telling your father here, I know more than people think. Besides, I made a promise to a very influential member of my parish that I would visit his friend. And a priest is bound by his word, so…” Father Alvarez shrugged with a smile.
“Who asked you to visit Johnny?” Scott asked.
“That’s strictly privy information.” The priest shook his head. “Certainly you can’t expect me to violate my oath?”
“Of course not, Father.” Murdoch assured, then turned his attention back to Scott. “Father Alvarez was just telling me that he had met Johnny a few years ago.”
“You did?” Scott paused thoughtfully, then pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. “When was this?”
“Oh,” Father Alvarez was thoughtful. “Just before I came here, so around four years ago I’d say.”
“Who was he with? What was he doing?” Scott asked.
Father Alvarez shrugged. “He was alone, except for Padre Simon. He was helping the father deliver some church’s relics to safety.”
“Oh,” Scott replied, seemingly disappointed. Then he smiled. “So, you’re the mission priest here for Soledad?”
Father Alvarez smiled wryly. “To be honest, Mission Soledad no longer exists on paper. I never could get the church to reinstate her. She is not worth the time and the effort, I’m afraid.” He sighed. “So, I’m here without the church’s sanction. Technically, I am retired.” He shrugged. “I do what I can, and will until I die, but eventually the valley will reclaim the ugly sister.”
Scott looked at his father. “That’s unfortunate.”
“Ah, we all return to the dust from which we were created,” Father Alvarez said with a shrug, then smiled. “Perhaps, I’ll have the honor of seeing you next Sunday in my little chapel.”
“I look forward to it, Father,” Scott agreed.
Father Alvarez grinned, glanced at Murdoch. “Nice manners.” Then he nodded toward the stairs. “It is getting late, I suppose. I should perhaps go up and talk to your Johnny now.” He stood up, Scott and Murdoch both getting to their feet.
“DarkCloud,” Scott suddenly greeted.
The doctor paused in the doorway, noticed the small group standing at the table and headed in their direction. “Father Alvarez,” DarkCloud nodded.
“Señor DarkCloud,” Father Alvarez greeted. “I should admonish you, too, but I’ve never been too successful at compelling you to become more regular in your attendance.”
DarkCloud smiled. “Ah, I’d hate to take away your one true goal in life.”
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other with amusement, could only guess at the story behind their friendship.
“I’m on my way up to speak with your patient,” Father Alvarez stated.
“Johnny?” DarkCloud asked, then gave a soft snort. “Well, you were always one to believe in miracles.”
“And you don’t find his being here a miracle?” the priest asked simply.
“Obviously you do,” DarkCloud replied dryly. “Saint Francis saved Johnny.”
Father Alvarez smiled. “It seems quite clear to me.”
“You always did see things differently,” DarkCloud replied.
Father Alvarez raised an eyebrow. “And I thought you were the one who saw things differently.”
DarkCloud grinned. “I guess we like to look at the same thing, just from different angles.”
“Well said,” Father Alvarez nodded, then turned once more to Murdoch. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go on up stairs.”
Murdoch put out his hand. “Father.”
“Father,” Scott added, shaking the priest’s hand.
“Sunday,” Father Alvarez reminded with a smile.
“Johnny’s in the second room on the right,” DarkCloud added.
Father Alvarez nodded. “Thank you.” Then he headed toward the stairs.
“Oh, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Scott said as Father Alvarez disappeared up the stairs.
“For whom?” DarkCloud asked with a grin. “Johnny or Father Alvarez?”
“Well, other than tossing the good father out of the saloon, I don’t think there was any way to stop him,” Murdoch added.
“Broken arm all taken care of?” Scott asked.
DarkCloud nodded, then gave a chuckle as he nodded toward the door where a rather pale-looking young man had just entered, his arm heavily bandaged and supported in a sling. Another young man followed him in. They gave DarkCloud a nod.
“Thought a drink might help Jess here,” the one young man said.
“Checking the water depth before you go jumping in also helps. Especially this time of year,” DarkCloud admonished.
The two men nodded sheepishly then made their way over to Rosti.
Murdoch chuckled and shook his head. “Ah, the young.”
DarkCloud cast a glance at the two young men. “Poor Jess is going to have a hard time living this one down. It’s a miracle they both didn’t go and break their necks.” He looked at Scott. “Now, you never did anything so foolish, right?”
Scott shook his head. “Never.”
DarkCloud cocked his head, his expression changing. “So, how did it go after I left?”
Scott hesitated before answering. “We—we talked a bit.”
DarkCloud nodded. “That’s good.” He paused then added, “I know you felt pressured, but you did fine.”
“What are you two talking about?” Murdoch interrupted.
Scott had to force himself to face his father. “I gave Johnny the last dose of morphine.”
“Oh,” Murdoch replied carefully.
“I…was just bringing down the dishes and had planned to go back up when I saw you and Father Alvarez.”
“How was Johnny feeling when you left?”
Scott nodded. “He was doing fine. Though he’s going to be a bit surprised to have that priest show up instead of me, and…” Scott gave a wry look toward the stairs, “I’d say Johnny’s pretty much had his fill of surprises for the day.”
DarkCloud also glanced toward the stairs. “Well, Father Alvarez will be able to handle him. He’s pretty perceptive.” He then turned back to Scott and Murdoch. “I’ll leave you two to handle things here for a bit.
Murdoch and Scott watched DarkCloud head out the front doors.
“Well, you up for a drink?” Scott turned to his father. “I think I’m going to have one.”
Murdoch nodded. “I think I’ll join you.”
Johnny absently flipped the pages of the medical journal he’d found sitting on the bedside table. He’d seen Murdoch holding it, was curious to see what his father had been reading. On discovering it was a medical journal filled with notes, symptoms, remedies and treatments, he’d wondered at first why his father would find such reading of interest. Then he discovered the dog-eared page under the section on the use of morphine and other opium derivatives to alleviate pain. And he knew.
There was a short rap on the door. Johnny dropped the book onto the table, and expecting Scott, he absently called out, “Come on in.”
As the door opened, he turned around, determined to meet his brother as amiably as possible after the recent series of events. “If you rounded up a deck of cards, we could—” Johnny stopped, surprised to find not his brother, but a small, thin, partially balding priest standing in the doorway smiling at him.
“Well, I don’t happen to have a deck with me, but I’m sure I could borrow one from downstairs. Might be worth asking, just to see their looks,” the priest chuckled warmly.
Johnny stared at the priest with some confusion. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The priest smiled. “Actually, I came to talk to you.”
“Me?” Johnny’s confusion turned to wary surprise. “Perhaps you have the wrong room.”
“Oh, no,” the priest replied as he shut the door, his smile open and friendly. “Johnny Madrid—or Lancer. Which do you prefer?”
Johnny’s expression immediately became void of emotion. “And you are?” he asked evasively.
“Father Alvarez. The rather eccentric priest of Mission Nuestra de la Soledad,” Father Alvarez’s smile didn’t fade as he met Johnny’s blank look.
“The mission priest,” Johnny said. “And you say you wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes, I thought it might be good to pay you a visit, as your injuries have prevented you from being able to attend Mass.”
Johnny’s eyebrow rose slightly and he crossed his arms, suddenly uncomfortable in nothing but his pants and bandages. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t be attending Mass anyway,” he replied dryly.
“Oh?” Father Alvarez sounded surprised. “Why not? You’d be welcomed, you know.”
The first hint of a smile crossed Johnny’s lips. “I rather doubt it, but that’s kind of you to say so.”
The priest mirrored Johnny’s smile. “I guess you may be right. It would be difficult for the subject of my sermon, the man who’d risked all only to be saved from death’s premature grip by an angel of the Lord, to attend Mass. The sensation you would cause would be quite immense. I should probably thank you for not attending and upstaging me.”
Johnny blinked slowly, lowered his arms as he seemed to stare uncomprehendingly at the priest.
“Could I trouble you for a glass of water?” Father Alvarez pointed toward the water pitcher.
“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked.
“A glass of water,” Father Alvarez answered calmly.
“No—I mean, yes,” Johnny shook himself into action and quickly went to the pitcher where he poured a glass of water. As he handed it to the priest, he demanded, “Now what are you talking about—angels and such?”
Father Alvarez accepted the water with a pleasant nod and took a sip. “Well, in your case, I suppose I should say the Patron Saint, given to watch over and protect you.”
“I think you’re mistaken.”
Father Alvarez shook his head, stretched out a long thin hand and pointed at Johnny’s chest. “Saint Francis. I heard what happened. I also happen to know it was a medallion of Padre Simon’s. That he was the one who gave it to you.”
“What?” Johnny stepped backward, an attempt to put distance between himself and the outstretched finger, his eyes becoming mere slits as he searched the priest’s face. “What was your name?”
The priest smiled patiently. “Father Alvarez.”
Johnny pursed his lips then slowly shook his head. “Do I know you?”
Father Alvarez gave a casual shrug. “Probably not.”
“But I know you,” the priest stated without pretense.
“I don’t know how—”
“Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi…”
“Miserere nobis,” Johnny finished, stunned. “That was…. You were the priest in the chapel.”
Father Alvarez nodded warmly. “That was me. And I became very intrigued by the young gunfighter who could finish Latin prayers, and whom Padre Simon seemed to have taken such an intense interest in.”
Johnny stepped away. “I don’t know Latin.”
“That isn’t the point, is it?”
Johnny turned away without answering.
“Padre Simon cared deeply about you.”
Johnny closed his eyes and bowed his head. “He was—he was a good man.”
“I admired him greatly,” Father Alvarez agreed softly. “I wish the Church had more like him. So many priests today have their eyes more on the prizes of ambition and religious power than on the humble and submissive role of truly serving others, thereby spreading our Lord’s true wish of love and acceptance for all.” He sighed to himself. “Many are called but—”
“Few are chosen,” Johnny whispered.
It was Father Alvarez’s turn to look astonished. Then he suddenly burst out laughing, drawing Johnny’s attention. “Oh, Padre Simon was so right about you!” He laughed again, then nodded toward a chair. “May I?”
Johnny nodded indifferently while he cautiously regarded the chuckling priest. “Why are you here?”
“I made a promise to one of my youngest parishioners.”
“Jamie,” Johnny murmured with a shake of his head.
“Well, I shouldn’t divulge that information, but yes, Jamie talked to me. He’s very worried about you. As is your family.”
Johnny eyed the priest cautiously. “You talked to my family?”
“Mostly to your father. He’s very distressed by the situation. He feels a lot of pain and guilt over what has happened.”
“Guilt?” Johnny shook his head in disbelief. “You must be mistaken—”
“No. In the few moments I spent with him, his love for you—his remorse over his failure to track you down earlier… He’s trying to deal with it as best as he can, but he’s hampered by his knowledge that you blame him, too.”
Johnny turned away. “He did what he could to find me.”
“But he could have done more.” Father Alvarez paused a moment. “And now you’re left with two lives,” he continued. “The one arising from your mother’s decision to leave your father, the life of the gun for hire, drifting from one job to the next, always a new experience, new people, excitement and danger, the thrill of the unknown when one lives life on the edge of a knife. While the other is the life your father wished for you, a rather orderly and calm life in comparison, part owner of one of the largest estancias in all California, a life of politics and scrutiny, meetings and business dealings, fences and responsibility. The decision of which path to follow must be hard for you.”
turned around. “What would you
know of it?”
Father Alvarez spread his hands out, settled back in the chair with a shrug. “I’d have a hard time. Excitement or boredom. Business meetings or cantinas. Post holes or,” he paused, “posses.”
Johnny lowered his eyes. “Go ahead and finish it. I’ve already heard it from Scott. Death or life—isn’t that what you’re getting at?”
The priest raised an eyebrow. “On the contrary, I’m just conceding that the idea of giving up your previous life would be a difficult decision. I mean, as Johnny Madrid, you’re a person that commands respect, whether as the hero of the oppressed peasant, or the man envied by other men who lack your, shall we say, abilities.”
At the last word, Johnny’s look turned sour and he put his hands on his hips. “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish here. But I’ve heard enough sermonizing from DarkCloud, Scott and Harley. By now I’ve heard it all.”
“Have you?” Father Alvarez asked as he rose to his feet. “Then my apologies.” He paused and took a step forward. “But are you aware that Padre Simon wrote me often about you?”
“Wrote you?” Johnny looked skeptical.
“Yes,” the priest nodded. “After your little visit in the chapel, I sought out Padre Simon the next morning and asked about you. He was very protective of you, concerned about your future and the path you were following. He and I, well, I guess you could say we were similar in our vision for the church and struck up a friendship that continued until his death. Though I never had a chance to meet him again, his letters often held references to you. And he always ended with a request that I include you in my own prayers—which I did. And though you may not believe it, no one could convince me otherwise that this,” the priest put a hand out, softly touching Johnny’s bandaged chest, while Johnny fought the urge to step back and retreat, “this right here, was the Lord’s work.”
He raised his eyes, meeting Johnny’s dark blue ones with his own shining black, his palm still resting on Johnny’s chest. “That medallion had been his. In the last letter he wrote to me, he mentioned that he wished he had met you earlier in your life. He hoped that he would have a chance to see you one last time, and he worried about what would become of you. He prayed that you’d find your way, your true path, as he felt strongly that the one you were on was a false one, a mistake. He said you tried hard to walk alone, to mold your soul into something dark and hard, to become cold like other gunfighters he’d seen. And he feared that eventually you’d be successful unless—unless something happened to bring you back into the light, to give you true love and a sense of belonging.”
Father Alvarez let his hand drop away from Johnny’s chest yet his eyes still remained firmly locked on the blue ones. “I don’t think you’re fully aware of how many people your life has touched and affected—how many people along your dark path to self-destruction were watching and silently praying. How wondrous it is what you accomplished, that very few men in your profession can claim, a profession wrought with self-indulgent, self-centered, wealth seeking men who generally stop at nothing to serve their own ends. You, instead, stood out among them, a man of principles and values.” He paused and smiled, “Not the principles and values held by men of corrupt power, but your desire to see justice served, even at the cost of your own life or freedom, for no monetary gain. That’s truly rare.”
Johnny swallowed, felt an urge to rebuke. “Yet, I took lives.”
Father Alvarez nodded sadly. “And that is between you and the Lord. It is not for me to pass judgement.”
“Yet here, in your town, I am a hero. Even you seem to think so.” Johnny stared hard at the priest. “I kill some men, I save a town. Tell me, does the one make up for the other?”
Father Alvarez shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Yet you claim a Saint saved my life,” Johnny reiterated.
Father Alvarez’s somber expression remained. “I do know one thing. Padre Simon told me that he could see your soul slowly being eaten away. He saw what happened to you when you were forced to kill a man—how it settled on you like a heavy shadow.”
Johnny pulled away. “There’s so much you’re not even aware of.”
“Perhaps,” Father Alvarez nodded wisely. “Like your desire to end your life?”
The remark brought a look of surprise on Johnny’s face. He tried to mask it, but knew the priest had seen the impact the truth had produced.
“Do not be too troubled by that,” Father Alvarez laid a hand on Johnny’s arm. “Your soul is tired. When the soul gets exhausted—emptied—that’s when a person does what he normally wouldn’t do.”
Johnny shook his head, grasped at a retort, but could find none.
“The decision you make now is going to affect a lot of people. And you need to realize that. You aren’t alone. Not only are you not going to die alone, you’re not going to live alone, either. Think about that.”
With a sympathetic smile, Father Alvarez squeezed Johnny’s arm, then turned and went to the door. In the opened doorway, he turned once more. “And don’t forget, the Lord never makes a mistake. If he determined that you should live, despite your own plans, there was a good reason for it. Perhaps it’d be best you paid attention to what he’s trying to tell you.”
Johnny watched the priest leave, the door closing soundlessly behind him.
Everything Father Alvarez had said was true. He didn’t want to admit it, but the priest had been right. But could he truly leave the hero and the legend behind to be buried in the dust of time? Or would the roots keep coming back to claw at him, dragging him back to their familiar ground. While he felt a disgust at times and a disappointment and even an anger—a need to blame someone for his life—the fact was, in his miserable attempt to hang on to life, he’d found something he was good at—very good at—and the truth was, it was going to be hard to give it up. He doubted he’d ever feel at home in the business dealings and socials, the day-to-day running of the Lancer Ranch. He’d been Johnny Madrid for too long. Wanting to change was easy. Making the change and sticking to it, that was the hard part.
Scott looked up at the sound of someone descending the stairs. Immediately he recognized the bottom edge of the priest’s robes and made a quick motion to Murdoch. By the time the elderly priest had fully appear, Murdoch had turned around and stood up, Scott following his example.
Father Alvarez slowly made his way to their table, his arms folded within the sleeves of his brown robe and smiled. “I’m glad I came,” he said. “He’s at a difficult time—at a crossroads in his life. But I’m sure you’re aware of that.” He paused and looked from Murdoch to Scott. “What he wants to do, knows to do, is made difficult by the past.”
“The part of him that’s still more comfortable being Johnny Madrid,” Scott whispered throatily.
Father Alvarez nodded. “It is a fine line he’s walked for many years. I’m surprised he wasn’t drawn into his own myth—that he managed to keep his perspective and identity. It’s amazing, when on the one hand, he had people referring to him as their hero, their champion, singing his praises from one adobe hut to the next, while on the other side, the mere mention of his name was not complete without a curse and wish for damnation. That would affect even the most resolute of character.” He sighed. “Yet I see much the same young man as I did years ago. Even though he didn’t succumb to the allure of the notoriety of Johnny Madrid, he doesn’t seem to have made peace with him, either.” Father Alvarez shook his head and sighed. Then, unexpectedly, he put a hand out on Murdoch’s arm. “You could help him, more than you probably realize.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I think you’ve misunderstood something. Scott has a much better rapport with Johnny than I do. We’ve—we’re rarely at an agreement on anything. Any suggestion I’m apt to make will not be received in the spirit it was given.”
Father Alvarez bent his head sadly, then slowly looked back up at the larger man. “You are so very wrong. You are the one Johnny most needs to hear from. You are the anchor he’s searching for but can not quite find.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I really think Scott would—”
“Do you want your son back?”
Murdoch blinked. “What sort of a question is that?”
“An important one. I repeat, do you want your son back?”
Murdoch’s expression tightened, his unease apparent. “Of course I want my son back,” he growled stiffly.
“Then I suggest,” Father Alvarez nodded, “that you head upstairs and tell your son just how much he means to you, before you do lose him for all time.”
Finished, Father Alvarez turned and gave a polite nod to Scott, then quietly headed out of the saloon.
Tentatively Scott and Murdoch sought out each other’s eyes.
Scott noticed his father’s face had gone pale, his eyes glistened as he slowly blinked, tilted his head back and drew in a long, ragged breath which he held a few seconds before slowly letting it out. Firmly, he lowered his gaze back on Scott. He clenched his jaw a second before giving a tight smile. “I think I need to take a short walk.” He glanced toward the stairs self-consciously, seemed suddenly at a loss.
Murdoch’s unease and indecision bothered Scott as he suddenly felt everything Father Alvarez had said was true.
When Murdoch did look up, he still avoided Scott’s gaze. “I need a little time to think. To decide what to say…” Awkwardly and stiffly, their father turned and left the saloon.
Scott sighed heavily, downed the rest of his beer in one swallow then slid his hand into his vest pocket. Slowly he withdrew two items, a folded letter and a deformed golden disc suspended on a chain. “Okay, then,” he murmured to himself. “If Murdoch won’t confront Johnny, then it’s up to me to start putting these pieces together. And Cisco, you’re first.”
“DarkCloud,” Scott called upon entering the apothecary shop.
“What’s up? Father Alvarez still around?”
Scott shook his head. “No. He just left a few minutes ago.”
“Good man,” DarkCloud chuckled. “Don’t tell him I told you so, though.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“So,” DarkCloud cocked his head. “Need something?”
Scott nodded, his lips pursed thoughtfully. “Yes. I do need something. And I think you have it.”
DarkCloud raised an eyebrow. “I have it?”
Scott straightened up. “There were three letters, DarkCloud.” Scott pulled the folded letter out of his pocket. “Harley gave me his.”
DarkCloud looked at the letter a second, then nodded, his expression grim. “Harley’s, huh?” He asked, looking back at Scott.
“Where’s the other two?”
DarkCloud sighed as he leaned his back against the shelving and rubbed his face tiredly. “Scott, those were letters left in my care to—”
“Where’s the other two?” Scott repeated.
DarkCloud crossed his arms. “One was mine. I gave it to Murdoch.”
Scott looked surprised. “You gave it to Murdoch?”
“I felt your father needed it. I hoped it might help him understand what Johnny was going through.”
“He never told me.”
“Did you tell him about Harley’s letter?”
Scott shook his head.
DarkCloud shrugged. “So, you’re even.” He pushed away from the shelves and uncrossed his arms.
“Not quite. There’s still a third letter.”
DarkCloud shook his head unhappily. “I don’t think I should—”
“Have you read it?”
DarkCloud shook his head. “Scott, it wasn’t mine to read.”
“Who’s it to?”
DarkCloud sighed heavily, fixed Scott with a hard look.
“It’s to Cisco, isn’t it?”
DarkCloud stiffened in surprise.
“I need to know who this Cisco is. I need to understand his connection to my brother. I’ve met Harley, I knew Wes. But this Cisco… DarkCloud, I need that letter. Maybe it’ll tell me something, anything, to help me reach Johnny, to say the right thing. Cisco helped him before. Cisco and Harley, they knew what to do. But I feel like I’m floundering. I don’t feel like Johnny trusts me like he would them. Please, DarkCloud. Maybe there’ll be something in there that will help me.”
DarkCloud studied Scott’s fervent expression, could hear the distress behind the words he’d spoken. Finally he nodded. “Okay. I’ll get it. But I don’t think it’s what you’re looking for.”
DarkCloud turned and disappeared into the back of the shop, reappearing a moment later with a folded envelope. Silently he handed it over.
Scott smiled gratefully. Briskly he turned the envelope over and looked down. He froze in confusion. “What’s this?”
“The other letter,” DarkCloud replied.
“But this—this is addressed to Padre Francisco Esteban de la Cruz Espi, Ensenada, Mexico.”
DarkCloud nodded. “That’s it.”
Still confused, Scott looked at DarkCloud. “I thought he would have written to Cisco.”
“But—” Scott halted as realization dawned. “Cisco—Francisco—Cisco’s a priest?” Disbelief colored Scott’s barely audible whisper.
DarkCloud nodded. “That’s what it looks like to me.”
“But that doesn’t make sense.”
DarkCloud shrugged. “I suppose they could be two separate people. I don’t know. I’d heard Cisco’s name mentioned, as you have. But he left a letter addressed to a Padre Francisco.”
“A priest,” Scott murmured once more, looking back down at the letter. “I guess… it explains …some things that seemed out of place before,” he finished thoughtfully. With a sigh, he shook his head and opened the letter.
DarkCloud watched as Scott took a deep breath then slowly unfolded the note. He looked at it for a minute, his expression turning amused.
“Not what you expected?” DarkCloud asked.
“I might know if I could read it,” Scott laughed and with wry amusement laid the letter out on the counter. “French, Latin, Greek, even Italian…why I never bothered to take some Spanish in college, I’ll never know.”
DarkCloud leaned over and slid the letter closer. He quickly scanned it then looked up.
“Will you tell me what it says?”
DarkCloud nodded. “This must have been the last one he wrote. It’s—it’s vague—choppy. I can barely make out some words.”
“I really need to know what he wrote,” Scott said as he walked around the counter to come to stand next to DarkCloud.
“I don’t think it’s going to be much help.”
DarkCloud gave a nod of agreement, picked the letter up and read, “You are right. Darkness has claimed me. There is no escape this time. I wish I had listened. But I could not hear—the hatred was too loud. Someday, when you see Padre Simon, tell him that I would have done it differently. But it’s too late to make any difference now. And if you can, would you say a Mass for the Johnny Madrid you used to know, the one who still had a future.” DarkCloud looked up. “That’s all. It’s not even signed.”
Scott continued to stare at the note for a minute, then slowly he turned to DarkCloud, his expression troubled.
“Scott, those last couple days….” DarkCloud paused and shook his head sadly. “I had tried everything—everything—I could think of. And I’ve never felt so helpless. All I could do was watch him plan his own death.” DarkCloud closed his eyes and shook his head. “And I helped him.”
“If it weren’t for you, he’d have been dead before we even got here,” Scott replied sympathetically. “You kept him alive long enough to give us a chance.”
Though DarkCloud smiled, it was forced. “It’s okay, Scott. I’ve told myself the same thing. However, I’m forced to admit that I allowed Johnny to become dependent on the laudanum because of my inattention, and he wouldn’t have even known about the morphine if it weren’t for my offering it to him as a way to further manage the pain. I made it available.”
“He wouldn’t have been able to take on Wakeman’s gun without it.”
DarkCloud slammed his fist on the counter. “Scott! He wouldn’t have been able to leave the hotel if I hadn’t given it to him!”
“I know my brother. If he was determined to get out to that street, he would have gotten there.”
DarkCloud shook his head. “He would have tried, but he would not have been able to make it. And then you and your father and the Paso sheriff would have shown up and everything could have turned out differently.”
“You had no way of knowing that. You can only make decisions based on the knowledge you have.”
DarkCloud turned. “Are you sure?”
“Totally. It’s ridiculous to expect yourself to predict the future. You can only make the best decisions you can, given what you know. That’s all anyone can expect.”
Suddenly DarkCloud smiled. “Then quit blaming yourself for Johnny’s current situation. Unless I’m mistaken, when he left Lancer, you had no way of knowing that he’d be jumped on by bounty hunters, injured and end up here with a gap in his memory. You are as much to blame for his condition as I am to blame for the morphine problem.”
“But, if I’d—”
“But, if I’d—” Dark repeated, a half-smile on his face.
Scott blinked, looked at DarkCloud, then suddenly laughed. “You are good, DarkCloud. Very good. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
DarkCloud smiled. “Oh, they try, but obviously they’re wrong.”
Scott laughed again, looked back at the letter and shook his head. “Okay,” he sighed. “I’m going back up to Johnny.”
“Did the letter tell you what you needed to know?”
Scott gave a vague shrug. “I’m not sure. I think I need to sit on it for a bit. I have a feeling there just might be something there.”
“I hope so,” DarkCloud replied.
Scott gave the letter a pat, then folded it back up. “Can I keep it?”
“Didn’t think you could read it.”
“I still want it,” Scott said.
“Thanks,” Scott slid the letter into his pocket, nodded his appreciation and left the store.
Johnny leaned against the window frame, the rough wood comforting against his shoulder, a feeling of familiarity that caused a half-smile to form on his lips. Outside, darkness was descending, the sun already having dipped behind the Santa Lucias in the west, their long shadows reaching across the valley to the base of the Diablos. The effect brought a soft grayish pink color to the otherwise dry, forlorn looking buildings that dotted the outskirts of the nondescript town.
The scene brought a calming to his chest, releasing a tightness that had been present for so long that Johnny had ceased to be aware of it, or had gotten so used to it that he’d accepted it as part of normalcy. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, the twinge in his chest suddenly reminding him of other times…and other injuries… and Johnny’s eyes shot open in surprise as he realized why the coming night felt so inviting, so comfortable.
It was because it reminded him of who he’d been—and who he was.
Not until he’d arrived at Lancer had he really become acquainted with the day. He’d been a creature more comfortable in the night and the shadows—at home with others whose deeds were often best accomplished when witnesses were at a minimum and one’s conscience could be easily drowned with a quick trip to a nearby saloon.
Movement outside in the street secured Johnny’s attention and he noticed a blond form striding purposely from the apothecary shop, the figure tall and lean, the gait sure, yet without pretense.
A product of the light as much as Johnny was a product of darkness. At home in one of Murdoch’s meetings as Johnny was in a saloon, able to discourse with the ladies at a church social as well as the town mayor or the local priest, while Johnny preferred to hide, uneasy in the light-hearted affairs required of the ‘patrons’ of such a large holding as Lancer.
His hesitation to participate in those carefree festivities was something neither Scott nor Murdoch seemed to understand about him. It bothered him, though he was loathe to admit it even to himself, that all he could think about in those crowded rooms full of laughing people was what everyone else saw when they looked at him. Did they see the Johnny Lancer he was trying so hard to be, or did they really see the Johnny Madrid that he had been? When he was finally cornered into doing his duty and he danced with one of the young ladies, he was more nervous than if he’d been facing down a dozen men. He was sure that underneath the coy smile and innocent chatter about weather and the coming harvests, she was really wondering about how many men he’d killed, if the stories she’d heard about him were true, and how was it possible that a man like Murdoch could have two such different sons? One light and refined whom people spoke about in admiration; the other dark and dangerous, with a past people only whispered about.
It was impossible to explain these things to Scott—he couldn’t even explain them to himself. The reality was, he was more at home in the saloons and the gaming halls, back alleys and bawdy houses, where no one asked who you were, and if they knew, they didn’t care. Everyone was treated with the same indifference…
A cool breeze blew in through the window and he shivered. There was a quick rap on the door, and it opened, the curtains suddenly billowing into the room, obstructing Johnny’s view. He pushed the curtain down, just as the door closed, effectively killing the fabric’s dance.
Scott entered and smiled tentatively. “How’d it go?”
Johnny grimaced. “Surprised to see I wasn’t struck by lightning?”
Scott chuckled. “I brought you that beer I promised earlier.” He walked forward and handed one of the mugs he was carrying to Johnny. As he did so, he noticed a book lying open on one of the chairs. “A bit of light reading?”
Johnny shrugged. “It’s poetry. Most of it don’t make no sense.”
Scott feigned dismay. “What do you mean? There are some wonderful pieces in there. You’ve just got to look at it with the right eye.”
“Scott, it don’t matter which eye you use. It’s mostly just a bunch of fancy people with fancy words, who really haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.”
“For instance?” Scott challenged, a hint of a smile on his face.
Johnny dropped his gaze to his hands, one of which was still clutching the thin fabric of the curtain. Then he turned and looked out the window. “Darkness,” he stated softly.
Johnny glanced up, his eyes strangely haunted, the discomfort so unmistakable that it took most of Scott’s concentration not to flinch.
“Darkness,” Johnny repeated in a voice that almost echoed. “That writer there seems to think he knows what it is. Do you?”
Scott tried to meet the gaze evenly, tried to comprehend…find the correct answer…understand his brother’s intent. “It’s the absence of light,” he replied in as easy a tone as he could muster, yet his brows were creased with confusion.
“Ah,” Johnny nodded, seemed amused. “Absence of light.” A mocking smile crawled from the corner of his lips to the corners of his eyes and he regarded Scott with a knowledge that Scott feared—no knew—he could never possess. “Scott, my dear brother, you are wrong. Just like that writer there with all his fancy words, you’ve lost the question as you strive to reach an answer. It ain’t just the absence of light—it’s the absence of warmth and comfort, it’s the absence of the familiar, the absence of love… It’s watchin’ your mother being killed in front of your very eyes, while you’re powerless to do anything about it.” He suddenly paused and his eyes grew as cold as the bluish steel of the barrel of a gun, his voice frosty. “It’s killing the man who murdered your mother…and feeling no remorse.”
The silence in the room echoed while Johnny stared at Scott, then he suddenly flung back his head and laughed, raising the mug of beer as if in toast. “That, dear brother, is what darkness really is. What’s your opinion of my definition? Would I have gotten an ‘A’ from one of your professors?”
Scott studied his brother as he formulated a careful response. “I’d say Professor Whitney would have enjoyed your ideas. He’d say you have the heart of a poet.”
Johnny snorted. “Far from it. I simply can tell when a man’s got no idea what he’s talkin’ about.”
“Could be his experience with darkness was just different than yours.”
Johnny laughed again. “You sound like Cisco.”
Scott tilted his head, surprised by Johnny’s obvious opening. But was it intentional, or the product of the medicine? Scott decided to pursue. “What was Cisco like?”
Johnny pursed his lips, seemed irritated by the question, then suddenly shook his head and sighed. “He was a friend.”
“That much I know.”
“He usually planned the jobs we took on.”
“So why do I remind you of Cisco?”
“He liked poetry and stories,” Johnny replied, then added before taking a sip of his beer, “And he liked to talk and analyze way too much.”
Scott smiled good-naturedly. “You trying to hint at something, Brother?”
But instead of smiling, Johnny turned back toward the window.
Scott took a sip of his own beer. “When’s the last time you saw Cisco?”
Immediately Johnny’s smile faded. “It’s been quite awhile,” he replied, the warmth in his voice had also disappeared.
“Is he dead?”
Johnny suddenly chuckled softly. “No. No, Cisco’s far from dead.”
“Are you still friends? Have you kept in touch?” Scott asked.
Johnny turned around, took a sip of his beer, a half-smile on his lips. “Still friends?” He shook his head. “Scott, you do ask the strangest questions.”
Scott shrugged. “I told you before, I’m just trying to understand.”
Johnny’s smile evaporated completely and he gave Scott a strange look. “Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, curiosity killed the cat?”
“Sure I’ve heard it,” Scott nodded. “Also heard, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. And I think we both have enough sense to know that’s not true.”
Johnny’s expression became sour. “Are you referring to what happened with Drago?”
Scott quickly shook his head. “No, Johnny. I’m not referring to anything in particular.”
Johnny looked down uncomfortably at his beer. “I am sorry about what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Johnny looked back up. “Then how come you go out of your way to keep that scar on your arm hidden?”
Scott hesitated. “Because I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Because you don’t want to have a reminder of how my past almost got you killed.”
Scott met Johnny’s eyes, then gravely nodded.
“So you think learnin’ about Cisco and Harley and everything else will keep those things from happening?”
“No, I don’t expect it will. But I’m hoping by learning and understanding, I’ll find out what I need to scale this wall between us.”
Johnny looked surprised. “Wall? What wall?”
“The wall you’ve been building since…since—” he gestured widely. “Who knows when? Since you were taken from Lancer. Since your mother died. Since you became a gunfighter. I don’t know.” He shook his head. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. All these things, Cisco, Harley, Texas, Kansas…they’re all a part of the puzzle, a part of the wall.”
“So, now I’m a puzzle, too?”
“Yes. And you know what?” Scott demanded. “I think you want it that way. I think you enjoy all the secrecy and mystique. I think that’s why you stubbornly cling to your past while at the same time you feel haunted by it. You spent a lot of time and effort building Johnny Madrid into something larger than life. A real legend. Because it was the difference between life and death. And while you say you’re haunted by darkness and the life you led was filled with pain and turmoil, it wasn’t all bad either, was it? Be honest. There were some good times along with the bad. There was excitement and grateful people, favors and the thrill of outsmarting your opponent, there was the pleasure of witnessing what just the mere mention of your name did to people and there was knowing you were the best at something.”
“There were also bullets in the back and laudanum,” Johnny retorted.
“I said there was the good and the bad.”
“Well, the bad got pretty damned bad, Scott.”
“I know,” Scott affirmed softly then added, “If you could change things, would you?”
Johnny looked at Scott with surprise, then he narrowed his eyes.
“If you could go back and do things over,” Scott repeated softly, “would you make—”
“I know what you mean,” Johnny interrupted. “And the answer is, yes.”
“And what would have become of you?”
“If you hadn’t become Johnny Madrid, if you hadn’t hooked up with Reveles and learned how to become a gunfighter, what would have become of you?”
Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Is it just possible, becoming Johnny Madrid gave you the chance to become Johnny Lancer?”
“Possibly,” Johnny nodded grimly. “But I had many opportunities to change later, to alter my path.”
“But you chose to continue?”
“Revenge can be a lucrative business.”
Scott waited, sensed Johnny’s phrase was more an irritation at the turn the conversation had taken, a desire to force it into an argument so that he could turn away. Scott resolved not to fall for the bait. “Why did you break up?”
Johnny’s surprise was apparent once more, and with a bitter shake of his head he took a long drink of his beer, then vaguely gestured with the mug. “Okay. You win. You wanna know about Cisco.” He pivoted away, shook his head again then rounded once more on Scott, one finger raised. “I’ll tell you about Cisco.” He laughed. “Sad really. Poor Cisco had the misfortune of being a younger son, you see. And he and his father, they were often at a disagreement over his future. His father wanted one thing, his mother another and poor Cisco, he didn’t know what he wanted. He just knew he couldn’t stay there, that he had to get away. That something more exciting was out there waiting. And when you go lookin’ for excitement, it’s rarely hard to find.” Johnny gave Scott a knowing smile and raised the mug in toast. He paused to savor another long sip, then continued, “Don’t really know how he got hooked up with Wes and Harley. Guess I never asked. Didn’t really plan on stickin’ with them that long. I looked on the whole thing as a diversion. A different opportunity to try out.”
“But you ended up riding together almost two years,” Scott observed.
Johnny cocked his head. “How’d you know?”
Scott shrugged. “I believe Harley mentioned it.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “What else did he mention?”
“Nothing, really.” Scott hesitated, then added, “But you did.”
Johnny didn’t reply, but his eyes narrowed warily.
“You were dreaming a few days back, when Harley had first arrived. You became disoriented, uncontrollable.”
Johnny froze, his attention fixed on Scott and the description.
“We didn’t know what to do. You couldn’t seem to breathe and were calling out, hitting at anyone who touched you. But Harley knew immediately what was wrong and what to do.” Scott paused. “He cut the bandage off your neck and you instantly calmed down.”
Johnny’s hand automatically rose to the new scar at his neck. “Bandage?”
“We wondered what had happened. At first, Harley seemed reluctant to explain, but finally he told us about the time you and he were almost hanged, and how you managed to get free and save him, but that the horse you were on bolted, and you were left hanging. Then Cisco and Wes appeared, but Cisco panicked and he almost cost you your life. He said that the whole incident continued to bother Cisco afterwards, as it was very unusual for Cisco to get flustered like that.”
Johnny suddenly dropped his hand from his neck. “I guess I need to talk to Harley about that mouth of his,” he quipped dryly.
“Johnny, you could have been hung!”
“It wasn’t Cisco’s fault, though,” Johnny laughed. “He never was a very good shot. That’s why he needed me.”
“Johnny,” Scott protested in exasperation, “you almost died!”
Johnny gave a snort. “Wasn’t the first time,” he said and downed what was left of his beer.
Scott clenched his teeth, furious at the nonchalance with which his brother was treating what was a very serious event. “Is that why you broke up?”
Johnny looked amused. “Because of that? No,” he shook his head, then became serious. “No, not really. The break-up,” he paused, suddenly looked at the empty mug and shook his head. “I guess you could say that’s another story. Long and complicated,” he continued his eyes fixed on the bottom of the mug. “No neat and final end, a simple parting of ways. Decisions, subterfuge, lies, disappointments…lost opportunities…”
Scott waited, hoped Johnny would continue.
“No,” Johnny looked up, his eyes dark. “No, Cisco decided to follow a different path.”
Scott opened his mouth, ready to ask the question that would confirm his suspicions, but Johnny suddenly gave an arrested groan, his head and shoulders slumping forward as his hand came up to rub his forehead. “I’m sorry, Scott. I—I’m not—”
Scott suddenly jumped into action, realized the mug in Johnny’s hand was shaking uncontrollably. “Sit down,” he ordered sharply, pulling a chair around.
Johnny lowered weakly into the chair, his eyes and teeth clenched as he leaned forward to place the mug on the table, his left hand pressing in against his chest.
“Should I go get DarkCloud?”
“No,” Johnny shook his head. “I’ll be fine. Just standing too long. ‘Sides,” he looked up, a half-grin on his ashen face. “We gotta first get rid of the evidence.” He glanced meaningfully at the mug in Scott’s hand.
Scott smiled in acknowledgement, but his eyes were troubled. When Johnny looked away, seemingly concentrating on his breathing, Scott stepped to the table and picked up the other mug. Then he turned, pausing in front of his brother.
“Johnny, I’m going to keep pushing, I’m going to keep scaling that wall, until I’ve figured out all the things you’ve got buried.”
Johnny gave a bitter sigh, didn’t look up. “Oh, you don’t want to do that, Scott. What would be left?”
Scott walked up to the bar, the two empty beer mugs in his hand, just as Murdoch entered from outside. Concerned by his father’s subdued expression, Scott paused with both mugs just inches from the counter top. He watched as Murdoch stopped in the middle of the room, looked up, almost seemed surprised to find he was standing in the saloon. When Scott saw that Murdoch had noticed him, he finished setting the mugs on the bar and walked over to his father.
“I just came down.”
“How’s he doing?” Murdoch asked.
“He was beginning to look a bit shaky when I left. I think the meeting with Father Alvarez took its toll, and he’d been on his feet quite a bit.”
“Should we go for DarkCloud?”
Scott shook his head. “I think it’s too early. I thought I’d just get Rosti to get me some of that tea and I know he has some more of that vapor going and DarkCloud’s going to want that.”
Murdoch nodded, glanced toward the stairs. “I’m going to go up and talk to him.”
Scott put a hand on his father’s arm. “I have something to show you.”
Murdoch hesitated, looked questioningly at Scott. “Can’t it wait?”
Scott hesitated before nodding reluctantly. “I suppose so.”
“I feel I need to do this while I have some idea what to say.”
Releasing his hold on his father’s arm, Scott nodded and stepped back. Then he watched with concern, for both his father and brother, as the older man walked up the stairs.
Outside the door to Johnny’s room, Murdoch stopped, realizing that his son was probably still in the room he and Scott shared. Changing direction, he crossed the hall, rapped on the door, then entered.
Johnny was seated in one of the chairs, hunched over in what could only be perceived as pain. At the sound of the door opening, he tilted his head toward the door yet remained bent forward, his left palm on his chest and his right hand gripped tightly against the bandages along his side. His face was pale, lips dry from the steady breathing he’d been using to control the discomfort.
“Johnny?” Murdoch quickly closed the door and stepped into the room.
Johnny lowered his hand from his chest, placed it on his knee and slowly straightened up. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said, took a breath and moistened his lips. “My own fault. I was on my feet too long. DarkCloud’s medicine can only do so much, I s’pose,” he added grimly.
“Johnny, I—I need to talk to you,” Murdoch said, lowering himself into the other chair.
The words elicited an instantaneous response from Johnny. He stiffened, his expression growing cold and vacant, the eyes darkening. Immediately he began to pull himself to his feet, one hand gripping the table nearby.
“Johnny!” Murdoch bolted back onto his feet. “Please. I thought we—”
“I’m tired,” Johnny interrupted stiffly. A cough caught in his throat and he visibly blanched from the pain it caused to his ribs and chest muscles.
“Please, let me help,” Murdoch said as he reached out.
“I’m fine,” Johnny waved away the help, turned his back to his father. “I just need to lay down.”
Murdoch clenched his jaw. Lord, Johnny, you are stubborn. But then, so am I. “Then I’ll help you to your room.”
“Scott’s going to be a few more minutes. He’s getting that vapor and some more tea for you.”
Johnny turned slowly. He fought back the urge to sigh dramatically, knew it would only bring more pain. He wished Murdoch wasn’t looking at him like that; like he’d just disappointed him. He was always getting that look.
never see him give Scott that look.
that’s ‘cuz Scott does things right the first time. Scott isn’t the one wavering unsteadily in front of him,
full of bullet holes and drugs for pain. Scott
didn’t go around killing people for a living, or have a bounty on his head.
“Give me your arm. I’ll help you back to your room,” Murdoch ordered.
Johnny felt the urge to snap back that he didn’t need to be commanded about like a dog, but Murdoch continued, getting a firm grip on Johnny’s elbow with one hand, while encircling his back almost tenderly with the other.
“And I’m not going to argue with you about getting DarkCloud. You don’t look well, but you’re the one who knows how you’re feeling.”
The actions and the words threw Johnny’s retort off, and he allowed Murdoch to help him out of the room and across the hall, though he felt embarrassed that Murdoch was most certainly able to tell just how badly the support was needed.
Once they entered his room, Johnny pulled away, relieved when Murdoch let him take the final two steps to his bed, albeit shakily. As Johnny sat down on the edge of the bed, he could feel his father studying him. He hazarded a quick glance upward, hoping Murdoch would see just how tired he was and leave. But, unfortunately, from Murdoch’s crossed arms and stance, it didn’t look like he had any intention of vacating the room.
Johnny sighed, winced, biting back a swear word.
“The medicine’s hard for DarkCloud to predict,” Murdoch said, in what seemed like an apology. “He’s trying to just give you enough to get by.”
“I know.” Johnny looked down at the floor. “Not enough to feel good, but too much so I can’t get away from it. Kinda like bein’ slowly dragged through Hell.”
Murdoch winced at the graphic description. “John. Is there anything I could do—anything that would help?”
Johnny looked up at his father. “No. It’s just—when it wears off, it leaves me feelin’ like I’ve just been bucked off a horse.”
“I know you’d just like to stop, but DarkCloud said that doing so will make you really sick.”
“I know, I know,” Johnny replied bitterly.
“He’s worried about those wounds, John. Especially that chest wound. Those ribs can’t withstand the trauma—”
“I said, I know. I’ve heard it from him already.”
“Well, he’s invested a lot of time trying to get you healed to go ruin it now,” Murdoch added with a forced smile.
Johnny looked away, shook his head.
Murdoch pursed his lips, hesitated. “I’m going to be gone a few days. I need to make a trip up to Salinas. I should be—”
“Why?” Johnny asked, his head snapping back up.
“Well, I thought I’d better send a wire to Teresa and Jelly. Let them know we’re doing okay.”
“Is Scott going with you?”
“No. No, he needs to be here.”
“Well, for you.”
Johnny looked at his father, then suddenly nodded. With a wry snort, he murmured, “In case DarkCloud’s not around, right?”
Johnny sighed. “Couldn’t you wait? I don’t like you goin’ up there alone.”
Murdoch shook his head. “No. I really can’t. Matthew will be accompanying me, though. He has some business up there, I guess.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Matthew has business up there? Are you sure?”
Murdoch shook his head. “I’m not sure. But when I heard he was going up, I thought it was a perfect time to go along.”
Johnny’s expression remained unsatisfied. “I still don’t like you going up.”
“It’ll just be quick—up and back. I’m leaving tomorrow morning and will be back Tuesday night.”
Johnny looked back down at his hands resting on his knees. “Well, just be careful, okay. I don’t trust either that James Wakeman or that father of his.”
“James is behind bars, Johnny, awaiting a hearing. And his father’s a judge.”
“Yeah.” Johnny looked up. “So?”
“He’s a judge,” Murdoch reiterated.
“Obviously you haven’t met enough judges,” Johnny replied dryly.
“And you have?”
“Enough. And this one I don’t trust.”
“You haven’t even met him.”
“I don’t have to. I know his son.”
“The son isn’t necessarily a reflection on his father,” Murdoch replied, then suddenly stopped as he noticed a flash of discomfort cross his son’s face.
Johnny quickly looked away. “You’d know, wouldn’t you?” Johnny asked thickly.
clenched his jaw, tilted his head back. Once again….
“Johnny, that is not what I meant.”
Johnny put a hand out, though his face was still averted. “I know. I know.” He shook his head, gingerly leaned to his side and drew his legs up on the bed. “I’m tired. Tell Scott to bring the tea stuff up when it’s ready.”
watched as Johnny lay down on the bed. He
could see on his son’s face the pain he was trying to mask.
Is it just from the wounds, or from
He turned, made as if to go to the door, then paused and looked back.
“Johnny, there’s,” Murdoch cleared his throat, “there’s something else.”
Johnny, who’d been staring at the ceiling, closed his eyes while his whole body seemed to be enveloped in a sigh. “What?” he asked, his voice filled with bitter fatigue.
Murdoch rubbed his hand over the door handle, seemed to need to assure himself it was there, that he was ready. “John, I—” he faltered, “I’m glad you didn’t die.” He quickly opened the door and left.
Once in his room, he closed the door and sat down heavily in a chair—the chair Johnny had just recently been sitting in—and dropped his head into his hands.
glad you didn’t die. How absurd.
Of all the things! You needed to tell him how you wished you’d found him
earlier. How you admire the
strength he must have had to survive all those years alone.
How, if he’d died, it would have killed you, too.
But did you tell him those things? No,
you tell him that you’re glad he’s not dead!
Murdoch shook his head bitterly, felt tears of frustration building.
Johnny lay stiffly on his bed, his eyes staring at the ceiling in almost childlike wonder.
glad I’m not dead…
“So, what do you think of all of this?” the Judge asked as he poured brandy into two snifters.
Mr. Brimhall smiled. “I expect to enjoy this case quite a bit. However, I still think it would be better for you if we didn’t even have to bring it to court.”
The Judge nodded. “I’m working on that angle,” he said as he offered the lawyer one of the glasses. “Though I can see where depriving you of this opportunity would be a shame.”
acquiesced with a nod. “Anything
to further my client’s best interests.”