Word Count 3,775
WARNING: DEATH FICTION (an alternative ending to “High Riders”). Scott’s thoughts about the loss of the brother he never really knew. . . .
An episode tag for The High Riders
(Brief Summary of The High Riders)
Scott Lancer awoke and felt the soft breeze from his bedroom window make its way to his face and partially covered body. The breeze wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either, and he grabbed the sheet that was around his waist and brought it up around his shoulders. The light wrapping warmed his body and he felt comfortable.
The sun shone through the window, and he could smell the lilac and flowers from Teresa’s garden. And he could hear the birds singing. It was Spring. On an April morning. . . .
A time of new beginnings, when all nature awakens. The very thought of this time of year used to bring Scott great joy. Especially when he lived in Boston, where the winters were cold and dark, and Spring’s arrival brought the anticipation of sunshine, picnics, evening walks, and summer pleasures.
But that all changed. A year ago this day. On an April morning. . . . .
Scott rolled over on his side, away from the window, away from the breeze and the sun. He reflected on the past year of his life. It had been filled with personal satisfaction.
The satisfaction that he had made the decision to answer his father’s invitation, to travel from the security of his Boston home and meet his father, in the wilds of California.
The satisfaction that he and his father had made amends, and were on their way to a relationship that was one of respect. And friendship. Scott liked his old man, and knew the feeling was likewise, and felt that, in time, their relationship would grow to become one more than respect and friendship.
And the satisfaction that he had learned things he never thought were possible. He was a rancher. He learned about the physical abilities needed to herd cattle, to sleep outdoors for nights on end, to feel dirty and grubby. He felt the joy in knowing your efforts were rewarded with top dollar for the cattle, or horses, that were bred and sold.
Yes, the past year had been adventuresome, exciting, frustrating, and rewarding for Scott Lancer. And he wouldn’t change it. Well, he would change one thing. . . . .
Because for all the personal growth and satisfaction the last year had brought him, one very important part of his life was missing.
His Brother. . . . . . . .
The weather was the same as it was a year ago this day. On an April morning. . . . Sunny, fresh, and alive with feelings of things that could be.But a year ago, there was a fear over the Lancer ranch. As well as confusion, tension, and . . .hope.
Fear that the ranch his father had built through years of sweat and tears would be stolen away by a vindictive, cruel land pirate named Day Pardee. Scott never could figure out how the man came by his first name.
Confusion as Scott had learned, just three days before, that he had a younger brother, a prodouct of his father’s second marriage. The thought his father might have remarried after the death of his mother and had other children was a question Scott had pondered in his young life, but his grandfather had always denied it. Thus, Scott’s wondering whether he had any brothers or sisters was deceitfully stilled.
Tension as the hours before the battle with Day Pardee and his gang neared, and Scott’s nervousness that he could be killed over land was taking its toll on him, as well as the tension he could feel regarding his father’s reaction to his brother. His brother that, he learned, was a gunfighter that went by the name of Johnny Madrid.
And hope. Hope that all would turn out well and he would get to know his father, accept his brother, if the high-strung, somewhat arrogant young man was willing, and that a new life would be awaiting the young Bostonian.
But that hope was dampened that April morning when Scott was advised by his father that his brother’s whereabouts were unknown; that he had taken the “listening” money and run; and that at that particular time, his father didn’t care one way or the other. But Scott knew different. His brother’s absence was tearing his father apart.
And Scott realized that the plan he devised to defeat the land pirates would have to work. His brother had disagreed with his plan, but Scott had hoped against hope his brother would see it his way and join him in his plan to defeat Pardee. But no one could know. .
Scott rolled over on his back and stared out his window. He no longer felt chilled and climbed slowly out of bed to take in the sights and sounds of the day. It was like this a year ago this day. On an April morning. . . . . .
He and the few Lancer hands that were loyal enough to stay on to help their long-time employer, friend, and Lancer patriarch, put the plan into action. They had confronted Pardee, told him the ranch was unprotected, and ordered him to leave. They knew he wouldn’t; they counted on it.
They returned and got in position at the outside back stairway of the sprawling ranch house; rifles and shotguns in hand. Then they waited. Scott remembered feeling very hot and a knot grew inside his stomach he hadn’t felt since his days in battle during the war. He remembered looking over at the ranch hands; they meant well but they would be no match for Pardee. And he looked at his father. Such a large man, but somehow, Scott knew the old man was fearful of losing everything that meant anything to him—his land, Lancer. And Scott wondered whether the old man felt any fear in losing him, his oldest son, as well.
If only his brother were here to help. His brother, the gunfighter. With his cockiness, self-assurance, and talent with a gun, the high-riders didn’t stand a chance. But he was no where in sight. And during the deathly stillness and quietness of the calm before the storm, Scott thought about his brother. Johnny. . . . . . . .
In the beginning, Scott wasn’t impressed with Johnny, nor was Johnny impressed with Scott. Scott noticed right away Johnny’s arrogance and total disrespect to Murdoch Lancer by continually calling him “Old Man” at their first meeting. And although Scott wasn’t exactly thrilled with Mr. Lancer himself, the thought of calling him Old Man, in his own home, no less, appalled him.
But in those first few minutes, fatherly instincts must of taken over, because the Old Man informed his gunfighter son that as long as he was a “visitor” under his roof, he would refer to him as Mr. Lancer. . .or Murdoch, if he preferred. And for a few seconds, the cocky gunfighter became an obedient son as he mumbled, “Yes sir, Mr. Lancer.”
Scott had smirked. Maybe, even gunfighters can be put in their place.
But Johnny had intrigued Scott. Maybe not so much the person, but who this person was. A gunfighter. Someone who actually killed people for money; although, it didn’t look like Johnny had a lot of extra change to spare. But besides the cockiness, arrogance, and perhaps innocence, Scott had noticed the spark in the sapphire eyes and the devilish grin that, when he did smile, told of a different man behind the mask. The man of Johnny Lancer.
Murdoch Lancer had insisted on a family dinner that first night, at 6:00 p.m. Not 5:58, not 6:02, but 6:00 p.m. Sharp.
Despite the less than flattering comments from his brother about his fancy eastern clothes, Scott had donned his finest dinner suit and readily accepted the fine wine offered to him by his father. But then Johnny came, five minutes late, running down the steps two at a time, like a child; spurs clanging on the floor. A frown came over the face of Mr. Lancer, but Scott remembers chuckling to himself. Johnny had turned down the offer of wine, and mumbled something in Spanish when informed the hacienda didn’t have any tequila available.
Teresa O’Brien, Murdoch Lancer’s ward, had set a beautiful table, with Lancer’s finest crystal and china for this special occasion, even though the darkness of the impending battle with Pardee hovered over the festive occasion.
Scott felt right at home with the elegant table setting, but in glancing at Johnny, knew that the young man was totally out of his environment. Johnny glanced at Scott, and Scott nodded with his head which fork to use for the salad. A small smile, as if to say “thanks,” appeared on his lips, and Scott became more intrigued with the dark-haired, blue-eyed gunfighter as he asked ‘Miss O’Brien’ for “Milk, please,” with his dinner.
That night, in the main guest room of Lancer, Scott thought a lot about the young man that was his brother, whose room was across the hall from his. Scott ridiculously pondered whether he would be shot in his sleep by the gunfighter. But he remembered reading a book, as a kid, that gunfighter’s didn’t kill people at random. Especially. . . . .family.
During the next day, Scott’s meetings with his brother were less than pleasant. They argued, they fought, and they hurt each other with unkind words. But from what Scott had been told by Teresa, Johnny had learned that his life, as told him by his late mother, was basically a lie. And at one point, Scott thought he could see a hint of “Why me?” in his brother’s blue eyes. And Scott had wanted, at that moment, to reach out to him. . . . . .
There was hope for them.
FATE STEPS IN
As Scott stepped up to his bedroom window and looked out at the rolling hills and valleys that was Lancer, he thought about the few times he had been with his brother. What missed opportunities those had been. And it was funny, Scott could barely remember what Johnny had looked like. Except for the straight white teeth, and those eyes. He was glad he had found a picture of Johnny while he and Teresa had gone through his belongings, looking for something, anything. . . . . after the unthinkable had happened.
A year ago this day. On an April morning. Scott waited for Pardee and his gang, and it was so quiet. So deathly quiet. And the minute or so he waited seemed like—forever. Then he heard the faint galloping of horses–many horses, he could tell, and they grew closer. He watched his father, who finally stood up and gave the command to get ready. Get ready to fight. To shoot. To kill—for Lancer.
Scott was good with a rifle, he never questioned his ability. But there was so much going on inside him right now. Then they came into view. The high riders. And the lead rider who somehow looked out of place, but Scott couldn’t dwell on that now. He aimed his rifle, and waited. Waited for the opportunity to shoot the lead rider.
He watched, breathlessly, as the golden palomino jumped so gracefully over the fence. And the gracefulness of its rider. Just then, as Scott realized it was his brother who was the lead rider, he heard Murdoch shout, “Don’t shoot—it’s Johnny!” Fear, and confusion in his voice. And just as Scott thought “What the hell is he doing?” his father echoed the same words, out loud.
Shots rang out, and Scott realized he was hitting the enemy. He kept his aim carefully away from Johnny. Then, simultaneously, everyone realized what the young gunfighter was doing. He was trying to make it home. Riding away from them and to his family. He hadn’t left after all. Part of a plan. His plan. They realized it now.
The adrenalin in Scott rose as he shot over his brother’s head, giving him cover so he could make it safely home. Then, it happened. A shot. A falling horse. A falling man. Johnny, on the ground. Lifeless.
“I’m going to him, cover me!” Scott had shouted. That was his kid brother out there. But the Old Man had held him back. “It’s no use,” the words were tinged with regret. “I don’t want to lose you, too.”
They continued shooting until Pardee and his gang were dead. Murdoch Lancer had won. The ranch had been saved. Scott and the others had survived. And as they looked out over the lawn of dead bodies, one body began to move. Johnny. . . .
THE UNWELCOME VISITOR
Scott didn’t wait to be told. He dropped his rifle and ran. Ran like he never had before, to his injured brother. He sensed that his father, who had injured his leg, was close behind, along with Teresa, and Cipriano, a loyal Lancer hand—and friend.
Johnny lay on his stomach. Scott noticed the wound. To his back. A back wound, not too bad. We’re getting to him in time. He’s strong, he should be ok, were Scott’s relieved thoughts. He gently took hold of his brother’s shoulders; Johnny was aware and made some quiet sounds. Then Scott turned him over, and a look of horror overcame him. The bullet had passed through Johnny’s body and exited through his chest; he was, literally, bleeding to death. Blood spread across his salmon shirt turning it dark red, and Johnny’s ragged breaths and pale color told Scott that he wouldn’t have his brother much longer.
“Hang on, Brother, hang on. It’ll be ok.” Scott looked to see how much further Murdoch had to go before he reached Johnny. Teresa was practically dragging the Old Man, whose injured leg hampered his speed.
“Hurry up, Old Man. You’re son’s dying, if you want to talk to him you’ll hurry it up!” were Scott’s biting thoughts.
Scott quickly removed his jacket and placed it under Johnny’s head. Then he tore off part of his shirt and applied it to Johnny’s chest in a futile effort to slow the inevitable, until his father got to him so he could say good-bye to his youngest son.
Johnny looked up at Scott with those eyes, now full of pain and fear; but still, the wit that he possessed remained.
“Good shootin’,” the cowboy said to his brother.
Scott was amazed at his brother’s humor. “Thanks, Brother,” he replied. Then, “We’d just about given up on you, Boy.”
Breathlessly, Johnny managed, “Well, you had your plan, and I had mine.”
Scott nodded his acknowledgement, assuring Johnny that he, and everyone, realized that his actions of the last days were part of his plan to save the ranch.
“Everyone’s OK?”, Johnny questioned.
“Yeah, everyone made it,” Scott replied, quietly.
Scott looked over his shoulder and saw his father was almost to the spot where he and Johnny were. The time with his brother was short.
Johnny grabbed Scott’s hand. “Scott, could you do a few things for me?”
“Sure, Little Brother. Anything. . . .”
Johnny continued, quietly, but determined. “Would you keep an eye on the Old Man? Keep him safe? He’s been on his own for too long, and he needs someone. . . . .”
“I will, you can count on it,” Scott answered.
Johnny had one more favor. “Could you make sure that my. . . .headstone. . .says Johnny Lancer? Johnny, not John, and Lancer. ‘Cause Lancer is my name.”
Tears welled in Scott’s eyes. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I’m glad you’re my brother. . . .”Johnny whispered, breathlessly, hoping Scott had heard.
“And I am glad and honored that you’re mine, Johnny Lancer.” And at that, Scott gave his brother a tender kiss on the forehead.
The large person that was Murdoch Lancer came up behind Scott, and he removed his grasp from his brother as his father took his place.
Scott stood beside Teresa, arm in arm, supporting one another. Cipriano stood beside Teresa, eyes closed, mumbling something in Spanish. Scott thought it sounded like a prayer.
Scott looked at his father and brother, and was torn apart by the sight. His bleeding brother and his father, covered in Johnny’s blood, cradling his dying son. And as Johnny’s frightened eyes met the gentle eyes of his father, Scott knew that the love, tenderness, and comfort was there, for both of them.
Johnny had quietly said something to Murdoch in Spanish, and the big man had replied. Scott wished he understood Spanish. At Harvard, he had studied Latin and French. Useless languages. But then he realized that Johnny’s speaking Spanish to his father was to ensure the words between the two of them would remain private. And whatever they had said to one another had been good, as tears flowed from both sets of blue eyes.
Their private moment over, Scott heard Johnny ask, “Murdoch, would you hold me, please?” Murdoch cradled Johnny, his large arm under his neck, and brushed the blood and dirt off his still handsome face.
“No, Papa. Really hold me.”
And at that, Murdoch Lancer embraced his son’s body next to his, his large arms wrapped around Johnny’s trembling, bloodied body, and Scott could see his father trying to will his strength into his son. And he saw Johnny’s arms wrapped around his father, as the last bit of his being was given to his father in a hug.
Scott heard his brother’s last attempts at life as he gasped and coughed. Finally, a single, loud sigh came from Johnny. Then his body went limp. The arms that had been holding his father fell to the ground, and as Murdoch released his embrace, Johnny’s body relaxed and his head rolled sideways, facing Scott, who saw two lifeless, sapphire eyes staring at him.
The Unwelcome Visitor had come. Johnny Lancer was dead. And a feeling of loss, emptiness, grief, anger, and every emotion possible filled Scott Lancer’s being. But he knew he had to be strong. For his father. For he had promised Johnny he would take care of him. And he would.
Murdoch took his fingers and gently closed the lifeless eyes of his son; he gently stroked his soft, black hair, and wiped away the tears that still flowed from Johnny’s eyes. Then, he embraced his son and held and rocked him until Scott was able to pull him away so Johnny’s body could be properly taken care of.
Scott left the window where he had been remembering what happened a year ago this day. On an April morning. He made his way to his dresser so he could get dressed and make his way downstairs, where his father and Teresa were waiting. They would be visiting the Lancer cemetery today, where so far, the only inhabitants were Teresa’s father–Paul O’Brien. . .and Johnny. Scott had visited the site on many occasions, but privately. This would be the first time, since the funeral, that he would be there with his father.
As Scott looked at his reflection in the mirror, he smiled that Johnny would be pleased at the physical change in his brother. While Scott had matured and grown over the past year, his appearance had matured as well.
He had always been tall and lean, with a light complexion, a healthy glow, and a sparkle in his pale blue eyes. But his time in the war, and specifically, his time at Libby prison camp, had shrunk his body and paled his complexion to a pasty look that never seemed to regain its color.
His early frustrations over Johnny’s senseless death had been taken out on the physical demands of ranch work, developing muscles in the process, and the California sun had bronzed his skin and bleached his hair to a golden blonde. Plus, Teresa’s cooking had added extra weight that complimented his six-foot frame. And his pale blue eyes had only recently regained their sparkle because of someone special in his life.
He had met her two months ago; the new school teacher in town. She was from Philadelphia, his neck of the woods. And she was tall. And blonde. And pretty. And her name was Katherine. With a K. She liked to be called Kath. And the possibility of another Katherine Lancer in the family brought a sense of joy and satisfaction to Scott and his father.
So this evening, Kath would be joining Scott, Teresa, and Murdoch at Lancer for a dinner in Johnny’s honor. Murdoch had decided that this day would not be a day of mourning; but rather, a celebration of Johnny’s life. It’s what Johnny would of wanted. So Scott had done his own mourning, in private. On this April morning. And this evening, he would celebrate the person that was his brother.
And after he was dressed and ready to meet Murdoch and Teresa for the trip to the cemetery, Scott looked at his reflection one last time, and thought of the person he was.
He was, and would forever be, Scott Lancer, son of Murdoch and Catherine Garrett Lancer. He was Scott Lancer, grandson of Harlan Garrett. And Scott Lancer, ex-lieutenant in the Union Army, and ex-war prisoner of Libby. He was Scott Lancer, Harvard Graduate. And Scott Lancer, 1/2 owner of the largest and best cattle ranch in northern California.
But Scott Lancer was one thing more. Something he had always been, but until a year ago, didn’t know. . . .He was Scott Lancer, older brother of Johnny Lancer. And the feeling he had in those three April days, and particularly when he was able to comfort his dying younger brother in the last few moments of his life, made him realize how special it was to be a brother. And if he hadn’t had the chance to meet Johnny, if Johnny had died 10 days earlier in front of that firing squad in Mexico, Scott would never have known the special bond that is brotherhood. And for that, Scott Lancer would be forever grateful to his Little Brother, Johnny Lancer.
And as he finally headed downstairs, Scott Lancer realized that Spring could, once again, be a time of new beginnings. Yes, he would always remember that April morning with sadness and regret, but his new appreciation of life because of it would be with him forever.
For it was Spring. A time for new beginnings. It was. . . . . . .
AN APRIL MORNING.
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