I'm Movin' On
by  Kathy S.

Disclaimer:    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 days.

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 four months?

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.

“Hola, Juan.”  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 bien.”

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 anything.”

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.

“Aye.  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.”

“Sí, Maria.  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 general store.

“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 to respond.

He tried not to laugh, but the expression on her face was priceless.  Slowly, the corners of his mouth inched into a playful smile.

“Johnny!”  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 arrival.

“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.”

“Careful.  Those jars break easy if they knock together.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  With his free hand, Johnny tipped his hat.

“Be serious.  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 right.”

“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 this time?

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 sob.

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 me.

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 it.

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 regret.

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 his neighbor.

“Had an accident,” Johnny said in a soft drawl.

At the sight of Teresa’s stained clothes, the roughly bandaged hands, and her distressed appearance, Murdoch barreled across the great room.  “What happened?”

“Not now, Murdoch.”  Johnny continued to guide Teresa to her bedroom.

“He… he…”  Teresa burst into tears and was unable to finish.

Johnny scooped her up and carried her into the bedroom.  “Maria!  Venga pronto!”

“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 you?”

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?”

“No.”  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 folks.

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 movin' on.


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?”

“Johnny!”  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?”

“No.  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 am.  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…”

“And a brother,” Scott finished.

“Yeah.  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 come home.”

“She got hurt because of me.”  Johnny sat up quickly and glared at his brother.

“That’s not the way Murdoch and I see it.”

“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 alone.”

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’ after awhile.”

“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 shuddered.

“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 turmoil.

“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.


June 2004



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