Tim Marsh and Nick Barkley raced from the building, fearful that the judge might change his mind and make the boy stand trial with his former compatriots. Jarrod watched from the doorway as the two men mounted waiting horses and quickly left town. Satisfied Nick would take care of his client, Jarrod went to take the seat he had saved between his mother and Heath.
After several bangs of his gavel, the
judge was able to regain control of his courtroom and begin the trial in
earnest. It had been ordered by the
Judge that all the cases be consolidated into one proceeding.
This was to avoid a protracted trial and save the witnesses from having
to testify on multiple occasions. The defense requested that the case be decided
by a judge rather than by a jury. Lester
McManus felt that it would be in the best interests of his clients that their
fates be decided by Judge Raisen, a strict constitutional jurist, rather than
putting their lives in the hands of a jury composed of people who had been
living in fear four the past four months. Judge Raisen didn’t agree.
A panel of twelve jurors was quickly selected and seated to the right of
the judge’s bench.
Carl Unger stood to address the court,
“Your Honor, Gentlemen of the Jury, the
State of California will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants
did conspire with the deceased Ned Bartch and Benjamin Anderson to willfully
destroy private homes and property with the intent of pirating away land.
You will hear testimony from several victims who were repeatedly
terrorized by the defendants. The victims will testify how the defendants came to their
homes, killed their livestock and threatened their families before they were
coerced into signing over their deeds for paltry sums of money.
The victims will then testify how they lost all their worldly possessions
as a direct result of the defendants’ actions.
“You will hear further testimony from esteemed members of the California Cattlemen’s Association that the defendants did attack them in an act of unprovoked aggression. These hardworking cattlemen were threatened with death and were forced to defend themselves – turning the town of Stockton into a bloody battlefield.
“Lastly, you will hear how Murdoch Lancer and Victoria Barkley, owners of two of the largest ranches in the entire state, witnessed the torture and attempted murder of Mr. Lancer’s son – John. Mr. Lancer, himself, was wounded while attempting to save his son before two of the defendants had John Lancer dragged by a horse in an attempt to murder him by one of the most torturous means possible. It is only by the grace of Almighty God that John Lancer is alive today.
“Your Honor, Gentlemen of the Jury,
such heinous acts cannot go unpunished! The
State needs to send a message to all men who would chose to take what is not
theirs – and sentence these men, these murdering thieves, to death!
Bushrod Smith smirked at the end of Carl
Unger’s opening remarks. ‘John
Lancer’ – like that meant something or someone special.
He had told Lester McManus all about ‘John Lancer’; told him some of
the truths and all the lies about ‘John Lancer’.
Smith could practically see the wheels turning in his lawyers mind with
this information. The gunhawk liked his attorney and had forged a common bond
with him – survival and greed. Smith
had a small fortune stashed away in Mexico and had promised half of it to Lester
McManus if he could get him and the Indian off.
In return, the lawyer promised to use whatever means necessary to secure
the freedom of his clients. Smith
liked a man who would sell his soul for the promise of a dollar – and Lester
McManus fit the bill perfectly.
Murmurs rippled through the courtroom as Carl Unger took his seat. His words had touched all the jurors; their heads nodding in agreement with his opening remarks. Lester McManus stood, hoping to change the mind of at least one person – that’s all it would take to prevent his clients from being hung.
“Your Honor, Gentlemen of the Jury,
there is little doubt that this valley has recently been terrorized.
I and my clients sympathize with those who have lost property and were
injured. My clients, however, are
innocent men…” The people in
the gallery booed and had to be silenced by the Judge before the defense could
continue. “My clients are
innocent of all charges. They are
victims of mistaken revenge! Two
weeks ago my clients rode into Stockton and were caught in an ambush that had
been set by the Cattlemen’s Association!
My clients are nothing more than hardworking wranglers who innocently
rode into a town and were bushwhacked by a group of overanxious businessmen.
They are the true victims here and should be found innocent!
Another round of boo’s erupted from
the gallery. Lester looked from the grim faces of the jury on his right to the
despondent faces of his clients in the defendants’ box, where his clients sat
shackled together. Four of
the six men hung their heads knowing that there was over whelming evidence
against them. The
Indian remained impassive as usual. Only
Bushrod Smith smirked, confident of the ace he had placed up his lawyer’s
The Judge banged his gavel for order. “Mr. Prosecutor – call your first witness!”
Johnny studied the smiling face of his doctor, wondering again if he had heard the man correctly. “Ya THINK I might be able to walk again?” Johnny asked picking up on the one word the doctor had spoken that did not translate to ‘definitely’.
“But you ain’t sure, are you?”
“Johnny, I’d be a fool to say that there is a one hundred percent guarantee that you’ll walk again, but I am a betting man and right now I’d say that the odds are in your favor.”
Johnny lay still, his face a mask, while he digested this information. He had played many a game of poker and instinctively he knew the hand the doctor was playing was a weak one. Unfortunately, it was Johnny’s life they were playing with and he didn’t like the odds. “The odds are in my favor? Then when will I walk again? Today? Tomorrow? Never?”
Howard Merar regarded his patient. Never in his life had he dealt with a man who refused to
accept good news for what it was. “I
don’t know when Johnny, but I do know this – you’ve got to start thinking
positively. This is a good sign.
Accept if for what it is and be encouraged!
I’m hoping that in a few more days I’ll be able to see more movement
in your feet and so will you. In
the meantime, you need to get your strength back.
That means eating more than just a few bites of bread and sips of coffee. I want you to start eating; you’ve lost too much weight and
it’s wasting your muscles away. Will
you do that?”
Johnny gave the man a barely perceptible nod of his head.
Howard smiled, standing. “How
do you feel now? I know that I caused you a lot of discomfort.
Do you want something for the pain?”
“I can handle the pain, Doc. It means I’m alive…”
“It means more than that, Johnny. It means you’re getting better. Pain can make it hard for your body to get the rest you need. Are you sure?” Howard knew from the Lancers what the answer would be, but he had to keep trying. Johnny again shook his head – no. “If that’s your decision, I’ll let you get some rest while I go tell your brother; he could use some good news about now…”
“What do you mean by that?” Johnny called as the doctor moved toward the door.
The old doctor stopped dead in his tracks and looked at the concerned face of his patient. It was the first time that Johnny had expressed interest in the well-being of his family. Moving back to the bed, he sat back down. “I know this has been hard on you, Johnny, but it’s been hard on your brother too. It’s a terrible thing to see someone you love dealing with what you’re going through. Scott wants to help, but he’s as frustrated by your progress as you are. Your Pa is too. You know, I’ve never seen men as devoted as your father and brother are to you. You’re a mighty special person, Johnny. Don’t sell yourself or your family short. I know you’re probably not up to this burden, but your family needs you whether you believe it or not. They don’t care if you can’t walk. What’s important is that you’re with them. This is all still too fresh for you to see, but you do have a future, Johnny. I see a bright future for you, surrounded by a family who loves you.” Howard stopped as a single tear ran down Johnny’s cheek. Giving Johnny’s arm a tender squeeze, he stood again. “Give it some time, Johnny. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning of something new.”
Johnny never moved or said a word as the doctor left the room. In his head rang his last words to his brother. He regretted saying them to Scott with all of his heart. He could only pray that Scott would forgive him. Absently he had removed the beaded bracelet that had meant so much to him that he had hurt his brother for it. Had it been worth it?
So much had happened since he left Lancer over two months ago. For the first time he considered what life must have been like for Scott. Too often, Scott had served as mediator between Murdoch and himself. Johnny wondered what life had been like for Scott with their father’s favorite whipping boy gone. A frown creased Johnny’s freshly shaven face. In the past few days, his father had apologized and had even started speaking to him in a civil tone. Was the doctor right? Did he mean more to Murdoch and Scott than he gave himself credit for?
With a sigh, Johnny felt that in the end
it wouldn’t matter. They could
say that they loved him all they wanted, but would they still feel the same in a
year or five years? No one had ever
loved Johnny for so long a period of time – not even his mother. It was hard
to think about trusting what he had never experienced.
His gaze turned to the open window. A warm fall breeze blew the curtains. The air smelled fresh and sweet – like newly cut hay. There was a change in the air. Was it time for Johnny to change too?
“That’s great news!” Scott exclaimed, smiling broadly at the doctor and Jelly. “How did he take it?”
Howard pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “He wasn’t as happy as you are. He’s a hard man to read. It was almost as if he’s afraid to let himself be happy. Does that make sense?”
“More than you know,” Scott said sadly, his good spirit quickly fading. “Johnny hasn’t had much to be happy about lately. This just might be the news he needs to change his mood…” Scott stopped, noting a look of concern on the doctor’s face. “What is it?”
“We talked about you, too…”
Scott was shocked that the doctor would speak to Johnny about his
“He asked Scott, and it only seemed right to tell him that you are concerned – and so is your father. Lying in that bed, day after day, all he can think about is himself. Perhaps it’s time that he be reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around him – that there are other people to be considered…”
“Do ya think that might help?” Jelly asked, speaking up for the first time.
“It can’t hurt. It gives him something else to think about besides his condition. Stop coddling him. Let him try to help himself…”
“We tried that this morning – he
used the razor on his face…”
Howard raised his eyebrows in concern. “I was wondering about those nicks in his face!”
“Yeah, well it’ll be along time a’fore he gits a razor in his hands again!” Jelly snorted.
“Good. He’s not on any pain medication so he’s not getting the rest he needs. Speak to him, keep him distracted. I’ll be back again in the morning.”
Scott walked the doctor out the front door. “Are you going to the trial?”
“No, don’t have the stomach for it. I took an oath to save lives. I’m afraid that if I heard what went on I might have to break that oath!”
The two men shook hands warmly. “Like I said earlier, talk to him Scott, let him see his future through your eyes. It can’t hurt.”
“Thanks, I’ll give it a try.” Scott stood on the porch and watched as the doctor climbed into his buggy and clucked at his horse who started to trot down the road. Turning, he looked at the open window to the library knowing that his brother lay just inside. He wasn’t quite ready to face Johnny again.
It was a beautiful early November day.
Scott always loved the fall in Massachusetts.
The trees would be changing, creating a riot of color where vivid greens
had once blanketed the hillsides. He
would miss fall rides through the Common and late night bonfires along the
Charles River with his friends. Life for him had changed dramatically since he
had come to California – he had finally found what he had been looking for. In Boston he had merely existed, doing what was required and
expected of him. At Lancer he had
found a purpose for his life. Everyday
was a challenge – new things to learn, experiences to live. None was more important than figuring how to keep his newly
found family together. They had
gotten off on the wrong foot. Too
many lies had been told; replaced by ugly truths and bitter arguments. These things had nearly destroyed them and almost killed
In recent days he had witnessed changes in his father and believed them to be genuine. Murdoch Lancer wasn’t too old to learn that life can once again be made sweet - not by the love of a woman, but by forging new bonds with his sons. Scott was forever thankful that they hadn’t paid the highest price, Johnny’s death, for Murdoch’s desire to place business above blood. Now, all he had to do was to convince his stubborn brother that his life had value - to have hope for a future and faith in his family.
Sighing, Scott reentered the house. Despite Howard’s good news, he felt exhausted. Perhaps if he lay down for a while he’d feel up to talking to Johnny again. His brother’s cruel words had hurt more than he dared to admit. Perhaps a few hours apart would help.
One by one, the prosecution presented
witnesses to testify against the defendants.
The first three were ranchers who had their land stolen from them by Ned
Bartch. The three men were glad to
testify – clearly identifying the men who had broken into their homes,
threatening them and their families with death.
As each man testified, they were cross examined by the defense attorney
who would ask them to point out who they could identify.
To a one, none of the three men could place Bushrod Smith or the Indian
at their homes.
Bushrod gloated; he had always been careful, staying just out of sight – letting his men do the dirty work and for Bartch to take all the credit.
If Carl Unger was frustrated by this, it didn’t show. Once the ranchers were done, he started on the testimony of the men present at the raid on Stockton.
First to testify was the sheriff – Fred Savage. The sheriff recollected how he had nearly been stampeded by men who had ridden into town guns blazing. Vividly he described how men on horseback had fired first, sparking a gun battle that had claimed the lives of over ten men.
A pin could be heard dropping on the
floor as the people in the gallery hung on each word the Sheriff had to say. To
Lester McManus’ consternation, the Judge and jury seemed totally taken by the
testimony of the lawman. Slowly he
got to his feet as the prosecutor ended his direct examination of the witness.
“Sheriff Savage. Exactly where were you when the men rode into Stockton?”
“I was walking down Main Street…”
“And did you just stand there and defend yourself?”
“No, I had to jump out of the way…” a ripple of laughter erupted from men who had witnessed the Sheriff as he was completely stunned by the attack.
Lester McManus waited for the laughter to stop before he continued. “So tell me, Sheriff, how did the Association know that there was an attack coming?”
“I was told by Heath Barkley – he said that he had a friend who had information…”
“And what was the name of that friend?”
“Madrid, Johnny Madrid.”
Murdoch’s stomach clenched at his son’s professional name. So far the prosecution had managed to dance around the issue of Johnny Madrid being a part of what had happened. His greatest fear was that somehow the trial would be sidetracked from trying the guilty to trying Johnny.
“Objection!” Carl Unger shouted, “The State is not relying on any testimony from Johnny Madrid.”
“And why not?” the defense countered.
“Approach,” the judge ordered, leaning forward against the bench. He had heard rumors that Johnny Madrid, a notorious gunfighter, had somehow played a part in what had happened in Stockton and was curious whether the infamous man would be appearing in his courtroom. “Is Johnny Madrid going to testify?”
“No, Your Honor. The State does not need the testimony of Mr. Madrid to convict these men for what they did. The State will rely on direct testimony provided by witnesses. The Sheriff testified that the men on horseback fired first. He positively identified four of the six defendants. That is all that the State will present from this witness.”
Judge Raisen considered the argument.
“Mr. McManus, you will keep your remarks confined to the testimony that
was presented. Move back.”
The judge next turned to address the jury.
“Gentlemen of the Jury, you will disregard any reference to Johnny
Madrid.” The panel of twelve men
nodded in understanding – better understanding than Lester McManus could ever
know. They had all been in town and
knew the truth – Johnny Madrid had saved them all.
Crestfallen, Lester McManus went back to
his seat. “I am done with this
witness, Your Honor.”
“The witness is then excused.” The judge paused listening as the clock on the town hall gonged twelve times. “The court will recess for one hour. Everyone will return at one o’clock.”
“All rise!” the bailiff announced as
the Judge stood and left the bench while the jury was taken to the hotel for
Murdoch stood and went directly to
Jarrod. “What just happened?”
Jarrod glanced at Lester and decided
that any comments he had should be made privately.
“Let’s go back to my office and I’ll explain what is happening.”
Murdoch, Victoria, Heath and Val followed Jarrod back to his office. Once they were safely inside, Jarrod sat behind his desk to address their concerns.
“What just happened in there? Why is Johnny being brought into this now?”
Jarrod looked at the concerned faces,
understanding their worries. “Mr.
Lancer, the State’s Attorney is doing his very best to keep Johnny Madrid out
of this case…”
“Why? Johnny was instrumental in warning the town of the impending attack…”
“And how did Johnny know that?” Jarrod interrupted.
Murdoch opened his mouth and then closed it, realizing that he didn’t know how to answer.
“Johnny broke into Ned Bartch’s house…”
“And how did he know where to look?” Jarrod pressed.
Again Heath answered, “He had hired on to work for Bartch – but only to spy on him!”
Jarrod shook his head. “Judge Raisen might disagree with you there. Johnny has a reputation as a gun fighter. It was Johnny Madrid who infiltrated Bartch’s ranks. It was Johnny Madrid who figured out the plot against the Association…”
“It was the word of Johnny Madrid who warned the Association, setting up that trap on the main street.” Val Crawford finished. “Murdoch, the Judge needs to hear how the Association was attacked first and was forced to defend themselves.”
“So what you’re saying is that even
though Johnny saved the town, he can’t be given credit because of who he
fumed, beginning to pace the room. It
didn’t seem fair. Johnny Madrid
was the one who saved the ignorant men who formed the Association, but the
prosecution was afraid to give him credit because of what the judge might think.
“What if it comes out that Johnny told the Association?”
“Who was Johnny working for? He wasn’t working for us and he wasn’t working for any of
the Association members. I’m
afraid that the Judge will see that he was working for himself and that might
affect the way the Judge rules on the charges against Smith and the Indian.”
“So what happens now?”
Victoria asked, speaking for the first time.
“The prosecutor will continue to refer
to Johnny as John Lancer for as long as he can – hopefully until the first
four defendants are convicted…”
“And then what?” Murdoch demanded.
Jarrod shook his head.
“I’m sure that when McManus starts his defense, the first thing
he’s going to do is to attack Johnny and his reputation. Are you going to be able to refute their allegations?”
Jarrod looked to Murdoch, noting the grim line that had become the older
“I’ll defend him with my very last breath if needed. My son lost a lot defending this town. I’m not about to let those men go free just because of a last name. I’m proud of what John did. He saved too many lives that day for him to become the villain in all of this!”
Jarrod smiled, encouraged by Murdoch Lancer’s obvious change of heart where it came to his youngest. “Good, because it may all boil down to you and what you have to say about Johnny that will keep the judge from letting Smith and the Indian go free.”
Nick watched as Tim Marsh devoured his
second helping of stew. The kid
reminded him of Heath when he first arrived at the ranch – half starved with a
huge chip on his shoulder. It was a
feeling Nick had never experienced in his own life.
He had always known where he belonged – at the ranch with his family.
Watching Tim, Nick knew that he had been lucky.
Not many people were as fortunate as he was.
Tom Barkley had been a stern father, but had always treated his family
fairly with kindness and love. It
was a way of parenting embraced by both Tom and Victoria.
The result – a strong and loving family.
In the past weeks he had been given a glimpse into the lives of other people who were less fortunate. Scott Lancer had been raised in relative wealth – his doting grandfather giving him everything and anything he could have ever wished for. Yet the young man chose to turn his back on that security, opting to leave in search of what he felt was missing from his life. Nick laughed to himself, wishing he could have been there when the proper Bostonian had found himself face to face with Johnny Madrid – his half brother. The seasoned cowboy was sure there was a story to be told about that event; perhaps he would ask when all was said and done.
Johnny, like Heath, had been raised in relative poverty. Both men had come to their families hungry to find a new way of life. Nick knew now what a blessing his mother had been to his brother. She could have turned him away – like Murdoch had apparently turned away Johnny. It still irked him to know how Murdoch had treated his youngest. It was an unconscionable act – one that Nick could only pray would be remedied once Johnny got back on his feet. Tom Barkley had instilled in this children that family comes first – always and forever. Hopefully, the Lancers would adopt that rule and somehow move beyond their past and plan a new future.
Tim wasn’t like Scott or Johnny. Tim was a young man looking for an adventure that would never find him if he had remained on his parent’s ranch. Unfortunately the adventure he found was as dark as life could ever be… Nick corrected himself; Johnny’s present condition was as dark as life could ever be. Having been trapped in that darkness once in his life had been enough for Nick. Only the Lord knew how many times Johnny Madrid had been to the pits of Hell and back. Tim had been lucky that Johnny was a compassionate man. In a few minutes he was going to reintroduce Tim to Johnny Madrid. Perhaps then the kid would get an idea of how good he had it back in Nevada.
Scott Lancer entered the room just as Tim was finishing up. Silently he regarded the young man and went to the stove for a cup of coffee.
Wide eyed, Tim watched the slender man who moved like a cat with eyes that seemed to bore right into his soul. With amusement, Nick watched the interplay between the two. “Scott, this is Tim Marsh….”
“I figured as much,” Scott took a
sip of his coffee, placed the cup on the table and took a seat directly across
from the now frightened youth. With
cold eyes he stared at the boy, trying to figure out what could make a nice kid
turn so wrong.
“Do I know you, Mister?” Tim finally asked, finding it hard to eat under Scott’s scrutiny.
Tim glanced at Nick; it didn’t help. “Why are you starin’ at me?”
“I want to see what my brother saw in you…”
“Yeah, my brother. I’m sure you remember him – dark hair, blue eyes - you know, the guy you tied to a horse and had dragged to hell.”
Tim’s green eyes grew round. “You’re Johnny’s brother?” he whispered.
“That I am…”
“I’m awful sorry, Mister. I never saw anything like that in my entire life and I swear to God that I hope to never see it again.”
“Save it for Johnny,” Scott responded coldly, his blue eyes glaring. “For some reason, my brother feels that your sorry hide is worth saving – don’t disappoint him.” With that said, Scott headed outside, the door slamming hard as he exited.
“I didn’t know Madrid had a
brother…” Tim said uncomfortably, thinking of his own brother – Jed. Dropping his head he knew how disappointed his older brother
would be in him for all that he had done since leaving the ranch.
“Neither did he; until a few months ago. And, for the record – it’s Johnny Lancer.” Nick commented looking after Scott. He hadn’t seen Scott this angry since the day they found Johnny - bleeding and broken in the dust of the north quarter. After Heath’s conversation with Scott last night, Nick thought that Scott was OK with Tim’s pardon. It worried him that Scott would have changed his mind. Shrugging thoughts of Scott Lancer aside, he watched Tim wipe his mouth on the back of his sleeve. “You ready to go see Johnny, Boy?”
Tim stood and nervously wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. There was no postponing this meeting any longer. He had sworn to himself that he wouldn’t run – that he would face Johnny like a man. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Nick led Tim from the kitchen, through the dining room and out to the foyer of the grand mansion.
Jelly was just leaving the library with a half eaten tray of food and looked expectantly at the men. “He’s awake and expectin’ ya.”
Nick tapped lightly on the door before entering the darkened room; the
only light came from the front window. Johnny
was propped up in the bed, his head tilted back and his eyes closed; an
occasional wheeze came from his chest. Between
the sound of Johnny’s struggle to breathe and the gloominess of the room, Nick
found himself thinking that he was leading Tim into a modified prison.
Tim’s eyes widened at the sight of Johnny. This was not the man they had tried to kill. This was a ghost. Moving closer, Tim took notice of the pale complexion and dark circles that composed Johnny’s face. The man seemed to have aged years in just two weeks. Johnny looked frail, as if all the fight had been sucked out of him. Eying the thick leather straps that bound Johnny to the bed he began to wonder about the extent of Johnny’s injuries.
Johnny never moved a muscle as they came near, leading both men to think that Jelly was wrong – Johnny was asleep. “Maybe we should come back later…” Tim whispered, clearly anxious to get away from seeing more of what he had done.
“I ain’t asleep,” Johnny’s soft voice startled both men. “I’m just restin’ my eyeballs.”
Nick coughed slightly and pushed Tim closer. “Johnny, this is Tim Marsh…”
Tim shot Nick an uneasy look before
turning to Johnny. The injured man
looked worse up close. It was
obvious that Johnny had a long way to go before he would be back on his feet –
if ever. Healing bruises could be seen on Johnny’s face, exposed
shoulders and arms - reminders of the beating the man had suffered when he was
dragged across a rugged terrain. “Mr.
Madrid…. er… Lancer… I’m awful sorry about what I done…”
A small laugh erupted from Johnny’s cracked lips. “You’re sorry? Well good for you, Kid.” Tim looked at Nick, unsure how to respond. “Have a seat and let’s talk a spell.”
“You need me here, Johnny?” Nick asked heading toward the door. There was no envying Tim the position he was now in; but Nick had rescued the boy once today and that was all he had to offer.
“Nah, he cain’t do me no harm, thanks.”
Tim looked after the departing Nick, his
eyes filled with alarm. The last
thing he wanted was to be left alone with Johnny.
Sighing, he knew that he deserved to hear what Johnny had to say. Slowly, he sat in the seat next to the injured man and
waited. There was a movement near
the door and suddenly he wasn’t alone. Scott
Lancer appeared in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed
over his chest. From the look
in Scott’s eye Tim had the distinct impression that if he hurt Johnny he was
going to answer to Scott Lancer.
Swallowing hard to gather his strength, Tim’s green eyes met the startling blue eyes of the man he had nearly killed. “Thank you for savin’ my life, Mr. Lancer.”
Johnny didn’t say anything. Instead he studied the uneasy face of Tim Marsh. Johnny couldn’t remember ever being that young. He had left his childhood behind the day he killed the man who murdered his mama ten years ago. After that, he became Johnny Madrid; constantly wearing the cool mask of the gunhawk. This kid would never make it as a professional. He was too emotional and jumpy. He’d be dead before he turned…. “How old are you, Kid?”
“I’ll be seventeen in four months…”
“You’re sixteen?” Johnny looked at the kid incredulously. “How long you been hanging out with Bushrod?”
Tim looked uncomfortably at the toe of his boot. “I never laid eyes on him before that day in Stockton. I heard the Circle A was hiring guns and I figured that gettin’ hired on would be the fastest way to earn a reputation with a gun…”
Johnny closed his weary eyes and listened as the kid told how it was just dumb luck that had stuck him with Smith and the Indian that day. As the boy spoke, Johnny tried again to imagine himself at that age. By sixteen, he had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with. This kid was still wet behind the ears. “Kid, have you ever fired a gun at another man?”
Tim looked out the window and whispered, “No.”
Johnny sighed and opened his eyes,
studying the boy. It was apparent
that the kid had never shaved or probably even kissed a girl.
“Go home, Kid. Hang up
your gun and go home…”
“I can’t,” Tim moaned, tears rimming his eyes.
“Why not? Your parents dead?”
“You hurt someone?”
“Go home, Kid.”
“My pa won’t understand…”
“We had an argument and I left. I just couldn’t take it any longer. The constant fighting, the harsh words…”
Johnny raised an eyebrow at the familiar
complaint and looked out the window. He couldn’t help but wonder if this was
the way it always was between fathers and sons. There was a long silence before
Johnny finally asked, “Does he love you?”
Tim was startled by the question. “I think so…”
“Then go home and find out. Love is a powerful emotion. It changes everything…”
“What if he don’t want me?”
“Then fight for it!” Johnny said, and with the next breath whispered “I wish I had…” The barely spoken words were filled with such heartache and remorse that Tim did a quick double take.
“Is that why you became a gunfighter? You and your pa had a fight?”
Johnny wearily shook his head no. “I just met my father eight months ago…”
“Then why?” Tim’s eyes were wide and filled with curiosity.
“Survival – pure and simple. You can’t survive around the border towns unless you’re
smart enough ta think your way out – or fast with a gun. I guess I wasn’t very smart.”
Johnny gave Tim a weak smile.
“So, what didn’t you fight for?”
Johnny closed his eyes, weary of the
conversation. “Look Kid, we’re
talkin’ about you, not me…”
“Do you and your pa fight?” Tim doggedly asked wanting to know more.
“All the time…”
“Does he love you?”
Johnny tried to shift his position,
suddenly uncomfortable. “My Old Man and I don’t see eye to eye about much of
“I saw your pa this mornin’; he
spoke up for me at the trial. He
said that if you were man enough to forgive me that he could too.
I think that he was right proud of you for doin’ what ya did for me.
I think that he loves you…”
“Shut up, Kid.”
Johnny said sharply. “You
got no business interfering in my life. Go
home to your family. Forget living
by the gun. It’ll only get you
dead – fast.”
Tim stood up, shaken by Johnny’s harsh words. “I’ll never forget you, Mr. Lancer. You saved my life. I’ll go home and I’ll try to make it work with my Pa – I promise.” Tim stuck out his sweaty hand to shake with Johnny.
Johnny eyed the boy’s trembling hand
and slowly raised his own. The boy
grasped it firmly and shook it hard, causing pain to shoot up Johnny’s sore
arms. With his mask firmly in
place, Johnny gave the boy a brief smile. “Get
out of here Kid. Go home and grow
Satisfied that he had made his peace with Johnny, Tim turned to leave. To his surprise, Scott Lancer gave him a brief smile and handed him a wad of bills before he left the room.
Scott continued to stand by the doorway,
studying his brother. He had heard
every word and wondered how his brother could give advice to a stranger based on
experiences that he had never had with his own father.
“You gonna stand over there all day, Boston?” Johnny called out softly.
A smile crossed Scott’s face as he moved toward his brother. “Those were pretty good words of advice. You should follow them yourself.” When Johnny didn’t respond, Scott decided to keep on speaking. “How long have you known I was there?” Scott sat in the chair that Tim had vacated. Johnny was clearly exhausted – looking worse than he had in the morning. “You OK, Johnny?”
Johnny grimaced and a bead of sweat rolled down his cheek from his hairline. “I’m fine…”
“No you’re not. I’m going to send for the doctor…” Scott stood, but was stopped by Johnny who reached out and grabbed his arm, holding him back. “What?”
“We need to talk, Brother…”
Scott saw a softness in Johnny’s eyes that had been missing earlier in the day. In the morning he had the distinct impression that he had been dealing with Johnny Madrid. Now, he was facing the concerned face of his brother. Acquiescing, Scott sat back in the chair and picked up a damp cloth from a nearby basin to dab the sweat from Johnny’s soaked brow. “What do you want to talk about?”
Johnny closed his eyes and rolled his head away from Scott. This was harder than he had ever thought possible. Scott wasn’t just another man – he was his brother. Johnny never had one of those before and felt guilty for hurting him earlier.
Sensing that Johnny was having difficulty finding words, Scott started. “Did you believe the words that you said to Tim?”
Johnny shook his head in the affirmative.
“Why? God knows that you never had that experience at Lancer.”
“I know,” Johnny finally responded. “But I wanted it so bad. I just thought that since he’s known his pa for his whole life that maybe there’s a chance his father loves him and might take him back.”
A thought struck Scott and it wasn’t
pleasant. “Johnny, what do you
know about love and family?”
“I don’t know nothin’,” Johnny admitted. “Maybe Murdoch is right. All I can do good is kill and hurt people – like I hurt you. I’m sorry…”
Scott took Johnny’s hand in his own
and gave the slender fingers a firm squeeze.
“You’re wrong, Johnny. You
are one of the most kind hearted men I know.
Look at the way you treat Teresa, Jelly’s kids and Pony Alice.
It is your compassion that people think of first when they think of
Johnny Lancer. Somewhere you
learned how to care about people in spite of how and where you were raised. What
you don’t know about is family and how family members take care of each other.
I was brought up with people who cared about me.
My grandfather and our staff – Alberta and Jennings – were my family.
They cared for me every day of my life; worried about me every day.
They picked me up when I fell down – brushed me off and sent me on my
way. When I was sick they would
take care of me – making sure I took my medicine and followed the doctor’s
orders. They did it because they loved me.
What about you, Johnny – didn’t your mother ever take care of you
that way?” Scott, who had never
known the love of his own mother, could only wonder what type of woman Maria
Lancer had been.
“It’s been so long….”
Johnny sighed. “I remember
her holding me when I hurt. Talking
to me soft and gentle… When I was a little kid, I thought that – well in my
dreams my father would hold me and protect me from my stepfather.”
Johnny sucked in a breath, holding back a cough.
“When I finally got home, I kinda hoped that my father would at least
care. I guess I was all wrong…”
“No, Johnny. You didn’t get it wrong. Murdoch did.” Scott realized that as much as Johnny was a man, part of him still missed being a child – like all people do. Relishing the feeling of being loved and cared for by a parent should be a given. For too long, Johnny had been on his own with no one to care whether he lived or died. He had come to Lancer, half hoping to find a new life and a family. He had found neither. There was little wonder he was so confused by the attention and compassion he was now receiving – especially from his father. “You gave good advice to Tim. I think that he’s going to go back to his family and give it another try. Isn’t that what you want too, Johnny?”
Johnny looked at his brother. There was no mistaking the forgiveness and understanding in Scott. Yes, with all his heart he wanted to return to Lancer – but it would have to be on his own terms and no one else’s. “I’m tired…”
“Answer my question, Johnny. Do you want to return to Lancer?”
“Yes…” the barest of whispers escaped Johnny’s lips.
Scott smiled and once again wiped a bead of sweat from his brother’s brow. “Good. Now that we have that resolved, you don’t look too well. What hurts?”
Johnny took a deep breath and was
overcome with a fit of coughing.
As the doctor had directed, Scott placed a pillow against Johnny’s
healing ribs, and leaned him forward against his shoulder.
He held his brother, gently rubbing his back until the spell passed,
leaving Johnny limp and gasping for breath.
“Easy, Brother,” Scott soothed.
Eventually, he laid Johnny back – the younger man was asleep before his
head hit the pillow. It was clear
to Scott that something was amiss, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure
out what it was.
Scott felt satisfied that whatever rift had been opened up between the two of them was on the mend. Johnny was a complicated man. Since Johnny’s life had not taken the path of most men, it was hard for Scott to relate his own experiences to his younger brother. Murdoch probably felt the same way too – not that it was any excuse for how Murdoch had treated Johnny I the past.
For the first time in weeks, Scott felt hope that Johnny would come home – to Lancer. Now all he had to do was to make sure that was what Murdoch wanted too.
Nick was waiting for Scott in the foyer.
“Tim is gone. I had one of the hands take him to the Nevada border.”
“Good,” Scott didn’t smile, distracted by his conversation with Johnny.
“Somethin’ the matter?”
“Johnny’s not well; something is bothering him…”
“No,” Scott shook his head.
“I think that it’s something physical.
He’s in pain, but won’t say where.”
“You want me to send another hand back to town to get Doc?”
Scott nodded his head, yes, and bit his
lip. “The doctor said not to
coddle him, but I think there’s
Val Crawford was the first witness to be
heard in the afternoon session. He
testified that while the other members of the Association were focused on the
front of the hotel, his job was to be a lookout for the back of the building.
While there, he fought off a rear attack and one of the men in the
defendant’s box was captured.
"So, Sheriff Crawford…” Lester McManus stood to start his cross examination.
“I resigned before I come to Stockton,” Val prickly corrected. “It’s just Mr. Crawford to you.” A few murmurs rippled through the gallery, but they were quickly stifled by the judge.
Did you see any of the other defendants behind the hotel?”
“Not even Mr. Smith and Mr. Joe?”
“I didn’t haveta see ‘em to know they were there…”
“Then your answer is no?”
Val squirmed before answering. “No, I didn’t see Smith or the Indian behind the hotel, but that ain’t…”
“No further questions!” Lester interrupted.
“Listen, they were behind…”
Please instruct the witness to limit his response to the question
The judge banged his gavel and looked at the fuming former sheriff of Green River. “That will be all, Mr. Crawford. You’re excused.”
Val stood quickly, snatching his hat from where he had perched it on the railing and stalked back to his seat.
Carl Unger stood to address the Judge.
“Motion for Summary Judgment on four of the defendants, Your Honor.”
“The jury will leave the room,” Judge Raisen ordered.
The gallery became uneasy as the jurors were shown to the deliberation room. Murdoch leaned over to speak to Jarrod. “What’s happening?”
“The State believes that it has met
the burden of proof to convict four of the defendants and wants to end that
portion of this trial now.”
“Can that happen?”
Jarrod shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s a capital case, but Judge Raisen can be unpredictable. There’s not enough evidence presented to convict Smith and the Indian, but there is enough evidence to convict the others.”
Once the jury was sequestered, the Judge brought the room back to order. “I’ll now hear arguments.”
Carl Under stood first. “Your Honor, the state has presented witnesses who can positively identify four of the six defendants as the men who attacked their homes, killed their livestock and coerced them into signing over their property to Ned Bartch. They have also been positively identified as being a part of the group of men who attacked Stockton two weeks ago. There is no doubt that those four men are guilty as charged and should hang until they are dead!”
Lester McManus sat at his seat for a few moments before gathering his thoughts. Slowly he stood to address the court. “Your Honor, I do not deny that these men were employed by Ned Bartch. They were hired to see if they could find property for sale in the Stockton area – and they did. Unfortunately, in their zeal to do their jobs they got a little carried away. These men are not killers. They are hard working cowboys only trying to earn a living. Two weeks ago, these men rode into Stockton for a day off and found themselves attacked by a group of men who had been stirred to the point of hysteria by rumors of land pirates in the area….”
“Mr. McManus,” Judge Raisen
interrupted, his voice booming throughout the small building.
“If you can’t find a better argument to defend your clients with,
then I suggest that you sit down!”
Lester swallowed hard before continuing. “Your Honor, as much as the state has only proven it’s case against four of my clients – the other two men should go free…”
“Your Honor!” Carl Unger cried out
jumping to his feet. “The Motion
of Summary Judgment is limited to four of the six defendants. The State
respectfully reserves its right to present evidence to convict the remaining
The Judge looked at his notes. “Gentlemen, all the cases were combined in the interest that justice be served expeditiously. I do feel the state has proven its case against four of the six defendants, but I am not going to take the satisfaction of convicting them away from the jury – it would send the wrong message to the community. Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.” The judge looked up at the clock. “Court is in recess until nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“All rise!” The bailiff ordered while the Judge stood and retired to his chambers.
Everyone in the courtroom stood as the Judge left the room. Carl Unger turned to address Jarrod. “We’re going to need Scott Lancer here tomorrow. Mr. Todd, we’re going to need you too.”
Won’t Victoria’s and my testimony be enough?” Murdoch asked.
Carl shook his head. “We need to establish that Smith and the Indian were employed by Bartch and Anderson….”
“Why not get the four other men to testify?” Victoria asked, voicing a question weighing on Murdoch’s mind.
“It won’t work.
I’ve tried talking to them, even offering them life in prison instead
of the death penalty. They’re too
afraid of Smith and his friends to talk. They’re
dead men walking and they aren’t talking.”
A wry grin crossed Carl’s face when he realized his words rhymed.
It was quickly replaced by his earnest concern.
“I’d like to meet with all of the witnesses to discuss testimony.”
“Mr. Unger, Mr. Todd – why don’t
you come back to the ranch for supper? We
can discuss the case there…”
“Thank you, Mrs. Barkley,” Carl smiled before turning to Murdoch. “Mr. Lancer, I’m afraid that you are going to be my main witness. It could get pretty ugly where Johnny is concerned…”
“Mr. Unger, while I appreciate your concern, there is nothing I won’t do to make sure that those men get what they deserve for what they did to my son. Nothing!”
Bernardo Cardoza slowly made his way to
the Barkley mansion to visit his friend – Johnny Madrid. He, like the doctor,
had no desire to witness the circus that would end in the deaths of six men.
There was no denying the men deserved punishing. Bartch and Anderson had
been judged by Juanito’s gun and that had made their deaths so much more
satisfying than going through the motions of a trial.
was, there were no Mexicanos testifying at the trial – a sign that what the
men had done to the Mexican community hadn’t meant anything.
Johnny Madrid had already given justice to his people, and for that there
would be a celebration.
As he rode along, he found it hard to believe that it had been three days since he had last seen his friend - and he was worried for him. Scott Lancer had sent for him; the note mentioned that Johnny was depressed and asked if Bernardo would come to cheer his brother up. Bernardo worried that he didn’t have much to offer in the way of cheer. He had realized that Johnny’s paralysis was costing his friend more than just a lack of mobility. It was taking away Johnny’s very identity – a hard commodity to recover for a man who felt his only value was his physical prowess. Bernardo had briefly tried to tell his friend that he was more than just his gun; that it was his kindness and self depreciating ways that endeared him to the people he chose to protect. Johnny would hear none of it.
Sadly, Bernardo knew that there was more
to the depression than just the loss of his identity as Johnny Madrid. His own papa had robbed Johnny of any hope he had of turning
away from the ways of the gun. When
Jelly had told him the sordid details of the arguments between Johnny and his
father he lost all respect for Murdoch Lancer.
It would be interesting to hear if Señor Murdoch had been able to breach the chasm that existed
between himself and his son.
Riding up to the grand manor where the Barkleys lived gave the poor man pause. Senora Barkley was not like other gringos in the area. She was graciously opening her home to everyone in town – but especially Juanito’s people – the Mexicans. Consuelo was coming tomorrow to oversee the preparations for the Fiesta. Perhaps if Johnny could see how much happiness he had brought into their dark lives he would finally realize how highly he was thought of.
Scott Lancer strode out of the house as Bernardo dismounted; a grim smile on his face. “It’s good of you to come, Señor Cardoza,” Scott extended his hand and shook Bernardo’s warmly.
Bernardo was impressed by Scott Lancer. Here was a man who had accepted his brother completely – embracing everyone who would be a friend to Juanito. “Gracias, I come for my friend Juanito. How is he doing?”
Opening the front door, Scott led Bernardo into the house where they could talk freely. “Not so well, I’m afraid. He seemed OK this morning, but something is bothering him this afternoon. He won’t tell me. I’m hoping that perhaps he might tell you…” Scott asked; his eyes filled with hope.
Bernardo bit his lip considering the
request. If Johnny chose to confide
in him he could not betray that trust – no matter what.
“I will see what I can do Señor Scott.
That’s all I can ask,” Scott opened the door to the library; Bernardo followed him in. “Johnny?”
Johnny turned his head towards his
brother, smiling at the sight of Bernardo – just the man he needed to see. “Bernardo, ¿Cómo estás?”
Bernardo glanced nervously at Scott
before answering. Obviously, Johnny
was not physically doing as well as he had hoped.
“Estoy bien, mi amigo. ¿Cómo
“I’ve been better, ain’t that
“That’s a fact,” Scott readily agreed. “How about I get us something to drink? I’ll be right back.”
The smile on Johnny’s face faded as
soon as his brother’s back was turned. A grimace crossed his pain pinched
features as he quickly he spoke to Bernardo in Spanish.
The older man listened intently, not liking what his friend was
requesting. Occasionally he would
nod his head in understanding but not in agreement.
What Johnny wanted was going to be difficult, but not impossible.
Every time he started to interrupt, Johnny would only press on, his voice
stressing the urgency of the situation. When
Johnny had said his piece, Bernardo was left stunned.
“Will you do it?” Johnny asked after waiting several moments for Bernardo’s answer.
“Si,” Bernardo nodded his head in agreement. “In two days…”
“Gracias,” Johnny laid back against
his pillow, taking comfort in the knowledge that he would soon be free of his
“Are you sure? You are still enfermó. What you ask could…”
“It don’t matter, don’t you see? I’ve got to do this.” Johnny closed his eyes for a moment, regrouping his thoughts. “Do you know where my rig is, and my clothes?”
“Si, I brought your clothes to Señora
Barkley a few days ago,” Bernardo looked about the room and spied the neatly
folded clothes on a nearby table. Walking over, he picked up the faded shiva
shirt. “Consuelo, she mended your shirt…” proudly he unfolded the shirt
and showed it to Johnny.
“Gracias,” Johnny whispered, fingering the faded garment. It had always been his favorite and he was glad to see that it had survived. Consuelo had done wonders repairing the holes made by the bullets that had struck his body. A smile crossed his lips realizing that his shirt had fared better than his own hide. “And my gun?”
Again, Bernardo quickly scanned the room
until he spotted Johnny’s hat sitting on top of his gun.
“It is here too…” He
was about to get it when Scott entered the room carrying a pitcher of lemonade
and three glasses.
Scott immediately noticed that Johnny was holding his shirt. “Going somewhere, Brother?”
Johnny handed the shirt back to Bernardo.
“I just wanted to see the repairs Consuelo made.”
Relieved by Johnny’s response, Scott poured three glasses of the cold beverage. “Good, because you’re not going anywhere until the doctor says that you’re good and ready.” Scott admonished. Turning to Bernardo, he handed the old vaquero a glass of lemonade. “Did he tell you that the doctor thinks that he’s going to walk again?”
“No,” Bernardo glanced at the two brothers, uncomfortable being caught between the two men. “Is that true, Juanito – you are better?”
Johnny held his glass in trembling hands
trying to take a sip without spilling the liquid on himself.
“That’s what they say…”
“…but he refuses to believe it.”
Scott finished. “The Doc says
that he’s coming along fine. He
just needs to be patient.” Scott
took a drink and watched as Johnny gave up on trying to handle the glass.
“Here,” putting his glass on the table, Scott placed his hands over
his brother’s and helped Johnny to take a drink.
“It’s easier when you let others help you…”
“Right,” Johnny agreed verbally, but in his head he couldn’t help but wonder about the time when he would be on his own with no one to care for him. The time was coming sooner than his brother would know. “I’m tired…” Johnny whispered as Scott took the glass away.
“But Bernardo just got here…” Scott protested unaware that Johnny and Bernardo had spoken.
“It’s alright, Señor Scott.
Juanito and I had a good talk. He
is muy fatigado. I will go now.
Adios, mi amigo.”
“Hasta el día siguiente mañana,” Johnny whispered. He would see Bernardo the day after tomorrow – when he would finally be free.
Scott walked Bernardo to the door. “I’m sorry you rode all this way for nothing…”
“It is alright. I had a chance to talk with Juanito.”
“What did he say?”
Bernardo shook his head. “He is not well, Señor. I would keep a close watch on him if I were you…”
“We’ve sent for the doctor. Something is bothering him…”
“Bueno, the doctor will give him what he needs. Adios!”
Scott watched as Bernardo mounted his
horse and rode away. A strange
feeling of unease overcame his sense of well being.
Something had happened while he had left Johnny and Bernardo alone.
Scott was sure that neither would voluntarily ever say what it was, so he
was going to ask.
Closing the front door, Scott returned to the library. The question he wanted to ask Johnny was on the tip of his tongue; instead he was distracted by the sound of a low moan escaping from Johnny’s lips. Quietly, he neared the ailing man to see Johnny arching his back in obvious discomfort. “Johnny?”
A searing pain was lancing its way up Johnny’s spine; torturing his muscles into tight knots. He had been fighting it ever since the doctor had left; with each passing moment it had grown steadily worse. He never heard Scott enter the room – if he had he would have fought harder to contain the pain. As it was, Johnny found himself being scrutinized by his brother.
Scott asked, taking Johnny’s hand as another spasm seemed to physically
attack his brother.
Johnny squeezed Scott’s hand as hard
as he could – as if to transfer the pain away from his body.
“Madre de Dios!” Johnny
swore, closing his eyes and clenching his teeth.
Jelly entered the room, his eyes growing round at the sight. “I’ll get the laudanum…”
“No!” Johnny ground out as the spasm passed, leaving him limp and exhausted. “I can handle it.”
“No you can’t!”
Scott said forcefully, wiping away the sweat that was trickling down the
side of Johnny’s face. “It’s
“The Doc said you needed rest and you cain’t rest if you’re hurt’n bad.” Jelly went to the table where Johnny’s medicines lay. Picking up the brown bottle and a spoon he went to where Scott was trying to make Johnny comfortable. Silently he handed the items over to the elder Lancer.
“Johnny, it’s for your own good,” Scott measured a spoonful and held it in front of his brother. “I can’t make you take this, but I wish you would. You can’t fight this if you’re exhausted.”
Deep blue eyes stared up at the compassionate blue ones of his brother; silently Johnny unclenched his jaw. Seeing the movement as a sign, Scott brought the spoon to his brother’s lips and poured the liquid into Johnny’s mouth. There was no feeling of a battle waged and won. Johnny had simply acquiesced and succumbed to Scott’s request.
Closing his eyes, Johnny allowed himself to drift into the soothing comfort of the narcotic. Twinges of pain continued to mount their attack on his weakened body, but with the numbing effects of the medicine, they became less and less. From a distance, he seemed to hear Scott calling to him. Opening his eyes, he looked at Scott as if his brother were a million miles away.
“Are you all right?”
Johnny refused to answer.
“Where is the pain?”
“It’s gone now…” Closing his eyes Johnny knew he had allowed Scott to win this war. Never again.
It was close to five o’clock when everyone returned from town with news of the trial.
“How’s Johnny?” Murdoch asked anxiously as soon as he saw the grim face on his eldest.
“We need to talk,” Scott started to take Murdoch aside, but was interrupted by Victoria.
“Please, whatever is happening with
Johnny concerns all of us. What
Scott ran a tired hand through his hair. “Doctor Merar came this morning and did his usual examination. He said that he did a test and that Johnny’s toes moved…”
“That’s wonderful!” Murdoch exclaimed, but the smile that should have been on Scott’s face was missing. Instantly he knew something was wrong.
“After the doc left, Johnny seemed to take a turn for the worse. He got quiet and pale – but he never complained. It wasn’t until after Mr. Cardoza left that I found Johnny in agony. Apparently the pain in his back is getting worse. I had to give him some laudanum…”
Heath and Val looked at each other in stunned silence. “He took it?” Heath asked, speaking for Val.
Scott nodded his head. “I don’t know what he’s thinking. He seemed to be OK when he spoke with Tim Marsh – he even said that he wanted to return to Lancer. But there’s something more going on. I’ve sent for the doctor, but he’s out making rounds and won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“You did fine, Son,” Murdoch reassured Scott with a smile. “I’ll go and talk to him.”
Scott watched as his father headed toward the library. “Good luck,” he whispered.
Once again the gaslights had been lit, warming the library in their soft glow. Murdoch strode into the room and gave Jelly a knowing nod. The older man responded by vacating his seat and leaving the room.
Taking a deep breath, Murdoch readied himself for a discussion with his youngest. Sitting, Murdoch gazed at his son. Johnny’s eyes were closed giving him the appearance of being asleep, but instinctively Murdoch knew the boy was awake. “Johnny?”
“Hey,” Johnny smiled; opening his drug glazed eyes.
“How are you feeling, Son?”
“What did Scott tell you?”
“I want to hear it from you.”
Johnny closed his eyes, trying to figure his father’s angle. “Fine…”
“Is that because of the laudanum?”
A smile broke out across Johnny’s face and he gave a brief chuckle. “I thought you didn’t ask Scott.”
“I didn’t have to. He’s very upset about you…”
Johnny’s smile faded thinking about his brother. “I don’t mean to make him upset…”
“Johnny, he’s upset that you’re in pain – he’s not upset at you – there is a difference.”
A few seconds of silence passed before
Johnny softly spoke again. “So,
which are you?”
“I don’t understand what you’re
asking?” Murdoch was confused by
“Are you upset with me?” Johnny asked quietly.
Crestfallen, Murdoch’s heart sank that
Johnny would have to even ask such a question.
He had hoped that he had made better progress in his relationship with
his youngest. Looking at Johnny he
saw the lines of pain that had been etched on the younger man’s face since
this morning. There was little
wonder why Scott was upset. “No
Johnny, I’m not upset with you. I’m
concerned that you’re suffering. You’ve
had enough to last several lifetimes….”
“Seems that’s what I was meant for. I think it’s my job…”
“Not you, not any longer. That’s why Scott gave you the medicine and he’s sent for the doctor…”
“I don’t need no doctor to tell me what’s wrong,” Johnny’s eyes flashed in frustration. “My legs are dead!”
“That’s not what I heard the doctor told you and Scott this morning…”
Then why can’t I move them. Why
do they hurt like hell?”
“You’re having pain in your legs?”
Johnny turned away, not wanting to see any more concern from Murdoch Lancer. “Why do you even care…”
“Because I’m your father and I lo…
“Don’t even say it, Old Man!” Johnny swore turning back towards his father. “You ain’t never shown me love! So don’t think you can go all soft on me now!”
To his credit, Murdoch did not rise to his son’s provoking. “What do you want me to say, Johnny? That I want you to be in pain – that I enjoy your suffering? I can’t. I don’t get any perverse pleasure knowing that you hurt. I never wanted that…”
“You only wanted me dead.”
“Johnny, I was wrong. I
don’t know how many times I have to say it to make things right again.”
When Johnny didn’t respond, Murdoch decided to change the subject.
“Johnny, the fact that you are feeling pain in your legs is a good
thing. The doctor said that one of
the first things that you would feel is pain.”
“That ain’t no guarantee of nothin’.
All it means is pain.” Johnny
still refused to allow himself hope.
“The only ‘good thing’ I’m waiting for is the day I can stand on
my own two feet and walk out of here,” he practically growled at his father.
Murdoch once again refused to rise to the bait that Johnny was throwing at him. He knew a good sign when he saw it. Right now he felt more hope for his son that he had ever thought possible. The only problem was that Johnny would not share in that hope. “Johnny, you need to give yourself more time. When Nick Barkley was injured he said it took two weeks after his accident before he could move his legs again…”
“I’ve been counting. The way I see it, it’s been two weeks since I was dragged – and nothing! My pains have got pains!” Johnny arched his back and squeezed his eyes shut tight as a strong spasm forced its way past his medicated nerves.
Murdoch took Johnny’s hand until the spasm passed, patiently waiting for Johnny’s blue eyes to open again. “Please, Johnny. Don’t fight this… You have to believe that you are getting better.”
Johnny’s response was to turn his head
away from his father.
Hoping to distract Johnny, Murdoch asked about Tim Marsh. “Did you have a chance to speak with the Marsh boy?”
Keeping his eyes averted, Johnny finally answered. “Yeah, I sent him packin’ back to Nevada. Told him that he’d be dead by the time he was seventeen…”
“Sounds like good advice. I was very proud of the way you spoke up for that boy. You saved his life…”
It was the first time that Johnny could remember his father ever telling him he was proud and it caught Johnny off guard. “Tim said that you were proud…”
“It’s the truth, Johnny. I saw him and I saw you. If only I had been there for you when you were at that turning point in your life… Perhaps I could have saved you from all this…”
“But you weren’t there. I was a lot younger than Tim when I made my choice to live by the gun – and I never looked back. It’s kept me alive all these years…”
“I suppose that in many ways I should
be thankful that you did turn to the gun since it kept you alive.”
Johnny gave a short laugh, followed by a
fit of coughing. When he was
done, Murdoch helped him take a sip of water.
“So tell me, what was so funny?”
“You,” Johnny whispered, tiredly closing his eyes. “You’re thankful that I became Johnny Madrid – just so you could hate me. You need to make up your mind, Old Man. How am I ever gonna know which way to turn with you when you keep changing on me?”
Murdoch gave a short laugh too,
realizing that Johnny was right. “I
guess that I’m always using the wrong words with you, Johnny.
I’m sorry about that. How do I tell you that I’m thankful that you
survived all those years? That I’m thankful that you’ve survived what
you’re going through now? We’ve
been given a second chance, Johnny – I believe it with all my heart.
Once this trial is through and you’re better, I’d like you to come
back home to Lancer. It’s where
you belong, Son. It’s where
you’ve always belonged. I’m not
saying that the road is going to be easy, or that I won’t make mistakes.
But we’ve got to try again. We
owe it to each other…. I owe it to you…”
Looking at Johnny, Murdoch realized that his son was asleep and probably didn’t hear a word that he had just said. Gently he laid a large head on Johnny’s damp forehead. “You’re going to recover, Johnny. I know that God is watching over you. You’ve done your time in hell and it’s time that you had a chance to know the better things in life.”
Murdoch exited the library to face the same crowd that he had left behind. “Well?” Scott asked anxiously.
“He told me that he’s having pains
in his legs…”
“That’s great!” Nick exclaimed, but was quickly shushed by his mother. “That’s exactly how I fell when I was getting my legs back! I tell you that he’ll be dancing a jig in no time!”
“Now, if we can only get Johnny to believe that,” Scott asked dejectedly. “I’m going to have my hands full tomorrow…”
“We need you in court tomorrow, Scott,” Jarrod interrupted. “That’s why Carl is here. We’re going to need you and Joel Todd to testify – along with my mother and your father…”
“I can’t leave Johnny…” Scott protested.
“Yes you can,” Val spoke up. “Heath and I will be here with him all day, ain’t that right Heath?”
“You got it, Scott. We’ll keep him company while you put Smith and that Indian in a noose…”
Scott looked confused. “I’m sorry I don’t know what I can say that will make a difference. I wasn’t there when Smith did what he did…”
“But you did see Smith at the Circle A before the Stockton raid. Your testimony that will help lay the foundation for the State’s case,” Carl Unger explained.
“Perhaps we can speak of this over dinner,” Victoria suggested, responding to a signal from Silas.
While the others headed for the dining room, Murdoch and Scott tarried, each engrossed in their thoughts about Johnny. “What do you think is going to happen, Sir?”
Murdoch shook his head. “He’s not forgiven me yet and I can’t say that I blame him. I can only pray that he will – someday. Until that day comes, I’m going to fight for him.” The big man gave his eldest son a determined look; leaving Scott with little doubt that Murdoch was finally on the right track where Johnny was concerned.
Johnny awakened to the sound of people out in the foyer.
Today was the second day of the trial and a hard day. Scott had told him the night before that the State’s
Attorney wanted Scott to testify - to prevent the trial from taking a bad turn.
Johnny didn’t need Scott to tell him that Johnny Madrid was the ‘bad
turn’. The only good defense was
a good offense and Johnny was sure that Smith’s lawyer was going to try to
make Johnny the ‘bad guy’ and not his clients.
Despite Scott’s reassurances, he knew that in the end he would be the
one to be judged by the jury. Johnny
had known too many slick lawyers in his day, and had come to expect the worst of
the legal community. In his mind,
he could hear the ugly words that would be used to describe him - words he had
heard many times in the past; words that would only further justify Murdoch’s
opinions about him. Bitterly he knew that he would never be able to escape his
past – Murdoch had been right all along, the best thing that Johnny could do
for his family was to disappear. Longingly,
he gazed first at his neatly folded clothing and then at the shelf where his gun
lay hidden under his hat.
His dark thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps outside the library door. Expectantly he laid waiting for Scott and Murdoch to say their goodbyes. He wasn’t disappointed.
“Good morning, Brother,” Scott entered the room followed closely by Murdoch.
“How do you feel this morning, Son?” Murdoch asked giving Johnny a caring smile.
For an instant, Johnny almost believed the gentle voice, but knew that it was only an illusion. Any kind thoughts his father had for him would be gone by the end of the day; ruined by ugly lies and even uglier truths that would be told about Johnny Madrid.
“You don’t have to do this…” Johnny whispered, not responding to his father’s question.
Murdoch frowned and glanced at Scott. “Yes we do, Son. These men have to pay for what they did…”
“And you think that a jury of Stockton’s finest is going to have the ‘guts’ to do that?” Johnny snickered. “All they’re guilty of is trying to kill another gunhawk…”
“No,” Murdoch moved so that he had a
clear view of Johnny’s face. “They
tried to kill an unarmed man – a man who was willing to sacrifice himself to
save innocent lives. My son…”
Murdoch’s voice trembled with emotion, remembering how he felt that
night when he knew for certain that he’d never see Johnny again.
“They tried to kill you! I
don’t care what your past was Johnny and neither will that jury, you’ll
to meet his father’s eyes, but he couldn’t bear it.
Murdoch sounded sincere; Johnny wanted to believe – but couldn’t.
Disappointed that Johnny wasn’t listening to him, Murdoch moved aside for Scott to give it a try. “You need anything for pain, Johnny?”
“Nah, that stuff you gave me last night has kept the edge off…” It was a lie, but Scott wouldn’t know the difference. Johnny had once again buried the hidden aches and agony behind the mantle of Madrid. He wasn’t going to be caught off guard by his brother again.
“Well, if you need it – just let Heath or Val know. The doctor sent word that he’ll be out later this morning to check on you.”
“Yes – Mother,” Johnny chided.
made a sharp retort until he saw the twinkle in his brother’s eyes. “You don’t want to apologize again, do you?” he scolded
with a smile.
Johnny gave his brother a half grin, remembering their discussion from the day before. “I’ll behave…”
“I’m going to keep you to your word…”
will we!” Heath entered the room
carrying a tray loaded with food. Val
followed close behind, carrying a pot of coffee and several mugs. “We thought
you were tired of eating alone, so we thought we’d join you for breakfast.”
Johnny now found himself surrounded by four men; two were his oldest and dearest friends. The other two were his newly found brother and his estranged father. It was an odd mix, but there was no denying the concern that they all seemed to have for him. “All right!” Johnny raised his hands as if to surrender. “I’ll behave – now git!”
Murdoch patted Johnny’s shoulder affectionately, while Scott gave him a reassuring nod. Silence dominated the room after the Lancers left. “They’re comin’ along nice, don’t ya think Mr. Barkley?” Val asked Heath finally; his tongue in his cheek.
you’re right, Mr. Crawford. Why
that Murdoch Lancer was practically oozing love for our Johnny.
What do you think, Johnny?”
“I think that the two of you are full of horse manure! Now how about some grub? I’m starving here!”
The trial resumed, with Joel Todd being
called to the stand. The owner of
the Circle A approached the wooden box, a leather satchel tucked under his arm.
After he was sworn in, he took his seat. The leather case lay across his
lap. Under direct examination he
recounted how he had hired Ned Bartch to establish a ranch in the Stockton area
for a group of eastern investors. The
State’s Attorney grilled him carefully on whether he knew the means which
Bartch would be using to acquire land. Unequivocally,
Joel denied knowing how Bartch was going to secure land for the ranch.
He did, however, admit to a certain amount of naivety when it came to
ways of the west. He also
confirmed that he had never been in Stockton until two days before the raid.
“Mr. Todd, is it your testimony that you had no knowledge of how Mr. Bartch was acquiring property for your ranch?”
“When did you find out that he was using force?”
“When I arrived in Stockton with Scott Lancer I attended a meeting in the office of Jarrod Barkley. It was there that I first learned what Mr. Bartch had been doing.”
“So, what did you do about it?”
“I went out to the Circle A the next
day, accompanied by Scott Lancer. There
were men out on the range working with the cattle but an even larger number of
men were gathered up close to the main house.”
“And what were these men doing?”
“Some of them were sitting around while others were shooting at targets.”
“Did you see the defendants there?”
“All of them. Mr. Smith was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch.”
“No further questions.” The State’s Attorney abruptly ended his questioning and calmly sat down. A wave of curious whispers circulated around the room and amongst Murdoch, Scott and Victoria. Jarrod gave them a knowing smile and held up one finger for them to be patient.
Lester McManus had made copious notes during the short testimony and stood to begin his cross examination. “Mr. Todd, did you ever see Mr. Smith with a gun in his hand?”
“Then how do you know that he isn’t just a wrangler?”
“Because of these,” Joel opened the satchel and pulled out two ledgers. “When I took over the operations of the ranch I found these books in the office. This black book is clearly marked with an accounting of the day to day operations of the ranch. While the red book is a complete diary of Ned Bartch’s and Ben Anderson’s plans to take over the San Joaquin Valley – including details on why Mr. Smith and the rest …”
“Objection!” Lester McManus cried turning an evil eye at the State’s Attorney. “This is new evidence!”
exactly what the Carl Unger had hoped for.
He wanted his arrogant colleague to open the door for this surprise
evidence. If he had presented it,
McManus could have objected. But
now, it was McManus who had opened the door and there was no way the judge would
prevent it from being admitted into testimony. “Your Honor, Mr. McManus asked
the question and Mr. Todd is simply answering it.”
It was your question, Mr. McManus, now live with your answer.
Lester glared at Carl, who only smiled smugly at the situation. “Mr. Todd, do you have any direct knowledge of my client’s interactions with Johnny Madrid?”
“Only what I was told by Scott Lancer and the information in these books.”
questions,” Lester returned to his seat, only to find that his clients were
now staring at him – obviously upset by this turn in the testimony.
“Redirect, Your Honor.” Carl Unger stood and approached the witness box. “Mr. Todd, did you read both of these books?”
“Yes. I’ve marked several passages that I think you would find interesting.” With a nod from the Judge, Joel began to read. “September 16th – I’ve just hired Bushrod Smith and his crew to replace that buffoon – Floyd Brasure. Smith has a grudge against Johnny Madrid which will suit our purposes perfectly. Anderson wants Madrid dead.
“September 17th – Smith and the boys are riding into town. Madrid should be dead by noon. I’ve pledged a five-hundred dollar bonus to the man who kills him.
“September 18th – Joel Todd and Scott Lancer arrived this morning. The fools don’t know that they’re walking dead men. Anderson has laid the trap. He’ll take care of Old Man Lancer and Victoria Barkley while Smith and the others take care of the rest of the Cattlemen’s Association. After that, we’ll all meet at the rendezvous and pay the men off. “
questions.” Carl smiled, like a
cat that had just swallowed a canary, and took his seat behind the prosecution
The judge took the two books from Joel and began to thumb through them. He had to admire the State’s Attorney for getting them admitted into evidence. “Any more questions, Mr. Lester?”
Honor.” Lester responded sullenly, ignoring the piercing looks he was
receiving from two of his clients.
Joel stood and took his seat in the gallery between Murdoch and Scott Lancer.
“The State calls Scott Lancer.”
With a grim face, Scott stood and strode to the witness box. Quickly he was sworn in and took the seat vacated by Joel.
“Mr. Lancer, can you tell the court where you first encountered the defendants Bushrod Smith and Indian Joe?”
to clear his throat before responding. “It
was four months ago in Moro Coyo. They
had been employed by Webster Warburton to safeguard his herd.”
“Did you know them to be cowboys or wranglers?”
A smirk crossed Scott’s face and he looked down at his hands to compose his answer. “I don’t believe that either of them has ever herded a cow in their lives…”
“Objection!” Lester shouted, rising to his feet. “That is speculation.”
“Sustained; the witness shall refrain from voicing his personal opinion.”
his understanding and turned his attention back to the prosecutor. “I only knew them to be gunfighters.”
Carl gave Scott an encouraging smile before continuing. “Mr. Lancer, tell us a little about what happened in Moro Coyo four months ago.”
“My brother, Johnny, infiltrated the group of gunhawks that Warburton hired. His intent was to avert a range war…”
“And was your brother successful?”
“Yes, to an extent. Warburton was killed by one of the other ranchers. Before he died, Warburton sent two of his men to kill my father; Johnny stopped them.”
“He killed them in a fair fight at our ranch.”
“And what, if any was the response made by the defendants?”
“They swore to kill Johnny – to pay him back for the deaths of Sexton Joe Hughes and Isham…”
“To your knowledge, did they ‘pay’ your brother back?”
“Yes.” Scott’s eyes turned as cold as flint and he looked directly
at the smiling face of Bushrod Smith. “I
found Johnny practically torn to pieces. They
had tied a rope around his hands and had him dragged by a horse.”
“And how is your brother?”
Scott swallowed hard and focused on the prosecutor. “He’s alive. We’re all praying that he’ll make a full recovery…”
Scott had no desire to say anything more, Carl ended his examination.
Lester McManus remained seated and he studied the flushed face of Scott Lancer. Clearly there was a lot of anger beneath the calm exterior of the man seated in the witness box. “Mr. Lancer, what is your relationship with Johnny Madrid?”
Without hesitation, Scott spoke up loud and clear. “He’s my brother…”
“You mean the notorious gunfighter – Johnny Madrid is your brother?”
that I just answered that.” Scott
responded tightly, lowering the pitch of his voice. “And for the record,
Johnny is an ex-gunfighter,” Scott also corrected, not liking where this
questioning was going.
Mr. Lancer. Isn’t using
‘ex-gunfighter’ a little extreme? Who
was your brother working for in Stockton?”
Scott opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it, unsure how to
answer the question. Johnny had
been trying to help the Mexicans, but he was unsure whether they had actually
hired him. With
a big smile, Lester stood and walked up to the witness box.
“Isn’t it a fact that Johnny Madrid was hired by Ned Bartch to kill
“Didn’t Mr. Bartch send a telegram to San Francisco and tell Mr. Todd that he had hired Johnny Madrid?”
“Then who was your brother working for the night that he was dragged?”
wasn’t working for anyone. He was
trying to protect…”
“So, he was working for himself!” McManus cut Scott off before he had a chance to finish his sentence.
Scott fumed, not liking the way that McManus was putting words into his mouth.
“When was the last time you had talked to your brother prior to coming to Stockton?”
“Two months – before he left Lancer…”
Lester raised an eyebrow at this bit of information. “Before you met again in Stockton, did you know he had resumed his career as a gunfighter?”
“No, I had hoped that he wouldn’t…”
“But he did, didn’t he?”
Scott looked at his father; all of the old hurts rising to the surface. The only reason Johnny was anywhere near Stockton was because of him. “Yes,” Scott whispered, unable to deny the truth.
“Objection!” Carl Unger stood. “Mr. Johnny Lancer is not on trial here!”
“Perhaps he should be…” Lester argued back.
The Judge banged his gavel, making both lawyers stop. “Objection sustained. Mr. McManus do you have any further questions for this witness?”
“Not at this time.”
“The witness is excused.”
Scott shot out of the witness box as if propelled by a gun. He was as angry as he had ever been in his life. The trial was turning exactly in the direction he had feared. With a glare at the prosecutor, he took his seat next to his father – ignoring the large hand that patted his thigh in understanding.
Victoria Barkley was next called to testify. The petite woman sat proudly in the witness box. She might be small in size, but there wasn’t a person in the valley who didn’t know her or the power that she could wield if necessary.
“Mrs. Barkley, where were you the night of September 18th?”
“I was being held prisoner at a remote campsite on my ranch.”
“Who else was with you?”
“Murdoch Lancer and Ben Anderson.”
“How was it that you came to be a prisoner and taken to that site?”
Victoria turned and faced the jury. She spoke passionately and clearly. “Ben Anderson was the president of the Cattlemen’s Association – and an old friend. He came to the ranch earlier that morning to accompany Murdoch and me to the meeting to be held in Stockton.”
“Was this unusual?”
“It wasn’t until he pulled a gun on us and made us ride away from town.”
“Did he tell you why?”
us that everyone who had gone to town, including my three sons, was going to be
killed by Ned Bartch and his men. Ben
wanted to personally kill Mr. Lancer and myself.
He said that he wanted revenge against Murdoch because Johnny had killed
his son – Day Pardee. Ben wanted
to kill me because he was jealous of my family and our holdings.”
“Obviously, he didn’t kill you – why?”
“Johnny found us and shot Ben before Ben had the chance to kill us.”
shot Mr. Anderson – in cold blood!”
“No!” Victoria’s eyes flashed at the remark. Lowering her voice, she spoke slowly and evenly. “It was dark when Johnny entered the campsite. His gun was in its holster. He told Ben to let us go. That’s when Ben turned and tried to shoot Johnny – only Johnny shot him first.”
“Then what happened?”
The jury was enthralled by Victoria’s
words, visualizing the remote campsite in their minds.
“Johnny collapsed. He had
been wounded two days earlier and was running a fever from pneumonia. Ned Bartch arrived while we were trying to care for him.
When he saw that Ben was dead he pulled his gun to kill us. Johnny warned
him to drop his weapon, but Ned didn’t listen.
Johnny had no choice but to fire his gun in self defense.
Johnny saved us, but not himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“We heard riders coming. Johnny figured that it was Bartch’s men coming to get paid. He gave me his gun and told me to hide in the woods. Johnny didn’t want me to get hurt.”
“Let me make sure that I am clear on this. Johnny Lancer gave you his gun when he was expecting trouble? Why?”
“By now, Johnny’s wounds were bleeding and it was clear that he was exhausted. I think that he wanted someone to survive to tell this story.”
“Objection! Speculation.” Lester protested.
“Overruled,” Judge Raisen ordered. He too had been taken in by Victoria’s words and didn’t
care for the interruption.
“What about his father? Didn’t he tell his father to go?”
Victoria nodded her head. “Murdoch decided to stand with his son.”
“And what happened when the defendants found two defenseless men?”
“Mr. Smith had the Indian and the boy
hold Murdoch while he beat Johnny with his fists.
When Mr. Smith was done, he tied one end of a rope to Johnny’s hands
and the other to a horse. Then
he….” Victoria paused as the
horror of the night came rushing back.
“Take your time, Mrs. Barkley…” Carl gently urged, knowing how difficult this was for the brave woman.
Once she had composed herself, Victoria once again faced the jury and held her chin up high. “Mr. Smith had Johnny dragged into the night.”
“And what happened to Mr. Lancer?”
“As they were leaving, Murdoch swore vengeance against the three men – so Smith shot him.”
“Just like that?”
“Murdoch’s hands were bound and he was unarmed. Smith shot him anyway, and rode away.”
“Mrs. Barkley – what happened to Johnny Lancer?”
“We found him the next morning – barely alive.”
“And what is Johnny Lancer’s condition today?”
Victoria glanced at Murdoch and Scott. Both men were pale from listening to her account of what had happened. “He’s alive, but he can’t walk.”
It was ten o’clock when Howard Merar arrived at the ranch accompanied by Padre Santos. Jelly and Silas greeted them at the door. “What’s this I hear about Johnny having pain in his legs?”
“It’s true, Doc,” Jelly spoke up. “It’s hurtin’ him fierce. We got him to take some laudanum yesterday, but he’s refusin’ it today.”
The doctor chewed his lip for a moment.
“All right, let me take a look at him.”
Howard entered the library to find Johnny playing cards with Val and
Heath. It looked innocent enough,
until the doctor got a closer look at his patient.
Clearly, Johnny was in a lot of pain.
His complexion was pale and small beads of sweat were streaming down from
his hairline. “It looks as if
I’m just in time,” the doctor observed with forced cheer.
“I think that they’re lettin’ me, Doc.” Johnny grinned.
“You know me better than that, Johnny. Why you’re the last person that I’d let whip me at a game of cards.” Val teased, throwing down his hand.
“Would you gentlemen mind if I borrowed your third for a few moments?”
“Not at all,” Heath gathered up the cards and the remains of the breakfast dishes. Val followed him from the room, closing the door behind them.
Howard stood beside Johnny, his arms folded over his chest. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Johnny responded innocently.
“I’ve got no time for games, young man. Tell me about the pain?”
“It ain’t nothing…”
“Don’t waste my time with that nonsense, I can tell just by looking at you that you’re having pain now.”
Shamed, Johnny looked at the scars on
his left wrist wondering when it would ever end.
“It’s bad, Doc,” he finally whispered.
“I ain’t never felt anything like this before.”
“When did it start?”
“Right after you left yesterday. What did you do?”
Howard thought for a moment, reviewing in his mind what he had done to Johnny on his last visit. “Johnny, I know that you don’t like the medicine…”
“No…” Johnny growled.
With a shake of his head, Howard allowed
his patient his head. “This might
hurt some…” Howard pulled off
the blankets and undid the straps that bound Johnny to the hard surface of the
bed. Slowly he rolled Johnny to his
stomach and examined his spine - vertebrae by vertebrae.
Experienced fingers felt the bony structures until he felt something
amiss. Gently he probed the
misshapen area, Johnny closed his eyes as a the dull ache that originated in his
low back slowly became a loud roar, tearing him apart from the inside out.
A groan escaped his lips as he struggled to contain the agony.
A worried frown creased Howard’s face.
“Johnny, I think I know what the problem is.”
Johnny didn’t respond, fearing the worst.
“Johnny, it feels as if some of the bones in your back are out of alignment. That means that they’re not lined up straight like they should be – so they’re pushing on your nerves. That’s why you’re having pain – and might be why you can’t walk. To tell the truth, I might have accidentally moved one yesterday, which is why you’re having so much pain today.”
Johnny took in the information trying to decide whether it was good news or not. “Can it be fixed?”
Howard carefully rolled Johnny to his
back. “I don’t know,” he
answered honestly. “You really
should be in a hospital in San Francisco…”
“I ain’t going to San Francisco!” Johnny interrupted, making it clear that going to San Francisco was not an option. “I’ve heard stories about the hospitals there – hell holes!”
“Trust me, Johnny – I’m not moving
you anywhere. What I’d like to do
is bring a specialist here. My
niece, Emma, has written to me about a new field of medicine called Osteopathic
Medicine. Some of those doctors can
manipulate the spine without surgery. I’d
like to see if that would work…”
Johnny instantly remembered the kind
hearted girl who had held his secret and helped him out of Stockton. Sadly, he had never been able to repay her for her kindness.
“When?” Johnny asked
“I don’t know – perhaps in a week or so…”
Johnny shook his head and closed his eyes. He knew that it was foolish, but he couldn’t remain in the living hell he had been confined to for another two weeks.
“Johnny, this could be a good sign,” Howard stressed. “You can’t give up on yourself.”
A storm brewed across Johnny’s face. “I’ve never given up on myself –ever. I just can’t wait no longer…”
“Johnny, what are you thinking?” Howard knitted his brows, all of his attentions focused on the impatient man before him.
Johnny didn’t answer. Instead, he rolled his eyes back into his head, trying to control the surge of throbbing pain that once again threatened to consume him.
Without hesitation, Howard opened his bag, pulled out a bottle of laudanum and set it front of his patient. “I suppose you know what this is. Use it!” With that said, he repacked his bag and left Johnny alone.
They could all see the steam coming out of Howard Merar’s ears as he slammed the library door shut. “Never in all my days have I ever met such a bull headed man…”
“That’s our Johnny,” Val grinned.
Heath ignored his friend, concerned about the angry doctor. “Well – what’s the matter?”
“I think that some of the bones in his
back have shifted. It’s possible
that they can be moved back. I can
get a specialist here in a week, but Johnny doesn’t want to wait!
Where is he all fired set on going if he can’t walk?”
Heath looked at Val, who then turned to Jelly. All three of them raised their eyebrows trying to figure what was going on in Johnny’s head.
“Perhaps I can help,” Padre Santos spoke up for the first time. He had been sitting in the living room, quietly praying the rosary for Johnny’s recovery.
“No offense, Padre, but Johnny ain’t
a God fearing man,” Val started to explain.
The Padre slowly smiled.
“Your friend is more spiritual that you know. Let me see what I can do.”
Johnny lay in the bed, his eyes never wavering from the bottle of temptation that the doctor had placed beside him. It would be so easy to take the medicine and let go of the pain. The only problem was that focusing on the pain in his body was easier than dealing with the pain in his heart. With a shaky hand, he started to reach for the small brown bottle, when once again the library door opened.
“Forget something, Doc?” Johnny called out.
“I have forgotten nothing, my son,”
came the calm voice of the priest.
Johnny swallowed hard.
Father Santos was the last person he wanted to see.
The priest had the eerie ability to see right through him.
Santos took the seat next to the bed and smiled at Johnny. “You have come a long way in two weeks…”
“Two weeks of hell…sorry, Father,” Johnny mumbled.
The priest smiled patiently, making
Johnny all the more uncomfortable. “Do
you remember when we talked at the mission?
You told me how you felt that you were lost and would never find a place
“Yeah, I remember. You told me that I’m a Pilgrim and that my journey will be a long one; that some day I’ll be rewarded with what I seek.”
“You have an excellent memory. Tell me, what have you learned since that day?”
Johnny closed his eyes, trying to relax. “I ain’t learned nothin’ new. I’ve just proved what I’ve always known – that I’m a bad person; all I can do is hurt people. I figure that my journey will end when my life does – and I’m sent to hell.”
“No,” the Padre quickly corrected. “You are not a bad person. You saved all those people, survived torture and have been rewarded with the love of your family. You have inspired an entire community to work together. I would say that makes you a very lucky man; a blessed man who will be rewarded for his efforts…”
“Then why don’t I feel
‘blessed’? More than ever, I feel like I’m being punished.
I guess that is the ‘reward’ I get for all the bad things I’ve
Bitterness was clearly present in Johnny’s words and it troubled the holy man. “What is happening to you now is not your reward, Johnny. This is part of your journey. You still have a long way to travel.”
“Father, I’m not sure I can travel much further. I’m so tired…”
The priest could see the anguish in
Johnny’s eyes and wished with all his heart that he could relieve the young
man of the burden he was carrying. “Do not give up now – not when you are so
close. There are others to be
considered - what of your family?”
Johnny gave a low chuckle, “My death will be my father’s reward. It’s all he’s ever wanted.”
“No, you are wrong. When I look at your father I see a man who has made many mistakes; a man who is ready to make amends and to do the right thing. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted – to be accepted by your own father?”
Was that the truth that Johnny had always sought – the love of his father? Was it within his reach and yet he was ready to throw it all away? “It’s too late…” Johnny whispered.
“It is never too late if you would
only take the time to believe. What
you seek is within your grasp. Don’t turn your back on it now.”
Johnny remained silent – afraid to look at the well intentioned priest; afraid to answer. He heard the man whisper some words in Latin before leaving the room. When the door had been firmly closed and he knew that he was alone, he picked up the bottle of laudanum, removed the cork and took a sip – escaping from the pain for however long it would last.
After a short break, the trial resumed
with Lester McManus starting his cross examination of Victoria.
“Tell us, Mrs. Barkley - how did you first meet Johnny Madrid?”
“My son, Heath, brought Johnny home after Johnny had saved his life. He introduced Johnny as an old friend…”
“And were you pleased that your son had a gunfighter as a friend?”
“I didn’t know Johnny…”
“Yes or no, Mrs. Barkley?” McManus cut in.
Victoria responded, peeved at being cornered.
“Did you try to hire Johnny Madrid?
“No. Heath wanted me too, but I ...”
"Why didn’t you?” again McManus interrupted, not allowing Victoria to finish her thought.
The Barkley matriarch glared at her antagonist, taking note of the lawyer’s condescending tone of voice. Victoria raised her chin and looked at McManus with steeled eyes. “I was about to answer that question before you interrupted. Now, if I may continue?” Victoria paused for a moment, waiting for Lester to interrupt again, before continuing. “I only knew Johnny by reputation, and like so many of us, I assumed that he was a mercenary. My late husband and I never had to resort to hiring gunmen to defend our ranch…”
“So, you thought he was a cold blooded killer?” Once again, McManus cut into Victoria’s statement.
Victoria responded by remaining silent
until it was clear she was not going to be interrupted again.
“I chose to reserve judgment until I knew more about him.”
“What did you think when you heard he had been hired by Ned Bartch?”
“I didn’t know what to think until I
actually talked to Johnny…”
“You didn’t try to hire him back – did you?”
“It wasn’t necessary, he …” Victoria stated to tell of her conversation with Johnny at the livery stable, but once again, McManus was pushing only for the answers he wanted to hear.
“So, on the night Johnny Madrid found you – how did you know he still wasn’t working for Bartch?”
“By then we all thought he was dead…”
“How did you know he didn’t come to kill you and Mr. Lancer?”
“That’s not why he came to Stockton…”
“How do you know that, Mrs. Barkley? Obviously you didn’t trust him – even after he saved the life of your son! But that’s right – Heath isn’t really your son…”
“Objection!” Carl Unger and Jarrod Barkley both jumped to their feet. Jarrod had no authority in this case, but there was no way he was going to let his mother be attacked by his colleague. Carl nodded at Jarrod who sat back down, before addressing the court “Mrs. Barkley and her family are not on trial here!”
“Sustained! Mr. McManus you are treading on thin ice…”
Lester only smiled his acknowledgment and continued. “Mrs. Barkley, had you ever seen Mr. Smith or his companion before?”
Victoria defiantly stared at the
attorney who for all intents and purposes was attacking her.
“The first time I saw them was in Stockton – the day that we thought
Johnny had been killed.”
“And what were they doing?”
“I saw them in the saloon. They were there with the rest of the Circle A gunmen - taunting Johnny into that first gunfight.”
“Did you see either of them try to shoot Johnny Madrid?”
“No, but they didn’t try to stop it either.”
Victoria looked at Murdoch, replaying
the events of two weeks ago in her mind. She
had been arguing with Murdoch about Johnny – accusing her friend of not caring
about his son. Now she was
wondering if, indirectly, she wasn’t the reason that Johnny had been shot.
she have stopped it? “No, there
was nothing I could have done to prevent that incident.”
McManus grinned, enjoying the authority he felt having the all powerful Victoria Barkley under his control. “On the night in question, you were hiding in the woods?”
“And you had a weapon?”
“Why didn’t you try to stop what happened? Was it because you also wanted to rid the world of Johnny Madrid?”
“Objection!” both Carl and Jarrod Barkley jumped to their feet again.
“Sustained!” the judge had now had enough of Lester’s treatment of Victoria. “You will treat this witness like the lady she is, Mr. McManus, or you will find yourself in contempt of this court! Are we clear?”
Slightly deflated, Lester apologized to the court and to Victoria. He did not, however, end his line of questioning. “Mrs. Barkley, do you know how Johnny found you and his father that night?”
“I didn’t at the time, later I learned that he had gotten the information off of Ned Bartch’s desk…”
“How do you know he didn’t get the information directly from Mr. Bartch? How do you know that he wasn’t coming for his piece of the ‘pie’?”
Victoria had had enough.
“Mr. McManus – you might have forgotten, but it was your clients who
shot an unarmed Murdoch Lancer – not Johnny.
You might have also forgotten that they tied a beaten and wounded man to
the end of a rope and had him dragged into the night. I was there. I
have not forgotten – and neither have any of the people in this town he
Throughout her statement, Lester kept
voicing his objection, but the judge refused to make a ruling until Victoria was
done. With a bang of his gavel he
announced – “Objection overruled. Do
you have any further questions for this witness, Mr. McManus?”
Lester stood in front of the court completely stunned at how quickly he had lost control of his cross examination. “No, I don’t suppose I do.” Tugging on the lapels to his coat, he walked to his table and sat down.
“Re-direct Mr. Unger?”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
Carl stood and went to stand by the witness box.
“Mrs. Barkley, have you now formed an opinion of Johnny Madrid
“Yes I have.”
“Would you like to share it with this court?”
“Objection!” Lester shouted.
“Mr. McManus – must I remind you
that you are the one who decided to place Johnny Madrid Lancer on trial here –
not the State.
You initially asked Mrs. Barkley for her opinion, but you never gave
her time to give a complete answer.
Therefore, the State has the right to rebut your allegations and hear
the answers to your questions.” Judge
Raisen smiled as he turned to Victoria. “If
you would please continue?”
Victoria smiled at the judge and then turned to speak directly to the jury. “Like so many of us, I thought that Johnny Madrid… Johnny Lancer, was just another gunfighter who had come to Stockton to sign up on Ned Bartch’s payroll. I was wrong. By himself, Johnny decided to take on Bartch and his legion of gunmen. He stampeded their cattle, stole their horses – foiling their plans to rape and plunder this valley while we stood idly by waiting for the Cattlemen’s Association and the law to bring us peace. This town and this valley owe much to the bravery of this selfless young man. I have been proud to offer that man sanctuary in my home while he recovers from the torture Mr. Smith and his companions inflicted on him. I am proud to call Johnny Lancer my friend - and so should you.”
“Your Honor,” Lester whined, “that was not testimony….”
“Sit down!” Judge Raisen ordered, sending Lester McManus sulking back to his seat. “Thank you Mrs. Barkley. Mr. Unger do you have any additional questions for this witness?”
“No, Your Honor,” Carl responded with a smile.
“The witness is excused. The court will recess for a ten minute break.” Everyone stood while the judge retired to his chambers and the jury was sent to the deliberation room.
“Are you alright?” Jarrod went to his mother, who sat down heavily in her chair.
“I will be…”
“You did just fine, Victoria,” Carl Unger congratulated her. “You held your own…”
“I wish I had…”
Scott said despondently under his breath.
“You did fine too, Scott.” Jarrod reassured his new friend.
“How can you say that? I sounded as if I don’t know my own brother…”
“That’s because you don’t,”
Murdoch said sadly. “You’ve
only known him for six months…”
“The people of Stockton know him better than we do!” Scott fumed. “What does that say about us?”
Murdoch regarded his son closely. “Scott, don’t include yourself in my category. You took the time to try to get to know your brother – but he only showed you the side of himself that he wanted you to see. I, on the other hand” Murdoch hesitated, remembering the first six months, knowing that he never took the time to try to get to know his son. “I’m guilty of failing as a father. I didn’t try at all.”
“Are you ready to testify, Mr. Lancer? If you don’t think you can…”
“I’ve seen what your opponent has in mind and I know what is in my heart.” Murdoch said with confidence. “I can do this – for Johnny.”
Scott looked at his father with new respect. The older man had clearly turned a corner in his way of thinking. The test would come when he was called to testify.
Victoria glanced at the unspoken communication between her old friend and his son. She too could see a difference in Murdoch Lancer. “It’s going to be tougher than you think, Murdoch…”
“Tougher than watching my own child being beaten and dragged by a horse?” Murdoch shook his head. “No. This is going to be the easy part.”
The judge reentered the room along with
the jury. Once everyone was seated,
the court was brought back to order. “Your
Honor, the State calls Mr. Murdoch Lancer.”
With one last look at Scott, Murdoch went to the witness stand. After swearing to tell the truth, he took his seat and faced the State’s Attorney.
“Mr. Lancer, I would like to take you back to the night of September 18th and the events that led to your being shot and your son being injured. What did you think when Johnny appeared at that isolated campsite?”
“I had last seen my son, Johnny, in the doctor’s office just two days earlier. Dr. Merar had pronounced him dead. The next day I learned that someone had stolen his body. It came as a complete shock when he walked into the campsite like Lazarus; scaring the daylights out of Ben Anderson, Victoria Barkley and myself…”
“And what was his demeanor – was he angry?”
“No. Johnny was calm. He had apparently been standing in the dark, waiting to make his entrance at just the right moment. He told Ben Anderson to drop his weapon. When Ben tried to shoot Johnny, Johnny pulled his gun and shot Ben.”
“At anytime during that exchange did you feel threatened by your son?”
“No. I knew Johnny wouldn’t hurt me.”
“What about Victoria Barkley. Were you afraid for her?”
“What was the condition of your son?”
“He was in bad shape.
He had been shot two days before in Stockton and apparently he had been
out during the storm the night before – scaring away most of Ned Bartch’s
wranglers – the men who were watching the herd. As a result he had pneumonia.”
“Why did Johnny scare away Mr. Bartch’s men?”
“He had found out that Ned and Ben were planning on destroying the Cattlemen’s Association. By scaring away the wranglers he was trying to weaken Bartch’s plans to take over the valley…”
“Objection! The witness is speculating…” Lester said rising to his feet.
“No. That is fact!”
Murdoch shot back before the judge could even respond.
“Your Honor!” Lester protested.
“Mr. Lancer,” Judge Raisen questioned the rancher directly. “How do you know that it is fact?”
“Johnny told us and I believe him. I’ve never known him to lie to me.”
The judge considered the response before making his ruling. “I’ll allow it, but try to keep to the facts that you know first hand.”
“Mr. Lancer, when Mr. Bartch arrived
at the camp – where was Johnny?”
“He was lying on the ground – he had collapsed from exhaustion. Victoria and I were trying to get him up when Mr. Bartch arrived. When Ned threatened to shoot us, Johnny shot him.”
“At anytime, did you see Johnny threaten either of those men before he shot them?”
“No. He warned them to drop their guns. It was only when they tried to shoot him that he shot in self defense.”
“Mr. Lancer – was Johnny armed when Mr. Smith and his companions arrived?”
Murdoch paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “No. He was done in. He gave his weapon to Victoria and told her and I to go hide in the woods. He was expecting Mr. Smith and said that he thought Mr. Smith was going to kill him for what he had done.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Murdoch sighed and looked at his large
hand – the hand that had removed the bloody bullet from Johnny’s body all
those months ago. “Eight months
earlier, Johnny helped to kill a mutual friend of his and Mr. Smith’s – Day
Pardee. Day had been raiding Lancer for several weeks and was getting
ready to make his final run at my estancia.
Johnny decided to join Pardee’s gang and draw him out in a gunfight.
He later told me that his plan was interrupted when one of the men –
Coley, I believe, saw what Johnny was going to do and tried to kill him. Johnny
ended up killing Coley and only winging Pardee.
then, the rest of the gang was after him – chasing him back to Lancer.
He almost made it before he was shot in the back.
“Four months later, Webster Warburton came to Morro Coyo. Again, Johnny infiltrated the band of gunmen Warburton had hired start a range war. Two of the men, Sexton Joe Hughes and Isham came to the ranch to kill me. Johnny arrived in time to fight them off.”
“So, your son has a pattern of using his former profession to gain the trust of other gunfighters to protect people he cares for?”
Carl Unger considered the response and took his seat. “Mr. Lancer – tell us about what happened after Mr. Smith and his companions arrived.”
Murdoch swallowed hard and stared at the impassive Indian and the gloating face of Bushrod Smith. “Smith had the Indian and the boy tie me up and hold me back while he beat Johnny. He then took another rope and tied it to my son’s hands; the other end was tied to Johnny’s horse. Johnny stood there, his face and wounds bleeding. His last words to Smith were to tell him not to hurt me…” At this recollection, Murdoch stopped. It still shook him to know that while facing death, his son would be concerned about the man who had wanted him dead.
Carl paused, sensing that Murdoch needed a few moments. “Mr. Lancer,” the State’s Attorney gently asked. “After Johnny was gone, what did Mr. Smith do?”
Murdoch raised his chin. “I swore to Smith that I would hunt him down for killing my son. He pulled his gun and shot me; the bullet grazed my forehead – dazing me.”
“And your hands were still tied?”
“So, Mr. Smith had your unarmed son dragged by a horse and he also shot you while you were unarmed?”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. No further questions.”
At various times during Murdoch’s testimony, Bushrod Smith leaned in to whisper into his lawyer’s ear. Now, armed with Smith’s observations, Lester McManus stood to begin his cross examination.
“Mr. Lancer – how long did Johnny Madrid live in your home?”
“Johnny Madrid never lived in my home,” Murdoch growled. “My son, Johnny Lancer lived in my home.”
“My error – Johnny Lancer. How long did he live in your home?”
“Why only six months? Is it because he was Johnny Madrid up until the time he showed up at Lancer and became Johnny Madrid again after he left?”
Is my esteemed colleague now giving testimony?”
“Sustained! Move along, Mr. McManus.”
“Tell us, why hadn’t your son been living at home with you?”
“He had been raised in Mexico by his mother. I didn’t find him for a very long time…”
“Until you needed a gunfighter to defend your ranch – to kill Day Pardee?” Lester interrupted.
Murdoch glared at the defense attorney,
but didn’t answer. In many ways,
the accusation was too close to the truth for Murdoch to want to respond to.
“How much money did it take to hire Johnny Madrid?” Lester continued to badger the witness.
“You are under oath, Mr. Lancer! Again, how much did it cost you to hire Johnny Madrid to kill Day Pardee?”
Murdoch swallowed hard and looked at
Scott. “I didn’t hire Johnny
Madrid. I sent for both of my sons,
offering each of them a thousand dollars if they would come to the ranch and
“A thousand dollars!” Lester exclaimed to the murmuring courtroom.
“It wasn’t gun money…”
Murdoch insisted. “It was
the only way I could think of to get both of my sons to come home…”
“You all must be very close,” the snide words made the people in the gallery laugh. A smile curled at the corner of Lester’s mouth, hopeful that his line of questioning was starting to turn the tide. “Then tell me, why did he leave?”
“I don’t know his exact reason for leaving. We woke up one morning and he was gone.”
“You mean that you son just left your house for no apparent reason?”
“No. What happened between Johnny and me is private…”
“Was it because he was lazy or shiftless?”
“Was it because you argued all of the time?”
“No, I don’t believe that was the
reason, although we did argue frequently…”
Murdoch responded uncomfortably.
“Then why did your son leave his home?”
“Objection!” Carl called impatiently, sensing Murdoch’s growing unease. “Mr. Lancer’s relationship with his son is not at issue here.”
Lester queried. “If Johnny
Lancer had remained at home then none of this would have happened to him!”
“If my son had stayed at home –
there would have been a massacre in Stockton!”
Murdoch interrupted. “He
placed himself at risk to make sure that the innocent and not so innocent people
of this valley could live freely!”
The courtroom was deathly silent as Lester McManus and Murdoch Lancer squared off. “Isn’t it true, Mr. Lancer, that you hated your son so much that you turned your back on him – casting him aside like the Mexican scum….”
Carl jumped to his feet as the judge simultaneously pounded his gavel on
his desk. The courtroom was aghast
by Lester’s words.
“That is enough!” the judge ordered.
“Mr. McManus if one more slanderous word crosses your lips I will have you
thrown in jail with your clients!”
“My apologies, Your Honor…”
“Don’t apologize to me, Mr. McManus. It is the Lancer family that you need to apologize to!”
Again, Lester looked into the cold eyes of Murdoch Lancer. The old man was proving to be a harder nut to crack than he had thought. “I apologize…”
“Save it for Johnny,” Murdoch responded coolly.
Lester returned to his table and looked through his notes. “Mr. Lancer, what do you know of the reputation of your son?”
“I know everything there is to know…”
“How many men has he killed in his short lifetime?”
“Too many,” Murdoch answered with a sigh.
“How many men has he killed for you?”
Murdoch opened his mouth for a second and then closed it, remembering Johnny’s accusations of that fateful night. “I…”
“Isn’t it a fact that the only reason you brought Johnny back to your ranch was as a hired gun and when you had no further need for him he moved on?”
I brought both my sons home because I needed their help…”
“And Johnny Madrid’s gun was just a bonus!” Lester concluded. “You couldn’t keep him there, could you?” Lester taunted before sensing that Carl was going to object; quickly the defense attorney moved on. “Did it surprise you when Johnny killed Bartch or Anderson that night? Couldn’t he have just wounded them? After all, he is very skilled with a gun.”
“Johnny was wounded and I was tied up.
There was no way he could have held them prisoner…”
“You still didn’t try to stop him – did you?”
“Objection! Your Honor – Mr. Lancer is not on trial here.”
“Sustained! Move along, Mr. McManus!”
Lester bit his lip and glanced at Scott Lancer. Obviously, the elder son was very absorbed by every word that his father spoke. “Mr. Lancer, do you love your son Scott?”
“Of course I do!”
“What would you do to insure his safety?”
“I suppose that I would do everything within my power…”
“You would keep him out of harm’s way?”
“Do you love your son, Johnny?”
“Is there a point to this?” Murdoch asked, fed up with the puzzling questions.
“Do you love your son Johnny, Mr. Lancer?” Lester pressed
“Without question,” Murdoch said in a tone that would brook no argument
“But apparently not as much as you
love your son, Scott. You
interfered in a gunfight and nearly got Johnny killed and you did nothing to
prevent him from being dragged by a horse…”
“That is enough!”
Murdoch exploded. “I love
my son, very much! No one is going
to accuse me of being an accomplice to what happened to him!”
“But isn’t that exactly what you did? You chased him from your ranch and into the waiting arms of his enemies!” From the corner of his eye, Lester saw Carl jump to his feet to protest. “Question is withdrawn. No further questions.”
The courtroom erupted into disorder as everyone, including the jury had to consider the last words the defense attorney had thrown out.
“Redirect!” Carl stood and went to the stand where Murdoch Lancer sat shaking in anger. “Mr. Lancer – did you ever want to see your son injured?”
“And isn’t it true you were shot by the defendant Smith, after swearing vengeance for the death of your son?”
“How do you feel about the actions of your son, Johnny?”
“I am very proud of my son, proud to be the father of Johnny Madrid! He’s a brave and kind human being who has lived a life that none of us could ever imagine – a life filled with hardships and sacrifice. He was the only man to do what needed to be done to save this valley.”
“And what about Johnny’s future?”
“I’m afraid that he doesn’t see
that he has one. His
injuries….were quite devastating to him; to us all.
I don’t think that he’ll be the man he was physically ever again.”
“Thank you. No further questions.” Carl gave Murdoch a weak smile and returned to his table. “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”
At the defense table, Lester McManus was
having a quiet argument with his client – Bushrod Smith.
Smith seemed to be adamant about something. After several moments of
hotly whispered words, Lester finally agreed to his client’s demand.
“Is the Defense ready to present its case?” The Judge asked impatiently.
“Yes, Your Honor. The defense calls Ezekiel Bushrod Smith to the stand.” The crowd in the gallery whispered amongst each other while the sheriff unshackled Smith from the other prisoners and led him to the witness stand.
Jelly crept into the library after the
Padre and the doctor had both left. Johnny
was asleep. Clutched in his right
hand was the bottle of laudanum that Howard had left with him.
Gently, Jelly pried the container out of his friend’s hand – mindful
not to wake him up. While it was a good thing that Johnny was resting, Jelly
worried about what had driven his friend to use the hated medicine to achieve
that state. With the bottle safely
placed on a nearby stand, Jelly tucked the blankets in around the sleeping man
and crept out of the room again.
“Well?” Val asked, surprised that Jelly had returned so soon.
“He’s sleep’n” Jelly sighed, running a worried hand through his scraggly beard.
“What the matter with that?” Heath was actually relieved that Johnny was asleep. He was keenly aware of the pain Johnny had been trying to mask while they played cards.
“He took the laudanum – that’s what the matter is.” Jelly responded testily.
“I can’t believe that the Padre would have made him take it…” Heath thought aloud.
“I’m sure he didn’t,” Jelly
played with his suspenders a moment. “Somethin’
must’a happened for Johnny to take it by his self.”
“Well, for whatever reason he’s
sleepin’ and I, for one, am relieved. As
long as he’s asleep he ain’t in no hurry to go nowhere.”
Val’s words struck a chord of agreement amongst the three men.
“Now, I’m gonna do the boy a favor and check on that horse of his.
The last I saw - Barranca was eyeing all them fillies in that corral of
“Figures,” Heath muttered under his
breath as he followed Val outside. “That
palomino will stud with every filly on this ranch if we don’t keep an eye on
him – he’s just like his owner.”
Smith scuffed his feet as he slowly made his way to the witness stand. He wasn’t in any hurry. Contempt of the proceedings was plainly visible on his face as he raised his right hand to be sworn in. The gunfighter paid little attention to the oath he was swearing; instead his eyes scanned the crowd as if he were looking for something. Finally, his eyes alighted what he was looking for and a slight smile crossed his face. Vaguely Smith was aware when the oath was done and automatically he said “I do” before taking his seat.
Lester sat back in his chair, pleased to
be physically distanced from his client. The
case was lost, but Smith had insisted on having his ‘say’ – his way.
“Mr. Smith, what is your profession?”
“I’m a gunfighter by trade.” Smith sneered to the jury.
“And just what does that mean?”
“I’m good with a gun.
I hire out to whoever pays the best.
For a price, I’ll kill who they want dead.” The words were said as if
they were a simple fact, but it was a fact that stunned the God fearing citizens
“How long have you been engaged in this ‘trade’?”
Smith scratched his chin and smiled. “For as long as I can remember. I’m twenty-eight now. I suppose that I’ve been at this for thirteen years.”
“And you only kill when you get paid?”
“No,” Smith smiled, his eyes once
again finding what he had seen earlier. “Sometimes
I kill men who are loco enough to call me out – or who just plain get in my
Lester McManus shivered as Smith’s cold gray eyes locked with his for a moment. “How long have you known Johnny Madrid?”
“Johnny? I’ve know’d him since he first picked up an iron when he was twelve – right after his mama was murdered. He was one hellacious shot – kilt the man that killed his mama with one shot - between the eyes. Why, that boy took to killin’ like a baby to mother’s milk…” During his testimony, Smith had pointed his index finger like a gun and pretended to fire it; blowing his nail as if to cool a hot barrel. Gleefully, Smith noted that he had elicited the response from the crowd he had desired; several people gasped while others simply blushed. Murdoch Lancer turned red as a beet. Apparently Johnny hadn’t told his father the details of his mother’s death; Smith took great pleasure in making Murdoch Lancer squirm.
“That will be enough of that language,” the judge sternly warned.
Smith only smiled. He had nothing to lose. “I’ve worked with ‘ol Johnny Madrid on and off for the past ten years. He weren’t bad for border town trash. It didn’t take him long to become a top dog. Johnny always said that he had to be good for the one shot that would really count.”
“And what shot was that?”
“The one he would take when he finally met his father. ‘Ol Johnny swore that he would blow Murdoch Lancer’s brains out whenever he had the chance.”
“That’s very interesting, Mr. Smith. How often did you hear Johnny say that?”
“Every time he got liquored up –
he’d go on blubbering about how his papá throw’d him and his mama off his
ranch. He swore that one day he’d get even with Murdoch Lancer.”
“Objection, hearsay!” Carl interrupted.
“Your Honor, this is building to the state of mind of my client on the night in question.”
The judge considered the argument. “Then get to it, Mr. McManus.”
“Mr. Smith, on the night of September 18th, who were you working for?”
“I’d been hired by Ned Bartch.”
“For what purpose?”
“Among other things…to kill Johnny Madrid.” A smile crept up Smith’s face until he was grinning.
“What about the men back in Stockton?”
“Well,” Smith scratched his chin and leaned back in his chair. “I never pulled my gun in Stockton – didn’t have to. When I saw the trap the others was ridin’ into – I high tailed it out of there.”
“So, you are in agreement with the testimony we heard yesterday – that you were not directly involved in the shootings in Stockton?”
“Yep.” Smith was now rocking back and forth in his chair; mindful not to let the two legs he was balancing on to slide out from beneath him.
“When you arrived at the remote campsite, what did you see?”
“I saw Johnny and old man Lancer. I thought that Johnny was going to finally make good on his word to kill the Old…” Smith was about to utter a cuss word, but smirked instead. Once again, Murdoch was turning red, shaking his head in violent disagreement of Smith’s version of the facts.
“We’ve heard testimony that Johnny Madrid was unarmed. How did you think Johnny was going to kill Murdoch Lancer?”
“Johnny don’t need no gun to kill. He always carries a knife. I’ve even seen him kill a man with his bare hands!”
“No!” Murdoch jumped to his feet, unable to remain silent any longer.
Judge Raisen responded immediately. “Mr. Lancer – you will sit down and be quiet or the sheriff will have you removed!”
Scott and Victoria pulled Murdoch back into his seat, both trying to calm him.
“What did you do?” Lester continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted.
“I knew that it was only gonna be a matter of time before Madrid would kill his pa and then me. I just decided to kill him first…”
Even the judge found this statement to be preposterous. “Mr. Smith, are you trying to tell this court that you tried to kill Johnny Madrid to save Mr. Lancer and yourself?”
“That’s about it,” Smith grinned for a few seconds before breaking out into a laugh. “Judge, you don’t know Johnny like I do. He’s got a temper on him that won’t quit. Why, when that hot tamale gets it into his head to kill somethin’ he usually does.”
“That is enough!” Judge Raisen ordered. “Mr. McManus if you can’t mount a better defense for your client then I suggest you go back to law school!”
Embarrassed, Lester glared at Smith.
It was bad enough that he had lost the case, but now he was publicly
humiliated by the judge. “Just a few more questions, Your Honor.”
Turning back to his client, Lester took a deep breath.
“Mr. Smith, why did you shoot Mr. Lancer if you had initially tried to
save him from Johnny Madrid?”
“He threatened me!” Smith responded with an indignant sneer. “Ain’t a man got a right to defend hisself?”
The judge banged his gavel. “Mr. McManus, you are done!” Lester looked like a child who had just been scolded by a parent. Throwing down his pencil, he threw his hands in the air – but didn’t utter a word. “Mr. Unger, is the State ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” Carl Unger stood and approached the witness. “Mr. Smith, did you like Johnny Madrid?”
“Nope, I can’t say that I ever liked that piece of border trash – especially after what he done to Day and the others.”
“So, you had your own motives for wanting to kill him.”
“I guess that’s right…”
“And when you entered that campsite and saw your employers were dead – who did you think was going to pay you for killing Johnny Madrid?”
Bushrod didn’t have to answer; the smile on his face told the jury all they needed to know. He had done it for himself.
“Isn’t it true that the only reason you had come to Stockton was to kill ranchers?”
“Maybe – but I didn’t kill none…” Smith protested.
“If Murdoch Lancer was bound with his hands behind him – how did you think he was going to hurting you?”
Smith only continued to smile. “He would have gotten around to it sooner or later. I just decided to take care of it sooner. Shame that I messed up; knowing that ‘ol Madrid was finally dead must have distracted me.”
Carl Unger turned a disbelieving face to the jury and shook his head. “I’m done with this witness, Your Honor.”
“Mr. McManus do you have anything more?”
Lester stood and shook his head. “The defense rests.”
“All right. We’ll have closing arguments after lunch.”
Bernardo, Consuelo and several other people arrived at the Barkley ranch around noon. They came in two wagons, both filled to the brim with decorations and food to be prepared for the festivities to be held the following day.
Heath showed them to the back of the
house - to an area just outside the barn. While
the women went about preparing food, the men set about turning the barn into a
dance hall with a raised stage for a small band.
Johnny awoke to the sound of hammers. Dazedly, he looked around the library trying to figure out whether the constant pounding was in his head or in his surroundings. Slowly his eyes focused on those of a friend sitting nearby with a frown on his face. “Jelly…?”
“I’m here,” Jelly gave Johnny’s left hand a quick squeeze. “Ya thirsty?”
Johnny nodded - his mouth as dry as the desert, a side effect of the medicine. Struggling to sit up, Jelly helped raise Johnny’s head – bringing a glass to his lips. Johnny drank thirstily, trying to wash the bitter taste of the medicine from his mouth. When the glass was half empty, he closed his eyes and laid his head back against the pillow. “What time is it?”
“Two o’clock. Ya fell asleep right after the Padre left.” Jelly set the glass down and sat on the edge of the bed. “Somethin’ ya want to tell me?” Johnny looked at his friend and then felt on the bed for the small bottle he had been holding. Jelly saw the movement and shook his head. “I got it for ya. You want ta tell me why you took it?”
Johnny looked away, debating for a moment whether he should confide in his friend. His conscience got the better of him. Looking back at Jellifer Hoskins, he only saw the concerned look of a devoted friend – a look that had warmed him from the first time he laid eyes on the man. “I need to rest and the doc left it for me…”
Jelly shook his head, knowing that he
was only hearing a half truth. “I
know’d that, Johnny. Now, tell me
why after all this time you bin fussin not to take it.”
Sapphire eyes met the warm blue eyes of his friend. “I’m so tired, Jelly. I just can’t think straight any longer. I want this to be over…”
“Over?” Jelly asked raising his eyebrow, wondering the meaning that Johnny was applying to the word.
“I want to be where I was before this nightmare started. I want my life back,” Johnny looked away, gazing out the nearby window where a hand rode by on a horse.
Jelly involuntarily sighed with relief. For the first time, Johnny was talking about living and not dying. “Ya got ta give it some time, Johnny. You was hurt bad…”
“I’ve been hurt bad before, Jelly, but I never felt like this before. I’ve never felt so…. lost.”
The older man reached out a comforting
hand and tenderly laid it on Johnny’s left shoulder, being careful to avoid
pressure that would hurt the injured area. Deep bruises from the dragging were
still present. It broke his heart
to know that was how Johnny was feeling. “You’ve
got a home to come back to…”
Johnny shook his head.
“I can’t - not like this. I
won’t. I left on my own two
“Johnny! Thar ain’t no shame in returning home. It’s not like you made a mistake and left. You was pushed away! I was there – remember? I heard them words; but the boss has changed. He knows that he made a mistake – a terrible mistake.”
Johnny was silent for a few moments
before a deep sigh escaped his lips. “Hearin’
that Murdoch made a mistake ain’t enough, Jelly – not anymore. I cain’t live my life waiting for him to love me.
I’ve done that. My lovin’ him isn’t strong enough to carry me
“Johnny, ya got to believe – he does love you…”
“That’s what he said, but…”
“No if, ands, or buts about it. I believe him and so do Scott.” Seeing that his words were having an effect, Jelly continued. “What about the rest of us? Don’t we count for nothin?”
Johnny swallowed hard. “Yeah…”
“Then come back for us…”
Johnny studied his friend. “What if I can’t walk again?”
Jelly shook his head in exasperation.
“Johnny Lancer, if you ain’t the most stubborn fool in all of
California! Cain’t you get it
through your head that you’re more than your legs; more than that gun of
yours?” Jelly took Johnny’s
hand and held it tight. “Now,
you’re comin’ home and that is that!”
Slowly, a smile crossed Johnny’s face like the sun rising in the morning. “Right….”
“Darn toot’n’ I’m right! Now, can I git ya anything to eat?”
Johnny shook his head, the pain in his back was returning with a vengeance – upsetting his stomach and giving him a throbbing headache to boot. Looking out the window, he saw several men carrying long boards. “What are they building out there, Jelly?”
The old man frowned, debating whether to tell Johnny the truth or not. Finally, he decided that the time had come for all lies to stop. “I’m gonna let you in on a secret. You hear that bangin’ out there?”
“Yeah, I thought it was in my head…”
“Well, it ain’t. Ms. Barkley is gonna have a party here tomorrow. The entire town is coming…”
“To celebrate a hangin?” Johnny accused distastefully.
“No! Ta celebrate you!”
“Yes,” Jelly beamed. “Folks are coming from miles around ta thank ya for what ya did.”
A look of incredulity crossed Johnny’s face. “Why?”
“Why? Well I’ll tell ya why! You deserve it! What you did saved a lot of lives – including your brother and your father. I’ve never seen ‘ol Murdoch so proud of…”
“Of Johnny Madrid?” Johnny interrupted, his voice taking a down turn.
“Of his son!” Jelly quickly corrected. “Now, I’m gonna get you a bowl of soup and then you’re going to take another nap.” After a quick pat to Johnny’s left hand, Jelly stalked out of the room.
Johnny watched his friend leave; his thoughts turning to the plans he had made
for the morning with Bernardo. For
a few moments, he was so sure that he was going to return to Lancer, but now
with the party….he was once again consumed with the desire to run away and
hide until it was all over.
After the lunch break, the judge gave the jury their instructions. They were to pass judgment on six men: Ezekiel ‘Bushrod’ Smith, Indian Joe, Stephen Mason, Clyde Bridges, William Whiteford and Jon Dinsmore. All of the men were charged with murder and attempted murder.
Carl Unger stood to deliver his summation. “Gentlemen of the Jury, I thank you for your patience for the past two days. What you have heard has not been easy - as many of you actually lived through it. The men seated in the defendants box are, without a doubt, guilty of murder and attempted murder. They were hired by Ned Bartch and Benjamin Anderson to intimidate and steal land from the good citizens of this valley. In the course of performing their ‘jobs’ they killed or attempted to kill innocent men, women and children.
“Eye witnesses have testified that they saw these men in Stockton on September 18th. They entered your fair town on horseback, brandishing guns and threatening the very livelihood of this community!
“We have heard from Mr. Smith that he was specifically brought to this valley to kill members of the Cattlemen’s Association – and while it is debatable whether he did or did not fire his weapon in Stockton on the 18th, we do know that he and his associate did viciously attack Johnny Lancer and his father, Murdoch Lancer, with the intent to kill them. It is only by the grace of Almighty God that both men are living today.
“Gentlemen, I implore you to consider
the charges and the evidence that you have heard.
These men deserve to be punished for their actions.
I submit that they should receive the harshest punishment that the State
of California can impose. It
is up to you to send a message to every would be land grabber that the people of
Stockton will not stand for having their hard earned properties taken from them!
These men should be found guilty for their crimes and their souls
vanquished from the earth! Thank
Throughout the State’s Attorney’s monologue, the twelve men seated in the jury box nodded their heads in agreement with the words they were hearing. When the lawyer was done and seated behind the prosecution table, they turned their attentions to the defense attorney.
Lester McManus stood and walked confidently to the podium where he would deliver his closing argument. “Gentlemen – I want you to take a good look at the men seated in the defendant’s box. They are all someone’s son or husband. Many of them are young – not even twenty years old. I want you to consider what it was like to be that age again. Think of your own families – your own sons. What would you want for them if they were seated there?
“We’ve heard stories, gentlemen, yes
stories – of how the Cattlemen’s Association assumed that they were going to
be attacked and how the town was prepared for the anticipated ‘onslaught’. On who’s word was this preparation made?
On Johnny Madrid’s! And
who is Johnny Madrid? We’ve heard
from his peers that he was a cold blooded killer with a history of turning
traitor on his fellow gunfighters for his own personal gain!
How do any of us know what his motive was for getting the Association so
fired up? My clients rode into town
that day – spirited young men – just like many of you were not so long ago.
They rode into town, shooting their guns, celebrating a day off from work
on the range; but that’s not what the State would have you believe.
That’s not what Johnny Madrid would have you believe.
“You heard my esteemed colleague speak of Johnny Lancer! By now we all know who Johnny Lancer is! He is the son of Murdoch Lancer – the owner of one of the largest spreads in the San Joaquin Valley. We heard Victoria Barkley accuse the deceased and undefended Ben Anderson of attempting to gain control of the valley with the help of his outlaw son – Day Pardee. How do we know that Mr. Lancer wasn’t in cahoots with his own outlaw son to do the very same thing!?! Do you know? I sure don’t!
“Then there are the charges against my clients Smith and Joe. Not one witness placed them in Stockton on the 18th! What does that tell you? Mr. Smith told how he initially feared for Murdoch Lancer’s life. What was the fear based on? Why – it was based on his intimate knowledge of Johnny Madrid for over ten years. He had every reason to believe that if left to his own devices that Johnny Madrid would kill Murdoch Lancer. You may ask for what purpose and I submit that it was two fold: To gain revenge against a father how hated his own half-breed son and to gain control of the vast Lancer empire in Morro Coyo!”
A smile crossed Lester’s face as he
saw that his words seemed to have their desired effect not only on the jury but
on the crowd in the gallery as well.
“Gentlemen, I submit that you must weigh the evidence for yourselves and let your hearts be your guides. My clients are merely spirited young men who got caught in a trap set by an embittered gunfighter. They are guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Smith and his companion were only defending themselves by eliminating men who they felt had threatened them. Isn’t that what this great country was based upon – the right to defend yourself from aggression? Think, gentlemen, and you will find all of my clients innocent. Thank you!”
A pin could be heard dropping as Lester McManus gathered his notes and made his way back to the defense table. Murdoch and Scott sat in stunned silence with everyone else in the room – including the judge.
Carl Unger, however, was already poised
to make his rebuttal argument. “Gentlemen!”
The large attorney’s booming
voice shook everyone from their silent reverie and once again commanded the
attention of all present. “Mr.
McManus had just finished telling a fantastic story.
I congratulate my opponent for the work of fiction that he created for
your listening enjoyment; but let’s not confuse his fantasy with reality.
Four of the men seated in the defendant’s box were seen attacking
outlying farms days before they rode into Stockton.
We heard testimony from Heath Barkley and Val Crawford that they saw
those men enter Stockton with their guns leveled to kill and not up in the air
as in celebration. Then, we heard
testimony from Victoria Barkley and Murdoch Lancer how Bushrod Smith – beat
and then tortured Johnny Lancer with the intent to commit murder.
I submit that Johnny Lancer was of no threat to his father or to Mr.
Smith and his companion. He was
wounded and unarmed when Mr. Smith decided to get his revenge.
Remember the testimony and then remember why you are here! Thank you!”
Carl Unger returned to his seat, pleased to see Murdoch Lancer give him an appreciative nod of his head. To his right, Lester McManus stewed in silence.
With all arguments ended, the judge turned to the jury. “The jury will retire for deliberations….”
The twelve men stood and left the courtroom, followed by the judge retiring to his chambers to await the verdict.
Carl turned in his chair and smiled at Jarrod. “This shouldn’t take very long…”
“Are you sure?” Murdoch said, cutting into the conversation. “That damned McManus said some awful lies…”
“Lies that the good people of Stockton will never forget,” Jarrod seethed. Jarrod then took a look at the defense table. Bushrod Smith, was once again rocking his chair back and forth with confidence, while Lester McManus stared stonily at the door to the deliberation room. Obviously, Lester was not expecting good news.
After only five minutes, a knock was sounded at the jury room door and a slip of paper was handed to the waiting bailiff. The man read the note and then scurried to the Judge’s chambers. “We have a verdict!”
The courtroom settled down as the jury filed into the jury box. Everyone was anxious to know the verdict, but none were more apprehensive, or as filled with trepidation as Murdoch and Scott Lancer. The defense attorney had done immense damage to Johnny’s reputation in his closing argument. The Lancers were afraid that his harsh words would somehow take the jury’s focus away from what actually happened. Carl Unger, however, was confident of four of the verdicts – he was unsure what verdicts would be handed out to Ezekiel ‘Bushrod’ Smith and Indian Joe.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?”
the judge addressed the foreman.
The foreman was the head teller at the
bank. A timid man by nature, his
scrawny legs trembled as he stood to address the court. “We have, Your
“What say you on the charge of attempted murder against the defendants?”
The foreman glanced nervously across the courtroom where the six defendants stood waiting to hear their fate. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever think that he would be in the position to pass judgment on another man. In a quivering voice, he read the indictments. “On the count of attempted murder, we find the defendants - William Whiteford, John Dinsmore, Stephen Mason, Clyde Bridges, Ezekiel Smith and Indian Joe –guilty.”
The gallery burst out in spontaneous jubilant whispers while four of the convicted men turned a ghostly pale. Only Bushrod Smith and the Indian remained seemingly unaffected by pronouncement. Neither the Barkleys nor Lancers smiled. They took no joy in the proceedings. Judge Raisen banged his gavel and sternly warned that if there was another outburst that the sheriff would come around and escort the offenders to jail.
“What say you on the charge of murder against the defendants?”
"On the count murder, we find defendants - William Whiteford, John Dinsmore, Stephen Mason and Clyde Bridges – guilty. We further find Ezekiel Smith and Indian Joe – not guilty…”
A chorus of boos and hisses erupted from the gallery. Murdoch and Scott Lancer looked at each other stunned. This was not the verdict they had been praying for. Only a guilty verdict for murder provided a mandatory death sentence. A conviction of attempted murder placed the fates of Smith and the Indian in the hands of the judge. The Lancers could only hope that the Judge would come through with the appropriate punishment,
Bushrod Smith smiled coolly, confident
that his life would be spared. The
Indian remained impassive as always. All
six men remained standing while they waited for the judge to past sentence.
Judge Raisen had made good on his word and several members of the gallery were being escorted from the building. Once order was restored, the judge thanked the jury for their time and dismissed them. Several jurors fled the building as quickly as possible, while others found seats in the gallery to learn the fates of the men they had just convicted.
“Under the terms and conditions of
article four, section seven of the State of California Penal Code, I hereby
sentence defendants William Whiteford, John Dinsmore, Stephen Mason and Clyde
Bridges to hang until they are dead for murder and attempted murder.
This sentence is to be carried out at noon tomorrow.
“Under the terms and conditions of
article four, section nine of the same penal code, I hereby sentence defendants
Ezekiel ‘Bushrod’ Smith and Indian Joe to the territorial Prison in Madera -
where they are sentenced to hard labor for the remainder of their lives.”
The old judge paused and looked sternly at Smith and the Indian.
“Make no mistake, gentlemen, were it within my power, I would condemn
each of you to the same fate that you sentenced Johnny Lancer to; I would have
each of you dragged by a horse until you were dead.”
With that said, the judge once again banged his gavel, closing the
“That’s it?” Scott asked dumbfounded. “They tried to murder my father and brother and all they get is life in prison?”
Jarrod shared Scott’s feelings, but he also understood the law. There was no direct evidence to tie Smith and the Indian to the raid on Stockton. There had been no evidence that either man had killed anyone while in the employ of Ned Bartch and Ben Anderson. “Scott, it was the best outcome we could hope for. They will never spend a free day for the rest of their lives…”
“And what about Johnny? What do we tell him? They sentenced him to a life without his legs…”
“You don’t know that,” Victoria interrupted, trying to calm the angry man.
“The hell we don’t!”
Scott spat. “Even if he does walk again – there’s no guarantee that
he’ll have a complete recovery!”
Murdoch only watched as the chained men were led out of the building. Before exiting the room, Smith turned and gave the Lancer patriarch one last smirk before a deputy pushed him from behind, knocking him into the back of the prisoner in front of him. Closing his eyes, Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief.
“Murdoch?” Victoria asked, placing a hand on her friend’s bowed shoulders.
“It’s over. It’s time for us to rejoin the living and to move past this. I say that it’s time for a celebration.” Murdoch said the words, but there was no joy behind them. Truth be told, he was exhausted. All he wanted, more than anything in the world, was to take his family home to Lancer – and to start again.
Scott stared at his father; slowly recognizing the wisdom in his father’s words. Smith and the Indian were going where they could never hurt another human being ever again. “You’re right, it’s over….”
“Let’s go tell your brother.” Murdoch stood and clapped a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “It’s time to put this all behind us.”
Lester McManus was waiting for them at
the bottom of the courthouse steps. He
held out a hand to the Lancers. “No
hard feelings, I hope?”
“Hard feelings?” Scott questioned incredulously; staring with distain at the outstretched hand. “You and your ‘client’ did a bang up job lying about my brother!”
“I was only looking out for the best
interests of my clients!” McManus
“Is that right?”
Scott started to walk by when he turned – made a fist and slammed it
into the left side of McManus’ jaw. The
lawyer landed in the dusty roadway with a hard thud. “No hard feelings, I hope?”
Scott asked mildly, looking down at the man sprawled in the dirt.
“I was only looking out for the best interests of my family.”
“I’ll sue you for every penny you own, Lancer! I’ve got witnesses!” McManus looked up at Jarrod. “You saw him, didn’t you? He hit me for nothing!”
“Did you see anything, Mother?” Jarrod blandly asked the petite woman who was holding on to his bent arm.
“See what, Dear? I was just noticing what a beautiful afternoon it is. Did I miss something?” Victoria blinked innocently. “Murdoch…?”
“I’m afraid I had some dust in my
eye and didn’t see anything…” Murdoch
responded, unable to keep the laugh out of his voice.
“You won’t get away with this!” Lester swore as he picked himself off the ground.
“And just who is going to come after
us – you?” Jarrod taunted. “Do yourself a favor, Lester.
Get out of this town – go far away and never come back.
You’ve worn out your welcome in Stockton.”
With that said, the foursome headed for the livery and to their waiting
McManus could only glare after them; but in his heart he knew Jarrod was right. The time had come for him to move on. What had happened in the courtroom would taint his reputation for years to come. He had allowed his lust for money and power to rule his head. He should have known better. Slowly, he brushed the dirt off his suit and headed to the hotel to pack.
Three men stood on the sidewalk just
outside the saloon. One of them had
attended the trial and had heard the verdict.
Once the court was recessed, he went in search of his companions.
They had work to do.
By the time Murdoch, Scott, Victoria and Jarrod arrived at the ranch their moods had lifted. Justice had been served and the valley was once again safe from aggression. During the ride, they discussed the plans for the fiesta to be held tomorrow evening. A celebration was in order to mark the start of a new beginning for those who had survived Bartch’s reign of terror; and to commemorate the lives that had been lost.
Excitedly they exited the surrey and
entered the house. Nick, Heath and
Val were all waiting in the foyer.
“Well?” Heath asked anxiously.
“It’s over…” Jarrod said with a grim face.
Nick impatiently interrupted knowing how his brother, the lawyer, could
drag out even the most simple of explanations.
“I only want to say this once.” Murdoch spoke up. “Is Johnny awake? He might as well hear with the rest of you.”
“I think so,” Heath led the group into the library where Johnny lay wide awake talking softly to Jelly. “They’re back…”
“So I heard,” Johnny looked expectantly at his father. “Well?”
“How are you feeling son?” Murdoch asked taking off his hat and laying it on a nearby table.
“I’ll be a whole lot better once you tell me what happened!” Johnny grouched impatiently. He was tired of talking about ‘how he felt’. It was time for some real news.
“They were found guilty!” Murdoch tried to smile, but the unease in his heart made it all but impossible for the smile to look sincere.
“But?” Johnny asked, studying the troubled faces of his brother and Jarrod Barkley. Instinctively he knew something had gone wrong. Neither Murdoch, Scott, Jarrod or Victoria had the look of a person who had witnessed justice being served.
“Four were sentenced to hang at noon
tomorrow. Smith and the
Indian…” Scott started to
explain, but stopped when Johnny’s cold blue eyes bored into his.
“They ain’t gonna hang – are they?” Johnny concluded bitterly.
“No they’re not,” Jarrod confirmed in an even voice. “The jury found all six men guilty of attempted murder. Only four men were found guilty of murder – the hanging offense. Smith and the Indian were found not guilty on that charge. It was the only fair verdict the jury could find considering the evidence. No one saw them kill an innocent man…”
“That’s right – they only tried to kill me – and Lord knows I ain’t innocent..!”
“That’s not it, Johnny, and you know it!” Murdoch said firmly, taking a seat next to his son. “The judge gave them the harshest sentence he could give them…”
“But they’re still alive.” Johnny turned away, not wanting to discuss the verdict further.
Murdoch looked at the other people in the room and motioned for them to leave. All but Scott left. After the door was closed, Murdoch turned Johnny’s chin so that the younger man was now facing him. “Johnny, I know the verdict was not what you wanted – it wasn’t what I wanted either. If one good thing came out of the trial it would have to be all that I learned – about you. I learned things that I need to share with you…”
“Like what?” Johnny asked coldly.
Murdoch didn’t respond in kind. Instead he took Johnny’s right hand and held it firmly in his own – resisting Johnny’s efforts to break free. For a few seconds he marveled at the difference in the color of their flesh – much like he had when Johnny was a baby. As pale as Johnny had gotten, the natural darkness of his skin was a sharp contrast to Murdoch’s own sun leathered hands. They were different, but joined by blood and that made them the same. Murdoch sought his son’s eyes and spoke in the gentle calm voice he normally reserved for Teresa. “I’ve learned that Johnny Madrid is an honorable man; that you are an honorable man. I’ve learned that it no longer matters to me what your last name is – Lancer or Madrid; you are my son and that is all that counts. I know that this might come as shock, but I am proud to have the same last name as you. You have lived up to every expectation I ever had for you; exceeded every standard I ever set for myself. You have surpassed me and put me to shame. Johnny, what I’m trying to say is…” Murdoch felt Johnny’s hand relax. Looking into the questioning eyes of his son he knew he had to say the words. “I love you John. I just didn’t know how much I did or how much I need you until I faced my failures. I did wrong by you Johnny and I swear by all that is holy that I will never wrong you again.”
Scott stood a few feet away and had listened intently to his father’s heartfelt words. A warmth spread within him as he knew he was listening to a reformed man. The only thing that could possibly ruin the moment was the reaction of his brother.
When Murdoch was done, Johnny closed his eyes tightly, desperately trying to contain the emotions that were flooding his mind. It was like the end of a nightmare. Everything he had ever wanted was finally within his grasp – but something was missing and for the life of him he didn’t know what.
“Johnny?” Murdoch asked expectantly. He had been hoping that perhaps now he could reconnect with his youngest. After several long moments of silence, Murdoch felt his hope fade. Looking at Scott, he knew that he had given it his all and yet Johnny refused to bend. “You must be tired, Son…” Murdoch stood. As he was about to leave, Johnny’s grip on his hand held him back.
“Thank you,” Johnny choked. The bedridden man’s eyes remained closed, but a single tear had leaked out of Johnny’s right eye; winding its way down a pale cheek.
“No, thank you, Son.” Murdoch bent and pressed his lips against Johnny’s forehead. “Get some rest. I’ll be back in a while and we’ll talk some more.”
Scott waited in stunned silence as Murdoch left the room. After the door was once again securely closed, he went to his brother. “Are you alright, Johnny?”
“Yeah,” Johnny blew out a breath and winced as a cough threatened. After waiting for the pain to pass he opened his eyes. With the back of his right hand he wiped away the moisture on his cheek. “Ya think he meant those words?”
“Definitely,” Scott confirmed. “Johnny, I wish you could have been at the trial and heard
him. He stood up for you Johnny; he
did right by you. I believe him
when he says that he’ll never wrong you again…”
“Never?” Johnny asked in a mischievous tone of voice, trying to hide the uncertainty he felt inside.
“Doing wrong and being bossy are two different things, Brother.” Scott grinned, trying to keep the mood light. “Only one miracle happened today.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t see him changing that much…”
“He’s changed for the better, Johnny. He knows how wrong he was and he won’t do it again – trust me on that!” The entire time they had been talking, Scott was rubbing his right hand.
“What happened to your hand?” Johnny asked, noticing the skinned knuckles.
“This? My hand ran into something…”
“Something or someone?”
A grin spread across Scott’s face. “Did Heath tell you about the defense lawyer – Lester McManus?”
“Yeah. He said that fella was lower than a pregnant snake!”
“He wasn’t lying. Anyway, his chin got in the way of my right hand…”
“Is that a fact?” Johnny asked suspiciously.
“That is a fact. Why, you can ask Murdoch or Mrs. Barkley – they’ll tell you the same thing!” Scott feigned indignation.
“I wish I had been there to see that!” Johnny whistled.
After a few seconds of silence, Scott’s voice was once again serious. “How are you doing, Johnny? What did the doctor say today?”
Absently, Johnny began to pick at the hem of his blanket. “He told me to be patient and to get some rest…”
“And that’s all?”
For a second, Johnny’s temper flashed, but he quickly relented before Scott could notice. There was no point in getting angry at his brother for simply being concerned. “That’s all. So I rested all day today. I tell you, Brother, I’m getting tired of waiting for something to happen.”
“How’s the pain today?”
“’Bout the same…” Johnny turned away, suddenly wanting to be alone. “That dinner sure smells good. Why don’t you go and eat before it gets cold?”
Scott recognized the faraway tone of his brother’s voice. Standing, he headed towards the door. “I’ll be back later…”
“I’ll be right here…” Johnny whispered closing his eyes. He wished that he had been in Stockton to hear his father’s words under oath; the words the Old Man had just said to him had just about stopped his heart. Johnny never expected Murdoch Lancer to admit he had made a mistake – let alone say out loud that he loved him. Too many thoughts were jumbled in Johnny’s head. The more he tried to sort through them, the more confused he got until he simply wore himself out. Within a matter of minutes he was sound asleep, dreaming of what was going to happen in the morning.
Bushrod Smith lay in his cell listening to the town of Stockton settle down for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. The material for the gallows had been gathered and construction was already half way done by the time the workers stopped for the night. The gunfighter figured that having four men hang at once was probably a record for the growing town.
Smith shared a cell with the Indian – who had yet to say anything about the verdict; he didn’t have to. A plan had been placed in motion during the trial. With confidence, the Indian fell into a sound sleep – while the other prisoners lay wide awake, petrified by what was going to happen to them when tomorrow came.
At midnight, Smith heard a tapping sound outside his window and he broke into a big grin. Everything was coming together as he had planned. There was only one thing he had to do before he left the San Joaquin Valley. He had to pay a visit to an old friend – his last visit.
Murdoch returned to the library after dinner to find Johnny sound asleep. To his amazement he saw that there was fluid missing from the bottle of laudanum. He wanted to ask Johnny about it, but decided that it was better that his son get the rest he needed. Before leaving, he tucked the blankets around the sleeping man and quietly stole from the room.
In the foyer he ran into Jelly who was patiently waiting to sit by his friend again. “Jelly, what you know about the laudanum? It looks as if Johnny has taken some.”
“I know,” Jelly’s eyes betrayed the concern he felt at this discovery. “I tried to talk to him about it this afternoon, but he wouldn’t say why – just that he needed the rest.”
Murdoch chewed his lip, digesting this revelation. “Do you think he’s alright? He’s always been so adamant that he not be given any medicine.”
“He has a lot on his mind, Boss, but I think that he’s kicking around some better ideas in that head of his.”
“What sort of ideas?”
“Like coming home to Lancer.” Jelly answered, his eyes filled with hope.
“He said that?” Murdoch asked, stunned by this revelation.
“He’s thinkin’ about it. I think that he’s still afraid that you won’t want him there if he’s a cripple…”
“I talked with him before dinner. I hope what I said sunk into him…”
“And just what did ya tell him, Boss?” Jelly challenged, making no bones about prying into what Murdoch felt should have been a private affair.
It was clear to Murdoch that despite what Jelly had said a few days earlier – he was still not completely forgiven for what had happened back at the ranch over ten weeks ago. Murdoch laid a large hand on the shoulder of his son’s self appointed champion. “I told him I loved him – and that I was proud to be his father.”
Jelly’s mouth dropped open as if he had been struck by lightning. “Well, it’s about time!” Jelly huffed before a smile lit up his face. “I believe that there’s a chance for ya yet!”
“Why you…” Murdoch threatened with a smile as Jelly slipped from his grasp, disappearing into the library.
Scott descended the stairs just as the library door slipped closed. “Did you talk to Johnny again?”
“No,” Murdoch shook his head. “He was asleep, so I let him be. We’ve got plenty of time to talk tomorrow.”
“You sound confident,” Scott questioned raising an eyebrow.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I am. Jelly said that he talked to Johnny earlier and that Johnny was talking about coming back to Lancer!”
Both of Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “That is certainly a change of heart. I wonder what happened?”
“I don’t care – just so long as he keeps thinking that way.” Murdoch threw his arm across Scott’s shoulders and together they walked into the sitting room where the Barkleys were gathered for the evening. There were plans to be made for the morning and then for the festivities to be held after the hanging. Tomorrow was going to be a glorious day in Stockton.”
7AM – Stockton - the prison cart slowly made its way through the awakening streets of the town. Three men in ill fitting uniforms entered the Sheriff’s office to collect the two prisoners to be transported to Madera. Sheriff Fred Savage looked at the three men questioningly, thinking that he should know at least one of them - but he didn’t.
The sheriff carefully checked their identification and paperwork finding everything to be in order. Quickly he signed the documents and handed them back to the tallest guard who appeared to be in charge “How long do you figure it will take you to get to Madera?”
“Not too long. We have a few stops to make - but we should arrive sometime tomorrow afternoon.”
“Good; send me a telegram to let us know that you’ve arrived. It sure will go a long way to help make the people of Stockton feel secure again.”
“Will do,” the guard said with a small salute. From the back of the jail, a deputy brought out the Indian and Smith. Once again, the men were in shackles. “You ready for your ride to hell?” The guard asked the prisoners snidely.
The grin on Smith’s face only broadened. “If I’m going to hell – then you’re goin’ with me!”
“Get them out of here!” Savage ordered.
Like animals in a circus parade, the two prisoners made their way outside and into the waiting prison wagon. A small crowd had gathered around the wagon. Some of them threw rotten vegetables at the prisoners. A tomato struck Smith’s forehead, but he paid it no mind. He knew that with each step he was that much closer to freedom and that much closer to having his revenge.
Awkwardly, Smith and the Indian were helped into the back of the wagon and the door bolted and locked. Two of the guards took their places on the bench seat while the tallest mounted a horse to trail behind the wagon as it set into motion. Slowly, they made their way out of town. With each step the horses took, Smith could feel the tension in his shoulders becoming lighter and lighter. For the first time in two weeks, things were going his way. A key was passed through the barred windows and Smith quickly unlocked his chains and then unbound the Indian. Lying back on the wooden bench he closed his eyes; he had a long day ahead of him – and a job to finish.
Murdoch had difficulty sleeping that
night. Images of the trial,
Smith’s smirking face and Johnny laying broken in the dirt haunted his dreams
when he did manage to sleep. He had
hoped that Johnny would have a measure of satisfaction with the convictions of
Smith and the Indian, but after hours of lying awake he knew that was an
unrealistic expectation. Revenge
had never been high on Johnny’s priority list.
No, his son was focused on trying to see a future without his legs.
For the life of him Murdoch couldn’t think of what he could do to help.
It would take more than just his verbal reassurances that everything was
going to be alright. He’d have to
prove it. After hours of
tossing and turning he spied the first signs of dawn and got dressed.
Making his way down to the kitchen he found that he wasn’t the only one
who’d had difficulty sleeping. Sitting
at the kitchen table drinking coffee were Scott, Val and Heath.
“Problems sleeping boys?”
Scott gave his father a brief smile. “Too much on my mind to get any rest. I don’t think I’ll sleep soundly again until we get back home.”
Hearing Scott describe Lancer as ‘home’ warmed Murdoch’s heart. The elder Lancer gave his son a smile in return before refilling the half empty cups of the three men. Before sitting down he poured the dregs of the pot into a cup for himself. It was a bitter brew that he sipped, but he welcomed the jolt of caffeine that went through his system. “What time are you leaving for town?”
“I’d like to be there when Smith gets picked up by the prison wagon around ten o’clock,” Val said running a hand across his unshaven face.
“I guess we’ll be leaving around nine then,” Heath said looking at the clock. It was only six A.M. “Silas should be up soon to make breakfast. I’ve got a few chores to take care of before we leave.” Taking a last swallow of his ‘morning courage’ the blond Barkley stood to leave.
Val quickly downed the rest of his cup and followed his friend out into the awakening morning.
“They’re good men,” Murdoch commented.
“Yes they are,” Scott agreed. “They’ve known Johnny a lot longer than we have. It would have been good to know that he had kept such fine company before…” Scott paused before rehashing the past.
“I know…” Murdoch sighed, his conscience filled with regrets. “There are so many things that I wish I had known before – but I know them now.”
Scott looked questioningly at his father. He’d heard the words Murdoch had said to Johnny the night before and he believed them. Hearing the tone of regret in Murdoch’s voice now further confirmed his conviction that his father had changed. “Are you coming to town with us, Sir?”
“No,” Murdoch shook his head. “I want to spend the day with your brother.”
“Good, I think he needs you now more than ever.” Scott stood and placed a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Listen to him Murdoch. Don’t let him get too wrapped up in what he is not anymore. He needs to see his future – through your eyes.”
Murdoch went and relieved Jelly a little after seven A.M. The old handyman was also spending the day at the Barkley ranch. He had been to hangings before and had no desire to watch the ‘festivities’ in Stockton. Everyone from miles around would be gathering in the town to watch. Most of the hands on the ranch were planning on going – like it was a holiday. No. Jelly knew that it was best to leave that circus to the younger men.
Settling in a chair by the fire, Murdoch began to read a volume that he had selected off a nearby shelf. He tried to read, but he found his thoughts continually drifting back to Scott’s advice and his eyes to the young man who lay restlessly sleeping on the sickbed. There were still so many unanswered questions he had about Johnny’s life and the murder of his wife – Maria. Smith’s taunting story about how a twelve year old Johnny had first killed to avenge Maria’s death was one of the nightmares that had prevented him from sleeping. Murdoch needed to know the story – the truth. Perhaps today he would finally find out; but only if Johnny was ready.
Johnny awoke to find his father sitting beside his bed reading a book. “’Morning,” he yawned, catching his breath as healing ribs protested the sudden expansion of his lungs. This was followed by a bout of coughing that almost sapped all of Johnny’s energy.
Murdoch sat on the side of the bed and leaned Johnny forward into his shoulder, gently rubbing his son’s back until the spasms passed. Tenderly he helped Johnny lay back against the pillows. “Are you alright now?”
“I’ll be fine, once I catch my
breath again.” Johnny kept his
eyes closed while he concentrated on taking small breaths that wouldn’t
aggravate his ribs or cause him to cough again. After
a small sigh, he opened his eyes again. “You
been here long?”
“About two hours,” Murdoch stood and went to the fireplace where Victoria had placed a pot of tea to brew a half hour earlier. Pouring half a cup of the hot beverage, he added some honey from a small pot and took the drink to his son. “Try this; Victoria swears this will help rid your lungs of that lingering congestion.”
Carefully he handed the cup to Johnny,
who took it with shaky hands. Slowly
Johnny sipped the sweetened tea, letting the warmth soothe the raw spots in his
throat. “This is pretty good –
for tea. I’m kinda looking
forward to having some coffee…” Johnny
“Maybe later; how about I go and get you some breakfast?” Murdoch turned to leave, but stopped when Johnny asked a question in a quiet voice.
“Ain’t you goin’ to the hanging?”
Murdoch stopped in his tracks and
returned to his son. “No, I’m
not. Your brother already left with Nick, Heath, Jarrod and Val.
I’m sure that between the five of them they can give us a full report.
I’m done with death, John. I
want to focus on the future – your future.”
“Murdoch…” Johnny started uncomfortably. He still hadn’t made up his mind what he wanted to do. Bernardo would be coming soon and a choice would have to be made.
“No, Johnny,” Murdoch interrupted. “I want you to hear me out. I meant every word I said last night. You’re my son and you belong at Lancer – with your family. You’ve been cheated for far too long of the security and happiness a family can provide. I was wrong when I said what is past is past. The time has come for us to understand what happened before we were reunited – the good and the bad. We can’t build our future until we own up to what happened in the past – I know that now.”
Murdoch started to pace like a man who couldn’t walk fast enough to get away from his own shadow. He knew what his shadow was – it was a past that he had tried to bury – a past he had tried to run from. He’d had a lifetime filled with failures – many of his own doing. Pausing for a moment, he looked at his son and knew that Johnny was not a failure – not a mistake. Johnny was the only good thing to come out of Murdoch’s biggest mistake – his marriage to Maria. Burning in the big man’s heart was the need to finally know what happened to his wife. The trial had brought that raw hurt back to the surface. Unfortunately, the only way to heal the wound would be to finally hear the truth – from his son.
“I learned at the trial that your mother was murdered…” Murdoch watched as Johnny seemed to visibly shrink right before his eyes. “You were there – weren’t you…?”
“Please, Murdoch,” Johnny barely whispered. He had been prepared for anything except this. After ten years the wound was still too fresh. So many things had died that day – amongst them his innocence. It was the day Johnny Madrid had been born.
There was no mistaking the hurt in Johnny’s voice, so Murdoch didn’t press the issue. “This is one of the things we’ll need to discuss – when you’re stronger. What’s important now is for you to know I want you home – at Lancer. It doesn’t matter to me that you can’t walk…”
“It matters to me.” Johnny quietly interrupted.
“Then we’ll work together to get you
well. All of us, as a family, want
to be there to help you…”
“And if it doesn’t happen?”
“It’s in God’s hands Johnny. You won’t know what will happen tomorrow if you’re not here to try.” There, Murdoch had said it as best he could. He acknowledged what he suspected his son had in mind. Now, it was up to Johnny.
Johnny responded by looking out the window. It was a beautiful fall day. Too beautiful a day to die – and yet, four men were going to come face to face with the devil in just a few short hours. “Murdoch, I….” Johnny started but words failed him; what had seemed so certain only two days ago was now crumbling as a new picture of a different future took root in his mind. Shaking his head, Johnny knew it was only a dream. He had too many dark shadows that tainted his soul. No matter how hard he had tried for redemption in the past – it was always eventually ripped away from him; just like Murdoch had done over ten weeks earlier.
“I know, Son, right now the future
seems like a terrible place. There
is a future out there for you – for me – for all of us.
We can’t find it if everything were to end today.”
Murdoch was heartened when Johnny gave him a small smile.
“Let me go and get your breakfast.
The doctor will be here soon.”
Alone once again, Johnny glanced away from the sparkling day to the pile of clothes on the nearby shelf where his gun lay hidden. Closing his eyes, he relaxed and tried to calm himself. He hadn’t felt this conflicted since the day he left the Huichol tribe to go for supplies – the same day the tribe had been raided. Over the course of his recovery, Johnny had come to realize that his entire life was marked by emotional upheavals and violence. He had been taken from Lancer and his childhood stolen forever. His fate was sealed the day his mother was murdered; his grave dug the day Nikita and their child had died. All he needed was for dirt to be poured into the gaping hole and his life would be done.
He couldn’t help but smile at his
father’s words. They were the
words of a dreamer. Soon enough the
harsh reality of the situation would awaken his father and the Murdoch he had
come to know would be back. Johnny
felt sure that there was no way the stubborn Scotsman would have a cripple as a
son – forever. With a sigh, he
wanted to place his fate in God’s hands like his father suggested, but he
figured that the Lord was fresh out of miracles for him.
A mile out of town, when the guards were sure that they weren’t being followed, the prison wagon left the road. The going was rough for the two prisoners in the back, but they didn’t mind - the scent of freedom was growing stronger by the moment. When the wagon finally came to an abrupt halt, the man who had been posing as the senior guard jumped down from his horse and opened the rear doors.
Smith jumped out and embraced his brother – Jedediah. “Good to see you, Brother!”
“I almost didn’t make it! That lawyer of yours sure took his sweet time sending me word…”
“It don’t matter anymore. You got the money?”
Jed went to where the horses were tied and removed his saddlebags. Opening the leather pouch, he removed two stacks of crisp new bills. “I ain’t never seen so much money in my whole life! The man at the bank in Fresno nearly cried when I took it out.” Jed whistled.
“It’s the money Anderson gave me to
kill Madrid. I was paid to do a job
and I intend to see it done.”
“Why? I heard he’s a cripple…”
“Yeah, well I thought he was dead before and he weren’t. I want to make sure that Mexican bastard stays dead this time.” Smith responded hotly. “Besides, I have a reputation to protect. I ain’t never walked away from a job I’ve been paid for and I ain’t about to start now.” Smith glared at his younger brother for a moment and then relented. Jed wasn’t a gunfighter. He was a wrangler by trade and didn’t understand the importance of a gunfighter’s reputation. “So, Little Brother – where are my new clothes? I stink like jail…”
Quickly, Jed and his companions stripped
out of the ‘borrowed’ guard uniforms, while Bushrod put on the new clothing
his brother had purchased for him. Indian
Joe went about examining the weapons Jed had purchased for their use.
Of particular interest was the collection of throwing knives.
While one of the other men had his back turned, the Indian flicked a
knife in his direction – imbedding the knife up to the hilt in his exposed
“What….!” Jed yelled, stunned by the sudden demise of his companion.
The other man also turned in surprise to
see that the Indian was now throwing a knife in his direction.
blade struck him square in the chest – penetrating between the ribs to find
the soft tissues of his heart. Open
mouthed, he dropped to his knees, hands frantically trying to remove the
instrument of his death. He was
dead before his head hit the dirt.
“What ya do that for?” Jed demanded, staring at his two dead friends.
“Had to, Little Brother. Call it insurance. I trust the Indian and now I can trust you. ‘Sides, now there are two less men to share the money with.”
A shiver inched its way up Jedediah’s spine; realizing that he was as expendable as his dead friends. “Shouldn’t we burry them?”
“Nah, we’ll leave ‘em here for the wolves. Now, lets get riding. I can’t wait to see the look on Madrid’s face!” Bushrod went to the tethered horses and picked out a bay for himself. Mounting up he headed west towards the Barkley ranch. The Indian quickly removed the knives he had used, wiping the warm blood on his leggings before he tucked them in a leather pouch tied to his belt. Quietly he strode to the remaining horses, chose the closest and headed out after his partner.
“What have I got myself into?” Jed wondered as he too followed suit, spurring his horse into a gallop to catch up with the others.
Howard Merar arrived at ten o’clock as
usual. There was no change in
Johnny’s condition. His optimism
that Osteopathic treatment would help was beginning to fade.
It had been two and a half weeks – and the doctor feared that there was
now permanent damage to the nerves in Johnny’s lower spine.
“Is there any chance I can get out of this bed anytime soon?” Johnny anxiously asked once the examination was over. “I’m getting sick of just laying here waiting for something to happen.”
Howard half smiled at the request. From what the Lancers had said, it had only been a matter of time before Johnny would want out. The boy needed to get used to his situation and now was as good a time as any to introduce him to his future. “I think that a little time out of this room might be good for you and I have just the thing…”
The doctor briefly left the room. He returned pushing a chair with wheels. Slowly he brought the contraption to the side of Johnny’s bed. “Nick used this when he injured his back. I had him dig it out of the attic last night. If you want to go outside…”
Johnny swallowed hard as he stared at the wheeled mechanism. He recognized it for what it was – the key to his freedom and a prison just the same. “Can I get dressed?”
“I don’t see why not. Your wounds
are closed and free of infection.”
Jelly entered the room with a basin of
water for Johnny’s daily bath. Spying
the wheelchair he shook his head, unsure how seeing it would affect his friend.
“Are ya ready for a bath, Johnny?”
Johnny, who had been mesmerized by the sight of the chair was startled from his thoughts. “Yeah, the doc says I can go outside… in that…”
“Well, then ya should be looking extra special. “ Jelly quipped slyly, giving Johnny a shared wink. Placing the basin down he reached into his pocket to remove a pair of scissors. “How about a hair cut too?”
“A trim,” Johnny responded immediately – remembering the last haircut Jelly had given him. It had been a disaster.
“A body could get the notion that you don’t think I can give ya a good hair cut…”
“A body would be right!” Johnny responded.
Murdoch had entered the room and Johnny looked to his father for backup. “A trim will be just fine, Jelly,” Murdoch decreed.
“Well, I never!”
Jelly huffed, but secretly he had been thrilled to participate in a
little verbal sparing with Johnny. It
was almost like old times. “Now,
the two of you git out of here if I’m ‘supposed to get this heathen looking
human again!” Jelly shooed
Murdoch and the doctor out of the room and started to fuss at his charge.
Murdoch and the doctor departed, listening to the banter between the two men. It was music to Murdoch’s ears.
“He seems to be in better spirits today,” the doctor remarked.
“I’m hoping that it’s just the beginning. How is he doing?” Murdoch earnestly asked.
Howard shook his head, his face a frown. “Nothing’s changed.”
Murdoch didn’t like the tone of Howard’s voice. “Do you think this – Osteopathic doctor – can really help?”
“It can’t hurt.
From what Emma has told me, Dr. Taylor has had remarkable success in
performing spinal manipulations. I
can feel where Johnny’s spine has been shifted.
There’s just enough swelling there to account for the paralysis...”
“But you’re not sure.” Murdoch concluded. The terms the doctor used were a bit beyond his ken, but he understood the general gist of the prognosis – there was little hope that Johnny would ever walk again.
Much to Jelly’s consternation, Johnny quieted down as soon as the library door closed. “What’s happenin’, Johnny?”
“I just got a lot on my mind, that’s all.”
Jelly had handed Johnny a rag to use on his chest and arms while he started washing Johnny’s legs. “You worried about the party here tonight?”
“No – I…” Johnny stopped washing and looked at the ball of cloth in his hand. “I just wish I was sure…”
“About what?” Jelly prompted, dipping his cloth into the cooling water he rung it out and applied it to the inside of Johnny’s thigh. He looked to see if Johnny would react to the cold water; there was no response.
“I’ve just got so much on my mind…”
“Like what?” Jelly looked closely at his friend for a response.
Johnny, however, had his Madrid mask firmly in place. There was no way he was going to let anyone know what he was thinking until he was sure of what he was doing himself.
When Johnny didn’t respond, Jelly
changed the subject. “It’s a
pretty day outside and I know someone who’s real anxious to see ya,”
Jelly smiled, thinking of Barranca, and continued with cleaning his
friend for the day. When he was
done, he carefully helped Johnny into the clothes Consuello had lovingly
restored. The older man handled
Johnny like a fragile piece of glass. Every
movement seemed to pull on a wound or injured muscle. Pulling on the brown concha pants proved most difficult, but
Johnny bore the discomfort until the very last button was done.
Johnny lay quietly, deep in thought. Not even being dressed again helped buoy his sinking spirits. The brightly colored shirt seemed to mock him – having lost the power Johnny desperately needed to recapture. From the table he picked up the discarded bracelet he had taken back from Scott. Winding the beads around his right wrist did little to help him regain the feeling of power he so desperately wanted. Longingly he looked at the gun Jelly had left on the desk.
“There!” Jelly remarked as he looked at Johnny all dressed. “You’re as handsome as ever!”
Johnny paid the comment no mind – recognizing it for the lie that it was. Instead, he turned his attention to the nearby window. The day was calling to him and he was anxious to get on with it. Perhaps the fresh air and sunshine would boost his sagging spirit.
Howard and Murdoch returned as Jelly was putting the finishing touches on Johnny’s hair cut. Murdoch was immediately taken aback by the sight of Johnny dressed in clothing that appeared to be several sizes too large. Murdoch fought to keep a smile on his face. “What’s the best way to get him in the chair?” Murdoch asked the doctor.
“Normally I’d have him in a back
brace to make sure that nothing shifted. Since we
don’t have one it’s going to be very important that he do nothing. You hear
me Johnny? Let us take care of
moving you. Don’t fight us.”
Howard waited for a look of understanding from Johnny before proceeding.
“Let’s sit him up and then we can lift him…”
“I can handle it,” Murdoch said confidently. They maneuvered Johnny until he was sitting up. “You ready, Son?” Before Johnny could say a word, his father lifted him in his strong arms and carried him to the waiting chair. Johnny bit his cheek rather than make any sound as a pain shot though his hips and up his back. With his emotions disguised, his father was unaware of the pain he was inflicting on his son.
Lifting Johnny was a shock to Murdoch. His son was a light as a feather – a far cry from the sturdy lad who had walked out of his house almost three months earlier. Tenderly he carried Johnny the two steps to the chair and carefully sat him down. “There, how does that feel?” Murdoch bit his tongue, fighting to control the sentiments that swirled within him.
Johnny closed his eyes and slowly breathed in and out – willing the pain to dissipate while the feeling of being confined started to overwhelmed. Howard wasn’t fooled. “How bad is it, Johnny?”
“I can handle it…” Johnny whispered, biting his lip. He knew that he had better. This was going to be his world for the rest of his life. The sooner he came to that realization, the better. The pain would probably go away, but the feeling of being trapped would stay with him forever.
The doctor secured additional pillows between Johnny and the arms of the chair, making sure that Johnny was totally immobile from the waist down. He then motioned to Jelly who brought the bottle of laudanum. The doctor placed the bottle in Johnny’s hand. “Like I told you yesterday – use it if the pain is bad. Sitting up is going to be hard enough without you fighting pain as well.”
Slowly, Johnny opened his eyes and
looked into the concerned faces of the men surrounding him.
A smile crossed his lips as a bead of sweat rolled down from his hairline
to his chin. “I can handle it,”
Howard rolled his eyes and threw up his hands while Jelly shook his head – knowing that his friend was fibbing. Murdoch placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Son, you don’t have to go outside…”
“I want to,” Johnny responded firmly.
“You’re going to need a blanket,
it’s a tad cool outside,” Murdoch left followed closely by the doctor.
Jelly remained, with hands placed stubbornly on his hips intently staring
“You got something to say?” Johnny asked after a while.
“Me? I ain’t got nothing to say, ‘cept I think that you’re a fool for pushing this…”
“Don’t you Jelly me, Johnny Lancer. I know’d you’re in pain – and so does your Pa. Do us all a favor and take that medicine so that we won’t be so worried about ya!”
Sheepishly, Johnny uncorked the bottle and took a small sip of the vile tasting medicine. Replacing the cork, he leaned his head back waiting for the syrup to work it’s magic. “Jelly?” Johnny asked staring at the ceiling.
“Can you put my boots on me?”
Jelly was immediately concerned. “Why, you plannin’ on walkin’ somewhere?”
“I just want my boot’s on. I got that right – don’t I?”
There was something unnerving about
Johnny’s request that almost made Jelly say ‘no’.
Only the longing look on Johnny’s face finally convinced Jelly to do as
his friend asked. It was a struggle
to put the leather boots on Johnny’s unresponsive feet, but after a fashion
they were on. “There, you’re
“Thanks, Jelly,” Johnny gave his friend a weak grin.
“Well don’t go nowhere.
Murdoch will be back with that blanket.” Jelly picked up the remnants of the bathing supplies and left
The laudanum had worked enough so that
the pain in his back was silenced to a dull roar.
Knowing that he had a limited amount of time, Johnny struggled to wheel
himself the short distance to the desk, where he swiped his gun. Opening the cylinder he found it full and the barrel clean.
Jelly must have taken care of it for him.
He hoped that Jelly would forgive him for the way he was going to put his
thoughtfulness to use. Sticking the
gun in the band of his pants he covered it with his now oversized shirt. For the
first time, Johnny caught a look at himself in the large mirror mounted over the
clothes seemed large on his shrunken frame.
A frown creased his face as he observed how much he had changed in the
last few weeks. Slowly he felt his
spirit begin to plummet. Now he
could see what no one had told him. Thinking
that he looked like death warmed over Johnny’s thoughts coalesced into sharp
focus; he needed to retake control of his life.
his mind made up, he just managed to move the chair back near the bed before
Murdoch returned, followed closely by Victoria who was carrying a brown blanket.
“My, don’t you look handsome?” Victoria stood back to take a good look at her erstwhile patient. Like Murdoch, she was stunned at how much Johnny had physically deteriorated over the past few weeks. He looked more like a crippled old man than the vibrant youth who had rescued her son. More than ever she felt that it would be a good thing for Johnny to rejoin the living. Tucking the blanket around Johnny’s shoulders, she verbalized her plans for him. “I know the perfect spot for you to sit outside,” Opening an exterior door to the library; she had Murdoch push his son out of the room and into the sunshine of the fall day. There was a small patio just off the library, but Victoria continued off the patio about twenty feet to the shade of a large oak tree that was situated near a flower garden. There was just enough sunshine filtering through the branches to keep Johnny warm. “There, what do you think?”
Johnny surveyed his surroundings. The tree that was sheltering him was ablaze with fall colors, while the hay fields just beyond the fencing were browned and ready for mowing. The air smelled fresh and clean, a far cry from the stuffiness of the library he had been confined to. Johnny also noticed that that from where he had been placed, he couldn’t see the back of the house where they were planning the fiesta for later in the afternoon. “This is perfect.”
“Can I get you anything? A book, glass of water?”
“No, Ma’am, I’m fine.”
“Do you want some company, Son?” Murdoch volunteered.
“If you don’t mind – I’d kinda like to be alone.”
Murdoch was disappointed by the request, but understood it. “That’s fine, Johnny. I’ll come out and check on you in thirty minutes.”
Johnny didn’t reply, instead he focused his eyes on the landscape before him, soaking it up like a sponge in water. It seemed like forever since he had last been outside. Under the heavy blanket, Johnny’s hand found the grip to his pistol – it was the most secure he had felt in ages. Once again in control of his fate – his old friend would guarantee that.
With all the weight he had lost, Johnny was afraid that his hand wouldn’t properly fit the grip. A faint smile tugged at his mouth as he shook hands with the warm wooden grip. Closing his eyes, he began to weigh his alternatives in earnest. There was little choice to be made. Return to Lancer and be a burden to his family – a target for every young gun with a desire to add the name of Johnny Madrid to their reputations; or end it all now. Until this moment, all his thoughts had been a jumble of what if’s or could be’s. Now, he held the key to his future in his hands.
He appreciated Victoria’s thoughtfulness at the choice of spots where he should sit. It wasn’t hard to notice how still the ranch was today. For days he had watched the comings and goings of many of the hands through the window. The place practically bustled with people. Today, the ranch was eerily quiet. Johnny figured many of the men had gone into town to watch the spectacle – four men hanging was a great event in any town – cause for celebration.
Johnny had learned long ago never to celebrate death. He embraced it, but knew he could never be its master. For far too long he had danced the dance. With no feelings in his legs he knew that his time for dancing was over. The time had come for him to relinquish his life – to move on and join the people he had lost over the years. With a chuckle, he could almost feel the Devil smiling at him; it had to be the Devil because he felt certain that the Lord had surely turned his back on Johnny Madrid. Why shouldn’t God turn his back? After all, the deaths of too many people weighed wet and bloody on Johnny’s hands.
Thinking back, Johnny could now clearly see that it had been God’s intent to erase him from this world; he had been a mistake. Stubbornly Johnny had fought his fate and with each step had paved his path to perdition with the blood of all who opposed his reign. The Padre had been wrong. His journey was not to salvation – it was to damnation.
Bernardo was supposed to be coming soon, to take him where he could hide out and sort out his feelings. The reflection he had seen in the mirror earlier had already clarified in his mind what he had to do. Lifting the blanket, he felt the cool metal barrel of his gun in his hand. Closing his eyes, he prayed that his friends would forgive him – that his family would understand. Hefting the weight of the pistol in his right hand, he once again shook hands with his one true friend. The weapon that had ruled his life would now send him on the path he always knew he deserved. With his finger on the trigger the barrel found his chest. Slowly, his finger began to contract on the sensitive piece of metal…
Scott, Val, Nick, Health and Jarrod all
rode into town together. Already a
large crowd had gathered, creating a carnival like atmosphere that pervaded the
town. “Look at them,” Val spat
in disgust. “They’re acting
like vultures waiting for a sick cow to drop…”
“And what does that make us?” Scott asked, not feeling at all like a vulture.
He had seen death many times during the war – but never the hanging of
men who so clearly deserved punishment.
“We’ve got a right to be here, we fought for this,” Nick pointed out gruffly. “Besides, it was your brother who suffered the most…”
“I don’t think that Johnny would be
celebrating this,” Heath commented softly, his hand going to his throat. It seemed like only yesterday when Johnny had saved him from
Floyd Brasure’s noose. “Johnny
never did like hangings. He told me
once that he’d rather face a firing squad – live by the gun – die by the
“He did.” Scott softly interrupted.
“What?” Heath was puzzled by the comment.
“He did face a firing squad…” Scott continued, remembering the report that he had read.
This was news that startled both Heath and Val. “When?” they echoed in unison.
“Just before he arrived at Lancer. A Pinkerton agent found him and bought his freedom. The report says that they were just lining up to fire when the agent arrived.”
Val and Heath looked at each other. Johnny had never shared that story with them. “Good to hear that the ‘Pinks’ finally did something right for him,” Val said distastefully.
The five men dismounted in front of the livery, handing the reins of their horses to the boy, Juan, who was helping Bernardo for the day. Heath ruffled the boy’s hair before placing a quarter in the small outstretched hand. “Gracias, Señor!” the boy exclaimed before leading the horses into the stable.
The five men were halfway across the street when Bernardo came out the opened door in search of Scott. “Señor Lancer – wait!”
Scott told his companions that he would
meet them at the jail before turning to greet the older man.
“Mr. Cardoza – I thought that you were going to see Johnny.”
“Si, I am preparing a wagon for your brother.”
“A wagon for my brother? What are you talking about?”
“Your brother has asked me to bring a
wagon this morning…”
“He needs a wagon?” Scott asked
Bernardo responded, hoping that Scott understood the meaning.
“And what are you supposed to do with that wagon…”
“Lo siento, Senor, I cannot tell you
any more – I may have said too much already…”
Scott’s mind was racing. Obviously his brother had something different in mind than the fiesta Victoria had planned. “I’m guessing that you might need some help when you get to the Barkley ranch?”
Bernardo smiled appreciatively.
“Tell Juan that I need my horse back.
I’ll go tell the others that I’m going with you.”
Scott quickly turned and headed down the street to catch up with his
"What do you mean they’re gone?” Val roared in anger at Sheriff Savage.
“The prison wagon came at eight o’clock this morning. They had all the right paper work!” Fred yelled indignantly holding the signed paperwork in his hand.
“Let me see that!” Val snatched the papers from the sheriff and poured over them. Both eyebrows shot up when he saw the signature at the bottom. “Who signed this?”
“Said his name was Ira Hastings, a tall thin man…” Fred stopped as Val began to turn a dangerous shade of scarlet.
“What if I told you that this ain’t Ira’s writtin’ and that Ira is a short, overweight bald man?”
Fred paled. “But he was tall and thin….You don’t think…”
“As sure as I’m stand’n here I
know that Smith and that Indian are probably half way to Mexico by now!”
“But…but…” Fred stuttered. “How can you know for certain?”
“I’ve known Ira my entire life – in fact Heath knows him too.” Val showed Heath the signature on the release papers. Slowly Heath shook his head. The signature didn’t belong to the Ira Hastings he knew.
Nick and Jarrod entered the small office
as soon as Val raised his voice. “What’s
wrong?” Nick asked, sensing
something terrible had happened.
“Fred let Smith and the Indian go…” Heath shook his head not wanting to think where the men may have gotten to.
“What?” Nick exploded, not believing that the Sheriff would have just let the two men go.
Val was pacing the small room like a
wildcat. “They must’a had help.
Someone was dressed like guards and had the prison wagon…”
Slowly, Fred sank into his seat. “What am I going to do?”
“The only thing you can! We need a posse to head out after them. Perhaps they haven’t gone far.” Val stopped moving long enough to check his gun and place it back in his holster. “Deputize us and we’ll head out…”
“But you’re going to need more men than this; there were three guards and the two prisoners…”
“Fred,” Jarrod spoke calmly. “You’ve got a town filled with people to see the hanging.
It’s important that you maintain the peace here.
We’ll go after Smith and the Indian and try to bring them back –
“And if you can’t?” the sheriff
resigned himself to Jarrod’s logical thinking; but he didn’t like it.
“Then – we’ll bring ‘em back dead.” Nick answered with a smug smile.
“Just so long as none of you wind up
dead,” there was nothing amusing about the situation to the sheriff.
The four men were quickly deputized and
were leaving the sheriff’s office just as Scott was entering.
There was no missing the badges that his companions were now wearing.
“Smith and the Indian got away. We’re going after them. Want to come?” Jarrod explained quickly.
“No – I’m heading back to the ranch…”
“Why?” Heath asked, concerned that Scott might know of some new danger to the ranch.
“I just spoke with Bernardo. Johnny asked him to bring a wagon this morning.”
“And why would he do that?” Val wondered aloud.
“I don’t know, but I want to be there to find out.” The five men quickly returned to the livery where Juan stood waiting with Scott’s horse. “Gracias,” Scott said taking the reins. “Where is Mr. Cardoza?”
Juan pointed down the street. “He said that you can follow him.”
Quickly Scott mounted his horse, bid his friends good luck, and headed after the lumbering wagon. It didn’t take long for him to catch up with Bernardo. The wagon came to a grinding halt, allowing Scott to tie his horse to the back before he climbed up to sit with the older man.
“I am glad that you can come,”
Bernardo said his face a reflection of his concern for Johnny. “Juanito is muy
deprimido – depressed. He is not
“Obviously not if he asked you to bring a wagon,” Scott fumed. For the life of him he couldn’t imagine what his brother had in mind. He thought that everything was fine when he left. “When did Johnny ask you this?”
“Ayer por la tarde, yesterday - when you were at the trial.”
Scott considered this new information.
Johnny had asked Bernardo to come – but that was before Murdoch had
spoken to him. Settling back in his
seat he relaxed, confident that when they arrived back at the ranch they would
find that Johnny had changed his mind.
Joel Todd met Val, Heath, Nick and Jarrod on the outskirts of town. He was puzzled to see that they were all wearing badges. “What’s happened?”
“Jail break,” Val clipped. “We’re going after Smith and the Indian.”
“Where’s Scott? I was supposed to meet him here?”
“He headed back to the ranch,” Heath responded. “Look – we’re in a hurry. You can either stay here, go to the ranch or ride with us…”
“I’ll head out after Scott,” Joel had no desire to watch a hanging – not in a town filled with people he had inadvertently placed in danger.
Heath gave him an approving nod before urging his horse forward with the others.
Smith, Jed and the Indian lay hidden in a clump of trees about two hundred yards east of the Barkley home. The house seemed practically deserted. The only activity seemed to be behind the house where two men were stringing lanterns between the barn and the corral.
“Everyone must be at the hangin’”
Smith observed with glee. In front
of the house was a small buggy. “Think
that belongs to the doc?” Smith
mused aloud. “We need to know how
many people are in there…”
The Indian tapped his shoulder and
pointed to a garden to the left of the house.
They observed Victoria Barkley and an older black man apparently
gathering vegetables. A grin split
Smith’s unshaven face. “Good
– she’s here! Let’s go!”
The three men retreated back into the woods and reclaimed their horses.
Jed looked at his brother, afraid of
what he had in mind. “I thought
we was only going after Madrid?”
“Killin’ Victoria Barkley is a
bonus! Either you’re with me or
you’re against me, Brother…” Smith
had his pistol in his hand and was casually pointing it in his brother’s
Jed swallowed hard at the implied threat
and quickly mounted his horse. The
three men made their way out of the woods and headed for the house.
Murdoch and Jelly worked quietly together, changing the sheets to Johnny’s bed. At Victoria’s direction, they had opened the windows to clear the air in the library. For too long it had held the lingering smell of death. With the day being as beautiful as it was – so filled with promise, the men hoped to add some of that feeling to the room. Johnny appeared to be making progress, yet both men held unspoken concerns.
Murdoch had just gathered the old bedding in his arms when he noticed that Johnny’s gun was missing from the desk. With the soiled linens in his arms he followed Jelly into the foyer. “Jelly, did you move Johnny’s gun?”
Jelly quickly turned, alarmed at Murdoch’s observation. “No. I left it right on the corner of the desk after I dressed ‘im…”
“You don’t think…”
Murdoch whispered, remembering how they had left Johnny alone sitting
under the oak tree. In the next
instant he heard the sound of a gunshot that shook him to his soul.
For one second, the two men stared at
each other before dropping the bedding and heading back to the library. They hadn’t left the foyer when they were stopped in their
tracks by the sound of a gun being cocked behind them. “Hold it right there!”
Jelly watched as Murdoch turned a ghostly pale. Slowly the two men turned to face Bushrod Smith; his gun pointed at their chests. “Smith…” Murdoch whispered. He had hoped that he would never see the man after the trial and yet here he was in the flesh.
Smith smiled broadly.
“Good to see you too, Lancer. Now,
where’s that bastard of yours? Him
and me have got business ‘ta finish.”
Victoria and Silas were in the garden
when they heard the gunshot followed by an Indian war cry.
Startled, they looked around trying to figure where the two separate
sounds had come from. When they
didn’t see anything they decided to head for the safety of the house.
Too late, they realized the danger. A man was standing in the doorway
with a gun in his hand.
“This way, if you please,” a tall nervous man waved his gun at them, indicating that he wanted them in the house.
Tightening her grip on the spade in her
right hand, Victoria concealed it in the folds of her skirt before heading
towards the house, followed closely by Silas.
They were led into the living room where Murdoch. Jelly and Howard were
already being held captive along with the two women who had been cooking and one
of the men who had been decorating the corral area.
Victoria was surprised to see Bushrod Smith in her house.
Looking around the room, she realized that someone was missing and her
confidence that they all would survive faltered.
At the sound of the gunshot and the war
cry, Johnny’s finger relaxed on the trigger – the barrel swinging away from
his chest. All thoughts of his
prior intentions evaporated as hardened instincts responded to danger. Knowing
that he was an open target where he was, Johnny threw himself from the chair,
landing heavily on his right hip. Instantly
he felt a ‘pop’ in the small of his back followed by a searing pain that
shot down his legs and up his spine. The
pain was so intense it momentarily blinded him, leaving him in a huddled heap on
the ground. It took all his
willpower to fight the encroaching darkness and move toward the shelter of the
There was no mistaking the owner of the voice that was now calling his
name. Bushrod Smith was here for
him, and Johnny knew that his old enemy wouldn’t stop with just his death.
The gunshot meant that someone had already paid the price for just being
near Johnny Madrid.
Blinking away the pain, Johnny pushed
past the agony, focusing on what needed to be done.
With gun in hand, he used his arms to crawl to the tree.
To his amazement, he was feeling the gnarled roots as his legs scraped
over them. His left knee felt as if
it was on fire – a reminder of the injury that must have resulted from the
Grabbing hold of a low branch, he pulled himself up until he was erect – supported by wobbly legs; like a new foal standing for the first time. His cheek kissed the tree trunk as he held on for all he was worth. Smith would be coming and there was going to be hell to pay.
“Where’s Glen Adams?” Victoria’s strong voice masked the concern she held for the missing man.
“Ya mean that cowboy who got in our way?” Smith responded snidely. “He’s gone to meet his maker. Now, where’s Madrid?”
“Leave him be!”
Murdoch forcefully protested. The
big man took two steps towards Smith, but immediately backed off when the
gunhawk turned a gun in his direction.
“That young’un of yours has more lives than an alley cat. I thought he was dead in Stockton. He shoulda’ been dead after that dragging but he weren’t. I’m here now to see the job done for good!”
“Why? What could you possibly gain by killing Johnny now?” Victoria asked.
“I was paid for a job and I intend on seeing it done.”
“I’ll pay you – whatever you want! Name the price!” desperation edged every word Murdoch spoke.
Jedidiah asked, nervously licking his lips while his mind was counting
“Shut up, Brother!” Smith snapped. “I’ve already been paid for this job…”
“Don’t make me say it again!” Smith snapped again. With
that, Jed dropped his head and tightened his hand on his gun.
Victoria glanced at Murdoch while the
Smith brothers argued. Perhaps
now was their chance to take advantage of the situation.
Just as she was about to make a move, the Indian appeared.
With a flash, he pressed the blade of the knife against Murdoch’s
throat. Victoria stopped dead in
Smith smiled at Murdoch’s obvious discomfort. “Now – where’s Madrid?”
The Indian removed the knife from
Murdoch’s throat, leaving a faint bloody line, and whispered a few words in
Smith’s ear before disappearing from the room.
Smith’s smile broadened after the Indian was gone.
“Let’s go for a walk, Lancer. I’ve
got an old friend I want ta see.” With
the barrel of his gun pressed to Murdoch’s back, the two men headed towards
the library leaving Jed with the prisoners. “If any of ‘em moves – kill ‘em!” Smith ordered as he and Murdoch disappeared into the library.
Outside, sweat poured heavily off
Johnny’s brow, he was exhausted and yet charged with adrenaline.
His grip on the tree branch was tenuous at best while his legs threatened
to give out at any moment. It had
been a long time since Johnny had felt so vulnerable and yet so alive.
The joy he felt at being able to once again stand alone was overshadowed
with the concern he felt for the people trapped in the house with Smith.
Smith shouted again. “I
got someone ta see ya!” From the
doorway, Smith pushed Murdoch forward and onto the ground.
Smith stared at the fallen wheelchair, frustrated that Madrid was no
longer in it. “What ya doin’
Madrid? Hidin’ like a girl?”
With a laugh, Smith fired three rounds into the chair.
“Johnny,” Murdoch moaned, worrying for his son.
Quiet reigned, frustrating Smith
further. Murdoch got up to his feet
and, with Smith directly behind him, walked towards the fallen chair. He was ten feet away when he could see that Johnny was
nowhere in sight.
Smith could see it too. “Where are you, Madrid? You playing games with me? I got your Pappy here! If you want him to live you better show yourself!”
“No, Johnny!” Murdoch shouted. “Save yourself!”
Smith responded by shooting at Murdoch. A bullet passed through the flesh of the big man’s right thigh, causing him to fall again. “Ya see that, Madrid? The next one goes into his back!”
“You back shootin’ old men now
Smith?” Madrid’s voice came
flippantly from behind the thick tree trunk.
It was a struggle to maintain the Madrid persona.
No matter what had happened in the past, it struck Johnny hard that it
was his father who was now paying the price for Madrid’s existence
Smith smiled, knowing that he was now
within moments of fulfilling his obligation.
don’t ya just step out here Johnny and we’ll get this done all nice and
“Ain’t nothing nice and easy about dying,” Johnny responded. Slowly he maneuvered himself so that his left side was now leaning heavily against the solid mass of the oak tree.
Smith’s mouth fell open at the sight. From where he was standing, it appeared to Smith as if Johnny was lazily leaning against the tree. He wasn’t the only one to be stunned. From his position on the ground, Murdoch was equally amazed by the sight of his youngest standing on two legs. There was no way that he was going to let Smith take Johnny’s life now or ever. With a quick glance at his son and a look at the stunned face of Bushrod Smith, Murdoch awkwardly lunged forward, striking the escaped prisoner and throwing Smith off balance.
At the same time, Johnny and Smith each raised their guns and fired. When the smoke cleared, three men lay in the dirt while fresh blood now feed the roots of the mighty oak.
Pilgrim as you journey
On the road you chose
To find out why the winds die
And where the stories go.
All days lead from one day
That much you must know
You cannot change what’s over
But only where you go.
One way leads to diamonds.
One way leads to gold.
Another leads you only
To everything you told
In your heart you wonder
which of these is true
The road that leads to nowhere-
the road that leads to you
Will you find the answer
in all you say and do?
Will you find the answer
Each heart is a pilgrim
each one wants to know -
The reason why the winds die
And where the stories go.
Pilgrim in your journey
you may travel far -
For pilgrim it’s a long way
to find out who you are.
A solitary figure sat on his horse atop the bluff above Lancer. Below him, the lush landscape unfolded like a green blanket under the late afternoon sun. Like a siren, the land had beckoned him with its beauty and promise of wealth. From the first moment he had laid his eyes on the territory he knew that he was forever smitten. As far as he could see, what he viewed was his. The view had not come cheap. Like a fickle mistress, the land had cost him plenty – two wives, his best friend; the lives of the men who had worked for him and his sons. Closing his eyes he could recount each drop of blood that had been shed; but no one had bled more for the land than his youngest.
Slowly he felt his chest constrict at the thought of Johnny. He wasn’t the first born son, but he was the first to be born on the land that bore the Lancer name. Closing his eyes Murdoch Lancer remembered the small child who had captured his heart; the child who had renewed his vision after the loss of his first wife and the abduction of his eldest son by his grandfather. Through Johnny’s infant eyes, he had once again seen the bright promise that the land had to offer.
The promise died and the future dimmed
when the child was stolen away. For
twenty years his tired blue eyes had forgotten how to look at the beauty that
surrounded him. His thoughts were focused on his losses and the dreams of what
could have been; his heart hardened - afraid to love again.
In a moment of stubborn pride he made a vow to himself that he would
be the master of his destiny and that he alone would reign supreme over the
land. As a result, he once again
lost sight of the future that had beckoned him to the valley in the first place.
A year ago that had all changed. Both
of his sons had returned to help him fend off the land pirates who attempted to
steal the land from him. Through
their eyes he had hoped to once more learn how to love again; to have hope for a
bright future – but there had been a steep price to pay for that new vision.
What should have been a jubilant homecoming had turned into a disaster - all the result of Murdoch’s inability to ‘see’ the truth. Murdoch’s blind trust in his business associates poisoned his heart against his youngest. To this day he carried the shame of how he let them exploit his weakness of pride. The heartless words he had shared with Scott had their desired effect on Johnny. The boy left of his own accord – leaving Murdoch guilt free – or did it? Through the eyes of his family, employees and neighbors he learned there was another side to his youngest that he had never taken the time to see.
Ultimately, he had no one to blame for his actions other than himself. The consequence of his betrayal had cost him dearly – but not nearly what it had cost his son. Johnny had been paying for the failure of his parent’s marriage for his entire life. Murdoch’s betrayal was a death sentence.
So much was owed to Johnny and his fierce independent spirit – and it wasn’t only Murdoch who was thankful – but the entire valley. It was a hard reality to know that he wouldn’t be standing on this bluff if it hadn’t been for Johnny.
Just the thought of the younger man tore his father’s heart asunder. Murdoch’s mind slipped back to the fateful day back at the Barkley’s ranch – the day the devil had finally come for his due…
Lying on the ground Murdoch watched as Smith turned towards Johnny. The agony on his son’s face was as evident as his determination to end Smith’s reign of terror. Wounded as he was, Murdoch knew that he just couldn’t lay there and hope Johnny could beat Smith in a shootout. With a surge of energy born of desperation, Murdoch lunged forward, knocking into Smith - hoping to throw the gunman’s aim off. In the next instant he was back on the ground - his world exploding. Multiple gunshots sounded over his head – more than just the two he had anticipated. His eyes, however, never left his son. In horror, he watched as Johnny keeled forward landing heavily on his right shoulder and then lay still. To his left he looked and saw that a third eye now appeared in the center of Smith’s forehead while a second shot had made entry though the center of the gunman’s chest. Smith was dead.
There was no time to celebrate the death
of his son’s would-be executioner or wonder where the second shot had come
from. Murdoch’s need to get to Johnny was paramount.
Undaunted by his own injury, Murdoch crawled his way to the still form of
his son. “Johnny?” he
shouted hoarsely as he approached, fearful that his youngest had lost the battle
for his life. There was no response
Frantic to know his son’s condition,
Murdoch moved faster until he was next to the unconscious man.
“Johnny!” To his horror,
he saw a red spot blossoming around a bloody hole in Johnny’s left shoulder.
“No!” With shattered
nerves he pressed his right hand against the open wound, hoping to stem the flow
of blood that was escaping.
Johnny responded to the pressure by
sharply sucking in his breath. “Murdoch…?” Johnny’s faint voice
whispered in the dust that had settled on his face.
“Johnny…? Shhhh…. Just lay quiet, Son. Help will be here soon….”
“Sorry….” Blue eyes remained closed, but the need to speak could not be silenced.
Murdoch was caught off guard by the apology. “Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for…”
“Smith… shot you…. because of me…”
“Shhhh,” Murdoch soothed again, his left hand brushing away the hair that had fallen across his son’s eyes. “I’m alright. It’s you we need to worry about…”
“I was stand’n – did you see...” a slight giddy smile flitted across Johnny’s pain pinched face. “I guess I was wrong….”
“I saw, Son.
Shhhhh save your strength…”
Johnny coughed lightly and grimaced.
“I was gonna end it…”
“Not now, Johnny.”
Murdoch interrupted, his worst suspicions confirmed.
“We’ll talk about it later when we can walk together…”
A smile turned up the corners of Johnny’s mouth before he sighed and moved no more.
“Johnny?” Murdoch worriedly shook his son’s good shoulder; there was no response. Johnny’s stillness created panic in the older man. He needed the doctor now – but Howard was held captive inside the house while his son lay bleeding to death. Frantically his mind raced trying to figure a way to rescue the doctor without losing Johnny. At the sound of footsteps approaching from behind him Murdoch’s panic increased. Slowly he turned and was relieved to see Scott running towards him, rifle in hand. “Scott! Hurry – it’s Johnny!”
“Murdoch?” Scott slid to the ground beside his father and surveyed the sight of his brother. “How is he?”
“I don’t know… I can’t tell if he’s breathing…”
Murdoch lifted his hand and let Scott tear open the wet hole in Johnny’s shirt. Both men gasped before Murdoch slammed his hand back down. The sight of the wound threw Scott’s memory back to an all too similar setting – just six months earlier and a scene that had played out in the front yard at Lancer. Johnny – shot in the back and leaning against an oak tree. His brother had been lucky that time around. This looked worse. “We’ve got to get him in the house…”
“We can’t…” Murdoch started to explain but was interrupted when a war cry split the silent afternoon. Both Scott and Murdoch looked up to see the Indian running towards them – long knife in hand. In slow motion they saw the Indian knocked backwards off his feet at the same time they heard the report of a rifle shot. Indian Joe landed flat on his back and moved no more.
A second set of feet running towards
them could be heard. Scott grabbed
Johnny’s Colt, from where it had fallen beside his still brother, and turned
toward the approaching danger.
“Whoa, Scott!” Joel Todd skidded to a stop, his rifle held up in the air so as not to present any danger.
“Thank, God,” Scott sighed turning back towards his brother. “We need to get Johnny inside…”
“No!” Murdoch cautioned. “There’s one more in the house holding Jelly and Victoria hostage…”
As if in an answer to his warning –
Howard came running out of the house followed by Victoria.
The two quickly ran past the fallen bodies of Smith and the Indian and
headed to where the Lancers sat bent over the prone body of their fallen
Howard did a quick inspection of Johnny’s latest injury and frowned. “Get him in the house, now!” Scott handed his rifle to Joel and quickly lifted his brother in his arms.
“He was walking, Doc!” Murdoch called after the departing figures. “You’ve got to save him!” Like a wet rag, Murdoch leaned back against the trunk of the tree while Victoria inspected his wounded leg. Acknowledgement of what Johnny had intended and what had actually transpired hit him hard. “He was going to kill himself, Victoria…”
The petite woman’s eyes flashed. “How do you know?”
“His last words to me…” Murdoch swallowed hard and a lone tear rolled down his leathered cheek. “I can’t lose him now…”
“And you won’t!”
Victoria directed Joel to help Murdoch to a stand.
The petite woman slipped under the big man’s left arm while Joel placed
his shoulder under Murdoch’s right arm. Slowly,
the trio headed toward the house.
They had only taken a few painful steps
when Val, Heath, Nick and Jarrod rode up. “We
heard shots! Are you alright?” Nick
asked his mother as he dismounted.
“I’m fine, dear. It’s Johnny….”
Heath asked, giving his mother a quick embrace while Jarrod took over
assisting Murdoch to the house.
“The Indian, Smith and his brother were here…”
“I only see two…” Val interrupted, quickly inspecting the dead bodies of Smith and the Indian.
“Jed Smith is in the house with Jelly. I’m afraid that I’ve dented that trowel you gave me...”
Nick gave his mother a wicked smile and hugged her tightly. “Come in handy…?”
“More than you’ll ever know,”
Victoria smiled gratefully.
Heath only waited a moment before pressing his mother for news of his friend. “What happened to Johnny?”
“Smith shot him,” intense hatred edged Murdoch’s voice. “I don’t know how it happened, but Johnny was standing next to the tree. Standing! I tried to save him…” The big man hung his head in defeat; his mind remembering the limp swing of Johnny’s right arm as Scott practically ran into the house with his burden.
Val entered the dwelling ahead of the group and after a few moments led Jed Smith out in the shackles he had borrowed from Sheriff Savage. “I’m gonna take this one back into town…” at a loss for what more to say or do, Val gave his prisoner a nudge with his pistol and headed for the horses.
Once Murdoch was settled on a chair in the living room, Victoria set about tending to his wound. Scott entered the room and sat heavily in a chair opposite his father. With his head down, he laced long fingers through his hair; concern for his brother weighing heavily on his mind.
“Scott?” Murdoch asked softly, anxious for news and yet afraid of the answer.
“The doctor is operating now…” Scott was loathe to look at his father for fear of breaking
down. “It doesn’t look good,
A cool spring breeze shook Murdoch from his silent reverie. There had been no fiesta that night or any night thereafter. The people of Stockton had come, one by one, to the Barkley ranch to pay their respects and quietly leave the Lancer and Barkley families to come to terms with all that had transpired.
The threat to the valley had been eliminated – but at too high a price. Blood stained the land. Everyone involved could only pray that it would be a lesson never to be repeated in their lifetimes or in the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren.
Joel Todd decided to remain in the valley and became a good friend and neighbor. The eastern businessman had traded in his grandiose thoughts of a cattle empire for the simple life of a cattle rancher and vintner.
Murdoch turned in his saddle as Scott
rode up beside him. He smiled
warmly at his son and then fixed his gaze back on the land.
“I never tire of this sight…”
“Me neither,” Scott agreed. The two men settled into a companionable silence before turning their horses towards the road home.
It had been rough going since they returned from Stockton. One thing they had learned was not to hold back – to be honest, even brutally so if needed. No more secrets; no more hidden agendas. Murdoch still called the tune, but it was not always a solo act.
When Scott considered coming west he had no idea how much his life was going to change. In Boston, his grandfather had provided him with a safe and insulated world – a world of privilege and power. That was never enough for Scott Lancer. Against his grandfather’s wishes, he had joined the army and his eyes were opened to the cruelty of war. Since coming to California, he had learned the love of family – to be a son and a brother. He never knew the agony of love until he met Johnny.
Nothing had ever been easy for his younger sibling – finding the tough way to handle things seemed to be the story of Johnny’s life. One thing the Pinkerton report had portrayed in a truthful manner was the struggle Johnny had survived just to become Johnny Madrid. Being a half breed in a world full of prejudice left his brother tough against those who would oppress the weak. Scott recognized that it was Johnny’s fighting spirit that had kept him alive for twenty-two years and Scott admired that. As angry as he was that Johnny hadn’t contacted him about the range war in Stockton, Scott now understood. There was no way Johnny would ever turn away from a fight or his back on a friend; not even the father who had disowned him. For that they had all suffered.
After all was said and done in Stockton,
Scott nearly decided to leave California. Four
months had passed since the day he had carried the limp form of his brother into
the Barkley house; he was still coming to terms with all that had transpired.
Time and understanding had lessened the pain to the point where he was
now glad he hadn’t left. Learning
to understand and forgive his father was hard but it had its own rewards.
As they neared the ranch Teresa came
riding out to meet them. It was a
glorious spring afternoon and the fields were filled with budding wildflowers.
The girl’s cheeks were flushed a brilliant pink and a smile lit up her
“Murdoch!” she called with a wave as
she pulled up next to them.
“What’s the excitement about, sweetheart?” Murdoch asked with a smile.
”You know!” she gently scolded.
Scott grinned at her plight. They all knew what day it was. “Of course he does, Teresa…”
“Then what are you doing out here? You should be back at the house!”
“Are they here yet?” Murdoch’s eyes squinted towards the hacienda. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.
“Of course they are – now hurry!”
Murdoch turned to Scott and gave his son a sly wink. “Scott, are you sure we don’t have to take a look at the herd up on the north quarter….?”
“I believe you’re right, Sir…” Scott agreed, his grin growing ever broader.
“Murdoch!” Teresa warned tersely before realizing that the two men were pulling her leg. In a huff, she turned her horse and sprinted back towards the house.
The two Lancers grinned at each other and chased after the girl. Within minutes, they were in front of the house. A hand came forward and quickly took the reins of the weary animals and led them to the barn. Teresa hadn’t been lying when she said that they all were there. Victoria Barkley, her three sons and daughter – Audra were waiting in the big room of the hacienda along with Howard Merar and his niece Emma. Bernardo Cardoza and his sister Consuelo were standing near the fireplace speaking with Father Santos and Cipriano.
The two families greeted each other, catching up on what had been happening since they had last seen each other four months earlier. Maria and Teresa were busy filling the large dining table with trays of food that had everyone’s mouths watering.
“Well?” Nick growled impatiently, his stomach churning.
“Nicholas,” Victoria warned. “It won’t be too much longer.”
“Wait! I think I see Val…” Scott strained his eyes to look through the big window that faced the main road to the house. “Yes! It’s him!”
Murdoch went to the front door and opened it just as he heard the sound of spurs jingling on the tiled porch and voices laughing. A surprised face greeted him, taken off guard at the sight of the Lancer patriarch playing butler. “Everything OK, Murdoch?”
“Everything’s fine, I’m just glad to see you. Come on in…” Murdoch smiled a twinkle in his eyes.
Suspiciously, the man and his friend
entered the room and halted in their tracks.
“Ain’t ya gonna say something?” Val Crawford asked, a sly grin on his face.
“Happy Anniversary!” everyone shouted.
Puzzled, the dark haired man looked about the room recognizing friends and family. “I don’t understand?”
“Don’t you know what day it is?” Scott was only mildly surprised that the man had no recollection of the importance of the day.
“Should I?” came the perturbed response.
“It’s been a year, Brother…”
“A year?” Johnny Lancer looked at his brother like Scott had two heads.
“A year since you and Scott first came
home,” Murdoch explained, placing an arm across each of his son’s shoulders,
giving them both a gentle hug. “I
couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the day than to surround ourselves
with friends and family!” Knowing
his son’s penchant for avoiding parties, the rest of the Lancer family had
decided to keep the celebration a secret from Johnny.
For the last two weeks, Murdoch had counted on Val, Scott and Jelly to
keep Johnny distracted while he, Teresa and Maria made their secret plans for
the small fiesta.
Johnny looked up into the smiling face
of his father, reassuring himself of Murdoch’s sincerity.
Slowly he smiled in response and relaxed.
“Can we eat now?” Nick asked impatiently.
“Dig in!” Murdoch announced and headed toward the overly laden table himself and picked up a plate.
Johnny stood back for a moment and
surveyed the sight. Men from the
ranch and their families had also been invited – filling the room to capacity. It warmed him to see how his father had changed from that day
one year ago. They had both learned
a lot in the past year, and there was still a lot to be learned.
Bumping heads with Murdoch came less frequently as they settled into a
pattern of trust – not that they never bumped heads anymore – it was just
that now they would actually listen to each other when a conflict arose.
Swallowing hard, Johnny found himself thinking about that day at the Barkley ranch – the day when he had been willing to end it all. If he had – none of this would have been possible.
“You alright, Brother?” Scott had turned from the table with his plate filled to the brim. It concerned him that Johnny, whose appetite was legendary, had not made any movement toward the table. The younger man was still not completely recovered from his ordeal and was far too lean. Sam Jenkins had told them to encourage him to eat – but it wasn’t easy.
“I’m fine,” Johnny gave Scott a tentative smile.
“Then dig in, Boy!”
Scott handed his brother a plate and gave him a gentle push in the
direction of the table. Satisfied
that his brother was OK, Scott moved to talk with Jarrod about Joel and the
Johnny continued toward the table, but
didn’t stop there. Instead, he
escaped through the kitchen, leaving his empty plate on the kitchen table before
giving Maria a peck on the cheek for her efforts and ducking out the back door
to freedom. With the kitchen door closed behind him, he leaned against the sun
warmed stucco wall of the house. Whispering
a silent prayer of thanks that he had gotten away unnoticed, he turned towards
Teresa’s garden. Crowds made him
uncomfortable and celebrating an event that should have been like any other day
made him uneasy.
Taking refuge under an arbor, Johnny closed his eyes and took a couple of deep cleansing breaths. There was so much about being a part of a family that he didn’t know or understand, but he was willing to learn – and so was his family. It was hard to trust strangers, but after a year even Johnny had to admit that he had become connected to the four individuals who made up his family.
Over the past four months he had learned
to trust them with his life. The
wound to his left shoulder still ached, but Sam Jenkins confirmed that Howard
Merar had pulled off a miracle – repairing the damage Smith’s bullet had
done. For a month, he had daily
treatments to his back – preformed by Emma Davenport’s teacher – Dr.
Andrew Still. The osteopath had
worked tirelessly – manipulating the small bones in Johnny’s spine until
they were once again in perfect alignment.
It has been a slow and very painful process, fraught with many setbacks
– but in the end the doctor had given Johnny a clean bill of health.
The next step was learning how to walk again. Jelly was pulled away from his normal duties and was taught how to care for his young friend. Murdoch had wanted to be the caregiver, hoping the experience would bring him closer together with his son, but in the end Jelly had been the correct choice. Many an argument could be heard between the two friends as they fought for Johnny’s recovery. Murdoch’s role became that of peacemaker. Intervening on the occasions when the arguments became too heated. Scott and Teresa provided the daily contact Johnny needed to remind himself that he would have a life to return to once he had regained his health.
Johnny’s heart swelled as he admitted
to himself that he never would have made it without his family’s constant care
and attention. It was hard to think
he could have lost it all in that moment of despair back in Stockton.
For now, Johnny knew his future was looking bright again. He had his legs back and had rejoined the living – doing everything he had before the dragging. Smiling he remembered the night two weeks earlier when he had snuck into town only to have Scott follow him at a discrete distance. Johnny had one of the bordello girls purchase a bottle of champagne and deliver it to the alley doorway where Scott had taken up guard for the night; and what a night it had been! After four hours, Johnny had convinced himself and the ladies that he was the same as he had always been. It was like jumping the last hurdle in a horse race - and Johnny had felt like he had won the grand prize.
Johnny had not escaped the party unnoticed. Scott and Murdoch started to follow him from the house, but were intercepted by Victoria Barkley. “Let me. I have a few things to say to that young man,” Victoria’s tone of voice brooked no argument from the two men.
Taken aback, the two Lancers let her go.
“Where’s Johnny gone?” Jelly asked starting to follow Victoria from the house.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Jelly,” Scott warned, catching Jelly’s arm and swinging him back into the room. “I think she has something to say to my younger brother - and she would like to say it alone.”
“Well that’s a nice how-do-you-do! I been takin’ care ‘o that boy for four months and she
walks in ‘n just takes over! I
guess things are jus ‘bout back to normal….”
Jelly grumbled as he went to join Cipriano and Bernardo near the
“A penny for your thoughts?” a soft, feminine voice interrupted Johnny’s thoughts.
Johnny looked up into the smiling face
of Victoria Barkley. Uncomfortable
at being discovered, Johnny stood and accepted the plate of food she offered.
Awkwardly, he waited for her to sit on the small bench before he sat down
If Victoria took notice of his
discomfort she didn’t let him know. “I
have to say that you look much better than the last time I saw you.”
Johnny smiled and swallowed the bite of potato salad he had stuffed into his mouth. “Yes, Ma’am. You could say that I’ve finally got my life back.”
“And how are things going?”
Johnny sighed and placed the plate on his lap. “It’s a lot better than it was. At least now I know the Old Man cares…” Johnny paused when Victoria’s eyebrow shot up at the name Johnny often called his father. “I ain’t never gonna call him Pa – it just won’t happen. We’re all getting along better. It’s not always a smooth ride, but we’re ridin’ it together.”
Victoria nodded approvingly. “I do have something that I would like to ask…”
“Sure,” Johnny had taken another bite from his plate and chewed quietly while Victoria spoke.
“We made a deal and you broke it – why?”
The food lodged in Johnny’s throat and he coughed to clear it away. Turning, he looked into Victoria’s bright green eyes and knew that there would be no skirting this question. “Yes, Ma’am – I broke it.” There was no pride in the answer, just a statement of simple fact.
“I guess that maybe you’d have to live my life to understand, but I couldn’t see myself as a burden on no one… especially my family. That day at your ranch – I looked in that mirror and knew that I didn’t have a chance of ever walking again…”
“But here you are! I understand that you’ve returned to all your duties here on the ranch…”
“Yes, I have – and it wasn’t easy. I had to learn how to walk, to ride… to shoot…” Johnny’s eyes became deadly serious. “Until I could do all those things on my own I was placing my family in danger. As much as I want to be Johnny Lancer to someone else I’m always going to be Johnny Madrid. It’s a simple fact. There’s nothing Scott or Murdoch can do to prevent that from happening. The best thing I can do is to protect them from it…”
“Don’t they have a say in that?”
Johnny was about to answer, when a voice
sounded from behind the arbor. “Yes
we do,” Murdoch hadn’t planned on listening in, but since he had he
wouldn’t hide the fact. He
stepped around the growth to face his son.
“Johnny, there is no risk in our loving you.
There is no risk in our being around you.
Our greatest fear is that we’ll lose you – that’s something I
won’t let happen again! We’re a
family and family will always come first here at Lancer.
We don’t want you to protect us anymore than you want us to protect you
but it’s something that family does for each other – every day.”
There was an awkward silence between the two men and suddenly Victoria felt as if she was intruding. Without a word, she left the two men alone.
Johnny put the plate aside, his appetite
vanished. “You know what I did
this morning?” Johnny turned
toward the west to gaze at the brilliant colors of the sunset before they were
vanquished by the night sky. He
didn’t wait for Murdoch’s answer before proceeding.
“I thought about what the Padre told me about being a Pilgrim. I guess that I’ve been on a journey all my life - trying to
find my place in this world. I’ve
been someone’s baby, a son, a friend, an enemy.
I’ve done bad things and had bad things done to me – and for a long
time I felt that I didn’t deserve to live and that God must hate me…”
“… no…” Murdoch whispered with a slight shake of his head.
“I know that, now,” a smile lit
Johnny’s features. “I guess
that God just had it in his mind for me to come full circle to see the person
that I’ve always been – Johnny Lancer.”
Murdoch smiled and pulled his son into a warm embrace; the embrace that he should have given his son a year ago. “Welcome home, Son.”
As the stars started to appear in the night sky, Johnny accepted and returned embrace and the promise of love that came with it. Looking up, he could practically see Katonah and Nikita smiling down on him. His journey home had ended – and the journey to the rest of his life was just beginning.
Many thanks to all who hung with me during this production. Your words of encouragement and feedback kept me going.
A special thanks to my Beta Reader, cohort, mentor and tormentor (you know what I mean <eg>) – Linda Rae – the best writing partner a girl could ever have!