Assumptions for all Lancer fanfic written by phoenix:
1) The Lancer Ranch is located in the San Joaquin Valley, five to ten miles southwest of Modesto, California, which became an official town in 1870* and was incorporated in 1884*,
2) Modesto is located on the Tuolumne River, near the Stanislaus River, and has grown tremendously since the railroads began to connect it to other parts of the country. In fact, Sacramento and Los Angeles were fully connected by good, solid, non-interrupted railroad lines by 1876*,
3) California became a state on September 9, 1850* and, since that time, the area surrounding Modesto has evolved into a thriving community,
4) Modesto became a major railroad stop making it a town able to offer a full range of goods, services, schools, churches and other community functions. With Modesto providing for the needs of those living within a large radius of the city, the smaller towns built before the 1850s, to serve gold rushers and the early ranchers in the area, shuttered up and became ghost towns,
5) During the 1850s, the San Joaquin Valley evolved from being gold rush territory and open range. It became an area known for its agriculture and cattle ranching. With the railroad support available in Modesto, and a few strategically placed dams to stabilize the water supply, the land in this area became, and remains today, some of the most productive farm and ranch land in California, and
6) Murdoch Lancer sent for his two sons in 1871. Scott was 25-years-old when he arrived and Johnny would be turning 21-years-old later that same year.
Additional assumption for this Lancer fanfic story:
1) Generally occurs throughout the time immediately following the “Lancer Pilot” episode’s conclusion until the events depicted in the “Chase A Wild Horse” episode.
SHOULD WILD HORSES BE TAMED
CHAPTER ONE – IT BEGINS
Thus far, bringing his two sons back to the Lancer ranch had been an experience full of many things Murdoch had expected. On the other hand, he had to admit it also included more than a few unexpected things. Humility was the biggest thing that came to mind as he eased back in his chair trying not to make a sound. A growing sense of humility so profound, Murdoch actually couldn’t think of a time in his life when it had overwhelmed him in this same way.
A tide of unexpected humility had overcome him just a few moments before, when he looked up from his paperwork to realize the great room surrounding him had finally become silent. With everyone long in bed, except for himself and his youngest son, John, the room had been quiet. Quiet with an undertone from the hushed sound of Johnny wiggling his foot while he read a history book about the Battle at the Alamo Scott, Murdoch’s older son, had pointed out to him. They were just beginning to know one another, but the entire ranch had quickly learnt that Johnny only had two gears; awake, and in constant motion, or asleep, which none of them had witnessed very often.
It was late, or early since cattle ranches came to life long before dawn, but Murdoch chose to continue enjoying the unusual sight before him as well as the silence surrounding him. The true meaning of the moment wasn’t lost on him either. In fact, the more Murdoch thought through what he was witnessing, the more he became humbled by his participation in it.
As expected, Johnny was in the armchair positioned at the back corner of the room. From there, all the doors, windows and hallways were easily observed and his back was to a solid stucco wall. The sling meant to lift the weight of his left arm off Johnny’s recovering shoulder wound was, not surprising, empty. It limply hung around his neck and would undoubtedly have been long ago discarded except for the fact Johnny seemed to somewhat listen to orders given by the women in the house.
No, none of these sights were unexpected by Murdoch. What was unexpected, and was having a surprisingly emotional effect on him, was the fact the young man across the room had relaxed and allowed himself to fall asleep. It was a trust Johnny didn’t bestow lightly; it was a trust Murdoch would never take lightly, nor would he ever ignore the deeper meaning. Somehow, their relationship had quietly moved past another milestone for which Murdoch was grateful. Perhaps, PERHAPS, Johnny was beginning to trust his father on some level?
He closed his eyes and sent a prayer to his Maker. Murdoch, once again, felt deeply humbled by this second chance God had given him with his two boys. As his mind flew through recent events, he never felt himself slip into sleep.
CHAPTER TWO – TWO WEEKS EARLIER
“Now, Johnny,” Marty the ranch’s bunk house cook and head ‘stitch’ man stood back and wiped the sweat pouring from his forehead, pleading, “just take a little something. It will make it easier.”
“Easier for who?”
The young man tried to control the anger in his voice, especially since he needed this man to dig the bullet out of the back of his shoulder.
“Why, for you. Murdoch keeps this stock of Laudanum around just for tolerating treatment of holes like you got in this here shoulder.”
“I’m only going to tell you one more time, Marty, so listen close.” He took a deep breath and used all the energy he could muster to remain calm, quietly stating, “I appreciate your help, but I won’t take laudanum or anything like it. Not now, not ever, so just dig out the bullet.”
Marty exchanged glances with Nigela, the woman assisting him, as they worked on the multiple gun shot victims resting on beds, cots, tables and floors throughout the Lancer’s ranch house. Johnny had agreed to lie on a stack of pillows on his bed, with a pressure bandage on his shoulder, but he had insisted Marty and the other ‘stitchers’ take care of the other men first. Now, there were only a few men from the gang that had attacked the Lancer estate left to be treated downstairs and the other men would handle that. Their boss, Murdoch, had sent Marty and Nigela up to his son’s room. It would only be a matter of time before he’d be up to check on their progress.
“Okay, we’ll get you ready and see how you do.”
nodding to his assistant, they finished undressing the injured man and
washed him especially around the bullet hole ripped into the back of his
left shoulder. By the time they helped him move about, pulled off what
remained of his clothes and had soaped the dirt from his back and shoulders,
there wasn’t a bit of color left in the deeply tanned young man’s face.
Before Marty helped the kid to lie on his stomach, he tried once more.
“Here,” he put a small glass of the laudanum laced water into Johnny’s hand, “drink this and we’ll get you down on your stomach so I can see what I’m doing.”
His voice was calm, truly calm, but the young man spoke through clinched teeth.
“For crying out loud!”
He eased the youngster down with a pillow positioned under his shoulder and upper chest to raise the wound up toward the table lamp. While Marty downed a quarter shot of the whiskey they were using as an antiseptic, Nigela tightened a sheet laid across the back of the young man’s legs to keep him from moving. She tied another sheet around the headboard and offered the ends to the young man. Johnny grabbed hold and wrapped the sheet ends around his hands tight.
For an instant, both of the young man’s caregivers stopped what they were doing and took a more detailed inventory of the variety of scars decorating their charge’s back, sides and legs. As was the case on the front of the young man, there were multiple scars which bore undeniable witness to the fact John Madrid, maybe changing to Lancer, had endured quite a lot in his young life. What made them take extra pause, were the scars on his back that were obviously left from whippings. Not just your typical whip marks, but there were deeper slashes that looked to be from a belt buckle or the like.
Now, this was a big ranch, but it was a small community. A community desperate for information regarding the two sons Murdoch Lancer had paid Pinkerton’s to find and bring back. Whatever they passed on from this evening’s interaction with Murdoch’s youngest son, there was no doubt Marty and Nigela would be assuring everyone that Johnny’s life certainly hadn’t been easy.
“Deep breath,” Marty braced himself with one knee on the bed next to the boy, “and let it out slow. Take another …”
The room silenced as Marty began his search for the bullet hiding in the young man’s outer shoulder muscles. Nigela had been prepared to sit on Johnny’s right shoulder and torso, but it wasn’t needed. The young man lay perfectly still except for breathing deeper when he was encouraged to.
“Doggone it. The damn thing is moving. I’ll need to push it up next to something solid so I can get a good grip on it.”
Marty stood up to rest his back, then washed his hands and the knife in the bowl full of whiskey laced water on the nightstand. When he bent to start anew, the door opened and Murdoch joined them. Except for Nigela quietly speaking to the young man, the room was terribly still.
Using pressure from one hand to manipulate the position of the bullet, Marty used his dominant hand to dig in and grab the end of the bullet. Only one of them was enduring the procedure, yet everyone held their breath while their bodies tensed. Pushing the bullet forward a second time while digging in as deep as he dared, Marty suddenly pulled back and threw the bullet into the nightstand basin. He grabbed the cloth strips that had been soaking in clean water and whiskey, rung them out quickly, then pushed them down hard into the large wound he had created.
“My God,” Johnny whispered as he pushed his face down into the mattress to fight off his desire to lift himself off the bed.
“Sorry, Boy.” Marty shook his head knowing the wound he had opened and severely aggravated was really deep, adding, “You’ll have to put up with these pressure dressings; probably for the night, or longer. That hole in your shoulder is too deep to stitch. We’d only lock in a big pocket that would get infected rather than heal.”
“Doc Monroe can decide what is best when he stops through these parts in a week or two. Until then, you’ll simply have to take it easy and let your body heal from the inside out. We’ll clean it every day and keep it dressed. You’re young; it will heal, but you’re going to have one heck of a pot-mark scar.”
“Another day, another scar. Story of my life.”
The door flew open and one of the other men seeing to the injured rushed into the room.
“Marty, you gotta come. Harvey’s leg is bleeding and it won’t stop.”
Marty looked up from what he was doing and Murdoch nodded for him to go.
He moved forward, washed his hands in the soap and water basin by the door and then took over putting pressure on his son’s shoulder. Marty washed his hands, too, while instructing Murdoch to keep applying pressure until the bleeding slowed down. When that happened, he was to get Johnny more upright and bandage his wound. Suddenly, Marty and his assistant rushed out with the panicked messenger and the room grew quiet.
Murdoch noticed that the tension in Johnny’s back muscles eased a bit, but he was still holding tight to the sheet ends in his hands. In another few seconds, he turned his head slightly and took a few slow deep breaths.
“This dressing is soaking through. I’ve got to change it out.”
Murdoch tried to ignore the instantaneous tension that grabbed his son’s back when he heard his father’s voice.
“How about another dose of laudanum?”
“No thanks, Murdoch. No laudanum.”
“Okay? Let me know if you change your mind.”
Murdoch pulled off the soiled bandage and reached to prepare another. While he worked, he tried to figure out how Johnny’s voice could possibly sound as if the boy was chuckling when he refused the pain medication. As fast as he could, Murdoch reapplied the bandage and pushed down hard to quell the bleeding.
“You know many swear words?”
He gulped in some air and tried to settle his breathing. If he didn’t, Johnny’s vast injury experience had taught him that his stomach would turn on him.
“Well, I …”
“I mean, do you know many Mexican swear words?”
“A few; actually, quite a few.”
Johnny started to ease himself up and toward his right side.
“Whoa, where’ya going?”
“I’ve got to get off my stomach.”
“Here,” Murdoch built up a few pillows and helped his son ease onto his right side on top of them, “this should be better.”
“Gotta move more …”
“Wait, let me help.”
“Have to be able to see the door.”
Murdoch helped Johnny move to an angle where the door could be seen. Once the boy settled, he grabbed a new bandage and walked around the bed to take a seat behind his son. The new position up on the pillows was helping to slow the bleeding and Johnny was definitely breathing better.
“Hang on, I’ve got to get this thing back on tight.”
Murdoch put one hand on the front of his son’s left shoulder, then pushed into the hand applying the new bandage to the back of his shoulder.
Johnny threw his head back and forced himself not to move away from the man trying to help him, growling between his teeth, “La_________!”
For a few moments, they stayed quiet while Murdoch used his energy to stop the bleeding and Johnny used his energy to stay still. Finally, the bleeding eased enough for Murdoch to slightly lessen his grip. After two more wet dressing changes, he applied the first dry pressure bandage hoping it would stay dry so they could leave Johnny’s shoulder alone for the rest of the night.
Once the dry bandage was in place, Murdock eased some of the soiled sheet layers Nigela had placed around Johnny for padding. When his son was lying in a cleaner bed, he gently washed what blood and dressing drainage he could from the boy‘s back, neck and chest. Finally, Murdoch moved around and started to straighten the nightstand. Johnny had been lying perfectly still and he had expected to see his eyes closed when he came around the bed. Instead, Murdoch noted the young man was watching his every move.
“Rest now,” Murdoch managed a smile despite the worry he felt, “I’m going for some clean bandages and water.”
A barely notable nod was his reply so he continued to gather the dirty things. As he headed for the door, Murdoch stopped and turned.
It was a whisper, but Johnny’s voice sounded solid which reassured his father.
“By the way,” Murdoch stopped in the door jam and glanced back, “that was a new one on me. And I thought I knew them all.”
stepped back to hear Johnny’s whispers better.
“Jailed in a place down by the Chiwawa River with a guy from Brazil once. It’s come in handy.”
He couldn’t believe it, but Murdoch felt a smile covering his face. Johnny’s eyes closed and he eased back into the pillows.
“Be right back.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Murdoch rushed down the hall full of emotions he didn’t understand and certainly didn’t seem to have under control. How could that boy lay there with a big old hole in his shoulder and still have a sense of humor? How interesting to realize Johnny had mastered using humor to disarm those around him as coyly as he used a gun? Murdoch didn’t know much about either of his sons, but he surmised that Johnny was going to be quite the puzzle to understand. If they got him through this shoulder injury, he could only hope the boy would stay on the ranch long enough for Murdoch to try to figure him out.
“Hey, Old Man.”
Murdoch jumped so high the desk chair pushed back.
“Can’t be anything in those figures that is worth sleeping at your desk.”
“There’s not, I …”
Johnny winked and started across the room.
“I’m going to clean up. Breakfast will be on the table soon and I want to catch Scott before he heads out for the day.”
“Seems this book on the Alamo battle he recommended has some messed up history in it. At least, it wasn’t what I learned down around Sonora when I was a kid.”
Murdoch caught the devilish sparkles dancing around on Johnny’s face but, before he could say anything, the young man was gone. He eased his stiff body out of the chair and went upstairs to freshen up for breakfast.
CHAPTER THREE – THREE WEEKS AFTER THE GUN BATTLE
“Well, Murdoch,” Doctor Monroe washed his hands before they left the bunk house, “everyone is recovering amazingly well. Marty and the others did a great job getting these wounds sewn up and on the road to healing.”
“Thanks, Doc. Those words will mean a lot coming from you.”
“It’s true and I’m glad to share a compliment when a compliment is due. There were nineteen men who survived being shot in that mess. Good, clean and competent care means fifteen are still alive for me to check on today.” He turned to the woman assisting him on his rounds, asking, “Who’s left on our list, Nigela?”
“Johnny.” She tried to hide her face from Murdock, quietly adding, “I’ll go see if he’s back in the house.”
“Wait, Nigela!” Murdoch gently caught her arm before the girl could dash across the yard, asking, “Johnny knew the doctor was coming this morning I personally told him to stay inside at breakfast and …”
He dropped his head and shrugged his shoulders in the doctor’s direction.
“Never mind, Nigela. The doctor has kept you busy all morning and I’m sure your help is needed elsewhere. I’ll help Doctor Monroe finish. Thank you.”
The young woman reluctantly handed over the basket of medical supplies, along with the list of injured men and what the doctor wanted changed in their treatments. Murdoch smiled and thanked her while attempting to hide his disgust that the only name on her list that wasn’t checked off was at the top, ‘John Madrid.’
The doctor walked across the yard with Murdoch and watched as he searched the property for the missing patient.
“Glad you asked me to stay on for a day or two, Murdoch. This circle around the region has been exhausting. Truly sick people at every single stop. Besides, we need to catch up with one another. I can’t imagine what it would be like to suddenly have two grown son’s enter into my life.“
“One grown son, Scott has been incredible so far. For someone unaccustomed to running a cattle ranch, he’s pitched right in. I’m happy you two can spend some quality time together at supper tonight.”
“He’s been a bit more … Challenging. Seems to want to argue with me at every turn. I say the sky is blue and he …” Murdoch stopped and put his hands on his hips, screaming, “JOHNNY! COME OVER HERE.”
Doctor Monroe followed Murdoch’s eyes to an outer fencing. There, with an obviously large bandage under the shirt by his left shoulder and a slinged left arm, walked a very young looking man with dark hair. He was merely exercising a mare with a severe limp in her hind legs. They were walking at a slow enough pace, one could accuse them of simply taking a sunbath together.
“Guess he didn’t hear me,” Murdoch took a step forward and prepared to yell, louder.
“He heard, Murdoch. Your boy isn’t deaf.”
Doctor Monroe pulled his friend back and turned him so they could continue to walk inside.
“Maybe daft, then.”
The doctor laughed and stopped to pour a drink from the water jug by the front door.
“Not what I heard on my rounds this morning.”
“I heard both your sons have quickly made a lot of friends here. Not surprising, except folks are perplexed by how much they like the ‘infamous gunslinger’ named Johnny Madrid. Seems he was expected to be more vicious, cold or, at the very least, unlikable.”
“He is a puzzle.”
“Not to the folks, and there are a few of them, who remember the years Johnny and his mother lived here.”
“You know, Doc,” Murdoch finally fought down his anger and smiled at his long time friend, teasing, “I’m paying you for your medical services, not for the gossip gathering.”
“Gossip gathering is part of my job. I listen, listen, listen while folks watch me work. That’s how I figure out what’s really happening around a place.”
“And what do you think is really happening around here?”
“A ton of change, which naturally stresses everyone on the ranch. More importantly, I think you’ve run into the first twenty-year-old man who isn’t afraid of you and you don’t like it. You don’t like it one bit!”
Johnny was across the yard starting toward them. He had been smiling, laughing and chatting away with the men working around the corrals. Now, seeing Murdoch waiting by the front door, his expression turned serious and his eyes dropped from direct contact with his father’s.
“Murdoch,” the doctor reached out to touch his friend’s upper arm, “be careful. Don’t waste this chance with him. My last words to my middle boy, Jeremiah, were in haste. Now, he’ll never return from that insane war back east. It is a wound, a wound I’ll never forgive myself for.”
Murdock dropped his stare from his son and turned to nod his gratitude for his friend’s honesty.
After a deep breath to wash any remaining anger from his being, Murdoch smiled and waved Johnny forward, “Johnny, this is my good friend, Doctor Ted Monroe.”
Johnny instantly met the Doctor’s smile with his own and then offered his hand.
“Doctor Ted Monroe, this is my younger son, Johnny, Johnny Madrid.”
XXXXXXXX SAME DAY - EIGHT HOURS LATER XXXXXXXXX
Murdoch quietly entered the room and knelt down beside his exhausted friend, whispering, “Ted, let me spell you? You have to be ready to sleep for two days after all the work you did today. Teresa said you didn’t even eat the supper she brought up earlier.”
The doctor smiled and waved Murdoch into a nearby chair. He was sitting on the side of his restless patient’s bed slowly running his index finger up and down the man’s left forearm.
“Can’t leave. It was part of my deal with Johnny.”
“He seems to be trying to rest now, but his breathing is still a bit ragged.”
“Johnny’s so tired he can’t help but doze off now and then,” the doctor turned and the concern he felt was easily seen in his eyes, “but I made a promise to stay with him and I’ll keep it.”
“How’s the shoulder?”
“My handiwork is holding up fairly well. This latest dressing has been dry for nearly two hours. Of course, the revision work I did on your boy’s shoulder to close that wound hasn’t been the problem this evening.”
“I’ve never, ever, seen anyone get this sick from morphine. He tried to tell me, but I wasn’t going to get into his shoulder without giving him something more effective than the shot of whiskey he suggested. We went back and forth with Johnny insisting he couldn’t take any of the opiates I had to offer. I suggested it was just his gunhawk instincts not wanting to be drugged and out of touch with his environment. So we compromised by moving the furniture and covering the windows to prevent anyone sneaking up on him. Once he felt more at ease with the room, Johnny allowed me to give him a partial dose of morphine.”
The doctor’s concern showed as he pointed out the raised spotted areas on his patient’s face, plus the intermittent red areas across his back and chest.
“Seen milder reactions like this before and I know the morphine is behind the rash and John’s breathing being so tight. The nausea ... Most folks don’t suffer severe nausea unless I’ve needed to use multiple full doses of these drugs to complete surgeries. He barely had enough to touch a man his size, but his stomach simply won’t settle.”
As if on cue, Johnny’s stomach gurgled loudly and he moaned before his eyes shot open.
“Slow it down, son. Breathe easy, use the rhythm of my hand on your forearm. We can’t afford to pop any more stitches with those dry heaves.”
The boy closed his eyes and seemed to be using all of his strength to follow the doctor’s breathing instructions while fighting against his stomach’s desire to turn itself inside out, again.
“Maria couldn’t take laudanum. She fell and badly sprained her ankle, once, and I gave her barely a quarter strength dose … It nearly killed her.”
The doctor’s concentration on Murdoch’s quiet murmuring of a long ago memory was interrupted by Johnny’s reaction to hearing his father’s voice.
He closed his eyes and swallowed a heave back down his throat, managing, “You promised to stay, Doc.”
“Relax, I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. Think only about slowing down that breathing.”
Both of the older men sat in absolute silence while trying to will some of their strength to the younger man fighting for control in front of them. Suddenly, Johnny threw himself forward toward the edge of the bed and repeatedly dry heaved. Just when the boy was certain his toes were coming up, the wave of nausea relented and he tried to think about his breathing. Doc Monroe eased him back onto the pile of pillows that were keeping Johnny balanced on his right side. He let up on the pressure he’d automatically applied to the left shoulder bandage and reached for a wet cloth.
“Slow it down.”
He dripped some water into the boy’s mouth, wiped his face, then ran the cool cloth over the raised red areas on his neck, back and chest.
“You’re doing well. Keep up the good work.”
Johnny shook his head ever so slightly and half smiled, whispering, “Doing well? You’re a calm liar, Doc.”
The doctor didn’t have time to reply since Johnny’s body instantaneously made sure he knew this was no time for humor. His stomach started gurgling and it appeared another attack of the dry heaves was imminent.
While the doctor cooed his instructions and tried to get Johnny to concentrate on his left forearm instead of his stomach, the boy slid his right hand out from under the pillows. He had something wrapped tightly around and in his hand which he proceeded to hold across his closed eyes. Johnny’s lips barely moved while his breathing did begin to come under a bit of control. Slowly, his body relaxed, the nausea abated and he fell into what appeared to be another light state of sleep.
Murdoch moved close to the doctor’s ear, whispering, “What was he repeating?”
“’Padre en los cielos’ and I’m not sure what else. Enrique’s grandmother, Lupe, sent that rosary over when word got out around the ranch that Johnny wasn’t well this evening. Said Johnny’s mother had given it to their family when they were grieving a stillborn baby.”
Murdoch sat back and took a few deep breaths himself. A new revelation overtook him and he was stunned he hadn’t been expecting it all along. Although Scott seemed destined to have issues with Murdoch regarding his grandfather being his guardian in place of his father. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that Scott’s mother’s tragic death within minutes of his birth was simply that, a tragedy.
But, Maria, Johnny’s mother … Murdoch had spent years refusing to acknowledge the wonders of her. She was so young, too young, and he was blinded by her grace, beauty, sharp mind and the way Maria affected not only him, but also all those who came in contact with her. She had been terribly brave to walk away from the only world she knew, to marry him outside of her church, and to travel far from home while carrying her first baby in order to begin their life together. A few months after arriving at Lancer, when Maria had safely delivered Johnny, he’d never known such happiness and Maria had quickly blossomed into a mature woman.
Now, he had no idea where she was, if she was or what truly happened between them some eighteen years before. At the time, there were rumors, assumptions had been made, and Murdoch had become insane with anger. His anger ran so deep, so wide and became so all consuming that he never searched for his wife and child. He had never insisted on speaking to Maria face to face about why she left nor had he fought for his right to be a father to their son.
Suddenly, despite Johnny’s absolute refusal to discuss his past with his newly found father, Murdoch knew in his soul that Maria was dead. She must have died or Johnny wouldn’t have all the mental and physical scars of a young man who had been forced to fight tremendous adversity simply to survive his first twenty years on this earth. You could say what you may about Maria, and the life choices she made, but Murdoch knew with absolute certainty that she was a good mother to their son.
Resting his head back on the wall behind his chair, Murdoch’s mind continued to race as he listened to the quiet sounds of the doctor once again pleading with Johnny to keep control of his breathing. Fighting back renewed emotions that threatened to overwhelm him, Murdoch was humbled by his desperate desire to have more time. More time to try and figure out this ever so puzzling younger son of his. More time to …
He gathered himself and repeated his son’s words, silently praying, “Dear Father in heaven …”
A quarter of an hour later, Murdoch opened his eyes and felt a change in the room. While the doctor continued his quiet ministrations, Johnny’s muscles began to relax ever so slightly and he was able to take in a few slow deep breaths without wheezing. Ten more minutes later, both older men were finally able to take deep breaths themselves as they watched Murdoch’s youngest son truly sleep.
CHAPTER FOUR – SOME MONTHS LATER
What an afternoon it had been on the Lancer ranch. At Murdoch’s suggestion, he and his younger son had taken off in search of a large group of wild horses the elder Lancer had spotted earlier in the day. The weather held while father and son had worked the situation as if they’d practiced rounding up the wild beasts together for years. Murdoch considered himself a good horseman, but watching Johnny ride delighted him. The boy had ‘it,’ whatever that was which made a person simply become part of the horse when they rode in full concentration. You couldn’t teach ‘it,’ but it had been a sight to behold on the few occasions in life that Murdoch had witnessed man and beast working as one.
They rode hard, but finally got the better of the gorgeous stallion controlling the herd. With their leader well secured to Johnny’s saddle, they had the situation in hand. Working together, they were able to bring the group of frighten animals into the outer corals. From there, they rode home then turned the care and feeding of the group over to their ranch’s foreman. Murdoch hit the bathtub first and had to admit it had been a long time since he enjoyed a more pleasant afternoon.
Once his stiff body was refreshed by a hot soak, he really relished his supper. Murdoch couldn’t remember an evening flying by quite as fast and he suddenly found himself heading upstairs to his bedroom. Taking a moment to straighten out some laundry left on top of his dresser, Murdoch continued to busily congratulated himself on the afternoon’s success.
Johnny had only recently returned after a dispute with Murdoch that mostly centered around his dislike of following his father’s work orders. The conflict between them left his boy upset enough to walk away from his third of the ranch. Luckily, Johnny decided to come home and they had begun to work out some of their disagreements.
Scott’s suggestions regarding how the ranch work was split up and organized had been instrumental in getting his younger brother to buy into his daily assignments. Instead of Murdoch barking out daily orders and being upset when things weren’t done on the ranch exactly as they had been before his two sons arrived, chores were now organized on a series of lists and calendars. Scott had worked hard to organize the ranch’s administrative tasks. He then identified the work that was needed into patterns that could be kept on weekly and monthly work assignment lists.
Murdoch was proud to admit that, with his older son’s expert advise, things around the ranch were running smoother than they ever had before. In addition, Scott kept them busy in the evenings reviewing how their work was going and making plans for the future. He didn’t stop at what was happening next week, or next season, he had Murdoch and Johnny discussing their visions for what would happen on Lancer land the following year and so forth. Lancer Ranch had never been so organized and it was all due to Scott’s superior abilities in that area.
More importantly, using Scott’s systems, Johnny was accepting large work assignments and task lists which he had been successfully completing all on his own. This meant the daily shouting matches between Murdoch and his youngest son had lessened in frequency and intensity; at least, they were fighting less when it came to the amount of work Johnny took responsibility for around the ranch. This change in their relationship was no small feat since the two of them had been on each other’s backs since Johnny arrived with Scott nearly a year before. On the other hand, Johnny continued to buck Murdoch’s authority as his elder, his father, as a more experienced rancher and on every other level whenever he was able. In fact, Murdoch had recently come to realize that although Scott’s organization systems were great, the main reason they succeeded with Johnny was the kid didn’t have to take orders from his father any longer.
Early this morning, when Murdoch returned from a two week long buying trip, he had enjoyed going over the status of Lancer with Scott. Much to his delight, the ranch was not only running on time, but many of the chores and projects were beginning to pull ahead of schedule. This would always be good news, but was especially good news since Lancer, and the area’s entire ranching community, was still recovering from the hired gun battles and troubles during the past year. It was during their review that Scott had shared an unexpected observation. He had revealed that Johnny was not only pulling his load, but Scott’s younger brother was doing the work of two or more men. In fact, Scott seemed perplexed by his inability to get his brother to take it a bit easier.
That’s when the idea hit him … Murdoch had observed a herd of wild horses grazing at the far end of their property on his way home that morning. His mind had instantly associated the site of the marvelous beasts with the sheer joy he knew seeing them would bring to his younger son’s being. After sharing time with Scott and Teresa during the noon meal, he went to visit Johnny, who he assumed would be eating with the work crew. It was then that he found out the work crew’s boss had sent them in for chow without him; in fact, they insisted he had been bypassing breaks with them for some time. Murdoc, found the foreman and asked him to return to finish the job with Johnny’s crew. While the men finished their meal, he headed across the ranch to where his son’s crew had been posting fence.
As he came over the last rise, Murdoch stopped and watched Johnny working to secure a fence post at adequate depth. Not an easy task anywhere in the San Joaquin Valley’s earth, but this particular stretch of Lancer land was dry, bare and doggone hard. Easing his horse forward, Murdoch laughed out loud when the breeze brought the sound of Johnny singing a song normally reserved for Fall Fiesta time. He was swinging a pick ax to the song’s beat, totally unaware that anyone was listening until his horse smelt Murdoch’s and turned. In an instant, Johnny swung around and, seeing Murdoch in the distance, waved.
The young man silently returned to the task before him and Murdoch took his time riding in. Watching him work, Murdoch was again amazed at just how young his youngest son was … An odd revelation about a twenty year old boy unless you understood exactly who, and what, Johnny was before arriving at the ranch. He arrived highly experienced in many things from the darker side of life; a side of life most people in Murdoch’s shoes, and certainly those from Scott’s background, liked to pretend didn’t exist.
For whatever reason, Johnny appeared to have been on his own for a long time. He’d managed to survive, but wasn’t ready to discuss his past, especially not with Murdoch. Most of what was known about Johnny’s past, Murdoch had learnt from the gossip and stories that circled through the ranching community. His boy had been a loner since early in life, was forced to kill in self-defense before he turned sixteen and had earned a reputation as one of the fastest, if not fastest, gunfighter in the entire West.
Of course, Johnny wouldn’t discuss any of this voluntarily. He’d even managed to barely acknowledge facts one way or another when older Lancer staff members, those who remembered when he was a toddler, confronted him with questions. He had obviously been taught to respect his elders, elders who were not his father, but Johnny was quick minded and talented enough to appear to answer their inquiries without really having revealed anything about himself. No, what the Lancer family knew about Johnny, they knew from reading Pinkerton reports and listening to the folklore shared by others.
For this and so many other reasons, it had taken Murdoch time to begin to see his younger son; to truly see the man slowly emerging from the myth of Johnny Madrid. Now that he had begun to see into the complexity that was John Lancer, the fact Johnny was so terribly young continued to be a bit of a surprise. After the gunfight for control of Lancer a few months earlier, a close friend from a nearby ranch, Julio Asage, told Murdoch his younger son was ‘a young man with an old soul.’ Murdoch had laughed at Julio’s suggestion that evening, but saw the wisdom in his words more each day.
It was going to take a lifetime to see and try to understand all the edges of the puzzle that made up his son, John, but Murdoch went back to congratulating himself on making some positive progress that particular day. When they flew across the horizon together toward that wild herd and …
Murdoch stopped his self-congratulatory mental rant and thought back a few hours. At supper, no before that, Johnny had been terribly quiet, too quiet. Murdoch had been enjoying himself to such a degree; his peripheral vision had barely made him aware that Johnny was merely watching the family celebrate in the wonders of their afternoon. He hadn’t been participating.
Within minutes, Murdoch was redressed and quickly moved down the corridors between his bedroom and his son’s. After knocking louder than he would have liked so as not to wake anyone beside Johnny, he opened the door and found the room empty. Leaving the door open behind him, Murdoch headed downstairs.
“There you are!”
Murdoch smiled and moved across the great room toward the fireplace where Johnny was adding a log to the fire.
“You must be planning on staying up a while longer.”
“Well then,” Murdoch clasped his hands together and headed for the side table, “join me in a drink?”
“No, but thanks.”
“I just got in some of that aged bourbon from Tennessee you liked the last time we were in Modesto.”
“Tempting, but I’ll pass. Thank you.”
Murdoch poured himself a special treat from his Scotch decanter and took a seat. Johnny was in what the family had teasingly deemed ‘his’ chair. The high-backed chair in the room’s rear corner where he could easily see all the entrances and exits from one spot.
“That reminds me, I want to get ‘your’ chair reupholstered when the man comes around this year. Teresa suggested it needed some work a while back, but we rarely used it before you moved home.”
“Don’t care about the upholstery, Murdoch, just like were it sits in the room. Old habit!”
“If it helps you relax, what else matters?”
Johnny returned his father’s smile, but then his attention went back to watching the flames dancing in the fireplace.
“I had the best time today.”
“Thanks for suggesting we check out those horses together, Murdoch.”
“You’re very welcome, but I also sense something changed when we got back.”
“What could have changed? We got back safe and sound. The horses are well cared for and our afternoon’s adventure was a grand success.”
“True,” Murdoch swirled the liquor in his glass and tried to think of the right words to express what he was feeling.
“Guess I’ll head up; must be more tired than I thought.”
With his catlike quickness, Johnny was up and halfway past Murdoch before he realized what the boy said.
“Wait,” Murdoch stood up and with his long reach was able to swing an arm around Johnny’s shoulders, “I thought we were going to visit for a while.”
“Don’t do that!”
Johnny pulled away and took an audible breath to control the flash of anger that inexplicitly rolled over him when his father grabbed him.
“Nothing. I’m heading …”
“Johnny, don’t do this. What’s happening? What did I do?”
The young man walked past his father and stared into the fire. Murdoch set down his drink, but stayed where he stood despite a deep desire to move closer to his son. For whatever reason, his newfound father instincts were telling him Johnny was hurting and he wanted to comfort him. But, experience in dealing with this very unusual young man, told Murdoch to stay at a distance and wait until Johnny made the first move.
“You didn’t ‘do’ anything, Murdoch. It’s more …”
Johnny turned and met his father’s stare, admitting, “It’s more what I can’t do.”
Murdoch smiled and tried to allow room for Johnny to interject humor as he often did when any conversation became too intense. He waited, but the younger man simply stared back while his hands clinched and unclenched at his sides.
Finally, Johnny shook his head and tried to explain, “Murdoch.”
and turned to look in the fire.
“Murdoch, I can’t do this.”
“This father and son thing. I can’t like you so much. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
Johnny laughed and used both of his hands to rub his face, then sunk down and sat on the coffee table’s edge.
Speaking softly while he shook his head, he added, “You really have no idea; no idea who … What you’ve been in my life.”
Murdoch’s legs suddenly felt shaky and he gladly sank back down in his chair. He kept scouring what he could see of Johnny’s face for a clue as to what was happening, but the young man had spent years perfecting his poker face and wasn’t giving anything away.
“I’m not sure I understand, Johnny, but I sense we need to clear the air or we’ll lose ground in the relationship we’ve begun to build.”
“That’s the point, don’t you see,” Johnny turned to make eye contact and saw that Murdoch didn’t see, “We’re not supposed to ‘build’ a relationship. I’ve spent all these years hating you.”
“But, we … We’re all putting the past behind us. We agreed …”
“It isn’t that simple, Murdoch.”
“Because, when I agreed to go along with Scott’s idea that we leave the past in the past, I thought I was merely agreeing to get along well enough to make Lancer work.”
“I never agreed to like anybody. To care about anything but the success of the ranch. And I certainly never agreed to … To care about you.”
Murdoch held his tongue and thought through Johnny’s words for a long moment. In an instant, his prayers to carve out a relationship with his younger son had been answered and, apparently, dashed and he didn’t understand.
While Murdoch sat quiet for a moment, Johnny turned and tried to settle his reeling mind by staring at the fire. His heart was pounding, along with his head, and his soul felt as if the conflict raging inside his being would split him into pieces at any moment.
“I was always told you didn’t want us, didn’t want me. So, when my stepfather beat me, I just let him and centered my thoughts on hating you. Did the same thing when he beat my step-brother and … And my mother.”
“Oh, Johnny …”
“No, those beating were good. They taught me that no one could hurt me, not deep down inside where it really matters. I became an expert at blocking out whatever was happening to me; I trained my mind to focus on one thing, on one man. It became easy to hate a man I didn’t know, didn’t plan on knowing, since I was taught he was responsible for my being stuck so far away from where I was born.
“In fact, when that Pinkerton man showed up with your offer, I figured it was going to be so different when I met you.”
“Pick up a thousand bucks, let you ‘talk’ for an hour or whatever, then kill you before I rode away.” Johnny shook his head and turned back to the fire, quietly admitting, “I never thought …”
“What,” Murdoch eased over and sat next to his son on the coffee table, “What didn’t you think, Son?
“Nothing,” Johnny jumped up and away from Murdoch’s touch, “I’m talking too much.”
“Please, tell me what is really bothering you?”
“Don’t you see, Murdoch, if I find out you’re not who ...” Johnny shook his head, barely whispering, “You either kicked us out or she left without giving you one damn reason. Somebody is lying and there’s a chance I spent a great deal of my life …”
Murdoch worked to keep the panic rising inside him at bay, he needed to get them through this crisis or he’d lose Johnny forever.
“It’s like you were saying about the wild horses today.”
Johnny chuckled and shook his head seeing no connection between what he had been saying and Murdoch’s last statement.
“You were lamenting the fact that by capturing them we changed the entire herd’s destiny. Wondering aloud … Should wild horses be tamed; should they be forced to become just like every other horse?”
“Murdoch, I don’t see …”
“Give me a minute. I’ll try to make sense, I promise.”
Johnny nodded and eased himself onto the armrest of a nearby chair. Murdoch took a few deep breaths and stared at the fire while gathering his thoughts.
“There can be two conflicting trains of thought about the exact same issue and they can both be right.”
over and watched his son shrug his shoulders in response.
“Should wild horses be tamed is an example of a question that would really get any group of ranchers into tough discussions. We tame them, we give them a good life on this ranch but, to others, they have become a nuisance to be driven away. Of course, with the land in this valley quickly being parceled up into well fenced ranches, the question will very soon become a mute point because there will be no more free range for the horses to roam. Time will make it irrelevant to know who was right and who was wrong about the best way to deal with the wild horses.”
Murdoch found his son’s eyes in the darkened room, suggesting, “I would argue that time has made it irrelevant what your mother or I have to say about what may, or may not have, happened in the past. But, I fear, you wouldn’t agree with me about that.”
“Alright.” Swallowing hard, he forced himself to share thoughts he’d barely been able to let into his heart since Johnny’s arrival, quietly revealing, “I believe, truly believe, that neither your mother or I have ever lied to you.”
told you our version of the same issue; we shared what we saw and felt
without trying to understand each other. We certainly didn’t think through
our actions and words effect on you.”
“So, you admit to not wanting my mother and I around eighteen years ago?”
“Yes,” Murdoch held up his hand to give himself a second before Johnny jumped from his seat, “and no.”
“Yes and no!”
“That’s what I said.”
“And if we look at the other version of the story, your version?”
“Your mother did leave this property without announcing her decision.”
“So, you’re saying it is her fault?”
“Wait, I’m not finished. Maria left without writing me a note, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t try to tell me how terribly lonely, unhappy and conflicted she had become.”
Johnny lifted his legs enough to let himself slide down to sit properly in the chair. It was a testament to how far their relationship had come that the boy was even staying in the room to listen; Murdoch had to figure out a way to make his point.
“Your mother was young when I knew her, terribly young. She was only a couple of years older than you are now when you were born.”
Murdoch couldn’t help but smile as visions of Johnny’s mother danced through his head. It felt wonderful to discuss Maria without being overcome with the anger he’d known for so many years.
“I loved her and I know your mother loved me, but that doesn’t sustain a relationship if you don’t … Well, I let the ranch take over too much of my life. Also, I didn’t listen when she tried to tell me about her struggles to become comfortable in the ranching society circles I preferred. So many, many, things she tried to share and I didn’t listen. Losing Maria’s love was the price I paid for being terribly selfish and self-indulgent.
“When rumors began to circulate that she and your step-father were spending a large amount of time together, I ignored them. I figured your mother would never leave the ranch. She had a comfortable life here, one many women would envy, and you were an heir to what I was trying to build here.”
“Who would have thought she was brave enough to leave the ranch? Brave enough to move back to Mexico with a blue-eyed kid!”
“I surely did not, but I only now realize how little credit I gave your mother. How very, very, wrong I was about so many things.” Murdoch smiled, admitting, “I’ve never given her the credit she deserved for fighting to be herself; for being strong enough to be herself, to be unlike everybody else in the world were she grew up. She lived her own life as she chose to live it. It’s all so obvious to me now, Maria couldn’t have loved me in the first place if she wasn’t strong enough to accept the fact her decision would radically change her destiny.”
“So you were both right and you were both wrong.”
“Perhaps, but neither of us were lying to you about what happened.”
“Thanks, Murdoch. I appreciate your honesty.”
“It felt good to talk about it.”
Murdoch smiled his agreement and quickly downed the last of his Scotch. They stood and moved across the room towards the stairs. This time, Johnny didn’t pull away when his father laid an arm across his shoulders.
“Night, Murdoch. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
“Aren’t you coming up?”
“Not quite yet.”
It was dark, but Murdoch could easily see the big smile shining from his son’s face.
“I think I’ll head over to those outer corals and check on that stallion and his herd.”
Johnny opened the front door and the moonlight further illuminated his face.
“Even if we work months ahead of Scott’s timetables, the ranch won’t be fully fenced for another year.”
“Maybe more, Johnny. It might take even longer.”
Murdoch saw where this was going and couldn’t hide his delight in Johnny’s decision.
“You’re right, Murdoch, it may even take longer to finish the fencing around this place. Those horses might as well enjoy the range before they’re fully boxed in. There will be time enough for them to be ‘just like the other horses’ on this ranch.”
Murdoch watched from his bedroom window until Johnny was out of sight. He closed his eyes and sent a prayer of gratitude toward the sky. He was thankful that they had made it through another crossroads in their relationship. Murdoch felt totally blessed to have found and reconnected with both of his sons. He only hoped to make this newfound gift of a family work for them all. For the first time in too long, something was more important to him than Lancer. Murdoch was shocked to realize he’d walk away tomorrow if it meant staying in-touch with his boys and Theresa.
Before dimming the light, he pulled open a rarely used drawer in his nightstand and picked out a picture frame. He stared at the woman’s face for a long time while unconsciously running his index finger gently around the frame. How foolish Murdoch had been? How like his mother Murdoch was discovering their boy could be.
“If only … “
He stopped there. Murdoch needed to learn from the past, not dwell in it. The future of Lancer Ranch had never been brighter.
“May you be at peace, my sweet Maria.”
Murdoch put the picture back in the nightstand and dimmed the lamp. It had been a long, wonderful, and revealing day. He instantly fell into a deep renewing sleep.
Thank you for reading my story. Please forgive any typos or Lancer continuity errors.
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