Telling Murdoch Goodbye/Why Johnny Stayed by Laraine

Word count 3,625

An episode tag for The High Riders

Note: Some language and suggested sexual violence, but tactfully done and important as to understand Johnny’s reasons for helping his father and brother fight Pardee.
Thanks to Sharon, whose Why Scott Stayed story provided me with the basis as to why Johnny decided to stay.

TELLING MURDOCH GOOD-BYE

THE AFTERNOON BEFORE THE BATTLE. . . . .

He stood outside his father’s study, the heavy wooden door partially open, and held his breath.  It seemed he had been there for hours when in fact, it had been only a few minutes.  But he knew that in those few minutes, he could of done what needed to be done and been on his way.  But he was still standing there.

Come on Madrid, just go in and tell him.  He may be upset now, but tomorrow..he’ll understand.

So he knocked on the door, and the gruff voice of his father beckoned him in.

Murdoch Lancer had been staring out the large window behind his desk, as was his custom when he was preoccupied with life, when he turned his chair to see the person who had disturbed his reverie.  It was his youngest son, Johnny, and Murdoch was a bit puzzled that his son was obviously attired for traveling. ..bolero jacket, hat low on his head, and carrying his saddlebags.

Now what is he up to? the Old Man wondered.

After staring at each other for what seemed like an eternity, the older man broke the silence.

“Something I can do for you, John?” he asked.

Softly, the younger man answered, “No.  I just wanted to tell you myself, that I’m leaving. . . .I decided to leave Lancer.  I’ve thought about it, and there’s nothing here I want.  I just wanted you to know.”

Murdoch felt his heart fall into his stomach.  He didn’t want to lose this boy again, not after he just found him.  But being the stubborn man he was, that was not the feeling he conveyed to his son.

“So, I should have known.  Take the money and run,” he stated, coldly.

The gunfighter lowered his head, ashamed.

“I must say, John, I’m disappointed in you.  Of all people, I thought you would at least be man enough to keep your word.  You said you would stay and fight Pardee.  You’re. . . .not siding with him are you?”

He suddenly felt very angry.  The Old Man was right; he was breaking his word, at least  in theory.  But he had to.  For things to work.  For the Old Man to keep his empire.  But Murdoch Lancer couldn’t know that.  Not now.

“No,” he answered, expressionless. “I wouldn’t side with Pardee for all the money in the world.   Give me some credit, Old Man.   I just. . . .I just decided I don’t want to be tied down to one place.  A man can change his mind, you know.”

Murdoch stared icily at his son, and he felt the anger that radiated from his father.

After an uncomfortable silence, Murdoch spoke.  “What will you do?  Where will you go?”

As if you care, he thought.  “I don’t know. . .I can do a lot with $1,000.00 though.  I…I can keep the horse, can’t I?”

Murdoch scoffed.  “Yes, I told you if you broke him, he was yours.  And I, not like some people in this room, keep my word.”

He rolled his eyes, as was his habit when annoyed at someone or something, and couldn’t think of an appropriate comeback.

“And don’t roll your eyes at me, John!  You’re mother used to do that and it drove me absolutely crazy.”

He was taken a bit aback by the Old Man’s outburst.  “Yeah, well, she and I rolled eyes at each other all the time, especially when I got older.”  He smiled to himself at the memory.
 
He was ready to turn around and leave when Murdoch’s question stopped him.

“Just for my peace of mind, Johnny,” his name was said slowly, almost affectionately by the Old Man. . . .”when did she. . .die?  I didn’t know for sure she was gone until I read one of the reports I received. Can you at least ease my mind on that piece of information?”

The Old Man’s demeanor had changed from hard and callous to one of sadness, and his voice was almost pleading as he sought an answer to a question that he knew only his son could provide.  And he felt some sympathy for this man. . .his father.

Slowly, he told his father what he wanted to know.  “The 15th of next month. . .will be 10 years.  She died 10 years ago. . . .I was twelve.”

The Old Man nodded his appreciation.  “So, you were on your own at twelve?” he asked, sullenly.

“I was on my own years before that.  Her parental responsibilities left something to be desired.  As long as she knew where I was, she was OK with that.  Didn’t matter who I was with, or what I was doing. . . as long as she knew where I was.”  He frowned at that sudden, irresponsible  realization.

Murdoch sighed heavily.  God Maria, what the hell did you do to our child? he wondered sadly. Then, to his son, blurted out, “I should of known you’d be just like her.  Running away.  Not only not man enough to keep your word, but not man enough to fight for what’s yours!”

He snapped back angrily.  “She didn’t run away!  You kicked her, us, out.  You’re not much of a man in my book, either.”

“You still believe that, do you?  Well, son, there’s the door. But remember, once you leave, there’s no turning back. It’s a one-time offer.  Don’t come running back to me when you’ve squandered the money in some poker game, or on your women.  I told both you and Scott you would have to earn your right to stay here.  And so far, he’s ready to do that.  So think hard before you leave, John.  Once you’re gone, as far as I’m concerned, you’re gone.”

He felt the tears begin to well in his eyes.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Not this bad.  Please, it’s not true.  I don’t want to leave.  I will help you, but I can’t let you know that.  Please, don’t hate me.  I. . . .need you.

“Good-bye, Murdoch”, he said, breathlessly, tearfully.  At that, he turned around, and headed for the door.

“John!”  The gruff, commanding voice of his father stopped him dead in his tracks. Then gently, the voice said,  “Take care of yourself. . . . .son.

Through his tears, he responded, “I will.”  And silently mouthed, Papa. . . . . .

He walked out of the study and closed the heavy wooden door behind him. He briefly leaned against it and breathed heavily.  It was done.   He collected himself and walked out of the hacienda, knowing that if everything went the way he planned, he would be welcomed back here.  Tomorrow.

And at his desk, Murdoch Lancer covered his face in his large, calloused hands, and wept.WHY JOHNNY STAYED

NIGHTFALL. . . . .BEFORE THE BATTLE. . . . .

He sat tall in the saddle of the golden Palomino, high above the sprawling empire known as Lancer, and stared with awe at its beauty.  He had expected a ranch.  A place with a comfortable home, a few heads of cattle, and some horses.  Maybe a dog and a few chickens thrown in for good measure.   But what he encountered just three short days ago still sent his head spinning, and he was questioning the plans he had made for his life  when he decided to meet with his father that fateful day in Mexico.

He decided he would take Murdoch Lancer up on his offer:  to receive $1,000.00 for agreeing to meet with the Old Man for an hour.  What he could do with $1,000.00!  He would make his way up north, maybe to Canada, where no one knew of the legend of  Johnny Madrid, and purchase himself a little spread.  He’d obtain a few cattle, and some horses, and earn some money.  Then he would find a wife.  A beautiful woman who would put up with him, and love him, just for him.  Then he would have a family.  He would have children, lots of them, who would grow up knowing and loving both their parents, who would have the best that he could give them.  He didn’t want his children growing up like he did. . . poor, hungry, and alone.

Yeah, Madrid, it all sounds good.  But knowing you, you’ll get caught up in some poker game two days after you get the money, and it will be gone.  Along with your dreams.

Still, the offer was a good one.

Then, three days ago, his already fragile existence received another blow that would test the strongest of men…he found out he had a brother.

He had exited the stage that day, annoyed at the blonde-haired “dandy” that seemed to be constantly in his way.  Then he noticed her.  The pretty, delicate, brown-eyed doe that, for a brief second, he considered wanting.  But the feeling quickly faded; she was too sweet, too fragile for someone like him.

Then he looked around for a man who might be his father.  But no one was in sight, only the few passengers from the stage, and the girl.  Then she spoke, and he realized the girl was here to take him to his father.  The Old Man didn’t even have the courtesy to come collect me himself, he grumbled.

Then he realized the pretty girl, or Teresa, as she called herself, was here to collect “him” as well.  Murdoch Lancer’s other son.  His oldest.  A Boston dandy.  Johnny Madrid’s half “brother.”

The look of confusion on the other man’s face, Scott was his name, he learned, equaled his own.  And for a brief second, both men’s eyes met, and silently questioned “What the hell is going on?”

He was relegated to the back of the buckboard.  Teresa and the “dandy” sat up front.  They talked small talk, the dark-haired girl and the blonde-haired man, who definitely needed a lesson in selecting clothes.  But he was quiet and rather sullen, and pondered the feelings of having a brother.  An older one at that.

He had always wanted an older brother.  Someone he could tell his innermost secrets, innermost fears, and dreams.  Someone he could learn from, and laugh with, and fight with.  But that was then, when he was a child, and longed for the company of someone who would love him for what he was—a half-breed, someone who was no good for anybody.  But if I had an older brother, he would stick up for me, and take care of me, and love me no matter what, a young Johnny Lancer would often think.

Then the buckboard stopped at the top of the hill where he now sat, and where he saw Lancer for the first time.  He was awe-struck.  It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen in his life.  Even in the few books he managed to steal when he was a kid, the pictures of  castles in far-off lands paled in comparison to this.  And this was the ranch that his father owned.  To think, he could of grown up here.  If only the Old Man hadn’t   kicked him and his mother out.

He was married before he married my mother, he’s probably married again—probably have other brothers and maybe sisters  I don’t know about, living where I should of lived.  Maybe this Teresa is my sister? He wondered.

Now he was getting nervous.  The buckboard was in front of the house.  He and his “brother” collected their belongings and followed the young woman into the house.  He could feel his knees shake and his pulse rise in anticipation of meeting the Old Man.  He had always wondered what Murdoch Lancer looked like.  The only thing he knew  for certain was that he had blue eyes.  He had inherited his father’s eyes, both a curse and a blessing.  A curse for a half-breed; a blessing as the many women he had made love to found the sapphire eyes on the Mexican half-breed to be beautiful.  The irony of life, he would so often sigh.

Now he stood in front of the Old Man, whose first greeting to his youngest son was a gruff “And you have your mother’s temper.”

Christ, he’s so tall.  And light skinned.  Like. . .my brother.  And I’m shorter then both of them.  Except for my eyes, we look nothing alike.  Is he really my father? Were the many thoughts that went through his mind in a few brief seconds.  Hey Madrid, get control of yourself.  Just pretend he’s standing six feet away from you with a six-gun.  And breathe deep.  And relax. . . . . .

After a brief explanation from the Old Man about his two wives and two sons, that Teresa was his ward,  that he had never remarried—thus no other children, and to call him “Murdoch” if they so desired, the Old Man reiterated his $1,000 for an  hour of your time offer.

He was ready to collect his money, say good riddance and leave.  But then the other offer came.  1/3 ownership of Lancer.  This empire.

OK Old Man, what’s the catch?

It was nothing really.  Just help the Old Man defend his empire against the land pirates that had been terrorizing the town and other ranches for the past several months.  That killed his best friend– and Teresa’s father.  That had almost killed him.

So, this land is that important to you?  You never wanted me. . .us. . . .your whole life.  Now when your “kingdom” is threatened, you want the help of your sons you didn’t give a damn about all these years.  Why should I. . .we. . . .help you, Old Man?  Is 1/3 of this place worth it?  He pondered all these questions, only half-hearing his father relay the story of the land pirates, until he heard the name of Day Pardee.  The leader.  The ruthless killer.

He knew him well.  Well enough to know that if Pardee had it in for the Old Man, the Old Man didn’t stand a chance.

He had joined his gang years ago.  As a youngster, no more than 15.  He had parted ways with Reveles, his mentor, his keeper; hell, his friend.  The parting was civil; Reveles realized it was time for his young student to be on his own, and he knew it as well.  And although the profession taught to him by the handsome, charming Reveles was maybe not what he would have chosen had things been different, he was taught a trade; and Reveles had, above all, taught his student the decencies of life.  Like, how to treat a woman; to not abuse her, to be gentle with her; and above all, how to avoid  having an unwanted visitor in your life as a result of a night of passion.

Then he met Pardee.  Pardee intrigued the young Johnny Madrid, whose reputation, whose legend, was still to be had.  Pardee was different than Reveles.  Not as handsome, not as charming, but with a ruggedness and authority that left members of his gang  in awe—and fear.

 But he had been good to the young wanna be gunfighter.  He fed him.  Clothed him.  And presented him with women.  And he had reveled in it, for awhile.

But he soon grew wary and unsure of Pardee, and sensed that it was just plain meanness and anger that fueled him.  And he realized this wasn’t the man he wanted to be like.  And he knew it for sure when an early raid of Pardee’s on a small ranch just over the border led to the death and torture of the ranch owner and his family.  The violation of the rancher’s wife, and daughter, who was no more than a child.  And the torture of the few cattle he had.  And the destruction after.

He stood back and viewed the actions with horror, and it sickened the young Johnny Madrid.  And he knew that somewhere he had a conscience.  And he found the courage that night to tell Pardee he was leaving.  That he would never be like him.  And Pardee laughed.  And surprisingly, let him go.  But with the parting thought that someday, the two of them would meet again.  And then, they would see who would win.

Then the reputation and legend of Johnny Madrid began to grow.  In the early days, before Pardee, when Madrid was called out by an opponent, the face he would see would be that of his stepfather; the man who had murdered his mother.  But later, when called out, Madrid would see Pardee’s face in his opponent; the anger, the hate, the bitterness he felt for this man.  And maybe that’s what made Madrid so damn good; every time he shot the fool who called him out, he was, in his mind, killing that bastard, Day Pardee.

And now, he had learned, Pardee was after Murdoch Lancer.  And his empire.

Boy Old Man, you’ve got big problems.  But I can help.  I know how Pardee operates, I can get you out of this mess.  But then, why should I?  What have you ever done for me?  If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know about Pardee anyway.  But then, I wouldn’t be able to help you, either.  God, what should I do. . . .

He knew he had to do something.  The early raid that had sickened a young Johnny Madrid would be a picnic to what Pardee would do to Lancer.. .and he knew it.

Pardee would start with the girl.  He and his gang would violate her.  More than once.  They would be on her.  And in her.  And if Pardee was in a good mood, he would let her live.  And though her physical pain might heal, her mental pain never would.  And she would no  longer be the sweet, innocent girl he had known the last three days.

Then they would get the Boston “dandy.”  Scott.  His brother.  From what he learned, Scott had been in the War and had survived a Confederate prison.  So he was tough.  And he could handle himself, as he witnessed that day in town with Pardee’s cronies.  How he wanted to help him that day.  But to do so would ruin his plan.

But a Confederate prison would be a walk in the park to what Pardee would do to him.  A “pretty” thing like Scott.  They would humiliate him in a way that a man should never  know.  And being a man, he couldn’t let that happen.  Not to any man.  Especially, not to his. . . Brother.

They would save the Old Man for last.  They would make him watch as they had their way with the girl, and as they humiliated, and probably kill, his oldest son.  Then they would take everything that meant anything to the Old Man, and destroy it.  The rare books, the expensive knick-knacks, the heirlooms brought with him from Scotland as a young man.  Then they would kill him.  Slowly.  And painfully.  And if there was anyone left, any loyal hands that may try to help, well, they would be rewarded for their stupid loyalty.

And when no one was left, they would steal the money from the safe, and burn the ranch.  And everything in it.  Including the horses, the cattle, everything.  And there would be nothing left.

And that couldn’t happen.  He wouldn’t let it happen.  Not to the land. Not to the girl.  Not to his brother.  And definitely, not to his. . . .Father.

So before he realized it, he had agreed to help the Old Man defend Lancer against Pardee.  Along with his “brother.”  The Boston dandy.

What the hell does he know about land pirates and gangs and defending ranches?  Boy, I sure got my work cut out for me, he sighed wearily.

And that night, in his first night at Lancer since he was two years old, in the room that Teresa told him had been his as a child, he devised his plan.  He would meet with Pardee, get reacquainted, and show him he wasn’t the scared 15-year old that ran away from him some seven years before.  He would gain Pardee’s trust.  And at the last minute, turn on the bastard and defend the land that was rightfully his.  Along side his brother.  And. . .his father.

But in gaining Pardee’s confidence, he knew he would have to alienate the people that were his. . .family.  To lose what small amount of trust, of faith, the Old Man had in him.  But for his plan to work, he would have to make Murdoch Lancer believe that he had turned his back on him, his brother, and his birthright.

So here he sat, high above Lancer, with the first part of his plan completed.  He had told Murdoch Lancer good-bye.  And it had hurt.  His knack for knowing how to read people’s eyes told him that the Old Man was devastated.  And mad.  And disappointed. And. . .broken hearted.  But what really hurt was when the Old Man told him he was running away. . . .just like his mother.  But he wasn’t running away.  He would  return.

Well, he couldn’t deal with that part of his life right now.  He would deal with that, and with Murdoch Lancer, when the battle was over.  Tomorrow.  When everyone was safe and sound, and Lancer was forever in the hands of Murdoch Lancer.  And Scott Lancer.  And Johnny. . . . .Lancer.

At least, that was the plan.

And that is why Johnny stayed.

THE END (REALLY, THE BEGINNING)
July, 2003

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