(A sequel to The Ghost of Johnny Madrid)
The next two days passed quickly. Once Johnny had told Murdoch that he wanted to go home, and fought with DarkCloud over the wisdom of that decision, it wasn’t long before the town got word of their gunfighter’s imminent departure and so the plans for the fiesta were on.
Although DarkCloud still cautioned waiting a little longer, Murdoch sided with Johnny and promised the doctor that all precautions would be taken to keep Johnny’s discomfort to a minimum. Johnny, for his part, was disgusted with the whole preparation, irritatingly resigned to the party and slowly becoming morose. Scott couldn’t blame him.
On the eve of the party, the town boasted the entire inhabitants of the surrounding area, including the railroad workers who had been invited with the simple idea that the more the merrier. Scott watched with interest as his brother made his rounds. He could see by the way that Johnny was working through the crowd that his brother had in mind to do his duty as fast as possible, then make an escape. Scott chuckled; it was the same as it was back home.
Rosti’s was crowded with revelers, though the main bulk of the party had set up outside in the street, local musicians filling the night air with assorted songs and ballads from their makeshift platform. Food covered five tables and the drinks flowed quite freely, and it wasn’t long before the noise from the festivities threatened to exceed that of the musicians.
“Now, this is a party.”
Scott turned and smiled at Tucson who was holding up two filled mugs. The sheriff thrust one toward Scott.
“I’m taken care of,” Scott said as he held his up.
“Yeah, but it’s half empty,” Tucson chided as he pushed the filled one into Scott’s free hand.
“I also need to be able to ride up to Salinas in the morning,” Scott argued.
Tucson shook his head. “’Fraid you’re gonna need a better excuse than that tonight.”
Scott laughed, “Is that so?”
“Yup. Anyone caught without a drink in hand this evening will be immediately locked up.”
Scott chuckled. “Far be it from me to do anything illegal, Sheriff.”
Tucson laughed and took a long, satisfying drink from his own mug. “Now this is a party.”
“I’d venture to say, the town’s never seen one like it,” Matthew said as he pushed his way up next to Scott. “Or likely will any time soon. Oops, sorry,” he apologized as a reveler jostled him, splashing some of his beer.
“Johnny seems to be enjoying himself,” Tucson remarked with a nod across the crowd to the other side of the street where Johnny could be seen shaking hands with one of the area ranchers.
“Enjoying himself?” Scott grimaced. “I don’t know about that. This really isn’t his idea of a good time.”
“No?” Tucson asked then frowned. “What’s he gonna do once Angelou starts his speech?”
“Angelou’s giving a speech?” Scott asked.
Matthew nodded. “Angelou always gives a speech. He’s sort of our unofficial mayor. Which works out really quite well. He likes to give speeches, the town lets him, and since he’s not a real mayor, we don’t have to pay him anything.”
Scott chuckled. “Works out well all the way around, huh?”
“I don’t suppose the chances are very good that Mr. Angelou will keep his speech simple and short.”
Matthew shook his head. “What do you think?”
“I think someone ought to warn Johnny,” Scott replied with a chagrined glance toward his brother.
“Jamie!” Johnny greeted, a truly genuine smile replacing the forced one he’d been wearing as he spotted the young boy who was making his way towards him through the crowd.
“Hey! You’re looking a lot better,” Jamie stopped in front of Johnny, crossed his arms and nodded his appraisal. “Much better.”
“I’m glad you approve,” Johnny chuckled.
“Are you feeling better, too?”
Johnny nodded. “Practically good as new.”
“Good.” Jamie smiled then his face became serious. “I don’t want you to leave tomorrow.”
Johnny put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder and knelt down. “I’d like to stay, too.”
“Then why don’t you? I heard DarkCloud says you oughta wait a few more days.”
“Ah, Jamie. You know DarkCloud. If he could, he wouldn’t let me leave ‘til next year.”
“That’d be fine by me.”
Johnny chuckled. “Yeah, but I think Scott and Murdoch would get antsy just sitting around watching us play cards for the next few months.”
“Well, we could do more than just play cards, Johnny. Now that you’re better, we could go fishin’ and hiking, and I could take you up to the hot springs in the mountains, and you could show me how you shoot so fast and I could show you the secret fort Zito and I built, and—”
“And if I’m well enough to do all those things, don’t you think I’m well enough to go home?” Johnny finished.
Jamie sighed, nodded his head then looked down at the worn toe of his boot. “Yeah, I guess so. I just would rather have you stay.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Jamie. You’ve been a real good friend.”
Jamie glanced back up. “Do you think you’ll ever come back?”
“I plan to.”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know. But as soon as I’m able. It’s not every day I find someone who can give me a run at cards.”
Jamie smiled. “It’ll probably be nice to get home and sleep in your own bed, huh?”
Johnny nodded. “I guess so. But it won’t be the same without my little brother around.”
“I like that,” Jamie grinned.
“Then that’s what you are,” Johnny grinned back as he tousled Jamie’s hair. “If anyone ever asks, you tell them you’re Johnny…” he hesitated a moment, forced the smile to stay on his face, “…Madrid’s brother.”
Jamie cocked his head to the side. “You wanted to say Johnny Lancer’s brother.”
Johnny slowly nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then why’d you say Madrid?”
“I—I thought you would prefer it.”
Jamie grimaced. “Well, it’d be okay, but after Scott told me about how it can be difficult being Madrid’s brother, having people showing up wanting to kill you or trying to hurt your family, and how you always have to watch for other gunfighters… Well, I guess I’d just prefer to be Johnny Lancer’s brother.”
“Scott told you that, huh?”
Johnny shook off his hesitation, let the smile find its way back onto his face. “Have I ever told you you’re a wise kid?”
Jamie grinned, reached out and ruffled Johnny’s hair. “I take after my brother.”
“Madrid. Mr. Madrid! There you are.”
Seeing Angelou pushing his way through the crowd, Johnny shot Jamie a pained expression and rolled his eyes. Jamie covered his mouth and giggled as the self-appointed town spokesman made his way to Johnny’s side.
“Mr. Angelou,” Johnny greeted as he stood up.
“We’re all ready,” Angelou announced importantly.
“Ready for what?”
“Why, the speech, of course.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow in alarm. “I have to give a speech?”
“Oh, goodness, no.” Angelou chuckled. “I do. On behalf of the town.” Angelou nodded with satisfaction, then gestured. “If you’d like to follow me.”
Johnny glanced at the dismantled wagon box where the musicians were belting out a rather frenzied number. “Speeches aren’t necessary,” he said.
“Of course they are, Mr. Madrid. We need to thank you properly.” Angelou waved a hand, began bellowing as he moved through the crowd to the platform, “Quiet, please! Quiet, everyone! Silencio! If I may have your attention!”
Johnny watched, suppressing a smile at the man’s self-confidence, as Angelou strutted importantly to the small stage. The crowd moved back to make way for their mayor while the band immediately quieted and began to make their way off the end of the make-shift stage.
Angelou waited importantly, delaying until he was sure he’d secured his audience’s attention. “This is a celebration of a momentous occasion in our town’s history, the dawning of a new era of prosperity and contentment,” Angelou began, his voice loud and clear. “We are soon to be the southernmost terminal of the new rail line. We no longer have to worry about land grabbers terrorizing us or our families. Our town will be prospering and we’re now the authors of our own futures. And we owe all of this to one man. Johnny Madrid.”
Applause erupted as everyone turned and smiled appreciatively in Johnny’s direction.
Johnny was acutely aware of Murdoch and Scott in the crowd. Once again he found himself wishing they weren’t around. It was awkward enough. It was one of those moments when he had no choice in the part he would play. He had to be Johnny Madrid. He owed the people of the town that much. It was what they expected, what they needed to see. They had no interest in Johnny Lancer, but it meant a lot for them to say they’d met Johnny Madrid, the famous gunfighter, the man who had saved their town.
Johnny took a quick breath, cooled his expression, gave a slight nod, and became Madrid for the crowd.
“Gosh, how does he do that?” Scott heard Matthew murmur next to him.
Scott shook his head. He knew exactly what Matthew was talking about. He’d often thought the same thing. “I don’t know. Years of experience, I guess.”
“Too many years of experience,” added a strained, low voice.
Scott turned to find Murdoch standing behind him. Scott smiled sadly and nodded before turning back to watch Angelou.
“To think that it was just a short while ago that we became, as a town, the beneficiary of Madrid’s talents,” Angelou was saying. “We were ready to cave into Wakeman’s demands. There’d been property loss and killings. We had nowhere left to turn. Then Providence brought the answer to our prayers in the person of Mr. Madrid. Even injured as he was, he took on our cause, fought for us and won, despite odds that most men would have thought daunting. But that’s what Mr. Madrid is good at. Taking the impossible and turning it into something possible.
“And from now on, Soledad will be known as the town Johnny Madrid saved…and where Providence repaid that act by saving him. Let no one forget we are here because of Mr. Madrid. Let no one forget, man, woman or child, that without him, Soledad wouldn’t have had a future, we wouldn’t have had a future! Let no one forget what would have been without Johnny Madrid!”
Applause erupted again, while Johnny remained deliberately impassive.
Angelou waved back the cheers, cleared his throat. “As you all know, Mr. Madrid asked for very little when we first hired him. A place to stay, food, a new horse… But one could hardly call that adequate compensation for the job he did or the risks he took. So I asked him a couple days ago what we, as a town, could give him to thank him properly. ‘Nothing,’ was his answer. I pressed him on the subject, and finally, after much coercion, he reluctantly gave me an answer.”
Angelou gestured to someone standing behind the platform, and the crowd pressed closer to see what it was Johnny Madrid, the gunfighter, had asked for in payment for services rendered. A young man made his way around to the steps and ascended. In his arms a squirming, fluffy bit of energy wiggled and panted. A chuckle washed through the crowd, slowly building to a roar as Angelou tried to take the puppy from the young man’s arms. But the puppy had other ideas and wiggled out of his embrace. Though the young man kept a firm grasp on the leash, the puppy quickly dashed between Angelou’s ankles, effectively tying up his legs and threatening to spill him to his rear-end. After a few close calls, the puppy was once again secured, though Angelou made no further attempt to take the puppy from the young man.
Adjusting his clothes, Angelou straightened up and cleared his throat with as much dignity as he could muster.
“Yes, well,” he gestured, “this is what Mr. Madrid requested. A puppy.” Angelou straightened his shoulders, patted the front of his jacket again. “I’m not sure why, but since this is what he requested, I personally went all over the area, checking to see who had puppies and picking out the very best of all the litters. I’m quite sure Mr. Madrid will be happy with my choice. Mr. Madrid,” Angelou motioned for Johnny to join him.
Johnny forced a smile down, though his eyes crinkled in amusement as he made his way up to the platform.
“Mr. Madrid, your puppy,” Angelou announced grandly.
Johnny put a hand to his mouth, wiped away a smile that he was having a hard time containing. “Mr. Angelou, the puppy wasn’t for me. It was for my brother.”
“Your brother?” Mr. Angelou’s surprise could not be mistaken.
In a corner of the crowd, Murdoch bent forward and whispered, “Scott?”
Scott turned, eyes widening in surprise as he shook his head, his hands raising in denial. “I never said I wanted a puppy,” he protested in a low voice.
Murdoch’s reply was cut off when Johnny called out, “Hey, Jamie!”
Scott and Murdoch looked up to see that Johnny had gathered the squirmy ball of energy into his arms, the puppy showing its exuberance by covering Johnny’s face with a wet tongue. The crowd laughed in merriment, while Jamie clambered up on to the platform. “Here you go, little brother,” Johnny announced as he slid the ball of fluff into Jamie’s outstretched arms. “He won’t replace Digger, and he can’t play cards, but I figure he’ll have to do ‘til I get back.”
Jamie giggled in delight as the puppy transferred its wet affections without prejudice. “This is great, Johnny! Thanks!”
The crowd roared its approval, clapping and hooting.
“I thought the puppy was for you!” Angelou protested.
The crowd burst into more laughter at the look on Angelou’s face, his wounded dignity obvious as the unofficial mayor’s mouth dropped open.
“Nah,” Johnny shrugged. “But I knew Jamie needed a new friend.” He turned and hopped off the platform, leaving Angelou standing beside Jamie, who was beaming with happiness as the crowd clapped their approval and the puppy smothered him with kisses.
Murdoch and Scott watched as Johnny made his way through the crowd toward them where he stopped, a sheepish expression on his face.
“A puppy, huh?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny nodded. “You probably wouldn’t have let me keep it anyway.”
Murdoch chuckled. “If it would have taken a puppy to make you happy, I would have let you keep it.”
“I could always ask for another one,” Johnny grinned.
“I wouldn’t push it,” Murdoch warned.
Johnny chuckled, glanced back toward Jamie and Angelou. “It was better seein’ the smile on Jamie’s face.”
“Even better seeing the look of surprise on Angelou’s face,” Scott added under his breath.
Johnny wiped away a grin. “I hadn’t meant it to happen that way. I didn’t know ‘bout the speech. I just thought he’d find me a puppy.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Mr. Angelou will get over the shock. Look, he’s already making the rounds.”
Johnny glanced back over his shoulder again to see that Murdoch was right in his appraisal. Mr. Angelou was making his way off the platform, shaking hands as he descended.
“He’s not one to let a small setback spoil his limelight, is he?” Scott asked.
“I should probably go thank him,” Murdoch said. “He has done a lot for us.”
Johnny nodded, smiled wryly. “Tell him I didn’t know there was gonna be a whole to-do about it, okay?”
Murdoch chuckled. “I’ll tell him.”
After Murdoch had left, Scott motioned toward the crowd of people. “Quite a gathering.”
Johnny nodded. “And quite unnecessary.”
Scott shrugged. “Ah, don’t let it all go to your head. The town was just looking for a good reason to get drunk.”
Johnny chuckled. “Thanks.”
“And what’s my favorite twosome up to?” DarkCloud asked as he stepped up onto the boardwalk to join them.
“I was just going to inform Johnny here, that I’ve been told by Tucson that it’s a jailable offense if you don’t have a drink in hand this evening.”
“Oh, I’ve got that covered,” DarkCloud said as he held out a mug to Johnny.
Johnny accepted it with a grin, which quickly changed to skepticism as he gave the liquid a sniff. “It smells suspiciously like tea.”
“That’d be because it is,” DarkCloud nodded as he raised his own mug in toast.
“I thought you’d let me off for good behavior,” Johnny argued.
DarkCloud chuckled. “Think of it as a last one for the road.”
“I think I’d rather eat the road,” Johnny muttered.
“Then just do it because I’m your favorite doctor and you always follow all my instructions.”
Scott laughed as Johnny rolled his eyes.
“DarkCloud,” Johnny said as he shook his head. “I am gonna miss you. Why? I’ll be damned if I know, but I’m gonna miss you just the same.”
“Same here, Johnny,” DarkCloud smiled and nodded. “If nothing else, you’ve taught me what a really difficult patient is like.”
Johnny laughed. “Yeah, well, sorry about that.”
“No, he’s not,” Scott chuckled. “He enjoyed every minute of it.” At Johnny’s raised eyebrows, Scott laughed, drained the last of his beer, and nodded formally. “If you’ll excuse me, I seem to be empty. And since I have no desire to end up in jail this evening, I better go get a refill.”
Shaking his head wryly, Johnny watched as Scott made his way to one of the tables set up for serving drinks.
“He’s happy to be getting you home,” DarkCloud observed.
Johnny nodded. “Yes, he is.”
“How are you doing with it?”
“It’ll be fine,” Johnny sighed, lowering his gaze to the mug in his hands.
Johnny shrugged. “I’ve got to figure a few things out yet.”
DarkCloud studied Johnny a moment. “Nothing that’s apt to put in jeopardy any of that healing I worked so hard to secure, I hope.”
Johnny raised his eyes, snorted softly his amusement, but didn’t reply.
“Will you let me check over your wounds one last time before you leave for Salinas in the morning?”
Johnny nodded. “If it’ll make you happy.”
“Oh, you have no idea,” DarkCloud replied with a hint of a grin. He was quiet a second then asked, “Any more symptoms?”
“The morphine, you mean?”
Johnny let his attention wander out toward the crowd. “Not often…mostly at night. I—” he paused, turned back to DarkCloud, “I wake up sometimes, sweating, my heart racing…can’t sleep.”
Though DarkCloud pursed his lips unhappily, he didn’t seem surprised by the information. “From what I’ve read, it’s not uncommon. But it should pretty well abate within another week, two at the most. It doesn’t happen often, does it?”
Johnny shook his head. “It happened last night, but before that, it’d been a couple days.”
“Good. Though I’m afraid it could make the trip back uncomfortable. You might want to consider waiting just a little longer.”
Johnny shook his head. “Are you kidding? And risk having to go through this again?” he gestured toward the celebrating crowd.
“Okay,” DarkCloud nodded. “But I’m sending along some extra bandaging, some of that ointment I’ve been using, and some tea leaves that Scott can prepare for you if the symptoms do get a bit rough.” At Johnny’s look of distrust, DarkCloud continued quickly, “It has nothing to do with laudanum. It’ll simply help relieve a bit of the nausea, nothing more.”
“Is that what this is?” Johnny lifted up the mug.
“That and the tonic I use to fight off infection.” DarkCloud chuckled. “Call it my last ditch attempt to keep you healthy.”
“It’s appreciated,” Johnny smiled and took a sip of the tea. As he drew the cup away, he chuckled, “You know, it doesn’t really taste all that bad.”
“You’re just saying that because you know, after tonight, you won’t have to drink it anymore.”
Johnny laughed. “You sure got that right!”
Scott walked up, a filled mug in his hands. “So, what’s so funny?”
“DarkCloud’s kindly offered to send back a year’s supply of tea for us.”
At Scott’s alarmed look, DarkCloud burst out laughing and patted Scott’s shoulder. “He’s all yours, Scott. I give him to you in fairly good health; try to keep him that way,” he said as he turned away.
The sound of barking interrupted any reply Scott had, as they were soon inundated with a small furry ball jumping up and down about their legs. Jamie and another young boy were attached to the other end of the puppy’s leash.
“Johnny! Isn’t he great?” Jamie asked.
Johnny nodded, sat down at the edge of the boardwalk and began to rub the puppy’s belly as it rolled back and forth in the dirt. “That’s what I asked for. A great dog.”
Jamie laughed, then looked up. “Hi, Scott!”
Scott smiled and waved.
“This here’s Zito, Zito Ramirez,” Jamie continued as he pointed to the boy who stood nearby. “I told you about him.”
Johnny nodded. “The friend who taught you that card game you keep beating me at.”
“Yup. He wanted to meet you.”
Johnny smiled and turned to Zito. “Hello, Zito. Jamie’s told me a lot about you.”
Zito, a few inches taller and about twenty pounds heavier than Jamie, just stood, his mouth open, staring for a moment. Then, after what seemed to take a lot of willpower, he managed to close his mouth and swallow heavily. “You’re Johnny Madrid,” he whispered.
Johnny nodded. “So I’ve heard.”
Jamie giggled as Zito continued to stare.
“My brother says you’re the fastest gun alive.”
“Your brother’s exaggerating a bit,” Johnny protested.
“No, I don’t think so,” Zito shook his head seriously. “He’s seen you. And he says you’re the fastest gun alive.”
Scott, watching the exchange,
made his way to a porch post, where he could lean against it and quietly
“Fast isn’t all that important,” Johnny replied.
Johnny shook his head. “Accuracy’s more important.”
“Remember, I told you ‘bout the rat in the barn,” Jamie said, “and how Johnny shot Digger’s old ball practically out of Angelou’s hand.”
“Well, that’s accuracy,” Jamie stated.
“Wow,” Zito breathed, his eyes growing even larger. “I’d love to be able to do that.”
“Johnny actually doesn’t want to be a gunfighter anymore,” Jamie continued importantly. “He says it’s no fun. He’s always worryin’ about people tryin’ to kill him or showin’ up wantin’ to hurt his family.”
“But I think it’d be wonderful!” Zito said, looking back at Johnny, his eyes still wide with respect. “Everyone knows who you are, treats you respectfully, and, well if you want a dog—”
“Jamie’s right,” Johnny interrupted.
“Really?” Zito asked, dumbfounded. “But I mean—look at this party! My mom says there’s never been a fiesta like this since forever. And Father Alvarez talks about you at Mass, says a saint actually saved you. And Jorge thinks you’re the best—”
“My brother. He said he wished he could be just like you! He rode with you on a couple of those raids against Wakeman.”
Johnny slowly nodded. “Jorge Ramirez. That’s right. I remember.”
“Yeah! And he and his friends, they were helping out the day of the shootout. They were watchin’ out of those windows and saw it all.”
Johnny sighed deeply, nodded again. “Saw it all, and still want to be a gunfighter, huh?”
Zito nodded, his eyes still wide with wonder. “My brother and Jamie told me all about it! It’s so exciting. Better’n any story I read in any book. Even better’n that serial story my brother cut out of the San Francisco paper three years ago!”
“Well, don’t believe everything, Zito. People like to elaborate. Heck, I barely recognize stories I hear about myself and I was there.”
Zito grinned sheepishly, glanced furtively at Jamie before he added, “My brother said you were so calm, said you coulda talked a drummer outta his wares. Kincaid couldn’t even come close to keepin’ up with you.”
“The other gunfighter.”
Johnny blinked, slowly nodded. “That was his name, wasn’t it? I’d forgotten.” He sighed. The puppy started to whimper, and Johnny glanced down, realizing he’d stopped rubbing its belly. He gave the exposed belly another quick pass, then brought his hand into his lap.
Johnny looked up and nodded.
“I’m glad you saved Jamie. He’s my best friend.”
Johnny smiled, glanced at Jamie. “He’s my friend, too. So I guess that makes us friends, also.”
Zito grinned, straightened up. “Wow.” Then his face suddenly fell. “Ah, shucks!”
“What is it?” Jamie asked.
“My mom,” Zito groaned. “She’s over there waving to me. I’m gonna have to leave.” He rolled his eyes and lowered his voice. “She told me I shouldn’t talk to you too much.”
“I don’t mind,” Johnny said.
“Nah, I know that,” Zito muttered. “Jamie said you were okay. But my ma’s afraid you’ll go fillin’ me with bad judgments, or some such nonsense.”
“Oh,” Johnny nodded. “Then you’d better go on before she gets upset.”
Zito nodded sadly. “I’ll try to stop by later.”
Johnny smiled, put his hand out. “Nice to meet you, Zito.”
Zito shook Johnny’s hand and grinned with pleasure. “Nice to meet you too, Mr. Madrid.”
Johnny and Jamie watched Zito hurry down the boardwalk to join his mother.
“Thanks, Johnny. Zito really wanted to meet you.”
“Glad to help,” Johnny said as he leaned over to begin scratching behind the puppy’s ears.
“Hey, Johnny,” Jamie said as he sat down beside Johnny. “I haven’t told nobody, but you know…that shoot-out…”
“Well,” he lowered his voice. “It was sorta scary.”
Johnny pursed his lips, glanced down at the puppy, gave the small head another rub, then sat back. “I was scared, too, Jamie.”
Johnny nodded. “I was worried enough about Wakeman having you, but when he showed up with the other two hostages, I didn’t know what I was going to do.” He sighed, shook his head. “I was close to panicking.”
“You didn’t look it.”
“But I was,” Johnny replied quietly.
“How’d you keep from showin’ you were scared?”
“I just had to, or I knew Wakeman would know he had somethin’ on me. I had to let him think I wasn’t riled. But just ‘cuz I managed not to show it doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared.”
Jamie was silent a moment. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“Our secret, huh?”
Jamie nodded, paused again. “Hey, Johnny?”
“What, you got another secret?” Johnny chuckled.
Jamie didn’t return the grin, but instead nodded somberly. “Yeah.”
The smile faded from Johnny’s face as he folded his hands in his lap. “What’s wrong?”
Jamie sighed, reached out to pull the puppy into his lap. “After Scott came runnin’ out…you know…when you were shot…?”
Johnny kept his attention steady, nodded.
“Well,” Jamie hesitated, glanced down at the puppy for a moment then looked back up. “I got really scared.”
“I’m sorry you had to see all that, Jamie.”
Jamie shook his head. “I thought you were gonna die.” He wrapped his arms around the puppy who began nuzzling under his chin. “Everyone thought you was gonna die,” Jamie whispered. “Scott, he looked close to cryin’, and your father, he turned whiter’n a sheet. And DarkCloud—I ain’t never seen him look like that…”
“It’s just things were happening so fast, it caught everyone unprepared,” Johnny assured.
“Yeah,” Jamie nodded weakly. “But—but I could see you were sayin’ something. I tried to get close to hear, but everyone was running all over and Matthew was tryin’ to keep me away.” He hesitated, glanced up. “I sorta got mad at him and pushed him away. I—I got close enough to see you.” He stopped, rocked to the side so that he inched closer to Johnny. “You looked dead, Johnny,” he whispered.
Johnny bit his lip, put an arm around Jamie’s shoulder. “I wasn’t though, was I?”
“But you looked…” Jamie wavered, moved a little closer. “And Scott was all covered in blood. I thought he’d been shot too, at first. I mean, more’n the graze on his arm. And the front of his shirt and his hands—there was blood all over.” He bent his head, his voice growing even softer. “Your dad—his back was to me, but I could see there was blood on his hand, too. And he was holding the bandana that’d been around your neck…just sitting there, holding it, not moving.” He took a quick breath. “That’s when I hear Scott whisper, ‘God, please…’ and he—he puts his hand on your chest, and…and he…and he’s crying.” Jamie stopped, made a curt wipe at his face. “But then he suddenly jerks—like he’s been stung or somethin’,” Jamie stopped again, sniffed. “And he leans down and puts his ear to your chest. Then DarkCloud asks what’s goin’ on, and Scott yells, ‘He’s alive yet! I can feel his heart!’ And DarkCloud, he grabs your shirt and rips it open.”
Johnny closed his eyes, leaned his cheek against the top of Jamie’s head. “Oh, Jamie. I hadn’t realized you’d seen all of that.”
Jamie paused as he leaned in closer, letting Johnny’s arms envelope him. “Everyone just sorta stopped then,” Jamie continued, his voice muffled against Johnny’s chest. “They just froze and stared at you. Your father, he says, ‘Good Lord, what is that?’ and Scott, he looks up—there’s blood on his cheek— and he says, ‘The medallion. Murdoch, it’s the medallion!” and he reaches out. But DarkCloud pushes him away and starts yelling for the men to go get a litter from his office. And suddenly everyone’s movin’ again. And Matthew and Grace try to make me leave, and I—I think I kicked Matthew. Then I see Harley rush past; he kneels down by you, too. Then the men show up with the litter. And DarkCloud gives everyone orders, says to be careful when they pick you up, and when Scott tries to help, DarkCloud tells him to move away, but your brother gets mad and yells back at him. There—there was a lot of yelling goin’ on.”
Feeling Jamie falter, Johnny opened his eyes and looked down to study the small head buried against his chest. “I’m sure it was difficult to understand what was happening, Jamie. I don’t think people were mad at each other. I just think—I think things were chaotic, and DarkCloud—well, he was just trying to take control of the situation.”
Jamie gave a hesitant nod, swallowed back a sob. “It seemed—it seemed like the whole town was out there watching.” He paused again, gave a small shudder and leaned in closer. “When they picked you up…you…you moaned. I even saw your eyes open for a second. And I heard your father yell, ‘Don’t hurt him any more.’ And I—I think maybe he was startin’ to cry. And Scott, he was helping them move you, and he looked just awful, Johnny. And you moaned again when they got you on the litter—it sounded like you were in a lot of pain—and—and the look on his face... Then Harley, Scott and Matthew carried you into the hotel. I tried to follow, but Grace wouldn’t let go of me. She made me go with Harley’s wife and Wes, then she went to help.” He swallowed heavily, hazarded a quick glance up as he whispered, “I tried to go along, Johnny, but they wouldn’t let me follow.”
“I’m glad they didn’t,” Johnny murmured as he closed his eyes and gave a dismal shake of his head. “It wasn’t something little boys should see.”
“I’m not a little boy,” Jamie sniffed, wiped his shirt across his nose.
“In this case, you were. Matthew and Grace were right not to let you go up.”
Jamie was silent a moment, then leaned away just far enough so that he could look up. “Johnny? Were—were you in a lot of pain? It looked…and…when they tried to move you…”
“Jamie,” Johnny hugged the young boy in closer, “I don’t really remember.”
“You—you don’t?” Jamie pulled away, his brows knit in doubt.
Johnny shook his head. “No. It’s kinda like when I lost my memory before, you know, how I couldn’t remember some things? Only this time, I don’t really remember being shot, or really much of anything until almost a week later.”
Johnny shook his head again. “No. So, I don’t want you worrying about it, okay? Besides, you know now that I’m just fine.”
Jamie smiled, nodded his head, but then his expression became downcast and he lowered his eyes. “Johnny? I tried really hard not to cry, but I did a little bit anyway.”
Johnny patted Jamie’s back, then reached out to rub the puppy’s ears. “Hey, from the sounds of it, I wasn’t doin’ so well myself. Heck, to hear DarkCloud talk, he’s never had a worse patient in his life. I moaned, groaned and carried on somethin’ awful.”
Jamie looked up and grinned. “Ah, Johnny. You’re joshin’ me again.”
They sat silently a moment, then Jamie looked up. “You know, Johnny. I think it’s a good idea not bein’ a gunfighter any more. I think…I think maybe you’ll live longer.”
Johnny smiled and nodded. “A lot longer.”
Jamie nodded, let the puppy jump off his lap where it began to pull at the leash. “You know, Saint Francis had those angels around to help him this time, but…well…they might be busy doin’ other stuff for God next time.”
Johnny nodded seriously. “I think you’re right. Definitely a good reason to stay out of gunfights.”
Jamie smiled. “And you promise you’ll come back and see me?”
“As soon as I can,” Johnny replied, then nodded toward the puppy. “So, have you named him yet?”
Jamie grinned. “Yeah, I did.”
“So, what’s that good-lookin’ puppy’s name?”
Jamie chuckled. “Lancer.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows, then grinned back. “Good choice,” he said as he reached out to give the puppy’s head a rub. “Lancer, it is.”
Jamie grinned, suddenly reached out and put his arms around Johnny. Johnny returned the hug.
“I better go find Grace,” Jamie said. He pulled away and looked up at Johnny. “She hasn’t met Lancer yet.”
“I’m sure she’s at least heard about him by now,” Johnny laughed.
“Yeah, but I think she was hoping to get a cat,” Jamie grimaced.
Johnny laughed. “You’d better go find Grace.”
Jamie nodded and stood up. “I’ll say goodbye before I leave, okay?”
Johnny watched as Jamie loped off, the puppy following close at his heels, then he leaned back, placed his palms on the boardwalk behind him and looked up at the night sky. He gave a deep sigh, then tiredly closed his eyes. The aftermath of the gunfight, as seen from Jamie’s eyes, had left him mentally drained. He had hoped someone had managed to get Jamie away from the carnage before he’d had the chance to see anything. And it didn’t help hearing Zito’s impressions and how Jorge and his friends idolized Madrid. It always seemed to grow out of hand.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to him, and his eyes flashed open as his chest constricted. For a second he didn’t move as he felt the blood drain from his face, then slowly he turned his head.
Scott stood, unmoving, watching in silence, his eyes weighted with sadness.
“Oh…damn,” Johnny groaned, closed his eyes as he leaned forward to rest his forehead in his palms. “Scott, I—I forgot you were there.”
Scott looked down at the now
empty mug in his hands and drew in a deep breath, forcing himself to remain calm
as he walked forward and sat down in the spot so recently occupied by Jamie.
Johnny shook his head, sighed, “I’m sorry, Scott. In all of this, all that’s happened… I forgot what it’s been like for you.” He took another deep breath, slowly lowered his hands, but his attention remained fixed forward. “When I worried about what you saw…I was more concerned that… that you saw me as Madrid, the gunfighter.”
“I know,” Scott said simply.
“I forgot…what it must have been like…at the shoot-out…for you…”
“Jamie was right,” Scott replied softly and evenly. “We all thought you’d been killed.”
“If not for the medallion.”
Scott inhaled deeply, let his own head tilt back to look up at the night sky.
“I see it over and over again, in my dreams, too.
When you—when the impact of that bullet sent you backwards into me, in
that moment, I wanted—hoped some stray bullet would take me too.
That bullet might as well have been put through my
chest. I didn’t want to live
anymore, if you weren’t going to be around.
I quit caring about everything else that was happening around me.”
sorry all of this happened.”
wasn’t your fault.”
yes, unfortunately it is. It’s all my fault.”
be ridiculous. Is it your fault you lost your memory?”
Johnny nodded. “Because it’s my fault I have bounty hunters trailing
you said you can’t go back to Kansas.”
shook his head. “No, I can’t.”
what are you going to do?”
was quiet a moment, then said, “Johnny. I
don’t know if you know, but Murdoch told me that he paid the Pinkertons three
thousand dollars to keep it quiet about where you were for three years.”
accepted the information without any sign other than a deep sigh.
In the quiet that followed, he bowed his head, drew his clasped hands up
against his forehead.
don’t seem surprised.”
Johnny shook his head side to side. “No.
No, I’m not. I guess I
always suspected Murdoch would have had to do something about the Pinks.
It just stood to reason.” There
was another sigh. “Another thing
my being here has messed up.”
Scott put a hand on Johnny’s back, but his brother didn’t acknowledge the
action. “Murdoch did what he did
because he believed in you. He
didn’t think you were guilty and he hoped to give you another chance.”
well,” Johnny dropped his hands to hang limply between his knees as he tilted
his head to fix his brother with a grim look, “it’s not going to make much
more of a difference. If the
Pinkertons decide to let me drop through the cracks, Stanton won’t.
He’ll send more bounty hunters.”
He chuckled dryly. “You
said I was running away from Madrid. Well,
Scott, maybe you were right. But
I’m afraid I’ve run out of places to hide.”
Scott interjected, panicked by his brother’s lackadaisical attitude.
“Before you go getting any ideas, let’s get back to Lancer, get you
healed up. It’ll give Murdoch a
chance to see what our options are, maybe check with his lawyers or with the
authorities in Kansas.”
shrugged, shook his head. “I
don’t think it’s going to make any difference.”
He repeated with a sigh as he glared across the crowd gathered in the
street. “Damn, this had to happen.
I wish I had gotten rid of that gun a long time ago.” He paused, looked
at Scott for a moment before turning back to stare morosely out at the crowd.
“I almost succeeded, you know…to be Johnny Lancer.
But it seems, no matter how hard I try, something happens to wrench it
out of my grasp. And I got so
close—so damn close. And
now you heard what Zito said. How
Madrid’s become a hero. And
that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid, exactly what I didn’t want.”
you planned your death.”
nodded. “But, now Madrid’s a
hero again. And a whole ‘nother
group of boys thinking the life of a gunfighter is something to desire.”
maybe for Zito and his brother, but from what it sounded like to me, Johnny
Lancer’s become Jamie’s hero.”
sighed, shook his head sadly. “There’s
too many mistakes to be made when you’re a hero, Scott.
Way too many. And eventually
you make them all.”
you speak from experience?”
I do,” Johnny replied wearily.
nodded congenially to the lady in front of him.
She was rocking an infant on her hip while a little girl of about seven
stood nearby holding the hand of a toddler.
The two small children appeared anxious to get back to the festivities of
dancing and music, but stood quietly beside their mother.
Scott had noticed the lady watching him earlier, and had gathered that it
had taken her some time to work up the courage to approach him. It appeared that her real goal was to convey her appreciation
to Madrid, the gunfighter, but that she was too shy to approach him directly, so
she had waited for an opportunity to speak to Madrid’s brother.
Scott had a sneaking suspicion she didn’t even know his name.
She’d even referred to him as Sir, along with a hesitant ‘you’re
Madrid’s brother, right?’
had smiled pleasantly and allowed the lady to apprise him of her knowledge about
Johnny’s background (rather spotty), her understanding of the gunfight
(obviously heard second or third-hand, full as it was of overly dramatic
references and details), and her belief of the intervention by Saint Francis
(the ardent declaration of which would have sent Johnny into an equally fervent
and vehement denial). As Scott
allowed the lady to proclaim her gratitude, he tried to keep Johnny within his
sight. He could see that Johnny was
trying to live up to his duty as graciously as possible, but knew fully well
that his brother had probably reached his limit.
It wasn’t long before Scott’s assessment was proven correct, for as
soon as the young lady had taken her leave, Scott saw Johnny send him a look of
weary defeat along with a motion toward Rosti’s; Johnny had had enough.
Scott smiled reassuringly, returned the nod with a slight wave and
watched as Johnny casually made his way into the saloon. Deciding that it would
be best to let Murdoch know that Johnny had packed it in for the evening, Scott
started threading his way through the crowd, still large and boisterous given
the late hour. He spied Murdoch not
too far away, engaged in conversation with a man Scott didn’t recognize, and
worked his way toward the two of them.
Scott greeted and added a friendly smile to the gentleman.
His well-dressed and groomed appearance stating he was not one of the
Murdoch welcomed. “I’d like you to meet Mr. Stern.
He’s here as a representative of the new rail line.”
nodded and put out his hand in greeting, then turned to Murdoch.
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but if I could just have a second of your
nodded, raised a hand to Mr. Stern. “If
you’ll just give me a moment, I’ll be right back.”
problem,” Mr. Stern said. “In
fact, I was planning to get myself a refill.
May I bring you back one, too?”
glanced at his empty mug and nodded. “That
would be nice. Thank you.”
you?” Mr. Stern asked Scott.
thank you. I’m doing fine.”
Mr. Stern had left for the refreshment table, Scott turned to Murdoch. “I just
wanted to let you know that Johnny’s gone up to his room.
He was looking tired, and I think he’s about had enough of the
nodded. “I’m surprised he stuck
around as long as he did.”
smiled. “I thought I’d make a
few rounds yet for another hour, and if anyone asks, just say that Johnny was
tired and needs to get a good night’s sleep before the trip up to Salinas
I hope he does,” Murdoch agreed.
nodded, then motioned toward the crowd. “It
is a bit intimidating, all these people showing up for this.”
turned, scanned the mingling crowd, the dancers near the makeshift stage, the
musicians playing in whole-hearted abandon.
“All here to pay their respects to Madrid, the gunfighter,” he
nodded, glanced down at his mug. “It’s
a good thing celebrations have never been Johnny’s favorite thing, otherwise
it might be hard to give up all this adoration and the sort of life that
sighed sadly, tried to force a smile on his face. “Or maybe he avoids them
because he’s afraid of enjoying them too much.”
Johnny made his way up the stairs to his room, he tiredly rubbed his face with
one hand while the other trailed along the banister.
At the top, he paused, then gave a sigh before walking the length of the
hallway to his room. He was
inordinately glad that he was located at the back of the hotel tonight.
The rooms above the street were going to be very noisy and distracting.
It was hard enough dwelling on what the next few days were going to be
like without all the commotion going on outside his window.
pushed open the door to his room, he was startled to see a seated figure turn
toward him. He froze, one hand dropping to his hip at the same moment
that he recognized the figure of Father Alvarez.
Johnny greeted wryly as he pushed the door closed.
“Another private visit? I
figure I’m either in big trouble or you’ve come to tell me I’m the
recipient of another saintly miracle. I
hope I’m in trouble.”
Alvarez laughed as he stood up. “Nothing
quite so dramatic, my son. I’ve
simply come to wish you Godspeed on your return journey.”
regarded the priest for a second then smiled. “So, you decided to skip the
Alvarez chuckled. “Oh, I’m afraid that having the local priest walking
about would put a damper on the more high-spirited celebrating, and this being a
rather important occasion for the town, I thought it best to meet you
glanced about the room. “Can I
get you anything?”
Alvarez shook his head. “I
already helped myself to a cup of your water.”
It was probably pretty warm. I
can go down and get some fresh from Rosti.”
need. It was still plenty wet,”
Father Alvarez replied.
walked to the table, idly rested a hand along the back of the unoccupied chair.
“So, is there anything I can help you with?”
Alvarez shook his head. “No.
But I had hoped before you leave that I could help you.”
like to see if there isn’t some way to help you come to terms with that side
of yourself called Madrid. The side
you seem to be running from.”
from?” Johnny raised an eyebrow.
Alvarez nodded. “I’m hoping you can see that the prayers of those around
you and those who have known you continue to surround you. That there are many people who pray that you’ll find the
acceptance and happiness that you deserve.”
Johnny chuckled bitterly. “That
is an odd thing comin’ from a priest. There’s
many a man who would say I deserve a one-way ticket to Hell, and they’d be
only too glad to punch it for me.”
Father Alvarez’ turn to raise an eyebrow.
“Are there really that many who would like to see you dead?”
only takes one.”
think you overestimate the extent of your enemies.”
laughed loudly as he sat on the corner of the table and brought a foot up to
rest on the chair. “Padre, I always overestimate
my enemies. That’s why I’m
you’re still alive because Saint Francis saved you.”
groaned, threw up his hands in irritation.
“Back to that blasted medallion!”
you’re wearing the one I gave you,” Father Alvarez countered.
grimaced sourly. “I decided to humor you.”
Alvarez chuckled. “Whatever the reason, I’m glad you are wearing it.
Padre Simon would be pleased, too. He
wanted so much for your life to get back on the path it was meant to follow.”
sighed, crossed his arms and was quiet a moment before he nodded.
“He was adamant,” he admitted with a smile. “Sorta reminds me of
Alvarez nodded. “I take that as a compliment.”
prayers were with you until his end. He
hoped, someday, his influence would be felt in your life.
This,” Father Alvarez gestured, “seeing you with a family, people who
care, a future…would have brought him great joy.”
nodded, then glanced at the lamp flickering on the table.
“I wish…” he paused, sighed again. “I remember one time, Padre
Simon told me that the Devil was on my horizon.”
He hesitated, glanced up to meet Father Alvarez’ gaze.
“I told him I didn’t care about the Devil, that he didn’t bother me
none.” Johnny glanced back at the
flame where he continued in a barely audible voice, “I wish he’d warned me
instead about the ghosts.”
Alvarez nodded sadly. “Don’t
let your ghosts tear you from your future, Juanito.”
He reached out and put a hand on Johnny’s arm, and in a soft voice he
added, “You have a good heart.
Don’t bury it while burying your ghosts.”
turned the corner, leaving the noise of the revelry behind him.
The festivities hadn’t reached this street, though an occasional echo
of laughter and music, along with some of the residual light, testified to its
walked to the center of the street and stopped, drew his hands to his hips and
stared out at the shadows of the Santa Lucias, purplish-black in the moonlight.
He drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes, and stood silently a moment.
Then abruptly he exhaled and looked down at the ground at his feet.
where it had happened. Though
Johnny might not have remembered the exact spot, it was forever engraved in
Scott’s memory, because he relived it night after night.
This is where he was standing when Johnny was shot, this is where he held
his brother in his arms as the blood spread across his chest, this is where he
felt his own heart stop.
been avoiding this street ever since that afternoon, and had needed to force
himself to come down it when he’d seen Johnny standing in its middle a few
days earlier. He had been jarred to see his brother standing out in the
street in an attitude so reminiscent of the gunfight that Scott had felt as if
the breath had been knocked out of him. The
conversation, too, had been difficult, full of memories for both of them.
He’d had a hard time falling to sleep that night, as the nightmares had
come back full force, haunting him with their feeling of veracity.
before they left for home, he’d wanted to come back here, by himself, to
think. All that had happened: the
gunfight and its aftermath, Johnny’s difficulties healing, the Judge, the
letters, Harley, the stories his brother had shared, and the realization that he
had finally confronted his brother in the person of Johnny Madrid, all seemed
too much to comprehend sometimes. Then
added to this was the fear that, at moments when his brother reached out to him
like had happened earlier in the evening, or when they’d stood out here in the
street, Scott really had no idea if he was saying the right thing.
Was he helping matters or making them worse?
the difficulty lay in his distressing need to see all sides of an issue, to
understand what made everyone feel the way they did.
Johnny, Murdoch, DarkCloud, Father Alvarez, Harley, Tucson, Jamie, even a
lady with a couple of young children in tow at a party given for a gunfighter. They all had viewpoints and opinions, some similar, some
drastically different. And he tried
to decipher them all, hoping he’d find a key, a word or a phrase, which would
be just the thing that his brother longed to hear in order to bring him the
peace he so desperately sought in his life.
suddenly brought a hand up to rub his forehead, then reached into his pocket and
drew out the medallion. He let it
swing freely for a second, watching the moonlight glance off the twisted metal. He vaguely wondered if Saint Francis could be called upon to
help him find the perfect words, which would heal Johnny’s invisible wounds.
turned around to find DarkCloud watching him with furrowed brows, the doctor’s
attention caught by the swinging medallion.
hi,” Scott greeted, giving the medallion a flip into his hand.
are you doing out here?” DarkCloud asked, one eyebrow raising.
“Tired of the party already?”
chuckled, nodding toward the sounds of the fiesta.
“You’d think they’d be ready to call it a night by now.”
something like this doesn’t happen every day.”
mean, something like my brother?”
nodded, then his expression became pensive.
He inclined his head toward Scott’s closed fist.
“And how are you handling its effects?”
glanced down at his hand, slowly opening it to reveal the medallion.
As he did so he gave a slight shake of his head and looked back up. “I have a feeling you’re asking how I’m handling having
an ex-gunfighter brother whose desire for atonement initiated a response of
laughed loudly. “You do have a way with words, Scott.”
wryly, Scott shook his hand, the chain jingling.
“A way with words,” he laughed.
“That’s what I’m hoping.” He
slipped the chain back in his pocket, turned to glance down the street as he
crossed his arms. “To be honest,
I don’t know, DarkCloud.” He
took a deep breath, gave a loud sigh. “I
have a feeling Murdoch is looking at this all a little bit more optimistically
than I am.”
think it’d be naïve not to.”
walked up next to Scott and let his attention wander out toward the dark night
and the Santa Lucias in the distance.
really hard. I know Johnny’s
trying to strike a balance; that he’s trying to find a way to live with his
past while gaining a future he never knew was there, but…
I tell you, DarkCloud, it’s so hard to know if I’m saying what Johnny
wants to hear.”
wouldn’t worry about it too much, Scott,” DarkCloud said, his eyes never
leaving the darkened silhouettes crouched along the valley floor, “You’re
telling him what he needs to hear, and
that’s more important.”
morning was cool and foggy. Johnny,
Scott and Murdoch rose early and ate a hearty breakfast, made up special by
Rosti’s wife. Rosti himself, though suffering from a rather nasty hangover,
managed to still get up and help with preparations. Solero and Angelou, along with a large showing of men from
the town, gathered around outside to see the party off. As Murdoch prepared the buggy he’d purchased in Salinas,
Matthew drew up in a wagon, Grace and Jamie seated next to him.
Jamie immediately jumped out, his new puppy in his arms, and asked for
Johnny. With a smile, Murdoch sent
him on into the saloon.
any help?” Matthew asked as he helped Grace down from the wagon box.
We’re about ready to leave.”
Murdoch asked. “You’re coming?”
nodded. “Tucson, DarkCloud and
Angelou are coming, too.”
for one thing,” DarkCloud interjected as he stepped off the boardwalk and
approached Murdoch, a grin on his face, “I never did get those medicines I
plan to look into getting supplies ordered for the jail,” Angelou stated as he
you?” Murdoch asked turning back to Matthew.
shrugged. “’Cuz I’ve got a
shook his head with a smile. “Don’t
tell me. Tucson needs to send a telegram.”
Matthew grinned at DarkCloud and Angelou. “That’s
a pretty good reason. Let’s tell
Tucson to stick with that one.”
chuckled. “We’re pretty
nodded. “There’s really no need
for you to come along. We’ll be fine.”
just say, after what the Judge did, we’ll all feel better if we know for sure
you’ve gotten on that stage,” DarkCloud said.
“Plus, to be completely honest, I’m still not comfortable with Johnny
leaving just yet, and this gives me an extra day to check him over.
It’s going to be a rough trip back and I’d like to make sure he’s
in good shape when he starts it.”
nodded. “In that case, I welcome
the company. But you’d better
stick with the medicine and building supplies tale when Johnny finds out.”
out what?” Johnny asked as he came out of Rosti’s, Jamie in tow.
having company on the way up,” Murdoch replied.
me, for one,” DarkCloud replied then quickly added, “I still need those
supplies. And Angelou is seeing to
the materials for the new jail.”
raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really? Hmmm.
Jamie here told me you all thought you’d better come along to see that
we don’t end up taken by the Judge.”
darn!” Matthew smacked his forehead with his palm.
“I forgot to tell Jamie it was a secret!”
chuckled and shot a grin at Scott, who was standing off to the side, attempting
without much success to hide his own amusement.
minutes later, all were gathered to leave.
Jamie hadn’t left Johnny’s side and by the time had come to say their
good-byes, Jamie’s face was streaked with tears.
take care of Grace and Lancer,” Johnny said, kneeling down to give Jamie a
hug. “I heard they’re gonna
start a school next spring. And I’d better hear you’re at the top of the class.”
sniffled. “I’d rather go with
there’s nobody else your age around. And
Murdoch there, he makes us just work, work, work, from morning ‘til night.”
glanced up at Murdoch and grinned shyly. “Ah,
I don’t think he’s that bad, Johnny. I
mean, he always smiles nicely at me and once he bought me some rock candy.”
did?” Johnny feigned surprise, glanced up at Murdoch.
“He never bought me rock candy!”
buy you some in Salinas,” Murdoch replied seriously.
turned back to Jamie. “Now,
you’ll do as I said, right? You’ll
study hard and take care of your sister and new puppy, right? And you’ll help
your brother, too.”
nodded. “And you’ll write me
and let me know when you can visit.”
nodded. “I promise.”
swallowed back a fresh set of tears, bent down and picked up the puppy.
“Thanks for Lancer, Johnny.”
welcome. I thought the best kid in
the world deserved the best puppy in the world.”
smiled. “You’re the best,
nodded. “Our secret.”
tousled Jamie’s hair then stood up. Murdoch
had already climbed in the buggy while Scott sat astride the horse he’d
originally rented in Salinas. With
a quick glance at Barranca, who was tied to the back of the buggy, Johnny
climbed up next to Murdoch. Tucson and DarkCloud swung up onto their horses;
Angelou and Matthew, already seated in the wagon, were ready to go.
final waves all around, the group headed north toward Salinas, the morning still
gray with fog. The trip was uneventful.
By late morning the fog suddenly lifted, the sun heating the air and
ground, sending the birds and small wildlife into the cool shadows of the few
bushes and trees. Cattle from the
scattered ranches grazed in the distance, close up to the foothills of the
mountains or near the riverbed of the Salinas.
They stopped for a longer rest at noon, allowing both men and animals to
rest from the mid-day sun for an hour. And
by mid-afternoon the town of Salinas was before them.
immediately headed them toward the better part of town, where he checked the
party into the same hotel they had stayed in earlier.
Johnny found himself under strict orders to rest up before taking on the
next leg of their journey, while Scott saw to the return of his horse and the
care of Barranca. Murdoch headed
out to purchase tickets on the next day’s stage while Matthew, Tucson and
DarkCloud went to get the supplies for the town.
that evening, after supper, the men were gathered together for a round of drinks
when Harley entered. His dark beard
split open to show his white teeth as he made a beeline for their table,
grabbing a chair from a less-occupied table and dragging it with him as he
You’re lookin’ a sight better ‘n when I last saw you!”
Johnny moved his chair over to make a spot for his friend, “how’d you know
we were up here?”
stopped by. Told me you were headin’
back home tomorrow.”
glanced quickly at his brother, smiling at Scott’s faint shrug.
“Oh, he did, did he?”
Harley chuckled as he accepted a beer from Tucson.
“Seems he’s anxious to get you away from Jamie.
Says the kid’s turnin’ you into a regular cardsharp.”
Johnny scoffed and turned a raised eyebrow on Scott.
“And who was it I found playin’ with Jamie late last night when I
couldn’t get to sleep ‘cuz of all the noise, huh?
I’ll tell you who,” he turned back to Harley and hooked a thumb in
Scott’s direction. “It was ol’ blond and innocent over there.”
and innocent, you mean,” Scott chuckled.
“I swear, someday I’m going to write all those rules down Jamie makes
up and hold him to them.”
a great kid,” Harley nodded as he took a sip from his mug.
nodded. “How’s Mary?”
you’d stopped by.”
glanced down at the table. “Probably
better for you if I didn’t. No
need to rub the Judge’s nose in it.”
shrugged. “I’ve had worse.”
looked up. “Maybe, but you
weren’t responsible for a family then, Harl.
With a little luck, we’ll leave tomorrow and things’ll have a chance
to settle down. But I want you to
let me know if there’re any problems, okay?
In fact, I’m plannin’ on getting a letter each month.”
Johnny!” Harley exclaimed. “You
can’t be serious. A letter every
if I don’t get one, I’m headin’ straight over here.”
rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’ll see if Mary’ll help.
She likes that sorta thing. But
I really don’t think there’s gonna be a problem. The Judge’s reputation took a bit of a beatin’.
He don’t dare go and make any other mistakes.
Not if he hopes to stay in good with Sacramento.”
don’t go giving him any opportunities, Harl.”
shook his head. “I won’t.” He
then held out his mug. “Now,
let’s change the subject to somethin’ more enjoyable.
Like maybe findin’ a suitable wife for Johnny here.”
laughed at Johnny’s surprised look.
me!” Johnny interjected. “Ol’
Boston Blondie’s the one with all the ladies pinin’ after him back in Morro
I wouldn’t mind either one of you settling down,” Murdoch said, his
expression deadpan. “Another woman around would give Teresa a bit of a break
with the household chores and maybe even improve some of the table manners.”
talking about you,” Scott pointed at Johnny.
he’s referring to you,” Johnny replied.
“Who was it knocked the wine decanter all over the table?”
knocked the decanter over only because you threw a biscuit at me.”
you asked for one.”
said, ‘pass me a biscuit.’
I didn’t say, ‘throw me a
shrugged. “Well, I got you your
biscuit. And it was a good throw,
too. You didn’t hafta jump and
grab for it.”
started chuckling. “See what I have to put up with?” he asked.
smiled, nodded. “Believe me. I’ve
long wondered how you’ve kept your sanity.”
and Scott glanced at each other. The
relaxed banter felt therapeutic after the difficulties of the last few weeks.
Scott, especially, was glad to see Johnny smile as he had noted a change
in Johnny’s manner when they entered Salinas; he’d become quiet and edgy.
Scott was sure that he knew what was bothering his brother. Salinas now
held too many memories, none of which were good.
hour of talk and drinks, the men began to wander up to bed.
It had been a long ride up and the draw of a good night’s sleep was
strong. After Harley had left, Johnny headed upstairs, following
DarkCloud, Tucson and Matthew, while Murdoch went to pay the bill.
Scott waited until Johnny had disappeared up the stairs before
approaching Murdoch. “I’ll be
up in a few minutes,” he said.
are you going?” Murdoch asked as Scott headed toward the door.
be just a moment,” Scott answered vaguely as he hurried out the door.
Scott glanced quickly up the street. The
form of the muscular blacksmith could be seen about a block away.
Scott took off at a lope, his long legs eating up the distance between
them. He was within a few yards
when Harley turned a corner. As
Scott reached the same corner, a large, beefy arm snaked out to grab him,
pinning an arm behind his back.
Harley! It’s me!”
Harley released his hold and stepped back.
“What the—? Scott!
What are you doing?”
put out his hands and laughed. “Obviously
not trying to wrestle with you.”
chuckled heartily. “Sorry, Scott. Didn’t
mean to grab you like that.”
should have called out,” Scott replied. “But
I wanted to talk to you. Privately.”
cocked his head to the side then slowly nodded.
“You wanna go get a drink?”
Scott replied. “I know you need to get home, too. I just—well, I just wanted to thank you, I guess.
What you did back in Soledad, when you gave me the letter, told me it was
time to confront my brother, to face him—you were right.
If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know what would have happened.
I do know I would have missed an important opportunity. You gave us something we needed.”
smiled. “I’m glad it worked
out.” Then he grew serious, his large fists settling on his hips.
“There’s something that worries me, though.”
nodded. “What really happened
with the Judge?”
shook his head unhappily. “It got
pretty bad, Harl. The Judge really
messed with him, tried to use his past as a way to split us.
He brought up things better left buried…even dragged Kansas into it.
He threatened to send Johnny back under the bounty.”
took a deep breath, groaned. “Damn.
It’s never gonna let him go, is it?”
The blacksmith turned, paced a few steps to one of the porch posts then
grasped it in one massive hand as he leaned his weight against it and sighed.
what do you know of Kansas?”
sighed again, deeper. “Probably
not much more ‘n you do. I know
it led to his tryin’ to make for the border which ended with him stopping in
that town in Texas and gettin’ shot up instead.
But any real details...” Harley shrugged and turned around.
“He wouldn’t talk about it. He
wouldn’t talk about anything there at first.
He was pretty angry. He was
mad that Wes and I took him to Cisco’s, then he was mad at Cisco for not bein’
all he’d led us to believe, and he blamed us for his bein’ shot up—said we
shoulda been there. But that was
all nonsense. He just wanted an
excuse to yell at us…” Harley paused, and with a grimace he shook his head. “Yeah, he did a lot of yellin’.
It was a long few weeks there, I tell you. Wes and I even left for a few days. Havin’ us all around seemed to be settin’ him off, Cisco
thought. When we got back, things
had calmed down a bit, but not much. He
was still difficult, but had come around enough so’s you could talk to him a
bit. He still had it in for Cisco,
though. I mean, I was just as
surprised as anyone about Cisco, you know, findin’ out he lived like he did…comin’
from a rich family and all…landowners down in Mexico.
Then springin’ on us that he’d been studyin’ for the priesthood,
planned to go back to sem’nary…well, if that weren’t a shock. But where I kinda saw the humor in it,
Johnny…well…the humor of the situation just sorta missed him.”
you really don’t know what happened in Kansas, then?”
shook his head. “Laura, the boss’s daughter, was killed and Johnny was
blamed for it. Also, Chet Riley,
another hired gun, was killed. Johnny’s
wanted for that, too. There’s a
lot more to it, but what that is,” Harley shrugged, “I wish I knew. I don’t think he shared much more with Wes, and
well…given how things were with Cisco, I doubt he told him anything. But whatever happened, it changed him…or maybe it was
gettin’ all shot up that done that. But
things weren’t quite the same with him. I
thought maybe it was me—I’d had enough of that life—had been wanting to
settle down for awhile. But I
don’t think so now.”
that’s when you all split up?”
nodded. “After what
happened to Johnny, and then with Cisco’s decision, well, it was all I needed
to go back to California and ask Mary to be my wife.
Now Wes, well you know, he and Johnny managed to hook up now and then
through the next few years, but Johnny pretty well rode alone after that.
His purpose…” Harley paused, frowned as he searched for the right
word, “I guess that’s it. His
purpose changed. Or maybe I should
say, he lost it. Cisco tried to
talk to him—get him to leave the business, you know…but Johnny,” Harley
shook his head, “he just seemed to darken, become…” Harley grimaced as he
shrugged. “He’d always had an edge to him…you know that gunfighter side.
But after we got him back on his feet at Cisco’s, I never could quite
find the Johnny I was familiar with again.
I hate to say it, but when I said goodbye to him, I really didn’t think
I’d ever see him again. He’d
never been one to worry much ‘bout the future, but I had a feelin’ he’d
even quit worryin’ ‘bout the present.” Harley paused as he searched for
the right words. “I kinda felt
like he was mad we’d made him live. He
was angry, angry at everything and everyone.
He didn’t want our help, just wanted to be left alone.
And I think his need for the medicine had little to do with pain when we
found him. It was…well, I think
it’d become a way to lose himself.”
was quiet a moment before replying, “That’s how Johnny was feeling after he
lost his memory…the Johnny we encountered when we first got here.
And that’s why he was so difficult at first.”
shrugged. “Yes and no.
There is one big difference.”
frowned and shook his head.
time he asked for help. From you.”
askin’ for help ain’t somethin’ Johnny does easily,” Harley added.
chuckled and smiled. “No, not hardly.”
smiled back, then his expression grew serious as he pointed a finger at Scott.
“You’re the only one who’s gonna be able to help him with that
Kansas mess. There’s no one else
he can turn to—no one else I think he would
turn to. It’s gonna be up to
took a deep breath. “Well, I’ve tried to talk to him about it, but I get
push harder. Johnny’s no idiot.
He knows it’s all gonna break soon.
Somethin’s gonna have to. If
Stanton’s really gone and raised that bounty, well…” Harley shook his
head. “A bounty that high won’t stay quiet.”
what if he refuses to talk to me? Or
just takes off like he’s done before?”
Harley was silent a moment. “It’s gonna take a lot of trust, Scott. Johnny…well, Johnny’s been burned; he don’t trust easily. It kinda goes with his askin’ for help. But you came through for him when he needed it, Scott. And I think that was really important. He trusted you and you didn’t let him down.”
“And I owe it to you,” Scott replied.
Harley shook his head and smiled. “No, I owed it to Johnny.” He suddenly thrust his hand out, his smile widening. “I’m glad I got to meet you, Scott. Johnny’s got himself a damn fine brother.”
“Glad to have met you too, Harley. Johnny’s got himself a damn fine friend.”
Harley grinned, nodded. “Watch his back, okay?”
“I will,” Scott replied seriously, then waited as the blacksmith turned and walked down the dark street toward home before heading back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, DarkCloud had quickly checked Johnny over to reassure himself that no damage had been done on the trip up along with adding an admonition to take things easy, which Johnny accepted without argument, having long since decided DarkCloud’s advice was much like his tea: easier to take if you didn’t think about it too much. As DarkCloud was finishing up, Murdoch stuck his head in to check on things. When Johnny asked where Scott was, Murdoch replied that he’d be up shortly. After DarkCloud and Murdoch left, Johnny decided to go downstairs and find Scott. His brother, however, was nowhere to be found. Deciding to make a trip out to use the facilities, and thinking it was a good possibility that Scott was there, Johnny continued on through the back hallway to the rear of the hotel. At the back exit he met an older man carrying out a tub of garbage. With a friendly nod he opened the door to let the man go through first. Out on the back porch he paused to glance about in the darkness for some sign of Scott, but was forced to step to the side as another man appeared with yet another container of garbage. The restaurant and bar were evidently getting ready to close up for the night.
After making quick use of the facilities, Johnny headed back to the hotel. He’d only gone a few steps when he noticed a man standing in the shadowed darkness of the porch, leaning against the building, a lit cigarette glowing between his lips. Without breaking stride, Johnny approached.
The man inhaled deeply before straightening up and releasing a gray cloud into the night. “Madrid.”
Other than stopping, Johnny was careful to allow no other response to show. But already the gunfighter in him had assessed the man, evaluated the chances that other men were hiding in the dark, and judged the outcome of four different possible scenarios. “You have business with me?” he asked coolly.
“Not yet,” the man murmured as he dropped the cigarette and rubbed it out with the toe of his boot. “But I plan to. Soon. But for now, the Judge sends his compliments.”
The voice seemed vaguely familiar, but in the darkness, Johnny couldn’t make out the man’s face. He inclined his head slightly, allowed a vague smile to cross his lips. “My, that’s generous, seein’ as that’s ‘bout all that’s his anymore.”
The man chuckled slightly. “Still the same, Madrid.”
Johnny squinted, but didn’t reply.
“Don’t remember me? San Pedro, Reveles… been awhile.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Jackson Lord.”
The man nodded, the moonlight catching a corner of his face. “So, you do remember. That’s good. Heard your head took a good knock, lost your memory. I’d’ve been disappointed if you hadn’t remembered me anymore…all the fun we had.”
“How could I ever forget my first confrontation with two-legged vermin? Especially when you lost so graciously.”
Lord smiled icily. “That was a number of years ago, Madrid. Heard now you’ve been laid up pretty bad, was using the laudanum again. Aren’t you getting tired of bein’ shot full of holes by now?”
“Aren’t you gettin’ tired of using my old lines? But, hey, that’s right. You always were tryin’ to imitate me.” Johnny shook his head. “But you never could quite make it, could you? Always in my shadow.”
“I don’t have to imitate you,” he replied coldly. “I got all the reputation I need. Enough to demand more ‘n you ever got for killin’ a man.”
Johnny returned the icy smile. “And what man might that be?”
The smile was returned. “You, of course.”
“Oh, really?” Johnny replied in cool unconcern. “You think you can take me this time?”
“In a heartbeat.”
“Whose?” Johnny asked with a hint of a smile, “Yours or mine? ‘Cuz I can hear yours right now.”
“Don’t waste your breath, Madrid. I ain’t fallin’ for that crap this time.”
Johnny inclined his head, raised an eyebrow. “Then what are you fallin’ for? Besides my bullet, I mean.”
“You’ve got it all wrong, Madrid. I’m takin’ you down this time,” Lord replied arrogantly.
“Oh, really? And when can I expect this remarkable event? I mean, ‘cuz I’d really hate to miss it.”
Lord shook his head. “Unfortunately, for the moment, you’re been put off
limits. The Judge doesn’t want
you dead—just yet, anyhow. Says
it’ll create some problems.”
Lord laughed, pointed a finger. “And don’t go lookin’ for no saint medallion to save your life this time. I’m aimin’ right between the eyes.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Johnny replied, paused just a second, then leaned forward, his voice calculated to intimidate. “But you might want to look into a medallion for yourself, because I will be aimin’ for your heart.” He paused again, allowed a hint of a smile. “Hear it’s an interesting way to go… You can actually feel your heart explode.” He let the smile flicker a beat before turning for the door.
“Madrid,” Lord said, his voice hard. “You return to Salinas, you’re dead. That’s your warning.”
Johnny turned slowly, deliberately, could tell Lord was still attempting to gain the upper hand. “How long you been workin’ for the Judge?”
A second of discernment flicked across the gunfighter’s face before he thrust his chin out belligerently. “Received word a couple weeks ago, got in town two days ago. What’s it to you?”
Johnny tilted his head back, chuckled in private amusement.
“What?” Lord demanded.
Still chuckling, Johnny shook his head as if the joke were too good impart. “Knew you were still tryin’ to imitate me.” He paused, his attitude condescending. “That’s about the time I turned him down.”
Lord’s eyes narrowed into a glare.
“Though I was offered a partnership. How ‘bout you?”
“I will finish you off.”
“Heel, boy. Remember, you’re under orders.” Johnny smirked at Lord’s barely contained anger, then pivoted and entered the hotel.
Once inside, he went straight to his room, closing the door firmly. There, alone and in private, he inhaled deeply, then closed his eyes and leaned his weight back against the door.
be able to escape… It’s
always…always…gonna be like this…
Slowly he released his breath and looked up. Thank God Murdoch and Scott weren’t around to see…
Johnny pushed away from the door, then weary with the effort of battling a ghost, he crossed to the bed and sat down. He was just rubbing his hands tiredly across his face when he heard Scott’s footsteps in the hallway, the signature knock soon following.
“Come on in,” Johnny answered, straightening his shoulders and adopting a more amicable expression.
Scott stepped in, smiled. “Ready to head home tomorrow?”
Johnny nodded. “I’m ready for Teresa’s cooking, that’s for sure.” He patted his stomach. “You think she’ll make me up some pies?”
Scott nodded, grinned as he crossed his arms and leaned against the door. “Oh, I’m quite sure she’s going to spoil you horribly. But as long as I get at least one piece from every pie, I won’t mind.”
Johnny smiled, then glanced down at his hand still resting on his stomach. He gave it a self-conscious rub, then glanced up uneasily. “Scott?”
Johnny gave a vague shrug. “Teresa…Jelly…what do they know?”
Scott pursed his lips, then straightened up, his arms dropping to his side as he took a step closer. “Nothing really,” he replied, keeping his gaze steady. “Murdoch let them know you were okay and we were returning. He didn’t want them to worry unnecessarily and also he didn’t think it wise to trust the telegraph office.”
Johnny acknowledged the decision with a wry nod. “The Judge.”
“They don’t know anything about what’s happened, then?”
“No. And I’m pretty sure Murdoch’s leaving the decision about what to tell them up to you.”
Johnny grimaced. “Teresa’s gonna take one look at me and know I’ve been shot up.”
“Yeah, you’d have a hard time hiding that,” Scott agreed. “Well, think of it this way. It’ll garner you more sympathy, and sympathy, with Teresa, comes in the form of pies.”
Johnny chuckled slightly then his expression became serious again. “How ‘bout the laudanum…the morphine?”
Scott shook his head. “That’s up to you, Johnny.”
Johnny was quiet a moment. “You know, if something should happen…” he paused as he noticed Scott’s look darken. “I mean, I could get a hang-nail or something,” he added gravely.
Scott chuckled. “I suppose you could.”
“They can be painful,” Johnny paused meaningfully before continuing, “And I wouldn’t want Teresa or Jelly to go giving me anything for it.”
Scott hesitated, kept his gaze steady. “I know what you’re saying, Johnny, but—”
“No, Scott. You don’t understand. I don’t want to do this again. The last few years, when I got hurt those couple times, well, no one knew, so you’d manage to get some medicine in me.”
“We knew you didn’t like it. We also knew that as soon as you were conscious enough of what was going on, there was going to be no more getting you to take any. But you did take some, to no ill effect.”
Johnny shook his head. “But it’d been a number of years, Scott. It’s too fresh right now. If—” he held up a hand to stop Scott’s interruption, “if anything should happen, I don’t want anyone giving me anything, okay?”
“Listen, Johnny.” Scott took another step closer until he was standing directly in front of his brother. “If you should get a really bad hang-nail, then you’re going to have to take something for the pain. I’m sorry, but we’re not about to leave you suffering.” At Johnny’s disappointed look, Scott added, “It’ll be okay, Johnny. I’ll be there. It wouldn’t be the same as this time. There were a lot of other factors.”
Johnny shook his head, closed his eyes as he rubbed a hand across his forehead then trailed it back through his hair. “I remember too much now. How it was back when Harley and Wes found me, took me to Cisco’s.” He paused, opened his eyes as he shook his head. “I wasn’t exactly easy to get along with.”
Heart pounding at the opened subject, Scott sat on the bed beside Johnny. “Listen. I know that was a pretty awful time. But you said yourself, you’d been using the laudanum for quite awhile before they found you. You started out needing it to handle the pain from the gunshot wounds, but later, after your back healed up, I think there was still a lot of pain in your heart.”
Johnny turned his head to look at Scott. “You’re goin’ poetic on me again.”
Scott shook his head. “No, Johnny. I’m just trying to get you to realize that if something should happen, if…if you should get hurt, I don’t think taking some laudanum to handle the pain is going to cause any harm.”
“I’d still rather not.”
Scott nodded. “Then I’ll see to it you don’t have to take any more than absolutely necessary. And if it’s not absolutely necessary, I’ll make sure you won’t take any at all.”
Johnny smiled wryly and sighed. “Thanks.”
Scott put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Not at all.”
Johnny looked back down at his lap. “Scott?”
“I don’t want to tell Teresa and Jelly.”
“No, I mean,” Johnny looked up, “I don’t want to be the one to tell them. It’s too…” he shook his head, glanced back down, “…too embarrassing.”
“You want us to say something?”
Johnny nodded. “I just don’t want to be around, okay? I just don’t want to hear the details.”
Scott nodded. “We’ll take care of it.”
Johnny looked up again, a lopsided smile on his face. “You think you could not make it sound too bad?”
“A watered-down version?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Suddenly Johnny’s smile widened, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “Though feel free to tell Teresa I was amazingly brave.”
morning Murdoch, Scott and Johnny stood waiting to board the stage.
Once again it was one of the lighter mail coaches.
While they were faster, they were smaller and didn’t offer a very
comfortable ride. Murdoch was
disappointed to find out that they were going to have to share it with a family
with three children. He’d hoped
they’d been able to have the coach by themselves and had entertained the idea
of buying up all available tickets, but knew the gesture would not be received
by Johnny in the manner in which it was intended.
moved to stand next to Murdoch as they watched the couple with the children
climb into the stage. Besides the man and wife, there was a girl of about fourteen,
a boy about thirteen, and a small infant of indeterminate sex.
going to sit with the driver,” Scott said.
shook his head. “That’s not necessary.”
grinned. “Actually, it’s going
to be a nice day, and I’d just as soon enjoy the countryside and fresh air.
We’ll be making stops and I can always switch later.
Besides, with the younger ones in there, the extra room might be
appreciated. In fact, I wouldn’t
be surprised if my seat becomes much sought after if the baby turns out to be
smiled wryly. “The extra room will be better for Johnny.”
tell him,” Scott responded with a smile.
he’ll have that one figured out without my help.”
shrugged. “Okay, but don’t
confirm it.” He glanced over at
Johnny, who was nodding as he listened to something DarkCloud was relating.
“Doesn’t appear like DarkCloud’s going to let him go without a list
chuckled. “He already went over
them with me earlier this morning.”
too, huh?” Scott smirked. “I
think he was actually giving me a verbal quiz.”
you score?” Murdoch smiled.
guess I passed. He let me go
anyway.” Scott stopped, gestured
as he saw Matthew walk toward them from around the stage, Tucson and Angelou
we’re ready to take off, too,” Matthew said. “We just finished picking up
the supplies to begin the jail.”
be puttin’ those plans of yours to good use,” Angelou beamed with a nod at
I could be of some help,” Scott said.
smiled. “Next time you’re in
Soledad, we oughta have a real fine jail.”
be looking forward to seeing it.”
finish gettin’ loaded,” the driver’s voice boomed through their
conversation. “I got a schedule
walked up, put his hand out to Matthew. “Take
care of Jamie, okay?”
nodded and chuckled. “I’ll do
my best to keep him out of the gamblin’ houses.”
smiled, then nodded toward Tucson. “Tucson.”
nodded back, a smile creeping along his face. “Been
a pleasure gettin’ to know you, Johnny Lancer.”
raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Tryin’
to turn into a politician, too, Tucson?”
grinned. “Sheriff today, who
knows what tomorrow.”
don’t hesitate to keep us apprised of the situation here,” Murdoch added.
nodded. “And please know you’re
welcome to stay with us any time you’re down our way.”
do,” Murdoch replied, then gestured toward the stage.
“We’d better get on before we’re left behind.”
gave a nod to DarkCloud, then climbed up into the stage.
Scott gave a quick wave before clambering up to the seat near the driver
as Murdoch stepped up to DarkCloud.
for everything,” Murdoch murmured.
smiled. “I’m glad things turned
nodded. “I’ll send a wire after
we reach Lancer, just to let you know how Johnny’s doing.”
glanced toward the stage. “He’ll
be fine. Just don’t let him out of the house—or out of your
sight—for a few weeks.”
chuckled, turned and climbed up into the stagecoach.
Johnny had already slid up against the far window, his back wedged up
into the corner, arms folded across his chest, eyes closed beneath the brim of
his pulled-down hat. Murdoch gave a
nod to the man and woman seated on the opposite side, then settled into the
other corner of the bench. He’d
no sooner tilted his head to glance out the window than the stage lurched
forward, and the men from Soledad quickly disappeared from view.
stage rolled through Salinas, heading north to get to the pass, Murdoch
attempted to adjust his large form into the corner.
He quietly conceded a certain amount of envy at Johnny’s apparent
ability to sleep in any surroundings, while at the same time recognizing that it
probably had to do with the fact that Johnny had always been on the move.
He also noted that Johnny was wearing his jacket, though the coach was
sure to become warm as the day wore on. Matthew
had informed him that all of Johnny’s clothes, except for his jacket, had been
ruined in the shootout in the hills. The
jacket, along with Johnny’s belt and weapons, had been discovered among the
items they’d found in the saddlebags of the horses Matthew and a couple of
other men had managed to catch. They
hadn’t realized it was Johnny’s jacket until Matthew had thought to bring it
into town one day and ask.
had long ago noticed that the jacket had an interesting inside pocket.
Now with the disclosure of the modified revolver, Murdoch realized that
the pocket had been designed for it. With
the few discussions he’d had with Matthew and Tucson, he’d come to
understand that Johnny preferred to keep the revolver hidden in the belt along
his back, under cover of his jacket. But
in situations where such placement would be uncomfortable or impractical,
Murdoch surmised that Johnny made use of the concealed pocket, which was placed
in such a way that the left arm could obscure the extra bulk while allowing the
right hand easy access. Murdoch
conceded that that was probably where the revolver was now, as Johnny was sure
to have known it’d eventually become too warm in the coach to wear the jacket.
And while the passengers, including Johnny, had handed over their
sidearms, Murdoch had no doubt Johnny still had the modified one with him.
a kick to his shin, Murdoch’s thoughts were interrupted.
smiled as the boy in front of him squirmed in his seat.
need. I’m afraid my legs take up
more than their share of the space,” Murdoch replied kindly.
should still watch himself,” Paul’s father stated.
nodded warmly to the man, noticing for the first time the clerical collar of a
should introduce myself,” Murdoch said, leaning forward to offer his hand.
“My name is Murdoch Lancer. This
is my son, Johnny, and my other son, Scott, is riding up with the driver.”
man’s nod was reserved and proper. “I
am Reverend Pearson, my wife, and children, Anna, Rachel and Paul, whom you’ve
smiled again at Paul, who nodded shyly. “So,
where are you people heading?”
are on our way to the town of Green River where I am to oversee the construction
and care of the Congregational Church.”
really?” Murdoch chuckled. “We
live not far from Green River.”
do?” the lady interjected. “Is
it…it’s not as desolate as they say, is it?”
smiled. “Well, that depends on
what you think is desolate. Green
River is a growing community. It’s
not San Francisco, or Salinas for that matter, but I believe you’ll be happy
Pearson snorted slightly. “I
certainly hope it’s not like Salinas.”
raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. Deciding
that a change of topic was perhaps called for, Murdoch ventured, “So, where
are you from?”
came on the train!” Paul interjected enthusiastically.
Reverend Pearson admonished. “Mr.
Lancer was not speaking to you.” The
reverend nodded to Murdoch. “Excuse
my son. There has been so much for him to see since we left the
Hartford, to be exact. We
left almost two months ago. We
spent a couple weeks with colleagues in San Francisco, then arrived in Salinas a
you have been all over, haven’t you?” Murdoch acknowledged with a wink to
the young man, his tone one of admiration.
“I can see where a fella like you would be excited.”
smiled with pleasure, but didn’t reply.
for his part, had dozed off about ten minutes after the coach began rolling out
of town. He hadn’t slept well the night before, his thoughts
occupied with the confrontation with Jackson Lord and with the discussion he’d
had with Scott. He’d been
momentarily tempted to confide in his brother what had transpired, but had
decided, on further thought, that it was something best kept to himself. They were, after all, leaving town and this would all be
behind them soon. He hoped.
finding out that the Judge had hired on a gunfighter of some repute told him all
he needed to know. The Judge was
not one to make another mistake, at least where his dealings with Madrid were
concerned. He’d lost too much
already. Johnny knew, without a
doubt, returning to Salinas would precipitate a bloody fight…and he wasn’t
too sure that the Judge was beyond sending his new hired gun to take care of the
problem at the source, once his son’s trial was wrapped up.
coach hit a pothole, Johnny let out a soft grunt and opened one eye.
He noticed the young boy was watching him intently.
Opening the other eye, he wrinkled his nose in acknowledgement.
Paul grinned widely back.
Johnny was reminded of Jamie.
stage rolled to a stop. Scott
stretched out one leg and groaned, then smiled sheepishly as the stage driver
grinned a wide, toothless smile.
your butt’s sorer ‘n a blister on a pimple.”
chuckled. “You sure do have a way
with words, Mr. Sunnifeld.”
the old driver grumbled with a shake of his head as he stood up.
“I keep tellin’ ya, just call me Sunny.”
Scott responded, though inwardly he chuckled.
There was nothing sunny about Mr. Sunnifeld.
But as Scott climbed down off from the stage, he had to admit that the
old man had kept the trip interesting with his tales, mostly a combination of
pure fabrication and outlandish stories.
dropped to the ground just as Johnny climbed out of the stage.
It appeared his brother had waited until everyone else had exited, as
Murdoch was standing near the step, patiently waiting.
They’d only made two stops along the way, and the second time, when
they’d taken a break for lunch, Scott had found Johnny with both hands placed
against a tree, leaning forward, his head bowed.
When Scott had asked how he was doing, Johnny had reluctantly admitted
that the rough ride was proving to be hard on his chest muscles, but in the next
breath had asked Scott not to say anything to Murdoch. Scott hadn’t, convinced that Murdoch probably already knew.
winced slightly as he stepped to the ground, though he still managed to give
Scott and Murdoch a smile. “Please
tell me we aren’t going any further today.”
And by the looks of things, there’s nobody else here at the way
station, so hopefully the rooms will not be crowded tonight.”
time, the sleeping arrangements were less than ideal,” Scott admitted then
pointed toward the two-story building. “Why
don’t the two of you go in, and I’ll see to Barranca.”
a plan I can live with,” Johnny said then turned and started for the way
go get things taken care of,” Murdoch added, then bent down and grabbed up a
valise that the driver had placed on the ground.
be just a minute,” Scott said as he walked to the back of the stage where
Barranca was tied.
no sooner finished untying him and was walking to the barn when the owner of the
way station walked up to him.
to bed him down tonight, eh? Your
father just paid me board for him. Looks
like a fine animal.”
is,” Scott replied as he paused. “Is
there a specific stall you’d prefer to have me use?”
hooked his thumbs in his pants and shook his head.
“Nah. Don’t really matter none.
The other stage horses are all in the corral in back.
Use whichever one you prefer.”
you get him situated, I’ll get him fed. If
you need anythin’ though, I’ll be out helping un-harness the stage.”
watched the man return to Sunny and his stage, then turned back to lead Barranca
into the barn.
set the vase on the table, the fragrant spray of flowers an explosion of color
in the otherwise dark, somber great room of the Lancer hacienda.
She stepped back, a finger pressed to her chin, as she viewed its effect.
She cocked her head, took another step to the side to check its angle,
then returned to rotate it a quarter of an inch.
know, I thought it was better the other way.”
chuckled as she turned around to see Jelly observing her with amusement.
don’t think I’m overdoing it, do you, Jelly?”
He shook his head. “That
is, unless you’ve got a mind to start spreadin’ petals ‘bout the floor.”
Teresa feigned disappointment. “You
think that would be a bit much?”
laughed then dropped his eyes in chagrined embarrassment.
“Not really.” Slowly he
withdrew an arm from behind his back to display an assortment of flowers.
“I was sorta walkin’ past the garden…”
laughed. “I’ll put them to good
walked forward and accepted the flowers. “You
knew I wanted to put a bouquet on the mantel, didn’t you?”
nodded as he slid his thumbs into his suspenders and rocked back on his heels.
“That’s right. A bouquet
on the mantel is what the room was still lackin’.”
grinned. “Great minds think
alike, Jelly,” she said as she turned and walked to the kitchen.
Jelly asked, quickly following.
kitchen, Teresa took another vase out of the credenza where the better pieces of
china and glassware were kept then carried it and the flowers to the sink pump.
Jelly reached out for the pump and drew water, while Teresa filled the
vase. Finished, Teresa smiled as
she placed the flowers in the vase, arranging them to her satisfaction.
going to be so nice to have them home again, Jelly.”
‘em. It will be,” Jelly agreed.
then sighed, glanced at Jelly before turning and carrying the arrangement out to
the great room.
followed her out to the room, standing back as she adjusted a rose that had
shifted in the transportation.
heard a soft sigh, saw Teresa lower her head, then draw her slender arms up in a
gesture of disconsolation. Stepping
forward, he laid a weathered hand on her shoulder.
worried about what Sheriff Crawford said.”
small brown head nodded. There was
a tight sigh then she turned around, looking up with wide, anxious brown eyes. “I wish we knew what was wrong.”
gave her shoulder a pat then stepped back, sliding his hands into his pockets.
“I’m sure Murdoch’s got his reasons.”
pursed her lips unhappily. “For
not telling us anything?” She
frowned, turned back to face the mantle. “The
few wires we received from Murdoch were always very vague.
I mean,” she glanced over her shoulder, “it was good to know when
they’d found Johnny, but…well, there was so much it was obvious he wasn’t
nodded hesitantly, uncomfortable with trying to second-guess Murdoch.
“I’m sure he just didn’t want us worryin’ fer no reason.”
according to Sheriff Crawford, there is
a good reason.”
expression became serious. “Teresa,
it’ll do you no good gettin’ worked up about it now. By tomorrow night,
Johnny’ll be home.”
sighed. “I just wish I knew what
was really wrong.”
best get some sleep,” Jelly said.
nodded. “I suppose you’re
right. I want to get up early and
help Maria get some pies baked before we go into town to meet the stage.”
type?” Jelly grinned.
would you like, Mr. Hoskins?” she
asked with a deferential air that brought a shy grin to the older man’s face.
an appetite for apple.”
nodded. “I’m sure we could
arrange to bake a couple of apple pies.”
eyes twinkled. “You, Miss Teresa, have made one man’s belly eternally
laughed. “I’ll see you in the
He paused, met her eyes meaningfully.
“Things’ll be clearer tomorrow.”
sighed as Jelly headed for the door, turning to give her one last encouraging
wave. After the door closed, Teresa
rubbed her arms up and down along her sleeves.
She then turned back to the mantle and stepped closer.
The fire was small, throwing more light than actual heat.
But the nights were getting cooler.
Teresa bent down, took another log, poked the embers with one end, then
added it to the fire. She turned as
if to head for the stairs, then seemed to change her mind and sat down on the
rug near the fire. There she sat,
quietly watching the flames eddy and twist.
been difficult not hearing often from Murdoch.
She had originally been so relieved when they received the first message
reporting that Johnny had been found that she hadn’t realized how vague the
message had actually been. Then,
after not hearing anything for a while, she had come to realize that the letter
had really told them nothing other than that the men would be returning as soon
as possible. It wasn’t long before she had found herself increasingly
unsettled by its indefinite message, especially given that Murdoch’s as
soon as possible seemed to be very different from Teresa’s idea of the
expression. Eventually they received another wire, but this one proved to
be as vague as the first. It simply
stated that things were taking a little longer than expected and it would be a
little while yet before they could return.
just the night previous, Sheriff Crawford had ridden in late in the evening
carrying a new telegram. He’d
taken it upon himself to make sure they received any wires as soon as they came
in to the telegraph office. At
first Teresa had been surprised and a little concerned to see him at such a late
hour. But the news proved to be good news, as the telegram informed
them that the Lancer men would be returning on the Green River stage in two
days. She and Jelly were ecstatic
at the news. But then Teresa
noticed that Val, though smiling, also seemed strangely subdued.
Immediately Teresa became suspicious and pressed for the sheriff to tell
her what was wrong.
been clearly uneasy in discussing his lack of exuberance.
“Teresa,” he had said, “you know I had that friend out there lookin’
for Johnny, too.”
had nodded. “Sheriff Hawkins,
nodded. “Well, we had an
understanding not to mention Johnny’s name, you know…the Kansas thing….”
He left the sentence dangling awkwardly.
“Well, awhile ago Bill sent me a wire that said the man he was lookin’
for had been found, but was in bad shape.”
eyes had gone large. “Bad shape?
How? What happened?
Are you sure he meant Johnny?”
up a hand to halt Teresa’s questions. “Yes,
he was talkin’ ‘bout Johnny. Because
I also received a wire from Murdoch that said basically the same thing, also not
mentioning him by name and with no other information than what I’d already
gathered from Bill.”
didn’t you tell me?”
grimaced. “Murdoch asked me not
raised her eyebrows. “What?”
nodded uncomfortably. “I think he wanted to see how Johnny was doin’ before he
got you upset.”
why are you telling me now?” Teresa asked hesitantly.
glanced down for a second and sighed. “Murdoch’s
wire said to let you and Jelly,” he indicated the older man with a awkward
nod, “know that Johnny’s pretty weak, and that he’s still not feeling
happened to him?” Jelly asked.
shrugged dismally. “I really don’t know.
But if it’s what was keepin’ them from returning right away, and
he’s still not recovered, then it has to have been pretty serious.”
studied the sheriff, her brows knitting. “Is
there anything else?”
hesitated then shook his head. “No,
not really anything else ‘bout Johnny. But
Murdoch, well, he said Bill, Sheriff Hawkins, had been killed.”
nodded. “I don’t know how. I
had a feelin’ from Murdoch’s wire that there was a lot he needed to tell us,
but it needed to be done in person. Somethin’
tells me he wasn’t comfortable ‘bout sending a message where others might be
able to get a hold of it.”
Green River?” Teresa asked, somewhat surprised.
and Sheriff Crawford looked at each other.
rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Somethin’
tells me there’s gonna be quite a story to tell ‘bout Salinas.”
and an echoing crack from the burning log drew Teresa out of her reverie.
With a sigh she rubbed her eyes tiredly and pushed her hair back over her
shoulders. It was time to get to
bed. There were pies to be made, a
huge beef roast to prepare and Johnny’s room to dust.
smiled to herself. She looked forward to having Scott home to chide her about
her thorough dusting. Then her
smile faded and her gaze lifted up toward the rooms above.
There were also ointments and bandages to have at hand, for she had a
sinking feeling they might be required.
was over and evening had settled solidly in the small valley that sheltered the
way station. While Murdoch engaged Sunny and the hosteler with a
discussion of the growing stage business, Johnny excused himself. The lure of fresh air was too hard to resist after the
confines of the small, smoky dining area. The
sleeping quarters had been no better, dank and heavy with the perspiration and
odors of its previous guests. The
hosteler and his wife had mentioned during the course of the meal that a large
group of twelve had been at the way station the night before.
Johnny was quite certain that he could smell every single one of them.
Scott and he had opened the windows to air out the room after they had
finished eating, then while Scott said he was going to sit by the fire and read,
Johnny decided to go take a short walk outside.
The quiet proved to be short-lived as he’d no sooner stepped off the
porch than the minister’s son bounded around the corner, almost running into
problem,” Johnny answered. “Plenty
of space out here for both of us, if I just watch where I’m standing.”
young man laughed.
don’t think I ever caught your name,” Johnny said.
nodded. “Your father introduced
you, but I believe you were asleep.”
chuckled. “I probably was.
I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
He turned and sat down on the edge of the porch, stretched out his
shoulders gingerly. “So, did you
enjoy the trip today?”
nodded and sat down. “Actually, I did. There’s
so much to see out here.”
from the East, right?”
brother’s from the East. Boston,
brother?” Paul looked puzzled, then shook his head.
“But I take it you’re not, right?”
shook his head then chuckled and flicked his hand in a dismissive wave.
“Long story. So, what do
you think of California so far?”
cocked his head thoughtfully. “Well,
a lot of it looks dead…very dry and dead.”
nodded. “Sort of a big old desert
‘til those rains start up in another month or so.
Then you might get two weeks of solid rain without let-up.
Things’ll green up in a hurry then.”
suddenly laughed and lowered his voice, “Hope it doesn’t rain for forty days
and nights, or my father will think God’s passed judgment on the state.”
chuckled along. “I was getting the impression he’s not too pleased to be
shrugged. “He’s talked of
coming to California since I can remember.
He says it’s a blemish on the soul of the country.”
Johnny nodded slowly as he leaned forward to clasp his hands between his knees.
like it, though,” Paul continued. “It’s so open, free and exciting.
I didn’t even want to leave Salinas.
I wished we could have stayed.”
couldn’t help but chuckle. “I
take it you enjoyed the town?”
nodded enthusiastically. “We were
there a week. When did you
we came up to catch the stage last night.”
you missed all the excitement, too,” Paul sighed, his disappointment evident.
my, yes. Billy, he’s
fifteen—the son of my dad’s friend. We
stayed with them. Anyway, he
got to see it first-hand.”
blinked, lowered his gaze to his hands. For
some reason he wasn’t surprised. It
was as if he’d known all along that the conversation would turn to the
gunfight. Like it was something
inescapable…trailing him even back to Lancer.
He forced himself to nonchalantly stretch his back out, welcoming the
bite of pain that shot along his side and chest as he glanced toward the door.
wish I could have seen it,” Paul interrupted with a sigh, his attention fixed
on some unseen point in the dark.
looked back, pursed his lips with a small shake of his head.
“You don’t wanna go seeing stuff like that.
It’s mostly all a bunch of tall tales anyway.”
think so?” Paul asked.
nodded. “I know so.”
sighed deeply. “Well, maybe.
But Billy seemed quite excited about having seen Johnny Madrid in action.
I guess he’s quite the gunfighter.”
closed his eyes, slowly inhaled, then let his shoulders and head slump forward.
nodded. “Have you heard of
rested his elbows on his knees, cradled his forehead in his palms.
hear Billy tell it…wow…” Paul spoke the last word softly and simply,
encompassing his awe and respect more thoroughly than a loud exclamation.
I really don’t think there was all that much to it.”
much to it?” Paul scoffed. “Billy
said he was on his way to school when all of a sudden he noticed people running
the other way, yelling about a gunfight. He
followed, and sure enough, found two men standing out in the middle of the
street, facing each other down. He
says he’d just managed to get close enough to really see what was going on,
when someone whispered that it was Johnny Madrid and some other new gunfighter,
and that the younger gunfighter had called Johnny out.”
well…things like that’ll happen, but—”
guess Billy was standing in a great spot. He
could see everything. He says he
could look right at Madrid’s face, he was so close.
He said he wished he’d been able to write everything down they said,
that Madrid was so cool, so calm, like he just knew there was no way in the
world he could lose. The other guy,
though, he got scared. Billy said
you could sense it. Madrid tried to
talk the other gunfighter out of the fight, but he seemed determined to go
through with it. So Madrid told him
to start the dance…” Paul stopped to chuckle.
“Can you believe that? Dance? How macabre, don’t you think…but so perfect?”
don’t know… I mean…I
bam! It was finished.
Billy said, even though everyone knew it was coming, knew what to expect,
it still happened so fast that you weren’t sure you had really seen it. But their guns were drawn and the other gunfighter was lying
flat on his back in the dust. Then,
before anyone has had a chance to react, a bunch of ambushers on the
bunch?” Johnny straightened up. “A
nodded. “Yeah, but it didn’t
matter. Madrid started weaving
about, firing up into the rooftops, knocking them off with the help of one of
brows knit. “Madrid’s got a gang?”
shrugged. “I guess so.
That’s what Billy said. Anyway,
this other man came running out of the crowd opposite of where Billy was
standing, and he and Madrid blasted away at the ambushers, eventually killing
doubt there were really that many.”
didn’t really ask, but I think there were quite a few.
Then—now you’ve got to hear this—this is the good part.
This horse was shot in all the gunfire, and it starts bucking and rearing
and kicks Madrid, sending him right to the dirt.
Everyone thought Madrid was dead. Billy,
too. I guess he looked a mess.
In the meantime, this other gang member and then this blacksmith from the
town came out of the crowd and forced the crowd away.
Billy went to a corner and watched, though.
He saw the blacksmith pick Madrid up and carry him into the hotel.
Billy said that he still thought Madrid was going to die, as that horse
had kicked him real good. But later that day, after school, Billy found out that Madrid
had gotten right up just a short while later, went and bought drinks for
everyone in the saloon, sat around and talked and all, and then rode right on
out of town. Do you believe that?
Isn’t that amazing? After
being all stomped on by a horse?”
ran his fingers back through his hair. “Yeah,
closed his eyes, winced. “You
found out later that the men who’d tried to ambush Madrid worked for this
ill-tempered fellow by the name of James Wakeman.
His dad’s a pretty decent man, I guess, but James is pretty skunky…at
least that’s how Billy put it. I
guess Billy’s dad’s had some bad dealings with him.
Anyhow, Billy’s father heard that Wakeman had tried to hire Madrid
earlier, but Madrid made a fool of him and turned him down flat.
That made Wakeman mad—no one turns him down, I guess—so he wanted to
get even with Madrid. So he gets
his army together—”
all the guys who work for him.”
shrugged. “Oh, well, maybe not
all, but a lot…like thirty or something, I’m guessing.”
frowned. “Don’t you want to
hear the rest of the story?”
hesitated, chuckled wearily. “I
guess I’d better.”
grinned. “Well, you’ll be glad
you did when you hear this next part. Wakeman
and his men ride on down to Soledad. And
they’ve taken three hostages…a woman, a child and a boy.”
somethin’ right,” Johnny muttered.
shrugged. “Anyway, they ride into
town, planning to kill Madrid. Only
he’s waiting for them. He’s
been expecting them, you see, because he knows the type of man Wakeman is.
Wakeman’s brought along another gunfighter, but he proves to be no
match for Madrid. Madrid could have
taken him out with his eyes closed. Wakeman
then tries to use the hostages against Madrid, but Madrid’s too smart for him.
He outfoxes Wakeman to give up one of the hostages.
Then just when things look like they’re at an impasse, that there’s
no way Madrid can win against such overwhelming odds, another one of his gang
comes dashing out to help him just as everyone starts shooting.”
there could not have been two men against thirty.”
shook his head. “No way. Not
possible. It never happened.”
frowned. “I suppose you’re right. Billy
might have exaggerated a bit. What
do you think, maybe twenty?”
think Billy exaggerated a lot, and it’s probably closer to half-dozen.”
Paul grimaced. “I’m sure it was at least fifteen.”
on, Paul. Add up the bullets.”
Madrid had two guns.”
if he had, which I doubt, that’s still only twelve bullets—”
that friend of his.”
eighteen. But that’s not leavin’
much margin for error. That means every single one of those shots gotta be
made...and they gotta be made before
the other guys make theirs.”
not that good.
I mean, when you’re dealin’ with a group of people in a volatile
situation like that, well, people are gonna react differently.
There’s no way to predict everyone’s movements, everyone’s
behavior, who’s gonna panic, who’s gonna stand their ground…and with
having to take those hostages into account…” Johnny stopped as he realized
Paul was studying him with a raised eyebrow.
“I mean… there’s…there couldn’t’ve been no fifteen…
smirked. “Does it really matter
that much how many men there were?”
sighed, gave a tired shake of his head, let his hands cover his face again.
“I guess not, but humor me and get the numbers down a bit, okay?”
smirk widened. “Yes, sir. There
were under fifteen men.”
Paul continued, “the most interesting thing took place.”
huh?” Johnny asked, tilted his head to look at Paul.
“Let me guess. Good
triumphed over evil, miracles were performed and there was much singing and
dancing in the streets.”
laughed even louder. “Mr. Lancer, you sure have an interesting sense of
s’pose that’s one of the nicer things that’s been said about me
don’t know as there was much singing and dancing, but good did triumph over
did, did it?”
nodded. “You see, during the
shootout one of the bullets had been aimed straight at Madrid’s heart.
But you’ll never guess what happened.”
He didn’t duck. He was
wearing a religious medallion and it protected him.
It saved his life.”
sounds like this Madrid was darn lucky.”
shook his head. “I don’t think luck had anything to do with it.
I think it was Providence, an act of God.”
snorted. “Well, I believe it was
luck. Think about it.
Madrid’s a hired killer. God’s
gonna go out of his way to save him?”
nodded. “I think so.
Madrid wasn’t just acting as a hired killer.
He was protecting people who were weak and helpless.
He was trying to rescue hostages and was defending property and rights.
Wakeman was the one with evil intent.
He was the one who went down there with malicious vengeance in his
heart and using helpless children and a lady for his own gain.
I think Madrid was doing God’s will.”
will?” Johnny shook his head and sighed.
“Paul, there were men killed that day.”
written: Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the
poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak
and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
well, it also says, Thou shalt not kill.”
smiled. “You sound like my
Reverend Braxton, that’s Billy’s father, and my father debated the
idea of divine intervention in regard to Madrid.”
yes. On a number of occasions.”
shook his head wryly. “So, tell
me. What was their decision?”
chuckled. “They decided to agree
father did not subscribe to the divine intervention idea, huh?”
grimaced. “He says gunfighters
are Satan’s spawn.”
raised an eyebrow. “Well, though maybe the language is a bit strong, I think I
tend to agree with him.”
cocked his head. “You don’t think Madrid’s motives redeemed his
expression turned incredulous. “His…what?
Where’d you get those ideas?
they’re my own, but I agree with Reverend Braxton’s observations.”
on, how old are you?”
I’ll be fourteen next month.”
shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m discussing…”
looked at Paul. “You talk too much like Scott.”
that a good thing?”
Johnny paused. “Fourteen,
nodded. “Father’s hoping I’ll
return back East next fall to begin studies in Theology at Harvard.”
Johnny laughed. “Now I know why you sound like Scott.” At Paul’s confused look, Johnny added, “That’s where he
went to school.”
did?” Paul cocked his head thoughtfully.
“I’ll have to discuss it with him.
However, I’m afraid, after seeing what it’s like here, I’d rather
not go back East.”
what do you want to do?”
shrugged. “Well, I want to work
for the church, but more as a missionary—an explorer.
More like Reverend Braxton. He
came out here to California over twenty years ago.
He and my father both were attending seminary together.
My father says that the entire time they were in school together,
Reverend Braxton talked of nothing else than coming out here.
I’m hoping, after we get settled in Green River, that Father will let
me return and study with him for a few months.
I think I could learn a lot from him.”
it!” Johnny interjected as he put out a hand to stop Paul.
“Where did you say you’re heading?”
River. My father’s going to be
the pastor for the new Congregational Church that’s being built.”
hell,” Johnny mumbled.
answer was cut off as the door opened and Scott stepped out onto the porch.
here you are. I wondered where you’d gone off to.” Scott smiled at
Paul. “So, what have you two been
just telling your brother about the gunfight that took place in Salinas,” Paul
quickly stood up, masking a quick gesture of his hand with his body.
there was a gunfight a couple weeks ago,” Paul replied, unaware of Johnny’s
motions. “I didn’t see it, but my friend told me all about it.
It was between Johnny Madrid and another gunfighter?”
Madrid?” Scott repeated, glancing at his brother then back to Paul.
Have you ever seen him?”
looked at Johnny, saw him give a short, curt shake of the head.
him?” Scott repeated again, pursed his lips as he took a deep, measured
breath. Carefully he met Johnny’s
gaze. “I think if I’d met
Madrid, I’d remember.”
sighed, “Me, too.” There was a pause, then Paul continued, “Billy—that’s my friend, the one who got to see
Madrid—he says he wishes he could be like him.”
watched Johnny close his eyes, his clenched jaw visibly working to hold back a
torrent of words.
guess he’s a bit of a legend out here,” Paul continued, unaware of the
effect his statement had made on the man standing near him.
turned. “Legends aren’t always
what you want them to be,” he stated, his words holding a harsh edge to them.
“Sometimes they’re just men caught in a web of fabricated stories and
Paul raised an eyebrow and stood up, but Johnny turned curtly away.
I need to talk to you,” he hissed in short, clipped tones as he headed back
into the building.
shrugged apologetically. “Would
you excuse us, Paul?”
nodded hesitantly, his eyes darting toward the door.
“Did I say something wrong?”
shook his head. “Johnny’s had a rough few weeks.
He’s just anxious to get home. We
all are. We’ll see you later.”
you’re sure I shouldn’t go in and apologize, Mr. Lancer?”
You can call me Scott. And
no, don’t worry about Johnny. He’s
you’re sure…Scott,” Paul said shyly and smiled.
nodded. “I’m sure.”
He turned and headed back into the dining area.
Murdoch and the Reverend were still seated at the table, along with the
hosteler and Sunny. Johnny was
nowhere about. Assuming his brother
had gone on upstairs, Scott gave a quick wave to Murdoch and headed for the
top of the stairs was a landing with two doors.
The room to the right was for women who stayed at the inn and the other
was for the men. Scott could hear
Mrs. Pearson humming a faint tune. Behind
the door to the men’s room, Scott could hear his brother’s unmistakable
pacing. Johnny was clearly
pushed opened the door, Johnny stopping in his tracks to wait impatiently as
Scott closed the door behind him.
you hear what he said?” Johnny asked.
nodded. “I’m assuming you’re
referring to the gunfight.”
I’m referring to the gunfight,” Johnny grumbled as he immediately began
pacing again. “Lord, Scott, do
you see what happens? And you
didn’t really hear it all. He’s
had the whole story told to him by that friend of his.
Everything from the damn gunfight in Salinas all the way to the shootout
down in Soledad.” Johnny paused, turned curtly and added, “By the way,
you’re in it, too.”
what?” Scott asked as he rested his hands on his hips and watched his brother
resume his pacing.
well, don’t get too excited,” Johnny replied.
“You’re not mentioned by name. You’re
just one of Madrid’s gang.”
gang?” Scott raised an eyebrow. “You
have a gang?”
now,” Johnny answered dryly.
you pay well?”
turned and stopped his pacing. “This
no,” Scott drew a hand across his mouth and shook his head, “I don’t
suppose it really is. But you have
to admit, Johnny, there is a humorous side to this.”
glared sourly. “Scott, there is no humorous side to all of this.
You heard how that Reverend Pearson thinks, the way he was talking at
supper and in the coach this afternoon.”
shook his head. “I’m afraid I didn’t.
Remember, I was up with good old Sunny all day?
And really, at supper, the conversation was pretty well monopolized by
those two roving cowboys and their tales of Virginia City.”
well, you heard how he rode them about their business, the wickedness
of the places they’d visited, their failings in being unable to settle down to
a normal life.”
obviously didn’t hear where the Pearsons are heading.”
Scott answered slowly.
River. Reverend Pearson is supposed
to be the pastor of that new Congregational Church that’s being built.”
Congregational Church? The one
nodded. “The one that Murdoch is
largely responsible for. The one he
pushed for the town to build and support.”
mouthed a silent ‘oh.’
nodded then sighed as he began pacing once more.
“So, once again, I’ve done it.”
Murdoch in a difficult position. Damn!”
Johnny punched fist to hand, turned and paced the other direction.
“I’ve gotta talk to him. Warn
him that he’s bound to run into difficulties with that new reverend.”
up beside Johnny, Scott tried to keep up with his brother’s pacing.
“Why do you just assume there’s going to be problems with Reverend
stopped for a moment. “You
didn’t hear what Paul said his father calls gunfighters.”
worried his bottom lip warily. “Do
I want to know?”
spawn,” Johnny replied and resumed his pacing.
“An apt description. But
one that clearly shows how well he is going to view Murdoch once the truth is
out. And here Murdoch’s been
heading up the committee to bring more stable businesses and churches into
town.” Johnny pivoted. “Remember
Murdoch’s big speech to the council members about how, if Green River wanted
to have a future, it needed to start looking ahead to families and stability and
needed more than eight saloons, a jail and one church?”
this is gonna go over great!” Johnny
turned back to his pacing.
you sit down and stop barreling about the room like that, swinging your arms all
over the place! You’re going to
fine,” Johnny snapped.
down anyway. It’s hurting me
glanced sourly at Scott before turning away to rest his hands on the open
windowsill. “I need to talk to
Murdoch. ‘Cuz it won’t take
long for the good reverend to discover that the very outspoken proponent of
respectability has the rather dubious honor of also being the father of one of
the more notorious gunfighters.”
stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Johnny—”
Johnny interjected, slamming his open palms down on the sill.
He sighed heavily, hung his head a second, then slowly straightened up
and turned around.
immediately noticed his brother was looking pale.
shook his head, took in a shaky breath. He
then closed his eyes and placed one hand on the wall near the window.
“I don’t feel so good.”
knew you’d go and injure something the way you were tearing around this
room,” Scott muttered as he put an arm around Johnny’s shoulder.
“Sit down, would you?”
nodded, took a tired step and lowered himself to the side of one of the small
cots in the room. “I didn’t injure anything,” he argued, paused to take a
quick breath, leaned forward to rest his head in his palms. “Just feel sick.”
pursed his lips, caught a tremble under his hand, could feel the shirt was
already damp with perspiration. “The
gave one faint nod, swallowed.
said it might come back to bother you for a few weeks yet.”
once again gave a nod, then drew a hand through his damp hair. He
tried to straighten up, decided against it, inhaled slowly and deeply, exhaled
through his mouth. After a moment, he tilted his head back to look at Scott, his
expression one of discouragement. “Why
can’t I even just make it back to Lancer without dragging along Madrid?”
bit his lip, put a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re thinking.
We’ll talk to Murdoch together, let him know that the new reverend is a
bit fervent in his beliefs.”
him know my past has claws deeply sunk.
closed his eyes and sighed.
opportunity to speak to Murdoch that evening didn’t materialize.
The reverend appeared in the room to prepare for bed while Johnny was
still feeling shaky and weak. Clearly
uncomfortable with the reverend being about, Johnny made his way back
downstairs, Scott trailing closely. On
the stairs they passed Paul, who nodded a greeting, his eyes flicking
questioningly at Scott. Scott
smiled back in reassurance before continuing after Johnny. Murdoch
was engaged in a discussion with the hosteler and the two cowboys, and knowing
that Johnny was not really up to conversation at the moment, Scott propelled him
out the door to the front porch, in the hope that the fresh air would bring him
seemed to take Johnny fifteen minutes or so of sitting quietly, head down
between folded arms, before Scott heard him inhale deeply and straighten up.
Wordlessly they returned inside, only to discover that Murdoch had gone
on upstairs to bed. Realizing there
was no way to talk to Murdoch until the morning, Johnny decided to let it go.
morning everybody awoke at the same time and went on down to breakfast together.
Sunny had already eaten and was preparing the stage for departure.
Johnny managed, between a couple of mouthfuls of scrambled eggs, to
convey to Murdoch that he’d like to speak to him.
Murdoch took a few minutes to let the hosteler’s wife know of his satisfaction
with the accommodations and the meal, Johnny and Scott went out back to use the
facilities. As they walked to the waiting stage, they found Murdoch
standing near the coach engaged in conversation with the two cowboys.
The cowboys already had their mounts saddled and appeared ready to leave.
As Scott and Johnny headed across the yard, they saw Reverend Pearson and
his wife approaching, their children following a few paces behind.
I’d rather sit up with you and Sunny,” Johnny muttered to Scott under his
breath as they headed toward Murdoch.
Johnny. Besides making a certain
doctor in Soledad really angry, don’t you think it would be rude of you to
deprive the reverend of your company?”
were still a few feet away when they heard one of the cowboys say, “Yeah, we
heard there might be a range war brewing in Salinas.”
shook his head. “No range war, sorry.”
we heard there was a call out for men,” the other cowboy said.
tell me you are one of those spawn of the Devil!” Reverend Pearson exclaimed,
striding up to Murdoch and the cowboys.
the first cowboy asked.
your soul, dealing in death, all for a few dollars to peddle on whores and
Johnny stopped and shot a quick glance at his brother.
“Scott,” he murmured.
Scott whispered firmly as he put out a hand.
“Just keep calm. Let
Murdoch handle it.”
wait here,” the second cowboy said. “I
don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout, but we were just askin’ about
findin’ a job in Salinas.”
Reverend Pearson spat, then turned abruptly and signaled his wife and children
to continue on into the coach. He
pivoted sharply back. “Salinas is
awash in decadence and depravity. Gunfights,
brothels, drunks on every street, the continuous threat of violence. God will eventually pass His judgment on such a place.”
that’s where we’re headin’ anyway,” the second cowboy replied as he
mounted up. “Sounds like a hell
of a lot more fun than where you’re goin’, that’s fer sure.”
first cowboy laughed. “I like a place with a few gunfights. Keeps a person on their toes.”
He winked at Murdoch, then swung up onto his own horse.
the second cowboy mocked with a tip of his hat and spurred his horse around, the
first cowboy following him out of the yard and toward the west.
Pearson hissed. “What wretched souls.
God gives us life not to be abused and squandered but to use in honor of
some men have a more difficult time accepting that.
They haven’t been given many opportunities to witness acceptance and
respect, so it’s difficult for them to see themselves in that light.
Perhaps,” Murdoch paused carefully, “perhaps it would help if you
were to remember that out here, things aren’t quite the same as where you came
from. There are many varied
backgrounds, not all of which have had the luxury of good beginnings.”
Pearson shook his head and crossed his arms.
“You talk like my friend in Salinas, Reverend Braxton.”
He sighed deeply and once again shook his head.
“He and I got into a rather lengthy discourse on a certain event which
took place back there and the people who were involved.”
hell,” Johnny muttered under his breath.
reached out and grabbed Johnny firmly by the upper arm then added a look that
told him to stay where he was. Then
releasing his hold, Scott hurriedly strode toward the two men in hopes of
diverting the conversation.
Murdoch,” Scott greeted.
Murdoch smiled and turned.
Pearson put up a hand. “You were
in Salinas, correct?” he asked, turning on Scott.
“Were you there when this gunfight took place?
I hear a gunfighter of some repute was involved…a Johnny Madrid.”
looked at Murdoch, fully aware that their father was oblivious to the fact that
Johnny was standing just a few yards behind him.
were there,” Murdoch answered calmly, turning fully on the reverend.
“We happen to have arrived right after the gunfight you are referring
to, the one in Salinas. However, we
were around for the one that took place later down in Soledad.”
were? I heard—” Reverend
Pearson stopped, narrowed his eyes. “So you actually witnessed this Madrid, this man who sells
his ability to kill for monetary gain?” He pressed a palm to his chest in an
attitude of revulsion. “I can’t
imagine the sort of man that would do that, who would willingly peddle his soul
to the Devil.”
that how you see him?” Murdoch asked without emotion.
could see Johnny walking forward, though still out of Murdoch’s line of sight.
He glanced back at Reverend Pearson, wondered frantically if there
wasn’t something he could say to divert the present conversation.
That’s how I see him,” the reverend nodded with grim finality.
“Tell me, how did you perceive him?
As a man without a soul, without scruples, to whom killing was a job?
Or did you see him as my colleague claims, as a man who wished to use his
unfortunate talent for good, who was worthy of being saved from death by the
hand of God, as is claimed by some?”
felt the blood drain from his face as he looked to Murdoch, his eyes unable to
turn away, wondering how their father would react to the question.
however, gave a simple shake of his head; he didn’t appear shocked nor angered
by the question. “I saw him as neither,” he answered quietly and calmly,
then paused. “I saw him as my
Pearson’s eyes narrowed with confusion then went wide with alarm as he glanced
accusatorily at Scott.
me you’re lookin’ to condemn,” Johnny replied coldly as he pushed up
between Scott and Murdoch to stand in front of the reverend.
Murdoch put a hand on his shoulder then faced Reverend Pearson.
“This is my son, Johnny Lancer. This
is also my son, Johnny Madrid, of whom you were just speaking.”
Pearson took a step backward and raised a finger.
“Your son…he’s… You
would allow a son of yours to traffic in death?”
has nothing to do with this,” Johnny snapped.
“The choices I made were mine, not his!”
Murdoch urged then turned. “Reverend
Pearson, there are circumstances of which you are unaware, and if I was of a
mind to, I’d explain them. However,
I doubt it would make very much of an impression on you, therefore I am not
going to waste my breath.”
Pearson glared coldly. “I doubt
there’s anything you could say to make me change my mind about anyone who
would willingly choose to follow a path of such wanton destruction and disregard
for the sanctity of life.”
said,” Murdoch stated coldly, then turning he gave Johnny’s arm a slight
pressure. “Johnny,” he murmured
with a nod toward the coach.
Pearson quickly stepped forward to plant himself in front of Johnny. “You are
doomed to eternal damnation.”
released his hold on Johnny and confronted the reverend with an expression of
bitter disillusionment. “Since
when were you made God?”
Pearson glared. “What blasphemy are you implying?”
I was aware, God stands in judgment over our souls.
I wasn’t aware that you’d been so elevated.”
standing behind the reverend, had to quickly turn away to hide the smile that
came to his face as the reverend turned a deep shade of crimson.
dare you!” he sputtered indignantly.
the reverend’s outburst, Murdoch continued toward the coach, propelling Johnny
stood at the door to the stage, watching the proceedings.
He smiled as Johnny and Murdoch approached.
in that coach with your mother!” Reverend Pearson commanded sternly.
gave a quick nod to Johnny and disappeared inside.
hope you don’t think I’m going to allow my family to be seated in the
company of such a vulgar scoundrel!” Reverend Pearson demanded.
turned calmly. “I wouldn’t know.
Where do you plan to sit?”
Johnny murmured softly. “I’ll
go sit with Scott.”
you won’t,” Murdoch replied firmly. “You’re
going to sit in the coach as you did yesterday.” Then he turned sharply on the
reverend and continued, “And if you have a problem with that, then you can go
sit up with the driver.”
will not be so inconvenienced! I
demand that he sit up with the driver,” the reverend pointed.
know,” Murdoch replied calmly, one hand managing to keep a firm grip on
Johnny’s upper arm, “I almost purchased all the tickets for the coach, as I
really wanted to return to Lancer without incident and as quietly as possible.
However, I knew that might inconvenience other people.
Now, if you have a problem with sharing the coach with us, then I shall
be glad to purchase the rest of your trip from you and you can wait for the next
stage to come through.”
reverend’s eyes shot to Johnny and he glared with open disgust.
“I can not believe you would force me and my family to sit with a man
who hires himself out for blood money.”
I can’t believe,” Murdoch answered with a sad shake of his head, “is that
I’m forcing my son to sit with such a odious, loud-mouthed, ignorant fool.”
mouth dropping open in complete shock, shot Murdoch a look of such unguarded
surprise that Scott had to cover his mouth.
saw Johnny flash him a quick look, and as he felt the smile behind his hand
threatening to burst out in a full-fledged laugh, he quickly turned away.
get into that coach,” Murdoch commanded with a slap to Johnny’s rear as if
he were a young child.
still in shock over Murdoch’s rebuke, raised an eyebrow then wordlessly turned
and climbed into the stage.
Pearson and the children were already in their places.
With a restrained wince, Johnny ducked across to the end of the coach
where he’d sat the day before, opposite Mrs. Pearson.
Murdoch entered behind him, but instead of sitting in the other corner of
the bench, this time Murdoch placed himself firmly in the center, nearer Johnny. The reverend entered last, his eyes raking Johnny with
undisguised abhorrence. Once in the
door, he made a curt gesture for his family to slide down the bench toward him.
In seething anger, he pushed his way to the opposite end and sat down,
directly across from Johnny.
pulled his hat down over his eyes in a perfected show of disinterest.
But as he crossed his arms against his chest he could feel the
uncomfortable pounding of his heart. He
had no trouble keeping his face impassive— it was a studied reaction near
flawless— and even managed to feign at least a semblance of restful composure,
but inside, deep in his chest, he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was
about to explode. The events of the
last few minutes had come up so unexpectedly and so quickly.
And Murdoch’s reaction had come as nothing less than a complete and
Johnny felt guilty. He had
sincerely hoped to be able to forewarn Murdoch about the reverend’s feelings. But events had precluded such an opportunity.
And now he was brought to the unhappy conclusion that once again, he’d
been responsible for forcing Murdoch into an awkward position in the community,
among the people he needed to work with and do business with.
stage pulled out, jostling the passengers with the sudden jerk.
Johnny kept his eyes closed and wished he were sitting anywhere but in
wondered at Murdoch’s reaction, had been surprised by the calmness with which
the older man had met the accusations, and even more surprised by his responses.
Privately he acknowledged that Murdoch was capable of the unexpected.
stage tumbled down the road, jarring its occupants, Johnny’s thoughts were
compelled to turn to his discomfort. The
fact that he hadn’t slept well for two days, along with the rough ride of the
day before, combined with the reality that in the confinement of the stage he
hadn’t been able to stretch out to relieve cramped muscles.
The fact of the situation was, he ached.
And if truth be told, the ache was turning into full-fledged pain.
Each lurch of the coach wrenched painfully across his chest muscles and
side, dragging along uncomfortable thoughts of the relief laudanum would
provide. He wanted to move, shift
his position, but was reluctant to do anything that would bring any extra notice
his direction. He tightened his arm
across his chest, could feel the shape of the modified revolver in his pocket,
which instead of bringing him the usual peace of mind now made him feel all the
more like the killer the reverend accused him of being.
first hour wore on, warmth added to the throbbing pain, and it began to be more
difficult to keep his breathing regular. He
knew he’d feel better if he removed his jacket, but hated to do anything to
draw attention. He hazarded to open one eye just a slit, careful to keep his
face in the shadow of his hat brim. He
could see Murdoch, his face turned toward the window.
He then noticed Paul glance his direction.
Quickly he closed his eye. He
would have liked to return the fleeting smile he’d seen on the boy’s face,
but knew any overture from him would only aggravate an already difficult
to keep still awhile longer, but knew it was only a matter of time before he was
going to have to take his jacket off. Perspiration
was beading along his hairline, down his back.
Careful to keep any show of discomfort in check, Johnny straightened up,
keeping his attention solely fixed on the task of removing his jacket.
you like me to hold it?” Murdoch asked.
glanced over and shook his head as he roughly folded up the garment.
glanced across toward the reverend. “One
of you could sit by the window here if you’d like.
It appears the day’s going to be hotter than yesterday, and you might
like to spread out a bit.”
Pearson jutted his chin out firmly. “We
shall stay on this side.”
shrugged, then slid closer to the window, turning on the seat slightly so that
he could stretch out one leg and draw the other, bent-kneed, up onto the bench. “You might as well make yourself comfortable, Johnny,” he
said as he settled into the corner.
Johnny mirrored Murdoch’s image, managing to find a position a little less
uncomfortable than the rest, and closed his eyes.
Though he tried to force sleep to come, knew in reality that he needed
it, sleep remained elusive. For the
next few hours, though to outward appearances he seemed relaxed, he was, in
actuality, wound as tight as a piece of wet leather dried in the sun.
later, the stage finally rolled to a stop.
Other than the soft murmurings by Mrs. Pearson to the infant, and a
couple of loud outbursts from said child, the entire ride had elapsed in
silence. Murdoch and Johnny waited
as the Pearsons filed out of the coach, then Murdoch glanced back at Johnny.
are you doing?”
shrugged tiredly. “I’ll admit I ache.”
nodded grimly. “We still have the rest of the afternoon before we get into
sighed, winced, then nodded. “I
know. I’ll make it.”
smiled, reached out to pat Johnny’s knee.
“Yes, you will. Teresa and
Jelly will be waiting—pretty impatiently, I’m sure.”
smiled, waited for Murdoch to exit, then followed.
Scott was waiting for them, a grin on his face, his arms crossed
patiently. The Pearsons were
nowhere to be seen, though Sunny was un-harnessing the horses with the help of
another man and a teen boy.
went in for lunch,” Scott replied to their unasked question with a nod.
“Was the trip as cheery as Reverend Pearson’s pleasant smile would
lead one to believe?”
snorted wryly. “Yeah, like a stone in your boot at a dance.”
nodded with amused chagrin. “That’s
what I thought.” He turned and
nodded toward the small wayside inn. “Ready for some lunch?”
really not hungry,” Johnny said.
you’re going to eat something anyway,” Murdoch replied.
“I haven’t seen you eat much of anything for the last few days.
You barely picked at your breakfast this morning.”
all the eggs.”
had one small helping of scrambled eggs,” Scott protested.
“I’d hardly call that a regular Johnny-style breakfast.”
see what they’re serving,” Murdoch said as he ushered the boys toward the
building. “Maybe something’ll
strike your fancy.”
station was small and cramped. One
large table stood in the middle of the room.
The Pearsons were already being served soup and bread.
A woman and a girl, apparently the lady’s daughter, were serving the
the Pearsons had already been seated at one end of the table, Murdoch and the
boys went to the other end. Murdoch
ordered up three more lunches along with three beers.
Though Johnny did his best to eat, he ended up picking at his food.
The discomfort he’d been feeling all day was building in severity,
making it impossible to concentrate on eating.
The luxury of taking a deep, pain-free breath without wincing had become
hopeless, and the familiar nausea was returning along with alternating chills
and sweats. After eating all that
he could force down, he pushed away from the table.
gonna go outside. I need some fresh air.”
and Scott both looked at him with concern.
you want some company?” Scott asked.
shook his head. “No. I’m
fine. I just can’t sit any
longer.” He stood up. “Finish your meal. I’ll
see you outside.”
watched Johnny’s retreating form before turning to Murdoch, his voice low.
“He’s not looking well again.”
think we should have waited a few more days.
The trip up to Salinas, then this getting home, it’s wearing him
down.” Scott hesitated, then added with a shake of his head, “And when he
tires, those symptoms seem to come back.”
grimly nodded his understanding. “As
soon as you’re done, I’d like you to go out and check on him?”
nodded. “I planned to.”
his jacket over his arm, Johnny made his way to the back of the way station.
He could feel the sweat trickling down his back and chest, seeping into
the bandages. He had meant to ask
Scott to tighten them with the hope that the extra support would help his
breathing. The idea of sitting in
the stage, bouncing and jostling around for another five hours or so, just
seemed impossible to endure for the moment.
stomach was cramping up, his lunch unwilling to settle.
He barely made it to the outhouse before his stomach heaved and he lost
everything. He’d forgotten
how much pain there was from his wounds when he got sick.
For a few moments he couldn’t even open his eyes.
Then slowly he made his way out of the outhouse, walked a few more weak
steps before simply deciding he didn’t care, and lowered himself to the ground
to slump against a tree.
he felt chilled and began to shiver. He
wanted to put his jacket on. The
whole idea, however, seemed like too much work.
an effort of force to get his head to tilt back, but he managed to look up in
time to see Scott dropping to one knee beside him.
“Scott,” he greeted dully. “How
Scott smiled. “How was yours?”
jerked his head toward the outhouse.
nodded. “Think it and my
breakfast didn’t get along.”
sighed, rubbed his hand down his chin. “I
think you just weren’t ready for this kind of a trip, Johnny.
You’re body’s still reacting to all you’ve been through.”
just want to get home,” Johnny murmured wearily.
get you home,” Scott assured. “Even
if I have to carry you home on my back.”
grimaced a wry smile, then he leaned his head forward to rest on his knees.
“I don’t want to sit in that coach with that reverend glaring at me.
Especially not feeling this way.”
come on,” Scott said as he put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“He’s not so bad.”
for you to say. You don’t feel like your head’s gonna explode and your
chest just caved in.”
you want to stay here?”
Johnny sighed, groaned as he sat up straighter.
“I just wanna complain for a minute.”
He drew a leg under and slowly pushed himself to a standing position, one hand
reaching out to grab a hold of Scott while the other found purchase on the tree.
“I’m actually lookin’ forward to throwin’ up on the good
chuckled as he helped Johnny steady himself.
“Good to see you didn’t lose your sense of humor along with your
gave Scott a slow sidelong look. “Who
says I’m kiddin’?”
laughed then turned just as Murdoch came around the corner of the building.
Seeing Johnny wobbling weakly, even with Scott’s added support, he
just a little indisposed,” Scott said lightly.
indisposed, he’s fine,” Johnny
grumbled as he drew his arm out of Scott’s grasp.
some of us are just a little bit ornerier than others,” Scott added.
you make it?” Murdoch asked. Then
before even waiting for an answer, he turned to Scott. “Did he injure
waved Murdoch’s questions away. “I’m
fine. It’s just all the bouncing
around in that blasted stage. I
just want to get back and crawl into my own bed for about two weeks.”
that’s exactly what you are going to be doing once we get you home,” Murdoch
replied firmly. “Let’s get you
settled in the coach. Why don’t
you take the side I was on. Paul
likes having his shade open, so it’s airier.
Mrs. Pearson, I noticed, usually keeps her closed.”
nodded gratefully, then dropped his eyes. “And
thanks, Murdoch.” He glanced up
hesitantly. “I mean, you know, for earlier…with the reverend.
I had wanted to let you know that…well…I’d heard from Paul he might
Murdoch supplied with a small smile.
nodded, looked back down. “I—you
didn’t need to go get him all upset with you.
I’d have been fine…it wasn’t really necessary, but—”
it certainly was,” Murdoch replied adamantly, then waited until Johnny looked
up. “I didn’t need him telling
me what he thought about my son and his actions.
I saw it myself and I know what I believe.”
In a hesitant motion, one which conveyed his awkwardness, he reached out
to grasp Johnny firmly by the shoulder. “You
did right by those people in Soledad. Johnny
Madrid—my son—did right by them.”
suddenly felt the pain melt away in a wave of unreality.
He blinked, stole a quick look at Scott whose own smile threatened to
consume his features, then back to Murdoch.
Murdoch gruffly cleared his throat, dropped his hand back to his side,
then pivoted and nodded toward the front. “We better get back to the stage.
Sunny’ll be getting the fresh team hitched up by now.
And I’m sure we’re all in a hurry to get back home.”
stood silently for a few seconds, watching Murdoch’s retreating back.
are we just going to stand here, or are you still in a hurry to throw up on the
smiled, managed a weak but real chuckle. Slowly
he started after their father. “So,
do you think he’s gonna hold me to that two weeks of bed rest?”
afraid of that.”
were an hour out of their last stop. Johnny
had found that sitting where both windows were open did indeed help relieve some
of the nausea, which in turn helped ease his tension and consequently the
discomfort brought on by taut, sore muscles.
He was still a far cry from feeling well, but at least now he thought he
just might be able to live through the rest of the trip.
after seeing Johnny’s condition at lunch, was concerned.
He knew Scott was uncomfortable with admitting that Johnny’s episode
wasn’t just caused by his wounds, but also by their earlier decision to
suddenly stop the morphine. DarkCloud
had privately warned him that fatigue and physical distress would only
exacerbate the problem. At least he
hoped that was the case, otherwise he had an even worse worry that Johnny was
developing another infection from a wound that hadn’t healed as well as
they’d thought. For while Johnny
seemed more relaxed now, Murdoch had caught him shivering a couple of times,
even though the coach was, if anything, warm and oppressive.
while, Murdoch’s thoughts turned toward the ranch.
He wondered how things looked, what projects had been completed, which
ones still needed to be done, and how Jelly and Teresa had fared all the while
they’d been gone. He knew he
should never have left the ranch unsupervised for so long a time, but then…
He would never, now, choose differently. The ranch may have suffered some, but it had been necessary
for him to go to Salinas, to see firsthand what had transpired.
Teresa had been right. It had
been a matter of life and death…his and his son’s. If he had chosen to stay, then he would never have seen that
look of gratitude on Johnny’s face as he had just an hour ago, or been able to
hear those words uttered by his son when he lay bleeding in Scott’s arms…
came. Murdoch mentally nodded to himself.
Teresa was so right.
If I hadn’t gone along, and something had happened to Johnny, I would
have forever wondered…regretted…like I’ve done for years over Maria.
a sudden slowing of the coach, another voice calling from up the road, all sent
the occupants of the coach craning their necks to get a look out the window.
man’s hailing us for a ride,” Sunny called down.
turned and stuck his head out the window. His
narrowed eyes took in the friendly wave, the holster worn high and tied down,
the hands, the clothes, age and stance. In
a heartbeat he had turned back to Murdoch.
“It’s a trap.”
do you know?”
tied down high and right, he was just on horseback, but no horse is around,
he’s waving left, and he’s standing just so’s his right side’s facing
away, hiding his action.” He
turned quickly toward the Pearsons. “If
you’ve got anything of value, I’d suggest hiding it immediately.”
he talking about?” Reverend Pearson demanded as he glanced about with confusion.
better listen to my son,” Murdoch cut in.
“He’s probably right.” Quickly
Murdoch took out his wallet, withdrew most of the bills, and hid them in the
space between the bench cushion and side of the coach.
It only took a second for the reverend to follow his example.
glanced at Mrs. Pearson. “Ma’am,
if you don’t want to lose that ring, I’d take it off and hide it.”
Pearson glanced quickly at her husband before doing as instructed.
Then Johnny slipped a simple silver band off his own finger and thrust it
toward her. “Put this on.”
wife’s not –”
interrupted the reverend with a glare. “Fine!
But those men out there aren’t about to accept the fact that she’s
married and has no ring!”
only one man,” Paul cut in.
be more,” Johnny replied tersely then turned back to Mrs. Pearson.
He could feel the coach slowing down. “Now take this and put it on.”
Pearson gave a quick smile of thanks and slipped the silver band on her finger.
Johnny hissed, glancing toward the window.
“I don’t like Scott bein’ up there.”
not in any shape to go doing anything, so stay out of it, Johnny,” Murdoch
glanced at Murdoch as he quickly drew on his jacket.
“I have no plans on adding to my problems,” he replied.
“Two weeks is long enough.”
smiled wryly at Johnny before turning back to the Pearsons.
“Let them take what they want, then they’ll let us go on.”
can’t believe such lawlessness—”
Johnny interrupted tersely. “It
might be best if you don’t say anything.”
they heard Sunny as the coach drew to a full stop.
beside Sunny, Scott was watching with mild interest the middle-aged man who had
hailed them. Inexplicably, his mind went back to the time when he was on
his way to Lancer and the coach he was in was stopped by a young Mexican cowboy
who later proved to be his brother. The
memory always produced a smile and a chuckle.
Things had changed a lot since then.
needin’ a lift?” Sunny asked, leaning forward in his seat.
looked up, smiled congenially. “Not
really. What I need’s your box, your guns and for your passengers
to come on out.”
Scott had barely registered what the man had said, he found himself staring at
the barrel of a revolver while the crack of a gunshot echoed over his head.
Automatically he ducked, Sunny freezing with his hand outstretched toward
the rifle he kept at his feet.
fine!” Scott quickly yelled as he put his hands up, fear that the rifle shot
might produce a hasty reaction from his brother.
if you don’t make any stupid moves!” Came the reply from behind.
turned in his seat and looked. Three
more men on horseback came out from the treeline, rifles cradled in their arms.
who’d originally hailed them moved up to stand off to their right.
He appeared to be the leader. “Now, if you’d be so good,” he said
with a motion of his revolver toward the rifle at Sunny’s feet.
reached down with one hand and threw the rifle over the side.
the strong box,” the man said.
sighed, nodded toward Scott. “Help
me get it down.”
to keep his hands in the open, Scott helped Sunny maneuver the heavy chest to
the side where they tossed it down into the dirt.
It landed on its side with a loud thud.
About the same time, two of the other three men had dismounted and walked
to the side of the coach where they thrust their rifles through the window,
solemnly urging the occupants to come out.
jumped to the ground, he saw that Murdoch and Johnny were already standing off
to the side, their arms raised, while the Pearson family slowly exited, Mr.
Pearson helping his wife down from the step as she held her child close.
fourth man remained on horseback, holding the reins of the other horses, a rifle
resting across his lap.
of you men armed?” the leader asked.
the weapons are in the boot,” Sunny motioned.
them,” the leader motioned to the older of the two men who were covering the
quick nod, the older man went to the back boot where he took out all the
you,” the leader added with a nod to the second man, “see to the horses.
And make sure to grab that palomino.
I want him.”
younger man nodded, headed to the stage horses and began to un-harness them
while the older man deposited the weapons he’d found into their saddlebags
before returning to stand next to the leader, his rifle raising menacingly.
leader walked up to Mr. Pearson. He
appeared older and heavier than the rest of the bandits and had cruel dark eyes
that showed years of hard living; the smile he wore was strained and unnerving.
He gestured callously with his revolver. “Now you come across as quite a gentleman.”
Pearson drew himself up haughtily. “I’m
a reverend. Reverend Pearson.”
reverend?” the man chuckled, turned slightly.
“Lookee here, boys! We got
ourselves a God damn reverend.”
of amusement was the response. “A
real reverend. My-o-my! Now, a
man such as yourself must know the value of time, right? I bet you got yourself a fancy timepiece.”
Pearson glared but made no move.
you have a watch, I’d give it to him,” Murdoch murmured.
you too, Pops!” the leader commanded with a quick flick of his revolver.
nodded as he carefully reached into his pocket.
leader reached down into the front of his shirt and produced a small knapsack.
“Here,” he said thrusting it toward the reverend.
“I’m givin’ you a new commandment.
Give ‘til it hurts.” He
chuckled loudly, the other men joining in.
Pearson hesitantly took the knapsack, held it out for Murdoch to drop his watch
yours,” the man pointed his revolver at the reverend, then called over his
shoulder to the mounted bandit holding the horses.
“See what the old man has on him, then shoot open that strong box.”
clenched teeth, Reverend Pearson watched for a moment as the man dismounted and
walked up to Sunny. Then his eyes flicked back to the leader with disgust.
“This behavior is reprehensible.”
leader laughed, leaned forward with a leer.
“Which would you rather I do? Take
your watch or put a hole in your head?”
reverend pursed his lips together tightly, then reached into his pocket and
produced his watch. With a hiss he dropped it into the sack.
any of you two boys?” he asked with a pointed look at Johnny and Scott.
nodded, slowly reached for his own watch, which he dropped into the sack that
the reverend held out.
leader then walked up to Johnny, studied him with narrowed eyes.
“How ‘bout you, boy?”
met the man’s look, slowly shook his head.
“I don’t have a watch.”
got any money?”
nodded, slowly reached for the few coins he had on him.
He knew Murdoch and Scott were watching him with some trepidation,
concerned that he would react harshly. But
he knew even better than they did, that at this point he was in no shape or
position to begin something. Indeed,
he was quite as willing as they were to let the bandits have what they wanted so
they could get on their way. He was
too painfully aware that he was in no condition to start gunplay, especially
with innocent, unarmed people standing about, for not one of the other travelers
had a weapon with which to back him up.
sound of a shotgun blast and a curse momentarily turned everyone’s attention
toward the man trying to open the strong box.
it again,” the leader ordered, then stepped up closer to Johnny, a smile
curling his lip. “You don’t
look so well, Boy.”
smiled coldly back. “You aren’t so beautiful yourself.”
leader chuckled, grabbed the coins from Johnny’s hand and thrust them at the
reverend. Then he walked up to
Murdoch. “I’m sure you’ve got
more ’n a watch. Where’s your
slowly reached into his jacket and produced a small leather pocketbook.
The man grabbed it from his hands and flipped it open.
much?” the man who was standing behind the leader, covering the group, asked.
the leader said as he dropped the money into the sack.
that’s pretty good,” the man who’d been bent over the strong box said as
he straightened up.
be even better,” the leader replied as he glanced once more at the wallet.
here’s Mr. Murdoch Lancer.”
That’s what it says here.” The leader cocked his head as he held the
wallet up. “You Murdoch
don’t seem like hell of a lot for you to be carrying.”
returning from a trip.”
The leader glanced over to Scott and Johnny.
“These boys with you?”
nodded. “They’re my sons.”
these others?” He gestured toward the Pearsons.
new pastor and his wife for Green River.”
leader chuckled, tipped his hat toward Mrs. Pearson.
“Hope you enjoy your stay, Ma’am,” he laughed.
leave my wife alone!” Reverend Pearson demanded.
you’d best keep your mouth shut!” the leader yelled back, flourishing his
revolver in the reverend’s face.
reverend glared, but kept silent. Satisfied,
the leader then pivoted on Scott. “You
look like you oughta be carrying some money.”
nodded, reached into his jacket and produced his wallet.
The leader took it, chuckling as he opened it.
“Here’s another twenty-four.”
better!” came the pronouncement from the man covering the proceedings.
leader then turned back to Johnny. “Let’s
see your wallet, boy,” he commanded as he pushed a finger into Johnny’s
grunted, biting back a moan of pain.
the man exclaimed as he ran his fingers down Johnny’s shirt.
d’ya mean?” the younger man who was unhitching the horses asked, raising his
rifle in alarm.
think we’ve got someone hiding a pile of money.”
not money,” Murdoch interjected quickly.
“It’s just bandaging.”
better place to hide money, huh, old man?”
no money,” Johnny replied. “I
leader snorted. “We’ll see.”
Keeping the revolver pointed at Johnny’s face, he reached out, grabbed
a firm hold of the top edge of Johnny’s shirt and ripped it downward a few
inches. The first three buttons
popped off to expose the top of the bandaging along with bruises of a
greenish-yellow hue, stark visual evidence of the damage that was hidden
beneath. The leader raised his eyes and chuckled.
“You been gettin’ into a bit of trouble of your own, huh, boy?”
brawl,” Johnny replied with a faint shrug.
leader pursed his lips, his eyes settling on the bandages.
“What’s this?” he asked as he fingered the chain, drawing it up to
reveal the medallion.
can have it,” Johnny replied indifferently.
leader squinted, sneered. “Looks
religious.” He glanced up. “Is
shrugged. “Don’t know.
leader pursed his lips again as he held the medallion in his palm a moment, then
looked back at Johnny suspiciously. “Somethin’
‘bout you,” he murmured.
thinkin’ the same thing,” Johnny said.
“Then it occurred to me that it’s probably just your breath.”
leader leaned in closer as he jerked the medallion off Johnny’s neck,
eliciting a clenched wince. “You
have a pretty big mouth.”
bit back the discomfort, met the warning with a sardonic smile.
“So I’ve been told.”
rifle blast interrupted any retort, giving Scott and Murdoch an opportunity to
exchange worried glances, as neither liked the attention Johnny seemed to be
it open?” the leader called over his shoulder.
the man replied. “Throw me a sack,” he commanded the young man who was
just finishing up with the horses. The
man nodded and went to his mount where he dug out another sack.
took the opportunity to divert the leader’s attention from Johnny. “You’ve
got everything we have of value. Take
the strongbox and go.”
glanced at Murdoch, his eyes tight, his expression dissatisfied.
“In a hurry to get rid of us, aren’t you?”
just want to be on our way.”
maybe I’m not in a hurry. And
maybe I don’t like this boy of yours,” he stated with an ominous jerk of his
that really hurt,” Johnny replied with a sneer.
leader turned back on Johnny. “You’re
hidin’ somethin’, boy. I can
raised an eyebrow, a sarcastic half-grin on his face.
“Well, it can’t be my disgust for you.
I think I’ve been pretty open about that.”
grimaced, closed his eyes and said a quick prayer to whatever saint might be
responsible for enabling brothers to keep their mouths shut.
done!” the man by the horses called out as he waved his hat at them, sending
them scattering down the road.
let’s get going,” said the man standing behind the leader.
“We’re spending too much time.”
a minute.” The leader clenched
his jaw in irritation, pushed the barrel of the revolver into Johnny’s chest,
producing a swallowed grunt of pain. “Unbutton
that shirt the rest of the way,” he commanded.
glared at the man sourly as he carefully lowered his arms and unbuttoned the
front of his shirt. The rest of the
chest bandages were exposed, then a few inches of skin before another set of
bandages appeared at the bottom of the ribs.
laughed in mocking approval. “That
mouth of yours, wasn’t it?”
smiled sardonically. “Over a
floozy in a saloon.”
chuckled. “Did you get the
shook his head. “Lost to a six foot two, two hundred and twenty pound
sailor from Monterey.”
leader laughed loudly, stepped back. “You
are trouble, ain’t ya?” He
turned to Murdoch as he gestured toward Johnny with his revolver.
“This one keeps ya awake at night, don’t he?” he asked.
glanced at Johnny, but didn’t reply.
leader laughed again, turned to the other men.
“Let’s get this taken care of.”
He gestured toward Reverend Pearson, who had been standing off to the
side, the sack still clutched in his hand.
“Your wallet, good Reverend.”
Pearson clenched his teeth, pulled out his wallet and held it out to the leader
who flipped it open. The leader
looked up skeptically as he produced a couple of bills.
“Only five dollars? That’s
not much for a family beginning a new life.”
church will provide for us,” Reverend Pearson answered firmly.
“We spent all we had coming here.”
leader grimaced, tossed the wallet back and grabbed the sack from the reverend.
Then he dropped the few bills into it before turning on Mrs. Pearson.
Pearson opened her eyes in surprise.
you. Your ring, your jewelry.
Let’s have it.”
said to leave my wife alone!” Mr. Pearson said, stepping forward.
leader turned his revolver on the reverend.
“And I said for you to shut
got a ring,” Johnny interrupted, then added as the leader turned to look at
him with suspicion. “I saw it,” he answered with a vague shrug.
leader smiled with amusement as he noticed the reverend shoot Johnny a look of
confusion. He then turned back to
Mrs. Pearson. “Your ring,
He reached out, grabbed her hand, forcing her to juggle the infant to one
hip. He hissed in disgust as he saw
the small silver band, but yanked it off anyway.
“This?” he held it out to Johnny.
shrugged. “Hey, I just said I saw
it. Is it my fault the preacher
man’s a tightwad?”
leader laughed, tossed it into the sack then turned back to Mrs. Pearson.
“Bracelets, necklaces, your brooch.”
Pearson’s hand went to the brooch that clasped the scarf about her neck.
“My mother gave me this.”
don’t care if you got it from the Queen herself.
Drop it in the sack.”
quivering lip, Mrs. Pearson undid the clasp and dropped it into the sack.
leader then turned to Paul and looked him over.
“What about you, kid? Feelin’
glanced at Johnny before reaching into his pocket and producing one coin and a
length of yarn.
the leader snickered sarcastically. “Now
we can retire, boys.” He then
turned to the girl and smiled as he reached out to finger a lock of her hair.
“Now you’re a pretty one, ain’t ya?”
my daughter alone,” Reverend Pearson commanded.
leader turned threateningly on the reverend.
“You don’t know when to shut up, do you?
It’d be best if you keep in mind, padre, that there ain’t no one here
to keep me from pluggin’ you full of holes.”
Pearson balled his fists. “I
refuse to suffer this humiliation on my family any longer!
God’s wrath will be called down upon you!”
who? You?” the leader snickered. “Maybe,”
he paused, his eyes glittering menacingly, “maybe we’ll just have to take a
hostage with us.” An ominous smile spread across his face.
“You know, that might not be such a bad idea.
What do you say, boys?” he called over his shoulder.
if it’s of the female kind!” the man who was kneeling in front of the strong
box snickered as he stood up.
wouldn’t dare!” Reverend Pearson yelled.
leader took a step up closer to the reverend, leaned in so that the reverend
flinched backward. “Actually, I would. Just
to make you mad,” he glowered. “Your
kind makes me sick, actin’ so high and mighty.”
dare to threaten me and mine? I
tell you, I am in service to the Lord!”
in service to yourself,” the leader retorted angrily.
Johnny interrupted. “You’re
gonna impress everyone by beatin’ up on an old fool and kidnappin’ a little
leader turned with irritation. “No,
maybe I’ll just beat you up.”
Murdoch hissed in a low voice.
ignored Murdoch, kept his focus on the leader, his amusement unconcealed.
“You have got to be the biggest windbag I ever did meet. Bigger even than that fool of a preacher.”
the leader stepped up to Johnny. “You’re
just like him, aren’t you, rich boy? Thinkin’
you’re so much better ’n everyone else.”
snorted. “Lord, no.
Not better ’n everyone, just better ’n you.”
leader raised his fist.
on! Leave him be!
Let’s grab the girl if you want, but we gotta get goin’!” the man
still holding cover urged.
leader started to lower his arm as he yelled over his shoulder.
“Grab her!” Then he
turned back to Johnny, lowered his voice threateningly.
“One well-placed blow,” he hissed.
doubt it,” Johnny purred back. “When
I said I lost to the sailor, I guess I didn’t add that at least he had
arced out, ripping upward to land solidly against Johnny’s upper abdomen, a
mingled grunt of pain and forced air escaping as Johnny collapsed to the ground.
had seen the blow coming, had expected it and planned for it.
And until the very last second, he harbored the vain hope that the blow
would be anywhere but near his wounds. But
he knew the type of man he was up against, had run into his kind often.
Hell, he’d even found himself in the position of having to work
alongside some of them. Which is
why it hadn’t taken him long to see that this stage robbery could turn uglier
than most. But with his hands up in
the air, unarmed passengers standing about, and covered by three loaded and
aimed weapons, it would be impossible to drop his hand down to the inside pocket
of his jacket without being blasted full of holes before he had it drawn.
And he’d had quite enough of bullet holes.
hope had been that the blow wouldn’t knock him out, but would enable him to
hide the movement he needed to make in order to reach for his weapon.
blow had been right below the ribs, a bone-jarring crack, which sent him diving
to the bottom of a maelstrom of velvet stars.
He was not even aware of when he hit the dirt.
In the fringes of the pain, Scott’s voice could be heard, and it was
that which he clung to, used in order to pull himself out of the blackness.
hear the young girl screaming, the belligerent shouts from Reverend Pearson,
sobs from his wife. He could taste
the dust in his mouth, opened his eyes to the view of the wheels and underside
of the stage. He blinked, heard
another scream, heard Murdoch’s voice, knew he had to move before someone did
something foolish—or more foolish. He
could feel the hard metal of the revolver pressed between his side and the
inside of his arm. Shakily he
pushed himself up out of the dirt with his left hand as he slid his right toward
its goal. Transferring his weight
from one knee to the other as he rotated his torso, he looked up to see the
leader forcefully shoving the reverend to the ground while one of the other men
was dragging the girl to the horses, his rifle tucked absently under his left
arm and pointed downward. The man
with the sack was backing up, his rifle still covering the group while the last
man had already swung into his saddle, his rifle replaced, but his revolver now
still going to be messy, but now there was no other option.
to introduce myself,” Johnny yelled as he yanked the modified revolver out of
its position and pushed back onto his knees.
leader swung his attention around, surprise registering in his open expression.
He pivoted, leveling his own weapon on Johnny.
Madrid!” Johnny yelled as he fired.
leader fell backward, gurgling blood, his jaw and the back of his head blown
Johnny tersely commanded as he pushed himself to his feet, adrenaline now his
dragging the girl shoved her off to the side to give himself the room needed to
swing his rifle around to fire. Johnny
gauged the man’s position along with that of the man with the sack and
detected an opportunity. Both hands
now on his revolver, he launched himself to the side, aware that he had to get
off his first shot in mid-air before transferring his weapon to his left hand. Both rifles swung toward him, arcing around to follow his
course. He fired at the man in
front who had been covering them, just as the bandit fired at him. The shot resonated along his back, echoing in his ears,
before exploding into the stage behind him.
But Johnny’s aim had been better, and the bandit fell backward,
screaming in agony. Unfortunately
his partner had also taken aim and fired just as his partner fell toward him.
As Johnny’s bullet sent the man reeling backward in agony, the blast
from the other bandit’s rifle tore through his partner’s back, exploding out
from his chest, covering the Pearsons in blood.
another inescapable assault on his body, Johnny landed solidly on his injured
side, knocking the air out of him. He
managed to keep control of his weapon long enough to fire off another bullet at
the shocked bandit who had just blasted a hole through his partner.
He never witnessed the aftermath, however, as darkness washed through his
brain, numbing him to all sights and sounds.
had been bewildered by Johnny’s behavior, couldn’t figure out why his
brother seemed so intent on provoking the bandit leader.
His belligerence was just screaming out for a confrontation, and as the
inevitable blow connected, Scott shouted in anger, launching himself forward.
But Murdoch had grabbed him, forcefully thrusting him back and out of the
regained his balance, he saw Johnny drop to a heap in the dust, and he swore
loudly, causing the leader to turn toward him.
leader, his flashing eyes settling on Scott with a look of challenge, swung his
revolver around to cover any other movement.
stood, stance spread, hands out to his side in readiness, heart thumping madly,
murder in his thoughts.
me a reason!” the leader screamed.
don’t!” Murdoch yelled, his hand still firmly gripping Scott’s arm.
men glared at each other a second, then the reverend ran toward the bandit who
was dragging his daughter toward the horses.
The screaming from the girl and the threats from the reverend served to
divert the leader’s attention. He
pivoted toward the reverend, and with one swing, sent him sailing backward into
then Scott noticed a movement from Johnny, saw that his brother had forced
himself to hands and knees. “Forgot
to introduce myself!” Scott heard Johnny yell as his brother straightened up.
modified revolver appeared in Johnny’s hand at the same second that it was
fired. In a cry of pain muffled
under a blanket of blood, the leader fell backward, blood and tissue splattering
then hauled himself to his feet, a terse scream of ‘down’ his next words.
Scott threw himself against Murdoch, could see the man, who’d been
dragging the girl, toss her to the side in an act meant to free up his rifle,
while the other bandit, who’d been covering the group, was already drawing a
bead on Johnny. As he and Murdoch
tumbled to the ground, Scott saw Johnny dive to his right.
The sound of his brother’s revolver, along with the blast from a rifle,
echoed quickly in succession. In
panic, Scott jumped to his feet to find three bandits dead, the fourth bandit
galloping away at breakneck speed.
lay immobile and limp, legs askew, his head resting in the crook of his
outstretched right arm, the palm open, his left arm extended toward the bandits,
the small black gun still clutched in his hand.
Scott breathed as he dropped to his knees, one hand tentatively reaching out to
touch his brother’s back. In the
background, he could hear hysterical sobs and tense whispers from the Pearsons,
but his concern was focused on the man lying in the dirt.
get some water!” Sunny yelled as he climbed back up onto the stage.
he shot?” Murdoch demanded, his voice low and heavy with anxiety.
don’t know,” Scott replied with a worried shake of his head.
“I know at least one rifle shot got off.
But he is breathing.”
move back,” Murdoch commanded as he turned and waved away the Pearsons who had
begun to inch forward. “Johnny?”
he murmured softly, reaching out to tentatively stroke his son’s dark hair,
now streaked with gray dust.
felt something on the back of his head, heard a voice call his name.
He winced, groaned as the events slowly trickled back in.
And though he understood why it hurt like hell to breathe, knowing
didn’t make it any less painful. I
gotta quit doin’ things like this…
groaned, hoped it was adequate to get the idea across.
he croaked, winced and swallowed as he tilted his face.
Dirt, rocks, knees floated into view.
He blinked, turned his head, followed the knees to hips, to chests and
eventually to faces. Scott’s
worried smile and Murdoch’s tense concern met his bleary gaze.
you hit?” Murdoch asked as he slid his hand down Johnny’s back.
suddenly dropped to the ground within Johnny’s view.
“Are you okay?”
managed to shake his head before turning a forced smile on Paul.
“This time I ducked,” he murmured.
tentative smile crossed Paul’s features, then grew.
nodded, winced again as he slowly tried to push to hands and knees.
“Ay, Dios,” he groaned, halting halfway up.
do you hurt?” Murdoch asked as he gripped him under the arm.
over,” Johnny mumbled.
suddenly appeared and knelt down beside Scott.
“Here’s the water, plus I have some medicine I always carry with
me,” he said as he produced a bottle with the label proclaiming the amazing
therapeutic benefits of Dr. Weidenbaum’s Elixir.
glanced sharply at Sunny as the older man began to uncork it.
“He won’t need that.”
he looks like he could use—”
be fine…just give me a minute,” Johnny said with a weak shake of his head.
looked dubious. “He don’t look good.”
He then turned to Murdoch. “Is
he really Madrid?”
heard—” Sunny hesitated as he noticed Johnny glance up.
He turned to meet Johnny’s look. “So,
shrugged, winced, tried to straighten up further.
“Depends on what you heard.”
shook his head, changing the subject. “That
fella,” he said with a nod toward the dead leader.
“He pummeled you pretty good. Sure
you don’t want a dose? I think
it’d do you some good.”
sure,” Scott said firmly. “Just
give me the water.” He reached
out and took the canteen from Sunny’s grasp, poured a small amount into the
cup the old man had brought along then held it out to his brother.
Johnny accepted it with a grateful nod and slowly sipped.
the devil were you thinking?” Murdoch demanded softly.
“You could have gotten yourself killed.”
lowered the cup with a weak sigh. “Yeah,
and I coulda let them take the girl, but I didn’t.”
were pushin’ for a fight before that,” Murdoch argued, keeping his voice
lowered his eyes to the cup, brought it once more to his lips before answering,
“I know his type, Murdoch.” He
looked up. “He was gonna start something with someone.
Better me than the reverend.”
pursed his lips and sighed. Then he
met Johnny’s gaze fully and nodded his understanding.
closed his eyes, breathed slowly, felt Murdoch rest his hand on his shoulder.
He tried to draw in a deep breath but was driven back by a wall of pain
at each endeavor. He hated to
succumb, but knew he needed Scott to check his bandages. Taking the leader’s blow then landing on his chest and side
had been unwise but unavoidable. And
now he was paying the price.
think we should check you over,” Scott said softly.
opened his eyes and nodded his head.
glanced at Murdoch, his concern elevated by the fact that Johnny had offered no
there something I can do to help?” Mrs. Pearson asked.
and Murdoch turned as Johnny glanced up to see the reverend’s wife standing,
wide-eyed but resolute, her previously neat and proper dress now torn and
stained with blood. The reverend
stood at her side. Johnny sighed
and lowered his eyes, expecting a condemnation of his role in the bloodbath.
wife’s had some training working with wounded after the war,” the reverend
stated evenly. “If she can be of
raised an eyebrow, his surprise evident in his inability to answer immediately.
blinked, looked to Scott to see whether his brother seemed surprised.
He wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
He looked up again to the reverend’s wife, tried to reply that he
didn’t need any other help, but found himself unable to answer as a wash of
gray clouded his vision. He felt
himself slumping forward, hands reaching out to draw him back, Scott’s face,
Murdoch’s face, the discomforting but familiar heat spreading across his body.
need to lay him down,” Murdoch tersely stated as he cradled Johnny’s
shivering body against his own.
trunk,” Mrs. Pearson turned quickly to Sunny and pointed to the top of the
stage. “There in back.
Open it. There’s a blanket
lying on the top.”
nodded and climbed up.
Pearson then lowered herself to Johnny’s other side, glanced at Murdoch and
Scott before reaching out to smooth the dusty, damp hair.
looked at her, blinked wearily, raised a hand.
“I’ll be fine,” he mumbled.
couldn’t help but smile. “Don’t
listen to him. He’s always saying
Pearson smiled back, then drew her hand down to Johnny’s cheek, felt his
flushed face. “You look anything
but fine,” she said softly.
worse,” came Johnny’s barely audible reply.
you can believe,” Scott said as he poured another small amount of the water
into the cup and held it out to Johnny’s lips.
Pearson studied Johnny a moment. “So…so
he is the man my husband and Reverend Braxton were talking about?”
nodded. “We were trying to get
Pearson’s eyes dropped to the bandages. “He
took a chance with those wounds.”
nodded again, then looked up as Sunny suddenly appeared with the blanket.
do you want it?” he asked.
Pearson pointed to a spot a few feet away where a large oak stood near the road,
its branches casting a wide circle of shade.
“There. We won’t have to
move him far.”
nodded then went to the area and spread the blanket out.
Pearson turned back to Johnny “Mr.—” She stopped, her brows drawing
together in a frown. She glanced at Murdoch, then back to Johnny, her expression
puzzled. “What do I call you?”
shook his head without interest. “Doesn’t
really matter,” he said as he attempted to push away Murdoch’s help.
Though Murdoch didn’t try to hold him, Johnny found he couldn’t sit
straight without help, and reluctantly allowed Murdoch to keep one hand on his
Mr…Lancer,” she paused slightly as if making up her mind as she addressed
him, “let’s get you into the shade.”
reached out to grip him by the arm. “Need some help?”
a little,” Johnny answered weakly as he slowly got himself to his knees.
one hand around Johnny’s back, Murdoch firmly gripped him under the arm with
make it,” Johnny muttered then hissed and halted halfway to his feet.
He leaned over, swearing softly.
on me,” Scott said, moving in closer.
walk,” Johnny retorted, then winced.
is on two feet,” Scott replied. “What
you’ve got going is known as a crawl.”
tilted his head to glare, but didn’t offer up a retort as Scott worked a
shoulder under his arm.
about it,” Scott continued as they shuffled over to the blanket, Murdoch
supporting on the other side, Mrs. Pearson trailing along behind.
“It could have been a lot worse.”
could have been here.”
managed a weak chuckle. “Yeah,
that is a scary thought.”
they reached the blanket, Murdoch stepped out of the way as Scott helped Johnny
to a comfortable position.
gonna go try to catch them horses,” Sunny said as he approached Murdoch.
“It’s gonna take a couple hours before we’ll be able to get a move
on. Needless to say, we’re not
gonna make it into Green River on schedule.
If we get too late though, they’ll send someone for us, unless we’re
lucky enough for someone to come along.”
The old man stopped, glanced at the sun in the west as if calculating the
time. He then turned and made a
curt motion toward the three dead bodies, then gestured toward the coach as he
began walking toward it. “I guess
I’d better repack things atop, as we’ll have to carry them back with us, I
nodded, joining Sunny as he walked. “I’ll
help in any way. Scott, too.”
let me go get them animals first. They
know me. Hopefully they didn’t get too far.”
let us know what help you need when you get back.
And if you’d like my help or Scott’s in tracking down the
nodded. “Right now, you just get
that boy of yours ready to go. Damn
fool thing he did, but I’m grateful.” Sunny
smiled hesitantly then shook his head. “Damn,
if I didn’t have Madrid on my stage and I didn’t even know it.”
He chuckled then took off down the road.
inhaled deeply, glanced over at Scott and Johnny.
Mrs. Pearson was walking toward him, leaving Mr. Pearson under the shade
of another tree with Anna and the youngster.
He was relieved to see that the young girl had calmed down considerably.
Paul, he noted, was cautiously working his way toward Scott and Johnny.
Lancer, how serious are your son’s injuries—the original ones, I mean?”
Mrs. Pearson asked as she approached.
pursed his lips, reluctant in confiding any extra information.
He glanced toward Scott and Johnny, the older brother bent protectively
over the younger one. “We almost
lost him,” he answered softly. Then
suddenly realizing his words held more truth than Mrs. Pearson could ever guess
at, he tore his gaze away from his sons.
said Johnny couldn’t have anything for the pain. He said it makes him sick?”
Mrs. Pearson looked doubtful.
nodded. “We do have some tea
leaves that the doctor gave us.”
Then that’s what I’ll make up. Are
you able to get to them?”
nodded. “They’re in our trunk.
We have some extra bandages, too. Would
you let Scott know I’m getting them both?”
Pearson smiled. “I’ll let him know.”
Murdoch replied then turned to the stage.
Pearson glanced back at her husband. He
was watching her from the shade of the tree, Anna seated near him, baby Rachel
in her lap. She could tell by the look on his face that he was still
trying to come to a verdict on the situation they had found themselves in.
She knew that about him. He
liked things neat. Hartford had
been neat. Neat and orderly. California, however, had proved to be very unorthodox and
filled with characters who were anything but neat and orderly.
She smiled and nodded, and he returned the nod, but not the smile.
California would either make her husband into the Christian leader he so
wanted to be, or it would prove to be his undoing.
There would be no middle road.
sigh she turned and walked back toward the two young Lancer men.
Unorthodox young men, for sure.
was lying on his back, his earlier pale coloring now flushed, his eyes half
closed as if he were too tired to stay awake.
As she walked up, Scott was feeling gingerly around under the bandages.
you quit doing that?” Johnny grumbled irritably as he attempted to push
Scott’s hand away.
trying to see how your ribs are doing.”
Johnny mumbled. “Can we leave it
drew away his hands and leaned back onto his heels.
be of help?” Mrs. Pearson asked.
eyes opened in alarm. “No.
We’re fine,” he said as he attempted to roll to his side, then pulled
up short with a hiss.
Pearson turned her attention to Scott. “Well,
your father asked me to tell you that he’s going to get me some leaves for
some tea, and that he’s also getting you some new bandages.”
Scott smiled. “I think I need to rewrap the one around his chest.”
hell,” Johnny grimaced, then grunted as he carefully pushed himself to a
sitting position. “Not the tea again.”
be glad to make it up for you,” Mrs. Pearson offered.
“I’ll ask Paul to help me start a small fire.”
closed his eyes while Scott nodded thankfully.
Then as Mrs. Pearson walked back toward the stage, Scott turned to his
brother. “Now, let’s go ahead and get this old bandage off.
You’ve got it all askew anyway and it’s loose over here.
It’s not doing you any good this way.”
nodded wearily, then allowed Scott to help him work his arms out of the sleeves
of his shirt.
watched Johnny closely. He noticed
that when his brother twisted or tried to sit upright, the pain seemed to bite
sharply. He was worried that the
broken ribs that had barely had a chance to heal had been re-injured in either
the bandit’s well-placed punch or Johnny’s dive to the ground. And though Johnny was attempting levity, he could tell his
brother was in reality having a hard time keeping the pain under control.
His face went pale every time he attempted to move, and he seemed to be
alternating between episodes of sweating and shivering.
had removed the old bandage just as Murdoch walked up with some new strips.
The elder Lancer bent to one knee and gave Scott the length of cotton
fabric. He then glanced wryly at
Johnny and shook his head.
grimaced back. “Two weeks?”
two weeks aren’t even going to come close,” Murdoch replied with a soft
the discomfort, Johnny managed a dramatic sigh, then had to hold his breath and
close his eyes for a moment. He
gave a soft grunt, winced again, then blew out through his mouth.
“Where’s the reverend?”
over there,” Murdoch nodded to an area behind Johnny.
eyes trailed to the corner but he didn’t turn around.
Whether because of the wounds or from choice, neither Murdoch nor Scott
rather we were doing this in the stage,” Johnny murmured.
it’s rather warm in there, plus it would be cramped.
Don’t worry. The
reverend’s not even bothering with us,” Scott assured.
“He has his hands full with their youngest.”
should have gotten the ointment too,” Murdoch said as he observed an area of
abrasion where the one set of bandages ended before the other began.
He turned to Scott. “Shall
I go find it?”
shook his head. “Let’s just worry about getting those ribs supported.
We’re almost home. We can mess with all the rest later.”
Lancer,” Mrs. Pearson suddenly appeared, her eyes trailed to Johnny, lingered
on the site of the wound on his chest. She
hesitated, seemed to forget what she was about to say, then shook herself and
firmly faced Murdoch in a tactful effort to remain composed and unconcerned over
the sight of the still angry-looking wound.
Johnny’s dismal look at Mrs. Pearson’s hesitation, Scott shot his brother a
reassuring smile; however, the smile was not returned and Johnny glanced away.
do you need?” Murdoch asked, standing up in order to keep Johnny out of sight.
wanted to ask how strong the tea should be made up.
I know there are some medicinal herbs that one is supposed to be careful
of, regarding the quantities used.”
I gave you should be just fine for one kettle.
We’ll put what’s left in a canteen and bring it along.”
Pearson nodded. “I also wanted to offer another blanket.
I wondered if —” she started to glance toward Johnny, caught herself,
and quickly continued, “if your son would like one for his head.
He might be more comfortable.”
glanced toward Johnny, but Johnny shook his head.
He’ll be fine. But thank
you for the offer.”
Pearson nodded, turned and went back to the fire that Paul had just started.
As she poured the water from a canteen into a kettle and dropped in the
three leaves that Murdoch had given her, her mind returned to the brief glimpse
she’d had of Johnny’s chest wound. She’d
heard the stories while staying in Salinas, of a gunfighter who had stood up
against overwhelming odds, who despite being already injured, had faced down a
contingent of men, victory assured when the Lord himself sought to save his
life. A religious medallion.
Odd, she thought to herself as she adjusted the kettle over the fire.
Odd that a gunfighter would wear such a symbol.
But then…hadn’t she been surprised to find out that the quiet young
man who had ridden the stage with them just the day before was supposed to be a
hired killer? He hadn’t seemed at
all like the sort of man who would kill for money, who viewed death as merely a
job. And his concern—her hand went to the wedding ring, now back in its place
on her finger—his willingness to place himself in danger, to suffer, for those
who had so recently ridiculed and despised him.
shook her head.
Pearson glanced up from the fire. Paul
was watching her. She smiled.
“Oh, I’m afraid I was just trying to make sense of this Johnny
nodded, glanced for a second toward the oak tree before turning back to his
mother. “I think he’s still
trying to figure it out himself.”
Pearson studied her son thoughtfully before replying, “Why would you say
made a vague shrug. “Something he’d said to me last night while we were
talking, before I knew who he was. I
don’t think he’s comfortable being a gunfighter, but I don’t think he’s
comfortable being a Lancer, either.”
Scott and Murdoch a while to get a new bandage around Johnny’s chest.
The area just below the rib cage was very sore and already showing a new
bruise from where the leader’s fist had made contact.
Also, it became apparent as they proceeded that Johnny had indeed been
re-injured, as his inability to mask the pain only increased with their
ministrations. Eventually he tried
to pull away from their attentions, putting up a hand to ward them off, his eyes
closed, face tight in agony, breath held.
shook his head, remained as he was a moment longer, then slowly opened his eyes.
Perspiration was running down his face and neck.
There was no longer any levity in his eyes.
“Can we—just get this done?”
nodded solemnly, took the last bandage from Scott and finished wrapping.
Though he had no desire to hurt his son, he knew support was necessary if
they were going to finish the trip. There
was one more groan from Johnny, then Murdoch was finished.
“You can lie down now,” he said, one hand now on Johnny’s upper
back where he added a pat of encouragement.
nodded weakly, eyes already closed as he allowed Murdoch to help him lie down.
Johnny was settled, Murdoch leaned back onto his heels and regarded Scott with
heavy concern. He shook his head, glanced at Johnny again, then back at
Scott before quietly mouthing, “Let’s get him home.”
reply was a wordless nod.
stood up and walked over to Mrs. Pearson and Paul.
“How’s the tea coming?” he asked.
Pearson looked up, adjusting her torn skirt as she stood.
“It should be ready in just a few minutes.”
Her eyes wandered over to Scott and Johnny.
“How’s your son doing?”
be fine,” Murdoch answered.
wound…” she hesitated, looked square at Murdoch.
“It looks pretty bad.”
could have been a lot worse.”
Pearson was quiet a moment as she realized the truth of the statement, then
clasping her hands in front of her, she turned to Paul.
“Would you go see if your father needs help with Rachel?”
there was hesitation in the young man’s eyes, he turned and walked away.
Lancer,” Mrs. Pearson said softly. “May
I ask you a question?”
let his hands settle on his hips as he regarded Mrs. Pearson without emotion.
“You’re wondering about Johnny.
Specifically why I have a son who’s a gunfighter.”
embarrassed nod, Mrs. Pearson glanced down.
“I don’t mean to pry, Mr. Lancer.
But, well, it seems we’re to be neighbors of a sort, and, well…”
She looked back up. “Back in Salinas, he seemed well known—as this Madrid,
anyway. But then, on the stage, the
driver, the bandits who held us up, they didn’t seem to know who he was, as a
Lancer, I mean. But it seems you
know what he does—”
Murdoch interrupted firmly, caught himself, forced a smile.
He shook his head, glanced over to his sons, then back to Mrs. Pearson.
“It’ll all make more sense when you get to Green River, but basically
the truth of the matter is, Johnny’s mother ran away with him when he was just
a couple years old. I tried to find
them for a long time, but didn’t meet with success until few years ago.
By that time, his reputation as a gunfighter was pretty well established.
He’s been trying to put it behind him ever since.”
Pearson smiled sympathetically. “It
seems as if that hasn’t been so easy.”
shook his head, his attention drawn to his sons, his expression growing more
somber. “You have no idea, Mrs.
Pearson turned toward the fire. “I
believe the tea should be ready now.”
Murdoch replied, smiled. “I’d
like to get Johnny to take some, then see if he won’t rest before we get under
have it in a minute,” Mrs. Pearson said as she knelt down by the fire.
Using her skirt to protect her hand, she grabbed the kettle and drew it
off the fire. Then she picked up
the cup and filled it halfway. Standing
up, she held it out to Murdoch. “If
you need more, just let me know. Otherwise
we can put the rest in the canteen as you suggested.”
Johnny probably won’t thank you for the tea, I will,” Murdoch said as he
accepted the cup, then went on to explain,
“I’m afraid he’s had to drink quite a bit of it recently.”
Pearson smiled. “I, too, need to thank Johnny for what he did for me…for
worry.” Murdoch returned the smile. “He
later Scott had managed to goad Johnny into drinking two half-filled cups of tea
before allowing him to lie back and rest. Sunny,
meanwhile, had returned with the stage horses. Murdoch and Scott then set about
helping him put them back into their harnesses, after which they turned to the
task of repacking the luggage to make room for the three dead bodies.
were finishing up, Johnny slowly woke from the heavy sleep, disoriented and
lethargic. It took a moment for him to remember where he was and why his chest
and side were so sore again. Fleetingly
he thought that perhaps the whole thing had been a dream, that he was still in
Soledad. Then as his eyes found their focus, he saw the stage on the
side of the road, the horses now harnessed and waiting, Murdoch and Scott moving
about, following Sunny’s orders on how to rearrange trunks and other gear.
then that his eyes trailed downward to the shrouded forms lined up near the
wheels of the stage. Dead bodies. Always
dead bodies. If they didn’t fill
his dreams, then they haunted his waking hours.
closed his eyes, sighing as he rubbed fingers across his brow.
speak to you?”
opened his eyes, frowned as he met the face of Reverend Pearson looking down at
him. Putting a hand out to shade
his eyes from the few rays that were managing to penetrate the thick canopy of
leaves, Johnny gave a curt nod, then rolled to his left side and gingerly pushed
himself to a sitting position. He managed to keep any groan from escaping, but
was not so successful in his attempt to fight back the accompanying grimaces.
He was aware of it, not proud of it, but accepted it as inevitable.
think we’ll be ready to go soon,” Reverend Pearson said with a glance toward
nodded. Aware that departure
details were not what the reverend wished to discuss, and uncomfortable sitting
while the other man stood over him, Johnny gingerly rose to his feet.
This time he was unable to hold back a couple of low moans.
In surprise, he felt the steadying touch of the reverend to his elbow.
He looked up. For a moment their eyes met.
Uncomfortably they both dropped their gaze, the reverend stepping back as
Johnny drew his arm away.
all be relieved to get under way,” Johnny said as he moved toward the trunk of
the tree and gingerly leaned against it. He
hoped the movement looked casual, but doubted it. The tight bandaging made
standing upright difficult, plus he found his head swirling dizzyingly.
we leave,” Reverend Pearson continued, “I feel I need to thank you.”
As Johnny brought up a hand to wave away the overture, the reverend
resumed, “However I find myself in a quandary.”
He stopped, studied Johnny with consternation.
“I’m not sure what to make of you.
I’m not sure what to make of those dead men you left over there or the
tales I’ve heard in my short time here in California.
On the one hand you seem like a typical young man—for California, in
any case. But underneath that guise
hides the reality that you are a man who hires himself out to kill.
I have heard of men who kill in cold blood, have even met some during my
visits to the prisons. But they are different from you.
They lack…” He shook his head. “There’s
a coldness in their eyes, a lack of conscience or remorse.”
straightened up, met the clear gray eyes. “I
did what needed to be done.”
you feel no remorse?”
that’s where I have a difficulty,” Reverend Pearson said. “Did you kill
those men from a desire to protect my family and myself?
Or was it simply an excuse you use to prove your power over life and
daughter was not harmed and you’re alive,” Johnny stated curtly.
“Let’s leave it at that.”
who should I thank for this deed?” Reverend Pearson asked.
“Johnny Lancer, whom we met on the stage?
Or the man who dramatically announced that he was Madrid just before he
pursed his lips, remained expressionless. “Take
reverend’s gray eyes grew hard. “No,
Johnny. I think it’s you
who needs to pick.” He turned and
walked away, leaving Johnny leaning against the old oak.