Word Count 2,435
The Uninvited Passenger
An episode tag for The High Riders
Scott’s and Johnny’s thoughts as they ride, side by side, on the road to Morro Coyo.
As Scott Lancer rode in the close quarters of the small, rickety stagecoach, he felt every hole and bump in the road. Road? No, it was more like a dirt path, and he could see the discomfort in his fellow passengers as they dealt with the rough ride as well.
He considered the other passengers on the stage. The man sitting next to him was a monk. Brother Simon was his name. He was a pleasant enough fellow, and he and Scott had exchanged some pleasantries just before, and shortly after, entering the stage in Green River. But as monks go, Brother Simon become quiet and meditated, lost in his own thoughts.
The three people sitting across from him were an exciting bunch. Two older women, and an older man with a long, gray beard. Scott learned, from what he heard from their short conversation among themselves, that one of the women was the man’s wife; the other was his sister.
When they entered the stage in Green River, Scott politely acknowledged them, smiling a pleasing smile. He was rewarded with six eyeballs staring at him in a way that would freeze fire. Oh well, he surmised, maybe they were on their way to a funeral or something, and didn’t want to be bothered. So he wouldn’t bother them anymore.
Scott was actually glad this group of passengers was a quiet bunch. For he had time to consider what would take place in the next few hours. And he wanted some solitude for the next hour or so to consider how he would handle the situation.
The situation? He was meeting his father, Murdoch Lancer, for the first time. Ever. So yeah, it was a situation.
He decided he would be polite and non-judging toward his father. A few minutes of niceties. He was sure his father would inquire about his trip, and Scott would advise it had been pleasant. He made a mental note to thank his father for the first class accommodations he provided. Well, first class until Green River, anyway.
Scott would comment on the ranch, and his father’s home. Or would he? Well, it depended on how grandeur it really was. And if offered a drink, he would accept it graciously. Maybe. Or maybe not. It would depend on his feelings at that moment.
After the niceties, the real questions would start. The questions Scott had wondered for so many years. About his mother and her life with him. Had they been happy? Did she really want to come out west? And why, oh why, daddy dear, didn’t you ever contact me? A letter or birthday card? A small Christmas present?
When and if these, and so many other questions, were answered, Scott would accept the $1,000 bribe, as he thought of it, and use it on his return trip, whenever he decided that would be. Back to Boston. Civilization. Where grand carriages rode on cobblestone roads. Where dust in your face and your mouth from dirt-covered roads was unheard of. Where talk of cowboys and gunfights and horse thieves were the things left to the cheap dime novels that little boys read in secret. Boston. Where life was easy.
So when he felt another bump and the stagecoach shake, Scott Lancer decided that was enough. Morro Coyo couldn’t come, or go, fast enough.
He tried to read the novel which had riveted him since he bought it in Chicago, but with the roughness of the stagecoach, the words jumped at him and he realized he had read the same sentence three times. So he decided he would just sit, quietly, next to Brother Simon, who was still deep in meditation, and try not to make eye contact with “the eyes” across from him. And he realized those three people hadn’t said one word to one another since their initial short conversation.
It was a few minutes when Scott noticed the stage stop suddenly and he heard voices outside. He peered out the small, glassless window, and commented, more to himself then anybody, “Seems we’re picking up another passenger.”
Scott watched as the door to the stage opened and a young man entered, then stopped halfway, surveying the seating situation. Scott knew where the young man would sit. Between him and Brother Simon. There was no other place but there.
But before Scott or the monk could move to make room for this uninvited passenger, the driver started the coach up, abruptly. “Hrrrrummp!” Was the shout from the driver, and the young man fell, literally, almost on Scott’s lap.
With a mischievous smile and a twinkle in his eye, the young man looked at Scott. “Didn’t mean to ruin your outfit,” he offered, and slightly brushed off Scott’s jacket.
“Couldn’t be helped,” Scott said, rolling his eyes.
Scott was annoyed. Who was this person? A cowboy, he marveled. A real-life, living, breathing, cowboy. Complete with gun belt and holster, which stuck Scott in the thigh, dusty clothes, hat with a drawstring, and the audacity to hitch a ride on an already crowded stage that the passengers had paid good money to ride. Well, Scott naively thought, maybe he’ll pay for his ride when we get into town.
The cowboy squirmed and got as comfortable as possible, squeezing Scott and poor Brother Simon against the sides of the coach. Brother Simon didn’t seem to mind as he was brought out of his meditation long enough to voice some pleasantries to the young cowboy.
The cowboy eyed the three old people across from him. He tipped his hat, and in a quiet, inviting voice, drawled, “Ladies. Nice day,” and smiled a smile that could light the darkest night.
And to Scott’s utter amazement, the two women smiled warmly and blushed as they acknowledged his comment. Then to the old, bearded man, “Rides a little rough,” to which the old man replied, “Definitely not good for my back.” And the three old people laughed.
Scott couldn’t believe it. This cowboy had been on the stage no more than a minute, had engaged Brother Simon in conversation, and charmed the pants off of “the eyes” that Scott had tried to earlier, but failed.
And in a casual manner, the young cowboy lowered his hat over his eyes, stretched out his legs, folded his arms across his chest, and fell asleep. Of all the nerve, Scott thought. He disrupts the stage, takes up all the room, and has the nerve to fall asleep. And what was more amazing, the old people shifted their feet and legs to make room for the cowboy’s legs as he stretched them across the small stage.
Scott looked out the glassless window. And rolled his eyes.
Who is he? Scott wondered again. And as he felt the right arm of the cowboy pressed up against his left arm, Scott thought about his boyhood fantasy of being a cowboy. And wondered if that was part of the reason for wanting to meet his father.
Johnny Madrid may have seemed to be asleep, but he was very much aware of his surroundings. He knew where he was, and who he was with. He knew the man to his left was a monk, and the man to his right was a dandy from back east. And the people across from him were certainly no threat. Hell, they were too old to do much of anything but sit.
And he finally had a minute to catch his breath. The past several days had been hectic for the young gun hawk, beginning with his last-minute rescue from certain death at the hands of the Rurales, to fleeing Mexico, to taking back control of his life. So this quiet respite, in a crowded stagecoach on the road to some god forsaken place called Morro Coyo, was welcomed by Senor Madrid.
As he relaxed with his hat over his eyes, he felt the presence of the individuals around him, particularly the dandy to his right. Their bodies were touching each other and it was very awkward; Johnny could feel the uneasiness from the young man. And he could smell him as well—smell the “pretty smellin’ stuff” that his type of man wore. Probably his wife or girlfriend gave it to him so he’d smell pretty, Johnny surmised.
But for some reason, the young man in the fancy clothes intrigued the gunfighter. He had caught a look at him when he entered the stage, and remembered thinking he wasn’t a bad looking fellow—just get him in some real clothes and he might be all right.
As he relaxed between the dandy and the monk, Johnny thought about what the next few hours would bring. Money. A thousand dollars, to be exact. And he thought about the person from whom his sudden good fortune would come. His father. Murdoch Lancer. He would be meeting him for the first time in his life. And the only time, as far as young Madrid was concerned.
Johnny decided he wouldn’t be particularly nice to the man. Why should he? What did he ever do for Johnny, except ruin his life—and his mother’s life as well? Well, s’pose I could thank him for his good timing in saving me from the squad. Nah. Wasn’t his doing. Just luck, Johnny told himself.
He would accept the money, or bribe, and wait out the requested one hour. Hell, he’d sit and twiddle his thumbs if need be. Anything to get his money and be on his way. Johnny would thank the old man, though, for the fine reputation he’d gained as a gun hawk. And for all his past wounds and scars. And, for his mother’s death. And he wondered if Murdoch Lancer even knew that his wife. . .the wife he kicked out twenty years ago, was dead. Boy, I’ve sure got some stories to tell him, Johnny smirked.
The stage hit a bump, jolting Johnny out of his thoughts, and pushing him further into the young man to his right. And he wondered why the man was on the stage, and why he was going to Morro Coyo. Hmmm, maybe goin’ to a funeral or somethin,’ Johnny surmised. S’pose I could ask him. Nah. He probably wouldn’t tell me anyhow.
Scott could feel the pressure from Johnny push against him. I wonder where he’s going, and what happened to his horse. And what was he doing in the middle of nowhere, Scott wondered. I suppose I could ask him. No. He probably wouldn’t tell me anyway, Scott concluded.
Johnny could sense the stage would be approaching the ‘bustling’ city of Morro Coyo soon, so he brought his legs back to a sitting position and lifted his hat off his face. He perused the other passengers, and wondered who they were. As he looked at “the eyes” across from him, Johnny put on his best innocent face, and smiled that little boy smile. One of the old women asked him, “Would you like a peppermint, dear?”
“Yes ma’am,” he answered enthusiastically. As he took the peppermint offered to him, Johnny replied, “Thank you ma’am. I’m a might hungry. Haven’t eaten since lunch time yesterday.”
“Why you poor dear. Please, take the whole bag,” she insisted.
“Much obliged,” he said, tipping his hat. As he popped a peppermint in his mouth, he offered one to Brother Simon. “No thank you, young man. I’m fasting,” was the monk’s reply.
“Oh,” Johnny said, a bit amazed. Then he turned to Scott, smiled, and offered him a peppermint. Scott politely answered, “No thank you.”
Figures, Johnny thought. Then he bit down, rather loudly, on the hard piece of peppermint in his mouth. Just to bug you, he slyly thought, as he spied Scott from the corner of his eyes.
Scott returned a look from the corner of his eyes as well, then continued his glare out of the glassless window. And rolled his eyes.
When in the devil will we get to Morro Coyo? Scott sighed.
The stagecoach continued on its dusty path, with the six unlikely passengers in tow. Scott considered the young cowboy next to him. Did he have a family? Parents, girlfriend, wife maybe? Somehow, he didn’t think so. He seemed too independent, too wild, if you will, to have roots. And he thought about the vast differences in lifestyles of the reserved easterners as opposed to the uncultured way of westerners.
Since leaving Denver, Scott had noticed the difference, and wondered if he could ever fit in—that is, if he decided to stay. But that thought was dismissed. He would be returning to Boston, after the curiosity of his father’s existence was satisfied within him.
Johnny was lost in thought, too. As he savored the peppermint candy in his mouth, he eyed the fancily dressed, blonde man next to him. Johnny decided he was probably a spoiled rich kid, used to getting everything from his mommy and daddy. And he wondered again why someone like him would be going somewhere like Morro Coyo.
As Scott continued looking out the window, he began to see the emergence of a town. There were people. And buildings, if they could be called that. So this is Morro Coyo, he sighed. I wonder how far my father’s ranch is from here.
As the stagecoach slowed down, Johnny announced to the passengers, “If y’all don’t mind, I’ll be leaving first. I’ve crowded y’all in enough already.”
The passengers nodded in agreement. Scott rolled his eyes—again. And as the coach stopped, Johnny rose, opened the door, jumped out, and quickly looked around for someone—a man who looked like he could be his father.
Scott followed suit, which surprised the young Bostonian. Normally, he would’ve allowed the two ladies and the elderly gentleman to exit before him, but right now, Scott just wanted an escape off that stage. After all, he was beginning to feel numb from being squeezed against the stagecoach by that… cowboy.
And he, too, gave a quick glance at his surroundings, also looking for someone who looked like he could be his father.
And the thoughts of both young men toward the other were quickly forgotten.
As Johnny retrieved his gun and meager belongings, and Scott retrieved his trunk and numerous bags, neither man noticed the young, brown-haired girl in the bonnet staring questioningly at them. And they had no way to know that, with her two words, their lives would be forever entwined. And a family would be born.
“Uh, Mr. Lancer?. . . .”
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