(A sequel to The Ghost of Johnny Madrid)
Jelly, tell me again why they aren’t
here!” Teresa said, the panic in her voice now distinct, as she stood up and
went to the window of the small restaurant to glare out at the street for the
fifth time since they’d entered.
broke an axle or had to stop because a tree had fallen across the road,” Jelly
added with an impulsive sigh, “Or they stopped to rescue a damsel in
That’s also a definite possibility.
Especially if you got Scott an’ Johnny together.
They’s got to be the biggest damsel-in-distress magnets I ever did
softly chuckled and shook her head, then turned around to face Jelly.
The cheerful smile on his face was for her benefit, and she tried her
best to reciprocate. “I’ll feel
a lot better when they get here.”
nodded. “Ah, don’t worry, Miss
Teresa. Stages are late all the
well.” Teresa turned back to the window and crossed her arms defiantly. “This
one’s carrying some precious cargo.”
nodded in quiet understanding, got up and also walked to the window.
As he looked out, he noticed Val crossing the street, the sheriff’s
eyes searching off in the distance as if he too were looking for the late stage.
He saw the sheriff notice them, wave and head their direction.
turned around and with a sigh sat down in front of her unfinished dinner.
Jelly waited until the sheriff had entered the restaurant then gestured
to a chair. “Come join us,
smiled, quickly grabbed his hat off his head, nodded to Teresa and sat down.
want anything?” Jelly asked.
shook his head. “I already had
some left-over fried chicken. I will have somethin’ to drink, though.”
He made a quick motion for the waitress who hurried over, a smile on her
can I get you this evening?”
a drink,” Val said.
usual, a whiskey with a twist of lime, right?”
grimaced, glanced furtively at Teresa. “A sarsaparilla.”
what?” the waitress asked.
usual,” he enunciated evenly.
The lady poorly managed to hide a smile. “That
usual. Of course.”
She turned and headed to the kitchen.
shared a quick look with Jelly, then had to bend her head to hide her smile.
Jelly asked. “What do you
think’s got the stage runnin’ late?”
shrugged. “Oh, I’m sure it’s
nothin’. Though if they aren’t
in within the hour, I’ll get some men and we’ll go look for them.”
be pretty dark,” Jelly observed.
a good road, and the moon’s out,” Val replied.
“But I don’t think there’s anythin’ to—” He stopped as the
unmistakable rumble of the stage could be heard.
“See,” he smiled. “Nothin’
to worry about.”
leg of the journey did indeed end up the most uncomfortable, both physically and
mentally, for the travelers.
Scott, the presence of dead bodies lined up behind him for four hours was an
unpleasant necessity, a constant reminder of the curse they had yet to find a
way to cope with—Johnny’s past. For
the remainder of the ride, he found himself thinking back over the last few
years, and he came to realize how often Johnny’s past had challenged their
desire for a quiet existence as a family—and negated Johnny’s efforts to fit
in. Over and over again he
could see a pattern. And what happened in the Salinas Valley was just one more
example. The intentions might be
good, even noble—a notion Scott knew his brother would balk at—however, the
unfortunate reality was that no matter how honorable they might be, others might
still hold a very different view. The
reverend was a good example, as were the townspeople of Soledad.
Even the Judge, Harley, the dead gunfighter, Kincaid, and Father Alvarez.
All viewed the person of Madrid differently. Anathema, protector, adversary, friend, foe, instrument of
the Lord… How was Johnny ever to
find his true identity in such a disparate collection of opinions?
How were they ever supposed to
coach the thoughts, too, were varied, and uneasiness was a sad fact.
The reverend continued to regard Johnny with an expression which could
only be described as a mixture of uncertainty and antipathy.
Meanwhile, his wife glanced furtively across with compassion, while Anna
kept her eyes averted the entire time and Paul, conversely, seemed unable to
take his eyes off Johnny.
within the first hour, found himself in too much pain to care what the rest of
the occupants of the coach were thinking anymore.
He just wanted to reach Lancer. Each
jar of the coach and bump in the road left him in tight agony.
Murdoch kept up a continuous pressure on him to take some of the tea,
which he did, but the effects of the medication appeared to be no match for the
physical discomfort, though it did relax him and for that he was grateful.
With the weight of the dead bodies that were stowed above him resting on
his thoughts, and the uneasy looks from the reverend shooting his direction, he
sought the refuge of sleep, but it continued to elude him.
too, was aware that they were the object of varying perceptions, and he found
himself overcome with a strangely unaccustomed emotion, at least where this son
was concerned. Protection.
He felt an intense desire to protect Johnny from the hooded, curious
looks, from the judgmental thoughts, and from Madrid’s hold.
He closed his eyes, could hear Johnny shifting in his seat in an attempt
to find a more comfortable position. Briefly
he wondered if the reverend would view Johnny differently if he were aware of
all that had happened to the young man in his life, of all he’d been through
and endured. Or would he view such
arguments as a weak attempt to validate aberrant and immoral behavior?
opened his eyes, held the canteen of tea out to Johnny.
met the offer with a look of weary defeat, took a sip and handed it back, the
dark stubble of his beard a marked contrast to the pallor of his complexion.
He tried to sigh, winced, closed his eyes and leaned his head tiredly
against the side of the coach.
continued to watch Johnny out of the corner of his eye, hoping that the tea
would take effect. DarkCloud had informed him that the tea would not be able to
do more than take a mild edge off the pain, but that its real benefit was as a
sedative. Then with a slight grin,
the doctor had gone on to mention that the biggest obstacle to Johnny’s
healing was Johnny himself, and his reluctance to rest.
stage hit an especially hard bump, and Murdoch saw Johnny’s head jar heavily
against the side of the coach. Other
than a brief tensing of the jaw, Johnny made no other acknowledgement that he
was even aware of the jarring impact; he finally seemed to be slipping into
that he was being watched, and unsure whether his sudden action was for his
audience’s benefit, Johnny’s benefit, or his own, Murdoch slid along the
seat until he was beside his son. Then
he reached out, and with utmost care, pulled Johnny in close, allowing his
son’s dark head to lean against his shoulder.
Then with a small sigh, he closed his own eyes and rested his cheek
against the long, raven hair while his younger son continued to sleep,
protected, at least for now.
coach rolled to a stop, one of the horses letting out a whicker of approval that
the day was finally done, and the proclamation was quickly picked up by his
flinched, pulled away from a tight grasp, only to find himself staring at his
father with bewilderment. “Murdoch?”
smiled, nodded his head as he casually slid his arm out from behind Johnny’s
shoulders. “We’re home.”
blinked, twisted his head toward the window.
With a soft grunt he put a hand to his chest and slid closer to look out
the window. The familiar buildings of Green River were lined up in the
dusk of the early evening. He
blinked again, was surprised to find that he was disquieted by their normalcy,
as if he had expected them to look different after so long.
sighed and closed his eyes. Yes, it
had been a long time, but it hadn’t been years.
It just felt that way.
the rocking of the coach as Sunny and Scott moved about, and Reverend Pearson
leaned over to open the door.
slid back in his seat, quite willing to let the Pearsons disembark first.
As the reverend stepped out first so that he could help his wife and
daughter, Paul took the opportunity to lean quickly forward.
hope I get to see you again, Johnny,” he said.
“Will you be coming to town soon?”
shrugged. “That depends.”
He then smiled. “I’m not
sure I’m gonna be allowed out of my room for the next few weeks.”
grinned, then held out his hand to Murdoch.
“It was nice meeting you, Mr. Lancer.”
He then held it out to Johnny. “And
you, too, Mr. Lancer.”
smiled, accepted the warm grip. “Better
nodded and stepped out of the coach.
you ready, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
nodded. “I am very
Jelly and Val had hurried to the stage, leaving their food and drinks sitting
forgotten at the table. They all
took immediate note that Barranca was trailing along behind the stage, tired but
Scott called as he jumped down from the stage.
Teresa squealed, flinging herself into Scott’s arms in a totally inappropriate
act for a young, unmarried lady to do in public.
She didn’t care.
grinned as he returned the hug, then stepped back to look at her.
“You’ve grown,” he joked.
haven’t,” she countered. “But
you need a shave.”
chuckled, “My dear Teresa, I not only need a shave, I need a bath, a new set
of clothes, and three days of straight sleep.”
smiled, then her eyes darted toward the passengers who had stepped out of the
stage. It appeared to be a family.
Not caring that her actions might be perceived as rude, she started to
push her way through them, but was drawn up short when Scott’s hand remained
firmly on her shoulder. She turned
back, a frown on her face.
quickly nodded. “Yes, he’s here. And
so is Murdoch. But you should know,
a lot’s happened, Teresa. It’s
been a rough month. And
Johnny…well, I think you should know that Johnny’s not looking so well.”
brows furrowed in uncertainty, Teresa turned back to the coach just as Murdoch
stepped out. His gaze immediately
fell on Teresa and he gave her a quick smile, which then turned into constrained
worry as he stepped back to allow Johnny out of the stage.
felt her heart stop, and she was unable to stem the quick gasp for air as she
reacted to the sight. Neither the
wire, Scott’s warning nor Murdoch’s look, had been adequate to prepare her
for Johnny’s true appearance. Not well had been an understatement.
the few seconds it took for Johnny to slowly step out of the stage, Teresa had
buried her shock and had stepped forward, a firm and genuine smile on her face.
This time an unrestrained hug was not going to be offered, as she had the
disconcerting sensation that such an act would crush him.
she said, allowing her feelings to flow through her words, if not her actions.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re home!”
She put her hands on his upper arms and carefully stood on tiptoe to
brush his bearded cheek with a kiss. She
knew her actions showed that she was aware of Johnny’s condition, but had a
feeling that it had long ago ceased being a secret.
One could not hide such weariness and suffering for very long.
Johnny needed to be home.
her a small smile. “Teresa, you’re lookin’ good.”
stepped back and regarded him openly and frankly.
“And you look like you should be in bed.”
to chuckle, bit it back, swallowed and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s go home.”
get Barranca and the tack,” Scott offered.
help Murdoch with your baggage,” Val added.
wagon’s just across the street,” Teresa pointed, then paused.
“Have you had anything to eat? We
could stop at the restaurant before heading back.”
shook his head. “I just want to get to the ranch.”
studied his dark eyes a moment, saw the exhaustion and pain, and knew that while
he would have liked some food, he needed more to be back home.
Walking slowly, and keeping a comfortable arm linked about his waist, she
led him toward the waiting Spring wagon.
sighed as he watched them cross the street.
weren’t kiddin’,” Val observed. “’Bout Johnny, I mean.”
shook his head, stooped to pick up a small valise.
“Nope.” He straightened
up. “By the way, we had some
trouble on the way here.”
moved in, nodded toward the top of the stage.
“I got three extra bodies up there, and they didn’t have no
glanced at Murdoch, who nodded in confirmation.
“Johnny took care of them. One
get a posse on it,” Val responded.
nodded, then shrugged. “I don’t
expect the fellow who got away will be causing any trouble in this area.”
want me to do ‘bout the bodies?” Sunny asked.
over and get the undertaker,” Val replied with a jerk of his head.
harrumphed loudly, then headed down the street.
turned back to Murdoch. “Anything
else I should know about?”
frowned, nodding as he looked over his shoulder to check on Johnny’s progress.
He watched as his son gingerly climbing into the back bench of the wagon,
waiting until Johnny was seated before turning back to the sheriff.
“Yes. But I need to talk
to you privately… and in detail.”
to do with that envelope I received? The
one that was addressed to you, but to my care?”
nodded. “There are things going
on in Salinas which I couldn’t speak of openly.
I put it all down in the letter in case something should happen.”
case something should happen?” Val raised an eyebrow.
“Sounds like you were expecting trouble.”
expression remained grim. “We
found enough.” He paused. “Sheriff
Hawkins, that friend of yours, is one of the things I mention in the letter.
There’s also other information in there that I need to talk to you
glanced over his shoulder toward Johnny. “But
it needs to wait.”
eyes trailed to where Val was looking. “Yes.
I need to get him home,” he nodded then turned back to the sheriff.
“For now, read the letter. It’ll
explain a lot. Then come on out to
the ranch in a couple of days. And
you’d better plan on staying a few hours.
In fact, plan to stay for lunch.”
that much to discuss?”
sighed unhappily. “Unfortunately, yes.”
He glanced toward his son again, who was now leaning so that he favored
his injured side. Scott, meanwhile,
was looping Barranca’s lead rope around the back of the wagon.
“I plan to keep things very quiet for a couple days.
I also really need to check into things about the ranch, so maybe if
you’d come out in, say, three days.”
nodded. “I’ll be there.”
smiled, bent to pick up another valise.
you’re returning with more ’n you left with,” Val observed as he picked up
the one trunk.
chuckled. “Well, most are gifts
from Soledad to Johnny, clothes and such.”
raised an eyebrow. “Gifts?”
could have been returning with a dog, and he also left the horse,” Murdoch
grumbled as they walked toward the wagon.
and a horse?”
a long story.”
evening was clear, the sky a blanket of stars, the full moon casting gray
shadows along the trail as Murdoch guided the wagon home.
Teresa sat on one side, Jelly on the other, while Scott sat with Johnny
in the back. For the first few minutes, the ride to Lancer was
accomplished mostly in silence, a combination of the darkness and everyone’s
reluctance to bring up Johnny’s condition while in his presence.
to break the awkward silence, Murdoch asked Jelly to fill him in about the
conditions around the ranch, which the old hand did, efficiently and thoroughly.
Jelly knew well the precision demanded of his employer, and his
recitation sounded more like an inventory than the workings of a ranch. During the lengthy account, Scott glanced over at Johnny,
hazarding an amused smile, which his brother managed to return, albeit tiredly.
With a quiet nod of understanding, Scott reached out and grasped his
Jelly was finished with his account, Teresa, who had been snuggled up next to
Murdoch, seemed to come alive. Business
had been taken care of and now she felt at liberty to launch into her own
discourse, her happiness at their return made clear in her animation and the way
she kept looking behind her, as if checking to make sure that Johnny and Scott
were still there. Not to be outdone
by the mere workings of the ranch as recounted by Jelly, Teresa filled them all
in on the various personal events that had taken place: a baby born to one of
the Mexican workers, a broken arm with one of the wranglers, the fine crop of
tomatoes being canned for the winter, Maria’s daughter coming for a visit, the
need to add another woman to help with the hacienda chores…
pronouncement, Murdoch smiled. “So,
the workload’s getting too much?”
Maria and I manage to just keep up with everything.
But there’s so much to do that we never really get done.
When you were gone, it wasn’t so bad, not as much laundry or cooking to
be done, and the place didn’t get anywhere as messy.”
like you want us to leave again,” Scott grinned.
Teresa quickly countered. “That’s
not it. But, well, Murdoch, you keep saying that you want me to set
some time away each day for some studies, and it’s just not happening.”
Murdoch nodded. “And what do you think would be a good solution?”
Teresa replied, “Maria’s daughter has been wonderful.
She’s been helping out and she’s a great cook.”
nodded. “Maria’s daughter.
Which one? Rosa or Anna?”
remember her wedding,” Murdoch mused. “It
was about ten years ago. She
married a fella who worked down in the valley.
The Carson ranch, wasn’t it? Is
he here, too?”
Teresa replied. “He…he was killed last spring.
Thrown off his horse.”
a shame,” Murdoch murmured.
has two children. A boy and a girl.”
suppressed a smile. “Two
children, huh? Are they pretty
Teresa hesitated. “The little boy is a great help in the garden.
He was helping me pick vegetables for canning.”
the little girl?”
she’s sooo adorable! Absolutely the sweetest thing you ever saw!
I just melt every time I look at her.”
that young, huh?” Murdoch laughed.
smiled sheepishly. “Yes.”
chuckled. “Is Maria wanting them
to stay, too?”
They are with Maria and Cipriano now.
They both are hoping she’ll be able to find some work and stay in the
and Cipriano’s house is pretty small for another family.”
said they raised four children perfectly well there and that this would not be a
So Rosa would like a job, right?”
nodded. “Yes. She
wants to help out.”
I’ll agree. But I want to talk to
Cipriano about building on another room to their house.
Raising four children is different than having your grown child come home
with their children.”
thank you! Thank you, Murdoch!”
Teresa exclaimed, reaching around to hug her ward.
“You’ll love Rosa! She’s
a great cook. And she learned some
beautiful stitches that she was teaching me this past week.”
Scott interrupted from behind Murdoch. “You hate sewing, Teresa.”
don’t hate sewing,” Teresa
countered. “I hate mending! And with you boys around, that’s all the type of sewing I seem to get done!
But now, with Rosa around, maybe I’ll actually get to do the fun type
of sewing. I’ve had some fabric
for a new dress for three months and haven’t had an opportunity to do anything
chuckled, glanced over the heads of the horses into the darkness.
He could almost close his eyes and pretend the whole last month had never
had. And things would never be
quite the same again. Worse or
better, at this point he couldn’t quite say, but certainly never the same.
who was seated to Murdoch’s other side, suddenly cleared his throat.
I was just wantin’ to let you two know, Mabel—”
yes,” Scott cut in. “Mabel. I
Johnny asked, the first words he’d spoken since they’d started for home.
“Are you sportin’, Jelly?”
Jelly admonished in embarrassment.
you’d like her,” Scott said as he reached out in the darkness to give
Johnny’s leg a nudge. “Hair like burnish autumn, the warmest brown eyes,
softest lips, long legs just made for prancing…”
like her already, Jelly,” Johnny softly laughed, suddenly immersed in
and that’s not all,” Scott went on with obvious relish.
“This little lady has the sweetest disposition and is very, very
Jelly,” Johnny leaned slightly forward. “When
do I get to meet her?”
can meet her when we get home—in the barn,” Jelly grumbled.
“She’s a filly.”
Jelly’s the proud papa,” Scott chuckled.
grinned, leaned forward far enough to pat Jelly on the shoulder.
“You will introduce me, then?”
two of you are impossible,” Jelly huffed, keeping his eyes ahead.
“Can’t imagine what the fun is, pickin’ on me.”
love you, Jelly,” Scott said as he put his hand on Jelly’s other shoulder.
when I grow up, I wanna be just like you, Jelly,” Johnny said with a pat.
you could be so lucky,” Jelly huffed, but there was a grin on his face.
too, smiled in the darkness. Getting
Johnny home was the right thing to do.
there was no smile on Teresa’s face. Instead,
her lips were pursed in a concentrated frown.
Though the conversation sounded familiar enough, there was something
strained in Johnny’s tone, as if he were trying too hard.
arriving home, Teresa and Maria quickly put together the supper they had
prepared earlier in the day, while Jelly took care of the wagon and Murdoch went
to his desk to glance through correspondence that had arrived during his
absence. When Teresa returned with
a large platter of sliced beef, potatoes and bread, only Murdoch remained in the
Scott and Johnny?” she asked.
glanced toward the stairs. “Johnny
said he wasn’t up to eating. He
said he’d rather turn in.”
set the platter down and started for the stairs.
“Maybe I should go up. I
had gotten some ointments and bandages ready if needed.”
Murdoch put a hand out and caught her arm.
“I think it’s best to let Scott handle things for now.”
turned to her guardian, a mixture of confusion and hurt in her eyes.
“I don’t really know what’s happened, Murdoch, but it’s quite
obvious Johnny’s been hurt somehow. While
I don’t know the details, I do know I’ve taken care of my share of
know,” Murdoch said. “But this time it’s a little different. I think Johnny would just as soon have Scott around right
now. Besides, Scott’s already
familiar with…the situation.”
crossed her arms, her jaw set stubbornly. “And
am I going to be left in the dark?”
moment there was silence, then Murdoch shook his head.
“No. I suppose while
Scott’s in with Johnny is a good time to fill you in on what happened in
Murdoch led her to the sofa in front of the fire, sat her down, then settled
himself nearby. Teresa noticed immediately that he didn’t sit in his usual
chair, nor was his posture the usual one of authority and control. Instead he
was seated at the edge of the sofa, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped,
his eyes staring into the softly rolling flames.
As he cleared his throat, one thumb rubbed back and forth against his
forefinger. “I’m not sure how
to go about telling you all of this,” he said.
he did. Starting with the
details unfolded, Teresa was burdened with the knowledge of all that had
happened, from why Johnny had originally left to the events that transpired with
the Judge. Though she knew
her guardian was trying to spare her some of the grimmer details, Teresa was
still struck by the magnitude of what they had endured and in silence she
allowed the tears that had been forming trail down her cheeks.
Murdoch didn’t seem to notice, however, as his attention remained
transfixed on the flames.
explaining how they had gotten away, Murdoch went on to tell about the town’s
festival and how Johnny gave the dog to Jamie.
Then, after a pause, he finished up by explaining the events of the stage
few minutes they sat in silence, then Murdoch slowly straightened up and
unfolded his hands.
could all of this happen?” Teresa murmured.
“What sort of man is this Judge?”
was Murdoch’s simple reply.
blinked at the description. Her
guardian was not a man to waste words, neither was he prone to exaggeration.
“Then,” she hesitated, “then he’s not going to let this go, is
slowly shook his head, then turned to Teresa.
“No. I’m afraid not. But
for now… this…this whole situation has forced issues to light.
Granted, they were things that should have been dealt with a long time
ago. But now they’re here.
Johnny’s trying to deal with the loss of memory he went through,
injuries he’s still recovering from, and the knowledge that a lot more of his
past has been opened up.”
he’s never been very comfortable sharing.”
shook his head. “No, he hasn’t. And
that is part of the problem. While
he never tried to hide who he had been, he preferred to keep the actual details
under lock and key.” Murdoch
sighed. “Which brings me to
something else I feel I need to tell you.” He faced Teresa once more. “When
I said that Johnny left because he wished to get rid of his gunfighter’s
weapon in private, I didn’t tell you what brought about his action.”
Murdoch hesitated for an instant. “It
was because I confronted him about his past, the issues that we’re now having
to deal with. I—I showed him that
I had a Pinkerton report on him, from back when I had hired the agency to track
absorbed this information without emotion.
“Then he felt attacked.”
looked away and nodded his head. “I
didn’t handle it very well.”
couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”
But I should have seen that forcing the issue was only going to make him
force is the only thing that works with Johnny.”
smiled and looked at Teresa. “You’re
trying to make me feel better.”
shook her head. “What’s done is done, Murdoch.
What I want to know is, where do we go from here?”
going to take some time, but Johnny is home.
And that’s all that really matters for the time being.
He’s home. It’s going to
take a couple of weeks until he’s feeling back to his old self, and in the
meantime, I think we need to give him a chance to settle in again.
I think…I think he’s feeling the weight of his past.”
later, Teresa stood in front of the same fire, her arms crossed, as the
knowledge of what Johnny, as well as Scott and Murdoch, had endured weighed her
thoughts. She suddenly shivered,
felt a need to leave the dark room, to search out warmth and light.
With a heavy sigh, she turned and crossed the room and entered the
kitchen. There, the oil lamps were
still burning. She’d told Maria
to head on home after the older lady had helped her with the meal.
Now she surveyed the few dishes, the food still left out.
With movements purposeful and concise, Teresa saw first to the storage of
the food before attacking the dishes. Though
she tried to keep her focus on the tasks at hand, her thoughts continued to
wander to the overwhelming amount of information she had received from Murdoch
just a short while ago.
finished with the last plate, put it to the side to dry, then picked up the
serving platter. As she placed it
in the tub of water, she gave a heavy sigh, brought her wet hands to her face,
and rubbed her eyes tiredly.
thoughts wouldn’t leave: the pictures, the reality of its impact on all of
them, the disbelief that anyone could be so wicked, and the knowledge of just
how badly Johnny had been injured, both mentally and physically.
She looked around at the mundane kitchen, the five flickering oil lamps,
and she knew she couldn’t stay in that room any longer.
Her thoughts needed a more suitable venue. Darkness for dark thoughts.
quickly left the kitchen, grabbing a thin crocheted shawl off its hook near the
side kitchen door. Silently closing
the kitchen door, she went out into the courtyard.
Then in the stillness of the evening, she closed her eyes and breathed in
deeply. The air was cool and dry,
lingering scents of the warmth, which had permeated the garden and ground,
remained in the air. She opened her
eyes, let her sight adjust to the darkness then followed the familiar path to
the bench under a small, ornamental tree. She
pulled the thin shawl about her shoulders, leaned back against the bench and
stared up at the sky. Beyond the
leaves, which dotted her vision overhead, the sky spread out like a velvet
blanket of deep purple.
could release her thoughts and allow the words to be weighted by expressions,
intonations and pauses, which augmented the real meaning and clarified the true
extent of the events Murdoch described. In
her mind’s eyes, she saw Johnny shot, the panic on Murdoch’s and Scott’s
faces as they thought they were witnessing his death, the agony of Johnny’s
recovery, the physical and mental abuse inflicted by the Judge; and she cried.
They were silent tears at first. She
gave them free rein, though she was not one prone to tearful displays.
Growing up surrounded by men, she’d soon learned such histrionics were
not welcomed, but in this instance, alone in the dark courtyard, she realized
she was probably the only one who could cry for them all.
And she did.
no knowledge of the passing of time, simply let each fearful event have its
moment of cleansing. Eventually the need was met and she hiccuped into silent
pants. She opened swollen eyes,
realized she needed a handkerchief, and reached into her skirt pocket.
As she dabbed at her eyes, she heard the kitchen door open.
It was Scott’s voice. “Teresa,
are you out here?”
she answered in what she hoped was a reasonably firm and normal voice before
quickly blowing her nose once more.
there you are,” Scott said as he craned his neck and peered into the darkness.
He closed the door and made his way toward the bench. “Aren’t you getting cold?”
have a shawl.”
need something more than that.”
fine,” she answered.
sat down. “I was looking for you.
Thanks for sending the food up. I
hadn’t realized how much I’d missed your cooking.”
and Rosa helped a lot.”
paused as he gave a quick look at Teresa’s profile in the darkness.
“I was bringing the plate to the kitchen and noticed the lamps were
still burning, but you weren’t around.”
out here,” she answered softly.
hesitated, knew without asking what was bothering her.
Gently he said, “I saw Murdoch on the way down.
He mentioned that he’d told you what happened.
Is that why you’re sitting out here alone in the dark?”
turned to look at Scott. She tried
to keep her chin firm, but a solitary tear slowly worked its way down her cheek. She swallowed hard.
put an around Teresa, drawing her against him in sympathy.
“You aren’t the only one who’s shed a few tears.”
looked up into Scott’s face, his features faintly visible in the night.
She drew up a hand, wiped one renegade tear from her cheek. “I can’t believe Johnny was put through that… that you
were put through that. But I knew
the moment I saw him get off the stage that he’d changed—”
lost a lot of weight even before we got to him,” Scott murmured with a shake
of his head. “And with all
that’s happened since, it’s only gotten worse.”
not talking weight, Scott. I’m
not talking hair, or clothes, or his injuries, or even anything he said.
No, Scott,” Teresa shook her head.
“It was in his eyes. They’re
different. You must have seen
it.” When Scott looked away,
Teresa continued, “He’s not the same Johnny who left here.
Something more happened to him than being injured.”
sighed, looked back. “I’ve changed too, Teresa.
We all have.”
like Johnny has. In his eyes, you can see there’s something different, yet
familiar. He’s…he’s more like
the person he was when he first arrived.”
like Madrid,” Scott supplied.
nodded. “More like Madrid,” she
echoed in a small voice.
know.” Scott was silent a moment.
Then slowly unfurling his arm from around her shoulders, he took her
small hands in his and turned to her. “Teresa,
I don’t know to what detail Murdoch went into, but I’m sure he explained
about the loss of memory.”
didn’t remember anything about living here,” Teresa said softly.
“He’d forgotten the entire two years.”
nodded. “And so, to him, his life
as Madrid, as a gunfighter, had continued.
And to the town, to Soledad, that’s who he was.
He was hired to protect them.”
nodded. “And he took on the job,
even though he was injured.”
Scott nodded. “But the thing is, Teresa, to everyone back there,” he
jerked his head toward the Diablos, “he is
Johnny Madrid. After he’d gotten
his memory back, it didn’t change how they saw him. He was still Johnny Madrid.
And with the situation as it was, he had to continue that part.”
Johnny had to stay buried yet?”
nodded grimly. “I could see it in him, the struggle to separate what the
town wanted, who the town had hired, from the memories that were coming back to
him of his life here. But remaining
there made it impossible. That’s
why, even though Johnny really wasn’t well enough to take on the trip back
here, he did it, because he needed to. He
needed to get somewhere where he could take off the gunfighter mask and allow
Johnny Lancer a chance to come out again.”
said you were set upon by bandits.”
patted Teresa’s hand, looked down. “Yeah,
even on the blasted trip home he was forced to fall back on Madrid.”
He looked back up. “It was
disheartening, Teresa. He just
wanted to get home, be a nobody on a stage.
Then the preacher we were traveling with—” Scott paused, snorted. “Do you know he’d heard all about the gunfights?
He didn’t know who Johnny was, but he started in on how Madrid had to
be beyond redemption, damned.” Scott shook his head.
“But you know what? Murdoch
stepped right in and stuck up for Johnny. Strongly,
I might add.” He paused, a smile
appearing. “The old man even
surprised Johnny that time.”
returned the smile. “Then there was some good that came of it.”
I think Johnny needed to see that.”
sighed, glanced down at Scott’s hands still enveloping hers.
“Scott?” She looked up. “Do you think Johnny will be able to put Madrid behind
pursed his lips. “I think he wants to,” he slowly answered.
“I think that part of him had been dying for quite awhile.
I think he had grown uncomfortable with his life even before he came
here. But, unfortunately,” Scott sighed, shook his head.
“I think what happened in the Salinas Valley drove home an
uncomfortable realization for all of us. Even
if he makes the decision to never go back to being a gunfighter and to put
Madrid completely behind him, he’ll always be Madrid to others.
There will always be someone out there who sees him as a hired gun.
He became too good at what he did.”
now he’s bound to a past he created but no longer wants to claim.”
Teresa regarded Scott silently a moment, then sighed.
She glanced down at their entwined hands, slowly withdrew hers and gave
Scott’s a pat. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder and tilted her face to
peer through the leaves of the tree. Scott
followed the direction of her gaze just as the flash of a shooting star streaked
through the sky, brilliant in its short journey.
Then it winked out silently, leaving neither a mark nor a ripple to show
of its passing.
cold settled in Scott’s chest, and he closed his eyes, knowing Teresa’s
thoughts had also returned to the night when they had been worried about Johnny,
not knowing where he was, or how he was, and a shooting star had suddenly
streaked across the sky, almost like an omen.
Scott said, leaning back so that Teresa had to sit up and look at him.
“There’s something important I learned about Johnny in this past
month. Something that explains a
lot about how he thinks, why he views things differently, why it’s so hard for
him sometimes. When…” Scott
faltered, shook his head. “When I
was having a difficult time after the war, not settling down, attending to
school or to business as Grandfather would have wished…
I was unhappy. It was a
rough period for me. But in all of
that time, even though I didn’t like how things were going, or where I was
going, I never once imagined not having
a future.” He paused
meaningfully. “With Johnny,
though…Johnny couldn’t imagine having
After Scott left, Johnny had remained seated at the end of his bed for a
few minutes, slowly trying to adjust to the reality of being back in his room.
Everything was just as he’d left it.
The same picture on the wall, the same covering of the bed, the silly
little round table Teresa had insisted a year ago would be a perfect addition,
along with its equally useless chair…
be nice, Johnny. You can have a
decanter with some water, a nice place to sit and read if you want…”
“I’d rather have a decanter of
I would. And that chair!
I mean, c’mon, Teresa! If
I sit on it, I’ll break it!”
she’d pouted. “Give it a try.
I think you’ll find you’ll use it.”
he never had…
up and walked over to the table. He
could see that the decanter had been refilled, sitting daintily on a pretty lace
doily. Though he wasn’t really thirsty, he filled the water
goblet. Then he let his eyes trail
over the rest of the room. Something
was out of place, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
There was the larger chair, the one he actually preferred to sit on, the
wardrobe, the dresser, the lamp…the small wooden chest sitting on the
walked to the dresser and placed his left palm on the lid of chest.
As he began to rub his thumb along the grooves of the intricate carvings,
he thought back to the evening when he had taken out the revolver and set in
motion the events that would expose his past for what it was: a insurmountable
mountain in his path to a normal life. And
he could see no alternate route; he’d passed them all along the way to
becoming Johnny Madrid.
Simon had been so right. But it was
too late to go back now. Too late
to listen to the old priest’s warning: “The
Devil is on your horizon, Juanito. Turn away from that path.
It’ll only bring you grief, a life without trust or friends.”
don’t need trust or friends. I
No. Revenge is a hungry
master, never satisfied.”
was right. Revenge had become his
master. Though he avenged others,
his real goal had all along been to face the father who had thrown him out, who
had ruined his and his mother’s lives. He had harbored the fantasy of confronting his father with
what that deed had created—a gunfighter who was the talk of thousands, the
bane of large, hungry, ruthless ranchers, the terror of those who oppressed, the
curse of those with power to destroy. But,
even before he’d arrived at Lancer and discovered that the truth he’d tried
to justify his life on was not all he’d been lead to believe, he had come to
realize that revenge was an empty goal on which to base a life, that once it was
fed, he would have no reason to live. And
with no goal and no purpose, and a growing weariness of death and destruction,
he had been left with no real reason for existing.
He had begun to act without feeling or interest, merely playing the role
until the next Madrid should claim his title.
his father’s offer, he had found himself with a choice, a decision to make
regarding a future he’d never dreamed had existed.
And while the desire for revenge had disappeared, its ghosts had not.
Madrid was still here, waiting quietly, just like the revolver now lying
in the bottom of the saddlebag hanging over the back of the chair.
Waiting for some event when he’d be forced to take it out and use it;
just like what had happened on the stage. Just
like it would continue to do, over and over again. He hadn’t even thought
about what he had done until it was over; his actions were pre-ordained,
reflexive, like breathing.
that’s what was different about the room.
Everything that had happened had made him realize that, though he’d
modified his behavior to fit in at Lancer, had thought he’d slowly been
changing, becoming the son Murdoch wished him to be and the brother Scott
wanted, he really hadn’t changed at all.
Madrid was there to stay. He
was always going to be, to some
extent, a gunfighter. He was never
going to be like everyone else. There was never going to be the time when the sound of a
gunshot wasn’t going to cause him to more toward his gun. There was never going to be the time when he didn’t feel
just a little bit uneasy about entering a strange town, or feel like he needed
to get a good look at the eyes of every man in a saloon. There was always going to be something different about him.
It all came down to how well he could hide it, and how he chose to live
his family lived with it.
the revolver still lay, waiting for the decision he no longer felt confident of
his head and sighed, gave the chest a dismal pat, straightened up and paced the
rest of the way around the room. At
the window he lingered, felt a faint breeze blowing through the curtains.
the fresh air as a way to clear his thoughts, he pushed the curtains off to the
side and shoved the window open all the way.
Then he placed his hands on the ledge and leaned forward, closing his
eyes. Without allowing the twinge in his chest and ribs to detract
from his enjoyment, he forced himself to inhale deeply of the clear valley air.
can we get Johnny Madrid to fit into this life?
Can we live with his ghost?
snorted quietly, opened his eyes and tilted his head to glare up at the heavens.
A shooting star suddenly flashed across the horizon and winked out.
Johnny smiled wryly.
years from now, five years from now, ten years from now…how would this all
work out? It was an interesting
studied the small daguerreotype in his hand, the photo of Johnny’s mother.
There was so much of Johnny in her look, in her eyes, in her spirit.
Lord, she had been beautiful. Beautifully
bewitching, a small package of heat and turbulence.
What had been that saying? Ah,
yes. Chiquita pera picosa.
Small, but very hot. That
sighed heavily, set the photo on the dresser then picked up the heavy leather
folder with the gold Pinkerton seal on the top.
The catalyst of the past month’s events, the harbinger of unresolved
issues waiting their due.
tossed it back on the dresser, turned and walked to the small table, poured
himself a snifter of brandy he’d brought up with him.
He took a sip, then sat down and pulled off his boots.
Stretching out his legs, he picked up the snifter again and took another
relieved to have finished the chore of relating the events of the past number of
weeks to Teresa. It wasn’t a
pretty tale, and he’d tried to gloss over some of the more unseemly incidents,
but overall, he’d been rather straightforward with her about all that had
happened. It would do no one any good to try to keep more secrets
things considered, she’d received the information stoically and without
surprise. He wondered if she’d
begun to suspect from the vague letters he’d sent, or maybe her woman’s
intuition had forewarned her.
passed Scott on his way upstairs after talking to her; they’d stopped briefly
to compare notes. Scott said Johnny would be fine, once he’d gotten that rest
he still sorely needed, and Murdoch informed Scott that he’d apprised Teresa
of the recent events.
they had reached home. Time to step
back and catch their breaths, lick their wounds before preparing for the next
sighed. Sheriff Crawford would be
out in a couple days. It wouldn’t
be a pleasant meeting. Most of the
story Val would get from the letter Murdoch had sent, unpleasant details about
the Judge and James Wakeman, along with the suspicious death of Val’s friend,
Sheriff Hawkins. But there would
still be a lot to discuss. It was
now time to face some of the shadows of Johnny’s past, and to acknowledge that
it might be best to discuss some of them with the local sheriff. Johnny’s
bounty from Kansas was bound to become an issue at some point in the near
future. That was something they all had to face, like it or not.
took another sip of the brandy and stood up.
But for now, there was a ranch to run: books to check over, bills to be
paid, tasks to assign, work to check over, cattle to move. As he unbuttoned his
shirt, he walked to the window. He’d
opened it when he’d first walked in, but now the curtain flapped irritatingly
about. As he leaned out to grab the window shutter, he saw the
momentary flash of a shooting star off in the distance.
It was there and then gone. He
paused, studied the horizon for a moment, his face furrowing in a frown.
For some reason his thoughts turned to Johnny.
Johnny awoke, it was to the uncanny sensation that he was still in a dream.
For a moment he couldn’t remember where he was or what had happened.
His body felt heavy and numb, and for a split second he entertained the
idea of rolling over and going back to sleep.
he heard the sound of voices and the bellowing of cattle.
blinked, sluggishly brought his hands to his face and attempted to rub the sleep
out of his eyes.
home. In his own room at Lancer.
blinked again, knew immediately from the angle of the sun streaming through the
window that it was already late morning. He’d
slept the sleep of the dead, dreamless and without worry.
Yet he felt like he hadn’t the energy to sit up.
a deep breath, felt the same bothersome wounds of the night before.
Nothing there had changed.
and deliberately, he flexed each muscle, methodically bringing feeling back into
his body. Then with a sigh and a grunt, he sat up.
surprised to see a blanket fall away, as he’d distinctly remembered simply
taking off his shirt and pants and dropping tiredly to sleep.
Even though the night air had been cool, his room had been warm, as it
faced west and the window had been closed until he had opened it.
So he had lain down without any covering.
Someone must have stopped in. He
was surprised that he hadn’t heard anyone, wondered briefly who had been in,
then knew, for some inexplicable reason that it had to have been Murdoch.
He didn’t know how he knew, he just knew.
rubbed his face again, stretched out his back, swore under his breath at the
pain that twisted along his side and chest.
Then with a chagrined sigh, he admitted it could have been a lot worse.
If the bandit’s punch had landed straight on those already weak ribs,
he could have been done for.
it really was a silly thing to do.
was the soft sound of footsteps outside his door.
Teresa’s. They paused. He smiled, knew she was outside the door debating if she
should knock and perhaps wake him up, or if she should just peek in, but then
maybe catch him indecent. It had
gotten to be a running joke between Scott and himself about Teresa’s
impeccable timing. Deciding to take
the burden of such a weighty decision from her, he called out, “I’m awake,
opened, Teresa’s warm, smiling face greeting him.
that noisy?” she asked as she walked in, her skirts rustling softly about her.
I just woke up and was sitting here.”
eyes did a quick take of the bandaging around Johnny’s side and chest, her
eyes lingering for a second on the fresh car at his neck. Then, with a wry smile, she shook her head.
“Murdoch said you’d gotten yourself in pretty bad shape.”
shrugged. “It coulda been
raised an eyebrow, seemed bothered by his answer.
There was a momentary hesitation as she seemed about ready to respond,
then she shook her head and gestured toward the door.
“Are you hungry? I can
bring you up some toast and bacon. Or
if you prefer to wait a bit, I’ll have some beef sandwiches made up for
really slept in, didn’t I?” Johnny chuckled.
obviously needed it. Murdoch and Scott got up early and went out.
They were going to try to stop back for a late lunch.”
get to be a man of leisure, huh?”
laughed. “Just because you’re
not allowed to go dashing around on Barranca or walking along fences doesn’t
mean you aren’t going to be put to work.
Murdoch left some accounts for you to go through.”
Bookwork?” Johnny groaned. “Oh,
please. There’s got to be
something else for me to do.”
Teresa grew thoughtful. “I have
shook his head. “I’ll do the books.”
would you like me to bring you up some breakfast now?
Maria and I also have bath water heating.
I don’t know if you feel up to taking one in the bathhouse—”
held up his hand. “I’m not an invalid.
I can darn well walk down the steps to eat my breakfast and take a
snap at me, Johnny Lancer. I’m
not the one who forgot how to duck,” she replied sternly, crossing her arms.
regarded her for a second in surprise, then chuckled.
“It’s good to be home.”
get downstairs and eat something,” Teresa said with a shake of her finger.
Ma’am,” Johnny murmured with a polite nod.
“Anything to avoid the wrath of Teresa.”
don’t you forget it, Johnny Lancer,” Teresa admonished.
watched her turn and leave, then he sighed and stood up.
Dismally he glanced at the pile of dirty and torn clothes.
But it made no sense to put on clean ones and then head to the bathhouse.
Still mindful of his injuries, he took his time pulling on his pants and
shirt, though he didn’t bother with the buttons as half of them were missing
headed straight down to the kitchen where Teresa had already laid out a plate of
toast and bacon for him on the small table.
She smiled when he entered then turned to take the coffeepot off the
Johnny murmured gratefully as he sat down.
“I’ve missed your coffee.”
I hope that’s not all you’ve missed.”
course not. I’ve also missed how
you stand outside my door, trying to figure out if you should knock or just
burst in,” Johnny smirked.
I won’t anymore. From now on I’m just going to burst in and you can take
be sure to warn Scott,” Johnny chuckled.
slapped the back of his head and then turned and carried the coffeepot to the
stove. “If you want anything
else, let me know. Otherwise I’m going to help Maria finish filling the tub,
then I’ll take my mending out to the courtyard.”
She paused, her eyes settling on Johnny’s shirt.
“Looks like your shirt could use a bit of work, too.”
shrugged. “They don’t make them
like they used to.”
shook her head. “Leave your clothes outside the door. I’ll pick them up and get that shirt fixed.”
She paused, glanced about the kitchen as she ran her hands along her
skirt. “Oh, yes.
The books. They’re on
Murdoch’s desk. He said he left
some notes for you.”
get to them after my bath.”
nodded, then a smirk came to her face. “By
the way, Scott said to let you know that he’s already made sure no small
animals are in the vicinity. Want
to tell me what that’s about?”
took a bite of bacon, looked at Teresa in complete innocence.
“Who can tell? You know
Scott and that odd Eastern sense of humor he has.
Could mean anything.”
Teresa nodded and rolled her eyes. “A
private joke. Never mind.” Sighing
dramatically, she headed out the back door of the kitchen.
finishing his breakfast, Johnny went back upstairs to get some new clothes to
wear after his bath. He then went
outside through the same door Teresa had used.
There near the back of the house was a bathhouse, a small, two-room adobe
structure. The first room was for
changing and had pegs on the wall for hanging clothes, while the second housed
the actual tub, set in the middle of the floor with a narrow bench along one
wall. Copper pipes carried water
into the tub from where it was heated outside over a large fire, and the water,
after use, was carried away when the plug was pulled, gravity siphoning it out
where it was used in the gardens. It
was one of Murdoch’s more recent improvements, one he installed with the
urging of Teresa and Scott.
approached the bathhouse, he found Teresa standing outside talking to Maria and
a young lady. A small boy was drawing a pattern with a stick in the dirt
Maria beamed, clasped her hands to her bosom then spread them expansively.
“¡Mi Juanito! ¡Esta mas
flaco que un alfiler!”
grimaced. “Oh, Maria!
Nothing a bit of your cooking won’t fix.”
fajitas, rice and beans,” Maria nodded, walking forward.
“I will bake you some pies, Juanito.”
smiled self-consciously, then wishing to distract the older lady, he gestured
toward the young Mexican lady standing beside Teresa.
“And who is this?”
my little girl, Rosa. You’ve never met. She
was born here, like you, at the ranch,” Maria said softly, pausing as she
added, “I was pregnant when your mother left.”
Johnny nodded a greeting. “¿Como
hesitantly, Rosa took a step forward. “I’ve
heard many stories of you, Juanito. It
is good you came back, sí?”
Maria exclaimed. “It is good he came back—he and Scott. They are Lancer now.”
She studied him intently. “Bad
things happen when you leave, Juanito. Bad
things.” She clucked under he
breath, put a hand on Johnny’s arm as she searched his eyes. “But when the two young masters are here, things are good,
things are as they should be.” She
lowered her eyes to the opening in his shirt.
“You have been injured. I
must check, make sure there is no infection.”
waved a hand. “No, really, Maria. I’m fine now. It’s nothing serious.
You know me, always getting into fights.”
quickly put a hand on his chest, her eyes narrowing.
“This is more than just cantina brawls, Juanito.”
quickly stepped back, lifting her hand from his chest.
“Maria, I’ve been kicked by a horse, in more fist fights than I care
to count, and yesterday we were set upon by a gang of bandits, the leader of
which took great pleasure in planting his oversized fist in my chest.
Now, please. Scott’s
checked me over, and I’m fine. I
just want to have my bath and get to those blasted accounts Murdoch left me to
do.” With a grunt of irritation
and a warning glare at Teresa, he entered the bathhouse, slamming the door
he stripped and unwrapped the bandaging, leaving everything in a pile on the
floor. Then taking his clean
clothes with him, he went into the other room where he placed them on the bench
before climbing into the tub.
ended up being exactly what his sore muscles had been screaming for.
The tub was filled near to the top with steaming water—enough water to
drown a calf, Johnny chuckled to himself. And
the most wonderful thing of all, he was alone, it was quiet, and he could just
relax. After a few minutes, he
could hear the outer door open, and knew Teresa had come in for his torn and
dirty clothes. But after that,
except for the occasional ranch noise, all was quiet.
hour later, Johnny opened his eyes and yawned, stretched a leg out so that a set
of toes stuck out of the water, the wrinkled skin proof of time well spent.
He was surprised how relaxed he felt, more at ease than he had been for
weeks, as if he had sweated out ten pounds of tension.
He took a gulp of air, slid down into the water, holding his breath as
long as he could before he resurfaced, swiping the water away from his face.
as he’d enjoyed the rest and solitude, the water was beginning to grow cold
and he reluctantly acknowledged that he needed to at least make an effort to
start on those accounts in order to have something to show for his day.
reluctant sigh he stood up. As he
stepped out of the tub, he felt his skin tingle and his vision blur.
He blinked, put one hand on the edge of the tub to steady himself while
flashes of light sparked through his vision.
He felt hot and queasy, and had to close his eyes and puff slowly through
parted lips as he fought down his breakfast. For a long minute he just held his
position, afraid to take another step and lose his balance.
the tingling and nausea subsided enough so that he could move without risk of
losing his balance. Cautiously he
took the couple steps to the bench and sat down next to his clothes.
softly, irritated with himself for not realizing the long, hot soak along with
the moving around beforehand, would eventually catch up to him.
He felt like such an invalid.
waited another minute, then slowly worked his long johns on.
That accomplished, he took another moment to calm his thumping heart
before working on his pants.
he’d gotten his pants up to his waist, he gave a soft snort of amusement.
They were too big. It
hadn’t occurred to him when he’d grabbed them from his room that these were
clothes from before he’d lost so much weight.
If he weren’t careful, he’d take a step and lose his britches.
back down and leaned his head back against the wall, chuckling even though his
ribs protested. The idea of tracking down Jelly to borrow some suspenders was
just too much. He also realized he
hadn’t brought any new cloth for wrapping his ribs and he’d put the old
strips out with his clothes to be picked up by Teresa.
really going to be hard moving around now.
with himself, he put on his shirt and buttoned it up.
He then gave himself another few seconds before standing.
With a tight grip on the waist of his pants, he made his way out the door
and down the two steps, then slowly proceeded along the pathway toward the back
kitchen door, counting his luck that no one was about.
fortune held as he made his way through the kitchen.
Then in the hallway, Johnny paused.
What he needed were some pants that fit.
He walked into the great room, looked about for either the trunk or the
valise they’d brought with them from Soledad.
Neither was visible. He
turned, walked back to the hallway and glanced dismally up the steps.
He really didn’t feel like navigating them now.
However, the luggage had probably been taken to someone’s room.
He rested his hand on the banister, took a few slow breaths, then slowly
made his way up the stairs.
stopped by Scott’s room first and opened the door.
He did a quick visual sweep from the doorway.
Everything was neat and orderly, but no luggage.
Tired and growing more uncomfortable, he shuffled across the hall and
opened the door to Murdoch’s room. There
he leaned his shoulder against the doorframe as his eyes swept across the floor
of the large, Spartan room. Once
again, no luggage.
sighed, let his head droop tiredly against the frame.
He couldn’t believe he was going to have to ask Jelly for suspenders.
was straightening up to leave, his eye caught the outline of a dark leather
folder lying on the small wooden table. Though
he’d only seen it once before, there was no mistaking the gold Pinkerton seal,
conspicuously emblazoned on the front.
in the doorway a moment, indecisive. Part
of him wanted to turn away and leave, closing the door with firm finality.
Yet another part of him wanted to walk over and pick it up.
remembered his shock on first seeing it, his angry words to Murdoch, his feeling
of being betrayed.
not the future I would have wished for you, Johnny.”
to disappoint you, Murdoch. But I
did what I needed to do. And I did
know. That’s why we need to talk
you go ahead and talk, but I don’t have to listen!
I already lived it, remember?”
I remember, Johnny. But your past
has affected us all and will continue to do so.”
why can’t we just drop this? Why
can’t you just let me be who I am?”
there are many things in here that demand an explanation, that—”
you demand an explanation!
You and your Pinkerton report! You
think you know everything about me. Well,
while there had been truth to that statement, time had given him the chance to
overcome his anger, leaving him wondering how his life had been portrayed.
lowered his gaze to the floor, stood unmoving for a minute, then glanced back
up. With a determined set to his
jaw, he walked into the room and crossed to the table.
There was a large, thinly padded wooden chair nearby.
He lowered himself into it, grunting from the effort.
He looked at the folder again, but didn’t reach for it. A brandy bottle and a snifter sat nearby.
He wondered bitterly if Murdoch had needed a few glasses to get through
the report. Then he shook his head,
admonishing himself with the thought. Given
the way he had left after their argument, Murdoch may have simply used the
report for clues of where to start looking.
But then again, Murdoch wouldn’t have left it lying out while he was
gone to Soledad. So he must have
brought it up to his room last night.
stalling. Just pick it up.
shook his head, reached out and drew the leather binder onto his lap.
He studied it a moment, rubbed his finger along the edge of the leather.
The gold embossing of the Pinkerton seal was crisp, the patina of the
leather still unbroken, attesting to little use, his name…names…were
spelled out in neat block lettering.
glanced back up, noticed again the brandy decanter and snifter, reached out and
poured himself a healthy glass. Whether
Murdoch had needed a drink, he could only guess.
But he knew he would.
a liberal swallow, refilled the snifter, sipped it, and set it to the side.
Then, his face grim and set, he opened the binder to read.
first few minutes he barely moved other than to turn a page.
At first he did a quick scan of each page.
Then when he reached the end, he returned to the beginning, picked up the
snifter, took another long swallow, refilled it, and began again, more slowly
and purposefully this time.
first page was a concise chronological synopsis of his life laid out in a formal
column. The first entry was his
birth date, December 23, 1848. The
second entry, however, stated: April
12, 1851, abducted by Maria Ana Luisa Avalos Rivera Lancer
and Jason Preston. Other
entries stated where Maria and he had been sighted, the shooting of Preston, the
two and a half years they lived with Papa Jose Madrid outside of Pasora.
Next followed spotty references to their being seen near Brownsville,
Texas, and the Rio Grande area in the late fifties until around 1860 where the
dates stopped for a period of time. Then
dates started up again with the formal entry: First use of the name Johnny
Madrid, killed man in a call-out gunfight, Albuquerque.
More dates, more places, more deaths followed…
Some he could remember, some seemed vaguely familiar, a few he knew had
nothing to do with him. That was
the nature of his business. There
were also plenty of entries that could have been included but weren’t.
turned the page and continued to read. The
rest of the report consisted of more specific details.
Information on his jobs, men he worked for, people he rode with.
He noticed Wes, Harley and Cisco were mentioned.
course there was a lengthy paragraph of information regarding the bounty in
Kansas. Laura Stanton, seventeen
years old, allegedly murdered by Johnny Madrid.
One thousand dollars by the state of Kansas, one thousand dollars offered
by Edward Stanton.
three other personal bounties were also listed.
Among them were his dealings with Forbes, though some of the more
explicit details were thankfully omitted.
reading the report, he could see now that it had been Padre Simon who had
supplied the information which had helped the Pinkertons put together the idea
that Johnny Madrid was indeed Johnny Lancer.
Padre Simon hadn’t known his real name, but Johnny had told him that
he’d lived in a small parish orphanage in Los Arados in 1861.
By working from that information, the Pinkerton agent had put the two
moment he thought back to Padre Carlos, to the time not long after he’d shot the
man. Padre Carlos was nothing
like Padre Simon, nothing like Padre Alvarez.
He was very stern, yet caring. Almost,
when Johnny thought about it now, a bit like Murdoch if he’d been a priest.
Padre Carlos had felt strongly about saving his young charges.
He’d caught Johnny trying to steal vegetables out of his garden early
one morning and instead of punishing him had put him to work weeding.
Then after a full day’s chores, he’d fed him well.
Johnny had stayed on. At
first he’d said nothing, actually to the point where Padre Carlos began to
think Johnny couldn’t talk. But
slowly, after a week or two, Johnny came out of his shell enough to express his
wishes and answer a few questions. At
first he wouldn’t say who he was or where he was from.
Over the course of the next few months, the barrier fell away, and Johnny
began to confide.
Carlos was an educated man, and along with certain chores, the boys in his care
were expected to spend a certain amount of time with their studies.
He’d been surprised and pleased to see how quick a learner Johnny was,
and that he already had a rudimentary education in math, reading and scripture.
Maria had been very concerned about Johnny’s education at first.
The few years he’d spent with Papa Jose and then while they lived near
Brownsville, Maria had seen to it that Johnny had received schooling.
But then, as time wore on, and Maria’s own life began to fall apart,
the type of education Johnny received was of a very different sort.
Johnny, however, as he came to trust and rely on Padre Carlos more and more, to
listen to his sermons and beliefs, he became burdened by the knowledge that he
was hell-bound, for he had committed one of the ultimate sins.
He had killed, had willfully and purposely taken the life of another. And to make it worse, it had been without remorse.
In fact, his only regret was that he hadn’t done it sooner.
began to act out, refusing to do chores, running off with boys from town to get
into mischief, transgressions, at first, of a minor sort.
But what did it matter anyway? He
already had a one-way ticket to hell, though not a soul knew his secret.
Carlos had tried to talk to him, had tried to find out what was wrong.
But little did the padre know that his preaching only made matters worse.
“El que anda con lobos a aullar se ensena,” he had warned.
If you hang out with wolves you will learn how to howl.
knew he had already howled, and howled with grim finality.
There was no turning back.
night he’d left. There had been no future for him there. There was no future for him anywhere. There was only survival, and if he were lucky enough, revenge
on the man who had cost him his soul. Murdoch
after that he’d come upon Reveles, who taught him exactly what he needed in
order to achieve that goal.
sighed, closed his eyes, sat quietly, the weight of the leather folder heavy on
his lap. There was so much in there
he wished he could forget. It
wasn’t the sort of life anyone should read about, much less live.
He was now glad Scott had chosen not to read it, at least until they’d
had a chance to discuss it.
was he going to do about it now?
could he do about it?
he grabbed for the folder as it slid off his lap, then hauled up short with a
painful groan as the folder hit the floor.
“Teresa,” he murmured through clenched teeth.
stood in the doorway studying him, a puzzled expression on her face.
“Johnny, what’s wrong?” She
stepped in, her brows furrowing. “You
don’t look well.”
fine,” Johnny stated tightly as he reached for the folder.
The movement sent a sharp jab of pain through his chest, forcing him
upright, his right hand pressing against his chest.
Teresa knelt down. “What
tight, face pale, Johnny shook his head. He
sat unmoving for a moment before offering Teresa a weak smile.
“Sorry. It’s… my ribs. Has Scott come back yet?”
nodded, her concern apparent in her furrowed brows.
“I was just talking to him outside.
He’ll be in, in about a half-hour.
He was going to take some lunch out to Murdoch for me, then come back to
eat. He asked how you were, and I said you were fine.”
Her expression turned grim. “Looks
like I was wrong.” She reached
out to pick up the folder, which had landed face down.
As she turned it over, she saw the Pinkerton seal and Johnny’s name. She looked up, surprised.
kept his gaze on the folder. “It’s
a report the Pinkertons did on me back when Murdoch was trying to track me
frowned as she realized she held in her hands the object of the opening scene in
Johnny’s journey to face his ghosts. “A
report on you?” she asked cautiously, not sure if she should let Johnny know
Murdoch had told her about it. “You
mean, like where you were and…?”
nodded. “What I was doing, who I
was working for, who I was riding with…who I killed.” He shrugged
indifferently. “Friends, enemies
and bounties of the notorious Johnny Madrid.
Interesting reading if you like that sort of thing.”
eyes narrowed further and she pulled back slightly as she drew the folder up
against her chest. “Why do you say it like that?”
you’re trying to start a fight.”
Johnny pushed up abruptly from the chair. But
the pain bit sharply, and he found himself hunching forward, hissing an epithet
under his breath.
ribs, isn’t it?” Teresa asked, standing up.
cast her a sidelong look of irritation.
look at me like that. We both know
Murdoch told me what had happened, that you’d been shot up, no matter what
you’re trying to get Maria to believe.”
She shook her head. “You
didn’t get them bound up again after your bath, I suppose.
Sit back down and I’ll go get some bandaging.”
wait for Scott.”
do nothing of the kind,” Teresa retorted.
“Scott won’t be back for at least a half hour.
And it’s just plain foolish to go around, hunched over in pain, when I
can just as easily bandage you back up. Now
sit back down. I’ll just be a
minute.” She turned and laid the
folder on the bed, then left the room.
glanced at it, attempted to sigh, but halted mid-breath.
this is awkward.
forced himself erect and slowly sat back down in the chair just as Teresa
re-entered the bedroom carrying strips of bandaging.
she said, kneeling down beside the chair. “Let’s
would really rather wait for Scott.”
be such a baby,” Teresa mocked as she reached out.
“Let’s get that shirt off.”
do it,” Teresa ordered. She
rolled her eyes in mock consternation as she turned to preparing the strips of
Johnny undid the buttons of his shirt, wishing fervently that Scott would
suddenly appear. It was one of those moments when the cavalry would most
certainly be welcomed.
separated the longest strip from the rest of the bandages and looked up just as
Johnny finished unbuttoning his shirt. As
the chest wound was exposed she felt herself blanch.
reason, though she’d been told he’d taken a wound to his chest, the severity
hadn’t registered. But seeing the bruises and welted scarring forced home the
reality of just how traumatic the event must have been for all of them.
And just how truly close they’d been to losing Johnny.
clenched her jaw, fought to regain her composure and looked up to meet
pretty, is it?”
a breath and managed not to flinch from the hard eyes as she replied in a calm
voice, “It could have been a lot worse.”
didn’t respond for a second, then he gave a weak, grim chuckle.
“I s’pose so.”
acerbic half-smile formed on his face. “That’s
what I keep saying.”
raised an eyebrow at the odd reply, but decided not to pursue it.
“Can I get your shirt off?”
nodded. “There’s the other
nodded as she reached up and worked the shirt off his shoulder.
“The one where you lost your memory.”
kept an eye on her as he allowed her to help him get his arms out of his
sleeves, then continued to watch as she set about bandaging him back up.
started on the side wound first. Though
it had originally been a more life-threatening wound, for some reason the sight
of it didn’t bother her as much as the chest wound did.
The new pink skin along his side was another testimony to Johnny’s
resiliency, his ability to spring back from overwhelming odds.
But the chest wound was a warning, a dreadful reminder of what could have
finished, she hesitated, one hand still resting over the bandage.
Slowly she raised her eyes to find Johnny watching her with reserved
detachment. It was a look she
recognized, one that always made her feel uneasy.
It was the look he used when he was uncomfortable with a situation.
The mask of Madrid had slid into place.
Whether he was aware of it or not, she didn’t know.
But she’d learned enough in the two and a half years to know that the
mask always hid something.
that feel better?”
nodded then pointed toward his shirt lying on the floor.
“My shirt, please.”
pivoted on her knees and picked up the shirt.
As she stood up with it, she caught sight of the Pinkerton report lying
on the end of the bed.
shook the wrinkles out of the shirt and held it out so that Johnny could get his
right arm into it.
were you reading the report?”
took the end of the shirt from her, finished shrugging into it, didn’t reply.
turned and picked up the folder. “So,
was it what you expected?”
paused in the middle of buttoning to cock his head.
“Why don’t you read it and tell me?”
don’t think I need to read it.”
gave a soft snort. “Perhaps you should. It
just might color your view a bit.”
She shook her head. “I
be so sure,” he replied darkly, turned back to his task.
already know all I need to know, Johnny.”
She stepped forward. “Reading
this report, or not reading this report; it would make no difference in how I
he shook his head. “How can you
say that when you have no idea of the things listed in there?
Men killed, bounties, grudges… And
any number of them could show up here at Lancer wanting to settle an old score.
Men like Isham and Sexton Joe are nothing compared to some of the other
guns I’ve crossed, who would only love to line their pockets with money they
could get for taking me down. Some
of them are good, very good, professional…we’d each have our chance.
But some of them, especially the ones who aren’t that good, aren’t
above stalkin’ in the shadows and back-shootin’.”
He paused ominously. “Unfortunately,
it’s not the best way to make sure you get the right corpse.
They could just as easy shoot Scott or Murdoch.
And don’t think it would bother them none, ‘cuz it won’t.”
reading this report would change that?”
Johnny snapped, pushed up out of the chair, his stiffness the only visible sign
to his discomfort. “No, it damned
well won’t. But at least you’ll
know what the score is.”
don’t need to know the score. I
know you, and that’s all that matters.”
it’s not,” Johnny hissed. “Because
you don’t really know me. You
only think you do.” He gestured curtly toward the report Teresa still held.
“That’s who I am!”
Teresa correctly softly.
Johnny enunciated. “Do you have
any idea of how many men I’ve killed in the past month and a half?”
He laughed bitterly. “I
don’t even think I know. But
they’re just a drop in the bucket. And
that report is just filled with them.”
find a way to deal with it,” Teresa answered stubbornly.
turned on her in exasperation. “Aren’t
you bothered by what’s in that report?”
But it’s clear you are.”
turned away and rubbed his face. Then
he lowered his head, sighing faintly. “Teresa.”
There was a pause. He turned. “There’s
a whole batch of young boys back there in Soledad, kids who think they want to
be like me, who want to be like Johnny Madrid.
I tried to show them that it was no life, that there was no future.
But instead I won. Damn it, I won, Teresa!
The gunfighter came in, performed his job expertly and impressively, with
the perfect number of witnesses to attest to his amazing skill, then rode off
with thanks, gifts and praises.” He
hissed his exasperation and shook his head.
“And that’s not even the worst of it.”
raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? What
happened?” Johnny echoed grimly. “Oh, only that Madrid’s been saved by a
Johnny jabbed the air with a finger. “That’s
what I said.”
are you talking about?”
Johnny placed a palm on his chest. “The
word is Saint Francis saved me, because of that medallion.”
looked at him a moment. “Is that
took a step back, waved his hand. “Good
sound quite sure.”
geez, Teresa! Don’t you start!”
tell me what happened.”
was a gunfight. There were guns,
and the bullets were flying, okay? And
the medallion just happened to stop one of them.”
one aimed for your heart. The one
that would have surely killed you had the medallion not been there.”
really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
course it bothers me! There’s people back there claiming it was some sorta
what if it was a miracle that you were saved, huh?
What if a saint did intervene? Tell
me! What would be so awful about
looked at her in wordless disbelief.
think I know, Johnny. I think I know very well why it really bothers you.
Being saved gives you worth. It
gives your life a purpose and a reason. And
that’s what bothers you.”
glared, shoved the chair out of his way with his foot as he strode toward the
door. “You don’t know what
you’re talking about.”
right, Johnny,” she said softly as she turned to watch him stalk across the
pivoted, the glare still dark and forbidding.
you were saved, then there’s a reason for all of this, isn’t there?” She
held out the dark leather binder, the Pinkerton seal and his names boldly
displayed. “And you’ll have to
make sense of it, come to terms with it, and find a way to move on.
You’ll have to find a way to redeem your past and rescue your
walked into the kitchen to see Teresa, her arms crossed about her waist, leaning
back against the counter, her head down in thought.
how was your morning?”
she turned. “You scared me.”
Scott grinned, walked to the kitchen table and sat down in front of his lunch.
He took a sip of his drink, then glanced at Teresa as he picked up one of
the sandwiches. He was preparing to
take a bite, when he frowned, noticing the troubled look on her face.
Setting the sandwich down, he leaned back in his chair.
“Okay. What happened?”
She nodded toward the second floor.
grimaced then nodded. “I’m not quite sure I handled it right.”
was after he’d taken his bath and I had talked to you outside.”
She gave a sigh and straightened up.
“I came in and was looking for him.
I thought he’d probably gone up to his room, so I went upstairs. But as I was coming down the hall, I noticed Murdoch’s door
was open. When I looked in, he was
nodded. “It was a report Murdoch
must have received from—”
Pinkertons,” Scott interrupted grimly.
know about it?”
nodded. “I’m afraid it’s what
set Johnny off in the first place. Murdoch
showed it to him that night, tried to talk to him about it.”
nodded. “Murdoch said that’s
why he left.”
report was the impetus. He got mad,
refused to talk about it, and Murdoch told him he needed to make a choice, if he
were Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid.” Scott
shrugged. “I guess he went to his
room, and that gun of his, the odd-looking one, he made the decision to get rid
made the decision to be Johnny Lancer,” Teresa interrupted.
When Scott nodded, she added, “Murdoch said Johnny had left to get rid
of the gun, to throw it in some lake.”
the report seemed to have really bothered him.
He told me I ought to read it, that it would make me change my mind about
him.” Teresa hesitated. “Have
you read it?”
shook his head. “Murdoch showed it to me once, but I refused.”
He sighed, rubbed his eyes. “Maybe
it’s good he read it over.”
looked skeptical. “I don’t know.”
raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
walked closer, pulled the opposite chair out and sat down.
“He wasn’t feeling well and was having some problems with that chest
wound. I knew he hadn’t gotten it wrapped back up like Murdoch
said it needed to be. Scott,” she
faltered, her voice suddenly growing subdued. “Scott, he would have been
closed his eyes and nodded, his face heavy with his own emotions of the memory.
thought seeing the wound wouldn’t bother me.
But it did. I tried to hide
it, but,” she shrugged. “He
could tell. And then he became
angry. He said it was his fault
that a number of boys back in Salinas wanting to be a gunfighter now.”
wasn’t how he wanted to leave things.”
hesitated a moment. “He said there are people who believe he was saved by a
nodded without surprise. “Yup.”
really adamant that he wasn’t.”
snorted softly. “Yup.”
about you, Scott? You were there. Do
you think he was saved by a saint?”
took a deep breath, pursed his lips and lowered his head.
For a moment he didn’t answer, then slowly he reached into his pocket
and withdrew a gold chain with a misshapen disc.
Teresa stopped. “That’s the medallion.”
do you have it?”
do I have it?” Scott repeated softly, shrugged as he studied it.
“I guess because I need to remember how close I came to losing my
brother. Because I need to know
that there are miracles.” He laid
the medallion on the table, the chain weaving a pattern about it as Scott let it
slide through his fingers.
tentatively reached out, moved the concave piece of metal with her finger, could
see where the back had ruptured slightly, small points of sharp metal
protruding. But the small medallion
had proved strong enough to intercept the bullet aimed toward a beating heart.
you believe Saint Francis saved him?”
sighed heavily, wiped an errant strand of blond hair away from his eyes,
regarded the medallion gravely. “Teresa,
what I do know is it’s a miracle Johnny’s here right now.
He should have been killed up in the mountains, should have never been
found and rescued in the first place, but he was.
He shouldn’t have survived that wound, but he did. He could have been killed by that horse or in that gunfight,
but wasn’t. That man Johnny had a
run-in with could have headed anywhere after he left Salinas, but he went to the
saloon in Green River where Val was eating supper. And the trader who found Barranca just happened to trade him
to Harley so that when we arrived in Salinas, we were led to the only man in
town who could help us. And then
the gunfight with a bullet stopped by a medallion of a saint.”
He shrugged, lifted the chain back up.
“I guess I believe in miracles, Teresa.”
watched silently as Scott regarded the medallion a moment before carefully
picking it back up and sliding it back into his pocket.
“He doesn’t want to believe it, though,” she said.
“But I remembered what you said, about his having a hard time accepting
was upset, angry… I told him he didn’t want to believe he was saved, because
then it all had to have a purpose…that Pinkerton report, all those years…and
that then he had to accept that there was a reason he was alive.
That he had a future.”
did he say?”
shook his head dismally.
said something. It didn’t quite
make sense. When—when he was
talking about the boys wanting to be like him, about doing his job, he said he
shouldn’t have won. But that
doesn’t make sense. If he
hadn’t won, he would have lost. And
if he lost…”
would be dead,” Scott finished.
he paused, pursed his lips as he seemed to consider the wisdom of continuing.
“You know how I told you he was
Madrid when we found him, that after he lost his memory, that’s who he’d
he wasn’t the Johnny Madrid we’re familiar with, the one who first showed up
here, with a big chip on his shoulder, or even the Johnny Madrid he seems to
change into when he’s feeling threatened or uncomfortable.
It was the Johnny Madrid he would have become if
Murdoch hadn’t brought him here. He
was the Johnny Madrid who would have been.
He was a gunfighter with no friends, no future and a past that haunted
him. He was tired of
running—tired of living. When we
showed up in Soledad, he was out in the street, meeting Wakeman in a gunfight
there was no possible way to win, planning to die.”
inhaled deeply as she bit her lips. “But
instead was he saved by a saint, in front of an entire town.”
back tears, Teresa looked down at her hands resting on the table.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said those things to him.”
Scott shook his head. “You were
right. It’s just what I’ve been trying to tell him,
only…he’s having a hard time accepting it.”
He sighed, tapped the table with his fingers, glanced vaguely toward the
door. “Is he still in his
He hasn’t been down. He
looked pretty tired, so I’m thinking he’s lying down.”
nodded, more to himself than to Teresa. He
worried his bottom lip, sighed again as he thoughtfully drummed his fingers.
“Is that report still in Murdoch’s room?”
was when I left.”
nodded again then abruptly stood up.
are you going?”
have some reading to do.”
eyes went wide. “The report?”
nodded, started for the door. “And
later, if you hear any yelling, just ignore it.”
He then paused, turned, a wry grin on his face.
“Unless it’s comin’ from me.”
sat in Murdoch’s room, hunched forward, his elbows on his knees, head in his
hands, and the Pinkerton report lying heavily in his lap.
For a full two minutes he didn’t move.
Then gradually he lifted his eyes, took a slow, measured breath.
He started to straighten, noticed the brandy decanter and snifter.
With a rueful shake of the head, he leaned back in his chair.
It wouldn’t do to have a glass—he might not stop drinking.
wondered how long he’d been in the room.
He had a feeling it was longer than he thought.
looked down at the report, now closed, the name of both Johnny Madrid and Johnny
Lancer recorded beneath the gold Pinkerton seal.
He had no trouble now empathizing with Murdoch’s delay in sending for
Johnny, in his inability, especially at first, to trust his son’s motives.
would advise caution if you decide to proceed with your intent of contacting
glad he hadn’t read the report sooner. He
was ashamed to admit it, but it probably would have distorted his view and made
it nearly impossible for him to get to know Johnny as he did now.
leaned an elbow on the arm of the chair, closed his eyes and massaged his
forehead as the other hand moved to absently rub across the top of the leather.
He gave a soft, derisive snort.
he’d been accusing Johnny of not confronting his past while Scott had been
doing the same, in spades. And the
problem was, Johnny couldn’t face his past until they had all faced his past.
Murdoch had been trying to do that night was right.
Maybe the methods could have been different, but he’d known that he
needed to do something to broach the subject of Johnny’s past, to help him
take that final step in accepting his future as Johnny Lancer.
Murdoch had initiated the process. Perhaps
it was time for Scott to push it on, to let him know that he’d taken that step
toward confronting Johnny’s past, and that it hadn’t changed anything.
up, studied the folder thoughtfully, wondered if it would be better to leave it
behind. Then with a shake of his head, he tucked it under his arm and
turned toward the door.
first time he truly felt he understood Johnny’s difficulty in adjusting to a
new life. Now it was up to Scott to help him realize that it was
possible to reconcile a past with no future, to a future with a past.
a hill, overlooking Lancer, the hacienda in the distance, Day Pardee, Coley
off my land.”
another one of them Lancers, ain’t ya?”
out, riding hard, the pounding of Barranca’s hooves beneath him, fields
between him and safety.
a little farther, just make it a little farther.
the scene changes, the open fields become filled with gravemarkers, granite
slabs and wooden planks inscribed with the names of the dead.
swerves between them, rows and rows of obstacles, home still in the distance
while the sound of pounding hoof beats grows nearer from behind.
suddenly the ground shakes, Barranca rears, striking the air in alarm, as white,
bony arms thrust up through the ground, clutching, grasping…
spurs Barranca onward, digs heels into his side, forcing the frightened animal
through the writhing sea of clutching, dead fingers…
Barranca’s hooves beat a path through the swelling mounds of the living dead,
striking at those that reach out, he glances up for another look at his
goal…at home. But home is now
lost, obscured by the figures of the dead, ghosts unwilling to die.
warning Barranca stumbles. He’s
thrown forward to the ground, into the grasping arms, the unyielding clutches of
the dead. As the cold embrace of
the past engulfs him, he realizes he never will make it…
jerk, Johnny threw his hands up to break his fall, to deflect the reaching
hands…and connected with air. He
was lying in his bed, in his room, alone.
he rolled out of bed to stand, gasping, palm pressed to his wildly beating
heart, his injuries momentarily forgotten.
Then, as the dream receded, allowing him to gain control, the foolishness
of the abrupt movement established itself, and he had to lean over with a hand
grasping the bedpost. It took him a few seconds and a number of swear words before
he was able to straighten up and take a breath.
Then, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he glanced around the room.
Sunshine still streamed through the windows.
He couldn’t have been asleep very long.
He was surprised he’d fallen asleep at all, actually.
winced at the memory of his harsh words to Teresa and felt guilty.
But he hadn’t been in the best frame of mind at the time.
Reading an account of his past had put him in a belligerent mood.
He should probably apologize and then go look at those accounts Murdoch
had left for him to do.
a step toward the door, then halted, glancing forlornly at his pants.
He couldn’t do anything until he found some that fit. Gripping the waistband with one hand, he went to the dresser
and began opening drawers, determined to find something that fit better.
looking in the third drawer, no closer to finding a better fitting pair of
pants, when there was a knock at the door.
He recognized it as being Scott’s.
in,” he said curtly as he searched through the contents of the drawer.
“Where in blazes are some britches that fit?”
think they’re all in my room,” Scott said.
looked over his shoulder. “I
checked your room and didn’t see the trunk.”
were unpacked. Your clothes are still sitting on the chair behind the
door,” Scott replied.
Johnny sighed, pushed the drawer closed and straightened up.
“Well, I’d better go get them, as I can’t very well go running
around like this.” He turned
around, his arms spread out theatrically as the pants sagged around his waist. Then as his eyes settled on the leather binder under
Scott’s arm, they narrowed slightly, and he drew his hands in to his hips.
said you were reading this earlier,” Scott said, drawing the binder out from
under his arm and holding it up.
well, the original was more exciting,” Johnny replied dryly.
don’t know. It held my
raised an eyebrow, his expression guarded.
“You read it?”
nodded, shut the door and walked into the room.
nonchalantly began to tuck his shirt down inside the oversized pants.
“Well, don’t believe everything you read.” He paused in his task,
raised a finger. “Abilene, that wasn’t me.
Wasn’t there that year. And
Omaha, well I’ve never even been to
Nebraska; don’t know where they ever got that story.” He started to turn his
attention back to tucking in his shirt, then stopped and glanced up once more.
“Oh, and that stuff on the bottom of page three, ‘bout that stage
bein’ robbed. I was there, but
it’s not quite like they got it.”
you don’t have to go defending your actions to me.”
ain’t defending my actions,” Johnny replied, the cool smile that signified
Madrid was in control was on his face. “I’m
just saying you can’t believe everything you read…or hear.”
He shook his head. “Amazing
what highly educated people’ll believe, isn’t it?”
take that border dispute between Hayes and Williams…” Johnny cut in.
“I was involved heavier than the Pinks obviously found out.” He
turned and walked to the chair where his saddlebag was hanging over the back.
“And the thing about killing that man when I was fifteen—‘bout it
being the first man I’d killed.” He shook his head as he reached into the saddlebag and
produced the modified revolver. “They
got that wrong, too. I was
felt his chest constrict as Johnny looked up from the revolver in his hand, knew
he needed to redirect the conversation before it got out of hand.
that time in Nevada when I was working for the silver mines…now they don’t
list any killings, but I can tell you for a fact, there were five.
But then an older Chinese couple who got caught in the crossfire probably
weren’t worth the ink to include, and the other three,” he shrugged, gazed
down the barrel of the gun, “well, they were just common, nameless thieves. What do you think?”
think you’re trying to escalate this into an argument.”
you’re not gonna oblige, I s’pose?”
shook his head. “Nope. I think
I’ll just stand here, letting you blow off steam until you tire yourself out
enough to listen.”
what are you going to tell me, huh? What
words of wisdom does my big brother have to make me feel better?
To make it all go away?”
walked forward until only the chair separated them.
“None. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away.”
then a hell of a lot of good you are,” Johnny retorted as he turned and walked
toward the dresser.
followed. “I can’t make it go
away, but I can be here for you. I
can try to understand that a past like this will leave scars.
And help you to realize that just because you’ll always have some
scars, it doesn’t mean the wounds didn’t heal.
They do, and you can move on with your life…a new life.”
stood silent a moment, his arms resting on the dresser, the gun in his hands.
“We took a job with Stanton, just a medium-sized outfit. Mitchell was trying to take him over, was trying to take
everybody in the area over.” He
gave a soft laugh. “Sorta like Wakeman…
There’s a lot of Wakemans around, Scott.”
He paused and shook his head, another short chuckle. “He’d send his men in, they’d shoot up cattle, leave
them rotting in the sun, poison water holes, pay off the workers to leave, go to
great lengths to cause dissension… Stanton
was having a hard time of it. But
we came in, got his men organized, taught them what they needed to be looking
for, how to be prepared. We had a
few run-ins. Mitchell had a good
gun, Drayton, seasoned, knew his stuff. But
we proved to be a match and after a few run-ins that didn’t go the way Drayton
had them planned, things began to settle down and Mitchell seemed to turn his
attention elsewhere.” He paused,
took a deep breath. “Then Wes was in town with one of the ladies.”
He cocked his head, a half-grin on his face.
“You know Wes. If he
weren’t working, he was with the ladies, and old Wes, well, he preferred not
to work too much.”
glanced back at the gun. “Well, Wes heard rumors that Drayton was getting
together a large group of men to attack us while we returned from Cimarron with
the month’s payroll. I knew it
must be true, the gal knew too many of our details to be just rumor. And I also
knew that we didn’t have the manpower or guns to take on a full assault as
Riley and Mark, Stanton’s son, had left the day before to an auction.
So we were shorthanded, not by much, but Riley was the only other
gunfighter Stanton had who was worth his wages in ability, if you know what I
mean.” He was silent a moment.
“So I decided to attack them. I
sent on Wes immediately for the payroll by himself, then the next day, about six
of us were waiting for Drayton and his crew to ride up through the pass where
they thought they’d settle in to ambush us.”
He was silent a moment. “We
didn’t leave a one standing. So
that massacre in there, there’s a bit more to it.”
think there’s more to all the stories in here,” Scott said.
nodded, then bent his head between his arms.
“There were a lot of men killed while I worked for Stanton.
A lot of men. It was a mess
there, a real bloodbath. But I
didn’t kill Laura.”
looked up, glanced at Scott, then shook his head.
“Stanton was a good man, Scott. He trusted me and I—” He shook his
head again, glanced back at the gun in his hands, then abruptly straightened up.
He pulled the wooden chest toward him, opened it and slid the revolver in
before closing the lid with a sharp snap.
did kill her?” Scott asked. “Do
remained still a moment, then turned around.
Wordlessly he met Scott’s eyes.
do know, don’t you?” Scott prompted.
can be done about it, Scott. She’s
dead. Leave it at that.”
you’re the one who’s wanted for her murder.”
it’s better that way.”
are you talking about? How can it
be better? There’s now a
four-thousand dollar bounty on you!”
know,” Johnny replied softly, settled his hands on his hips as he glanced down
at the floor.
how about this Riley? How does he fit into this?
Did you kill him? Did he
shook his head. “I didn’t even know he was dead until…well, until
months later. He was still standing
when I left.”
you left?” Scott reached a hand out to grip Johnny by the arm.
“You were there when Laura was shot, weren’t you?”
closed his eyes for a moment, then slowly looked up and nodded.
“Scott, she died in my arms.”
on Johnny’s face told Scott all he needed to know about the anguish that
moment had caused his brother and still caused him.
Open grief was written across his face.
pulled his arm out of Scott’s grasp. “Let
it go, Scott. It’s best to let it go.”
How the hell can I let it go when I can see that you can’t?
Whatever happened there in Kansas destroyed a part of you, set you down a
darker path than you’d been on before. After
Kansas,” Scott held up the Pinkerton report, “your jobs clearly became more
‘Scott’ me! It’s here!
It’s right here in this report.”
He brandished the folder. “When
Madrid reappears—when you reappear—after
Cisco, Harley and Wes cleaned you up from the laudanum, you became even more
notorious for your recklessness. How
you ever survived some of these escapades is beyond me.”
good,” Johnny retorted.
glared without humor. “I’m not
being funny, Johnny.”
am I,” Johnny snapped back.
then. You were good.
That’s not what this discussion is about.”
isn’t it?” Johnny crossed his
arms. “If I hadn’t been so
good, there wouldn’t be a report. If I hadn’t been so good, I’d either be some poor tramp
cowboy or dead.”
was your answer back in Soledad,” Scott shot back.
expression frosted to an icy glare. “Scott, death had been the answer for a
long time.” He turned abruptly,
walked to the window and looked out. For
a long moment he was quiet, until Scott thought perhaps he’d just closed down,
was refusing to discuss it any further. Then
he heard Johnny inhale deeply. “At
night,” he began, his voice so quiet Scott had to step closer to hear.
“At night sometimes, I’d go to my room.
Usually over some saloon…stayed in a few nicer hotels, too, if I had
the money…and if there were any in the town.
Generally my work didn’t take me to the nicer towns.”
He paused, was quiet again as if he’d forgotten he’d even started to
say something. Then he lifted a
hand to the curtain, drew it to the side. “Sometimes
I’d go to the window, you know. Look
out. It’d be night.
You could hear the noise from the saloons, the laughter, music,
brawls…people enjoying the night before the day once again began.
But they were people who lived in the day, you know.
They were just letting loose for awhile, enjoying the night while it
existed. But yet they looked
forward to the next day, to what was still coming.”
He dropped the curtain back into place, took another breath.
“I often wished I could look forward to the day like they did, to have
something to...” His hand lifted, grasped as if trying to hold something, but
there was only air. He shook
his head. “I used to dread the
night, almost more than the day, because…because at night, unless you got
really drunk, you have only the ghosts to keep you company…and revenge to give
you hope.” Johnny was silent a
moment, then continued, “After reading the report, I’m surprised Murdoch
ever sent for me.” He shook his
head. “It must have taken a lot of guts.”
of faith,” Scott stated.
Pardee.” Johnny ruefully shook
his head. “Scott, when I first
met up with Reveles, when I decided that I wanted to be a gunfighter—no, not a
gunfighter, but the best
gunfighter—it was because of revenge. Hate
and revenge. I planned to someday
intimidate Murdoch. Play him.
Terrorize him. Destroy him.
It was my goal, gave me a purpose to succeed, to become the best.”
was silent a moment, carefully weighing his next words.
“Then why didn’t you ever show up here?
Why did it take Murdoch’s offer of a thousand dollars to bring you to
Lancer? From the report, you were close enough a number of times to
shook his head and turned around. “Revenge
is a wonderful goal, Scott. But
it’s a fragile reason for living.” He
turned back to the window. “The
reason I never returned, was because I was afraid to.
Because once I fulfilled my purpose, then…then there’d be nothing
left. Once I’d killed Murdoch, I
wouldn’t even have revenge to keep me going.”
when you found out he was trying to track you down, you stayed ahead of him.”
became a game. I—I told myself I
wanted to meet him on my terms.”
when he made you that offer, you came.”
shook his head, made a soft sound of derision.
“Yes. The offer.
A thousand dollars.”
that really the reason you came?”
That’s a hell of a lot of money, even for me to turn down.”
you really did think he was sending for you, because of what you were.”
turned around. “Of course. Especially
after finding out the sorta trouble he was having.” He turned back to the window.
“But now I’m surprised he sent for me, knowing what he did.
Knowing what’s in that report.”
do you mean?”
in there, Scott. I worked with Pardee before.
He knew that. He also knew
there couldn’t have been any love lost between us, and that I had the
reputation of going against some of the larger ranches.
Any mistrust of me woulda been well founded.”
had a hard time, at first,” Scott reluctantly admitted.
Scott said, taking another step forward and reaching out to put a hand on his
brother’s shoulder. “Though we
were thrown together in an odd set of circumstances, I grew to admire you.
And I’ve gotten to know you as well as I could.
But I’ve always known there was more; that I was missing a large part
of what made you who you are. Then all of this happened, and I found myself in
Soledad, not with Johnny Lancer, but with Johnny Madrid.
And I felt so inadequate.”
pronouncement, Johnny turned his head, disbelief on his face.
nodded. “You see, when you needed
help, you didn’t want me. You
wanted Harley. When you were really sick, it was Harley who knew what to do,
who knew what to say to calm you.” He
shook his head. “I was at a loss,
Johnny. And it was such a horrible
feeling. After two and a half
years, I found out that by avoiding your past, I had made a horrible mistake.
Ignoring Johnny Madrid didn’t make him cease to exist, instead it was
robbing me of my role as your brother.”
it was you who stayed with me, who saw me through.”
shook his head. “When Harley decided to leave, I about panicked.
Even though I didn’t like him being around, I dreaded his leaving,
because I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to say.
But he did me a huge favor. He
forced me—he forced us both to face things we’d been trying to avoid.
He showed me Johnny Madrid, showed me that other side of you that you
keep hidden under that gunfighter mask. And
that’s when I realized that I was now ready to confront your past.” He held
up the folder. “Because if I
can’t face your ghosts and lay them to rest, how can I expect you to?”
what did you think?”
blinked, was quiet a moment. “You’re
my brother, Johnny. There’s you
and me. And whatever is out there,
we’ll find a way to handle it. It
doesn’t change my feelings at all. I’ll
stick with you no matter what. It
doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard knowing these things are a part of your
past, but it does mean that the past
doesn’t change how I view the future, or how I view you.
It gave me a better understanding of how hard it must be for you, how
different your life must seem from what you had expected.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow, a hint of a smile on his face.
“Scott, you have no idea.”
nodded firmly. “Yes. Now I
put the last plate away, wiped her hands on the apron, untied it and laid it to
the side. She did a quick visual
survey of the kitchen, nodding to herself.
With Maria’s help, she had taken care of the dishes while Rosa had
prepared the dough for biscuits in the morning.
Then she had sent the two other ladies home while she finished putting
away the washed dishes.
had been delicious—she liked having the extra help in the kitchen—and Johnny
had shown up to eat with the family. Murdoch
had beamed proudly, obviously glad to have his entire family back at the table.
Scott, too, had been smiling, enjoying the conversation.
She knew Scott had gone upstairs in the afternoon, read the Pinkerton
report and spent some time talking to Johnny, but when he had come down, he had
said nothing; he’d merely nodded to her.
ate well, smiled, entered the conversation, but to Teresa, she felt like he was
still trying too hard, like there was something else occupying his thoughts,
or…or like he was trying to convince himself that things were normal.
and Scott, from what she could tell, didn’t sense that.
She didn’t know if what she was feeling was real, or if Murdoch and
Scott were just trying not to look too hard, were just happy they had Johnny
back and he appeared to be joining them.
shook her head. Maybe she was
looking too hard. Johnny, Scott and
Murdoch had all been through so much in the past number of weeks that perhaps
she was being unrealistic to expect things to really be comfortable right away.
Wounds had been opened up, issues had been raised.
It would take some time to sort things all out again.
still hadn’t liked how Johnny had smiled.
It hadn’t been real, and the look in his eyes had left her uneasy.
morning, Murdoch eased his horse to a stop at the top of a small knoll.
He could see his men hard at work digging away at the bottom and sides of
a dry pond. The rainy season would
come soon, and Murdoch had noticed last year that this area had flooded after
they had changed the flow of the stream that came out of the hills.
If they widened and deepened the pond, he hoped it would retain more
water and perhaps last into mid-summer instead of drying up immediately.
glanced up at the sun, saw that it must be about noon.
He had told Teresa not to expect him back for lunch again.
He said he planned to eat here near the dry pond with the men and had
left instructions with Jelly to bring out food and fresh water.
It wasn’t that he really had to be out here and couldn’t make it back
to the ranch, but he felt a certain amount of obligation to show himself around
the ranch as much as possible since he’d been gone for so long.
off a glove, reached into his pocket for a kerchief, and wiped the sweat from
had it been? He gave a shake of his head.
That’d been, what? The
very beginning of September when they’d heard from Val where Johnny was.
And now, well, it was what? The…the
first of October? It had been about
a month since they’d left. Yet it
felt more like a lifetime.
shrugged his shoulders, rubbed the spot in his lower back where Pardee’s
bullet had caught him, then un-slung his canteen.
they were all back, and safely, despite how it looked there for awhile.
He wondered when he and Scott would have a court date.
He figured they’d hear something soon.
replaced the canteen and put on his glove.
been good to see Johnny down at the table last night.
He’d eaten well, seemed much more at ease.
He’d been surprised later that evening when Scott had come to him and
told him that he had read the Pinkerton report, and that Johnny had read it
earlier in the day, also. At first
the news had troubled him, but then the more he thought about it, the more he
realized it was probably the best way to handle the subject.
Scott certainly had a better rapport with his brother than Murdoch had.
And maybe it was best to let Scott be the one to talk to him about what
the report contained first before he questioned Johnny on some of the more
worrisome contents. Things would
work out now, he was sure. They’d
come too far for it not to.
one of the workers look up, see him and wave.
The other eight men also raised their heads, acknowledging their boss
with a nod or a wave. He urged his
horse forward. It was good to be
back to managing the ranch.
leaned back in the large, leather chair, rubbed a kink out of his neck, then
sighed as he leaned forward and stretched cautiously from one side to the other.
how does Murdoch do it, sitting here looking at numbers for hours and hours?
I haven’t even put in two full days at it, and I’m ‘bout ready to
climb the walls.
sighed again, glanced around the great room, was desperate to look at anything
but columns of numbers. He then swiveled the chair around so that he could look out
the large picture window. In the
distance he could see some cattle moving leisurely across the field; off to the
side rode a couple of cowhands. From
the left, another cowhand appeared, raising a hand in greeting to someone just
out of Johnny’s sight.
swiveled back, smiled as Teresa walked across the room carrying a plate and a
mug. She met his smile as she
placed them on the desk in front of him.
bored,” Johnny replied with a grin as he picked up a sandwich.
“Ummmm. I see you brought
me some pie, too.”
nodded. “We made it this morning.
It just came out of the oven, so it’s warm.”
the only way to eat pie.”
are you about done?” she asked with a nod toward the pile of papers in front
chuckled, finished chewing the bite he had in his mouth as he gestured forlornly
at the papers in front of him. “At
the rate I’m going, I figure I’ll be at it ‘til Christmas.”
smiled. “I really don’t think
Murdoch expects you to get it all done. I
think he’s just trying to keep you occupied.”
laughed. “I know.
I think he and Scott would both just as soon chain me to the house for
I certainly don’t mind,” Teresa put her hands on her hips and rocked to the
side. “I rather like the
you do?” Johnny smiled, raised an eyebrow.
“Now that makes bein’ housebound like an old lady almost worth it.”
might want to rephrase that, Johnny Lancer, or I’m liable to smack you.”
couldn’t catch me,” Johnny taunted.
Teresa smirked. “I’ve seen you
moving. And I hate to tell you, but
right now, I’m a far sight faster than you, and that’s in skirts.” With a flounce, she pivoted and marched out of the room, her
head held high.
chuckled, took another bite of the sandwich, then swiveled back to stare out the
window. If he didn’t get outside
and get some fresh air soon, he was liable to start mumbling incoherently to
himself. He reached around for the
plate, then leaned back comfortably in the chair, legs stretched out and
crossed. He ate while watching the ranch hands going about their business.
Once he had finished, he straightened up, put down the plate, picked up
the other half of the sandwich, and stood.
He glanced toward the steps, patted his side as he realized his holster
was upstairs, then shook his head with a chuckle as he admitted a walk around
the house probably didn’t warrant the trouble to go up and get it. It’s just
that he felt odd without it.
on the sandwich, he strolled out of the house.
He paused on the porch for a minute, breathing deeply the fresh air.
Then he nodded to a cowhand who waved to him before strolling around the
porch toward the corrals.
stopped at the corral where Jelly’s mare and foal were.
The little filly inquisitively stepped forward to poke her head among the
railings. Johnny slowly reached out, rubbed it softly on the forelock.
The mother gave a soft snort and the filly obediently withdrew.
leaned against the fence, watching the mother and baby as he finished his
sandwich. Then he turned and
sauntered back toward the house, deciding to go in through the courtyard, the
possibility that he might be able to snatch another piece of pie his main
incentive. As he walked through the
entrance gate, he heard a voice call out his name.
Turning around, he saw Maria bustling toward him.
she called again.
paused, waiting while she hurried across the yard.
she repeated as she stopped in front of him and placed her hands on her hips.
“Why did you not tell me?”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Tell
She always said it like that. Like
it was one name…one person.
if you mean about being shot, I—”
course not. I knew about that.
I can tell just by looking at you when you’ve been hurt.”
I don’t know—?”
took some letters into town for Señor Lancer. He
heard the story.” She paused, her
expression changing from exasperation to awe. “Why didn’t you tell me
you’d been saved by Saint Francis?”
nodded. “Juanito, this is
important. Why didn’t you tell me?”
didn’t tell you because it’s not true.”
frowned. “The medallion of Saint
Francis didn’t stop a bullet here?” She suddenly reached out and placed a
hand on Johnny’s chest.
surprise, Johnny quickly raised his hands and stepped back.
“I was just lucky, Maria.”
Don’t make light of this. It
does God no justice, nor yourself. You
must listen, Juanito. He is trying
to tell you something. Miracles do
not just happen every day.”
perhaps He made a mistake this time.”
This is not funny!”
not laughing,” Johnny replied sourly as he turned away.
reached out and grabbed his arm. “You
will listen to me, Juanito. I know
you. I changed you when you were a
You will listen! I heard a
rumor that while you were gone, you didn’t remember that you’d returned to
your father. That you forgot that
you were no longer a gunfighter. Is
regarded Maria silently for a second before nodding.
you were in Soledad, you were only Madrid, then.
There was no Lancer, Sí?”
nodded. “I was only Madrid.”
you were facing a man and his gang who had kidnapped women and children.”
was one lady and two
though you were injured, you were still trying to save them.”
Johnny waved a hand impatiently. “I’m
not sure what the whole story is you’ve been hearing, but I’m sure it’s
gotten blown all out of proportion. It
wasn’t a big deal, okay? There
were hostages, a couple of bad guys, I met them, some shots were exchanged
the one meant for the heart of Madrid was stopped by a saint’s medallion,”
Maria finished, her gaze even.
was saved. Not Johnny Lancer.”
you see, Juanito? It is a sign from God. Losing
your memory, forgetting all but your life as Madrid.
It was not an accident. It
was not a mistake. God is telling
you something. He is telling you
that Madrid’s work is not done. There
is something left unfinished that you must take care of before you can truly let
go of that life and be Johnny Lancer.”
stared at Maria dazedly.
know it’s been hard, Juanito. I
look at you and see the small boy who used to live here.
And I am sad that you weren’t given the chance to grow up here, to
become the young man you were supposed to be.
The wrong life was thrust upon you.
It was not your fault, it was not your doing, but it is what happened. And you did well with what you were given.
Before I knew that you were my little Juanito, I had heard of you.
Anyone with family from the border knows of Johnny Madrid. You stood up for the weak, you protected—”
Johnny interrupted, shook his head sadly. “My
motives were not always good. Things
didn’t always work out for the best.”
know,” Maria nodded sadly. “And
that is why you still must atone.” She
paused, searched deeply into Johnny’s eyes.
“I think God is telling you that the work of Madrid is not yet done.
Once it is finished, then you will be able to feel at peace with your
past and be able to move on as Johnny Lancer.”
walked across the great room, a hot cup of coffee in his hands.
Absently he reached into his pocket for his timepiece, saw that it was
nearing nine o’clock. He figured
Sheriff Crawford would be arriving before too long.
He felt quite certain that once the sheriff had read the letter sent from
Salinas, he would realize Murdoch hadn’t been kidding when he’d stated that
there was a lot to discuss.
Crawford was, at that moment, just riding through the entrance gate of the
Lancer hacienda. He was deep in thought regarding the information Murdoch had
left him in the letter concerning the events, which had transpired in Soledad
and Salinas. He was concerned about
how his friend was now doing, as Johnny hadn’t looked too well when they’d
arrived on the stage a couple of days earlier.
After the family had left for the ranch, he had Sunny describe in more
detail the incident with the stage bandits, and found there’d been a good
reason Johnny had looked a bit rough.
had proved even more startling than the news he’d read in the letter, was what
transpired the next day. It had
come to his attention first in a saloon at lunchtime.
The rumor of how a saint had saved Johnny’s life in a gunfight in
Soledad. The story seemed to have
trailed in from the new pastor’s son and from Sunny himself.
Val had tried to talk to Reverend Pearson about it, but the new minister
had looked at him strangely and seemed reluctant to discuss it, finally just
admitting that it did indeed appear that some religious medallion had been
responsible for stopping a bullet.
been unsure what to make of this news. Saints
were a bit out of his realm of expertise. He
preferred to think a man was in charge of his own destiny, and the idea of
saints and angels poking their noses into people’s business bothered him.
morning, though, the rumor had pretty well been established in Green River, and
he had no doubt that it was moving
on to Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells, the two other towns that bordered near the
and Rosa were preparing a roast for lunch.
Since Sheriff Crawford was expected, it was only fitting to have the
larger meal earlier in the day. They
had already baked four pies that morning and were now making flour tortillas.
In between snatches of Mexican folk songs, they discussed the meaning of
Saint Francis’ intervention in Johnny’s life.
gave Charlemagne a parting rub then walked out of the corral, closing the gate
behind him. As he did, he heard the
sound of a rider approaching.
sheriff tipped his worn, stained hat and slowed his horse to a walk as he
approached the corral. “Hey, there, Scott! I
hope I’m not too early.”
shook his head. “Not at all. Murdoch
asked me to be back around ten.”
made a few rounds early this morning before leaving, so I should have the rest
of the day,” Val said as he dismounted.
Sheriff Crawford,” Jelly greeted as he walked out of the barn.
“You here to talk to Murdoch?”
nodded. “He asked me to come
nodded. “You want me to see to
do it,” Val replied.
Jelly came up and put a hand on the reins.
“If’n Murdoch’s in there waitin’ for you, it’s best to go on
in. Amigo ‘n Chuck can talk over
raised an eyebrow. “Who’s Chuck?”
patted Jelly’s back as he walked past. “Charlemagne.”
rolled his eyes at Val. “Pompous
bit of name, don’t you think?”
listen to him,” Scott countered as he took Val by the shoulder and started
toward the ranch. “He’s getting senile.”
my foot!” Jelly called out. “I
don’t go namin’ my horse something no one can spell!”
you just name them after lost loves!”
think I hear Mabel callin’ you, Jelly!” Scott laughed.
just jealous,” Jelly huffed.
laughed good-naturedly as he continued toward the house.
his room, Johnny watched Scott and Val walk around toward the front of the
house. He wasn’t surprised to see
the sheriff from Green River. Murdoch
had mentioned that he’d invited Val for lunch.
He knew that Val deserved to hear the whole story about his sheriff
friend from Paso Robles and he was also aware that there would be details he’d
need to supply regarding the stage robbery attempt.
He also knew that Murdoch would feel it necessary to go into details
about some of what else had transpired in Salinas, as he was quite certain
Murdoch felt that hiring a gunfighter to track down Johnny wasn’t beyond the
Judge. It was a worry he was sure
Murdoch was trying to deal with, and had no intention of adding to it by
supplying the fact that he’d already had a run-in with the new gunfighter the
night before they left town.
Teresa walked into the great room carrying linens for the table, she saw Murdoch
standing at the large window, sipping his coffee.
you like me to get you another cup?” she asked as she sat the linens on the
turned around, smiled and shook his head. “No,
I’ve had too much already.” He
glanced absently toward the door. “Scott
should be back soon.”
nodded, knew Murdoch wasn’t looking for a response.
If Scott was expected at a certain time, he would be there.
we should have enough food. Maria
and Rosa have been baking all morning.”
looked back and smiled. “I can
smell the pies.”
grinned. “I don’t know what it
is about men and pies. I swear, anything can be cooking, and they don’t care.
It’s food. But bake a pie,
and you fellows can smell it a mile away.”
think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.”
shook her head, but was cut off from replying when the front door opened.
Sheriff Crawford,” Murdoch greeted.
Teresa! Pies!” Scott said,
his eyes searching toward the kitchen.
apple, two pecan, and a…” Val stopped, gave an appreciative whiff.
apricot,” Teresa replied with a quick ‘I-told-you-so’ glance at Murdoch.
have some cider,” she said, turning to Val and Scott.
“Would you like some?”
nodded emphatically, then suddenly remembered he still had on his hat and
grabbed it off his head. “Oh, yes. That
nodded. “A large glass.
It’s getting hot out there.”
turned to leave, then stopped as Johnny entered from the hallway.
think I smell pie,” he said with a grin.
sighed loudly. “I told you so,” she stated as she gave him a quick wave
and left for the kitchen.
told who what?” Johnny asked.
not sure,” Scott said then looked to Murdoch.
shrugged. “You know women.”
Johnny and Val all nodded.
the cider was passed around, the topic of conversation stayed neutral.
Val ventured to ask how Johnny was feeling, and accepted without question
Johnny’s pronouncement that he was doing just fine.
Teresa set the table, then Maria and Rosa came from the kitchen bearing
the efforts of their morning labors. The
meal was eaten with gusto, especially on the part of Val, who asked for thirds
of everything. Then once the dishes
were cleared away, Teresa and Rosa produced the pies and clean plates.
Murdoch procured a snifter of brandy for all, and while Teresa returned
to the kitchen to help clean up the dishes, the subject of the stage robbery was
couldn’t find out who they were,” Val said with a shrug.
“I took a posse back to the spot, and we tried to track down the one
who got away, but lost the trail up in the rocky ground.”
doubt you’ll be seeing him again anyway,” Scott said.
think they’re the same bunch that held up two stages north of here last month.
The descriptions match anyway. In
the first robbery they got away with quite a bit.
The second time they didn’t do so well and they shot the driver and one
of the passengers was badly beaten. I
think they’ve been hoping to repeat their first haul,” Val observed.
stopped while they were ahead,” Johnny stated dryly.
Murdoch began. “Did you read through the letter I sent?”
nodded with an uncomfortable glance toward Johnny.
“Yeah. I read it.
Not a very likable character, that judge fella.”
get no argument from us,” Murdoch acknowledged grimly.
“But he does have some pull up in Sacramento, I’m afraid.
I don’t know that he’ll risk trying anything right now, especially
with his son’s trial coming up, but I wanted you to know what we’re dealing
hear any rumblings of anything from that quarter, I’ll let you know,” Val
took a deep breath. “I guess you
should also know that we believe he may have been responsible for what happened
to your friend, Sheriff Hawkins.”
nodded grimly. “I had my doubts,
but why do you think the Judge had something to do with it?”
just seems too suspicious and…and too convenient,” Scott answered.
“Your friend was one of the few eyewitnesses to what happened in
Soledad whose testimony in court would have held a lot of weight.”
seemed to consider this, his gaze dropping to study the table with a frown.
“He was also one of the finest horsemen I’ve ever met in my life.
His gettin’ thrown like that just don’t stand to reason.”
He sighed. “So you think
Judge Wakeman had him killed?”
don’t know that for sure,” Murdoch said.
“We just think it’s a strong possibility.
It’s another reason we want you to be aware of what’s going on.
We just don’t know how far to trust this judge.”
don’t,” Johnny stated suddenly. “Only
a fool would trust him.”
looked at Johnny, who until now had said nothing.
I’m not a fool,” Johnny added and stood up.
watched Johnny walk toward the brandy decanter and refill his snifter.
looked from Scott to Murdoch and back again.
don’t plan on trusting him, son,” Murdoch said.
took a drink then turned around. “Just
you think he’ll still try to get in touch with Kansas?” Scott asked.
looked at him and shrugged. “If
he doesn’t, someone else is going to.”
turned to Val. “That’s something else I need to talk to you about.
I plan to contact the Pinkerton agency.
I’d like to see what other options we might have.
There must be some other recourse than to send Johnny to Kansas.”
nodded. “As I told Scott, out
here, none of the regular lawmen are gonna know ‘bout it.
We got enough problems keeping the local rowdies under control without
worryin’ ‘bout some old out-of-state bounty.”
with four thousand dollars now being offered?” Scott asked.
part of that’s state offered,” Val pointed out.
“A lot of those personal ones, well…they get reneged on.”
you don’t think it’s a problem then?” Murdoch asked.
never said that. If Mr. Stanton back there hires himself another couple of
fellows to track Johnny down, then there’ll be problems.”
perhaps I should look into hiring a lawyer and have him check into the
possibilities of applying for a pardon.”
may be worth looking into,” Val agreed. “After
all, it did happen some time ago.”
if someone does come looking for Johnny, with all the stuff that happened
recently, I suppose it’s not going to be hard to find him,” Scott observed.
shook his head and chuckled dryly. “Actually,
I’m more worried ‘bout this saint business.
Now that’s bound to draw some trouble.”
know, that rumor ‘bout Johnny being saved by a saint.”
He glanced over at Johnny. “How
the hell’d you go and pull that stunt?”
grimaced sourly, but didn’t reply.
leaned forward in surprise. “You’ve
heard about that?”
course I heard about it. The whole
town’s heard about it. Now that’s
the type of story we don’t need. Like
a beacon to every young two-bit gunfighter.”
do you mean?” Scott asked.
means,” Johnny interrupted from where he still stood beside the brandy table,
“a story like that will draw young guns faster than flies to a rotting
and Murdoch turned to Johnny in surprise.
right,” Val nodded. “Any young hothead with a desire to make a name for himself
will see this as a quick way to notoriety.”
plugs me,” Johnny added without emotion, “my name, my reputation, it’s
his. That’s the way the game
turned to Val. “There’s got to be something we can do.”
rumor is started,” Val said with a shrug.
“I don’t see what can be done about it.”
chuckled darkly. “Just think of the fee I could command now.
The gunfighter with God on his side.”
Murdoch snapped. “This isn’t funny, and it’s certainly no game.”
no? Then how come you’re all
treating it like it is?” He
finished his brandy in one gulp, sat it on the small table then walked forward.
“You’re sitting here, discussing strategy and options as if it’s a
game, acting as if all you need to do is to just find the right combination and
it’ll all work out and you’ll win. Murdoch,
you think there’s a way to handle this by using the law.
Scott, you think I can talk about it, discuss it, then as long as I keep
my head down, everything’ll be all right.
Val, you think if you just keep an ear out for any word of bounty hunters
in the area, that you’ll be able to alert me and then…what?
I can run and hide out ‘til they get tired of looking?”
He gave a dismal chuckle and shook his head. “You know, it’s funny.
You’ve all accused me of not confronting my past.
And you’re right. I haven’t been. But
neither have you. Father Alvarez
first tried, then Maria tried, to make me understand that the goal of truly
being Johnny Lancer can’t happen until I’ve redeemed Johnny Madrid, until
I’ve tied up the loose ends, faced his ghosts and laid them to rest.”
listen, Murdoch. No matter how badly I want to be a Lancer, things are going
to keep happening, forcing me to be Madrid, forcing me to face his ghosts.”
but you don’t have to face it alone. You
have a family now and we can help.”
you have. You ignored the Pinkertons’ warning about contacting me, trusting me
to choose a new path for my life. You
saved me from the rurales and gave me a place to hide out until I was ready to
confront my past. But mostly, Murdoch, you kept looking for me.
For all those years, you didn’t give up hope of finding me and bringing
me back. And even, even, after you found out what path my life had taken, that I
wasn’t perhaps what you had imagined…or what you’d hoped to find…when it
came down to it, you sent me the same offer you sent Scott.”
could do nothing less, Johnny. You
were my son.”
shook his head. “No, Murdoch. Scott
was your son, being raised by his grandfather.
You knew what you were getting into with him. I, however, was Johnny Madrid.
A gunfighter, whose only goal at one time was to eventually see you
dead.” He paused for a second. “You
knew very well that you may have been making the biggest mistake of your life by
asking me here, yet you went ahead with it.
You took a chance on me.”
believed in you.”
when I didn’t believe in you,” Johnny added with a quiet nod.
both learned not to assume,” Murdoch replied.
nodded. “Just like that Pinkerton
report, with its gaps and incorrect details, I learned there was more to your
story, too.” He turned around,
paced a few steps away then turned. “When
you talked to me that night, wanted me to make a decision about who I was, to
face what’s in that report, I went to my room and thought about it a long
time. I finally came to the
conclusion that if I got rid of my gunfighter weapon that would be the act which
would release me from my past. And
then I’d be able to come to you as the son you had tried so hard to find all
those years.” He shook his head. “But
I know now that throwing a gun into a lake is not the answer.
Because no matter how hard I try to convince myself I’m no longer
Madrid, there will always be someone out there to whom I am
Johnny Madrid. And that’s the
other thing I’ve learned. I
can’t really escape my past, I can’t really escape the fact of who I was or
what I was or what I did. It’s an
uneasy thing to admit that I never expected to have this problem, because I
never expected to live this long. Now
the most I can hope for is to fix what I can, seek penance for what I can’t,
and redeem what’s left of Johnny Madrid.”
how do you propose to do that?” Scott interrupted.
going back to Kansas.”
“Kansas?” Scott echoed. “You said you couldn’t go back there.”
“Until I face the ghosts in Kansas, I’ll never be truly free to be Johnny Lancer. I don’t want to go back there, but I have to. Kansas isn’t just affecting me. It’s affecting all of you. Murdoch’s decision not to run for office anymore—”
“I wasn’t interested, Johnny. I told you that,” Murdoch quickly interjected.
Johnny turned. “I know what you said. The Judge didn’t buy it, and neither do I.” He turned back to Scott. “And what happens if the next bounty hunters aren’t so professional and decide to use Teresa as a means to catch me, or what if they mistake you for me?”
“We don’t look anything alike,” Scott protested.
“In the dark, all the shadows start to look the same,” Johnny replied without emotion.
With a shake of his head, Scott stood, his stance firm and resolute. “Well, if you’re going to Kansas, then I’m going.”
Johnny shook his head. “Scott, I made this mess as Madrid, I’ll face it as Madrid.”
“Then I’ll face it as Madrid’s brother,” Scott replied, his resolve unwavering.
Murdoch stood up, hands raised. “Boys! This isn’t the answer! Let me check into our other options before you go dashing off to Kansas.”
“I agree,” Val added, getting up to stand next to Murdoch. “This ain’t a decision to take lightly, and it ain’t gonna be no church social.”
“No, it’s not.” Johnny shook his head.
“So, you ought to let us check into other options, Johnny.”
“I think you already know that’s not going to work, Murdoch. The Pinkertons aren’t going to look the other way any longer, and if Stanton’s hired one set of bounty hunters, I’m sure he’ll try again. And as far as a pardon goes, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. The sorta people I fought against in Kansas are the ones with the money and the connections. Judge Wakeman isn’t the first judge I got on the wrong side of.”
Murdoch’s gaze lingered on Johnny a moment before he turned to Scott, and with a deep, sobering breath, he asked, “You’ll go with him?”
“No, he won’t,” Johnny objected harshly.
“Yes, he will,” Scott shot back, then paused, the anger melting away, leaving only an expression of intense importance, his voice firm as he carefully enunciated, “This is one of those times, Johnny. I need it to be you and me.”
“Time to support me?” Johnny
murmured, his voice suddenly soft, though his expression was still reserved and
“Even if I don’t agree.” Scott answered without hesitation.
Johnny continued to meet his brother’s gaze, holding it unflinchingly, but didn’t reply.
“Johnny,” Scott’s voice grew softer as he took a step closer.
“Don’t let your ghosts tear us apart.”
Johnny glanced down, was very still. Then slowly he straightened up and met Scott’s eyes, the mask of Madrid cautiously fading.
Scott noted this time, instead of the familiarity of his brother’s gaze, or the hard look of Madrid, the smile that met him was new, a cautious blending of the two. And as the smile grew, he mirrored it.
“I guess I could use someone to watch my back,” Johnny admitted cautiously.
again, firmly and without hesitation, as he settled his hands on his hips.
“Seeing as you’ve already got a saint watching your front, I’ll
take the job.”