“You heard Sam’s orders and I expect you to follow them.” With his hands on his hips, Murdoch towered over his younger son. “Do I make myself clear?”
A chastened Johnny wrapped his arms around his chest and nodded his bowed head.
“Look at me.” Murdoch frowned, he hated it when Johnny withdrew from him. When his son slowly raised his head, he continued. “I want you to say the words.”
Johnny lowered his arms and faced Murdoch, “Alright I’ll follow Sam’s orders.” He hated that his father and brother always made him say it, they knew otherwise he would wiggle out of obeying the orders.
“Good, I’ll be back from Green River this afternoon to check on you.” Murdoch left the room before he gave away the smile he was trying to control. He loved getting the better of his younger son, it didn’t happen very often.
L * A * N * C * E * R
Johnny lay on his bed staring at the ceiling and fuming at being forced to stay inside. With a groan he rolled out of bed and went to the window to watch Barranca prance around to corral.
Soon bored watching the activity in the yard; he decided it was the perfect time to explore the attic of the hacienda. The only time he had been there was to fetch decorations for Teresa, and there were lots of boxes that had piqued his curiosity.
L * A * N * C * E * R
The curious ex-gunfighter sat on the dusty floor and rummaged through the first box he opened. He was disappointed that so far it was only a bunch of old papers. When he was about to push it aside he saw several letters tied with a black ribbon.
As he pulled them from the box he read the address, Mexico. He also recognized his father’s bold handwriting.
After looking toward the attic stairway to make sure Teresa wasn’t about to barge in on him; he pulled out the top envelop. The paper was old and brittle so he carefully opened it and began reading.
Dear Señora Hernandez,
I am writing to ask if Maria and your grandson, Johnny, have arrived safely to your rancho. Please let me know if they are with you and the Señor.
Johnny’s hand shook, he had an abuelo and abuela. Another lie to add to the list from his mother, she had told him they had no family to go to for help.
The next letter in the pile was in a feminine hand. He was hesitant but carefully opened it.
Hola Señor Lancer,
Maria and Johnny are not here. We have not heard from our hija since the nieto was born. I will write if they arrive.
His hand shook slightly as he stared at the paper for several minutes, finally he folded it and returned it to the envelope. He pulled out the third letter, it was his father’s handwriting again.
Dear Señora Hernandez,
I am afraid Maria and Johnny will not be coming to you and Señor Hernandez. I now know Maria has left me, there was no note they were just gone. I don’t know why she left, I tried to be a good husband and father. Since she left, I have hunted for them but have found nothing. I prayed she would go to her family so she and Johnny would be safe. I now fear those hopes were in vain.
I have hired the Pinkerton Detectives to search for them, if they find Maria and Johnny I will send word to you.
The letter slipped from Johnny’s fingers and floated to the floor. He began rocking as he wrapped his arms around his chest and willed himself to not lose the breakfast he had eaten earlier. He blinked his eyes against the tears that ran down his cheek.
The truth was there, in those letters, Murdoch had wanted him and had looked for him. All his doubts and fears about staying at Lancer faded and at last he knew he where he belonged.
Yet at the same time he felt an immense pain, why did his mama lie to him, why didn’t she leave him with his father? She had robbed him of the life he should have lived instead of the hell… The sob seemed loud in the quiet attic.
He continued rocking as he remembered all the times she had screamed horrible names at him and all the times she or her men would beat him. He remembered it all but mostly he remembered the hurt.
Still shaken, Johnny stared at the letter on the dusty floor. When he finally gained control he reached down to pick it up and saw his tears staining the page. He carefully folded the letter and returned it to the envelope, then slid the three letters under the ribbon. There was no reason to read the other ones; he was sure it would only make the hurt worse. If he was honest with himself he didn’t want to read his father’s anguish. It was best to return the letters to the bottom of the box where they belonged.
Slowly Johnny got to his feet and brushed the grime from the seat of his pants. He looked around the large room and wondered what other secrets he would find hidden under the dust. In the far corner among more boxes and some trunks was something covered by a sheet. Weaving his way though the blockage, he finally reached his quest and pulled back the covering.
L * A * N * C * E * R
Murdoch handed his horse off to Walt and headed for the hacienda. Relieved that he was able to finish his business in town earlier than expected; he looked forward to having lunch with his younger son.
When he entered the Great Room he noticed the ledger on the desk hadn’t been touched. Murdoch shook his head, he wasn’t surprised, his younger son hated the dreaded bookkeeping job. He headed upstairs to Johnny’s room, hoping to find his son in bed. When he peeked inside it too was empty, he scratched his chin. Figuring Johnny had slipped out to talk to Barranca, he turned to go back downstairs.
That’s when he saw the door to the attic was open.
Murdoch quietly climbed the stairs, he had learned it was never a good idea to startle Johnny. When he reached the landing he saw his boy staring at something. As softly as possible he whispered, “Son?”
Johnny spun around but relaxed when he saw his father and turned back to the object of his attention.
Murdoch crossed the attic to stand next to his son. “I made that for you, it was your birthday present when you turned two-years-old.”
“It’s Barranca…” Johnny barely get the words out.
“You were always partial to the palominos.” Murdoch watched his son’s expression as the younger man stared at the rocking horse. “It was always a fight to get you off him when it was time for bed.”
Johnny looked up at his father when he heard the chuckle in the older man’s voice. “Guess I wan’t too good at listenin’ even when I was a kid.”
“You were a handful young man. Your mother called you her little tornado. We would chase after you and you would run away laughing.” Murdoch had savored those memories. In his mind’s eye he once again saw a young, dark haired, little boy running up to him with arms raised to be picked up and tossed into the air.
The younger man sighed, “Murdoch, I found some letters.” He pointed across the room to a box. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“I didn’t want you to be hurt.” Murdoch wished he could reach out for his son but hesitated, he was afraid Johnny would pull away from him.
“It was hard reading them. It was just the first three, but enough to know…”
He sighed again and went into the self hug. “I didn’t mean to pry but I’m glad to know the truth.”
This time Murdoch did reach out for Johnny, relieved his son didn’t pull away. “Son, anything you want to know about… I mean… just ask me any questions you have.”
Johnny dropped his arms and reached out to touch the wooden horse. “Maybe we could talk… about how it was when I was here before?” He was grateful for the supporting hand resting on his shoulder.
The end or the beginning?