Val walked into the Silver Dollar after making his final rounds of the evening, he was off duty till tomorrow. His deputy, Pete was on for the rest of the night, so Val could enjoy a Saturday night with his friends. He scanned the smoky room before spotting them in the corner, Johnny’s back to the wall. ‘Big damn surprise, there!’ Val laughed.
He strolled through the crowded saloon, it was still early but the place was pretty well packed. He knew there were more people in town because of the local ranches hiring on more help for the upcoming fall round-up and the men were really kicking up their heels, before starting the weeks of work ahead of them.
Even, the Silver Dollar, the town’s most popular saloon had to hire on an extra bartender. Old Lem, just couldn’t handle the rowdy crowds or late nights anymore. Val waved to the new man, he was a friendly enough sort about his age, maybe just a little older. Val was aware that the new bartender, Ben had been working odd jobs since coming to town a few weeks ago. That is before being hired on by Lem for the night shift.
Ben had a bad limp, caused by a kick from a frightened young horse he had been trying to harness, some years ago from what he had told Val. That is why he never could do any ranch work or the like. But, he made a fair bartender and Val thought it was good of Lem to give the man a shot.
Seeing, Scott Lancer across the room waving at him, Val nodded toward Ben to bring them a round of beers. Val sat down at the almost full table, Johnny and Scott were enjoying a round of cards with a couple of hands from the Circle C.
“Well it’s about time you got here!” Laughed Johnny, slapping Val on the back.
Val just smiled and said. “Some folks gotta work for a livin’, amigo!” He laughed good naturedly.
Scott loved joining his brother and Val for some ‘boy’ time. The comradery reminded Scott of his college friends and the mischief they used to get into together. He studied his devious brother, no one could get into trouble like Johnny. Scott thought back to just last week, Johnny had been knocked senseless when a horse he had been breaking about broke him! He laughed to himself, remembering the incident. He had been frightened when it had happened but seeing as how Johnny only hit his hard head, he had no real worries! He laughed out loud and his brother gave him a slap to the stomach with the back of his hand.
Knowing what his brother was thinking, Johnny playfully reminded his over educated brother that he had not seen him breaking any horses!
“Well brother, some of us were born to break horses and some of us more refined gentlemen were born to laugh at the misfortunes of the unfortunate, horse breaker!” Scott was on a roll and his laughter had everyone at the table in hysterics.
Johnny picked his new beer up off the table as they were passed around and after taking a big swallow, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “It seems to me Boston, it was you who was running around in a panic, wanting to send for Sam!” He told them what he could remember of the incident. It honestly, was still a little blurry to him. He had taken a pretty hard hit to the head when the cinch on the saddle had broken in mid-flight, slamming him onto the ground. He still had headaches from it, not that he would tell anyone though. They’d run to Sam so fast his head would spin, damn mother hens!
His father and brother had been worried, because he had been knocked out for a few minutes. Luckily, he had come too before they had sent for Sam. “I didn’t need them callin’ out the doc”…he started giggling…”callin’ out the doc!” He laughed again, the image of Sam Jenkins being called out for a gunfight, sent him into a fit of laughter.
Everyone at the table joined in on the infectious laughter! Johnny had tears running down his face and was slapping the table with his hand, nearly toppling his beer off into the floor. His quick reflexes saved it though and he turned up the glass and polished it off, before he did spill it. Val was red faced laughing at the image his friend had painted in his head, before he turned to Scott and was telling him about Johnny’s slick ways.
“Val, you don’t have to remind me.” Scott laughed holding up his hand as he was also downing his second beer. How many times had they heard ‘I’m fine or I’ve had worse!’ He wondered? A lot, he was sure! “My brother, told us in no uncertain terms that he was ‘fine’, you know how fine my brother was, Val after his head bounced off the ground?” Scott chuckled nearly choking on the last swallow.
“He was out for the count, Val he looked like a rag doll when we pulled him under the corral fence. Scared the shit out of us, but he just opens his eyes and tells us he is ‘fine’!” Johnny is looking perturbed at being called a rag doll! Val notices his friend tense up a bit.
Val gives Johnny a friendly nudge. “Alright, boys! That’s enough prodding the bull tonight, let’s play cards! Whose deal is it anyway?” He claps his hand together and orders another round of beer.
“Alright, that is my two rounds bought! Scott it’s your turn next round and then we can go get some supper over at the cantina!” He leans in to Johnny as Scott begins to shuffle the cards. “Hey amigo, have you seen the new waitress that Rosa hired at the cantina? Boy, is she a looker. Got real nice ass-ets if you know what I mean?” He nudges Johnny again with his elbow to emphasize his point!
“Knock it off, Val!” Johnny shouts at his friend! Everyone at the table stops to stare as Johnny shoves Val. Stunned by the sudden anger, Val and Scott share a look and the two Circle C hands decide that now is a good time to leave the game.
Val sees the ice forming in Johnny’s eyes as they darken with challenge. He doesn’t know why his best friend is so touchy tonight but figures they can work it out later, if need be… “Okay, amigo.” Val tries to lighten the mood. “No offense meant and you know it, Johnny.” Val’s voice is calm and wary, Johnny seems a little off tonight.
Scott just sat in silence as he watched Val try to calm his increasingly irate brother. He watched emotions play across his brother’s face and noticed he put his hand up to rub his head, before turning to Val and apologizing.
“Lo siento, Val. I don’t know what got into me, guess it’s been a rough week, amigo.” Johnny continued to rub his temple, as he looked at his friend with sorrow in his eyes.
“No harm done, Johnny. We have butted heads harder than this before over less.” Johnny couldn’t argue that point and grinned at his best friend. He and Val had been through a lot together and he knew it would take more than a little shove to break that bond.
Johnny visibly relaxed and Scott began to deal as Johnny sipped his now refilled beer. “Not gonna be much of a game with only three players!” Scott complained. He eyed his brother for any other sign of distress. Scott made a mental note to talk to Sam tomorrow about Johnny’s odd behavior and the pain he was apparently experiencing.
About the time, they settled into their poker game. A disturbance across the room had Val jumping up and heading into the fray to pull apart the combatants. Ben the bartender had tripped and dropped a drink on an already drunk cowhand, starting a ruckus that needed to be stopped before it turned into a brawl!
Scott could hear Val cussing across the room as the drunken cowhand took a swing at him. About that time, the deputy Pete arrived on the scene and together he and Val wrestled the man to the floor before dragging him off to jail. He turned to Johnny to ask him…Scott froze at the look he was getting from his brother. Johnny sat staring at him, like he could kill him! Scott felt a shiver of fear run through him at the ice cold look of Johnny Madrid…
“Johnny?” Scott hesitated. Damn he wished that Val would come back. Something was wrong with his brother and Scott wasn’t sure that he could handle his volatile brother alone. When he heard the sound of his brother’s Colt cock underneath the table, he was sure he couldn’t handle him alone.
Scott looked around for help, but saw none. Most everyone had gone outside to watch Val and Pete drag the drunk off to jail. He knew he had to do something, though. His brother needed help, he had no doubt. Only the bartender and a couple of saloon girls were left beside the odd passed out cowboy here and there.
“How about another beer, brother?” Scott asked his eerily still brother. He started to raise his hand to draw the bartenders attention, when his brother spoke up.
“I still have one, Boston and so do you.” Johnny’s voice was cold and emotionless as he raised his half full glass with his left hand and downed the contents, never taking his steely eyes off his brother.
Scott shivered. “Well since you finished that one off, how about we go have that supper Val was talking about. I would like to get a look at the new girl he was talking about.” Please Val, come back.
“I got a better idea.” Johnny said, the menace in his voice unmistakable. “How about you get up off your fancy pants ass and take a walk out into the street?”
Scott swallowed hard. “Are you calling me out, brother?” Scott was on the verge of panic. Johnny was staring at him like he didn’t have a care in the world. Like he hadn’t just threatened his brother’s life!
“You think you can take me, Boston?” Johnny smiled at him then, but it didn’t reach his eyes. It was the cold, deadly… I am just toying with you like the mouse you are, smile.
“No brother, I know I can’t take you in a gunfight. You are the fastest man I have ever seen with a gun. But, if you would like to put down the gun and settle this with our fists, I would be happy to oblige.” Scott was surprised his voice sounded so calm.
Johnny tapped the table with his empty glass before throwing it against the wall. Scott ducked the flying glass but his brother just sat there as the broken shards rained down upon them. At least, that got the attention of the bartender and Scott saw him turn their way. Raising up, Scott could see that Johnny had a few small cuts on his face from the flying glass. He didn’t look like he’d felt anything.
Scott had never been afraid of his brother, even with his lethal reputation. But he was afraid, now! He knew now how others had felt staring into the deadly eyes of the gunfighter, Johnny Madrid. Why anyone would challenge his brother was beyond him, it was like looking into the eyes of death. His brother had taken on the persona of the Grim Reaper and he was offering to show Scott the gates of Hell…
“Get up!” The order wasn’t shouted, but delivered with the soft drawl that Scott was familiar with hearing from his brother. But, the meaning was clear. His brother meant business.
“Johnny, brother something is wrong with you. Please, brother don’t do this! Let’s go see Sam, let him check you over and if you still want to do this we will.” Scott pleaded with Johnny. But the anger only increased in his brother’s face. It was unusual for his brother to let emotion show, but right now Johnny seemed past caring about keeping his cool.
Johnny laughed then at his brother. “You must think you’re real smart, Boston!” Johnny glared at Scott. “Or you think I’m stupid? Is that it, Boston? You trying to pull a fast one on your dumb half-breed brother?” Johnny pulled the trigger.
Scott felt himself propelled backwards as the bullet entered his body just above his beltline. He fell to the floor in stunned disbelief, his brother had shot him in cold blood. Scott looked up to see his brother standing over him with his smoking gun still in his hand. The look on Johnny’s face was blank as he watched his brother bleed.
Scott managed to roll over and get to his feet, aware that Johnny might shoot him again at any moment. He stumbled toward the door, the bartender and saloon girls had fled at the first shot. He could hear the sound of his brother’s spurs as he trailed him toward the doors. Scott could see people gathered at the windows and the door, having been drawn into the scene playing out before them, by the sound of the gunshot.
Scott was halfway across the floor, stumbling into tables and pushing chairs aside as he tried to get away. Blood was pouring through his fingers as he tried to stem the flow with his hand. Never did he think about drawing his own gun to defend himself, he couldn’t fire on his brother. ‘God! Help us, don’t let this happen, please!’ Scott pleaded to the Heavens.
“Johnny, buddy?” It was Val…’Thank God!’ Scott felt such relief, he had faith that Val could talk Johnny down before he did the unthinkable.
Val had eased through the swinging doors and was shocked at what he saw before him. Johnny was stalking his wounded brother toward the doors. He could see the smoke from Johnny’s Colt and knew that for some reason, Johnny had shot his brother! ‘Dear God!’ Val prayed. He realized that his deputy was standing behind him still outside the saloon. He whispered to him. “Pete, send someone for Murdoch and Sam, now!” Val heard the hasty retreat of footsteps as his deputy ran for help.
Scott had almost reached him when, Johnny lifted his gun and shot his brother for a second time. Hitting him in the shoulder and spinning him around to face him. Val could not believe his eyes, if he hadn’t seen it he never would have believed it. Johnny’s eyes looked right through them as he smirked. “Going somewhere, Boston?” He taunted.
Scott had fallen to the floor and Val had pulled his own gun as he had watched his best friend shoot down his own brother. Scott lay bleeding to death on the floor and Val knew he had to stop this, now.
Val looked back up into his friends blue eyes, but what he saw was not Johnny Lancer, Hell it wasn’t even Johnny Madrid. It was death, the cold unfeeling eyes of death. ‘Please, please, please…don’t make me shoot my best friend!’ He pleaded with God!
“Johnny, put down the gun!” Johnny just stared at him but didn’t seem to really be seeing him. “Please, Johnny!” Val begged his friend.
“Don’t do this, please! Think of what you’re doing. What did Scott do to deserve this, Johnny?” Val saw Johnny’s gun hand twitch and he had hope that he was getting through to his friend.
“Come on buddy, you don’t really want to hurt your brother. He loves you, Johnny and you love him! Let me get him some help in here and we’ll get this all taken care of, in no time. Val saw Johnny look down at his brother before looking up at Val and giving him his best smile.
Val almost shuddered with the relief that ran through him at seeing the familiar smile. Johnny had come to his senses! But, just as he thought it…Johnny raised his gun to put the killing shot in his brother. It hit Scott, in the chest just as Val fired at Johnny slamming him down to the floor.
“Noooo!” Val shouted as he saw what Johnny was gonna do! He fired at his friend out of pure instinct. He knew he had to stop him, but was too late to prevent the bullet from leaving Johnny’s gun! He watched in stunned horror as Scott’s body jumped from the hit to his chest, just as Val’s bullet entered Johnny’s body and he watched the force propel his amigo to the floor.
There was no sound…Val realized that everything was still and quiet. He looked down at the gun in his hand and dropped it stonily to the saloon floor. It landed with a thud at his feet and he just stared down at it, like it was a living thing.
He was still standing there, when Sam rushed through the doors followed closely by Pete. The old doctor took in the scene before him and gasped. “Dear God!” Both of his friend’s sons lay bleeding on the floor. Scott was covered in blood, with more pooling on the floor underneath him. He checked for a pulse and found a weak one. “Pete, get some men in here and take Scott over to my office, now!” Sam shouted. Pete had been just as shocked but called in a couple of the onlookers to help him carry Scott.
They were lifting him off the floor as Sam went on to Johnny’s still form. His gun lay loosely in his outstretched hand, but there wasn’t that much blood on his chest, where the bullet had hit him almost dead center. Sam’s hand shook as he reached out to check for the pulse that he already knew he wouldn’t find. Johnny was gone, he had been killed instantly. The lack of blood told him that more than anything else did.
Sam sat back, but he knew he had no time to grieve for the loss of the vibrant young man that he had come to love like a son. Johnny was color and motion…to see him lying still and gray in death was too much for him to bare. A tear slid down the old doctor’s face, he turned to Val who had not moved a muscle.
“Who did this, Val?” But Val only stared at the gun lying at his feet. A horrible feeling came over Sam as he watched Val stare at the gun. ‘No, please No!’ But he knew that for some reason, Val had been forced to kill his best friend in the world. He picked up his bag from the floor and walked out into the street, the crowd parting for him as he headed to his office to try in save the other Lancer son.
Sam passed Pete coming back down the street. “Pete, has someone been sent to get Murdoch?” Pete looked up at the doctor, sighing before answering with a nod of his head. “What about Johnny, Doc?” Pete had an idea since he didn’t see anybody rushing out with Johnny to the doctor’s office.
Sam kept walking toward his office as he answered. “Johnny’s gone, Pete but I don’t want Murdoch to hear that from anyone but me. Do you understand?” The whisper soft answer came to him as he continued toward his office and Scott Lancer. “Sure, Doc.”
Sam stopped then and turned to Pete. “Get Val over to his office and keep him warm, he’s in shock. I will see to him as soon as I can…and Pete have Johnny’s body brought over to my back room before Murdoch gets here. I don’t want him to see him like that…”
“Boss, I’m a tellin’ ya that my elbow is aching something awful. I just know them boys is in trouble and I think we need to go check up on ‘em before it’s too late!”
“Don’t be silly, Jelly. The boys just went to town to let off some steam. They are probably playing cards with Val by now.” He shook his head at the persistence of the man that had become a friend to them all and smiled at how he always worried more over his youngest son, Johnny.
“Ima tellin ya, boss my elbow don’t lie…and you know Johnny took that hard fall just last week!” He followed behind his boss like a persnickety child, demanding attention.
Just as Murdoch was about to tell Jelly to go to town if it would make him feel better, he heard a rider coming in fast. His heart jumped into his throat, before chastising himself for falling into Jelly’s superstition. But as the rider slid to a stop before them, he knew something horrible had indeed happened to his sons.
“Mr. Lancer, Sir! You need to come to Green River, right away!” It was Billy the liveryman’s son.
“What’s happened, boy?” Murdoch and Jelly asked at the same time.
Billy took in a deep breath before answering. “I don’t know exactly, Mr. Lancer! Only know something happened at the saloon that had to do with your sons and the deputy said for you to come in a hurry!” He panted.
Murdoch turned to Jelly. “Saddle the horses, Jelly!” He then thanked the boy and told him to rest him and his horse before returning to town.
Jelly rushed off to the barn and Murdoch went inside to let Teresa know what was happening.
Murdoch and Jelly raced into Green River on laboring horses. They had nearly ran them into the ground in their hurry to get to his sons. Murdoch couldn’t help but to think that Johnny would be pissed at him if he knew how they had treated their mounts!
They saw Barranca and Charlie tied up in front of the Silver Dollar as they raced past on their way to Sam’s office. Murdoch and Jelly stormed into the doctor’s front room, the overhead bell making them both jump!
Sam came from his surgery room, wiping his hands on a small towel. He knew who it was and had dreaded this moment. The look on his face caused the big Scot to fall heavily into a chair. His legs no longer wanted to hold him up, he could see it was bad. Jelly watched Sam, the fear in the old wrangler’s eyes was heart wrenching.
Sam approached the two men and he knew they were about to live a nightmare. Sam asked Jelly to take a seat, as well and when the older man complied, Sam began. He ran a tired, sad hand threw his hair as he sat down beside his oldest friend.
“Murdoch…” Sam started.
Murdoch leaned his head into his hands that rested on his knees. He couldn’t look at Sam, he knew in his heart what was going to be said. “Just tell me, which one?” Murdoch could feel the loss in his heart. He already knew but he had to hear it from Sam.
“Johnny.” Sam sighed. “We’ve lost Johnny.”
Jelly jerked to his feet! “Wahl…No it can’t be, Doc!” Jelly felt like he would choke to death his heart was so much in his throat!
He looked into the doc’s eyes…hoping to see some joke there but all he saw was sorrow and loss. Jelly sat back down, hard. He just didn’t know what to do…
“What about Scott?” Murdoch asked his head still in his hands.
Sam looked toward the room he used as his surgery. He blew out a slow breath before answering. “He is alive, for now Murdoch. But, it’s bad…I have removed the bullets and repaired the damage but he has lost a lot of blood, too much. I just can’t say right now.”
“Does he know about…” Murdoch choked up just thinking of his youngest son, now lost to him forever. “Does Scott know about Johnny?” He managed to ask.
“No.” Sam shook his head. “He was unconscious when Johnny was killed. He didn’t see it happen and I think its best he not know until he has recovered enough to handle the loss. That is if he makes it, Murdoch.”
“I need to see my boys, Sam.” Murdoch raised tear filled eyes to look at his old friend. Sam nodded. “Scott is heavily sedated but you can go in to see him for a few minutes.” Sam lowered his head to stare at the floor…”Then I will take you to see Johnny.”
Sam followed by Murdoch and Jelly stepped quietly into the surgery room. Scott lay on the bed wrapped in bandages all around his torso. He was so pale that the white of the bandages blended in with his pale color. Murdoch carefully approached his seriously injured son and gently lifted his hand, noting how cold it seemed. He lovingly, rested his hand on Scott’s hair and hugged him gently.
“I love you, son. Hold on, please hold on.” He pleaded.
Sam and Jelly stood back and let their friend have this private moment with his eldest son…now his only son. Sam hated to interrupt the moment but he had too, even though he knew seeing Johnny could very well be the undoing of Murdoch and Jelly, it had to be done.
Sam nodded to his nurse, Anne she had been his nurse for many years and she had the experience to care for even the most serious patients. She had sat quietly in the background as Murdoch had visited with his very ill son.
Sam turned Murdoch toward the door, he knew he didn’t want to leave his son. He especially didn’t want to see his youngest son, in death. Sam led them toward his backroom, he kept the bodies of his patients that didn’t make it there until the undertaker could come for them. Sam hesitated before opening the door. He had gone in and covered Johnny with a sheet once he had finished Scott’s surgery and it had taken a toll on him seeing Johnny lying there.
He had started to turn the handle when suddenly, Murdoch collapsed to the floor. Sinking to his knees, he pleaded with Sam. “I can’t do this, Sam!” He cried. “Please tell me it’s just a bad dream and that he’s not really gone, please Sam tell me Johnny’s not dead!”
Sam took his friends shoulders in his hands and with Jelly’s help he got Murdoch to his feet and sat him back in the chair. “I would give anything to be able to do that, my friend.” Sam looked into the stricken face of his friend. “But I can’t, Johnny is gone, Murdoch. He was killed instantly, the bullet hit his heart.”
Jelly was sick just hearing how his friend had died. “Who dunnit, Sam? Who kilt Johnny and shot Scott all up?” He asked with tears streaming down his face. He wanted revenge against the murderin’ bastard that had done this to the son of his heart!
Sam lowered his head. “Now is not the time, for that Jelly. Trust me on that.”
Murdoch knew there was much more to the story but right now he didn’t have the strength to deal with it. He got to his feet and walked slowly to the door they had stood at a moment before. Sucking in a ragged breath, Murdoch turned the handle and stepped into the room.
He was aware of the silence, it was the silence of death. He could see the form on the bed underneath a sheet, stained with blood. Murdoch didn’t want to see what was underneath it, he already knew but the seeing would make it true. He took a slow step toward the bed. Tears falling uncontrollably down his face, he stood over the form and slowly, carefully lifted the bloody sheet.
He first saw the dark hair of his son and his handsome face. Stilled in death, he was still handsome and he would be for all eternity. Murdoch, tried to suck back a choked sob but he couldn’t manage it. He cried openly as he saw the small cuts on his son’s handsome face. He was wearing his favorite pink shirt and the leather calzonera’s that Murdoch remembered him coming downstairs in as he laughed and joked with his brother on their way out the door. He looked like he could just get up and call him ‘Old Man’ just to rile his father. Murdoch wished he could, he wished to see that devilish grin and those flashing sapphire eyes sparkle with mischief. He wished…
He sat beside his son and rubbed the bangs back from his eyes. Murdoch was glad those expressive blue eyes were closed. He couldn’t have stood to see them looking back at him, lifeless. He spoke softly, to Johnny as he took his hand and caressed the callouses that hadn’t been there when Johnny had first come back home.
His son had worked harder than anyone on the ranch, in the year since he’d been home. He had really made the effort to change to become a rancher instead of a hired killer. His old life just wouldn’t let him go, now it had killed him. Murdoch sighed…”I’m sorry, son. I wanted so much for you but now you will never have the chance at the future I wanted to give you.”
He thumbed the medallion that his son had always worn, he had told him once it was protection against dying alone. ‘How sad was that?’ “At least, you weren’t alone when you left us, son.”
“I wished I had been there, to save you or at least to say goodbye.” Murdoch thought back to the last thing, Johnny had said before leaving for town with his brother.
“So long, Old Man!” He had shouted as he had rode away. Not goodbye, just ‘so long’ which is like saying ‘till I see you again’. He carefully lifted his son up and held him in his embrace, never wanting to let him go. He hugged his son too him and rocked him, just like when he was a baby. In his mind, he could hear the lullaby not the words but the tune and he hummed it as he sat and rocked his baby boy to his final sleep.
Unbeknownst to the grieving father, Sam and Jelly stood in the doorway and watched the father say goodbye to his son. Tears flowed freely down their faces and they both knew that nothing would ever be the same again, Johnny was gone and with him the light and the laughter…
Finally, exhausted Murdoch knew he would have to give up his hold on his son. He carefully eased his son back down on the bed and brushing his hair back once more, he told his son how much he would miss him.
Rising and turning toward the door, Murdoch looked back at his son. He hadn’t been able to cover his boy again with the sheet. He just couldn’t do it.
“Papa loves you, Johnny. So long, Son. Till I see you again…”
To be continued in: Justice for Johnny