Word Count 2,435
“It’s been eventful, I’ll sure tell you that. It’s ended and since you didn’t know what all happened, I thought I’d sit up here on this hill and tell you all about it. You don’t mind me sitting down beside you and my horse munching the grass on the other side of you? I’m sure you don’t. It’s been a few months since I’ve talk to you. I had to go out of town to track down your brother. It took time to find him and time to get him back. Sure glad I took the time off. This was too important to take care of. A few months earlier, I might have handled it differently, but you would have thought less of me for not going after him.
I’m going to lean back and chew on a piece of dried grass while I gather my thoughts. Boy, those clouds sure are pretty and the breeze is just right to enjoy being outdoors. What a view of the valley we have down below. Lancer is the greatest place of all to live. I’m glad we’re all here. It sure did take a long time to bring us all together as a family.
Okay, guess I’d better straighten up and pull my elbows out of that line of marching ants. They’re not too pleased with me being in their way. Stinging little buggers.
Now that I’ve settled back down, I guess I need to get on with my story. You remember when Jeffrey Hardesty and his wife Lorelei came to town? I’m sorry I was on that buying trip or I could have put a stop to them before they went on their hateful smear campaign. I’ve had Val trace back their trail since and it’s been the same wherever they’ve been. They started off slow with a little remark here and another one later, just enough to get a person thinking about it. The next thing you know, an innocent one has been snared in their web of lies burying him or her. It wasn’t your fault. You were just their first target and the gossip hounds took up the howl and went door to door to spread the lies while the Hardestys stood back and watched as their tales ruined lives. It didn’t matter if you had a good reputation, helped your neighbors out in their time of need, or was a God fearing, church going person.
You hid your feelings well. I didn’t know what those two put you through, but I’ve seen enough to know now. You gave me enough to look for, but they were working on their next victims and I was too late to save them, just as I couldn’t save you.
I need to stand up and stretch for a minute. This ground is hard to sit on. It sure is peaceful here. Oh, your brother’s here. Afternoon, Scott. You won’t mind if Scott sits in while I work on telling you both what happen? Good. Now, just stay there and I’ll go on.
It started with old lady Landry who listened to Lorelei spinning a story on how you were down at the creek during the town fair and how you enticed some of the children to follow you into the woods on a hide and seek game. According to Lorelei, you were spotted by her husband doing indescribable things to one of the children. He stopped you and you ran off. Now, if Widow Landry had thought about it, she would know that you would never harm a child, but she always did enjoy a good gossip. By the time her friends were told, you had molested the entire school house full of kids while your brother stood guard at the door and later participated while you stayed at the exit.
You both had to endure being spit at, chased out of town at gunpoint and defiled at church. Nobody stopped to think how long you had lived here, and how much all three of you children had helped the community. They didn’t give you the benefit of a doubt, just trusted the word of a total stranger and went out after your jugular veins. I even heard of stringing all three of you up to atone for your sins and I had Johnny with me. None of you had done anything wrong, you were innocent.
Oh, Teresa. Why couldn’t you wait just one more day, just one day, before you threw yourself off that cliff? You didn’t know that Johnny and I were one day away from Lancer. You forgot that Lancer takes care of its own. Scott, you didn’t, did you Son? You tried Son to save her, but that shale was slippery with the morning dew on it. You both were found at the bottom of that cliff. Sam told me that you didn’t suffer, your souls left this earth instantly. Johnny didn’t take it well. He went out of his mind with grief and left without notice the next day. I stayed long enough to give you a proper burial, placed the ranch into Cip’s hands and I hit your brother’s trail.
It took time and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t the only one tracking Johnny. Hardesty had poisoned most folks against you children and two of them had got it into their heads that the world would be better off without Johnny Madrid Lancer in it.
Your brother was good, I will admit. I didn’t think I would ever catch up with him. I guess the hardest part of tracking him was going over the bare rock and through the creeks. It took hours until I pieced together the direction he was going. It surprised me that he didn’t head south toward the border towns. No, in his grief, he went east. I spotted him coming out of the livery as I came into Abilene, Texas. He was strolling over to the saloon. I called out to him and he stopped, turned and was walking toward me when it happened. Those two polecats that Hardesty had set onto Johnny had beat me there. It was my calling out to my son that pinpointed him in their gunsights.
I’m going to sit back down between you two. My leg and back are starting to ache from all this standing. Okay, that’s better. Oh … Hello, Johnny. I’m so glad you’ve joined us. Well yes, I know you have no place else to go to and yes, I still have a booming voice. I’ve been told it’s loud enough to wake the dead and it must be true, since it woke you.
Son, I was telling your brother and sister how I found you. I’m sorry that I got you caught in that crossfire. Yes, I know, you don’t find me at fault, but none the less, I feel guilty. What? Oh, that’s right. You don’t know what happened. Sit down son beside me and I’ll finish telling Scott and Teresa what went on.
Johnny was no more than 20 feet from me when the first shot rang out. He turned and fired as he dropped. He took out one of his assassins with a single shot and his instincts must have told him that there was another gunman. He rolled as he hit the ground and that lined him up to spot the rifleman on the roof. Both fired at the same time and Johnny was accurate. The man fell like a stone.
Johnny … Son, I thought you were fine until you struggled to rise up, but didn’t. I ran to you and gathered you into my arms. The blood was streaming from your chest too fast. I tried to stop the flow, but I couldn’t. Your words to me before closing your eyes for the last time was, “I love you, Pa.”
I knew that Hardesty was behind all of this, but rather than going after him, I took you home. While the sheriff watched over you, I rented a wagon at the livery, bought a metal box from the undertaker and filled it with coal and a coffin. With the lawman’s help, we put you into the coffin and closed up the metal box. We had a long way to go. I thought you would go home by horse, not by wagon. It’s alright Son, just let me wipe my eyes on my sleeve and I’ll get back to telling my story. I asked the sheriff to telegraph Val to hold the Hardestys for murder. I went back to the livery, led Barranca out and took you back to Lancer for burial.
Yes, Teresa? Oh. I see the buggy coming. I wonder who’s in it? Johnny, with your sharp eyes, can you tell who’s driving the buggy? Cip and Maria? Well, I guess it’s that time of day. I was hoping that they wouldn’t discovered me gone so soon. Sorry, boys, Teresa. It’ll be at least a week before I can come back. They’ll keep me confined within the hacienda, probably my bedroom, but believe me, the first chance I get to sneak away, I’ll come.
Scott, Teresa, don’t go yet. No, No. They can’t see you. No, I’m sorry, Johnny. They can’t hear you, either. I guess they think I’ve gone loco. I’ve been coming out here ever since I brought you home, Johnny. They’ve caught me talking to you children, but this is the first time you’ve come out to talk to me. I appreciate it and I love you all.
Oh, hi Cip, Maria. No, I haven’t been here long. You’ve come to take me home? It’s past time for my nap? Well, I guess I could use one, but I can ride my horse back. What about my back and leg? Yes, my back has been paining me some. Oh, all right. I’ll ride in the wagon. You’ll take care of my horse, won’t you Cip? Move over in that seat, Maria, while I get up there. Can I drive the wagon? No? Well, maybe next time.
Let me turn around. I’ve got to tell my children bye. BYE, Scott and Teresa! Don’t fade away so fast next time. Johnny, what was that? Barranca? I turned him and the other mounts of you children into the south pasture. I hope he’s going to have a son by Teresa’s mare. She’s getting big. Bye, Son. Sleep well.
The children are doing fine, Maria. Teresa can stand to gain some weight and for that matter, so can Scott. Johnny looks good, except he needs a haircut and he says he misses your tortillas. Oh, please Maria, I didn’t mean to make you cry. When we get back to the hacienda, I’ll pour you a sherry. Coffee? Yes, I would love to have some. Are you sure you’re up to making a pot? Well, only if you’re sure.
Lancer. It sure is the prettiest place in the world. Thanks, Cip for bringing me back. Here, Maria, let me help you down off that wagon. Cip, would you like to come into the great room? Frank can take care of the wagon and my horse.
You know, Cip, this house is sure quiet now that Teresa and the boys are gone. Would you like a whiskey? I think I’ll wait for that coffee. You too? Okay, I’ll put this back on the side board. Have a seat and you can give me a report on the ranch while we wait.
Sounds like you’ve got everything under control. I think I’d watch carefully that newest hired hand, I think his name is Ted. Yes, that’s the one. He’s got some lazy habits. I’ve seen him from my window.
Oh, thank you, Maria. Do I want my nap now? After I drink my coffee, I’ll do it. Well, I guess I can take it with me to my room. I have to admit, I am tired. I may even sleep a long time, so I’ll bid you good night, Cip. Maria, would you lock up when you leave? Thanks.
That coffee was good. Hit the spot. She must have added some sugar to it. It tasted a little different than usual. Can’t seem to stop yawning. I think I’ll get into my bed. Sure is soft. Can’t keep my eyes open. Snore …
What? What was that? Must have slept through the night. Sun’s out. Hmm. Someone’s knocking downstairs. Oh, yeah. I’m the only one in the house. Best get downstairs before they knock down the door.
Yes, Yes! What can I do for you? What did you say your name was? Jeffrey Hardesty?
CIP! CIP! Put these two people in the guard house and send Frank to fetch Val. Why? They’re murderers. Now do as I say.
What? Who’s touching me? Take your hand off me. Wait! That beaded bracelet. It can’t be you, my son. Johnny … you’re dead. Why is everything getting dark and my legs weak? I’m sinking into a black hole. Ohhh….
I hear voices, but can’t open my eyes. Wait. It’s them, Teresa, Scott and Johnny. They’re talking about me, wondering why I passed out. Don’t they know that they are ghosts, but … maybe not. Johnny’s hand was warm and solid on my arm. Could it be? Did I dream it all? But what about the Hardestys? They looked real.
Who’s banging at the door? Oh, it’s Val. I need to greet him. He’s a guest in my home. There, I’m glad my eyes can open. Hello, Johnny. Mind backing up a little, son? I can’t see Val. Yes, I’m fine. I know … that’s your usual excuse, but it’s true. I’m fine, just need to sit up. Thanks, Scott for the hand. No, Teresa, I don’t need a pillow for my back.
Hi, Val. Glad you could come out so quickly. I got a man and woman in the guardhouse, by the name of Jeffrey and Lorelei Hardesty. Have you heard of them before? I’m so glad. So they have warrants out on them. I would hazard a guess that they’re wanted for murder. Well, Sheriff, they’re yours. Glad you can take them off my hands. How did I know? Guess you can say I was warned. Johnny, could you escort the good sheriff to the door? I think I’ll love to have some of that apple pie, Teresa. Johnny, meet us in the kitchen afterward. I have a story of life and death to tell to you, my children.”
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