Word Count 8,715
An episode tag for The High Riders
For James and Wayne.
Timeframe: Ten days after Pardee is defeated and Johnny is shot.
Synopsis: The story of the day Scott and Johnny formed their special bond.
SATURDAY. . . . .
The breakfast dishes had been cleared, but Murdoch Lancer was still seated at the kitchen table, pondering his youngest son.
He was angry with him. And worried as hell about him at the same time.
Murdoch, along with Scott, his oldest son, Teresa, his ward, and Maria, his housekeeper/friend, had spent the past ten days taking care of Johnny when he was so ill after bearing the brunt of Pardee’s madness–a bullet in the back. The family, but mostly the Lancer patriarch, had sat with Johnny through his fever, his hallucinations, and most of all, his fears. But with lots of tender loving care, and the care of Dr. Sam Jenkins, Johnny had improved by the early part of the week and was up and around, although a bit on the tired side. But Murdoch was pleased with his progress.
Dr. Jenkins had seen Johnny on Wednesday, a week after being shot, and advised him that if he continued doing well, his stitches could be removed in a few days. Johnny was elated. As they were beginning to pull and itch, the young gunfighter couldn’t wait to have them removed.
The downfall began on Thursday, Murdoch remembered. Johnny was becoming moody and insolent, not only with him and Scott, but to Teresa and Maria as well, which Murdoch found totally unacceptable. He wouldn’t eat; it wasn’t as if he refused to, just said he was full after eating a few bites. And he slept. All the time. For someone who was so anxious to get out in the spring sunshine earlier in the week, Murdoch became worried when Johnny insisted he wanted to be in his room. Alone. And yesterday, when Murdoch kindly suggested to Johnny that he help instruct Scott in the fine art of lassoing at the corral, Johnny did so. Reluctantly. And after 20 minutes of watching the blonde Bostonian try his hardest at the difficult task, Johnny told Scott to “give it up Boston, go back east to your fancy houses and easy life. You’ll never make it out here,” to which Johnny marched to his room and stayed for the rest of the day. And night.
Murdoch looked at his timepiece and was glad that Dr. Jenkins would be here soon. Johnny’s appointment was scheduled for 10:00, and Dr. Jenkins was very punctual. As he walked into the great room, Murdoch was upset at what he saw. His son laid on the couch, apparently asleep. He was minus his gun belt, which didn’t bother Murdoch in the least, but he was also without his regular belt. His shirt was half in and half out of his pants, and he wore his socks but no boots. Johnny had told him wearing his boots hurt his back. Well, that Murdoch could understand.
But his son’s unkempt appearance, from his three-day old beard to his dark, thick hair that hadn’t been combed in days, struck Murdoch right in his soul. If the boy was just acting like a pain in the ass, he was doing a good job at it. But if he wasn’t, if there was something wrong that he or Dr. Jenkins hadn’t noticed. . . .
He walked up to the sofa and asked Johnny, “Are you awake, Son?”
“Yeah, I am now,” Johnny mumbled.
“Well, Sam will be here soon,” Murdoch advised.
“So, what do you want me to do? Stand up and dance? Just let me know when he gets here, I’ll be ready. Now let me sleep,” Johnny angrily said.
At this point, Murdoch wanted to bend over and ring his sons neck. How selfish and uncaring you are, he thought about his son. After all we’ve done for you. But then he noticed the dark circles around Johnny’s eyes, and the expression on the young man’s face. It wasn’t anger he saw. Or fear. Or even pain. It was a look of. . . .sadness.
And Murdoch had to stop the urge he had to bend over and gently rub his son’s dark, thick hair. . . . .
Murdoch stepped out to the front of the house, and like clockwork, Sam Jenkin’s buggy entered under the Lancer arch. Murdoch watched him ride up, and Sam greeted Murdoch cheerily as he exited his buggy.
“Good morning, Murdoch. It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
“Mornin’ Sam. Yes, it is a nice day,” Murdoch responded, the look on his face caught by Sam.
“How’s our patient?” Sam asked, becoming concerned.
“Sam, I just don’t know. I’m worried about him. The last two days have been awful,” Murdoch stated.
“How so, Murdoch?” Sam asked, now very concerned.
“Well, it started Thursday. He just. . .doesn’t seem to care. He’s insolent, snapping at everybody, including Teresa and Maria. And he doesn’t want to do anything. Except sleep. He hasn’t shaved, and I don’t think he’s combed his hair or washed up since Wednesday.” After a pause, Murdoch observed, “I may not know my son very well, but one thing I can bet on. . . .Johnny isn’t the type to let himself go. To become so–so uncaring about himself. Particularly his appearance.”
“How’s his eating?” Sam asked,
“He’s not. Can’t get him to eat a thing. I think he wants to, says he’s hungry, but after a few bites, he just, well, says he’s full.”
Sam was puzzled. “He seemed fine on Wednesday. Any fever?”
“None that I can tell,” Murdoch informed. “Do you think he could have an infection somewhere, his stitches maybe?”
Sam considered this. “It’s possible, Murdoch. Maybe in the incision itself. I’ll take a look at him, talk to him. I’ll find out what his problem is,” the kind doctor reassured.
“Of course,” Murdoch conceded, “he could just be plain selfish. Being a pain in the. . . .” He didn’t complete his thought.
Murdoch and Sam entered the great room. Johnny sat on the couch, his knees up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his knees, and his left cheek resting on his knees.
“Hi Doc,” he said. “You ready for me?”
“Hello John. You ready to get those stitches out?”
“Yeah, been ready. Let’s go.”
Sam noticed the look of worry on Murdoch’s face, and gave him a reassuring look. “I’ll get to the bottom of it,” he said as he followed Johnny up the stairs to his room.
Johnny knew the routine. He took off his shirt and held out his right arm, while Sam checked his pulse. Then Johnny watched as Sam opened his medical bag, or as Johnny called it, “his magic bag of tricks,” and removed his stethoscope.
Sam made small talk as he questioned Johnny about how he felt. “You doing all right, John? Sleeping all right?”
“Yes, Sir,” Johnny answered, truthfully. All I want to do, he sighed.
“Got your appetite back? You’re eating okay?” Sam asked.
“Uh-huh,” Johnny lied. How come I’m not hungry, Doc? Johnny wanted to ask.
Dr. Jenkins first checked Johnny’s heartbeat, and his chest and lungs. He then placed the stethoscope on Johnny’s back and had him breathe deeply three times. Everything sounds great. No sign of congestion or infection there, Dr. Jenkins summarized.
Next, he checked Johnny’s throat. A throat infection earlier in the week had caused Johnny some discomfort, but his throat looked good today.
“How’s your throat?”
“Better. Still a little scratchy, but much better,” Johnny answered truthfully. At least my throat doesn’t hurt like it did, he thought.
Next the good doctor checked his patients’ eyes and ears. Everything looks great, Sam silently observed.
“Any headaches or anything?” he asked Johnny.
“No,” Johnny answered truthfully, and a bit puzzled.
Johnny began to lay on his stomach, assuming Dr. Jenkins would begin removing the stitches from his back.
“I want to check your stomach next, Johnny, so lay on your back please,” Sam advised.
Johnny was puzzled. “Why? My stomach’s fine. I was back shot, ‘member?” he asked in a wondering tone.
“I know, but I need to check everything today. I examined your stomach before, you just slept through those exams,” he lied. Sam wanted to make sure that nothing was going on with Johnny’s stomach to cause his lack of appetite.
“Oh,” Johnny responded. You didn’t look at my stomach the last time you were here, he wanted to say, but didn’t.
“Could you lower your pants, please, Son, just below your hips?”
Johnny did so, and closed his eyes as Dr. Jenkins pushed on his lower tummy, around his appendix, and up each side until he came back to his naval, at which point, Johnny flinched. “O-o-oh!”
“Does that hurt?” the doctor asked, frowning.
“No-o-o,” Johnny replied, a bit amused. “That’s my. . . tickle spot,” he answered, shyly.
“Ah-h-h. Now I know your weakness,” Sam laughed. “All right, now you can lay on your stomach.”
Johnny turned over on his stomach and placed his arms under the pillow, his face almost buried in it.
“This will pinch and be a little uncomfortable, but these stitches will be out in a few minutes,” Sam advised.
“I know,” came a muffled voice from the pillow. “I’ve taken stitches out myself, more than once,” Johnny said.
I’ll bet you have, Son, Sam sadly thought, having noted the many scars on Johnny’s young, strong body.
When Murdoch Lancer sewed up his son after removing Pardee’s bullet from him ten days earlier, he ensured that the wound would not be easily ripped open, for Dr. Jenkins had to tug and pull a little harder than normal, causing some discomfort for Johnny. But he took his time as he made sure each suture was removed entirely, that nothing was left in the wound, and that there was no sign of infection.
Dr. Jenkins was pleased at the result. Johnny’s injury was healing beautifully. The area of the wound was pink, and in time would heal to Johnny’s natural skin color. And, for once, would hardly leave a scar on the young man’s back.
He applied some pressure on the area, and Johnny just about went through the roof. “Ow!” he yelled.
“Sorry Johnny,” Dr. Jenkins said. “It will be a bit tender for awhile.”
“Well, I don’t plan on pokin’ around back there to see if it is,” Johnny shot back.
Sam couldn’t help but laugh.
As he cleaned up the blood droplets that occurred from the tugging to remove the stitches, and placed a small piece of gauze over the wound, he considered his patient. From all accounts, Johnny Madrid was healing beautifully. While he would still be restricted on any physical exertion, or heavy ranch work, he could begin to take short walks around the ranch. But what he needed to do the most was eat. And get outside, into the sunshine. And begin to get to know this family of his.
“John, you’re healing nicely. But you still need to take it easy for a few weeks. You can take short walks, and I don’t see any problem with starting those exercises on your left arm I showed you the other day, since the stitches are out. And be sure to eat, keep up your strength.”
“When can I ride?” Johnny asked, his voice laced with hope.
“I’m sorry, Johnny. It will be at least another week yet, and then, only at a slow pace,” Sam answered thoughtfully. He knew how important it was for Johnny to be back in the saddle, but his wound had a long way to go before it was entirely healed.
“But the stitches are out,” Johnny protested.
“I know, John, but your muscles and nerves still need to heal. . . .”
He looked at the despondent face of the young man in front of him and for the life of him, couldn’t get a handle on what was wrong with Johnny. He thought about his exam with him three days earlier. Although Johnny was hardly a chatterbox, he was pleasant, and laughed at Sam’s bad jokes.
But today, Johnny was a different story. Murdoch was right. It was almost as if the boy had stopped caring.
As the doctor pondered his patient, Johnny spoke. “Doc, before you leave, could you please close the drapes? I’m tired and the sun is hurting my eyes.”
This angered Sam. There was absolutely no physical reason why Johnny should be acting this way. Maybe Murdoch was right; the young gunfighter was being a pain. And not in the back, either.
Sam threw his medical equipment in his bag and angrily closed it. He considered leaving the drapes open, but decided against it.
As he exited the darkened room and stepped out into the bright hallway, Dr. Sam Jenkins closed the door and paused. He had promised Murdoch Lancer some answers regarding Johnny’s condition, and he knew the gruff rancher would be waiting for them. But the good doctor was at a total loss.
He kept thinking about his patient. There’s no physical reason for him to be acting like this, when suddenly, like a lightning bolt, it hit him. Well of course, physically Johnny’s doing great. But what about. . . . .emotionally? Dr. Jenkins needed a place to think. He found a chair in Teresa’s sewing room, and pondered his patients physical, as well as emotional, well being.
Twenty minutes later, Sam Jenkins entered the great room, ready to discuss Johnny’s condition. He had a diagnosis, and what he hoped would be a solution for Johnny’s emotional recovery.
Murdoch and Scott were anxious when Sam entered the great room. “Scott,” Sam greeted.
“Good morning, Sir,” the polite Bostonian replied.
Murdoch interjected. “Well Sam, how is he?”
“I’ve checked him out thoroughly and everything is fine. His wound is healing beautifully, there’s no sign of any infections. He’ll still need to take things moderately, no heavy ranch work Murdoch. Not yet.” As an aside, Sam teased Murdoch. “I’ll tell you what, when you put stitches in a man, you mean them to stay in there for life. I had a hell of a time removing them.”
“Well, I didn’t want them to rip open,” Murdoch softly defended. “So, he’s all right?” he then questioned.
Sam hesitated. “Physically, yes. However. . . . .” After a pause, Sam continued. “Murdoch, I think Johnny may be suffering from. . . .depression.”
“Depression?” Murdoch bellowed. “What in blazes does that mean?”
“Now Murdoch, calm down and let me explain,” Sam stated.
“Is Johnny. . . .crazy?” Murdoch asked.
“No, of course not. But the boy has been through. . .hell the past several weeks. I know it’s been tough on all of you, but you have to consider everything Johnny’s gone through.”
When Dr. Jenkins got the word he was needed at Lancer the day of the raid, he had another patient to tend to, so it took him a few hours to get there. When he finally arrived and tended to Johnny, it was quite late, so he stayed at Lancer for the night. It was then that Murdoch had explained to the good doctor what he and his family had been through the past days, and told him about Johnny as well. Being rescued from the firing squad, and learning the truth about his mother. And right now, in order to help Murdoch Lancer understand his son’s depressed state, Sam relayed the same information to him, so he could hear it with his own ears, and understand Johnny’s state of mind.
Murdoch and Scott listened intently as Sam explained. “He was rescued from a firing squad within a minute of death and told his father, whom he believed to be the bearer of all his misfortune in life, would give him $1,000 for one hour of his time. So he came, found out he had a brother, and learned that his father had more wealth than he could imagine. Then he was, literally, thrown into the middle of a land war with an old friend-slash-adversary, and he had to decide where his loyalties lay. Then he was seriously shot, with a difficult recovery that will last for several weeks yet.”
Sam noticed that Murdoch was beginning to comprehend what Johnny had actually endured.
“Then,” Sam continued, “and perhaps the most significant thing, is Johnny finding out that his life was basically a. . .lie. Realizing that his mother lied to him about. . .you,” looking at Murdoch, “and I don’t think he’s quite come to terms with that yet. And I’m sure,” Sam continued, “that right now, Johnny feels like a trapped animal. He’s fiercely independent, used to doing what he wants, when he wants, and, although you all mean well, right now he just feels. . .trapped. He’s not in control, and he doesn’t like it.”
Sam could see the sadness in both Murdoch and Scott’s eyes. He continued. “Johnny is a strong young man, both physically and mentally. But the mind, like the body, can only take so much, and right now, he’s dealing with things the best way he knows how. To withdraw from anything and anyone that could cause him. . .hurt.”
The good doctor paused, and said, almost to himself, “I’ve just about forgotten one of the most important things they taught us in medical school. That in order for a person to heal, the body and mind must be as one. And right now, Johnny’s mind and body are not one.”
Murdoch sighed heavily. “What can we do, Sam? How can we help him?” His tone was one of deep concern.
“Well, Johnny needs to feel independent, in control, and he needs to be doing something he truly enjoys. And from the talks I’ve had with him, I know how he feels about riding. It’s his passion. As a matter of fact, he asked me just today when he could ride again, and when I told him not until next week, he became more depressed. And although physically, I don’t think it’s the best thing, I’m going to allow it anyway. I’m going to allow Johnny to begin riding, today. But only at a slow pace, and for no more than 20 minutes, with a stop during that 20 minutes.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Sam?” Murdoch inquired.
Sam hesitated. “Yes, if Johnny behaves and listens to my instructions, and doesn’t do anything foolish, he should be fine. If he does all right, he can continue short rides tomorrow, two or three times a day, depending on how he feels, at 20 minute intervals. This will get him back in the saddle and allow him to do something he truly loves. And will get him out in the fresh air and sunshine, so he won’t be so inclined to withdraw. Does that sound all right to you, Murdoch?”
“I just want him to get better. If you think this will help, then yes. I’ll certainly allow it.”
“Of course,” Sam said, eyeing Scott, “he’s going to need someone to ride with him. Physically, he’s still quite weak, and if something should happen, well, he’ll need someone with him. . ..”
“Me?” Scott asked. I’ve been working on this ranch since the raid, cleaning it up, and riding along side Murdoch the past four days. I was hoping to have a day to myself, to read and to write my grandfather, he thought, a bit annoyed. “Well, I kind of had plans for today. . . .”
“It’s still early Scott,” Dr. Jenkins advised. “It won’t take more than an hour, if that. And you’ll be helping your brother.”
Scott glanced over at Murdoch, and the look the older man gave to his blonde-haired son was all Scott needed. “All right. When do we leave?”
When Sam explained his diagnosis to Johnny, the young gunfighter was not happy.
“I ain’t crazy!” he emphatically proclaimed.
Sam assured him of course he wasn’t; that he’d been through a lot and his mind was injured like his body was. Although Johnny didn’t fully understand, he relented. If they want to think I’m crazy, then let them, he sighed.
But when Johnny was informed of Sam’s decision to let him ride, a spark was ignited inside him and the charming smile and sparkle surfaced on his face for the first time since he’d been shot.
Thirty minutes later, Scott and Johnny were ready to ride. Scott had packed some sandwiches and filled the canteens, and Johnny shaved and cleaned up. He looked a lot better. Murdoch and Sam had stood by as Johnny got on his horse, slowly, but the young gunfighter wasn’t about to let two older men help him up.
“Remember, a slow, short ride. You may want to stop for a few minutes, enjoy some of the scenery. Just take it easy,” Dr. Jenkins instructed.
“Don’t worry, Doc. We’ll be fine. Won’t let nothin’ happen to ol’ Boston, here,” Johnny said.
Murdoch and Sam laughed. Scott wasn’t amused.
“Hey Doc,” Johnny called. “I take back everything I thought about you. I guess you’re a pretty good doctor after all,” Johnny teased.
“Thanks, John,” Sam laughed.
As Scott and Johnny rode off, Murdoch looked at them both, and Sam could see a hint of pride in his face.
“They’re good boys, Murdoch. Both of them,” Sam told his friend.
“I know,” Murdoch softly replied. “And you, Sam, are a miracle worker. Did you see the change in Johnny in just that short of time?”
“Yes. I think my idea will work. I think he’ll be fine Murdoch. Just. . .don’t push too much. Either one of them,” Sam advised.
Murdoch just stared at his friend.
THE FIRST RIDE. . . .
Scott Lancer and Johnny Madrid began their ride, and each had their own feelings toward the man riding beside them.
Scott was annoyed. In the first place, he didn’t want to be here. His plans for the day were interrupted because of. . .Johnny. Just like they’d been from the beginning, when the conversation he had planned with his father that first day were put aside because of the presence of another person in the room. His brother.
Plus, Scott had mixed feelings about the young man. He had been truly concerned and worried for Johnny’s well-being when he was sick, and prayed he would recover. And his thoughts turned to when he saw his brother shot before him, and the feeling of protectiveness that made him endanger himself to rescue Johnny.
And this past week, as Johnny seemed to be improving, the two had shared some interesting games of checkers and chess. Johnny won at checkers, Scott won at chess. But Johnny blamed his tiredness for that. And Scott didn’t disagree; Johnny did seem to have a good knowledge of the game. His problem was he kept falling asleep halfway through.
But then there was yesterday, at the corral, when Johnny was so miserable at Scott for no apparent reason. And even now, with all that Sam had said, Scott wondered if Johnny was really troubled, or just trying to get attention.
But even so, Scott felt that with time and patience, he could truly come to understand, and maybe even like, his younger brother. But there was still one thing that bothered him. And he knew that for any kind of relationship to work between he and Johnny, Scott needed some questions answered. And soon.
Johnny thought about Scott as well. There was so much more to the blonde-haired man than he would of thought. Scott could ride and shoot. And truth be told, it was the Boston dandy who actually shot Pardee, while the great gunfighter had missed at the top of the hill. But Johnny knew his efforts had been at shooting Colley instead, and he wondered, deep down, whether he really wanted Pardee dead, since he had at one time been a friend. But then the pain in his back left from the bullet made him realize he was glad that Scott had done Pardee in.
Murdoch had told Johnny how Scott had run out to him, and helped him back to the house. Murdoch told Johnny he was ‘helped;’ it wasn’t until later, when one of the vaqueros told Johnny that Scott ‘carried’ him to the house, that he knew the truth. Johnny felt a soft spot for his Old Man for trying to keep his dignity, by not telling him he was carried home like a sack of potatoes over his brothers’ shoulder.
But it didn’t matter, because Johnny’s memory of the incident was very fuzzy. His last clear memory of that day was at the top of the hill, when he told Pardee to get off his land. And of Barranca hurdling over the second fence. After that, a sharp pain. And the distant memory of seeing Scott above him, saying something. Then, nothing, until he awoke in his bed, with Murdoch gently telling him to “drink this, Johnny. You’ll feel better.”
The clearest memory Johnny had of his brother was the hard right hook Scott placed on his face at the creek the day before the raid. So it was understandable that Johnny might not of thought too favorably of his older brother. At least, not yet.
The two riders came to the end of the path, with three ways to go. To the left, the south pasture, to the right, the creek, and straight ahead, open range. A range that was calling out Johnny and Barranca’s name. And Scott knew it.
“Don’t even think about it,” Scott warned as he eyed his brother.
“Think about what?” Johnny innocently asked.
“Running that horse into that open range. If you fall, or get hurt, I’ll get the Wrath of Murdoch. And I don’t really want to hear that,” Scott forcefully advised.
“Don’t blame you. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” Johnny stated in an understanding tone. “So, which way do we go? You know this place better than I do. After all, you’ve been riding with the Old Man all week, while I sat up in that. . . . prison,” Johnny whined.
Scott held back a smile. “Well, that way is the pasture. Nothing much there, unless you like cows. That way, well, that’s the creek. We could go there, sit if you like.”
“The creek?” Johnny questioned.
“Yes. Do you have a problem with that?” Scott asked.
“Nope. Lead the way,” Johnny answered.
They arrived and Scott jumped off his horse and walked it to the creek for a drink. Johnny was much slower getting down. Scott thought about helping, but decided to wait and act only if Johnny requested help, which he didn’t. But still, big brother kept a watchful eye over his newly-discovered younger sibling.
After the horses were tethered and grazing, Johnny walked down to the edge of the creek. He viewed the beauty of his surroundings, and took it all in—the fresh air, the warm sun, the total freedom he felt. Scott stood next to his brother, and could feel the contentment and pure pleasure radiating from Johnny.
“I didn’t realize it was this pretty here. Guess I didn’t notice it the other day,” Johnny said.
“Well, we had. . .other things. . .on our minds at the time,” Scott commented.
“Yeah, I know,” Johnny said flatly. After a pause, he said, “Boston, you sure throw a good right hook. Almost knocked a tooth loose.” After another pause, he added, “ ‘Course, I don’t think I deserved it.”
Scott stared at his brother. “Well, maybe not, but at the time I thought you did. But I did apologize, if you remember.”
“Was that a true apology, or was it just because Teresa was there?” Johnny asked, eyebrows raised.
“It was. . .a . . .little of both I guess, but you sure didn’t accept it,” Scott shot back.
“Never had much of a reason to accept apologies before. But if it means anything, I accept it, under the circumstances,” Johnny offered.
“And, if it means anything else,” Johnny said, slowly, “I wanted to help you that day, but, well, I guess you know why I didn’t. ‘Sides, you were doin’ pretty good at taking care of yourself anyway, Boston. But if the need arose, where I thought you were really in trouble, I would’ve helped you, would’ve thought of something to tell ol’ Day’s boys,” Johnny said, sincerely.
“I know,” Scott said quietly. Then he smiled and said, “Thanks.”
With that out of the way, a heavy sigh came from both young men. Scott sat down on the edge of the creek, and Johnny plopped down next to him. He removed his boots and socks, went to the edge of the creek, and began wading.
“What are you doing?” Scott asked.
“Wadin,” Johnny answered, flatly.
“Well, don’t get too wet,” Scott advised. “You just got over being sick and you don’t need to get a cold or anything. That water was like ice the other day when I washed off in it.”
Johnny stared at his brother, a trace of exasperation on his face. “Boston,” he drawled, “I got back shot, I didn’t have pneumonia. ‘Sides, this water’s as warm as bath water now. Here, feel for yourself,” and at that began splashing Scott, a little at first, but then harder.
Scott was not amused. “Stop it, Johnny. I don’t want to be splashed.”
Johnny splashed all the harder. “Don’t be such a stick in the mud, Boston. Have a little fun!”
“I don’t want to be splashed, Johnny. Please. Stop it,” Scott firmly requested.
Realizing he wasn’t going to get any reaction from Scott, Johnny stopped the splashing. “You need to loosen up, Boston. Thought that’s what I’m supposed to be doin.’ I think you’re the one that’s depressed, not me.”
“Why do you keep calling me ‘Boston?’ “ Scott asked, annoyed.
“Would you prefer I call you. . . .’Scotty?’ “ Johnny teasingly asked as he made his way back to Scott and sat down next to him, a wicked smile on his face .
“How do you know about that?” a surprised Scott asked.
“You told me,” Johnny answered matter of fact.
“I did? When?”
“You told me a lot of things, Boston. You all did. When you thought I was asleep,” Johnny informed.
“Oh, playing possum?” Scott shot back.
“No,” Johnny answered slowly and seriously. “Wish I had been, though. See, I remember lying there, being able to hear everybody, but not being able to move. Or talk. Guess it was all that damn laudanum y’all gave me. I wanted to talk to you, but. . .when I went to talk, nothing happened. And sometimes I would sleep for a few minutes, then wake up and I still couldn’t move, but y’all were talkin’ to me, tryin’ to get me to react, and you all seemed so sad. I thought that’s how I would end up, spend the rest of my life like that. And I remember thinking it was probably my punishment. . .for things I’ve done. . . .”
Scott remembered how worried he had been when Johnny just stared at him, with pleading eyes, and didn’t move or speak. He wondered if he was able to hear him, so he spoke to him. He told him stories about Boston, about college. About the war. About how he hated the nickname “Scotty.” Just in case his brother could hear him, Scott wanted him to know he cared. And Johnny had heard. And remembered.
“Anyway, I remember waking up one night, and Murdoch was rubbing my legs. I must of got up real quick, because he grabbed my shoulders and laid me back down. He told me I had a spasm in my leg and he was rubbing it for me. I must of asked him if I could walk, because he told me I’d be fine. . .I’d be riding that palomino of mine in no time. All I know is, I wasn’t so scared anymore. . . . “ his voice drifted off.
“I’m sorry, Johnny. That must have been really hard for you,” Scott said, and placed his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and rubbed it, just a little.
Johnny flinched at the show of affection—at first. But then relaxed as Scott’s hand continued to rub his upper back and neck.
“I won’t call you that if it bugs you,” Johnny said. “It’s just, I tend to tease people when I like them. . . .” the words just flowing out of his mouth.
“It’s all right. I only let people I like tease me,” Scott offered back.
Scott could feel the tenseness in Johnny diminish as he continued to rub down his back and shoulders.
“Mmmmm, that feels really good. I’ll say one thing, you and the Old Man give great backrubs,” Johnny laughed.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Scott said wryly, with a wink.
Johnny looked at him, a bit surprised, and laughed.
When Scott finished rubbing Johnny’s shoulders, Johnny laid down on his stomach and placed his arms under his head and sighed contentedly. Scott relaxed as well, taking in the beauty that was Lancer. After a few minutes, Scott looked at Johnny and wondered whether he was asleep, or just resting.
“Comfortable?” Scott asked in a teasing voice.
“Uh-huh”, came the mumbled reply. “The sun feels good on my back. It’s just so nice to be away from that house. It gives me the creeps,” Johnny remarked.
“It does? Why, it’s a beautiful home. Nothing like I’ve seen before, not even in Boston,” Scott commented, a bit surprised at Johnny’s feeling about the beautiful hacienda.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t pretty. It’s. . . .it’s just that, there’s too many ghosts there,” Johnny stated quietly. “If those walls could talk. . . . .” Johnny sat up and faced his brother.
“I feel her there, Scott. Her presence. From the minute I walked in that house, I’ve thought about my. . .mother. Haven’t thought about her this much in years, except when I thought. . .just before the firing squad. . . .” His voice went silent.
“Anyway, her presence is there. She lived there. She ate there, slept there, cooked there. Made love there. Hell, she had me there. And I lived there, too. But I can’t remember. . . .I try to, keep thinkin’ maybe I’ll see something that sparks my memory. But nothin’. . . .And when some of the hands, like Cipriano, and people like Maria, that knew her, and knew me when I lived there before, as a baby, well, it’s just hard, Scott,” and Johnny’s voice broke, just a little.
Scott wanted to comfort Johnny, but he wasn’t sure how. Didn’t know what to say. Or what to do.
Then Johnny asked, “Do you feel it too, Scott? Do you feel your mother’s presence? I mean, she lived there too” . . . . . .
Scott was taken aback by Johnny’s questions. Honestly, no, he didn’t feel the presence of his mother in Murdoch Lancer’s home. He didn’t even feel it in Harlan Garrett’s home, and she had grown up there.
“No, Johnny, I don’t,” Scott answered, slowly and quietly. “I never knew my mother. You can’t miss someone you didn’t know.. . . . .”
“Are you saying you don’t love your mother?” Johnny asked, a bit angered.
Scott hesitated, as he tried to put into words the feelings he had for his mother. The gentle woman he never knew.
“Not in the physical sense, Johnny, like you love your mother. But more in the spiritual sense. I love the woman I’m told she was. . .beautiful and kind. Smart. . . talented. And I love the mother I think she would have been, had she been given the chance. But I never felt her, Johnny. Never felt her soft hands wipe my tears, or her sweet lips kiss me. Never heard her voice, which I’m told was beautiful. So I can’t love her that way, I can only love. . . .her spirit.” Scott’s voice broke too, just a little.
Johnny considered what Scott had said, and understood better Scott’s feelings. And he thought to himself that with all the advantages Scott had growing up, he missed out on the most important: a mother’s love. And for all his disadvantages, Johnny did know the most important: the love of a mother. And I thought I was the deprived one, Johnny sadly thought.
“I’m sorry she died, Scott. I’m sure she was a wonderful, beautiful lady,” was all Johnny could offer.
“Thanks,” Scott replied, gratefully.
After a pause, Johnny asked, “Do you ever feel. . . .guilty?” and could of kicked himself at the words that came out of his mouth.
“Guilty about what?” Scott frowned.
“Nothin,” Johnny mumbled.
“Johnny. . . .” Scott persisted.
“Do you ever feel guilty that she died. . .. having you? I mean, I’ve always wondered how someone felt, knowing their mother died, giving them life. . . .”
A tear trickled down Scott’ face, then he looked at Johnny and smiled a small smile.
“No, I never have. I just accepted it as a part of my life. I’ve always heard that a mother would die for her child because she loves them more than life itself. So, I guess in a way, she died because of her love for me.”
Johnny nodded in understanding.
After a pause, Scott commented, “Besides, there were circumstances. . . . .”
“Involving. . . .Murdoch?” Johnny questioned.
Scott shook his head yes. “I know what my Grandfather told me all these years. But I’d like to hear what Murdoch has to say. That’s one reason why I came here. But well, with all that’s happened, the time hasn’t been right.”
“Well, maybe he’ll tell you soon. Maybe you should ask him,” Johnny suggested.
The two brothers looked at each other. And laughed.
Then Scott asked Johnny, “Do you think you can come to terms with things?”
“What things?” Johnny asked, but knowing what Scott meant.
“About your mother. . . .leaving. . .Murdoch”. . . . . his voice regretful.
“I don’t know if I can, Scott,” Johnny said, slowly. “I suppose in a way I want to, accept it, ‘cause that would mean that that he did care and that it wasn’t his fault. But then, it would mean that she betrayed me. She lied to me, Scott. My own mother, who drilled into my head my whole life the sinfulness of lying. And what the hell did she do to me?”
Scott sat silently and stared at the creek, and let Johnny compose himself. “I. .I love her. I can’t help it, but right now. . . .I’m just so confused. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel. Murdoch, well, he ain’t the awful man I thought he was my whole life. He’s a bit tall, maybe,” Johnny chuckled. Then he looked at his brother. “I don’t know what to do. . .” Tears flowed freely from Johnny’s eyes.
“Just take your time. You’ve been through a lot, and you’re still recovering. Just let each day take care of itself. But, you do realize you’re going to have to come to terms sometime, if you want things to work with Murdoch?” Scott’s offer of advice as his hand rubbed Johnny’s arm.
“I know,” Johnny whispered. “Believe me, I know. . . .”
“I’ll be there for you. If you ever want to talk. Or vent. . . .” Scott advised.
Johnny wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand, and accepted the handkerchief offered to him by his proper brother. “I know. . .and thanks. For this, too,” motioning to the handkerchief.
“My pleasure,” came the understanding reply.
The two enjoyed the sandwiches that Scott had packed, and he was glad to see Johnny eating. Johnny commented he would have to apologize to Teresa and Maria, that he felt terrible for how he had treated them the last few days. He told Scott he’d apologize to Murdoch as well. “Y’all didn’t deserve the treatment I gave you,” Johnny moaned.
“It’s all right, Brother. We understand. A man gets shot in the back, he’s allowed to be grumpy for a few days.”
Laughter from both young men filled the air.
After he was done with his sandwich, Johnny began putting on his socks and boots. “Best we get goin, Boston. Don’t want Murdoch sending your cavalry out after us,” he laughed.
Scott hesitated, then spoke.
“Johnny, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about. And this is about as good a time as any, I guess.”
Johnny noted the seriousness in his brother’s voice. “What is it?”
“Well,” Scott paused. “It’s this. . . .gunfighting thing,” Scott replied.
Johnny laughed. “Never quite heard it referred to that way.” He saw the nervousness in his brother and became puzzled. “What do you mean?”
Softly Scott said, “I don’t want to sound harsh. . . . .”
After a pause, Johnny became irritated. He spoke, and the voice was that of Johnny Madrid. “I don’t like people who beat around the bush, Brother. You got something to say, say it,” echoing the words he spoke to his father at that first meeting.
Scott felt the goosebumps on his arms and back as he recognized the voice of Madrid, and wondered whether this was such a good idea. But it was now or never; if he didn’t speak of it now, he doubted he ever would again.
“I just wonder how you can. . .live with yourself. Knowing you. . .killed. . . .men. For money.” Scott’s voice was low and sorrowful.
There was a long silence, as Scott pondered whether he had just ruined the bond that the two were beginning to form.
Johnny’s voice was soft and low. “It’s a profession, Scott. And I’m good at it. And respected as well. Never shot an unarmed man, never will. Never backshot anyone, neither. Pardee, he’s the kind that give gunfighter’s a bad name.”
There was more silence, then Johnny continued. “Every man I’ve killed has left a mark on my soul. Not a night goes by, just before I fall asleep, that one of them don’t come visitin.’ But all I can tell myself is that each fight was fair. It was them or me. And I guess I’m just too damn stubborn to die.”
Then he turned to Scott, who continued to stare at the creek. “You’ve killed before. In the war. And the other day, killed more then me. How do you feel?” Johnny asked coldly.
“War is different, Johnny,” Scott stated flatly. “I didn’t get paid for killing in the war. And I didn’t get paid for killing Pardee.”
“No, in the war you got decorated, got a fancy title, and got your picture taken with that Sheridan fella. And for Pardee and his boys, well, you got 1/3 of this. . . .” and spread his arms out toward Lancer.
The air was thick between the two men, as Scott pondered what Johnny had said, and Johnny felt hurt by the man he was beginning to trust and like. His brother.
Johnny spoke again. “If it means anything, I never bought anything for me with blood money. If I wanted new boots or a new hat, or clothes, I’d earn it. I’d get odd jobs when I could. Even worked at a couple of ranches, til I earned enough. But I never used blood money.”
“What did you do with the. . . .money?” Scott asked.
“Gave it away mostly. To people that needed it more than me. Orphanages, churches. Course I had to leave it in secret. I knew they would never accept it if they knew where it came from. And sometimes, I’d use it to spend the night in one of them fancy hotels, and get myself a good meal. Or I’d treat a lady real fine. But hotels and dinners aren’t physical things. But a man’s boots, well, I could never wear them knowing a man’s blood is what bought them. . . .”
Scott hesitated, then asked, “Well, if you didn’t spend the money, why did you keep. . .doing it? I mean, why didn’t you just stop? Just walk away?”
He doesn’t understand at all, Johnny sadly thought.
There was an uncomfortable silence as Johnny tried to explain to his brother exactly what being Johnny Madrid was all about.
“Being Johnny Madrid means that everybody thinks they own you, everybody wants something from you,” Johnny softly, and sadly, explained. “I’d go into a town, or sit down to have a drink, with killin’ the furthest thing on my mind, when suddenly, someone would challenge me. I’d try to talk them out of it, to leave me alone, but hey, I was Johnny Madrid. Can’t just walk away. Well, I’d try, and I would know, just know, that someone was pullin’ out their gun, to back shoot me. Well, I’m fast and I’m good, and that someone, well. . .he never knew what hit him.”
Scott felt afraid as Johnny spoke. But the fear was not for himself. It was fear for his. . . .brother.
“Anyway,” Johnny continued, staring out at the beauty that was Lancer, “when I did hire out to someone, I always said it would be the last time. . if I was the one left standin.’ But it never was. The feeling it gave me, the feeling of power maybe, I’m not sure, the feeling of respect I got from people who would otherwise look down on me, and yeah, even the fear that people had of me, well, all those feelings made me go on. Besides, I had nothing, or no one, that gave me any reason to stop.” Then slowly and quietly, he looked at his brother, with tears welling in his eyes. “Until now.”
Scott listened to Johnny’s words, thought about everything he had just said, and realized just what a kind, decent man his brother really was. And he wanted to cry for the circumstances that took Johnny away from Lancer, and into the life he had.
But he didn’t cry; Johnny was not to be pitied. But rather, respected for the fact he was able to carry on, to possess the humor and wit he did. And that he was willing to try at the second chance he had been given.
His reverie was broken when he heard Johnny coldly ask, “Does that disgust you, Brother? To know that you have a half-breed gunfighter for a brother? Because if it does, and if you want me to leave, I will. I told Murdoch I wouldn’t stay unless everyone wanted me to. He said it was up to him and I was staying. But I won’t stay here if there’s any doubt.”. . . . . . .
“Johnny,” Scott abruptly cut him off. “I. . . .I don’t want you to leave. I just realized how much I really care about you. I understand better now, and I’ll never doubt you, or your past life, again. I’m actually glad we had this talk, because it opened my eyes. And, if you feel like you don’t want me here, after what I thought, then I will leave. For I will not stay unless our family is united.”
Through tears, Johnny whispered, “I want you to stay. I need you. I. . .trust you. I know you’ll never betray me, Scott. And that’s the most important thing in the world to me. . . .”
Scott held out his arms to his brother in a show of acceptance, and Johnny accepted with his arms. And for the first time, Scott Lancer and Johnny Madrid embraced each other. And it was good.
The bond was formed. . . . . .
After they embraced, Scott gently held Johnny by the shoulders and looked into his teary, sapphire eyes. “It feels good, doesn’t it, Brother? To accept somebody into your life?”
Johnny just shook his head yes. Then, in an uneasy voice, said “It’s been so long since I’ve had anybody to care for me. . . if ever. . .”
Scott embraced his brother again, and gently rocked him as soft sobs came from Johnny. “It’s all right. . . .it’s all right,” Scott soothed.
After he regained his composure, Johnny spoke. “It won’t be easy, Scott. People will find out I wasn’t killed in Mexico. They’ll come lookin’ for me. And if you’re with me, or Murdoch, or God forbid, Teresa.. . .” Johnny suddenly said, sadness in his voice.
“I’ll watch your back, Johnny. After all, you watched mine,” Scott gently said.
Johnny looked at him questioningly.
“You don’t remember, do you? You called out to me to look out, when Pardee was aiming at me. I didn’t see him, if you wouldn’t of called out, I think he would of shot me. . . .”
“No, I don’t remember that,” Johnny stated quietly.
For a long time, Scott Lancer and Johnny Madrid looked out over the creek, and at the land that was Lancer. Their home. They didn’t speak, but somehow, each knew that something special had occurred. Something that both had wanted all their lives. A friendship had been formed. A friendship that would, in time, strengthen through hard work, laughter, tears, and yes, disagreements. And the friendship that was born between the blonde Bostonian and the half-Mexican gunfighter would grow into the special bond known as Brotherhood.
“You know, I think I made a new friend today,” Scott smiled at Johnny.
“You sure you want this friend?” Johnny asked.
“I’m sure,” Scott answered confidently.
“Ain’t much good at havin’ friends,” Johnny mumbled. “But, I think I might be good at havin’ you for one,” he laughed.
After a few minutes, Scott spoke. “You look tired, Brother. Think we should head back?”
“Yeah, I am kind of tired,” Johnny replied. “Maybe old Doc Jenkins was right. Maybe I’m not quite ready to ride.. . . yet.”
They made their way to their horses, and Scott paused as he watched Johnny contemplate getting on Barranca.
“Need some help?” he asked, gently.
“Yeah, thanks,” Johnny replied. Scott gently took a hold of Johnny’s waist and gave him a gentle boost into the saddle. Johnny winced as he positioned himself on the golden horse.
“We’ll take it slow,” Scott advised, knowing that Johnny was hurting, and knowing his stubborn younger brother wouldn’t admit it.
“Thanks, Brother,” Johnny laughed. And winked. Then tipped his hat low over his eyes.
“Any time, Little Brother,” Scott laughed back.
As they began to ride, Johnny asked, “Boston, do you think that, well, maybe in a few days, when I’m not so tired, you might want to ride with me again? I mean, if you don’t have other plans.. . .”
Scott chuckled. “I’d love to, Johnny. And I was wondering if tomorrow, you could instruct me in that lasso thing.”
This time Johnny chuckled. “Boston, you sure do have a way of describin’ things. And yeah, I would love to help you. It takes a lot of practice, and you were doing pretty good the other day. Might of done better if I hadn’t spouted out at you. . .” Johnny’s voice was regretful.
“It’s forgotten, Johnny. I know you didn’t feel good,” Scott coddled.
“Thanks, Brother,” Johnny gratefully replied.
As the two rode back to Lancer in a companionable silence, they realized that today was the first day of the beginning of their lives. For Scott Lancer found the kid brother he always dreamed of. And Johnny Madrid found the big brother he so desperately wanted. . . .and needed.
And there would be many more rides taken by the two brothers in the years to come. But the short ride to the creek on that warm spring day would be the one they would cherish the most. Because they had done it together. After all, it was. . . .
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