Epilogue for Lifeline
If you have not seen this episode, this won’t make much sense.
It had grown slightly dark in the Lancer Great Room but neither Johnny Lancer nor his father seemed to find it necessary to add any light. Murdoch, with a splitting headache and his stomach lurching from the concussion still affecting him after a close call with a bullet to the head, lay rather limply on the long Chesterfield. He was peering through the gloom at his son who was hovering over him, chewing his lower lip in the way that his father now knew indicated that he was uncomfortable with their current situation.
‘Why don’t you set down somewhere Son?’ the older man murmured. ‘You still expecting more trouble?’
Johnny shook his head. No—there was no need to expect further trouble now. McGovern was under arrest, Charlie was dead (what a ghastly death that had been too) and Anna Baral had quietly disappeared from her house on the edge of town. When the sheriff had asked Johnny if he wanted her ‘picked up’ and charged for her part in what had turned out to be a rather nasty conspiracy against the Lancer empire, the youngest Lancer had shaken his head then as well. If the ‘prosecution’ wanted her, then let them find her.
McGovern’s betrayal had left a sour taste in the mouth of all the Lancers as it was. Murdoch had considered him a good friend and advisor and his sons had taken him on their father’s valuation. They all felt badly let down by his behaviour and Johnny had been made to feel a fool. His ‘instincts’ had let him down and that bothered him nearly as much as the fact that Lancer had been under serious threat and he had not even realised it. Was he ‘getting soft’? Had almost three years of being ‘Lancer’ undermined his ‘edge’?
Where was Johnny Madrid when he was needed, these days?
‘I’m sorry...’ he took two or three paces away from and then back towards his recumbent father.
‘Oh I dunno—I just think I shoulda realised what the hell was going on –well, that something was going on.’ The tense shoulders rose and fell in their blue shirt. ‘It should never have come ---------‘
‘Johnny—it wasn’t your fault. Do you think that Scott is in anyway to blame for what happened—or Jelly—or Theresa?’
‘No of course not’
‘Then why are you. If any one should have had any suspicions it was me. If anyone should be held responsible for anything—its me. McGovern was a long term friend. Perhaps I chose to overlook…’
‘He seemed like a nice genuine guy.’ Johnny interrupted. ‘Why should you have been suspicious of him?’
‘Then why should you?’ Murdoch reached out and caught at the younger mans arm as he paced past him again. ‘There was no reason for suspicion and certainly no reason for you to feel that you were in anyway to blame. You’re rather too willing sometimes, to take on every problem as a personal affront. There’s no call for it, and certainly not this time’
‘You mean that?’ Some of the tension eased from the younger man’s face as he halted in response to the grip on his arm and with a sigh, he dropped to his haunches at the side of the couch and searched his fathers face anxiously. It had been a long time since they had been in overt disagreement—but every incident and every word of their past confrontations were etched forever, uncomfortably, in his brain.
Murdoch turned his sore head to study his younger son at such close quarters. Johnny looked drawn and tired and worried. The happenings of the past few months had been tough on everyone—but it hadn’t really occurred to the burly rancher that Johnny had ‘shouldered’ the blame. He suddenly realised that he hadn’t seen his son’s cheerful smile for far too long—but now was scarcely the time for joking.
He sought for a way to change the subject without seeming to be flippant.
A question he had long wanted answered surfaced in his mind and he wondered if now might be the time to raise it.
'I often wondered you know.’ Murdoch began, tentatively. ‘What you and your brother really thought of me, back in the beginning'
Johnny dropped his head, embarrassed and stared at his own fingers as he made circles in the weave of the carpet beneath him. 'You really wanna know?' his voice was soft and choky.
Murdoch was not that sure now, that he really did.
It hadn't been the best way to start a relationship that was for sure.
His thoughts went back to that momentous moment, in a momentous day, when he had first met his two adult sons for the very first time. The room had crackled with tension—and he, prize buffoon as he had been, had been bristling with a quite unaccountable hostility, which both of his sons had mirrored. Scott had seemed merely disinterested in him and Johnny had met hostility with hostility. Or had he? There had been a moment when he had thought he had seen—what? An expression of longing? But it had vanished almost at once, masked or replaced by insolence and arrogance.
'I don't know.' He said somewhat dubiously, then, questioningly. 'Do I?' He placed an encouraging hand on his sons shoulder.
Johnny acknowledged and accepted the contact by shifting his weight slightly so that he moved even closer to the man beside him.
‘Well.’ He began hesitatingly, 'I can't speak for Scott, but frankly…’ he paused and Murdoch heard him swallow and then he looked up and met his father’s worried eyes with the glimmering of a smile in his own.
'You scared me half to death'.
Murdoch tightened the fingers he had rested on his sons shoulder. Intimidation had been something of his original intention, but he had never thought that he had anything like succeeded. He had not actually wanted his sons fear of course, but his respect and some sort of filial obedience and it had taken some bad times and some adjustment of attitude from the both of them, to get to where they were today.
His son’s admission now though, made him more sad than glad.
'I'm sorry about that.' He said with genuine regret. 'That was never my intention. I would have thought though,’ He added, trying for a lighter tone, ‘that you would have faced down much scarier folks than me.'
The dark head sank again.
'A few.' Johnny mumbled. 'But—they weren't—they weren't m-my father.’ He gulped and shifted his weight under his fathers hand but still made no attempt to evade it. It was obvious that he had something else to add, so Murdoch waited silently until Johnny continued. ‘I used to think I hated you.' He shook his head slowly as if trying to make sense of his own thoughts. 'I really did think that I wanted to, ya know, kill you. I pl-planned it, several times—in my head you know, but n-now, I don't think I could 'a done it, even before you saved my hide I mean—
'Johnny, don't…’ Murdoch could feel the tension in the younger mans body, under his fingers and tried to make them feel reassuring but his boy was not to be stopped now it seemed.
'I never thanked you for that did I'. Johnny ploughed on. 'If you really had given up on me, really hadn't wanted me, like I thought, I'd be d-dead now. Long dead and we would never have met. I guess that really was my lucky day huh?'
'I guess we were both pretty lucky that day.' The rancher responded, slowly. 'I wish—I truly wish, that you hadn't had to go through that. It must have been…’ He paused, frankly unable to think of a word that could truly have described what it must have been. The mere thought of it still scared HIM silly and he hadn't even known anything of it, at the time. His boy, about to face a firing squad. Even now and even though it had never happened, the thought could still send the chills down his spine. Johnny's too, if his shudders were anything to go by.
He let go his sons quivering shoulder and shifted his hand to caress the bowed dark head instead, in silent benediction for their 'luck'. Johnny squirmed down from his haunches to a more comfortable position on the floor and there they remained, unmoving and silent, for a few moments, both of them relishing the contact, if not the memories, that they were sharing. Then, almost as if something had physically jolted them apart they pulled away from each other and Johnny rolled away, to his feet, finding his voice again as he arose, to stand with his back to the sofa and the man lying on it.
'I guess that was a mite more scary than even you ever were.' He admitted, with what might have been a shaky laugh or a suppressed sob. Murdoch went for the shaky laugh option and tried again to lighten the tension.
'Were?' He demanded, in mock stern tones. 'You mean I don't scare you any more?'
But Johnny was having none of it. He had had a bad week and his sense of humour was still awry.
'You scared me the other day.' He blurted out, in dead earnest this time and he swung about sharply so that he was looking down at the older man on the sofa. Their eyes met, young and old, different shades of blue and both seeking the same reassurance from the other. 'I thought you were killed!’ Johnny went on almost desperately. 'That damn Baral woman had us all so—so mixed up, playing her darned mind games with us all. I KNEW she was a phoney.' He clenched a fist and gestured angrily. ‘I knew it. But she did it so damn well...’ for a moment, his eyes glittered, even in the half-light, with outrage and he looked truly furious. The so called 'seer' had fooled them all. Firstly with her clever 'fortune telling' and then with her spurious sympathy and he was angry, both with her and with himself, for being such a fool.
'Johnny.' His father’s voice was unusually gentle. 'I wasn't killed. And you did a grand job of sorting out the rest of their nonsense. There’s no point in getting worked up over it now, is there'.
Johnny threw his hands in the air exasperatedly. He wasn't exactly sure why he was still so annoyed over the incident. It wasn't the lost cattle or even the lost crew members, or even Charlie's betrayal and rather ghastly death. Being choked to death by cyanide gas was a pretty dreadful way to have to pay, even for treachery. Not even the fact that Angus McGovern another 'old and trusted friend' had been at the back of the whole incident. It was that woman, with her huge dark eyes and her alluring voice. She had played him for a sucker and he had fallen for it and, he had to admit it, for her as well.
'I could do with a drink.’ Murdoch tried a different tactic and pretended to begin to struggle to his feet. This despondent son was not to his liking at all. It worked. Johnny rounded on him fiercely.
'You stay put.’ He commanded. 'I'll get it. Malt?'
'Please.' Murdoch sank back into his place. 'Better make it a double.' He added, deliberately provocative.
'I don't think so.' Johnny said sternly. 'You had a head injury remember'
'I remember.' Murdoch acknowledged meekly, with a wry smile, raising a hand to the bandage around his still aching head. He had been very lucky. He was certainly meant to have been killed.
Johnny’s agitation at that thought both pleased and upset him, at one and the same time. From their very rocky start, bristling with defiance and hurt and suspicion, had developed a closeness that he had never dared to dream of, in the beginning. Scott had been just as hard, in his own, very different way and still even now, Murdoch was not sure that he had in fact, broken through all the barriers there. But Johnny had let down HIS guard in a way that thrilled his father to the heart. His son, his long-lost, precious son, had been returned to him against overwhelming odds—and, although the words would probably never be said, they had learnt to love each other.
He realised that Johnny was now standing over him with two tumblers of whiskey.
'My turn.' Johnny said, handing one over but not quite letting it go so that their warm fingers were touching, against the cool glass. Murdoch raised his head, puzzled.
'My turn to ask a question.' Johnny smiled down at him and relinquished his hold on the tumbler.
'Why not.' The rancher took a revivifying sip of the amber fluid before he answered but his heart was thudding uncomfortably. Johnny rarely asked questions.
'What did YOU think?' The younger man now perched himself on the arm of the sofa near his fathers raised feet. 'When you first found out, about Madrid?'
There! He had finally dredged up the courage to ask. For the first time he thought he could handle the answer. Whatever it was. He knew now, in his heart, that he was secure in his fathers love. Even so, he was holding his breath on the answer as he met the older mans gaze.
To his surprise, Murdoch was almost smiling at him. He had been expecting a scowl or a frown because if there was one thing that Murdoch Lancer still seemed reluctant to discuss it was the past. Especially his.
'What?' Johnny watched the man warily, over the rim of his tumbler.
'Well--you know.’ There was just the hint of amusement in the older mans voice. 'I think, if I remember rightly, that I thought you'd be a damned useful man to have on my side, in a fight—and you know what.’ Murdoch struggled to sit up and raised his glass in a toast. ‘I was absolutely right'.
And the two tumblers clinked lightly together as father and son laughed easily together once again.