Hard Ride to Green River
SOP Disclaimer: No profit made, no infringement intended.
As usual, Johnny encounters trouble, and like the man he is, gets right in the middle of it.
It had been a long week from hell. The boring contract negotiations had lasted much longer than anticipated and Johnny Lancer had determined no more of this. Scott was going to handle the paper stuff from now on. He would rather be punching cows than wanting to punch lawyers. At least cows were naturally stupid, they couldn't help it. Lawyers went to school to learn how to be stupid and rude. Always looking down their noses at a man with callouses on his hands. Wearing fancy suits and polished boots. Hell, they probably wouldn't know a cow if it came up and bit them on the...Well, he was out of there and finally headed home. He broke camp, thankful that tonight, he would eat someone's cooking besides his own, and sleep in a big, soft bed, not on a hard bed roll on the dusty ground.
He heeled Barranca into his mile-eating trot and steered him toward Green River. Murdoch and Scott were to meet him there later today. Looked like he was going to beat them. He was no more than a short day's ride from town. That meant he could get a bath and a shave before confronting Murdoch about the contract. He had secured Lancer a lucrative contract but not without concessions he feared Murdoch might not like. His father hated deadlines and this one had come with one, albeit reasonable, stipulation. He hoped Murdoch would be pleased with the bottom line and consider the deadline a necessary evil. Besides, if Murdoch didn't like the way he negotiated, he wouldn't be so inclined to send him next time the paper pushing came up.
He was nudged from his thoughts by a sound that chilled him to the bone. A woman's scream. Was that really what he heard? He pulled up Barranca and turned into the wind. There it was again. And his first assumption was right. Damn! All he wanted was to get to that bath and shave. What's a woman doing out here in the middle of nowhere anyway?
Relunctantly, he headed toward the sounds. It was coming from a little clearing in the rocks. He slipped off of Barranca and quietly approached the commotion. His stomach turned at the sight. A man had the screaming woman on the ground and three others were cheering him on.
"Please don't!" the woman begged. She was rewarded with a hard slap across her tear streaked face.
Her attacker grabbed her throat, "Shut up or I'll kill this baby, I swear!" She slumped, defeated, and he continued to strip her of her clothing.
Baby? Damn! Johnny knew he had no time to waste. He scanned the camp and saw that it was only the four of them. He located the baby laying not far from the woman on a pile of saddle blankets. They didn't hear him walk into the camp.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." he said, deadly calm.
One of the men turned and drew. His gun never cleared leather as Johnny's bullet smashed into his chest, killing him instantly. The other men froze.
"Get off of her." Johnny demanded, practically hoping the bastard would make a move. He never could tolerate abusing women, although he had seen much of it in his life. He let his fury have it's head and it showed in his face.
"Sure, mister." the man stammered. "We was just havin' some fun."
Still deadly calm, Johnny motioned with his smoking gun, "Move away from her, now, if you wanta live another day." Johnny directed him to join the other two men.
Without taking his eyes off of the three men, Johnny asked the woman, "Can you stand?"
When no answer came, he slowly backed up toward her. She had rolled to her side and was in a daze, incoherant.
Redirecting his attention to the men, "Drop your gunbelts, slowly."
"Who do you think you are? This is none o' your business!" one of the men yelled. "We found her fair and square!"
"I made it my business. Now, drop the guns or use 'em." Johnny was seething now. He knew he was baiting the men, but the woman's battered face drove rage through him.
"You think you can take all of us?" the woman's attacker asked.
"Only one way to find out." Johnny answered, so calm, he actually surprised himself.
In an instant, it was over. Johnny, the lone man standing, hung his head in grief. No matter what the circumstances, he hated killing. He had learned some men needed it, even begged for it. Just like today.
"Who are you?" one of the men hoarsely asked.
Johnny squatted down by the fatally injured man. "Johnny Madrid."
A look of horror crossed the man's face. "Just my luck." he whispered with his last breath.
Johnny dropped his head. "Damn." he breathed. He rose and tried to get his mind on the task at hand.
Turning toward the woman, he walked slowly toward her. She was a mess. Her clothes were torn, her face bloodied and bruised. Curled up in a small ball, she shook uncontrollably.
"Ma'am." Johnny said softly. Getting no reaction from her, he reached down and touched her shoulder. "Ma'am. It's over." Still no response.
Looking at the baby, Johnny was relieved when he saw movement. His heart broke when he saw just how young the infant was. Johnny bent down to pick up the little one, noticing the beautiful blue eyes and sparse blonde hair. "Scott's kids are gonna look like you, little one."
Suddenly the woman screamed. "Nooooo!" Johnny turned to see her raise up with a revolver in her hand. "Don't touch my baby!" she cried as she pulled the trigger, over and over.
The last thing Johnny remembered was trying desperately not to fall on the baby.
What was that buzzing so loudly? Who was crying? A woman. A baby. What in the hell happened?
Slowly, Johnny regained consciousness. Desperately trying to recall his circumstances, he attempted to roll over. He couldn't stop the moan from escaping his lips. Then he remembered. The woman had shot him. Where did she get that gun? He should have been more careful, understood a mother's instinct. She couldn't have known he wouldn't hurt her or the baby. He was just another man to her. What was he thinking earlier about stupid people?
Finally making it to his back, he turned his head to see the woman sitting near the baby rocking back and forth crying. She had thrown the gun away. The look in her haunted eyes sent a chill through him.
Trying to assess the damages, he carefully began moving. His head was pounding. Pain caught in his left side, low, just above his belt. Rolling toward the pain, he raised to his knees. Nausea and dizziness roiled through his body. Putting both hands on the ground, he crawled toward a canteen laying near the fire.
Exhausted with the effort, he sat back on his feet and took a swig from the dusty canteen. He spit as the warm liquid burned his throat. "Damn! Whiskey." Closing the canteen, he added, "Might come in handy before this day is over."
Still on his haunches, Johnny looked at his wounds. He was not happy with what he found. Although the head wound was just a graze,it bled profusely. There was no exit wound in his side, and too much blood. "Better get moving, while I still can."
He struggled to his feet and paused, catching his breath. "Think. Gotta think." He said out loud. The woman was still rocking, the baby was squirming. He was bleeding like a stuck hog. He was practically a day's ride from town. This wasn't good. Maybe he wouldn't think, after all.
Whistling for Barranca, Johnny limped toward one of the horses still in camp. Barranca came cautiously into the camp and stood as close as he could to his rider. Johnny patted the golden neck, speaking softly to the horse. "Easy, boy. I'm really gonna need your help, here." He rested his aching head on the steady golden shoulder just for a moment. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself. "Time's a wastin'."
"Hey, lady." Johnny said, a little more harshly than he had intended. Knowing she was no longer armed, he strode toward her. "Lady!" he said as he grabbed both arms and pulled her to her feet. He had to get her to snap out of this.
Turning her face to his, his heart broke at the pain in her eyes. He pulled her to him and held her gently. She began to weep as he stroked her hair and whispered softly to her. "It's over. I'm not gonna hurt you or your baby."
He pulled her back to look in her face. Surprisingly, she looked at him. "Lady, we've gotta get moving. Understand?"
Her nod was the only response he got. He would have to be happy with that for now.
Adrenaline took over his actions. Rifling through saddlebags, he found anything that could be used for bandages and tended his wounds the best he could. He put his coat around the woman to cover her exposed body, got her mounted on the big bay horse, and gathered all the canteens he could find.
Wrapping up the baby in his extra shirt, Johnny handed the little one to his mama. The woman refused to even look at the infant. Confused, Johnny asked, "This your baby, ma'am?"
No response. Great. Must be some response to her trauma, he thought. She had tried to kill him over this baby and now she wouldn't even hold him.
Accepting the inevitable, Johnny gathered the woman's reins and painfully mounted Barranca. If they got to town, it would be a miracle. Heading out, he looked back at the woman. She didn't even notice the four dead men as they rode past them.
Reaching the road, Johnny pulled the woman's horse up close to him. "Ma'am, I'm takin' you to Green River. There's a doc there for you and the little one. He can tend to you, then we can see about gettin' you home."
She just continued to look straight ahead. "This is going to be a long trip, lady." he said as he looked down at the little bundle in his arms. The baby was sound asleep, oblivious to the dangerous situation they were in. "Wish I could sleep through this, too." he smiled. What was it about a baby that melted your heart?
"What's your name, ma'am?" he asked, hoping the lady would come to herself soon. This baby was going to be hungry and that was something he could do nothing about.
No response. He tried a different tactic. "What's the baby's name?"
"I think I'll call him Scott, for now. He looks an awful lot like my brother." Johnny laughed. Scott with kids. Yeah, he couldn't wait to be an uncle. Maybe a father some day. His stomach clenched at that thought. Maybe not.
They rode in silence for an hour. Even though it was cloudy, the day was heating up. Still, he was relunctant to stop. Although he knew the danger of exposure, he had to get as close to town as he could. The blood from his wound had run down his leg and was dripping off of the toe of his boot. Not to mention the spasms that wracked his body and the blurred vision. The woman and the baby were not in much better shape. He didn't know the extent of the woman's injuries and he feared the baby was getting dehydrated.
Johnny pulled a canteen off of the saddle horn and checked it's contents. Thankfully, it was water. He poured some water on the sleeve of the shirt that was wrapped around the baby. Squeezing out some of the excess, he stuck the sleeve in the baby's mouth. The infant began to suck on the sleeve. "I've seen this trick before, little Scott." He repeated the process several times then closed the canteen.
"Lady, you want a drink?" The woman just stared ahead. No emotion, nothing. "Ma'am, you really need to drink something." Nothing.
A sudden sharp pain took Johnny's breath. "Dios!" He pulled up Barranca and bent over for some relief. He might not make it to Green River. The reality hit him hard. But, he had no choice. He had to try. His life was not the only one on the line. This baby had his whole life in front of him. His mother, well, she was still young and could get passed this.
He found himself wondering about her life. Where was she from? How had any of this happened? Did she have family looking for her? The man said they had found her. Too many questions for his aching head. He had to focus on one thing, now, and that was to get these two to Green River.
Finally straightening, he searched through the canteens and found the one that held the whiskey. Taking a healthy swig, he felt the libation run down his parched throat. "Do your thing." he spoke to the whiskey. "Why couldn't you have been tequila, huh?" He gathered the woman's reins once more and continued on.
After another slow, painstaking hour, Johnny was slumped in the saddle, dozing. The pain had dulled to a constant roar, instead of the severe throbbing. The cry of the infant woke him.
"Hey, little Scott." he crooned softly. "It's okay, partner."
The baby was hungry and wet. He hadn't even though about having to keep the little one clean. He looked at the mother. No help there. He stiffly turned to his saddle bags, barely able to stiffle the groan. Digging around, he found a cloth he used for wiping the sweat from his face and hands. "Best I can do, little one."
Fearing he couldn't remount, Johnny stayed in the saddle and changed the baby while still moving toward town. He washed out the wet diaper the best he could and hung it from the saddle horn to dry. Using the same method as before, he gave the baby water, rewrapped him in his spare shirt, and snuggled him close. The baby was asleep in no time.
"Lady, I could really use your help, here." Johnny pleaded. "I don't know how much longer I can stay in this saddle." In truth, he was surprised he was still mounted. The pain had raised in intensity, and every drop of Barranca's hooves brought a new flare. Nothing.
If only he knew how far from town they were. He couldn't have been more than twenty miles from town when he found her. He was familiar with this road, but in his condition, his judgement was impaired. Looking up at the sun, he figured it was after noon. He pushed down the pain and fatigue and determined to keep going, no matter what. Scott had told him once of a man he had read about who walked across some desert without even a drop of water. When asked how the man did it, he said he just pushed everything else out of his mind. He would accept nothing less than conquering that desert and making it to safety. "Just have to figure out how to do that myself." Johnny said outloud.
"You should know by now, I'm not gonna hurt you." he spoke softly, trying for some response. He got one. She began to cry. Johnny pulled up and sidestepped Barranca next to the bay. Putting his arm around her, he felt her stiffen, then relax as she sobbed into his sweaty shirt.
"Ssh." he whispered softly into her hair. "It's gonna be alright. We can get through this together."
"It's never gonna be alright again." were the first words she spoke. It tore his heart out. He couldn't even imagine what she had been through. She pushed him away and straightened in the saddle again, resuming her indifferent posture and stared straight ahead.
"You want to hold your little one?" he asked.
Johnny sighed deeply. "Dios!" Frustration, pain, and worry were weighing heavily on him. "Lady, I know you've been through hell, but it's not little Scott's fault. He needs his momma. You need him too."
Johnny nudged Barranca forward and they continued the arduous journey.
Johnny awakened with a jolt. The woman had snatched the reins from him and bolted off down the road. "Wait, Lady!" Johnny spurred Barranca and wished he hadn't. Pulling Barranca up before he fell out of the saddle, Johnny tried to catch his breath and fight off the blackness just on the edge of his vision.
"Sorry, little Scott." he sighed as he slumped forward, half conscious. "Barranca, get us home, boy."
Murdoch and Scott Lancer walked out of the only hotel in Green River. "I figured he would have been here by now." Murdoch commented.
"Well, you know Johnny." Scott laughed.
"Yes, I know Johnny." Murdoch replied. "And after a week in contract negotiations, he would be in an awful hurry to get back home."
"I guess you're right." Scott admitted. "When should we start to worry?"
Murdoch laughed. "I worry about Johnny even when nothing's wrong. You tell me!"
Scott laughed as well. Johnny did have a penchant for finding trouble.
"Murdoch!" Sheriff Val Crawford called as he ran toward the two Lancer's.
"Val, what's got you all fired up?" Scott asked.
"I think Johnny's in trouble!" Val answered, out of breath.
"Why?" Murdoch asked.
"This woman says a man named Johnny Madrid helped her out of some trouble. She says he's hurt." Val replied.
Scott walked toward the woman. She was bruised and battered and she was wearing Johnny's coat. "Miss, where is he?"
Crying, she answered, "Not too far out of town on the main road. He can hardly stay in the saddle. He's bleeding badly. I came for help. Please, he has my baby!"
"Baby?" Murdoch asked.
"Please, hurry!" the lady crumbled to the board walk.
"Val, get her to the doctor then follow us with a buckboard." Murdoch ordered. "Get the horses Scott. I'll get some supplies together."
In minutes the men were headed out of town followed closely by Val and the buckboard. "Please God, don't let us be too late!" Murdoch prayed.
Just five miles out of town, Scott spotted Barranca walking very carefully toward town. It was if the horse knew Johnny was in no condition to ride. "Be careful not to spook him, Murdoch." Scott warned.
Scott dismounted and walked cautiously up to Barranca. The horse layed his ears back in warning, but allowed Scott to approach. Johnny was slumped over the saddle horn holding the baby securely. "Easy boy, easy. We want to help him."
Reaching the skittish horse, Scott spoke gently, reaching for his brother. Blood was dripping off of his boot and his pants were soaked all the way down his leg.
Grasping Johnny's wrist, Scott prayed for a pulse. He found one. Weak but there. Murdoch came forward then, reaching up to steady Johnny. He was out cold. "How in the world did he stay in the saddle?" Murdoch asked.
Scott went to the other side and pried the baby from Johnny's grasp.
"No!" Johnny cried.
Hands. Soft hands. The baby was falling. "No!" he yelled.
"Johnny, it's okay." a familiar voice. "I've got him."
Soft hands again. This time helping him out of the saddle. Oh, God. Laying him down on a soft pallet, stroking his face. Was he in a wagon?
"Johnny. Open those eyes, brother." Brother? Scott?
He floated just on the edge of consciousness. "Scott?" He whispered. "Gotta find her."
"Find who?" Scott asked softly.
"Momma." Johnny answered, barely audible.
"She's safe, son." a strong, clear voice. Murdoch? "She's the one who led us to you."
"She needs a doctor. Little Scott needs to eat." Johnny mumbled, his lips suddenly too big.
"Little Scott?" Scott asked.
"Yeah. Didn't know you got around so much, brother." Johnny smiled. He heard nothing else as he slipped back into the darkness in welcome relief.
He felt the coolness of the cloth on his face. God, that feels so good!
"I think he's waking." he heard someone say. "Johnny. Johnny. Wake up."
"I'm here, son." Murdoch replied softly.
"How long?" Johnny croaked.
"Two long days." Scott said. "Doc says you barely made it. He can't believe how much blood you lost."
Johnny bolted up, groaning as he cried out, "The baby!" Pain and exhaustion pushed him back to the bed, "Help them."
Murdoch gently put his hand on his son's heaving chest. "They are fine, son. They are both asleep in the next room."
"Yeah?" Johnny sighed and relaxed. "Okay?"
"Perfectly fine, brother." Scott answered him. "Their family is on the way to pick them up."
Johnny never heard his brother's answer.
Two days later, Johnny stirred. "Be still, Johnny. You'll hurt yourself." an unfamiliar voice said.
Slowly opening his eyes, he squinted in the sunlight. He heard someone rise from a chair and pull the curtains closed, darkening the room. "That better?"
"Umm." was all he could manage at the time. Fighting the fog in his head, Johnny looked toward the voice. The unnamed woman was sitting beside him with a beautiful smile on her face. Her bruises and cuts were healing, the swelling gone from her face. Her wavy blonde hair had been washed and she had a nice green dress on, that accentuated her green eyes. She was a beauty, Johnny thought.
"Hey." Johnny managed, hoarsely.
"Hey." she smiled. "I was awful worried about you." Tears began to roll down her face. "I'm so sorry I shot you! I was out of my head."
"Hey. Don't cry. You were just protecting your baby, like any good mother would do." Johnny tried to console her. "I don't even know your name." Johnny's voice was barely audible.
"Charlotte." she replied.
"The baby?" Johnny asked.
"You're not going to believe this." Charlotte laughed. "His name is Scotty."
Johnny couldn't stop a weak laugh. "You've gotta be jokin'."
"I'm serious." Charlotte swabbed his face with a cool cloth. His fever was finally down.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am for what you did for us." Charlotte said quietly. "If you hadn't come along when you did, I don't know what would have happened." Charlotte paused, then added, "You got there in time. I wasn't raped."
"Thank God. Wrong place, right time." Johnny smiled. "Story of my life. How is Scotty?"
"See for yourself." Charlotte replied, holding the baby up for Johnny to see.
"Sound asleep, as usual." he said, reaching out to grasp the baby's hand. Tiny fingers curled around his. Yeah, a baby could sure melt your heart.
"Charlotte, how did you wind up with those men?" he asked.
"They took me from our farm. My husband, Caleb, had gone to town. I didn't want to get Scotty out in the heat, so I stayed home." Her eyes misted. "You think Caleb will believe I wasn't raped? Will he still want me?"
"I don't know your husband." Johnny replied softly, never taking his eyes off of her. Damn those men. Lives were changed forever because of sheer meaness. "I think he'd consider himself mighty lucky to have his wife and son back. Got a feelin' it's gonna be just fine."
Charlotte caught his eyes with hers and smiled. "Thank you, Johnny. I will never forget you."
"Thought I heard voices." Murdoch's voice boomed. "Well, son, good to see you awake. We've got a contract to discuss."
"Excuse us." Charlotte said, as she politely left the room. She didn't want to interfere.
Johnny thought fast. "Uh, Murdoch, I'm pretty tired. Can't we do this later?"
"The doctor says you are improving remarkably well." Murdoch replied. "Maybe even take you home in a few days."
Johnny shifted uncomfortably. "Murdoch, uh..."
"Deadline?" Murdoch said.
"Only way I could get that price." Johnny began to explain. "I.."
"Good job, son." Murdoch cut him off. "Should be no problem."
"I didn't think so, either." Johnny replied, quietly.
"I'm going to let you handle all the contracts from now on, son. I couldn't have done a better job myself." Murdoch said proudly.
"No, Murdoch. I'm goin' home and never leavin' the ranch again." Johnny smiled, closing his tired eyes, and drifting off to peaceful slumber. It was nice being watched over.
Murdoch gently ran his fingers through the dark hair. "Son, I might insist you do just that." Murdoch smiled as he heard the soft sounds of Johnny sleeping. "Thank you, Lord, for leaving Johnny with me. I promise to make as much of the time as I can."
Murdoch slipped out of the room as Scott slipped in. "He's sleeping again."
"I wouldn't worry, Murdoch." Scott tried to reassure his father. "It's probably the best right now. You go get some rest. I'll sit with him."
Scott sat down in the vacant chair and gently took hold of his brother's still hand. "Johnny, how do you get into these messes?"
"I guess some of us were born heros." Johnny answered, half laughing.
"Johnny Lancer, if ever there was a hero, it would be you." Scott laughed. His brother was indeed a hero. In fact, Johnny was the bravest man he knew. That bravery was the cause of many gray hairs on his father's head, and although Scott was a young man, he expected his brother had given him a few gray hairs as well.
"Ain't you lucky, Boston, havin' me for a brother?" Johnny teased.
"I'd say I was just about the luckiest man in the world right now." Scott replied, standing up from the chair.
"Ya really think so?" Johnny asked.
"Yes, I do." Scott said, matter of factly. "I will never have to do contracts again!" he added, walking out of the room.