The familiar voice whispered through his troubled mind. Fading away as he settled back into the dark abyss. Some horrible memory drifted in like fog on a river bank. He had lost something…someone? Someone precious…
The voice would not be ignored. “Murdoch…Murdoch.” The voice was becoming more insistent as the tempo of the sirens call became impossible to ignore.
“Hhmmm.” He muttered through the haze in his mind. He was dreaming now, he was sure because it was his dear Catherine’s voice that he heard. ‘No, that cannot be.’ His mind fought against the lies in his dreams. But even though he tried to push them away he could not, he found himself in the mist, it surrounded him and he was lost in its denseness.
“Murdoch” Her soft voice whispered again.
“Catherine? Catherine is that you?” Murdoch could only see the swirling mist but somewhere here with him was his beloved Catherine. Why and how he had no idea. But he knew she was here, maybe he was dead, too?
Shock settled over him as he realized that he had lost both of his sons. ‘No!’ He fell to his knees, allowing the fog to shroud him in its weightless arms. His will to live crushed beneath the weight of what he had lost, forever. His sons…both of his precious sons. They were gone, lost to him once again but this time was different, it was final.
He sat feeling hopeless, when he heard her call to him again. “Murdoch…”
Feeling only despair he begged the voice. “Please, Catherine if that is you take me with you. I don’t want to live anymore without my family, without my boys. I beg you, don’t leave me here with this unbearable loss and pain.” He pleaded but heard no reply to his cries for help.
He dropped his head in defeat, he would not be given any mercy. He was meant to suffer the greatest loss of his life, alone. Alone, he had been alone for so long before he’d had the courage to call his sons home. Maybe that was why this was happening now. He had waited too long and was being punished for not fighting for his sons years ago. Before, Scott had been stolen away from him by his grandfather. Before, Johnny had suffered lost and alone in the border towns, forced to pick up a gun and become a killer in order to survive.
He deserved this, he deserved to suffer for all the mistakes in his life but his boys shouldn’t have to pay this price for his sins. “Please, God! Take me instead of them! I deserve the punishment but they don’t! They have both suffered because of my failures…please, please.” He dropped down further, his head cradled in his hands as he knelt on the ground among the mist.
Murdoch felt a presence and a celestial hand brushed by his face as he sat up. The voice whispered to him again and he could see a faint outline hallowed through the mist. ‘An Angel?’ ‘His Catherine?’
“Listen to me my darling, you must help your son.” Murdoch was stunned.
“Catherine, my love. How, how can I help them? They are both gone.” He was confused. What could he possibly do for them now? Wait! She said son. Not sons but son.
“Why son and not sons? Catherine they are both dead.” He understood that she would feel nothing for Johnny, he was not her son but Maria’s.
“No, Murdoch they are not. Scott still lives and will recover.” He sat back in shock! Scott was alive? He shook his head in denial, knowing the truth.
“Catherine, I was there when our son passed away. He is gone, just as gone as his brother.” Murdoch felt his heart break all over again.
Catherine stepped closer to him but she was still only an image in the mist. “No, our son lives but it is not Scott that needs your help, Murdoch. It is Johnny.”
Murdoch was sure he was hearing what he wanted to hear and not what was being said. He turned tear filled eyes to look at his wife, Catherine. She was here to hurt him, to make him suffer for sending her away and letting her die alone in childbirth.
He fell to the ground in hopeless tears and shouted at the image of his wife. “WHY?! Why are you doing this to me?” He pounded the earth with his fists in his pain filled fury. “Do you hate me so much, Catherine? Am I not suffering enough?”
The image shimmered before him and faded as he cried hopeless, heartbroken tears.
The soft voice whispered once more as he awoke. ”Help Johnny…”
Just for an instant, before waking Murdoch vaguely remembered standing out on the street at dawn. The sky just lightening before the day made itself known. For that instant, he thought he saw Catherine and she was disappearing along with Johnny as the most beautiful light he had ever seen faded away taking them with it as his other son, Scott was propelled backwards as if pulled by invisible hands…
“Murdoch, wake up!” Doc Jenkins again shook his friend from the grip of the nightmare that had him screaming and crying out in his sleep. He had rushed into the room they had moved Murdoch to after he had collapsed from grief. He’d had to wait for daylight to find someone to help with the move from the small cot to the larger guest room. Murdoch had been unresponsive until now and he could only guess at the emotional turmoil that boiled beneath the surface as consciousness returned and the grief took over.
Val sat in his tiny cabin, in a drunken stupor. He had been drinking since walking out on his job after killing his best friend. Blurrily, Val tried to make sense of what he was seeing but his eyes would not focus. He laughed out loud at that thought, ‘two bottles of tequila will do that ta ya make a fella start seein’ things!’ He stumbled up outta his chair and staggered before finding enough balance to shake his finger at the image, no make that two images before him. They swam before his eyes, two becoming one then back ta two, again.
“Nah, Nah, Nah…No Sir, not again!” Val slurred. The near empty bottle of tequila in his hand sloshed as he swung it around to again shake his finger at the apparition. “Nope…I’m done!” He tried to turn his back on the ghostly image but it just appeared before him again. He stumbled backwards missing his chair and landing heavily in the floor, still clutching his bottle.
“Johnny…I al..already made a toast ta ya…buddy…” Hiccup…”with a whole bottle of teq…” Hiccup…”tequila, this one’s all mine!” Hiccup…Val slapped the bottle in his hand with affection before passing out on the floor.
If Val hadn’t been so drunk, he might have noticed that the expression on his friend's face was pure pain and panic! The pleading blue eyes begged to be released from the torture he was enduring. Johnny was unable to verbally ask for help, it just wasn’t possible. He could only gather enough energy to appear in an almost translucent form before the only person he knew to go to for help, Val.
His father and brother were beyond his reach right now and there was no one else…’Please, Val hear me…help me!’ he pleaded in his mind. The form flickered then faded as Johnny screamed a silent scream of sheer terror before being ripped away from this reality back into the painful, frightening abyss.
The loud and evil laugh thundered through his mind as his spirit rejoined his soul in what could only be Hell. He hadn’t had to wonder long about how he had come to be here and he hadn’t been surprised, either. He belonged in Hell with the rest of the killers! The surprise had been being taken to Heaven by an Angel…how could he ever have believed that was real?
He had been ripped from the peaceful and warm light as he had left the living world with his brother’s mother, Catherine. ‘Had she been a part of this whole thing?’ He had to wonder because he had been betrayed by everyone else, ‘Why not Catherine?’
The suffering that he had endured since then had been beyond any he had known before and he’d thought he had been through it all. But, he had been so very wrong. Nothing could have prepared him for the endless torment and pain. His mind had lost all sense of time and he realized that time here was eternity. ‘No!’ He could not stand another minute of this torture, he could never last for eternity. But, he knew there was no escape, no way out for him…not this time and not from the evil that surrounded him like a dark shroud of doom.
The evil laughter continued as he was once again blinded by the endless pain. He screamed but the laughter only got louder and closer. Johnny looked up into the darkness and saw something that had he been alive would have made his blood run cold. His most feared and relentless enemy stood before him and the deep sickening fear that settled into Johnny’s soul was paralyzing! It was Absolom Weir, he truly was the devil…and it was time to pay him his due.
“Welcome, Johnny Madrid! I have been waiting for you.” He laughed and Johnny screamed as the smell of sulfur assaulted his senses and fire swept over him in a raging inferno! His screams were lost in the flames as he burned but he still heard the evil laughter and he knew that Weir had indeed gotten the last laugh, after all.
Murdoch sat at Sam’s kitchen table staring at a plate of food that he could not eat if his life depended on it and the cup of coffee that had been poured for him sat cold in the china cup. He was about to get up and go sit with Scott again, how blessed he was to still have one son alive and getting stronger by the hour. He was still unconscious but Sam had said his heartbeat and pulse were much stronger than they had been just this morning.
This morning? Murdoch rubbed a tired hand down his unshaven face, was it just last night that all of this had happened? It seemed to have been going on forever, but in reality he had lost his younger son, Johnny just mere hours before. His whole life had changed in the instant that bullet took his son’s life. He just couldn’t believe that he would never see Johnny again, how he had loved that boy! Did he know? Did Johnny know that he was loved? That he had always been loved from the moment he was born and he would be loved and remembered as long as those he left behind were alive.
Murdoch rose from the table leaving his untouched food where it sat. But before he could take a step, he heard voices in Sam’s outer room. ‘Oh, No!’ He had forgotten that Jelly had gone to give the terrible news to dear sweet Teresa along with Cipriano and Maria. Now from the voices he knew they were all in Sam’s waiting room along with Jelly.
Murdoch opened the door that led out into the waiting room and Teresa rushed into his arms as soon as she saw him. Tears flooded down her face as he wrapped her in his embrace.
“Shhhh, there now it’s going to be okay, Teresa.” Running a fatherly hand over her soft brown hair he held her slightly away from him as her tears continued to fall. “Now, Now, Teresa. You know that Johnny wouldn’t like you crying for him. He is in a better place and is probably very sad right now that you are upset.” He hugged her again as she sniffled. “He loved you so much and we’ll see him again someday.” Murdoch was doing his best to try in console his ward because he knew that Johnny wouldn’t like her suffering even a little bit for him. He grimaced as he realized the truth in that thought. Johnny never felt worthy of love or even tears, he would say he wasn’t worth it and sadly Murdoch knew that is what his son had truly believed.
Cipriano and Maria stood silently together, tears in the eyes of the Segundo. Maria’s face buried in his chest as she too grieved for her sobrino, Juanito. They had so loved the boy, the rascal they had called him, fondly. Johnny had been a handful from the day he was born, Murdoch fought his own tears as he added, until the day that he died.
Johnny had loved them both dearly and Maria especially had spoiled him rotten. He was her obvious favorite but no one else seemed to mind the endless attention that she had heaped on to her, Juanito. He could get away with murder where his Tia was concerned. She was forever, cooking his favorite foods or giving him special treats in his lunch. He had her wrapped securely around his pinky finger and he knew it.
Murdoch had been more than pleased that his lost boy had found a mother figure in his Tia Maria. She had made the year he had been home into a special time in his life where he finally knew what it was like to have a real home and a real family, something that he knew Johnny hadn’t had since he was two years old.
Val Crawford lay on the floor of his cabin snoring peacefully in a drunken slumber. But his dreams were anything but peaceful. Johnny was calling to him, for help? Val snuggled closer to his nearly empty bottle of tequila that he had talked Lem out of at the saloon. It was one of the bottles from the rare premium cases that were in the saloons’ cellar. He’d had Lem make it two when he’d been told that they had been ordered by Murdoch for Johnny’s birthday in December, but had come in early so he’d been storing them in the cellar.
‘Dammit Johnny!’ Val cussed in his sleep. He missed his amigo but wished his friend would go on back to Heaven and let him be since he wasn’t here for real.
‘Why do ya keep on calling me, Johnny? I can’t get to ya, ya are gone buddy, this time for good.’ Val rolled over in his sleep and dropped his bottle and it rolled away from him and vanished into thin air. Val looked blurry eyed after it but it was gone. He sat up and swayed before demanding that the floor give back his bottle because he wasn’t done with it yet!
When the floor didn’t produce the bottle, Val crawled over to where it should have been but was swallowed up in the same abyss before he knew what had happened. Suddenly, he was in a dark place that was hot and smelled like a sulfur pit. Sweat was rolling off of him and his mouth was very dry as he crawled across the blackened ground, searching for his missing bottle.
Val froze the bottle forgotten, as he heard Johnny scream. It was unlike anything he had ever heard from his friend, ever! It was the most pain filled, tortured scream that he could ever imagine or maybe could not even imagine until he heard it. Instantly, Val knew he had to find Johnny! This was in no way Heaven and his friend was being tortured! Val cringed as another scream filled the air and raised the hair on his neck with fear for his friend.
Val made his way slowly toward the sound, the screams becoming louder and then laughter? Was that laughter he’d heard following every scream? Who would be enjoying something like that? He eased his way around a bend in the darkened and now hotter tunnel. Panic was setting in and Val was feeling dead sober from pure fear!
When he reached an overlook that cascaded down into a pit of fire, he drew back from the unbelievable heat, it was surrounding Johnny. A fire so hot and intense that he watched the skin bubble up and the hair burn off of his amigo as he was held in place by claw covered hands that could only belong to demons.
Johnny struggled to escape but there was no escape from the suffering that he was enduring or the suffering Val was experiencing just bearing witness to such cruelty. Val had tears running down his face, if he’d had a gun he would put a bullet in Johnny’s head to free him from the pain! No! That wouldn’t work, Johnny was already dead so this must be…Hell!
‘That can’t be! Johnny shouldn’t be here, he should be in Heaven. He had suffered his whole life, how can it be that he deserved to suffer for eternity? Did he not deserve peace?’ Val closed his eyes to escape the sight of Johnny’s flesh melting from his body slowly as he screamed. There seemed no end to his screams or that laughter. Val had to look, he wanted to wrap his hands around their neck and choke them till they stopped laughing!
He wanted to scream out to leave Johnny alone but he could not speak! His voice was gone, his throat like a desert it was so dry. Even the sweat that pored off of him, evaporated as quickly as it formed and his eyes were burning from the heat and the sulfur.
Johnny completely burned away only to reform in an instant just as Val remembered him to look. The grotesque hands still held him but the fire stayed away. Val watched as a man stood before Johnny and the evil laugh was heard again.
“Well Johnny Madrid, how do you like ‘Hell’, so far?”
The voice was hollow and loud, and frightening! Val tried to swallow but could not manage a drop of moisture. He sat in stunned silence as he watched his friend face the devil. Who else could it be in this place? Val was shaking with anger and fear all wrapped up in a tight package.
He strained his ears to listen as Johnny tried to speak. “W..eir.” Johnny’s voice was just a whisper but Val heard him.
“Weir, why are you doing…this? Why?” Johnny looked and sounded defeated.
Weir, as Johnny had called him, just looked at Johnny with empty eyes. Not blank or even dead, they were just pits…dark pits. When they lit with what appeared to be glee for the suffering Johnny was enduring, it was like sparks of fire would shoot forth from the dark depths. Val shuddered at the sight.
“You belong to me, Johnny Madrid. Since you killed your first man all those years ago, you have belonged to me!” The soulless laugh followed and Weir continued. “You have made me proud, Johnny Madrid. Your skill with the gun has sent me many lost souls!” The evil paced back and forth in front of Johnny.
“But you Johnny Madrid, are the biggest prize. You will make a fine addition to my collection of lost souls! But first, you must let go…let go or I will make a return visit to see your family and kill them one by one until you give me your soul. Now that’s not much to ask is it, Johnny Madrid, the soul of one killer for the lives of your family?”
Val was confused. ‘Didn’t he already have Johnny’s soul?’
Johnny looked up and the hate Val saw in his eyes was frightening, even knowing where they were, it was frightening.
“Never, Weir! I will never give you my soul, if you could hurt anyone living then you would have killed me yourself. Instead you had to wait until I was on my way to Heaven, then you used some trickery to snatch me from the light!”
Weir was becoming more angry with every defiant word from Johnny and Val knew that if anyone could piss off the devil, it was Johnny.
“Let me introduce you to the one responsible for snatching you from your precious light, Johnny Madrid. You see I could never have touched you there. But, blood touches blood and it was your blood that brought you to me, Johnny Madrid.” Weir laughed and a shadowed form appeared from the blackness.
It moved closer to Johnny and when it was standing directly in front of him, Weir reached out and removed the cloak from the twisted form.
Val heard Johnny gasp and croak out a shattered, “Noooo!”
Johnny looked into the face of his own mother, Maria. He couldn’t believe that she had pulled him from his path to Heaven and eternal peace to Hell and its damnation.
“Why, Mama? Why would you want me to suffer when I could be at peace?” Johnny nearly choked on the words and the emotions. He had loved his Mama, he had killed for the first time to avenge her death. He had lived through hell on earth because she took him away from his home and now she repaid his sacrifice by pulling him down into the pits of Hell with her!
She was unmoved by his pleas. “You are nothing, my hijo. You deserve no better than me, you are just a killer, Juanito. Your father has filled your head with grand dreams. He has made you feel that you are more than a killer but we know that is not so, don’t we Juanito?” She laughed at the hurt expression on her sons face and Val wanted to wring her already twisted neck!
But she wasn’t done torturing her son, not yet. “Did you really believe that I would allow you to go to Heaven with that Puta? Dear sweet, Catherine! Catherine! That is all I heard from Murdoch, how different I was from the sainted wife, Catherine! She was a ghost in that house, everywhere I looked it was, Catherine! Oh! How I Hate That Name!” She blurred in her frenzied movements as she ranted.
“How dare that woman try to take my son, claim my son! Never!” She glared at Johnny. “I heard you call that woman, Mama! How dare you, I am your Only Mama!” She reached out with her twisted hand and slapped Johnny with razor sharp claws, ripping his flesh to ribbons in her rage.
Val tried to run to Johnny as he screamed in terror and pain. But he was frozen in place and could only watch the slaughter with tear filled eyes.
Suddenly, it stopped. Maria was gone and Johnny was once more restored. Weir stepped up to a devastated Johnny and smiled the most evil smile that Val had ever witnessed.
“Time is running out, Johnny Madrid!” ‘Time? Val thought, how could time be running out in eternity?’ He listened intensely.
“Let go now and give me your soul or face the consequences, which will be nothing like the easy time you’ve just had here.” Weir looked at Johnny, the anger showing in his movements as he paced. “What is your answer, Johnny Madrid?”
Val was very proud of his amigo as Johnny lifted his eyes to meet the empty pits belonging to Weir. He spoke just one word. “No.”
Val watched in horror as the flames swept over Johnny and he screamed a blood curling scream of pain as his flesh burned. Somehow, Val knew it was time for him to leave. He had to help Johnny but he couldn’t do it here. No, the only help for Johnny was in the living world and Val had figured out how to save Johnny, he now understood about time and why it mattered.
Murdoch stepped out onto the boardwalk from the undertakers, he had just made arrangements for his youngest son, Johnny’s burial. The air seemed colder, even the sun didn’t want to show its face today. The rain had stopped but the temperature had dropped all day and now he could see his breath in the cold air. It was Fall, but still early for it to be this cold during the day.
The grieving father let out another sigh that shown in the air and made his way back to Sam’s office. They would be coming for Johnny’s body, soon and he needed to be there for his family. They would say goodbye to his son tomorrow morning at his funeral. Johnny was to be buried at Lancer, of course. His son had loved the land and even though he hadn’t spent much of his life there, he would be happy to know that he would rest there now, for all time.
It saddened the father to know that his son would be laid to rest without the presence of his brother but Scott was still unconscious and there was no way to know how long he would remain that way. Even if he regained consciousness today, it would be weeks before he could be moved. He paused to compose himself before entering Sam’s office.
Teresa had sat with Scott since Sam’s nurse had gone home to get some rest. She was holding his hand when Murdoch stepped into the room. He stood back and watched his ward, lovingly care for his older son. He had gotten the idea, lately that maybe she had deeper feelings for Scott and watching the way she tenderly tended him told him that maybe he had been right. He sighed again, he was ashamed to admit that he had been afraid it would be Johnny that she fell in love with, ladies seemed to fall easily for the ones that would get the least approval from their parents. Johnny, definitely filled that bill and Murdoch had received more than one visit from an angry father.
He understood that no father wanted his daughter mixed up with a gunslinger. But, Johnny wasn’t that person any more. He was a good man with a hard and haunting past. A past that had done what they had all been most afraid of, that it would come back to claim him…and it had. He hadn’t been able to defend Johnny from the harsh words of the other fathers simply because he felt the same way about Teresa. Oh, he knew that Johnny wouldn’t set out to break her heart but that would be the result in the end. He couldn’t imagine the hurt she would be going through now if they had been engaged or married when he’d been killed.
He knew that Teresa loved Johnny but it was a different love. She would grieve a long time for the dear brother that she had lost. They were the two youngest in the family and it showed more often than not, with their spats and jokes they pulled on one another. They simply had a different relationship, close like siblings but no more than that, at least for Teresa. Murdoch pondered as he watched Teresa tend to Scott, he wondered if Johnny had felt more for her?
He had never said anything, or given him any real reason to think it but still Johnny spent the most time with Teresa. He almost followed her like a lost puppy at times, maybe he just needed the feelings of family that Teresa provided, in her bossing? Murdoch, smiled when he remembered how Johnny was always helping Teresa with anything she wanted. He had once come into the kitchen to find his youngest son wearing an apron and covered in flour. Teresa had been attempting to bake Scott an Apple Cinnamon pastry, his old favorite from Boston. She had convinced Johnny to help her by promising to also bake a Chocolate cake, his favorite. Johnny’s sweet tooth and hearty appetite were well known around the ranch and both Teresa and Maria had lavished treats on him.
Murdoch was broken from his reverie by a soft moan from Scott. He hurried to his son’s side as his eyelids began to flutter. Both he and Teresa held their breath as he seemed to be coming around.
Scott felt heavy like there was a lead weight on him, holding him down. He tried to open his eyes but it was too hard. He felt so weak and didn’t know why. He felt the darkness pressing down on him again, but he couldn’t surrender to it, not yet. He had to let someone know…he tried to speak but his mouth was so dry. Suddenly, someone lifted his head and placed a glass at his lips. The sip of water that he managed was like ambrosia to his dry throat. But his strength was spent, before he fell unconscious again he managed two words…”Help Johnny.”
“What does he mean, Murdoch? Help Johnny?” Teresa asked her guardian. She was puzzled by his words. But, she knew that Scott didn’t know Johnny was beyond help. Johnny had been killed after Scott had been so gravely injured. He didn’t know his brother was gone. He must believe his brother is still in danger.
Murdoch was stunned though by the words, it was the second time they had been spoken to him. Just this morning in a dream he had heard those same words from his dead wife, Catherine. How could that be? There was nothing he could do for Johnny that wasn’t being done. He had seen his son would have the finest funeral and be laid to rest at the place of his birth, on Lancer. But, the feeling still nagged at him that there was something more.
Murdoch tried to reassure his ward that it was just that Scott didn’t know that Johnny was gone. He turned to find Sam and let him know that Scott had come to for just a moment, leaving Teresa with Scott.
He found Sam in the kitchen having a cup of coffee, but he jumped up to go check on Scott as soon as he heard that he had been awake for a moment. Murdoch didn’t follow him though, he couldn’t rid himself of the nagging feeling that he needed to check on Johnny. He knew it was crazy, but he still had to do it.
He quietly entered the room where his son’s body lay. He immediately felt the bitter cold and realized that the room was not heated for obvious reasons and shivered with the knowledge. He looked to where his son still lay on the small bed and saw that he had once again been covered with a sheet. Probably from when Cipriano and Maria had gone in to see their sobrino, before returning to the ranch.
Murdoch had refused to allow Teresa to see Johnny, he didn’t want her to remember him like he was now. No, she would only remember a smiling, happy Johnny and it was the way his son would have wanted it, he was sure. He sighed once again, at least Sam could have used a clean sheet this one was still bloodied.
He had to admit he had some small hope in his heart that when he pulled back the sheet, this time he would see Johnny breathing. That this was all some horrible dream, but when he pulled the sheet back all he could see was the blue that circled his sons’ lips and he felt only cold, lifeless skin. No breaths caused his son’s chest to rise and fall. He had to accept, again that Johnny was gone. He carefully replaced the sheet and turned quickly to flee the room.
Val thundered up in front of the Doc’s office, nearly falling from the saddle in his drunken stupor. He managed to less than gracefully land on his feet and make his way to the doctor’s door.
Murdoch was just coming from the back room when Val staggered into the office.
“Val!” Murdoch shouted, concerned for the man his youngest had thought of like a brother.
He was stunned to see him, he had been given a letter of resignation earlier that the Sheriff had left on his desk. He remembered, the heart break he suffered as he’d read what Val had said were Johnny’s last wishes. Val had made it clear that he would be leaving town because being here was too much a reminder of his friend and that it had been him that had killed him.
Val stumbled but managed to stay on his feet, he had to help Johnny! The images in his mind of the torment that his amigo was now suffering drove him across the floor and toward the room where he knew Johnny’s body lay.
Murdoch intercepted the drunken man and Val tried to push past him to get to Johnny.
“Have ta help Johnny…let me go!” He had slurred.
Murdoch was dumbfounded, here again someone had spoken those words to him. ‘Help, Johnny!’ But, ‘No!’ He had already checked his son again and he was just as gone as he’d been the night before. Johnny was dead and nothing anyone could do would bring him back, not now not ever.
He managed to get Val into a chair before he fell down, but Val was still insistent. He went on blathering about Johnny suffering and needing his help. Murdoch understood the man was so drunk he could barely stand and was raving like a mad man out of pure grief. He tried to calm him by telling him that Johnny was in Heaven and would never suffer again, but that seemed to agitate him further.
“NO!” He screamed!
“HELL!! Johnny is in Hell…” Val fell to his knees at Murdoch’s feet pleading with him to understand.
“I saw him, I saw Johnny in Hell and he was being tortured!” Val panted as he gripped the other man’s pants leg. He looked up with wild, tear filled eyes. “Torture like we could never imagine, not in our worst night…” Val sobbed. “night…mares!”
Murdoch didn’t know what to do, Val was inconsolable and suffering emotional pain that seemed to be more than the once unshakable man could stand.
Sam and Teresa stood in the doorway to the room that Scott was now in and just stared in horror at the sight before them, Val on his knees crying like a baby.
Seeing them, Murdoch asked his ward to go back inside and close the door. Teresa, hesitated but did as he asked. Sam was left speechless, never in all his years of practice had he seen someone come so totally apart with grief.
He just gave Murdoch a sympathetic look and headed toward his medicine cabinet in the next room. He knew he had to get Val to calm down before he did himself some harm. He took a syringe and a bottle of morphine out of the cabinet, it was a strong measure to take but he knew that in the state that Val was in, he wouldn’t go quietly.
Sam sighed as he drew the medicine up into the syringe, he hated to do this to the man but right now a long restful sleep would be best. He knew the undertaker would be here any minute to collect Johnny’s body and he was afraid that Val might come unhinged.
He was right.
Before he could get back into the outer room, a knock was heard from the room where Johnny lay. Mr. Rowlings, the undertaker had come in the back door, through the backroom and had knocked to let him know he was there to take care of Johnny.
Murdoch froze at the sound of the knock, he had been dreading this moment and now it was ten times worse! He felt Val tense at the sound, he too knew what it meant.
Before, Murdoch could even react. Val was off the floor and pushing his way past him, he was screaming!
“LEAVE HIM ALONE!!” Val was almost to the door when Murdoch grabbed him from behind.
They struggled as Val fought to get free and Sam was trying to get in a position to administer the dose of morphine, but Val saw him and slapped his hand away.
He continued to scream! “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, YOU’RE KILLING HIM!!!”
Teresa broke into tears in the room with Scott, as the horrible, pain-filled screams grew louder! She felt the heart break that Val was suffering and the tears just rolled down her face. ‘Why was this happening?’ Teresa squeezed, Scott’s hand as she cried. “Oh, Scott I need you here with me, please wake up!”
She knew it was wrong of her to want Scott to wake up to this, he didn’t even know his brother was gone. His suffering would be as great as Val’s and she didn’t want him to suffer any more. She wanted him to never know what he had lost, she wanted to protect him from the hurt he would go through.
“I’m sorry, Scott. It was wrong of me to ask you to wake up to comfort me when your pain hasn’t even began!” She lay her head on his arm and continued to cry silent tears. Tears for them all.
Mr. Rowlings and his assistant heard the commotion from the back room but knew better than to interfere in family matters. This was not uncommon, for family and close friends to take the loss of a loved one hard.
They had a wagon parked at the back door to carry the deceased to the funeral parlor. Reverently, they went about the task of removing the departed from the doctor’s house and into the wagon bed. The screams and struggle could still be heard as they completed their task.
Murdoch and Sam were still locked in a struggle with the very drunk and emotionally charged, Val. Just when Sam thought he had a clear shot at Val’s backside he moved and Sam hit Murdoch in the leg with the morphine injection.
He just stood stunned for a second before hitting the floor like a ton of bricks. Sam stared wide-eyed at his unconscious friend, realizing what he had done. Val took advantage of the mistake and lunged toward the doctor, he drew his gun and pointed it at Sam.
“Get in there and help, Johnny! RIGHT NOW!” The overwrought man shouted!
Sam knew that there was nothing he could do for a dead man but maybe if he appeared to be trying, that would help Val to calm down enough to come to his senses?
Val followed him into the back room, his gun still at the doctor’s back. Once inside he realized that Johnny was gone! He pushed Sam out the back door and into the alley where Mr. Rowlings was just taking up the reins on the team of horses.
“STOP, RIGHT THERE!” Val shouted.
The men froze in their seat, the Sheriff was pointing a gun at them and they had no idea why?
“We’re just taking Mr. Lancers’ body to prepare him for burial in the morning.” Mr. Rowlings spoke softly, not wanting to upset the man when he had a gun pointed at him.
Val was stunned, “Bury him? Ya cain’t bury a man that’s not dead!”
The undertaker and his assistant were just as taken aback by that as Sam was, Val really believed that Johnny wasn’t dead.
Sam just shook his head at the undertaker, “No use arguing with him, Mr. Rowlings.”
Val had to decide in a hurry, what was the best thing to do, he came to the conclusion that he needed to get Johnny away from these crazy people before they finished him off, this time for good!
“Doc! Go gather up your bag and any supplies we might need to fix-up Johnny. You’re comin’ with me.” His voice was very determined and Sam could only follow his instructions.
Once he’d gotten the things that Val had requested, Sam climbed up onto the now vacated wagon seat. The undertaker and his helper were now locked in one of Sam’s closets. Val climbed up next to him and took the reins.
“What about Scott?” Sam asked his captor.
“Well, Doc I reckon he’s a sight better off than Johnny is right now and he has your nurse to look after him.” Val clucked the horses and drove down the alley way.
Sam could not believe where they were headed, he looked at the man sitting next to him in awe. Val was certainly smarter than anyone, except maybe Johnny, had ever given him credit for…they were headed to Lancer!
It was such a smart move that Sam just didn’t know what to say. There he would have all the help he needed from Maria and Cipriano. Even if they thought he was crazy they would grasp at any chance to save their, Juanito.
Most of the hands were out on the round up and the place would be practically deserted, he knew Jelly was there to but that was like asking the fox to guard the hen house. He would be just as anxious to help Johnny as the rest of them, even if he was dead!
Sam just shook his head, it seemed even the heavens themselves wanted to help Johnny. Just as they drove up in front of the house the sky opened up and rain fell in buckets. If that kept up no one would be able to get to them even if they thought to look here. Any tracks would be washed away and it would be hours before Murdoch could remember his own name, it was quite a dose he had intended for Val and it would have put Murdoch out for a long while too.
They had quickly carried Johnny’s blanket wrapped body into the hacienda. Before they got through the door good they were met by a screaming, Maria!
“Dios!” She screamed as she saw them bring the body of her Juanito into the house.
Her screams brought Cipriano and Jelly from the kitchen where they had been sitting since they had returned from digging Johnny’s grave, up on the hill overlooking his home. It had been a favorite spot for Johnny and he had spent hours just sitting up there looking down on his home.
Both were just as stunned to see Sam and the Sheriff bringing Johnny’s body home wrapped in a blanket.
“What in blue blazes, do ya think ya are doin’?” Jelly asked. He knew that Johnny was supposed to be brought home in a coffin the next morning for burial, not wrapped in a blanket like some pauper!
Sam asked that they help carry Johnny up to his room before asking anymore questions. Cip and Jelly just shared a look but did as they were asked. Maria followed along behind them, silently sobbing, as they each helped to carry their loved one to his room.
She moved ahead of them as they neared her sobrino’s room and opened the door before turning down his bed. She gasped as she realized what she had done, she had turned his bed down like she always had when he had been ill or hurt. But, now it had been habit that had made her do the same for the body of her beloved Juanito.
Once they lay Johnny down, Sam helped Val to remove the blanket and settle Johnny on his bed. He could only stare at Val as he looked down at the body of his friend.
“You always heal better at home, don’t ya buddy?” Val placed his hand on the shoulder of his amigo.
Val then turned to Sam and ordered him to get started in fixin’ Johnny up. When Sam hesitated, Val pushed him toward the bed and shocked gasps were heard from the others in the room.
“Val?” Jelly asked. “What’s goin’ on?” Val seemed to think that Johnny was only hurt and not dead. Jelly looked upon the pale still form of his friend and knew that something was mighty wrong here.
Sam sighed and answered for Val, “He seems to think there is something I can do for him, Jelly.”
Val turned to Sam in a fury! “Well, excuse the hell outta me, Doc for wanting to save his life!” Val shouted!
“All of you have given up on him but not me, he is alive and YOU CAN SAVE HIM!” Val was livid! ‘Why could they not get it through their thick skulls that Johnny was alive?’
Val drew his gun again and they all took a step back. In his grief the man had obviously lost his mind!
“You,” he pointed to Maria. “You say you love him like a son?” She only nodded through her tears. “Then get downstairs and boil some water and get some bandages ready, we’ve got no time to waste!” Val ordered and Maria ran from the room to do as he asked. Even if the gringo was out of his head, any chance for her Juanito was better than none.
Val poked Sam with his gun to get his attention. “You better get your stuff ready, Doc. Jelly will help you with whatever you need done.”
“Just what am I supposed to do?” Sam asked Val.
“You are gonna take the bullet out, Doc. Isn’t that what you’re good at?” Sam was shocked. Val wanted him to operate on a dead man!
Val watched carefully as Sam operated on his amigo. They had gotten him undressed and cleaned up as best they could, between Cip and Jelly running back and forth downstairs helping Maria. They had managed to sterilize Sam’s instruments and carry in everything else he needed.
Only Sam, Maria and Val stayed in the room during the surgery. Sam had been surprised to see that the bullet had not made a direct hit on Johnny’s heart but lay just to the side. Still, if he were alive blood would be spilling everywhere, so it was an effort done in vain. He just didn’t know what Val would do next.
As Sam went to remove the bullet from its resting place so near the heart, he thought he felt a tiny quiver from the still organ. He stopped and looked closer, must have just been his imagination. ‘Now, Val had him hoping too.’ He sighed.
He pulled the metal from his body and dropped it loudly into the pan that Maria had waiting for him. Sighing, he told Val that that was all he could do.
Val wasn’t buying it though. “What Doc? You don’t sew ‘em back up anymore? You just gonna leave him open ta bleed ta death?”
Sam wearily rubbed his face. “Of course, not Val.” He began repairing the damage the bullet had done, it had left blood in the cavity from the initial impact but not what he would have normally seen while removing a bullet, of course, this patient was dead. He cleaned the area thoroughly and began sewing Johnny back up.
Once he had finished and he and Maria had bandaged Johnny up tightly, he sat down heavily in the chair by the window. He looked out at the pouring rain, it was raining so hard it was like a hurricane he had seen once when he’d lived back east. He knew it would be some time before he made it back to town and he hoped that Scott would be alright.
He watched as Maria cleaned up from the surgery and left the room, with a final look at her Juanito. Val had sat down on the side of the bed and taken Johnny’s hand. He squeezed it and asked him to hold on, not to lose hope and to come back to them. Sam just rubbed his tired eyes, he wondered what Val would do when the body started to decompose. The extreme cold they had been experiencing since the night before when Johnny was shot had seemingly prevented that but Sam knew it was just a matter of time.
Sam fell asleep in the chair listening to the sound of the rain and the constant thunder and lightning that kept the sky lit up like the fourth of July.
Johnny raised his weary head, something was different? The air around him vibrated with wave after wave of rolling thunder? He looked up and the expression in the fiery eyes of Weir was one of fear! He could see that whatever it was that had changed had put a kink in Weir’s plans for him, and he had hope.
His hope grew and grew, he felt stronger and his spirit revived itself from the deep despair he had felt when he’d had no hope of ever getting out of this place. He could see that somehow, someway he now had a chance.
The hope on his face, infuriated Weir! “I will never let you go, Johnny Madrid!” He laughed. But, inside he knew that he was in danger of losing his prize. Someone was trying to take Madrid away from him and he couldn’t, wouldn’t let that happen.
He turned up the heat on his prisoner, he had to break him now and make him submit his soul to him. If he couldn’t then he would at least see that Madrid never returned to the living world either!
Fire once again consumed Johnny and he saw images of his family suffering the same fate. He screamed, not for himself but for his family as he watched them burn with him!
Murdoch awoke slowly and with a mountain size headache, as a matter of fact, he believed that every part of him hurt. He raised his spinning head to find himself on a bed, the same one he had woken up in this morning, right? He knew he was at Sam’s house. It was the ‘Why?’ that was eluding him.
The sound of pouring rain, followed by loud thunder and lightning made him jump which caused his head to pound more. He was still reeling from the bout of dizziness when the door opened and Teresa came in followed by Pete.
Teresa ran and threw herself in his arms when she realized that he was awake.
“Oh, Murdoch! It’s so awful!” She cried as she clutched her guardian, tears flowing freely.
Murdoch was yet to remember what had happened. He asked Pete to send Sam in because he felt like he had been caught in a stampede.
Pete just looked at Teresa, lowering his head he said. “Doc’s not here, Mr. Lancer.” He had been summoned by Mr. Rowlings assistant after they had been freed from the closet by Teresa. After learning that Sam had been kidnapped, he stopped to fetch his nurse Anne whom he had walked home earlier.
“He out on a call?” Murdoch knew that Sam was the only doctor within thirty miles and was in great demand. He would just have to wait.
Pete fidgeted from one foot to the other, somewhat at a loss for words. “No, Sir. Well, kind of, maybe.” Pete was having a hard time explaining what Val had done.
Murdoch thought maybe, Pete had been in the stampede with him. He was making no sense! “Well, which is it, Pete?” His patience was wearing thin.
Teresa stood up and helped Murdoch sit up in bed as she fluffed his pillows. Finally, he was settled and she asked. “What do you remember, Murdoch?”
“Everything, of course!” He wasn’t daft!
“Tell me.” She said softly.
He was at a loss for words, what did he remember? “I…I…” He struggled. Finally, he grasped onto something. “It’s the Fall round-up…” He looked at Teresa again with questioning eyes. “was there a stampede?”
She just closed her eyes. He didn’t remember and now she would have to tell him, it was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Murdoch, where are Johnny and Scott?” She asked tenderly.
He was stunned by the question. “What do you mean?” They had better be on the round-up where they were supposed to be and not out getting into some kind of trouble. He had let them come into town to blow off some steam with Val right before the work would start, because they hadn’t been able to go when the rest of Lancer’s hands had been in town.
He looked suspiciously at Teresa and then Pete. “Why? Are they in some kind of trouble? Does Val have them locked up?” Just wait till he got his hands on those two!
Murdoch was startled to see tears running down Teresa’s face and Pete had turned a couple of shades paler than usual.
He was getting a bad feeling and something was gnawing at his memory but his mind kept pushing it away.
His fear and impatience were both rising. “Teresa! Tell me what is going on, right now!” He barked at her and she jumped.
Murdoch sat devastated beside his son’s bed, he had hoped maybe it was some joke that was being played on him. That is until he had seen his oldest son lying in a bed in Sam’s office wrapped in bandages and unconscious. That brought it all back to him in a hurry.
‘How could this have happened?’ He had asked himself over and over again. One son trying to kill the other and being shot down like a dog by his best friend, this was a nightmare.
‘Oh, he remembered now about Johnny being poisoned with some witches brew from the cellar in the saloon. All about, Madrid! Of course, wasn’t it always?’ He sighed deeply as he remembered his wild son. He loved Johnny with all his heart, but he couldn’t help to regret ever bringing him home.
Most likely, Johnny would have died in front of that firing squad but at least he never would have known. He could have denied that Johnny Madrid could be his long lost son, his bubbling blue eyed boy couldn’t have grown up to be the killer that Johnny Madrid was or now had been. If he had never laid eyes on the boy, then he could let himself believe it wasn’t possible. That his son was still out there somewhere.
But, he had known this was his son the instant that he had set eyes on the grown up, Johnny. ‘Grown up!’ He snorted. He’d acted more like a kid than some kids he knew! Of course, he had been young…much too young to be dead because of the life he had been forced to live, a life he never should have experienced.
He had almost choked on the lump in his throat when he saw how much he looked like Maria. He was so cold though, so unfeeling and he had a look of pure hatred in his eyes, well except for that one moment. There had been one moment there that Johnny had looked at him with wonder in his eyes. But, in a blink it was gone. Replaced by that damnable gunfighter’s mask that he wore like a shield.
He had hated that Johnny put that mask between himself and his family. He was so guarded, even now the instincts of the gunfighter he had been…Had been? Was until he died violently because of his dangerous past, he meant! He had been a fool to believe that Johnny was anything but the killer he had been most of his life.
He couldn’t count the men his son had killed since he had been home. Killers like his son, had come out of the woodwork to try out the great Johnny Madrid. He had even killed a few young hot heads that were nothing but boys really, when they had tried to take him down in the middle of the street. Oh, it was self-defense sure enough but Johnny had killed them without blinking an eye and had just walked away like he was on a Sunday stroll.
The boys lying bleeding in the street, lives slipping away and his son had just walked away. He hadn’t realized until just now what a cold hearted bastard he had for a son. He didn’t want to think of him that way, especially now but his grief and anger seemed to be bringing the bad to the surface. Now this fiasco!
In true Madrid fashion the same best friend that had killed him had now lost his ever loving mind, stolen Johnny’s body and kidnapped Sam before somehow escaping town without being seen.
Sam woke to the crashing of thunder outside the window and he jumped as he was startled from his sleep. He rubbed his tired eyes and tried to get them to focus. He finally saw Val and he was still sitting with Johnny. He was rubbing the hair out of his eyes and telling him some story about how he had always wanted a brother.
Sam listened as Val crooned over Johnny, he looked at the still form and knew it was the mutterings of a mad man. Val had simply not been able to deal with killing Johnny and it had affected his mind.
He needed to believe that Johnny would be okay because he couldn’t live with the regret of killing someone that for all practical purposes was his younger brother, the two were so bonded.
He didn’t know how to help, Val. He simply refused to accept what everyone else already knew, that Johnny was gone and he wasn’t coming back. Not ever.
Just then Jelly and Maria rushed in with more blankets for Johnny. Val took them and helped spread them over his amigo.
“There now, amigo, this will help warm you up.” Sam couldn’t be more stunned, it seemed the madness was spreading and they too were now under the assumption that Johnny would recover.
‘At least he and Cipriano were still sane!’ Sam’s eyes widened as Cipriano rushed in with an arm load of firewood to keep his sobrino warm he said.
“Now wait just a cotton picking minute!” Sam yelled. This had gone far enough, now he was the only sane one in the room! On top of that they wanted to light a fire in the room with a corpse! That in no way was a good idea!
Just as Sam was about to continue his rant, he saw Johnny’s eyelashes flicker. Just for a second but that was enough, he rushed to his side pushing a startled Val out of the way. He pulled back the blankets and pressed his stethoscope to Johnny’s chest.
He listened intently as the room was now silent, as well...a tomb. At first, nothing…but just as he started to give up he heard it, just the faintest of beats.
Sam jumped back so suddenly that he startled everyone else and they all jumped. He turned to them with a huge smile on his face and started barking orders and they all hurried to comply with his requests.
It was a humble man that started treating his patient, his living patient.
Johnny was in so much pain, he couldn’t understand how he could hurt more now than when Weir had been torturing him. How was that possible? But, his chest hurt and it was hard to take a breath…’breath’ was he really breathing? He opened his eyes and he could see Weir there where he had been all along but he was burning with fury!
Johnny just smiled, anything that could cause him to look like that had to be a good thing, right?
Johnny was starting to fade from one reality to another, he was confused. One second, Weir was there and the next he was lying on his bed with Sam leaning over him. But, nothing stayed the same and he was jerked back to Hell with Weir.
He tried to go back to his room, to help that he knew instinctively that he needed. But, just when he thought he had a hold on it, it was gone again. He hoped that Sam could help him pull off some miracle and escape this place, he knew he needed just a little something more to make the jump and Weir couldn’t pull him back. What that was he didn’t know but he hoped…no he prayed that Sam did.
Sam was beside himself trying to save Johnny’s life. He was deep in thought when he saw a sliver of blue from Johnny’s eyes as they again tried to open. He shouldn’t have the strength for anything like that and especially under the circumstances but this was Johnny he was talking about and Johnny never did what was expected.
Apparently, not even die as he was expected too. Sam knew that all Johnny needed was a chance and he would fight for his life with everything he had.
Suddenly, it came to him how to help his friend. Johnny had been poisoned and the dose had been watered down over the course of three years and again when it was added to his beer. The yeast in the beer would have certainly had an effect on it as well. What if he treated Johnny for the poison? He had already taken care of the bullet, thanks to Val.
He knew Val was never going to let him live this down.
It must have been the poison that affected his heart, it had slowed it down to the point that it wasn’t pumping blood enough to allow him to bleed out like he should have. It had slowed even more over time and Johnny appeared for all purposes to be dead.
But, ironically enough it was the poison’s effects on his body that also saved his life. Had he only been shot and not poisoned he would be dead, as dead as he had thought he was. But, his killer’s fatal flaw had been the murder weapon. It was so unpredictable that it had actually worked to save him instead of kill him like it was supposed to, of course without the poison then Johnny wouldn’t have been shot. Well, unless Ben had had more of a backbone than he had shown with the cowardly way he had went after Johnny.
Sam took the bottle from his black bag, it was a treatment for almost any type of poison. He filled a syringe, prayed that it would work and injected it into Johnny’s vein. They all stood back, each praying that this would work and bring Johnny back to them.
Johnny was feeling warm and it wasn’t the fires of Hell that was warming him. No, this was something else. He felt it flowing through him and he raised his weary head and stared Weir down. He could see the desperation on his evil face and he just gave him his most annoying little Johnny Madrid, smirk and disappeared.
Sucking in a painfully deep breath, Johnny knew he was home. He blinked his eyes open to see Sam and Val standing over him, grinning like a couple of jackasses. He tried to grin back at them but all he could manage was to look at them before his eyes closed in blessed peaceful sleep.
Back in town, Murdoch was having a complete come apart! It had stopped raining two hours ago and he was no closer to going after Val than he had been when he woke up from his ‘accidental’ drug induced sleep.
He had sent his horse home with Cipriano and Maria when they had come to pay their respects to his son, as he would escort his body home for burial in the morning. Therefore, Jelly was to return with a buggy for himself and Teresa to attend the funeral.
“Funeral!” He shouted! How could they have a funeral when the sheriff had gone mad and stolen his son’s body? He should be out looking for them, no telling what Val had done in his state of mind. He may have his son propped up at a table playing cards with him for all he knew. Val had been beyond reason when he had been here earlier, he had fought them like a crazy man…to save Johnny’s life. Oh, how he wished that were possible.
Pete walked back into the doc’s house and stood looking at Murdoch like he had bad news.
“Mr. Lancer, sir?” Pete started but Murdoch could see that he would have to take charge if anything got done about finding Val and…Johnny.
“Don’t even say it, Pete! Just don’t you tell me that you can’t find any trace of that lunatic sheriff who drove out of town in broad daylight with not only Sam as a hostage but also my son’s body!” Murdoch was red faced and beyond himself in grief, he wanted his family together to handle this tragedy. He wanted to support them in their grief and have their support as well.
But, it was not to be, it was as if the heavens themselves had turned against him. Now, he had to deal with utter incompetence! Having had enough, he stormed toward the door.
“Where are you going, Mr. Lancer?” Pete grabbed hold of him as he tried to open the door.
Enraged, Murdoch shook his hand off and turned on him. “To do what you seem incapable of doing, deputy!” Murdoch knew that Pete was acting sheriff but he thought now that the best he would ever be was deputy, they would have to find a new sheriff.
“We looked, honestly we did, we made it out to Val’s cabin but it was empty. There was no sign that he had taken them there, the rain washed all the tracks away and it’s pure mud soup out there. The horses had a time of it, we were lucky to make it back in one piece!” Pete was stunned by the rancher’s behavior and his harsh words. He had always had Val to deal with these things so it was a new experience for the young man to hear these explosions first hand.
“Oh, you looked did you? Well, now I am going to look!” Murdoch again turned toward the door. But it wasn’t Pete that stopped him this time it was the man standing in the doorway when he’d thrown it open in his haste. He was vaguely familiar, he wore dark clothing and held a cane.
The man looked up and smiled the most evil smile that Murdoch was sure he had ever seen. “I see you remember me, good…good!” He laughed and the sound was like death, dark, hollow and empty.
Murdoch wasn’t sure what happened next, everything seemed like a dream or a nightmare. He found himself standing in front of his home, Weir beside him. ‘Where was Pete? Were Scott and Teresa, okay? How had he gotten here?’
“All in good time, Lancer. We are here to get something that belongs to me. If, I get it then no harm will come to you or your loved ones.” He laughed again as he knocked on the door with his cane. The wind was blowing hurricane force winds around them as if trying to rip the house apart.
“If, I don’t then you will all suffer and die for your interference. Mark my words, Lancer. This is a day that you will crawl and beg for mercy but I don’t deal in mercy. Soon you will see for yourself just how much this will cost you and the price is high, very high.” He laughed again as the winds seemed to blow around them but not touch them.
Johnny’s eyes shot open, the fear in them plain to see as he tried to get up but was pushed back down again. “Murdoch! He has Murdoch!” Johnny tried to warn them but it was too late. There was a knock at the door and Johnny’s heart froze in panic. “No!” He tried to fight harder but he had no strength. He collapsed back onto the pillow as his heart raced and his hope faded along with his life.
“What’s happening to him, Doc?” Val yelled as he watched his best friend go from a peaceful sleep to pure panic then to a total collapse in a matter of seconds.
Sam rushed to find a pulse as Johnny lost consciousness and his head rolled to the side. He found a weak pulse and the heart that had been racing with panic was now slowing at an alarming rate.
“I don’t know, Val but we are losing him! He isn’t strong enough to withstand any shock!” Sam shook Johnny trying to get any reaction but it was out of his hands, Johnny was dying.
“Step away from him, Doctor.” Everyone turned toward the new voice. Weir stood inside the doorway with Murdoch and Maria, who had gone to answer the door.
Sam continued to try to revive Johnny even though some stranger had demanded that he stop. He was a life saver and not one to stand around when he was needed.
“You are not needed here any longer, Doctor.” Sam turned to the man, how could he know what he had been thinking?
Weir twirled his cane in his hand as he approached the bed, no one made a move to stop him, they couldn’t, they tried but no one could move a muscle except for Sam.
Sam stood fast between this man and Johnny. He could see that the others wanted to stop this man but weren’t able to for some reason. Sam tried to push him away but was knocked against the wall and momentarily stunned as the man stood over Johnny.
“Well, Johnny Madrid! You didn’t get far did you?” He lifted his cane and poked Johnny in the ribs but he got no reaction. “You can’t die, yet, Johnny Madrid. I don’t have what I want from you and until I do…until I do you will get to watch your family suffer!” The laughter that followed was so hollow and evil that the house shook.
Weir reached down and placed his hand over Johnny’s closed eyes. “Open!” He demanded and Johnny’s blue eyes opened but seemed to hold no life. “I know you can see me and hear me, Johnny Madrid.”
Murdoch wanted to protest, to tell him to leave his son alone but he could not speak. His heart filled with hope that Johnny had been alive when they had entered the room and he saw Sam struggling to save his life. But now it seemed that hope was lost, it was lifeless eyes that stared back at him.
Why was he torturing a dead man? Weir had always been evil and he’d had some weird fascination with Johnny the last time they had dealt with him over who owned a piece of land. But, this was beyond even that the man was completely crazy!
Val seethed with anger, he had seen what Weir really was and he wanted to keep him away from his friend but his body refused to obey him! He could only watch again as his friend was tortured.
“I warned you, Johnny Madrid. But, you just wouldn’t listen.” He stared into the depthless blue eyes that were forced to look back at him.
“Well you know what they say about those that can’t be told…they can be showed.” Suddenly Murdoch was propelled across the room and into the wall with a force hard enough to crack the plaster before he plummeted to the floor in a daze.
‘Noooo!’ Johnny was shouting in his head but no one could hear him but Weir. “Oh, yessss! This is what you asked for, remember how you challenged my power? Well, what do you think now, Johnny Madrid?” He sneered as he lifted his cane and hit Val over the head and he fell to his knees.
Tears ran down Johnny’s face as he watched his friends and family suffer in his place. “You see, I can inflict pain or death anyway I see fit, with a physical blow or just a thought. Would you like to see more?” ‘Nooo…please don’t hurt them anymore. I’m the one you want!’ He pleaded.
All the others in the room saw were unseeing blue eyes but he saw everything and then some. He could not move or even blink and the tears that he thought he cried were only in his heart. He wanted to give in to let Weir have what he came for, but he knew he couldn’t trust him to keep his bargain. He would kill them all anyway, no matter what he promised.
This was his fault and he was the one who should pay for it, not those that he loved and who loved him. ‘Please, Lord help them. I will go gladly, take any punishment if I know they will be safe, please.’
“You dare pray in my presence?” Weir turned to him in a rage and began beating his body savagely with his cane as he lay there helpless. Blood flew from his body as the beating continued and the walls ran red with his life’s blood.
Finally, as the rage faded Weir understood what he had done. “No!” He screamed and it was terrifying but suddenly his spell over the room vanished and everyone was able to move again.
Johnny’s final prayer had been answered, he was allowed to sacrifice his life for the ones that he loved. His life but not his soul. He had pushed Weir into killing him before he could surrender his eternal soul. He was now truly a ‘free spirit’.
Everyone stood stunned at the bloody mess that Weir had made of Johnny’s body. There was no doubt this time that he was gone. He was barely even recognizable, Sam got up from the floor and started toward the bed but stopped, it was no use. More blood than he had ever seen from one person painted the walls and floor.
Cipriano and Jelly helped Murdoch to stand before offering Val a hand. They all stood with the Doc just staring in disbelief at the carnage they had all witnessed. Maria ran from the room screaming in frantic Spanish but the rest could not take their eyes off of Johnny.
Weir glared at them before raising his bloody cane above his head and cursing them all in his fury. He had let Johnny Madrid goad him into killing him…he had lost his prize but not his revenge. They would all pay for what he had done.
Wind began to swirl around the room until the force blew out the windows. They should all cower before him but they didn’t. He lifted his cane to demand more force to the winds, he would destroy this whole house and everyone in it!
But, they were unfazed as one by one they all knelt around the bed where Johnny’s bloody body lay undisturbed by the winds. They knelt and they prayed, even Maria returned and fought the winds to kneel down with her familia to pray for her sobrino.
No, they didn’t pray for themselves to be delivered they prayed for Johnny. He had given his life to save them and they all felt it, he had made the ultimate sacrifice for the ones he loved. Now, they would pray for him and they did pray with all their love for this special part of their hearts, their lives to finally have the peace he so deserved.
As tear filled eyes, prayed for Johnny Madrid Lancer, Weir brought forth demons from Hell to destroy them all! Maria appeared beside Murdoch and he fell back stunned to see his second wife shrouded in black as if in mourning for their son.
“Maria?” He asked as he reached up to remove the black lace from her face.
As he pulled the cloth away she leapt at him, her face a grotesque mask of twisted evil. “Hello, Murdoch,” she cooed as she sat astride him in a very unladylike fashion. He was repelled by her evilness but wasn’t able to push her off of him, she was too strong.
She leaned down with her twisted mouth to claim a kiss from her husband but before she could touch his lips she was thrown back away from him by an unseen force as the darkened room filled with a bright light.
Catherine stood with white wings flared out to protect Murdoch from the evil that Maria had become or maybe always had been. Maria screeched defiantly at the Angel before her, “They are mine, Puta! Mine!!! MY SON AND MY HUSBAND, NOT YOURS!”
She attempted to slash through Catherine with her twisted claws to get to Murdoch. But Catherine was untouchable and Maria screamed with fury!
“You are wrong, Maria. Both Murdoch and Johnny are MINE!” She smiled radiantly at the evil before her but was unfazed by the glare she was being given.
“They deserved better than you, Maria. Johnny never should have been taken from Murdoch, he was just a child and you forced him to live through hell just to make Murdoch pay for loving me.” Murdoch was stunned. Maria had taken Johnny because he had loved Catherine?
“Why, Maria?” He looked upon her evil shape searching for answers.
Her black eyes shot daggers at him. “You dare ask me that question? It was always Catherine this and Catherine that, there was no place for me when she was everywhere! If I cooked something it wasn’t as good as Catherine’s. If I moved her precious clock an inch you had to move it back!” She was heaving with anger and her claws were clicking in fury.
“What did any of that have to do with Johnny? He was just a baby, he loved you.”
“Not a thing, Murdoch. Not a single thing. He was just a means to an end, I never wanted him and I tried to get rid of him even before he was born but he seemed determined to live.” She was moving in a succession of furious movements as she ranted. “I hated him! I hated his mestizo blue eyes, the eyes of your sainted grandmother I believe you said Murdoch.”
Weir listened to her rant but could care less about her reasons, she was his now. He had bigger fish to fry so to speak, a war was being fought in this room and it was one he intended to win. He had already lost his prize but the rest would fall and no Angel would stop him.
“I hated him every day he lived! Did he tell you that it was me that ripped him from his path to the peace you all seem to think he deserves? It was and I did it gladly, even happily. You all seem to think him some saint but he is evil and he always has been. You have no idea the things that he has done, it would chill your blood.” She glared at Val. “Only this one even has a clue just what kind of killer your son really is, Murdoch.”
Murdoch just stared at Val, who lowered his head. What could he say, but Johnny wasn’t that person anymore. He had grabbed onto the chance at a better life with both hands and no one knew better than he did, just what it had cost him.
Val looked down at his bloodied best friend, his brother of the heart. He knew that nothing Johnny had ever done made him deserve to die like he had, no nothing.
“She’s right, I was a killer.” Johnny stood before them though his body still lay on the bed.
He looked his father in the eyes. “I was a cold blooded son of a bitch,” he looked pointedly at Maria. “the coldest that you have ever seen, Murdoch.” Johnny bowed his head and wrapped his arms around himself. Murdoch had seen that stance from his youngest son many times in the year he had been home.
He looked back up at his father, “Everything you had heard about me before I came home was at least in some way true…everything.” He sighed and turned toward Val before again facing Murdoch.
“Val, knew what I was but it wasn’t his doing, I was already on a path straight for Hell long before I met him. He was the best friend that I ever had and I never had to prove my worth to him. He just seemed to know that I didn’t like who and what I was, but he was my friend no matter how bad things got and he never let me down. If I needed him, he was there. No questions, he was just there.” Johnny again looked at Val and Val grinned at him.
“You see, Murdoch. I was a killer, just like the stories said…I still was one right up until I died. Maybe not soulless or even heartless, but a killer just the same.” He wrapped himself tighter in his self-hug as he paced. “I killed for money, for revenge and even for pleasure when I felt that someone really needed killing. I have lived that life for so long that I have a taste for the blood and it was sometimes overwhelming, that’s why I ran off so much in the beginning…because I needed it, the thrill of the kill.” He could just imagine the emotional turmoil he was causing his father if the look on his face was any indication. If he wasn’t already dead, he would leave and never look back. He had caused enough damage here.
Everyone else in the room just sat quietly stunned at his appearance and his confession. The Johnny they all loved couldn’t have been all the things that he was laying claim to…could he?
“I don’t know how I would have turned out if I had been raised here at Lancer with you, instead of taking care of myself in the border towns. I never got the chance to find out, but it’s done now and there is no changing it. What does it matter who was at fault or why? I have killed so many men that I don’t even know the count, but they all knew me and I got a visit from them every time I closed my eyes. You may have wondered about the times I woke up screaming from bad dreams, well now you know. They haunted me and I felt I deserved it, but no more. If there is more to pay, then I will pay it…Me not anyone else in my place.”
Johnny turned to Weir who was seething with rage at the sight of his prize right before him but still out of his reach.
“You can go back to the hell you came from, there is nothing here for you now, Weir.” Johnny stared unflinchingly at him. He had no more power over him.
“Only when I have destroyed your family, Johnny Madrid.” Weir sounded as if that were the most normal thing in the world to say.
“I don’t think so, Weir.” Johnny smiled at him in such a way that he hesitated and that made him furious!
“Just, how do you plan to stop me, Madrid?” Johnny just smirked at him.
“What, just Madrid? Not, Johnny Madrid? You must really be rattled, Weir.” Johnny knew what was coming and it looked like so did Weir.
Maria looked back and forth between her son and her master, was he actually going to let him go? She wouldn’t allow it, never would he know a moment’s peace while she suffered in Hell! She ran screaming at Johnny, intent on ripping him to shreds, but her efforts were in vain as her mangled claws only passed through him doing no harm.
She screamed again in fury, and went after Murdoch! But, Catherine again intervened and prevented her from reaching him. She went wild with rage and rushed toward Cipriano and Maria…she knew the puta couldn’t protect them all as she charged in followed by the other demons that had been keeping to the shadows since the Angel had arrived.
The room suddenly filled with an explosion of bright light and when everyone was able to see again, the room was filled with Heavenly Angels. Each person in the room had a guardian and no one living or dead was getting past them.
Other Angels began herding demons back into the abyss they came from and they fled in fear as the pure light of Heavens Angels pushed them back to the darkness. The only ones left were Weir and Johnny, even Maria had fled in fear.
The Angels all turned their light toward Weir and he shrank back in disgust. He knew better than to try to face these Angels because if he did, he might be inviting bigger trouble than he could handle. But, he couldn’t resist one last attempt to take Johnny Madrid with him.
He lunged toward the darkness but grabbed Johnny’s body on the way down. If he couldn’t have his soul at least he could have his body. He could take that much from them and they would suffer knowing that his body lay, in Hell.
Just as he thought he had had the last laugh, thunder shook the room. He disappeared down into the darkness but it was without his prize. When everyone recovered from the shock, Johnny’s body once again lay on the bed…still beaten and bloodied.
Johnny stood next to Catherine and gave them each a farewell smile. He looked lovingly upon his family for the last time.
“Murdoch, tell Scott that I am sorry for what I did. I never woulda hurt him if I had known what I was doing. It’s not much but it’s all I can offer him…tell him I love him and I will miss him.”
Murdoch about choked on the sobs as he nodded his head.
“Tell Teresa I said to be the best wife ever, to my brother. They both deserve to be happy and I am happy for them, okay.” Murdoch understood then that Johnny had had feelings for Teresa but had put them aside because he knew she didn’t feel the same.
“I’ll tell her, son.” He whispered through his tears.
Johnny stood before Val and just grinned at him. “Well, amigo I guess this is the end of the line. I sure am gonna miss ya, Val.”
Val had tears in his eyes too as he whispered something to Johnny. Johnny just stepped back and stared at him before whispering something back.
Johnny and Val were both saddened by the words but no one else knew what was being said.
Johnny said his goodbyes to Jelly and thanked him for being so good to him and treating him like a son. Jelly just blew his nose and talked about all the dust that wind had stirred up in here before telling Johnny how proud he was of him and how he would miss that smile.
He thanked Sam for saving him more times than he could count and added that it wasn’t his fault things worked out like they did, this time. “Take care of my brother, Sam. He’s needed here.” Sam nodded his head as he too broke down in tears. It shouldn’t be this way.
Finally, Johnny told Cipriano and Maria goodbye and thanked them profusely for giving him more family than he ever knew he had. “Te Amo, Tio and Tia.”
He turned to his father one last time. “Te Amo, Papa.” He gave him one last dazzling smile that reminded him of when he was a toddler, before disappearing with Catherine as the room darkened to night as it was cleared of Angels…
They all just stood around the bed where Johnny lay, Jelly had lit a lamp and the shadows cascaded across the blood stained walls. How were they ever going to go on from here, what they had witnessed in this room was unbelievable but it had happened just the same.
Murdoch sat down on the blood covered sheets now dried stiff with his son’ blood. He placed a hand on his son’s face one last time. How he wished that his son could have been saved too. But, in true Johnny Lancer style, he had sacrificed himself so they could live.
“Thank you, son. I love you, Johnny. Papa will see you again one day.” He rubbed the blood covered hair away from his son’s blue eyes. He wasn’t so fortunate as last time, Johnny’s eyes were still open underneath all that hair and his blue eyes were dull.
Jelly brought over a clean blanket from the trunk at the foot of his bed and they all helped to cover their loved one and left him in peace as they walked out of his room. The sound of the door clicking shut as Murdoch closed it behind him, sounded so final…
Just as they left the room, the light from the lamp brightened until it filled the room with its warmth. A figure stood beside the bed and reached a celestial hand down to hover over the still form underneath the blanket. The glow continued to spread until it covered the entire house and all of the occupants, though none were aware as they fell into a deep sleep…the light spread across the valley.
Val rode up to the hacienda, slapping his hat against his thigh causing dust to fly everywhere. He hadn’t been out here in a while and he wanted to stop by while he was in the area. There were some horses being broken in the corral so he wandered over that way to see who the unlucky fellow was that was on the back of that mean looking paint. Well he shoulda known, as he watched him catch air as the cinch broke and he was thrown into the dirt with a thud. It wasn’t quite so funny though when he didn’t get up and the horse was coming after him. Scott and Jelly pulled him out while a couple of hands kept the horse away.
Val ran over to see how much damage had been done. He was out cold and lolled limply as he was dragged further underneath the fence. Murdoch ran out of the house and knelt down beside his still form and dabbed at the blood that ran from the cut in his lip.
Val stood up and shouted for someone to get Sam, he had passed him on the way here and he was headed over to the Willis place, he told them. Mateo headed out at a gallop to fetch Sam and Val turned back to his friends.
“How is he, Murdoch?” Val asked worrying his hat in his hand as he looked down at the unconscious man.
Just then he started to come around as he moaned lightly before blinking his eyes open. “I am just fine, Val and I don’t need no fussing!” He rolled over but he was too dizzy to get up on his own.
“Sure ya are, amigo.” Val winked at Scott and Murdoch.
“Here, let’s get you into the house. Sam will be here soon.” Murdoch told him as they lifted him up out of the dirt.
“I don’t need Sam all I need is to rest a while and I’ll be right as rain!” He stopped and stared at Val as if he’d never seen him before. “I couldn’t find her, Val.”
“Find who?” Asked Scott. He was looking back and forth between them for an answer but Val just shook his head. “I think maybe he hit his head harder than we thought, Scott.” Val knew who Johnny was referring too but not why he had said what he did, she had been gone a long time and they both knew what had happened to her.
They had Johnny lying on the sofa in the great room when Sam arrived. “Well, what did he do this time?” Sam smiled as he sat beside Johnny and removed the damp cloth from his forehead.
He felt the back of Johnny’s head, his fingers easily finding the knot and Johnny jerked as he pushed on it slightly. “Oww! Dammit Sam! Ya trying to kill me?” Johnny was glaring at Sam giving him his Johnny Madrid look that had no effect whatsoever on the old doctor.
“Of course not, Johnny you do a good enough job of that all on your own.” He smiled at the look that Johnny gave him.
“Well, I don’t need no doctoring this time, Sam. I have come off of plenty of horses and didn’t see a doc most of those times, this is no different!” He snarled until he saw Murdoch standing over him with a less than pleased look on his face.
“But, since you are already here, I guess you can check me out.” He chanced another look at his father.
Just as Scott and Val were helping Johnny up to his room under the doctor’s watchful eyes, Jelly ran in with the cinch from the saddle.
“Lookie here, Johnny it broke clean through!” Jelly held it up but Johnny couldn’t focus enough to see just one cinch instead of several.
“Ain’t it your job to look after the tack, Jelly?” Johnny stumbled but managed a surly grin at the grizzled old hand that was like a father to him.
“Wahl now, ain’t that a fine howdy do for ya? Who was it that was supposed to help me change all the old cinches last week, Mister Smarty Pants?” Jelly puffed out his chest as he continued. “But, that certain someone had something better ta do…chasing fillies I believe he said.” Johnny was trying to get away from Jelly and Murdoch before he got into even more trouble but was so dizzy he was at the mercy of his brother and Val…who weren’t feeling really merciful at the moment.
In the end, he ended up in bed for a week with a not so mild concussion and off his horse for two weeks after that, he even missed the round up and couldn’t go into town either. Just his bad luck!
Well until Val showed up toward the end of his house arrest with a couple of bottles of tequila that he had pilfered from Lem at the saloon. He had traded out a couple bottles of the usual stuff for a couple bottles of premium tequila that he’d found in the cellar of the saloon while helping Lem move out some old stock, they’d even found a bottle of old medicine that had been there for years that they had poured out.
“So why were you helping Lem at the saloon?” Johnny asked after downing about half of his bottle as they sat on hay bales in the barn.
“Oh, he’d hired some fellow named Ben that had only been in town a few weeks but he was caught stealing and I had to arrest him. Was gonna put him on the next stage outta town but he upped and hung hisself that night.” Val told him shaking his head.
“He hung hisself for stealing? What did he steal?” Johnny gasped.
“Naw, naw…he only stole that old gun that Lem kept under the counter. Damned thing probably wouldn’t even fire, it was so dirty.” Val laughed. “The funny thing was when I asked him what he took the gun for…he had said he was gonna kill a legend.”
Johnny stared back at him stunned for a minute.
“You’re the only legend in these parts, Johnny.” Val knew that Ben had to have been after Johnny and had grown frustrated when he hadn’t shown up in town.
Johnny just stared at the ground what he could see of it anyway. They had been drinking for a while now but he was sober enough to understand that Ben had been after Johnny Madrid. When was his past ever gonna leave him alone? He didn’t even know who this man was and he might have been killed by him if he’d been able to come into town. He for sure didn’t sound like he was above bushwhacking a man.
“So, why ya reckon he hung hisself before putting a bullet in my back, Val?” Johnny was swinging his bottle of tequila back and forth between his legs watching it slosh around the bottle as he tried to figure this out.
“Who knows, Johnny and he for sure ain’t telling anybody now. Just let it go, amigo.” Val patted him on the knee.
Something else was bothering Val. “Johnny? How come you ta tell me, ‘I couldn’t find her, Val?’ He repeated what Johnny had said to him right after his fall before taking a big swig of tequila, nearly finishing the bottle.
Johnny just stared at him and mindlessly started twisting the turquoise ring on his middle finger. “I don’t know, Val. I been missing her a lot lately and I guess it just came out when I hit my head.” He couldn’t really tell Val that he’d been dreaming about her again, in his dreams he was looking for her…always looking even though he knew she was gone, forever. Not to be out done, he too turned his bottle up and left even less than Val had.
Neither were feeling any pain after all that alcohol had time to take effect…
They both raised their heads as Murdoch came into the barn followed by Scott. When Murdoch saw them both sitting drinking tequila he stopped and towered over the inebriated pair who nearly fell over trying to look up at him from their place on the hay-bales.
“Hey, Murdoch.” Johnny hiccupped. “Val did it.”
“Hey!” Val protested as he too started to hiccup.
“Did what, son?” Murdoch asked pleasantly.
“Brought me the tequila.” He grinned up at his father his face reflecting pure innocence.
“I see, did he force you to drink it too, son?” What was this a trick question?
“Nooo, I didn’t need no per…hiccup…persuasion, Pa.” Johnny wrapped his hands around his now almost empty bottle before turning it up and polishing it off in one swallow.
Murdoch and Scott just shared a knowing look. They were going to be sick as dogs in the morning.
“Johnny, I…I di..didn’t know you knowed any big words like that.” Val slurred as he too finished off his bottle.
“I don’t know….no big words amigo.” He laughed then looked up at his brother. “Boston, is the smart one, Val he can say, suuuupergalflagdelisheggspissdoses…ain’t that right bro…hiccup…ther?”
“Whatever you say, Johnny whatever you say.” He laughed as he and Murdoch helped the pair into the house and into bed.
“I’m sorry, Pa.” Johnny slurred as he drifted off to sleep.
“Not as sorry as you’re going to be on your birthday, son.” Murdoch smiled as he turned out the light and left his son snoring lightly. He laughed all the way down the hall with the now empty bottle of premium tequila…and he knew just where it had come from.
Someone else watched over Johnny as he slept…
“He is a bit wild, he has done some unspeakable things but also had them done to him. He has suffered as much as he has dealt out the suffering but he has a selfless soul along with an iron will. Only one such as him could have survived the life that was forced upon him and remain whole only slightly fragmented, those fragments are going to become fissures with the betrayal that is to come.”
He continued to look upon the sleeping man, a strong man…a good man. His life could have been easier if he had been left to his home and family but it was not to be, he was meant for other things.
“The existence of Johnny Madrid was and still is necessary.” A heart felt sigh was heard by his companion. “This one has fought valiantly his entire life, always torn between who he is and who he should be…he deserves at least a chance at happiness.”
“Even knowing what he is, what no one else knows about but her and then only because they are the same?”
“Yes, even knowing that because they aren’t anything that this world didn’t make them.”
“What about her?”
“All in good time, he isn’t quite ready for her, just yet. Things here will change again and not for the better. No one remembers what happened here, the selfless sacrifice he made for them or how they grieved when they lost him. He will be unjustly cast out and he will need her more, then.”
“He loves her and still grieves for her.”
“Yes, their story has not ended; it has only just begun.”
I hope you have enjoyed reading the “Free Spirits” Series, as much as I have enjoyed writing it and I hope you will continue to follow along in the next series, “Kindred Spirits” until then adios.