#3 in the Holidays Series, which is best read in order
Word count: 24,400
Johnny patiently listened to all the last minute instructions from everyone from Sam to Teresa. If he could have, he would have pushed them out the door and sent them on their way.
“Johnny, I wish you were coming with us,” Teresa said, vacillating from happiness at the thought of the dinner that awaited them, to the worry of leaving Johnny home with only Nurse Owens to watch over him.
“I’ll sleep the whole time you’re gone,” he promised. “And when you get back you can tell me all about it.”
Teresa leaned down for a final kiss. “Thank you, Johnny. This is the best Christmas present…”
“It won’t be much of a present if you don’t get going. Now, get out of here…all of you.”
Scott stood in the doorway for a long moment. “Behave yourself, brother.” He grinned.
“Out!” Johnny shouted. Then closed his eyes, a smile still on his lips.
Johnny felt something sharp bite the bottom of his foot and he tried to yank it back.
“Relax Mr. Lancer. I was just checking your reflexes.”
Johnny opened his eyes to see Dr. Dykstra pulling the covers back over his feet. He didn’t, however, see the syringe the doctor secreted back in his pocket.
“You are doing very well,” Dykstra said. “You are still running a slight fever, but that should pass soon. It appears being here with your family was the best medicine.”
“I could a told you that. This house is nice too.” Johnny looked out the window at the black night and listened to the sound of crashing waves. For some odd reason he felt a moment of fear from the raging waters below.
“It is. In fact if all goes well in the next couple of days my wife and I will call this house our home very soon.”
“You buying it?”
“Yes. It belongs to a friend. He’s offered to sell it for a few years but I never had the funds.”
“Coming into money?”
A furtive smile touched Dykstra’s lips, “A business transaction is about to reach fruition.”
“Yes. It is. But we’ll discuss it at another time. You still need to rest. I’ll stop by again tomorrow to check your stitches. If you continue healing this well those stitches might come out sometime next week.”
“And the cast?” Johnny asked hopefully.
“I’m afraid they both stay on another ten to twelve weeks.”
“I was just hoping.” Johnny felt another twinge of fear…nothing he could put his finger on, but it unsettled him.
“It will be over before you know it.” Dykstra’s voice sounded strained. “I understand you arranged a very nice dinner for my nurse and your family.”
“I couldn’t exactly go out shopping for them.”
Dykstra raised an eyebrow. “You surprise me Mr. Lancer. You are not what I expected. Your reputation as Johnny Madrid paints a far darker picture.”
“Johnny Madrid is part of the past. I’m not proud of it, but I ain’t gonna apologize for it neither.”
“It’s too bad we didn’t meet under better circumstances. I would like to have gotten to know you.”
“Yea, maybe if…” Johnny suddenly felt disconnected. He stared up at Dykstra. The doctor seemed to be wavering, like a figure seen through the haze of heat in the desert.
“Mr. Lancer, are you all right?”
“Feel funny…” Johnny answered, his voice sounding odd to him. “Guess I’m tired, that’s all.”
“Rest is the second best medicine to family. I’ll check in on you again tomorrow.”
Johnny nodded, his eyelids sagging.
Dykstra studied him for a long moment. It was too late to change his mind now, in another twenty-four hours the young Lancer would be far beyond help.
The moment of second thoughts faded with the knowledge that this house was almost his. He earned it…he deserved it.
Scott finished the last sip of Port and surveyed his dinner companions. Teresa and Molly were giggling quietly to themselves. Dinner and a glass of wine lessening their inhibitions. Murdoch and Sam reminisced about the years, the changes in their lives, and most importantly, the arrival of the two sons who had changed both their lives.
The waiter approached with a covered serving tray. He placed it in the center of the table and lifted the lid.
One slice of chocolate cake sat on a crystal plate.
“Compliments of Mr. John Lancer,” the waiter announced. “Enjoy the rest of your evening. The bill has been satisfied. When you are ready to leave I will call for a carriage.”
Teresa watched the officious waiter walk away. “Johnny did all this?”
“It would appear that Johnny has again surprised all of us.” Scott chuckled.
“Your brother surprises me each and every day,” Murdoch mused. “This is by far the best Christmas gift I have ever received.”
Sam shook his head, a smile spreading across his lined face. “I have a feeling you have only tapped the surface of that young man.”
“I agree. And if I know my brother…” The sound of another voice stopped Scott in mid-sentence.
Murdoch looked at him, waiting for an explanation for the abrupt stop.
Scott listened, waiting for the voice that had gotten his attention.
“I will not,” the voice said, “pay these exorbitant prices for mediocre food. Perhaps the chef should attend culinary school and learn how to cook a decent meal.”
“Sir…” the waiter began.
“Return this to the kitchen. Tell the chef, when a customer requests a steak medium-well, it does not mean cooked until it resembles a piece of shoe leather.”
Scott stood up slowly, his smile fading. A look of disbelief that turned to anger crossed his face and he excused himself from the table, heading toward the voice that he now recognized.
“Harlan…” Scott stood over his grandfather, watching a confused smile spread across the old man’s face. Scott had never addressed him as anything but grandfather from the moment he could talk.
“Scotty, my boy. What a wonderful surprise.” Harlan stood up, ready to wrap his arms around his grandson, but Scott took a step back.
“This is no surprise, Harlan. You knew we were bringing Johnny to the hospital here. What are you up to this time?”
Harlan’s smile vanished, replaced with a look of distain. “It appears that your time out west has robbed you of any semblance of good manners.”
“You were told to go back to Boston.”
“No one tells me what to do or where to go,” Harlan snapped. “I have business to attend to here in San Francisco. It seemed rather foolish to go all the way to Boston and then return here in one month’s time.”
“Just stay away from me and my family, Harlan,” Scott warned. “You’ve done enough already.”
“Don’t call me Scotty, my name is Scott.” With that, Scott turned his back on the man who used to be his grandfather and returned to his table.
“Are you all right, son?” Murdoch asked as Scott sat down, his face ashen.
Scott looked at the slice of cake sitting in the center of the table. “He’s my grandfather, but I don’t trust him.”
“I agree. Let’s get back to the house. I don’t want Johnny left alone.”
Molly looked to Teresa for an explanation, but Teresa shook her head. “I’ll tell you later. With Harlan Garrett here, Johnny could be in a lot of trouble.”
Dr. Dykstra’s voice began to fade away.
Johnny struggled to maintain his fragile hold on consciousness, but he was slowly falling away, the mattress beneath him opening up, swallowing him in its silent blackness.
His last thought was that this was not right. Dykstra was a man he could not trust. He wished Scott was here…
Dykstra stepped aside and watched the four strong men lift Lancer out of bed onto a blanket spread out in the middle of the room. The body cast was cumbersome and heavy. One man lost his grip on Lancer’s left leg and it fell to the ground with a sickening thud. Another broken bone, Dykstra thought, if the boy were to live…but he would never feel another thing in this lifetime.
He felt another twinge of regret, another moment of guilt. But ten thousand dollars was too much to turn his back on.
Harlan Garrett would get his revenge, and Dr. Nathaniel Dykstra would have the house and the practice he always dreamed of.
He followed the men through the living room, where Nurse Owens still lay sprawled on the floor where she dropped, and out into the cold foggy air. He handed one of the men two envelopes, as per their arrangement. One held five hundred dollars for them to take Lancer to the Oakland city morgue, where they would give the coroner the second envelope of two hundred dollars to ensure Lancer met his maker.
If all went well, Lancer would remain unclaimed for five days. At the end of the week the coroner would contact the San Francisco Chief of Police telling him that he had a man fitting Madrid’s description.
It was simplicity in its purest form. Lancer’s family would never think to look for him in Oakland. He would have his ten thousand dollars…minus five hundred to the men hauling Lancer, and two hundred to the coroner…a small price to assure his anonymity. There would be nothing to trace him back to his doctor or his brother’s grandfather…
He watched the men load Lancer into the back of the wagon and drape a tarp over his body. They would reach Oakland sometime in the late afternoon.
As the wagon pulled away from the house he felt another pang of guilt. During his career he had fought to save lives…now he was taking one. He shrugged off the thought, thinking how happy Beatrice would be, living in this house, and returned to the living room, making sure there was no trace of his visit. He closed the door and kicked it back open, to simulate a break-in.
He left the cottage that would soon be his, and climbed into his carriage. He would return home to Beatrice who would never know he had been missing thanks to the sleeping powder in her after dinner port. As he looked back, the small house disappeared in a bank of fog.
Scott tipped the driver an extra ten dollars to pick up the speed back to the house. He had a nagging feeling that Johnny was in trouble. He could almost feel it…a hard lump in his throat that told him his brother needed him.
It was an instinct both brothers had developed soon after they met, after the first few months of circling each other, trying to figure out exactly where they belonged in each other’s lives. Camaraderie turned to trusted friendship, to the love a brother shares with a brother.
The carriage hadn’t even stopped before Scott jumped out, his heart skipping a beat at the sight of the front door hanging open on one hinge, the candlelight from inside splashing out into the swirling fog.
Teresa was right on his heels, with Murdoch and Sam following as fast as they could.
Scott stopped for only a moment at the sight of Nurse Owens sprawled on the floor, a thin stream of blood puddling beneath her head. He knew Teresa and Molly would look after her.
He barreled into Johnny’s room, not knowing what he would find.
An empty bed was the last thing he expected.
Stunned, he tried to take in everything at once…The pillows still piled high at the head of the bed, the deep impression from Johnny’s heavy cast still molded into the top three.
His heart beat so hard in his chest that it hurt.
The top sheet and comforter were folded back neatly, just as they were when they left. The only thing missing was one blanket.
Scott felt Murdoch come up behind him.
“Where’s Johnny?” his father demanded, as if Scott could give him an answer.
Scott rushed back into the living room, pushing past Murdoch.
He found Sam and Teresa leaning over Nurse Owens, whose head was cradled in Molly’s lap.
Teresa had collected all the lanterns she could find and stoked the fire, giving Sam the light he needed to examine the young woman.
“How is she?”
Sam looked up. “This cut will take a few stitches,” he said, pressing a cloth to the oozing wound about her temple. “She’ll probably have a slight concussion.”
“How long before she comes to?”
“There’s no way of telling, Scott.” Sam accepted his medical bag from Teresa. “It could be five minutes…it could be five hours, there’s just no telling when she…”
His voice trailed away as the young woman moaned.
Scott grabbed Molly’s arm, not intending to be rough, but his fear for Johnny was escalating by the moment.
Molly gently brushed the hair off Miss Owens’ face. “What happened?” she asked, her voice soft, but urgent. “Where’s Johnny?”
“I don’t know…” was the frightened cry.
Scott could see the fear and confusion in her eyes as the young nurse tried to make sense of what had happened, but he didn’t have time to coddle her. Johnny was gone. There was no way Johnny could simply get out of bed and walk away. Even if he were not hampered by the weight of the casts, he was also weakened by the surgery and subsequent fever.
Teresa handed Molly a glass of water and the young nurse accepted it gratefully, although Molly had to steady it in the girl’s hands.
“Now…” Molly urged once again, “tell us everything you remember.”
“I answered the door…I thought you…”
“It wasn’t us. Who was it?” Scott leaned down closer. “Who was at the door, Miss Owens?”
“Four men. One of them hit me and…”
“It’s ok.” Molly held her tightly against her breast again.
“No more questions,” Sam declared. “She needs rest. If she remembers anything I’ll let you know.”
Murdoch nodded, collecting her easily in his arms and carrying her to the bed Johnny had been in just a few hours ago.
“What are we going to do?” Molly asked, fear and anger rising.
“Nothing until morning.” Murdoch seethed. “We never should have left him alone here.”
“You couldn’t know this would happen,” Sam said.
“You saw that mob outside the hospital. Any one of them would have strung Johnny up on the spot.”
“This was not the work of a mob.” Scott looked around the room. “It’s too neat and clean in here. The four men Miss Owens saw were the only ones. My guess is that they were hired by someone.”
“But who?” Teresa asked.
Scott looked around the living room. Except for the busted door, there was no sign of struggle. “Johnny didn’t put up a fight, in here or his bedroom.”
The implication hung in the air, but no one would voice their fear.
Scott cleared his throat before continuing. “Most likely the same man who put that article in the paper about Johnny Madrid. Someone wants Johnny dead, and is doing everything they can to hide their involvement.”
Murdoch averted his eyes as he saw the same realization dawn on Scott’s face.
“No…” Scott said softly. “He’d do anything to get me back…but murder?”
“In his eyes it wouldn’t be murder. Some well placed money, and his hands are clean.”
Scott’s shoulder’s sagged. He had denounced his grandfather in public, forbid him from calling him Scotty ever again. If Harlan Garrett had already been on the edge of humiliation after the Thanksgiving dinner, then he could have pushed him over the brink.
“I’ll talk to Harlan at first light,” Scott said.
“No, son.” Murdoch wound his arm around Scott’s shoulder. “We’ll talk to him together. If he had any part in Johnny’s miseries here, he will pay.”
Murdoch raised a hand to ward off Scott’s objections. “I swear on your mother’s grave that I will not harm him…but I will see that he is punished severely by the law.”
“If he is accountable in any way, my mother would denounce him as well. It’s sad, if you think about it. He may have lost the only two people he ever loved…my mother and now me.”
“It was his own damn fault.”
Scott nodded and stepped outside, through the broken door into the cold salt laced air.
Murdoch looked toward the Christmas tree, the presents still displayed beneath it. “God…” he prayed silently, “don’t let this be our last Christmas together.”
“Damn, it’s cold enough to freeze the fires of hell,” Benny swore, patting his pea coat to keep the circulation going. Sitting next to the driver, the wind cut right through him.
“It’s this damn fog.” Billy urged the horses to move a little faster. “I’m thinking about moving down around San Diego, it never gets this cold down there.”
“What ya gonna do with your share of the money, Billy?”
Billy looked back at the two other men that had kidnapped Lancer. They sat at the back of the wagon bed, their feet draped over the mound beneath the blanket that was Lancer’s legs. It was easy money. Dykstra had the boy out cold before they got there. Only thing standing in their way was that cute little nurse. If he had had more time…
“Sit on the beach and drink the town dry.” Billy chuckled.
“Maybe we’ll join ya, Billy. I’m tired of this stinking fog too. How long ya think it’s gonna take us to get ta Oakland in weather like this?”
“Too long.” Benny pulled the two envelopes from his coat pocket. “Two hundred dollar’s a lot to give to that coroner just to put the body on a slab and tie a string around his toe.”
Billy pulled the horses to a stop. “You got an idea, Benny?”
“Yea. We keep the money, that’s fifty bucks apiece, and toss Lancer over the cliff. High tide’ll take him out ta sea in the mornin'”
“What if Dykstra finds out?” Hank asked.
“Be two days before the coroner from Oakland can get back ta Dykstra. By then we’ll be half way ta San Diego. Rich as a whore on Saturday night.”
That brought a round of laughter from the four men, and they still chuckled as they pulled Johnny from the back of the wagon, still wrapped in the blanket, and threw him over the cliff into the thick bank of fog.
December 31st dawned clear and cold. The fog had drifted inland, bathing the coast in sparkling sunshine.
San Francisco had its best weather in the months of December and January, when the fog rolled past the city and socked in the inland areas, leaving the shores and city bright beneath the cold sunshine.
Murdoch and Scott left the cottage at first light, walking down the steep hill in silence, hoping to find someone on their way to town who could offer them a ride.
They walked for an hour, their eyes drawn to the beauty of the waves crashing onto the beaches below, but it was lost on them. There was nothing but coldness and worry in their hearts. They both knew their chances of finding Johnny, alive or not, were bleak.
There was no trace of Johnny Lancer anywhere. His abduction had been swift and flawless.
Wrapped up in thought, they didn’t hear the buggy until it was right beside them. The elderly man, dressed in a suit and bowler hat, offered them a ride, commenting that most men were smart enough to arrange transportation ahead of time when they lived outside the city limits. But he forgave them their ignorance when they told him of Johnny’s abduction.
“Well,” the old man said, “it’s useless to talk to the Chief of Police. To him your boy would be just another drifter. He’s trying to climb the political ladder, he helps only those who can help him…if you know what I mean.”
Both Scott and Murdoch nodded. They knew exactly what he meant.
“Can I drop you off somewhere special?”
“The Palace Hotel, if it’s not too much trouble,” Scott said.
“Trouble? No…I’ve got my practice a few blocks away. No trouble at all. But the Palace is a pretty expensive hotel, you might want…”
“Sir…” Scott interrupted him, his voice strained, “if we wished to stay at the Palace we would have no problem whatsoever.”
“I’m sorry young man, I didn’t mean to imply…”
“Forgive my son.” Murdoch gave Scott a warning look. “Our nerves are stretched to the breaking point. It’s been a long ordeal with Johnny being sick and then traveling all this way to have surgery, only to be kidnapped out of his sick bed. We…”
“Johnny…that wouldn’t be Johnny Madrid, would it?” the old man asked.
Both Murdoch and Scott stiffened, expecting a tirade of hate to spew forth from the old man. “It would be,” Murdoch said tersely. “If you would like us to get…”
“I read the article,” their driver said, “the best railroad job I’ve seen in years. Whoever wrote that article knew what he was doing.”
“The article was all lies.” Scott seethed.
The old man pulled to a stop. “If I may be so bold. I suspect the article was accurate. But I have lived long enough to know that simple facts mean nothing if they are not mixed with an equal measure of reason. I knew a man, much like your brother, Mr. Lancer. He traveled a path that was destined to end in tragedy. If not for the kindness of a stranger, he would have been dead before he was thirty.”
“You?” Scott asked. The echo of his own words to Johnny reminding how far they had come. They had almost lost him then, to hastily spoken words and stubborn pride. Now again they faced losing him. To words too hastily written, and forgotten.
“No. My brother. He died two years ago, a grandfather to three wonderful grandchildren. He never hid his past, never apologized for it, just moved forward. I saw my brother in that article in the Chronicle, I saw Ralph.”
The old man dug in his pocket and drew out a business card. “Here is my office and my address, I would feel honored if I could be of help. “Murdoch extended his hand. “Thank you, Sir.”
“No thanks needed.” The old man slapped the reins and the horses began their careful trek down the steep road. “I will have a coach waiting for you when you are through with your business in the Palace Hotel. If you are to find your Johnny, you will need a way to get around town.”
“I’m not sure how we can repay you,” Murdoch said.
“Repay me by finding your son and bringing him home safely. A stranger saved my brother, I am only trying to return the favor.”
The old man dropped Murdoch and Scott in front of the Palace Hotel. There was silence as they exited the carriage. There were no words left to be said.
Scott approached the hotel’s front desk, all smiles, while Murdoch lingered behind.
“I’d like the room number for Harlan Garrett,” Scott announced in an officious tone of voice.
“I’m sorry sir, we do not give room numbers out.” The clerk behind the desk was a seasoned employee of high caliber hotels, hand picked for the newest hotel in San Francisco.
“I know, I know.” Scott grinned. “But this is a surprise. Harlan Garrett is my grandfather, and I haven’t seen him in months. I wanted to surprise him.”
“I’m sorry, Sir…”
Scott dug into his pants pocket and drew out a slim leather wallet. He pulled a small picture, cracked and yellowed with sweat and age.
“Do you recognize the old man?” Scott asked, struggling to keep his voice light.
The desk clerk nodded. “That’s Mr. Garrett.”
“And that,” Scott declared triumphantly, “is me, three years ago before I came out here. He thinks he has to wait until he gets to Stockton to see me. I wanted to surprise him.”
The desk clerk looked from the picture to Scott, at last letting a smile touch the corners of his mouth.
“I’m sure Mr. Garrett will be delighted to see you sir. Room number 309.”
“Thank you.” Scott replaced the wallet and discreetly laid a five dollar bill on the desk. He surreptitiously nodded to Murdoch and headed toward the elevator leading to the third floor.
Johnny’s first sensation was of something hard and scratchy crawling across his face. Instinct told him to swat it away, but when he tried to lift his right hand a staggering pain swept up his arm, moving across his chest, and reawaking the pain in his left shoulder.
He lay very still, just breathing in and out, afraid to move for fear of bringing on any more pain.
He felt the warm sun on his face and a light breeze tugging at his hair. The air held the smell of salt spray.
He decided the best thing to do at the moment was try to determine where he was and what it might be that was now inching down his right ear.
Concentrating on one thing at a time, because his brain would function no other way at the moment, he forced his heavy eyelids open, only to have to slam them shut against the glaring sunlight.
So he was outside. That was odd. The last thing he remembered…What…what did he remember…?
Dr. Dykstra. He hadn’t paid a visit for days. He remembered he thought it strange that the doctor would pick an evening when no one else was around…then nothing…
The sound of birds overhead intrigued him, and he forced his eyes open again.
He looked up at a cloudless blue sky. Seagulls circled above, some swooping down to take a closer look.
The sound of the waves crashed nearby, close enough that he could feel the salt spray drift over him.
He raised his head carefully, gritting his teeth against the pain it ignited over almost every inch of his body.
“Madre de Dios….” he uttered in absolute disbelief…Then fear settled in, threatening to take his breath away.
He saw ten foot waves crashing into huge rocks thirty feet away, their energy exploding into cascades of white foam that surged up the beach, weakening as they soaked into the sand only inches from his feet.
Then he looked down at himself and fear turned to panic.
He lay sprawled on the beach, his right leg wrapped in the remains of a wet shredded blanket that twisted around his hips. His left foot lay at an odd angle, his exposed leg covered with cuts and bruises. The sight made his stomach lurch.
He closed his eyes, letting his head fall back onto a pillow of foul smelling seaweed. He knew there was more. But he didn’t have the strength to take inventory.
The creature with its sharp little claws turned at his ear and began climbing back toward his face, but he didn’t care.
He let himself drift back into unconsciousness, where he was safe from fear and pain for a little while longer.
Scott took a deep breath, trying to calm his anger, as he rapped on Harlan Garrett’s hotel room door. He refused to even think of him as his grandfather. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that Harlan was behind Johnny’s disappearance.
The door opened and Harlan’s face broke into a huge smile.
“Scott…I’m so glad you came. I…” His smile faded when he saw Murdoch standing behind Scott.
“Scotty…what is the meaning of this…”
“I told you not to call me Scotty.” Scott hissed.
“Scott…I don’t understand…”
“Johnny is missing.”
“Missing?” Harlan walked to the sofa, his back to Scott and Murdoch. He chided himself not to allow the smile that glowed within him to show on his face. “Why come here?” he asked innocently.
“For answers.” Scott made his way across the room to stand over Harlan. “I know you, old man,” He said bitterly. “I know what you are capable of when you want something that you can’t have.”
“Scott, for heaven’s sake, come to your senses. How could I have anything to do with your brother’s disappearance? I may not like the boy…”
“You hate him, and I know you want him out of my life.”
“Of course I do. That half breed has poisoned your mind.”
Murdoch took a menacing step closer. Scott raised his hand, cautioning Murdoch to keep back.
“But I didn’t kidnap him. The idea is preposterous. I know in time you will come to your senses. You are an intelligent man, Scott. Too intelligent to live your life chasing cows and eating dirt. You will return to Boston one day and take your rightful place beside me in the business, where you belong.”
“It will be a cold day in Hell the day I return to Boston,” Scott growled.
“Where is he Harlan?” Murdoch demanded. “Where is Johnny?”
“As I told my grandson…I don’t know where your son is.” Harlan stood up slowly. “If you are a smart man, Murdoch, you will leave San Francisco. You will cut your losses and return to your ranch. You still have my grandson to keep you company, for awhile.”
“You son of a …” Murdoch’s face turned murderous. Scott pushed his shoulder against his father’s chest, keeping him from lunging at Garrett.
“It won’t help,” Scott yelled. “He will just press charges for battery and have you thrown in jail. Let’s get out of here. I smell something rotten in here.”
Scott pushed his father toward the door. “We aren’t finished, grand -Harlan,” Scott promised, “we won’t be finished until we find Johnny.”
Johnny knew pain. It had been with him in one form or another nearly every step of his life. Attacking both mind and body. But he never let it win. He turned the tables on the hurt, made it work for him. He turned the pain into anger, smiled when it mocked him, laughed when it taunted him. Used it to stay strong.
Until now. This time, pain was winning. It was superior. He would have tipped his hat to the victor, if he could have moved. But he didn’t have the strength. The simple act of breathing in and out was almost too much
He had been hovering on the opposite side of consciousness, listening to the sound of the pounding waves and feeling the salt spray rain over him, leaving him shivering in the sunlight that held no warmth.
He had awoken for short spells. Each time he tried to assess his situation, until it became just too demoralizing.
The cast that once encased his chest and arm was a sodden mess of wet plaster and shredded cloth, torn apart down the center. The cast on his right hand was in equal ruin.
He knew now, that he had fallen, or been thrown over the cliff above. Jagged cliffs that stretched for miles in either direction. He could trace his path down the steep hill, strips of plaster cloth marking his trail.
And he noticed, to his amazement, that he had traveled down a narrow path thick with ice plant and Juniper bushes. A few feet in either direction would have crushed his bones on the barren rocks.
But, he wondered bitterly if it would have been a more merciful ending than the one he knew lay before him now. He was completely helpless…even to swat the small black crabs that slowly crawled over him like the rocks and pieces of driftwood strewn over the beach.
He didn’t know how long he had been there. At times the waves seemed to lessen, to break gently against the huge rocks that peppered the shore, only to regain strength and pound themselves into huge geysers of white water. The soaked blanket and sodden remains of his cast told him that the waves had already rolled over him. Maybe this time they would drown him.
And there was a dog barking somewhere close. He heard the odd bark, traveling slowly up and down the beach. He wondered idly if the dog had a master.
But the thought was lost when a pain surged over him, so wicked that he heard his own scream of pain, and he hurtled back into the depths of deep unconsciousness.
Scott and Murdoch found the coach awaiting them just as promised. They gave the driver instructions to return them to the cottage. Perhaps Nurse Owens had remembered something.
The house felt small and cold, and the waves roaring beneath them added to their feeling of helplessness.
Scott paced the floor, unable to relax. He couldn’t get past the feeling that Harlan was somehow involved with Johnny’s disappearance. Leaving the hotel without an answer gnawed at him.
Murdoch sat on the couch staring at the opened presents beneath the tree. He saw the compass he gave Johnny and wished his son had had it with him when he was taken. The thought of losing Johnny, so soon after finding him again was almost too much to bear.
Scott and Murdoch looked up when Nurse Owens walked into the room, steadied by Teresa and Molly. She looked pale and frightened. A small bandage covered the stitches on her temple and a black eye was already forming.
Scott carefully guided her to a chair by the fire.
“Thank you,” she said thinly.
“How do you feel?” Murdoch asked gently.
Tears welled in her already red-rimmed eyes. She had been crying steadily since she regained consciousness. “I’m sorry…” she whispered, head bowed. “I’m so sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for, my dear,” Murdoch insisted. “We are to blame,” he admitted bitterly. “We should never have left Johnny unprotected. We let our guard down.”
Silence filled the small room for a long moment, each person feeling responsible in their own way.
“Did you sedate Johnny after we left?” Scott asked suddenly. He looked back at the open door leading into Johnny’s room. “I can’t believe Johnny didn’t put up some kind of struggle.”
“No.” Nurse Owens shook her head. “He was very happy when you left. Made me promise to wake him as soon as you got home. He fell asleep right away.”
“It doesn’t make sense.” Scott stood in the doorway. “I know Johnny. He would have fought tooth and nail. The only explanation was that he was knocked out.”
Murdoch’s expression turned deadly. He looked past Scott at the empty bed. The thought of his son being attacked while he lay helpless in bed…
There was no sign of a struggle. The pillows were in place, the sheet and comforter were folded just as they were when they left for dinner. “He was drugged,” Murdoch said, realizing where Scott was headed. He looked from Scott to Sam.
“It couldn’t be by mouth,” Sam said. “He would have struggled. It must have been by injection.”
“But who would know how…” Scott looked out into the living room at Nurse Owens as she rocked herself on the couch, her arms folded around her stomach.
Nurse Owens eyes widened. “No…” she cried. “I wouldn’t…I couldn’t. Mr. Lancer…he was kind and…I couldn’t hurt him…I…”
Molly wrapped the trembling girl into her arms. “Hush child, we know.” She soothed. “We know you couldn’t hurt Johnny. But someone did. You have to try to remember. Even the smallest thing could help. Now tell us, exactly what happened?”
“I made sure Mr. Lancer was comfortable. He was so happy that everyone…he said he never gave anyone a present like that and that it felt good.”
Scott and Murdoch sat on the sofa facing the girl.
“I made some tea and sat down to read. I heard the knock and opened the door…”
“It wasn’t kicked in?” Scott asked, looking back at the patch work they did on the broken door.
“No. I opened it.”
“Do you remember what they looked like?”
“No…it all happened so fast…”
Murdoch leaned forward… “Can you remember anything?”
Nurse Owens shook her head.
“Close your eyes,” Scott ordered.
Nurse Owens complied. A tear escaped her closed eyelid.
“Now think. You opened the door. Was there one man…two?”
Nurse Owens whispered… “More than two….”
“Did you have to look up?” Scott asked, his voice soft and calm.
“Yes. He was tall…as tall as you.”
“Was it cold?”
Nurse Owens nodded. “And foggy…”
“He…they wore coats then.”
Nurse Owens nodded. “He wore a blue pea coat.”
“Like a sailor?”
“A dock worker…”
Molly grabbed her arm…”What child?”
“Benny…” She turned to Molly in disbelief, “it was Benny…”
“Who?” Scott looked over at Murdoch, his father’s eyes glued to the young woman.
“Benny Boggs?” Molly gasped. “Are you sure?”
Nurse Owens nodded. “It was Benny.”
“Who’s Benny?” Murdoch demanded.
Molly collapsed against the back of the couch. “Benny does odd jobs around the hospital.”
“Dykstra?” Scott asked.
Molly nodded. “He does errands for Dr. Dykstra. Oh Lord…he is a mean man…if he took Johnny…”
Scott saw the fear in Molly’s eyes and looked away, hiding the rage he felt growing within him. If Dykstra had a hand in this, the man would pay. The man would pay dearly.
“Shut up!” Johnny yelled, although his voice was a mere whisper. It seemed to have the desired effect. The dog stopped its monotonous bark.
He had listened to it for so long…moving up and down the beach…at one point he felt a cold wet nose nudge his cheek. Now all he had to listen to was the pounding surf and the cries of the sea gulls flying overhead.
He suddenly felt overwhelmingly lost.
The pain that had raked his entire body earlier was slowly falling away, replaced by a numbness that was more frightening.
He was dying…alone…on a deserted patch of beach. The thought didn’t scare him, it just saddened him. No one should die alone.
Occasionally, when the roaring waves retreated, regrouping for another attack against the rocks, he could hear the clop of horse’s hooves making their way along the road skirting the cliff above. Or hear the jingle of tackle, and a wayward voice, filtering down on a gust of wind…If only they knew he was down here.
But no one did. Only the dog.
He wished the dog would start barking again. He realized, too late, that the barking had kept him grounded. Without knowing it, he had latched onto it like a lifeline. He smiled faintly, even a dog watching his passing was better than being completely alone.
Alone…He had been alone most of his life. He had faced death more times than most, and accepted it, not as an enemy, but as an inevitability. Not that he didn’t fight like hell to stay on the living side. But in the end there was nothing gained, nothing lost. That was Johnny Madrid. That was who he was, walking through life, caring for no one, no one caring for him.
Then a Pinkerton agent, forestalling his death once again, delivered a summons from his long lost father, the man he hated with every breath he took from the moment his mama died, with the promise of a thousand dollars for an hour of his time, and the chance to face the man who had thrown them both into a living hell.
But things had not worked out as planned. Before he knew it, he was part of a family, loved and wanted by a brother, accepted, and yes, even loved, at times, by a father. A surrogate sister, and a ranch filled with friends, completed a life that he had never known existed.
Now he was alone again.
The dog barked and Johnny smiled.
“You’re back,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He turned his head toward the sound and slowly pried his eyes open.
Johnny stared into two huge soft black eyes. Tiny black ears twitched as the animal stared back. Its snout was rounded and sported a shiny black nose with long black whiskers.
“You’re about the poorest excuse for a dog I ever saw,” Johnny whispered.
The animal tilted his head, studying Johnny.
It lay on its belly, two black flippers slapping the sand gently.
“I saw one of you once, down San Diego way…friend of mine called ya a sea dog, cause of that bark.”
The `sea dog’ lowered his head, stretching his long neck as if he wanted to come closer, but was too afraid.
“You here all alone? Me too. Can’t say how I got here…name’s Johnny, Johnny Lancer. Some people still call me Madrid, but that’s another story for another day.”
Johnny looked up at the sky. The sun had traveled a ways since the last time he looked at it. In a few hours it would sink below the horizon…leaving him to the cold black night.
He looked back at the animal. “Mind if I call ya Sea Dog? Seems fittin’. I sure hope that fur coat of yours is warm. That water is right cold. Funny, I was real cold a little while ago…now…”
Sea Dog barked twice and inched a little closer, his sorrowful eyes locked on his new friend.
“I won’t hurt ya. Wouldn’t if I could. But right now…I’m all done in. I think that trip down the cliff back there just about did the job.”
Sea Dog barked again, its nose twitching as he waddled a few inches closer, close enough for Johnny to smell fish on his breath.
“Whooee, that’s some breath you got there. Mine probably don’t smell much better. Tastes like I’m sucking on a mouth full of hay.”
Something touched Johnny’s foot. He lifted his head just enough to see the waves that had disappeared into the sand earlier were now reaching his feet, the white foam cresting over his exposed ankle and billowing up beneath the blanket.
Johnny looked back at Sea Dog and smiled. The animal had crawled a little closer, its curiosity overriding its fear.
“Not much ta look at, am I? But I don’t always look like this. Teresa says I clean up real good when I have a mind to.” The thought of Teresa stabbed at his heart. She was so excited to spend Christmas in San Francisco. He remembered how she and Molly preened and paraded past his bed, showing off their new dresses for the dinner he had arranged. At least he did one good thing before he left this world.
“Teresa’s a pretty little lady, you’d like her Sea Dog. But she’s got a temper. Oooowee…that young girl can get down right mean. So remember, if you ever happen to meet her, don’t say nothing bad about me or my brother. You’d like to meet my brother too. He was one of them city dandies when he first got to Lancer…but boy has he turned into a right fine cowboy. He’d like you too, Sea Dog.”
Another wave surged over his ankles, spreading across his hips.
“Never thought I’d be buried at sea. Murdoch…that’s my father, he once told us how he watched a man buried at sea when he was coming across the ocean from Inverness. He said it was a good way ta go. I hope he was right.”
Sea Dog barked and looked toward the oncoming waves.
“You look like you got places ta go.” Johnny mused, “Me, I think I’ll just stay here. It was nice knowing ya though.”
Johnny smiled as his eyes slid closed. He was tired. But it was good to talk to a friend. It took the loneliness away, he thought as he drifted back to sleep.
The carriage was waiting for them outside the house, as promised. Murdoch and Scott climbed in, followed by Sam and Molly. Teresa would stay with Nurse Owens. She wanted to help find Johnny too, but the young nurse needed someone with her and Molly was better trained to assist Sam.
The driver drove them down the steep hill, along the cliff. It was New Year’s Eve, a time for celebration, fireworks and partying. But there was no mirth in the hearts of the four people who looked out over the edge of the cliffs at the ocean below. The tide was coming in. If the night repeated itself, the fog would roll over the city at dusk, then blow inland leaving the coast crystal clear and cold.
Murdoch directed the driver to stop at St. Mary’s and wait. Molly went in alone to find Dykstra.
She returned a few minutes later, shaking her head. “He’s not here,” she reported. “He sent a message by courier this morning. He’s not feeling well. He expects to be ill for a couple days then return to work.”
“He’s going to feel a lot worse by the time I get done with him,” Scott promised, the vehemence in his voice startling Molly.
Murdoch laid a heavy hand on Scott’s knee by way of a warning.
“Do you know where he lives?” Murdoch asked.
Molly nodded and gave the driver directions.
Five minutes later the coach pulled up in front of a modest two- story house on Mason Street.
“How do you want to do this?” Scott asked, his hands clenched into white knuckled fists.
“Let me talk to him,” Sam said. “He’s more likely to feel safe around me.”
Murdoch nodded silently and watched Sam climb slowly from the coach, the worry and lack of sleep showing in his every move.
Sam rapped gently on the door and waited until a middle aged woman answered.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Dykstra,” Sam said, his voice soft, but urgent, “I must speak to your husband. It is about a patient of his.”
“I’m sorry sir, but my husband is not feeling well.”
“Again I apologize, but this is a matter of life and death. If you would please tell him.”
Mrs. Dykstra opened the door wider, revealing several cardboard boxes on the floor, filled with books and brick-a-brack.
“Are you moving?” Sam asked, surprised.
“Yes. Yes we are. Nathaniel found this lovely little cottage on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It is quaint, but beautiful.”
Sam nodded. “I know. I’ve seen the house. But I had no idea the doctor was planning on buying it.”
Mrs. Dykstra put her hand to her throat, her smile widening, “Neither did I. It was quite a surprise. So sudden. In a few weeks Nathaniel will put in for his resignation at the hospital. After all these years I will have my husband to myself again.”
“I can understand how difficult it must be to be a doctor’s wife. And I am sorry to disturb you this afternoon, but I must speak with your husband.”
“Very well, I’ll…”
“Who is it Beatrice?” Dykstra’s voice called out from somewhere inside the house.
“It is one of your colleagues, Nathaniel, he says it is urgent that he speak with you.”
“Tell him I am not feeling well. I will be back at the hospital in a day or two.”
“I’m sorry Dr. Dykstra, the matter can’t wait,” Sam said, as he pushed the door open, revealing Dykstra standing next to a couch piled high with clothes and bed linen.
Dykstra inhaled sharply and he took a dizzying step backward.
“Doctor, perhaps we should speak outside. I wouldn’t want to upset your wife with…” Sam smiled coldly, “shop talk.”
Dykstra looked from his wife, whose smile had faded and been replaced with a questioning stare, to Sam who stood immobile in the doorway. With a nod, the old white haired doctor kissed his wife on the cheek and joined Sam at the door.
“I shouldn’t be long, Beatrice. Continue packing.”
Sam threaded his arm around Dykstra’s elbow as soon as the door closed and guided the doctor toward the waiting coach.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Dykstra demanded, trying to pull away from Sam.
Dykstra paled when he saw the door to the carriage swing open and Murdoch leaning out.
“The Lancers have some questions for you doctor.” Sam nudged him forward. “And so do I.”
“This is outrageous! I will bring you all up on kidnapping charges and you…you will lose your medical license.”
Sam stopped, bringing Dykstra up short. “At the moment doctor…” Sam said, his voice filled with malice, “I am not a doctor, I am Johnny Lancer’s friend.”
Sam pushed Dykstra in the back and watched him stumble against the coach. Scott jumped out and shoved the startled man into the coach. Sam fell in behind Scott and the carriage slowly pulled away from the curb.
“What is the meaning of this?” Dykstra cried, finding himself sitting between Dr. Jenkins and Nurse Walters. “Molly…what…?”
“Tell them what they want to know, doctor,” she warned. “They know you’re involved. So do I.”
“Involved? Involved in what?” He stared across the coach at Scott and Murdoch, their faces frozen in rage.
“Involved in kidnapping my son,” Murdoch said coldly.
“That is ridiculous… Where did you get such an astounding idea…I….”
Scott slowly pulled his gun from a blanket folded on the seat between him and Murdoch.
“We don’t have time for your games, doctor,” Scott said, pulling the hammer back. “Where is Johnny?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Dykstra gasped. “This is all a terrible misunderstanding. Whatever has happened to your brother, I am…”
“Who paid you?” Scott leveled the gun at Dykstra’s stomach.
The doctor became paler.
Murdoch leaned forward, his large hand tapping Dykstra’s knee. “You know what happens to a man when he is gut shot. It’s almost always fatal…but not right away…not before he writhes in agony.”
Dykstra reared back, his shoulders pressed against the coach wall. “You can’t do this to me.”
“Where is Johnny?” Scott squeezed the trigger slowly.
Dykstra began to sweat, his eyes bulging with fear.
“Johnny…where is he? I won’t ask again.” Scott continued to squeeze the trigger.
“On his way to Oakland,” Dykstra cried.
“Oakland? Why…?” Murdoch looked toward Molly for answers.
“Why Oakland?” Molly demanded.
“Because I know a doctor at the morgue there who wouldn’t ask questions.” Dykstra cried. He let his head fall to his chest, whimpering like a child. “I’m sorry.”
“Morgue…?” Scott breathed. He felt the breath knocked out of him as if he had been rammed in the chest.
Silence fell over the five people in the coach, only the sound of the horses hooves clattering across cobblestones disturbed the silence.
Scott’s hand shook as he lowered the gun. He felt as if he had been sucked into a black hole. The only thing he heard was his own breathing, the only thing he felt was his heart thumping in his chest.
“Johnny…” he whispered, the gun falling from his hands, landing on the coach floor with a dull thud.
After a long time he heard Sam ask weakly, “How?”
Dykstra’s voice was monotone. “I hired four men to take him. I injected him with Chloral Hydrate so he wouldn’t put up a fight…”
“He was alive when he was taken from the house?” Sam’s voice suddenly sounded more animated.
“I couldn’t do it myself. Even for the ten thousand dollars. I made arrangements to keep him sedated at the morgue until he passed naturally. In his condition…a few days without food or water…”
Murdoch slowly lifted his head, his eyes fastening on Dykstra’s. “Are you telling me that my son may still be alive?”
Dykstra cringed beneath the stare. “Yes…yes…” he stuttered.
Suddenly Scott exploded out of his seat, grabbing Dykstra by the lapels of his jacket.
“You hired Boggs and three other men to take my brother to a morgue in Oakland?!”
Dykstra nodded, brushing his hands against Scott’s. “Please, don’t hurt me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Murdoch pulled Scott back into his seat. “We don’t have time for this.” He looked past Dykstra and yelled up at the driver. “Can you take us to Oakland?”
“Of course, sir…But…” The driver stopped the coach and lightly jumped down from the driver’s seat. He opened the door, staring at Dykstra. “Are you talking about Benny Boggs?” he asked.
“Mr. Lancer…Benny does odd jobs for a lot of the businesses around town. I’ve had the displeasure of meeting him on more than one occasion. And sir, if he took your son to Oakland and returned to the city then he must have wings, because I saw him and three other men heading toward Mission street while Dr. Jenkins was talking to the doctor here, at his house.”
“That’s impossible,” Dykstra whispered. “It would take them a day and a half to reach Oakland…”
Scott leaned down and retrieved his pistol, pointing it at Dykstra’s face. “You better pray that they got sloppy and Johnny is still alive somewhere.”
“Where would they be?” Murdoch demanded.
“It’s New Year’s Eve…” the driver said. “They would be with the rest of the folks celebrating down by the wharf.”
Sam turned to Dykstra. “You had better hope that we find them. Your life depends on it.”
The driver scrambled back up to his seat and slapped the reins hard, sending the two horses into a fast trot.
Johnny could never remember hearing a more mournful and lonely sound.
Somewhere…everywhere…he heard the two-tone call of a foghorn, calling out to the ships that danger awaited them if they sailed too close to the rocks.
Far away, a ship’s horn answered…
He forced his heavy eyelids open, ready to slam them shut against the glaring sun, but all he saw was diffused light swirling in thick fog.
It was easy to believe that he was the only person alive within a hundred miles…he had to laugh at that thought… no one could mistake this hell for living…
The foghorn called again…
He wondered if Scott and Murdoch heard the same foghorn. Would they know that he was waiting for them?
He felt the waves roll over him, cresting at his chest and receding, pulling the sand around him back toward the shore. Each time he felt himself slip, ever so slowly toward the waiting ocean.
He closed his eyes…it didn’t matter really.
Murdoch watched as more and more people surrounded their coach and slowed their progress, happy revelers heading for the wharf, unfazed by the thick damp fog that blanketed the city. Tonight they would celebrate the beginning of a new year.
It had already taken them two hours to travel three miles. The combination of thick fog and throngs of people milling around the streets forced the driver to keep the horses at a slow, halting walk.
“Damn it! We’ll never spot Boggs in this pea soup,” Scott cursed. He looked over at Dykstra, who was huddled in the corner of the coach, his pale face mirroring his fear and desperation, his eyes downcast. Guilt, as thick as the fog outside, surrounded him, pressed in on his chest, smothered him until he could barely breath.
Molly reached over and laid her hand on Scott’s knee. “We’ll find him,” she promised. But there was no promise in her voice. Only the burden of knowing that they left Johnny alone, more interested in their night on the town than his well being. She…they… would live a lifetime with that guilt.
Scott laid his hand atop hers but his eyes were trained on Dykstra. “You better hope she’s right, doctor. Or you’ll swing at the end of a rope. And I’ll personally be your executioner.”
The coach stopped abruptly, unseating Dykstra, Sam and Molly and sending them into a heap on Scott and Murdoch’s laps. Scott saw a crowd of people stagger across the street in front of their coach, laughing and shouting. One man was held high over their heads, stripped to his longjohns despite the cold fog, holding a bottle of champagne aloft.
Scott shoved Dykstra back into his seat. Molly settled herself back on the hard bench seat and wrapped her arms around herself, sliding closer to Sam. She saw the look on Scott’s face and a chill went down her spine that had nothing to do with the air temperature.
The coach went a few more feet and jerked to a stop again. Minutes seemed like hours before they heard the driver whistle at the horses and they began moving again slowly, too slowly.
It had already been three hours since they left Dykstra’s house on their elusive search for Benny.
“Ta hell with this!” the driver shouted and he jumped off the coach and swung the doors open. “We’ll never get anywhere like this. We’ll travel faster by foot.”
“But where?” Dykstra cried, trying to pull his arm free as Scott yanked him out of the coach. “You’ll never find one man in all this. Half of San Francisco is here.”
“There’s an old tavern by the docks. No one goes there but sailors, dock workers and whores. That’s where we’ll find Boggs and his men. Especially if they have money in their pockets.”
The driver looked past Scott and Murdoch to Molly as she lightly jumped down from the coach. “Ma’am…it’s no place for a lady, not where we’re going.”
Molly squared her shoulders and jutted her chin out. “I’ve been accused of a lot of things…being a lady has never been one of them. I’m a nurse, sir. I’ve dealt with all kinds. Now, let’s get moving. Lead the way.”
Sam and Murdoch each grabbed an arm and led a terrified Dr. Dykstra through the mass of swarming bodies, fighting to keep an eye on Scott’s blond head.
They walked for what seemed like hours. They found themselves caught up in teaming crowds of people, pushed and jostled in every direction but where they so desperately needed to go.
The fog that had enveloped the city had drifted inland, leaving the night crystal clear and cold. Someone yelled thirty minutes, and a collective cheer went up as hundreds of revelers surged toward the wharf, collecting the desperate searchers in their rush toward the water.
“Sea Dog…” Johnny mumbled.
He found himself in a world between worlds. He heard Sea Dog somewhere far away, barking, keeping him company. He felt the tide recede, the water cresting at his feet, then flowing back to the sea, leaving him shivering in the cold.
The ocean itself seemed to be resting for a bit. The waves lapped at the huge rocks, gently swirling around them. But soon, Johnny knew, they would regain their strength.
He pried his heavy eyelids open, crusted from the salt and the sand when an errant wave had washed over him. Only one. But he knew there would be more.
The fog had cleared, revealing a canopy of crystal clear black skies and millions of twinkling stars. Soon the crescent moon would rise, shinning its meager light down on him. It seemed fitting somehow. He had always depended on the moon to see him through the dark nights when he was alone on the trail, when he still didn’t know that a life awaited him at Lancer. Now that his life was at an end, so was the moon.
He wondered if Scott and Murdoch were looking at the moon now, just as he was … wondering … worrying.
They needn’t, really. He was past the pain. The cold was a problem, but he’d been cold plenty of times before. It was the loneliness that was the worst.
He turned his head slowly, searching the black beach for any sign of Sea Dog. He was there, somewhere, watching. He always had an affinity for animals. Maybe because he viewed himself as a lost pup. Too young to truly fend for himself when his mother died. Thrust out into a world where no child belonged.
But he found a way to cope…to stay alive…on the outside. But inside he had died each time he pulled the trigger. The little boy, once known as Johnny Lancer, who buried his mother in a shallow grave outside their tiny shack, died with her. And Johnny Madrid was born.
“Why…?” he called to no one, and to everyone. “Why did you guide me to my family, teach me to love and be happy again, give me a brother, a father, a sister…a life that was good and honest…why did you give me back Johnny Lancer… if you were going to rip it all away from me? Why? Is this my punishment? Is this what Johnny Madrid did to me?”
Johnny felt the hot sting of tears build in his eyes, and it angered him. He wanted to wipe them away, but his arms lay leaden at his side.
“I tried to tell them…to warn them in the beginning. But Scott, he wouldn’t listen. He fought me the whole way. I told him to back off…that Madrid was dangerous. But he just laughed. And he waited.
“I would have left with my thousand dollars as soon as I could have sat a saddle if not for Scott. Damn him. He was what made me stay, what made me fight for what was mine. Are you listening Sea Dog? And now…and now he’s out there looking…it’ll kill him Sea Dog…He doesn’t deserve this. It ain’t fair. It’s just ain’t fair.”
Johnny closed his eyes for a moment, he felt so tired, as if his strength was ebbing away with the tide. But he didn’t want to give into the nothingness that was poised to envelope him again. He wasn’t ready yet.
“Remember what I told ya about what Murdoch said about dying at sea?” he asked, looking back up at the stars, so cold, so far away. “It ain’t that way, ya know. It’s not a good way to die. You ever seen a body after it’s been in the water for a time? I bet you’ve seen your share…not pretty…huh?
“I don’t want Scott to see me like that. You think that ocean of yours is gonna hide me good and safe? Keep our secret? Promise me Sea Dog…promise me Scott won’t get hurt.”
Johnny smiled softly and sighed. “I’m tired. Think I’ll take a little rest.” He didn’t fight the nothingness as it moved. Slowly the stars disappeared as Johnny’s eyelids slid closed.
The small group of desperate people continued to fight their way through the teaming throng of people. With each step they took they were forced back, ever closer to the pier.
Someone grabbed Molly by the arm and swung her into his chest, waltzing to a tune only he could hear in his drunken stupor.
“The lady’s taken…” Scott shouted, pulling her back.
The smile disappeared from the drunk’s face and Scott pushed Molly behind him.
“You wouldn’t want me to spend New Years Eve without my lady, would you?” Scott asked, forcing a smile.
The drunk seemed to be thinking about it when he was jostled in the back by another woman and he spun around to grab her and they danced away into the crowd.
Molly didn’t say a word, but grabbed onto Scott’s arm.
The driver saw a break in the crowd and grabbed Dykstra by the lapel and pulled him behind him as he wound his way through the near hysterical mob. Murdoch took up the rear, making sure he had a hand touching Scott’s shoulder.
Scott knew it was taking too much time. It was nearing midnight. Wherever Johnny was, he needed them desperately. He couldn’t help but think that this was all his fault. If he hadn’t written those damn letters, if his grandfather had not betrayed him by showing them to Johnny…
Someone shouted “MIDNIGHT” and a deafening roar went up a moment before the sky exploded with fireworks.
Sea Dog was barking again, but Johnny was too tired to care. It was enough that his friend was there…keeping him company.
He started to drift off again but Sea Dog wasn’t about to leave him alone.
“I hope this is important…” Johnny snorted softly, “cause you’re disturbin’ my beauty sleep here.”
A new sound drifted overhead. The sound of explosions…Confused, Johnny pried his heavy eyelids open.
A small smile played at the corners of his mouth as the sky exploded in bursts of sparkling lights, falling down like rain over the water.
He watched fascinated, the fiery blossoms cascading down slowly, lighting the sky like a million candles.
“Happy New Year…” Johnny called softly to his friend.
The water still lapped gently at his feet, and in the distance he heard another seal bark.
“Hey Sea Dog, sounds like someone’s calling ya.” Johnny grinned. “Never leave a lady waitin…Now get along, and have a toast for me.”
The sky exploded in one last brilliant display of light, then flickered out…letting the black sky and twinkling stars reclaim the night.
“Happy New Year, brother…” Johnny called to the darkness, and slid back into the nothingness, where there was no fear, no pain and no loneliness.
Scott caught a glimpse of Murdoch’s face in the bright explosions of fireworks, and he was overwhelmed by the despair he saw on his father’s face. The same despair that threatened to tear him into a million pieces.
As the revelers screamed and sang, danced and kissed the New Year in, he could only hold tight to his father’s arm and hope that he could survive one more minute under the weight of not knowing. Not knowing if Johnny was alive or dead. Not knowing if he was lying somewhere in pain, waiting for them…
He felt Molly tug on his sleeve and they began to move again, the driver leading them through the maze of frenzied bodies.
It was another hour before the crowd thinned enough for them to move at more than a snail’s pace. Too often their grips were ripped apart and they spent precious minutes trying to regroup.
“The saloon’s another two miles.” The driver shouted over the din of firecrackers and gunfire. “Keep together,” he warned. “This is no night to be out here in this part of town.”
The group made slow progress. They tried to stay away from the small groups huddled around small campfires, the flames licking at their outstretched hands.
Trawlers and barges tied to the pier bobbed on the easy current, a handful of deckhands manning the boats while the rest of the crews joined the celebrations. A clipper ship was just pulling in, clouded in a haze of smoke from the strings of firecrackers tossed into the air.
But none of this registered on Scott, only the agony of knowing with each minute wasted in trying to reach the saloon safely, Johnny might be taking his last breath.
It was after three in the morning when the exhausted group stopped beneath a stand of cypress trees, the gnarled limbs heavy with dew.
“There.” The driver pointed to a rundown saloon on the edge of the wharf. “I’ll bet my life that you’ll find Boggs in there.”
“You’re betting Johnny’s life,” Scott said flatly.
“How do we do this?” Murdoch asked. “We don’t exactly fit in with the crowd.”
“I’ll bring him out. He knows me. If he thinks there’s some money in a job he won’t think twice.”
Murdoch nodded and watched the driver head for the saloon, lantern light spilling out onto the darkened pier, the sound of a piano playing off key and ribald laughter filling the night.
Ten anxious minutes passed. The sound of firecrackers and gunshots still peppered the air, but the laughter and songs were fading away from the other end of the pier as the respectable people of the town made their way home, leaving the streets to the drunks and derelicts that owned this part of the city after dark.
Scott spotted the driver emerging from the saloon, a tall, burly man wearing a pea coat walking unsteadily behind him.
He heard the last part of the conversation as Boggs warned, his drunken voice slurring, “You better not be wasting my time. I got money and the women to spend it on.”
“I assure you, Benny, you will be paid everything you’re worth.”
Scott saw Boggs slow down as he approached the trees, his instincts, even through the blur of whiskey, warning him that trouble lay ahead.
“Mr. Boggs…” Murdoch took a step forward, his voice commanding the drunk’s attention. “I understand you can make things happen, for a price.”
Boggs nodded. “Just about anything, if the price is right.”
“And you’re worth the money?”
Boggs smiled, his guard dropping. “Sure am.”
“Really…I’ve been told just the opposite. In fact, I know someone who is very displeased with your work.”
Slowly Murdoch stepped aside and Boggs’ mouth fell open as Dykstra stood between a tall blond man and Nurse Walters.
“Doctor….” Boggs breathed and shied back into the muzzle of a gun barrel.
“I wouldn’t try anything,” the driver warned, as he patted Boggs down. He removed a gun and two knives from his jacket and another knife from his boot and tossed them into the dark.
“There now, we can have a civil conversation. Let me introduce you to my friends here.”
Boggs tried to swallow, but his mouth ran dry.
“You know Dr. Dykstra and Nurse Walters already. This older gentleman is Dr. Sam Jenkins from Morro Coyo. You got an idea of where I’m headed, Benny?”
The driver let the silence fall over them, felt Boggs begin to shake.
“This here is Mr. Murdoch Lancer…” the driver shoved Boggs a step closer to the group, “and his son, Scott. You’ve already met his younger son…Johnny Lancer. You probably know him better as Johnny Madrid.”
Boggs’ eyes darted from Scott to Murdoch and he made a move to run when he felt the gun shoved deeper into his back and heard the hammer cocked.
Murdoch took a menacing step closer, his imposing frame daunting to a man even as big as Boggs. “Where is my son?” he demanded, his voice resonating the anger building inside him. “Where is Johnny?” Boggs rolled his shoulders back defiantly,
“You kill me you’ll never know where he is.”
“There are worse things than death, Boggs,” Scott said coldly. “A hell of a lot worse. If you think I’m bluffing, try me.”
“Tell them!” Dykstra cried, “For the love of God, tell them. If he’s still alive…”
“Not likely.” Boggs sneered.
Scott lunged toward him but Murdoch caught his arm, pulling him back.
“Unless you want me to let Scott loose, you’ll tell us where you have Johnny.”
“Well, we didn’t exactly put him anywhere. It was more like tossing the garbage out.” A shot rang out and all eyes stared down at Boggs’ boot. It was too dark to see the bullet hole, but they could all smell the burnt leather.
“The next one goes through flesh,” the driver warned.
Boggs looked around in panic, suddenly sober as a teetotaler. No one paid any attention to the single gunshot. It was New Year’s Eve. Guns would be going off all night, and if he cried for help, no one would hear him over the din of loud drunks in the saloon.
The driver cocked the gun again.
“All right…all right…” Boggs stammered, “But you’re not gonna like it. We…we threw him over the cliff. Oakland seemed a long way just to ease the doc’s guilt.”
Scott felt his world around him collapse. Only the strong arm of his father kept him steady.
“No!” Molly cried out in disbelief.
“Where!” Scott demanded, feeling the hot rush of anger pound in his head.
“I don’t know…”
Scott yanked his arm free and lunged at Boggs. They both fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Scott’s fists pounded into the big man’s stomach in a fit of rage and fear and every other emotion that had haunted him since they first found Johnny’s bed empty.
“That’s enough!” Murdoch shouted, grabbing Scott and flinging him aside. He turned to look back down at Boggs. “Where is he? If you don’t answer, I swear to God I’ll let Scott have you.”
Boggs looked past Murdoch at Scott as he slowly climbed back to his feet, Jenkins and the nurse trying to hold him back.
“About a mile down from the house,” Boggs answered, struggling to his feet. “Maybe a mile and a half, I’m not sure.”
The driver seemed satisfied for the moment. He kneed the big man in the stomach hard enough to send him back down to his knees, clutching at his belly. In one fluid motion he slipped his belt free of his pants and wrapped Boggs’ wrists tightly behind him.
“I’ll take care of this,” the driver said, pulling Boggs to his feet again. “You find the coach. You’ve got about two hours before sunup. There’s rope under the seat and blankets. I’ll tell Judge Grayson what’s happened.”
Scott froze, disbelief spreading across his face. “Phillip Grayson?”
The driver nodded.
Murdoch looked between both men for an explanation.
“Judge Phillip Grayson sits on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Scott answered. He should have known, would have known, if his mind had not been flooded with worry and guilt.
“You better get going, it’ll take you the better part of two hours to get up there. I’ll gather some men to help and be there as soon as I can.” The driver grabbed Boggs and dragged him away into the darkness, his voice calling back, “God speed.”
The group retraced their steps and found the coach waiting for them, the horses hitched to a street lamp.
The sky had already started to lighten, the first rays of sun only minutes away. Scott climbed up to the driver’s seat and slapped the reins hard, his anxiety eating a hole in his stomach.
He refused to succumb to the little voice echoing in his brain that Johnny could never have survived a fall over the cliff.
There was silence inside the coach. Molly hung her head, reaching for the rosary beads she always carried in her skirt pocket. Johnny Lancer had become far more than just a patient. He had become a true friend. They shared a common bond…they had fought and survived a childhood that would have destroyed most. But in doing so, they had built a wall up around themselves, hiding away from life, afraid of being hurt again. But Johnny had found a crack in that wall, and with the help of his new found family, tore it down. Her own wall had crumbled on Christmas morning. She owed Johnny Lancer her life…she prayed she would have a chance to thank him.
Murdoch stared across at Dykstra, his eyes cold as flint, his face chiseled in stone. This was the man who had orchestrated Johnny’s death. He would pay. The Lancers took care of their own. He would not go outside the law…that would be a disservice to Johnny’s memory, to all that his son had done to put Johnny Madrid behind him. But he would make sure that Dykstra spent the rest of his days thinking about what he did to Johnny and know that his only peace would be at the end of a rope.
Sam clutched his medical bag, praying that it would be needed, but knowing in his heart that it would remain untouched, here inside this coach. He thought back over the years that he knew Johnny, how the boy had changed. There was something in those sad blue eyes that touched his heart the moment they had opened after he took Pardee’s bullet out of his back. For an unguarded moment, he saw the fear and loneliness that was Johnny Madrid’s life. He held that thought through the first few months, when Johnny fought them all, confused and frightened by the prospect of a new life…at the thought that there were people who loved him, who wanted him for himself, not his gun. It had been slow and painful, but they had won in the end. Johnny Lancer found a home, family and friends and happiness. Sam shook his head. What a waste…what a terrible waste.
Scott slowed the horses to a walk two miles before the cottage, carefully moving along the cliff’s edge. Murdoch and Molly had jumped out, searching the beaches below.
The ocean was a slate gray at this early hour. The waves rolled onto shore in a slow dance, moving in and out, each new wave growing bolder as it began regrouping its strength for the war with the rocks keeping sentry on the beaches.
The air was clean and cold and damp from the salt mist that floated in the air.
Scott suddenly heard a scream and saw Molly fall to her knees, her arm outstretched, pointing to the beach below. He jumped down from the driver’s seat, following Molly’s horrified gaze.
He wasn’t sure what he did at that moment. He was oblivious to everything but what he saw below him.
A body lay motionless on the sand, arms and legs spread askew, the remnants of a white cast gently floating on each lackadaisical wave that slowly rolled over the body, stopping just beneath his shoulders. Soon the tide would cover the figure and eventually pull it out to sea.
“Johnny…” he breathed. “God no…Johnny…”
Scott couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. His own heartbeat pounded like a bass drum in his ears, drowning out all other sound… his eyes blinded to all but the obscene horror that lay fifty feet below him …for there was no mistaking the body sprawled in the wet sand like a rag doll carelessly tossed over the cliff. The jet-black hair, the mess of plaster threads that was once a body cast.
“Johnny…” The anguished whisper hissed through Scott’s parted lips…
He watched in stunned fascination as the waves rolled in, catching the tattered blanket wrapped around Johnny’s left leg, then billowing beneath the white cotton that loosely snaked around his hips.
He felt Molly reach up and grab his wrist, pulling herself up on shaking legs.
“We have to go down there,” she whispered, her voice emotionless. “There could be a chance….”
Scott shook his head. Grief clutched at his heart and he reached behind him, his hand searching for Murdoch. He needed his father’s strength. But when he looked back he saw a mirror image of his own despair, and he had to turn away.
A sea gull cried overhead, the wind carrying its plaintive song away from them, down to the rush of water spilling higher onto the beach. A seal barked somewhere in the rocks. Even now the exposed reefs were beginning to lose their battle with the rising tide. Soon only the tallest of the rocks would hold their heads above the onslaught of crashing waves.
This was a lonely and forlorn place. Its beauty and majesty forever tainted by the grim ending of a brother and a son loved so dearly.
Scott fought to hold back the tears that welled in his eyes. He would grieve later. Now he had a job to do. Johnny belonged back at Lancer. Friends and family needed to say their goodbyes. The seal barked again, a lonely call in the isolation of the moment.
Suddenly Scott gasped, believing even death would not be so cruel…would not toy with him in such a way…
“Oh, dear God…” Molly’s hand squeezed his wrist in surprise. She had seen it too. Johnny’s head had slowly lolled to the right. It was not just the imagination of an anguished brother. Johnny was alive.
Murdoch jumped into the coach, frantically yanking the seats up to retrieve the ropes coiled in the box next to a stack of blankets, praying what they had just seen was not a cruel trick. Praying that the ropes would be long enough. Praying that he would not lose his son. Praying God would not punish Johnny for his father’s sins.
Scott stepped back from the edge and closed his eyes, willing his heart to slow down, taking in long deep breaths of sea air. He forced back the fear and the guilt, locked them in a corner of his mind, knowing that he could not keep the emotions in check forever. But at this moment, he needed a clear head. Sentimentality would not save his brother.
He studied the path down to the sandy beach below. A straight drop for the first twenty feet then a more gradual decent, covered in thick ground cover of ice plant and juniper bushes.
He turned to see Murdoch slipping off his jacket.
“No,” he said tersely. “You’ll never make it down there with your back.”
“That’s my son down there,” Murdoch exploded, “nothing is going to keep me…”
“He’s right, Mr. Lancer.” Molly stepped forward, laying her hands on Murdoch’s huge chest, waiting for him to make eye contact with her. “You can’t help Johnny if you re-injure your back. Your son needs you. He needs you up here.”
She waited until she saw Murdoch’s anguished nod, then pulled her heavy coat off and began unbuttoning her black skirt and stepping out of it.
“What are you doing?” Murdoch looked dumbfounded as the light breeze rustled at her white petticoat.
“You can’t make it down there, and neither can Dr.Jenkins. I’m the only other person with any medical knowledge.” She turned to Dykstra who was huddled against the side of the coach, his arms folded in protection from the misery and hatred he saw in all their faces.
“Give me your pants, doctor,” she demanded.
“What?” Dykstra pushed away from the coach.
“I’ll never make it down there in this.” She grabbed a handful of her petticoat and waved it toward him. “Now hurry up. We don’t have time for your modesty.”
“But what will I wear?”
Scott reached out and grabbed Dykstra by the lapels and lifted him until his toes were barely touching the ground. “You put my brother down there, just as much as if you threw him over the cliff yourself. If you have to go walking through downtown San Francisco butt naked I don’t give a damn. Now get those pants off!”
Murdoch flung a blanket at the doctor. “Wrap this around yourself. Now!”
Five minutes later Molly was fashioning suspenders made from strips from her petticoat to help keep up the oversized pants.
“All right.” Scott quickly tied one end of a long rope around Molly’s waist and cinched it tight, tying another length of rope around his own waist. Molly tied Doc’s medical bag to the back of Scott’s belt and watched as Murdoch unhitched the team and tied off the other ends of the rope to each harness, separating the horses by a few feet. The horses moved around, skittish with their unfamiliar duty and the tension in the air.
Scott stood at the very edge of the cliff, leaning back over the rim to take up the slack in the rope. He watched Molly do the same then caught Murdoch’s expression. No words were said…no words were needed. He nodded and stepped off the edge.
He dangled freely by the end of the rope, the wall of the cliff beyond his feet. The cold sea air tugged at his hair, and bit into his exposed hands. As he slowly spun, he caught glimpses of Molly struggling to catch a foothold in the juniper bushes, but they were out of her reach.
And for one fleeting moment, he saw Johnny, and his blood turned to ice. The tide was coming in. Regrouping itself, as if it were preparing for the final assault in a fierce war.
Murdoch tried to keep his mind off the image of his youngest son lying lifeless on the beach below. But all the emotions crushed in on his chest and he could barely breathe. All the years wondering where his son was. All the nights praying that he was happy and provided for. That Maria, in her need to punish him, had not punished their son. Their innocent son. But the boy, who had stood in his great room, the boy who looked so much like Maria, was not innocent. His startling blue eyes had seen too much for someone so young. He wanted to turn and run from those eyes. He wanted the hurt and the fear, and most of all the hate to disappear. He wanted to go back to that terrible night and stop Maria from destroying all their lives.
But life had been a cruel teacher for young Johnny Madrid Lancer. What would life have been like if Maria had not filled his head with all the lies. If he had come home when Maria died. He could have sent for Scott then. He could have raised his boys as brothers on their own land…
He heard Sam’s horse whinny and he looked over to see the old doctor fighting the reins.
“Hold him Sam,” he warned.
“I’m trying,” Sam lashed back.
“Dykstra…” Murdoch shouted, “Tell us how far down they are.”
Dykstra moved slowly, his blanket tripping him as he edged closer to the rim. He dropped to his knees and squirmed on his belly until his head hung over the cliff.
“Another twenty feet,” he reported.
Scott and Molly’s feet slipped on the ice plant and more than once they found themselves dangling helplessly from the end of the rope before they regained their footing.
Scott saw the narrow path of ice plant and juniper bushes that covered the sharp rocks… the only place for hundreds of feet in either direction that could cushion Johnny’s fall.
Remnants of his cast hung from juniper branches, a testament to the harrowing fall he had taken. But Scott had no misconceptions of how badly his brother was hurt. It was a fifty- foot fall.
Scott’s feet touched ground first, his trembling hands fighting to unknot the rope around his waist. Molly lost her footing in the soft sand and scrambled wildly trying to regain her balance. Scott grabbed her around the waist, steadying her until she had solid footing.
There were no words spoken between them. Scott quickly undid the rope around her waist and she freed the medical bag from his belt.
In the short five minutes it took to lower them to the sandy beach, the waves had intensified two fold. It was as if the ocean knew they were there to reclaim Johnny, and would not relinquish its hold on him without a fight.
Scott turned in time to see a huge wave explode against the rocks, shaking the ground like an earthquake, sending white spray cascading thirty feet into the air. The wave continued to charge up the beach, rolling over Johnny, and he disappeared beneath the churning white foam.
Johnny felt the wave roll over his face and he welcomed it. This then, would finally be the end. It had toyed with him for so long. Rushing up, tugging at his broken body, chilling him to the marrow, but always leaving him behind.
He didn’t fight it, didn’t try to hold his breath. The salt water invaded every bit of him, filled his nose and mouth, slid down his throat, drowned out sound and sight…It slipped beneath his back, lifting him ever so slightly, and he floated toward the beckoning sea.
His only regret was the ones he left behind. They would never know what had happened. He worried that Scott’s heart would never mend. That he would search for a lifetime…He hoped his brother would remember the good times, the things that counted.
He felt the world outside collapsing around him. His chest ached, his lungs burned…the blackness surrounded him…
“No!” Scott screamed, and raced down the beach toward Johnny. He barreled into the oncoming wave as it surged past his thighs, sucking his boots into the soft sand, the cold water shocking his senses.
He dropped to his knees, spotting Johnny’s black hair swirling just beneath the surface. He reached beneath the water, and his hands came up tangled in a clump of slippery seaweed.
He saw Molly at his side, groping beneath the water, trying to find a handhold to pull Johnny to the surface, sputtering at the waves splashing in her face.
Another wave charged in on the heels of the first one, smashing into Scott’s face, pushing him off balance. He righted himself and plowed beneath the wave, spotting the dim form of his brother floating lifelessly in the churning wave. He grabbed Johnny’s hair and pulled his head above water. Molly sucked in a deep breath of air and dove beneath Johnny’s shoulders pushing him toward the surface until Scott could get his arms threaded beneath his armpits and drag him into his arms.
The wave surged back on its quest to return to the sea and gripped Johnny’s body, trying to pull him out of Scott’s arms. Scott and Molly held on tight. The tide was incredibly strong. Scott dug his heels in the sand and felt all three of them being pulled towards the shore. They would not lose him…not now.
The water receded to Johnny’s waist. Scott leaned over him. “He’s not breathing.” He panted in desperation, his ear next to Johnny’s nose and mouth.
Molly felt for a pulse in his neck. “No pulse,” she shouted over the din of the crashing waves. “Lift him higher.”
Scott hefted Johnny’s limp body higher on his chest. Molly scooted beneath him, the wet sand moving under her, making it hard for her to keep her balance. She threaded her fingers together to form a fist and struck Johnny in the back as hard as she could. She waited until Scott shook his head. Again she struck him with all her strength.
Scott saw Johnny’s chest heave and a gasp of air part his lips.
“He’s breathing,” he shouted.
Molly was beside him again, helping to turn Johnny to his side as his stomach erupted with seawater and bile.
She waited until Johnny was settled back against Scott’s shoulder and lifted his hand out of the water, counting the beats of his sluggish pulse.
She sank back down on her hunches, pushing her wet hair from her face.
“I can feel a pulse, but it’s too weak. We shouldn’t move him until…”
Scott nodded toward another incoming wave. “We don’t have that luxury.”
He slipped his arms beneath Johnny’s shoulders and hips just as the next wave crashed into them. He stumbled and fell forward, the wave surging over their heads. He clung to Johnny as they were scooped up like so much driftwood and carried up the beach.
Before he could catch his breath, the wave receded, pulling them back toward the shoreline again. He retched at the salt water filling his nose and mouth, burning his throat as he swallowed half the ocean. He felt Molly grab the back of his collar and hold on with all her strength, her feet digging into the wet sand around his hips.
He untangled himself from Johnny’s legs and gathered him in his arms, his knees shaking from the added weight of his own wet clothes.
His feet sank into the wet sand as he trudged up the beach. He noticed a dark line etched into the face of the cliff three feet above the sandy floor and his heart sank. This beach had seen these kinds of waves before. Soon it would disappear beneath the rising water.
Molly saw his look and turned to study the waves forming off shore, marching in, one after the other, toward the doomed beach. “There must be a storm out at sea. This beach will be underwater in another hour.”
She helped Scott lower Johnny to the ground then started unwinding the soaking blanket from his leg and thighs.
Scott gently brushed the wet sand off Johnny’s face. His face was as pale as the sand beneath the blistered sunburn, but his lips, cracked and bleeding, had a bluish tinge. He watched, lost for a moment in despair so overwhelming he couldn’t move.
“We need blankets,” Molly shouted. “Scott!” she reached over and nudged his shoulder, “We need blankets!”
Scott nodded and crawled back toward the sunshine to look back up at the top of the cliff.
Murdoch stood at the edge of the cliff and watched, paralyzed, as the wave washed up over Johnny and all hope was gone.
He watched Scott and Molly frantically pulling him from the water, fighting wave after wave. Then they disappeared beneath the overhang of the cliff. He could barely stand now, the magnitude of despair so heavy he couldn’t breath.
He felt Sam beside him, reaching high to wrap his arm around his shoulder for comfort. The old doctor knew as well as he did the chances of Johnny surviving all this.
He turned back to look at Dykstra, the old man cramming himself as tightly as he could against the coach and the wheel. The hatred he felt for Dykstra burned like a hot poker, stabbing him in the heart. Dykstra was a dead man…
“We need blankets!” Murdoch whipped around at the sound of Scott’s voice. Why would he need blankets…?
“Tell me, Scott!” he shouted down. “Tell me!”
“He’s alive. Barely. We need to get him warm.”
Sam was by his side again, throwing blankets over the cliff.
The sound of horse’s hooves and rattling wagons drowned out Scott’s next sentence and Murdoch turned to see a caravan of wagons heading up the hill toward them.
He recognized the driver sitting in the front wagon with the judge sitting next to him.
An explosion of men and equipment suddenly surrounded him.
“You found him,” Judge Grayson said. It was not a question. There was no mistaking the look on Murdoch’s face.
Murdoch nodded. “Scott and Molly are down there with him. He’s alive.”
Grayson patted him on the back. “Then we’ll keep him that way.”
Murdoch could only watch as a dozen men hauled out ropes and pulleys, frantically arranging them on the ground. Two men carried a large wooden stretcher with rails on each side.
Grayson noticed Murdoch’s confusion. “They are experts at rescuing people trapped on these beaches. It happens around here more often than you think. This…” he beckoned a man wearing black pants and a woolen sweater. “…is Dr. Mayfield…he’s performed these types of rescues before.”
The doctor nodded at Murdoch, then hurried away to observe the loading of the stretcher.
Scott didn’t take his eyes off Johnny as Molly spread a blanket on the sand and they gently lifted him onto the center of it.
Molly pulled the stethoscope from the bag and listened to Johnny’s chest. “His lungs are congested. It might be from the water or pneumonia, or both. We have to elevate his back. Sit him up.”
Scott hesitated. The last thing they should be doing is moving him anymore.
“Just do it!” she ordered, “or he’ll suffocate.”
Scott straddled Johnny’s hips again, carefully pulling him forward while Molly frantically built a mound of dirt behind Johnny’s back.
“Ease him back down carefully,” she said, grabbing the rest of the blankets and tucking them tightly around her patient. Satisfied for the moment she checked Johnny’s pulse again. “I don’t know how,” she sighed deeply, “but he’s still hanging on.”
“Johnny’s been fighting all his life. He’s not going to stop now.”
Molly said nothing. She fixed her eyes on the waves as each one moved closer, not able to look into the pain she saw in Scott’s eyes.
And suddenly the world around them erupted in frenzied chaos.
“Hello down there!” a voice shouted down from the top of the cliff. “Heads up!”
Molly jumped as coiled ropes landed in the sand only feet away from them. More ropes were unfurled and men wearing black pants and heavy woolen sweaters lowered themselves down, dropping to the ground the last three feet, surrounding them like an attacking army.
Scott stood up quickly, standing in front of Johnny. His tired mind only knew that he had to protect his brother.
“Dr. Mayfield,” the man in the lead said brusquely, “we’ll take over now.”
“Now wait a minute!” Scott’s temper flared.
“Your brother doesn’t have a minute. This beach will be under water soon. You can either help or get out of the way.”
Mayfield dropped to his knees and began pulling the blankets off Johnny.
“His pulse is weak but steady,” Molly reported. “But he’s hypothermic. His lungs sounded congested so we raised him up”
Mayfield nodded “We’ve got heating stones in the ambulance.” Then he quickly began a hasty examination while keeping an eye on the waves as they continued to surge up the beach.
“Get that stretcher over here!” he shouted to his men. “We don’t have time to stabilize any of these fractures. Get him in the stretcher and tied down. Be careful of his left shoulder, it’s a mess.”
Scott stood back. He wanted to shout at them to be careful. Johnny had been through so much. But the water was lapping at his feet and soaking the blankets Mayfield had recovered Johnny with.
Someone wrapped a blanket around Scott’s shoulders but he hardly noticed. He watched in a detached haze as Johnny was lifted into the stretcher and lashed down securely. Ropes were tied to the front and back of the stretcher and on the doctor’s command, three men grabbed the rope tied to the back of the basket and ran toward the waves while a shout to the top brought the front rope taut.
Scott watched the stretcher pulled slowly toward the top of the cliff, the men in the waves working to keep the litter from tipping over in the wind.
Molly was at his side now. “Mayfield’s a good doctor. He knows what he’s doing.”
A wave rushed up behind them and nearly sent them both to their knees. Someone tied a rope around Scott’s waist and before he knew it he was being hoisted toward the top.
“He’ll receive the best care, I assure you.” Judge Grayson pulled Murdoch away from the edge of the cliff, motioning for Sam to follow. “I’ve made arrangements for him to have a private room at St. Mary’s.”
“No!” Murdoch turned on Grayson. “My son will not be treated like an animal again.”
“Steps have been taken already, Mr. Lancer. Sister Josephine has been transferred to another hospital where she will be under strict supervision. The orderlies have been fired and are banned from working in any hospital in the state. And all of the staff have been put on notice that if anything like what happened to your son ever happens again they will all lose their licenses. I assure you, your son will receive the very best of care. As for Dr. Dykstra…we will wait until you are ready before we interrogate him. I’m sure you and your son Scott would like to be there at the time.”
Murdoch looked past Grayson to Dykstra as he was led toward a waiting coach.
“The Chief of Police will see that he is watched carefully. This is now an important case for him, its outcome could play an important role in his upcoming re-election.”
There was a shout and Murdoch saw Dr. Mayfield pulled over the edge. A moment later he saw the stretcher dragged into view. He didn’t even know he moved, but he was suddenly standing over Johnny.
He wanted to hold his boy in his arms, comfort him, take away all the pain, but he looked so fragile, so broken. He was but a ghost of the Johnny Lancer he remembered. He started to lean down but he was pushed aside as Mayfield called out orders and the stretcher was carried toward the waiting ambulance.
“I’m going with you,” Murdoch commanded and the doctor nodded.
“Stay out of the way.” He turned to his men. “Elevate his back and get those warming stones around him. Tell the driver to forget he’s got an injured patient back here, just get us to the hospital as fast as he can.”
The door closed as Sam called, “I’ll have Scott there as soon as I get him into dry clothes.”
Murdoch nodded, thankful to his old friend. Then he turned back to Johnny and prayed.
Murdoch would have memories of that ride for a lifetime. There were few times in his life when he felt completely out of control, unable to do anything to stop the forces that seemed bent on destroying his life. Murdoch could do nothing but sit and watch Mayfield hover over Johnny exploring his body with expert fingers, feeling for broken bones and internal injuries.
Johnny suddenly moaned and his eyelashes fluttered.
Mayfield pulled Murdoch closer. “Talk to him,” he ordered.
“Johnny…” Murdoch heard his own voice and cringed at the fear he heard in it. Clearing his throat he tried again. “Johnny…can you hear me son? You’ve safe. I’m with you now and Scott will be here soon.”
Murdoch held his breath as he saw Johnny’s eyelids flutter open.
“Johnny…” he stroked Johnny’s hair, ignoring the tears he felt running down his face, “Johnny…its all over. You’re safe now.”
Murdoch watched Johnny fight to regain his senses. “…Home…” Johnny whispered. “…Take me…home…”
“Soon, Johnny,” Murdoch promised. “Very soon.” He saw Johnny wince in pain when Mayfield straightened his arm out for an injection.
“Morphine,” he whispered. “Before the pain gets too bad. Keep talking to him. Keep him fighting.”
Murdoch continued to talk, and didn’t stop even when they reached the hospital. He kept talking as the stretcher was hauled out of the ambulance and carried into the hospital. He kept talking as they rode up the elevator to the second floor and he didn’t stop until the doors to the surgery theater were closed. Then he collapsed into a nearby chair and began to cry.
Scott paced the floor, then paced some more. Murdoch sat motionless in his chair and for the first time Sam found himself on the other side of the door, waiting for a doctor to tell him if a friend or a loved one lived or died. He didn’t like this side much. And as he looked at Murdoch, he knew his friend had been in this situation far too many times.
The surgery door opened and the three men circled the doctor.
“He made it through surgery.” Mayfield sighed, his exhaustion obvious. “I was able to re-set his shoulder. He is in remarkably good condition, considering what he has been through. His ankle is broken, that happened before the fall over the cliff I’m told. As well as his right hand. He has deep bruising just about everywhere. However I didn’t find any internal injuries. Dr. Dykstra unknowingly saved his life. The combination of the body cast protecting him somewhat from the rocks and the sedative that kept him from trying to break his fall. He has some deep lacerations and some nasty bites.”
“The effects from the cold water and dehydration?” Sam prodded.
“That is our biggest concern at the moment. He does have pneumonia, and we are still trying to bring his body temperature up to normal. It will be a few days before we know if he will recover. But I am satisfied that we are over the first hump. We will face each one that comes and in the end, I think we will be successful. Gentleman…I have never seen a man who had more reason to give up, fight so hard. I’m looking forward to meeting Johnny Lancer.”
“Can we see him?” Scott asked.
Mayfield nodded. “In fact I have had two cots brought into his room. We’ve made special arrangements for you to stay with him during his entire stay at this hospital if you wish. I don’t know how to apologize enough for what happened to him here during his last stay. I can only tell you that I promise he will get only the finest care available. Give the nurses twenty minutes to clean him up and get him into bed. Then you can see him.”
“Thank you doctor.” Murdoch extended his hand. “That is all we ask for. We would like to wait in Johnny’s room.”
“Of course. Right this way.”
The next seven days were an exercise in hell for Scott and Murdoch.
The surgery was long and grueling for both patient and doctor. Johnny’s shoulder was carefully re-set, the damage extensive, but given time to heal properly, would leave him with a full range of motion. His ankle was badly broken. The damage done when it was first broken was worsened with the fall down the cliff. A cast that ran from his toes to above his knee assured no movement, and with luck, it, too, would heal. His right hand was a concern. One neither the doctors nor his family wanted Johnny to know about yet.
Deep bruising and lacerations covered his body. The cold water helped with the bruising, but the sand and salt inflamed the lacerations, leaving many of them deeply infected.
The decision was made to keep Johnny heavily sedated until his body had a chance to start the healing process. Every four hours the medication was withheld until the doctors were assured that it was just the drugs that were keeping him under and he had not lapsed into a coma.
The hospital rallied around the care of their returning patient, heartsick at what they had allowed to happen. Their regrets merely fueled Murdoch’s anger. To let it happen in the first place was unforgivable. But Murdoch bided his time, for now.
Sam remained for three days, but he had a practice to attend to back home, and it was decided that Teresa would accompany him back to Lancer. It was not appropriate for her to be in the room when Johnny’s needs were attended to or his dressings changed, and as the days passed, she found herself standing in the hall more and more. Better she return home where she could prepare the hacienda for Johnny’s return.
And so, father and son fell into a routine. Never leaving Johnny alone for a moment. Always there, hoping he would open his eyes soon and return to them.
Murdoch carefully lifted the book from Scott’s still hands and turned the wick down low on the oil lamp. The soft flickering light caught the exhaustion on his lean face. He had been at Johnny’s side every moment since his brother had awakened. Scared and confused at first, nothing seemed to calm Johnny down until he heard his brother’s voice. Since then Scott had talked constantly to him. Told him stories about his travels, the different people he met, the impact they had on his life, none as remarkable as the man he hoped was somehow hearing him. He read the newspapers, had Molly scour the city for interesting books. Murdoch didn’t know if Johnny understood Scott’s words, or it was just the sound of his brother’s voice, but it seemed to calm his fears and allowed for the healing sleep he so desperately needed.
What indefinable link did these two brothers possess? Could it be explained by the simple fact that they both carried Lancer blood in their veins? His blood? He wished that were the answer. That he could take some credit. But he couldn’t. It was something the boys themselves could not understand. Intangible, but as real as the air they breathed.
He gently pulled the blanket up over Scott’s shoulders and said a silent prayer that his son would find peaceful dreams this night.
He turned back to look at the other bed and his heart sank as it did every time he looked at his youngest son. Johnny’s face was still too pale, his breaths labored beneath the heavy cast that held his shoulder and left arm in place. The bruising was still vibrant, covering almost every inch of exposed skin. With his broken hand and ankle elevated on mounds of pillows he looked like a broken doll some child had lovingly swathed and put to bed.
Only a light sheet covered him to his waist, dampened by the lingering fever that that burned within.
The memory of finding Johnny at the bottom of the cliff was a nightmare that would haunt him for the rest of his life. The miracle that he had survived left him weak kneed again. He collapsed into the chair next to Johnny’s bed. He had come so close to losing him. Losing his son forever. He felt the hot sting of tears and let them have their way. He was too tired to fight the emotions. Here in the semi-darkened room, where only the four walls could watch, he cried for all that had happened to his son, for all that he had lost, for all that he could have had. This last act of senseless brutality had finally broken Murdoch’s stern veneer. He wept for his child as he did the first night he found the crib empty so many years ago. And he wept for himself, and for all that he had lost.
Dr. Dykstra sat in his cell. It had been seven days since he watched the rescue team haul Johnny Lancer’s lifeless body up the side of the cliff. An image he could not escape from, could not hide from even in sleep. The nightmares taunted him…his guilt ate at him like a living thing, killing him slowly…too slowly. He could not bear the knowledge that he had inflicted so much pain on an innocent man.
He prayed God would take him now and end his misery. But that was not to be. His fellow man deserved the right to punish him for his crimes. To exact payment for his greed.
Even his wife and children had abandoned him. He longed for just one word from Beatrice, just one moment of her time after all these years.
But he remained in his cell, like a leper. His only human contact, an obnoxious Chief of Police with political ambitions, and a jailer who fed him three meals a day.
So on the morning of the eighth day he was surprised to see a man standing in front of his cell.
Dykstra nodded. The man was powerfully built, his chest bulging at the expensive dark business suit.
“I’m a friend of a friend.” Dykstra heard the unmistakable Boston accent.
He strained to see if the door leading into the lobby of the police station was open, but to his dismay it was closed. He was alone here with this stranger.
“Our mutual friend would like to send his condolences to your family, doctor. He understands how difficult this time must be for them. Your wife Beatrice and two children Adam and Janet will no doubt want to distance themselves from you.
“He wants to assure you that everything has been taken care of. The ten thousand dollars that was erroneously deposited in your account has been returned to the right account with apologizes for their inconvenience. And the cottage is once again up for sale. A pity, it was a beautiful house.”
The mountain of a man took a step closer wrapping his huge hands around the cell bars and Dykstra involuntarily scooted further down the bed until his back was pressed against the wall.
“Our friend hopes you will do the right thing and confess to your crime. It will be so much easier on your family. And I assure you there is no need to worry about them. They are being well cared for. When you have been convicted and sentenced they will be compensated for their time.
“I’m sure we are in agreement here. Are we not, doctor?”
Dykstra could only nod his head.
“Very good. Our friend has learned that Johnny Lancer is expected to make a full recovery. No doubt he will be able to answer questions in the coming weeks. I trust you will take full responsibility for your actions. Good day, doctor.”
Dykstra watched him slowly walk toward the lobby door, and disappear. He pulled the threadbare blanket up around his shoulders and shivered. His family were nothing more than leeches, they drained him of everything he had, but he couldn’t turn his back on them. He already had Johnny Lancer on his conscience…he couldn’t stand three more.
Three weeks passed, and Johnny was growing stronger by the day. He was propped up against a mound of pillows for a half an hour in the morning and the afternoon, after he had been turned onto his stomach for two interminably long hours to relieve the pressure on his back and legs. Even so, bedsores were a painful problem.
As he felt stronger, he felt more and more like a caged animal. He would shoo Murdoch and Scott from his room for a few hours each day. They went reluctantly, sometimes to run errands or simply walk in the park. He knew they were there to help, and he never would have made it through an entire day without them, but he needed time alone, to think to and reflect on what had happened and what lay ahead.
Johnny looked at the four white walls of his small room and longed to be back at Lancer. The small window next to his bed merely taunted him. He wanted to go home. He wanted to smell the fresh air, to look for miles and miles in any direction and see nothing but open land, his land. He wanted to sit astride Barranca and ride like the wind, feel the power of the palomino between his legs as they galloped as one.
Instead, he was hounded by doctors and nurses. They insisted he get sleep, and yet when he did fall asleep they were waking him up for sponge baths or medicines. He was forced to fulfill his needs on their schedule. When he did lay awake staring at the ceiling they would scold him for not sleeping.
He knew he had come a long way from his first conscious memory of Murdoch and Scott hovering over him, their faces haggard with worry.
The pain was intense at first, but the morphine they gave him controlled the pain while leaving him somewhat alert.
Now he received it only when the pain became more than he could bear.
The remains of his lunch sat on the table next to his bed. Food didn’t taste very good when it had to be spoon fed to him like an infant. He looked down at his right hand, encased in the hard shell of the cast. With both hands useless he could do nothing for himself. Not even bat a pesky fly away from his face.
He tried not to dwell on his right hand. He asked them every day but no one could tell him yet if there would be any permanent damage. They did not understand the world he came from, where even a fraction of a second could put him six feet under. Scott and Murdoch knew…their eyes told him they were just as worried.
The door opened and Nurse Campbell walked in, all smiles, carrying a food tray with a cloth napkin draped over top.
“It seems you have friends in high places, Mr. Lancer.” She placed the tray on Johnny’s lap. “I have been here seven years and I’ve never known the cook to prepare anything that wasn’t bland and tasteless. No wonder patients lose weight.”
Johnny got a whiff of something familiar and his mouth began to water.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asked, eyeing the covered plate.
“If you’re thinking of tamale soup, then you would be right.”
For the first time Johnny felt the pangs of hunger.
“Is that a smile I see?” Nurse Campbell asked.
Johnny nodded, watching her drape the napkin over his chest as he anxiously waited for the first taste.
“Good?” She grinned as he swallowed the first spoon full.
“I have to admit, it’s a bit spicy for this Kansas girl’s taste.”
Johnny smiled. “Then you better not try my cooking. Scott nearly drank a gallon of water the first time he tasted my tamales.”
“You two are very close. He is devoted to you, you know.”
“I know. He’s more brother than I ever deserved.”
“According to him, he is the lucky one.”
Johnny relaxed back into the pillows. He had eaten only a few spoonfuls but it filled his stomach and he felt satisfied for the first time in what seemed like a very long time.
“We are good for each other,” he mumbled as his heavy eyelids finally lost the battle.
Nurse Campbell smiled. She ran her hand through his thick black hair. He had such a long way to go, she knew. Recovery was more than just bones mending and cuts healing. The mind had to heal as well.
“Dunstan Cass, setting off in the raw morning, at the judiciously quiet pace of a man who is obliged to rid cover on his hunter, which, at its farther extremity, passed by the piece of unenclosed ground called the Stone-pit, where stood the cottage, once a stone-cutter’s shed, now for years inhabited by Silas Marner….”
Scott looked up from his book, now forty-two pages into Silas Marner and asked Johnny softly, “Do you want to rest? We can continue later…”
There was no answer, Johnny just stared at the ceiling, his eyes barely blinking.
He had made a miraculous recovery so far. But the doctors had warned them that depression was inevitable. Johnny’s body had begun to heal, now his mind needed time to mend also.
It had struck suddenly, two weeks ago. They were all in good spirits. Scott was explaining the finer points of fishing to Murdoch…Johnny style, with a six gun, when Johnny’s expression suddenly changed. They watched him slowly raise his right hand, staring at the cast, and one lone tear ran down his face.
Since then he had not uttered a word. Until now…
“I want to see him…” Johnny said flatly.
Scott laid the book in his lap. “Who Johnny?”
Scott froze. He wasn’t sure what to say to the sudden request. “Dykstra’s in jail, Johnny”
“Take me to him.”
“You know we can’t do that.”
Johnny’s head slowly turned toward Scott. His expression was as flat as his voice. “Then bring him to me.”
Scott looked toward the closed door, wishing someone would come in right now. He needed help. He didn’t know how to answer Johnny. But as small as it was, it was the first spark of emotion he saw in his brother. “Why, Johnny?” he asked softly.
“I have to know.” Johnny’s eyes met Scott’s, now shining with confusion. “I have to know why…”
“All right…all right, I’ll talk to the Chief of Police…”
Johnny nodded and turned his head to stare back at the ceiling.
“The Chief of Police will never allow it,” Murdoch roared, his frustrations coming to a head. “Why did you make him a promise like that!?”
“What did you want me to do,” Scott shouted back, “tell him no, the police have him in custody and no one can talk to him?”
Molly cringed in her seat. She had watched both men endure the fires of hell since Johnny had gone missing. And now, as he seemed to be gaining ground, they were faced with another insurmountable obstacle… But perhaps not. Perhaps this was Johnny’s way of reaching out.
“It’s the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for,” Molly said. “The catalyst that could bring Johnny out of his depression.”
“Or drive him so deep he’ll never return,” Mayfield warned.
“He’s giving us a chance to rescue him,” Molly sat forward in her chair, “handing us a rope to pull him out, don’t you see?”
Mayfield shook his head emphatically. “He’s been through too much, mentally as well as physically. He has been compromised in one way or another since Thanksgiving. To use your euphemism, he may be at his rope’s end.”
“Doctor, my son is stronger than any man I have ever known.” Murdoch leapt to his feet, upsetting his chair. “What he has gone through in his life to merely survive would have destroyed most men.”
“This discussion is moot…pointless.” Mayfield dropped his hands onto his desk. “You will never get the Chief of Police to bring Dykstra here. And I sure as hell won’t allow Johnny to be moved.”
Scott stood up and began to pace. “There may be a way.”
Three days later a very disgruntled Chief of Police was escorting a manacled Nathanial Dykstra down the hospital hallway. His answer had been an emphatic no when he first
He had looked in on young Lancer on his second day out of surgery and was admittedly surprised that the man had survived. His injuries were extensive, and he left that day knowing he held a political time bomb in his hand. When the boy died- because he had no doubt that Lancer would be dead inside of two days, he had to either distance himself from the case and let the DA take over and accept the wrath of his family and friends, who were growing in numbers as the circumstances of the young man’s injuries were revealed, or take the bull by the horns and tweak the evidence in his favor, as the caring Chief of Police, mortified that something that tragic could happen to anyone in his town, even Johnny Madrid.
He chose the latter, and now he was dragging a near catatonic Dykstra to meet the boy he nearly killed, face to face.
Johnny stared at the door, waiting. He had refused the pain medication, something he hoped he would not regret before this was over. He needed a clear head for what he was about to do.
He looked at Scott, sitting by his bedside. He and Murdoch looked like sentries he had read about in one of Scott’s books.
He hoped Scott could forgive him. But he needed to know the truth.
“Are you ready?” Molly asked, taking his pulse and quickly adding a teaspoon of medicine and mixing it in a glass of water.
“No drugs,” Johnny snapped.
“It’s just something to calm you down. Your heart is racing.”
He accepted it without further protest. He had to be at his best.
She made sure that he was lying comfortably against the mound of pillows behind his back then nodded to Murdoch to open the door.
Two uniformed men stepped in followed by the Chief of Police and Dr. Dykstra.
Johnny didn’t take his eyes off Dykstra as he was led to a chair in the center of the room and his handcuffs were unlocked and relocked around the arms of the chair.
Johnny thought the man looked twenty years older than the last time he saw him. His hair was dirty and tangled, and he hadn’t shaved in weeks. The clothes he wore hung loosely off his stooped shoulders.
Johnny glanced at Scott and regretted what he was about to do. But he couldn’t live the rest of his life not knowing.
“Mr. Lancer.” Chief Reynolds stood behind Dykstra’s chair, his shoulders pushed back, his chin jutted out. If not for the seriousness of the situation, Scott and Murdoch would have burst out laughing. “Please tell me what transpired between you and the doctor the last time you met.”
Scott jumped up. “This is not an inquest. Johnny’s already answered all your questions.”
“Mr. Lancer, I am only doing my job. Seeing the perpetrator in person often jogs the victim’s memory.”
“I’m nobody’s victim,” Johnny lashed out.
“On the contrary, sir. You are the victim of a senseless act of brutality. I just want to understand why. Now, I ask you again, what do you remember….”
“Chief Reynolds, I believe we had an agreement.” Murdoch rounded the bed, towering over the small chief. “A private meeting between my son and the doctor.”
Reynolds huffed, looking from Johnny to Dykstra. “I am well within my rights to ask as many questions as I like. This is an ongoing investigation.”
“It’s closed,” Scott growled. “He has been tried, convicted and sentenced. Your only job now is to see that the sentence is carried out.”
Johnny stared at Dykstra. He felt Scott’s hand settle on his shoulder, a reminder that he and Murdoch were there.
“Could you leave us alone?” Johnny asked, raising his eyes to meet the Chief of Police, the little man swaggering in his glow of perceived authority. “This has nothing to do with your case…it’s personal.”
An incredulous smile played across Reynolds’ face. “And while I’m outside waiting in the hallway you put a bullet in my prisoner?”
Johnny raised his right hand. “Kinda hard to pull the trigger,” he said flatly, letting the cast fall back onto the mattress.
“It doesn’t mean your brother or father wouldn’t…”
Murdoch stood up, his anger nearing the breaking point. “If I wanted him dead, I would have thrown him over the cliff. I believe in the law, Chief Reynolds, however flawed it might be at times. Your prisoner is safe here.”
“This is still highly irregular.”
“Dr. Dykstra has the right to face his accuser,” Scott added. “What do you say doctor?”
“He doesn’t have a say anymore. As you pointed out, he’s already been convicted. You two saw to that.”
“Leave us, please,” Dykstra said. “Nothing will happen to me. And if it does, it’s no great loss. Only one less job for the hangman.”
The chief looked around the room, his eyes settling on Johnny. He froze, trapped like a deer in a hunter’s sights, unnerved by the look in Madrid’s eyes. “All right,” he stammered, “all right. But we’ll be right outside. You need us, doctor, just holler.” He ushered his two deputies out of the room, the door closing with a soft thud.
Johnny waited for the room to clear. He thought about asking Scott to leave too. But his brother had a right to know.
He lay very still. Murdoch and Scott took a step closer to the head of the bed, neither sure of what Johnny had in mind. Molly watched him closely, ready to step in and stop the meeting at the first sign that her patient was in distress.
“You look tired,” Dykstra said, studying Johnny, “perhaps this is too much so soon.”
“Seems odd that you would be concerned for Johnny’s health. After all, you put him here.” Scott said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Remorse doctor?” Johnny asked coldly.
“Yes. More than you could ever know.”
“Enough games,” Murdoch snapped. “Johnny, you asked for the doctor, he’s here. What’s next?”
“I thought I answered all the questions at my trial. What are you looking for?”
“The truth,” Johnny said simply.
Stillness fell over the room. Murdoch looked over at Scott, but there was only confusion on his face.
A dry smile played at Dykstra’s lips. “And you think I can help you?”
“I know people, doc. I can read them like Scott reads his books. Chapter by chapter. It don’t take me long, especially a man like you. I know you, doc.”
The doctor’s smile vanished. “You do? Care to tell me?”
Johnny laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. “You feel like the world’s passed you by. You worked all your life and have nothing to show for it, except a paycheck too small to do more’n keep your wife in pretty clothes, and your rear end out of hock. Man lives that way for too long, he gets edgy. He wants more. Thinks he deserves more.”
Dykstra nodded. “Very astute for a gunfighter.”
“Ex-gunfighter. I saw the last chapter in my book and didn’t like what I saw, so I changed.”
“Just like that?”
Johnny raised his head slowly, pursing his lips. “Hard for a man to change without help. Not saying it can’t be done. It’s just a bit harder. Now a man can go bad real easy all on his own.”
“You’re very young to be so wise.”
“I stopped being young when I was eleven years old.”
“Get to the point, Johnny,” Murdoch ordered.
Johnny nodded, his blue eyes piercing, his voice hard as stone. “Who paid you doctor? Who gave you the money to buy that cottage? The same person who wrote the newspaper article? Bet he wasn’t happy when he found out that you couldn’t do the job by yourself. The more people, the more things can go wrong.”
“No! It was my idea. I detested everything you stood for. You are an abomination, Mr. Madrid. A gunfighter. A killer!”
Molly sprang to her feet. “He is not!”
“I dug countless bullets out of good men because of the likes of you.”
“So you appointed yourself judge, jury and executioner,” Johnny said, his voice deceptively emotionless.
“It made it easier then to take the money.”
“You rid the world of one more killer and get paid for it.”
“Eight thousand dollars and…”
“Ten!” Dykstra blurted out.
Johnny whistled softly. “Someone must really hate me.”
Dykstra’s shoulders sagged. “I knew I was wrong…but the money.”
“Why stay silent?” Scott asked.
“To protect my family. We may not be the ideal loving family…but I still love my wife and children.”
Johnny sagged deeper into the pillows. His strength waning. He was so close, he couldn’t lose him now. He felt Molly hovering closer.
“Tell me who,” Johnny said, his voice halting. “Tell me so I can protect myself the next time.”
Dykstra shook his head.
Murdoch stepped forward, his hand resting on Johnny’s knee. “You owe him that much, doctor.”
Dykstra shook his head slowly. “I can’t.”
A spasm of pain gripped Johnny and he whipped his head back, trying to draw in a breath.
“This is too much for him.” Molly snapped, filling a syringe with morphine.
“No!” Johnny barked. “You promised. No drugs.”
“You’re not strong enough for this.” Molly pulled his right arm toward her, swabbing his inner arm above the cast. “Dr. Mayfield agreed as long as it was not too much.”
Johnny heard Dykstra’s voice through the haze of pain. “Take the morphine and I’ll tell you.”
Johnny nodded, feeling the sting of the needle, then the blessed relief from the pain. His head felt shaky and he felt someone push another pillow beneath head.
His eyes met Dykstra’s eyes, and for a fleeting moment he wanted to stop the name from spilling out of his mouth. He wanted to protect Scott, the one person here who would lose the most.
Silence, like a deafening cloud, settled over the room.
Johnny could feel his heart beating, pounding in his head, making him feel dizzy. It was the answer he was expecting, but still he felt like he was just thrown from a bucking horse.
He heard the soft, almost inaudible gasp from Scott, his hand squeezing his shoulder so tight he had to force back a groan. Then Scott was on his feet, looking from Johnny to Dykstra, his eyes pleading that he take back the words. That what he heard was just a lie. But it was the truth. Johnny knew it.
“No!” The sound shattered the silence.
“It’s true,” Johnny said softly. “It’s true.”
“My grandfather is a lot of things, but he isn’t a murderer.”
“He offered me ten thousand dollars to rid the world of Johnny Madrid. I said no at first, then …God forgive me, my greed got the better of me. But I couldn’t do it myself. I couldn’t dirty my hands. I hired Benny.”
“But Benny and his friends got greedy as well,” Murdoch said through clenched teeth. “And threw Johnny over the cliff.”
“I sedated you.” Dykstra’s eyes fell on Johnny. “It was supposed to be painless. You would simply slip into death after a week of no food or water.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” Johnny suddenly raged. The fear, the anger, the hate that had consumed him for so long exploded and he tried to lurch toward Dykstra.
Pain grabbed at him, digging its fingers into every inch of his body.
Suddenly Murdoch and Molly were hovering over him, their words drifting away as darkness flooded the room.
He didn’t see Scott collapse into his chair, his face mirroring the ultimate betrayal.
“I won’t corroborate a word that was said here,” Dykstra warned as Murdoch slowly moved toward the door. “My family comes first. You will have to settle for just knowing.”
Scott sat motionless in his chair, his hand still draped over Johnny’s chest. “I knew he was capable of a lot,” Scott said, his voice sounding so lost. “I knew he would do almost anything to get his way…but…” He raised his head, searching for Murdoch. “I’m sorry.”
Dykstra’s head snapped up. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It was your grandfather and his need to control. He wants you back in Boston with him.” Dykstra’s eyes fell upon Johnny, his body succumbing to mental and physical exhaustion. “He will do anything to get you back. It won’t stop here. I’m sorry that I can’t do more for you. But my family comes first.”
Murdoch opened the door and announced that they were done. The chief entered silently and un-cuffed Dykstra.
“Will you be at the hanging?” Dykstra asked tonelessly, as he was escorted him from the room.
Murdoch nodded then turned his back on the doctor.
He looked back toward the bed, and he felt his heart break. Both his sons would carry the scars inflicted by Harlan Garrett for a lifetime.
Four weeks later Johnny was strong enough to leave the hospital. The trip home was long and painful, but at last Johnny saw the Lancer arch as the wagon slowly bucked and lurched its way beneath the sign.
Jelly had met them at the train station with the buckboard, the back lined with a soft mattress, blankets and pillows to make him as comfortable as possible.
The last four weeks had seemed the longest four weeks of Johnny’s life.
Murdoch and Scott had attended Dr. Dykstra’s hanging. Dykstra had stood silently beside Benny Boggs and his two companions. Harlan Garrett’s name was never mentioned. They returned to Johnny’s room, their faces pale and their eyes haunted. Taking a life for a life never seemed right to his brother, but justice had been served. Almost.
Molly left St. Mary’s for a private nursing position. She could not get beyond what had happened to Johnny there.
On the morning of their departure Dr. Mayfield arrived very early, with instructions and medications for the trip home. He let it be quite clear that he was not in favor of releasing Johnny so soon, but with three men pleading with him he gave in, with the promise that they would take it very slow and the first thing Johnny would do when he reached home was have Dr. Jenkins look him over.
There were tearful goodbyes from Molly and Nurse Owens. And they were on their way. Johnny could not help but think of what he had been through here. A simple accident on Lancer and the manipulation of a very determined Harlan Garrett had almost ended his life. It galled him that Garrett had walked away unscathed. Some day he would pay the price for this. Someday.
Teresa burst through the great room door jumping into the back of the wagon before it came to a complete stop.
“We’ve missed you so much,” she cried.
“I’ve missed you too, querida. And all of this.” He looked as far as his limited position would allow. But it was enough for now. He saw the house and the corral and the stable. And his heart skipped a beat when he saw Jelly leading Barranca toward him.
“Barranca,” he called softly and he was rewarded by an excited nicker. Jelly had to hold tightly to the lead to keep the horse from running full out to Johnny.
“Barranca…” Johnny felt the wetness in his eyes as the palomino dropped his head down to nuzzle his nose against Johnny’s face. “I’ve missed you too, compadre. Can’t wait to get back up on ya, boy.”
“Won’t be long, Johnny.” Jelly grinned. “Ya just follow them doctor’s orders an ya’ll be up on that horse in no time.”
“Thanks Jelly. I plan on doin’ just that. Hey, what’s that?”
Johnny noticed the tent erected just to the left of the house.
“That was Jelly’s idea, son.” Murdoch jumped down off the wagon. “He thought you would like to spend your early morning’s and late afternoons outside when the sun isn’t too hot.”
“Figured ya been cooped up like a bear hyberntin’ fer so long ya might want some fresh air.”
There were few times when Johnny Madrid Lancer was at a loss for words, but this was one of them. His family, his friends, all crowding around the wagon now, welcoming him home. He figured he was just about the luckiest man to on the face of the earth at this very minute.
“We made up a room for you down in one of the guest rooms.” Teresa was beginning to wrap the blanket around Johnny’s shoulders as she talked. “We thought it would be easier to get you around until the casts come off.”
“That’s fine, thanks. Teresa, quit fussing over me. I’m doing good now.”
“We know you are, brother.” Scott stood up slowly in the back of the wagon, his legs had cramped during the long trip from the train station. But he knew Johnny needed the company. “But you have to understand how worried all of us were. I’m afraid you’re going to have to grin and bear it. Now, let’s get you inside. You look a little tired.”
Johnny knew Scott was right and nodded. He was home at last.
Things had settled down to an easy routine at Lancer. Sam promised another two weeks and the hand and ankle cast could be removed. They still didn’t know the extent of the injury to his hand. Johnny could only wait and pray. Sam said it would be a little longer for the cast around his chest. Johnny complained bitterly, but received a long and heartfelt lecture from Dr. Jenkins. Then a smile brightened Sam’s face. “You just have to learn to be a patient patient Johnny.”
He sipped at the lemonade that Teresa held to his lips and longed for the day when he could feed himself again. The helpless feeling was weighing heavy on him as each day seemed to pass slower than the day before.
Scott was acting more like himself. The shock of knowing what Harlan had almost succeeded in doing had thrown the easterner into the depths of despair. It had only been after Johnny had a long talk with him that Scott could look him straight in the eye and not feel dirty with guilt.
This afternoon was warmer than most and Johnny lay on the bed Jelly had made beneath the tent.
He heard the sound of an approaching buggy and watched as a man he didn’t recognize received a warm welcome from Scott and Murdoch. He watched the man approach. Tall and in his late fifties, he was dressed in an expensive suit. His smile was warm and genuine, and Johnny couldn’t help but smile back at him.
“Johnny, it’s good to see you looking so well. You don’t remember me, I know,” the stranger said, removing his hat.
“Johnny, this is Judge Grayson. I told you about him, remember?” Scott said by way of introduction.
“You’re the one who helped find me.” Johnny nodded for the judge to sit in a chair by the bed. “I owe you a lot. Thank you.”
“You owe me nothing, Johnny. Just returning a favor.” He looked up toward Scott who was standing just inside the tent. “Have you discussed our plans with Johnny?”
Scott shook his head. “I wanted to make sure everything was in place first.”
“What’s going on?”
“Yes, I would like to know too.” Murdoch took a heavy tray of lemonade and glasses from Maria and set them on a table beneath the tent.
“We all know that Harlan Garrett was behind this.” Grayson nodded toward the heavy casts Johnny wore. “But without Dr. Dykstra’s cooperation there was not enough evidence to indict him. Scott asked me to look into his grandfather’s extensive holdings and what I found was quite interesting.”
“His holdings?” Johnny looked up at Scott. “You’re going after the old man through his pocketbook?”
“Johnny, what my grandfather did to you was beyond reprehensible. From the very start, he had used every trick he could think of to turn us against each other. When that didn’t work he hired Dykstra. I can’t let him get away with that. He may have been my grandfather, and I will always respect him for the years he raised me, but he is not the man I knew then. He is sick and evil. And I want him to pay.”
“Scott, I don’t want you doing something you’re gonna regret later.”
“Believe me, if I didn’t do something I would have plenty of regrets. Judge…?”
“As I said your grandfather…”
“Could you please just call him Garrett. I have no grandfather.”
Judge Grayson nodded, seeing the flush of gratitude warm Johnny’s face. It made what he had to tell this family all the more gratifying. “Harlan Garrett has stock in several companies that have been under investigation for several years. He hid his name well, but there is always a paper trail if you look hard enough.”
“And…?” Murdoch inched closer to the edge of his chair.
“As of today, seven companies have been shut down and their assets frozen. Three others were fined heavily and put on a watch list. Harlan Garrett himself was fined for one hundred thousand dollars personally.”
“Does that bankrupt him?” Johnny asked.
“No. Harlan Garrett is a very rich man. But it will put a large crimp in his business dealings. He will no longer have the money to back up future expansion, at least not for several years.”
“I’m sorry it couldn’t be more, Johnny,” Scott said. “What he did to you will still remain his secret.”
“Don’t worry, Scott.” Johnny grinned. “I can just see the old goat’s face when he’s writing that big check.”
“There’s one thing more.” Judge Grayson took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Scott.
Scott drew the letter out and nodded. “I think Johnny should present this to her.”
Johnny looked from Scott to Grayson, then on to Murdoch hoping someone could tell him what was going on.
“Johnny…” Scott turned the letter around so Johnny could read it. “This is a check for twenty thousand dollars. It’s made out to the new orphanage, wherever you and Molly decide to build it.”
“Oh Johnny, that is so wonderful,” Teresa cried.
“I don’t understand,” Johnny whispered.
“Both you and Molly spent time in horrid conditions in orphanages that are still as bad as they were then. Molly’s wish was that she could change that and run a home for children where they were loved and cared for.”
“Ten thousand of that was the money Harlan Garrett gave to Dykstra. It seemed only fitting that the money go to a good cause.”
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Johnny stammered.
“No one should have gone through the hell you did, Johnny.” Grayson leaned down and patted Johnny’s shoulder. “And even though we could not punish Garrett the way he should have been, this is the next best thing.”
“Now for the icing on the cake…” Scott looked to Grayson again.
Grayson drew a second envelope from his vest pocket. Scott opened it and a wicked smile played across his face. “Here is what the sign above the door will read, with your permission.”
Johnny read the small sign…`Madrid Home for Children In Need.’
Johnny shook his head. “I can’t…”
“Yes you can. No one will ever know that it is Johnny Madrid. Except a personal note of thanks from the man who anonymously donated the money…Harlan Garrett.”
A huge smile spread across Johnny’s face. “You are a man to be reckoned with, Boston.”
Scott nodded. “I can just see the old man’s face when he sees this.”
“You know this will be the end of your relationship with your grandfather,” Murdoch warned. “He will never take you back.”
“I have my family right here, sir. I don’t need anyone else.”
“I second that.” Johnny grinned.
“Judge Grayson, would you have dinner with us.” Teresa offered. “We have all of Johnny’s favorites tonight. Including chocolate cake.”
“I would be delighted,” Grayson accepted, turning to shake hands with Scott and Murdoch. “It is a fine way to end a very productive day.”
“Wonderful. You can have Johnny’s piece of cake. He isn’t allowed sweets yet.” Teresa said seriously, turning smartly on her heels and heading quickly for the house, her hand clamped tightly over her mouth to keep Johnny from hearing her giggles.
“No!” Johnny yelled after her. “You can’t do that, Teresa. Teresa…that’s my piece of cake.” He looked toward Scott and Murdoch for help. “Ya gotta make her give me my piece of cake.”
The sound of laughter could at last be heard throughout the Lancer valley again, and it sounded wonderful.
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Notes: *****Scott was reading Silas Marner, written by George Eliot in 1861****
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