Checkmate by Lady Di


Disclaimer: I make no money from this story. Characters are owned by fox though we all love them
A thank you to my Beta, my inspiration and my muse, L. Duarte. A wonderful writer with her own published books, made time for me out of her incredibly busy schedule. Having never heard of Lancer, she approached my story as a favor and fell in love with Johnny and his family. I hope she remains a convert to the Love of Lancer and continues to push me toward my goals. Thank you L.
Johnny is 21, Scott is 24. The boys have been home just over 1 year.


Word count: 17,546

The great room of the Lancer home, at first glance, was a picture of family bliss and togetherness. On closer look, though, the atmosphere was charged with tension and a kind of electricity that makes the little hairs on the back of the neck stick up.

Murdoch brooded at his desk rustling papers and shuffling receipts all while breaking pencils when attempting to fill the ledger books. Teresa perched in her corner chair with a pile of mending untouched as she anxiously watched the dynamic chess game in play.

Johnny and Scott lounged on the floor, Johnny with his back to the fireplace, soaking up the heat from the small fire. The night temperature was only slightly chilled so the room was decently warm without the raging fire he preferred. Scott, with his impeccably straight posture, sat across from the hassock with the game of chess open between them. For the first game of the night but the seventh of the week, Johnny Check mated Scott. It was a longer game than usual, all of 30 minutes. Scott had only won two this week.

Teresa squealed in delight. She was always secretly hopeful that Johnny would find ways to feel better about being home and she figured winning would help with his somewhat damaged self-esteem.

With a smile but an exasperated huff, Scott nudged Johnny in the shoulder, “How do you do that, brother? I was the head of the chess club in school and won my fair share of competitions but you always seem to be two moves ahead of me this week. I’m beginning to think I’m being snookered.”

Johnny chuckled and shook his head. “No way Scott, I just play better than you. Why do you think I got paid the big bucks? I was the best strategist around!”

A loud grunt was heard from the desk, the pencil slapped down and the book slammed shut. Johnny ducked his head and lowered his eyes. He blew it again with his father. He should never have said anything to remind him of his former profession. The remark probably hit Murdoch hard. Murdoch was irritated, really irritated as his voice was loud and his posture rigid. “Johnny, the game of chess is a thinking man’s game. It should be played with plenty of thought, weighing the move against what your opponent may do. You can’t do it justice playing on the fly, and you learn nothing”. Murdoch’ s voice rose slightly at the end of his tirade causing Scott to cringe.

Teresa held her breath. Here we go again, she thought. Poor Johnny never does anything right, not even a stupid game. She tried to hide her nervousness though the butterflies in her tummy were starting.

Johnny jumped up and spoke out quite firmly “If I ain’t playing right, how come I keep winning against the Harvard champ here? And If it’s all wrong, why does Scott keep playing with me?” Johnny swept his arm in the air over the game board and toward Scott. “Tell me Scott, you don’t like playing against me? I don’t play right?” Johnny looked down at his feet.

“You think I cheat?” Johnny’s breath was coming fast and hard now.

His brother never accused him of cheating so Scott’s answer mattered. It mattered a great deal and he was deep down afraid of what he would hear. Scott was one of only a few men he ever trusted with his life and Johnny knew he loved Scott like he never thought possible. So his answer mattered more than his father’s anger, more than Teresa’s discomfort. If Scott really thought he couldn’t win unless he cheated, then Johnny would be devastated.

“Johnny, you have no right to confront your brother like that,” yelled Murdoch. Standing quickly and lunging toward the brothers, Murdoch looked furious. Scott had to diffuse this situation and quickly. He was getting tired of mediating between these two. However, this night his father was so far out of line, he was struck dumb for a few seconds. Scott finally recovered and his brain began to work again. “Of course not Johnny,” he spoke loud and firm. “I never said that, it was just an expression. I’m sorry if our father got the wrong idea. I know you are a great player, just unconventional that’s all”

Blue eyes glaring, “What’s ‘unconventional’ mean?”

“It means your game moves don’t follow any predictable pattern. It’s difficult to guess your next move so my move is often not effective. Men for 100’s of years have studied chess and there are acceptable moves which are made against other acceptable moves thus the game takes much longer to play since each move has to be thought out. You play fast and deliberate and appear not to think about it. It is ‘unconventional'”. He chuckled then, “I suppose you learned during your game of life Johnny, necessity and the need to keep on living was your schooling. I learned my chess game at stuffy Harvard. Frankly, I enjoy trying to outwit you. I’m just not too good at it …..Yet!”

Johnny nodded his head slightly in acknowledgment and secretly breathed a sigh of relief that his brother believed in him.

As for Murdoch, Johnny figured he now had something else to add to his list of disappointments about his youngest son. Just the idea that Murdoch would think him capable of cheating angered him. Never had he cheated in anything. Always his moves, whether in a gun fight or range war or just stringing fences, were calculated down to the last inch. It had to be done fast and accurate or he would not have lived. No time to debate or second guess himself. Johnny’s strategy came to him quickly and most times he won. When he made a mistake in calculations, the consequences were deadly. Why couldn’t his own father accept that? Strategizing, sizing up his opponents accurately and fast meant Johnny lived another day. Otherwise, he would have been long gone.

Suddenly Johnny just felt tired. It had been a long day and tomorrow would be longer, involving contract negotiations under his father’s watchful and probably disapproving eyes. He felt a need to get away from the anger, the tension. Johnny, frankly, was sick of it.

“I’m going to bed old man. Scott, we can play again tomorrow if you’re up to it.” Johnny mustered up a small smile for his sister and brother and left the room.

With Johnny gone, the mood in the room was even more oppressive, if that was possible. Johnny had a light in him that was energizing, like the way he played chess. He went at life with gusto, putting everything he had into his day. Stringing fences, herding cattle, practicing his gun, it didn’t matter. Johnny’s energy was the embodiment of life and Scott felt it when he was gone.

“Why? Why do you do that to him?” Scott was so disappointed in his father that it hurt.

“Do what? I don’t know what you are talking about,” Murdoch gruffed.

Scott couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re kidding, right? Even you couldn’t be that dense!…..Sir.”

Murdoch growled, “Watch it Scott, don’t you take that tone with me.”

“Murdoch, I don’t get you. All Johnny ever wants from you is an acknowledgment that what he does is good, that he matters. He craves a word of praise. That would make his day, but you even take the thrill of winning a chess game away from him. Would telling your son that he played an interesting game kill you? Or that it was good planning to combine the fence repair with helping the Delgado’s with their sick cow? Since he was in the area that he did a good thing for our neighbor? What would it take Murdoch for you to acknowledge that you care about Johnny?”

“I do care about Johnny. He just always has to do things his own way. If he would only do what he’s told.” Murdoch’s voice was low and his eyes downcast. But he quickly looked up at Scott. “I didn’t know about the Delgado cow! Is it alright?”

Scott closed his eyes and took a deep breath, “yes it is, and of course you didn’t know, You never bothered to ask Johnny about his day, You never do! You only demand and communicate with criticism; it’s a wonder he has stayed with us this long. Murdoch, Johnny is NOT a ranch hand to only do your bidding. He is your son, a third partner in this ranch and a dam good worker. If only you could see that.”

Scott walked softly out of the room up to bed, the quietness of his departure was just as loud as a slamming door. It left no doubt as to his disappointment and mood.

Teresa cried unseen and forgotten in the corner of the room.

Murdoch was angry. How dare his sons talk to him like that? This ranch has to run like a clock. There are rules and approved ways of accomplishing chores. Without them, the place would be chaos. They just need to understand that his way worked and it was best for them to toe the line. Scott didn’t argue, why is it always Johnny he butts heads with. And Scott is wrong. Johnny knows he loves him. How could he not? Murdoch stood at the entryway a long time. Morning would be here soon, time for bed.


Chapter 2

Johnny had a restless night. The arguments were getting worse and more frequent. He just couldn’t stop himself. His father has no regard for his ideas. He treats him like a hired hand just learning the ropes. No, that wasn’t it. Johnny had quietly observed his father with the new help. He was supportive and allowed them to learn from their mistakes without making the hand feel like crap. Johnny felt like a massive weight was crushing him, leaving him unable to wiggle his way out from under. His dream was slipping away further every day.

Johnny loved this land. From the first day of seeing the ranch, he felt his spirit woven into the hills and lakes and air of the place. He was drawn to it and felt a little empty when he was away. He felt his heart tug when he heard the coyote call at night, he felt at peace when he watched over the cows on top of his beloved Barranca, he felt he was adding a piece of himself when he fixed fences and bridges but most of all he felt he was home. Sitting at the table with his family for dinner each night made his heart ache with …well, he didn’t know what that feeling was but he liked it.

Johnny had a family. He never thought it was possible. Big brother Scott, his brilliant, Harvard educated, rich Bostonian brother who accepted him as he was on the first day. Never judged him or acted like he was better (though Lord knows, Scott was 100 times better than Johnny ever could be).

Johnny loved Scott more than he ever thought possible. Trust freely given was a hard thing to come by in Johnny’s world. But Scott trusted him and he in turn trusted Scott. They would always have each other’s back. And, they enjoyed each other’s company.

Teresa was his energetic spitfire of a little almost ‘sister’. She ran that hacienda like clockwork. It was because of her caring personality that Johnny was able to share something of himself, knowing she wouldn’t be afraid or judge him.

All of 17, Teresa was wise beyond her years. She grew up on Lancer, in this house and replaced Johnny on his old man’s heart. It wasn’t her fault. It just was and Johnny didn’t hold it against her. She was the sister of his soul if not by blood.

Mamacita Maria, momma of his heart, loved Johnny in spite of his failings and longings. She always knew what he needed to calm his soul. Too bad she had no influence over the patron, Murdoch. And Jelly, good old boy Jelly, Johnny’s wannabe grandfather. If only….

Then there was Murdoch, his father, whom he hated all his life but secretly desired a loving relationship. Unfortunately, his mother saw fit to make sure that never happened.

Scott says that Murdoch “transfers” his angry feelings he has toward Maria onto Johnny because he looked so much like her. Well, Johnny wasn’t too sure about that. Murdoch makes his anger known no matter what the outcome of Johnny’s day. ‘Dammit Murdoch, I don’t expect you to love me, but why can’t you like me? I would accept that. I have dreams too.’

And those dreams just may start to come true after today.

Murdoch didn’t know it but Johnny had plans. Another reason for his restless sleep. He tried to discuss his ideas so many times with always the same result. Murdoch was not interested in what Johnny wanted. But if the contract negotiations went well, Johnny would be able to start his horse breeding program. He was 1/3 owner in the ranch and wanted a say in how it was run.

The horse breeding was a long term investment but he had a way to finance it. The 100’s of wild mustangs on Lancer running free could be used to supply the army for their cavalry outposts. This would finance the initial output needed to make training and breeding the best desert acclimated cow ponies in the area, maybe all of California. And Johnny’s real dream included training the best horses for companionship, work or show around. No one used his methods of training and he knew he could turn out real special horses. Just look at Barranca. All the youngsters of the vaqueros wanted Johnny to teach them. It was a beautiful thing to watch and Johnny was born to it.

But Johnny had to get past breakfast first. He was up early, dressed and ready for the day. He had Barranca saddled and a quick meal eaten before his father and brother made it downstairs.

Johnny just needed to await his orders for the day. It included a trip to town. The biggest event of the day would be the lunch meeting at the hacienda with Mr. Holmes and Mr. Alvarez.

Mr. Holmes was the owner of the best Quarter horses around. Johnny had his eye on a particular stallion, Midnight’s Coming, for his own. Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Holmes were partners in a nearby ranch. They were putting 2 of their new Hereford bulls out to rent for the season to the highest bidder. Murdoch wanted those bulls to strengthen the Lancer herd’s bloodlines. In today’s meeting, they would be discussing the price and dates of the “rental”. All 3 partners in Lancer had to agree.

“Johnny, take the receipts to the bank and get them deposited so we can make the tax payment next month. Also, make a payment to Mr. Sven at the general store on our bill. And stop off at Mrs. Diaz’s place to see if she needs anything. Her husband broke his wrist and may be having a hard time with the barn chores. I know you will probably stop off to see Sheriff Crawford but make sure you make it back here for our meeting at 1:00. I want you at your best, cleaned up and ready to negotiate.” Murdoch’s orders were firm and non-negotiable as always.

“I got it Murdoch. Scott, have fun with the fencing. See ya all in a few hours.”

Well, that went well. No yelling, no posturing. Gonna be a good day!


Chapter 3

Johnny stopped first at the Diaz place. There wasn’t much to do so after throwing a bit of hay in the stalls he was off to Green River. Johnny rode at an easy canter, soaking in the warm sun and sweet breeze of the day. It gave him time to process his thoughts on the best way to approach Mr. Holmes on purchasing Midnight. It would be expensive but he was saving a long time for this. Scott wanted in on the breeding project but Johnny would not ask him for money, unless it was an equal amount. It would be more likely that Scott’s skills with people would be more advantageous. He and Scott were still working on the details.

Johnny and Barranca made good time and he was done with the bank manager in fifteen minutes. He thought to check his own personal savings account and was right pleased with what he saw. Johnny deposited half his wages each month, added to the $1000 listening money he earned on his first day at the ranch gave him a healthy balance. If he won enough at the poker tables, which happened more than not, he put a portion of that away as well. He was well on his way to having enough to start his horse breeding and training business.

Murdoch was always harping on him for spending his money on women and poker. He wasn’t even sure why he didn’t straighten him out on this but to Johnny it was a matter of pride. And stubbornness. He wanted Murdoch to trust him to do what was right but it never seemed to be the case.

Johnny huffed out a slow breath to help clear his head, then graciously said his goodbyes to the banker.

Johnny found Val sitting slouched in a tipped back straight chair at the Sheriff’s desk. They both found satisfaction in each other’s company, Val being the only other person Johnny trusted unerringly. A quick drink of coffee was all that Johnny had time for so Val walked across the street to the general store with his long time amigo. They chatted of nothing in particular, just enjoying each other and the comfort derived from a special type of friendship.

Johnny and Val treated themselves to a large dill pickle from the barrel. Johnny paid his bill and waited for the receipt.

“So Johnny boy, how are things at the ranch?” Val asked while sucking the juice from his fingers. Val knew full well that the stubborn Lancer pride got in the way of the family life that Johnny craved and Murdoch made it difficult for his buddy. For the life of him, Val could not figure the big man out. He searched for Johnny for 20 years and now was working on driving him away.

Johnny, he thought, would be a son to be proud of. A son he wished he had. Hard working and smart, smarter than most men knew. How is it that his own father can’t see it? However, Murdoch didn’t take the time to know his younger son. Val was sure Murdoch Lancer would be sorry one day for this. He fervently hoped he would not lose his friend in the process.

“Well Val, nothing has changed. My father is a stubborn mule and always will be. But Scott and me, we have plans. Maybe he will listen to old ‘Boston’ when the time is right to let him in on our plans for the future of Lancer.” Smacking his lips from the sour pickle juice and quick as he could take a breath, Johnny changed the subject to safer ground. “Play ya a game of Chess next time, Val?”

“Oh I don’t know Johnny. I get tired of losing my hard earned cash to you. I can’t even tell anyone why I am always broke. Who would give a sheriff any respect if they knew I was playing and losing a chess game to an ex gunfighter turned rancher?” Val pouted but gave a sly wink.

“Awww Val, you afraid of little ol’ me”? Who would a thought?” Johnny snickered.

“Only your games Johnny, only your games. See ya next week, come in when you can stay longer and good luck this afternoon.” With that, Sheriff Val Crawford sauntered over to the saloon on his afternoon rounds.

The town was quiet, it being a Tuesday. The shops were open, the saloon almost empty and a few folks walking the sidewalks, going about their daily business. A bit a dust was being kicked up by the light breeze but nothing to keep people from shopping. The only noise was the clip clop of several horses, a tinkle from the wind chime in front of the dress makers store and a slight din of voices, too quiet to make out words.

Johnny walked back toward the Sheriff’s office to pick up Barranca when he heard his name called out. “Johnny my boy.”

Johnny smiled as he turned to face his favorite doctor and friend. “Hi Sam,” he greeted.

“It’s good to see you. How about coming to my office for lunch? Haven’t seen you in a while so you must be healthy,” Dr. Sam said shaking Johnny’s hand.

“Can’t today. Have to get back to Lancer to meet with some people. But soon, How about you come out Sunday for supper?”

“Sounds like a plan. I do love our young Teresa’s cooking.”

At that moment, several sharp bangs rang out. Johnny crouched on the spot and drew his gun, at the same time dragging Dr. Sam to the ground to cover him from the gunfire. Johnny wasn’t sure where the shots came from but he remained ready to protect his friend and himself.

Just as he was rising from the dirt road to better scan the roof tops, young laughter could be heard as well as the pounding of horses hooves.

To Johnny’s right he saw several boys running from the scene of the firecracker escapade but also an out of control horse and buggy careening around the corner up the street. The frightened horse pulled himself free from the hitch post and galloped wildly down the street.

With lightening reflexes, Johnny evaluated the area for more trouble and froze when he saw a youngster, a baby really, out in the street in the path of the runaway horse and buggy. Her parent’s were only a few feet away but appeared frozen in their spots. Johnny ran toward the little girl, he didn’t register the yelling coming from behind him from Sam or to the side from Val.

Lunging forward, Johnny grabbed the youngster around the waist and lifted her, practically throwing her into the arms of her astonished father. At the same time, the horse and buggy made it to the spot where Johnny had been just a fraction of a second before. As fortune would have it, Johnny’s boot heel caught a divot in the ground causing him to stumble. The buggy brushed just past him, grazing his right arm and dumping Johnny unceremoniously on his butt.

At this point, for a quiet day, all hell broke loose. People came out of stores and houses, cowboys ran up the boardwalk, someone yelled and stopped the runaway and everyone started talking at once. Johnny couldn’t make much sense of it all. He was feeling a bit winded but when he took stock of himself, did not feel injured. A slight soreness in his chest and ankle but nothing serious. As he stood up though, he was unbalanced and somewhat confused as to why. He didn’t have time to think about it however.

The girl’s parents grabbed at his arm turning Johnny toward them. He found himself in the embrace of a sobbing woman and being slapped on the back by several men, offering their congratulations.

“You’re one of the Lancer boys aren’t you? Well you just saved the life of my little girl Margie. I’m Will Manning, this is my wife Margaret. I will never be able to repay you. That was amazing what you did. You could have been killed, My Margie certainly would have. I never felt so helpless.”

In the middle of his ranting, Johnny was finally able to stop him. “Please, Mr. Manning, it was nothing. I saw the chance and took it. No one else was close enough. I’m sorry I threw her. Is she OK?” Johnny crouched down to be eye level with little Margie as she hugged the leg of her father. “You OK little miss? I hope I didn’t scare ya.”

Although scared, Margie was soothed when she looked into Johnny’s beautiful blue eyes. Johnny loved kids and was gentle with them. Most kids felt his easy going ways and reacted positively. He reached out his hand to touch her smooth pale cheek and offer comfort when Margie pulled back and whimpered. Johnny was a bit surprised by this reaction but he noticed she wasn’t afraid of him just upset. Margie pointed to his arm while grasping the pant leg of her daddy.

Blood was dripping down his wrist and soaking through his shirt sleeve. Johnny didn’t feel anything at first but then noticed the burning sensation.

Sam was about to look over Margie but heard Johnny hiss in pain so turned toward him. Grasping his right forearm, Sam pulled Johnny up from his crouch and quickly checked his arm. A long gash down his forearm bled freely. “Johnny, come to the office now. I’ll need to clean and stitch that.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Lancer. How can I make this up to you. I can never repay you for what you did.”

Johnny stopped Mr. Manning’s babble. He didn’t want anything. He just reacted like he always did. He was able to help and because of that, this family was still a family. Lucky them. “I don’t want anything Mr. Manning. Just be more aware of your surroundings next time. It always pays to pay attention.”

“I will do that Mr. Lancer. You taught me a very valuable lesson. I will certainly tell your father what a wonderful son he has.”

“Oh, don’t bother yourself with that Mr. Manning. And the name is Johnny. Mr. Lancer is my father.” With that, Johnny attempted to walk across the street with Doc Sam and almost fell again on his butt. “Damn, What the hell”. He looked down at his well worn boots and noticed the right heel broken off. No wonder he wobbled when the buggy went by. If it wasn’t for that, he would have gotten away without the injury. If this made him late for his meeting at home then Murdoch would never trust him. “Come on Sam. Lets get this done quick.”

Off to the side, Val silently shook his head. There would be hell to pay and Johnny would be the one to pay the price. There goes a perfectly nice day.


Chapter 4

“Sam, we can’t spend all day on this. I have to get back home. Murdoch is expecting me. I can’t be late Sam”.

Johnny’s pleading was so uncharacteristic of his friend that Sam was speechless for a minute. He took the time to evaluate the injury and think what to say. Obviously, Murdoch was being less than understanding with the boy again and probably making Johnny feel lousy about himself. He couldn’t figure what went on in the head of his long time friend. But first things first.

“Johnny, this is a very bad cut. It is right down through the muscle and I can’t stop the bleeding. I will need to do some minor surgery to fix the vein and put together your muscle. Then it will need quite a few stitches. I will have to put you asleep for a bit”

Johnny’s eyes opened in shock. “You can’t Doc. I need to get going. Murdoch will kill me. Just stitch and wrap. You can do the other stuff tomorrow!”

“I can’t do that Johnny. This is your right arm, Your GUN arm. You could be crippled if I don’t do this right. Think straight boy! You know I am right. A few hours, we will be done. I’ll take you home in my buggy since you won’t be able to ride. I will help you explain to your father.”

Johnny hung his head in defeat. He couldn’t allow his gun hand to be less than perfect. It would mean his death if he wasn’t able to be in top form and speed. But never being one to wallow in self pity, Johnny in true form verbalized to his doctor “alright Sam, let her buck. Do what you have ta to make this arm work. Then we face my father together.” Johnny gave a small smile; he wasn’t one to deny help when offered either and he had a feeling Sam’s clear thinking would come in handy. Murdoch wouldn’t dare punish his old friend, at least he hoped not.

Two hours later, Sam had the buggy ready with Barranca tied to the back. Johnny, still slightly groggy, insisted they get started to the ranch. Arm in sling and with an ungainly hobble from the missing boot heel and sore ankle, Johnny hopped up and let Sam take the reins. “Might as well take it slow Sam, doesn’t matter what time we get there now.”

Johnny tried to sound light but Sam sensed the anxiety in his friend. They started out at a slow trot to help keep the jarring motion to a minimum. Johnny settled back but could not relax. The thoughts of the upcoming confrontation with his father was unrelenting. He barely noticed the throbbing in his arm.

The ride back to Lancer usually took about an hour on Barranca but in the buggy, time seemed to slow down. The late afternoon sun was warm and seeped into his core, settling his nerves and allowing Johnny to think clearly about the day’s events.

Little Margie was a lucky girl. It could have been disastrous but she was unhurt and the family did not have to deal with a tragedy. That was a calming thought. He himself was not hurt badly and probably would not even miss a day of work, which he figured would please Murdoch. He probably was in for a few punishing days of back breaking fencing anyway to make up for missing the meeting. Damn, the contract could not be signed without him. How could he fix this?

Just as Johnny felt a headache coming on from all his ruminating, Sam noticed a fast approaching buggy. Johnny’s right hand automatically strayed to his gun and hovered there in anticipation. But the buggy’s approach was not threatening and he soon recognized the matched Quarter horses as those of Mr. Holmes. They must be done at the ranch and going home.

Johnny waved and both buggies stopped abreast of each other. “Johnny, we missed you at the ranch. Your father was none too pleased.” A bit of reproach was heard in Mr. Alvarez’s voice.

“Sorry about that, it couldn’t be helped” Johnny replied in a confident voice. “How did things go?” Inwardly, Johnny was cringing.

“Well, we talked a lot but didn’t agree on much. Scott gave us several options to think about but Murdoch is a stubborn old goat and hard to budge. I know he wants our bulls to give a boost to his herd’s bloodlines but he didn’t seem able to concentrate.”

Yah and I’m probably the cause of that, Johnny thought. “I have some ideas, sirs, if you would like to take a few minutes to talk. It’s still early. We could talk over there by the stream bank in the shade.” Johnny pointed with his right arm and it was at that moment that Holmes noted the bandage, bloody sleeve and hanging sling.

“We could do that Johnny, but what happened to you?”

“Well, it’s kind of a long story. Let’s talk business and I will tell you. Come on Sam, might as well sit in the shade with us.”

An hour later, business was concluded with 3 very happy business men. “I like this arrangement Johnny and I think your father and brother would agree. I will have our lawyer write it up and come out next week to go over it. We can all sign and have a drink of your old man’s best scotch to celebrate.”

Mr. Holmes paused, then plunged ahead. “Johnny, I can’t thank you enough for saving Margie’s life. She is my sister’s only child and my heir. I love her as if she were my own child. How can we ever repay you?”

“As I told your brother-in-law, it was nothing. I don’t like fuss. I was in the right place at the right time is all.”

“Fate Johnny, pure fate. It was God watching over both of you.”

“Maybe, but I learned a long time ago to rely on myself. Good bye Mr Holmes, Mr. Alvarez. See you in a week.”

Johnny climbed back into the waiting buggy, Sam ready to head to the ranch. It was just about supper time and still he wasn’t home. Murdoch was going to have a fit. Good thing Sam was there. He would be able to tend to Murdoch when he finally blew his lid.

Sam thought it mighty interesting that Johnny could be afraid of his father. After all, Johnny was feared throughout the west as Johnny Madrid! He hired out his gun, fought in range wars and was wanted in Mexico for supporting the peons in uprising against the land owners. Hell, from what he knew, Johnny stood fast in front of a firing squad next in line without a flinch when the Pinkerton agent rescued him. Good timing that was, or maybe God intervening. He didn’t know which but Sam wished Johnny would take hold of some of that courage when facing his father. That Johnny only wanted a place to call home, a family of his own and a father’s acceptance and love was obvious to everyone except Johnny and Murdoch. Stubborn Scotsmen! Thank God Scott was there to give some perspective and sanity to that family. No one could deny that Scott was good for his brother and that Johnny loved him. Scott seemed to be the glue that held the family together. Johnny would have to stand up for himself at some point though and Sam figured that time was coming soon.

Johnny occupied the last few miles back to the ranch by thinking about what Holmes said. ‘Fate. Scott always said fate is what happens to you but destiny is what you make of it. I believe this but now how can I turn this situation around so my destiny isn’t to be thrown out of the house and the partnership. God, what a mess. But really, I need to spin the situation to get Murdoch to focus on the positive outcomes. I saved a girl’s life. All the things he asked of me were done. I met with and negotiated a good contract with Alvarez and Holmes. Murdoch should be proud of me, finally!’

At the same time, Sam was thinking what an amazing man Johnny Lancer was. He sat and listened to the negotiations and Johnny sounded like a pro. He did a great job and had some innovative ideas that Murdoch would be hard pressed to think of himself. He wasn’t a rancher but the contract seemed to be mutually beneficial. Wonder what Murdoch will make of his youngest as a shrewd business man?


Chapter 5

As fate would have it, Murdoch was upstairs in his bedroom when the buggy pulled up. Perhaps, if he was in the great room, things would have turned out differently. But being in the back of the hacienda, he didn’t hear the approaching buggy which would have announced Sam’s presence. He would have seen Johnny and Sam enter together and perhaps would have tempered his response.

Scott was, however, in the foyer, and heard the buggy stop in front. He looked out the window and saw Johnny dismount from the passenger side and Sam went to tie up his horse. He noted that Barranca was tied to the back and that Johnny did not take care of his own horse first. One of the ranch hands came out to take care of both horses. As Johnny entered the house, he rushed past Scott headed for the stairs.

“Hey, where have you been and what’s going on?”

Johnny didn’t stop but explained over his shoulder “give me a minute to change Scott. I’ll be right down to talk to you and the old man. Wait for Sam”. With that Johnny did a sort of skip, hobble to the stairs. ‘If I change out of this ruined shirt first, Murdoch will have time to see Sam and it just might lessen his temper’ he thought. Johnny didn’t see Murdoch was coming out of his room heading for the stairs and Murdoch didn’t hear Johnny come in or see Sam so meeting at the top of the stairs startled them both.

“Where have you been young man? Again, your irresponsibility has cost this ranch!” Murdoch bellowed.

Johnny was shocked at first seeing his father and then at his words. He just reached the top stair when he turned slightly to head toward his room. “Let me just change…” but didn’t get to finish.

“Don’t you turn your back on me while I am talking to you”. Murdoch reached out to grab Johnny. He grasped hold of his injured arm and pulled toward him, effectively setting Johnny off balance with his missing boot heel. Stepping back to gain his footing, Johnny stepped into air, and twisting with Murdoch holding tightly to his arm, he couldn’t grab the bannister. Johnny’s weight took him over the edge of the top step; Murdoch let go with a surprised explanation and Johnny tumbled down the full flight.

Murdoch didn’t hear Scott yell Johnny’s name or Teresa’s scream or the door slam. He didn’t hear Sam yelling for his bag or Johnny’s moaning. What Murdoch did hear was the sickening thud as Johnny hit each step and the final blow as his head struck the floor. It was as if time slowed down. He couldn’t move. He didn’t react. But he did see the look of hate directed at him by his oldest. And that finally is what got him to move.

Running down stairs, Murdoch went to pick up Johnny only to be stopped by Sam. “Don’t move him. I need to examine him first. What the hell did you do, Murdoch? It looked like you pushed him down those stairs.” Sam was livid. His face turned several shades of red and his breaths came in short puffs as he glared at his best friend.

“I didn’t mean to Sam. He turned his back on me. I only wanted to turn him around to face me. I didn’t mean it. I couldn’t do that.” Murdoch was gasping for breath, trying to comprehend what just happened. It was all so surreal.

Scott stared at his father with his mouth open. He had no words at the moment. It also looked to him like Johnny was pushed. Right now he wanted to kill Murdoch. Best if he didn’t say anything to him just yet. It took every ounce of strength he had to keep his mouth shut and turn away.

Scott tried to suppress his tremors while he held Johnny’s left hand. He and Sam attempted to assess the damage. Johnny’s right arm was broken and the bone was poking through the skin where Sam had just done his repair surgery. Johnny’s blood was pouring freely onto the floor. His right leg was twisted and a large puddle of blood was forming under his head. Johnny only moaned once and now lay still as death. A slight rise and fall of his chest was noted by Sam and Scott but it was barely noticeable.

Sam checked his reflexes while Teresa gently wrapped his forearm to stem the blood flow. Thank god for Teresa, Sam thought. Always keeps her head in a crisis and will I need that cool head now! It was difficult to be sure, but Sam didn’t think Johnny had broken his neck or back. He still had the reflexes in his arms and legs he tested for. The head injury though, needed to be further assessed. “We need to get him on the table. Lift gently and together. Murdoch, you take his legs, Scott his upper body and I’ll hold his head and neck.”

Once on the table, Sam could see that Johnny’s head needed stitching but that his arm was the major and immediate concern. The bone nicked the artery and needed surgery again. The damage this time was extensive. He needed to hurry if he was to save his life as well as any function. He couldn’t afford to wait with this fracture. Any permanent damage was unthinkable. Johnny Madrid Lancer needed his right hand and arm to keep himself safe. Damn, why did this happen? Johnny was a magnet for trouble and not of his own making. Sam took a deep shuddering breath to steady his nerves and emotions. And so the long night began.


Chapter 6

Several hours later, Sam plopped into the dining room chair. He laid his head back against the wall, heaved in a deep breath and closed his aching eyes for a few minutes. His whole body trembled slightly as exhaustion let itself be known.

“Sam, are you OK? Here, you need to drink this.”

“I’m OK Teresa, thanks.” The water felt good on his parched throat and revived him enough to stand. “We need to get Johnny to a bedroom. Can we use the one behind the Kitchen? I don’t want to chance jostling him by bringing him to his room upstairs.”

“Of course, Sam. I’ll get it ready. He looks so pale Sam. Please tell me Johnny will be alright.”

“I did all I can, Teresa. We have to wait and see if,… when he wakes up. Now I have to talk to Murdoch and Scott.”

The men of the house waited in various stages of agitation in the great room. Not surprisingly, Jelly was also in the room pacing in front of the fireplace. The atmosphere was thick with tension. Agitation fairly rolled off Scott as he marched ramrod straight back and forth across the floor. Murdoch sat at his desk, shoulders slouched, head resting in his hands as his fingers created furrows in what was left of his graying hair. The big old oak desk, always seemed so imposing, made him look small. No one sought comfort from the others, no eye contact made. Each man lost in his own hell.

Jelly was the first to notice Sam as he waited at the entry, surveying the room. “Doc, how is he? He’s a gonna make it, right?”

“Jelly, slow down. I just finished but he isn’t out of the woods yet.”

“Tell us Sam, What’s wrong?” Scott noticed the hesitation from their friend and was immediately overcome with dread. His gut was telling him that the news was going to be hard to hear.

“First thing, Johnny is in a very dangerous place right now. I don’t know all the damage yet because I need him to be awake. He is deeply unconscious so I can’t assess pain levels which would indicate other injuries. I was, however, able to set his right lower leg. It’s splinted and if there is no swelling, I will plaster it in a few days. He had several broken ribs which are now strapped. His right forearm was severely injured. The bone nicked the artery which I had repaired just this afternoon. I did the best I could and I think it should heal as long there is no infection. I can’t plaster the arm since I will need to be able to care for the wound but it will be splinted. We’ll have to keep his arm as still as possible to get back full function.”

The men remained quiet throughout Sam’s recitation of injuries. Jelly was the one to ask the dreaded question “What about his head, Doc. He bled pretty durn hard.”

“I stitched his cut Jelly but…” Sam took a deep breath to continue. “I believe he has a fractured skull. I have no way of knowing the extent of the injury until Johnny wakes up.”

Scott gaped at Sam. His voice brittle to his own ears. “What do you mean Sam? “

Although Sam’s heart was breaking for the pain his information would bring, he recited the possibilities with the best doctor professionalism he could muster. “Johnny could have brain damage which would affect his ability to think; he could have some paralysis or he may never wake up. Or he could have no residual impairment at all. I am sorry. We just have to wait. I believe he will be unconscious for quite a while. He seems to be in what is called a coma, which means he probably does not feel any pain nor will he react when you speak to him. I placed a tube down his nose to his stomach so we can keep him hydrated, give his medicine and some nutrition.”1

Sam didn’t know what he expected but it wasn’t the total silence from the room. He had to galvanize these men into action. Johnny needed them to be there for him. “I don’t want him left alone. You figure out who will stay with him. Figure out rotations or whatever you think best. I will explain what is needed after you get that done. For now, I need you to move him to the downstairs bedroom. He will be close to the noise and action of the house and it will be easier to bring to Johnny what he will need as the days go by.”

“Just a minute Sam. What do you mean you repaired his arm just this afternoon?” Murdoch was looking confused. His eyes narrowed and his head was slightly tilted to one side. His voice though, sounded rough. Sam was astonished. “How is it of everything I said, this is what you ask me? Oh never mind. Murdoch, let me tell you something of this extraordinary son you have.”

Sam gave the men in the room a story of courage and humbleness, of business savvy and resignation of fate. A story of a boy/man who tries his damnedest to live up to his father’s expectations but seems to fall short in his eyes. He told them of how this boy only worried that he was disappointing his father and not a thought of how he saved a little girls life. Sam’s body was fairly thrumming with indignation for this young man who should be cherished by his father but had to fight for his place in this family.

Murdoch listened, to his credit, without interruption. He quickly wiped his sleeve over his eyes before his tears were noticed. Jelly’s voice hitched as he spurred the men into action. “Come on, let’s get this boy into bed and comfortable. “


Chapter 7

Murdoch gathered the people who would help care for their patient. It was evident from what Sam said that more than he and Scott would be needed. Since he and Scott would stay with him throughout the night, they would have time to figure out the best rotation. He only hoped that Johnny woke up soon.

Murdoch’s gut wrenched and he felt the urge to vomit. ‘How could this happen? It was just a horrible accident. God, what if he doesn’t wake up? I can’t lose my son again, I won’t lose him. Isn’t 18 years without him enough punishment?’ His mind whorled with images of his son bouncing down those steps….and the sounds….oh the sounds pounded in his head with each step Johnny hit. Again, his gut rebelled and he had to suck in a deep breath to help settle his stomach.

Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, Jelly and Maria, Johnny’s beloved Mamacita would take turns caring for him. Sam explained in detail what would be needed, what he expected. The dreaded fever from either an infection in his wounds or worse, a pneumonia would have to be watched for carefully. For the first 12 hours he wanted Johnny to rest as he needed time to recover from the trauma and surgery. After that, he wanted them to talk to Johnny. Stimulate his mind with stories, conversations, anything to help him find his way back to consciousness. Sam explained that some people have reported, once awake from a coma, that they heard much of what was going on around them and he wanted Johnny to have any chance he could to recover.

So the long vigil began. Scott and Murdoch sitting in the comfortable chairs they dragged in from the adjoining rooms, though their own comfort was far from either mind. The room was decorated comfortably but sparingly. It was one of the two downstairs guest rooms. The other having unofficially been given over to Dr. Jenkins. Besides being out to Lancer on many occasions since the boys came home last year, he was a close personal friend and was often over late for holidays and dinner invitations. He considered it his room and even kept some medical supplies there. Samwould be in his room if he was needed during the night.

Murdoch and Scott barely spoke to each other. A sort of truce had been established as each was lost in his own thoughts.

Murdoch’s mind drifted with memories of the sweet little boy he loved so much. He remembered times Johnny at 1-year-old was climbing into the corral going after the horses and scaring him and the ranch hands to death. And another time Johnny begged to go riding with his Api and Murdoch pulled him into the saddle in front of him. Unfortunately, the horse was spooked by a screeching cat which ran between its legs and bucked before Murdoch got him under control. He was able to hold on to his son, all the while Johnny laughed and screamed ‘again Api again’. Johnny had no fear as a little one and apparently had no fear as an adult. Saving that little girl must have been something. He needed to focus on these positive thoughts because the memory of that fall was just too painful. How could he have fallen down those stairs like that?

Johnny was a precocious and very limber child. He walked when he was 9 months old. Running in the yard and escaping from the house by the time he was 10 months. Before his mother stole him away just before his 2nd birthday, Johnny understood both English and Spanish and was beginning to talk in sentences. At 15, Murdoch sadly understood he earned the reputation as the fastest and best gunslinger in the west and still was. He had cat like reflexes and legendary speed as well as instincts that kept him alive for years all alone. It didn’t make sense that someone with his sense of balance and physical capabilities could have fallen off a step. Truth be told, Murdoch didn’t want to think of his own responsibility in the accident at all.

Scott was lost in his own visions, not of a baby Johnny whom he sadly never knew but of a young and handsome, fiercely independent brother who needed looking after to keep him out of trouble. He’d always wished for a brother. His grandfather used to tell him to be careful what he wished for. Scott didn’t understand it then; he did now. Grandfather raised Scott with a firm but loving hand. He, however, knew he had a brother and didn’t find it important to tell him. Hell, grandfather didn’t tell him about his father either. Made it very hard to continue to see and feel the love in that relationship.

Even though Johnny was able to survive without him for years, he was sure glad he had his little brother now. And Scott knew he was wanted and needed by Johnny. Just look what happened when he wasn’t around. Damn, Johnny couldn’t stay out of trouble for even one day. Scott remembered all those times he pretended he had a younger brother to protect and teach and yes to have someone to play with. He was pretty lonely growing up in Boston with his grandfather. If he had known of his kid brother back then, oh how their lives would have been different. But now, looking down at the pale visage of Johnny, he prayed he would get the chance to be the brother they both wanted.

Johnny remained quiet all night. No fever yet which was a good indication that his arm would heal without the dreaded infection. They would have to give it some time though. Murdoch and Scott talked about Johnny’s care just before sunup. The ranch still needed looking after, it was a working ranch and that could not be put on hold. So rotations were discussed. Scott was hard pressed to give up any time with his brother. He wanted to be there when Johnny woke up but his father also knew that sleep deprived people made mistakes and they couldn’t afford that now with his medical care. Sam said it could be a day or two but could run into weeks before Johnny woke up. (they did not consider the other possibility).

So, the schedule was made. Scott would have breakfast with his brother at 6AM and help Jelly if need be. 7AM-6PM would be shared with Maria and Teresa, depending on the daily house work and cooking that needed to be done. (Though thoughts of food right now did not settle well). Murdoch would also help at this time. Scott would then come in for dinner with his brother at 6 PM until he went to bed. Murdoch would take over until Jelly would come in at midnight. Jelly would do the things that Johnny would not want his family to do like shaving and cleaning him up. Murdoch and Scott discussed how Johnny trusted and loved Jelly and this was a good way for Jelly to give to his beloved friend. They hoped that this schedule would be unnecessary in a short time.

Scott and Murdoch were exhausted by sunup. Neither went to bed during the night, needing to stay close to Johnny. Scott needed to feel his presence, hear his breathing to be assured of his continued existence. Life without his brother just was not an option. Of everything he loved on this ranch, it was his brother who mattered most. His little brother whom he treasured and had learned to rely on. Johnny was not only his brother but his best friend, trusted partner, compadre. They learned to watch each other’s backs but also had a great time together. He also knew Johnny trusted Scott to be there for him when it mattered most. Johnny was not a man who trusted easily but he trusted his brother and that counted.

Murdoch was ready for bed but was pretty sure sleep would not come easily. All night he listened to the slow, slight breaths of his youngest. Unconsciously, he was waiting for the change in the breathing pattern that would indicate a climb to wakefulness all the while knowing that it was much too early for such a thing to happen. He understood Johnny’s resilience and ability to heal quickly and just naturally assumed he would recover before the doc predicted. But he still had a ranch to run and meeting with his segundo to discuss the work assignments at breakfast was tradition.

Murdoch figured he would try to catch some shut eye after this and then help relieve the women throughout the day.

Scott started out his morning with breakfast in the room. Hot coffee was about all he could choke down, though. He was not usually a big eater but had learned the importance of the first daily meal soon after arriving at Lancer. Since he didn’t plan on going very far today, he wasn’t worried about missing some food. He wanted to be close to his family in case Johnny’s condition changed.

“So little brother, you’ve rested enough. Time to wake up. Sam said we were to talk to you and hopefully you would hear us. So what would you be interested in? How about we start planning our new business? I didn’t get a chance to tell you. I went out and checked the Caspar house for our endeavor and you were right. It needs a lot of elbow grease but I think we could make it work. The horses will be fine in the barn if we start out small at first but the corrals need expanding and that part of the pasture fenced. The house isn’t bad, a bit of cleaning and we will be fine for a while. I bet Teresa and Maria would jump at the chance to help decorate and make it worthy of us.” At this Scott chuckled knowing the absolute truth of what he was saying.

Scott spent an hour discussing his thoughts and ideas about the new ranch house and horse training/breeding business. He had sent away to San Francisco to an architectural firm there, well known to his grandfather even as far away as Boston, for plans for the house and barns and new corrals. It was to be a surprise for Johnny for his birthday which was still many months away. They hadn’t figured on starting the business right away so he wasn’t in any rush. It felt right to talk about it however. It was exciting to Scott but this was Johnny’s brain child and he was sure this conversation would be as stimulating as any. Johnny slept on with no indication of hearing any of it.

Teresa came in after breakfast to change places with Scott. After giving Scott a peck on the cheek she sent him away to do his chores and rest a bit. He looked exhausted with dark circles under his eyes and a tightness about his mouth. Teresa didn’t feel much better than Scott looked. She slept little last night, worried over her ‘big brother’ and surrogate father. What a mess it all was. But Teresa was ready for her part in Johnny’s recovery.

Teresa already knew what she wanted to talk about. She was just unsure if Johnny cared. He probably didn’t but discussing the latest fashion was definitely out of the question. So for several hours she talked about the people of Green River. She was well liked and therefore had first hand knowledge of many of the good citizens of the town. Teresa thought that if Johnny only heard a small portion of what she said, he would benefit from it. It was always a good thing to know a bit about the people you do business with and socialize with.

So for the next many days, Teresa talked about Green River and Spanish Wells and Moro Coyo. She also talked about the ranch employees and their families, the comings and goings of the ranch and the exploits of the children. She talked about the sermons at church and how everyone was praying for his speedy recovery. She also talked about one of her secret desires to go to college and become a nurse. She wanted to return then to Lancer and help Sam in his doctoring practice.

During all this, she stroked his arm and held his hand, drawing little circles over the back of his hand with her thumb. Marveling at the hardness of his muscles but soft skin; touching the callouses on his palm and fingers indicating the hard work of a rancher. But also running her own fingers through his thick black hair seeking comfort in its silky softness and waves. And occasionally, Teresa dared to touch his face, gliding the back of her hand up and down his cheek, seeking his lovely smile.

And sometimes, Teresa cried silently, when she felt despair, when the loneliness of it all got to her, when she imagined she would never see his beautiful blue eyes open. No one knew of the depth of Teresa’s feelings for this brother. She knew, however, and the love she felt had nothing to do with being a ‘sister’. This was her secret and would remain so. She could not think of a future without Johnny as a part of it.

Maria sat close to the bed and very sweetly sang to her niño while she embroidered the intricate Mexican designs on Johnny’s shirt he was so partial to. She understood that Mexico was a part of him and sang the same lullabies that she did when he was a baby. Maria was more mother to Johnny than his own mother. That Maria took care of him most of his first two years was her secret. She would never tell her little boy how his own mother all but ignored her baby unless his Api was around. And then she became the dutiful, loving devoted mother. Never did she tell the Patron either for she would not want to hurt him. Maria couldn’t understand why Mrs. Lancer took Johnny away from his home and loving family. It about destroyed them all, especially the Patron but she guessed that was the point- to hurt her husband.

Well, now her nino was back where he belonged and she would care for him again, whatever it took, however long it took. So she sang her lullabies. It was all she could do for him.
A la puerta del cielo, venden zapatos,
Para los angelitos, que andan descalzos
Duermete nino, duermete nino, duermete nino, arru arru
A los ninos que duermen, Dios los Bendice
A las madres que velan, Diaos las assiste
Duermete nino, duermete nino, duermete nino, arru arru.
(At the gates of heaven, Little shoes they are selling, for the little barefoot angels they are dwelling, slumber my baby, slumber my baby, slumber my baby , arru arru.)

Maria had a beautiful, lilting voice, soft and nurturing, sad but sure.
Arrorro mi nino, arrorro mi sol
Arrorro pedazzo, de mi Corazon
Este nino lindo, ya quiero dormir,
hagenle la cuna, de rosa y jazmin
(Hush-a-bye my baby, hush-a-bye my sun Hush-a-bye oh piece of my heart, This pretty child wants to sleep now make him a cradle of rose and jasmine)3

Murdoch would attend to his son for short periods throughout the day, bringing the newspaper, reading interesting articles and pointing out people he should know for business or social purposes. He talked of the ranch and the tasks that were ongoing. He touched and patted him, little things he could never bring himself to do if Johnny were awake.

‘Why can’t I show him how much he means to me? I swear this will change when he wakes up. This anger we have with each other will stop’. Murdoch ruminated over this constantly but truth be told, he knew Johnny was not at fault.

‘I’m the one who keeps Johnny at arms’ length. Always afraid of this one’s attitude, of his contempt for me. Always I feel his eyes on me blaming me for his life in Mexico. Or is it a fantasy of my own making? Scott has said many times that Johnny only wants me to love him. One word of praise would be a balm to his soul. That’s what Scott tells me. If that were true, why do I keep him doubting my love, why am I so severe with him? I don’t do that with Scott. With Scott, life is easier. Maybe that’s it. I am tired of the struggle. But damn sure life would be boring without Johnny.’

Holding Johnny’s hand with both of his calloused hands, he hovered over the bed, talking softly in Johnny’s ear. Tears fell wetting Johnny’s face as well as Murdoch’s. Murdoch’s crying was not the noisy kind but the quiet gut wrenching kind that hurt. They were tears of anger, regret, grief and love. And Murdoch prayed for his son to wake up, prayed for him to be OK and prayed mostly for them to be able to experience being father and son and to love each other.

Scott chose that moment to come in for an afternoon visit with his brother. He shamelessly listened in on his father and felt what a tragedy it was that it took this accident to open his father’s eyes. Hopefully, Murdoch will tell Johnny when he is able to hear it. Scott backed quietly away from the door.

Late at night when it was Jelly’s turn to watch over Johnny, the household was able to sleep. Jelly was a man who loved children. His own lost boys were the reason for being at Lancer. He had his little family for several years, finding each boy in some backwater town, starving or stealing or otherwise headed for trouble. He took care of them, kept them safe.

The fact that Murdoch found all his boys good homes was a big help in keeping Jelly on Lancer, to be close to them. He often thought that if he found Johnny so many years ago, he would have been able help Johnny experience the love of a father and family. He would have kept him safe, never to have to turn to the gun to survive. Well, Jelly knew a thing or two about caring for his boy. He would do all he could now.

‘So Johnny, didn’t ever tell you about my little brother did I? He was 10 years younger and not very strong. He was born with some kind a muscle problem. My ma, she couldn’t care for him what with 5 other children and the farm to run and my Da had no use for a kid who wouldn’t ever grow up. That’s what the doc said, he would never walk or grow up.’

‘Well I took exception to that and decided right then and there that my brother would walk and talk and grow up. My ma said he was my responsibility and I took it seriously like. I figured he just needed a helping hand is all, just like you do now Johnny boy. So I did all kinds of stuff with him, exercising his legs, movin’ em all around, making him stand on his little bent feet with my help. An don’t ya know, by the time he was 2 years old, he was a walkin around the house, gettin’ inta mischief just like any 2 year old. God, I loved that boy.’

‘So Johnny, that’s what I’m doin with you. Exercise is the best thing to keep you strong just like ya do with a colt that’s ailin, so when ya wake up, you’ll be good as ever.’ Jelly worked Johnny’s left leg and left arm and the upper part of his right arm. He even worked the right leg, after the doc casted Johnny’s ankle, with the help of Scott in the morning. Jelly needed the help since the cast was so heavy and he worried something fierce over hurting the mending bones.

Jelly also did the shaving and bathing and rolling and positioning in bed so as not to have sore spots when Johnny woke. Jelly talked the whole time he was in the room, all about his brother who lived 5 years, was able to walk and run though never spoke, until the fever took him and 2 other brothers. For years, Jelly missed him something awful, until he started finding his lost boys.

This was the routine of the household going on 6 days. Johnny made no sounds, no movement of his own but deep in his brain Johnny was aware, at least sometimes. Time had no meaning for him. He tried to swim through the murky depths of his clouded thoughts but it was too difficult and too tiring.

He heard snippets of conversation, voices he recognized but could not put a name to. It was like the annoying droning of bees with no substance, nothing to grasp at. Other times, the voices were clear and sure. He felt the movement of his arms and legs, sometimes felt warm water and massaging; he heard tunes and melodies that rang somehow familiar from times long ago. He listened to a soft voice naming people he felt he should somehow know and often felt tapping on his head, someone’s fingers running through his hair. He recognized his brother’s voice above all else. The talk of the horse breeding was exciting and Johnny tried to participate. He didn’t know if he was heard, he didn’t think so.

Through it all, Johnny suffered with the pain. Unable to tell anyone, he was pretty sure he would die of it sometimes. So the gray oblivion would take him to where he didn’t hurt, where loving arms of his mother and others he knew from time past would comfort him.


Chapter 8

On the 6th day of Johnny’s injury, Mr. Holmes and Alvarez came to the Lancer ranch. In a small buggy were 2 adults and a child whom Murdoch did not recognize. Following behind the buggy were several vaqueros herding 2 large handsome Hereford Bulls and one magnificent black Quarter Horse stallion. Murdoch came out to greet them, surprise written all over his face. “I don’t understand. What do we have here?” as he looked on at the animals coming up behind them.

“And a good morning to you too Murdoch. It’s contract time and we thought we would save a whole passel of trouble and just brought the bulls with us. Where are your sons? We have business to discuss.”

At this point Scott hurried from the barn; taking it all in was a bit overwhelming. Hello Mr. Alvarez, Mr. Holmes. Whom do we have here?”

“Forgive me Scott my bad manners. I’m just so excited. This is my Brother-in-law Will Manning, his wife, my sister, Margaret and my lovely niece Margie. And these are the bulls we and your brother negotiated for last week. Aren’t they just magnificent?”

Murdoch schooled his face to show just a small smile rather than the utter surprise he was really feeling. “I heard Johnny spoke with you out on the trail but I didn’t know terms were decided. This is highly irregular Burt. We haven’t agreed on anything yet.”

“Haven’t you talked to Johnny about our terms yet? What’s the matter with you? I assure you the terms are fair to both of us. He did a great job of opening our eyes to a new way of thinking. I have the official copy right here for your signatures.”

“Come on in Burt, Sol, Mr. and Mrs. Manning. We’ll have a drink, go over them and figure it out.” “Scott, show the men where they can put up the stock and get some food. Then come on in.”

“I don’t know if you heard that Johnny had an accident the day he came home from town. He isn’t up for visitors yet.”

“Oh my, I hope he will be alright soon” coming from Margaret Manning. “My daughter was so looking forward to seeing her handsome hero again. I will never be able to repay your son. He saved our little darling’s life and every day I look at her I think of your son. He truly is a courageous, amazing man.”

Murdoch was stunned by the level of emotion in her voice. As he looked around, each man nodded their head in agreement. Scott, just entering the house, stood off to the side and commented. “Yes, my little brother can be all that and it seems he is an astute negotiator as well. Why don’t we look at those contracts?”

For the next hour, the men talked terms and socialized, drinking good scotch and having a laugh or two. It was the first time in days that Murdoch felt almost himself. Mrs. Manning took Margie to the kitchen and met Maria and Teresa. Johnny was the topic of conversation and Margie joined in. She was shy at first but easily warmed up to the nice Mexican woman who was sweet and nurturing and gave her yummy cinnamon cookies and milk. She told the ladies how scared she was until this angel with blue eyes wearing her favorite color pink rescued her. The women nodded their heads in understanding. Johnny had a way with all women, no matter their age.

Margaret had no idea how serious Johnny’s injury was. She was saddened to hear but felt sure God would allow him to recover. He was special and too full of life to let go of it.

Murdoch and Scott were amazed at the simplicity of the terms of the contract but that it still met all their needs at an acceptable price, being fair to both parties. They eagerly signed on the dotted line however since Johnny was also a partner, Murdoch was not sure of the legality of it.

“Don’t worry about that, Murdoch. Johnny signed the original contract with all these changes last week when we talked. This is just a cleaned up version from the lawyer. I believe his original signature on the original negotiated contract will suffice until he is better. I will run it by the lawyers and let you know. Now for the other reason for this little visit”.

Will called his wife out to the study. “I heard that Johnny is a student of the great game of chess. As a thank you for saving our daughter, I want him to have this chess set, carved from the Oak and Olive trees of Spain. I believe some of his ancestors originate from the Madrid area of Spain.” He picked up a box which had been sitting forgotten on the floor and opened it up to an exquisitely carved chess set. The knights were horses with flowing manes, the pawns were Spanish vaqueros, each piece represented an aspect of Spanish life and nobility.

Scott let out a whistle through his teeth. He had never seen a set as beautiful. Murdoch was stunned. It had to have cost a fortune. “I understand why you would want to do this but I can assure you Johnny would not want to accept. He would see his actions as nothing heroic and undeserving of such recognition.”

Mr. and Mrs. Manning would not be put off. “This set has been in our family for years. It is my right to give it to Johnny. He saved us from a poor existence without our Margie. Do not offend us by refusal, please. This debt can never be repaid.”

“We also have something for your son, Murdoch. Here is the paper of his lineage, signed over to John Lancer as new owner of Midnight’s Coming, my best Quarter Horse stallion. You saw him when we came here with the bulls. It is for his horse breeding program. I only ask for his first colt out of the best mustang mare he can find. It’s in this bill of sale. It’s already done. You can’t undo it.” At this point, Burt Holmes was becoming agitated at the man who would dismiss his sons accomplishments so out of hand.

Murdoch was becoming angry at the mention of the horse breeding. ‘Will this nonsense ever stop?’ “No I cannot accept all this. It is too much.”

Scott was seething inside. How dare Murdoch disrespect Johnny again and in front of practical strangers. This was not for him to decide. Scott looked up at the announcement of the quiet Mr. Alvarez and was soothed by his words.

“Excuse me, Murdoch. But the gifts are not for you to accept or decline. These are for John Lancer, part owner of this ranch, negotiator of this contract, hero to the Mannings and Angel to a little girl named Margie. You have no place in it. Without Margie all our lives would be as dust. No good for anything or anyone. They will be left for Johnny and when he is well, he can enjoy them as he sees fit. I hope you understand our position on this.”

Scott fairly danced with this pronouncement, putting his father in his place. What a day, he couldn’t wait to tell his brother about it. Murdoch hung his head in indignation for a second but quickly recovered. “Of course, I will tell John of your generosity and thanks.” With that, they all shook hands and went out to look at the new acquisitions to Lancer.


Chapter 9

Day 7 of Johnny’s confinement dawned bright and warm. It would have been a perfect day. The sound of crickets and lowing of cattle could be heard over the slight breeze through the branches of the tree outside John’s window. Since he was still on the first floor, the smell of the lavender in Teresa’s garden was fresh and calming. Jelly had taken to bringing in the babies born on the ranch and sneaking them in to visit with his charge.

First it was a kitten which would snuggle around the crook of Johnny’s arm. Little Grey purred while she was settled there. He also brought in baby ducks and chicks which had free reign over his bed but tended to make a mess so only kept them for a few minutes at a time. The baby bunnies were the sweetest while they nestled under John’s chin and under his limp hand. Jelly kept him clean from the babies but he also believed that this contact would help to reach the dark depths of his unconscious state. It was when the chicks were hopping on Johnny’s belly over the the blanket that Val walked in.

It was quite early, breakfast had yet to be served. Val had come to visit his friend and investigate the accident. He didn’t come earlier, knowing Johnny would be mighty aggrieved with Val seeing him in this vulnerable state. But it couldn’t wait any longer and Val was afraid if he waited any more, it would be too late. And that he could not live with.

The sheriff noticed the little chicks and chuckled, as sure as he could be, he figured Mr. Lancer knew nothing of the animals but that it was just perfect for Johnny! Johnny was known to rescue a little animal from time to time and had even brought a new born calf into the house to warm up by the fire at one point. Val was pretty sure Murdoch was none too tolerant of animals in the house.

He gave a nod to Jelly and a wink, trying to convey that his secret was safe. Looking down at his buddy, his breath hitched and he felt a pain in his gut. If Val didn’t know better, he would have figured Johnny was asleep. Val supposed this to be a good thing since he didn’t look to be losing weight. He looked peaceful, not half dead like he feared.

“So Johnny boy, what have you gotten yurself into now? I aught ta tan yur hide! I saw that stallion out in the corral. He’s a real handsome devil. Wait to you see him. But you gotta wake up first! And I need to know what happened. I can’t see yur father doing this on purpose but I know he was real riled. Got that from the doc. Also talked to the Alvarez and Holmes fellas. They seem real confused about the whole mess. So I need you to give me your version of events, Johnny…. And I miss ya, kid.” This last statement was whispered close to Johnny’s ear, a private moment between long time friends.

Val was invited to breakfast so he took a seat at the table. Not an all together unusual occurrence. Scott decided to forgo breakfast with Johnny this morning and join the sheriff and his father. They amused themselves with small talk of the town and the ranch activities. Val verbalized his thoughts on the impressive piece of horseflesh out in the corral. He didn’t miss Murdoch’s intake of breath as he tried to calm his emotions.

“What do ya think of the stallion, Mr. Lancer? A finer piece of horseflesh I never did see.” Val figured this would rile him up and Val just felt pretty ornery himself over seeing what the accident did to his buddy.

Murdoch, however, didn’t take the bait. “Yes, I suppose he is. Johnny will be mighty surprised. I guess I’ll just have to start taking him seriously on his horse breeding endeavors. Can’t let a good horse like that go to waste.”

Scott and Val just about fell out of their seats. ‘Well, maybe hell did just freeze over’ they both thought at the same time.

Murdoch smirked at the reaction. He really was thinking about it the last few days. Ever since he heard Scott taking his turn with Johnny and talking about their plans. He wondered why he was being such a hard ass about the expansion of the ranch. He knew it was a good idea. It wouldn’t be much in the way of start up costs. They had the land, corrals, a ready supply of mustangs. He was figuring he was so set in his ways that listening to his youngest and his ideas just didn’t sit well. Then with the arrival of Midnight, he almost lost his precious patience.

Murdoch did not like being ganged up on and that’s what it felt like. Till he took a good hard look at himself and his relationship with his sons. That was more important than the ranch and he didn’t want to lose either of them. After all, they were looking out for the future of the ranch and that’s what’s important for their legacy to survive. Diversification would save the ranch in the bad times, especially during a tough drought.

Lancer almost lost everything several years ago with the worst drought in history. It was only by virtue of him having the largest ranch around that saved him. And even with that, it took two years before the beef could go to market. Having extra cash flow from some other place would have been mighty helpful. He was just being Scotch stubborn!

Val and Scott finished up their breakfast. Scott took his leave to begin the daily chores. Val looked straight at Murdoch and wasted no further time with his thoughts. “Mr. Lancer, there is another reason I came out here besides visitin’ with Johnny. I am investigating his injuries. I believe you didn’t want to hurt Johnny on purpose, but evidence shows you approached him on the stairs with malice. What do you say?”

Murdoch sat with his mouth in a firm line. “I assure you, Sheriff, it was a horrible accident, one in which I would give my life not to have happened. But I understand you have strong feelings regarding Johnny. I don’t pretend to understand them however, as my son has never seen fit to enlighten me of your ‘friendship’ with him. I can only assume you knew each other during his gun fighting days. Now, you are welcome to visit any time and I will be sure to notify you once Johnny wakes up. Now good day to you”. Murdoch stood abruptly and left the kitchen to visit with his son.

Sheriff Val Crawford donned his hat and left, stomping out the back door. ‘My friendship, ha, if you only knew what we have been through, you righteous pain in my but’ were his parting thoughts.

It was about this time that Jelly was finishing up with Johnny’s grooming and gathering up the chicks when he saw movement come from the bed. He was sure Johnny’s left hand moved, a twitch really but the first actual movement in many days. “Johnny, Johnny boy, can you hear me. Wake up for me boy. I need to see those blue eyes of yours.” But after 10 minutes, nothing else was seen. It didn’t matter, though, Jelly’s heart was lighter than it had been in days. Johnny was waking up.

Johnny could hear the buzz of bees. They were pestering him for all they were worth. He couldn’t seem to get away. The buzzing though was comforting in a weird, annoying sorta way. He figured he should try to get away from them and let the bees do what bees do.

It wasn’t that simple, though. Johnny kept trying to move away. It was like swimming through mud. Somehow he felt it was important to keep trying. The buzzing was getting louder and now sounded more like a voice. Sing song and soothing and a funny little chirping sound. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure that one out. Wait! The voice was getting softer, like it was going away. Johnny felt bereft. He didn’t understand this feeling. Who was that? Sounded familiar.

A day later, though time meant nothing to Johnny, he heard the buzzing bees again. It then floated into a sound he did recognize. The voice of his brother acting like a beacon, helping him find his way through all this murkiness. ‘I’ll just follow Scott’s voice. I need to breathe. I feel like I’m suffocating’.

Johnny’s breathing became erratic while Scott was having breakfast at his usual spot. Johnny tossed his head side to side and his hands griped the bed clothes. Scott was alarmed, fearing his brother might be getting sick, maybe pneumonia. “Johnny, please Johnny, can you hear me? You’re OK, you can breathe. Just take it easy. Open your eyes, brother. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Johnny crawled through the depths of blackness but he was beginning to feel the pain. Down his leg and his head. Damn, his head was exploding. His leg was on fire. What the hell, was he shot in the head? He wasn’t ready for this. It was too much. The blackness took him safely away.

Johnny’s breathing slowed and regulated itself. Scott was relieved and disappointed at the same time. But this was the first sign that Johnny was coming around. It felt good. He missed his brothers smiling face and teasing. Scott could sense the change in Johnny. He seemed to be sleeping rather than unconscious. He was more restful looking. ‘I’m sure Murdoch will think I’m imagining it. But I’m not. Johnny’s coming back to us’.

Everyone in the household felt not a small bit of excitement at this news. As predicted though, Murdoch had to temper the enthusiasm with less optimistic thoughts. He was just as excited but it wouldn’t do anyone any favors to not be the voice of reason.

Disappointment was all too familiar these last 8 days. In his mind though, Murdoch prayed that this was the beginning of his son’s recovery. He missed the temper, his irascible personality, his constant challenging. Life was very peaceful around here without Johnny but it was also completely empty, unexciting and totally boring! He never thought he would miss the sparring with his youngest. But he did. Murdoch, though, knew he was going to change his ways when Johnny awakened. He heard from enough people lately about how much his son touched their lives. He didn’t see it before but he would be damned if he didn’t take the time now to understand the boy. He was a son to be proud of. Murdoch always felt it but couldn’t voice it. He figured it would make him look weak. Now he was sure to change his ways. He would be the father Johnny wanted and the father Murdoch needed to be. That wasn’t weakness, it was strength. Scott has said all along ‘Johnny just wants you to love him’ and God knows I do. I just need for Johnny to know it.

Johnny began to stir awake, at least in his own murky mind, to the sweet sounds of Spanish. ‘arrorro mi nino, Arrorro mi sol, arrorro pedazzo, di mi corazon.’ The melody was soothing, the words familiar and the voice he recognized felt like a loving embrace. He managed, by some herculean effort, to open his eyes a fraction. “Hey…” It took a while for his eyes to focus. When they did, he recognized Maria. She was crying and held her hands together in prayer of thanks, “mi nino, you are awake. Thank you Madre de Dios”!

Murdoch heard a strange sound and took a minute to process what it was. He realized the noise was an excited Spanish coming from Johnny’s room. He took off like wild fire to the back room and observed Maria brushing Johnny’s hair from his eyes, wiping his face of her tears. He became truly frightened until he saw the deep blue eyes look up to him. A slight but tired smile on Johnny’s lips.

Johnny wasn’t able to stay awake long. He really didn’t even notice that he fell asleep again. The difference this time was that he was able to dream. He felt comforted. He noticed a smile of sheer gladness on his father’s face. He could hardly believe it was for him. Why? I must have been hurt. My leg pains me, so does my head. But he dreamed he was being touched by his father, his big hand smoothing the hair in the back of his head and hugging him. If only this wasn’t a dream.

When next he surfaced, the pain was less. More like an annoying throb in his foot. His head was like sand, thick and unyielding. He also felt a kind of numbness in his right arm. But the voice was there, insistent, demanding, and then gone again.

The family continued to take turns over the next two days. Johnny would open his eyes but said no more. Truth be told, he really was not aware of anything in particular. He would get vague impressions, hear sounds which did not make much sense, feel movement of the air around him as well as movement of his body. He struggled to understand it all.

Sam had come that night to assess Johnny’s condition. He, too, felt that Johnny was indeed starting to wake from his deep unconsciousness. Sam also figured Johnny was now feeling the pain. It was a dilemma whether to give him laudanum for the pain as it would also keep him sleepy. In the end, he opted for slight infusions of the medicine through his nasal tube to take the edge off the pain but not completely dull it. Sam determined the pain was part of what was keeping his patient from waking fully and right now that was more important.

That night, Scott took a turn to sit with his brother. He wanted to give Jelly a much deserved rest but also some uninterrupted brother time. He missed Johnny, more than he ever thought possible. He held Johnny’s hand and begged quietly for him to wake up. He was afraid that his brother would somehow not ever be the same, that he wouldn’t see his vibrant smile light up the room or be on the receiving end of his practical jokes. And maybe never again play chess against the most interesting, exasperating, courageous and loving person he had ever met.

Later the next morning, Scott was taking his breakfast with Johnny, discussing the horse breeding program with his inert form. Murdoch had been walking by to the kitchen when he heard the words from his son. Here Murdoch was trying to work out how to be a better father to Johnny when Scott was talking about taking away that opportunity. He was talking about moving into the Caspar house and expanding the ranch business. Murdoch was furious.

“How dare you go behind my back young man. This is a cattle ranch, always has been, always will be. I call the tune here”. Murdoch forgot his resolve to listen to his boys and his acknowledgment of diversifying as good business sense.

“So whatever Johnny and I want doesn’t matter? We only want what’s best for the ranch. We need to diversify to keep viable during the hard times. It’s what Johnny dreams of. It won’t take away from the ranch. It will only make it better.”

Scott was hard pressed not to let the entire household hear his argument. Murdoch had no such restraint when it came to his arguing. The bunkhouse could probably hear him. The two Lancer’s heatedly debated and effectively but surprisingly forgot Johnny.

The two became aware simultaneously of a quiet but sad voice. “No mas, por favor. No mas. Mi corazon esta herido.” (No more please, no more. My heart hurts.) The pain in his voice was unmistakable but had nothing to do with his condition. Scott and Murdoch were shocked into silence.

It was at that waking moment that Johnny had confusing flashes of events go through his mind. The injury in town, the meeting with the ranchers and the fall. But mostly the look on Murdoch’s face as he grabbed his arm at the top of the stairs. “Porque tu no me quieres, Api?” he blurted out. (Why don’t you love me, father)


Chapter 10

Murdoch quickly leaned over Johnny’s bed and carefully gathered him into his strong arms. “I love you son, I am so sorry. I do love you.” Murdoch’s litany was repeated over and over as he gently rocked his boy in his trembling arms.

Scott, forgotten by his father for the moment, walked to the other side of the bed to assure himself that his brother was indeed awake. A ghost of a smile appeared on his handsome face as he observed Johnny’s bewildered but open bright blue eyes. Such a sense of relief flooded through him, robbing him of strength. It took all his concentration to remain standing.

Murdoch was at last able to lay his son back on the pillows, brushing Johnny’s thick hair off his face and running his fingers through the unruly waves. “Welcome back, son, we’ve missed you”.

Johnny looked up at the two most important men in his life. Feeling confused and not a little pain, he wondered what was happening. His father seemed concerned and dare he think it, loving. A few seconds ago, Murdoch was acting like the father he knew, all rough and righteous; this was an entirely different father. It made Johnny’s head hurt even more. Turning slightly to see his brother, now there was a face he recognized. ‘Must have been some fall to make my brother give me that look again. Always that look of relief. What the hell did I do this time?’. “Not sure what all the fuss is about. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Just that we missed you. You’ve been sleeping a long time. Johnny, what do you remember last?”

As difficult as it was to think, Johnny was able to piece together a few thoughts. “I remember singing I think, and lots of…. well, words from you Boston” Johnny thought he better keep some things to himself, like the horse breeding Scott was discussing with him. But he really wasn’t sure he was a part of that conversation any way. It was all too confusing and he had a headache.

Scott raised an eye brow and sighed, surprised at what he was hearing. He was entirely thrilled that what the family did for Johnny worked and that he heard and remembered was a bonus. Maybe Johnny would recover fully. It was a happy thought causing a bit of a smile to show. “well, that’s not exactly what I was asking but wonderful to hear all the same. Do you remember falling down the stairs?”

“For heaven’s sake, Scott, what are you talking about?” Johnny then had a flash of memory though not of a fall but of being in town and protecting a little girl as well as talking with their friends about a contract. It was a bit disjointed but made some sense. He mentioned these things and for the next several minutes Scott, Murdoch and Johnny talked about the events leading to the fall.

Johnny was still in disbelief but didn’t doubt their words. Being told of the time he was unconscious though caused some agitation and fear. He was anxious to get out of bed and get going. He couldn’t have missed that much time! But the headache and sudden fatigue was enough to keep him in bed and fall asleep in the middle of the conversation.

Over the next several days, Johnny was able to piece together the events of the last several weeks, with the help of his family. He even accepted that he did indeed fall down the stairs though the why of it remained a mystery. The broken bones didn’t hurt as he expected. Doc explained that being in bed and not fighting the recovery allowed his body to start mending without the strain of pain or the need to move around. Johnny continued to have his hourly daily caretakers though he managed to convince them to give him some solitary peace. This worked with everyone but Jelly. Jelly was like a dog with a bone exercising and yapping and touching him constantly. It was comforting and exasperating and downright maddening at times but Jelly was determined he would recover completely. Johnny was secretly grateful for his tenacity.

It took another day before Johnny was awake for more than a few minutes at a time. His recovery did indeed go swiftly once he could participate in his own care. A few word finding problems in the beginning, a constant headache and the fatigue were the most noticeable remnants of being injured. He never did remember the fall itself and Johnny was uncomfortable with the type of questions coming from his best friend, Val. In the end, Val had to satisfy himself with teasing his buddy for being a ‘lay about’ and doing anything to avoid chores and hard work.

By the time Johnny was getting out of bed with a bit of help, he understood the amount of work and dedication his family put into his recovery. He would be forever grateful. His bones healed nicely and his wrist was at least moving. It would take a lot more time and practice with his gun to get back to his former skill. Of that, Johnny was hopeful and determined.

A week after Johnny opened his eyes, Scott and Murdoch had him outside to get a look at his new addition to the barn. Midnight pranced and tossed about the corral showing off and knowing full well what a beautiful spectacle he was making of himself. Johnny laughed at his antics. “You and me are going to get along just fine, aren’t we Amigo?” Truly, Johnny was stunned at the beauty of this animal and the good luck in acquiring him. ‘Luck. Well not sure if I could ever call myself lucky before. But maybe, just maybe, I need to rethink this’.

Murdoch kept his arm around his son’s shoulder and Scott stood close enough to help if needed. It was comforting and uncomfortable at the same time. This family closeness would take some getting used to but so far, it seemed worth the price he had to pay.

Murdoch was making a considerable effort to listen to his son, not just judge and yell. Scott was there for him as always and Teresa, well, Teresa was different but wonderful at the same time. He was noticing a change in her though not quite able to put a name to it. Or maybe he was the one to change. Never one to take anyone or anything for granted, he was aware of subtle changes in people. He was liking what he saw.

Murdoch returned to the house and left the boys to themselves. They had been talking quietly between themselves at every opportunity about the horse breeding plans. Now Johnny saw the opportunities as imminent and he recognized the chance to build on his dreams now rather than some unknown time later in life. What he was sure of was the explosion that would come from their father and not looking forward to it. Things had been so good with them lately and he didn’t want that to change.

“Scott, I think its time to move on this. But how about we start slow. Moving out and building barns and such might just send Murdoch over the edge, but starting here, with just a few mares may be the way to go. I don’t want him to feel I’ve stabbed him in the back.”

Scott stared opened mouthed at his brother. Then a crinkle around his eyes and a slight upturn of the corners of his lips gave a hint of the happiness he was feeling. “Little brother, that is a grand idea and I think Murdoch is ripe for the plucking. He’s just looking for a way to show you that he has been working hard on changing his attitude. Since there is no time like the present, lets go talk to him now.”

Of course, getting back to the house was slow going and gave Johnny too much time to think. “Uh, maybe we shouldn’t do this now. I should wait.”

“Wait for what? It’s the perfect time.”

“But I better think this through. Figure out how best to present my ideas.” Johnny started to sweat and his breathing became a bit raspy. Damn, he hated this niggling fear of his father.

“Johnny, this is nothing new. You know what will work and what you want. We’ve been over the specs and the money outlay as well as future plans for growth and we always come to the same result. It’s good for business and good for the ranch. Just talk to him. I think our father might surprise you. And I think you should do it alone. After all, this is your dream.”

Never so unsure of himself, Johnny hobbled into the great room with his cast and crutch, and settled into the chair in front of the massive desk. Murdoch looked pleased at first then apprehensive as he sensed this wasn’t a leisure visit. “What’s on your mind Son?” And so it began. No shouting, no angry words. Just honest discussion, ideas, feelings about the ranch and the inevitable changes.

‘Who is this man I’m talking to? Certainly not my father. Who has kidnapped my real pa? I think I like this man in front of me.’ Johnny’s thoughts ran like wildfire in his mind.

‘Who is this boy, no, man I am talking to? Certainly not my son. This man has good ideas and a well thought out plan. It makes sense. We are actually listening to each other. I think the fall scrambled my son’s brains. No, that’s not fair. It’s me that’s different. I almost lost him and I couldn’t stand that. I’m a different man, a better Pa. I like who I am now.’

Murdoch tried to keep up with his son’s ideas and really couldn’t agree more. ‘It was time to diversify, protect the ranch and being known for fine horses was not such a bad thing, I think. I am just glad I don’t have to fight to keep him here in the house. I don’t want to lose him. Even if it is to a house still on the ranch.’

It was a start and that was all Johnny needed. A blessing from his Pa and a plan.

“One more thing Api, I would like us to invite the Mannings and Mr. Alvarez and Holmes as well as Doc over for dinner. I think I owe them something though I suppose they wouldn’t agree. But I would like to do it anyway.”

“Your probably right Johnny”, Murdoch spoke around the lump in his throat from hearing the word Api from his son, something he hadn’t heard since Johnny was two. “They may want to thank you instead. It’s a great idea. We will make it happen.”

At that final statement, Johnny, all smiles called to his brother who he knew was not far. “Hey Scott, let’s play some chess. I bet I checkmate you in 10 moves!”





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A Brief History of Rubber I am hypothesizing that since rubber was vulcanized into usable tubing in 1840, that MDs may have used such in practice during Lancer time.

Lullabies: A La Puerta Del Cielo . and Arrorro Mi Nino.

As the colonial Quarter Horse was crossed with these mustang horses, the pioneers found that the new crossbred had innate “cow sense,” a natural instinct for working with cattle, making it popular with cattlemen on ranches.


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6 thoughts on “Checkmate by Lady Di

  1. thank you I wish i could get up my energy to write the follow up. It takes place several years later with a much mellowed out Mudoch. just can’t find the energy since the little grandkids came.


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