Hands reached out from the darkness to
touch Johnny’s naked torso, causing him jump away, but by then it was too
late. Strong fingers had locked
onto his hips, causing him to fall backwards onto the bedding. “What…?” Johnny
started, struggling desperately to get away from the creature in his bed.
His struggles ceased when he heard a giggle in the darkness. The musical
sounds made him stop cold, searching his memory for the face to go with the
“Have you missed me, Johnny?” a silky voice came from behind him.
Turning quickly, Johnny reached out to
the person in his bed. As his eyes
became accustomed to the darkness, he saw the smiling eyes of his first love.
Johnny grinned, overcome with a happiness that he had all but forgotten.
“Nikita!” The girl beamed in return and lifted the bed covers.
Johnny eagerly accepted the invitation sliding beneath the blankets,
snuggling up to the girl. With
hands he could not control, he sought her flesh - pulling her close.
His lips devoured hers; drinking her like a man dying of thirst.
The hunger and passion that had consumed him four years earlier returned
with a vengeance. During the time
that he had spent with the Huichol, he had fallen in love with Nikita – the
cousin of Helaku. It was
because of her he had returned to the village three years ago, to make her his
wife – to be a father to their unborn child.
Instead, he found her dead with the rest of the tribe.
After tending to Katonah and the others, Johnny had borne her body away,
making a special grave for his beloved and their child.
It had been Nikita who made the beaded bracelet he wore on his wrist –
the only thing he had left of her. Johnny
suddenly tensed as the dark recollection returned to his conscious mind -
ashamed that he had blocked her memory from his thoughts.
“Shhhh,” she whispered gently,
somehow knowing his inner torment. “It
does not matter now. We are
together and can be forever.”
Scott replaced Murdoch in the wee hours
of the morning. Jelly had come to
get him after finding Murdoch sound asleep in the chair next to Johnny’s bed. Murdoch’s ashen face spoke
volumes as they silently passed each other on the stairway. There had been no
positive change in the injured man’s condition.
Entering the room, Scott noted that the lamps had not been dimmed. The room was brightly lit so that those taking care of Johnny could keep a better watch. The first thing Scott did was to check his brother’s respirations. They were the same harsh rasps they had been earlier. The fever was still present, but was not as high. There was no change in the battered features. Johnny was sleeping – like the dead.
“He’s holding his own,” Jelly
stated his assessment as he once again applied the smelly poultice to Johnny’s
“Is that still necessary?” Scott asked turning his nose at the foul smelling paste.
“It jus might be what is keepin’ your brother alive!” Jelly huffed indignantly, exiting the room.
Scott smiled after the older man, taking the seat next to Johnny. “He sure does think the world of you, Brother. I don’t think he’s had a decent rest since he arrived in Stockton. How about you waking up to let us know you’re still in there?” After waiting a few moments, Scott squeezed Johnny’s hand. “Come on Johnny, wake up. I know you want to….” Again there was no response.
“Your father talked until he couldn’t speak any longer.” Victoria Barkley entered the room, dressed in a pale blue robe.
Scott raised an eyebrow at the comment. “I can’t imagine Murdoch having anything to say to Johnny that would cause him to loose his voice – other than his yelling at him.”
Victoria snickered silently at the comment. “Oh, he found quite a few things to tell your brother – how much he loved him, how sorry he was for how he had treated him since he had come home – and how he would die if Johnny left him again.”
“Murdoch said that?” Scott asked incredulously. He had a hard time believing that his father would confess to any of those things. Then again, Johnny was unconscious and probably hadn’t heard a single word. It amazed him how easy his father found it to speak to Johnny when there was no hope the boy would respond. The Old Man was still running scared and it disgusted him.
“And more,” Victoria nodded. She went to Johnny and gently kissed his forehead. “It’s time to wake up, sleepy head…”
Scott was both disappointed and relieved that Victoria had not been able to break the spell that was keeping his brother away from them. In his heart, he hoped that he would be the one to break through the barrier and bring Johnny back. “Thank you for trying.”
“Did you get any sleep?”
“Some,” Scott said with an uneasy smile. “I think I passed out the second my head hit the pillow.”
“There is no shame in exhaustion, Scott Lancer.” Victoria chided. “You needed the rest and your father needed the time alone with your brother. Now all we have to do is to figure a way to bring him back to us.”
Scott immediately thought of Teresa when Victoria spoke her last words. “Has there been any word from Lancer?”
“We got a telegram from your foreman – Cipriano. He’ll be bringing Teresa on the morning train. They should be here around noon.”
Scott turned back to look at Johnny. There was so much that had gone unsaid between them. How would that ever be resolved if Johnny died? “Do you think that he can hear us?”
Victoria looked at Johnny and smiled
wistfully. “I’ve tended to my
sons when they were badly hurt. I
like to think that the sound of my voice kept them here…”
Scott rose and went to the bookshelf. He found a leather bound volume of The Count of Monte Cristo on one of the shelves. It had been a favorite of his while he attended college. “Perhaps my brother might enjoy a good book, while he’s lazing about…”
Victoria went to Scott and gave him a warm hug. For the briefest of moments, Scott felt the burden he had been carrying on his broad shoulders lightened. “Don’t lose faith,” Victoria whispered into his ear before releasing him and leaving the room.
His spirits buoyed, Scott returned to the chair and sat down. For a few moments, he studied Johnny’s motionless features. There were none of the pinched lines of pain that would have indicated the unconscious man’s arousing. Scott could only pray that wherever Johnny was, he was not suffering. Before opening the book, he tried speaking once more to his brother. “Did you hear that, Brother? I’m not losing my faith in you. I expect you to keep yours in me. Come back to us and we’ll make this work. I’ll do whatever it takes. You’ll never be driven from your home again – I promise.” Scott waited a few moments for his words to sink in, but once again he was disappointed. Johnny never moved; the only sound in the room was the rasp of labored breaths, like a death knell, coming from the unconscious man’s chest.
Disappointed, but not disheartened, Scott sat down and began to read aloud to his brother.
Teresa and Cipriano were up before dawn. The hands were all up to see them off; Cipriano had told them the night before that Johnny was gravely ill and that he was taking Teresa to see him. One by one, the men came forward to express their words of encouragement for Johnny’s quick recovery. Teresa’s heart was breaking by the time they finished loading the buckboard and headed for the train depot. The girl wondered if life at Lancer would ever return to the way it had been before Murdoch had spoiled everything. She had come to enjoy the daily challenge of staying one step ahead of the two young men who had become her brothers. They brought a vitality to the house that had been missing since her father’s death. She wasn’t sure she could bear to return without Johnny.
Cipriano silently guided the horses through the dark and into the sunrise. He too was thinking of his friend, Juanito. The boy had heart and a compassion that was beyond the understanding of his father. Many times he had tried to speak with Murdoch about how well Johnny was doing, but the older man refused to hear anything positive about Johnny. The Segundo knew of Murdoch’s deep anger at Johnny’s mother and somehow thought the jefe was taking the sins of the mother out on the not so innocent son. Everyone knew who Johnny had been. Cipriano knew who he was now. Murdoch Lancer just didn’t want to know the truth.
In a few hours they would be in Stockton. The one thing that Cipriano knew for certain was that one way or another they would be returning to Lancer with Johnny - dead or alive.
Johnny awoke in the morning, his arms lovingly holding Nikita close; spooning against her back. The scent of desert flowers in her hair overwhelmed him, bringing back memories of one of the few times he had found true peace in his short life. His hands drifted to her abdomen, remembering how it had been filling out with the growth of their child. A frown crossed his face when he realized that the child had died, never to be born.
“Johnny?” Nikita whispered, pushing back against him as he shifted to hold her ever closer.
“What happened to him?”
Nikita’s doe brown eyes fluttered open as she placed her right hand on top of his, ceasing his gentle probing. “He was returned to the Great Spirit, to await his chance to be born again…”
Johnny considered the words, but found no comfort in them. “Do you ever wonder what our lives would have been like?”
Nikita smiled, “All the time, but you are here now. We can start again…”
“But there will be no child,” Johnny
concluded bitterly, his voice dropping. One
of his secret desires in life was to have a son and to do better by him than
what had been done by him.
“There will be no child,” the girl repeated, sadly confirming Johnny’s thought. “There will be no pain, no loneliness, no suffering…”
She knew him well; touching on the elements that had filled his life up until the time he had met the Huichol. What she didn’t know were the new elements he had experienced since her passing. They were strangers. What had held them together before was not present to bind them together now. Before, they had a future as a family. Now, they were just two strangers who had a common past. Was that enough for eternity?
Johnny rolled away, throwing off his covers, dressing quickly against the cold morning air.
Nikita watched him move, strong muscles rippling under smooth tan skin. He was different than he had been before. He was no longer the boy who was so eager to find a home. He was a man who had found one and needed it back. “You will not be staying here, will you?” she called out as he approached the entrance to the tent.
Turning, he sought out her brown eyes,
taking in the love and concern that was there for him.
Was it enough? “I don’t know. I
need to think,” Johnny spoke softly.
“Go, and do your thinking. I will be here when you return.”
With a wry smile, Johnny exited the tent to stand out in the bright morning sunshine. He looked around the village. More of the day to day details were present. Dogs were barking and running with the children. Birds were now flying in the glorious blue sky. It was almost like it had been when he had lived there before. All the elements were present, beckoning him to stay. But was it enough?
His gaze then turned to the dark area and the summit of the mountain beyond. The rainbow like colors were more brilliant than they had been the day before. They called to him, beckoning him to come and join them in the sky.
“Your choice must be made by sunset tonight.”
“I know,” Johnny bowed his head; the
choice he had to make weighed heavily on his mind. “What should I do?” the
words were barely whispered.
Katonah ignored the question, looking up
at the summit. “Do you know what
the colors mean?”
Johnny looked up and gazed at the blazes of light. “I remember that you told me that red is for passion and courage; pink is love and compassion; orange is the color of the brave; yellow is wisdom; green - stability and endurance and purple is ambition and power. Why?”
“When you look at the colors – what do you sense?”
“They seem to be calling to me…”
“The colors are like your family, calling for your return….”
Johnny stared at the brilliant rainbow and was actually able to place a person with each of colors. The bright yellow had to be Scott, all wisdom and intelligence. Teresa was the bright pink; Jelly green and Murdoch – the color that blazed the brightest – purple. The more he stared, the more he could feel their presence nearby – calling for him to return. Closing his eyes, he dipped his head and shook it slowly. There was no way they were calling for him to come back. Didn’t they know they would all be better off if he never returned?
“This is not about what they want, Johnny. This is about what you desire. It is you who is the master of your destiny.”
Johnny opened his eyes to see that he was now surrounded by all of the members of the tribe. Their smiling faces and warm hearts overwhelmed Johnny with a feeling of belonging – a feeling that he had been looking for his entire life. What was he to do?
It was sunrise when Howard Merar entered
the library and did a quick examination of his patient.
Johnny’s complexion had slowly gone from feverish the night before to
an ashen gray with the light of morning. Though
the boy still breathed, the doctor could tell that he was not long for this
world. Knowing that another family
member was coming, the doctor preformed another procedure on Johnny’s
congested lungs, buying a little more time – for the arrival of Teresa
Scott watched with detached fascination as the doctor preformed the treatment. When Howard was done, and Johnny was breathing a little easier, he waited patiently for the report.
“I’m afraid that you’re brother’s condition is deteriorating - quickly. The congestion in his lungs is robbing his body of oxygen.” He lifted Johnny’s pale cold hand and showed Scott the blue tinged nail beds. “His heart is working overtime – beating way too fast. I’m also concerned about that head injury. His left pupil is still not responding to stimulation…”
“So, what you’re saying is that there is no hope?” Scott asked quietly.
“As long as there is life, there is
hope. Right now, what your brother
needs is a miracle….”
Scott absorbed the words, his eyes never leaving Johnny’s pale features. “How much longer?”
Howard sighed. “When will Miss O’Brien get here?”
“Sometime in the afternoon, why?”
“I’d say he only has a few more hours. If you’re going to have a priest come, you had better call him now.”
Scott swallowed hard, summoning all of his strength to hold back the threatening tears. The doctor had just signaled Johnny’s death knell. There was nothing more they could do, though Jelly and Bernardo continued to try. Johnny’s life force was slipping away and there was nothing that Scott could think of to keep it here. It took a few moments for him to compose himself. “Jelly, would you go and get Murdoch?”
Jelly, who had heard the doctor’s words, was openly crying. With the back of his sleeve, he wiped his face and nose before silently leaving the room in search of Murdoch.
“Would you go and get the priest?”
Bernardo looked at his unconscious friend and knew that it was time that they relinquished their hold on his young life and turn it over to God. “Si, I will go now.”
Victoria, who had been standing quietly near the doorway, went to Scott and took his hand. “What do you want me to do?”
Scott turned to the older woman and could no longer control his emotions. Silently, she folded him into her arms and he cried.
Nick took Bernardo into town, driving the spring wagon to bring Teresa back to the house. The somber mood of his home was making him edgy. He wished that he had gone with Heath and Val – anything had to be better than watching Johnny Lancer slowly die. The thought of Johnny dying so young, ate at his heart. There was something about the cocky young gunfighter that Nick had taken an instant liking to – which was why he had wanted to hire him when they first met. With all his heart, he wished he had fought his mother and had hired Johnny on the spot. Fate, however, seemed to be predetermined for the boy. Nick figured that Johnny had finally met something he couldn’t beat with his lightning fast quick draw – death.
The two men rode in silence, both deep in thought. Nick dropped Bernardo off at the mission with a promise that he would return after he had picked up Teresa.
As usual, the train was on time. Nick stood on the platform waiting, his arms folded across his broad chest. He hated to be the one to break the news to the young girl, but there was no one else available to take on the chore. Teresa had been to the ranch several times to visit with his younger sister – Audra. The visits were usually marked with laughter and the silly giggling that only came from young girls. This time there would be no laughter and the cowboy wasn’t sure he was up to the flood of tears that would be sure to erupt when she saw Johnny.
As the passengers began to debark, Nick kept a close lookout for the dark-haired girl. He took off his hat and waved it high when he saw her at the top of the stairs. Whistling loudly, he caught her attention and that of a tanned older man, a Mexican, standing behind her.
Teresa called back, quickly forcing her way through the crowd to stand by
the tall, darkly clad man.
Nick caught her in his arms and
protectively guided her through the throng of people, her companion following
close behind. When they were out of
the hustle and bustle, he turned to look at her.
It had been over a year since he had last seen her and she looked
entirely different. Gone was the
little girl who would come for a visit. Before
him stood a young woman, whose eyes betrayed the deep concern for what lay at
the end of her journey. “How’s
Johnny?” she asked, anxious for news.
Nick pursed his lips and shook his head. “Not too good, I’m afraid. We need to hurry. Do you have any bags?”
Brown eyes opened wide at the realization that Johnny’s time was so close. Teresa opened her mouth to say something, but a sob hitched in her throat, preventing her from speaking.
“I have everything, Senor,” Cipriano responded, indicating the two bags that occupied his hands. “Por favor, take us to Juanito.”
With a nod, Nick guided them to the waiting wagon. Cipriano loaded their small bags in the back while Nick helped Teresa up into her seat. “We have one stop to make before we can head to the ranch.”
“Why, what could be more important than our getting to Johnny?” Teresa asked, upset that there could be a delay.
“Scott sent for a Priest.”
Johnny stood at the edge of the gray
area, his eyes focused on the cliff and its sheer wall.
In his mind he was debating whether he should try to scale the mountain
– risking failure, or stay in the village and quietly accept his fate.
His thoughts were interrupted by the touch of a hand on his right arm. Nikita insinuated herself under his arm and wrapped her left arm around his slim hips. “You always were a wanderer. I was pleased that you had decided to return for me, but I was always afraid that wanderlust would someday tear us apart….”
“I wanted to be with you…”
“I know, and for that I will always love you, but the hunger in your heart has not yet been contented. It won’t be satisfied here.” She pulled him into a strong embrace, wrapping both arms around him. “I will let you go Johnny - this time. The next time….”
“What makes you so certain there will be a next time?” Johnny laughed.
“You will come to this place again.
You are a good man, Johnny Madrid. Don’t
ever let anyone tell you differently.” She
kissed him deeply and then she was gone.
Johnny shivered, realizing that he had too much life in him to accept death so quietly. She was right. He had made up his mind. He had to try to return to his life. There was so much to do, so many things he had yet to discover – amongst them – his family.
Katonah had explained that if he failed, he could be trapped in the darkness - forever. A smile crossed his tanned features knowing that he had never been meant for a life that was easy. If he failed, then he would struggle until he could find his way back into the light again. Without looking back, Johnny plunged into the icy darkness in search of his way home.
The village was once again empty – all
except for the lone figure of Katonah. The
Shaman stood by the empty fire ring, a strong breeze blowing - causing his long
gray hair to flutter about his face. With
a sad smile he watched as Johnny disappeared into the darkness.
“May the Great Spirit guide you and keep you safe,” he prayed before
once again joining his ancestors.
Johnny plunged into the cold grayness of
the Bardo’s dark side. His plan
was to run as fast as he could to the cliff wall, about two hundred yards, and
start his climb to the summit.
From out of nowhere, a
piercing cold wind practically blew him back to the village.
he was chilled to the bone as frozen ice crystals seemed to attack him –
penetrating the thick buckskin he wore. The
young man was momentarily stunned. Quickly
he regrouped and started to fight back against the raging elements - keeping his
eyes firmly set on his target. It
took only a matter of moments before the ice crystals began to cling to his
face, obscuring his vision. Nearly
blinded, Johnny tripped and fell on a rock, bruising his ribs and leaving him
panting icy breaths in the dark. Staggering to his feet, he realized that his
left knee was also injured. Despite
the injuries, he struggled on toward his goal and hopefully the way home.
Murdoch arrived in the library just
minutes after Scott summoned him. His
hair was askew on his head and his pale face unshaven.
He looked like hell. Jelly had told him to come and he had dressed as
quickly as he could. The father was
upset to see that Johnny had turned an ashen gray and that there was a tinge of
blue to his lips and fingernails. The
doctor was bent over the still man, listening intently to his patient’s lungs.
There was evidence that another procedure had been preformed and Murdoch
shuddered, thankful that he had missed it.
From the way the doctor was shaking his head, the Lancer patriarch could
only assume that the results weren’t as good as they had been before.
“Doctor – what happened?”
Howard raised a hand for quiet while he
used a stethoscope to listen to Johnny’s heart.
With a sigh, he pulled the instrument from his ears, checked the drainage
tube and tucked the blankets back around the bedridden man. He then lifted one
eyelid and then the other. The
pupils were still different; the head wound was no better. The doctor spoke in a low voice, trying to remain aloof
of the tragedy that was unfolding before him.
“I’ve done just about all I can, Mr. Lancer. He’s not getting enough oxygen and his heart…well it
can’t take much more of the stress.”
Murdoch looked at Scott, who was
steadfastly holding onto one of Johnny’s hands.
“He’s cold, Murdoch. He’s leaving us…” Scott’s voice was detached, almost clinical like the doctor’s.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Murdoch took Johnny’s other hand in his. The appendage was as cold as ice. “Isn’t there anything more we can do?” Murdoch pleaded, desperately wanting an answer other than hearing that his son was going to die.
Howard silently shook his head and watched as all hope left the bereaved father.
Scott continued to gaze at the peaceful face of his sibling. With his free hand he brushed an errant lock of hair off the bandage on Johnny’s forehead. “I’ve sent for a priest and Nick has gone to pick Teresa up at the train station.” Scott continued to speak in a far off voice – as if he were in shock. Red rimed eyes looked up at the doctor. “Can we remove some of the bandages? I’d like to have him looking as much like himself as he can before Teresa gets here.”
What Scott asked was not unreasonable. Johnny’s wounds were sewn up and free of infection. The doctor did not see the need to add fright to the anguish the girl would feel. “I don’t see why not.” With great care, he slowly unraveled the white bandage that surrounded Johnny’s head. The laceration above his right ear had long since stopped bleeding.
Jelly had left the room and returned with a shaving kit. “If’n yor gonna have him lookin’ like his self, then we should clean him up proper.”
“Thank you, Jelly.” Murdoch murmured as he moved aside, allowing the old wrangler to do this one last favor for his son.
Scott and Murdoch stood near the fire and watched as Jelly carefully tended to Johnny. The doctor had clipped Johnny’s thick black hair near the site of the head wound, leaving a six inch, neatly stitched gash, clearly visible. With a comb, Jelly smoothed the rest of Johnny’s hair into place. He then lathered the ashen face and cautiously shaved Johnny’s face smooth.
“Can you remove the tubes from his chest and his nose?” Scott asked after Jelly was finished.
Howard frowned at this request. Removing bandages was one thing but removing a source of
possible nourishment and medication was something else. He further hesitated to
remove the drainage tube. As long
as the boy breathed, the tube would remain where it was.
“Not yet. When the time is
right – I’ll remove it.”
It amazed Murdoch that Scott could be in
such control of his emotions. Looking
closely at his eldest he saw the red rimmed, swollen eyes and realized that the
young man had been crying. Glancing
at Victoria, he saw that she had been weeping too.
Murdoch had done his mourning the night before and was left with eyes
that refused to relinquish any more tears.
Scott was doing what had to be done – he wanted to do it - he needed to
do it. In just six short months,
the two young men had bonded in a way that the father had been completely
oblivious to. The height of
Murdoch’s shame increased tenfold.
Scott returned to Johnny’s side when Jelly finished; Murdoch turned away. During his time alone with Johnny he had done a bit of soul searching. In reviewing the recent happenings, he came to acknowledge that as much as he wanted to blame Ben Anderson for Johnny’s present condition – that was wrong. If the finger of blame was to be pointed, it needed to be pointed at him. It was his actions of not just eight weeks earlier but of 20 years ago that had led to the present situation. In his attempt to drive Maria from his heart, he had sentenced his son to a life filled with pain and prejudice.
While he had known where Scott was - he had no idea where Johnny was or what kind of life he had been subjected to. That was until seven years ago – when the Pinkertons had first found Johnny, but by then the boy was already going by the name Madrid. For seven years he had known where Johnny was and yet he had chosen to do nothing. Instead of reaching out to his son, he had turned his back, leaving Johnny to become further entrenched in a way of life that would lead exactly to where they were today. Bitterly he acknowledged that when he sent for Johnny to battle Pardee - he hadn’t ‘saved’ Johnny from anything. He had used the boy for his own needs – and when the deed was done – he wanted to wash his hands of him and drive him from his home. He knew now that he should have sent for the young man seven years earlier - when Johnny needed him. The old Scotsman was a failure as a father and a man. He had no right to make any decisions where Johnny was concerned – he had forfeited that right the day he gave up on finding his lost child.
Closing his eyes, he thought of the two
year old son he had loved with all his heart.
Only now did he know that the child had grown up to be exactly the man
that Murdoch would have raised – a man he would have been proud to call
‘son’. Dry eyes
moistened as his heart broke. He
still loved that little boy – his son – the man lying on the bed.
Freezing ice crystals continued to obscure Johnny’s vision and sting his exposed skin. Over and over again he fell - sharp rocks tore at his clothing and flesh, leaving his arms and legs abraded and bleeding. By his best reckoning he was very close to the bottom of the mountain. Once again, he tripped over an exposed root, his hip falling hard against a nearby boulder. Momentarily stunned, Johnny lay gasping for breath, trying to work through the pain. “Stop!” Johnny shouted in anger at the stormy sky – he had had enough. “Can’t you give me a break?”
As if by magic, the wind ceased, leaving Johnny panting in exhaustion. For a few moments he rested, enjoying the silence. It was then his ears detected the crunch of leather boots on the barren graveled ground; he wasn’t alone. Suddenly, a voice cut through the darkness, a voice from his not so distant past. “A break, Johnny Boy?” the words were followed by a deep, unmistakable laughter that seemed to surround the downed man. “Where do you think you’re going – home?” The laughter intensified and was joined by two other voices.
Johnny hauled himself to his feet,
peering through the deep shadows, searching for the source of the voice and the
laughter. “What do you want from
me?” he shouted.
“Why, that should be easy to figure
out, Johnny Boy.” the voice taunted. “I want revenge for what you took from
me; I want your life!”
Johnny’s eyes widened as the forms of three men appeared before him: Sexton Joe Hughes, Day Pardee and Floyd Brasure. They formed a ghostly wall, blocking Johnny’s path.
“Long time, Johnny Madrid,” Pardee drawled, his hand laying on the grip of his gun. “Going somewhere, Madrid?”
“Day,” Johnny acknowledged, his own
hand moving toward his right thigh, forgetting he had no gun.
The dawning of that awareness made his mouth go very dry.
He was defenseless against three men who had every right to want to see
him fail. Calmly, he glanced
around, searching the darkness for other surprises from his past – equally
anxious specters - eager to prevent him from achieving his goal.
Pardee grinned at his former compadre. “You all alone, Madrid? No one to watch your back? Where’s that brother of yours when you need him?”
Johnny’s thoughts flashed to Scott, thankful that his brother wasn’t with him. Scott didn’t belong in this hell. He hadn’t done the things Johnny had done during his lifetime. This was payback time.
Floyd Brasure laughed, reading Johnny’s thoughts. “You ain’t in hell, yet - Johnny! There ain’t no cold in hell!” The spirit laughed harder, taking a step away from Pardee to further block Johnny’s path.
Involuntarily, Johnny shivered at the thought of the heat that would be welcoming him to his final resting place – a place he wasn’t ready for - yet. Looking past his antagonists, Johnny gazed up at the summit. The rainbow colors were intensifying, beckoning him to hurry on his way. “Much as I’m enjoying this little get together, I’ve got to be movin’ on….” Calmly, Johnny moved straight toward his enemies, as if to simply walk on by.
“I don’t think so, Johnny boy,” Sexton drew his gun and fired, striking Johnny’s left side
in the exact same spot the shooter from the saloon roof had hit him.
Johnny stumbled back, feeling immediate pain as the ice cold bullet penetrated his flesh. With both hands, he pressed his fingers against the hole in his flesh before falling to his knees. To his surprise, there was no blood, only the agonizing pain of the wound. Pain he could handle - it meant he was alive. With a smile he looked up at the tall black attired ‘would be’ preacher. “I guess that you’re gonna have to do better than that…” Johnny chided, biting back the throbbing hurt.
“Well, I got somethin’ for ya
too!” Brasure drew his gun and
fired, the bullet lancing across the left side of Johnny’s chest – the same
as it had back in Stockton.
Johnny fell to the cold ground, his right hand clutching his new injury.
“I got something for ya myself,”
Pardee stepped forward and gave a kick to Johnny’s stomach that caused the
injured man’s insides to lurch and his head to spin.
Vaguely, Johnny came to know that he was experiencing the physical hurts
that he had left behind – before he came to the Bardo.
time in the village had lulled him into a false sense of strength.
It had all been a trick. He
was dying. There would be no
rejoining the living; no time for his family.
Before losing consciousness, he cursed the fates for tricking him into
this fool’s endeavor.
Teresa arrived a little after one o’clock with Cipriano and Father Santos. Victoria met them at the door and briefly prepared the newcomers for what they would be seeing. Teresa stood silently, her brown eyes ever widening as Victoria recounted what had happened - giving the girl an idea of what she should expect. Finally, Victoria guided them into the library where the Lancers were waiting.
The drapes were open, allowing a beam of sunlight to stream in - illuminating the dark haired man lying on the sick bed. “Johnny…?” Teresa whispered at the sight of her ‘brother’. There was no time to digest the changes the Barkleys had made to the room to accommodate the injured man; she immediately went to his side. Scott and Murdoch stood aside, not sure what to say. Teresa quickly assessed Johnny’s pallor and injuries before tears welled and began to fall. Moving closer, she reached out a trembling hand to stroke the smooth surface of his right cheek. His flesh was already cooling, as if all life were gone. Only the rasps that rattled from his chest provided testimony that he was still alive. “Johnny…” she called again, trying to awaken him. When there was no response, she completely broke down, throwing herself on his chest, crying the shattered tears that had been freely flowing from her heart since the day she received the first telegram. Her fingers roamed over the still figure, trying to find some way to let him know she was there. The tears intensified when she realized there would never be any response.
“Teresa…” Murdoch went to soothe the crying girl only to be rebuffed by the blind fury in her eyes.
“Stay away from me! You did this! You killed him!” With tears streaming down her cheeks she pointed a shaky finger at her guardian. “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. You and that damned pride of yours killed him!”
“Teresa,” Victoria gently pulled the
grieving girl into her arms, allowing the young woman to breakdown.
Gently, Victoria stroked the girl’s shiny brown hair for a few moments
before taking her from the room.
Scott glanced at his father, noting that the man was almost as pale as Johnny. Teresa had spoken the truth - Murdoch had all but killed Johnny. The eldest son admired the girl for having the guts to call Murdoch on what he had done. Scott knew he would have his turn, but now was not the time.
Padre Santos stood by quietly, watching the entire episode; he was deeply moved by what he had witnessed. He recognized the dying man as the gunfighter who had come to his mission just five days earlier – a man in search of peace. Remembering the young man’s words, he knew that Johnny had never achieved his goal. Instead, death had found him, putting to an end any hope the troubled soul had of finding his place in the here and now. Bernardo had assured him that Johnny’s soul was worth fighting for – that the young man had actually done much good during his brief life. The priest knew that it was God who would be passing judgment on the injured man. The time had come to help send the troubled soul of Johnny Madrid on his way.
It was time for last rites – a ceremony the priest could only pray would help secure the dying man’s place in heaven. Moving forward he withdrew a vile of holy oil from a leather bag that hung from his belt. He anointed Johnny’s hands, feet and eyes, praying in Latin that God would forgive the many sins he supposed that the gunfighter had committed in his short life. From the corner of his eye, he watched as the tall gray haired father closed his eyes, praying in a language that was unfamiliar to the priest’s ears. The younger, blond haired man, was also praying, but in English. It was good that the two men, Madrid’s father and brother, understood the need for prayer. Before he finished, he used the oil once again to make the mark of the cross on Johnny’s forehead before leaving the room.
Scott stood silently, listening to his father speak in a language he had never heard before. He could only assume that it was his father’s native tongue – the language of Scotland. The words were musical in nature and the man seemed to be putting a lot of emotion into them. Once again, Scott reflected that it was only when Johnny couldn’t hear that their father would let the barrier down that surrounded his heart and let his love for his child shine through.
The sunlight played on Johnny’s still
features, like a beam from heaven coming to take him home – when the young
man’s breaths became short pants.
“No!” Murdoch shouted.
Johnny lay panting in the dirt. His chest and lungs felt like they were on fire – making it
impossible to breathe. Slowly, his
tormentors surrounded him – preparing to finish him off.
Closing his eyes, accepting his defeat, he heard a voice that sounded
vaguely like his father’s – shouting at him as usual.
“Get up,” it commanded. Johnny
continued to lay still, unsure of what he thought he heard.
“Get up, now!”
Slowly, Johnny struggled to his knees and then came to a stand. “Run!” the voice sounded again.
“Wake up Johnny!” Murdoch pleaded. “You can fight this!”
Scott watched as his father held fast to Johnny’s left hand, shouting at the unconscious man. As much as Scott felt this was the desperate act of a grieving man, he felt in his heart that somehow Johnny could hear the cries. Moving to Johnny’s right side, Scott picked up the limp cold hand and began shouting his own words of encouragement.
“What…?” Johnny looked around for the source of the voice. Instead he only saw his adversaries as they moved ever closer. A stream of light beamed down from the summit, engulfing Johnny in a pure white light. The three dark men stumbled back, as if blinded, allowing Johnny the room he needed to move by them and start his climb to the summit.
To his amazement, the first part was easy going, hidden in the rocks was a smooth path. Halfway up, the path all but disappeared. Johnny found himself clawing his way onward; his hands slipping on the rough surfaces, causing his fingers to bleed. The blood made the rocks that much more slippery – and the going tough.
Howard, Victoria and Teresa rushed back into the room to see what was happening. Scott and Murdoch were yelling at the unconscious Johnny as if they were trying to keep him from dying.
Howard moved forward and placed his
stethoscope against Johnny’s chest – listening to the shallow breaths. Pneumonia was robbing the boy of oxygen and his heart was now
beating erratically. The doctor
shook his head signally that Johnny’s time was getting closer.
Grimly, Murdoch looked at his son. He could feel Johnny’s presence, somehow knowing his son’s spirit was nearby. “Son, you’ve got to fight this and come back to us. You hear me – fight!”
It was a long climb from the darkness into the light. Johnny’s limbs felt weak and he was consumed by cold. At one point, Johnny slipped back, his strength failing him, but he continued to press on. The closer he got to the summit, the more his fatigued muscles refused to respond. His legs were growing numb from exertion and his arms felt like rubber. A mere five feet from the top, all of his energy waned; he stopped moving. He was done – so close and yet so far.
Teresa stood nearby, gently stroking Johnny’s temples, her silent tears dropping on his still features. “Please, Johnny. You can’t leave me now,” she whispered. “I know you want to come back. We love you and aren’t ready to let you go. Please hurry back…”
Johnny opened his eyes when droplets of
water fell on his face. An
overcame him. On top of
all of his troubles - it was raining? A
thin smile crossed his features and he opened his mouth to let the soothing rain
quench his thrust.
With his thrust slaked, he started to
Scott was overjoyed to feel some movement in the hand that he held. “He moved!” Immediately Jelly and Victoria came to his side. Scott looked to Murdoch and smiled. His father had felt the same movement from Johnny’s other hand. Encouraged, he excitedly clasped the hand tighter. “That’s it Johnny! Come back to us! You can do it!”
From his exhausted state, Johnny was unsure if he was actually hearing a voice or if he was dreaming. Somewhere above him he could now hear Scott calling to him. His brother was upset – pleading with him to keep moving. In his heart, Johnny knew that if he stopped now he would never get back into the light and could look forward to an eternity suffering tortures from the likes of Pardee, Sexton Joe and Bartch. Groaning, Johnny made a last, determined attempt to reach the summit. Concentrating, he made his weakened legs move until he was standing. Reaching up, he grasped the edge of the summit with one hand and then the other. He attempted to pull himself up to the top, but felt his bleeding fingers begin to slip. Just as he began to fall backward, two strong hands grasped his own and pulled him out of the darkness and into the light!
To everyone’s amazement, Johnny Lancer’s eye lids began to flutter.
“Johnny, can you hear me, boy?” Murdoch asked gently, bending close to his son. “You can do it – come back to us…” To the worried father’s relief, his son’s eyes flickered open - blinking against the sunlight and then wincing in agony.
“Welcome back, Brother,” Scott
beamed, trying to get Johnny’s attention.
Johnny opened his eyes and tried to focus on his brother and smile. A sharp pain cut through his head almost taking his breath away. “Hurts…” he barely whispered, closing his pain filled eyes – pressing his head back against the pillows in agony.
The doctor went to his bag and removed a syringe and a bottle of a clear fluid. “Try to keep him awake for a few minutes. I want to give him something for the pain so we can get him to cough.”
Scott immediately responded, sensing
that his brother was trying to return to the safe world of unconsciousness.
“No, Johnny – you can’t go to sleep…” he voiced sternly, trying
to figure a way to keep his brother awake.
Johnny responded by reopening his eyes,
struggling to focus on his brother. “S…scott?”
he whispered weakly.
“I’m here,” Scott smiled, giving Johnny’s right hand a strong squeeze while tears of joy streamed down his exhausted face. “I thought we lost you.”
“Me….too…” Johnny rasped, wondering at the wetness on his brother’s cheeks.
Teresa pushed past Murdoch to enter his field of vision. “I was so worried…” gently she kissed his forehead, her tears falling on his cheeks.
Johnny opened his mouth to speak to the girl, but words failed him; he was too tired. From the corner of his eye, Johnny watched a stranger come close, taking note of the object in his hand. The pain in his chest was like a tree had fallen on him – making it difficult to breathe while the pain in his head made it hard to think. Without a word of objection, he accepted the sharp prick in his arm and the warmth of medicine as it spread through his body, quenching the fire of agony that was consuming him.
“Johnny,” the stranger was bending close, trying to catch his waning attention. “You’ve got pneumonia. We need you to cough to clear your lungs. Do you think you can do that for us?”
Johnny studied the man for a few moments. The pain was lessening, but the ability to breathe hadn’t gotten any easier. He felt like a drowning man and understood what the doctor was asking. “Yeah….”
“I’m going to roll you to your side,
and I want you to cough as hard as you can…”
With Murdoch’s and Scott’s help, he carefully rolled Johnny to his
right side mindful of the tube that was sticking out of the left side of his
chest. He then placed a pillow against Johnny’s stomach, cradling
the injured ribs. Murdoch and Scott supported Johnny, while the doctor cupped
his hands and began to independently gently pat Johnny’s back – attempting
to loosen the phlegm clogging Johnny’s breathing passages.
At first, Johnny could only make small coughs, but as more of the thick
secretions came loose, the easier it became. Johnny nearly gagged as his spat
out a green nasty mess. When he was
done, he was left panting and exhausted; his throat burning and sore.
The three men gently maneuvered Johnny back onto the pillows that were keeping him upright. Howard checked the chest tube and was pleased to see that more of the mucus was in the vacuum jar. His patient had turned the corner and the possibility of a recovery loomed closer than before.
came forward and dabbed Johnny’s sweaty forehead.
She smiled when his eyes met hers giving the ailing man encouragement.
“Thirsty…” Johnny whispered, aware of a lump in the back his throat that had made coughing and swallowing difficult.
Victoria looked to the doctor before
placing a small cup of tepid water at Johnny’s lips.
“Only a small sip, Johnny,” she instructed as she tipped the cup.
The injured man took a small sip and nearly retched – swallowing was next to impossible due to the tube in his throat.
“There, there…” Victoria soothed. “You have a tube going down your throat…”
Johnny mouthed, trying to make his desire known.
“Not yet, Johnny, maybe in a few days
when you’re stronger.” Howard said firmly.
The doctor once again used his stethoscope and listened to his
patient’s lungs. They were still
congested, but much clearer than before. “I gave you a shot of morphine.
It will ease your pain and make it easier for you to rest – and
that’s exactly what I expect you to do.”
Johnny’s eyelids were getting heavy and he could only give a slight nod in response.
Murdoch said, trying to get his son’s attention.
Johnny had acknowledged everyone present – except for him.
Slowly, Johnny turned to study the pale features of his father. One look at Murdoch’s concerned face and Johnny’s eyes dimmed. He would deal with his father later. He was too tired to fight now.
The room that had once been filled with morose people was now filled with the chatty excitement of hope. Johnny had awakened! He had returned to them. Padre Santos had witnessed the miracle and crossed himself – recognizing God’s hand.
Carefully he studied the celebrants. The
brother and sister were smiling and lovingly tending to the injured man. Victoria Barkley and another older, bewhiskered man were each
smiling, understanding the depth of the miracle. Only
the doctor and the father had faces that were not looks of celebration.
The priest could understand the look of concern on the doctor’s face -
afraid that this was but a momentary reprieve from death.
However, it was the face of the father that concerned him most.
To the practiced eye of the clergyman, Murdoch Lancer was a man of
conflicted emotions, but the joy he felt at the sight of the awakening of his
son was clearly evident. Amidst the
joy, he also sensed anger and shame, two very conflicting emotions given the
happiness of the occasion.
Deciding that he needed to know more, he went to Murdoch and pulled him aside. “God has done a great thing here – bringing your son back from the brink…”
“Yes, this is the answer to my
prayers…” Murdoch murmured, keeping a watchful eye on his family.
“Then why is it that you are not
rejoicing at your son’s awakening?”
Murdoch turned to look at the priest – as if seeing him for the first time. “I am very happy that my son is alive. It’s just that Johnny and I had words before this all happened. I’m afraid…” the older man paused, not really wanting to discuss his feelings.
The priest held up his hand in understanding. “I spoke with your son several days ago.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow at this comment. “I heard that he had gone to church…”
“He had come for confession. I think that he knew that something like this was going to happen.”
“If it wouldn’t be breaking any sort of rule, can you tell me what he had to say?”
The priest considered the question, remembering his conversation with Johnny – and how sad the young man was. This was one time when he felt that the sanctity of the confessional could be bent – perhaps to ease the journey of both the father and son. He led Murdoch from the room and out onto the front portico. “Mr. Lancer, your son was very sad when he came to my church. He spoke of the fact that he had wanted to change his life, but found that option was no longer open to him. He voiced his regret at having to return to a way of life he despised – and yet, he was determined to find a way to set himself free and find peace.”
Murdoch considered the priest’s words
and Johnny’s own actions. His son
had foolishly placed himself at risk to save a man he had every right to despise
– his father. What Johnny had done could have been an attempt to set himself
free – permanently. “So
he tried to get himself killed?”
Padre Santos frowned at the comment. “You son came to church for guidance. That makes him a believer – very rare considering his profession. Suicide is a mortal sin and your son knows that he has enough sins on his soul to make his assent into heaven difficult. No,” the priest shook his head. “Whatever caused his injuries was not suicide. You tell me – how did this happen to your son?”
Murdoch turned away and swallowed hard - finding it difficult to say the truth aloud. “He was trying to save me…”
The priest knitted his eyebrows, trying to make sense of what the big man was telling him. “If he was saving you – then why would you think he was trying to kill himself?”
“I thought….” Murdoch started and paused. He knew that once again he was trying to lay blame for Johnny’s injuries on his son rather than on his own shoulders. Had lying become a way of thinking for him? If so, it had to end now. If Johnny had even thought to kill himself, it was because his father had taken away any mantle of pride that was left in the young man. “Padre, this is all my fault. The only reason Johnny is here is because I’m a stupid fool. I drove him from his home; from the safety of his family. I pushed him back into a life that he tried to put behind him – and for that I hope he can forgive me.”
Santos looked at the humbled father knowing that if his son died he would have to look to a greater power for forgiveness. “For what it is worth, Mr. Lancer, I told your son that he is a pilgrim – on his journey to discover who he is. I sense that in many ways you are on the same journey – tying to figure out who he is and who you are as well. I believe that Machiavelli said: “Everyone sees what you seem, but few know what you are”. Perhaps that is how you have been judging your son – by what he seems to be. You must take the time to find out what he really is. I will pray, Mr. Lancer, that your path and your son’s path will cross and that together you both find the peace you both seek.”
Unbeknownst to Murdoch, his conversation
with the priest had been overheard by Scott.
The young man was incredulous with anger that his father would try to
insinuate that Johnny had attempted suicide by saving Murdoch and Victoria. Scott could understand his father seeking absolution from the
priest for what he had done – but until the man had made the same confession
to his family – then nothing had changed.
Scott waited until the priest was well out of hearing range before he
went to confront his father. “Feel
better?” he acidly asked.
“What?” Murdoch whirled to face his elder son. “Scott, how long have you been there?”
“Long enough, Sir.” Scott responded curtly. “Tell me, when are you going to tell Johnny this was his fault?”
“It’s not like that Scott – not anymore…”
Scott would hear none of it. “I’ve been listening to you for the past eight weeks and
nothing has changed. None of this
would have happened if you had simply opened your eyes and tried to see your son
rather than the name he used to go by!”
“That’s where you’re wrong,
Scott!” Murdoch snapped. “My son is Johnny Madrid…”
Before Murdoch could complete his sentence, he felt the hard impact of
Scott’s fist to the right side of his face – toppling him to the ground.
“Don’t you ever call him that
again!” Scott glared, both hands
clenched into fists. “He is
Johnny Lancer! There is no Johnny
Madrid – that was only a name – not the man!”
Murdoch stared up at his son, knowing Scott was right. The older man rubbed his jaw trying to think of the right words to diffuse his son’s anger. Until now, he had never cared about the words he used, but that had all changed. Now, every word that came out of his mouth would count. The wrong words had nearly cost him Johnny’s life. He needed to think and use the correct words if he was ever going to reunite his fractured family. “You’re right,” Murdoch acknowledged, awkwardly getting to his feet. “And you’re wrong.” He raised his hands in response to the offensive posture Scott was taking – afraid that his son would strike him again. “I’ve learned more in the last few days than I learned in the past eight months. Your brother is Johnny Lancer - and he’s Johnny Madrid. What I was going to say, before you hit me, was that I’ve learned Johnny is not who I thought he was; that Johnny Madrid wasn’t the killer that I believed him to be.”
Scott backed off, giving his father some room to move. “Tell me, Sir, what has changed?”
“I was basing all of my thinking about your brother on the Pinkerton report…”
“The one you keep locked in your desk?”
“That one,” Murdoch admitted, trying
not to show his surprise that Scott knew about the report.
“I took each word as gospel, not taking the time to wonder about what
Johnny’s life had really been like – the struggles, the heartaches – the
pain. It didn’t tell me and I
didn’t care to ask. It tells
everything but the truth. There was
no information on the circumstances of how or why your brother took the name
Madrid – no explanation of the killings – just the cold hard facts.
It was easier for me to just believe every word than to think there could
have been some other explanation.”
“So you never asked.”
Scott folded his arms across his chest signaling he wasn’t ready to
give up on this conversation yet. “He
always wondered why you never asked about his past. I guess you felt you already knew everything you needed to
Murdoch nodded and sank into a wicker chair. “I never asked because I didn’t want to know. I knew that I had sent for a killer, who happened to be my son. I needed a man good with a gun to rid my ranch of the land pirates. When the job was done, I had every expectation that Johnny would just leave. Everything I knew about gunhawks told me that he wouldn’t stay, that the bloodlust would call him to move on…”
“But it didn’t.
You didn’t think that Johnny would want to change – to become more
than just Madrid.” Scott shook
his head. He too initially thought
that Johnny would leave, but he took the time to open his heart and befriend his
brother. What he learned had
startled him – changed his way of thinking.
Johnny was not a cold hearted killer and apparently never had been one.
Bit by bit he had pried information from the stranger who shared his
father’s blood. Johnny told him a
little about his past – information that helped Scott to change his mind and
to make the former gunfighter his best friend and brother.
“That’s why you never paid any attention to what he did – you were
afraid to make an emotional commitment to him – like you did with me.
You were afraid to accept him as your son.
That’s why it was easy to make him a business partner because you
didn’t expect him to stay. It
must have killed you that he stuck around for so long.”
Murdoch looked stricken as he considered
Scott’s words and the truth they represented.
He had been afraid to love Johnny, afraid of being hurt.
Shaking his head, he reflected on the depth of the pain he had been
feeling for the past few days. Despite
his best efforts, he had let Johnny get to him and he did care.
“I didn’t realize how attached you and Teresa had become to him; how
attached I was becoming despite my resolve not to.
You were seeing him with different eyes.
I had tried to close my eyes and my heart, but I couldn’t
completely....” Murdoch paused as
Scott indicated he understood. “Son,
I know it might be hard to believe, but part of me always knew that Johnny
belonged; it was easier to want him gone than to discover who he really was.
I can never explain my weakness for letting ‘friends’ like Ben
Anderson and the Cattlemen’s Association encourage me to get rid of Johnny.”
“Having a hired gun around the house wasn’t good for business…” Scott interjected.
Murdoch sadly shook his head. “I was wrong. Having Johnny Lancer around was good for business, for you, Teresa and for Lancer. I simply refused to see it.” The two men remained silent for several moments, reflecting on what had been said.
“Are you glad that Johnny is alive?” Scott asked quietly.
Murdoch looked out at the setting sun, knowing that it could have signified the death of his youngest. Instead, he now thought of it as the harkening of a new day to come. “I’ve been given another opportunity to make things right with your brother – if he’ll let me.”
“And if he can’t walk?”
Murdoch looked startled. “I thought that Johnny moved his hands…”
“He did. The doctor examined him again. He responds to stimulation in his arms, but his legs…” Scott shook his head. “That’s why I was coming to get you. I hadn’t meant to listen in on your conversation with the priest.”
“I’m glad you did,” Murdoch rubbed
his jaw, wincing. “That’s twice
in the same week that I’ve been punched by a young man who tried to tell me
what an old fool I’ve been. Don’t
do it again.” Murdoch
stood and headed into the house. “We’re
going to have a difficult job ahead of us.
If Johnny can’t walk again…”
“He will, Sir.
He will.” Scott said with
Johnny could beat death, then he would walk again.
About a fifty miles south of Stockton, two unshaven men made a cold camp in an isolated wilderness. Both men watched as the sun slowly set in the west, each wondering if their friend had finally passed. For two days they had been on the trail of the three men who had tied Johnny behind horse and set it off into the dark. It was grueling work – tracking the trio across a varied terrain. They were making progress, gaining on their prey.
“I think that we should be seeing them sometime tomorrow,” Val spoke breaking the silence.
Heath, who had just finished a cold can
of beans, was lying back against his saddle, folding his arms against his chest
to ward away the coming cold night air. “Yep,
should be tomorrow.”
There was another awkward silence, once again broken by Val. “Ya think he’s…dead?”
Heath shook his head, not wanting to think of his vibrant friend as dead. Instead he changed the subject. “Ya remember the time down in Mexico when we were with Manolito Montoya?”
A large grin formed on Val’s bearded face. “When ‘ol Mano had Johnny locked up in that whore house down in Sonora?”
“I think it was for twenty four hours!” Heath laughed. “He made a bet that Johnny couldn’t satisfy all the girls….”
“…And Johnny proved him wrong! I think I won some money on that one!” Val was now laughing until tears were streaming down his cheeks
“I know I won ten dollars!”
Heath was also caught up in the memory.
“I remember all the girls were crying when he left!
When Mano asked them what happened, they cried harder – asking why he
had to leave!”
“Heck, I heard that some of the girls
quit to become nuns!” The two men
burst out laughing all over again.
After a few moments they sobered up,
thinking of the man they believed they lost.
“Tell me – why did Johnny leave Lancer?”
Heath asked glad that Val couldn’t see his face in the dark.
Val exhaled, whistling. “From what I’m told – Murdoch said something that Johnny weren’t ‘supposed to hear. Johnny just up and left.”
Heath considered the explanation. “His old man is lucky to be alive.”
“Don’t I know it,” Val responded, snuggling under his blanket. “All that tough talk Johnny made when he was still a kid. Tellin’ everyone he was going to kill the father who had kicked him and his Ma off his ranch. Surprised the hell outta me when I learnt he was at Lancer and that Murdoch was still alive.”
“So, you were seeing him on a regular basis?”
Val shook his head in the dark before he realized that Heath couldn’t see him. “Yep – at least once a week.”
“Was he happy?”
There was a long silence in the dark before Val answered. “I thought he was. He thinks the world of Scott and Teresa – I even thought he liked Murdoch…”
“That old man must have said something terrible,” Heath whispered.
“He’s payin’ for it now. If Johnny dies – he’s going to lose it all – Scott and Teresa, the hands…”
“Are we cowards for not staying?” Heath wondered.
“Yep,” Val answered without hesitation. “I couldn’t stay and watch him die…”
“And if he doesn’t? What if he can’t never walk again?”
“Then he’ll never forgive us for not
doing what was right,” the words were mumbled as Val rolled to his side,
huddling under his blanket against the cold.
Heath considered Val’s words. They had been cowards – leaving when Johnny possibly needed
them the most. They
were too far committed to finding Bushrod and the others to turn back now. In a few days they’d return.
Lord help them if Johnny was alive and not able to walk.
For the next four days, Johnny did little more than sleep, courtesy of the morphine injections the doctor taught Teresa and Victoria to administer every twelve hours. They set a schedule that awakened him every two hours to cough, while medicine and nourishment was administered via the nasal tube. Bernardo had found an old Mexican remedy for pneumonia that called for the ingestion of hot peppers – to increase secretions in the lungs. It worked like a charm. With an increase in fluids and the introduction of peppers, the mucus that was clogging the injured man’s airways was finally beginning to break up. The treatments, however, were hard on Johnny who was still fighting a low grade fever from the infection and the intense pain from his wounds. He was exhausted and needed rest, but it was difficult to get proper rest when he had to be awakened on schedule.
On the times he was awake, he asked what
his injuries were. He could see the
fear in the eyes of his family and yet they told him he was doing fine.
They went about their business tending to him – not allowing him to do
anything for himself. He was tired of endless chatter about everything but what he
really wanted to know. As a result,
he stopped asking – becoming complacent in his treatment.
He did as he was told when he was awake and quickly fell back asleep.
Scott and Teresa discussed this and were concerned.
It was like Johnny merely existed. The
spirited man they had considered friend and brother was not to be found. Scott tried to engage Johnny in conversation, but when
he wouldn’t answer Johnny’s questions about his injuries; his brother would
close his eyes and turn away. Scott wished that he could tell Johnny the truth,
but the doctor had advised against it – preferring that they wait until Johnny
was stronger. The Lancers had
discussed this and agreed, afraid that Johnny would not take the news of his
paralysis well. Gazing
at his brother, Scott knew that not telling Johnny was like sitting on a powder
keg – the truth was the fuse.
Twenty-four hours a day Johnny was
tended to by either a member of his family, Jelly, Bernardo or Victoria.
Cipriano spent time with Nick, helping with the operations of the Barkley ranch
while Heath was away hunting for Smith.
Murdoch spent the most time with his ailing son – desperately trying to
catch the boy’s attention on the times that he was awake, but Johnny only
On the morning of the fifth day, the
doctor came for his daily visit to examine his patient.
Once again it appeared Johnny was asleep. Howard had just started his examination when a weak hand
snaked out to touch his, startling the living daylights out of him.
“Mr. Lancer?” the doctor asked; surprised to see Johnny’s vivid
blue eyes open and alert.
“J..johnny,” a soft voice corrected. Mr. Lancer was someone else.
“You must have been playing possum. I thought you were asleep. How do you feel?”
“Head…hurts.” Johnny whispered wincing as a sharp pain lanced through his head.
The doctor leaned forward, examining
Johnny’s eyes. The pupils were
symmetrical, but still not quite right. “I
can give you something…” Howard
turned to retrieve his bag, but was stopped when Johnny reached out and caught
“You… tell… me….”
The doctor knew that this was coming and sat down next to his patient. “What do you need to know?”
Johnny swallowed and winced again. The tube made his throat sore – making it hard to talk. “They don’t tell me nothin’. How bad?”
Howard Merar had never been one to mince words and wasn’t about to start now. “It’s pretty bad. You’ve got a bad concussion from hitting your head when you were dragged. A couple of your ribs are badly bruised or broken, both shoulders were dislocated and your left knee is pretty banged up too. Then there’s the two gunshot wounds that you had my niece sew up…” The doctor paused when he saw Johnny had the decency to blush.
“She’ll make a good doctor some day…” Johnny rasped out slowly.
Howard smiled. “She wrote to me and told me what she had done for you. Besides the injuries, you got pneumonia from a midnight ride you took in the rain…”
Johnny smiled sheepishly. “Couldn’t be helped…had to scare off the hands…”
“I know, I heard all about the ghost
of Johnny Madrid.” Howard laughed
and put his stethoscope in his ears. “I
need to listen to your chest.” Johnny
lay quietly while the doctor listened to his heart and lungs.
He was pleased to note that Johnny’s heart was beating at a slower and
steadier pace. The lungs still were
congested, but the wheezing that had been present a few days ago had greatly
diminished. “You’re doing much
Johnny smiled and tiredly closed his eyes. Howard thought the young man had fallen asleep and moved to get the morphine – it was time for another injection. “No,” Johnny said, once again placing a hand on Howard’s arm. It hurt to move his arm, but it was worth it to stop the doctor from giving him medicine he didn’t want.
“Johnny, I don’t want to argue with you about this. The only way you can make a productive cough is if your ribs don’t bother you.”
“I can handle pain,” Johnny spoke breathlessly. “That stuff has got me so messed up I can’t feel my legs.”
Howard paused, not sure how to respond to that remark. Johnny needed to be told the truth, but the doctor was afraid that if Johnny was told he might take a turn for the worse. It was never an easy thing to tell a patient he could be paralyzed for life.
Johnny studied the doctor and
immediately knew something was wrong. Grinding
his teeth against the shooting pains in his shoulders, Johnny slowly reached
down, pulling the blanket off his right leg and placing his hand on his thigh.
He didn’t feel anything. Immediately Johnny’s eyes opened wide as he
fought the panic rising in his chest. Running his thumb up his side, the panic
increased as he realized what this meant.
wasn’t until his hand was to his waist that he could feel his own touch.
Anger filled Johnny’s blue eyes and he threw off the covers to look at
his dead legs.
“Johnny!” Howard called out, hoping that someone would hear him.
Johnny shouted, his anger consuming him.
He began to thrash about, his left hand striking the chest tube, causing
the glass jar to fall off the bed, breaking on the hard floor. As he was just about to pull on the tube, two pairs of sturdy
hands held him down while Howard poured laudanum down the nasal tube.
Johnny glared at his captors – Scott
and Nick as they each pressed against his injured shoulders – sending shooting
pains into his chest. “You let
him do this to me!” He accused
Scott was stunned, uncertain of the accusation. He was about to respond when Murdoch entered the room. Johnny switched his anger from his brother to his father. “I guess my not dying was a real disappointment to ya, Old Man. But you didn’t have ta save me for this!” Johnny collapsed back against the pillows, tears of anger, frustration and pain forming in the corners of his eyes. He stared at his father, stricken by the thought that Murdoch’s hatred for him had to be deeper than he ever thought – otherwise why would the man save him to be a cripple?
“Johnny, that’s not how it is…” Murdoch moved closer, trying to speak to his son.
Johnny looked away, closing his eyes.
There was nothing the old man could say that could ever ease the anger.
They had saved him to be a living monument to Murdoch’s guilt. Johnny
preferred death over the thought of living the rest of his days confined to bed.
He was no longer a man – he was nothing.
“Get out,” he whispered, refusing to listen to the swirl of voices
pleading with him to understand. He
felt like an animal caught in a trap – one that he would never get out of.
“Let me be.”
Howard nodded to the men that it was OK to loosen their grip on Johnny. The young man wasn’t going anywhere. The effects of the laudanum were finally taking effect and despite his anger, Johnny found himself falling back into a troubled sleep.
Scott and Nick looked at each other as they felt Johnny’s resistance fade against their restraining hands. Johnny’s movements had accelerated the effect the laudanum had on his weakened body. The young man was sound asleep within a few minutes. Only when they were sure he was unconscious did Nick and Scott let go. “What happened?” Nick asked, wondering what could have caused Johnny to react the way he had.
“He figured out why he couldn’t feel his legs,” Howard responded. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer. There was no stopping him.”
“It’s alright,” Murdoch said going to his son, his ears still ringing from Johnny’s accusatory litany - the words had cut him like a knife. In many ways he deserved them. Had he saved Johnny in his own selfish desire to make things right? Placing a large hand on Johnny’s forehead, he could feel the heat rising off the ailing man. “It was bound to happen. We were fools to keep the truth from him. Did he hurt himself any further?”
Howard did thorough exam, attaching
another vacuum jar to the end of the chest tube before Johnny’s lung
collapsed. Using his stethoscope he
listened closely to Johnny’s heart; it was once again beating erratically.
“We need to keep him calm…”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question now, Sir,” Scott observed, still stunned by the anger of his brother’s words. As shocked as he had been to be the target of his brother’s ire, he knew that Murdoch was even more stunned. Clearly Johnny was very angry at his situation – a situation that Scott and Murdoch had decided for him. A few days ago, there was no question they had made the correct choice. Now that Johnny knew his condition Scott had to wonder. Had they made the right decision?
“Then you might want to consider restraints. I don’t want him moving around like he did. Any movement can only further aggravate the injury to his spine and hamper the healing to his shoulders and ribs.
“Doc, we still have that contraption
you had me in last year when I hurt my back falling down that embankment.” Nick volunteered. There
was a traction bed in the attic – a reminder of a fall Nick had taken the year
before. As much as Nick hated the
device, it had saved him from a lifetime confined to a wheelchair.
Howard frowned. Nick had been a virtual prisoner in the bed for almost two weeks. It had been the longest two weeks in the Barkley household. Howard just wasn’t sure if the device was the best way to treat Johnny. The boy’s arms and hands were now responding to stimulation. This corresponded with the diminished swelling to the young man’s upper spine. The doctor was hopeful that in time the swelling in Johnny’s lower back would also subside and stop the impingement of the nerves that went to his legs.
Scott didn’t like the idea of restraints and he knew that his brother wouldn’t either. He had seen men in restraints during the war - it wasn’t pretty. Men whose limbs had been amputated were strapped to bloody beds while they screamed out the pain of their wounds. The memory tore deeply at Scott’s core and he shook himself from the maudlin reverie. He needed to be focused on his brother. Looking at Johnny, he could tell that the younger man had fallen once again into a tormented, drug induced sleep. They couldn’t keep Johnny medicated forever. Now was the time to try to do something to stabilize his physical condition. “What is Nick talking about?”
“I had an accident ‘bout a year ago. The doc had me tied into a what-ya-ma-call-it…” Nick sputtered trying to remember the name of the device.
“It was called a traction bed, Nick,
but I’m not sure that’s the proper treatment for Johnny.
He can’t lay completely flat until he can breathe easier. This is the
dilemma I cautioned you all about when I first started to treat Johnny.”
“What is the traction bed like?” Scott asked.
“It’s like using restraints…” Scott opened his mouth to protest, but the doctor continued his explanation. “We’ll strap Johnny to the frame and use weights to stretch his spine – relieving the pressure.”
“He won’t be able to move?” Visions of a medieval torture device swam through Scott’s brain.
“Not a muscle.
We’ll start him out on a slight incline, changing the angle every day
until we reach the maximum angle. The
straps will hold him to the top of the bed, while weights will be attached to
his ankles to help stretch the spine – hopefully reliving the impingement.”
The doctor turned to Murdoch, who had been taking in the discussion. “It’s your call Mr. Lancer. What do you want me to do?”
Murdoch studied his son. Johnny was the embodiment of a free spirit who now found himself trapped in an unresponsive body. “How long would he have to stay in it?”
“I can’t say for certain. It depends upon the nature of the injury. Quite frankly, we’ve been so worried about his breathing that we haven’t been able to focus on the injury to his back. I had hoped that when he regained the use of his arms, that he would regain the use of his legs. The injury to the lower spine must be more severe.”
“Why can he move his arms now?”
Scott asked, wanting to completely understand what was happening to his brother.
The doctor bit his lip, thinking of the easiest way to explain. “The swelling in the upper part of his spine diminished, causing less pressure on the nerves to his arms…”
“And his legs?”
“When Johnny was examining himself, he
seemed to have feeling from the waist up. This indicates that the pressure or
the impingement starts somewhere in his mid back.
The traction device will help to take some of the pressure off his mid
and lower spine. It worked for Nick
last year. It could for Johnny
Murdoch looked to Scott who nodded. “Use the device. I want to give my son the chance to walk again.”
Nick nodded too.
“I’ll have the men get the bed out of the attic.”
The tall man strode from the room, glad to finally be able to do
something to help.
“What about his lungs?” Murdoch asked, gently smoothing Johnny’s unruly hair from his brow.
“That’s going to be the trick. I had been hoping to remove the chest tube soon, but if we
put him in the traction bed, we won’t be able to roll him to his side to make
it easier for him to cough.”
They were still in the same ‘damned if
you do, dead if you don’t’ situation they had been in since the day they
found Johnny crumpled on the ground. It
left Scott wondering where it would ever end.
How much more was Johnny going to have to endure before enough was
enough? How were they ever going to
explain this to Johnny without making the young man feel as though he was being
A troubled Scott turned to leave the
room, only to be delayed by the arrival of Teresa and Victoria – who had
insisted that the girl take a break. The
older woman had to practically pry Teresa way from Johnny to go for a walk in
the garden. The past few days had
been extremely tiring on everyone – and especially to Teresa who was totally
devoted to Johnny.
“Nick said that something happened?”
Teresa asked anxiously going to Johnny’s side.
She knitted her brows when she saw that he had once again been drugged
into unconsciousness. “What
“Johnny discovered he can’t move his legs.” Howard said bluntly.
Teresa gave a quiet moan and clutched
Scott’s hand. They all had been
afraid of Johnny’s reaction when this time came.
“He didn’t take it well, did he?” Victoria sighed. She had been anticipating this moment with dread. It had been that way with Nick. “What are you proposing to do?”
“Nick is getting the traction device from the attic…”
Victoria laid a hand on Johnny’s arm and studied his passive face. “He won’t like it.”
“I know,” Murdoch acknowledged. “I don’t know what more to do for him.”
“Are you prepared for what it’s going to be like? Have you told them?” Victoria asked Howard before looking back at the uneasy faces of the Lancers. “When Nick was in this condition – it nearly destroyed my family. The anger, hurt and frustration; it will all come out and be focused on you. Can you handle this? If you can’t you better leave now and let us take care of him…”
Murdoch interrupted, angry at Victoria’s insinuation that he and his
family weren’t prepared to care for Johnny.
“Murdoch, you need to go into this with your eyes open. He is not going to lie there and thank you for putting him in that thing…”
Murdoch eyes glowered. He
had resolved that he was going to help his son and no one was going to dissuade
him from doing just that.
“Each of you is going to have to provide as much support as you can for him – in spite of what he might say or do. Traction worked for Nick and it might work for Johnny. It won’t be easy, but it could be the best thing for him.” It was then that Nick entered the room carrying a heavy metal rail. He was followed by several men who each carried a varied assortment of metal pieces.
Howard and Nick started sorting the
pieces of the bed like a puzzle that needed to be solved. “If we’re going to
do this – we had better get this assembled before Johnny awakes.”
It took the combined efforts of Howard,
Nick, Murdoch and Scott almost two hours to get the device prepared. It looked like a large four poster bed with a hard wooden
tilt table in the middle instead of a mattress.
The table could be tilted to either increase or decrease the angle that
Johnny would be subjected to. At
the head and foot were restraints attached to weights. On both sides of the tilt table were large wagon wheels that
would be used to adjust the angle the table tilted.
Scott stared at the ominous device; this was his worst nightmare come to reality – and they were going to put his brother in it. “This can’t be medicine!” Scott softly swore as they prepared to move Johnny.
“I know – that’s exactly what I thought,” Nick placed a calming hand on Scott’s shoulder. “All I can say is that I’m living proof that this works.”
Scott studied his new friend and couldn’t dispute the fact that Nick seemed to be living a normal life.
Jelly and Cipriano were called to help
move Johnny from the bed to the traction device.
Once they laid him flat, leather straps were quickly attached to his arms
and legs. Other straps were fitted
under his armpits to secure him firmly to the board.
When they were done, Johnny was completely immobile. He was also, once again, having difficulty breathing as thick
mucus was spreading into his upper respiratory passages.
“We’ve got to tilt this now!” Howard ordered. With Nick’s help, the table was tilted ten
degrees to so that Johnny’s head was now higher than his feet.
It took a few minutes, but eventually Johnny started to breathe easier.
Sheets and blankets were strapped to the
device, providing Johnny with warmth. There
was little doubt that the apparatus looked like a torture rack from the Spanish
Inquisition. Teresa was moved to
tears when the doctor placed a leather strap around Johnny’s forehead,
eliminating the risk that his head would loll to the side and cut off his
breathing. No man deserved to be
treated in this manner, except for maybe one – Murdoch Lancer.
With tear-filled eyes, she glared at Murdoch. “I hope that you’re happy,” she spat angrily at the
older man. “You couldn’t wait
to get rid of Johnny and look what happened?
Now, you want him back – but what if he can’t ever walk again?”
There was no denying the message that
Teresa was sending to the Lancer patriarch. Murdoch squirmed under her gaze and
then sighed. “Teresa, this is not
going to help Johnny…”
When the girl’s gaze refused to
waiver, Victoria stepped in. “Murdoch
is right. Trying to place blame for
what happened is not going to help Johnny or you.
You need to be focused for the hard days to come.” She went to the girl and took her chin in her hand,
making her look away from Murdoch. “Teresa,
this is going to be very difficult and if you aren’t prepared to help Johnny
– then you shouldn’t be here.”
Teresa blinked as if she were slapped. “I…I…” the girl sputtered before running from the room.
“Go after her Scott.” Victoria ordered. The young man was grateful to have an excuse to leave the tension filled room and quickly followed Teresa out of the house. “Murdoch, you need to come with me.”
Feeling like a school boy about to be
scolded, Murdoch followed Victoria from the sick room, leaving Howard, Jelly and
Cipriano wondering what was going to happen next.
Victoria led Murdoch into the sitting room where she poured him a glass of whiskey. “Drink this,” again it was not a suggestion. She watched as her friend made quick work of the burning alcohol and extended his glass for a refill. Victoria obliged and then put the stopper back in the decanter. “What do you make of this?” she asked, wanting to gauge Murdoch’s ability to handle the rough days ahead.
“He was ignoring me before he found out about his legs. Now, he’s angry…” Murdoch started to pace the room – burning off his frustrations. “He’s got to understand that things have changed.”
“Give him time,” Victoria counseled. “He’s been through a lot…
“I know,” Murdoch paced, “I know
that Johnny was intentionally ignoring me.
How can I help him through this if he won’t even acknowledge me?”
“And what if he continues to ignore you?” Victoria challenged.
“I need to talk to him; I need him to
understand that things are different…”
Victoria watched her aggravated friend
as he wore a path back and forth across her carpet.
“Murdoch, this isn’t about you.
This is about Johnny. That
young man is going to have a lot to come to terms with. There is a very strong
possibility that he may never walk again. Are
you prepared to help him through that? You just can’t be focused on his relationship with you.
This is about the rest of his life.”
Murdoch stopped dead in his tracks and bowed his head. God help him, but he knew she was right. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
Listen as hard as you can. Listen with your heart and not with your
“You don’t know what you’re
asking…” Murdoch knew that to
some extent, his son had inherited a quick temper from him; a temper that had on
many occasions caused the older man trouble for not listening before he
exploded. He realized that
his irascibility had been partially responsible for the fact that he had never
taken the time to actually try to know his son before passing judgment.
Victoria was no in the mood to accept
any arguments and turned on her friend. “You don’t realize all you could
lose if you don’t! That boy has
been hurt, and I don’t mean just physically.
I mean to his soul. I
wasn’t there at Lancer when you said whatever it was that drove him from his
home, but you’re in my home now. You’re
going to listen to him and you’re not going to say anything! I don’t care how much he hurts you – you’re going to
take it and then some! And, when
it’s all over – you’re going to love him like you’ve never loved him
before.” Victoria paused only
when she saw that Murdoch was about to protest.
Raising a hand, she pointed her index finger at him.
“If you don’t – you’ll lose him forever. Can you live with that?”
Murdoch closed his mouth and his eyes. Slowly he shook his head. In his heart he knew she was right. His mind flashed back to the day at the doctor’s clinic when he was told that Johnny was dead. It flashed again to the sight of his son’s crumpled limp body, lying in the dust. The memories stabbed at his heart. He had vowed then and he vowed again now, to make things right with his son; to find a peace they could both live with.
Out on the veranda, Scott was having a similar conversation with Teresa. The young woman was leaning against one of the tall white pillars, crying her heart out.
“You had better get that out of your system now, because there won’t be any time for self-pity once Johnny wakes up.” Scott had come out the front door and stood watching the girl with sympathetic eyes.
Teresa lifted her head and wiped her tears with the back of her hand. “Is that what you think – that I’m pitying myself while Johnny lies in there in that – torture device?” The girl hiccupped several times, trying to catch hold of her runway emotions.
Scott’s tone softened as he held out his hand to the girl, who readily accepted it. Scott drew her into his strong arms and held her close. “I think that once Johnny wakes up he’s going to have a monopoly on the self-pity department.”
“And you don’t think he deserves it?” she asked, her face buried in his chest.
A sigh escaped Scott’s mouth. He was tired of this and had been praying that this living nightmare would soon come to an end. It was destroying his family. “More than anyone in the entire world,” he assured the heart-sick girl. “Johnny has been through more in his twenty-two years than many people experience in a lifetime. What Murdoch did was inexcusable and I’m sure that before this is all over, Johnny will have his say about it. First, we’ve got to get Johnny well and we can’t do that if we’re spending our time crying over his misfortune. Mrs. Barkley was right; we’re going to have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to help Johnny get back on his feet…”
“What if he can never walk again?”
Scott didn’t need to look to know that there was fear in Teresa’s eyes. It was the same fear that consumed Scott ever since he found Johnny in that field. “I don’t know,” For several moments the siblings by circumstance held onto each other. “You know, that we’re also going to have to help Murdoch…”
Teresa lifted her head and looked up at Scott’s stoic features to see if he was kidding or not. “Why? He doesn’t deserve it…”
“For all intents and purposes he’s
your father and mine. Think of
everything he has done for you; can you honestly turn your back on him now?”
For a few moments, Teresa considered the question and then slowly shook her head – no. Murdoch was like a father to her. She had already lost one father and was not prepared to lose another.
Scott smiled and gave a soft chuckle. “I waited my entire life to meet him. He’s not the complete tyrant my grandfather made him out to be – but Lord knows he’s no saint either. He is, however, the only father I’ve got – and Johnny is the only brother I’ll ever have. Somehow it’s going to be up to us to bring them back together so we can be a family again.”
“I don’t think I can forgive him for what he did to Johnny…”
“Neither can I. I feel partially to blame for what happened to make Johnny leave. I should have been more careful – asking Murdoch the questions that led to his pronouncement that the Johnny of his dreams was dead. I should have been more aware of where Johnny was in the house….”
“You couldn’t have known he was in the kitchen…” Teresa protested.
A crooked smile formed on Scott’s face and his eyes became wistful and far away. “It seems like a lifetime ago – doesn’t it? If only Johnny hadn’t heard. I could have helped him to…”
“Helped him to what? Make Murdoch see him differently? Murdoch has never known what to think of Johnny. Don’t you see? It’s not your fault. How could anyone know, what was in Murdoch’s heart, until the right question was asked?” Teresa chewed her lip for a moment. “Do you really think that Murdoch has changed?”
“I’ve spoken with him and I think he
understands how we feel about Johnny. He’s
also had some time to think about how he feels about Johnny as well. Murdoch says he’s changed and I believe him.
The question is how much has Johnny changed?”
The question startled Teresa. “Johnny changed – how do you mean?”
“He was living as Johnny Madrid here in Stockton. He resigned himself to live his life as he had before – as a gunfighter. We’re going to have to convince him that he is more than Madrid – that he is Johnny Lancer. It’s going to be hard for him to ever trust us again. Obviously he didn’t trust me enough to ask for my help back in Stockton. If he didn’t ask before, it might be even harder for him to ask for it now.”
“Well, he’ll just have to think differently!” Teresa announced with resolve. “I’m not going to let him get away from us again!”
“That’s the spirit.” Scott smiled and kissed the top of her forehead. “Now, let’s go and see what the doctor has in mind.”
Scott and Teresa returned to the room to find the doctor reviewing Johnny’s medicines with Murdoch and Victoria. “I want to switch his medication from the morphine to laudanum. Morphine deadens the pain where the laudanum will keep him drowsy…”
“He hates laudanum…” Scott stated loud enough for the doctor to hear.
“I can imagine,” Howard acknowledged. “I can tell that he’s had plenty of experience getting shot…er…injured. Those old scars to his chest and back are the result of a painful past. If he survived them perhaps he can survive this”
“So you want to keep him drowsy?” Murdoch thought about the doctor’s plan and then thought about his son.
“It will make it easier to deal with his condition…”
“For him or for us?” Murdoch asked.
The doctor considered the question. “I suppose that it will make it easier for everyone.”
“I think that we should leave it up to
Johnny,” Murdoch looked to Teresa and Scott.
“I think that it’s about time that we start letting him have a say in
“I agree.” Scott said while Teresa nodded her head in agreement.
Howard shook his head. “Then you’re going to be in store for a very bumpy ride. The medicines are here if you need them. Continue with the fluids and the medicinal herbs. I’ll leave the laudanum here – just in case. Victoria, I’d like to stay at least until he wakes up…”
“That’s fine Howard. I’ll have Silas prepare a room for you to freshen up in.” Victoria led the doctor from the room, letting the Lancers, Jelly and Cipriano settle in and wait for Johnny’s awakening.
Murdoch went to Johnny and firmly placed
his hand on his son’s; wanting his presence to be a strength the boy could
draw from. “You’ll pull through
this John. We all will.”
Scott stood silently aside, his arms crossed over his chest. He listened carefully to his father’s earnest words, but still he worried for his brother and his family. They were kidding themselves if they thought Johnny would thank them for placing him in this ‘torture device’.
Taking a seat near the fire, Scott settled in to wait for his brother to awaken. It reminded him of being on the battlefield – anticipating the sound of the bugle to signal the charge into battle. The difference was that this time he wasn’t preparing himself for a battle over land. This time he was preparing himself for the battle of Johnny’s life.
Scott stubbornly remained with his brother for the remainder of the afternoon despite Victoria’s and Murdoch’s efforts to get him to take a break. Steadfastly he sat by his brother, using a damp cloth to dab at the injured man’s fevered brow. From time to time, Johnny would call out words in Spanish that made no sense to his older brother. Curious to know what Johnny was saying, he summoned Cipriano to translate the jumbled utterances.
At times Cipriano found himself having a full conversation with the semi-conscious man. What he learned turned his stomach. In his pain filled sleep Johnny seemed to be reliving some prior traumatic event in his life. After a particularly long statement, Cipriano found himself moved to tears. It saddened him to learn the things that his friend had suffered as a niño.
“What did he say?” Scott inquired, concerned by Cipriano’s reaction.
“Señor, I do not think that your brother would want you to know…”
Scott knitted his eyebrows, rejecting the Segundo’s words. “If we are to help him we have to know what he is thinking…”
With a sigh, Cipriano translated
Johnny’s latest ranting. “He is
somewhere in his past. He has been
chained to a cage, like an animal, and beaten.
He is swearing to kill the next man who treats him that way again…”
Cipriano paused, his mind awhirl with the remainder of Johnny’s terrible
“And?” Murdoch, who had accompanied the Segundo into the room, demanded - wanting to know the rest.
Cipriano was slow to respond to Murdoch’s question. Looking at Johnny, he knew that he was only repeating the words of an injured man, but the words were hard and would hurt. “Señor, he says that when he is able – he will kill you.”
Murdoch visibly paled at the translation. Johnny was now lying still, beads of sweat were rolling from under the leather strap that held his head. Picking up a nearby cloth, Murdoch dabbed at the moisture with a trembling hand. In his mind he was tending to his year old son – a child who had loved him without question. The son he was tending to now was a far cry from that child. The father could not help but think of all he had done to turn that innocent child into the man who hated him so much now. In a way, Johnny had turned into the man Murdoch had made him into. Biting his lip, Murdoch silently swore that if he made Johnny into Madrid, that he could help turn him back. “It’s alright, Son. You’ll see – this is for the best.”
It was early evening when the effects of
the laudanum began to wear off. Slowly,
Johnny started to become aware of his surroundings; the first thing he noticed
was that he was no longer sitting up like he had been.
He found himself stretched out on a hard board that was cool to his
shoulders and upper back. Puzzled
by this change, he lay still - patiently waiting for the effects of the drugs to
clear from his muddled brain. Listening
carefully, he could not discern the sounds of anyone in the room with him. Confident he was alone, Johnny started to test his new
environment – trying first to move his head.
To his astonishment, he couldn’t move it. A feeling of panic rumbled into his conscious mind as he
continued to further test his surroundings.
by one he moved his fingers, tapping them against a hard wooden surface.
Next he tried to move his arms, but found his wrists had been bound to
Blue eyes snapped open as he tried to assess what was happening.
Using all the strength he could muster,
he struggled only to feel that his arms, chest and head were pinned to a hard
surface by leather straps. His
sense of panic swelled to a terror that he struggled to contain.
Summoning all his strength, he fought to regain control of his emotions.
Hard learned lessons had taught him to remain calm in the face of danger. Right now he was trapped and needed to think of a way out -
to get free.
“Johnny?” Teresa was the first to notice that Johnny’s eyes were open, frantically moving back and forth as if he was looking for something. Recognizing the signs of panic she called for Scott.
“Easy, Johnny,” Scott soothed, moving into his brother’s field of vision. Seeing his brother lick his dry lips, he placed a small cup to Johnny’s mouth, allowing the injured man a few sips of cooling water.
There was no gratefulness in Johnny’s
eyes. “Let me loose!” he rasped
as soon as the cup was removed.
“Just lay still and let me explain….”
Johnny began to struggle against his bonds.
“Get the doctor!” Scott snapped, sending Teresa flying from the room. Scott continued to speak to his brother in a soothing voice, trying to explain what was happening. “Johnny your back was injured when you were dragged. The doctor thinks that this device will help…”
“No!” The struggling intensified.
“You’re only going to hurt yourself if you continue …”
“I don’t care!” Johnny shot back- eyes blazing with anger.
“Well I do!” Scott retorted.
The sharp tone of Scott’s voice had its desired effect; Johnny stopped moving. Sapphire eyes glared at his brother for a few moments before closing – effectively shutting out the one person who would never give up on him.
“Don’t close your eyes and hide from me Johnny!” Scott scolded. When he saw his brother flinch he knew that Johnny was listening. “You’re not alone anymore. No matter what you do or what you say – you aren’t alone. We’re not going to leave you.”
Johnny squeezed his eyes shut tighter
and clenched his jaw to prevent himself from laughing.
Scott was wrong. He was
alone. He had no family.
No one wanted him. He was Johnny Madrid – gunfighter – a man to be feared.
It was then that Johnny’s thought processes caught up with him.
There was no Johnny Madrid any more, just like there was no Johnny
Lancer. He was like a horse with a
broken leg – waiting to be put out of his misery.
A deep depression swept over him intensifying the feeling of aloneness
that held him prisoner as much as the straps did.
Lying still, he could hear the heavy footfalls of several people as they rushed into the room. “What’s going on here?” Johnny recognized Murdoch’s voice and footsteps as he came to a stop close to the contraption where he now lay immobilized. “Johnny?” the elder man’s voice sounded as if it was edged with concern, but Johnny knew better. Murdoch never spoke to him with that tone of voice. That tone was reserved for Scott.
The injured man didn’t respond, refusing to open his eyes. The last person he wanted to see was Murdoch Lancer.
“He’s awake,” Scott said moving
away from his brother, allowing the doctor and Murdoch to get closer. “I don’t think he’s very happy…”
Johnny’s face was pale and small beads
of sweat where running down the sides of his forehead into his hair. Murdoch studied the pain pinched face and bit his lip
remembering Victoria’s words. “Of
course he’s not happy.” The
words were said to Scott, before he returned his attentions to his injured son. “Johnny, what we’re doing is for your own good.
This ‘bed’ might be your only chance to walk again.”
Johnny ignored his father, keeping his eyes shut tight. He couldn’t move, but he’d be damned if he was going to give the Old Man the satisfaction of thinking that he was paying attention.
“Mr. Lancer, if I could have a few minutes alone with my patient…” Dr. Merar steered Murdoch and the others away before checking the straps that Johnny had tried to loosen, making sure Johnny hadn’t torn away the bandages that covered previously abraded wrists. “Johnny?” The doctor asked quietly.
“Are they gone?” the breathless question was barely audible.
Howard looked at the trio standing not too far away and gave them a hard look to remain quiet before he lied. “Yes.”
Johnny breathed a sigh of relief and slowly opened his eyes. “Where am I?”
“You’re still at the Barkley’s house. You’re in a traction bed…”
“Your back was injured when you were dragged by the horse. This is a special bed that will help take some of the pressure off the nerves to your legs. I’m hopeful that in time you’ll be able to have feeling in them again…”
Howard sighed. “I don’t know. It could be today, tomorrow or next week…”
“Or never?” there was no mistaking the bitterness in Johnny’s voice.
“It’s too soon to tell…”
“But it could be- right?”
“Let me out.” Johnny demanded with resolve.
“I can’t do that, Johnny. You need to give this some time.”
“Let me out!” Johnny insisted. “Don’t I have any say in this?”
“Johnny, your father…”
Johnny tried to laugh, but the noise he
made sounded like a death rattle in his chest.
“I ain’t got no father…” Johnny
watched as Howard’s eyes flickered from his to a place beyond where he lay and
instantly knew that they were not alone. “You
hear me, Old Man? I ain’t no
concern of yours! Johnny Lancer is
dead – or have you forgotten already?”
“Johnny…” Murdoch could remain silent no longer. The big man took a step towards his son. “I was wrong. You’ve got to listen to the doctor, Son…”
“Son? I ain’t your son…” Johnny stopped suddenly. A sharp pain lanced through his chest, taking what little breath he had away. A deep moan escaped his lips just before a fit of coughing overcame him.
“Johnny, you’ve got to remain calm!” The doctor reprimanded. He lifted an emesis basin to Johnny’s lips, allowing the imprisoned patient to spit the infection that had broken loose from his lungs. When Johnny was done he was left exhausted; his lungs wheezing for breath, pushing against his injured ribs. The pain was clearly visible on his pale features. “I want to give you some medicine for the pain…”
“No…” Johnny rasped, licking his dry lips. “No pain medicine…”
“You won’t be able to rest; to heal
without it.” the doctor warned, looking to Murdoch for support.
The big man shook his head. “This has to be Johnny’s choice. Explain to him what is going to happen and let him decide.”
If Murdoch thought that Johnny was going
to appreciate his support he was wrong. Upon
hearing his father’s words, Johnny tensed and closed his eyes. He wasn’t going to listen to anything.
“Johnny?” The doctor asked trying to get the young man’s attention, but realized that his patient was ignoring him like he ignored his father. “You’re going to have your hands full with him Mr. Lancer. Take my advice and give him the laudanum in the nasal tube with his nourishment. He needs to rest in order to heal.”
“No,” Murdoch shook his head, his eyes never leaving the pale countenance of his son. “This is his life…”
“Then let me out…”
Johnny whispered, startling both men.
“Johnny…no. This is for your own good…”
A half smile cracked across Johnny’s dry lips. “Liar…”
Murdoch was taken aback by the accusation. “Liar..?”
“You said this is my life and that this is my choice – I want out now!” Johnny’s eyes snapped open focusing on his father’s face.
The intensity of hatred in his son’s glare almost took Murdoch’s breath away. His first reaction was to shout at his son to be still and listen, but that was immediately replaced by Victoria’s warning that this was going to be tough. “No, Johnny. I can’t let you do that…”
“You ain’t got no right to hold me prisoner.”
“Is that what you think this is – my
holding you prisoner?”
“Ain’t you? I want out…”
“To do what?” Scott asked coming to stand next to his father.
Unable to bow his head or turn away,
Johnny closed his eyes again. He
knew what he wanted to do – what he had to do.
Hadn’t they just said that he had a choice?
The way he saw it he was a prisoner with no choices.
Realizing that there was not going to be
a meaningful dialogue, Scott stepped close to his brother.
“Johnny, we want you to walk again and this … thing… just might do
the trick. We need you to
cooperate…” Studying his
brother’s face, he knew that Johnny had shut down.
Scott tried to imagine what was going through his brother’s mind and
came to a startling conclusion. “We
aren’t punishing you…”
“Sure feels like it.” Johnny ground out.
“Well we’re not.” Murdoch said firmly. “We’re only trying to help…”
“I don’t want your help.”
“We’ll you’re going to get it whether you like it or not.” Murdoch’s patience was beginning to wane and it was starting to show in his tone of voice. He was about to open his mouth to say more when a sharp look from Scott made him stop.
“Listen to me, Brother…”
Leave me be.” Johnny
pleaded as he once again grimaced in pain.
He was ending this battle now – but the war for his freedom was far
from over. A deep feeling of
exhaustion overcame the trapped man and he finally gave in to its beckoning
call. He would fight again –
“That went well,” Scott remarked
dryly, leaving Teresa and Jelly with Johnny while he, Murdoch and the doctor
retired to the sitting room.
“I still think that you should give
him the laudanum,” the doctor urged. “He’s
not going to get the rest he needs if he is fighting pain.”
Murdoch shook his head remembering the
days after the battle with Pardee. Johnny
had consistently refused the pain medication despite Sam Jenkins’s best
efforts to administer it. In the
end, they had done as Johnny had insisted.
He rested and healed in a remarkably short period of time.
“We’ll do the medicines his way…”
“And the traction bed?”
With a shake of his head, Murdoch dismissed the doctor’s concerns. “Whether he likes it or not – he will stay in that bed.”
It was well into the night when Johnny awoke again. Opening his eyes he noted that the warm glow from the fireplace was illuminating the room. The table was angled just enough that he could see an entire wall of books. It was the first time that he had actually taken notice of the room he was in. For several moments, he tried to move, but found his bindings were as tight as ever. With a sigh, he stopped trying. His mouth was dry and the tube that was running down the back of his throat was sucking whatever moisture there was out of his body. He coughed, trying to clear his throat – and no one responded. The level of bitterness in his heart increased tenfold. They had strapped him to a board and had left him alone. He felt like a hunting trophy – all that needed to be done was for his head to be cut off and mounted on the wall over the mantle piece. The thought of his head being hung over the mantle back at Lancer made him grin. He would forever be a monument to his father’s failure to ‘save’ him.
“What’s so funny?” Victoria Barkley stepped into his field of vision.
Johnny regarded the woman for a few moments before responding. “Nothing, just thinking…”
Johnny closed his eyes. “It don’t matter,” was the bitter response.
The older woman regarded him for a moment. It had started. Johnny was in the first stage of his treatment – outrage and bitterness. It had been like that with Nick. Her son had ranted and raved at anyone who had come near to help him. His words had hurt and it took all of their patience to let them roll off their hearts. “I have some water for you…” She placed the cup against Johnny’s lips and let him take a few sips before taking it away. “How are you feeling?”
Johnny grimaced and looked away. “Like a dog who’s had a better day.”
Victoria raised an eyebrow and smiled. She had to admire Johnny’s pluck. “This is for your own good, you know…”
“So, I’m told…”
“My son, Nick, used this bed last year when he fell down an embankment. He fussed and cussed a blue streak, but in the end it helped his back to heal – just like it can do for you.”
Victoria’s words touched Johnny, allowing him a modicum of hope. “How bad was he hurt?”
“It was bad. He couldn’t move his arms or legs…”
“How long was he in this?”
“About two weeks…” Victoria watched as the ray of hope that had been shining in Johnny’s eyes slowly died.
“I can’t stay in this for two weeks.”
“Oh? You’ve got somewhere to go?”
Johnny closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He had been fighting the terror that was threatening to consume his soul due to the enforced confinement. It was bringing back too many bad memories; remembrances he kept securely locked behind a little door in his mind. “I can’t stay…”
“Why?” Victoria persisted.
“I can’t!” Johnny suddenly exploded.
“Or you won’t?” Victoria challenged.
Johnny gritted his teeth. She had no business talking to him like this – questioning him. “I can’t. It’s like being put into the ground – only I’m still alive…”
“Johnny, you aren’t the first person to go through this…”
“This brings back too many memories.
I won’t be tortured this way again…”
“Is that what you think?
That we’re doing this to torture you?”
Victoria pressed, making a mental note of Johnny’s reference to being
It took all of Johnny’s concentration to calm himself. “You don’t know…”
“Oh, I think I can imagine. I saw my son…”
“You saw your son on this thing and
now he can walk. I see myself on
this thing and know that it will never happen.
It’s like being in a trap – like an animal.
They’ll come and…” the raspy voice wavered and caught in Johnny’s
throat. The next instant he found
himself back in the rat hole of a Mexican prison where he had been before the
Pinkertons intervened. His cell
had been a small cage where he had been chained like a captive animal.
The guards would poke their bayonets at him, throw rocks and spit –
their taunts ringing in his ears.
Victoria watched Johnny’s face, sensing the sheer terror he was experiencing. “Tell me Johnny…
Johnny refused, trying to push the memory back behind the door where it
belonged. “I can’t give you
what you want…”
“This isn’t about what I want from
you, Johnny. This is about what I
want for you. We, your family and
especially your father, want you to get better.
And if that means that you stay on this bed then this is were you will
stay. You’ve got to trust us that
this is what is best for you…”
Johnny spat. “Trust is
what got me here! I trusted Murdoch
Lancer. I took him at his word.
And you know what he really wanted?
He wanted me dead!”
Victoria considered the harsh words and then remembered the actions of the young man who had sacrificed himself back at the encampment several nights earlier. “You still love him, don’t you?”
Caught off guard, Johnny closed his eyes, trying to shut Victoria out. “Leave me be. Haven’t I been through enough?”
“I saw you back at that camp when Bushrod was going to kill your father. You saved him. Why?”
Johnny refused to answer.
In his chest, his heart was pounding painfully against injured ribs.
“Please…” he whispered.
“You did it because despite everything that he had done to you – you still love him.” Victoria studied Johnny, knowing that she was pushing him hard. She could only hope it wasn’t too hard.
If Johnny could have made a fist to hit her, he would have. “It ain’t none of your concern. He’s no longer part of my life. Johnny Madrid…”
“I don’t want to hear about Johnny Madrid. I want to hear about Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny exhaled sharply, his words laced with anger. “There is no Johnny Lancer. There is no Johnny Madrid.”
The sadness of Johnny’s words rang additional alarm bells in Victoria’s mind. “What do you mean?”
“If I can’t walk, then I might as well be dead.”
Even in his worst days, Nick had never made a statement like this. “It’s not like that, Johnny.”
Johnny looked her in the eyes. “Isn’t it? I can’t live like this – trapped on this bed; sitting in a wheel chair the rest of my days. What kind of life is that?”
“Johnny, people live with disabilities every day. I’m not saying that is what will happen, but there is always hope.”
I run out of hope a long time ago; there ain’t none left for me to hold
on to.” With that said, Johnny
shut his eyes and his mind. He had
lost hope too many times in his life to ever try to search for it again. Hope was what he had lost when he realized his father could
never return his love. Despite
Johnny’s best efforts, his father hated him.
Johnny had come to wonder if he actually loved the man, or just the idea
of having a father who loved and cared about him. He
had almost believed Murdoch’s admission of love when he had faked his death
back at the doctor’s office. He almost believed again right before Bushrod had
tied his own rope to his wrists and had him dragged into the night.
Now, strapped to this table from hell, Johnny knew there was no hope.
Victoria knew she needed to do something to give the boy something to look forward to. A goal he could achieve. Without it, he would surely die. “Johnny, how about if I make a deal with you?”
“Deal?” the injured man was near exhaustion, but he wanted to hear what she had to say.
“You stay in this bed two weeks and if
nothing changes, I’ll let you out myself and make arrangements to take you
anywhere you want.”
It was an intriguing proposition, one that Johnny was tempted to accept, but with one caveat. “I’ll accept if you promise not to tell Scott or Murdoch where I’m going.”
Victoria considered the request before accepting it. “I swear.”
Johnny sighed and smiled, finally giving in to his exhaustion.
As he once again fell into a troubled sleep, Victoria Barkley kept watch. Something had to change or Johnny was never going to heal properly and the Lancers would find themselves missing a family member – forever. She had made a vow to give Johnny hope. Now, she could only pray that she had given Johnny and God enough time to work a miracle.
“You promised what?” Murdoch exploded at the breakfast table the following morning.
“You will calm yourself and listen!” Victoria demanded. She was in no mood for Murdoch’s complete ignorance of how important her promise was. She had spent the night worrying over the conversation she had with his troubled son. Johnny’s emotional state was even more fragile that she had ever supposed. If something good didn’t happen soon, she felt that they were going to lose the young man.
Scott sat back and observed the
interaction between the Barkley matriarch and his father.
There was little doubt that the petite woman was more than a match for
his stubborn Scottish father. As
much as he would have liked to watch the two spar, he knew that it was Johnny
they needed to be focused on. “I’d
like to hear what she has to say,” he said quietly, just as his father was
opening his mouth to make an angry rejoinder.
The wrinkles on Victoria’s brow
smoothed in response to Scott’s simple statement.
“I had a conversation with Johnny early this morning that was very
troubling. He is convinced that
this treatment will not work and that it is only a further example of Murdoch
trying to control and torture him…” Murdoch
harrumphed in disbelief, causing Victoria to stop buttering her toast and point
her knife at him. The older man
raised his eyebrows in surprise at the implied threat.
“Until you can see things from his perspective I suggest that you leave
his care to those of us who are prepared to really help him.”
Murdoch felt as if he had been stabbed by the sharpness of her words. “I didn’t mean…”
“…And that’s exactly your problem. You never say what you really mean – you only say what comes to mind and that has got to stop right now! After speaking with Johnny I am convinced that he is losing his will to live – he has had enough torture and disappointment to last a lifetime. He has lost hope and without that there is no way this treatment will succeed.”
Murdoch blinked at the implication that
Johnny had been tortured in his past.
There was nothing in the Pinkerton report that indicated Johnny had been
tortured. He knew that Johnny had
been placed in jail on any number of occasions, but he had always assumed that
they had been short stays. Swallowing
hard, he remembered the faded scars he had seen on his youngest son’s body
while they were nursing him after Pardee’s bullet.
Not once had he ever questioned the young man on how he received them.
Flushing red, he knew that he was once again facing his own failure as a
father to simply ask the question – how did you get those?
His heart cracked as he
wondered why Johnny had stayed at the ranch as long as he had with such a
pompous unfeeling man as a father.
The boy had been after something more than Murdoch ever gave him
As serious as his brother’s situation was, Scott couldn’t help but be amused by the interaction between Victoria and his father. He wasn’t surprised that Victoria had picked up so much knowledge about his brother in such a short period of time. She was a woman who had lived her life with her eyes wide open – and it showed in her perceptiveness. Murdoch, on the other hand, had the habit of seeing things with a narrow vision. Having a person like Johnny in the household should have changed that. The older man, however, had simply chosen to view the youthful enthusiasm of his youngest son as idleness. “What do you propose?” Scott hid his grin by picking up a coffee cup and taking a sip of the cooled beverage. The grin was quickly replaced by a grimace.
“We’re going to have to find a way to give Johnny hope. I’m not talking about hope that he will walk again, but hope that he’ll have more of a future than just being a gunfighter…”
“I thought that it was clear that he was returning to Lancer with us…” Murdoch interrupted. He knew exactly where Johnny was going after he was released from the traction bed. Whether his son could walk or not – he was going to return home.
sighed and looked at her dense friend. “Did
you ever tell him that?”
“Not in so many words, no. But…”
“Did you give him a choice?”
“Did you tell him that you made a mistake and want him back at Lancer with you?”
“Then how is he supposed to know
anything? What that boy needs now
are solid facts – information he can count on.
Suppositions and innuendo are not giving him the information he needs to
build a future on. Whatever plan
you thought you had for Johnny stop thinking it right now. It is
time for truths – no hidden agendas. Johnny
needs to be included in every decision that is to be made about his care.
Do you think you can do that?” The
last sentence was thrown out like a gauntlet – just waiting for Murdoch to
pick it up.
“I don’t suppose I have any choice. If I want my son is to come home then it’s high time that I begin to act like his father.”
Once again, a small smile formed at the
edges of Scott’s mouth. A few
more days under the Barkley roof and Victoria would have Murdoch whipped into
shape as a father – one way or another.
Victoria stood, followed by the men as
was the proper protocol. She
hadn’t gone two steps when Teresa came running into the room, a look of
exasperation on her face. “Murdoch,
you’ve got to go and talk to Johnny. He
told me to leave him alone and never come back!”
Victoria reached out and touched the girl’s shoulder so the girl would turn and look at her directly. “What happened.?”
“I was only trying to help when he got
all angry and told me to leave him be!” The
words came out in a rush as her frustration rose to the service.
“Why would he do that? You’ve always tended to him when he was sick,” Murdoch asked.
“I don’t know,” Teresa pouted. “I was giving him his medicines when he…” the girl paused thinking of the correct words to use.
“What happened?” Murdoch demanded,
his cheeks flushing in anger at the thought of Johnny speaking sharply to his
“Teresa?” Victoria asked gently. “What happened?”
“I was trying to help Jelly…” Teresa paused, glancing up at her angry guardian. The last thing she wanted was to get Johnny in more trouble with his father.
“Help do what?” Victoria pressed.
“He soiled his sheets and I was going to help change them…”
A sigh escaped Victoria’s lips as she instantly knew what the problem was. “No, Teresa, that’s not something you can do for him.” Victoria said firmly, her eyes catching Murdoch’s. To her relief, she saw the anger in his face disappear.
“I’ve done it before,” Teresa protested.
“Not like this you haven’t. Teresa, he has no feeling from the waist down, he’s not unconscious. He doesn’t want you to tend to his private needs. Nick was like that. He wouldn’t let anyone care for him that way, except a trusted friend – a male friend…”
“Why, that’s silly…”
“Teresa,” Scott stepped forward and took her hand, leading her away from Victoria. “If you were ill and needed to be cared for, would you want Johnny or I to see you – naked?”
A look of realization swept over Teresa’s face. “No, don’t suppose I would. I only wanted to help…”
“And you have been helping,” Murdoch
went to Teresa and laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Johnny is conscious now and his needs are going to be
different.” He studied the
anxious faces of Teresa and Scott and made some decisions. “Teresa, I think that it would be best if you returned to
Lancer with Cipriano…” The girl
started to object, but was silenced when Murdoch raised his hand.
“I know you want to stay, but what Victoria said yesterday was right.
Things are going to get ugly – and Johnny might say some things to you
that he’ll regret later when he’s back on his feet.
Let’s not add any more anguish to his situation than we need to.”
Teresa considered Murdoch’s point and found it to be valid. She didn’t want to be the source of any more pain for her brother. “You’ll let me know how he’s doing?”
“I’ll write you a report everyday,” Scott volunteered.
Murdoch smiled. Scott and Teresa were willing to work together for Johnny’s sake. All he needed to do now was to get Johnny in the right frame of mind – to fight for his own recovery. “If that’s settled, I suppose that we should go and talk to your brother.”
“Thanks, Jelly,” Johnny mumbled after suffering the humiliation of having the older man take care of cleaning up the mess that he had unknowingly made.
“It’s what family is for, Johnny. Yur as close to a son as I got. I wouldn’t want anyone tending to ya ‘ceptin myself.” Jelly gave Johnny a smile before bundling up the soiled sheets and heading out of the room.
A lump formed in Johnny’s throat as he considered Jelly’s words. In many ways he felt closer to the man who had just wiped his behind than the man who had fathered him. Jelly had always accepted him for who he was. There was never any referral to his past. No recriminations thrown at him for a past that was done and gone. Closing his eyes, he wondered why God had never seen fit to bless him with a ‘Jelly’ while he was growing up. Things could have been different – a lot different.
A few minutes later, he opened his eyes to the sound of the footsteps of several people coming into the room. Murdoch, Scott and Teresa all moved into his limited field of vision.
A flush rose in his cheeks and he closed his eyes, remembering the epithet he had thrown at the girl as she reached to remove his soiled sheets. It was only Jelly’s timely intervention that had saved him from the indignity of being handled by his ‘sister’.
“I’m sorry, Johnny…” Teresa started, trying to soothe his ruffled feathers.
Johnny continued to keep his eyes
closed, wanting to block out the look of pity on her face.
“Leave me be…” he whispered.
“Johnny, I’m sending Teresa home.” Murdoch announced. “With your being on the road to recovery she isn’t needed here…” Murdoch paused as Johnny snorted. “Son, she just wants to say good bye.”
Seeing that Johnny wasn’t going to
make any other response, Teresa quickly bent forward and brushed her lips
against his pale cheek. “I’ll
see you in a few weeks, back at Lancer. I
love you, Johnny…” With that
said, Teresa turned on her heel and walked from the room without a look back.
There was silence for a few moments.
Johnny heard Teresa’s footfalls as she walked away, leaving Murdoch and
Scott by his side.
“Feel better, Brother, hurting her
Johnny opened his eyes and glared at Scott. “You don’t know nothin’ about how I feel.” His voice remained a harsh rasp, the effects of the tube that ran down the back of his throat.
“Then tell me, Brother.”
Johnny’s sapphire eyes looked from
Scott to Murdoch; the anger was palpable. “What’s
to tell, Brother? I’m crippled,
and you’ve got me stretched out on this torture rack while my friend has to
wipe mi punta! You tell me – how
should I feel?” Speaking was an
effort, but Johnny was determined to get his point across.
“Johnny, it’s for your own good…” Murdoch started.
“Save it for someone who cares, Old
man. I’ve made a deal with Miz Barkley and I’ll live up to it.
What I need now is to know when are these tubes are gonna be taken outta
“I can answer that,” Howard Merar
had come by for his daily visit. “Let me do my examination and if possible,
maybe one or both can be taken out today. I’m
going to need some assistance…”
“I’ll help,” Murdoch volunteered before Scott could speak up.
Johnny glared at his father and then
closed his eyes. He didn’t want
Murdoch to help. He had had enough help from the Old Man to last him a lifetime.
“How’s the pain today?”
Howard asked poking at Johnny’s injured ribs, eliciting several
grimaces, but no groans. He had to
admire Johnny; even injured he was one tough kid.
“I’ll survive,” Johnny clenched his teeth trying to keep any sign of pain from his face.
“Any more blood in your urine?”
“You’ll have to ask Jelly seein’ as how I can’t tell when I piss myself!”
Howard merely nodded at the caustic
remark, and continued with his examination. Putting his stethoscope in his ears,
he listened to Johnny’s congested lungs. “Your lungs are a little better
today. I don’t think that
you’re quite ready to have the chest tube removed.”
The doctor looked at the collection jar.
The mucus there was thinner and not quite so green with infection.
“Perhaps in a few more days…”
The doctor was interrupted as Jelly reentered the room.
“Mr. Hoskins, was there any blood in Johnny’s urine today?”
Jelly gave the doctor a funny look trying to figure out what the doctor wanted to know. “I’m not sure what you’re askin’…”
“He’s asking if there was any blood when I pissed myself!” Johnny said bitterly.
“Well, if’n that’s what he wanted to know, then why didn’t he jus ask?” Jelly huffed. He hated being talked down to – even if it was about Johnny.
Murdoch asked, trying to get Jelly to finally answer the question.
“Nope – not a drop.”
“Good. I’m thinking that perhaps we can remove the nasal tube – if Johnny promises to take his medicine…”
“I ain’t taking no laudanum!” Johnny swore, starting to move against the bindings. As soon as he started in motion, his broken ribs grated against each other, causing him to wince.
Scott bent close to his brother, giving Johnny little choice but to listen. “Johnny, he’s not talking about the pain medicine. He’s talking about the tea and herbs we’ve been feeding you through the tube - medicines to help you heal.”
Johnny stilled, paying attention to his brother. “OK – but no laudanum…”
Howard shook his head, looking at Murdoch. The physician still thought that it was a bad move to give in to Johnny’s demand that they not give him painkillers. Murdoch gave the doctor a hard look back. There would be no concession on this point. “Alright; no laudanum. Let me finish the rest of the examination and then we’ll remove the tube.”
The doctor pulled a lever that allowed him to adjust the tilt table until Johnny was laying flat. “Johnny, I’m going to examine your wounds and then we’re going to check out your legs.” The doctor studied Johnny’s battered face. The bruises inflicted by Bushrod Smith’s fist were fading and the swelling to Johnny’s nose had receded enough for the doctor to know that there would be no noticeable long term effects. The gash above Johnny’s ear was also healing well and the stitches could be removed in a few more days. The young man was lucky; his face was healing well and the doctor suspected that in time all signs of the injuries would fade. “How are the headaches?”
Johnny remained silent. There was a constant pounding in his head that made thinking hard; but he could deal with it – or so he thought.
“I can’t help you unless you tell me
the truth.” Howard said firmly,
checking Johnny’s pupils. They
were finally equal and appeared to be responding symmetrically again.
“Hurts…” Johnny whispered.
“I can handle it…”
“Why does that not surprise me?” Howard commented with a sigh. Both Murdoch and Scott had smiled at the response. Apparently it was normal for his patient to be behaving like this.
With Scott’s help, the straps that were holding Johnny to the bed were loosened. The doctor cut away the bandages that swathed much of Johnny’s deeply bruised chest. The two gunshot wounds were healing well, leaving puckered scars in once smooth skin. The doctor gently cleaned them and applied a salve made from the leaf powder of the yucca plant. It was an Indian remedy that the doctor had found worked well to heal skin lesions. After clean compresses were applied, the four men carefully rolled Johnny to his left side.
Johnny next found himself being rolled into the arms of his father - his face pressed against his father’s clean shirt. Tensing, he could smell the familiar scent of Murdoch’s favorite tobacco and it made him ill. The smell reminded him of what he thought were happy times – times that had all been a lie.
Murdoch felt his son stiffen, but
continued to hold him tight. He was
well aware that Johnny probably wanted nothing to do with him – but the
thought was no longer reciprocated by the older man.
There was no place he wanted to be more than with Johnny at this very
moment - and it was high time that
he started to let his son know that. “Easy,
Johnny,” Murdoch whispered as the doctor’s probing of the back wound
elicited a painful response from the young man in his arms.
The wound was not healing as well as the wounds to Johnny’s chest.
The stitches were red and inflamed.
“Johnny, this isn’t looking too
good. It’s probably why you
can’t shake your fever…”
“Do what ya got to do doc – don’t make no difference to me.”
Murdoch glanced into the concerned faces of Jelly and Scott. “Son…”
“Don’t call me that!” Johnny whispered hoarsely, his face hidden. “Just get to it!”
“I’ll need some hot water…”
reaching into his bag he pulled out a scalpel.
“Scott I want you to get some whiskey and wash that instrument in it.
Satisfied that his directions were being followed, he spoke to Johnny.
“I’m going to have to drain the infection.
That will mean cutting it open, cleaning it and then using carbolic.
Do you think you can handle that? I can give you a shot of morphine…”
“Get on with it,” Johnny responded, preparing himself for the pain to come.
Scott and Jelly returned at the same time. Jelly came equipped with several clean cloths and a small tub of hot water. Taking the clean scalpel from Scott, the doctor cleanly cut the stitches that were barely holding the wound closed. As soon as the bits of thread were cut, infection started to seep out the tiny holes. The doctor made a half inch incision near the center of the wound allowing the accumulated infection to drain more easily. Jelly handed the doctor a hot, wet compress that was quickly pressed against the wound. A low moan escaped Johnny’s throat and his right hand flailed for something to hold on to. Murdoch grabbed it and held it in his own. The strength in Johnny’s smaller hand astounded him. As ill as Johnny had been, Murdoch had assumed that the grip would be weak. Instead, he found it to be bone crushingly strong. As Johnny’s pain lessened, the grip did as well.
The doctor removed the cloth and noted the foul greenish discharge. Jelly handed him a clean cloth that was again pressed against the wound. After making sure that he had cleaned out as much of the lesion as possible, the doctor reached into his bag and pulled out a bottle of carbolic. “Johnny, I’m going to apply the carbolic now…”
The hand gripping Murdoch’s contracted
in preparation for the burning sensation to come.
While the carbolic was applied, Murdoch once again felt as if his son was
trying to crush his hand.
Johnny’s breaths came in wheezing
pants as he struggled to master the agony that was consuming his back and
control his need to cough. Beads of
sweat formed on his brow that Scott dabbed away with a cool cloth.
“Easy, Brother, it’s almost over.” the elder sibling soothed,
watching as the doctor applied the yucca salve and rewrapped Johnny’s chest.
When the doctor was finally done, they rolled Johnny to his back and gave
him a few moments to rest.
“You alright, boy?” Howard asked, noting that Johnny’s complexion had dramatically paled.
“What else needs to be done?” Johnny asked dodging the question.
With a look of encouragement from Murdoch, the doctor continued his examination.. “I’m going to check your legs now.” From his bag, the doctor produced a reflex hammer. Starting at Johnny’s feet, the physician applied the pointed metal handle to the bottoms of Johnny’s feet. “Tell me if you feel anything.” The test was run three times on each foot and there was no response – either voluntary or involuntary.
Johnny whispered, concentrating on keeping his growing fear under
control. ‘Nothing’ was hurting
him more than the pain of any of his other injuries.
The doctor then ran the tool up both of Johnny’s shins and the response was similar. The left knee was still fairly swollen, so the doctor moved the knee cap in an attempt to elicit pain. There was no reaction. Using the mallet end of the hammer, he lifted Johnny’s right knee so that the lower portion of the leg hung free. Several times he hit the tendon just below the knee cap – with no response.
Murdoch, Scott and Jelly each held their breaths as the doctor continued his tests without Johnny having the slightest response.
With a sigh of defeat, the doctor completed the tests. “Johnny, I have one more test that I would like to try…”
“Sure, why not – it ain’t gonna
make a difference.” By now,
Johnny had buried his fear and all of his pain.
He had hidden all of his emotions behind the mask of Johnny Madrid.
In that persona, he could isolate himself from his fears and from the
people who surrounded him. It was
Johnny Madrid who had survived all these years – alone.
It would be Johnny Madrid who would bring him to his final resolution of
this situation – of that he was absolutely sure.
Johnny Lancer was already dead, so there was no need to try to find
comfort in those who sought to resurrect him.
Taking note of his patient’s response, the doctor placed both hands on Johnny’s hips and pressed hard against the pelvis. Howard was rewarded with a sharp gasp of pain that involuntarily escaped Johnny’s lips. The doctor smiled encouragingly at the anxiously watching family.
“Madre de Dios!”
Johnny swore, panting hard. “What
the hell did you do?”
“Tell me what you felt?”
“It felt like you stuck a knife in my back and twisted it, that’s what the hell it felt like!”
“In your upper or lower back – think Johnny, it’s important.”
Johnny struggled to master the pain that was now shooting up his back. “Feels like its low…”
Howard took the reflex hammer and ran it slowly up Johnny’s thigh. “Tell me if you feel anything….”
For a few anxious moments, Johnny didn’t say anything until he finally gasped “I feel that!”
The doctor smiled. Johnny was now feeling sensations at his hips.
“Well?” Johnny asked anxiously.
“It’s better than yesterday, Johnny.
The pain you felt was when I pressed against your pelvis.
It might be fractured and that was the pain you felt….”
“Great,” Johnny murmured. The excitement everyone else was feeling was wrong. The new pain didn’t mean anything except that he was going to be even more uncomfortable than he had been before.
“Don’t you see, Johnny?”
Scott once again moved close. “Yesterday,
you couldn’t feel anything from your waist down.
Today it’s better!” Scott
anxiously studied the passive face of his brother.
Johnny was refusing to allow himself to hope. Instead he had once again
hidden his feelings behind his ‘mask’.
“This is good news, Brother!”
Johnny closed his eyes, focusing on the new pain that burned at his back. It was something he hadn’t been feeling just a few minutes earlier, but the voice of reason inside his head was refusing to let him get excited. It could still mean nothing. “I’ll tell you what ‘good news’ will be, Brother – that’s when I’m able to get on my horse and ride out of here. That’s when I’ll celebrate.”
The other men in the room looked at one
another, distressed at Johnny’s refusal to feel hope.
“It’s OK, Johnny.” Nick Barkley had been observing the doctor performing his tests from the entrance to the library. He had tried to stay away from the injured man. Just seeing the bed again brought back a flood of bad memories. Nick had found excuses to stay out of the house. With Jarrod in town sorting out the mess Ted Bartch had created when he illegally took properties for the Circle A and Heath chasing after Bushrod Smith with Val – someone had to tend to the everyday workings of their ranch. This suited Nick to a ‘T”. He wanted no part of what Johnny was going through – after all, he had been there and had no desire to go through it again. However, his mother had other ideas. While the Lancers had gone to check on Johnny, Victoria went to find her son. She knew how hard it was for him to see Johnny in the bed; but she also knew that someone had to speak to Johnny about what it was like – and that someone was Nick.
All eyes were on the tall cowboy as he reluctantly moved closer. Murdoch and Scott backed away from the bed, giving Nick the space he needed to move in closer. Taking Johnny’s hand in his own he gave it a hard squeeze. “I was in this contraption a little over a year ago. I swore and cussed a blue streak the entire time. No one knew how I felt – how could they? They weren’t the ones facing the possibility of living their lives in a bed. Well, I can tell you from experience that the pain you’re feeling now is a good thing. Embrace it. It’s the only thing that means anything right now.”
Nick held Johnny’s hand until the younger man finally opened his eyes. They held each other’s gaze until Nick was satisfied that he had gotten through. “Now, don’t make me come back – ya hear?” A smile crossed the tall man’s face before he let go of Johnny’s hand and left the room as quickly as he had come.
Johnny was left dazed, his mind awhirl
– was the pain actually a sign of hope?
“Johnny?” Scott asked moving back to his brother. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Brother, just fine. Now take this thing out of my nose so I can finally eat something – I’m starving here.”
Everyone smiled at the lighter tone in Johnny’s voice.
“Johnny, I want to give you some pain
medicine before I remove this tube. Would
that be alright?” The doctor knew
that he had put Johnny through a lot in a very short period of time.
Between the application of the carbolic and his pressing on what he
figured was a broken pelvis – Johnny was done in.
There was an increase in the sensation Johnny was feeling, but, on the
other hand he was troubled that there was still no involuntary response when the
reflexes were tested. Deciding that
it would be best not to discuss his concerns in front of Johnny, he proceeded
with his preparations to remove the nasal tube.
Johnny thought for a moment. His back and head were aching terribly and so were his ribs.
As much as he wanted to refuse the pain medicine, he knew that he was
literally at the end of his limit. “Just
Howard smiled and went to his bag. A dose of laudanum was measured out and was poured down the
nasal tube. “Johnny, I’ll
remove the tube once you’re asleep.”
In moments, the effects of the drug were sending their numbing effects throughout Johnny’s exhausted body. Lying still was turning out to be harder work than the young man had ever figured. Within a minute, he was fast asleep, dreaming of running away - to anywhere – except Lancer.
For the better part of a week, Heath and
Val had carefully tracked Bushrod Smith and his two companions.
It had been an arduous task for the experienced trackers, made harder by
the fact that one of their quarry was a full blooded Apache.
The outlaws had been steadily moving south in a zigzag pattern towards
the border, making it difficult for the hunters to remain unseen.
bright side, the further they got from Stockton, the more lax the trio had
become in hiding their tracks and securing their camp at night.
Evening was beginning to fall when the
two hunters finally found the opportunity to capture their prey.
The three men had made camp in a small wooded area near a creek.
Apparently confident that they had not been followed, the men let down their
guard and had not posted a lookout – a tribute to the skill and patience of
the normally impatient hunters. Val
and Heath’s goal was clear – to capture the trio and get justice for Johnny.
Leaving their horses a quarter mile
away, hidden in dense brush, Heath and Val waited for the cover of dark before
making their move. Splitting up,
they approached the camp from opposite directions. They had determined the exact
position each would take to avoid being caught in each other’s crossfire
should there be shooting. Like
thieves in the night, they stole their way to the positions they had chosen.
The two men took the utmost care to move as quietly as possible –
removing spurs and any other objects that could alert their prey to their
presence. It was decided that Val,
an accomplished bird caller, would hoot like a night owl to signal when it was
time for their attack. They would
move once the men were bedded down for the night.
In the dark, the hunters watched and listened as the three gunman finalized plans for their final run to the border. There were jokes made about how they had killed Johnny Madrid; finally giving the half-breed what he deserved for prior transgressions. The youngest man participated nervously - still having nightmares about Johnny’s last moments. Seeing a man dragged off into the night had left him re-thinking the path he had chosen. He longed to be back in Virginia City with the family he had left behind. Instead, he found himself in the wilds of California in the company of two men who could kill him in his sleep.
Val and Heath listened until Smith finally signaled that it was time to get some shut eye for the night. No sentry was posted. After six days, they felt secure in knowing that no one had followed. They were wrong.
An hour after the men had turned in, Val gave Heath the signal. He had waited to be sure that the trio was totally asleep and unprepared for their attack. The two experienced trackers silently crept into the camp. Val took the Indian while Heath had the honor of getting Smith. Smith snapped opened his eyes to the feel of a cold steel barrel being pressed against his right temple. Instantly his hand went for the gun he kept by his side, only to find that it had been removed. “Don’t even think about moving,” Heath whispered coolly. “I got what you want right here.” Raising his left hand he showed Smith the missing weapon. “Make a move and I’ll be more’n glad to tie a rope around your wrists and have you drug off into the night…” There was an evil tone in Heath’s voice that sent chills down the back of the now captured Smith.
The Indian awoke to the sound of a shell
being chambered in a shotgun. Opening
his eyes, he looked up the barrel of Val’s weapon and didn’t move a muscle.
The Kid remained blissfully asleep until Val kicked the boy’s leg with
the tip of his boot. “Up, Boy’!”
The youngest man startled awake. His
eyes were wide open in part terror and relief; terror that they had been caught
and relief that Smith hadn’t decided to get rid of him. Uneasily he looked at
his companions. Heath was binding
Smith’s hands behind his back with a rope while Val was holding a shotgun on
him and the Indian. “I ain’t
done nothin’…” the boy protested realizing that they had been caught.
“Then you been keepin’ the wrong company, Boy.” Val remarked. Thinking for a moment, he decided to give the kid a chance if he could answer the following questions correctly. “Was you there when Johnny Madrid was dragged?”
The young man swallowed hard. “Yes, Sir…”
“Did you try to stop it?”
The boy looked away in shame. “No, Sir…”
“Then you’re just as guilty as these two.” Val announced as Heath moved to secure the youth’s hands.
“Is that what this is all about? Dragging Johnny Madrid?” Smith gloated. “There ain’t no law against killin’ a killer…” Smith’s sentence was interrupted by Heath backhanding him across the face.
The tall cowboy watched with satisfaction as Smith went face down into the dirt. A malevolent smile of satisfaction crossed Heath’s face as he moved to secure ropes on the wrists of the Indian. With that task accomplished, he turned to watch as Smith struggled to a sitting position again. “Johnny isn’t you. He isn’t a cold blooded killer. He’s my friend. He saved me and my brothers back at Stockton. He saved my mother from you too!”
Smith looked at his captors and grinned through bruised lips. “I don’t recall seein’ yor mama anywhere!”
“That’s because Johnny had her hiding in the woods that night. She saw what you did to him and what you did to Murdoch Lancer! She’s ready to testify to what she saw.”
The young boy paled at the news. A woman had seen what they had done? There weren’t supposed to be any witnesses to tell the details of what had happened out at that desolate camp. Panic filled him and the young man began to ramble, pleading with his captors for leniency. “He made me go along with him! I didn’t want to! No one should be dragged.…”
“Shut up kid!”
Smith snarled, instantly silencing his companion.
Turning back to his guards he smiled again. “So, what are the charges?”
“I’m placing you all under arrest for the attempted murder of Murdoch Lancer and Johnny Lancer…”
Smith’s eyes snapped wide catching the significance of Val’s words. “They ain’t dead?”
Val grinned at the surprised look on Smith’s face. “Seems you’re not as good a shot as you thought you were. Your bullet glanced off Old Man Lancer’s hard head. As for Johnny – you hurt him bad but he was alive the last time I saw him,” Val’s face became grim as he bent low until he was nose to nose with Smith. “But if’n he died while we’ve been chasing your sorry hides all across this state, then the charge’ll be changed to murder.” Val eyed the other two men, making sure they understood the serious nature of the charges against them. “Now you all had best get some rest; we’re going to move out in the morning. We’re heading back to Delano and to the Marshall’s office. From there, we can catch the train back to Stockton – where I hear there’s a noose waiting for each one of ya.”
It was late afternoon when Johnny opened his eyes again. Murdoch, Scott and Jelly anxiously watched as the injured man slowly fought his way to consciousness. Unfamiliar words in Spanish escaped his lips, leaving the watchers longing for Cipriano’s presence to translate. The Segundo, however, had left with Teresa to return to Lancer. Someone had to be there to make sure the place was running smoothly. Murdoch had charged the man with the safety of the girl and the responsibility of making the place ready for Johnny when they returned in the coming weeks.
Before leaving, Teresa returned to the
library. The nasal tube had been
removed, and Johnny remained blissfully unaware of her presence.
Gently she had kissed his forehead, telling him that she would wait for
his return – no matter how long it took or in what condition he was in.
She made it clear that Lancer was his home and that was where she
expected him come when he was released by the doctor.
Cipriano also said goodbye to his
unconscious muchacho. Words flowed
in his native tongue, words that were for Johnny’s understanding only.
Strongly he urged the young man to fight for his life and for his
recovery; that he had many friends who wished him well.
With a glance at his boss, he even told the young man to not give up on
un anciano <the old man> who was his father.
Before leaving, the doctor had re-positioned the table so that Johnny was once again tilted with his head up. It had been decided that while Johnny slept, his head would be strapped to the board. Now that he was awakening, Scott undid the strap so that Johnny could move his head to drink and eat. “Easy, Brother,” Scott spoke in a calm and reassuring tone, coaxing his brother to open his eyes.
Dark brows knitted and a flare of panic crossed Johnny’s pale features as he realized he was once again trapped – tied down to the hard table. Blue eyes blazed open, their unfocused pupils searching the room for danger until they finally came to rest on the face of his brother. “Scott…” Johnny croaked. There was a terrible burning in the back of his throat, but the obstruction that had been there was now gone.
“Shhh, don’t talk,” Murdoch moved close with a glass of water. The edge was placed against Johnny’s lips allowing him to take a few sips before he refused to drink any more. The cool water moistened his dry mouth, but burned his irritated throat.
“No…” Johnny whispered, turning his head.
“The doctor says that we’ve got to get you to drink – or he might have to put the tube back in…”
Johnny turned to glare at Murdoch, assuming the man was threatening him. To his surprise, there was no anger or gloat of triumph on the older man’s face. The faded blue eyes of his father only shone with care and concern. Johnny once again looked away, not wanting to believe that the older man was actually worried about him. “I’m not thirsty.”
Murdoch accepted the response without a fuss. “How do you feel?”
Johnny continued to avoid his father’s eyes. “Tired…. Head hurts…”
“And your back?”
There was a long pause, as if Johnny was taking stock of himself. The pain was there, but it was a dull ache compared to the sharp pain the doctor had elicited from him earlier. “It’s OK….”
Murdoch studied the pale pinched face of
his son and knew better. He had
seen that face before – after Pardee’s bullet.
It was the face Johnny wore when pain was about to get the better of him.
“The doctor left the laudanum…”
“…No…” was the strong and simple answer.
“All right, Johnny.” Murdoch laid a hand on Johnny’s right shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’ll use it only when you decide.”
There was no word of thanks or
acknowledgement. Johnny’s silence
spoke volumes of the pain and depression he was allowing himself to sink to. Murdoch reflected that in many ways he preferred a feisty,
boisterous or even angry Johnny to the quiet and submissive young man who lay
before him now.
“But I’ll bet yur hungry,” Jelly
spoke up, breaking the awkward silence. “I’ve
got a pot of chicken stock on the stove, I’ll be right back.”
“What time is it?” Johnny whispered, seeing that the sun was setting.
“It’s about six o’clock. Why, you got somewhere to be?” Scott smiled, trying to get Johnny to respond.
Johnny refused to rise to his
brother’s bait, keeping his voice quiet and low. “Teresa…?”
“She’s’ gone back to Lancer with Cipriano…”
“I wanted…” Johnny started; his sorrowful eyes looked to his brother. “…Tell her I’m sorry…”
“She knows,” Murdoch reassured. “She came in after the doctor was through and gave you quite a talking to. She expects you home in two weeks…”
Johnny continued to look at Scott, ignoring his father, wanting his brother’s reassurance that he hadn’t hurt the girl. “Did she know I was sorry?”
“She knew, Brother. She wouldn’t have left if she didn’t.”
Jelly returned with a bowl of warm soup. Elbowing Scott and Murdoch away, he tied a napkin around Johnny’s neck before starting to feed his friend. “Ain’t you two got no where better to be? Miz Barkley has dinner ready. Why don’t you go eat while I tend to Johnny?”
Murdoch frowned, not liking the way that Jelly had taken charge of Johnny’s care. He was about to say so when Scott tugged at his arm, gently pulling him out of the room. Scott had sensed that something had changed inside his brother and he didn’t think it was for the better. Some time alone with Jelly just might be what was needed.
With Murdoch and Scott out of the room, Jelly leaned close to his friend. “You OK, Johnny?”
“Tired…” came the whispered reply.
“Yur gonna be. That wound to your back ain’t healing right and that doctor put you through quite a lot this mornin’.” Slowly he spooned the warm broth into Johnny’s mouth.
Swallowing was still hard, but the warmth of the liquid didn’t irritate Johnny’s throat like the water had. After ten spoonfuls, Johnny was full.
“That weren’t very much, Johnny…”
“You don’t have to be apologizing to me. I’m only doing what needs ta be done. If ya don’t eat, yur only hurtin’ yourself.”
Johnny considered the words. Was he trying to hurt himself? There was too much pain, hurt and confusion in his mind for him to even think straight. He had been seriously injured before and it had been his will to survive that had always pulled him through. Somehow, that drive was missing and he couldn’t think of how to get it back. In his heart, he wasn’t sure if he wanted it back. It was easier to just lay strapped to this board than to think about tomorrow or the next day.
“I’m tired, Jelly…” Johnny whispered, closing his eyes. Like a warm blanket, exhaustion encompassed his body and within seconds he was sound asleep.
Discouraged, Jelly re-strapped Johnny’s head and left the injured man alone.
Jelly found the Lancers in the kitchen eating dinner with Nick. Victoria had fixed beef stew and biscuits for them. “He’s sound asleep,” Jelly announced, disposing of the half full bowl of broth.
“He didn’t eat much, did he?” It was more of a statement than a question Murdoch made, taking note of the broth Jelly was disposing of.
“He said he was full.
I had ta believe him.” Jelly
sat down heavily next to his friends. “Boss,
there’s something wrong.”
Murdoch turned to his son’s friend and regarded him closely. Jelly seemed to know Johnny better than anyone on the ranch; a fact that hadn’t escaped the elder Lancer during the past few days. “What do you mean?”
“He’s not the same. He’s… well, I’m not sure how to explain it.” Jelly scratched his beard, thinking for a moment. “It’s like he’s lost his way…”
“I know what you mean,” Nick spoke up, ladling a spoonful of stew into his mouth.
“And would you care to enlighten us?” Scott asked with some measure of irritation.
Nick put his spoon down and looked at the other men. “When I was in that ‘thing’ I felt as low as a trapped dog. It didn’t matter what my family told me - I was still trapped. He’ll be better once he has his legs back –you’ll see.” Nick said the words with confidence and resumed his eating.
“What if he doesn’t get his legs back?” Jelly wondered aloud.
“Then you’re going to have a real
problem. I can tell that Johnny is
a lot like me and there’s no way he’d want to live if he can’t walk.”
Nick’s words hit the three men from Lancer like a boulder falling off a cliff. It was what they all feared. The three exchanged worried glances, each trying to think of what could be done to save their son, brother and friend.
“We have time,” Murdoch announced,
looking at his companions. “He
gave Victoria a promise of two weeks that he would tolerate that bed.
That means we’ve got thirteen days left to give him something to live
for, whether he can ever walk again or not.
I’m not going to lose him again now – not ever.”
Victoria was waiting at the door when
Jarrod finally showed up for dinner at seven-thirty.
There were dark circles under her son’s eyes and a certain weariness
that she hadn’t seen since the days after the murder of her husband. “Long day?” she asked, greeting her son with a kiss on
Jarrod returned the kiss, taking off his
hat and laying it on the foyer table. “I
had no idea how much land Bartch had managed to pirate in such a short period of
time. Now we’re trying to track
down the rightful owners. Joel
Todd has offered to sell it back at the price they paid or, if they don’t want
it back, pay them a fair price for what they lost.
I have to give a lot of credit to Joel; he’s committed to doing what is
right. It’s more than I ever
expected out of him. Fred has his
hands full with his jail being filled to the brim with Bartch’s men.
The judge has scheduled the trial for Monday, three days from today.
There aren’t enough deputies to properly guard the jail and the town.
People are getting excited; like waiting for the circus to come. ”
Jarrod loosened his tie and glanced at the library. “How goes it here?”
“It’s coming slow – just like with Nick. We had a breakthrough of sorts today – Johnny now has feeling at the top of his hips, but Howard thinks that his pelvis might be broken.”
A wince crossed the lawyer’s face at
the thought of what it took to break a bone as dense as a pelvis.
“I can’t imagine what it was like for Johnny to be dragged like
“I pray to God that I never see it done to anyone else again,” Victoria took her son’s arm and guided him into the dining room. The chandelier was lit and the table set for two.
“You haven’t eaten?” Jarrod asked, hoping that what he saw meant he wouldn’t be eating cold leftovers in the kitchen again.
“It seems like a long time since you and I have had a chance to sit and talk.” Victoria allowed Jarrod to seat her before he took his place beside her.
“What about our guests?”
“They ate with Nick earlier. Murdoch sent Teresa and Cipriano home today.”
“What brought that on?” Jarrod asked, filling his wine glass and then his mother’s.
“Remember how things got fairly ugly when Nick was tied to that bed?”
“How could I ever forget?
I thought that his yelling would bring the roof down – and that
language! I don’t know where he
learned those words!”
A far away smile graced Victoria’s face as she remembered those hard times. “It’s starting with Johnny…”
“The yelling? Then I’m glad that I’ve had to work late.”
“No,” Victoria shook her head. “I would be glad if he would yell or find some way to express his anger. He’s being quiet – resigning himself to his fate…”
“But I thought you said that there was a breakthrough today?”
Victoria took a sip of her wine before
taking the lid off the chaffing dish and ladling out a helping of beef stew for
her son and then herself. “Don’t
get me wrong – there was a breakthrough.
Johnny just refuses to believe – even after Nick went to talk to
“Nick did that?” Jarrod asked, nearly choking on his wine. “I thought that he had sworn not to get involved.”
“I had a little talk with him. I convinced him that he owes Johnny a debt of gratitude. Johnny saved his life and mine. I just told your brother that it was time that he thought about paying Johnny back – by saving his life.”
The attorney was constantly amazed by the way his mother was able to manipulate members of her family. Nick had sworn that there was no way he was going to get involved, and yet she had made him feel obligated to help. “Did it work?”
“To some extent it did but Johnny is
refusing help from his family. That
is why Murdoch sent Teresa back to Lancer.
Johnny said some ‘choice’ words to her today, so before things got
worse it was decided to send her home.”
“How is he getting along with his
Victoria put her fork down and dabbed her napkin at her lips. “That is going to take some doing. There is a lot of bad blood between them. Johnny needs to realize that he can’t hold the past against his father forever. He has to know he is a valued member of their family; that he is worthy of their love. Somehow, he has to know that what happens to him affects them all. Murdoch needs to do much the same and more. He needs to forgive himself for the way that he thought of his son and be willing to start fresh – if Johnny will let him.”
“Sounds like a mighty tall order – if you ask me.” Jarrod commented.
“There is no other choice. I’m convinced that unless Johnny knows how much his family needs him then he will be lost to them and to himself. He scares me, Jarrod. Last night, when I was talking to him, I got the impression that given a chance he would kill himself rather than live out the rest of his life in a bed or wheel chair.”
“What do you think? Will he make it?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Jarrod shook his head at the terrible
thought of Johnny wanting to take his own life.
“It’s a shame that Johnny doesn’t know how much people think of
“Who are you talking about?” Victoria asked; her curiosity roused.
“The entire Mexican population of Stockton wants to have a fiesta in his honor. He put his life on the line for them and they want to pay him back. To them he is a hero!”
“How do you know this?”
“Bernardo has been by to see me several times, asking about Johnny. He would like to come and visit when Johnny is stronger.”
Victoria bit her lip, the makings of a
plan coming to mind. “Have
Bernardo come by tomorrow. I think
that we can use his help.”
The conversation between mother and son had not gone unheard. Murdoch was about to enter the dining room on his way to the kitchen when he heard Johnny’s name mentioned. Standing in the shadows he heard their comments – in much the same way Johnny had heard his comments to Scott so many months ago. Victoria was eloquent in her summation of what needed to be done. He needed to forgive Johnny and himself for their past and start fresh on their new future.
Murdoch turned away, after hearing that Victoria thought Johnny wanted to kill himself, and headed to the sitting room. Pouring himself a tumbler of whiskey, he took a seat near the fire. As he watched the flames dying on charred logs - they he was reminded of Johnny. The flames of his son’s life were all but extinguished. In the six months Johnny had lived at Lancer, he had demonstrated a passion for life that surpassed the fervor that his mother had lived by. According to the Pinkerton report, she was dead by the time she was thirty. Murdoch swore that wasn’t going to happen to their son. Somehow he had to find a way to fan the flames to Johnny’s life; to re-stoke his inner fire and make it dance once more. The boy needed to have something to live for; otherwise he would be lost to them forever.
As the sun rose so did Val, Heath and
their three captives. They were a
little more than ten miles south of Delano; a small whistle-stop of a town
located near the southern most end of the San Joaquin Valley. The former sheriff
of Green River was hopeful that if all went well, a Marshall would be waiting
and they could all catch the train north and be in Stockton by evening.
There was some grousing from the captives as they were forced to mount and ride out without breakfast; their hands still tied behind their backs. None of them was about to try to escape; at least not yet. Smith’s aching jaw provided evidence that it wouldn’t take much to provoke either Heath or Val to violence should they make any moves to escape.
Slowly the group rode out in single file with Heath in the lead and Val at the rear. A mile from camp, the kid turned in his saddle to speak with Val; fear of the unknown was written plainly on his face. “What’s gonna happen to us?”
“Yu’re goin’ back to Stockton to stand trial…” Val said in a low and lazy voice, not really caring about the boy’s concern.
“I know,” the kid interrupted. “Am I gonna hang?”
Val regarded the frightened youth with a scowl. The kid must have been fresh off the farm and still green behind the ears. “How old are you?”
The response surprised the former
lawman. As filthy as he was, the
kid looked a lot older. The Sheriff
reconsidered his thinking; sixteen was too young to be facing a necktie party.
“You ever killed anyone?”
The boy glanced at his companions who were riding slightly ahead of him and hopefully out of earshot. “No. The fight in Stockton was supposed to be my first time, but I got scared and never drew my gun.”
Rolling his eyes, Val exhaled a loud sigh. Why was it always this way? This kid – still a boy, was now facing the end of his days and he hadn’t even been battle tested yet. “What’s your name boy?”
The young man frowned and bowed his head. “I told everyone my name was Arizona…”
“What’s your real name?” Val persisted.
“Where you from, Tim?”
“What ya do there?”
“My Ma and Pa have a small farm…”
“Why’d ya leave – for the excitement?”
The boy shrugged, thinking that being back in Nevada was a damn sight better than being in California. “I guess I got tired of watching the hay grow, but I’d do anything in the world to be back there now.”
Val considered the response and the pale features of the frightened youth. “If Johnny is still alive, I’ll speak to him about ya – see if he can’t put in a word for you.”
“Why would he do that – after what I let happen to him?”
“Let’s just say that Johnny understands better’n most people give him credit for.”
“But he’s a killer, just like Smith! Why would he care about me?”
“First of all – he ain’t like Smith! Yeah, he’s killed more’n his share of people, but he never did it just ‘cause it was a fun thing to do. Secondly, if someone had given him a chance when he was your age, he wouldn’t be Johnny Madrid right now – he’d be somebody else; a man with a home and a family. Trust me – you don’t want to be Johnny Madrid.”
Val’s words stuck in the boy’s mind. If Johnny Madrid could forgive him, then perhaps being like Johnny Madrid wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. He then swore to himself that if he should get out of this mess alive that he’d return to Nevada and never leave again.
Johnny awoke, once again back at the Indian village. Katonah and Nikita were by his side. Quickly he sat up, breathing deeply as if he had just finished running a long distance. “It was a dream…” he murmured, running a hand through sweaty hair.
“It is no dream,” Katonah said, helping Johnny to stand up.
“Not a dream? Then why am I here?” Johnny’s eyes found Nikita’s; they were filled with a sadness he had never seen before.
The girl went to him, and embraced him tightly. “This is the dream. You must return to your world. There are people there who need you…” she whispered the words into his ear, her lips brushing the side of his face. When she was done, she stepped back, into the waiting arms of the medicine man. Together they turned and walked out of the tent, fading into the night sky.
“No!!! Don’t leave me! Take me with you! I don’t want to go back. Katonah! Nikita!” Johnny cried out, attempting to follow; but his legs wouldn’t move. “No….!”
Scott Lancer sat and watched his
sleeping brother. It was obvious
that, once again, Johnny was in the throes of a nightmare.
Loosening the head strap, Scott allowed Johnny to freely move his head
lest he injure his neck straining against the thick leather.
Staring at Johnny’s gaunt and pale features, Scott could hardly imagine the dreams that tormented his brother’s rest. Perhaps, they were the same dreams that tormented Scott every time he closed his eyes to rest. In his dreams, he was back at the doctor’s office, holding his dead brother in his arms. The hurt was still fresh. Just the thought of Johnny being gone forever struck at Scott’s core. Reaching out, he gently wiped Johnny’s fevered brow, soothing away whatever was troubling the restless man so he could get the respite he desperately needed to heal.
There was still so much Scott needed to know. What had brought Johnny to Stockton? Would he consider returning to Lancer when this was all over? He also wondered where Johnny learned to use poison to fake his death. Those were questions he had pondered ever since he found Johnny almost a week ago. Gazing at his brother, he confessed to himself the question that tore at him the most. Why did Johnny write a note to Heath and not to him when the town was in trouble? Did Johnny no longer trust him? Had Murdoch so wounded Johnny that he no longer had faith in their relationship as brothers?
As Johnny called out in his sleep, Scott could only wonder at the secrets his brother harbored. Having known the man for six months had not made him an expert, but the one thing he knew for sure was that Johnny would never intentionally hurt him. The fact that Johnny lay so gravely wounded was a testament to the lengths the young man would go to secure the safety of others first. Johnny was the hero of the hour. For the past seven days Scott had listened to Murdoch and had come to believe that perhaps his father finally acknowledged that Johnny was more than worthy to be called a Lancer. If Murdoch didn’t, then there wasn’t much hope of either brother ever returning to the ranch.
The night quickly passed, and at dawn, Johnny once again became restless - calling out in his sleep: Katonah or Nikita Despite Scott’s best efforts to prolong his brother’s rest, Johnny fought his way back to wakefulness.
Slowly Johnny’s eyes trembled open; a cough erupted from his lips, causing his diaphragm to spasm against injured ribs and healing wounds. Sweat broke out on his face and forehead while he desperately tried to regain control of himself. Miserable with pain, Johnny looked up at his brother with pleading eyes. “Let me out…” he whispered.
“I’m sorry, Johnny, I can’t…” Scott stood up to better dab at the sweat that ran down off
Johnny’s forehead and into his hair. Scott
found himself growing weak in the knees as he helplessly watched Johnny being
tortured by the coughs that wracked his body.
Cutting his eyes away, Johnny said no more; allowing Scott to gently lift his head so he could take a few sips of water to soothe his raw throat and parched mouth. He was submitting himself to time. In time he would be out of this bed – either walking or not. In time he would be free – to do what was right.
“Johnny…?” Scott asked, after
Johnny had drunk his fill.
“Let me be…” Johnny whispered, closing his sunken eyes.
Disheartened, Scott dabbed again at
Johnny’s sweaty face, neck and forehead – all the while trying to think of
what he could say to make things easier for his brother.
At a loss, he remembered the words Johnny had called out during the
night. “What do Katonah and
Surprised by the question, Johnny reopened his weary eyes, but focused on the ceiling rather than look at his brother. “Where’d ya hear them words?”
“From you; you said them in your sleep. What do they mean?”
“They’re names…” Johnny
whispered; his voice edged with sadness.
“Who are they?”
Johnny paused for a moment before answering. He held no grudges against his brother and knew that Scott would misinterpret his silence as anger. “They’re dead…”
Scott raised his eyebrows at this bit of information, but pressed on – wanting to keep his brother engaged in conversation. “You know what I mean – who are they?”
Turning his head, Johnny’s tired sapphire eyes met Scott’s light blue ones. In a flat tone of voice, Johnny finally responded. “Katonah was a medicine man and Nikita was the mother of my child.”
Unconsciously, Scott’s mouth dropped open at the bombshell that Johnny had dropped. “Mother of your child…?” That wasn’t in any of the Pinkerton reports he had read.
“Yeah – they’re dead…” Johnny’s lips trembled as he said the word ‘dead’ - as if by saying it he was admitting to the hope he held for himself.
“But…” Scott started, still stunned by the pronouncement.
“The village was attacked and everyone was killed. I arrived too late to save them…” Johnny figured that it was his exhaustion getting the better of him, but he could no longer blink back the tear that escaped his right eye.
“You were dreaming about them?”
“I was there,” Johnny responded wistfully, now remembering the time he had spent in the village before awakening several days earlier. “I could have stayed and been with them, forever…”
From the worn out look in Johnny’s
eyes, Scott immediately caught the meaning of his brother’s last statement. “I’m glad you didn’t.”
Scott spoke quickly, realizing that talk of death was the last thing his
brother needed to dwell on. “So,
tell me – Katonah – was he the one who taught you about poison?”
From the day he awoke from the
‘dead’, Johnny knew that this moment would come.
His inquisitive brother would want to know all of the details of his
‘death’ – and it wouldn’t be pretty.
“Yeah, it was used as part of a cleansing ritual.
It makes you still as death, but you’re still alive and aware of
everything going on around ya. You view life kinda differently when you’re
Scott thought about the answer for a few
seconds. Slowly, a combination of
realization and hurt filled his mind. “You
mean back at the doctor’s office – you could hear me?”
He demanded in a voice that was low and harsh.
A faint smile crossed Johnny’s mouth
and Scott frowned in response. Scott hadn’t disappointed him.
“What’s the matter?”
“You were alive back at the doctor’s
office,” Scott paused long enough for Johnny to slightly nod his head. “Then you heard what I said to you?”
Johnny’s eyes locked on Scott’s. “I ain’t proud about what I put you through…”
“You have no idea what you put me through!” Scott accused. “I thought you were dead! I cried for you! I mourned for you! It tore me up inside to think you were gone for good!”
“There was no other choice,” Johnny
whispered, not wanting to hear the hurt in his brother’s voice.
“No other choice?”
Scott echoed. “Johnny,
don’t you see? None of this would
have happened if you hadn’t rushed off or had at least told me where you were
going or what you were going to do. You could have trusted me to help instead of
becoming Johnny Madrid again and wasting your life away!”
“I don’t see it that way…”
Johnny protested, getting angry at his brother’s refusal to acknowledge
he always had been and would be Johnny Madrid.
It was Johnny Lancer who was the fiction.
“You never do,” Scott spat, his
anger finally getting the better of him. “To
you it’s always Johnny Madrid to the rescue and to hell with Johnny Lancer and
the people who care about him. You left me behind and look what happened?
You became Johnny Madrid and tried to stop a range war all by yourself.
You could have contacted me. I
would have come. Together we could
have found a way to stop Bartch or could have worked together to protect the
Cattlemen’s Association. If you
had told me, none of this…” Scott
indicated the latest injuries to now scar his brother’s flesh and the legs
that no longer worked. “..none of this would have happened.
You put me through hell – thinking you were dead, and I’ll never
forget it! Why
did you think you had to save this town all by yourself?
You’re my brother; you know I would have come!
What gave you the right to decide that it was OK to sacrifice yourself
and to hell with the rest of us? It
isn’t fair Johnny, and I’m not going to stand for it any longer! If we’re
to continue as brothers, then everything needs to be above board – everything
on the table. No more running off. No
more sacrificing yourself for hopeless causes!”
Scott stopped, his heart pounding in his chest.
For days these feelings had been festering inside and finally they had
“You through?” Johnny asked quietly, his eyes now burning with anger.
Scott returned the glare, but found his
own anger waning. Unable to speak,
he gave a nod of his head.
“Well, it must be nice to be you,
Boston - always being right; judging me without knowing all the facts. Besides, who appointed you to be my guardian angel? I’ve
survived this long without you in the past and I can in the future!
For your information I
didn’t come here looking for what I found; it found me. I couldn’t turn away. Too
many people could have gotten hurt or killed.
I did what I had to do. You’re
not the only one that can come up with a plan.
The last time you did things your way it almost got me killed!”
Johnny spoke as loud as his weakened lungs would allow; gasping for
breath while he tried to make his own point.
Scott bristled at the accusation. “What are you talking about?”
You had your plan, and I had mine. You
never took the time to tell me what you had in mind – might’a saved me a
bullet in the back if ya had –but you didn’t think about that then!
If you had told me, I would have done things different!
Well, this was my plan, and the only one to get hurt was me!
Not you!” Johnny was now
breathing rapidly, his lungs suffering from lack of oxygen.
“That was a long time ago – before I knew you…” Scott tried to protest.
“So, I was disposable back then? Why – because I was Johnny Madrid? Well, it weren’t Johnny Lancer who faked his death –
he’d already been killed. Don’t
ya see? I am Johnny Madrid!
It was Johnny Madrid who played with death.
How the hell was I supposed to know you’d be in town?
As far as I was concerned Johnny Lancer was dead – and so far I ain’t
seen anything to tell me different…”
“How can you say that?” Scott objected. “I’ve been with you everyday…”
“Why – so you could get me well enough to chew me out? Well, if that’s why – thanks for nothin’! I don’t need my heart tore up by you or by Murdoch Lancer ever again. I did what I did to get the job done – period. And if you don’t like it – leave – and don’t come back!” Johnny punctuated his last sentence by starting to cough again. His shouting had strained his lungs, loosening the phlegm that was clogging his breathing passages. Lying on his back made it hard to breathe and the coughs were coming from deep within his diaphragm. Unable to catch his breath, Johnny gasped for air.
A look of horror crossed Scott’s face, realizing that in expressing his anger he may have set back his brother’s recovery. Johnny was choking to death. Quickly, Scott loosened the straps that bound Johnny to the board and slowly rolled him to his side. “I’m sorry, Johnny…” he whispered repeatedly while he gently rubbed his brother’s upper back until Johnny went limp. Startled by the lack of movement by his brother, Scott rolled a very pale Johnny to his back. “Oh, God!” he swore; in his haste to help Johnny, he had accidentally disconnected the chest tube - leaving a gaping hole in Johnny’s chest. Scott could hear a sucking sound as Johnny desperately tried to get air into a collapsed lung. Remembering the rudimentary medical training he received as an army recruit, Scott placed his hand tightly over the open incision just as Jelly came running into the room.
“What’s all the fussing about? I could hear you two all the way…” The older man stopped short, surveying the scene.
“Go get the doctor, now!”
Jelly turned on his heel and ran from the room, almost knocking Murdoch over in his haste. “Jelly, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Johnny; somethin’ terrible has happened! Scott wants the doc to come now!”
Murdoch let Jelly go as he hurried into
the library. Scott was standing
over his unconscious brother, his hand over the area where the chest tube had
once been in place. “What
happened?” he asked quickly to see if there was anything he could do to help.
“He was coughing – choking…
I moved him and the tube came out…I’m sorry…Murdoch.
It’s my fault. I yelled at him and he got angry…” Scott looked up at his father, his face a mask of desperation
Murdoch looked down at his unconscious son. Johnny’s lips were tinged with blue, but he was breathing. “It’s alright, Scott. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him…” Murdoch gave his eldest son a reassuring look before once again looking at his youngest. “It looks as if he’s breathing with the other lung. Whatever you do – don’t move your hand!”
After a few anxious moments, Johnny opened his eyes. Looking up, he saw the haggard face of his brother. Johnny tried to smile, but a wince of pain crossed his dry and cracked lips. “You sure don’t look so good, Boston…”
“Shhh, don’t talk, Johnny. The doctor will be here soon and fix you up right as rain…”
“Why,” Johnny whispered finding it hard to get his breath. “He gonna fix my legs?”
“Johnny, you’ve got to be quiet,” Murdoch said as softly as he could muster.
Slowly, Johnny’s eyes moved from Scott to Murdoch. “Let me go…” he pleaded to both men. “I can’t live like this…”
Murdoch began to stroke the damp silken strands of Johnny’s hair. “We can’t do that, Son. We can’t let you go…”
Johnny swallowed hard and closed his
eyes - giving in to the brutal discomfort in his chest.
“No, Johnny.” Scott said, desperately trying to will his brother to want to live. “You can’t leave us yet. It’s not time…”
“That’s what Katonah said…” Johnny whispered, his eyes rolling back and his lids closing.
“He’s right, Brother. It’s not your time yet. The doctor will be here soon and he’ll fix you up.” Murdoch gave Scott a questioning look but the younger man shook his head slightly, signaling they could discuss the comment later.
After several desperate moments Johnny’s breathing evened out – signaling that he was once again unconscious.
Victoria and Jarrod came running into
the room to see what had happened. “Is
he all right?” the woman asked, anxiously surveying the scene.
“I don’t know,” Murdoch answered, continuing to stroke his son’s hair. If possible, Johnny looked even more weak and frail that he had just the night before. It left the man wondering how much more pain his son would have to endure just to live. Hadn’t Johnny had enough pain in his short life? Closing his eyes, he began to pray. For years he had refused to ask – having lost his faith after so many losses; but now he was prepared to beg. ‘Please, don’t take my son away; not again. Help him; help us all to be strong.’
After a few moments of silence, it was Scott who answered Victoria’s question. “He was choking and I moved him to make it easier to breathe…” Scott’s eyes were locked on the unconscious face of his brother. “The chest tube… Oh, God!” tears threatened at the corners of his eyes as he shut the lids tight. He had been yelling at Johnny, berating him for making them think he was dead – and now his own actions had nearly ended it all. With his hand tightly pressed against Johnny’s cool skin, Scott realized how fleeting life could be. All it would take for him to let his brother die would be to simply remove his hand. Gazing at the still face, Scott knew there was no way he would ever let his brother go. Increasing the pressure, he bent low to whisper in Johnny’s ear. “Don’t you leave me, Johnny. Don’t even think about it. You’re going to get better. You’ll see; and when you do we’re going to set things straight.”
Every tick of the grandfather clock in
the foyer punctuated the dead silence of the living room.
The doctor had been in with Johnny for over an hour and the waiting was
excruciating. Scott paced the
room in time with the constant tick, tick, tick – his movements aggravating
his father’s nerves. The elder
Lancer, however, held his tongue – not daring to make a word of complaint.
Scott was already worried sick that his actions had compromised
Johnny’s frail health. Murdoch reasoned that Scott didn’t need to know that
the pacing was irritating him to death.
Closing his eyes, Murdoch thanked God
for listening to his prayer for help. They
had been fortunate that Howard Merar was nearing the ranch for his daily visit
when Jelly found him. For what
seemed to be a lifetime, Murdoch and Scott both pleaded with Johnny to breathe
and to stay with them. Scott had kept his hand pressed tightly against the open
wound, not daring to move an inch until the doctor arrived at the door.
The doctor immediately went to his unconscious patient, having been
informed by Jelly what had happened. It
was hard for the man to believe that anyone would have chosen this time in
Johnny’s recovery to engage him in an argument.
Howard immediately regretted his unspoken assumption when he saw
Scott’s ashen face. Clearly the
young man was devastated by his brother’s setback.
Shooing everyone, except for Victoria, from the room, the doctor set about repairing the damage that had been done. That was an hour and a half ago.
“What’s taken’ so long?”
Jelly whispered to Murdoch. He
too was agitated by the constant ticking of the clock and Scott’s movements.
Jelly immediately regretted his question, as he watched his friend clench
and unclench his fists, keeping nervous time with Scott’s pacing. The
not knowing was hard on them all.
Murdoch could only shake his head; his lips a firm line. The father was still stricken by his son’s plea to be left to die. Never, in all of his years had he had anyone beg him for death. The fact that the person begging was someone he had brought life to only added to the weight of the request. It had been within his power. All he would have had to do was to let Scott move his hand and slowly, Johnny would have died; freeing him from his earthly torment and prospects of never being able to walk again. It had been a blessing that Johnny had passed out. Murdoch didn’t think that he could stand seeing the pain in his son’s vivid blue eyes any longer. Despite his promise to let Johnny help make decisions regarding his medical treatment - this was one decision he would not honor. There was no way that he was going to let Johnny die; that would have been the easy way out. No. Johnny had to live. He couldn’t let his son simply fade away from his family.
A single tear coursed its way down Murdoch’s weathered right cheek. No one should plead to die – especially not Johnny. The young man had too much to live for to beg for death. In shame, Murdoch knew that it had taken almost losing Johnny, on multiple occasions, for him to finally appreciate how much a vital part of the Lancer family his son had become – to everyone but his father. By far, this most recent turn in Johnny’s life had been longest he had lingered at death’s doorstep. It had been close, but now Murdoch couldn’t imagine not having Johnny in his life; he needed Johnny in his life. There was so much of living that Johnny had not yet experienced – the part of life where a man could enjoy the fruits of his labors and start a family of his own. It seemed unfair that Johnny’s life be cut short because of his own belief that he was not worthy of life’s rich rewards. Murdoch knew that his son had experienced more than his fair share of bitter times; it was time for him to revel in the sweeter side of living.
Another tear coursed it’s way down
Murdoch’s cheek as he accepted responsibility for how his own actions may have
brought Johnny to the conclusion that he was not worthy of this life. He had
robbed his own son of the love he was entitled to.
He had cheated Johnny of the life he should have had.
It started far before the day that Johnny arrived at the ranch eight
months ago. It started the day
Maria had left him and the ranch with their child.
He should have done more to find Johnny while he was still young.
There was no excuse for his turning his back on Johnny when the
Pinkertons found him as a teen. No. The only
reason that Johnny felt the way he did now was because of his father.
Johnny needed to know that he was wanted, needed and loved no matter what
condition he was in. Bowing his head, Murdoch knew he couldn’t let his son go
without telling him that he was sorry.
From the corner of his eye, Murdoch watched Scott and worried for him. If Johnny died, Scott would never forgive himself. The older son would be drowned in a sea of unfounded guilt – a guilt that now lay heavy on his shoulders. Murdoch understood Scott’s anger at his brother. Scott was right; Johnny thought too little of himself. It was a fact that Murdoch had been aware of and exploited during their first months together. It had been so easy to use this weakness in his attempt to re-mold Johnny into his image of what a Lancer scion should be. What he hadn’t considered was the underlying strength of Johnny Madrid. Johnny Madrid didn’t need to be a Lancer to survive. Madrid wasn’t defined by Murdoch’s rules and regulations. Johnny Madrid was an enigma that Murdoch Lancer had no control over. Murdoch could only pray that somewhere in Johnny’s heart remained the man who had valiantly tried to claim his birthright – a claim that Murdoch had wrongfully denied. Perhaps it would be that person who could forgive an ignorant old man – and return home to Lancer.
Scott continued to pace, unaware of the time he was keeping with the old clock. Every time he turned, he anxiously looked at the closed doors to the library. When the doors didn’t open he would turn away and course his way back through the living room - praying with each step that his brother would survive the day.
Finally, the heavy wooden door swung open and an exhausted Victoria Barkley appeared. Brushing an errant gray hair from her forehead, she motioned for the Lancers to come. Without a word, the three men followed, single file into the room – Scott in the lead.
Johnny was once again propped up with pillows, though his legs and lower back remained strapped to the hard wooden surface of the traction device. “There is no way of avoiding this,” Howard said in response to their unspoken questions. “It’s more important that he breathe. We’ll worry about his legs once his breathing becomes stronger.”
With a shaky hand, Scott reached out and took Johnny’s cold right hand in his own. His eyes surveyed the unconscious man. The chest tube was gone. With questioning eyes, he looked at the doctor.
“I was able to re-inflate his lung and remove a good portion of the air that had gotten in the chest cavity before I sewed the incision closed. He had what we call a pneumothorax. He’s going to be in a lot of pain until the air I wasn’t able to remove is absorbed into his tissues. I’ve given him morphine…” Both Murdoch and Scott started to protest, but the doctor would hear none of it. “Trust me, I wouldn’t have given it to him if I thought he could handle the pain. The pain he’s going to have when he wakes up is a crushing pain that makes it hard to breathe.”
“When will he wake up?” Murdoch asked, moving to Johnny’s left side.
“He’ll probably be out the remainder of the day. I’ve got a few of the smaller ranches to visit, but I’ll be back by nightfall.”
“Thank you,” Murdoch extended a hand to the doctor, who grasped it with his own bloody hand.
“Keep him quiet,” were Howard’s words as Victoria led him to the kitchen to finish cleaning up.
Murdoch, Scott and Jelly kept a vigil at Johnny’s side for the entire day – listening to him as he struggled to breathe. When Victoria insisted they eat, they left in shifts – never leaving Johnny alone.
It was Scott who was paying the most
dearly for what had happened. When
Murdoch and Jelly had both left, Victoria sat next to him, taking his hand in
hers. “He’ll be alright, you
“No, I don’t know.” Scott said firmly, his eyes never straying from the passive face of his brother. “I almost killed him – and for what? To tell him that he shouldn’t have run off and nearly get killed? Some brother I am!” Scott chastised himself.
“Scott, he knows that’s not what you meant…”
“Does he? I wonder. His last words - he accused me of saving him just so I could yell at him – like Murdoch. He knew this was coming!”
“You’re giving him too much
credit,” Victoria soothed. “Scott,
Johnny has been through a terrible time. Have
you ever thought that he meant for those words to hurt you – so you would hate
him enough to let him go – and that when you did – you wouldn’t miss
Scott turned to look Victoria in the eyes. “What are you saying?”
Victoria looked past Scott to gaze at Johnny. “When I spoke to him the other night, he confessed that he didn’t want to live if he couldn’t walk again. He’s afraid, Scott. Afraid of not being the man he was; of not being the brother he was. Somehow we’ve got to convince him that he is – that despite his physical condition he is worthy…”
“He was always worthy…” Scott whispered as he now stroked his brother’s temple. “I could never convince him otherwise. He was always taking chances with his life – as if he had nothing to live for…”
“It hasn’t changed, Scott. The Johnny you spoke to earlier is the same Johnny you’ve always known. He didn’t mean to fight with you. He’s fighting himself. Have you asked him about his dreams?”
“I did this morning.
He was dreaming about the Indian medicine man who taught him about
poisons, and…” Scott paused,
remembering the bitterness in his brother’s voice when he told him about the
girl he loved and how she had been killed along with their baby.
“He told me about his girl who died along with his child.
How can any man survive so much pain and still be rational?”
“Your father did – twice.”
Scott opened his mouth to respond and couldn’t find his voice. He had never given his father’s past much thought. Victoria was right. Not once, but twice Murdoch had lost his family. It had taken the man twenty years to get it back. It explained why the man was so difficult to get to know; but it didn’t explain his prior indifference towards Johnny.
“I am not defending your father for the way that he treated Johnny. From what you and Jelly and - yes what Murdoch has confessed – what he did was unthinkable. He has a lot to make up for and you can make it easier. You can listen to your brother. Help him to change his dreams from the past to the future. Do you think you can do that?”
Scott swallowed hard.
It wouldn’t be easy, but it gave him something to think about rather
than wallowing in his own self pity. “I’ll
do my best, Ma’am.”
With a smile, Victoria patted him on his
shoulder and left the brothers alone. It
was a good thing that Murdoch had two sons who cared so much for each other.
She had little faith that Murdoch would have been able to handle this
situation on his own.
As the sun set, two men in a carriage approached the house. Bernardo and Padre Santos arrived at the request of Jarrod Barkley. While Victoria had wanted to speak with Bernardo about Johnny, the lawyer thought that the Padre might be of comfort to the Lancers after this most recent scare to Johnny’s health.
Bernardo climbed down from the carriage and went to the back where he had secured a small travel bag; in his pocket was a telegram for Señora Barkley. Victoria greeted them at the door and welcomed the two men into her home. “I’m so glad that you both could come. I’m afraid that this has not been a good day.”
“Si, Señor Jarrod says that Juanito
is not well,” Bernardo commented as he handed Victoria the telegram
“The telegraph office says that this is muy importante.”
“Thank you,” Victoria took a moment to read the note – a smile warming her exhausted features. “It’s from my son, Heath. He says that he will be home tomorrow with the men who did this to Johnny.”
“Si, a note was sent to the sheriff as well. The news is all over town,” Padre Santos said, his eyes wandering to the closed library door. “Senora, would it be possible for me to see the Lancers?”
“I think that would be an excellent idea,” Victoria smiled, encouraging the man to leave her and Bernardo alone. She waited until the Padre was in the other room before guiding Bernardo to a couch near the fire. When they were seated, she took note of the bag the man had brought. “What have you got there?”
Bernardo smiled and opened the bag.
“Mi hermana, Consuelo, she found Juanito’s soiled clothes at her
place. She has cleaned and mended
them so that they are like new.” Opening the bag, Bernardo removed Johnny’s shiva shirt.
The bullet holes had been mended and some additional embroidery added so
that they were no longer visible. Gone
were the gruesome blood stains – a reminder of the day when they all thought
that Johnny had died. Next he
pulled out the brown concha pants and jacket.
Once again, the woman had worked her magic and made the items look as if
they were new.
“Tell her ‘gracias’ for me,” Victoria took the clean items and lovingly inspected them. She remembered how resplendent Johnny had looked in them so many days ago. He had been prepared to meet whatever challenges the day had in store for him; only he wasn’t prepared to meet his father. That was going to change.
“Bernardo, I asked you here for two reasons. Johnny is not doing well. His legs…”
Bernardo shook his head. “Señor Jarrod - he tells me that Juanito may never walk again. It is mucho desgraciado - sad. What can I do to help?”
“I understand that some of your people wanted to have a fiesta to honor Johnny…”
The older man brightened.
“Si! Juanito is a
héroe! We want to honor him
– when he is well enough…”
“I would like you to have the fiesta here – at the ranch…”
“No Señora, you cannot…”
“I insist! Everyone can come as my guests I think that it is high time that Stockton recognized the one man who perhaps saved us all.”
The smile on Bernardo’s face grew brighter. “Excelente! When should we do this?”
“The trial is to start in two days.
Jarrod thinks that it should be done in two days.
Can you be ready in four days?”
“Si!” Bernardo nodded his head energetically. “Consuelo and a few of the others have already made plans. Everything can be brought here!”
Victoria beamed. “Have
Consuelo come by tomorrow; she and I can go over the details.
I don’t want to bother the Lancers with this…”
“Señora, what else did you wish to ask me?” Bernardo asked, remembering that Victoria had said she had two requests of him.
“If you have time, I’d like you to come and sit with Johnny. I think that he misses having someone he can talk to – in Spanish. When Cipriano was here, he would speak to him in a language his family could not understand. I think that would be important – for now…”
“His papa still does not understand him?” It was a puzzling request and Bernardo was reluctant to interfere in the relationship between father and son.
“Oh, I think the does.
It’s just that Johnny has a need to be able to speak his mind without
hurting his family…” It was
hard to explain, but Victoria felt that Johnny needed to be able to confide in
someone without his family’s constant hovering.
“I will speak with Juanito. If he wants me here – then I will be here for him.” Bernardo and Victoria stood, each coming to a mutual understanding. “May I see him now?”
Together, they went to the library.
The Padre had spoken with both Scott and Murdoch and was now sitting near
Johnny reciting the rosary. Cautiously,
Bernardo tiptoed up to where Johnny lay. Catching
his breath, he found himself stunned that Johnny looked worse than before.
Quickly he crossed himself and said his own prayers before turning to the
Lancers. “He is a brave man, Señors,
and an honorable man. It is not
good that he should be so unwell. What
can I do to help?”
Murdoch smiled weakly and considered the offer. “You are a good friend to my son. If you would like to come…”
“Si, I will come again.” With a wink to Victoria and a nod to the Padre, the two men prepared to leave.
“He is in God’s hands, Señors. Do not lose your faith – even if Juanito has.
You must help him to find it again.”
With that said, Padre followed Bernardo from the room, leaving the
Lancers once again to their thoughts and prayers.”
Nick came in off the range hungrier than a bear waking up from hibernation. He entered the kitchen, loudly slamming the back door and calling to his mother that he was home.
“For goodness sakes, Nicholas – must the entire county know you’re home?” Victoria hushed as she descended the back stairs.
“Where is everybody?”
Nick stopped, recognizing the look of exhaustion on his mother’s face.
“We nearly lost Johnny…”
“He started to cough and Scott had to
move him; when he did the chest tube came out…” Victoria sighed remembering
the long tense moments until the doctor arrived.
“It was touch and go for a while.”
Nick gave a low whistle. “How’s he doing now?”
Victoria shook her head. “He hasn’t woken up yet – and when he does he’s going to be in a lot of pain. In fact, I’m expecting Howard back at dinnertime.”
Realizing that his mother was taking this all very hard, Nick went to her and wrapped her up in his arms. “I know this is rough on you…”
“Nick, I don’t know how much more he can take. He actually begged his father and brother to let him die.”
Nick raised his eyebrows at that. When he had been tied to that bed, he had been scared that he
would never walk again, but he had never considered death as a solution.
“That’s got to be tough…”
Victoria let go of her son and gave him a brave smile. “I’ve enlisted the help of some friends. We’re going to have a fiesta here in a few days to let Johnny know how much he is loved and needed.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” Nick asked cautiously.
“I don’t know if it’s wise, but it’s what we’re going to do. Besides, I have some good news for you!”
“Your brother will be back tomorrow.”
A big grin split the tall man’s face. “Heath? Home tomorrow? Boy howdy that is great news!”
Mother and son both burst out laughing
at Nick’s use of Heath’s favorite expression.
The simple act of laughing was like medicine to a wound.
It was the best that Victoria had felt all day.
She now had her plan and was setting it into motion.
She would tell Murdoch –later. Right
now, he had to be focused on Johnny.
Dinner was over by the time Johnny made the first indication he was starting to awaken. Once again, he called out in his sleep. Everyone now knew who Katonah and Nikita were, and it hurt to know that Johnny was calling out to the dead and not to the living.
As his eye lids blinked open, Johnny
sucked in a deep breath of air that immediately set his chest on fire.
With teeth clenched, he pressed his head back against the pillows and
“Johnny?” Howard Merar was by his side, his stethoscope pressed against Johnny’s heaving chest listening to the breath sounds. The breathing was better than it had been earlier, but the lungs were still not able to inflate and deflate properly due to the air in Johnny’s chest cavity. “You need to relax, Johnny. Breathe slowly…”
Trying his best to follow the doctor’s advice, Johnny fought the crushing pain in his chest while tears of agony streamed from his eyes. Howard looked to Murdoch and Scott who seem paralyzed by the situation. It was clear the pain Johnny was in was unbearable, so the doctor made the only decision he could. “Johnny I’m going to give you some medicine…”
Johnny slowly ground out, only to find that talking aggravated his
condition. In the next moment, he
felt the prick of a needle in his left arm, followed by the numbing calm that
comes with morphine. Within a
matter of moments, the pain subsided, leaving Johnny to glare exhaustedly at his
father and brother. “You ain’t
got no right…” The pain
immediately flared and then subsided.
“Don’t talk!” Howard commanded. “This is my doing - not theirs. As long as you’re my patient you’re going to take this medicine. I’m hopeful that by tomorrow you might not need it. For now you do - and you’ll do as I say. Understood?”
Johnny’s glare was now focused on the doctor. He kept his mouth shut, but inside he was seething. In his mind, he was counting the days. In eight more days, he would be no ones patient and he wouldn’t have to worry about taking any medicine. Closing his eyes, he gave into the numbing sensation of the narcotic.
Sleep finally found him, but rest did not. Johnny had expected to return to the village where his friends, Katonah and Nikita were waiting for him. Instead, he found himself alone, in a blackness like none he had ever experienced before. It was so dark that he couldn’t even see his own hand as he waved it in front of his face. A shiver ran up his spine; he felt blinded and an unfamiliar panic rose within him. Turning in a circle, Johnny’s keen eyes finally discerned a light source some distance away – like the breaking of dawn on the horizon, but there was none of the grand illumination that he was used to at sun-up. With a sigh of impatience, he started to walk toward the light. In many ways he figured that he was perhaps walking toward his destiny. Katonah had told him that he would not return to the village again. The Padre had said he was a Pilgrim on a journey of discovery. Perhaps, he thought, he was finally going to his final resting place.
It took for what he felt was forever, but finally Johnny got close enough to the light to see that he was out in the middle of an open range. Looking down at himself, he was no longer wearing the breach cloth he had worn before. Now, he was dressed in his brown concha pants and shiva shirt. Leather boots encased his feet, keeping them dry from grass that was wet with dew. Puzzled, he continued his pace. With each step, he got the feeling that he should know where he was going. As the dawn finally broke so did his time of reckoning. He was returning to the place of his greatest defeat. It was a place he had been, but had left in anger and shame. There was no desire to return, and yet he somehow knew there was no turning back. With his head bowed, he plodded along – as if driven to confirm what he feared. Steadily he climbed a grassy hill until he at last arrived. He had returned to Lancer.
Scott Lancer had just drifted off into his own beleaguered sleep when he felt his brother stirring.
“…no, no, no…” Johnny moaned as his thin hands grasped the rumpled covers of his bed.
“Shhhhh, Brother – go back to
sleep,” Scott soothed.
Johnny was twisting his neck from side
to side; panic and pain were clearly defined by his pale features and labored
breathing “No! I can’t go
there…!” he whispered in his sleep, his voice a harsh rasp.
“I’m here, Johnny. It’s a dream…” Scott took Johnny’s hand in his and gave it a squeeze, afraid that he might break something should he squeeze too tight.
Slowly, Johnny’s movements stopped and he began to blink his eyes. Relief came instantly when he saw he was back in the Barkley’s library. With a grimace he sighed, contented to feel this physical torment rather than to face the emotional pain that had gripped him in his sleep.
“Where were you this time, Brother?” Scott asked, relieved to see that Johnny seemed to be able to master his discomfort. Placing a glass against his brother’s parched lips, he helped Johnny take a few sips of water until the bedridden man could drink no more.
Johnny closed his eyes as the cool
liquid soothed his raw throat. The
pleasure of the sensation was quickly overwhelmed by the burning pain that had
re-awaked in his chest. “I
can’t go back….” he whispered in a low voice, fighting the heaviness in
Scott knitted his brows together in puzzlement. “Can’t go back …to sleep? To Katonah and Nikita?”
Johnny closed his eyes and shook his head. “I can’t go back. I don’t belong any more…”
“Go back where?” Scott asked as he watched Johnny slowly drifting off to sleep.
“I saw it…. Lancer…. I can’t go back….”
Before Scott could ask why, Johnny was once again sound asleep, his hand still gripping Scott’s. Looking at their entwined fingers, Scott made a vow then and there. Johnny would return to Lancer; he would return and take his place as a rightful owner. Together, they would show the Old Man what family means.
It was ten o’clock, the next morning, when Val and Heath finally returned to Stockton - along with their prisoners. Nick Barkley impatiently waited for the returning heroes along with much of the population of Stockton. The telegram Val sent to the sheriff had been shared with a few of the deputies and the news spread through the town like wildfire. The late October morning was chilly and the tall cowboy had worn a warm coat over his long sleeves and vest. He was amused to see that the cool weather hadn’t prevented a large crowd from gathering. They all wanted catch a glimpse of the prisoners before the trial. Nick sat on his horse and watched as the crowd grew larger and larger. None of these people had come to the ranch to check on Johnny or to thank the Lancers for the sacrifice the young gunhawk had made. No, they were all bound to make a spectacle of the prisoners and ignore the actions of the one person who had laid it all on the line to save the town.
The train chugged into the station, dark
smoke billowing from the boiler; steam hissing from the brakes as the large
locomotive slowed to a halt. The
whistle blew in three long bursts, signaling its arrival.
Nick turned away, his ears pierced by the loudness of the sound.
With hawk-like eyes, he watched as the passengers disembarked. There was no sign of his brother, or the former sheriff of Green River, as the passengers slowly cleared the platform. Shifting in his saddle, Nick grew impatient until finally the door to the mail car slowly slid open. There stood the three prisoners: Bushrod Smith, Injun Joe and a young kid. Smith sneered at the crowd; his contempt of the entire situation clearly written on his face. The Indian maintained a passive expression while the kid looked scared to death. All three were in chains – their hands bound in front of them, attached to manacles that bound their ankles. The three weren’t going anywhere fast.
Fred Savage and two deputies stepped forward, shotguns in hand. Fred wasn’t taking any chances with this trio. The crowd booed and shouted as the prisoners slowly disembarked. Some of the people even brought overripe tomatoes or fruit to throw at the chained men. Fred seemed content enough to let the demonstrators throw their garbage until a grizzled Val Crawford came out of the train car and discharged his shotgun into the sky. “That’l be enough ‘o that!” he shouted as the crowd immediately quieted. “You all will have your chance when the trial starts! Now let ‘em be!” Val then turned to speak briefly with the kid, who was now spattered with the remains of a squashed tomato. The boy nodded in response to what Val had to say, before he was pushed forward to keep pace with his companions.
Val was then joined by another grizzled
man. It took a second look for Nick
to realize that the scruffy looking man standing beside the dark-haired
ex-sheriff was his own brother. Putting
two fingers in his mouth, Nick gave a sharp whistle.
Heath immediately looked up, catching
sight of his brother sitting on his horse a safe distance from the dispersing
crowd. With a smile, he gave a wave
and pulled Val with him as they headed to where Nick had dismounted and now
stood waiting. “Boy howdy
you’re a sight for sore eyes!” The
two brothers quickly embraced, slapping each other on the back.
Nick then stood back and surveyed his
younger brother. “You look as if
you haven’t taken a bath in about a week!”
Heath’s filthy appearance told the story of a man who had been on a
hard trail. His clothing was
streaked with dirt and dried mud covered his boots.
A week’s worth of beard framed his square jaw and high cheekbones.
Heath and Val both laughed. “You’d be right, Big Brother. I’m ready for a hot bath, hot meal and a clean bed. You comin’ Val?”
Crawford bowed his head and studied his boots for a moment. “One thing I gotta know first - what happened to Johnny?”
Slowly a smile grew on Nick’s face. He had wanted to prolong the torture of their not knowing, but their angst filled expressions told him they needed a break. “Haven’t ya heard? He’s harder to kill than a cat with nine lives…”
“Johnny’s alive?” Val asked, a matching smile growing on his face. “Why didn’t ya say so? Let’s get a move on!”
The two men retrieved their mounts from the livery car and set off for the Barkley Ranch. For an hour they regaled Nick with stories from their ‘hunting trip’. For Nick, it was hard to tell when the two men were telling the truth or a tall tale. It quickly became obvious to Nick that Val Crawford could be a bad influence on his younger brother. “Well, now that you’re done with all your playin’ you can get back to work. We’ve got a ranch to run and I’m tired of doing it all by myself!”
Heath silently smirked at the remark. It was Nick’s way of telling him that he had been missed. “So tell us about Johnny? How’s he doing?”
Telling the men that Johnny was alive had been the easy part, what he had to say now was hard. “He can’t walk…”
Both Heath and Val looked at each other, stunned. It was what they had feared the most. “Is it permanent?” Heath asked, remembering how Nick himself was given the same diagnosis a little more than a year ago.
“The doc tried putting him in that traction contraption, but… there’s been a setback…”
“Setback?” Val didn’t like the sound of that or the way that Nick’s normally loud voice dropped several notches. “What kind of setback?”
“It’s his lungs; he’s too weak to lay flat and yesterday the chest tube came out… we nearly lost him…”
“How are Murdoch and Scott holding up?”
“Scott’s taking it pretty bad. Murdoch…? Well, he’s the hardest man I’ve ever tried to read. Just when you think he doesn’t care – he turns around and shows he does. Personally, I think that he can be a mean old cuss..!”
Heath grinned at Nick’s assessment of
Murdoch Lancer. He had felt very
much the same way about the older man – before he had punched him in the jaw. Later, he found that Murdoch did care about his friend, only
he had no clue how to be a father. “What
does Mother think?”
Nick’s gloomy face brightened. “You know Mother! She’s taken Murdoch to task; teaching him how to be a father. She’s also taking Johnny under her wing. He’s a little under the weather right now, but by the time she’s done with him he’ll be fine – you’ll see.”
This intrigued Val. He had briefly met Victoria Barkley and found her to be a very strong woman; but then Johnny Madrid could be a very stubborn man. “She got some sort of special medicine or magic spell? I can’t see Johnny wantin’ to live if he cain’t walk.”
“You don’t know my mother,” Heath remarked with a smile that slowly faded to a frown. Victoria Barkley didn’t know Johnny Madrid or the Lancers. He could only pray that somehow she would work a miracle and get Johnny to change his way of thinking.
Scott was gone when Johnny woke up again. He was alone, propped up on the bed of torture. His chest was still on fire, but he could manage it - barely. Closing his eyes, Johnny tried to take stock of his situation. He was paralyzed. He couldn’t walk, couldn’t ride, couldn’t do anything. The word ‘useless’ spun around in his head, reminding him over and over that his life was done.
His dreams of Lancer had robbed him of any rest that sleep had brought. Seeing the white hacienda in his dreams had taken all of his strength. He now found himself resolved to never return to the place. Just the thought of going back turned his stomach. Johnny had never thought of himself as a weak man or a coward, but the thought of returning to Lancer scared him.
Lying back against the pillows, he thought of Nikita’s last words to him. ‘You must return to your world. There are people there who need you…’ Johnny knew she was wrong. Lancer was no longer his world; he had come to face the fact that he was not Johnny Lancer and Madrid had no place there. There wasn’t anyone there who really needed him. His father sure as hell didn’t. Scott – he had survived his entire life without him and could do so again; the others would survive too.
With a sigh, he threw his arm over his
eyes, trying to block out the rest of the world.
He was glad for this time alone. He
was tired of people hovering over him; tired of the pain.
There was so much he had to think about; so many loose ends that needed
to be tidied up. First in his
thoughts was Scott. He hadn’t
intended to be drawn into Scott’s tirade, but there was only so much that he
could bear – and being accused of not caring for his brother had hurt more
that Johnny Madrid had ever thought possible.
For the majority of his life, he had no one to think of beyond himself.
Now, he found Scott on his thoughts like a dog that wouldn’t let go of
his favorite bone. There was no way
he would ever place his brother in danger.
Scott was the only Lancer worth a damn; Johnny had sworn there was no way
he would ever jeopardize Scott’s life just because his brother was Johnny
Madrid. Scott didn’t understand
what a threat Madrid was to him and to the entire estancia.
They were all better off with him gone.
It wasn’t a question of his not caring – it was a fact that he cared
What Johnny hadn’t planned on was for the chest tube to come out. For a few seconds, he was sure that he was finally going to die. The pain had been worse than being gut shot. It had taken his breath away; robbed him of the ability to think straight. It was what he wanted – what he needed; what was best for everyone. Stubbornly both Scott and Murdoch had refused. A smile slipped up the corner of his mouth when he thought how ironic it was for Murdoch Lancer to beg Johnny Madrid not to die. After all, hadn’t he already pronounced him dead? Johnny was sure that somewhere the devil was rolling over in his grave.
“Is that a smile?”
Johnny had been so deep in his silent
revelry that he had failed to hear Scott enter the room.
Following close behind was Murdoch Lancer. Whatever smile he had immediately disappeared.
“Nah, it must have been a twitch…”
“Oh,” Murdoch commented, disappointed. He had hoped that the smile on Johnny’s face was an indication that now might be a good time for them to have a talk. “How do you feel, Son?”
Johnny looked away at the use of the
Tell me – exactly when did I become your son?” With glaring eyes he turned back to face his father.
“Was it when I shot Ben Anderson or Ned Bartch?
Or is it only when I’m on the brink of death?”
“Johnny…” Murdoch started, alarmed that Johnny was once again letting his temper get the better of him.
“Go away, Old Man and leave me be! I ain’t gonna have you being my father now – or ever.
I’m your hired gun. I done
my job. You don’t owe me nothing!”
Completely taken aback by Johnny’s fiery words, Murdoch initially opened his mouth to make his own angry response – but he immediately thought better of it. Arguing with Johnny was not going to bring him back to Lancer. “All right, Johnny. I’ll leave, but don’t think I won’t be back. You and I are going to have a talk.”
In silence, Johnny and Scott watched as
the older man quietly left the room. Johnny
continued to stare at the door long after Murdoch was gone. In his anger, he had drawn a deep breath and he was now
paying dearly for it as a deep pain spread throughout his chest.
It was unlike Murdoch to give up so easily and, for an instant, he almost
felt sorry for the Old Man. That
moment quickly passed when he realized he had another problem – Scott.
“Are you going to yell at me too?” Scott asked quietly, as he watched Johnny struggle to calm his breathing, stifle the urge to cough, and master his pain.
Johnny considered his brother, sensing
the seriousness of the question. What
he had said to Murdoch was not Scott’s fault.
Looking at his brother, it was easy to see that what had happened
yesterday had affected him deeply. Scott’s
normally sparkling blue eyes were now clouded with fear and worry.
Slowly Johnny tried to give him his best smile.
“Why? You gonna call me Son, too?”
Scott was immediately startled by levity of the moment. Both brothers looked at each other for a few seconds before they both began to smile. Scott walked to the door and shut it, making sure that Murdoch was no where nearby. “Why did you just do that to him?”
Johnny frowned, picking at the bandages that wrapped his chest. “I’m not sure anymore. Seems like the thing to do….” Johnny looked up at his brother. “What should I say to him? I’m sorry? Scott I haven’t done anything to him to apologize for. I’m apologized out.” For his entire life, Johnny had been apologizing to people as a way to gain their favor. He had apologized to his mother to make her love him again. He apologized to his step-father to make him stop beating him. The apologizing had stopped when he became Johnny Madrid. Why had he returned to that behavior when he met Murdoch Lancer? Had the man’s attentions meant that much to him? It stung his heart to even think that way. No. He had to be strong.
Scott studied his brother, recognizing the inaccuracy of what Johnny was thinking. “Brother, you don’t owe him an apology. If anything, he owes you that and more…”
Johnny gave Scott a startled look. “Is that why he was here - to apologize?”
“No…At least I don’t think so. I think that he wants to know how you’re doing…”
“Then let him ask the doctor…”
“Johnny, the two of you need to talk; clear the air. Would it be so bad if he had apologized?”
Johnny considered the question for a few moments before answering. “It don’t matter none. Who would he be apologizing to? Me or Johnny Lancer?”
Johnny’s question stunned Scott. “Johnny – you are Johnny Lancer…”
A tired sigh escaped Johnny’s lips.
They still didn’t understand. “I’m
not a Lancer. I never have been. I’m
Johnny Madrid, Scott – that’s who I am.”
There was an awkward pause as Scott realized that he had no response to this declaration. He had heard it before, but for the first time he was beginning to understand it. Changing the topic he asked “so how are you doing?”
Johnny’s mouth turned into a sly grin. “It hurts – especially when I breathe…”
“About yesterday, Johnny, I’m sorry. I had no right…”
With a shake of his head, Johnny held up
his hand to stop Scott from saying any more.
“Please Scott, don’t. You
were angry and I guess if I was in your shoes I’d be angry too.
You just have to see things my way. I’ve been doing this job for a very
long time – without your help. I had no idea you were going to be in Stockton,
and even if I did – I couldn’t have asked you to help. You’re
Scott Lancer, a rancher, and I’m Johnny Madrid, a hired gun.
Lancer and Madrid just don’t mix…”
“But that’s where you’re wrong!” Scott insisted. “You’re
as much a rancher as I am – even more so.
I know you want to be – you’re a natural. Why can’t you be both – Madrid and Lancer?
It was Madrid who helped Johnny Lancer to survive all these years.
You were right – I just didn’t want to see it; I do now.”
Scott sat on the edge of Johnny’s bed.
“No, Scott.” Johnny said firmly. “I don’t belong. I can’t spend the rest of my life fighting that Old Man. He’s been there longer than I have. It’s his place and it’s your future…”
“It’s your future too! He’s changed, Johnny. You need to hear him out. Since he’s come to Stockton he’s had his eyes opened.” Scott paused noting the skeptical look on his brother’s face. “Trust me?”
“You can’t fight our battles for us Scott,” Johnny observed quietly. “I don’t see myself going back to that place. The man done killed me once. I can’t let him kill me again.”
Scott frowned, but was not discouraged. “Give him time Johnny…”
“I gave him six months, Scott. I’ve go no more time for him. He hated me for who I was, for who he thought I was. I can’t have him pretending to like me for who I am now – a worthless cripple. I can’t do it…”
“Then try for me…?”
“You’re asking too much, Scott. I
can’t do it - even for you.”
Scott’s frown deepened as he desperately tried to think of a way to get Johnny to change his way of thinking. “Then try for yourself.”
Nick, Heath and Val rode up to the house a little before noon. Heath couldn’t keep his eyes off the sight of his home. A warm feeling filled his being. This was where he belonged – the place he had been searching for his entire life. It was a miracle that he had found it; an even bigger miracle that the Barkleys had accepted him and made him a part of their lives. Glancing to his right, he looked at Nick – thankful to have the sturdy stalwart man on his side. If only Johnny could feel that way about Lancer – then he could go back. From what Nick said, the only thing that Johnny was looking forward to was death and that had to change.
The men rode around to the back of the house, noting the carriage that belonged to the doctor hitched to the front rail. Before they had even dismounted, Victoria Barkley was coming out the door, running to greet her returning son. Despite his filthy clothes, she embraced him, thankful that he had been brought back to her safe and whole.
A speck of dust must have gotten into Heath’s eyes as he wiped them on the back of his sleeve. “I swear it sure is good to be home!”
Victoria studied every feature of his exhausted face, her green eyes brilliant with concern and love. “Its good to have you home – both of you. Now, there’s a bath drawn for each of you upstairs. I expect you back downstairs in a half hour, properly cleaned and shaven. I’m holding supper – so you better hurry!”
“Holding supper?” Nick protested, his stomach growling. “You better get a move on, Little Brother…”
Heath gave his brother a mock glare before turning back to his mother. “Johnny? I saw the doctor’s carriage out front…”
“He’s here for his daily visit. We’ll talk more when you’ve cleaned up. He needs you Heath. I’m glad you’re home.”
Heath descended the main staircase
dressed in a fresh white shirt and tan pants. He thought the grime from the
trail would never wash off, but after much scrubbing he was satisfied that he
was finally clean once more. From
the dining room, he could hear the sounds of his family and the guests that were
gathered around the table, waiting for him to enter.
His eyes, however, were drawn to the closed library door and his thoughts
to his friend.
With a quick glance back to the dinning
room, he tiptoed to the closed doors, opened them and silently slipped inside.
His eyes became accustomed to the dim light and he walked closer to his sleeping
friend. It worried him to see how
much weight Johnny had lost and how pale his normally tan complexion had become.
In many ways, it looked as if death had already claimed him.
“He just fell asleep,” came a
disembodied whisper from the corner.
Heath startled, caught completely unaware by Murdoch Lancer. “You hiding?”
“He doesn’t want to see me…” Murdoch spoke softly, coming to stand beside Heath. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do to get him to listen…”
Remembering how he had just felt,
returning home after being away, Heath offered his two cents worth of advice. He too spoke softly, not wanting to disturb his friend’s
slumber. “For as long as I’ve known Johnny he’s been hungry – and I
don’t mean just for food. He’s
longed for the respect of his compadre’s without having to prove it with his
gun. He’s wanted a place to call
his own; but above all else, he’s wanted to belong.
I guess that if you can offer him any of that, then he might listen.”
With that said, Heath left Murdoch to
stand and gaze at his son. He could
only hope that his words could help, otherwise Murdoch Lancer was going to lose
Lunch should have been a lively affair – a celebration of the safe return of Heath and Val. While everyone was anxious to hear their exploits, the fact that Johnny lay so gravely ill in just the other room dampened what should have been high spirits. Jarrod and Nick were anxious for details while the Lancers just wanted to hear that Smith had been captured and would be spending the rest of his days in prison.
Both Val and Heath were modest men and didn’t like being the center of attention. They told their tale as quickly and quietly as possible. The questions that were asked were answered with the briefest of details. In the back of their minds they worried about how Johnny was going to respond to their abandoning him when he needed them the most. They could see Johnny feeling that he had been left in the hands of strangers – people who wouldn’t understand or respect what Johnny Madrid wanted. During the times they had ridden together, they would talk of not leaving anyone behind and what that meant. This afternoon, Heath and Val knew they would be facing their friend and have to explain why they had failed him. Words were just words until you finally had to face them. Seven days ago they had been faced with trying to influence Johnny’s treatment or leaving. They both felt like cowards.
Nick was quick to speak up when the conversation lagged, bringing Heath up to speed on all that had happened on the ranch. Victoria kept a close watch on her newly returned son. As dramatic as Nick made every cow and thrown horseshoe sound, she could tell that Heath’s thoughts were somewhere else. He had a friend who needed him; someone – for right or wrong – Heath would feel he abandoned in a time of need.
“….I tell you, them cows didn’t know which way to turn!” Nick laughed, finishing a particularly long story - only to find that he had lost his audience. Murdoch and Scott Lancer had only marginally followed the story; both had smiled when he finished just to be polite. Both men had barely eaten anything, their minds obviously focused on the man in the library. That was to be expected.
What he hadn’t expected was to be
ignored by his younger brother. After
they had pried the details concerning the capture of the outlaws out of Heath
and Val, the two men remained distractingly quiet.
“What did the doctor say about Johnny?” Heath asked, finally turning the dinner table conversation to the topic they had all been avoiding.
Murdoch cleared his throat before answering. “The doctor thinks that he’s doing as well as can be expected. His wounds and ribs are healing and the air in his chest is slowly being absorbed…” the older man faltered before speaking of what everyone really wanted to know. “There’s still no feeling in his legs…”
“It could be too soon, couldn’t it?” Heath anxiously asked his mother.
Victoria reached out and placed her hand over her son’s. “It could be dear; it’s only been two weeks since…the accident.”
A frown creased Heath’s rugged features. What had happened to Johnny had been no accident. It was attempted murder. “May I be excused, Mother?” Heath asked wiping his mouth on his napkin and standing up.
“Me, too – Ma’am,” Val stood,
following his friend’s example.
“But we have apple pie…”
“I’m not hungry,” Heath went to Victoria and gave her a small kiss on the cheek.
“Go to him,” she whispered as his lips brushed her skin.
Heath smiled and left the room with Val trailing close behind. Scott quickly followed suit, leaving his father behind with the rest of the Barkleys.
Victoria watched as Murdoch pushed his food about on his plate, not taking a bite. Clearly, the weight of his last conversation with Johnny was pressing on his mind. With a nod to Jarrod and Nick, the younger men left the room, leaving Victoria to Murdoch’s moodiness.
“He doesn’t want me near him…” Murdoch started in a low voice.
“I know,” Victoria moved from her chair – taking the seat that Scott had just vacated. “He doesn’t know what he wants…”
“Doesn’t he? He seems so certain that he wants to….die…”
“He’s scared, Murdoch. Right now he can’t see his future…” Victoria thought for a few moments, trying to find the words that would help. “Have you ever known Johnny to be a coward?”
Murdoch’s eyes flashed at the comment. “Johnny and coward are two words that you never say in the same sentence. I’ve seen him run out in front of a charging horse and bring it’s rider to the ground. No – Johnny is not a coward.”
Victoria smiled. “I didn’t think so. Right now he’s probably more afraid than he’s ever been in his life. He thinks that he’s lost so much – his legs, his identity….you.”
“Me? The boy doesn’t want me!” Murdoch stood and started to pace about the room.
“Do you know what he wants?” Victoria asked from her seat.
Murdoch stopped short and looked at her. “No…”
“And why is that?”
Murdoch looked away uncomfortably, avoiding Victoria’s green eyes. “Because I never asked…”
“Then ask him!” Victoria responded forcefully.
“But he won’t listen to me…”
“You’re going to have to find away - if you really want him to return to Lancer with you!”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Of course I want him to come back! I just don’t know how to make him listen to me.”
A wry grin crossed Murdoch’s face as he tried to find a solution for
his problem with Johnny. “Sometimes I wish he was still a two year old child that I
could just put over my knee and spank…”
“Murdoch, Johnny’s a grown man who
had his world turned upside-down; a world you turned upside-down!
Wishing he was still a two year old will not solve anything.
going to have to deal with him as he is now and with who he is now.
First of all, you have to figure out what you want.
Do you want him back in your life as more than a hired gun?”
“Of course I do!” Murdoch growled, his lighthearted musings dashed by Victoria’s frank assessment of the situation.
“Then you had better be prepared to fight for him – but not with your fists or your wits. Fight for him with your heart!” With that said, Victoria left her friend to his thoughts. If she stayed any longer, she was afraid that she would end up slapping him. The thought of her striking Murdoch made her smile. So far Heath and Scott had each taken a whack at her friend. Who was next?
Jelly had just finished feeding Johnny
some broth when Heath and Val entered the Library with Scott.
“Well lookie who’s come ta see ya!”
Johnny rolled his head to the left and gazed at the men who had entered the room. When he saw Heath and Val he rolled his head back and closed his eyes.
“How ya doin’ Johnny?” Val said stepping close to his friend. “Yer lookin’ better…”
Johnny ignored the man, keeping his eyes closed.
“We got ‘em, Johnny. We brought Bushrod and the others back for trial…” Heath said, cautiously standing beside Val. He shot a questioning gaze at Jelly who only frowned and shook his head.
“So?” Johnny whispered finally. “You left me here – to this.” Johnny opened his eyes and looked at his legs. “You went after Smith and let them do this to me. Why?”
“We done it for you, ya ungrateful…” Val hissed; his frustration at the situation mounting.
Johnny asked opening his eyes to glare at his friends.
“Did I ask ya to go after ‘em? You
knew what I wanted and you didn’t do it…”
Val and Heath looked at each other, knowing exactly what Johnny meant. Scott’s eyes flashed at his brother’s comment. Anxiously he looked to the pair, waiting for their response.
“We couldn’t do it, Johnny…” Val whispered, sticking his hands into his pockets like a scolded child.
“Go away…” Johnny rasped before he was overcome by a fit of coughing. The action brought stinging tears to his eyes.
The men present looked on as Johnny
struggled against the paroxysms for breath.
“Don’t he need some medicine or somethin’?”
Val asked Scott.
“No!” Johnny gasped between coughs.
Scott shook his head. It had been like this since Johnny had come to earlier in the day. Once again the injured man was refusing the medicine that would have helped him get the healing rest he needed. The boy was just plain determined to do things his way even if it meant risking his recovery. It left the older brother wondering what had happened in Johnny’s past to make him respond that way.
Heath knew. He had seen Johnny badly injured before. Madrid had a strong aversion to any sort of pain killer. The original reason was long ago forgotten, but Heath knew the truth. Johnny desperately hated the feeling of not being in control of himself at all times. The constant refusal had become part of the Madrid mystique that Johnny carefully groomed with his reputation.
When the coughing stopped, Johnny was left gasping for small breaths for air. His face and hair were sweat soaked. Jelly used a cool rag to wipe the excess moisture from his friend. To the older man, there was no sense in suffering; Johnny, however, saw things differently.
Heath waited until Johnny was once again
breathing comfortably before speaking again.
“I’ve got to talk to you Johnny.
I need your help…”
Johnny opened an eye and suspiciously looked at his friend. “Why, you need a horse broke? A rustler shot?” A small laugh escaped his pale lips. No one else laughed.
“No Johnny. I’ve got something more important to ask you.” Heath nodded at the other men, indicating that they should leave him and Johnny alone. Reluctantly Scott allowed Val and Jelly to push him out of the room. Once they were alone, Heath sat next to his friend. “You know that we couldn’t do it, Johnny…”
“If you were my friends…”
“We are your friends. Just like that time in Corona when I got hurt bad. You could have let me go – but you didn’t…”
“That was different…”
“You was young. You had your whole life ahead of you…”
“And you don’t?”
Johnny turned to look at his friend, his blue eyes blazing. “What kinda life am I gonna have now? Johnny Madrid in a wheelchair? I’ll be dead as soon as I leave this place.”
“It ain’t that simple, Heath, and you know it. I can’t stay here. I ain’t your problem.”
“You’re right, you aren’t my
problem. You’re my friend, but if
you can’t stay here then return to Lancer with your family.”
A sad smile formed on Johnny’s lips and once again he began to laugh until he started to cough. Heath watched helplessly as pain wracked Johnny’s chest until the spasms finally subsided. Picking up the glass of water that Jelly had left on the nightstand, he helped Johnny take a few sips. Johnny lay back and gathered his thoughts. “I can’t go back to Lancer. I don’t belong there – I never did.”
“But, it’s what you always wanted…”
“I was wrong. I had no right to that dream. That was Johnny Lancer’s dream and he’s dead.” Johnny’s eyes slipped closed. “You said that you had somethin’ for me to do?”
Heath moved forward on his chair,
getting as close as he could to his friend.
“A sixteen year old boy needs your help…”
“What can I do…?” Johnny opened his tired eyes and looked at his friend.
“It’s the kid that was there that night with you, Murdoch and my mother…”
A frown creased Johnny’s face as he tried to place the boy Health was referring to. “What…?”
“He’s just a kid, Johnny. Val and I talked to him on the trail. He’s a good kid, he just made a dumb mistake. We think that he deserves a second chance. A word from you could make all the difference.”
Once again Johnny’s eyes slid shut. ‘A word from you…’ echoed in his thoughts. When he was that kid’s age he would have given anything for a special ‘word’ that could have saved him from a lifetime of hurt. No one had spoken up for him and his fate was sealed. “What do you want?”
“The trial starts tomorrow. Jarrod can take a statement from you. Just say that you forgive the kid for what he done and Jarrod will take care of the rest.”
Johnny’s blue eyes cracked open and he studied the sincerity on Heath’s face. “I’m tired…”
“I know, Johnny, but this kid could hang in three days…”
After a long moment, Johnny spoke again. “Send your brother in later. I’ll say whatever you want…”
Heath brightened and laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You won’t be sorry, Johnny.”
“It’s too late for me to be sorry about anything,” Johnny whispered as he drifted off to sleep.
“Rest, my friend.
You’re going to need it…” Quietly,
Heath made his way from the room and out to the foyer where Scott was anxiously
“Well?” the older brother asked anxiously.
“He’s sleeping…” Heath looked at Scott, shaking his head. “He needs to learn to fight again or we’re going to lose him.”
Scott nodded his head in agreement. “He’s afraid of being hurt. It’s easier to just give up.”
“I cain’t say as I blame him,”
Jelly pointed out. “That boy has
been hurt bad – and I don’t mean just his body.
He’s had two worlds taken away from him. He cain’t be Madrid if he
cain’t walk – and ‘ol Murdoch said Johnny Lancer was dead.
What’s he supposed to do now?”
“First of all, he needs to speak with
Murdoch,” Scott said; everyone nodded their heads in agreement.
“He’s going to need our help whether he wants it or not.
Are you with me?” Again, everyone indicated they agreed. “Good. I’m
going to find Murdoch and have a little talk with him.”
Scott strode from the foyer to where he
last saw his father. Heath, Val and
Jelly all looked at each other. “This
ain’t gonna be easy, is it?” Val
“Nope,” Heath headed off to find Jarrod. If Johnny was going to save the kid from hanging, he needed to fill in his brother on the details.
Val and Jelly stared at each other for a few seconds before each turned, heading in his own direction. Jelly returned to Johnny and Val followed after Heath. After riding with his old friend for a few days, he had gotten used to his company. Perhaps together they could find a solution to Johnny’s problem.
Scott found Murdoch and relayed what had
happened in the library. He
insisted that now was the time for Murdoch to speak with his son – before it
was too late. Johnny was growing
weaker; his emotions were on the brink of depression.
During the war, Scott had seen many a man, well on the way to recovery
die as the result of hopelessness or depression.
The former lieutenant was determined that his brother should not fall
victim to the same affliction – not while it was within his power to save him.
Murdoch promised that he would try again, but that he had a few things to get straight in his mind before trying to tackle Johnny’s fragile emotional state again. Scott indicated that he understood his father’s position, but that there were risks to waiting. “Time is running out for Johnny, Murdoch. Don’t take too long.”
It was late afternoon by the time Murdoch was able to muster enough courage to return to Johnny’s sick room. Scott was reading the Count of Monte Cristo aloud to Johnny. Murdoch entered the room and winced as Johnny caught sight of him and closed his eyes. “Can you leave us, Scott?” Murdoch asked quietly.
up at his father, hopeful that the older man had somehow found the words to make
his peace with Johnny. “If you
don’t mind, Sir, I’d rather stay.” It was clear that Scott was concerned
about the frail condition of his younger brother.
He was not about to have Johnny further injured by their father – ever
Murdoch glanced at his bed ridden son and then back to Scott. He recognized Scott’s need to protect Johnny, and he couldn’t blame him. “That would be fine.”
With a small
smile of victory, Scott closed the book and vacated the seat next to the bed,
moving to stand near the door. He
prayed that the conversations he’d had with both men would help clear the air
now. Still, he had no way of knowing how Johnny was going to react to anything
Murdoch would say.
Murdoch lowered himself into the chair where Scott had been sitting.
He looked to Johnny who had turned his head away, like a trapped animal
unable to run any further from its predator.
“Johnny, we need to talk.”
“I ain’t got nothing to say, Old Man. Just leave me be…”
“No, Johnny. I’ve left you alone for far too long…
“Then the rest of my life won’t be too hard for you to handle…”
“Johnny…” Scott started only to be cut off.
“Stay out of this, Brother. This is between him and me.” Madrid’s icy voice stopped Scott immediately.
silence for a few moments, before Murdoch tried another tact.
“Johnny, you said before the…dragging…” the pitch of his voice
dropped, remembering the terrible event. In
a second he recovered and continued, “…and again when you woke up that you
had disappointed me. What did you
A crooked smile crossed Johnny’s lips and he chuckled briefly, before a deep pain lanced through his injured ribs and chest. Gritting his teeth he pressed his head back against the pillows until the pain passed.
Murdoch looked panic stricken - that his one question had caused his son so much suffering. Perhaps now wasn’t the time. “Son…”
“Don’t call me ‘Son’!” Johnny spat hoarsely; his eyes alight with fire. “I ain’t your son! You made that clear two months ago!”
wrong…” Murdoch stated firmly.
“Well, isn’t that nice for you!” Johnny’s heart was thumping painfully within his chest and he strove to bring it back under control. When he had calmed, Johnny looked at his father, finally answering his question. “I did what I usually do, Old Man. I disappointed you…”
“Is that what you think? You disappointed me?”
“Yeah – I didn’t have the grace to die so that you wouldn’t have to worry about having Johnny Madrid as a son anymore…” Johnny looked away, not wanting to face the man who had killed his chance at a new life.
“No, Son. I don’t feel that way…”
when?” Johnny demanded. “You made it clear that I could never be the Johnny Lancer
“I was wrong! I know now that I was. You are better than the Johnny Lancer of my dreams.” Murdoch paused, waiting for a response. There was none. “What I’m going to ask, Johnny, is that you forgive me and give us another chance.”
considered the request and snorted. “Did
ya hear that Scott? He wants me to
give him a chance! This from a man
who never in six months ever gave me a chance!
Well, you’re asking a lot, Old Man.
From the time I first stepped foot in that casa you call a home - you
never gave me a chance. You dangled it in front of me like a carrot and then you
snatched it away. And why? I was
too much like my mother, too much like Johnny Madrid, too wild – like an
animal. Nothing I did was right – nothing! You made my life a living hell and where did it get me?
Well, it didn’t get me where you wanted me – dead!
No siree! I guess that I
just didn’t get the message right!” By
now Johnny was panting, a fine sheen of sweat breaking out on his face and
chest. Pain was clearly written on his features.
Scott stepped forward, afraid that the argument would lead to a
reoccurrence of the events of the day before.
“This has to end now!”
Scott?” Johnny glanced at his
father who’s expression was a mix of regret and concern.
“Does it end now Old Man?”
“Johnny he’s trying to apologize…”
For what? For being Murdoch Lancer and having the God given authority to
proclaim what is right and what is wrong? I
don’t think so.” Johnny looked
from his brother to his father. “So
what changed, Old man? Why
apologize to me now? Because you
think that I’m too weak to fight you…?”
Johnny struggled to get up, only to be gently pressed back into the bed
by both his father and his brother. Shamed
at his weakness, Johnny succumbed to the pain.
Once again he turned his head away and clenched his jaw to suppress the
moan that was welling inside his chest.
He couldn’t do it anymore – he couldn’t fight Murdoch. He’d had enough and wanted it to be over so he could finally
be alone. “Just go,” he forced
out between gritted teeth.
Murdoch let go of his son, but did not move away. “No, Johnny, I’m not going. I don’t think you’re weak; and I don’t think that you’re an animal. You’ve got every right to be angry at me…I’ve come to know that I was wrong. I am a fool. I listened to the wrong people. I guess what I want to know now is what do you want?”
Johnny was stunned, momentarily forgetting his pain. In all his life, no one had ever asked him that question before. The fact that the question was coming from the man who had fathered him only added to the difficulty of finding the answer. After a few moments, he decided that rather than answering the question – he would throw it back. “Let me ask you, Old Man – what have you wanted out of life?”
stared at his son, stunned by the depth of the query.
All his life he had known exactly what he wanted: to be his own man, to
own property, to prosper and to be surrounded by his family.
It dawned on him as he looked at the battered man who was his son - that
perhaps Johnny had the same dreams – that they weren’t so different.
There was one big difference; Murdoch’s father had encouraged his son
to leave Scotland and to find his dreams in America.
Whereas Murdoch had crushed his son, preventing him from ever attaining
his. Slowly and with a voice filled with shame, he answered his son. “I wanted
to be successful. To have a family;
to be happy…” bowing his head he whispered: “you must think that I’m a
terrible person – don’t you?”
Johnny relaxed and closed his eyes knowing that he had finally gotten through to his father. “Frankly, what I think don’t matter – does it? After all, I’m only a dead man. What can a dead man want? I don’t want nothin’.”
Once again, Murdoch’s own words had returned to haunt him. “That’s wrong, Johnny – and you know it! You want to live – to have a family of your own some day…”
this?” Johnny bitterly indicated
his dead legs. “I can’t even
take a piss by myself. You should
have let me die…”
couldn’t. Johnny, you don’t know if this is permanent.
You could recover. Don’t
you think that it’s time you gave yourself a chance?”
Johnny railed at the thought of giving himself another chance. He had always made his own chances – until now. Now, he couldn’t see any choices for him to make except for one. “Why, has something changed that I don’t know about?”
grasped at his son’s question like a drowning man grasping for a log. “Yes! It’s
what I’ve been trying to tell you. I’ve
convinced that it’s not too late to change.
Not too late to admit that I’ve made a mistake and to try to fix it –
if you’ll let me.”
“So, now I’m a mistake?” Johnny asked bitterly.
twisting my words!” Murdoch
“Then why don’t you just come out and say what ya mean? Stop speaking in circles…”
Murdoch said firmly. “Johnny,
I’ve been a horse’s ass. I’ve
treated you badly…”
“Because of your past. I unfairly held it against you. I didn’t take the time to get to know you…”
“Why?” Johnny whispered, pushing his father as best he could to come to the truth.
shifted his stance, unaccustomed to being cross examined.
“I let the Pinkerton report and my own prejudices poison the way I
thought about you…”
would you send for me if you hated what I was?”
Johnny looked to his father, his eyes searching for honesty.
swallowed hard, remembering Johnny’s accusation when they first met – that
he had sent for his gun. The truth
needed to be told once and for all. “I
needed you…” he stammered, still fearful to admit his reason.
my gun! Ain’t that right?” Johnny finished, his chest painfully heaving as he tried to
shout. He knew he was right!
Closing his eyes, he fought the pain in his chest and felt he was losing
He had one more card to play, and struggled to find the energy to
play the ace he’d been holding up his sleeve.
“Isn’t that why you didn’t send for me sooner?”
Scott, who had been silently watching the exchange unfold before him now looked at the stricken expression on Murdoch’s face. The man looked as if he’d been punched in the gut. The look of satisfaction on his brother’s pale features indicated that, in the blink of an eye, something important had just happened – only Scott felt that he had missed it. Carefully, he listened as the exchange continued.
“You knew?” Murdoch whispered.
Johnny slowly nodded his head; his father had just confirmed what he had long thought.
“Knows what?” Scott demanded.
ignored his eldest; his focus was now entirely on Johnny.
A tired smile
formed on Johnny’s dry lips. “It ain’t hard to miss a nosey gringo in the
border towns. I even talked with
him – told him everything he wanted to know – all the dirty little facts. That’s what he wanted so that’s what I told him…”
“Told who?” Scott asked aloud trying to figure out who they were talking about.
Johnny continued, paying no mind to his brother’s question. “I guessed he’d been sent by someone… and I had only assumed it was you until just now. For five years you’ve known. You could have done something but you didn’t…”
“Five years… you mean…?” the pieces were finally falling into place for Scott; his mind whirling with this new information.
locked his eyes on Johnny’s. “…and
you came anyway. Why?”
Johnny looked away; he was near his physical limit and wanted this to be over. He also wanted his own truth to be told. “You saved my life that day. The Pinkerton found me in front of a firing squad. It was my day to die…” a wry smile crossed his lips, and yet he kept his eyes hidden. “I guess I felt that I owed you for it. Besides, I wanted to see…” Johnny’s voice dropped as his chest tightened. “…my father again.”
At that moment, Murdoch saw his son – the little boy he had mistakenly thought he had lost; the child who had loved him unconditionally. How much pain had he caused that child? “And you stayed in spite of what you knew?”
Scott held his breath waiting for his brother to answer. He couldn’t imagine what had been going through Johnny’s mind – to return to Lancer – knowing that he had already been rejected by his father. It was a wonder that the man had ever come - let alone stay for as long as he had.
Johnny looked out the window. Once again the sun was setting, just like his dreams – disappearing into darkness. “I thought that maybe I had found something I could call mine…” A single tear escaped the corner of Johnny’s right eye; rolling down a sunken cheek. He made no move to wipe it away. “I hoped…”
Murdoch could take no more. He had caused his son enough pain to last ten lifetimes. He went to the bed, carefully sitting on the edge. “Johnny…”
Johnny whispered, but it didn’t prevent his father from taking his hand and
holding it tight. For a moment,
Johnny panicked; wanting desperately to get away from the man who had
‘killed’ him just weeks ago. Johnny
looked at his hand, engulfed in the larger hand of his father.
It was the first time he could remember his father comforting him while
he was awake. Closing his
eyes, Johnny slowly allowed himself to give into his own need - to be wanted and
loved. Another tear escaped
his eye and his father brushed it away with the back of his other hand.
eyes closed, he heard the Old Man. The large hand that had wiped the tear from
his cheek was now gently caressing his cheek and stroking his hair. Over and over he listened as with every breath Murdoch Lancer
said he was sorry – promising to make the future better.
Johnny didn’t cry anymore. He had no more tears to shed for himself – none for his father. Instead, he slowly sank into the exhaustion that beckoned and fell asleep.
Murdoch felt his son go limp and yet he continued to touch him; savoring the unearned moment. In his mind, he churned through all the revelations Johnny had told him. He had been a fool; a stubborn, ignorant fool. That was going to change. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens’s story, he promised to make his own ‘Tiny Tim’ better – to give him the chance at life that he had been denied.
moved away from his sleeping son; gently placing his hand under the covers
before tucking him in.
Before leaving he
brushed the thick dark hair from Johnny’s brow – just like he had when
Johnny was a child. Standing, he
turned to leave only to find that he now faced an angry Scott.
With a sigh he knew that there was no taking back what had happened. The truth was out and Scott was fighting mad. With his shoulders squared, Murdoch left the room with his eldest son hot on his heels. To his credit, the younger man waited until the library door was shut before letting loose on his father.
“What did Johnny mean? You knew where he was but you didn’t send for him? How could you do that?”
Murdoch waved a weary hand across his face. “It was five years ago. The Pinkertons had found Johnny down near Sonora…”
“And you didn’t send for him?” Scott’s anger grew when his father didn’t answer. “What about me? You knew where I was and yet you didn’t send for me either!”
“That’s different and you know it!” Murdoch seethed. His emotions had already been taxed more in the past thirty minutes than they had in the past twenty-five years.
“Then tell me!”
“You were safe at your grandfather’s. You had a life!”
“And Johnny? What sort of life did he have?” Scott glared.
Before Murdoch had a chance to answer they were both taken by the arms and led into the sitting room by a very angry Victoria Barkley. “What do you two think that you’re trying to do?”
Scott shook his arm loose and sat down heavily on the sofa near the fire. “He knew where Johnny was five years ago. He could have saved him…”
“Could he?” Victoria questioned. “Would Johnny have just dropped his life and come running to Lancer…?”
“You’re defending him?”
not. But this is not for you to
argue. This is between Murdoch and
“Thank you, Victoria…”
“Don’t thank me, Murdoch Lancer!” Victoria turned on her heel, a finger pointed right at Murdoch’s face. “Don’t think that this is over!
Victoria stood in the middle of her sitting room – hands on hips as her eyes cut from one fuming Lancer to the other. She had separated the two men, hoping that somehow distance would help cool their tempers. It hadn’t. Instead, Scott glared at his father, while Murdoch tried to look anywhere but at his seething son.
“This isn’t going to help Johnny,” the normally patient woman pointed out. “The two of you are going to have to move past this and focus on Johnny…”
“Focus on Johnny?”
Scott pointed an accusing finger at his father.
“That’s exactly what he’s avoided for the past five years!”
“Johnny was avoiding me as much as I
avoided him. You
have no idea what he was doing, what he was thinking five years ago.
Johnny knew how to find me.
He could have come to me you know!”
I wonder.” Scott lowered
his hand and crossed his arms across his chest.
“What sort of man would spend money to look for his son and then turn
It was a valid point that Victoria was
anxious to hear the answer to.
Murdoch stood and went to the sideboard.
With shaky hands he poured himself a whiskey and downed it in one gulp.
“I’ll make no excuses for what I did or didn’t do.
The decisions were all mine – based on what little information I had.
For years I spent a small fortune trying to find Maria and Johnny –
money that could have been used on the ranch or to send for you, Scott.
I had to weigh my options. You
were in Boston – safe with your grandfather; I took what comfort I could in
“At first, I could only assume that Maria took Johnny to Mexico – where she had family. Every year, the Pinkertons would file their reports and every year it was the same – nothing. That all changed when Johnny was twelve. They finally found Maria – dead in Bonita – a town so wretched and poor that even the fleas had fleas. I went there myself with the hope that Johnny would still be in the area. I searched every nook and cranny of that filthy village, appalled that my son could have lived in such squalor. Maria had been reduced to being a…” Murdoch paused before his whispered, “whore.” No one knew that she had a son. I asked around about a dark haired, blue eyed boy and everyone laughed at me. It was only when I went to the Mission orphanage outside of town that I found what happened to your brother. One of the sisters remembered him – a hot tempered, independent boy with the skin of a Mexican and the eyes of a gringo. He had been there for three weeks before he took off for parts unknown. She knew him as Johnny Madrid… not as Lancer. It seems Maria didn’t like my name and didn’t want it attached to our son.”
“I paid the Pinkertons more money to try to find him, and for two years - nothing. It must have been when Johnny turned fifteen that reports started to drift northward of a young gunfighter who was making a name for himself along the border…”
“Johnny….” Scott whispered.
“Johnny,” Murdoch confirmed. “The boy must have known someone was looking for him. Each time the Pinkerton agent got close Johnny would up and disappear again. By the time he was seventeen, his reputation as a pistolero was known far and wide – and it wasn’t good…”
“I remember,” Victoria spoke up “I always wondered about those stories of Johnny Madrid; larger than life and twice as mean. Nothing like the young man I met…”
“I know,” Murdoch shook his head. “Apparently, the Pinkertons may have had a hand in
spreading that reputation. I got a
report after an agent actually met with him – the agent Johnny told us about.
The report was filled with the names and places for each man Johnny had
killed. It broke my heart to know
that my son was a killer for hire. The
report detailed how much the boy hated his father, but didn’t say why.
After reading it, I
had to consider what was best for Lancer. I
talked it over with my Segundo, Paul O’Brien, and finally I decided that I
couldn’t risk having a person like that in my home – we had to think of
Teresa and the safety of our men – I couldn’t risk it…”
“Until you needed that gun for yourself,” Scott finished.
Murdoch sighed and sat down, taking the seat next to his son. “I’m not proud of the past, Scott. I would have done things differently – knowing your brother as I do now…”
“And just how well do you know my brother, Sir. Who is he to you? What is he to you?”
Murdoch bowed his head, wondering if it
was ever going to be easy to speak with his eldest again.
“Johnny is my son – a son who I denied for far too long.
I have a lot to make up to him and with your help I hope I can do it.”
Murdoch’s blue eyes locked onto those of his son.
It was like looking in the mirror and going back twenty years.
In his son’s eyes, he saw the open heart that he had once had; the
heart that had loved and lost two women and two sons.
After that loss, his heart turned cold.
He could see the anger in Scott’s eyes was waning, replaced by an
understanding of the need for them to be unified to help Johnny.
“I was afraid of
Johnny – afraid of his past; of his violence.
I’m not afraid anymore, Scott. I’ve
learned that your brother was none of the things that I feared…”
Scott, however, just wasn’t ready to
simply fall in line with Murdoch’s way of thinking.
“Tell me, Sir, when are you going to stop holding the past against
Johnny? I watched you for six
months. For a while I thought that the two of you had an understanding – I
know that Johnny thought he had. What’s
to prevent you from changing again? I
think that Johnny needs some assurances…”
“All I can offer is my word that I will be better.
What more can I do?”
An awkward silence stilled the room,
until Victoria spoke up again. “The
two of you have forgotten one thing in all of this – Johnny.
Not to put a damper on what you’ve just said, Murdoch, but Heath
confirmed to me that Johnny has known about you his whole life. Why didn’t Johnny ever come and find you?”
Murdoch opened his mouth, only to have
Scott interrupt him. “I know the
answer to that. On the second
day back at the ranch, he said something to Teresa – that his mother told him
how Murdoch had thrown both him and her off the ranch; that Murdoch didn’t
want a Mexican for a wife anymore or a mestizo for a son…”
“That’s a lie!”
Murdoch protested. “I
loved them more than anything…”
“I know, Sir. But if Johnny knew where you were, this would explain why he never came to see you himself.”
Murdoch shook his head.
“He believed the stories his mother told him and he didn’t want any
part of me. Now I’ve only shown
him that the stories were true. How
much longer is the past going to haunt his future?
The past is gone...”
“You said that before and you were
wrong.” Scott said pointedly.
“Until it is all out in the open, we are just inviting more trouble and
heartache into our house – and I, for one, have had enough.”
“When he’s strong enough you’re
going to have to ask him about his past.” Victoria suggested.
“There can be no future until you both understand the past.
You also have to think of this: how
is he going to react to what happened just now?
What future can you offer him that is better than the one I suspect he
Scott and Murdoch looked at each other
dumbfounded. Neither had plotted
out a plan for the future.
Victoria smiled, knowingly. “I’ve got a short term plan if you’re interested. Bernardo Cardoza said that the Mexican population of Stockton wanted to hold a fiesta in honor of Johnny. I’ve invited them to have it here at the ranch. I thought it might be good for your brother to see how much of an impact he’s had on these people’s lives. He fought for them and gave them hope against terrible odds. Having them here might just be the thing he needs to give him hope to fight the odds that are stacked against him.”
Murdoch brightened at the suggestion. “When are you planning this?”
“The trial starts tomorrow and should
be concluded in two or three days. The
fiesta will be held four days from now. I’m
having Nick invite the Association members who have returned to town for the
trial. They should not forget who saved them – they should never forget.”
“I agree,” Scott stood to stretch
his cramped legs. “What can we do
“Leave the fiesta to me…” Victoria
said, standing as well. “The two
of you are going to be busy with Johnny…”
“We’re scheduled to attend the trial…” Murdoch reminded Victoria. They were witnesses to the attack on Johnny.
“Bernardo will be here with his sister Consuelo. I’m sure that Scott and Jelly can take care of Johnny.”
Murdoch was the last to stand. He went to his son and laid both hands on Scott’s
shoulders. “I’m sorry, Son. None of this should ever have happened…”
“And it won’t again. Count on it.” Scott’s cool reply rang in Murdoch’s ears as he headed out the front door for a walk. Victoria had issued him a challenge – to give his brother something to live for. Somehow he was going to have to show his brother how much he meant to him, show Johnny that he had a future besides being a gun for hire.
Out on the veranda, Heath and Val had been unintentionally eavesdropping by an opened window. What Murdoch had said about his search for Johnny made a lot of sense. Johnny had always known he was a Lancer, but had never made any attempt to go to see his father. Johnny knew where the man lived and often spoke of getting even with him for what he had done to his mother and him – and yet, he had never tried to make contact. As soon as the meeting broke up, the two men headed around the house and out of sight.
“What do you make of all this?” Val asked Heath as they headed for the barn.
Heath stopped and scratched at the
ground with the tip of his boot. “Johnny
was always a live and let live kinda fella – you just didn’t cross his
friends and get away with it. Murdoch
Lancer has a lot to answer for. I
have a feeling that if he asks right - Johnny just might forgive him.
I know that when we were kids, Johnny would sometimes talk about his
father coming to save him from the hunger and hurt that always followed him.
When he got older, that talk changed to hate.
I think that deep down; Johnny still might want someplace to belong. I know I did – that’s how I ended up here.”
Val was silent for a moment, thinking
about his friend. “Ya know, when
he was at Lancer he was the happiest I ever seen him.
He tried every which way to get that old man to like him – and for a
while he thought Murdoch did. I
don’t know if’n he’s got it in him to forgive him again.”
“We had all better hope that he can,” Scott Lancer came up behind the two men – startling them. He had overheard every word of their conversation, just as they had been eavesdropping on the conversation inside the house.
“Scott Lancer! You near about took ten years off my life!” Val fussed.
“And you should have been in the room
rather than listening at the window,” Scott admonished.
“Do you really think it’s possible that Johnny will give Murdoch a
Heath thought for a moment.
“Scott, it’s hard to tell. I
think that Johnny has got other things on his mind right now - more important
than whether he should go back to Lancer or not – like will he ever walk
again. If he can’t, then you’re
looking at an entirely different sort of fight.”
“I know,” Scott gazed at the moon rising in the east. “I pray that it doesn’t come to that…”
“Well, ya better start thinkin’ that way,” Val huffed. “You going to the trial tomorrow?”
“No. Murdoch and Victoria are. I’m staying here with Jelly and Johnny…”
“I wish I could too, but we’ve got to get into town and save that kid we brought in…”
Scott knitted his eyebrows, “The kid who tried to kill Johnny? You’re going to save him?”
“He’s a good kid, Scott. He just made a bad mistake. Heath talked it over with Johnny and he’s gonna put a word in for him…”
Scott grabbed Heath’s arm, spinning him around. Anger was clearly written on his face at the thought of his injured brother being bothered to save the life of a killer. “Is that what you asked him earlier? You asked him to spare the life of one of the men who tried to kill him?”
“It’s a boy, Scott, a sixteen year old boy!” Heath shook his arm free of Scott’s grasp. “What are you so angry about? Johnny agreed to it…”
“You have no right to ask that of
“I have every right! I know Johnny and he wouldn’t want a kid killed for makin’ a mistake! If someone had given Johnny a chance when he was sixteen – maybe things would be different now. Johnny knows that and understands!”
Scott listened to the words and knew
Heath was right. If only someone
had reached out and intervened on Johnny’s behalf – Johnny Madrid wouldn’t
have had to exist. “I’m
sorry…” Scott quietly started.
Heath shook his head, disappointed in
Johnny’s brother. “Did any of
you Lancers get to know him at all or are you all just pigheaded?”
A sheepish grin crossed Scott’s face. “I think that we come by it honestly – from my father…”
With that said, all three men laughed, the tension broken. Making their way to the back door of the house, they went in search of dinner.
After leaving Victoria, Murdoch went to check on Johnny. He found Jelly sound asleep in the chair next to his son’s side. A crooked smile lifted the corner of his face; there was no doubt that Jelly loved Johnny. The older man had always been a good friend to his son - in good times and now in bad. Perhaps Murdoch wasn’t too old to learn a few lessons from Jelly, too.
Murdoch laid a hand on Johnny’s brow – there was no sign of fever, for that Murdoch was grateful. He had been afraid that their discussion might have set back his son’s recovery.
“The fever is gone,” Jelly whispered, having been awoken by Murdoch’s presence.
“Thanks for watching out for him, Jelly.”
“Someone needs ta do it.
He cain’t do it for hiself no more… I don’t think he want’s
to.” Jelly stood and moved away
from the sleeping man, indicating that Murdoch should follow.
“Ya think we can talk him inta coming back to the ranch?”
“It’s what I want, Jelly. Right now, we have to do what Johnny wants…”
“He wants ta come back…”
“He said that?” Murdoch asked, his hopes rising.
“Not in words, but I know that’s what he wants – a place to call home… A kid like Johnny ain’t never had a home before- a place to call his own. That’s what he wants – it’s what all of my boys have ever wanted…”
“Is that who he is, Jelly, one of your
lost boys – like Toogie and Juanito?” Murdoch
asked with a small smile.
Jelly started to puff up his chest, but decided that arguing with Murdoch wasn’t the way to get his message across. “I seen young’uns like Johnny - all alone and skert. His only friend was his gun. There are scars on his hide deeper than a canyon – that go straight to his soul. Ya could have seen ‘em if ya tried – but you didn’t want ta. Instead you chose to listen to them lies that Ben Anderson put in yur head – and look where it got Johnny. Is this what you wanted for yur son, Mr.Lancer? Did you want him dead?”
“No, Jelly, I didn’t. I want him to be home – where he’s always belonged.”
Jelly considered the response for a moment before accepting it. “Then ya better make him feel like that’s where he belongs – and ya better do it right quick. There’s something brewing in that head of his, and I cain’t say as I like it!” Having spoken as much as he dared, Jelly left the Lancers alone.
Murdoch moved back to his son and sat in
the seat Jelly had vacated. Taking Johnny’s limp and frail hand in his own, he
studied the pain pinched face of the sleeping man. Johnny’s ragged breaths
further emphasized the discomfort that he was enduring, even in sleep. After a few moments, Johnny tossed his head restlessly,
speaking softly in Spanish. Murdoch
recognized a few of the words and grimaced.
His son was once again calling out for his long dead companions –
Katonah and Nikita. Gazing at
Johnny, Murdoch wondered to himself; ‘what is going on in your head, son?
Have I taken away your dreams? Please,
tell me that we still have a chance…’
“It’s all right,” Murdoch whispered in a soothing voice; gently stroking Johnny’s unruly hair. “You’re safe, Johnny. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you ever again – I promise…” Johnny eventually stilled and slowly opened his eyes. “Did I wake you…?” Murdoch hesitated, choosing not to use the word ‘son’.
Johnny blinked his eyes a few times,
trying to focus on the man beside him. A
cough welled in his chest and he struggled to stifle it.
Sensing Johnny’s discomfort, Murdoch picked up a glass from the side
table, filled it with water and placed it in Johnny’s shaky hands.
Slowly, Johnny took a few sips before handing the glass back to his
father. Taking the glass back,
Murdoch waited patiently for Johnny to say something – anything.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Johnny spoke. “Why are you still here?”
“It’s where I want to be, Johnny. It’s where I want to be for the rest of your life…”
“You’ll be getting’ off light, Old
Man,” Johnny whispered closing his eyes.
“I’d like to think that we’ve got a long way to go, Johnny. You have your whole life ahead of you…”
“Do I? Just tell me, what sort of life do you see me havin’?”
“Johnny there are plenty of men who have gone on to have productive lives without the use of their legs…”
“Oh yeah? Name one?”
“Josiah Watkins of the San Francisco Tribune…”
Johnny laughed at the ridiculousness of the example. “What, was he a gun fighter too? I don’t think so! ‘Sides, I don’t see me pushin’ a pencil see’n as how I cain’t write too good…”
“You could go to school, Johnny – get an education like Scott…”
Johnny laughed again, “Nothin’ has changed, has it? You’re still trying to send me away!”
“No, Johnny – that’s not true! I only want you to have the best in life…”
“And if that means being away from Lancer – so much the better!”
Murdoch bit his tongue, frustrated that
he was unable to communicate his true feelings to his son.
“Johnny – what do you want?”
Johnny remained still for a while,
considering his answer. “I can
tell you what I wanted two months ago…. I
wanted you ta respect me and treat me like any other hand on that ranch of
yours. I wanted my word ta count
for something with you. I wanted
your respect… I wanted you ta love me like you love Scott” Johnny choked and
looked away from his father. He
didn’t care if his stinging words had an affect on the old man or not.
The words did have their desired affect. Murdoch felt as if he had been shot in the heart. The pain intensified as his memory flashed on all the opportunities he missed to be a father to his son. With a shaky hand, he touched Johnny’s unshaven chin, gently turning the anguished face towards him. “I can still do those things, Son, if you’ll let me…”
Johnny opened his eyes, and looked into
the faded blue eyes of his father. There
were tears in those eyes - tears meant only for him.
the first time in months, Johnny felt hope that perhaps he could be accepted
back at Lancer; but he couldn’t go back as a cripple.
He couldn’t stand the thought of being dependant on his family to take
care of him. Johnny Madrid
couldn’t and Johnny Lancer wouldn’t.
Johnny didn’t answer his father. Instead, he closed his eyes, amazed at how lying in a bed and simply talking could tire him so.
Murdoch watched as Johnny’s breaths
evened out, indicating his son was once again asleep.
Hope burned in his heart. Johnny
hadn’t outright rejected his plea for a second chance. Perhaps there was hope that he could reach his son and return
him to where he belonged – Lancer.
Johnny awoke a few hours later. The gaslights had once again been lit, casting a warm glow on the walls of books that surrounded him. There was no one around that he could see and he took comfort in that. He was tired of the constant hovering. He needed time alone to think and plan. A soft involuntary moan escaped his lips as a spasm of pain worked its way up his back. The intensity took his breath away, causing a fine sweat to form on his cool skin. “Damn” he swore, closing his eyes. Slowly he focused on breathing; trying to use the limited amount of oxygen he could get into his weakened lungs to wash the agony away. Ruefully he smiled to himself; Katonah would be proud to know he had learned his lessons well.
Katonah – how Johnny wished he had his
old friend to talk to. He longed
for the comfortable silences and well timed words of wisdom.
Why had things changed? What
fates had saved him from the massacre at the village?
Was it a cruel twist of fate that now found him condemned to live his
life as a cripple, or was it retribution for a lifetime spent with the blood of
other men on his hands?
Wrestling his thoughts away from the dead, Johnny tried to focus on his present. Looking at his legs, he studied his toes – wishing to see some movement, sense some pain. He saw and felt nothing. Taking stock of himself, he was aware of the dull pain in his chest. It still hurt to breathe, but it was getting easier every day. Touching the bandages that surrounded his ribs, he gently poked himself – eliciting small gasps when he touched a tender spot. There was also some tenderness to the gunshot wounds; the constant ache in his back was proof that the exit wound had not yet healed.
With both hands, he ran long fingers
across his grizzled chin and through his thick hair.
It was longer than he had worn it in a long time.
He smiled ruefully to himself, remembering how much his father hated his
hair when it got long. Supple
fingers traced the long scar above his right ear where his flesh had been torn
during the dragging. For the first
time he wondered about his horse; no one had mentioned Barranca - and the young
man could only hope the animal had come through the ordeal unscathed.
He worried for his faithful compadre.
It had been a cruel twist that his own horse was used to drag him into
the night. Perhaps the fact that Barranca had been used was the only
reason he was still alive. The
animal knew him and would have sensed his pain.
With a small laugh, Johnny realized that he probably owed his life to his
Wandering thoughts turned to his father
and brother. The discussions
earlier in the day had been hard for everyone.
Scott had no business being privy to what Murdoch had and hadn’t done
in the past – it didn’t relate to Scott’s relationship with Murdoch.
Johnny had long ago realized that he had little to no chance of having a
relationship with his father – though he knew his heart desperately cried for
one. For so many years he had
bragged on how he was going to get even with Murdoch Lancer – the man who had
kicked him and his mother off his ranch. He
had known who and where Murdoch Lancer was – and yet he had never gone to face
the man – to challenge him for his ‘piece of Murdoch’s pie’.
Instead, he had chosen to live his life his own way, making a name for
himself doing what he did best. It
was a bonus that he had chosen a profession that would forever burn at the Old
was why he had spoken with the Pinkerton when he was seventeen.
He had wanted Murdoch to know exactly who and what he had spawned – a
cold hearted killer!
A small laugh escaped Johnny’s lips as
he thought of himself as a ‘cold hearted killer’.
He had learned his lessons well. He
was fast and sure with his pistol. A
quick wit with a keen eye for trouble had kept him alive long past when he had a
right to be. Somehow, as fast as he
had become, he had never hired on to the side that paid the most money.
Instead, he always found himself fighting for the underdogs - people who
could only pay his fee with a hot meal and some oats for his horse.
After the job was done, he was quick to depart – no one wanted a
gunhawk living in their town on a permanent basis – it wasn’t good for
Things changed when he finally got the call from his father. He responded out of curiosity and a misplaced sense of gratitude for the intervention with the firing squad. Arriving at the grand hacienda had awakened a need in him that he had long ago denied – the need for a family and a place to belong. He wanted it more than anything he had ever wanted in his entire life. That was why he was so taken aback by Murdoch’s confession to Scott all those months ago. For the first time in his life, he thought that he had found himself a cause that he could spend a lifetime fighting for – Lancer. He could forgive Murdoch for not coming after him; acknowledge the lies his mother had told – but could he forgive the man for killing his dreams?
Johnny’s thoughts were distracted by a knock at the door and the entrance of Heath, followed by his brother Jarrod. While Heath went to check on his friend, Jarrod turned up the gaslights, going to his desk to retrieve the writing implements he would need to write Johnny’s statement for the trial in the morning.
“How are you feeling?” Heath asked, fearful that Johnny’s conversations with Murdoch may have changed his mind.
“I don’t know….” Johnny lifted a hand to his temple as if to massage away a growing headache. “Too much has happened – I’ve got to think things over…”
“What things?” Heath glanced at his brother, waving the attorney away for a few moments.
“Murdoch, I just don’t know what to make of him no more. I thought I knew him, but he changed on me. Now it looks as if he’s changed again. I’m not sure where I stand with him…”
“For what it’s worth, Johnny, he’s had his eyes opened since he’s come to Stockton – he’s learned a few lessons he’s never gonna forget. What’s important is your future…”
Johnny looked away and picked at the
bandage that surrounded his right wrist. “You
know, before this all started I thought that I had finally found a future that I
could live with. Now I’m not so
sure. It’s kinda like when I was
going from job to job – the only thing I was lookin’ forward to was a hot
meal and a safe place to sleep. I’m
not lookin’ forward to nuthin’ anymore…”
Heath sighed. This was not what Heath expected. When Nick had fallen, it had turned the man into a bitter person; angry at the world and twice as loud about it. Johnny, on the other hand, seemed to be slowly slipping away – accepting the cards he had been dealt with quiet resignation. This was not the man that Heath knew. Somehow, the fire inside Johnny needed to be re-stoked – a purpose identified. He signaled for Jarrod to come close and take a seat.
“Johnny,” Jarrod said taking a blank
sheet of paper and laying it on the top of his lap desk.
“I need to take an affidavit from you about the boy…”
“Tell me about him Heath…”
For the next few minutes, Heath told Johnny everything he knew about Tim Marsh – how he had come from a good family in Nevada and how he had left, joining up with Bushrod Smith and finally how he ended up at that small encampment almost two weeks ago.
Johnny felt for the boy; sympathized with how he had felt – the losses he had suffered. The kid had made some bad choices and deserved a second chance. Jarrod then took Johnny’s affidavit and had him sign it at the bottom. Satisfied that he had everything he needed, Jarrod packed his papers and left the room, leaving his brother and Johnny alone again.
“Have him come by here before he goes out of town,” Johnny whispered, fatigue quickly catching hold of him.
“I think that he’d like that,” Heath smiled as he gently tucked in Johnny’s blanket.
Just as he was about to leave, Scott entered the room, ready for the night shift. “Did you get what you wanted?” Scott asked, studying the sleeping figure.
“I got what Johnny wanted,” Heath
smiled. “I think this was good
for Johnny – helping out a kid, keeping him from making the same mistakes he
had. Did you tell your father about
Scott shook his head. “I haven’t seen him since early this evening. I think that he’s avoiding me…” Scott gave Heath a small smile. “He’s learned a lot in the past few days…”
“And you, what have you learned?”
Slowly Scott went to his brother’s side and was surprised to see that for the first time in two weeks, Johnny seemed to be at peace. “What have I learned? Never to give up hope.”
Exhaustion had claimed Johnny early but it hadn’t lasted. He spent a restless night reliving the conversations he’d had with his father. In the end, nothing had been resolved. Sure, Murdoch had apologized and said that he wanted to be a part of Johnny’s future, but it was a future Johnny couldn’t see himself in. There was no way he could ever fit in back at Lancer as long as he was strapped to a bed or chair. It wasn’t fair to him or to his family. He’d already spent six months as an albatross around his father’s neck. There was no way he could continue his life as a monument to the errors of Murdoch Lancer’s past. The thought of seeing the look of pity on his Old Man’s face for the rest of his life was too much. It was the image of Murdoch’s anguished face that haunted Johnny for most of the night – robbing him of sleep.
At the dawning of the new day, Johnny
awakened early to the sound of a commotion outside the front of the house. Listening intently, he heard his father and Victoria giving
orders. There was a moment of
silence followed by a tap on the door to the library.
Murdoch walked in, hat in hand. A
smile crossed the big man’s face as his eyes met his son’s.
“I’m glad you’re awake. I
didn’t want to leave without seeing how you’re feeling.”
An uncommonly warm feeling spread within
Johnny fueled by the sincerity of his father’s words.
Murdoch’s smile grew even bigger. “You always say that!”
“Yeah?” Johnny questioned sarcastically, wondering when his father had ever taken notice of anything he had said before. “Well, I guess it’s a habit…”
“How about the truth then?”
Johnny fidgeted for a moment, unaccustomed to his father’s concern. “Back hurts some…”
“And your legs?” Johnny shook his head no. “Don’t be discouraged, Son. Give it some time…” Murdoch paused, interrupted by the sound of the carriage being pulled up outside the house. “I guess that I had better get going. Jarrod wants Victoria and me there early. I’m leaving you in Jelly and Scott’s hands. Behave!” The stern order was followed by a quick smile and a pat to Johnny’s shoulder.
Johnny watched, open mouthed, as his
father left the room. It had been
like a stranger had come to visit – much like the ghostly apparition of
Murdoch Lancer who came to check him in the middle of the night while he
attempted to sleep. Johnny had
responded by closing his eyes and pretending to sleep– hoping not to have to
speak with his father again.
Relaxing, Johnny listened to the sound of a buggy as it traveled down the lane. He was glad that he couldn’t go. There was no way he wanted to face anyone the way he was now – a cripple. In his mind he could hear Bushrod Smith laughing at him, knowing that he had finally beaten Johnny, sentencing his former competition to a fate worse than death – to a lifetime spent riding a wheelchair. It was not how Johnny had wanted to go out. He had always imagined himself dying in a blaze of gunfire. ‘Dead before you turn thirty,’ Scott had once said. Now, he was doomed to spend the rest of his days riding a mattress or wheelchair – he may as well be dead.
The thought of it all came crashing down on him. It couldn’t end like this! Throwing an arm over his eyes he felt knitting ribs rebel as a hot white pain shot through his core. Sucking in a breath he held it for a few moments until the agony slowly passed. Slowly lowering his arm, nimble fingers felt along the side of the bed where he had used a fingernail to make small grooves in the soft wood. Today was only the fifth day of his promise to Victoria Barkley – nine more days and he would be free to leave. He wished that he had never given his word to Victoria. Nothing had changed since the day he had been strapped into the traction device. He had little hope anything would change, despite the doctor’s assurances that a miracle could yet happen.
“Some miracle,” Johnny growled to
himself. The old Madrid luck was
holding true to form. Once again he
felt as if he were caught in front of a firing squad, just waiting for someone
to pull the trigger and end his life. Unfortunately,
none of his family had the guts; so he was caught in limbo – at least for nine
His thoughts were interrupted by a tap at the door, followed by the entrance of Scott and Jelly. “Good morning, Brother,” Scott announced brightly, moving swiftly to Johnny’s side. In his arms was a pile of clean linens. “Did we sleep well?”
“Does it matter?”
Johnny responded sarcastically to his brother’s patronizing question.
Turning his head he spied the small tub of water in Jelly’s arms.
“Whatcha gonna do with that?” he asked suspiciously.
“Well, if ya hain’t noticed – yur long overdue for a cleanin’…”
“Why, we gonna have company?” Johnny rolled his eyes and looked away.
“As a matter of fact, you are.” Scott announced. “Bernardo is coming by this morning and I thought that you’d like to freshen up…”
“I don’t want ta see him…” Johnny protested.
“He’s coming to see you, Little Brother, whether you want to or not.”
Johnny considered his brother’s pronouncement and reluctantly gave in to the idea. Running a hand through his beard he realized that the last time he remembered shaving was the day he’d been shot in Stockton. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt…”
Scott clapped his hands together as he and Jelly moved to Johnny’s side
to prepare him for a bath. As Scott
stretched his arm out, Johnny caught sight of something he hadn’t thought of
for a long time. Reaching out he
grasped his brother’s wrist and held on as firmly as his weakened muscles
would allow. “What?”
Scott asked, startled by Johnny’s action.
“Take it off,” Johnny demanded in a low voice.
“What…?” Scott looked at the bracelet on his wrist – the one he had removed from Johnny when he thought his brother was dead. “Johnny, I’m sorry…”
“Take it off!” Johnny said more forcefully, releasing Scott’s right wrist.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Scott removed the colored beads from his wrist and handed them to Johnny, who clasped them in his right hand. Scott studied the response and the look of despondency on his brother’s face. Glancing at Jelly, he could tell that the older man was just as confused as he was over Johnny’s reaction to seeing the bracelet again. “You want to talk about this?”
Still curious, Scott pushed on wanting
to know why the small object brought his brother such sadness. “That’s some
fine bead work – Indian isn’t it?” .
Johnny dismissed the question. The bracelet was all he had left of Nikita and Katonah and he
had no desire to discuss them with Scott again.
“We gonna git this over with now or later?”
“Now,” Jelly announced, peeling back the covers. “You’ll feel like a new man once yer all washed up and in a clean bed…”
Johnny doubted that, but let the two of
them do what they wanted. Like a
pliant child, he allowed them to wash him and tend to his needs – all the
while tightly grasping the small thread of beads.
Closing his eyes, he turned his mind off to the indignity of the
situation; ignoring the pains as the two men tended to his wounds and bodily
needs. In his mind he took comfort
in knowing that in nine short days it would all come to an end.
After the linen had been changed and a new dressing gown put on, Jelly lathered Johnny’s face to give him a shave. Just as Jelly was about to place the edge of the straight razor against Johnny’s exposed throat, Johnny spoke up quietly, “I can do it.”
Jelly looked to Scott, his eyes filled
with concern. “Are ya sure,
Johnny? Yur still a might
“Let me try,” Johnny wrapped the beads around his wrist and then opened his hand for the razor.
Reluctantly, Jelly handed the instrument over. “I’ll get a mirror…” but before he could get one, Johnny had already taken a swipe at his face with a shaky hand. Red blood mixed with the white soap from a nick to Johnny’s cheek. He took another swipe and more blood proceeded to flow.
“What are you trying to do, shave your
face off?” Scott wrestled the razor from his brother.
Johnny had felt the pain as he had cut his face and had reveled in the feeling. It was good to feel something new besides the same old aches that he faced for the past two weeks. “I always cut my face when I shave…” he responded lamely.
“No you don’t!” Scott wiped away the soap with a damp rag, applying pressure to the small cuts. Jelly handed him a styptic pencil which he dabbed at the wounds until they stopped bleeding. “Now, you’re going to behave and let Jelly finish.”
“Yes, Murdoch,” Johnny muttered under his breath.
“What?!” Scott retorted, not believing Johnny compared him to their father.
Scott moved close and pointed a finger at his brother. “Don’t you ever compare me to Murdoch again! I love you Johnny and despite what you may want, I’m not about to let you do yourself any harm – not on my watch!”
With that said, Scott stormed out of the room, leaving a stunned Johnny with Jelly; the older man smiled in smug satisfaction at the scene. Johnny bowed his head, immediately ashamed of his behavior. “He didn’t deserve that…”
“Yur right about that!” Jelly said pointedly. “He’s been through hell and back with Murdoch – so don’t you go and get any ideas that it would be a good thing comparin’ them…”
“I know,” Johnny whispered. “It’s my fault they’re arguing…”
Jelly shook his head exasperatedly. “Now don’t go feelin’ sorry for yerself, Johnny Lancer. It ain’t because of you that they’er fightin’. ‘Ol Murdoch got hisself into this mess all by his lonesome. Scott’s been seein’ a lot of truths and hearin’ a lot of lies. It’s been a long time in coming for all of ya.” Jelly patted Johnny’s shoulder, lowering his voice a bit. “Ya really need to talk to yer father, Johnny. He loves you something fierce but he has a poor way of show’n it.”
Johnny looked at his friend, his eyes filled with a sadness so deep that
it hurt look. “How can I be sure? I’ve
been trying to talk to him Jelly, but I don’t think we’re getting anywhere.
It just hurts too much,” Johnny laid his head back against the clean
white pillows and gave a small sigh, followed by a sharp wince. “I just don’t see me returning to Lancer – not
“Where would ya go, Johnny? Ya cain’t stay here and well… I don’t see ya takin’ the coward’s way out.” Jelly said the words and watched carefully for Johnny’s reaction. There was none. Discouraged, he tried another tact. “Frankly, I don’t think Murdoch could take losing you a’gin. He was hurt somethin’ fierce when yer mama took ya away. He’s finally found you again – after all these years and months. He’s just now aknow’n what he’s missed with you.”
Johnny considered Jelly’s words. For his whole life he had been dreaming of a relationship
with his father. Could it be that
had been Murdoch’s dream too? Johnny
couldn’t reconcile that thought with the hell that he had been subjected to
for the first six months of his stay at Lancer.
“You really think that he’d be upset if I didn’t return to the
“It’s what we’re all upset about. The place hasn’t been the same since you’ve been gone. Johnny, I don’t know what yur thinkin’ – I’ve never been in a place like yur’ in right now, but all of us want ya back…” Jelly’s eyes began to tear and he fussed wiping them away. “Dang! It’s gettin’ dusty in here!”
Johnny wasn’t fooled. He knew exactly what had gotten into his friend’s eyes. Slowly he reached out and touched Jelly’s arm. “You gonna finish shavin’ me or you want me to see if I can scrape the rest of the skin off my face?”
With a laugh, Jelly set about finishing what he had started. This time there was no interruption. He had the slightest hint that something had changed. He was darned if he could put his finger on it – but something was better in his friend.
A carnival like atmosphere pervaded Stockton. People milled about the courthouse, vying for seats at the trial. The case had drawn a crowd from near and far. Everyone wanted to be present when the marauders who had terrorized the county were finally brought to justice and sentenced to hang in the town square. Construction of the gallows had already started and was nearly complete – the Cattleman’s Association had seen to that. An example had to be set to deter any future land grabbers.
Val was quick to express his disgust at the proceedings while Murdoch, Victoria and Heath quietly accepted them. “Lookie at all these people – like a pack o’jackals waitin’ for the kill…” Val swore as they mounted the steps of the courthouse.
“They all want to see justice served,” Victoria wasn’t surprised by the crowd. It wasn’t the first time she had seen men hung for killing - she could only pray it would be the last.
Val shook his head.
“They smell blood and they won’t be satisfied until every last one of
them prisoners is dead.”
Murdoch nodded in agreement, hoping that
Johnny had never been placed on trial like this.
There was no telling what details of his son’s past the Pinkerton’s
had chosen to omit. With Johnny’s
past notoriety he was sure that his son would have been one of the first to hang
had he ever been caught like these men were.
Jarrod was waiting for them at the door
and quickly ushered them to front row seats he had reserved.
Already seated was Scott’s friend Joel Todd. The young man stood and warmly shook hands with Murdoch, Val
and Heath – nodding politely to Victoria.
In the past two weeks the former Philadelphia blue blood seemed to have
changed into a California rancher. “How’s
Scott doing?” he asked as Murdoch sat next to him.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been by to visit, but I’ve been trying
to get the affairs of the Circle A in order.”
Murdoch sat and removed his hat. “I
understand from Jarrod that you are attempting to contact the former owners of
the land that Ned Bartch pirated. Have
you had much luck?”
“Actually, I’ve managed to contact most of the former owners. About half of them are returning while the other half has agreed to sell their land at a fair price.”
“Good for you,” Murdoch smiled approvingly. “Scott will be glad to hear that you’re making out OK.”
Joel bit his lip before awkwardly asking “How is Johnny doing?”
“He’s better, but he still has a long way to go…” Murdoch regarded his empty hands for a moment and lowered his voice. “He still can’t walk…”
“I’m sorry, somehow I feel
responsible…” Joel had come to
learn the hard way that just because he wanted something, and had the means to
get it, didn’t make it right. In
many ways, Johnny had paid the price for Joel’s greed and ignorance.
Murdoch didn’t respond, knowing that he alone shouldered the majority if not all the burden for what had happened to his son.
Joel took Murdoch’s silence as agreement of his last statement and started to stand to move away. To his surprise, Murdoch reached out and held him in place. “We’re having a get together at the Barkley’s in a few days. I’d like you to come. I know it would mean a lot to Scott and I’d like you to speak to Johnny.”
With a smile, Joel resettled himself,
grateful to know that the Lancers held no ill regards against him for what had
happened. “I’d like that very
At the prosecution table sat Carl Unger,
an Assistant States Attorney for the State of California.
Carl was a large man of German decent; broad-chested with a stylish
handlebar mustache. He cut an
impressive figure as he strode about the courtroom, giving instructions to the
bailiff and checking on the security of the prisoners with the sheriff.
In the defendants box sat seven men;
four men who had been captured on the day of the attack in Stockton plus Bushrod
Smith, the Indian and young Tim Marsh. Due to the large number of defendants and
the numerous counts against them, the State had to hire a private attorney, Hugh
McManus, to handle the defense for everyone, save one - Tim Marsh. Jarrod had
taken on Tim’s case at Heath’s request.
Hugh was as small as Carl was large.
Jarrod was not pleased with the selection of McManus for the defense.
The man had graduated in the same class as Jarrod, but he had chosen to
make his career by taking on cases that held the most notoriety where Jarrod
practiced law. McManus had become known for defending the undefendable and, in
many cases, getting the guilty off with just a slap on the wrist. As detestable
as McManus was, it turned out that he was the only lawyer in the entire state
willing to take on the defense of the ‘Stockton Seven’ as the state
newspapers were now calling the prisoners.
Prior to the start of the day’s proceedings, Jarrod had taken the opportunity to discuss Tim Marsh’s defense with his former classmate. McManus had listened intently to Jarrod’s plans to intervene on the young man’s behalf. He was particularly interested in gathering as much information as he could on Tim’s benefactor – Johnny Madrid Lancer. Jarrod had come away from the meeting with a sense that somehow he had given aid to an enemy.
Charles Trimper, the newly elected
President of the Cattlemen’s Association sought Murdoch out.
He had personally sent several of his top hands to Lancer to help
Cipriano safeguard the large estancia. He
desired to make it clear to his friend and neighbor that the Association
appreciated how much that Lancer had sacrificed to keep the rest of the valley
safe from aggression. The
Association had to re-associate itself with Lancer, letting the old Scotsman
know that they now stood beside all of the Lancers - including Johnny.
Murdoch was aware of what Charles had done since he had taken over as President from Ben Anderson, but in his mind it was too little to late. He did, however, listen politely to his associate’s words of sympathy and concern before he quietly told him that he had more important things to worry about than his fellow ‘Cattlemen’.
After Charles moved away Murdoch turned his attentions to Jarrod. The young lawyer was conferring with a dark haired youth who was chained to the other prisoners. Murdoch had to blink twice to get the image of Johnny out of his head. The fearful boy was not the same person who had held a knife to his throat while Smith had his son dragged into the night. Tim Marsh looked like a child compared to the others. “How old is that boy?” Murdoch asked Val.
“Sixteen,” Val whispered back. “He’s a nice kid, just got mixed up with the wrong crowd…”
Murdoch swallowed hard; this was too close to what it could have been like for Johnny; a good kid who had gotten involved with the wrong people. The big difference was that Johnny was prepared to rescue this wayward youth. Murdoch realized that if he had swallowed his pride seven years ago, he could have saved Johnny years of living as Johnny Madrid. “Does Jarrod think that Johnny’s affidavit will help?”
Val smiled, “Jarrod’s a right bright
fella. Between Johnny being willin’ to forgive the kid and Jarrod’s lawyerin’
– Tim will be just fine. Johnny
even gave me money to send the kid back to his parent’s spread in Nevada.”
The enormity of Johnny’s heart struck Murdoch. He had forgiven the kid and was willing to give him a grubstake to get back home to his family. Hanging his head, he chastised himself on his own failure as a parent to even try to help his son. How could Johnny possibly forgive him for that?
Murdoch’s thoughts were disturbed by the bailiff who announced the entrance of the judge.
“All rise! The Second Circuit Court for the State of California will now come to order! The Honorable Judge Raisen presiding!”
Judge Clark Raisen was one of the older judges in the territory and was known for his no nonsense approach to the law. If you broke it – you paid for it – usually dearly. With smug satisfaction, Murdoch felt sure that all of the men who had been involved in the terrorizing of the Stockton area would be punished for their deeds.
The judge banged his gavel, silencing
the courtroom. “I believe that
there is a matter to be brought before the court prior to the start of the
Jarrod stood, resplendent in a gray three piece suit. “Yes, Your Honor. I have a petition from one of the victims to have the charges dropped against one of the defendants – my client – Timothy Marsh.” Jarrod went to the bench and handed the judge Johnny’s affidavit.
The Judge took a few moments and read the document before looking to the prosecutor. “Have you read this Mr. Unger?”
“I have, Your Honor.”
“And what says the State on this matter?”
“The State feels that if Mr. John Lancer is willing to forgive Mr. Marsh for the actions of a misguided youth and send him back to Nevada with a promise that he never return to the State of California – the People will agree to drop the charges against him.”
“That is all well and fine, Mr. Unger and Mr. Barkley, but it is my understanding, having read an account of the incident, that there is another victim who has a say in whether Mr. Marsh can go free. Is Mr. Murdoch Lancer present?”
“Yes I am, Your Honor.”
Murdoch stood, unsure of what the judge was expecting of him.
He gave a glance to Jarrod who did not appear to be the least bit
concerned by the Judge’s intervention.
“It is my understanding, Mr. Lancer, that Mr. Marsh and his companions also threatened your life while they attempted to murder your son before your very eyes. Are you willing to forgive Mr. Marsh for his part in the events that nearly killed your son?”
In an instant, every second of that
night flashed through Murdoch’s mind. The
terror, horror and deep sense of loss all came rushing back, smothering him like
a heavy blanket. The air became
thick and Murdoch found it hard to breathe.
His eyes locked on frightened youth. Tim Marsh looked young and
vulnerable compared to the hardened gunfighters he sat next to.
Had Johnny once looked like that? If Johnny could find it in his heart to
forgive the boy, how could he not? “Your
Honor, if my son is man enough to save this young man’s life, then so am I.”
Judge Raisen squinted at Murdoch and pointed the end of his gavel at him. “Are you sure, Mr. Lancer? Once I bang this gavel, he will go free – unpunished for what happened to you and your son…”
“It is what my son and I both want,” Murdoch declared firmly.
With that said, the Judge banged his gavel. “So ordered! Bailiff, you may release Mr. Marsh into the custody of his lawyer who will have him removed from the State of California within twenty-four hours.”
“Thank you, Your Honor!”
Jarrod gave Murdoch a broad smile, before turning his attentions to his
There was a stunned gasp from all the people in the gallery and amongst the prisoners as well. With disdain they watched as the sheriff unlocked the chains that bound the boy – setting him free. Jarrod took Tim by the arm and guided him through the crowd to the back of the gallery where Nick stood waiting. “Take him back to the ranch. Clean him up and feed him. Johnny wants to see him before he leaves for Nevada.”
Bushrod Smith and the Indian were the
most upset by this. Why had Madrid
intervened on behalf of the boy? Had
they been wrong to trust and befriend the kid?
Once again, Smith swore that if the opportunity presented itself, he
would finally get his revenge on Madrid and make him pay.
Howard Merar arrived at the ranch right after Jelly finished shaving Johnny and feeding him breakfast. He found Scott Lancer on the front porch staring out across the rolling fields that graced the Barkley ranch. “Good morning, Scott,” the doctor greeted. “You getting homesick for Lancer?”
“I’m not sure that ‘homesick’ is quite what I’m feeling.”
“Want to talk about it?” Howard put his bag down on a wicker table and indicated that Scott sit beside him on a nearby bench.
Scott exhaled and sat, unsure where to start. Dropping his head, he ran his long fingers through his dirty blond hair. “I want this to be over. I’m not sure I can take much more…”
Howard placed a comforting hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I know, Son. This has been difficult on everyone – especially you. You’ve watched your brother nearly die – twice. It’s hard to see someone that you love struggle for life…”
Scott shook his head and sighed again.
“It’s more than that, Sir. Johnny
is struggling to end his life while we’re fighting to give him the will to
live. I don’t know my brother
well, but I’ve learned that his past was hard.
During the war I spent a year in prison and it nearly killed me.
I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Johnny – having to fight
daily for his survival for practically his entire life.
Unfortunately, I think that he’s giving up just when he’s found a
place where he belongs and can be safe. I’m
just not sure what more I should be doing to help him through this.”
Howard considered the man beside him.
“I don’t have any magic words for you Scott, but I do know one thing
– show your brother you love him. Tell
him what he means to you. Remind
him every time you see him that you can’t imagine your life without him in it.
Perhaps then, he can see his future through your eyes.
Does this help?”
Scott gave the older man an unsure smile. “I’m willing to try anything.”
“Good!” The doctor slapped Scott’s knee and stood. “I’ve got a patient to check on.”
Scott followed Howard into the house just as Jelly was exiting the library. In his hands was a practically full tray of food. The physician took note of a half eaten piece of toast and half glass of orange juice. Nothing else on the tray had been touched. “Is that all he’s eaten?” Howard asked, unhappy with what he was seeing.
“He said that he weren’t hungry,” Jelly said sadly.
“You two stay here while I have a talk
with my patient.”
Jelly opened the door for the doctor and
then closed it firmly, wishing he could be a fly on the wall to hear what he had
to say to Johnny. He started to
move closer to the door to perhaps listen through a crack in the opening, only
to have Scott pull him away. “Now,
what did you go and do that fur?”
“I think that Howard Merar has a lot in common with Sam Jenkins. He’ll be able to handle Johnny just fine,” Scott led Jelly to the kitchen, leaving Howard to his patient.
For a moment, Howard thought that Johnny
was asleep. The young man’s eyes
were closed and he was breathing in a slow and even fashion.
The doctor listened intently, noting that for the first time in two weeks
that Johnny wasn’t struggling for each breath. Johnny’s eyes opened as the doctor placed his bag on
a nearby table. “I thought you
“Nah, I’ve done too much of that
lately,” Johnny yawned, inexplicably finding it hard to keep his eyes opened.
“It’s your body telling you that you still need to rest,” Howard smiled. “How are you feeling?”
Johnny looked away, “about the same, I suppose…”
“Well then, how about if I take a look at you and give you my expert opinion?” Howard started by listening to Johnny’s lungs. The congestion was still there, but the wheezing had been greatly reduced. Next he checked Johnny’s chest wounds and broken ribs. He was able to elicit a string of Spanish expletives as he poked and prodded tender areas. A small smile crossed his mouth as he recognized a few of the words; eminently thankful that Victoria hadn’t been present. Jelly had done a good job keeping the healing wounds clean; coating them with the ointment that Bernardo had left with them. It was almost time to remove the stitches. The doctor credited Victoria Barkley and the Lancers for their diligent care of his patient. “I want to roll you to your side, can you help me?”
Howard carefully maneuvered Johnny to
his left side, rolling Johnny’s shoulders, hips and then his legs until his
patient was somewhat stable. The movement caused some of the congestion in
Johnny’s lungs to shift, resulting in a fit of coughing that left him
momentarily breathless and dazed with pain.
After Johnny settled, the doctor lifted the blanket to examine Johnny’s
lower back and buttocks. To his
satisfaction, the bruising and swelling had diminished greatly.
Gently, Howard palpated the exit wound only to cause Johnny to suck in
his breath sharply. “That wound
is still a might tender, but the infection is finally showing signs of healing.
I’m going to examine your spine now.
Tell me when you feel anything…”
Howard started his examination pressing on Johnny’s lumbar vertebra.
To his amazement, Johnny gasped as his first touch caused unused muscles
and nerves to spasm.
“What the hell did you do?” Johnny swore.
“Tell me what you felt.”
“It hurt! That’s what I felt! What did you do?”
“I need you to be more specific, Johnny. The swelling to your spine is starting to recede. It could mean that whatever is causing your paralysis might be getting better. When I press, do you feel pain anywhere else?” The doctor once again pushed hard against Johnny’s lower spine. This time Johnny bit his lip as he felt sharp pains shooting up his back and into his hips.
“It feels like my entire back is on fire, Doc.” Johnny gasped again, trying hard to master the agony the doctor had incited with his ministrations.
“What about your legs?”
Johnny thought for a moment. “I’m not sure what I feel….” He concentrated, unsure whether he was imaging an ache in his left knee or not.
“It’s OK, Johnny,” Howard decided not to push. Carefully, he rolled his patient to his back and applied the straps that would keep Johnny’s legs and pelvis firmly in place.
Johnny studied the face of his doctor. “Tell me what ya think?”
Howard folded his arms across his chest and thought for a moment. Laying heavily on his mind was Scott’s concern that Johnny had lost hope and wanted to die. Perhaps now the doctor was in a position to help his patient get on the road to recovery. “I think that you’re getting better every day, Johnny. I’d like to do one more test if you can bear with me.” Howard went to Johnny’s feet and pulled up the sheet so that Johnny couldn’t see what he was doing. Using a tongue depressor, he ran it up the bottom of Johnny’s right foot and then his left. To his surprise Johnny’s toes involuntarily curled just a fraction!
Johnny saw the doctor’s eyes open big for a second and became curiously impatient. “Well?”
“You’re making good progress,” Howard recovered Johnny’s feet and went to sit beside his patient. “Johnny, I think that you’re going to get your legs back. You need to be patient and give this device a little more time. Do you think you can do that for me?”
Johnny eyed his doctor suspiciously. “What ain’t you tell’in me?”
A smile broke out on Howard’s face. He should have known better than to fool a man who read faces for a living. “Johnny, I just did a test on your feet – your toes moved a little when I checked your reflexes…”
“I didn’t feel anything…”
“I know, but this is a good sign. If your involuntary nervous system is starting to respond, then I’m hopeful that your voluntary system won’t be too far behind!”
Johnny gave the doctor a confused look. “Can you say that in English, Doc?”
“Johnny, I think that you’re going to walk again!”