Thanks to Darla P. for encouraging me to write this myself. Also thanks to Maddie M. for volunteering to beta for a novice. Both of you ladies helped so much!
Scott Lancer didn’t know if he’d ever get used to the west. Everything was so intense here, unlike Boston. The west wasn’t quite lawless anymore, yet, men rode with the law to help find justice. And in the west that meant dust, the hot glare of the sun and long hours in the saddle that wore a man out. Scott looked around him and saw Johnny and Val up ahead slowly trying to find the rustler’s tracks. He, Murdoch and two hands from the ranch, Enrique and Hank, followed a short distance behind.
Yesterday Enrique and Hank had gone up to the north pasture to check on the herd and fence line and had discovered signs of a recent camp. They had also noticed that the small herd there had gotten much smaller. Knowing that no one else from the ranch was supposed to have been there the past week, they had returned home to let the Patron know. Today, along with Val, the men had gone back to the camp and started tracking the rustlers. There was no way Murdoch Lancer was going to let someone take something belonging to him.
I guess in a way, Scott thought to himself, some things aren’t so different. He’d seen for himself how ruthless his grandfather could be if he thought someone was trying to take a bite out of his business ventures. He laughed as a thought crossed his mind. Of course, grandfather wouldn’t exactly ride a horse in the hot sun all day to try to catch the culprits.
“Hey Johnny, see anything yet?” yelled Val. “Johnny, ya hearing me boy?”
Johnny finally looked up and across to Val. Even from his position several yards behind, Scott could see that Johnny hadn’t really been listening.
“I think they are heading toward the mesa”, Johnny finally answered. “ Tracks seem to be going that way. I reckon they realized their camp had been seen and decided to get going. I don’t think they’re too far ahead of us now.”
Scott looked over to Murdoch. He could see that he wanted to say something so he pulled on the reins and walked Charlie over to Murdoch.
“What’s going on with Johnny?” asked Murdoch while pointing his head toward Johnny. “He hasn’t been himself the past couple of weeks. Has he said anything to you?”
Scott looked ahead to Johnny. Murdoch and he were almost behind him but far enough back that they wouldn’t be overheard.
“I don’t know, sir. He hasn’t said anything to me but something does seem to be bothering him. Sometimes I’ve noticed that he gets this look like the whole world is sitting on his shoulders.”
“That boy!” Murdoch let out a sigh. “I wish he wouldn’t keep everything in. I don’t know whether to worry about whether someone has come to call him out or if he’s thinking about bolting again.”
Scott shook his head in agreement. “When this is over, I’ll try to talk to him. But you know, sometimes I think talking to a cactus would be less prickly.”
The conversation over, both men continued to ride in silence, each to their own thoughts. Scott tried to mentally go through everything that had happened the past two weeks. He really couldn’t think of anything that had happened out of the ordinary. But there was definitely something on Johnny’s mind.
He didn’t seem mad or upset, but…pensive. Yes, that was the word. Johnny did what he needed to do at the ranch, but he seemed to be wrestling with something inside.
Scott hadn’t mentioned this to his father, but Scott had heard Johnny late at night calling out to a “Tony”. Johnny frequently had nightmares and sometimes they were loud enough for Scott to hear in the next room. But until lately, he’d never heard a specific name. Now, the name “Tony” kept coming up.
Suddenly, a flash of sunlight from the rocks ahead caught Scott’s attention. He looked up toward Johnny to see if he had noticed and saw that his brother seemed to be staring into the distance without really looking. With sudden clarity, Scott knew what the flash was… sunlight hitting metal.
“Johnny, look out!” he shouted.
Johnny jerked his head up and pulled back on Barranca’s reins. as a shot rang out from the rocks ahead. Barranca reared up and screamed and started bucking. It caught Johnny unaware and he was knocked off the horse. He hit the ground hard and quickly tried to roll out of the way of Barranca’s hooves.
Seeing that Johnny was down and unprotected, Scott urged Charlie forward until he was in front of Johnny. Murdoch followed and placed his horse behind Johnny. Together they protected Johnny until he could get up . Val and the others were shooting back and after seeing that Johnny was in good hands, ran their horses forward toward the rocks.
“Son, you okay?” asked Murdoch.
“Yea, I’m fine,” answered Johnny.
He saw how Scott and Murdoch had placed themselves to protect him. Even though he was mad at himself for someone getting the drop on him, he appreciated his family watching his back.
“Looks like Barranca got grazed. It isn’t too bad, but I don’t want to ride him hard”, answered Johnny. “Hope Val and the others get them.”
“Don’t worry, son”, Murdoch answered. “ Let’s move on up.”
As the three headed toward the mesa, they were met by Enrique riding toward them. “We got two but one got away.”
The three Lancer men followed Enrique to where the gun battle had started. They got off their horses and walked over to Val. They could see the two bodies of the rustlers laying where they had fallen. Val was searching through their saddlebags. He pulled out a couple of brands. At least now they knew for sure they had gotten who they had come for.
“You okay Johnny?” asked Val.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Bullet grazed Barranca though. He’s going to be okay, just will have to take it easy. You know me, my head’s too hard to be hurt for just a fall from a horse. You find anything on them Val?” asked Johnny.
“No, just these brands. Do any of you recognize them?”
The three men looked at the two on the ground.
“Nope, answered Johnny, “can’t say as I do.”
Val looked up. “I don’t guess we need to go after the other one. I hate letting one go, but it’s going to be dark soon. Can’t track then. Johnny, you need to get Barranca looked after, you can’t go after them and no offense to you others, but me and Johnny are the best trackers. I need to get these bodies back to town and by the time we get fresh mounts, that last rustler will be long gone.”
“Well, Val”, said Murdoch, “it sticks in my craw to let even one go who dared to steal Lancer cattle, but I suppose you’re right. We’ll go ahead and bunk down tonight and I’ll tell the hands to keep their eyes open in case this guy shows back up.”
“Murdoch, I don’t reckon you’ll have to worry about that one guy anymore. After seeing what happened to his friends, he’s probably long gone. Most rustlers are cowards anyway”, shrugged Val.
The men decided they had about an hour before dark and decided to get away from the rocks and camp out in the open. No need to take the chance the last rustler might double back and it would be easier to keep watch that night in an open area rather than in these rocks. They loaded the two rustlers onto their horses and headed out, back toward Lancer.
That night in camp, the men ate a simple meal and relaxed around the fire. The night was quiet with only the sounds of the crickets and the sounds of their horses bedding down for the night. It had been a hard day and no one really felt like talking. After eating and cleaning up, everyone got out their bedrolls and settled down to sleep. Scott had first watch.
As the hours went by, Scott turned his thoughts toward Johnny again. He shook his head and wondered again how someone he hadn’t even known existed six months ago could become so important to him. He didn’t know what was bothering Johnny, but he wasn’t about to let his new found little brother leave again without putting up a fight.
Scott looked over to where Johnny was sleeping. Johnny had spread out his bedroll a little ways from the others.
Even around a campfire, my little brother keeps to himself. I wonder if he’s ever really trusted someone enough to let them in?
With his thoughts on his brother, Scott noticed that Johnny was beginning to toss restlessly in his sleep. Knowing the signs, he quietly walked over to him. He knew that Johnny wouldn’t appreciate the others seeing him vulnerable and planned to wake Johnny up before the others notice his nightmare.
And how in the world am I going to wake him out of a deep sleep without him shooting me?
Fortunately for Scott, Johnny woke himself up with a shout, “Tony, don’t!”
“Hey brother, you okay?” asks Scott.
Johnny sat up and rubbed his hand over his face as if to wipe away a memory.
“Yeah, Boston, I’m okay. Going to check on Barranca.”
Johnny stood up and walked to the edge of the camp and whistled for Barranca. The palomino walked over to Johnny and nudged his chest with his nose. Johnny absent mindedly rubbed Barranco’s velvety nose and let out a deep sigh.
“Johnny, what’s wrong?” asked Scott. “I know you missed seeing the sunlight that hit that gun earlier. And don’t say it’s nothing. Whatever is distracting you could have gotten you killed today! Talk to me brother!”
For a minute the only sound was the jingling of Barannca’s halter. Finally, Johnny let out a deep sigh.
“You’re right Scott, it ain’t so much a problem as it is a decision I have to make. I’ve been here six months and guess I can’t put it off any longer.”
“What kind of decision do you have to make that is so hard Johnny? Is it about Tony?” asked Scott.
Johnny looked up at Scott in surprise. “Where did you hear that name?” demanded Johnny.
“You’ve been crying out to Tony in your sleep Johnny. Who is this Tony that he would be on your mind so much?” Scott questioned.
Johnny looked down at his feet and scuffed the toe of his boot in the dirt. “Someone I met long ago right before my mother died. I’m not sure where Tony is now.”
Scared of the answer, Scott asked the question everyone has had in the back of their minds, “Are you going to leave?”
Johnny was real quiet. Scott found himself holding his breath for Johnny’s answer. “Maybe. I still have some thinkin’ to do.”
Scott was taken aback and let his breath out in a whoosh. Worrying about something that might happen and hearing it said are two different things.
“Johnny, listen to me. Why would you even consider it? You have a family now. You are a part of Lancer now. I know it has been hard for you to adjust to this kind of living, but you are doing fine. Is it Madrid? I know you still have to worry about your past catching up to your future, but can’t you see that no one can predict what will happen? You have people who care for you and will watch your back. Just like today, you aren’t alone anymore. Please think about that. I just found my little brother, I don’t want to lose you now.”
It was so quiet, Scott began to wonder if he had even gotten through to Johnny when finally, Johnny stopped petting Barranca and gave a nod.
“I promise brother, I’ll think about all you’ve said and I won’t leave unless I’ve talked to you and explained. Right now, Scott, that is the best I can do. You best go onto bed, it’s almost time for my watch now and I can’t sleep anyway.“
With that, Johnny gave Barranca a final slap and walked away to the fire.
Okay, little brother, thought Scott, but this conversation isn’t over yet.
It was another warm day. Fall would begin in another month but it seemed so far away. Scott took a moment to adjust his hat against the glare of the sun. Johnny had been working since early morning on repairing the fence line that had been torn up by the rustlers. It had been two days since they’d returned with the two rustlers that had been killed. They never did pick up the trail of the third man.
Scott looked ahead and saw that Johnny had noticed him coming. He put his shovel down and taking off his gloves, walked over to Scott as he dismounted.
“Murdoch send ya to check up on me big brother?” drawled Johnny.
“No little brother, I finished my chores early and thought I’d see if you needed help.” Scott ground tied his horse and reached for his saddlebag.
“Well, I appreciate that, but I think I can handle repairing a fence by myself. Don’t need no nursemaid,” huffed Johnny.
Scott stopped opening his saddlebag. “Well, I guess I’ll have to eat this chocolate cake Teresa packed for our lunch all by myself. Guess I forgot to mention I brought lunch too?”
Johnny grinned, “That’s okay Scott, wouldn’t want you to eat by your lonesome.”
Scott got the food out of his saddlebag and both men sat in the shade of an old gnarled tree. It was still hot, but the shade and cool, fresh water Scott brought in the canteens sure helped.
As Scott talked about the latest he’d heard from Cipriano about the coming fall roundup, he noticed that Johnny had that pensive look again and he knew that Johnny hadn’t heard a thing he’d said.
“Still thinking about your problem Johnny? Sometimes it helps to talk it out with someone.”
Johnny was quiet for a moment, let out a big sigh then turned to Scott. “You ever play dominos Scott?” he asked.
Scott was taken aback, that’s sure not what he thought Johnny would say. His yes was drug out as he looked at Johnny wondering where this was going.
Johnny continued. “One time when I was little, I was working in a cantina sweeping the floor to earn some money. There was this man there who liked to play dominos. Now that day he didn’t have anyone to play with, so he sets up all his dominos standing up in a line. He had that line curve all around the table. He didn’t seem to mind me watching, I thought it was kinda interesting to see a grown man play like that. When he was finished he told me to watch. Well, that old man took his finger and pushed the first domino over. It fell on the one behind it and suddenly they all started falling one at a time. Wasn’t no stopping it once that first one tipped over.”
Johnny quit talking and Scott wasn’t too sure what to say. Then Johnny started up again.
“See Scott, I have a decision to make and it’s kinda like them dominos. Once I start, this decision is going to effect a lot others. It won’t be something that can stand alone.”
With a sinking heart, Scott asked Johnny, “Are you leaving?”
Johnny ducked his head and had a slight grin on his face when he looked back up at Scott. “Not at the moment.”
He got up and took the last apple and walked over to Barranca. Scott followed hoping that Johnny would continue talking.
After feeding Barranca, Johnny reached up and started patting him. Scott closed his eyes, Lord, give me strength. He knew that what he said to Johnny could either keep his brother here or drive him away and he didn’t want that!
“Look Johnny, it’s like we talked about the other day. When Barranca threw you off, Murdoch and I only had one thought and that was to watch out for you until you were able to take care of yourself. Whether you go or stay, we’ll always feel that way. It’s called being a family.”
Johnny gave a nod and turned to face Scott. “I’ve been thinking about that. I do worry about staying in one place for so long. Because of me, it could make everyone at Lancer a target. But ya know, the other day, that didn’t have anything to do with Madrid. I guess I’ve been thinking about what could happen because of the past, I didn’t figure that something could happen just being a rancher.”
Johnny gave Barranca a slap on his neck and turned around and looked straight in Scott’s eyes.
“I know that you’ll watch my back and what belongs to me. I guess that here on Lancer this has been the safest I’ve been in awhile. I can’t promise forever, but right now I plan on staying.”
Scott stared hard at Johnny trying to read his eyes. He wasn’t quite sure but it almost seemed that there was a flicker of hope in Johnny’s eyes.
Afraid to say too much, he clapped Johnny on his shoulder. “I’m glad brother. Now let’s get finished up here so we can go home.”
A gentle breeze played with the curtains in the open bedroom window. With it came the sounds and smells of a ranch waking up. Soon the early morning breeze would be gone, burned away by the hot summer sun.
Johnny lay in bed enjoying the welcome relief if only for a short while. He had a lot to do today and knew he should be getting up. For once he had had a good nights sleep. He thought about the decision he’d made yesterday and smiled. Yep, he had no doubt it was the right thing to do.
Deciding he better get on up, he untangled himself from the covers and stood up. He stretched and walked over to the washstand. As he shaved he looked at himself in the mirror and wondered at his reflection.
He knew that he had changed some in the six months he’d been at the ranch. Madrid was and would be always there waiting for when he was needed. But Johnny Lancer, now that was someone who was taking shape before his eyes. He briefly wondered if those who knew him before would notice and approve of the changes.
After getting dressed, he went to the trunk in his closet and got out some of his “listening” money he’d kept back. He put it in a small leather pouch he kept next to his belt and walked out the door.
He walked next door and listened at his brother’s door. “Hey Scott, you up yet?” he called out as he walked into Scott’s room.
“Come on in little brother. You’re up early.”
“Got a busy day today. Figured we’d head out early to town for those supplies Murdoch wants before it gets too hot.”
“Well Johnny, if it gets too hot we can always get a cold beer before we head back home,” answered Scott.
Johnny got up and walked to the door. As he walked out the door he said over his shoulder, “Hey, I planned on doing that whether it got hot or not!”
Teresa and Maria heard Johnny’s spurs jingle before he ever reached the kitchen.
“Breakfast isn’t ready yet, Johnny,” said Teresa as she rolled out biscuits.
Johnny walked over to Maria and tried to grab a slice of bacon she had just taken up from the skillet.
“Juanito!” she said as she slapped his hand.
He stuffed the piece he’d managed to grab in his mouth and turned to Teresa.
“That’s okay, Teresa, I got a letter to write before we go to town. You reckon Murdoch has paper and envelopes in his desk?”
“Yes, it’s in the top left drawer. Oh, and Johnny, when you come back , would you bring me my shopping list I left on the desk?”
“Sure miel,” said Johnny as he walked toward the Great Room.
Scott and Murdoch came down the stairs a few minutes later as Teresa and Maria set breakfast at the table.
“Where’s Johnny?” asked Murdoch as he reached for a biscuit.
“I’m here,” answered Johnny as he walked into the kitchen. “Here’s your list Teresa.”
As everyone ate, Murdoch told the brothers what he needed for them to do today.
“Boys,” Murdoch called out as Johnny and Scott started to leave. “Don’t stay too long in the saloon after you get those supplies loaded.”
Johnny looked at Scott. “How did he know what we were going to do?”
Scott started to answer when Teresa popped her head around the corner. “Scott, don’t let Johnny stay too long in the saloon. I need some of those things you’re getting to finish supper tonight.”
The look on Johnny’s face made Scott bust out laughing.
“Come on,” he said, clapping a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Looks like everyone has you pegged.”
As they walked over to the buckboard that was waiting for them, Johnny shrugged. “Ya’ll think you’re so smart and have me all figured out. Well, I can tell ya now, there’s a heap you don’t know. I just might surprise ya someday.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that Johnny. I don’t doubt that at all,” said Scott as he flicked the reins and turned the buckboard toward Morro Coyo
The ride didn’t take long as the brothers passed the time talking. Once in town, Scott pulled the wagon in front of the store. After setting the handbrake, he and Johnny walked into the store and handed their lists to Senor Baldemero, the store owner. There was a lot to load into the wagon and both men worked quickly. That cold beer was calling to them.
“Hey, Scott. Could you go get the mail? I’ve got something I need to do. I’ll meet you over to the saloon.”
Johnny didn’t wait for an answer and walked off. Scott followed him with his eyes wondering what Johnny was up to.
His eyes widened when he saw Johnny walk over to the Mission church and go in. “Now what is that about?” he wondered.
An hour later found Scott nursing a cold beer, still waiting for his brother. He’d finished everything he had needed to do and after deciding not to follow Johnny, he had been waiting for him in the saloon. He looked up when he heard the familiar sound of Johnny’s spurs as he pushed the batwings of the saloon forward and walked over to the bar.
“Give me a beer, Bart.”
Johnny reached for his money pouch to pay and when he discovered that it was empty, he called over to Scott. “Got any money brother?”
Scott stared at Johnny then sighed. He got up and went over to the bar and paid for Johnny’s beer. “Don’t you ever have any money?” he asked.
Both men walked back to the table and as they sat down, Scott looked at Johnny with a raised eyebrow.
“What ‘cha looking at me like that?” asked Johnny. “Do I have something on my face?”
“No, I’ve just been trying to figure you out today. You seem……happy? Quite a change from the bear we’ve all had to live with the past month. Anything to do with you going over to the church? And why were you at the church for over an hour?”
“Well ya know Scott , from what I heard about your trip to town last Saturday night, seems you might need to spend some time in church yourself,” laughed Johnny.
“In other words,” said Scott after taking a sip of beer, “you’re not going to tell me.”
“Nope,” said Johnny as he finished his beer. He stood up and grabbed his hat. “Come on, we need to get going.”
As he and Scott walked over to the loaded wagon, Johnny paused before climbing up.
“I’ll tell ya this much. You remember that story I told you yesterday about the dominos? Well, I guess you could say that I just set them up on the table.”
Fall had finally arrived in the valley. Johnny and several of the ranch hands were up at the northern line shacks preparing them for winter. Scott had stayed behind to make repairs on the windmill. Unfortunately it required a piece of pipe to finish the repairs. Enrique had been sent to town to pick it up from the blacksmith’s. Scott had decided to use this down time to help Murdoch with the ledgers. They were both hard at work when suddenly they heard a knock at the front door. As Maria answered the door, Scott could hear Enrique ask for him.
“In here,” he called.
Enrique walked into the great room, nodded to Scott and handed Murdoch a bundle.
“I picked up the mail while I was in town.”
“Did you get that iron piece?”
“Yes, Mr. Lancer, I did. Had to wait a bit so I went over to the saloon to have a beer. Look Scott, Mr. Lancer. I know Johnny isn’t here right now but I thought someone ought to know.”
“Know what?” asked Scott.
“Well, Bart wanted Johnny to know that earlier someone had been in the saloon asking questions about Johnny. He asked me to pass the word.”
Murdoch jumped up from behind the desk and strode over to Enrique.
“Who was it? Was it a gunfighter?”
“Well, Bart said it wasn’t anyone he knew. Said it was hard to see the kid’s face.”
“Kid?” asked Murdoch.
“Yeah, Bart figured it was a kid. He had a slight build and was shorter than Johnny. Wore a black duster and a hat pulled down low. Bart said it was hard to see his face.”
“Did this ‘kid’ say anything else?”
“Bart said he was asking for Johnny Lancer and he understood the Lancer ranch was around here and wanted directions. That’s all. Well anyway, I thought you should know.”
“Thanks Enrique. Tell the boys to keep a lookout just in case.”
As Enrique walked out, Scott walked over and started to pour himself a drink.
“You want one?” he asked Murdoch.
Murdoch nodded and Scott poured another. As he handed it to Murdoch, he spoke up.
“You know, it might be just an old friend of Johnny’s or one of his ‘strays’ he’s picked up.”
Murdoch took a drink.
“Or it could be something more. Johnny doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to his past friends looking for him. Look at what happened when Wes showed up.”
“Well that’s true, sir,” answered Scott. “But this sounds like someone a lot younger and he was looking for Johnny Lancer, not Madrid.”
“There is that Scott but just because this kid is young, it doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. Look how young Johnny was when he first started out.”
“Not much we can do about it now except be on the lookout. I’ll tell Teresa to keep close to the house until Johnny gets back.”
Murdoch went back to his desk to continue working on the ledgers while Scott went to the kitchen to talk to Teresa. Each man had the same thought. Who was the kid and what did he want with Johnny?
Later that evening as Scott was walking back to the house from the barn, he noticed a rider coming up to the house. He walked over to the front as the rider stopped his horse. Looking at the slight rider, hat pulled low and wearing a black duster, Scott knew this was the kid from the saloon.
“Can I help you?”
“Evening. I’m looking for Johnny Lancer. I was told he was here,” said the stranger. The voice was soft and low with a slight Spanish accent.
Scott was surprised at the quiet voice of the kid. Although he couldn’t see the kid’s face well, the voice sounded young. The slump of his shoulders and the dusty, tired condition of his horse, let Scott know that whoever this was, they’d traveled a long way.
“Johnny isn’t here now but he’ll be back tomorrow. I’m Scott Lancer.”
The kid let out a sigh and dropped his head. Another sigh and he tilted his chin up toward Scott.
“Just like Johnny,” thought Scott.
Before he knew it, he heard himself asking the kid if he wanted to bunk down in the bunkhouse for the night. He wouldn’t have been able to explain it to Murdoch, but for some reason he didn’t feel that this kid was a threat.
“Thanks Mr. Lancer, but I guess I’ll find somewhere to camp tonight. I’ll catch Johnny later.”
The stranger started to pull away when Scott found himself wanting to help the kid.
“Listen, if you go back up the hill and take the west fork, follow that trail and you’ll come to a nice meadow with a pond. Good place to camp tonight.”
The kid was still a minute then nodded his head. “Thanks.”
He and the tired horse started to ride away.
“Hey, wait!” shouted Scott. “Who do I tell Johnny is looking for him?” The kid stopped and turned around in his saddle to look back at Scott. Scott wondered if the kid was going to answer, he seemed to be thinking about it so hard. Finally the kid seemed to give himself a little nod as if he had debated to himself whether to answer Scott.
“Tony. Tell Johnny that Tony is looking for him.”
Scott inwardly winced. He knew Murdoch would blow up when he told him about the visitor. Right now he wasn’t sure if Murdoch was mad that Tony had found Lancer or if he was mad that Scott let him make camp on Lancer land.
“Well, I did invite him to sleep in the bunkhouse tonight but he turned me down.”
“How could you be so irresponsible Scott? What if this is a killer? What if Johnny leaves over this person like he did with Wes? What if……..”
As Murdoch continued his tirade, Scott thought how strange it was that he was the focus of Murdoch’s ire. Usually Johnny was the one that blew Murdoch’s fuse.
Too bad Johnny can’t just learn to tune him out like I do. Since I’m usually the peacemaker, I wonder who kept Johnny in check before he met me. Johnny Madrid might have ice running through his veins, but Johnny Lancer can ignite quicker than dynamite.
Scott decided that he’d listened to enough and interrupted Murdoch’s tantrum.
“Sir, I know you’re really worried about Johnny leaving with this kid but I told you about the decision he made last month. I believe him when he says he isn’t going anywhere. This past month he’s been more relaxed and seems happy. I really think we don’t have anything to worry about. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going up to bed. Good night.”
And Scott left Murdoch just staring at him as he walked out of the great room.
Create a diversion, strike and retreat. Best way to handle Murdoch I’ve discovered. I’ve got to tell Johnny.
There was definitely tension the next morning during breakfast. While nothing was said about the previous day’s visitor, it was obviously on everyone’s mind.
The rest of the day dragged while everyone waited for Johnny to come home.
Scott went over the past month in his mind. He hated a puzzle with missing pieces and he had the feeling that somewhere he had missed something.
There had been those nightmares involving this ‘Tony’. Johnny never writes letters and certainly doesn’t visit a priest in the middle of the day. Then there’s that bit about setting up the dominos.
Hell, the ladies at the saloon had even been complaining to him that they hadn’t had the pleasure of Johnny’s company the past month. What could it all mean?
Finally toward late afternoon, Scott heard shouts in the yard. As he walked outside he could see Johnny riding Barranca through the arch. He was ahead of the wagon driven by Frank and Miguel.
Scott walked over to the barn to meet Johnny.
“Everything go okay?”
“Yea, Scott. We got all of the line shacks on that part of Lancer ready for winter. Everything okay here?”
As Johnny swung off Barranca, he started to lead him into the barn.
“Well you did have a visitor yesterday. Someone came to the ranch looking for Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny stopped leading Barranca and spun around to face Scott.
“He said his name was Tony.”
A myriad of emotions played across Johnny’s face. Worry and anxiety quickly changed to excitement and joy.
Brother, it’s a good thing you have Madrid to help you play poker. You’d never be able to bluff without him.
It didn’t really surprise Scott when without a word, Johnny jumped back onto Barranca and started to ride out.
Almost as an afterthought, he swung Barranca back to Scott.
“Where did Tony go?”
“I offered the bunkhouse for the night but got turned down. Told him about the pond to the west of the road.”
Johnny turned Barranca once again and in a flash both man and horse were flying back under the arch away from the hacienda.
Guess I’d better tell Murdoch and Teresa not to expect Johnny for supper. I’d bet my share of the ranch he won’t be back.
Scott slowly walked toward the house.
But for how long?
It had been two long days since Johnny had left. No one was talking but the tension in the house was thick enough to cut.
Earlier that morning, Scott had ridden out. He’d told Murdoch he needed to check some fence line but he knew that he wasn’t fooling Murdoch or himself. Checking the fence line was just a ploy to see if he could find Johnny.
He’d found the remains of a campsite by the pond but it was old. Barranca’s hoof prints and those of another horse trailed away across the meadow.
Obviously Johnny had caught up with Tony but they hadn’t stayed there.
He had tried to follow them but lost the trail over by the mesa. Deciding that he couldn’t do more, he’d headed back home.
The look on his face when he’d faced Murdoch had told Murdoch without words that Johnny, along with Tony were still missing.
Finally late that evening, Johnny rode in with the kid. Frank came out from the bunkhouse when he heard them ride in. Both Johnny and the kid grabbed their saddlebags and let Frank lead the horses toward the barn.
Murdoch, Scott and Teresa looked up from their spots in the great room as Johnny and Tony entered in through the French doors. They dropped their saddlebags by the doors and both walked together until they faced Scott and Murdoch.
Worry over where Johnny had been the past two days hadn’t helped Murdoch’s mood and he stood up and quickly began to yell at Johnny.
“Where have you been? Don’t you know we have a ranch to run and you running off without a word left us short-handed? When are you going to grow up boy and become responsible?” The longer Murdoch continued the louder he became.
Scott looked at Johnny and saw him clinch his fists. The veins in his neck stood out as he clinched his teeth in fury.
Johnny finally had enough. He took off his hat and slapped it against his thigh. “Look old man, I haven’t been a boy since I was ten. I have responsibilities you nothing about. Mierda, I know this ranch is important and there’s work to do. You’ve drummed that into my head enough times these past six months. But let me tell you, sometimes there are other things more important than this ranch that a man has to take care of. Something you should have learned yourself years ago. Don’t make me regret my decision to stay.”
As Murdoch and Johnny yelled, Scott looked at the kid who came in with Johnny. Throughout all this shouting, he stood quietly beside Johnny, watching Murdoch.
“Murdoch! Shouldn’t you talk to Johnny when you don’t have an audience? Instead of accusing Johnny, why don’t you just ask him where he’s been and you two can go at each other another time.”
Murdoch took a deep breath and swallowed, trying to get his temper under control. He glanced at the person standing next to Johnny. He had been so intent on calling the tune that he’d really forgotten someone else was there.
“Well Johnny, why don’t you introduce us to your friend?”
Tony looked up at Johnny as he gave him a small nod. As Tony took off his duster, Johnny grabbed his hat. Scott and Teresa moved to stand next to Murdoch and their eyes widened as they got their first good look at Tony.
“Everyone I’d like to introduce you to Antonia Lancer, my wife. Toni, this is my family.”