“So the good news
is that Pete has turned himself around, pulled himself together, and truly
wants Tommy to come home.” Murdoch leaned his shoulders against the mantle
as he concluded the narrative of his time with Pete Adams.
Proud of the results
of his intervention, he anticipated the look of pleasure he would see on
Johnny’s face and Scott’s silent approval. He fully expected his sons to
be relieved and was somewhat surprised and disappointed at their reactions
to his account.
Scott seemed skeptical
at first as he listened critically to Murdoch’s description of how Pete had
learned to cope with the loss of his wife, stop drowning his sorrows in a
bottle, and begin addressing the results of the neglect to his property.
When he heard about Pete’s remorse at the way he had treated Tommy, Scott
reaction was a different story entirely. Sitting stiffly in the leather armchair,
listening grudgingly, tension was obvious in every line of the boy’s rigid
body. The muscles in his jaws rippled as he clenched his teeth even as his
hands clenched in his lap, knuckles white. Instead of relief or happiness
at the way things were working out with Tommy’s father, his son had a strange
mixture of anger, sorrow, and perhaps even fear on his face. He looked up
only when Murdoch fell silent.
“So you’re just gonna
let that…that…darn fool see that kid? What about Tommy? Hasn’t he been hurt
enough?” Johnny’s anger boiled over into a passionate outburst. He gripped
the arms of the chair tightly, as though to hold himself in his seat.
Murdoch fought to
keep his tone neutral although he was annoyed at Johnny’s totally unexpected
reaction. He had no idea what Johnny was driving at.
That boy is as prickly as a porcupine and there’s just no telling what will set him off!
“Yes, son, I am.
Pete is no fool and he has no intention of hurting Tommy. And when I asked
Tommy if he wanted to see his father…well, he was one excited little boy.”
He looked closely
at his son. “I don’t understand why you are so angry, Johnny. Isn’t this
exactly the outcome you wanted?”
Johnny couldn’t remain
seated, leaping to his feet and pacing back and forth in front of the fire.
He spoke vehemently and with obvious agitation. “Because I don’t trust him.
He told me he don’t want Tommy, but now he tells you he does. And he’s a
drunk. You say he was sober when you left, but who’s to say he still is or
even how long he’ll stay that way. I just think Tommy should stay here for
a while, that’s all.”
“Oh, Johnny,” Murdoch
drew the name out, using his ‘voice of experience’ tone. “I’ve known Pete
for some time. He’s a good man and I do trust him. He knows he made a mistake
when he said he didn’t want Tommy. He didn’t really mean that and he is anxious
to have his boy at home. Pete just needed a helping hand to learn how to
live without Miriam, accept her loss, and he’s doing that. Now, I’m riding
back there tomorrow morning to check on things and if I find what I expect,
Pete will be returning with me to see his son.”
Johnny faced his
father, struggling to formulate a reply. His frustration got the better of
him. “You’d better be right about this, Old Man,” he spat out and stormed
through the French doors.
The sound of Barranca’s
galloping hooves reached Scott and Murdoch a moment later.
Murdoch stared at
the door until the sound of hoof beats faded and slowly turned to face Scott.
He threw up his hands, letting his exasperation show. “Do you know what that
Scott shrugged. “Johnny’s
not ready to let Tommy go, Murdoch. You suggested giving Pete a week alone
to make sure he’s truly prepared for Tommy to return. Well, that week might
be enough for Pete, but it’s going to take a lot longer for Johnny. He and
Tommy have grown quite close. It’s not going to be easy for him to say goodbye.”
“I see.” Murdoch
He’d been so relieved
by Pete’s transformation, believing that there could be a happy ending for
Tommy and his father. But he hadn’t thought about what that happy ending
might cost his younger son. Johnny was as protective of Tommy as a mother
grizzly and the child idolized him. He thought he could understand why it
would be hard for Johnny to relinquish Tommy back into Pete’s hands.
The time for
Tommy to return to his place at his father’s side was fast approaching. It
might be difficult, but Johnny was just going to have to accept that Tommy
belonged with his father. Murdoch had a sinking feeling that gaining Johnny’s
acceptance would prove difficult.
I’m as bad as Johnny and Tommy…pacing back and forth… Jelly would say I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs!
Scott chided himself
ruefully. He was nervous. Nervous and a bit afraid, but determined to confront
his brother. No, confront was absolutely the wrong word. He wanted, needed,
to discuss the subject of Pablo with Johnny. And for the first time, he was
going to press his brother, insist that they communicate about Johnny’s mysterious
past. The longer Scott pondered the information Tommy had imparted, the more
it intrigued him.
Johnny’s ‘other Pa.’ Who was this Pablo? Exactly what was he to Johnny? WHY has Johnny never once mentioned him?
Scott hadn’t intended
to tell Johnny what Tommy said, but he couldn’t hold back his deep need to
know any longer. He was consumed with curiosity and firmly believed that
the story of Pablo held numerous keys to the puzzle that was Johnny. He simply
couldn’t remain ignorant of such critical information and so decided his
strategy would be a direct frontal assault. He would take the bull by the
horns and ask Johnny straight out. Well, that approach worked for Tommy.
This was the first
real opportunity he’d had to execute his plan since Murdoch set out for the
Adams homestead earlier in the day. Scott was apprehensive, acknowledging
that the discussion would probably prove uncomfortable or even distressing
at times. And part of him was afraid that he might severely damage the lines
of communication he’d so painstakingly established with his brother. But
if his plan were successful, it would strengthen his relationship with Johnny
and fortify those lines of communication.
Scott thought he
might explode with nerves if Johnny didn’t finish settling Tommy down for
the night and come back downstairs soon. He listened restlessly to the ticking
of the big clock, growing more nervous with each passing second, wishing he
could perform like the magician in Johnny’s stories and conjure some magic
to calm himself. The thighs of his trousers were damp due to the number of
times he’d wiped his palms. At long last, his younger brother sauntered into
the great room with a big grin fixed firmly in place.
Johnny didn’t immediately
notice the serious look on Scott’s face. “Boy, that kid loves stories. I
didn’t think I’d ever get him to…” He broke off as Scott’s solemn expression
registered. “What’s wrong, Scott?”
“Johnny, we need
The blue eyes became
hooded and wary. “About what?”
“A man named Pablo.”
The smile vanished from Johnny’s eyes and Scott felt the wave of sorrow that
washed over his brother. He took a step toward him, but Johnny backed away.
“I don’t want to
talk about this, Scott.” His voice was soft and unsteady.
“No, not to me! But
you did want to talk to Tommy about…about your 'other Pa'!” Scott prodded
harder than he had ever done before and saw indecision and fear on Johnny’s
“You don’t really
want to hear this and I don’t want to talk about it.” Johnny’s voice trembled
with emotion and Scott threw caution to the winds, deciding to push further
“Don’t tell me what
I do and don’t want to hear. You may not want to talk about it, but I do.
And I want to talk right now.” The commanding officer’s voice left no doubt
as to its owner’s seriousness.
Johnny turned away.
Scott thought his brother might head for the door at any moment so he placed
a restraining hand on a tense shoulder and swung Johnny around to face him.
“Don’t you walk away
from me, Johnny. I’m asking you to talk to me, share it with me. I want to
know why this man meant so much to my little brother. If you’ll tell me what
Pablo did to earn your trust, maybe I can do the same thing and convince you
to trust me.”
hard. “I do trust you, Scott.” The blue eyes begged Scott to understand.
Scott refused to
succumb to that look. “Do you? Really trust me, I mean. Because it seems
as though you don’t trust me enough to tell me about Pablo. And that hurts,
Johnny. After everything we’ve been through, you still don’t want to talk
to me about your past. Have I ever let you down? Have I?” Scott demanded.
“No…” Johnny’s eyes
still pleaded with his brother.
“Then tell me about
Pablo. Please?” Scott wondered briefly if his approach was too demanding.
Johnny detested being ordered around or feeling cornered and an explanation
of why he wanted to know might be prudent. “From what Tommy told me, Pablo
was an important influence in your life. That makes him important to me,
too. I’d like to hear about him. Will you tell me?”
Johnny closed his
eyes. His body was taut with tension and he shivered, gripping the edge of
Murdoch’s desk with one hand. “You really wanna know, huh?”
“I want to understand,
“It’s a…a long story.”
“I’ve got time, brother.”
“All right. I…I’ll
tell you. But it ain’t a pretty story, Scott.” Johnny’s eyes opened again.
“So, I gotta ask
you for somethin’, too. I…I… Scott, I can’t stand it when you get all sad
‘cause of what I tell you. I know you wish you’d been with me. I wish the
same thing. But you weren’t and it ain’t your fault. I don’t want to hurt
you by makin’ you listen to this.”
“You’re not forcing
me to do anything, Johnny. I’m asking you to talk to me. I can’t promise
you that I won’t be sad—thinking about you in danger or hurting bothers me.
I can’t help that.” He took the two steps that brought him face to face with
“You’re not alone
anymore, Johnny. You don’t have to carry the load by yourself—I want to help.
That’s part of what being a brother is all about. I thought I’d proven to
you that I’m not some eastern hot house flower. I can stand some sadness,
some pain. I don’t need your protection, but I do want your trust.”
The dark head bowed.
“I do trust you, Scott. I trust you with my life. I just don’t trust myself
Scott laughed bitterly,
“Well, brother, I am confused. I don’t understand how my life has anything
to do with Pablo.”
Johnny’s eyes closed
again. “Scott, what happened with Pablo…well…that’s the reason there’s a
Johnny Madrid. And you bein’ close to Johnny Madrid, that ain’t healthy.”
Scott’s arm went
around his brother’s shoulders and he shepherded the smaller man to the couch.
“All right. Whether it’s healthy or not is irrelevant. Johnny Madrid is my
brother and I’m standing by him. Right now, I’d like to hear Pablo’s story.”
Scott sank down onto
the soft cushions, pulling Johnny down with him and keeping a supportive
arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Talk to me, Johnny. Please?”
Johnny leaned against
Scott for a moment and shivered, searching desperately for a way to begin.
How could he possibly make Scott understand about Pablo? He didn’t have the
words to explain the love he felt for him, the reasons he loved that old
man so much. He didn’t know how to express that, even after all these years;
he still could not understand why Pablo had loved him or the depth of that
But most of all,
he was afraid to let Scott see his bitter hatred for the men who murdered
Pablo. Once he told that story, Scott would finally realize what it meant
to be a killer. And he might not be able to accept it, might not want a brother
capable of such ruthlessness. Johnny didn’t know if he could bear to see
shame or rejection in Scott’s eyes.
Scott watched the
play of emotion on Johnny’s face and realized it was going to be a long night.
Looks like a whole pack of rats. Get out the magic flute, Pied Piper.
“It’s all right,
Johnny. Take your time. If it helps, pretend I’m Tommy and you’re telling
me a story.”
reminded Scott that his brother was a complex mixture of contradictions,
childlike in some ways, but wise beyond his years in others. He took a chance
and guided the dark head onto his shoulder. Sometimes his brother found it
easier to talk when he was able to hide his face. Johnny stiffened, but didn’t
pull away, although he shivered harder. Scott felt him take a deep breath.
“There was…this boy.
A scared and lonely little boy. He didn’t trust nobody, he hated the world
and the world hated him. People treated him like… dirt. They called him names,
beat him, told him he was a child of the devil. No one wanted him. He believed
he was worthless and for a long time, he hated himself.
“Then one day he
met Pablo, the most famous mustañero in the West. Everybody that knew
horses could tell you who Pablo was, they respected him, honored him. And
that famous man, that idol, he trusted the boy, loved him and taught him
how to love. He showed the boy that he had a gift with horses and how to
use that gift, taught him how to make friends, how to appreciate the little
things in life, how to be happy.
“The boy loved him
like he wished he could love his own father. Pablo was the only warmth he
knew in a cold world, the only light. But one day evil walked into their
lives and snuffed out that light.” Johnny shuddered and suddenly, like an
opened floodgate, anguished sobs racked his body.
Scott held him tightly,
aching for his brother’s heartache. This atypical reaction proved his theories
concerning the significance of Pablo in Johnny’s life. Judging from Johnny’s
profound grief, the man was even more important than he’d supposed. Scott
fervently hoped that his brother might find some measure of comfort in talking
about his mentor, the famous horse talker who took a child under his wing
and nurtured him. A deep sense of gratitude to this man almost overwhelmed
him and Scott sent up a silent prayer.
Thank you, Pablo, for loving my brother when he needed it so, when no one else loved him. And for being there for him when he needed someone so badly. I always wondered how it was possible for Johnny to grow into the compassionate, loving man he is in the midst of so much pain and bitterness. Now I know it’s because of you. ‘Thank you’ seems so inadequate…
Johnny’s body shuddered
as he fought for control, face still hidden in Scott’s shoulder.
“I’m here, Johnny,
I’m here.” Scott didn’t know what else to say, powerless in the face of such
desolation. He simply held his brother, succoring him until Johnny’s tears
subsided and he rested against Scott’s damp shoulder, breathing raggedly.
“What happened, Johnny?”
Scott knew he must keep Johnny talking even though he had an uneasy feeling
that his brother wasn’t sharing the whole story, protecting Scott by what
he didn’t say.
Johnny inhaled deeply
and continued in a voice barely above a whisper. “Those men butchered him,
Scott. And he never made a sound. They hurt him so bad, but he just looked
at me with so much love in his eyes…love for me…He was tryin’ to protect
me from them… They killed him because of me…” Johnny drew a deep, unsteady
“His last thoughts
were of me…to help me. He was my friend, my teacher…he taught me so much.
Pablo was a father to me…he believed in me, trusted me and he wanted me…
Scott, he wanted me when I believed no one else did…” Johnny pulled himself
away from Scott and stood up swiftly, leaning his forehead against the mantle.
He didn’t deserve his brother’s comforting touch while he said what still
“They tortured him
and then they cut him open like some piece of meat. They made me watch… I
had to watch him die and there wasn’t nuthin’ I could do to stop it. Nuthin’!”
The raw voice rose
sharply as Johnny’s hands gripped the mantle, knuckles so white Scott thought
they might split open. The anguish of the memory radiated from him in waves.
He slowly pounded his head against the stone as though to beat out the unwelcome
Scott heard the agony,
the impotent fury in Johnny’s voice, and bit back his own wrath and dismay.
Once again his brother had been forced to observe the violent, senseless
murder of someone he loved. Once again, he believed it was his fault. How
much pain could one boy take?
“It killed somethin’
inside me and I vowed that I would never be that helpless again, that I would
never be hurt again… I swore an oath to make them pay for what they did.”
He whirled suddenly to face his brother and the expression on his face was
haunted, terrible in its savagery.
“Johnny Madrid was
born that day. And I hunted those men down, Scott. I hunted them down and
I killed them. I hated them and I took them down.” The dark head bowed, at
least now Scott would understand what he’d tried to tell him for so long,
would finally realize he had a killer for a brother.
Scott watched his
brother closely, recognizing the signs. Johnny expected rejection. Well,
he was going to receive acceptance instead. He walked slowly to the mantle
and stood next to Johnny, letting their shoulders touch as he tried one of
Tommy’s tactics—just keep on asking. And he had plenty of questions! “How
old were you, Johnny?”
Johnny laughed bitterly.
“I killed them the day of my fourteenth birthday. Some birthday present,
That wasn’t exactly
the question he’d meant for Johnny to answer, but it was a good starting
place. “How did you do it? I mean, in a gunfight, one at a time?”
“You think I ambushed
them or somethin’?” Johnny snapped angrily, then paused, recognizing immediately
that Scott meant nothing of the sort.
He continued softly,
“Yeah, it was a gunfight, Scott. I found them in a cantina and called them
out. They were a pack; they all went for their guns at the same time. But
I knew they would.”
Scott stared at him
incredulously. “Wait a minute! At fourteen, you challenged four men at the
same time and killed all four of them?”
“That’s right, Scott.”
“But Johnny, how…
who taught you how to handle a gun like that?” Scott knew his brother’s reputation
with a gun, what he’d seen him do. But he’d acquired enough experience with
gunplay to understand the implications of one man facing off against four
others. Few men would voluntarily place themselves in that position, even
fewer of those would live through it, and he couldn’t reconcile that image
with a fourteen-year old boy—even his brother.
“A man named Diego.
He was a gunman, but not a gun-for-hire or a bandido. And he was good,
real good. Around the border we called him El Matador. He kept that scum
from killin’ me after they murdered Pablo, ran ‘em out of town. He was ridin’
a vengeance trail himself, huntin’ down the men who murdered his brother,
and he figured out real quick that I was goin’ after Pablo’s killers. So
he showed me what I needed to know to stay alive.” Johnny smiled wryly. “I
was a quick learner.”
“You certainly must
have been—a prodigy, in fact.” Scott stared at his brother. He had a feeling
that he was missing something.
“If prodigy means
you catch on quick, well, then I was.” He laughed at a sudden memory. “But
that first time… the first time Diego let me draw and fire, well, I just
hit one can. There was six of ‘em up there, all with big round red tomatoes
on ‘em, and I missed all but one. I didn’t feel like no prodigy then, I can
Scott grinned at
him. He could all too easily imagine a thirteen-year-old Johnny’s frustration
because he’d missed his target. “You actually missed a shot? You must have
been pretty angry.”
“Naw, not angry.
I just didn’t believe it. I’d been hittin’ those cans,” He used his finger
as a gun, raising and sighting along it as though he were shooting at a row
of targets, “bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang…six for six and there weren’t
no way I missed ‘em. But there they sat, them big red tomatoes, just laughin’
He looked at Scott
from under his lashes, and laughed. “Even today when I walk by a tomato,
I just wanna shoot the dern thing, blow it to pieces!” He and Scott chuckled
together for a moment before Johnny continued. “And Diego, he was laughin’
too! He did real good not showin’ it so much, but what he musta thought…”
Johnny paused, remembering
again. “He used that to prove to me how important it is to hit with your
first shot. He called it the difference between fast and sudden and it’s
a lesson I ain’t never forgot. Learnin’ that lesson was the difference in
a lotta fights, kept me alive.”
“Well, I’m grateful
to Diego for teaching you that lesson. And knowing you, Johnny, I’ll bet
you were much more successful on your second try.”
“Better. I hit five
of six. Then the next time, I finally got it right.” The voice was matter-of-fact.
Scott stared sideways
at his brother, but there was no hint of teasing on the tan face. Johnny
was serious about drawing, firing, and hitting six of six targets the third
time he tried. He thought about his own experience, the hours spent with
Johnny to improve his accuracy and speed with a pistol. When he didn’t strive
for speed, he could draw and fire with acceptable precision, but when pushing
his limits, going for a fast draw, he was still unable to consistently maintain
accuracy. The third try!
He shook his head
in grudging admiration and began to better understand Johnny. His brother
wasn’t just a talented gunman; he was a born shooter. His abilities with
a pistol were as awesome, as unbelievable as his wizardry with a horse. Diego
must have been amazed. Scott could picture the scene, Johnny all wide-eyed,
earnest and determined, the gun huge in his small hand, drawing and firing
with the fluid precision and grace of a master, cans flying as his would-be
teacher gawked in open-mouthed disbelief. His brother, the Mozart of gunmen.
“Well, I’ve always
known you were exceptional with a gun. It sounds as though you were ‘greased
lightning’ from the very beginning. I can understand why you were drawn to
a trade that took advantage of your talents.”
“I’m good, Scott.
I don’t understand why, but it has somethin’ to do with the way my brain
and eyes work together. I see and hear better’n most folks. And the way I
see…” He struggled to find the words. “Well, I see back here.” He touched
the back of his head.
“And what I see is
lines of fire, the path the bullet will take to a target. I see that and
my body just makes it happen all on its own. I don’t have to think about
it. ‘Stead of thinkin’ ‘bout hittin’ the target, the plannin’ part of my
brain can go ahead and figure my next move. Diego says I got quick reflexes,
but my real edge is that I can think pretty far ahead of most folks while
the shootin’ is goin’ on—and while I’m thinkin,’ I’m hittin’ what I aim at.”
Scott smiled at this
description of Johnny’s ability. The simple truth was that Johnny was able
to draw and fire faster than most men could see. And he rarely missed. “Yes,
I can see where that might provide quite an edge. So how long did you stay
“Oh, he hung around
town for a little more’n a week, just ‘til he felt I knew enough to start
practicin’ the right way. He bought me the ammunition I needed for practice,
had a gunbelt special made to fit me, and give me one of the guns he took
off the men who killed Pablo. He was real good to me.” Johnny smiled at the
memory. “That gun was a spankin’ new Peacemaker, a real beauty. I still use
A week? Scott wasn’t
sure he’d heard correctly and his voice reflected his struggle to understand.
“So he just gave you a few tips and rode off into the sunset?”
“Somethin’ like that.
He had places to go, people to kill.” Johnny stared hard at his brother.
“Now, see, you’re thinkin’ badly of him, but he was a good friend to me.
Diego saved my life and he treated me like a man instead of a kid.”
Scott shook his head
in bewilderment. He couldn’t believe the strange codes of behavior and honor
here in California. What kind of man taught a thirteen-year old boy how to
draw and fire a pistol and then just left him on his own, knowing full well
he was determined to hunt trouble? Especially when it was obvious that Johnny
had an exceptional ability with the gun and the will and determination to
Was that what Johnny
meant when he said Diego treated him like a man? Scott’s mouth hardened into
a thin line of anger. The man should have treated Johnny like the child he
was… Well, this called for more questions!
“So he rode out and
you started looking for the men who killed Pablo?”
“No, Scott. I holed
up in the mountains for several months, practiced until I was good enough.
Then I went huntin’ ‘em.”
“Yeah. That’s how
you get real good at somethin,’ ain’t it? Me and that gun, we got real close,
Scott. I had it in my hand every day, all day. You told me before that you
can’t believe I can be so fast and so accurate. Well, the reason is ‘cause
there ain’t many shots I ain’t already took thousands a times in practice.
I wanted to be the best, Scott, and I worked hard at it.”
Scott was silent,
grappling with the image of a thirteen-year old boy alone with a gun, long
empty days filled with gunfire and bitterness and the dream of becoming an
infamous shooter… A boy once again alone and unwanted. It was a miracle that
Johnny had survived with his humanity intact.
And it was no wonder
his brother seemed to feel that he must do everything for himself, alone.
He’d rarely had anyone he could count on and so taught himself not to trust
others. Johnny had lost all of the adults he depended on for security, for
love—and weathered the heartbreak of their deaths alone.
He saw himself as
different, not good enough, unworthy of love, unwanted by anyone. Letting
himself become close to someone was the same as passing a death sentence on
that person in Johnny’s eyes. The only thing he could depend on was his skill
with a gun. Scott wanted to rage at the unfairness, the injustice of it all.
Johnny watched his
brother’s face knowingly, easily imagining Scott’s thoughts. His hand touched
Scott’s arm. “It’s okay, Scott. It’s over, just let it lie.”
“I don’t want to
‘let it lie,’ Johnny. I want to know what you’re so afraid of telling me.
I haven’t heard anything yet that makes me ashamed to have you for a brother.
On the contrary, I admire your resourcefulness and determination. Now, I
want you to trust me enough to share whatever it is that you’re hiding from
me.” He steered Johnny back to the couch, some instinct warning him that he
might need to sit down.
Johnny nodded slowly
as he sank into the cushions of the big sofa. “I… I closed a door the day
I killed those men, burned my bridges. I cut myself off from feelin,’ from
carin’ about anybody else. It didn’t just happen—it was my choice. I made
my own choices, my own decisions and even though you and Murdoch don’t always
think so, I do understand about responsibilities and consequences. I take
responsibility for what I did and how I did it and I’m willin’ to live with
“I can’t complain
about it, cause it’s the life I chose. Sometimes it’s like the whole thing
just snuck up while I was sleepin’ and stuck itself onto me without even
askin’. One day I woke up and I was walkin’ a knife’s edge between life and
a trigger finger. My life kinda tumbled along in front of the wind, just
the dust of the trail and gunsmoke. I left nuthin’ behind me but grievin’,
cold graves, and fadin’ tracks. And I was cold inside, cold clear down deep
in my bones. Even the desert couldn’t warm me. I didn’t like that man very
“Let me finish, okay,
Scott? … Coming here… coming home to you, Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly… well,
you opened the door that I closed that day. I didn’t want to love you, any
of you, but I do. I tried so hard not to and now I’m so scared I’m gonna
lose you like I lost everythin’ and everbody else I ever cared about.” Johnny
met Scott’s eyes.
“It ain’t that I
don’t trust you, Scott. Please don’t ever think that. I do trust you, it’s
just… well, some things are painful to remember and I’m ashamed of so much…But
I do want to remember Pablo. He was a good man and there ain’t many truly
good men in this world. He taught me about compassion and love, he gave so
much to me, I owe him so much. It hurts to remember the way he died; no one
should suffer like that…
“I made them pay
and that’s what I want to forget. I regret some things Scott, but I would
do them over. I didn’t wanna talk about it ‘cause I don’t like the man who
done those things. That man ain’t the boy Pablo knew, he ain’t the man you
call brother, but he is part of me.” Johnny stood slowly and walked over
to the French doors, staring out onto the empty veranda.
Scott followed him,
watching as Johnny’s eyes found the North Star.
“Pablo, the things
he taught me, the way he felt about me, well…he was…is…my North Star. He’s
the only reason I could find my way back outta that cold, dark world of hate
and vengeance. Even after all these years, I still carry his love in my heart.
Pablo said there were many gifts a man could give, but only love lasts forever.
“You and Murdoch,
well, you guide me, keep me from wanderin’ off the straight road and gettin’
into more trouble… Oh boy, me and Trouble keep crossin’ paths, but we don’t
stop and talk like we used to!” He shared a shy smile with his brother before
ducking his head again.
“I’ve had some bad
times, some real bad things been done to me, but I know I been blessed, too…
Pablo, Murdoch and you… I do count my blessings, Scott. There are other people
I want you to know about and I will tell you about them, in my own time.
I schooled myself to hide everythin’ and it ain’t easy to find all the bits
and share it with anyone, even a brother I trust with my life, but I promise
I will tell you if you just give me some time.
“And I wanna tell
you ‘bout the good times, the happy times with Pablo. There’s lots of ‘em
and that’s how I wanna remember him. I…I ain’t never had anybody I could
talk to about them good times.”
“I’d like that, Johnny.
I want to hear about Pablo and the other people who are important to you.
And when you’re ready, I want to hear the whole story of how Pablo died.”
Johnny stared at
his brother. He should have known he couldn’t fool Scott. But thankfully,
Scott wasn’t pushing to know everything just now. That was a good thing,
because Johnny couldn’t tell him. He was simply unable to put the horrifying
experience into words. And even if he could, the gruesome reality of that
hateful day would hurt Scott deeply. It wasn’t fair to put his brother through
Diego said he would
have to talk about it one day. But how could he talk about it? Even now,
seven years later, thinking about those terrifying events twisted his stomach
into an agonizing knot. The blood pounded in his head, his hands trembled,
and it took all he had not to be sick. Knowing you needed to talk about it
and actually doing it were two different things, kind of like how telling
a man to go to hell wasn’t the same as sending him there.
He acknowledged Scott’s
statement with a slight smile and brief nod of his head and walked out into
the cool evening. He gazed up at the night sky, relieved when Scott stood
“There’s a million
stars out tonight, like diamonds in a velvet sky. They shine forever, they
live on forever and that’s why…well, the Evenin’ Star and the North Star—my
mother and Pablo—I didn’t wanna let ‘em go completely, I just couldn’t. Whenever
I look up at the night sky, I see ’em, and for a little while I can believe
I still have ‘em here with me.”
Scott’s arm encircled
the tense shoulders. “I know, brother. It’s a wonderful way to remember someone
you love. Thank you for sharing it with Tommy. You can’t imagine how it helped
him. He was so sad, so desperate to say things to his mother, and now, thanks
to you, he can. Just being able to find her up in the sky, to feel he can
talk with her, has enabled him to cope with her loss.”
Johnny nodded, “Yeah,
I know it helped him, just like it helped me when I lost Mama and then Pablo.”
He stared at the North Star again, one hand brushing a stray tear from his
“Pablo…he loved me…loved
the boy I was…but I don’t think he’d love the man I grew to be…” Johnny hung
his head, filled with doubt and shame.
Scott pulled him
close, desperate to convince Johnny otherwise. “Oh Johnny, Pablo loved an
honest, caring little boy who wanted only to be loved. That boy grew into
an honest, caring man who wants only to be loved. They’re one and the same,
brother. Pablo would love the man you are, Johnny, just as I do. And he’d
be proud of you, too… Pablo’s boy grew into a truly good man.”
Johnny pulled away
abruptly. “No, Scott! Don’t you see? I stepped off the path Pablo steered
me on. I made a choice and I killed those men. I didn’t have to, not like
I had to kill Jeeter… to survive…I wanted to. I decided I wasn’t turnin’
the other cheek no more.”
“Please, Scott, just
hear me out. I want you to listen and I want you to understand what I’m gonna
“All right. I’m listening.”
“Scott, I made a
choice to become Johnny Madrid. All my life, I was unworthy. Nuthin’ I did
was good enough until I met Pablo, and when I lost him, I swore I wouldn’t
take it no more. I saw how Diego got respect, and I wanted to know how it
felt to be in control…feared…respected. I picked up a gun and all of a sudden,
the people who called me filthy names looked at me with respect. The men
who beat on me were afraid to cross me or even look me in the eye. The people
I was once so afraid of moved aside for me to pass and dropped their eyes…”
Scott broke into
the self-recriminating narrative “Johnny, I understand the choices you made.
Who’s to say I would have done it any differently if I’d been the one forced
to make them? Or Murdoch?”
“I wasn’t forced
into making ‘em Scott.”
Scott shook him slightly.
“YES, yes, you were, Johnny. Pablo’s death forced the issue, forced
Johnny stared up
at the stars before meeting his brother’s eyes. “Scott, you keep tryin’ to
give me an out, a reason to justify what I done. I ain’t askin’ you for that.
I want you to understand that nobody forced me into anythin’. I reckon the
reason I’m ashamed of some of the things I done is ‘cause you think I need
a justification for pickin’ up a gun and chasin’ a reputation…”
“Don’t twist my words,
Johnny. That’s not what I said and it isn’t what I think. I’m not trying
to justify your actions, but I am attempting to help you evaluate your choices
from a different perspective. And by the way, I’m still not ashamed of any
of those choices you made, little brother.” He felt Johnny’s body sag with
relief, the slightest relaxation and then his brother brought himself under
control again. But the eloquent thanks in the sapphire eyes made Scott want
Scott’s words brought
Johnny indescribable relief. He’d been terrified that his brother would be
unable to tolerate the depth of his hatred for Pablo’s killers, would reject
the man who vowed a blood oath and executed the men he condemned. How could
a gentle, honorable, educated man like Scott accept the need to assert control
over others with a gun? But his brother did accept it, accepted him. Even
knowing what he had done, Scott still loved him. Now he had to be sure that
Scott understood everything.
Johnny dropped his
eyes. “Pablo would still love me, but that good man would not be proud of
the choices I made. You know, Scott, there was this big part of me that enjoyed
the attention, the fame that came with the reputation. I liked the sense of
power other people’s fear gave me. That part of me liked knowin’ that heads
turned when I rode down the street, that people whispered my name in awe,
called me 'Mister' Madrid. I wanted to hear the sound of my name, wanted
the world to know it.
“I made my mark and
I liked my image—Johnny Madrid, fast, calm, cool, confident. There wasn’t
a doubt in my mind or anybody else’s—I was the fastest, deadliest gun alive.
And that’s exactly what I wanted to be. I chased that reputation…hunted it
“Scott, they sang
songs about me, told stories. I was a hero and it was heady stuff for a half-breed
kid. But I had no idea, then, what that reputation would cost me…or the people
He took a deep breath
and stared meaningfully at his brother. “There’s a bullet out there with
my name on it, Scott. It’ll find me one day.”
Scott’s hands gripped
his shoulders painfully. “No, Johnny. You’ve rebuilt those bridges you burned,
turned your back on that life. You’re Johnny Lancer now, not Johnny Madrid.
That infernal bullet is looking for a man who no longer exists."
“You’re wrong, Scott.
I wish you weren’t, but you are. I can’t just walk away from my reputation.
Not ‘cause I don’t want to, but ‘cause it ain’t ever over.
“There’s times when
I get up in the mornin’ and I hate beltin’ on my gun. Not a day goes by that
I don’t look at it and wish I could be shut of the whole thing, get away
from it. But if I leave that gun off, I’ll be dead inside a week. Once you
got a reputation, you’re in the game ‘til the end. You can’t fold. A gun
ain’t just a weapon for somebody like me; it’s a way of life. Once you got
a reputation with a gun, you’re ridin’ a lonesome trail and there’s only
“And that trail leads
to a hateful, crazy world, Scott. Decent men like you don’t even realize
it exists. It’s hard and dangerous and ugly, like somethin’ that might crawl
out from under a rock.” Johnny’s hand found Scott’s forearm. “I don’t want
you to ever see that world. I…I’m scared you won’t like the man who is so
comfortable in it. But that man, he did try to have some moral fiber in his
“I hired my gun out
for a lot of range wars and I wasn’t always particular about which side come
out on top. And I hired out as a range and stock detective where the goal
wasn’t to bring rustlers in, but to exterminate ‘em. But in my own way, I
tried to follow some rules.
“I didn’t ambush
nobody or shoot at unarmed men; I never shot at or hurt a woman or child.
Maybe it don’t sound like much, but it was my line and I walked it. I’d draw
warrior’s pay and fight for money, I may have been a killer, but I wasn’t
an assassin, a murderer. I guess some folks, includin’ Murdoch, can’t see
the difference, but I never let that spoil my aim.
“Johnny Madrid, he
ain’t a different man from Johnny Lancer, they’re the same, and that bullet
don’t rightly care what I call myself.”
“You’re a man of
principle, Johnny. I do understand the difference…and Murdoch does, too,
even if he won’t tell you. And I’m not ashamed of that man you used to be.
I’d proudly ride into battle with him—with you. As for this damn bullet that’s
got your name on it…well, you listen and you listen good, little brother,
that bullet might have your name engraved on it, but I’ll be damned if I’ll
let it kill you.”
Johnny clenched his
fist, squeezing Scott’s arm tightly, angrily. “How, Scott? You gonna take
it for me? No, no. I ain’t livin’ knowin’ you had to go down for me. Nope,
it ain’t gonna happen.
“That’s why I keep
thinkin’ it would be better for me just to leave. It scares the hell outta
me, thinkin’ ‘bout what might happen to you—or Murdoch or Teresa or Jelly.
It could happen any time. Even tomorrow. That’s how it is when your destiny
is tied to a gun.”
there were a lot of wasted years when we didn’t even know each other existed.
We’ll never recover that time, it’s past and gone. Maybe the time we have
together as brothers is meant to be short, but then again, perhaps it may
“We all walk a thin
line between life and death and it’s so easy to fall. You’re thinking of
me, Johnny, about how it would hurt me if I lose you tomorrow. What you don’t
seem to understand is what it would mean to me if you left, if I don’t have
you today. We can’t live our lives obsessed with something that might happen.
We have to be thankful for what we have today and trust that as a family
we’ll get through whatever happens tomorrow.”
He forced Johnny
to meet his eyes. “I don’t want to hear you talk about leaving again, not
for me. Don’t you justify leaving by thinking you’re doing me a favor. And
if you do leave, brother, you’ll have more than that bullet on your tail.”
The crooked smile
reserved for his closest friends crawled up the side of Johnny’s mouth. “Yeah?
Reckon I’d be more worried ‘bout you than ‘bout that ole bullet, Boston.”
“Well, that’s a laugh,
Johnny Madrid afraid of a Boston dandy.” His thoughts abruptly turned serious
again. “Do you think about that bullet, Johnny? Is that why you still practice
with your gun every day?”
Johnny shot him a
sideways glance and smiled. He knew Scott often followed him in the early
morning or when he slipped away out on the range to watch his practice sessions.
“You know about that, huh? Yeah, I try to practice every day. It’s a habit
I got into a long time ago. I like to shoot, Scott, and like I said, I can’t
just hang up my gun. If I’m gonna wear it, I might as well stay sharp. And
no, I don’t think much ‘bout that bullet. I know it’s out there, but I ain’t
worried ‘bout it and you can’t be, either.”
Scott broke off and
looked down at the ground, suddenly very interested in the toes of his boots.
He blushed before asking the question he’d been dying to ask from the moment
he learned just who Johnny was. “Johnny, what’s it like when people talk
about you in the same breath with John Wesley Hardin, Doc Holliday, or Billy
the Kid? What’s it like to be Johnny Madrid?”
Johnny gaped at him
incredulously; his Harvard educated brother sounded like some starry-eyed
kid readin’ dime novels. He replied in a voice dripping with disgust. “Billy
the Kid? You meanin’ to insult me, Boston? ‘Cause ya just did. Billy the
Kid? Scott, Billy Bonney ain’t a real shooter, he’s just a punk killer. He’s
a nice fella ‘til he gets mad, then he goes kill crazy. But he don’t give
nobody an equal chance. Only ‘bout four of his kills was mano a mano
in a fair fight. So don’t ya be comparin’ me to Billy the Kid!”
Johnny squared up
to his brother, all threatening body posture, hand hovering near the butt
of an invisible pistol, blue eyes focused in a steely glare. The twitch at
the corner of his mouth gave the game away to the object of his menacing display.
Scott threw up both
hands and backed away, his voice a whining plea. “Well, I beg your pardon,
Mr. Madrid, sir. I didn’t mean it as an insult. Please don’t shoot me.”
Johnny grinned and
dropped his hand. “Reckon’ I won’t waste a bullet on ya. But only ‘cause
you compared me with Wes Hardin. Now that man is pure poetry with a gun.”
Scott laughed with
his brother, then grabbed him in a headlock and pointed up at the North Star.
“That’s a good man up there, Johnny. And the boy he left behind grew into
a good man. Thank you for telling me about him. I really wanted to know and
I’m glad that you feel you can trust me. I look forward to hearing more about
your time with Pablo.” He tousled the dark hair.
Johnny didn’t fight
Scott’s playful teasing. “I’ll tell you about him, Scott. And I’ll ask you
to tell me about some of them dark times you lived through durin’ the war,
them times when you said your best wasn’t good enough. You done a lot of
listenin’ to me and it made me feel better. I wanna help you the same way.”
Johnny cocked his head to look up at his brother, asking the question silently.
Scott nodded as he
released Johnny. “That’s fair, little brother. You ask me and I’ll tell you.
Fact is, I’d like to talk with you about some of those times.”
Scott stared up at
the North Star, silently thanking Pablo once again. Johnny might not have
shared the entire story, but at least they’d communicated and his brother
had confided more than he’d ever volunteered before.
Tommy’s tactics were quite a success. Just ask. Why didn’t I think of that one?
But perhaps the best
sign of all was that Johnny thought of him as someone with whom he could
share his happy memories. That was important, he didn’t want Johnny to associate
talking to him with only the painful times. And Johnny was ready to hear
about his brother’s darker experiences, too.
We’re making progress, slowly but surely. That skittish colt is learning to stay on the trail, trying to bolt less often. The Pied Piper can relax again—until the next time.
He was jolted back
to reality by the splash of water dripping down his face. A quick glance
confirmed that his brother, the scamp, was the culprit. Johnny held one of
the watering cans Teresa used to care for the plants on the veranda, eyes
dancing with mischief as he sprinkled more water on Scott.
Scott glared at him.
“Hey! What are you doing?”
“Well, I heard them
eastern hot house flowers need lotsa water, so I’m just waterin’ ya.” Johnny
Enough was enough!
Scott sprang on his irreverent brother, tackling him as he wrested the watering
can from his laughing sibling. He sat up, straddling Johnny who was laughing
too hard to put up a fight.
“My brother, the
comedian.” Scott upended the can over Johnny’s head, smiling in satisfaction
when his brother choked and sputtered as the water ran up his nose and into
his mouth. “Just wanted to be sure we saved enough water for you, my California
“Good thing you ain’t
in charge of the garden, Boston. In case nobody ever told ya, us cactus don’t
need much water."
“Uh huh.” Scott stood
carefully, alert for any retaliatory moves by his brother. But Johnny lay
still, hair and face soaked, grinning up at him. He reached down and pulled
Johnny to his feet, slapping him on the back.
“Well, little brother,
why don’t we use your North Star to navigate our way up to bed? I’m sure
Tommy will conjure up multiple ways to keep us busy tomorrow. He’s already
mentioned that he wants to learn how to swim and try his skills at roping
a live calf.”
The two brothers
turned toward the house, Scott leading the way. Johnny paused before entering
the great room, turning to once again gaze at the elusive North Star.
“You were a grand
old man, amigo. I won’t forget you.”
He followed his brother
into the hacienda and toward the stairs, feeling closer to
him because he’d been willing to listen to Pablo’s story and closer to Pablo
because he’d shared memories of his mentor with Scott.
And he felt as though
the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Scott understood what he had
done, why he had done it, and his brother wasn’t ashamed! He didn’t have
to worry anymore that Scott would turn away from him after finding out he’d
ridden a vengeance trail.
It really was a wonderful
thing to have a brother, especially one like Scott. He smiled at the man
waiting for him at the top of the stairs, knowing deep in his heart that
the warm glow of Pablo’s love—and Scott’s—would last forever.
4 Days after Murdoch returned to the Adams farm…
He’s really something.
Scott perched on
the top rail of the big corral watching Johnny work the grulla colt. His
old joke with Teresa flashed through his head as the colt floated through
perfectly round circles, transitioning from a fast gallop to a rocking-horse
lope at his rider’s subtle changes in balance. The colt was truly a magnificent
animal with breathtaking movement and a quick mind and would make a wonderful
sire if it could pass along those traits. He felt a small hand steal into
his and grip tightly.
“Gosh, Scott.” Tommy
whispered. “He’s really special, ain’t he?”
Scott stifled a chuckle
at Tommy’s words, so closely paralleling the direction of his previous thoughts.
“Johnny or the horse?”
“Both of ‘em.” Tommy
grinned up at him. “Hey, Scott, what’s Johnny doin’ now?”
Two pair of eyes
watched intently as Johnny gradually decreased the size of the circles and
softly reined the colt into a figure eight. Whenever the grulla reached the
intersection of the figure, Johnny slowed him to a trot for a couple of strides
and then asked for the lope again.
“How come he slows
Smoky down like that, Scott?”
“The circles work
Smoky’s muscles in a certain way, Tommy. It’s important that he works in
both directions so that one side doesn’t get stronger than the other. You
know how you naturally use your right hand to do most things? Well, Johnny
wants Smoky to be able to work just as easily to the right as he does to
the left and the circles help him do that. He slows him to a trot to make
it easier to change directions. When they circle the other way, Smoky needs
to change leads.”
“What’s a lead, Scott?”
the canter or lope the inside legs move forward first. When the horse is
turning to the right, his right foreleg should come forward first. See what
he’s doing right now?” Scott pointed at Smoky’s right shoulder and foreleg.
“I see it, Scott!
I see it.” Tommy grinned. “So when he crosses over to go the other way, his
left leg needs to go first. Is that right?”
“That’s it, Tommy.
When he is turning to the right we say he is on the right lead. When he changes
directions he’ll be on the left lead. If he is loping in a straight line,
the lead isn’t so critical, but Smoky will be off balance if he tries to turn
while on the wrong lead. Johnny is making sure Smoky picks up the correct
lead by asking him to drop into a trot and then lope off. Smoky isn’t used
to carrying the weight of a rider so Johnny is making it as easy for him
as he can.”
The two watched raptly
as Johnny continued working with the colt. Scott admired the precision of
the circles; the effortless way Johnny used his balance to help the colt
track true with his front and rear hooves, the soft hands on the horsehair
rein. His brother sat the sleek colt as though the two of them were one creature
like the mythical centaurs.
“Scott, how come
Johnny don’t hardly use the reins? And he don’t have a bit in Smoky’s mouth?”
“The way Johnny is
training Smoky doesn’t start with a bit, Tommy. He’ll show Smoky how to respond
to his weight and the reins and then add a bit. Johnny teaches Smoky to move
forward and back and side to side with the reins and by shifting his weight
in the saddle.
“That thick noseband
is called a bosal and it presses on Smoky’s nose. His nose is tender so Johnny
has lots of control, but he never hurts Smoky. The reins are horsehair so
that Smoky can easily feel them when they touch his neck. He moves away from
the touch and Johnny uses that to show Smoky how he wants him to react when
he makes certain motions with his hands and legs.” Scott accompanied his explanation
with plenty of hand motions, pointing out exactly what he meant.
“He uses the reins
a little as possible because he wants to be able to steer Smoky without having
hands on the reins. When you’re working cattle out on the range, you sometimes
need both hands for your rope so having a horse that doesn’t need your hands
on the reins is important.”
“Gosh!” Tommy could
follow Scott’s explanation, especially when he pointed out examples.
“Did you see that,
Tommy?” Johnny and Smoky had changed direction at the intersection of the
circles without first dropping to the trot. “That’s called a flying change
of lead. Smoky took that little skip in the air and changed his lead without
having to slow down.”
“I saw it. That was
neat. How come he didn’t do that before?”
“It isn’t easy to
teach a horse to change leads like that with a rider on its back. Some horses
take a long time to learn how. Smoky is such an athlete and Johnny rides
him so well that he took a chance and Smoky didn’t let him down. Let’s see
if he tries it again the other way.” The two leaned forward, following the
horse and rider as they approached the intersection again.
Tommy held his breath
as Johnny seemed to sink deeper into the saddle, lifting his hands slightly.
Smoky responded by flawlessly changing leads without a break in his fluid
stride and Tommy clapped excitedly. “He did it, Scott! He did it!”
“He sure did, Tommy.”
Scott put his arm around Tommy’s shoulders, suddenly concerned that they
boy might bounce right off of the fence.
In the corral, Johnny
brought Smoky to a relaxed halt, patting the wet neck. After letting the
colt stand for several moments, he walked toward his appreciative audience
and dismounted at the fence.
“He looks great,
Johnny. Those flying changes were stunning.”
underneath the big jaws. “He’s a smart fella, Scott. He picked it right up.
Hey, ya wanna ride, Boston?”
Scott didn’t need
to be asked twice. He was eager to get the feel of the colt for himself and
dropped to the ground inside the corral. Johnny stood at Smoky’s head while
his brother mounted easily, sitting still for a moment to get the feel of
the horse beneath him.
“He’s solid, isn’t
he?” Scott patted the arched neck.
“Yep. Wait ‘til you
feel that lope.” Johnny climbed up to the op’ra rail next to Tommy, flipping
the boy’s bangs. “Got a good view, Big ‘un?”
Tommy nodded vigorously.
“Smoky sure is a beauty, Johnny.”
“I think so, Tommy.”
The two watched as
Scott trotted the colt around the corral, asking him to canter after a couple
of circuits. Smoky skimmed over the ground with an effortless, floating grace
while Scott moved with him, the colt’s smooth canter showcasing his rider’s
upright carriage and splendid seat.
Johnny grinned at
the sight. “Look at that, Tommy. Nobody sits a horse like my brother.”
“Golly, Johnny, he
says the same thing about you,” Tommy giggled.
“He does?” Johnny
stared at Tommy in astonishment.
“’Course he does.
Hey, that was purty, Scott!” Tommy waved as Scott rode the sweating colt
back to the fence.
“Thank you, Tommy.”
He dismounted and looked at Johnny. “He really is something special, brother.
I think we’ve found our stallion.”
“I thought you’d
like him. He really moves, don’t he?” Johnny slipped to the ground and unsaddled
“Like a soft breeze.
He’s quite an athlete.” Smoky tried to rub his sweaty head against Scott’s
sleeve. “Whoa, son.”
“Think I’ll let him
relax here in the corral for a while, have himself a good roll in the dirt.
You wanna grab a bucket of water for him while I turn him loose?” Johnny
led Smoky away from the fence and slipped the jaquíma from his head.
Smoky backed away
slowly and stood still for a moment, almost as though he knew what a splendid
picture he made with his damp coat glistening in the sun. Suddenly he squealed
and bucked hard across the corral, skidding to a halt in far corner and pawing,
sending a cloud of deep sand flying in every direction. As the three boys
laughed, he folded his forelegs, thumped to the ground and rolled. The dark
legs flashed in the air as Smoky rubbed his neck and back into the dirt, grunting
His dust bath complete,
Smoky trotted back across the corral to Johnny, plunging his muzzle into
the bucket of water. Johnny let him have several sips and then pulled the
bucket away, slipping it between the rails and sitting it down outside the
“Enough for now,
fella. Go on and get good and dirty.” He and Scott ducked between the rails
and stood outside the corral.
Tommy jumped down
beside them. “Well, what are we gonna do this afternoon?”
Scott met Johnny’s
eyes. Tommy never seemed to get tired! In fact, he was easily bored and soon
“Ya said we’d go
fishin’ one day. How ‘bout now? Let’s go fishin’ this afternoon. Please,
Johnny? Please?” Tommy’s bright eyes shone with excitement.
“I dunno, Tommy.
I got a lot of work to do today, don’t think I got any spare time to go fishin’.
But you know, Scott here is the expert on catchin’ fish. Ain’t ya, brother?”
Johnny shot a mischievous look at his brother.
“Really, Scott? You
an expert at fishin’? How come ya never told me? Will you take me? Please?”
The boy bounced up and down eagerly.
The look Scott shared
with his younger brother promised retribution. “Well, Tommy, I’m no expert,
I just have slightly more patience than Johnny here. His idea of fishing
doesn’t include a fishing rod.” Scott grinned at Tommy’s perplexed expression.
“He prefers to shoot them out of the water, don’t you, little brother!”
Johnny shrugged sheepishly,
“Well, you know, it just seems like a waste of time waitin’ for some darn
fish to bite. ‘Specially when it’s your supper you’re tryin’ to catch.”
“Can we go right
now? Please, Scott? Please?” Tommy tugged on Scott’s arm.
Scott knew when to
bow to the inevitable. He removed his arm from Tommy’s grasp and patted his
shoulder. “Yes, I will take you, Tommy. We can go later this afternoon. Right
now, Johnny and I have work to do. Why don’t you practice your roping skills
until I’m ready to leave? You’re getting better and better. Soon you’ll be
ready to try and rope something besides a bucket or fence post.”
“That rope might
come in right handy later…if them fish don’t bite!” Johnny laughed and winked
at Tommy. “Oh yeah, I made a new honda for your rope, Big ‘un. Oughta make
it easier for you to build and swing a loop.”
I’m gonna go practice right now!” The boy ran toward the back of the barn
where Scott and Johnny had arranged an area for roping practice, complete
with a tall, sand-filled bucket for a target.
He was eager to try
his rope with the new honda, the spliced eyelet that the end of the rope
threaded through to make a loop. The metal piece that came on the rope Scott
bought for him was heavy and awkward in Tommy’s small hands and the boy struggled
to swing his loop smoothly. Johnny had promised to replace it with a hand-made
leather-lined honda that would be lighter and easier for Tommy to handle.
Tommy couldn’t wait to see how well it worked.
As Tommy disappeared
behind the barn, Scott turned to face Johnny, intending to question his brother
about the sudden rash of excuses he was making in order to avoid spending
time alone with Tommy. The look on Johnny’s face told him that this was not
the appropriate moment. The sapphire eyes were intently focused on something
in the distance, something Scott couldn’t yet see.
“It’s Jelly, Scott!
Oh boy, am I glad to see him. Things just ain’t the same without him around.
Whooie!” Johnny grinned and slapped his hat against his leg.
Scott shook his head
in amazement, staring in the direction Johnny pointed until he could make
out the dark speck that was the approaching figure. He’d earned a reputation
for a keen eye during his years in the cavalry, often seeing far away riders
several seconds before anyone else. But Johnny’s eyesight was simply on a
different level than that of normal men. His brother possessed the visual
acuity of a hawk.
Scott could discern
the dot on the horizon and perceive that it was a horse and rider. But Johnny
had observed and recognized the rider at least ten seconds before Scott was
able to even see him. Well, an “eagle-eye” was certainly a source of advantage
for a gunfighter. A quick tug on his sleeve recaptured his attention and
he looked around for Tommy, but the boy was nowhere in sight. The sleeve
tugging culprit was his brother, blue eyes alight with mischief.
“Quick, Scott! Let’s
git in the barn ‘fore he sees us! Remember what we said we’d do?” Johnny
dragged Scott into the barn, tugging his sleeve the whole way.
Scott laughed at
his brother’s enthusiasm for having some fun at Jelly’s expense as well as
at his childish gesture.
“Okay, okay! There’s
no big rush, brother. I’m sure Jelly can’t even see us yet.” Scott rescued
his shirt from Johnny’s grasp.
Johnny paid no attention
to Scott’s grumbling, peeking around the door to check on Jelly’s progress.
“I didn’t expect him for another couple of days, but it’ll sure be good to
“Maybe he missed
us.” Scott grinned. “By the way, when I explained who Jelly is to Tommy,
I informed him that Jelly just loved being asked questions.”
Johnny whirled to
face him at that, convulsing in laughter. “Oh c’mon, you didn’t really tell
“Oh, yes I did!”
Scott chuckled. “We’ve answered our share of questions. Now it’s Jelly’s
Johnny wiped his
streaming eyes. “Sometimes, brother, you make me so proud.”
I’m proud of myself.” Scott was eager to see just how Jelly would respond
to one of Tommy’s inquisitions.
Jelly reined his
horse to a halt at the hitch rail in the big courtyard. He slumped in the
saddle for a moment, letting his eyes drink in the sight of the beautiful
hacienda. He’d enjoyed visiting with his sister, hadn’t seen
her in a coon’s age, after all, but Lancer sure got under a man’s skin. He
thought of the big ranch as home and missed it daily while away, but most
of all he pined for the men and girl who were now his family.
He glanced around
the empty courtyard. Sure seemed like everyone was off somewheres. Well,
that’s what happened when you came home early and didn’t send word ahead.
No one came out to greet him so he dismounted, feeling the soreness in his
joints from the long journey. An urgent honking dispelled his disappointment
at finding no one to meet him and he hurried forward.
“Dewdrop! How you
doin’ ya overgrowed duck?” He bent down and lifted the large goose into his
arms, smoothing the snowy white feathers while the wide orange bill clacked
near his ear contentedly.
He spent several
minutes talking to the big gander until he noticed Scott and Johnny walking
nonchalantly toward the hacienda from the barn.
“Hey, Johnny… Scott…”
His face broke into a broad grin.
“Howdy, Jelly.” “Hello,
Jelly.” The brothers called casually as they walked right by him on their
way the hacienda, sauntering along for all the world like
it hadn’t been a month of Sundays since they’d last seen him.
The grin faded as
Jelly stared after them in disbelief. Those two rascals had barely even noticed
he was there! “Oh, that’s right. Just walk right on by and don’t say nuthin’.
Guess ya ain’t missed me none.”
Johnny and Scott
halted immediately, swinging around to face him.
“Miss ya? Why? You
been away somewhere, Jelly?” Johnny’s eyes sparkled with mischief.
Jelly knew that look,
but rose to the bait anyway. “Well…I… Awww, ya know where I been! I been
in Arizona visitin’ my sister. Reckon I shoulda stayed there.” He gave the
boys a withering glare. “That ol’ tomcat of hers was more pleased to see
me than you two smart alecks. Yer makin’ me feel ‘bout as welcome as a polecat
at a picnic.” Jelly stomped off towards his room, grousing under his breath.
“Hey, Jelly!” Scott’s
call stopped the older man in his tracks.
“What?” Jelly snapped.
Both brothers hurried
over and stood on either side of him. Jelly took a step back, he knew they
were planning something and didn’t want to be hemmed in. But in spite of
his efforts, the boys were able to lean in close and both planted a loud
wet kiss on his whiskered cheeks. They dissolved into laughter as Jelly became
“Awwww. Cut it out.
Whadda ya think yer doin’… ya pair of…” Jelly spluttered.
“Course we missed
you, ya old goat.” Johnny laughed as he slapped Jelly on the back hard enough
to stagger the older man.
“Oh you, I
oughta…” He stopped short at the sight of the blond haired boy who ran toward
Tommy looked Jelly
up and down critically, elbowing Johnny in the ribs. “Hey, Johnny, who’s
the old timer?”
increased. “Old timer?! Now see here…”
Scott hurried to
smooth over this unfortunate observation. “Tommy, this is Jelly, the man
I told you about. He’s a member of the family and a good friend, so you mind
your manners and show him some respect. Jelly, this is Tommy, our little
brother. He’s staying with us for a while.”
Little brother? Jelly
stared from Scott to Johnny before holding out his hand, “Well, howdy there,
Tommy. I’m pleased ta meet ya, boy.”
Tommy took his hand
solemnly, “Howdy, Mr. Jelly.”
“That’s right, Tommy.
Remember we talked about how you gotta show respect to the elders.” Johnny
ruffled Tommy’s hair.
Jelly’s cheeks puffed
in disgust. “Respect? Why a feller might as well look fer hair on a frog
as to think he’ll see any respect outta you… Here, whatcha think yer
lookin’ at ya worthless varmit?”
Johnny circled Jelly
theatrically, examining him as critically as he would evaluate a bull at
an auction. After a couple of circuits, he let out a long, low whistle. “Boy,
Jelly, you sure put on some weight since ya been gone, huh?”
Jelly drew himself
up to his full height. “I ain’t neither…button yer lip, boy!”
“Aww, Jelly, just
means there’s more of you to love. Look at that big belly, huh, Scott? Reckon it’s ‘cause he ain’t been doin’ any work?”
“Jelly, I have to
agree with Johnny. You’ve grown soft.” Scott laughed as he poked a finger
into Jelly’s stomach.
“And round! You’re
gettin’ fat, old timer!” Johnny’s devilish grin flashed as he poked his own
finger into Jelly’s stomach.
Jelly slapped their
hands away, “I’ve heard enough of yer sass. Yer still a pair of no ‘count
floppy eared dogies. Smart alecks, the both of ya! I ain’t put on a ounce,
not one ounce, and I done more work there than the two of ya done here.”
“Yep. You been workin’
real hard on your needlework, ain’t ya. Your sister, she likes that
sewin’, don’t she, Jelly? C’mon, show us what you made us.” Johnny held an
imaginary needle and stitched the air exaggeratedly, laughing gleefully as
he pranced around Jelly, stitching away.
Scott doubled over
at his brother’s antics, thinking what a success Johnny could be on the stage.
Jelly, too, for that matter. The older man feigned disgust, but Scott knew
he secretly relished the attention.
Glancing back and
forth between the three men, Tommy was unable to make sense of their conversation.
Scott and Johnny seemed happy to see the old timer, and he looked like he
was happy to see them, but he sure talked mean.
Jelly rounded on
Johnny. “Oh, you… ya mangy coyote! Ya just think yer funny, doncha? Well
let me tell ya, you ain’t too big for a whuppin’, boy. I hear any more cracks
like that and I’ll cut me a switch and give you a reason to go prancin’ ‘round!”
Johnny was laughing
to hard to reply, but he squeezed Jelly’s arm affectionately and the older
man smiled fondly at him. Jelly enjoyed Johnny’s teasing and had missed it,
not that he’d ever admit it to anyone. It was a game they played, Johnny
tossing out more and more outrageous gambits while he responded with ever
more ferocious threats.
But for all his love
of a tease, Johnny rarely carried it too far or chose the wrong subject.
The boy had a real gift for reading folks and the compassion to use it wisely.
Jelly found it difficult not to think of Johnny as another one of ‘his’ boys—the
ragamuffins he’d found abandoned or orphaned and tried to help. He just wished
he could have been around to help Johnny when the kid was struggling on his
But his feelings
for Johnny ran much deeper and he thought of the young man as the son he’d
never had. Johnny had a way of getting under your hide, of making you care
about him. He was a boy any man would be proud to call son—with the notable
exception of his own father!
The Boss was a fine
man, but he sure had a burr under his saddle and wore a blindfold where his
younger son was concerned. Murdoch cared about Johnny, Jelly was sure of
it. But dern if the Boss didn’t act like he wished he didn’t.
Jelly’s eyes narrowed
as he noticed the thin, pale face, the dark circles under the blue eyes.
He made a mental note to ask Scott about it first chance he got. Johnny was
off his feed and it was as plain as the ears on a mule that something was
wrong. A high-pitched voice broke into his musings.
“Mr. Jelly. Mr. Jelly,
come see… uh… come see the tricks I taught Lady to do!” Tommy grasped Jelly’s
hand firmly and pulled him toward the barn.
Jelly looked back
over his shoulder and waved at the laughing brothers. He had the peculiar
sensation that Tommy was marching him to the barn like a father leading his
son to the woodshed by the ear.
Johnny watched curiously
as the two disappeared inside. “Wonder why Tommy was so all fired eager to
get Jelly into the barn?”
“Maybe he wants to
ask him questions!”
“Oh boy, Jelly ain’t
got a chance.” Johnny enjoyed the joke for several more moments, and then
straightened. “Reckon we got work to do before supper time, brother.”
“Oh, I figure you
can be catching up with all of that work—while Tommy and I are catching supper!”
Scott slapped Johnny on the back and headed into the hacienda,
leaving his brother speechless.
Tommy herded Jelly
into the big barn and turned to face him, gazing sternly up at the older
man, small hands on his hips. “We gotta have us a talk, Mr. Jelly.”
“Well, boy, you got
the floor.” Jelly couldn’t begin to guess what the boy was driving at.
Tommy tapped his
foot impatiently and shook his finger in Jelly’s face. “I don’t know what
ya got against Johnny, but it don’t matter. Nobody talks to my brother
like that! Ya ain’t got no call to be mean to him or call him names like
worthless varmit and mangy coyote. And don’t ya even think of givin’
him a lickin’! Ya ain’t got no right to hurt him, neither. Ain’t nobody ever
learned ya no manners?”
Jelly stared down
at Tommy in astonishment. Whoever this kid was, he had spirit and he was
protecting Johnny something fierce. He decided he liked this boy.
“Well, young feller,
seems to me that yer the one what needs to learn some manners. Reckon there’s
two of ya with more sass than what’s good fer ya. Maybe I need to cut me
Tommy glared up at
him. “You’ll be sorry if ya try it! I mean it, Mr. Jelly. Ya best be leavin’
my brother alone.” Tommy’s belligerent tone carried a firm threat and he
turned on his heel and stomped quickly out of the barn, leaving behind a
stunned, but amused Jellifer Hoskins.
Jelly didn’t think
he’d been away all that long, but apparently he’d been gone long enough for
the head of the Lancer clan to somehow acquire another son—a feisty little
hellion whose sassy high spirits and desire to protect the underdog resembled
a certain Johnny Lancer. As if one weren’t enough trouble to have around
the place! Jelly grinned broadly as he followed Tommy out of the barn. There
was a story behind this kid and he couldn’t wait to hear it.
Later that evening after supper…
“Told me I’d be sorry.
Looked like he meant it, too!” Jelly and Scott howled with laughter as Jelly
described Tommy’s lecture on the proper way to speak to Johnny.
Jelly had wasted
no time, demanding that Scott spill the whole story of Tommy as soon as Johnny
piggy-backed the boy up to bed. It was every bit the tale he’d anticipated
and he lost no time in letting Scott in on the rich joke of Tommy’s stern
“He really is a great
kid, Jelly.” Scott wiped his streaming eyes.
“Well, I could tell
that. Lookin’ out fer Johnny like a momma bear with two cubs and a sore tail!”
He leaned back in his chair, chortling at the image of an indignant Tommy,
hands on hips and stern look on his face.
“What’s so funny?”
Johnny walked into the room, grinning at Scott and Jelly. “Boy, I could hear
the laughin’ all the way upstairs.” He settled himself on the big sofa next
to the two men and waited expectantly to hear the joke.
“Never thought I’d
see the day when Johnny Madrid needed a kid to protect him.” Jelly winked
“Come again?” Johnny
was bemused by the remark.
“That little Tommy
warnin’ me off.” Jelly stood, mimicking the boy with hands on hips, lifting
one hand to shake his finger under Johnny’s nose. “You’d best be leavin’
my brother alone, Mr. Jelly!” Jelly imitated Tommy’s voice.
“Is that what he
said to you when he dragged you into the barn?” Johnny grinned from ear to
“Sure did…had a real
mean look in his eye, too. Told me I’d be mighty sorry if’n I was mean to
you. I wouldn’t wanna go upsettin’ that little porcupine, I can tell ya!”
“No, you sure don’t.
Scott paid a material price for doing just that. Didn’t ya brother?” Johnny
shot a wicked glance at his brother.
“Now just whadda
ya mean by that?” Jelly huffed.
“Go on, Scott. Tell
Jelly about them plaid pants.”
“Ya mean them ridin’
pants? Them tenderfoot pants? What happened to ‘em? I thought we was gonna
burn ‘em, Johnny.”
Johnny ignored Scott’s
icy stare. “Tommy beat us to it, Jelly. Scott threatened to warm his pants
and the kid wanted him to see what warm pants is like. So he held them fancy
pants over the fire. Burned ‘em up real good.” He collapsed onto his side
with laughter, joined by whoops of mirth from Jelly.
Scott gave the pair
of them a dirty look. “It seems to me that the intrepid hero of our story
is losing his position to a younger and tougher champion. Imagine that—the
brave Prince needing to be rescued from the clutches of the…uh…the Evil Lord
Grump! Valiantly saved by The Hope of the World.” Scott fixed his brother
with a sly, triumphant grin.
Johnny blushed and
smiled back shyly. “Maybe the Prince’s Magician needs to work up some stronger
“What the blazes
is the pair of ya babblin’ on about?” Jelly was totally lost at this turn
in the conversation as he reseated himself on the sofa.
laid his arm across Jelly’s shoulders. “Jelly, you wouldn’t know it to look
at him, but it seems our Johnny boy is quite the story teller. He’s been
telling Tommy some bedtime stories—tales of a mysterious dark haired Prince
who rides a flying golden horse and owns a magic dragon. This trio spends
their time saving The Hope of the World who resembles our fearless Tommy.
Of course, they rely on magic from the handsome Magician…”
“Yes, brother, very
handsome. Tall and blond and he weaves his magic with a gallant charm and
elegant flair that leaves the fair maidens swooning at his feet…”
“Oh, please…” groaned
Scott laughed, placing
his other arm around his brother’s shoulders. “Just say the word, brother
and I’ll whip up a spell strong enough to keep that old timer at bay!”
Jelly stiffened as
his part in the story suddenly dawned. “Old timer…Evil Lord Grump…well of
all the darned blasted cheek…”
“Now, Jelly, you
can’t blame me for that. Scott thought that one up all by himself!” Johnny
flashed Scott a wicked smile.
“Much as I’d like
to take the credit, brother, this is your story. The Hope of the World is
simply defending his fallen hero against the latest threat to the Realm of
“Maybe I shoulda
called it Camelot like that story you told me. The one ‘bout that King with
the round table who wanted to use might for right. Then I could be like the
knight in that story. What was his name? Oh, yeah! Sir Lancerlot.”
All three men laughed
appreciatively and Johnny’s laugh turned into a broad yawn. “Tommy’s worn
me out. I heard the story of every fish he caught today. Way he tells it,
we must not have any fish left in the lake. Well, except for that one that
got away. Think I’ll turn in. See you both bright and early.”
Jelly watched Johnny
leave the room and turned to Scott. “Johnny’s off his feed, Scott. What’s
Scott could see the
concern on the older man’s face. “He’s worried about Tommy going home with
his father. Johnny’s not as sure of Pete as Murdoch is. But more importantly,
he just isn’t ready to let Tommy go. It’s really bothering him, Jelly.”
“He sure has let
that kid get to him. I ain’t never seen Johnny so wound up. Even that little
Alice didn’t have him wrapped ‘round her finger like Tommy does. But there’s
more to it than that, Scott. I ain’t blind.”
Scott sighed; there
was no hiding anything from Jelly where Johnny was concerned. Jelly dearly
loved Johnny and wouldn’t stand to see him in trouble of any kind.
“His nightmares are
back. It happens almost every night now, and worse, they’re making him physically
sick. He’s miserable, not sleeping or eating properly. I’m worried, Jelly.
You know what he’s like, refuses to acknowledge that he needs help.”
“Yeah, he’s as long-headed
as a mule. What’s the Boss say?”
Scott shook his head.
“He doesn’t know. Johnny won’t tell him and he won’t let me tell him, either.”
“And your Pa ain’t
noticed. Dang that man! Where Johnny’s concerned he’s about as slow actin’
as wet gunpowder. But he oughta be told, Scott.”
“I hear you, Jelly.
But Johnny is hiding it from Murdoch. He’s got his reasons for not wanting
him to know. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I gave him my word
that I wouldn’t tell Murdoch. I’m hoping he’ll tell him himself and I’ve
tried to encourage him to do just that.
“And to be fair to
Murdoch, Jelly, he’s been staying with Tommy’s father. He hasn’t been here
since the nightmares grew so serious so he hasn’t seen Johnny enough to notice.”
Scott’s voice sounded more confident than he felt.
“I noticed it right
off and you’da seen it, too. When it comes to Johnny, the Boss is so blind
he couldn’t see through a barbwire fence. But he needs to know, Scott.” Jelly
spoke firmly and locked eyes with the younger man for several long seconds.
"Well, reckon I’ll
turn in, too. That stage ride to Morro Coyo loosened all of my hinges and
bolts. See ya in the mornin’.” He walked away, leaving Scott to stare after
him in frustration.
Scott knew Jelly
was right, but Jelly wasn’t the one who would have to persuade Johnny to
talk to Murdoch. And he wasn’t the one who had promised Johnny not to ‘spill
the beans’ to his father. He couldn’t betray Johnny’s confidence, not even
for this. His brother’s trust meant too much to him.
The next afternoon…
“All right, old gal,
won’t be too much longer now.” Jelly walked around the placid cow, rubbing
his hand down the curly hair of her neck, slowly moving it lower.
He murmured reassuringly
all the time, voice low and soothing until his hand finally felt the swollen
belly. The sudden movement of a new life stirring beneath his fingers caused
him to smile with satisfaction. The Boss would be pleased to know that these
cows, bred especially in order to grade up the herd, were healthy, their
unborn calves almost ready to enter the world.
A soft rustling noise
drew his attention and he turned around to find Tommy standing by the barn
door. The boy’s eyes were locked on the floor and he dragged his feet as
though he was walking through molasses.
“Somebody swipe the
cream offa yer milk, boy?”
Tommy glanced up
at Jelly and quickly dropped his eyes before replying quietly, “No, sir.”
“Well, if yer face
was any longer it’d be touchin’ the floor. What in tarnation’s got ya so
“Johnny… Johnny says
I owe ya an ap…apa… I gotta say I’m sorry.”
“Oh, he did, did
he?” Jelly grinned, unable to keep a straight face as the boy looked like
a lamb being led to slaughter.
Tommy grinned back
shyly. “Yeah. Johnny says you wuz only teasin’ ‘bout whuppin’ him an all.
He says I gotta say I’m sorry for tellin’ you off and showin’ ya no respect.
Johnny says we gotta respect our elders. So I’m sorry I called ya an old
“Well, boy, I may
be gittin’ long in years, but my horns ain’t been sawed off yet. And doncha
“No, sir. Ain’t likely
to.” Tommy took in a deep breath and continued. “Johnny says yer his friend
and you’ll be my friend, too. So I’m sorry for dressin’ ya down, Mr. Jelly.
I thought ya wuz bein’ mean to Johnny.”
“Well, I accept yer
apology, Tommy. ’Pears to me like ya was just lookin’ out for Johnny.”
“Yes, sir. I wuz
“Well, if’n ya take
care of all yer friends thataway, I’d be right proud to be one.”
“You’ll be my friend,
“You betcha, boy.
And to show there ain’t no hard feelings, I’ll have a surprise for ya tomorrow.”
Tommy’s face lit
up. “A surprise for me? Golly, thanks, Mr. Jelly.”
“Well, what ya waitin’
for? How ‘bout helpin’ this old timer do some young man’s work. I want them
bales moved over here.” Jelly pointed at a stack of baled hay and walked
towards them, Tommy at his heels.
“Sure, I’ll help,
Mr. Jelly. Jelly, that’s a funny name! Where’d ya get it?” Tommy helped Jelly
wrestle the first bale over to the cows. He never noticed that Jelly carried
most of the weight.
“Ain’t nuthin’ funny
about it. It’s short for Jellifer. Named after my Pa, I was and if it was
good enough for him, I reckon it’s good enough for you.”
“Are ya really old,
Mr. Jelly? You know, older than Uncle M?”
Jelly stopped in
his tracks and turned an exasperated eye on Tommy. “I’m older than my teeth
and younger than my soul. Does that answer yer question?”
Tommy had to think
about that for a minute. He wasn’t sure what Jelly meant and still didn’t
quite trust the older man’s gruff manner. It would be safer to ask Scott
about it later. Yeah, that’s what he’d do. Scott knew everything and he’d
know what Jelly meant. He grinned at Jelly as he thought of more questions.
Scott said Jelly liked to answer questions and the old timer sure came up
with some funny answers.
The relentless questions
grew more troublesome to Jelly as time went on. The boy just never ran out
of things to ask! He’d never seen such a curious kid.
“How come ya got
a beard? Why does medicine taste so awful? Why do women insist on us men
havin’ a bath? Why do dogs pant? Why does the cat make that funny purrin’
noise? Why won’t women let us taste the cookin’ ‘fore it’s done? Why did Johnny
name his horse Barranca? Why does Scott use such big words? Why is Uncle M
so tall? Why is Johnny so sad sometimes?”
The last question
especially troubled Jelly. Johnny certainly was quiet at the moment. He seemed
to have lost that spark of vitality that always left the rest of the world
gasping for breath. Jelly was worried about his friend and wanted to help
him, but the boy kept denying anything was wrong.
It’s that blasted legacy of years of self sufficiency.
Johnny played a lone hand for most of his life and he don’t know how to accept
help from anybody now. Tryin’ to talk to him about it won’t have no more
effect than pourin’ water on a drowned rat.
But that boy is headin’ for trouble; plain as the nose on your face. I’ll tackle the Boss first chance I get. Johnny’ll listen to Murdoch.
The gentle tug on
his sleeve jerked him back to Tommy’s festival of questions. “Huh?”
“Well, Mr. Jelly?
Why don’t Scott and Johnny call Uncle M Pa?”
Tommy gazed at him
earnestly and Jelly struggled to find an answer. Boy, this kid was hard work!
His brain ached from the non-stop interrogation.
“Well, they’re both
grown men. Reckon they can call him what they like!” He sank down on the
last bale of hay, dragging his handkerchief over his flushed face. He had
to find something else for the kid to do. The endless questions were driving
him crazy. “Tommy, don’t ya ever git tired of askin’ the why and the wherefore
of every little thing?”
“Gosh, no! My Pa
says if ya never ask, ya won’t never find out. Don’t you like bein’ asked
questions, Mr. Jelly? Scott said ya did!”
Just wait ‘til I git my hands on Mr. Scott Lancer!
“Well, I reckon yer
Pa’s right about that, boy. Ya wanna know anythin’ just you ask me. And if
you don’t like the answer ya get, well ya can always ask Scott. Matter of
fact, seein’ how Scott knows so much, you oughta be askin’ him these same
questions. Just ta be sure I give ya the right answers.” That should take
care of Scott!
Tommy giggled and
threw his arms around Jelly. “Ya know, Mr. Jelly, Johnny wuz right. Yer a
great friend and I’m glad yer mine.”
Jelly returned the
hug, fighting the sudden lump in his throat. Maybe the endless questions
were a small price to pay for a special place in this child’s heart.
The next day, early evening…
Jelly turned the
wooden gun over and over in his hands, admiring his handiwork. He’d carved
late into the previous night to complete it and was proud of his craftsmanship.
Did a good job on this ‘un. Reminds me of the one I carved for Toogie. Oh, Toogie loved that gun. Hardly ever put it down. Tommy’ll like it. Wish he’d git on back here so’s I could give it to him!
He tucked the wooden
gun deep into his pocket and paused to enjoy the sight of the brilliant array
of colors branding the mountains with nature’s beauty. Sunset was his favorite
time of day—the time when the earthy smells of the vegetable garden’s loam
wafted across the courtyard with their promise of a hearty supper, the time
when the crickets fiddled in the pasture while the fireflies flickered in
the dusk. Peace descended on Lancer as the whole ranch seemed to exhale the
day’s toil away. And Lordy was the view somethin’ special!
Two distant riders
distracted him from the scenery and he tried to make out who they were, but
his old eyes were taking longer to adjust as the sun slipped lower in the
sky. As the riders drew nearer, Jelly recognized Scott and Tommy. Soon he’d
be able to give Tommy the carved gun and hear all about Tommy’s attempts
to rope calves. Scott and Cipriano took the boy with them that morning while
Johnny headed up to South Mesa.
Jelly wished Johnny
had ridden out with Scott. At least he was with some of the hands and not
riding alone. The boy would be as mad as a rained on rooster if he thought
anyone was trying to coddle him, but dern if he didn’t need it just now.
And Scott could get away with watching him closer than anyone else.
Good ol’ Scott was
always dependable. Jelly had to admit that he loved the soft-spoken Easterner,
but Scott didn’t need love the way Johnny did. He was stronger emotionally
than Johnny, didn’t let himself get all lathered up about things. And he
didn’t believe that he was unworthy of love. At least Johnny had Scott to
turn to. His father hadn’t offered him faith or trust and the kid really
needed that from Murdoch.
Dern Murdoch Lancer
anyhow! What was wrong with the man? He had two fine sons, one he openly
trusted and respected while the younger, the one most needing his attention;
he still treated like a stranger. The Boss pushed Johnny harder and harder.
Seemed like every time the boy did something right, his father expected more
out of him and gave nothing in return. Johnny deserved better. The problem
was Murdoch’s refusal to let go of his pain. Until he did, he wouldn’t be
able to do right by his son.
and stretched, his back protesting the length of time he’d been bent double
greasing the axles of the wagon. There was a time when stoopin’ over that
way wouldn’t have bothered him a’tall, but he was starting to feel the years
creeping up on him.
Course he wouldn’t
admit that. Not to anyone. They’d be calling him ‘Old Timer.’ He grinned
to himself, remembering Tommy’s apology.
Jelly! Mr. Jelly!” The excited voice floated across the corral.
“Speak of the devil,”
Jelly grumbled to himself, despite the warmth he felt as the boy’s footsteps
grew ever closer. Tommy skidded to a halt and Jelly looked the dust covered
boy over thoughtfully. “There a posse after ya, boy?”
Tommy looked over
his shoulder and then back at Jelly, grinning widely. “No, sir! I think I
lost ‘em… You said to come look for ya. You promised me a surprise. You didn’t
fergit did ya, Mr. Jelly?”
“Surprise? I promised
you a surprise?” Jelly’s heart melted at the look of disappointment on the
child’s face. “Oh, yeah. Now let me think. I had it a minute ago.” Jelly
pretended to search his pockets as Tommy’s eyes followed his hands intently
until they both disappeared behind his back.
Tommy looked up into
Jelly’s eyes expectantly. Jelly leaned forward and whispered into Tommy’s
ear. “You didn’t wash behind them ears this morning. Just look what’s hidin’
amongst all that dirt.” As if by magic, Jelly produced the carved toy from
behind Tommy’s ear.
Tommy’s eyes grew
wide with excitement. “Golly, Mr. Jelly! How’d ya do that? You didn’t really
pull that outta my ear, did ya? Is it really for me? Oh boy, it’s a beauty!
Jelly flushed with
pleasure at the boy’s delight, a broad smile lighting his face.
Tommy examined the
gun closely, his finger tracing the lines reverently. “Gosh, it’s just like
a real one.” He pushed the gun into his pants and stood face to face with
Jelly watched in
amusement as the boy transformed before his eyes, seemingly growing a few
inches as he straightened his back, smoothly pulling back his shoulders and
squaring his posture. His head tilted slowly upwards, eyes narrowing and
boring into Jelly as his right hand hovered beside his ‘gun,’ fingers flexing
menacingly. It was a picture perfect child’s reenactment of a gunfighter.
“I been lookin for
ya, Mister. My name’s Madrid…Johnny Madrid.” Tommy growled each word in an
evil tone and Jelly shivered as the meaning suddenly registered.
“J… Johnny Madrid?”
“That’s right, Mister.
I’m the fastest there is. Now slap leather, hombre!” Tommy
drawled coldly, enjoying playing this role.
Jelly knelt, hands
on Tommy’s shoulders. “Why Johnny Madrid, boy?”
“Golly, Mr. Jelly.
Everbody knows Johnny Madrid.” Tommy stared at him in confusion. “He’s the
fastest gun there is. He’s my hero!”
Jelly’s mind raced.
He couldn’t believe Johnny had told Tommy about his previous life. Johnny
hated it when any of the kids tried to look up to him because of his reputation.
He didn’t keep the Madrid years a secret, but he didn’t talk about them,
“You mean Johnny
told ya about…about how he used to be Johnny Madrid?”
Tommy couldn’t believe
what he’d just heard and struggled to comprehend what Jelly was saying.
Johnny is Johnny Madrid? My Johnny? That’s
how come he wears his gunbelt strapped down tight and low on the leg. But
Jelly looked real surprised when he thought I knew…
And I didn’t know! Johnny never said a word,
nobody told me. Maybe it was supposed to be a secret… But I know now. I’m
gonna spring it on Johnny when we’re alone and the time is right.
Golly… Johnny Madrid! I can’t believe it. My brother is the great gunfighter. Maybe Johnny’ll show me how to draw a gun!
He saw the uncertain
look on Jelly’s face and decided to pretend he’d known all along. “Sure.
I know all about it.” Tommy turned on his heels and ran towards the hacienda,
calling over his shoulder. “Thanks, Mr. Jelly.”
Jelly watched Tommy
disappear with a growing sense of unease. Why would Johnny tell Tommy about
Johnny Madrid? Tommy looked up to Johnny Lancer, not Johnny Madrid. Johnny
wouldn’t want that…
The next morning…
his forefoot and snorted, but the brush continued to swipe over his shining
coat where the thin skin was irritated from the vigorous currying. The golden
head tossed in annoyance as the palomino sought to gain the attention of the
man wielding the brush. The horse was confused; the man had never ignored
him like this before. When the now-painful strokes continued, Barranca snaked
his muzzle around and nipped at the hand holding the brush.
“Whoa!” Johnny jumped
about a foot at the unexpected nip, startling the gelding who responded by
lashing out with both hind feet.
“Easy. Easy, fella.”
The gentle hand stroked the trembling neck and Barranca blew a big snort
and turned his head to Johnny, long forelock giving him a deceptively innocent
“Sorry, fella. Didn’t
mean to spook you.” He reached down and retrieved the fallen brush. “Too
hard, huh?” Johnny ruefully kissed the reddened tooth marks on his fingers.
The velvet muzzle
rubbed against his chest and Johnny patted his horse between his eyes. “No
hard feelings, okay?” He gave the broad forehead a final pat and leaned against
his four legged friend’s neck, trying in vain to stretch his aching muscles.
He was stiff and
sore, as stove up as if he’d taken a toss off a whole string of broncs. Johnny
couldn’t remember the last proper night’s sleep he’d had. The nightmare rousted
him at three this morning and he wouldn’t go back to sleep, didn’t want to
face the dreams again.
His body was paying
the price for the lack of sleep, his head and stomach hurt and he was short
tempered and touchy. Seemed like the least little thing made him jumpy and
nervous. Spookin’ Barranca like he didn’t know any better! And he’d almost
bitten Maria’s head off earlier when she surprised him in the kitchen and
repeatedly urged him to let her fix him breakfast.
How could he tell
her that his stomach revolted at the thought of food? She would have Sam
Jenkins at the ranch faster than he could say Johnny Madrid. Irrationally
annoyed at her concern, he managed to hold his tongue…just. He’d come within
a whisker of snapping at her and Maria didn’t deserve that.
Barranca didn’t either.
Damn the dreams! They were holding him hostage and the people he cared about
were paying the price.
He didn’t realize
that even as his nerves were on edge, his vaunted sixth sense was sluggish
and weary. Johnny didn’t hear the silent feet creeping ever closer and remained
oblivious to the gun pointed at his unprotected back.
The voice startled him as he felt the jab of the gun in the small of his
The reaction was
purely instinctive, born of unfailing confidence in his ability. Johnny’s
hand flew to his pistol as he dove sideways, spinning to face his unknown
foe, the gun appearing like magic in his hand, hammer back and ready to fire
off the fatal shot. The sight that met his eyes chilled him to the marrow.
“GOLLY, Johnny! That’s
the neatest thing I ever seen.” Tommy stood in wide-eyed awe, a carved wooden
gun clutched tightly in his hand.
The Colt fell from
nerveless fingers as Johnny sank to his knees, limp with horror. “Tommy!
Tommy!” he pulled Tommy into his arms, holding the boy tightly as he cursed
himself repeatedly for what he had done and what he had so nearly done.
I drew a gun on a seven-year old boy! Came a fraction of a second from pullin’ the trigger. Oh God, I nearly killed him…
Anger and shame assailed
him as he berated himself. Self-loathing choked his soul and his heart quavered
with the knowledge that this was another ghost to torment him, thanks to
the damn gun strapped around his hips.
The image of Tommy
standing there so innocently, even as his finger tightened on the trigger,
would haunt him forever. A child! He’d come so close. Too close. He warred
with the nausea that roiled in his gut.
Tommy returned the
hug, elation surging through his veins.
I saw Johnny Madrid in action! Johnny’s even faster than I imagined! Wait ‘till I tell my friends about this. I’m Johnny Madrid’s BROTHER.
“Johnny, are ya really
Johnny Madrid? Jelly says ya are. Golly, Johnny, he’s my hero. How come ya
never told me?” Tommy’s voice was filled with awe and it slashed into Johnny
like a knife.
Johnny eased his
trembling body onto the floor and pulled Tommy close beside him, arms wrapped
tightly, protectively around the boy. His heart still thudded painfully and
he struggled to control his quivering voice. “I used to be Johnny Madrid,
Tommy. I’m Johnny Lancer now.”
“How many men you
killed, Johnny?” Tommy’s brown eyes glistened with admiration and excitement.
Johnny couldn’t meet
that adoring gaze so he closed his eyes and hung his head. How could he make
“My friend, Jimmy
Baker, he knows a boy that’s got a book ‘bout you. That book says ya killed
fifty-two men! Is that really right? Is it? Wuz they really bad men, Johnny?
Wuz they fast?”
Who wrote those damn things anyway?
Tommy nodded vigorously.
“That’s what the book says, Johnny. Is it right? Is it?”
hard. “Tommy, it don’t matter how many men I took down. Even one is one too
many. Killin’ ain’t somethin’ to be proud of, to gloat over, to count like
you’re keepin’ score in a game. Every time I had to watch the light die out
of a man’s eyes, a part of me died with him.
“That book makes
me into some kind of a hero, but knowin’ how to use my gun don’t make me
no hero. That book, Tommy…it’s just a pretend story, like them stories I
tell you at night and the myths Scott told you about.”
“But you ain’t no
pretend story, Johnny. Golly, you’re fast! Wait’ll I tell Jimmy Baker.” He
smiled worshipfully at his idol. “I’m gonna be fast as you one day.”
Johnny shivered uncontrollably
and shouted. “NO YOU AIN’T!”
He yanked Tommy closer
to him and shook him, fighting for control and continuing in a softer voice.
“No, you ain’t, Tommy. You’re gonna grow up with your Pa; learn to make a
livin’ from the land, not by the gun. And you’re gonna get schoolin’ so you’ll
know things like Scott does.” He looked into the brown eyes, huge now with
fright, and pulled the boy to his chest, hugging him hard.
“Oh, Tommy, I’d give
anything, anything to change what I am…what I was. Every day I wish I’d had
the chance to grow up here at Lancer with Murdoch and Scott, be a rancher
like I am now. That’s all I want to be. Don’t you admire me for how I use
a gun, Tommy!”
He released his tight
hold on the boy, sitting him back up beside him. “You liked me before you
knew I was fast with a gun, ain’t that right?”
“Sure, Johnny.” Tommy
sensed his friend’s emotional turmoil and wanted to chase the sadness from
“Why, Tommy? Why
did you like me?”
“’Cause you… ya wuz
my friend when I needed ya. You’re my brother. Ya brung me here and you make
me laugh and you tell me stories. And ya always give me the last piece of
cake, even if it’s Scott’s.”
Johnny managed a
slight smile. “Yeah? Well, that’s how I want you to think of me. And you
know what? Them things got nuthin’ to do with me bein’ good with a gun.
“Havin’ a gun don’t
make you a man. My Pa taught me that, Tommy. You’re gonna have a good life
with your Pa. If I could, I’d trade just one day growin’ up with my Pa for
all the years I was Johnny Madrid.”
Tommy thought hard
about Johnny’s words, staring at the wooden gun in his hand. He wanted to
know more about Johnny Madrid, but the sadness in his friend’s eyes concerned
him. He didn’t like to seeing that look on Johnny’s face and knowing he was
the cause. Maybe they could talk about Johnny Madrid another time. Right
now, he needed to wipe away Johnny’s sorrowful expression.
Tommy slowly laid
the carved gun in the hay beside the Colt and smiled into Johnny’s eyes.
“Ya wanna know who my real hero is, Johnny?”
“You, Johnny! Johnny
Johnny smiled weakly,
pulling Tommy closer.
“Who’s your hero,
Staring into the
trusting, expectant eyes Johnny thought about the three men he looked up
to, respected, and loved. They would ignore a little white lie, wouldn’t they?
“You, Tommy! Tommy
Scott strode purposefully
toward the barn, Maria’s anxious voice ringing in his ears. Her concern this
morning was the same as the last several days—one Johnny Lancer. His brother
refused a meal yet again and Maria gave Scott an earful as soon as he entered
the kitchen. Scott struggled to reassure Maria without the benefit of his
morning coffee, but nothing was going to put her mind at rest.
And to make matters
worse, Tommy also failed to show up at the breakfast table. One missing brother
was bad enough, but two! Scott knew if he found one he’d find the other so
he headed off in search of both. He’d never get to eat his breakfast in peace
until he found them.
Voices drifted from
the half-open barn door and Scott quickened his pace, stopping short at the
sight of Johnny on his knees hugging Tommy tightly. He couldn’t see Johnny’s
face, but he knew how to read his brother’s body language and something was
wrong. Tommy’s words confirmed his suspicions. How did the boy find out about
Johnny Madrid? Scott carefully backed out of sight, some instinct telling
him to stay close as he listened guiltily to their conversation.
He cringed at the
pain in Johnny’s voice and the hero worship in Tommy’s, heart aching for
Johnny. His brother didn’t need this right now. Pride surged in his breast
as Johnny explained why Tommy shouldn’t seek to emulate Madrid. Tommy’s reaction
was a welcome surprise and Scott breathed a sigh of relief when Johnny finally
sent Tommy to the kitchen for breakfast.
As soon as Tommy
walked out, Scott entered the barn in time to see Johnny slump to the floor,
retching into the bedding of Barranca’s stall.
Softly closing the
door, Scott hurried to his brother’s side, slipping a supporting arm around
the heaving shoulders. Startled, Johnny looked up at Scott and for a brief
few seconds accepted the comfort. Then he violently pulled himself away, standing
and stumbling to where his gun lay. Scott watched as Johnny snatched it up
and jammed it into the holster.
Scott stood slowly,
eyes locked on his brother. “I heard what you said to Tommy…”
in a trembling voice. “I drew on him, Scott! He surprised me…stuck a gun
in my back and I pulled my gun on him. My God, I nearly killed that kid.”
Scott battled the
sudden white-hot rush of fury that swept over him then, anger at Johnny,
anger at God. He couldn’t let Johnny know just how horrified he was. They
had come so close to a tragedy and if he’d actually shot Tommy, Scott didn’t
believe Johnny would be able to bear it.
He said a silent
prayer of thanks while at the same time bitterly questioning God about how
he could let such a terrible thing happen. Thank heaven Johnny hadn’t pulled
the trigger. How in the world did Tommy get close enough to surprise Johnny?
His brother just didn’t make mistakes like that—a butterfly couldn’t sneak
up on Johnny.
The blue eyes peered
directly into his eyes now, searching for any sign of revulsion and the thing
Johnny feared most, rejection. Scott forced his feet to move toward his brother,
expecting him to back away. But Johnny stood still, maintaining eye contact.
Scott folded him into his arms, hugging him hard and ignoring the angry words
spinning through his head.
He whispered softly,
“But you didn’t.”
Scott felt Johnny
shudder and held him tighter. “Tommy’s fine, just fine. Now you’ve got to
put this behind you, Johnny. You’d never hurt that boy. I know that. Don’t
punish yourself any more. Don’t let this come between you and Tommy, he needs
you.” Scott steered Johnny to a convenient hay bale and pulled him down onto
“Scott, I adjusted
the action on that gun myself. It has a hair trigger and my finger was on
it. If I had breathed wrong, Tommy would be dead. Dead!”
“But you didn’t,
Johnny. You could’ve shot him, but you didn’t. Just settle down.” Scott could
still hear his own heartbeat echoing in his head and his command was as much
to himself as to his brother. He heard Johnny take a deep breath and sat
quietly, letting Johnny bring himself under control.
The two sat in silence
for several minutes until Scott felt Johnny was ready to talk about the incident.
“All right, brother, how in the world did Tommy get close enough to surprise
Johnny’s eyes were
fixed on his boots and he shook his head. “I don’t know, Scott. I was foolin’
with Barranca and I never heard him until he stuck that toy in my back and
told me to reach.”
“Uh huh. Do you think
it might have anything to do with the fact that you’re so tired you’re about
to fall over?”
“I don’t know what
you’re talkin’ about.” Johnny glared at his brother.
“Sure you do. I’m
talking about the nightmares, brother—the ones that keep you from sleeping.
And I’m talking about you, the bottomless pit, not eating. Don’t think you’ve
hidden it, because Maria and Jelly are both all over me with how worried
they are about you. It’s pretty bad when it gets to the point that a seven-year-old
can sneak up on you.”
“Johnny, do you have
any idea of what it’s like to watch you battle those dreams night after night?
It’s getting worse, not better. Jelly says you’re as jumpy as a drop of water
on a hot skillet and that just about sums it up. If you were yourself, Tommy
would have never gotten anywhere near you.”
“I’m sorry, Scott.
I…I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t mean to keep you awake at night,
too.” The dark head bowed in defeat.
Scott pulled him
close. “I don’t mind staying awake with you, Johnny. You know I want to help
any way I can. But talking to me isn’t helping your nightmares. I don’t know
what to do about it, either, but you know what I think you need to do.”
“I can’t, Scott!
Don’t you understand that I can’t? I can’t tell him. I don’t want Murdoch
to know.” Johnny leaped to his feet and began pacing frantically. “You promised
me that you wouldn’t tell him. You promised!”
“And I meant it.
I won’t say anything to Murdoch if you don’t want me to. But I still think
you need to talk to him.” He paused as Johnny shook his head vehemently.
“I know you don’t want to, but what is the worst that can happen?”
Johnny turned away,
hugging himself tightly, shoulders hunched and head bowed. Scott closed his
eyes and took a deep breath.
“If he can’t handle
it, at least you’ll know, Johnny. You won’t have to wonder anymore.” Scott
walked to the forlorn figure and firmly led him back to the hay bale.
“Sooner or later
you’re going to have to talk to Murdoch, little brother. This is eating you
alive and either Maria or Jelly is bound to say something to him.” He patted
the tense shoulder.
“And I still say
Murdoch will surprise you. I know the two of you have had your differences,
but I know he cares about you, Johnny. He just doesn’t know how to show it.
One of you has to take the chance and talk about it.”
“I’m not ready to
talk to him, Scott.” Johnny whispered.
“Okay, okay. Will
you at least talk to Dr. Jenkins?”
“Are you crazy? He’ll
go straight to Murdoch!”
“He won’t if you
ask him not to.”
“You don’t believe
that any more than I do.” Johnny nodded when Scott couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Look, Scott, I just
need a little more time to work this out. I’ll figure it out if you’ll give
me a chance.” He saw Scott straighten, read the resistance in the handsome
face. “C’mon, Scott. Just give me a week, okay? Just a week. If it ain’t
any better by then, I’ll… I’ll talk to Sam.” He focused his most persuasive
expression on his brother.
Scott knew he was
lost the second that pleading gaze turned on him and his deep sigh signaled
resignation. “One week? You’re giving me your word you’ll talk to Sam?”
“All right. One week.”
He swallowed. “But the gun comes off around Tommy.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that you
don’t wear that gun around the house and barn. I’m not taking the chance
that Tommy might surprise you again. We got lucky today. Either the gun comes
off or no deal.” Scott steeled himself to hold firm and watched as Johnny
battled with himself.
Finally, Johnny unbuckled
his gunbelt and handed it to Scott.
Scott walked over
to Barranca’s stall and hung the gunbelt over Johnny’s saddlehorn. “I don’t
mean take it off entirely, brother. Just don’t wear it around here. You might
need it out on the range. Guess we have a deal.”
Johnny was absorbed
in making shapes in the hay on the barn floor with his toe. “Yeah.”
“Well, I’m starved.
Maria sent me off to find you before I even got coffee. Join me for breakfast?
You need to eat something.”
“I guess.” Johnny
didn’t move, still standing with his head down.
Scott walked over
and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You were great with Tommy, Johnny. You
said just the right things to him about wanting to be as fast as Johnny Madrid.
I’m proud of the way you handled that and I know Tommy listened to you.”
“You really think
so?” Johnny’s eyes searched Scott’s face.
“Yes. I can only
imagine how hard that was for you, but you rose to the challenge.”
“He really threw
me goin’ on and on about wantin’ to be just like Johnny Madrid. I reckon
it’s time for him to go home.”
“We won’t let him
go home too soon, brother. But that time is coming and thanks to you, Tommy
is going to be all right.” Scott ruffled Johnny’s hair. “Now let’s go eat.”
Johnny nodded and
walked beside Scott toward the door of the barn.
Scott glanced sideways
at his brother. Johnny was still subdued, eyes on the ground. “About the
book Tommy’s friend has…”
Johnny stopped. “What
Scott grinned at
him. “Those fifty-two men? That number seemed to bother you. What about it,
The sapphire eyes
scorched him and Scott bit back a chuckle. Thank goodness he wasn’t afraid
of his brother!
“Scott… I swear,
one of these days…”Johnny broke off and studied Scott’s face closely. “You
want to know why that number shook me?”
just once I wish one of those stories would get it right. Fifty-two! They
always forget about the ‘Duel in Deadwood.’ It’s fifty-six, damn it!”
It took a second
for Scott to realize Johnny was kidding. Then he shook his head and laughed,
relieved when Johnny joined him.
His stomach suddenly
rumbled loud enough to draw a suspicious snort from Barranca. Their eyes
met and Scott seized his irreverent sibling in a headlock, dragging him toward
“Well, while you
were Dueling in Deadwood, I was Languishing at Lancer. If you don’t get some
food and coffee into me soon, your total is going to be fifty-seven, Mr.