A Father’s Greatest Challenge by Nancy Marie

Word Count 111,079

2nd in The Man Behind The Badge Series

I don’t own Lancer and am making no money from this. I just take them out to play since CBS dumped them all those years ago.

This story is the followup to “ The Man Behind the Badge ” it is about two fathers, one getting to know the son he never knew who grew up without a father and the other a father raising a son without a mother and trying to be the son a father never knew.

This is a family friendly story, but it will have a PG 13 RATING for some cussing. There will be no strong adult sexual content. Johnny will go to town and the sex will end with the closing of the door. It will be up to you the reader to fill in the blanks on that.

This story will start off with Johnny’s son Miguel being six years old where in “ Man behind the Badge” Miguel was a toddler. I have included the last chapter of “ The Man Behind the Badge ” so readers won’t be to lost in the start of this continuing story.


Johnny sat eating his dinner quietly as he listened to his father and brother talk about the ranch, trying to get his son to eat some mashed up green beans.

“ I think Miguel is like you brother.” Scott said laughingly.

“ Yeah how so big brother?”

“ Well it would appear that he doesn’t care for his vegetables either. Just like you don’t.”

Murdoch laughed as Miguel spit out the spoonful he was just given.

“ I don’t remember what I ate and didn’t eat when I was a baby Boston so how would I know that?”

“ Well, because you still don’t eat them son.” Murdoch answered before Scott.

Johnny wiped his son’ mouth and picked him up. “ If you will excuse me for a spell I think I will put my son to bed.” he said before walking out of the room as Maria walked in.

Murdoch looked at Scott then Don Luis. “ Ah Maria cena era excelente, como siempre. Muchas gracias.” (Ah Maria dinner was superb as always, thank you.)

“ Usted es patrona de bienvenida. Juanito no se como?” ( You are welcome patron. Juanito did he not eat?)

“ Johnny comio y tomo Miguel hasta lo puso a la cama. El estara de nuevo hacia abajo.” ( Johnny ate and took Miguel up to put him to bed.)

“ Juanito, que sera un buen padre?” ( Juanito, he will be a good father.)

“Si que es Maria. Johnny es joven aun pero como ser un buen hombre y padre.” ( Yes he is Maria. Johnny is young still but he has become a good man and father.)

“ Yal vez e gustaria oido estas palabras de su padre si?” ( Perhaps he would like to hear these words from his father yes?) Maria said before taking the dishes to the kitchen.

“ Well shall we retire to the grand room sir for our talk and after dinner drink?” Scott asked sensing his father’ uncomfortableness from what Maria said.

“ Uh yes son……lets.” the patriarch said as he stood and headed to the room.

“ Did you and Johnny talk this afternoon Don Luis?’ he asked as he went to the side board and poured three scotch and one tequila.

“ Yes we did……I am afraid that it is my fault we were late for dinner.”

“ I see……and everything is alright between you and Johnny now?” he asked as he walked over and handed a drink to Don Luis.

“It will take time I suppose for my grandson and me, but we have made a new start.”

“ A new start?”

“ Yes, Juanito said that * you * senior Lancer always did believe everybody deserved a new start.”

“ Uh huh, well I’m afraid you have that wrong Don Luis.”

“ I do?……In what way?”

“ You see it was  Johnny who taught me that everybody deserves a new start……When he first came back here with Scott I wasn’t the type  of father I should have been to him……I couldn’t see past who Johnny was trying to not be and see who he had become.” Murdoch stated with pride in his voice.

“ I see…and now.”

“ Now….now I see and have a son I am very proud of, both of them, but Johnny, he had it bad as you know growing up and he survived to become the man he is now because he became Madrid…….I would love my son to take the Lancer name, the name he was born with, but I will not make him do something he doesn’t want to do, just to please me.”

“ Does that include working with stupid cows old man?” a soft voice asked from the foyer.

Murdoch turned and looked at his youngest standing there. “ As a third owner of this ranch it does son.”

“ Ah….I guess that was in all that fine print on the contract huh?”Johnny said jokingly as he walked over to his father and took the shot of tequila. “ Thanks…………..Uh listen Murdoch I did a lot of thinking today and…..I understand why you did it, I just……”

“ Son when you are ready…..I mean really ready we can talk about what I did and if you never want to again that is fine also…..I want no secrets between us son.”

Always able to read a person, tonight Johnny was a little confused. First he shows up late for dinner with his grandfather and doesn’t get so much as a raised voice from him, and now his father wants to talk to him when he’s ready about what happened, no secrets between them. If his father really actually knew some of the things he had done in his past, he would not want him as a son.

“ Like you told your grandfather son, I believe in new beginnings, you taught me that when you came home to Lancer son.”

Okay now he was really confused, looking at his brother he could tell he was just as confused in this change in their father.

“ This ranch means the world to me, but when you came home  I realized that without my two sons it means nothing to me…..I know you have worked hard Scott helping me when Johnny wasn’t here, but it wasn’t the same, something was missing as I’m sure you felt also?”

“ Yes sir I did………My brother.” Scott answered looking at Johnny.

“ Right…..Don Luis as you are aware the only family Johnny has is right here in this room………..I would like to make you an offer, both of you……….I would like to offer you Lancer as your home…….Live here so you can be with your grandson and great grandson….If you don’t want to then I am willing to build you a home on Lancer so you and Johnny can be together……And as a business partner I would like to offer you son a business deal.”

“ What kind of business deal?” Johnny asked.

“ The kind I know you would be damn good at……….Horses.”

Johnny ran a hand thru his hair as he walked over and looked out the french doors to the darkness of the night.

“ Son…….I don’t ever want to loose you again. I want to watch my grandson grow up here on Lancer. I have watched you with horses when you break them for the ranch and you have a special gift, a special touch I have never seen a man have before son.”

“ A horse whisperer.” Scott said. “ That’s what they call them back east Johnny.”

“ Juanito, he is right…….You have a very special gift very few men posses.”

“Why are you really doing this Murdoch?”

“ I told you why son.”

“ Not all of it.”

“ Because I am proud of the man you have become and the father you are.”

Johnny had to turn away hearing these words from his father. Words he had wanted to hear said to him for a long time.

Murdoch walked over and place a hand on his youngest sons arm and could feel the slight tremble.

“ I should have told you that long before now……..I am proud of you Johnny.”

“ Senor Lancer……This afternoon I told Juanito that I sold my estancia  so I could live here close to him and Miguel……..I am not getting any younger and I want a new start with him……A start that should have happened a long time ago.”

“ Are you alright son?”

“ Yeah.” Johnny answered with a slight tremble to his voice. “ You really mean it about the horses?”

“ Yes I do son….we can go in and have Richardson draw up a contract if you like next week making it official.”

“ What about you brother?………..You got a say in this as part owner.”

Scott walked over to him. “ Johnny I think it is a good idea……..I know you are no fool little brother but if you pass this up, you are the biggest fool in the valley.”

Johnny smiled. “ It will mean having to hire more hands and building more corrals and such.”

“ I am aware of that son, I think the four of us together can work this all out.”

“ Would you want to live here?” he asked.

“ Yes…as you told me that day up on the hill overlooking this great land Juanito……..Lancer is the most beautiful place in the whole wide world.”

“ You know over two years ago when we first seen you with the gold, I never would have guessed that my little brother was the man behind the badge.”

                                                                     Chapter 1

“ I don’t want to go to school papi….I want to stay and watch you and uncle Scott break horses.” a young voice pleaded from in front of Johnny as Barranca walked toward town.

“ Miguel, didn’t we discuss this last night?……..Haven’t I told you that I want my son going to school and getting an education like his uncle Scott?”

“ Si papi, but what if the other children don’t like me?”

Johnny stopped Barranca at the edge of town. “ Now why would they not like you?…….Don’t you get along with them at church?”

“ Si, but that is on God’ day, they have to be nice to me then.”

“ Miguel, son what’s really bothering you?”

“ I……I heard one of the hands talking the other day and he said that you were a no good mestizo and the bastardo son of grandpa’ and that I was just like you……a bastardo also created from the devils doing.”

Johnny felt his anger starting deep down in his gut. “ Hey, look at me.” he said as he picked his son up and  turned him around to face him, placing a hand under the small chin and bringing blue eyes up to look at blue eyes. “ Who said that son?” he asked keeping his voice calm and his anger in check.

“ That man you didn’t want grandpa to hire last week……I don’t like how he looks at me papi. He gives me a bad feeling inside.”

“ Listen to me son, that man will be gone when you come home from school today, I promise. Not me, grandpa or uncle Scott will allow someone to work for us that speaks to you or about you like that, okay?”

“ Okay…. Papi what is a bastardo?”

Miguel asking this caught Johnny totally off guard. He knew the question might come up, but had hoped it wouldn’t or would be when he was older and could understand better the wrong his father had done bedding his mother out of wedlock.

“ Listen to me Miguel, I love you no matter what other people say okay?”

“ I know that papi, but what does it mean?”

“ It means……..it means me and your mother weren’t married when you came to be……Just like I was when your grandpa and grandma came together..Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“ Grandpa and grandma weren’t married either when you came to be?…..What was grandma like?”

Johnny got Barranca moving again toward the schoolhouse. “ She was a very beautiful Mexican lady, I have a picture of her I can show you when you get home if you would like to see her…….I also think your grandpa and great grandpa have pictures as well.”

“ I would like that very much papi…..This was her’s  wasn’t it?” Miguel asked of the medallion around his fathers neck.

“ Yes it was, it and this ring are all I have left of  her besides the picture……I believe grandpa has some of her things still in the attic, maybe this weekend we can go up there and see what we can find.” Johnny said as he stopped Barranca and got down.

“ Hello Johnny, Miguel.” the school teacher said as she walked over.

“ Ma’am.” Miguel said as he removed his hat and showed politeness.

“ Mrs Johnson, Miguel why don’t you go play while I talk to the teacher?”

“ Okay papi, will you be picking me up after school?”

“ Me or uncle Scott will son, hey wheres my hug?” Johnny asked as he knelt down.

“ Sorry papi.” Miguel said as he wrapped his arms around his father.

Johnny waited until Miguel was out of ear shot before speaking. “ He’s a little nervous about today, he wanted to stay home and watch me and his uncle break horses I’m afraid.”

“ That’s quite alright, it’s normal for some children to be apprehensive their first day at school. He’s in good hands I assure you Mr…….”

“ Madrid ma’am, Johnny Madrid.” Johnny told her, noticing her face change at the mention of his name.

“ As in…..?”

“ Yes ma’am, look I’m not that person any longer. I’m a father and  rancher now, that’s all.” he assured her.

“ And your son Miguel, does he have your last name?”

“ Yes he does, why?” he asked not liking where this conversation was headed.

“ Because some of the other children know who Johnny Madrid the gunfighter is, they may not know you are him, but they know of him…..I am thinking of your son and what this could do to him….Does he know about your past?”

“ No he doesn’t, I haven’t told him because it’s just that, my past……..Look if bringing my son here to learn was a mistake just tell me now and I’ll take him home.”

“ Everyone is entitled to an education Mr. Madrid…It’s clear to me that you have none so why should your son grow up the same?”

“ Lady, you don’t know a damn thing about me…..I have an education you couldn’t possibly teach those children…I learned my lessons the hard way, now if you are through judging me I have other things I need to take care of while in town.”

“ We’re finished, for now…..Keep in mind though that I will not allow your son to start any trouble at my school……Do I make myself clear?”

“ Oh perfectly lady….. you might want to keep something in mind, my father, his grandfather is Murdoch Lancer and you wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for him. You see, he’s the president of the cattlemen’ association and the one who had the final say on your getting this job..” Johnny said as he swung up on Barranca and glared down at her.

“ Murdoch Lancer, the biggest rancher in the San Joaquin valley is your father?” Catha asked with a little surprise in her voice.

Johnny smiled at her then looked over at his son. “ I’ll see you this afternoon son.” he said as he turned his horse and rode on into town.

Johnny galloped into the yard and seen the man he wanted just walk out of the barn with his father and Scott. His grandfather Don Louis came over as he dismounted.

“ Juanito is everything alright?” he asked.

Johnny ignored him as he headed toward his father and brother, but his eyes were on the third man Dirk.

“ You sonofabitch.” Johnny said as he swung and hit Dirk hard in the mouth.

“ Johnny what’s the matter with you son.” Murdoch asked as he grabbed a hold of his son.

“ You can call me a mestizo or bastard if you want, but if you ever call my son that again, It’ll be the biggest mistake you ever make.”

Murdoch didn’t realize he had loosened his grip on his son until Johnny had Dirk on the ground pounding on his face again. Both he and Scott grabbed Johnny and pulled him off the now bloody man.

“ Dirk, get your gear and clear out….No man works for Lancer that would speak so hateful to a child. Scott go get his pay, you got ten minutes to clear out or I’ll finish what my son started.”

Scott hurried inside, checked the ledger and pulled out the money owed and headed back outside, handing it to the man when he came out of the barn.

“ If I ever see you on Lancer land I’ll have you shot on sight for trespassing.” Johnny said firmly.

“ This isn’t over yet breed…..you made a big mistake hitting me……Lets see how that bastard of yours likes you when he finds out he has a killer for a father.” Dirk said as he swung up in the saddle.

Scott grabbed his reins. “ You go anywhere near my nephew and it will be the last thing you ever do because you’ll not only have Johnny and Murdoch to worry about, you’ll have me and that man over there as well.” Scott said as he jerked a hand toward Don Louis standing behind them all with a rifle aimed right at Dirk.

“ Perhaps I should shoot you down now and let the coyotes have your stinking carcass?” Don Louis asked.

“ No.” Johnny said firmly. “ Let him ride out, but if you go anywhere near my son, I’ll kill you and I won’t loose any sleep over it.”

Dirk kicked his horse and galloped out of the yard.

Johnny turned toward his family. “ Los Siento, when Miguel told me that this morning, then the new school teacher saying what she did….I tried not to be angry when I got back here, but when I seen him walk out of the barn with you……”

“ You don’t need to explain brother…..is Miguel alright?”

“ Yeah, I think so. He asked me what bastardo meant.”

“ And what did you tell him Juanito?”

“ I told him the truth about me and his mother, just like you and my mother old man.” Johnny said looking at Murdoch. “ I knew he would ask, I had just hoped he would be older when he did.”

“ Son, what’s this about the new school teacher Mrs. Johnson?”

“ I need a drink.” Johnny said as he headed to the house but stopped. “ Frank could you…….”

“ Say no more Johnny, I got him.” Frank said as he took Barranca and headed to the barn.

Johnny downed a shot then poured another and walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantle, looking down at the small flames.

“ Johnny, what happened in town this morning?” Scott asked with concern.

“ Scott, he’ll tell us when he’s ready.” Murdoch stated.

Johnny turned around and faced them. “ Where did you  hire Mrs Johnson from?” he asked his father.

“ She was one of several who answered our request for a teacher son. Mrs Johnson was the most qualified……”

“ Where did you hire her from?” he asked again more firmly.

“ I have her file in my desk son, why?” Murdoch asked as he walked over to his desk and pulled out a file and laid it on the desk top and opened it.

“ What’s going on Juanito?’ Don Louis asked.

“ She knows all about me. In fact she told me that she will not tolerate a trouble maker in her school and that if my son starts or gets in any she will have him removed. She also asked me if Miguel knew who his father really was, about my past, and that some of the other children knew who I was.”

“ I guess I’ll have to have a talk with her.”

“ Don’t……..look Scott, Don Louis would you leave us alone please?” Johnny asked with hurt in his voice.

“ Sure brother, I’m here if you need me.” Scott told him before heading to the kitchen.

“ Juanito.” Don Louis said as he walked over. “ You are a good man and a good father. You are also someone I am proud to say is my grandson. I see more of a son and father before my eyes every day than I do the pistolero you used to be.”

“ Thank you sir.” Johnny said softly.

“ Talk to me son.” Murdoch said as he went to the side board and poured them both a shot.

“ I’ve never told him pa.” he said as he took the drink from his father. “ I’ve never spoke to him about my past and what I did.”

“ I see,……sit down.” Murdoch asked as he sat in one of the two chairs in front of his desk.

“ How do I tell my son what I did pa, who Johnny Madrid really is?”

“ You tell him the truth, like you always have Johnny……Tell Miguel what you think he can handle that you did back then.”

“ And what if it makes him hate me for lying to him?”

“ Johnny, you haven’t lied to him….You just haven’t told him about it yet son. Miguel is six years old, tell him you were going to have this talk with him when he was older, but that you feel that now is the time for the two of you to have it.”

“How can I tell my son that when I told him to never lie to me, to always tell the truth. He’s going to hate me for this pa, I just know it.”

“ But you haven’t lied to him…..Johnny, look at me…..You are a damn good father, I have watched you with Miguel and it makes me proud of the way you handle things with him son. You haven’t lied to him and he won’t think you have. Not telling someone something and lying to them are two very different things, you know that.”

“ Sure don’t feel like it  though.” he said before downing his shot. “ Guess me and you are a lot alike in this situation huh?”

“ What do you mean son?”

“ Well, you’re becoming a father to me these past six years and me trying to be a father to Miguel.”

“ We have had our trying moments haven’t we?” Murdoch asked with a smile.

“ Yeah, you know Pa, I wouldn’t change any of it because even though some of it was bad. It’s that past that got us here, together as a family.”

“ Neither would I son…..Can I ask you something though Johnny?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Would you consider changing your last name to Lancer?”

“ Why…. it’s Madrid that kept me alive all these years and got me here…..I’m not ashamed of my past, well most of it…I guess Teresa wanted to cause me pain is why she gave Miguel Madrid instead of Lancer for a last name. Does it shame you?”

“ Not at all son, not at all.”

“ Okay, let me ask you something then………..What was the first thing you felt when you found out that your youngest boy was the notorious gunfighter Johnny Madrid, the fastest and deadliest gun both sides of the border.”

“ At first, I was shocked then angry……I didn’t understand how or why, but you helped me see the real reason why you became Madrid………In fact, if you hadn’t, my son wouldn’t be standing here with me now having this conversation. The Johnny Madrid I had heard about, the supposedly cold blooded killer is not the man I have come to know and love. He is not the loving father I see teaching * his * son as he raises him. In fact I believe most of that was foolish nonsense, a wise-tale, because speaking from experience and being one of those fools who believed that wise-tale, I know my son could never be a cold blooded killer like I heard he was.”

“ You’ve seen me kill though.”

“ What I have seen son, and more importantly what I have learned is that Johnny Madrid only kills to stay alive, he is no different than me, Scott or any other man. When it comes down to survival, that’s what you do Johnny, you survive.

“ I know what happened between me and Teresa was wrong…I know I should have courted her proper like and never took her to bed……believe me, if I had known I got her with child I would have married her.”

“ I know that son……Don’t take this the wrong way, but I made that same mistake remember. I took your mother to bed and we were not married either.”

“ Think I’ll just stick with the whores in town on Saturday nights…. when I can go in.”

“ Yeah, you haven’t had much free time to yourself have you now that Miguel is older?”

“ No but a father has to make sacrifices. At least that’s what my esteem older brother tells me.”

“ Why don’t you go into town this Saturday night son and take some time for yourself. Me and Scott can watch Miguel.”

“ You sure?”

“ Yes son, one thing I have learned about you is how you need to….how should I say it……relieve your urges.”

“ That’s a good one pa, you must have got that from Boston…..Thanks.” Johnny said as he set his glass down and headed to the door.

“ What about Dirk son?……….Do you think he will be trouble?”

Johnny stopped at the foyer and turned facing his father. “ Yeah I do, I think me and him are going to dance and it will be soon.”

“ I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about not hiring him Johnny…….I should have known you picked up on something telling you he wasn’t a good man to hire. It won’t happen again.”

“ It’s alright, hell even I’m wrong about someone sometimes………..Look at you, I came here to kill you all those years ago because of what I was led to believe, sure glad I didn’t old man.”

“ So am I son……..Do you think that maybe Mrs. Johnson and Dirk know each other?”

“ Never thought about it, but now that you mention it, It does seem a little strange to me that both her and Dirk practically say the same thing on the same day to me.”

“ A little more than coincidence I think son……..Listen I’ll do some checking and see what I can find out about her, I’ll also see if a marshal friend of mine has ever heard of Dirk.”

“I don’t make it easy for you do I pa?”

“ Johnny, one thing I learned from my father and one you are learning is being a father is not supposed to be easy. He said if it was, then you were doing something wrong.”

“ Thanks, guess I better get started breaking that new batch of horses with Scott.”

“ Alright, how about me and Don Louis go and pick Miguel up after school?”

“ No, I appreciate the offer but I promised him I would be there. He likes to ride Barranca.”

“ Why don’t you get him a horse of his own?”

“ I thought about that pa, but I think I’ll get him a puppy and see how he handles that responsibility first before I get him his own horse.”

Murdoch walked over to his son and the two walked outside. “ You know, you are a very wise father son……….Aggie has some puppies at her ranch…I don’t know what they are but I believe they are ready for a home.”

“ Would you be alright with a puppy around here?…….I mean Miguel will have it in the house.”

“ Son, as long as you teach him the rights and wrong of having that puppy, it can sleep with him, but I know Maria will not have it in her kitchen.”

“ Kitchen, and being fed at the table, I’ll see ya later.”

“ Be careful.” Murdoch yelled after as he stood there watching his youngest head to the corrals with pride. He was proud of the man his boy had become and how he was being a good father to his own son, teaching him the rights from the wrongs and letting him learn as he grows, something sadly he himself never got the chance to do with neither boy.

Johnny stopped Barranca as the children came running out. Miguel walked out last with the teacher talking to her, when he spotted his father he ran to him and was pulled up into the saddle.

“ Hey little man, were you a good boy at school today?” Johnny asked, glancing at the teacher.

“Si papi, I was very good.” Miguel answered as he took up the reins.

“ Your son did exceptionally well on his reading and spelling…….He tells me that you or his uncle read to him every night?”

“ Yeah we do, I don’t want my son growing up like I did not knowing how to read, write or do his sums until later.”

“ Listen, I’m afraid I was very wrong in how I talked to you this morning Mr. Madrid. I was out of line and I would like to make it up to you, that is if you would give me a chance……I’m a very good cook and your son tells me that you are a very good eater.”

Johnny smiled ever so slightly. “ That won’t be necessary ma’am…..Besides I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong impression about you, being a single lady and all.”

“Widowed……and it’s Catha…….as opposed to ma’am.”

“Well Mrs……….Catha, I’ll think about it and let you know. Right now though me and my son should be heading back, we have something important to do on the way home.”

Johnny made Barranca take the south road at the split a couple miles out of town.

“ Where are we going papi?”

“ We are going to the Conway ranch, Mrs Conway has something there for you.” Johnny said with a smile he was glad his son couldn’t see.

“ Something for me……..What is it?” Miguel asked with excitement.

“ You’ll see,…………..so were the other children nice to you today?”

“ Yes, well all but one. He’s a new kid in town and he was bullying all of us boys, he even picked on the girls, he pulled the hair f one and made her cry.”

“ I see, and what did your teacher do about it?”

“ She made him write a hundred word uhm……..”

“ Essay?” Johnny added.

“ Yeah essay on why it’s wrong to bully other children………..Were you ever bullied papi when you were a kid?”

Johnny wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him. “ Yeah I was.” Johnny answered as he fought back memories he didn’t want to surface. “ Growing up below the border in Mexico having a Mexican mother and a gring…..American father, a kid like me wasn’t liked by the Mexicans or Americans………I got picked on by both the adults and the kids.” Johnny said as he decided to tell his son just a little about his past. “ You see Miguel, when my mother died I was only ten and I was left all alone…..the children in the orphanage they would beat me up and the padre’s they would call me the devils child…….not all of them mind you, but some Padre’s weren’t nice.”

“ Why did they call you the devils child?”

“ Because of my blue eyes and I wasn’t pure, I was mixed blood.”

“ But I have blue eyes, does that make me a devil child also?”

Johnny stopped Barranca. “ No son, you are not a devils child………You know where me and you get our blue eyes from?”

“ From grandpa Lancers side, he tells me stories about his familia  back in Scotland.”

“Oh  yeah.” Johnny answered as he moved Barranca out again.

“ How did you stop the others from picking on you?”

“ I ran away from the mission and scrounged around for food and such until I got older.”

“ Is that when you picked up a gun and became Johnny Madrid, the gunfighter?”

Johnny was caught totally off guard with his son asking him this. “ How do you know about Johnny Madrid the gunfighter?” he asked keeping his worry in check.

“ One of the kids has a dime store novel about you. Why didn’t you tell me you used to be a gunfighter papi?”

“ Because Miguel, that’s a part of my past I’m not proud of…….Listen to me son, I don’t know what is in that dime store novel about me, I don’t want you to believe what it says okay…..I did what I had to back then to survive….I got tired of being beaten, going to bed on the cold hard ground hungry with barely scarce clothes on my back, no coat or shoes……..I’m not proud of some of the things I did back then. I was a pistolero who did bad things and had bad things done to him until one day I seen the right and decided to put the only thing I was good at to use helping those who needed my help. When you’re older I’ll tell you about them, but for now son, please know I am not a cold blooded killer and never have been.”

“ I know that papi, my father could never kill a man in cold blood…….I can see it in your eyes……..Could you show me some time how fast you are with your gun though?”

“ Miguel, a gun is not a toy…..it’s a tool and should never be used unless you fully intend to kill…….do you understand what I’m saying?”

“ I think so……..what you’re saying is only use a gun to protect the ones you love from being hurt or what you own from being taken by others right?”

“ Yes, boy you’re sure smart, you sure you’re only six?”

“ Yes papi, grandpa Louis told me about using a gun the right way one night when he told me about his hacienda he had in Mexico.” Miguel told his father as they rode under the Conway ranch arche.

“ Why Johnny.” Aggie Conway said as she came out of her house and greeted him. “ Don’t tell me this is your son Miguel, my he’s grown.”

“ Yes ma’am.” Johnny said as  he got down and helped his son down. “ Miguel, this is Mrs. Conway.”

“ Pleased to meet you ma’am.” Miguel said politely.

“ Son you stay here a second while I talk to Mrs. Conway.”

“ Okay papi.”

“ What’s on your mind Johnny?” she asked as they stepped away from little ears.

“ Murdoch mentioned  you had some puppies……I was wondering if I could get one from you for Miguel.”

“ Why yes I do…how old is he now?” she asked.

“ Six.”

“ Ah, I think that is the right age for a boy to have a puppy and start learning responsibility.”

“ Yeah that’s what I was thinking, before I get him a horse.”

“ Come with me, they’re in the barn.”

“ Come on son, Mrs Conway is going to show you something in the barn.”

Miguel hurried to his fathers side and followed them into the barn to the back where six very playful puppies greeted them.

“ Oh wow papi, she has puppies.” an excited Miguel said as he went into the stall and was immediately mauled by eager pups.

“ You can have one son.” Johnny told him with a smile.

“ Really, I can have one of them for my very own? Will grandpa Lancer allow me to though?”

“ Yes, and I already talked to grandpa, there are rules you will have to follow….Having a puppy is a big responsibility son….There’s a lot you will have to do for him, you’ll also have to make sacrifices son.”

“ What does sacrifices mean?”

“ It means.” Johnny started as he stepped into the stall. “ You will have to get up at night to take him out to do his business, make sure he is fed and watered and kept clean when he’s older…..Whichever one you choose son can become your best friend if you raise him right.”

“ Amigo’s like you and Barranca are right?” Miguel asked as he got his face thoroughly washed.

“ Well I think I will leave you two alone now. Johnny tell Murdoch I’ll see him at the horse auction  in December in Sacramento.” Aggie said before turning to leave. “ Oh, will you be taking Miguel there?”

“ I was thinking about it……Letting him see a big town and maybe do some Christmas shopping while we’re there.”

“ Mrs. Conway, my papi’s birthday is in December, just before Christmas.”

Aggie stepped back over to the stall. “ Yes I know, he was almost a Christmas baby, but he just couldn’t wait two more days to be born…….I have some cookies I made up at the house and some cold lemonade. Why don’t you two come on up and sit on the porch with me and have some after you choose your puppy Miguel?”

“ Could we papi?”

“ Sure, but only one cookie okay, Maria will tan my hide if she finds out I let you have one before supper.”

“ Well we just won’t tell her.” Aggie said with a smile.

“ Grandpa, look what I got from Mrs. Conway.” Miguel blurted out as they rode into the Lancer yard.

“ Looks to me like you got a bundle of fur on your lap.” Murdoch said as he helped him down with the puppy.

“ Son, remember what I said about the rules with your puppy.” Johnny said as he got down and handed Barranca off to Frank.

“ I know papi, I remember what you told me. I also remember my promise to Mrs. Conway about being responsible for the puppy……Grandpa, I promise he will be a good dog and not chew on anything in the house.”

“ He looks pretty smart from what I see. Look how he’s just sitting there at your feet looking up at you waiting to go play.”

“Can I go play with him now?”

“ Yes, take him out in the grass there away from the stock for a few minutes, then you have to get cleaned up for supper.” Johnny told his son.

“ How’d it go at the school son?” Murdoch asked as they watched Miguel take off to the grass with the puppy hot on his heals before turning to go inside.

Johnny told him what Mrs. Johnson said to him and then he told him what his son said. This news shocked Murdoch and Scott as well, who had walked in hearing what his brother said about his son knowing who he was in the past.

“ Is he alright with it Johnny?” Scott asked.

“ Yeah, I think so…….I told him a little about my childhood and that when he’s older I’ll tell him more. Listen I’m gonna go clean up, I smell like puppy. Uh Scott could you make sure Miguel…….”

Scott put a hand up to stop him. “ Say no more brother…..You go on up and get cleaned up……We can handle Miguel and that little monster he has.” he said with a laugh.

“ I’ll let Maria know about the pup and to put some scraps together for it.” Murdoch told him.

“ Thanks pa.” Johnny said as he headed upstairs.

“ I think he’s worried sir, about Miguel knowing about his past.”

“ So do I…..We  talked about that this morning……I wonder how he found out?”

“ Maybe one of the kids had a dime store novel about Johnny that Baldanero sells.”

“ I think I will have a talk with him about selling those lies……Care to take a ride into town with me tomorrow?”

“ Not at all…… for now though I think I will go and play with my nephew and his new puppy before supper.” Scott said before heading outside.

Murdoch walked over and looked out the window and watched as his oldest son was chased and barked at by a little puppy as his grandson stood laughing. He soon found himself laughing out loud as he watched. Never before had he felt so much happiness as he had the past six years he has watched his youngest son become a better man and wonderful father  to his son. Deep down inside, Murdoch knew that that day they came back from Mexico and Johnny found out Teresa had abandoned their son at Lancer because her new family wanted no mixed blood child around to remind them of her past, he was proud of the way his son stepped up knowing this would be the greatest battle he had ever took on. Murdoch was also happy him and his youngest have become closer than they were and would continue to do so in the days and years to come.

                                                                       Chapter 2

“ Okay class, as you know Thanksgiving is in a couple days. What I would like from each of you is for you to come up here one at a time and tell us all what you are most thankful for…..We’ll start with the older children in the back of the class and Miguel you can go last okay?” Mrs. Johnson said as she looked around the classroom and smiled at Miguel after taking a seat.

Miguel sat at the front of the class with two other small children his age and listened to what all the others said. When it was his turn he stood up and took his place at the front of the class, standing next to the teachers desk, looking over at her he smiled then looked back at his classmates.

“ I’m thankful for my family. My uncle Scott is great and teaches me many things, my great grandfather Don Louis tells me many things about Mexico and the Hacienda he had down there, the land and the people. Grandpa Lancer he tells me about his family and the land far away he came from called Scotland,  his boat trip across the great ocean, my cachorro, sorry, I mean my puppy my papi let me have, he’s a real smart one.” Miguel said before looking at the teacher, then back at the class.

“ I am thankful for all those things, but there is truly only one thing I am really thankful for…….My papi……my mother didn’t want me and brought me to Lancer to live, and my father has raised me and makes sure I have what he didn’t when he was growing up below the border in Mexico. He’s a good papi and very smart and teaches me well.”

“ Yeah he’ll probably be teaching you how to be a killer just like him.” the oldest boy, Turk Cotter blurted out from the back of the class.

“ Turk, that will be quiet enough of that, nobody said harsh things to you when you spoke. I want you to tell Miguel you’re sorry.” Mrs. Johnson ordered.

“ I ain’t telling no halfbreed I’m sorry……..I bet you don’t even know how many men your father murdered do you?”

“ Turk, that will be enough.” she yelled.

“My father has murdered no one……those books you read about him are lies, he is a good man and helped many a small peasants who were being bullied by the richer men and stealing their food and belongings…….You yourself have bullied us smaller kids almost every day since you came here Turk……why?…….Does it make you feel smarter or as my papi said, more important than the rest of us because you’re bigger.”

Mrs. Johnson stood there and was proud of the way Miguel was standing up to Turk about his father, looking back at Turk she noticed a figure standing in the door she and her students had not heard open.

“ Miguel, you are thankful for your father, but what about your mother? Shouldn’t you be thankful to her for leaving you with him to be raised instead of in an orphanage?”

Miguel hadn’t noticed his father standing in the doorway. “ I guess so, I don’t really know ma’am how I should feel about a mother who doesn’t want her own child to love and raise.”

Johnny turned and stepped back outside after hearing what his son just said. When Miguel was four he had asked about his mother and though tempted to tell his son she was dead, he elected instead to be honest with  him, not wanting to be like his own mother who for all those years, telling him lies about his own father not wanting him and kicking them out.

Thirty minutes later the children bounded out of the school headed home. Miguel came out and seen Turk Cotter standing over next to a bench. Neither boy had noticed Johnny when they came out of the classroom since he was to the right of the door.

“ Hey halfbreed, I know why your mother didn’t want you.” Turk said with hatred as he hurried over to Miguel and grabbed him by the shirt just as the teacher came out.

Johnny put a hand on her shoulder to stop her from interfering and to let the two boys settle this between themselves.

“ Miguel is to small Johnny, Turk will hurt him.”

“ Just watch.” Johnny answered, knowing what his son was going to do. He himself had had to do this several times as a boy below the border.

“ You know nothing of my family Turk, you are just speaking hated words trying to be a big man when you are nothing more than a bully, a small peon.” Miguel stated, unnerved by the bigger boy.

The other children still there laughed at him, making him angrier yet.

“ I know what a killer your father is, my pa told me all about him, said those books you say are lies are the truth, that if they weren’t they wouldn’t have been wrote.” Turk said with anger in his voice. “ I’m gonna pound you into the ground and show these kids what a coward you are, because when I’m done, you’re gonna go running to the teacher or your pa crying.”

“ I think it is you who will be crying Turk.” Miguel said right before he kicked the bigger boy where he knew it would hurt just hard enough make him let go.

Turk let out a yelp as the other children laughed at him.

Miguel made a fist and hit Turk as hard as he could in the mouth, splitting his lip. “ Don’t you ever speak of my father in that way again.” he demanded as he stood with his fist up ready to fight the bigger boy if needed.

“ Alright children, that is enough……Miguel, I think he got your message young man……why don’t you go on home with your father now?”

Miguel turned and it was then that he seen his father had watched the whole thing. “ I’m sorry Mrs. Johnson, but I can’t let him speak of my father like that.”

“ It’s alright Miguel……I heard and seen the whole thing, You did good, standing up for yourself and your father…..Turk when you come back to school you will write a thousand word essay about how you will not be a bully to the other children.” Mrs. Johnson said with firmness. “ I will not tolerate you being a bully to the smaller kids…….I will also be having a talk with your father about this and I can assure you young man that if when you come back to my school, if you don;t change your ways, you will not be allowed to attend until you do…..Is that understood?”

Turk glared at Johnny, then looked at the teacher. “ He shouldn’t be allowed here, not with him as a father……Nobody will stand up to him because they’re all afraid of him killing them.”

“ Mr. Madrid has done nothing wrong, and the people here like him very much…..You young man have been misguided by that dime store novel you read…..You go on home now and we will continue this after Thanksgiving.”

Johnny had put Miguel in the saddle and swung up behind his son.

“ I’m sorry papi, for fighting.”

“ It’s alright son….We’ll talk about this at home tonight after dinner okay.”

“ Yes sir.”

“ Johnny, Miguel I am sorry about this.” Mrs. Johnson said as she walked over to them.

“ I’ll have a talk with Miguel tonight about fighting.” Johnny stated.

“ You want me to write an essay about not fighting Mrs. Johnson, and about what I did being wrong?” Miguel asked.

“ No Miguel. I would however like you to practice your sums for me on paper and show me when you come back. Would you do that for me?”

“ Yes ma’am.”

“ Have a good Thanksgiving you two.”

“ You too ma’am.” Johnny said as he turned Barranca and headed out of town.

That evening Johnny sat at the table in the kitchen after supper watching his son work out some math problems he had written down for him to do. Scott having helped him a few years back on the harder ones whenever the two could out on the range. Pride was something Johnny held very dear and when he had to drop that pride and ask for help on things he should have been able to do himself, it stuck in his crawl, but his big brother never laughed or got irritated with him. He even enjoyed when his big brother would read the bigger books to him, teaching him what certain words he didn’t understand meant.

Now he was getting the chance to teach his son some of that knowledge he stored away.

“ No son, that’s wrong.” he said as he pointed to the problem.

“ But papi eight plus eight is sixteen.” Miguel answered.

“ Yes, but you wrote sixty one.”

“ But when you say it the six comes first.”

“ Yes but the one should come first…..Miguel what it means is ten plus six……do you understand?”

Miguel rubbed his head confused.

“ Okay, how many fingers do you have, counting both hands?”

“ Ten.”

“ Okay if you have your ten fingers and I hold up six of mine, how many is that?”

“ Sixteen.”

“ Okay, now write ten on your paper.”

Miguel did.

“ Okay now write a plus sign and a six right next to it.”

“ Okay now, what is ten plus six?”

“ Sixteen papi…………but what is eight plus eight then?”

“ Sixteen son, there are several numbers you can put together to total sixteen besides the two we just did.” Johnny answered  as he looked up and seen his brother standing there with a smile on his face.

“ Uh Murdoch would like to see you brother.” Scott said as he stepped into the kitchen.

“ Would you….”

“ I would be honored little brother, Course the way I just heard you explain I may come to you brother. I don’t think a professor could do what you just did.”

“ Funny Boston, real funny.” Johnny said as he started to walk past.

Scott grabbed his arm and stopped him. “ Hey, I was being serious with what I just  said Johnny……..I wasn’t mocking you or anything else………You have an  uncanny way of figuring things out and explaining them little brother, and I admire that in you.” Scott told  him softly.

“ Thanks, I didn’t think you were.” Johnny answered with a slap to his brothers left shoukder before heading into the grand room.

Murdoch looked up from his paper he was reading when he heard his son enter the room.

“ Scott said you wanted to speak to me pa?” he asked as he walked over and poured a shot. “ You want one?”

“ Thank you, no son.” Murdoch answered.

“ Okay, whats up?”Johnny asked as he went over and sat down in a chair across from his father.

“ Johnny, you know next month is the auction in Sacramento?”

“ Yeah, the biggest sale of the year, well the last sale of the year for horses, why?”

“ Son, I’ve been watching you training that mare for cutting……Now I’m sorry to say this but until the other day I never really watched just how good you are……..What I was wondering is, would you think about taking that mare and some of your other horses to that auction to demonstrate how good the Lancer cutting horses are and let people know you have them son?”

Johnny downed his shot and set the glass on the desk. Letting out a sigh as he sat back in the chair.

“ The Clarkston stables pretty much have the only ones in the valley…….a little friendly competition in cutters would be good, provided the Clarkston ranch don’t get sore when I out sell him.” Johnny said with a grin. “ Yeah, why not pa……after all Lancer is a working cattle and horse ranch, lets expand out. Beyond the San Joaquin.”

“ Spoken like a true businessman son.” Murdoch said with a smile as he stood up and walked around to the other chair next to Johnny and sat down. “ I was wondering, as a father mind you, well when yo heard Miguel saying what he did in school, how did that make you feel inside son?”

“ Proud, pa  I was so proud of my son today, you should have seen him stand up to Turk Cotter.” Johnny started as a horse galloping into the yard could be heard.

“ Frank, what’s wrong?” Johnny asked as he opened the french doors and allowed the man inside.

“ Johnny, mister Lancer……..someone set fire to the north line shack today when the boys were out.”

“ Anybody hurt Frank?” Murdoch asked.

‘No sir, but the shack is gone, burnt clean to the ground.”

“ Frank, who was working up there?”

“ Uh Charlie Rose and Ned Jarrett….they went up there with supplies to stock the place for winter and found what was left of it burning.”

“ Where are they now?” Johnny asked.

“ They’re still up there…..cleaning up……..the only reason I know about it is Ned was riding back to tell you and I told him I would and sent him back with Charlie.”

“ I think maybe I’ll take a ride up there and look around tomorrow pa, Thanks Frank for telling us.”

“ Not a problem, good night sir, Johnny.”

“ Maybe I’ll take Miguel with me……there are Turkeys up there, maybe we can get one.”

“ You sure you want to take Miguel up there son….What if whoever set the shack on fire is around still and takes a shot at you?”

I got me a feeling it was Dirk who set the fire, and I’d be willing to bet a months wages he isn’t still up there, not in that area, why don’t you come with us tomorrow?”

“ No son, I need to make sure all the papers are in order for the horses we are taking to the auction, maybe Scott would ride along with you.”

“ Naw, heard him telling Teresa he would take her into town tomorrow for some last minute shopping for Thanksgiving dinner………Well I have a son I need to get to bed and read to……I’ll see ya in the morning Pa.”

“ Alright son, good night.”

“ Hey, you ready for bed yet boy?” Johnny asked with a smile as he entered his sons room.

“ Yes papi, I’m ready.” Miguel said as he scrambled onto his bed under under the covers.

“Miguel y tu y yo dar un paseo hasta la choza de la linea haciael norte por la manana?

( Miguel how about you and I take a ride up to the north line shack in the morning?)

“ Aspenas el dos de nosotros papa?  ( Just the two of us papa?)

“ Si, tal vez podriamos ver de conseguir un pavo y traerlo de vuelta a Maria a cocinar para accion de gracias.”  ( Yes, maybe we could see about getting a Turkey and bringing it back for Maria to cook up for Thanksgiving.)

“ Pap como llegamos hablando en espanol? Usted me dijo que hablara en ingles.” 

( Papa how come we are speaking in Spanish? You told me to speak in English)

“ Bueno hijo es solo usted y yo, y yo no quiero que te olvides de tu herencia.”

( Well son it’s just you and me and I don’t want you to forget your heritage )

“ Mi herencia? Soy mas mexicano que gringo? Mi madre habla espanol?”

( My heritage? Am I more Mexican than gringo? Did my mother speak Spanish?)

“ Si, sin su madre a pesar de que nacio en el Lancer, nunca hablaba el idioma.”

(Yes, no your mother  even though she was born at Lancer, she never spoke the language)

“ Por que no iba a ser mi madre? Estaba mal cuando era bebe o algo malo?”

( Why couldn’t she be my mother? Was I bad as a baby or do something wrong?)

“ Ningun hijo fuiste un bebe malo. Realmente no se por que se opto por traer de vuelta acqui para mi subir. Me alegro de que lo hizo, porque aunque es lo mejor que puede suceder. Algunaa vez a mi ahora, que dicen de empezar a leer este nuevo libro de Scott tio le consiguio llamado ToM Sawyer?”

( No son you were never a bad baby. I don’t really know why she chose to bring you back here for me to raise. I’m glad she did though because you are the best thing to ever happen to me, now what do you say we start to read thos new book uncle Scott got you called Tom Sawyer?)

“ Te amo papi.” ( I love you papi)

“ Te quiero a hijo.” ( I love you to son)

Maria had packed a good lunch for Johnny and miguel, knowing a child would get hungry along the way, she made sure there were some carrots and apples to snack on and had ordered Johnny to make sure his son ate the carrots and not the horses. It was beautiful fall day, the sky blue as father and son rode north. Johnny had saddled an older mare he knew wouldn’t spook for his son to ride. Barranca no matter what he tried, just wouldn’t let the mare get more than two feet away from him and stopped if she fell behind.

“ I’m going to teach you something that is very important son while we ride.” Johnny said as the two sat under an old oak tree eating a snack.

“ What’s that papi?”

“ How to track…..you see someone set fire to our line shack up here and we are going to ride around the area and see what tracks we can find.”

“ I know Barranca’ shoes.”

“ You do huh……How?” Johnny asked with curiosity.

Miguel stood up and walked over to the stallion who nuzzled his head and received a scratch on the chin. “ His shoes are different.  The right front one is worn down a little more than the others and is rounded off.”

Johnny stood up and walked over to his son, reaching down he picked up Barranca’ right front shoe and sure enough, it was rounded off more than the other three.

“ Okay, who taught you that son?” Johnny asked with a smile.

“ Tio Scott, dijo que el lo aprendi de ti.” Miguel stated. “ Tambien dijo que le han ensenado atras cosas que no conocia y que algunos de ellos no sabia que le estaban ensenando. Tio Scott dice que eres muy inteligente.”

( Uncle Scott, he said that he learned it from you.” Miguel stated. “ He also said that you have taught him other things he didn’t know and that some of them you didn’t know you were teaching him…….Uncle Scott says he loves to watch you and what you do because you are very smart.)

Johnny didn’t really  know how to respond to what his son had just said as he stood there and listened.

“ Papa, tio Scott, que te quiere mucho y me dijo que usted es mas inteligente que cualquiera de esos…pro…profesores que tenia cuando estaba en la escuela.” Miguel told his father.

( Papa, uncle Scott, he loves you very much and told me that you are smarter than any of those…..pro………those teachers he had when he was in school.)

“ Tengo que agradecer a mi hermano mayor para que le dice que el hijo.”

( I’ll have to thank my big brother for telling you that son.)

“ Usted aprendio su leccion de como papa?”

( You learned your lesson’s how papa)

“ Aprendi lo que se hijo que de la manera dificil, por mi cuenta. No me dejaban en la escuela com los demas ninos….yo tenia muy pocos, o ningun amigos….un recuerdo, un viejo granjero, el me enseno a leer y escribir mejor.”

( I learned what I know son the hard way, in my own. I wasn’t allowed in schools with the other children…….. I had very few if any friends…… one I remember, an old farmer, he taught me how to read and write better.)

“ Tu mama te enseno?” Miguel asked, looking up at his father.

( Didn’t your mama teach you?) Miguel asked, looking up at his father.

“ Ella me enseno lo que podia, hasta que se enfermo.”

( She taught me what she could until she got sick.)

“Es que cuando murio?”

(Is that when she died?)

Johnny squeezed his eyes shut as memories of his mother as a drunk came rushing back to him. One thing he vowed to never tell his son was how his grandmother drank and how she made what little money they had sleeping with men. He had also vowed to never tell his son how his grandmother was brutally killed by a drunken cowboy, and how he just ten years old had barely escaped being killed by that man and at the tender young age of thirteen, had hunted that man down and finding him in an El Paso saloon one night, gunned him down, starting the reputation Johnny Madrid now had.

“ Sin su estaba enferma durante un par de anos antes de morir.”

( No, your grandmother was sick for a couple of years before she died.)

“ Don Luis, he tells me…..”

“ Who?” Johnny cut in.

“ My bisabuelo.” ( great grandfather) “ He said it was alright to call him by his name……he  said he doesn’t feel old then.”

“ Son, it’s not proper for a young man to call an adult by his name….It’s disrespectful.”

“ But you do it with grandpa Lancer……I have heard you and uncle Scott both call him Murdoch.”

Johnny had to admit his son did have a point.

“ Alright, but only at the estancia, okay?…….And son I don’t ever want you calling me by my first name. You call me papa or father alright?”

“ Yes sir……Did I make you remember bad things about your mother?”

“ Why do you ask that?” Johnny asked as he went to pick up the saddlebags and put them back on Barranca.

“ I seen sadness in your eyes, like you wanted to cry……I didn’t mean to if I did.”

“ It’s alright son, I know you didn’t…..Listen, we need to get moving so we can do some tracking and find Maria a Turkey.” he answered as he tightened the cinch on the mare and put his son in the saddle.

“ Looks like Johnny and Miguel are riding back in sirs.” Scott said, addressing his father and Don Louis.

“ It looks like someone got tired and is asleep.” Murdoch stated as the three walked to meet the two.

“ You know brother, there is a say, a picture is worth a thousand words……You riding in with Miguel asleep in front of you I think qualifies as such.”

“ Could you get him down for me Scott and take him to his room? I don’t think he’ll stay awake for supper.”

Scott reached up and pulled a very sleepy nephew down and took him inside.

“ What did you find son?” Murdoch asked as Johnny got down.

“ That I need to have a talk with my brother, and you Don Louis.” he answered as he handed the horses off to Frank after removing the two Turkeys from the mare. “ As far as tracks, it was one rider, new shoes on the horse.”

Scott walked back out. “ He didn’t even wake up when I put him in his night shirt Johnny……That is one tired little man.”

“ Yeah, he did real good…….He told me what you had told him brother…….Thanks.”

Scott knew what his brother was talking about. “ I only told the truth.”

“ Yeah, well thanks. It means a lot to me.” Johnny answered before turning to face Don Louis.

“ You told Miguel he could call you by your name”

“ Si, I did not see any harm in it Juanito…….Hearing him call me great grandfather makes me feel very old.”

“ You should have asked me about it first……I told him it was alright, but only here at the ranch and only when nobody who isn’t family isn’t around.”

“ Maybe you should think about what you just said Juanito, You call your father by his name as do you as well Scott.” Don Louis stated.

“ I told the boys they could Don Louis when they came here since none of us knew each other and I wasn’t a father to them growing up.” Murdoch stated. “ What about the tracks son?”

“ Like I said, new shoes.”

“ So it could have been anyone?” Scott stated.

“ Anyone riding a horse with a bar on the hind shoes…….I don’t know of anyone in the valley who has to have shoes like that on their horse.” Johnny said as he started toward the house with the two Turkeys.

“Uh son, you might want to take those in the back door to Maria.” Murdoch said abruptly.

Johnny stopped and looked down at the two birds. “Yeah, I guess so huh.” he answered. “ Don’t want to get her mad at me.”

“Who shot them Johnny?” Scott asked.

“ Miguel, with the rifle.” Johnny said with pride before heading around the side of the house to the kitchen door.

Scott looked at his father and Don Louis. “ I guess Miguel is a good shot like his father.” he said with a smile.

“ It would appear so son. Let’s go clean those birds for Maria and let Johnny get cleaned up.”

“ I think Juanito is not telling us everything that happened up there.” Don Louis stated as the three men walked into the house.

“ Johnny wants us to know, he’ll tell us sir.” Scott said as he shut the front door.

“ I have a feeling a certain little boy is starting to ask questions about Maria.” Murdoch said.

“ He has not asked me about her, and if he does I will tell him only the good of her childhood.” Don Louis stated.

“ As will I….Johnny hasn’t told me very much at all about his childhood, the scars he has tell me enough about his childhood.”

“ As they do me also senor Lancer, It is my fault for not doing the right thing with Juanito all those years ago.”

“ It’s in the past, and one thing Johnny has taught me is that everyone deserves a second chance if they want it bad enough.”

Johnny set the two Turkeys down before opening the back door and stepping inside. He watched as Maria bustled about, getting supper ready.

“ Ah Juanito que  estan de vuelta. Usted y mi pequeno comia las zanahorias?”

( Ah Juanito, you are back. Did you and my little one eat tour carrots?)

“ Si mamacita, Miguel se comio sus zanahorias.”

( Yes mamacita, Miguel ate his carrots.)

“ Y no lo hiciste? Juanito tiene que establecer un buen ejemplo para su hijo.”

( And you did not?……..Juanito, you need to set a good example for your son.)

“ Me comi una. Tengo algo para ti.”

( I ate one. I have something for you.)

“ Sabia usted me consique una Turquia?”

( Did you get me a Turkey)

“Miguel rienes dos pavos.”

( Miguel got you two Turkeys)

 Johnny said as he reached down and picked up the two birds and showed her.

“Ah es como su padre, un hunter. I muy bueno se le prepare also especial para el postre.”

 ( Ah he is like his father, a very good hunter. I shall fix him something special for dessert)

“ Esta noche no mamacita, me remo que el esta dormido y probablemente no se despierta hasta la manana. El no se movio cuando Scott le llevo arriba.”

( Not tonight mamacita, I’m afraid he is asleep and probably won’t wake up until morning. He didn’t stir when Scott took him upstairs)

Ah, entonces yo le fijara un desayuno especial….Ahora, fuera de mi cocina con esos pajaros.”

( Ah then I shall fix him a special breakfast……..Now you, out of my kitchen with those birds )

Johnny couldn’t help but laugh as he walked outside with the birds.

“ Son, why don’t you let me and Scott clean those for you so you can go get cleaned up for supper?” Murdoch asked with a smile, having heard the conversation between Johnny and Maria.

Scott has a smile on his face as well as he took the birds from his brother.

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he headed back inside and up to his room.

                                                                     Chapter 3

Thanksgiving came and went and in one week Johnny, Scott, Murdoch and Miguel would be taking twenty head of horses to the auction in Sacramento. Miguel was excited to be going to a big town, constantly asking his family about the town.

“ Grandpa Lancer, can I ask you a question?” Miguel asked as he walked up to the big desk his grandfather was sitting at.

Murdoch looked up from the books he was going over. “ Yes you can, come on over here and sit on my lap.”

Miguel loved to sit on his grandpa’ lap. Something Murdoch loved the boy doing as well since his own two sons never got to.

“ Could you tell me about my grandmother?” he asked after getting situated on the big mans leg.

“ I sure can, what would you like to know?”

“ What she was like here.” he stated.

Murdoch opened his top drawer and took out the small picture he had in a locket of Maria and opened it. “ This is your grandmother, Johnny’ mother……..I met her when I was in Sonora, Mexico….It was love at first sight for us………I brought her here to Lancer and your father was born here nine months later.”

“ Two days before Christmas.” Miguel said.

“ That’s right. Johnny couldn’t wait two more days and be a Christmas baby…..he wanted to be born sooner……..Maria was a good mother to him and when he was old  enough I would take him around the ranch on my horse with me, like he does you on Barranca……..Maria as you can see was a very beautiful woman, she looked just like her mother and when we got married a lot of men were jealous because she chose me.”

“ Jealous……What’s that mean?”

“ Well it means I had something they didn’t…..Like you with your puppy….didn’t I hear Carlos’ son telling you he wished he had a puppy like him the other day?”

“ Yeah.” Miguel answered.

“ Well it’s like that son.”

“ How come she took my papa away from you and went to Mexico to live?”

Murdoch understood fully now what his son meant by a little boy asking certain questions too soon for his age.

“ I don’t know. You see Miguel, I don’t know if I wasn’t paying enough attention to her back then, I was building the ranch up and I don’t know if Maria just got lonely or what………You’ve seen how long the hours are with your papa, sometimes he’s gone at sunup and don’t come back till after dark.”

“ How did you know she had left and took papa with her?”

“ I awoke one morning and found her gone, Johnny too……She left no note or anything…..I searched all over for them and even had Pinkerton agents looking for them.”

“ What are Pinkerton agents?”

“ They are men kin of like the law that you can hire to find someone if you have the money.”

“ And they couldn’t find my papa?”

“ No, they didn’t find him until many years later…..You see I didn’t know Maria had died and Johnny had changed his name from Lancer to Madrid.”

“ And these Pinkerton men, they found him because Johnny Madrid was a famous gunfighter right?”

“ Yeah.” Murdoch answered as he remembered the report he’d received about how Johnny was rescued mere seconds before he was to be shot down by a Mexican firing squad.

“ How come papa can call you by your name, but he doesn’t want me to with Great grandpa Don Louis?”

“ I told your father and uncle Scott that they could since they were both grown men and I hadn’t raised either one of them so calling me father just didn’t seem right.”

“ Papa likes to call you an old man sometimes.”

“ Yes he does, I’ve asked him not to, but I know that when he does he doesn’t mean it in a disrespectful way.”

“ How do you know that?”

“ Because he is usually smiling when he says it………You see, Johnny knows not to call me that when he’s angry and we re having a disagreement.”

“ Did the two of you fight a lot when he came back here?”

“ We had our share of fights yes…..Your father can be quite stubborn at times, we didn’t know each other and sometimes It was my fault because I didn’t know him……..He tried real hard to please me with his work, the hardest thing he had that we argued about the most was his wearing his gun in the house and his manners.”

“ Papa says you are stubborn like a mule sometimes and won’t listen to reason.”

“ Oh he does does he……Well young man, your father can try my patience at times as I do his.”

“ Like when he was a gunfighter?”

“ Yeah, I’m afraid grandpa had a hard time accepting his son was one at first and my foolishness almost cost me my son a second time.” Murdoch told him as he reached into the top drawer of his desk. “ I want to show you something I have Miguel.” he said as he pulled a folded up paper out and opened it.

“ What’s that grandpa?”

“ This is from the year your father came back to Lancer. Before he did he was a sheriff down in Douglas,Arizona for a few years and your father with a couple of his deputies brought a lot of money to the bank in San Francisco on pack horses.”

“ That’s papa right there, I can see the badge he’s wearing…….wow my papa was a law man?”

“ Yes he was Miguel, and a real good one too…….This is when me and Scott first met him……when he brought the money into Morro Coyo I had just found out who my son was not long before from the Pinkerton agent I hired to find him for me.”

“ How come you don’t have this picture up on the wall or something?”

“ Well, I guess because I never thought about doing that young man.”

“ Papa’ birthday is coming up, you could do something nice with this and give it to him.”

“ I’ll tell you what Miguel, how about when we are in Sacramento, you and me look for the right frame to put it in for him?”

“ Wow, that would be good grandpa, I know papa will like it.”

“ I hope he does.”

“ He loves you grandpa Lancer….I see it in his eyes when he talks to you…..He’s happy when he’s with you.”

“ Well I’m happy when I’m with him….Just like when I’m with Scott and you also.”

“I think I’m gonna go see what my puppy is doing now.” Miguel said as he got down. “ Thank you for talking to me about my grandmother.” he said as he gave Murdoch a hug.

Murdoch hugged Miguel back. “ You are quiet welcome young man…….Now you stay away from the  corrals where your father is breaking horses okay?”

“ I will.” Miguel answered before hurrying off to find one black and white mischievous puppy he had named Ranger.

Johnny walked toward the house and seen his son playing with Ranger on the veranda. A smile came to his face as he watched his son with the pup trying to teach it to sit and stay.

“ Hey, what you two been up to this afternoon?” he asked.

“Papa.” Miguel said as he scampered into his fathers waiting arms. “ I had a talk with grandpa today about my grandmother and now I’m trying to teach Ranger to sit and stay, but he won’t listen to me.”

“ Well how about I help you teach him after supper?” Johnny asked as he hugged his son.

“ Really?”

“ Sure, we can do it in the house where it will be warmer.”

“ Thanks papa…..I should go get cleaned up for supper now.”

“ Yeah, you don’t want Maria mad at you, make sure you get your hands good and clean okay?”

‘ I will, she made a chocolate cake for dessert tonight for you.” Miguel said before running off into the house and up the stairs.

Johnny walked into the foyer and took off his hat and coat before stepping down into the grand room, were he seen his father at his desk.

“ Hey Murdoch, Miguel says you two had a talk about Maria this afternoon?” he asked as he went and poured himself a shot.

Murdoch stood up and walked over to him. “ Yes we did son…….He wanted to know what she was like and asked me why she took you from here.” he stated.

“ What’d you tell him?” Johnny asked before downing the shot.

“ I told him I didn’t know why she left here and took you with her…..and I don’t, I never will.”

“ Yeah, that makes two of us.” Johnny answered as he went and sat down on the couch. “ You know pa, I hoped Miguel wouldn’t ask the questions he is until he was older……I won’t tell him the truth about her…..you know, how she was in Mexico, what really happened to her…….I can’t.”

“ About how you hunted the man down that killed her when only fourteen and killed him?”

“ Yeah, the first man Johnny Madrid ever killed………….I hate it you know?”

“ Hate what son?”

“ Her lying to me all those years about you, what we went thru in Mexico, how I was treated by her and others down there.”

“ I don’t think you really hate her son…….I think you are more angry at her than anything else for the lies she told you.”

‘ I was her son Murdoch, she was supposed to protect me and love me, not beat me and ignore me like she did.” Johnny said with anger in his voice as he stood up. “ I’m going to go get cleaned up……Me and Scott got those horses all ready for the auction.”

“ Alright son.” Murdoch answered as he watched his son walk away and head upstairs.

Murdoch, Scott, Johnny and Miguel rode into Sacramento early on the day before the auction and checked the horses in that they were selling.

“Why don’t you three go get us checked into the hotel? I reserved two rooms for us all.” Murdoch said.

“ Alright sir. Where shall we  meet up at later?”

“ Well I’m going to finish up here and look around at the other stock, we can meet in the hotel for supper, say around five?”

“ Sure, me and Miguel wanted to do some Christmas shopping while here.” Johnny stated.

“ I’ll meet you two then and maybe the three of us can figure out what to get this one for Christmas?” Scott said as he gestured toward his father.

“ I’ll see you two later sons.” Murdoch said before walking away.

“ Well lets go get our room and get the horses bedded down at the livery so we can do some Christmas shopping.” Johnny suggested.

Neither Scott nor Johnny were aware they were being watched from across the street as they headed to the hotel.

“ Oh papa, uncle Scott look at all that candy.” an excited Miguel said as the three stopped in front of a candy store.

“ Yeah that sure is a lot isn’t it Miguel?” Scott stated.

“ That’s more candy than Baldanero’s would sell in a year.” Johnny said right before his brother tapped him on the shoulder.

“ Johnny.”

Johnny looked at his brother then to where he was looking. Standing across the street was the one  person Johnny had hoped to never see again.

“ Scott why don’t you take Miguel inside and let him buy some candy for all of us and look around?”

“ You don’t want to come with us papa?”

“ I need to go take care of something first son. I’ll be along in a few, I promise.” Johnny said as he took a dollar out and gave it to Miguel. “ Why don’t you get me a couple of those peppermint sticks and whatever else you want son.”

“Okay papa, come on uncle Scott.”

“ Johnny, you sure you want to do this?”

“ I’ll be alright, you go on, I don’t want him to see her.” Johnny said before stepping off the walk and crossing the street.

Scott watched his brother until Miguel came and took his hand and pulled him into the candy store.

Johnny stepped up onto the walk. “ What are you doing here Teresa?” he asked coldly.

“ I live in Sacramento Johnny….Is that our son Miguel?” Teresa asked as she looked over at the candy store again.

“ That’s my son….See he stopped being your son when you gave him up.”

“ No matter what you feel toward me Johnny, Miguel is still my son……I’m the one who gave birth to him.”

“ And I’m the one who is raising him, not you.” Johnny retorted.

Teresa went to step off the walk into the street when her right arm was grabbed.

“ Where do you think you’re going?” Johnny demanded.

“ To see my son, now let go of my arm Johnny.” she demanded.

Johnny stepped down to within an inch of her face and tightened his hold on her arm. “ You stay away from Miguel……..and you stay the hell away from me.”

“ You told him I’m dead didn’t you?…….That’s why you don’t want me seeing him.”

“ No, but he does know you left him, that you didn’t want to love him and be a mother to him…….Tell me something Teresa……Was it worth it?……..Was that man and his family worth the price of our son?”

“ I don’t have to explain anything to you Johnny………You want to know about price……..I’ll tell you price……..You took me to bed and got me pregnant and then Murdoch sent me away……Tell me something……Did you have him do that because you couldn’t stomach looking at me any more after you got what you wanted?”

“ You got a short memory Teresa………It was you who wouldn’t leave me alone…….It was you who kept coming on to me until I took you to bed, so don’t you dare stand there and try and put the blame on me…..If Scott’ grandfather hadn’t wrote and told us you were with child, I never would have known.”

“ Oh you poor thing, you sound so broken up. Poor Johnny Madrid, get’s an innocent girl pregnant and then dumps her………..You know why I gave him Madrid for a last name?………It was so everyone would know that you, the cold blooded killer could never have the peace you so wanted.” Teresa said with hatred. “ You know, Miguel is just like you Johnny……..You’re both bastards, We weren’t married when you got me pregnant just like Murdoch got your whore mother pregnant…….Regardless of what Murdoch told you……..a child created out of wedlock is just a bastard.”

“ I suggest you walk away from here now Teresa, before I forget I’m a gentleman.” Johnny ordered coldly between clenched teeth.

“ I will see him, and he will know I’m his mother Johnny……..You can’t keep me from him forever.” Teresa said before walking away, rubbing her arm.

Johnny watched her walk away and found himself wondering just how the innocent sweet girl he made love to six years ago could turn into someone so vindictive and full of hate.

“ You alright son?” Murdoch asked, noticing how his youngest had hardly spoken during their meal.

“ Yeah, I’m fine pa, I’m sorry I guess I was lost in thought.” he answered as he looked at his brother.

After the unexpected meeting with Teresa, Johnny talked to Scott later that afternoon and made him promise to not say anything to Murdoch about the encounter.

“ Papa, could I have a piece of pie?” Miguel asked.

“ I don’t know, I don’t see a clean plate………..What do you think Grandpa……..Does he deserve one?”

“ Well I think he ate very good tonight son.” Murdoch answered as he winked at Scott who sat back and gave a small laugh.

None of the Lancer men seen Teresa walk into the dining room and sit down, nor did she see them seated in the back by the fireplace.

“ He’s a bottomless pit like you are Johnny……..I don’t see how either one of you can eat so much and be so skinny.” Scott said teasingly.

Miguel yawned as he set his fork down. “ Papa, I’m tired.”

“ Okay son, lets go upstairs and get you to bed.” Johnny said as he stood up.

Murdoch placed money on the table as he stood to pay for the meals. “ Son, why don’t you and Scott go out and have some fun for a while? I can take Miguel up and put him to bed”

“ You sure?” Johnny asked.

“ Yes, now go and do what I know you want to do son….We’ll be fine.” Murdoch told him.

Miguel had started for the stairs, but stopped when he heard a woman call his name.

“ Hello Miguel.” Teresa said as Miguel walked past her table.

“ Scott, take Miguel upstairs for me.” Johnny asked.

“ Come on Miguel, lets go get you ready for bed.”

“ I guess you don’t hear to well Teresa……I told you to stay away from him and I mean it.”

“ Hello Murdoch….Judging by the surprised look on your face I take it Johnny didn’t tell you about our meeting this afternoon.” Teresa says as she ignores Johnny.

“ Teresa……..what are you doing here?” Murdoch asked.

“ Why I’m going to have dinner. The food here is quiet good……….Tell me something, has the great Johnny Madrid here got any other bastard children running around?”

“ Let’s go Murdoch.” Johnny ordered as he started to walk away from her.

“ Miguel is not a bastard. I can’t believe you would even say such a thing about your own son Teresa.”

“ Oh didn’t he tell you, oh silly me, of course he didn’t……..Johnny tells me that Miguel isn’t my son any more………..Remember what I said Johnny, Miguel will know I’m his mother.”

Johnny stepped back to her table and started to speak, but was stopped by Murdoch.

“ Let me tell you something young lady……..As long as I’m breathing, my grandson will not know you are his mother……..You gave him up to Johnny and had papers signed by a judge making it all legal and when you did that, you gave up any right you had to Miguel……..Stay away from him, and stay away from us……….Is that clear?” the Lancer patriarch demanded.

“ You don’t call the tune here, and you don’t tell me what I can and can not do……he will know who I am and not you……or you Johnny can stop me.”

“ Go ahead and try Teresa, you come anywhere near my son and I’ll have you put under a peace bond.”

‘ Oh Johnny please……..the great Johnny Madrid threatening me with a peace bond, really.”

“ Let’s go son.” Murdoch said.

Christmas was a week away and Johnny and Scott talked about going and cutting down the tree.

“ Can I come too papa?” Miguel asked as the Lancer men sat around the dinner table.

“ I don’t see why not……You’re big enough to go with us now.” Johnny answered.

“ Papa when will Bisabuelo be back?” great grandfather)

“ I don’t know son, sometime after the new year when he is finished settling his hermano’ affairs.”

“ Look at this one papa, it’s nice and big.” Miguel said as he stood next to a tree.

Johnny and Scott walked thru the snow over to him and looked at each other and smiled.

“ Brother I do believe your son has found the perfect tree.” Scott said.

“ I do believe you’re right Boston.

An hour later Johnny and Scott had the tree wrapped up in a burlap cloth and secured behind Scott’ horse.

“ We better get moving, looks like a storm is brewing up.” Johnny said as a blast of cold wind hit his face.

“ Yeah, we don’t need to get caught in a snow storm.” Scott said as he mounted his horse.

Johnny grabbed Miguel and swung him up in the saddle, knocking his hat off. Reaching down to pick it up as a shot rang out and he went down.

“ Papa.” Miguel yelled as he jumped off Barranca and went to his father’ side.

“ Miguel stay down.” Scott ordered as he jumped down, rifle in hand and went to his brother.

“ Papa’ bleeding uncle Scott.” A scared Miguel said as tears ran down his face.

Scott scanned the tree line in the direction the shot came from and could see no movement. Whoever had fired he hoped had left after just the one shot, thinking they had killed his brother.

“ Johnny.” Scott said as he looked at the wound and breathed a sigh of relief seeing the bullet had only grazed his side deeply. “ Miguel stay down okay……..I’m going to get my saddlebags so we can stop the bleeding alright…….I need you to stay down.”

“ Is papa going to die uncle Scott?”

“ No, the bullet just creased him……..I promise you, Johnny will be alright.” Scott said before scrambling to his horse and removing the saddlebags.

Three hours later a hurting Johnny, Scott and Miguel rode into the Lancer yard.

“ Miguel go get grandpa Lancer for me.” Scott asked as he got down and went to his brother.

“ Frank, send a hand to town for the doc.” he ordered

“ Right away Scott.” Frank answered as his father came out.

“ What happened?” he demanded as he helped get Johnny down.

“ He’s been shot….It’s just a graze but I think the bullet may have cracked a rib.” Scott answered.

“ I can walk.” Johnny said softly not wanting to scare his son any more.

“ Let us help you Johnny so you don’t get that bleeding any more than it already has.” Scott suggested.

Sam came downstairs later that evening and was immediately met by Miguel.

“ Is my papa okay doctor Sam?”

“ Yes Miguel, your father will be sore for some time, he has a fractured rib so you will have to be very careful hugging him alright young man?” Sam said as he looked into a sad worrisome face.

“ Can I see him now?”

“ He’s resting, but yes you can up to his room, just try not to wake him up.” Sam said as Miguel bonded up the stairs.

“ How is he Sam?” Murdoch asked as he poured his long time friend a drink and handed it to him.

“ Thank you, you know it’s been something like four or five years since Johnny’ been shot….Was he called out?”

“ He wasn’t called out Sam.” Scott stated. “ He was ambushed when we were on our way home with the Christmas tree……Miguel seen him get shot, hell Johnny had just put his son on Barranca and bent down to pick up his hat when he was shot.”

“ My god, whoever it was then is still out there.” Sam stated. “ What kind of person would shoot at another with an innocent child right there.”

“ One wanting a reputation Sam.” Murdoch said with anger.

“ I don’t think so sir, not this time…….I don’t think it was someone wanting Johnny dead for that……I think this was more personal.” Scott said. “ I think it was someone Johnny knows, someone from here in the valley.”

“ Who the devil would want him dead Scott…….Your brother gets along with everyone here now, like Sam said, he hasn’t been called out, hell he don’t even wear his gun like he used to any more.”

“ Dirk or maybe Turk Cotter’ father Travis……..Everyone knows how he feels about Johnny and Miguel.”

“ I don’t think Travis Cotter would do something like this son…….the man likes to bully people, but he wouldn’t harm a child”

“ Whoever it was may try again sir.”

“ Well I told Johnny I want him to stay in bed at least a week, he won’t be riding no horses or doing any work I’m afraid Murdoch until that rib heals.” Sam said as he set his glass down. “ I should be getting back now, I’ll see you all for Christmas dinner.”

“ Alright Sam, thanks.” Murdoch said as he walked his friend out.

Scott headed upstairs to make sure Miguel hadn’t woke his father up.

Miguel opened his fathers door and quietly stepped inside.

“ Come here son.” Johnny said softly as he turned his head toward the door.

“ Papa…I was so scared for you…..I thought you were going to leave me.” Miguel said as he climbed up on the bed next to his father.

“ Not if I can help it son I won’t……..Are you alright?”

“ Si, I am okay……doctor Sam says you have a  broken rib.”

“ Kinda yeah, I won’t be able to do to much for a couple weeks until it heals up, but hey, we can lay around and read and  play checkers.”

“ I’d like that papa………….Papa who shot you?”

“ I don’t know son.”

“ He’s a bad man whoever he was…….Grandpa Lancer and Uncle Scott they are very mad about this.”

“ So am I son, because whoever shot me put you at risk as well.”

Johnny looked when his door opened. “ Hey I just wanted to make sure you two were alright.” Scott said as he stepped into the room.

“ Yeah……hey Scott, thanks for making sure Miguel was alright and not hurt up there.”

“ You’re welcome. You think I would let someone hurt the best nephew I have?” he asked playfully.

“ Uncle Scott, I’m the only nephew you have.” Miguel informed his uncle.

“ Listen Miguel, how about we go downstairs and start decorating the tree and let your father get some rest?”

“ You can’t come down and do it with us can you papa?”

“ No, you go ahead son, I’ll see it in a couple days okay.”

Miguel gave his father a hug around the neck before scampering off the bed and out the door.

“ Close it Scott.” Johnny said as he tried to get more comfortable.

Scott closed the door. “ You have an idea who it was don’t you?”

“ Teresa, I feel it in my gut Scott……..After six years she wants to know Miguel now…..why?

“ You got a point there brother, but do you really think Teresa would do such a thing?”

“ Yeah I do…….Listen send a letter to that lawyer friend of your in Sacramento, ask him to see what he can find out about her and her husband.”

“ If she’s still married, I take it that this is between us only, that our father isn’t to know about this?”

“ Murdoch will know when the time is right.”

“ Alright Johnny…..You get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning.” Scott said before opening the door and leaving his brother to rest.

Miguel, Murdoch and Scott sat in the grand room drinking coffee, milk and eating a piece of chocolate cake Maria had made for Johnny’ birthday.

“ Grandpa, can we give it to him now?” Miguel asked as he set his plate down.

“ I believe so, you know where it’s at.”

“ Wait till you see what me and grandpa got you for your birthday papa.”

“ I hope you like it son….it was Miguel’ idea to do this for you….Truth is I had almost forgot I had it.”

Johnny took the big flat gift from his son who sat down next to him waiting anxiously.

“ Thanks.” Johnny told them as he opened the gift.

Inside the wrapping was a beautiful brass frame with a picture inserted in it and and below the news article printed up about Johnny Madrid and his deputies and how they transferred half a million dollars on pack horses from Douglas, Arizona to San Francisco. Johnny sat there looking at the gift trying to keep his emotions in check as he swallowed a lump that came to his throat.

“ What is it brother?” Scott asked.

Johnny slide it over to Scott to see. “ Come her son.” he said as he reached out to him.

“ Do you not like it papa?”

“ I love it, thank you……..it’s the best gift I’ve ever got for my birthday……..Thank you Murdoch.”

“ You’re welcome son, we picked the frame out while in Sacramento for the auction.”

“ I love it……and I love you son…….maybe you and grandpa can find the perfect place to hang it up for me?”

“ Sure we can papa.”

A knock at the front door caused Miguel to startle and Johnny to wince from pain as his son bumped his fractured rib.

“ I’m sorry papa.”

“ It’s alright son.” Johnny told him.

“ I wonder who in the world that could be?” Murdoch asked.

“ I’ll get it sir.” Scott answered as he headed to the door and opened it.

“ Hello Scotty.” came a familiar voice.

“ Grandfather.” Scott said with a little shock in his voice.

“ Uh may I come in?”

“ Of course sir, please forgive me.” Scott said as he took his grandfather Harlan Garrett’ hand and shook it.

Murdoch walked over toward the foyer and stopped as the two stepped down into the room.

“ Hello Murdoch.” Harlan said as he entered the room.

“ Harlan.” Murdoch answered.

“ I realize this is a surprise, my showing up like this unannounced and all, but I wanted to spend Christmas with Scotty this year. I hope that’s alright Murdoch?” Harlan told him as he removed his coat.

“ Of course it is, he’s your grandson, we didn’t know you were coming or we would have met you in town.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise, and from the look you had on your face Scotty, I believe it was.”

Johnny got up and stood by the couch with his son in front of him.

“ Hello Johnny.” Harlan said as he walked over and extended a hand.

“ Mister Garrett.” Johnny acknowledged as he shook the mans hand.

“ Well now, don’t tell me this is Michael.” Harlan inquired.

“ Who is Michael papa?” Miguel asked, looking up at his father.

“ Mister Garrett this is my son Miguel.”

“ Hello sir.” Miguel said.

“ My how you have grown, the last time I seen you, you were just a baby.” Harlan said.

“ You knew me when I was a baby sir?”

“ Yes, you and your mother stayed with me in Boston for a spell.”

“ Son, it’s getting on near your bedtime.” Johnny said, wanting to put an end to the conversation.

“ Yes papa……I’ll go get ready……Grandpa are you still going to read me a bedtime story?”

“ I promised you I would……..If you will excuse me.” Murdoch said as he headed upstairs with Miguel.

Johnny waited until Miguel was upstairs and his door closed before looking at Harlan and speaking.

“ He doesn’t remember Boston, or his mother Mister Garrett, so I would thank you to not speak of back then in front of my son.” Johnny said with enough firmness in his voice to make his point clear.

“So I gather that young Teresa, his mother is not here?” Harlan asked.

“ Teresa brought Miguel here for Johnny to raise six years ago grandfather.”

“ What……why she adored him so much…………Ah I see now……..Her husband and his family, they are quiet well off and I have been doing business with them for some thirty years now…Her husbands parents passed away in a tragic accident last year and the business is now run by Dale….I see now why she gave him up.”

Johnny stepped toward Harlan. “ Why, because he’s like me old man? A half breed who in your rich fancy back east people’s eyes ain’t good enough to live in your high and mighty society?”

“ Johnny…….that’s uncalled for brother.” Scott said.

“ No Scotty, let him speak.” Harlan ordered.

“ Out of respect for my brother, I’m going to say this and you better hear me Garrett………If you came here for any other reason besides spending Christmas with Scott I suggest you forget it now.” Johnny ordered in a firm, but cold Madrid voice.

“ I am here to spend Christmas with Scotty, Johnny……..I’m afraid we got off on the wrong foot it would seem.” Harlan said as he notice the picture on the couch and picked it up. “ One of your memento’s of the past I take it?” Harlan asked Johnny as he looked at the picture.

“ Uh grandfather, that was a gift from Murdoch and Miguel to Johnny tonight…….It’s his birthday sir.” Scott said as he walked over and took the picture from Harlan.

“ I see, well I suppose this is a surprise to you Johnny…….being a gunfighter and still alive.”Harlan remarked snottily.

“ Grandfather.” Scott said loudly. “ That will be enough sir…….If you are going to be ride to my brother and treat him like you are, then sir you can turn right around and leave….Johnny has done nothing to you and does  not deserve you treating him like you are.”

“ Of course you’re right Scotty……Johnny I am sorry for the way I spoke to you…..It’s been a long trip and I am quiet tired………Please forgive me?” Harlan said and asked as he extended his hand.

Johnny looked at the proffered hand a second then turned and walked away, headed into the kitchen.

“ Your halfbreed brother could use some manners Scotty.” Harlan said after Johnny left the room.

“ Johnny has manners sir, It is you who could use them….Don’t ever call my brother a halfbreed again…..I’ll show you to your room now.”

Johnny sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee when his brother came down the back stairs.

“ I don’t know what else to say other than I’m sorry Johnny.” Scott said with sincerity in his voice as he sat down across from him.

“ Not your fault Boston…….I could have kept my temper in check better I guess and not spoke to him the way I did.”

“ You did nothing wrong Johnny.” Scott told him, hoping to reassure his little brother and get him out of his gloomy mood.

“ I don’t buy it Scott…..I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”

“ What?”

“ First Teresa in Sacramento, and now Harlan shows up here unannounced.”

“ You think grandfather and Teresa are going to try in some way to get Miguel away from you?”

Johnny looked up at his brother. “ He does Scott, and…….I’ll kill any man who tries to take my son from me.”

Scott wasn’t to surprised by the words his brother spoke. “ You’re not a killer any more Johnny.”

“ Yes I am Scott, just like you and Murdoch everyone can be…the only difference is I started doing it when I was fourteen.” Johnny said as he stood up. “ It ain’t ever gonna change for me……..I’ll always be branded a killer Scott, no matter what I do to try and change my life……..In someone’s eyes I always will be……….He was right you know…….for a gunfighter I am old.”

“ You’re not a gunfighter any longer Johnny……You haven’t been since Miguel came into your life.” Scott said as he stood up and walked over to his brother.

“ My past will always be there were yours won’t Scott…….mine will and it will cost me my life some day.”

“ No it won’t..not if I have any say in it brother.” Scott said as he wrapped an arm around him.

“ I’m going to go check on Barranca Scott…..I’ll see you in the morning.” Johnny said before leaving the kitchen.

“ It’s snowing brother so be careful.” Scott said to his brothers back before pouring a cup of coffee and sitting down at the table just as Murdoch came into the kitchen.

“ I just seen your brother…….he looked upset son.”

“Hurt is more like it sir…….I’m afraid my grandfather said some harsh things to Johnny while you were upstairs.” Scott said, then proceeded to tell his father what was said.

“ How do you feel about that son?” Murdoch asked.

“ Angry that he spoke the way he did to Johnny.”

“ I meant about what Johnny said about killing?”

“ I wouldn’t expect anything less from him sir.”

“ Why, because of his past or because he’s a father wanting to raise his son?”

Scott sat there staring at his coffee a minute before he answered. “ A father, Johnny’ past is just that…..If it was me, I would feel the same way he does……..Johnny thinks it’s more than a coincidence my grandfather is here.”

“ Why’s that?”

“ Teresa in Sacramento and the fact that he wasted no time talking about her and Miguel in Boston.”

“ He thinks Harlan and Teresa will try something?” Murdoch asked.

“ As do I sir….My grandfather from what I remember never showed up anyplace unannounced.”

“ Let’s wait and see son, before we come to  the wrong conclusions.” Murdoch answered.

“ I think I’m going to turn in now sir.” Scott said as he stood up.

“ Scott…..please don’t take what I’m about to say wrong………..I’m glad both of my sons are here with me, but I’m especially glad Johnny is, and that he has had the chance to live this long.”

“ So am I sir, so am I……..I’ll see you in the morning.” Scott said before heading up the back stairs to bed.

Murdoch walked into the grand room and looked out the french doors toward the barn. He could see a light shining inside faintly and knew his youngest would probably not come in any time soon. Walking over to the table at the end of the couch, he turned the lamp down to a soft glow so his son could see when he came in later before deciding to head up to bed himself.

Murdoch couldn’t help but feel that this holiday time would be one that they all would remember and not in a good way.

Christmas came and went without anymore harsh words spoken to Johnny from Harlan. In fact Johnny did his best to avoid the man all together, him and Miguel would stay upstairs reading together or outside if the weather allowed teaching Ranger tricks.

On the last day of the  year Johnny was in the barn with Barranca as Miguel played in the snow outside with Ranger. That was until Johnny heard a voice he didn’t want to hear at Lancer again.

“ Hello Miguel.” Teresa said as she walked her horse into the yard and got down.

“ I remember you……You’re the lady in the Hotel in Sacramento…….the one my papa didn’t want me talking to.” Miguel said as he took a hold of Ranger’s collar as the pup started to bark and growl at her.

Teresa knelt down in front of him. “ Yes I am, did your father tell you who I am Miguel?” she asked.

“ No ma’am……..are you a friend of his?”

“ No Miguel…….I’m your mother……and I’ve come to take you home with me.” she told him.

“ Miguel.” Johnny yelled as he came out of the barn. “ Son go inside the house now.” he ordered.

Miguel glanced at his father then back at Teresa. “ My mother?”

“ I said go in the house now son.” Johnny ordered more firmly.

 Miguel ran to the house, ranger right behind him.

“ He knows now who I am Johnny.” Teresa said with an evil smile.

“ You bitch, I told you to stay the hell away from my son and I meant it.” Johnny said angrily as he grabbed her arm. “ Get out of here now, before I have you arrested for trespassing.”

Miguel ran into the house, right into Murdoch’ arms. “ Don’t let her take me grandpa, please.”

“ What on earth…….who Miguel?” he asked confused.

“ That woman from the hotel is outside with papa…….she said she’s my mother……..I don’t want to go with her…….I don’t want to leave Lancer…..please don’t let her take me away from papa.”

Murdoch looked at Scott, then Harlan before heading to the door. “ Stay inside Miguel, nobody is taking you away from Lancer.”

Scott and Harlan followed Murdoch outside where they found Johnny and Teresa in a heated argument in the yard.

“ He’s my son and I have come to take him home with me.” Teresa said as she tried to get her arm free.

“ He’s not your son any more……you made that clear when you called him a bastard in Sacramento remember……your own flesh and blood…….get the hell out of here now.” Johnny ordered as he shoved her away from him.

“ Teresa.” Murdoch yelled as he hurried over with Scott and Harlan behind him.

Teresa turned and seen Harlan standing there. “ Why hello mister Garrett, I didn’t know you were here.” she said ignoring Murdoch.

“ Teresa, perhaps it is I who is surprised to see you here.” Harlan answered.

Miguel came out and stood on the veranda listening to what was said.

“ I’m here to see my son and take him home with me to Sacramento.” she answered.

Johnny spun her around to face him. “ Why, after six years are you all of the sudden interested in him huh….You gave him up Teresa because your new husband and his family didn’t want him around because he looked like me…….because as you called him in Sacramento, he’s a bastard child.”

“ Because of that bastard child I can no longer have children Johnny……..My husband needs an heir to leave his business to…….he’s dying and Michael is the only one.”

“ His name is Miguel, not Michael and I don’t give a damn if your husband is dying.” Johnny snapped back right before Teresa slapped him.

“ You want his money.” Harlan said. “ That’s the only reason you’re here.”

“ My reasons are none of your business old man. Miguel will be coming back to Sacramento with me.”

“ Get off my land now Teresa……and don’t you ever come back here again.” Murdoch ordered.

Teresa walked to her horse and stopped when Miguel ran out to her.

“ You are not my mother……..my mother would never call me a bastard child…my mother would have loved me and my papa…….I don’t like you and you can’t make me go with you.” Miguel said before he ran to Johnny.

“ We’ll see about that Miguel.” she said as she mounted her horse and rode away.

Johnny stood there with the others watching her ride off. It wasn’t until Scott spoke that he moved.

“ Johnny, you alright?”

Johnny looked at him a second before walking to the house to talk to his son.

“ I just can’t believe that is the same girl I watched grow up on this ranch…..Teresa wasn’t raised to be so vindictive.” Murdoch said as he looked at Harlan.

“Why don’t we go inside and I will tell you what I know of her when she stayed with me.” Harlan suggested.

Johnny found Miguel huddled in a corner of his room, hugging Ranger with tears in his eyes.

“ Papa I don’t want to go with her…..she don’t love me.” Miguel pleaded.

Johnny walked over and sat down on the bed. “ Miguel, come here son.”

Miguel got up and hurried to his fathers waiting arms.

“ I’m not about to let her take you from me…….neither is grandpa Lancer or uncle Scott………..I do though want to talk to you about how you disobeyed me when I told you to go in the house………..and how you again disobeyed me and came back outside.”

“ Am I in trouble papa?” he asked as he wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“ Yes you are son……..Miguel when I tell you to do something , you don’t disobey me……..I told you to come in the house for your safety……it’s like when we are teaching Ranger there to sit and stay, do you remember why you need him to do that?”

“ So he won’t get into trouble?” a sad voice said.

“ Partly, but mainly so he doesn’t get hurt……….Miguel I don’t know what Teresa is capable of doing son…..she could have hurt you or her horse could have spooked and trampled you.”

“ I’m sorry papa…….I know coming back outside was wrong, but I had to.”

“ You had to disobey me…why?” Johnny asked as he ran a hand over his sons head.

“ I heard what she said to you papa….I heard her call me a bastard and that I was just like you……..I’m not a bastard child and neither was you…..we are both loved and it’s because of that love grandpa and your mother had for you and you have for me that I am not.”

“ Okay, I’ll go along with that son, but that still doesn’t tell me why you disobeyed me.”

“ I wanted to tell her I’m not…………I’m sorry I disobeyed you papa.”

“ Son, look at me.” Johnny ordered softly.

Miguel looked up into his fathers blue eyes.

“How do you even know about that word and what it means?”

“ I heard that man Dirk call me that remember?”

“ Yeah I’d almost forgotten about him, I’m sorry son……..So what do you think would be a good punishment for you?”

“ No dessert.”

“ No, I think it needs to be a little more harsher than that……..I want you to write me an essay, one hundred words on why it’s wrong to disobey me when I tell you to do something……You will also write one to grandpa Lancer telling him you’re sorry you didn’t stay in the house like he told you to do.”

Miguel looked up at him. “ How do you now he told me that?”

“ I know my father.” Johnny said as he stood up. “ You also get to clean the chicken coop out and clean stalls in the barn for the next week.”

“ A whole week papa?”

“ Yes, maybe next time you’ll do as you’re told son……..you disobey me again and it will be a harder punishment, understand?”

“ Yes sir.” A said voice answered.

Johnny walked to the door and opened it. “ Come Ranger.”

“ He can’t stay here with me?”

“ Nope, I know you, the two of you will get to playing and not get those essays wrote.”

“ Papa.”

“ Yes.”

“ Do I still get desserts?”

“ Johnny couldn’t stop the laugh and smile that came to his face. “ We’ll see, I’ll come get you for supper.”

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered as he walked over to the table in his room and took out his red chief note pad and pencil and sat down to write.

Johnny walked into the grand room and found three sets of eyes on him as he walked over to the side board and poured a shot of tequila.

“ Is your son alright Johnny?” Harlan asked before Murdoch or Scott could.

Johnny turned to face him after downing the shot. “ What was she like while staying with you in Boston?” he demanded.

“Johnny, Harlan asked you a question son. I know you’re upset, but don’t be rude.”

“ Why should he care, we all know how he feels about me and I’m sure he feels the same way about my son also.” Johnny snapped back.

“ Johnny, I have watched you with your son while here and I have come to see what a good person you are…….more importantly I have seen what a good father you are…….even an old man can be wrong sometimes.”

“ Maybe…….he’s upset and scared she’s going to take him from me.” he answered after going over and sitting down on the couch.

“ When Teresa found out she was with child, at first she was scared, being alone in a strange place, but as the child grew I would see her sitting in the garden talking to the baby as she rubbed her stomach.” Harlan began. “ Johnny, that girl was more than happy to be carrying your child. I got the best doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital for her.”

“She said she can have no more children because of Miguel…….what happened during the delivery?” Murdoch  asked.

“ I don’t know, that was the first I had heard of that happening.”

“ Johnny after your son was born, before Teresa met Dale Cameron, she spent every second she could with him. Talking to him about you and how she hoped that some day the two of you would be together again and a family.”

“ Where did she meet him at?” Scott asked.

“ I’m afraid it was at a business meeting I held at my home. Dale seen her out in the garden with the baby and asked who she was and after that he came buy quiet regularly to see her for two months before they got married.” Harlan said. “ I didn’t know she had planned to give Miguel up when Dale decided to move to Sacramento to open a business there……..and to find out she gave her son away because Dale didn’t want him around because he looked like you, that made no sense. He spent all the time he could with that baby, why people would see them together walking and he would be carrying him, showing him off as if he was his own flesh and blood.”

“ Maybe when he started getting sick is when his feelings toward Miguel changed.” Scott said. ‘ Teresa did say he was dying.” he added.

“ Yeah, and she wants my son for his money only……..It’s not happening……..That……..she’s not taking him away from me…..Teresa is not doing to Miguel what my mother did to me.” Johnny said with anger.

“ We won’t let her take Miguel from you Johnny………I promise you that son.”

“ I punished Miguel for disobeying me and you.”

“ Punished him how son?”

Johnny told him what he has his son doing as he walked over and got another shot.

“ Well I think that’s  more than fair enough punishment.”

“Would you mind watching him tonight…..I’m gonna ride into town.”

“ Not at all son.”

“ You want to come along Boston? Maybe play some poker, have a couple beers and maybe a girl?”

“ You sure you want my company tonight Johnny?” Scott asked with a smile.

“ Not all evening, but most of it yeah.”

“Okay.” Scott answered glad that he and his brother were going to have a few beers together, something they hadn’t done in a long time.

                                                                    Chapter 4

Johnny was sitting on the couch reading to his son when his brother came into the room. It was now early Spring and Teresa hadn’t been seen in the valley since that day.

“ Hey brother, you’re back from town already?” he asked as Scott walked over to him.

“ Yeah, uh Johnny there was a letter for you from Mexico.” Scott told him as he took the letter from his coat and handed it to him.

Johnny looked at the letter, It had come from Sonora. Opening it he started to to read it but stopped.     “ Excuse me.” he said before heading up to his room.

“ Papa look what……….” Miguel started to say but was ignored by his father as he walked past and up the stairs.

“ Is something wrong with papa uncle Scott?”

“ He has something on his mind Miguel is all…….he got a letter from Mexico.”

“ From Don Louis?” he asked with excitement. “ Is he coming home?”

“ I don’t know.” Scott answered.

Johnny sat on the floor with his back to the bed, the letter laying in his lap as tears ran down his face.

“ Johnny.” Scott said with his head stuck inside the door, seeing his brother finally sitting on the floor as he stepped into the room. “ Hey brother supper is ready and you know how our father likes us to be on time.” he said as he walked over and looked down at Johnny.

Johnny heard his brother come in, but couldn’t find his voice to say anything.

“ Hey, you alright” Scott asked as he knelt down. It was then he noticed his brother was crying. “ Johnny, what’s wrong?”

“ He’s……they killed him Scott.” he finally managed to say.

“ Killed who?”

“ Don Louis…..the rurales killed him in Sonora.” he told him as he handed the letter to him.

Scott took the letter and began to read it.

Madrid it pleases me to tell you that I have killed your abuelo for the help he gave in your escape. I know that your gringo father helped also, maybe I will come and kill him as well. Perhaps I will let those who want to kill you know where you are hiding so they can kill the mestizo gunfighter Johnny Madrid.  You should know that your abuelo screamed like a baby before I gutted him. You see it was I who sent that letter telling that his hermano had died, I was hoping you would come with him, but you did not. I found an interesting picture he had though. One of you and him and a little boy I am thinking is your son. Maybe I will come there and make him watch you die breed. You will never know, and can only wonder when and if I do.

Scott handed the letter back to Johnny and stood up. “ Johnny, I’m sorry.”

“ He’s dead because of me Scott.” Johnny said with anger as he stood and wiped the tears from his face.

“ It’s not your fault…….you had no way of knowing.”

“ Don’t you get it?……It’s never going to stop, as long as I’m alive, people I care about will be killed because of Madrid.”

“ That’s bullshit and you know it Johnny………..When are you going to stop taking the blame for everything that happens?” Scott said in a raised voice.

“ What the devil are you two arguing about……we can hear you all the way downstairs and it’s scaring your son Johnny.” Murdoch demanded as he came into the room.

Scott picked up the letter Johnny had tossed on the bed and handed it to him to read.

Murdoch read the letter and then looked between his sons. “ Scott would you go down and make sure Miguel doesn’t come up here please?”

“ Yes sir…….Johnny, I’m truly sorry this happened.

Murdoch waited until Scott left the room. “ Sit down son.”

Johnny sat down on his bed and sighed deeply as he ran a hand over his face.

“ You feel like this is your fault don’t you son?”

“ Ain’t it pa?…….He helped me escape from that prison and because of that he’s dead.”

“ Yes and so did I, Johnny, son you have got to stop taking the blame for anything that happened because of your past and who you were.”

“ Who I was?….I’ll always be Johnny Madrid the gunfighter, as long as I’m alive my past won’t go away.” Johnny snapped back.

“It will if you let it son……you taught me that remember?……I almost lost you because I wouldn’t let your past go……..I think it’s about time you do it as well.”

“ How do I tell him pa……how do I tell Miguel that Don Louis is dead because of me?” he asked as the tears started to fall again as he stood up.

Murdoch stood up and took his son in his arms. “ You tell him the truth, tell him what happened and how Don Louis helped you escape and that if he hadn’t you wouldn’t be here now.” Murdoch  said as he comforted his son. “ Some times the truth is all we have son, and I’m afraid that sometimes the truth can hurt.”

“ I need to be alone for a while to think pa.”

“ Alright, I’ll have Maria keep a plate warm for you for later.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he turned and walked over to his window and looked out at the darkness.

For three days Johnny didn’t speak much, his sadness evident to those who knew.  Today the sky was clear and warm, deciding it was now time to tell his son, Johnny walked out of the barn leading Barranca and the mare he let his son ride.

“ Miguel, how about me and you take a ride son?” he said as he walked in the french doors and seen his son sitting on the couch with Murdoch.

“ Sure papa.” Miguel answered before bounding away to get his coat.

“ You going to tell him son?” Murdoch asked.

“ Yeah, I have to some time, might as well get it done……..Listen I’m sorry I haven’t been all that great these last couple days.”

“ You don’t need to apologize son……me and your brother understand.” Murdoch said as Miguel bonded back into the room.

“ Can Ranger come with us papa?”

“ Not this time son……I need to have a serious talk with you and I don’t want Ranger distracting you.”

“ Okay, Ranger you stay here with grandpa Lancer.”

Ranger whined as he sat at Murdoch’  feet.

Johnny rode up to the one place he loved to go, overlooking Lancer and got down from Barranca.

“ Get down son.” he said as he walked over and looked at the valley below.

Miguel got down and walked over to his side. “ What’s wrong papa? Have I done something wrong?”

Johnny sighed and walked over to the big oak tree and sat down on a huge branch that had come down during the winter. “ Come here son.” he said as he patted the log he was sitting on.

Miguel came over and sat next to his father.

Johnny let out a long sigh and swallowed hard, fighting back tears that wanted to fall again.

“ Miguel what I’m going to tell you might be hard for you to understand, but it’s the truth and the only way I know for you to know the reason why this happened……okay?”

“ I know you would never lie to me papa.”

“ Yes, you see when you were a baby and Teresa brought you here to live with me, I wasn’t here son….I was in Mexico……in a prison in Sonora….a very bad Federale there named Messilla wanted me bad for helping the farmers stand up against the rich ranchers and others who were doing bad things to these good people.” Johnny said as he took off his hat. “ Grandpa Lancer and me went to Mexico to see Don Louis and the Rurales found out I was there and they caught me…..I was badly treated while in that prison and your Abuelo and Bisabuelo got me out……..Do you remember why Bisabuelo went back to Mexico before Christmas?”( Abuelo = Grandfather )

“ Yes, his hermano had died.” Miguel answered.

“That’s what the letter he received said had happened…….Son, that letter was a lie.”

“ A lie….I don’t understand. How can a letter lie?”

“The letter…………It’s the words that are sometimes written in a letter that are lies, the person who writes the letter is the one lying son. The new Capitan sent that letter hoping I would be with Don Louis……..They captured him and………” Johnny chocked up and had to stop as his voice started to fail him.

“ Papa, did this Capitan, did he kill my Bisabuelo?” a sad Miguel asked.

“ Yes son, he did.” he answered with a quiver in his voice.

“ Why, Bisabuelo was a kind man and never hurt anyone.”

“ Because he helped me escape from that prison son…….Listen to me Miguel, this man said in the letter that he is going to tell men where I am at……..He also said he may come here and try and kill me and make you watch.”

“ Me….how does he know about me papa, How does he know where you are?”

“ He did things I’m afraid to Bisabuleo to make him talk before he killed him……He also found the picture the three of us took together after Thanksgiving.”

“ Papa…….I’m sad that he is gone, but it wasn’t your fault………You were doing what you teach me is right helping those people against the bad men…….Why do they want you dead for that?”

“ Because of this son.” Johnny said as he took out his colt. “ Because I’ve killed Rurales with this gun and others who have tried to kill me.”

“ When I killed those Turkeys for Maria, you told me to never aim a gun at someone or something unless I was going to kill it……..Didn’t anyone teach these men who come after you that papa?”

“ I don’t know son, what I do know is that the reason they come after me is they want the reputation they would get if they killed me.”

“ But ain’t you the fastest?”

“ Yes, so far I am, but someone faster can and will come along some day and kill me son………I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s the truth and I’m not going to lie to you.”

“ Papa, I know why you became a gunfighter, but why did you become the best?”

Johnny never thought his son would ask him this. “ I was reckless…….I wanted a reputation……..I wanted to be the best……..you see only the best guns got the highest paying jobs son, jobs that were good and bad……….after a while I learned that some of the men I thought were good men, weren’t…..so I started asking the local law, if there were any around about the rancher who wanted to hire me, and the rancher or farmer he would want me to use my gun against.”

“ And now you’re my papa and a good son like me.”

Johnny pulled Miguel into a hug. “ I love you son…….It’s because of you that I changed.”

“ I love you to…Are you okay now?”

“ I will be, it just hurts that he’s gone…..You know what we could do for him though?”

“ What?”

“ We could maybe ride into Morro Coyo and have the undertaker make a special headstone for him and place it someplace very special.”

“ Could Grandpa Lancer and Uncle Scott come with us?”

Johnny and Miguel came out of the undertakers shop and walked over to where Murdoch and Scott stood talking to Baldanero.

“Grandpa, we got a real special one for great grandpa.” Miguel said in a cheerful voice.

“ Murdoch told me about your loss Johnny.” Baldanero said. “ I’m sorry.”

“ Thanks…….Hey what do you two say to some lunch?”

“ That sounds good son.” Murdoch answered. “ So you got a real special one being made young man….

You thought about where you want to place it?” Murdoch asked as the four headed to the cafe.

“ Yeah, It’s……….”

“ Madrid…….Johnny Madrid.” a young voice yelled from across the street.

Johnny stopped and turned to face the man.

“ I heard you were hiding out here.”

“ Murdoch, get Miguel out of here.” Johnny ordered as he stepped down into the street.

“ Papa.” Miguel called.

“ Come on Miguel.” Scott said as he guided the boy toward Baldanero’ shop.

“ No Scott.” Murdoch said as he stopped them. “ Let him see.”

Scott stepped over to his father. “ Sir, he shouldn’t see this, what if Johnny doesn’t win?”

“ He won’t.” Murdoch answered as he pulled Miguel over behind  some crates.

Johnny stepped out into the street and faced this kid who he judged to be maybe seventeen.

“ I’m not in the game any more kid.” Johnny said.

“ Yeah I heard that…….Guess that makes my killing you all that much easier.”

People moved out of harms way as they watched the infamous Johnny Madrid again be called out. Some wondering if this would be the one, others just wanting to see death come at the hands of Madrid’ colt.

“ Look kid, you sure you want to try this?”

“ Oh yeah, I’m sure. You see I know you’ve been out of the game for a few years so I know you ain’t as fast as you used to be…….Now me….I’ve been practicing long and hard for this day.”

“ Practicing on what……bottles?” Johnny asked in his cold Madrid voice. “ Bottles don’t shoot back…….

hell I bet you ain’t ever been shot have you?”

“ No, and I ain’t about to be today…..you are.”

“ Let me tell you something kid…….a bullet rips through your flesh destroying everything it tears thru…you feel pain like no other……if your lucky you take a bullet to the head and end it quick……..or you can be gut shot and die real slow and painful pissing your pants……course I heard tell of men who survived being gut shot….but they didn’t live long after though…………not with half there gut missing.”

“ Shut up Madrid.” the kid yelled.

“ I at least get to know your name?” Johnny asked knowing there was no talking this kid out of this dance.

“ People will know who I am after I kill you.” the kid answered as he stood ready.

“ Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’ kid.” Johnny said as he watched the kids eyes change that split second before he drew. Johnny drew his colt and fanned the hammer, hitting the kid in the chest and knocking him backwards.  Pulling the hammer back he took aim as he stepped toward the boy laying on his right side taking aim again with his own colt. “ Don’t do it.” Johnny said as he stepped over and kicked the gun from the boys hand.

“ It hurts……help me Madrid….kill me please.” the kid pleaded.

“ I can’t help you boy…….nobody can now.”

“ Tommy….Tommy Parker……from Laredo……..tell my folks I’m sorry.” Tommy pleaded as his life drained from him and his eyes closed forever.

Johnny stood there a second before turning and finding his father, brother and his son standing in front of Baldanero’ store. Walking over with anger in his eyes.

“ I told you to get him out of here old man………he didn’t need to see that.” Johnny said with anger.

“ Papa……are you hurt.” Miguel asked.

“You………take Miguel back to Lancer…..I’ll deal with you later.” Johnny ordered his father.

“ Now see here young man…..you don’t talk to me like that…….I’m…..”

“ Scott take Miguel home now for me……I’ll be along later.”

“ Papa I want to stay with you.” Miguel pleaded.

“ I told you to do something…….I suggest you do it………..now.” he again ordered.

“ Don’t yell at your son…..he’s just worried about you Johnny.” Murdoch bellowed.

“ Old man……don’t tell me what to do with my son…..that’s not a right you have……Miguel you can expect a punishment for again not doing as you were told…….Now I suggest young man that you  go home with uncle Scott …..I’ll be along later.” Johnny said with anger  before turning and walking away, headed toward the saloon.

“ Papa is really mad at me this time grandpa.” Miguel said as he, Scott and Murdoch went to their horses.

“ He’s mad at me more Miguel, but hey don’t you worry, I won’t let him be harsh on you…that is something I will not stand for your father doing.” Murdoch said as he mounted his horse and pulled Miguel up behind him.

Four hours later Johnny  rode into the Lancer yard and dismounted, handing his horse off to Frank. Spending time with a saloon girl didn’t help his mood this time.  Johnny seen his father standing on the veranda with Miguel as he walked toward the house.

 Get up to your room now Miguel, I’ll be up there directly.” he ordered as he glared at his father.

“ Yes sir.” Miguel said before turning and running upstairs.

“ Inside old man, unless you want all the hands to hear.” Johnny ordered as he walked past and into the house, heading to the side board he filled a glass half full of tequila before turning to his father who was standing just inside the french doors.

“ You know, for someone who likes to give orders and expect others to follow them…you sure the hell can’t…….What the hell were you thinking Murdoch……the last thing I wanted was my son to see me like that……….he’s seven years old now, he had no business witnessing me kill that kid.” Johnny said with anger.

“ You better lower that tone boy, I won’t be spoke to like that in my house.”

“ Your house……….that’s funny, I thought we were all a family here and it was Scott’, me and my sons house as well?”

“ It is, but I will not stand for you to speak to me like this……and I will not allow you to punish that boy for being worried about his father.”

“ You call the tune on this ranch….. for this ranch……..not when it comes to my son……Miguel is going to learn to do what he’s told, when he’s told and not disobey me when I tell him to do something.”

“ You have no right to punish Miguel for what he did in town………if you want to punish someone then punish your self for putting your son in that kind of danger in the first place.”

“ You sonofabitch, you think I asked for that kid to call me out Murdoch? I  tried to talk him out of it….I don’t like having to kill anyone, especially with Miguel present…..What if I had been killed huh?……How  would you have felt then?…….If you had let him watch me die.”

“ Miguel had every right to see what happened, he now knows just what kind of man his father is.” Murdoch yelled.

Scott stood listening to two stubborn men argue, both assuming that they were the one in the right, when it was really his brother who was. Hearing the words his father just spoke, put him on the alert as he stepped closer to his brother just in case his temper got to out of control.

“ I’ll tell you what old man……I’m going upstairs and dealing with my son for disobeying me and come morning, me and Miguel are going to leave here for some time alone.”

“ What do you mean leave here Johnny?” Scott asked.

“I’m taking Miguel to the south mesa line shack to live for a couple of weeks. Those streams need cleared out and the fencing needs fixed up there.”

“What about Miguel’ schooling and what he’s going to be doing while you work?”

“He’ll be with me working and learning like I did Scott….the hard way.” Johnny told him as he looked hard at his father. “ You know Murdoch, we’ve been getting along pretty damn good until now. What you did was wrong and you know it, you’re just to stubborn and proud to admit it……..everything’s  got to be your way…….I want my son growing up respecting others, having manners you always told me I needed to learn when I first came here.” Johnny said as he walked over to his father. “ You know old man, I’ve grown to love you, Miguel loves you, maybe with me and him not here for you to see every day for a couple weeks will help you to see the error of your ways.” Johnny said before turning to leave the room, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. “ I punish myself every day old man…I always have ever since I killed my first man.” he added before going upstairs.

Scott stood there staring at the spot his brother stood seconds before.

“ Damn that boy, he is so much like his mother.” Murdoch said as he went and poured a drink.

“ Don’t you mean like you sir?” Scott asked before leaving the room before his father could respond.

Johnny opened the door to his sons room and stepped inside. Miguel was sitting on his bed with his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. Closing the door he stood there looking at his son a minute before he walked over and sat down on the bed.

“ You got an answer for me on why you disobeyed me son?” Johnny asked.

“ No sir.”

“ Didn’t I tell you the last time that when I tell you to do something, it’s for your safety.”

“ Yes sir……..I’m real sorry papa……..do you want me to write you an essay like last time?”

“ No I don’t…..I told you last time that the next time you disobeyed me that your punishment would be harsher, remember son?” Johnny said as he stood up and stepped to the end of the bed.

“ Yes sir.”

“ Come here Miguel.” Johnny ordered firmly.

Miguel got off the bed and walked slowly over to stand in front of his father.

“ Turn around and pull down your pants son.”

“ You’re going to spank me papa?”

“ Yes I am, now do as I asked.”

Scott walked by his brothers room and heard the sound a hand makes when it hits bare flesh. Stopping he listened and could hear his nephew crying. Listening, Scott could hear what his little brother said and it made his shiver just thinking about all the beatings he had received growing up in Mexico. Not once could Scott remember being hit as a punishment as a child. He knew that what his little brother had just done to his son wasn’t an easy thing to do, but a point had to be made, and his nephew getting his bottom spanked wasn’t abuse, not like Johnny’ was.

“ Miguel, that wasn’t easy for me to do son, but you have got to obey me…..please…………I don’t want to have to do that to you ever again.” he told his son as he sat down on the bed.

Miguel tried not to cry but the third time his bare bottom was smacked he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“ Come here son.” Johnny said as he patted his right thigh.

Miguel walked over after pulling his pants up and stood in front of his father.

Johnny took his sons hands in his. “ We’re going to leave here for a couple of weeks, me and you.”

“ Where…..where are we going papa?”

“ South Mesa, there’s a lot of work needs done there and me and you are going to be doing it.”

“ What kind of work?” Miguel asked as he climbed on the bed and sat  next to him.

“ The streams need cleaned out and fence lines need repaired……..I think it will do us both good to get away from here, it’ll give me a chance to teach you things you can’t learn in school.”

“ So I won’t be going to school no more?”

“ You will, it’ll just be a different kind of schooling you’ll get. At night you’ll still be doing your sums and reading.”

“ I heard you and grandpa arguing………..I was scared today papa, seeing you kill that man.”

“ Son, what I did today I never wanted you to see happen, your grandpa was wrong in letting you see that….do you want to talk about it?”

“ No sir……..I think I just want to go to bed now.”

Johnny stood up. “ You want me to read to you tonight?”

“ No sir.” Miguel answered as he got off the bed and went to put his night shirt on.

Johnny walked to the door and opened it. “ I love you Miguel and it’s because I love you that I did what I did tonight…..Do you understand that?”

“ Grandpa Lancer told me once that sometimes love hurts……I guess this is one of those times.” Miguel said as he put his nightshirt on then went and climbed in bed, turning his back to his father.

Johnny sighed and left his sons room, closing the door and finding his brother standing in the hall, leaning against the wall.

“ It’s not easy is it?” Scott asked.

“ No……..I’ll see you in the morning.” Johnny answered.

“ Johnny……I think you made a good point downstairs tonight…….Little brother I’m proud of how you handled our father.” Scott said before going to his room.

Teresa listened as a man spoke about a Lancer son who was going to pay for beating him up and firing him. When she heard him mention the word halfbreed, she knew who then for sure.

Watching this man speak his anger a thought came to her, turning she walked away and went to finish her shopping.

That evening she seen that same cowboy walking toward her. “ Excuse me, I heard you earlier talking about the Lancer ranch.”

“ Yeah what of it?”

“ The man there you speak of wouldn’t happen to be Johnny Madrid would he?”

“ Yeah, that half breed and his bastard halfbreed son who got me fired.”

“ What if I knew of a way you could really get even with him for that.” Teresa asked.

“ I’m listening.” Dirk said.

“ Not here,  meet me tomorrow around noon three miles outside  of town west of here, there’s just a barn there now, the house burned down last year if you want to hurt Johnny Madrid worse than any bullet ever could.” she said before walking away.

Teresa heard the cowboys horse and smiled as she stepped to the barn door and looked out. “ Soon Miguel you will be with me.” she said softly as she watched the rider dismount.

“ Okay, I’m here, now why don’t you tell me how I can hurt that halfbreed bastard lady.” Dirk demanded as he walked up to her.

“ Bring your horse into the barn, just in case someone comes by.” Teresa said before turning and walking back into the barn.

Dirk followed her inside with his horse and put his horse in a stall. “ I’m listening.” he said as he stepped back out of the stall.

“ Madrid’ son is my son, and because of Lancer and all their money they stole him from me…….They lied to get Miguel……I don’t stand a chance  against them getting my son back in court. How would you like to help me get my son and hurt Madrid badly in the process?”

“ You want me to help you kidnap your kid from him……Lady just how the hell are we supposed to do that……..Madrid’ a gunfighter, I don’t stand a chance going up against his gun.”

“ You wouldn’t have to…….All we have to do is wait and watch, and when Johnny and his son are say out on the range alone, we can take Miguel. Trust me, losing his son will hurt Madrid in the worst way possible.”

“ And how do I know he won’t shoot me in the process?”

“ He won’t because Johnny wouldn’t risk anything happening to Miguel….and two guns are better than one against him.”

“ Alright, you got a deal lady, how about we seal this deal?” Dirk said as he stepped to Teresa and pulled her to him.

“ Papa.”

“ Yeah son.”

“ Lancer is how big?”

“ One hundred thousand acres…..why?”

“ I was just wondering how much wire it would take to fence it all in.”

Johnny stopped and tossed the hammer in the bucket of fence nails and walked over to the tree his son sat under to get a drink.

“ A lot son, but grandpa doesn’t want to fence all his land off…..just the parts he runs cattle on so they don’t stray onto another ranchers land.” he answered before pouring water over his head to cool off. Sweat glistened on his bare chest and arms, droplets running down thru the hair on his well toned chest and on down to his belt. “ Hey I’m almost done with this section of fence, how about we ride over to that  pond and take a dip before heading to the shack”

“ Okay. You want me to help you finish up?”

“ Sure, two hands will get the job done quicker.” Johnny said as he went back to the post. “ I’ll stretch the wire and get the nail started, then you can finish hammering it in, okay?”

“ Sure papa…….When are we going back home?”

“ You mean to the house………we can head back there in the morning, the stream is cleared out and this is the last stretch of fence that needed repaired.”

“Grandpa will be happy we got it all done won’t he?”

“ I hope so, come on lets get to work.”

Little did Johnny know that for the past three days, every move he and Miguel made was being watched by two people, both with hate in their eyes and vengeance in their hearts.

“ Miguel look.” Johnny said as he stopped Barranca and pointed to a brand new calf trying yo stand for the first time on wobbly legs.

Miguel stopped the  mare and watched laughing as the calf fell a couple times before it finally got it’s legs under it, sort of to stand. “ He looks funny with his legs spread out like that.”

“ Well he’s a newborn son, give him a couple hours and he’ll be running around with the other calves.” Johnny said. “ Come on, let’s head home. It’ll be dark in a couple hours.”

“ Hold it right there Madrid.” a voice yelled from the tree line. “You so much as move and that kids dead.” Dirk said as he and Teresa rode out of the tree line into view and over to them. “ Kid you reach over and take that pistol out of the holster and give it to me.” he ordered.

“ Do as he says son.” Johnny told Miguel as dropped his reins and  raised his hands up. “ You won’t get away with this Teresa, even if you kill me, Murdoch and Scott will hunt you down.”

Miguel removed the pistol and took it over to Dirk.

“ Come here Miguel.” Teresa ordered “ I told you Johnny that I would get Miguel from you…….I guess you should be a little more careful who you make enemies with……By the time Murdoch and Scott know what’s happened we will be long gone.” She said before getting off her horse.

“ Get down Madrid.” Dirk ordered.

Johnny got down and stepped to the front of Barranca, letting his hands stay at his side..

“ He doesn’t want to be with you Teresa, he doesn’t know you.”

“ He will.” she said coldly as she walked over to him.

“ You see Johnny, this is the perfect way to hurt you, taking Miguel away from you just like your whore mother took you away from Murdoch.”

“ Get the kid on your horse and lets get out of here before a hand shows up.” Dirk ordered.

Teresa stepped up to Johnny and slapped him hard across the face. “ That’s for using me like you did.” she told him before going and yanking Miguel off his horse and over to hers.

Miguel tried to get away but was jerked around hard to face his mother.

“ Stop it now Miguel……you’re coming with me and that’s final.” she ordered.

“ No…..I hate you, you’re not my mother.” Miguel yelled as he fought to get free.

Teresa slapped Miguel causing him to stop fighting her. “Get on my horse now you little brat.”

“ Teresa.” Johnny yelled when his son was slapped. “ Miguel do as she says son……I don’t want you hurt.” Johnny told his son. “ Teresa, I swear I won’t rest until I have him back, even if it means killing you.” he added with coldness in his voice.

“ Oh there’s one more thing I should tell you Johnny. You remember that man Nash who came to Lancer that night and brutally raped me?…..Well he’s Miguel’ father, not you.” Teresa said with vindictiveness.

Dirk got on his horse and rode over to Teresa.

“ Do it.” he said.

Teresa took her pistol  and aimed it at Johnny and fired.

“ Papa……….nooooooo you killed him.” Miguel screamed as he watch his father drop to the ground and blood start to spread across his chest.

“ Te odio, usted lo mato.” Miguel said as tears ran down his face. ( I hate you, you killed him )

“ Shut up Miguel.” Teresa demanded.

“ Llevame a casa, usted no me amas.” ( take me home, you don’t love me)

“ I said shut up.”

Dirk rode up to her side and grabbed Miguel’ right arm. “ You listen and listen good boy. Unless you want a beating you’ll do as we tell you.” he ordered as he twisted the boys arm.

Johnny felt the bullet slam into him, dropping him to his knees as the last thing he seen was his son being taken away from him before blackness claimed him and he fell forward.

Barranca walked over and started nudging Johnny some time later getting no response. The stallion could smell the blood and new he was to stay put when his reins were on the ground, but this time something inside the stallion told him Johnny needed help as the sun set in the west, looking over at the mare, then back down at the still form of his master, Barranca took off at a gallop, headed to the one place he knew.

“ I think with the spring rains we got all the ponds and lakes will stay full through the summer.” Scott said to his father as the two ate breakfast.

“ Yeah, if it doesn’t get to hot they should son.” Murdoch answered.

“ You thinking about Johnny and Miguel sir?”

“ Yeah, maybe we should take a ride out to south mesa today and see how he’s coming.”

“ Frank said Johnny had the streams all cleared and was about half way done with the fence last week.”

A horse’s whinny got both their attention. Scott got up and walked over to the french doors.

“ It’s Barranca.” he said as he opened the door and went out followed by Murdoch. Looking around Scott could see the stallion was alone. “ Somethings wrong sir, Barranca wouldn’t come here like this unless something happened.”

“ Go saddle the horses son, and wake a couple of hands up to go with us.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Right, I’ll send one for Sam also.” Scott said as he led Barranca to the barn. “ You did good boy, we’ll find Johnny and Miguel.”

Thirty minutes later Scott, Murdoch, Frank and two other hands were mounted and headed toward south mesa just as the sun started to peak over the mountains.

                                                                    Chapter 5

“ I want you men to spread out, fire three shots if you find them.” Scott ordered. “ Me and my father will check along the river. We’ll meet at the line shack in two hours if they haven’t been found.”

Frank and the other two hands rode out headed northeast as Scott and Murdoch headed northwest back toward Lancer.

“ Sir look.” Scott said pointing to a lone horse grazing in the grass about a half mile off. “ That’s the mare Miguel rides.” he said as both men kicked their horses into a gallop.

“ Johnny.” Scott yelled as he seen his brother laying face down in the grass not far from the mare, dismounting before his horse had come to a complete stop and running to his fallen brothers side.

Murdoch took his rifle and fired three shots before he got down.

Turning his brother over and silently praying he was still alive Scott took a deep breath as he seen the blood covering his brothers left side. “ He’s been shot.” Scott said as he listened for breath. “ He’s alive, but he’s lost a lot of blood sir.” Scott told the big man as he came over and knelt down next to his fallen son.

“ Go get your saddlebags son……we need to stop this bleeding now and get him back to the ranch.” Murdoch said as Frank and the other two riders rode up.

“ Frank you three go cut some strong limbs to make a travois to put Johnny on to get him home.”

Scott ordered.

“ No.” Murdoch cut in. “ He can ride with me. It will be quicker and right now time is crucial………Frank you three spread out and look for Miguel.”

Johnny heard voices familiar to him seep thru the darkness. Pressure and pain brought him out of that darkness finally. “ Miguel.” he mumbled.

“ Easy Johnny, take it easy brother, I got you.” Scott said.

Johnny opened his eyes and looked at his brother, blinking several times to focus as white hot pain grabbed his chest.

“ They..they took him.” he said between gasp for air.

“ Who took him son?’ Murdoch asked as he wiped the sweat from his sons face as Scott wrapped the bandage around his chest.

“ D…..Dirk and Teresa……she…..shot me pa and took him.” Johnny said before blacking out again.

Sam was ready and waiting when Murdoch and Scott came into the yard with a badly wounded, but still alive Johnny in front of the big man.

“ He was shot in the left side Sam, he’s lost a lot of blood.” Murdoch said as three hands helped Scott get Johnny down and carry him inside.

Frank rode into the yard that afternoon and was met by Scott. “ We found two sets of tracks leaving the area where Johnny was found Scott. One of the horses has bars on it’s shoes on the back feet, we lost their tracks though in the rocks…….We searched, but couldn’t pick up the trail again.”

“ Alright, thanks Frank, you men get something to eat and rest. Frank send a hand to Green River and tell sheriff Crawford what’s happened. Tell him we need him to track for us and to come here to Lancer, tell him what’s happened and that Johnny is still alive, but may not make it.”

“ I’ll get a fresh horse and go myself Scott.” Frank told him. “ It’s the least I can do for Johnny.”

Scott walked back inside, Sam had been with his brother for several hours now. Walking into the house he found the doctor coming down the stairs.

“ How is he Sam?” Murdoch asked as he walked over.

“ He’s alive,though I don’t know why, the amount of blood he’s lost. I removed the bullet but he’s weak.”

“ What about infection Sam?” Scott asked.

“ I cleansed the wound out good, he already has a fever. I’m going to be staying here with him to keep an eye on him. I don’t want him left alone or moving around……..Maria is with him now.”

“ Frank rode to Green River for Val.” Scott said.

“ Good son, he’s Miguel’ godfather and Johnny’ closest friend, he should be here.”

“ He’s also a good tracker sir. I also asked Frank to send a wire to Marshal Thurman in Sacramento telling him what’s  happened.”

“ That’s good son, the marshal knows what Teresa looks like.”

“ Scott, why don’t you go relieve Maria for a spell?” Sam asked. “ If Johnny starts coming too, I know you of all people will be able to keep him calm better than anyone else.” Sam added.

Scott headed upstairs to leave his father alone with Sam to talk.

“ Let me get you some coffee Sam.” Murdoch said.

“ Actually, I could use a shot of brandy old friend.” Sam told him.

“ Brandy it is then.”

“ Murdoch, I have never known a man to survive what that boy laying upstairs has in his lifetime.”

“ I know Sam.” Murdoch stated as he handed the doctor a shot of brandy. “ I think this time it’s his son he’s fighting to stay alive for, not me or Scott.”

“ Any idea who shot him and took Miguel?”

“ Teresa.” Murdoch said with anger.

“ Teresa, are you sure?”

“ Johnny regained consciousness long enough to tell us who it was…..Teresa and a man named Dirk whom Johnny fired from Lancer last year…………..Damn it all Sam……..that boy has been through enough, and now to be shot down, unarmed by the mother of his son………..Miguel probably thinks Johnny is dead.”

“ He’s a strong boy Murdoch. You’ll find him………now why don’t you tell me what, besides Johnny being shot and Miguel taken is bothering you.”

Murdoch looked at his friend and sighed. “ You know me to well sometimes Sam.” he said before telling him about the fight he and Johnny had the night Johnny killed the kid in Morro Coyo.

Johnny lay unconscious for three days after being found. Three days of hard searching had turned up nothing. Everyone in the valley was helping to look for Miguel and praying Johnny lived.

“ Miguel.” Johnny mumbled.

“ Easy brother.” Scott said as he wiped his brothers forehead with a cool cloth.

“ Miguel……….Teresa  took him.” Johnny mumbled as he became more alert and opened his eyes.

“ We know brother, We’ll find him I promise.” Scott reaffirmed.

Johnny opened his eyes and sucked in a breath as pain wracked his chest. “ Scott?”

“ Yeah, it’s me Johnny, listen you have got to lay still, Sam removed the bullet but you’ve lost a lot of blood.” he told him as he poured some water and held it for his brother to sip.

“ She shot me Scott.” Johnny said when he finished drinking and laid his head back into the pillow. “ She shot me in front of Miguel…..Scott he’s going to think I’m dead.”

“ Listen to me Johnny, Val’ been here helping us look for them.”

“ His horse.”

“ Who’s horse?’

“ Dirk’. It has bars on it’s hind feet shoes……..He’s the one who burned down the north line shack.”

“ Well I see you’re awake Johnny.” Sam said as he came in with Murdoch and sheriff Val Crawford.”

“ Hey Val.” Johnny said softly.

“ Boy, I was scared I’d get here and you’d be dead. Frank said you was hurt pretty bad…..Should’a known it would take a hell of a lot more than one bullet to kill you.” Val said as he walked over to the bed. “ You just take it easy buddy. I’ll find my godson and get him back for you.”

“ Son,  when did Teresa take Miguel?” Murdoch asked.

“ What day is it?” Johnny asked.

“ Thursday night.” Scott answered.

“ Monday about two hours  before sunset.” he told them.

“ Alright, that will be enough…….Johnny you need to stay still so you don’t get that wound bleeding again.” Sam ordered. “ Val I know you want to talk to him alone, but I warn you, he needs to stay calm and rest.” Sam instructed. “ There’s a bottle of laudanum next to the bed if the pain gets to bad Johnny.”

Sam instructed as he ushered Scott and Murdoch out of the room.

“ Three days, she could be anywhere with him Val.”

“ Johnny, this Dirk guy you said was with Teresa, marshal Thurman found out he ran along the border before coming up here. Seems he’d been spouting off around Spanish Wells about getting even with ya for firing him……..That’s where she ran into him. People seen them together a couple times in or around town.” Val told him.

“ I want my son back Val……has anyone contacted Boston letting the law there know about her?”

“ Yeah, I got a wire back from them knuckleheads telling me that they would detain her for questioning but……”

“ But what Val?”

“ Well it’s almost like they was a saying Teresa didn’t do this, that she is married to a wealthy business man and……”

“ He’s dying Val…..her husband. Teresa told me that the only reason she needs Miguel is so her husband Dale has an heir to his business before he dies.”

“ So they doesn’t have children together?” Val asked.

“ No…….she said she couldn’t have any more after Miguel was born.” Johnny said as he fought of pain.

 “You want some laudanum buddy?”

“No, I want my son back.”

“ I know you do Johnny, I’ll find him for ya, I promise, I won’t stop until I do, even if it means taking this badge off to do it……..I talked to her husband, he was shocked when we told him what she did, says that she’d been gone a lot and actin’ strange……..said she took  five hundred dollars from their bank account a few days before she took the boy.”

“ Travelin’ money Val.”

“ Yeah that’s what I figure also to pay this Dirk fella for helping her………are you sure it was her that shot ya Johnny?”

“ Yeah I’m sure Val………….he rode over to her and told her to do it.” Johnny told him as the memory of his son being slapped came back to him.

“ Hell everybody in the valley has been looking Johnny.” Val told him. “ Uh listen I better get out of here and let you rest.”

One month after taking Miguel and shooting Johnny, Teresa and Dirk were in a small shack just outside a small town called Potluck, Nevada. Miguel was kept locked in a room with a mattress on the floor and no windows to see or escape out of. Set back in the tree’s, overgrown by brush, the little shack couldn’t be seen from the road if anyone came by.

“ You know I’ve been doing some thinking.” Dirk said. “Them Lancer’ well they got that big ol’ spread, so  they got a lot of money……..I think I’m going to send them a note telling them that if they want that brat back alive, they’re gonna have to cough up ten thousand dollars.” Dirk said to Teresa.

“ I told you why I needed Miguel, you’re not ransoming him off. My husbands business is worth way more than ten thousand dollars after he dies.”

“ Maybe so, but right now that kid is worth enough money to me in cash that I won’t have to work for the rest of my life….hell your husband may not die for years and his money could be tied up in the courts……..No sir, I’m sending a note  to that high and mighty rancher.”

“ No, that’s not what is supposed to happen.”

Dirk stood up and slapped Teresa hard. “ Too bad, I’m sick of hiding out the way we have for the last month. I’m running things now.”

“ You bastard.”

“ Guess you should be more careful who you do business with, now go fix me something to eat while I think this out because you;re the one going to be delivering the ransom note.”

“ Are you crazy? They’ll arrest me on sight.”

“ No they won’t because they won’t know where the kid is at…..now git in the kitchen and start cooking.” Dirk ordered as he shoved Teresa.

Johnny became angrier with every passing day they searched for his son and came up empty handed. Memories of the words Teresa spitefully said to him about Miguel not being his son constantly haunted him. Sam had cleared him to ride, but only for short periods didn’t help matters much either. Feeling helpless, something Madrid never felt, not after taking up his colt that first time.

“ I don’t know what to do Don Louis.” he said to the marker he and his son had picked out and had placed at the top of the hill overlooking Lancer below. Ranger followed Johnny everywhere, sometimes whining at night for the boy. Today he lay with his head on Johnny’ leg as he sat in the grass. The sound of a horse approaching behind him brought no alarm. Ranger got up and with tail wagging, went and greeted the rider. Johnny knew without looking who it was.

“ Still no sign?” he asked.

“ No Johnny, still nothing. We have notices in the paper, posters from here to the border, I even sent some to grandfather to show around.” Scott said as he sat down next to his brother and looked at the headstone. “ It’s  beautiful.”

“ She said Miguel isn’t my son, that it was Nash who got her pregnant the night he broke in and brutally raped her.”

Scott swallowed a lump that came to his throat. “ Surely you don’t believe that Johnny?” he asked. “ Miguel is your son, he looks like you, has your blue eyes……..Johnny is that whats been bothering you and making you so angry……I mean besides not finding him?”

“ I need to know Scott, I need to know if he really is my son, and in order for me to do that……I need your help.”

“ Me? Johnny, Miguel is your son…..you have got to stop thinking like this..It’s going to make you sick.”

Johnny got up. “ You going to help me or not?” he demanded.

“ Yes, but…………what do you need me to do?” Scott asked, deciding to curb his anger he was getting toward his brother for thinking the way he was.

“ I need you to write to your grandfather and ask him to find out how far along Teresa was when she went to the doctors back there.”

“ Okay, but I don’t see how that is going to help you.”

“ Dates Scott, How long was it before he sent that letter telling Murdoch she was pregnant?”

“ I don’t know Johnny, but I bet he still has the letter in his desk, lets ride down and see.” Scott suggested as his brother was already headed to Barranca.

Murdoch watched his sons ride into the yard together followed by Ranger. The past month had taken a toll on the whole family. Again he especially was feeling what it was like to lose a son even though this time it was his grandson. Through his eyes he was seeing what it was like those first few heart broken, lonely years with Johnny going through it.

“ We need to ask you something old man.” Johnny said as he walked into the house followed by Scott.

“ Alright, what is it son.”

“ Sir, my grandfather wrote to you telling you Teresa was pregnant.” Scott asked.

Murdoch looked from son to son. “ Yes, why?”

“ You still have that letter?” Johnny asked.

“ I believe so, I’ll ask again, why?”

“ Get it.” Johnny demanded.

“ Son, I know you’re under a lot of strain, but yelling at me……….”

“ Teresa said Miguel wasn’t my son.”

“ What?” Murdoch said as he headed to his desk.

“ She said Nash was.” Johnny responded.

Murdoch swallowed hard as he opened his bottom drawer and after searching found the letter. “ I don’t know why I kept this.” he said as he handed it to Johnny.

“ I do, Look at the date Scott.”

Scott took the letter and made note, it was dated October third, eighteen seventy two.

“ Would one of you care to explain to me what is going on please.” Murdoch asked nicely, not wanting to fight with his son.

“ Teresa told me that Nash was Miguel’ father, Harlan wrote you this letter telling you she was pregnant with my child……….Nash raped Teresa that night he broke in here in September…..she was already carrying my child when he raped her………Scott I still want you to get that information for me from your grandfather if you would please.”

“ Okay, but Johnny isn’t this enough proof for you brother?”

“ No Scott……..I need all the proof I can get.”

“ Why?”

“ Because when I find my son and get him back I don’t want there to be any doubt whatsoever in a juries mind when I take her to court……If she’s still alive that is.”

Scott glanced at his father then back at Johnny. “ And until then?”

“Until then we keep searching.”

Three days passed and no word had come from Harlan yet.  Rain had moved into the valley and  continued almost non stop day and night the past two days hindering the search. It took all Murdoch could do shy of restraining Johnny to keep him from riding out in the foul weather. Though healed up, Johnny was still weak from the amount of blood he lost that day. Sam had told him it would take time to get his strength back and that pushing himself the way he was searching for Miguel could make him relapse and collapse.

“ No matter how strong you think you are Johnny, your body can’t keep going when you’ve lost the amount of blood you did, not without plenty of rest and sufficient time to heal.” Sam had told his impatient patient one day upon examining him.

Sufficient time to heal was something Johnny Madrid the gunfighter never had in the past. If he did, he would be killed. Sitting on the veranda braiding a lariat he had started before losing his son, Johnny heard a horse whiny and looked to see a rider coming into the yard in the pouring rain. Getting up he went inside.

“ Rider coming in…..it’s not Val and none of the hands are out working in this weather.” he said as he kept from sight and peered outside the window.

Murdoch stepped over to the french doors. “ You stay inside out of the weather son. I’ll go see who it is.” Murdoch ordered as he stepped outside as he put his coat on.

Teresa stopped her horse as close as she could to the veranda and waited, seeing Murdoch come out into the rain.

“ Can I help you?” he asked as he stepped close to the rider.

Teresa pushed her hat back and looked down at him.

Murdoch reacted so fast, it even surprised him. “ Why you.” he started as he grabbed her and yanked her off the horse. “ Where’s Miguel?” he demanded.

“ Stop it……..stop it now you’re hurting me.” she yelled.

Murdoch yanked her toward the french doors and shoved her inside the house. “ Where is he?” he again demanded.

Teresa started to reply when movement behind Scott to his left caught her attention. “ No……..I killed you.” she said with shock in her voice.

Johnny moved so fast Scott couldn’t stop him. Grabbing Teresa and slapping her as hard as he could.

“ Wheres my son you bitch?” he demanded.

“ Johnny stop it.” Scott yelled as he and Murdoch pulled him off the girl.

Teresa moved back against the wall and wiped at the blood on her bottom lip.

“ You touch me again and you will never see him alive again.” she said with hatred.

“ Scott, send a hand for the sheriff.” Johnny ordered.

“ No, if I’m not back in two days, Dirk will kill Miguel.” Teresa said

“Why did you ride in here?” Murdoch demanded.

Teresa reached inside her duster and took out the ransom note and went to hand it to Murdoch , but it was snatched from her hand by Johnny.

Opening the note and reading it Johnny felt his anger build more. “ You bitch.” he said as he went after her again but was stopped by Scott.

Teresa moved away from Johnny just in time. “ It’s Dirk, not me. It was his idea.”

“ Yeah and what makes him different from you?…….You only want Miguel to get your husbands money when he dies.” Johnny snapped.

“ What does it say son?”

“ Says they want ten thousand dollars if we ever want to see Miguel alive again.” Johnny answered as he jerked free from Scott’ hold and walked over to the fire place.

“ Dirk thinks because Lancer is so big that you have that kind of money.” Teresa said as she kept an eye on Johnny.

Johnny turned and walked back over to Teresa and grabbed her by the arms. “ Tell me where he’s at now.” he demanded.

“ I can’t.” Teresa responded.

“ When and where?” Murdoch demanded.

“ Let me go Johnny.”

Johnny shoved her back into the desk.

“ You always did like to be rough with a girl.” Teresa said snidely. “ You have one week from today. I will ride back here with instructions on where to leave the money……Once Dirk has it he will let Miguel go.”

“ Get out of here.” Johnny said with a cold unmistakeable tone in his voice.

Teresa headed to the french doors. “ This isn’t my doing, it’s his.” she said before walking out.

Johnny went after her.

“ Johnny don’t.” Scott called as he went out after his brother.

Johnny grabbed Teresa again and spun her around. “ When this is over and I have my son back, I won’t rest until he’s dead and you’re either behind bars in a prison………or dead.” Johnny told her as the pouring rain soaked him.

 Teresa jerk free from his hold. “ I don’t know how you survived, but I promise you that the next time I will kill you Johnny.” she told him before mounting her horse and riding out.

“ Johnny, come inside out of the rain son.” Murdoch ordered.

Johnny walked inside soaked and looked with pleading eyes at his father.

“ I’ll ride into town tomorrow and go to the bank and take a loan out on Lancer son…….I’d as soon lose this ranch if it means getting your son back.”

“ You realize that once he has the money, he’ll kill Miguel and Teresa both?” Johnny said. “ I’ve dealt with his kind before in my past.”

“ Go on son.”

“ Teresa will tell him I’m still alive, I know that for a fact……I’m the one going to take that money to the drop point. Teresa will want it that way, she wants me dead and Dirk will probably be hiding out to do just that.”

“ Then one of us makes the drop Johnny.” Scott said.

“ Not if she wants me to do it brother.”

“ What did you say to her outside son?” Murdoch asked.

“ I told her that once I have Miguel back, I’m going to hunt them down and kill him and either see her behind bars……or dead.” Johnny answered coldly before walking out of the room headed upstairs to change.

“ I don’t think I’ve ever seen the look I have tonight in his eyes sir.” Scott said.

“ That makes two of us son.”

“ Listen it’s late, I think I’m going to turn in now pa, Scott.” Johnny said as he headed to the stairs.

“ Night brother.” Scott said.

“ Try and get some sleep son.” Murdoch said.

“ Yeah, come on Ranger.” Johnny answered.

Ranger trotted to the stairs and went up at Johnny’ side.

“ I’m worried about him sir……I seen a side to Johnny tonight I have never seen…..and quiet frankly sir, it scared me.” Scott stated.

“ I know, it did me too son……We don’t really know what Johnny Madrid the gunfighter is capable of doing, but I do know as a father myself what he is capable of doing  and I don’t think either one of us will be able to stop him.”

“ Well I think I’ll turn in now.” Scott said. “ I got that surveying to get done tomorrow.”

“ Alright son, good night.”

Murdoch looked at the clock and seen it was after midnight, deciding to call it a night he got up from his desk and blew out all but one of the lamps, which he turned down low before heading upstairs, stopping at Johnny’ door, deciding to open it and see if his son was able to get some sleep. Looking in he seen Johnny laying on his bed, in his long johns on top of his covers. Walking to the end of the bed, Murdoch opened the trunk and took out a blanket and walked around to the side and covered him up.

“ Miguel.” Johnny said softly.

“ No son, it’s me.” Murdoch answered as he brought a chair over and sat down next to his son.

“ I miss him so much pa.” Johnny said as he pulled the quilt up to his chin.

“ I know son, so do I.”

Ranger whimpered as he moved up and stretched out at Johnny’ back.

“ Son why is that dog sleeping on your bed?”

“ He’s sleeping with me until Miguel comes home pa.” Johnny said. “ You don’t have to put Lancer up for the money.”

“ Yes I do son, we need ten thousand dollars and this ranch is the only way of getting that amount of money.”

“ I have it….Don Louis put thirty thousand dollars in a bank account for him if I get killed.”

Murdoch sat back in the chair. “ No…..that money is for Miguel, you are not going to  get killed son…..you’re going to grow old and watch that boy grow up and be a man like his father is.” Murdoch said as he leaned forward in the chair. “ This ranch don’t mean a thing to me any more son, not like it did before if my family, all of my family is not here with me……..We are going in to that bank Monday and I am putting Lancer up as collateral for the money to get my grandson back……You young man are going to let me do this.”

Johnny raised up on his right elbow. “ I’ll make you a deal……you do this………..put Lancer up for the money…….and when we have Miguel back I’ll change my last name.”

Words he had wanted to hear his son say for a long time were finally said, but something inside Murdoch told him the reason was wrong.

“ No son……….I don’t want you changing your name because you feel like you have to or owe it to me.

Johnny……I would love nothing more than for you to do that, but it has to be because you truly want to take the Lancer name.” Murdoch told him before he stood up. “ Try and get some sleep son.”

“Morning sir.” Scott said as he entered the kitchen.

“ Morning son….Did you get any sleep?”

“ Some……..Johnny still asleep?” he asked as he poured some coffee.

“ He was when I looked in on my way down.” Murdoch said  before taking a sip of his coffee. “ He told me something last night.”

“ What’s that?”

“ Your brother said he would change his last name when this is over for me putting up Lancer and we get Miguel back.”

Scott set his coffee cup down and looked at his father. “ And what did you tell him?”

“ I told Johnny that the reasons for him doing that should be because he truly wants too……Not because he feels obligated to do it.”

“ My brother is full of surprises, that’s for sure.”

“ That’s because I like to keep people guessing brother.” Johnny said as he walked into the kitchen with Ranger at his side.

“ Morning son, did you get some rest?”

“ I’ll sleep when my son is back home.” Johnny answered as he sat down and poured some coffee. “ Listen I’ve been thinking about something Teresa said.”

“ What’s that son?”

“ She said if she wasn’t back in two days, that Dirk would kill Miguel………with her saying that, that means they are real close….Now we’ve been searching all over and found not hide nor hair of them….. Just across the line in Nevada there are a lot of old abandoned mining towns they could hide out at and nobody would find them, unless they were looking.”

“ There’s abandoned mining towns close to here also Johnny.” Scott said.

“ I know, and so would Teresa……She’d know we’d check them. We get the money and she comes back with instructions on where to leave it, we can follow Dirk, let him lead us to Miguel.”

“ What if Teresa comes for the money son?”

“ She won’t, she said once he has the money, he’ll be the one picking it up.”

“ Uh listen, I have that surveying to do today…..would you care to help me out brother?………….Get it done a lot faster if there were two of us.”

“ You tell him?” Johnny asked, looking at his father.

“ Tell him what son?”

“ What I said last night, about changing my name?”

“ He did, just before you came down.”

“ And?”

“ And I agree with Murdoch…..You should do that only if you really want to Johnny……..changing your last name doesn’t matter to me because you are and always will be my little brother……Something I consider to be a blessing.”

Johnny ducked his head, still not able to handle getting compliments from his family after living with them all this time.

Teresa rode to the back of the shack and got down. Dirk came out of the brush, gun drawn.

“ Wasn’t sure if it was you or not.” he said as he holstered his gun. “ You give old man Lancer the note?”

Teresa ignored him and went inside.

“ I asked you a question.” Dirk said as he walked in after her.

“ Yes I gave him the ransom note………..Dirk you need to forget about doing this, even if you get the money, you won’t live to spend it, he’s going to kill you.”

Miguel stood at the door listening to what was being said. Filthy and scared he knew his mother was speaking about his grandfather. Counting the days with marks he made on the floor, Miguel knew It had been over a month since his father was killed. A very long month of being locked in a small room, eating beans or whatever they decided to feed him. What he heard his mother say next surprised him totally, and put hope back in his heart of going home. Hope he had all but lost.

“ That old man can’t kill me, neither can that son of his Scott……..Hell neither one of them can shoot worth a damn.”

“ I didn’t say one of them would kill you…….and don’t underestimate Scott…..he’s quiet good with a rifle.”

“ Alright then……..who?” Dirk demanded.

“ Johnny.” Teresa said sharply.

“ Madrid………..you killed him remember?”

“ I thought I did, but he was there Dirk…….Johnny is still alive and he told me before I left that he was going to kill you.” Teresa told him as she watched the worry creep into his face.

“ Let him try, all this means is that the kid goes with me when I pick up the money……..Madrid won’t shoot me, he won’t risk his brat being killed…………once I get the money and get away from there, I’ll kill him and let Madrid find his body.” Dirk said with coldness.

“ No.” Teresa yelled. “ Dirk you said you would let Miguel go after you got the money.”

“ That was before you told me Madrid is still alive…….Now shut up and go check on that brat, he won’t eat.” he ordered.

Teresa went to the door and unlocked it. “ You know, I hope he does kill you.” she said before going into the room.

Miguel backed away from the door and was standing against the wall on the filthy thin mattress when Teresa came in.

“ Mon papa est vivant?” Miguel asked. ( my papa’s alive?)

“ Yes, but he won’t be for long.” Teresa said. “ Stop speaking in Spanish.” she demanded.

“ J’espere qu’il vous tue tous les deux?” Miguel said in his native language. ( I hope he kills you both)

Teresa reached out and yanked Miguel to her. “ I said stop speaking in Spanish…………you speak English to me only…….Do I make myself clear?”

Frightened Miguel only nodded.

“ Dirk say’s you refuse to eat, why?”

“ He has offered me no food since you left, he has not come into this room.” Miguel told her.

Teresa slapped him. “ Don’t lie to me.”

“ I am not lying to you.” he answered as he fought back the tears. “ Papa will make you pay for hitting me.”

“ Shut up.” Teresa yelled as she shoved Miguel back onto the mattress and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Miguel lay there on the mattress as the tears ran down his cheeks, knowing his father would come for him, that his prayers had been answered. Just a few more days and he would be back home with the family he so loved. He missed Ranger and Barranca and his friends he had at the ranch, but mostly he missed his father and the time they would spend together, just the two of them.

Monday morning Johnny and Murdoch rode into Morro Coyo yo the bank just as it opened.

“ Mister Lancer, Johnny……what can I do for you this morning?” Ben Carter asked as the two Lancer men entered his office and closed the door.

“ I need to take out a loan Ben.” Murdoch said as he sat down, Johnny remained standing, leaning against the door to make sure nobody disturbed them.

“ Alright, how much do you need?”

“ Ten thousand dollars…….we need the money now Ben.” Murdoch told him.

“ Murdoch, that’s a lot of money……may I ask what you need that amount for?”

“ No.” Johnny said firmly from where he stood.

“ Ben, it’s imperative that you tell no one about this.”

“ Of course, you know client business is private, but Murdoch, what kind of collateral do you have for that kind of money?”

“ Lancer……..I’m putting the deed to Lancer up.”

“ Lancer…….Murdoch.” Ben said with shock. The look he received from Johnny told him to say no more.

“ I’ll go get the papers and have the clerk start putting the money together.” he said as he stood and walked to the door where Johnny stood.

“ You say anything about this to anyone.” Johnny said as he opened the door.

Ben looked at him, swallowed hard then proceeded to leave the room.

Later that morning Johnny and Murdoch rode out of Morro Coyo with ten thousand dollars in their saddlebags, headed back to Lancer. Both men had their rifles out as a way of deterring anyone who seen what the two men came out of the bank with. The presence of Johnny Madrid and the fact that not too long ago Morro Coyo had witnessed Madrid was still very deadly with a gun. If anyone tried to take what they had, they would be a fool and find themselves in a three by eight grave.

Teresa rode into the Lancer yard and was met by the three Lancer men. “ Did you get it?” she asked, remaining mounted.

“We have it.” Murdoch said as he stepped forward.

“ This is where you are to leave the money………once Dirk has it.” she stopped and glared at Johnny. “ I told him you’re still alive……..he’s taking Miguel with him as insurance…….he knows you won’t risk hurting your son……once he has the money and is safely away, he’ll let you have Miguel back.”

Johnny knew Teresa was baiting him. “ My son better still be alive………..alive and unharmed……If he has so much as one bruise on him.” Johnny said with coldness in his voice as he stepped toward her.

Teresa moved her horse back. “ You so much as touch me and you won’t get him back alive at all.”

“Get off Lancer now, you make me sick to even think I thought of you as a sister.” Scott said.

“ How about you Johnny……..You sorry you took my innocence?………Oh wait, Miguel isn’t your son, so I figure that since you did raise him so far, he’s like a son.”

Johnny walked over and grabbed the reins. “ The only good thing to come from me bedding you  is my son………You see I know you were already with child when Nash raped you Teresa….I have proof and when this is over, I’m going to show a judge and jury that proof…….So you think about that while you ride back to Dirk.”

“ Oh Teresa, you might want to know that your husband Dale has decided to end his marriage to you.” Scott told her. “ It would seem that when we told him what you have done, he wanted nothing more to do with you………he went back to Boston.”

Teresa jerked the rein free from Johnny’ hand and yanked the animal’s head around to leave, galloping away.

“ Let’s get the horses………Son I sure hope Dirk is still riding that horse with the bared shoes.” Murdoch said as they headed to the barn.

                                                                       Chapter 6

Johnny watched from the top of a hill helplessly as Dirk rode up to the fallen tree with Teresa, Miguel sat in front of him. Looking thru the spy glasses anger started to show as he noticed a bruise on his sons face.

“ Sonofabitch.” Johnny said as he lowered the glasses.

Scott took the glasses from him and looked, seeing what angered his brother.

“ Easy Johnny, he’ll pay for that.” Scott said as his brother moved back to his horse. Looking at his father. “ I’m really worried about what he’s going to do sir.” Scott said softly as he looked back and seen his brother checking his colt.

“ He’ll be alright son.” Murdoch said.

“ He riding the same horse.” Johnny said as he spun the cylinder of his colt before sliding it back in the holster.

“Get the money and bring it to me.” Dirk ordered Teresa as he looked around.

Teresa got off her horse and walked over and picked up the two saddlebags full of money.

Teresa walked over and set one of the saddlebags on the ground while she handed the other one up to him.

 Dirk opened it and smiled. “ No more beans and hard tack for me.” he said as he closed it up and laid it  in front of him. “ Put the other one behind me, and hurry up, I want to get out of here.”

Teresa secured the other saddlebags behind him and went to her horse and mounted up. “ Please don’t kill him Dirk, you got the money, You let him go and the Lancer’ won’t hunt you down………You kill him and Johnny won’t stop until he finds you.” Teresa pleaded.

“ Madrid’ gonna hunt me down anyways……….killing this brat will guarantee he follows me back into Mexico…….Now get that horse moving……….I want to be in Arizona in two days.”

“ Mexico…why?” Teresa asked as they moved out.

“ Because, Madrid is a wanted man down there…….it seems the rurales will pay handsomely for his hide, dead or alive.”

“ You will not make it into Mexico.” Miguel said.

“ Shut up kid.” Dirk ordered.

“ My papa will kill you, he will make you die slow.”

Dirk reached up with his right hand and grabbed a hand full of hair and yanked the boys head back.

“ I said shut up and I meant it, he’ll follow me and he’ll follow me right into my trap…….You see I’ve had this planned out with the rurales for a long, long time……..I just needed to get hired…and then fired from Lancer to make it work.” Dirk said.

“ What are you talking about?” Teresa demanded.

“ Revenge is what I’m talking about…..Madrid killed my old man….gunned him down. I wasn’t old enough to do anything then except vow revenge for his death, and that’s what I’m doing……….you and this brat here just sealed it for me is all…….I don’t give a damn about the money, but it is a sweet bonus, one I plan to enjoy after I kill that bastard for killing my father.”

“ Your father………who was he?” Teresa asked as a sick feeling came to her.

“ Messilla……..see I was lucky, I took after my mother on looks so nobody knew I’m a half breed just like Madrid is…….I lived with my mother in Laredo but like Madrid I grew up along the border towns and after she died I took care of myself…..my old man knew about me……..Hell he’s the one who showed me how to use a gun and taught me what I know……Luring his grandfather Don Louis back was icing on the cake. That was my idea….I knew who you were. I planned on you hearing what I said that day in town……I planned it all.”

“ You bastard. You used me…just like you’re using my son.” Teresa said with anger.

“ That’s right, so don’t even think of trying to leave because I will kill you……..You mean nothing to me.” Dirk said with coldness.

Johnny followed Dirk’ horse’s track across the ground with ease the first day, now the ground was getting harder and the tracks just as hard to follow.

“ Son, why don’t we get ahead of them and surprise him?” Murdoch asked.

“ Because he’ll kill my son……..He’s headed south for a reason and I think I know what it is.” Johnny answered.

“ There’s a storm brewing Johnny……in these hills we could get caught in a flash flood.” Scott noted.

Johnny looked to the north and could see the ominous black clouds. “ Maybe, it’s already raining higher up so come this time tomorrow, if not later on tonight these gully’s  and washes will be running full of water.” he stated. “ You two can turn back any time you want.” he added.

“What reason son?………..You said a minute ago you know why he’s headed south, why?” Murdoch asked.

“ My past is why.” was all Johnny said before spurring Barranca into an easy lope.

Murdoch stopped his horse and looked at Scott. “ Son, we can’t let your brother cross that border….He’ll never come out alive.”

“ And just how do you propose we stop him sir? Dirk has his son, and right now I don’t think Johnny cares about anything but getting Miguel back alive……I think……no I know Johnny is willing to sacrifice his life to do just that.”

Just as the sun started below the mountains Johnny loped down onto the desert floor below, but stayed in the deep wash they had been riding in most of the day. Slowing Barranca to a walk as he untied his canteen and rook a drink after letting his hat fall back between his shoulders to hang from the stampede strap. Lightening flashed in the distance, followed by the sound of thunder a few second after as he reached back and untied his coat from the back and put it on.

“ We need to find shelter from this storm Johnny.” Scott stated as he rode up along side him.

“ There’s an old weigh station a couple miles ahead.” he said. “ The main building was burned down but the barn should still be standing, last time I was there the roof was good.”

“ How long ago was that?’ Murdoch asked.

“ When I was wearing a badge old man.” Johnny  answered gruffly before moving Barranca out.

“ Any chance Dirk would know of this place too brother?”

“ Maybe, but I doubt it……..mountain came down in a storm and cut off the road into the small valley it’s in……..Wells Fargo stopped taking that route and moved further south…….won’t know it’s there unless you stumble upon it.”

Rain poured down and lightening flashed all night. Johnny stood watching from the barn door, cursing he lightening lit up the sky.

Murdoch walked over and offered his son a hot cup of coffee. “ Most likely they’re hold up out od this storm also son.” he stated, but his words fell on deaf ears as Johnny threw the hot coffee against the door and stormed out into the rain and darkness, leaving his father standing there alone.

The sun rose over the desert the next morning as Scott woke and stretched before crawling out of his bedroll, looking over at his father still still sleeping as he stood up,looking over where his brother should have been, Scott found the spot empty. Figuring Johnny had awakened early and had Barranca saddled and ready to go. Looking toward the horses though, Scott found only two horses tethered, his and his fathers. Barranca was gone.

“ Murdoch.” he yelled as he went to his father.

Murdoch woke with a start. “What…what is it?”

“ Johnny’ gone.” Scott answered as he grabbed his saddle and headed to his horse.

“ Gone…….what the devil.” Murdoch said as he got up as fast as his sore back would allow. “ Damn him……..what the hell is the matter with that boy?”

“ We don’t have time to stand here and debate  this sir.” Scott said firmly as he saddled his horse. “ I am not letting my brother ride into Mexico to a certain death……So I suggest you get your horse saddled now, we don’t know how long he’s been gone, nor do we know where in Mexico he is going.”

“ He said his past is why Dirk is going to Mexico……..son I’d be willing to bet that Johnny is headed back to Sonora.” Murdoch stated as he grabbed his saddle and went to his horse……….I think Dirk is possibly the son of someone Johnny killed in his past.”

Scott untied his horse and started to lead him out. “ But Johnny didn’t know Dirk.”

“ No he didn’t when the man worked for us. If he had Johnny would have said something……..or maybe he did in his own way when he didn’t want me to hire him.”

“ I’m going to ride out and see if I can pick up his tracks while you get ready sir.” Scott said as he mounted up.

‘ Alright son, but if I know your brother, he’s going to mislead us and or cover his tracks. He knows this area better than we do.”

Johnny pushed Barranca harder than he liked for a couple hours after the sun came up, trying desperately to make up for the time he lost from the storm. Barranca starting to lather tossed his head and snorted in protest at the pace he was being made to keep. Johnny realizing how he was treating his friend reined the stallion in and got down at a spot along the Colorado river in the shade of some cottonwood trees.

“ Lo siento amigo.” he said as he loosened the cinch and removed the saddle. “ You’re the last one I should be angry with.” Johnny said as he pulled a bunch of long grass and started rubbing the sweat and lather from his friends coat. Barranca nudged him with his head before  turning back to eating the lush green grass along the river bank.

“ I know I shouldn’t have left them boy, but this is my responsibility. I may not come out of Mexico alive amigo, but I’ll need you to get Miguel out of there alive…..I’m counting on you buddy.” Johnny said as he stopped rubbing his friend down and walked over to the water. “ I know why Dirk is heading to Mexico, why he wants me to follow him……..I think he was just using Teresa to get to me boy.” Johnny said as he turned around and rubbed the stallions face. “  Because of me, my son was taken from me, because of a man killed seven years ago……..and you know what, I’m not the one who killed him Barranca. Murdoch………and Don Louis did getting me out of that prison in Sonora………Which buddy I’d be willing to bet Dirk has something to do with the death of………….Messilla was his father  Barranca……Let’s go visit a friend.” Johnny said as he saddled the now dry and shiny stallion back up.

Dirk, Teresa and Miguel rode into Yuma as the sun started to set over the Chocolate Mountains.

“ I’m going to get one room for the three of us to sleep in, if either one of you tries to leave……or says anything.” Dirk said as they rode up to the livery. “ You two better act like mother and son  while we are here.” he said as he got down and yanked Miguel down. “ Stay right here while I take care of the horses.”

That night Miguel slept, or tried to sleep praying his father would come for him soon. Curled up on his side, hands and feet tied so he couldn’t get away, Miguel tried to block out the noises he heard as Dirk did what he did to his mother. Her crying drifted into his ears even with the pillow over them.

Dirk rose before sunrise and got dressed, waking Teresa harshly, jabbing her in the ribs. “ Get up and get the brat up…….I want to ride out of here in an hour.” he told her as checked the saddlebags.

An hour later the three rode out of Yuma headed to the border, crossing the Rio Grande Dirk stopped his horse.

“ Okay Madrid, I know you’re following still, let’s see just how good a tracker you are.”

Johnny rode into Yuma the next day, not bothering to keep a low profile he rode up to the livery and got down.

“ Hello.” he called out.

“ Yeah, be with you in a sec.” a crotchety voice yelled from the back.

Johnny smiled as he recognized the voice followed by a man well into his sixties a few seconds later.

“Pues bien mis ojos han ido mal en mi, o yo tengo un pie fantasma en mi librea.”

( Well either my eyes have gone bad on me, or I have a ghost standing in my livery)

“Sus ojos no han ido mal en usted todavia anciano. Yo no soy un tantasma.”

(Your eyes haven’t gone bad on you yet old man. I’m not a ghost.)

“Johnny Madrid. He oido que Messilla ha capturado y muerto en Sonora.”

(Johnny Madrid. I hard that Messilla captured you and you died in Sonora.)

“ Lo hizo, pero no lo hice. Cuanto cuesta un puesto para lo noche?”

( He did, but I didn’t. How much for a stall for the night?)

“ Ah todavia yiene ese caballa fino, para usted, sin costo alguno.”

( Ah you still have that fine stallion, for you, no charge.)

“ Gracias, ha escuchar a un hombre que a ytaves de aqui en los ultimos dias? Tendria una mujer y un hijo con el. El muchacho se perece a mi.”

( Thanks, listen has a man come thru here the last couple days? He’d have a woman and child with him. The boy would look like me?)

“ Si qie salio ayer por la manana.” ( Yes they rode out yesterday morning.)

“ Gracias.” ( Thanks )

“ Quienes son ellos Johnny?” ( Who are they Johnny?)

“Mi hijo. La mujer me disparo y lo secuestraron con la ayuda del hombre.”

(My son. The woman, his mother shot me and kidnapped him with the mans help.)

“ Tienes un hijo? Rezare para que usted lo vuelva. Viajaron a Mexico.”

( You have a son. I will pray that you get him back. They rode for Mexico.)

“ Te diste cuenta de su caballa? Como por ejemplo los zapatos?”

(Did you notice the horse? Like say the shoes?)

“Si, un gris grande con rejas en las patas traseras.”

(Yes, a big Grey with bars on the hind feet.)

Gracias, te vere en la manana.”

( Thanks I’ll see you in the morning.)

“ El hombre se quedo en el hotel.”

( The man, he stayed in the hotel.)

“ Gracias.” ( Thanks.)

Johnny pulled his rifle from the scabbard and turned to leave, but stopped.

“Habra dos hombres, los estadounidenses que deben aparecer en undia o dos. Dogales que dije de ir a casa.”

(There will be two Americans who should show up in a day or two. Tell them I said to go home.)

“ Quienes son?” ( Who are they?)

“ Mi padre y mi hermano. Lancero.” ( My father and brother. Lancer.) Johnny told him before turning and walking out of the barn, headed to the hotel for a much needed bath, soft bed and hot meal.

Walking into the hotel Johnny knew the proprietor recognized him on sight. Time was he loved the look he would inflict on people just by walking into an establishment, now though all he cared about was a soft bed and hot bath. Walking up to the counter he picked up the pen and reached for the ledger.

“ I have no rooms available for you Madrid.” the burly man behind the counter said.

Johnny looked up at the man. “ Mister, I want no trouble, all I want is a hot bath and a soft bed for the night.”

“ I said I have no rooms available for you.” the man snapped as he took the ledger from him. “ Leave now or I’ll have the sheriff remove you.”

Another couple came in and what happened next sent Johnny over the edge. Standing there he listened as the couple were given a room. After they left Johnny stepped back over to the counter and grabbed the man, pulling him up on the counter.

“ Mister……you know what I hate more than anything?………..A man who lies to me……Now I suggest that unless you want to find yourself visiting the doctor, you give me a room.” Johnny demanded, inches from the mans face before shoving him back off the counter.

Clean and a full stomach Johnny got up and paid his bill at the cafe, thanked the woman and decided to have a cold beer before going to bed.

Standing at the bar drinking a cold beer, Johnny smiled at a woman whom had had her eye on him ever since he walked in. When the woman walked over to him he ordered her a drink.

“ Been a while Johnny.” she said as she picked up the drink. “ Where you been?” she asked after polishing off the drink.

“ Up north, how you been Georgia?”

“Oh you know, same ol’ same ol’…..So what brings you back to Yuma?”

“ Just here for the night………..tracking a man who took something from me.”

“ Just the night huh?”

Johnny smiled and took her hand in his. “ Yeah, I got a room at the hotel.” he said as he ran his right thumb over the top of her hand.

“ Let’s go.” Georgia said as she stood up, smiling.

Johnny woke the next morning to an empty bed, stretching he got up and got ready to leave. Breakfast done he headed to the livery and saddled Barranca up and said good bye to his friend. Walking Barranca out he stopped and a smile came to his face as he looked at a man standing before him with a rifle cradled in his arms.

“ You going somewhere Madrid?” the sheriff asked.

“ Yeah I am……why?”

“ Well I got a complaint from the hotel you stayed at last night…….It seems the night manager was roughed up……he said he told you he didn’t have any rooms to rent you…..said you forced him too………..is that true?”

“ Partly.” Johnny answered.

“ Well suppose you and me take a walk over to my jail and you can tell me what happened.”

Johnny walked Barranca with the sheriff over to the jail and after tying the stallion to the hitch rail he walked inside.

“ You mind telling me what the hell you’re doing here in Yuma Billy?” Johnny asked as he removed his hat and sat on the edge of the desk.

Billy stepped over and placed his rifle back on the rack. “ They needed a temporary sheriff here…..I came down here..oh about six months ago…….My replacement arrived two days ago and is being sworn in today……..Now you going to tell me what’s going on Johnny?”

Johnny stood up and walked over to the stove and poured two cups of coffee, handing one to Billy.

Billy and Johnny had become good friends years before when Johnny had hired him and his brother as deputies along with four other good men. All of which were killed while transferring a huge shipment of gold from Douglas, Arizona to San Francisco.  His own brother Toby, taking over as sheriff of Douglas was gunned down one night, Billy himself wounded. Soon after burying his brother Billy rode out of Douglas, having made a surprise visit to Johnny at Lancer months later, telling of Toby’ death.

“ You can imagine the surprise I felt when he said it was you………….So start talking Johnny.”

Johnny told Billy what all he had been doing since the two last seen each other. When he told him why he was in Yuma and where he was headed he could see his friends face change to a look of anger and concern.

“ Jesus Johnny…….You’re going to go back into Mexico, knowing you may not get out alive.” Billy said as he stood and walked over and picked up the coffee pot. “ I understand your reason, really I do, but Johnny you need help….You of all people know how dangerous the rurales can be……you’ve experienced it first hand…….You can’t go down there alone……..What about your father and brother, didn’t they want to come along and help you get your son back?”

Johnny told him how Murdoch put up Lancer for the money and how he had rode out in the middle of the night in the storm leaving them behind in Nevada.

“ I know they’re still following me Billy…….I figured to stay a day or two ahead of them…….I can’t risk them getting killed and Miguel having no one to come back to……..I don’t care what happens to me Billy….I want my son back and I’ll kill any man who tries to stop me.”

Billy heard a sound in his friends voice that made a shiver go down his spin. “ Johnny, let me throw something at you?………Stay here another day and the two of us will ride into Mexico and get your son back…..I know you want to work alone on this, but you of all people know that some jobs can’t be done alone……..Let me help you……..Please.”

Johnny sat and looked at his younger friend. “ You’ve done some growing up since I seen you last……..also gotten smarter………I don’t trust easy, you know that Billy, but I know you and I’d trust you with my life…….I’ll allow you to come along on one condition.”

“ Name it Johnny.”

“ I want you to promise me that if I don’t make it out alive, that you will get my son back to Lancer for me.”

“ You’ll get out Johnny, but yeah I promise you.”

Johnny stood up. “ I guess I’ll go put Barranca back in the livery then until tomorrow.”

“ Johnny, any chance of you staying at the other hotel for the night?” Billy asked as he walked out with his friend.

Johnny untied Barranca and looked at Billy.  “No.” he said before walking back to the livery.

“Damn.” Billy said as he stepped out into the street and headed to the hotel to make it clear that his friend would be allowed to stay there another night.

The next morning Billy Jenks and Johnny Madrid rode out of Yuma headed for the border. Just as they crossed the border, back in Yuma Murdoch and Scott Lancer rode into town. Horses exhausted from the hard ride trying to catch up to Johnny, they both after being told what Johnny had said. Ignoring the man and paying for their horses care, the two Lancer’ walked to the same hotel Johnny stayed at and got a room.

Riding out of Yuma the next morning, relieved to hear that Johnny wasn’t alone now. That Billy Jenks was with him in Mexico, Murdoch and Scott crossed the river into a land neither hoped they would ever have had to come back into again.

                                                             Chapter 7

“ So your son, tell me about him Johnny.” Billy asked as the two rode avoiding the small towns.

Memories of the last time he had been in this land surfaced. Memories of his grandfather Don Louis, Messilla, the prison, but what he remembered mostly was the brutality he received at the hands of a man who couldn’t really be called a man at all. The scars, always with him but faded now would be a constant reminder for as long as he drew breath.

“ Johnny.” Billy called, knowing his friend was lost in memories he knew where of the bad kind.

Johnny stopped Barranca. “ We’ll rest the horses along the Rio Blanca river. I know of a place along it where we won’t be spotted. There will be plenty of grass for the horses to eat.” Johnny told him.

“Okay.” Billy asnwered. He knew Johnny had heard what he had asked and he had learned long ago when working with Johnny, that he would answer in his own time, when he was ready.

Murdoch and Scott walked out of the hotel the next morning and headed to their horses.

“ Johnny has a day’s lead on us sir, and he knows the terrain down there better than we could ever hope to.” Scott said as they reached the river.

“ You don’t think I know that son…….We ride for Sonora, Johnny won’t head straight there, he’ll scout around first.”

“ Unless he gets caught first by the rurales first.”

“ When this is over, and we all are back home at Lancer, I am going to sit that boy down and find out why he feels like he has to do this alone…….He should know by now that Lancer takes care of it’s own.”

“ Yes sir, but you seem to forget that Johnny has never taken Lancer as a name.”

“ I don’t care if he goes by Lancer or Madrid……..He is my son and I will be damned if I’m going to go back home and wait for………..”

“ And you think I do?” Scott snapped back, cutting his father off. “ You got telling, or I should say trying to order Johnny around and you know how that’s going to end sir……..I suggest we concentrate on getting Johnny and Miguel back alive instead of what you are going to do after.”

“ When I came back to Lancer six years ago after Murdoch and Don Louis got me out of prison, I wasn’t in the best of shape. I’d been beaten pretty bad while there and didn’t think I would make it out alive.” Johnny started as he and Billy got ready to leave. “ I refused a doctor treating me pretty much until I got back to Lancer and Sam could do it………Murdoch, he was different then…..I could see it in his face, the worry he had for me. We didn’t get along like we were before this happened, mostly that was my fault…….. I didn’t know Teresa was with child when Murdoch sent her away…..She stayed with Scott’ grandfather until she married………When we got back I came down into the kitchen a day or two later and seen my son for the first time.” Johnny said as he started to laugh. “ I remember asking Scott if he was hiring them a little young and that’s when he told me the baby was my son……..from me and Teresa.”

“ You know Johnny………I know when we worked together before, I didn’t know you all that long, but the time I did I seen a side of you I think you didn’t want others to see, Toby seen it too when you faced those men who were harassing that old miner and his burro….. You wanted everybody to think of you as this tough as nails…….dangerous gunfighter who didn’t care about anything beyond staying alive. The person I worked with and seen at Lancer wasn’t that  person and now…….you sure as hell are not that person.”

“ Looks can be deceiving sometimes Billy……I’m still that person. I just don’t show him as much as I did back then.” Johnny answered.

Billy walked around his horse to Johnny. “ You were a reckless kid back then Johnny with only one thing on your agenda, a reputation, being the fastest and the best…….but then you started to change, you started to care, if you didn’t you wouldn’t have stood up for that miner, or the people  of Douglas the way you did back then.” Billy told him. “ Johnny, there’s nothing wrong with it, hell if it was me right now tracking the man who took my son, I sure as hell wouldn’t be as calm as you’re being.”

“ Who says I’m calm?” Johnny asked as he untied Barranca and swung up in the saddle.

Billy shook his head and sighed as he went to his horse and mounted up. “ So what’s the plan?”

“ We stay to the ravines and  out of sight as much as possible…….Down here Billy you gotta make your self invisible, especially from the rurales.”

“ Wait a minute Johnny…..this Dirk, he doesn’t know me at all, just you……I can ride into Sonora and look around, see what we’re up against.”

“ They already know you’re riding with me Billy.” Johnny cut in.

“ What….how?”

“ They knew as soon as we rode out of Yuma, and when we crossed the river.” Johnny told him as Barranca tossed his head and snorted. “ Easy amigo, I know……you remember don’t you?” Johnny said as he patted the stallions neck.

“ Remember what……..what’s Barranca remember Johnny?”

“ This is his home land……it’s where I got him……South of here is a canyon called Barranca Del Cobre. It means Copper Canyon.” Johnny said as he noticed his horses ears go back listening to something. “ Yeah I know buddy………Billy we got company.” he said as he pulled his rifle and started leading Barranca up a small wash out of sight of whoever was following them.

“ You think it’s your father?” Billy asked.

“ We’ll find out in a minute.” Johnny said as the two waited.

“ How do you know Johnny went this way sir?” Scott asked as they rode thru the canyon.

“ It’s the way we came back……….He went this way.”  Murdoch was saying until a rifle being cocked stopped the two Lancer men.

“ You don’t listen to good old man.” Johnny said from their left.

“ I hear and listen very well…….It’s you who doesn’t listen son……..If you think riding out in the middle of the night in a rain storm is going to make me and your brother go home and let you come down here alone……* you * are sorely mistaken young man……..Miguel is my grandson, my first born grandson and I am not going to let his father get himself killed.” Murdoch vented with anger in his voice.

Johnny and Billy walked there horses out and mounted up. “ Mister Lancer, Scott.”

“ Billy.” Scott said with a nod.

Teresa looked over at Miguel as Dirk stopped his horse outside the gate to the Sonora prison. The guard looked them over hard as he stepped over to them.

“ La mujer y el nino no esta permitido aqui.” ( The woman and child are not allowed here.)

“Estos dos son, vaya digale a su capitan que  he traido hijo de Madrid y su puta madre como lo prometi.” ( These two are, go tell your capyain I have brought Madrid’ son and his whore mother like I promised.)

The guard looked at Teresa and smiled before turning and leaving, returning shortly with another man.

“Que, me pongo mas ganas de ver a la mujer que Madrid un hijo de.” Captain Ramirez ordered.

( Let them in. I am most eager to see the woman who Madrid got a son from.)

Dirk road thru the gate once the guard opened it and got down, leaving Miguel on the horse.

“ Te dije que conseguiria Madrid de vuelta aqui.” ( I told you I would get Madrid back down here.)

“ Si, pero tambien dijo que vendria con el viejo.” Ramirez said back. ( Yes, but you also said he would come with the old man.)

Dirk walked over and reached up and yanked Teresa down from her horse.

“ Lleve a la mujer a una celda. Lleve al nino a mi oficina.” Ramirez ordered. ( Take the woman to a cell. Bring the child to my office.)

Teresa was jabbed in the back and forced to walk toward a cell door open along the wall, looking she noticed that three of the four sides of the prison had these cells around it. Shoved inside the small hot space, she spun around as the steel barred door was shut and locked.

“ Please, I want my son…….Please.” she pleaded, but her pleads fell on deaf ears as the two guards laughed at her as they walked away.

“ Asi que usted es la madre de Miguel? La mujer que podria lanzar a un nono a causa de su apariencia.”

( So you are the mother of Miguel? The woman who could throw a child away because of how he looks.)

Teresa turned around and letting her eyes adjust to the darkness seen the person who spoke shackled to the back of the cell in a corner.

“ I don’t understand what you are saying mister.” she answered.

“ So you are the mother of Miguel?……The woman who could throw a child away because of how he looks.”

“ How do you know my son……….I have never see you before…..and I most certainly have never been down here before.” Teresa demanded and said as she stepped closer to the man.

“ I know because I am Juanito’ abuelo……..his grandfather and Miguel is my bisnieto, great grandson.”

“ You are Don Louis Dela Vega?” Teresa said softly.

“ Si, I am Don Louis………Johnny’ grandfather.”

Teresa stepped even closer to him and knelt down. “ You dare say what you did about me, when you turned your back on your grandson………Johnny told me about you and how you wanted nothing to do with him when he was a child.”

“ Usted no hola la senora verdad. Juanito ha vivido con mentiras que le dijo su madre la mayor parte de su vida. El sabe la verdad ahora, y hemos avanzado.” Don Louis snapped back.

“ English.” Teresa said.

“ You do not speak the truth senora. Juanito has lived with lies he was told by his mother most of his life. He knows the truth now, and we have moved forward.” Don Louis repeated in English before standing up. “Why are you here……..Why do you have his son down here?” he demanded.

“ Miguel is my son…….I have a right to have him…………”

“ You have no rights……you gave him up to Juanito when he was just a baby because your new husband did nor want your mestizo son around.”

“ You  got that right old man. She wanted that brat purely for money purposes.” Dirk said standing at the door.

“ Shut up Dirk.” Teresa yelled.

“ Why……..you afraid he’ll find out how you shot Madrid, thinking you killed him and kidnapped his son.”

“ I said shut up.” she repeated. “ You took my son from me and brought him down here just to lure Johnny down here once you found out he was still alive just so you can kill him for killing your father.”

Dirk swung the steel door open and stepped in. “ That’s right, and Madrid thinks that this old man here is dead, murdered thanks to a letter I had sent to him.”

“ Why didn’t you try and kill Johnny in California?……….Why did you need for him to come all the way back down here to Sonora to do it?”

“ Because senora, Madrid is wanted for murder here in Mexico, not California.” Captain Ramirez said as he walked over. “ Madrid has been wanted in my country for years and if he thought that his crimes against the people of this land would be forgotten…….he is sorely mistaken as he will learn in the next day or two when he and the three gringo’s who ride with him ride into my trap………….Madrid will not ride out of my country alive.”

“ You underestimate my grandson and just how smart he is captain.”Would you care to wager a bet on that Don Louis?……Like say your life for real this time?” Captain Ramirez asked. “ Or perhaps Madrid’ halfbreed son maybe?”

“ I do not make bets with men I know will * not * be alive to pay them…….My Juanito, he will kill you slowly if you do anything to me or his son.”

“ You are so sure of that senor and yet you do not know what I have waiting for him when he comes.”

“ If you think Johnny is just going to ride in here.” Teresa stated.

“ senorita, I am not a man who does wrong to women, but I can make an exception with you if you do not shut up……….Now I have had much time to plan this out. Even if he doesn’t ride in here he will be captured and brought to me.”

“ Where is my son?” Teresa demanded.

“ The boy is fine, I have not harmed him yet.” Ramirez said as a guard dragged Miguel out of the office and over to him. “ Take the boy and lock him in a cell by himself and shackle him and the woman…..I don’t want them to leave before our honored guest arrives.”

“ No……he’s just a child…….you can’t lock him up in a cell.” Teresa screamed as she watched helplessly as her son was dragged into a cell before she was pushed back inside with Don Louis and shackled herself.

“ Johnny you thought about what you’re going to do?” Scott asked as the four rode along.

“ I’m going to get my son back.” he responded, glancing at his brother.

“ You could get yourself killed son……You go riding in there and those rurales will kill you.”

Johnny stopped his horse. “ Listen old man……as long as I get Miguel back I don’t care what happens to me…..without him my life isn’t worth much.”

“ That’s a pretty stupid thing to say Johnny.” Billy said. “ What goods it gonna do Miguel if you get yourself killed?”

Johnny looked at Billy. “ You’re free to turn back any time.”

“You know I’m not going to do that Johnny…..I’m your friend and I came along to help, but there’s only four of us against however many men are at that prison.”

“ Counting Dirk there will be nine men there…….Seven guards is all there will be.” Johnny stated as he looked at his father. “ You remember how that place is laid out?”

“ I do, only one way in and out…….the main building is off to the left of the gate with the cells running along three sides.” Murdoch answered. “ There’s a huge tree in the center of the yard, two lookout towers, one facing north and the other south.”

“ That’s right, Ramirez will have guards in those towers watching for me, the extra  weapons and ammunition is kept in a room between the main building and the cells facing the gate……..there’s dynamite kept in there for blasting rock.” Johnny told them. “ Scott, I need you to create a distraction ………Can you do that?”

“ A distraction……..How?”

“ By doing some of that fancy shooting, using your rifle I want you to blow that room up……..The door is wood and it’s thin.”

“ I’m not going to be able to get close enough to do that if there are guards in the towers Johnny.”

“ You will because they will be focused on me once I ride up to that gate.” he told his brother. “ Once I’m inside and I know where Miguel is, I want you to blow that room up.”

“ And just what are me and Billy supposed to do?” Murdoch asked.

“ Ride in with me.” Johnny answered.

“ That don’t sound to smart to me Madrid.” A voice said from their right.

Johnny spun and drew his gun as did Billy.

“ Easy Johnny, I didn’t ride hell bent for leather down here just to have my friend shoot me.” Val Crawford said as he rode out of a thicket into view. “ Me and the men here thought you could use some help.” he said gruffly. “ I believe you know these fellas Johnny?”

Johnny looked and seen that some of the men were Lancer hands and some men from Morro Coyo and ranches in the valley.

“ Val……….How’d you know where I was?”

“ Well I came by Lancer and your foreman told me you went to pay the ransom………I found out who Dirk’ father was and well I figured he would bring your son down here to get you below the border again.”

“ How did you get ahead of us sheriff Crawford?” Murdoch asked.

“ I took the old blackbird trail, we rode hard to get ahead of you……….Of all the jobs you did boy, you know that four against nine isn’t very good odds Johnny, now twenty to nine is…..Now we gonna stand here jabbering all day in this heat…….or are we gonna go get my godson back?”

“ El Capitan, he is coming.” a guard yelled as he hurried across the yard.

“ Captain Ramirez came out of his office and threw his cigar down. “ Get the men ready.” he barked as his men scurried around to positions they thought would protect them against Madrid’ deadly colt. Ramirez himself stood unarmed in the center of the yard as three horses rode up to the gate. “ Open it.” he ordered as he smiled slightly.

Murdoch, Billy and Johnny rode into the prison yard, up to Ramirez. The gate was closed behind them and rurales positioned themselves in a row behind them with their rifles ready.

“ I did not think you would have the guts to come back here Madrid.” Ramirez said.

Johnny looked around and spotted Dirk just off to his left with a Winchester in his hands. “ You know why I’m here Ramirez……Give me back my son and his mother and you can live.” Johnny said boldly.

“ I can live.” the captain repeated before laughing. “ Do you here what he tells me?……..No Madrid, I will live, but you, you will not if you don’t drop your guns now.”

Johnny heard Dirk chamber a round in his rifle and the men behind him cock the weapons as well.

“ Only one man has to die here today captain.” Murdoch said.

“ Ah the gringo father I presume?”

“ I’m Johnny’ father yes and Miguel is my grandson and we want him back now.”

“ But he is having such a good time in your old cell Johnny………Would you like to see?”

A guard went over and opened a cell and a minute later a dirty Miguel was brought out into the late afternoon sun.

“ Papa.” Miguel yelled as he tried to run to him but was stopped.

Ramirez walked over to the boy and grabbed him. “ See he is still alive……I have not killed him yet.”

“ Let him go now.” Johnny ordered.

“ You know, I think before you trying to order me around I should show you a little surprise I have for you mestizo.”

Johnny, Murdoch and Billy watched as four guards went into another cell and dragged Teresa and a man out.

“ You know I was so hoping you would have come down here also with that letter I wrote. How did you feel when I told you I had killed him Madrid?” Ramirez asked.

Johnny looked at his grandfather standing there, filthy but still alive. ‘ You see, you are inno position to be ordering me around.”

“ Bisabuelo.” Miguel said.

Don Louis still being alive was not something Johnny had figured on. Now things were different. If he went thru with what they had planned his whole family could get killed. He knew the signal his brother would be waiting for, dropping the reins on Barranca’ neck Johnny got down and stepped closer to Ramirez.

“ Let them go and you can have me…..I want my family to be allowed to ride out of here,back to the border unharmed.”

“ Johnny no.” Murdoch yelled.

“ Shut up old man.”  Johnny tossed over his shoulder. “ I’ll give up peacefully right here and now if I have your word that you will let them all ride out of here free.”

“ And if I don’t?” Ramirez asked.

“ Then I guess I’ll see you in hell.” Johnny answered.

Ramirez looked at Madrid, he knew something was up for the man to just ride into his prison like he did.

Scott waited on the hill he had crawled on his belly up across from the prison gate for the signal his brother would give.

“ What the?” he said softly as he seen Don Louis brought out of a cell. When his brother got off his horse and walked toward the Captain, Scott knew that things had changed. “ Now what brother?” he asked knowing that Val and the other men waited in the ravine behind him for the first shot to be fired, signaling them to come, catching the rurales by surprise.

“ You have guts riding in here like you did mestizo, I’ll give you that.” Ramirez said as he stepped toward Johnny.

Miguel felt the hold Ramirez had on him loosen, bolting he ran to his father. “ Papa, please.” he pleaded.

Johnny put an arm around his sons shoulder giving him a quick hug before pushing him away. “ Go get on Grandpa Lancer’ horse son.” he ordered.

Miguel looked up at his father, fear in his eyes. “ Papa?”

“ Do as I say now son.” Johnny ordered again as he looked at Ramirez.

“ Let them leave.” Ramirez ordered. “ Drop your gun Madrid.”

Johnny reached down and slowly unbuckled his gun belt letting it drop to the ground, raising his hands so no shots would be fired.

“ Take my son home Murdoch……I don’t want any of you trying anything.” Johnny ordered as two guards came over and placed shackles on his wrist.

Murdoch pulled Miguel up on his horse. “ Son……”

Johnny turned to Don Louis. “ Take Barranca, make sure my son gets home….make sure she pays for what she has done.” Johnny said as Teresa walked past him, giving him a hard cold look.

Don Louis walked toward the stallion, but stopped at Johnny. “ You cannot do this Juanito, they will kill you.”

Billy pulled Teresa up behind him. “ I may not be the one killing you Johnny, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing you will be dead come tomorrow.” she said coldly.

“ Get out of here now……take the blackbird Murdoch.”

Ramirez walked over and smiled at Johnny. “ Take him to a cell and shackle him…..Open the gate and let them ride out.”

Murdoch knew that with his son saying ‘ Take the blackbird ‘ he was telling him to get Miguel and Don Louis out safely before coming back with Val and the other men. Nodding he turned his horse, followed by Billy with Teresa behind him and Don Louis and rode out of the prison. A gut wrenching sickness in his stomach as he prayed they would get Johnny out, alive.

Scott watched as the gates opened and his father, with Miguel, Billy and Don Louis on Barranca rode out of the prison, turning his attention back to his brother still inside, he watched as the guards shoved Johnny toward a cell.

“ Damn it.” he cursed as he watched helplessly as Dirk walked over and with the rifle he carried said something before busting Johnny in the head with the butt of the gun, dropping him to his knees.

Dirk walked over to Madrid. “ I’m going to love making you pay for killing my father.” he said before hitting Johnny with his rifle butt.

Johnny dropped to his knees, dazed from the blow as a small trickle of blood ran down his cheek from a cut the butt caused. He knew he would just have to hang tough and endure whatever treatment he received until morning when the prison would become a war zone.

One of the guards, laughing kicked him in the back, knocking him to the ground. The other guard kicked him in the ribs as he curled on his side trying to protect his ribs.

“ Enough.” Ramirez yelled. “ I don’t want him hurt just yet.” he ordered as he walked over to them. “ You can have your vengeance in the morning….Until then, let him be in the cell thinking about his family he will no longer see.”

“ I can wait.” Dirk said as the two guards pulled Johnny up to his feet. “ You know, she wasn’t half bad in bed……..I can see why you liked her Madrid.” Dirk said, speaking of Teresa. “ Bet you wished she had killed you that day now, huh?”

“ You and me will dance, I will kill you for taking my son, and for what you put him thru.” Johnny said coldly.

Dirk, smiling hit Johnny in the stomach with the rifle, knocking the wind out of him, dropping him to his knees again. “ I don’t think so.” he said before turning and walking away.

“ Don Louis, you stay here with Miguel and Teresa until we get back.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Grandpa are you going to get my papa back?” Miguel asked.

“ Yes we are son……you stay here with Don Louis. I promise you that Johnny will come home with us.”

“ Don’t trust her for nothing.” Murdoch said of Teresa.

“ She will not get away from me I assure you………. Bring my grandson home senor.”

“ That’s just what we intend to do sir.” Scott said as he took the reins of Barranca and led the horse away.

Don Louis and Miguel stood watching as the men rode back toward the prison as the moon rose in the sky, giving them enough light to see.

“ I sure hope this works.” Scott said softly to his father as the first hints of light showed to the east.

“ It will son……..They have Johnny now so like Val said, they won’t be on the guard like before. They won’t be expecting us to come back and attack the prison.”

“ We hope……at least they don’t know about the extra men we have.” Scott said. “ You know Dirk beat him last night before he was put in his cell?…….Hit him in the head with his rifle.”

“ We pull this off and get him out, Johnny will make that man pay for everything he did.”

Johnny didn’t sleep all night. He couldn’t, his head pounded and his ribs, bruised from the kick they received were to sore, not to mention having shackles on his wrist and around his ankles again, something he never wanted to wear again, bit into his flesh. Laying on the filthy stone, dirt floor he let his mind drift back to his son and the first time he held him. A gunfighter by choice in his past, now a father raising a son to grow up and be a good person, with an education and knowledge he never had. At first if anyone asked him he would deny it, but the actual thought that if told he would be raising a son, he would have laughed it off. Now however, he was sacrificing his life so that son could grow up and have a chance at a good solid life at Lancer, surrounded by people who loved him, and cared about him.

Remembering Teresa and how the two of them came together fulfilling a sexual need, a need he tried desperately not to do with the then innocent girl and  the anger of his father when he had learned of their coming together. It was her who did the unrelenting pursuing, but it was he who paid for the wrong doing. Paid in hated words of anger said between him and his father, words that could still seven years later still be heard in his head.

“ Still think I’m not responsible old man?” Johnny asked  himself. “ Raise my son to be a man is all I ask.” he said as he heard footsteps stop outside his cell and knew his death would be starting soon.

“ Get up Madrid.” Dirk ordered as the cell door swung open.

Johnny sat up as two guards came in and unlocked the chain from his leg irons and yanked him up to his feet.

“ Move.” they ordered as he was shoved to the door.

Stepping outside he found Ramirez standing there with an evil grin on his face and a whip coiled in his right hand.

“ Take him to the tree and chain his arms around it.”

One thing Johnny hated more than anything, was the whip. Crude and vicious it would tear a mans flesh open  jaggedly. The last time here Messilla had whipped his back raw and then poured tequila on it just to make it hurt even more. Upon closer look Johnny could see that this whip was different though. The end of it had knot, something he knew would when struck, hurt worse than anything, especially when the person using it knew how and stood back just far enough so that the tip was all that struck the flesh.

Dirk came up when Johnny stopped at the tree and shoved him into the trunk hard. “ I seen this done once before to a man, and I am going to love watching that rip your flesh open.” he said as he grabbed a handful of hair and jerked Johnny’ head back.

“ Hate to disappoint you, but your father whipped me and he didn’t kill me.” Johnny told him.

“ I’m not my father, and I assure you that you will be begging me to kill you.” Dirk answered before slugging him in his already sore ribs.

Murdoch, Scott and Val watched as Johnny was brought out into the yard and chained to the tree.

“ Not again.” Murdoch said, knowing what was about to be done to his son. “ Scott.”

“ I know sir.” Scott answered as he picked up the rifle. “ I hope they still have that dynamite in there.” he said taking aim. “ Just hold on brother.”

Dirk went to hit Johnny again when an explosion stopped him and gunfire erupted. The two guards fell dead. Running for cover with Ramirez, leaving Johnny alone.

“ It is his father, he has come back to get Madrid out.” Ramirez yelled as his men came out of their sleeping quarters and where shot down.“ Kill him now.” he ordered Dirk as he fired his weapon.

Dirk looked and seen Madrid running the best he could to the wagons away from the gunfire.

Johnny reached down and took the knife he carried in his boot out after diving behind a wagon. Limited on movement with the shackles still on his wrist, he knew he would get only one chance as he looked beneath the wagon bed and seen Dirk coming toward him.

The front gate blew apart and several men on horseback galloped into the yard firing their weapons killing the guards in the towers.

Ramirez looked and seen most of his men where now dead as he ran to his quarters, taking a bullet in his leg, dropping him just as he reached the porch.

The remaining guards, knowing they were out gunned, dropped their weapons and started yelling that they surrendered.

Murdoch, Scott and Val rode into the yard.  “ Give it up now captain.” Murdoch yelled as he looked around for Johnny.

Ramirez, knowing he was beaten stood up and limped off the porch, dropping his pistol.

Val got down and went to him, kicking his gun away.

“ You will not make it out of my country alive.” Ramirez told him.

“ Care to make a wager on that.” Val asked as he shoved the man toward a cell. “ Bring the remaining guards over and put them in cells and let the prisoners free.” he ordered.

Scott caught movement to his right and looked toward the wagons and seen Dirk. Taking up his rifle again he aimed to fire, but stopped as he watched Dirk grab his chest and look down, a knife sticking out of his gut.

Johnny watched as Dirk came around the wagon, standing he drew back his hands and with an aim as true as with his colt, he threw the knife and watched it hit it’s mark. Hurrying over he grabbed the knife handle and thrust it upward in Dirks gut.

“ This is for my son you sonofabitch.” he said as he again jerked the blade upward before pulling it out.

“ Dirk screamed out from the pain as he dropped his pistol and tried to stop the blood running from his body, his eyes looking into cold as ice blue eyes.

Johnny shoved Dirk backwards watching him fall to the ground holding his wound as his life left him.

Scott and Murdoch walked over to him. “ It’s over son…..We need to get out of here now before more rurales show up.” Murdoch said as he placed a hand on his shoulder.

“ Miguel?” Johnny asked as Scott unlocked the shackles.

“ He’s with Don Louis at the river waiting for you brother.”

Murdoch looked at the dried blood on his sons face. “ You alright?” he asked.

“ I will be.” Johnny said as he started walking to the cell Ramirez was locked in.

“ You will pay for this Madrid.” Ramirez spat from the cell gate.

“ In hell maybe.” Johnny answered before turning and going to a horse and mounting up.

Teresa sat on a log and listened to her son and the old man speak, rope around her wrist.

“ Will they bring my papa back to me?” Miguel asked.

“ Yes little one….Your father will come back to you, this I am sure of……He loves you very much.”

Miguel looked at his mother. “ She is a bad person….will she go to jail for shooting my papa and taking me?”

Don Louis looked down ay his great grandson. “ When did she shoot your papa?”

“ When we were out riding, her and that man Dirk. She shot papa and I thought he was dead and I would be all alone like he was growing up.”

“ You will never be alone my son……You have many people who love and care about you.”

“Papa and me were so sad when we were told that you were dead.”

“ I did not know captain Ramirez sent word saying of this……I should have suspected though since he was so angry that your papa was not with me.”

“ Will people hate me when I am older like they did papa?”

“ Why do you ask such a question my son?”

“ Because I look like papa, and he was beaten and treated badly because of his blue eyes.”

“ Heavens no…….Miguel look at me……Have you talked to your father about this?”

“ No sir, papa is always busy or tired…..We don’t really get to spend that much time together unless he is working and even then he is busy or to tired so I say nothing.”

“ Well I think that the two of you need some time alone, No estancia or family around.”

“I wish we could go on a trip……..Uncle Scott told me of a place up north were there are great canyons and a mighty river. He says it is a place like no other  on earth……Have you seen it?”

“ No, but I too have heard of this magnificent place.”

The sound of horses drew their attention. Miguel waited as he seen Murdoch, Scott, Val and the others ride into view.

“ Papa.” he yelled when he seen the one person he so wanted to see again.

Johnny galloped past the others and was off his horse before it stopped. Forgetting about his sore ribs he scooped Miguel up in his arms and hugged him tightly as a tear escaped and ran down his cheek.

“ Oh man I thought I would never get to hold you in my arms again……..I don’t ever want to loose you again mijo.”

“ See I told you we would bring your father back.” Val said as he got down.

“ Godfather.” Miguel said as he ran to him. “ Thank you…..Thank all of you for bringing my papa back to me.”

Johnny looked at Don Louis, emotions running through him he wasn’t used to having, even after all this time he has been with his family.

“ You look pretty good for a dead man you know.” he said as he stepped over to his grandfather, holding out his hand.

“ Juanito, it is good to see you again.” the man said as he took Johnny’ hand and pulled him into a hug.

“ You have many friends who care about you.”

Johnny looked over at Teresa and could see the hatred in her eyes as she stood there glaring at him.

“ Yeah.” he said as he stepped over to her. “ I’m going to see that you pay for trying to kill me and taking my son from me.” Johnny told her as he grabbed her wrist and checked the rope.

“ It’s a long way back to Morro Coyo Johnny, maybe I’ll get lucky and you’ll get called out and killed.” Teresa said coldly.

“ Wouldn’t count on that happening bitch.” Johnny said as he shoved her toward Val.

“ Juanito, your head needs cleaned.”

“ I’m fine sir.” Johnny answered as he walked back over to his son. “ Let’s go home son.”

“ Johnny, he’s right, we should stop in Nogales and let a doctor check you over.” Murdoch added.

“ Nope, I want to get as far from the border as possible before dark old man…….I don’t feel much like killing any more men right now.” Johnny said as he swung up on Barranca and pulled Miguel up behind him.

“ I wish to speak to you alone Juanito.” Don Louis said.

“ Later, right now I just want to take my son home.” Johnny said before heading into the water.

“ I don’t know who is more stubborn sir,  my little brother or you?” Scott said with a smile.

“ Well, speakin’ from experience Scott, I’d have ta say Johnny is more stubborn than one a them Missouri mules.” Val added. “ He always has been careless so to speak when it came to his health.”

“ Alright, that will be quiet enough you two……Johnny has changed a lot in the past eight years Val.”

“ Except when it comes to a doctor taking care of him.” Scott added.

“ Because those quacks just want to give him laudanum or morphine and Johnny hates feeling helpless when he is given one of them.”

“ Why Val?” Murdoch asked. “ If it helps with the pain.”

“ Well mister Lancer, that’s not for me to tell you.” Val answered. “ Mount up young lady, and if you try anything I just might forget you’re a lady.” he ordered Teresa.

“ I am afraid that Juanito and his son need some desperate time alone senor……..He does not know what troubles his son.” Don Louis told Murdoch as they rode behind Johnny several hours later.

“ What are you talking about?” Murdoch asked.

“ Miguel, I will not betray what he has told me, but his father needs to take his son someplace away from family and work, someplace that they can be father and son and talk.”

“ The only place Johnny is taking Miguel is back home where they both belong.” Murdoch said firmly.

“ It is not for you to say senor Lancer. Johnny does not realize and it would appear that you do not either, that Miguel is troubled deeply about something that only his father can answer………..I know that you are used to calling the tune, but in this situation you cannot.”

Murdoch glared at Don Louis, inside he knew what the man said was true, admitting it though was something the Lancer patriarch wasn’t good at doing.

                                                                         Chapter 8

“ We should be back at Lancer in three days boys.” Murdoch stated as he unsaddled his horse. Having had the hands who came with Val go on back to there jobs ahead of them since Johnny had bruised ribs and a slight concussion.

“ Let me get that for you brother?” Scott said. “ I seen them kick you in your ribs so……..”

“ Thanks Scott.” Johnny said as he removed his saddlebags.

“ I think I’m going to sleep for a week sir, that is after I soak in a hot bath for just as long…How about you Johnny?” Scott asked as he set his brothers saddle down.

“ Yeah sure Scott, whatever you say.” Johnny said as he walked over and started brushing Barranca down,all the while glaring at Teresa who stood glaring hard at him.So far he had not said one word to her, not even when she protested Val stopping in Barstow and making the charges against her official in the state of California. Shackles instead of rope were now around her wrist, the same kind of shackles Johnny himself had worn more times than he cared.

“ Not so comfortable to wear are they chica?” Johnny asked with coldness.“ How long you think this trial will last Val?” Johnny asked Val before Teresa could answer him.

“ Well it’s pretty cut and dry Johnny. Ain’t gonna need no trial…………just you and Miguel will be in chambers with the judge telling what happened, she’ll do the same as will anyone else who witnessed her hatred toward you Johnny, but I’m pretty sure with all the evidence against her, she will be going away for twenty years easy.” Val said as he noticed eyes burning him in hell staring at him.

“ I don’t want to papa, I don’t want to be near her………I can’t tell that judge what she did to you, what she said.” Miguel said before getting up and running off into the dark.

“ Miguel son stop.” Johnny said as he got up to go after him,  but was stopped by his grandfather.

“Juanito, I do not wish to break my grandsons trust, but you and Miguel need to go away after this is over.”

“ What are you talking about, go away where?” Johnny asked.

“ You do not see the clues, the fear in his eyes or how he is getting sadder and quieter the closer we get to home?” Don Louis asked.

Johnny looked at his son standing at the rivers edge, tossing pebbles into the almost stand still water.

“ He told me something, something I think you already know is bothering him Johnny………For such a small child, he has many things in his little head he is worrying about, I will tell you that one of those is he want’s to be alone with just you……he told me this………….He told me his tio told him about a beautiful place in northern Arizona of a mighty river that runs through a huge canyon………He wishes that just he and you could go to this place alone and see it.”

“ Miguel means the world to me abuelo……I would sacrifice my own life for his…….He’s my only reason to still be alive……..When I thought you were dead and I told Miguel, we had a marker made for you……I felt like even though I still and Scott and Murdoch………I only really had Miguel and that was all that matters to me……..I don’t care about nothing else except my family, especially my son.”

“ You know, from that boy pistolero who rode into my estancia those years ago, I no longer see……..What I see before me now is a man, you are still that pistolero and always will be sadly, but more than anything I see a boy who had to grow up and become a man too fast to survive, but is now becoming a better man, raising his son.”

Johnny looked down at his feet, never able to take a compliment. “ Thanks………….He’s been great to me, both him and Scott……..I mean he could have kicked me and Miguel out, sure glad he didn’t though.”

“ Ah yes, I could see it now……the infamous gunfighter facing down a man with a baby in his left arm.” Don Louis said with a laugh.

“ Yeah, that would be kinda funny huh, me being the ruthless killer a lot a folks think I am.”

“ Listen with your heart…….when he talks to you Juanito.” Don Louis said before walking back to a watching group of eyes.

“ I am afraid senor Lancer that you will loose Juanito if you do not let him do what is needed with his son after she is in jail.” Don Louis stated, glancing at Teresa.

“ What the devil are you talking about?………..Johnny isn’t going anyplace but home with us.” Murdoch said firmly.

“ He may be right sir.” Scott said.

“ He doesn’t know what he’s talking about Scott….He doesn’t know Johnny at all.” Murdoch stammered. “ He hasn’t known him as long as we have.”

“ None of us know Johnny, not really sir.” Scott said back. “ He’s been at Lancer almost nine years now, the last seven of those nine steady, but what have we really learned about him?”

“ Especially his past senor?” Don Louis added.

“ The only one who really knows anything about Johnny is Val.” Scott said.

“ I hate to disappoint ya all, but Johnny has always been secretive about his past, just sometimes something will come up or happen and he says or does something related to that past……..Either he bites y’ur head off or clams up…….That boy is so damn good at hiding his hurt, even now he can’t accept he has family………..people who do care about him.” Val put in.

“ You met Johnny where Val?” Billy asked.

“ A job down in Mexico……..hired out on opposite sides……Johnny learned real quick from that one.”

“ How so?” Scott asked with curiosity.

“ Who’s side was right ya fool. The boy was green and thought bein’ fast meant the feller doin’ the hirin’ was in the right……Well he went to work for the little guy, course me and some others tried telling him he was on the wrong side, but damned if it wasn’t us who were.”

“ Were what Val?” Murdoch asked.

“ On the wrong side………You know I think I’m one of maybe three who have looked down the wrong end of his colt and lived to see another day.”

“ Yeah, he can be a little testy at times.” Billy said.

“ I’d say from the look on your face Billy………you’re one of those who seen Madrid all the way?” Val noted.

“ Yeah.” Billy answered as he looked at Murdoch. “ When we met up with you with the gold, Johnny wanted to kill you because he believed the lies his mother told him………..You Scott are the reason he didn’t kill him you know.”

“ Yeah, so I’ve been told.” Scott said looking over at his father. “ Johnny’ done a lot of growing up and I for one am proud to have him as my brother.”

“ I lost him once and because of my stubbornness, almost a second time……..I will not loose that boy again.”

“ He’ll get you or Scott killed.” Teresa said. “ You should have never brought him to Lancer.”

Murdoch walked over to her. “ You know your father was my foreman and a good friend……..I helped Paul raise you………..I don’t know how someone who was raised up proper could turn into the  hateful person you have Teresa.” 

“ Why don’t you ask that halfbreed bastard son of yours?………..He’s the one who did wrong getting me pregnant with that kid.”

That’s enough Teresa.” Scott yelled. “It was * you * who wouldn’t leave Johnny alone…….* you* who wanted him to take you to bed * you * who threw your own son away * you * who kidnapped him and tried to kill Johnny.” Scott vented. “ It was you who went to his room that night you were raped, that night you almost cost him his life.” he stated as he walked over to her. “ Don’t you dare try and make all this be my brothers fault because it’s not……..You’re going to prison and the only one you can blame for your actions is * you *, not me, Murdoch and certainly * not * Johnny.”

“ My actions…..what about his…….what about the fact that you both have stood by and allowed him to commit cold blooded murder……..Neither of you did a thing to him when * I * was brutally raped because of him…….instead you sent me away to Boston……..Let me guess, he had someone and couldn’t be bothered with me anymore?”

“ That will be enough young lady.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Sure……you call the tune right Murdoch……….Well lets see what the judge has to say when he learns who Johnny really is and how not once, but twice he has committed murder in Mexico and is now the most wanted man in that country.” Teresa snapped back.

“ You know, as much as I hate to agree with her, she’s right…….if she tells that judge mister Lancer, Johnny could be arrested and sent back to Mexico.”

Murdoch snapped his head toward Val. “ What?”

“ Under a new  California law those boneheads passed in Sacramento…….Johnny could be extradited back to Mexico to be tried and sentenced.” Val said.

“ No.” Murdoch said firmly. “ If he is sent back there, they will kill him.”

“ I’m afraid we ain’t got much say in it mister Lancer…….If she does this, it will be up to the judge.”

“Hey.” Johnny said softly as he walked up next to his son.

“  Why do I have to see a judge papa?”

“ Because son, you have to tell him what happened when you were with her and Dirk…….What was said and how you were treated.”

“ Even what she said when she shot you?”

“ I don’t know son, maybe…….It will depend on what the Judge decides and want’s to know.”

“ Why can’t we be alone papa?”

“ What, you mean just the two of us son?”

Miguel just nodded.

“ Well, how about me and you take a trip together  when this is over……..Maybe go see that place uncle Scott told you about……That one with the grand canyon.”

“ Don Louis told you what I said, si?”

“ Not everything son…….He did say that you want to be alone with me, that something is terrible wrong inside your heart and worries you……..You know you can talk to me any time son.”

“ I know papa…….After, when it is just us.”

“ Alright, Let’s go tell grandpa Lancer and Uncle Scott, I have a feeling that they are not going to be too happy about this son.” Johnny said as he put his arm around Miguel and the two walked back to the group, stopping when he heard  what was being said.

“Up to the judge on what?” Johnny asked.

Murdoch and Scott turned around and faced him.

“ If you get sent back to Mexico and sentenced to death for all the murders you committed down there.” Teresa cut in.

Johnny glared at her.

“ That’s right Johnny, once I tell the judge what you have done down there he can send you back and you will finally be killed………..How’s it feel knowing that your fate lies with what I say to that judge?”

“ No……..you can’t hurt my papa…you can’t.” Miguel yelled.

“ It’s alright Miguel……she won’t hurt your papa.” Murdoch cut in. “ I guess you’ve forgotten who I have a s friends……..there isn’t a judge in all of California who will send Johnny back to be executed for what he did down there……..I have Pinkerton reports to substantiate what he did and why.”

“ Also senora……..as you are not aware, my brother, Johnny’ great uncle happens to be El Presidente of Mexico….So you see he has already had any and all charges against Juanito dropped, so your threats are nothing but spoken hated words.” Don Louis said.

Teresa walked up to Johnny with daggers in her eyes. Before she could speak Val took a hold of her and took her over to a tree and made her site down.

“ You look like you got something on your mind brother?” Scott said.

Johnny looked around at his family, then at Teresa. “ When this is over, and she’s in prison, me and Miguel are going away………..I don’t know for how long or where for sure we are going.”

“ Absolutely not son……..Not without someone with you.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Excuse me.” Johnny said. “ I don’t recall needing your permission old man………..I said me and my son are going to spend some time alone together……now if  you got a problem with that, too bad…..I have given you more than you deserve these past seven years Murdoch…….I’ve spent very little time alone with Miguel like a father should.”

“ You can spend time alone with him on Lancer.” Murdoch demanded.

“ You know, I would expect this from you Murdoch, seein’ how you have no idea what I’m talking about since you weren’t there for me at his age………..My son and me are going to do this and that’s final………..Val I’ll take the midnight watch.” Johnny said before turning and walking away with Miguel back to the river.

“ I told you senor Lancer………..I know this is hard, but please let Juanito do this……..He will come back to you.”

“ Coffee’ hot and there’s some stew left if you’re hungry Johnny.” Val said.

“ Thanks…….she say anything?” Johnny asked as he glanced at the sleeping figure next to the tree.

“ Nope….not a word…..I think with what your grandfather told her, I think she kinda got her plans ruined maybe.”

“ Yeah, maybe……….Listen Val I need to do this with him, you understand that don’t you?”

“ Obviously more than those two do…….Don’t sweat it.”

“ I can’t loose his respect Val……..I want my son to respect me and grow up to be a better man than I am, but if I don’t spend some time with him alone and talk to him about what I think is bothering him….Val I’m scared I’ll loose him.” Johnny said softly.

“ You know buddy, I told them that I’ve known you a long time, and I have………..You ain’t gonna loose your son, that boy loves you Johnny…..hell we can all see that.”

“ What good is it Val if he doesn’t respect me though?”

“ Okay buddy, only you know what that’s like, growing up with it, or I should say without it, just keep in touch, and don’t go getting’ yourself kilt and leavin’ that boy all alone wherever you get kilt at.”

“ Thanks a lot Val, I don’t plan on being killed.” Johnny said as he looked over at his sleeping son.

“So you gonna tell me just where it is you two are going?”

“ I figured I’d take him to Colorado then up into Wyoming and Montana before we cut across and come back down the coast thru Oregon.”

“ Well I heard say that’s some mighty purty country Johnny……..I also heard that they be some real nice Mustangs in Montana.”

Johnny smiled. Yeah that’s what I heard also.”

“ Hey you know winter’s comin’ on Johnny, be here afor ya know it……and what about his schoolin’?”

“ Yeah. We need to do this Val………He can keep up with his schoolin’ while with me, except for the last two months he’d been doin’ that anyhow.”

“ Okay buddy, well I’m gonna get sum shut eye now. Billy will take over at three.” Val said before heading to his bedroll.

Johnny walked over and poured a cup of coffee and went to stand by the river away from the light. Never one to make an easy target for himself in the past, he figured why start now. Catching movement to his right he watched as Teresa stood up and looked around before walking off into the brush. Johnny knew why since she walked away from the horses and knew she would never be able to get away from them on foot. Walking over he leaned against the tree and waited as she came back to the tree and stopped when she seen him standing there.

“ I wasn’t trying to leave.” she snapped.

“ I know you wasn’t…..If you were you’d be dead right now.” Johnny told her.

Teresa walked up to him. “ These are cutting into my wrist, could you please take them off/…..I’m not going to go anywhere Johnny.”

Johnny looked down at her wrist. “ Come with me.” he said as he led her to the river’s edge. “ Sit down and put your wrist in the cool water.” he told her as he unlocked the shackles. “ You try anything at all and I won’t hesitate to kill you.” he said firmly.

Teresa got down on her hands and knees and then placed her hands into the cool water. “ Thank you.” she said as the coolness of the water took away the pain from the chaffing the irons had caused.

Johnny stood watching her and couldn’t help but wonder. “ I know what I did to you back then was wrong Teresa, even though it was you who started it……I should have refused regardless.”  he said as he sat down next to her after leaning the rifle against a rock out of her reach. “ Just one thing I keep asking myself over and over again Teresa.”

Teresa looked at him with a gentle softness in her eyes. “ What?” she asked.

“ What did I do to make you hate me so much?…………I mean, after you were………You told me that you didn’t blame me for what Nash did to you that night………..I never felt so helpless in my life as I did then when he was raping you and I couldn’t stop it…………….Is that the real reason why you hate me  and our son so much Teresa……Because I couldn’t stop him?”

“ No Johnny, I don’t know what I was thinking, why I started hating you so much……….God I deserve to go to prison for what I’ve done to you and Miguel.” she said with tears in her eyes as she looked at him sitting there so near. “I know you’re not going to believe this and I don’t blame you, but when I shot you that day Johnny, and took Miguel, it was because if I didn’t Dirk would have killed both of you……Yeah I wanted Miguel just for Dale’ money because he was going to leave it all to a stupid orphanage if he didn’t have a son to leave it to.”

“ But Miguel isn’t his son, not by blood.” Johnny said keeping his voice calm.

“ I know, but we were married when he was born so that made him his son……It was his family who forced me into bringing him back to Lancer to be raised by you…..It was that or in an orphanage in Boston and since I already knew how those places can be to a child of mixed parenting from the way you were treated…………I brought him to Lancer……..Harlan had the papers drawn up making him yours legally, all I had to do was give notice to the judge or law here and I did that in Sacramento with the marshal there when Dale and me got there on the train.” she said. “ You’re doing a great job raising him. He’s like you in so many ways, stubborn, smart, he has your eyes and smile you know.”

“ Yeah, listen we better get back.” Johnny said as he stood up and held out his left hand to help her stand up.

Teresa reached out and took his hand in hers and let him pull her up. “ Thank you……I never did mean all those terrible things I’ve said to you Johnny……I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me, but it’s the truth.” she told him as the walked back to the tree and she held out her hands to be shackled again. “ He’s not a bastard……….and I know he’s your son, not Nash’……….Johnny, I’m going to tell the judge the truth about what I did…….I don’t want you or Miguel having to tell him anything…..our…..your son shouldn’t have to go thru that.”

Johnny listened to her as he put the shackles back on. Always good at reading a person, this time was no different, he could hear it in her voice, the sorrow and sincerity of what she was saying.

“ You know I wish Murdoch had never sent you away.” Johnny said as he looked into her eyes. “ If only I’d done things the right way, courted you the right way.” he said as he reached out and gently touched her left cheek.

“ We were both fools then Johnny, me young and desperate to be a woman, and you.” she started as she touched his face. “ You a man before your time who only did what I wanted.”

Johnny couldn’t stop himself as he brought his mouth down on hers gently, kissing her soft lush lips.

Teresa moaned as lips she thought she would never feel against hers again kissed her gently, causing her to moan aloud.

Breaking the kiss off, but not moving away, Johnny looked into her eyes. “ You’re just like you were back then.” he said as he gently pushed her hands away from him. “ You really think I give a damn what you say, let alone believe you after what you’ve done?”

Teresa slapped Johnny hard, the chain hitting his jaw. “ You bastard.” she said with anger as she went to strike him again.

Johnny grabbed her wrist in both his hands and backed her up against the tree before claiming her mouth with hunger for a few seconds before he again let go of her and stepped away. “ That’s all you will ever get from me, go back to sleep because it’s gonna be hard riding from here on out.” he said before turning and walking back over to the fire and pouring a cup of coffee and standing back up.

Johnny didn’t know he was being watched the whole time he and Teresa had come back from the river.

“ You might want to get that cleaned up brother.” Scott said as he walked over and could see the blood on Johnny’ jaw.

Putting his fingers to where he was hit, he felt the sticky blood then as he pulled them away and seen it in the fires light.

“ Tell me something Johnny.” Scott said as he reached down and picked up a canteen. “ Were you born this cynical or is it because of who she is that you were kissing her?” Scott asked as he wet his bandana.

“ I had my reasons Scott.” Johnny answered as he took a sip of the coffee. “ I don’t suppose you would understand them though.”

“ No I think you might be wrong there brother……..She is after all the mother to your son.” Scott said back as he started to clean the cut his brother had. “ You do realize that they will want to know how you got this cut, not to mention the good bruise that is starting to show it’s self brother.”

“ That bad huh?” Johnny asked. “ Damn it Scott, why’d I let her sucker me in like that…….how the hell could I kiss her…….after all she’s done to me and Miguel?”

“ Because you’re human brother, Teresa used you knowing what your weakness is and I’m sorry to say, you fell for it.”

“ Damn it all.” Johnny vented as he turned away from him.

“ Everything alright Johnny?” Billy asked.

“ Uh yeah Billy, everything is fine……Listen I’ve got the watch till sunup……you go on back to sleep.” Johnny said without turning around.

“ You sure Johnny?” Billy asked as he looked at Scott.

“ Yeah, listen I’ll stay up with him Billy, you go on and get some sleep.”

“ Okay Scott, that bruise looks pretty nasty.” he said. “ Night Johnny…….Scott.”

“ Night Billy.” Scott said as he walked over to his brother. “ Talk to me Johnny.”

“ I can’t loose his respect Scott……..I know what that will do to me, and him…..I’ve been there myself and I don’t want that happening between us.” Johnny started..  “ I put up with the bullshit as a kid I don’t want him going thru………..I don’t want Miguel growing up being hated because he has brown  skin or because his eyes are blue…………I live with that fear every day.”

“ Let me ask you something Johnny…….and I want an honest answer from you.”

“ I’ve never lied to you Scott.”

“ I know, but………I want to know how you feel about what you are doing?”

“ What do you mean?”

“ I mean brother……How do you feel in here.” Scott asked reaching out and placing his hand on Johnny’ heart. “ How do you feel about putting the mother of your son away in prison for twenty years, maybe longer.”

“ What the hell you asking me that for Scott?”

“ I’m asking you because I’ve watched you Johnny, on the ride home, and not once have you talked to Teresa until tonight…….Now you know why I think that is?”  Scott asked.

“ No, why don’t you tell me.” Johnny demanded as his temper was starting to build.

“ Alright I will, I think a part of you still loves  her.”

“ You’re crazy Scott.”

“ Am I……..If I am then why did you just do what you did for her with the shackles?…….Why did you kiss her Johnny…….If you don’t still have feelings for her, then why?”

“ Go to hell Boston.” Johnny said between clenched teeth.” You know nothing about me and what I feel.” he said before walking away.

“ That’s were you’re wrong brother.” Scott said as he turned and watched his brother go and put more wood on the fire.

“ It’s a long ride to Green River Val, why don’t you stay the night?” Murdoch suggested as they all rode into the Lancer yard. “ you can lock Teresa up in the guard house there….Tomorrow I’ll get a wire off to judge Wilson and have him come here.”

“ Actually I was thinkin the same thing.” Val commented.

“ Miguel go on inside and see Maria, let her see that you’re okay son.” Johnny ordered as he walked over to Teresa.

“ Okay papa.” Miguel answered before running to the house.

“ Hold on Val….I’ll do it.” Johnny said as he took a hold of Teresa’ arm and took her to the barn.

“ Do you think that’s wise Val?” Scott asked.

“ What, he’s got every right to lock her up.”

“ I’m not so sure about that.”

“ You know you and Johnny haven’t said a word ta one another the last two days, now I wonder why that is?”

“ Maybe you should be asking Johnny that instead of me Val………..He’s the one who was kissing her the other night.” Scott said before heading into the house.

“ Well I wondered how he got that bruise.”

“Listen you go on inside…..I want a word with my son Val.” Murdoch said before heading to the barn.

Johnny opened the barn door and took Teresa inside and over to the cell she would be staying in and opened the door. “ Hold out your hands.” he ordered.

Teresa did as she looked at the bruise and cut on his jaw. “ I’m sorry.” she said as she started to reach up and touch it.

“ Oh I bet you are.” Johnny said as he undid the last shackle. “ Inside.” he ordered.

Teresa walked into the cell. “ So will I be allowed to talk to my son at all before I go to prison?” she asked.

“ Nope, I’m not letting you anywhere near Miguel…….You’ve done enough.” Johnny said as he closed the door and latched it. “ I’ll have someone bring you something to eat later.”

“ Don’t I get to clean up?………..I am a lady after all.” Teresa said out the small barred  window.

“ I doubt that.” Johnny said as he started to leave but found his father standing in the door.

“ I need to have a word with you Johnny, right now.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Not now old man.” Johnny said as he started to walk past.

“ Yes now………..You have some explaining to do.” Murdoch ordered as he grabbed Johnny’ left arm stopping him.

“ Like what?” Johnny demanded.

“ Like how you got that bruise son………..and why the devil were you kissing her the other night?”

“ Back off old man………..Scott had no right telling you anything.”

“ Your brother had every right, now I want to know what the hell is going on between you two…….Do you still love here?”

“ What I feel for her is none of your business so stay out of mine.” Johnny said as he jerked his arm free and headed into the house.

One week later Johnny and Miguel sat in the court room on Green River with Val, Scott, Don Louis  and Murdoch. Johnny listened to Miguel tell what had happened that day his father was shot down, unarmed by his mother and everything that was done to him after until he was reunited with his father. Murdoch, Val, Don Louis and Scott sat behind Johnny, all four getting  angrier the more they heard Miguel say.

Teresa sat in a chair across from  Johnny glancing at her son every now and then, seeing the tears run down his face and hearing the tremble in his voice when he told of the nightmare of watching his father be gunned down, and the belief that he was dead.

“Thank you young man.” Judge Bates said when Miguel finished. “ Do any of you in the back have any more to add?” he asked looking back at Val, Murdoch and Scott.

“ I do Judge.” Scott spoke up.

“ Very well.”

“ Judge, my brother was told that he isn’t Miguel’ father. I have proof here from the doctor in Boston where he was born telling different……I also have proof sir from Sam Jenkins the doctor in Morro Coyo who treated Teresa after she was raped…..She was already with child when that occurred.” Scott said as he stepped forward. “ I would like the record to show that Miguel is without a doubt Johnny’ son.”

“ Very well, I will go over these documents in my chambers……..Do you have anything you wish to say young lady before I retire to my chambers to rule on your sentencing?”

“ Yes I do your honor…….Johnny Madrid is a wanted man in Mexico……In fact he is the * most * wanted man there…….he has committed  murder there and his Grandfather Don Louis Dela Vega and his great uncle have covered up these murders………Johnny Madrid is not fit to be a father, people in this valley are afraid of him because of his gun and what the mighty Murdoch Lancer would do to them if they spoke up about his killer son…..They don’t want him here.”

“ That will be enough young lady………Johnny Madrid is not the one on trial here……..You are…….Court will recess  for lunch until one o’clock at which point I will pass your sentencing. Sheriff Crawford take the prisoner back to her cell.” Judge Bates ordered before slamming his gavel down, standing and going to his chambers.

“ You can’t stop me Johnny…….I’ll let it be known where you are and that you’re a wanted man in Mexico.” Teresa said with hatred as Val led her out of the courtroom.

Johnny stood up and held Miguel to his side as he watched Teresa leave the room.

“ Is it over now papa?”

“ Almost son…….lets go get some lunch at the cafe.” Johnny told him as he picked him up and started toward the door.

“ You alright son?” Murdoch asked.

“ Yeah, listen Scott I need to talk to you in private.” he said. “ Son you go with grandpa, I’ll be along in a few minutes.” Johnny said as he gave his son a hug and put him down.

“ Come on Miguel.” Murdoch said holding his hand out.

Johnny watched them walk away before looking at his brother. “ Thanks for what you did in there.” he said as they stepped outside.

“ Any time brother……So what’s on your mind Johnny?”

“ Come with me.” Johnny answered as he started walking and turned into the alley between the courthouse and hotel, stopping at some crates, reaching into his coat he pulled out a paper and handed it to Scott. “ Read this.” he said.

Scott took the paper and unfolded it and began reading.

I Johnny Madrid Lancer do hereby bequeath to my brother Scott Garrett Lancer sole custody of my son Miguel Madrid Lancer in the event of my untimely demise. To my son I bequeath my Palomino stallion Barranca and any and all belongings I have at the time of my death which includes my third share ownership of Lancer.

Signed Johnny Madrid Lancer on this day October twenty ninth, Eighteen seventy eight.

“What is this Johnny?” Scott asked.

“ I think it’s pretty plain what it is brother…..It’s a will……I want Miguel to be raised by you if I get killed.”

“ Johnny……I don’t know what to say.” Scott stated as he swallowed a lump that came to his throat.

“ Say you’ll do it……..I know I should have asked you first brother, but I got nobody else.”

“ Of course I’ll do it, but you’re not going to be killed….Does Murdoch or Don Louis know about this?”

“Not yet…….Look I wanted you to know first…..You keep that, Richardson has a copy on file.”

“ You know, Murdoch may not be too happy about this Johnny.”

“ I don’t really care…..I needed to do it Scott…….You know it could happen any time I get called out.”

“ Not if I have a say in the matter brother.”

“ Thanks…….Look lets not keep the old man and my son waiting, I want this day over and to go home. You can show Murdoch after me and Miguel are gone on our trip okay?”

“ Yeah, okay.” Scott said as he put the paper in his coat and walked with his brother to the cafe.

Judge Bates came out of his chambers and sat down and looked at the people seated before him.

“ Stand up young lady.” he ordered.

Teresa stood up and looked over at Johnny.

“ I have gone over all the testimony I have heard here today and it is my findings that what you did was pure and evil……You gave up your son to have your marriage and then only wanted the boy back purely for profit……..You kidnapped him, shot his father down in cold blood, unarmed I might add and let that child sitting there witness your awful wrong doing. You took him into Mexico, you say at the orders of this Dirk fellow who mister Madrid killed in self defense…….You had plenty of chances to do the right thing, but chose not too instead with demanding a ransom for the boy……If ever there was a person who deserved the sentencing I am about to impose, it is you young lady.” Judge Bates said. “ It is my findings that I sentence you Teresa O’Brian to twenty years for kidnapping and attempted murder and I I strongly suggest you thank mister Madrid, because I was going to sentence you to death…….Sheriff Crawford take this woman out of my courtroom.”

Val stepped over to Teresa and stood her up. “ He’s wanted for murder in Mexico judge.” she vented.

“ I already told you that mister Madrid is not the one on trial here……get her out of here sheriff.”

Val took an angry Teresa from the courtroom as Johnny, Murdoch, Don Louis and Scott watched.

“ Is it over now papa?” Miguel asked.

“ Yes son, it’s over now.” he answered as the judge walked over to them.

“ I need to speak to you in chambers Johnny………..alone.”

Johnny looked at his family. “ You stay here Miguel.” he said before walking away with the judge.

“They’ve been in there for almost an hour now sir.” Scott said.

“ I know son.”

“ What do you suppose the judge wanted?” he asked.

Murdoch gave him a look telling him just as the door opened and Johnny walked out.

“ Let’s go Miguel.” Johnny said as his son ran to him.

“ Johnny, what happened?” Scott asked.

“ Is everything alright son?” Murdoch asked, but got no answer as his son and grandson walked out of the courthouse.

“ I don’t like this sir.” Scott said as they followed, trying to catch up. Outside they found Johnny mounted and pulling Miguel up in the saddle with him.

“ I’ll see you three back at the ranch later.” Johnny said as he turned Barranca and rode away.

Judge Bates walked outside just then. “ Murdoch, Scott, Don Louis.” he said as he watched Madrid ride away.

“ What happened between you and Johnny, Nathan?” Murdoch demanded.

“ I told him that if what she said is true, he can be sent back to Mexico and executed Murdoch…..I am putting my career in jeopardy as is sheriff Crawford letting him be free…..He openly admitted to the murders he committed down there to me in my chambers.”

“ Juanito has committed no murders in my country Judge Bates.” Don Louis said.

“ I know that his great uncle. Your brother is El Presidente of Mexico sir………I am afraid that he also has put his career in jeopardy by pardoning Madrid’ actions in the past.”

“ You obviously know nothing of my country senor because if you did you would not say such a thing.”

“ Senor Dela Vega, I am very aware of the laws in Mexico, I know how the rurales run things down there….I also know that your grandson * has * committed murders on these federal officers……Did you not help him escape from this Sonora prison seven years ago and in doing so, kill federales?”

“ Capitain Messilla was a brutal man…..He murdered innocent women and children and stole from good hard working people……Capitain Ramirez who was not killed is the same…He sought revenge on my grandson solely because Juanito helped the peasants to stand up against their pilfering.”

“ Nathan.” Murdoch cut in. “ What does this mean to Johnny?”

“ It means Murdoch that if that young lady tells the marshal when he comes next week to get her and that marshal ask’ me or sheriff Crawford about it…..I’m afraid we will have to tell the truth……Your son will be an easy mark for any lawman or bounty hunter who wants to try and take him into custody to extradite back to Mexico.” Nathan stated. “ Look, Murdoch as your friend I’m telling you that your son needs to leave here…..Go someplace where he isn’t known as Johnny Madrid and maybe start a new life, because if he continues to stay at Lancer, you three could be arrested and charged with a new law they call harboring a known fugitive.”

“ What……Johnny’ not a fugitive judge.” Scott said aloud.

“ Scott……please son………Nathan…I will sacrifice Lancer and anything else I have to to keep Johnny out of that country and out of jail.” Murdoch stated firmly.

“ I understand that Murdoch……….look do you have it in writing senor Dela Vega about Johnny being pardoned for his crimes before?”

“ No…….the papers were left at the prison with Messilla.” he answered.

“ Where is Messilla now?” the judge asked.

“ Dead.” Murdoch said firmly. “ He attacked my son in our home, was trying to cut his throat when I came in and shot him dead………Me not Johnny.”

“ There is a report with the sheriff judge.” Scott added. “ It was self defense.”

“ I strongly suggest…..and you did not hear this from me, I strongly suggest that if your brother will do it, you get a pardon in writing dated back then or even one from now back pardoning Johnny from the crimes he has committed in Mexico.”

“ Thank you Nathan.” Murdoch said.

“ He’s a good son I know Murdoch……I am aware of the trouble he had not so long ago with the padre….I hope he is not wanted for any crimes in america.”

“No.” Murdoch answered, not wanting to tell how his son spoke of a murder he did in Kansas years ago when he was ravished with fever from the bullet Messilla had put in his back. Nobody, including his son knew he knew of this.

Johnny stopped Barranca at the spot he loved overlooking Lancer and the valley below, getting down he helped his son down.

“ We need to talk son.” he said as he dropped the reins and walked over to the big oak tree and sat down.

“ What’s wrong papa?” Miguel asked as he walked over and sat next to him.

Johnny hated this, hated what he had to tell his son. How could he tell him that he would have to leave him and possibly never come back to Lancer again, or see him grow up and be the man he so wanted him to be?

“It’s almost dark out, where do you think he is?” Scott asked as he looked out the french doors.

“ I don’t know son…..All his things are still in his room so he hasn’t been back here yet.” Murdoch answered. “ Damn it, when is that boy going to get a break and have  a chance to live the life he wants raising his son.” Murdoch said more than asked.

“ He’s here.” Scott said as he watched his brother ride up and let Miguel down before taking Barranca into the barn.

Miguel came into the house and went straight upstairs without saying a word to anyone.

Scott went to go after him.

“ Let him be son…….Johnny will tell us when he comes in.”

“ You get a good rest buddy, me and you got some riding to do come tomorrow….We gotta leave Lancer amigo.” Johnny said as he dumped grain into the stallions bucket. “ I’ll see ya in the morning buddy.” he said as he patted the golden neck before heading to the house.

Johnny knew that what he was about to tell his family would be the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. Summoning Madrid because he knew as Johnny Lancer, the son he would not be able to say what he had to as he opened the front door and stepped inside.

Murdoch, Scott and Don Louis all stood in the living room waiting as he stepped in and headed to the sideboard for a stiff drink.

Three hours later after many angry words were said Johnny went to his room and closed the door. Walking away from his father yelling at him that he would not allow him to leave Lancer.

Don Louis told him that he would write his brother and get the papers needed exonerating him from what he had done years ago in Mexico.

Scott knew his little brother well enough to know better than to try and talk him out of leaving the only true home he had ever known. Standing with his arms crossed he listened as Johnny told them what he * thought * he had to do, all the while never once raising his voice to any of them. He could hear the pain and quiver in his little brothers voice and swore he seen a tear roll down his cheek as he turned to walk upstairs.

“ Johnny……don’t you walk away from me son…….I am not thru with you yet.” Murdoch had yelled after him, but his words fell on deaf ears.

Johnny sat at his window looking out at the ranch under the full moon as his son slept in his bed. Tears ran down his face as he thought about all that was said tonight. Several times his father had knocked on his door demanding to be let in to * talk * and every time he told him to just go away. It was now going on midnight and he heard his father come up the stairs and stop outside his room, he hoped he wouldn’t knock and wake Miguel. He watched as his fathers shadow finally went away and he heard his door close a few seconds later.

Who was he kidding? Did he really think that a man with his past could have a life like the one he had had so far at Lancer? Live by the gun, die by the gun, that was something he had accepted a long time ago. So what changed all that? What made Johnny Madrid think he could be the son of a well respected rancher, a brother to a well educated brother, a grandson to a man of importance as Don Louis? So many questions ran through his mind sitting there, each giving him a headache, each having the same answer no matter how he tried to reason with it.

Standing up Johnny stripped down to his long johns and climbed into bed with his son, wrapping his arms around him, pulling him into his chest, closing his eyes and hoping that come morning his father would be more rational and listen to him instead of yelling.

Murdoch lay in his bed thinking about all that had happened. Not once did his son raise his voice to him in anger like he had, not once had Johnny argued back at him the whole time before turning and walking away. Realizing now that it was him alone who had raised his voice in anger when his son told hm he would be leaving Lancer until this was all cleared up and he could come back home. What shocked him the most was when Johnny had said that he would be leaving Miguel with them.

“ A wanted man can’t run from the law with a child with him. He wanted Scott to take care of Miguel until he could come back home.” are the words he had spoken.

Thinking about those words now, Murdoch realized as they played over in his head, how hurt Johnny was saying them. The sadness in his eyes, the quiver in his voice, and the tear that ran down his cheek as he turned and walked away, headed upstairs.

His son had since coming home to Lancer, more than proved how badly he wanted to leave his past behind him, but once again that past had come back and after seven peaceful yet trying years, Johnny’ life was being turned upside down and he was being forced to leave the only home he had ever known.

Scott came down into the dinning room and found Don Louis and Murdoch sitting at the table already drinking coffee.

“ Morning sir’.” he said as he sat down. “ Neither of you look like you got any sleep.”

“ Son…….No I didn’t. I was awake all night thinking bout your brother.”

“ As was I.” Don Louis said.

“ Has Johnny or Miguel come down yet?” Scott asked before sipping his coffee.

“ No, he was still awake at midnight when I went to bed. His lamp was still up.”

“ Maybe I should go wake him up sir?”

“ No son, let him sleep…….He has a lot to think about right now.”

“ So you’re going to let him leave the only home he’s ever known?”

“ I am going to try and talk to him about this yes……..I don’t want Johnny leaving here son…….Lancer is his home….He has a son to raise and a family and friends here who want him to stay.”

“ So then you’re going to go right back to ordering him and probably yelling at him like you did last night?”

Murdoch set his cup down. “ No…….that is what I stayed awake thinking about all night……..Not once did your brother loose his temper last night………It was me who did all the yelling….I know I was wrong in doing that, I see that now………..I don’t want to loose him again Scott, but I can also see his side of this and how he feels.”

“ May I suggest then that you tell him that sir?……Tell Johnny it’s alright to do this, that when those papers come he can come back home a free man.”

“ I……..” Murdoch started when Miguel came into the dinning room. “ Why good morning young man.”

“ Morning abuelo and bisabuelo, uncle Scott.” Miguel said sleepily.

“ Is your father awake?” Murdoch asked.

“ No grandpa. He still sleeps………..Is my father really going to go away for a while and leave me here with you Tio?”

Scott looked at his nephew, not knowing just what all Johnny had told his son that was going on.

“ Miguel, your father will have to go away on a business trip like journey.” he told him.

“ Because of Mexico……Don Louis you will be able to get him free won’t you?”

Don Louis glanced at Murdoch, then Scott before looking at his great grandson. “ I hope so.”

“ How long will he be gone?”

“ I do not know…..maybe a few weeks or months.” Don Louis answered.

“ Juanito, he is going away senor Lancer?” Maria asked as she set plates of food before them all.

“ yes Maria, Johnny has to go away on business and it’s unclear how long it will take.” Murdoch told her. “ Maybe you should set a plate in the oven for him, no telling when he’ll wake up, he was up pretty late.”

“ Si senor, I will keep some breakfast warm for my Juanito.” Maria said before going back to the kitchen.

Johnny came downstairs about noon and found only Maria in the kitchen preparing lunch for everyone.

“ Ah you wake Juanito…. I threw your breakfast out earlier……lunch is about ready.”

“ I’m not real hungry mamacita.” Johnny said as he poured a cup of coffee. “ Where is everybody?” he asked as he sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip.

“ I think the patron and your son are out in the barn……..senor Scott and your abuelo rode onto town on some business for the patron.” she said as she set a plate of stew down in front of him. “ You eat……and I don’t want to see you move until that plate is empty.” she scolded.

Johnny smiled. “ Yes ma’am.” he said as he picked up his fork. The smell of food making him remember he didn’t eat dinner last night.

“ Papa.” Miguel said as he and Murdoch walked into the kitchen.

“ Hey.” Johnny said softly as he glanced at his father. What he seen in the big mans eyes just about broke his heart.

“ Son…….Did you get any sleep?” he asked as he sat down to eat lunch.

“ Some……..been doing a lot of thinking Murdoch.” he started as he glanced at Maria. “ We * need * to talk.”

“ Yes we do son……..after lunch we can go up to your room or mine where we won’t be disturbed.”

“ No…….I want to take a ride with you.”

“ Can I come to papa?” Miguel asked.

“ Not this time son……Me and grandpa need to have a talk in private.”

“ I don’t want you to leave.” Miguel said before getting up and running upstairs.

“ Miguel.” Johnny yelled as he tried to grab his son and stop him. “ Damn it.”

“ Juanito….you do not cuss.” Maria scolded.

Johnny got up and threw his napkin down. “ I’ll go saddle our horses.” he said before walking out, his plate only half empty.

Johnny stopped Barranca and sat there looking out at the only place he had ever known at home below, getting down he dropped the reins and walked over to the big oak tree and leaned against it. He could here his father dismount and walk over near him.

“ You know this is the right thing to do.” he started. “ I’ve been thinking about it all night.” he said as he turned to face the man who until nine years ago he had wanted to kill. “ We’ve come a long way, you and me…..I never thought I would ever have what I have now……a place to call home…a smart ass eastern dandy brother.” he said with a smile and slight laugh………a son to raise, but even with all that just one thing really ever mattered to me…….and that’s you…..I spent all those years hating you because of what my mother told me…….I know it’s in the past and can’t be changed, but she robbed me of you being in my life when I needed you the most…….All I have now is this ranch and my family.” he said as he walked over and looked out at the valley below. “ Didn’t you say you have a friend in Montana who owns a big horse ranch?” he asked.

Murdoch removed his hat and stepped over to him. “ Yes, Zeb Cotter, why?”

“ Could you send him a wire asking him if I could come work for him for a year or so?”

“Yes, but son it will only take a couple weeks to get that paper………”

“ I need to get away from here for longer……..I need people to forget who I am, who Johnny Madrid is so I can come back here and be the son you deserve and the father I want to be to Miguel.”

“ Son look at me, please.”

Johnny turned and looked at his father, sadness in his eyes.

“ Can you really stand there and tell me that you can ride away from all this, and your family for all that time?”

“You know you used to tell me I wasn’t responsible…..I guess in a way you were right because  I won’t be responsible for you loosing what you worked your whole life to build…..I won’t be responsible for you or Scott or Don Louis going to prison because I’m here.”

“ I was wrong saying that son…….you’ve more than prove to me just how responsible you are.”

“ No I’m not, not really pa and you know it, you’re just to pigheaded like me to admit it……..If I was I never would have did what I did to Teresa….only an irresponsible person does that just to get what they want…………..Look it’s not going to be easy for me leaving Miguel here, but I can’t take the risk of something happening to him……..You might as well know this now……..I had Richardson do up a will for me……Scott is who I want to raise my son if I die……He has a copy of it I gave him in town after the trial………I want Miguel to grow up on Lancer the way I never got too and I want you and Scott to be the ones to guide him in the right direction…………Can you do that?”

“ You know we will Johnny…….Son please, think about this, think about what it may do to you and Miguel……That’s all I ask.”

“ I have thought about it……..Look that marshal will be here in a week…….I need to spend some time with Miguel alone before I leave…..You think you could get an answer before then?…….I want to be out of California when he gets here and she tells him.” Johnny said, referring to Teresa and her telling the marshal about him being wanted.

“ Yes, I’ll ride into town first thing in the morning and send a wire…….I’ll request an immediate reply.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he headed to Barranca. “ Oh, two more things. When I come back to Lancer I want to be Johnny Lancer, not Johnny Madrid any more if that’s okay? ” Johnny said as he reached into his saddlebag and took out a letter. “ I wrote this up last night…..Would you give it to Val for me?”

Murdoch took the letter. “ Alright son, I will.” Murdoch said as he tried to swallow a lump in his throat he got from his son saying what he wanted to hear. You know Johnny no matter what name you use son, a part of you will always be Johnny Madrid.”

“ I know, but I’d like that part to be able to stay in my past.” Johnny told him as he checked his cinch.

“ What about Miguel son…..His last name is Madrid.”

“ I know, I have Richardson working on getting it changed for me……I don’t want my son growing up being tormented by others because of who is father used to be.”

“ Are you going to tell your brother any of this?” he asked.

“ Nope, you tell him.” He said as he mounted Barranca. “ I’ll send you word on how I am under another name.”

Murdoch walked over and mounted up. “ Son you can trust Zeb, I’ve known him over twenty years…He knows about you.”

“ What do you mean he knows about me?” Johnny asked.

“ Zeb was the only one I could really talk to when you left after delivering the gold……Please don’t be mad at me son…..I needed someone and after Scott left to go after you I was really alone then.”

“ What’s the name of his ranch?”

“ The Circle C.” Murdoch replied. “ Listen he can write to me for you, that way nobody knows it’s from you son, and when I need to let you know when you can come back I’ll send word.”

“ Winters not that far off and snow will already be in the high country son……I want you to take two pack horses with enough supplies.”

“ Yeah, I don’t really have much in the way of winter clothes for up there.”

“ I’ll pick some things up for you while I’m in town tomorrow son………..You know, these next few days are going to be hard on me…..I feel like I’m loosing you again.”

“ It’s not forever old man…….You know Boston told me once…..he said that a man never really appreciates what he’s got until he doesn’t have it no more…….I think that can be said for me and you.”

“ I think it can…….Let’s go home son.”

                                                                  Chapter 9

Johnny walked into the kitchen and found his son sitting at the table with Scott sharing a glass of milk and cookies.

“ Hey…….I need to have a talk with you young man.” he said as he sat down next to Miguel. “ Scott would you leave us alone please.” Johnny said more than asked.

“ Sure……Miguel remember what I said okay?” Scott said as he stood up and left the kitchen.

“ I don’t appreciate the way you ignored me earlier young man…..I will not stand for that kind of behavior from you, is that understood?”

“ Why…..you’re leaving me just like my mother did….You don’t want me, you never really did…….At least uncle Scott and grandpa Murdoch and Don Louis do.”

“ Miguel that’s not true son…….If I didn’t want you I wouldn’t have went after you to Mexico, knowing I could be killed down there.”

“ Yes it is…..if you wanted me you wouldn’t be leaving me here…You would take me with you.”

“ Stop it right now son…….I can’t take you with me………..I would if I could, but because of what I did before you were even born I have to go away for a year or so……..Grandpa Lancer is going to take care of you with uncle Scott……..Miguel I’m doing this for you son………If I don’t then a marshal or bounty hunter can come here and they would either kill me or make me go back to Mexico where I would be killed………Is that what you want?” Johnny asked, raising his voice at the end.

“ You could stay here and hide from them.” Miguel responded.

“ Son listen to me…..If I stay here and a lawman shows up uncle Scott, grandpa Lancer and Don Louis would be arrested and sent to prison for it and Lancer would be lost……..I don’t want that happening. I want you to have what I never did growing up.”

“ People will hate me because I’m like you…….I’m a halfbreed and will not be wanted by anyone.”

“ That’s not true son…….Listen to me Miguel…..You are a wonderful boy and on your way to becoming a good man..You are smart and I already now you’ll be good looking like me because you do look like me……..Here is different than when I was growing up in Mexico son. People are not going to hate you because you are mixed.”

“ Yes they will, they already do……I have no friends beyond the kids here at the ranch………because of you nobody wants to be my friend…….They are all afraid and hate me because of you.”

“ Miguel if they don’t want to see what a good person you are then they are not worth having as a friend…..Who a persons parent is should not have anything to do with it.” Johnny said as he tried to keep his hurt from showing. “ Do you hate me son?……….Is that it?”

Miguel looked at him and to anyone else his eyes would show nothing but confusion, but to Johnny, someone who learned how to read what a person was saying by their eyes, it was clear.

“ Answer me son.” Johnny demanded.

“ Yes………yes I hate you for being Johnny Madrid……I hate my mother for not wanting me and trying to kill you…….I hate the way men always find you and you have to kill them to stay alive.” he yelled as tears began to run down his face.

Johnny reached out to pull him into his lap.

“ No.” Miguel yelled before getting up so fast his chair fell over backwards and he ran from the kitchen

“ Miguel come back here son.” Johnny yelled as he got up to go after him.

Miguel ran into the grand room to Scott sitting on the couch. “ You’re not my father any more.”

Johnny came into the room. “ I am still your father and you will not speak to me like that……..I want you to go up to your room right now young man.” Johnny ordered.

“Uncle Scott make him leave me alone.” Miguel pleaded.

“ Johnny, I think you need to calm down, you’re not accomplishing anything loosing your temper brother.”

“ Stay out of this Scott………..Miguel I told you to do something and you better damn well do it now.”

“ You better go on upstairs Miguel.” Scott told him as he stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Miguel looked up at him with tears in his eyes before running past his father and up the stairs, slamming his door a few seconds later.

“ Who the hell do you think you are Scott?” Johnny demanded as he walked over to him.

“ I was about to ask you the same thing brother…….What’s the matter with you yelling at him like that?”

“ You don’t know what’s going on between us so I suggest you keep your mouth shut.” Johnny ordered.

“ Oh I don’t do I……….Hell Johnny damn near everybody heard the two of you in the kitchen…..Sometimes you don’t think brother……….You have no real idea just how scared he is of you never coming back to Lancer do you?”

“ Shut up Scott……stay the hell out of my business.” Johnny ordered as he started to walk past and head upstairs.

Scott grabbed his arm. “ Not this time brother.” he said firmly.

Murdoch walked into the house just in time to see Johnny swing and hit his brother so hard he sent him backwards over the couch.

“ Johnny.” he yelled as he took three long strides and reached Scott to help him up. “ What the hells the matter with you? Hitting your brother….I want to know what is going on here and I want to know now.” Murdoch demanded.

“ Ask him sir, he’s the one with the attitude, yelling at his son, scaring him half to death.” Scott answered as he wiped at the blood on his bottom lip.

“ I want an answer son……..Why did you hit your brother?”

“ You claim you heard everything that was said between me and my son, so you tell him and stay the hell out of it.” Johnny ordered before walking past them headed outside. Barranca could be heard a minute later galloping out of the yard.

Murdoch knocked on Miguel’ door a short time later after Scott told him what he had heard said. A part of him understood his youngest’ anger and hurt. Any father would be hurting inside if he was told what Johnny had just been by his son. Having grown up with nothing but hatred around him because of his blue eyes and mixed heritage. To have an innocent child fear something like that was something he had a hard time comprehending. Someone had to step in and bring a father and son back together before one would not see the other for a year or more in a matter of days.

“ Miguel.” Murdoch called softly as he stepped into the room. And found Miguel sitting on his bed.“ I want to talk to you young man.”

“ About my father?” he asked as he drew his knees up to his chest.

“ Yes young man I do.” Murdoch said as he sat down on the bed next to him. “ Miguel your father loves you more than his own life son……..I know it’s hard for you to understand that after all that has happened the last few months, but believe me he does………You know it hurts me more than it does you with him leaving, did you know that?”

Miguel looked at his grandfather and could see he was sad like him. “ Why?” he asked.

“ Because I lost him once before son…….His mother took him from me when he was a baby, I never thought I would ever see him again, but I was lucky he came back to me seventeen years later.” Murdoch told him.

“ I’m scared grandpa…..I’m scared I will never see him again…….I didn’t mean to say those awful things to him.” Miguel said as tears began to run down his face again.

“ Come here.” Murdoch said as he held out his arms. “I know you didn’t.”

Miguel scooted over into his arms. “ How will I know he’s safe and not hurt grandpa?”

“ Because he will write to you…..Miguel your father is going to go to Montana and stay with a very good friend of mine named Zeb Cotter.”

“ He is?”

“ Yes and my friend knows who Johnny is, nothing will happen to him I promise you.”

“ Does your friend have a ranch there?”

“ Yes he does…….It’s mostly a horse ranch, but he has cattle also……He supplies horses for the army and others who need them up there.”

“ Papa is good with horses isn’t he?”

“ Yes he is son………..Your father has a gift when it comes to breaking a horse.”

“ I need to go tell him I’m sorry for what I said.” Miguel stated as he scampered off Murdoch lap.

“ You can’t right now Miguel……Johnny went for a ride.”

“ A ride?”

“ Yes, he got into a fight with uncle Scott and hit him.”

“ Papa hit uncle Scott, why?”

“ Because he was angry, but mostly he’s hurting over what you told him……now I’m not saying it’s your fault he did it.”

“ He’ll come home won’t he so I can tell him how sorry I am?”

“ Yes, he’ll come home.”

“ I need to go tell uncle Scott I’m sorry for causing trouble between him and papa.”

“ No………uncle Scott isn’t upset with you……I want you to stay up here and think about what you are going to say to your father in the morning because I have a feeling he will come back home tonight way past your bedtime.”

“ Yes sir.”

Murdoch stood up. “ I’ll bring you up your supper when it’s ready.” he told Miguel as he walked to the door. “ Miguel, for what it’s worth……I’ve also said some pretty bad things to your father that hurt him before and he is still here.”

Miguel ran over and hugged Murdoch. “ I love you grandpa Lancer.”

“ And I love you young man……now you do what I asked alright?”

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered as he walked back over and sat down on his bed.

Johnny walked out of the barn just after midnight. Barranca taken care of and given an extra ration of oats and brushed until his coat shined like gold in the lamps light, Johnny said good night to his friend and headed to the house. A lamp shined in the grand room, but none upstairs, hoping all of his family were asleep he opened the front door and stepped into the foyer. After removing his gun, hat and coat Johnny headed to the side board and poured a stiff shot of tequila to ward off the nights chill.

Taking his glass and walking over to the fireplace he placed a log on the embers and watched as it sparked and popped and flames reached up toward the chimney. Just standing there looking at the flames he never heard his father come into the room.

“ You alright son?” Murdoch asked softly, hoping he didn’t startle him.

“ No.” Johnny said barely above a whisper. “ He hates me…..my own son hates me.” he said before downing the tequila in one gulp and turning to face his father. “ I’ve been riding around for hours trying to think of where I went wrong at…….What did I do to cause my own son to hate me.” he said more than asked. “ You know…….I can deal with another man calling me out, but how do I deal with this?”

“ I wish I had an answer for you son, but I don’t.” Murdoch said.

“ Guess now I know how you felt huh?” Johnny asked as he walked over and poured another shot.

“Getting drunk isn’t going to help matters any son………..What do you mean how I felt?”

“ When I came here and hated you.”

“ Son that was different, you were led to believe lies……Listen to me….I talked to Miguel son, Scott told me what he heard said and how you were talked to………..Miguel knows how wrong he was to say those things to you…..to say you don’t love him or want him……He wants to tell you he’s sorry, he wanted to earlier but I knew you wouldn’t be home till late so he said he would wait until morning.” Murdoch stated as he poured himself a shot of brandy. “ I made him stay in his room and think about the harsh words he said son……I also told him that I hurt worse than him over this. He asked my why and I told him because I am loosing you a second time.”

Johnny looked at his father and could see the pain and worry on his face.

“ Have you eatin anything?”

“ Not since before me and you took that ride.”

“ There’s leftover stew and biscuits in the oven. Go eat something and go to bed. All that tequila is going to do is make you sick son.”

“ Scott’ probably never gonna talk to me again after hitting him like I did……I was just so hurt at what Miguel said pa…….I didn’t mean it.”

“ Your brother knows that, he knows you’ve got a lot on your mind right now son…….Go eat and try and get some rest……Sleep in if you want in the morning. Scott will be out checking the fence in the north pasture tomorrow before the snow starts.”

Johnny set his glass down and looked at his father. “ Thanks.” he said before heading to the kitchen.

Murdoch rode into the yard just as Johnny and Miguel walked out of the barn. He could tell they had talked and everything between them was good again. “ Son.” he said as he got down. “ Johnny I got those things you needed.” he said as he got down from the wagon. “ I also got five hundred dollars for you for expenses.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he placed his hands on Miguel’ shoulders. “ you didn’t have to do that.”

“ Yes I did..I want to make sure you had enough money to get you there son.” Murdoch told him.“Have you talked to your brother yet?”

“ No, I’ve been with Miguel all day, why whats up?” Johnny asked, sensing something was wrong.

“ Miguel why don’t you go on inside so grandpa can talk to Johnny.”

“ Just say it Murdoch. I don’t want anything kept from my son.”

Murdoch walked over and sat down on the veranda. “ The marshal will be here day after  tomorrow Johnny to get you. He was in Stockton so he picked up Teresa early son.”

“ How do you know this?” Johnny asked.

“ Judge Bates was sent a wire requesting an arrest warrant be issued for you.”

“ Papa.” Miguel said as he went to him. “ I don’t want you to go to jail.”

“ He’s not going to Miguel…..Not if I have anything to say about it.” Murdoch said as he stood up. “ I’ll have a couple hands start getting these things on  the pack horses son…You go get your things together.”

Scott rode into the yard and seen two pack horses tied next to Barranca and another horse along with his fathers and the mare Miguel rode.

“ Whats going on?” he asked as he got down as Murdoch walked out.

Murdoch told him what was happening and that Johnny was in the kitchen with Miguel getting some rations from Maria.

“ Damn.” he said.

“ Go talk to him son……He feels bad about hitting you last night.”

Scott headed into the house just as his brother walked out of the kitchen. “ Johnny.”

“ Miguel would you take my saddlebags out and ask grandpa to put them on Barranca for me please.”

“ Yes papa.” Miguel answered as he took the bags and headed outside.

Johnny walked into the grand room and over to the sideboard and poured two shots of tequila, handing one to his brother.

“ I’m sorry Scott…..I never should have hit you like I did.” he said as he looked at the bruise his brother had.

“ For get it Johnny…….Listen I want you to be careful brother. Wrote to us and let us know where you’re at and that you got there okay.”

“ I will….listen you take care of my son for me okay……teach him right and make sure he keeps up with his schooling….I want him to do better than me and you’re just the person to teach him.”

“ You know I will brother.”

Johnny held out his glass and Scott did the same. “ Brothers always.” he said before downing his.

“ And best friends.” Scott added before downing his.

“ Got a full moon tonight, figure I can get up in Nevada somewhere before midnight if I leave now.” Johnny said as he set his glass down.

Scott reached out and pulled his brother into a hug, and smiled when Johnny wrapped his arms around him and hugged him back.

Johnny sat on his bedroll drinking some hot coffee as he looked up at the stars. Well into the Desatoya Mountains east of Reno and any civilization two nights later thinking about his family he left behind.

Saying good bye to his son was the hardest thing he had ever done, Scott being the second. Murdoch and Don Louis kept it plain and simple with a handshake, both not wanting it to be any harder than it already was on all of them. Once again his past threatens to take away what he has come to love and want…A past he wished he had never had to make. Knowing he was still in Paiute territory, but needing rest and nor wanting to push the horses in the dark, risking breaking a leg. He figured it would take him a month maybe a little more to get to Billings and told his father he could leave a wire for him in Salt Lake City under the name of Scott Garrett, a name  his brother had insisted on him using for communication. He tried to tell him it wouldn’t work because of his looks. No man with dark skin, black hair and blue eyes would be believed to have a name like that., but to keep hs brother happy he had agreed.

The one promise he made and fully intended to keep was the one he made to his son, that he would come back to him no matter what. That nothing else mattered except the day he would ride back into the Lancer yard and be able to hold his son again.

 Getting up Johnny walked over and checked the horses to make sure his spare and the pack animals were secured good for the night.“ You keep your ears open buddy for any Indians.” Johnny said as he patted the stallions neck. “ I sure don’t want to loose you to them amigo.” 

Barranca wrapped his head around Johnny’ neck and pulled him back into his chest and sighed.

“ Thanks amigo, I’ll sleep light and see you in the morning.” Johnny said as he went back over to the fire and crawled into his bedroll with his rifle at his side and his colt just under the saddle at his head within easy reach.

“Grandpa Lancer.” Miguel said as he walked into the grand room in his night shirt.

“ Yes son.” Murdoch answered as he looked up from the paper he was reading.

“ Will my papa answer my wire when he gets to………that town?”

“ Yes he will.” Murdoch said as he stood up and walked over to the couch and sat down. “ Come here.”

Miguel went and sat down on his lap. “ I miss him so much.”

“ I know, I do too….You know if it will help you can sleep in Johnny’ room if it will make you feel better.”

“ Really?”

“ Yes, come on, lets go get you tucked in and I’ll read you a story.”

“ That marshal was awful upset he wasn’t here wasn’t he?” Miguel asked as the two walked to the stairs.

“ Yes he was…..You know you can’t tell anyone about where Johnny’ at or that he is writing to you.”

“ I know. Papa told me how important it is to keep this a secret………He said he would bring me back my own horse, one from Montana when he comes home.”

“ Well I understand that the mustangs in Montana are bigger than here…You sure you’re big enough  you can handle one?”

“ I will be…Papa will miss my birthday and he won’t have anyone to spend his with, or Christmas either.”

“ Well we’ll just have to make it up when he comes home.” Murdoch said as the two headed upstairs.

Johnny rode into Salt Lake City a week later and checked the horses into the livery, paying for the best care for two days. Pushing it like he had he wanted them to get a good rest, grain and  hay. Paying for a room for two nights he headed to the bath house for a shave and bath. Clean and feeling better Johnny headed to the telegraph office to see if he had a message from home.

“ Can I help you sir?” a young lady asked from behind the counter.

Johnny smiled and noticed how petite she looked as he took in her fine figure. “ Yes ma’am…..I’m Scott Garrett, I was wondering if I had a wire.” he said as his eyes fell to her breast and he felt himself stir a little.

“ Scott Garret, let me check.” she answered as she smiled while her eyes ran up and down his body before turning away. “ Yes sir, right here.” she said as she turned back around. “ It came yesterday.”

she said as she handed it to him.

“ Thank you ma’am.” Johnny said with a smile as he took the wire.

“ It’s Miss.” she said. “As apposed to ma’am mister Garrett.”

“ Yes Ma…..I mean miss. Thank you.” Johnny said again before heading outside. He could feel the girls eyes on him as he walked away.

“ You need a woman Madrid.” he said to himself as he turned and looked at her one last time before heading to the cafe to eat.

The next morning, after a good nights rest after taking care of his urges, Johnny headed back to the telegraph office and found the same girl behind the counter.

“ Good morning mister Garrett I believe?” she said with a smile.

“ Yeah, miss…….”

“ Jacobs….Amanda Jacobs…..What can I do for you this morning?”

“ I’d like to send a wire to Morro Coyo, California.” Johnny told her.

“ Okay, just write it out and I will send it for you.” she answered with a smile to brighten any cloudy day.

Johnny took the pencil and paper she offered and wrote his response down and handed it back to her.

“ That will be two dollars.” she said.

Johnny took out two dollars and placed it in her hand, holding it gently. “ You know, I bet you have all the young men in town vying for your attention.”

Amanda blushed, but made no attempt to pull her hand back. “ You going to be in town long?”

“ I’m afraid not….I’m riding out tomorrow morning.” Johnny told her as he rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb.

“ I’m a very good cook if you’d like a good home cooked meal?” she told him.

Johnny looked her over and couldn’t help but think, she couldn’t be much older than  Teresa was when he took her innocence. “ I’m a little old for you ain’t I……I mean what would your father think, a beautiful lady like you bringing a total stranger home.”

“ My father was killed in a bank hold up last year and my mother died from fever when I was six.” she told him. “ As for older, I’d like a man older, more mature to have dinner with…….I’m almost twenty and the boys around here only have marriage on their minds so they can get my business papa left me.”

Knowing where the night would lead Johnny didn’t want to, but he also couldn’t say no to her big brown eyes and the temptation of feeling an unsoiled female body in bed with him as he made her a woman, unlike the whore he spent two dollars on last night.

“  Okay then. Where shall I meet you?” he asked with a smile.

“ How about seven…..It’s the big house with the white picket fence on the north road about a mile out of town……..There’s a big barn you can put your horse in just in case it starts to rain or snow.” she told him.

“ You’re a very good cook Amanda.” Johnny said as he leaned back in his chair and took a sip of coffee.

“ Thank you.” she said as she started to clear the table.

“ Let me help you.” Johnny said as he got up and gathered up some dishes and followed her into the kitchen to the sink.

“ Thank you, you can just set them down on the counter there.” she told him.

Johnny did then turned around and found himself just inches from her face. Reaching up with his right hand he placed it under her chin and ever so gently brought his mouth down on hers for a few seconds before ending it and pulling back a little, looking into her eyes.

“ Maybe I should leave now.” he said.

“ I wish you wouldn’t.” Amanda told him as she raised on her toes and kissed him again more firmly as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Johnny sighed as he pulled her into his chest and kissed her with passion as she opened her mouth to him.

“ Maybe we should go upstairs?” Amanda asked between breaths a few seconds later.

Johnny took her hand in his and headed to the stairs for what promised to be a good night.

Riding out of Salt Lake City later than he had wanted to, Johnny smiled as he remembered last night about ten miles out of town.

“ Barranca, maybe I should think about settling down and finding a wife, someone who could be a mother to Miguel.”

Barranca shook his head from side to side, causing Johnny to laugh aloud.

“ Yeah I know buddy, ain’t no woman who’d want to spend their life with the likes of me……Thought maybe I’d found that with Teresa, but boy was I wrong there………Course that little lady back there Amanda, now she could sure get a man ta thinking about marriage and settling down, raising a family.”

Four weeks later Johnny finally rode into Billings,Montana chilled to the bone. A northern wind howled and blew snow, making travel difficult, but the promise of a warm stall and grain kept his tired stallion going. He wouldn’t be able to ride out to the Circle C ranch until the storm passed, and even then the snow might be too deep for him to travel.

After sending a wire letting his family know he made it to Billings, Johnny went to get a room and found one was already reserved for him, courtesy of Zeb Cotter. A note waited for him also. The clerk giving it to him after he signed the register.

“ Would you like a hot bath drawn for you in your room mister Lancer?”

Johnny picked up his saddlebags and the key. ‘ Boy would I……….It always this cold here?”

“ No, sometimes it gets colder………Where ya from?” the man asked.

Johnny could tell the man was no threat by his demeanor and tone of his voice.

“ California, down around Stockton area.” he responded.

“ You don’t mean that you’re one of those Lancer boys from a small town near Stockton I here Zeb talk about are you?”

“ Yeah why?” Johnny asked curious now.

“ Why Zeb talks about a big man named………Mart….no………Murphy…….no……I know Murdoch Lancer, owns a huge cattle ranch out there.”

“ Yeah, he’s my old man……Look could you have that hot bath sent up soon…….I’d like to thaw my body out and be able to feel my feet again.” Johnny said as he headed to the stairs.

 Right away sir….and you let me know if you need anything at all…….Mister Cotter said to give you only the best.” the man said aloud to Johnny’ back as he watched him go upstairs.

Scott rode into the yard and got down, tying his horse off before heading inside.

“ Miguel, Murdoch…..I got a letter from Johnny.” he said as he walked over to pour a shot of brandy.

“ Papa, really?” Miguel asked. “ What does he say?…….Is he okay?”

“ Slow down young man, I haven’t read it.” Scott told the eager boy. “ I thought your grandfather could do that.” he told him as he handed the wire to Murdoch.

“ Let’s go sit down.” he suggested.

A minute later he opened the letter.

Hey, thought I’d better let you know I made it here finally. Came in at the start of a bad snowstorm. Man Boston if it gets this cold where you used to live, I don’t know how you kept from freezing your feet off. Murdoch I’m sure glad you bought that heavy winter coat you did because it’s came in handy keeping the wind from my chest. Barranca don’t like the cold up here I don’t think, laid his ears back when I told him we would have to go out in it again when the storm breaks. Lost one of the pack horses, she broke her leg when a critter I never seen before came out of a hole in the ground. Had a real bad temper and I didn’t think anything could have one worse than you old man. Later found out it’s  called a badger. Heard tell of then in Mexico but never seen one till now. Looks kinda like a raccoon but no tail and flat. Never seen snow this deep  before, stuffs been coming down for a week now. Mister Cotter had a room reserved for me when I got here. Folks up here are real nice. I was a little taken aback though Murdoch, It seems you are known up here in Montana, or I should say Lancer is, but I bet you knew that already.

Hopefully I’m out at his ranch working by the time this gets to you all there. Sure is some awful beautiful country up here. Mountains are so big they seem to reach right up to the heavens what I’ve seen of them. Hey they got something you might want to invest in old man. They call it indoor plumbing. A washroom down the hall from my room here at the hotel. It’s pretty cool, you pull this chain after you do your business and water runs down taking it wherever it goes. There’s a sink with running water, hot or cold. They also got lighted streets here at night, big ol’ lamps a man goes around lighting at dusk. Maybe when everything is all said and done we could all take trip back here and let me son see it?

Had no trouble, if you know what I mean on the way up. I was sure glad of that. Never know when my past will show up you know.

Miguel, son I miss you terribly and I really hope you’re doing what you’re told and not giving anyone grief, like Maria about eating your vegetables. I haven’t forgotten about what I promised  I would bring home to you. I know I’m going to miss your birthday son, but I want you to know I will be thinking of you on that day and that night when it’s dark out I want you to go outside and look up at the stars to the northeast because I will be looking at them to the southwest. That’s something I think we could both do every night if you’d like.

Haven’t gotten around this town much to see what all they got here but it sure is a big town. Got a big auction yard at the west end of town and a train that hauls the stock in and out.

Well I’d better go for now, never wrote a letter this long before. Tell everyone I said hi, Tell Maria I miss her hot tomales, been eating big ol’ steaks here. They don’t know what Mexican food is this far north. Take care.


Murdoch folded the paper up and put it back in the envelope. “Would you like to keep this letter Miguel?” he asked as he held it out to him.

“ Yes sir……….Uncle Scott could you maybe show me in a book what one of those critters look like papa seen?”

“ We can see if there is one yes.” Scott answered as he stood up and headed over to the book shelves.

Murdoch found himself smiling as he remembered his sons description of indoor plumbing. He himself felt the same way when he first encountered it back east years ago.

“ Grandpa look we found one. Come look at what spooked papa’ horse……It looks real mean.”

Murdoch smiled as he walked over to see what he already knew, having seen one once in Colorado.

Johnny was finally able to ride out to the Circle C ranch nine days later. The snow was so  deep through a small pass he was unable to get there until a hand made it in and fetched him named Billy Weston.

“ Mister Cotter tells me that you’re Murdoch Lancer’ youngest son……the one who’s mama took away from him as a baby.” Billy said suddenly, surprising Johnny.

“ Yeah.” was all he said, hoping the man didn’t know who he really was, but that proved useless.

“ He also told me that you went by another name while down in Mexico…….Johnny Madrid  he said.”

Johnny stopped his horse and looked at Billy.

“ Don’t worry Madrid…….only me and mister Cotter know who you really are…forgive me I should say was…….I was raised by Zeb, he’s like a father to me. A grizzle killed my Pa and my Ma ran off with some trapper to Alaska looking for gold.”

Johnny didn’t speak as he got Barranca moving again.

“ He also said that you’re a damn good man with horses. That you got a special way with them when you break ’em. That true?”

“ I guess.” Johnny finally said.

“ That’s a right fine animal you’re riding there……What breed is he?”

“ Mustang, from Mexico.” Johnny told him as his stallion sensing his uneasiness tossed his head up and down.

Both men remained silent the rest of the way to the ranch. Once thru the pass Johnny looked out at a valley below more beautiful than anything he’d seen so far. Smoke could be seen coming from several chimneys indicating there were buildings down there.

“ Pretty ain’t it Johnny?” Billy asked.

“ Sure is.” Johnny answered as his mind went back to the first time he looked down at Lancer nine years ago.

“ Mister Cotter.” a hand yelled as two riders rode into the ranch yard. Billy getting down.

Johnny remained mounted, unsure really as a gray haired man came out of what he assumed was the main house over to them.

“ You must be Johnny, Murdoch youngest son, get down and come inside and warm yourself up.” Zeb said.

Johnny dropped his reins and dismounted. “ He don’t like strangers.” he said when a hand went to take Barranca and was nearly bitten.

“ Fine looking animal. Billy show Johnny where he can put his horse and things and then show him to the house after.”

“ Sure thing mister cotter……….this way Johnny.”

Johnny followed Billy to a huge barn with corrals off both side for horses to go in and out of if they wanted. When the door was opened and he walked inside, he’d never seen a barn like this one. Down both side were stalls four rails high and a horse in almost every one of them. Their tack stored in front of each stall, saddle, blanket, grooming gear and a halter and bridle hung on a wooden peg on the gate to each stall.

“ Jack would you take Johnny’ pack horses and give them a real good rub down and fed and grain? They’ve had a long haul.”

“ Sure thing Billy.” Jack said as he took the two horses from Johnny as he kept an eye on the stallion.

“ You can put him in here Johnny….You’ll find everything you need to groom him in that box there.” Billy said, indicating the wooden box in front of the stall. “ Just ask me or Jack there if you need anything not there for him……..I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Billy said before heading back outside.

Johnny led Barranca into his stall and began unsaddling him. Fresh straw, deep was in every stall for bedding. A big trough of water ran under every other stall for the horses next to each other to share. The hay bin was deep and full of fresh alfalfa Johnny noticed as he took his saddle off and carried it back outside and put it on the board, flipping his saddle blanket over so it could dry out. Finding a soft brush he went back in and began brushing his friends coat out as he wasted no time munching on the hay.

“ What kind of grain you like them to have Johnny?” Jack asked as he walked over. “ We got plain, wheat, corn mixed, plain corn and even some with molasses mixed in it.”

“ Molasses?” Johnny asked.

“ Yeah it’s real good in the winter, gives a horse energy in the cold. He never have it?”

“ No, all Barranca’ ever had was regular oats.”

“ How about I mix him up half oats and half sweet feed…I can do the same for those two pack horses too.”

“ You like that buddy?” Johnny asked his stallion.

Barranca snorted and tossed his head up and down a couple times before going back to the hay.

“ Well if that don’t beat all…..I swear that horse understood you.” Jack said with a smile and friendly laugh before heading over and mixing the grain up.

Johnny walked into the main house with Billy after getting his gear put away and Barranca settled. The house was made of logs and was a single story spread out.. Windows on the north and west weren’t big, but the east and south were. Johnny expected it was to keep the winter cold out since storms came out of the northwest mostly up here he learned.

“ Johnny, come on in and sit down….Billy said you would be along after you got that fine animal of yours settled.” Zeb stated as he went to a sideboard bigger than back home. “ Care for something to warm your insides up before supper?”

“ Sure, what ya got?’ Johnny asked as he walked over near the huge fireplace to warm himself up.

“ Just about anything you want.” Zeb responded. “ Me and Jack packed every one of those stones up from the river.”

“ Tequila.” Johnny said as he looked at how big the fireplace was. The one back home he figured was about half this ones size.

“ Tequila it is then…….So, did you find everything you’d need in the barn?” Zeb asked as he walked over and handed him his drink.

“  Thanks. Yes sir, never been in a barn like that one before with a big fireplace at each end……You pack all the stones for them also?”

“Heavens no, I let the men do those two.I have a big business here and I like to keep my horses warm in the winter……..It can get well below zero here at times for days on end…..Why that storm you rode in on, that was a small one compared to some we get.” Zeb said as he sat down and looked at Johnny. “ Relax Johnny. Won’t nobody bother you here………Murdoch told me whats going on and helping you is the least I can do for all he has done for me in the past.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said. “ Just what all did he tell you about me?”

Johnny walked out of the house several hours later, headed for the bunk house after he checked on Barranca for the night.

“ Don’t worry Johnny, there’s a man in here at all times to keep the fire going and the animals safe.” Jack told him from across the way as he groomed a mare in that stall.

“ You worked here long Jack?” Johnny asked as he stepped over and looked in the stall and found not one, but two foals suckling.

“ Yep, been with Zeb from the start……The man is a pleasure to work for…….only seen him loose his temper once when a young kid he decided to give a chance working for him took a whip to one of his stallions for biting him….That little bastard beat the horse bloody on his face……Made hiM real bad head shy……..Zeb still has that fool horse, though I don’t know why since we can’t get anywhere near him with a halter and a rope, forget it. That damn stallion will come at you with teeth bared.”

“ Why’s he keep him then?” Johnny asked.

“ He’s a good producer. Produced some really good foals. In fact he’s the father to these two here.”

“ May I.” Johnny asked indicating he wanted to come in the stall.

“ Sure, she’s a good quiet mother ain’t ya girl…….One of my favorite mares he’s got.”

Johnny walked into the stall and let the mare get his scent before touching her. When she went back to eating her dinner Johnny went to the foal closest him and started looking at it as he rubbed his hand over it’s soft small body.

“ What are they, about a week old?” he asked.

“ Yeah,” Jack answered as he watched what Johnny was doing. He’d heard how Johnny had a way with horses and if he could learn something from him, he was more than eager to.

“ These two have got good solid haunches, well muscled, short midsection and deep chest.” Johnny said. “ What are they mustang and Thoroughbred?”

Jack scratched his head. “ Someone tell you that Johnny?…….Or did you get that from just looking at them?”

“You study a horse well enough, you can learn a lot from that animal……I’d say from looking at this mare here, she was bred to a stallion at least sixteen hands tall.” Johnny told him. “ They have her build, but from the muscles they got in their haunches I’d say they will have the power and speed of the sire.”

“ And which do you put more value in Johnny.” Zeb asked as he walked up to the stall. “ The stud or the mare.”

“ Well sir, up here I’d want a good sound horse that could handle this rugged country, so I’d put it in the mare more than I would the stallion.” he answered.

“ And why’s that?” Zeb asked, seeing just how well Johnny did know horses.

“ You take Barranca there sir, he comes from Mexico, it’s a hard life for a mustang down there in the desert…..He’s sired several damn good foals, all of them built like him.”

“ And what did you breed him to? If you don’t mind my asking?”

Johnny was starting to like this man and how he tested a person to see if they knew there stuff, or was just blowing smoke. “ Capanera De Palomino’s, the finest breed in the San Joaquin valley…My father has the biggest heard of them running loose on Lancer, along with other mustangs.”

“ And his breeding is?” Zeb asked as he went over and looked at the golden stallion with a mane and tail so white it shined almost like silver.

“ I told you sir…..Barranca is a mustang from Mexico….Down there they call them Spanish Barbs, direct descendants from the Andalusian.” Johnny said as he came out of the stall and walked over next to the man. “ Years ago some of them Andalusian’ got away and bred with the smaller horses of Mexico. Barranca here is a direct descendant to them.”

“ He has the right size and build I seek, perhaps while you are here we could choose a mare for him to breed and see what he can produce?”

“ A mare carries almost a year, eleven months to be exact sir.”

“ I am aware of that young man.”

“ I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t mister Cotter………It’s just that I……”

“ You have a son you wish to go back home to I know……..I also know that you being away from that boy is hard Johnny…….Stay until the spring after next and work with me and my horses…..Teaching my men what you know and I will make it worth your while I promise.”

“ How?” Johnny asked before he could stop himself.

“ Tomorrow I will show you…….Jack get Johnny signed into the book to start drawing pay…….I will see you in the morning Johnny, say around nine o’clock?”

“ Yes sir. Good night mister Cotter.”

Zeb stopped and turned around. “ Call me Zeb all the men do.”

“ It’s not proper sir.” Johnny said back.

“ I’m not formal here Johnny….We are one big happy family and all on a first name basis.”he said before walking out of the barn.

The next morning Johnny ate a breakfast that could shame Maria. The portions where enough for an army as the men all sat around a big long table talking about what needed done that day or could be put off. Keeping quiet Johnny just listened, he learned a long time ago that sometimes you can learn a lot about a man if you listened to how he talked.

Billy reminded him a lot of his brother Scott in some ways with his solid politeness the other men ribbed him on. Jack, Jack Johnny liked from the start, easy and laid back, knew what he was doing, didn’t question you unless you needed it. That was the kind of man Johnny liked to work with. Zeb Cotter had fifteen  men working for him from spring thru fall, half that in the winter when there was less work to be done.

“ So Johnny, you think you’ll be able to tame that stallion?” came a question from across the table from him.

Johnny looked up from his plate at the source of the voice. “ What stallion?”

“ Daryl you talk to much. Mister Cotter will talk to Johnny about that after breakfast.”

“ Always said you got a big mouth on you kid.” the man next to him said as he jabbed Daryl in the ribs.

“ Well you didn’t get even inside the fence with him and from what Zeb says, Johnny here can tame any horse.”

Johnny sat back in his chair. “ A horse will only be broke if it knows it can trust the man breaking it boy……You go tryin’ to do it the wrong way and you’re liable to get yourself or the horse hurt.”

“ Broke is broke…….as long as they take a saddle it don’t matter to me none how it happens.”

“ And that’s why you will remain a stable boy, cleaning out the stalls only cause you won’t listen or learn….You know Zeb only wants gentle hands on his horses.”

“ How old are you kid?” Johnny asked.

“ Seventeen, why?” Daryl asked with attitude.

Johnny seen it then, a look he’d seen to many times before in a kids Daryl’ age. “ You don’t start listening and drop the bad ass attitude you got, ain’t nobody gonna wanna teach you, let alone work for them.”

Daryl glared at Johnny and stood up to say something when Mister Cotter walked into the bunk house.

“ Sit down boy, Johnny is mt guest and I know for a fact that he could kick your scrawny little ass all the way to Canada and back……..Finish your breakfast because I want those pens repaired today.”

“ That’s ten pens Zeb. I can’t do that by myself.”

“ Johnny, if you’re done with your breakfast I’d like to show you something.” Zeb said, ignoring  Daryl.

Johnny stood up.

“ How come you wear your gun like you’re a gunfighter or something Johnny?” Daryl demanded.

Johnny looked at him and barely curled his lips into a smile before walking away with Zeb.

“ That boy is gone come the spring…….I can’t have someone like him working here. He won’t listen…..Look you watch yourself with him Johnny……..He likes to cause trouble when he can.”

“ I can handle him sir.”

“ Yeah I know.”

The two men walked to a smaller building and Zeb opened the door and walked in followed by Johnny.

“ Any one you want to see in particular sir.” a hand asked.

“ No Clive, I’m going to show Johnny here Rocket.”

“ Very well sir, I’ll leave you two be then and get back to my cleaning.”

Johnny noticed that the horses in this barn were all stallions. And magnificent ones at that. Chestnuts, Grey’, Blacks, Sorrels, even a Palomino stallion taller than Barranca by a good two hands.

“ These are my breeders Johnny….The ones I take pride in that over the years have given me the best foals and the best money.”

“ They’re good looking horses sir.” Johnny said as they walked to another door and opened it. In the back in a corral all alone was a stallion as black as midnight without an ounce of white on him anywhere. Johnny could tell that this must be the stallion that was beaten by the still visible scars on it’s face and cheeks.

Zeb stopped about five feet from the pen and watched as Johnny walked closer, looking at the animal.

Johnny put a foot on the bottom rail and just stood there looking at the stallion, never taking his eyes off him as the nervous animal arched his neck and threw his head around, snorting and pawing at the ground, lunging at Johnny with teeth bared. Johnny never flinched, never made a move as the stallion let his displeasure be known for a few minutes before starting to run around the corral bucking and kicking. After a few minutes Johnny stepped back away from the corral and over to Zeb.

“ What do you think?”

“ I think he;s a damn fine horse sir……His spirits still there, but what’s been done to him has damaged him some.”

“ Can it be fixed or should I put him down?”

“ You asking me to try and gentle him back down for you sir?”

“ I know if anyone can, it would be you…..Murdoch has written me telling me how he watches you with a horse, talking to it is Spanish, gentling it with kindness.”

Johnny looked back at the stallion. “ Well sir, I’d have to know a lot more about him, how he was before he was beaten before I could give you an answer.”

“ That’s fair enough…..You can talk to the owner when she comes home for Christmas.”

“ Sir?”

“ My daughter Beth. He’s her horse, or he used to be…..She’s been away at college and I promised her I would try and save him………Ten dollars a week is what I’ll pay you  Johnny if you do this…..No matter how long it takes.”

“ Who is the one feeding him now?”

“ Clive, Jack or Billy are the only ones that will go near him…….When I breed him I just turn a mare into his corral and let him cover her. Nobody gets hurt that way.”

Johnny looked back at the beautiful stallion and locked eyes with the animal for  a minute. When the stallion pawed at the ground, but gentler this time none of his muscles were twitching.

“ Okay……I want to be the only one doing the feeding and cleaning of his corral……I don’t want anyone else around him from here on out.”

“ Very well, I’ll let the men know.”

“ Mister Cotter, that includes your daughter sir, when she comes home.”

“ Now that might be a problem Johnny, but I will talk to here on the way home from the train station.”

Zeb said as the two walked back out of the barn.

Johnny worked hard for the next month fixing corrals, cleaning the barns out, working with the stallions. Daryl watched him with a look in his eyes Johnny knew all to well. Silently he hoped that Johnny Madrid would not have to show himself this far north. That Johnny Lancer, the man he was finding it easier to be every day could live a life like everyone else without his past coming back to him. In the evenings, at supper time especially, Daryl would say something toward Johnny, seeing how far he could push him.

Johnny heard the inner barn door open and could tell by the actions of the stallion, it was someone who  was told to not go in that part of the barn. When the stallion started running and bucking, Johnny sighed and stepped out of the corral, looking at Daryl standing there laughing.

“ I guess you’re not such a great horse trainer after all Johnny.” Daryl state as he laughed. “ I think maybe mister Cotter should throw your sorry ass off his ranch and send you back to California where you belong.”

Johnny walked up to him. Daryl was taller than him, for a seventeen year old he was big for his age. Well over six feet, the kid could easily stand face to face with Murdoch, well muscled I his upper body, light complexion but red almost orange colored hair that was curly and showed beneath his hat.

“ I guess he’s to much of a horse for someone like you………..He needs a firmer hand on him, and a rope to teach him some manners.” Daryl said as he looked down at Johnny. “ Hell maybe I should teach you some manners.”

Jack and Zeb both came into the barn and seen and heard Daryl prying Johnny.

“ That damn kid.” Jack said before yelling. “ Daryl.”

Zeb grabbed his arm and stopped him. “ No, wait……I know Daryl has bitten off more than he can handle this time. Let’s see what Johnny does.”

Johnny didn’t flinch, nor look when the kids name was called. He knew who it was before by the sound of their footsteps, something he learned to tell during his days below the border.

“ He’s wasting your money mister Cotter. He will never be able to break that stallion……Now me I can have it done in a day.” Daryl said as he glanced to his left, taking his eyes off Johnny.

That was all Johnny needed, pouncing like a cat after it’s prey Johnny had Daryl up against the stall he stood in front off so fast the kid yelped out in surprise before trying to claw his hands from around his throat.

“ You were told to stay out of this barn.” Johnny vented. “ If I catch you anywhere near that stallion or any other horse that isn’t your own, I’m gonna do to you what you what’s been done to him…….and trust me boy being whipped is something you don’t ever want to feel………the scars may go away on the outside, but they are still there on the inside.” Johnny said with anger before letting go and turning to leave.

Jack and Zeb couldn’t believe what they just witnessed.

Johnny, with his back to Daryl hearing the tall tale sound of metal against scraping against leather spun and drew his own knife and threw it, cutting Daryl’ upper left arm as it impaled into the post next to Daryl.

Walking over Johnny pulled his knife out as Daryl held his arm. “ You’re lucky I was aiming for your heart.” Johnny said as he pulled his knife free. “ We clear now about you staying out of here?”

Daryl didn’t answer him, he just glared as blood ran between his fingers.

“ I asked you a question and I damn well better get an answer kid.” Johnny said as he stepped closer yet.

Daryl swallowed hard and only nodded.

“ Good, now go get that cleaned up, it ain’t deep enough for stitches, but it’ll hurt for a spell……..Get it cleaned up and get back to what mister Cotter told you to do.”

Daryl started to leave when Zeb stopped him. “ Young man, that is the last chance you get from me here…You screw up again and you’ll find yourself out of a job for the rest of the winter……Jack take him and get that wound cleaned up and bandaged.”

“ Yes sir Zeb, come on boy.” Jack said as he smiled toward Johnny.

“ I’m sorry mister Cotter.” Johnny said when they were alone.

“ For what, the kid pushed you into a corner, tried to pull his knife on you when your back was turned….Which reminds me, how the hell did you know he did that?”

 Johnny gave a half smile. “ Something I learned a long time ago sir.”

“ Understood………..Listen I’ll be going in and picking my daughter up at the train station Sunday. I know it’s your day off and all, but would you care to accompany me?”

“ I was riding in Saturday night with Billy and some of the men for some drinking and poker and such, how about I just meet you at the station sir and come back with you?”

“ Ah, planning a little womanly comfort for the night maybe?” Zeb asked with a grin.

“ Yeah, maybe, mostly I want to take a look around town some, Christmas comin’ and all, I thought I’d see if I could find something to send to my son.”

“ Good. There are a couple of stores in town that have children’ toys and such………How’s he coming?” Zeb asked as he looked at the stallion standing watching them.

“ Good, he lets me into the corral now as long as I don’t have a rope. He’s come within five feet of me before he turns away.”

“ And you just stand there in the middle of that corral Jack says…….Doesn’t he scare you at all Johnny?”

“ Mister Cotter, a man would have to be a fool not to be, but it’s like this, I won’t hurt him and he won’t hurt me……We’re just feeling each other out right now……It’s kind of like a man in bed with a good whore sir.”

Zeb busted out laughing. “ I……I’m sorry Johnny…….I’m not laughing at you, but at what you just said…My late wife said that to me on our honeymoon…..That woman, rest her soul, was one who could keep me in line day or night.”

“ Well I better go see what Billy or Jack needs me to do, he’s had enough excitement for the day I think.” Johnny said as he hitched a thumb back at the stallion.

“ Johnny.” Zeb called. “ You watch Daryl…….I know he’s been prodding you……I’m letting him go come spring…….Just be careful……I’ll have Billy and Jack keep his work away from you.”

“ I never go lookin’ for trouble mister Cotter, because of who I was in my past it always found me…….I guess the same is true for clean up here in Montana.”

Zeb watched Johnny walk away and couldn’t help but feel some of the heartache he knew the boy was feeling. He could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice ever so slightly. Having been at the Circle C just over a month now, Zeb learned that Johnny was very quiet, finished his jobs he was assigned and never talked about his past or his family to any of the hands. Jack and Billy were the two beside himself he learned that Johnny mainly talked to. Maybe, just maybe when his daughter came home, she could get Johnny to open up and talk some. He had a feeling that the two would be butting heads when it came to Rocket and Johnny telling her to stay away from him.

                                                                       Chapter 10

Johnny met Zeb at the train depot Sunday morning at ten. He could tell the man was happy his daughter was coming home for Christmas.

“ Ah Johnny, the train should be here any time now….I take it you had a good time last night.”

“ Yeah, it was okay.” Johnny answered.

“Billy said you didn’t play any poker, mind if I ask why?”

“ Sendin the money home to my son sir. Havin it wired into an account there.”

“ I see, well still you need to have a little fun and relaxation yourself sometimes Johnny.”

“ Oh I got that last night sir.” Johnny said as the train whistle could be heard as it came into view. “ So your daughter, she here just for the holiday or home for good?”

“ I expect I’ll get an answer to that question before we get back to the ranch.”

Johnny stayed back as Zeb and his daughter greeted each other. Zeb introduced him and he helped Jack load up all her luggage into the wagon.

“ I’ll just go fetch Barranca sir and catch up with you.” Johnny said. “ Miss Cotter.” he added, tipping his hat before turning and walking away.

“ He a new hand father?” Beth asked as they headed out of town.

“ Johnny is the youngest son of Murdoch Lancer, I told you about him many times and how he searched for Johnny.”

“ Why is he up here in Montana if his father has his own ranch in California?”

“ Why young lady is none of your concern…..I am returning a favor, one of many I might add that I owe Murdoch……..Johnny is very good with horses and has been working with Rocket.”

“ Rocket, I don’t want him hurt father.”

“ Now just simmer down girl. Wait until you see what he has accomplished before you go off and misjudge the man.”

“ Yes sir.” Beth answered as Johnny galloped up next to them.

“ Is that one of my fathers  stallions you’re riding?”

“ Nope, he’s mine and has been for over ten years now.”

“ Awful puny in size isn’t he…….I didn’t think you let mongrel horses on the ranch father, especially a stallion that could ruin one of your mares if he got to her.”

Beth Cotter, that will be enough of that kind of talk from a young lady.”

“ Looks are deceiving ma’am…Barranca here comes is a descendant from the purest Spanish blood there is.”

“ What, the Mustang?” Beth said more than asked.

“ No Miss Cotter, the Andalusian.” Johnny responded.

Johnny got a wire from his family just after the new year telling him what he wanted had come. The wire also told that shortly after Don Louis has passed away from a heart attack in his sleep and was now buried at the spot he and his son had put the headstone.

Johnny didn’t tell Zeb, he just busied himself working with the stallion more and woking harder then the others, keeping to himself mostly.

Rocket became more and more trusting of Johnny every day he spent with the magnificent stallion. No longer as head shy as before and able to be haltered and led around now took patience that would run out with most men.

“ He’s come a long way Johnny.” Beth said as she watched him work the horse on a long rope. “ Have you put tack on him yet?”

Johnny stopped Rocket and led him over to where Beth stood next to the corral. “ He’s not ready just yet.”

“ You’re the boss. I can’t thank you enough for what you’re doing with him Johnny.” Beth said as she followed Johnny and Rocket back inside the barn.

“Excuse me Johnny, Beth but your father would like a word with you miss.” Jack said.

“ Alright, thank you Jack……..I’ll see you later Johnny.”

“ Yeah sure.” Johnny responded as he glanced at Beth as she walked away.

“ I do believe she likes you Johnny.” Jack chided with a big grin.

“ She’s my boss’ daughter and too young for me Jack.” Johnny said as he turned Rocket into his stall.

“ So…….if you pass that up Johnny, you’re a fool……..hell even ol’ Zeb knows she likes you.”

“ Leave it alone Jack, Beth is a lady and doesn’t need the likes of me, besides I’ll be going back to California remember?”

“Yeah……….but that doesn’t mean you and she can’t enjoy each other while you’re here.”

“ Johnny smiled and shook his head. “ You don’t give up do you?” Johnny asked as they walked out of the barn.

“ Stop it Daryl, I said no.” Beth demanded as she tried to get away from him.

“ I seen how you look at him, you supposed to be a lady and all makin’ eyes at an older man.” Daryl said as he pulled her closer.

“ Let her go Daryl.” Johnny ordered with coldness in his voice colder than the air.

Daryl turned and looked at him. “ And what if I don’t…..I seen how the two of you look at each other and carry on.”

“ You got two choices right now Daryl……..you let her go and apologize to her and I’ll let you live.”

Zeb and Billy came out of the house. “ Oh dear lord no…….That damn kid doesn’t know what he’s up against.” Zeb stated.

“ Mister Cotter, I think you should fire Lancer, they way he’s been carrying on with your daughter in the barn when he thinks nobody is lookin’.”

“ Stop it Daryl, Johnny hasn’t done anything  wrong, he’s been a perfect gentleman.” Beth said.

“ Let go of Beth now Daryl…….Pack your things and get off my ranch……now.” Zeb ordered.

“ Me, why? He’s the one who’s been…….”

Beth reached up and slapped Daryl hard catching him off guard, allowing her to get away from him.

“ I told you you have two choices.” Johnny said as Beth came over to stand behind him. “ Move away from me Beth.” he asked softly.

Beth moved over to her father and Billy.

Johnny watched as Daryl made his decision and faced him. “ Wrong choice boy.” he told him.

“ I don’t think so……You ain’t no good with that gun…….We all know it’s for show.”

“ Don’t be a fool Daryl, he’ll kill you.” Zeb yelled.

“ Maybe you should tell him who I am mister Cotter.” Johnny asked.

Zeb looked at him. “ Johnny, you don’t have to do this.”

“ No I don’t, but I ain’t gonna allow him to treat a lady like he did..Apologize to her now.”

“ He’s Johnny Madrid Daryl, you won’t even clear leather boy, don’t do it.” Zeb pleaded.

Johnny heard mumbles from the hands as he let Madrid come full face.

“ Johnny Madrid is dead, I read it in one of those dime store novels, He was gunned down in Mexico………..He ain’t Madrid.”

“ Daryl please…………” Zeb pleaded.

Johnny seen the kids eyes widen and drew.

“ Did you see that?………..I ain’t never seen anyone draw so fast in my life.” Jack said

Johnny stood there a few seconds watching the fear in the kids eyes. “ Reach over with your left hand and undo the gun belt.” Johnny ordered as he stepped closer. When Daryl didn’t move Johnny said it again. “ Unbuckle it and let it drop.”

Daryl finally moved and ever so carefully unbuckled his gun belt and let it drop to his feet.

“I believe you owe the lady an apology.”  Johnny said in a tone not to be reckoned with.

“ I…..I’m sorry Beth. I didn’t mean no harm.” Daryl said as he threw a hard look at Johnny. “ This ain’t over between us, not by a long shot Johnny.”

“ Billy make sure he packs his things and leaves, Jack give him what he’s owed.” Zeb ordered as he looked at Johnny before turning with Beth and heading to the house.

Spring came and Johnny got a good look now at the land mister Cotter owned. Twenty thousand acres of the lushes, greenest land Johnny had ever seen. No fences to mend, just wide open range as far as the eye could see. Herds were managed by hands who came back in the spring, foals were born and now frolicked on the hill sides under the watchful eye of their mothers.

Springs ran clear and so cold a mans hands cold be frozen in minutes. Eagles soared overhead, deer and elk grazed with young at their side. Grizzly bears came out of hibernation and chomped on the lush green grass and fished the rivers and streams. Johnny sat on Barranca one day on a hill and watched as a pack of wolves chased down an animal that looked like a cross between a horse and a mule. Big and had the funniest head he’d ever seen. Jack told him later that it was a moose and how in the fall the male had a temper to not be reckoned with. Johnny told him that the animals looks alone would be enough to scare anything away from it.

Barranca was bred to a beautiful palomino mare of Johnny’ choosing. When it was confirmed the mare was with foal Johnny smiled, knowing what the foal would look like when it was born in the fall.

“ You know amigo, I think I just might have to retire you buddy when we get back to Lancer.” Johnny said as he patted the stallions neck. “  Going on eleven years me and you’ve been amigos.” Johnny said as he turned at the sound of another horse approaching.

“ I thought you might be here.” Beth said as she reined Rocket in.

“ Yeah, I like to watch the valley below.” he answered. “ How’s he doing?”

“ Oh he’s great Johnny. I can’t thank you enough for saving him. Using a hackamore  is different, but he likes it better……..Listen I have a packed lunch in my saddle bags if you’d care to share with me at my favorite spot?” Beth said.

“ Sure, I been meanin’ to ask you to show me around.”

“ You have huh?” Beth asked as they turned their horses and rode north.

“ Yeah, you’re a might prettier than the men.” Johnny said with a smile. ‘ I mean, I don’t mean to be to forward.”

“ Not at all Johnny…..Billy and Jack are the only two daddy will let me ride with…….well until you came along.” she told him. “ I guess he figures I’m safe with you.”

Johnny didn’t answer her, how could he, he was a man and thoughts had run through his head about her.

Hell going on twenty nine years now, way old for a man who used to live by the gun, but now he was hankering for something more than a cheap two dollar whore, or a girl back home who only saw Lancer and all it’s worth and not the real him. He hated how she had learned who he used to be and still was. Once again he felt his past had come up and ruined any chance at a normal life.

“ This is what I wanted to show you Johnny.” Beth said as they topped a rise. Below in a small valley lay a lake as blue as the sky. At the north end of the lake was a waterfall running so strong it’s roar could be heard from where they sat.

“ I don’t think I’ve ever seen a spot as beautiful as this Beth.” he told her.

“ Come on, I like to go and think and read sometimes under that big pine tree there with the boulders next to it.”

Johnny and Beth talked well into the afternoon. He told her about Lancer and his family and she told him about the schools and places she had been.

“ Tell me about Madrid Johnny.” she asked out of the blue.

Johnny knew this question would most likely come up. Looking at her laying in the grass in his left side, propped up on his elbow he told her about his childhood, how he was treated and why he became Madrid. How his father and him had finally met, learning he had a brother, Teresa and what she had done, His son back home waiting for him. All of it. When he was done he watched her eyes and the look she had was different from others who after learning, wanted nothing to do with him. Beth however didn’t have that look and inside it pleased him, but at the same time he wondered if she would reject him like the others had, just in a different manner.

“ You could have killed Daryl…How come you didn’t?”

“ Because I’m tired of killing Beth…….I’m tired of living by my gun just to stay alive.”

“ What do you want Johnny?”

“ I want a normal life. I want to find someone I can love and share Lancer with, someone who will love me and my son and not hold my past against me, but at the same time accept it and understand that I could be called out by a faster gun and killed.”

“ What if you could have all that here Johnny, in Montana?”

“ Beth……if you’re saying what I think you are……..I like you, but……I’m a lot older than you.”

“ I am saying that Johnny, and I don’t care about you being older than me. Just means you are more mature than I am is all.” she told him.

Johnny sat up and moved closer to her. “ I don’t know how your father would feel about his only daughter getting involved with the likes of me Beth, not when there are better choices around.”

 “ Not that I see.” she said answered.

Summer was now taking over and Johnny and Beth spent as much time as they could together working Rocket. Murdoch had wrote asking his son when he would be coming home to Lancer and the anxious son who awaited him. He wrote back telling that he would leave the following Spring after a foal was born and would be old enough to travel that distance.

Miguel had stopped writing to him after this news, and it hurt him deeply. He couldn’t blame anyone but himself if his son wanted nothing to do with him when he did come home.

“ Why don’t you invite them here Johnny? Zeb asked. “ I know you miss that son of yours…….Ride into town and wire them telling them you would like them to come here…..I wouldn’t mind seeing my old friend Murdoch and meeting his other son Scott……..And I know Beth would love to meet that boy of yours you talk about so much.”

Johnny smiled. “ I already did Zeb…..I haven’t heard a response back yet though.”

“ And how long ago did you ask them?”

“ In last months letter……….been so busy and all I haven’t been to town to check the mail.”

“ Well I expect a certain daughter of mine has had something to do with that.” Zeb said with a smile.

“ Yes sir.” Johnny answered as he wiped the sweat from his brow.

“ So just what are your intentions with her……If you don’t mind my asking?”

“ Don’t rightly know yet….You know about my past, so does Beth……I told her everything…….I’m just not sure how she feels about me.

“I can understand that Johnny, women can be confusing sometimes, but you need to ask yourself this…..Are you ready to give up Friday and Saturday nights in town with a two dollar whore and commit  your heart to just one woman? When  you figure that out, you’ll have your answer….Now why don’t you ride on into town and see if they wrote.”

“ Yes sir.” Johnny said before going and getting Barranca.

“ Hey cowboy….you  going somewhere?” Beth asked teasingly.

“ Just to town to see if I got a letter from Murdoch. I’ll be back by dark.”

“ Hope so cause I made you an apple pie.”

 Johnny smiled at her before swinging up in the saddle and riding out.

Zeb walked over. “ I think that boy is in love with you dear.”

“ So do I father, I think it scares him though because of what his past has been.” she answered.

“ Maybe you need to be more persuasive?”

Beth looked at him and smiled. “ Maybe I do.” she responded before walking back to the house.

Johnny read the letter and smiled, his family had agreed to come for a visit and would be arriving by train around the end of June. Johnny smiled, in a months time he would get to see his family and son he hadn’t seen for six months as he swung up in the saddle and headed back to the Circle C.

His family would be arriving in Billings in one month. A wire from his father stated. Johnny busied himself with work and working with Rocket with Beth in the evenings and on his days off for that month. Three days before they were to arrive Johnny rode into town on an errand for Zeb and to check one last time to see if his family was unable to come at the last minute. Having what was needed in his saddlebags Johnny headed back to the ranch.

About two miles from the ranch Johnny lost in thought of everything he wanted to show his family while they were there, he never noticed the rider on the hill above him just in the tree line to his right.  The bullet slamming into his back left shoulder knocking him forward over Barranca’ neck.

“ Mister Cotter, Beth you better come outside.” Billy said.

“ What’s wrong Billy?” Beth asked.

“Johnny’ horse just came in without him ma’am.”

Zeb and Beth hurried outside. “ He’s got blood on his left shoulder sir, but no wounds that I can see. He won’t let me to close.”

“ Alright, Jack, Billy get mounted and saddle me a horse also, Johnny is somewhere between here and town.”

“ I’m coming with you father.” Beth stated.

“ No, you stay here and get a room ready and medical supplies Beth.”

“ Father………”

“ Child I said no, now go on and do as I said now so everything is ready when we bring Johnny back here.” Zeb said firmly. “ Darling, we’ll bring him back, now go.”

Beth went back inside with tears in her eyes as he father headed to the barn.

Johnny opened his eyes and found himself on his right side, his colt in his hand. Moving his head ever so slightly as he let his ears focus on what was around him, moving his left arm he immediately regretted it as a stabbing white hot pain ran through his shoulder. Reaching up he felt no blood on the front of the shoulder which meant only one thing, the bullet hadn’t gone all the way thru and with the sun setting behind the mountains he knew he was in serious trouble. Looking around he found Barranca was long gone. All he could do was hope his long time friend had gone back to the ranch and Zeb and the men were looking for him.

Pushing himself up to a sitting position, Johnny looked around for something he could use as leverage to stand up, finding nothing he managed to get onto his knees, holding his left arm to his chest after a couple failed attempts he managed to get his right leg out in front of him a little to push off of with his hand. As soon as he stood up, he heard the sound of horses galloping closer as a waive of nausea came over him, dropping him to his knees again.

“ Johnny.” he heard yelled as he looked up and seen it was Zeb, Billy and Jack. “Easy Johnny…….I got ya buddy.” Billy said as he came to his side.

“ Hey, I don’t think I’ll be able to work for a spell Zeb.” Johnny said as he closed his eyes and fought off a waive of dizziness.

“ Don’t you worry about that…..We’ll get you back to the ranch and Beth will fix you up.”

“ Guess I won’t be able to meet the train.” Johnny said as he arched his back from a spasm of pain.

“ Want I should go bring a wagon sir?” Billy asked.

“ No Billy, it would take to much time. Let’s get him on your horse Jack and get him back to the ranch.”

Johnny cried out when he was lifted up onto Jacks horse, his back soaked with blood as he slumped forward over the saddle horn succumbing to the darkness as Jack got on behind him.

“ Billy, ride into town and bring doc Stevens back out.” Zeb ordered.

“ Yes sir.” Billy answered as he mounted up and took off.

“ He’s mumbling something about his family I think sir.” Jack said. “ And Beth.”

“ Yeah they’ll be here in three days.” Zeb said. “ I just hope he makes it right now Jack, because I sure don’t want to be telling my good friend Murdoch that his boy was murdered by a back shooting coward.” Zeb vented.

Beth helped doc Stevens clean and dress the wound as Zeb watched. “He’s lost to much blood for me to try and remove that bullet right now Zeb.”

“ What about the use of his arm doc?…….Will he lose it?” the man asked with concern.

“ I don’t know Zeb……I’m going to bind it up good to his chest because I don’t want him moving it around any……Provided he don’t get an infection and his fever stays down.”

“ What about red wine doc? Beth asked. ‘ I heard that it can help regenerate blood loss.”

“ If he comes too try and get some in him, I’ll leave a bottle of laudanum for the pain he’ll have……I tell ya, I’ve never seen someone with so many scars on his body as this mans got.”

“ He’s had a rough life doc, that’s for sure.”  Zeb added.

“ Well it’s getting late and I should be getting back to town now……Just keep him as still as possible and I’ll come back out in a day or two and check on him……Come get me if he needs me before then.”

“ Will do doc, I’ll walk you out.” Zeb said.

“ You going to meet his family at the train station this morning father?” Beth asked as she wiped the sweat from Johnny’ brow.

“Yes darling, I don’t know how Murdoch will take this…….has there been any change at all?”

“ No, he keeps mumbling something in Spanish though..something like lo siento and por favor. He’s mentioned a woman named Maria a couple of times.”

“ Lo siento is I’m sorry and por favor is please in Spanish darling……Maria was his mothers name.”

“ You know father, he told me about his past, that he had bad things done to him, but until I seen the scars on his back, I had no real idea just how bad Johnny’ been hurt.” Beth stated as she rung out the cloth and folded it, placing it across his forehead. “ Who could do such a thing to another human life? Let alone a child?”

“ It wasn’t easy for him from what Murdoch told me, growing up below the border in those rough border towns darling…..Up here we don’t know of the hate that men like Johnny had to endure, and still do………You send Billy if you need the doc to come out here while I’m gone.”

“ I will…..I just wish we knew who could do such a thing and shoot him in the back like they did.”

“ I’d be willing to bet it was Daryl….The men looked for him, but he hasn’t been seen in the area.”

“ Zeb Cotter.” Murdoch yelled as he stepped of the train with Scott and Miguel.

“ Murdoch Lancer.” Zeb responded back as he stepped over to his longtime friend and shook his hand.

“ Where’s Johnny, I thought he would be meeting us today. Don’t tell me he forgot or you got that boy working Zeb……..His son want’s to see him as do we.” Murdoch stated.

“ Yeah, I’m sorry Murdoch, but Johnny couldn’t be here……He’s back at the ranch.” Zeb said as he looked at Johnny’ son.

“ He’s with my daughter Beth back at the ranch……. Look I’m sorry to tell you this, but Johnny was ambushed the other day, he was shot in the back.”

“ What………How bad?” Murdoch asked fearing the answer.

“ The bullet is still in there. Doc Stevens doesn’t want to remove it just yet because he lost so much blood.”

“ What the devil happened Zeb?” Murdoch demanded.

“ Look it’s a two hour ride back to the ranch, I’ll tell you on the way.”

“ Shhh it’s okay Johnny.”  Beth pleaded as she wiped his forehead. “ It’s okay….I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

The door opened and her father walked in followed by another man she could only assume as being Johnny’ father.

“ His fever has spiked again and he’s incoherent rambling about something or someone named Ramirez father.”

“ This is Johnny’ father, brother and son Miguel, Beth……..let’s let them be with him a little while.”

Beth stood up and surrendered the chair to Murdoch. “ I’m sorry we have to meet under these circumstances mister Lancer.”

“ So am I young lady.” he responded as he sat down on the chair.

Scott acknowledged her with a nod as she walked out of the room.

“ Papa.” Miguel said with a quiver in his voice as he walked over and took his fathers right hand in his.

“ Papa, it’s Miguel,please wake up.”

Murdoch looked at Scott. “ Keep talking to him son, let him hear your voice.”

“ Papa…..I missed you so much, please wake up and talk to me………I’m scared.”

“ Johnny, son we’re here..your brother, me and Miguel.”

Miguel stayed with his father and watched the woman Beth closely as she tended to his fevered body while Murdoch and Scott went to talk to Zeb.

“ Johnny has told me quiet a bit about you young man.” Beth said. “ He’s missed you something awful.”

“ I’ve missed him.” Miguel answered.

“ Why don’t you come over here and you can do what I’m doing?” Beth suggested.

Miguel came over and took the cloth from her.

“ Just wipe his face, neck and chest down like I was doing. It will help fight the fever.”

“ Who hurt my papa?” he asked.

“ We don’t know who shot him Miguel………Is it alright if I call you that?”

“ I guess so, papa said I was to be polite to people older than me…….Are you a good friend of his?”

“ You could say that we are very good friends yes.”

“ You’re pretty ma’am.”

“ Why thank you.”

Johnny moaned and moved his head.

“ Talk to him Miguel.”

“ Papa, can you hear me?”

Voices, voices so familiar drifted in and out of his mind through the blackness. Voices he couldn’t quiet understand. Voices that sounded familiar. Tired, so tired, why can’t I open my eyes. Miguel, no it couldn’t be. His son was back in California, but yet he kept hearing him. He sounded so real. Reaching way down Johnny found the strength to open his eyes.

“ Papa, it’s me Miguel.” he heard as he moaned and turned his head slightly and tried to focus his eyes.

“ Johnny, it’s Beth…….Can you hear me?”

Blinking a couple times Johnny squinted his eyes shut as white hot pain wracked his shoulder.

“ Miguel, keep talking to him while I go let the others know he’s waking up.”

“ Papa can you hear me?………It’s Miguel papa.”

Johnny looked and as a face came into view clearer his heart raced and a smile came to his face.

“ Miguel…….is it really you?” he asked barely above a whisper.

“ Si papa, it is me…grandpa and tio are here also.”

Johnny slowly brought his right hand up and touched his sons face. “ I…….I missed you so much son…..

Come here.” Johnny said as weakly pulled his son to his chest and hugged him.

Murdoch, Scott and Zeb walked  into the room with Beth.

“ Hey.” Johnny said softly.

“ Son, how do you feel?”

“ Like I’ve been beat up by a grizzly bear.” he responded.

“ Hey brother.” he said looking at Scott.

“ Hey yourself brother……I guess I just can’t leave you alone can I little brother?” Scott asked teasingly.

“ Guess not……How bad is it Zeb?”

“ The bullets still in there Johnny. You lost to much blood for doc Stevens to try and remove it. He’ll be out tomorrow to check you over.”

“ Here drink this.” Beth said as she held a glass of water for him.

Johnny welcomed the cool liquid to his parched throat. “ Thanks…..How long I been out?”

“ Three days…….Johnny did you get a look at who shot you?”

“ No….I was riding back and all the sudden I felt a sharp pain in my back and that’s pretty much it, until now.” he answered.

“ You think you could drink some broth?’ Beth asked as she ran a hand down the side of his face.

“ Maybe.” Johnny answered as he raised his right hand and took Beth’ and brought it to his lips and kissed the back of it.

“ I’ll be right back.” she said before leaving the room.

Miguel watched her leave.

“ Hey……….son, you alright?” Johnny asked as he noticed the hard look in his sons eyes as he watched Beth leave the room.

“ Who is she papa?” Miguel asked.

Johnny was caught off guard a little by his son’ question. Looking at his father then brother.

“ Come here.” he asked.

Miguel came over.

“ Beth is a very good friend, someone your daddy likes a lot.”

Scott looked at Murdoch and smiled.

“ Is she the reason you are staying here and not coming home papa?”

“ Some.” Johnny said as he sucked in air as a spasm of pain hit his shoulder when he moved and tried to sit up. “ I have another reason I haven’t come home yet son………..After the doc gets me fixed up, I’ll show you okay.” Johnny told him as he reached out to touch him.

Miguel took a step back out of his reach.

“ Uh perhaps I could show your family around some Johnny?…….You should rest.” Zeb said.

Johnny looked at his son, then Zeb. “ Yeah sure…….I’ll see you later okay son?” he asked.

Miguel ignored him and walked out of the room.

“ Give him some time son.” Murdoch stated. “ He missed you and was hurt when you wrote that you wouldn’t be home until after next spring.”

“ Yeah…sure Murdoch.” Johnny said softly. Inside he knew that being away from his son like he has had put a barrier between them. He just hoped he could bring that barrier down.

“ How is he doc?” Murdoch asked.

“ I removed the bullet. It was lodged behind the scapula …..He won’t be using that arm for a while, but given time and rest he should be alright I think.” doc Stevens told them. “ He should be coming out if it soon. I bound his arm back up to his chest to keep him from moving it around any…I don’t want those stitches torn out. Just keep an eye on the wound for infection or signs of fever again Beth.”

Miguel ran from the house.

“ Miguel.” Murdoch called.

“ Let me sir.” Scott said, stopping his father.

“ I’ll see you out doc.” Zeb said.

“ I’m afraid Johnny’ son doesn’t like me to well.” Beth stated to Murdoch after her father and the doctor left.

“ He’s mixed up right now…..his fathers been away from home for six months now…When Johnny didn’t come home after his grandfather died last December it hurt Miguel.”

“ I didn’t know, Johnny never said anything to us about his passing.”

“ May I ask you a question?”

Beth nodded.

“ What is the relationship between you and my son?”

“ We are very good friends if that’s what you want to know? He told me all about his past as Madrid. We have no secrets between us…….We believe the man who shot Johnny was a hired hand who Johnny drew on, but didn’t kill………..I’ve seen the Madrid side of him and it doesn’t scare me one bit.”

“ He drew on this man. But didn’t kill him?”

“ No, he could have, but he chose not to.”

“ Let me ask you this? You say that the Madrid side of him doesn’t bother you…..I can’t help but wonder if you would still feel that way * if * you did see him kill a man?”

Beth looked at him. “ I need to go check on Johnny now, if you will excuse me.”

Scott found Miguel in the barn grooming Barranca. “ Hey, you alright?” he asked.

“ I want to go home tio.” he told him as he brushed Barranca’ coat.

“ Miguel Johnny will be alright, he’ll be up and around in a week or so and be able to show you around here, why I bet he will be able to show you some pretty amazing animals you won’t see back home.”

“ No he won’t…….he’ll be with her……He doesn’t care about me anymore, she’s the reason he didn’t come home when Don Louis died, she’s the reason he’s staying here instead of back home at Lancer with me.”

Scott knew now what was wrong. “ Hey…..I know it’s just been you and your father all this time and now that he may have a lady in his life, you feel threatened don’t you?”

“ No…..I know he doesn’t want me anymore uncle Scott……..only you and grandpa do.”

“ Miguel that’s not true son. Johnny loves you more than you will ever know…….He’ll come back to Lancer……Beth is just a lady friend is all.”

“ No, she’ll steal him away from me just like my mother took me from him.”

“ I think you need to give your father a chance here Miguel when he’s stronger to talk to you before you go  passing judgment on him…………he deserves that at least.” Scott said before turning and walking away.

Johnny was allowed out of bed two weeks later. He couldn’t move his arm, and having it bound to his chest was annoying, especially when  he tried to get dressed. Fastening his pants and putting his boots on proved to be the most challenging. He’d asked his son for help, but Miguel hardly came into his room to see him the two weeks he was stuck in bed. When he did it was usually when he was asleep, and he would leave when he woke up. His son being the way he was toward him hurt Johnny worse than any bullet or beating he’d ever received.

Walking into the barn to see Rocket he found Beth working him on a long rope in his corral.

“ Hey you, I know the doc said you could be out and about, but do you think it’s wise to be walking all the way out here?” she asked as she stopped the horse and walked up to him and removed the rope.

“ Probably not…….you seen Miguel?” Johnny asked.

“ He went for a ride with Billy and your brother early this morning to see the ranch……….Hey you okay?” she asked as she came out of the corral.

“ Yeah, I just don’t understand why he wants nothing to do with me Beth…….I missed him so much you know?”

“ I know, listen give him some time, he came all this way to see you and you were hurt…….and I think maybe he feels a little threatened by me…….I’ve seen how he watches me when I’m around you.”

“ Threatened…..why?”

“ That is something you will have to ask him.” she told him as she hung up the rope. “ It’s good to see you up and about.” she told him.

“ How’s he coming along?” Johnny asked as he looked at Rocket.

“ He’s coming along good. I think he missed you though these past three weeks.” she told him. “ Well I think I’m going to go get cleaned up and start supper.” she said as she started to walk away.

Johnny reached out with his right arm and stopped her. Turning her to face him. “ Beth.” he said as he stepped closer. “ I never thanked you for what you’ve done for me.” he told her as he brought his lips to hers and kissed her gently.

“ Well if that;s the kind of thank yous I’ll get….I’ll just have to help you more.” she said after Johnny broke the kiss and she stood looking into his eyes.

“ I don’t need that as an excuse to kiss you.” Johnny told her as he moved his lips closer.

“ No you don’t.” Beth said before their lips came together again with more passion this time as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Johnny held Beth close as he relished in the feel of finally kissing her.

“ Papa guess what……..” Miguel started to say, but stopped when he seen his father kissing Beth. Shaking his head he started to back away from him.

Johnny looked and seen his son standing in the barn alley with Scott. “ Miguel, son.” he said as he started toward him.

Miguel turned and ran away.

“ Miguel, wait.” Johnny yelled as he glanced at his brother.

Scott looked at Beth, then back at his little brother. “ He thinks he’s lost you to her Johnny…….Miguel thinks that she’s the reason you haven’t come back to Lancer….I guess now he knows for sure.” Scott said before turning and going after his nephew.

Beth stepped up next to Johnny. “ Go after him Johnny……..It should be you not your brother talking to him right now.” she said.

Johnny stood there shaking his head and sighed. “ I’m sorry Beth.” he said before heading outside. He had always wanted to find a woman who would accept him for who he was, not judge him because of his past, and now that he may have found that woman, his son threatened it to not be.

Miguel ran out of the barn and got back on the horse he had been riding and took off.

“ Miguel stop.” Scott yelled as he went to his horse.

No Scott.” Johnny ordered as he came out of the barn. “ He’s my son not yours.”

“ You’re in no shape to be riding yet Johnny.” Scott said.

“ I told you he’s my son…….What you said in there was out of line brother, and right now you should be glad I’m unable to knock the crap out of you for saying that to Beth.” Johnny vented as he went to Billy’ horse and mounted up. Sweat beaded on his brow as pain wracked his shoulder.

“ At least let me come with you Johnny, you’re in no shape to be riding.”

Johnny ignored him. “ Where did you take him to Billy?” Johnny asked wit anger in his voice.

“ The mares up by the waterfall…..Want me to come with you Johnny?” Billy asked.

“ Yeah.” Johnny answered as he looked at his brother with anger in his eyes.

Scott got down and gave the horse to Billy. “ So is that how it’s going to be brother?” he demanded as he grabbed Johnny’ reins.

“ You did this * brother * not me…..Now let go of the reins.” Johnny said and demanded.

Scott let go of the reins only because of the look he seen is his brothers eyes. A look he hadn’t seen there in a long time. Madrid was the one he was facing right now, not the brother he thought he knew.

Murdoch and Zeb walked over to them. “ What the devil is going on?” he demanded. “ Johnny you shouldn’t be on a horse yet son.”

Johnny ignored him and rode out with Billy.

Scott stood there and watched who he thought was his brother ride out to find his son.

“ What happened Scott?” Murdoch asked again.

Scott turned to him and told the two what Miguel and him seen when they got back and walked into the barn.

“ Oh lord.” Murdoch said.

Beth walked out of the barn. “ What’s wrong father?” she asked.

“ You are what’s wrong.” Scott vented.

“ Scott…..that will be enough…….This is between Johnny and Miguel son.”

“ Where are they?” she asked.

“ Miguel took off on a horse, Johnny and Billy went after him.”

“ He shouldn’t be riding yet..his shoulder isn’t healed up, he’s not strong enough.” Beth said with worry in her voice.

“ I got his tracks Johnny….He’s headed north toward the waterfall I showed him.” Billy said. “ You alright?” he asked, noticing how Johnny was hurting.

“ I’m alright Billy….Let’s go I don’t like him being out here all alone.”

Just like Billy said, they found Miguel at the water hole, sitting on a rock with his back to them.

“ Stay here will ya Billy?” Johnny asked as he got down and handed the reins of his horse to him.

“ Sure.” Billy answered.

Johnny walked over and stopped behind his son. “ Miguel.” he said softly.

Miguel got up and went to walk away from him. “ Leave me alone.”

Johnny reached out and grabbed his sons arm, stopping him. “ No I won’t…….What the hell are you thinking, riding off like that?……Son there are grizzlies here and other animals that could kill you.”

“ So, you don’t care.” Miguel spat back.

“ Yes I do……..I shouldn’t even be on a horse yet, but I came after you.” he said as he wiped at the sweat on his brow. “ Look, we need to talk son.”

“ Don’t call me that……I’m not your son……..If I was you wouldn’t have left me…..You would have stayed at Lancer…….You don’t love me…..You love her and she’s going to hurt you just like my mother did……………Uncle Scott is my father now………I hate you.”

Johnny reached out and slapped Miguel before he realized what he had done. “ I won’t have you talking to me like that…….I’m your father and you will show me respect…….I didn’t bring you up to be like this to me.”

“ You haven’t cared about me for the past six months…….Bisabuelo died and you didn’t care…you didn’t come home then and grandpa Lancer wrote to you telling you could…..You want to stay here with her.”

Miguel said as tears ran down his face.

“ I do care about you…….Son I was over a thousand miles away, even if I came by train it would have took time to get back…..You think it didn’t hurt me when I read that he had died?…….You think I don’t give a damn about you after all I have done and been through for you………….I don’t know what else I can say or do to prove how much you mean to me son.” Johnny said with hurt in his voice. “ You want Scott to be your father……fine………You’re old enough to make your own choices, but I’ll tell you this right here and now……..Whatever you choose, you be a man and stand by it, because you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself in the end.” Johnny said before turning and walking back to his horse. “ Take him back for me Billy, please?” Johnny said as he took his horse’s reins and walked it down to the water to drink. A minute later he heard Billy and his son ride away.

Billy and Miguel rode into the yard and Miguel jumped down and ran to Scott. “ I want to go home..i want to leave here.” he cried as he hugged Scott.

“ What happened Billy?’ Zeb asked.

Billy told them what happened and what Johnny had told Miguel about making a choice before he asked him to bring the boy back.

“ Damn that boy.” Murdoch vented.

“ He’s not a boy Murdoch, he’s a grown man and you young man.” Zeb said with a raised voice. ‘ If you were my son and had said those hateful things to me, I would have turned you over my knees and swatted your backside so hard you wouldn’t sit for a week.”

“ Zeb.” Murdoch said.

“ No Murdoch……..Young man I watched your father when he would come back from town and have no letter from you……I watched the hurt on his face and in his heart from you not writing to him…..When you Murdoch answered and said you were coming he was so happy….He wanted to show you young man what he was going to give you for your birthday in the spring……….Do you know that all the money I paid him he would transfer to an account back home for you every month……Every day he would talk about you and how much he missed you and hated being away from you…………But I guess none of that matters to you does it? You only care about what you want and feel threatened by the thought of your father maybe finding someone to love and be a mother to you……..Something he never had, but wanted for you.” Zeb said before turning and walking back to the house.

“ Billy, where is Johnny now?” Beth asked.

“ He was still at the waterfall when we left. I was going to go back….he didn’t look to good Beth. He was hurting, both inside and out.” Billy told her.

“ Saddle a horse for me would you…….I’m riding out there.” she said.

“ No………..He’s my son……..I’ll go.” Murdoch cut in.

“ And what are you going to do when you get there mister Lancer?” she demanded. “ You going to yell at him like you’ve done in the past………..No, Johnny doesn’t need anymore hurt from his family right now. My father is right, all he did was talk about you Miguel and how much he missed you, why I don’t know after the way you have treated him, refusing to spend time with him in his room unless he was asleep. Oh don’t look so shocked, I noticed young man, you need a good butt spanking for the way you have hurt him.”

“ Now listen here young lady…….I………..”

“ She’s right Murdoch…….Me and Miguel both have treated Johnny wrong since we arrived………So have you…….We need to leave him be for a spell.” Scott cut in. “ Beth, I’m sorry for the way I have talked and treated you………I know now how much my brother means to you…..Not many people would stand up against our father the way you just did, not unless they had a good reason.”

“ Beth, if he wants to be alone, let him. Trust me I know Johnny and when he’s hurt like he is now he just wants to be alone to work it out.”

“ He’s right Beth, Johnny and me had our share of fights and he would always take off to be alone to think things out…..It’s just the way he is.” Murdoch added.

“ Not this time.” Beth said as she took the horse Billy brought her and mounted up.

Johnny don’t know how long he had been sitting on the rock staring out at the waterfall before he heard the sound of  a horse approaching. He figured it was either his father or brother come to lay into him for what he said to his son. That and slapping him. When he got up and turned around he sighed when he seen it was Beth instead.

“ Johnny, don’t be mad, but Billy told us what happened between you and Miguel.” she said as she got down.

“ I hit him Beth……I slapped my own son…..What kind of father am I to hit my own son…….I got so angry at the hateful words he was saying to me……My god my own son hates me and doesn’t want me as his father anymore.” Johnny said as he started to shake, wrapping his right arm around himself.

“ Come sit down before you fall down so I can check your shoulder.” Beth asked.

“ It’s alright…It’s me that isn’t.” Johnny said as he walked back over to the rock he’d been sitting on and sat down. “ I was abused most of my life Beth….I know what it feels like……and I turned right around and did it to my own son.”

“ Listen to me Johnny, no you didn’t.” Beth said. “ Undo your shirt so I can check the wound and make sure it isn’t bleeding.”

Johnny unbuttoned  his shirt and slide his right arm out of the sleeve and let it hang. The sun felt good on his skin.

“ Johnny first off, you are a great father. It’s not easy for anyone to bring a child up alone, but you are and you are doing a great job of it. Second, you didn’t beat your son, you should have heard my father lay into him, now that would have been a butt stomping. He was being disrespectful to you and you had every right to smack him.”

“ I didn’t smack him Beth……I slapped him in the face.” Johnny said as he got up angry.

“ And I would have done the same thing…..Listen to me…..Your son came here to see you and finds you shot. That alone is a shock to a nine year old who hasn’t seen his father in six months…..I told him how it was not nice of him to avoid you the way he did while you were bed ridden……..and then he finds his father kissing a woman he barely knows in the barn……How would you react to something like that if it was you?”

“ I have been there Beth, my mother was a whore, so I seen it plenty of times.” Johnny snapped back.

“ Okay fine, you’ve seen it, but how did it make you feel seeing her with a man you didn’t know, especially that first time.”

Johnny looked at her hard, then walked down to the lake and stood there as the waterfall mist sprayed him.

Beth walked down to his side. “ You know, I’m not going away until you answer me tough guy.”

“ I hated it alright…..Is that what you wanted to hear Beth?………I hated what she became…….She was my mother, how could she do something like that?……How could she allow those bastards to do what they did to me Beth?”

“ I don’t know Johnny, and you will never know since the only one who can answer that is gone.”

Johnny walked back up to the rocks and dropped to his knees. “ All I want is for me and my son to be happy, to find a woman to love us both, someone I can share all I have with…….But I guess my son doesn’t want that.”

Beth dropped to her knees next to him and ran her right hand thru his hair and took her left and put it under his chin. “ Look at me Johnny.” she said, feeling his body trembling. “ Stop punishing yourself. Give it some time you’ve only been out of bed a day………..Look maybe you should have your father and brother go back home and make Miguel stay here with you……that way he can get to know me, but more importantly, he can get to know you again and when it’s time to leave, the two of you can ride back to Lancer together.”

“ He doesn’t want to be with me Beth.”

“ You’re his father, put your foot down and tell him how it’s going to be……I bet after a week or so of helping around the ranch, he’ll come around. He can learn how to birth a foal of helps needed, fix corrals. Exercise. There’s a lot he can do with you here to help bring the two of you back together.”

“ Tough guy huh?……I don’t feel to tough right now Beth.”

“ Well you are, so get used to it.”

“ How come you know so much about kids when you’re single?”

“ Because I worked at a school back east in the summer time. I helped kids who needed extra schooling………Kids Miguel’ age.”

Johnny smiled and leaned in and kissed her. “ Thanks.” he said after.

“ Anytime.” she answered before kissing him back with fire and passion.

Johnny laid down with Beth in the soft grass, both headed to a place each sought in the afternoon sun.

“ We’ll catch the next train out Zeb, it’s clear my son doesn’t want us here any longer……We should have never come here.”

That’s not true and you know it Murdoch………I’ve known you for a long time and you wrote to me telling me about Johnny after he came home and how he would be so challenging to you, defiant when you would order him to do something……Do you know that that boy hasn’t once been yelled at here. He does what is asked and more. I don’t think you, either of you realize what a good person he is. Do you?” Zeb stated firmly.

“ I know what my son is Zeb as does Scott……..I have watched him change the last nine years and try so damn hard to leave his past behind him and be my son.” Murdoch responded.

“ Then stop pushing him away old man……..Look I know it hasn’t been easy for you not being there for him when he was growing up…….The last time you seen him he was just a baby and then seventeen years later he comes back into your life a grown man, and a sheriff to top it off……Tell you what……Can you name one thing off the top off your head that Johnny has done that makes you proud of him?”

Murdoch just stood there looking at him.

“ How about you Scott..can you?”

“ I proud of how my brother stands up to him.” Scott said indicating Murdoch.

“ Have you even bothered to tell him he does a good job when he completes a task you assign him?”

“ No he doesn’t, especially if Johnny runs into a problem and it doesn’t get done when he wants.” Scott cut in.

“ That’s not true.” Murdoch said. “ I’ve told him many times he’s done a good job…..As for being proud of him…I’ve told him I’m proud of him for taking on the responsibility of raising his son.”

“ Yeah, but look how many times you told Johnny he wasn’t responsible sir?”

“ Enough. I am going to go pack, I suggest you do the same because we are leaving here in the morning.” Murdoch said before walking away to his room.

“ When did he get so pigheaded?’ Zeb asked aloud.

“ I think when my little brother came home sir………If you will excuse me.” Scott answered before heading to the room he shared with his father to pack.

Johnny and Beth rode back just before dark and got down and walked their horses into the barn.

“ I got them Johnny, Beth.” Jack said.

“ Thank you Jack.” Beth said.

Johnny stood there watching as Jack led the horses away before walking over to Barranca.

“ Hey buddy, miss me?’ he asked as he rubbed the stallions face.

“ You alright?” Beth asked.

Johnny looked at her and smiled. “ I should be asking you that shouldn’t I?”

Beth’ smile was all the answer he needed before he claimed her mouth one last time before they went into the house.

Jack couldn’t stop the smile he had when he looked and seen Johnny kissing Beth. “ Bought time boy.” he said as he unsaddled the horses. “ You two deserve each other.”

“ We better get inside before we have to run poor Jack out of here for a spell.” Beth said with a smile.

“ Yeah.” Johnny answered as he tried to get his breathing under control amongst other things.

Beth and Johnny walked into the house and found everyone at the table eating supper.

“ Well I’m glad you made it back daughter………..Thought maybe I was gonna have to send some men out to fetch you two.” Zeb said with a wink. “ Johnny, you alright?” he asked.

“ Yeah.” Johnny answered as he looked at his son. “ Miguel I want to talk to you now, and you’re going to listen to me, all of you.” Johnny ordered. “ What I’m going to say isn’t open for discussion……It’s how it’s going to be.”

“ Son..”

“ Shut up Murdoch….For once you are going to listen to me……You don’t call the tune this time old man…….Miguel look ay me right now.” he ordered.

Murdoch didn’t like his sons attitude right now, especially telling him to shut up, but for sake of argument he remained quiet.

“ I said look at me young man.” Johnny ordered again as he walked over closer to the table. “ I was thrilled when you wrote telling me you three were coming here….I didn’t plan on being shot in the back. I told you Miguel that when I was better we needed to have a talk….You have been avoiding me, rude and disrespectful…Those words you said to me out there today hurt son..And I didn’t deserve that from you……This is how it’s going to be……..Murdoch I want you and Scott to go back to Lancer…..Miguel, you are going to stay here with me and help on this ranch until next spring……at that time me and you will ride back to Lancer together and if you feel that you still hate me so much that you want Scott there for a father……..then I won’t stop it…….Is that understood?”

Nobody spoke. Scott looked at Murdoch speechless. He could tell his father was also.

“ I asked you a question young man, you better damn well answer me.”

“ Yes sir.” Miguel said finally.

“ I’m sorry Zeb to have brought this into your home……I thought my son and family would be glad to see me after six months apart…Guess I was wrong…….I’m tired so if you will excuse me I’m going to go lay down now.”

“ I’ll come change your bandage Johnny.” Beth added as she followed him to his room.

“ Grandpa, don;t let him make me stay here, please. Take me home with you.” Miguel pleaded.

Murdoch looked at him. “ He’s your father, I can’t.”

“ Uncle Scott?”

“ I can’t either Miguel. I’m sorry.”

“ I’m proud of you and how you put your foot down just now Johnny.” Beth said as she closed his door.

“ I hope this works Beth. I really do, because I can’t stand the thought of loosing my son.”

“ It will, trust me, would I lie to you?” she said with a grin.

“ No…………you know you shouldn’t have closed the door.” Johnny said as he walked over to her and claimed her mouth.

Murdoch and Scott had their things loaded into the wagon, ready to leave when Miguel ran from the house.

“ Please take me with you.” he pleaded.

“ We told you Miguel, we can’t. Johnny is your father and has the say in what you do…..You have to stay here with him.” Murdoch said. “ Come give me a hug.”

Miguel gave both Murdoch and Scott a hug then went and stood on the porch and watched them leave.

Johnny didn’t show himself all morning  for sake of argument until it was time for them to leave.

“ I don’t know how this will turn out between me and my son, but if he wants you as his father when we get back, he can have you………brother.” Johnny said with coldness on the brother part. “ Have a nice trip home. I’m sorry I inconvenienced you asking you to come here….When I get back I’ll pay you back for the money you spent old man.” he told Murdoch before walking back up on the porch and placing an arm around Beth.

“ Johnny, you don’t have to pay me back, and you most certainly did not inconvenience me in asking us to come here….We wanted to see you.” Murdoch stated. “ Son, for what it’s worth I think you’re doing the right thing here with Miguel, making him stay here with you.”

                                                                     Chapter 11

Two weeks after Murdoch and Scott had left, Johnny was cleared to ride and restricted to lifting anything with his left arm for a while yet. Leaving his room he went down the hall to Miguel’ room and opened the door, walking in he went and turned the lamp up.

“ Time to get up son, we got pregnant mares to bring in to birth and you got stalls to clean out and get ready for them.” he said as he went over to the bed and pulled the covers off his son. “ Come on, wake up.”

Miguel opened his sleepy eyes and shot his father a hard look. “ It’s still dark out.” he said as he rolled over and pulled the covers back up over him.

“ Young man, I said get up. It will be daylight by the time we finish breakfast and those mares won’t wait, so get your butt out of bed now.” he ordered as he yanked the covers off him completely.

“ I hate you.” Miguel said.

“ You want to hate me fine, but I’ll be damned if you are going to take it out on those mares, now get up.” he ordered again. “ I want you dressed at in the kitchen in ten minutes, understand me?”

Miguel didn’t respond as he climbed out of bed.

“ Son, I asked you a question.”

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered harshly.

Johnny walked out of the room, wondering if he could have been the way his son was being to him to his father at that age if he had been raised by him.

“ Morning Johnny.” Zeb said.

“ Morning…….I don’t know where I went so wrong with him Zeb.” he said as he poured a cup of coffee.

“ Maybe you didn’t Johnny…….Maybe it’s just a phase he’s going through. It’s only been two weeks. Give it time, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

“ Sounds like something Murdoch would say.”

“ Johnny, has Miguel ever seen a foal born?”

“ No…..why?”

“ Let him, it just might help bring you two closer letting him help deliver a new life.”

“ Yeah maybe I will.” Johnny answered as his son came in and sat down.

“ Morning mister Cotter.”

“ Good morning Miguel, listen, if it’s alright with your father, you can call me Zeb instead of mister Cotter…….makes me feel old calling me mister.”

Miguel looked at his father, but did not ask.

“I don’t have a problem with it as long as he shows you respect in doing so.” Johnny said, looking at his son.

“ Kneel down by her head son and talk to her.” Johnny said as he moved to the back of the mare.

“ What’s wrong?” Miguel asked.

“ Billy put your knees on her neck, keep her from trying to get up.”

“ What’s wrong papa?” Miguel asked again.

“ Rub her face son and talk to her.” Johnny told him as he took his right hand and reached inside the mare to feel the foal. “ Easy mama, easy girl….I’m just trying to help you.” he said softly.

“ What is it Johnny?” Billy asked.

“ The foal is sideways……Hold her down…..I’m gonna have to turn it.” Johnny answered, glancing at his son. “ Just talk to her Miguel, real soft. Try and keep her calm.”

Johnny got the foal turned around correctly and a few minuted later a beautiful baby lay in the straw shaking it’s head as Johnny wiped it down with a burlap sack. The mare, exhausted looked at her baby then lay her head down and sighed.

“ Billy get some more rags to help dry this little girl down.” Johnny said as he moved to the mares head and lifted her top lip, looking at her gums.

Billy went and got more burlap and started drying the baby off. “ Is she alright Johnny?”

“ Rub her good, get the blood circulating.” Johnny said as he stood up and left the stall for a moment, then came back with a bottle.

“ Johnny?” Billy said.

“ Her gums are white Billy…….Come here son.” Johnny said.

Miguel moved back to where his father was. “ Yes sir.”

“ I want you to do just like I tell you okay?”

“Yes sir………Is the mama gonna be alright?”

“ No son she’s not…..She’s dying.” he told him as he reached down and placed the bottle at one of the mares nipples and started squeezing milk out.

“ Why?” Miguel asked.

“ She’s bleeding inside son……The baby hurt her when it was sideways……There’s nothing we can do for her now but try and save her baby…..That’s were you come in……..After me and Billy get her standing up…….I want you to bring this over and get her to start drinking it okay?”

“ Okay, but if the mothers dying.”

“ Son a mares milk is very rich and it’s very important that the baby gets that very first drink from it’s mother…….It has medicine in it to help protect the baby from getting sick.” Johnny told him as he slipped a nipple on the bottle and handed it to him. “ It’ll be alright son…..you can do this.” he said before going to the foal. “ Let’s get her up Billy.”

The two of them after several shaky tries finally got the foal standing on tiny trembling legs spread apart.

“ Okay son, bring the bottle over here.” Johnny said. “ You got her Billy?”

“ Yeah.” he answered as he supported the foal.

“ Put it in  her mouth son so she can get a taste of it.” Johnny told Miguel as he held the foals jaw.

Miguel laughed as the foal started drinking the milk eagerly. “ She’s hungry.” he said with a smile.

“ All newborns are son…..It’s hard work being born.” Johnny said as he went and checked the mare.

“ She’s gone.” he said with sadness to his voice. ‘ You did good girl, you have a beautiful daughter. I’ll do what I can to save her so you didn’t die for nothing girl.”

“ Papa, how do you know so much about this?” Miguel asked as the foal twitched it’s tail and tried taking a step on it’s wobbly legs.

“ Down in Mexico son….I was about your age when I was helping a man  in Pasqual……He taught me.” Johnny said with a smile, pleased his son had asked him something about his childhood that was actually good to remember. He wasn’t going to tell his son it was a goat pregnant with twins he had learned it with though.

“ I like her…..she’s pretty papa…….What do you think Zeb will do with her since she don’t have a mother?”

“ I don’t know son….He’ll be back from town later and I’ll ask him.” he answered.

Later that afternoon Zeb came back from town with Jack and was told what had happened by Johnny.

“ Damn…how’s the foal doing now?”

“ She’s okay, small, but okay….We moved her to a different stall away from her mother.” Johnny answered.

“ You say she’s small…….How small Johnny?”

“ Smaller than she should be……Billy told me who the father is and given the size of the mare the foal should be bigger.”

“ Destroy it…….I breed for size and confirmation Johnny….I can’t be wasting time on a foal that’s to scrawny.”

Johnny was appalled at the harsh words Zeb just spoke. He couldn’t believe the man was willing to have an innocent foal destroyed just because it was small. “ Mister Cotter……I’ll buy the foal from you.” he told him.

“ Why..it would be a waste of money…..You said it’s small.”

“ It is, but I also know that that baby deserves a chance at life sir…….Let Miguel raise it up….It’ll give him a good responsibility and when we leave in the spring it can go back to Lancer with us……I’ll pay for whatever the foal needs sir……It won’t cost you anything.”

Zeb looked at Johnny. “ You’re serious?”

“ Yes sir I am.”

“ Alright, if that foal will bring you and your son closer……you can have her…….You did save her life after all.”

“ Thank you.” Johnny said as Beth walked into the room.

“ Hey, you two look pretty serious, something wrong?”

“ No, no darling….me and Johnny were just discussing the orphaned foal.”

“ Orphaned…oh how sad.”

“ Yes, Johnny saved it’s life and wants his son to raise it, so I’ve given the foal to him.”

“ That is very nice of you father, but do you think it’s wise to have a misfit on your ranch?”

Johnny snapped his head to look at her and speak before Zeb could. “ She deserves a chance to live Beth……..She’s not a misfit and it isn’t her fault her mother died giving birth to her.”

“ It is if she died giving birth to it.” Beth said coldly.

Johnny started to speak, but decided to hold his tongue.

“ Father…..I’m going to go to Denver for the rest of the summer.” she said as she looked at Johnny.

“ Denver, what on earth for girl?” Zeb asked.

“ They have an excellent nursing school there and I want to check it out….I told you I wanted to be a nurse.”

“ Excuse me.” Johnny said before leaving the house.

“ Did something happen between you two Beth that I should know about?”

“ I don’t know what you’re talking about father.” she answered.

“ Don’t play dumb with me young lady….You know Johnny has feelings for you….Why do you want to throw away a chance at something good?”

“ He’s a gunfighter, and I don’t want a life with someone like that………I’ll be leaving at weeks end.” she told him. “ Oh just so you know, I will not be coming back here as long as Madrid and that kid of his are here.” she said before turning and heading to her room to pack.

Zeb stood there and couldn’t believe the hated words his daughter just said. “ Where did I go wrong in raising you?” he asked himself.

Johnny was helping Billy and Jack with a teaser stallion when Beth walked into the barn.

“ Billy, go saddle Rocket for me please.” she asked, ignoring the fact that he was already busy at the moment.

“ I’m kind of busy right now Beth…..It’ll have to wait till we’re done.” he told her.

“ Now Billy….They can handle that stallion and mare without you.” she ordered.

Johnny looked at her. “ You can see he’s busy helping me and Jack. You can either wait a few minutes until we’re done, or go saddle Rocket yourself.” he said with coldness to his voice as he glared at her.

“ How dare you, you don’t speak to me that way. You work for me, therefore you will do as you are told when you are told Madrid, or you can get the hell off this ranch and take that kid with you.” Beth snapped back.

“ She’s not ready yet Jack…….Take her out of her.” he said as he turned the stallion away from the mare and secured him to a post. “ Billy go ahead and go saddle Rocket for miss high and mighty spoiled little rich girl, wouldn’t want to keep her waiting any longer.” Johnny asked. “ Take the stallion back with you.”

“ Sure Johnny, I’ll have Rocket ready in a minute Beth.” Billy answered knowing what was coming as he glanced at Jack.

Jack knew what was coming also and gladly walked the mare away.

“ What the hell is wrong with you Beth…….you know it’s a three person job when teasing a mare.”

“ Then maybe my father should get someone who knows what they are doing to do it.”

Johnny walked over and grabbed her by the arm. “ Why……why you being this way to me Beth?………What have I done wrong?……..I thought………”

“ What?……That I cared about you…………I thought I did, but you know, I’ve been thinking Johnny, and I’ve decided I don’t want someone like you in my life like that…..You’re a gunfighter and always will be.”

“ You don’t mean that Beth……..and if you expect me to believe that after we’ve been together.”

“ I used you Johnny……I played on your emotions that day at the waterfall…….I knew I could get what I wanted from you because of the situation at the time…….It meant nothing to me then, and you mean nothing to me now………..You’re just an employee of my fathers who slept with his daughter.” Beth said as Billy walked up with Rocket.

“ Here you go Beth.” Billy said, handing her the reins.

“ Thank you Billy….Don’t look so surprised Johnny…….Did you really think I would fall in love and marry you and be a mother to your son?” she asked as she got on Rocket. “ If you did, then you’re not as smart as you think you are.”

Johnny stood there shocked at what was said as Beth rode out of the barn. Billy could tell that now was a good time to make himself scarce, so he decided to take the stallion back to his stall.

Beth had been gone three months now and fall was starting to show it’s self with the changing of the trees. The nights got cooler and snow started to fall in the higher mountains. Johnny helped his son with the foal every day teaching it how to lead. The foal followed Miguel everywhere having accepted him as her mother since it was he who first fed her and has ever since she was born. The two had a special bond started Johnny knew would grow into what he and Barranca had together given time.

He wrote to his family and told them how his son had saved the foal and was now raising it. He could just hear his father now, telling Miguel that no way was she coming into the house and sleeping with him like Ranger. Every day would be different between his and his son. Most days Miguel and him would get along, but sometimes his son would defy him and they would argue or Miguel wouldn’t speak to him at all. At times he felt at wits end with the boy. Miguel had made it a point to remind his father how he knew Beth would hurt him and not want to be with them. Being used was something he had accepted in his past. Hell people used him for his gun, he used women to get satisfaction, even when he paid for it, but to have a woman do what Beth did hurt worse than anything he had ever faced before.

Standing in the corral, watching his son teach the foal how to stay when the rope or rein was dropped using a trick he was taught as a kid, Johnny never heard Billy walk up.

Billy walked over to the corral ans watched as Miguel led the foal around.“ Johnny, Zeb want’s to see you in the house.” Billy said.

“ Okay…you stay here with Miguel?” he asked as he went to the gate and opened it.

“ Sure, been watching your son, he’s a good with a horse, just like his father is.” Billy said as he stepped into the corral.

“ Miguel I’ll be back, Billy’ gonna watch you while I’m gone. Just keep doing what I showed you with her.”

“ Where are you going?” Miguel asked as he stopped the foal.

“ Zeb wants to see me for a minute…….You’ll be alright……Show Billy that trick you taught Angel.”

“ Angel?……Is that what you named her Miguel?” Billy asked as he walked over to him.

Miguel stood and watched his father head to the house. “ Yeah.” he said finally.

“ How’d you come up with a name like that?”

“ Because she’s an Angel Billy, meant to be here…..Look how big she’s grown this summer.”

“ Yeah, you know I would have thought she would be a scrawny little thing, given her size a birth, but she’s getting really big and gonna be a good horse for you.”

“ Like Barranca is with papa.”

Johnny walked into the house and found Zeb at the table with a map. “ You wanted to see me Zeb?” he asked as he walked over.

“ Yeah I do……….Johnny, you and your son ever do any hunting together?”

“ Yeah, I’ve taken him hunting.”

“ How long ago?”

“Four years, he killed to Turkey’s, why?”

“Used to be I went hunting in the fall for a big Elk…….I haven’t done that for a while and…….well I was wondering if you and your son would like to go with me?”

“I can’t speak for my son Zeb, that has to be his choice. He’s working with Angel every day and has his responsibility to her.”

“ Yeah, I’ve watched him with her. She’s a right smart filly. Growing up real nice……..Guess I was wrong about her gonna be a scrawny thing. Why she’s as tall as the other foals older than her now.”

“ Yeah, she is growing into a good looking horse.”

“ Somehow I think you knew she would and that’s why you didn’t want to destroy her.”

“ I didn’t know, not for sure Zeb, but I did know she deserved a chance…….Listen why don’t you ask Miguel tonight if he would like to go?”

“ Alright………..You heard from Murdoch lately?”

“ Not for two months…..I expect their busy with round-up and such.”

“ I got a letter from Beth, she said she won’t be coming home for the holidays until you’re gone……Johnny what happened between you two?” Zeb asked with genuine concern in his voice. “ I was thinking that maybe you were gonna become my son in law there.”

“My past…….she decided she didn’t want anything to do with a man who has a past like I do, that and my son.” Johnny said flatly.

“ Your son?”

“ Beth wanted me to choose between her and Miguel………That’s something I will never do Zeb….She told me that she would never be a mother for him.”

“ What…………I……you know sometimes I just don’t understand that child……….I guess her being raised in boarding schools most of her life has made her forget how to be human……….Johnny I’m sorry, I truly am.”

“ I picked up the mail while I was in town sir.” Scott said after entering the house through the french doors. “ There’s a letter from Johnny.” he said as he walked over and tossed the letter on the desk. “ It’s addressed to you only.”

Murdoch picked the letter up and looked at Scott. “ Some thing wrong son?” he asked.

“ No….just wondering what excuse he’s going to have now for not coming back to Lancer is all.”

Scott said as he went and poured a shot and downed it.

“ Your brother is coming back son…….He said he would be back by summer next………..In case you’ve forgotten, he’s trying to save his relationship with his son.”

“ Why, he abandoned him for six months, writes you a letter and without asking me you tell him that the three of us would be glad to go to Montana, never mind the fact that we have a ranch right here to run……..a ranch he is supposed to be a third owner of I might add.”

“ Let me tell you something……Your brother will always be a third owner of this ranch until I die….at which the two of you will become equal owners, each owning half………Would you mind telling me why it is you hate Johnny so much all of the sudden?”

“ I don’t hate him…….he abandoned his son……..his grandfather dies and he can’t be bothered to come home for the funeral and his son who needed him………..You know I told Miguel that day after the funeral that Johnny probably wouldn’t come back here……..looks like I was right……..and per the signed agreement words you had put in there sir…..If either of us are away from Lancer for one year the partnership agreement is dissolved.”

“ As long as my name is on the deed……I say who is a partner and who isn’t……..why in the hell would you say such a thing to Miguel……you know damn well why Johnny left here…….Do you have any idea the damage you have caused him?………….No wonder Miguel is being the way he is to him.”

“ I told my nephew the truth, that’s all………….and if you want to keep him a partner then I suggest you get him back here because I am not doing his work any more.” Scott said as he slammed his glass down and stormed out of the house.

Murdoch stood there stunned at what he had just heard his oldest son say. How could two brothers who had been so close the last eight years become so distant? How could one become so vindictive  and hateful to the brother he swore he would always protect. Could Scott be trying to take Miguel away from his father? Could that be the real reason all along?

Sitting back in his chair he opened the letter.

Hey guess I should let you both know that it’s not going to well between me and Miguel, well some days we get along and others he won’t even speak to me. I have him up before dawn eating breakfast so he can start work at first light mucking out the stalls. Guess I get that from you old man, all these years you’ve made me get up before the rooster crows. We did have a turning point though. Miguel is a father it seems. A mare had trouble with her delivery, the baby was turned sideways and by the time I got the foal turned and born the mare died. I remembered something taught me by an old Mexican farmer once when I was about his age. This farmers goat was having trouble and I watched what he did, course she was having twins, but it worked and the foal was born, Course the mare couldn’t be saved, she was bleeding on the inside. Miguel fed the foal it’s first milk after I got it from the mother and Murdoch, you should see them two. That little filly follows him all over, no rope or nothing. Zeb gave her to him. I offered to buy her but he wouldn’t have it. Wanted me to destroy her at first because she’s so small. Miguel was thrilled. I told him that he better not expect you to allow her to sleep with him in the house like Ranger does when we come back next spring. He’s listening to me on how to train her. Seems to be the only time we get along.

You might not want to let Scott read this letter or what I am about to say, but maybe when I get back I’ll know the truth on what happened those six months I was away from my son.

You know, I can’t put my finger on it, but ever since Don Louis died, that’s when Miguel changed toward me…..I thought maybe it was cause I didn’t come back, maybe it is partly, but I think Scott had something to do with this Murdoch……….Why else would Miguel all the sudden hate my guts, saying I don’t love him and wanting Scott to be his father…….I know I haven’t been the best at times, but I try to guide my son right, teach him right from wrong, but I guess I can’t teach him to love me just like you couldn’t. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been the way Miguel is being toward me to you if I’d have grown up at Lancer with you. You can forget about what I thought might have been starting between me and Beth old man…….She went to Denver and told me she wanted nothing to do with a man with my past, also said she would never be a mother to my son. Guess I’m not meant to find a woman to love and share all I have with. I think I’ll just stick with a two dollar whore, at least I won’t get my heart broke that way. I don’t know if I will be able to get what me and Miguel had before back or not, but I’m not gonna give up. Well it’s almost midnight here so I think I’m gonna stop this letter here and get some shut eye.


Murdoch sat there wondering how he could tell his youngest he was right in suspecting his brother having something to do with the way his son was treating him. How did a father go about telling one son that the other spoke out of line and said things to that have possibly caused unrepairable damage. Sometimes being a father wasn’t all the greatness it’s supposed to be.

Johnny was both surprised and happy when his son accepted Zeb’ invitation to go hunting.  As the three of them rode up into the high country, Johnny listened as his son asked Zeb about things he was seeing. Their first night camped sitting around the fire Johnny looked up at the stars in the crisp clear sky and then noticed something he had never seen before. The sky danced with colors so bright and beautiful, almost like a rainbow at night, but moving and dancing across the night sky.

Zeb noticed what had Johnny’ attention. “ pretty ain’t they?” he asked.

“ Yeah, never seen anything like it before.” Johnny answered.

“ Uncle Scott has, he said they are called the northern lights. Said it’s from the sun bouncing off all that ice and snow on the other side of the world……..Told me that you can only see them in the winter and up here in the north.” Miguel stated.

“ You’re uncle was  right Miguel, those are the northern lights.”

“ Uncle Scott is right about a lot of things……….he’s told me things you would never know……Things he learned in school” he answered looking at his father.

Johnny seen the look in his sons eyes, and heard the unmistakeable tone in his voice at the words he spoke. “I expect he would since he grew up back east and didn’t have to worry about trying to survive.” Johnny said as he stood up. “ I’m gonna check the horses, excuse me.” he said before walking away.

“ Boy……..that was uncalled for saying that to your father.” Zeb told Miguel. The man had had just about all he could take of a boy being so hateful to his father. “ You know, I bet your uncle Scott doesn’t know a thing about surviving the way your father does……….I would also bet that that fancy college education he got hasn’t helped him one damn bit……..a fancy education doesn’t teach you how to survive out here.”

“ Uncle Scott has survived, and he’s done it without using a gun.” Miguel said, glancing toward the horses.

“ Okay, let me ask you this…….since you think so highly of this uncle of yours……..You think he would have known what to do to save that foal of yours?…..Seems to me you’re taking some enjoyment in belittling your father boy…….he may not have a fancy education like that uncle of yours, but Johnny is no fool…….and he sure as hell isn’t dumb…….Just because a man doesn’t know what something is, especially when he’s never seen it before, doesn’t mean he is……………You don’t stop being so disrespectful to your father like you’ve been……..I promise you I will turn you over my knee and when I’m done, you won’t be sitting for a week………..Is that understood?” Zeb stated firmly, having had his fill of how Johnny was being treated. “ I asked you a question.”

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered.

“ Good, now sack in because I want to be up in Willow canyon by noon.” Zeb ordered.

Johnny rubbed Barranca’ face as he listened to Zeb. He just couldn’t figure it out…..Usually good at figuring things, this time he couldn’t for the life of him figure why his son hated him so much……Could it all be because he was the son of Johnny Madrid? Could Scott have said something to his son those six months they were apart? Pressing his forehead on Barranca’ he let out a sigh. “ How you doing amigo?” Johnny asked his friend, receiving a sigh as the stallion placed his head on Johnny’ shoulder.

“ Never seen a horse act like that one does to you Johnny.” Zeb said as he walked over. “ Damnedest thing.”

“ Yeah, he’s been the best.” Johnny said as he rubbed the stallions neck. “ For what it’s worth, thanks Zeb.”

“ I may have spoken out of line Johnny, but I can only stand by and take so much…….the way that boy is being toward you is wrong………I think if I were you, I would be asking that brother of yours just what the hell he said or did in the time you two were apart.”

“ Yeah……….I mentioned that to Murdoch in my last letter……..I thought me and Scott were close…..you know……….I asked him to watch out for my son for me, hell I even had a will done up giving him custody of my son if I get killed Zeb, never figured he would stab me in the back like he has.”

“ Well I spoke my piece Johnny, I’m gonna turn in now………You try and get some rest too.”

“ Yeah, I will. Thanks Zeb.”

The howl of a wolf could be heard in the distance, soon joined by another, then another a little closer. Barranca snorted and stomped his feet.

“ Easy amigo, they’re just talking to one another……..they aren’t gonna come around here buddy, not with the fire and us.” Johnny said as he calmed the stallion.

Mid-afternoon the next day Johnny looked at the canyon below and marveled at the color and beauty of the rocks and how the tree’s grew up out of cracks and crevasses.

“ I’ve seen me some good sized Bull Elk in this canyon. Jack said he seen one up here this summer that would feed us plumb through to the spring he’s so big Johnny.”

“ You sure Jack didn’t see one of those Moose instead Zeb?” Johnny asked teasingly.

“ I’m sure smart ass…….Let’s go get camp set up so we can scout around some before dark.” Zeb said as he playfully slapped Johnny’ arm.

Johnny lay on a ledge just north of a small water tracks showed the Elk used frequently. He had wanted his son with him, but Miguel opted  to go with Zeb east of him about five hundred yards watching from a stand of Spruce and conifers. He knew his son was in good hands, but when Miguel said he would rather be with Zeb instead, the hurt he already had in his heart grew even more. The sun was just breaking the horizon when he seen him, a bull elk with a rack well over five feet across Johnny guessed come walking out of the trees to his right and stopped. Another bull came out of the trees just left of where Zeb and Miguel were waiting and called out, his challenge answered buy the bigger bull near Johnny.

“ Come on out a little further.” Johnny whispered as he ever so slowly moved his rifle and took aim.

“ Look there Miguel.” Zeb said in a whisper.

Miguel watched as the huge bull made a challenging call to another slightly smaller bull closer to them.

“ Can you get him?” he asked.

“ No, your father is in the better position to kill him.” Zeb answered.

“What about that one?” Miguel asked as he seen his father take aim at the big bull.

“ Just a little farther.” Johnny said as he watched the bull paw the ground and toss his massive rack around. Well over eight hundred pounds and all muscle, Coat sleek and  neck swelled, the monarch bull dropped his head as the other bull charged and the two clashed together, racks clanging, dirt flying as the bigger bull pushed the smaller one backwards toward the pond.  Unable to pull the trigger yet Johnny continued to watch the two bulls battle over the right to pass on it’s genes.

“ Why doesn’t he shoot him?” Miguel asked.

“ He’s watching them, he’s never seen what we are right now, not many do.” Zeb whispered.

The bigger bull kept his head down and continued to push the smaller bull backwards until it slipped and went down with the bigger bull toppling right over the top of it almost landing in the water. When the two bulls got up and stood not four feet apart, breathing heavy Johnny took aim and fired, dropping the big bull where he stood. The other bull scrambled and took off back into the trees.

Johnny stood up and waved his rifle at Zeb before turning to climb down from his position to the bull. Zeb and Miguel were already at the bull by the time he got there.

“ Nice shot Johnny.” Zeb complimented. “ Man he’s a big one that’s for sure.” Zeb said as he looked the bull over. “ Man one shot straight thru the heart…….mighty fine shooting Johnny, no wonder he dropped from your one shot……..Thought for sure you might have to put another bullet in him.”

“ It was luck was all.” Miguel said. “ You waited so long, thought maybe you chickened out.”

“ No I didn’t chicken out..I was watching them fight a little was all Miguel…….you know what, forget it okay……I’m gonna go get the pack  horse Zeb.” Johnny said before turning and walking away.

“ That was uncalled for Miguel…….I told you what he was doing……I want you to tell your father you’re sorry when he comes back with the horses.”

Johnny came back a few minutes later with  a pack horse to put the meat on.

“ Papa I’m sorry.”

“Save it Miguel…….I’m tired of the way you are treating me son…….. Zeb I’ll butcher him up….why don’t you take my smart mouthed son there back to camp I don’t really want to be around him right now.” Johnny asked, hurt clearly in his voice.

“ No..I think he should stay and help you with the elk Johnny……He can dig a hole to bury the guts in so we don’t attract a grizzly bear or mountain lion.” Zeb answered.

“ I’ll get it done……..I don’t want to be around him right now.”

“ Okay Johnny, if that’s what you want……Let’s go boy.” Zeb said as he started to walk away.

“ Papa, I want to help you clean the meat.” Miguel said as he walked over closer to his father.

“ Why…..so you can talk spiteful  to me more?…..You know Miguel I may be a grown man, but I have feelings just like you and ever since you came here with Scott and Murdoch, you have been hateful and disrespectful to me and I am fed up with it…….I am done trying to get along with you son……I’m not saying I don’t love you because I do, nothing will ever make me stop loving you, but I’m through with the treatment I’m getting from you.” Johnny said flatly.  “ You know the only time you ever really talk to me now is when I am helping you train Angel………you know that?….How do you think that makes me feel son…………I know I’m not smart like uncle Scott and I didn’t have schooling or go to a big fancy college like he did…….But I know and what I know I am trying to pass on to you, but……..” Johnny turned away, he had to get his emotions under control.

“ Come on Miguel……..Your father needs to be alone right now.” Zeb stated as he put a hand on the boys shoulder and guided him away.

Johnny worked hard through the winter, delivering foals and breeding mares. Building more corrals. The foal Barranca sired was born on Thanksgiving day and looked just like his father. Zeb was pleased with the colts confirmation and praised the golden stallion greatly. Johnny worked Rocket three times a week. The stallion and him became close. Working him one day in the corral Johnny decided to see just how well Rocket would respond.

“ Zeb you better come out to the barn.” Billy said. “ You’re not going to believe this.”

Zeb and Billy walked up to the the corral fence and he couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. Inside the corral Johnny was riding Rocket bridle-less. Walking, trotting, loping, stopping when asked. What really amazed Zeb was when Rocket would spin around in circles, never picking up his hind feet. First spinning left, then right. After Johnny galloped the stallion around the arena a few times, picking up speed and then pull back on the long flowing mane he held in his right hand and the stallion would slide to a stop, spin around and do it again.

“ I have never seen anyone who could make a horse do what he is mister Cotter.” Jack said.

“ That makes two of us Jack.”

“ Three.” Billy added as he watched Johnny dismount and walk over to them, Rocket following.

“ Boy…..you sure do have a way with horses Johnny.” Zeb said. “ I have never seen the likes of what you just did.”

Johnny walked thru the gate. “ Thanks, he’s a smart horse, will do just about anything to please ya.” he answered. “ Miguel still reading?”

“ Yeah I guess so. He went to his room.”

Johnny glanced at the house then back at Zeb. “ I’m gonna cool him down and put him away…….would you have Miguel come out here?”

“ Sure…….Johnny is everything alright?”

“ If you mean having a son who hates me, yeah, everything is fine.” Johnny answered before going back into the corral.

“You wanted to see me?” Miguel asked as he walked up to where his father was grooming Rocket.

“ Yeah I do……sit down Miguel……..I’m going to ask you something and you had better tell me.” he stated as he put Rocket away. “ Ever since Don Louis died you have been disrespectful to me…….and I think I know why………I want to know what your uncle Scott said to you and I want the truth son.”

Miguel fidgeted around on the bale of hay, unable to look at his father who stood near by watching him.

“ Miguel…..I want to know what he said son……….I’m not going to get mad at you, but I want to know.”

Miguel looked up at him finally, sadness in his eyes. After a minute he started and told his father.

Johnny couldn’t believe his own brother would say such a thing as he stood there stunned when his son finished telling him.

“ And you believed him, is that it?…………You really think I abandoned you?” he asked as he knelt down in front of him. “ Miguel…….I would give my life for you son, I love you so much……..You are the best thing to ever happen to me……When I came back from Mexico and found you, I had a living breathing reason to stop living by the gun…to stop being reckless……….I had something that was mine, not Murdoch’ or Scott’, but mine to raise and love, to teach things to.”

“ I’m sorry papa…..I’m sorry I’ve been so bad to you.” Miguel said as tears ran down his face.

“ Hey, come here.” Johnny asked, holding out his arms.

Miguel went to him and cried into his shoulder.

“ It’s alright……..Listen I think Zeb has a map book…..How about you and me after supper take a look at that map book and see which way we want to ride back home?”

“ Okay.” Miguel answered between sobs.

“ Have you fed Angel yet?”

“ No sir, I was reading my book.”

“ Okay, well lets go take care of her and Barranca before we head inside?”


“ Yeah son?”

“ I love you.”

Johnny stopped and picked his son up and hugged him. “ I love you to son.”

 He wrote a letter to his brother that night keeping it simple and to the point.


I know what you said to my son the day of Don Louis’ funeral. I never thought my own brother, someone I looked up to and would give my life for would ever betray me like you have. Don’t think I will let this go Scott. You were wrong in telling Miguel what you did, let’s just see if you can say it to my face when I come home.


He was surprised when just after new years he got a letter from Scott.


What I did was tell my nephew the truth. If you cared so much about him “ you brother ” would have come back to Lancer. It was your responsibility to be here for Miguel then Johnny, not me and not Murdoch’. You have a lot of growing up you need to do Johnny and you are a long way from ever being a father to your son. We have nothing to discuss if you come back here, something you might want to know though. Since you have been away from this ranch for over a year, you are no longer a third owner of Lancer. You see in our contract it states that it is void if one of us leaves Lancer for more than six months, the missing party has no legal claim to the land or it’s holdings. Might want to think about that. Murdoch won’t come right out and say it, so I will. He doesn’t want you here any longer, you have cost him business and friends, but because of your reputation as a gunfighter he is afraid to say anything for fear of you gunning him down just like other good people in this valley are afraid also.


Johnny couldn’t believe what he read. Now he knew for certain his brother for some unforeseen reason wanted him gone from Lancer and no longer a partner. Should he write to his father and ask if what Scott stated was true? Or should he wait until he got back to Lancer and ask it face to face. Always good at reading a person’s face, he decided he would wait. If what his brother said is true, then he would leave Lancer and if his son didn’t want him as a father, he would leave and with the money he had, purchase a small spread and build it up into a horse ranch.

“ You got everything you’ll need in case it snows Johnny?” Zeb asked as he walked into the barn.

“ Yeah…….I sent a wire telling Murdoch we’re heading out.” Johnny answered.

“ Listen…..I know Lancer’ your home Johnny, but you’re always welcome here.”

“ Thanks Zeb……I just might come back here if things go the way I feel.”

“ I’m a good listener if you want to talk about whats been bothering you Johnny.”

“ That obvious huh?……No..this is something between me and my brother I gotta work out.”

“ Well if it doesn’t, you come on back here, you’ll be more than welcomed. You’re a part of this family now, and I mean that.”Zeb said with a smile and slap to Johnny’ back.

“ Beth might not like hearing you say that.” Johnny said.

“ My ranch so I don’t give a hoot what that girl likes……It seems kids today reach a certain age and they want nothing to do with the folks except for money.” Zeb stated.

“ Yeah, amongst other things.” Johnny added.

“ Oh, listen I have a surprise for you Johnny. In appreciation for all you’ve done for me, I want you to have Rocket……..Hell he’s more your horse now anyways.” Zeb said as Billy walked the beautiful coal black stallion out of the back.

“ Zeb I can’t accept him……….He’s your best breeder, you said so yourself.”

“ Yeah, and I also know that you want to start your own horse ranch Johnny, and Barranca there is what eleven, twelve years old………Take him and make your dream start to happen.”

“ Thank you Zeb……I mean that…..I’ll take good care of him.” Johnny said as he patted the stallions neck.

“ I know you will…….Listen I get the feeling you and your brother………well just you don’t forget you are always welcome here.” Zeb said before walking out of the barn.

“ He’s really gonna miss you Johnny……We all are.” Billy stated. “ You know, for a gunfighter you sure ain’t what I thought they were like……It’s been a real pleasure knowing you……..I consider you a good friend.”

“ Thanks Billy……I consider you a good friend also………Liked ya from the time we met……..As far as the gunfighter part, we’re not all the same….Some are bad……I just never hit rock bottom is all.” Johnny said as he thought about just how close he had come. “ You know what they call a gunfighter Billy?”

Billy shook his head.

“ We’re fallin angels, brought down to hell the good book say’s….. Men beyond redemption.”

“ Do you believe that?” Billy asked.

“ I used to before I learned the truth from my old man……..It’s amazing you know, how in a split second you can either pull the trigger and kill someone you grew up hating because of the lies you were led to believe, or you can opt for a second chance….a new beginning at a good life.”

“ Believe it or not Johnny, I was headed in the wrong direction when Zeb took me in…..Not as a gunfighter, but almost as bad.”

 Ain’t nothing as bad as a gunfighter Billy……Whether we kill for money….or to stay alive…….killin’ is killin’.”

“ You know Daryl is still out there…..You be careful.” Billy said to change the subject.

“ Yeah, guess I should have killed him that day.” Johnny said before heading to the house to get the rest of his stuff and son.

Three days into the ride home Johnny and Miguel rode into a small trading post encampment. The sky was clear and blue as a chilly wind blew down off the snow capped mountains. Mountains taller than what he had seen in Montana reaching right up to the heavens it seemed.

“ Let’s give the horses a rest son and see if we can get a hot meal.” Johnny said as he reined Barranca over to the hitch rail and got down. “ You alright?” he asked.

“ Yes sir……What kind of place is this papa?” he asked as he jumped down.

“ I believe it’s a trading post for trappers son.” Johnny answered as he looked around as he removed his rifle.

“ Will our horses and things be alright?”

“ I think so……only two other horses here…..come on.” Johnny said as he stepped up onto the porch.

“ Howdy stranger…….what can I get for you and the boy?” a woman asked from behind a make shift counter of wood planks sitting on two barrels.

“ Ma’am…..you got anything hot to eat?”

“ Sure do…..I got elk steaks or stew…which would you prefer?”

“What you want son?”

“ Stew please ma’am.”

“ I’ll have a steak and whatever else comes with it.” Johnny said as he sat down in the corner with his back to the wall.

“ You got it, one steak and potato’s and a plate of stew coming up……Care for anything to wash it down with?”

“ What ya got?”

“ Rye or rock gut…….I ain’t got no milk, but I got lemonade for the boy.”

“ We’ll both have lemonade I think ma’am.” Johnny answered.

An hour  later Johnny and his son finished  eating.

“ That was good ma’am…….what do I owe you?”

“ That’ll be three dollars.”

Johnny paid the woman, thanked her again and headed  out the door. “ We can get a couple more miles in before we make camp for the night son.” he said as he checked Miguel’ cinch.

“ Okay…….papa.”

“ Yeah son.”

“ I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you……..I know now it was wrong and what uncle Scott told me was wrong……..I should have never believed you would do something like that.”

“ Son, listen to me….I don’t know why he told you what he did, me and him will have a discussion about that as I told him in a letter. I love you and would fight to the death for you.”

“ I know that…but I still hate that I treated you like I did.” Miguel said as he mounted up.

“ Well, tell you what……How about from right now we start over, clean slate?”

“ Okay.” Miguel answered with a big smile.

That night, camped next to a beautiful dark blue lake, Johnny lay back against his saddle and looked up at the stars.

“ They sure are pretty ain’t they papa?”

“ Yeah they are son. Hey look at that.” Johnny said as a shooting star went across the sky.

“ Uncle Scott said that when a star dies it falls from the sky and lands here on earth.” Miguel stated.

“ Yeah……..I guess it would.” Johnny answered.

“ Papa……are you and uncle Scott going to fight?”

Johnny looked at him. “ I don’t know son……..I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what you told me he said to you. He was wrong in saying that to you.”

“ Will Lancer still be our home?”

“ Why do you ask that son?”

Miguel got up and went to Angel.

Johnny knew something was still bothering his son, something else he felt his brother had said to his nephew that had been left out when Miguel told. Getting up he walked over to his son and stood there looking at him.

“ Son, why did you ask me if Lancer would still be our home?”

“ Because of something uncle Scott said to me on the train when we where coming here.”

“ Come back over to the fire and talk to me son, please.” Johnny asked softly as he forced the anger away he got knowing what his son was going to tell him.

Miguel followed his father back over to the fire and sat down. “ He told me that because you had been away from Lancer so long that you where no longer owned part of it. That half of Lancer was now his because you abandoned it.”

Johnny sat there looking at his son, unable to speak at the moment, due to the anger he had, not for his son, but for his brother. After a few minutes he finally spoke.

“ Your grandpa is the only one who can say who is a partner still son. He calls the tune, if grandpa doesn’t want me as a third owner any longer. Then me and you will buy our own ranch and start a horse ranch up for ourselves.

“ Grandpa would never throw us off Lancer, but uncle Scott……….”

“ Miguel, I don’t want you worrying about your uncle Scott….and no matter what happens between me and him when we get back……..I want you to stay out of it okay?”

“ Yes sir.”

“ Okay, now why don’t you try and get some sleep, I’m going to go check the horses and stay up for a spell.”

Murdoch sat at his desk reading the letter he received from his friend Zeb.


I am writing this letter to you so you know some of what is bothering your son when he comes home.

As you know Johnny and Beth where seeing each other. I had hoped that your son would become my son in law, he is such a good man. His past meant nothing to me, because I got the chance to know the real Johnny. I did see the Madrid side of him and found it somewhat hard to believe it to be the same man. Well as I said Johnny and Beth continued to see each other after you left, but then something happened between the two. My daughter, whom I thought I had raised up right changed. She became hateful and rude toward Johnny.  I knew nothing of a problem between them until the afternoon my daughter came into the house when me and Johnny where discussing Miguel’ foal. She was rude and hateful to Johnny, but what she said to me after Johnny left the room shocked me and I found it hard to believe my daughter would talk the way she did.

I truly believe your son was in love with Beth and was planning to ask her to marry him. I feel this in my heart old friend. When Johnny and his son left here, I know he is still hurt over the way Beth treated him. I also know that something pretty serious has happened between the brothers. I told Johnny that he is always welcomed here, and he is. The knowledge that boy has and the special touch he has with a horse is something you should be proud of. He has a very special gift that shouldn’t be wasted. I have a feeling though that your two sons are going to get into a very heated fight and feel I should warn you of this. I feel this because when I told Johnny he is always welcome here and will always have a place to stay, he told me that he just might take me up on that if things didn’t work out right at home.

I’m not trying to steal your son from you by no means, but you need to know that I feel something serious is going to happen between your two sons when he does get there. Johnny isn’t one to talk about what bothers him to others. I think given his past he has learned to keep it inside. I learned a lot from your son while he was here, but getting him to talk about what was bothering him was like pulling teeth.

I know you searched for Johnny for a long time Murdoch and I truly hope that you know just how special your youngest son is. He could have easily killed Daryl that day, but he didn’t and that cost him later. Daryl is still out there and I hope that him and Johnny do not meet up again because if they do, I know Johnny will kill him this time.

Well it’s getting late here my friend so I think I will close this letter now. Oh ask Johnny about the big Bull Elk he killed last fall. Tell him that Billy and Jack miss him and say hello.

Zeb Cotter.

Murdoch sat there with concern on his face as his oldest walked into the house.

“ Scott….I want a word with you young man.” he said firmly as he stood up.

“ Can it wait sir, I’m dirty and would like to get cleaned up before dinner?” Scott answered.

“ No it can not…..I received a letter from Zeb, Johnny and Miguel are on there way back. They left three weeks ago.”

“ So?” Scott said snidely as he went and poured a drink.

“ I am going to ask you something and I want an honest answer from you.”

Scott let out a big sigh before downing his drink. “ Let me guess, this has something to do with Johnny?”

“ Yes it does…..Did you write a letter to you brother telling him he wasn’t welcomed back here? That e was no longer a part owner in this ranch?”

“ Yes damn it, I did….I told him in a letter I wrote him in response to one he sent me.”

“ Do you realize what you have done?……..When Johnny gets back here I hope you are ready because from what Zeb says Johnny is going to come after you for that or whatever else you have said to him………I suggest you tell me now son because I will not have that boy leaving Lancer again because he doesn’t feel wanted here.”

“ I don’t have to tell you anything sir. This is between me and Johnny and if he wants to come after me for what I said in that letter and what I told Miguel on the train ride to Montana…..let him because I will not back down.” Scott said firmly before slamming his glass down and storming from the room.

Murdoch stood there wondering what could have happened to make his oldest son turn on his brother the way he had and want him off Lancer forever. Something the patriarch vowed would never happen as long as he lived.

                                                                  Chapter 12

Johnny woke as the sun was starting to show the first rays of light in the east. Looking he couldn’t help but smile at how the snow on the peaks were a red color from the suns rays. Looking over at his son, who was still fast asleep in his sleeping bag, Johnny decided to let him sleep in a little as he walked over and felt the coffee pot was still hot sitting on the stone. Pouring a cup he walked over to check the horses and take care of his needs before starting on their breakfast.

“ Hey amigo.” he said as he rubbed the golden stallions face. “ Yeah I know buddy….I think this just might be your last long ride. You’re getting up there in age buddy and I don’t want you getting hurt.

How about I retire you to breeding only when we get back?” he asked. Barranca snorted and swished his tail bringing a soft laugh from Johnny.

Walking over he gave the same affection to Rocket and Angel and the pack horses before checking their lines and returning to the fire to start on breakfast.

“ Morning papa.” Miguel said behind sleepy eyes as he stretched.

“ Good morning son…..you go time to take care of your needs before breakfast is done.” Johnny answered as he forked some bacon around in the skillet.

“ Okay. I’ll check on the horses too, unless you already did?” Miguel said as he climbed out of his sleeping bag.

“ I did just as the sun was coming up, but you can again. I’m sure Angel would like to see you. Just be careful around Rocket.”

“ I will papa.” Miguel stated as he walked over to where his father was knelt down at the fire and gave him a hug around the neck. “ It smells good.”

Johnny reached behind him with his left arm and hugged his son back. “ Thanks.”

Two hours later Johnny and Miguel were headed southwest again along the river.

“ Papa, will grandpa be made if you and uncle Scott fight?”

“ Grandpa Lancer isn’t going to be around when me and Scott have our talk.” Johnny said as he stopped Barranca. “ Son….I know a part of you still feels like this is your fault, but it’s not. If anyone’s to blame it’s me……I’m the one who did what I did in Mexico and I’m the one who left Lancer instead of staying when I heard I was wanted. I should have stayed and took my chances with that marshal.”

“ But papa, if you had, that marshal would have arrested you and sent you to prison.”

“Listen to me Miguel. When a man makes the choice to do what I did, or break the law, he has two choices….Do you know what they are?”

“ Si papa, I know. That man can either spend his life being wanted by the law, or he can pay up for what he has done wrong……Is that right?”

“ Yes son, that’s it.” Johnny answered as they started riding again. “ I want to ask you something Miguel, and I want you to think about it and give me your answer tonight okay?”

“ Si papa.”

“ Do you think I was wrong when I sent grandpa Lancer and uncle Scott back home and made you stay in Montana with me?”

“ I don’t need to think about it because I know now why you did it.” Miguel answered.

“ You want to tell me?”

“ Because you love me and wanted us to be like before you left Lancer……..Papa, why did senora Beth and you stop seeing each other?”

Johnny, wanting an honest relationship with his son, told him why Beth stopped seeing him.

“ Miguel I want you to remember what I am going to tell you son. I will never choose a woman over you. If I find one to be my wife someday, she has to accept you above all other. If she doesn’t, then she will not be my wife.”

“ But papa, you deserve to be happy and have a wife.”

“ If I’m to have a wife son, she will have to accept and love you as well as me and my past.”

“ Yes sir…….How come you not ride Rocket and give Barranca a rest?”

“ I was thinking about that this morning son. How about it amigo, would you like me to give you a rest tomorrow and ride Rocket instead?”

Barranca tossed his head up and down and sidestepped,swishing his tail as he arched his neck and whinnied loud.

Murdoch walked into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee, turning he seen his oldest just coming down the hall. The look on his face told the big man that he obviously had something deep on his mind.

“ Son, you look like you didn’t sleep at all last night.” he said as he could see dark circles under his sons eyes.

“ I didn’t. I’ve been up all night thinking sir.” Scott responded as he poured a cup of coffee.

“ Care to talk about what it is bothering you….. Or do I already know?”

“ I think you better sit down because I don’t think you are going to like what I have to say.” Scott said as he sat down and stared down at his mug of coffee.

Murdoch sat down across from his oldest. “ Go ahead.”

“ I sat in Johnny’ room most of the night thinking about him and his past before he came here, I mean what he’s told me and us about it…..and since he’s been here at Lancer everything that has happened because of him, both good and bad.” Scott started. “ I think you know what is going to happen between me and Johnny when he comes back here sir……..I………I know what I’ve done was wrong……and I have no excuse for it….as his big brother I let him down in the worst way……..I betrayed that trust he had in me when I said what I did to my nephew……..I have no one to blame but myself for saying those things to Miguel.” Scott said without looking up. “ Johnny has been hurt by people betraying him so much in his past, he stopped trusting people. He told me things that were done to him. Things that I wish to god I could have protected him from, but I couldn’t, and now that I’m able to, I betrayed his trust………I lost my brother and if I can’t get him to forgive me for the wrong I have done to him……..I’m going to go back to Boston sir. I can’t stay here knowing Johnny hates me and that we can never be brothers again.”

“ Son…can I ask you why you did it?” Murdoch asked softly.

Scott laughed softly, mostly to himself as he finally looked up at his father. “ I’m jealous…….I grew up with everything planned for me by my grandfather, I had friends I could do things with, all the stuff Johnny didn’t. I don’t know what it’s like to be without because I always had everything I asked for.” Scott said with a raised voice. “ Damn it I was jealous of Johnny because of what he’s done, who he is, what he is.”

“ I don’t think I understand how you could be jealous of him for not having.” Murdoch asked.

“ Don’t you see, all his life since Maria took him away from here, Johnny has done without until he had had enough and started taking what he wanted with his gun. I’ve never went without, never had to worry about friends, money, clothes, girls, a roof over my head or family. Johnny has had no one to care for him, protect him, love and raise him the way he should have been raised.”

“ Okay, so then you’re jealous of what your brother didn’t have, is that it?”

“ No…..I’m jealous of him being able to make his own choices. Johnny chose to live by his gun, he chose to become the fastest gunfighter in the southwest, he chose to use his gun to help others who were unfortunate  like he was………The only good I ever got to do was when I joined the army. I got to make choices during the war. Choices that peoples lives depended on. Johnny has done that every day of his life, made choices……..He thought of our safety above his own when he chose to go to Montana. Did you know that Johnny had a will written up naming me in the event of his death as guardian to Miguel, my own brother trusted me enough to raise his son if he got killed.” Scott told as he stood up and turned away from his father.

Murdoch was speechless. Apparently his youngest son had cared and loved his brother enough to ask him to do something as important as raising his son.

“ How did you feel when Johnny asked you to do this?” Murdoch finally asked.

“ He did ask me….He told me he had done up the will one day while in town before Don Louis died…. I told him I would be honored to raise his son for him if he ever got killed.” Scott said with a slight quiver to his voice.

“ Scott, I don’t think you have lost your brother……..I think that the two of you need to sit down and you need to tell him what you have told me……..Johnny is a reasonable man and I think that once he hears that, he’ll forgive you.”

“ He may forgive me, but he will never trust me again…….Johnny will never trust me again like he did before…….He’ll never trust me enough to talk to me about things that only brothers talk about…Loosing his trust is just as bad as loosing him, if not the same.”

“ You know, in all the years your brother has been back here, he has taught me one valuable thing.” Murdoch stated. “ Your brother has taught me that everyone deserves a second chance. I think because of that, he will give you a second chance. It may take a little work and time, but I believe in my heart son that he will give you a second chance.”

One week later Johnny and Miguel rode into Salt Lake City just as a storm started blowing in from the west.

“ Let’s get a room first son and then take care of the horses.” Johnny suggested as he got down from Barranca.

“ Okay papa.” Miguel answered. “ Looks like it’s going to storm.”

“ Yeah it does, grab your saddlebags and rifle son.” Johnny said as he pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and stepped up onto the walkway.

“ What can I do for you?” the clerk behind the counter asked.

“ Like a room for a night, maybe two if that storm coming in is as bad as it looks.” Johnny said as he set his saddlebags on the floor and leaned the rifle against the counter.

“Just you and the boy?” the clerk asked.

“ Yeah, my son.”

“ Okay it’s three dollars a night, each. The dining room is open until ten. Just need you to sign the register.” the clerk stated as he turned the register book around.

Johnny signed the book and took out some bills to pay the man. “ Could we get a hot bath drawn up in our room or do we need to go to a bath house?”

“ No, you and the boy can get a hot bath in your room. When did you want it?”

“ We got horses to take to the livery, about an hour.”

“ Very well sir.” he said as he turned the book around and looked at the name. “ Lancer?”

“ Yeah, that’s right.”

“ Are you one of the Lancer’ from Morro Coyo?”

“ Yeah, why?”

“ I have a telegram that arrived three days ago for you.” the clerk said as he turned and pulled the wire out of a slot and gave it to Johnny along with the key. “ Number two at the top of the stairs mister Lancer. I’ll have your bath all ready for you by the time you and the boy return. I can take your luggage up to the room if you like?”

“ Thank you. We just have our saddlebags and rifles.” Johnny answered as he tucked the wire in his Bolero jacket pocket. “ Come on son, lets get them horses taken care of.”

“ Make sure you wash behind you ears son.” Johnny said as he removed his gun belt.

“ Yes sir. Papa who’s the wire from?”

“ I don’t know. I completely forgot about it.” he answered as he took the wire out and opened it. “ It’s from Grandpa Lancer.” he answered as he started to read it.

Son, I know now what is going on between you and your brother. The two of you need to have a talk when you get home. I think you will be surprised at why he said what he did. I know I was. Please listen to him before you act.

Zeb sent a wire telling me you had left Montana. I miss my grandson and I hope the two of you are doing good.

Come home soon son, Lancer is your home and always will be.


“ What does it say papa?” Miguel asked.

“ He says he misses you and wants us to come home.” he told him, leaving out the part about Scott.

“ You want to eat up here or in the dining room?”

“ I don’t care papa. It’s whatever you want to do.” Miguel answered as he stood up to get out of the tub. “ I’m all done now.”

“ Okay, go ahead and get dried off and take out that book Robinson Caruso I bought you and read some to me while I get cleaned up.” Johnny said as he shucked his drawers and climbed in the tub.

“ That was a really good steak ma’am.” Johnny told the lady as she took their plates.

“ Why thank you. Would you or the boy care for a slice of apple pie with your coffee and milk?”

“ Oh I think a slice of apple pie sounds real good. You got room for it son?”

“ Yes sir. A piece of apple pie does sound good ma’am. Thank you.”

“ I must say, your son is very well mannered mister Lancer. I be right back with the pie and some more coffee.”

“ Excuse me, but did I hear Lucy call you Lancer?” a man asked from across the room.

“ Yeah.” Johnny answered.

“ Why you must be the halfbreed bastard son old man Lancer looked for for all those years.”

“ Mister, I don’t much care for the way you’re talking around my son. If you got a problem with me, I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself.”

Two other couples in the dining room glanced from the man to Johnny.

“ I’m also sure that these other fine folks would prefer to not here you speak like that, especially when there are ladies present.”

“ I’ll speak any way I like….I know who you are. You ain’t no Lancer.” the man said as he stood up and walked over to Johnny’ table.

“ That’ll be enough Cory. I don’t need you starting no trouble in my establishment. Is that clear?”

“ You got more trouble than you think Lucy, letting this halfbreed killer Johnny Madrid eat here.”

“ Miguel, go on up to the room son.” Johnny ordered as he stood up.

“ I mean it Cory, Leave the man alone. He isn’t bothering nobody.”

“ This should cover the meal ma’am. I’m sorry I caused you and these other fine folks any trouble.” Johnny said as he paid the woman and headed to the stairs where Miguel was waiting.

“ Hey Madrid.” Cory yelled.

Johnny spun and drew in one fast motion. “ I wouldn’t, not if you want to keep on breathing.” Johnny said as he cocked the colt. “ Unbuckle it real slow.”

Cory ended up swallowing the chew he had, startled by the speed in which Madrid drew and turned facing him.

“ Drop it mister.” another voice said from Johnny’ right.

Johnny un cocked his colt and let it drop to the floor. “ I’m not looking for no trouble sheriff.”

“ It’s Cory who be causing trouble Stan.” Lucy stated. “ Mister Lancer was just having dinner with his son when Cory started in. He was going to try and shoot him in the back Stan.”

“ Is that true Cory? You going to draw on Lancer here and shoot him in the back?”

“ He ain’t no Lancer sheriff. That’s Johnny Madrid.”

The sheriff looked at Johnny, his eyes hard as he recognized the man before him. “ Lancer or Madrid, don’t give you a right to try and shoot the man in the back…….You want to press charges on him?”

“ No, I don’t want no trouble sheriff. I’m just here for the night with my son. Well be leaving in the morning.”

“ Alright.” the sheriff said as he picked up Johnny’ colt and handed it back to him. “ If you are Madrid and you go causing trouble in my town. I’ll throw your ass in jail. Kid or no kid, understand?”

“ Yeah, I hear ya sheriff.” Johnny answered. “ Ma’am, thank you again for the fine meal.”

“ Cory, I want you to get on home and don’t you bother this man again, understand?”

“ Yeah sure.” Cory answered as he shot a hard look at Johnny as he walked past and out the door.

“ You say you’re leaving in the morning?” the sheriff asked.

“ If the storm is past, yeah.” Johnny responded.

“ You watch yourself with Cory, him and his brother like to cause trouble.” Stan warned.

“ I ain’t looking for trouble sheriff. I’ve dealt with his kind before.”

“ I expect you have, still, watch yourself. I’ll see ya Lucy.”

Up in the room Johnny sat on the bed next to his son, hating that again his boy had to watch him draw his gun in self defense.

“ Papa why did that man say those hateful words to you? We wasn’t bothering no one.”

“ I know son. I don’t know why he did. I guess him and his kind will always have a hate for people like me.”

“ You mean as a gunfighter……or a mestizo?”

“ Both I reckon son. Sounds like that storm is really blowing out there. If you get to where you don’t like that lightening you can crawl in bed with me okay?”

“ I’m a big boy now papa. I don’t get scared of storms no more.”

Johnny laughed softly and smiled before bending down and kissing his sons forehead. “ Night son.”

“ Night papa.”

“ That sure is a fine looking stallion you got there mister. He wouldn’t be for sale would he?” a man asked as he walked into the barn.

“ No, none of them are for sale.” Johnny answered as he tightened the pack. “ You done son?”

“ Yes sir.”

“ Okay take him and Angel outside.”

“ Excuse me, I’m Jake Logan, I have a ranch about eight miles outside town.” the man said as he stepped over to Rocket and reached out to touch the stallion, quickly drawing his hand back as the stallion went to bite.

“ He don’t like strangers mister.” Johnny said as he came over to the black and led him and the pack horses outside.

“ I’ll give you one thousand dollars for him and another five hundred for the filly your son took outside.”

“ Mister Logan, these horses aren’t for sale.” Johnny stated flatly.

“ Everything has a price on it.” Logan stated as he reached out again to touch the black. This time he received a bite from Barranca.

“ I told you they are not for sale. Now if you will excuse me. Lets go son.” Johnny said, not bothering to ask how bad the man got bit.

Johnny noticed the man from last night with another he assumed was his brother watching as they rode out of town.

“ That black will fetch us a nice sum.” Cory said to his brother Lee.

“ Yeah, we’ll let them ride out and follow. That stallion and little filly will be ours real soon.”

“ Yeah, neither one is branded, Let’s go get some breakfast, and keep quiet about this.” Lee ordered.

“ Let’s make camp here son, there’s plenty of grass and water for the horses.” Johnny stated as he got down and dropped the lead to Barranca and got off the stallion. “ Take Angel, Rocket and Barranca down to drink son while I get the stuff off the packhorse.”

“ Okay papa. You think grandpa will be happy when he gets the wire you sent?” Miguel said as he got down and took the reins to Rocket and led him and Barranca down to the stream.

“ I expect he will son.”Johnny stated as he  started undoing the pack when he noticed sun reflecting off something shiny. Looking in that direction as his son came back with the horses.

“ Want me to unsaddle them papa?”

“ No, we’re not staying here. We got company and out in the open like this, get mounted.” Johnny ordered.

“ Who is it?” Miguel asked as he mounted up.

“ I think the one from last night and his brother. Sheriff said they like to cause trouble.” Johnny said as he swung up onto the stallion. “ Son if I tell you to ride hard, I want you to let Angel go and get that horse running. You don’t stop or look back for nothing, understand?”

“ Si papa, I understand.”

“ Okay, let’s go.”

“ I thought you said they would make camp and we could get those horses tonight?”

“ He must have seen us following……Look are you sure that’s Madrid?” Lee asked.

“ Oh yeah, I’m sure it’s him. I seen him below the border once. He wasn’t much more than a kid then. Ain’t no forgetting those eyes or that rig he wears.”

“You said he’s going by the name Lancer……the Lancer I heard of has a huge spread over in California, big spread and someone with a big spread will have a lot of money.”

“ You thinking that stallion is for the Lancer spread?”

“ Why else would he have it. Let’s drop off and camp for the night, let him keep riding if he wants, we know where he’s headed.”

“ I’m tired papa, the horses are tired.”

“ I know son. We’ll stop for a couple hours. You get some rest, I’ll take care of the horses. There’s some beef jerky in my saddlebags you can eat.” Johnny said as he got down.

Johnny watched the first rays of light start in the eastern sky, wishing he had a cup of coffee.

“ Son, wake up we need to get moving.” he called as he checked the horses.

Miguel stretched and yawned before crawling out of his blanket. “ Are they near?” he asked as he stood up.

“ No, there’s no sign of them, but we need to get moving.”

“ Papa, are they after you?”

“ I don’t know son. They watched us ride out of town. They could be after the horses. Let’s go. You can eat some jerky as we ride.” He said as he tightened his cinch.

“ You’re not going to ride Barranca?”

“ No son. If they chase us, Rocket has the speed for us to get away on. Barranca will follow, so will Angel. We may lose the pack horses, but it’s a small price to pay for your safety.”

Murdoch stood in the yard reading the wire with a smile on his face.

“ Is that from Johnny?” Scott asked as he came over from the barn.

“ Yes, they left Salt Lake City this morning.”

“ Salt Lake City, that means they should be here in about two weeks.” Scott said.

“ I expect so. Listen I want you to do some serious thinking about how you are going to tell your brother what you told me son, okay?”

“ Believe me I have sir. I’m going to get cleaned up and maybe ride into town for a cold beer. Care to join me?”

“ That sounds good, but no, you go on and have a good time and why don’t you take tomorrow off? You’ve been working hard, calving season is slowing down.”

“ Thank you.” Scott said before heading to the house.

Murdoch watched his oldest walk away and knew the worry of losing his brother weighed heavy on his mind. “ Scott.” he called as he started toward the house.

Scott stopped and waited for his father.

“ You know, I think I will go into town with you tonight, only I’m buying the beers.”

“ Sounds good to me.” Scott said with a smile.

Johnny and Miguel rode across the barren Nevada desert at a walk as the sun beat down on them.

“ Let’s stop and give the horses a drink of water son.” Johnny said as he reined the black in.

“ Are those men still following us?” Miguel asked as he got down.

“ Maybe. Here pour a little water in your hat and give it to them and eat some jerky. I’m going to ride up on that hill and take a look.” Johnny said as he handed his canteen to him. “ Watch Barranca, he’ll try to hog the water son. I’ll be right back.”

“ Okay papa.” Miguel answered as he poured water in his hat and let Angel drink.

Johnny loped the black up the hill and stopped just shy of the top, so he wouldn’t be seen, getting down he ground tied the stallion and eased his way up to a big enough rock to stay behind and looked back east. Glancing down at his son watering the horses he smiled, happy that the two of them were becoming father and son again. Could he do the same with his brother he wondered as he thought about the wire his father had sent. What could have made the one person he trusted with his life and to care for his son if he was ever killed, to turn on him and say and do what he had? This was one question he hoped would be answered when he got back. An answer he may not like, but still in all, it would be the reason for the betrayal.

Watching the horizon, Johnny could see no sign of whoever had been following them. Easing his way back to the black, Johnny rode back down to his son and got down.

“ Give him a drink for me son while I check the packs.” he said as he walked over to the pack horses and started checking the gear.

“ Did you see any sign of them?” Miguel asked as the black eagerly drank the water.

“ No. I know of an abandoned weigh station we can camp at for the night. The barn still has a roof on it and there’s a well there that isn’t dried up.”

“ How far?” Miguel asked as he walked over to him.

“ Couple hours ride southwest of here. Comanchero’s raided it several years ago and the stage line never bothered to rebuild the house.”

“ What’s the name of this place?”

“ Stampede station…..It was a change out station for horses. Wells Fargo built it so the horses could be changed out on the way from Tuscarora to Carlin in the early seventies.”

“ Papa, how is it you know this?” Miguel asked before taking a bite of Jerky.

“ I worked in this area for a man long before you where born.”

“ Did you kill men for him?”

“ Yeah son, I did. There were some bad men stealing his gold he worked hard to get and I happened along and helped him.”

“ Whatever happened to him?”

“ He got enough money that he moved to some state called Florida.”

“ Uncle Scott showed me that state on a map once.”

“ Yeah….listen I want you to do some reading a sums tonight okay? You’re gonna have to go back to school when we get back and I want you to be up on that stuff okay?”

“ Okay. I like reading Robinson Caruso……He was a really smart man.”

“ I expect he would have to be to have a book wrote about him.”

“ Yeah, but he’s not as smart as you are papa. Ain’t nobody as smart as you are.”

Johnny smiled as he reached into his saddlebag and took out some jerky. “ A lot of people are smarter than me son. I just learned what I know the hard way is all…….I want you to not have to grow up learning like I did.”

“ You may not be as smart as uncle Scott, but to me you’re the smartest papa a boy could ever have.”

Johnny found himself getting choked up at hearing what his son just said. Catching movement on the ground just to his sons left.

“ Miguel, don’t move.” he said right before he drew and fired. A rattlesnake not two feet from his son coiled and was ready to strike when it’s head exploded from the bullet.

Miguel jumped toward his father a  second after the shot.

“ You alright?” Johnny asked with worry in his voice.

“ Si papa, I am okay.” Miguel said as he looked at the now headless snake. “ It is a big one Si?”

“ Yeah son, it is. Lets get going so we can groom these horses good tonight, they deserve it.”

“ Okay.” Miguel answered as he mounted up. “ Papa, thank you.”

“ You’re welcome son. You think I’m gonna let a rattler take away the best thing to ever happen to me.” he said with a smile.

“ Papa, when will I be able to start breaking and riding Angel?”

“ Well son, she’s not even two yet. I reckon by next spring you’ll be able to start her getting used to a saddle on her back. You’ll need to keep working with her every day after school and your chores are done remember?”

“ Si, I will. Could you maybe help me teach her to come to me when I whistle like Barranca does you?”

“ She already comes to you when you call her, but I can help you teach her to come when you whistle.”

“That shot wasn’t all that far off……..You think it was Madrid?”

“ Maybe. Stampede station is southwest of here. Maybe he knows about it and will go there for the night.” Lee stated

“ Stampede station? What’s that?” Cory asked.

“ It’s an abandoned weigh station where they used to change out horses between Tuscarora and Carlin. The barn is still standing and there’s a well.”

“ Hey Lee, you think the two of us will be able to take Madrid?”

“ We will if we get the jump on him. He’ll most likely be keeping watch while his kid sleeps tonight, so I figure we can maybe wait till they ride out and take him then.”

“ And what we gonna do about the kid?”

“Leave him with his dead old man.” Lee said coldly.

Cory laughed. “ Yeah, maybe shoot Madrid so’s the kid has ta watch him die a slow death.”

“ Maybe brother, maybe. Let’s get going so we can get around them and set up camp.”

“ Set up camp. You mean we’re gonna have a fire?”

“ No dummy, Madrid will smell the smoke. You really are stupid sometimes Cory. Just come on.”Lee said as he kicked his horse.

 Authors note.

The place where Johnny and Miguel are headed is a real place. Stampede station was used as a horse-changing stop on the Tuscarora to Carlin road during the 1870’s. It’s exact location is unknown except that it was located near a good flowing spring along the west side of Lone Mountain. The facility was used for a time as a drop off point for supplies heading to the miners scattered around Lone Mountain.

                                                                   Chapter 13

Johnny and Miguel sat eating two sage hens Johnny was able to snare along the stream.

“ You want some more son?” Johnny asked as he set his plate down. “ We still have a whole bird here to eat.”

“ Yes papa.” Miguel answered as he tried to stifle a yawn and rubbed his sleepy eyes.

“ Son, you’re awful tired. I’ve got the doors locked from the inside so nobody can come in on us. Let’s get some much needed shut eye. I can keep that sage hen next to the fire to stay warm and have it for breakfast.”

Johnny and Miguel rode out just after dawn, headed southwest when a flock of quail suddenly scattered just ahead of them from some brush on a ledge.

“ Hold it right there Madrid.” a voice yelled. “ There’s a rifle pointed right at you, and one at that kids head.”

Johnny stopped Barranca and looked toward where the voice was coming from.

“ Drop the lead rope and reins and keep your hands above your head.” Lee ordered.

Johnny dropped the reins and lead rope and, looking at his son, raised his hands above his head.

“ The man from the hotel papa?” Miguel asked.

“ Yeah son, I think so. Listen to me. I want you to do exactly as I say. When they show themselves I want you to kick that horse and don’t stop for anything son.”

“ I can’t leave you.”

“ Yes you can son. I want you safe and I will do whatever I can to keep you safe. Now when I make my move and yell at you, you take off.”

Lee cane down the hillside and walked up to Johnny. “ Come on down Cory, I got him covered.” Lee yelled back up the hill. “ I want you with two fingers to carefully remove that colt from your holster and hand it down to me and then get off the horse……..You kid………you get down off your horse also.”

Johnny handed his colt to Lee, then got down from Barranca and looked at his son and gave him a nod.

Miguel didn’t move.

“ I said get off that horse now boy.” Lee yelled as he moved toward Miguel, grabbed him and yanked him off his horse.

“ You sonofabitch.” Johnny yelled as he moved to his son thrown to the ground.

Cory came up behind Johnny and hit him in the back of the head with his rifle butt, knocking him forward.

“ No.” Miguel yelled. “ Please don’t hurt him. Take our horses, but please don’t hurt my papa.” he pleaded.

Lee stepped over and grabbed the kid around the waist and pulled him away from his father. “ Oh we ain’t going to kill him……….Yet.” he said as he half threw, half tossed Miguel into the hillside. “ Sit there and don’t you move.” Lee ordered.

Johnny reached behind his head and found a fast growing bump, sticky to the touch.

“ Oh look brother, Madrid here is bleeding.” Lee stated as he walked up to Johnny. “ Get that paper out so Madrid here can write out a nice and legal bill of sale for all these horses.” he ordered.

Cory removed a piece of paper from his coat pocket and handed it to Lee.

“ Hey, gunfighter……..write out a bill of sale for all these fine horses and I won’t kill the brat.” Lee ordered as he shoved the paper in Johnny’ face. “ Write it.”

Johnny knew that with his son off his horse he wouldn’t be able to get him away like he wanted.

“ Let my son go and I’ll sign the bill of sale.” Johnny ordered.

Lee back handed Johnny, knocking him on his side where Lee proceeded to kick him hard in the ribs.

“ Stop it….stop hurting my papa.” Miguel yelled as he ran to his father.

Cory grabbed Miguel and stepped back with the boy struggling to get free. “ Make him change his mind brother.” Cory said.

Lee kicked Johnny again in the chest flipping him onto his back. Drawing his foot back to kick him again, Lee found himself on the ground.

Johnny swiped his right arm out and hit his attacker just bellow the knees, knocking his feet out from under him. Chest hurting, Johnny moved and got on top of Lee, hitting him in the face twice before Lee brought his left knee up into the small of his back, knocking him off balance.

Lee took advantage of Madrid being off balance and shoved him to his right, back over onto his back and wrapped his fingers around his throat.

Johnny grabbed at Lee’ hand, but was unable to loosen the hold around his throat. Struggling to breath, he reached down inside his left boot and pulled out the knife he carried there and in one swift movement, brought it up and stuck it in Lee’ back, thrusting upward with all the strength he  had left.

Lee arched his back and cried out in pain as Johnny drove the knife into his back.

“ No Lee.” Cory screamed as he let Miguel go and ran to his fallen brother. “ Lee, get up.”

Johnny got to his feet, holding his chest and started toward his gun Lee dropped to the ground.

Cory felt the life leave his brother as he closed his eyes one last time.

“ NO…..you murdering bastard.” Cory yelled as he stood up and went to Johnny, hitting him hard in the back, between his shoulders, knocking him down and kicking him in the ribs.

 “ I’ll kill you, you sonofabitch……you murdered my brother.” Cory vented before kicking him again.

Miguel watched helplessly as his father was  beaten. When Cory threw the rifle away and launched himself on Johnny, Miguel went and picked the rifle up.

“ Get away from my papa now.” he yelled.

Cory looked at him and slowly stood up. “ You won’t shoot me boy.” he said with confidence.

“ Move away from him now.” Miguel ordered, keeping the rifle aimed at Cory.

Cory moved off Johnny and took a step toward the boy. “ You won’t shoot me kid……You don’t have the guts.” he said as he stepped closer.

Miguel looked at his father laying on the ground, hurting.

Johnny rolled onto his side and tried to stand up, looking he seen his son holding a rifle, pointed right at Cory. Looking at his pistol to his right about ten feet away he started to crawl to it as best he could as he silently prayed his son wouldn’t have to pull the trigger.

Cory kept slowly stepping toward Miguel. “ Why don’t you give me that rifle boy and I’ll ride out of here and leave you and your pa alone.” Cory said, now about twenty feet from him.

Miguel seen his father crawling toward his gun as he started to back away from the advancing Cory.

“ No, you get on your horse and leave now.” Miguel ordered.

Cory kept advancing toward him. “ You give me that rifle and I will.” he said just before he lunged at him.

Miguel pulled the trigger, hitting Cory in the chest.

Johnny reached his pistol and picked it up. Just as he turned around he seen his son pull the trigger and seen Cory drop to his knees. “ You shot me, you little bastard, you killed me.” he said before he fell forward dead as blood spread across his chest.

Miguel dropped the rifle and ran to his fathers side. “ Papa.” he said.

“ I’m alright son. Go get my saddlebags and canteen off Barranca.”

Miguel ran to Barranca and pulled the saddlebags  and canteen off and ran back to his father.

“ Papa, you need a doctor.”

I’ll be alright.” he told him, knowing at least one of his ribs was fractured.

“ What about your ribs?”

“ I’ll have you wrap them up for me.” Johnny told him, seeing the worry on his sons face. “ Hey….I’ll be alright.”

“ I killed that man……..I didn’t want to, he made me.”

“ Hey, listen to me Miguel. If you hadn’t done what you did son. I would be dead and so would you. I didn’t want to kill that one, but it was your safety I was worried about, not mine. I would gladly give my life to protect you. You’re all I have.”

“ You have grandpa Lancer and uncle Scott.”

“ Not the same thing son, maybe when you’re a little older you’ll understand what I mean……Get in the saddlebags and take out a roll of bandages for me so you can wrap my ribs up.”

“ Papa you look weak. Maybe we should go back to the barn and let you rest?”

“ I can make it son.” Johnny said,trying to keep his son from worrying to much. He also was worried about the fact that his ten year old son had to kill a man. Not knowing how that would affect him. He knew how it did him when he killed his first man all those years ago. It made him sick inside.

“ Papa I………” Miguel started before running over behind the big cottonwood tree.

Johnny stood up and stepped around the tree, to his son. Holding his ribs he placed his right hand on Miguel’ back.

“ It’s okay son. I’m proud of you for stepping up and doing what you did.” he told him.

“ I know, but why does it make me feel so bad doing it?”

“ Hey, I felt the same way son after I killed my first man………Miguel come sit down with me please.”

Miguel helped his father go back in the shade and sit down.

“ Son anybody can kill a man, but it’s impossible to bring him back to life………..now I’m not saying this to you to make you feel worse about what you did……..I’m telling you because I’ve been in your shoes, felt the way you feel right now and I still do with every man I am forced to kill……It makes me sick to have had you see me kill that man with my knife, but I like you, had no choice………..I’ve dealt with their kind before and I knew they would not let us live if I gave them what they wanted……..Can you understand what I’m saying to you?” Johnny asked as he sucked in air from the throbbing pain in his leg.

“ Yes sir.” Miguel said as tears started to run down his cheeks.

“ Hey, come here.” Johnny said as he pulled his son into his chest, ignoring his own pain and hugged him. “ Let it out son. There’s nothing wrong with crying. It’s okay.” Johnny told him as tears escaped his eyes.

“I don’t believe this……Sheriff this has got to be a joke?” Murdoch demanded.

“ I’m sorry mister Lancer.” Val said. “ I got the notice from the prison this morning.”

“ What’s wrong?” Scott asked as he walked in. “ I could here you yelling outside.”

“ Teresa will be released on parole the end of the week.” Murdoch told him.

“ Uh, mister Lancer, Scott, I’m afraid Teresa will have to come back to Morro Coyo to stay until her parole is up.”

“ What.” Murdoch yelled.

“ Absolutely not. That woman is to be no where near Johnny or my grandson.”

“ She can’t come here Val. You know what she did to Johnny.”

“ Look I’m not happy about this either. All I can do is make sure she don’t come around Lancer. Johnny will have to make sure to stay away from her when he’s in town.”

“ So you’re saying that my son is supposed to give up his freedom when he gets back and stay out of Morro Coyo?” Murdoch demanded.

“ How long is her parole?” Scott asked.

“ Just under two years.”

“ Damn it Val.” Murdoch yelled.

“ Don’t go yelling at me…….I didn’t have ta ride out here and tell you.” Val yelled back as he grabbed up his hat and headed to the door. “ No wonder Johnny stayed away from you two so dang long.” He said before storming out the door.

“ What do we do now?” Scott asked.

“ There’s nothing we can do until your brother get’s home……..I do know that that girl is not going to come anywhere near my grandson.”

“ You know this isn’t going to be good for Johnny?” Scott added.

Murdoch looked at him, anger clearly showing on his face. Possible trouble between his two sons and now this. The Lancer patriarch didn’t know how he would be able to keep his youngest at Lancer now. Could Teresa being back here be the breaking point that drives his son to leave the only home he has ever really known or had?

Johnny and Miguel rode into Fresno three days later and got a room for the night.

“ Papa, you should have a doctor look at your ribs.” Miguel suggested. The boy had noticed how when ever his father rode, he kept his right arm tucked into his side. Barranca seemed to sense and walked easier than usual.

“ I’ll let Sam do it son. We can be back at Lancer tomorrow afternoon.” Johnny told him as he opened the door to their room. “ A hot tub of water will help with the soreness.” he stated as he tossed his rifle and saddlebags on the bed. “ Are you alright?” he asked.

“ I’m alright papa. It’s you I’m worried about.”

Johnny could tell killing Cory still bothered his son deeply. Ever since the shooting, Miguel didn’t smile or ask about the country they rode through like he had been. He let it slide on him not reading at night, figuring the boy had enough to deal with right now.

Two hours later Johnny soaked in a steaming hot tub with his head back and his eyes closed.

“ Papa, I don’t like the bruises. They are dark.” Miguel stated.

Johnny opened his eyes and looked at his son. “ Yeah. They’ll keep until we get home son.” he told him as he stood up and carefully climbed out of the tub. “ Why don’t you go downstairs and have the cook fix us a couple steaks and bring them up to the room? I don’t feel much like eating in the dining room tonight.” Johnny said as he pulled out the money satchel and handed him two dollars. Get us a couple glasses of buttermilk to go with it if they have any.”

“ Okay Papa.” Miguel answered as he took the money and went to the door. “ I love you.” he told his father.

“ I love you too son.”

“ Mister Lancer.” Walt yelled. “ Look.” he said as he pointed to the east.

Murdoch looked and knew who he was seeing riding in leading several horses. A big smile came to his face as he walked toward the corral where Johnny and Miguel would ride. He could tell by the way his son was riding that something was wrong.

Scott rode into the yard and looked at the two riders coming in. “ That’s Johnny and Miguel.” he stated.

“ Something is wrong with your brother son. Ride out and help him with those horses.” Murdoch asked his oldest to do.

“ Yes sir.” Scott answered as he galloped off.

Miguel seen Scott riding toward them and kicked his horse into a trot.

“ Uncle Scott, papa is hurt………He needs the doctor.”

“ What’s wrong Johnny?” Scott asked as he reined up next to him. He could see his brother holding his ribs.

“ I got some badly bruised ribs. I think one is broke.” Johnny said as he handed off the horses he was leading.

“ Miguel, give me your horses and ride on ahead and tell grandpa so he can send a man for Sam.” Scot instructed.

 Miguel handed over his horses and galloped off.

Johnny reined Barranca in and found both his brother and father right there to help him down. “ I sent a hand to fetch the doctor son. Let’s get you in the house and in bed.” Murdoch stated as he put an arm around his youngest and started toward the door.

“ Miguel, help Walt with the horses son. Especially Rocket.”

“ Don’t worry about the horses right now son. They’ll be taken care of. Right now we need to take care of you.” Murdoch instructed.

Johnny’ chest hurt to much to argue as he stepped into the foyer and slowly started to climb the stairs with his father on his left side as he hung on to the banister. Each step he took jarred his battered ribs.

“ Just take your time brother.” Scott said.

Johnny shot him a look that clearly said to not call him that. The look not going unnoticed by his father.

“ Scott would you go turn down your brothers bed.” Murdoch asked.

Scott looked at Johnny as he went by and on upstairs.

Murdoch helped Johnny into his room. “ Let me help you get your clothes off son.”

Johnny reached down and undid his gun belt and handed it to Miguel. “ Put that in the top drawer son.”

Miguel took the pistol and did as asked, coming back and sitting on the floor to take off his boots.

“ I’ll get that Miguel.” Scott said as he moved to help his brother.

“ Don’t want your help….I don’t even want to see you right now Scott.” Johnny said firmly as he sat down on the bed.

“ Scott, maybe you should go downstairs and let Maria know they’re back and to fix Miguel something to eat.”

Scott looked at Johnny and started to say something, then didn’t.

Murdoch waited until he left the room before he spoke. “ Son, I asked you not to pass judgement on your brother until you heard why he did what he did.”

“ Not now old man. Just leave me alone.”

“ Papa no, you promised me you wouldn’t do this. Please.” Miguel pleaded.

“ Miguel go take care of the horses son.” Johnny ordered.

Murdoch helped Johnny take his shirt off and was shocked at what he seen.

“ My god son……..What happened to you?” he asked as he seen the bruising not covered up by the wrap.

“ Two brothers tried to steal our horses four days ago.” he said as he laid down.

“ Are they in jail now son?” he asked.

“ No, they’re dead.” Johnny answered. “ Listen pa, Miguel ended up killing one of them. He had no choice. I was down and couldn’t help him. If he hadn’t done it, neither one of us would be alive today.”

“ Miguel did what?”

“ I know it’s still bothering him. I’ve talked to him about it and told him how proud I was that he stood up and protected us. He knows killing isn’t right pa, so please don’t be mad at him or me for it. We had no choice.”

“ There’s always a choice, but since I wasn’t there son, who am I to pass judgment. I’ve done enough of that with you in the past.”

“ I’m tired, think I’ll just rest until Sam get’s here.” Johnny said as he closed his eyes.

“ Alright son.” Murdoch said as he stood up to leave the room. “ Johnny.”

“ Yeah.”

“ Welcome home son. We missed you.”

“ I missed you too pa.”

“ Grandpa.” Miguel shouted as he came  in the french doors. “ I missed you so much.”

“ And I missed you………Let me look at you, why I bet you’ve grown a foot in the last year. You’re almost as tall as your father.” Murdoch said as he hugged the boy.

Scott walked into the room. “ Maria has some stew hot and ready for you Miguel, I think she also has some cookies and milk.”

Miguel looked at his uncle. “ Papa is very angry with you tio.” he said. “ He want’s to beat you up for what you did, but I have been talking to him and told him that that would not be right to do.” Miguel said.

Scott looked at him then his father. “ Uh Miguel, Now isn’t the time for this, but I just want you to know that what I told you, I was wrong in saying and when your father is better maybe the three of us can talk?”

“ You will always be my tio. Papa taught me that sometimes people say bad things that they don’t mean. Words can hurt as bad as a bullet uncle Scott. I will talk with papa about giving you a second chance.”

“ Young man.” Murdoch said. “ I do believe you have done a considerable amount of growing up since you left here.” he said as he placed his hands on Miguel’ shoulders. “ You better go see Maria before she comes and drags you into the kitchen to eat.”

“ Okay grandpa.” Miguel answered before heading to the kitchen. He stopped at Scott’ side. “ I will always love you uncle Scott. Papa will also.”

Scott reached out and touched Miguel on the shoulder. “ Thank you.”

Sam came downstairs to a very eager little boy.

“ Is papa okay doctor Sam?” he asked eagerly.

“ Yes young man. He will be. Johnny has several badly bruised ribs, three of which are fractured. He told me that you are the one who kept them wrapped up for him. You did a good job young man.”

“ What about the bruises Sam? They’re so dark.” Murdoch asked.

“ Yes, Johnny said he got into a fight, Miguel was he hit or kicked in his ribs.”

“ They kicked him. They also hit him in the head with a rifle butt.”

“ They did? Johnny didn’t mention he was hit in the head.” Sam stated. “ Miguel, did he throw up or become dizzy after?”

“ He didn’t throw up, but he was dizzy I noticed the day after and last night when he got out of the tub I seen him stagger a little and grab hold of the tub. I asked him if he was okay and he said his ribs just hurt and he was short of breath.”

“ Miguel how was he when riding?”

“ He kept Barranca at a walk and I could see he was hurting when he would get on or off him.”

“ Okay……keep him in bed for a few days and keep those ribs wrapped up tight.”

“ Thank you Sam.” Murdoch said. “ Stay for supper?”

“ I expect Maria will be fixing a meal I wouldn’t miss,but unfortunately I have another patient I need to check on.” Sam answered.

“ Can I go see papa now?”

“ He’s sleeping right now.”

“ Miguel, why don’t we go outside and you can show me and Scott that horse you delivered.” Murdoch suggested.

“ Okay…Zeb gave her to me since she didn’t have a momma any more.” Miguel said as they all headed outside. Sam bade them all good bye with the promise of stopping back by tomorrow to check on Johnny again.

                                                               Chapter 14

“ When are you going to tell him?” Scott asked his father two days later.

“ Tell him what?” Murdoch asked.

“ Johnny about Teresa, he has to be told sir.”

“ I know, I’ve been thinking about that ever since they came home son. I don’t mind telling you that with the trouble between the two of you and now Teresa coming back here, I’m worried that I will loose Johnny and my grandson.”

“ I know I’m responsible for the trouble between me and Johnny. I’m going to do whatever I can to make him realize why I did what I did, but whether or not he accepts it, I don’t know.”

“ Have you been up there to see him at all since he came back?” Murdoch asked.

“ No, I didn’t want to fuel his anger toward me, or cause him to lash out at me while his ribs are healing. It’s not like him to stay in that bed.”

“ I know, I’m going to go up and talk to him. I’ll ask him if he wants to see you yet.”.

Johnny sat in a chair, looking out the window with the same question going through his mind. Miguel would come and eat breakfast with him, bring him his lunch, but eat dinner downstairs. A knock at his door brought him out of his thoughts.

“ Yeah.” he said loud enough to be heard.

Murdoch opened the door and stepped into the room.

“ Son, I was wondering if we could talk?” Murdoch asked. He could see his son had something was weighing heavy on his mind as he walked over and sat down in the other empty chair.

Johnny just looked out the window. Sighing he finally looked at his father.

“ Are you alright son?” Murdoch asked, the reason for his coming to his sons room forgotten.

Johnny remained quiet for a few minutes as he picked at the table top, flicking at something that wasn’t there.

“ I’ve been sitting here asking myself over and over, where I went wrong with Miguel….Scott.” he said softly.

Murdoch decided to remain quiet, his instincts telling him his son wanted, needed to talk to him.

“ I keep asking myself why. Why would my brother turn on me like he did and try and turn my son against me? The only reason I can come up with,is he’s jealous of what I have. I mean why else would Scott turn on me like that? He didn’t do it to save me, because I wasn’t even here. Scott’ jealous of me having a son and I think the reason he’s jealous is because he feels I don’t deserve to have a happy life. He doesn’t want me to have a son, a home or life as Johnny Lancer………Scott wants me to stay as Johnny Madrid…….and get killed.” Johnny said as a tear ran down his cheek.

Murdoch couldn’t be silent any longer. “ That’s not true son. Your brother is jealous of you, he told me so, look I was going to let him tell you this and he needs to, but you need to know, Scott is jealous of you, not because you have a son or a home, Scott is jealous of you because unlike him, you got to make your own choices. Him being raised by his grandfather, he never got to have that, not until he came here……..Johnny, your brother loves you more than you will ever know……I can’t force you to accept the why, all I can ask is that you listen to him and in the end do what you have always done in your life………….Make the right choice.”

Johnny wiped at the tears in his eyes threatening to spill over.

Murdoch reached across the table and took his sons hands in his, feeling his hands trembling.

“ It’s alright son………you’ve been under a lot of stress the last three years.” Murdoch told him, hoping he could get through the wall he knew all to well his son had put up.

Johnny yanked his hand free and let Madrid surface as he stood up suddenly, Slamming his left fist into the wall so suddenly, it shocked even him.

Murdoch stood up and went to him, grabbing his arm. “ Johnny stop.” he said firmly as he tried to look at his hand.

“ Leave it.” Johnny ordered as he tried to pull his hand free. “ Let go and get out.” he ordered.

Murdoch tightened his grip. “ Son stop it……let me check your hand damn it.” he ordered.

Johnny pushed at him with his right hand. “ Get out, just leave me alone.”

“ Papa, what’s wrong?” Miguel asked as he came into the room.

“ Miguel, have a hand go and get Sam.” Murdoch ordered. “ Johnny stop fighting me.”

Miguel ran from the room and downstairs. “ Uncle Scott, papa and grandpa are fighting. Grandpa wants me to get Sam.”

Scott stood up and hurried upstairs to his brothers room, finding his father trying to settle his struggling brother down.

Johnny shoved his father again and got free. “ You sonofabitch.” he yelled as he lashed out and hit his brother, knocking him to the floor. “ You’re jealous of me? Jealous of what I had……..I had nothing you bastard, nothing until I came here and you tried to take that away from me.” Johnny vented as he hit Scott again.

Murdoch pulled Johnny off Scott and shoved him down on the bed.“ Stop this right now.”

“ You told him?” Scott asked angrily as he got up and wiped at the blood on his mouth.

“ Yes I told him.” Murdoch yelled. “Johnny you need to settle down son.” he ordered.

Johnny tried to get up again, but was shoved back down to the bed. “ Get out, get out now before I forget you are my brother.”

Scott stepped toward him.

Johnny lunged at his brother again, but this time he was the one to receive the blow as Scott struck out and hit him square in the face, knocking him backwards.

Damn it, stop this now, both of you.”Murdoch ordered as he got between the two. “ Scott get out.”

“ You go to hell Johnny. I had my reasons, but it’s clear you don’t want to be a ma and allow me to explain to you.”

“ You got nothing to say to me that I want to hear.” Johnny shot back. “ Get the fuck out of my room, get out of here now or so help me………..”

Murdoch lashed pout and slapped his youngest hard across the face. “ This stops now……..I will not have this family torn apart like this…….you’re brothers…..Scott please go downstairs and wait until Sam gets here.”

“ I trusted you……I told you things I’ve never told anyone. You were supposed to be my brother.” Johnny said with anger.

“ I am your brother……..Look Johnny you need to calm down and be more rational about this. Now is not the time.”

“ There will never be a time……..I’m taking my son and leaving here…….As long as you are here, I will not stay in this house.” Johnny shot back. “ You betrayed me in the worst way a brother ever could.”

“ I told you he wouldn’t listen to reason………..You don’t have to worry about staying here with me at this ranch…….I’ll be gone by months end.” Scott said before leaving the room.

Johnny glared at the now empty doorway. Pain finally registered from his left hand as Johnny brought it up to his chest, cradling it as he sat back.

“ Damn you boy……..I suggest you do some serious thinking about what just happened here between the two of you, because if you weren’t a grown man, right now I would turn you over my knee.”Murdoch ordered. “ And I’m not all that sure you’re a man, acting the way you just did to your brother……………Scott has been hurting inside because of what he did. It has been tearing him up…….You wouldn’t know that though because you weren’t here…..You didn’t see him the day he broke down and told me what he said to Miguel, how he cried.” Murdoch vented angrily before storming from the room, almost plowing Sam down in the hall.

“ Murdoch, you mind telling me what is going on now?’ he asked.

“ That stubborn son of mine lashed out and attacked his brother, but before that he slammed his left fist into the wall.”

“So is it safe to say that my patient is upset right now?”

“ Upset is an understatement Sam…….That boy is down right unreasonable right now.”

“ you know, I asked you to keep Johnny still while his ribs healed…….making him upset so bad to cause him to do what you say he has done is not following my orders.” Sam vented before pushing past Murdoch and into his patients room.

Sam came downstairs an hour later, anger could clearly be seen on his face.

“ Oh all the stupid things. I cannot believe you would do that to your brother Scott.”

“ I don’t need a lecture from you Sam. You have no idea what is going on between me and Johnny.” Scott shot back.

“ I know what I was just told by my patient……I also know that when Johnny is well enough he is leaving here……quite frankly I don’t blame him……After all that boy has been through in his life……you, the one person he looked up to and trusted, betrayed him in the worst way.”

“ What about his hand Sam?’ Murdoch cut in.

“ He didn’t break it,but it is badly bruised. I wrapped it and he’s not going to be able to use it for a while……..Do you even realize the hurt Johnny has right now Scott? I have never seen him like that before, and believe me, what you have done has hurt him more than anything done to him before.”Sam vented. “ I suggest you stay away from Johnny right now, both of you, just let him think about this. You of all people Scott know that Johnny has to work things out in his own way,in his own time.”

Johnny stood next to the corral fence three weeks later watching his son work Angel. Scott and his father where going over the books in the house. Scott having already made arrangements for his return back to Boston in less than a week. It was mid morning now and the words his father told him that day in his room as to why he had said what he did have been heavy on his mind ever since.

“ Miguel………. go saddle Barranca for me son.” he asked.

“ Doctor Sam doesn’t want you riding a horse yet papa.” Miguel said as he walked over to the fence with Angel.

“ I know son, but some things won’t wait until Sam says I can ride, now go do as I ask.”

Johnny walked into the grand room and found his father and brother talking.

“ I think the two of us need to take a ride Scott.” Johnny said more than asked.

Murdoch and Scott both looked up from the ledgers, neither having heard Johnny enter the room.

“ We’re in the middle of balancing the books son, and I do believe Sam has not released you to ride yet.”

“ Yeah well, I don’t give a fuck about the books or what Sam says. We need to talk and I don’t need you or anyone else around. This is between me and him.” Johnny said firmly.

“ I’m not going anywhere with you Johnny.” Scott said.

“ Look, you can either be man enough to take a ride with me, or you can tuck tail and run back to Boston to that lying no good grandfather of yours. I don’t care.” Johnny said before walking out.

Scott looked at his father.

“ The choice is yours son. I don’t like the two of you being alone together, but he has had three weeks to think about this and it is the first time he’s talked to you.”

“ Yeah three weeks he hasn’t said one thing to me. Miguel either.”

“ I think Miguel is because of Johnny. He doesn’t talk to me but very little at breakfast and he eats dinner with Johnny up in his room.

“ You know, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I never thought it would go like this.”

“ I guess maybe I shouldn’t have said anything to him that day son. I’m sorry.”

“ No, it was bound to happen. He had every right to hit me that day. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

“ Johnny had no right to hit you. Fighting with you is not going to settle this son. The two of you need to talk this out. He needs to listen to you and if he can’t do that……I don’t want you leaving here son. Lancer is your home as much as it is his. The three of us are partners.”

“ I know,I just don’t see any other way. I mean if Johnny can’t forgive me and accept why I did it. Then one of us has to leave and I don’t want you loosing your grandson because of something I did.”

“ Loosing you is just as bad as loosing Miguel and Johnny.”

“ Uncle Scott, are you and papa going to talk?” Miguel asked as he walked into the room.

Scott looked at his nephew, but didn’t speak as he headed to the door.

Murdoch stood watching as his two sons rode out of the yard, Johnny just a little ahead of Scott.

“I hope papa and uncle Scott don’t fight.” Miguel said.

Murdoch placed a hand on the boys shoulder. “ So do I Miguel, so do I.” he said before turning and going back into the house.

Miguel watched until he couldn’t see the two any longer, then turned and went into the house and over to where Murdoch was at his desk.

“Grandpa Lancer…….can I ask you a question?” he asked as his fingers played along the desk edge.

Murdoch looked up at him. He could see the boy had something serious on his mind. He also noticed that his grandson did just like his father with his hands when he had something on his mind.

“ Go ahead, you know you can ask me anything you want young man.” he told him.

“ It’s about uncle Scott………..Why did he do what he did to me………tell me that my papa didn’t want me anymore?”

“ That is what your father is going to find out. It’s not for me to tell you why……….All I can do is ask that you think about why he did it and if you can understand and forgive him.” Murdoch answered.

“ You know don’t you?” Miguel asked.

“ Yes, your uncle Scott has been pretty torn up about it……..He has even said that if it doesn’t work out between the two of them, that he would move back to Boston.”

Miguel stepped around to him. “ It’s my fault. I should have never treated papa the way I did in Montana grandpa……..Me and papa are working through it though.”

“ Well young man, that’s the only thing you can do is try and get through it and move on……You know, sometimes something like this can make the people involved grow closer.”

“ I hope so…….I love you grandpa.”

Murdoch pulled Miguel into a hug. “ And I love you………Your father is doing a great job raising you young man………Why don’t we go see if we can talk Maria into some cookies and milk?”

Johnny rode to the top of the hill overlooking the ranch and got down, dropping the reins to Barranca so he could graze. Walking over to the big oak tree he stood there looking out at the valley below.

Scott got down and stepped over close to his brother, inside he knew to just wait and listen, that what his brother would say would weigh heavy on where the two went from this day forward.

Johnny pushed his hat back to hang by the stampede strap between his shoulders and leaned into the tree.

“ When my mother died and I was left all alone, I used to wish I had a big brother, someone to take care of me, protect me. I had nobody, being a halfbreed, folks didn’t care that I was alone. Hell the mission they stuck me in sure the hell didn’t.” Johnny said softly as he looked out at the ranch below.

“ When I came here Scott, I came for one reason only, but when I learned I had me a brother that day we got off the stage……………you risked your life to save mine when I was shot in the back by Pardee. I ain’t never had somebody care about me enough to do that, except maybe Val. Me and you been through a lot the ten years I’ve been here. I’ve told you things that not even Val knows. Things I thought I could trust you with.” Johnny stated with a little anger.

“ You can trust me Johnny.” Scott said back.

Johnny looked at him. “Trust? I trusted you with my son and you betrayed me in the worst way Scott.

All my life I’ve been betrayed by people, but when your own brother does it,a brother I would give my life to protect….”

“ Look Johnny I know what I said to Miguel was wrong, and I’m sorry……….I’ll make it right with him.” Scott started to say.

No you won’t.”Johnny cut in. “ Miguel knows the truth now, and that’s all that matters to me……… Murdoch told me why you did it……or why you claim you did it, but you know I don’t buy it……….I don’t buy that you told my son I abandoned him because you were jealous of me………What the fuck could I have that you would be so jealous of that it would make you say what you did and I suggest you think real hard about your answer brother………real hard.”Johnny said with firmness and anger.

Scott removed his hat and stepped over next to Johnny. “ You think growing up, having everything I wanted, friends, money, clothes, food, you think having all that was great?………You’re wrong Johnny. I didn’t have the freedom you had……….the freedom to go where I wanted, do what I wanted. My grandfather ran my life……He told me what school to go to, how to conduct myself proper………Hell he even told me who I could have as friends………so don’t go telling me you had a rough life, because my life until I came here wasn’t easy.”

“ Wasn’t easy……that’s bullshit Scott……….you don’t know the first thing about having it rough…….being beaten almost every day, going to bed cold and hungry.”

“ And what……….that’s my fault?” Scott snapped back. “ Are you saying it’s my fault your mother took you away from all this and became a whore?”

Johnny lashed out and grabbed Scott by his shirt, spun him around and slammed him into the tree trunk. “Don’t…….don’t you ever talk about my mother like that again.” he ordered, breathing hard and glaring inches from his face.

Scott brought his hands up between Johnny’ and shoved back. “ You’re the one who said she became a whore down there Johnny………You seem to want to blame everyone else for her taking you away from here………..You know what little brother……….it’s in the past………get over it and move on.”

Johnny lashed out again, hitting Scott hard, knocking him back into the tree. “ You don’t know anything about blame……You think that just because you went to that fancy college that you’re smarter…….Well let me remind you brother, I learned my lessons the hard way……Yeah there are people I blame for my past, that padre who abused me at the mission, my old man for even sleeping with my mother……You think I had freedom…….the only freedom I had, I took and I took it with this damn gun.” Johnny vented as he pulled the colt out. Fourteen years old when I killed my first man……I had no childhood……..I had nobody but this colt for my friend………nobody.”

“ Maybe if you hadn’t picked that damn gun up, you would have had friends. You ever stop and think about that?”

“ You sonofabitch……….you know nothing about my past, but what I told you………all this time I thought you where my brother, but you’re just like all the others, all you care about is yourself.” Johnny vented before walking away from him a few feet.

“ That’s bullshit Johnny and you know it……..I do care about you…….You ran from here when you were told you were a wanted man in Mexico…….Your grandfather got that taken care of. Did you come back here after……….NO you stayed in Montana for over two years……..Big bad tough Johnny Madrid ran like a coward.”

That did it, Johnny spun around and in two fast steps reached his brother and slugged him hard in the gut, knocking the wind from him, following it with a punch to his face.

Scott gasped for air then swung on Johnny, hitting him in the mouth hard. “I don’t want to fight with you Johnny, stop this now.”he ordered as he stood ready with both fist up.

Johnny lunged with his head down, hitting Scott in the gut and knocking them both to the ground.

Scott anticipated what his brother might do and grabbed his arms as he rolled Johnny over onto his back, pinning him down.

This isn’t the way Johnny……You want to hate me this bad, fine, but I’m not going to fight you.”

Johnny bucked upwards and knocked Scott off balance just enough so he could roll him off his chest and scramble to his feet. Standing there, glaring down at him, fist ready, Madrid in full control now.

“ You can continue to beat me Johnny, but it’s not going to solve anything brother………I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.” Scott said as he got up. “ Look, I’ll leave Lancer. I’ll go back to Boston and you can have my share of the ranch, stay here and raise your son.”

Johnny turned away from him and stepped over to the edge and looked down. “ I love this land more than anything god created Scott……I’ve never had a family or home, never thought I would until I came here……..I don’t want you to leave Lancer it’s your home too……….We’ve been brothers for ten years. Murdoch needs you, he needs both of us.” Johnny said as he turned around and faced him. “ I don’t know if I can ever trust you again, but I do know I don’t want to leave here and I don’t want you too either.” he told him.

“ So where does that leave us then?” Scott asked.

“ Right now………business partners, but with time, we might be able to get back what we once had.”

“ Johnny, I’ll do whatever I have too to get us back to being brothers again.”

“ Yeah……listen I need to be alone right now Scott.” Johnny said as he walked over to Barranca and checked the cinch before swinging up in the saddle. “ I’m sorry about hitting you.” he added as he wiped at the blood on his mouth.

“ Forget it, brothers fight sometimes.”Scott told him.

“ Yeah well……..I’ll see ya.” Johnny said softly as he turned Barranca and galloped off, headed south.

Scott rode into the yard an hour later. Bruises were already showing on his face from where his little brother had hit him. His jaw hurt, even his gut still hurt a little.

“ For someone so little, you pack a good punch little brother.” Scott said as he rode into the yard and got down.

Murdoch stepped outside with Miguel and seen that only one son came back.

“ Where’s papa?” Miguel asked.

“ He had to be alone for a while to think Miguel.”

“ I’d say from the bruises on your face, it didn’t go to good between you two.” Murdoch stated. “ Are you alright?”

“ No it didn’t. I’m okay.” Scott answered.

“ Papa hit you?” Miguel asked.

“ Yeah, listen Miguel, it’s my fault your father is hurting right now…….what I did and said was wrong to you and him.”

“ He is wrong in hitting you uncle Scott….he should not have done it……..He tells me that fighting doesn’t solve anything and then he goes and fights with you.” Miguel stated.

“ Miguel, why don’t you go on inside, I need to talk to Scott alone for a few minutes.”

“ Where did papa go?”

“ He went for a ride. He needed some time to think. He’ll be back.”

Miguel turned and went back inside the house, angry that his father didn’t listen to his uncle Scott, that he chose to fight him instead.

“ You want to tell me what happened?” Murdoch asked.

“ Basically he told me that all we are right now is business partners and that maybe we can with time become brothers again.” Scott told him.

“ Am I going to loose one of my sons over this?”

“ I don’t know sir. I guess it’s up to Johnny on that…..We still have to tell him about Teresa being back here.” Scott stated.

“ I know. I just hope he doesn’t ride into town and see her and find out that way.” Murdoch said.

“ Yeah, if he does and he finds out we have known about her being back here all this time…..”

“ Yeah, lets get you inside and see what we can do about those bruises son.”

Johnny rode into Morro Coyo and headed straight to the saloon. Built up frustration and anger he knew of only one safe way to get ride of. Stepping into the saloon early afternoon, he glanced around and was glad to see only the bartender and what he wanted standing at the bar. After a cold beer and shot of tequila, Johnny headed upstairs with the girl for what he knew would be rough and hot sex.

Just over an hour later he came back downstairs and downed a cold beer, his anger abated now, before he stepped outside to head back to Lancer. Looking across the street he couldn’t believe who he was seeing. Untying Barranca he walked across the street.

What the hell are you doing here?”he demanded.

“ Why hello Johnny. I live here in Morro Coyo. I have for almost a month now.”

“ You’re supposed to be in prison Teresa.”

“ I got paroled Johnny. The judge said I could serve the remainder of my sentence here since Morro Coyo is the closest place to my home.”

“ Stay away from me and my son…….You come anywhere near Miguel and………”

“ And what…..I don’t give a care about you or that brat I gave birth to.” Teresa snapped back.

“ Is there a problem here?” the widow Harper asked.

“ No ma’am. No problem at all.” Teresa answered before turning and walking inside the dress shop.

Johnny turned and mounted Barranca and galloped out of town. The anger he had spent time with the whore loosing was now back.

Johnny walked into the house two hours later as his family sat at the table eating dinner.

“ Did you know?” he demanded as he stepped into the room and glared hard at his father.

“ Did I know what son?’ Murdoch asked.

“ Miguel, go out and take care of Barranca for me son.” Johnny said.

“ But papa we are eating supper.”

“ I told you to do something, now do it.” Johnny ordered.

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered as he stood up and headed outside, stopping and looking up at his father.

“ I’m made at you for hitting uncle Scott.”

“ Your butt is going to be getting hit if you don’t get out of here right now.” Johnny said flatly as he continued to glare at his father.

“ Would you mind telling me what the devil has gotten you so angry? You had no call to talk to my grandson like that.” Murdoch vented.

“ Did you know?” Johnny asked again.

“ Know what?”

“ Did you know that Teresa was in Morro Coyo, either of you?” Johnny demanded.

Murdoch looked at his oldest then back at Johnny. “ Yes, I was going to tell you, but when you came back, you were hurt and angry with your brother so I was going to wait and tell you son.”

“ Val came out here and told us Johnny……..She has to serve out her remaining sentence in Morro Coyo, she isn’t allowed to come on Lancer land or near you and Miguel brother.”

Johnny shot Scott a cold hard all Madrid look. “ What else are the two of you keeping from me?”

“ Johnny, we are not keeping anything from you son………I was going to tell you Teresa was back.”

“ Bullshit……have you forgotten that that woman stole my son and damned near got me killed……..You should have told me the day we got back.” Johnny said with anger.

“ Have you forgotten that when you got back son, you were hurt and not in the best of conditions for telling something like that too.” Murdoch snapped back.

Johnny stood there, anger flowing through him as he glared at his father then looked at his brother.

“ I guess now I know just what I do mean to the two of you.” he stated before turning to leave the room.

Scott reached out and grabbed his arm. “ What the hell does that mean?” he demanded.

“ You know exactly what it means.” he answered as he jerked his arm free. “ I guess I was wrong in thinking I was a part of this family, that I could trust the two of you.” he said before storming out of the house.

Scott looked at his father. “ Are you going to do something?” he asked.

“ Just what is it you think I should do?”Murdoch asked.

“ Go after him. Look, if Johnny takes Miguel and leaves Lancer because of this, are you going to be able to accept that? Because I’m not. You better talk to him sir.” Scott said before leaving the room and heading up to his room.

Murdoch stood there watching his oldest head upstairs before turning and seeing his youngest headed to the barn. Opening the french doors he headed outside as fear of losing his sons again griped him hard.

Johnny headed to the barn to tell his son something he had hoped would never happen.

Johnny.”Murdoch called.

Johnny stopped and looked at his father walking toward him. “ Not now old man. Just back off and leave me alone.” Johnny ordered before heading into the barn.

“ Son please……..we need to talk.”

“ You had plenty of time to talk to me.” Johnny snapped back as he grabbed the blacks headset went into the stall and threw it on, leading the animal out. “ Miguel, come here…….Me and you need to take a ride.” he said as he grabbed a chunk of mane and swung onto Rockets back and held out his hand for his son to swing up behind him.

“ Johnny, please.” Murdoch pleaded as he took hold of the bridle, quick to let go as the black tried to bite his hand. “ Please don’t leave me son, please.”

“ I’m not sure what I’m going to do right now old man, besides take my son someplace so we can talk.” Johnny told him as he kicked the black and rode out of the barn with Miguel hanging on behind him.

“ So it is true. You are still alive.” a man watching from the trees said softly as he watched a rider on a big black stallion lope along bareback. “ That must be your halfbreed kid she told me about…….No matter, this time I will kill you.” he said as he eased back into the trees to his horse and headed north, back to where he had made his camp just off Lancer land. “ In a few day’s Madrid, you will be dead and maybe I’ll take that stallion with me……kill the kid to if he’s with you.”

                                                               Chapter 15

Johnny galloped the black up to the top of the hill overlooking Lancer and the land he had grown to love and call his home for eleven years. A land he had become so relaxed working and living on, his past was just that, his past. Having not been called out as Johnny Madrid  helped put that past behind, that and his ten year old son.

“ Get down son.” Johnny said as he extended his left arm behind him to help the boy down.

Miguel refused his hand and scooted back over the blacks rump and down to the ground, walking away from his father to the big oak tree with Don Louis’ headstone under it.

“ You had no right hitting uncle Scott, papa.” Miguel blurted out. “ You told me that fighting is not the answer, but yet* you * ignored that and chose to fight with uncle Scott instea of listening to him and talking it out.”

“ Boy, you need to shut your mouth now, you know nothing about what is going on between me and your uncle…….I will not stand for you talking to me like this.” Johnny cut in as he jumped off the black and dropped the reins.

Miguel glared at his father before turning and dropping down next to his great grandfathers grave.

“ I wish Don Louis was still alive, he would straighten you out.” Miguel said with a  shaky voice.

“ Is that what you think of me? You think I need straightening out?” Johnny asked. “ Let me remind you son, I am not the bad guy here………Yeah I got in a fight with Scott, brothers do that sometimes….. Look, I’m not going to explain why to you because what happens between me and Scott is none of your business……I’m sorry Don Louis is not here for you. You should consider yourself lucky, I had nobody when I was your age………….Look, I didn’t bring you up here to talk about that………I brought you up here because of something I learned when I rode into town.”

“ I know what you did when you went into town. The same thing you always do…….you were with a whore…You would rather be with them instead of finding me a mother.”

Johnny had heard enough, grabbing his sons left arm, he yanked him up and around to face him. “ I am the adult here, not you. So why I go to town and what I do is no concern of yours young man…..Is that clear?”

Miguel jerked his arm free and glared at him.

“ I asked you a question…….you better damn well answer me.” Johnny ordered.

“ Yes sir.” Miguel snapped back. “ Why did you bring me up here?” he demanded.

Johnny walked over and sat down on the big oak tree limb that came down years ago.

“ Come sit down son. What I have to tell you will upset you.” Johnny said softly.

Miguel could tell his father had something to say that would affect both of them. His whole demeanor had changed so suddenly that it scared him a little.

“ Papa, are we leaving Lancer?” he asked as he sat down next to him. “ Is that what’s wrong?”

“ I don’t want to son, Lancer is our home……….Look Miguel……your mother is back…….She’s living in Morro Coyo, working at the dress shop.” Johnny said as he readied himself inside for his sons reaction.

“NO.”Miguel yelled as he stood up fast. “ She’s in prison.”

“ I know son, she’s supposed to be, but I guess the law let her go early. That or someone got her out.”

“ Papa…..I’m scared……she might try and hurt you again.” Miguel said as tears welled up in his eyes.

“ Listen to me son………I will not allow her to come anywhere near you………..Miguel, you need to know………It seems that your grandfather and uncle both knew she was in town when we got back…….She told me she had been back a month.”

“ Grandpa knew, and he didn’t say anything to us……why?”

“ He said because I was hurt when we got back…………I don’t know son………..I do know I will do whatever I have to do to keep from losing you ever again…..Miguel you are all that matters to me son…..not Lancer, Scott or Murdoch mean as much to me as you do.”

“ Papa, you need to make it right with uncle Scott………You know it is wrong to not forgive him for what he did.”

“ Son, listen to me……..right now I can’t trust Scott…….or Murdoch, not after what they have done…..right now all Scott is to me is a business partner and nothing more.” Johnny said with firmness.

“ And grandpa?”

“ Just the man who’s blood I share………..come on, it’s getting late, Rocket will be able to see from the moons light to get us back.”

“ Do you miss him?” Miguel asked as he looked at Don Louis’ headstone.

Johnny sighed. “ Yeah I do son…..I was just getting to know him when that trouble caused me to leave here…….I should have come back.”

“ You didn’t because you gave Zeb your word. You taught me that a mans word is everything father.”

Johnny looked at his son and smiled. “ You know, I think I like it when you call me father instead of papa…….Makes you sound more like a man.”

“ A man, like you became when you where my age?”

“ I thought I was a man back then son, but between you and me, I didn’t become a man, not the kind of man that really matters in life, until I had you come into my life.” Johnny said as he picked up the reins.

“ I have done more learning and growing up as I watch you grow up and learn.”

“ Don Louis said that a person is never to old to learn. He said that you showed him that being the man you are father………He told me he was very proud of you and glad he got to know the grandson he never had a chance to know when you were growing up.”

Johnny had to turn away from his son, hearing the words he spoke choked him up.

“ Are you alright?” Miguel asked.

“ Yeah.” he said as he grabbed some mane and swung up onto Rocket.” Come on son, we need to head back, it’s getting late.”

“ Father.” Miguel said as he swung up behind him. “ You’re not going to fight with grandpa or uncle Scott when we get back are you?”

“ No, I’m not going to say anything to them. I’m going to take care of the horses and go to bed son.” he answered as he turned the black and headed down the hill.

“ They’ve been gone a long time and it’s getting late.” Scott said as he walked over to the french doors and looked out.

“ I almost forgot, you got a letter today son.” Murdoch said as he opened his middle desk drawer and took the letter out.

“ A letter?” Scott inquired as he walked over and took the letter from him, turning it over he read who sent it. “ It’s from grandfather.”he said as he opened it.

Murdoch waited patiently, wondering if his son would share. He didn’t have to wait long.

“ It would seem my grandfather is coming out here on business. He will be arriving on the third.”

“ The third, that’s in two days son.” Murdoch informed as he stood up.

“ Why yes it is.” Scott answered.

“ Does he say what kind of business he is coming here on?”

“ No,he says he will be here to take care of some business and will come out to the ranch to see me.”

“ Son, can I  ask you something?”

“ Yes sir.”

“ Do you think your grandfather coming here has anything to do with Teresa.”

“ Teresa, why would you think that?”

“ Because that man despises your brother, and she did stay with him.”

“ Are you thinking he had something to do with her being paroled?”

“ I don’t know son, I think it’s something to consider, especially now that he is coming here.”

“ Who’s coming here?” Johnny asked softly as he stepped down into the room from the foyer with Miguel.

“ I didn’t hear you come in son.”

“ I asked you a question, or are you going to keep that from me also.”

“ Father, please.” Miguel said as he looked up at his father.

“ It would seem that my grandfather is coming here on a business trip. He’ll be here Friday.”

“ This Friday?” Johnny asked.

“ Yes, is it going to be a problem with him here at the ranch brother?”

Johnny looked at Scott, but didn’t answer him. “ Miguel go on up and get ready for bed son. I’ll be up in a few.”

“ Yes father.” Miguel said.” Good night grandpa, uncle Scott.”

“ Good night Miguel.”

“ Hey, doesn’t a grandfather get a hug?”

“ Yes sir, sorry.” Miguel said as he went and hugged him.

Johnny stood there and watched his son bound up the stairs, walking to the side board and pouring a shot of tequila and downing it.

“ I’ll say this one time only, so the two of you had better listen………Either one of you ever…..I mean ever keep anything from me again like you both have done and me and my son will leave this ranch and you will never see either one of us again.” Johnny stated firmly. “ As far as Harlan Garrett coming here. If he so much as says anything out of line toward me or my son, there will be consequences. I don’t care who they are, I won’t have me or my son put down by any man anymore.”

“ Son, I…….”

“ I don’t want to hear your excuses old man. I’m going to bed………..Oh…… I’m sure he told you, all we are is business partners, nothing more.” Johnny said before heading to the stairs. “ After what the two of you have done, I don’t know if I can or will ever trust either of you again.” he added before heading up the stairs and not giving either one of them a chance to respond.

“ Son, I know you want to see your grandfather, but I suggest that maybe you should keep him away from your brother while he is here.”

“ Yes sir. I know how he feels about Johnny. He’s told me so in his letters.” Scott answered. “ I guess from what Johnny said, he doesn’t think I won’t stand for grandfather talking him or Miguel down.”

“ I don’t know why your brother has become so hostile since returning?” Murdoch stated.

“ It seems that something I feel that has nothing to do with either of us is what has him upset.”

“ And because of what happened between us, he’s likely not to talk to us about it.” Murdoch added.

Scott came out of the house Friday mid afternoon as a buggy entered the Lancer yard. Glancing at the corrals he could see his brother and son working Angel.

“ Grandfather.” he said as he extended his hand. “ How are you sir?”

“ Scotty, it’s good to see you my boy.” Harlan said as he got down. “ I can’t believe you still want to live in this god forsaken land.” Harlan said as he looked around, noticing the reason why his grandson stayed at Lancer.

“ Lancer is my home sir. I’m happy out here.” Scott stated as he started to remove the luggage from the back of the buggy.

“ Well, the least you could do is find a suitable wife and give me a great grandchild………I’m sure that Murdoch would like a proper grandchild as well. One of proper breeding.”

“ Grandfather, with all due respect, I suggest that if you are going to talk like that about my brother and my nephew, I suggest you take a room in town……I will not stand for you talking  like that about my brother, or my nephew.”

“ Of course, you’re right. I’m sorry.” Harlan said as he looked to the corral and watched the man he despised. “ I see that child has grown……….What is he……ten now?”  Harlan asked.

“ Yes sir, Miguel will be eleven in the spring……Shall we head inside now sir?”

“ Yes, I would like to freshen up and rest before dinner.”

Murdoch looked up from his desk when Scott and Harlan walked into the house.

“ Hello Murdoch.” Harlan said as he stepped into the room.

“ Harlan.” Murdoch responded as he stood up and walked over and shook the mans hand. “ Scott said you are out here on business.”

“ Yes, I am thinking of starting up a freighting business around here.”

“ Grandfather, I’ll show you to your room now so you can clean up and rest before dinner.” Scott said.

“ If an old mans memory serves him right, you serve dinner at six?” he asked.

“ Yes, Scott will show you the wash room we have upstairs now……..I’ll see you at six.” Murdoch said before turning and going back to his desk.    

Miguel came into the house thirty minutes before dinner. “ Grandpa, uncle Scott.” he said as he walked into the room and found the two men sitting with another Grey haired man.

“ Miguel, I would like you to meet my grandfather, Harlan Garrett.” Scott said.

“ Hello sir.” Miguel said as he reached out to shake the mans hand.

“ The last time I saw you young man, you were a baby.” Harlan stated as he shook the boys hand.

“ You know me sir?” Miguel asked with a curious look.

“ Yes I do. You where born in Boston,and your mother stayed with me.” Harlan said right before a voice from across the room got his attention.

“ Miguel, go get cleaned up for dinner now.” Johnny ordered as he walked into the room.

“ Well, Johnny Madrid.”

“ It’s Lancer old man.” Johnny corrected harshly.

“ Johnny, you’re out of line speaking to my grandfather like that.” Scott said as he stood up.

Johnny shot his brother a very hard look. “ The I suggest you remind him who he’s talking to.”

“ He knows who he is talking to brother. It’s you I believe is the one who has forgotten who * you * are talking to.”

“ It’s alright Scotty. I’m sure your……….I’m sure Johnny meant no disrespect.” Harlan said while inside he had an unforgiving hate for the man before him his grandson loved.

“ Respect old man? Respect is something * you * will never have from me.” Johnny said before turning to leave the room.

“ Johnny.” Murdoch called as he went after his son. “ Boy, I suggest that when you come back downstairs to eat dinner, you leave your attitude upstairs……Do I make myself clear?”

Johnny shot a hard look at his father. “ Tell you what, as long as he is in this house……..I won’t be…….I’ll go stay at the south mesa line shack and work the fence line up therefor the next week.” Johnny stated.

“ You don’t have to do that son.” Murdoch stated.

“ Yeah I do. Look, you know how Scott’ grandfather feels about me so doing this is for the best.”

“ And Miguel?”

“ Miguel will be with me……I don’t need Harlan telling him about Teresa. That’s the last person I want my son hearing about.”

“ Johnny, look, you need to take some time off and get whatever it is bothering you out of your system son……….Leave Miguel here with me……I give you my word that Harlan will not speak to him about Teresa again……..I also give you my word that I will never keep anything from you ever again……You need some time off, away from everybody. Take a week and  go up to Cedar Canyon and do some  hunting or  fishing. Hell spend the week in  Green River with Val if you want.”

“ That how long he’s staying here, a week?”

“ I don’t know for sure how long that man will be in our house son…….A week is too long if you ask me.” Murdoch said. “ Listen, have dinner with me tonight and you can leave in the morning after a good nights rest……You don’t want to be riding up to Cedar Canyon in the dark.”

“ Okay, but I warn you here and now………That old man says anything……..”

“ He says anything son and he will answer to me……You are my son and Miguel is my grandson, I will not have either one of you wrongly spoken of.”

“ Alright………I’ll go get cleaned up then.” Johnny said as his son came bounding down the stairs.” Why don’t you tell Miguel while I go clean up?”

“ Tell me what father?”

“ Your grandfather will tell you.” Johnny said before bounding up the stairs two at a time.

“ Father huh?………So you’re calling him father now, instead of Pa?”

“ Yes sir………He likes it better now that I’m older.”

“ Ah, why don’t we go out on the veranda and talk young man?” Murdoch suggested as he put his right arm around him.

“ Why don’t we all go out on the veranda for an after dinner drink?” Murdoch suggested.

“ That sounds fine with me sir.” Scott said as he stood up after wiping his mouth. “ Grandfather, would you care for a brandy?”

“ Why yes I would…….I’m glad to see you still have your manners.” Harlan said as he stood up.

“ Johnny, you want some tequila?” Scott asked.

“ Why don’t you get Harlan’ drink son……….I’ll get me and Johnny’.” Murdoch suggested, noticing his youngest was still at the table with his son.

Scott glanced over and started to say something,but decided against it as he headed to the side board and poured two brandies and walked outside with his grandfather.

“ Are you okay with me going up to Cedar Canyon for a week alone son?”

“ I guess so……..I mean, grandpa said you need some time alone. He said you’ve been working to hard and are due a vacation and needed to get away from us all for a spell.”

“ Not you son…………..Scott’ grandfather mainly………Listen, I want you to be nice to him, but stay away from him if at all possible okay.”

“ I will father……..I sure don’t want to hear him talk about my mother…She’s the last person I want to hear about.”

“ Well, you keep working Angel like I showed you while I’m gone, okay?”

“ I will……..are you taking Barranca or Rocket?”

“ Probably Barranca, he’s getting old, but I think he can handle the ride up to Cedar Canyon. Besides, he won’t spook like Rocket might.” Johnny answered.

“ Father.”

“ Yeah son.”

“ When you get back……….could you please try and be brothers again with uncle Scott.”

“ Tell you what……….If you get Angel to do what I’ve been teaching you while I’m gone………..I promise you I’ll give it some serious thought………..But as long as his grandfather is here, I can’t make that promise to you son.”

“ Because that man doesn’t like you does he?”

“ No, Harlan Garrett has never liked me son.”

“ Why father?……..You’ve never done anything to him.” Miguel asked.

“ Because he thinks I’m the reason Scott didn’t return to Boston.” Johnny answered.

“ I don’t trust him……..I think he is here to do something bad……..Something to try and get uncle Scott to leave us.”

“ Maybe, but remember what I taught you………Never judge a man because of his past son.” Johnny told him as he stood up. “ Come on,lets go check the horses before you go to bed.”

Johnny woke  before the sun was up, stretching before swinging his legs over the side of the bed, sitting there, rubbing the sleep from his eyes he thought about last night and found himself smiling at how his son was growing into a man. Bending down he grabbed his pants and put them on before sitting back down to put on his boots. Saddlebags already packed last night with what he needed in change of clothes and ammunition, Johnny put on his boots and shirt,grabbed his saddlebags and rifle and headed down the back stairs to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and biscuits left over from last night. Stepping into the kitchen, the last person he expected to find up this early was sitting at the table drinking coffee.

“ Well, Johnny Madrid……I wouldn’t expect you to be up this early.” Harlan said before taking a sip of the steaming brew.

Johnny walked over and poured a cup of coffee, grabbed a biscuit and turned around, leaning back against the stove.

“ I’m going to tell you two things old man…….Two things you might do good to remember while you’re here….. One, it’s Lancer, not Madrid….and two, you say anything at all to my son again about Teresa while you’re staying here, and you’ll answer to me when I get back.”

Harlan stood up, not a man to be reckoned with, he walked over closer to Johnny. “ You think I’m afraid of a halfbreed, good for nothing like you, you are sorely mistaken……Tell me something Johnny……how does it feel having the woman who bore that halfbreed son of yours be out of prison and living so close?” Harlan asked, hatred clearly showing in his eyes.

Johnny glared at the man. “ How I feel is of no concern of yours old man.” Johnny answered in a soft, but deadly Madrid voice.

“ It cost me some favors and a little money, but getting her released early, just so she could come here and ruin your life just like you did mine was well worth it……….I would gladly pay ten times what I did to get Teresa  released, just so you and that brats lives are ruined.”

Johnny set his cup down. “ I figured you had something to do with it old man…….As far as ruining your life, I’ve never done a damn thing to you. If you got a chip on your shoulder, it’s not my fault.”

“ It’s because of you that my Scotty refuses to come back to Boston………I’d have you shot down if I thought it would bring him back to the home he belongs at…….Not living out here in this god forsaken worthless country.”

“ Grandfather.” Scott said from the bottom of the stairs as he stepped into the kitchen.

Both Johnny and Harlan turned to him. Neither one having heard him coming down the stairs.

“ Johnny is the main reason I am staying here yes, but Lancer is my home. I will not have you speaking to my brother like that.”

Johnny stood there wondering just how much his brother had heard said. He got his answer a few seconds later.

“ Johnny, I’m sorry for my grandfather blaming you for my not returning to Boston.” Scott said.

Johnny picked up his coffee and finished it, not bothering to answer his brother before he set the cup down, grabbed up his saddlebags and rifle and headed to the back door.

“ That’s not the only thing he’s done Boston.” he said with his back to them.” Why don’t you ask him about Teresa and how he’s the one who got her out early and living in Morro Coyo.”he said before walking out of the house, slamming the kitchen door behind him.

Scott looked at his grandfather. “ What is he talking about?” he asked. “ Did you have something to do with her being released early sir?”

“ I don’t know what your brother is talking about Scotty. It’s clear that he does not like me. Maybe he feels that because Teresa stayed with me, that I got her released early…….I assure you, I am out here on business only…………Now if you will excuse me, I think I will go freshen up before breakfast, after, maybe you and I could spend some time together?”

“I have work to do grandfather, this is a working ranch, and with Johnny going up to Cedar Canyon for a week, I need to do his chores as well as my own.”

“ It hardly seems fare that you have to do his work as well as your own while he goes off.” Harlan responded. “ Didn’t he take off to Montana for two years, leaving you to do all his work as well as your own?”

“ Me and Johnny do each others chores all the time….There isn’t a harder working man on this ranch than my brother.” Scott stated. “ As far as being gone two years in Montana, that was business and nothing more sir.” Scott said,not wanting his grandfather knowing why Johnny had left, or why he had stayed away that long.

Johnny led Barranca and a pack horse out of the barn just as the sun was breaking the eastern sky.

“ I was afraid I’d missed you son.” Murdoch said as he walked over with a cup of coffee in his hand. “ Did you have anything to eat yet?”

“ I had a biscuit and cup of coffee, I’ll eat something once I get up there.” Johnny said as he mounted Barranca. ‘ Take care of my son for me.”

“ You know I will……..I’m not about to let anything happen to my own grandson……….You be careful son, and I’ll see you in a week.”

“ Yeah, maybe I’ll bring an elk home.”

“ Venison would be a nice change son.”

“ He got Teresa released early, told me so in the kitchen earlier……..I don’t trust him.” Johnny said as Scott walked out to them.

“ Grandfather says he had nothing to do with her early release Johnny……..He told me that you threatened him this morning. Is that true?” Scott demanded.

“ He’s a liar Scott, but being’s he’s your grandfather, the man who raised you, I guess you would take his word over mine……Grandfather or not, that old man does anything to hurt any member of my family, I’ll kill him.” Johnny said flatly before spurring Barranca and riding out.

“ Your brother has no reason to lie about something like that son.” Murdoch informed as he watched his youngest head south.

“ So you’re taking his side on this?…….You believe what he said?”

“ I know how spiteful Harlan can be……..You yourself know how he feels about Johnny, you also know that he is not above trying something just to get you to go back to Boston.” Murdoch answered.

“ I will be taking the day off………I’m going to spend some time with my grandfather, show him around the ranch.”

“ Alright son. The surveying can wait until tomorrow………..We do need to work on the books tonight though.”

Scott looked at his father, not answering before heading back inside.

Murdoch stood there wishing he had gone with his youngest for that week away in Cedar Canyon, hunting. He knew the time Harlan Garrett stayed at Lancer would not be good. The man just couldn’t be trusted.

                                                                   Chapter 16

Johnny leaned back against his saddle, rifle by his side, a hot cup of coffee in his hand. The words his brother said to him played over and over in his mind,as well as the harsh words Harlan Garrett had said. Always good at reading people and having learned a long time ago to listen to his gut, Johnny knew the old man was behind Teresa being released early. What Johnny couldn’t figure out was why. Most of his life,Johnny had put up with the hatred of others toward him. Hatred because he was a half Mex,half Gringo, but the hatred Harlan Garrett had for him went beyond that. That man hated him because his grandson wouldn’t come back to Boston.

Scott, how could his own brother even think that what he told him was a lie? Hell, Scott knew just how vindictive his grandfather could be. He knew how the man hated him and their father. Anger started to build inside sitting there thinking about that mornings events, so getting up,Johnny walked over and started grooming his beloved Palomino’s coat.

“ You know amigo, this just might be the last long trip you and me take together buddy.” he told the stallion as he brushed his mane. “ You’re getting up there in age and I don’t want you breaking a leg or something……..How’d you like to retire to the pasture and maybe service a mare or two buddy?”

Barranca brought his head around and nipped at Johnny’s arm before tossing his head up and down.

“ Hey now. I’ll still ride ya buddy…..I just won’t be using you for the hard work. Need to let the younger horses do that.” Johnny said as he came around and rubbed the stallions face.

Barranca put his head on Johnny’s left shoulder and pulled him back into his chest.

“ Yeah I know amigo. I love you too. There will never be another horse as good as you buddy.”

Miguel walked into the the kitchen and found just his grandfather sitting at the table.

“ Morning grandpa.” he said with sadness as he sat down.

Murdoch looked up from the paper he was reading. “ Good morning. Why you sad?” heasked as he sat the paper down.

“ I miss my father……Grandpa when is that mean man gonna leave here?” Miguel asked, unaware that both Scott and Harlan had walked into the kitchen.

“ I see you have no manners just like your father young man, speaking about your elders that way.” Harlan said snidely as he walked over and sat down.

Murdoch looked at his oldest and seen he was not going to say anything about the comment.

“ You’ll do good to keep your mouth shut Harlan..I won’t have you speaking to my grandson or about my son that way.” Murdoch ordered. “ And you young man.” he said looking at Scott. “ You need to get that surveying done today.”

“ I have plans with my grandfather today. Let Johnny do it when he comes back.” Scott said as he sat down.

“ No sir. I call the tune  on this ranch and you will do the jobs I give you to do…….Is that understood?”

“ I told you I have plans today, the surveying can wait another day.”

“ No it can’t. That report has to be in by the end of the week .As a third owner of this ranch, you will do what is needed, when it is needed. Now I think I’ve been more than fare to you letting you put off your chores this week because of your grandfather being here.”

“ Fair, you want to talk fair? How fair is it that you allowed Johnny to take off from this ranch and go to Montana for two years. He’s also a third owner of this ranch and then you let him take off up to Cedar Canyon for a week again leaving me to do his chores as well as my own…….Maybe I’m sick of always having to cover for Johnny, maybe I’m sick of this ranch and you always calling the tune.” Scott blurted out as he stood up and threw his napkin down and stormed up the back stairs,Murdoch heard his bedroom door slam a few seconds later.

Looking at Harlan, Murdoch didn’t miss the smug look the man had on his face.

“ I want you out of here today. I don’t know what you have been saying to Scott to make him talk to me like that. You’re no longer welcome in my house.” Murdoch said flatly. “ Come on Miguel.”

Miguel got up and went out the back door with Murdoch, leaving Harlan sitting there alone.

Murdoch watched from the corral with Miguel as his oldest son loaded the buckboard with his grandfathers belongings. When Scott headed toward him he told Miguel to stay there and walked to meet him.

“ I’m going to run my grandfathers business for him in Green River.” Scott stated flatly. “ I need some time away from this ranch and grandfather needs someone he can trust to deal with the people out here.”

“ You’re leaving? For how long?” Murdoch asked as he tried to keep his temper in check.

“ For however long I’m needed to run his shipping business.” Scott told him as he pulled out his copy of the partnership. “ I signed my third over to Johnny…….I don’t want to be part owner of this ranch any longer.”

“ Son, please. Don’t do this……Your brother will be back day after tomorrow…….You know it will hurt him deeply if you leave here and don’t give him a chance to say goodbye.”

“ Right now sir, I don’t care what Johnny likes. It’s alright for him to be gone two years so I think I’m entitled to the same respect you gave him.” he said before turning and walking to the buckboard, climbing in and slapping the reins.

Murdoch stood there shocked at what just happened.

Johnny finished securing the second bull elk he got that morning as Barranca stomped his right front foot waiting impatiently.

“ Yeah I know amigo. You know we’re headed home huh?” Johnny asked as he walked over and patted the stallions neck. “ Be ready in a minute buddy.”he said as he walked over and made sure the fire was out then walked down and filled both canteens.

Late that afternoon Johnny rode into the Lancer yard and seen his father and son walking toward him. Jumping off Barranca Johnny grabbed his son up and gave him a big hug. Looking at his father he could tell something was wrong.

“ I’ll take care of the horses for you Johnny.” Cipriano said as he took the reins.

“ Gracias. See that that venison gets put in the ice house.” he said as he walked to his father.

“ Son….it’s good to have you home.” Murdoch said as he gave his son a quick hug. “ I see you got some meat.”

“ Yeah. I got two bulls. Got the second one early this morning. Came walking down to drink not two hundred feet from my camp. Couldn’t pass up that shot.” Johnny told him with a smile. “ Wheres Scott?” he asked.

“ Let’s go inside so you can get cleaned up for supper and we can talk?”

Johnny knew something was wrong now. The feeling hit his gut like a rock. “ He left with his grandfather didn’t he? Went back to Boston?”

“ We’ll talk inside son.” Murdoch said as they headed to the house.

“ Son would you go grab my saddlebags and rifle off Barranca for me please?”

“ Sure father.” Miguel responded before turning and heading to the barn.

“ Miguel, why don’t you help Cipriano and groom Barranca for me?”

“ Okay.” the boy said over his shoulder as he walked away.

“ You go get cleaned up son and I’ll have Maria hold supper.” Murdoch said.

Johnny didn’t say a word as he headed upstairs to his room, shutting the door he walked over and sat down on the soft bed.

“ So you left without so much as a goodbye……Guess us being brothers doesn’t really matter after all.” Johnny said to himself as his anger started and he got up and walked over to the dresser and took out a clean shirt and socks and headed to the bathhouse.

“ You been working with Angel like I showed you son?” Johnny asked as he tried to keep from looking at the empty chair next to him.

“ Yes sir. She’s doing real good learning.” Miguel answered.

“ She’s one very smart little filly son. She’s going to be a good horse for him to ride once she’s old enough and broke.” Murdoch added.

“ Yeah, she showed that up in Montana when she was only a couple hours old.” Johnny said before taking a drink of his milk. “ Any problems while I was gone son? You stayed away from old man Garrett like I asked I hope?”

“ Yes, I stayed away from him.” Miguel answered, unable to look at his father.

“ Son, whenever you can’t look at me when you answer me, it usually means that person is hiding something, or did something.”

“ Johnny…..It wasn’t Miguel. It was me……All he did was ask me in the kitchen the other morning when that mean man was leaving and neither of us had noticed Harlan and Scott had come into the kitchen.”

“ Let me guess, old man Garrett heard that and said something to you son?”

“ He did, but I handled it son.” Murdoch interjected.

“ Handled it how?”Johnny asked.

“ I ordered Harlan off Lancer. I told him he wasn’t welcome here any longer and to be gone that afternoon.”

“ And because of that Scott left with him.” Johnny demanded to know.

“ Partly yes. There’s more to your brother leaving than that son. He’s staying in Green River now running his grandfathers shipping business. He signed over his third of Lancer to you. I’m afraid Scott’ not coming back.”

Johnny threw his napkin down and stood up. “ Excuse me.” he said before leaving the table and heading outside.

“ Grandpa I think I’m gonna turn in early tonight.” Miguel said as he stood up.

“ Alright. Why don’t you go tell your father goodnight?” Murdoch suggested.

“ No……..papa’s not in a good mood right now. He’s hurting over uncle Scott leaving , so I think I’ll leave him alone.” Miguel said before heading up to his room.

Johnny stood leaning on the veranda wall just outside the french doors to the grand room, looking out across the yard. The moon was full and the sky crisp and clear. Shadows danced as the tree limbs moved. Off in the not to far distance a great horned owl called out, only to be answered my it’s mate a few seconds later, up on the hill a coyote yapped, soon joined by another. The mangy dog curled up on the porch, stood up and walked over to Johnny, the hair on it’s back and neck bristled. Johnny could hear a growl coming from deep in the dogs chest.

“ Easy Ranger, those coyotes ain’t gonna come down here with you around boy.” he said as he reached down and scratched the dogs neck.

Johnny didn’t have to turn around to know his father was standing behind him.

“ Miguel went to bed early son.” he said as he walked over and handed his son a drink. “ I thought you might like to have that.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said softly as he took the drink.

“ Coyotes acting up again?” Murdoch asked.

“ Yeah, Ranger here don’t really like them none.” Johnny said.

“ I thinks it’s more like they don’t like him son. Ranger killed one the night you left. Came down and was after the chickens. Ranger tore her up good.”

“ He killed the female, then that’s the male up there with their pups. You know he may come down after Ranger.”

“ I think the old boy can hold his own. He didn’t get a scratch on him when he killed her. One bite and he took her throat out.” Murdoch told Johnny.

“ I think I’ll take a ride into Green River tomorrow.” Johnny said.

“ I thought you might. Just son, don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t come back with you.” Murdoch said with sadness.

“ Have you been there?” he asked.

“ No I haven’t….I thought I would give him some time alone away from here and hope he comes to his senses and comes back to us.” Murdoch responded.

“ You know, I know there’s something about this you’re not telling me……I don’t know what, or why, but I guess you got your reasons.” Johnny said firmly.

“There is and I figure that that is up to your brother to tell you. If he doesn’t tomorrow, when you get back home I’ll tell you…..Is that okay?”

“ Sounds fair enough I guess. So was my son good while I was gone?”

“ Yes he was. He’s becoming quite the chess player though.”

“ You beat him at checkers yet?”

“No, but I will.” Murdoch answered with a smile.

“ I’m gonna go check on Barranca, then call it a night.”

“ Alright son, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Johnny slept until ten the next morning. Coming down the back stairs into the kitchen, he wasn’t to hungry. Seeing the kitchen empty he opted for a couple biscuits and some hot coffee.

“ I was beginning to wonder when you’d wake up son.” Murdoch said as he walked in the back door.

“ Yeah, sorry about that. Guess sleeping on the cold hard ground got to me this past week.  That or I’m getting to soft.” Johnny said with a smile.

“ Don’t worry about it.” Murdoch told him as he poured a cup of coffee. “ You still riding into Green River?”

“ Unless you need me here I’d planned on it.” Johnny answered.

“ No, I don’t know if Harlan is still here or not son. Like I told you, I haven’t seen your brother since he left Lancer Friday.”

“ You seen my son around anywhere?” Johnny asked ,wanting to change the subject.

“ Yes I have. I was just watching him work Angel in the corral. That boy takes after you when it comes to handling a horse son.”

“ Yeah, lets just hope that’s all he takes after me on.”

“ What do you mean by that?”

The look Johnny gave his father was answer enough without words.

“ He won’t son. Miguel’s got a good head on his shoulders. You picked up a gun to stay alive below the border all those years ago. He knows that and he’s not going to pick up a gun.”

“ Care to bet my third of Lancer on that?” Johnny asked as he stood up. “ He’s good with a rifle. Hell he’s killed a man and animals, and shown no remorse for it. I’ve told him it makes you sick inside. Guess it don’t with him though. He’s the age I was now when my mother died. Another couple years and…….”

“ Johnny stop…….Son Miguel isn’t going to become a gunfighter like you did. He has no reason too. He has everything he could possibly want right here.”

“ Yeah, everything I didn’t have at his age.” Johnny said. “ I’m gonna head into town.”

“ Alright son, will you be coming back tonight?” Murdoch asked as he walked with his youngest outside.

“ Maybe, maybe not. Depends on my mood and if I feel like some female company tonight or not.”

“ Alright. Give your brother my best.” Murdoch said, not pleased that his son might spend time with a saloon girl. Deep down inside he hoped and prayed that his son, now almost thirty, would find a woman to settle down with.

Johnny rode into Green River just after one and went to the sheriff’s office to see his old friend Val. Walking inside he found the deputy Carl sitting behind the desk.

“ Hey Johnny, heard you went hunting for a week. You have any luck?” the man asked as he stood up and reached out to shake Johnny’s hand.

“ Yeah I did okay. Got to big bulls……Made Maria happy for the change in meat for a spell.”

“ Wow…..hey if you’re here to see Val, I’m afraid he’s out of town till next week sometime.”

“ Next week?” Johnny asked as he slid his hat back to hang by the stampede strap between his shoulders.

“ Yeah, he’s over in Madera filling in for the sheriff there while he’s in Yuma testifying at a trial or something..You want a cup of coffee?”

“ No, no I need something a little stronger than coffee Carl.”

“ Hey I see Scott is living in town now. Him and some old man rented the old Simpson place at the end of town. Did him and your old man have a falling out or something, because Scott says he’s no longer a part owner of Lancer.”

“ The old man Scott’ been with, he still around?” Johnny asked, not wanting to tell Carl his family business.

“ Yeah. He’s not to well liked around town either.” Carl answered. “ Oh hey Johnny, there’s been a man in his early twenties or so in town last week asking around for Johnny Madrid. Haven’t seen him since though.” Carl added.

“ What’d he look like?” Johnny asked.

Carl described him and the horse and watched as Johnny’s eyes went stone cold.

“ I take it from the look on your face, you know him?”

“ Yeah. I know him Carl. He’s the sonofabitch who shot me in the back up in Montana, left me for dead.”

“ So he’s wanted for attempted murder then?” Carl asked as he went over to the desk and pulled out a pile of wanted posters.

“ In Montana, yeah.” Johnny answered.  “ Listen Carl, keep this between us okay. I don’t want my family knowing he’s around.” Johnny added as he headed to the door. “ Stop in the saloon tonight if you can and I’ll buy you a cold beer.”

“ You staying in town the night Johnny?”

“ Maybe. Depends on the women over at the Red Dog.”

“ They got a new girl over there. Man is she put together nice. Why if I wasn’t married, I’d gladly pay to lay that.” Carl said with a smile and laugh.

“ I’ll see ya Carl.” Johnny responded with a smile as he walked out the door. Untying Rocket, Johnny walked the stallion down and across the street to the Red Dog saloon. Tying the horse he looked up the street and could clearly see his brother  standing outside the new shipping business he now ran for his grandfather. He also seen another person, someone he despised just as much as he did Harlan Garrett, Teresa was standing there with him. The two of them talking.

“ Hey Pete.” Johnny said as he grabbed the boys arm as he walked past.

“ Oh hey Johnny. What’s ya need?”

“ I  need you to go tell Scott over there that I’m in the Red Dog and would like to see him alone.”

Johnny said as he took out a dollar and gave it to the boy.

“ You don’t gotta pay me nothing Johnny.”  Pete said as he tried to hand the dollar back to him.

“ Naw, you go on and keep it.” Johnny enforced.

“ Okay, thanks Johnny.” Pete said as he headed across the street to Scott.

Johnny stood there watching as Pete walked up and told Scott who looked with Teresa across the street at him. After a few seconds Johnny turned and walked into the saloon.

Johnny sat at his usual table in the corner, back against the wall so he could watch who came and went.

A half filled bottle of tequila sat in front of him with two glasses, one full. Hat down just enough to conceal his eyes,Johnny to anyone who looked, appeared to be asleep, having not moved for some time now. When the bat winged doors opened, his eyes looked and  he seen it was his brother. Lifting his head and leaning his chair back onto the back two legs, Johnny gave a slight nod of his head as Scott started toward him.

“ What, I not good enough that you could say good to my face brother?” Johnny asked as Scott sat down.

“ Look, I’m not going to get into this with you Brother. My reasons for leaving Lancer are……”

“ Your reasons for tucking tail and running are because of your grandfather.” Johnny cut in. “ When are you going to stop letting that old man run your life Scott? Hell look at this shit he’s tried in the past to get you to leave Lancer.”

Scott stood up. “ I’m not going to sit here and listen to you bad talk my grandfather Johnny. He’s the man who raised me in case you forgot.” Scott said before turning and walking out.

Johnny stood up and went after his brother, stopping him outside on the boardwalk.  “ Yeah he raised you. He raised you because he used his power and wealth. That old man lied to you Scott all these years and kept you from Murdoch.”

“ I’m warning you Johnny………..Shut up.” Scott said firmly as he stepped closer.

People on the street stopped and watched as the Lancer brothers appeared to be arguing. Teresa came over and stopped at the bottom of the steps.

“ Or what, you gonna hit me Boston?……….Go ahead if it makes you feel better.” Johnny said.

Harlan walked up to them. “ Come on Scotty, you don’t have to deal with this half breed anymore.”

“ You old man………You’ll get you due justice some day…………You’re not welcome on Lancer land anymore. His grandfather or not, you step foot on Lancer land and you’ll answer to me.” Johnny told Harlan, never taking his eyes off Scott. “ What’s the matter big brother, you get to much sand in your boots?” Johnny asked right before a right hook caught him in the jaw and knocked him back into the saloon wall.

Stop it…stop it right now.” Teresa yelled as she came bounding up the steps and got between them. “ You ought to be ashamed, brothers fighting.”

“This don’t concern you bitch.” Johnny said sharply. “ Or maybe it does. You two seem to have gotten awful friendly while I was gone…….You forget what she tried to do to me and my son, your nephew Scott?”

“ That half breed kid is not Scotty’ nephew, and you are not his brother………You are nothing more than a killer Madrid. A killer and that kid will be the same. You mark my words. He’ll……..”

Johnny drew his colt and had it mere inches from the old mans face. “ You can call me whatever you like old man. I don’t much care, but if yu ever talk about my son like that again, it’ll bee the last thing you ever say.”

“ Drop it Johnny.” Val ordered as he came up on Johnny’s left. “ The old coot  ain’t worth it…….Get him out of here Scott now.” Val ordered. “ You too Teresa, you need to leave also.”

“ Us? Why we live in Green River, he doesn’t. Just because he’s a gunfighter doesn’t mean he runs this town sheriff.” Teresa snapped back.

“ Johnny doesn’t run this town………I do. Now I’m askin’ ya nicely to leave.”

“ You rode with him. Everybody here knows the two of you are friends sheriff Crawford. They all know how you’ll look the other way when Johnny Madrid comes into town.”

“ First of all little lady, me and Johnny have never made our friendship a secret. Secondly, I don’t look the other way when or if Johnny does something wrong in my town, and I sure ain’t gonna do it because of who he used to be. Thirdly, unless you want to find yourself in my jail over night for disturbing the peace and breaking that order to stay away from Johnny………You’s better high tail it now before I forget you are a lady.”

Scott glared at Johnny before turning and walking away with his grandfather and Teresa.

“ You alright buddy?” Val asked as he placed a hand on his longtime friends left shoulder.

Johnny stepped down to Rocket and swung up in the saddle. “ I’ll see ya Val.”was all he said before turning and galloping out of town, unaware he was being watched.

Scott saddled his horse and left Green River an hour later headed to Lancer. He couldn’t leave things the way they were with his brother. Things were said in town that hurt him deeply. Things said by his grandfather mainly. He knew it would be a three hour ride from Green River to Lancer and with it almost dusk, he knew he would get there after dark as would his brother. Even with the almost full moon and clear sky, a rider would still have to be careful not to get off the road where his horse could step in a hole or stumble and fall. Something Scott knew his brother wouldn’t want happening to the stallion he was riding.

Harlan Garrett had spoke his displeasure when Scott said he was going after his brother. Hated words came out of the mans mouth. Words Scott knew all to well his little brother had put up with most of his life, until he came back to Lancer. Even after, those hated words were spoken to him still. Having seen first hand what hatred can cause in the war, Scott stood up to his grandfather and told him it was enough. That if he wanted him to run his business in Green River, then he would not speak to or of Johnny with such bigotry and hatred ever again. That was the last he had said before walking out to go to Lancer.

Johnny rode Rocket at an easy lope, not wanting to burn the stallion out on the three hour ride back to Lancer. He had planned to stay in town the night with a good woman, but the bad encounter with his brother put him in such a foul mood, Johnny knew he would take it out on the innocent girl, being rough with her, something he didn’t want to do. Especially since she wouldn’t deserve it. When Rocket suddenly pitched both ears back, Johnny knew the horse could hear something or someone behind him coming. Stopping the stallion he listened and could hear the faint sound of a horse in the distance. Moving over into the shadows, Johnny waited and couldn’t help but smile at who he seen riding toward him.

“ Well if it isn’t back shooter.” he said softly to the stallion as he got down.

Daryl wasn’t a fool. He knew just how good Madrid was, so facing him in a fair fight, he would be gunned down before he even touched leather. Taking his pistol out and holding it against his leg already cocked gave him some comfort. Keeping he pistol  close to his leg he was glad the moon was on his left, casting shadows to his right.

“ Hello back shooter.”Johnny said as Daryl rode past.

Daryl jerked his horse to a stop, startled  at the voice in the shadows. Still keeping the moon on his left, Daryl looked toward where he thought the voice came from.

“ What’s the matter Madrid? You so afraid of me that you gotta hide in the shadows?”

“ I ain’t hiding, especially from the likes of you. Back shooting and hiding seems to be what you like to do Daryl, remember?” Johnny said as he stepped out of the shadows to within thirty feet of him. “ Get off the horse, real easy like. Let’s see how you are facing a man instead of bushwhacking him.”

Daryl turned his horse just a little. “ I didn’t bushwhack you Madrid.”

“ Up in Montana, I know it was you Daryl,so don’t lie to me, just climb on down from that horse. I’ll give you a fair chance, but only one of us is riding away from here tonight, and I promise it won’t be you.”

Daryl put his thumb on the hammer, index finger on the trigger, bringing his right hand up he cocked the pistol.

“ Sure Madrid.” Daryl said as he fired.

Two shots rang out, almost as one, Daryl felt the bullet slam into his chest as his horse shied to the right and he fell, dead before he hit the ground. A small hole seeping blood over his heart.

Johnny felt the bullet tear through his left side just above his pants belt as he drew and fired his colt. Standing there glaring at Daryl thirty feet away, blood spreading across his chest. Turning, he walked back to Rocket and untied the stallion.

“ Easy boy.” he said softly as he pulled himself up into the saddle, wincing from the white hot pain he felt, placing his right hand on the wound, feeling his side wet with blood, Johnny turned the stallion and started toward home, stopping he looked  down at Daryl one last time.

“ Told you only one of us would be riding away from here,” he said before moving the stallion out.

Scott pulled his horse up when he seen another horse, riderless in the rode ahead. Drawing his gun and looking around as he walked his horse up to the other and spotted the still for laying on the ground, his chest covered in blood. A bullet hole through the mans heart.

“ Johnny.” he said aloud as he got down. Looking around, Scott noticed blood on the ground next to the body. Swinging back up in the saddle, Scott headed toward Lancer, hoping his brother stayed on the road.

Four miles later,Scott found his brother slumped over the stallions neck, the horse standing in the middle of the road.

“ Johnny.” he called as he rode up. “ Easy Rocket.” he said as he reached for the reins. “ Johnny.” he called, hearing a low moan come from his brother. “ Take it easy little brother.” Scott said as he got down from his horse. “ I sure hope this stallion will let us ride double.” he said as he got on behind his brother and pulled him up and back into his chest.

“ Scott.” Johnny mumbled.

“ Yeah Johnny, it’s me. You hang on. I’m gonna get you home.”

Murdoch sat at his desk lost in thought about his two sons when a voice yelled out his name.

“ Senor Lancer………senor Lancer…….come quick.”

Murdoch stood up and hurried out the french doors onto the veranda.

“ Senor Lancer………look.”

Murdoch look toward the Lancer arch. In the glow of the moon he could see a rider coming in on a black horse, leading another. When the rider got closer, Murdoch seen it was two riders. That the one in front was slumped to the side.

“ Johnny.” he said aloud as he started toward them.  “ Hank send a man to town and get Sam out here now.” he barked as the riders got closer.

“ He’s been shot.” Scott said as he stopped the stallion.

“ Let’s get him in the house and up to his room.” Murdoch said as he took  his youngest into his arms and carried him inside.

“ Father.”Miguel yelled as he hurried over.

“ Miguel go turn down Johnny’s bed for us. Then get the bandages and stuff and get some hot water going.” Scott ordered as he followed his father inside.

Sam came downstairs as the sun started to break on the horizon. Walking into the grand room he found two of three worried people looking at him. Johnny’s son was fast asleep in one of the chairs next to the fireplace.

“ Sam?” Scott said softly as the two Lancer men stood up and walked toward him.

“ Let’s go into the kitchen to talk.” Sam suggested, not wanting to wake Miguel up.

“ Let me get you some coffee Sam.” Scott said.

“ Thank you.” Sam responded as he sat down.

“ He’s lost a lot of blood, but the bullet went clean through. It didn’t hit any vital organs, and baring an infection and plenty of rest, Johnny should heal up okay.” Sam stated before taking a sip of the hot brew Scott gave him. “Maria is with him now. He’s going to have to stay in bed for at least a week and he’ll be weak for a spell.”

“ But he’ll live?” Scott asked.

“ Yes, he’ll live. You know how he’s prone to infections though. So I want someone with him at all times for the next three days…….I don’t want him moving around and tearing out those stitches.”

“ My papa’s going to be okay senor Sam?” Miguel asked as he came into the kitchen.

“ Yes, your father will be alright.” Sam answered.

Johnny sat up in his bed a week later thinking about the words said between him and his brother in Green River. A knock at the door brought him back to the present.

“ Yeah.”

The door opened and Scott stuck his head in. “ Can I come in?”

“ Yeah, sure. I’m just sitting here resting like Sam ordered.”

Scott walked in and closed the door and walked around the bed “I think the two of us need to talk brother.”

“ Look I’m grateful for you bringing me home Scott, but you made it pretty clear that day in Green River that I’m not your brother.”

“ Johnny, you have no idea why I left Lancer?” Scott said sharply as he walked over to the window and looked out.

“I know perfectly well why you left here Scott.” Johnny retorted. “ You know, it’s funny……me Johnny Madrid having a fancy Harvard educated……..* brother * jealous of me…….Never seen that one coming.”

Scott spun around and took three quick steps over to the bed. “ So what if I am?……..What if I’m also sick and tired of your past always showing up………..Of you damn near getting killed so many times Johnny, I’ve lost count……….Hell you take off and got to Montana leaving me here with your son for three years. Three years I covered your ass, did * your * chores………comforted your son when Don Louis died………..You come back here with a chip on your shoulder and once again our father gives you time off so you can figure out what the hell you want………Me I was stuck right here like I was while you were in Montana………I decide I’ve had enough and move to Green River to run a business for my grandfather and suddenly I’m the bad guy?”Scott vented as he glared down at Johnny. “ You……you live by a gun, follow no rules most of your life and get to do damn near anything you want. Me I followed the rules……I did what I was told………It wasn’t me who took off for three years. It wasn’t me who put his son in a position where he had to kill a man……….”

Johnny’s anger boiled. Throwing the covers back he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, the stitches pulling hard in his side. Ignoring the pain, his eyes ice cold, he stared at Scott.

“ You bastard……..you think I like people coming to kill me………you think I wanted to put my son in that position………..to not be here when Don Louis died…………I did what I had to to stay alive growing up………* YOU * got no idea what it was like for me brother……..every time I get called out, I know it could be the one time I won’t be the one walking away. I didn’t come back right away from Montana because I gave my word to Zeb……..you may not like me for who I was Scott, but I’m Lancer now and I was then, and when I give my word whether as Madrid or Lancer, I keep it.” Johnny said as sweat ran down his forehead. “ Your grandfather coming here is why I left and went to Cedar Canyon hunting. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep from fighting with him. I left because I wanted you to be able to spend time with him without me around…………..I told you the day I left he was responsible for getting Teresa out of prison, but you wouldn’t hear it……….No you stood out there in the yard and called me a liar……..

I have never lied to anyone Scott, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to lie to you, not about your grandfather……….Hell my whole life was a lie until I came here…….why the fuck would I want that for you?” Johnny said as the pain in his side got worse and he had to sit down on the bed.

Scott grabbed to towel on the night stand and dipped it in the water basin, ringing it out and attempting to wipe the sweat from his brothers forehead, only to have his hand slapped away.

“ Don’t.” Johnny said as he tried to ignore the pain. “ The only reason I stayed here was you Scott…..It wasn’t Murdoch……It was you……..Your the reason I came back here……..When I seen you last week in Green River talking and smiling at Teresa like you were……It made me sick to think you could even be near her after all she’s done to me and Miguel.”

“ Johnny, I work with her…….I’m a gentleman…..I can’t not speak to her when we work together.” Scott said, keeping his voice calm.

“ Oh and I’m not right…………I’m not a gentleman because  of who I was…..is that it?” Johnny snapped back.

“ NO. I never said you weren’t…………..Look, this is pointless Johnny, It’s getting us nowhere arguing like this.”

“ Yeah well I didn’t ask you to come in here.”

“ No, no you didn’t…….I came up here hoping we could talk. I guess I was wrong thinking we could work this out between us.” Scott said before heading to the door and opening it. “ For what it’s worth I told my grandfather I would not be running his business in Green River. That my place was here at Lancer……..with my family.” he said before walking out and shutting the door.

Johnny stared at the closed door for several minutes after his brother left.

“How did it go son?” Murdoch asked seeing the hurt look on his oldest sons face.

“ Don’t ask.” Scott responded. “ I’m going to take a ride sir……..I’ll be back in time for supper.” Scott said as he headed out the door.

As much as Murdoch wanted to, he knew going up to his youngest sons room would do no good. This had to be worked out between them. He just prayed it could be and his family would become one again.

A week later, Murdoch and Scott sat eating breakfast, talking about that days chores when Johnny came down the back stairs.

“ If my memory serves me correctly, and I believe it does. I don’t believe Sam gave you permission to come downstairs yet son. I believe he said you could move around in your room a little.”

“ Yeah well I don’t need his or anyone else telling me what I can and can’t do old man.” Johnny said as he sat down and reached to pour a cup of coffee.

“ You should not be up yet Juanito.” Maria said as she placed a plate of ham and eggs in front of him.

“ Gracia’s momacita…….I’m alright.” Johnny said as he dug into the plate of food.

Murdoch looked at his oldest before taking a sip of his coffee.

“ Father, you should still be in bed resting.” Miguel said.

“ That goes for you too young man. I don’t need you telling me what to do either………Since you’re done with your breakfast I suggest you get to doing your chores now.” Johnny said firmly.

“ Yes sir.” Miguel answered as he stood up. “ Just because you are mad at uncle Scott, don’t go taking it out on the rest of us papa.” he added before heading out the back door.

“ That was uncalled for Johnny, talking to your son like that.” Murdoch said firmly as he tossed his napkin on his plate and stood up. “ You two had better get this worked out between you before nightfall, because if you don’t, then the both of you will answer to me……..Do I make myself clear?”

Johnny ignored his father as he continued to eat.

Scott looked at the Lancer patriarch. “ Yes sir.”

“ Boy, you better answer me.” Murdoch demanded of his youngest.

Johnny stood up, glared at his father, then Scott before walking away, headed out the back door.

“ Johnny.” Murdoch called.

“ Let hm go sir. He can’t go far. He’s in no shape to ride yet.” Scott said.

“ I want to know what was said up in his room…..I also want to know what happened between you two in Green River………..Your brother never has said who shot him………I want answers and I want them now.” Murdoch demanded.

“ Maybe we should go to your office sir, and talk there?” Scott suggested.

Murdoch sat with his head down in his hands, shocked by what his oldest just told him happened between the brothers in Green River.

“ And the man who shot him?” he asked as he raised his head.

“ I don’t know who he was. Johnny killed him with one shot straight through the kids heart. Val has no idea who he is either. He figured it was just some fool trying to take………..” Scott couldn’t finish what he was saying.

“ To take your brothers damn reputation with that gun.” Murdoch finished for him.

“ Yes sir.”

“ When are they going to leave him alone.” Murdoch said more than asked. “ All he wants to do is live a life of peace. To be my son, your brother and a father to Miguel. Who the hell keeps these men coming after him?”

“ Only one person could have sent Daryl here to try and kill me.” Johnny said from the doorway.

“ Daryl?” Scott said. “ You mean the man who shot you two weeks ago was the same man who shot you in the back up in Montana Johnny?”

“ Not that you would really care………brother……but yeah………There’s only one way he could have known where I was too.” Johnny said as he leaned against the door frame.

“ That kind of remark was uncalled for Johnny. Your brother cares about you.”

“ Could have fooled me lately.”

“ Enough.” Murdoch yelled. “ Get in here and sit down now Johnny…….That’s an order I suggest you follow young man.”

Johnny walked over to the desk and sat down, never once looking at his brother.

“ Who?” Murdoch demanded.

“ Beth, she’s the only one Daryl would talk to. The only one who would tell him that I came back to Lancer.”

“ Zeb’s  daughter. Do you really believe that son……It could have been anyone in Billings or even one of Zeb’s hands.”

“ Nope……..I know it was her done the tellin’.”

“ How? Did Daryl tell you she did?”

“ Nope. Didn’t give him the chance too…..The only reason he shot me this time is because he already had his gun out and I didn’t see it till it was almost to late.”

Scott stood up. “ Look Johnny, I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting toward you since you came back. I haven’t exactly been a brother to you……..and for that I’m sorry.”

Johnny looked up at his brother, then stood up. “ I know having a gunfighter for a brother and son hasn’t been easy for either one of you. Worrying if the next time I get called out will be my last. The trouble I bring to Lancer……..It’s me who should be apologizing to you Scott…you too Murdoch.”

“ No son. You don’t owe me an apology. I just want you to remember that Lancer takes care of it’s own and talk to us when something is bothering you…….Don’t try and deal with it all alone……We’re a family and I’d like it to stay that way.” Murdoch said calmly as he stood up and walked over to his two sons, placing a hand on each ones back. “ I went a long time without either of my sons in my life….I don’t want to loose either one of you now…..I couldn’t handle that happening to me again.”

“ I have my way old man, I’m gonna outlive you by fifty years or more.” Johnny said with a grin.

“ How about a drink to celebrate?” Scott asked.

“ Papa.” Miguel said as he walked into the room.

“ Come here son.” Johnny said as he held out his arms. “ To celebrate what Boston?”

Scott couldn’t stop the smile that came to his face. Hearing his brother call him Boston again was pure music to his ears.

“ To us four Lancer’s. There’s no family stronger and nobody I love or would want to be with than the three men standing right here in this room.” Scott said as he poured the drinks and handed them out.

“ Besides little brother…….You are going to have your hands full with your son being a teenager.” he said with a laugh.

“ I’ll drink to that son.” Murdoch added with a smile.

“ Yeah well……that may be brother, but I remember someone telling me once, It’s a father’s greatest challenge.” Johnny answered as he hugged his son.

The End.

To be continued in  “Troubling Teens


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Nancy Marie directly.


2 thoughts on “A Father’s Greatest Challenge by Nancy Marie

  1. This is a truly great story and wonderful series. I love all your stories-thank you so much for making your writing available. I can’t wait to read Troubling Teens!


    1. Thank you. I apologize for the adult content. I’ve come a long way since writing this trilogy, and even though I still on occasion write adult in my stories, ( with warnings now ) I’ve learned it’s better to close the door, and leave it up to the readers mind what happens.


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