It's so quiet and peaceful here in the darkness. I'm floating with no cares, no worry, no pain. Time has stopped still for me. I'm not sure if I'm alive or dead, or just in between in limbo.
My wife Maria believed in limbo. She said that the ones that were not truly evil or saintly would visit limbo and it was up to us to pray them out of it and into heaven. I wonder if there's someone out there to pray for me? Surely not my sons. They don't even know if I still exist and, to be truthful, they probably don't care. In fact, they more likely hate me, especially Scott. He's lived with his grandfather all his life and as far as he knows, he's never seen me or his mother. But he has … at least me. My dear Catherine died giving birth to him. Why did I send her away? Surely, I could have found a way to keep her safe from Judd Haley and his gang of land pirates.
I was so fearful of her and our child being killed that I sent her back to Boston with her father. I didn't know until later that she was in trouble and bled to death giving life to Scott. Did she get to hold our son before she left the world? I guess I'll never know since her old man wouldn't talk about it.
I got to see Scott when he was five. I went to bring him home to California, but his grandfather had time to set everything up in his favor. His threats were major and would cause me and my new wife and son great harm. I was so mad to leave my first born and walk away, but my hands were tied and I had to think about Maria and Johnny. At least Catherine's father promised Scott would have a good life with everything money could buy.
If only I could have given Johnny that same good life. I think sometimes that my Maria lost her faith … in God and in me. How else can I explain her leaving with a gambler and taking our son with her?
She was just the opposite of Catherine, but her enthusiasm and zest for life was just what I needed to pull me out of a bland and plodding existence. For a year I had buried myself in the estancia, denying my feelings, wallowing in my sorrows and guilt.
My badge of guilt was the gold band on my left hand ring finger. It was a talisman, a symbol warding off the single ladies in the towns and ranches around here. A woman could wear black and wail her mourning, but what could a man do? The ring was the barrier around my heart. I wore it and felt guilt and sadness every time I looked down at it.
Why? Why, did my Catherine have to die? The pious ones said that God needed her in heaven. Bull! I needed her more! Her acceptance, her quietness, her love as she slipped her arms around my waist, her sweet honey kisses … all I missed. I'd wake up nightly agitated and sweating, dreaming of trying to save her as the blood drained from her womb and her father fled with our child. I was forced to take off my wedding ring. Barb wire caught on it as I was stringing wire on the fence line on the east pasture. It left me with a bump on my finger that my ring couldn't slide over. I put the ring away in her desk stored in the attic and tried to go on with my life.
I'd buried myself in my work trying to drown out my frustrations. If God was going to punish me, he sure tried a year later. The drought and heavy rains later were enough to cripple the estancia. I lost most of my herd and I had to find outside work. I left the place in the hands of my segundo and went hunting. I found a deputy job down in Abilene, Texas, not my favorite line of work, but it was enough to build up my cash reserve. Hearing of a ranch selling off their herd down in Matamouros, Mexico, I quit and drifted that way. After three days and nights on the trail, I was ready for a hot bath and cold drink.
Down in that area they didn't have hotels. The available rooms were above the cantinas, so I headed to the nearest one. That's when I saw her. She was running with some other young ladies in the street. She would do this funny looking skip and turn around to her friends and continue walking rapidly backwards. Her mouth was moving as fast as her legs.
I think she felt my stare, as she turned her head toward me, caught my eyes and laughed loudly. She waved at me, turned and scampered off from her friends. It was too much. I stopped my horse, turned in the saddle and gazed at this beautiful wood nymph traveling away from me. Before she gained the corner of the cantina, she stopped suddenly, allowing her long print skirt to swirl around her trim ankles and her bunched sleeve of her white peasant blouse to slip further down her tanned upper arm.
Placing her slim hands on her tiny waist, she threw her head back and looked long at me. Her snapping brown eyes twinkled and her smile lit up the block with a brilliance brighter than the sun reflecting off a mirror. Her lilting musical voice floated over toward me before she disappeared around the corner. “Buenos dia, Senior. Vaya con dios .”
I was in a daze and didn't snap out of it until my horse traveled on his own to the watering trough and nosed through the tepid water. I went inside, got my room, made arrangement for the care of my mount and went upstairs. It was a dingy little room, tired with holes in the adobe walls showing the wooden beam beneath. Flakes of adobe littered the corner. The small window up high allowed light, but kept most of the heat out. The room held one small table with chair, a pitcher and basin, and a bed … well, if you could call it a bed. With my large frame, only a doll could be comfortable on its length. The sheets weren't too clean and the blanket draped over the top of the bedstead was threadbare and moth eaten.
Soon the bathwater was brought and I came close to giving up on the whole process. The tub they lugged in had to be exchanged for an empty horse trough they got from behind the livery. It was still small, enough so that I had to fold my knees to my chin in order to settle my body in it, but the water was hot and soothed my taunt muscles.
Afterwards, I was too tired to go looking for a cold drink. I pulled the chair over to the end of the bed, spread my bedroll across the dingy sheets, rolled into the bed and propped my feet onto the chair. I waited for sleep, but it didn't come. Thoughts of the feisty young Mexican lady came instead. Her flashing brown eyes had been been so vivid that I could still see them. I kept thinking of her until early morning when I drifted off to sleep. My last thought was to find her again.
It took three days before I saw her. It gave me time to negotiate a deal with the local rancher on the cattle and to send them on their way to Lancer with some of his trusted vaqueros. My business was concluded, but still I lingered with the foolish notice that I needed to see her one more time. I wanted to test my emotions. Did she really stir up that feeling of life in me or was I just fooling myself?
On Sunday, the local ranchers and farmers brought their families in for Mass and that's when I saw her, riding in the wagon. By their clothes, they were dirt poor farmers, but by the amount of passengers, her father was rich in females. A grandmother, wife, five young ladies and three small girls were crammed into the back of the wagon. A large mongrel hound rode shotgun on the bench seat with the man. The father had a machete and rifle beside him.
She was on the inside of the mass of females, but still stared at me as they drove by. I'd been sitting on a keg in front of the cantina smoking, but came to my feet as they passed. Our eyes locked and I knew the excitement stealing over my heart was from her. For the first time in my life, I decided to go visit the Catholic Church, even though I knew nothing about the customs.
The rest of the next two weeks were a blur, as she contrived to return to town as often as possible to see me. She was headstrong, but set my heart afire every time I saw her.
I woke up one morning to a rifle stuck in my chest. She and her father were standing there and he was angry. He let me know that I had defiled his daughter and if I wanted her so bad, I would have to marry her and pay for her lost services in his fields. Otherwise, he'd kill me and marry her off to the first man who would take her. He would not put up with housing a whore. She was angry at his words and fought against the heavy hold he had on her wrist. It was enough of a distraction that I was able to shove the rifle away, jump out of bed and grappled with the man. During the shuffle, I knocked him unconscious. I got dressed, packed my saddlebags, grabbed Maria and we fled.
It was time for me to go home and I was going to bring the lovely Maria with me. She insisted she wasn't a soiled woman, but would go no further with me until she was married. So at the next town, we visited the priest and had the deed done. Shortly there after, we crossed the border into California.
Our life for the next three years was with love and gaiety, or so I thought. Even though she gave me Johnny, the life of a rancher's wife was not enough for Maria and one morning I woke to find her and my two year old son gone. I looked for Maria and Johnny for years and even got the Pinkerton Detective Agency to search for them, but to no avail. Then one day I received a report that devastated me. They had found her grave and Johnny was missing. I kept them on retainer and told them to find him.
The day came when they did and then lost him again. He was a teenager with a reputation, the reputation of the coldest, deadliest gun for hire, the notorious Johnny Madrid. It was rumored that he was gunning for me. I was angry, angry and disappointed that my son had to resort to that type of life and was so bitter that he blamed me for it. I'm ashamed that I gave up on him and called the agency off.
Years went by and I threw myself into the estancia, building it up and helping my segundo, Paul, raise his motherless daughter, Teresa. I wasn't cautious enough and trouble came calling in the form of a man named Day Pardee. W ith the arrogance of a powerful man, I thought I was untouchable, but Pardee wanted to chase me off my land and he persisted until he shot me in the back and killed Paul.
I lay here not wanting to wake up, not wanting to go on, but something keeps invading my cocoon world. It's a buzzing that slowly clarifies into her voice. I don't understand what she's saying, but I can tell the difference in its tone to know when she's crying and when she's mad. She's more angry now. …. What was that? I heard a word, well … really a name. She's whispering in my ear, “Scott” and then she says, “Johnny.” Why would she be talking about my sons?
This darkness is soothing, but I want to know what she's saying and I slowly journey upward. It starts off with a tingling in my back and travels down my leg. As I become more aware, the pain comes with it and I'm tempted to sink back into my velvet cocoon again. It's quiet and I hear complete sentences, “You've got to bring Johnny home, Murdoch. You need his gun and cunning. You need Scott, too. With his military training, well … you need both of them to save Lancer from Pardee. This is my home too and I don't want to lose it or you. Please Murdoch, wake up and send for your sons. We need them.”
My sons … my mind has been on the troubles of the land pirates and hadn't thought of the boys. How old would they be now? Scott made it through the war and by my last report, had degenerated into a womanizer and socializer. Of course, there's plenty of them in Boston, but the Pinkertons did report that he's an excellent shot with a rifle. Then there's Johnny. Life hasn't been very fair to you, has it my son? You've done well to survive, but did you have to turn to the gun as a trade? My sons' skills may be just what I need to turn the tide of these land grabbers, but what happens afterwards? Will they stay or do I want them to stay?
There she goes again. This time she's crying. I never could stand a woman's tears. It's been hard on her, having to keep the estancia going. I don't know how long its been since I was shot, but from the way my body feels, its been a while. I'm so weak and I don't like that feeling, I won't stand for it. I need to wake up fully, I need to fight again. Fight for this young lady, fight for health, fight for my land, and fight to get my sons back. Yes, it's time, time to bring my sons home. I can't seem to open my eyes yet, but I have feeling in my hands and hers are holding my right one. I'll squeeze hers.
There. It's done. I hear her gasp and she jumped up to yell for our cook. I hear her footsteps as she rushes to the door, her voice choked from a mixture of crying and laughter. I think my eyes are opening, yes, I can see light through them, but what I see is blurry. I move my hand up to wipe at them and my vision clears. Now I can see Teresa with a big smile on her face. I gesture her over to me and try to talk, but nothing comes out but a croak. She whirls and rushes to pour me a glass of water from the picture on my dresser. She comes back and gently lifts my head off my pillows, just enough for me to drink. It tastes so good going down. I can't drink it all. Most of my energy has left me, but she understands and allows me to sink back into the cushion pillows behind me.
I'm so sleepy, but I need to talk to her before it's too late. It's important that she fulfills what I want done. My voice is raspy, but I manage to blurt it out. “Teresa, it's time. Contact the Pinkertons. Offer the boys a thousand dollars each for an hour of listening time.”
As I drift off into a healing slumber, my speech slurs as I say, “It's time to bring the boys home. It's time. It's time. It's ...