This is an AU / AR story, providing an alternative homecoming for the Lancer sons.
I have borrowed the characters from the Lancer TV show. This story is written for fun and not for profit.
It has been classified as PG because of a few crude words.
This is my first effort. Thanks to AJ who emailed me with a few suggestions for tidying this up.
Feedback is welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnny Madrid Lancer pulled his horse to a stop at the crest of the hill. The gelding gratefully took advantage of the break to rest and so stood still as his master surveyed the scene below.
Johnny pushed his hat back off his head, leaving it to dangle down his back on the storm straps. His left hand held the reins loosely as he leaned on the pommel with his right. From his side-on vantage point, he noted the magnificent hacienda surrounded by lush, green grass. A well-tended garden was visible behind a courtyard, with cool vines growing over the pergola. To the right from his viewpoint and on the rear corner of the structure, he spied a large room with a particularly enormous picture window. In the middle of the building was a tall square tower providing uninterrupted views on all sides. Just under this was a balcony, also affording extended views of anyone approaching the home from the rear.
Further away from the home, he saw a sturdy post and rail fence. It was only past this that the vivid green of the lawn gave way to the dull buff of the more parched pasture. As his eye travelled further to the left, the pasture gave way to verdant trees lining the riverbank.
Beyond the estancia rolling hills, reflecting all colours of nature’s glory, gently merged and blended, one into the other. Greens, yellows, browns, greys and even blue tinges were evident. Rich pastoral land, some parts completely wild and rugged. Other parts were obviously tamed to some degree with strong fences, tracks and bridges creating some order and providing useful infrastructure for this thriving ranch. Cattle could be seen grazing peacefully. Their intermittent lowing floated over to him in the breeze.
His birthright. Below him, spread out as far as the eye could see, was his birthright.
His gut clenched and he thought he might pass out from the sight. His chest constricted and his mouth set in a straight line as his teeth ground together and his jaw jutted out.
He drank it all in. He was mesmerized. Such beauty. Such natural grandeur. Such wealth.
The bastard! He would get the bastard and make him pay!
Only when his heart stopped pounding and regained a more steady, less forceful beat, did he seem to breathe normally again. He sucked in several deep lungfuls of air and expelled it slowly.
His mind made up, he pulled forward on the storm strap and reached back for his hat. Planting it firmly on his head, then slanting it slightly forward to shade his eyes, he uncorked his canteen and took a long swig as though to give him strength. Wiping his mouth on his shirtsleeve, he re-corked the vessel, hung it from the pommel and kneed his horse gently, but purposefully, forward.
He trotted through the imposing Lancer arch. The grandiose nature of it brought a sneer to his lips.
Oh, yeah, he thought. Just to make sure that, if you didn’t know it already, you are on Lancer property – and don’t you forget it! You’re somewhere special now. Somewhere high and mighty.
He snorted sourly, but continued his pace steadily, passing outbuildings, a bunkhouse, corrals and a large barn. Seeing a ranch hand over near the corral, he headed there. He stopped in front of the man, removed his hat and nodded in greeting.
The hand was Mexican, portly, in his forties, and sporting a large moustache.
Johnny wondered whether this was the sort of workplace where Mexicans were employed as cheap labour, but where Spanish was forbidden. Never being a shrinking violet, he decided on at least opening his speech in Spanish.
“Hola. Buenos dias.”
The Mexican worker replied in kind, looking Johnny steadily in the eye.
“I was in Morro Coyo. They told me that you are hiring on. Any spare jobs left?”
“Si. We have several places left. My name is Cipriano. I am the Segundo.”
This surprised Johnny. He didn’t expect a non-Gringo to be given a position of responsibility. Leastways, here of all places.
“The name’s Alvirez. Johnny Alvirez.”
Cipriano studied the deep blues eyes.
“That’s a Spanish name.”
“That’s right. I’m half Mexican.”
“And just what can you do that could be useful for us?”
“Oh, I can ride, I’m used to hard labour, can fix fences and I can rope me some of them cows. I’ve done some branding and trail riding. Guess you could say that I could do just about anything you wanted me to do.”
“All right. We can do with some extra hands. You may put your gear in the bunkhouse to the rear of the barn.”
Johnny nodded before adding, “Gracias.” As an afterthought, he looked at Cipriano full in the eye, then spoke what was on his mind. “So, tell me. If you are the Segundo, why aren’t you out with the men? Why are you here around the house?”
“I pulled some muscles in my back several days ago and have been on light duties around the hacienda for a day or so before branding starts the day after tomorrow. Plus, things are a little unsettled with many instances of land piracy in the valley. I am keeping an eye out while I am working here. These are uncertain times.”
Johnny nodded again, “You sure got that right. Well, I’ll just get myself settled in.”
Johnny was about to lead Barranca away to the bunkhouse when he heard a loud voice hailing Cipriano from the hacienda porch.
The person belonging to the voice was a mountain of a man. As he approached, his size was perceptively more remarkable. He walked with both a cane and a limp. The man’s face was craggy and lined through years of exposure to the Californian sun. It reminded Johnny of the rock-strewn hillsides he had just ridden through: all angles, crests and crevasses. The eyes were blue and whatever hair colour he had was basically lost to grey.
He reached the two men, eyes firmly held on Johnny. Cipriano introduced Johnny to the patròn of Lancer, explaining to his boss that Johnny had just been hired. Johnny felt his hand shaken in a firm grip, but was unaware that he had even extended it. So here he was. In front of the man who had cast his son out at such a tender age. The man who continued to live in this wealth while his son and mother eked out an existence not fit for an animal. When he considered what his mother had done to feed and clothe them, his stomach lurched. This was the bastard responsible for it all.
This was the man he planned to kill.
Johnny could not talk. He could not even summon up Madrid, so intense was the wave of emotion washing over him.
Drawing in a fortifying breath of air, he took command of his emotions and began to focus on what the man was saying to his Segundo.
“I don’t want you overdoing it. We’ve got all that branding to do and we’re still short handed. The doc will be back to see you tomorrow.”
Turning to Johnny, he addressed him personally and to the point. “We are busy and we are shorthanded. You’ll work hard for a fair day’s wage, but I won’t tolerate troublemakers. I can see how you wear your gun. I don’t want you using it and causing any trouble here. I don’t want you starting anything.”
Johnny focused on him, his eyes fixed on a blue not as deep as his own.
“Oh, I won’t start anything…but I sure won’t back off from finishing problems if they concern me.”
Johnny perceived a flicker in Murdoch Lancer’s eyes as the older man considered this odd statement…or was it a challenge?
“Don’t play games with me, son. You just keep away from that gun. You’re on the payroll for ranching duties, nothing else. I’ve got no time for distractions.”
‘Son’. He had called him ‘son’. For an instant, Johnny thought that he had been recognized, but then he realized it was just a general term for a younger man. It meant nothing personal to the great Murdoch Lancer. He was nothing personal to this man. He was nothing special at all. Just an insignificant ranch hand to be given orders. It didn’t stop his chest from constricting as though weighted down, however, with the full burden of the Lancer arch.
“I don’t like distractions, either, so I’ll just head over to the bunkhouse and get ready for my ranching duties, all right?”
A piercing look from Murdoch indicated that the big man did not miss the distinct sneer that accented the end of the new hand’s statement. Cipriano intervened just then, providing Johnny with the chance for a curt nod before he made his exit.
“Damn!” he chastised himself for his lack of control. He mentally kicked himself for allowing his feelings to surface and to colour his words.
Then he kicked himself further for having any feelings at all.
The first day on the payroll saw Johnny helping round up stock for branding. He was up at dawn and worked solidly until late afternoon, when the cattle had been confined to the required paddocks. He kept his ears open, and encouraged talk, but gave little of himself. For some reason, the hands were a loyal bunch. They followed orders from Frank, the black foreman, without quibbling and worked well as a team.
It was a tired Johnny who headed back to the ranch with the men in the late afternoon. He saw to his faithful steed’s needs, giving him a long brushing, then set about checking his tack for the week’s work to come.
He chose a bench under a shady tree near the barn to work from, which allowed him to keep an unobtrusive eye on the hacienda as he toiled. Not long after he started, he noticed the young woman he had seen the other day. She carried a huge washing basket to the line and began removing clothes and linen. She appeared to be in her late teens. Slim and brunette, she walked with a lively bounce. She didn’t look like Mexican help, so he wondered where she fitted into the picture. He studied her surreptitiously as she completed her task and then tried to lift the enormous load.
Johnny was not one to miss opportunities. Setting his gear on the ground, he crossed the yard to her. “Here, let me get that for you,” he suggested as he simultaneously reached for the basket.
She looked up, surprised at this intrusion and hesitant to let him help.
“That’s an awfully big basket for such a little lady to carry.”
He smiled his easy smile. The genuine warmth in his eyes convinced her.
“Thank you, Mr…?
“Alvirez. Johnny Alvirez.”
“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”
“Yeah, I arrived yesterday and started today. Been moving cattle all day ready for branding tomorrow.”
Her shy smile encouraged more conversation.
“How long have you been working here?” Johnny ventured.
“Oh, I’m not paid help. I was born here. Mr Lancer is my guardian,” she replied, realizing his misconception. “My father was foreman here until six months ago.”
Here she faltered and he could see that she was fighting emotions buried deep. After battling them for a few seconds, she managed to restore her calm manner and continue. “He was killed by land pirates when they were repeatedly attacking Lancer and the local farms. My father and Mr Lancer went to check on some stolen horses and they just shot him. Mr Lancer was shot in the back at the same time.”
Emotions threatened to overcome her again. Johnny put the basket down and reached a tentative arm to place on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry. What about your ma?”
“She left my when I was little. She…” Teresa looked away, gulped, clamped her lips together, then turned back to Johnny with squared shoulders. “She ran off with a man. He had a travelling show, organizing entertainment for saloons.”
Teresa looked him in the eye and lifted her chin, daring him to say something negative about her mother. To her surprise, she saw nothing but understanding.
“That must have been rough,” was all he offered.
“Yes, it was. I only have vague memories of her. I suppose it would have been worse had she taken me with her and dragged me from saloon to saloon. At least here I had a stable home with my father, or at least I did until last fall.”
“Where do you live now?”
“Here in the hacienda. Murdoch has taken me on as his ward. He’s been like an uncle and second father to me all my life. I owe him so much.”
“Yeah, he must be a real kind and generous man.”
Teresa stared at him, his sharp tone surprising her.
“Yes,” she replied calmly. “He is both of those things. I am lucky to have him. I would have nothing at all if it weren’t for him.”
Outwardly, Johnny nodded in understanding. Inwardly, he seethed that this girl could be assured of a home, a decent meal, a clean bed and security while he had been thrown out in the cold and left with nothing. She had been the daughter of the manor in every way while he had been deprived of it all. However, the events were not of her making.
“I’m glad, real glad you have Mr Lancer. Ain’t nothing worse than being alone, having nowhere to call home and having no one to care,” he assured her.
There was a pause as Teresa thoughtfully regarded him, seeming to peer into his very soul.
“What about you, Mr Alvirez? Where is home?” asked Teresa, holding his eyes with hers for a moment.
Realizing he was giving too much of himself away, Johnny glibly evaded her question. “Here, at the moment.”
He grinned and indicated the basket. “Where do you want this?”
“In the kitchen will be fine. There’s a big bench there where I can fold everything.”
“What about Mrs Lancer, doesn’t she help out with the chores?”
“There is no Mrs Lancer. There was, but that’s a long story.”
I bet, thought Johnny bitterly.
“Come through here. On that bench will be fine. Thank you, Mr Alvirez.”
“You’re welcome, Miss. And it’s Johnny.”
“Teresa, then. It’s Teresa.”
“Fine, Teresa.” Johnny tipped his hat after placing the wash basket on the bench. He cast a quick glance around the Lancer kitchen and then headed for the back door. As he did so, the cook came bustling in, a bowl of eggs clutched to her chest. They collided, the egg bowl bouncing off her ample bosom before beginning its descent to the floor. With lightning reflexes, Johnny made a grab for it, retrieving it successfully before it reached the hard surface. Voluble Spanish accompanied his act and he replied in kind, calming the overexcited cook with his words. He thrust the bowl at her to show her that all were still whole and not a one of them cracked.
Her face split into a beaming smile and he grinned back. Placing the bowl carefully on the table, she placed both her hands over his cheeks and then smothered him in a hug.
“Oh, you are all skin and bone. Here, come and sit. I will give something to eat. I have some tamales and beans. You are the new hand that Cipriano told me about. He said that you have come from the border towns. I’m sure you must miss some good Mexican food. You must be hungry, no?”
“Well, Ma’am, I am, but I’d better wait until suppertime in the bunkhouse. I’m sure that Mr Lancer won’t take kindly to you feeding the hands in the main house.”
“Maria. My name is Maria. And, you talk nonsense. This might be Mr Lancer’s home, but this is my kitchen and he knows it! Besides, his bark is worse than his bite.”
This self-assuredness and dictatorial attitude from the hired help startled Johnny, who let himself be seated at the table. Tamales and beans followed shortly, which he devoured with enthusiasm. As he ate, he watched Teresa fold the clothes while Maria began preparations for the evening meal.
“That was delicious, Maria. Muchos gracias.”
“You would like some more?”
“No, I’m fine. It’s a long time since I’ve eaten like that.”
“Any time you get hungry, you come and see me. All right?”
“All right. And thanks again.” Johnny turned to leave, then hesitated before placing his hands on her shoulders and giving her a quick peck on the cheek.
Maria blushed, then swatted him with a towel she held clasped in her hand.
“Go on with you, but don’t forget to come back!” she added, laughing happily at him as she bade him goodbye.
The backbreaking work of branding began in earnest on the second day. Johnny was biding his time, learning as much as he could about the man he was going to kill.
He kept himself to himself, but his ears were always open to hear anything to his advantage. Surprisingly, he found the food wholesome, the bunkhouse clean and comfortable and respect evident for his new boss. What rocked him, however, is that there appeared to be no distinction between gringo, Mexican or black workers. All were treated the same, the jobs were divided fairly and the same expectations were placed on everyone.
The boss came out to supervise, but was unable to assist due to his injuries. As Johnny devoured his surprisingly good lunch of beef stew and beans brought along by Teresa and the bunkhouse cook, Murdoch Lancer walked over to sit on the log next to him.
Johnny stiffened, but continued eating, nerves screaming out to be on the alert.
Murdoch began his meal and after several minutes asked how Johnny was getting on.
“Fine,” was his brief answer.
“Well, I just want you to know that I’ve been watching you.”
Johnny tensed and stopped chewing.
“I’m pleased with the way you are shaping up. I don’t have time for those who don’t pull their weight, and you are certainly doing your fair share.”
Feeling something was required, Johnny surprised himself by muttering, ‘Thank you”.
He surprised himself even more so for feeling pleased that his work had been noticed.
Ill at ease, he stood up to go check on Barranca while Murdoch spoke to Cipriano and Frank. Approaching the chuck wagon to put his plate away, he paused and watched the scene before him intently. His adrenaline began pumping furiously. He had no choice but to take action.
Murdoch was engrossed in conversation with Cipriano and Frank. He listened to them earnestly and occasionally interrupted with questions. He trusted these two men who had stayed while others had deserted him when he was facing the land pirates. They had kept the ranch running after his wounding and Paul’s tragic death.
Concentrating as he was, he did not at first see what was happening.
His sharply indrawn breath diverted the attention of the two men next to him, who stopped their conversation as their eyes followed the path of his.
The new ranch hand had his gun out of his holster and was levelling it with eerie steadfastness.
There was a catlike grace about him as he moved so stealthily and silently to one side. His boots made no noise as his whole body and mind concentrated on its target. As Johnny moved closer, Murdoch was struck by the determination on his face. A determination to kill. It appeared as if the whole fabric of his being was in a capsule of its own, shutting out everything, every action and every noise which could divert him from this ultimate game of life and death.
Murdoch was frozen, unable to move, the gun barrel mesmerizing him with its rigid stillness.
The blasting of the revolver shattered the peaceful afternoon. Three rapid shots, then no more.
Johnny’s aim had been sure, the blood spatter marking a deathly trail.
Johnny sprang into action, pulling the girl away from the boulder she had been leaning against. She was white with shock and trembling violently. Blood sprayed over the bodice of her dress and face.
At her feet was the corpse of an enormous rattlesnake, its head blown clean off. Johnny swiftly checked for any relatives or playmates of the creature, but was relieved to see that it had been acting alone.
He reached for his bandana and gently wiped smudges of blood from her face, speaking to her soothingly as he did so in a mixture of English and Spanish. Murdoch claimed her then, clasping her in a great bear hug with his burly arms wrapped right around her tiny body, as she sobbed in fright.
Johnny reached down to pick up the dead reptile, then threw it out of sight in the bushes. Throwing the girl a sympathetic look, he continued on his way to Barranca.
Murdoch and Teresa caught up with him a few minutes later. Teresa reached out and stopped him with a trembling touch to his sleeve.
“Thank you, Johnny. I was so terrified. I thought I was going to be bitten. I don’t know how you did it, but thank you!”
Uncomfortable with her sincere words and Murdoch’s scrutiny, he muttered a quick “It was nothing” before dropping his head and scuffing the dirt with the toe of his boot.
“It was more than ‘nothing’, boy. That shooting was remarkable. Teresa is all I have. Thank you.”
Johnny glanced up, Murdoch’s words going through his mind. ‘Teresa is all I have’.
And whose fault is that, Old Man? Johnny’s thoughts screamed at him.
Johnny bit back the words that wanted to come, Madrid taking over to cast a steely stare at Murdoch.
“Well, if she is all you have then it’s just as well I came by, isn’t it?”
With a nod at the two of them and a dip of his hat, he agilely mounted Barranca and headed off to start his afternoon duties, leaving a puzzled Murdcoh Lancer staring after him.
The branding was completed in less than two weeks. By the end of that time, the hands took on slightly less arduous chores. They needed to recoup some energy and were permitted to do minor jobs to give them some time to recover from the physically demanding work of branding.
Johnny spent some time in the barn and tack room getting to know the trusted hands, particularly Cipriano and Frank. He was staggered at the warmth of expression when they spoke about Murdoch and at respect they held for him. They seemed to think he was a fair boss who expected the best from a person, but he could also be kind and generous in certain circumstances. Both felt that Murdoch had given them a chance of a good life and above all treated both themselves and their families with respect in return. Johnny nearly choked on his coffee as they were telling him this over breakfast at the end of his first week at the ranch.
Their viewpoint did not mesh with what he knew of the man. For some reason this man was nicer to people who were not related. The great benefactor wouldn’t even keep to his marriage vows and look after his wife, let alone care for his child. Maybe he wasn’t a racist when it came to having workers or acquaintances of non-gringo blood around him, but having sired a mestizo must have been too much for the old geezer. A bit of an embarrassment. A disgusting aberration. A mistake. Something to be eradicated.
Johnny let his mind drift as they continued to talk across the breakfast table. All those years of being not wanted and not loved haunted him. His Mama loved him in her way, but only when it was convenient for her, only when she had no man to please her. He had been in the way then, too. If Murdoch Lancer hadn’t thrown them out, his mother wouldn’t lave lowered herself to try to find love from all the low life scum who had been attracted to her.
Murdoch Lancer was going to pay. For his Mama, he would seek revenge.
Johnny entered the kitchen, arms laden with wood he had chopped for the ovens. He stacked them neatly in the wood-box, filling it to its brim. As he straightened up, Murdoch entered the kitchen from the Great Room.
“Good morning, Alvirez,” he greeted the new hand.
“Morning,” muttered Johnny as he abruptly turned to go.
“Wait. Would you mind chopping up some kindling and stacking some more logs for the fire in the Great Room, just through here, when you have finished?” requested Murdoch, indicating the doorway to the Great Room for Johnny’s benefit.
I sure do mind, you old coot, thought Johnny, but instead Madrid put a lid on his emotions and nodded in the affirmative. “Sure. I’m done in here now, anyway.”
“Thank you,” commented Murdoch.
Johnny walked out, his thoughts and feelings in a turmoil.
Bet he wouldn’t be so polite if he knew who he was talking to, he considered. His mistake wouldn’t get to see those fine manners.
Johnny worked out some anger with the axe that he swung with a brooding ferocity, which startled Maria as she entered the garden.
“Good morning, Johnny. Anyone would think that you, that axe and that log have had a disagreement.”
“No, Maria. Just like to do a job fast and thoroughly.”
Maria approached him.
“You are upset.”
“No,” he denied. “I’m just getting the job done.”
“Why so much anger?”
“I ain’t angry and I ain’t upset. I just want to get the job done. It’s just pride in my trade. Now let me get on with it!” he dismissed her curtly.
He began chopping again with all his might, but almost immediately stopped. He turned towards Maria who had stood her ground.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I guess I got too much energy this morning,” he lied.
Maria was not fooled. “Well if you are using up all this energy, you will need more food to keep you going. When you are finished, you come into the kitchen, si? I will have something for you.”
Johnny looked into the kind and understanding eyes of this woman who had taken him into her heart. “Gracias.”
He smiled at her and satisfied, she smiled back before heading back to her duties.
Johnny loaded his arms once again with logs. Entering the kitchen, he smiled at Maria and made his way to the Great Room.
Once through the doorway, he stopped abruptly. He had never seen such splendour, nor a room of such generous proportions. One whole wall was lined with a bookcase filled with books of all kinds, mostly expensive leather bound volumes embossed in gold writing. In front of the bookshelf stood an enormous dining table, with heavy padded high-backed chairs in a Spanish style. Upholstered in an aqua velvet jacquard fabric, they exuded affluence. The fireplace came up to Johnny’s shoulder in height and above it was a large Lancer ‘L’, at least two feet in dimension. He grimaced in recognition. Having spent the past few days branding the cattle, he felt as though the Lancer brand had been seared into his own mind.
In front of the fireplace, placed for comfort and also covered in jacquard material, were two mustard brown sofas situated at right angles to each other. To the left of the hearth stood a deeply padded shiny leather armchair. Two more armchairs upholstered in expensive pale blue textiles added further luxury to the room. He noted a model of a ship, taking pride of place on a side table. The French windows, with heavy burgundy drapes to either side, provided access to the exterior across the porch. Everything screamed wealth and comfort, success and security.
Johnny placed the logs down next to the fireplace, then continued his perusal of the room. Some embroidery had been left in a basket, no doubt Teresa’s. Fresh flowers were in several vases, giving the air a fresh and perfumed scent. But dominating the room was a massive desk in front of a gigantic picture window. Johnny had never seen such a large window in his life. It drew him like a magnet. He stood there looking at the view of the rolling hills of Lancer, seemingly extending forever, dotted with the cattle that were the lifeblood of the ranch.
He gazed around the room once more, hoping for some memory to return, something to trigger his babyhood here. But he remembered nothing. This room was nothing to him. And he was nothing to it.
He looked at the desk with its neat piles of ledgers, accounts and bills. A frame facing away from him took his attention. He reached for it and turned it around.
The world stopped. He felt gut-punched as he expelled air from his lungs in a soft groan.
His Mama was smiling up at him. His Mama, whom he thought he would never see again. A younger Mama than he remembered, with laughter lines around her eyes. A man was standing next to her, his right arm protectively around her shoulders. A gigantic man who dwarfed his mother. And in his left arm was a little boy, about a year old. A dark haired little boy with light coloured eyes. The little boy was cuddling in to the huge man, his head in the crook of his father’s neck with his chubby little fist clutching the string tie worn to complement the man’s suit. A shy smile lit up the little child’s face.
It couldn’t be. Surely not. It defied belief. Bile rose in Johnny’s mouth and his breaths came in ragged gasps. He closed his eyes tightly and grasped the picture to his chest as tears welled up. For several moments, his mind was in a whirl. He felt dizzy. He was ragingly angry. Why had he been robbed of his birthright. Why had he been condemned to the life he had led?
After his breathing settled down, he came to his senses and quickly peered around to make sure he was unobserved. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, stared at the likeness of this happy family group for a further minute, then gently placed the frame back where it was.
It was then he noticed two more frames on the other side of the desk. One held a daguerrotype of an attractive blonde haired woman. He reached for it and studied it carefully, willing it to give up its secrets. She sat with graceful, erect posture and smiled sweetly at him. In the other was a little boy, about five years old in Johnny’s estimation. He seemed a little serious and very innocent. He had beautiful smooth skin and blonde hair like the woman, but his hair was cut in a different style with a fringe across his forehead. He sat stiffly and was oddly dressed in a miniature suit with a velvet bow-tie around his neck.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” a sharp voice cut through his reverie. “Why are you in here at Murdoch’s desk?”
to face Teresa.
”Hello,” he greeted her. “I just chopped some wood for the fire and brought it in.”
“The fire place is on the other side of the room.”
Johnny smiled at her.
“Don’t worry, I know what a fireplace looks like and I haven’t filled the desk drawers with wood.”
He paused to see the effect of his sense of humour, then added something close to the truth.
“I’m sorry. I’ve never seen a room like this. I came over to this side of the room to look out the window. It sure is an incredible view. It sorta takes your breath away.”
Teresa eyed him warily, but his sincerity won her over.
“Yes, that’s one view that Murdoch never gets tired of. But nevertheless, you could get that view outside.”
“True, but I ain’t never seen such a large window that can let you see so much of the outside from the inside!” retorted Johnny honestly.
Teresa looked at him for an instant, then laughed. “I suppose you’re right, but why do you have that frame in your hand?”
Johnny looked at her, then at the frame he had forgotten he was holding.
“I saw these on the desk. I suppose I was curious as to who the women and children are.”
“It’s really none of your business, is it?”
This remark had the effect of poleaxing him. None of his business. His father had made sure of that. Not any more. His business had been firmly separated from his father’s, through no fault of his own. A gulf as wide as the all the desert and badlands in Mexico and California combined separated them.
“No, but those ladies sure are pretty...and so different in looks.”
Teresa stopped and seemed to consider whether she should say anything. She cocked her head slightly, her eyes making it clear she was pondering a response.
“This lady is Maria, Murdoch’s second wife, with their son, John,” she stated, indicating the frame Johnny had placed back on the desk. She then pointed to the frame in Johnny’s hand. “And that lady is Catherine, Murdoch’s first wife. She died in childbirth.”
“So if his
first wife died in childbirth, what happened to Maria?”
Teresa did not at first answer, but then shrugged and seemed to come to a decision.
“She ran off with another man, a gambler, taking her son with her.”
Liar! Liar! Johnny’s mind screamed silently at her. But instead he gibed, “Doesn’t have much luck with his women, does he?”
Before she could respond, and for fear that he would put her offside and not discover any more answers, he pursued another line of questioning. “What makes you think she ran off with another man?” he asked.
“My father told me. Everyone knew. It was as though everyone in the whole neighbourhood knew, except for Murdoch. He came home one day and found them gone. John was not quite two years old. He was devastated.”
“Devastated? That kid looks like he’s a half-breed. Maybe it was a relief for the old man,” Johnny suggested.
“How dare you suggest such a thing! Afterwards, Murdoch left the ranch for six months. He scoured the countryside, here and in Mexico looking for them! When he came back, my father said that he looked like a skeleton and had aged ten years. He thought the world of his son and wife. Everyone knew that he would take his son on his horse or give him rides on his shoulders whenever he could get away from work. He doted on the little baby and his wife. He was heartbroken.”
Johnny stared at the girl, trying to make sense of what she had said. It jarred totally with what he had been told by his mother. And she would not lie to him.
“He still pays the Pinkertons to trace little John. For nineteen years he has done this, but without result. Whenever there is any profit, he makes a payment to the Pinkerton Agency hoping that they will find them.”
Johnny was flummoxed by this. It simply could not be true. It was impossible that his father cared. Maybe he had another reason for continuing the hunt? Maybe his Mama had something belonging to Murdoch? Maybe he wanted to make sure they never came back to claim their heritage? Johnny’s mind searched wildly for possible reasons to explain these actions of his father.
“Why would he want them back if she left him for another man? Why would he want such a woman who had been soiled by another man?”
Teresa looked at him as though he was a cretin.
“Because he loves her,” she stated simply, “And he adored the ground his son walked on. Because she is the mother of his son and he wants her back. He wants his family back. He wants his life back. He never knew she was unhappy and guilt eats at him for not noticing. He wants to put it all right again.”
Johnny’s mind raced, unable to take all of this in. Desperate to give himself some thinking time, he asked about the third picture. “Who’s the blond kid?”
“Catherine and Murdoch’s son.”
Johnny stared at her. “I thought you said that she died in childbirth?”
"Yes, she did, but the son survived. His name is Scott and he lives in Boston with her father, Harlan Garrett, a wealthy businessman.”
“Why doesn’t he live here?”
“Because Murdoch sent her away when she was near her time. It was too dangerous at Lancer. Land pirates were active then, too. Harlan Garrett took the baby away immediately after Catherine died, and before Murdoch could reach them.”
“Well, why spend all that money on Pinkertons to track down the half-breed when he has a perfectly good son living in Boston? And why didn’t he bring the other boy here?”
“He tried to bring him here when Scott was five and John was two. He left the ranch to go to Boston, leaving my father in charge here. Harlan let him see Scott, but only introduced him as a business associate. He told Murdoch that if he tried to get Scott, he would stymie every move, he would drag Scott through the courts and would bankrupt Murdoch. Scott’s grandfather is rich enough and powerful enough to do it.
Murdoch didn’t want to do that to Scott. And he had John to think of. He knew that Scott was safe and well cared for, but he knew that John was probably at risk. If he spent all his money trying to get custody of Scott, he would have to forsake John, who probably needed him and the security he represented more. He knew Scott was sheltered and looked after, but not knowing about John’s welfare has eaten at him for nearly twenty years. It is so tragic that he has neither son and that the two brothers don’t have each other.”
The two brothers.
Johnny’s ears rang. The world tilted. His brain roared.
As she had discussed Murdoch’s two families, he had not taken this on board until the very end.
He had a brother.
The two children in the pictures were brothers. Albeit half-brothers, but still brothers. The blond boy shared half his blood. A continent separated them. A marriage separated them. Fortune and extreme poverty separated them. A life’s experiences separated them. Hell, even hair colour and complexion separated them.
But he had a brother. A brother who shared his blood. A brother who shared his father.
Johnny looked at Teresa. He commented inanely, “Yeah, that is sad. A pity they don’t know about each other. Murdoch doesn’t write to this Scott?”
“Murdoch has written many times, but there is never a reply. He always sends something for his birthday and Christmas, but Murdoch gets nothing back. After he went to get Scott, Harlan sent Murdoch that photo. That’s all he has. I often wonder if Scott has ever received any of Murdoch’s letters.”
“So you think
that Scott has been kept deliberately in the dark?”
”Yes, I believe so.”
“Sounds like one heck of a mess.”
“Yes, it is, and it’s so hard on Murdoch to keep pushing himself trying to locate John. There’s been disappointment after disappointment.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sorry. I guess life wasn’t meant to be easy.”
“True, but why does it have to be so cruel for some people?”
The front door slamming interrupted them. Johnny jumped back from the desk and turned towards the loud footsteps approaching, waiting for a challenge from Murdoch regarding his intrusion into this sanctuary.
“Hello, Teresa” greeted Murdoch as he placed a kiss on her cheek.
“Hello, Murdoch. Dinner is almost ready. You’ve got time to wash up.”
“Thank you, honey.”
Johnny was half way out the room making what he thought was an unobtrusive exit when Murdoch stopped him.
“Alvirez. Have you chopped all that wood?”
Johnny turned, heart racing.
“Yes, sir. It’s all stacked up and ready.”
“Good. Come over here, son.”
There he was again, using that term. Rubbing it in.
“You know, what you did the other day meant everything to me. Thank you. Teresa is very precious.”
“I did what anyone would do.”
“No, you didn’t. You achieved what none of us could do. You managed to kill the snake without startling it into biting Teresa. Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
Johnny’s protective shutters descended. He kept his eyes bland as he gave a deliberately uninformative answer. “Here and there.”
“Where exactly is ‘here and there’?”
“In Mexico. Along the border towns.”
“What did you do in Mexico and along the border towns?”
“This and that.”
surprised him with a wry grin. “All right, I get the message. I won’t ask any
more questions. I don’t want to scare you off. By all accounts you are a good
worker. But I do want to give you this.”
Murdoch reached into the breast pocket of his coat and withdrew a billfold. From it he took out an envelope, which he extended to Johnny.
Johnny looked at it, but didn’t reach to take it.
”Take it and find out.”
Johnny searched his father’s face for an answer, but not finding one, held out his hand and took it.
Inside were banknotes. Many of them.
Johnny looked up in shocked surprise.
“There’s $500 in there. I told you that Teresa is all I have. I want you to take that and use it wisely for something special.”
“I can’t take your money. I don’t want it.”
“Yes, you can. In saving Teresa, you gave me a reason to keep living. I have nothing without her. My life is empty without her here. Please. I won’t take it back.”
For what seemed a lifetime, Johnny stared at his father, at the sincerity on his father’s face. Finally, he nodded and placed it in the inside pocket of his jacket.
He started to walk away, then stopped and swivelled on his heels.
“Thanks,” he offered.
“You’re more than welcome.”
Johnny went to leave again, but turned a second time.
“If you’ve only got Teresa, what are you going to do when she up and marries?”
It was a cruel question, but he had to know.
“I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing for the past twenty years. I’ll keep looking for my family.”
The utter hopelessness and desolation in Murdoch’s face ripped through Johnny’s soul.
“What if you find them and you don’t like what you find, what sort of people they’ve become?”
“When I find them I will bless the day. I just want them to know that they are loved and always have been. What right would I have to condemn them when I know nothing of the obstacles life may have thrown in their way?”
Johnny nodded his understanding and left his father to his morose thoughts about what could have been and what was unlikely ever to be.
Johnny tensed and peered intently, waiting for his quarry. He drew up the collar of his coat against the cool Boston breeze and watched with interest.
He had left California several weeks ago, blessing the newly completed transcontinental railway. The seemingly interminable journey was at least much faster than travelling by steamship around the continent.
Ironically, Murdoch’s money had made this mission possible. He had given his notice and was assured he could come back any time. More irony! He purchased his ticket for Boston and upon arrival found accommodation and immediately used his skills to track down his prey. Harlan Garrett, the prominent citizen, was easy to find, but it was Scott he needed to make contact with.
His next step had been to immerse himself in discovering as much about Harlan Garrett and his business interests as he could, as well as about his brother. He used businesses, the library, neighbours and the local newspaper, relying heavily on his charm and some fabricated stories to get what he wanted.
The social pages in the newspapers provided pictures of the man who had become an obsession. Johnny was intrigued by the man who was his brother. The difference in colouring fascinated him. He was still getting used to the fact that he actually had a sibling, but the extreme nature of their differences bemused him. How could he be related to the dandy in the photos he had seen in the newspapers? This man was constantly all duded up in starched shirt collars, fancy ties and pretty suits as he attended a variety of overbearingly stuffy social events. Johnny wondered if he was as stiff as his clothes seemed to be. His posture was always erect, as though he had concealed a six shooter most uncomfortably in his drawers, but Johnny did concede that his newly revealed military past could have something to do with that.
This fact had surprised him immensely. A newspaper article referred to Scott as an ex-Lieutenant in the Union Army. The accompanying photograph showed him at an annual ball to raise money for those injured during the war and for their families. Like the photograph on Murdoch Lancer’s desk, it was a serious Scott stared who stared grimly at the camera.
Johnny stiffened as a man opened the front door of the elegant three-story home in affluent St Louisburg Square, close to Boston Common and near Beacon Street in Beacon Hill. He was taller than Johnny by two to three inches, but not nearly as tall as Murdoch. Slim in build, he was clad in riding clothes consisting of tight plaid pants and a neatly buttoned tan coat with a green cravat loosely tied at his neck to ward off the morning chill. His hair was as blond as in the old daguerrotype on Murdoch’s desk. The fringe was virtually the same as well.
He had shadowed his sibling for the past four days, trying to work out his routine and hoping to find a way to get to speak to him. Not that he knew what he would have to say, or indeed if he would say anything anyway. He just didn’t know. This indecisiveness was not part of Johnny’s character and left him unsettled.
Scott Lancer seemed to be man of habit. He rose early by Boston standards, but not as early as Johnny was used to on the ranch. He went for a ride in the woods and over the fields on the outskirts of the city, before returning to his abode, changing and heading to the office of Garrett Enterprises. The building seemed to swallow him up for the entire day, disgorging him only in the late afternoon or early evening. His evenings were spent at various clubs, theatres or residences about town. There seemed no set pattern to his nocturnal activities.
Johnny watched Scott leave. He bit his lip in concentration and decided on a plan.
Making his way to the commercial centre of the city, he arranged for the purchase of a city style suit and a dress dinner suit. He decided that his current clothes would do for riding. Choosing two suitable ready made outfits, he made arrangements to pick up the clothes later that day after being assured that some minor alterations would be completed by then.
Johnny continued to make discreet enquiries for the next few hours. It was the afternoon by the time Johnny paid a visit to the livery where Scott’s mount was stabled. He introduced himself as a Californian rancher and checked over the stock, making much of Scott’s mount. When told that the mount could not be hired out, Johnny chose another stallion. A fine animal with rippling muscles and energy quivering below the surface.
Paying in advance, he finalized his requirements for the next day and left. Last preparations made, Johnny picked up his clothes and returned to his hotel room for dinner and an early night.
The next morning saw Johnny out early riding his mount in the crisp air. He kept an eagle eye out for his brother by hovering just out of sight on a hillcrest. Finally, the time arrived. Scott was proceeding towards him at a steady pace. Johnny knew that once Scott topped the rise, he would head below and ride flat out in the valley, soaring with his steed over obstacles such as fences in their path.
Johnny headed for the valley below, sure that Scott would soon arrive. Sure enough, his sibling soon joined him on the valley floor. Johnny quickened his pace as Scott drew near and glanced over his shoulder at his older brother.
Scott narrowed the gap and just as Scott drew alongside, Johnny looked over at him and stared full in the eye. He grinned, jerked his head forward and spurred his horse on. Momentarily, Scott was left behind, but a few short moments later he had taken up the challenge and was flying along at breakneck speed. The men kept pace over several miles, their mounts lithely jumping over logs and fences barring their passage. Each rider was glued to the saddle, moving as though an extension of the animal between their thighs.
Finally, both men recognized the need for their horses to take things easier. They gradually slowed the animals whose flanks and withers were flecked with the foam of exertion. Both man and beast were breathing heavily, the soothing walk gradually restoring them to normal respiration.
It was then that Scott spoke, his cultured, deep voice causing Johnny’s heart to thud at these first words.
“It’s a long time since I have had the pleasure of a ride like that.”
Johnny angled his head at him, grinning, “Is that what you call it? I thought it was a race!”
Scott laughed. “All right. I’ll amend that. It’s a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of a race like that.”
Johnny’s infectious grin dazzled his brother, who beamed back in pleasure.
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lancer. Scott Lancer,” elaborated Scott as he stilled his stallion and leaned over, offering his hand.
Johnny was mesmerized by the hand hovering in front of him. He finally extended his own right hand and clasped his brother firmly in a prolonged shake. It seemed like Johnny could not let go and only loosened his hand when he felt Scott begin to withdraw his arm.
“I’m Johnny.” After a moment’s hesitation, he added “Alvirez. Johnny Alvirez.”
Johnny’s world contracted to just the two of them. He was riding next to his brother. His breath left him for an instant and he felt giddy.
Finally, he asked, “Where did you learn to ride like that? I didn’t think that many city slickers could possibly ride like that and still maintain their seat in the saddle.”
Scott looked over and smiled, a little sadly. “In the cavalry. I served under Sherman in the war.”
“What were you doing in the war? A gentleman like you wouldn’t have needed to sign up.”
“No, I didn’t need to, but I felt a need to. I had led a privileged life. I opposed the slavery issue. No man should be a possession and every man should be able to make decisions for his own future without others making them for him. Every man should be able to dream and to have his dreams realized through a little hard work and with no-one putting obstacles in his way.”
Scott abruptly stopped, embarrassed that he should spill his thoughts to this stranger. Before he could divert attention from his statement, his new riding partner made an astute comment.
“The world would be a better place if more men thought and acted like you.”
The second piece of praise unsettled Scott, who sought a safer topic of conversation.
“I see you ride with a western saddle. Where did you learn to ride?”
“In Mexico and California.”
“You have a different accent from mine. Is that where you are from?”
“Yeah, I spent all my life there.”
“What finds you here? You are a long way from home.”
Home. Little did this man know that he had no home.
“I have business interests in California. I’m a rancher.”
Scott’s interest quickened. “Where is your ranch located?”
“In the northern San Joachin Valley. I spent most of my life further south, but I now have interests there.”
It was only a white lie or a little twist to the truth, after all.
Scott was silent, grey even in pallor. He continued to walk his horse next to Johnny. Finally, his erect posture squared further.
“Do you know a man named Murdoch Lancer? He has a ranch in those parts.”
“Yes, I know him. I met him recently, in fact.”
Scott brought his horse to an abrupt stop. Johnny’s horse continued past, before he, too, reined in. Johnny twisted around in the saddle to watch his brother. Scott’s face was immobile and white with shock. His eyes locked with his unknown brother.
“Are you all right?” asked Johnny softly.
Scott seemed to visibly shake himself. “Yes, I’m fine,” he asserted.
“You don’t look fine. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Scott glared at him, his mouth set in a tight line. Too late, Johnny realized that he might have pushed too far. Scott spurred his horse forward and flew along at a terrifying speed. Johnny took off after him, genuinely concerned that he would come to grief.
Scott was some rider and managed to outpace Johnny for quite a distance, with Johnny doggedly in pursuit, not far behind. Finally, Johnny drew level and kept his brother company on his wild dash. Scott’s horse began to slacken at last and Scott gently reined him in, Johnny mirroring his brother’s actions.
They had come a beautiful lake, surrounded by lush green trees. Scott dismounted and fell to his knees. Johnny stayed in the saddle for a while, then when he felt that his brother had composed himself somewhat, he too dismounted. He gently prised the reins from Scott’s hand and led the two horses over to one of the trees where he could tether them both. Once they had cooled down, he would let them drink from the inviting waters of the lake. As Johnny dealt with the horses, Scott stood and made his way shakily to a log. He leant both hands on his knees and gulped great lungfuls of air.
Johnny approached his companion, proffering him a canteen. Scott quirked an eyebrow.
“Back where I come from, you don’t go anywhere on horseback without at least one or two canteens. It’s only water. If I had my own horse and saddlebags, I’d be able to offer you something stronger.”
Scott smiled at him. “Thanks, anyway. Water will be fine.”
Scott took a welcome drink, then offered it back to Johnny, who also drank, both to quench his thirst and to give Scott time.
“Do you want to talk?”
“I don’t know you.”
Ain’t that the sad and sorry truth, thought Johnny morosely. Instead, he advised, “Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know. It sort of provides a distance, a buffer.”
There was a silence as Johnny stared at the rolling hills, so different from the landscape of Lancer. When Scott did at last speak, his voice gripped Johnny’s attention.
“Murdoch Lancer is my father. My mother died when I was born and my grandfather, my mother’s father, raised me.”
“You’ve never met him?”
“No, he never came to reclaim me.”
Johnny bit his tongue and mulled over his response.
“How do you know? And maybe circumstances prevented him, anyway.”
“I think I’d have known if I met my own father!” spat Scott with venom.
“When you were older, yes, but when you were younger, you may have been unaware of what was going on.”
Scott looked at Johnny with a steely stare. Johnny thought once again that he had blown it. Scott was the first to look away.
“Sometimes things aren’t what they seem, Scott. Sometimes they are not as simple as they seem to be when you are a child. Things aren’t always black and white.”
Silence enveloped the two. A companionable silence, Johnny suddenly realized.
“What about your family?” Scott enquired.
“I’m not married.”
“Neither am I. I was thinking about where you grew up.”
“My mother left my father when I was about two. I never knew my father, either.”
They looked at each other, a common bond shared.
“But you had your mother?”
“Yes, but only until I was ten.” Fearing that this sounded selfish given Scott’s loss, he added.
“I was lucky to have my Mama for ten years at least.”
“Was she a good mother?”
Johnny balked at this private question, then gave his weighed response.
“In her own way, she did her best.” But did she? He really needed to examine his thoughts and feelings about his mother and her actions since his return to Lancer, but it was simply too hard, too raw and too uncomfortable for him.
Scott nodded. “So what happened when you were ten?”
“She died,” was Johnny’s cryptic response.
“But what happened to you?”
”I got me some work. Enough to get by. I spent a few months in an orphanage.”
Scott looked at him horrified. “Do you mean to say that you looked after yourself? You had no adult to fall back on? Why didn’t you stay in the orphanage?”
“An orphanage is like the army. I’m sure you can relate to that,” added Johnny with his unique humour. “All rules and regulations. All the life stifled out of you so you do what they say, when they say, how they say. I just preferred to be in charge of my own destiny without having to answer to someone else. I never was much good at taking orders,” he finished with a dazzling smile.
Scott reciprocated. This man’s smile was captivating and disarming. Scott could not remember when he had last felt so at ease with someone.
Scott felt guilty. For a short while he had actually felt jealous that this man had known a mother’s embrace and affection, but then he compared his pampered lifestyle to this man’s solitary existence and he felt deep pangs of shame that he had grown up with so much, and his new friend with so little. Scott was not naïve. The war had changed that. He knew that the man must have suffered unspeakable hardships.
Johnny sat next to him on the log. They stayed silent for a minute, then Scott took a deep breath. “What can you tell me about my father?”
What could Johnny say? Johnny himself did not know what to make of the man.
“Boy, is he big!” was the first thing that he could think of. “Bigger than you by about five inches. Just massive. I believe that he’s Scottish, but no trace of his accent remains. He just has your average American accent.”
“What sort of man is he?”
“I don’t really know, but his workers think the world of him. He expects them to work hard, but he is a fair and respected boss. His ranch is one hundred thousand acres, just outside of Morro Coyo, not all that far from Stockton and Sacramento. It’s a big enterprise and he’s a leading figure in the Californian Cattlemen’s Association.”
“Does he have a wife now? Does he have any other children on the ranch.”
“No,” Johnny truthfully replied.
They sat together for a further few minutes, after which Scott asked Johnny how long he intended to be in Boston.
“I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on how things pan out.”
“Would you care to meet me for lunch at my club today?”
“I don’t know if I’d be acceptable there.”
“Some of those sorts of establishments don’t take kindly to clients of mixed blood.”
Scott simply stared at him in dismay.
“I had hoped that those sorts of attitudes had changed since the war.”
“Nope. Leastways, not where I’m from.”
“You’ll have no problem, I assure you.”
Scott gave him the address, then the two of them made their way back to the stables at a leisurely pace after allowing the horses to refresh themselves at the lake.
For the next week, Scott and Johnny met every day. While Johnny needed to deceive his brother over some issues, he nevertheless used honesty where possible.
From Scott’s perspective, he had never felt this easy relationship to another human being. He had come close during the war, but never had he felt so much enjoyment of someone’s company.
Towards the end of the first week, Scott asked Johnny to dine at home with his grandfather and some business associates.
“I really don’t know if I would fit in.”
“Yes, you will. Besides, one is a Spaniard. He comes here once a year from Europe on business. He and my grandfather are involved in an import and export enterprise. You speak Spanish. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to have someone else speak his language.”
Johnny spent the afternoon in a nervous fidget, but the opportunity of seeing Harlan in the flesh was too tempting. He arrived punctually, dressed in his formal suit and was shown into a sitting room by the butler. Scott leapt up to greet him and to introduce him around.
Harlan shook his hand in greeting, but he was merely going through the motions, his soft, unenthusiastic hand indicating his lack of pleasure at the sight of his Mexican dinner guest. Scott’s grandfather sized him up quickly and did not like the rough edged young man of uncertain parentage intruding upon his evening with his business associates.
Johnny felt comfortable with the Spaniard, Alberto Martinez, however, and listened closely to the business chatter weaving around him. The man was cultured and well bred, as well as being remarkably well read on many topics. He was obviously accepted by Harlan as an equal. The other Bostonians were stuffed shirts, but his survival had long rested on his ability to blend into his surroundings and to absorb useful information. Dinner was delayed slightly as they waited for another guest, Chad Longworth, to arrive, but in the end it was decided to begin without him. Longworth, it was explained, was businessman from southern California who traveled once a year to Boston to keep up-to-date on the latest goods available for shipment to his growing network of stores in the south of the state and even over the border into Mexico.
They were well past the first course at the dining table, and Johnny was just starting to feel confident in his handling of conversation when it came his way, when the delayed guest finally arrived. He entered the room, gushing his apologies and excusing his tardiness owing to a double booking of a carriage.
He was introduced around, but as he turned to face Johnny, he came to an abrupt halt. He froze. The blood drained from his face and his body noticeably began to tremble.
The other guests looked on in consternation, his puzzling behaviour disconcerting them
“You,” he gurgled. “What are you doing here?”
Johnny looked at him in the eye, memory flooding back and curdling the contents of his recently digested meal.
“Been a long time,” drawled Johnny.
“You know each other?” queried Scott.
“Madrid’s a killer, a gun for hire. What in tarnation is he doing here at your dining table, Harlan?”
Harlan went a ghostly white and swayed. Comprehension had sunk in.
“Johnny Madrid? Maria’s boy. No.!” he whispered in dismay, grasping the back of a dining chair for support.
Scott looked at the men. Taking in the fear in his grandfather’s face and the uneasy tension in Longworth, he then looked at Johnny’s deceptively placid features.
“Johnny?” has asked tentatively. “What are they talking about?”
“Harlan’s right, Scott. I used to go by the name of Johnny Madrid. I was a gun-hawk. I met Longworth along the border towns. He was refusing to sell goods to the people at a reasonable price or refusing to provide goods to them after a reasonable deposit had been made prior to ordering. He held the monopoly. He made sure he sewed up the contract from the flour mills, he stopped sugar getting through, essential tools were with-held, supplies were kept locked away, goods were sold twice over as he realized he could jack up the price through lack of opposition.”
“You stole from me. You killed my men.”
“I took what they had already paid for! What was rightfully theirs! Supplies that you tried to sell twice, the second time around to the highest bidder. The only men that got killed were those who fired first on women and children trying to load their rightfully purchased goods into wagons. You and your men are scum, Longworth. Of course, you were scarce when the action started. Easy to send men to fight for you, isn’t it, when you can hide away from reality, hiding behind your money?”
Scott was frozen as he tried to comprehend what was happening. He felt cheated, but of what, he wasn’t sure. He stared at the tableau before him.
Then he remembered what Harlan had said.
“How did you know Johnny’s name, grandfather? How did you know him? Who is Maria?”
For the first time in his life, Harlan Garrett was silent. He was incapable of moving. His world was going to crumble around him unless he thought fast.
Johnny also noticed the chink in the old man’s armour. Harlan knew who he was and his relationship to Scott, of that Johnny was certain. Perhaps now was the time to risk it and come clean.
“Are you going to tell him, Garrett?”
Harlan looked at him blankly.
“What do you mean?”
“You obviously know who I am. Tell Scott who Maria is.”
Harlan looked lost and bewildered, before attempting to bluff his way out of it. “You don’t need this riffraff. You can be assured that everyone in this room will keep this quiet. Your business future and matrimonial happiness will depend on it. I will not have you dragged into the gutter.”
Harlan’s beseeching look was lost on Scott. “Tell me what is going on, Grandfather. Now!” ground out a seething Scott.
“This murderer is the son of Murdoch Lancer’s whore. This is John Lancer.”
Johnny swore loudly and launched himself at Garrett, but his brother got there first. He grappled with Johnny, managing to throw him off his grandfather after a short scuffle. Panting with exertion and frustration, Scott demanded answers.
“Stop! I want to know precisely what you mean, Grandfather.”
Harlan straightened his clothes, considered what he should say, then ploughed on.
“Several years after your mother’s passing, your father remarried. This time to a Mexican harlot he only just made respectable in time before her bastard son could be born.”
Scott stood stock still. Shock rolled over him. He stared at his grandfather until Harlan cringed at the rage and hatred hurling silently towards him.
Slowly, Scott turned to Johnny who held his gaze unwaveringly.
“You’re my brother? My little brother?”
“Yes,” replied Johnny simply.
Scott remained immobile except for a slight nodding of his head. “And you’ve known from the start, Grandfather?”
“Yes, Murdoch wanted you to join him and his Mexican wife, but I put a stop to that nonsense, of course. That country killed your mother. I wasn’t going to let it happen to you. I wasn’t going to let that dirty foreigner, who didn’t even speak proper English, try to replace Catherine in your heart.”
“My father tried to get me back?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t allow it, of course. I made sure that his attempts came to nothing. I was not going to have your life ruined by them and that heathen, godforsaken country. Nor was I going to have that half-breed killer contaminating you. You can see how it was for the best.”
Scott looked searchingly at Johnny. “When did John Lancer become Johnny Madrid?”
“When I was eleven.”
Scott nodded at that. It made sense. After his mother’s death. His grandfather received the next question from him.
“And how long have you known that John Lancer was Johnny Madrid?”
Harlan appeared puzzled. “Since he was eleven and changed his name.”
“So you kept tabs on him all this time?”
“Yes, I needed to protect you, Scotty.”
Scott glared long and hard at his grandfather.
“So you knew he was alone from the age of ten?”
Harlan realized his mistake. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Finally he attempted, “It was like this, Scotty…”
That was as far as Harlan got. He did not see the fist which flew towards his mouth, the resultant blow bloodying his nose and lips. The force landed him on his back with a grunt. He squealed in fright as he saw the blood and searched frantically for a handkerchief to staunch the flow of the red sticky substance ruining his clothes.
“Have you taken leave of your senses, boy?”
“No, now that I have been apprised of a few facts, I’ve just come to my senses. THAT was for Johnny. Don’t you EVER call his mother those names again! Don’t you EVER again refer to my brother as a bastard or a half-breed or a killer!”
Scott turned to Johnny. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Scott took Johnny’s arm, led him outside, hailed a cab and had them driven in meditative silence to his club. Paying a substantial sum to be permitted to use a private conference room there, he turned to Johnny.
“Is whiskey OK?”
“Yeah, but I’d prefer a tequila if this fine establishment carries any in stock,” grinned Johnny wickedly in response.
“I’ll see what I can do, brother,” smiled Scott warmly in reply.
Scott ceased movement as he began to choke on the last word. Taking some deep breaths, he shook off the emotion, organized their needs to include some food since their meal had been disrupted and led his brother away, with the firm assertion that they were not to be interrupted.
Closing the door behind him, he leaned heavily against it, before making his way to some deep armchairs beside a table. He poured them both a large drink, then sat staring at it. Finally he raised his eyes to Johnny, who had been patiently waiting and biding his time. He lifted his glass to chink against Johnny’s and offered a simple toast.
“To the Lancer brothers.”
“To the Lancer brothers,” repeated Johnny solemnly.
They drank deeply, then immediately topped up their glasses.
“Care to tell me about it, Johnny? This time I’d like the truth.”
Johnny was not sure where to start.
“Much of what I told you is the truth, Scott. My mother married my father…our father,” he corrected himself hastily, “A couple of years after you were born. I was born at Lancer, but was taken away from there when I was just two.”
Here Johnny paused. Making a decision, he decided that he owed his brother the complete truth.
“She told me that Murdoch kicked us out, that he didn’t want a half-breed for a son.”
At this, Scott looked at him in shock.
“That’s what I grew up believing. She had ...various men … and did what it took to feed us. Guess she wouldn’t hold her own in polite Boston society,” contemplated Johnny wryly
It was getting harder for Johnny who tossed own the rest of his drink and reached for a refill. “One man she was with often used to beat her and me both. One day, he went too far. I tried to protect her, but I wasn’t big enough or strong enough.”
Johnny’s voiced hitched at this point. Scott held out a hand and tentatively touched his sleeve. Johnny looked at the hand on his arm, then nodded his appreciation at his older brother.
“He killed her and then went for me. He’d left his gun in its holster hanging on the back of a chair while he …dealt with my mother. I got to it first and shot him. He was the first man I killed. And I’d do it again, Scott.”
Johnny waited for the reaction, but his brother’s eyes only held approval and understanding.
“I lit out. I had to fend for myself. Being a half-breed makes you the whipping boy for both races. I had to learn to defend myself or die. So began the legend of Johnny Madrid.”
Scott did not press for further details, but felt that he was being given an edited version of events. He was surprised that Johnny had divulged as much as he did. There was no doubt that, given time, he would learn more about his brother and his dreadful experiences. And time was what he had in mind to spend with this brother of his – with this most unexpected and welcome discovery in his life.
“A few months ago I reached a point where I couldn’t continue the life of a gun-hawk any more. It’s sordid, soul-destroying. I just couldn’t keep going, but I knew as soon as I tried to give it up I would have every wannabe gunfighter gunning for me and I’d be dead within weeks. Seeing I realized that my time on this earth was limited, I decided I’d take the one person who had caused all my misery with me.”
Johnny hesitated, but than added, “By the way, just so that you know, in all my career he would have been the only one I would have killed in out and out cold blood.’
Johnny ventured to look at Scott again. Still not getting a negative reaction, he decided he could safely continue his recount of events. Scott, however, interrupted first.
“What changed your mind?” Scott then hastily amended this, some panic evident in his tone. “Presumably you did change your mind?”
“When I got to Lancer, I found out that things were not quite what I was led to believe.”
“Our father was not the cold-hearted devil I was led to believe. He was well respected by the workers. He didn’t seem racist. And then there was Teresa.”
“Our father’s ward. He took her on when her own father was killed by land pirates. I saw some photographs on his desk one day. One was of you. I didn’t know you existed until then. She told me how he tried to get you back, but Harlan prevented it and threatened to drag you through the courts. He would have won and he would have bankrupted Murdoch into the bargain.”
Johnny bowed his head, speaking very softly as he continued. “She also told me that my mother and I weren’t kicked out. She had run off with another man and that Murdoch has spent all this time looking for us. She didn’t know who I was, so there was no reason to lie.”
The last was barely a whisper.
The movement of a lone tear slowly sliding down Johnny’s cheek broke through Scott’s reserve. He reached forward and grasped his brother in his arms for the first time.
The two Lancer brothers reined in their horses on the same crest Johnny had stopped at several months ago. Both remained silent until Johnny offered the observation that everything below was Lancer, as far as the eye could see.
Scott had never seen any property so huge. Yes, his grandfather’s holdings were extensive, but they were never anything you could physically see and grasp in your mind’s eye, except for maybe an isolated office building.
It took the brothers’ breath away.
Lancer was a world away from Boston, its confines, its traditions and its sour memories.
After staying up all night talking and drinking at Scott’s club, they had returned to his grandfather’s home, where Scott had proceeded to pack his belongings. Some he took with him in several valises, the rest he had packed into trunks for shipment or arranged for them to be held indefinitely in storage. Scott had said an icy goodbye to his grandfather, but was genuinely moved when taking his leave from the faithful servants who had been all the family he had.
He had procured an adjoining room to Johnny’s at the hotel, where they had spent one last night in Boston before heading out west on the railroad.
The time on board the train had given the two men more time to adjust to each other and to learn more about each other. Both were quite staggered that they felt so much at ease in each other’s company. That there was a growing, indefinable bond was unmistakable. Scott revelled in being the older brother. He just wished that he had been there to protect his brother when he needed it most as he grew up alone.
Scott learned more about Johnny’s past. Johnny opened up gradually, but Scott often wondered if he would ever learn the true extent of his younger sibling’s suffering as a child and adolescent.
Johnny was astonished that even though he allowed Scott an ever-increasing glimpse into his past, Scott did not judge him. Rather than being mortified and disgusted, Scott seemed to become more protective of him. Scott had told him about his time in the army, the abhorrence he felt for the senseless killing and of his appalling time in Libby Prison. The two came to understand that they had more in common than they at first thought.
This time together did much to mend the broken bridges of their childhood. Scott found Johnny’s vibrant humour and effervescent sense of fun to be a lifeline after his ruptured relations with his grandfather. His buoyant attitude and ebullience were contagious. Scott, who had been raised in a stifled and serious environment, felt liberated.
And the openness of Lancer, spread out below and in the distance, contrasted with their suffocating pasts in Boston and Mexico, offering a new challenge and fresh hope in the accosting and confronting of ghosts from their separate youths.
After several minutes studying the scene below, the brothers simultaneously made the move forward. Walking their horses through the Lancer arch, both looked around and drank in every detail. They stopped outside the hacienda and dismounted to tether their mounts to the hitching rail. At that moment, Teresa came out onto the porch.
“Hello, Johnny. You’re back!” she exclaimed in pleased tones. “Murdoch and Cipriano were only saying this morning that they could use your help at the moment.”
“Why is that?”
“Oh, we’ve had some further trouble from land pirates while you’ve been gone.”
“Well, perhaps if we could go inside, we could discuss it with Mr Lancer.”
Teresa led them in, surprised that Johnny did not introduce his well-dressed friend.
“Murdoch! You have visitors!”
Murdoch rose from his desk as Teresa left for the kitchen to get refreshments.
“You’re back, Alvirez!”
“Yes and no.”
“Yes and no?”
“Yes, I’m back. No, I’m not really Alvirez.”
Murdoch stopped with a frown creasing his forehead. “Would you care to explain?”
“Alvirez was the name of one of my step fathers. I’ve been going by the name of Johnny Madrid for the past ten years.”
Murdoch stiffened in shock, not daring to believe what he was hearing. Pinkerton reports had only recently indicated his son’s alias. He dared not hold out hope. “And what name did you go by before then, son?”
Johnny looked at him, locking eyes with his father’s. He was sure that undue emphasis had been put on that last word.
Murdoch felt weak at the knees. His limbs turned to jelly, his breathing became rapid until finally he stumbled the last few paces to Johnny and grasped him in a tight embrace. It was so tight that Johnny could scarcely breathe.
When finally he was released, his father held him at arm’s length, moist eyes drinking in every detail.
“You look so like Maria. I caught glimpses of it before, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was that made you seem so familiar to me. Now, it seems so obvious and such an uncanny resemblance.”
Johnny swallowed a lump in his throat, preventing him from speaking. He cleared his throat noisily. “I brought someone with me.”
Murdoch looked at Scott properly for the first time. At first merely curiously, waiting for Johnny to elaborate, then with an intensity which pinned Scott like an insect stuck on a display board. Murdoch approached the stranger.
He knew. It had to be. The same serious face and the same blond hair in a grown man’s body.
“Scott,” he breathed, before enveloping him in a hug, which seemed to crush the air from Scott’s lungs.
After some time Murdoch stepped back, holding him by the forearms. A ghost of a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“You, son, have your mother’s eyes.”
Scott flinched a little at the memory of a woman he never even met, at the thought that the woman who had given him life had left a legacy to remind others of her.
Murdoch’s smile was broad and infectious. “Welcome home, boys. I never thought I would live to see the day. This calls for a celebratory drink. You do drink, don’t you?”
“When I know the man I’m drinking with, yeah,” grinned back Johnny in return.
Murdoch passed the glasses around, offering a toast to his sons and to a future together at Lancer.
“To this most unexpected and delightful surprise, one I’ve waited a lifetime for,” proposed Murdoch.
They raised their glasses and Murdoch shared his first drink with his boys. He turned to the picture window.
“Through that window is Lancer. I’ve got a grey hair for every good blade of grass you see out there. I used to love this ground more than anything God ever created. But it doesn’t mean much without my sons by my side to run it and share in it.”
He appraised both his lads. Both so different. Johnny in his gaudy Mexican garb and with his slouched stance. His hair so dark it was almost black. Dark features set against astoundingly piercing and lively blue eyes. Scott with his erect posture, what looked unerringly like straight-backed military bearing. His blond hair and fair features contrasting with his brother’s. His proper Boston travelling clothes giving him what could be called a slight dandified air if one didn’t detect the barely discernible fibre of steel within.
“A third of it is yours. Everything you see out there. A three way split. A three way partnership. Equal shares to each of us. One hundred thousand acres. Twenty thousand head of beef. If you want it, that is. I’ll have the papers drawn up tomorrow. All you have to do is sign.”
“Well, far be it for me to spoil a family reunion,” assented Scott with a relaxed smile.
“Am I right in guessing you played a part in this family reunion, Johnny?” enquired Murdoch.
“Let’s just say that I put that $500 to good use. I’ll tell you about that later, but first of all I’d like to know about the troubles Teresa mentioned.”
“We’ve been attacked by land pirates since you left. My fences have been cut, beef stolen, workers frightened off, burned out. The only law we’ve got here is pack law. Big Dog gets the meat.”
“Does Big Dog have a name?”
“Day. Day Pardee.”
“Do you know him?”
“Yes, I know him. He’s a gunfighter and he’s pretty good. Yeah, I’d say you have some kind of trouble. Or should that be we have some trouble? I guess we came back at the right time, Scott. I don’t like to see my property under threat.”
“Our property!” corrected Scott with mock severity, before breaking into a beaming smile which infected the others, bringing with it a sense of solidarity and a determination to stand together in the future in a way that they had been deprived of in the past.
Daguerrotypes were an early form of photography developed by Frenchman Louis Daguerre. They came into being in 1839, their use peaked in 1847 and dwindled by the late 1850’s. They are renowned for their clarity, even compared to today’s standards. The plates were non-magnetic and were composed of silver on copper. They had a mirror effect when turned. Daguerrotypists were proud of their craft and often stamped the name of the manufacturer and the date on the corner of the photograph.
The transcontinental railway was completed in the USA on May 10, 1869. A railway traversing the continent had long been proposed, but there was some dispute about the route. With the advent of the Civil War, the south withdrew from negotiations and so the northern route was chosen. A path between Sacramento and Omaha was the required link in order to complete the track, which was begun in 1862. The Union Pacific and the Central Pacific companies, while originally surveying past each other, were forced by the government to let common sense prevail and meet at Promontory, Utah, on the northern rim of Salt Lake on the above date. I have set the story around 1870.