The Stranger by Laraine

Word Count 5,880

An episode tag for The High Riders

Johnny Madrid cleared the woods and made his way up the small incline to the dirt road where he knew the stagecoach would soon be approaching–the one  that he would hitch a ride on to the town of Morro Coyo. . . .and a meeting with his father, Murdoch Lancer.

Johnny scoffed at the thought of meeting his father, the father he never knew, but had always hated.  See, the old man had kicked Johnny and his mother out of his home and his life when the handsome gunfighter was only two, leaving the door open for a future that Johnny never asked for, never wanted. 

A future that brought a small boy little happiness, a lot of sadness, and a lot of pain.  And hurt.   And anger.  But through it all, somehow the little boy, who grew into a child-man and finally, a man, had managed to keep his kind heart open. And through all he endured, including the killing of men, he maintained a soft spot for the weak and mild, and was able to melt even the coldest heart with his heart-warming smile and sapphire, blue eyes. 

As he stood at the side of the dirt road waiting for the stage, he pondered the strange series of events of the last several days that brought him to this time, this place, in his life.

Just ten days ago, Johnny Madrid should have died.  Should have been executed by a firing squad in Mexico, along with those he considered his friends, for fighting in the revolution for a cause he believed was right, and still did.  That day, he had watched friends and strangers, dressed in white robes and large white sombreros, escorted to their deaths.  Some men cried.  Others were stoic.  Most were blindfolded, although  Johnny Madrid had made the decision he would not be–he would look the executioners straight in the eyes–and hoped that his own piercing blue eyes would forever be burned in their memory.

He also prayed.  Being a Catholic, he did believe in prayer.  Johnny prayed every time before a gunfight, that he would be spared one last time, and that he would be forgiven for this worst of sins.  And that when it was his time, the goodness that was deep inside him would be considered and he would be allowed to enter the gates of heaven.

On that day, as the second man before him was escorted to his death, Johnny Madrid prayed one last time. . . .for a miracle.  Please God, I don’t care how you do it, but please rescue me from this.  And if I have to die, let it be in my way; strong, a man to the end.  A single tear rolled down his cheek, not only for himself, but for the man that had just been executed; for all the lives he had taken in a kill or be killed world; and for his mother.  A mother that, for all her faults, Johnny did love, and who he was about to see after ten years, this time for eternity.


And, for reasons still not clear, that miracle happened.  A Pinkerton agent had been hired by a Mr. Murdoch Lancer to find his long-lost son, and for that son to come to his ranch, Lancer, to visit him for one hour–and receive $1,000.00.  The agent had found that son, one Johnny Madrid, and with a lot of talking and money changing, Mr. Madrid found himself, ten days later, on this dirt road, alone, waiting for the stage.  He still got chills up his spine when he thought about the answer to what he thought was his final prayer.

But along the way, he incurred a lot of strange happenings that he knew was carelessness on his part,  as Johnny Madrid was always so careful regarding his actions.

He was able to track down one of his amigos who escaped the firing squad and  retrieve his most prized possession—his gun.  Then Johnny purchased two new saddlebags with the money that nice Pinkerton man had literally given to him after he rescued him from the firing squad.  Along with some fancy new duds. And a saddle.  Johnny Madrid made a mental note to be sure to ask Mr. Murdoch Lancer if the agent was properly reimbursed, since it was his personal funds, and not that of the Agency, that Johnny was able to buy these things with. After all, when meeting your father for the first time in 20 some years, you want to look your best.  And Mr. Madrid looked perfect!

The Pinkerton agent had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure Johnny was safely out of Mexico, and on the stage that would take him to Green River, Spanish Wells, and finally Morro Coyo.

Then, the strange happenings began to occur.  Johnny missed the stage in Spanish Wells.  See, for some strange reason, he just had to have a beer.  Why he wanted a beer at 9:00 in the morning was a mystery to him, but the uncharacteristic wanting and the being in the cantina at that early hour made him miss the stage, and he mumbled to himself how stupid he was to miss it.  Instead, he had this great idea he’d walk to Morro Coyo, so he trudged through the woods from Spanish Wells, only to remember, half-way through his journey, that there was a later stage he could of taken–the stage that would be catching up with him in the next few minutes. Why he had this unusual need to walk the several  miles to Morro Coyo he didn’t know.  But if all these events were an omen, he was beginning to wonder whether meeting his old man was such a great idea.  But he knew it was.  For $1,000.00 he’d walk through fire.

So, on this day, as he stood by the road waiting for the stage, Johnny began to feel the heat of the April sun, and wished for some water.  When he had made his purchases with the help of the Pinkerton agent, Johnny had neglected to include a canteen among his items, and he cursed himself for what was another careless action on his part.

Johnny Madrid may have looked perfect, but his throat was as dry as the dust that sat on the road.  As he subconsciously wished for water, God, I sure could use a cool drink of water,  Johnny was startled by a smooth, soothing voice that seemed to come out of nowhere: “You look like you could use some water, son.”

Hand at the ever-present gun on his lower right hip, a surprised Johnny Madrid asked, “Who are you, and where in the hell did you come from?” 
See, Johnny had just trudged through the woods, and except for some deer and other animals, hadn’t seen a living soul since leaving Spanish Wells.  And he had been standing by the road for a good five minutes, and he was positive he was alone.  He realized he was lost in thought, and chided himself for letting himself be caught off guard.  But still, there was something odd about his being caught this much off guard, and although the small, thin, man with the kind face that stood beside him seemed non-threatening, Johnny Madrid was, well. . .unnerved.

“Sorry son, I didn’t mean to startle you, but you look like you could use some water.”

“Thank you, I am a bit dry,” Johnny replied, and hesitantly drank the cool water in the canteen the stranger offered to him.

“Name’s Isaac. And you’re…?”

“Johnny.  Where did you say you came from?”  a puzzled Johnny inquired.

Isaac laughed.  “I really didn’t mean to spook you.  I live nearby, and I’m searching for my dog, been missing since last night.  See, my Molly, she’s a mongrel, but she’s a good old gal.  I’m afraid she’s run off to die.  She’ll be 15 years old next month, and I want to find her so when it’s her time, she wont be alone.  Haven’t seen her, have you, son?”

“No, I haven’t seen any dog, but I hope you find her.  It’s sad when animals do that, but someone told me once they do it to save their comrades from sadness.”  Johnny Madrid was an animal lover, and had a special way with them, particularly horses.

“You waitin’ for the stage, boy?” inquired Isaac.


“Well, should be here soon.  Passes through this time every day.  Got business in Morro Coyo?”

Johnny thought Isaac was a bit nosey for someone who was supposed to be looking for a lost pet.  Still, there was something about this stranger that, while unnerved the gunslinger, intrigued him as well.  But Johnny knew better then to relay too much information to a stranger.  “Yeah, I’m meeting someone there on business.  Should be there only a day or two, at the most,” Johnny replied.

Isaac made some small talk with the young man waiting for the stage.  “Well, Morro Coyo is a nice little town.  A lot of building is going on there. Lots of business from the rich cattle owners are helping the town grow. But, there’s trouble with the land pirates.  They’ve overtaken some of the smaller ranches, and now they’re setting their sights on the larger ones.  One in particular, think its called Dancer, or something like that.”

Johnny’s ears perked up.  “Lancer, maybe?”

“Could be.  I don’t get into town much, but that’s what I heard a few weeks ago, anyway.”

I wonder if that’s why Mr. Murdoch Lancer wants to see me, Johnny wondered, sarcastically.

The handsome gunslinger looked up the road, hoping to see the stagecoach.  He really didn’t want to be alone with Isaiah, or Isaac, or what ever his name was, any longer than necessary. 

 “You got family, boy?  Wife, parents, brother maybe?” 
Isaac was a curious little man.  But then Johnny surmised he must be lonely, living all alone in literally the middle of nowhere.  So he endured Isaac’s small talk, and his questions.

“No, my mother died about 10 years ago, never had no brothers or sisters.”

“What about you father?”  Isaac prodded.

“Never knew him,” Johnny answered, hesitantly.  But the need to tell someone, even this odd stranger, became great, and Johnny spoke about his father to someone else other than his own tired mind.

“Kicked me and my mother out of his house, and his life, when I was two years old.  We were on our own, and it wasn’t easy.  My mother had a lot of things done to her that shouldn’t of been.  And after she died, well, I was on my own. . . . .”

“And you’re going to see him now?”  Isaac questioned.

Johnny started at the small man, surprised at his question.  “How did you know that?  I never told you that?”

Isaac chuckled.  “Just a guess.  But when you meet him, you will listen to what he has to say, won’t you?”

“Ain’t got nothin’ to say to me I want to hear,” Johnny replied, coldly.

Isaac spoke, and when he spoke, his voice was so soothing and lulling, Johnny couldn’t help but listen to the man’s words.  “You know, son, my father and me had a fallin’ out when I was a young man like you.  Don’t remember about what, something unimportant, but that misunderstanding, which is exactly what it was, cost me more than 20 years with my old man.  Got reunited with him only last year, a few months before he died.  But those few months were the greatest of my life, and I still hate myself for bein’ the stubborn man I was and not going to him sooner.  He felt the same way.  See, we were both too much alike, both stubborn, and proud, and it wasn’t until he was near death that I swallowed my pride, and he his, and we got back together. I’ll never forget that I was there when he died, holding him, so he wouldn’t be alone. . . . . .”

Johnny was slightly touched, but he continued to look up the road for the stage that he thought would never arrive.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but my old man ain’t dyin.  I’m just goin to see him to thank him for what he did to my mother’s life, and to mine,” Johnny stated coldly.

“And why did your father ask your mother to leave when you were so young?” Isaac asked.

“I. . .I don’t know,” Johnny replied bitterly. “Um, don’t you have a dog you’re supposed to be looking for?” Johnny asked, his patience, and nerves, becoming unraveled.  Where was that stupid stagecoach, anyway?

“Oh, I have a feeling Molly is on her way home.  As am I.  But before I depart, can I give you a little bit of advice, boy?”

“If you want,” Johnny answered, anything to get you the hell out of here , Johnny thought.

“Well, when you meet your father, listen to him.  Don’t pre-judge him.  Remember, there’s two sides to every story.  What you’re mother told you may not have been, well, the whole story.  And what you grew up believing from her words could cause you unnecessary sadness in the future.  Consider your options, and keep your heart open.  You never know what this meeting, this reunion if you will, could bring to you.  Remember, it is said that when the Lord closes one door, he opens another.”

Johnny Madrid suddenly felt like he was a seven-year old sitting in a Bible class.  “Are you a preacher or something?” he asked, incredulously.

“No, just a lonely man making conversation with someone who looked like they needed a friend.  Would you like more water?”

Johnny hesitated.  As long as it’s not holy water, he answered to himself.  But the gunslinger did drink the water, and much to his joy and relief, in the distance he saw his long-awaited stagecoach coming down the road.

“Well, son, there’s your coach.  Hope I didn’t bother you,” Isaac said.

“No, not too much,” Johnny dryly replied.

“Well, good luck to you, son, hope things work out the way you want them too, with your father I mean,” Isaac said, holding out his hand.

“Yeah, thanks,” Johnny annoyingly replied, returning the stranger’s handshake.

As Johnny bent down to pick up his saddlebags and saddle, the small, thin man bid one more good-bye as he began down the road.  “Hope your day turns out well, Johnny Madrid, and hope you find the happiness you deserve.”
At that, Johnny Madrid—gunslinger, lover to many a woman and enemy to many a man, froze.  The hairs on his arms stood on end, and it took him a few seconds to stand up straight and get the oncoming stagecoach back in his sight.  Throughout the strange conversation, this man had called him nothing but ‘son’ or ‘boy’ and Johnny knew he didn’t tell the man his last name.  Johnny Madrid knew better than that.  Was this stranger someone sent by Murdoch Lancer to spy on him?  Johnny didn’t know, he just knew the stranger gave him the creeps.  And Johnny Madrid did not like to feel, well. . . .creepy.

With the blessed stagecoach approaching, Johnny turned around to take one last look at the man he had spent the last few minutes conversing with, and he was gone.  Out of sight.  Vanished.  Just like that.  Johnny spied the woods behind him, but there was no trace of him there, either.  No broken twigs, nothing that would indicate someone, or something, had been there.  Maybe, Johnny tried to rationalize, he was just good at disappearing and not leaving a trail.  After all, Johnny had been on his own for 10 years, and he knew how to move without being seen or heard.  It was something learned, part of his “sixth sense.”  So maybe this Isaac person, living the life of a hermit for so long, had  learned these things as well. 

But right now, he had more important things on his mind.  Like the stage.  “Got room for one more?”  Johnny called to the driver.  “You goin’ to town?” the driver asked.  “Yeah, can you put my saddle up there with you?”  “Guess so,” the annoyed driver answered.  At that, Johnny opened the door and before he could sit down, the stagecoach took off, dumping him, rather unceremoniously, into the lap of a blonde-haired man with the funniest clothes Johnny Madrid had ever seen.  The plaid pants and ruffled shirt were bad enough,  but the man’s funny-looking hat had to go. 

“Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin your ‘pretty’ clothes,” Johnny sarcastically apologized.  “Couldn’t be helped,” the blonde-haired man replied, hiding his annoyance as he carefully rubbed the dust from the cowboy off his plaid pants.

As Johnny sat in the seat across and catty-corner from the fancy-dressed man, his eyes focused on the woods as the stagecoach passed by, trying to find a sign of the mysterious stranger he had spoken with at the side of the road.  But the strange encounter with the odd little man quickly faded to the back of his mind, as he contemplated more important events at hand, like the soon-to-be had meeting with his father.

And Johnny wondered, with slight amusement, why the blonde-haired man with the fancy clothes, who sat a few feet away from him on the stagecoach to destiny, intrigued him so much.


Johnny Madrid’s mind awoke before his body, and he struggled to open his sleepy, sapphire eyes.  He knew that someone from his newly-found family would be waiting to greet him back to the living, and he sensed the person waiting for him this time was his father. 

The past several days had been the same for Johnny.  He would awake to pain and confusion, then his mind would slowly replay the events that transpired.  He had been shot in the back by that bastard, Pardee; shot so hard it literally knocked the wind out of him, and knocked him out of his saddle.  He remembered lying on the ground, bullets around him, with his hands over his head in a futile effort to protect himself.  And the pain. Then he remembered the quiet, and wondering who had won–Pardee, or his father.  He remembered the person walking toward him–it was the blonde-haired man from the stage–his newly discovered brother, Scott.   And he remembered crawling to the tree… he doesn’t know why he went to the tree, he just did. 

And through it all, he felt a presence around him, shielding him from wayward bullets and pulling and pushing him toward the solace of the tree. 

Johnny was finally able to open his eyes and he was right. . .Murdoch Lancer sat at his bedside, reading a book, when he noticed the eyes of his youngest son slowly open.

“Nice to have you visit,”  Murdoch joked.

“Least I could do,” Johnny wearily  replied.  Then, just as wearily, “Can I lay on my back, please?  My side is turning numb.”

Murdoch felt sympathy for his youngest son, who had laid on his right side for three days to protect his wounded back and had his share of numbness in his right arm and leg.  “Sorry, Johnny.  Not until the doctor says it’s OK.  Doc Jenkins will be here early tomorrow morning, and I promise I’ll talk to him.  Now, are you ready for some water?”  Murdoch asked, as he lifted his son’s neck to help him drink.

Johnny was familiar with the routine. It was always he same.  First the water, then the questions to make sure, he guessed, he still had his wits about him.  Then the broth that he quietly endured, and finally, the awful drink that would make him sleep again for what seemed like an eternity.

Johnny drank the cool water and savored it; it really did taste good.  His throat was always so dry when he woke up.  It reminded him of the way his throat felt that day at the road, waiting for the stage, when the mysterious stranger appeared and offered him the cool, refreshing water. How many days ago was that, anyway?

And the stranger.  Who was he?  Johnny hadn’t given him another thought in the hectic days that followed, but the odd little man had been a frequent visitor in his dreams, but in a soothing sort of way.

Johnny finished all his broth, much to his father’s glee, and listened half-heartedly as Murdoch told him about the concern and kindness extended to the family from the townsfolk in the aftermath of the battle.


Somewhere in the middle of Murdoch’s chit-chat, Johnny’s eyes closed; he just couldn’t keep them open, no matter how hard he tried.  And he wasn’t even given any of the awful drink yet.   And in that special world between wakefulness and sleep, he heard his brother, Scott, enter the room and begin speaking to Murdoch.

“Murdoch, Sheriff Crawford is downstairs and he wants us both to give him a statement about the other day.  He wants one from Johnny, too, but I told him it would be a couple of days before he’s, let’s say, back to the living,” Scott chuckled.

Murdoch responded. “Yes, I figured Val would be coming.  I know he caught a few of Pardee’s men and he’s holding them until he gets a statement from all of us.  Particularly Johnny, since he had some inside knowledge of what was going on.”

Scott continued.  “He said it wouldn’t take too long, but he needs both of us to sign our statements together.  Do you think Johnny will be all right for a couple of minutes?”

“ I think so,” Murdoch replied.  “He’s hardly moved for three days, so I don’t suppose he’ll be going anywhere in five minutes.  But then, you never know,” he chuckled.

And as he eyed his younger brother, who was more or less asleep, Scott chuckled, “And you, little brother, stay put ‘til I get back.”  Then both men left the room, leaving the door slightly open.

I thought they’d never leave, Johnny sighed to himself.  I really do appreciate them being here, and for all they’re doing for me, but now, I can roll over on my back, for a few minutes, anyway.

Just as he made his way on his back, he felt warm gentle hands roll him back on his side and a voice say, “Stay put, young man.  You know better than that.”

“Scott?”  Johnny squeaked, trying to open his eyes.  But it wasn’t his brother, or father.  And not Teresa.  “Who are you?” Johnny asked, a little concerned.

“Now don’t you worry about a thing, Johnny.  I’ve been watching over you all this time, you’ll be OK until your family gets back.”

Johnny recognized the voice, so comforting, so lulling.  It was the same voice he’d heard the last three days in his dreams, and the one, he remembered, he had heard that day on the side of the road, waiting for the stagecoach.

He managed to open his eyes, and they were finally able to focus on the mysterious stranger with the kind face that had given him water so many days ago.  “Isaiah?”  Johnny asked.

“It’s Isaac, Johnny.  When are you going to get my name right, son?”

Johnny was confused.  “What are you doing here?  How did you get here?  Where’s my brother and father?”

“Settle down, son, you should know I’m not going to hurt you.  My job is to watch over you.  Have been since you were born. And believe me, it hasn’t been easy.”

Sure hope I wake up from this dream real soon,  Johnny sighed.

“What do you mean, you’ve been watching over me since I was born? I just met you the other day, on my way here.”  All of a sudden, Johnny Madrid was very awake, the most awake he’d been since being shot.

“Well,” Isaac began, “that was something that shouldn’t of happened.  But you were so thirsty, and there was no water or no one around, so I had to break a rule and let myself appear to you, since you needed water from somewhere.”

“What do you mean, break a rule?  And what do you mean, protect me?” Johnny questioned.

“You don’t get it, do you son?  You see, I’m what you would call your protector.  Everybody has one.  We’re assigned to you when you enter this world, and we’re with you until you leave.  And we’re there all through your life; your joys and sorrows, pain and love.  And we try our best to save you from hurt.  But sometimes, it’s tough.  It’s been really hard protecting you, Little One.  But, it wasn’t your fault.”

“What do you mean?”

Isaac continued.  “You see, when you were born, of Murdoch and Maria Lancer, your life was to be one of relative ease and comfort.  Except for some minor scrapes and mischievous doings of all little boys, you would have been easy to protect.  Your father would have disciplined you correctly, with love, and you would have been afforded everything his growing wealth could afford to you.  Not only materials things, but an education, friends, a comfortable life.  But, unfortunately, your mother changed all that.”

“When she. . . . . . left?”  Johnny questioned, sadly.

“Yes, and she did leave, Johnny.  Your father didn’t lie about that.  And I tried to stop her that night.  I put myself between her body and yours, and, one time, she did walk out the door without you, but she came back.  Because, you see, even my protectiveness was not as strong as a mother’s love.  And it was because of that love she came back for you.  Your mother really thought she was doing the right thing that night, leaving your father for another man.  It wasn’t until later, when things didn’t work out, that she realized she was wrong.”

“Then why didn’t she go back to Murdoch?  And why did she lie to me?  She made me hate my father,” Johnny protested.

“Well, Johnny, that’s where it gets confusing.  Your mother was afraid to go back to Murdoch.  She was afraid he wouldn’t want her, or you.  I know for a fact he would of taken you back, but I can’t say if he would of taken her back.  Anyway, your mother began to tell herself that it was your father who asked her to leave.  It was her way of protecting herself from the truth, but in doing that, she was lying to you.  She told herself and you that story for so long, she ended up believing it.  And up to the day she was taken, she truly believed that your father had, as you say, kicked you both out of his home, and his life.”

Johnny, who by this time was sitting up in his bed, was very silent, and a little scared, not quite knowing what to say.

But Isaac did.  “You always knew, didn’t you Johnny?  Deep down, you always sensed your father didn’t ask her to leave.”

Johnny was very quiet, just staring at the man standing beside him, who seemed so real, but yet, he knew was only a dream.

“I. . . .I suspected it, as I got older.  When I was about 16, I began to think about the things my mother told me.  And I just couldn’t imagine that any man would do that to his wife and kid.  I know I wouldn’t.  But it’s what she told me.  What else could I do but believe her?  And who else could I blame?  I couldn’t blame Mama, I loved her too much.  But I never knew my father, he was easy to blame.”

“But, you know differently now?  You felt a connection with your father, didn’t you?”

Johnny hesitated, but then he had to admit it.  “Yes, I did.  Not right away, not at that first meeting.  But as the days went on.  There was something about his eyes, those blue eyes.  I always knew I got my blue eyes from him, but seeing his eyes, it was, well. . . . .kind of strange, you know?” he asked, choking back tears.  “And I knew I had to do something to help him, to save his ranch, our ranch.  I couldn’t let everything he’d worked for for so many years just be stolen away.  So I came up with my great idea.  Well, maybe not so great. . . . . .”

“Oh, but it was, Johnny.  It helped your father see that you really did care, even though it brought harm to you.  And when you were hurt, when you were shot and you fell from your horse, Murdoch thought you had, well, been killed.  And a part of him wanted to die, too.”

Isaac continued.  “And I protected you the best I could.  I couldn’t totally stop the bullet from hitting you, but I was able to stop it enough from doing more damage then it did.  And I protected you from the flying bullets, and I pushed and pulled you to the tree where there was shade, out of the hot sun.  Then your wonderful brother took over from there.  Thank Goodness for Scott.  At least now, I’ll have some help in looking after you,” Isaac laughed.

Johnny opened up to Isaac.  “I had a connection with Scott, you know.  On the stagecoach.  There was something about him. . . .”

“Yes, I know,” Isaac responded.  “It took a lot of work to get you on that stage.”

“What do you mean?” a sleepy Johnny asked.

“Well, remember all the strange events you encountered?  Like missing the stage you were supposed to be on?”


“Well, you had to be on the same stage as your brother, otherwise, nothing would of worked.  If you would’ve gotten on the 9:00 am stage, you would of arrived hours before your brother.  Miss Teresa wouldn’t of been there to meet you, since no one was expecting you.  And knowing you, Little One, you would’ve gotten mad and taken off in a tizzy, or who knows what.  But the meeting with your father  would not have happened.  So, I had to do some things to, well, make it happen.”

Johnny was beginning to feel very tired.  He wanted to go back to that special world between wakefulness and sleep.   He knew it was the laudeman that was making this dream seem so real.  But he was fascinated by the insight and wisdom of Isaac, and he wanted to know more.

“What happens now?  What should I do, Isaac?  I’m kind of, confused. . . . “

In his voice that was soothing to Johnny, Isaac spoke.  “Well, son, you’ve already taken a first step.  Do you remember when we spoke at the side of the road, and I told you that when the Lord closes one door, he opens another?”  Johnny nodded yes.  “Well,” Isaac continued, “you made your decision when the door to your old life closed and you walked through the newly opened door to what can be your new life.  A life with a father, a brother, and yes, a sister, if you will.  A house, a home.  Oh, it won’t be easy.  There will be many obstacles along the way, and sometimes, you’ll want to turn around and re-enter the door to your old life.  That will be up to you.  But remember, being a part of a family is not easy.  You’ve never really belonged to one, and your family, well, you’ll be dealing with three very different personalities.  And they will be dealing with yours.  So, I guess what I’m saying is to follow your heart.  You know how you want your life to be.  And it can be good, Johnny.  Just give it a chance.”

Johnny laid back on his pillow and sighed, contentedly.  “I’m really tired, Isaac.  I can’t stay awake.”

“And you should be asleep.  Scott will be back in a minute, so you need to go back to sleep.”

“Thank you, Isaiah.”  Johnny winked, and chuckled.  “I know your name, Isaac.  I can’t forget it.  And I’ll never forget you.”

“Yes, you will.  I’ve broken enough rules with you already, and although you won’t remember me, or this conversation, or our meeting at the roadside, you will feel me, in your heart, and in your life.  Now sleep, Johnny Madrid, and allow all of life’s blessings to come your way.”

And at that, the odd little man disappeared from Johnny’s room, and Scott entered, pleased to find his younger brother still asleep, in the same position he had been when he left not more than five minutes before.

As Scott sat in the chair next to his brother, his heart wept for what could have been, what should have been.  The laughs, the tears, the fights, the fun they should have had growing up, together as brothers.  But it wasn’t too late.  Maybe, they could have the laughs, the tears, the fights, and the fun. . . .as adults, with some love tossed in. 

Scott felt the need to run his hand through his brother’s dark hair, hoping it would give Johnny a feeling of comfort.  And it did.  Johnny relished in his brothers action, and would let him do it, this one last time.  Then, the touch of warm hands caressed Johnny’s back, spreading a feeling of warmth around the area of his wound.  He knew they couldn’t belong to Scott, but Johnny knew they were the hands of someone very special; a special friend who would be with him forever.  Then, a soft voice whispered into Johnny’s ear:  “I must leave you now, but remember, you are never alone.  I love you, Johnny Madrid.”

And Johnny whispered back, in his mind:  I love you too, Isaac.  And thank you, for showing me the way.


And for the rest of his days, Johnny Madrid would feel a peace he had never felt for the first 22 years of his restless life.  Could the peace be a result of the love of his newly-found family?  Probably.  But it was more than that.  For a presence took hold of his soul that he would forever feel in the warmth of the spring sun, the coolness of the autumn rains, and the cool breeze through his hair as he rode his beloved Barranca across Lancer, so wild and free.  Johnny Madrid would forever feel this presence in the softness of Teresa’s voice and in Scott’s kindness and patience.  And he would feel it in Murdoch Lancer as well.  In the Old Man’s gruffness.  And gentleness.  And most of all, his love.

For a special gift had been bestowed upon the young gunfighter with the heart of gold from the mighty one above.  A gift that only a chosen few are seen fit to receive.  You see, Johnny Madrid had been given the gift of meeting his guardian angel.

And for that, Johnny Lancer would be forever blessed.

The Heavenly End
April 2003



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