(Sequel to Did Murdoch Listen?)
Murdoch walked into the room and sat in the chair by Johnny’s bed. Neither one said anything, Johnny stared at his feet and Murdoch stared at his hands in his lap.
Finally Murdoch cleared his throat.
Johnny looked toward his father, he waited to see if Murdoch was going to finish the fight or really talk like he had said.
“Johnny, I’m not quiet sure how to start this conversation but… Murdoch took a deep breath, “Johnny, I want you to know I don’t want us to fight all the time.” That even sounded inane to him, ‘try harder’ Murdoch he told himself.
Johnny stared at Murdoch, he wasn’t sure what was going on but whatever it was, he was going to shut up and wait. If he didn’t talk he figured he would stay out of trouble.
Murdoch shifted in the chair, glanced out the window seemingly lost in thought, and then looked over to Johnny.
Johnny waited in silence and thought, ‘Stay quiet Madrid but stay alert.’
After what seemed like hours to both men, Murdoch cleared his throat again and said, “Johnny, I want to talk to you about why we always seem to argue. I know you think I don’t trust you but I do, I guess I’m not much good at showing it.” Murdoch paused but Johnny didn’t say anything, “So many years have passed and it is hard for me to let go, I never thought I would have my sons back here to help me.” This wasn’t coming out like Murdoch wanted and Johnny looked like he was debating whether to make a run for the door or jump out the window.
As Johnny continued to stare at his father, he wondered if the ol’ man had too much to drink. Maybe he should try to get Murdoch to his own room, Johnny didn’t want him to pass out in the chair. ‘Hell I’d never get him to his own bed if he was out cold.’ Johnny thought it but knew better than to suggest it, that Murdoch might want to get to his own bed.
Murdoch could see by Johnny expression that this talk wasn’t going as he wished. ‘Come on Murdoch just tell him.’ Murdoch shook his head, ‘I need the right words.’ He silently prayed, ‘Help me Lord to say the right thing.’
Johnny wished Murdoch would get it said, yell at him, or go to his own room. But Murdoch showed no sign of leaving so he took a chance and, “Hey Murdoch, you okay?”
Murdoch seemed to come aware and smiled at Johnny.
This really confused Johnny, maybe the ol’ man was drunk and feeling relaxed. Yeah, well tomorrow ain’t gonna be much fun with a hung over Murdoch on his case. At least with a headache maybe the ol’ man won’t be yellin’.
“Yes Johnny, I’m fine. I want to talk to you son, really talk.” Murdoch leaned forward and rested his arms on his legs. “Johnny I know I haven’t shown you but I want you to know how much I want you to stay at Lancer.” Murdoch leaned back in the chair.
Johnny just stared at him not sure what to do or say.
“I know you think I don’t want you here but I do. I know you think I can’t accept Madrid but I can.” Murdoch paused a second then continued. “I never got a chance to be a father to you and I haven’t done a very good job since you’ve been home, I’m sorry Johnny.”
Johnny was speechless, he remembered the ‘past is in the past’, and ‘you have your mother’s temper’ welcome. This was a Murdoch he wasn’t sure he understood but he was going to keep quiet and see where this ‘talk’ was going.
Without a response from Johnny, Murdoch wasn’t sure he was reaching his son but he wasn’t going to give up. Even it took all night Murdoch was not going to lose Johnny again.
“Please Johnny, talk to me.”
“What do you want me to say, it will only cause another argument. I’m tired Murdoch and like you’re fond of sayin’ morning comes early.” Dios, Johnny thought I was gonna be quiet, too late now. He waited for the eruption.
“No argument this time, I want to talk and if it takes all night so be it, you can sleep in tomorrow.”
Johnny’s mouth fell open and he openly stared at Murdoch.
Murdoch on the other hand chuckled at the expression of shock on the famous gunfighter’s face.
The chuckle seemed to break the tension.
Johnny closed his mouth then smiled. “You sayin’ I can sleep in?”
Murdoch smiled back, “Johnny I’ve made many mistakes with you and I want to make things right between us. I realize I have been treating you differently from Scott, I’m not sure why but I have some thoughts about it.”
Johnny moved to sit on the side of his bed almost knee to knee with Murdoch. “I think I know why.” Johnny said in a soft voice.
“Why son, I want to know.”
Johnny wrapped his arms around his chest and bowed his head in the familiar position, “Scott’s the son any man would want, he went to the fancy Boston school, was in the army, and he thinks like you. What’s not to want with a son like that?”
Johnny paused but Murdoch remained silent. “Me on the other hand I ain’t the good son type, nobody in their right mind would want Johnny Madrid for a son. Hell some of your neighbors have made it clear they don’t want me hangin’ around. It’s obvious to me you feel the same way. You’re like the others I’ve worked for, they don’t want the gunfighters hanging around after the job is done.” Johnny took a deep breath then continued, “At least you didn’t pay me off with a bullet like some have in the past.”
“Johnny you own one-third of Lancer, why would you think I don’t want you to stay?” Murdoch was shocked by what Johnny said especially the pay-off with a bullet.
“Because you’re an honorable man and you offered the one-third and you wouldn’t go back on your word.” Johnny said. “But I make you uncomfortable and I think you were hoping I wouldn’t want to stay once Pardee was gone.”
“I want you stay.” Murdoch wanted to touch his son but wasn’t sure Johnny would accept it.
Johnny sensed Murdoch’s reluctance. “How much you want to know?”
“All of it, or as much as you want to share.” Murdoch felt hopeful and nervous at the same time but he was going to stick it out.
“Okay but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Johnny looked his father in the eye and began, “Do you know this is the first time you’ve been in my room?”
“No it not, I’ve been in here many times.” This was not what Murdoch expected.
“Yeah, when I’m sick or hurt but only then. You know how many times I’ve heard you go into Scott’s room and just talk to him? It may be about the ranch or books ya’ll are reading or stuff you two like to talk about that I don’t understand.” Johnny waited to see if Murdoch would comment.
Murdoch dropped his head, Johnny was right.
“I think I know why, you are afraid of me and only feel safe in here if I’m in no condition to be a threat.” Johnny stared at Murdoch.
“That’s not true Johnny, I was there because I wanted to take care of you.”
“Then why didn’t come in when I was back to normal? Scott comes in and not just when I’m trapped in bed. Did you know he always comes to check on me after we fight? He hunts me down.” Johnny smiled but it didn’t appear to be a happy smile.
Murdoch realized Johnny was right but he kept quiet to let Johnny finish.
“Did you really hunt for mama and me? She said you didn’t want a half-breed mistake. She heard your friends talking about us and how sad it was that you were trapped into the marriage. That you were being noble by marrying her so the kid wouldn’t be a bastard.” Johnny had his head down and his voice tapered off on the last word.
Murdoch was shocked, how could his so-called friends say such a thing? He sat in silence afraid anything he would say would come out wrong.
“Ya sure you want me to keep goin’? It ain’t pretty.” Johnny waited and at Murdoch’s nod he continued.
“After mama was murdered and I killed the scum… Well they tried puttin’ me an orphanage but I ran away. I broke into a gun shop and took a rig and ammo and went into the desert to teach myself to shoot. Makes ya proud don’t it?” Johnny sneered but continued.
“I took any job I could find and started to build my rep. At first I went looking for gunfights but most of the men didn’t take me seriously,” Johnny’s laugh was bitter, “that didn’t work out too good for them.”
“After a job that had been paid off with a bullet I was lookin’ for a safe place to hide out. Guess I passed out and fell off my horse cause the next thing I knew I was lookin’ at a pair of old boots.” This time the laugh wasn’t so bitter.
“It was Val, he stooped down next to me, shook his head, and hauled me up and threw me over his horse. Val dug the bullet out and took care of me. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“Scott’s like Val, that surprise ya?” Johnny continued, “They both accept me for who I am. That feels good. I wish you did.”
“How old were you Johnny?” Murdoch could barely get the words out past the lump in his throat.
“About 15 or 16, don’t know, hell I don’t exactly know how old I really am now. I remember mama saying I was born in December near Christmas but she was always changing my age with every move.” Johnny made it sound like it was perfectly normal to not have this information.
Murdoch clinched his jaw, it was a good thing Maria wasn’t here because he would probably choke her for what she had done to their son. He finally found his voice, “Johnny you will be 22 this December 23rd.”
Johnny smiled at his father, “Yeah?”
Murdoch smiled back, “Yeah.”
“Ya know Murdoch it ain’t your fault the way I grew up. I don’t hate you and I don’t hate mama…” Johnny shook his head, “Hell Murdoch, I did what I had to do to survive, it wasn’t alway pretty and I did a lot of things I’m not proud of, but there it is.”
“Johnny, I don’t blame you for the way things turned out, it’s not your fault.” Murdoch reached out and placed a hand on Johnny’s knee. He was relieved when Johnny didn’t pull away from him. “The fault belongs to me and your mother. I don’t know why she left, I wish I did, I wish I had found you and brought you home. I wish you had grown up safe, I wish I was the one who protected you instead of Madrid.” Murdoch watched Johnny for a reaction to the name.
“You think I hate Madrid but I don’t, I’m grateful.” Murdoch shook his head when Johnny looked like he was going to interrupt.
“Oh yes, when I first learned that you were a famous gunfight with a formidable reputation I was so angry and hurt, how could my beautiful baby boy turn into such a dangerous gunfighter? I was afraid for you.”
“You may not believe it but I don’t kill innocent people. The men I killed...it was always in a fair fight. I don’t back shoot and I don’t bushwhack. Do you believe that?” Johnny waited for an answer.
“Yes I do. I know you now and I know you are an honorable man.” Murdoch said with pride in his voice. “You protected Lancer and it’s people against Pardee. I’m proud of you son.”
Johnny heard and was surprised. It was something he never expected to hear from his father.
“Johnny I am so sorry for the way I have treated you, can we start over? I promise I will listen to you, I know we will still disagree on occasion but I promise to listen.” Murdoch removed his hand from Johnny’s knee and held it out for a handshake.
Johnny took his father’s hand, “Me too, I promise to listen but I’ll still have my opinions.”
“I hope so son.” Murdoch laughed.
“I just want you to know how important it is to me to have you and Scott home were you both belong.” Murdoch stood up and placed his hands on Johnny’s shoulders and pulled him up from the bed and into a quick hug then released him.
“I love you son.”
Johnny pulled back, a little shocked, but looked up to his father’s face, “Yeah ol’man? Well I guess, I love you too. Thanks for bringing me home.”
Murdoch patted his son on the back, “I think I’ll be able to sleep now, how about you?”
“Yeah, especially since I’ll be sleepin’ in.” Johnny winked at Murdoch.
Murdoch chuckled and headed for the bedroom door, he turned back and saw Johnny sitting on the bed pulling off his shirt.
“Good night son.”
“Good night Murdoch.”
Murdoch walked to his room, he paused at the door and looked up.
“Thanks for giving me the right words.”