#2 in the Holidays Series, which is best read in order
Word count: 23, 035
A week after Thanksgiving, Johnny was on the road to San Francisco. He had used every tactic he could think of to get Sam to change his mind about the trip to the hospital. It was too far away, he argued. There was nothing they could do there that Sam couldn’t do right in Morro Coyo. He trusted Sam…not those strangers in the big city. In the end, all his pleading and conniving failed miserably. Sam was adamant, and Johnny’s family stood staunchly behind the doctor’s orders.
It was decided, against Johnny’s better judgment – but who listened to him anymore – that Murdoch and Teresa would accompany Johnny while Scott stayed on at ranch for another week, just to tie up loose ends and make sure everything was in order for Jelly and Cip.
Sam would travel with Scott after he made arrangements for his replacement for the time he would be gone. Everything was arranged to everyone’s satisfaction…except Johnny’s.
Now Johnny watched the large six story brick structure grow larger as their rented carriage made its way along the crowded streets of San Francisco.
It had been a rough journey so far. From Lancer in the back of a buckboard to the train where he had to lay in a semi-reclining position against a pile of pillows, across the length of the hard wooden bench, his legs dangling over the edge at his knees. The uncomfortable position played havoc with his back and stomach muscles. But he had little choice. Sam still had his arm and shoulder bound so he couldn’t sit up or fully lay down. Now he was forced to lie against Murdoch in a buggy that seemed to hit every pothole between the train station and their destination.
For a while they kept pace with a train car crammed with more people than he saw in a day in Morro Coyo, being pulled by a team of horses on tracks running down the center of the street. The sight bewildered him. Why would they go to the trouble of laying down train tracks if they were just going to use horses? Like so many other things here in San Francisco, it made no sense.
The horse drawn train car continued straight and they turned left, heading up another steep street. He pitied the poor horses that had to travel these hills every day.
That’s when he spotted the building. It looked sinister and foreboding…housing the sick and the dying. He was neither. He just had a busted collarbone.
Murdoch laid a reassuring hand on his arm as he felt his son tense up. “Sam said you shouldn’t be there more than a week. By then Scott and Sam will be here and we can all see the sights. It’s a beautiful city, son.”
It didn’t look particularly beautiful to Johnny at the moment. In fact, it looked dirty and crowded. The carriage pulled onto a cobblestoned street and the wheels clattered over the stones, the rough ride sending his shoulder into a spasm of pain.
“Sorry `bout this, folks.” The old driver looked back at his fare and grimaced at the pain he saw in the young man’s face. “I guess you don’t have cobblestoned streets where you come from. The horses have a devil of a time getting up and down these streets when it’s wet. Cobblestones is the only answer. You don’t worry none there, boy, we’ll have ya safe and sound in St. Mary’s in just a minute.”
“Don’t hurry on my account,” Johnny grumbled.
But in another ten minutes they were there and between Murdoch and the driver they eased Johnny out of the carriage and led him to the front door.
Teresa went inside first to tell the nursing staff that they had arrived.
Johnny felt like he was slipping into a waking nightmare. The huge oak doors swung open, the smell of antiseptics heavy in the too warm air. A woman wearing a white nun’s habit stood behind a wheelchair. Her stance was rigid, her face devoid of any hint of sympathy.
“We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Lancer,” she said. She looked to be middle-aged, but Johnny wasn’t sure. Her face was pinched by the tight headdress that encircled her neck up to her chin, and covered her forehead just above her eyebrows.
Johnny took an involuntary step back and bumped his shoulder into Murdoch. The pain nearly made his knees buckle and the room spun for a moment. He felt his father’s strong arm support him.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” Murdoch coaxed, feeling his son tremble. He had never seen Johnny this scared. It worried him.
Johnny looked from the nun to the wheelchair. “If that’s for me you can forget it. I ain’t riding in no chair. I can walk just fine.”
“I’m not so sure of that, but it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s hospital policy. While you are a patient here at St. Mary’s, you will use a wheelchair.”
“Then I ain’t staying,” Johnny hissed, turning to head out the door. But Murdoch’s strong arm held him fast.
“You are staying right here, young man. If hospital policy says you ride in a wheelchair…then you will ride in a wheelchair.”
Johnny’s worst fears were suddenly realized. He felt trapped. This was not like Sam’s back office, or even the clinic in Stockton…this felt more like a prison, and the nun standing before him was his jailer.
He looked past the nun down a long corridor. He saw more nuns in their habits and nurses dressed in stiff white uniforms pushing wheelchairs and beds with wheels. Too small windows let in too little light. And they were all sealed shut. The smell of bleach battled with the smell of the antiseptics, but neither could hide the smell of sickness…the stench of blood and vomit, and all the other horrid smells of the dead and dying. He knew he couldn’t stay here. He needed fresh air…he needed to be any place but here…
“I ain’t staying…period.” His voice rose in panic.
Two men the size of Murdoch walked up behind the nun. Dressed in white from their shirt to their shoes, they stood at attention, waiting for their orders.
What the hell kind of place was this?
“I insist you sit down, immediately, Mr. Lancer, or Mr. Bronson and Mr. Hyatt will see to it that you do.”
The two goons took a menacing step toward him and instinct made Johnny reach to his side for a gun that wasn’t there.
“Johnny, please,” Teresa implored. “This is only for your own safety.”
“Johnny, do as the sister says,” Murdoch ordered.
Johnny looked from Teresa to the nun, who appraised him with a stilted eye. The two goons watched impassively, their faces devoid of emotion.
With a sigh of resignation, he moved toward the chair just as the room spun and his legs buckled.
Strong arms caught him and settled him in the chair.
“Good. Now that that is settled.” The nun offered her hand to Johnny. It felt dry and rough. “My name is Sister Josephine. I will be your day nurse. You will meet Nurse Walters this evening, she will be your night nurse.” She turned to the two orderlies. “Take him to room 477. I’ll be along shortly to get him settled in his gown.”
“Gown?! I ain’t wearing no gown!” Johnny’s voice faded away as he was wheeled down the hall.
“Don’t worry about your son, Mr. Lancer. We will take good care of him,” Sister Josephine assured Murdoch. “Many of our patients are hard to handle at first. They settle down when they realize they have nothing to fear.”
“I’d like to stay with him for awhile. He’s not comfortable …”
“He will be fine. He will be too busy being admitted and examined by the doctor to think about anything else. Visiting hours are from seven to eight Monday through Saturday. You can come back tonight. I’m sure you need the time to get settled yourselves.”
“You don’t know Johnny. He…”
“Mr. Lancer, you brought your son here so we could help him. Now, let us do our job. You and the young lady must be exhausted. This evening you can visit after you have rested.”
With that she turned on her heels and walked down the corridor, her veil flapping back over her shoulders. Murdoch had a terrible feeling that they may have made a disastrous mistake.
Johnny was wheeled toward a large door at the end of the corridor that one of the goons raised to reveal an iron gate. The gate was raised also and he was wheeled into a small room.
He had an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia as the door was closed and then the iron gate was pulled down. A grate in the ceiling allowed cool air to rush in around them, fluttering the wick in the lone sconce on the wall.
He grabbed onto the arm of the chair as the whole room jerked then began to rise.
“Never been in an elevator before?” One of the goons asked, a hint of mockery in his voice. “They’re in all the big buildings now. You’ve got nothing to worry about, unless the rope breaks. Then the whole damn car drops, splat, right down to the basement. Happened last week didn’t it Earl? All those broken bones. Good thing they were close to the hospital.” He laughed.
Johnny held onto the arm of the wheelchair with white knuckles. He could handle any man in a fight, standup to a gunslinger ten paces away, survive deserts and snowstorms with little more than the clothes on his back…but sitting in a moving room… what had Sam gotten him into?
It seemed like a lifetime before the room stopped clattering and shaking and the iron gate was raised, but not before the room took one last stomach churning dip.
The second door was raised and he was wheeled out into another corridor. This one had doors on either side, and as he passed one he looked inside to see an old man thrashing on the bed, his wrists and ankles strapped to the mattress, his voice hoarse from screaming.
“What…” Johnny began, when he heard someone approaching fast from behind him.
“There you are, Mr. Lancer,” Sister Josephine said breathlessly. “I thought I could beat the elevator by taking the stairs…but I guess I’m not as fast as I thought I was.”
She noticed his startled face as he looked into the room and moved around him to walk by his side, obscuring his view.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Lancer. That’s just Old Joe. We usually see him around the holidays. He drinks too much…goes a little crazy. Usually we send him over to the asylum in Oakland, but they are filled up. So he stays here. Now…” she pointed toward the end of the hallway. “Let’s get you settled in bed.”
He was pushed into a room larger than he expected with six beds, three on either wall, all empty.
“You’re lucky, Mr. Lancer. You get the room to yourself, for now. Chet, let’s put him in 1A, next to the window.”
The window was no bigger than a stagecoach window, and the only thing he could see out of the small opening was swirling fog.
She stood by the bed, her arms folded across her chest and watched as Chet and Earl helped Johnny out of the chair and onto the bed.
Johnny tried to suppress the groan of pain as he sat on the edge of the hard mattress. He felt very close to passing out, but he sucked it up and held on.
“I have something for the pain here,” Sister Josephine said, pulling a filled hypodermic syringe from a pocket somewhere in the folds of her habit. “This will take the sting away. I don’t want to give you anything too strong until we have you settled and Dr. Dykstra has a chance to examine you.”
“I don’t need that.” He eyed the syringe. “I don’t like pain medicines.”
“It doesn’t matter what you want or don’t want, Mr. Lancer. While you are in this hospital you will do as you are directed. Medication will be given when it is needed.”
Johnny whipped his arm away. “I told ya,” he said, “I don’t take pain medications.”
“And I told you, you will do as you are told.” She nodded toward Chet who grabbed Johnny’s arm tightly, and pushed up his sleeve, revealing the pinpoint scars from the morphine injections Sam had been given him. “It looks like you’ve had a few already.”
“Only from Sam.”
“I am assuming Sam is your doctor. Well, Sam is not here, so you’ll be doing things a bit differently.”
Johnny felt the prick of the needle and felt the pain ease to a manageable throb. But his feeling of apprehension was growing by the minute. Sister Josephine’s habit with her crucifix and rosary brought back memories of the two months he stayed in the orphanage after his mother’s death. The nuns never smiled, only punished him for the smallest infraction. It was as if he was the epitome of every bad child that lived under their roof. He escaped one night, never to look back. And now those old demons were pressing in around him again.
“Now, let’s get you out of those clothes and into a gown,” the nun ordered.
Johnny looked at the determined look on Sister Josephine’s face and knew he would be wearing that gown whether he wanted to or not. But SHE was not going to put it on him.
“All right…” he conceded, “but I’ll put it on myself. In private.”
“Mr. Lancer, the first thing you are going to learn is there is no expectation of privacy in a hospital. You have nothing I have not seen a hundred times over. You cannot shock me, nor deter me from my job. That is to nurse the sick.”
“I’m not sick!” Johnny lashed out. “I got a broken collarbone. That’s it. I don’t need to be here. Sam is just getting too old. Two years ago he’d a taken care of this by himself. Not send me off to some damn hospital. I ain’t staying where I don’t belong!”
“Are you done with your little temper tantrum?” Sister Josephine asked calmly.
Johnny hugged his arm around his waist. No way were they going to take his clothes. He’d be a prisoner here, as sure as if he had shackles on, if they took his clothes. Where was Murdoch? He should have been here by now. He would have seen how bad this place was. He would take him out of here so fast, it would make Sister Josephine’s head spin.
Across town Teresa couldn’t keep from gawking at the size of the lobby as they walked into the Palace Hotel, the most magnificent building she had ever seen.
She barely felt her feet, as they sank into the plush carpeting that led to the polished mahogany reception desk, flanked on either side by huge murals that depicted the crashing ocean surf and turbulent bay waters.
Everywhere she looked she saw more polished mahogany and brass fixtures. Huge overstuffed sofas sat before a fireplace the length of one wall. Waiters in black suits moved among the elite, serving drinks and small pastries.
A huge crystal and gold-plated chandelier dominated the center of the rotunda ceiling. Already Christmas was making its presence. Wreaths and fancy red bows decorated the windowsills and banisters. Crystal snowflakes and icicles hung from the ceiling, dancing in the light from a huge opaque window in the center of the ceiling.
“This is beautiful…” she whispered.
Murdoch silently nodded his agreement as he stopped in front of the reception desk.
Teresa was surprised with the ease Murdoch announced their arrival and accepted the keys to their rooms. It was as if this was a common way of life for him.
With her arm safely entwined with his they crossed the lobby heading for the elevator. She had never seen such splendor and beauty.
Murdoch escorted her to her room and made sure she was comfortable before going to his adjoining room. “Freshen up,” he told her as he stood in the doorway. “We’ll have dinner then head back to see Johnny.”
Teresa nodded. “I wonder what he’s doing now? I’m worried about him, Murdoch. He was so scared. I’ve never seen him like that.”
“It’s a new experience for him. But he’ll be out of there in a week or so. What do you think he’ll say about this place?”
Teresa laughed. “I don’t think this is quite his style.”
Murdoch smiled. “You may be right, my dear. Now, you just relax and stop worrying about Johnny. He’s in good hands.”
Johnny stared up at the ceiling, indignant, angry and very worried.
Sister Josephine was a woman to be reckoned with. She took none of Johnny’s sass and before he knew it, he was stripped of his clothes and she was slipping a white hospital gown over his right arm and easing him into the most comfortable position he had felt since Sam trussed him up like a holiday turkey.
“There now…” she said, smoothing the covers over his chest. “Dr. Dykstra will be in shortly.”
“Where’s Murdoch?” he asked. He expected to see his father long before this. He was counting on Murdoch to get him out of this place tonight.
“Murdoch?” Sister Josephine poured a glass of water and handed it to him, noting his shaky hand.
“My father. I thought he’d be here.”
“He will. Later this evening, during visiting hours. We have very strict rules for patient visitation. An hour a night, six days a week.”
“An hour? What are ya supposed to do around here all day? Stare at the ceiling?”
“Read. You do know how to read, Mr. Lancer.”
“Ya…I know how to read,” he snapped.
“No disrespect intended, Mr. Lancer. Some of our patients from smaller towns never learned to read or write.”
“Well, I can do both.”
“Good. Then I’ll find a book or two for you. You probably won’t feel much like reading or anything else for the first few days after surgery…but…”
“I don’t need no surgery….”
“Why don’t you let me make that decision, Mr. Lancer.” There was a challenge in the dry voice that came from the doorway, and Johnny felt himself being backed deeper into a corner.
Johnny looked past Sister Josephine to see a short man wearing a doctor’s white coat standing in the doorway. He looked close to Sam’s age. His back was stooped just enough to make him look up through bushy white eyebrows. But there was none of the kindness Johnny saw in Sam’s face. Instead, he saw anger seething just below the surface. Johnny wondered if he was mad at life in general, this hospital or him specifically.
“Unless you have a medical degree, that is.”
Johnny glowered at him.
“I’m Dr. Dykstra. I’ll be your surgeon tomorrow morning.”
“I told you, you ain’t opening me up.”
“It’s your choice, of course. But I think you should know, according to this file your doctor sent along, your collarbone and shoulder are both broken. There is no way the bones can be re-set properly without going in and aligning them. It is considered major surgery, something that a doctor with the limited experience in this field, like Dr. Jenkins, would be unable to do. You also should know that if you don’t receive the proper care, you will only have limited use of that arm. It’s up to you.”
Johnny stared up at the ceiling. His inner voice told him to run. To get out as fast as he could… damn the consequences. But, could he take the chance that the doctor was right? Sam had sent him here. He had seemed more concerned than he had ever seen the old doctor before.
“No drugs,” Johnny countered.
Dr. Dykstra shook his head, “Sorry. I will prescribe the medications I deem necessary. I will not over medicate you, Mr. Lancer, but I will not under medicate you either.”
“When can I get out of here…if I stay,” he added.
“Two weeks if there are no complications.”
“Two weeks…Sam said…”
“Sam is not your doctor now…I am. Are you staying?”
Johnny looked toward him. “For now.”
“Very well…” He nodded toward Sister Josephine. “Help me remove these bandages.”
Johnny watched nervously as the sister slid a pair of scissors beneath the bandaging on his chest and he felt the cold steel slide along his skin as the material was cut away. His shoulder shifted slightly as the bandages were pulled off his chest and he couldn’t hold back a gasp of pain.
“Sorry for the discomfort Mr. Lancer.”
Johnny endured the doctor’s prodding and probing with his fingers along his shoulder and neck. He tried to stifle the groans of pain, but he was fast losing the battle.
At last Dr. Dykstra stood back. “There is a lot of swelling and inflammation. I can feel at least two distinct breaks, there may be more. I won’t know until I go in tomorrow morning.”
Johnny barely heard him. He was in his own world of pain and confusion. He felt something dribbled into his mouth and he felt himself fall away into nothingness…drugs…he didn’t want the drugs…
Teresa picked at her food, too nervous to eat. The only thing she could think of was Johnny’s face as they wheeled him away down that hospital hallway.
He looked so scared, so unusual for Johnny. Johnny was strong to a fault, even in the safety and comfort of his own home at Lancer, he kept his fears and anxieties hidden behind a quick smile or an even quicker temper.
But today…the look on his face…
“Miss Maria’s cooking?” Murdoch asked, watching Teresa shove her food around her plate with her fork.
Teresa looked up, startled. “Murdoch…no, I’m sorry…” she blushed. “I was just thinking.”
She nodded. “He looked so frightened. Do you think they’ll let us see him just a bit early?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Sister Josephine looks like a woman of her word. It wouldn’t surprise me if she timed the visiting hour down to the second.”
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I thought…”
“You thought that this would be all fun and games. A Christmas adventure. With a little detour at the hospital for Johnny. Honey, Sam would not have suggested we travel this far, put Johnny through the pain of traveling if he didn’t think Johnny’s condition was serious.”
Teresa lowered her head. “I was just being selfish.”
“You were being an eighteen year old girl. The thoughts of Christmas in San Francisco would be any young woman’s dream. And it kept Johnny’s mind off the trip.” Murdoch reached across the table and laid his hand gently atop hers. “You made a very difficult trip easier for him just because you were there. Now, why don’t we take a walk and look at the sights before we hire a carriage and visit Johnny. I’m sure he’s waiting for us.”
Johnny hated the feeling of being drugged. Waking up after Dr. Dykstra’s examination, he found he couldn’t concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes. His eyes were so heavy he could barely keep them open.
Then there were the people. There was always someone in his room. They checked his pulse, took his temperature…with a glass stick with numbers on it they called a thermometer that they stuck in his mouth and made him hold there for five minutes.
They made him drink water every time they came in and then wouldn’t let him get out of bed. Nature would call and he had to endure the indignity of having nurses or nuns help him relieve himself.
He looked out the window and realized it was already dark outside. He’d been in and out for hours already. Then the thought that he had slept through Murdoch’s visit stunned him. He was waiting for his father. He knew Murdoch wouldn’t make him stay here, not like this.
The door opened, and a nurse he didn’t recognize walked in.
“Mr. Lancer?” Somehow she was beside him now, her warm fingers holding his wrist taking his pulse. “I am Nurse Walters. I’ll be your night nurse. Can I get you anything?”
She was the first one to ask that.
“Murdoch…did he come?”
“My father…did I miss him?”
She smiled, pouring a glass of water and raising his head to drink. The drugs left him so tired he couldn’t even lift his head. “Visiting hours will begin in fifteen minutes. I’m sure he’s down in the lobby waiting to come up.”
“He’s taking me out of here.” Johnny said, his voice slurring. He didn’t know why he said that. But she was the first friendly voice he had heard in hours. He had let his guard down. Damn the drugs, he couldn’t even keep his mouth shut.
“He is?” She smoothed the blankets over his chest. “Then you better get some rest first.”
He wanted to tell her that he didn’t need more rest…that was all he had done for hours already…but…
“Johnny…son…can you hear me?”
It was Murdoch’s voice, and his big hand was holding his.
He forced his eyes open, blinking to clear his blurry eyes, and Nurse Walter’s face was replaced with Murdoch’s worried scowl. Teresa was there too…her face pale.
“Murdoch…” He knew his voice sounded strange.
The old man looked relieved. “I hoped you’d wake up again before we had to leave. How are you feeling son?”
“They drugged me…” He began, but his eyes were closing of their own accord…
“…take me home,” he continued, but Murdoch was no longer standing there, he was sitting in a chair next to the bed. Teresa was at the small window looking into the darkness.
“I know you don’t like it here, Johnny.” Murdoch quickly stood up, taking Johnny’s hand again. “But I talked with your doctor. Sam was right in sending you here.”
“No…they drug me. Can’t hardly move. Can’t stay.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny you have to. It will be over soon and we can go back to Lancer.”
Johnny tossed his head against the pillow…he was so sure Murdoch would understand…take him away. “Scott…” He tried to keep his eyes from drooping.
“Scott’s back at Lancer, remember? He’ll be here next week.”
“Now…” Johnny demanded. But his voice was leaving him faster than his slippery hold on consciousness. “Want…Scott.”
Teresa was beside him now, her soft warm hand caressing his cheek. ”Shssss, Johnny. You just go back to sleep. Scott will be here soon.”
Johnny tried to tell her that Scott would understand…that he would take him away from here, but his eyes felt so heavy…
….He felt something warm trickle down the right side of his chest.
He opened his eyes to see Nurse Walters wringing a towel out over a basin on a small table he didn’t remember seeing, and washing sudsy water off his skin. In fact the whole room was different. It stunned him to think that they had moved him and he didn’t even feel it.
“You’re awake,” she said happily. “Your visitors stuck around until they almost had to be carried out. They’ll be back tomorrow night. Right now, we’re getting you cleaned up for surgery.”
Johnny shivered, and realized he was laying buck naked on a table while Nurse Walters and two other women, dressed in nun habits, were washing him down.
“I didn’t… didn’t say yes,” he stammered, desperate for anyone to understand that he didn’t want this done.
“No need.” Nurse Walters started washing areas that no ‘lady’ ever saw. “You’re father signed the consent form.”
No…this was some kind of perverse nightmare.
“Let me tell you what is going to happen.” Nurse Walters handed her cloth to one of the nuns and she leaned down close to Johnny’s face, brushing a strand of black hair from his eyes. “Soon someone will be along to take you to the surgery theater…”
“Theater…like one of them fancy plays?”
“This is a teaching hospital, Mr. Lancer. Any doctor or nurse who has free time is expected to be in the surgery theater while an operation is being performed. It is how we learn. Don’t worry…you’ll be covered from the waist down. I don’t want any of those nurses getting too excited.”
Johnny felt his face redden and turned away.
“You will be given some medication to relax you.”
“More?” Johnny asked incredulously, “I already feel like a puddle of water. Just spreading out everywhere.”
Nurse Walters laughed, the sound alien in the foreboding room. “I believe I’ve never heard it stated so aptly. Now we’re going to roll you on to your side. You tell me if it hurts too much.”
Johnny felt the pain rise, and his eyes closed before he could stop them…he trembled as the cold air kissed his bare skin, and…
“There now…” Nurse Walters said from somewhere far away.
Johnny opened his eyes again…a new room. This one was large and cold. He shivered beneath a white sheet pulled up to his chin. A low wall encircled the area where he laid. Beyond that were elevated chairs, positioned to view the patient. He felt like a damn exhibit on display. A few people started wandering in, taking their seats, their heads bent close as they whispered. They seemed anxious for the show to start.
He opened his eyes again and his heart sank. Sister Josephine was standing over him. He would miss Nurse Walters. She was the only one who showed him any kindness.
“Dr. Dykstra will be here shortly,” she said. “Then I’ll start the anesthesia. You won’t feel a thing until you’re back in your room.”
Dr. Dykstra sat at his desk, in a small cramped room that was laughingly called an office, studying several sheets of writing paper fanned out on of the top desk.
A messenger had delivered the letter two days ago, addressed to him with no return address. Curiosity made him open it. Now he wished he hadn’t.
He ran his hands through his unruly white hair, damning the writer. For the first time in his medical career he doubted his ability to perform his job without prejudice.
He re-read the first sheet, written in a fluid polished style.
You have a patient due to arrive at your hospital in two days, from Morro Coyo, a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. His doctor would have already sent his medical records and an account of his injury. He will not, however, be totally honest with you. He will introduce the patient as Johnny Lancer. That is true. He now uses the name Johnny Lancer. But for ten years he went by the name Johnny Madrid.
What follows, Dr. Dykstra, is a detailed account of the life of Johnny Madrid, from age twelve to present. I hope you will be as alarmed as I am that such a man should be in your fine city, in your hospital, and under your care.
Feel free to contact me at The Palace Hotel. You will find me in room 309.
It was signed simply: HG.
Dr. Dykstra stared at the remaining two pages. He had read them and re-read them.
The next two pages were an in depth account of the life of Johnny Madrid.
Compiled by a surprising number of private investigators, law enforcement officers and first-hand witnesses, he read a disturbing list of incidents, spanning a ten year period, depicting gunfights, range wars and hired killings…all written in great detail.
Dr. Dykstra forgot the patient waiting for him in surgery, the very same man whose life he read about with growing unease.
Madrid was a mere boy of twelve when he shot and killed his first man. His name quickly grew legendary. Hired gun, pistolero, murderer. Some said he was the fastest gun alive. No one was safe from his murderous pursuit of money and fame.
He was feared on both sides of the border. Arrested too many times to count, yet he was never convicted.
The killings were brutal and senseless. Done without remorse or guilt. They escalated in number and violence as his reputation grew.
Dr. Dykstra slowly folded the letter, replaced it in the envelope and slipped it in his desk drawer.
For two days he had searched his soul, seeking an answer. He was a doctor, committed to healing the sick and injured. No matter who they were, not matter what they had done. But he was human too. The very thought of caring for a man like that tied his stomach in knots. He had used every ounce of willpower to get through the initial examination.
He had even sought out the counsel of Sister Josephine, trying to come to terms with his feelings of confusion and fear.
She reminded him that he was treating Johnny Madrid’s body. The young gunfighter’s soul was in the hands of God. But he saw the repulsion in her eyes. She too, had her doubts. And in trying to find her own answers she had confided in the wrong person. Now the entire staff knew of Johnny Madrid. From doctor to nun to nurse to orderly. Everyone knew of his arrival.
He checked the watch he carried in his coat pocket and realized he was already forty minutes late for surgery.
As he stepped out of his office and began walking toward the surgery theater, he wondered how he was going to distance himself from this information. He was about to operate on a man that he now despised, feared and detested. Johnny Madrid embodied everything he found repugnant. He’d spent countless hours trying to undo the damage a bullet did to a body, a human being with family and friends, their life’s blood flowing out of them because of the likes of Johnny Madrid. He often wished he had the person responsible for the senseless violence under his knife…
Johnny felt hands lifting him, laying him on a cold metal table. He’d felt the sharp prick of a needle in his arm, and now he could barely remember his name.
Something was placed over his nose and mouth. He tried to hold his breath, but someone was thumping on his chest making him take little gasps and then he felt no more.
Murdoch and Teresa had an early breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Murdoch raised an eyebrow at the menu prices, and ordered a small breakfast. Teresa picked at her food again, anxious to go to the hospital to see how Johnny did in surgery.
They stepped out into the chilly morning air, glad for the coats they had thought to bring. A heavy fog hung over the city and Teresa clutched her coat tightly around herself. The dampness seemed to chill her to the bone.
They hailed a carriage and set off for the hospital.
Despite her concern for Johnny, Teresa couldn’t help but stare at the holiday decorations as they drove up Union Street. Small businesses were flanked on corners by five and six stories buildings. Everywhere garlands of green were wrapped around lamp poles and hung from street signs. She read the names of the streets, wanting to remember their names forever…Castle Street then Green Street. They turned onto Market Street and she gasped at the number of men in expensive business suits, sailors in their uniforms, farmers, laborers, women in fancy dresses with even fancier hats, all crisscrossing the street like ants, dodging steam powered street cars and carriages like theirs, every one of them seemingly in a hurry.
“Where did all these people come from?” she asked in awe. “I’ve never seen so many.”
“This is San Francisco, the hub of the Western states. It’s Monday morning, the beginning of the work week.”
“Oh, I can’t wait until Scott and Sam get here, then we can bring Johnny along so he can see this. Do you think he will like it or hate it? I think he will hate it. He doesn’t like crowds. But he’s going to love the ocean and the bay, and…”
“I’m sure he’ll love it,” Murdoch patted her hand clutching his knee, “because it makes you so happy.”
“I just want Johnny to get well so he can get out of that awful hospital. He hates it there. And I can’t blame him. It’s a horrid place with horrid people. Especially that Sister Josephine. Do you think her face would crack if she ever smiled?”
Murdoch laughed, “If anyone can break through that suit of armor it’ll be Johnny Lancer. Once he turns on the charm.”
They both sat back quietly, each lost in their own thoughts as they turned up 17th street then saw the foreboding building as they turned on to Stanyan Street.
Murdoch shifted on the hard bench as they waited in St. Mary’s lobby for Dr. Dykstra. The stale stench was suffocating him. He thought he would never get the smell out of his clothes. He had to push back the urge to rush outside to drag fresh air into his lungs.
They both looked up at the sound of shoes tapping on the marble floor, the sound echoing off the walls.
Sister Josephine came to a stop in front of them, her hands crossed over her chest. “Mr. Lancer, Miss…”
“O’Brien.” Teresa offered quickly.
“Miss O’Brien…Mr. Lancer, your son came through surgery and is doing as well as can be expected. Dr. Dykstra will be with you shortly.”
“Can we see Johnny…?” Teresa asked hopefully.
“He’s still not awake from the anesthesia, besides, I have already explained the rules on patient visitation.”
Teresa nodded her head, feeling like she was just reprimanded by a strict school teacher.
“You can see him from seven to eight. But don’t expect much. He’ll only be semi-lucid at best.”
She turned on her heels and headed back down the hallway.
“Even Johnny couldn’t break through that iceberg,” Teresa whispered to Murdoch.
Dr. Dykstra walked slowly down the hallway toward the lobby.
It had been a grueling operation and he had done everything he could…or had he?
Was there something he could have done to make the patient’s recovery easier? Did he do absolutely everything in his power to help the young man under his knife? The sad and frightening answer was, he didn’t know.
The letter echoed in his mind like a song that would not go away. Had it hindered his performance as a surgeon? Had he done everyone he could to his best ability? Only time would tell. Only God knew for sure.
“Mr. Lancer, Miss O’Brien.” Dr. Dykstra stood before the anxious couple. How could a father condone the actions of a son who was a cold-blooded murderer? And the young woman, she appeared sincere in her worry for Johnny Madrid. Was the love of family truly blind?
“Doctor…” Murdoch was on his feet, his face pale from worry. “How is Johnny?”
“As well as can be expected after a long surgery.”
“He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?” Teresa asked, her voice trembling. The doctor’s stance, his demeanor screaming that all was not as it should be.
“There was more trauma to his collarbone and shoulder than I expected. It appears he had another fracture to the same shoulder in the past that weakened the bone. I found three separate breaks. I set them, and bound his shoulder and chest in cast that will keep the bones in place while they knit.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow. “Sam…Dr. Jenkins, put a cast on one of my vaquero’s wrist last month when he broke it. It was heavy and awkward…”
“And very necessary, in your son’s case. It is imperative that he not move his arm or shoulder for the next twelve weeks.”
“That’s three months,” Teresa gasped. “Johnny will never stand for that.”
“He has little choice. There is extensive swelling and bruising. A second surgery may be necessary when the swelling goes down.”
“When will you know?” Murdoch’s hands clenched and re-clenched. Hadn’t the boy been through enough in his lifetime? Did he have to face this too? In a moment of blinding hatred, he remembered Johnny was here because of Harlan Garrett.
“Three weeks, perhaps. If there is no infection and the bones appear to be knitting properly, then he can be released. After that, perhaps another two to three weeks and he could handle the trip home.”
“This is not what we expected,” Murdoch said, his voice barely above a whisper. “We promised Johnny…a week in the hospital, another week to recover and then we’d be home before the new year.”
“Optimistic, under the best of scenarios. No, your son will be with us for some time. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other patients to attend to.”
“Doctor, wait.” Murdoch lurched forward, towering over the doctor. “If he needs anything, we are…”
“The nursing staff has all your information, Mr. Lancer. If we need to contact you, we will.”
Murdoch watched the doctor disappear around a corner. He tried to put things into perspective…tried to belay his fears with common sense. Johnny was where he needed to be. In a hospital. Then why did he have this feeling that he couldn’t shake that this was wrong. Johnny belonged anywhere but here.
As Dr. Dykstra’s horse-drawn taxi pulled up in front of the Palace Hotel, he marveled at the beauty and opulence of the building. He had visited it on its grand opening three months before, but had neither the need nor the means to stay there.
He didn’t own a carriage, didn’t need one. He and his wife both took taxis whenever they ventured out. Their house was two blocks from the hospital, not in San Francisco’s elite district, where he felt he belonged.
As he climbed down from the carriage he felt his back spasm. He was beginning to feel his age. Thirty years was a long time healing the sick and wounded, watching the ones die that were beyond his help.
And what did he have to show for it? A modest house with modest furniture. An aging wife who never stopped complaining. Two grown children with children of their own.
He watched the lawyers and the bankers grow richer year after year, as he stagnated at St. Mary’s. He didn’t even have the money to quit and live out the rest of his years in peace and quiet.
And now, the biggest indignation of all, caring for the likes of Johnny Madrid.
As he walked into the lobby’s rotunda, he wondered why he was even here. The letter he had received had intrigued him and infuriated him. It had compromised his ability to do his job. He was not just operating on a patient, he was operating on Johnny Madrid. A man he despised.
He didn’t know what he would learn from the man calling himself HG in room 309. But he was too curious not to at least take a look.
Johnny’s first sensation was a firebrand of hot pain in his left shoulder, running from his neck to the ends of his fingertips. He heard someone moan from far away and hoped it wasn’t him. He hated to lose control. He just had to master it, like he did so many other times before.
Someone lifted his head, just an inch or two and the pain surged right to his temples. He felt something hard tap his teeth then he tasted cool water. He let it slide down his throat, easing the dryness in his mouth. Then it was replaced by a vile tasting liquid. Medicine. More drugs to drag him into the black depths. He didn’t want them. He tried to move his head away, but his strength was non-existent. He didn’t even have the strength to spit it back out. And then he was drifting away again.
Dr. Dykstra rapped three times lightly on the door. He almost walked away, embarrassed to be there, when the door opened.
He found a man in his late years, dressed in an expensive three-piece suit standing in the doorway. He had the look of money and power. Dykstra realized the man was seldom denied what he wanted.
“Dr. Dykstra?” The old man stepped aside for Dykstra to enter. He found himself in a expensively appointed sitting room. A silver tea set sat on the coffee table between two over-stuffed sofas. “Would you care for some tea, sir?”
“I was hoping you would stop by. It must be difficult for a man as busy as yourself to find a private moment.”
The doctor accepted the cup of tea and the offer to sit on the expensive couch.
“I can only assume that my letter piqued your curiosity.”
“It’s not often I have a patient’s history sent to me anonymously. You have known Mr. Lancer long?”
“Since the day he was born.” Harlan saw the reaction on the doctor’s face and smiled inwardly. He’d thrown out the bait and the doctor was biting, hook, line and sinker. “Forgive me, I never introduced myself.” Harlan offered his hand. “I am Harlan Garrett, from Boston. My grandson, Scotty, has the unfortunate misfortune to be Mr. Lancer’s half brother.”
Dykstra raised a surprised eyebrow.
“Yes, I know. It is distasteful. I tried to spare my grandson the humiliation of being related to a man such as Johnny Madrid.”
“The man I spoke to yesterday did not seem at all like the man depicted in your notes.”
Harlan smiled, “Doctor, he is like most evil. He hides behind a shield of honesty and goodness. Once you have torn that shield aside the true man emerges. Johnny Madrid is true evil, sir.”
“Exactly what did you expect to gain by sending me this letter?” The doctor pulled the envelope from his breast pocket. If it was meant to intimidate, it worked. If it was meant to make him hesitate for just a fraction of a second during surgery, it worked.
“I thought it only fair that you know who you are treating. I believe I would want to know if I was wasting my valuable time on a murderer.”
“A patient is a patient, Mr. Garrett. Who they are, what they have done means nothing to me.”
“Come, come, doctor, if it meant nothing to you, you would not be here.”
“I took a Hippocratic Oath…”
“To hell with your Hippocratic Oath, what has it done for you?”
Dykstra began to protest his outrage but Garrett held his hand up for silence.
“In the beginning, I’m sure you were the idealistic young doctor, eager to conquer the world. Instead the world has conquered you.”
Dykstra stood up abruptly. “I will not sit here and listen to…”
“You will doctor. Now sit down.” Garrett leaned closer over the coffee table, his voice lowered, his intonation secretive. “I know what your life is like Dr. Dykstra. I know how hard you have worked, and I know you have nothing to show for it.”
Dykstra’s face reddened, “How dare you say…”
“I speak the truth, doctor. But I am here to offer you an alternative.” Harlan pulled a bulging envelope from his pocket. “I am prepared to change your life Dr. Dykstra.” Harlan set the envelope on the table between them. “Open it, doctor.”
Dykstra reached for it with trembling hands. As he pulled the flap open he caught his breath; the envelope was stuffed with hundred dollar bills.
“That is ten thousand dollars, Dr. Dykstra. More than enough to quit St. Mary’s and retire quite comfortably, or open your own clinic in any city or state you wish.”
Dykstra threw the money down, and watched hundred dollar bills fan across the table like a deck of cards. “I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” Harlan prodded. “I haven’t even told you what I require to earn this money.”
“You want me to kill Johnny Lancer.”
Harlan leaned in even closer, his face darkening with rage. “I want you to rid this world of an abomination. I want that half-breed killer out of my life and out of my grandson’s life.”
“I can’t. Whatever he has done, he is my patient.”
Harlan sat back. “All right, I’ll give you time to think about it. The offer is good for twenty-four hours. This time tomorrow afternoon, Dr. Dykstra, you could be a rich man.”
Dykstra stood up slowly, his eyes wandering over the money spread across the coffee table.
“It’s yours doctor.” Harlan urged. “All yours. Now…” he steered Dykstra toward the door, one hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Read tomorrow morning’s Chronicle. It might make your decision easier. Good day sir.”
Before he knew it, Dykstra found himself standing in the hallway. Stunned and confused, he slowly walked down the hall. The life he wanted, deserved, was twenty four hours away, if he accepted Harlan Garrett’s offer…
Teresa held onto Murdoch’s arm as they made their way down the hall to Johnny’s room. Never had she felt more on display. Everyone seemed to stare. She looked at her dress, it was simple, but fashionable. No tears, no low bodice or high hemline. Perhaps it was the poinsettia she carried. She had found the plant in a store near the hospital and bought it along with a red ribbon. She hoped it would raise Johnny’s spirits a little. Remind him how close it was to Christmas and their promise that they would be together celebrating the day as a family.
Teresa followed Murdoch into the room, wrinkling her nose at the smell of bleach. She saw a cleaning woman at the far end of the room mopping the floor. She looked up at the new arrivals.
“Shame ta have ta waste good time on the likes of him,” she snarled as she walked by, carrying the filthy mop and pail of dirty water.
Murdoch looked at her, stunned by the remark. A feeling of unease rose like bile in his throat.
His heart skipped a beat as he looked at the curtain that encircled the last bed on the left…Johnny’s bed. He felt Teresa’s arm tighten around his.
He hurried past the empty beds, grabbed the curtain and pulled it open. What he saw hit him like a sledgehammer in the gut.
Johnny was propped against half a dozen pillows, his torso and left arm encased in a massive white cast, circling beneath his right arm, which dangled limply over the edge of the bed. A once white top sheet, now stained, lay discarded at his feet. His hospital gown was pulled down around his waist, it too stained with sweat and vomit.
Murdoch moved closer, noting his son’s ashen complexion, his cheeks tinged red with fever. His eyes were sunken beneath dark circles, his lips cracked and bleeding. The transformation in just one day was startling. A nurse was wiping his face and shoulder clean.
What happened?” Murdoch demanded.
The nurse looked up, her face haggard. She looked little more than a teenager. “Some patients don’t tolerate anesthesia well. He’s been vomiting all day.”
Teresa pushed past Murdoch, quickly setting the poinsettia down on a bedside table and placing her hand over Johnny’s forehead.
“He’s burning up,” she cried, looking back at Murdoch.
“He’s been running a fever for the past two hours,” the nurse agreed, the worry in her voice palpable. “I try to medicate him, but he just throws it back up.”
“Where’s Dr. Dykstra?” Murdoch’s concern echoed in his voice.
“He’s been out of the hospital for several hours.”
“Then have another doctor look at him.”
The nurse shook her head. “All the doctors are busy with their own patients. There was a trolley car accident. Sister Josephine left me in charge of Mr. Lancer.”
Teresa studied her, saw the growing uncertainty in her eyes, the trembling hands. This young woman was scared to death. “How long have you been a nurse?” she asked, keeping her voice as level as she could.
“This is my first week,” she admitted, her voice barely a whisper.
“They let an incompetent child take care of my son?” Murdoch roared.
“I told the sister that I needed help,” her eyes implored him for forgiveness, “but she said I was hired to do a job, so do it.”
Teresa grabbed his arm. “It’s not her fault. She’s doing everything she can.”
Suddenly Johnny cried out, his eyes snapping open, filled with pain and confusion.
“It’s all right, son.” Murdoch lurched forward, grabbing Johnny’s hand, clasping it between his own large hands. He was stunned by the feel of the once strong hand now frail and hot with fever. “We’re here, Johnny.”
Johnny’s eyes sought his, glazed with fever and unfocused. “I…feel…sick…” he gasped and his body convulsed with dry heaves.
“Do something!” Teresa shouted at the nurse, but the young woman’s face was contorting in fear.
“I don’t know what to do,” the poor girl yelled back, her eyes wide with panic.
“Teresa,” Murdoch ordered, “do what you can for him. I’m going to find help.”
Teresa took his place, grabbing a damp towel and wiping Johnny face. “It’s all right, Johnny. It will pass soon,” she promised.
“Hurts…” Johnny managed to gasp.
“You’ve got to give him something for the pain.” Teresa looked back at the nurse cowering next to the small window.
“Yes you can. You must have learned in nursing school.”
The nurse nodded, trying to suck back the tears.
“Then do it.”
With shaking hands the young nurse filled a syringe with clear liquid from a small vial and attempted to inject it into the vein in Johnny’s right arm. “I can’t,” she breathed, “I can’t”
“Yes you can.” Teresa stood beside her, holding Johnny’s arm outstretched and still. Johnny’s head rolled back and forth on the pillow, consumed in pain. “Take a deep breath. You can do this. I know you can. I know what it feels like to be scared. I’ve been scared before. I’m scared now.” She spoke softly but firmly. “You have to push past the fear. You know you can do it.”
Teresa watched the nurse’s hand tremble as she tapped the inside of Johnny’s arm. The area was bruised and swollen from the previous needle pricks. Finding the vein, she slowly injected the morphine into her patient’s bloodstream.
Teresa nodded, folding Johnny’s arm onto his chest. Her own hands were shaking now. Johnny sagged back against the pillows. She combed her fingers through his hair speaking softly to him. Her voice seemed to settle him, and his eyes slid closed as he drifted away from her again.
The sound of running footsteps on the marble floor drew nearer as Teresa watched for the curtain to open. ‘God, please let it be help,’ she prayed.
Nurse Walters threw back the curtain, her eyes settling on Johnny and her face turning livid.
“What’s going on here?” she demanded of the young nurse.
“He’s been vomiting for hours. He can’t keep the medicine down.”
Nurse Walters pushed her way past the young nurse, repulsed by the dirty bed linen. “Why haven’t these been changed?”
“I couldn’t find anyone to help. They said they were busy with patients from the trolley car crash.”
“There were three old ladies with a couple of scratches looking for attention. They were in and out in fifteen minutes,” she hissed. Quickly she examined Johnny, checking his pulse, lifting his eyelids to check his degree of consciousness. “Where is Dr. Dykstra?”
“He left the hospital early this afternoon.”
Nurse Walters glanced over at Murdoch and Teresa, watching their pale faces. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Murdoch said, his voice leaving no question about his intentions.
“Then make yourselves useful.” Walters turned on the young nurse.
“We need warm water and fresh linen. Don’t bother asking for help, just do it yourself.”
She turned back to Teresa. “Have you ever used a thermometer?”
Teresa shook her head.
“You’re about to learn.” Nurse Walters handed Teresa the thermometer. “Put this in his mouth, under his tongue. Hold it there for five minutes.”
Teresa did as she was instructed, gently stroking Johnny’s cheek and whispering in his ear as she held the thermometer in place. Everything seemed so strange here. The smells assaulted her nose and the bleach made her eyes sting. There was none of the familiar things she was used to in Sam’s office, a place where she had done more than her share of nursing over the past two years, ever since her ‘brothers’ came to live with them. This place was sterile and cold. Devoid of any human warmth.
Nurse Walters whipped the dirty sheet and hospital gown off Johnny, tossing them in a pile on the floor, quickly laying a towel over his hips. “Can you lift him while I change the sheet?”
Murdoch moved to the other side of the bed, slipping his arms beneath Johnny’s knees and under his back. He grunted with the effort of lifting his son, the cast adding another fifty pounds to his weight as the nurse yanked the sheet off the bed.
The young nurse rushed into the room, towels hung over both shoulders, a basin of water cradled on a stack of sheets and a bottle of witch hazel under her chin.
“This is all I could find.” The young woman panted.
“You did fine. Now bathe him, then we will put fresh sheets on the bed.”
“You are a nurse aren’t you?”
The young nurse nodded, dropping her eyes to the ground.
Nurse Walters took a step closer to her, reading the name tag on her apron. “Look at me, Miss Owens.” She waited and the young nurse slowly lifted her head. “You were put in a position of responsibility you were not ready for. But you handled it. Admirably. You have the makings to be a fine nurse. Now, pull yourself together and see to your patient.”
Miss Owens nodded, taking the thermometer from Teresa’s hand.
“It’s been five minutes,” Teresa said as she relinquished her spot to the young nurse.
“103.6…” she read.
“He feels so hot,” Teresa said.
Nurse Walters nodded. “It’s high. Miss Owens…bathe him and rub him down with the witch hazel. That cast is going to keep a lot of the heat in.”
The young nurse nodded, glancing at Teresa with a look of heartfelt thanks in her eyes
Twenty minutes later Johnny was nestled in fresh sheets, his fever reduced slightly by the witch hazel.
Murdoch stood back studying his son. He seemed to be resting comfortably now. But he feared for Johnny. What would happen in the middle of the night? What if he needed help and no one was around?
“What happened?” Murdoch demanded of Nurse Walters.
“I don’t know, Mr. Lancer. But I intend on finding out. This was inexcusable. I’m sorry your son had to suffer. I will be with him all night tonight.”
“And tomorrow?” Murdoch asked. “Who will watch out for him tomorrow?”
“I promise you, I will do everything I can to make sure there is not a repeat of this evening’s incident.”
There was the sound of footsteps walking slowly toward them…halting steps…as if the person were uncertain of their destination or purpose.
The curtain was dragged open slowly and Dr. Dykstra stepped in, his face reflecting his surprise.
He looked from Johnny to his two nurses to Murdoch and Teresa. “Visiting hours have been over for twenty minutes,” he announced.
Nurse Walters nodded, taking a step closer to the bed to once again take Johnny’s pulse. “Mr. Lancer was left in the care of a student nurse this afternoon,” she said. “He’s been vomiting all afternoon. He’s dehydrated and running a fever of 103.6. Mr. Lancer’s family helped care for him while no one else seemed to have the time.”
“We’re understaffed and…”
“Dr. Dykstra.” Murdoch edged closer to the doctor, his formidable size towering over the doctor. “If I find that my son has been mistreated like this again I will have this hospital up on charges of patient neglect. If you think I am just a dumb rancher with a big temper, you will be only half right. I have several attorney friends here in San Francisco who would love a case like this.”
Dr. Dykstra glared up at him. “Your son will receive the medical attention he requires,” he said coldly. “Now, visiting hours are over. I need to examine my patient. You can see him again tomorrow evening. And…” he deliberately walked around the bed and picked up the poinsettia plant. “Flowers and plants are not allowed in patient’s rooms.” He shoved the plant toward Murdoch. “Good evening.”
Murdoch looked down at Johnny, his instinct telling him to take Johnny away from this place. But where would he take him? This was supposedly the best hospital in San Francisco, recommended by Sam. Would he cause his son more harm by moving him? He took a deep breath and let it out slowly….he had little choice. He slowly turned on his heels and walked away.
Teresa quickly kissed Johnny on the cheek and followed Murdoch toward the door. She was terribly worried for Johnny’s safety. They needed Scott and Sam here…now.
Johnny awoke sometime in the night. He stared at the dimly lit white ceiling, the white walls, the white curtain that encircled his bed. A lantern sat on the bedside table, its wick turned low, casting strange dark patterns on the white drape.
Uncomfortable smells assaulted his nose, stale air, bleach and antiseptics mingled with odors he couldn’t identify.
He felt disjointed, his body and mind floating in a murky pool of drugs and illness. He closed his eyes against the rising nausea. He vaguely remembered the pain of the dry heaves that ravaged his body and willed his stomach to settle. He couldn’t stand that kind of misery again.
He tried to concentrate. He had to make sense of this. He wasn’t home. He felt a pang of homesickness… the emotion bittersweet.
And he wasn’t at Sam’s. But he was sick. The pounding in his head and the buzzing in his ears told him he had a fever, his burning skin told him it was high. But the pain in his shoulder and neck was the worst. It seemed to intensify with every breath.
Flashes of memories began to toy with his mind: The pain of a grueling buckboard ride, Murdoch driving the team with Scott sitting beside him trying in vain to protect him from the bone-jarring ride. The clattering of steel wheels on railroad tracks, the awkward way he was forced to lie across the hard wooden seat. Then a long dark hallway with faceless nuns staring down at him, condemning him for what he was, for what he would always be.
He couldn’t stay here. They knew him. They always did. The nuns in their black habits, looking down on him in disgust. God loves all his children, they said, even the worthless ones. But maybe he was too worthless even for God to love…or it seemed that way at times.
The pain in his shoulder and neck increased, burning like the fires of hell. Was this the retribution the nuns warned him about?
He heard the sound of a woman’s voice raised in anger and the shuffling of feet.
Suddenly rough hands were holding his head. Someone pried his jaw open and a foul tasting liquid burned its way down his throat…laudanum …they were drugging him…he fought to stay conscious, he wasn’t safe here, just like the orphanage, he saw that dark closet where they locked him away, punishment for being worthless to them and to God…but his fight was short lived, and his world dissolved into blackness again.
Teresa stared at the poinsettia plant sitting on the dressing table. She toyed with the red bow with its sparkling glitter. It was meant to cheer Johnny up. But he never got a chance to see it. She shuddered at the memory of Johnny’s pale face. She couldn’t remember seeing him so weak and frail. Even his fight to survive after Pardee’s bullet hadn’t left him as ill as he looked last night. The transformation was startling and frightening. If she had the strength she would have picked him up and carried him out of that hospital. Brought him here where he would be loved and cared for. She made the suggestion to Murdoch… a private nurse could be hired, the doctor could visit him here…Johnny would recover so much faster in a loving atmosphere. But Murdoch said no. Sam had faith in the hospital. He had faith in Sam.
Scott and Sam would arrive in three days. They would act quickly. Sam would know what to do.
She heard the front door of Murdoch’s room open and close and she knew he was back from getting the morning paper. Murdoch loved to read the news, practically before it happened, he would say, not a month late like Morro Coyo or Green River.
She would let him read and relax for a few minutes, then go out and find the perfect Christmas gift for Johnny. Despite the ordeal of last night, she had to believe that they would all be together on Christmas day. She looked forward to Christmas morning when they would all open presents together. Most of all, she longed to see the old Johnny, laughing and teasing, Scott almost always his unwitting accomplice.
She suddenly jumped, startled by a barrage of curses she had never heard come from Murdoch Lancer’s mouth.
She ran into his room, astonished by the look of disbelief and rage on the big man’s face.
“How dare they!” he roared.
“Murdoch, what is it?”
Murdoch stared at the article posted on page three – his heart in his throat.
INFAMOUS KILLER IN TOWN.
It has come to this reporter’s attention that Johnny Madrid, hired killer and gunslinger is at this moment being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital. The nature of his injury is not known, we can only speculate. Do we really want the likes of Johnny Madrid in our fair city? Do we want to be known as a town that harbors killers and murderers?
How long will it be before we are known as a bastion for the dredges of society? Will our mothers and daughters no longer be safe on the streets? Will our fathers and sons once again have to wear a gun strapped to their hip to protect themselves from Johnny Madrid and his kind?
Johnny Madrid is not welcome here. Send him to the Barbary Coast where he belongs. Is it fair that he takes up a bed one of our fine citizens might need? Is it fair that he take a doctor’s time away from caring for the good people of San Francisco?
We must make it well known to Johnny Madrid and his kind that they are not wanted here. As soon as he is able he should, no, he must leave San Francisco. We will not tolerate his presence a minute longer than is absolutely necessary.
How many men are buried six feet under with a bullet from Johnny Madrid’s gun? How many wives and mothers sit grieving over the loss of their sons and fathers? We must not allow a monster like Johnny Madrid to threaten our very existence.
If you have any doubts as to how dangerous a man Johnny Madrid is, you need only read the list of atrocities below. And remember, these are only the ones recorded.
What followed nearly drove Murdoch to his knees, his mouth twisting into an angry snarl…his hands shaking as he read each name,
Hector Morrow, 36…Shot in the heart.
Mason Davis, 25…Shot between the eyes.
Dallas Addams, 65…Stomach wound, bled to death.
Thomas Kendal, 18…Shot in the heart.
The list continued. Thirty-six in all. Some he recognized from the Pinkerton reports, the rest he had never heard of. But where were the details? The times Johnny shot in self-defense, the gunslingers looking for a name, forcing Johnny into a fight. The range wars when he took the side of the weak, fought for their freedom. The only thing he saw were cold hard facts. Facts that in truth lied.
“Lies and half truths…” Murdoch spat. “Where did they get this filth?”
Still confused by Murdoch’s outburst, Teresa put her hand out for the paper.
Murdoch looked down at her. She was not a child anymore, she had earned the right to know. Part of it, at least. He folded the paper, carefully hiding the list of victims. He watched the anger and pain sweep over her.
“How could they?” she cried. “Johnny is not like this at all.” Tears filled her eyes and she looked up at Murdoch. “Why would they print something like this?” She began to turn the paper over and Murdoch laid a cautioning hand on her hands.
“Don’t read it,” he whispered.
“Why, if it’s about Johnny…”
“Teresa, please, for Johnny’s sake, don’t read it. He deserves to have one person in his life who’s not tainted by his past.”
Teresa reluctantly relented. Murdoch was right. The article was enough to break her heart…she didn’t need to see more.
“Is this why they have treated him so badly in the hospital?”
“I’m afraid so. But no more. I’m going to put a stop to this right now. You stay here.”
“Where are you going?”
“First to the newspaper office. I won’t allow this kind of dirt to be written about my son, then a visit to Dr. Dykstra. He is going to treat Johnny Lancer like he would any other patient in that hospital, or so help me God…”
Teresa felt his hands shaking with anger as he kissed her on the forehead and stormed out the door.
She stood in the middle of the room, stunned. She feared for them all.
“Hurry Scott…” she whispered to the empty room, “we need you.”
Scott heard a horse and buggy approaching and recognized the sound of the left squeaky wheel on Sam Jenkins’s carriage. He and Johnny had promised to fix it just last month…before Johnny was hurt and his own workload doubled.
He stuck his head out of the French doors and waved Sam inside.
“Good morning, you’re just in time for breakfast.” Scott grinned, leading the way to the kitchen. “I’m getting lonely eating by myself.”
Sam nodded, noticing a package partially wrapped in bright Christmas paper.
“Christmas present?” he asked.
Scott couldn’t contain the smile that spread across his face. “I know Murdoch and Teresa are busy buying Christmas gifts in San Francisco, but I wanted to bring this along so Johnny could open it Christmas morning.”
He carefully undid the wrapping, his heart leaping with pride at the beautifully framed painting.
“It’s Barranca.” Sam smiled. “It’s beautiful Scott.”
“Remember that painter who came through town last July? I hired him to paint this. Wasn’t easy to get him around here enough so he could sketch Barranca with Johnny underfoot. Teresa finally had him take her on a picnic for the day.”
“Johnny’s going to love it, Scott. Speaking of Johnny, I’m afraid I’m going to be delayed a few days. My replacement wired this morning that he needed a few more days before coming out.”
“That’s all right. I’ve got some loose ends of my own. I’ll wire Murdoch and tell him we’ll be delayed. I’m sure Teresa won’t mind. It’ll give her more time to shop. Knowing her she’ll have a ton of gifts for Johnny. Leave it to my brother to pick the holidays to get kicked by a cow.”
Sam chuckled. “And I bet he’s a handful for the nurses. That boy won’t stay down for a minute longer than he thinks he has to.”
Scott nodded, carefully rewrapping Johnny’s gift.
Dr. Dykstra looked in the window of Bradshaw’s and saw the mink wrap his wife had talked about, ad nauseam, for years. Now he would have the means to buy it, and take Beatrice to the kind of parties where women of wealth wore such clothes.
He had made it clear to Harlan Garrett that he would earn the money in his own way. He would not kill Johnny Lancer while he was under the care of the hospital. It could ruin his career if any hint of foul play were discovered. Instead he would treat Lancer’s injury, get him healthy enough to leave the hospital, but not travel. Then and only then would he put his plan into action. The world would be rid of Johnny Madrid before the clock struck midnight on December 31st.
He hailed a taxi and jumped into the back of the carriage with a light footedness he had not felt in years. Soon he would have all that he deserved. He had not planned to buy anything extravagant for his wife this year, just a simple Christmas. But how quickly things changed. He would go shopping tomorrow. That settled, he found himself whistling a Christmas tune.
Johnny awoke and he froze. Sister Josephine was leaning over him, replacing the bandages on the top of his shoulder where a small portion of the cast was cut away.
“Dr. Dykstra took you back into surgery early this morning,” she explained, her voice cold and detached. “He cleaned out the infection. Your fever should be going down soon. Are you in pain?”
Johnny shook his head, hoping she wouldn’t notice his clenched teeth.
“I’ve been a nurse long enough to see when a patient is in pain, Mr. Lancer. Dr. Dykstra left instructions to keep you on morphine for the next three days. No laudanum unless absolutely necessary. Instead we’ll give you Chloral Hydrate to help you sleep at night.”
“I told you and him, no drugs.”
“If you refuse the drugs we will insert a tube down your throat into your stomach. I am told it is a painful procedure. It’s up to you, Mr. Lancer.”
Johnny looked away. He knew it was not just an idle threat.
He felt the sting of the needle in his arm and he knew the pain would lessen in minutes. So would his hold on reality. The morphine didn’t knock him out, or make him overly tired, that came with the fever and his body fighting the infection. But it did leave him slightly muddled, just enough so he could not think quickly. He hated the feeling. He stayed alive because he was always aware, even in the safety of Lancer, his senses were always working.
Here in this hostile environment, where he needed them the most, they were stripped away by drugs.
“I’ll have a nurse bring you some broth, you are to drink it all. Later the orderlies will be by to turn you over.”
Johnny shot her a worried glance.
“You are already developing bedsores. You will be turned twice a day.”
“Like a side of beef,” Johnny muttered angrily.
Sister Josephine raised an eyebrow. “We may not condone what you are Mr. Madrid, but you will receive the care you need.”
Madrid…Johnny’s heart skipped a beat, how did she know about Johnny Madrid?
He remained silent while she finished checking his vitals. He damned his lack of energy…he could feel his heavy eyelids droop. He fought to stay awake but exhaustion over came him and he slipped away before she was gone.
Murdoch returned to the hotel, Scott’s wire in his hand. Teresa was sitting on the sofa, her face ridged with worry.
“The paper refuses to print a retraction,” Murdoch announced. “But they promised there would be no more articles about Johnny Madrid.”
“Who would have written an article like that in the first place?” Teresa asked, angrily.
“They don’t know. They have no idea how it passed the editor’s desk.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say Harlan Garrett was behind this.”
Murdoch collapsed into the sofa opposite Teresa, more tired than a full days work on the range.
“Sweetheart, nothing would surprise me at this point.”
“And Dr. Dykstra?”
“He wasn’t in the hospital again. But I made it clear that we would not tolerate the kind of treatment Johnny received last night. I threw Jarrod Barkley’s name around. I hope he doesn’t mind.”
“I’m sure he won’t, not after we explain the way they were treating Johnny. At least Scott and Sam will be here in a few days.”
Murdoch held up the wire from Scott. “Scott wired, he and Sam will be delayed a few more days.”
“No! We need them. Johnny…”
Murdoch raised his hand, “I wired him back. Told Scott to drop everything and meet us here.”
“I thought we were doing the right thing bringing him here, but…”
“Johnny got the surgery he needed. The minute he is well enough to be released from that hospital, he will be in the care of those who love him. Teresa, I have to believe we have done what is best for Johnny. I owe him so much. The years he was alone…”
“You did what you could. You tried to find him.”
“Did I? Did I try hard enough?”
Teresa walked around behind the sofa, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “The important thing is that he’s with us now. And that he’s going to be well and home very soon.”
Murdoch patted her hand, grateful for her kindness. They had been through a lot together these past two years. He doubted he would have made it, those first three months, when his sons were still strangers, when every leap forward was countered with two steps backwards. She had been there for him, her love and patience never a question. And now again, she was the strongest of them all.
He closed his eyes and prayed that Teresa was right. That Johnny would return with them.
Johnny was surprised to find himself laying on his stomach, his right hand dangling over the side of the bed. When had they turned him over? He tried to drag his right arm back onto the bed but found he lacked the strength. He hated this position. The pillows had been removed and his cheek was resting against the firm mattress. He tried to lift his head to look around, but the movement scent fiery hot shooting pains along his shoulder and down his left arm. The cast was too big and too heavy and too hot. He felt a drop of sweat roll down his forehead, pass his eye, and tickle as it ran down his nose, hanging there like a teardrop. He tried to lift his arm again, to brush the drop away before it drove him insane. But he could only raise it an inch at the most.
Frustrated, he sighed deeply. If he had followed Sam’s orders in the first place he wouldn’t be in this mess. Or if the cow hadn’t been so darn ornery and kicked him. Or if he didn’t read those damn letters. Or…all the `ors’ in the world didn’t change the fact that he was stuck here, instead of home, getting ready for Christmas.
He was looking forward to the holiday this year. He and Scott would be out cutting a Christmas tree and watching Teresa decorate it. Teresa and Maria would spend long hours in the kitchen, baking gingerbread cookies and chocolate cakes. He longed for the sweet smells, the comforting warmth of the fire in the hearth. Little bowls of candy and popcorn would dot the tables throughout the house. Teresa said it was there just in case company dropped by. But she knew company didn’t stand a chance with him around. His sweet tooth was insatiable.
He wanted more than anything to be home. To be riding Barranca, the cold air stinging his face, the rush of pure joy riding atop the powerful animal.
He looked through the small window and saw the sky darken outside. It would be night soon. An hour with Murdoch and Teresa would slip away in minutes.
He heard the sound of heavy footsteps approach his bed. It both angered and frightened him that he could not see them in this position.
Rough hands lifted him and turned him over, and he looked up into the unfriendly faces of the two orderlies he had met on his first day.
“You believe all them things they said about him in the paper?” The orderly named Bronson asked, his face twitching into a cruel smile.
“He don’t look too dangerous to me.” The second orderly laughed. “You as dangerous as they say, boy?” he asked, grabbing Johnny’s right hand and squeezing it until Johnny felt the bones ready to snap. “I heard a gunfighter’s hands were like gold to him. Is that right, Madrid?”
“Better not break his hand, Bronson. Sister Josephine said we had to treat him like all the other patients.”
“Yeah?” He released the pressure on Johnny’s hand, letting it fall back against the hard cast. “I don’t think them people out there think he’s just another patient. I bet they’d string him up if they had half a chance.”
“I think you’re right. Maybe we should forget to lock the doors tonight.”
Johnny heard them laughing as they walked away, his hand throbbing fiercely. They left him flat on his back, staring up at the white ceiling, wondering what they had meant by the things in the paper.
He could only wait and hope someone would come in to prop him back up on the pillows.
Nurse Walters started her night shift at exactly six P.M. But tonight she was five minutes late. It had taken her that long to make her way through the throng of people milling about, outside the entrance. She had expected a reaction to the article in the paper, it had been a blatant attempt to get a rise out of the citizens of San Francisco. She had not, however, expected the size of the mob or their degree of viciousness. Not one of them would think twice about dragging the boy out of bed and lynching him at the nearest lamp post. The article had put fear into every mother and father, every son and daughter old enough to read and understand.
She headed directly to the third floor. Johnny Lancer had grabbed at her heart strings. He seemed so alone. He needed more comfort than the hour visit he received from his family, and she knew that the daytime staff had as little contact with him as possible. A brief moment to give him his medications or turn him over, that was all.
She pulled the curtain open, her smile disappearing when she saw him laying flat on the mattress, his pillows piled on the floor next to the bed.
“How long have you been laying like this?” she demanded, reaching for his wrist to take his pulse, startled to see his hand swollen and discolored.
“Too long,” he answered. His voice emotionless, his eyes glued to a speck of dirt on the ceiling.
She noticed the sheen of sweat on his face, indicating the rise in temperature. They managed to get it down during the day, only to have it return at night.
“What happened?” she asked, gently examining his hand, feeling for any obviously broken bones.
“Who did this?” She felt his body jerk as she hit a tender spot and laid his hand down on the sheet beside him.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, bitterly, “just help me sit up.”
“I’ll need help. Now don’t move.”
Johnny snorted, and whispered, his eyes still glued to the ceiling, “I ain’t going no where.”
She backed out of his eyesight, watching him for a moment. She saw nothing of the cold blooded-killer she read about in the paper. If he was Johnny Madrid, then he had left that life behind.
She saw his eyes close, and a shadow of fear crossed his face. She would find out who did this and have them reprimanded, fired if she could.
Nurse Walters returned five minutes later with the young Miss Owens in tow, carrying a steaming bowl of water.
Johnny continued to stare at the ceiling.
“We have to get him into a sitting position,” Nurse Walters explained to the young nurse, “The possibility of pneumonia is always a concern after surgery. Fluid can build up in the lungs. Be careful of his hand, it could be broken.”
“We’ll find that out after we have him settled.” She looked down at Johnny, brushing a stray strand of hair out of his eyes. “We’re going to lift you now. Let us do the work, you just relax.”
Together they eased him into a sitting position while Miss Owens stuffed half a dozen pillows behind him.
“There,” Nurse Walters said, pulling the sheet part way up his chest, “you should be more comfortable now.”
Johnny remained silent.
She folded a towel and set it on his lap, motioning Miss Owens to set the bowl of water in his lap.
“I want you to soak that hand in these salts. Hopefully it will reduce some of that swelling. Are you going to tell me how this happened, Mr. Lancer?”
“You mean Madrid, don’t you?” Johnny asked. The bitterness in his voice was not lost on her.
“I don’t care if your name is John Wilkes Booth, you are a patient, and you deserve the best care, like all the other patients here in this hospital.”
“Johnny Madrid doesn’t scare you?”
Walters smiled. “A little. But Johnny Lancer doesn’t. Now soak that hand. Nurse Owens will stay with you until I get back with your medications.”
She disappeared beyond the white curtain and Miss Owens stepped closer to the bed.
“What they said about you…” the young nurse asked hesitantly. “Was it all true?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t read the paper. What did it say?” Miss Owens face paled. “It…it said you were a killer. That you killed thirty-six men. In cold blood.”
Johnny hung his head, staring at his hand, the swelling magnified by the water. But there was no doubt that it was swollen twice its size.
“Can’t say I ever kept count,” he answered.
“Then it’s true?”
“There’s lots of reasons for killing,” he said softly, not looking up. “Sometimes it’s the only way to survive.”
“Will you tell me sometime?”
Johnny’s face hardened. “About the killings? You want to know all the gory details?”
“No.” She touched his arm gently. “I just want to understand why.”
Nurse Walters reappeared with a tray of medicine bottles. She had heard the last of the conversation as she walked into the room, longing to hear the answer herself.
Johnny looked at the medicine bottles and groaned.
“I know.” she smiled sympathetically. “But if you follow the doctor’s orders you could be out of here in time for Christmas.”
Johnny nodded and took each teaspoon of the disgusting medicines. He smiled to himself. Teresa would drop dead if she saw him cooperate so easily.
“There now, we’ll bandage that hand up until the doctor has a chance to look at it and you’ll be all ready for your guests.”
She watched him settle into the pillows, exhaustion pulling him toward sleep.
She was about to turn the wick down on the lantern when she heard the curtain whipped open behind her.
“Lancer can’t stay here,” Dykstra said. “It’s getting out of control out there.”
Teresa and Murdoch both ate a small dinner. Neither of them really hungry, but aware that they needed to stay healthy and strong. Johnny would need all their strength in the coming weeks. At six-thirty they hired a carriage and made their way across town. Teresa was blind to all the festive decorations, the harried shoppers with their arms laden with Christmas gifts. The only thing on her mind was Johnny. If Scott were delayed she feared for her ‘brother’s’ safety. She wished she could convince Murdoch that, no matter how ill he was, this hospital would not give him the care he really needed.
She wrapped her arms tighter around herself. She had watched the line of heavy gray clouds slowly thickening over the bay. Soon the city would be blanketed in heavy damp fog. She sadly realized it matched her own disposition.
As they turned off 17th Street onto Stanyan Street and headed up the steep hill, they could see a crowd of people standing outside the doors to the hospital.
“What’s going on?” Murdoch asked the cabbie who coaxed the horse up the steep incline.
“Everybody’s up in arms over that murderer staying at the hospital. Can’t blame them none. We just got the trash moved out of here, down to the Barbary Coast, where they belong. Then we get someone like Johnny Madrid. I tell ya, it’ll be a miracle if someone don’t sneak into that hospital and give that killer what he deserves. I’d do it myself, but I don’t want ta spend the rest of my life behind bars for the likes of him.”
Murdoch squeezed Teresa’s hand as it trembled uncontrollably.
“You got family in that hospital, Mister?” The cabbie asked.
“Yes. My son.”
“Well, I hope he’s gonna be all right with the likes of Johnny Madrid in there with him.”
Teresa’s shoulders swept back, her chin jutted out in defiance. She was about to say her piece when Murdoch shook his head whispering, “It won’t help matters.”
Teresa nodded, edging closer to Murdoch. As they drew nearer to the hospital entrance, he saw the angry faces of the people standing outside, bundled against the cold, their voices rising in protest.
“Not a word until we reach Johnny,” Murdoch cautioned. He knew the dangers they faced if they were recognized as `Madrid’s’ family. The fear and hatred held for the man they had read about in the paper could easily be transferred to them. There would be little concern that Teresa was a young woman, their hate would overshadow their reasoning.
It would not take much to ignite the crowd into violence. Murdoch feared that even the heavy doors would not keep the mob from storming the hospital. Johnny was not safe here. No matter what the objections from doctors or nurses, Johnny would be moved tonight.
They hurried past the crowd, slipping inside the door. Several orderlies stood guard. Murdoch saw their looks, the hatred in their eyes. They despised everyone associated with Johnny Madrid. Not surprising considering the damning article in the Chronicle.
The angry looks continued as they walked down the hospital halls. Doctors, nurses and nuns alike, gave them scathing looks.
Murdoch guided Teresa into Johnny’s room, instantly alarmed by the two shadows on the curtain encircling Johnny’s bed. If they were tending to his son during visiting hours, then something must be terribly wrong.
He hurried past the empty beds, flinging the curtain open.
He found both Nurse Walters and Dr. Dykstra leaning over Johnny, wrapping him tightly in blankets. His heart leapt into his throat. Johnny lay motionless as they tucked the blankets tightly beneath him. The pillows were removed and the nurse carefully guided his head down to the mattress.
“What’s wrong?” Murdoch demanded.
“You saw that crowd outside,” Dykstra said over his shoulder.
“I’ve seen mobs before. That’s just the first wave. Soon more will come, before you know it, we’ll have a hundred people down there. Most won’t know why, or what, they’re protesting, just caught up in the frenzy. We’ve got to get your son out of here to a safe place. Nurse Walters has agreed to stay with him, I’ll check in on him daily.”
“Where are you taking him?” Murdoch moved around the bed in time to see Johnny’s bandaged hand before it was covered.
Nurse Walter’s saw his reaction. “Someone nearly broke his hand. He won’t tell us who.”
Nurse Owens appeared with a gurney and several more blankets stacked on it.
Dr. Dykstra pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to Murdoch. “This is where we will be taking your son. It’s a small house west of here. Nurse Walters and Nurse Owens will prepare the house. They will procure supplies and medicines. Mr. Lancer will be quite comfortable there.”
“Why are you doing this doctor?”
Dr. Dykstra turned to look up at Murdoch, his eyes hooded beneath heavy brows. “I will not have a patient dragged from his bed by a hysterical mob. If that newspaper article was intended to incite a lynch mob, it had its desired affect.
”I may not like your son, or what he has done, Mr. Lancer, but I’ll be damned if I will let him be treated like an animal.”
“You don’t know anything about my son, doctor. He is not the man in that article, he never was. Don’t pass judgment on him until you have gotten to know him. He may surprise you.”
“He won’t have that chance unless we get him out of here.”
Murdoch nodded. “What can we do doctor?”
“Stay here until visiting hours are over. There may be some people in the crowd who know who you are. Let them think everything is normal. Go back to your hotel. I will arrange to have a carriage pick you up at seven o’clock tomorrow morning and bring you to your son. Don’t check out of your hotel. Don’t pack a bag. I will have someone bring your things later.”
Murdoch studied Johnny. His face was still too pale, his cheeks tinged pink from his fever. He hoped they were doing the right thing. The idea of taking Johnny from the warm hospital into the cold night air worried him. But Dykstra was right, the mob was already getting out of hand. If they made it into the hospital, Johnny wouldn’t stand a chance.
He helped Dykstra and the nurses lift Johnny onto the gurney and said a silent goodbye as they rolled him away.
Johnny awoke to the sound of horse’s hooves clopping over cobblestones, and the sway and bouncing of a wagon. He looked up at a dark canopy fluttering in the wind, just an arms length away. Cold damp air swirled around him, stinging his exposed face. He shivered and felt another blanket draped over him.
He stared into the darkness just beyond him and saw three figures sitting beside him, their forms swaying to the rock of the wagon. He could tell by their build it wasn’t Murdoch or Teresa, although two of them were women.
He smelled deeply of the fresh air, drawing the cold air as deep into his lungs as the restricting cast would allow. The stench of the hospital still clung to the blankets that covered him, but he welcomed their warmth.
The wagon changed direction and the sound of the cobblestones was replaced by the soft pad of hooves on a dirt road. He hissed when the wagon suddenly lurched and bucked over a rough stretch of road. He felt a hand snake beneath the blanket and clasp his arm tightly.
But there were still no words spoken, and he wouldn’t break the silence.
The road leveled out and they continued on. They were climbing steadily now, and the cold air grew colder with the smell and taste of salt water mixed with the fog. Then a sound he had not heard since he wandered the coastline between Baja and Tijuana: The sound of waves crashing against towering cliffs.
The left front wagon wheel bottomed out in a deep rut, jarring the wagon and ripping a groan of pain from Johnny. He felt the blankets lifted and his right arm extended. He knew they were going to drug him again…he tried to pull his arm free, but he didn’t have the strength, and he felt the needle inject the morphine. Pain and his flimsy hold on consciousness drifted away.
Dr. Dykstra looked at the house. It belonged to an old friend who had gone into private practice and became rich while he suffocated at St. Mary’s. His friend had offered to sell him the house a few years back, knowing how much Dykstra loved it, but he did not have the funds. But soon he would.
Dykstra stared down at Johnny Madrid. There was no way in hell that he would allow a frenzied mob to kill the boy. He was worth ten thousand dollars, and he would collect it from Harlan Garrett on the first day of the New Year.
Scott took the saddlebags Jelly had hastily packed.
“I figured,” the old man said, worry in his voice, “that the boss wouldn’t send ya a wire like that if”n it weren’t important. Sounds like Johnny need’s ya Scott.”
Scott nodded, taking the reins from Jelly.
“I checked the train schedule myself,” Jelly said proudly, “and bought ya this ticket.” He handed Scott the ticket. “I figure you kin reach the train by morning and be in San Francisco by this time tomorrow.”
Scott nodded. He’d been riding the fence line most of the day and only learned of Murdoch’s wire late in the afternoon. He had hastily washed up and changed. He would stop by town and tell Sam to meet them in San Francisco as soon as he could.
The telegram worried him. Murdoch was not one to panic. But the short message sounded urgent.
“You take good care of that boy, ya hear…” Jelly patted Scott on the leg, “and wire back. Let us know Johnny’s all right.”
“I will, Jelly.”
He tipped his hat toward Maria, standing in the kitchen doorway, her face filled with worry, and rode away, hoping the next time he rode beneath the Lancer arch it would be with his brother beside him.
Neither Murdoch nor Teresa slept very well that night. They both tossed and turned, staring at the dark ceilings, wondering if they made the right decision in letting Dr. Dykstra take Johnny out of the hospital. There was no doubt that the mob was growing more dangerous by the minute. By the time they left, an hour later, there were three times the people standing around, their voices raised in anger.
Morning finally arrived and they met in Murdoch’s room, deciding to forego breakfast and wait downstairs for the carriage that would pick them up at seven. If Dykstra was a man of his word.
The carriage arrived on time. Teresa appreciated the warm throw blanket sitting on the seat. The morning was clear and crisp. They watched the busy city come to life as businessmen began to head for their offices.
Teresa saw the bright Christmas decorations festooning the street lamps and store windows. She had been so eager at the beginning of her trip to celebrate Christmas in San Francisco. She had not thought for one moment that Johnny would be so sick. That their trip could turn into such a nightmare. And now, as she looked at the bright red bows and silver garland, she felt terribly depressed.
Murdoch watched as they turned down Market Street then made their way west, away from the city along a well traveled dirt road. An hour later the driver left the main road and urged his horses to climb the steep grade as they climbed up a hill. Murdoch saw the towering cliffs to his right and to his left a hundred feet below, the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
He drew in the fresh clean air, remembering how much he missed the smells of salt water and seaweed. The sounds of seagulls calling, and the boisterous roar of the sea lions.
He spotted a small house perched precariously close to the cliff’s edge, overlooking the crashing waves below.
He felt Teresa’s hand find his, and turned to see her cheeks flushed with color. He realized the young woman had never seen a sight like this.
The driver turned off the road and stopped in front of the house.
“Doc said for ya ta go inside and make yourselves comfortable.” The driver announced, raising his voice to be heard over the crashing waves. “He’ll be by later ta look at yer son. A nurse is there now, so he ain’t alone.”
Murdoch helped Teresa down and guided her over the stone walkway to the front door.
The house was small. Windows on either side of the door revealed similar windows on the back side of the house, overlooking breathtaking views of the ocean.
Murdoch knocked lightly then opened the door.
The smell of hot coffee and warm biscuits made his mouth water. A fire roared in the hearth between two large windows overlooking the ocean. A small kitchen sat to the left, a steaming pot of water simmering on a wood burning stove.
Next to the kitchen a door leading into a small bedroom stood open, with the sounds of soft voices filtering into the living room.
Murdoch looked down at Teresa, her hand visibly shaking.
As they slowly moved closer, Teresa recognized the soft drawl of Johnny’s voice and she could not stand it another second.
Tears came to her eyes as she saw a sight she feared she would never see again. A warm smile on Johnny’s face.
“Johnny!” She raced across the small room, everything else forgotten.
Johnny was nestled against a mound of pillows, his dark unruly hair contrasting against the white pillowcases. His complexion was still too pale, the hint of fever still on his cheeks, but there was life to his face now. His eyes twinkled as he saw Teresa run toward him. Murdoch just stood back soaking in the sight of his son.
Nurse Walters sat on the edge of the bed holding a mug for him to drink. She sat it down on the nightstand, allowing Johnny’s family time to be with him.
Teresa sat on the edge of the bed, vacated by Nurse Walters, and leaned over, kissing him lightly on the cheek.
“Teresa…” he smiled, his voice still weak. “I was waiting for you.”
“Dr. Dykstra sent a carriage for us this morning. How do you feel?”
“You certainly look better than the last time we saw you.” Murdoch said, walking closer to the bed. His eyes took in his son, the heavy cast a grim reminder of what the boy had just been through.
“I’m feeling almost as good as new.” Johnny nodded toward the view out the window across the room. “Who couldn’t feel good with a view like that? Nurse Walters said you could help move this bed closer to the window. I wanna see the sun rise and the sun set.”
Nurse Walters handed Teresa the mug. “See if you can get him to finish this…he needs his strength to fight that infection.” She leaned over and patted Johnny on the knee. “You drink every bit of that now,” she ordered, “while I get your guests something to eat. I bet they’re starving.”
Murdoch nodded, breathing in the smells of the house, and looking out at the roaring ocean beyond the window. “Famished,” he said with gusto.
“Good. Then I’ll get started.”
Teresa brought the mug of broth to Johnny’s lips, noting his sagging eyelids. He was still not strong enough to stay awake for long periods of time. But she was happy with what she saw. For the first time, Johnny had the look of spirit in his eyes.
He finished most of the broth and fought to stay awake, but he couldn’t stifle the huge yawn and he sank deeper into the pillows, contentment on his face for the first time in a very long time.
Teresa gently brushed his cheek with her hand and felt him relax into a deep sleep.
They had moved the bed while he slept and he was now close to the window, looking out over a turbulent ocean, the whitewater crashing into the cliffs below, the power of the surf rumbling beneath him.
The room was small, holding little more than the bed he lay in and a bureau that doubled as a nightstand. But it was heaven to Johnny. The walls were painted a light blue, with a large painting of a lighthouse, standing majestically at the edge of a cliff, nearly covering one wall. Four sconces shaped like sea shells adorned the walls. A candelabra sat on the bureau, long red tapers heralding the Christmas season. The floor was covered by an intricately woven rug of light blues and dark grays.
With a deep contented sigh he closed his eyes. Gone were the sterile white walls and cold marble floors of the hospital. No more smells of antiseptics and bleach. No more endless hours of starring at a white ceiling, alone and helpless. No more…
The hand was soft and gentle as it caressed his cheek, and the voice was oh so familiar.
Johnny opened his eyes to find Teresa sitting on the edge of the bed, smiling sweetly at him.
“Were you planning to sleep the day away?” she asked, her eyes twinkling with unshed tears. “Or will you be joining us for lunch?”
“Lunch.” He grinned. “You saved some of them bacon and eggs I smelled a little while ago?”
“Breakfast was hours ago, Johnny. Besides, I don’t think you’re ready for something that heavy. A little warm broth and maybe a little toast soaked in milk. How does that sound?”
Johnny crinkled his nose up at the bland offering and Teresa hopped off the bed, giggling as she smoothed the covers. “I’ll have to tell Molly that her patient is already complaining about the food.”
“Nurse Walters. She’s agreed to stay here with us. Now you rest while we get your lunch ready.”
“I’m not tired,” Johnny said around a wide yawn.
Teresa smiled knowingly. “I’ll be right back,” she promised.
Murdoch handed down the last box from the attic, dusting his pants off as he jumped down the last two feet from the pull-down attic steps.
Teresa dove into each box, her excitement contagious, as she pulled out handfuls of brightly colored Christmas ornaments, angels with silvery wings, and a crèche with a Nativity scene carved from ivory.
“This is so beautiful,” she said in awe. “So beautiful.”
Molly kneeled down beside her, picking up each delicately carved figurine. “This was made with love,” she said softly.
Teresa nodded, feeling the warmth of friendship growing between the two women. It was easy to see why Johnny had trusted her so much.
Together they made quick work of the rest of the boxes, soon they were surrounded by yards of garland and red ribbons.
“We have to get a Christmas tree today,” she cried. “It’s just what Johnny needs. We’ll decorate the house and have lots of presents beneath the tree. We’ll have the best Christmas ever!”
A shadow crossed Molly’s face and Teresa reached out to touch her arm. “What’s wrong, Molly?”
“Nothing, child.” Molly smiled. “Just remembering Christmas’s past.”
“Tell me about them,” Teresa urged.
“There is nothing to tell,” Molly said sharply. “I’d better check on Johnny.”
Murdoch sat down on the sofa behind the two women and smiled gently, “No, Molly, stay for a few minutes.” He looked at the roaring fire in the hearth, the memories of so many Christmas’s missed…”Did you know until two years ago Johnny never celebrated Christmas?”
Molly looked up at him, surprised. “I don’t understand. You are so close…”
“Johnny’s mother took him from our home when he was two, for reasons we still don’t understand. After his mother died when he was eleven, he was on his own. We weren’t reunited until just two years ago.”
Teresa noticed Molly still cradled the figurine of the baby Jesus in her hand.
“That’s when he was Johnny Madrid?”
Murdoch nodded. “He was alone along the border towns, belonging to neither world, ostracized by both. He wasn’t Mexican and he wasn’t Anglo. He did what he did to survive. And you?”
“Me?” She tried to avert Murdoch’s eyes, but his presence was too strong.
“Yes you. I’ve seen that look in Johnny’s eyes.”
Molly carefully arranged the nativity scene in the crèche. “I was raised in a catholic orphanage. The nuns were very strict. We celebrated Christmas in silent prayer.”
“Johnny spoke of his short time in a catholic orphanage. He ran away after three months,” Teresa said, her heart breaking for this woman.
“Smart boy.” Molly smiled.
“You went through nursing school then became a nurse for a catholic hospital. Did you ever consider becoming a nun?” Murdoch asked.
Molly blushed, “I could never make it through the vow of silence.”
“It appears that you and Johnny have more in common than just spending time in a Catholic orphanage. I’ve never seen Johnny hold his tongue when he has something to say.”
“He does have a mind of his own.” Molly laughed.
Murdoch leaned forward, “Molly, we would be honored if you would celebrate Christmas with us.”
“It would mean so much to Johnny,” Teresa said.
Molly’s eyes filled with tears…”I could never intrude…”
“Nonsense. You would not be intruding. We would be worried about you all day, and how could we enjoy ourselves if we were worrying all the time?”
“Murdoch’s right.” Teresa stood up, garland and angels falling from her lap. “First thing we have to do is find a tree. If we were back home Johnny and Scott would have brought one home from the high country already.”
“Scott…?” Molly looked back at Murdoch.
“Johnny’s brother.” Murdoch held up his hand at Molly’s next question. “That my dear is an entirely different story, one we don’t have time for at the moment.”
“I look forward to it. But now I must check on Johnny. Perhaps we can look for a tree later this afternoon. Charley, the handy man at St. Mary’s, said there’s a fine stand of trees that would be perfect for a Christmas tree just north of here. If Dr. Dykstra agrees, we can move Johnny out here tomorrow where he can enjoy the tree and the roaring fire.”
“Johnny is going to be so excited. I can’t wait to tell him.”
“No, I think its best we wait,” Murdoch cautioned. “The doctor may not want Johnny moved. Let’s not get his hopes up. Besides, it will be a wonderful surprise for him.”
“I know it will. I just wish Scott were here with us.”
“He will be. Now you two see to Johnny so you can find that perfect tree.”
Scott felt the train slow as they neared the station in San Francisco.
His nerves had been wound tight, ready to snap at any moment. It had seemed the right decision to send Johnny to St. Mary’s hospital. The thought that Johnny would be maimed for life was a fear that he could not live with. Because, no matter what anyone said, it was his letters, written in haste, that had sent Johnny out that night. They had come so close to losing him…
He gathered his saddlebags and began walking down the isle before the train came to a halt.
He had decided to go straight to the hospital. Most likely that would be where Murdoch and Teresa would be spending most of their time. It would be difficult enough on Johnny to be trapped in a hospital bed, to spend it alone would double his misery.
He hired one of a long line of carriages waiting for disembarking passengers and headed for St. Mary’s.
The brightly decorated lamp posts and store windows did little to lighten his mood. The fact that it was only a week away from Christmas was lost on him, his only concern was his brother.
As the carriage began its slow assent up Stanyan Street he heard the sound of voices raised in anger.
“What’s going on?” he asked the driver. As they drew closer he saw a group of people, a hundred strong, or more, milling around outside the doors to the hospital.
“They got some hired killer in there. People ain’t too happy `bout it,” the driver answered, his voice filled with malice.
Scott felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Seems ta me,” the driver continued, “that a town has the right to keep low life scum like that out a here. He’s only gonna bring more of `em here. I heard they was plannin’ on taking him soon. Ya ain’t seen nothin’ till ya seen a mob gone loco.”
Scott held his tongue, paying the driver for the ride and making his way through the throng of people, becoming more unruly as a man stood at the top of the steps spewing words and hate and retribution.
Scott had seen the makings of a riot before, and this mob was just minutes away from exploding.
Stepping through the door, he was hit with a blast of hot air, filled with the odor of antiseptic and bleach. His heart dropped at the thought of Johnny being in a place like this. His younger brother hated closed places. This hospital seemed more like a prison than a place of healing.
The two burley guards standing guard at the door didn’t ease his concern. They motioned for him to sit on a lone bench pushed against a wall in the small reception area and looked down the long hall leading to the main part of the hospital. It seemed an eternity before a nun walked down the hall, her face mirroring the unease she felt as the noise outside grew louder.
“I am Sister Josephine,” the nun extended her hand. “How can I help you sir?”
“I’d like to see my brother, John Lancer.”
There was an audible intake of breath before she regained her composure. “Visiting hours are Monday through Saturday from seven to eight P.M. You can see your brother then.”
“I want to see him now.”
“I’m sorry, sir, that is against the rules. We have a strict policy…”
“I don’t give a damn about your policy. I want to see Johnny. If I have to, I will break down every door in this hospital until I find him.”
Scott felt the two guards shift behind him. But he would not leave here until he saw Johnny.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Let me talk to his doctor.” Scott demanded.
“That is Dr. Dykstra. I’ll check to see if he has time to talk to you. Wait here, please.”
Scott nodded and settled himself on the hard bench to wait.
Johnny awoke to find himself lying on his stomach and fear clutched his heart until he thought it would burst. It had all been a dream…the ride through the night, the warm comfortable room with the view of the ocean out the window. Teresa and Murdoch with him…all a dream.
He sighed deeply and dragged his right hand up to his face. The memory of the orderly squeezing his hand until he was sure he heard the bones break, was real. A cast, somewhat like the one that strapped his left arm to his chest, was wrapped around his hand, nearly to his elbow.
What would he do if his hand was broken? His life wasn’t wroth a plug nickel without his gun hand. He was, and always would be, a victim of his fame. The minute word got out that Johnny Madrid’s gun hand was maimed, he would be a target for every gunslinger and hot head who wanted the claim Madrid’s kill as his own.
In the background of his mind he heard a sound that nagged at his memory. He listened, felt the low rumble fill the room.
Someone touched his shoulder and he jerked in surprise, the sudden movement drawing a hiss of pain from his lips.
“It’s alright, son, you’re safe here.”
Johnny recognized the voice and watched as Murdoch came into his view.
“How do you feel?” The question was asked with a tenderness Johnny had never remembered hearing from his gruff father.
“Like a turkey all trussed up for Thanksgiving dinner,” Johnny groused.
“Sorry about that.” Murdoch chuckled. “But the doctor said you are doing very well. Fever’s going down, with luck it will be gone by Christmas.”
Johnny made a futile effort to raise himself up off the mattress.
“Easy son, don’t move now.”
“Help me turn over,” Johnny panted. It seemed he was still too weak to do more than breathe in and out.
“Not yet, Johnny. Teresa and Molly will be back soon, then we’ll turn you on your back. I know it’s not comfortable, but it is necessary. Can I get you anything?”
“I could do with a good lean steak. That broth and toast in milk wasn’t meant for a grown man.”
“A little too soon for steak, I’m afraid, but I’ll talk to the ladies about getting you something a little tastier for dinner.”
Murdoch moved a chair close to the bed so Johnny could see him when they talked.
“Tell me why I’m here instead of the hospital. Not complaining, mind ya, just curious.”
“That’s a long story, Johnny.”
“I ain’t got nowhere to go.”
“I promised I wouldn’t keep you awake too long. Rest is what is going to get you better. And, I am not about to go against orders from those two women…I think I’d rather face a stampede, so, save your poor father and go back to sleep.”
Johnny meant to tell Murdoch that he wasn’t tired, and the last thing he needed was more sleep, when his eyelids closed on their own and he fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Scott saw the doctor walking toward him, a grim look on his face.
“I want to see my brother,” Scott demanded.
“Come this way and keep your voice down,” the doctor ordered.
Scott found himself in a small office a few minutes later. The plaque on the desk read Dr. Dykstra.
“Where is Johnny?”
“He is safe. We have him hidden in a private house. It was too dangerous for him here.”
“How did this happen?” Scott demanded.
“A newspaper article. It was written to incite, and it worked. Your father and Miss O’Brien are with him now.”
“Have you checked into a hotel yet?”
“No. I came straight here.”
“Good. There is a small café two blocks north of here. Go have a cup of coffee. I’ll met you there in thirty minutes and take you to your brother.”
“Doctor, how is he?”
“He has improved. He still has a ways to go before he can stand the trip home. But he is on the right track. Now get going so I can finish my rounds and take you to your brother.”
Scott made his way back through the crowd. It was difficult to listen to them spewing their hatred for Johnny…a man they didn’t know.
Johnny awoke and found himself lying on his back again. He felt unnerved that he slept through it every time. He was not sure if they were not slipping him something. It seemed the only reason he could sleep so soundly.
The door opened and he saw Nurse Walters bringing in a tray.
“Your father tells me that you were complaining about the food.”
Johnny lowered his head. “It ain’t the best,” he drawled softly.
“I’m glad to hear it. It means you are on the road to recovery. So…” she lifted a napkin on the tray revealing a bowl of chicken soup with a small slice of chicken meat. “We’ll see how you handle this…maybe you can have that steak soon.”
Johnny looked past nurse Walters when he heard a commotion out in the living room and the door slowly opened.
“Well, hello brother.” Scott stood in the doorway, hoping his dismay didn’t show on his face. Murdoch and Teresa had described the surgeries and complications that had beset his brother. They also told him of the near riot conditions at the hospital, a fact he had seen for himself. What they hadn’t prepared him for was the enormous cast encircling his chest or the cast on his hand. “Leave it to you to find the most spectacular site in all of San Francisco.”
Johnny grinned and the nurse handed Scott the tray of food. “I’m sure you and Mr. Lancer have a lot of catching up to do.” In a quieter voice she whispered, “Give him only a taste or two of the chicken, he isn’t ready for it, but he needed something…”
Scott nodded, knowing what the nurse was implying. Johnny hated being doted on, and he especially didn’t like soup.
Scott nodded as he took the tray.
“Murdoch tells me you had a rough time at the hospital,” Scott said as he sat on the edge of the bed. Knowing Johnny like he did, he knew his brother didn’t want him to candy coat the situation. He wanted and deserved the truth.
Johnny’s eyes spoke volumes. “I never want to be this helpless again.” He raised his hand, the cast covering his entire hand…”I can’t do nothing for myself.”
Scott nodded. “I’m here now.”
The gratitude in Johnny’s eyes nearly brought Scott to tears.
“Look,” Scott said, composing himself, “I’ve been ordered by your nurse to see that you finish all this soup. Then if you have room…” He speared a small piece of chicken and showed it to Johnny … “you get this.”
“I’m afraid not. Soup then chicken. You see little brother, I have been in this house all of twenty minutes and already know who the boss is. And believe me, it isn’t our esteemed father.”
Johnny chuckled, “You got that right, Boston.”
Fifteen minutes later Scott had managed to get half the bowl of soup down Johnny before he drifted off to sleep.
The next four days seemed to pass without incident. Johnny was slowly regaining his strength. Scott spent most of his time with Johnny while Teresa and Molly shopped for Christmas presents and Christmas dinner.
On the fifth day there was a knock on the door and Murdoch opened it to find Sam shivering in the cold San Francisco fog.
“What in the name of God is going on here…?” Sam demanded.
“It’s a long story, but I think things are looking up.” Murdoch smiled. “Scott is in with Johnny right now. Sam…” Murdoch caught the old doctor’s arm as he headed for Johnny’s room. “I don’t know if I can trust this Dr. Dykstra. I don’t know, but I’ve got this gut feeling that he is hiding something.”
Sam patted Murdoch on the shoulder, “Let me examine the boy first, then we’ll talk.”
Scott looked up at the sound of the door opening and he sighed in relief as Sam entered the room.
“He’s been asleep most of the afternoon.” Scott reported, vacating his seat for Sam. “His fever was down earlier, but its climbing again.”
Sam nodded, “Typical of a fever. For some strange reason it always seems higher in he evening.”
“And he’s in a lot of pain. He never says it, but I can see it in his eyes.”
“Let’s have a look at him then.”
Johnny awoke to a new voice and smiled in relief when he saw Sam standing over him.
“Sam…” His voice still sounded weak.
“Leave it to Johnny Lancer to find a room with a view.” Sam smiled.
“Ya got ta get me out of this rig, Sam,” Johnny pleaded.
Sam tapped the hard plaster cast. “I’ve read about body casts, but never saw one.” Sam lifted Johnny’s right hand. “How did this happen?”
Johnny looked away toward the window.
“All right, we’ll talk about it later. I’m going to do a quick examination then you can go back to sleep.”
“I’ve had enough sleep to last me a lifetime.”
“Good. It’s the body’s way of healing.”
Johnny closed is eyes while Sam began his poking and prodding.
Teresa put the last ornament on the tree and stood back. It was a beautiful Christmas tree. The only thing it needed was the star on top which Murdoch put in place.
“Johnny is going to love this tree. I can’t believe tomorrow night is Christmas Eve already.”
“Dr. Dykstra said if we are very careful we can move his bed out here. It’ll be some time before he will have the strength to stand with the weight of that cast.”
“Johnny may surprise you.” Scott smiled.
Molly nodded, looking at the tree and the love shared by all in the small house, “Nothing would surprise me anymore.”
Sam emerged from Johnny’s room, a scowl on his face.
“How did he injure his hand?” he asked.
“He won’t tell us,” Molly answered.
“Well, maybe he’ll tell us later.”
“How is he Sam?” Murdoch asked, his worry apparent.
“He seems to be on the road to recovery. I’m surprised though, at how ill he has been. I really can’t say more until I have talked to his doctor.”
“How did you find us?” Teresa asked.
“A young nurse, Miss Owens told me. I can’t believe the scene at the hospital.”
“It was getting ugly.” Murdoch looked at the closed door, his son sleeping behind it. Peacefully, he hoped.
Teresa grabbed Sam’s arm and steered him toward the table next to the stove. “I bet you could do with cup of hot coffee. Scott and I are going out to shop for Christmas. It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas after all.”
Christmas Eve morning dawned, crisp and clear. The waves crashed with a fury that thundered beneath the small house.
Johnny awoke late in the morning, Molly standing over him, medicine bottles lined up on the bed stand and teaspoon in hand.
“Come on,” Johnny grimaced, “it’s almost Christmas. Can’t we just forget those for today?”
“I’m afraid not. But I’ll make you a deal. If you behave all day, then I’ll let you have a slice of that chocolate cake Teresa baked this morning.”
Johnny grinned. “That’s blackmail. The nuns at St. Mary’s would…”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Now, open up. This will be over in a few minutes.”
The rest of the day went by agonizingly slow for Johnny. He heard voices laughing and Teresa and Molly singing Christmas carols. Everyone came to visit him between naps, but it did little to help with the boredom.
Murdoch and Scott came in early in the afternoon to turn him over, a process that seemed to hurt just as much as it did a week ago.
He listened to the crashing waves below and yearned to be outside. Another day of this kind of confinement would drive him crazy.
Sometime after dark Johnny smelled a roast baking in the oven. He hoped tonight they would let him eat something more than broth.
The door opened and Johnny saw everyone crowd into the room.
Teresa carried a bright red scarf.
“We have a surprise for you brother,” Scott grinned. “But in order for it to be a surprise we’re going to blindfold you.”
Johnny looked skeptically from Scott to Murdoch who was smiling almost as wide as Scott.
“No blindfold,” Johnny said adamantly.
“Then no surprise, son,” Murdoch countered.
Johnny thought about it for a short second than nodded his head. He trusted his family.
Teresa wrapped the long scarf around his eyes twice then knotted it in place.
“Now,” Murdoch announced, “we are going to take you into the living room. I’m sure you’ve had enough of this room.”
Johnny nodded, “You have no idea.”
“I think we do,” Sam said. “You relax now. We re going to move you and the bed into the next room.”
“I can walk.” Johnny complained.
“It’s our way or nothing, Johnny.” Sam said sternly.
Johnny nodded. “If it gets me out of this room.”
He felt the bed suddenly raise up and he tried to grabbed the mattress for balance but his hand was useless inside the plaster cast.
“We have you, Johnny,” Molly assured him.
Johnny nodded, but still gritted his teeth as the bed swayed beneath him. There was a scary moment when it didn’t seem that the bed would fit though the door opening, but after a little maneuvering he was free of his room.
The bed was settled on the floor and Teresa slowly removed the blindfold. Everyone watched as Johnny blinked his eyes against the light and a look of awe was replaced by a smile so bright it brought tears to Molly’s eyes.
Johnny was not sure where to look first. A Christmas tree stood in the corner, presents piled high beneath it.
Christmas stockings hung from the hearth, his name written on the white cuff, sitting between Scott’s and Teresa’s.
A serving table behind the dinning table was crowded with cookies and pies, and the chocolate cake that Molly promised.
“It’s beautiful…” Johnny whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Johnny,” Murdoch said, his voice catching.
“Merry Christmas,” everyone echoed.
Johnny nodded. “Merry Christmas.” His eyes leaped back to the presents. “When can we open them pretty packages?”
“In the morning, Johnny.” Scott picked up a small brightly wrapped box and rattled it. “I wonder what’s in here? It says it’s to Johnny from Scott.”
“Scott…” Murdoch laughed, “it’s not nice to tease your brother.”
“That’s right.” Teresa scolded him.
Suddenly Johnny’s smile turned to frown. “I didn’t get anything for any of you,” he said.
“Our present is you getting healthy and back at Lancer.” Murdoch leaned down and brushed his hand through Johnny’s hair. “Just having you and Scott with me is the greatest present anyone could give me.”
“And,” Scott added, “if you still feel bad about it when we get back home you can always go shopping for my present then.”
Teresa slapped Scott’s arm.
“Let’s eat while the food is still hot.”
To Johnny’s surprise every one piled their plates high with food and returned to the bed, using the mattress as a table. Teresa brought Johnny’s plate, a small amount of everything from the table.
Dinner was celebrated slowly, amid great cheer. Everyone took turns feeding Johnny, a taste or two of everything on his plate.
With full bellies and happy hearts, the extended Lancer family enjoyed their Christmas evening. Johnny fell asleep, a contented smile on his face as the fire roared in the hearth, and a drop of chocolate icing clung to his bottom lip.
Murdoch looked at his youngest son, sleeping so peacefully, and couldn’t hold back a tear that ran down his cheek. All the years he missed watching his sons growing up, and almost losing him again…this was truly a blessed night.
Johnny relaxed the best he could against the mound of pillows, the weight of his cast sinking him deep into the mattress, further imprisoning him.
But it didn’t matter at the moment.
He stared in awe at the tree with all its unwrapped presents laying beneath.
Christmas had been more than he could ever have expected. Even the fact that he was unable to shop for presents for his family seemed unimportant when he saw the looks on their faces as they opened each package.
Johnny looked at the open gifts, lovingly placed back under the tree as a reminder of a morning filled with love and joy.
He studied each present; a pipe stand and humidor for Murdoch, a finely crafted bookcase with a collection of Dickens’ works for Scott. A new intricately woven throw blanket to warm Sam on colds nights as he drove his carriage to and from patients. Teresa had received a new-fangled thing called a Sewing Machine. Scott promised her, once she got the hang of it she could sew a dress in hours, instead of weeks.
Molly was reduced to tears when a present was placed in her lap. With trembling hands she opened it to find a miniature crèche, with tiny nativity figures.
Then it was time for Johnny’s presents to be opened. Each gift was laid on his lap, and he watched as each box was carefully opened. Teresa gave him a book tracing the history of the Palomino. Murdoch gave him a new compass, that he said would always lead him back home, back to Lancer. Doc opened a box revealing a new set of chess pieces, with a promise of at least one game when they got home. Even Molly had bought him a present, a tiny silver cross to carry in his pocket.
It was finally Scott’s turn and he opened a small gift containing a new pocket knife.
“Sorry brother, you’re going to have to wait until we get home to get your real present.”
Doc coughed discreetly once and handed Scott a large flat box. “Maria said you forgot this.”
Scott accepted the box, wrapped in Christmas paper with a red bow in the center, in stunned silence.
“Well, are you going to give it to your brother, or stand there with your mouth hanging open catching flies?” Sam chuckled.
Johnny remembered every moment, every word said that morning, as Scott presented him with his gift. “Merry Christmas, hermano,” Scott said softly and carefully tore the wrappings off to reveal a portrait of Barranca.
Johnny stared at the painting, feeling hot tears sting his eyes.
The artist had caught the magnificent horse standing proud, his head held high. He had also captured that special look in Barranca’s eyes, the one that Johnny saw each time he laid eyes on his friend…the trust between man and animal.
Johnny was speechless. He looked up at Scott `How’…was the question in his eyes.
“Remember that banker that was hanging around the ranch talking with Murdoch? He wasn’t a banker, he was an artist. He wanted to watch you and Barranca together. I think he captured the real Barranca.”
The only thing Johnny could say was a whispered, “Gracias.”
That was four days ago. Now it was Johnny’s turn to repay the gifts, the only way he could.
He had Molly send for Miss Owens and together they planned a special night out for the Lancer family, including Sam and Molly.
A carriage was hired and dinner reservations were made at the Palace hotel the night before New Years Eve.
Johnny wanted to spend the last night of the year with the family that had brought him comfort and happiness like no other time in his life.
Teresa and Molly had shopped for dresses all morning for the special occasion. Molly had never worn anything more than the simplest of dresses, or nursing gowns. Never had she owned a dress like the one Teresa talked her into buying.
With her eyes sparkling with delight, and her cheeks red with embarrassment, she modeled her dress for Johnny.
It was emerald green, to enhance her dark red hair and a wisp of light freckles across the bridge of her nose. The neckline encircled her throat in soft silk ruffles. She brushed the full floor length skirt nervously.
“You look beautiful.” Johnny smiled, his eyes tender as he took in her beauty. She would not be considered a pretty woman, but there was a sweetness in her childlike bashfulness.
“Teresa insisted that this was the dress for me. But I’m not sure…”
“It’s the perfect dress. Come here…” He gestured for her to sit on the bed next to him. “Teresa was right…you look beautiful. Any man would be proud to escort you to dinner at the finest restaurant.”
Her blush deepened.
“I want this to be a Christmas you will never forget. I want you to be as happy as I am. We are so much alike,” he said softly. “We never knew the love of a real family.” He longed to brush the stray hair from her cheek, but his hands were useless inside the thick casts. “We missed the small things…the things that mean so much at the end of the day…that make memories special.
“I’ve been more lucky than any man deserves to be. I got a family who loves me in spite of who I was, what I done.”
“I want you to have a night that will make one of those special memories. And I want to hear all about it.”
Molly smiled, instinctively brushing her hand across his forehead to feel for fever. Smoothing his blankets she promised, “I will have the best time of my life, and I will tell you about every second of it. Johnny…”
“Just enjoy it. It’s been the hardest lesson for me to learn. To accept the love of a family and know they don’t want anything in return but your happiness.”
She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“You are wise beyond your years, Johnny Lancer.”
Johnny smiled. “I know. Now go get yourself ready. Nurse Owens tells me that restaurant is about the fanciest place this side of Boston.”
Johnny watched her rush from the room and closed his eyes. Sleep came easy to him in this safe little house surrounded by friends and family.
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