The Lancer name and characters are the creation of others. The
song “I’m Movin’ On” is written by Phillip White/Vincent Williams, and
performed by Rascal Flatts. This
story is written for entertainment purposes only; no infringement of the
creators’ copyrights is intended.
I've dealt with my ghosts and I’ve faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on
Johnny lifted the gun belt from his
bedpost and placed it around his waist, setting it low on his right hip.
Without looking, he let his fingers move through the familiar routine of
fastening the buckle. The brown
leather belt was an old friend, a necessary part of his daily ritual.
His hand slipped to the Colt and eased it from the holster.
After opening the chamber to check that the cartridges were in place, he
chuckled. That too was part of the
morning routine. Did
you think they’d disappear overnight?
With practiced ease, he slid the gun back into the holster.
He ran his fingers through his hair and
picked up the bolero jacket and hat. Glancing around the room, Johnny recognized the small
additions he had made to the room—a colorful blanket woven by Lone Crow’s
squaw, the family photograph in a silver frame that Murdoch had given each of
his sons for Christmas, his empty saddlebags tossed over the back of a chair, an
extra shirt balled up on the floor, and a few trinkets on his dresser.
It was a comfortable room, and Teresa kept it mighty clean.
Not like some of the flea traps he had stayed in during his border town
The though of his past life made him
pause at the door, his hand frozen on the knob.
He shook his head to rid himself of the memories of gunfights and deaths.
I've dealt with my ghosts and
I’ve faced all my demons. Finally content with a past I regret.
Today was a new day in a new life—no need to dwell on things that had
happened before he came to live with his father and brother at Lancer.
What was it now? Almost
He wandered into the kitchen and settled
at the table, while Maria bustled around the room.
Her singing reminded him of his mamá, but he thought it best to keep
that observation to himself.
Maria gave him a matronly smile and filled a coffee cup for him.
“Buenos días, Maria.”
He closed his eyes and savored the aroma of the coffee.
Strong, just the way he liked it. “Muy
After fixing him a plate of ham and
eggs, the woman returned to shucking a pile of golden ears of corn at the other
end of the table. She dropped the
last of the ears into a pot of water, keeping up an easy conversation with
Johnny. When she tried to pick up
the filled pot, Maria frowned and begged Johnny for help. “Por favor.”
“Maria, for you, I would do
She clicked her tongue at him.
“It’s only the weakness in these old hands.”
Gently, Johnny placed his arm around her
shoulder. “Mamácita, I’ve
found you find strength in your moments of weakness.”
His eyes gleamed with good humor.
I have the weakness and in you I find the strength.
There’s no weakness in you, Juan.”
Careful not to slop water over the rim,
he moved the pot and placed it on the grill where Maria pointed.
If only you knew. A man
like me is full of shortcomings and weaknesses.
I try to keep them hidden, but sometimes I don’t do so good.
That’s usually when me and the old man knock heads and wind up in a
fight. Of course, I ain’t as
educated as Scott, or as good in certain ways.
He grinned at the recollection of Murdoch and Scott urging him to join in
the last dance at the estancia. They
had not understood why he declined.
Maria placed a kerchief over her head,
grabbed her egg basket, and went to the back door.
“I need to visit the hen house. Be
a good boy, Juan, and don’t let the pot boil over.”
Johnny returned to his coffee and again
settled into the chair at the kitchen table.
He listened to the muffled ticking of the clock in the great room, the
crackle of the cooking fire, and the outside sounds of ranch work.
The smell of corn, apples and bacon filled the kitchen.
Leaning back in the chair, he smiled.
Yesterday, the scent of tomatoes had permeated the air as Teresa stewed
the bumper crop of tomatoes. His
eyes flicked over the familiar work surfaces, ceramic tiles, and utensils in the
spacious room. Sure is a far cry from what my mamá had.
He had no regrets and recognized his
good fortune. That
Pinkerton agent showed up at just the right time.
Deciding to accept his father’s offer to stay at Lancer had taken him a
little longer to consider, but he knew he had made the right decision.
Content, he stretched his legs under the
table. His spurs jingled for a
moment and he enjoyed the sound. For once
I'm at peace with myself. Haven’t
always been, but this feels right. He
seldom had time to sit and soak in the tranquility of an early morning in the
Lancer kitchen. Usually, he was out
rounding up strays or working with the horses.
Today, he had escaped riding the fence
line with Scott because Teresa needed an escort into Green River.
Murdoch was helping a neighbor with an irrigation problem.
So, the task of accompanying Teresa to sell her jars of tomato relish had
fallen to him.
He considered the change his life had
taken. Johnny Madrid would never drive a buckboard to town to sell preserves.
He might face someone in a gunfight and feel guilty about it for weeks,
but doing a simple chore such as marketing preserves was not something a hired
gun did. It still puzzled him that his family could accept him
after all the killing that had come at the end of his gun. Well, I've
been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long.
The sunlight beamed into the kitchen,
and humming a Spanish melody, Maria returned with a basket full of eggs.
She smiled and laid a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“You look happy, Chico.”
Estoy contento.” Johnny felt calm, peaceful, and at ease.
“Tell Teresa I’ve gone to hitch up Zanzibar.
No need for her to hurry. I’m
in no rush. We’ll go whenever she’s ready.”
Johnny downed the last of his coffee.
Yes, Johnny Madrid, I’m movin’
on. The gunfighter days are over
and Johnny Lancer’s going to town to sell tomato relish.
I've lived in
this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they're always the same
They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it
They'll never allow me to change
But I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong
I'm movin' on
Under the mid-morning sun, the buckboard
rumbled down the busy street of Green River.
With a slight flick of the reins, Johnny guided the bay horse toward the
“Johnny, they’re staring at us,”
Teresa said in a hushed voice, shifting uneasily on the buckboard’s seat.
He studied the town folks casting guarded looks in his direction. They always did that when he rode into town, but it was a new experience for Teresa. After all his years as a gunfighter, he was accustomed to the condemning eyes and nervous gestures, the mothers hurrying their children away from him, and the shop owners closing their shades and locking their doors. I've lived in this place and I know all the faces. Each one is different but they're always the same.
Johnny stole a quick glance at the young
woman at his side. For her sake, he
decided to make light of the situation. “Reckon maybe they heard we’re bringing your
world-famous, special tomato relish to town?”
Teresa turned toward him, her mouth open
He tried not to laugh, but the
expression on her face was priceless. Slowly,
the corners of his mouth inched into a playful smile.
She cuffed his arm lightly and giggled.
“You are incorrigible.”
“Is that good or bad?”
He did not know whether she had complimented or insulted him, but he was
relieved he had distracted her attention from the uninvited attention to their
“Here we are.”
Johnny pulled Zanzibar to a stop under a shade tree.
“We’ll leave the rig here and walk over to the general store.”
He hopped down and came around to help Teresa alight.
She hurried to the back of the buckboard
and lifted the basket full of jars. The basket handle creaked at the weight of the contents, and
Teresa gasped as she swung it over the end of the wagon.
Quickly, the former gunfighter grabbed
the heavy load from her hands. “Let
me carry that.”
Those jars break easy if they knock together.”
With his free hand, Johnny tipped his hat.
I spent a long time working on that relish.
It took hours of cutting and cooking all those tomatoes.
Each jar should sell for a good price.
After all, my recipe won first place at the fair last year.”
“And it tastes good too.”
He dodged the handbag she swung in his direction.
Teasing Teresa about her cooking had become a little game between them. “Although some chili peppers would spice it up just
“If you had your away, it would be
chili relish,” Teresa said, walking along the boardwalk beside him.
“And no one would buy—“
A bullet whizzed through the air,
hitting the wooden beam in front of Johnny and sending splinters flying in all
directions. Johnny dropped the
basket and shoved Teresa to the ground. He
heard the shattering glass and the young woman’s startled cry, but he was
already pulling the gun from his holster and spinning in the direction of the
gunshot. His eyes swept along the
row of buildings, eager to find the shooter.
Which old enemy is it going to be
Across the street, the door of the
gunsmith’s shop opened suddenly, and Johnny noticed the broken window panel in
the door. He tensed and dropped
into a crouch. His eyes narrowed
and he aimed toward the doorway.
“Stay down, Teresa,” Johnny said
sharply. He could hear her moving
behind him, but dared not turn away from the threat emerging from the nearby
building. Other townspeople
screamed and ran for cover, disappearing into stores and alleys.
Mr. Jennings, a wiry, older man with
mutton-chop sideburns, ran out of the gunsmith’s shop, a shiny pistol in his
hand. He looked up and down the
street and then across the way toward the general store.
He dropped the revolver and scurried toward Johnny and Teresa.
“Is everyone okay?”
Johnny tracked the gunsmith’s movement
with his Colt, easing slowly into a standing position.
“You the one fired that shot?”
The gunsmith nodded and cowered away for
the former gunfighter. Mr.
Jennings’ hands trembled and he licked his lips twice before speaking.
“It was an accident. I
just received a shipment of new firearms and I was testing the tension on the
trigger. Honest, Johnny, I didn’t
know it was loaded.”
His anger rising, Johnny stepped toward
Mr. Jennings. “You of all people
ought to know how dangerous a gun can be.”
The venom in his voice matched the taunt expression on his face.
Dropping to his knees, the gunsmith
clasped his hands in front of him. “Please
don’t kill me. It was an
accident.” His words ended in a
Johnny noticed folks leave the safety of
their hiding places and gather around the scene of Mr. Jennings begging for his
life before the man they all knew had been Johnny Madrid.
With a slow breath, Johnny slid his Colt back into its holster and
sighed, regretting the looks that told him they expected him to kill the
quivering man in the middle of the street.
“Get up, Jennings. Be more careful next time.”
He turned away and saw the expressions of fear, disgust and maybe even
disappointment on the assemblage of faces.
They mean me no harm but it's time
that I face it, they'll never allow me to change.
With his anger gone, Johnny realized
Teresa had not said a word since the whole incident started.
Dios, don’t let her be hurt!
His heart beat faster at the sight of her tear-streaked face, bloody
hands and red-stained skirt. In
panic, he scrambled to her side. She
can’t be hit. There was only one bullet, and it hit the beam in front of
Teresa sat in a crumpled heap on the
boardwalk, the overturned basket and an array of glass shattered before her.
She held her hands out, looking at the broken shards of glass imbedded in
the palms of her hands. A slow
trickle of blood dripped from her cuts.
“Teresa, honey,” Johnny said gently.
He tossed the basket out of the way, so he could assess any additional
damage done to the young woman. He
took a deep breath, relieved the stains on her clothes were from the tomatoes,
not her blood. “You alright?”
He stood and the broken glass crunched
under his feet. When she did not
respond, he took her arm and carefully guided her to her feet.
“Let’s go see the doc.” He
eyed the bits of glass jutting from her hands.
He could remove them, but it might be best to let the doctor take care of
The men and women who filled the
boardwalk hastily moved out of his way. Johnny
glared at them. Didn’t
they see Teresa needed help? Why
didn’t anyone step forward to take her other arm?
He knew they were afraid of him, and with absolute certainty,
recognized that if it had been Scott and Teresa in this situation, the good
people of Green River would have willingly offered their assistance.
They shuffled toward the doctor’s
office, and Teresa whimpered quietly, then she was still.
Johnny worried about her silence and tried to gage her condition.
“Just a few more steps, Teresa.”
Johnny knocked on the doctor’s door,
but received no response. Damn!
Taking a deep breath, he knew what had to be done.
“Come on over to the buckboard, Teresa.
We’ll get you fixed up here and Maria will know what to do at home.”
As her shock wore off, Teresa regarded
him with a livid expression, her eyebrows knitting together.
“You didn’t have to push me.”
“I’m sorry, honey.
That shot was awful close, and I thought…”
“You didn’t think.
You just reacted.”
She was right and he knew it.
Years of living as a hired gun could not be erased overnight, or even in
four months. He bit back the words
he wanted to say, that he had only been trying to protect her.
He had been sure someone from his past was gunning for him.
Wouldn’t have been the first
time, and probably won’t be the last.
Once Teresa was settled in the
buckboard, Johnny picked the pieces of glass from her hands, cradling each of
her delicate hands in his brown ones. He
did not say anything, but wrapped a handkerchief around one hand and ripped the
hem off his shirt to bind the other one. Finally, he glanced at her.
“That should hold you until we get home. Ain’t as bad as it first seemed.” He flinched at the accusing glare she shot him.
“All those hours of work.
Every jar was ruined.” Teresa
began crying, her hands curled in her lap.
“Sorry,” Johnny mumbled.
He climbed into the buckboard and headed Zanzibar toward the Lancer
ranch. He tried to think how Scott
might have handled the situation. Had
to drop the basket to get to my gun. Needed
to get Teresa down and out of the way. Would Scott or Murdoch done it any different?
He doubted it, and yet he was not sure.
He replayed the scene in his head all the way home, sinking deeper into
Zanzibar snorted and shook his mane when
they reached the courtyard in front of the Lancer hacienda.
Johnny jumped from the buckboard and ran to help Teresa to the front
entrance. Swinging the heavy door
open, he took her elbow and led her into the foyer.
“You two are home early,” Murdoch
called out, rising from the desk where he had been studying irrigation plans for
“Had an accident,” Johnny said in a
At the sight of Teresa’s stained
clothes, the roughly bandaged hands, and her distressed appearance, Murdoch
barreled across the great room. “What
“Not now, Murdoch.”
Johnny continued to guide Teresa to her bedroom.
Teresa burst into tears and was unable to finish.
Johnny scooped her up and carried her
into the bedroom. “Maria!
“What did you do this time?”
Murdoch’s words rang through the air with a tone of accusation.
“I said it was an accident.”
Johnny backed away from the bed where he had just laid the injured girl.
“Aint’ as bad as it looks. Most
of the red is from the tomatoes.”
Teresa cried louder, her face twisted in
a tearful display of emotion.
Maria appeared with a basin of water and
a towel. “Pardon.”
She nodded for the men to leave, and murmured soothingly to Teresa.
Reluctantly, Johnny left the bedroom,
with Murdoch pressing a hand between his shoulders.
“I want all the details of what
happened,” Murdoch said, his irritation clear.
“Like I said, it was an accident.”
Johnny took a deep breath, collecting the bits of information he knew
Murdoch would question him on. Yes,
I was watching out for Teresa. No,
it couldn’t be avoided. No, I
didn’t fire my gun first. Hell, I
didn’t even fire my gun!
Murdoch fumed at Johnny’s silence and
grabbed his arm. “Now!
What did you do? Who was going after you this time?” The tone of his words was harsh, the implication obvious that
this was all Johnny’s fault.
“Look, Old Man.
If you wait a minute, I’ll tell you what happened.
Why do you always assume it’s my fault?”
Scott strolled through the French doors,
his clothes covered with dirt and grime. He
brushed dust from his jacket sleeve and frowned.
“What are you two arguing about now?
I’m tired from riding that fence line this morning, and when I get home
to clean up and get something to eat, what do I find but you two going at it
again. How many times do I have to keep peace between the both of
Johnny pulled his arm free from
Murdoch’s grasp and looked from Scott to his father.
I’ve had one or the other of them
mad at me, but never both of them at the same time. Johnny
dropped his head and wrapped his arms across his chest.
I expect the town folks to treat me
like this, but I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong.
What’s the use of explaining, they don’t want to hear.
I’m movin’ on.
I sold what I
could and packed what I couldn't
Stopped to fill up on my way out of town
I've loved like I should but lived like I shouldn't
I had to lose everything to find out
Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road
I'm movin' on
I'm movin' on, I'm movin' on
Turning on his heels, Johnny plowed past
Murdoch and stormed to his room. He
grabbed his saddlebags and stuffed his possessions into the empty leather
pouches. Holding the silver-framed
photograph, he sighed and wrapped it in his extra shirt before cramming it in
the saddlebag. With a final glance
around the room, he left. For a
moment, he paused outside Teresa’s room and listened to the soft sound of
Maria and Teresa talking. “Adios,
Teresa,” he whispered, knowing she could not hear him.
Johnny flung the saddlebag over his
shoulder and slipped down the back staircase, through the kitchen and out to the
barn. His spurs jangled at a
frenzied tempo, and he crossed to Barranca’s stall quickly.
“Looks like you and me are movin’ on, compadre.”
He settled the saddle on the horse’s back and with a heavy sigh rode
away from the estancia he had come to call home.
In Morro Coyo, Johnny stopped at
Valdemero’s for supplies. Placing
his saddlebags on the countertop, his eyes scanned the assortment of dry goods
on the shelves along the wall.
“Need a box of ammo, pound of jerky,
some hardtack, can of beans, coffee.” He mentally reviewed trial needs, recognizing that life at
Lancer had spoiled him. Probably got soft, Johnny boy.
He had left so quickly, he suspected he might have overlooked some basic
supplies. Got my bedroll and razor.
“Toss in some matches, and a pair of
socks.” Teresa had promised to
repair the holes in his socks, and he remembered her working on them the other
night. They must still be in her pile of darning.
The image of her fingers moving deftly to mend his torn clothes made his
throat tighten. He never meant to
hurt her. Pulling the pieces of
glass out of her hands had pained him as much as it hurt her.
Mr. Valdemero placed the requested items
on the counter. “Will this all go
on the Lancer account?”
Johnny groped in his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins.
Counting the change, he cringed. He
was starting out without any money. Have to sell something. With
regret, he dragged the silver frame from his saddlebag.
“How much for this?”
The shopkeeper examined the metal and
tapped the glass. Studying the
photograph, he pursed his lips. “Sure
you want to sell this, Señor Johnny?”
The dark-haired man nodded.
“I’m keeping the picture. How
much for the frame?”
“It’ll cover the cost of all
this.” Mr. Valdemero swept his
hand over the pile of supplies. “And
because the Lancer family is such a good customer, I give you an extra $10.”
“Don’t want no favors.”
“Señor, I ordered these frames for
your father and know their cost.”
Looking away, Johnny recalled
Murdoch’s excitement on Christmas morning when his sons opened their presents
to find the matching silver frames with the family portrait.
Teresa’s gift had been a delicate gold frame.
With a curt nod, Johnny accepted the
shopkeeper’s offer. Carefully, he
pried the back from the frame and removed the photo.
Without looking at it, he tucked the picture in his saddlebag along with
the supplies. The money he shoved
in his pocket, and he turned to go. I
sold what I could and packed what I couldn't.
As Johnny left the mercantile shop, the
sun brushed the top of the buildings across the street.
Early enough to put a few extra miles behind him, but late enough that he
felt hungry. The disaster in Green
River had ruined the lunch plans he and Teresa had made.
Pulling his hat lower, he went to the cantina for a final meal in Morro
Coyo. When he was done, he returned
to Barranca. “Ready to go,
compadre. Just stopped to fill up
on my way out of town.”
The last colors of sunset washed across
the sky and put Johnny in a reflective mood.
He nudged the palomino into an easy lope.
“Not like we’re in a rush to get anywhere.”
He mulled over what lie ahead and what he was leaving behind.
A gun hawk’s life meant being a
transient, moving from one job to another, ready to face death anytime.
He remembered well the freedom to go where he wanted, the thrill of
playing cat and mouse with an opponent, and the rush of tension before a
gunfight. The pain of loss and
guilt at the deaths he caused where part of that life too.
There were card games with strangers, drinks with men you never turned
your back to, and saloon girls to warm you on a lonely night.
On the other hand, life at Lancer was
filled with hard work, digging fence holes, finding strays, branding, and riding
herd over restless cattle. But it was also a roof over his head, meals whenever he was
hungry, and a family that loved him and he loved in return.
He prodded Barranca into a gallop to
flee the emotions that came over him. The palomino responded and the ground flew by in a blur of
grass and bushes. The sky darkened
and Johnny pressed on. Finally, he
leaned back in the saddle. No sense taken my decision out on a fine horse like this.
“Reckon it’s like this, Barranca.
I've loved like I should but lived like I shouldn't.
Don’t know, but maybe I had to lose everything to find out how much
they mean to me.”
The moon hung low in the night sky amid
a cascade of stars. Riding at night
was a release for him, just as it had always been.
In the darkness, he imagined himself alone in the world, hidden in the
shadows, cloaked in the blackness, and free from the judging eyes of the town
The road ahead split, with one branch
heading north and the other angling toward the south.
Johnny smiled and halted the palomino.
He shifted in the saddle and looked back the way he had come, but the
lights of Morro Coyo were already too far away to be seen.
“No looking back.”
Barranca neighed and stamped a hoof.
“Welcome to life on the road, boy,” Johnny said, patting the
horse’s neck. He glanced at the
two roads ahead and pulled a coin from his pocket, flipping it into the air and
catching it. The lighting was poor,
but he glimpsed the image on the coin’s surface.
Heads. Johnny eased the
palomino to the right. “Maybe
forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road.”
Two hours later, Johnny felt tired, but
he pushed on. He wanted exhaustion
to help him sleep tonight. His mind
was too busy with thoughts for him to camp for the night yet.
He listened to the steady cadence of Barranca’s hoof beats.
The rhythm matched the words that echoed through his head.
I'm movin' on, I'm movin' on, I'm
I'm movin' on
At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me
And I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone
There comes a time in everyone's life
When all you can see are the years passing by
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone
Lying against his saddle, Johnny
listened to Barranca grazing just beyond the light cast by his campfire.
He gazed at the photograph in his hand and waited for the coffee to brew.
Should have bought a bottle of
tequila. Trail brew is pretty bad.
The cup of coffee in the Lancer kitchen that morning already seemed like
a lifetime ago.
At the first sound of approaching hoof
beats, Johnny’s hand flew to this side and eased the pistol from its holster.
Barranca whinnied and an answering neigh carried in the air.
Slowly, Johnny leaned forward, dropping the photograph to the ground, and
shifted into a crouch. The slow
movement of a single horse drew closer.
With stealth born from years of
experience, Johnny slipped away from the campfire, hiding in the darkness.
His gun was raised in anticipation of trouble, and his eyes probed the
night for the shadowy intruder.
“Hello in the camp,” a voice called
from the darkness. A moment later,
the familiar shape of a horse and rider came into view.
Lowering his gun, Johnny rose and
stepped into the flickering light. “Ain’t
you a little far from home, Brother?”
The relief in Scott’s voice was evident.
The blond dismounted and draped his reins over a bush.
“What are you doing out here?”
Johnny returned his revolver to its
holster and squatted beside the fire, staring into the flames.
“I'm movin' on.”
Scott settled to the ground across from
him and removed his hat. “Why?”
Johnny chuckled and used a bandana to
remove the tin cup from the campfire. “Want some coffee?”
And you haven’t answered my question.”
Bringing the cup to his lips, Johnny
smelled the coffee and frowned. “Ain’t
as good as Maria’s.”
“I’m waiting, Brother.”
Johnny sighed and sipped the coffee,
wrinkling his nose in distaste. “You
look tired, Scott.”
I’ve been out all morning riding fences, came home to find you and
Murdoch fighting, Teresa all upset, and spent hours in the saddle looking for
you. Now, I want to know why.”
“I heard you the first time.”
Johnny set the cup of coffee aside and returned to his bedroll,
stretching out on the blanket with his hands behind his head.
He studied the stars overhead and let his gaze follow a shooting star. Closing his eyelids, he took a deep breath.
Nothing’s ever easy.
“It’s like this,” Johnny said in a
soft voice, barely above a whisper. “Figured
I tried to make a go of it at the estancia, being a ranch hand and a son
“And a brother,” Scott finished.
But at last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me.
Waiting for me to realize that I ain’t cut out to be a
stay-in-one-place kind of man.”
Scott rose and stepped around the fire
to sit closer to his brother. “So
you decided to just get up and leave without telling anyone?”
Johnny looked away from the blond’s
gaze. “Something like that.”
It did seem sort of cowardly to take off without saying goodbye, but they
would have talked him out of leaving. That’s one of those weaknesses.
“It wouldn’t have anything to do
with the accident in Green River this morning?”
The fire flared as a piece of wood
crumbled and released a shower of sparks. In the distance, an owl hooted and a frog croaked from the
bank of a nearby stream. The
silence between the brothers grew.
“Johnny, when Teresa calmed down, she
told us what happened. It was an
accident and you were trying to protect her. She’s upset that you left because of what she said.
You did the right thing, and in her panic, she overreacted and focused on
what was lost. She wants you to
“She got hurt because of me.”
Johnny sat up quickly and glared at his brother.
“That’s not the way Murdoch and I
“Murdoch sees it the way I do.”
Johnny’s tone rose with emotion. “It’s
my past. Sure Jennings’ shot was
an accident, but I acted the way I always do.
I pushed Teresa down without thinking, and she got hurt as a result.”
“I would have done the same thing,
Johnny. You couldn’t have known
it was a stray bullet. And I know
there's no guarantees your past won’t cause more problems, but that’s
not a reason to leave. You’re not
Johnny let the words sink in.
Scott would have done the same
thing. No guarantees.
But I'm not alone.
“I’m sorry too, Brother.”
Scott reached over and placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.
“When I came in and saw you and Murdoch arguing, I lost my temper.
There was no reason for it, other than I was tired and hungry.
Please don’t leave because of that.”
The embers of the fire glowed, but the
flames had died out. In the
darkness, Johnny could barely see the whites of his brother’s eyes.
“I know you’re always trying to be the peacemaker between me and the
old man. Must get kind of tirin’
“Someone has to do it.”
Scott’s laughter filled the night.
“Murdoch made the wrong choice. He
should have listened to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Once we realized you were gone, one
of the hands said he saw you heading toward Morro Coyo.
Murdoch and I took off after you.”
Johnny rocked back and swallowed hard.
“Murdoch came looking for me?”
“He’s still out there.”
“We got to Morro Coyo and asked around
if anyone had seen you and where you had gone. Mr.
Valdemero told us you purchased supplies.”
Scott paused. “Murdoch
bought back the frame. He made Mr.
Valdemero promise to deliver it to the ranch tomorrow.”
Johnny dropped his chin to his chest.
“Didn’t have any money and needed to sell something,” he said
softly. “I kept the
photograph.” He felt around his
bedroll and was relieved to find the picture.
“Anyway, several folks saw you head
west, so we followed. We stopped
where the road splits and tried to decide which way you might have gone.
Murdoch thought you would go south, back to places you knew.”
“You mean back to the border and my
gun hawk days.” Johnny raised an
eyebrow. Can’t blame Murdoch for thinking that.
“I suspected you went north.
Maybe to find a new way of life. Looks
like I was right. Murdoch is
somewhere on the road south.” Scott’s
voice sounded triumphant.
Johnny smiled and wondered if he should
tell his brother the truth. Finally,
he decided it would be best to admit to the facts.
“Hate to disappoint you, Brother.
There weren’t anywhere in particular I was heading.
So I flipped a coin—heads to the right, tails to the left.
It’s something I haven’t done in months, not since I came to Lancer.
You can blame your finding me on the fall of the coin.”
Both brothers laughed, and Johnny
realized how much the closeness with Scott meant to him.
He did not want to lose that. Then
he thought about his father riding toward the border in search of his wayward
son. Johnny hated to voice his doubts, but the darkness hid the
pain in his expression. “Reckon
Murdoch really wants me at Lancer? He
was mighty upset about Teresa being hurt.”
“Johnny, he wants you.
Once he found out from Teresa what happened, he gave her a lecture about
putting things in perspective. Broken
bottles of preserves and a few cuts are nothing in comparison with you trying to
protect her life. But I think he
was harsher on himself. As we rode
to Morro Coyo, all he talked about was how stupid he was for lashing out at you
without knowing what really happened.”
“It was an honest mistake,” Johnny
said softly. “Teresa was covered
with red. She looked like…”
Images of gunshot victims lying in their own blood filled his head and he
“Like she took a bath in tomato
juice,” Scott offered.
Johnny did not reply.
He did not trust his voice to get the words out without revealing his
“Come home, Johnny.
We don’t want you to leave.”
Johnny lay back down on his blanket and
thought about the future. “Scott,
there comes a time in everyone's life when all you can see are the years passing
by.” He dragged a hand over his
eyes and sighed. “For a long
time, I knew other people were meant to have happiness.
My life didn’t have much meaning, just moving from job to job, knowing
I could be killed at any time. Then
I came to Lancer and thought maybe, just maybe, I could have some of that
happiness other folks seemed to have.”
“You can,” Scott said eagerly.
“I ain’t a hired gun no more.”
“I know that, Brother.”
“And I have made up my mind that those
days are gone.” Johnny lapsed
into silence, wrapped in his thoughts. “Better
get some sleep, Scott. We’ll be movin’ on at first light.
Need to catch up with Murdoch before he gets to Mexico.”
“Right you are.”
Scott retrieved his bedroll and was asleep within minutes.
Johnny lay awake for hours thinking
about the events of the day and what was ahead for tomorrow.
It was a comfort to know that he really was wanted at Lancer.
They cared enough about me to come looking for me.
He chuckled to himself at the thought of his father searching the
border towns for him. Better
catch up with him, before he gets himself in trouble.
But if we do make it to Mexico, I could get some chili peppers. Maybe Teresa would make that chili relish she mentioned.
Finally, he drifted into sleep with a grin on his lips.
He was not movin’ on anymore.