Rated PG - Some strong language.
Heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Lacy, a superb beta.
A big thank you to Taz and Jules for all their help and support.
clock’s chimes resonated through the great room, slicing into the tense
silence as if to berate the two men present for wasting precious time. Murdoch
Lancer glanced quickly at the treasured time piece then back at his son. Taking
the bull, and this particular ‘bull’, by the horns was not a good way to
start the day, but he hoped it would bring an end to the problems of the last
few days. The Lancer patriarch also hoped that the last few minutes had
convinced his younger son that they were going to have this discussion whether
he wanted to or not.
Staring at the bowed
head he waited for a moment then slowly approached his desk where Johnny sat,
arms wrapped tightly around himself in what Murdoch had come to recognise as a
protective stance. Murdoch brooded
over just how young he looked, much younger than his twenty-one years and it
saddened him to see just how vulnerable his son really was. The young man was
holding something painful back, something that was going to have to be dragged
out of him. That very something had obviously been troubling Johnny deeply,
he’d alternated between skulking and stomping around the hacienda for the past
three days, spitting sass at anyone who dared to ask why.
Murdoch had tried to
remain calm. A task made fairly easy because he himself had seen very little of
Johnny, but he’d been made party to the other family members complaints.
Waiting uneasily, he’d hoped Johnny would finally talk it out with someone but
both Scott and Jelly had failed to get the young man to open up. It was now his
turn and Murdoch was quite simply dreading it, if those most adept at talking to
Johnny had failed, what hope did he have.
silence over breakfast had proved the final straw. Murdoch had had to accept
that the time had finally come for he himself to tackle the “Highly irritable
keg of dynamite” as Scott had so aptly labelled his brother the day before.
Murdoch wasn’t at all sure how to
approach the mammoth task, should he wear his stern, no nonsense father hat or
try a more delicate approach, either way Murdoch was sure the ‘keg’ was
about to explode in his face.
Just minutes earlier, as his two sons had risen from the
breakfast table to head out on their allotted days tasks, Murdoch had requested
Johnny to remain behind. The reaction of his sons had made him think twice about
talking to the youngest. Scott had disappeared quickly out through the door,
giving his father a brief sympathetic look as he went. Johnny had glared after
the retreating back of his brother, no doubt silently cursing him for abandoning
him to his fate. The boy had then turned a shrivelling scowl in his father’s
direction before striding angrily into the great room, where he’d snatched up
his hat and jacket, pacing back and forth as Murdoch broached his concerns.
“Johnny will you
please tell me what is eating at you. I know something is…we all know
something is.” As his sons agitated pacing increased Murdoch felt a sudden
urge to do some pacing himself.
nuthin eatin at me OLD MAN, now
I’ve got work to do and I’m gonna go do it before I find myself in trouble
for not doin’ it!” Johnny strode to the door stopping abruptly and grimacing
as his fathers deep voice boomed around the room.
“Hold it right
Murdoch struggled to dampen his notorious temper. There was
one thing guaranteed to send it soaring through the roof and that was his
younger son’s insolence. Having come to realise that Johnny all too often used
it as a smoke screen, Murdoch told himself to hold onto that fact. Addressing
his next comments to his son’s back, Murdoch noted with growing unease the
tense posture and the long fingers drumming irritably on both thighs, he forged
can wait, this can’t. Now, you’ve managed to upset both Teresa and Maria.
You’ve argued with Scott, offended Jelly and I get the distinct impression
you’re avoiding me! That just isn’t like you and they’re worried. I’m
worried and I don’t like the fact that the whole hacienda is having to tip toe
around you, scarcely daring to draw breath. I want you to tell me what’s going
around, eyes blazing; he opened his mouth to retaliate but the resolute look on
his fathers face told him to simply clamp it shut. Throwing his hat to the floor
he stomped over to his father’s desk, angrily slapping some papers out of the
way before sitting down upon it.
Murdoch lifted his
weathered hand to his face and scratched his chin,
Yes, he had Johnny’s full attention, albeit under duress but what should he do now. The boy was already near boiling point, one wrong word from him and, boom!
//Keep calm, don’t push him//
Lowering his voice and trying to sound a lot calmer than he felt Murdoch had then proceeded to make his resolve apparent.
“I’ve got all day
Johnny, so when you’re ready son.”
hopefully as his son twisted the beads on his wrist, he knew Johnny was
thinking, deciding on something, on talking Murdoch hoped. Finally the older
mans patience was rewarded when his younger son began to speak, his voice quiet
and his eyes locked on his restless fingers.
Murdoch…I’ll apologise to Teresa and Maria, and I’ll make my peace with
Scott and Jelly. I was out of line and I know it…it ain’t nuthin just a bad
mood, it’ll pass.”
Murdoch knew Johnny
was lying. The boy couldn’t look him in the face, he also knew there had to be
a very good reason for the boy to even attempt to lie to him now, his concern
grew. They had become so much closer. Their once brittle and shaky relationship
now stood firm on safe and secure ground. Johnny trusted him now. Of course
there were still things his son had a hard time discussing, not because he
didn’t want to or didn’t feel able, it was simply that he didn’t know how.
Murdoch himself was still finding his feet as far as being a father was
concerned, and it was so easy to say the wrong thing to this son. Inhaling
deeply he decided to push a little more. Gripping his sons shoulder he squeezed
it gently hoping to reassure him as he lowered himself into the chair beside
“I don’t believe
you’re being completely honest with me John.”
Johnny sighed in
defeat; he wasn’t being honest at all and of course his father knew that and
had even managed to find a polite way of saying so. Johnny reluctantly admitted
that time had finally run out but strangely he felt a growing measure of relief.
The last few days had been a nightmare,
he’d tried to contain the anger and the…fear? Yes fear, he had to admit the
situation scared him, but he’d failed miserably taking his frustration out on
those closest to him. Desperately focusing on the problem he’d found no
answer. Shutting everyone out, all the time desperate to talk to his family
about it and…to top it all he’d managed to fall out with every one of them.
Murdoch was right of course; he had been avoiding him, avoiding this very
conversation because when the truth did come out, Johnny believed it was his
father who was going to be the one hurt the most. Keeping quiet had proved
impossible yet revealing what was troubling him could prove even more traumatic.
Decision made, Johnny squirmed
uncomfortably before forcing his next statement out.
gonna be hard on you…” Meeting his father’s eyes Johnny swallowed hard.
“Me! …Go on
son.” Murdoch leaned forward nearer to Johnny as he braced himself for
whatever was coming.
“The hand you hired
the other day. Manuel… I know him…” He could go no further; his father was
watching him too closely. Standing up he once again started pacing, searching
desperately for an easy way, a painless way to tell his father about the evil
son of a bitch that was now signed on to Lancer.
An icy chill ran up
Murdoch’s spine and he shivered, who ever this man was he meant trouble; one
look at his son told him that. Had yet another ghost from Johnny Madrid’s past
come back to haunt him, was Manuel yet another threat to his son’s life.
“How’d you know him John?” Murdoch
dreaded the answer and waited anxiously for the details, totally unprepared for
his son’s venom filled reply.
“Mama and me we…
we lived with the bastard…” Johnny bit back on his words. The look on his
father’s face telling him he’d already said too much, he stopped his pacing,
looking his father directly in the eye, watching as realisation dawned on the
“Maria and you!”
Murdoch whispered, a myriad of images spun through his mind. Manuel with Maria,
Manuel with his son…Johnny’s impassioned words echoed through his mind again
and then again. The sickening knot tightened in his stomach as the truth
assailed him, he had to know more.
“What did he do to
Johnny flinched, he’d not expected that. What he had expected and so feared was for Murdoch to show some jealousy fuelled anger or maybe even more so, the quiet and controlled hurt visible only in his eyes. These last three days he’d worried himself sick about enlightening his father, telling him about the man who’d shared his wife’s bed. At no time had he expected to hear that gently spoken yet anguish filled question. Johnny shuddered; back then Manuel had earned a living as a prize fighter, he’d been a bare knuckle champion who revelled in the power his fists could wield. Mean sober and violent when drunk, he’d made Johnny’s life a living hell, when he wasn’t pawing his mama he’d be beating on him… and she’d let him for almost a year.
Anger welled up
inside Murdoch as he read the emotions on his son’s face. Violent images
seared across his mind causing him to lose all his self control and he stood,
slamming his fists down onto his desk bellowing at his son. “What
the hell did that bastard do to you?”
Johnny simply stared
back, the words refusing to come; his father didn’t need to hear the extent of
forward grasping a stunned Johnny by the shoulders, his huge hands bruising the
skin trapped in their vice like grip as he demanded through clenched teeth
“Tell me John, tell me.”
Johnny stared up into
his fathers eyes, shocked at the fury burning there. “It
d…don’t… matter” Johnny stammered as memories flooded back.
“Well it damn well
matters to me!” Murdoch thundered, releasing Johnny as he made for the door,
all his powers of reasoning now eclipsed by sheer rage. If
his son wouldn’t tell him then Manuel would. Johnny followed, completely
overwhelmed by his fathers reaction, he’d never seen his father like this; he
didn’t recognise the wrathful man before him now.
Johnny reached out
grasping the older mans arm only to be shrugged violently away. Moving quickly
he manoeuvred himself in front of Murdoch. Pressing both his hands to
Murdoch’s chest, he pushed with all his might, trying to prevent his father
from reaching the door, but he found himself forced backwards as Murdoch charged
on. “Murdoch for God’s
sake; listen to me.” Johnny begged as a desperate fear for his father took
Scott strode in from the kitchen; in his haste to escape earlier he’d forgotten the documents necessary for his trip to town. Hearing raised voices he’d almost turned around but the rage evident in his father’s voice had told him he needed to intervene. Astounded at what looked very much like a fight he moved quickly to separate the two men. Johnny turned towards Scott, but just as he was about to ask for his brother’s help; Murdoch summoned all his strength and shoved Johnny violently away, slamming the smaller man hard into the wall. Momentarily winded Johnny stared helplessly at his father. Scott lunged forward stepping between the two men, facing his father he demanded.
“What the hell’s
going on?” Scott’s words went unheard except by his brother.
he’ll kill him.” Johnny forced out as he stumbled to the door desperate to
stop events spiralling out of control.
With his strength heightened by rage Murdoch easily manhandled Scott to the side and bellowed at his younger son to get out of his way. Johnny held his ground; staring up into the crazed eyes of his father. Murdoch was going to have to kill him to get past. “No! Murdoch this won’t do any good, it won’t change what happened.”
Johnny wasn’t sure
what happened next, he could remember Murdoch raising his hand as if to knock
him out of the way, he closed his eyes, but the blow never landed. Instead
Johnny heard a scuffle and when he opened his eyes, Murdoch lay unconscious at
his feet, whilst Scott stood looking down at their father.
“I hit him!”
Scott whispered in disbelief.
Johnny sank to his
knees, relief flooding through him, gently running his trembling fingers over
his father’s bruised jaw. “I
think you’ve just saved his life…”
Scott dropped to his knees, full of remorse for his actions and totally at a loss as to what was going on. “Is he alright…” Scott laid his hand on his father’s chest.
“He will be,
let’s get him over to the couch.”
Between the two of
them they managed to lift and carry their father, settling him onto the couch,
Johnny carefully covering the older man with his jacket.
Having recovered his
composure Scott was ready for some answers, he gripped his brother’s arm
tightly “I want an explanation boy and I want it now!”
Johnny looked down at
his father then back at his brother before hesitantly explaining what had
happened. Carefully Johnny omitted what he believed was of no importance or best
left unsaid, but Scott was unconvinced. The story Johnny told had not been
enough to drive their father into such a blind rage, he knew his father better
than that. “You’re not
telling me everything Johnny…” Scott spat, angry at his brothers apparent
lack of trust.
“Get it said
brother…now!” Scott demanded.
Johnny blew out a
shaky breath; he bitterly regretted telling his father, no way had he expected
that force of reaction from the old man, now he was beginning to fear Scott’s
…Hell! Somehow he’d managed to set a runaway train in motion and had no
control over the devastation it was causing…but he told himself that Scott was
the level headed one in the family.
Johnny searched for the right words, he didn’t want to inflame the situation
any further but the right words just wouldn’t come and he again ended up
revealing more than intended. “Guess
Manuel wasn’t…so keen on half breeds, he wasn’t so keen on me…” Johnny
found it impossible to control his own anger, his hands clenched into white
knuckled fists “and boy did he take pleasure in letting me know it…”
Johnny stopped short as the thunder clouds began to mass on his brother’s
face; he gripped his brother’s arm and tried to reason it out. “Scott…it
wasn’t that bad…”
Scott knew then
exactly why his father had lost control. They both harboured a great deal of
anger and guilt about the abuse Johnny suffered as a child. Scott’s anger
rose. Just like his father he found it impossible to control and he stormed
passed Johnny, every inch of him itching to give Manuel a taste of what he’d
inflicted on Johnny, on a helpless child.
Once again Johnny
found himself in pursuit, cursing himself for opening up the can of worms that
was tearing his family apart.
Murdoch’s dazed voice brought both his
sons to an abrupt halt, both turning on their heels and rushing to his side.
Scott’s arm as he knelt beside him. “Don’t
son, Johnny’s right…it won’t do any good.” Having slowly regained
consciousness Murdoch had overheard most of his sons conversation, his anger was
slowing subsiding and he was trying to sort out his troubled thoughts. Reasoning
was now once more taking control.
wasn’t about to subside and he heard himself shouting at his father.
“What then Murdoch…we just forget
about it? Forget what he did. For God’s sake he beat the hell out of YOUR
himself upright, his anger returning. “Damn
it Scott I know that, God knows I’d like to kill the son of a bitch…”
Johnny couldn’t believe what was happening, he couldn’t believe the anger and the hatred emanating from the two men he’d always thought so in control of their emotions. It confused him, it scared the hell out of him, and it was forcing him to face his own feelings for a man he’d once so feared.
//Damn// he wished to God he’d handled it all so differently now. But he hadn’t known how, he couldn’t ignore the past; he couldn’t just work along side the man. Firing Manuel had not been an option; Murdoch would have wanted to know why. Feeling strongly that Murdoch had the right to know first he’d felt unable to discuss it with Scott or Jelly, but facing his father with a truth that would force his wife’s infidelity down his throat had proved too difficult.
Having a quiet word with Manuel had crossed his mind more than once but the Manuel he remembered wouldn’t just walk away…but there was a lot more to it than the risk of trouble. Johnny simply hadn’t wanted to meet the man face to face. Haunted by vivid memories of his ‘stepfather’s’ sadistic fists and belt he couldn’t be sure how he himself would react, so he’d kept well away once he’d recognised Manuel.
Manuel’s reaction worried Johnny too. What would he have to say to the husband of his one time lover, he had a vicious filthy mouth and Johnny didn’t want his father exposed to that.
The thing that really worried him the most was the fact that Manuel was a good ten years or so younger than his father, not as big but very much stronger, he was a hard brutal man, scared of nothing and no one. Should Murdoch or even Scott tackle him he knew for sure they would be the ones to come off worst.
decided to gamble against their ire.
“I’ll deal with
it…what was done was done to me…I’ll go out there now and put a bullet
between his eyes…that make you happy?”
Before Johnny had chance to move both his father and brother
had reached out and gripped one of his arms holding him firmly in place.
Both men spoke in unison desperate to prevent Johnny taking that action.
“See I don’t
understand you two…you’re both prepared to go out there, to
teach him a lesson…to dish out your idea of justice, but when I suggest doing
the same you turn all soft on me.” Pulling
himself away as his own anger and frustration began to grow; he stood looking
down on them.
happened…ten, eleven years ago to ME, and yeah you’re right brother…he
beat the hell out of me…but the worst thing…the worst thing he did, the
thing that hurt the most was tellin’ me my gringo father didn’t want
me…couldn’t stomach having me around, but don’t you see, they’re just
words, he ain’t worth the trouble.” Johnny
stumbled over his words, words he knew were hurting the two men before him, but
they had no right endangering themselves over something that had happened in his
past, something they had had no control over, something they had no right
blaming themselves for. If they wanted justice then he would be the one to see
it done. “It’s my
fight…don’t you see, you two ain’t responsible for what happened…I
don’t want you getting hurt because of me…”
responsible either…you know that don’t you son, he had no right doing what
he did…” Murdoch wasn’t so sure Johnny did know that, his boy had come
home to him with a terrible sense of worthlessness and that hadn’t all been
due to the actions of Johnny Madrid. The fact Johnny was of mixed heritage had
been a huge factor in the equation, his son had faced bigotry every day of his
life and he’d faced it alone, attacked physically and verbally, taunted and
tormented for being of mixed race, constantly being made to feel inferior…did
his son truly believe being of mixed race made him so? They’d never really
talked about that, maybe it was time.
“This Manuel, he hated you, abused you simply because your father was white.” It wasn’t a question but a statement and Murdoch wanted to see Johnny’s reaction.
Johnny looked down at
his feet, Manuel had hated him, had hated what he was, had hated just to look at
him, had had “No use for a white mans mistake.” Funny how he could still
remember every hateful word that man had said to him, he could still remember
everything about his time with Manuel especially the beatings. After one such
drunken assault Johnny had woken up on his bed. Bruised and bloody, one eye
swollen shut, the coppery taste in his mouth and the very tender spot his tongue
found meant he’d lost another tooth. It was late and he wondered where his
mama was, worried she’d maybe had a taste of the same. As he stumbled
painfully to the door, the sounds coming from their bed brought relief but hurt
and anger too. How could she let him do that, after what he’d done to her son?
Johnny remembered slipping out the door, into the alley and away from his
tormentor, he promised himself he wouldn’t go back but by the morning an empty
belly and his love for his mama would find him creeping back in.
Murdoch’s voice cut through the memory, bringing him back to the present, his
father’s words spun around in his head, and he found himself uncontrollably
angry at the older man. Glaring into the questioning eyes he spat back his
caustic reply, deliberately trying to hurt the man responsible for his birth.
Johnny’s hand shot up, his finger just inches from Murdoch’s face
“YOU should have been more careful Old Man, you should have thought twice
before taking a Mexican woman into your bed… guess you got lust mixed up with
Murdoch jumped to his feet gripping his younger son firmly by the shoulders, shaking him as he thundered, “Don’t talk to me like that…don’t you ever talk to me like that again.”
A sneer flashed
across Johnny’s face and his voice rose as he challenged his father. “Why?
You gonna do something about it? You gonna try beating some manners into me too
Old man, like Manuel did, well he tried…yeah he tried real hard and he failed,
but I was forgettin…you’re a better man than him…the great Murdoch Lancer
is white, maybe if you’d raised me youda done a better job of lickin me into
“What!” Murdoch’s anger turned instantly to disbelief, Johnny didn’t know what he was saying, surely he didn’t believe that. “Do you really believe me capable of that?”
Johnny shrugged off his father’s hands, edging backwards, physical contact suddenly unbearable.
“You were about to
knock me out of your way before and there’s been times when you’ve thought
about slapping my mouth shut I know!”
“I…I would never
have hurt you, not like that, not like he did.” Murdoch answered quietly,
appalled Johnny thought that way.
Scott listened helplessly, staring at his brother, he couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth, every word laced with bitterness and aimed directly at his father.
“Johnny listen…” Scott began but Johnny turned to face him, eyes flashing angrily.
“What do you know?
You’re white…ALL white, you ain’t got any foreign blood running through
was stunned by the verbal slap, he knew that reference was really aimed at his
grandfather, but his brother’s growing anger was about to be turned on him.
“He didn’t make a
mistake with YOUR mother did he, he chose good breeding stock, ain’t nobody
gonna question your bloodline and she even waited till his ring was on her
finger before she let him near her…”
enough!” Murdoch roared.
“No Murdoch, let
him continue, he needs to get this off his chest and we need to hear what he
really feels, how he really sees us.” Scott stated calmly, eyes locked on his
brother. However hard this was going to be for him and Murdoch, Johnny needed to
release some pain and he needed to be pushed a little further to do it.
Murdoch didn’t want
to hear anymore, his younger son was out of control and didn’t care what he
said or who he hurt and he was hurting all three of them badly right now… but
Scott was right. This was probably the only way for Johnny to deal with the
buried anger about his past, if they could just ride this storm out together.
Johnny faced them both, blue eyes dark with emotion.. “What I really feel, how I really see you…well let’s see. Having a rich rancher for a father has it’s advantages, the name Lancer opens doors that were once slammed in my face, money buys respect and power don’t ya know. I’m still a half breed but now I’m Murdoch Lancer’s half breed…your blood and your name makes me a little more acceptable to some folk. Still there are those who shun you Murdoch, I know you’ve lost business and friends because your ‘mistake’ came home, they don’t want to be associated with the likes of me!”
Johnny stepped nearer
his father leaning in uncomfortably close, his eyes flashing angrily as his
voice rose higher still.
“Oh come on Old
Man! Admit it… you musta regretted having me somewhere along the line… you
gotta feel some shame when you introduce me as your son and see the disgust in
people’s eyes…you too Scott. Your grandfather, he didn’t want you
associating with your half breed brother did he, and your mama, maybe she’d
have felt the same. I bet the fine Catherine Lancer was turning in her grave
when he bedded my mother, bet he never stopped to think how she’d a felt being
replaced by some Mexican whore…”
Murdoch had heard enough, he lunged forward, his hands reaching out, gripping his son’s arms. Johnny struggled to get away, cursing his father, but Murdoch tightened his grip and forced him closer, tortured blue eyes met his and his heart ached to ease the agony he saw there.
IT JOHNNY…Don’t…don’t you ever call your mother that again. Don’t you
ever talk about Catherine like that again. Don’t you ever doubt me or Scott or
the way we see you, the way we feel about you and DON’T, don’t you ever talk
about yourself in that way again. Please John, don’t hurt yourself like that,
not again. ” Murdoch pulled Johnny into his arms and held him tightly, he met
no resistance and in seconds he felt his sons tears soaking into his shirt and
as he hugged his boy tighter still, he breathed a deep sigh of relief.
The kitchen door
closed silently, all three Lancer men unaware that their emotionally wrought
confrontation had been overheard.
Scott poured three large whiskies; he glanced towards the couch where Johnny now sat. Murdoch sat beside his younger son, one huge hand clasped around Johnny’s forearm.
As early in the day
as it was they all needed a drink, the last half hour had drained them all.
Johnny hadn’t said a word since Murdoch had forced his tears and now he hung
his head, hurting and deeply ashamed. Shame, Scott knew how that felt right now.
Why hadn’t he realised just how deeply Johnny had been hurt,
no…damaged…yes damaged was the right word. Johnny had been damaged by years
of bigotry, he’d concealed it well, shrugged it off, passed it over until
today, when a man who’d helped instill such feelings of worthlessness in the
past had served to rekindle them once again.
Scott of two glasses forcing one into Johnny’s hand. “Drink
this son…come on it will help.”
Johnny sipped on the whisky whilst his father and brother both downed theirs in one gulp. Johnny didn’t miss that or the fact that Scott returned to the decanter to replenish both glasses. It scared him to think how badly he’d shaken both men. Hurling insult after insult at them, saying some cruel and unforgivable things. Cringing, he remembered his words, he couldn’t believe what he’d actually accused them of, how did he put that right, was it possible to put things right?
Johnny met his father’s eyes then his brother’s; understanding was all he
saw there. Flopping back into the cushions, head bowed he was unable to
continue, he didn’t want their understanding he wanted their anger, he
deserved that. Murdoch’s grip tightened on his arm and he forced himself to
look into the older mans eyes once again.
“I think that was
too long in coming Johnny and that was down to me I know. I should have talked
about this with you before… before things came to a head. I’m the one who
should be apologizing….”
“Damn it Murdoch. Don’t make excuses for me …” Johnny snapped incredulously, now his father wanted to take the blame for the insults he’d hurled at him earlier.
Murdoch bristled “Now just you listen to me…” the discussion was far from over. Johnny still wanted to take the blame for everything that had been done to him in the past and Murdoch was desperate to set him straight. Before he could continue Teresa had burst in through the French windows, all eyes turned towards the girl.
Teresa sensed an atmosphere immediately and for a moment wasn’t sure if she should leave them to it or mention her concern for Jelly, but the worry was evident on her face and Murdoch stood quickly
“What is it?”
Jelly. Cipriano’s worried about him, he demanded to know where the new man was
then rode out after him like the devil was on his tail…Cipriano said he’s
never seen Jelly so mad.”
Johnny jumped to his feet making for the door. “He heard us… he’s gone after Manuel.
jerked him back. “Wait
Johnny, we go together.
Ten minutes later the three Lancer men were racing in the direction of Ribbon creek. According to the Segundo Manuel had been instructed to clear the overgrowth there that morning. Jelly had at least half an hour head start on them and that knowledge along with Johnny’s alarming revelation of Manuel’s brutal past fuelled their flight.
hadn’t eased any as he’d sped towards Ribbon Creek, in fact the more he’d
thought on what he’d heard the more incensed he’d become. Some things just
didn’t sit well with the grizzled old man and ill treating a child was top of
his list. Since his somewhat unusual arrival at Lancer Jelly had formed a close
relationship with Johnny, he prided himself on the fact the boy looked upon him
as a friend, someone he could trust.
Johnny shied away from talking about his youth, but Jelly had a knack of opening him up and of course there were things Johnny had inadvertently let slip. Jellifer B Hoskins knew how to put two and two together and he was very well aware that the young Johnny had suffered at the hands of men like Manuel. The boy had been punished and persecuted just for being born, having seen the scars his body bore Jelly knew to what extent too.
The youngest Lancer
had been ornerier than he’d ever seen him these last few days; Jelly knew
something was tying the boy up in knots. No amount of cajoling on his part had
succeeded in getting the boy to talk, and had even earned him a withering earful
of sass. Well at last he knew why and his soul burned with rage.
Listening to Johnny’s emotional outburst had just about broken Jelly’s heart. Hearing the boy voice such anguish had stirred something deep within the older man and he’d been driven to take some action on his behalf.
Jelly had never been
one for listening in on other people’s conversations, but Johnny was running
late and he’d gone inside to hurry the boy on.
Following hard on the heels of Scott he had witnessed the elder Lancer
son punch his father. Rooted to the spot what he’d then gone on to overhear
had outraged even his life weary ears. Jelly had never been a man to interfere
in other peoples affairs either, but this was different, this was family. Jelly
was determined to prevent Manuel hurting Johnny in anyway again. If that meant
seeing him off Lancer property and apart from all three Lancer men, then so be
Ribbon creek loomed ahead and as Jelly pulled up his horse, the man he was seeking walked over in his direction.
“Beunos dias senor”
“Ain’t nothin good about it” Jelly replied coldly, looking down into the equally cold stare that met him.
The Lancer men
galloped up the rise; slowing down at the crest as three pairs of anxious eyes
searched the meadow below. Ribbon creek shimmered in the bright sunlight and the
warm summer morning rang with a deceptively peaceful air.
pounded, hammering still faster when he caught sight of a rider less horse
grazing beside a tree.
horse! There…he’s down. God Jelly!” Johnny raced frantically towards the
figure on the ground, Scott and Murdoch close behind.
Leaping from his still moving mount, Johnny knelt beside the unconscious man, calling his name, desperately trying to get some response. Pained blue eyes darted over the older mans bruised and swollen face. Suddenly he couldn’t bear to look at Jelly and he closed his eyes.
The thunder of hooves
grew closer, forcing Johnny to look once more at the result of his perceived
cowardice. Gently taking the older mans hand in his he spoke softly “I’m
“Murdoch?” Johnny whispered, looking to his father for any kind of assurance.
Crouching down beside the two men Murdoch quickly examined Jelly, he was sickened by the ferocity of the assault. .Jelly hadn’t stood a chance. Finally meeting his son’s desperate eyes Murdoch shook his head.
“I don’t know
son, not good.”
Johnny stood, battling against emotions that once more threatened to overpower him. Silently damning himself he then turned his anger at Manuel. Spinning quickly around he sprinted to his horse and began to climb up into his saddle; an iron hand wrenched him back and Johnny was forced to meet his brother’s concern filled eyes.
“What do you think
“What I shoulda
done three days ago!” Johnny shouted back, trying to pull away from his
Scott knew Johnny
wasn’t thinking clearly, his younger brother’s volatile emotions were
turning him inside out, clouding his thoughts and biasing his judgement. Scott
knew that if Manuel had been a ghost from Madrid’s past his brother would have
dealt efficiently with the problem long since. This ghost had stepped out from a
time before Madrid existed and it had to be Johnny Lancer who battled this foe.
Scott had accepted a long time ago that Johnny Madrid stood alone but he would
never accept or allow Johnny Lancer to do the same.
“Not now! We need
to get Jelly home and taken care of. I’ll go for Sam. You ride over to the
Watson’s place and get a wagon, Murdoch will stay with Jelly.”
Scott’s words took a few seconds to register in Johnny’s troubled mind but eventually he nodded his understanding. What the hell was wrong with him, of course getting Jelly home took priority now. Manuel would keep a little while longer.
With one last long look at Jelly he jumped back up on Barranca and galloped towards the Watson’s homestead.
anxiously after his younger son before turning towards Scott.
“I’ll be as quick
as I can sir” Scott called over his shoulder as he rode towards town.
Murdoch removed the canteen from his saddle, reaching into his pocket he retrieved his handkerchief and doused it with water. Turning back to his old friend, he knelt beside him, gently wiping away the blood from the barely recognisable face.
“Jelly. What were
you thinking of!” A surge of pride warmed him and he was unable to prevent the
fond smile creeping across his face “Stupid question…I know who you were
groaning softly as his senses returned. Swollen eyelids protested as he fought
to open them. A blurred figure slowly formed into some resemblance of a man and
one thought broke through the pain…“Johnny?”
“Easy Jelly, lie
still.” Murdoch soothed, relieved Jelly didn’t seem to be as badly injured
as he’d first thought.
Johnny?” Jelly struggled weakly
against the hands that held him.
“Lie still, he’s
gone for help…he’s fine Jelly.”
Murdoch held the
canteen to Jelly’s lips but he pushed it away desperate to warn Johnny’s
“I told Manuel to
leave…to stay away…told him I knew who he was, what he’d done… he knew
about Johnny…recognised him…said he’d been waitin…waitin to get
reacquainted… said they’d got some unfinished business…boss you gotta go
after that boy…” Drained from the effort Jelly drifted back into
Murdoch thought how it sounded like a threat, he shivered violently as images of
Manuel and his ten year old son once more coursed through his mind.
Wearily he eased himself down to sit beside Jelly, dismayed that there was nothing more he could do right now except wait. Wait, think and worry.
There was certainly
plenty to worry over not that worrying ever did anyone any good. As for
thinking, well there was a lot to think about too, and all his thoughts revolved
around his younger son.
Murdoch wanted nothing more than to forget the day’s events. If only he could. Nothing on God’s green earth would erase the memory of Johnny’s devastating outpouring of grief. The depth of pain and anger in his son’s words had horrified him, they had been intended to wound and they had, deeply.
Johnny had meant every word at the time, but did he really feel that way or was he simply venting years of hurt out at someone he could trust enough to listen and understand.
know, not for sure, he had to talk to his son, really talk. What ever issues
Johnny may have with or against his father had to be resolved, especially now
they had been forced out into the open. If left to fester any longer they would
come between them, eventually driving them apart. One thing Murdoch did know for
sure was that he wasn’t prepared to lose his boy again.
Gingerly he fingered
the bruise running along his jaw; he was suddenly over come with shame. Never in
all his life had he lost control, not like that, not once in all his fifty
years. If Scott hadn’t stepped in when he did he would have hit his own
son…and he could never have taken that back.
It all seemed like
some terrible nightmare now, one he wished desperately to awaken from.
Johnny’s admission had robbed him of all reason, at that moment in time all
he’d been able to think about was getting to Manuel. Murdoch knew that if
Manuel had been within reach he would have killed him. That thought worried him
but not as much as the realization that now, even when he was thinking clearly,
he still desperately wanted to beat the son of a bitch to death.
Murdoch knew how a child of mixed race was looked upon by some, knew just how badly they were treated, he’d seen it first hand. The first year after Maria had disappeared he had searched endlessly. Scouring every border town inch by inch, he’d witnessed the existence of such children; he knew only too well what Johnny’s life had been like. Knowing what his son had endured crucified Murdoch, so did the fact that he had not been able to prevent it, he would carry the guilt and regret to his grave.
One very long hour later, Johnny rode up; Murdoch overwhelmed with relief threw one arm around his son as the boy jumped from his horse.
Johnny colored at the unexpected show of affection, and managed a weak smile.
“Joe’ll be along with the wagon shortly. How is he?” Johnny stared anxiously down at his friend; the bruising had deepened in color and Jelly suddenly looked so much older, frailer.
“You know Jelly;
he’s as tough as old boots…I’m sure he’ll be fine son.”
Johnny felt his father’s grip tighten on his shoulder and he stared into his fathers eyes.
“This is my fault
Murdoch…I shoulda done something about Manuel before it got this far…if
anythin’ happens to Jelly because of me…”
“You were trying to
protect me. Jelly was trying to protect you…done with the very best of
intentions. There’s no room for blame here, do you hear me John?”
“Yeah…” Johnny nodded, but he told himself that there was someone to blame. There was someone responsible for the countless bloody noses, black eyes and split lips he’d suffered. Someone was accountable for his shame and the hurt inflicted by cruel taunts and callous words. The man responsible for a great many of his past hurts was back in his life, and responsible for some more.
//Well not for much
longer// Johnny told himself. One way or another he vowed to be rid of the
spectre that had haunted his youth and still visited him in his nightmares.
Murdoch felt the tension mount in his son, he recognised the signs.
“John. I want your
word that you won’t go after Manuel alone.” Murdoch’s tone left Johnny in
no doubt he expected his son to comply and that angered the younger man.
“Look Murdoch I told you…” Johnny shrugged his father’s arm away only to find himself gripped firmly by both arms as Murdoch reinforced his last statement.
”And I’m telling
you, this is OUR problem, one we will deal with as a family, it’s something I
and your brother will help resolve, is that understood?”
Johnny glared at his father; he didn’t like being treated like a kid. Staring into the determined eyes, ready to lambaste the man, he saw the fear and concern shining there. That fear and concern somehow managed to pour oil on his troubled soul.
//Damn if the Old Man
wasn’t right too// he was part of a family now and he had to respect that. The
anger ebbed away and Johnny nodded. The relief in his father’s eyes warmed him
and he found himself smiling.
“You know you worry
about me too much Old Man!”
“Well that comes with the territory Boy!”
A gunshot echoed
through the still meadow. Startled wings flew skyward.
Something warm, wet splattered Johnny’s face; he reached out to catch
his father as he fell lifeless to the ground.
Blood oozed from a
bullet hole in his fathers chest. Gun drawn Johnny knelt beside him, his free
hand desperately trying to staunch the flow of blood. Resting his head against
his father’s chest he felt his own heart pounding but Murdochs? Yes! It was
“Don’t you give
up on me Old Man…you owe me! You owe me a few more
years…Murdoch…Murdoch.” Johnny begged, he couldn’t lose him now, not like this.
Johnny forced the panic down, he had to think, think of a way to get Jelly and
Murdoch to safety and help.
Murdoch moaned and his eyes flickered open, Johnny clasped his hand tightly in his bloody one.
“ME! It ain’t me
bleedin Old Man.” Johnny almost laughed, a mixture of relief and disbelief
“I don’t know, I
guess so, the shot came from that copse over there. I can’t see anyone;
they’re in the perfect position…”
“We’re in the
“He could pick us
off if we try to move…Damn! Joe’s on his way with the wagon, he’s a
sitting target.” Johnny cursed himself again. Two good men lay injured because
of him and a third was about to be drawn into a mess he’d created. Johnny knew
he had to act now before it was too late.
“He wants me…I’ll…”
Murdoch’s hand shot out capturing his younger sons arm in a death grip. “You’ll stay here boy, that’s an order!”
”You’ll do as
you’re told. John please, don’t do this.” Murdoch knew his words were
falling on deaf ears. Johnny had made up his mind, there was nothing he could
say or do to stop him now. The fear for his son’s life deepened and he
struggled to get up.
“Stay down! Let him
think you’re dead… Murdoch… don’t you go doing anything stupid when
“Stupid! Like what…” Murdoch ground out.
“I ain’t planning
on doing that just yet!” Murdoch forced a grin.
“Good, you know you
owe…” Johnny bowed his head, unable to continue.
“I know son… I
owe you a few more years…you owe me some too Johnny.”
“Yeah well, guess
we got us a deal then…Pa.” Johnny had a sudden inexplicable urge to call his
father that; maybe because it could be his very last chance to honour his father
with the title denied him so long.
A broad smile lit up
Murdoch’s face. “Yes my
son. We got us a deal.”
Another gunshot shattered the silence. Fired into the air; Johnny knew it was a signal to show himself. Tightening his grip on his father’s hand briefly he made to stand but his father pulled him back.
Johnny forced down a
tide of emotions, the love in his father’s eyes overwhelmed him. “I know Old
Glancing quickly at
Jelly he stood, re holstered his gun and arms held in the air he started walking
towards the copse. There was
still no sign of Joe, but it wouldn’t be long before another good man rode
into the nightmare.
It seemed to take
Johnny forever to reach his goal. The sun’s heat intensified as the hour moved
closer to noon, rivulets of sweat ran down his back and his throat craved
moisture. The two injured men pervaded his thoughts, both lying helpless in the
searing heat, he’d left the canteen in his father’s hands but as he’d
walked away he’d seen it slip out of the suddenly lax fingers. One questioned
scorched his soul burning even hotter than the sun…”Would he ever see his
father alive again?”
Walking away from them had been the hardest thing he’d ever
done, he felt he was abandoning them both. Yet their lives depended on how he
handled the situation; he knew he had to face Manuel.
In all his life Johnny had only ever feared one man and that was Manuel. Johnny wasn’t sure why exactly; he’d been knocked around plenty growing up. Manuel wasn’t the first or for that matter the last but he was certainly the best! A year of almost daily beatings and the endless stream of malicious, soul eroding ridicule had so very nearly broken his spirit.
Just in time it seemed his mother had finally found enough courage to leave the man who’d used her and abused her son. Witnessing and having been unable to prevent yet another savage thrashing, something had finally snapped and she’d promised Johnny they would leave.
They’d waited until
he’d fallen into a drunken stupor, emptied his pockets of his latest prize
money; then they had fled into the night. Months later Johnny was still
suffering through nightmares in which his stepfather had found and punished him.
The copse was just
yards away when a bullet whistled past just inches from Johnny’s head; he
stopped as he was intended to.
been a long time!”
“Not long enough
Manuel.” Johnny replied, shaken by the effect the mocking voice had on him
after all these years. A sickening dread had flowed through him just like it had
when Manuel had returned home drunk, looking for some fun.
“Throw your gun
over here Madrid…Madrid! Who’d have thought that witless half breed would
have earned himself a name…but Maria’s bastard had to get a name from
Johnny threw his gun
towards the voice and waited. Manuel stepped out from behind a tree and Johnny
felt physically sick as the anger, hatred and the long ago imbued fear churned
up inside. “Lancer, my
name is John Lancer, always was.”
accepts you as his now, finally admitted to his mistake did he” Manuel
sneered. “Your mama used to say the Americano wouldn’t admit you were
Johnny struggled to contain his anger.
stepped nearer to Johnny. “You
don’t really believe he wants you. I heard he wanted your gun, used you like
he used Maria, only she had the sense to leave him. What you hanging around for
Juanito, he’s got a son, he don’t need a half breed gun hawk no more.”
The words cut through
Johnny just as intended, but he didn’t doubt Murdoch’s love for him, not any
more, hadn’t for a long time now and he’d witnessed it just minutes ago.
Manuel wasn’t going to destroy what he
“What do you want
Manuel” Johnny asked finally back in control of his emotions.
you owe me. That night you and your mama left you took money, my money. I want
it back and there’s something else…”
The punch sent Johnny
reeling, a timely reminder of their past history. The bigger man followed the
blow quickly with a vicious kick to Johnny’s stomach. Johnny groaned and
managed to roll away, barely avoiding the next booted foot.
The bloody image of
his father and Jelly blazed across his mind and he hurled himself up and at
Manuel, fists flying in rage he pounded away, knuckles connecting painfully with
It was obvious to
Johnny that Manuel was still the brutal ox of a man he remembered from his
childhood. The years hadn’t changed that but they had robbed his opponent of
youth and agility. Would that give him any kind of an edge against Manuel, he
Minutes later Johnny stared down at the ground, where Manuel
lay sprawled out on his back. Blood trickled from his swollen nose and Johnny
took great pleasure in knowing he’d broken it. Panting heavily he paced back
and forth as the adrenaline flowed.
//Damn that felt
good, finally being able to hit the bastard back//
ON… GET UP” Johnny raged, more than ready for some more.
Manuel climbed to his
knees then his feet grinning broadly; it had been too long since the last one
and much too long since he’d had this little bastard at his mercy. Ducking the
next punch Johnny threw, he twisted around quickly to drive his fist up into the
younger mans chest. Johnny
groaned, the pain in his side forcing him to his knees.
spat, knowing that not for the first time Manuel had broken a couple of his
Manuel laughed, it
was just too easy. Lashing out again with his right foot, the impact sent Johnny
once more rolling, gasping for air. The
big man was enjoying every minute of the fight and Johnny acknowledged he was in
trouble. Manuel had only been toying with him so far, weakening him for the
kill. The few good hits Johnny had
managed to get in had only served to drain his strength. Forcing himself to
stand, he told himself that he couldn’t give Manuel the satisfaction of
winning this one, there was just too much at stake. Swaying alarmingly as the
world spun around him, Johnny knew he wasn’t up to much more punishment.
Glaring back into the brown mocking eyes before him, he realised that Manuel,
seasoned and a champion many times over, knew it too.
Johnny moved closer to the bigger man, struggling to stay upright. Manuel laughed loudly, the boy hadn’t changed, he was as stubborn and as defiant as ever. Unbuckling his belt he held it up in the air “Remember this? You want to maybe taste it again?”
Manuel began to swing
the belt and Johnny raised his arms to fend off the blows but it wasn’t long
before he felt the searing sting across his back. Stumbling from the impact he
fell and as he hit the ground he felt the buckle bite into his skin again and
Angry voices broke
through the pain filled haze and he turned towards them. Unbelievably his father
stood off to his left, gun in one hand and Manuel’s belt in the other. Johnny
was stricken, his old man looked terrible. How the hell had he made it this far?
//Damn him! I told
him not to go doing anything stupid//
Johnny forced himself to his knees just as Manuel sent his father crashing to the ground with one quick unexpected right hook. Staring in horror Johnny watched Manuel bend to retrieve the gun then aim it at Murdoch’s head.
Johnny felt the sting of tears as a gunshot echoed around him.
“NO! Please God no…”
The gunshot reverberated endlessly through Johnny’s mind and agonizingly through his heart. Eyes closed, head bowed, he couldn’t bear to look at what he had so needlessly lost. One tiny, insignificant ball of lead had stolen away one of only three things he had ever been able to call his own…and he alone was responsible.
Three days! He’d
had three damn days to sort things out. There had been plenty of time and
opportunity, but no, he’d done nothing, not one damn thing. Two good men had
paid the price for his mistake, one had paid the ultimate price and Johnny would
never be able to forgive himself for that.
A strange coldness crept through him and he waited for the tears that had so recently threatened to fall, but they wouldn’t come.
How desperately he wanted those tears now, how desperately he needed that proof, wasn’t that how you expressed grief? Wasn’t that how you were supposed to show pain? Maybe he wasn’t capable of that depth of emotion, maybe he wasn’t capable of really loving someone, maybe just maybe the last year had all been a lie.
The last torturous thought forced Johnny’s eyes open. Suddenly he was desperate to prove to himself that the last twelve months had been real and that the feelings he had for his father were real too.
The warm air caught
painfully in his parched throat; he stared ahead, unable to comprehend the scene
before him. Murdoch lay prostrate a few yards away…as did Manuel, a bullet
hole neatly centred in his forehead.
found himself unable to move as a tidal wave of emotions washed over him.
The voice startled
him and he turned towards it. The bright sunlight caused him to squint painfully
but he could just make out the glorious sight of his brother running towards
him, rifle in hand.
“Th…that was… good shootin…”
Johnny stammered as Scott fell to his knees beside him.
bad are you hurt?
Johnny felt Scott’s hands gently grip his face and he pushed them away, impatiently snapping at his brother.
Scott moved instantly
to their father, he wasn’t prepared for the chest wound he found and
Murdoch’s condition shocked him. The situation was growing steadily worse.
whispered up at his older son.
Johnny crawled the
short distance to his father’s side. “I
told you not to do anything stupid!”
Scott glanced quickly
at his brother, surprised by the amount of anger in his voice, but their father
didn’t seem aware of it and he joked weakly, “I
never was much good at taking orders son.”
Scott applied more pressure to the wound and Murdoch’s eyes drifted shut, a distant rumble caught his attention and Scott stood quickly, signaling to the approaching wagon. Dropping once more to his knees he turned to look at his brother, the battered face concerned him but not as much as the air of despondency that seemed to surround Johnny now. Warning bells sounded but Scott quashed them instantly, now wasn’t the time. The priority now was getting all three injured men back to Lancer, where Doctor Sam Jenkins was now wending his way.
Johnny sat between the two unconscious men, watching Joe Watson ride towards Green River. The grey haired, softly spoken neighbor had helped Scott ease both Murdoch and Jelly onto the wagon; then took it upon himself to deliver Manuel’s body to the sheriff. As Johnny had thanked Joe he’d simultaneously cursed himself, once again it seemed it fell to someone else to clear up his mess. The figures slowly disappeared into the horizon and Johnny wished the whole situation would disappear as easily.
home seemed endless; Scott would turn around every now and again to check on the
three men. All three were in desperate need of a doctor but it was his
father’s deteriorating condition that worried him the most. Jelly drifted in
and out of consciousness but Johnny doggedly fought off the blackness, refusing
to succumb. Scott grew more and more perturbed when all his efforts at
conversation were met by either monosyllabic answers or silence. Johnny was
sinking deeper into the pool of despondency and Scott felt his brother drifting
away from him. Would this nightmare never end?
morning’s events played continuously in Scott’s mind, and he knew his
family, especially Johnny had reached a crossroads. In Johnny’s present state
of mind he could wander down the wrong road and that road would lead him away
from Lancer. Scott wasn’t prepared to let that happen, not without a fight, a
fight he had no intentions of losing.
been no satisfaction in taking Manuel’s life, only relief. Relief he’d been
able to save his father’s life and relief for Johnny, he’d hoped it would
herald the healing process for his brother. How wrong he had been, it seemed
he’d once again underestimated the effect of one mans actions. Manuel was dead
but the devastation caused by his words and actions of ten years ago and today
lived on in his younger brother. Johnny wasn’t prepared to let that go, he
blamed himself and wanted to shoulder all blame, punishing himself for something
Scott honestly believed his brother had had no control over.
Scott knew the vindictive words Johnny had hurled at Murdoch and himself earlier were firmly rooted in truth. Scott could understand and accept that, he knew his father would too. Johnny’s life had been one long battle to survive; they could only imagine the half of it.
It was natural to resent hardship and any wrongs done; Johnny had been exposed to a great deal of both. The problem now was to make Johnny openly admit to feeling that resentment and to deal with it. It wasn’t wrong to feel that way, and Johnny needed to understand that before he could put it behind him and move on. That might have proved an extreme task a few hours ago but the situation had been compounded further by Jelly and Murdoch’s injuries. Johnny loved both men. If either one were to die now, Johnny would turn all his pain and anger in on himself. Nothing would prevent the ensuing downward spiral into self hate and destruction. Johnny had thrived on what he’d found at Lancer. To be driven by self recrimination, from a place that had become a haven and the only place he had ever called home, would Scott knew; ultimately sound Johnny’s death knell.
Sam hadn’t been prepared for three casualties but he took it all in his stride. One look at Murdoch told him where his priorities lay and he calmly instructed several of the summoned vaqueros to carry the Lancer patriarch up to his room. Jelly was deemed second on his list and subsequently delivered to his room. Whilst the doctor would have preferred Johnny to go to his own bed and rest, he knew as long as the boy was conscious he wouldn’t leave his father’s side. Sam had had to settle for a stern warning for the youngest Lancer to “sit and be still.”
Johnny’s sense of hopelessness deepened as he watched Scott and Teresa calmly assist as the doctor prepared for surgery. All he could do was sit beside his father and try not to get in the way.
looked so very pale, behind the brave face Johnny knew she was scared, terrified
that she would lose the man who had become her father, a man she adored and who
openly adored her. Teresa could wrap the old man around her finger and Johnny
loved to see the two of them together. Their relationship had been a real eye
opener to Johnny. It illustrated the loving, gentle side of Murdoch opposed to
the stern unfeeling side he’d displayed on Johnny’s arrival at Lancer.
Johnny had soon learned the real Murdoch lay beneath a gruff exterior, it was
well hidden but it was Teresa’s presence that had helped expose what he tried
so hard to conceal.
doesn’t deserve this heartache, not again//
uneasily in his chair Johnny grimaced as a bolt of pain shot through his side.
and lie down.”
Sam.” Johnny lied, wishing the room would stop spinning and that
the black cloud that threatened to engulf him would just pass on over. There
wasn’t a part of him that didn’t hurt, but he could put up with that. It was
the weariness, the weakness that he hated, something had drained him of all his
strength and just keeping his eyes open was proving too difficult a task.
Sam just shook his head and Johnny was relieved the doctor hadn’t pushed the issue, he wasn’t sure he could hold onto his temper right now. Scott’s concern filled eyes met his and Johnny looked instantly away, he couldn’t look his brother in the eye anymore, not after the grief he’d brought his family.
that word had meant nothing too him at one time, it was just something he
didn’t have and had no hopes of ever having. Now he realized he didn’t
deserve a family and he had to let them go. They would be so much better off
without him and the shadows cast by his dark, dangerous and deadly past.
The pain in
Johnny’s side disappeared as a different pain flooded his heart. At the time
walking away from his injured father and Jelly had been the hardest thing he’d
ever done but his decision to leave Lancer surpassed that. Just the thought of
walking away from his family tore him apart. Did he have the courage to do
something that would spare them God knows how much grief and pain? That courage
had been sorely lacking these last few days, but he swore he’d find it now to
keep them safe.
Scott felt his heart sink further; Johnny was avoiding eye contact, distancing himself still further. It seemed his brother had already chosen which road to take. There were two battles to fight now, one for Murdoch’s life and one for Johnny’s.
Sam began to probe for the bullet and blood seeped steadily from the wound, long minutes passed as Sam cut deeper into Murdoch’s chest. Johnny clasped Murdoch’s hand tightly but there was no response from the unconscious man and a wave of nausea threatened to overpower him. Closing his eyes briefly, he concentrated on his breathing, the broken ribs making every breath painful. As he opened his eyes Dr Sam Jenkins sighed then stated with great satisfaction…
it!” he held the misshapen lump of lead up for all to see before tossing it
into the bowl of blood stained water.
Scott asked anxiously, wrapping a supportive arm around Teresa.
Sam pursed his lips as he considered his reply.
a rib stopped it getting anywhere near his heart, but that rib is going to have
to mend. There’s quite a bit of tissue damage and there is of course the
danger of infection but it’s the blood loss that concerns me. Your father’s
lost a great deal more than I’d like, it’s going to be a far from easy
recovery but I’d say he has a good chance.”
“He’s going to make it isn’t he Sam?” Johnny wanted
more assurance than that from the doctor.
Sam stared sympathetically at the youngest Lancer. The boy’s question had sounded more like a demand, he wished he could promise Murdoch’s recovery but that wasn’t possible at the moment.
chance John, I can’t promise any more than that.” Sam replied as he
carefully sutured and dressed the wound.
silence followed and it was Sam who eventually broke into the three young
going to take a look at Jelly, Maria’s there so Teresa you stay here with
Murdoch. Johnny I’ll take a look at you as soon as I can.”
nodded then as Sam closed the door, he stood slowly, suddenly desperate to get
away from the worry and pain.
beside him in an instant. “Do
you need any help?”
“No.” Johnny replied softly “Just gonna rest a spell.”
Staring hard at his father he then kissed Teresa on her cheek before finally meeting his brother’s questioning gaze.
care of him Scott.”
Scott watched Johnny leave the room. Slowly he sat back down, needing a few minutes to gather his thoughts; he knew Johnny wouldn’t get very far in those few minutes.
wasn’t much he wanted from his room, just a few small things that held a
memory of what he was leaving behind. Standing by the door he took one last look
around and imagining all his family there he quietly said “Good bye.”
Heading down the back stairs where he knew he wouldn’t be seen, he made his
way painfully to Barranca.
afternoon sun dazzled him and as he entered the cool dark barn he thought at
first his eyes were playing tricks upon him.
didn’t think you were up to saddling Barranca, so I thought I would do it for
stared as Scott tightened the cinch.
Johnny. There’s no need to explain! You just ride on out, away from Lancer and
we will just forget all about you… just like that!”
his head but anger at himself soon overpowered his guilt, his head snapped up.
“I don’t have to explain
myself to you!”
“No I don’t suppose you do. I’m only your brother or perhaps you would prefer me to emphasize the fact we are only half brothers. I know you don’t take too kindly to us sharing the same blood! Remember Johnny? There’s no foreign blood running through my veins, even though some might regard Scottish blood as foreign!”
Scott moved around to the other side of Barranca and calmly stared at Johnny, he didn’t miss the hurt flash in his brother’s eyes at his deliberately chosen words.
“I do believe you owe OUR father an explanation, the first thing he’ll ask about when he comes to will be YOU!”
ignored Scott as he tossed his saddle bag up over his horse, the sudden movement
caused the broken ribs to rub together and he blanched at the pain, catching
hold of Barranca’s mane to steady himself.
tell him you can’t have gone very far, not in the condition you’re in and
then I’ll watch him ride out after you. If the shock of you leaving doesn’t
kill him the trek after you certainly will.”
up!” Johnny snarled, Scott was obviously spoiling for a fight and he was ripe
Scott took a
step closer invading Johnny’s space. “I
believe in free speech Johnny, so did you this morning. You certainly opened
your soul to us then. There was one thing you failed to mention, and that was
just how little we mean to you! I honestly thought you cared enough about
Murdoch, Teresa and I to stay when the going got a little tough. How wrong I
ain’t just a little tough Scott, it’s damned impossible, don’t you care
that what happened to Jelly and to OUR father was all down to ME. I’m
responsible and leaving is the only way to stop it happening again. Do you want
to see the old man die or Teresa…well the longer I stay the greater the odds
of you losing one of them or losing your own life.”
really that important?”
really that confident about your stature in life?
much as it may hurt to hear this Johnny Lancer or Madrid…what ever hat
you’re wearing now. YOU are not that damned important, shit happens to us all,
we’re all equally capable of causing it to fly as we are to having it hit us
in the face. You can’t take responsibility for another man’s actions or the
choices he makes, so stop lounging in self pity and accept you’re just a man
and fallible like the rest of us mere mortals.”
have stopped all this.” Johnny raged, rounding on his brother.
coldly shooting Manuel in the back. That was the only way Johnny, but it’s not
YOUR way is it brother!”
have faced him… warned him off.”
are saying that Manuel would have simply walked away?”
stared down at the floor; he’d had this same argument with himself and lost.
you knew him better than anyone, you lived with him for God’s sake. You
honestly believe that one word from you and he’d have ridden out of Lancer,
leaving you and your family to live happily ever after? Well?”
sort of confrontation was inevitable? Am I right?”
didn’t have to involve Jelly or Murdoch!” Johnny’s eyes blazed at his
chose to get involved, it was THEIR choice. Do you really think Murdoch and
Jelly would have reacted any differently three days ago?
have handled it differently but I…I didn’t know how, I was...”
“NO! No of
course not. I was forgetting Johnny Madrid’s not scared of anything is he?
There’s one major thing wrong with that theory, it wasn’t Madrid facing
Manuel was it? No! It was Johnny Lancer, the same Johnny Lancer he’d
terrorized as a child, the same Johnny Lancer he brutalized and tortured
mentally. The same Johnny Lancer he’d made feel worthless and unwanted…”
MOUTH.” Johnny began to pace, he didn’t want to hear this.
It’s all true. Isn’t that just how you felt when you saw him
again…worthless and unwanted, an unwanted white man’s mistake. That’s why
Johnny Lancer couldn’t face Manuel and why you threw all that anger up at
lunged forward shoving Scott violently backwards. “I
told you to shut your mouth.”
Scott stumbled into the stall but immediately stepped forward again, calmly standing face to face with his irate brother. “Unfortunately the truth hurts, and that’s what you’re running from Johnny, the truth. Running away isn’t going to solve any thing; you’ll still be carrying it all inside of you. You have to face the truth Johnny, accept you have fears and uncertainties; accept the anger and hatred you have for the way you were and are treated. You have every right to those feelings, and I understand those feelings…”
you don’t, how can you? You ain’t never been called the filthy names I have,
you ain’t never been knocked into next week for being half of nothin. Folk
don’t ignore or turn their back on Murdoch Lancer’s white son; they don’t
tolerate you just for his sake. No Scott, you don’t understand, you…you
don’t know how hard it is to turn the other cheek, to pretend it doesn’t
gripped Johnny firmly by the shoulders forcing his brother to look at him.
“Why turn the other cheek? Why pretend it doesn’t happen. Why?”
don’t want him to know…I don’t want him to be…ashamed of me, I don’t
want any of you to see me as a…a mistake…”
Scott’s arms cradled his brother as he slumped forward finally losing the
battle he’d been fighting all afternoon. “I’m
sorry brother but it was the only way…” Lifting his unconscious brother into
his arms Scott quickly made his way back to the hacienda.
A heavy silence followed as Sam cleaned and dressed the
wounds, pondering on how very withdrawn Johnny was. It seemed the day's events,
cumulating in Scott's timely intervention were taking a severe toll on the
youngest Lancer. Finally as he finished binding Johnny's chest he decided a
little probing and pushing from an outsider wouldn't be amiss.
"I take it this Manuel was responsible for these old scars John?"
Johnny hesitated; eyes downcast "Yeah… some of em." came the quiet reply.
"He's responsible for some of the scars we can't see too, isn't he?" Sam pulled a chair up to sit directly in front of Johnny, his question ignored he tried again. "Johnny?"
"Yeah." Johnny snapped. Uncomfortable with the topic of conversation he decided he wanted out, he forced himself up onto shaky legs. "I'm gonna go check on Murdoch."
"Sit!" Sam pointed to the bed. "Scott will call you if there's any change." He waited for the young man to sit back down then leaned back in his chair folding his arms, looking across into the anxious
"What?" Johnny snapped again. //Why don't they just leave me alone//
"You tell me! Talk to me son, tell me what's going on in that head of yours?"
Johnny shrugged; he wasn't sure what was going on in there himself. Tentatively he rubbed his brow; his head ached mercilessly from the fight and endlessly replayed the events of one of the longest days in his life, starting with the cruel words he'd assailed his father and brother with. The more he thought them over the more disgusted he was with himself, and he still couldn't understand how they had excused him, forgiven him so readily. Then there was Jelly, good hearted and gentle Jelly who had been punished for simply caring about him. How had things gotten so out of control?
Everything had been going too well; he should have known it wouldn't last. Complacency had set in, he'd started to take his new life for granted; he'd dropped his guard and allowed himself to get close to these people. People! Family damn it, they were his family and he wanted that closeness, he wanted their love. It had been easy to love them, too easy, now he was tied to them by bonds he couldn't see or understand but bonds that he didn't want to break. It seemed those very same bonds had stirred Jelly, Murdoch and Scott into standing up and being counted; did he really expect any less? Wouldn't he have waded in guns blazing if it had been one of them in trouble? Still and all he was having a hard time accepting the way things stood, his father fighting for his life and his brother being forced to take a life.
Scott had stepped right in, did what was necessary then
turned his astute mind on him, forcing him to admit to things he had tried so
long and so hard to deny. Deftly Scott had cut off all his lines of
escape and now he was going to have to face up to a few things including himself, he wasn't sure he knew how. Slowly he met the empathic grey eyes. "I don't know Sam, I don't know anything anymore."
"Well I'll tell you what I know. You nearly made the biggest mistake of your life just now but you know that don't you?"
"Yeah." Johnny replied, unable to look away from the lined face that beamed with an even mix of compassion and exasperation.
"You have to put today and Manuel behind you, you know that too?"
"You can't do it alone but you don't have too Johnny."
"Well. It seems you know more than you think!
Johnny grinned sheepishly "Yeah, guess I do."
Sam stood and made his way towards the door. "I'll send Scott back in, you talk to him, he's more than ready to listen."
Johnny simply nodded; talking didn't come easy, not to him and look where opening his soul got him last time. Scott hadn't pulled any punches in the barn, and Johnny had almost punched him in the mouth for it. Now in the cold light of day he realized that as much as it had hurt to listen to Scott, he knew it had hurt his brother equally as much to push him that far. Suddenly things started to look a little clearer, he was beginning to understand the emotions that had so recently confused him; he was finally beginning to understand himself.
The bedroom door opened and Johnny forced himself to meet his brother's calm gaze.
"Holding his own; how about you?"
"Sam said I'll live."
"Well he should know." Scott grinned, wondering what else the good doctor had said to his brother.
Johnny grinned back but the grin faded quickly. "You wanna go another ten rounds?"
"You up to it?"
Leaning gingerly over Johnny picked up his shirt, staring at the blood stains, where his father's blood mingled with his. Scott sat down beside him, resting his hand on Johnny's arm; he squeezed gently, all the encouragement his brother needed.
"I thought he was dead, I felt responsible…like I'd been the one who held the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. I didn't feel anything but anger at myself. I'd let him down, I'd let you all down. When I realized he… well I turned all that anger on him… for doin something so stupid, for scarin me half to death, for…for lovin me…I knew I wasn't worth…"
"No! Let me finish. What you said, well every word was true. I was running from the truth, and ten years after Mama and me ran from Manuel I was still running from him…dead as he was.
You know, the first time he hit me he knocked me clear across the room, but I got up and went right back at him, he made damn sure I didn't get up again. I was scared of him Scott, scared of his fists
and his belt but mostly scared of what came out of his mouth. I guess all the things he'd said caused the scars Sam meant, them ones you can't see, the ones that never really heal."
"Not until you let the air get to them." Scott encouraged.
"When I saw him the other day I could feel his fists on me. I could hear his ugly mouth telling me how useless I was, how stupid I was. I felt dirty, especially around the old man. I started to think that maybe Manuel was right. All the old doubts and beliefs I had about Murdoch came flooding back; maybe Murdoch really didn't want his half breed kid and who could blame him.
Suddenly I was angry at him and you; Murdoch and Scott Lancer, two fine upstanding members of the community. Trusted and revered by all. Folk don't see me the same way Scott, they don't see past the color of my skin, or the gun strapped to my hip, they don't think I'm worthy of the Lancer name. I didn't want you and the old man forced into seeing me through their eyes, but this morning, just once, I wanted you to understand how it feels to be me, how it feels to be Johnny Madrid Lancer, half breed gun hawk.
I didn't want to admit to that resentment, I didn't think I had the right to feel that way; after all it's only what I deserve. Manuel never did beat any manners into me but he did convince me I was no
damn good. It was a high price to pay but today my family convinced me he was wrong.
I've made some mistakes these last few days, it's hard to admit that but like you said Johnny Lancer IS fallible. That might not set well with Madrid but Johnny Lancer is going to have to accept that fact if he wants to live here."
"So, should I unsaddle Barranca?" Scott grinned, the weight of the world suddenly lifting off his shoulders.
"Ain't you done it yet? You're slipping brother; you're usually a step ahead of me!" A fleeting smile touched Johnny lips as he finally looked Scott in the eye.
"I ain't going anywhere Scott. There's too much holding me here. I like being Murdoch's son, your brother. Lancer is a proud name and it's mine, I'm not going to let anyone question my right to it again and I won't be questioning my right to it anymore."
Murdoch struggled to find his way through the darkness. Familiar voices called his name and finally his heavy eyelids flickered open. The first word to pass his lips "Johnny" brought an immediate
"You best be working on keeping that deal Old
Man." A hand gripped his squeezing gently, reassured he drifted back into
Night fell and the quiet hours passed slowly. Murdoch drifted in and out of a healing sleep, each time he opened his eyes he seemed a little stronger. Both Lancer sons stood vigil, despite Sam's efforts to get Johnny to rest, he'd stubbornly refused to give in to exhaustion and the injuries that provided a constant supply of pain. Sam, happy with Murdoch's progress at least, had left at dawn promising to return later to check on all three men. As the doctor's buggy passed under the stone archway Johnny slowly made his way down to Jelly's room, a painful venture which found him on the wrong side of Jelly's tongue. Instead of giving the older man a lecture for taking off after Manuel he'd received one. Johnny had waited patiently for the indignant peal of thunder to come to an end then made his way back up stairs with a few more home truths resounding in his ears, surprisingly feeling non the worse for it.
Murdoch awoke several times during the day, brief spells of awareness where he seemed to constantly need reassurance of Johnny's presence. Johnny realized his father, like Scott had expected him to run. They knew him too well it seemed, better than he knew himself. How close he'd come to running out on them, at the time leaving seemed the right thing to do, the only thing to do; now he knew he'd been wrong. It scared Johnny to think of what he'd almost thrown away. They hadn't been prepared to let him make that mistake though, if Scott had somehow failed to open his eyes then he knew his father would have ridden out after his prodigal son, just like he'd traipsed after him at Ribbon Creek. Manuel's bullet had failed to divide the Lancers, and as for Manuel…
Johnny had to admit he had only one burning regret and that was that he'd not been able to force the truth about his father down Manuel's throat.
As dusk fell, father and son found themselves alone and Johnny saw the questioning look in his father's eyes.
"I ain't going anywhere Old man!"
"I'm sure now go back to sleep."
"I want to talk to you Johnny."
"It can wait till morning…till you're a bit stronger."
"No it can't."
"Ok." Johnny conceded, unsure he was ready for what his father had to say.
Johnny stood quickly, instantly cutting his father off, pacing beside the bed. "Don't, I don't want to hear this…"
"Well you are going to hear it…"
"Damn it Murdoch I told you before, I don't want an apology, I don't want you making excuses for me…"
"Johnny please. Sit down and listen, please son."
Slowly Johnny sat back down, head bowed and fingers twisting the beads on his wrist.
"What you said, I know it was said in anger but there's a lot of truth behind those words. I don't want truths and half truths to come between us and I know you don't either."
"I shouldn't have said what I did."
"You were looking for answers, for some reassurance…"
"Reassurance! I was looking for a smack in the mouth…"
"Exactly…you wanted to prove to yourself that growing up here with me would have been different, that I would have treated you better than Manuel and men like him did, that I saw you differently…"
Stunned Johnny stared at his father. "I only had to look at Manuel the wrong way and he'd be unbuckling his damn belt, I…I know you'd a raised me with a firm hand Murdoch but you'd never have used your fists or a belt on me."
"No I wouldn't; but seeing Manuel made you doubt that, made you doubt me, he made you doubt a lot of things including yourself, am I right?"
Johnny once more stared down at his hands. "Yeah."
"I understand that son, and I understand your anger at me and at Scott, its justifiable Johnny. What's not justifiable is your anger at yourself and you have to let it go."
"Scott talks a lot of sense."
Murdoch smiled warmly "Scott's a lot like his mother…" Immediately he regretted his words, as his younger son deflated before his eyes.
Johnny dropped his gaze, wondering what comparison Murdoch could make about him, his mother hadn't been so wise, had been a lot of things but not it seemed a good wife or a good enough mother. Maria just couldn't compare to Catherine.
As if reading Johnny's mind Murdoch said the words his son was desperate to hear. "Johnny I loved your mother too, very much. I won't let anyone cheapen that or take it away from me; I don't want you to either.
I don't understand why some people feel the way they do, why they see things the way they do. All I know is that the first time I saw your mother I saw only a beautiful woman, the color of her skin
simply a part of her beauty. I loved her and the day I married her was one of the happiest, proudest days of my life. I don't for one minute regret loving her or the son she gave me, nothing, no one will ever change that."
Knowing he held Johnny's full attention Murdoch decided his son was ready to hear some more facts.
"I haven't lost any friends because of you son, my real friends, true friends are still there, will be there for me if I should need them just like they will be there for you. As for losing business, I don't do business with men I consider to be less than gentlemen, and as for the bank balance I'm happy to say it's looking mighty healthy since I acquired two partners. Catherine…"
Johnny flinched, what he'd said about Scott's mother shamed him deeply now.
"I know she would have liked Maria, and I promise you, Catherine would have loved you just like her son does. Those few, the very few who don't, won't or can't accept you, just don't matter to me John. Still, I suppose I should pity them for their narrow minds and empty hearts and for the fact they will never get to know you, get close to you; that is their great loss Johnny."
Weariness washed over the older man and he closed his eyes. Johnny moved to sit on the bed, his hand wrapping around his father's. Murdoch forced his eyes open; there was something else he had to say.
"One last thing, something I think you need to know. I wanted that bastard to know the truth; I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him how much I loved my son, have always loved my son. I wanted him to die with the truth ringing in his ears…and he did…now get yourself to bed, I'm not going anywhere son."
Johnny watched as his father slipped back into sleep. Soon he'd make his way to his own bed, knowing for the first time in almost a week that sleep would come unhindered. There were no longer any doubts or fears to trouble him. A recurrent nightmare would plague him no more. A spectre from his past had finally been laid to rest along with the haunting shadows it cast.
Seren Medi. 2004