The Journey Home by Nancy Marie

Word Count 159,555

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   #2 in Today’s Question’s, Tomorrow’s Answer’s Series

I don’t own them. I’m just taking the Lancers out for a midnight ride.
This story has an R rating for adult language and content.

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Scott and Johnny rode in silence for the better part of the day when they left Cora’s house.

Not understanding the mood his brother was in Scott reined his horse to a stop and got down.

“ You’re awfully quiet today brother…….something on your mind?”

Johnny reined Barranca around to face Scott and removed his hat so he could wipe the sweat from his brow. Looking around Johnny took his canteen and undid the cap. “ No.” he said before taking a drink of the tepid water, feeling the ease the water brought as it made it’s way down his throat.

“ Johnny I hope you’re not still having doubt’s about our father.”

Johnny got down from Barranca and loosened the cinch. “ What if I am…….I know he don’t want me Scott……I could see it in his face and he made it pretty damn clear the last time he came and seen me in that guard house……..Hell Scott he turned his back on me…..He convicted me right then and there when that Marshal showed up…..Johnny Madrid gunfighter and cold blooded killer.”

“ You’re wrong Johnny……..You didn’t see him that night I helped you escape….he knew what we was doing Johnny, Murdoch knew and when the Marshal wanted some Lancer men to form a posse he refused…….He told that Marshal that no man that worked for Lancer was going to help hunt down his son.”

“ That’s all sweet sounding Scott…really it is but I learned a long time ago how to read a man and bein able to do that has kept me alive this long……..Besides I’m just a good for nothing gunfighter who’s the scum of the earth and should be dead.”

Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing his brother say. Why was Johnny being so hard on him self, why was he even thinking let alone saying what he was?

“ I don’t understand you Johnny……why are you talking this way about your self?”

Because it’s the truth.”

“ No it’s not damn it……you are not scum Johnny and you are not a good for nothing gunfighter.”

“ You know I had me a real interesting talk with that Sheriff Scott……A real interesting talk about the old man.” Johnny said with a sigh at the last. “ You know what he told me about our old man Scott?…..

he told me how he used to be a bounty hunter and that he hated gunfighters with a passion and that that was what he thought and how he felt about them Scott so don’t tell me I’m wrong about him not wanting me around.”

“ Johnny you did what you had to little brother to survive….I wish to god you never had to but you did and you want to know something brother……….I’m glad you did because if you hadn’t you’d be dead and I never would have gotten the chance to meet my little brother.”

Johnny let a small smile curl the corners of his mouth as he took down his saddle bags. Walking over to sit in the shade offered by some mesquite. “ I’m trouble Scott…….plain and simple……I made my bed and my past will always find me……a gunfighter don’t have a  life Scott, he don’t get to enjoy the good life, I can never take this off.” Johnny said as he slipped the colt from it’s holster. “ Hell you saw that with Dakota Black and El Paso Kid Scott, they’re my past and I can promise you that when they tell Pardee that I’m still alive I will never be able to drop my guard and relax. Pardee will hunt me down and when he finds me only one of us will walk away.”

Scott walked over and sat down next to his brother. Taking the jerky Johnny offered from his saddle bags. “ Pardee that good with a gun brother?”

“ You mean can he beat me in a fare fight?…….No and he knows it…..Pardee knows the only way to kill me is ambush or outgun me.”

“ Well little brother if Pardee wants to try and take you on then he;s gonna be taking on both of us because I’m not gonna let anyone hurt my brother ever again……not as long as I’m breathing.”

Johnny looked at Scott with mixed emotions inside. Never had he had anyone who cared about him, never had he had someone who he could really put his trust into yet here was a man,his brother whom he has known less than a year saying that he would give his life to keep him from ever being hurt again.

Clearing his throat Johnny stood up, he couldn’t look at his brother right now. Not with the emotions he was feeling.

“ You saying you got my back Boston?”

Scott stood up and walked over and put an arm on Johnny’s right shoulder. “ You better believe I am brother…….I have wanted a little brother to protect and do things with my whole life and now that I do have one I will do whatever I have to to make sure he stays around So you better get used to it.”

“I’m not worth it Scott…..I’ll only get you killed……I’ve accepted death a long time ago when I chose to live by the gun………You’re the perfect son the old man want’s and deserves…..not me.”

Scott grabbed Johnny and spun him around. “ You listen to me Johnny…..You have done without your whole life….you’ve been kicked around by others for no fault of your own for something that wasn’t your doing……Don’t you ever…….ever put yourself down in my presence again and don’t you ever  say you’re not worth it…….There isn’t another man breathing that I would want for a brother that could even come close to the man you are.”

Johnny lowered his head and just stood there unable to speak. When Scott let go of him he turned and walked over to Barranca and tightened the cinch. Swinging up in the saddle he looked down at Scott.

“ I always wanted and prayed for a brother growing up…….one who would or could protect me but it never happened.” Turning Barranca to leave. “ I guess later is better than not having one at all.” he said as Barranca started walking away.

Scott stood there and let a smile come to his face before he went to his horse and checked his cinch before swinging up in the saddle and taking off to catch up to Johnny.

That night the brothers camped next to a stream that ran cold from the mountains. Winter could be felt in the air even down in the desert valley. The mesquite was going to sleep and what grass could be found had turned yellow. Scott sat and watched his brother across the fire as he carefully cleaned his gun.

“ Why do you do that Johnny?”

“ Do what?” Johnny asked as he wiped each shell off before putting it in the cylinder.

“ That!” Scott said as he pointed toward the shells.

Johnny let a slight smile come to his face as he put the last shell in and spun the cylinder.

“ Wipe them off…….because it takes the oil and dirt off the shell Boston…..A clean cylinder means you wont get a miss fire or a shell blowing up and possibly blinding you…….Just like the trigger and barrel you got to keep it clean…you don’t and you’ll find your self dead or seriously injured.” Johnny said as he slide the pistol back in the holster. Getting up Johnny went over and poured himself some coffee.

“Maybe tomorrow night I’ll snare us a rabbit for supper.”

“ Sounds good…….hard tack and beans takes some getting used to.”

Sitting back down Johnny couldn’t help but laugh. “ I bet you miss all those fancy foods you ate and them fancy dishes and stuff don’t ya?”

Scott sat his cup down. “ I miss some of the food Johnny…….I guess all things considered  you never really got the chance to eat good food growing up did you?”

Johnny looked over at his brother. He knew Scott wanted to know about his past but some of his past he didn’t want any one to ever know about.

“ Food in Mexico is pretty much the same thing Boston…beans, tamales, tortilla’s….I did get lucky once and found a Mango in the trash once.”

Scott cringed inside at the thought of his brother having to eat food from the trash.

“ The trash Johnny?”

“ Yeah Scott the trash……it weren’t easy for a kid like me down there…..It was a choice of three….trash, steal or go hungry……well let me tell ya you can stave off hunger for only so long brother.”

“ How long did you go?”

“ The longest I went without food was seven days I think……..yeah I went to this mission and snuck in an’ was sittin’ there with the other kids ta eat and the Padre he came to me and knew I was new and……”

Scott looked at his brother who was sitting there just staring out into the darkness. He could tell Johnny was remembering. “ What did he do…..this Padre?”

“ Huh……oh he grabbed me up and told me a half breed thief child of the devil wasn’t welcome in his mission and threw me out.”

What

“ Yeah you see Scott I wasn’t even wanted or cared about by them so called mission people who are supposed ta do the lords work and care for his children…….I got’s me some food though cause I went back that night and stole some food from them….they knew who did it and caught me the next day and beat me for it as the village people watched and laughed….I was branded ‘ the child of Satan’ and run out of the village………I bet you never stole a thing in your life did ya?”

“ As a matter of fact Johnny I did……….I stole some food when I was behind enemy lines and wounded in the war…..I got caught though and thrown in Libby for a year.”

Johnny could see the pain come to his brothers face as he remembered. “ Why’d……..Why’d you join the war Scott?…….You was rich and from what I heard the rich kids didn’t have to go to war on either side.”

“ Same reason as you did Johnny.”

“ Come again?”

“ You fought a war in Mexico tryin to help the lesser people who was being bullied by the rich right?’

“ Yeah”

“ Well it’s the same thing…..those farmers you tried to help Johnny are the same as me trying to help the slaves……..Do you think it’s fare that just because a man is rich that he has a right to force another human being just because his skin color is black work for that man under in human conditions?……Now don’t get me wrong some slaves was treated real good by their owners but No man has a right to buy and sell another human being.”

“ No they don’t but hell Scott…….that’s been going on for hundreds of years and will continue too……I never seen one.”

“ Never seen one what Johnny?”

“ I never seen a black man before.”

“ You will because I hear that those who have been taken underground are coming out west……Some are already in the big cities working but even though they are free from slavery they are still put down because of there skin color.”

“ Like a half breed with blue eyes huh?” Johnny said with a sigh as he got up and went over to his bedroll. “ I’m gonna catch some shut eye Boston…….see ya in the morning.”

“ Night Johnny.” Scott said as he went to his bedroll and also sacked in.

Scott was awaken in the early hours of dawn by his little brother locked in a nightmare. He could tell by Johnny’ voice and some of the words that Johnny was being abused……abused by his mother but it was the reason why that tore his heart out. He had heard the word said many times around the ranch and by his brother as well.

“ No no…por favor moma  por favor, dejen moma siento please. I no me hungry. Please la correa…Se que estoy mal…si,yo soy un errorun hijo del diablo mestizo….por favor deja de moma que duele mucho por favor deja de.”

(No don’t please moma…please stop please. I’m sorry moma I was hungry…Please not the strap…I know I’m bad…yes I’m a mistake…a half breed devil child…Please stop moma it hurts so bad please.)

Johnny was thrashing around tangled in his bedroll becoming more and more desperate. Scott could see tears rolling down his face as he carefully went over and began to wake his brother up. Just as he put his hand on Johnny’ left shoulder his brother sat straight up and cried out.

“ NO.”

“ Easy Johnny……It’s alright……Johnny you were having a bad dream……..you’re safe brother.” Scott said softly as he moved around so Johnny could see him.

Johnny tried to get his breathing under control,but more than that his whole body was shaking. Finally looking at Scott Johnny suddenly bolted up and ran to some brush and emptied his stomach.  With his hands on his knees Johnny continued to retch even after his stomach was empty. Standing there shaking Johnny heard his brother walk up behind him.

“ Leave me alone Scott.”

“ I can’t do that Johnny…….you need me and you little brother have been left alone almost all your life.”

Scott said softly as he put a hand on Johnny’ back and began to rub it in a circular motion. “ Let it out brother……..let it out.”

Johnny stood up and turned away from his brother, ashamed of the tears threatening to fall. Gasping for air as he tried to get the shaking under control Johnny knew he couldn’t speak right now. He knew his voice would fail him. When Scott again walked over and put a hand on his back Johnny walked away back to camp.

Scott sighed knowing his brother needed to desperately talk to someone about this dream and possibly others that haunted him. He had seen how it can eat a man up inside if not dealt with. ‘ Hungry’ was a word plainly said as well as ‘ devil ‘ and ‘halfbreed’. Scott knew now was probably not the time to do this but he knew his brother needed to get this out. Walking back to camp he found Johnny just standing there with his arms wrapped around himself trembling. It made him sick to his stomach to know his brother was beaten just because he was hungry.

Walking back to the camp Scott stood and watched as his brother started to pick up his bed roll. He could tell that Johnny was still trembling from the dream and tense. When Johnny finished rolling his bed roll up Scott went over to the fire and poured both of them a cup of  coffee still left and hot from last night. Walking over to his brother he reached out his left hand and offered the steaming brew. Scott could see Johnny was still trembling when he took the cup.

“ Why don’t you sit down brother…we don’t need to leave just yet.”

Johnny walked over to his saddle and sitting down he leaned back into it and closed his eyes tight.

“ You know the snow is gonna be falling in the higher elevations soon if not already Boston.”

“ Yeah so……..I’m sure the snow out here is no different than back in Boston.”

Johnny looked over at his brother. “ You ever been in a mountain blizzard on a horse Scott?”

“ yes during the war Johnny…..I know how bad it can get……”

“ You don’t know shit brother……I may have grown up in Mexico but I know that if a man gets caught in a  blizzard in the mountains he can die real fast from freezing to death…I don’t plan on dying that way.”

“ Well neither do I Johnny……..give me some credit will you?……….I may be from back east Johnny but I do know how to survive.”

“ Not out here  you don’t.” Johnny stood up and threw what was left of his coffee on the fire. “ Out here survival is different…..food is scarce and a horse can break a leg or you both can get bogged down in to deep a snow, an avalanche can take ya………out here Scott there are a whole lotta different ways to die in the winter than in the summer.”

Scott just stood there and listened as his brother preached to him. He knew what Johnny was telling him because the winters during the war several times he thought he would die from the cold. When he  was in Libby prison for a year the rag he had for a blanket didn’t even stop the cold that came in through the stone walls. Scott remembered how he was one of the lucky ones who didn’t succumb to pneumonia or bronchitis both of which he witnessed numerous times kill men behind those stone walls.

“ Let me ask you something Johnny………..is it just me or are we a little farther south going back because the terrain didn’t look the same and we should have made it to Pioche for the night.”

“ Yeah we’re farther south Scott by about fifty miles….why?”

“ No reason brother I was just wondering is all….Why don’t you finish breaking camp and I’ll  start getting the horses ready….that is if Barranca will let me touch him.” Scott said with a laugh.

“ He will brother, he let you when we was in Leeds.”

“ Yeah well he wasn’t all to happy about me taking care of him then…and I seen first hand just how quick Barranca can bit little brother.”

“ Oh come on Scott.” Johnny said as he walked over to his horse. “ He only bit the Marshal cause he hit ‘im….the man I got him from beat him Scott and me an Barranca have an agreement.”

“ An agreement huh…….and just what would that agreement be?”

“ He let’s me ride ‘im and I don’t abuse him or let anyone else abuse ‘im.”

“ I see…..well little brother you have a soft heart but don’t worry I won’t let it be known that Johnny Madrid Lancer has a soft spot.” Scott said with a grin.

Johnny looked at his brother and let a smile come to his face as he rubbed Barranca’s face. Hearing his brother say his name the way he just did with Lancer at the last brought back the trepidation he was trying to not feel. The words  that Sheriff Evans said to him about how his father felt about gunfighters made him feel cold and empty inside. How could a man who once felt that way and probably still does accept a son who by all account’s is the fastest and deadliest gunfighter in the southwest. Johnny knew a person could change if they put their heart into it as well as their soul, but could a father really accept him? Could his father still really want him as a son even if he had to watch his son kill a young foolish kid out to prove himself a man? A kid who thinks he’s fast enough to kill him just for the eminence of the kill?

“ Three things I won’t abide by Boston……beating an animal… raping a woman….or beating a child.”

Johnny said with firmness at the end.

Scott  didn’t need to see Johnny’s eyes to know they was stone cold blue when he said beating a child, more to that than the other two.

“ What about brother’s brother?”

“ What ya mean?”

“ Well I was just wondering how you felt about brother’s being beaten up.”

“ You mean Eastern dandy brother’s Boston?”

“ Unless you have another brother running around that I don’t know about Johnny…yeah I do.”

Johnny continued to rub Barranca’s face. “ Well I don’t know Boston, Hell the old man could have another kid floatin around somes where….what you think Barranca……..you think this Eastern dandy I have for a brother is worth savin his hide in a fist fight?”

Scott watched with a smile as Barranca shook his head up and down.

“ Well there you have it brother…Barranca thinks you’re worth it so’s I guess you are.”

“ Gee thanks Johnny…….at least now I know how I stand with your horse.” Scott said with a little disappointment.

“ Oh come on Scott I was funnin ya…..I’d back you up in any kind of fight any time day or night….I’m not easy to trust brother but I know and hope I can trust you.”

Scott  stepped over to Johnny. “ I said it before Johnny and I’ll say it again……you can trust me with your life because I would give my life for you in a  heart beat brother.”

Johnny didn’t really know what to think of these words his brother again told him. Deep down inside he hoped that Scott would never have to put those words to action.

Chapter 2

Murdoch Lancer rode his horse into Green River to attend a cattlemen’ meeting. Reining his horse in he dismounted in front of the cattlemen’ in hotel he tied his horse off and stepped up onto the boardwalk. Something about this meeting he was feeling was going to be bad. What he didn’t know but what he was going to find out would be a shock to his very nature. Stepping inside he was greeted by the other ranchers from the surrounding area .

“ Murdoch we was beginning to wonder if the mighty Lancer patriarch was going to show up or not.”

“  This is a cattlemen’ meeting and Lancer is a cattle ranch so why wouldn’t I show up Harv….I am a member.” Murdoch said as he sat down at a table.

“ Yes well……..Gentlemen since we all seem to be here now what say we get this meeting under way shall we……..Now as president I am head speaker but today it is going to be different……….Murdoch some of the ranchers and friends well.”

Murdoch stood up. “ Why don’t you just get to the chase Harv?”

“ Alright I will…….your son to be more precise the cold blooded  gunfighter killer son Johnny……..we don’t want him in this valley and we heard that he  got off on the murder charge that Marshal came here and arrested him for…….We don’t need his kind around here.”

“ Yeah Murdoch…..why my two daughters was scared to death when he was here before and now he is coming back here with your other son Scott…….now Scott is welcome in this valley but not Johnny.”

Murdoch was getting angrier by the second as he listened to his so called friends talk about his son the way they were.

“ Why decent women aren’t safe with that half breed around…..every man here has heard how he likes to…….”

ENOUGH If you think I am going to attend this so called meeting and listen to men who I though where my friends talk like this about my son then you are sorely mistaken…….MY  son has every right to live in this valley…..Johnny was born here and has quit being a gunfighter…….I’m not proud of the life he has lived but I’m not going to tell my son that he can’t live here in this valley with his family because a bunch of ranchers……my so called friends and neighbors don’t want him around….. Seth you and Pete didn’t complain about Johnny when he came over and helped you string new wire……and you Cole when you broke your leg it was Johnny who help your missus with the stock and other things…..and you Harvey wasn’t it your roof Johnny repaired on a Sunday for you while you was at church? Hear me and hear me good gentlemen my son Johnny is coming back to Lancer because it is his home and his birthright and I’m not going to let anyone and I mean anyone make my boy leave his birthright home.”

“ Yeah well what about the O’ Brian girl Murdoch……..your so called half breed did to her  we all know and if he so much as speaks to my girl there will be hell to pay I promise you.”

“ That’s right you keep that half breed killer away from our women Murdoch……..better yet keep him out of our town.”

Murdoch  stepped to the door and turned before leaving. “ My son has a right to go any damn place he chooses.”

“ Not around here he don’t Mr. high and mighty Lancer…….he so much as shows his face in Green River or Spanish Wells and he could find himself with a bullet in his back.” Driscoll said vehemently.

Murdoch moved so fast none of the other ranchers could believe it. Before any of them could do or say anything Murdoch had grabbed  Driscoll by the throat and slammed him up against the wall.

“ You listen and you listen real good…..if anything happens to Johnny when he gets back here and I find out that you or anyone else in this room had something to do with it it will be the biggest mistake that you ever made.” Murdoch said as he tightened his hold on Driscoll’ throat. “ Do I make myself clear?

Driscoll gave a slight nod and Murdoch let him go. Taking in air and rubbing his throat Driscoll had anger in his eyes.

Murdoch walked back to the door and opened it to step out.

Lancer.” Harv Santee yelled. “ As long as you have that killer around you will not be a member of the Cattlemen’ Association and you will not be getting’ one iota of our help……I will also be speaking the the bank president about having you remove your money from our bank.”

“ Santee……you do that.” was all Murdoch said before he walked out slamming the door behind him.

Standing on the walkway Murdoch knew that there was only one way that his so called rancher friends could have known Johnny was coming back. Stepping down into the street Murdoch headed to the telegraph office. Jerking the door open he was glad to find it empty of customers.

“ Mr. Lancer……I’ve received no more telegram’s from your son Scott if that’s why you’re here!”

“ I think you know why I’m here Bret.”

“ Excuse me.”

“ I know that the only way anyone could have known that both my son’s was coming home was if someone had spread it around…….now since I have been busy running the ranch since they left and haven’t been in town and only three people knew of the telegram I got from Scott……..and I know my hand who brought me the telegram didn’t say anything cause it was still sealed when he delivered it….so that leaves you Bret….mind telling me why you found it so needing to tell others business that don’t concern them?”

“ It does concern them……..it concerns everyone in this valley……we don’t want that killer here.”

Murdoch glared hard at Bret.

 “ Madrid is going to bring nothing but trouble to this valley Lancer……and you can take your business someplace else because I will no longer send or receive any telegrams for you as long as that halfbreed killer is in this valley.”

Murdoch wanted to hit the man as hard as he could but couldn’t. A part of him deep down understood how Bret felt. Murdoch turned and left. On the way back to Lancer he did a lot of thinking. He himself was leery when he offered Johnny a partnership in Lancer. Thinking back to that very first time he seen his grown soon in the great room with a gun pointed at him he knew that the only reason he was still alive was because of Scott. Scott was the reason Johnny signed the partnership. Scott was the anchor to keep Johnny at Lancer. Every day he watched his two son’s together laughing and joking and becoming closer. Murdoch knew that if Johnny was coming back it was because of Scott not him. As he swung down from his horse and handed him off the a hand Murdoch knew deep down inside that Scott was going to be the main reason Johnny Madrid became Johnny Lancer.

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Scott and Johnny had been riding for four days and Scott couldn’t help but notice they came to no towns. Getting tired of eating the food they had he decided to ask.

“ Hey Johnny any chance we will be coming to a town soon?”

Johnny sighed and stopped Barranca. “ Why  Boston?”

“ Because I would like a bath and a good meal that is cooked by someone who is better at it than we are.” Scott said as he stopped his horse. “ I would also like to sleep in a bed and maybe spend some time with someone better looking than you.” he said with a grin.

“ Brother they ain’t no one better lookin than me but if it’s the other sex company you be wantin…..hell Boston all ya had to do was say so.” Johnny said as he spurred his horse. “ I know a gal who I guaratee will make you feel real good brother.”

Scott couldn’t help but find it amazing that Johnny would know the location of all the ‘ best ‘ gal’s as he called them. He couldn’t help but wonder if his brother was mostly known for below the border then, was it a job or something else that would bring him this far north. Brought from his thoughts by his brother hitting his arm Scott about jumped from the saddle.

“ Earth to Boston….damn Scott you could have gotten yourself killed just then…….what you thinkin bout that’s so distractin brother?”

“ Huh……..oh I was……..well…..”

“ You was thinkin bout that gal tonight I bet.” Johnny said with a grin.

“ No brother…………actually I was wondering just what it was that brought you up here from the border……I mean……”

“ I know exactly what ya mean Scott……..I was hired to guard a shipment to Tonopah and from there I went to Colorado for another job.”

“ Just where pray tell are we Johnny?”

“ About fifty miles from the California line……..we can be back with  two days hard ridin if ya want to push em but that sky is looking mighty black to the north brother and I’d say we  will be ridin in snow come tomorrow….you can feel it.”

“ For someone who grew up south of the border how can you tell it’s gonna snow?”

“ I’m not dumb you know…….I may not have that fancy education you got but I know the time of year and the area I’m in Scott……..Come on lets get to town before this breaks lose.”

“ Johnny  I didn’t……..”

“ Forget it.” Johnny snapped as he spurred Barranca into a gallop.

Scott sighed and spurred his horse to catch up to his brother. A couple miles out of town the storm hit with a vengeance. By the time Scott and Johnny rode into the livery barn both men were wet and cold. Johnny rubbed Barranca down after he removed his gear with a burlap sack and talked smooth Spanish to his friend. The livery owner watched as Barranca seemed to be responding to what Johnny was saying.

“ He spoils that horse rotten I’m afraid.” Scott said with a slight laugh to the owner.

“ That’s a fine piece of horse flesh he has there…….I’d do the same thing if I had a good looking animal like that.”

Scott paid for the horses board and stood watching his brother for a few. When Johnny was done and stepped out Scott put an arm around Johnny’ shoulders. “ You ready to go get warmed up on the inside now little brother with a hot meal?”

“ Yeah some hot food sounds good Scott…..maybe even a hot bath then a hot woman.”

Scott couldn’t help but laugh. “ That was the plan but maybe we should hunt up that bath first…..the food might taste better if we was cleaner.”

Scott put an arm around his brother’s shoulder. ‘ I do so like the way you think little brother.”

An hour later the boys was enjoying a cold beer as they waited for their steaks. Johnny noticed a girl who couldn’t be more than eighteen looking at him. When he smiled at her he could tell she was new at this by the shy smile she gave back. When their meals came Johnny kept glancing at the girl as he and Scott made small talk. When finished the brothers sat back and relaxed a little. Scott could tell his brother had his eye on a girl as he looked around the room.

“ Well little brother the company has been good for dinner but I think I will see about finding some different company now for an hour or so.” Scott said as he stood up.

“ Go ahead  brother…..I’ll see you back at the room tonight or in the morning. Enjoy.” Johnny said as he stood up and started walking toward the girl. He hadn’t been with a girl this young since Teresa and knew that the time he spent with her if she would would be great. Older women had more experience but young ones like this Johnny really like to bed because he could teach them so much and be the one to let them experience sexual things for the first time. Smiling Johnny walked up and stood next to the girl. He could tell by her breathing that she was nervous but at the same time wanting him. Taking a chance Johnny touched her arm causing her to look up at him. Smiling at her Johnny asked her. “ want some company?”

The girl looked up at him. She had big brown eyes and didn’t have all that stuff on her face like the older women wore. “ I’m supposed to ask you that.”

“ I know but you see I couldn’t help but notice you checking me out from the moment I walked in with my brother.”

The girl felt blush. Did she tell him why she stared at him so when he walked in or did he already know?

“ What’s say we go on up stairs and I let you find out if you really like what you was staring at.” Johnny said as he took her hand in his.

The girl followed him up the stairs and stopped at room three. Opening the door she stepped inside and turned around as Johnny came in and closed the door. Looking at him she couldn’t help but smile as her eyes trailed down to his leather pants and how they fit him so well around the waist. Reaching up she began unbuttoning her dress.

Johnny closed the door and smiled as the girl moved her eyes over his body and how they stopped at his waist and stared. Stepping up to her he put his hands on each side of her face and kissed her gently. Letting his hands trail down her cheeks to her shoulders Johnny slid his fingers under and pushed the dress off her shoulders. Letting them trail on down to her small but firm breast Johnny started playing with the nipples as he kissed her again. This time sliding his tongue in her mouth and feeling her moan in pleasure as he did. Gently pulling on her nipples Johnny felt himself getting to hard for comfort in his pants. Stopping he undid his gun belt and wrapped it up and laid it on the chair next to the bed. Then undoing his silver concho belt Johnny stepped closer to the bed as he undid his pants and stepped out of them. The girl got on the bed and he could tell she liked what she saw.

“ So what you want me to do?” she asked.

Johnny smiled and stepped up to where his knees touched the bed. “ Come here.” he said gently as he reached for her.

The girl moved over on her knees so she was right in front of Johnny. His rock hard cock was throbbing just below her chin.

Johnny put a hand under her chin and brought her mouth up. He kissed her with fire and passion as he pulled her up against his chest and moved his hips so his manhood rubbed her between her breast. Taking his hands he brought her breast together and thrust a little as he watched her eyes to see if she would stop him. She did. The girl pulled back and took Johnny in her mouth and swirled her tongue around his shaft as she started to suck on him. Johnny moaned in pleasure as he watched his hardness slid in and out of her mouth. Feeling his climax building Johnny stopped the girl and gently pushed her back on the bed and  knelt down and started sucking on her breast as he slid a hand down between her legs and rubbed her mound. Hearing her moan at his touch Johnny slid a finger inside her and felt her muscles tighten and quiver at this invasion. Stopping he looked her in the eyes.

“ Is this your first time?” he asked softly.

“ Yes.” she said as she ran her hand down and pressed down on his wanting him to touch her more.

Johnny began moving his finger in and out of her hot tight hole then slid another in and started working them to open her more. The girl withed as Johnny moved his fingers in and out of her faster. Sliding a third finger inside her he covered her mouth with his and delved his tongue deep into her mouth, sucking on her tongue and touching parts of her mouth he knew no one else had ever touched. When he knew she was ready and couldn’t stand it any longer Johnny moved down with his mouth and parting folded skins  he slid his tongue over tender sensitive skin as he pulled her closer to the edge of the bed and he slid down onto his knees. Sucking on her and sliding his tongue into the hot wet entrance his throbbing cock would soon be in Johnny moaned as he felt her stomach tighten and sucked as hard as he could as he felt her climax.

Laying there feeling the hot passion and strange new feelings inside the girl couldn’t help but cry out as her climax started. Putting her hands down and Johnny’ head she bucked into his face as wave after wave of pleasure swept through her body. Before she knew it Johnny was above her spreading her legs and easing the tip of his shaft into her wetness. Wrapping her legs around his waist she pulled against his back bringing him into her more. “ Please.” she begged.

“ Easy…slow down I don’t want to hurt you.” Johnny said as he slowly pushed himself in her then out again.

“ Fuck me please.” the girl begged.

“ I’m gonna fuck you but this is your first time and it will hurt if I go to fast.”

“ I don’t care please.”

Johnny tried to go slow but with the girl pleading he couldn’t hold back. He knew his first hard thrust to get past the barrier inside her was going to hurt her so drawing out so just the tip was still inside her Johnny kissed her with fire and passion delving his tongue deep inside her mouth. When he knew he had her lost in the kiss Johnny thrust hard and felt the barrier give. He also felt the girl tense below him and shake. Giving her time to adjust to him Johnny continued to kiss her before he slowly started thrusting in and out of her. Feeling her get loser and wetter with each thrust Johnny raised up on his hands and started slamming into her hard.

“ Oh my god……oh yeah don’t stop.” the girl pleaded as she reached back and grabbed both hands full of blanket.

Johnny smiled down as he watched her breast jerk every time he thrust into her. Leaning down he savagely began to suck on them,biting and pulling  on the nipples. Pulling her back against him more Johnny brought her legs up to hang over his shoulders giving him a more downward thrust. Knowing this would send the girl over the wall Johnny moved faster as the sweat began to run off his forehead.

Feeling the girls muscles tighten around him Johnny knew she was almost there again. Pulling her up he picked the girl up and brought her down onto his shaft as he thrust up.

“ OH MY GOD.”she practically screamed as Johnny did this to her.

 Smiling Johnny knew he  couldn’t hold out much longer so he laid her back down on the bed and slammed into her hard and fast. When his climax started he delved his tongue deep into her mouth and moaned and shook as he released his seed deep inside her as she to climaxed with him.

Laying there Johnny slowed his thrust down as his climax subsided. Smiling down at the girl.

“ You alright?” he asked hoping he didn’t hurt her.

“ Yeah I’m fine……wow you do that with all the girls you bed?”

“ No.” Johnny said as he slide out of her and stood up. “ Just the ones who are worth doing it too.” he said as he put his pants on.

Ten minutes later Johnny walked down stairs and seen his brother talking to a lady. Smiling and nodding to him he went to the bar and ordered a beer then went over and sat in on a poker game. A few minutes into the game Johnny noticed this one cowboy kept looking around at the players as he dealt. Johnny had learned from experience what to watch for on cheaters and keeping his eye on this guy Johnny seen how he was cheating. Scott had disappeared upstairs shortly after Johnny came down so he knew he had time to play. He just wanted a friendly game for the night and maybe win a little. Five players is what sat at the table and Johnny could tell that three of the four he played with was good  decent men, the fifth one though Johnny didn’t like and he let it be known about an hour into the game.

“ You know mister…..these men here and me……well we just want a nice friendly game here….I don’t think they would appreciate having their hard earned money cheated out of them.”

The man Johnny addressed looked at him hard. “ You calling me a cheat half breed?”

“ I figure the name fits for your type…I been watchin you and you deal pretty good from the bottom of the deck.”

The man stood up suddenly knocking his chair back. The other players stood and moved away from the table. Johnny just sat there.

“ You better back them words up boy cause I’m gonna kill you.”

Another man who from what Johnny figured came over and grabbed the mans  arm. “ Lets go Jess.”

“ Not until I kill this half breed for calling me a cheat.

“ Jess you don’t want to do this….you won’t stand a chance against him.”

“ Let go of me Cliff he ain’t nothing but a half breed.”

Johnny stood up and Madrid had clearly taken over. The girl he had bedded watched from the top of the stairs, standing there with his brother.

Johnny looked at the gun the man wore and could tell he wouldn’t even clear leather before his bullet entered him. “ You should listen to your friend mister and just walk away while you’re still breathing.”

“ The hell I will.”

“ Jess don’t do this you don’t stand a chance against him man that’s Johnny Madrid.”

Johnny could see the color drain from the mans face. “ Walk away and all will be alright.”

Hold it right there you two!’ a voice commanded.

Johnny never took his eyes off the cowboy.

“Jess walk away now like Madrid said…….I don’t want to have to ride out and tell your ma you was gunned down because you was being stupid and cheating again…..I’ve told you before to not play poker if you can’t play fair.” the town sheriff said.

“ Like hell I will.” he said as he grabbed for his gun.

Johnny had his out and pointed at the man but he didn’t pull the trigger. “ Sheriff would you be so kind as to take this jackasses gun for me…….I’m not really in the mood to kill him.”

Scott stood at the top of the stairs and watched in aw at what his brother was doing.

The Sheriff took Jess’ gun. “ Take him home Cliff and I don’t want to see him in the saloon again for a month.”

Cliff shoved Jess toward the door and a few seconds later they heard horses galloping away.

The Sheriff walked over to Johnny who had put his gun away. “ Madrid……I don’t like your kind in my town…..it’s a nice quiet town and I like to keep it that way so you got twenty minutes to get out.”

“ Sheriff I didn’t do anything wrong…I was just looking for a nice peaceable game of poker while my brother was with a lady friend.”

“ Brother huh……..well then I want the both of you out of my town tonight…….Do I make myself clear gunfighter?”

Johnny knew it when he heard it. It was the same as in other towns he had been in. Gunfighter was a dirty name and they was the scum of the earth.

Scott had come down and was standing next to his brother. “ Sheriff it’s storming outside and we already paid for a room for the night.”

“ And just what pray tell is your name?”

“ Lancer….Scott Lancer and Johnny is my brother.”

“ You any relation to a Murdoch Lancer owns a big spread in California?”

“ He’s our father…why?”

“ Just all the more reason for you two to ride out of my town…..now.”

Scott went to protest more but was stopped by his brother.

“ Forget it Scott.”

“ Like hell I will Johnny you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“ Yeah I did brother…….I came to this town….let’s go Scott.” Johnny said with anger as he walked toward the doors.

Scott followed Johnny outside into the rain. The Sheriff was right behind them. “ Go on over and get your stuff from the hotel…I’ll give you both twenty minutes to ride out of my town and Madrid…….don’t ever come back here again. Your kind ain’t welcome here.”

Johnny was mad but knew he could do nothing. Turning he headed to the livery to saddle the horses followed by Scott. “ You go get our stuff Scott and I’ll meet you out front with the horses.

Two hours later the brothers where soaked and chilled to the bone as they rode northwest. The rain had changed over two snow and was coming down hard. Barranca plowed through drifts and tossed his head. He let Johnny know he wasn’t happy with being taken from a nice dry stall out into this weather.

“ I’m sorry amigo…..I’ll make it up to you.” Johnny had told his friend.

“ Johnny this snow is getting worse little brother…..I can’t feel my legs any more. We need to find shelter.”

Johnny stopped Barranca and let Scott come up on his right. : There ain’t no place Scott……we’re gonna have to go into the trees and maybe find something.” Johnny said as he reined Barranca toward what looked like through the snow to be a good sized bunch. If the trees was thick enough the snow wouldn’t be that deep under them and they would be able to find wood for a fire.

The boys was able to find a group of trees close enough together in the center of the bunch that had come down and gave them some breakage from the wind. Johnny hated his horse not being able to get out of the weather. Johnny tied a wool blanket over Barranca’ back and Scott did the same for his horse to give them some warmth. Later that night sitting by the fire Scott looked over at his brother.

“ Do people do that to you a lot Johnny?”

Johnny took a sip of his coffee. “ Do what Boston…….throw me out of town because of who I am……yeah.”

“ Was……who you was little brother.”

“ I’ll always be a gunfighter Scott in their eyes…or sure I can change my last name but them that know me as Madrid will only see me that way.”

“It’s not right Johnny and something needs to be done about it. I fought in the war to stop slavery and prejudice.”

‘Yeah well Scott things are different out here and the sooner you realize that the better.”

Scott could hear the faint hurt in his brothers words. He knew exactly how Johnny felt, he had seen it in the war.

“ So did you have your self a good time with that young lady brother?”

Johnny looked at him and smiled. “ Oh yeah that I did brother…that I did…..you?”

“ Why yes I did.”

“ Good…I’m gonna turn in Scott and try and get some sleep.”

“ Okay Johnny good night.”

.

Chapter 3

 Scott was awakened in the night by a scream. Jerking awake and reaching for his gun he realized it was his brother who was screaming. Looking over at Johnny Scott could see his brother was in a serious bad nightmare. He was thrashing around like he was in a fight with someone. What he heard made him sick to his stomach.

“ You killed her you bastard…..you killed my mama.” Johnny was yelling.

Scott wanted to wake his brother up but he also wanted to know more about his brothers violent cruel past and this seemed to be the only way to find out.

“ Ma ma please don’t leave me……..I don’t want to be alone…please don’t leave me.” Johnny sobbed.

Scott felt his own tears welling up in his eyes as he listened to his brothers plea’s. “ My god Johnny.”

Scott said aloud. He knew now for certain that Johnny witnessed his mother being killed and the dream he was having he was reliving that horrible event that no child should ever see.

“ Juro que un dia voy a encontrar y cuando lo haago te voy a mattar hijo de puta Americana. Usted va morir una  muerte lenta y dolorosa. No descansare hasta que el hombre que mato a mi madre ha muerto.

( I swear one day I will find you and when I do I will kill you you American bastard. You will die a very slow painful death. I will not rest till the man who killed my mother is dead.)

Even though he couldn’t understand it Scott knew Johnny was talking about his mothers death and the man who killed her. Hearing enough Scott went over and started shaking his brother to wake him up. He was met with a colt in his face.

“ Easy Johnny it’s me Scott.” he said trying to hide the fear he had starring at the wrong end of his brothers gun.

Johnny glared at his brother hard through cold steel blue eyes hard for a few seconds before he realized what he was doing. Scrambling out of his bedroll Johnny stared at his brother in shock as he realized how close he came to pulling the trigger.

“ Jesus Boston…you trying to get yourself killed?”

Scott let out the air he had been holding slowly as he glared at his brother. Finally able to speak.

“ You was having a nightmare Johnny I…….”

“ So.” he snapped.

“ Wait a minute Johnny…..you just had a gun pointed to my face and all you can say is ‘ so‘ I heard enough of your dream to know what it was about Johnny.”

“ Yeah and what…you think now that you have a right to know and want me to tell you all about it right Boston……you  want to know all the gory details of just one of many nightmares I have….is that it Mr. high and mighty educated eastern dandy.” Johnny said angrily.  “ You gonna be able to use that Harvard education of your brother and make all my bad dreams go away?” Johnny said as he stepped up to Scott’ face. “ I don’t think so…so just mind your own fucking business Scott and stay the hell out of mine.” Johnny said before turning away.

Scott could understand the anger his brother had after having a dream like that but for his brother to be so hateful to him was hard to take. Stepping forward Scott grabbed Johnny’ left shoulder and spun him around. “ Don’t turn your back on me Johnny…..I want to help you but I can’t unless you talk to me.”

Talk to you….hell Boston is talking to you going to make them nightmares I have leave me alone?…..Is talking to you gonna make the faces of every stupid sonofabitch that called me out stop haunting me? Or how about this one…You gonna make the pain I still feel go away from when the Padre’s beat me and locked me in a closet because of my blue eyes……eyes they said was given to me by the devil and that I am branded by these blue eyes as the son of Satan….I don’t think so brother.”

“ You witnessed your mothers murder Johnny and you vowed to kill the man who did it didn’t you?…only problem is you’ve never found that man have you?”

Johnny was angry, but not at his brother. “ Leave it alone Scott…I’m warning you.” Johnny said coldly.

“ No Johnny I won’t……..you need to talk to someone about this.”

“I mean it Boston…..I’m only gonna tell you once…leave it alone.”

“ Or what……..you gonna beat me up Johnny……or maybe pull that damn gun of yours again and blow my brains out this time…Huh?”

Shut up

Scott knew he was getting to his brother, he just hoped it got him to talk to him and not do something else.

No…not this time Johnny…..You seen your mother murdered and I also know that your mother beat you and made you do things for her that a son isn’t supposed to do.”

Shut the fuck up Boston.” Johnny said as his anger built.

“ She made you have sex with her when she couldn’t get a man didn’t she brother……..DIDN’T SHE?”

Johnny had heard enough, spinning around he struck out and hit his brother hard knocking him to the ground. Standing there with his hands clenched into tight fist Madrid had clearly taken over. “ I told you to shut the fuck up……..you don’t know a thing Scott……leave it alone…..leave me alone.” Johnny yelled before turning to walk away.

Scott got up when Johnny turned around and lunging he slammed into his brothers back and took him to the ground. “The hell I will.” Scott said before he hit Johnny hard in the face.

Johnny tried to get his brother off him but was pinned. Panicking Johnny tried desperately to bring his   

right knee up into Scott’ back. Able to roll onto his left side just enough Johnny got his arms free and went to slugging his brother in the face knocking him off to his side. Moving fast he got on top of Scott and it him several times before he just stopped. Starring down at his brother and seeing the blood on his face Johnny started to shake and got off him. Scott laid there a few seconds in the cold snow before he sat up and  moved over next to his brother. He could see Johnny was shaking and gently put a hand on his shoulder.

“ She said it was how a son shows his mother he loved her……tha..that it was what a son did.” Johnny said with a quivering voice.

Scott came up behind his brother and put his arms around him and pulled him back against his chest. Johnny didn’t resits, he just let his brother hold him. “ Let it go Johnny.” Scott said softly.

Johnny shook and reached his hands up and took a hold of his brothers arms, not to try and get away, but to cling too. Years of carrying this deep dark secret came boiling to the surface and Johnny just let the tears flow. “ Wh…why Scott?…..why did she lie to me?….why couldn’t she love me they way a mother is supposed to love her son?…….Why couldn’t she have left me with my father?”

“ I don’t know little brother…….I wish to God I did Johnny……one thing I do know for certain brother is that none of this was your fault Johnny.” Scott said. “ You need to stop blaming yourself.”

“ I’m the son of Satan Scott.”

No you’re not…..anyone who said you are was wrong to say that……..especially to a child……for people to say and do the things they did to you Johnny.” Scott let go of him and moved around to the front. “ Those people are the ones who should pay Johnny…..those people didn’t see what I clearly see in those blue eyes brother…….yeah they can be menacing when you’re Madrid but what I see in them blue eyes is a person with more heart…more soul, I see someone who cares more about others than he does his own self….Johnny you experienced things growing up that a child shouldn’t have to experience. I wish to God you hadn’t….I wish you had grown up at Lancer safe but you didn’t…..You’re a fighter Johnny…a fighter right down to the last…….most men would have gave up and died a long time ago if they had been though what you have……Hell I probably would have……you did what you had to do Johnny to survive and stop the abuse…….I am proud to call you brother and I will not let anyone ever hurt you like that again.”

Johnny hung his head, he couldn’t look his brother in the eyes hearing what he was saying. His whole life he wanted a brother and now he had one that didn’t care about his past the way others did. His brother cared about his past for all the right reasons.

“ I’m sorry Scott…..I’m sorry I hit you.”

“ It’s alright Johnny……don’t you know brothers fight sometimes.” he said as he wiped blood from his nose.

“ I’m also more sorry I pulled my gun on you Scott.”

“ It’s alright Johnny……I will say I was scared but it’s alright….can I ask you something?”

“ Yeah.”

“ The man who killed your mother.”

“ What about him?”

“ Did you find him and kill him?”

Johnny sighed. “ No brother I didn’t but one day I will find that bastardo and I will kill him and no one is going to stop me.”

“ If he is still alive Johnny…how will you know it’s him……I mean”

“ I know what you mean Scott……..I’ll know from  his eyes and a scar my mother gave him when he was killing her.”

“How did she die?”

Johnny knew Scott would ask that. “ He beat her and broke her neck.” Johnny said so softly Scott barely heard him.

Scott cringed at the thought of his brother seeing his mother die that way.  “ It looks like this storm is easing up…well the wind anyways.”

Johnny didn’t say anything. He just walked over to his beloved golden stallion and placed his face into the horses neck as he wrapped his arms around him. Barranca brought his head back into Johnny’ back and just stood there as his friend shook and cried into his soft golden coat.

Scott stood there watching his brother and knew what he was doing. He knew that what had just happened between them was a major obstacle over come and a step toward two brothers from different parts of the country becoming closer. If Scott got his way he and his little brother will become so close that not even dynamite will be able to separate the bond they will forge together.

Later that day Johnny and Scott was making their way through the snow when they heard a gunshot.

Stopping their horses the brothers looked at each other then heard a scream and another shot. Johnny pulled his rifle out and Scott did the same.

“ That came from just ahead.” Johnny said.

They could tell the scream came from a woman as they moved their horses into the trees and got down.

Walking through the snow a couple hundred feet they seen a wagon with two men they could hear laughing as they rummaged through the back. Johnny motioned for Scott to go left as he moved to the right. After a couple minutes Johnny looked over and seen his brother was about twenty feet away from the wagons left side. Motioning with his hand for his brother to stay put Johnny was about to step out of the trees when they two men came out of the wagon. His stomach did a flop as he seen it was Dakota Black and El Paso Kid. Cocking the rifle Johnny stepped out of the tree line.

“ Drop the gunbelts boys.” he said firmly.

Dakota Black snapped his head toward the voice and smiled. “ Well well Kid lookee who it is.”

Kid dropped his right hand down to his side slowly. “ Yeah if it ain’t the half breed Madrid himself.”

“ I said to drop them guns.”

“ You missed all the fun Madrid….the woman there she sure put up a good fight but she sure was some fun……ain’t that right Kid?”

“ Yeah.”

“ I’m not gonna tell you again.” Johnny said as he took a step closer and kept the rifle aimed more at the Kid.

“ And what you gonna do if we don’t Madrid?…..you think you can kill us both?”

“ Maybe…..maybe not.”

“ Then again maybe he will.” Scott said as he came up and put his rifle into Dakota Blacks back. “ I’d do as he says boys.”

The Kid  didn’t take his eyes off Johnny when Scott came up and spoke.

“ I don’t think you got what it takes to make me Madrid……In fact I don’t think you are as fast as everyone says you are……not anymore.” the Kid said with a smirk.

Johnny lowered the rifle. “ Only one way you’re gonna find out.”

“ Johnny don’t.”

“ Stay out of this Scott……..this is between me and the Kid here.” Johnny said as he leaned the rifle against a tree. “ You just keep your rifle on Black.” Johnny said as he stepped closer to the Kid.

“ Lets dance boy.” Johnny said. He knew the Kid was deadly fast and that this just might be the one person who could kill Madrid, but Johnny had something to live for now and that was a brother and he wasn’t about to fail him. Standing there his eyes became stone cold as Madrid was now fully in place.

Scott and Dakota stood in silence watching the two face off. Deep down Scott prayed silently that his brother survived this. He remembered the look on his brothers face back in Leeds when asked if he could take the Kid.

“ I am gonna so enjoy killing you Madrid……..I’m glad Pardee didn’t back then when he cut you up……I’m glad you survived because when people find out I took down the half breed gunfighter Madrid there won’t be a man alive that will be brave enough to try and cross me…….hell even ol’ Pardee will show me respect.”

“ You gonna talk or draw Kid?”

“Whats the matter Madrid?……you in a hurry to die?”

“ I ain’t the one gonna die……you are…….I’m gonna kill you for what you done to these folks here…and for all the ones past you sonofabitch.”

That did it, Johnny seen the tall tale sign in the Kids eyes that he was going to draw.  Johnny had his colt out and fanned the trigger before the Kid got his gun clear. Johnny’ bullet caught the Kid square in the heart dropping him dead before he hit the ground. Glancing at his brother to make sure he still had Black covered Johnny walked up to the Kid and aimed his colt and shot the Kid  again between the eyes.

Scott couldn’t believe what he saw. He had seen his brother draw before and knew he was fast but this time, this time Scott swore his brother was twice as fast as ever. Startled when Johnny walked up to the Kid and shot him again Scott let his guard down just enough that Dakota Black felt the rifle pressure ease on his back and made his move. Spinning around Black knocked the rifle clear and shoved Scott down. Running into the trees to were he and the Kid had left their horses.

Johnny seen what happened and before he could fire Black was around the wagon and into the trees.

Damn it Scott.” Johnny said as he took off after Black.

Dakota Black reached his horse and swung up into the saddle and took off keeping to the trees knowing it would be hard for Madrid to hit him.

Johnny fired several shots at Black as he galloped away but missed. Fuming Johnny went back to give his brother a piece of his mind. Taking the Kids horse with him Johnny started cussing his brother out.

“ Damn it Scott I told you to watch him you……” Johnny stopped and stared at what he seen. Scott was wrapping a blanket around a small boy. Walking over and tying the horse off Johnny sighed. ‘ Great…just what we need ‘ he thought. Johnny pulled a couple more blankets from the wagon and walked over and covered the kids parents up. “ Ill go get our horses brother.” Johnny said coldly as he walked away.

Scott heard the hate and anger in his brothers voice as he stood up. “ You got a name son?”

The boy stared at him through terrified eyes. “ Peter….Hawks.” the boy said trembling. “ You gonna hurt me mister?”

Scott looked down at the child and put a hand gently under his chin. ‘ No Peter…..me and my brother are not going to hurt you.”

Johnny came walking back with the horses. “ We need to get moving Scott.”

“ Johnny…we need to bury Peter’ parents.”

“ Can’t……look I’m sorry kid that your folks are dead but they are and nothing is gonna change that.”

Johnny stop it.” Scott yelled.

Stop what……look Scott we can’t stay here and take the time to bury his parents…you let Dakota Black get away brother and we cant take the risk that Pardee isn’t close by now mount up.” Johnny said firmly as he swung up in the saddle and moved Barranca over to were he left his rifle. Reaching down he grabbed it and laid it across his legs as he turned Barranca back around. Scott was getting the boy up on the Kid’ horse as Johnny rode past. 

Scott knew his brother was pissed at him and he also knew that at the first chance he got his brother  was probably going to lay into him good. His screw up could have cost them both their lives and he knew it. Reining in next to his brother Scott put a hand on Johnny’ arm.

“Not now Boston.” Johnny snapped before looking back at the boy just behind Scott on his left. “ I’m gonna ride up ahead a ways and check things out….keep that rifle ready and try not to screw up again.” Johnny said hastily as he spurred Barranca and galloped away.

Scott stopped his horse and watched his brother ride ahead and disappear over the rise. The snow was only a couple inches deep as they made their way down.

“ Is your brother mad at me?” Peter asked.

Scott looked at him. “ No Peter…Johnny is mad at me……I messed up back there and we both could have been killed and that man runs with another bad man named Pardee that my brother knows….Johnny is afraid that Dakota Black will ride back to Pardee and tell him what happened and come looking for us.”

“How does your brother know these bad men?”

“ He knew them from when he was down in Mexico a few years ago……Johnny used to ride with Day Pardee and his men until they turned bad and started doing what they did to your folks Peter.”

“ I’m glad Johnny killed that man……..I wish he could have killed the other one too for what he did to my ma.”

Scott looked into Peter’ eyes and he could see the same anger in them as he seen the night before in his brothers eyes. “ Where was you and your folks heading Peter?”

“ San Francisco…Pa was gonna go to work for some big business there.”

“ Where did you live before?”

“ Chicago…..what will happen to my ma and pa Scott?”

“ What do you mean?”

“ Leaving them like we did and not burying them will they still go to heaven?”

“ Yes Peter they will……in fact I bet they are looking down on you right now smiling at how brave you are being.”

“ Really?”

“ Really….you know Peter your parents will always be with you in your heart…….nothing can take that away.”

“ Where are you and Johnny’ parents?”

Scott stopped his horse. “ My mother died when I was born…..I was raised by my grandfather in Boston and I now live with my father outside Moro Coyo California.”

“ You and Johnny don’t look alike.”

“ No we don’t do we……Johnny’ mother was a beautiful Mexican woman my father married a few years after my mother died.”

“ So if you live in California how is it Johnny grew up in Mexico?”

“ His mother took him away from his father when he was just two…..she died when he was eleven and Johnny’ had a pretty rough life growing up orphaned down there.”

“ I read books about gunfighters of the west and those men called your brother Madrid…..I read about Madrid in a book and it said he was a vicious brutal killer of men, women and children.”

“ Peter….don’t believe everything you are told or read….Johnny had it hard growing up in the border towns. You see some people don’t like  mixed races and Johnny is part Mexican and part American.”

“ He looks Mexican to me.”

“ Yeah he does but he has blue eyes so because of that people where very cruel to him.”

Scott looked and seen his brother was galloping back toward them. Stopping his horse he waited.

“ Peter…don’t say anything to Johnny about what I told you okay.”

“ I won’t.” the boy said as he watched how graceful Barranca moved with his rider. “ He sure does ride good and that horse is sure a beauty.”

“ Yeah Johnny and that stallion are amigos Peter.”

“ Amigos?”

“ Partners…friends for life.”

Johnny reined Barranca in between his brother and Peter’ horse. Barranca raised his head up and laid his chin on Peter’ right leg. “ He want’s you to rub his forehead Peter.” Johnny said. “ I couldn’t see anything but I got a feeling deep down I haven’t seen the last of Dakota Black…….Hows he doing?”

“ Good considering he just lost his folks.”

“ Johnny.” Peter said.

“ Yeah kid.”

“ I’m glad you killed that man for what he did to my folks.”

Johnny looked at Scott and could tell from the look on his face that Scott had told the boy something about his past and how he knew the two men. “ Lets keep moving while the lights still good and get on down out of this snow.” Johnny said as he moved Barranca between the two others and turned him around.

“ How far to the next town Johnny?’

“ Not for a couple days ride west….There’s a stage station before we get into what’s known as death valley…we can give the horses a good rest for a day or so before heading out.”

“ Why’s it called death valley Johnny?’ Peter asked.

“ Because in the summer Peter it gets well over a hundred degrees out there and there ain’t no water….at night you can freeze to death.”

“ How far is it across it?” Scott asked.

“ Roughly about a hundred miles….this time of year it won’t be as hot but we will still need to take it easy on the horses crossing it.”

That evening about dusk Johnny shot a deer so they would have some meat for a few days. Sitting by the camp fire Johnny watched Scott and Peter talking across the fire from him. Standing up Johnny walked over and checked the horses. A wolf howled in the distance and Barranca became nervous.

“ Easy amigo….I hear him.” he said as he ran a hand up and down his friends face.

Another wolf howled but this one was much closer and all three horses became nervous. “ Peter put more wood on that fire…get the flames going real good…..Scott come help me move the horses closer.”

Johnny said as he untied Barranca and led him over into the light from the fire.

“ Will they attack us Johnny?”

Scott looked at his brother as he tied off the other two horses next to Barranca.

“ It’s not us they want….they smell the meat and horses….they probably came down from the snow to find easier hunting. You two get some sleep…I’ll take the first watch Scott and wake you at midnight.”

Scott and Peter sacked in. Scott had his rifle next to him as well as his pistol. He looked over at Peter and could tell the boy was afraid as the wolves howled again.

Johnny knew he’d get no sleep tonight. Not wanting to chance having one of his many nightmares and scarring the boy Peter Johnny decided to let Scott sleep. The wolves moved on but every once in a while he would hear their beautiful howl.  Pouring himself a cup of coffee Johnny couldn’t help but think back to his time in Mexico. Not all of it was bad, he remembered how he had come upon this group of wild burro’s and one of them was having trouble giving birth. Johnny had took the risk of being kicked to death and helped the Jenny deliver a beautiful long eared  baby. Animals was and probably always would be his greatest weakness, well that and a good woman between the sheets. Sitting there sipping his coffee Johnny smiled as he remembered the girl back in town and how he had made her first time probably be her best time. He loved it when he got the chance to be the one to take a girl and make her into a woman.  Sitting there he also thought about Teresa and wondered where she might be and if by chance she was with his child. Sighing Johnny stood up and walked over to his brother since the sun was coming up and woke him up.

“ Scott….wake up.”

“ Huh…..is it midnight already brother?”

“ No it’s sunrise brother and we need to get moving.”

“ Sunrise…..I thought you was going to wake me up at midnight to stand watch Johnny?”

“ I couldn’t sleep so I figured I’d let you…..Peter wake up!” Johnny yelled somewhat.

Peter woke up and stretched before he got out from under his blanket. “ Morning Johnny…Scott.”

“ Morning Peter.” Scott said as he watched his brother.

“ Get a move on Peter.” Johnny said more harshly than he intended too.

“Yes sir.”

“ Hey ease up Johnny the suns not even up yet.”

“Look Scott we got a lot of miles to go before we get back to Lancer and now we gotta find a town to leave the kid in oh and lets not forget that you let a killer get away.”

“ Alright Johnny….I made a mistake okay……You know maybe if you hadn’t walked up to the Kid and shot him in the head after he was already dead then maybe Black or whatever his name is wouldn’t have gotten away So when it comes right down to it brother you’re just as much to blame as I am.” Scott stammered before walking over to help Peter with his bedroll.

“ Your brother is awfully angry Scott. I’m sorry if I did something wrong I didn’t mean to.”

“ You didn’t Peter…Johnny’ just being an ass this morning.” Scott said as he shot his brother an angry look. When Johnny walked over to the horses Scott followed. “ Stay here Peter.”

Johnny was saddling Barranca when Scott walked up and shoved Johnny. “ What is the matter with you Johnny?…..you got that kid thinking he’s done something wrong to make you mad……I don’t know why you’re treating him the way you are brother but if you don’t back off then me and you are going to go at it again……is that clear?”

Johnny didn’t expect his brother to lash out like he did, so when Scott shoved him he was caught off guard. “ That kid just brought us….me trouble I don’t need Scott….I know it’s not his fault his folks got kilt but you better listen to me when I say get moving because Dakota Black is nothing compared to Day Pardee…..and if you ever touch me again like that brother I’ll gladly give you some more bruises.”

Johnny pushed until just after dark they reached the way station. Take Peter inside Scott and I’ll see to the horses.” Johnny said as he got down.

“ I can help you Johnny.” Peter proclaimed.

“ No Peter you go on inside with Scott and get warmed up…I’ll take care of the horses…..Go on.” Johnny said.

“ Just like my pa…never lets me help.” Peter said as he walked away.

Johnny stopped. “ Peter.” was all Johnny said as he held the reins toward the boy.

Peter hurried back and took his horse’ reins and followed Johnny into the way station barn. Dropping the reins to Barranca Johnny went and started unsaddling his brothers horse. He watched Peter as he did. When he had the saddle off he led the horse into the stall and came back out and started taking care of Barranca.

“ Peter how old are you?”

“ I’m ten.” he said as he slid the saddle off the horse and led him into a stall. Johnny picked the saddle up and threw it over the rail side of the stall.

Johnny cringed, he was only a year older when he was left alone in the world. “ Peter I’m sorry if I made you feel I was mad at you……I’m not okay?”

“ I know….Scott told me why you……..”

“ Scott told you what Peter?” Johnny asked as he led Barranca into a stall and started brushing him down good.

“ Nothing Johnny.”

“ Nothing huh…….I bet my brother told you why I am known as Johnny Madrid.”

“ I don’t want you ta get mad at Scott Johnny……I was askin him about your family and he told me why you two are so different but yet brothers.”

“Peter you got any other family?”

“ No my pa and ma was only child’s just like me….Johnny can I ask you something?”

“ Sure.”

“ Is it true what they say about you?”

“ Is what true?” Johnny asked wondering what a kid from Chicago would know about Johnny Madrid.

Peter walked over and took a book out of the sack he had of very little from his families wagon. He handed the book to Johnny.

Johnny stopped brushing Barranca and took the book. ‘ Cold Blue Eyed Killer, The killings of Johnny Madrid’ “ Did you ask my brother about that book?”

“ Yeah.”

“ And what did he say?”

“ Scott said to not believe everything I hear or read.”

“ Well Peter……he’s right….maybe sometime when you’re older I’ll tell you.”

“ It says you murdered over a hundred men, women and children.”

That got Johnny’ hackles up. “ Let me tell you something Peter…..I never killed any women or children and the men I have killed called me out……when I get called out boy I try my damnedest to talk them out of it…..I don’t like killing Peter and any man who takes it lightly is a fool. It’s easy to kill a man but it’s impossible to bring him back to life.” I have never broken the law and I’m not a cold blooded killer.”

“What about that man…….you didn’t have to do what you did to him…he was already dead.”

“ Yes I did Peter…..your to young to understand but I did have to do that………look why don’t you go on inside and I’ll finish up in here.”

Peter knew he had upset Johnny this time as he ran from the barn right past Scott.

Scott walked into the barn and picked up the brush Peter had dropped.

“ Don’t start brother.” Johnny said as  he gave Barranca some grain.

“ I hear most of it Johnny and I told him.”

“ I know what you told him Boston…….you had no right telling him anything.”

“ Well excuse me brother for wanting to set the kid straight on the fact that my brother isn’t a cold blooded killer.”

“ I’m sorry Scott…It’s just that….”

‘ You was only a year older than Peter is when you became orphaned.”

“ Yeah…….he says he has no other family Scott.”

“ Sounds to me like my little brother is doing some serious thinking about a certain boys future maybe.”

Johnny sighed and leaned his head against Barranca’ neck. “ I don’t want him to end up going through what I did Scott……I know how an orphanage can be and the other kids.”

“ I know you do brother…..Tell you what…….why don’t we take him to Lancer and maybe Murdoch knows a good family that would take him in.”

Johnny looked at his brother. “ I been thinkin about that all day…..I didn’t mean to snap at him the way I did Scott….he’s been reading this book.” Johnny picked the book up and handed it to his brother.

“ Thanks for telling him what you did Scott……I guess I’m still not used to having an older brother to stick up for me……….let alone defend me against my past.”

“ Well little brother get used to it cause you see the number one rule of being a big brother is to defend the little brother no matter what…come on lets go eat. The station manager was cooking up some chicken when I came out.”

.

Chapter 4

Two days later Johnny, Scott and Peter was riding across Death Valley. Johnny was keeping the pace easy for the horses because he knew that in a couple hours it would be hot, not summer time hot but still just as bad.

“ Hey Johnny.” Peter said.

“ Yeah.”

“ I thought when crossing the desert it was better to do it at night……..I mean it’s pretty flat and all so the horses wouldn’t be stumbling around.”

“ No they wouldn’t but we need to make time and traveling at night even though it’s cooler Peter it isn’t always the best choice.” Johnny reined Barranca in. “ Look you’re gonna have to start growing up real fast out here Peter with your folks gone and all…….Keep one thing in mind while you are for me.”

“ What’s that Johnny?”

“ Choices……….always weigh the options and stand by the decision you make and always ask yourself if it’s the right choice.”

“ Is that what you did when you became Madrid Johnny?”

“ Yeah Peter……..I got tired of being abused and made the choice to pick up this gun. I wish I hadn’t but I did.”

“ How old was you when you killed your first man?”

Johnny looked from Peter to his brother. “ I was fourteen Peter…..I thought that becoming a gunfighter was great……I had seen others and I thought man look at the respect they get but you know what……it wasn’t respect Peter….people was afraid of them. I was hell bent to make a name for myself and I kept getting better and faster with my gun and the faster I got the more men came lookin to kill me.”

“ Why?”

“ Because then they would have the reputation of killing Johnny Madrid.”

“ You mean men call you out just to have a reputation?”

“ Yeah…….you still think what you read in them dime novels is great?”

“ No.”

“ Peter out here a man has to live with the choices he makes no matter what….If he makes the wrong one it could get him killed….I hope that some day I can take this gun off and be a rancher with my father and brother and not have to keep looking over my shoulder or checking every corner and roof top when I ride into town. The life of a gunfighter is not a glorious one Peter……You have no friends or a woman to call your own……you live by the gun and die by the gun.” Johnny said as he got Barranca moving again.

Scott listened intently to his brother.’ You know brother you may not have my education but you are smart ‘ Scott thought to himself.

Three days later the brother and Peter rode under the Lancer arch and into the yard. Murdoch was out by the corrals when his foreman noticed riders coming in. When he could tell who two of the riders were Murdoch smiled and walked toward them when they rode into they yard.

“ Scott……Johnny!” he said with enthusiasm.

 Scott got down as did Peter and went to his father. Murdoch pulled him into a hug as he looked up at his youngest still on his horse.

Scott gave Johnny a look saying it would be alright as he put a hand on Peter’s  shoulder and stepped up next to the boy.

Johnny got down and took the reins of his brother and Peter’s horses. “ Murdoch.” Johnny said as he tipped his head. “ I’m gonna take care of the horses Scott.”

“ Let one of the hands do it son…..You must be tired and hungry…..come on in the house and relax.”

Johnny wanted to bolt. He didn’t know if this was going to work or not after the way his father and him talked to each other before he escaped. Sighing he handed the horse’s reins to a hand and followed his brother and Murdoch into the house.

Murdoch walked into the grand room and over to the side board. “ Would either of you care for a drink?”

“ Sounds good to me sir.” Scott said as he sat down on the couch with Peter.

Johnny followed his brother and sat down in a chair across from them.

“ Johnny…son would you care for a drink?”

Scott nudged his brother in the side.

“ Yeah sure.” Johnny finally said.

Murdoch brought the drinks over and handed them to each son then walked back over and  poured some lemonade for Peter and took it and his drink. Handing Peter the lemonade Murdoch went and sat down in a chair next to Johnny.

“ So just who is this young man?”

 Scott nudged Peter. “ Peter Hawks sir.”

Murdoch cocked a brow when the boy said ‘sir’ . Looking from one son to the other he could tell they needed to talk. “ Um Peter why don’t you come with me and I will have Maria show you to the wash house so you can clean up….I need to speak to my sons a moment.”

“ Yes sir…….sir are you really Johnny Madrid’s father?”

Johnny ducked his head and Scott shot a look at the boy.

“ Well Peter yes I am son..I’m the father of Johnny Madrid Lancer……and proud of it.” he added.

Johnny really felt like bolting now. Not only did they bring an orphaned boy home they brought a boy who seemed to idolize Johnny Madrid.

Murdoch looked at his youngest and could see Johnny was uncomfortable with what he said.

“ So how’d you come upon him boys?’

Scott knew Johnny wouldn’t say anything so he told Murdoch about the boy’s family. When he finished Murdoch looked at his youngest. “ You wasn’t hurt were you son?” he asked with a sincere voice.

Johnny looked up stunned that his father would ask him that. Finding his voice finally Johnny spoke.

“ No……one of them got away though and it will mean trouble.” he said standing and walking over to the french doors and looking out.

“ Trouble how son?”

There it was again ‘ son ‘ twice now he had called him that, not Johnny or John but ‘ son ‘. Johnny turned back to face his father. “ Madrid trouble.” was all he said.

“ I see…..well we’ll just have to keep an eye out for this trouble when it shows.”

“ And do what?…….You gonna face down a gunfighter old man?”

Scott stood up, he could tell Johnny was getting irritated. “ Johnny I believe our father is offering his help against this Pardee when and if he does come.”

Johnny looked at Scott. “ Look I ran with these men below the border and they are bad. Pardee is brutal and he takes pride in what he does to women and torturing men.” Johnny said as he walked over and poured another shot.

“ You ran with these men son?”

“ Yeah….until I found out how brutal they were….when I wouldn’t partake in it Pardee  and his men beat me and cut me up and left me for dead….Dakota Black is a killer…a cold blooded killer who likes to kill people by ambush or in the back….Look Murdoch maybe it’s not such a good idea me coming back here and all…..a lot of innocent people could get hurt.”

Murdoch walked over to his youngest. “ Johnny…Lancer is your home son…and you belong here with me and your brother……I know I said some things before you left I shouldn’t have but I did a lot of thinking while you were gone…..I now know how wrong I was to judge you and tell you that the past is the past…..I want you to make a new life for yourself here son and if your past shows up then we will handle it together because Lancer takes care of it’s own. I have been blessed to get you back twice son…I will do whatever I have to do to see to it that you stay here.”

Scott walked over and put an arm around his brother’s shoulder. “ That’s right little brother so you better get used to it.”

Johnny let a small smile come to his face but mostly his eyes smiled when he looked at his father.

“ So son what are your plans  for Peter?”

Johnny looked at his father for a long silent moment then at Scott who had a look on his face telling him to just say it. Taking a deep breath Johnny poured another drink.

“ I know how orphanages can be Murdoch…..I don’t want Peter to go through what I did……I know the ones here aren’t as bad as the ones in Mexico but……”

“ Sir what my brother is trying to say.”

“ Scott…….don’t….I can do this.” Johnny snapped.

Scott gave his brother a stern look and walked over and poured himself another drink.

“ Can Peter stay here at Lancer?”

Murdoch could tell by the tone of his son’s voice that he cared about this boy. “ Son…..is that what you want?….are you saying you would like to see if the courts would allow you custody of Peter to raise?”

“ Not me Murdoch…..you…..I know they wouldn’t allow me because of my past but you..you would stand a better chance at it.”

“ Why son…..why not see if a family in this valley would take him? Why does he have to stay at Lancer?” Murdoch had a suspicious feeling he knew the answer but he needed to hear his son say it.

Johnny sighed and hung his head. “ Because he’s only a year younger than I was when…..”

“ Alright son……..if it means that much to you but on one condition.”

“ What’s that?”

“ You talk to Peter about this and son……if he does stay here he needs to understand that Johnny Madrid is trying to be Johnny Lancer.”

“ Well ya see Murdoch right there we got ourselves a problem.”

Murdoch raised a brow. “ How so son?”

“ Johnny Madrid is Johnny Lancer.” he said before turning and walking away to find Peter.

Murdoch watched his son walk away then looked at his oldest. “ What did I say wrong Scott?”

“ Sir I don’t want to do anything to betray my brother’s trust but when we went to leave Leeds Johnny was very apprehensive about coming back to Lancer…..he’s still not sure you want him here.”

“ Of course I want him here Scott…..he’s my son, why wouldn’t I want him here?”

“ Because sir….Johnny feels that you want only Johnny Lancer here not Johnny Madrid.”

Murdoch was starting to understand now but there was still something Scott wasn’t saying, something happened that Murdoch knew Johnny was not saying.

“ Scott while the two of you was  gone did something happen I should know about?”

Scott thought about telling Murdoch about the deputy but decided that that was up to Johnny to tell if he chose to. “ Nothing more than the town wanting to lynch my brother because of who he was…..It seems the sheriff in Leeds knows you though, he said you and him used to ride together.”

That statement hit Murdoch hard in the gut. “ Did your brother and Sheriff Evans talk about my past son?”

“ I think so……Johnny asked him to tell him something about your past since he didn’t know you sir….I believe they talked some.” Scott said with a nasty taste in his mouth. “ He told Johnny about how you used to feel about gunfighters and quite frankly sir I can’t help  but wonder if that hate you had for them back then a part of you still has…..I mean for sake of argument Johnny has every right to be apprehensive and wonder.”

“ Scott I was much younger then……I don’t feel the same way now, especially about Johnny.”

“ Do you sir because I can’t help but wonder about that….I mean the minute that Marshal showed up here I could see it in your eyes…….I could see how all your thoughts about Johnny as a gunfighter came to the surface and the disappointment you had……you didn’t even bother to talk to him about this matter…you just automatically assumed he was guilty.” Scott’ anger was surfacing and he had wanted to say this for a long time and decided now was as good a time as any. “ You didn’t fight for him one bit sir…. you told that Marshal Johnny could be locked up in the guard house while he got well enough to ride…oh sure you went and seen him but not as the father he needed. I heard you that night say the things you did to him and I heard what Johnny said right back to you and you know what…….right then I was ashamed to have you as my father because no father would turn their back on their child like you did that night….If you’ll excuse me sir I would like to get cleaned up before dinner.” Scott said before walking out of the room.

Murdoch stood there and watched his oldest walk away. He knew that he better do whatever he had to do to make things right with his youngest or he would lose both his sons. He could tell by the way his oldest defended his youngest that the boys had become close while gone. That they had a bond going and it was going to keep getting stronger as the days passed. Sitting down he thought back to when he was a bounty hunter and had told Evans that ‘ a gunfighter was the scum of the earth and didn’t deserve to live, that they deserved to die and had no place on this earth.’  Sighing he never would have dreamed that those words would ever come back to haunt him. That one of his own children would become a gunfighter and find out about that. Right or wrong, good or bad the past is the past Murdoch remembered telling them. His past was just as bad as his youngest and no matter what  it took he was going to have to have a long discussion with his son, both his sons about his past.

Johnny found Peter coming out of the bathhouse. “ Hey Peter take a walk with me I need to talk to you about something.”

“ Sure Johnny.”

Johnny and Peter walked out to a corral and Johnny looked at the mares heavy with foals. Putting a foot up on the bottom rail he slid his hat back to rest by the stampede strap on his back.

“ Peter how would you like to stay at Lancer?” he asked.

Peter looked at him with wide eyes. “ You mean live here with you and your family Johnny?”

“ Yeah….I talked to Murdoch and he said he would see what he could do about making you his ward…but it has to be your decision Peter.”

“You don’t want me to maybe go through what you did when you was left alone do you Johnny?….You don’t want the chance of me becoming a gunfighter.”

Johnny removed his foot from the rail and turned to face Peter. “ No I guess I don’t…….you’re a smart kid Peter and you deserve a chance at a good life and you can get that  here at Lancer….but Peter if Murdoch can make this happen there is something you have got to remember.”

“ That you’re not Johnny Madrid…you’re Johnny Lancer right?”

Johnny couldn’t help but smile. “ Yeah……my past will always be there Peter but the fewer people who know who I was the better…..you understand that don’t you?”

“ Sure Johnny…I know those books I read about Johnny Madrid wasn’t the truth and I would be honored to get to know the real Johnny Madrid…I mean Johnny Lancer and have him as my brother.”

Johnny dropped his head when Peter said brother. Having an older brother was something entirely different. Now he would possibly have a younger brother to look up to him and learn from him.

“ Johnny you remember what you told me about choices?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Well I think I’m about to make the biggest and best choice I could ever make in my life Johnny….I choose to stay with you and your family.”

Johnny put his arms around Peter and pulled him in for a hug, something he very rarely ever did.

Letting Peter go they started walking back toward the house.

“ Johnny you think I could maybe have my own horse?”

“ You bet.” Johnny said, he knew the horse Peter rode probably brought back hurtful memories and understood why he would want a different horse.

“ You do know that this is a working ranch and you will have chores to do……you may not always like them but we all have to do them here…..why I even do chores I don’t like to do.”

“ Really.” Peter said more as a statement than a question.

“ Yeah really…….look I’m gonna go get cleaned up because Murdoch likes to eat dinner at six sharp…why don’t you go in and talk to him and let him know your answer.”

“ Sure Johnny.”

That night during dinner casual conversation took place. Johnny and Murdoch didn’t talk much and Johnny knew looking at his brother across from him that he and Murdoch came to words after he left earlier.

Scott cleared his throat. “ So sir…how are the fields coming?”

Murdoch looked at Johnny then Scott. “ Good…both are cleared and the fence is up…the slough is almost done. ….why don’t all of us take a ride into Green River tomorrow and I’ll order the seed and you boys can get Peter some clothes.”

Johnny looked at his father. “ You gonna see the lawyer while there about Peter?”

“ Yes son I will.”

Johnny looked back down at his plate. He still couldn’t believe his father was going to do this for Peter and the fields, that he was really shocked at, but they had started clearing them before the Marshal showed up so why wouldn’t he continue to go through with it. “Because I had suggested it is why” Johnny told himself. If Scott had there wouldn’t have been any doubt about it. Throwing his napkin down Johnny stood up. “ I’m gonna turn in.” he said as he stood.

“ It’s awful early son and you didn’t eat much.”

“ Not that hungry….I’ll see you in the morning Peter…Scott.” Johnny said as he turned and walked out of the room.

Murdoch could hear his son’s spurs as he climbed the stair.

“ Is Johnny okay?” Peter asked.

Murdoch looked at him. “ Yes son Johnny just has a lot on his mind right now and I’m sure after the long ride he’s had he is tired.” Murdoch stated.

The three finished dinner and adjourned to the great room where Scott and Peter played  a couple games of checkers before Peter started yawning. Scott showed him to his room and came back downstairs and poured himself a brandy.

“ I think Peter is happy that you are going to do this for him sir.”

“ Yeah…it looks like he was a pretty good opponent playing checkers.”

“ Yes he was…..I wonder how it will go when he and Johnny play?”

“ I’d say long.”

“ Well I think I’ll turn in now sir.” Scott said as he finished off his brandy.

“ Alright son…good night.”

“ Good night sir.”

The next morning Johnny was up at the crack of dawn and out looking at the horses. Peter asked for his own horse and Johnny picked out a really nice bay he knew would be a good horse for a ten year old to ride. Walking in the kitchen he found the others where up.

“ I thought you were still sleeping brother.” Scott stated as Johnny sat down and poured himself some coffee.

“ No…I was out choosing a horse for Peter…he asked me yesterday if he could have his own horse and I told him he could.” Johnny said flatly as he took a sip of coffee.

“ I thought the horse he rode in on was his?” Murdoch stated.

Johnny shot him a look. “ No….that was…..”

“ That horse belonged to the man Johnny killed.” Peter said flatly.

Both Johnny and Scott looked at Peter then Murdoch.

“ I see…..well Johnny is very good with horses and if he says he picked out a good one for you Peter you can bet it is……after all a ten year old boy should have his own horse and it should be a good one.” Murdoch stated as he looked at his youngest and hoped Johnny took what he had said with heart.

Four hours later the three Lancers and Peter rode into Green River.

“ Scott , Johnny why don’t you take Peter to the mercantile while I order the seed?” Murdoch suggested.

“ Sure…come on Peter.” Scott said. “ Maybe I’ll see if they got any shirts that would be of better color than the ones my brother wears.” he said with a laugh.

“ Watch it Boston…..I’ll have you know that shirts like what I wear are what drives…….” Johnny stopped short remembering Peter was with them.

Reining the horses up in front of the store the boys dismounted and Johnny got a bad feeling in his gut. He couldn’t quite place why but something was wrong, something was going to happen and he didn’t like the feeling he had.

Scott noticed the sudden change in his brother’s face as they stepped up onto the walk.

“ You alright Johnny?”

The look Johnny gave him was all he needed to know something was wrong.

Johnny opened the door the the mercantile and stepped in followed by Scott and Peter.

“ Why hello what can I do for you gentlemen today?” a woman clearly in her fifties asked with enthusiasm.

“ Well ma’am Peter here needs some clothes…you know pants and shirts.”

“ Don’t forget boots.” Johnny said as he walked over to the hats.

“ Well I believe I have just the boy’s size.”

Thirty minutes later the lady was wrapping up the clothes when her husband came in from the back.

“ Get out of here Madrid……..Your kind isn’t welcome in my store……get out now or I’ll throw you out.”

Johnny turned at the voice and was going to say something but Scott spoke up first. “ Now see here my brother and I were just buying some clothes for the boy Mr.”

“ I don’t care what you was doing I want this half breed killer out of my store now……..your kind ain’t welcome here…..in fact we don’t even want you in this valley….Martha go upstairs now.”

The woman gave an apologetic look then hurried away.

“ Get out half breed.”

Johnny stepped toward the man but was stopped by Scott. “ Don’t Johnny…he’s not worth it.”

Johnny looked at Scott then Peter before turning and walking out.

“ Mr. you ever call my brother that again and you’ll find yourself with a bloody if not broken nose.” Scott said as he picked up Peter’s packages and turned and walked out.

Johnny stepped out onto the boardwalk and could hear what his brother said, letting a small smile come to his face. Murdoch was coming toward him when Scott and Peter came out of the store.

“ Thanks brother.” was all Johnny said.

Scott knew what for and put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. He immediately felt Johnny go tense and saw Murdoch walking toward them, something inside him told him that Murdoch wasn’t the reason. Following Johnny’s stare Scott seen what had his brother tense. Just down the street Dakota Black had  just come out of the saloon.

“ Stay here.” Johnny said firmly as he stepped down into the street. He was about to do something that Johnny Madrid never did. He was going to call Dakota Black out.

Scott could tell by Johnny’s voice that he was all Madrid right now. Murdoch walked up and could tell something was wrong. Scott quickly told him and a sick feeling came to his stomach.

Johnny pulled his colt up then let it slide back down in the holster to make sure it was loose.

Dakota Black.” he called loud enough he knew he was heard.

Dakota black turned and seen who called his name. “ Well well well if it isn’t the half breed Madrid!”

People on the street hurried into shops or out of the range of the two men.

“ What do you want breed?” Dakota asked snidely as he stepped down into the street.

Johnny stopped about fifty feet from him. “ I’m gonna give you two choices Black.”

“ Oh really….and just what would them two choices be?”

“ One you can take off that gun and walk over to the sheriff’s office and turn yourself in for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Hawks.”

“ And two?’

“ Two you can die.” Johnny said flatly with coldness.

“ This ain’t like you Madrid…….you never called anyone out before……..what’s the matter boy you lose your nerve?”

“ I ain’t lost anythin but you’re gonna if you don’t take that gun off.”

“ No I don’t think I will Madrid……you killed the Kid by luck….you won’t be so lucky with me.”

Johnny smiled just enough that Black seen it. “ I was really hoping you would say that Dakota…..a piece of shit like you don’t deserve to still be breathing.”

Scott held onto Peter’s shoulders in front of him as he watched a side of his brother he had never seen before. He knew Johnny was faster than Black but for his brother to be the one to call him out, that was what shocked Scott the most.

“ You know Madrid Pardee was really surprised when I told him you was still alive…….in fact he’s really lookin forward to seein ya again and finishin what he started cept this time he’s gonna make real sure you’re dead.”

Johnny didn’t flinch or take his eyes off Dakota Black. He just stood there calm with his right hand at the colt’s side.

“ Too bad you turned on us that day Madrid….you could have had a good time with the daughter…..hell I had a real good time with that woman, she was begging me to kill her when I was done, You should’ve seen the look on her old man’s face when I stuck it to her…….boy did she ever scream……fucking her while she fought it was great Madrid…..you should………..”

Dakota Black never got to finish what he was saying as a bullet entered between his eyes and he fell to the ground dead. Johnny stood there a second before holstering his gun.

“ Killer………you all seen it Madrid is nothing but a cold blooded killer.” Harv Santee yelled.

Murdoch and Scott stepped down and walked over to Johnny. Peter stared down the street at the man who had killed his parents.

The Sheriff came up and asked what happened.

“ Madrid killed that man Sheriff…he murdered him he should hang for it.” Santee stated.

“ Now just a minute…Sheriff that man is known as Dakota Black and him and another man murdered this boy’s parents a few days ago.” Scott said.

The Sheriff looked at the boy. “ That right son?”

“ Yes sir……Johnny killed one of them……..he gave him a choice but the man made the wrong one….Johnny gave Black a choice too Sheriff……..he didn’t murder the man I seen Black’s hand go to his gun but Johnny was much faster.”

“ Uh huh…….well I’m gonna need you all to come to my office and write out a statement  for me.”

“ Get that killer half breed out of our town Sheriff.” the store owner yelled.

Scott walked up to the man. “ I told you what I would do.” he said before hitting the man hard in the face breaking his nose. “ Don’t call my brother a half breed ever again.”

Johnny smiled at his brother before turning to walk to the Sheriff’s office to give his statement. An hour later the four rode out of Green River toward home. None of them knew they were being watched from a roof top at the far end of town. Day Pardee watched Johnny kill Black. Smiling he moved to the back of the roof to climb down. “ I’ll see you real soon Madrid.” he said with a smile.

.

Chapter 5

Day Pardee rode into his camp in the Santa Benito’s mountains and handed his horse off to one of his men.

“ I want everyone to come listen to me.” Pardee  said.

A man named Coley handed him a cup of coffee. “ He there?”

“ Oh yeah Madrid’ there alright.: Day said before taking a drink of coffee. “ He rode into Green River with two other men and a kid……Turns out the old man is his father and the other one is his half brother.”

“ What about Dakota Black?” Coley asked.

“ Madrid killed him…..called him out and shot him down dead just like he did the Kid.”

“ Wait a minute Day….you sayin Madrid called Black out……Madrid don’t call no one out.”

“ Yeah well I know what I seen and I’m tellin ya Madrid called him out….I guess Black and the Kid killed the boy that was with him. A kid about ten or so from what I heard….Black was braggin to Madrid about it and Madrid shot him dead right between the eyes. Black never cleared leather…hell he never got close enough to draw and he had a bullet between his eyes.”

“ So Madrid is still good.” Coley asked.

Pardee  looked at him then threw his coffee into the fire. “ Oh yeah he’s still fast……..in fact I’d say he’s a lot faster than he was when he rode with us.”

“ Yeah I guess he would have to be to kill the Kid. When it comes down to it can you take him?” Coley asked.

Pardee just glared at him. “ Alright listen up……There’s a ranch called Lancer…….it’s a hundred thousand acres strong, sits just outside a little town called Moro Coyo……Lancer has a lot of beeves and such and well…….I always did fancy myself in a big ol’ ranch house on the biggest spread in the San Joaquin valley.”

“ Wait a minute…are you sayin that we are gonna attack Lancer?”

“ Not right away no……I’m gonna draw Madrid to me the one way I know he will come.”

“ How?”

“ By hurting the smaller ranchers around…..it seems Johnny Madrid isn’t really wanted in the valley and they don’t care if he is Murdoch Lancer’s son, he’s a gunfighter and they don’t like him so I figure if we hit the smaller ranchers and let it be known when the time is right that we want Madrid O’ Johnny boy won’t have no choice but to either face me or be responsible for all them small ranchers and what happens to them.”

“ Why not take his old man or brother?”

“ Because I want Madrid to be hurtin from what happens to his neighbors and you know as well as I do that Madrid don’t like the little guy bein hurt.”

“ Yeah.” Coley said with a laugh.

“ I want you to send some men out to scope out Lancer and the surrounding ranches….I want one man to keep an eye on Madrid and what he does every day and report back to me at night….I want it to be someone who won’t screw up.”

“ I’ll do it myself Day.” Coley stated as he turned and after telling several men to start scoping out he went to his horse and mounted. “ Maybe we should see if one or two men could get hired on at Lancer.”

Pardee looked up at Coley. “ That’s not a bad idea Coley…. Jake…Cutler you two are elected to do this…If you get hired I don’t want either one of you too screw it up. Keep your ears open and do what is told of you and don’t call Madrid out or by that name.”

“ We won’t let you down Pardee.” the men said as the went to their horses and mounted up.

“ The rest of you mount up…..we’re going into Moro Coyo.”

“ Moro Coyo why Madrid will see you won’t he?”

“ Yeah that’s what I want now mount up.”

It was Peter who broke the silence as the four got closer to Lancer. “ What did the lawyer say Mr. Lancer?”

Murdoch looked at him riding next to Johnny. “ Peter he is out of town….he won’t be back till the end of the month maybe longer…..it seems his father passed away and he had to go back home to Denver.”

“ So what does that mean sir?”

“ It means you stay with us Peter.” Johnny said sharply.

Murdoch looked at his son and could tell that Johnny was upset about what was said in town. He also knew something else happened in town. He made a mental note to ask Scott about it when he could in private.

“ Come on Peter.” Johnny said as he turned Barranca off the road. “ I want to show you something.”

“ It’s getting later Johnny be back in time for supper.” Murdoch yelled as Johnny and Peter galloped away. Turning to Scott Murdoch asked. “ Did something else happen in town today son?”

Scott looked at his father. “ Like what?”

“ I don’t know but when Johnny came out of the store he seemed upset and it was before he spotted that man he killed.”

Scott stopped his horse. “ Yeah I guess you could say something happened sir…….Did you know that the town people didn’t want Johnny living here in the valley? That they don’t want a killer amongst them?”

Murdoch sighed. “ Santee and Driscoll.”

“ Excuse me sir?”

“ Santee and Driscoll…Harv Santee is the president of the cattlemen’ association and called a meeting last week and in no uncertain terms that your brother wasn’t welcome in this valley.”

Scott didn’t think he could become any angrier. “ And what did you say to that?” he asked with anger in his voice.

“ I told them that Lancer was his home and Johnny is my son and has a right to live in this valley….I also reminded them about how Johnny had helped  some of them out like Santee with his roof Johnny fixed for him while the man was at church.”

“ Problem is sir that people only remember what they want that a person does that is good but if that person does something that they think is wrong then they and everyone else remembers that….Johnny is a good person and when we was in Leeds the Mayor and bank president approached me about Johnny.”

“ Let me guess son…they called him a cold blooded killer?”

“ Yes they did……I don’t believe for on second that Johnny would commit cold blooded murder. I got to know my brother better on this trip sir and I will tell you Johnny may not have an education like me but he is smart.”

“ Son you mind telling me how your brother proved he didn’t kill that rancher?”

“ He met with that rancher but when he found out why that rancher wanted to hire Johnny  Madrid he refused the job and was riding out back south when he was shot in the back….A widow woman named Cora Clemmon’s found him in her barn about dead and nursed him back. Johnny was fighting for his life when that rancher was shot and your Sheriff friend knew Cora and when she came into town for supplies he asked her about it away from Johnny. She described Johnny and told the Marshal  he had the wrong man.”

“ How’d the Marshal take that?”

“ He was upset because of all the time he spent looking for Johnny. He said he was going back to Salt Lake City and turning in his badge because he forgot what being a lawman meant somewhere along the way looking for Johnny.”

“ That’s why I stopped being a lawman also son.”

“ What about when you was a bounty hunter?”

Murdoch looked at his oldest. “ That was because of something that happened that shouldn’t have.” Murdoch said before urging his horse into a gallop as they rode under the Lancer arch.

Johnny took Peter up on the hill over looking Lancer and dismounted. He dropped the reins and Barranca started grazing on the lush green grass. Peter did the same and followed Johnny over under a tree where he sat down and just stared out over the Ranch. After a few minutes he spoke.

“ You know how big Lancer is Peter?”

“ No.”

“ From here all the way to those mountains in the distance Peter…..one hundred thousand acres…twenty thousand head of cattle and the best Palomino’s in the San Joaquin valley……When I came to Lancer almost a year ago it was to kill my father because of the lies my mother told me. When I got here and had the gun pointed at him he told me something that changed my world Peter….he told me I had a brother……when I was growing up I would pray for a big brother that could protect me, a big brother that could stop the abuse I got. My mother knew I had a big brother but she never told me about him. She took me away  from Lancer when I was two, growing up she told me that Murdoch didn’t want me and he had thrown us out. I was a kid and I believed her.”

“ Because she was your mother?”

“ Yeah……I didn’t have anything when I was growing up, I would go to bed hungry or cold. When my mother was murdered I picked up a gun and vowed to find that man and kill him….I haven’t found him yet and if he’s still alive I will and he will die for killing my mother….I guess what I’m saying Peter is that I don’t want you to be like I was. I don’t want you going to bed hungry or cold. I don’t want you to make the mistakes I made and lead the life I have….You understand that don’t you?”

“ Yeah sure I do Johnny……..I’d love to live at Lancer and have you and Scott be my big brother’s and Mr. Lancer be my step pa.”

“ Peter you understand what happened today don’t you?”

“ Yeah Johnny…you killed that man because he killed my folks.”

“ No Peter.” Johnny said as he stood up. “ I gave him a choice Peter remember and he chose the wrong one….I don’t like killing people Peter….I am haunted by the faces of the men I have killed and I’m not saying some of them didn’t deserve to die but I made my choice when I picked up this gun. “ Johnny said as he took the colt out. “ I know it’s just a matter of time before someone comes along faster than me and put’s a bullet in me……Here at Lancer even though I still have to be on guard I can breath a little easier and do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages.”

“ Johnny.”

“ Yeah”

“ How many men have you killed as Madrid?”

“ Too many Peter….Look I want you to remember this okay….Live by the gun…die by the gun, I accepted death a long time ago Peter and I ain’t afraid of it…I couldn’t be and still stay alive.”

“ So you sayin that any man who wears a gun will die by a gun?”

“ No Peter out west here a man never goes out on the range without a gun. They can’t because it’s to dangerous with the wild animals….See at Lancer we have a signal we use to tell anyone who hears it that that person is in trouble……if that person can he fires three shots in the air.”

“ That’s good thinkin cause a shot will carry farther than a yell.”

“ Yeah it will.” Johnny said as he noticed the sun was starting to set over the mountains. “ Come on Murdoch hates ya to be late for supper.” Johnny said as he walked over to Barranca and patted him on the neck before swinging up in the saddle.

“ You think you could teach me that some time Johnny?”

“ Teach you what?”

“ How you got on Barranca.”

“ Sure.” he said with a smile as he started Barranca down the hill toward Lancer at an easy lope. Inside Johnny was happy and vowed he would do whatever he had to so Peter could stay at Lancer. Riding into the yard Johnny was met by Scott.

“ Thought maybe you two got lost brother.”

“ No I just took Peter to the hill.” he said as he dismounted.

“ Man Scott Lancer sure is big.” Peter said with a grin.

“ That it is Peter.” Scott said. “ You better go get cleaned up for dinner Peter.”

“ Yes sir….Thanks  Johnny for the talk.” Peter said as Murdoch walked out.

“ I’ll help you with the horses brother.”

“ You two have a good ride son?”

“ Yeah.” Johnny said softly as he turned to walk Barranca into the barn.

“ Johnny…….I would like to speak to you if I may after dinner.”

Johnny stopped but didn’t turn around. “ I know what it’s about Murdoch so just save it okay.” he said before walking away into the barn.

Murdoch stood there watching his son walk away. Deep down inside he knew his son had heard the hate he did today before. He hated that his son was the one paying for his night of lust with his mother. Murdoch knew when Maria told him she was with child that people would chastise him about bedding a Mexican woman and getting her pregnant out of wedlock but being the man he was and still is he ignored them and married her and was blessed seven months later with the birth of his blue eyed baby boy with the dark hair. How could people blame an innocent child for what that child’s parents did? Murdoch shivered inside as he thought about the abuse his youngest went through growing up because of him. Turning he walked back into the house and poured himself a drink.

.

That evening during dinner Murdoch watched as Scott again lost to Peter  playing checkers.

“ Wanna play again Scott?” Peter asked with a grin.

“ Oh no, I think  you have beat me enough young man.” Scott said as he got up and went to pour himself a drink. Smiling at his father he couldn’t help but wonder when the the two most stubborn people he knew was going to butt heads over what happened in town. “ Sir.”

“ Huh….oh no thank you son I’m fine.”

“ Johnny?”

“ Sure Boston only make it tequila.”

“ Johnny you wanna play?”

“ Yeah Peter  I’ll play ya but instead of checkers how about chess?”

“ Chess?”

“ Yeah you know how to play chess don’t ya?”

“ Sure Johnny…my pa taught me.”

Johnny went and got the chess board and sat it on the small table in front of the couch.

Scott shot Murdoch a questioning look. He had never know his brother played chess and so he never bothered to ask him. It had always been Murdoch he asked to play.

“ I’m sorry brother…I never knew you played chess till just now.” Scott said with contrite.

Johnny looked at him then Murdoch. “ All you had to do was ask.” Johnny said in an acrimonious tone.

Two hours later Johnny and Peter was still playing. Scott and Murdoch both watched in silent aw as Johnny counter moved every move Peter made.

“ Well if you all will excuse me I think I’m going to turn in.” Scott said as he stifled a yawn.

Murdoch looked at the clock and seen it was after ten. “ Peter I think you should be heading to bed now also. You’re gonna start working tomorrow and you’ll need your rest.”

“ Yes sir…finish this tomorrow night Johnny?”

“ You bet.” Johnny said as he stood up and went to pour himself a drink.

Peter walked over and surprised Murdoch with a quick hug and a goodnight. Then he went to Johnny.

“ Johnny….I just wanted to say that even if I don’t get to stay here…you will still be a big brother to me…Scott too.”

This caught Johnny off guard a little but when Peter gave him a hug Johnny hugged him right back.

“ And you will always be a little brother to me Peter.”

Murdoch couldn’t help but feel nothing but pride inside as he watched and heard what Johnny said.

Johnny watched Peter head to bed smiling and liking the feelings he was having inside. ‘ Two brothers’ he mentally noted.

Murdoch walked over and pour a brandy. “ Can I talk to you son?”

Johnny looked at him  then downed his shot. “ I’m tired Murdoch.” he said as he turned to leave.

“ Son please!”

Johnny stopped and turned around. “ Why?”

“ Please John.” Murdoch asked motioning for Johnny to sit on the couch.

Johnny sighed and went over and sat down.

Murdoch sat down next to him and he could tell Johnny was uncomfortable with this so he got up and moved to the chair across from him.

“ Johnny…I want to talk to you about what was said in town son……..Santee and others in the valley don’t think you have a right to be here.” he hated telling his son this but Johnny had a right to know. If he was going to build a trusting relationship with his estranged son then the truth had to be told. “ Last week I attended a cattlemen’ meeting in Green River and several of the smaller rancher’s Santee amongst them told me I was to make you leave Lancer, that they didn’t want a…..”

Johnny’s head came up and he looked at Murdoch. Coldness was in his eyes. “ A what old man?…A half breed killer?…You think this is the first time someone has run me off?…..You think I give a damn what the other rancher’s are saying about me?……I don’t care what they say Murdoch I only care about……” he couldn’t say it. No matter how bad he wanted to he couldn’t.

“ And you think I do?…Son I told Driscoll, Santee and the others that you had every right to live here because this is where you was born and this is where you will live.”

Johnny stared at Murdoch wondering if he would say it. Would he say what Johnny so desperately wanted to hear his father say?

“ Son all I ever cared about for twenty five years was building this ranch up. At the cost of two wives and almost my two sons…….While you and Scott was gone I did a lot of thinking Johnny and when Santee and the others told me that last week I knew then without a doubt I didn’t care. Lancer means nothing to me if my two sons are not here to work it with me.” Murdoch stood up. “ I have worked my whole life for this land, building it up into what it is today…..But without the love and support of my boys I don’t care it means nothing to me…….Johnny I told you that the past is the past and I’ve been pretty adamant about your past son when it’s mine I should be worried about. At first I was ashamed to learn you was a gunfighter Johnny when I shouldn’t be.”

“ You don’t mean gunfighter Murdoch, you mean scum of the earth, that I don’t deserve to live and deserve everything I get don’t you?…….well let me tell you something old man……Lancer is my home. It’s my birth right and I’m not going to let you or anyone else in this valley run me off. You want to know what a gunfighter is old man I’ll tell you. We’re fallen Angel’s brought down to Hell the good book says. Men beyond redemption. When I learned that my own father used to be a bounty hunter I didn’t have a problem with that, but when Sheriff Evans told me how you felt about gunfighters back then I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s not the way you still feel about them today. So tell em old man right here right now to my face……Do I make you sick? Do you hate me so much that that’s why you never……..” Johnny stood up, his anger was really getting to him. Turning he walked over to the french doors and looked out. “ All my life I wanted what she told me to be a lie……All my life all I ever wanted was a father to……To be proud of me and love me.” Johnny said barely above a whisper. “ I’m tired and I’m going to bed.” he said before walking out leaving Murdoch standing there.

Murdoch watched his son walk away. The pain he felt in his heart at what Johnny said was to much to bear. Sitting down he put his hands to his face and quietly cried.

The next morning Scott could tell something had happened after he went to bed. Johnny wouldn’t look or speak to his father. He only acknowledged him and Peter.

“ So what do you want us to do today sir?” Scott asked as he finished his breakfast and wiped his face.

Murdoch looked at Scott then Johnny. “ I want you to ride out and help the men finish that slough….Make sure it it being done right before the spring rains come.” he said.

“ Alright sir.” Scott said as he stood up.

“ What about me sir?” Peter asked.

“ Well Peter it’s important that a man knows the lay of the land he’s working so I want you to ride with Johnny today. I want you to help him check the fence in the north pasture and then I want the two of you to ride on up to the north line shack and make sure it don’t need repairs before the spring comes.”

Johnny stood up. “ I’ll go saddle our horses Peter.” was all he said before walking out.

Scott stood there looking at his father wondering just what did happen last night between the two.

“ I guess I better go help Johnny. If I may be excused sir?”

“ Yes you may Peter.” Murdoch said, happy that someone had manners besides his oldest. Looking at Scott he said. “ Let me know if you need anything out there son, we’ll have to go to Spanish Wells I’m afraid for supplies.”

“ Because of Johnny being here sir?”

“ Yes…..I tried to talk to him last night son and I thought we was doing good but then.”

“ What sir?”

Murdoch told Scott what was said, when he finished the pain had come back.

“ Well sir maybe if you did  start being a father to Johnny and told him you was proud of him or that he did a good job he wouldn’t feel  as much anger inside….As for the other that sir is something you should have said to him long before now…If you will excuse me I’m going to get to work.”

Murdoch knew his oldest was right. He couldn’t remember ever telling Johnny he was proud of him or he did a good job. The two of them seemed to always butt heads at day’s end. Since Johnny had come home to Lancer Murdoch knew inside also that he had never told his son he loved him. He had told Scott and he could remember how he introduced Scott with pride bragging about his education and serving in the war but Johnny, Johnny he only introduced as his other ‘ boy ‘ not son and never talked about how good Johnny was. Truth is besides a gun he didn’t really know what Johnny was good at. Well chess he learned last night his son was very good at playing as he watched him make excellent moves. Sitting there Murdoch vowed he would get to know his son and what he was good at. Scott knew more about Johnny than he did and it shouldn’t be.

.

Chapter 6

Scott rode out to the south pasture were the slough was being built. Trying to keep his mind on the work at hand he found himself thinking about his brother more than the work. Deep down he knew Johnny desperately wanted their father to tell him he was proud of him or loved him even if it was just once, but a father shouldn’t have to be told a son want’s to hear that. Murdoch should know this himself. Scott couldn’t remember one time his grandfather didn’t tell him at least once a day he loved him. He couldn’t begin to imagine what that felt like for Johnny to never hear those simple words.

Johnny and Peter rode the north fence line until early afternoon when Johnny stopped for lunch. Sitting in the shade of an oak tree Johnny had his back against the wide trunk and Peter was sitting in the grass to his right.

“ Johnny can I ask you something?”

Johnny polished off the last bite of his sandwich and took a drink from the canteen to wash it down.

“ Sure.”

“ Well, in town why did those people talk about you like that?….Why did they call you those terrible names?”

“ Because they’re blind Peter, they only see what they want to see and believe, some of them people I have helped out with something they needed done on my day off but they forget that.”

“ It’s not right, people talking to you like that, Pa would say they got no manners but from what I seen and heard yesterday manners wouldn’t really help a jackass.”

Johnny couldn’t help but laugh at what Peter just said. “ You know I think you’d make a good politician

Peter when you get older….Yesterday what that man said in the store and on the street, that’s not the first time I’ve heard it and it won’t be the last either.” Johnny said as he stood up and stretched.

Peter stood up as well and turned when he heard what sounded like thunder. “ Oh man,look at that Johnny, ain’t they pretty?” Peter said as a heard of mustangs came down from the hills to drink. The stallion was as black as the night without a single spot of white on him anywhere. “ Are they Lancer horses Johnny?”

“ No, them there’s mustangs Peter, they’re wild.”

“ Man I never dreamed I would get to see a wild horse.”

“ Lancer has quite a lot of them on the land. We better get going to that line shack if we want to make it back in time for supper.”

“ Okay Johnny.” Peter said as he stared at the stallion.

Barranca whinnied and pawed the ground mostly because of the stallion but also the mares. “ Hey amigo I know what you want buddy but not today. That stallion is bigger than you and I don’t think he’s gonna let you have his girls.” Johnny said as he rubbed the horses face before swinging up in the saddle. He watched as Peter thought about trying it then didn’t. “ Peter how about I start teaching you on my day off some things about horses?”

“ Really Johnny, on the true?”

“ On the true.”

That night Peter told Murdoch and Scott about the mustangs and  other things he had seen. When he told them about mountain lion tracks Murdoch cocked a brow. “ Just were did you see the track’s Johnny?”

“ About a mile from the shack, looks like a big one. If it stays around it could pose a problem come spring when we move the cattle up there.”

“ How’d the line shack look?”

“ Good, stock’s a little low but the wood is stacked plenty and the water barrels are both full. The corral and lean too needs repaired, a tree came down on a corner of it.”

“ Why don’t you write out a list of what it will need and I’ll send a couple hands up there to fix it.”

Johnny didn’t answer but nodded as he finished his dinner.

“ And what about you son? How’s the slough coming?”

“ Good, real good sir. I think the men will have it done in a week.”

The rest of the dinner was ate in silence. “ Peter tomorrow I want you to help Frank on the chicken coop. You’re going to clean it out and one of the houses needs repaired.”

“ Yes sir.”

Johnny could tell by the answer that Peter wasn’t all to happy with the job he was given.

“ Johnny, you never did say how the fence was on the north range.”

“ It’s okay. I figured I’d ride back up there tomorrow that stream bed is getting grown over and I thought I’d clear it out before the rains start.”

Scott looked at Murdoch then Johnny. “ Want’s some help brother?”

“ I can handle it Boston, I ain’t no little kid.” Johnny snapped back.

“ I think maybe the two of you should go clear that creek out tomorrow.” Murdoch said with firmness.

Johnny shot him a hard glare. “ Whatever old man.” he said before standing to leave.

“ Johnny……that behavior is uncalled for, Scott just volunteered to help you is all, you don’t have to get angry about it.”

“ Fine he came come along and babysit me cause I know you don’t want me workin by myself old man. I know you think I’ll take off and go into town to get fu…….”

“ That is enough………..I will not have you using that kind of language in this house John and I will not have you talk like that around Peter. Is that understood?”

Johnny didn’t answer he just turned and grabbing his gun and hat went outside slamming the door behind him.

Scott stood up and was going to go after his brother, but Murdoch stopped him.

“ Scott, let him go. Johnny has got to learn I call the tune here and he is going to learn to curb that mouth if his.”

“ Maybe sir Johnny wouldn’t be the way he is at times if you would think before you speak.”

“ That boy will sow me the respect I deserve Scott or else.”

“ Or else what sir? You forget that my brother has had no one in his life since he was eleven!”

The pounding of horses hooves could be heard and both men knew it was Johnny riding out. Scott threw his napkin down and headed up stairs. Peter just sat there quiet.

Murdoch looked at Peter. “ I’m sorry Peter that you had to hear that. I’m afraid Johnny has to be reminded sometimes were his place is and how to conduct himself.”

“ Yes sir, but it wasn’t Johnny’s fault. Maybe sir you need to take into consideration how he might feel sir.” Peter said. “ I think I’ll turn in early sir, good night.”

Murdoch sat there alone wishing he could just get along with Johnny like he did Scott.

Coley watched Johnny leave Lancer at a gallop and wondered what made him ride out so fast. Knowing it would be dark soon he decided to go back to were he had his camp and wait till daylight and see if Johnny came back.

Murdoch, Scott and Peter sat at the table eating breakfast the next morning. “ You seen your brother?”

“ Not since last night.”

Maria came in and had heard. “ Juanito he rode out before light this morning Patron. I told him he should wait for breakfast but he said he had much work to do and only took a couple biscuits.”

Maria looked at Scott. “ You take him some food yes. Your brother he is to skinny and should eat more.”

“ Yes Maria I will, as for Johnny being so skinny, that I don’t understand considering my brother eats enough for three people.” Scott said with a laugh. “ Well Peter you be careful doing them chicken coops today. Some of those hens can be right testy when bothered.”

“ I will Scott, could you tell Johnny I’m sure looking forward to tomorrow.”

“ Tomorrow?” Murdoch stated.

“Yeah Johnny’s gonna start teaching me about horses and how to swing up in the saddle the way he does.”

“ I see…well my little brother is the best one around I’d say for learning about horses. Wait till you see him break a horse Peter. It’s something to see.” Scott said as he looked at Murdoch then turned and walked out.

Coley seen Johnny ride out taking the same direction he did the previous day heading north.

Johnny heard a horse approaching and his right hand moved toward his gun until he seen it was Scott.

Turning back to pulling brush from the creek bed.

“ I don’t need no babysitter brother so why don’t you go on and find something else to do.” Johnny snapped as his brother tied his horse next to Barranca.

“ Well, good morning to you too brother.”

Johnny cussed in Spanish as he yanked clumps of brush out of the creek side.

Scott frowned at the scars he seen on his little brother’s back. “ I take it that that is some of your colorful language little brother?” he asked starting to pull brush.

Johnny’s back glistened with sweat already in the early morning sun. He ignored his brother’s comment.

“ Peter said to tell you he’s looking forward to tomorrow.” Scott said trying to get his brother to talk to him.

“ Yeah…well I figured that that was something the old man couldn’t say I screwed up, and I know Peter would……..” Johnny stopped and walked over to a tree limb and picked it up.

“ Johnny I know this is all new to you, but give it time and you and Murdoch will get along.”

“ I don’t care if we ever get along Scott…You don’t get it do you?…He is never going to accept me because of who I am.”

“ Was Johnny…..You’re not Johnny Madrid any longer. You’re Johnny Lancer a third owner of the biggest cattle ranch in the San Joaquin  valley. You have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep in every night, food in your belly and most importantly you have me.”

Johnny looked at his brother. “ He is never going to accept me Scott, he talks to you and……”

“ I know brother I know.”

“ No you don’t Scott…..I never had anybody okay…..before that Marshal showed up I felt like maybe just maybe he was accepting me but the other day in town…..what those people said you can’t tell me he didn’t know about that.”

“ He did Johnny and I confronted him about it after you left…..Johnny this is new to him too. Murdoch has been alone working and building this ranch up for the better part of seventeen years. You can’t really expect him to change over night just like you can’t. He’s set in his way’s little brother just like you are……Where did you go last night?”

Johnny let a small smile come to his face. “ I went to town and got fucked Boston.”

Scott knew that that was what his brother did but still he could understand his brother’s hurt.

“Why do you do that Johnny?”

“ Do what?….Get fucked?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Because Boston when I’m with a whore only one thing matter’s and fucking is one thing I know I do with satisfaction….a whore don’t find no fault in what I do to her…….I always leave them happy and satisfied when the job is done.”

Scott had never thought of it that way but he could understand his brother’s feeling’s toward his actions.

“ You know I’d give anything Scott if he would introduce me as his son like he does you, but that won’t happen I guess. To him I’m just his boy. Hell he can’t see nothing good about me to tell people like he does you….With you it’s easy, you was in the war, graduated from that big fancy college and got the smarts. Me all I got’s is this here gun and enough education so’s I can read, write and do my sum’s….Guess I can’t expect him to tell people ‘ This is my youngest son. He’s good at killin’ people and has no education.”

“ Johnny why do you insist on putting yourself down the way you do, I would give my right hand to know what you know. Johnny what you learned you learned first hand. Not from a teacher or some books. You got more gut’s and are the smartest man I know and I am damn proud to call you brother.”

Johnny walked over to Barranca and took his canteen sown to get a drink. Not used to being paid a compliment he just didn’t know how to respond to his brother.  Walking back down into the creek he went back to work.

Scott shook his head slightly as he knew nobody bothered to see the good his brother possessed.

.

Day Pardee sat with a bottle of tequila in the saloon in Moro Coyo thinking of the actual best way to hurt Johnny Madrid. He knew from what he heard around town that the people of this town like all the others just didn’t like gunfighters around. He had learned a lot from the store owner just making casual talk about Madrid and how he had come home and was now trying to be a respectable rancher’s son. A person can change their last name and what they do but Pardee knew Johnny Lancer would always be Johnny Madrid.. With tomorrow being Sunday Day figured that would be the perfect time to turn up the hate in this valley for Madrid. Several of his men scouted out Lancer and had told him what they found. The location of line shacks, cattle, how many workers with guns. The Lehman and Crater ranches were the closest ones to Lancer. Both ranches had a good size herd of cattle, not like Lancer but still enough to serve his purpose. Remembering a job him and Madrid had taken together in Texas Pardee couldn’t help but laugh at the thought and wonder if Madrid would figure it out. He knew that Madrid knew he was in the area and would be looking for him. He also knew Madrid would be on his guard so hitting a couple smaller ranches and letting the fault fall on Madrid for it could play in his favor. It could, he hoped give him the edge he needed to draw Madrid out or better yet get careless. A gunfighter who got careless didn’t usually live to see very many sunrises. Standing Pardee headed outside to his horse. Mounting he looked down the street at the towns people as they went about their business. Smiling as he headed out of town Day couldn’t help but laugh a little at the thought of tomorrow being the day of salvation for some more than others.

.

Murdoch watched as his two sons rode into the yard at dusk. He couldn’t help but wonder about his youngest and if dinner would go well. He knew were Johnny went when he left last night and a part of him hated it. With the way the people in this valley, people who he called friends felt about his son. Noticing how well Johnny rode, how easy he sat the stallion a thought came to his mind that just might bring them closer. Walking over to his boys.

“ You two looked tired.”

Johnny and Scott dismounted as Murdoch walked over. Johnny headed into the barn to take care of Barranca ignoring his father.

“ Yes sir, we are. The creek bed is cleaned out.” Scott said as he watched his brother walk away.

“ I take it he didn’t talk much to you today.”

“ Yeah we talked, but if you want to know sir why don’t you ask Johnny.” Scott said before taking his own horse into the barn.

Dinner went without cross words. Johnny kept quiet as he ate his dinner and listened to Peter talk about the chicken coops. Finally Murdoch had had enough. Throwing his napkin down he stood up.

“ Johnny I want to talk to you about something.” Murdoch said as he went to the grand room.

Scott Looked at his brother and couldn’t help but wonder why Murdoch couldn’t call him son instead of Johnny most of the time.

Johnny got up and followed his father into the grand  room.

“ Scott you’ll want to hear this also since you’re part owner of this ranch.”

This peaked Scott’ interest as he stood and followed.

Pouring three drinks Murdoch handed them to his sons and sat down at his desk.

“ Johnny, what I want to talk to you about is that stallion of yours.”

Johnny looked up at his father. Barranca was the best horse he had ever had. “ What about him?”

“ Well I was wondering if you would be interested in using him as a stud here at Lancer. I’ve been thinking about starting a horse breeding project as a side business but then I realized I didn’t really have the time to do that and the cattle. How would you feel if I allowed you to start rounding up mustangs and breeding them. The army is looking for good mounts and Lancer has some good horses running loose on this ranch.” Murdoch watched and could see he had hit on something right, something that would keep his son at Lancer and bring them closer.

Scott smiled. “ I think that is a good idea sir. I can attest that the army does indeed like good mounts and I bet little brother they would pay a good price for them horses.”

Johnny looked at Scott then back at Murdoch. “ Just what is it you’re sayin’ old man?”

Murdoch cringed inside and raised a brow. He hated his son calling him that but for sake of no argument he let it slid, but would address the matter at another time.

“ I’m asking you Johnny if you would be interested in starting a breeding program program here for the army.”

Peter had walked in with Scott and sat listening intently.

Johnny walked over to the desk and put his hands on it leaning forward a little. “ You sure you want to trust me? I mean trust Johnny Madrid with something like that?”

“ Yes I am damn it…….Johnny I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t. Look I know we are having a hard time with each other. I know I let you down son when that Marshal showed up here.”

“ So you think by allowing me to do this that that will make it alright?”

“ No son, by doing this I hope that it will maybe bring us closer together. I can’t do anything about not being in your life as you grew up son but I’m trying. Can’t you meet me half way at least?”

Johnny stood up straight and stared at his father. The feelings he was having inside had him mixed up a little. Reading people the way he could had saved his life more than once. As he stood there looking at his father he could see what he had been wanting all this time. Finally he was seeing ‘trust’ in the mans eyes. Finally his father was starting to trust him, but which ‘him’? Was he starting to trust Madrid or Lancer. Turning he looked at his brother and could tell by the look on his face that his father was trying.

Walking over to the side board Johnny poured himself a shot of tequila and downed it. Turning back to his father. “ Who calls the tune on this if I agree to it?”

Murdoch walked over to his youngest and put a hand on his shoulder. “ I know cattle son so on this I would have to say it would be you, but I will be here for you if you need any advice but I don’t see that happening. Do you Scott?”

Scott stepped over to them. “ No sir, not on the breeding part.”

“ So you help me with the contract part when it comes to it brother?”

Scott smiled. “ Little brother I would be honored to help you with anything you want, anything.”

“ Thanks Scott.” Johnny said with a slight smile.

Scott knew a huge step forward in his brother and fathers relationship was just taken and he was proud of his brother for taking it. His father also, but Johnny more because he knew that the life Johnny had growing up trusting someone was the one thing his little brother didn’t get to do.

That night Johnny slept better than he had in a long time. When he came down stairs  the next morning his father and brother was already up. Being Sunday Johnny wasn’t in a hurry to get out of bed but with the sun shining into his room he decided he would ride out to Black Mesa and look over the mares in the heard he and Peter had seen. One mare in particular he remembered looked real good and just happened to be a Palomino. He also wanted to keep his promise to Peter to start teaching him things about horses and such. Smiling he got dressed and headed downstairs.

Murdoch and Scott where making small talk with Peter when Johnny came down the back stairs into the kitchen.

“ Morning Johnny.” Peter said with enthusiasm.

“ Morning Peter.” Johnny said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “ Sorry I slept late but I figured since it’s my day off.”

“ That’s quite alright John.” Murdoch said before taking a sip of his coffee.

“ Peter how about you ride out to Black Mesa with me? I want to check out that heard we seen the other day.”

“ Sure Johnny.”

“ Is that what you will be doing when we get back from church son?”

Johnny looked at his father. “ No, that’s what I plan on doing after breakfast.”

“ Son we attend church on Moro Coyo and then have lunch before coming back to Lancer.”

“ Yeah well you go ahead and do that.”

“ You don’t attend church Johnny?” Scott asked.

“ Nope, I have no need to Boston. Besides I’m Catholic.”

“ Son come with us.”

“ Nope, look old man, I’ve been rejected in enough churches to know I ain’t welcome and since I know I ain’t welcome in this valley why should I go? Besides  as I told Scott I accepted death a long time ago and goin’ to no church ain’t gonna change anything.”

Murdoch looked at his oldest and could see by the look on his face that it was a losing battle and to just accept it.

“ Alright son, but Peter I want you to.”

“ No, Peter is gonna go with me today.” Johnny said firmly.

“ Johnny,….”

Johnny sat back in his chair and looked at Murdoch hard through cold blue eyes. “ Peter…since this is about you and you should be the one to decide.” Johnny never took his eyes from his father.

Murdoch was starting to wonder if inside this was how others felt when facing down his son in a gunfight. Not wanting to step down and knowing his son was without a doubt challenging him Murdoch held steady.

“ I think I’d like to go to church Johnny…..I’d like to say a prayer for my folks.”

Johnny turned and looked at Peter. “ If that’s what you want to do then do it.”

“ Come with us Johnny.”

“ I said no, Gunfighters ain’t welcome in a church Peter, but you go ahead.” Johnny said as he stood up.

“ I’m gonna head out. You all have a good time.”

“ Johnny.” Peter called as he got up and walked over to Johnny. “ Johnny you ain’t mad at me are ya?”

Johnny looked at the boy  then at Murdoch. “ No Peter I ain’t mad at ya. Remember what I said about choices? Well a man has a right to go to church if he want’s to Peter and you became a man when your folks died. I’ll see ya.” Johnny said before walking out.

Murdoch knew full well what his son had just said. Even though he was saying it to Peter, Murdoch knew it was him he was saying it to.

.

Chapter 7

Day Pardee and a couple of his men rode onto Harv Santee’s spread  just northeast of Lancer and stopped at a watering hole. Looking around Pardee smiled. “ Do it.”

One of his men got down and reaching into his saddlebags he pulled out a couple glass bottles wrapped in cloth. Walking over to the water he pulled the cork plugs and dumped both bottles contents into the water.

“You put that cyanide in that line shack like I said?” Pardee asked.

“ Yes sir, Lancer sends his hands up there to do the repairs they’ll find it.”

“ Good. I would so love to see the look on Lancer’s face when Madrid is accused of doing this and the evidence is found.”

“ Pardee why don’t you just kill Madrid? He ain’t that good.”

Day looked at his men. “ Let me tell you something about Madrid men. He is that good, don’t you go thinkin he ain’t cause the first man who does will be dead. I got a score to settle with him and doing this…well this is just icing on the cake. Besides you all know how fast El Paso Kid was and Madrid killed him. Let’s get back to camp.” Pardee said as he turned his horse and rode off.

Johnny watched the mustangs from atop the ridge. He knew the stallion seen him ride up, but keeping his distance from them the stallion settled down after a few minutes. Spotting the one mare he really liked the looks of Johnny couldn’t help but smile as he patted Barranca’s neck.

“ What ya think boy? Would you like to romance them mares down there?” Johnny said aloud.

Barranca watched the herd and shook his head up and down causing Johnny to laugh even more.

The herd’s lead mare was a bay with a piebald face and four white socks that ran up to her knee’s almost. She had white on her underbelly that came around and up a little on the right side. Johnny could tell she was the lead mare by the way the others would watch her. When she moved away they followed her. The stallion was as black as midnight and had no white on him at all. His mane was long and hung down below his neck. A deep chest and well muscled body with strong leg’s Johnny could tell that that stallion was a good horse for ranch work. The rest of the mares but the one were brown. The mare Johnny knew he could get a good foal from was as gold as Barranca was. Her mane hung down on both sides of her neck, thick and shined like silver in the mid-day sun. Watching her Johnny noticed the other mares would pin their ears back or try to bite her if she grazed to close to them. “ Looks like your soon to be girlfriend isn’t liked to well amigo.”

Barranca  pulled on the reins and whinnied drawing the herd stallions attention as well as the mares.

“ Come on buddy, lets go find us some other mustangs.” Johnny said as he turned a reluctant Barranca away from the mares. “ I don’t need you in no fight with that stallion.” Johnny said as he headed east.

Murdoch, Scott and Peter rode back to Lancer mid-afternoon. Stepping into the coolness of the house Murdoch stepped over to his desk.

“ You think Johnny is still out checking on Mustangs Scott?” Peter asked.

“ I imagine Johnny won’t be back till dinner time Peter.” Scott said as he walked over to the sideboard and poured himself a drink. “ Sir.” he said as he looked at his father.

“ No thank you son. Peter one thing you will learn about Johnny is that when he’s doing something he likes or is interested in then he’ll take his time doing it, unlike when he does what I tell him to do work wise.” Murdoch said as he sat down.

“ That maybe part true sir, but don’t you think that maybe Johnny wouldn’t be that way if you asked him instead of telling him what to do?” Scott commented.

Murdoch glared at his oldest. “ Son, your brother is going to learn responsibility whether he likes it or not.” Murdoch stated firmly.

“ My brother is responsible sir. Johnny has been ever since his mother died when he was eleven.”

“ Responsible with a gun son, and hiring it out. Not with good honest hard work.”

Scott stood there glaring at his father angry at what was being said. Downing his drink he sat the tumbler down hard on the sideboard.

“ Come on Peter, let’s go check on them expecting mares before I do something to give my father cause to think I’m not responsible.”

Peter looked at Murdoch then turned and followed Scott out to the corrals. “ Scott Why does your pa put Johnny down so much?”

Scott looked at the boy. “ Peter, that I wish I knew the answer to.”

“ Johnny is a good person.”

“ Yes he is Peter. My brother has a lot of good in him, but our father can’t seem to let Johnny’s past go.”

“ Does your pa ever hit you or Johnny?”

Scott looked at Peter and could see it in the boys eyes. “ Why would you ask that Peter? We have disagreements but he has never hit either one of us.”

“ I was just wonderin was all. I mean Johnny has been mistreated most of his life, I can’t imagine him allowin his father to hit him.” with that said Peter turned and walked back to the house.

Scott stood there and couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Murdoch ever did strike Johnny. Turning to look at the mares Scott thought back to the previous nights conversation and how Johnny’s eyes lit up with happiness when Murdoch offered him the breeding deal. He couldn’t help but wonder if doing this would bring his father and brother closer, or would they be more distant. A lot of questions ran through Scott’ mind and all of them had to do with his blue eyed little brother.

Harv Santee stood next to his horse with anger in his eyes. “ Get the remaining cattle away from here and get a fence up around this water. We don’t need to lose any more cattle.”

“ Yes sir Mr. Santee. Any idea who would poison your water sir? Or why?”

“ I can think of only one person who would do this and I aim to confront him about it first thing in the morning.”

“ Who sir?”

“ That half breed killer Murdoch Lancer brought to this valley. This is Madrid’s doin to get even with me for the other day in town. I wouldn’t be surprised if more ranchers don’t find water holes poisoned. Carl I want you to come with me, we’re gonna ride over to Driscoll’s spread and a couple of others and see if they’ve been done also.”

.

Johnny walked Barranca into the yard at sundown. He knew he missed dinner and the old man would probably chew him for it, but he didn’t care. Barranca having a lose shoe was more important than being on time for a meal. Walking his friend into the barn to his stall Johnny began unsaddling the horse. “ I’ll get your shoes done in the morning amigo, you just take it easy tonight and think about all them mares you gonna be romancin soon.” Johnny said as he started  brushing his friends coat down.

Barranca swished his tail as he ate the hearty grain amount Johnny had given him. An hour later Johnny was finished and headed into the house. When he walked into the great room he seen Peter and his brother playing a game of chess. His father was sitting at his desk reading a newspaper.

“ Hi Johnny.” Peter said.

“ Hey little brother you missed dinner.”

“ Hey Peter, yeah I know…”

“ You know we eat dinner at six sharp Johnny.” Murdoch said without looking up from his paper.

Johnny could hear the anger in his voice. “ Yeah I know we do ‘old man’ but my horse is more important.” Johnny snapped.

Murdoch stood up suddenly. “ Peter go upstairs.” he ordered as he gave the boy a firm look.

“ Yes sir, I’ll see ya in the morning Johnny, Scott.”

“ Good night Peter.” Scott said as he stood up.

“ What happened to Barranca brother?”

“ He had a shoe come loose so I had to walk him the last two miles home.” Johnny said, never taking his eyes off his father. “ If you don’t mind I’m gonna go get something to eat now.”

“ Just a minute Johnny.” Murdoch snapped as he stepped over to his son. “ I want you to start showing me the respect I deserve boy. You will not call me ‘old man’ again, you will not curse or raise your voice in this house in the presence of that young man upstairs. I have rules on this ranch and don’t you think for one second that just because you are my son, you don’t have to follow them.”

Johnny was tired and he was hungry. Not wanting to fight with his father he turned and started to walk away only to be grabbed by the arm and spun around.

“ Don’t walk away from me when I am talking to you boy. You will show me respect and you will learn manors Johnny. Do I make myself clear?”

Johnny jerked his arm free and glared at his father. “ Oh yeah I hear ya old man. You call the tune, you say jump and me or Scott say how high. Course with Scott it would never be that way cause he’s your perfect son. He’s the son you are proud of, the son who don’t embarrass you. The son who was raised all proper and has manors. You see me I never had that so I can’t be like him……….look I’m tired and I’m hungry so back off.” Johnny said as he turned to head into the kitchen but stopped and turned back around. “ Don’t you ever grab me like that again.” he said before walking away.

“ Nice going sir. You just managed to lose the ground you gained with Johnny.”

Murdoch glared at him before turning and walking back to his desk.

.

The next morning Johnny was in the barn checking to make sure Barranca wasn’t lame when Scott walked in.

“ You didn’t eat ant breakfast little brother.” he said as he handed Johnny a couple biscuits.

Johnny took the biscuits. “ Thanks. I figured I’d saved another argument between me and Murdoch. Besides I wanted to check on Barranca here.” he said before he took a bite.

“ Yeah. Is he okay?’”

“ Yeah I don’t think he’s lame. I think I caught it in time.” Johnny said as he and Scott heard a couple of horses ride into the yard. Walking out of the barn the boys seen who it was as Murdoch walked out of the house.

“ Santee, Driscoll. What are you men doing here?” Murdoch asked.

“ I’ll tell ya what I’m doing here Murdoch…..that half breed killer of yours poisoned my water hole yesterday and I want him arrested for it.” Santee said with anger.

Murdoch looked at Johnny as he walked up with Scott. “ Poisoned, what proof you got my son did it?”

“ Look Lancer we know Madrid did it.”

“ I’ll ask you again. What proof do you have that Johnny poisoned your water hole?”

“ He did it because of who he is. He’s a killer and doing it was his way of getting even with us for the other day in town.”

Johnny stepped from behind Santee and faced the man. “ I didn’t poison your water hole yesterday. I never left Lancer yesterday…I was out at Black Mesa then I rode over to Cedar Canyon.”

Santee looked hard at Johnny. “ Cedar Canyon huh……Well it just so happens that Cedar Canyon is only five miles from were my water was poisoned.”

Driscoll moved his horse closer to Johnny. “ We don’t want you here Madrid. We don’t need a killer like you in this valley…..Get out, get out now before……..”

“ Before what Driscoll?” Johnny said with enough Madrid that he could see the fear in Driscoll’s eyes.

“ Before you end up with a bullet in you.” he said turning to Murdoch. “ Either you get rid of this killer or else Murdoch.”

“ Driscoll as I told you before my son has every right to live here. Lancer is his home and I’m not going to let you or anyone else try and run him off, and another thing, don’t you two come here and accuse my son of doing something unless you have the proof.” Murdoch said flatly.

“ Yeah well let me ask you this Mr high and mighty….how long you think this killer would be alive if word got out as to just were Johnny Madrid is living huh?……You think about that because an article in the paper is all it would take to get rid of him.”

Johnny grabbed Driscoll’s horses reins. “ Get off Lancer….now Driscoll while you’re still breathing.”

“ Johnny don’t.” Murdoch said with order. “ Santee, Driscoll as I said before if anything happens to Johnny and I find out that either one of you had something to do with it there won’t be a place small enough for you to hide in…….now get off my land.”

“ Here me breed.” Driscoll said as he and Santee turned their horse’s and rode away.

Murdoch watched the two men ride away before turning to Johnny. “ I want to see you in the house now Johnny.” he ordered before turning and heading inside.

Johnny sighed and looked at Scott. “ I told you in Leeds brother that I shouldn’t come back here.” Johnny said as he started inside.

“ Johnny wait.” Scott called as he walked up to his brother. “ Johnny I know you wouldn’t do something like that, and I know Murdoch knows it too. Listen just hear him out when you go inside. I know it’s hard for you and all but try not to give him an excuse to be made at you.”

Johnny laughed lightly. “ Hell Scott the old man is mad at me whether I did something wrong or not. He’d probably feel better if I was dead, I mean he has you the perfect son so he don’t need a black sheep of the family like me around.” Johnny said before heading inside.

Scott just couldn’t understand why his brother kept saying that. But then again he kind of did understand why, Murdoch never complimented Johnny on a good job, and rarely called him son. Knowing that if he wasn’t there his little brother would probably have left long ago and be dead by now. Sighing Scott headed inside ready to step in if things got out of hand.

Johnny stepped down into the grand room and seen his father was sitting at his desk. Walking up to the desk Johnny stood there and waited.

Murdoch looked up from the ledger he was writing in. “ Sit down son.”

Johnny sat in the overstuffed chair and stretched his legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankles.

Scott came in and sat down on the couch with Peter who was sitting there reading.

“ Johnny I need you to go to Spanish Wells and pick up some supplies. You know what is needed to repair the north line shack and we are running low on wire and post.” Murdoch said as he slid a bank note across to Johnny. “ Pay for the supplies and get a receipt please.”

Johnny uncrossed his legs and reached for the note. Picking it up he put it in his pocket as he stood up.

“ That’s it….you’re not going to yell at me?”

Murdoch looked at his son. “ No Johnny I’m not going to yell at you. I do wish you had remained calmer outside but I’m not going to yell. The matter is over and I know you wouldn’t do something like that.”

Johnny was speechless. For once his father believed him. “ Uh Murdoch…..thanks.” he said before turning to leave.

“ Johnny, why don’t you take Peter with you? He can help you load the supplies.”

Johnny looked over at his brother and Peter who was now standing. “ Yeah sure, if he wants to come along.”

“ Boy do I.” Peter said enthusiastically.

“ I’ll help you hitch up the team brother.” Scott said as he headed toward the door with Johnny.

In the corral Johnny and Scott put the harnesses on the team and led them to the wagon. While hooking up the trace lines Scott noticed Johnny was a little deep in thought.

“ Something on your mind brother?” Scott asked.

Johnny hooked the lines for his horse then looked at Scott. “ You could say that.”

“ Wanna talk about it?”

“ It’s pretty simple Boston, somebody poisoned Santee’s water which means our water could get poisoned as well.”

“ And let me take a wild guess little brother…..you think somebody in the area is trying to set you up?”

“ Yeah Scott I do. Several people know I don’t go to church, hell any one of ’em could’a been watching from a distance and seen me ride out alone and you all head to town….I learned a long time ago brother to listen to my gut.”

“ And what is your gut telling you right now Johnny?”

“ That I’m being watched. I feel it Scott, yesterday I could swear someone was in the tree’s watching me up at Black Mesa.”

“ What about Cedar Canyon?”

“ No, but the land into that canyon is pretty open so it would be hard to follow me and not be seen.”

“ Maybe you should let me go into town then and get the supplies.” Scott said with concern.

“ No….if someone is doing this to draw me out or to try and get me out of this valley Scott, I’m not gonna hide from them.”

“ What about Pardee? Could it be him doing this?”

“ Maybe…..Peter let’s go.” Johnny said as he got up in the wagon. Peter climbed up next to him. “ We’ll be back before dark.” Johnny said as he slapped the reins to the horses and left.

Scott stood there a minute watching his brother leave before heading inside to talk to his father about what he and Johnny just discussed. One thing Scott learned fast was to trust his little brother when it came to his instincts.

Coley followed Johnny until he knew just were he was headed. Riding off to camp he wanted to tell Pardee what he knew.

“ Jack….Carl I want you two too follow Madrid once he leaves Spanish Wells.” Pardee ordered. The two men saddled up and rode out.

Johnny wanted a cold beer but knew he couldn’t with Peter along so after the wagon was loaded and he was paying the bill Johnny bought him and Peter some hard candy to eat on the way home. Climbing up in the wagon and heading back to Lancer Johnny handed the bag to Peter when they got out of town.

“ I think we earned this.” he said with a smile.

Peter took the bag and opened it. It had been a long time since he had had hard candy. “ Wow thanks Johnny.” he said as he took a piece out and handed the bag back to Johnny. During the ride back to Lancer Peter told Johnny some things about growing up in Chicago like the cold winters and the snow.

Johnny listened wholeheartedly. About five miles from the ranch was when it happened.

Jack and Carl watched as Johnny and Peter got nearer. “ I’m sick of this waiting around Jack……..Lets have some fun.”

“ Are you crazy Carl?…….Pardee doesn’t want Madrid hurt yet.”

“ I don’t give a rats ass what Pardee want’s Jack…….I’m gonna have me some fun.” Carl said before aiming his rifle and firing just under the team of horses feet.

Johnny shoved Peter down off the bench and slapped the reins to the horses to make them run. By himself he would have stopped and shot back, but with a ten year old boy with him he couldn’t risk Peter getting shot. The team ran hard but the with the wagon loaded so heavy they couldn’t run all that fast. Johnny kept slapping them though as several more bullets hit the wagon, one grazed Johnny’s left thigh. Johnny winced from the burning pain in his leg and could feel the blood running but knew he could do nothing for it now. Rounding a sharp curve in the road Johnny pulled back on the reins trying to slow the team down some but couldn’t. The wagon slid around the corner and with all the weight in the back the tongue snapped off and the team kept right on running. Johnny let the reins go and hollered at Peter to hold on as the wagon went over the side and came to a crashing stop when it smashed into some boulders. Johnny jumped before it hit and landed hard on the ground and rolled down hill till he came to a stop when he hit a boulder on his left side and darkness overtook him.

Jack and Carl looked down at the wreck. They could see Peter partly under the debris, his neck broke. Looking harder they spotted Johnny next to the boulder. “ Now you’ve done it Carl……..Pardee’s gonna have our hides for this….we was supposed to just watch him, not kill ‘im.”

“ Pardee isn’t gonna know we caused this…..this looks like an accident to me, poor handling of a team. Come on lets get back.” Carl stated as he turned his horse away from the wreck.  “ We can’t be seen if someone comes along.”

Jack knew Pardee was going to want to know what happened and he vowed to himself that he was not going to take any of the blame for this.

Scott paced the floor with a worried look on his face. Johnny had said he would be back before dark and the sun was now setting. “ Sir I think we should go look for them they could be having trouble with the wagon or something.”

“ Son, I’m sure your brother is alright, knowing him he probably stayed to long in the bar.”

“ Johnny wouldn’t do that with Peter along sir. Why can’t you think positive when it comes to Johnny? Why do you always have to think he is either in a bar or with a girl when he is late?”

“ Because your brother has given me no reason to not think that about him.” Murdoch said.

Scott knew and could feel something was wrong. “ I’m going to go look for them sir, there is a full moon tonight so I’ll be able to see  and if I’m wrong then I’m wrong but I think something has happened.”

“ Alright son, we’ll both go and look for them.” Murdoch stated as he followed his son out to the barn.

A sledge hammer was what it felt like. Someone was hitting his head with a sledge hammer. Johnny slowly opened his eyes and could tell it was getting dark and the moon was coming up. Moving his right arm up to his head Johnny felt something wet on the right side of his face. Taking his hand away he could see it was blood. Laying there it came rushing back to him. The shots and the team breaking free just before the wagon went over the side. Peter, Johnny remembered suddenly and tried to get up only to grab his left side from the pain. Breathing hurt as he squinted his eyes. Feeling his ribs he could tell they weren’t broke but either badly bruised or fractured. Slowly raising up to a sitting position Johnny let his vision clear more as he looked around for Peter.

Peter.” he yelled but got no answer. “Peter.” he yelled again with the same result. Standing and holding his left side as a wave of dizziness washed over him Johnny leaned back into the boulder.

Looking around at the wreckage Johnny finally spotted Peter laying partly under what was left of the wagon. Staggering over to it he dropped to his knee’s and could tell Peter was dead from a broken neck.

 As a wave of nausea came over him Johnny fought to keep from throwing up but lost the battle as he barely had time to move away from the body and let his stomach empty. There on his hands and knees trembling Johnny noticed the blood was dripping good from the laceration he had on his head. Once he was sure he had no more in his stomach Johnny crawled back over to Peter and tried to get him out from under the wagon but couldn’t,his ribs hurt with every breath he took and move he made. Forcing himself to push the pain aside Johnny knew that even with the full moon he wouldn’t be seen down here so he started to crawl up the bank. Making it almost to the top blackness overtook him and he collapsed.

Murdoch and Scott rode the road to Spanish Wells at an easy gallop. The moon was up enough in the sky the road was easy to see. When they rounded the corner both men’ hearts sank as they seen Johnny laying on the side of the road. Scott jumped off his horse and was at his brother before Murdoch could get his stopped.

“ Johnny.” Scott called as he gently turned his brother over. He could see the blood on Johnny’s face and carefully moving his hair back Scott could tell it wasn’t a bullet hole, but a bad laceration. Feeling his brothers neck Scott looked up at Murdoch who was now standing at his side. “ He’s alive.” Scott managed as he took his kerchief out and tried to slow the bleeding. Feeling for broken bones Scott sighed in relief as he felt none. Pulling his brothers shirt up out of his pants Scott could see the dark bruises already forming on his brothers chest. “ I think his ribs are just bruised badly as is the rest of him I’m not feeling any broken bones sir.”

Murdoch was glad to here that. Looking down at the wreckage Murdoch could see Peter and went down to check on him. When he came back up he told Scott the sad news about the boy’s neck being broke.

“ We need to get Johnny back to Lancer now and get this head wound took care of.” Scott stated as his brother moaned a little. “ Easy Johnny, try not to move around to much brother. I got you.”

“ Scott.” Johnny said with pain in his voice.

“ Yeah it’s me, Murdoch is here also.”

Murdoch knelt down next to his sons. “ Johnny we’re gonna get you home son and get you took care of…….it will be alright.” he said before standing and  with Scott’ help they got Johnny on his feet. Hold him while I get my horse son.” Murdoch said as he brought his horse over. “ Johnny we are going to get you on my horse and I’m going to take you home. I need you to grab the saddle horn son when you get up there and hold on till I can get behind you. Can you do that?”

Johnny mumbled as they got him up on the horse but the move caused a wave of dizziness again and Johnny almost went over the other side. Murdoch climbed up behind Johnny as Scott held his brother.

“ Son ride on into town and get the doctor while I take Johnny home. I’ll send some men back to get Peter’ body.” Murdoch said as he turned his horse and headed at an easy walk toward Lancer. He didn’t want to jar his son any more than he had to knowing he could have internal injuries possible. He seen the bad bruising on Johnny’ left side as Scott checked his ribs.

Scott mounted his horse and took off for town praying his brother would be alright.

Jake and Carl rode into camp and dismounted. Pardee seen them and called them over. “ You two mind telling me what you are doing back here when I told you to watch Madrid.

“ Ask him.” Jake said as he went and poured a cup of coffee.

“ Ask Carl what?” Pardee asked knowing something was wrong.

“ Why Madrid is dead.” Jake said.

Carl glared at him hard.

Pardee stepped toward Carl “ You got something to tell me Carl?”

“ We was just havin some fun boss, that’s all.”

“ Not we Carl……you I told you Pardee didn’t want us doin anything to hurt Madrid but no you had to go and shoot your rifle at him spookin the horses.”

“ So you shot Madrid?” Day asked with anger.

“ No….the wagon went over the side……it was an accident boss. I just wanted to have a little fun with him. How was I supposed to know the hitch would break free and the wagon go over the side.”

“ Was I not clear as to what I told you to do Carl?………Didn’t I say for you and Jake to watch Madrid like Coley’  been doing?…….Did I not make it easy enough for you to understand?”

“ No boss……you did…….look I was just havin some fun…..I………”

Carl never got to finish what he was saying as a bullet penetrated his chest entering his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground. Pardee Turned to Jake. “ Are you sure Madrid is dead?”

“ No sir…..we lit out of there before someone came along and seen us. Madrid was laying next to a boulder with blood all over his face. The little boy with him was dead.”

“ So he could still be alive?”

“ Yes sir.” Jake answered wondering if Pardee would kill him also.

“ Coley head out to the Lancer spread and see if they got the doctor out there then Madrid is most likely still alive……..I want to know.”

“ You got it boss.” Coley said as he mounted up and rode out.

“ Jake I want you to ride into town in the morning and hang around. Keep your ears open for any talk about what happened understand?”

“ Yes sir…..you want me to ride back here the minute I hear anything?”

“ No……stay put and listen and see how mad the town gets over this at Madrid.”

Murdoch’ horse walked under the Lancer arch and into the yard. Hollering Murdoch got a couple of hands to help him get his son down and into the house upstairs in his bed. Sending two of the men back to the wreck to get Peter’ body Murdoch began to take Johnny’ clothes off him before Sam arrived.

Johnny moaned as Murdoch removed his shirt. The head wound had slowed down a little but not stopped bleeding. It would need stitches Murdoch could tell as he began to clean it out as gently as he could. Wrapping a clean bandage around the wound he then began to wipe the blood away from his sons face and clean some of the smaller abrasions Johnny had. When he got to Johnny chest he could see the bruising was darker still and ran from just under Johnny left arm down his whole left side and around to his back. The leather jacket his son always wore spared his back from being cut up. Cleaning the wound in Johnny’ upper left thigh Murdoch assumed it was just a cut received during the wreck. Wrapping a bandage around the leg knowing it too would need stitches. Knowing it would be a while yet before Sam arrived Murdoch knew now that all the wounds had been cleaned up the best they could,all he could do was wait, wait and try to keep his son still if he came conscious.

Sitting there watching over his son Murdoch wondered what happened? What caused the wagon to go over the side. Did the horse spook at something and Johnny just couldn’t control them? No. he knew his son was very good with horses and the team he took was a very good team. Something happened out there and only his unconscious injured son could tell him.

.

Chapter 8

Scott and Sam arrived a couple hours later. When Scott walked into the room he found his father holding Johnny’s right hand in his with his head down. Looking quickly at Sam Scott walked around and placed a hand on his father’s shoulder.

“ Murdoch, how’s he doing?”

Murdoch snapped his head up. “ Son……Sam. He hasn’t woke up. He just moaned when I cleaned the wound on his head and leg.”

“ Let me in there Murdoch so I can check him out.” Sam said as he walked around the bed. Pulling the covers back he could see the deep bruising on Johnny’ left side. Setting his bag down he opened it and took out a pair of scissors and began to cut the bandage away from the head wound.

“ I’ve changed the bandage twice Sam. It won’t stop bleeding.”

“ Head wounds bleed more and easy because the veins are so close to the top.” Sam said as he removed the bandage. “ This is going to need stitches that’s for sure. What did you use to clean it out?”

“ Warm water and soap.” Murdoch said.

“ Scott come over here and lift your brother up so I can get to this wound better to stitch it up. You say he hasn’t woke up, was he ever conscious at all?”

“ A little when we found him at the wreck. He had climbed up almost to the road before collapsing unconscious.” Scott said as he gently lifted his brother up and moved in behind him so he was against his chest.

“ Do you know how long ago the accident happened?” Sam asked as he started cleaning the wound out with carbolic acid.

“ Johnny said he would be back before dark. We found him about four miles from Lancer so from the time we found him at least three hours.” Scott said.

“ Talk to him Scott. See if you can get him to respond to your voice when I’m done stitching this up. He most likely has a mild concussion and we need to wake him up.”

Sam finished stitching the head wound up and moved to clean and stitch the leg. “ This didn’t happen from the wreck…..This is a gunshot wound.” Sam said as he cleaned the leg wound out.

“ How can you be sure?” Murdoch asked.

“ It’s to clean. If it was a cut from rocks or debris it would be more jagged along the edges and small particles of wood or rock would be embedded in it. This doesn’t.” Sam said.

“ Sam you saying Johnny was shot?’ Murdoch asked as his anger started to surface.

“ Yes Murdoch, Johnny has been shot.”

Scott looked at his father. “ Johnny’s gun was still in it’s holster. Whoever did this must have shot at him and spooked the team.”

Murdoch ran a hand over his face. “ Yes but who and why did they just shoot at him. They could have killed him son.”

“ I don’t know sir. I think the reason Johnny didn’t shoot back was because of Peter. I think Johnny was busy with the team and trying to protect Peter. I mean if it was me I would have had Peter get down in front of the seat, less chance of taking a bullet there.”

Murdoch just shook his head. His anger was becoming beyond control. Turning around he walked over and looked out the window. “ I promise you this Scott…..whoever did this will pay for it. They will pay for Peter’s death and what they did to your brother.” Murdoch said as he turned back around.

Scott could tell by the look on his father’s face, he was ready to kill. “ Sir I want whoever did this to pay as much as you do, but we can’t jump to conclusions on who did this.”

“ I know that son.” Murdoch snapped. “ I’m sorry son I don’t mean to take it out on you. I’m just tired of this sort of thing happening to your brother. He’s had enough hurt in his nineteen years.” Murdoch said as he looked down at his unconscious son.

“ Talk to him……get him to wake up. I don’t want to wrap them ribs up because of the swelling and bruises. They’re not broke or fractured but he is going to be awfully sore from them for awhile. I don’t want him on a horse for a couple weeks. In fact I don’t believe he will feel like riding for awhile.” Sam said as he began putting his things away.

“ Come on brother..open them eyes Johnny. Come on let us see them blue eyes brother.”

The hammer was back. His head was pounding and he could hear someone asking him to open his eyes. Scott, it was his brother he was hearing.

“ I think he hears you son. Keep talking to him.” Murdoch said.

“ Come on brother open them eyes Johnny. Open them eyes and look at me brother. I know you can do it.”

Bright, the light was too bright. Opening his eyes just a slit hurt. Reaching up to cover them. “ To bright.” he said softly. “ Hurts.”

“ Murdoch turn down the light there, see if that helps.”

Murdoch turned the lamp way down so it put out just enough so they could see Johnny’s face.

Johnny opened his eyes more and looked at his brother. “ Peter.”

Scott knew his brother would hate hearing this but he knew he would want to know.

 “ I’m sorry Son.” Murdoch said before Scott could.

Johnny felt the anger rise. Anger and hurt. Hurt from Peter’s death more than from his injuries.

“ Son you have a bullet wound in your left leg…..Can you remember what happened out there?”

Johnny looked at his father through Madrid eyes. “ Yeah I remember…….and when I find the person who shot at us…….he’s a dead man.”

Murdoch looked at Scott. They both knew it was Madrid talking now. Johnny Lancer wasn’t here and deep down Murdoch couldn’t blame his son for his anger. “ They will pay son. As soon as we know who is responsible I will wire the Marshal.”

“ Marshal ain’t gonna help them old man…..This was because of me Madrid and has nothing to do with you……either of you.”

That’s were you are wrong brother.” Scott stated firmly.

“ That’s right son……..Lancer takes care of it’s own and we will take care of this together.”

“ Not this time…..someone is out to get me and I got a pretty good idea who it is and you ain’t no match for him old man so just stay the fuck out of it.” Johnny said as he tried to raise up in bed.

“ Well I can see my patient still has his stubborn attitude he gets from his father.” Sam said.

Johnny glared at the man. “ Thanks for stitchin me up Sam but stubborn ain’t got nothin to do with this.”

“ Oh no?……..you could have fooled me John Lancer or should I say Madrid? Because that’s who it appears to be talking right now…….Do me a favor Murdoch, don’t bother sending for me to help this young man any more because it’s obvious he doesn’t give a damn about his life.” Sam said before standing, grabbing his bag and leaving, slamming the door behind him.

Scott looked at Murdoch then his brother. “ Nice going brother.” he said with just enough sarcasm his brother gave him a hard look.

“ In all the years I have known that man I don’t think I have ever heard him be that angry.” Murdoch stated.

Johnny reached to pour some water but found the pain to great. “ Could one of you pour me a glass of water?” he asked.

Scott looked from Johnny to his father. “ Sorry brother but since you are so bent on handling this yourself without our help you should be able to pour a glass of water.” Scott said before turning and walking out.

Johnny watched him leave then turned to his father. “ I’ve took care of my self all my life just about Murdoch……It’s not easy to change that……I know you both want to help me but Pardee isn’t a man you care to go up against.”

Murdoch sat down on the bed next to his son and poured some water. “ Son you have people who care about you now……Let us help you.” he asked as he handed the cup to Johnny.

“ Peter didn’t deserve to die like that Murdoch. It’s my fault he’s dead.” Johnny said with sadness in his voice. “ Guess I did pretty good tonight. I managed to piss doc off and my brother……how come you ain’t yelling at me or mad?”

“ Because getting mad at you John isn’t going to help anything son. I know I haven’t been easy to get along with son but hear me when I say this. You are my son and I am not going to allow you to be hurt any more. I know you have vengeance on your mind. Vengeance for Peter’s death son and I don’t fault you for that, but I remember you telling me when that Marshal came here that you are not a cold blooded killer.”

“ And I’m not…….you remember what I said to Peter Sunday when he said he would rather gone to church with you than me?”

“ Yes son. You told him about choices and to always try and make the right ones and stand by that choice. I must say I was surprised to hear you say that son.”

“ Why…..you think I like making wrong choices old man?……sorry…….Murdoch I stayed alive this long because of the choices I’ve made. I would be dead if I hadn’t picked up that gun. The reason’s I did back then was for survival. But that survival soon changed into me wanting to be Johnny Madrid….good at his trade……My past will never leave me alone as long as I breath……..I’ve done things in my past pa that would make you sick and I’ve had things done to me that would anger you more than you could ever think to be.”

“ I’ve seen the scars son.” Murdoch said. He couldn’t help but wonder if his son knew he had called him Pa.

“ I’m not talkin’ ’bout the scars on the outside…..I’m talkin’  ’bout the ones on the inside…The ones my mother gave me and allowed others to give me.”

Murdoch got a sick feeling deep down inside hearing what his son was saying about his mother allowing her child to be abused. A mother herself inflicting some of that abuse. “ Son whenever you want to talk to me about your past I’m here. I know I told you that the past is the past but I was wrong telling you that. I have things in my past that I need to tell you and your brother about.”

Scott walked back in. “ Sir, could I see you out here?”

“ Whatever it is son you can say it in front of your brother.” Murdoch said.

Scott looked at Johnny. “ They just brought Peters body back sir.”

Johnny sighed and dropped his head and started playing with a string on the quilt on his bed.  “Murdoch.” he said barely above a whisper.

“ Yes son.”

Looking back up at his father through eyes of hurt he took as deep a breath as he could and slowly let it out. With a quiver in his voice he asked. “ Could Peter be buried up on the hill?”

Murdoch knew exactly were Johnny meant. “ Yes son, he can. I think Peter would like that very much.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said softly before moving down in his bed and closing his eyes.

Murdoch walked out with Scott and closed Johnny’s door. “ I’m worried about your brother Scott. I know I don’t know him like you do, but This changed him. I feel it.”

“ So do I sir.”

“ What do you know about this Pardee son?”

“ Let’s go downstairs and I’ll tell you what I know.”

Johnny laid there thinking about his past, Pardee in particular. He couldn’t help but wonder if his past would ever let him live a normal life as Johnny Lancer? Would he ever be able to not worry about being called out by someone wanting his reputation? With sadness in his heart and pain in his head he let sleep claim him.

Murdoch and Scott walked into the grand room. “ Drink son?”

“ Yes sir.” Scott said as he walked over and sat down on the couch.

Murdoch came over and handed him a brandy and sat down across from him.

“ From what Johnny told me he used to ride with Day Pardee up until a little over two years ago. It seems they took a job in Texas and Pardee and his men murdered a rancher down there. This rancher had a wife and daughter, I guess they brutally raped and killed them both. Johnny rode out, he said he was outnumbered and couldn’t stop it from happening. He went back to their camp and was packing up when Pardee and his men rode in. Pardee shot Johnny and his men beat him pretty bad then……” Scott took a drink then stared at the floor.

“ Son…you alright?”

“ Yeah…….You know the scars you seen on Johnny’s chest and back from a knife?”

Murdoch nodded.

“ Pardee did that to him. He had his men tie Johnny’s hands together then strung him up so he was hanging from a branch and Pardee cut him up.” Scott said as a tear ran down his face. “ Sir I heard some of what Johnny said to you upstairs and……..Johnny has had to do things that no child should have too…….No child should ever have to go through what my brother did growing up.”

Murdoch got a sick feeling inside. Was his son saying what he feared was done to his youngest?

“ Son.” Murdoch said setting his drink down and leaning forward in his chair. “ Was your brother sexually abused?”

Scott knew he shouldn’t but his father needed to know. Maybe knowing it would help him understand his little brother a little better and why he was the way he was. “ Yes sir he was.”

Murdoch stood and cursed. “ Damn it all…….who?”

Scott looked at him and stood up. “ I can’t tell you that sir…….that is for Johnny to tell you, not me. I’m sorry but I promised him I wouldn’t.”

“ I understand son and I respect that, really I do. Why don’t we try and get some sleep, this ranch still needs to be worked.”

“ Yes sir….I think I’ll check on Johnny before I turn in. Good night sir.”

“ Good night son.”

For three day’s Johnny stayed in bed. Sam finally allowed him to come downstairs with help for his leg and go as far as the veranda to sit. Sam specifically specified no riding until the leg wound stitches was out and the wound healed up as well as the wound in his head. Johnny became somewhat distance to everyone around him. He hardly talked and would sit for hours looking up toward the hill with the grave. Scott and Murdoch tried to get him interested in chess or even helping to balance the books, but Johnny would just sit and say he had a headache or was to tired and would go to his room.

Johnny knew something was up with his father. Murdoch was different toward him. How he talked to him, the time he spent with him. Something was and he could feel it but what he just couldn’t put his finger on. Fact was Johnny was wondering when Murdoch would be mad at him. Ever since the accident he hadn’t once raised his voice to him and that more than anything had Johnny worried. He could tell Scott too was acting different toward him. Not distant different, but brother different. It was almost like both his brother and father was trying to protect him since one or the other was always close.

On the fourth day Johnny was brushing Barranca when Scott walked in to the barn. “ Hey brother.” Johnny said as he limped over and filled Barranca’s grain pail. “ What are you doin back already? I thought Murdoch had you and Hank doin the repairs to the north line shack?”

“ Yeah,……listen Johnny Murdoch want’s to see you in the house.” Scott stated before turning and walking out.

Johnny stood there a little perplexed. Usually his brother would talk to him a little more. Something was wrong though and with his brother being so short with him he knew. “ Well amigo I guess I better go see what it is I’m supposed to have done wrong now.” Johnny said to his friend as he gave him the grain. “ You just think about those mares you’re gonna be romancin real soon compadre.”

Barranca pushed his head into Johnny’s chest as Johnny scratched that special spot behind his ear. “ I’ll see ya later buddy.” Johnny said before walking out.

When Johnny walked into the house he found Scott and Murdoch at the big desk his father had.  “Boston said you wanted to see me.” Johnny said with as much cheer to his voice as he could.

“ Yes son I do. Sit down please.” Murdoch said and motioned with his hand.

Johnny sat in the chair on his brothers left. “ So what ya want to talk to me about?”

“ This Johnny.” Murdoch stated as he sat a bottle of Potassium Cyanide in front of Johnny.

Johnny looked at the bottle. “ What about it?” he asked.

“ Your brother found a crate of this at the north line shack……care to explain to me why?”

Johnny looked at his brother then Murdoch. Coldness was in his eyes. “ Explain what?……I have no idea why that was there.”

“ Harv Santee’s water was poisoned with this Johnny…..You was at the north line shack the same as you was alone the Sunday it happened, and by your own admittance you was out near his property.”

Johnny stood up. “ Is that what you think of me old man?”

“ I don’t know what to think of you Johnny, so why don’t you tell me?”

“ Think what you like.” Johnny said with bitterness before looking hard at his brother. “ Both of you.”

he said before turning to leave.

“ We’re not through here yet Johnny, were are you going?” Murdoch demanded.

Johnny stopped and turned around. It was clear that Madrid was now in full play. “ What do you care….either of you.” He said taking a step toward his father. “ You know I thought maybe, just maybe you was starting to change and like me some these last few days Murdoch. I thought maybe you was going to start acting like a father to me and treating me with the same respect you give Scott here, but I can see I was wrong. I can see you ain’t never gonna do that. You ain’t never gonna look at me and see me as your son. All you will ever see me as is Johnny Madrid the killer.” Madrid said coldly as he stepped even closer. “ I’m going to go upstairs and get my things and leave……that way you won’t have to worry about having the Lancer name soiled and your so called friends get what they wanted.”

“ Johnny wait.” Scott said. “ You leaving isn’t going to solve anything brother. I know you didn’t poison that watering hole. You know how I know you didn’t do it?” Johnny stayed quiet. “ Because I know you Johnny. I know my  brother would never do such a thing.”

“ I wouldn’t be so sure about that Scott……..you have no I idea what I’ve done in my past.”

“ Exactly Johnny, in your past I don’t. We are not talking about your past brother. We are talking about right now.”

“ You sure do like ta try  all that smartness ya learnt at Harvard to use don’t ya brother?”

“ Johnny,…..please don’t leave. Lancer is your home.” Scott pleaded.

“ I ain’t got no home Scott, but hey that’s alright cause I learn’d a long time ago to not stay were I wasn’t wanted and it’s pretty clear to me I’m not wanted here.” Johnny said looking hard at Murdoch before turning and this time ignoring his brother and walking upstairs to pack.

Scott turned and glared at his father. “ How could you?………How could you even think Johnny did this?”

“ How could I……because of his past son, that’s how. He just told you we know nothing about his past and what he has done. The other night he told me that if we did know what he had done in his past neither of us would want anything to do with him.”

You maybe……….not me. Johnny is my brother and I will be damned if I am going to let him leave here……..and you Murdoch have got to be the blindest……most stubborn man I know. If you let him ride away from here he will be riding right into Day Pardee and a bullet.”

“ And just what do you suggest I do?……Go after him?”

“ Would that be so bad?……Would it hurt you so much to for once start acting like a father to him?”

Murdoch glared at his oldest. He knew he was right, he had handled this situation wrong, totally wrong.

“ You don’t give an inch do you?…..All pride and Johnny’s cut from the same mold. Not one inch of give.” Scott said firmly.

Johnny threw what little he had in his saddlebags and looked around the room. Sighing he headed out the door and down the stairs. Stopping at the front door he grabbed his gun and put it on. Looking he seen his father and brother facing off.  He knew they had words and probably would again once he left. Opening the door he stopped for a second then walked out slamming it behind him.

“ Time to leave amigo, I’m sorry buddy but it looks like we ain’t wanted here.” Johnny told his friend as he threw his blanket and saddle on Barranca. The horse could tell Johnny was upset and stomped his feet throwing his head up and down. “ I know amigo……I’m sorry but a gunfighter ain’t wanted and I was just foolin myself thinkin Lancer could be our home buddy.” Johnny said as he led his friend out of the barn. Looking he seen Murdoch walking toward him.

“ Johnny wait…….please son.”

“ Why……..so’s you can accuse me of something else…….so you can treat me like the scum of the earth I know you think I am……..I don’t think so………You don’t want me here old man and I know it.”

“ You’re wrong son………I do want you here. I was wrong in the way I handled that inside son. I was wrong to ever think you would do something like that. I know that no son of mine could do that.”

“You don’t know shit old man……..You have such a hate inside you for my mother taking me away from here that every time you look at me you see her and you take it out on me. I wasn’t the one who hurt you and I’m not going to be the one you continue to blame for what she did to you.” Johnny said coldly as he swung up in the saddle.

“ Were will you go son?”

“ Not that you would care but I’m gonna prove to you and this valley I didn’t do it. I’m gonna do what I should’ve done over two years ago.” he said before spurring Barranca and galloping away.

Scott walked up to his father. “ What did he say?”

“ I tried to apologize son, but he wouldn’t listen. He said he was going to prove he didn’t do it and do what he should have done two years ago.”

“ And you didn’t stop him……….Murdoch Johnny is going after Pardee.” Scott said flatly as he headed to the barn to saddle his horse and go after his brother.

Murdoch stood there a few seconds before following his son into the barn. “ Saddle my horse as well son. I’ll get the rifles.”

Scott looked at his father as he threw his saddle on his horse. Ten minutes later both men was riding hard in the direction Johnny had rode.

Coley seen Madrid ride out hard. Watching he could tell Madrid was leaving. Mounting his horse he headed to Moro Coyo to tell Pardee.

Johnny knew Pardee and how he liked to stay camped close to were he was working. Lancer had a lot of places he could hideout, but Johnny knew Pardee wasn’t camped out on Lancer land. Pardee was most likely camped out on Santee’s land. H remembered a canyon with a good sized spring running in it and plenty of graze for the horses. Crossing onto Santee’s land Johnny took out his rifle and laid it across his legs as he headed Barranca up the canyon. Pardee if he was there wouldn’t expect Johnny to ride right into his camp. With the element of surprise on his side Johnny stopped Barranca and wrapped the reins around the saddle horn before getting down. “ You stay here amigo.” Johnny said patting the horses neck before moving closer. He could hear at least three voices as he moved up to withing a hundred feet of the camp. Looking around he could see just three horses picketed without saddles on. Two men sat on the ground near the fire and the third was at the stream with his back to Johnny.

Stepping out into the open Johnny cocked the rifle. “ Wheres Pardee?” he asked.

The man at the stream stood up and turned facing him. “ Madrid.” he said before going for his gun.

Johnny swung the rifle and dropped the man dead. “ I’m only gonna ask you one more time…….were is Pardee?”

The two men on the ground slowly stood up, keeping their hands away from their guns. “ He ain’t here Madrid.” the one on the right said.

“ Yeah I can see that…..were is he?” Johnny saw it in the mans eyes and as the mans hand moved Johnny fired and shot the man dead. Turning to face the last one with ice cold eyes and a voice even colder. “ You gonna be smart and tell me what I want to know?”

“ Go to hell Madrid.” he said going for his gun.

Johnny fired hitting the man in the right knee dropping him.

Laying on the ground clutching his knee the man cried out in pain as Johnny walked up. Putting the rifle in his left hand Johnny took out his pistol and aimed it at the man. “ Well?”

Still no response so Johnny shot the man again in his right thigh.. “ How many bullets you reckon you can take before you bleed out?” he asked cocking the gun again.

“ You bastard……Pardee will kill you Madrid……you’re a dead man.”

Johnny pushed the man with his foot so he could look him in the eyes. “ I died a long time ago mister, so you see Pardee can’t kill what’s already dead. Now tell me were he’s at and I’ll let you live. You don’t and the next bullet’s gonna be between the eyes.”

“ Moro Coyo……he’s in Moro Coyo, stayin at the hotel there………I need a doctor Madrid. You can’t leave me here like this.”

Johnny straightened up. “ I can’t……why?…….Seems to me you had no problem leaving me to die two years ago.” Johnny said as he whistled for Barranca. He knew what the man would do and when he turned and took a couple steps away he heard it and spun around and fired. The bullet entered between the eyes. “ That’s more than you gave me you sonofabitch.” Johnny said as Barranca trotted up and he swung up in the saddle.

Scott and Murdoch reined their horses to a stop when they heard the first rifle shot. “ That came from Santee’s land sir.” Scott stated. Spurring their horses both men headed to the canyon when they heard two more rifle shots. Stopping they could see Barranca standing ahead of them without Johnny. They both heard what Johnny and the man said and when Barranca responded to Johnny’s whistle they knew now to move. They knew Johnny would have to come back this way out.

Johnny turned Barranca and started to ride away when he seen his father and brother blocking the way ahead. Reining Barranca up he laid the rifle across his lap. “ Move.” was all he said.

“ We can’t son. I’m not going to let you go after Pardee alone Johnny.” Murdoch said.

Johnny brought the rifle up and cocked it. “ Move your horses now.”

Scott and Murdoch stayed put. Johnny fired the rifle into the rocks next to Murdoch’ horse spraying rock and causing the animal to spook. When Murdoch got the animal to calm down he glared at his son. “ You gonna shoot us Johnny?….Go ahead then cause we’re not letting you ride out of here alone son.”

“ I don’t need either one of you.”

“ Yes you do Johnny……you told me how Pardee likes to shoot people in the back…..I’m going with you brother…..like it or not.” Scott said firmly.

Johnny forced Barranca between the two. “ You wanna get yourself killed fine by me…….but stay out of my way.” he said before spurring his horse and galloping off.

Scott looked at his father before turning his mount and following. He could see the slightest fear in his fathers eyes. Not to many people got shot at by Madrid and or had Madrid point a gun at them and still be breathing.

Johnny kept Barranca at a ground eating gallop until he reached the road to Moro Coyo. Slowing his horse down he could here his brother and Murdoch coming up behind him. Stopping Barranca he slid the rifle back in the scabbard as they reined in next to him.

“ Since you two are so hell bent on doing this I’m gonna tell you one time and one time only how this is going to play out. If you don’t like it then you can turn around and go back to Lancer.” Johnny said flatly.

Murdoch looked from Scott to Johnny. “ Just tell us son what you are planning.”

Johnny took his canteen and took a swallow. “ You really want to do this old man?…….You really want to see me Johnny Madrid kill a man?”

“ Pardee isn’t a man son…….and I’m not here to help Johnny Madrid……….I’m here to help Johnny Lancer.”

Johnny re-secured his canteen and picked up his reins. “ Pardee will have men positioned around town. How many I don’t know, but you can bet he will have some on the roof tops at both ends of town watching who comes and goes. He’ll probably know I’m coming before I get there.” Johnny said.

Murdoch listened and knew it was Madrid talking and not his son. “ What are you going to do Johnny?” he asked.

Johnny looked at him and gave a slight smile. “ Well o…Murdoch I’m gonna ride right down main street and face Pardee……you two are gonna cover each end of town……..Boston……I hope you’re as good with that rifle as you said you are?”

“ I am brother.”

“ I hope so cause I’m gonna trust you to watch my back……..Murdoch ride on ahead and through town to the other end to the livery. They won’t suspect nothing if you do that. Don’t say anything to anyone on what’s happening.” he said before moving Barranca toward town.

“ Don’t you think we should try and warn the town Johnny?……Innocent people could get hurt son.”

“ They won’t if they stay out of the way.” Johnny said stopping Barranca. “ Go on ahead…..We’ll wait and give you what I figure will be ten minutes.” Johnny said as he took his pistol out and replaced the spent shells. Spinning the gun on his finger he slid it back in the holster and looked at his father then brother. “ Not to late to back out.” he said.

Scott gave him his answer by taking his rifle out and Murdoch spurred his horse toward town.

When Murdoch was gone Johnny put a hand on Scott’ left arm. “ Scott I………I wanted to thank you.”

Scott looked at him. “ Thank me for what Johnny?” he asked as he laid the rifle across his legs.

“ For being the type of brother I always dreamed of havin………I know this isn’t easy for you comin here and finding out you have a little brother and that he’s a gunfighter. I know that hasn’t been easy Scott.”

Scott smiled. “ You getting all soft on me now brother?”

“ No…..I’m just sayin that no matter how this ends today, I’m proud to call you my brother……even if you are a dandy.”

Scott looked at Johnny and could see it was Johnny Lancer telling him this, not Johnny Madrid.

“ Well brother I’m your dandy and I don’t care about what you did in the past Johnny. You did what you had too to survive and I am thankful for that because it allowed me to meet you and be a big brother.” Scott said holding out his right hand to shake.

Johnny took it and the brothers smiled at each other.

“ Promise me you’ll stay at Lancer Scott if I don’t come out of this alive…….Promise me you’ll stay with the old man and look after him.”

“ You will come through this brother, but I can only promise you that if you promise me you will come back home to Lancer when this is over.”

Johnny looked at his brother. “ You really are a glutton for punishment Boston.”

“ Well little brother you see that’s what a big brother does.”

.

Chapter 9

Murdoch rode into Moro Coyo at a leisurely trot. When he got into town he slowed his horse to a walk to the livery. Dismounting and throwing his stirrup over the saddle he glanced around at the roof tops and counted two men with rifles at his end. He had seen at least one as he entered town at the other end.

Being a lawman once he knew what to look for and he also knew most of the people in this town. He could tell who was a cowhand and who wasn’t pretty much. Loosening his cinch he walked his horse inside the livery.

“ Pete put him in a stall for me and give him some grain, would ya?” Murdoch asked as he pulled his rifle from the scabbard.

“ Sure thing mister Lancer.” Pete said as he took the horse.

“ Oh and Pete….stay in the back okay.”

“ In the back……you expectin trouble?”

“ Yeah Pete there’s gonna be trouble and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“ Sure thing….I ain’t got no stock out in the corral, just these two wagon horses and yours.”

Murdoch walked over to the door and staying in the shadows he looked down the street and waited for his sons to ride in.

“ Wait ten minutes Scott then ride in easy like so you don’t attract attention.”

“ You be careful brother.”

“ I plan too…..next rounds on me.” Johnny said as he started to ride away.

“ I’ll hold you to that brother.” Scott yelled back as he held his fidgeting horse back.

Johnny loped Barranca to the edge of town then slowed him to a walk. On his approach he noticed a man on the roof of the last buildings on each side of the street. He assumed Pardee probably had the same amount at the other end of town and hoped his father could take care of them. The hotel sat in the middle of town on his left. Riding past it to the saloon he counted four more men that would be with Pardee. Cowhands didn’t just stand around doin nothing in a town in the middle of the week. Reining Barranca up in front of the saloon Johnny pulled his rifle out and dismounted and looped the rein over the rail. Walking up the steps he stopped at the top and noticed two men watching him and talking to each other. After a minute one of the men headed toward the hotel while the other stayed and watched. Johnny turned and walked into the saloon. Glancing around he noticed two men at a back table seemed to take a real interest in him when he walked in. Walking up to the bar he laid his rifle on the bar and ordered a beer and threw down a dime. The bartender brought him a beer and with his eyes told Johnny what he already knew. Johnny gave a nod that only the bartender seen before the man walked away. Drinking down the beer he picked up his rifle and walked over to the table the two men sat at.

“ You boys might want to head out of town now while you can, cause if you stay here you’re just gonna die.” Johnny said loud enough so the others could here.

The few customers that was in the bar stood up. They knew who Johnny was and the feeling in the air was that of death. All but the bartender and the two girls left by the front door.

Johnny never took his eyes off the two men. “ You and them girls go on out now.”

Without even looking Johnny heard the three walk out. “ Pardee isn’t worth you two dying for and that’s what will happen to you if you stay here.”

The two men looked at each other then stood up. “ You can’t kill us all Madrid……Pardee has twelve men riding with him.”

“ Not no more he ain’t…the three he left at your camp won’t be no help……I seen the two he has on the roofs at each end of town and the two across the street. Them and you two make eleven men so one must be with Pardee up in the hotel…….and I’d be willin ta bet it would be back stabbin Coley.”

Johnny seen it in their eyes, both men went for their guns at the same time. Johnny felt the white hot pain in his side as he dropped both men. Spinning around to make sure no one else was in the saloon Johnny did a quick assessment of his wound. “ Just a graze…….guess the element of surprise is over.” he said as he walked toward the door and looked out. The one that stayed across the street was now gone, probably to Pardee. Looking he couldn’t  see his brother at the one end of town. Glancing at the livery he could see his father just inside the barn. Johnny replaced the spent shells before stepping out into the street. People still on the street looked and realized what was happening and parents grabbed their children and hurried away or inside a building. Men and women folks alike scurried to get to a safe place.

Day Pardee.” Johnny yelled as he stood in the street. Hoping to draw the two on the rooftops attention so his brother could get into a good position without being seen. It worked. Both men even though they tried to stay hidden, came forward and had their rifles ready.

Come on out Pardee……..let’s dance.” Johnny yelled again.

Murdoch watched his son and could tell something was wrong with Johnny. He heard three shots fired close together come from the saloon and the way Johnny was standing he could tell his son was hit.

“ Damn it son.” he cursed as he seen the man Johnny called out step out into the street. Two other men came out with him but stayed on the walk.

Scott could see one man on the roof of  the hardware with his rifle aimed at his brother. Taking aim Scott fired hitting the man just below the neck on the left side. Scott spun around and fired again when a bullet hit the tree he was by, missing his head. Missing he moved around and when the second man came up to fire again, Scott fired three shots as fast as the rifle would fire hitting the man and dropping him to the ground below dead.

Murdoch turned and watched the rooftop across from him as Pardee stepped out into the street. When the man took aim to shoot his son in the back, he didn’t hesitate. Bringing the rifle up he fired but missed. The man changed his aim and fired at the barn door were Murdoch was several times. A bullet hit Murdoch in his upper left arm causing him to drop his rifle. Taking out his pistol he waited when bullets from across the street at ground level hit the door frame splintering the wood near his face. Moving to the bigger doors Murdoch took aim and killed the man across the street when the man moved toward the water trough. Looking up at the rooftop he could no longer see the gunman that was up there. Cursing he looked down the street and could see his son still standing in the middle of the street facing Day Pardee. It hit him then like a rock, just how much courage, strength and gut’s his son had. Having seen a lot of gunfighters in action in his days Murdoch had never seen one like his son. He had never seen a man show absolutely no fear, nor have any fear of dying the way his son was right now. Looking back to the rooftop he could still not see the man he knew had to be still up there.

Day Pardee stepped out into the street and smiled as he faced Madrid. “ Long time Johnny Madrid.”

“ Yeah, long time.” Johnny said with a slight smile.

“ This isn’t like you Madrid…….calling someone out isn’t your style.”

Johnny never moved, he never took his eyes off the man standing not thirty feet in front of him.

“ You know I thought I killed you two years ago…….guess you can imagine the shock when I heard you was still alive.”

“ Yeah I bet, guess you should have made sure better.” Johnny said flatly more as a statement than a question.

“ Yeah I guess I should have. In fact I should have put a bullet in your head that day. The only reason I didn’t was cause after the beatin you got and cuttin you up like I did I thought you would bleed to death.”

Johnny didn’t let it show as the memories came flashing back. He couldn’t take his focus off Pardee. The man was brutal and even thought they had once rode together Johnny learned that day when Pardee had his hands tied and strung up to a tree branch while he cut him, he knew the man was worse than an animal. When Pardee and his men brutally raped and murdered the ranchers wife and fifteen year old daughter and Johnny was powerless to stop it, he should have killed Pardee then.              

“ Imagine also the shock Johnny when I heard you was out of the game. Why it seems people in this area don’t seemed to like you bein here much Madrid. Guess it’s like old times for you huh? Cept now I hear you got yourself an old man and a brother….tell me is this the same old man you hated so much that threw you and your mamma out when you was a baby Johnny?”

“ What if it is?” Johnny asked flatly.

“ I was just curious……..Tell me something Madrid when you killed El Paso Kid did you give him a fare chance or did you just gun him down knowin you couldn’t take him?”

“ He killed him in a fare fight Pardee.” Scott said loudly as he came up and had his rifle on the two men on the hotel porch.

“ My son is not a cold blooded killer.” Murdoch said from Johnny’s left.

“ Well well looks like Madrid has gone a little soft…..you lose your edge Johnny boy?……you gotta have help now to try and kill me, huh?”

“ Nope, I don’t need their help to kill you Pardee…..I just remember how dirty you are is all and they are here of their own free will to make sure the odds are even.”

“ Johnny Madrid needin help…….I think you have lost your edge Madrid. In fact I know you have and I am going to love killing you this time, because this time your old man and brother get to watch it happen. To bad you didn’t die in that wreck.”

“ You killed an innocent ten year old boy Pardee that day.”

“ Oh well now see, that’s were you’re wrong Johnny boy. Carl and Jake was supposed to just watch you but Carl decided to have a little fun. When they came back and told me what happened I shot Carl dead, not for the kid but for ruining my plans for fun with you Madrid.”

“ Tell me something Pardee…….you the one been poisoning water holes and such?”

“ What if I was…..the way people talked about hating you I thought I would just help them to hate you even more………I sure would’ve liked to seen your brothers face when he found that cyanide in your line shack.  I bet the old man was more shocked. Coley over there he’s been watching you and well when you rode out all alone that Sunday while your family went to church.”

“ Tell the men you got left to stay out of this Day……this is between me and you.” Johnny said in such a cold way it sent chills down his brothers back.

“ Now you know I can’t do that Madrid. My boys want to have some fun killing you too.”

“ It’s their funeral then.” Johnny said. He knew the time for talk was over. It was time for one of them to die. One of them would walk away from this alive and one wouldn’t. Johnny knew that if on the slightest chance Pardee did kill him, his father and brother would not let Pardee ride out of town. Johnny could hear horses galloping into town behind him, but paid no mind to it. The birds had even stop singing it seemed as death waited ten seconds more.

When the Sheriff rode into town and seen the two men faced off he knew he was to late. Trying to stop it now could get Madrid or both killed, not that he would regret a man like Pardee dying. Getting off his horse the Sheriff and two deputies started walking slowly up the street toward Johnny.

“ Here comes the cavalry Madrid.” Pardee said right before drawing.

Johnny seen it in his eyes. He seen the slight widening of them right before Pardee went for his gun. Drawing his own gun Johnny fired and hit Pardee dead center of his heart. Feeling a pain in the back of his right shoulder Johnny was spun around and fell to the ground as a bullet slammed into him causing him to drop his gun.

Murdoch moved faster than he ever thought possible when Johnny went down. Going to his son’s side to protect him he knew it was the gunman he lost sight of who had shot his son in the back. Ignoring the pain in his left arm Murdoch reached under Johnny’s arms and started pulling him out of the middle of the street. Looking across he seen Scott still had the two men covered on the hotel porch.

The Sheriff spun around and fired at the man on the roof as his two deputies ran toward the building. Glancing back at Madrid he seen the mans father dragging him out of the street. Turning his attention back to the rooftop the Sheriff heard two more shots fired but not at him then he seen one of his deputies wave, indicating the gunman was dead. Hurrying over the Sheriff took custody of the two men Scott had so he could go to his brother.

Murdoch dragged Johnny over behind the water trough and had him up against his chest. He could feel the wetness from the bullet wound in Johnny’s back as the blood soaked his shirt front. “ Get the doctor Scott.” he said as his oldest came over.

Scott went to get the doctor but didn’t have to go far. Sam was coming up the walkway as fast as he could. Going back to his brother he looked at Murdoch with fear in his eyes.

“ Sam……..he was hit in the back right shoulder. He also has a bullet wound in his side.”

Sam knelt down next to Johnny and moving his coat he could see a deep furrow in Johnny’s left side just under his armpit. “ Lean him forward for me Murdoch.” Sam ordered as he took some bandages out of his bag and placed them on the wound. “ Scott help me get your brother up and to my office.”

Scott moved over and helped his father lift Johnny up so they could carry him. Noticing the blood on Murdoch’ left arm. “ I got him sir.” Scott said as he picked his brother up and carried him toward the doctors office. It was then that Sam too noticed the blood on Murdoch’ arm wasn’t from his son.

“ Let me wrap that up.” Sam said as he took out a bandage and began to wrap it around the arm.

“ I’m fine Sam…….Go take care of Johnny, please. He needs you more than I do right now.” Murdoch said as he looked at his longtime friend with hurt in his eyes.

Scott carried Johnny into Sam’ office and laid him gently down on the table in the back.

“ Scott help me get that shirt off your brother then go get me some clean water.” Sam ordered as he came into the room followed by Murdoch. “ You……sit…now.” he told pointing to the empty chair. Sam knew that neither man would leave the room until they knew Johnny was going to be alright.

Three hours later Sam finished bandaging up Johnny’s right shoulder. He wrapped Johnny’s arm up next to his chest so it couldn’t be moved and tear out the stitches. The wound in his side required six stitches to close it up and Sam had a bandage wrapped around Johnny’s chest to keep it covered.

“ Now let’s take care of that arm of yours Murdoch.” he said.

“ Will he be alright Sam?” Scott asked as he looked at his unconscious brother.

“ The bullet wasn’t to deep but it did do some damage to the muscles. He should regain use of the arm again with plenty of rest.”

“ How much use Sam?” Murdoch asked.

It dawned on Sam then why the two men were worried about Johnny’s arm. “ I don’t know Murdoch. It’s to soon to tell for sure if it will affect Johnny’s draw.”

Scott took a wet cloth and wiped his brothers forehead down.

“ All we can do now is wait and hope he doesn’t develop a fever or infection. When a bullet enters through the clothing it tends to push small particles of clothing into the wound. I removed all I could find but there is still the chance of infection.”

“ When will we know?” Scott asked as he re-wet the rag.

“ I’d say in a day or two. Your brother wasn’t healed up completely from the wreck Scott so his body has sustained quiet a jolt. It’s going to take time for him to recover from this. I expect Johnny will remain unconscious for a day or two, maybe longer as his body gets it’s strength back. That’s if he doesn’t develop a fever. I’ll insert a tube through his nose into his stomach so we can keep fluids in him. He’s lost a great deal of blood and will need the fluid to help replenish that loss.” Sam said as he finished cleaning Murdoch’ arm. “ I’m afraid you will need stitches in that Murdoch.”

Looking at Sam then his son. “ Do what you have to Sam.”

.

Johnny started to moan and move around mid-morning three days later. Infection stayed away and Murdoch was grateful of that. His son had been through enough.

 The Sheriff had come by and got both their statements as to what happened and why. When he told them he had to let Coley and Jake go due to neither of them taking part in the shootout Murdoch blew up on the man.

 “ What the hell do you mean lack of evidence Sheriff?…Those two men rode with Pardee.”

“ Mister Lancer I can understand you being angry over this, but neither man has a wanted poster that I am aware of on them therefore since neither man fired a shot I can’t arrest them. I’m sorry but the laws the law.” the Sheriff stated.

Murdoch looked down at his son.

“ Sheriff, Johnny told me that Coley took part in trying to kill him two years ago. Surely you can hold him for that?”

The Sheriff looked at Scott. “ Unless your brother wants to press charges against the man for that again there is nothing I can do.”

“ What about rape and murder Sheriff? That’s still against the law is it not?” Scott asked angrily.

“ Rape and murder of who?”

“ A ranchers wife and daughter in Laredo, Texas. Johnny was riding with Pardee back then and left when Pardee and his men did this. He couldn’t stop them and that is why Coley, Pardee and his men shot, beat and cut my brother up while he was tied up and left him for dead.”

“ This is a long way from Laredo mister Lancer. I can send a wire to the law there with a description of Coley and see if he’s wanted there. But I warn you, if your brother rode with Pardee  for whatever reason, he could very well be wanted also. Are you willing to take that chance?”

Scott looked at his father. “ My brother is not wanted by the law Sheriff.”

The Sheriff looked at the two men then down at Johnny. “ Very well, I’ll send a wire out and get back with you.” he said before walking out.

When Johnny started to come too Murdoch was at his sons side immediately. “ It’s alright son. You’re safe Johnny.”

Johnny could hear his fathers voice as he fought his way back from the darkness. Opening his eyes barely he moaned again and felt something in his nose and throat. Reaching up his hand was stopped by his father.

“ Johnny I need you to listen to me son.” Murdoch said as he looked into his sons eyes.

Johnny looked at his father and licked his parched lips. “ Water” he mouthed.

Murdoch poured a glass of water and lifted his sons head so he could drink. When the glass was empty Murdoch sat it down. “ Son Sam had to put a tube down into your stomach so we could keep fluid in you. You lost a lot of blood but he says you’ll be alright with rest. Johnny do you understand what I’m telling you?”

Johnny just nodded. He hated having the hose in his throat and wanted to pull it out but couldn’t, not with his father there.

“ Son you have stitches in your side from were a bullet grazed you just under your left arm. Sam removed the bullet from the back of your right shoulder.”

“ Well I thought I heard voices in here.” Sam said when he walked in. “ Good to see you awake Johnny.

Johnny looked at Sam. “ Thought you wasn’t going to help me any more doc?”

“ Well you see Johnny, I couldn’t let you lie in the street and die. Lt me in there Murdoch so I can check his shoulder.”

Johnny looked down at his right arm bound to his chest. “ Why’s my arm wrapped up like this Sam?”

Sam looked up at Murdoch. “ Johnny, the bullet went in your right shoulder. It did some damage to the muscles back there and I did some considerable probing around to find it.”

“ How bad doc?”

“ Johnny I know what you’re worried about. Listen to me. If you do as I say and not move that arm around you should with time regain use of the arm. Now I can’t promise you that it will be like before but you stand a good chance of it if you do as you’re told young man. Do you understand me?”

“ Yeah Sam I hear ya. How about taking this tube out of my nose?”

“ I think I might be able to do that for you if you promise me something.”

“ What?”

“ That if the pain gets to much you will take some laudanum Johnny.”

“ Can’t do that Sam…You know by now I don’t like that stuff. I can handle the pain so either you take the tube out or I will.” Johnny stated flatly.

Sam stood up. “ Fine, I don’t know which of you is more bullheaded, your father or you. This is going to hurt so try and stay as still as possible.” Sam said as he started to pull the tube out.

Ten minutes later Johnny had finally stopped coughing. Once the tube came out he couldn’t stop it. His chest hurt and every cough brought waves of pain to his back.

Four days later Murdoch and Scott had Johnny in a wagon headed back to Lancer. The Sheriff had come by and told them that the law in Laredo did say Coley was wanted for questioning in the murder of the rancher and his family. He also said that Johnny was also wanted for questioning. Plenty of people had seen Madrid there and the rancher who hired Pardee denied doing so. The Sheriff told Murdoch that he did not tell the law in Laredo that Madrid was here. He would have to be the one to go with Madrid all that way and just didn’t feel up to the ride. Murdoch thanked the man and told him his son was not a cold blooded killer and had nothing to do with that murder. This time Murdoch would stand behind his son and not against him like he did before.

Coley stayed just outside of town in a grove of tree’s about a quarter mile off the main road. Vowing he would avenge Pardee’ death. Jake had rode out not wanting to die from a bullet from Madrid.

“ He can’t kill you Jake. Madrid can’t use his right arm I heard someone in town saying. I’m not going to let him live. Madrid is going to pay for my brother in laws death.” Coley’ words fell on deaf ears though.

Jake mounted up. “ You seem to forget what Pardee told us once about Madrid. He told us that Madrid is just as good with a gun left handed as well Coley.”

“ I don’t think so. I’ve never seen him shoot left handed so I think it’s all a bunch of hog wash talk.”

  .                                    

Chapter 10

Murdoch’ mind ran what the sheriff told him over and over again about his son being wanted in Laredo by the law down there. No wanted poster was issued for his son but the law did want him. He believed his son when he said he wasn’t a cold blooded killer, but after what he knew happened on Santee’ land and what he witnessed in town with Pardee also with the man who killed Peter’ parents a small part of Murdoch wondered just how bad his son was in his past. The past before he changed and started caring about who or more importantly why he hired his gun out. Murdoch knew his oldest son had to do things in the war that most people would consider heartless or cold blooded, but his youngest, his youngest wasn’t in a war. Not a war to be recognized anyway. Many fights and deaths happened over land or water rights, hell he himself had fought for what he now calls Lancer and home. As the wagon  rolled under the Lancer arch Murdoch silently vowed to talk to his son alone about Laredo and tell him what the Sheriff had said. He just hoped that this talk between the two men was just that, a talk between father and son.

Three days later Johnny walked into the grand room and found his father at his desk doing the books.

“ Where’s Scott?” he asked as he went over to the side board and poured himself a drink.

Murdoch looked up at his son. “ He went to Sacramento on business for me son. We discussed it last night remember?”

Johnny walked over and sat down in a chair across from his father. “ Oh yeah I remember, what you didn’t say while I was present anyways is why he had to go.”

Murdoch closed the ledger he was working on. “ Something came up son that I wanted him to take care of is all. It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“ Well if it has ta do with this ranch don’t I as a third owner have a right ta know what that business is?” Johnny asked before taking a drink.

“ Yes son you’re right. You do but this has nothing to do with the ranch. It has to do with…..” Murdoch hoped what he was about to say didn’t end in a battle and the loss of his son. “ You son.”

Johnny looked at his father. “ Me huh, I bet my past right?” he asked calmly.

“ Yes son, your past. The Sheriff wired the law in Laredo about Coley and the law there said Coley, Pardee and……..Madrid was wanted for questioning about the murder of a rancher, his wife and daughter.”

Johnny sat the glass down on the desk and stood up. “ And I bet you believe I took part in the murder.”

“ No I don’t son. You told me you never committed cold blooded murder and I believe you son. If there is one thing I have learned about you John is that you are an honest man. That when you say you didn’t do something, you didn’t.” Murdoch stated as he stood up and walked around to face his son, sitting on his desk. “ Johnny Your brother told me what Pardee and his men did to you in Laredo son………” he never got to finish as his eyes went to behind Johnny and Coley standing there with a gun pointed at them.

“ Turn around real slow Madrid.” Coley said as he cocked the pistol.

Johnny turned around and knew he was looking at death.

“ I couldn’t help but hear what you said about the law and Laredo Lancer…..I guess even though you didn’t kill them folks Madrid, your name says you did, wouldn’t you say?” Coley asked as he stepped closer but kept to Johnny’ left. 

“ What do you want?” Murdoch demanded.

“ Why I want revenge. Revenge for Madrid here killing Pardee. You see Pardee was my brother in law and well I can’t let his killer go free. You understand that don’t you Madrid?”

“ My son is unarmed and unable to defend himself. You do this Coley and it will be murder.”

“ He don’t care Murdoch. Murder is what he’s good at. Coley knows he could never take me before I was back shot so why not now.”

“ You know Madrid I remember Pardee tellin me once that you was just as good with your left hand. I think I’ll test that theory.” Coley said as he pointed his pistol at Johnny’ head. “ Go over and take his gun out of the holster and bring it over here. You try anything and I will blow his head clean off.”

Murdoch looked at his son and what he saw in his eyes was all Madrid. Walking over he carefully pulled Madrid’ gun out and brought it back.”

“ Give it to him.” Coley ordered.

Murdoch handed the gun to Johnny and saw a definite look of confidence in his eyes. Could it be possible that his son was just as deadly with a gun in his left hand as well he wondered.

“ Alright old man you sit down in that chair there and your son here is gonna tie you up.” Coley said as he took some rope he had draped over his shoulder off and handed it to Johnny. “ You tie him up real good Madrid. I know you can do it with one hand. He can watch me shoot you down like you did Pardee.”

Johnny tucked the gun in his pants front and took the rope from Coley and walked over and tied his father in the chair. “ No matter what happens remember I’m not a cold blooded killer.” Johnny whispered in his fathers ear.

Murdoch looked at his son and gave a slight smile.

Johnny finished and moved away from Murdoch, and kept his hand away from the gun. Looking at Coley through eyes that had seen a lot of men die at his hand. Eyes that even though they was the livid color of aqua blue, those eyes when looked in showed nothing but death. All his life Johnny was beaten and abused because of his blue eyes. People who was supposed to protect him, people who was supposed to love him abused him and all because he had blue eyes. The same blue eyes that now stared at yet another man who if lucky would die from his bullet as he stared into them. Moving over toward the french doors away from his father Johnny waited and didn’t say a word. Usually he would try and talk a person out of facing him down but this man, this man he knew from his past. This man he would gladly kill for what he had done to him.

“ You know Madrid. I feel kinda bad about this. I mean you crippled up like you are and all.”

“ Coley you’re a dead man.” Murdoch blurted out as he tried to get free.

“ Shut up.” Johnny said coldly as he stood there waiting.

“ Now you see Madrid, that’s no way to talk to your father. In fact I bet the old man wasn’t happy when he learned his son was a killer. I bet he still hates you for becoming a gunfighter.” Coley said as he looked over at Murdoch. “ Isn’t that right?……Tell him, tell Madrid how you can’t stand to look at him because of who he is. Tell him how he’s nothing but a cold blooded killer.”

Murdoch glared at Coley. “ My son is not a cold blooded killer. My son is more of a man than you will ever be Coley.”

Johnny pushed the emotions he was feeling back. “ Get on with it Coley and leave my old man alone.”

“ Why I do believe I hit a nerve with you Madrid. Yes sir I believe you and the old man here have had fights about your past…..Tell me something Madrid did you ever tell him about the girl you raped when Pardee got you drunk and bet you a hundred bucks you didn’t have the guts to take her innocents huh? You should have seen your boy, He fucked that girl real good. Oh Madrid here he made that girl a woman real quick. Why we could hear her screaming for him to stop from the other room. You turned her into a real good whore Johnny. Course you was drunk, hell Pardee didn’t even think you could get it up but her screaming and laying on that bed after when you came out was proof enough for us.”

Murdoch was stunned at what he was hearing. His son would never violate a woman like that would he? There was so much of his sons past he didn’t know and Johnny had told him that some of his past he wouldn’t want to know he did. Was this one of those incidents Murdoch wondered?

Johnny remembered the girl and he remembered that night very well. The nightmare of what he had done to that girl haunted him many times since. Now his father knew and now he was sick inside even more.

“ Shut the fuck up Coley and draw.” Johnny said with pure hatred in his voice.

Coley looked from Murdoch back to Johnny as he stepped closer to Murdoch. “ Maybe I’ll just kill your old man here Madrid and let you suffer the rest of your life knowing he died because of you.”

Just as Coley raised his arm Johnny drew and even though it was hard to do he managed to fan the hammer with his right hand that wasn’t bound up hitting Coley in the chest knocking him away from Murdoch.

Coley felt the bullet enter his chest as he went down. Raising the gun he shot, the bullet missing Johnny by inches before he fell over dead.

Johnny stood there a few seconds before he dropped the gun and went to his father and untied him.

“ You alright?” he asked.

“ Yes son, I’m fine. Are you alright?” Murdoch asked with concern as he stood up.

Johnny wouldn’t look at his father. How could he after what his father now knew he had done in his past. Turning Johnny went to walk away when his fathers hand stopped him.

“ Son wait, talk to me please.”

“ Johnny turned and looked at his father finally and what Murdoch seen was shame in his sons eyes.

“ Talk to you about what?……About what Coley said I did?……..Is that what you want to hear Murdoch?

You want to hear how a seventeen year old gunfighter forced himself on a fifteen year old girl.”

Johnny was angry now. Not at his father so much as he was about his past. A part of his past that he wished along with so many other things had never happened. Johnny stormed past his father and  up to his room leaving Murdoch to deal with the dead body.

Murdoch had the body taken to Green River with a note of explanation to the Sheriff telling what happened and that both he and Johnny could be found at the ranch for further explanation if needed.

Johnny became distant in the days that followed the shooting. He stayed in his room most of the time or was out grooming his horse. Murdoch would try night after night to make conversation with his son, but Johnny would just eat his meal not saying a word or get up and go to his room. Murdoch even tried to get his lost boy to talk about the breeding program and when he was going to start and ‘ still ‘ Johnny wouldn’t say anything to him. The silence between the two was worse to Murdoch than when they fought. He would give anything right now to have his son angry at him or something. Scott would be home in a few days and Murdoch hope that then with his brother here Johnny would start talking again.

Johnny came downstairs with his arm unwrapped and put his gun on. He could feel his fathers eyes on him without even looking at him. “ I’m riding out to Black Mesa to check on that herd.”

“ You sure you’re up to it son. Sam said your arm shouldn’t be used for a while yet.”

“ Yeah well Sam don’t know me or my body like I do. I’ve babied it long enough.”

“ How about I ride out there with you?”

“ Nope…Look I need some time alone out of this house to think.” Johnny said flatly as he reached for the door.

“ Alright son…….If that’s what you want. Will you be back for supper?”

Johnny just looked at Murdoch a second then walked out without answering.

Johnny rode out every day to the wash south of the house to practice his draw. Every day he got better and better as his arm came back to him. Sam had chewed him out royally for removing the wrap and using the arm before he felt he should. Johnny was flat out harsh with the man telling him he had had worse and since it was his body that he had a right to do what he felt was right and nobody was going to tell him he couldn’t. Sam was hurt by the harsh words thrown at him and told Johnny in no uncertain words that he would not care for the man if he got shot ever again. That’s when Johnny told him he had dug bullets out of his body before and he could do it again if need be before riding away.

Scott was gone three weeks for Murdoch. The trip was supposed to be to Sacramento but Scott found he needed to go to San Francisco before returning home. He had missed his brother and when asked in a telegram how Johnny was doing Scott was saddened at what Murdoch had said happened and what his brother was doing. What hurt him more was how Murdoch told how Johnny hardly spoke to him at all and had basically become distant from him. The day Scott returned To Lancer it was pouring down rain and the wind was howling. It was the middle of November and snow wasn’t far off in the hills. Even though the wind wasn’t quite as cold as in San Francisco coming off the bay it still cut through a persons body and the rain made it even worse. Walking in the quiet house Scott removed his soaked coat and stepped down into the grand room. His father was sitting at his desk looking out the big picture window behind it at the distant mountains or what he could see of them in the storm.

“ Boy you think a person could get a decent greeting around here after being gone four weeks.”

Murdoch turned in his chair and smiled as he stood up. “ Scott, I didn’t hear you come in son.”

“ That’s obvious sir.” Scott stated as he poured a shot of brandy. “ You seemed pretty lost in thought sir.”

“ I guess I was. I’m sorry son. Welcome home.”

“ Thank you.” Scott said before taking a sip of the whiskey and enjoying the feel as it burned his throat.

“ Where is he?”

“ Out riding in this storm I assume. He and several of the men was moving some cattle out by the south gully when this blew in and they haven’t come in yet.”

Scott cocked a brow. He couldn’t imagine a man out in this weather moving cattle a little over a year ago, but now since he had come to Lancer Scott learned real fast that cattle, though as stupid as they were still needed to be took care of no matter what the weather was. Finishing his whiskey Scott looked at his father.

“ I’m going to go take a hot bath sir and then we can talk.”

“ Alright son. You look like you could use a hot bath to warm up.”

Looking into his fathers eyes Scott could tell that what happened here while he was gone had made things worse between his father and brother.

“ I imagine you’re hungry so I’ll have something fixed for you for when you come back.”

“ That sounds fine. I am a little on the hungry side.”

“ It’s good to have you home Scott. It’ll be good to have someone at the supper table to talk too.”

Johnny and Barranca worked hard with the six hands to keep the cattle moving into the rain to the south pasture. Once the cattle was finally in Johnny told the men to head on back and get warmed up. He was going to stay and ride to south mesa and check on how the foot bridge was holding in the storm. Turning Barranca he rode off as the men headed back to the ranch to get warm. Hank would tell Murdoch were Johnny was and that he would be back by dark. The men liked and respected Johnny. Not because he ‘ was ‘ Johnny Madrid but because he was a good person. They watched how he cared about others more than himself. How he worked hard to do a job no matter what it was. Johnny never knew just how much the Lancer hands respected the young man. Riding up to the foot bridge Johnny got off Barranca and walked over close to the bridge but kept away from the edge of the now swollen creek. The rain was coming down harder now and was starting to freeze. Walking back to Barranca Johnny wiped the frozen rain away from his friends eyes.

“ I’m sorry amigo. I guess I’m not to good making you stay out in this weather huh?”

Barranca pushed his head into Johnny’ chest.

 “ Let’s go home boy.” Johnny said as he swung up in the saddle. “ You deserve a good rubdown and double ration of oats for this buddy.”

The rain was now pellets of ice coming down as Johnny and Barranca headed toward the ranch. When they came near a small canyon Barranca’ ears came forward and he became nervous. Johnny patted the stallions neck. “ What is it boy?” Johnny asked just before he heard the unmistakable scream of an injured horse. Taking out his rifle Johnny urged Barranca forward cautiously. The rain had turned to big flakes of snow and made seeing almost impossible. Barranca stopped and pawed at the ground and threw his head up and down and Johnny knew he was close. Looking hard ahead he seen it. A horse was down. Getting off Barranca Johnny kept the rifle ready as he slowly walked up to the horse. It was a mare and she had blood on her neck from bite marks. Her big eyes filled with pain and terror watched Johnny slowly approach her head, keeping away from her dangerous feet.

“ Easy girl, I’m not going to hurt you.” Johnny said as he knelt down and could see there was no hope for the mare. A mountain Lion had attacked her and she had serious gouges in her chest and her neck was ripped open. Johnny stood up and cocked the rifle and took aim. “ I’m sorry girl.” he said sadly as he pulled the trigger.

Walking back to Barranca he reached for the reins when his horse stepped back away from him. Thinking maybe Barranca was mad for the mare Johnny started talking to his friend. “ There was nothing I could do amigo. She was hurt to bad.”

Barranca took a couple more steps away from Johnny before turning and walking over nearer the rocks.

Pawing the ground there as Johnny walked up to him. After sliding his rifle back in the scabbard Johnny walked up to Barranca’ head and looked to see what his friend was seeing. What Johnny found broke his heart. A new born foal lay on the ground covered in ice and snow. Johnny reached down and touched the small foal.

“ That must be your mom over there huh little one. Well I can’t leave you out here cause I bet that cat is still close by.” Johnny said as he scooped the foal up in his arms and walked to his horse. Barranca sniffed at the foal as Johnny stopped at his head. “ You did real good amigo, real good. Lets get this baby girl home and see if we can’t save her.” Johnny said as he laid the foal across Barranca’ neck and swung up in the saddle. Lifting the foal Johnny laid her across his legs to let his body heat help to warm her some. Reaching behind him he untied his blanket and laid it over the foal. “ Let’s go home Barranca.” Johnny said as he turned his horse into the snow.

Scott and Murdoch talked most of the afternoon about Johnny and what had happened with Coley. When Murdoch told him what Coley said Johnny did and how Johnny had admitted to doing it when he was seventeen angered Scott. His brother had always been kind to women and told him that women and children and animals he was never cruel too. When Murdoch told him how Johnny was to Sam that surprised him a little but not like hearing his brother had raped a fifteen year old girl. Drunk or not his brother had done it and done it on a dare for money. Standing looking out the french doors Scott noticed the hands riding in. He counted six men, his brother wasn’t with them. Seeing Hank walking toward the house Scott went to the door and opened it. Murdoch walked over as the man came into the foyer.

“ Mister Lancer, we got the herd moved to the south pasture. They moved real easy. Didn’t give us a bit of trouble.”

“ Good, good. You go get warmed up and tell the other men that you six can take tomorrow off.”

“ What about Johnny?”

Hank looked at Scott. “ He said to tell you he would be back by dark. He rode over to south mesa, said he wanted to check on that foot bridge sir.”

“ Alright Hank. Thank you.”

“ Yes sir, you’re welcome.” Hank said before turning to leave.

Scott waited till Hank had left before addressing his father. “ It’s coming down pretty hard out there sir. You think Johnny will be alright getting back in this snow?” Scott asked with concern in his voice.

Murdoch looked at his son. “ There’s nothing we can do in this weather Scott. Your brother was a fool to not come back with the men. This is how he’s been ever since Coley. Reckless, he hardly sleeps. Hardly eats, spends all his time with that horse of his or working. I’ve tried to get him to talk to me but he won’t so I just let him be for sake of argument son but right now the silence your brother has given me I would gladly take an argument from him.”

“ Well sir, you may not want to be around tonight when my brother gets back. There is no call for him to be treating you the way he has.”

“ No Scott, let it go. Johnny will be cold if not froze and hungry when he comes in.”

“ Very well sir. I’ll bite my tongue for now but I will be having a discussion with my little brother.” Scott said firmly before turning and heading to the couch to sit down. “ Care to play a game of chess sir while we wait for my irresponsible little brother?”

Murdoch walked over and poured them both a shot of brandy. “ Why not.” he said as he walked over and sat down across from Scott and handed him his drink. “ It’ll help keep our minds off the weather and Johnny.”

Scott knew his father was both hurt and worried. He himself was but tried his best to not let it show. His father needed one of his boys to show good judgment and have a clear head.

Johnny was colder than he ever thought he could be. His whole body was numb and he was chilled to the bone. The snow was coming down so hard he couldn’t see twenty feet if that in front of him. Wrapping the reins around the saddle horn Johnny told Barranca to get them home. He knew his horse could do it and trusted the stallion with his life.

Barranca kept his head down as he slowly walked toward the ranch. Moving on instinct the stallion knew which way it was in the blinding snow to a nice warm barn and food. It was dark out now and he could tell his master needed him more than anything to get them home. Johnny was caked in snow on his back. The foal had a thick layer of snow covering it and the blanket Johnny had covering the foal. It was still alive and with numb fingers Johnny would put his right  hand down and the foal would suckle on his fingers or twitched its lips letting him know she was still with him. When Barranca walked into the barn and stopped it took Johnny a few minutes to realize his friend had gotten them home. Half sliding, half falling Johnny got off his friend and let the blood circulate in his legs as he held on to the saddle. Barranca stood patiently waiting. “ I owe you big time amigo.” Johnny said with a chattering voice as he reached up and pulled the foal down and took her over and laid her down in the hay. Grabbing a blanket he covered her up after wiping her down then turned his attention to Barranca.

A little over an hour later Johnny had Barranca dried and the stallion was enjoying a double helping of oats and fresh hay as Johnny picked the foal up and headed to the house. “ My old man isn’t going to like this much little girl but I need to get you warmed up or you won’t make it through the night.” Johnny said to the foal.

Scott and Murdoch was still paying chess when the front door opened and Johnny walked in with the foal.

“ Johnny…what on earth?” Murdoch asked as his son immediately headed to the fire.

“ Scott get me some blankets would you?” he asked as he laid the foal down on the rug and took off his wet, frozen coat.

“ Johnny why did you bring that foal into the house? It belongs in the barn son.”

Johnny gave his father a cold hard look. “ Because she needs warmth Murdoch. She won’t make it through the night out there.” Johnny said as his brother came back and handed him a blanket. “ Thanks Scott….could you get me a small amount of whiskey?”

Scott went and assuming it was for his brother poured some in a glass and walked back over to the fire. Johnny was sitting with the foal’ head in his lap. When Scott handed him the glass Johnny put it to the side of the foals mouth and slowly poured some into her. “ The whiskey will help fight off the cold and get her blood pumping better. She needs milk Murdoch.” Johnny said with pleading eyes as he glanced at his father.

Murdoch couldn’t believe the concern he was seeing his son have for this tiny creature. “ Scott there is some milk in the cold box in the kitchen.” Murdoch said as he got down on his knees and started to rub the foals body as his son got a little more whiskey into her. “ What happened to her mother Johnny? This foal is a newborn.”

“ I had to shoot her. A mountain lion got her I’m thinking just after she gave birth. Barranca found the foal in some rocks after I shot the mother. I could just leave her there to die Murdoch. She didn’t do anything to deserve that. I’ll put her in the barn in the morning but right now……..”

“ Right now son this little girl stays in this house but you clean up any messes she makes understand?”

“ Yes sir.” Scott came back with the milk. “ Johnny why don’t you go get in a hot bath. I’ll take care of her for you while you get warmed up and in dry clothes.” Scott suggested.

Johnny looked at his brother then Murdoch. “ I’m okay.”

“ Son please. This little girl will be alright with us. I don’t want you getting pneumonia. Your soaked to the bone and shivering.”

Johnny sighed and gave in. “ I’ll be back little one. You just keep fighting.” Johnny said before kissing the foal on the nose before standing up. “ I won’t be long. Take good care of her please Scott.” Johnny asked with a pleading voice.

“ I will brother.” Scott said.

Murdoch looked up at his son and could clearly see the concern he had for this foal. “ It’s going to be a long night son.” he said after Johnny headed upstairs to get clean clothes.

“ I believe you’re right sir. Something tells me that my little brother is going to be sleeping down here with this little girl.” Scott said as the foal  suckled on the bottle of milk.

 Murdoch couldn’t help but smile as he watched the foal drink and twitch her tail. “ She does have beautiful marking to her.” Murdoch said as he looked the foal over. The color she had was like no other Murdoch had ever seen. “ I don’t believe I have ever seen a color on a horse like this son.”

Scott looked up at him. “ I have once during the war. A captain was riding a horse of this color sir. He said it was called smokey blue. I believe he said it happens rarely when a stallion who is usually black breeds with a mare of lighter color usually with white the dominant color of the mare. A black stallion and a white mare will get you either a gray or as is this girl a smokey.” Scott said as he rubbed the foals head.

“ So she’ll stay this color then?”

“ Most likely. She might get darker but will most definitely keep this color. See how the fetlocks are black up almost to the knees then her hair smokes out in color and her mouth area is also black as is her mane and tail?” Scott asked

Murdoch nodded.

“ That the captain said is a rarity in a smoked roan. Some people back east refer to them also as a blue roan.”

“ I guess it depends on the country you’re in then as to what you call it.” Murdoch commented.

“ I guess it does. I wonder if Johnny knows just what he has here. Sir this foal could end up priceless.”

“ The knowledge your brother has about horses I think he might but then again he may not have noticed with the storm and all son.” Murdoch stated as he looked down at the sleeping foal in Scott’ lap.

“ I think I’ll go see if your brother needs anything son.”

“ Okay, let him know the foal ate good.”

“ I will.” Murdoch said as he stood up and headed to the stairs.

.

Johnny eased into the hot water and sighed as he felt it make it;s way through his cold body to his bones. Pulling the plug from his bottle of tequila Johnny heard a knock at the door and knew from the sound who it was. “ Yeah.”

Murdoch walked in and closed the door quickly to not let anymore heat out. “ You alright son?”

“ Yeah….I can feel my body again and the water is pushing the cold out.” he said before taking a drink from the bottle.

Murdoch frowned at his son drinking tequila the way he was. “ Scott got the foal to drink the milk down real good. She’s asleep now on his lap.”

“ Good. As soon as I’m done here I’ll take over and stay with her the night.”

“ Uh son, your brother knows something about this foal. I mean her color.”

Johnny gave him a puzzling look. “ Color?”

“ It seems son that that little foal is a smokey or blue roan as some call them. Scott said she could be priceless to you because of her color.” Murdoch said happy his son was talking to him.

“ She is priceless to me Murdoch and it’s not because Boston says she is because of her color. I don’t give a damn about her color.” Johnny said more harshly than he had intended.

Murdoch stood up  and looking down at his son he had had enough. “ Look Johnny I am sick and tired of the way you have treated me since………I am your father and like it or not young man you will show me respect. Do you understand me?”

“ When you earn my respect then I guess I will but seein’s how you don’t trust me old man then I won’t.”

“ I trust you Johnny.”

“ No you don’t, just like you haven’t been honest with me. Sendin Scott away on business about me and my past that’s not showing me respect……so why the hell should I show you it?”

Murdoch was getting angry by the second. He didn’t want to lose his son and knew Johnny would leave him and Lancer if the wrong thing was said.

“ You know old man, maybe I should hire me a Pinkerton man and have your past checked out and reported to me. I bet It would be for some real interesting reading. I would even bet you wasn’t all that good and respectful in your past. Oh sure you married a beautiful woman and got Scott from it but I’d be willing to bet that before that you wasn’t so respectful. Hell I bet before you fucked my mother and got her pregnant you wasn’t either.” Johnny said coldly.

Murdoch started to respond but closed his mouth. Now wasn’t the time for this and turning he walked out of the room and left Johnny alone. With both hurt and anger from his sons words Murdoch went back downstairs and poured a double shot of whiskey and slammed it down. “ I have had it with your brother treating me the way he does.”

Scott moved the sleeping foal so he could stand up. “ What happened sir?”

Murdoch told him and Johnny  came down the stairs just as he finished. When Johnny walked past him Murdoch grabbed his arm and spun him around to face him. “ You go right ahead and hire a Pinkerton, if that’s what you want to do boy. But hear me now and hear me good. You ever talk to me like that again and you’ll find yourself swallowing teeth………I am your father and you by god will show me respect.”

Johnny jerked his arm free. “ Don’t you ever grab me again…..and any time you think you’re man enough old man go ahead and try.”

“ Johnny that’s enough.” Scott blurted. “ I don’t know what went on fully while I was away but I will not allow you to talk to our father like this.”

Johnny glared at Scott before turning and heading to the door.

“ Just where do you think you are going” Murdoch asked.

“ To check on my horse.” Johnny said as he opened the door. “ At least Barranca treats me right.” he said before slamming the door shut.

Scott looked at his father. “ That’s it sir. I know you didn’t want this happening but I’m not letting Johnny get away with this.” Scott said flatly as he headed to the door and grabbed his coat.

“ Scott, something is bothering him son. What Coley said he did to that girl I think is just a small part of it. Be careful.”

“ I will sir. I may have to knock some sense into my little brother, but I will get to the bottom of this one way or the other.” he said before heading out to the barn.

Murdoch walked over and looked down at the sleeping foal curled up on the blanket and sighed. Would he and his youngest ever get along he couldn’t help wondering.

.

Chapter 11

Scott walked into the barn and found his brother grooming his horse. Walking over and leaning on the stall rail he watched Johnny brush the stallions golden coat.

“ Find out some interesting things about me Boston?” Johnny asked with coldness.

Scot raised a brow. “ As a matter of fact I did little brother. I found out that you lied to me. You knew you was wanted in Laredo Johnny. I also found out that Johnny Madrid is wanted in questioning to murder in Kansas.” Scott said with anger. “ I don’t like being lied to brother. I thought we could trust each other. I thought I could trust you but I know now I was wrong……why Johnny.”

Johnny walked out of the stall and past his brother. “ I don’t owe you an explanation brother. I don’t owe you or anyone else a fucking thing.”

Scott grabbed Johnny and spun him around. “ Of yes you do.” he ordered.

Johnny swung and hit Scott in the gut hard dropping him to his knees. Standing there a few seconds before walking past.

Scott reached out and grabbed Johnny by the legs and dropped him to the floor. When Johnny turned over to hit him Scott swung and hit his brother hard in the face before Johnny could get him off.

Standing up Johnny had both hands in fist ready to swing again when Scott came at him ramming his head into Johnny’ chest and both of them going down. Barranca stomped and fidgeted in his stall irritated  at the two men fighting. Rearing up and kicking out at the stall door the stallion squealed.

Johnny went down hard and grunted as the wind was knocked from his lungs. Scott hit him hard in the side of the head causing him to see stars. “ You fucking bastard Scott.” Johnny managed to get out.

“ I’m going to teach you manners little brother one way or the other.” Scott said as he hit Johnny in the jaw hard causing his head to snap to the right.

“ Get the fuck off me you sonofabitch.” Johnny stammered angrily.

Scott pinned Johnny’ shoulders down and glared at his brother. “ I’m not letting you up little brother until you agree to start telling me the damn truth.”

Johnny tried to get free but found his brother was to much and had the upper hand with his size. Hearing his horse thrashing about and kicking his stall Johnny continued to fight. “ Let me up Scott. Barranca needs to be calmed down.”

“ I don’t care about your horse Johnny.”

“ You will if he breaks free because he’ll attack you to protect me. Now let me the fuck go now.”

Scott glanced over at the horse and seen him rearing up in  his stall and viciously kicking at the gate. He could see the latch was partly broken and not going to hold much longer. Grabbing his brother and pulling him up Scott shoved him toward his stallion. “ Stop him now Johnny because if he comes out of there and charges me I will shoot him.”

Johnny glared at Scott hard as he wiped at the blood on his mouth before turning to his horse. “ Shh amigo, it’s alright Barranca. Lo Siento cam padre Lo Siento.” Johnny said as he rubbed the stallions face. Looking back at his brother angrily. “ You ever threaten to harm him again Scott and…….”

“ What Johnny…..you’ll kill me over a stupid horse. That horse damn near got you shot by the Marshal remember. You think more of that damn horse than you do your own family……..In fact you know what

brother I’m through with you. Until you decide you want to be honest with me and Murdoch about your  past, don’t come to me for help.” Scott said angrily as he turned to walk out.

“ I fucking never asked either of you for help. I never asked you to be my brother. I don’t need you or that old man.” Johnny said with hatred as he walked out of the stall.

Scott spun around and  walked up to his brother and grabbed him by the coat. “ I killed for you brother

Murdoch killed for you. We took another mans life to protect you so don’t tell me you don’t need us.”

“ Go to hell Scott.”

Before Johnny could move Scott swung as hard as he could and hit Johnny hard in the gut and followed it with a blow to his face. Johnny went down hard.

“ You go to hell brother.” Scott said before turning around and walking out of the barn leaving his brother laying on the floor.

Johnny tried to get up but couldn’t rolling over he fought to get air in his lungs as he coughed and spit blood from his mouth. When he could finally sit up Johnny looked over at his horse. Wanting to leave Johnny knew he wouldn’t make it far in the blizzard outside. He would freeze to death before he made it  five miles. Standing up he held on the the stall rail getting his breathing under control. Feeling his ribs and jaw he knew nothing was broken. His brother could hit and hit hard when angry. Inside he knew he deserved what Scott had just did to him. He hated the fact that he put his brother in that position. Hated the fact that he had treated his father the way he had since Coley. What he said to his father while taking a bath he knew was wrong. Not wanting to but knowing he had Johnny headed to the house. He was about to do something he never wanted to do. He would answer any and all questions his father and brother wanted to ask him about his past and he would answer them truthfully.

Scott barged into the house and over to the side board and poured a stiff shot of whiskey and downed it in one gulp. “ I wash my hands of him sir. I’m through being played the fool and lied to. I have been open and honest with my brother and all I get in return is lies.”

Murdoch stood up. “ Son what are you talking about?….What lies?”

“ About my past.” Johnny said as he stepped down into the grand room. Looking at his brother Johnny walked over to the foal still sleeping. “ My brother is talking about the fact that I haven’t been honest with him or you Murdoch. I am wanted in question for the murder of that rancher in Laredo…..I didn’t kill him or his family. I told you the truth about that Scott.”

 “What about Kansas Johnny?” Scott asked drawing a confused look from his father.

“ Kansas Scott? Kansas I killed a lawman. A deputy only I didn’t know he was a deputy till after when they was going to string me up.”

“ What happened?” Murdoch asked as he sat down.

Johnny went over to the couch and sat down. “ I rode into Hays around midnight and heard this woman scream. I went to check it out and this man was beating her. Her dress was torn reveling her breast and her face was bloody. I grabbed the man and we fought. He had a knife I didn’t see and stabbed me in the side with it so I shot him. It was then after he went down I saw the badge.” Johnny said softly.

“ What about the woman?”

“ She took off. Scared I reckon. Anyways the Sheriff and  a mob showed up and they started yelling to hang me so I ran. I took a bullet in the back as I rode out. The posse looked for me but I rode hard until I knew I was out of that Sheriff’s jurisdiction.”

Scott sat down next to his brother. “ Why didn’t you go back and try to explain what happened Johnny? Or try to find the woman at least who could clear you?”

“ Because Scott, the deputy I killed was the mayors son. His only son.”

“ Johnny, what about what Coley said……did you rape that fifteen year old girl?”

Johnny looked from Scott to Murdoch. “ Yes I did.” he said with his head down. “ I was drunk and I let Pardee goad me into doing it Murdoch……I’m not proud of it and I live with that girls screams every time I close my eyes. I live with every man I have killed in my sleep every night. I was young and reckless and wanted a reputation back then. Well I got it riding with Pardee. Then when we took that job in Laredo I seen what kind of man he was and what I was becoming when I seen the fear in that girls eyes. That’s why I rode away Scott, That’s why I tried to leave Pardee. I didn’t want to become that man he was. I should have died after they did what they did to me but I didn’t, I figured it as a second chance and changed my ways. I stopped hiring out my gun for money and started helping the type of people I used to fight against. Most of the time I did it for nothing or for a simple roof over my head or food to eat.”

“ You do realize brother that you can never show your face in Kansas or Laredo ever again don’t you?”

“ Yeah I know. I also know that the law in Kansas won’t pursue what happened because the mayor won’t want his good name drug through the mud, or his supposedly good sons.” Johnny said as he looked at his father. He knew the question would come that he never wanted his father to ask. It was inevitable and unavoidable. His father had seen the scars and heard  him when he was in a fevered state when shot after coming here. “ Go ahead and ask it old man. I know you want to. I know you want to know about my mother and what she did to me, but I warn you right here right now. If you ask and I answer will you be able to handle it? Will you be able to still look at me as your son? If not and you want e to leave Lancer just tell me and I’ll go.”

Scott stood to leave. He knew what was coming and didn’t think he should be a part of this conversation.

“ Stay Scott, please.” Johnny pleaded.

Scott looked into his brothers eyes and could see the fear and shame of what he was about to tell his father. Sitting back down closer to his brother he put a hand on his knee to give support.

Murdoch swallowed a lump that just wouldn’t go down. Standing up he walked over and poured a shot and downed it then poured another and walked back over and sat down across from his son. Sitting there he couldn’t believe his son was willing to bare all about his past to them. Would he be able to handle hearing the truth about the woman he once loved. The truth about what she did to his son and what she allowed to be done to him? Clearing his throat Murdoch downed the shot and asked. “ Son….. tell me what your mother did to you, Please.”

Johnny started to shake and knew Scott could feel it because he tightened his grip on his knees more and gave a small smile when Johnny looked at him. I was ten when it happened the first time with her. We was living in Sonora in this little shack on the outskirts of the town. I remember it was storming bad and she couldn’t make any money. Nobody was out because of the weather. I was home alone fixing something to eat. I caught a rabbit in a snare when she came home soaked. She undressed right in front of me but I kept my back turned to her. When she told me to turn around she was standing there naked and ordered me to come to her. I walked over to her keeping my head down and she……she put a hand under my chin and made me look up at her.” Johnny said with a quiver in his voice. “ You sure you want to hear this?”

Murdoch only nodded as his voice failed him.

“ She brought her mouth down and started kissing me. I pulled away but she grabbed me and said since she couldn’t get a man that night that I would have to do. She told me that it was how a son showed his mother he loved her…….She kissed me again and slid her tongue in my mouth and pressed her body against mine.”

“ Juanito I will make you a man tonight. Tonight you will love your mamma like you have never loved me before.” Marie said as she reached down and started stroking her sons cock.

Uncertain of what he was feeling Johnny tried to get away but Maria grabbed him and slapped him hard across the face. “ Do not fight me on this Juanito.” she said as she forced Johnny to the bed and ordered him to undress.

Johnny did as he was told and laid down on the bed scared. His mother climbed in bed next to him and again began stroking his cock. “ Oh you are such a man my son. The women will love you to be inside them. Look at how thick and long you are and you are only ten.” She said before moving her head down and taking her son in her mouth.

Johnny couldn’t help the feelings he was having as his mother sucked on his cock. When he felt like he was going to explode he pleaded with his mother to stop but she only encouraged him to let go and enjoy the feeling.  Johnny couldn’t stop it and bucked his hips up as he experienced his first climax in his mothers mouth. When he was done laying there ashamed his mother came up and forced her tongue into his mouth. “ Taste it Juanito. Taste your seed of life in my mouth.” she said before delving her tongue into his. When she was done kissing him she told Johnny it was now his turn to do to her what she had done to him. Forcing her son down between her legs Maria forced his face into her wet mound. “ Suck me Juanito. Suck your mamma’s pussy and make her cum so you can taste me.”

Horrified Johnny did what he was told. When his mother climaxed she held him firm to her as she bucked and screamed her pleasure. When she let go Johnny moved down the bed away from her.

“ Ah Juanito we are not done yet.” she told him. “ I want to feel you inside me my son. I want to feel your magnificent cock slide in and out of me. Come here.”

Johnny didn’t move. Maria sat up and grabbed her son and yanked him so he was on top of her again.

“ Lay on me Juanito between my legs so you can enter me.”

Shaking Johnny did as he was told, His mother reached down and guided him inside her and instructed him how to move. When his climax started again Johnny pumped hard into his mother with all shame forgotten as he released his seed deep inside her. Maria climaxed with him and pressed his head down to her chest as she bucked up into her sons downward thrust.

Johnny had tears rolling down his face as he looked at his father. His hands shook badly and his voice quivered. He wanted to bolt. To run and hide and never face his father again after what he just told him. The silence was just to much to bear so he stood up on shaky legs and walked over and poured a drink. Walking over to the french doors Johnny glared out into the raging blizzard. Snow was piling up against the doors and he couldn’t see past the veranda wall.

Scott sat there swallowing the bile that wanted to come up. Unable to speak he stood up and walked over to his brother. Placing an arm around his shoulder Scott pulled a shaking Johnny into him for a hug. He could see the tears running down his brothers face in the glass. He had tears of his own and when Johnny wrapped his arms around Scott and hugged him back tightly he let his tears flow.

Murdoch sat unable to move or speak as he watched his two sons. A million whys ran through his head. He didn’t realize both his sons had walked back over and now stood in front of him. Looking up with tears in his own eyes.

“ Say something, yell at me, tell me to leave or that I discussed you Murdoch. Please I can’t take this silence.” Johnny pleaded.

Murdoch stood up and still unable to speak he pulled his son into his chest and held him tight. Johnny melted into the hug and wrapped his arms around his father and let it go. He let all the shame and fear he had been holding inside for all these years go. Shaking uncontrollably he let the tears fall. “ I’m sorry pa, I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you and Scott…I want to be your son. I want to be the son of a prominent rancher. I want my past to leave me alone and let me be your son……that is if you still want me to be your son?” Johnny asked into his father shoulder.

Murdoch rubbed his sons back. “ Of course I do son. You have nothing to be ashamed of Johnny. You was just a child and your mother made you do things you should have never been forced to do. Son you had things done to you that no child should ever have done to them. I could never blame you or hate you for what Maria did to you…..I hate her and am ashamed that I once loved her. Johnny I did get your mother pregnant and then married her two months later when she told me. I have no regrets about that son and you are the best thing I got from that woman.”

Johnny pulled away from his father and looked up at him. “ So you don’t want me to leave?”

“ Hardly son. I just got you back and I’m not about to lose you again.”

“ That goes for me too Johnny. I know what I said in the barn to you was wrong little brother but I was angry.”

“ It’s okay Boston. I deserved it. Fact is I don’t think I would’a been able to have done this if you hadn’t.”

“ Uh Johnny about what I said about Barranca…….I didn’t mean it brother.”

“ Yeah you did Scott but that’s okay. I know you would never hurt him intentionally.”

Scott managed a smile.

The foal stood up and whinnied softly and all three men looked at her.

“ I think someone is hungry again son.”

“ Yeah I think so.” Johnny said as he walked over to the foal.

“ I’ll go get some more milk for her brother.”

“ Thanks Scott.”

“ You know son. You’re her mother now. You’re going to have to feed her every four hours for the first couple of months until she’s old enough to start grazing.”

“ Yeah, never pictured myself as a what do you call it Scott?”

“ Surrogate Johnny” Scott said as he handed his brother the milk. “ It’s a fancy way of sayin foster mother.”

Johnny smiled as the foal sucked on the bottle eagerly.

Johnny stayed downstairs with the foal all night. He slept next to her on the blanket and wasn’t aware when his father came down and covered the two of them up in the middle of the night. Looking outside at the blizzard still going on then down at the tiny foal curled up next to his son, Murdoch couldn’t help but smile. Tonight a major milestone happened between him and his son. A bond started to form strongly between the two men. A bond he vowed to make stronger with every second that past.

“ Good night stormy.” he said softly as he reached down and patted the foal. “ Good night my son.” Murdoch said as he touched his sons forehead. Johnny felt warm to his touch and Murdoch prayed his boy didn’t come down with pneumonia from being out in the blizzard.

The blizzard lasted three days. Lancer and the whole San Joaquin valley was blanketed in over a foot of snow. Drifts in places were twice as deep. Johnny and Scott dug with several hands to get the barn doors opened. Johnny fixed a place at the back of the barn for the foal. Barranca took a liking to her and became very protective if anyone other than Johnny came near her. Murdoch and Scott kept a safe distance from the stallion when they would go in the barn. Murdoch sent Johnny out with Scott to check on the foot bridge and fence line around south mesa. Johnny rode along in silence. Since the night of the storm Scott worried. His brother hardly spoke to either of them beyond the ranch and what needed done. The silence was to much for Scott so since he and his brother was alone he thought now would be a good time to confront him.

“ Johnny……..we need to talk little brother.”

Johnny glanced at his brother but kept Barranca moving. “ So talk.”

“ Johnny you’ve been quiet ever since the other night. I get the distinct feeling brother you got something very heavy weighing on your mind.”

Johnny stopped Barranca and when Scott looked his brother in the eyes he didn’t like what he saw. Madrid and his eyes was colder than the temperature. “ Just leave it Boston. I got something to work out and it ain’t none of your concern.”

“ It is when it affects you like this Johnny. Don’t try that Madrid crap with me brother. Talk to me damn it.”

“ Okay fine. It’s Murdoch and his past. Remember what Sheriff Evans said to me in Leeds about Murdoch and him bein bounty hunters? Well something ain’t right Scott. I tried to get him to talk about it and when I mentioned Cordova  I seen the look in his eyes change and it weren’t for the better Scott.”

“ So maybe something happened in Cordova that Murdoch want’s to forget Johnny. You have parts of your past you want to forget.”

Johnny shot his brother a hard glare. “ I know my past isn’t the greatest Scott but why is it that the old man tells us that the past is the past, right or wrong, good or bad except when it came to me? I was in Cordova Scott and I think I know why Murdoch is the way he is about it. I remember hearing talk about a couple of bounty hunters showing up and some innocent people was killed while they tried to take the man they was after. I think Murdoch was one of them and Evans was the other.”

“ Johnny let it go brother. You and Murdoch are starting to get along. Let his past and yours go, please.”

Johnny just looked at his brother before moving away.

Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas was two weeks away. Johnny had never celebrated any holiday so he had no idea what to expect. All the food available still overwhelmed him. Scott told  him

 about the holidays back in Boston growing up and what people would do. When he told about Christmas and giving gifts to those you love Johnny was lost. Scott explained it to him. “ Christmas is the celebration of the birth of baby Jesus Johnny. People give gifts to the ones they love and care about as a part of the celebration. You buy the gift and wrap it and put it under the tree and on Christmas morning you open the gifts before going to Christmas Mass.” Scott told him. “ Johnny you’re Catholic. You telling me you never celebrated Christmas brother?”

Johnny hung his head and toed the snow. “ No.”

“ Well then little brother you are in for a treat. If you think Thanksgiving was something, Johnny my boy you will love Christmas. Especially the mistletoe.” Scott said with a wide grin.

“ Mistletoe what the hell is that?”

“ Well little brother mistletoe is a small green plant you hold up over a ladies head and she gives you a kiss.”

Johnny laughed. ‘ Well hells bells Boston I don’t need no mistletoe to get a girl ta kiss me.”

“ Yeah well those uh women Johnny you have to pay to kiss them. With mistletoe you don’t.”

“ So can having this mistletoe get ya fucked without payin?” Johnny asked just as Murdoch walked into the room.

Murdoch came in on the last of the conversation and gave his younger son a scowled look of disapproval. “ I’m afraid to ask what this conversation is about fully but Johnny would you please mind your language in the house son?”

“ Yes sir, I’m sorry pa.” Johnny said as he jabbed his brother in the ribs. “ Hey pa can I ask ya somethin?”

Murdoch stopped and turned and looked at his son. “ Yes you may.”

“ Well I was wonderin if you ever, what’s that word you used once Scott?”

“ Enticed.”

“ Yeah that’s it I was wonderin if you ever had to entice a girl into kissin ya or lettin ya……touch her with this mistletoe Boston’ tellin me about?”

Murdoch chuckled. “ No son I didn’t need mistletoe to romance the ladies though it is nice to use on an unexpected young lady.”

Johnny grinned as he looked from his father to his brother before leaving the room and bounding up the stairs. Scott heard his brother’ door close.

“ Sir can I talk to you?”

“ Sure son. Whats on your mind?”

“ Well sir it’s Johnny. You know he doesn’t know the meaning of Christmas and has never celebrated it?”

Murdoch frowned. He knew his youngest grew up without but he had always assumed his son celebrated Christmas since Maria was Catholic and Johnny was baptized when only a month old.

“ Whats on your mind son?”

“ Well sir I’d like to make this a special Christmas for my brother if we could. I mean since it is his first one and all.”

“ I see nothing wrong with that son. In fact I think it should be a special one since it is our first one together as a family.”

Murdoch and Scott talked and planned out what they was going to do for Johnny to make Christmas special for him.

That night at dinner Scott talked more about Christmas’s past and the things he got. He hated the fact that while he got plenty his brother whom he never knew until a year ago had gone without so much as a simple hot meal, shoes on his feet or a warm coat.

“ Um Johnny why don’t you ride into Green River tomorrow and see if there is any mail and pick up some supplies we need?”

Johnny took a drink of his milk. “ Sure. Scott comin with me?”

“ No son your brother is needed her to help me with the end of the year books. Unless you’d rather do it?”

“ No, no that’s alright I don’t mind goin to town as long as I can stop and have a beer.”

Murdoch looked at Scott and smiled. The two needed Johnny gone most of the day so they could set up the Christmas decorations. “ Go ahead son. Take your time. Just be back by supper.”

“ K, hey Boston how about a game a chess after supper?”

“ Sure brother I’m always up to beating your, beating you at chess.” Scott said when Maria walked into the room.

 “ Cena Maria era tan bueno como siempre.”( Maria dinner was good as usual)

“ Estoy muy contento de que te haya gustado. ( I am very pleased you liked it)

“ Que lo hicimos. Gracias.” (That we did. Thank you)

Murdoch stood and him and the boys retired to the grand room for an after dinner drink and a game of chess.

Around ten o’clock Scott gave up. His little brother had him surrounded and he couldn’t move. He had already lost his king and couldn’t see any way of protecting his queen. Johnny had taken his knights and puzzled Scott just couldn’t figure out how his brother managed to beat him like this.

“ I surrender little brother. I know when I’m licked and you beat me fare and square tonight. I’m gonna call it a night.” Scott said as he stood and stretched.

“ You played a good game Boston. Maybe when you look at your moves ahead more you might be able ta beat me.” Johnny said as he started to put the chess pieces away.

Scott glanced at his father and seen a smile on the mans face. Tomorrow was Christmas eve day and Scott couldn’t wait to see the look on his brothers face tomorrow night when he came home.

“ I think I’ll turn in also pa. I want to get an early start to town tomorrow.”

“ Alright boys. Have a good night.”

“ You too sir.” they both said as they headed for the stairs and bounded up. Murdoch waited till he heard both doors close before he took the letter out he had received from his friend in the Army at Fort Bowie. The Army would be very interested in buying good remounts if they was at least green broke. They would pay a more than generous price of twenty five dollars a head provided Lancer could deliver them by the spring at the latest. Murdoch smiled. He wanted so badly to share this news with his youngest but felt the time just wasn’t right yet. Slipping the letter into his desk top drawer Murdoch decided he would tell Johnny on Christmas day during or after the meal. It seemed that in less than a month he and his sons had become a true family and Johnny was settling down thanks to his brother and he and Murdoch talked more openly and freely about things. But still Murdoch couldn’t help but feel that something was bothering his son. Something was on his sons mind and he got that feeling whenever they were alone by the way Johnny would look at him. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.

.

Chapter 12

Johnny woke early and bounded down the back stairs to the  kitchen. His father was already up and drinking a cup of coffee.

“ Morning pa.” Johnny said with a smile. “ Your up early.”

“ Morning son.” Murdoch said with a smile. “ Thank you son.”

Johnny sat down and took a sip of his coffee. “ For what?”

“ For calling me pa as opposed to old man.”

Johnny smiled. “ Well I figured I better start calling you something course father just don’t seem right and I remember someone tellin’ me I should show respect for them. I just can’t remember who it was that said that though.” Johnny said with a grin.

Murdoch started to say something but stopped himself when Scott walked into the kitchen.

“ Hey Boston. I’ll be thinkin’ of ya today when I’m drinkin that cold beer while you’re here slavin’ over the books.”

“ You do that brother. You just do that.” Scott said as he poured a cup of coffee.

“ Hey could you feed stormy for me?”

“ Yes son. We will take care of the foal while you are gone son.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he stood up. “ Well I think I’ll go hitch up the horses and head out. I’ll see ya tonight.”

Scott grinned at Murdoch. “ See ya tonight little brother.”

Murdoch stood and walked out with his son. “ Uh Johnny I don’t mean to pry into your social life son but if you want to……well just enjoy yourself and be home in time for supper.”

“ Murdoch you sayin’ what I think you are?” Johnny asked as he fastened his gun belt on and grabbed his coat.

“ I’m just sayin have a good time in town son is all.” Murdoch said before heading back into the kitchen.

Johnny stood there and watched him walk away with a puzzled look.

Murdoch and Scott heard Johnny leave and after breakfast the two of them with Maria’s help started to make Christmas happen for Johnny. Maria started baking small cakes and cookies she knew her Juanito would like. She knew Johnny had a sweet tooth and remembered he did as a baby also.

Scott  brought the tree into the house and set it up in the corner away from the fireplace as Murdoch walked in carrying a box. When he set it down he looked at his son.

“ Some of the stuff in this box your mother bought in San Francisco or brought with her from Boston son.” he said.

Scott walked over and opened the box and found wrapped in paper small animal figures carved out of wood. Looking at his father he set the small animals down carefully as he unwrapped them. Murdoch told him the story behind every decoration and why his mother wanted it. When he came to a single wooden horse carved out of what looked to be black ash wood Scott couldn’t help but look the carving over good and feel it. Looking at his father he could see sadness in his eyes. Turning the horse over he read the engraving on the belly of the horse. ‘John Jacob Lancer eighteen fifty ‘ Scott read aloud.

“ That was your brothers first Christmas decoration. I never got the chance to get him another.”

“ It’s beautiful sir. The carving is spectacular and very detailed. May I ask where you got it?”

“ There was this man in San Francisco sitting on the pier carving them and Johnny was not quit one yet reached out for that and the old man I remember smiled at Johnny and handed him it. I offered to pay him for it and he refused. He said “ let it be the boys first horse.” and it was. I had forgotten all about it all these years.”

Scott smiled and put a hand on his fathers shoulder. “ I think Johnny would like to hear that from you sir.”

“ Come on son lets get this tree decorated. I still need to wrap your brothers present I got him.”

“ What did you get him sir?” Scott asked as he picked up the carved animals and carried them over to the tree.

“ I got your brother the new Winchester rifle son. I had his name engraved in the stock.”

“ Well sir I am impressed. I think my brother is going to like it very much.”

“ What did you get him son?”

“ I got him a couple of books on horse breeds and the history of the horse and a new silver inlaid bridle for him and Barranca.”

Murdoch raised a brow. “ Silver inlaid huh? You do know that Johnny spoils that horse beyond reason now don’t you?”

“ Yes sir. I also know that it was Barranca that got Johnny home in that blizzard with the foal.”

Murdoch nodded. “ Come on son lets make this happen.”

Throughout the day Scott and Murdoch decorated the tree and enjoyed the tantalizing aroma that came from the kitchen. Maria gave them a couple sugar cookies after they ate lunch and hurried them out of her kitchen. Scott went out and fed the foal and made sure she was alright. Johnny had gotten really attached to the foal and she followed him all around the yard when he was working here.

Johnny finished loading the wagon then walked over to the saloon for a cold beer. The Red Palace wasn’t busy this time of day and when Johnny walked in he seen a couple of older men playing cards in the  back and two girls standing at the bar with the bartender.

“ Well well well Look what the cat dragged in here Sara. If it isn’t Johnny Madrid.” Dulcie said.

Johnny frowned. He had asked the girls to not call him Madrid since he was trying to change and was Murdoch Lancer’s son.

“ Hey Johnny your old man send you in for some last minute supplies?” the bartender asked as he got Johnny a cold beer.

“ Yeah and said I could have a cold beer and anything else I wanted while in town as long as I was back in time for supper.

“ Well I can give ya the cold beer. It’s on the house. As for the other well that you will have to take up with whichever girl you want.”

Johnny smiled at Dulcie as he brought his beer up to his lips. Sara stood back and watched. She had heard from Dulcie how good Johnny was in bed but never been with him. She was always with another customer when he came in so Dulcie always got him then bragged. Johnny walked over to Dulcie and kissed her on the cheek. “ I heard something about you Dulcie.” Johnny said.

“ Yeah what’s that Johnny?”

Johnny kissed her on the mouth sliding his tongue in just enough to tease her. “ I heard you like to brag about us when I leave.”

“ Yeah so. Ain’t nothing wrong with tellin the others about a good fuck.”

“ Well you see Dulcie that’s were you’re wrong. I don’t like you goin around braggin about me. What we do together I ain’t payin for you to brag all over town about. I’m paying you to spread your legs and lay there so I can fuck you. I’m not paying for you to blabber all over town about it.” Johnny said as he finished his beer and walked over to Sara. He knew Sara heard what was said as he gently touched her arm. “ If I take you upstairs you gonna blab about it all over town?”

Sara looked into Johnny’ blue eyes. “ No, it ain’t nobody’s business what we do behind a closed door.”

Johnny smiled at her. “ You want to go upstairs with me?”

“ Sara touched Johnny’ face with her right hand. “ Yeah I do. I have for a long time wanted to feel you between my legs.”

Johnny kissed Sara passionately right there. Sara moaned as his tongue delved to the back of her mouth. Stopping Johnny took her hand and walked toward the stairs. Dulcie just glared at them as they went up the stairs to Sara’s room. ‘ At least I got him before you’ she said to herself.

Johnny followed Sara into her room and closed the door. Smiling he removed his hat and gun belt as he watched Sara undress. Undoing the belt to his pants he slid them down over his slender hips and he watched Sara remove the last of her undergarments and her breast hung free. Johnny walked over after kicking his boots off and pants and touched them with his hands and gently squeezed them as he started to passionately kiss her as he moved her to the bed. Laying her down Johnny delved his tongue deep in her mouth as his left hand played with her breast. Sliding his right hand down between her legs Johnny found what he wanted. Parting folded skin he slid a finger inside and rubbed her mound as his mouth devoured hers before moving down to suck on her breast. Sara moaned aloud when Johnny slid three fingers inside her and worked them around and in and out. When he was sure Sara could take no more he slid between her legs and guided his thick cock to her hot wet entrance. Smiling down at Sara he thrust deep inside her wet portal bringing her right to the edge several times before he finally let her climax. Feeling her muscles tighten around his shaft almost caused Johnny to lose it right then but he managed to hold off. When he was sure Sara was done he pulled her up and put his hands around her waist and picked her up as he walked backwards to the wall. “ Wrap your legs around me Sara.” Johnny asked.

Sara wrapped her legs around Johnny and he let her slide down onto his shaft. Standing there Johnny smiled. “ You ready to be fucked better than ever Sara?” he asked.

Sara smiled. “Been waiting a long time for this Johnny.”

Johnny thrust upward for a while driving Sara crazy as his cock rubbed her clit and brought her close to release again. Johnny always seemed to know and would change his motion but when Johnny picked her up then brought her down on his shaft as he thrust upward caused Sara to scream out his name.  “Jesus Johnny.” she had never had a man this deep inside her before. It both hurt and thrilled her as she felt her climax building again. Johnny slammed her up against the wall and continued to thrust into her harder each time. When he knew he was close to losing it he picked her up and walked her over to the bed and dropped them both on it as he thrust as hard as he could as his seed spilled out deep inside her.

Half standing, half leaning over Sara Johnny stayed inside her as he started sucking her breast. Gently pulling on her nipples with his teeth then swirling his tongue over them. Kissing his way back up to her mouth Johnny smiled down at Sara. “ I’m not done with you yet.” he said before delving his tongue deep into her mouth. Feeling her moan Johnny brought his weight back down onto her as his cock started to get harder.

 All Sara could do was moan as Johnny devoured her mouth. Biting her lips and squeezing her breast. Rolling the nipples in his fingers or his palm. “ Turn over for me Sara.” Johnny asked as he rose just enough so she could.

Sara turned over and rose up on her hands and knees.

Johnny positioned himself behind Sara and pulled her back against the tip of his cock. Reaching around he started rubbing and playing with her folded skin. Pulling and pinching gently with one hand while the other worked her moistness more. Johnny slid the tip of his cock in then pulled out. He did this for several minutes as each time he entered her he went deeper. When he was completely inside her Johnny slowly moved his hips as he played with her clit.

Sara couldn’t believe what she was feeling. No man had ever made her feel like this. Hell most of the men she bed only cared about climbing between her legs, fucking her and leaving. None had ever taken their time fucking her like Johnny was.  Feeling her climax starting again Sara rose up on her knees and reached back to Johnny. Pulling his head and mouth down to hers Sara moaned and thrust back into Johnny as she lost all control.

Johnny kissed Sara passionately as he thrust into her as she climaxed. When Sara’ climax stopped she collapsed and Johnny followed her down laying on her back as he continued to fuck her hard. Reaching under her hips on each side Johnny pulled her up to him more as he slammed her hard releasing his seed deep with every powerful jerk and thrust.

Johnny smiled twenty minutes later as he fastened his gun belt on. “ You’re an incredible woman Sara. I’m sorry if I was to rough with you. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you.”

Sara walked over and put her arms around Johnny’s neck and kissed him with fire. ‘ You didn’t. I loved every bit of it Johnny. Thank you.”

Johnny laid a twenty dollar gold piece on the dresser. “ Thank you. Merry Christmas.” he said before walking out.

Santee and Driscoll watched Johnny leave the Red Palace saloon and get in the wagon heading out of town. Smiling both men turned and walked into the telegraph office.

Johnny seen  both Driscoll and Santee watching him as he left Green River. He knew the men didn’t like him. They wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last. Pleased with the fun he had with Sara Johnny couldn’t help but smile as he headed the team out of town.

.

Scott stood looking at the tree he and Murdoch had finished decorating when Maria came in with a tray from the kitchen. She had different kinds of cookies and slices of cake spread out around it and hot apple cider. The aroma was pleasing to Scott as it brought back many memories for him of sitting in the den with his grandfather with a fire going good, sipping on the warm sweet cider.

“ Juanito, he like this yes.” Maria said as she set the tray down.

“ I think he will Maria. I think when my little brother walks into this room he is going to be utterly shocked.”

“ I bet he smells the cookies and cider before he makes it into the house Maria.” Murdoch said as he walked over and gave his cook of over twenty years a hug.

“ Juanito he no have Christmas as a boy patron si?”

“ No Maria. Johnny told his brother he never did.”

Maria’s eyes filled with sadness as she turned and went back to the kitchen.

“ Maria’s been with you a long time hasn’t she sir?”

“ Yes Scott, Maria helped deliver your brother. She would watch him and when Johnny started crawling then walking he was always in the kitchen with her.”

“ Sounds like Johnny is coming.” Scott said as he walked over and looked out the french doors.

Johnny had the team go under the lean to at the side of the barn so the supplies wouldn’t get wet even though he had a tarp tied down over it. Jumping down he began to unhitch the team and lead them into the barn. Thirty minutes later Johnny had both horses settled in their stalls eating grain. Walking over to his stallion Johnny rubbed the horses face. “ I’m sorry amigo. I had to pick up supplies for pa and well I  had to take the wagon. You watchin over our little girl amigo?” Johnny asked. Barranca laid his head on Johnny’ shoulder. “ Yeah I know buddy. I love you too amigo.” Johnny told his friend as he hugged him. “ Let me go check on Stormy buddy and get you some grain.” Johnny said as he stepped out of the stall and walked over to the foals. Opening the gate the foal walked over to him and twitched her mouth on his hand.  Even though she was just a month old the foal was eating hay some but would require milk for some time yet. Johnny ran a hand over her soft baby hair and smiled. “ You sure are something little one.” Johnny said as he admired how the foal was built. Running his hand down her neck and around her chest Johnny could tell she was all mustang and would be able to run like the wind like Barranca. Her legs where strong and her hocks spaced right apart. He knees were perfectly set, no pigeon tow. When she walked Johnny noticed stormy’ hind foot would step perfectly into the track of her front foot. No overstep or inward twist at the ankle’s. Running a hand over her haunches Johnny could feel the muscle and knew she would be a good cow horse if trained right. Stepping back Johnny looked at stormy and smiled. “ You know little girl, I think you are gonna make a good cuttin horse. You got the right build and your legs are perfect.” Johnny said as the foal came up and raised her head up to sniff his face. Johnny bent down a little and was hugging the foal when his brother’ voice was heard.

“ It seems you little brother have a way with the ladies no matter what the species.”

Johnny smiled as he walked out of the stall and closed the gate. “ Yeah, and I don’t need none of that mistletoe you talk about either.” he said with a grin before walking over and getting the grain for Barranca. “ She’s put together perfectly Scott. I think she is gonna make the best cutting horse Lancer has ever seen.” Johnny said as he gave Barranca his grain.

“ Yeah she is built nicely. She’s a little smaller though than most foals I notice.”

“ She’s a mustang Scott. Her mother was about fourteen hands I’d say. If that big black is her father and I suspect he is, Stormy will be in between the two on her size.”

“ That black is taller than Barranca.” Scott said as he and Johnny watched the foal as she nibbled on the hay.

“ Yeah I think when she’s all done growing she’ll be about Barranca’ size.”

“ You gonna breed Barranca to her?”

“ Nope.” Johnny said flatly. “ Barranca is the wrong color brother. Come on I’m starved I worked up a good appetite in town today.”

“ Oh I just bet you did little brother.” Scott said as he grabbed Johnny around the neck and  roughed up his hair.

“ You do know that Barranca thinks he’s that foals mother?”

Johnny stopped and looked at his brother. “ Scott you mean to tell me after four years at that fancy eastern school you went too, what’s it called……Harvard. After all that time you ain’t figured out the difference between male and female?” Johnny said laughing.

“ Oh I know the difference little brother. It’s your stallion that seems to not.”

“ He’s a stallion Scott. Stallions are very protective of foals in their herd and Barranca considers Stormy part of his herd.”

“ And I take it you are part of that herd brother.”

“ Well of course. Why else you think we get along so well. There can be more than one stallion in a herd. Just the leader is the one who gets to breed the mares.”

Scott laughed as he put an arm around Johnny’ shoulder.

Murdoch watched his two sons coming to the house and couldn’t help but smile with pride as he watched Johnny laugh and smile. He was relaxed and that made Murdoch feel good inside. He couldn’t help but wonder if his son had ever been this relaxed before. Turning he waited for them to walk in.

“ Boy Boston something sure smells good.”

“ Yeah it does brother.” Scott said with a grin as he opened the door and let Johnny walk in first.

Johnny walked in and as he took off his coat and gun and hung them on the stand next to the door he seen Murdoch watching him. “ I got all the supplies you wanted except your pipe tobacco. Mister Baldamero said it would be here on the next shipment.” Johnny said as he stepped down into the grand room and stopped.

“ That’s fine son.” Murdoch said as he walked toward his youngest.

Johnny was staring at the table laid out with deserts of all kinds and then he noticed the tree in the corner and just stared in aw at it.

Scott walked up behind him. “ Merry Christmas brother.”

Johnny didn’t know what to say. Walking over to the tree he swallowed hard. “ It’s beautiful…..You guys did this while I was in town?”

“ Yes son. We wanted to make your first Christmas a special one son. Maria has been baking all day cookies and cakes for you while me and your brother decorated the tree.”

Johnny looked at his brother and smiled. Then he looked at his father with glistening eyes. “ I don’t know what to say.”

“ It’s alright son. We understand. When your brother told me you had never got to celebrate Christmas we planned this out.”

“ I kinda figured something was up. I just didn’t ever expect this.” Johnny said as he walked up to the tree and looked at all the ribbons and bows tied to the branches. The small carved animals hanging from them. Reaching out he took the black ash carved horse down and stared at it. “ I know this.” he said as he rubbed his thumb over it. When he turned it over and read the bottom he had to pinch the bridge of his nose to help stop the tears.

Murdoch looked at Scott before he walked over to his son. “ You wasn’t quiet a year old son when you got that. How could you remember it?”

Johnny looked up at his father with tears in his eyes. “ I don’t know, but a part of me does.”

“ What do you remember son?”

Johnny walked over to the couch and sat down. “ I remember my mother holding me and a lot of water and……..there was this man sitting on a bench carving this. Maria put me down and I walked over to him and reached for this. He handed it to me and said something to you before he took it back and carved on it again.”

Murdoch looked at Scott stunned that his son could remember something like this at such a young age.

“ He asked me your name and I offered to pay him for it but he said no. He said let it be your first horse.”

“ Was it?”

“ Yes it was son. Even though horses was on the ranch that was your first very own. Your mother had a hard time after Christmas getting it from you. She wanted to put it away with the other decorations but you wouldn’t let it go. You used to get angry and throw a tantrum if she took it from you.”

“ You alright little brother?” Scott asked as he came over and sat down next to him.

“ Yeah I just…….you said I had my mothers temper guess even as a baby I had it huh pa?”

“ Yes you did son. But you was a baby and you would stop when she gave it back to you.”

Maria came into the room. “ Ah Juanito you are back. You like?”

Johnny handed the horse to his brother and stood up. Walking over to Maria he pulled her into his chest and gave her a big hug.

“ Gracias por todo que has hecho mamacita. Lo siento por todas las veces el ano pasado no fue bueno para usted. Eres como una madre para mi y siempre lo sera. Yo siempre te pedire a mi corazon.
( Thank you for all you’ve done mamcita. I’m sorry for all the times this past year I wasn’t good to you. You’re like a mother to me and always will be. I will always hold you dear to my heart)

Maria with tears in her eyes placed her hands on each side of Johnny’s face.

“ Juanito mi pequena, me ayudo a que en este mundo. Es bueno que has llegado a casa de su padre y su hermano. Usted tiene una familia ahora que te quiere tanto como yo. Me compace hacer cosas por usted. Se que no queria decir que me tratan de la manera que lo hizo. Que esta bien.

( My little Juanito, I helped bring you into this world. It is good that you have come home to your father and brother. You have a family who loves you very much as I do. It pleases me to do things for you. I know you did not mean to treat me the way you did. It is alright.)

Maria kissed Johnny on the cheek then went back to the kitchen wiping her eyes as she walked away.

Johnny walked over to the table and picked up a sugar cookie and bit into it. The smile he had on his face brought pure joy to Maria as she watched from the door.

“ Whats this?” Johnny asked pointing to the pitcher.

“ That little brother is hot apple cider. Made with just the right amount of sugar and cinnamon it is pure heaven on a cold night.” Scott said as he walked over and poured some.

Johnny smelled it. “ Sure smells good.” he said before taking a sip. “ You know I do believe I could get to like this.”

Murdoch and Scott couldn’t help but laugh.

“ Is Christmas always like this pa? Or is this just because of me?”

“ No son Christmas is always celebrated. I just stopped doing it when your mother took you away from me. Son come sit down, please. I have something I want to show you and I was going to do it tomorrow but I can’t wait.” Murdoch said as he walked to his desk and took out the letter. He walked back over to Johnny who was sitting on the couch again.

“ Son a while back I wrote to an Army Captain friend of mine who is stationed at Fort Bowie. I told him about my boys coming home and about you especially Johnny.”

“ Me….why me?”

“ I told him about the special way you have with horses son. I also told him how Lancer was going to start breeding good horses. This letter is what he sent back to me in response son.” Murdoch said as he handed the letter to Johnny.

Johnny took the letter and read it.

.

Murdoch

I am so pleased to hear that both your sons have come home to you. It sounds like your youngest boy is what I have heard called a horse whisperer from what you say in your letter.

As you know Fort Bowie is in the heart of Apache country and I know that the Army would be very interested in good sound green broke horses as remounts. You be surprised how rough this land is on a horse. If your son Johnny can deliver a hundred and fifty head of good green broke mounts by the end of spring the Army would pay him top dollar for each one broke. I remind you Murdoch that these horses would need to be of good quality and strong. They would have to be able to withstand the harsh sometimes unbearable desert temperatures in the summer and the cold nights in the winter.

I will wait your response as I know you will need to talk this over with your son. I hope he will agree to this because the Army has been looking for someone out west who is able and capable of keeping then in stock of good western horses.

Sincerely

Captain Jack Collins

.

Johnny looked up at his father. “ Is this for real?”

“ Yes son. That is if you are still interested in doing this.”

Johnny handed the letter to Scott and stood up. “ Yeah….I see just one problem though, well two actually  pa.”

“ What’s that?”

“ He said by late spring and that’s when we are rounding up the cattle. Pa it will take at least ten men and me to drive that many horses to Arizona.”

“ And the other?”

“ The other is the ranch. How am I going to round up and break that many horses and still do my chores?”

“ Son I think we can work something out.”

“ What about this sir?…..Johnny works the ranch say three or four days a week and the others he breaks the horses.”

Johnny looked at his brother and smiled. “ There you go again Boston usin that fancy education ya got. What ya think?”

“ I think it would work son. I could let you have three days a week to do this, course you do realize son that you will be giving up you one day a week off don’t you?”

“ Yeah but it will be worth it.” Johnny said with a smile as he walked over and hugged his father.

“ Thanks for believing in me. I’ve never had that before……all of this.”

“ You are most welcomed son. I think it’s about time we sat down and ate dinner don’t you?”

“ Yeah.” Johnny said as he grinned and put an arm around his fathers shoulder and walked to the table with him.

Christmas morning Johnny found a feast again. Ham, eggs, bacon, potatoes, bread. Maria had fixed a feast and he sat down fully intended upon eating that feast. Murdoch and Scott was already seated when he walked in dressed in his calazon pants with conchos down the sides and his silver concho belt and a white shirt with delicate embroidery on each side of the buttons at the top.

“ Morning Scott, Murdoch.” he said as he went to pour a cup of coffee.

“ Good morning son. I trust you slept well?”

“ Yes sir. I slept like a baby.”

“ You look nice this morning Johnny. Got a hot date little brother?” Scott teased

Johnny took a sip of coffee. “ No, I just thought since it bein Christmas day and all I would dress nice. Something wrong with that brother?”

“ Not at all brother, not at all.”

“ You look nice son.” Murdoch said.

“ I need to go feed the foal after I eat.”

“ I already did that son.”

Johnny gave his father a puzzling look. “ you did?”

“ Yes I woke early so I thought I would go out and do it for you and let you sleep in a little.”

“ Thank you pa.”

Murdoch felt his heart skip a beat every time his son called him pa.

Breakfast was eatin and Maria started clearing the table. Murdoch and Scott walked into the grand room. Johnny disappeared a few minutes but came bounding down the stairs holding two packages.

“ I guess this is when we give the presents we bought out ain’t it Boston?”

“ Yes Johnny it is. Unless you prefer to wait till after church?”

“ I don’t go to church brother, remember?”

“ I do but I thought you could make an exception today and attend mass with us?”

“ Sorry but nope.” Johnny said firm enough his brother got the message. “ Uh Murdoch I’m new at this so I hope you like it.” Johnny said as he handed a small box to his father.

“ Thank you son. I’m sure I will.”

“ Scott this is something I know you will like, well at least I hope you do. I hope you’re not upset that I got it for you.” Johnny stated as he handed a box about six inches wide and twelve inches long to his brother.

Scott carefully untied the red ribbon around the box and laid it aside. Opening the box, what he found inside took his breath away. The box was covered in a red velvet and in that red velvet laid a Colt 45. Picking the pistol up Scott found his name Scott Garrett Lancer was engraved in the barrel of the gun. On the grip was carved Christmas Eighteen Sixty Nine on one side and on the other it said Brothers Forever. Totally speechless Scott looked up at his brother with tears of joy in his eyes. Swallowing hard he handed the gun to Murdoch to see.

“ I don’t know what to say brother…I never expected something as great as a gift like this from you…..Thank you.” Scott said as he stepped over and hugged his brother.

“ This is a very nice gun son, but may I ask why you bought it? Scott already has a pistol.”

“ Yeah but it’s one you had here at the ranch pa. This one I know will fit Scott’ hand and he will be able to shoot it more accurately. It’s perfectly balanced and almost as good as mine.” Johnny said with a smile. “ You ain’t mad at me are ya brother?”

“ How could I be Johnny? This must have cost you a summers wages brother…..Thank you.”

“ Murdoch you gonna open yours?” Johnny asked.

Murdoch set the gift on the table and untied the ribbon around it. Opening the box he found a silver straight razor with his name engraved in it, with a shave cup and brush. A silver comb also with his name engraved in it. In the upper right corner was a small box with a ribbon around it. Taking the small box out he looked up at his son.

“ I’m not real sure you would want that but I figured you had a right to it sir.” was all Johnny would say.

Murdoch carefully opened the small box and took out the silver ring that was inside. He knew the ring was Johnny’s mothers. He had it special made for her. Inside the band the date  and names was carved. Murdoch looked at his son and could see the apprehension in his eyes. “ thank you son. I had this ring special made for your mother. It almost didn’t get done in time for the wedding. Thank you.”

“ I wasn’t sure after what I told you…..I didn’t know if you would want it back.”

“ Thank you son. For the ring and the shaving kit.”

“ Well I heard you talking about getting a new one so I sure was hopin you didn’t before Christmas.”

“ I’m puzzled about something brother. Obviously the engraving took some time on our gifts. When did you buy them?” Scott asked curiously.

Johnny smiled. “ Last month when I was in Spanish Wells with you. Remember I went to the gunsmith while you took care of bank business? Well I got your gun then. And Murdoch’ shavin kit I got the next time we went to town. I had them hold on to them until the the other day. I got done with my work early so I rode Barranca over and got them. I know I shouldn’t have cut out from work pa but I needed to go get them I couldn’t risk you finding out if I had them shipped to Morro Coyo and you or Scott went and got the supplies. You mad at me pa?”

“ No son I’m not mad at you. Just don’t make a habit of leaving the ranch in the middle of the day unless I know about it please?”

“ Sure, no problem. I’ll come tell ya when I got an itch that only a female can scratch.” Johnny said with a big grin.

“ Sit down Johnny. It’s our turn to give you your gifts.”

“ That’s right little brother.” Scott said as he laid the pistol back in the box and closed the lid.

Murdoch walked over to the tree and picked up a package that was about four feet long and six inches wide. Walking back over to his son he handed it to him. “ Merry Christmas son.”

Johnny took the package and laid it on his lap. Untying the ribbon at each end he opened the box. Inside was a brand new Winchester lever action model 94 rifle. Taking the rifle out of the box Johnny looked it over carefully. What he read on the butt of the rifle brought tears to his eyes. “ To my son Johnny Lancer. Love M.L.” Johnny couldn’t stop his hands from shaking as he looked at the rifle. The side of the stock had his name inlaid in silver on the left and the Lancer emblem and name was on the right.

‘ I was in Sacramento when you boys was gone to Utah and I seen that in the window and I thought about you son. I thought how it would be the perfect rifle for you. I know you use a pistol but a man needs a good rifle also out here for hunting.”

Johnny handed the gun to his brother and stood up. Walking over he gave his father the biggest hug he had ever given the big man. “ Thank you.” Johnny said with a quiver in his voice.

“ My turn little brother. I think you will find what I got you most useful.” Scott said as he sat a box down on the table after moving his pistol.

Johnny sat back down. The feelings he had inside was new to him. Was this how a person was supposed to feel, he never experienced this before. Was the feeling he was having what every person felt or was it all in his mind? Taking the box his brother handed him Johnny opened it after taking the ribbon off. Inside was a couple leather bound books. Pulling them out Johnny read the titles. The many Colors and Breeds of horses of America, The Anatomy of the Horse , Horses of the West, and The History of the Horse.

“ You will find Stormy’ color in there Johnny and find out why she is so rare.” Scott said with a smile standing in front of his brother holding another gift.

“ Thank you Scott. I really appreciate these.”

“ Well I figured you could use them.”

“ I can and will. Thank you brother.”

“ Uh Johnny I have one more gift for you, well you and a certain spoiled stallion.”

Johnny looked up at his brother and smiled as he took the gift. Opening it he found a hand made bridle and reins. The bridle had Barranca’ name inlaid on one side in Silver and the other side  said Always Wild Always Free.

“ I figured since my brother had such a fine beautiful horse that that horse should have a bridle to match that beauty brother.”

Johnny stood up and grabbed his brother and hugged him. “ Thank you Scott, Murdoch. Thank you for everything. I never knew Christmas could be like this.”

“ I ah…..I imagine this is a new experience for you son. It’s long over due but I’m sure glad you enjoyed it. I’m very proud of both you boys and having you both here makes all the hard work I have put into this ranch the past twenty five years worth it.”

.

Chapter 13

New Years came and went as the Lancer brothers  worked  hard repairing downed fence lines from the storm. Snow drifts melted and ponds filled to the edges. The cattle grazed on the new green grass that was showing more and more as the snow disappeared. Four days a week Johnny worked hard on the ranch doing his assigned chores. On the three days he didn’t work on the ranch Johnny rounded up mustangs. When he got a herd into the corral he would let them settle and watch. Sometimes he would only keep one or two from that herd and turn the others loose. Disposition was what Johnny was watching for. That and temper. Johnny didn’t want horses with nasty tempers. Mares heavy with foal was cut out and put in corrals with plenty of hay and water. Stallions gave Johnny and the hands the most trouble.  A hand made a seemingly small mistake one day and allowed two stallions to get together. When they were finally separated both stallions had multiple cuts and bites. A yearling foal who was too close to the fighting stallions was savagely kicked and Johnny had to shoot it. Furious Johnny reamed the hand a good one. Murdoch and Scott watched but did not interfere. They both seen what had happened, all the hands had. When Johnny was done chewing the man out and went to walk to his horse the hand grabbed Johnny from behind and threw him to the ground. Before Johnny could get up and fight back Barranca had lunged at the man and with snapping teeth stood between Johnny and the hand. Johnny walked up to his friend and took the reins. Talking softly he calmed the animal down then stepped up to the hand. “ Pack your stuff and get out. I don’t need someone working for me that don’t think before he acts. You could have gotten these men hurt or worse. Your lucky I don’t let my horse teach you some manners.” Johnny said coldly.

“ I’m not afraid of you Madrid, or that horse.”

Johnny smiled just barely then drew back and hit the hand hard knocking him to the ground. “ Maybe you should be.” he said before leading Barranca away. When he got about twenty feet away he heard that tall tale noise of metal sliding on leather. Spinning around Johnny drew and shot. The bullet hit at the mans feet. “ Next one will be between your eyes. Take the gun out, two fingers and let it drop to the ground.”

Swallowing hard the hand did and stood there glaring as Johnny walked back up to him.

“ It’s Lancer, not Madrid. Get off Lancer land now and don’t ever let me see you again or I’ll finish this.”

Two other hands came up and walked the man out of the corral.

Johnny walked Barranca to the trough. “ Thanks amigo.” he said patting the horse.

Murdoch and Scott walked up. “ You alright son?”

Johnny looked at him. “ Yeah.” was all he would say.

“ I’m sorry about the foal son.”

“ It should never have happened. He should have known you can’t have mares and two stallions together.”

“ It was an honest mistake son. Anybody could have made it.”

Johnny glared at his father. “ I haven’t been working my ass off these past two months to have a hand who don’t have the brains of a jackass do something like that.” he stated before walking away.

“ He’s tired sir. Johnny has been working really hard to get these horses ready for the drive.”

“ I know son. He hasn’t had a day off. He barely stays awake to eat his dinner. I know the two of you haven’t been to town on a Friday or Saturday night for a long time.”

“ No we haven’t. My brother is wearing himself out sir. He doesn’t want to fail at this. I think Johnny feels that if he does it will disappoint you sir.”

Murdoch looked at Scott then the barn. “ Disappoint me. I’m proud of Johnny Scott. Proud of how he has accepted this challenge with determination to succeed son. That is what makes a true Rancher Scott.”

“ That and a lot of hard work.” Scott said. “ Maybe you should remind my little brother that he is doing a good Job. I mean he has broke a hundred and thirty head in just over two months.”

“ I think you’re right son. I do need to tell your brother how proud I am of him.” Murdoch said before walking away and heading to the barn.

Johnny was grooming Barranca when Murdoch walked in.

“ I’m sorry I lost my temper at you out there pa.”

“ It’s alright son, you’re tired. These past two months you have worked damn hard. Son you need to take a day off. Get drunk or have a….. lady.”

Johnny looked at his father. “ Don’t have the time. I got twenty head to break yet then drive them three hundred miles in just over a month.”

“ Son it won’t hurt you to take a day off. Your going to be to exhausted son by the time its time to drive those horses to Fort Bowie. It’s Friday, go into town tonight with your brother and have a beer.”

Johnny poured grain into Barranca’ bin. “ There ya go amigo. You earned it.”

“ You know son I don’t think I have ever seen a horse do what Barranca did out there. He really is a remarkable animal.”

“ Yeah he’s the best horse I ever had.” Johnny said as he walked out of the stall. “ I’m gonna start breeding him tomorrow.” Johnny said as he started to walk past his father.

Murdoch reached out and grabbed his son’s right arm with just enough force to stop him. “ Son, go into town with your brother and have a few beers, play some poker or…….”

“ I guess I have been neglecting my big brother lately huh?” Johnny said with a small grin.

“ Yes you have son. Johnny,  there is something else I need to say to you. Something I should have told you a long time ago son.”

“ Yeah what’s that pa?” Johnny asked as he leaned back against a support beam.

Murdoch tried to swallow the lump in his throat but couldn’t. It made him proud to finally have his youngest call him ‘pa’.

Johnny could see that whatever his father wanted to say, it was not easy for the man. One thing Johnny learned in the year since he had been at Lancer his father didn’t express himself or let his feeling be know beyond the ranch. When it came to expressing feelings towards his two sons, Murdoch Lancer failed miserably.

“ Son I need to tell you how proud I am of you and the man you have become. I don’t mean since you came to Lancer son. You was a man long before that day a year ago. John I am more proud of you than you could ever know son. I know I don’t always act it but I am. I’m proud of the way you are handling this business with the army and still working the ranch.  You’re a hard worker and the men respect and like you. You buck up to whatever job I give you to do and you do it. Son I guess what I’m saying is that the only other time I can remember ever being more proud of you is the day you was born.”

Johnny stood there unable to say anything. He tried to swallow but couldn’t. Tears threatened to well up  so he turned away from his father. He couldn’t look him in the eyes right now or his emotions would win. Strength had always been a must for him as Johnny Madrid. But right now, right now he was Johnny Lancer, the youngest son of a very well respected rancher and a third owner in the biggest cattle ranch in the San Joaquin valley. Pinching the bridge of his nose to stop the tears, Johnny cleared his throat and tried to speak but his voice failed him. He couldn’t stop the quiver as the words came out.

“ All my life I have wanted to hear someone tell me that, but not as much as I wanted to hear my own father say it.” he said.

Murdoch placed his hands on his sons shoulders and turned him around. “ For eighteen years about I have wanted to say that to you son. Eighteen long years.” Murdoch said as he gently pulled Johnny into a hug hoping his son wouldn’t resist the contact.

Johnny looked into his fathers eyes and saw nothing but love. When his father pulled him toward him all his doubts and fears seemed to disappear.  Laying his head on his fathers shoulder Johnny wrapped his arms around the big man and hugged him back. Squeezing his eyes shut to stave off the tears that threatened to fall. If he could he would have seen his father doing the same thing.

Scott slipped back out of the barn unnoticed.  Pride was what he felt inside as he listened to his father telling his little brother what he so desperately needed to hear him say. Tonight one more milestone had been crossed between the two strengthening the love and respect they would have for one another. Scott couldn’t help but smile as he walked toward the house to wait on the two to come inside. He didn’t want his brother to know he had heard what was said. Having his little brothers trust was something Scott was determined to have at all cost.

Scott and Johnny were sitting in the red palace saloon enjoying a cold beer when Harv Santee came in and walked over to the bar and ordered a beer. Turning around Harv seen the brothers sitting at a table.

“ Hey Stu, I guess you ain’t picky on who you let in here huh?” Santee said with a smirk as he stared at Johnny. “ I mean letting a killer like Johnny Madrid drink with all these decent law abiding men.”

“ Listen here Santee. I don’t want you starting no trouble in here so you just keep your mouth shut.” Stu ordered.

Santee walked over to the table Johnny was sitting at. “ Hey breed I hear tell you plan on driving a hundred and fifty head of horses to Fort Bowie. I hear you plan on tryin to sell them to the army.”

Johnny just sat there ignoring the man. He knew men like Santee in the past and wasn’t going to let the man ruin his first night in town in over to months.

“ You know Madrid it’s a long ways to Fort Bowie. You really think you can make it that far boy with all them horses? Or is your daddy gonna go with you and hold your hand?” he said with a laugh.

Johnny finished off his beer and set the glass down on the table. Looking up at Santee he leaned back in his chair a little and dropped his right hand to his side. “ What I do is none of your business Santee. But I’ll tell you what, we can step outside and make it your business if you got the guts that is?”

Scott sat there and watched his brother go from Lancer to Madrid in the blink of an eye. He knew Johnny wouldn’t kill Santee because Santee wasn the type to let someone else do his dirty work.

“ Since when is Lancer business any of your business Harv?” Scott asked.

Johnny never took his eyes off Santee as his brother asked.

Harv looked down at Scott. “ You know a man of your stature you would think would have better sense than to drink with a half breed.”

Scott stood up and turned to face Santee. “ I do have good sense.” Scott said right before he swung and hit the man hard knocking him into the table behind him. “ Johnny is my brother and like it or not he is staying in this valley. And if you ever call him that again, I’ll finish this. Come on brother the atmosphere in here stinks.” Scott said as he headed toward the door.

Johnny slowly made his way to the door, never taking his eyes of Santee.

Madrid, your time is coming real soon. You go right ahead and walk out. I told you what I would do to get rid of scum like you. Your kind ain’t wanted in this valley Madrid.”

Johnny turned and glared at the man.  When he started toward Santee Scott grabbed his arm.

“ Johnny don’t. He’s not worth it.”

Johnny turned and walked out with his brother. Stepping down and untying his horse Johnny swung up in the saddle. “ So much for a relaxing night brother.”

“ Johnny I’m sorry. Look don’t let what Santee said in there bother you.”

“ Oh I won’t. I’ve heard it before. Thanks though for what you did in there brother.”

“ You’re welcome, brother.” Scott said with a smile as he mounted his horse. When the brothers started out of town Johnny’  right hand went to his side and he stopped Barranca. A man riding a black horse rode up and stopped.

“ Madrid. I heard you was dead.”

“ Guess you heard wrong Jackson.”

“ Yeah, so I see. Lucky for me though.”

“ Lucky for you how Jackson?”

Scott watched the two men and could feel death knocking. Maybe not tonight but his gut told him that there was only one reason this man was here.

“ Why I was hired to kill you Madrid. Nothin personal mind you, but a jobs a job. You understand that don’t you?”

Johnny never flinched, never showed fear as the words Jackson said registered. “ Others have tried.”

“ Oh I know. I also know your weakness Madrid. Or did you forget that?”

“ I didn’t forget, and you’re a long way from Colorado.”

“ Yeah I suppose I am, just like you’re a long way from the border.” Jackson said as he moved his horse up next to Johnny’s. Looking over at Scott he smiled a little. “ Now I know you work alone and he don’t look like he could afford your gun, so this must be a hired hand of the one you’re hired out to huh?”

Scott started to reply but was cut off by his brother. “ Yeah he is. We just rode in for a beer.”

“ Well, I hope whoever hired you paid you up front Madrid cause you won’t be collecting.”

Scott sat and listened. He couldn’t believe how calm his brother was being with this man. ‘ Code among gunfighters’ he assumed was what he was witnessing and it gave him a sick feeling deep down inside.

“ Maybe before I kill you Madrid we can get together for a beer and talk about the old days?”

“ I don’t think so Jackson. I have nothing I want to talk to you about.” Johnny said with such coldness it sent a shiver down Scott’ back. “ You and me are nothing alike and any time you want to try and kill me go ahead and try. I’ll see ya.” Johnny said as he spurred Barranca and galloped away.

“ Oh we will Johnny boy, we will. I’ll be seeing you real soon Madrid, real soon.”

Scott glared at Jackson and was going to say something but decided not to and took off to catch up with his brother. He found Johnny waiting for him just out of town.

“ Johnny, who is that man?”

Johnny turned back to his brother. “ A hired gun brother. He’s an expensive hired gun.”

“ Like you was?”

“ No, Jackson nothing like me or any other gunfighter. He  likes to play games with the man he’s been hired to kill.”

“ Is that why he told you he was brought here to kill you?”

“ Yeah. Look Scott Jackson’s gonna find out from whoever hired him that you’re my brother and I don’t want you or Murdoch used to get to me okay. I know how this sick bastard works.”

“ How Johnny? How does he work little brother. And what happened in Colorado?”

“ Look Scott, Colorado was a long time ago and I was young. The less you know about my past, the better off you’ll be.”

“ That’s bull Johnny and you know it. This man came here to kill you and me and Murdoch have a right to know why.”

“ Why? I think it’s pretty obvious why Jackson is here to kill me Scott. He’s not here because of what happened in Colorado. Jackson is here because somebody in this town who can afford him want’s me gone.”

“ Santee and Driscoll?” Scott stated.

“ Who else you know around here who can afford a hired gun like Jackson?”

“ If they are the ones who hired him Johnny. He’s gonna know about you being a Lancer, not to mention the drive coming up.”

“ I think I know where your going with this Scott and I’m not going to put driving those horses to Fort Bowie off. Johnny Madrid never ran from a fight and I’m not about to start now.”

“ Even if it means a bullet in the back?”

“ Jackson don’t work that way I told you. He’s not a back shooter.”

“ Oh right. Tell me something little brother, is this one of those honor among gunfighters codes? Or are you just trying to make me feel better?” Scott asked with anger.

“ Look I don’t expect you to understand this brother. This is my life not yours, okay? I didn’t ask you for help, but I know as my brother you’ll have my back. I told you my past won’t let me be so any time you want to not, you can and I won’t hold it against you. I made my bed and I accept that.”

“ You going to tell our father about Jackson?”

“ No and neither are you.”

“ Johnny he has a right to know a man was deliberately brought here by his so called friends to kill you.”

“ I know. It’s just…..me and him are getting along so good now. You should have heard what he said to me in the barn earlier brother. I never thought I would hear him tell me he was proud of me.”

“ Why is that such a shock?” Scott asked even though he already knew what was said.

“ Ain’t it obvious? I’m not exactly the perfect son Scott.”

“ That’s bull and you know it brother.” Scott said with some irritation in his voice.

“ Is it? You tell me brother. How proud would you be if it was you in his place and you found out your son was a famous gunfighter?”

Scott looked hard at his brother. “ Johnny I see what you are saying, really I do. But you did what you had to do to stay alive. Murdoch realizes that now. And if it was my son who did what you did I would tell him the same thing Murdoch did.”

Johnny looked at his brother before moving Barranca ahead.

Scott didn’t like this. Somebody, and he had a good hunch who, had hired this man to come here and kill his brother. What he could but yet couldn’t understand was why his brother didn’t want to tell their father about this gunman being here yet. He knew Johnny knew this man from his past and knew how the man worked. ‘ Mind games’ was what was played on him and others by the guards when he was in that hell hole the last year of the war. If a person is good enough and knows his adversary well enough then they can do things to make that person drop his guard just enough and strike.

Jackson checked into the hotel and after getting his horse bedded down he went to the Red Palace saloon. Sitting in a corner watching and listening it didn’t take him long to locate the man who brought him here. The man was being ribbed still about something that happened shortly before he arrived and Jackson had a feeling it involved Madrid. When Santee left the saloon, Jackson got up and followed him out. Finding the man standing outside.

“ I’m at the hotel. Room three.” Jackson said as he walked past headed to the hotel.

Santee watched the man walk away. ‘ Finally Madrid will be gone’. He thought as he stepped off into the street and headed to the hotel.

.

Johnny and Scott rode into the yard and dismounted. Johnny never said another word on the ride back to Lancer. Scott wanted to talk to him and thought about it as they took care of their horses but knew his brother wouldn’t. He wanted to know more about what happened in Colorado. Something happened between his brother and Jackson and the feeling he had told him it was bad. Putting his horse in his stall Scott walked over to his brother who was brushing the stallion down. “ Johnny I……..”

“ Leave it alone Boston.” Johnny said with enough force that Scott knew he was pissed.

“ Fine, have it your way. It’s your funeral brother.” Scott said angrily before walking out.

Murdoch was still up sitting at his desk when Scott walked in.

“ Son. Did you and your brother have a good time?” he asked standing up and walking over to the side board to pour a drink.

Scott shot his father a look that said something was wrong. “ Ask Johnny.” he said before pouring a shot and downing it.

Johnny walked in and the look on his fathers face told him he knew something happened in town.

Scott turned to his father. “ I’m going to bed now sir. I’ll see you in the morning.” he said as he walked past Johnny and headed upstairs without saying a word to him.

Murdoch looked at his youngest as he walked over and poured a shot of Tequila. “ Son did something happen between you and your brother I should know about tonight?”

Johnny downed the shot. “ Nope. I’ll see ya in the morning pa. I’m gonna breed Barranca to that one mare.” was all Johnny said before turning and heading to his room.

Murdoch stood there and watched his son leave. He knew something happened in town and knew it wasn’t like his sons to act like they just did to one another. Sighing he headed back to his desk and made a mental note that if his boys was still this way to one another come morning he would address the issue and find out.

Scott fumed as he  got undressed . How could his brother be the way he was about this. How could he ask him to not tell their father about this man. Scott wanted his brother to be able to trust him but deep down inside Scott couldn’t help but feel his brother was using him. Sliding in between the cool sheets Scott let a fitful sleep claim him.

Johnny kicked his boots off and walked over to the chair next to his window. Sitting there with his pistol in his lap he thought back to earlier. Hat right did he have to involve his family in this? What right did he have to talk to his brother the way he did tonight. To ask him to not say anything to their father about Jackson. Again his past threatened the family he had become to love and so wanted. The reasons Jackson was brought here was because he was Madrid, not Lancer. Lancer had nothing to do with this, but would be drug into it. Looking down at the colt in his lap Johnny couldn’t help but feel anger. Anger for ever picking the gun up and becoming Madrid. The colt was his only true friend, or so he always thought as he made his reputation. Having an inch cut off the barrel and the sight filled off gave Johnny more of an edge when he faced down another. With the sight gone he was guaranteed a smoother draw and with the barrel shorter than other colts he could clear the holster sooner. The holster it’s self he had modified to fit him. To the untrained, unexperienced  gunfighter it looked like any other holster. The side was cut lower so it came up to the cylinder only instead of the hammer. Johnny kept the leather well oiled and soft inside were most men only did the outside. He had learned from experience what would give him the edge and honed in on every bit of it as he could to survive.

 Laying his head back Johnny thought back to Leeds and how his brother had taken the risk of freeing him so he could prove his innocence. Scott had put his life on the line for him and Johnny had never had anyone do that for him. A gunfighter never had someone care about them. To other people gunfighters were bad trouble who deserved nothing more than a bullet and six by six hole in the ground. Gunfighters didn’t deserve the chance to try and redeem themselves and change their ways. There was no room for a gunfighter in a town to try and live like normal people did. Once a gunfighter, always a gunfighter.

Johnny had heard it before many times in other towns and would leave. But this town, this valley was different. This valley was his home. Lancer was his birthright. Scott was his brother and Murdoch the father he had so desperately wanted growing up. Standing up and walking over to his bed Johnny undressed and climbed in after sliding the colt under his pillow. Laying there he decided that Scott was right. Murdoch did have a right to know about Jackson. Closing his eyes johnny decided that he would tell Murdoch in the morning about the man.

Harve Santee sat in Jackson’s room. “ You know why you’re here. I want that half breed Madrid either run out of this valley or killed.” he said firmly.

Jackson looked at his employer. “ I saw Madrid riding out of town with a hand. We had us a chat.”

“ Hand? What hand? Madrid left town tonight with his brother.”

“ Madrid don’t have no brother Santee. Maybe you’re thinking of the wrong man?”

Santee described Johnny and Jackson smiled. “ So he’s not here on a job. Oh Madrid done found his father and got a brother to boot.”

“ He may think changing his name to Lancer makes him a proper law abiding citizen but it don’t.”

“ Lancer huh, You telling me that Johnny Madrid is really Johnny Lancer?”

“ Yeah and the man with him tonight is his older brother Scott Lancer.”

“ Tell me all you know about them.” Jackson asked as he sat down on his bed.

Santee told Jackson all he knew about Lancer and walked out of the mans room over an hour later and headed back to his ranch.

.

Chapter 14

Murdoch sat at the table drinking a cup of coffee when Scott came down. “ Morning son.”

“ Morning sir, I’m going to ride out and check  that foot bridge in the north pasture today.” Scott said as he poured some coffee.

“ Your brother already checked it the other day son while he was out rounding up horses.”

Scott looked at his father after sitting down. “ He did huh?”

“ Yes. Son is there something wrong between you and your brother?”

“ What makes you think that?”

“ Last night. You came in angry and when your brother came in I seen the look you gave him before going to bed. What’s going on between you two?”

“ That sir you will have to ask Johnny. It’s something you should know but Johnny is the one who should tell you, not me sir.” Scott said with enough firmness he hoped his father wouldn’t press him.

“ Is your brother awake yet?”

“ I wouldn’t know. I’m not his keeper.”

Murdoch didn’t like the attitude his son had toward his brother. Just when he was going to comment on it Johnny walked in the room.

“Morning Murdoch, Scott.” Johnny said as he sat down. Glancing at his brother. “ Murdoch I need to talk to you and Scott.”

“ Alright son.” Murdoch said just as Hank entered. “ What is it Hank?”

“ Morning mister Lancer sir. Johnny there’s a man outside want’s ta talk to ya. Say’s his name is Jackson.”

Johnny looked at his brother as he stood up and headed outside.

“ Johnny.” Scott said as he stood.

Johnny stopped. “ It’s alright Scott. ” Johnny said before walking out.

Murdoch stopped Scott. “ Who is this Jackson son?”

“ A man who was brought here to kill Johnny.” Scott said before heading outside.

Johnny walked outside and found Jackson at the water trough. Walking over to within twenty feet of the man. “ What do you want Jackson.”

“ Why good morning Madrid, or should I say Lancer.”

Scott walked out and stayed behind his brother to his right. Looking at the mans horse Scott noticed a fifty caliber Sharps rifle was on the horses side.  A rifle like that could be shot from several hundred yards away and kill a man if the one who possessed such a rifle was any good with it. Scott had seen only two during the war and the men who had them came from Kentucky and both hit what they aimed at with proficiency.

“ You know here I thought you was a hired hand with ol’ Johnny boy here last night and damn if I wasn’t wrong. You’d  be Scott Lancer, Johnny here’s older brother. And You would be Murdoch Lancer his father.”

“ I asked you a question Jackson.” Johnny snapped.

“ Why I just came out to see what you won’t be seeing much longer Madrid….. Johnny Madrid, owner  a third of the largest cattle ranch in the San Joaquin you can imagine my surprise when I was told that Johnny. Course for you it ain’t no different than Colorado.”

Murdoch walked up next to his son rifle in hand. “ What’s your business with my son?”

“ Why mister Lancer I came out here to see you and Scott actually. I wanted you to see the man who is going to kill your son.”

Murdoch brought the rifle up and cocked it. “ You got a lot of nerve coming here……”

“ Murdoch don’t.” Johnny ordered. “ You want to kill me Jackson, why not try it now?”

“ Now Johnny boy you know that’s not how I do things. I will kill you and you know it. You can’t beat me.” Jackson said with a smile that was anything but friendly. “ I’m reminded of you with every step I take.”

“ Get off our Land Jackson.” Scott said firmly.

“ Boy this sure is a sweet setup you got here Johnny. To bad it won’t be yours for long. I was paid twice my normal rate to kill you.” Jackson said as he got on his horse. “ Oh , Did Johnny tell you about Colorado? If ‘n he didn’t you should ask him. I’ll be  seein’ ya Madrid.” Jackson said as he turned his horse and rode away.

Johnny stood there watching Jackson ride away. When he could no longer see the man he turned and found his father and brother looking at him. Walking past them back into the house.

Murdoch glanced at Scott before heading inside to talk to his son. When he walked in he found Johnny at the side board downing a shot of Tequila. “ Awful early for that don’t you think son?” Murdoch asked as he set the rifle back in the rack.

Johnny glanced at him as he poured another and downed it.

“ Is Jackson what you wanted to talk to me about son?” Murdoch said as he walked over to his son and took the bottle of Tequila from him, never raising his voice.

Johnny walked over and sat down on the couch as the Tequila churned in his empty stomach. “ I told you my past could show up at any time when I decided to come back here and stay.”

Murdoch sat down next to his son. “ Yes and I told you son that we as a family would deal with it when it did.”

“ That’s right brother.” Scott said as he sat down in the overstuffed chair across from his brother.

Johnny looked up at his brother. “ I’m sorry Scott, for what I said to you last night. You was right. I guess I’m still not used to havin’ a family.”

“Why is Jackson here to kill you son? Does he want your reputation?”

Johnny looked at his father. “ No, he was paid to come here Murdoch. You heard him. Someone paid him twice his normal fee to come here and kill me.”

“ Johnny, how much money are we talking about?”

“ Why Scott? You gonna offer him more to leave?”

“ Maybe.”

“ Well forget it. Jackson was paid upfront.” Johnny said as he wrapped his hands around his body.

“ Son.”

“ Jackson hires out for no less than a  thousand so if he got twice that  then someone paid him two thousand dollars to kill me.”

Murdoch stood and walked over to the fireplace. “ Who could afford that kind of money around here?”

“ You mean besides Lancer?” Scott said. “ We can think of two who could and would sir.”

Murdoch turned around facing his boys. “ Santee and Driscoll.” he said with anger in his voice.

“ Yes sir. Santee came in the saloon last night and tried to start some stuff with Johnny but I stopped him.”

“ Stopped him how son?”

“ I hit him.”

“ Hit him?” Murdoch asked.

“ Yes sir, he called my brother a.” Scott couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“ He called me a half breed. Said I ain’t fit to be in this valley and basically that my time was comin real soon.” Johnny said glancing at his brother.

“ Santee didn’t come right out and say he had a gun coming, but I think it’s pretty obvious sir,we all know how him and Driscoll feel about my brother.” Scott stated.“ Johnny, he mentioned Colorado again. What happened in Colorado?”

Johnny stood up. “ I got mares to breed.” Johnny said as he headed to the door. “ I don’t want to talk about it Scott. Not now.”

“ Johnny…….” Scott called.

“ Scott, let your brother be. Give him some time and when he’s ready he’ll tell us what happened in Colorado.”

Scott turned to his father. “ You’re being awfully calm about this. A man rides in here and tells you he was hired to kill your son and you remain calm over that.”

“ Your brother has or I should say is teaching me that getting angry over his past showing up doesn’t solve anything. I don’t want to give your brother a reason to run Scott. I don’t want him to leave Lancer.”

“ Neither do I sir.” Scott stated. “ What are we going to do about Santee and Driscoll?”

“ There is nothing we can do right now son. Not without proof.”

Scott turned and headed to the door. “ We still going to move the herd to the north pasture?”

“ Yes, Johnny will be with us. I’m not leaving him here at the ranch alone.”

.

Murdoch stood there with anger flaring up. His son was trying so hard to make a new life and put his past behind him and this time it was more his fault than Johnny’s  that his past showed up again. This time it was people he thought was his friends for years wanting his son dead. Even though it had taken him some doing to see it, Murdoch knew now just what kind of man his youngest son was. Johnny was compassionate, cared about those around him, never hesitated to help those who needed it. What made a man be like that after the life he had been dealt was one thing Murdoch didn’t understand. Johnny had helped both Santee and Driscoll in the past. Sighing Murdoch decided he would send a wire to a Marshal friend he knew in Denver and see what he could find out about this Jackson and his son and what happened three years ago. Heading toward the door, Murdoch just hoped that what if anything he did learn, he could handle.

Jackson stayed to the tree’s as he watched through a spy glass. From his position he could see the ranch house and all outlying buildings below. He watched and learned the layout around the ranch for three days. On the fourth day he was keeping his distance as the three lancer men and about a dozen hands moved about two hundred head of cattle north. Jackson watched as Johnny and Barranca worked the cattle. He could see that Johnny was close to the stallion when they stopped for lunch and he took care of the horse better than anyone else did theirs. “ I think I know just how I’m gonna start hurting you Madrid. Granted the pain you will feel won’t be like what I have felt for the past three years, but it will do for now.” Jackson said as he mounted up and headed north to get ahead of the herd. He had watched as Johnny bred the golden stallion to some mares and noticed how the stallion responded to him and the unusual affection the horse showed to Johnny. “ I’m going to so love doing this to you Madrid.” Jackson said as he stopped his horse about a mile north of the herd.

Johnny finished what little he ate of his lunch and walked over to his horse. Murdoch came over to him as he scratched that special spot behind Barranca’ left ear.

“ You alright son?”

Johnny looked at him. “ Yeah, I’m gonna ride up ahead and check on the bridge before we get these cows to it.”

“ Alright son. Why don’t your brother or me come with you?”

“ I don’t need no babysitter pa. It’s only a couple miles ahead.” Johnny said as he tightened his cinch and swung up in the saddle. “ Hey stop worrying about me will ya. I’ve taken care of myself this long and managed to stay alive.”

“ Worrying about you son is something me as your father has a right to do. So I suggest you get used to it.” Murdoch said with a smile.

“ You getting’ superstitious in your old age?”

“ No son. Just cautious. For me please, take Scott with you.”

Johnny didn’t think he would ever get used to having someone actually care about him for more than his gun. Smiling down at his father. “ Hey Boston dandy, mount up. You’re comin’ with me.”

“ Thank you son. And Johnny do you think you could stop calling your brother that?”

Johnny looked at Scott as he walked to his horse. “ I could but you see I just have to much fun with my big brother callin him that.” Johnny said as he turned Barranca and headed north.

“ So were are we going brother?” Scott asked as Johnny rode past grinning.

“ Up and check the bridge before these stupid cows get there.”

Murdoch was standing there watching his two sons ride away when Hank walked up.

“ They’re good for each other sir.”

Murdoch looked at him as a bad feeling hit his gut. “ I’m sorry what did you say Hank?”

“ I said your boys, they are good for each other. Especially Scott to Johnny. It’s hard to believe he’s the same man who one year ago came here to kill you. Hell it’s hard to believe he’s the famous Johnny Madrid and if I hadn’t seen him kill that man that day in the yard I probably wouldn’t. But I’ll tell ya something sir, Johnny is well liked by the men. They respect him and are proud to work along side him. He is a hard worker and Johnny definitely knows horses.”

“ Yeah, thanks Hank.” Murdoch said right before he heard a shot. Tensing Murdoch ran to his horse and after tightening the cinch he kicked the animal to a run heading in the direction of his sons. The hands mounted and followed with their guns or rifles ready.

Johnny and Scott galloped along at an easy pace when Johnny suddenly found himself falling to his left as Barranca let out a bone chilling cry and fell hard  on his left side as Johnny managed to get clear of the stirrups.

Johnny.” Scott yelled as he reined his horse around and jumped off running to his brother with his rifle in hand.

Murdoch and the hands came riding up hard.

Barranca got up but had blood running down the front of his chest  on the right side where the bullet grazed him deep.

Scott turned his brother over and found a small trickle of blood running down the left side of his face above his eye. Carefully feeling Scott found his brothers arms and legs weren’t broke. Sighing he then went to check his chest. “ His arm’s and leg’s are okay but he landed hard on his left side when Barranca fell. “ Johnny, come on little brother open your eyes for us. Come on Johnny.” Scott pleaded.

Murdoch started undoing his sons shirt so they could check his chest out. “ Hank send a man to fetch Sam and have him meet us at the ranch. Me and Scott will get Johnny home on my horse.”

“ What about Barranca sir?”

Murdoch looked at the stallion and could see the horse was holding his right front leg up somewhat to keep the weight off it. “ Do what you have to do to get him back to the ranch so we can take care of him.”

“ Yes sir. Me and Smitty will take care of the horse sir. I’ll send Pedro to fetch Sam.”

“ I can’t tell for sure but I think your brother has a couple cracked ribs. Go get my horse son so we can get him home and in bed.”

“ And what about the shooter sir? What if he attacks again while we are taking Johnny home and doesn’t miss this time?”

“ I don’t think he was shooting at Johnny Scott. I think he was meaning to shoot Barranca. The two of you was out in the open and he had a clear shot of either one of you.” Murdoch said as he and Scott helped stand Johnny up after Scott brought the horse over.

Barranca limped over and nudged Johnny’s chest and Scott patted the horse. “ It’s alright boy. We’ll take care of both of you.” Scott said as he picked up the stallions reins and looped them around the saddlehorn. “ He may try and follow us sir.”

“ Bring him along then as far as he can son. We have to go slow with your brother anyways.”

“ Yes sir. Come on Barranca.” Scott said as he mounted up.

Sam was waiting in the yard when Murdoch and Scott rode in. Barranca was determind to stay with Johnny and limped all the way back. “ Hank you take real good care of that horse.” Scott said firmly as he helped get Johnny down and carried inside up to his room. Hank had told Sam what had happened so the doctor knew what he was facing. Seeing the blood on Johnny’s face from the cut worried him. That and the fact Johnny hadn’t regained consciousness. Running a worried father and brother from the room so he could evaluate his patient Sam sighed. “ What am I going to do with you Johnny?” he asked the unconscious man as Maria walked in with hot water and bandages.

“ I’m going to go check on Barranca sir. Johnny would never forgive us if we didn’t try and help that horse.” Scott said as he headed to the door. He knew Sam would be an hour or more and he couldn’t just stand around waiting.

“ Alright son. Let me know how bad it is.”

“ I will.”

Three hours later Sam came downstairs. “ Well he has a concussion that’s for sure and some very badly bruised ribs. I cleaned the cut out good and it don’t need stitched up. I have it wrapped though so it don’t get infected.”

“ Will he be alright Sam?” Murdoch asked.

“ I don’t know. Head injuries are tricky Murdoch. The longer Johnny stays unconscious the worse it could be for him.”

“ What do you mean Sam?” Scott asked.

“ He could face memory loss or brain damage Scott. We need to get him to wake up.”

“ What are you not saying Sam?”

“ How about a cup of coffee?”

“ Alright, sure.” Murdoch said as he headed to the kitchen. When he came back Sam was sitting at the table and Murdoch didn’t like the look on his face. “ What is it Sam?”

“ Sit down Murdoch.”

“ Tell me.”

“ Alright, The head wound. It may have damaged the optic nerve.”

“ What’s that mean exactly Sam?” Scott asked with concern.

Looking at him Sam explained. “ It means Johnny could be blind. We won’t know anything for sure until he wakes up.”

Scott walked over to the french door windows and looked out toward the barn. The thought of his brother never being able to see again frightened him deeply, but nothing like it would his brother.

“ Scott why don’t you go up and relieve Maria and talk to your brother. See if you can get him to respond to you.” Sam suggested.

Scott turned and headed toward the stairs. “ You know what this will do to him if he is blind Murdoch? There is a man out there who’s been hired to kill my brother and he damned near did it today.” Scott said before heading up the stairs.

Sam was lost at what Scott said. “ What is he talking about?”

“ A gunfighter was hired to come here and kill Johnny Sam. The man rode out here a few days ago and told me so. He told Johnny and Scott the night he rode into town when they was leaving.”

“ Does Johnny know this man?”

“ Yes. From what Johnny told us, which is very little, he knows this Jackson from when they were in Colorado together about three or so years ago. Johnny wouldn’t tell us what happened in Colorado so I wired a Marshal friend of mine there asking him if he could find out.”

“ Who on earth would hire this man to kill your son?”

“ Santee and Driscoll. Both of them have made promising threats against Johnny trying to run him out of the valley.”

“ I’m sorry my friend. I didn’t know.”

Scott sat in the chair next to his brother’s bed with his eyes closed, so deep in thought he didn’t hear his father come in.

“ How is he?”

“ No change. I’ve been talking to him, telling him about Barranca but nothing.” Scott said as he sat back in the chair.

Murdoch walked over behind his oldest and looked down at his youngest laying there so still.

“ It was Jackson sir. That shot came from a good distance off and Jackson had a Sharps on his horse.”

“ We don’t know it for sure son , but I think you are right.”

Scott stood up and walked over to the window. “ You know Johnny will be totally helpless against this Jackson if he is blind.”

“ I know that son.” Murdoch said as he sat down in the chair vacated by Scott. “ Johnny will need us whether he want’s to accept that or not.”

“ And if he’s not blind? You know Johnny’s liable to go after Jackson alone Murdoch.”

“ I know that. We’ll just have to make sure one of us is with him at all times.”

“ You know Johnny won’t stand for that. He’s taken care of himself his whole life up to a year ago.”

Murdoch stood up and walked over to Scott. “ I wired a Marshal friend in Denver Scott. I asked him to find out what he could about Jackson and what happened between him and Johnny.”

“ You did what? Are you crazy sir? Johnny told us he would tell us about Colorado when he was ready. How could you go behind his back like that? You wanted Johnny to trust you but you may have just blown that chance away.”

“ We need to know just what we are up against here Scott. We have a right to know just what kind of man Jackson is. This man came here to Lancer and tells us he was hired to kill my son I am not going to stand by and do nothing.”

He hurt all over. His head felt like a sledge hammer was pounding in it. Voices, he was hearing voices. Who’s voices.  Murdoch and Scott. They was arguing. Why? Listening Johnny heard his father say he wasn’t going to stand by and do nothing as his head tried to become more clear. Marshal and telegram? What was they arguing about. Moaning Johnny tried to move, only to have his bruised ribs protest. Soft why was the ground so soft? He was helping to move the heard to the north pasture and was riding with his brother when……..Barranca, Barranca cried out in pain and he was falling. Opening his eyes Johnny looked toward the voices as his eyes tried to focus. Bringing a hand up to his head, Johnny felt a bandage wrapped around his head.

Scott noticed movement and looked at his brother. “ Johnny.” he said hurrying to his brothers side. “ Johnny can you hear me brother?”

Johnny nodded as he licked his parched lips.

Scott poured some what and lifted his brothers head so he could drink.

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he laid his head back into the pillow and closed his eyes. “ Barranca?”

“ He’s in the barn. Hank is taking good care of him son.” Murdoch said. “ How do you feel son?”

 “ How bad is he hurt Scott?” Johnny asked ignoring his father.

“ He was shot Johnny. The bullet creased his chest.”

Johnny’s head snapped toward his brother. A movement he suddenly regretted as a wave of nausea came over him. Swallowing hard to keep the vile down but lost and sat up fast.

Scott seen what was happening and grabbed the chamber pot Just as his brother sat up and barely got it placed when Johnny threw up what little he had in his stomach from lunch and the water he had just drank. Rubbing his brothers back for comfort Scott looked up at his father. Inside he knew Johnny had heard what was said. How much he heard of what his father had said he didn’t know, but knew they both would find out soon. Inside Scott couldn’t help but pray that the bond and trust he and his brother had would still be there.

Johnny laid back when his stomach finally stopped heaving. His chest hurting Johnny looked at his brother. “ Sorry.” he managed to say with a shaky voice.

“ It’s alright brother.” Scott said as he set the chamber pot on the floor and slid it under the bed.

Johnny looked hard at his father. “ What about a Marshal Scott? I heard the two of you talking about a Marshal and telegram.”

Scott looked up at his father then back at his brother. “ Our father…….”

“ I wired a Marshal friend of mine in Denver Johnny.”

“ Why? You had no right old man.”

“ I had every right son. You won’t tell us about this man and Colorado so I wanted to know all I could about him.”

“ About him, or about me?…….I thought I could trust you. I guess I was wrong. You go behind my back when I told you I would tell you about Colorado when I was ready.”

“ This man comes to my ranch and tells me he was hired to kill you Johnny. I had every right.”

“ No you didn’t. This has nothing to do with Colorado Murdoch. Jackson was hired by your so called friends. Me knowing him in the past has nothing to do with it.”

“ Then why was Jackson so pertinacious about it Johnny?”

“ It has nothing to do with you or Scott old man. Leave it alone.”

“ I will not leave it alone. You are my son and I will not stand by and do nothing when a man comes here to kill you Johnny. I’m your father and that is final.”

“ Because you call the tune right? Not on this Murdoch. All you had to do was give me some time and I would have told you. But no you had to go behind my back, again. You talk about trust. You don’t know the meaning of trust old man. My brother does, nut not you. You gotta have everything go your way or not at all. Just like with the horses, instead of talking to me and Scott about it. And you should have since we are part owners of this ranch, you send a wire to a friend of yours. What’s the matter Murdoch, you think I’m so stupid I wouldn’t be able to talk to the army on my own about a contract huh? You think I’m just a stupid gunfighter who knows nothing but how to kill people.”

Murdoch stared at his son speechless.

“ Johnny, even though I don’t condone what our father did. His reason’s where right.” Scott said trying to defuse the situation before it got out of hand.

“ You can be mad at me all you want son, but I stand by what I did. I have never thought you incompetent son. I was only trying to help you was all.”

“ Get out.” Johnny said as he turned on his side.

Murdoch and Scott walked out closing the door softly Scott glared at his father. “ This is your doing sir. You just damaged everything you and my brother had built up.” Scott said before heading downstairs leaving his father standing there.

Johnny laid in bed thinking about what just happened. Why did his father have to do what he did. He would have told him and his brother about Colorado, it just took time. Talking about his past wasn’t an easy thing for him to do. Sighing Johnny rolled over and sat up easy. His only true friend was hurt and even though his brother said he was being looked after, Johnny needed to see Barranca for himself. Swingin’ his legs over the bed Johnny stood up on unsteady legs and carefully walked over to were his clothes where laying. After an exhausting twenty minutes Johnny was dressed and carefully walking down the stairs holding on to the wall with his right hand for balance and his left side as each step seemed to jar his bruised ribs. Reaching the bottom stair Johnny listened to see if anyone was in the grand room. Hearing nothing he stepped over and opened the door.

Scott was checking the wound on Barranca as the horse stood with his head down. Patting the horse and gently talking to him Scott put a salve mixture on the wound to try and keep the insects and dirt out of it. Patting the horse on the neck as he stood up. “ You know boy, my brother would never forgive me if you don’t heal up from this.”

The stallion raised his head and whinnied softly as a familiar smell came to him. Scott looked and wasn’t surprised to see his brother walking toward them when he turned around.

“ You shouldn’t be out of bed brother. At least not for a day or two Sam said.”

Johnny walked up to his friend and rubbed the stallions head. “ Lo Siento amigo.”

Johnny said as he knelt down carefully to look at the wound. “ Sam don’t know everything brother. I’ll be alright.”

“ I know. It’s just that…”

Johnny stood up straight. “ What?”

“ Sam said you could be blind from the head wound Johnny. Is your vision okay?”

“ I’m a little dizzy Scott, but I ain’t blind. I don’t have blurred vision or anything like that. Just a headache. I think my ribs hurt more than my head does after walking down the stairs and out here.” Johnny said as he scratched his friends special spot. “ It was Jackson wasn’t it?”

Scott sighed. “ Yeah Johnny, it was. I think he was trying to kill Barranca but luckily didn’t.”

“ What makes you think that he wasn’t shooting to kill me?”

“ Because from were the shot was fired Johnny, Jackson had a clear shot at you and he has a sharps.”

The look Johnny gave his brother as he checked over his horse told Scott all he needed to know. His brother wanted him to tell him all he knew.

“ I knew to men in the war, from Kentucky that had sharps rifles Johnny. A man doesn’t have a rifle like that and not be able to shoot that rifle with accuracy. You told me Jackson likes to play mind games with his victim. I think by killing Barranca Johnny, Jackson was hoping you would screw up and make a mistake.”

“ The only mistake I made Scott was not killing the man in Colorado. He limps because of a bullet I put in him.”

Murdoch walked back to Johnny’s room and knocked softly on the door. Hearing no response he opened the door and found the room empty. Sighing he knew were his youngest would be and headed downstairs to the barn. When he got there he heard his sons talking and stood there listening.

I took a job for a rancher and when it was done I was headed back to warmer country when I came upon an old prospector and his mule. The prospector had a scatter gun pointed at me thinkin’ I was going to try and rob him. I finally convinced the man I wasn’t. His mule was lame and he was tryin’ to get down to town with his gold.”

Scott walked over and sat on a bale of hay.

“ I ended up putting the mans gold on my horse and took him down to town. He told me that this  man was trying to jump his claim and had hired another man to kill him. Now I didn’t care about gold mind you brother. I cared about the fact that that old man trusted me to help him and that mine was all he had. That and the mule. I stayed and helped him till the spring. We was getting ready to  take a big load down when Jackson showed up.” Johnny said as he walked over and sat down next to his brother. “ I was in the mine when Jackson showed up and shot the old man down. He didn’t see me so I guess he figured I’d lit out. I came out of the mine and my first shot hit Jackson just below his hip dropping him to the ground.” Johnny said before he started coughing and grabbing his side.

Scott reached out and started rubbing his brothers back until the coughing stopped. “ You okay brother?”

“ Yeah, thanks.” Johnny said as he stood up and walked back over to Barranca. The stallion laid his head on Johnny’s  right shoulder and pulled him into his chest. Reaching up Johnny wrapped his arms around the stallion and laid his head against the stallions neck. “ I know amigo.”

“ Johnny.” Scott said as he stood up and walked over to his brother. “ What are you going to do?”

“ Been thinkin about that brother. Jackson is going to pay for what he did to Barranca. I’m not going to hide from the man. I’ve never run from a fight and I’m not about to start now.”

“ Johnny about Murdoch.”

“ Murdoch was wrong in what he did Scott. How am I supposed to trust him when he don’t trust me?”

“ I can’t answer that brother. I wish I could but you have to understand how he feels? He thought what he was doing was right.”

“ Only because it was what he wanted.  Listen Scott I’m gonna take a ride into town tomorrow, I’d like you to come with me brother. You’re the only one I feel I can truly trust right now.” Johnny said as he walked over to Stormy and started petting her.

Scott noticed movement at the door and knew inside who it was standing outside the door. “ Mind me asking what business you have in town brother?”

“ I think you know the answer to that Scott.”

“ You know I will always have your back brother. Thank you for telling me about Colorado.”

“ I know I can trust you Scott. Barranca here knows it too. If he didn’t he wouldn’t let you take care of his wound.”

Scott laughed a little. “ Yeah when me and Murdoch started back here with you he was adamant about following us.”

Johnny gave his brother a puzzled look. “ He followed you back?”

“ Yeah, he limped the whole way but he stayed right at your side. I would look over and Barranca here would have his nose touching your left leg like he was helping you.”

Johnny walked over to the hay pile and took out a couple carrots he had stashed away. “ I don’t want Barranca out of this barn, Stormy either till Jackson is dead.” Johnny said firmly as he gave his friend the carrots.

Murdoch decided he had heard enough and headed back to the house. Hurt ran deep inside the man as he walked back in the house. He had lost the trust he had with his son and knew it was his fault and could blame no one but himself for it. Walking over to the side board he poured a shot and downed it. Why was his son going to ride into town tomorrow when it was so obvious Jackson was going to kill him? Two thousand dollars was paid for his sons life. Two thousand dollars to take what he had spent eighteen years looking for. His son would turn twenty in two weeks, would he even get to see that day? Would Johnny ever get the chance to find true love and someday give him grandchildren? More importantly, would his son ever be left alone to live a normal life like everyone else does?

.

The next day Johnny and Scott rode into town. The ride wasn’t easy for Johnny to make with sore ribs but at least he wasn’t dizzy any more. Murdoch protested but it fell on deaf ears as far as Johnny. Scott promised his father he would do whatever he could to keep Johnny safe before riding out.

Sam walked into the Red Palace saloon and looking around found the person he was looking for. Walking up to the table Sam glared down at Harv Santee. “ You got some nerve hiring a man to kill Johnny Lancer. Let me tell you something Harv, that boy is more of a man than you ever will be. Johnny Lancer is a good person. That boy doesn’t hesitate to help others that need it.”

Santee looked up at Sam. “ I have no idea what you’re talking about Sam. I didn’t hire nobody to kill that half breed.”

“ You’re a liar. We all know that Jackson is here because he was paid by you to come here and kill Johnny. Well let me tell you something Santee. Your hired gun failed yesterday and if’n I was you I’d be a little worried about that right now because you won’t have just Johnny to worry about. You will have all three Lancer men coming after your sorry hide.”

Santee stood up just as Jackson walked into the bar. “ Why don’t you mind your own business old man? Better yet why don’t you go find some patient  or something. There are a lot more people around this town and in this valley than me that want that half breed killer gone or dead. Go talk to them.”

Sam rarely lost his temper to another person, even though Johnny Lancer caused him to come real close once. Sam grabbed Santee by the shirt and pulled him up to his face. “ Let me tell you something. This old man as you call me isn’t one to be trifled with.” Sam said before shoving Santee back into the wall and turning to walk out. Seeing the man who was clearly Jackson Sam walked up to him. “ You’d be smart to leave this valley now while you’re able to. You can’t beat Johnny. What you did yesterday was the biggest mistake you ever made. Johnny will come after you for it and when he does don’t expect me to do no doctoring on you, or anyone else who hurts that boy.”

“ So Madrid’s got an old quack standin up for him now does he? Let me tell you something and you can take it back to Lancer. The next time I won’t shoot the horse. The next time it will be that brother or maybe his father I put a bullet in old man. So you go tell Madrid that.” Jackson said harshly as he grabbed Sam.

“ He doesn’t have to.” was heard from the saloon doors. “ Unless you want to die right where you stand Jackson, you’ll take your hands off Sam now.”

Turning Jackson found both Johnny and Scott standing there. Johnny had his pistol out. Letting go of the doctor Jackson turned and faced Johnny and Scott. “ Well well well Madrid I hear you had yourself some horse trouble yesterday boy.”

“ Sam come on over here.” Scott said. He knew his brother was one to not be messed with right now. Turning to Santee. “ We know you hired him Santee. You and Driscoll. We have several people who will swear to the Marshal when he get’s here about the threats you made to my brother the last time at Lancer.” Scott stated as Sam walked past him and out the doors.

Johnny stood there glaring at Jackson as he slid his colt back in the holster. “ You want to try and kill me now Jackson?” Johnny said coldly.

Jackson smiled and stepped toward Johnny. People in the saloon backed up against the walls hoping to not catch a bullet if shooting started.

“ You really think you can kill me Madrid?”

Johnny let a small smile curve up his bottom lip at the corners. “ Only one way to find out.”

“ Well I hate to disappoint you boy but I just don’t feel like playing today. You see I’m still tuckered out from a long ride I took yesterday.”

Johnny grabbed Jackson and swung as hard as he could knocking the man down. “ Get up you sonofabitch. I know it was you who shot my horse. Get up and fight me.”

A rifle being cocked could be heard behind Johnny. “ I don’t think so Santee. Let that pistol settle back in the holster unless you want to die right now.” Scott said.

“ Come on Jackson. Get up.”

“ I’m going to so love teaching you a lesson Madrid.” Jackson said as he got up and lunged at Johnny catching him in the chest and driving him backwards out into the street. Landing hard on the ground Jackson hit Johnny in the mouth hard as he had him pinned with his weight.

Johnny landed hard and his sore ribs protested. Reaching up he swung catching Jackson in the jaw but failed to knock the man off him. Suddenly a rifle shot was heard and a bullet landed close to the two men. “ Get off my son now you sonofabitch or the next one will be in you.” Murdoch said as he cocked the rifle again and walked toward the two men.

‘Stay out of this Murdoch.” Johnny fumed.

Jackson stood up. “ Oh did your daddy come to rescue  his little boy?”

Johnny stood up and swung hard hitting Jackson again in the face knocking him down. When Jackson got up Jpohnny again swung with all he had and knocked the man down. This time Jackson didn’t get up though as Johnny stood over him ready to do it again.

Murdoch walked over and placed a hand on his sons shoulder. ‘ It’s over son. He’s done. Let’s go home.”

Johnny Looked at his father. ‘ It won’t be over until one of us is dead. Why can’t you understand that?”

Johnny said before turning and heading to the horse he rode in on. Sam was standing there. “ You alright?” Johnny asked.

“ I think it’s me who’s supposed to be asking you that Johnny. I believe I told you to stay in bed a couple days didn’t I?” Sam asked with a gentle voice.

“ Yeah, but when have you known me to listen to you?”

“ Well this is one time I’m glad you didn’t listen Johnny. You feeling okay?”

“ Yeah Sam I’m fine. Thanks.” Johnny said as he swung up in the saddle and rode out of town alone.

Murdoch turned after watching his son leave and walked up to Santee. “ I’ll kill you myself if you or that Jackson hurt my son or anyone else at Lancer.”

“ Is that a so?’ Santee snidely asked.

Murdoch hit Santee hard knocking him into the hitch rail. “ Fact.” Murdoch said firmly before turning and walking to his horse. “ Come on Scott.”

Scott mounted up and the two men galloped out of Morro Coyo to find Johnny. They didn’t have far to go. Johnny was waiting just outside town for them. Reining their horses up Scott looked at his brother and couldn’t help the smile that came to his face. “ That’s quiet a bruise you got there brother.”

Johnny smiled at his brother. “ Thanks.” was all he said as he turned his horse.

“ Johnny….son, please.” Murdoch pleaded. “ Son I’m sorry.”

“ Teah, I bet you are old man.” Johnny said as he spurred his horse and galloped off.

Murdoch looked at Scott. “ I never meant to hurt your brother.”

“ Really, cause if you didn’t you would have waited and let Johnny tell you when he was ready. I know you was eaves dropping when we was in the barn yesterday.”

“ I went out there to try and talk to your brother when he wasn’t in his room son. I didn’t mean to hear what was said.”

“ If you didn’t then you would have walked away. If you want any chance at all of understanding my brother then I suggest you drop your pigheaded pride you have sir and try having a little more patience with Johnny and listening to what he is telling you.”

“ I do listen to your brother.”

“ No sir you don’t. You only hear what you want to hear. Why do you think me and Johnny get along so well? Why do you think it was me and not you he wanted riding into town with him today?”

Murdoch just sat his horse looking in the direction Johnny rode off in. Deep down he didn’t know, well maybe he did and just didn’t want to face it.

“ Johnny trust me Murdoch because from day one I never judged him. I never held his past against him. I believed Johnny when he said he was innocent when that Marshal came and arrested him. I listen to my brother and I see what a good person he is. Can you do that? No. Everything when it comes to my little brother that goes wrong in your eyes is his fault. I would be willing to bet that if you could you would blame Johnny for Barranca being shot.”

“ That’s not true Scott.” Murdoch said angrily. “ I don’t blame your brother for everything that goes wrong.”

“ Then why couldn’t you wait? And why couldn’t you suggest to the both of us as equal partners about the horse contract? Why did you take it upon yourself to seal the deal before showing Johnny that telegram?”

“ I didn’t seal the deal as you call it son. I merely told  Captain Collins how good my son was with breaking horses. Is that a crime?”

“ No sir, but Johnny has never had someone take notice of the good traits he has before. People only notice he’s was a gunfighter and think that that is all he is good at. You included sir.” Scott said before riding away.

Johnny rode into the yard and got off his horse. Walking into the barn he was greeted by two eager whinnies. Walking up to Barranca and rubbing the stallions face. “ I know amigo. I can’t ride you right now. I need you to get better for me buddy. I don’t want to hurt you any more than you are.”

Hank walked into the barn. “ He wouldn’t eat and I had a hard time putting salve on his wound Johnny. Kept tryin to bite me every time I got close.”

“ You got that salve on ya Hank?”

Hank pulled the salve out of his coat pocket and handed it to Johnny. “ I’ll take care of this one Johnny.” he said leading the horse Johnny rode away.

“ You need to start letting others help you amigo. Hank’ a good man. He won’t hurt ya.” Johnny said as he wiped the medicine on his horse’s wound.

Scott and Murdoch rode up and Murdoch stood and watched how his son and the horse communicated. When Barranca put his head on Johnny’s shoulder as Johnny hugged the horse he shook his head in disbelief. Never before had he seen such a bond between a horse and his owner.

Johnny finished with Barranca and turned to leave and stopped for just a second glaring at his father before walking out. Scott met him outside and walked with him to the house. “ I’m starved brother. How about you?”

“ Johnny, you are always hungry.” Scott chided as they walked into the house.

Johnny didn’t speak to his father that night at dinner and retired to bed early after a couple games of checkers with his brother. The next morning he didn’t speak to him either as Murdoch told Scott he wanted him to check on the slough and planting of the seed in the south pastures. Johnny got up from the table when Scott did. “ I’ll ride out with ya brother. I just need to check Barranca before we leave.”

Scott glanced at his father and knew the treatment he was receiving from Johnny was hurting him deeply.

As the brothers sat on the hill looking down at the pastures that would soon be green with young wheat and hay Scott had to ask. “ How long you going to give our father the silent treatment Johnny?”

Johnny got off his horse. She was young but willing to learn. “ I don’t know Scott. I want him to think about what he done. He’s told me several times I need to learn respect. Well it seems to me that he needs to learn that as well. I want him to realize what he did going behind my back like that was wrong. I want him to respect me and my past the way he wants me to respect him. Is that so wrong?”

“ No Johnny, it’s not. I agree with you on that brother. It’s just that you gotta remember that this is all new to him too. Us being here and all. He’s trying to be a father to you Johnny, and I really think that what he did has taught him a lesson little brother.”

“ Yeah?” Johnny asked.

“ Yes I do.”

Johnny got back on his horse. “ Well then maybe I’ll let him off the hook tonight after dinner. Come on let’s go see how it’s going down there.”

.

Chapter 15

Johnny started talking to his father again that night after dinner. The two of them had a long discussion about respect. Johnny had his doubts but his father agreed he would never go behind his sons back again to learn information. He would wait till his son was ready to talk about whatever it was or let the matter go regardless. Johnny agreed to start being more open with his father about his feelings and past only if he wanted to. Both men headed to bed that night unsure of just what the future held for them as father and son.

Jackson was pissed that Johnny showed him up in front of the town folk. The hotel owner asked him to leave due to the nature of his being in town. Said it was bad for business. So Jackson camped out just off Lancer property and watched Johnny and what he did daily.

Johnny knew he was being watched as he sat atop the hill on the young mare. She was all but three and was smart and a fast learner. Johnny cut her out of the herd going to the army because of something he saw in the way she moved and held her head. Barranca did the same thing this little mare did and so Johnny decided he would keep her to train. She wasn’t all that big, just under Barranca in size but she had big hind quarters and a deep powerful chest. Johnny swore she was a quarter horse that maybe got loose as a baby. Her whole body and muscle structure said she was a quarter horse. Her coat shined red in the spring sun. Her mane and tail was gold and almost white mixed together. Scott had said the color was called flaxen. The little mare had white that came up to her knees on both front feet and the right rear. A face that had a white stripe that ran from between her eyes down to her nose. Barranca liked her, course Barranca liked all mares since Johnny started breeding him. He kept his manors though and never bit or kicked at a mare and Johnny was never rough or unkind with him. Barranca and this mare would probably breed but Johnny held off on that this year. He wanted to work the mare without the burden of a foal.

Two weeks had passed since Johnny beat Jackson in town. Nobody had seen the man and even Santee stayed away from town. Johnny pretty much busied himself with the last of the horses needing broke for the army, taking care of Barranca and training the mare. Johnny was working her in the corral when his father and brother came out to see what had all the hands attention standing on the fence. When Murdoch walked up to the fence his mouth dropped. Johnny was on the mare with no headset walking her toward six Hereford cows. When one of the cows broke the mare would cut to the right or left fast keeping the cow in the herd.

“ I never seen a cow cut like that mister Lancer.” Hank stated. “ Least way’s not on a horse without a bridle. Johnny sure is good with a horse.”

Murdoch glowed with pride as he watched his son work the mare. Looking over at his oldest Murdoch slowly shook his head in disbelief at what they was seeing.

“ I’m going to have to have my little brother show me how he does that sir.”

“ That makes two of us son.”

Johnny cut a cow from the group and the mare worked hard and fast keeping that cow separated. Her front legs would be out in front of her and her head down almost touching the ground with her nose. Powerful hind quarters would surge her forward or from side to side. After a few minutes Johnny had the mare come up to a normal stance and stop. Nobody but him knew the signals he gave the little mare. When he turned her away from the cows to the middle of the arena and stopped, Johnny seen his father and brother watching. With a smile and a slight signal with his legs the mare started turning in a tight circle to the right, never moving her right hind foot as she spun around. After five turns Johnny had her stop and do the same thing to the left. After as he galloped the mare around the arena Scott noticed her feet. The mare was changing leads from left to right as she galloped. A horse that could do that while in motion so smoothly was a treasure.

“ Watch her feet sir.” Scott said to his father.

Johnny worked the mare in a figure eight around the corral several times before stopping and getting off. The mare stood in place never moving when Johnny walked over to the fence.

“ Little brother, I don’t think I can ever remember seeing something like that ever before. Maybe you could show me how you do it sometime?”

“ Maybe Boston.”

“ Son that was very good. Mind if I ask you what your plans are with her?”

“ I’m gonna keep her Murdoch. Her and Barranca’ smart’s well that’s gonna give me a few good foals.” Johnny said as he glanced at the mare still standing in the middle of the corral. “ If you think that was something, watch this. Hank open the gate would ya?”

“ Sure Johnny.”

Without saying a word the mare walked over thru the gate and around to Johnny on the other side of the fence. Pushing her head into his chest like Barranca does Johnny rubbed the mare and praised her for a good job.

“ You know Johnny, you’ve only been riding her a couple weeks. I am truly amazed at how you have brought her along. With her smart cow sense son you could sell her for a nice profit.”

Johnny looked at his father. “ I told ya, she isn’t for sale. I’m keeping her. Stormy will be trained the same way when she is old enough. Excuse me I need to put her up and check Barranca before I go into town.” Johnny said as he walked away with the mare at his side.

“ Did I say something wrong again?” Murdoch asked Scott.

“ Kind of sir. Johnny told us he was going to breed the mare to Barranca.”

“ Why is your brother going into town. He has his supplies already for the drive in two day’s.”

Scott smiled. “ I think you will have to ask my brother that sir. Excuse me.”

Murdoch headed to the barn and found Johnny grooming the mare.

“ Son, can I ask why you are going into town?”

“ Cause I want a cold beer and well I’m about to spend the next two months with a bunch of men and a hundred and sixty horses.”

“ Yes, so.” Murdoch said as he made over Stormy.

“ So, I want to have a good time between the sheets old man before I leave.” Johnny said as he put the mare in her stall and walked out closing the gate. “ Why don’t you come with me? A good fuck will do you good.”

Murdoch looked at his youngest with shock on his face. “ No son. I don’t think I will.”

“ You ever even fucked a whore old man? I mean besides my momma.”

The slap came so fast both men where surprised by it. “ I’m sorry son, but don’t you ever call your mother that again. Regardless of how you may hate her she was still your mother.”

Johnny glared at his father. “ Don’t you ever hit me again old man.” Johnny said before leaving the barn.

Murdoch stood there shocked at what he had just done to his son. Slapping his son  was the one thing Murdoch never thought he would do. Heading to the house he had to try and make things right with Johnny. When he walked out of the barn Murdoch felt a sudden white hot pain in his chest and fell to the ground. Blood was fast covering the left side of his chest.

Scott seen his brother come out of the barn with a very angry look on his face heading to the house. Wondering what happened between the two he headed toward the barn when Murdoch came out. When he heard the shot and seen his father go down Scott yelled for Johnny as he ran to his fathers side.

Johnny came running out of the house and seen his father down as another shot hit the ground next to Scott.

“ Up on the hill senor.” one of the hands yelled.

Johnny looked up and caught a flash as the sun hit the rifle barrel just right. “ Hank, you men stay down. We’re sitting ducks. We try to go after him and he’ll pick us off.” Johnny yelled. “ Scott is he alive?”

“ Yes, but he’s bleeding badly from his chest Johnny. He needs Sam now.”

Another shot hit the ground by Scott’ right leg. “ Damn it Johnny we got to get him in the house.”

Johnny made his way to the barn and together the brothers dragged Murdoch just inside the barn out of the line of fire. Working frantically trying to stop the bleeding Scott undid his fathers shirt so he could see how bad it was. Murdoch moaned and opened his eyes. “ Lay still sir. You’ve been shot.”

“I’m alright son. It’s not that bad. Were is your brother?”

“ Johnny’s outside. It was Jackson from up on the hill.”

Hank made his way into the barn. I sent a man for the doctor. How is he?”

“ The bullet creased his side under the arm.”

Several hands who heard the shots rode to the hill the shots came from at different angle and found Jackson gone.

Several hours later Sam came down stairs and told the boys Murdoch would be fine with rest and pending no infection he would be up and around in a couple days. Looking at  Johnny, Sam seen a look in the boy’s eyes he didn’t like. What he seen was as clear as night and day, death.

“ Murdoch’ going to be fine Johnny.” the man said calmly.

Johnny looked at Sam before heading upstairs to his father.

“ I don’t like this Scott. What I just seen in your brothers eyes was pure revenge.”

“ I know Sam. He’s been pacing the floor down here all evening. To tell you the truth I don’t think I can stop him from going after Jackson.”

“ Johnny isn’t thinking clearly right now Scott. If he goes after that man he could end up dead.”

“ I know Sam. It’s late why don’t you go in the kitchen and get something to eat. I had the guest room made up for you.”

“ Thank you Scott, but I have a baby on it’s way soon and I need to get going. Don’t worry about Murdoch Scott. He’s going to be fine.”

“ To tell you the truth Sam, it’s Johnny I’m worried about.” Scott said as Sam got in his buggy.

Scott watched Sam drive away before turning and heading inside. The sun was setting so Scott knew his brother would stay with their father tonight, but tomorrow, tomorrow Scott knew Johnny would go after Jackson. Hell he wanted to go after the man, but the difference between him and his brother was he would have Jackson arrested, triad and sentenced were his brother is going to do all that with a bullet. Sighing Scott headed up to their fathers room. Opening the door he found Johnny sitting in a chair next to the bed. He noticed a bruise on his brothers cheek and thought to ask about it but decided not to.

“ He’s going to be alright Johnny. Sam said the bullet just grazed……”

“ I know what Sam said Scott.” Johnny snapped at his brother.

Scott walked over to the bed and looked down at his father. “ Johnny, wire the Marshal in Sacramento. Let him handle this, please.”

Johnny stood up and looked down at his father then Scott. “ Jackson is a dead man for this Scott. You want to wire the Marshal you go right ahead and do so. Jackson will be dead before he gets here.” Johnny said with coldness as he walked around the bed.

Scott grabbed his brothers arm. “ Johnny, you do this and you will be no better than Jackson is. Let the law handle it.”

Johnny jerked his arm free. “ I know I’m the reason Murdoch was shot Scott. Me  Johnny Madrid not Johnny Lancer so I guess killing Jackson won’t matter since Madrid is a killer.”

“ You’re not Madrid anymore Johnny. Don’t do this brother.”

“ I am Madrid. I always will be Scott. That’s what you and the old man don’t seem to understand. As long as Johnny Lancer is alive, Johnny Madrid is also. Madrid and Lancer are two in the same, just one is a killer.” Johnny said before walking out.

Scott heard his brothers door slam shut. Walking over and sitting down in the chair his brother vacated Scott leaned forward and took his fathers hand in his. “ I really need you to wake up sir. I don’t think I can stop Johnny from going after Jackson. The look he had in his eyes……….Johnny’s going to go gunning for Jackson and I’m afraid he’s going to be killed sir.” Scott said as he sat there looking at his father.

Scott jerked awake at first light to the sound of a horse galloping from the yard. Looking out the window he could see it was his brother. Torn between staying with his father or going after his brother Scott started toward the door when his fathers voice stopped him.

“ Go after him son. Go after Johnny and stop him from this.”

Scott walked over to his father. “ I don’t know how to do that sir. I’ve never seen the look Johnny had last night. To be truthful it scared me.”

Murdoch tried to sit up. “ He’s hurting Scott. From me being shot and……”

“ And what sir?”

“ I slapped your brother Scott, in the barn. I was coming out to go after him and.”

“ Slapped him. Why Murdoch? You know how Johnny’s been beaten in the past. Why would you hit him?”

“ I didn’t mean to Scott. He was talking wrong about his mother and it was a natural response son.”

Scott ran a hand through his hair.

“ Scott no matter what has happened between me and Johnny….don’t let him go after Jackson and gun him down. It will be murder.”

“ Murder? The man ambushed you and tried to kill me also, he shot Johnny’s horse and………”

“ What son?”

“ Jackson likes to play mind games with his victims so they screw up so he can kill them. Johnny is doing exactly what Jackson wants.” Scott said as he headed to the door. “ I’ll have Hank come stay with you sir.”

“ I’m fine son, just go after your brother.”

.

Johnny rode the little mare hard to the top of the hill were Jackson had shot his father. Seeing his father laying on the ground with blood on the left side of his chest kept flashing through his mind. Even though Sam had said Murdoch would be alright, Johnny knew he had to stop Jackson and the man who brought him here. He wasn’t willing to gamble on the next time being his brother or even a hand at the ranch. Johnny knew how Jackson worked and knew the man wouldn’t stop till they faced each other.

Getting down Johnny had learned over the years how to track over all terrain. The signs where there, the person tracking just had to know what to look for. Johnny found were Jackson had his horse tied and got down. Looking at the tracks Johnny found one shoe was loose and left an easy trail to follow. Checking his cinch he mounted up and glancing down at the ranch he could see his brother headed to the barn after talking to who he presumed was Hank. “ Not this time brother.” Johnny said as he moved the mare and started following the tracks.

Scott rode into town and found Santee and Driscoll coming out of the hotel cafe. Getting off his horse Scott walked up to Santee. “ I suggest you find a place to hide because Johnny is coming after you and Jackson and I am not going to stop him.”

Santee looked at Driscoll then Scott with a smile. “ Now why would that half breed be coming after me? I’ve been right here in town and haven’t done a thing.”

“ Your hired gun shot our father yesterday and well, I think you get the picture Santee. You see you started something with my little brother that not even the law will be able to stop.” Scott said as he went to get back on his horse. “ Oh, just so you know Santee, I tried to tell my brother to let the law have you but well since Morro Coyo doesn’t have any law my little brother is going to be it.”

“ You think I’m afraid of that half breed killer think again Lancer. I’ll have him shot down like a dog the next time he shows his face in this town or comes anywhere near me.”

People had stopped on the street and listened to what was said between the two men. They had heard from Sam that Murdoch Lancer was shot yesterday and many of them where his friend. Many of them liked Johnny but were afraid since the gunman came to town.

Scott got on his horse. “ You better be. You see Santee when your man shot our father he started a war with all Lancer’s and well since you brought Jackson here then that means Lancer is at war with you as well.” Scott said before turning his horse and starting out of town.

Johnny followed the tracks right up to Santee’s property line. Crossing it Johnny rode about half a mile and found were Jackson had his camp set up. The man wasn’t around so Johnny decided to head to town to find the man.

Scott could see a rider coming toward him, stopping his horse he knew it was his brother. Seeing the look on his brothers face Scott knew Johnny wouldn’t be talked out of this. Not Johnny Lancer anyways. The man riding up to him was all Madrid and death shone in his blue eyes.

“ Johnny.”

“ Don’t try and stop me Scott.”

“ I’m not. I see the look in your eyes brother.”

“ Why you here?”

“ I’m here to back my little brother up. Jackson has to pay for shooting our father.”

“ Jackson is ion town somewhere. I found were he’s been camping out on Santee’s land half a mile from out property line.”

“ Santee is in town with Driscoll right now.”

Johnny looked at his brother. “ Really, this could get ugly brother. You up to killing? Cause I got no problem with it.”

“ I’ll do what I have to do brother.”

“ Good. I know how to get Jackson to show himself I think.” Johnny said as he started his horse toward town.

Scott had a bad feeling deep down inside. A feeling his brother was going to die. Turning his horse to catch up to his brother. “ Johnny wait.”

Johnny stopped his horse. “ Look Scott if…..”

“ Johnny Santee just told me that if you came into town or got anywhere near him he would have you gunned down like a dog.”

Johnny let a small smile come to his lips. “ Is that so? Well I guess I’ll just have to see if he has the guts to back that up brother.” Johnny said spurring his horse.

Scott knew his brother was serious about what was about to happen. One thing he learned real quick about his new found brother was that when Madrid took over there was no stopping him.

Johnny rode into town and could see Santee and Driscoll standing in front of the general store. Riding right up to them Johnny sat his horse and glared at Santee.  “ I hear you’re going to have me gunned down like a dog Santee. Here I am, tell Jackson to come on out and face me because he’s gonna die for shooting my father.”

Santee looked at Madrid and laughed. “ You made a mistake half breed coming back here.”

Johnny got off his horse and stepped up to Santee. Driscoll moved away. Johnny could see he wasn’t wearing a gun, but Santee was. Johnny grabbed Santee and threw him out into the street. “ Come on then, Kill me, if you think you can.”

Santee was scared inside. He didn’t know were Jackson was and facing Madrid was something he didn’t want to do.

Madrid” came a voice from across the street.

Scott turned and could see a man walk out of the saloon wearing a gun low on his right hip like his brother. Glancing at Johnny Scott could tell this was escalating into something bad and fast. Dismounting Scott shooed his horse away after grabbing his rifle.

Johnny looked to were the voice came from.

“ I don’t believe I’m seeing right. The great Johnny Madrid calling someone out.” the man said as he stepped down into the street.

“ Sanchez……I thought you was dead.”

“ Yeah I just bet you did….Tell me something Madrid, was it worth it?Betraying me and the others like you did just for some dirt farmers who wasn’t worth spit.”

Johnny never moved. Never took his eyes off this new threat. A threat obviously from his past.

“ Did you and those worthless Mexican’s really think you could beat us? Oh wait, you did because you’re one yourself. Tell me something Madrid, was your mother a Mexican whore fucked by a gringo? Or a gringo whore fucked by a Mexican?”

Scott could only imagine the hatred his brother felt hearing what was being said. All his life his brother had had to put up with men like this treating him bad, and all because their father had fallen in love with a beautiful Mexican woman and Johnny was the result of that love.

“ I’m gonna kill you Madrid. Santee there he paid me and Jackson real good to come here and kill you. Oh that’s right, It was me not Jackson who shot your old man when he came out of the barn yesterday. I was off a little on my aim though. I never shot a sharps before. Lucky for your old man though huh? Tell me something Madrid, how’d it feel seein your old man layin there bleeding?”

Johnny never moved. Never took his eyes off Sanchez as he talked. People on the street watched and held their breath as they knew the two men faced off. Sam stood just down the street watching hoping Johnny would come out of this alive. He had seen Jackson ride into town. Sam was glad Scott was with his brother to back him up but Johnny facing two gunfighters was bad. One or both Lancer brothers he was sure would be injured when this was over.

“ What’s the matter Madrid, you got nothing to say?”

“ You’re not worth it Sanchez. A man like you ain’t worth the time so why don’t you quit stallin.” Johnny said softly. His eyes where as cold as ice, but the words where as hot as hell.

Santee stepped back away from Johnny and looked at Scott. “I told you your half breed brother would die, and you get to watch it happen.”he said. “ How’s it feel Madrid huh? I told you you wasn’t wanted in this valley. You should have rode out while you still could. I told you I’d send a wire telling were you was. When I added that I’d pay to have you killed, well that sweetened the pot. It wasn’t hard to find out about you Madrid, wasn’t hard at all.”

Shut up Santee.” Sanchez ordered. “ Let’s dance Madrid.” Sanchez said as he stepped back a little. 

“ Oh I should tell you, we ain’t alone.” he said before going for his gun.

Johnny seen the tall tale sign that was every gunfighter he faced downfall. Sanchez’s eyes widened just enough. Both men drew but only one gun fired. Johnny watched as a crimson red stain spread across Sanchez’s chest. The man was still standing and looked down in disbelief.  Dropping to his knees and falling forward dead.

Jackson watched from the hotel window above Johnny. “ You’ve gotten faster Madrid.” He said before looking across the street and signaling.

Three men raised up when Sanchez fell dead with rifles aimed below at Johnny. Firing several shot’s before return fire took one of the shooters out, dropping him to the ground below.

Johnny spun when the first shot grazed his right thigh. Dropping him to the ground as he turned. Scrambling to get up he was hit with another bullet to his right arm just  below the shoulder.  Johnny felt the bullet tear through the muscle but gnored the pain.Switching his gun to his left hand Johnny felt another bullet hit him in the lower right side from the back. Santee stood with gun aimed at him ready to shoot again when Johnny swung his gun around and shot Santee dead.

Scott watched in horror as his brother went down. Taking aim he fired up to the rooftop trying to give his brother cover as he made his way to him. A red hot pain was felt in his left arm were a bullet creased him. Scott watched as another bullet tore into his brothers right arm as he made his way to him. When the third bullet hit Johnny in the side Scott swung his rifle and fired at Santee at the same time Johnny did. Both bullets hit the man in the chest. Reaching his brother Scott helped Johnny over by the water trough.  Looking he could see blood was coming from his brothers side good as the bullet went clean through. Grabbing his kerchief Scott tied it around Johnny’s right arm.

Johnny knew Jackson was still out there somewhere watching. Taking his pistol in his right hand Johnny started to reload ignoring the pain he was feeling in his arm as his brother tied off the bandana.

“ Thanks. How bad you hit brother?” Johnny asked noticing the blood on his brothers left arm.

“ I’ll live.” Scott said as he took his brothers pistol and reloaded it for him. “ Jackson is still out there.”

“ Yeah he is. He’s probably been watching the whole time.” Johnny said as he stood up. His right side was soaked in blood as was his right thigh. Hoping a little to get his balance Johnny looked down at his leg and seen the bullet had just creased him. His right arm he could still move even though it pained him badly. Catching movement across the street Johnny looked and seen Jackson walk out of the hotel and down into the street.

“ Get away Scott.” Johnny said as he pushed at his brother with his left arm.

Scott looked and seen what his brother was looking at. “ Johnny, don’t. You’re hurt. Let it go brother. Let Jackson go until another time.” Scott pleaded.

“ Can’t.” Johnny said as he stepped out into the street again.

Scott picked up his rifle and stepped out as well, keeping to his brothers left.

“ My my my, Madrid, you don’t look so good. Killing you is going to be fun, and your brother there get’s to watch.”

Johnny stopped thirty feet from Jackson and stood with his right arm hung straight down. Blood was slowly pooling on the ground by his right foot.

“ You can’t take me Madrid. Your gun arm’s no good.” Jackson said with confidence.

“ Try me.” was all Johnny said.

“ Oh I will, I will Madrid. I watched you draw on Sanchez. You’re fast, but not fast enough to take me. Especially with a bullet in your right arm.”

“ You know Jackson, there’s one thing I learned a long time ago.”

“ Yeah, what’s that?”

“ Never show all your cards until the stakes are high enough.” Johnny said.

Jackson squinted his eyes. “ That so, well I do believe I’ve seen your cards  Madrid and it’s not a winning hand.”

“ Like I said, try me Jackson.” Johnny said with coolness.

Another minute passed and a wagon  and riders could be heard coming into town. Scott looked and could see his father with Hank and several hands stop.

Murdoch looked in horror at his son standing in the street bleeding as he faced off with Jackson. Placing a hand on Hank’s arm as the man stopped the wagon. He knew that if they continued he could get his son killed.

Johnny heard the wagon stop but never took his eyes from Jackson. He didn’t have to look to know it was his father.

Scott looked back at his brother and without realizing it, held his breath as both men grabbed for their guns.

Jackson drew but felt something hit him in the gut. Trying to take aim Jackson watched as Madrid stepped toward him cocking his pistol again and aimed it at his head.

“ This is for my horse and father you sonofabitch.” Johnny said before pulling the trigger.

Scott looked around  to make sure no other gunmen came into play as his brother turned and took a couple steps away from Jackson and dropped to his knees. Running to his side Scott grabbed his brother. “ Sam.” he yelled as he grabbed Johnny. “ I got you brother. I got you.”

Murdoch hurried to his son’s side when Hank stopped the wagon. “ Johnny son.” he said kneeling down and seeing  his son was soaked in blood on his side and right arm.

Sam came up and could see Johnny was hurt bad. “ You men carry him over to my office.” he ordered.

“ I can make it Sam.” Johnny said as he tried to stand back up.

“ I don’t doubt you could Johnny but just this once do as I tell you son.” the old doctor said.

Johnny looked at the man and smiled. “ Okay.” was all he said before passing out.

A couple hands picked Johnny up and carried him to Sam’ office. Murdoch and Scott followed. Scott looked around at the people standing around that had watched his brother. Stopping he said in a loud voice. “ I’ll kill any man who tries to hurt my brother again.” he said looking around.

Murdoch looked over and seen Santee dead from two bullets in his chest. Driscoll was standing on the walkway staring at them. “ You want the same as Santee?” Murdoch asked coldly.

Driscoll went to his horse and rode out of town.

Hank and the hands that came into town stood guard outside Sam’ office with rifles ready after Johnny was carried inside and placed on the table in the back.

It took Sam several  hours to stitch Johnny’s wounds up. Luckily two of the three wounds where going to heal up alright. The wound that worried Sam the most was Johnny’s arm. He knew the boy depended on his right arm to stay alive. Watching Johnny draw and kill Jackson with that arm Sam didn’t understand how the boy could do it. The muscle was torn and had to be stitched up. Sighing Sam looked down at Johnny and couldn’t help but wonder just what goes through the mind of someone like him. What drives a person to be two people. How could a boy almost twenty live the life this one had? What is the breaking point a man or boy reaches  when enough is enough and they stand up to the challenge put before them and accept it or do they cower and cry defeat?  How can someone be a son or brother one minute and a killer the next? Sam knew from the scars on Johnny’s body that the boy didn’t have a choice in the matter really. Johnny had to become a man when he was still a child. A child with eyes of blue that sealed his fate. Eyes that could shine with nothing but love and laughter one second, or be as cold as ice the next. Checking for fever Sam knew he would have a battle of wills so to speak ahead of him. Johnny didn’t like being cooped up. He didn’t like being vulnerable, and right now with his gun arm out of commission for several weeks if not longer. Johnny was as vulnerable as a new born baby, if word got out that Johnny Madrid’s gun arm was useless. Turning Sam headed out front to a brother and father he knew were waiting. When he walked out Scott was sitting in a chair with his left arm wrapped and cradled in his lap. Murdoch was standing at the window staring out at nothingness.

“ Scott let me take a look at that arm.” Sam said as he stepped over to the young man.

“ Sam how’s Johnny?” Scott asked glancing at his father.

“ He lost a considerable amount of blood. I cleaned and stitched the leg wound up. He won’t be able to walk on it for a while. The bullet through his side just below his rib’s luckily didn’t hit any vital organs. He run’s the chance of infection from it though.” Sam stated as he took the bandage off Scott’ arm so he could see the wound.

Scott knew There was more. He knew Johnny was hit in his right arm, and the look on Sam’ face told him it wasn’t good.

“ Sam, what about my brother’s arm?”

Glancing at Murdoch Sam sighed. “ The bullet tore through the primary muscle called the bicep that runs down from the shoulder. I repaired as much of the damage as I could Scott but.”

“ But what Sam?” Murdoch asked with concern.

“ Johnny may not be able to use that arm again like he used to. The damage to the muscle may not heal up and allow him full function ever again.”

“ Sam, are you saying Johnny is paralyzed in his right arm?”

“ As of right now he could be Murdoch. Only time will tell. Time and keeping the arm immobile so it can heal up. I’m going to need to put stitches in this Scott.” Sam said as he cleaned the wound.

“ Why? Why did he do it Scott? I don’t understand that brother of yours. Why does he care so much for others and so little for himself?”

“ That Sam is easy. Johnny’s never had anyone to care about before he came here. He’s never had someone care about him.”

“ That’s rubbish. That boy has been home a year now. How can you say he’s never had? Maybe before he came back, but surely Johnny knows his family and friends care about him?”

“ Friends Sam, His so called friends in this town stood by and did nothing out there to help him. The people of this town are filled with hate and prejudice toward my brother because of what he did in the past to stay alive. Friends Sam? A true friend wouldn’t have allowed Santee and Driscoll to do what they did.”

“ They were scared Scott. People in this town wanted to help but when Santee brought that gunfighter in what could they do. Most of them have family to think about Scott.”

“ So did Johnny but they still just stood by and did nothing.”

“ Sam how long before we can move Johnny out to the ranch?” Murdoch asked.

“ He shouldn’t be moved for a few days Murdoch. Like I said Johnny lost a considerable amount of blood and is weak. I need to watch him for infection and fever as well.”

“ Sam, Johnny is vulnerable right now. Word could get out about his right arm and more gunmen could show up trying to kill him. We don’t want you at risk.” Scott stated.

“ I know that Scott but I’m afraid Johnny just can’t be moved right now. It’s too risky.”

“ Can I see him?”

“ Yes, I want to talk to your father alone anyway.”

Scott got up when Sam was done with his arm and headed in to his brother.

Sam glared at Murdoch. He had seen the bruise on Johnny’s cheek and knew the boy didn’t get it in the gunfight.

“ What is it Sam you want to talk to me about?”

“ Sit down Murdoch.” Sam ordered as he poured a cup of coffee for the two of them. “ You have something you would like to tell me Murdoch?”

Murdoch gave same a puzzled look as he took the cup of coffee. “ Like what?”

“ Like how your son got the bruise on his right cheek.”

“ I hit him Sam. The day I was shot, in the barn me and Johnny was having a discussion and he…..”

“ Have you gone mad? You know what that boy has been through Murdoch. My god what could Johnny have possibly said to make you do such a thing?”

Murdoch told Sam what he and Johnny was innocently talking about before. “ It was wrong I know Sam, but when Johnny called his mother a whore, the way he said it. I reacted before I knew what I’d done.”

“ Murdoch, Johnny loves you and Scott. It’s as plan as day to night. What Johnny did out there today wasn’t so much because he was Johnny Madrid…..It was because he is Johnny Lancer and his family was threatened. Johnny cares about you, he loves you Murdoch but I think the boy is scared to admit it. I think Johnny is afraid that if he does he won’t be strong any more.” Murdoch Johnny has had to be this tough as nails gunfighter for a better part of his life. You can’t expect that boy to change how he is over night. You may not like how he talks or does things. You have to stop looking at Johnny as that two year old you once knew Murdoch. Like it or not Johnny is a grown man now and has been for a long time.”

“ I know Sam, I know. I’m trying I really am. I want to be a father to him Sam. I want Johnny and me to get along it’s just that he has such a temper.”

“ It seems to me Murdoch that you both have a temper. Johnny is just like you in that as speck  my friend. Both of you are stubborn and won’t give an inch.”

Murdoch let a smile come to his face. “ I need to let the hands know about Johnny and send them back.” Murdoch said as he stood up and walked to the door. “ Thanks Sam, for caring about Johnny the way you do. I know you care about him more than you do other patients.”

“ That boy and me are going to have to have a serious discussion Murdoch about him taking better care of himself and being so reckless.”

“ Good luck with that Sam.” Murdoch said before opening the door and walking outside.

.

 Chapter 16

Scott stayed with his brother through the night never once leaving his side. Sam and Murdoch both tried to get him to rest but he would just ignore them. The next morning Murdoch brought a tray of food in knowing his oldest hadn’t eaten anything for at least a day.

“ You need to eat son.” Murdoch said as he set the tray down. “ Any change?”

“ No, he has a slight fever but nothing to bad yet. Sam was in earlier and checked on him.”

“ Son why don’t you go get some rest after you eat. I’ll stay with your brother.”

“ Thank you, but I promised my brother I wouldn’t leave him, that I would have his back.”

“ Scott, you’re no good to Johnny exhausted. I promise I will wake you up if something happens. Please son, for me?”

“ You did that to him didn’t you?” Scott asked referring to the bruise on his brothers cheek.

Murdoch just nodded.

“ You better fix it Murdoch. I don’t know what happened In the barn between you two but I do know that if you drive Johnny away. You’ll lose us both sir.” Scott said as he stood up and walked to the door. Turning back to his father. “ Johnny is my brother and I love him. I don’t care about his past and what he did. I care about now and the fact that I have a brother to care about sir and I will do anything I have to do to keep my brother alive. Can you?” Scott asked before turning and walking out.

For three day’s Johnny didn’t move. Murdoch was sitting with him with his head down resting when a feeling of being watched came over him. Looking up at his son he found a pair of blue eyes staring back at him.

Johnny opened his eyes and knew he wasn’t alone. Looking up he could tell he wasn’t at Lancer. Turning his head he hoped to find his brother with him, but found his father instead. “ Scott.” he said barely above a whisper as he licked his parched lips.

Murdoch leaned forward. “ Welcome back son. Scott is in the other room resting. Do you want some water?”

Johnny nodded and Murdoch poured a glass and lifted his sons head so he could drink. “ Thanks.”

“ You’re welcome.” Murdoch said as he sat the glass back on the bedside table. “ How do you feel son?”

“ Hurts.” Johnny said as he tried to move to get more comfortable.

“ Easy son. Sam won’t be happy if you tear out your stitches.”

“How long have I been here?”

“ Three day’s. Your brother stayed with you all night the first night. He didn’t want to leave your side. I finally got him to eat and rest.”

“ How bad was he hurt?” Johnny asked, remembering his brother was shot also.

“ The bullet just creased his left arm son. Scott’ going to be alright. Let me go get Sam now that you’re awake.” Murdoch said as he stood up.

Johnny watched his father walk out. Something was wrong. Remembering the gunfight it hit Johnny then. His right arm was hit. Trying to move it he found Sam had it wrapped securely to his chest. Looking down at the arm he tried to move his fingers but couldn’t.

“ John.” Sam said as he walked in with Scott and Murdoch.

“ Sam, why can’t I feel my arm or move my hand?” Johnny asked with concern.

“ Johnny your upper arm muscle was damaged from the bullet. It’s going to take time to heal.”

“ How much time Sam?”

“ I don’t know John. I’m not going to lie to you. There is a chance you may never have full use of your right arm again. It’s just to soon to tell.”

Scott watched his brothers face as he absorbed what Sam was telling him. He knew without a doubt what concerned his brother the most. “ Johnny, you’ll get through this brother. I’ll help you.”

Johnny looked at Scott then back to Sam. Never once did his eyes go to his father. “ And the others?”

Sam knew what johnny meant. “ You will have to stay off that leg for awhile John so it can heal. Your side will also take time. The bullet passed clean through. I don’t mind telling you young man you are very lucky. A little lower and that bullet would have went through your liver.”

“ Maybe it should have Sam. Maybe it would have been better if I died out there.”

Sam looked at Murdoch then Scott. “ I don’t want to hear that kind of talk coming from my patient. Is that understood young man?”

“ Why, I’m as good as dead Sam without my right arm and you know it.”

“ Give it some time son. It’s only been three days.”

“ Look I’d like to be alone with Scott right now if you don’t mind.” Johnny said looking at Sam.

Murdoch sighed. He knew Johnny was still hurt over being slapped. “ Alright son. I’ll be in the other room if you need me.” he said before turning and walking out.

Sam looked at Johnny. “ You need rest. Drink some more water and try not to move around to much. There’ a bottle of laudanum on the table if you need it for the pain John.”

“ Thanks Sam.” Johnny said as the doctor walked out.

Scott sat down in the chair next to the bed. “ What’s on your mind brother?”

“ You. You backed me up out there brother.”

“ Well I told you I would have your back Johnny. You think I was going to let my little brother ride in and face Jackson alone? If you did brother, you are sorely mistaken.”

“ You’re not to bad for a dandy. I’m sorry you got shot.”

Scott smiled as he went to pour some water. “ Here drink this, you need it.”

Johnny drank the glass of water and winced from the pain in his side.

“ You want some laudanum?”

“ No, I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

“ I know you have brother. You need to rest. I’ll come back in a little while and check on you.”

“ He hit me Scott.” Johnny said bluntly.

“ I know, he told me. Johnny he’s sorry for it, believe me. He told me what happened in the barn and I know he wishes he could take it back brother.”

“ I swore no man would ever hit me again Scott. That includes our father.”

“ Johnny I can’t tell you what to do about it. All I can tell you is I know Murdoch is sorry for it happening. Give it some time and think about what you are going to do.”

“ I already know what I’m going to do about it. If he ever touches me again Scott, I’ll leave.”

“ I told our father that that could happen and I also told him that if you left, I would leave with you brother. Get some rest.” Scott said as he stood up and headed to the door.

Johnny closed his eyes and pushed the pain away as sleep claimed his tired body again.

Sam kept Johnny at his place for four days before he allowed Murdoch to take his son home. Johnny Ignored his father pretty much while in Sam’ care. He needed time to think about the two of them. He could tell Sam was irritated with him and the way he was being toward his father. After Johnny was settled in the back of the wagon for the ride home Sam let it be known.

“ You know John, I brought you into this world and that day I can tell you was the happiest day in Murdoch’ life when he held you for the first time. He didn’t really get a chance to be a father to you or Scott and I am not saying that that is your fault young man. What I am saying is I don’t much care for the way you have been toward him these past few days. He made a mistake Johnny and I think you need to put it behind you and move on.”

“ He hit me Sam. I can’t forget that. I swore no man would ever hit me again.”

“ I know he did, but do you really think that talking to him the way you did about your own mother that you didn’t deserve it? I know if you had been my son and talked that way I would have belted you a good one also. He’s not perfect Johnny and neither are you or Scott. If the three of you are going to make it as a family then you need to try and understand Murdoch’ side a little more. The two of you need to stop being so bullheaded to one another and agree to disagree sometimes.”

Johnny looked at Sam and knew what the man was saying was true. “ I know I was out of line Sam. I want to tell him I’m sorry but………”

“ But you’re not sure how to approach him about it are you? John I know this is still new to you, having a family and people who care about you. It’s not as bad as you think it is. Do an old cow town doctor a favor would you?”

“ Such as?”

“ When you feel like nothing will work and you can’t talk it out with your father or even Scott, come talk to me. I’m a good listener John and whether you want to believe it or not, I do care about you. Even if you don’t.”

 “ I care about myself Sam.” Johnny said with a smile. “ You’re also a good friend to me Sam. This town and these people are lucky to have you here.”

“ That goes for you too Johnny. You have more friends in this town than you realize young man. People  in this town care about you and are willing to forget about your past. To them you are not Johnny Madrid. They see you as Johnny Lancer, youngest son of Murdoch Lancer.”

Johnny reached out his left hand. “ Thanks Sam. You know for an old cow town doctor, you’re alright.”

“ You ready to go home brother?” Scott asked as he walked his horse to the back of the wagon and tied him off before climbing in to sit with his brother.

“ Yeah, riding in this wagon home, my beds gonna feel real good.” Johnny said as he tried to get as comfortable as he could on the bed of straw and mattress in the back.

Johnny was tired of being bed ridden after a week at Sam’ and two weeks at home. Sam told him his leg and side was healing nicely and he would allow him with help to go as far as his window to sit. But under no circumstances was he to go downstairs yet. His right arm, Sam would only unwrap to check and then re-bandage. Johnny kept trying to move his hand and was able to move it a small amount. Making a fist was hard but when no one was around Johnny would work the hand as much as he could stand. His reputation was available to anyone who was willing to try and kill him,and right now that would be easy to do. Sitting in his chair by the window Johnny had his colt in his hand trying to cock it but just couldn’t get the hammer back. His fingers barely curved around the grip he once held with ease. Sitting there frustrated Johnny didn’t hear his father come into his room. Trying again Johnny cursed as his hand failed again. He just couldn’t get his thumb to come up and pull the trigger back.

Murdoch stood and watched his son trying desperately to hold and work the gun in his hand. When Johnny cursed Murdoch let his presence be known. “ Son, maybe I can help you?”

Johnny looked at his father. “ I doubt it, unless you got an extra right arm or hand around.” Johnny said with a touch of coldness to it.

Murdoch walked over to his son. “ Give me the gun John.”

“ Why, you afraid I’m gonna shoot myself old man?”

Murdoch ignored his sons sarcastic words. “ No son, I want to try something with you and you can’t do it with the gun in your hand.” Murdoch stated as he took the pistol.

“ Might as well just shoot me old man. I’m worthless on this ranch to have around.”

“ No your not John. I don’t want to hear you talking like that ever again.”

“ Why, it’s true. I can’t do any ranch work with only one arm. I sure as hell can’t defend myself so it’s just a matter of time before a bullet ends it. I’d rather be killed by a loved one than a stranger looking to build their reputation up.” Johnny said with sarcasm.

Murdoch could feel for his son. He understood why Johnny was feeling like he was. Dragging another chair over next to his son Murdoch sat down and reached for Johnny’s right hand. “ John I want you to squeeze my hand as hard as you can son.”

Johnny looked at his father and could see the man was genuinely concerned and wanted to help him. With determination Johnny squeezed his fathers hand as hard as he could as sweat ran down his forehead.

“ Come on son squeeze my hand damn it.” Murdoch ordered.

Johnny was getting tired, but more so he was getting mad. Mad that he wasn’t in control of his body for the first time ever. Summoning Madrid Johnny gave his father a hard look and squeezed again. This time Murdoch could feel it good.

“ That’s it son. Keep it up. The Johnny I know isn’t a quitter. You going to let something as little as a bullet beat you?”

Johnny knew what his father was doing saying what he was. With more determination he squeezed harder. “ I’m not a quitter.” Johnny said with anger as sweat ran into his eyes.

Scott had walked in and watched his brother and father. Inside he was proud of what he was witnessing. His brother was a fighter and Scott knew with the right amount of encouragement, and against Sam’ order’s Johnny would get the use of his hand and arm back. Murdoch and Scott had had several discussion’s about what to do to help Johnny. Both men knew Johnny wouldn’t be able to work the ranch for some time, let alone drive the horses to Fort Bowie four hundred miles southeast through Apache territory.

Johnny was done in and slumped back in his chair exhausted. Looking over at the door he smiled. “ Seems we have an audience Murdoch, hey brother.”

Scott walked into the room. “ Hey yourself brother. Does Sam know you’re doing that?”

“ No, and I don’t give a damn what he says. I need my arm back Scott.”

“ Easy brother.” Scott said putting his hands up. “ Murdoch, Hank needs a word with you sir.”

Murdoch stood up. “ Johnny you do that a couple times a day with me and we will get your hand  stronger and when Sam takes the wrap off your arm we can work on strengthening that back up too.”

“ Uh yeah. Hey Murdoch you might want to let your Captain Collins know I won’t be bringing them horses to him.”

Murdoch looked at his son. “ I’ll send Jack a telegram telling him you have been delayed by an injury and that you will be delivering them horse to him son. And I don’t want to hear any argument about it.”

Johnny worked hard every day with his father strengthening his hand and arm for eight weeks once Sam let him have his arm free. On this day Johnny and Scott rode out to a small canyon just south of the ranch so Johnny could practice his draw. “ Murdoch tell you what his Captain friend said in response to his telegram?”

“ Yeah, why you think I’m working so hard brother to get my arm and hand working. Fall ain’t that far off and actually it will be better for the horses traveling that far.” Johnny said as he adjusted the gun on his hip. Talking to Scott  and drawing Johnny fired and hit to the right above the can. Re-holstering his pistol Johnny took  a few deep breaths and cleared his mind. Bringing Madrid out Johnny drew again and this time hit the can sending it flying into the air. Even though he hit the can and continued to hit it, Johnny knew his draw was slow. His brother did nothing but keep encouraging him to do it again and do it better. After a couple hours and two boxes of ammo Johnny stopped. “ That’s enough for the day I think brother.”

Scott walked over and placed an arm around his brothers shoulder. “ Little brother you are going to be back to full Madrid form on your draw in no time.”

Johnny looked at his brother. This was the first time Scott had called him Madrid freely like he just did.

“ Thanks Boston.” Johnny said as he walked over to Barranca and tightened his cinch up. “ Hey Scott.”

“ Yeah Johnny.”

“ I was wondering if you wanted to ride into town tonight. It’s Friday and well I could use a good fuck.”

“ Little brother you do so have colorful way with words. I’d love to ride into town and have a cold beer with you. As far as the……recreational part of it I’ll leave that to you brother.” Scott said with a grin.

Johnny and Scott rode into the yard as Murdoch walked out of the barn. “ Boy’s how’d it go?” Murdoch asked. He knew they went out so Johnny could practice his draw.

“ Slow. But I’ll get it back.” Johnny said with determination in his voice.

Murdoch smiled. “ Good, that’s the attitude I want to hear from my son.”

“ Uh hey Murdoch me and Scott was going to ride into town for a cold beer and a hot woman. You want to join us? You could keep Scott company while I get fucked.”

Murdoch scowled at the language his son used. “ A cold beer sounds good son. Maybe I will. On one condition though.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“ John could you please stop with the language. Especially in the house where Maria might hear it.”

“ Oh don’t worry Murdoch. I don’t plan on making that mistakes ever again. Maria can hit pretty good with that wooden spoon of hers.” Johnny said with a smile as he led Barranca into the barn.

Murdoch looked at Scott. “ How’s he doing really son?”

“ Johnny has come a long way sir. I think if he keeps it up he’ll be back to as good as he was by the time he takes the horses to Arizona. Excuse me.” Scott said as he led his horse into the barn.

Murdoch smiled. One thing his youngest was was a fighter. Never before had he known anyone with so much heart, will and determination to accomplish something. It seemed that no matter what the task Johnny bucked up and faced it head on. With pride inside Murdoch headed inside. Tonight was going to be a special night. Tonight he was going to town and have a few beers with his two sons like a father and sons should do.

 Johnny was brushing Barranca down when Scott walked into the barn to take care of his horse.

“ You going to ride that spoiled horse to town tonight brother?”

“ Naw, he needs a rest after today. I need him in good condition for the drive. The would is healed but I want to give him a good rest still.”

Scott shook his head as he watched the two together.

“ You know brother, I’m surprised the old agreed to come with us tonight.” Johnny said as he led Barranca into his stall.

“ I’m more surprised that you invited him along Johnny. Tell me though, you still going to……..”

“ Damn straight I am brother. Just because the old man’s along doesn’t change the reason I’m going to town.”

“ So then I take it that while you are upstairs I’m supposed to what, entertain our father?”

Johnny came out of Barranca’ stall and closed the gate. “ That’s up to you brother. I got a gal at the Red Palace that is fantastic in bed and well lets just say that that hour is gonna be good.”

“ You know little brother I think I will take your word on that.”

Johnny smiled as he came over and wrapped his left arm around his brothers shoulder. “ Maybe you could talk the old man into going upstairs with a girl.”

“ Oh no Johnny. I am doing no such thing. If our father wishes for that kind of recreation then he can make that decision on his own.”

The three Lancer men rode into Green River. Hitching their horse’s outside the Red Palace saloon, Murdoch and Scott walked up the steps to the swingin doors. Johnny hesitated a little as he always did when entering an establishment. Sitting at a table in a corner with his back to the wall as always Johnny looked around the room at the men. A very familiar voice followed by a hand running down the front of his shirt brought Johnny back to the table he was sitting at. “ Buy a gal a drink good lookin?”

“ Sara.” Johnny said as the girl moved around to his right and sat on his leg.

“ Johnny, I heard about what happened in Morro Coyo. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Johnny poured a shot from the bottle of Tequila he was sharing with his brother and father. “ Yeah, I’m fine.”

“ Good , so who are these two good looking men?”

Johnny smiled. “ Sara, this is my brother Scott and my father Murdoch Lancer.”

“ Sara.” Scott said.

“ Young lady.” Murdoch said as he looked at how young the girl was. He couldn’t help but be a little surprised that his son allowed the girl to sit on his lap, especially his right side like Johnny was.

“ So.” Sara started before downing the shot. “ What brings you into town? A cold beer and some hot sex Johnny?”

“ I do like the way you think Sara.” Johnny said as he felt Sara’ hand run up to his hardening cock. “ My old man and brother here knew why I was coming to town and they can entertain each other while me and you go upstairs.” Johnny said as he bounced his leg to get Sara to stand up. “ Uh, I’ll see you two later. Scott try and keep our father out of trouble.”

Scott nodded as he watched his brother head upstairs. Looking at his father he could see the disapproval on his face. “ Something wrong sir?”

“ She seems awfully young to be working in here.”

“ Who Sara?” Scott asked.

“ Yes, she looks younger than your brother.” Murdoch stated. He couldn’t help but wonder if the women his son did bed were all young like that? Or did his son bed whoever he could?

“ I don’t know about that sir. I’m sure she’s not too young though. I don’t think Johnny would……..”

“ Wouldn’t he Scott? Teresa was just a child and your brother.”

“ With all due respect sir. Johnny is a grown man and Teresa was anything but a child sir. I watched the two of them together. It was Teresa who went after Johnny sir.”

“ He could have refused her advances son. Any decent man would have. Teresa was to young, she was unsure of her feelings she was having and…….”

“ And I believe sir that this conversation should stop here.”

“ You think Johnny has any?”

“ Johnny has any what?”

“ Kids, I can’t help but wonder if my son has gotten any woman with child and ignored it.”

“ Do you really believe that Johnny would do that to a woman sir?”

Murdoch looked at his oldest. “ I don’t know son. I’m still getting to know your brother and, well I just hope he’s careful that’s all. Come on son let’s go see if we can join in that poker game. I have a feeling your brother is going to be upstairs awhile.” Murdoch said standing.

“ I do believe you are right.” Scott said glancing upstairs as he stood and followed his father over to the poker table.

“ Gentlemen, mind if me and my son join you?”

“ Not at all Lancer. It will be nice trying to win some of your money.”

Murdoch and Scott sat down and got ready for an evening of relaxation, poker and beer. Murdoch just wished his youngest was with them instead of upstairs.

Johnny followed Sara up to her room and once inside he grabbed her up in his arms and delved his tongue deep inside her mouth hungrily after she closed the door. When he let her go it was just long enough to undo his gun belt. Sitting it in the chair by the bed, Johnny grabbed Sara and pulled her into his chest again as his mouth and tongue claimed her again.

Sara reached down and started undoing Johnny’s pants belt as she moaned into his mouth. Her tongue and lips worked, sucking and licking on his. Getting the belt undone Sara  undid his pants and slid her hand down inside them to Johnny’s throbbing rock hard cock and started stroking.

Johnny never took his mouth from Sara’s as he reached down and slid his pants down his slender hips. Walking backwards to the bed Johnny turned Sara around and gently pushed her onto the soft mattress.  Kicking off his boots Johnny started undoing his shirt as he smiled down at Sara who was undoing her dress front baring her breast.

“ I missed you Johnny.” Sara said as she sat up to remove her arms from the dress.

“ You did huh, why?” Johnny asked as he leaned down and started sucking on her breast hungrily.

“ Oh yeah, oh Johnny, I think you know why.” Sara said more as a statement than a question.

Johnny looked up at her as he sucked on first the left breast then the right one. Biting and pulling on the nipple gently Johnny slid his right hand down between Sara’s legs to the moist wetness his cock throbbed to be in. Sliding two fingers inside her hole. “ So what’d ya miss the most?” Johnny asked as he moved up to claim her lips again hungrily.

“ Just you Johnny and the gentle but wonderful way you made me feel last time. A girl could get used to that kind of sex real easy.” Sara said before Johnny claimed her mouth. Reaching down she took his cock in her hand and started working it. “ Let me taste you Johnny. I want you in my mouth. I want to feel you shoot your seed down my throat.”

Johnny stood up and watched as Sara scooted to the edge of the bed and started swirling her tongue around the tip of his cock. He didn’t think he would be able to hold out long but he was determined to enjoy this part as long as it lasted. One thing Johnny really liked was watching his cock slide in and out of a whores mouth. That was if she was any good at it. He had had a few he could remember who didn’t know really how to work a cock both with their hand, mouth and tongue as they sucked him off. Throwing his head back Johnny started thrusting his hips in rhythm to Sara’s. When Sara reached up and started rubbing his balls Johnny couldn’t hold back any longer. Feeling his climax start Johnny grabbed Sara’s head and fucked her mouth. “ OH yeah Sara, suck my cock hard girl, suck it. Oh Madre de dios por favor.”

Sara didn’t suck off many of her customers, but Johnny, Johnny was one man she really took pleasure in pleasing. The man had a cock that would satisfy any woman’s  needs and he knew how to do just that. Most of her customer’s just wanted her to lay down and spread her legs so they could do a few thrust and release. Hell most of the cowboys she bed would be so drunk they couldn’t even perform in bed and would pass out. When Johnny grabbed her head Sara knew he was done for. Sucking his cock as hard as she could as it slid to the back of her throat Sara moaned as Johnny’s seed shot down her throat.

Johnny stood there on trembling legs as Sara sucked his cock until she was sure he was done releasing. Johnny moved his hands down and gently pushed Sara to lay back down. Getting down on his knee’s Johnny smiled up at Sara before he spread her legs more and claimed her mound with his mouth. Sucking and licking her folds as he slid his fingers inside her again. He knew his cock would respond and get hard again by the time he was ready to thrust inside her. Sucking on her clit Johnny ran his hands up and started playing with Sara’s breast. Squeezing them and pinching the nipples. Sliding another finger inside her, Johnny worked his fingers in and out spreading them apart as he did so his entrance would be easier on her. He didn’t want to be rough or hurt her this time. He had been Sara’s first man and he wanted the pleasure to be one they both enjoyed.

Sara bucked her hips as Johnny sucked her mound. Moaning and writhing around Sara lost it as she felt her climax start. Grabbing Johnny’s head Sara raised up some and just about screamed as she climaxed.

Johnny felt Sara’s muscles tighten and knew she was climaxing. Sucking harder he sucked her mound as he pumped her hole with his hand. Taking his left hand Johnny reached down and stroked his cock hard. When he was sure her climax had stopped Johnny rose up and placed his cock at her dripping hole and let it slide gently inside her. Once he was completely inside Johnny leaned down and delved his tongue deep inside Sara’s mouth working his tongue all around claiming parts of her mouth with his no man had. Johnny had a natural talent when it came to kissing a woman. He knew how to start her out and slowly bring her to wanting more. Moving his hips in a slow circular motion Johnny felt Sara dig her fingertips into his back. Moving slow he withdrew his cock to the tip then slid back in while continuing a circular motion with his hips. Raising up on his hands Johnny looked down at Sara and smiled. “ Like that do you?”

Sara raised up and grabbed Johnny around the neck and delved her tongue inside his mouth. “ Fuck yes. Oh god Johnny fuck me. Fuck me hard.”

“ Not this time girl. I’m gonna drive you crazy before I cum.” Johnny said as he started kissing and sucking on her neck.

“Oh Johnny, please fuck me hard. Please.” Sara pleaded

Johnny started thrusting in and out harder and faster as he pushed Sara back down and pulled her back into him. Raising her legs up so they rested on his shoulders Johnny drove his cock at a downward angle rubbing her clit as he did.

Sara grabbed the pillow and clenched it, turning her knuckles white as she pressed her head back into the pillow and jerked her hips as Johnny thrust inside her deeper than she thought any man could ever go. “ Oh my god Johnny. Don’t stop. Oh my god.”

Johnny knew he was fucking Sara in a way no other man had. He could tell just by they way she was acting and looked at him when he raised her legs up. Holding her hips Johnny drove his cock deeper inside her with every thrust as his climax started. He didn’t want to release yet so much to Sara’s disapproval Johnny stopped and pulled out. Reaching down he pulled Sara by the hand to stand in front

of him. “ You want to face me or on your hands and knee’s.” Johnny asked as he stroked his cock.

Sara gave her answer when she turned around and bent over the bed. “ Fuck me cowboy. Fuck me like there’s no tomorrow Johnny.” Sara said as she bent down and raised her butt up to his cock.

Johnny stepped forward and guided his tip to her wetness again  and thrust inside her deep, hard and fast. Slamming her ass cheeks hard Johnny reached around and started pinching and pulling on her clit as he thrust. Sweat ran down his face into his eyes. His chest glistened and his arms shined with sweat as he went deeper and faster. “ Fuck me back Sara. Come on fuck me girl.”

Sara thrust her hips back into Johnny when he thrust forward. Trembling like never before Sara couldn’t stop the scream of pleasure that came from her mouth as Johnny pulled her head back and claimed her mouth as he released his seed hard and deep inside her. Delving his tongue inside her mouth Johnny felt Sara moan as he started thrusting upward driving into her deeper yet as the two of them released together.

Laying on the bed in total satisfaction Sara watched twenty minutes later as Johnny cleaned up and got dressed. “ Johnny.”

“ Yeah.” he said strapping his gun on.

“ You.” Sara said getting up. “ You are one hell of a man in bed. If some woman ever corrals you into marriage, she is going to be one very lucky woman.”

Johnny laughed at this. “ Is that so?”

“ Oh yeah, trust me a woman really loves a man who knows how to please them in bed.”

“ Well I guess I’ll just have to keep pleasing you then cause I don’t plan on getting hitched any time soon.”

“ You can please me any time you want. And I take pleasure in pleasing you.” Sara said before kissing Johnny passionately.

Johnny sighed when the kiss broke. “ I could spend all night pleasing you girl. Your an addiction to a mans cock.”

“ Then do it.” Sara said with a smile.

“ I’d love to but as you know I didn’t come to town alone tonight. I’ll be back though.” Johnny said as he headed to the door after kissing her again and placing money on the table.

Murdoch and Scott sat at the table still playing poker when Johnny came downstairs. Scott could tell his brother had had a real good time by the smile on his face and the way he walked. Nodding slightly when Johnny walked over to the table after getting a beer.

Looking around the table Johnny could tell his father and brother where probably losing more than they won.

“ Want to join us Johnny?” Scott asked.

“ No thanks. I’ve already been cleaned out upstairs.”

Murdoch looked up at his son at that remark and couldn’t help wondering just what Johnny paid for sex.

Charlie, an old timer laughed. “ Them lassies upstairs can do that to you young man.”

Johnny smiled at the man as he pulled a chair over and sat between his father and brother. “ Yeah and it sure is good.” he said sitting down.

“ Oh I remember the days when I was young and all I thought about was getting a good….well I remember the days. I raise.”

Murdoch threw his cards in. “ Fold.”

Scott looked at his cards again. “ I’ll see you Charlie and raise you five, no ten dollars.” Scott said as he put the money on the pot.

Charlie looked across at Scott and smiled. “ Is that so, well young man I guess I’ll see your ten and raise you another ten.”

Johnny knew his brother had a full house. Sitting there he watched his brother look at the pot, then his hand. “ Call.” Scott said as he again put ten in the pot.

Charlie laid down his hand and laughed. “ Four ladies young man.”

“ Scott tossed his cards down showing Charlie he only had a Jack high straight. “ You play a good game Charlie. I think I’m gonna stop while I still have my clothes.” Scott said with a grin.

“ Me too Charlie. I think I’m going to go and enjoy a cold beer with my two sons.” Murdoch stated as he stood and stretched his back.

“ Well sons I think I’ll call it a night.” Murdoch stated as he finished off his beer.

“ I believe I will also sir.” Scott stated. ‘ How about you brother? You going to stay and have another beer or two?”

Johnny sat his mug down. “ Nope. I got what I came for brother.” Johnny said as he headed to the door bumping into Driscoll of all people as he started out the doors.

Driscoll gave Johnny a cold hard stare. “ watch were you’re walking breed.”

Johnny stopped. “ Hey Driscoll, any time you want we can settle this problem you seem to have with me.”

“ The only problem I have is a half breed killer living in this valley with decent folks.”

Johnny swung hard and knocked Driscoll down. “ You’re lucky you was unarmed that day ion Morro Coyo Driscoll, but I see you’re wearing a gun now.”

“ Johnny don’t.” Murdoch ordered with firmness as he stepped up to his son.

Johnny shot a harsh look at his father. “ Stay out of this Murdoch.” he ordered.

“ I can’t and won’t son.” Murdoch said as he turned to Driscoll. “ You ever talk to my son like that again Drscoll and you’ll find yourself not able to eat or talk for a very long time because I’m going to knock every damn tooth you got down your throat.”

Driscoll wiped the blood on his mouth with his sleeve. “ Is that so Lancer. Tell me something, you in here to fuck another whore and bring another half br…………”

Murdoch grabbed Driscoll and hit the man hard square in the mouth twice before Scott could stop him.

Johnny stood and watched his father with pride inside. Having someone stand up for him was something he would never get used to. At least he didn’t think he would. Having a father who was the total opposite of what he was told growing up was the main reason cause of that pride he felt inside.

Murdoch glared at Driscoll as he got his breathing under control. “ I told you to never speak to my son like that again and I meant it.” Murdoch said with anger as he shook Scott’ hand off him. Looking at Johnny Murdoch could see his son was a little taken a back at what he had just done.

Johnny looked at his father then turned and went to his horse leaving his father and brother standing there. Swinging up into the saddle Johnny turned the mare and headed home.

Murdoch stepped over to Scott after Driscoll walked away with a bloody mouth. “ Now what did I do wrong son?”

“ I don’t think it’s so much so much wrong sir as it is what you did.”

Murdoch gave Scott a very confusing look. “ I don’t follow you son.”

“ Johnny has had to take care of himself his whole life sir. My brother is not used to someone standing up for him. Johnny is used to dealing with people like Driscoll’s bigotry himself.”

“ I’m his father Scott, and as long as that boy is here and I am alive I will not let people talk to him like that.”

“ I understand that sir, but you need to remember the kind of life Johnny had growing up. I mean no disrespect to you and I am not saying it is your fault. But Johnny’s blue eyes have condemned him to just such treatment.”

“ I know son. Johnny has his grandfathers blue eyes. He’s the fourth child in the Lancer line to be born with them.” Murdoch said as he stepped down to his horse.

“ Sir. Have you thought about maybe talking to Johnny about his grandparents from either side of your marriage?”

“ Maria didn’t have anyone. She told me her parent’s were dead and that she was an only child.”

It was Scott’ turn to give his father a look of confusion now as he swung up on his horse. “ Really? Johnny mentioned he had an uncle who came to see him when he was little. Look maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I misunderstood what he was saying.”

“ Just what did he tell you son?”

“ Sir I don’t want to lose my brothers trust.”

“ I understand that Scott. I do and I respect that but please.”

“ Johnny told me this man came to a little shack he and his mother was living in and he was dressed real fancy. Johnny told me the man kept staring at him and when the man and his mother started arguing she made Johnny go outside. He told me he heard his mother yelling about never going back and never letting them see him. Johnny said  the man came out angry at his mother. He was standing there making over the horse and the man said something to Johnny before he rode off.”

 What did he say?”

“ I don’t know. Johnny wouldn’t say and I didn’t press him on it.”

“ So how does Johnny know this man was his uncle?”

“ When he went back in the shack after the man left he asked his mother who the man was and she said he ‘ used to be her brother ‘ Johnny said he asked her why  she never told him about his uncle and I guess she beat him for it and told him to never speak of the man again sir.” Scott said as he turned his horse and took off to catch up to his brother.

Murdoch had a hard time absorbing what was just said. The whole time he knew Maria she had told him she had no family. If Johnny had an uncle still alive in Mexico should he try and locate the man? His son did have a right to know his family.  Could Johnny find it too hard to deal with if his uncle was found? Could he himself handle it?  He didn’t want to go behind his son’s back ever again like he did before. He would wait till the time was right and talk to his son about his family and Scotland.

Murdoch and Scott never caught up to Johnny until about a mile from the ranch. Johnny was walking the mare to cool her down. The moon was full and bright in the sky. “ She alright brother?” Scott asked.

“ Yeah I was just walking her to cool her down.”

“ You alright son?” Murdoch asked looking down at his son.

Johnny stopped the mare. “ Yeah, sorry about riding off like that. I guess I’m still not used to someone….”

“ It’s alright son.” Murdoch said as he got off his horse. “ Scott why don’t you ride on ahead. I’d like to talk to your brother alone if I could.”

Scott gave a nod to his father and looked at Johnny and smiled.

When Scott smiled at him Johnny knew he wasn’t in trouble. “ See ya in the morning I guess brother.”

“ You will. Have a good walk you two.”  Scott said before riding off.

“ So what ya want to talk to me about?” Johnny asked as he started walking again.

Murdoch cleared his throat. “ Well son, about two things actually.”

“ Well, let ‘er buck.”

Murdoch smiled. The tone his son used he knew he wasn’t expecting trouble. “ Son it’s about you and your grandfather.”

Johnny stopped and looked at his father. “ Who?” he asked.

“ My father, your grandfather son.”

“ Never met the man. What about him?”

“ I know son, you and Scott both. Johnny do you know who you get your blue eyes from?”

Johnny laughed. “ I think maybe you had too much to drink pa. It’s pretty obvious I got my blue eyes from you.”

“ No son you didn’t. You have your grandfathers blue eyes son. Only four Lancer children have been born with them son. You are the last one.” Murdoch stated.

Johnny looked at the ground. “ Did my mother know this?” he asked barely above a whisper.

“ Yes son she did. Why?”

“ She said I was condemned because I got them from you.”

Murdoch walked closer and put an arm around his son. “ Johnny, you are not condemned son. Your blue eyes I know have led to you being persecuted because of me and your mother. I’m sorry.”

Johnny looked up at his father. “ Did you really love her? I mean when you slept with her was it because of lust or did you do it out of love?”

“ I loved your mother Johnny.”

“ That ain’t what I asked. I asked you if it was love or lust when you slept with her and got her pregnant?”

“ Why does it matter son?”

Johnny started walking again. “ Guess I just got my answer.”

“ Son wait.”

“ Why, you just told me Murdoch I was the result of your urgent sexual hunger.”

“ It wasn’t like that at all son. Your mother was…….”

“ My mother was a whore old man. You married her to try and change her because of me.”

This was not how Murdoch wanted their talk to go. His son could lose his temper so easy and turn a simple discussion into a heated argument just as fast as he went from Johnny Lancer to Johnny Madrid.

“ What about your mothers brother Johnny?”

Johnny stopped. He knew there was only one of two ways he could have known about that. “ You hiring Pinkerton’ again old man behind my back?”

“ No son I’m not.”

“ Yeah, then I guess my brother told you something he wasn’t supposed to.”

“ Johnny, your mother told me she had no living family son. If you have an uncle and he’s still alive wouldn’t you want to know him?”

“ Nope, he knew about me and never offered to help us out so I don’t give a damn about him.” Johnny said with coldness. “ Was that your two questions?”

“ No son. The other was have you thought about who you was taking with you to drive the horses to Fort Bowie?”

Walking again Johnny spoke. “ Yeah, I just ain’t so sure one of the men will want to come along.”

“ Why do you think that son/ All the men like you and respect you son.”

“ Because he ain’t no hand, but I would really like him to come along.”

“ So ask him son. It’s none of my business what you are going to pay your hands son but if you really want this man along.”

Johnny stopped again. Rubbing the mares head. “ So you sayin that because I know this man is good with horses and knows the area I’m headed into, and I could use his advice, I should offer him more pay?”

“ No son I’m not saying that.”

“ Okay, how about a dollar a day plus food. I provide the remounts?”

“ That might get him to go along son.”

“ No……..that’s what I’m asking you old man.”

“ I’m not following you son.”

“ I would like you to go along Murdoch. Please.”

Murdoch’ heart stopped beating, he was sure of it. His son had asked him to come along with him because he might need him. Brimming with pride Murdoch walked up to his son. “ I’d love to son. I think your brother can manage the ranch with Hank’s help.”

“ Yeah. Your back will be okay for that long a ride. It’s four hundred miles there and four hundred miles back Murdoch.”

“ I know how far it is son. My back might protest at times but I would love to accompany you.”

“ Good you can keep me out of trouble and maybe at night tell me about your father some.”

“ I’d like that son. I’ll tell you something else I’d like son.”

“ Yeah, what’s that?”

“ To ride the rest of the way home.”

.

Chapter 17

Johnny came downstairs the next morning and found his brother already up. “ Morning Boston.”

“ Why good morning brother. You seem to be in a chipper mood this morning. Anything I should know about?” Scott asked as he took a drink of his coffee.

“ Why, so you can tell Murdoch?” Johnny asked as he poured himself some coffee.

Scott set his coffee cup down and gave his brother a puzzling look. “ Tell Murdoch what Johnny?”

“ Oh I don’t know Boston, how about something private I told you a while back huh? Something that happened to me when I was a kid? Tell me something Boston. You tell the old man everything I have shared with you?”

“ No Johnny I don’t. Last night It slipped out when me and Murdoch was talking after you rode off. I suggested to him that maybe he should tell you about his side of the family is all. He said you got your blue eyes from his father.”

“ Oh I see and with that you thought you would tell him I had an uncle on my mothers side huh?”

“ Johnny, I didn’t mean too. I would never betray your trust and you know that.”

“ That’s just it you see, you did last night Scott and even though it was just that, you still betrayed my trust brother. A trust I don’t just allow to happen and you know it. So I’ll tell you what, since we are brothers how about I don’t tell you anymore about my past that I don’t want my father knowing about, that way you won’t have to worry about telling him anything.” Johnny said as he grabbed a couple biscuits from the table and walked out. Murdoch came downstairs as he was going out the front door.

“ Morning son.”

“ Morning.” Johnny said as he slammed the door.

Murdoch knew something had happened between his sons and he had a good idea what it was.  Walking into the kitchen he found Scott sitting with his head down. “ Morning son. What happened?”

Scott looked up. “ Oh nothing unless you take into account that because of what I told you last night my brother just informed me that he will no longer trust me again to talk to.”

Murdoch knew this was his fault. “ I’m sorry son. I said more than I should have last night. Your brother has such a way of turning a discussion into an argument.”

“ Did the two of you talk or fight?”

“ We talked but Johnny did lose his temper when I suggested we see if his uncle is still alive. Then he did something I still can’t believe.”

“ What’s that sir?”

“ Scott, do you think you could run this ranch with Hanks help for a while. It seems your brother would  like me to go with him to Arizona.”

Scott smiled. “ I think I can handle it sir. It will do you and Johnny good to do this together. Fact is I was hoping he would ask you along and not me.”

Murdoch didn’t respond to that. He didn’t have to because he knew perfectly well what his oldest son was saying to him. He and Johnny needed to be together more doing things and this was the perfect opportunity for the two of them.

Johnny was working the mare in the corral when he noticed two riders coming. He knew they weren’t hands because of the blue uniforms they both wore. Johnny watched the two men closely as they rode past up to the main house. Turning his attention back to schooling the mare Johnny mounted up and started loping her around the corral, putting her through the paces of what he had taught her so far.

Murdoch heard riders approach the house and stepped out onto the porch. When he seen who it was his face lite up with a wide smile.

“ Jack, Jack Collins you old scoundrel you.”

“ Murdoch Lancer, who you calling old?” the one man said as he dismounted and grabbed Murdoch’ hand.

“ What on earth are you doing clear out here Jack?”

“ What can’t I come see an old friend without a reason?”

“ Yes but Fort Bowie is a long way from California.”

The other man had turned and was watching Johnny. What he was watching he couldn’t believe. Turning back to his Captain. ‘ Uh sir.”

Both Jack and Murdoch looked up at the man still mounted. “ I’m sorry Corporal. Murdoch this is Corporal Collins.”

“ Not Jeff?”

“ The one and only. Only he’s all grown up now Murdoch.”

Murdoch stepped over and took the young mans hand in his and shook it. “ Get down son. Why the last time I saw you you was just a baby.”

“ Thank you sir. My father speaks very highly of you.” Jeff said dismounting. “ Uh who is the hand in the corral working the horse mister Lancer sir.”

Murdoch looked and seen his youngest working the mustang mare. “ That’s my youngest boy Johnny. The one I told you about Jack in the letter.”

Jack turned and started walking toward the corral.

“ He has a remarkable way with horses Jack, as you will see with this mare he’s working.” Murdoch said with pride as the three of them walked up to the fence and watched Johnny put the mare through her paces. When Johnny took the headset off and got back on, this got the two men’ attention fully.

“ Is he crazy to be riding her with no bridle?” Jeff asked.

“ Just watch Jeff. Johnny has been training this mare for several months now. He cut her from a herd he rounded up for you. Said he liked the way she looked and I have to tell you Jack, I have never seen a wild horse respond to a man the way they do my son.”

After watching Johnny for several more minutes Murdoch asked again why his friend was there.
 “ You going to tell me what brought you out here Jack?”

“ Your son did Murdoch. When I received your telegram saying he was unable to deliver the horses in the spring due to an injury, well I had some time off coming and thought I would ride out and see these horses for myself. If they are anything like that mare your boy is riding I can say they will be too small.”

“ I see, well the horses Johnny has for you Jack are bigger than her. They are good sound stock and will serve you good. Let’s go inside and have a glass of lemonade and you can discuss it with Johnny when he comes in.”

Johnny had the mare put away and headed to the house for a cool drink. When he walked inside he wasn’t prepared for who he found with his father.

“ Ah son, I would like you to meet Captain Jack Collins and his son Jeff. It seems they rode all the way out here to see the horses.”

Johnny just stood there when Jack turned and looked at him. “ Hello Johnny. I thought maybe your father was bragging about your ability with horses young man but after what I witnessed out there I see he wasn’t bragging enough.” Jack said as he walked over to Johnny to shake his hand.

Johnny stood there with his right hand down beside his gun not moving. When Jack walked up to shake his hand Johnny refused. “ Excuse me, I’m going to go get cleaned up for dinner.”

“ Johnny, Jack and his son are guest in this house and I expect you to show them respect.” Murdoch ordered.

Johnny looked hard at his father. “ They’re your guest Murdoch, not mine.” Johnny said before turning and walking out just as Scott walked in.

“ Hey brother, you and Stormy’ old friend is back at it again.”

Johnny stopped half way up the stairs. “ Who?”

“ That mountain lion that killed her mother, coming back from the north range with Hank we came upon a freshly killed horse. A stallion.”

Johnny stood there looking at his brother. Anger in his eyes. “ Which stallion Scott?”

“ Well little brother I’m sorry to tell you but it was the big black one. The one you believe to be Stormy’ father. He was cut up pretty bad. Looks like the cat jumped on his back and took him down.”

“ Fuck.”

Johnny, I will not tolerate that kind of language in this house and you know it.” Murdoch ordered.

“ Right now old man I don’t give a rats ass what you like.” Johnny said before turning and heading up to his room. The slamming of his door could be heard a minute later.

“ Well, perhaps I showed up at a bad time Murdoch.”

“ Nonsense Jack. I apologize for Johnny’s behavior. He’s been through a lot the last three months with being almost killed.” Murdoch said. “ Jack this is my oldest son Scott. Scott this is Captain Jack Collins and his son Jeff.”

Scott walked over and shook the men’ hands. “ Captain, You out here on business sir?” Scott asked.

“ Business and vacation you could say Scott.”

“ Scott, Jack came to see the horses your brother has broke for the army.” Murdoch said.

“ Well Captain I’m sure you will be pleased with what my brother has selected for the army. Johnny has a good eye for horse flesh.”

“ So I seen when I arrived.”

“ Son, have we lost any cattle to this cat?”

“ No sir. Not that we have discovered. It seems it has a taste for horse flesh sir.” Scott said as he went over to the side board and poured a drink. “ If you will excuse me sir, Captain I think I will go clean up for dinner.”

“ Scott, something is bothering your brother. See if you can get him to talk to you about it.”

“ After last night and what Johnny said to me this morning sir I doubt he will but I’ll ask.”

Johnny was in the bathhouse when Scott knocked and opened the door. “ Johnny, I’m sorry about the stallion brother.”

“ Yeah, thanks. So did the old man send you out here to talk to me?”

“ He wanted me to ask you what was bothering you. I told him I doubted you would tell me after last night, but I would ask.”

Johnny looked at his brother. “ Look Scott, I’m sorry about this morning. I know you didn’t mean any harm last night telling Murdoch what you did.”

“ It won’t happen again Johnny. You have my word on that brother. It seems the Captain rode a long ways to see the horses you have for the army.”

“ Yeah.” Johnny said with enough coldness that Scott picked up on it.

“ Is something wrong brother? You don’t seem too happy about the man being here.”

“ I’m going after that cat tomorrow Scott. You wanna come along?” Johnny said flatly changing the subject.

Scott knew something was wrong. His brother didn’t want to talk about the Captain and he figured that the two men had probably crossed paths in the past. The man was their fathers friend and Scott hoped that whatever it was Johnny wouldn’t be callous about it.

“ I’ll go with you brother , but Murdoch wanted us rounding up cattle to move before you leave with the horses.”

“ I’m going after that cat Scott, and I don’t care how long it takes to kill it.”

“ Alright. You know I’ll have your back no matter what brother.”

“ Yeah, I do brother.” Johnny said as he stood up and got out of the tub. “ Water is still hot for you.” he said grabbing a towel and drying his hair.

“ Thanks.” Scott said. One thing he had learned about his brother fast was Johnny was not shy about being naked in the presence of his father or brother.

Johnny didn’t join in the conversation at dinner that night. When dinner was finished and they had all moved to the living room to enjoy an after dinner drink  he finally spoke. “ I’m going after that cat tomorrow Murdoch, and I’m taking Scott with me.” he said flatly.

Murdoch finished pouring a drink and  looked at his son. “ No son I need you and Scott helping to round up the cattle tomorrow and move them to the north range. That cat isn’t killing cattle so it will keep until the cattle are moved.”

“ I don’t think so old man.” Johnny said firmly. “ If it was killing your precious cattle you would have it killed.”

“ Johnny I gave you an order young man and I expect you to do as you’re told. That cat will wait and that’s final.”

“ You move them cattle to the north range and that cat will start attacking them. How many cattle or calves you willing to lose?”

Murdoch knew he wasn’t going to stop his son from going after the cat. “ Fine, help round up the cattle and when you and Scott get them to the north range then you can go after the cat.”

“ Nope, me and Scott are leaving at first light after that cat and that’s final old man.” Johnny said with a challenging voice.

“ Have you forgotten who calls the tune around here young man?”

“ Nope, but as a third owner of this ranch I have a say when it comes to the safety of the men working this ranch and the livestock on it.”

Scott was going to intervene but when his brother came back with that remark he couldn’t help but grin.

“ Uhm Murdoch if I may?” Jack started. “ How about my son accompanies your boys tomorrow while me and you catch up on old times.”

Murdoch looked at his friend then back to Johnny. It was clear on his face he wasn’t at all happy with his son ignoring his authority.

“ Very well Jack. Scott would you mind Jeff riding along with you and Johnny tomorrow?”

“ I don’t mind it sir. What about you Johnny?”

Johnny looked hard at his father then at Jeff. “ This ain’t gonna be no Sunday picnic. Stay out of my way and do as you’re told.” Johnny said before leaving the room and going outside.

“ Scott I assure you I am quiet capable of handling myself.”

“ I don’t doubt that the least. You any good at chess?”

“ Chess, no I’ve never played the game.”

“ I see. How about checkers?”

“ Checkers I have played a few times around the fort.”

.

Johnny was spoiling Barranca when the Captain walked into the barn some time later. “ I hope you don’t think I overstepped my boundaries in there Johnny.”

Johnny didn’t answer the man as he moved around to the right of his stallion.

Jack walked up to Barranca and reached to pet the horse and barely jerked his hand back in time from being bit.

“ He don’t like strangers.” Johnny said.

Jack stepped back a few steps. “ So I see. He’s a beautiful horse. Is he for sale?”

“ Not in a million years Captain.”

“ Everything has a price Johnny. I’d give you five hundred dollars for him. And three hundred for the mare you was working in the corral when I arrived.”

“ Out of respect for my father Captain I’ll tell you in a way you might better understand. Three horses on this ranch will never be sold for no amount of money. Barranca here. Stormy and the mare you seen me riding.”

“ Well the way I see it your father is the owner of the livestock on this ranch and I’m sure he will say otherwise if the offer is right.”

Johnny stepped out of Barranca’ stall and closed the gate. “ Not when it comes to my horses he don’t. And just in case you think I’ve forgotten Captain. I remember you and your men and what you did in Nogales. If I had known it was you buying the horses I wouldn’t sell them to you. But I’m a man of my word.”

“ Tell me something Madrid…….does Murdoch know you killed three union soldiers in Mexico huh? I wonder what your father would think if he knew his half breed son gunned down for soldiers and all because of some low life Mexican  peasant.”

Johnny stepped up to the Captain and started to say something when Scott walked into the barn. “ Am I interrupting something brother?”

“ No Scott. The Captain here was just leaving.”

“ Yeah, no Scott. Me and Johnny was just discussing what a fine animal he has in this stallion is all. Johnny I’ll talk to you again before I leave.” Jack said before walking out.

Scott could tell he had come in at the right time. Something was said between the two and he knew from his brothers stance it was not good.

Johnny and Scott sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee when Jeff Collins came down. “ Morning Johnny, Scott.”

“ Morning Jeff. Care for some coffee?” Scott asked.

“ Thank you yes please.” Jeff responded as he sat down. “ Johnny my father told me last night that he might know you from Arizona no wait Mexico…..yeah that’s it. He said you wasn’t going by Lancer though. What was that name he said you went by?………Madrid that’s it. Is that true? Are you the famous Johnny Madrid?”

Johnny stood up. “ I think you should mind your own business Jeff. Might stay alive longer doing that. I’m going to go get the horses ready Scott. I’ll meet you outside.” Johnny said as he headed to the back door.

“ Johnny wait. I didn’t mean anything by asking you. It’s just that Madrid is a famous gunfighter and someone I would really like to meet is all.”

“ Madrid is dead okay Jeff. Leave it alone. Madrid ain’t no famous person. Madrid was a gunfighter, nothing more.” Johnny said before walking out and slamming the door.

“ Scott it is him ain’t it? Johnny I mean.”

“ Johnny is Johnny Lancer now Jeff. Madrid was a part of his past he want’s to put behind him.” Scott said as he stood up. “ Unless you want my brother royally pissed off at you, you’d be smart to forget about Madrid and not mention him again.”

Murdoch took Captain Collins out to the corrals holding the horses. Five corrals Forty feet  by one hundred feet held  twenty five horses per corral in them. “ Mostly mares I take it?” Jack asked as he looked the horses over.

“ Yes. Johnny chose only the best from the round-ups. They are all broke and ready to ride.”

“ Good……You know Murdoch I could be wrong but I think I know your son from down in southern Arizona only he wasn’t going by Lancer. His name was Johnny Madrid.”

Murdoch cleared his throat. “ Johnny used to be Johnny Madrid. But he’s given that life up and come home to be a rancher.”

“ Really? From what I heard about Madrid he is the fastest gunfighter alive in these parts Murdoch. Surely you can’t be happy with that? I mean having a son whose a gunfighter.”

“ Jack, my son is a hard worker and has given that life up. He’s not a gunfighter anymore.”

“ I heard Johnny Madrid was wanted for murder in Texas. He’s also wanted for murder in Kansas.”

“ Johnny is not wanted for murder in any state Jack. Lets get one thing clear right here, right now. My son did what he had to do to stay alive in Mexico and those border towns. I don’t hold that against him and I am proud to call him my son.”

“ Would you feel the same way if you knew he did commit murder in Nogales, Mexico Murdoch?”

“ What the devil are you talking about Jack?”

“ Your son committed murder and because it was in Mexico the United States can’t prosecute him for it.”

“ What murder and how do you know of this?” Murdoch asked with anger in his voice.

“ I’m sorry to tell you this Murdoch but your son murdered three Union soldiers down there. I know because those men were in my unit. Look if you don’t believe me Murdoch ask him. Asked Johnny about it.”

“ When was this supposed to have happened Jack?”

“ Three years ago late summer. Madrid lit out for Colorado I believe after he did it. The Rurales had no luck catching him for it.”

.

Johnny, Scott and Jeff rode the better part of the morning to the north range. Once Johnny reached the canyon he knew the cat was in he slowed Barranca to a walk.

“ This the canyon you found Stormy in brother?”

“ Yeah, keep your eyes and ears open boy. Mountain lions like to surprise their prey by dropping on them from above so stay out from under the trees.” Johnny ordered.

“ You know Johnny, I know I upset you back at the house this morning. But for your information I’m not a child. I happen to be nineteen.”

Barranca started fidgeting around and snorting. “ I know amigo. I feel his eyes on us.” Johnny said. “ Scott.” Johnny said as he took his rifle out.

“ Yeah Johnny.” Scott answered as he did the same.

“ What, what’s wrong? Is the cat near?” Jeff asked.

Just then Jeff’ horse panicked and started rearing and wanting to bolt. Johnny turned Barranca and raised his rifle as he did.

Jeff above you.” Scott yelled just as the cat leaped and then cried out in pain, jerked in mid air and fell to the ground dead.

Johnny aimed and fired just as the big cat jumped. Knowing his shot was off just a little Johnny shot the cat again after it was on the ground just to make sure it was dead. Looking at his brother Johnny got down. “ Get that damn horse under control Jeff…….Now.”

Jeff finally got his horse to calm down. The horse was still nervous as Jeff got down. Walking over he noticed Johnny checking the cats feet. “ Uh, what are you doing?”

Johnny ignored him as he checked the cats teeth also. “ Scott this isn’t the cat that killed Stormy’ mother.”

“ Okay now how do you know that? I mean all cats are alike.” Jeff said before Scott could respond.

“ Scott this one is younger. The cat we want is bigger and missing a toe on the right hind. Also it’s missing teeth.” Johnny said as he headed back to Barranca.

“ Missing teeth, yeah right.” Jeff said sarcastically.

Johnny grabbed Jeff and pulled him to him. “ Yeah it’s missing teeth. All you gotta do is look at the bite marks on its kill. I guess the Cavalry don’t teach you very well on how to track the correct prey do they boy?” Johnny said before shoving Jeff backwards. “ Get on your damn horse.” Johnny ordered before walking to Barranca and swinging up in the saddle.

Scott rode up next to Johnny after Jeff got mounted. “ Hey, you alright brother?”

Johnny looked back at Jeff then at his brother. “ I don’t much like bein an babysitter Scott. He’s got no business out here with us.”

“ Are you sure it’s Jeff that has you upset and not his father?”

“ I don’t know what you’re talkin about.”

“ I think you do brother. What was going on last night in the barn between you and mister Collins?”

“ Nothing Scott.”

“ Well now you see Johnny I have a hard time believing that. Care to know why brother?”

Johnny didn’t answer.

“ Because I know you Johnny and the way you was standing and as close as you was to him. I would say you little brother was fixing to hit the man.” Scott stated. “ You know him don’t you?”

Johnny looked back at Jeff again. “ Yeah I know him Scott. Three years ago I crossed paths with him in Nogales when I was heading to Colorado.”

“ I take it brother that Collins did something that involved you?”

“ Not him directly but yeah you could say it involved me.” Johnny said as he reined Barranca around a boulder. “ Collins was across the border for whatever reasons with a small regiment of men and three of his men decided they was going to have what they called ‘ fun ‘ with this old farmer who came into town.”

“ What did they do?”

“ They started harassing him and shooting at his Burro. They thought it was funny and when one of them walked over to him The old mans Burro kicked the guy in the balls dropping him to the ground. People laughed at him including the old man and the guy got up and shot the Burro dead but that wasn’t enough. They also shot the old man Scott. An old man who wasn’t doin nothin wrong.”

“ Johnny, what did you do?” Scott asked not really wanting to hear the answer.

“ I walked over to the old man layin there dead and they was laughing at the fact at what they just done.”

“ Johnny what did you do brother?”

“ I killed them Scott. I shot all three of the dead.”

“ Scott stopped his horse. “Johnny do you realize what you did? You killed three Union soldiers brother. The army will want to convict and hang you for that.”

“ It was in Mexico Scott. Union troops don’t have no jurisdiction across the border.”

“ You’re not across the border now brother. Captain Collins knows you. He seen you do this and now he knows where you are Johnny. That man can come back with a regiment and arrest you.”

“ I don’t think so brother. He would have to do some explainin as to why he was across the border drinkin and such.”

“ That may very well be brother. But you killing three Union soldiers is a far more harsh punishment than getting drunk.”

“ What are you two talking about?” Jeff asked.

“ Nothing that concerns you.”

“ I heard some of what you two said. You are Madrid. No cowhand I ever saw wears a gun like you do.”

Johnny turned in his saddle. “ I told you………”

Johnny look out.” Scott yelled as a huge mountain lion jumped onto his brothers horse.

Barranca started bucking and kicking out, rearing up causing Johnny with the weight of the cat to fall off backwards. The cat scrambled away as Scott fired several shots at it. Barranca took off and Johnny laid on the ground trying to get air back in his lungs.

“ Johnny.” Scott said with fear in his voice as he dismounted and ran to his brother. “ Johnny you alright?”

“ Yeah…….It…didn’t…….get me. Just knocked…….. the wind out of me……..I’m alright. Help me stand up.”

Scott pulled his brother up and checked for himself to make sure the cat hadn’t scratched or bitten his brother.

Johnny let out a loud whistle as he picked up his hat. “Barranca.” Johnny yelled before whistling again. A moment later his stallion came trotting back to him. “ I know amigo. It’s alright.” Johnny said before spinning and drawing his gun. The cat was on the rocks behind them and the fear in Barranca’ eyes told Johnny so.

Scott seen the cat and fired his rifle hitting the cat in the head with the first shot.

“ Wow that was fast Johnny. I never seen anyone draw and shoot that fast. I knew you was Madrid I knew it. Oh man my father was right. I can’t wait to tell the guys back at the fort I gotta see Johnny Madrid draw.”

“ Shut up Jeff.” Scott ordered. He knew his brother wasn’t going to tolerate the way Jeff was going on.

“ My brother is not Madrid any longer so stop calling him that.”

“ It’s alright Scott, let him go on.” Johnny said as he walked up to Jeff. “ You go ahead and tell your friends about me Jeff. And the first time someone shows up callin me out because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut…….I’m gonna come to Fort Bowie and shut it for you….permanently. Do I make myself clear to you?”

Jeff swallowed hard. “ Yeah sure Johnny. I understand.” he said with a quiver to his voice.

Johnny walked over to the cat and checked it out like the other. “ It’s the one Scott.” He said walking back a few minutes later. “ Good shooting brother.”

“ Thanks brother. You sure you are alright Johnny?” Scott asked with concern. He knew his brother never said when he was injured or hurting and after witnessing Johnny face down Jackson in the condition he was in then, Scott knew that if his brother was hurt they wouldn’t find out until back at the ranch or that night.

“ Yeah Scott. I’m alright. Honest brother the cat didn’t get me.” Johnny said swinging into the saddle.  “Lets go home.”

“ You bet brother. I have had enough excitement today.”

.

The boys rode into the yard late afternoon. Jack and Murdoch walked out to the three as they dismounted.

“ Did you get the cat Scott?” Murdoch asked.

“ Yes sir. In fact we killed two cats.”

“ Yeah the second one almost got Johnny.” Jeff blurted out.

“ What?”

“ It jumped on Barranca and me is all.” Johnny said as he walked his horse to the barn.

“ Scott, is your brother alright?”

“ He’s fine sir. The cat didn’t get a chance to hurt him thanks to Barranca rearing up.”

“ Are you alright son?”

“ Yeah…..I’m fine sir. Excuse me but I need to take care of my horse.” Scott stated as he shot Collins a hard look before walking away.

Murdoch watched his son walk away.

“ What about you Jeff?” his father asked.

“ Me, I’m great. You was right father. He is him.” Jeff said before walking away.

Murdoch knew Jeff was talking about Johnny and who he used to be. What Jack had told him earlier came back. His son had killed three Union soldiers. Shot them down in cold blood from what Jack had said. Shot them down for no reason. Murdoch knew that even though the killings happened in Mexico, the Union Army could come after his son and arrest him for those murders. Especially since the army knew Johnny Madrid was still alive and living as Johnny Lancer on the biggest cattle ranch in Southern California. Something else bothered the Lancer patriarch. What was Jacks motives for telling Murdoch?  Granted it was on a whim that the man would run into Madrid ever again but still Murdoch couldn’t help but wonder why? Did his friend find out that Johnny was still alive and just not know that Johnny Madrid was really Johnny Lancer his son? Murdoch turned and started toward the house when it hit him. Could Jack be up for a promotion? Could his son be the scape goat to guarantee a promotion? If that was the why Jack would look real good riding back to the fort with Johnny Madrid in tow for the murder of three soldiers. Murdoch was glad he would be accompanying his son on this drive. Another thought came to mind though. Should he mention to his son what Jack had said or should he keep quiet about it? Murdoch didn’t want secrets from his son so tonight after Jack and his son have turned in Murdoch would talk to his son and tell him what Jack had told him happened. He had made the mistake once before of thinking his son did commit murder in Utah and that mistake he had vowed to never make again. ‘ No, no son of mine would commit murder. Johnny didn’t kill those three soldiers without good reason if he did.’ Murdoch said to himself as he walked in the house.

.

Chapter 18

Johnny could tell something was wrong while eating dinner. He had learned a long time ago how to read the signs and tonight all the signs clearly said ‘Something’ was wrong, and it had to do with him. Murdoch hardly spoke to him since he and Scott got back from killing the two cats. ‘ Maybe he’s mad at me for not going to help move the herd after.’ Johnny thought to himself. 

“ So what’d you do today Murdoch?” Johnny asked before taking a bite of roast.

“ I took Jack here out and showed him the horses you have broke John.”

Johnny hated when his father called him ‘ John’. It made him feel like a small child about to be punished.

“ Why did you go and help Hank move the heard after the cats where dead?”

‘ Here it comes.’ Johnny thought. “ Because I didn’t feel like lookin’ at them cows. Be seein’ enough of them tomorrow with castratin’ calves.”

“ You’re not castrating calves tomorrow John. Your brother can handle doing that.”

“ Oh really, and just what am I supposed to be doing then?”

“ I want you clearing the wash out up at Grand Creek and checking the dam up there.”

Johnny glanced at his brother then at Murdoch. “ Grand Creek, that’s the better part of a days ride from here Murdoch.”

“ Yes I know it is John. You can take a pack mule with you so you have supplies while up there.”

Johnny didn’t like it. Why was his father having him ride all that way to clear a wash and check the dam when it was just done in the spring. Inside Johnny had a feeling Collins was the main reason for this. “ So nobody is going with me I take it?”

“ No, you’re going alone? The hands will be busy with the hay and cattle and I can’t very well do it with guest.”

“ No don’t suppose you could old man.”

“ You know Johnny, if you was my son and you disrespected me like that you would find yourself unable to sit for a while.” Jack chimed in.

Johnny shot the man a hard look. “ Is that right? Well let me tell you something Captain. How I talk to my old man ain’t no concern of yours.”

“ Johnny, son please.”

“ It’s seems clear to me Murdoch that this boy of yours needs to be taught respect and manner.”

“ Johnny has respect and manners Captain. He and my father talk that way all the time.” Scott put in.

“ Calling your father an old man is not showing him respect. Neither is calling him by his given name as I am sure you are well aware of Scott, given your fine education and proper upbringing.”

“ You know what Collins, I may not have gone to no fancy college or grown up all proper like you say. There ain’t no fancy schools in Mexican border towns where I grew up.”

“ No I suppose not. I suppose that’s why you became Madrid? So you wouldn’t.”

Johnny stood up and threw his napkin down. “ Out of respect for my father and you bein his guest Captain I’m gonna ignore that remark. You know nothing about me or my past so I suggest you leave it be.” Johnny said before leaving the table.

“ I don’t know about you Murdoch but that boy needs to be taught respect.”

“ With all do respect Captain.” Scott said as he stood up. “ My brother does not need to be reminded of his lack of what you would call proper education. Johnny has learned more about respect and living than any one of us at this table could ever learn.”

“ I hardly consider a gun and killing people for money respect young man.” Collins said back as Scott started to walk away.

Scott stopped in the foyer. Nobody but him could see his brother sitting about half way up the stairs.

“ Jack, I will not allow you as a guest in my house to belittle my son. Johnny had a rough life growing up. It’s not his fault. His mother took him from me when he was two. The boy did the best he could all things considered.”

“ Of course Murdoch, you’re right. After all the boy can’t help his lack of parenting while growing up.”

“ Jack.” Murdoch stated as he threw his napkin down and stood. “ I cannot help they way my son grew up in those border towns. I tried to find him but his mother kept moving around. As for Johnny calling me by my name. That is an option I left to both my sons. Since they are both grown men I don’t have a problem with it.”

“ Very well. I guess I should apologize to you my friend for my behavior tonight. It was wrong and will not happen again.”

“ It’s not me you should apologize to Jack. Would you care to join me in a brandy out on the deck?”

“ Yes I would. Jeff?”

“ Yes sir.” was all Jeff said as he got up and followed the men out the french doors.

Johnny just sat on the stairs listening. His eyes where cold and barely open as he sat there. Scott had come up and sat down next to his brother as the two listened to their father and Collins. When Johnny was sure his father was outside, then and only then did he raise up and turn to go up to his room. Scott followed his brother to his door.

“ I’d like to be alone right now Scott.”

“ Johnny, we need to tell Murdoch what you told me today. Collins could………..”

“ Collins has already told Murdoch, Scott. Why you think the old man was the way he was with me tonight? Why you think he is sending me up to clear a creek and check a dam that was done not two weeks ago brother.”

“ If and I say if Collins did Johnny, I would be willing to bet he did not tell the whole story or truth to Murdoch.”

“ Oh you can bet on that.” Johnny said as he walked over to his bed but didn’t close his door.

Scott stepped into his brothers room and closed the door. “ Johnny, did you know you was wanted by the cavalry for those three soldiers deaths?”

Johnny walked over to his window and sat down in the chair by it. “ No I didn’t Scott. It happened in Mexico and Union soldiers got no………..”

“ Jurisdiction.”

“ Yeah jurisdiction across the border. The Rurales they weren’t too happy about them being in that town, but they did nothing because those blue coats was spendin money and bein good.”

“ You know little brother, if Collins allowed his men to kill that old man who’s to say he and his men have not killed other innocent people or done wrong before or even after that?”

“ I’ve been wondering the same thing Scott. Listen you was a Union soldier. You got any…………..”

“Scott put up a hand. “ I know what you are going to ask brother and as a matter of fact I do. I served with General Phil Sheridan.”

“ Oh yeah, the picture. The one you’re  all smarted up standing next too.”

“Yes that one Johnny. You going to go up to the dam like Murdoch wants you too?”

“ Yeah. It’ll do me good to get away and think for a couple days alone. I guess I won’t be selling them mustangs to the army huh?”

“ You can still sell them to the army brother. You just can’t deliver them to the army in Arizona.”

Johnny sat quiet for several minutes as he stared out his window. Scott was sitting on his bed knowing his brother was deep in thought. Once again Johnny’s past came back to him and once again it threatened to ruin his chance at being Johnny Lancer rancher.

“ You know that uncle I told you about Scott?” Johnny asked as he got up and walked over to his bed and sat down next to his brother. “ I hadn’t thought about him all this time and now.”

“ Now you want to know if he would like to see you?”

“ It seems that  my mother was good at two things Scott. Whoring and lying to me about my family.”

“ What are you saying little brother?”

“ I guess what I’m getting at Scott is that I would like to get to know him. Hell my mothers parents might even still be alive maybe.”

“ You going to ask our father to find out if he can?”

“ No. I’ll hire them Pinkerton agents to find out for me. The old man don’t need to know about it. Not yet anyways.”

“ I don’t think this is a good idea brother. Them Pinkerton’ are pretty expensive. Where are you going to get the money to hire them.?”

“ From the ranch account. I mean I am a third owner and so………”

“So you figure to go to the bank and take out a draft note for this only you’re going to say it’s for what the purchase of cattle or something?”

“ Yeah, this is a cattle ranch Scott. Who says the old man isn’t wanting to buy a couple good breeding bulls or something.”

“ Little brother I have to wonder about that mind of yours at times.” Scott said as he wrapped his arm around Johnny’s neck and pulled him into a hug.

“ Come on Boston. Lets go play us a game of chess.” Johnny said as he stood and headed to his door.

“ Sure brother. You know Jeff doesn’t even know how to play chess Johnny?”

“ Really?”

“ Yes really. I asked him the other night and he told me. He’s actually not very good at checkers either.”

Johnny couldn’t help but laugh as the brothers headed downstairs to the grand room.

Murdoch,Jack and Jeff came back into the house and found Johnny and Scott sitting near the fire playing a game of chess. Murdoch walked over and looked at the board. He could see Scott was in trouble. “ Your brother seems to have you in a bind son.” he said placing a hand on Scott’ shoulder and looking at Johnny.

Johnny looked up at his father and gave a small smile.

“ It seems my little brother has boxed me in tonight sir. But I will not surrender or  claim defeat just yet.”

“ Give it up Boston. I’m going to take your queen in the next move or two. I already have three of your knights and your king.”

“ Uhm Johnny.” Jack started. “ Johnny I would like to apologize to you for my behavior earlier. I was out of line talking to you the way I did.”

Johnny never looked up at Jack. “ Yeah well I guess that education you have don’t make you all that smart either does it Captain?”

Jack sighed. “ I’m offering you an apology, but I guess you are not man enough to accept it. Murdoch I believe I will turn in now. I think me and my son will head back to Arizona tomorrow.”

Scott could swear he saw a smile on his brothers face at this statement. “ Tell me something Captain. You ever hear of a General Phil Sheridan?”

“ Yes I heard of him. He is a very well respected General and served well in the war. The man is quite well know for his military strategies. Why do you ask?”

“ I served under him in the war and we became very good friends. In fact I correspond with him still. I was just wondering if you knew him was all.”

“ You served in the war Scott?”

“ Yes I did. In fact I know several high ranking officers from the war. My Grandfather Mister Harlan Garrett does quite a bit of business with the Union army.” Scott stated as he winked at his brother.

“ Yes well I’m sure he does. But I’m afraid I have never heard of a Harlan Garrett out here.”

“ That’s because my Grandfather lives in Boston.”

“ I see. Well I’m sorry but I still don’t know the name. If you will excuse me gentlemen I am going to turn in now. Jeff I think you should also son. We have a long ride back to the fort and I would like to get an early start.”

“ You’ve only been here a couple day’s Jack. You can’t stay longer?” Murdoch asked his friend.

“ No, I seen what I came out here to see Murdoch.” Jack said looking hard at Johnny. “ I’ll be waiting for you Johnny…….with them horses that is.” Jack said as he walked  toward the stairs.

Johnny looked up at his father and could tell by the look on the mans face that he knew about Nogales. Once Jack and his son had retired to their rooms Johnny surrendered the game to his brother.

“ Murdoch, I need to talk to you about something.” Johnny said standing and walking over to pour a stiff drink for himself and Scott.

“ I need to talk to you as well son. Scott could you leave me and your brother alone to talk?”

“ No……..I want Scott staying and hearing this Murdoch. I mean he already knows what I’m gonna say but I want him to stay.” Johnny said walking back over and handing his brother a drink.

“ Murdoch, I know Collins from the past. Down in Nogales three years ago. Before I went to Colorado on a job. He was down across the border with several men from his unit.” Johnny began as he sat down and took a sip of his drink. Looking at his brother for encouragement and seeing it in his eyes he continued. “ This old man came into town with his burro, he wasn’t bothering anyone but three of Collin’s men started harassing him and the burro. One of the men got up and walked to close to the upset burro and it kicked him between the legs. He shot it dead and the old man was upset about it. As the three soldiers stood there laughing the old man cussed them for killing his burro. Next thing you know they started shooting at the old man and one of the men’ bullet hit him, killing him. Collin’s stood there and watch this whole thing happen. I walked over to the old man and seen he was dead. I turned around and told them they was pretty good picking on an old man and the three of them stood together and asked me if I wanted the same…….Well you know me Murdoch, I don’t back down from a challenge and I killed all three of them. The Rurales didn’t do anything about it because it was in Mexico and they didn’t much like Union soldiers. Hell Collin’s and his men weren’t even supposed to be across the border. They had no business there.”

Murdoch listened to his son and felt relief come over him. “ Son the day you went after the cat Collin’s told me you had murdered three of his men down there. He didn’t tell me what you just said. He said you shot them down for no reason.”

“ Do you believe him or Johnny sir?” Scott asked firmly.

“ I believe my son. I may not have know you a long time son, but I have learned in the little time I have. The hard way mind you, that you do not lie. I know you would never kill a man without just cause Johnny.”

Johnny looked at his father unable to speak.

“ Son you do realize that even though it happened in Mexico, the army could arrest you and find you guilty for those men’ deaths and hang you. You may have done it  as Madrid but Collins knows who you are and he may very well be planning to arrest you son if you ride into that fort with those horses.”

“ Yeah, me and Scott was talkin about that earlier.”

“ Sir. What if Collin’s has been conducting illegal activity below the border before then and still is?”

“That’s a possibility son. Johnny I’m sorry but I can’t allow you to ride to Fort Bowie into a possible hanging son. I won’t risk losing you again.”

“ As long as Johnny stays out of Arizona sir, the army cannot touch him. They are spread to thin out here to bother with trying to arrest him and take him back.” Scott said firmly.

“ Murdoch there is something else I was going to go behind your back and do, but thinkin about it I decided not too.”

Murdoch raised a brow. “ And just what was it you was going to do behind my back son?”

Looking at Scott. “ I was going to hire a Pinkerton man to see if he could locate my mothers family if any are still alive.”

“ I see. Son if you want to know all you have to do is ask me and I will do it.”

“ You will?”

“ Yes son, I will. Your mother lied to me about them and well I would like to know myself and meet any of them if possible.”

Johnny was stunned. He had expected his father to protest his wanting this. None of this conversation was going the way he thought it would. His father had not once raised his voice in anger or tried to change his mind. Instead the man had believed his son and offered his help.

“ Scott you mentioning to Collin’s about the war and serving in General Sheridan’ unit, you had a reason for doing didn’t you?”

“ Yes sir I did.” Scott said as he looked at his brother and smiled. “ I wanted the man to know what he would be up against if he tried to take my brother back.”

“ Guess I wasted my time breaking those mustang’s.” Johnny said with solemn.

“ Maybe not son. We can see if the army right here in California would be interested in them as remounts.” Murdoch stated. “ That is if you would like me to send out a wire asking?”

Johnny let a smile come to his face. “ You know Murdoch, I know I try your patience at times and I’m not easy to get along with, but I do want you to know old man. I do respect you and……..”

“ I know you do son. I don’t make it easy at times either. I guess the two of us are too much alike. You have my temper and we both fly off the handle and get mad at times and yell instead of keeping a cool head and talking some disagreement out.”

“ Yeah.”

“ Johnny. I want you to know son that even though you may not have an education like Scott does. I want you to know I don’t think you are stupid. In fact son I think it is like your brother pointed out earlier. You have more knowledge and smarts about things even I will never know.”

“ Thanks old ma……Murdoch. I think I’m going to turn in now. I got a long ride ahead of me up to the dam in the morning.”

“ Johnny, you don’t have to go up there if you don’t want too son. I was trying to get you away from Jack till he left is why I wanted you to go.”

“ I know. A couple hands was sent up there two weeks ago.” Johnny said with a smile. “ I don’t run from a fight Murdoch. Remember that.”

“ I do son. Have a good rest. You can help your brother with castrating tomorrow.”

Scott dropped his head and shook it from side to side.

Johnny put an arm around his brother. “ Just think of it as the perils of owning a ranch brother.”

“ Oh I do brother. It’s just that the thought of what we are doing tomorrow.”

“ Makes you cringe? Well let me tell you Scott, it’s not a waste. Rocky Mountain Oysters are good eatin. Right Murdoch?”

“ Yes son.”

“ Rocky Mountain Oysters Johnny?” Scott asked confused.

“ Yeah that’s what we call bull balls out here brother. They are good to eat. Ain’t ya never had ’em back in Boston?”

“ No I have never had them and I don’t think I could to tell you the truth. Somehow finding myself eating that part of a cow just does not seem very appetizing to me brother.”

Johnny laughed. “ Don’t knock ’em till ya try ’em brother.” he said heading up the stairs.

Scott looked at his father. “ He’s serious about this isn’t he sir?”

“ Yes son. We eat them in stew. Have a good nights rest son. You’re going to need it.”

.

Fall was fast approaching. Both boys worked sunup to sundown and sometimes before or after getting the cattle moved to winter pastures. Fences replaced or fixed. The wheat harvest was good and supplied enough grain to last thru the winter if it wasn’t a hard one. Still Murdoch thought as he balanced the books out, Lancer  would have enough money to buy grain if they needed too. The hay fields yielded three cuttings so far and before the first snows they would be able to get a fourth. Scott and Johnny had talked him into building a barn just for the hay so it was out of the weather. The wheat provided plenty of straw for bedding for the horses thru winter also. Sitting at his desk Murdoch put the monthly ledger away and took out the telegram he had received from a U.S Army Captain from Fort Craig, New Mexico saying he was very interested in the purchase of the horses as remounts at a price of forty dollars a head if they were broke. Murdoch had showed this to his sons and Johnny had a worried look on his face.

“ Fort Craig Murdoch. That means we will have to drive the horses farther and through Arizona.” he said with concern. “ That’s over twelve hundred miles and some pretty rough country. Not ta mention the Indians.”

“ I know it son. This is your call Johnny. I’m not going to tell you son what to do. I will tell you this son. No matter what decision you make, I will stand behind you on it.”

“ Scott, you have a say in this too brother. You’re a part owner in this ranch.” Johnny said.

“ Johnny I agree with Murdoch. This is your call brother. Selling them would bring six thousand dollars to the ranch. Twice the amount I thought you would get but it’s not my call.”

Johnny sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. “ Was it this hard for you when you first started out pa? Making decisions like this?”

“ Yes it was son. Listen sometimes what you think is the right decision son turns out to be the wrong one. There is no way of knowing if all the horses will make it to the fort son. It’s a gamble just like it’s a gamble every time we drive the cattle to the rail head to sell.”

“ If we do this it will mean the snow will be before we get there or surely by the time we leave to head home.”

“ Yes it very well could but I don’t think you would let that deter you from doing this would you son?”

“ No. I have a lot of time invested in them horses as does the hands who helped me.” Johnny stated. “ I guess send this Captain a wire telling him we will bring them and advise on arrival date from Tucson.”

“ Alright son. I’ll send the wire next week when I go to Stockton.”

Johnny and Scott checked the condition of every horse over the next two weeks. He left them unshod because mustangs  were used to running free without shoes. That little experience he would leave for the army to do. Smiling to himself he remembered how Barranca had walked his first time shoes had been put on his feet. It wouldn’t be long and Stormy would be experiencing that. She was growing up to be a nice looking filly.  Johnny had bred  Barranca to Angel the little mustang he trained. She was starting to show signs of being pregnant so Johnny didn’t ride her that much. Mostly bareback in the paddock or around the yard just so she wouldn’t feel abandoned. Barranca had  sired four foals mid summer and two of the foals came out Palomino colored just like the sire. Three of them were stud colts and one filly. He had a a filly and a colt just like his beloved stallion. Stormy was almost a year old and Johnny knew she would be ready for breeding at two years which gave him plenty of time to find the right stud to breed her to for the color she was.

.

Chapter 19

Two days before the drive Johnny and Scott rode into Morro Coyo for a drink since they both knew it would be a long time coming once the drive started. Sam walked in and joined them  for a cold beer.

“ So you boys about ready to leave?” Sam asked.

“ Yeah, Johnny and Murdoch have everything ready to go.” Scott stated.

“ Murdoch? You mean to tell me that Murdoch is riding with you all that way Johnny?”

“ Yeah he is Sam.”

“ Is that man crazy? His back won’t tolerate riding that far. You boy’s have got to talk him out of it.”

“ We tried Sam but he won’t listen. He says if it gets to bothering him to much he’ll ride in the wagon.”

“ Hey Johnny.” Sara said as she came over. “ I haven’t seen you around for a while.”

“ Yeah I’ve been real busy Sara with this drive coming up.”

“ What you all driving your cattle to market?”

“ No, horses to Mexico.” Johnny told her as she sat down on his lap. He hadn’t come to town wanting to get laid but seeing Sara and now having her sitting on his lap was making him uncomfortable.

“ Look Sara I’m real sorry but not tonight okay.”

“ Sure you don’t want some. It can get awful lonely out there on the trail Johnny.”

“ I know. Look I’m sorry but no.” he said making her get up off his lap.

Sara looked at Scott. “ How about you? You want some?”

“ No ma’am. I’m not inclined to tonight.” Scott said politely.

“ Oh well. Here’s somethin’ to remember me by Johnny and keep you warm at night.” Sara said before kissing him fully on the mouth.

Johnny couldn’t help but kiss her back. The woman knew how to use her tongue and she knew it would drive him crazy.

Scott and Sam both turned away while the two carried on. Scott couldn’t help wondering how his brother could still refuse after a kiss like that.

Sara broke off the kiss and smiled down at Johnny. She knew he was hard now and uncomfortable.

“ The answer is still no Sara.” Johnny said clearing his throat. “ Tell ya what. I promise I’ll make it up to you when I get back with an all niter okay.”

“ Promise?”

“ Yeah I promise.”

Sara ran her hand right down Johnny’s chest to his hardness and rubbed it. “ Damn what a waste. I’m gonna hold you to that lover.” she said before kissing him again.

Johnny moaned softly into her mouth as her hand rubbed his cock again. Finally Johnny couldn’t take anymore. “ You win girl. Dam.”  Johnny said as he stood up. “ Scott I’ll….”

Scott put a hand up. “ I know brother. Enjoy.”

Scott and Sam sat and talked about different things as they passed the time. Finally Sam stood up and excused himself for the night. Sitting there waiting on his brother to come back down Scott decided to go over to the bar. Just when he stood up Driscoll walked in. “ Damn, not tonight.” Scott said under his breath sitting back down in his chair.

Driscoll looked at Scott then headed to the bar and ordered a beer. “ You know what I heard Lancer? I heard that that half breed brother of yours is fixin to drive a herd of horses to Mexico to sell to the army. Now I figure that them army boys don’t got to good a smarts to be buying rangy mustangs from no half breed. I bet your old man pleaded with them to do it. Hell I’d even wager he paid them to do it.”

Scott stood up and walked over nearer Driscoll. “ What’s the matter, you jealous Driscoll because you didn’t land a contract with the army to supply horses and my brother did?”

“ That worthless killer did because they was probably to afraid that if they didn’t Madrid would come and gun them down.”

Scott watched as his brother slowly came down the stairs hearing what was being said.

“ I notice you are not smiling when you say that. Whats the matter my father knock  your teeth lose last time and you had to get them pulled?”

“ It’s a long ways from here to Fort Craig boy. That brother of yours just might not make it so I hope you say your goodbyes real good.”

Scott grabbed Driscoll by the shirt. “ If anything happens to my brother Driscoll and he don’t come back alive. I’m coming after you personally.” Scott said as he shoved the man back.

Johnny stood at the bottom of the stairs watching. His hand close to his gun. When Driscoll reached  for his gun Johnny drew and cocked his. “ I wouldn’t, not unless you plan on dying tonight.”

Driscoll spun around and faced Johnny. “ Well, well, well if it ain’t the half breed. You know Madrid I had me an interesting talk a while back with a Captain in the United States cavalry from Fort Bowie, Arizona. He told me something really interesting about you and how you gunned down three of his men in Mexico. Said the cavalry will be real interested to know Madrid is still alive.  Hell I bet they will be even more interested to learn you will be coming across Arizona with them horses.”

Johnny walked up to Driscoll real calm like. Glancing at Scott. “ You seem to like knowing other peoples business Driscoll. Let me give you a friendly piece of advice. What my brother just told you is nothing to what my father will do to you because you see my old man likes having his two sons around helping run the ranch so if you got something planned I’d think real hard about not doing it cause if you don’t.” Johnny said with a cold calm voice as he shoved his gun under Driscoll’s throat.

“ I could kill you right here right now.”

“ Johnny.” Scott said. He knew it was all Madrid right now. “ Johnny he’s not worth it brother.”

“ What’s it gonna be Driscoll?”

“ You all see this. Madrid is threatening me.You go ahead and try and drive them horses to Mexico.”

“ Let him go Madrid.” came a voice from the door.

Scott glanced at the door then put a hand on his brothers arm. “ Johnny, it’s a lawman.”

Johnny uncocked his gun and slowly turned around. Sheriff Frank Evans was standing there with a rifle aimed at Johnny.

“ Put the gun back in the holster and step away from the man now. Real easy like Madrid.”

Johnny did as he was told then smiled. “ Frank, you’re a long way from Leeds ain’t ya?”

“ Yeah I am. Can’t you stay out of trouble Johnny?”

“ You know me, trouble finds me no matter where I am.” Johnny said as he spun around and hit Driscoll hard in the mouth.

“ Dam it Johnny.” Scott said harshly.

“ That half breed just assaulted me sheriff. I want to press charges against him.”

“ Sorry but I have no jurisdiction here. I’m afraid you’re on your own. Course you could fill charges with the sheriff in Stockton or U.S Marshal in Sacramento.”

“ You just made a big mistake breed.” Driscoll said before leaving the saloon.

Johnny and Scott watched him leave. “ You gonna tell us why your in Morro Coyo Frank?” Johnny asked.

“ I came here looking for you Johnny. I was going to ride out to your ranch in the morning.”

“ Looking for Johnny why?” Scott asked.

Frank looked at Scott. “ Listen let me get checked into the hotel and you come see me in about an hour.”

“ Okay.” Johnny said with a puzzled look on his face. “ I guess me and Scott can have another cold beer.”

“ Alright, I’ll see you in an hour.”

Johnny knocked on Frank room door an hour later. Scott wanted to stay behind but Johnny insisted he come along. Frank opened the door and let the brothers in.

“ Have a seat Johnny. This will take awhile.”

 Johnny and Scott sat down at the table as Frank sat down on his bed.

“ Look Johnny I hate to be the one to tell you this but…….Cora is dead. She left this letter addressed to you and after you left we had a long visit. Did she tell you she was dying Johnny?”

Johnny closed his eyes and sighed. “ No.”

“ She was sick Johnny. She had what the doc said was a type of cancer that destroyed her mind.”

“ You mean a tumor?” Scott asked.

Johnny looked at his brother. “ How do you know that Scott?”

“ I did a report on brain tumors and what little was known about them at Harvard.”

“ She asked me if I would deliver this letter to you Johnny the night she passed away.” Frank said solemnly as he took the letter out of his coat pocket and handed it to Johnny. “ I’m sorry. Cora told me about you and her Johnny and how you made her feel when you was staying with her.”

Johnny looked at the man as he tried to fight back the tears threatening to fall. “ She did?” he asked barely above a whisper.

“ Yes, you gave Cora the chance to feel what love was Johnny. The time she spent with you she told me was the best she had ever had since her husband died. She also said for a gunfighter you was a special breed all your own. That you wasn’t like all the others. That you had a heart and kindness in that heart.

You care about people in ways a gunfighter shouldn’t. She knew who you was and what you did Johnny but Cora said she could see beyond that in you. She could see your soul and told me that what she saw was a boy who had to become a man way before his time.”

Johnny let a small smile come to his face as he stood up and walked over to the window. Pinching the bridge of his nose to stop the emotions. He would shed tears for Cora but in the privacy of his room at home. “ Did she suffer Frank?” he asked softly.

“The pain was there Johnny. You could see it in her eyes. But it was quick, she just closed her eyes and I know she was thinking about you by the smile on her face when she took her last breath Johnny.”

Scott stood up and walked over to his brother. Placing a hand on his shoulder he could feel Johnny’s body trembling. Not a tremble from cold, but a tremble from heartache and the pain that came with that heartache when a person lost someone close to them. Scott wanted to pull his brother into a hug and let him shed the tears he was fitting so hard to keep from falling but he knew Johnny would never let that happen. Unfortunately his little brother having to grow up fast, hard and tough built a wall around his emotions to stay tough. Maybe on the ride home he would be able to get his brother to shed some of the hurt he was holding inside.

“ You gonna be okay Johnny?” Frank asked as he stood up and walked over to him.

Johnny turned around and glanced at his brother. “ Yeah Frank. Listen why don’t you ride with us back to the ranch and stay the night? I know the old man will want to see you.” Johnny said.

“ I was planning on spending a couple days visiting with Murdoch before I head back.”

“ Well that will be hard to do Frank. Murdoch and Johnny are driving a herd of horses to Fort Craig day after tomorrow.” Scott stated.

“ Horses? What, did Murdoch get tired of them damn cows and switch to raising horses?”

“ No, Johnny landed a contract with the army for remounts and Fort Craig will pay forty dollars a head for them broke.”

“ That’s a nice deal. How many head you takin to New Mexico?”

“ Hundred and fifty for the army plus our own remounts so about hundred an eighty head.”

Frank whistled. “ Hundred and fifty head at forty dollars a head Johnny. That’s six thousand dollars boy. I bet Murdoch is real proud of you for that. How long’d it take ya to break that many.”

“ With rounding them up and taking only the good ones. Five months because of a slight delay.”

“ Rounding them up?”

“ Yeah, mustangs Frank. Lancer has more wild horses running on it’s land than anywhere else in California.”

Frank shook his head. Well I guess I better get ready and check out of here. I bet I’m the last person Murdoch Lancer will expect to see coming home with you boys. He will still be awake won’t he?”

“ This early in the evening Frank, yes.” Scott said. “ You see he is leaving me in charge and want’s to make sure all the books are balanced and nothing legal get’s overlooked before he leaves.”

“ That sounds like the Murdoch I know. Always gotta make every penny count.”

.

The three men rode into the yard and got down.

“ I’ll take care of the horses Scott. You take Frank on in to the old man.”

“ Come on Frank.” Scott said as he handed his brother the reins.

“ Man oh man would you look at this. Murdoch has sure done himself proud. How many acres is this ranch boys?”

“ Hundred thousand.” Scott said as the three headed to the house.

Murdoch heard his boys ride in and came out to greet them. The third person with his sons took him totally by surprise. “  Well as I live and breath Frank Evans is that you you old buzzard?”

“ Who you calling an old buzzard you Scotland tenderfoot.” Frank said as he walked up and grabbed Murdoch’ outstretched hand to shake. “Hello Murdoch.”

“ I was wondering why the boys came back so early. Now I know why. Where’s your brother?”

“ He’s taking care of his horse sir. He’ll be along.”

“ Frank what the devil you doing way out here?” Murdoch asked as the three men headed to the house.

“ Well I’m afraid I came to see Johnny Murdoch. I’m afraid I brought him some bad news.”

“ Johnny, bad news? What bad news Frank?” Murdoch asked as he poured three shots of whiskey.

“ Someone who thought dearly of your boy Murdoch passed away and she asked me to deliver a letter to Johnny in the event of her death.”

“ She?”

“ Sir, it’s a long story but the woman who cleared Johnny of that murder charge died. Johnny was pretty close to her.”

“ Son I think maybe you and Frank better explain to me what’s going on.” Murdoch said as he sat down.

“ I’m gonna let you rest tomorrow amigo. We got a lot of miles ahead of us to deliver them horses. I need you in good shape buddy.” Johnny said as he brushed the stallions long white mane. “ I’m gonna need you to be a gentleman with those mares Barranca as we drive them. No romancin ’em ya hear?”

Barranca snapped his head back to the left and playfully nipped Johnny’s coat. I know buddy. You’re my number one one this drive but I will have to ride others so you get a rest.” Johnny said as he came around and scratched that special spot behind the horses ear. Barranca could sense something was wrong in Johnny’s mood. Laying his head on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny hugged the horse and gave him a quick kiss on the nose. “ Eat your grain. I’ll see ya in the morning.” Johnny told the stallion as he walked out and closed the gate to the stall. “ I’ll see you in the morning Stormy.” Johnny said as he headed to the door.

.

Frank filled Murdoch in on Cora Clemmon’s  and the relationship her and Johnny had. He also told Murdoch the peace of mind Cora had as she took her last breath thinking about Johnny and the special time they spent together.

Looking at his father Scott could swear he could see tears in the man’s eyes. What his brother had given Cora was the best anyone could ever give someone who is dying. Hearing the front door open Scott looked and could see his brother taking off his gun. “ Johnny, You alright brother?”

Stepping down into the Grand room Johnny gave his father a slight smile. ‘ Yeah, I’m alright. I’m just tired. I got a lot to get done tomorrow so if you all will excuse me I’m gonna turn in. Frank, thanks again.”

“ You bet Johnny, and remember what I told you.”

“ Yeah, I will. Night Murdoch, Scott.”

“ Johnny.”

“ Son.”

Murdoch watched his youngest head upstairs. He could tell his boy was hurting over the loss of this woman. After a few minutes Murdoch spoke up. “ If you two will excuse me. I want to check on Johnny and make sure he’s alright.”

“ Murdoch, don’t be hard on my brother for being involved with an older woman. Johnny doesn’t need that right now.”

“ I know what my son needs Scott. Would you show Frank to the guest room and help him get settled.” Murdoch asked as he headed up the stairs.

Johnny was sitting on his bed when he heard a knock on his door. “ Not now Scott, I want to be alone.”

he said.

Murdoch ignored what his son said and opened the door. “ Johnny.”

Johnny stood up. “ Murdoch, why aren’t you downstairs with your friend Frank?”

“ Because son.” he started as he closed the door. “ My place is here with you. You’re hurting and I don’t think you really want to be alone right now son.”

“ I’m fine.” Johnny said with a quiver to his voice. “ Frank and Scott told you huh?”

“ Yes son. Frank did. He told me about you and Mrs Clemmon’s and how she was the one who saved your life and cleared you of that murder charge.”

“ Yeah, she saved my life twice.” Johnny said as he walked over to his window and looked out. “ You sure you want to go on this drive Murdoch?”

“ Yes I am son. Johnny come over here and sit down please.”

Johnny walked over and plopped down on his bed. “ What?”

“ Tell me about her son. I want to know about the woman my son gave the most precious gift ever to in passing.”

Johnny looked at his father with wetness in his eyes. “ What do you want me to tell you Murdoch? You want me to tell you how a woman ten years older than me took me in her bed and showed me how to love?” Johnny said with no coldness or bitterness to his voice. “How Cora taught me more about making love to a woman than I could have known. She saved my life Murdoch when she found me in her barn with a bullet in my back. For several weeks she stayed by my side nursing me through the fevers and nightmares. When I was stronger and able to move around more I helped her with what I could around her place. Fixin fences, the barn or house roof. The night it happened the first time she came to me and……….I hadn’t been with very many girls before that night, but from that night on for the next two weeks we made love and. The only way I know to explain the way she made me feel is….the way you would feel with Scott’ mother when she was alive. Can you understand that? And I mean no disrespect to Scott’ mother, it’s just the only way I know how to explain what we felt together.”

“Yes son, I do understand that. Johnny I think from what you have said and what I am assuming, I think what you experienced with Cora was your first love.” Murdoch said in a voice that was as calm and cool as a gentle breeze on a warm spring day.

Johnny looked at his father with confused eyes. “ I don’t think I follow you.”

“ I’m talking about in here son.” Murdoch said as he reached up and touch his chest over his heart.  “When you’re with a saloon girl does she make you feel inside like Cora did?”

“ No, no woman since has made me feel like that.”

“ That’s what love can do to a man Johnny. That’s what happens when two people who really care about each other feel when they make love.”

Johnny stood up and walked back over to the window. “ You know, when I’m with a whore it’s just someone to fuck. When I was with Teresa I thought it was love. I thought I loved her Murdoch. She had me feeling inside the way Cora did kinda. I know you’re upset about me and Teresa bein together. I didn’t use her Murdoch. I really thought I was in love with her. I tried everything I knew to not be with her but.” Johnny stated as his hands shook and his breathing caught.

Murdoch walked over  and placed his hands on Johnny’s shoulders turning him around. “ It can be confusing. The feelings a woman can make a man feel. I’m not going to lie to you Johnny, when you told me you had been intimate with Teresa I didn’t know you that well yet and I felt you just used her to get what you wanted. I know better now. I know that if that was all you wanted then you would have gone to town.” Murdoch said sincerely. He could feel his sons body trembling. The look in his eyes and how he was so desperately trying to hold back the emotions he was feeling for the loss of a true friend. Taking a gamble Murdoch pulled Johnny into his chest and was relieved when his son didn’t refuse the contact. Instead Johnny wrapped his arms around his father and laid his head on his chest. Murdoch could feel the wetness as tears finally fell.

Johnny trembled and was tired of holding back. Cora meant more to him than anyone, including himself would ever understand. When his father pulled him in for a hug that was what he really wanted. His father to help him make the hurt go away. Only a very few people in his life could make him feel sad over their passing. The sadness he had over Cora’s was like no other. Hugging his father tighter Johnny let the tears go finally as his father just stood there comforting his son the way Johnny had wanted so badly when growing up.

Murdoch felt pride inside that his son was allowing this special contact between the two of them. His little boy who had to become a man way to soon, had gone without this kind of comfort from a loving parent for far too long. “ It hurts now son I know. But you know Cora is in a better place now and.”

Murdoch placed a hand gently under his sons chin to look him in the eyes.

“ Johnny, you truly are a one of a kind son. I don’t know of anyone who could have given Cora what you did  when she took her last breath. You may be this tough as nails gunfighter when you need to be . But deep down inside what you really are is a person who is passionate for others and cares about them and how they feel more than your own self. I see a man standing before me who never got to be a boy. A man who became that man way before he should have had too son. I am proud of you Johnny. Proud of the way you are, even with your bullheadedness. But you know what I am proud of the most about you son?”

“ No.” Johnny said blinking away tears.

“ I’m proud of the fact that I am the luckiest man alive to have both Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer as my son.”

Johnny was taken back by this. His father proud of his son being a gunfighter. This he never thought he would ever hear his father say. Letting go of his father Johnny turned around. The emotions he had welling up inside were to great.

Murdoch understood his son turning away from him. “ Frank said he brought you a letter from Cora son. I think I’ll leave you now so you can read it.”

“ Thanks.” was all Johnny said. He couldn’t look at his father right now. He needed to get back in control.

“ Johnny, I’m here if you need me son.” Murdoch said as he opened the bedroom door and stepped out.     

Standing outside the door after closing it Murdoch knew his son was surprised by what he had just told him. He also knew his son would come to him to talk if he so needed after reading the letter. Heading downstairs Murdoch found Frank and Scott sitting by the fire talking.

“ Is he alright sir?” Scott asked.

“ Yes son. Your brother is hurting right now and it will take some time but he’ll be alright.”

“ I’m sorry I had to do this Murdoch, be the bringer of bad news.” Frank said.

“ No Frank, it’s quite alright. I just learned something new about my son tonight that I didn’t know. Something I don’t think I could have ever imagined him doing.”

“ She truly was a remarkable woman Murdoch, Cora I mean. You would have liked her.”

“ I agree sir. I was upset and shocked I think when Johnny told me he was intimate with her. But after I met Mrs Clemmon’s and talked to her I could see why Johnny was so taken in by her. She wwas like Frank just said a truly remarkable woman.”

.

Johnny sat down on his bed and scooted up to lean back against the headboard. Turning his lamp up. Looking at the envelope Johnny sighed. With shaky hands he opened it.

.

My dearest Johnny.

If you are reading this letter then I must be gone. I wanted to tell you so many times the last time we were together. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you. I think it was because when I would look in those beautiful blue eyes of yours my Johnny I would see through them to the real you. By that I mean the loving , caring, passionate you. Not the tough as nails gunfighter that you wanted everyone else to see. When I found you half dead in my barn with a bullet in your back I have to admit I was a little scared at first. But when I saw the scars you have on your body I knew right then Johnny that you were not a dangerous person. Call me a fool if you wish, but no person who carried scars both inside and out like you do could be dangerous. Oh sure you carry a gun and are a well known gunfighter but that’s just because you have others fooled. I on the other hand am not a fool Johnny. I knew this the first time you opened your eyes after your fever broke and looked at me. I also knew it when I would sit with you and try and comfort you through horrible nightmares. No son should have been treated the way you were by your mother . That’s why I did it at first. That’s why I took a fifteen year old boy into my bed and made love to him. I wanted you to know what true sexual love was Johnny. Not what your mother told you it was. You talked quite a bit in your fever state and it angered me so as I listened to you. Some of it I pieced together but I think I understood fully.

The headaches are more frequent now and the doctors told me it wouldn’t be long so I thought I’d better write this to you while I was still of sound mind to do so. The two weeks we spent in each others arms I will always cherish. Who would have thought that four years later I would again be saving your life  when in actuality it was my life you saved. You allowed me to feel love that only a man and woman can feel together Johnny Madrid Lancer. You may have been a boy in age but you were a man in body and soul. The last time together the way you made love to me on the porch standing up I never would have dreamed of doing and the way you so tenderly touched and loved me later in the barn  is what I will always remember. I think it was the boy who made love to me on the porch. But it was the man in the barn making love to me I will remember to my dying breath.

Please don’t be sad for me for I am in a better place now and I will someday see you again Johnny Madrid tough guy and when I do I know you will be Johnny Lancer. Only if you had been a few years older or me a few years younger.

Always and forever

 Cora Clemmon’s

.

Johnny let the letter fall in his lap as tears ran down his face. After several minutes and with shaking hands he put the letter back in the envelope and got up and walked to the door. He knew his father wold still be awake so he headed downstairs. Stepping into the Grand room Johnny found his father and brother still up talking with Frank. Walking over to the side board he poured himself a stiff shot of Tequila and walked over next to his father.

“ Well if you all will excuse me. I think I will turn in now.” Frank said.

“ I’ll show you to your room Frank.” Scott volunteered as he glanced at his brother. He knew the two of them needed some time alone. The envelope in his brothers hand said so. “ I think I will turn in also sir. Johnny.” he said placing a hand on his brothers shoulder for comfort.

“ Thanks Scott. Frank do you know what was written in this letter?”

“ No Johnny I don’t. I have my suspicions but no.”

“ Thanks.”

“ You’re welcome Johnny. I would like to say something right here right now in front of your father and brother Johnny if I may?”

Johnny gave a slight nod.

“ You are not what a lawman would expect for a gunfighter Johnny. If anything you are the complete opposite. I am proud to know you and call you a friend. These two men here are damn lucky to have a brother, son like you Johnny.” Frank said before turning and heading upstairs.

Johnny tried to swallow the lump in his throat that just wouldn’t go down. “ Frank, as a lawman I have to say you’re alright.”

Johnny handed the letter to his father after they were alone and walked over to the fireplace placing a hand on the mantel as he stared into the flames.

Murdoch found himself choked up inside as he finished reading the letter. A letter with words said that clearly came from this woman’s heart. Putting it back in the envelope Murdoch walked over to his son and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“ That has got to be the best letter I have even read. I know you didn’t have to share it with me. I think you though for allowing me to read it Johnny. This Cora sounds like she was a truly wonderful person. I’m glad you got the time to know her son the way you did. I’m also sorry I never got the chance to meet her because I would have loved to thank her for not once but twice saving my sons life.”

Johnny turned around. “ You would have really liked Cora Murdoch. She was a special lady.” Johnny said as he took the letter back from his father. “ What are you and Frank gonna be doing tomorrow?”

“ I thought I would show him around Lancer while you got things ready for the drive. Why?”

“ No reason, I was just wonderin’ is all. You sure you want to do this?”

“ For the last time son, yes I’m sure. I want to spend this time with you. Can I ask though how you are going to move the horses?”

“ What do you mean how?”

“ Well are you going to move them in a herd or lead them?”

“ I have ten men going with me. Twelve counting me and you and the wagon. A hundred and eighty horses with our remounts. The mares get along good so I figured I would have each man lead twelve horses. I can tie the remounts to the wagon in two strings. Barranca will be the only stallion so the mares will be alright.”

“ Will Barranca be though?”

Johnny smiled. “ Yeah I already had me a talk with him about minding his manners around all those mares.”

“ Do you have enough halters for all the horses son?”

“ Yeah I do. I was gonna use rope but I got ta thinkin about that and decided not too.”

“ That’s probably for the best. It’s getting late, why don’t we turn in so we can get an decent nights rest?”

“ Yeah, you go ahead. I want to stay down here for a little longer.”

“ Alright son. You going to be alright?”

“ Yeah, I just want to do some thinkin is all. Tomorrow evening I figured we could go over the map on the route we’ll be taking. You know for water holes and Indians.”

“ Sounds good son. Don’t stay up to late.” Murdoch said as he headed to the stairs.

“ Uh hey Murdoch.” Johnny said walking toward his father.

“ Yes son.”

“ Thanks for being understanding about me and Cora. It really means a lot to me.”

“ Son you have taught me one vital thing since you came home. Do you know what that is?”

“ No sir.”

“ Well two actually. One you have taught me patience even though you do try it sometimes.”

“ And two?”

“ Two you have taught me that every person deserves a second chance at a good normal life. That if a person really wants to redeem themselves they should be given that chance.” Murdoch said stepping over to his son. “ Johnny I know that when Frank told you how I used to feel about gunfighters was hard for you to accept and you thought I felt that way still. I don’t. You taught me that not all gunfighters are bad and that even they can change their way of living.”

“ Guess me and you got us a bit a learning to do about each other huh?”

“ I think so. That’s one reason why I want to go with you on this drive. I want to get to know the son I so desperately searched for all these years.”

“ You get a good nights rest and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“ K, night pa.” Johnny said softly as he turned and walked back over to the fireplace.

.

Chapter 20

Johnny woke the next morning and found the sun just starting to come up over the horizon. After yawning and stretching he climbed out of bed and trudged over to the window. Sunrises was something he loved to watch. Everything was starting to wake up and the colors in the fall were something to behold. The tree’s with their gold leaves and the golden color of the grass reminded Johnny of a Kansas wheat field he rode by once. Walking over and splashing some water on his face from the basin Johnny decided he would put off shaving today. “ Got a lot to get done today. It ain’t gonna matter if I’m clean shaved to do them or not.” Johnny said out loud.

“ Talking to yourself little brother?” Scott asked as he entered his brothers room.

“ Nope. Sorry to disappoint ya but I was just remindin myself of what needs done today big brother.”

“Anything I can do to help you today?”

“ Well most of the mares have a halter already on them. I need to get the ones that don’t  and check the supplies again ta make sure we don’t forget nothin.”

“ Uh huh. Tell you what, how about I check your supplies and you take care of the horses since that’s what you do best.”

Johnny shot his brother a shit ass grin. “ Now Boston. You know damn well that ain’t what I do best.”

“ Okay second best then.”

“ Nope, try third best.”

“ Why third?”

“ Because shooting my gun is what I do best.”

“ And second?”

“ Easy, fucking.”

“ Scott shook his head. “ I don’t know about you little brother. One of these day’s I am going to have to teach you a proper way to speak about certain things.”

“ Won’t happen. This is who I am and this is who I will always be, so you might as well get used to it.”

Johnny noticed his brother glanced at the letter laying on the dresser. “ You can read it if you want to Scott. I got nothing to hide.” Johnny said as he slid into his pants and sat down on his bed to put his boots on.

“ No Johnny. That is a private letter to you.”

“ Murdoch read it. Why not you too?”

“ Johnny I appreciate the thought but no. You know I am glad I got to meet her. She was a very nice lady.”

“ Yeah. Well we better get downstairs cause I got horses waiting and an empty stomach.”

“ You, little brother are always hungry.” Scott said.

“ Morning Murdoch, Frank.” the boys said almost simultaneously when they entered the kitchen.

“ Morning boys. You two seem to be in a good mood.” Murdoch stated.

“ Yes sir. My esteem brother here has a way with the English language and well dare I need say more?” Scott stated as he sat down.

“ No I don’t think you do Scott.”

“ So what you two talkin ’bout Murdoch?” Johnny asked.

“The ranch and old times.”

Johnny looked across the table at Frank. “ Tell me something Frank. Was my old man such a hard ass back when you two rode together?”

“ Actually Johnny, Murdoch was worse.” he said with a laugh.

“ Worse? I find that hard to believe.” Johnny said with a grin glancing at his brother.

“ How did the two of you meet?” Scott asked as he took a sip of coffee.

“ Yeah Murdoch don’t talk much about his past.”

“ Well Johnny, you remember what I told you in Leeds about the two of us tracking a man to Mexico?”

Johnny nodded as he piled eggs on his plate.

“ Well after that we just sorta hit it off and became good friends.”

“ Frank, young man I might add was not very good at tracking.” Murdoch chimed in. “ He was young and like most young men, foolish. He wanted to ride right in and take…..what was his name?”

“ You know Murdoch it was so long ago I don’t remember. I do know we tracked him for bank robbery and murder.”

“ Yes, anyway’ it turned out that this man got wind of us and……..” Murdoch looked at Johnny with a look of sadness on his face.

“ An innocent child was killed when it was all over.” Frank stated, knowing the memory was painful to his friend.

“ A child? Accidents happen when you have  a lot of lead flyin around. It’s not easy to forget when an innocent person is killed.”

“ No son it’s not.”

Scott could sense the tension building as he looked from his father to Johnny. “ Uh sir, do you want me to ride into Green river and pull out the money you will be needing on the drive?”

“ No  that won’t be necessary. I took care of that when I was in Stockton.”

“ So how long do you think this drive will take Johnny?” Frank asked.

“ Well if we don’t run into bad weather or Indians I’d say we should be back in three months. Horses can travel faster than cows.”

“ Don’t forget comanchero’s Johnny.”

“ Yeah. Me and Scott skirted them in Nevada. They usually don’t come that far north. Reckon whichever way we take them horses we could run into trouble.”

“ Well son, we can look at the map this evening and decide on the best route to go.”

“ The best route would be to stay south out of the snow. This time of year there will be plenty of water for the stock going across southern Arizona.” Frank stated.

Johnny looked at his father. “ Uh yeah but I would really like to stay away from southern Arizona Frank. Outlaws and such. They just might be tempted to  try and steal that many unbranded horses. Which reminds me Murdoch you make sure you have that letter from Fort Craig for any law we come across who might want ta know why we got all those nags.”

“ I’ll have it with me son. Don’t worry. Come on Frank I promised I would show you around Lancer.”

“ Why yes you did. Johnny, Scott.”

“ Frank.”

“ Nags little brother? Need I remind you that those nags as you call them will bring you six thousand dollars.”

Johnny smiled. “ Don’t you mean us brother? You’re a third owner in this ranch so two thousand of that money is yours.”

“ Somehow I don’t think our father will see it that way. Uh listen Johnny, can I talk to you, Brother to brother?”

“ Sure Boston what’s on your Harvard educated mind?” Johnny teased. He loved the way calling his big brother Boston irritated him. He could tell it did by the sigh or look he always got.

“ It’s about Sara Johnny.”

“ What about her? You could have fucked her if you wanted to brother. I don’t own her.”

“ That’s just it Johnny, you do. At least in Sara’ mind you do. Or should I say she owns you.”

“ Scott what the fuck are you talking about. I don’t own her. Sara is a whore I enjoy fucking and that’s all.”

“ Johnny last night I saw it in her eyes when she was sitting on your lap. The way she tried to dominate you right there in front of me and Sam. I’m telling you brother, Sara is obsessed with you.”

“ You’re crazy. She just likes me because of what I do to her when we……..”

“ Then why was she so determined then Johnny and wouldn’t take no for an answer? I think if me and Sam had not been at that table with you she would have done you right there. Trust me on this Johnny. The girl is obsessed with you and as long as you keep seeing her it’s only going to get worse.”

“ Look when I get back I’ll prove to you you’re wrong about her Scott. Now I got a lot to get done today so I’ll see you tonight okay. You can help me plan my route.”

Scott sighed as he watched his brother leave the house. “ I’m not wrong about her Johnny.” he said to himself.

Johnny and Scott were at Murdoch’ desk looking over the map when Murdoch and Frank walked in.

“ You boys checking the best route?” he asked.

Johnny glanced up. “ Yeah. We think the best way would take them east into Nevada because of all the canyons, and going south would be adding miles. Not to mention going right through the heart of Apache country.” Johnny stated. “ I figure if we take them across the southern part of Utah then cut southeast there will be enough water and keep us out of Apache trouble.”

“ So you going to take them across the northeast corner of Arizona son into New Mexico then?” Murdoch asked with concern. He knew his son was trying to stay out of Arizona, especially Fort Bowie area.

“ Why don’t you sell the horses to the cavalry in Arizona Johnny? Why drive them all that way to New Mexico when Fort Bowie is a sight more closer?” Frank asked.

Johnny straightened up and looked at his father then Frank.

“ Or are you trying to avoid the cavalry in Arizona specifically Johnny? Cause to me that’s what it seems like.”

“ Fort Craig is willing to pay Johnny fifteen dollars a head more.” Murdoch stated hoping Frank would drop the subject.

“ Johnny if you got trouble with the cavalry in Arizona I think you should know that they could have Fort Craig hold you until they came and extradited  you back to Fort Bowie. I’m telling you this as a friend. Not as the law. The cavalry wants Johnny Madrid don’t they?”

“ I just want to get the horses delivered with my hair still intact is all Frank. The route I mapped out will have plenty of graze and water for the horses and easier travel for the old man here.” Johnny said giving his father a wink.

“ Alright then. Tell you what, I’ll come along as far as Leeds and help you with the horses. No charge. It will give me and Murdoch a chance to catch up on old times more and get to know you two boys better. That is if it’s alright with you?”

“ I don’t have a problem with it Frank. I could use the extra gun and help. I was going to halter lead them but I think moving them as a herd will be better. We can take the supplies we need on pack horses. A wagon will slow us down and some of the terrain will be pretty rough crossing.”

“ You better get the supplies out of the wagon and ready to go on horses then son.”

“ Already done that this afternoon while you were gone. Packs are ready and the hands know.”

“ Well I think I will get cleaned up for supper. If you gents will excuse me.” Scott said.

“ I think I’ll go get cleaned up too for dinner.” Johnny said as he headed toward the stairs.

Frank stepped over and looked at the map. “ Johnny knows the terrain he will be crossing pretty good.”

“ Yes he does.”

“ Murdoch, I meant what I told Johnny earlier. If he’s in trouble with the cavalry or something it’s won’t be to smart for him to ride into that fort.”

“ I appreciate your concern Frank but Johnny’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”

.

Johnny was up before daylight and sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee when Murdoch came down the back stairs into the kitchen.

“ Morning pa.”

“ Morning son, you’re up early.”

“ Yeah I wanted to get an early start on getting the pack horses ready. Want some coffee?” he asked standing and walking over to the stove.

“ Yes, thank you. So how many miles you figure on traveling every day?”

“ Well if the weather is good, thirty. We should get to Fort Craig in forty to forty five days. I’ll want to rest the horses and let them graze some. I know of a canyon I rode through in Utah that this time of year will have plenty of grass and water for them to rest a day before we get into the mountains.”

“ You thought about how you’re going to keep the horses at night. They may wander off.”

“ This drive is pretty much like a cattle drive Murdoch. Men will keep guard at night in shifts. The supplies we have will last till Pioche.”

“Johnny, I don’t want you thinking I don’t think you know what you’re doing. I don’t. I just want to make sure you have thought of everything is all.”

“ I know that. I also know that habits are hard to break. You’re used to calling the tune on a drive but not on this one. I’m in charge of this drive and I laid the rules down to the men already.”

“ What rules may I ask?”

“ Main rule is no drinkin, no abusing the horses or slackin off on the work. I won’t have anyone riding off when we get close to a town either.”

“ I don’t think the men would do that son. Those sound like pretty reasonable rules to me.”

“ Morning.” Scott said as he walked into the kitchen.

“ Morning Boston.”

“ Son.”

“Well brother today’s the big day. How long you figure on being gone?”

“ Just over two months. We’ll have to drop further south coming back because of winter. Don’t worry brother we’ll be back before Christmas.”

“Oh I’m not worried. It’s going to be rather nice without a little brother barging into my room without knocking. Or all that spicy food Maria cooks you.”

“ I won’t be gone a day and you’ll miss me brother.”

Deep down inside Scott knew he would miss his father and brother. Especially Johnny. Even though he would gripe about it, he did so love the little annoying things his brother did to just him. “ I will take real good care of Angel and Stormy for you while you are gone Johnny.”

“ I know you will.” Johnny said with a smile.

A couple hours later the sun was coming up over the mountains and thirteen riders and four pack horses headed to the holding corrals were the mustang’s were being held. Riding up at an easy gallop Johnny looked over the horses, mostly mares as they grazed on the hay spread around. “ Okay boy, I’m gonna need you to be a gentleman remember.” Johnny said as he patted his stallions neck. Looking at his father and the men he would be spending the next three months with. “ Let ‘er buck.” he said as he rode over next to his father. “ Watch ’em when they come out. I don’t want them bolting for freedom.” Johnny yelled at the hands. “ Open the gates.”

Workers opened the gates and started shooing the horses out of the pens. Trotting out the mustangs were soon wheeled around into a group. Barranca voiced himself as the mares settled down drawing their attention. Johnny smiled. “ Good boy. Now lets see if all these ladies will follow you huh.” he said turning his stallion. “ Nice and easy boy. You don’t want all those ladies mad at ya.”

Barranca shook his head from side to side causing Johnny to laugh. Turning in the saddle he was pleased to see the men working the herd as if they were cattle.

Two weeks into the drive well into Nevada Johnny knew they were getting close to Tonopah. He didn’t know if the people would remember him, and didn’t want to take the chance really so he elected to send three hands in to purchase the supplies they were getting low on. Holding the herd about three miles out of town Johnny gave strict orders for the men to stay out of the saloon. That they were to purchase supplies and that’s all. Four hours later the men still had not come back and Johnny knew why.

Johnny was brushing Barranca when his father walked over. “ Men have been gone four hours now son.”

“ Yeah, I know. I’ll………”

“ Rider coming.” a hand yelled. “ It’s Joe with the pack horses.”

Johnny and Murdoch walked over to Joe when he dismounted. “ Johnny.”

“ Where are Carl and Billy Deegan Joe?”

“ The saloon in town. I told them no, that you said no drinkin but, Johnny as soon as we got to town and got the supplies they went to the saloon. Said they wasn’t takin no orders from…….I’m sorry Johnny I tried to stop them.”

“ It’s alright Joe. Go rest up and get something to eat.” Johnny said as he took the pack horses to the picket line.

Murdoch walked over to help his son. “ What are you going to do son?”

Johnny didn’t look at his father. He knew that if he wanted the men to respect him and follow orders when given he would have to enforce those orders. “ I’ll handle it. Joe.” Johnny yelled.

“ Yes sir Johnny.”

“ Did you bring the money back?”

“ No Johnny, they paid for the supplies then left.”

“ Okay.”

“ I’m sorry Johnny, really I am.”

“ You didn’t do anything to be sorry for Joe. You did what I asked you to do.”

.

Two hours later Carl and Billy Deegan rode back to camp. The sun was starting to set behind the mountains. Murdoch had wanted to go into town and get the brothers but his son had told him no. Now the brothers both obviously drunk rode into camp. Johnny just stood at the fire with a cup of coffee in his hand as the brothers dismounted. “ Hey Joe we brought you back a drink. The rest of you boys too.” the older brother Carl slurred.

The hands all watched and waited wondering what the Lancer son was going to do. When Johnny stepped over to Carl,  Murdoch picked up his rifle ready to back his son up only if needed. This had to be handled by him and only him. This was Johnny’s drive and the men agreed to work for him to drive the horses to New Mexico. Carl and Billy Deegan rode into the ranch just a month ago sayin they heard in town Lancer was needing some extra men for a drive and Johnny had hired them on.

“ You want a drink boss man?” Carl asked with a laugh.

“ What I want are two things from you brothers. One I want the money back you didn’t spend in town on liquor.”

 Carl handed Johnny the money satchel.

“ Count that out Murdoch. Joe you get a receipt for the supplies?”

“ Yes sir I did Johnny.” Joe said as he stepped over and took the receipt out and handed it to him.

“ I sent you with fifty dollars and the supplies cost thirty two dollars. How much is in the satchel Murdoch?”

“ Seven dollars.” Murdoch said.

“ Consider what you spent your pay. Get on your horses and ride out. You’re fired.”

“ Fired…why all we did was………”

“ All you did was do what I told you not to do. I sent you two with Joe to town for supplies and you both decided to get drunk.” Johnny was angry but tried to keep in control. Walking over to his saddle he pulled out another satchel from the saddle bags and tossed it to his father. “ Take out the balance owed them for tow weeks work minus what they spent in town.”

Murdoch counted out the money and handed it to them.

“ You half breed bastard. You go ahead and fire us. You’re gonna get yours. Driscoll see to that.”

“ Shut up Billy.” Carl ordered.

“ Driscoll what?” Murdoch demanded. “ What did Driscoll do?”

“ Nothing. Come on Carl lets get out of here.”

Murdoch grabbed Billy. “ I asked you a question.

“ Driscoll wired the fort and told them your son was wanted by the army in Arizona. They know you are gonna cross the state and if they don’t get you then they are having Fort Craig hold you for them. Driscoll said you was wanted for killing three soldiers.”

“ What is Driscoll to you two?”

“ Nothing, honest. He said he would pay us real good if we got hired by you for this drive so’s to be on the inside and we was to kill your son before we got to the fort or tell the army in New Mexico who you was.” Billy said looking at Johnny with fear in his eyes and a quiver in his voice.

“ Get out of here. You take a message back to Driscoll that when I get back me and him are going to dance.” Johnny said with anger before turning and walking off.

Murdoch looked at the Deegan brothers. “ If I see either one of you again you won’t live to regret it. Now get out of here.”

Johnny walked away from camp to a group of rocks upstream. Sitting there watching the water flow by he knew without looking that the man walking up was his father.

“ I know you don’t want to talk about what just happened son. But the men are going to wonder and they have a right to know.”

Johnny got down from the rock he was sitting on and looked at his father. “ I know. It’s just that….Damn it Pa. All I want is my past to leave me alone. Maybe I’m not meant to have a normal life. Maybe I shouldn’t even try to be the son of a prominent rancher.”

“ Now you listen to me young man. You told me what happened in Mexico and I believe you. I told you that we as a family would deal with your past when it did come around and I meant every word. I don’t want to hear you talk like that again Johnny. You’re my son and that’s final.”

Johnny looked at his father with pleading eyes. Eyes that so begged for forgiveness. Eyes that could make a man fell ice run through his body if stared at, yet be gentle and soothingly calm and full of laughter.

“ Guess I better go talk to the men.”

“ The men know who you used to be son. They just might have questions about why you killed three soldiers is all.”

“ Yeah, you think any of them will want out after I tell them?”

“ No, the men are good men Johnny. They will stay with you I think.”

Johnny walked back to camp and found the men around the campfire waiting. Kneeling down he poured himself a cup of coffee and stood up. Murdoch was standing on his right. Looking at him he found the encouragement to begin. “ I guess you men are probably wondering what the Deegans were talking about with me and the army?”

“ Johnny me and the men was talking and we all agree that if you killed those three soldiers when you was Madrid it has nothing to do with who you are now. Now you are Johnny Lancer, our boss and that’s all that matters to us men.” Joe stated. The other men nodded and a few nodded their heads.

“ It does and you men have a right to know why.”

“ Johnny we all know how Driscoll has hounded you and talked trash about you ever since you came home. The man is wrong about you. You’re not a cold blooded killer just like you’re not a gunfighter any more. Johnny you are our friend and every man here will back you up no matter what the cost whether on this drive or at Lancer. You’re a man we are proud to work beside and call our friend.”

Johnny looked at the ground between his feet. Being told these kind words it was still hard to accept.

Looking back up at the men he smiled. “ Thanks. You men are good hard workers and when this drive is over I plan to give every one of you a bonus for the hard work you are doing. I’ll understand if any of you want to head back to Lancer. I won’t hold it against you.”

“ We aren’t going anywhere Johnny but to Fort Craig, New Mexico. Right men?”

“ That’s right.” several men said aloud and others nodded.

That night Johnny, Murdoch and the men talked about his past. He answered questions they asked and most were simple gunfighter questions like why or how much. Only one hand asked how many men Johnny had killed. When Johnny told them that at first he was in in for a reputation only then started caring about the victims he hired to run out or kill because the man with the money said too. Johnny told the men why he had come to Lancer and this shocked his father. Watching the men’ faces he could tell they too were shocked but when Johnny told them it was because of the lies his mother had told him, they understood. Laying in his bedroll Johnny felt more at ease than he had in awhile. Not only had he talked about his past, but he gained even more respect from the men who worked for him and his father. Laying there he couldn’t help but wonder what his brother would say or even think if he had been here and heard him. Smiling he closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.

.

“ So what do we do now. Driscoll is gonna have our hides if we come back and he finds out Madrid is still alive.” Billy asked.

“ If you had kept your mouth shut Madrid wouldn’t have known we was working for Driscoll.”

“ What are we gonna do Carl? You heard Madrid. He’s coming after Driscoll when he gets back.”

“ Shut up Billy…….Madrid can’t do anything if he’s dead. He has a long ways to go yet with those horses, so just shut up and follow me.”

“ Follow you where Carl?”

Carl stopped his horse. “ We are going to kill Madrid just like Driscoll wanted.”

“ Are you crazy? We can’t kill Madrid. You know how fast he is with a gun.”

“ We can with the element of surprise Billy.”

“ Even if we could his father and those hands will hunt us down. Carl I say we ride away from this and let Driscoll handle Madrid himself. If he want’s him dead then let him do it. Or let the army.”

“ Because Billy. I want to be the one known for killing that half breed bastard. Now you coming or not?” Carl asked before spurring his horse off.

Billy stayed there a few minutes wondering if he should. He knew Madrid was fast. The fastest with a gun alive in these parts. He had heard many stories about how Madrid had gunned down yet another man along the border. Would he and his brother end up like all the rest who had tried before them to kill him? Would Billy and Carl Deegan go down in history as just another notch on Madrid’s gun or would they go down as the brothers who killed Madrid? Only time and luck would tell.

Johnny kept quiet pretty much over the next two days. Riding to the top of a hill he sat and watched the herd move at a leisurely pace. The terrain started to get rough, with sharp jagged rocks that could cut a horses hock or lame them up badly with one wrong step. Off in the distance Johnny watched a herd of mustangs and hoped that the stallion with that herd didn’t come calling on his herd. Barranca being the only stallion with that many mares and geldings could mean trouble and the possible loss of horses. Looking back at his herd Johnny spotted a trail of dust a few miles behind them. Whoever or whatever it was was trailing them. Following at a safe distance. Turning Barranca he rode down the hill to his father.

“ We’re being followed. About three miles back.”

“ Who do you think it is son?”

“ Trouble of the worst kind. Comanchero’s. Ride around the left and tell the men and I’ll ride this side. Tell them to pick up the pace to an easy gallop.”

“ The terrain is pretty rough son. We could injure horses.”

“ Losing horses is far better than our lives. If those are Comanchero’s Murdoch they will kill every man without a second thought. The horses are what they will want and anything else we have now go.” Johnny ordered as he spurred Barranca away.

The sun was setting as the herd came to a river. Pushing the horses across Johnny knew they wouldn’t be able to keep going the way they were. The horses were tired and slowing. Circling around he had the men slow them to a walk. Keeping the herd moving through the night Johnny knew the men and horses needed rest. Riding up to Frank. “ How far you figure we are from Utah?”

“ If we keep this pace up we could cross into Utah late afternoon.” Frank stated. “ The horses are tired and need water.”

“ Yeah. Keeping up this pace is gonna kill them. We may have lost a few already.” Johnny said as his father rode up. “ I’m gonna ride back and see if they are still following us. Keep them moving until you reach the red cliffs and Virgin river Canyon. If I don’t join back with you in the next two days, then take them on Murdoch.”

Son no. I can’t let you ride back there alone.”

“ You’re not calling the tune here old man. Keep the herd moving. Frank knows were I’m talking about.

You’ll be able to rest the horses in that canyon a day or two.” Johnny said as he took out his rifle.

“ Take one or two of the men with you son, please.”

“ No. I can handle this Murdoch. Don’t worry about me I can take care of myself remember.”

“ Yes I do. I also know that what you are going to do is suicide. Please be careful.”

“ You do the same.” Johnny said as he turned and rode back toward the river.

.

Johnny rode back and found a good vantage point above were the trailing riders had no choice but to pass. Dismounting from Barranca he took up position and waited. He could hear the riders talking and knew for certain now ‘ Comanchero’s’. Leaning against a big enough outcropping of rocks Johnny cocked his rifle and aimed at the lead rider and fired. Chaos followed. The men below tried to control panicky horses as one by one three of the seven fell dead within a minute of the first shot fired. Bullets started spraying around his position as Johnny dropped a fourth man. The remaining three realized they were in a losing position and tried to turn their horses to leave.

.

Murdoch rode praying in silence that his son would ride back to him unharmed. Frank rode up next to him. “ I should have went with him Frank. I shouldn’t have let Johnny go alone.”

“ Murdoch, your son can take care of himself.”

“ I know that. It’s just that he shouldn’t have to do it alone anymore.”

“ Did it ever occur to you that maybe Johnny didn’t want you seeing him do what he was going to do? That maybe, just maybe he didn’t want you to see him become the man of his past.”

“ I’ve seen him as Madrid before Frank. Now is no different.”

“ Yes it is Murdoch. Before Johnny was called out. This time he is going to be the caller. This time Madrid is going to be the one calling and he’s not going to give those men a chance.” Frank said as he stopped his horse. “ Ask yourself this, if you had rode back with him would you have been able to just open fire on those men to stop them without probable cause?…….Could you do that? I know I couldn’t and it has nothing to do with the badge I’m wearing. Your son is saving every man here and others lives from those Comanchero’s.”

“ I can’t lose him Frank. I can’t ride back to Lancer without my son.”

“ You won’t. Listen about half a mile is that canyon Johnny was talking about. We can rest up there.”

“ That’s where you will leave us isn’t it?”

“ I’m afraid so. I’ll stay till Johnny comes back, and he will be back.”

Johnny looked down at the carnage below. Seven men and four horses were dead. Waiting a few more minutes just to make sure someone wasn’t still alive and waiting to put a bullet in him. Aside from a ricochet grazing his upper left arm Johnny walked back to his waiting horse. Taking down his canteen he poured some water over the graze then took a long drink of the warm brackish water. Removing his hat he poured some in it and gave his friend a drink. “ I’m sorry amigo I rode you so hard. You done me real good boy.” Johnny said as his friend drank eagerly. “ It’s getting dark out buddy and the moon is only half full. You think you can find your way back to the herd?”

Barranca brought his head up and dribbled water on Johnny’s chest as he shook his head up and down. Johnny couldn’t help but laugh. “ We get to the river buddy I’ll let you get a good cool drink.” Johnny told his friend as he swung up in the saddle. “ Come on boy.”

.

Murdoch couldn’t sleep. It was well after midnight and Johnny still had not come back.

“ Mister Lancer sir.” Joe said as he walked up. “ Why don’t you try and get some rest. I’ll keep watch till sunup.”

“ Thanks Joe, but no. I can’t sleep knowing my son is out there possibly hurt…….or worse.”

“ He’s alright….. You know I heard tells about Johnny Madrid. Tells that I used to think were true. But now, now I know they were just fabricated lies or stories that got embellished with the retelling of them.” Joe said as he sat down next to Murdoch. “ I never would have dreamed that I would a few years later be working for a man like Johnny. By that I mean the man he is. Sir your son has more heart, more soul and more courage than the whole army. I’m ashamed to say I used to believe those stories about Madrid being a ruthless cold blooded killer, but now that I know the real man I would have to say mister Lancer sir that I was a fool. I mean it when I say I am proud to know Johnny Madrid or I should say Johnny Lancer. I’m glad I came to work for you because I know working along side him I can and will learn a lot from him.”

“ Thank you Joe. He want’s to put his past behind him and be Johnny Lancer. I just hope he can.” Murdoch said as he sat and silently prayed his boy did come back to him. “ Do you know how many horses we lost pushing them like that?”

“ None, two are limping a little. I think from stone bruises maybe but we didn’t lose a single horse.”

“ Good, Johnny and you men worked hard breaking them. You have all worked hard these past couple of months.”

Murdoch slept very little that night as a father he couldn’t help but worry about his son. Wondering if he was laying out there somewhere hurt or dead.

“ Rider coming.” Frank stated. “ It’s Johnny. He’s walking.”

Murdoch felt a ton of worry leave him at those words. ‘Walking’ he wondered why as he walked toward his son.

“ Johnny, you alright?”

“ Yeah, we’re just tired. Rode him pretty hard.”

“ Why don’t you go sit down. I’ll take care of him for you.” Joe said.

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he passed off the reins. “ Rub him down good for me would ya?”

“ Sure thing.”

Johnny glanced at his father as he walked over to the fire and sat down.

Murdoch poured him a cup of coffee and dished up some beans and hardtack.

Johnny reached for the coffee and plate and winced a little from his left arm.

“ You hurt?” Murdoch asked noticing his sons look.

“ It’s just a graze.”

“ Let me see it.”

“ It’s nothing really. Just a graze from a ricochet.”

“ As your father would you humor me please?”

Johnny set his cup and plate down and removed his coat. His left sleeve was soaked down the side to his elbow from blood.

“ Take off your shirt so I can clean that wound and bandage it son.”

Johnny unbuttoned his shirt and slid his arm out of the sleeve.

Murdoch went over to the fire and got some hot water. “ Frank would you get some bandages out of my saddlebags?”

.

Johnny sipped on the coffee as his father cleaned and re-bandaged his arm. He could feel his eyes on him without even looking. He knew why, knew what was going through his fathers mind. When Murdoch finished and Frank had moved away sensing the two needed to be alone he decided it was best to get it over with. “ You got something to say, say it.” Johnny said with bitterness.

Murdoch sighed as he got up. “ Say what?”

Johnny stood up and put his shirt back on. “ You know damn well what I’m talking about. I see it in your eyes. Go on tell me how again Madrid disappointed you. How once again your son was a cold blooded killer.”

“ No you wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking that at all.”

“ No…..somehow I find that hard to believe…….I know you’re ashamed of me, ashamed of what I just did so just say it and get it over with.”

“ What I feel young man is relief. Relief that you came back to me alive. Johnny you did what you had to do to survive. You saved every man here’s life. Nobody is going to think any less of you son. I was angry at first when you rode out.” Murdoch said as he stepped closer to his son. “ I did a lot of thinking and with some help I realized why you didn’t want anyone  to go with you, especially me.”

“ Yeah why?”

“ Because you didn’t want me to see that side of you. You didn’t want your father to see the Madrid side I haven’t seen……..Johnny, I understand that.”

Johnny didn’t really know what to say now. What his father had just said was not what he thought he would get for a response. All the way back he kept thinking over and over how his father would be disgusted with him. Shacking his head and sighing he stepped past his father over to his horse.

Murdoch watched his son walk away and knew this shouldn’t end like this. Walking over he sat down on a dead tree and watched his son care for his horse.

Johnny knew his father was behind him, watching him as he rubbed his horses face. “ I guess that’s not the response I was expecting from you.”

“ What was you expecting?”

“ You to be angry…….I guess I’m still not used to having a father who cares.”

“ And worries. It’s what a father does. I never got the chance to when you was growing up, so don’t think that just because you’re a grown man I won’t.”

Johnny laughed and smiled at his father as he patted Barranca’s neck. “ How many did we lose?”

“ Joe said none. Two mares are limping but we didn’t lose any.”

“ Limping, they lame?” Johnny asked.

“ No we checked them over good. They are stone bruised.”

“ Who’s we?”

“ Joe, he thinks very highly of you.” Murdoch stated.

“ He’s an alright kid. Got a good head on his shoulders, and he listens.”

Murdoch told Johnny what Joe had said about what he had heard about Madrid in the past and how he felt now working for the man.

Johnny stood there and just listened.  He let the words respect and like sink in. Respect was something he had demanded as Madrid but now as Lancer he had earned it the best way a man could. Respect was something he had told his father once had to be earned and went both ways. A person could have respect for one but if that one didn’t have respect back then why have it at all.

.

Chapter 21

“ You had a good time visitin’ with Frank didn’t ya?” Johnny asked as they sat around the fire a week later.

“ Yes I did. He’s thinking of retiring soon and I told him he would have a job waiting at Lancer if he wanted one.” Murdoch said watching his son. He could tell something was on his mind. They would be crossing into Arizona tomorrow mid-morning and what the Deegan brothers had said weighed heavy on his mind as he knew it did his son’s.

“ Frank’ a good man.” Johnny said with a slight smile. “ He told me about how  you was so drunk one night down in Metamoros that you slept with a burro. Said he looked for you all over and finally found ya curled up next to this Burro.”

“ I had hoped Frank would have better sense than to go telling you that.” Murdoch said with a grin.

“ Is that when you met my mother?” Johnny asked suddenly.

Murdoch was set back by his sons question and stared at him a minute before clearing his throat and taking a sip of coffee. “ Yes, yes it was. A couple days later I came out of the cantina and there she was across the street. It was her boisterous laugh that drew me to her at first. Your mother was a thing of pure beauty Johnny.” Murdoch said. “ I got up the nerve the next day to ask her out and she accepted.”

“ How long…….how long did you know her before you two got married? I mean was it weeks or months maybe?”

“ A very short time.”

“ Because of me huh?….You got her pregnant and had to marry her.”

“ I didn’t have to marry her Johnny. I loved Maria and knew that when I took her to bed. Son why are you asking me this?”

“ Because I just wanted to know. I need to know I guess. I mean my mother lied about so many things about you and she…….”

“ What son?”

“ Look I’m sorry I brought it up. I’m gonna check on Barranca.” Johnny said as he stood up and tossed his coffee  setting the cup near the fire before walking to the pick-it line.

Murdoch stood up and followed his son. He had a feeling Johnny wanted to say something about his mother but didn’t want the hands to hear it.

“ She told me you said that no well respected rancher was going to have a half breed bastard child  ruining his good name……She said that that was the only reason you married her and that I was why you threw us out. I know now that what she said was lies. I guess I don’t understand how a mother could tell lies like that to a child. Guess I never will.”

“ I wish I had an answer for you Johnny, but I don’t. I never threw the two of you out. I loved you very much as I loved your mother. When Sam put you in my arms and I looked into your beautiful blue eyes that first time I knew right then that you was special.”

“ Phffft I’m anything but that.”

“ Yes you are. In more ways than you realize……your grandfather would tell you the same as would my brother.”

Johnny looked at his father. He had never before mentioned any member of his family. “ Are they still alive?”

“ As far as I know they are. Do you know who you get your blue eyes from?”

Johnny shook his head.

“ Your grandfather he had the very same color as did my fathers father your great grandfather.”

“ How many do I have?……..grandfathers that is?”

“ Alive, none. My father passed before you were born. Unless your mothers side………..”

“ You afraid of losing me if they are?”

“ No son I’m not. You’re a grown man and you can live were you want and with who you want.”

“ What was my grandmother like?”

“ My mother?………She was a strict woman, Not one to be trifled with I can tell you. She was kind of like Maria is toward you to me when I was growing up. If I came into the kitchen after put with the Highlands all day, she would tan my hide.”

“ Who were the Highlands?”

“ Highlands weren’t a who Johnny, they are a what. Scottish Highlands are a breed of cattle.”

Johnny gave his father a puzzling look. “ Scottish Highlands?”

“ Yes, they are shorter than our cattle, very easy going and friendly. Their coat is as much prized if not more than the meat.”

“ Why?”

“ Scottish Highlands living and grazing on the bluffs along the ocean needed a coat that would both keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Their hair is long son. Long and shaggy.”

“ Somehow I can’t picture a cow with long hair pa.”

“ Well they do and they have horns also.”

“ You said they had a good temper. They any better than longhorns?”

“ Much, Scottish Highlands I would have to say are like that Hereford bull I have. You can walk right up to him and lead him around by a rope.”

“ Would he ever come here? To California I mean.”

“ Would who ever come here? The cattle?”

“ No………your  brother. Would he ever come to Lancer and meet me and Scott?” Johnny asked.

“ I don’t think so. My brother pretty much stopped corresponding with me when I told him about Maria and what she did.”

“ So because of me your brother wants nothing to do with you?”

“ No……not because of you. Because of what your mother did, taking you away from me and me not being able to find you.”

“ Maybe it’s for the best then. It wasn’t your fault……..He’s the one losing out.”

“ How you figure son?”

“ He’s missing the chance to know his nephews. He’s also missing out on just how good a man his brother is.”

Murdoch couldn’t stop the smile that came to his face.

“ You know pa….I’ve done a lot of bad things in the past, and had a lot of bad things done to me…….and I’ve tried to do good for the errors of my ways.” Johnny said as he stepped up to his father. “ I can tell you one thing though……..The best thing I’ve ever done even though the reasons at the time were wrong was come back to Lancer.”

“ So am I. So am I son.” Murdoch said as his voice cracked a little.

 Putting an arm around his fathers shoulder. “ Come on. I need to ride herd at midnight.” Johnny stated as the two men walked back to the fire.

“ Johnny.” Joe said when they walked back.

“ Yeah.”

“ We was wondering about Arizona, we’ll be crossing into it tomorrow.”

“ Yeah I know. We go on as planned to New Mexico.”

“ You’re gonna ride into that fort knowing they could arrest you?”

“ I never ran from trouble before. I’m not gonna start now.”

“ We been talkin. Me and the men and if’n the army does arrest you we all will testify that you are not Johnny Madrid, but Johnny Lancer.”

Johnny glanced around. “ I appreciate that men, really I do but I don’t want any of you getting into trouble on account of me.”

“ It’s our choice Johnny.”

“ Joe’ right son.  You remember telling Peter about making the right choices and standing by that choice?”

“Yeah I do.”

“ Well that’s what the men are doing as will I. I see Johnny Lancer standing here in front of me, and it will be Lancer not Madrid riding into that fort. It is Johnny Lancer whom the army has agreed to buy remounts from and that is who they will be seeing.”

Johnny smiled slightly. “ Thanks…….all of you.”

Four days later Johnny hugged into his coat more as the snow came down. What little grazing there was was now covered over by a couple inches of snow. The conifer trees had some grass under their low branches but a horse couldn’t get to it. When the snow had started Johnny had the men put leads on the horses and tie them together, twelve to a line.

“ It’s coming down harder. I think we should hold up and wait it out son.”

“ Yeah, we need to find shelter for us and get a fire going before the wood gets covered.” Johnny said as he took his hat off to remove the snow from it. “ Looks like it will be hardtack and beans again unless we get lucky and see a deer.”

“ I don’t think the men will mind. We still have enough coffee for a couple days.”

“ Damn I was hoping we could make it without it snowing on us.  Hold em here men. These conifers are all we are going to get for shelter. Tie the horses off real good. I don’t think they will go anywhere in this storm.”

The herd stood with their rumps to the storm and heads down an hour later. None of them even tried to graze. Backs white with snow and eyelashes heavy with ice the mustangs knew as those before them  for decades, how to survive a winter storm. Strong in spirit and stamina the mustang is a horse among horses. The Indians prized them and the white man used them. Descendants of the Spaniards  of the fourteen hundreds, the mustang adapted well across the west. Surviving conditions to futile for cattle to even survive. Were cattle would stand in belly deep snow and die of hunger, a mustang would paw through the snow to the grass beneath. Sitting under one of several canvas lean too’ s the men put up Johnny sipped on a cup of steaming coffee. The men had hunkered down in their bedrolls, some fast asleep, others watching or listening. Johnny glanced over at his father asleep  before he stood up and walked out to check the horses. The snow was coming straight down and there was little wind he was glad of. A blizzard up here could be bad. Drifts could be a problem he knew when the storm did abate, as would food for the horses. Walking up to Barranca Johnny gently rubbed the ice from his friends eyes. “ I’ll make this up to you boy with a double ration of oats and some nice green  hay as soon as I can.” Barranca pressed his head into Johnny’s chest and blew out his nose a little. Johnny walked back to his bedroll after checking all the horses and poured a cup of coffee.

“ How they doing?” Murdoch asked sitting up.

“ I thought you was asleep. They’re okay. Probably holding up better than we are in this weather. You can’t be doin to good in it with your back.”

“ I’m alright son. A little stiff but to quote my son, I’ve had worse.”

“ We should reach the fort in two days when this storm breaks. That is if the snows not to deep and it don’t bury us.” Johnny said pouring a cup of coffee and handing it to his father. “ It snow like this back home in Scotland?”

“ Yes it did. Storms would come in off the ocean. I remember this one storm that lasted for three days. It snowed so hard that when it was finally done the snow was almost to the top of the house. Me and my brother had to dig a tunnel.”

“ Bet you lost the cattle in that one.”

“ No. Like I said Scottish Highlands are a tough breed. They took refuge along the cliffs out of the wind where the snow didn’t get as deep.”

“ Look, Murdoch I want you to know that no matter what happens when we ride into that fort…..I’m proud to have you as a father.”

“ Thank you. I’m proud to have you as my son. You and Scott both.”

“ How you reckon he’s doing?”

“ I’m sure he’s doing fine. I know he’s in a nice warm house and not out in a snowstorm like us right now.”

Johnny laughed. “ Yeah, he’s probably had worse growing up in Boston.”

“ Probably so.”

.

The snow finally stopped late the next morning. The sun now shining Johnny, Murdoch and the men looked out at a land of white. Over a foot of the white stuff had fallen. The men took care to brush all the horses and clean the ice from their eyes. Each horse got a good ration of grain Johnny had on one of the pack horses. He had anticipated a snowstorm could happen and bought a sack in Utah. Water was plenty, it just had to be melted. The mustangs licked the snow knowingly. Until they got down to a lower elevation Johnny and the men knew travel would be slow and treacherous.  Keeping in a single line Johnny and Barranca led the way down. He let his stallion pick his way through the snow knowing the horse would know the best way.  By late afternoon Johnny got off a tired Barranca and allowed him to graze on some grass along the riverbank as he looked both up and down the pondering a good place to cross. Just upstream he could see rock cliffs on the far side. Downstream the cliffs got smaller. 

“Damn.” he swore as his father rode up. “ Let them get a good drink and graze a couple hours. I’m gonna ride downstream and see where we can cross safely at.”

“ I’m coming with you Johnny.” Murdoch said firmly.

Johnny looked at his father. “ Why?”

“ You know why son and I am not taking no for an answer. You may call the tune on this drive but I am still your father.”

“ More stubborn than a mule.” Johnny said as he mounted Barranca and rode past.

“ What was that young man?”

“ Nothin’..nothin at all.”

.

An hour later Johnny and Murdoch sat atop a hill looking down at the river. “ Looks as good a place as any to cross son.”

“ Yeah by the time we get back and get the horses here it will be dark. I don’t care to cross this river in the dark. Do you?”

“ No, I don’t. Uh son forgive me for asking this but……you do know how to swim don’t you?”

“ Yeah I do. Guess I better find out if any of the men can’t though before we start crossing in the morning.” Johnny said as he suddenly took out his rifle real slow.

Murdoch went to do the same thinking trouble. “ What is it?”

“ Meat.” Johnny said as he cocked the rifle and took aim. Back on the trail they had rode was a big Bull Elk. “ Funniest lookin deer I ever seen, but he’ll sure taste good tonight.” Johnny said before pulling the trigger. The Bull dropped dead where it stood from a bullet to the head.

“ Nice shot son, and it’s an Elk not a deer.”

Johnny and Murdoch rode back to camp with a chunk of Elk tied behind each man. “ Figured you boy’s would like some meat tonight.” Johnny said as he threw his right leg over Barranca’s neck and jumped down. He knew his father couldn’t get off the same way so he went over and untied the meat and passed it off to a hand.

“ Johnny…….one of the mares has a split hoof.”

“ Split, how bad?” he asked as he stepped back over to Barranca and took the reins.

“ Clean to the ankle.”

Johnny walked Barranca over and secured him to a limb then followed Joe to the mare. He could see the split as he walked up to her. The right front hoof was split right up the middle. Blood oozed from the top. Running his hand down the mares leg and talking to her in a calming voice Johnny knew what had to be done. Straightening back up he untied the mare. “ Go on back to the camp. I’ll do what has to be done Joe. Did you and the men check all the others?”

“ Yeah Johnny. She’s the only one. You sure you don’t want me to do it?”

“ No. Go on back. I’ll be there in a bit.” Johnny said as he started to lead the mare away. The mare limped along behind Johnny to a small area of grass. Removing the halter from her Johnny stepped around to her left and took out his pistol. The mare dropped her head and started to graze on the grass. Putting the barrel behind her ear he cocked the gun. “ I’m sorry girl.” he said before pulling the trigger.

Murdoch and the men grew quiet when they heard the shot. Nobody said a thing about it when Johnny walked back to camp. No man wanted to shoot a horse but they all knew that just leaving the mare alive would prolong her suffering and be cruel. Johnny walked over to his horse and took the saddle off. After an hour of grooming the stallion he walked over to the fire and was handed a plate of hot food. “ Thanks…….Listen I need to know if any of you men can’t swim. We found a place to cross in the morning but it’s gonna be deep and swift.”

When none of the men answered Johnny went over and sat down next to his father. Taking a bite of the Elk he savored the taste. “ Never had Elk before. Taste pretty good.” he told his father as he cut another piece and forked it into his mouth.

“ I’m sorry about the mare son. I know what you did was hard.” Murdoch said softly.

Johnny looked at his father. “ Bound to happen. I guess we’ve been lucky, only losing three.”

“ Two of them you left behind because of bruising son. You didn’t have to shoot them.”

“ Look I don’t really want to talk about it okay. It’s done.” Johnny said before putting his plate down and standing up and walking down to the river.

Carl and Billy Deegan watched from a vantage point above the herd. “ Tomorrow when Madrid takes them horses across the river he’s gonna get a big surprise.” Carl said to his younger brother billy.

“ Come on lets get on the other side before dark.”

“ I can’t swim Carl.”

“ Just hang on to the saddle and let the horse take you across.” Carl said as the brothers moved back to their horses. “ We’ll ride far around them so they don’t see us. Keep your horse to the shadows and don’t kick up no dust.”

“ I know what to do Carl. I’m not stupid.” Billy snapped. “ I’m not doing this Carl. Madrid will kill us sure as day and I’m not killing a man for someone else. Driscoll can do it his self far as I’m concerned.” Billy said as he mounted his horse and turned it west.

“ You’d ride out on your own brother?” Carl asked angrily.

“ If it means staying alive……yes Carl I will.”

“ Go on then……pa always said you was weak.”

.

Johnny was up at dawn checking all the mares hooves and legs out good before he drove them across the fast moving river in a couple hours.  Talking softly to every horse he checked. Waking in the dark to a feeling he had become all to familiar with. Someone was watching them. The feeling was strong and he didn’t like it. Finishing with the last mare Johnny walked back to camp. Taking his rifle out of the scabbard alerted the others that something was wrong.

“ We’re being watched. I don’t know who or how many. I want every man to keep alert as we drive the horses across the river. That’s when whoever it is will probably hit. After you men get some coffee in you and get saddled check your rifles and keep them ready. When we get to the crossing Murdoch I want you to take the lead mare across with you. I want the others free of their leads. Joe I want you to have four men with you about a hundred yards down from us a little to get the mares that might drift in the current.”

“ Were will you be?” Murdoch asked.

“ Atop that rise me and you was on yesterday. It gives a good clean view just in case. Check the packs good before you take them across. If it looks like a horse is being drug under because of it, cut it loose. If all goes well men we should be at the fort late afternoon.”

“ Sounds good Johnny. I’m ready for a cold beer and a hot woman.” a hand said followed by others agreeing.

“ Yeah that and a hot bath.” Johnny added glancing to his father.

“ Johnny……..what’s the name of this river we’re fixin to cross?” Joe asked.

“ Rio Grande. Socorro isn’t far from the fort.”

“ How do you know? If you don’t mind my asking.”

The look Johnny gave Joe pretty much gave him and the men the answer. Reaching down and grabbing his saddle Johnny walked over to Barranca.

“ I didn’t mean to upset him mister Lancer.”

“ You didn’t Joe.” Murdoch told the young man as he watched his son.

Three hours later Johnny looked down as his fathers horse climbed the bank on the other side of the river. The lead mare put her head down and shook the excess water off before starting to graze. Rifle ready Johnny scanned up and down the river as the herd was started across. After an hour the last horse scrambled up the muddy bank and moved off to graze with the others. Moving Barranca down the hill to the rivers edge he scanned once more up and down the banks. “ Come on boy, I know you can swim this.” Johnny said to his friend as he put his rifle in the scabbard and nudged the stallion into the water.

Barranca picked his steps carefully as the water got deeper. Keeping his head straight out and blowing water from his nose the stallion swam across with ease. Johnny held onto the saddle horn with both hands as Barranca swam the current. Suddenly several shots fired in rapid succession hit the water around the stallion causing the animal to panic. Johnny knew he was helpless as the shots continued. He could hear return fire from the men and his father as Barranca got closer to the bank. When the stallion was able to touch the bottom he reared up when a bullet hit too close to his face. Johnny lost his hold and the saddle horn and found himself being dragged downriver by the current. Frantically trying to swim to the shore and not be shot in the back Johnny dove under. If the shooter couldn’t see him then just maybe he or they would assume he was dead.

Murdoch watched in despair as his sons body went underwater. “ Johnny.” he yelled as he spurred his horse down to the waters edge as Barranca ran up the bank.

Johnny swam underwater till his hands hit rock and only then brought his head above. Shaking his head and wiping his eyes of water so he could see. Hearing no more shots, but the men and his father yelling Johnny looked up river. The current had brought him downriver a couple hundred feet.  Hanging onto the rocks he felt around carefully for a foothold. Spotting a cutout in the bank about thirty feet back up river he took in a lung full of air and dove under again just as a bullet slammed into the rocks where his head was at seconds before.

Where the hell is the shooter?” Murdoch demanded after he seen his son come above water only to disappear under again.

We can’t see him. He’s in them rocks hidden real good.” Joe yelled back.

Watch for a flash or powder from his rifle.

Johnny swam against the current the best he could using the rocks along the side to guide him. Lungs burning for air he finally came up a few feet shy of the cutout. Moving along the rocks he could feel his palms stinging from cuts they received from the sharp jagged lava rocks and his hands slipping on the slick moss that covered them. Crawling up onto the small sandbar Johnny moved back around a rock just big enough to shield him. “Murdoch.” he yelled.

I can hear you. Stay where you are! We can’t see the shooter.” Murdoch yelled back.

He’s straight across from me about half way up.”

Murdoch looked hard at the rock outcropping his son was indicating across from him. “ Are you hit?”

No………is Barranca alright?” Johnny asked concerned his beloved stallion may have been shot again.

He’s fine son.” Murdoch said moving closer to his son but keeping behind cover. “ Can you hear me?” he asked.

“ Yeah. Listen it’s pretty clear it’s one of the Deegans up there shooting. It’s me they’re shooting at only. I want you to listen to me. I’m gonna give him a target, I want you to keep that rifle aimed at that outcropping……….”

“ Johnny no….stay where you are.”

“ I’m not gonna keep being a sitting duck old man. He may decide to start shooting you or the men or horses……..now do as I said.” Johnny ordered firmly.

Murdoch hated this. If he missed he knew his son would be shot. Taking the rifle and sliding a bullet into the chamber he took aim. “ Alright son.”

Johnny stood up and slowly stepped out from behind the rock. “ Deegan.” he yelled.

Murdoch seen movement and what he assumed was the shooters right shoulder as a rifle barrel came into view above the rocks. Firing he watched as Carl Deegan was slammed backwards from the bullet entering his shoulder. Taking aim again Murdoch fired hitting the man in the chest when he rose just below his neck. Hearing another rifle fire he turned and seen Joe fire and hit the man in the forehead dropping him to the water below.

Johnny didn’t know who fired the deadly head shot, but watched as Carl Deegan feel to the water below and the current carried his lifeless body past. Moving to the waters edge Johnny waded back in and swam the short distance to his fathers reaching hands. Grimacing from the pain when he took hold.

Murdoch Pulled his son out of the water and sighed with relief. “ Boy I oughta paddle your backside for pulling a stunt like that. If I had missed that first shot…….”

Johnny breathed deeply and coughed a little as he looked down at his hands before starting to walk up toward his horse. “ Yeah, maybe if I was a little kid. It was the only way to get him. Besides you didn’t miss……nice head shot by the way.”

Murdoch followed his son up the bank. “ I didn’t make that shot.”

Johnny stopped and turned around looking at his father. “ You didn’t…….then who did?”

“ Joe.” Murdoch said noticing he had blood on his hands. “ You’re hurt……let me see.”

“ It’s just some cuts on my hands from the rocks.”

“ John.” Murdoch said firmly.

Johnny knew using that tone his father was serious. Holding his hands out he could see the right one he had used the most had a deep gash on the palm. A piece of rock was sticking out from the gash. “ Joe huh?”

“ Yes…..I hit him in the shoulder bringing him up then shot him in the chest below the neck but it was Joe who made the kill shot son.” Murdoch said as he began wiping the blood away from the gash. “ I need to clean this out it’s gonna need stitches son. Let me see your left hand.”

Johnny’s left hand had a couple of small cuts that would need cleaning only. The backs of his hands had scratches on them. Trying not to Johnny couldn’t help but start shivering from the cold.

“ Joe get a fire going…..we need to get you out of these wet clothes son.”

“ I got a change in my saddlebags if they’re still dry.”

“You know that was Carl Deegan, his brother Billy could still be out there.” Murdoch said.

“ Yeah but I don’t think Billy Deegan is going to try anything. I think Carl was alone.”

“ Where you think his brother is?”

“ Gone…..I don’t think he had the stomach for doing this.” Johnny said before walking to his horse. After checking the stallion thoroughly he took his clothes from the saddle bags and walked over behind some rocks to change. Only his father knew about the scars his body bore and he wasn’t to keen on the men seeing them. Frank had seen some when Murdoch bandaged his arm and he could see the shock in the mans face then. Pity was something Johnny did not want from any man or woman nor his own family. Pity was something that was never felt for him growing up, and now that he was a man he sure as hell had no use for it nor would give it.

Murdoch finished cleaning the cuts as Johnny sat by the fire and was now warming up as the shivering stopped. “ We need to get going. I’d like to sleep in a bed tonight if possible.” he said standing up.

“ That hand will need stitches son. The fort should have a doctor if not Socorro.” Murdoch said.

“ It’ll keep……..Joe, thank you…….all of you men thank you for what you did.” Johnny said before turning to mount up.

Late afternoon Johnny topped a hill and looked down at Fort Craig. He could see a detachment of soldiers heading toward them. Reining Barranca around he galloped down to the herd.

“ We got company comin.” he said turning his horse around next to his father. “ Soldiers.” he said holding his hand up to stop the herd.

About ten soldiers rode up to them. “ I’m Sergeant Yost…….you have business at Fort Craig gentlemen?”

Johnny reined Barranca up closer to the man. “ Sergeant I’m Johnny Lancer and this is my father Murdoch Lancer. I received a wire from a Major Thomas that he would purchase these mustangs as remounts from us if we delivered them.”

“ Lancer huh…….corporal Higgins……ride back to the fort and let the major know his horses have arrived. Take three men with you.”

“ Yes sir.” the corporal said as he and three men broke from line and headed back at an easy gallop.

“ Me and my remaining men will escort you the rest of the way.”

Johnny looked at his father and had that sick feeling start deep down in his gut. Was he riding right into a hangman’ noose? Shrugging he turned to the men. “ Get ’em movin.” Johnny ordered as he moved Barranca forward. The sergeant came up on his left and his men waited till the herd passed and followed behind.

Riding up to the fort entrance Johnny stopped Barranca and moved him to the side as the horses were drove past and in to the corrals at the far end on the right. Stopping the hand who had the pack horses Johnny took their leads from him and let the man ride in with the herd. The sick feeling he started getting this morning was stronger now than ever before. Nudging Barranca inside the fort Johnny rode up to his father who was dismounted and shaking the hand of whom he assumed was Major Thomas. Dismounting after handing the lead ropes to his father Johnny attempted to dust himself off a little.

“ Major Thomas, this is my son John Lancer.”

Major Thomas held out his hand and Johnny took it in his. “ Major…….hundred and forty seven mustangs as you stated in your telegram sir. All green broke.”

“ I thought you was delivering a hundred and fifty?”

“ Yes sir, two got stone bruised badly and we left them in Utah and I had to shoot another yesterday for a split hoof.”

“ I see……it seems to me that there is more than a hundred and fifty horses here now.”

“ Yes sir, some are Lancer horses. Remounts.”

“ Is this one of the mustangs I purchased?” the major asked as he walked up to Barranca and started to look the stallion over.

“ Oh no I’m sorry sir but Barranca here is mine. He’s not for sale.”

“ Fine piece of horse flesh young man. Stud I see. You breed him?”

“ Yes sir I do. He’s sired five foals this year.”

“ Any look like him?”

“ Yes sir. A colt and a filly.”

“ Same mare?”

“ No. but perfectly matched to him.” Johnny said as he walked up to his horse and rubbed his face.  “The other three I’m afraid took after their mother on color.”

“How old are they?”

“ The two, they was born in the spring so about nine months old?”

“ Tell you what, I know you and your men are probably tired. Sergeant Yost show these men to the bathhouse and sleeping quarters. See to it that they get well fed and mister Lancer if you and your father would join me for dinner in my quarters this evening I would like to talk business with you.”

“ Yes sir. That would be fine. Thank you Major Thomas.” Johnny said before glancing at his father.

“ Your stud I assume will need to be housed away from the mares so you can put him in my private corral. You’ll find ample grain  and hay and a trough full of water. Now if you two will excuse me but I have a fort to run.”

“ Major.” Murdoch said as the man walked past back to his quarters. Turning he found his son had started walking his horse toward the corral the major indicated he could use. He could see it in Johnny’s eyes. The worry, even though his son was trying to hide it. To anyone else they wouldn’t have noticed but the almost two years he has had with him Murdoch has learned to see the signs. He had his own worries also about this deal and now with a private dinner as well. Deciding to leave his son to some time alone to think Murdoch walked his tired horse over with the men’ and began to care for him.

“ Is Johnny gonna want us staying here mister Lancer?” Joe asked.

“ Just tonight Joe. It would be best for all. We can ride into Socorro tomorrow for that entertainment you men are wanting.” he said with a smile.

“ Is everything alright?…….with Johnny I mean.”

“ Yes……the major would like me and him to join him for dinner tonight to discuss business.”

“ Okay……remember us men are here if Johnny needs us.”

“ I will Joe. Thank you.” Murdoch said as he slid his saddle off his horse and threw it over the top fence rail and laid the blanket on top to dry in the sun.

“ There ya go amigo. You earned it.” Johnny said as he poured grain into a bin for his horse. Taking the brush from his saddle bags he started grooming his friend as he thought about what he would or could do if the major had other plans besides dinner and discussing a remount contract with him tonight. He knew the major would know who he was because sergeant Yost was with Captain Collins that day in Nogales when he killed those three soldiers. Trapped, trapped like a mouse in a corner he felt. He also felt the Madrid side of him starting to come forth as he moved around to brush the other side of his friend down. “ Well amigo, tonight may just be our last night together buddy.” Thirty minutes later Johnny headed to the quarters he and his father would be sharing with the men for the night.

.

Chapter 22

Johnny finished with his bath and looked at his right hand. Cleaning it during his bath had it bleeding again and sorer than it already was before the bath. Sighing he finally managed to get his pants pulled up and his belt on. After several attempts he finally managed to get his gun belt fastened after getting his boots on. A knock at the door came just as he finally got the belt buckled.

“ Johnny.” came his fathers voice from the other side.

“ Yeah Murdoch.”

Murdoch opened the door and found his son sitting in the chair with sweat on his brow. He could tell Johnny’s right hand had given him trouble getting dressed. The crude bandage he had wrapped around his hand was soaked with blood.

“ They have a doctor here Sergeant Yost said. He noticed your hand when we was riding in and informed the man you would be needing him.”

“ Sergeant Yost huh…….Murdoch Sergeant Yost was with Collins in Nogales. He knows who I am and you can bet that he has told Major Thomas.”

“ Are you positively sure about him son? Maybe you could be mistaken about………..”

“ I’m not wrong. He was a corporal then but it’s him alright. I never forget a face. Especially the face of killers and those riding with them.”

Murdoch walked over to him. “ You need to get that hand taken care of before it gets infected.”

“ Yeah, bein my right hand it’s not to good. I had a hard time using it to get dressed.”

“ Hard time how?” Murdoch asked with concern.

“ Hurt and I couldn’t keep a hold of my pants to pull them up. My belts wasn’t easy either. Especially my gun belt.” Johnny told his father as he stood up. “ Where is this doctor?”

“ He’s across the way, by the majors quarters.”

“ The men alright?”

“ Yes. They’re eating. They asked me earlier if you wanted them to stay here the night.”

“ And what did you tell them?”

“ I told them that you would. That you would let them go into town tomorrow, that all of us would ride into Socorro for a drink and relaxation.”

Johnny smiled slightly. “ You thinkin of layin a whore old man?”

“ No, but I know you are as is some of the single men.”

“ I might just as well be in the stockade tomorrow you know, charged with murder.”

“ I know, listen if that does happen…..I want you to know that I will get the best damn lawyer money can buy to defend you son.”

“ Thanks Murdoch. Guess I better get this hand taken care of so we can go to what might be my last meal as a free man.”

An hour later Johnny walked out of the doctors office with his right hand bandaged up. His fingers could barely move due to the way the doctor wrapped his hand up.

“ I don’t want you using this hand for a while.” the doctor had told him after stitching it up.

 Feeling totally helpless now he was glad he was at the fort and not in town were someone could recognize him and call him out. “ Guess I won’t be goin to town after all.”

“ I know your concern son. You deserve some time off and a woman.”

Johnny cocked a brow. “ You telling me to go get laid?” he asked curiously.

“ Yes I am son. You’re a man and you have womanly needs. I know that now.”

“ Maybe but…..” Johnny said as he looked down at his hand. “ I get called out and I’m a dead man Murdoch…….and no whore is worth that. Besides you’d get lost on the way home without me.”

“ I probably would son seein’s how you are always calling me an old man. I may have forgotten how to get back home.”

“ Come on, lets not keep the major waiting.” Johnny said as he put his left arm around his fathers shoulder.

.

“ Major, that was quite a meal. I must say I don’t think I have had Grouse taste so good.”

“ Well mister Lancer my cook is very good. Shall we go to my study so we may discuss business gentlemen?”

Johnny stood up and followed the major and his father into another room. This room had books on shelves along two of the walls and a desk  set in front of a big window allowing a clear view of the grounds and happenings.

“ Have a seat.” the major said as he walked around his desk and sat down. “ I have two things I would like to discuss with you mister Lancer. It is Lancer is it not?”

Here it comes, the sick feeling he had since waking up was about ready to explode. Standing in front of the majors desk feeling as naked and helpless as the day he was born without his gun Johnny glanced at his father then back at the major. “ Lancer, why?”

Major Thomas took out a cigar and rolled it around between his fingers some before biting the tip off. “ Would either of you care for a fine Cuban cigar?”

Johnny had had a hand rolled Cuban cigar before and knew just how good they were. Figuring he might as well enjoy what was looking like being his last night of freedom he accepted the cigar.

“ I ask because I received an interesting telegram a little over a month ago  from Fort Bowie telling me that the man bringing me remount horses was not the man he claims to be, but a gunfighter by the name of Johnny Madrid.” the major said after lighting his cigar.

“ Look major……”

Major Thomas put up his hand. “ With all due respect mister Lancer it is this man I am speaking too…….are you Johnny Madrid or Johnny Lancer young man?”

Johnny looked at the major. His voice stayed calm even when he just addressed his father. Something was going on and Johnny didn’t like the feeling he had. Knowing he was trapped like a fox caught in a hen house he sat down and looked the major straight in the face. “ I’ve never lied before and I’m not gonna start now…….”

“ Johnny…” Murdoch started.

“ No…….I’m not going to lie to the major.” he said firmly. “ Both major…..You see I’m both Johnny Lancer and Johnny Madrid.”

The major leaned forward in his chair putting his arms on his desk. “ I see, which are you more?”

“ Lancer.” Johnny answered so fast that even he was surprised he did so without hesitation.

“ Are you curious who the telegram is from?”

“ No sir. I got a pretty good idea.”

“ Captain Jack Collins.” Murdoch said through gritted teeth.

“ You know him I take it.”

“ I knew him, or so I thought.” Murdoch answered.

“ Johnny Captain Collins says you murdered three of his men in Tucson. Says you shot them down for no reason.”

“ Major…..Collins is a liar. I killed three of his men yes……but it was in Nogales not Tucson sir. I can prove it.”

“ You can?………How?”

“ Sergeant Yost, he was with Collins then only he was a corporal. You can also wire the Rurales and ask them. You mention Madrid and they will tell you.” Johnny said calmly.

Major Thomas was impressed. The man sitting in front of him remained calm, never once raising his voice or acting nervous. “ Sergeant Yost did indeed tell me what happened in Nogales. He also told me why Captain Collins and his men went below the border when the army had no jurisdiction down there.

It seems that Johnny Madrid is a wanted man in Mexico. The Rurales would like the army to escort you to the border and turn you over to them.”

“ Well major you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve never run before and I’m not gonna start now.”

“ Even if it meant being hanged or shot to death by a firing squad?”

“ I accepted death the day I put that gun on major. I ain’t afraid of dying and any man who has faced me in my past learned that the hard way.”

“ Past…..funny how a persons past can come back and haunt them. I seen you once in Yuma. A kid a boy really, called you out. You tried talking him out of it but he wouldn’t listen. I stood there and watched as the others. You stood there calm and I couldn’t help but think that damn this kid has enough audacity for a whole regiment. I never seen a man facing death as calm as you were that day. You mind me asking why that boy called you out?”

Johnny glanced at his father “ Like those before and after him major, he wanted the reputation of killing me.”

“ What about now? By that I mean are you still a gunfighter?”

“ No sir, I’m trying to be the son of a rancher. But like you said a persons past can show up at any time.”

“ Well even though you did kill three U.S. army soldiers it happened below the border and out of my territory. I sent a lengthy letter to Captain Collins explaining what I learned and what Sergeant Yost told me really happened. I also told him that if he pursued this matter further that I would take what I learned and let it be known back east and request a court martial if the man did not submit his resignation within a suitable time.”

Johnny sat there quiet, looking at the floor. He didn’t know what to say to the major hearing what the man just said. Hearing a drawer open he looked back up at the major and found the man taking out some papers and laying them on the desk top.

“ This is a contract from the United States Army cavalry unit to a John Lancer. In it you will find that the army is willing to pay forty dollars a head for green broke horses as remounts on a yearly basis over the next ten years. You will also find a list of ten forts, all of which are out west that will require your horses. Fort Bowie is on that list and since Collins is no longer at that fort I see no reason why you could not do business with them. They will be your biggest customer I’m afraid due to the Apache.”

the major said as he slid the contract across to Johnny.

Johnny took the contract and opened it up and staring back at him was his name. Johnny Lancer not Madrid on a contract with the army.

“ You can supply horses for that time?”

“ Yes sir, Lancer can and will.”

“ Good. I just need you to sign the last page and tomorrow we can ride into Socorro and finish the transaction. Mr Tisdale the banker is aware we will be coming in and has the money ready to be wired to your account or give you a bank draft for six thousand dollars. Now I think this deal calls for a special drink to close it.” the major said as he stood up. “ Have either of you had the pleasure of drinking fine Tennessee sour mash whiskey?”

Johnny looked at his father with a smile as he handed the contract to him to read. “ No major, I don’t believe I have. My father on the other hand may have. He has several different kinds of whiskey back home.”

“ Does he now. I bet you are a Tequila man. I have that but I want you to try this.” the major said as he handed a shot to Johnny and Murdoch. “ I was meaning to ask you before, did the doctor fix your hand up alright?”

Johnny accepted the preferred shot with his left hand. He was glad the dinner didn’t require his using a knife to cut the meat due to the bandage on his right palm. “ Yes sir. He did a good job stitching it up for me. Said it was nice to not have to do a bullet or arrow wound for a change.” Johnny said before taking a sip of the whiskey and letting it slowly slide down his throat. Being a Tequila drinker mostly , he could appreciate a good whiskey from time to time. “ That is good major. A man could get used to that.”

“ Yes he could son.” Murdoch said as he sipped on his. “ Like my fine Scotch or Bourbon you have so takin a liking to.”

“ Bourbon maybe but not that clear stuff you call Scotch old man. I’ll leave that for you and Scott to drink.”

“ Scott?” the major asked.

“ Uh yes major, Scott is my oldest son. He stayed behind to run the ranch while we were gone.”

The major walked over and sat back down at his desk. “ Johnny, can I discuss another horse deal with you? A private one?”

Johnny sat back in his chair. “ If it’s about Barranca sir, I told you he isn’t for sale.”

“ It is, in a way. You said you breed him and that you have two foals that look like him. Would you be interested in selling them to me? I would pay you nicely for them.”

“ I’d have to know who they was for and why you want them sir.” Johnny said as he sat his empty shot glass on the desk. “ I mean, you’re offering to buy them sight unseen.”

“ Yes I am, but I figure if a mans word isn’t good enough then……….My wife is coming out here with our two daughters next year to live. They have been back east at finishing school and I would like to give the foals to them as a graduation gift.”

“ They’re not even a year old. Your daughters wouldn’t be able to ride them for a couple years.”

“ True, but in that time they could get to know the horses and develop a bond with them. Like the one I witnessed between you and that stallion perhaps.”

“ Major I don’t think anyone could develop a bond like my son has with that horse. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Barranca’ special alright. He’s a good horse. The best I ever had.”

“How did you get him?”

“ I rescued him from a rancher that was abusing him in Texas.”

“ Well I’d say that explains it all then. Do we have a deal on the foals?”

“ Five hundred apiece major and we do.” Johnny said firmly.

“ Done. I will expect the foals delivered in the spring sometime then. Now if you gentlemen don’t mind. It’s getting late and I’m sure you are both tired and would like to sleep in a bed for a change.”

Johnny and Murdoch stood up. “ Major.” Johnny said as he extended his hand. “ Thank you….for everything sir.”

“ You’re a good man Johnny. I can see it in your eyes. I also seen when you rode in here the worry. You knew I knew about those soldiers and yet you came anyway. I respect that. You have a good boy here Murdoch.”

“ Yes I do major.” Murdoch said with pride as he shook the majors hand.

“ I wouldn’t plan on returning to Mexico any time soon though Johnny. The Rurales want you badly down there remember.”

“ I don’t plan on going back major. Thanks again sir.”

The next day Johnny and Murdoch bid the major good bye after signing the contract and having the money wired to the Lancer account. Standing in front of the bank Johnny looked down the street toward the saloon.

“ If you want to go have a drink and some female companionship son, go ahead.”

“ What are you going to do?”

“ Me, I am going to get a room at that hotel, hot bath and relax.”

“ You mind if I join you? I could use a hot bath and shave.”

“ No, but I thought you wanted.”

“ I do, but you know what’s better than that old man?…….A hot bath, shave and taking my father to eat dinner at that fancy lookin restaurant down the street. That is if he’d let me.”

“ I’d like that very much son. Perhaps you could send a wire to your brother letting him know we made it.”

“ I’ll  take care of the horses then send the wire and you check us in and arrange the hot baths.”

“ Why don’t you check us in and I’ll take care of the horses son. You’re a business man now so they might as well get to know John Lancer around here.” Murdoch said as he stepped down and untied their horses and headed toward the livery before his son could protest. He was glad Johnny couldn’t see the smile he had right now. Inside he was brimming with pride for what his youngest had just done. Pride and relief as well. Relief that his son would be riding back home with him and not be hanged. The pride he couldn’t help feel the most though was that his boy had just chose to be with his father for the evening than a woman. That decision alone shocked him knowing how much his boy liked being with a woman. This was going to be a night he would cherish the rest of his life.

Scott Lancer rode into Morro Coyo two days later to withdraw money to pay the hands. Walking into the bank he was greeted eagerly by the bank president mister Harper.

“ Why Scott, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

“ Mister Harper.” Scott said shaking the mans hand. “ I need to withdraw some money to pay the hands.”

“ Alright we can do that. Today sure is a day for doing business with Lancer.” the man said with cheer as he stepped behind the counter to handle the withdraw personally.

“ It is, how’s that?”

“ Well This morning I received a wire from the first national bank in Socorro, New Mexico transferring seven thousand dollars into the Lancer account. It was signed by a Major Thomas and your brother Johnny.”

Scott felt pride inside. His little brother had done it. Johnny had sold the horses to the army. He figured the extra thousand must have been for the extra horses they had taken along. After receiving the money to pay the hands Scott requested a new account separate for that money. His brother had asked him to do so upon the contract being signed. But before he could ask banker Harper already produced a bank book with the account number and money amount already in it.

“ Your brother asked me to do this when the money was wired.” the man said handing the book to him.

Taking the book he looked inside and found his brothers name and the amount of seven thousand dollars. He couldn’t help but smile. His little brother had done it. Johnny was now a business man and seven thousand dollars richer. Money he didn’t have to use his gun to make. Making a mental note that he would ask his brother in private what that felt like. “ Thank you mister Harper. I better get going so I can pay the men.” Scott said shaking the mans hand before leaving the bank.

Stepping down to his horse Scott was stopped by a hand grabbing his arm. Turning around he came face to face with Driscoll.

“ I hope you know that your brother won’t be coming back here. I sent a wire to Fort Bowie telling that Captain Collins that your brother left with the horses. That killer is going to get what he deserves finally.”

Scott made a fist and swung as hard as he could sending Driscoll backwards into the street. “ If my brother doesn’t come back because of you I will personally came and see you Driscoll.” he stammered before mounting his horse and riding out.

Johnny, his father and hands rode out of Socorro a few days later headed back home. Him and his father had a good evening talking over dinner about the horses and what would be needed or done. Johnny was surprised his father was going to allow him to hire hands that would be for working the mustangs with him or building more barns and corrals. When his father asked him what brand he wanted to come up with to put on the horses that question alone set him back. A brand that was his alone never crossed his mind. The Lancer circled L was the brand of the ranch and was put on all the stock horses and cattle. Thinking about it over breakfast the next morning Johnny had decided that his brand since the horses were a separate part of the ranch would be a circle with JL inside. His father smiled at this and told him he would get it made as soon as they got back. Allowing the men some much deserved time off in town Johnny stayed pretty much in his room. He couldn’t risk being called out with his hand the way it was. He found spending the time with his father getting to know the man was something he really enjoyed.

“ How does it feel son?” Murdoch asked as they headed southwest to stay out of the snow as much as possible.

“ How’s what feel?”

“ Forgive me for asking this but. How does it feel to make that much money and not have to use your gun to do it?”

Johnny stopped Barranca and took up his canteen to get a drink. “ It feels good.” he said before taking a drink. “ I’ll still work the ranch and cattle, I am part owner of it. I don’t want you thinking I won’t.”

“ I know that. I never thought that for a minute son. Do you suppose your brother knows about the money by now?”

“ Oh I expect he does. He would have to go in and withdraw money to pay the hands and I’m sure Harper gave him the new account book and was all to happy to tell him about the transfer.” Johnny said as he refastened his canteen. “ I bet ol’ Driscoll even knows, or thinks I’m not coming back to Lancer.”

“ Driscoll is a burr under my saddle and I will be having a talk with that man when we get back.”

“ No you won’t…..Just let him be. He’ll screw up and when he does……then you can talk to him as you say pa.”

“ Wait until he puts a bullet in my son………no. I know Driscoll Johnny and men like him and he won’t stop until you or he is dead.”

“ I know men like him also. You seem to forget I’ve been dealing with men like him my whole life. I’m the son of a rancher and that’s all I want to be. Your son and Scott’ brother.”

“I know that and so does your brother. I’m proud of you Johnny. Proud of you for telling the major the truth. I’m not ashamed to tell you I was worried that you would be arrested. I never imagined the major would check the story out…..You do realize though that you won’t be able to go to Mexico to see your uncle if he’s still alive. Not with the Rurales wanting you.”

“ Yeah, I guess he’s gonna have to come and see me. I doubt he will though. Come on I want to make it to a small mining town called Morenci by midnight.”

“ Morenci. Is this mining town in Arizona son?”

“ Yeah the mine played out years ago but the buildings are still standing and the horses will have a place out of the rain that’s coming.” Johnny said as he pointed toward the north to the dark clouds building and pushing down over the mountains. “ We might get a little snow but nothing to bad this low in elevation.”

“ Sounds good. How’s your hand doing?”

“ It hurts some but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ll let you change the wrap and check it tonight.”

“ Okay.” Murdoch said as they moved their horses to catch up with the men.

Johnny informed the hands of the town as thunder boomed in the distance. An hour later the men all found themselves in a downpour of rain. Lightening was popping off and the horses shied away a little every time it got too close. Barranca snorted and threw his head up and down pulling on the reins. Around midnight the men rode into the barn at the east end of town. The roof was still good but one of the doors was off it’s hinges and the men were all to tired to mess with it. After securing the horses in stalls they all headed to an empty house across the street. The stove was still good and in no time Murdoch had a roaring fire going and coffee brewing.

.

Chapter 23

The next day Murdoch rose and found his son gone. Coffee was brewing on the stove so he knew he wasn’t far. Throwing on his coat he stepped outside and found the rain was still coming down hard and the wind howled. Making his way across the street he noticed the  broken barn door was now hanging by both hinges and able to be closed. Stepping inside he found his son grooming his horse. Looking around he noticed all the horses had been unsaddled and was eating hay. “ Hey Murdoch.” he said as he brushed the stallions golden coat.

“ Son. I see you got the door fixed.”

“ Yeah I couldn’t sleep so I came out and used a rope to pull it up so I could refasten the hinge. Coffee should be ready. Looks like this storm is gonna be around today.”

“ You planning on staying here till it stops?”

“ Yeah. I don’t need us getting caught in no flash flood once all that water gets down here from the mountains.” he said as he put the brush on his saddle. “ Come on I’ll cook you and the men some breakfast. I was able to kill a couple rabbits in the back of the barn.”

“ I didn’t hear any shots.”

“ That’s cause I didn’t shoot them. I got ’em with my knife.” Johnny said as he walked to the door.

Sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast Johnny decided to let the men know what was ahead.

“ When we leave here we’ll be riding into Apache country.” he said.

“ Johnny….what are those beads around your right wrist?” Joe asked.

“ Modoch. They believe they keep away evil and give the person wearing them strength.”

“ What about that?” he asked indicating the silver medallion.

“ I’m catholic. This represents the mother of the Guadalupe, she’s the saint protector of the innocent. They say she came from Spain and was a patron saint in old Spain.”

Johnny seen a smile come to his fathers face and knew why. “ Guess me being a gunfighter, it’s the last thing I should be wearing huh?”

“ You mean used to be a gunfighter. You’re not one any more. Now you’re Johnny Lancer horseman and rancher.” Joe said with a smile.

.

Two days later the rains stopped and the sun came out. Johnny and his father was riding just ahead of the men when an arrows started piercing the ground around them. Chaos followed as the men grabbed their rifles and started firing as the Indians charged.

Move toward those boulders.” Johnny yelled as he spurred Barranca forward while firing his pistol.

Reaching the rocks the men dismounted and waited. The Indians stopped their attack just as fast as it started.

“ Where are they?” Joe asked. “Why’d they stop?”

“ They’re moving around for a better chance at us, or to spook the horses off. Clint help me get the horses secured. Murdoch you and the rest keep your eyes open. Don’t shoot unless you have a sure shot. We don’t need to run out of ammo.” Johnny ordered before moving back toward the horses. A few minutes later he and Clint had come back. “ The horses can’t get away unless they run past us.”

“ So that means the Apache’s can’t get at us from behind either, right?”

“ Maybe…”

“ Johnny look.” Murdoch said pointing.

A brave was walking his horse toward them. Joe took aim and was going to shoot when Johnny stopped him. “ No wait……he want’s to talk.” he said standing and stepping out from behind the rock.

“ Johnny wait……how do we know it’s not a trap?”

“ Because that’s the son of a chief. See that mark on his horses chest and the feather hanging down the horses face. Only the Apache chiefs son is allowed that.” Johnny said as he stepped away from the rocks. “ You speak English?”  he asked.

“ I speak the white mans tongue. You are on Apache land.”

“ We only pass through. We mean you no harm. We want no trouble.”

“ You wear the beads of the Modoch tribe I see. Beads that say you are a strong brave warrior. I am a great warrior. Do you think you are greater than me or my braves white eyes?” the man asked as he got off his horse.

“ We want no trouble.”

“ You think you are brave. You all will be killed if you do not prove your bravery. You show that you are not afraid of dying. No Apache is afraid of the spirit world. A great warrior is welcomed into the spirit world by those before him.”

“ What’s he talking about Johnny?” Murdoch asked as he stepped forward.

“ We will fight the Apache way.”

“ And if I win.” Johnny asked as he started to take his gun off.

“ I will let you go, but you will not beat my warrior. He is very skilled in Apache fighting.”

“ Johnny what is Apache fighting?” Murdoch demanded.

“ Apache fighting is one hand tied to the opponent and the other free.”

“ And what, fight with your fist?”

“ No, knives to the death.” Johnny said as he reached down and pulled a knife from the inside of his right boot.

Murdoch was shocked when his son pulled the big knife out. He never knew his son had it. The only knife he had seen his son use was a small one about six inches long. This one had an eight inch blade and looked like it was honed down razor sharp. “ If you lose son?”

“ If I lose then we all lose and Scott will be running Lancer alone.” Johnny said. “ This is a fight to the death. Only one of us will come out of this alive.”

“ I can’t let you do this. I can’t stand by and watch you do this son.”

“ You got no choice. I’ve done this kind of fighting before. Stay out of it. The Apache respect bravery. They respect a man who shows no fear.”

“ Will that keep us alive?”

“ Didn’t say that. Said they respect it.” Johnny said before walking over and holding out his left arm. A brave tied a strip of leather around his wrist then tied the other end around a warrior who was clearly a foot taller and heavier than he was. “ What do they call you?” he asked.

“ He speaks no white man tongue. He is called Stands with a knife because he has killed more men with his knife than any other warrior in or tribe.”

“ And what do they call you?”

“ I am Yellow Fox. I am called this because I am as swift as a fox and just as smart.”

“ A fox can get caught in a hen house. I wouldn’t say that’s too smart.” Johnny said right before Stands with a knife lunged at him.

Moving to his left Johnny lashed out with his own knife hitting Stands with a knifes blade deflecting it away from his side. Holding his knife at his side and his left arm out in front of him Johnny watched his opponents eyes. Just like in a gunfight the eyes widen just enough before the draw giving him the edge he so desperately needed. Seeing the sign as the brave lunged again straight on at him Johnny stepped back and swept his knife out in front of him from left to right, the blades zinging together on contact. Tripping over a rock as he moved backwards Johnny went down on his back with the brave following poised to plunge his knife deep in his chest. Reaching out Johnny grabbed the brave as he brought his feet up and flipped the man over his head to land hard behind him. Scrambling to his feet jumping back as the brave lunged forward slashing his knife from side to side, Sweat ran down into his eyes stinging them, but he couldn’t wipe at it. He couldn’t take his eyes off his adversary.

Murdoch and the men watched in fear as his son fought for their lives and his own. He couldn’t help but wonder where his son had learned to fight with a knife.  When Johnny went down and the brave lunged his heart stopped for a split second. Glancing at Yellow Fox he could see that the man was a little surprised his son was still alive and fighting. Not wanting to distract him Murdoch silently prayed for his boy to win, only this wasn’t Johnny Lancer fighting, no this was Madrid and deep down inside he knew that what he was seeing was a part of his son Johnny didn’t want him to see.

Johnny’s knife drew first blood when he flipped his knife so the blade was back toward him the brave lunged thinking he could kill when Johnny’s right arm swept out from his side right to left bringing the blade across the braves lower chest just above his stomach. The wound was deep and blood ran down soaking his breeches. Johnny could see the anger in the braves eyes. “ What’s the matter, no one ever draw blood on you before?” Johnny asked as he again held the knife backwards. Before he could move the brave suddenly flicked  his knife and it embedded in Johnny’s left thigh dropping him to the ground. Reaching to pull the blade out with his left hand he suddenly found himself on his back struggling as the brave locked his hands around his throat. Dropping his own knife near his right shoulder Johnny tried desperately to get free. Suddenly feeling some of the pressure on his throat ease as the brave removed one hand he was able to take in some air before he felt the blade buried in his leg being twisted causing him to cry out in pain. Knowing there was only one thing he could do and he had to do it right the first time or he would be killed Johnny glanced and could see his knife laying by his face. As the brave pulled his knife out of his leg Johnny let go of the mans hand around his throat and grabbed his own knife and brought it up and across the braves throat fast. Seeing the shock in the braves eyes as he got up holding his throat and looking at Yellow Fox. Blood ran from between his fingers and down his chest as the braves staggered a couple of steps before falling to the ground dead.

Johnny was jerked forward as the brave fell before he could cut the leather rope binding him to the man. Still holding his bloody knife he swiftly cut the leather as he rolled to his side and staggeringly stood back up. Blood ran down his leg as he stood with his weight kept on his right leg mostly.

“ I didn’t want to do this.” he said between breaths. “ You lost a good brave for no reason. We just wanted to pass through your land with no trouble.” Johnny said firmly but with anger as he stepped toward Yellow Fox. “ How many braves are you willing to sacrifice over something so stupid Yellow Fox?”

Two braves grabbed Johnny on each side as Yellow Fox stepped forward. “ I am a man of my word. The Modoch’ even though they are an enemy to the Apache, they chose right in you. You are a strong and worthy brave. You know no fear, you show no fear. Even now you look me in the eyes. I see only a man before me who shall pass through Apache land without fear from this day on.” Yellow Fox said as he removed a Golden Eagle feather from his spear. “ You have the spirit of the Bear and the eyes of the Eagle. You know when you will be attacked and attack  yourself.  You will be welcomed into the spirit world when the time comes without shame. Go in peace Johnny Madrid.”

Johnny was stunned a little. “ Wait, how did you know I was Madrid?”

“ I knew because we hear of the Modoch being visited by a man with blue eyes who knows nothing of fear.” Yellow Fox said before turning and walking back to his horse. “ You have a good son white eyes. Do not be ashamed of him.” Yellow Fox said looking at Murdoch.

“ I don’t.” Murdoch said as he went to his sons side.

Johnny stood there and watched the Apache’s ride away with the dead brave laying across his horses back. Finally unable to stand anymore he felt himself start to fall, only to be grabbed by his father and eased to the ground. Unable to look at him, or the men Johnny kept his eyes diverted away.

“ Clint go get my saddlebags.” Murdoch ordered as he looked at the wound in his sons leg. “ Joe bring me that leather rope so I can tie it around the leg to slow the bleeding.”

Johnny laid back and closed his eyes as his father applied pressure to the wound after tying the rope around his leg. The blade had went in at an angle catching the meaty flesh of the leg before coming back out. “ Guess I’m lucky he didn’t stick it straight in to the bone.” he said between gritted teeth.

“ Just stop the bleeding for know so I can ride. We need to get out of here before they decide to come back.”

“ This needs stitched up son before you can ride.”

“ I told you to just wrap it up until we get out of here. If they come back old man we’re all dead. The Apache ain’t known for honoring their word.”

“ But he told you……..”

“ Don’t okay…….bring me my horse.” Johnny said with anger as he pushed his father away so he could stand. The men just stood there so he whistled and Barranca came trotting up to him. Grabbing the saddle horn Johnny put his left foot in the stirrup and pulled himself up into the saddle.

Murdoch watched his son with both anger and understanding. Deep down inside he couldn’t help but wonder how many times his boy had played out this same scenario. Going to his horse and mounting up he moved over next to Barranca and put a hand out.

“ I’m alright. Get moving.” Johnny ordered as he moved Barranca out.

Several hours later the sun was starting to go down behind the mountains when Barranca stopped. Johnny swayed forward in his saddle a little as he undid his canteen. Looking down at his leg, blood still seeped  out and had the bandage soaked and was spreading over his thigh and down. He could feel the blood run down under his pants. Taking a drink of water he sighed as he refastened the canteen. He knew what had to be done. He’d done it before. Had his own brother do it to him.

Murdoch rode up next to him and and could tell his son was fevered. “ I need to clean and stitch that wound and change the bandage.” he said.

“ Need to do more than that to it old man.” Johnny said as he swung his leg over Barranca’ back and got down. Hanging on to the saddle so he wouldn’t fall. “ Get a fire going Clint.” Johnny said as his father came over and put an arm under his right side and helped him over to a rock to sit down. “ Get my knife.” he asked laying his head back trying to stop the queasy feeling he had. “ I want you men to go on ahead home if you want. No need in me slowing you up. Go on home to your wives it’s safe travel from here on out.” Johnny said with firmness.

“ We can’t ride off and leave you Johnny.” Joe said.

“ I gave you an order. Go on back to Lancer. My old man will be with me so I’ll be alright. Go home.”

After some grumbling the men mounted up and headed west. Joe and Clint stayed behind refusing to leave.

“ We got no wives Johnny, me and Clint’ stayin and you’re not makin us leave you.”

Johnny looked at the two men standing before him. “ You may regret staying after seein what has to be done.”

“ Maybe.” Joe said

.

A short time later a fire was going good and Johnny handed his knife to his father. “ Stick the blade down in the embers. It’s the only way the bleeding will stop.”

Murdoch looked up at Clint and Joe then back down at his boy. “ Are you sure son? Maybe after I stitch it up the bleeding will stop.”

“ Trust me old man I know what I’m doing.”

Putting the red hot blade to his sons leg was the hardest thing Murdoch had ever done. Hearing his son scream through the piece of wood in his mouth literally broke his heart. He was glad when he passed out from the pain finally and he could stitch the wound up. Checking his sons forehead he was glad the fever hadn’t gotten worse.

“ I couldn’t do it.” Joe stated. “ What Johnny just had done to him, I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

“ Unfortunately my son has had to do it to himself in the past without help Joe.” Murdoch said as he wiped the sweat from Johnny’s forehead.

“ He’ll be alright won’t he mister Lancer?” Clint asked.

“ I think so, if the fever doesn’t get any worse. We’re out of Indian territory now and should be alright the rest of the way home. I don’t know how far it is to a town with a doctor, or if the next town even has one.”

Johnny came too the next morning and found his father wiping his forehead with a cool cloth. “ Hey.”

“ Hey yourself son. How do you feel?”

“ Tired, leg hurts some but I’m alright.”

“Yeah I know, you’ve had worse right?”

“ Something like that, could I get a drink of water?” Johnny asked as he attempted to raise up and scoot back against a rock.

“ Easy.” Murdoch said as he reached for the canteen and removed the cap. “ Not to much.”

Johnny relished the coolness as the water made its way down his parched throat. “ Thanks.” he said noticing Clint and Joe was still with them. “ You think I was wrong sending the men on home?” he asked looking down at his leg.

“ It’s not my decision to make son. You’re their boss.” Murdoch said as he put the canteen down. “ You think you could eat something?”

“ Yeah, I’m starved.”

“ How far is the next town Johnny?” Clint asked as he handed him a plate of beans and hardtack.

“ Thanks, Prescott.” he said before diving into the plate of food.

“ Johnny……I just want to say that what you did back there……..you put your life on the line for us….Thank you.”

“ I seen what Apache do to white men for fun when killing them. They like to dig a hole and stick a man in it so just his head is sticking out and pour something sticky like honey over them and leave ’em to die. It’s always next to an ant or bee nest if lucky.”

“ Why’d he give you that feather?”

Johnny set his plate down and picked up the cup of coffee his father had given him. “ The Eagle, Wolf and Bear are three of the most powerful symbols to the Indian. It don’t matter what tribe. They are brothers to them all. The Grizzly represents strength, power, the Wolf speed and ability to take down prey, the Eagle keenness in the eyes, sharpness and able to see what the prey is going to do before he does it…..You ever see an Eagle or Hawk catch it’s prey?”

“ Yeah.”

“ You know how they can catch a rabbit so easy when that rabbit is zigzagging as it runs. It’s because of it’s eyes. It’s the same when I was fighting that brave or facing a man who calls me out. Their eyes give them away. They widen just enough before the draw or strike and if the other person see’s it he has an advantage. It may be just  a second but it’s kept me alive all this time.”

“ That and the fact that you’re fast with your draw.” Joe said.

“ Being fast doesn’t always mean you will win a gunfight Joe. I’ve killed men that was faster than me because of what I just told you. If I didn’t know to look for that then I would have been killed a long time ago.” Johnny said as he looked at his father. He hoped that what he was saying was getting through to Joe. He had noticed when he hired the young man, how he wore his gun low. Not as low as he did but to the trained eye it was there. For some unexplained reason he didn’t understand he felt the need to tell the boy what he did. Maybe he could see a little of himself in him at that age, even though Joe was two years younger than him. Maybe telling him would help deter the boy from wanting it like he had. All he could do was hope his words of experience didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Fifteen days later the four men rode under the Lancer arch and into the yard. Johnny’s leg was still sore and he limped when he walked but the wound was healing up and would soon be just another scar on his already scarred up body. Spotting his brother walking out of the barn he couldn’t help but smile as he got down and limped toward him.

“ It’s about time you got back.” Scott said as he grabbed his fathers hand and shook it. Turning to his brother he smiled. “ I was going to send out a search team looking for you.” Scott said as he noticed his brothers limp. “ The men came back and told me what happened. You alright?”

“ Yeah Boston. You know me.”

“ I surely do brother.” he said before pulling his brother into a hug. “ Come on, let’s get you in the house off that leg.”

“ Frank take good care of Barranca for me would you?” Johnny asked as he limped beside his brother toward the house.

That night the three Lancer men sat at the dinner table relishing in the comfort of being with each other again. Murdoch spoke of what happened along the drive and how they had lost only three horses. Deciding not to say anything about what took place at the fort. That he knew would be Johnny’s decision to tell his brother when and if he chose to. He listened intently as Scott told him what went on at the ranch and was glad no major problem had arisen while he was gone.

“ I’m curious about something little brother.”

“ Yeah what’s that Boston?” Johnny said as he shoved a fork full of mashed potato’s in his mouth.

Scott smiled. “ I missed that brother. You calling me Boston…..Your account has seven thousand dollars in it. The horses brought you six, Where did the other thousand come from?”

“ I sold two of Barranca’ foal to the major. The matched pair.”

“ I thought you wanted to keep them?”

“ I did but I changed my mind. I gotta deliver them in late spring. They’re graduation gifts for his daughters when they come out next year from back east at some finishing school with his wife.”

Johnny said as he pushed back from the table. “ I’m gonna go check on Barranca then call it a night.”

“ Alright son. I’ll see you in the morning.” Murdoch said.

“ Angel is very fat little brother. Frank and I think she may be carrying twins. She’s gonna be glad to see you as will another certain spoiled filly.”

Johnny smiled. “ You’re just jealous because I get all the ladies attention brother.”

“ Oh on the contrary brother. I am anything but.”

Johnny limped to the door and grabbed his coat before going out. For the first time ever he walked out of the house without his gun on. He was after all Johnny Lancer the rancher now, not Johnny Madrid the gunfighter. He knew he would still have to wear the gun while out working or in town but tonight for some reason he felt he didn’t need too.

Scott looked at his father after Johnny left. He could tell something had happened. His brother was different. “ Is he alright sir?”

Murdoch put his fork down. “ I don’t know son. I don’t think he’s forgiven himself for what he had to do.”

“ You mean fighting the brave? It wasn’t a choice he had to make.”

“ I know it and the men know it but your brother. I think it’s like with the Comanchero’s Scott. He didn’t want me seeing him as Madrid then and I don’t think he wanted me to see him as Madrid when fighting that brave. I told him I am no less proud of him. That he did what he had to do to survive.”

Scott stood up. “ Maybe I’ll go out and see if he will talk to me.”

“ No son, not tonight. Give him some time to work things out. Johnny will tell you when he’s ready.”

Murdoch said as he stood. “ Join me in a brandy?”

“ Sure.” Scott said even though he knew his brother needed him. Needed someone he could talk to.

.

The next week Scott couldn’t help but notice his brother and Joe and the time they spent together. Murdoch had told him what Johnny had said to the man and felt like a part of him was being replaced maybe by this younger man. When Johnny announced he was going into town for a cold beer some female companionship and asked Joe along and not him he was a little more than hurt. Playing a game of chess with his father that night he decided to see if he had noticed the change also.

“ Johnny seems to be spending a lot of time with Joe since you got back.”

“ I noticed that my self son. I was surprised when he didn’t invite you along tonight. You think your brother is still upset about what happened between you two before we left?”

“ I don’t see why he should be. That was over three months ago.”

“ Has he talked to you at all about the drive?”

“ No sir, and I have not asked him.”

“ Why not?”

“ Because I figured that he would tell me when he was ready like before. I did notice that before you left he asked me to start a bank account for just the horses when the deal was done but mister Harper it seems already knew about it.” Scott said as he moved a knight.

“ He did, how?”

“ It would seem sir that my brother requested him to do so when the money was wired. I just happened to be at the bank that very same day taking out money to pay the hands.”

“ Did you get a good price for that bull son?”

“ Yes sir. Mister Cartwell was very pleased with the bull and the price.”

Johnny and Joe rode into Morro Coyo to the Red Palace saloon. Walking inside he glanced around the room quickly before walking over to the bar. Sara was just coming down the stairs when he ordered a beer and turned around to take a sip.

“ Well look what the cat drug in.” Sara said with a smile as she walked up to Johnny.

“ Sara. I told you I’d be back.”

“Yes you did. I haven’t forgotten the promise you made me that night either lover.” she said glancing at Joe.

“ Joe this is Sara.” Johnny said as he set his beer down.

“ Ma’am….uh Johnny I think I’m gonna go sit in that card game a bit.”

“ Okay Joe.” Johnny said as he picked up his beer again.

“ So you want to go upstairs with me?” Sara asked as she wrapped her arm down Johnny’s left arm.

Johnny looked into her eyes and smiled. “ Not just yet.” he said before taking a drink. As he pulled his arm free he remembered what his brother had said about Sara and thought he would test that theory.

Finishing his beer he turned around and walked over to another girl who was standing at the poker table watching the game. Whispering in her ear he took her hand and headed upstairs with her. He could see Sara was angry but didn’t care.

“ Hey I thought me and you was going upstairs Johnny?” Sara asked as she gave the other girl a hateful stare.

“ I’m going upstairs, just not with you.” Johnny said.

“ I thought I was your girl.”

Johnny stopped and turned around and stepped closer to her. “ I don’t have a steady girl and I don’t want a steady girl Sara. I chose who I fuck and tonight I chose not to fuck you.”

“ You bastard.” she said angrily before turning and walking away.

Johnny watched her walk away, then turned to the other girl and smiled. “ Still want to go upstairs with me?” he asked her softly.

The girl nodded her head and followed him up the stairs to her room.

Johnny could tell that Sara had upset her. Closing the door he undid his belt and laid it on the chair next to the bed.

“ So you’re Johnny huh?” she asked as she started undoing her dress.

“ Yeah, why you ask?”

“ Sara. You’re all she talks about to us girls. Says she an you are getting married when you come back.”

“ Really? Well I guess she forgot to tell me this cause I got no inclination to be getting hitched.”

“ Cording to her you was. Said she’d stomp any of us girls that so much as thought about bein with ya when ya got back.”

Johnny walked over to the girl and put his right hand under her chin and brought her face up so he could look her in the eyes. “ Listen to me. Sara was a new girl and I was her first man a year ago. I guess I gave her the wrong impression when I only slept with her and no one else. If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.”

“ I do.”

“ Whats your name?” he asked as he started running his hand down between her breast.

“ Carrie. You can do whatever you want to me, and I’ll do whatever you want Johnny. I can call you Johnny can’t I?”

“ Yes.” he told her before kissing her gently on the lips. Having not had a woman in almost four months he wanted to go slow. Kissing her all over her face as he ran his hands over her breast. Looking her in the eyes he could tell she wanted to but was unsure. “ Relax, I won’t hurt you Carrie.” Johnny told her before kissing her again and sliding his tongue in her mouth. Moaning he deepened the kiss as he pulled her into his chest more. He could feel her starting to relax more as she ran her hands up and down his back and pressed into his hardness. Breaking off the kiss Johnny reached down and started undoing his pants as Carrie undid his shirt and slid it off his back and pulled the sleeves down off his arms. Turning her around and walking her backwards to the bed Johnny gently laid her down before he kicked off his boots and pants. Moving above her he let the tip of his cock touch her mound just enough for her to reach down and take hold and try and get him to enter her as she spread her legs and wrapped them around him.

“ Easy, I don’t like to rush.” he told her before taking her right breast in his mouth and sucking on it as hard as he could. Swirling his tongue around the nipple as he did. Switching back and forth on them as he slid his right hand down between her legs and rubbing her mound. When she rose her hips up to his touch he started toying with her folds as she got wetter and hotter. Sliding two fingers inside her hole and working them around as he moved back up to claim her mouth again. Delving his tongue deep inside and sucking on hers as he slid another finger into her.

Carrie reached down and took his cock in her right hand and started pumping it hard as she reached with her left and squeezed his balls. She could feel his sac getting harder the more she worked her hand on his shaft.

Johnny stopped kissing her and rose up a little as he looked down and watched her jerk him off. Thrusting his hips to her rhythm. Reaching down he pulled her up so her mouth was at his throbbing dripping cock head. “ Taste me.” he asked more than said.

Carrie wanted to taste his juices and more. She wanted to know if Johnny Madrid was the man in bed the other girls told her he was when in Laredo. She wasn’t old enough for him seven years ago, but she was now and now she had him in her bed. Even if it was just this one time, she didn’t care. The man was every bit of ten inches if not more and thicker than any man she had ever had in her five years whoring. Taking her tongue and swirling it around his tip as she continued to pump his shaft with one hand while squeezing his balls with the other. Finally she started taking him into her mouth slowly so she could get him down her throat. Finally having almost all of his shaft in her mouth Carrie started sucking as hard as she could as she ran her hands up and down his chest.

Johnny took Carrie’s head in his hands and thrust in and out of her mouth keeping in rhythm as his balls tightened even more. “ I’m not gonna be able to stop it much longer.” he told her as his breathing picked up. Looking down he watched his cock slid in and out of her mouth for several seconds before his climax started and he thrust hard and threw his head back as he released his hot seed down her throat.

Carrie knew he was close to exploding. Right before he released his balls got really tight and his cock jumped in her mouth. Sucking as hard as she could as she took his seed down her throat. When she was sure he was done releasing only then did Carrie stop sucking on him and start kissing her way up to his mouth only to be pushed down on the bed as Johnny attacked her breast roughly sucking and pulling on the nipples with his teeth as he again started working her mound and parting her folded skin bringing a moan of pleasure from her lips as she pressed her head back into the mattress more.

Johnny slid his fingers back inside Carrie’ wet hole and started working them in and out as his thumb pressed of her sensitive spot just above. Thrusting his fingers in and out faster now he could feel her muscles tightening around them. Stopping he moved his mouth down and let his tongue do what his fingers were just doing as he slid his hands up and started pinching her breast.

“ Oh Johnny I’m gonna……Oh my god.” Carrie cried out as she reached down and grabbed his head and pushed his face into her pussy more.

Johnny sucked as hard as he could until Carrie’ climax started to abate, then he grabbed her arms and pulled her up and picking her up at the waist he brought her back down onto his rock hard shaft. Her juices still flowing allowed him to slide into her hole with ease as he carried her over and backed her up against the wall. “ You ready to be fucked.” he asked as he started thrusting up into her as he rose her up and brought her down hard on his cock.

“ Oh yeah Johnny……fuck me harder….come on do it. Oh my god fuck me.” Carrie begged as she held on with her legs locked behind his back. “ Fuck me.”

Johnny claimed her mouth again and kissed her roughly as his tongue claimed the back of her mouth in places no mans tongue had been. Thrusting as hard as he could up into her, rubbing her spot every time he pulled out and thrust back in. A picture hanging on the wall crashed to the floor breaking the glass as he slammed her roughly against the wall for several minutes before slowing and holding on to her he walked back to the bed and dropped with her on the mattress below. Claiming her mouth once again as he slammed into her even harder than before. The headboard of the bed rocked and hit the wall with every thrust. The springs creaked and moaned under their weight. Johnny stopped and rose up on his knees. “ Turn over.”

Carrie turned over and brought her buttocks up against his throbbing tip.

Johnny slid back inside her hole and started thrusting hard into her as he reached around and started pinching and pulling on her clit. Pushing on her back between her shoulders Johnny had Carrie right where he wanted her now. Now she was totally at his mercy. Now he could work her folds and pinch her clit as he slammed into her. Sweat ran down his back, his chest gleamed with it. Wiping at his eyes every minute or so when he would slow his thrust just enough to keep his climax from happening just yet. “ You like that Carrie? You like me doing you like this?” he asked between breaths.

“ Oh yes……do me harder Johnny. Make me cum again. Please  make me cum again all over your cock.” she pleaded.

“ Yeah, you want to huh. Raise up.” Johnny said as he helped her raise up so her back was against his chest. Thrusting upward now Johnny knew he was hitting the right spot when she let out a scream of pleasure. Grabbing her face and turning it he delved his tongue into her mouth again swirling his tongue around hers and sucking on her bottom lip as she half turned to face him. Johnny now had the headboard hitting the wall so hard the bed was moving backwards with every thrust he made. Deciding it was time for release Johnny pulled out and turned Carrie around and pushed her down on the bed as he slid into her. “ Wrap your legs and arms around me.”

Carrie did just as Johnny picked her up again. Holding her down he thrust up into her hard several times before his release started. Dropping to the bed he claimed her mouth again as he released his seed deep inside her. Feeling his cock slide out of her Johnny rolled off  and lay on his back trying to get his breathing under control. Carrie rolled over so she was half laying on his right side and nuzzled her head into his shoulder.

“ Wow.” Carrie said as she played with the hair on his chest. “ They was right about you Johnny.”

“ They?” Johnny asked as he put his right arm around her and ran his fingers gently up and down her arm.

“ You don’t remember me do you?” she asked looking into his blue eyes. “ Laredo, I wasn’t old enough to go upstairs but I remember you. The girls would talk about you and how good you was too them in bed.”

Johnny laughed. “ Yeah. I haven’t been in Laredo for five years. How old are you?”

“ Nineteen.”

Johnny rolled onto his right side so he was facing her. “ You was the girl I seen working in the back. You would bring food out or clean up.”

Carrie shook her head. “ Thank you Johnny. I always hoped I’d get a chance to be with a man like you and tonight I did.”

“ I ain’t done with you yet.” Johnny told her before he claimed her mouth again as he rolled her on her back and got on top of her. Guiding his hard cock inside her as she wrapped her legs around his waist again. This time he went slow, pulling out so just the tip was still in her then sliding his cock back in a little deeper each time. Keeping himself at just the right position above her he moved just to her left a little and smiled when he knew he hit her G spot. Thrusting a little harder Johnny kept driving into Carrie until he felt her muscles tighten around his shaft as wave after wave  wracked her body as her climax exploded. With one final hard thrust Johnny released his seed again deep inside her wet portal.

Twenty minutes later Johnny and Carrie walked down stairs. Sara watched them with anger in her eyes. Walking over to the stairs when they got to the bottom. Reaching out her right hand Sara slapped Carrie hard across the face. Everyone in the saloon turned and watched. “ He’s mine Bitch. I told you what I would do if anyone thought they could take him.”  Sara stammered.

Carrie put her left hand on her cheek. “ Johnny chose me tonight Sara. You don’t own him. A customer has the right to chose the girl he wants upstairs and he chose me. Get over it.” Carrie said with anger.  “Don’t you ever hit me again.”

“ I told you Sara that you don’t own me. No woman owns me.” Johnny told her as he took Carrie’ arm and led her to the bar.

“ We’ll just see about that Johnny. You lying bastard.”

“ Sara, get out. You don’t work for me any longer. I won’t have any of my girls acting like this.” the saloon owner ordered.

Sara glared at Johnny hard before heading to the door and leaving.

“ You alright?” he asked Carrie as he gently checked her face.

“ Yeah, I’m sorry.”

“ Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. You got hit because of me.”

“ Johnny, I don’t want you coming in my saloon any more. I’m sorry but I can’t have the women fighting over you or causing trouble.”

“ Sure, I understand.” he said before gently kissing Carrie on the lips. “ I’ll see you again I hope….. Joe I’m heading back to the ranch. You ready?”

“ Yeah Johnny These boys have just about cleaned me out.” Joe said before standing up. “ Cash me out boys. Maybe next Saturday night I can win some of my money back.” Joe said with a smile before turning and heading to the door where Johnny stood.

.

Chapter 24

Johnny was quiet on the ride home and pretty much worked sun-up to sun-down the next week clearing out washes and repairing fence lines. When he heard a horse approaching he didn’t have to look up to know it was his brother.

Scott reined in and got off his horse and tied him next to Barranca. Walking over to his brother he took off his hat and wiped the sweat away. “ Johnny…..we need to talk little brother.”

Johnny glanced at him as he walked past to get another fence post. “ Yeah….what about?”

“ Well for starters I would like to know what I did to make you upset with me?”

“ What makes you think I’m upset with you Boston?” he asked as he grabbed a post.

“ Oh I don’t know brother, how about the fact that you haven’t spoken ten words to me all week. You go into town with Joe for a cold beer last weekend and didn’t even bother to ask me along.”

“ Whats the matter Scott, you jealous that me and Joe are hangin out?”

“ No Johnny I am not jealous.”

“ Sounds like it to me. Or maybe it’s because I talked to banker Harper to start an account for me when the money was wired?”

“You know what little brother, I don’t know what has given you this attitude you have since coming back but I will be damned if I am going to let you treat me this way. I heard about your little show in town with Sara. I told you. But would you listen?….No. You’re the talk of the town I hope you know. I also hope you know that Murdoch knows about it also.”

“ I don’t give a fuck what you know Scott. My personal life is just that. Stay the fuck out of it or else.” Johnny said harshly as he started to walk past to get another post.

Scott grabbed his brothers right arm and spun him around and hit him just as hard as he could. “ I plan too.” Scott said with anger before turning and going to his horse and mounting up. “ If that’s how you want to be Johnny, fine. Oh by the way you have a telegram at the house from Fort Bowie.” he said before turning his horse and riding away.

Johnny stood there and watched his brother ride off. He didn’t know why he just treated him the way he just did. Taking off his gloves he threw them in the wagon and grabbed his canteen hanging from the side. Pouring water over his sweat soaked chest and head after taking a drink. Walking over to Barranca he tightened his cinch and mounted up. Just as he started to leave a shot rang out hitting him hard in the upper left arm. Barranca bolted when Johnny came out of the saddle and landed hard on the ground. A single rider walked their horse up to the still form laying on the ground and got down. Pushing with the toe of their boot they turned him over and could see the blood coming from the left arm. Looking in the direction the horse ran the rider knew they didn’t have much time. Working fast they got Johnny up and across their saddle and mounted up behind him and rode away.

.

Scott rode into the yard and got down. He was still angry at his brother, but more angry at himself for hitting his brother. He had had no intention of arguing with Johnny when he rode out there. All he had intended to do was chat a little if he would and inform him about the telegram.

“ Son. Did you tell your brother about the telegram?”

“ Yes sir.”

“ I take it from the look on your face, it didn’t go well between you two.”

“ No sir. I hit him. I didn’t mean too. It’s just that I was angry and hurt over the way he has treated me this past week. He told me he didn’t care about what people were saying about him in town and that I should mind my own business.”

“ I think the three of us need to sit down tonight and have a serious discussion.” Murdoch said before turning to the sound of a horse galloping in. “ That’s Barranca.”

Scott’ heart sank when his brothers horse came in without him.

“ He was fine when I left him sir. I didn’t hit him that hard.” Scott said with worry.

Frank.” Murdoch yelled.

“ Yes sir.” Frank answered as he came running.

“ Get some men mounted, Johnny’s horse just came back without him.”

“ Yes sir…..you heard mister Lancer, get mounted. You think Johnny’s in trouble?”

“ I don’t know.” Murdoch stated as he grabbed his horse and mounted up. “ Johnny was repairing the fence up toward Elk Canyon. Keep you eyes peeled for any sign of him.” the patriarch ordered before spurring his horse to a gallop followed by Scott and the men.

.

Hardluck was once a booming gold mining town. Now it was just another ghost town like so many other mines that played out. Hardly anyone came into the town and if they did it was a drifter or ranch hand from a neighboring ranch seeking shelter maybe when a storm brewed up unexpectedly. The rider rode his horse into the barn at the north end of town and got down. Without any care at all he shoved the still unconscious Johnny off his horse to the hard floor below. After taking his horse into a stall he walked back over and dragged Johnny over to a post and secured his arms behind his back with a strip of leather, he then proceeded to tie his legs together at the ankles just as a precaution. Making sure his prisoner wasn’t going anywhere the man left the barn.

Pain, burning pain was what he felt. Opening his eyes Johnny blinked a couple times adjusting to the semi darkness of where he was. Trying to move he found himself hanging with his arms secured above his head.  He could tell the barn wasn’t at Lancer. Finding his feet also bound up at the ankles and barely touching the floor, he remembered he had gotten on Barranca and was headed back to Lancer after a fight with his brother. The weight of his body pulling on his arms he tried to relieve it some only to be met with a sharp pain in his left arm. He could feel the wetness from the blood that had run down his side since his arm was above him. Looking up he tried to see just what he was tied to but couldn’t. He could feel the rope biting into his wrist and his fingers were starting to numb as were his arms from lack of blood.

Murdoch, Scott Frank, Joe and Clint rode up to the wagon where Johnny had been working. Scott got down and found where his brother was on the ground. Foot prints showed another person in the soft soil had dragged his brother a few feet and put him on a horse. “ Whoever took Johnny, took him away on his own horse. The tracks are deeper from carrying two. Looks like they head off to the northwest toward the mountains.” Scott said before getting back on his horse.

“ That’s toward Driscoll’s land. You think he has anything to do with this mister Lancer?” Frank asked.

“ I don’t know Frank. I do know that Driscoll has made it very clear how he feels about Johnny. If he is responsible and has my son…….” Murdoch said leaving the obvious unsaid.

“ Why though? Johnny’s a good man. Why would this Driscoll want to hurt him?” Joe asked.

“ Because Joe.” Murdoch stated. “ Driscoll feels my son doesn’t belong in this valley. He thinks of Johnny as a cold blooded killer.”

“ Because of his past sir?” Clint asked.

“ Yes…….lets get moving. It’ll be dark in a few hours.” the Lancer patriarch ordered.

.

It was now dark in the barn and Johnny heard the door open then close. No moon outside had the barn pitch black inside. An occasional scurrying could be heard coming from the loft as the sun set. Johnny knew from the chatter that it was a coon going out for it’s nightly prowling. Hearing someone walk up to him he tried to see but couldn’t.

“ I see you’re awake now Madrid. That’s too bad for you. I’d get used to the dark if I were you though cause where you’re going, that’s all you’ll have once I’m done having a little fun with you.” the voice said keeping the lantern down so Johnny couldn’t see his face just yet.

The voice was familiar but he couldn’t quiet place it. Someone who knew him as Madrid, but who?

“ Why don’t you show yourself? Face me man to man. Or are you the type who hides.”

Johnny said right before he was hit hard in the face. “ That the best you can do coward?” he asked and again was hit in the face then punched in the gut knocking the wind out of him.

“ You got a big mouth on you half breed……I told you we don’t need your kind around here. I told you to leave.”

“ Driscoll……Hey the Deegans chickened out, well Billy did. My father killed Carl. Guess your just a regular fuck up ain’t ya. You ain’t got the balls to do the dirty work yourself. You gotta hire some lame ass brothers to try and do it for you.” Johnny said as he prepared himself for another blow that didn’t come. “ Remember Santee Driscoll? Remember watching him die in the street……..You kill me and I promise you my father and brother will come after you and there isn’t a place small enough for you to hide in you sonofabitch.” Johnny spat.

Driscoll hit Johnny again two more times in the gut before striking a match and lighting a lantern. “ I’m going to put you in hell killer, right were you belong. Ain’t nobody gonna find your stinkin rotten corpse where I’m putting you.”

“ I hate to be the bearer of bad news Driscoll but I’ve already been to hell and I’m not afraid of dying. My horse running off like he did, he headed back to the ranch so I know my old man and brother are looking for me. You’ll be real easy to track too.”

“ Shut up breed.” Driscoll ordered before slapping Johnny across the face. “ Ain’t nobody gonna follow a single riders tracks.”

“ But you see that’s just it. Your horse was carrying two people so his tracks will be set deeper in the dirt. Real easy for my old man to follow. You might as well turn me loose or ride out while you still can.”

I said shut up!” Driscoll yelled as he set the lantern down and walked behind Johnny. “ Let’s just see how much of a smart mouth you got when I’m done with you.” Driscoll said before ripping Johnny’s shirt down off his back.

Johnny knew now what was going to happen. He’d been whipped before when in a Mexican prison. Pain was something he had learned to deal with a long time ago. “ I hope you ain’t plannin on me screamin, cause well you’re in for a disappointment.” Johnny said right before he felt the whip hit his back causing him to arch forward away from it.

“ We’ll see about that.” Driscoll smirked before hitting Johnny again.

Murdoch, Scott and the men rode up to Driscoll’ Ranch house and was met by the man’s foreman.

“ What can I do for you Lancer?”

“ I want to see Driscoll!”

“ He’s not here right now sir.”

“ When will he be back?”

“ I don’t rightly know. He left this morning, said he had something he had to take care of and didn’t say when he would be back. Something I can help you with?”

“ Do you know where he went?’ Scott asked before his father could.

“ No, no he didn’t say come to think of it. It’s kinda funny though.”

“ What do you mean? Funny how?”

“ Well, the way he’s been riding out last couple of days. One of the men seen him over by Hardluck yesterday and Driscoll told the man it was none of his business what he was doing there.”

“ Hardluck huh? Alright, thank you for your time.”

“ Sure thing. You want me to tell Driscoll you was looking for him when he gets back?”

“ No, that won’t be necessary.” Murdoch said before turning his horse and leaving.

A short ways away from the ranch he pulled up. “ It’s gonna be dark in an hour. With no moon we won’t be able to ride up there in the dark.

“ You think that’s where Johnny is?” Scott asked.

“ I’d bet the ranch that that is where Driscoll has your brother. If he’s still alive.”

“ We don’t know that Driscoll is the one who even took Johnny.”

“ He did Scott. I know it in my gut. I also know that if he has done anything to hurt your brother……I’ll kill him.” Murdoch said with anger in his voice.

“ That town ain’t nothin to go riding into in the dark. If Driscoll does have your son up there mister Lancer he could be in anyone of them mine shafts or abandoned buildings.” Frank stated.

“ We don’t leave that town until we search every shaft and building and under every rock. Is that clear?”

“ Yes sir.”

Johnny had passed out after the tenth hit to his now bloody back. Driscoll seemed to get angrier and angrier every time he hit him and Johnny didn’t cry out. When he came to again he found a gag had been secured in his mouth and it was still and it was still dark outside. White hot pain wracked his back and his shoulders screamed from the pain of his arms above his head. Coughing a little Johnny licked at his parched lips and tasted the blood now dry from were Driscoll had hit him splitting his bottom lip open.

“ You’re awake again, good. Let’s see just how much pain you can endure.” Driscoll said as he walked over to the forge he now had a small fire burning in. “ I think a killer should be branded, especially a half breed killer like you Madrid.” he said as he what looked to be a branding iron rod out of the fire. The tip was red hot.

Johnny tried to move away but couldn’t. When Drsicoll touched the rod to his back left side just for a second it was all Johnny could do to not scream out. “ I swear I’m gonna kill you Driscoll, you sonofabitch.” Johnny said with anger. Swinging around he kicked out with his feet trying to hit the man but Driscoll just stepped back.

Taking the red hot rod Driscoll pressed it to Johnny’s chest just below his ribs on his left side. “ I think you need to be branded killer.” the man said as he pressed the rod into Johnny’s flesh.

Not able to take it any longer Johnny couldn’t stop the scream that escaped between his lips. “ You fucking bastard.” Johnny said through gritted teeth ashamed Driscoll had heard him scream.

“ Oh I knew you couldn’t take it much longer. I told you I was gonna send you to hell Madrid. How’s it feel huh?…….How’s it feel to be on the  receiving end of pain, killer?”

Johnny hung there helplessly gasping for air trying desperately not to throw up from the stench of his burning flesh. 

The sun was coming up over the mountains when Driscoll led his horse out of the barn. Horses hooves could be heard approaching, looking up he seen who it was and smiled.

Murdoch brought his horse to a stop in front of the man he knew took his son. “ Where is he?”

“ Wheres who Murdoch?”

“ Johnny, I know you took him.” the man said as he pulled his gun.

“ I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t seen that half breed bastard  of yours you call a son Lancer.” Driscoll said as he got on his horse. “ Maybe the killer finally got the message and left this valley.”

Murdoch moved his horse over next to Driscoll and back handed the man sending him off the right side of his horse to the ground below. “ I know it was you. The tracks led right to your land. We talked to your foreman.”

“ So…you don’t know nothin Lancer. Accept it, that killer is gone and you can’t do nothing about it.”

Murdoch had gotten off his horse and was now standing in front of Driscoll. Grabbing the man by the shirt he pulled him up to within inches of his face. “ Where is my son?

Scott had never seen his father so angry before. Getting off his horse he moved over and touched his fathers left arm. “ This isn’t the way Murdoch.”

“ You better listen too your good son Lancer. Scott here is the only son you need, not that half breed the whole valley knows you sired out of wedlock.”

Murdoch shoved Driscoll back hard. “ I’m going to ask you one last time. Where is Johnny?”

Smiling Driscoll dropped his hand down next to his gun. “ In hell where he belongs.” Driscoll said with a laugh.

Murdoch took a fast step forward and hit the man hard in the face knocking him down and out cold.

“ Spread out, check every building, Johnny’s here somewhere……….Frank tie this, this…….tie him up so he don’t go no where.” Murdoch said before walking away to start searching for his boy.

.

Johnny woke up to pain like none he had ever felt before. Realizing he was no longer hanging by his arms he blinked several times and winced from the pain in his back and side. He was laying on his right side in dirt. He could smell it. Rocks dug into his flesh. Sucking in a scream as he moved his arms and pushed himself up to a sitting position. Where he was now was blacker than black. Moving to stretch his legs out in front of him he hit what he thought was a wall and assumed he was in a room of some type. He soon learned though that he wasn’t. Standing up and fighting the nausea in his stomach from the pain Johnny felt around and found he was in a hole or something about three feet by three feet. The sides, feeling around in the darkness he found were dirt and rock. Looking up he could barely make out light shining through whatever covered the hole he was now in.

“ Guess this is it Madrid. Never figured a hole in the ground would become my grave while still alive.” Johnny said swallowing hard trying desperately to keep the bile that rose in his throat down. Losing the battle Johnny’s body wracked with pain as he dropped to his knee’s and retched violently. After what seemed like eternity he wiped at his mouth and spit several times to rid his mouth of the taste.

“ Real good Madrid. You’ve gotten soft. Used to be you’d of known when someone was around and never be taken like you was…….You’ve gotten too soft, too careless.” Johnny told himself as he stood back up. He knew that Driscoll was gone now. Gone back to his ranch and life like nothing had happened. Having dealt with angry men in his past he couldn’t remember anyone filled with so much hate and anger like Driscoll had. His mother’s boyfriends  would beat him but never, never had he ever been beaten and burned. Johnny could feel with every move he made the pulling and burning from his flesh. He could feel the blood run down his back mixing with the sweat that ran into his open wounds causing even more pain. Feeling the hot burning in his side, he looked down and even though he couldn’t see the wound in the darkness, he couldn’t help but wonder if what he felt when Driscoll burned him was the same thing cattle felt when he branded them. Tears ran down his face. He didn’t care. Alone in his grave of darkness Johnny Madrid let go and let the tears fall. For the first time since he became Madrid, he cried. He cried not so much from the pain as from what he was losing. What he would never see again. Who he would never get the chance to say good bye too. A father who did want and love him and a brother like no other. A brother he could do things with. Tell things too. A brother who didn’t pass judgment on him. Who didn’t care about his past and what he had done in that past.

“ At least I got what I always wanted for a short while. I’m not dying from a bullet like I thought I would.” he said to himself as his body started to tremble and a wave  of dizziness came over him.

.

Murdoch, Scott and the men searched each and every building with great ardor but every one came up the same, empty. Those that had cellars they could tell without entering that no one had been in them due to the undisturbed cobwebs heavy across the stairways down. Dust on the steps also told of no human entry recently. Walking out into the middle of the street Scott looked up and down the street as his father came out of yet another empty building.

Johnny…….Johnny answer me…….please!” Scott yelled in a begging voice.

Murdoch walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. Frank, Joe and Clint walked up and all three gave the same report. Nothing.

“ Search them again. Search any wells you come across also. He’s here somewhere I can feel it.” Murdoch said as he gave a slight squeeze to his sons shoulder.

“ What if he’s unable to answer us?……What if……….”

“ Don’t….. I know your brother is still alive…..I can feel it son…….in here.” Murdoch stated as he touched his chest over his heart.

“ I hope your right sir. I really do. A part of me says he’s hurt or unable to hear us.”

“ I’m not giving up.” Murdoch said as he headed back to where Driscoll was tied up. Taking out his gun he put it to the mans head and pulled the hammer back. “ You got thirty seconds to tell me where Johnny is or you’ll be the one going to hell.” Murdoch said with anger and hatred in his eyes.

“ You can’t kill me…….It would be cold blooded murder Lancer. Course I guess that’s were the half breed killer got it from. Like father like son right……..You’ll never find him. He’s dead or will be by morning.”

Murdoch brought the gun away from Driscoll’ head and stepped back a few paces. Looking down the street at his oldest son and the hurt showing plainly on his face Murdoch’ heart was about broken in two. His youngest was close and injured or worse and his oldest was hurt with the loss of his brother. Looking back at Driscoll Murdoch seen the man was watching Clint as he got closer too the livery.

Has anyone checked the livery out yet?” Murdoch yelled toward Clint. When Driscoll snapped his head back at him the looked back at Clint Murdoch knew then where his son was. Leaving Driscoll he yelled for Scott and the others. “ He’s in the barn.

You’re too late Lancer…….That half breed killer is dead.” Driscoll yelled. “ I gave him what he deserved……..I did to him what he did too all those others in the past.

“ Check every inch, I’ll check the loft.” Scott said as he started up the ladder.

Scott wait.” Frank yelled. “ Mister Lancer do you hear that?”

“ Hear what Frank?”

“ The floor. Hear the difference in the sound?” he said as he got down on his knees and started moving the hay and straw around. “ There’s a door or something around here. A lot of liveries had a storage place under the floor. My father had one in our barn when I was a kid back in Kansas. We used it for a safe place if a tornado came along.”

“ How big could this room be?”

“ Depends on what it was used for. Here I got it. It’s been nailed shut. Find a crow bar or something to pry it open with.”

Johnny.” Murdoch yelled. “ Johnny can you hear me?”

“ Here, I found a pry bar.” Joe said as he hurried over.

“Please god let him be alive.” Scott said as Frank began to pry the boards up.

After what seemed like a life time Frank got the last board removed. “ Get a light. It’s deep and dark. I can’t see in it.”

Murdoch grabbed the lantern Driscoll had been using sitting on the forge. It was then he noticed the embers still warm and the rod laying in them. Lighting the lantern he hurried back over and handed it to Scott who was laying on his belly trying to see into the hole.

Scott took the lantern and put it down in the hole. His heart sank at what he was seeing. “ He’s here…….

Johnny……..answer me little brother.” getting no reply Scott rose up. “ Get a rope. He’s about fifteen feet down.”

Clint grabbed  the rope coiled and looped over a stall post and taking one end he secured it around a post and tossed the rest to Scott.

Scott dropped the rope into the hole and quickly put on his gloves. “ I’m going down there. He’s not answering us or moving.” he told his father as he sat down and took hold of the rope and began to climb down. After some time and losing his footing as the wall gave way he finally touched the bottom and quickly knelt  down and  check his brother’s neck. Finding a pulse finally he let out a sigh of relief.

He’s still alive…….but unconscious. We need to get him out of here and to a doctor fast.” Scott yelled up. “ Lower down the lantern so I can check him out.

A minute later Scott had the lantern and struck a match to light it. What he seen made his stomach heave and he had to fight to keep from throwing up. “ Oh my god, Johnny can you hear me?” Scott said softly as he carefully looked at his brothers back and could see the cuts from being whipped. What really made him sick was the burn marks on his brothers chest. Blood was dry on some of the wounds but the deeper ones still oozed out. Dirt was caked to his back in places and his left arm. Scott found blood on his brothers face as well. Feeling his chest he could tell Johnny had broken ribs. Sighing he knew getting his badly injured brother up out of the hole was going to hurt him more. When Johnny moaned he gently touched his forehead.

“ Easy brother, I got you.”

Johnny heard a voice soft and gentle. It sounded like his brother but he wasn’t sure if his mind was playing tricks on him or not. “ Scott.”

“Yeah Johnny, it’s me. Just hold on. I’m going to get you out of here and back at Lancer where Maria, Murdoch and me can take care of you after Sam fixes you up.”

“ Hurts Sco…. it hurts so bad.” Johnny said as he moved his right arm to touch his brother.

Scott took Johnny’s hand in his. “ Murdoch hurry it up. Send one of the men for the doctor now!” he yelled up the hole. “ Johnny I need to know where all you hurt at brother. Getting you out of here isn’t going to be easy.”

“ My back mostly……He branded me.”

Scott’ heart sank at what he was hearing his brother say. “ Driscoll did this too you didn’t he?”

“ Yeah…..Augh madre de dios it hurts.” Johnny cried out.

Scott the only way to get Johnny out of there is to tie the rope around his chest and we pull him up.

He has broken ribs and Driscoll beat him badly on his back.

There’s no other way to get your brother out.

“ I’m sorry brother but I need you too stand up for me so I can get the rope around you under your arms.”

“ Don’t leave me Boston……please.” Johnny begged.

“ I wouldn’t dream of it brother…..I’m sorry I hit you yesterday.”

“ It’s okay…..I deserved it…..augh my back.”

“ I know it hurts but we’ll have you out of here in no time. Throw down another rope and use the horses to pull us both up. I’m coming up with Johnny.” Scott yelled.

A second rope was dropped and after making sure his brother was ready Scott tied the rope around his upper chest. “Okay……..nice and easy.

Murdoch led his horse slowly away from the hole. Frank, Clint and Joe waited at the edge.

“ I see them. They’re almost up now. Just a few more feet Johnny…….that’s it. I got ya. Grab his other arm Joe.” Frank ordered.

Murdoch stopped his horse when he seen both his boys out of the hole. Hurrying back he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.

“Joe take my horse and go get Sam.”

“ Have him meet us at Lehman’s ranch. It’s the closest place.”

“ Yes sir.” Joe said as he took off running to Scott’ horse and left.

“ Dear God…….what did he do too him.” Frank asked as they laid Johnny down gently.

“ Beat and whipped him.” Scott said as he took the rope off and moved to his brother.

Murdoch was heart broken and extremely angry. A wild range bull could be no angrier than he was right now at the sight of his son and what has been done to him. Turning he left the barn ignoring Scott’ yelling for him to stop.

Murdoch walked up to Driscoll and taking out a knife he cut the man loose and shoved him into the street. “ I told you what I would do if you hurt one of my son’s.” Murdoch said as he took his gun out and cocked it.

“ You can’t kill me……It’s murder.” Driscoll pleaded but to no avail as a bullet entered his heart and he fell to the ground dead.

Scott heard the shot and knew what his father had done. Looking down at his brother who was still semi conscious he wiped at the sweat on his brothers forehead.

“ Lancer takes care of it’s own.” Johnny said softly before passing out again.

“ Yeah brother, Lancer takes care of it’s own.” Scott repeated as he looked at Frank and Clint.

“ How are we going to move him Scott? He can’t ride.”

“ He’ll have too Clint.”

Murdoch came back and ignored the looks he received from his oldest. Leading his horse over. “ He rides with me.” Murdoch said in such a way that even Scott knew better than to challenge him.

Scott and Frank helped get Johnny into the saddle. “ Damn do any of you have a spare clean shirt in your saddlebags?”

“ I do.” Clint said as he hurried to his horse and came back a minute later. “ Johnny taught me real quick to always have a spare shirt with me out on the range.” he stated as he handed the shirt up to Murdoch who gently draped it over his sons back.

“ Hurt’s……..please stop.” Johnny pleaded.

“ We will son. Frank ride on ahead and let Lehman know we’re coming and what’s happened.”

“ Yes sir.” Frank answered before spurring his horse into a gallop.

Stop……please pa I’m gonna……” Johnny lurched forward to the right of his fathers horse and began to heave violently.

Murdoch stopped his horse and tried his best to comfort his son but couldn’t. Johnny trembled as wave  after wave of nausea wracked his stomach. “ Scott help me out here.” Murdoch said as Johnny suddenly started to fight his father wanting off the horse.

“ Johnny it’s alright. Stop it…….you are only making it worse. Johnny we are almost to Lehman’s ranch.” Scott said as he touched his brothers shoulder.

Johnny looked up at him through eyes that showed pain and nothing else. “ Hey Boston……you was right about Sara. Did I tell you that?”

“ No little brother you didn’t.” Scott answered back. If this was what his brother wanted to talk about then he would oblige him.

“ Yeah……that’s why I’m barred from the Red Palace saloon pa…..Sara got pissed because I took Carrie  upstairs………Hey Pa.”

“ Yes son.” Murdoch knew as did Scott that Johnny was running a fever. It was the fever that had him acting the way he was now. He could feel the heat coming off his sons body sitting behind him.

“ I’m sorry……I’m not worth it…….I know I disappoint you……that I let you down……….I’m a fuck up just like my mother said I was.”

“ You listen to me young man……..You are not a fuck up Johnny. It’s me who is a disappointment to you two boys. I haven’t exactly been fair with either one of you. You Johnny especially. I should be treating you both as equal partners in the ranch and I don’t. I listen to Scott’ idea’s but I shoot yours down as soon as you mention them……”

“ It’s okay pa…..the hay and wheat fields worked out. That’s all that matters.”

“ Yes they did and no it’s not son. I need to start listening to you more than I do……..I did a lot of thinking when you and Scott were gone and I realized a lot of things I did wrong son. This trip we just made you taught me that you do know what you are doing…..I think the main thing that was always at the back of my mind son, was you running off and going back to living by your gun.”

“ Not gonna happen old man….I……augh madre de dios please make it stop. It hurts.” Johnny said gasping for air as the pain wracked his body. “You’re stuck with me I’m afraid.”

“ I’m not stuck with you Johnny…….I want you at Lancer. It’s your home.”

“ Driscoll?”

“ I know he did this to you son.”

“ No……I heard a shot. What did you do?”

“ Just remember this, Lancer takes care of it’s own.”

“ You killed him didn’t you?………You could go to jail for it you know and trust me Jail and prison ain’t good.”

Murdoch stopped his horse outside Lehman’ house. Frank and Murdoch’ long time rancher friend  Buck Lehman met them along with Lehman’ wife.

“ Bring him inside Murdoch. Laura’ got a bed ready for him downstairs.” Buck said.

Scott and Clint helped get Johnny down as careful as they could and carried him in the house.

“ In here.” Mrs’ Lehman said as she opened the bedroom door. “ It looks like his back is worse so lay him down on his stomach boy’s so I can start cleaning some of the dirt away from his wounds till Sam get’s here.” she was ready having already having a pan of hot water and clean bandages next to the bed when Johnny was laid down.

“Scott.” Johnny said as he was laid down.

“ I’m right here brother.” Scott said as he took hold of his brothers right hand after getting on the bed next to him.

“ Don’t leave me.” he pleaded.

“ I’m not Johnny……I won’t leave you….ever.” Scott said as he looked up at his father.

Murdoch knew his sons had grown close. To anyone who didn’t know, you would think the brothers had grown up together instead of miles apart, neither knowing the other even existed until a couple of years ago. Moving around to his son’s left side Murdoch got a real good look at just how bad Driscoll had beaten his boy. He had seen the scars from the abuse Johnny had received while growing up and it angered his then. But now, now he was a grown man and another cold heartless human being had abused him just because of who he once was and his mixed heritage.

“ I want to help Laura.” he said.

Laura Lehman looked at him and couldn’t help but see the sadness in his eyes. For a father to see their child hurt and in pain the way she knew Johnny was saddened her inside. No father should see their child like this. “ Take this cloth and gently wipe the dirt and blood away from the wound on his arm.”

Laura said as she handed him the cloth.

“ He has a bad burn on his chest just below his ribs on his left side. Driscoll branded him.” Scott said with disgust.

“ Driscoll?” Laura said looking at Scott. “ He did this to Johnny?”

Scott just shook his head as his brother griped his hand tighter from the pain and pressed his face down into the pillow to stifle the cry. “ Easy Johnny. I know it hurts…..Sam’ on his way. He’ll give you something for the pain brother.”

“ Don’t want it.” Johnny said as he turned his head to face his brother.

“ You need it Johnny.”

“ No.”

“ Why does he not want something for the pain when Sam gets here?” Buck asked from the doorway where he was standing.

“ He doesn’t like to take pain medication because it makes him feel like he has no control. He feels vulnerable.” Scott told him.

“Ain’t nobody gonna hurt that boy here. Not unless they get through me first.” Buck stated firmly.

.

Chapter 25

Sam Jenkins arrived early evening with Joe and got down from his buggy. Grabbing his bag he hurried through the front door Buck Lehman held open for him. “ He’s in there doc. Laura’s been cleaning him up the best she can.” he told Sam as the man hurried past. Joe had filled him in on what he knew of Johnny’s injuries. Walking into the room he found Murdoch setting next to the bed and Scott on the bed still holding his brothers hand.

“ Alright you two……out now.” Sam ordered as he set his bag down and looked at Johnny who was still on his stomach covered up by a sheet only.

Murdoch stood up and his pleading eyes told the old doctor all they needed too.

“ You too Scott……out.”

“ No.” Scott said firmly.

“ You know my rule, no family member around while I treat the patient. Now out!”

“ I said no Sam. I promised Johnny I would not leave him and I’m not……….You go ahead and do what needs to be done Sam I’m staying right here.”

Sam knew the brothers were close and he knew that Scott could be more stubborn than even Murdoch when it came to keeping his word to Johnny. “ Alright then…….you can help keep him calm and still. Now lets see what we are dealing with.” Sam said as he pulled the sheet back. “ My God.” the man said aloud. “ Laura what did you use to clean these wounds?”

“ Just warm water. He had dirt all over them Sam. I cleaned them out the best I could. I was cleaning around that deep burn on his chest when he finally passed out.”

“ Burn?………How long ago did he pass out?” Sam asked as he reached into his bag and took out a bottle of Laudanum and set it on the bedside table. He then reached in and pulled out another bottle. This one contained  Carbolic Acid. Using this on his patients back Sam knew would be extremely painful. He also remembered that Johnny did not like drugs and would fight him on the use of Laudanum.

“ About thirty minutes ago Sam.” Scott said. “ The wound in his upper left arm is a gunshot wound. I believe it’s the oldest, received yesterday.”

“ How long has he had these wounds?”

“ At least twenty four hours.”

Sam felt Johnny’s forehead. “ He has a fever…Laura could you mix up some willow bark tea. I know this young man all to well and he will run a high fever from this We need to start getting it into him as soon as possible. I wasn’t aware of the burn he has so I didn’t bring any comfrey salve with me.”

“ I have some already made up Sam. I just wasn’t sure if that was what you would want to use on it since it is so deep.” Laura said as she headed toward the door.

“ Help me roll him onto his side Scott so I can look at this burn.”

Scott gently rolled hi brother so his back was to him. The burn was a deep angry red and the flesh was clearly dead. Turning his head away for a minute to qualm his stomach.

“ Oh my……..how did this happen?”

“ Johnny said Driscoll branded him Sam.” was all Scott would say.

“ You telling me………my God why?” Sam asked with concern.

“ Because Driscoll thought of my brother as nothing more than a cold blooded killer is why Sam.”

“ Driscoll……….I hope that man is on his way to jail for this.”

 He’s dead…..Murdoch killed him.”

Sam shot a look at Scott of both shock and stunned. He knew from the way Scott said it that his father didn’t want Driscoll going to jail. That the law would believe a well respected rancher of the community over that of a gunfighter. Even one who was now a ranchers son trying to live a normal life.

Murdoch paced outside as the sun went behind the trees. Waiting and wondering were the hardest thing a person could do. Not knowing if his son would survive this brutal attack or not. He knew Clint, Frank and especially Joe would not leave until they knew how Johnny was doing. Laura came out onto the porch and let them know Sam was done for now. All four men headed into the kitchen as Sam walked in and took a proffered cup of coffee as he sat down from Buck.

“ Sam.” was all Murdoch said.

After taking a sip Sam wiped his eyes and brow. “ That boy will never cease to amaze me Murdoch.” he started. “ The whip marks I cleaned up and a couple of them were deep enough I had to stitch them up…….he has two broken ribs I bound up tight and one or two more cracked. I noticed he’s been hit in the head and may have a slight concussion. His left arm the wound is infected. I cleaned it out good with Carbolic Acid and stitched it up…….The wound that has me concerned with the most is the burn……I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that boy felt having a rod put to his skin deliberately like that. I told Laura I would stay the night to keep an eye on him. He’s already spiking a fever from the infection. Scott won’t leave his side. Both your sons I’m afraid inherited your stubbornness my friend. I don’t think a herd of wild horses could drag him away from Johnny’s side right now. To be honest I don’t think you or Scott’ Grand father could separate those two.”

“ Will he recover Sam?”

“ He should.”

“ What about repercussions Sam?”

“ Johnny’s been beaten before. I won’t say he won’t have any from the burn though.”

“ No……..I mean about being put down in that hole and covered up.”

“ Hole…….what are you talking about man?”

“ Driscoll put my son in a hole under the livery in Hardluck. He was about fifteen feet down and it was pitch black.”

Sam put a hand to his face and sighed. “ I don’t know about how he dealt with the abuse in the past…. beyond picking up a gun. I’m sure he had nightmares about it and he probably will about this. As for the dark. It is my experience with children afraid of the dark that some became that way from something that scared them or happened to them at night. I’m afraid I can’t give you an honest answer. Johnny is the only one who can do that.”

“ I know my son Sam and you know he he won’t tell me. Hell he tells his brother things about his past and I’m his father.”

“ That’s why.” Scott said from across the room.

“ What do you mean that’s why? I’m his father and I have a right to know.” Murdoch demanded.

“ No you don’t sir. I mean no disrespect to you but do you really think that if you knew some of the things my brother has told me from his past, that you would be able to look at him and not hate him or feel pity for him?……….Trust me, pity is the last thing Johnny want’s from anyone.”

“ It’s my right.”

“ Not as far as he’s concerned sir……Sam he’s awake and asking for you.” Scott said before turning and going back to his brother.

Sam glanced at Murdoch after standing up. “ I have to agree with Scott on this Murdoch. As Johnny’s physician and his friend I can tell you that you won’t lose him again unless you put the blame on him for something that happens say down the road. Something from his past.” Sam stated before leaving to see his patient.

Murdoch watched the doctor leave. Inside he knew his friend and older son were both right. He had come a long way toward knowing his youngest better while on the drive with him. Not wanting to damage what has developed between them he silently vowed to be a better understanding father.

Sam walked into the room and found Scott sitting in the chair by the bed wiping sweat from his brothers brow. “ I understand a certain young man requested my presence.”

Scott looked up at him and smiled as he rinsed the cloth out he was using. “ I do believe you are right ……Johnny Sam is here. You want me to step out?”

“ No.” Johnny said faintly as he moved his head around so he could see the doctor. “ Hey Sam I need to ask you something and I know you’ll be honest with me.”

“ Well Johnny I always have been honest with my patients. What do you need?”

“ I need you to tell me how a person can react……or what to expect when…….”

“ I think I know what you are trying to say John. It may not bother you at all.”

“ But what if it does?”

“ If it does there is no way of knowing when it will happen. You could go to bed one night and be fine with the light off and suddenly wake up terrified of the dark.”

“ Or I could freak out, say while riding home on a Saturday night. Come on Sam……I thought you knew everything.”

“ Not everything Johnny. I’m sorry……I do know that your father would like to see you if you feel up to it.”

“ I can’t Sam…….not yet. I need to sort out some things in my head about what happened and I need to talk with my brother first.”

“ Johnny, he’s been worried sick about you.” Scott said softly. “ At least give him peace of mind. Let him see for himself that you are okay for me, please.”

“ I’m tired and I hurt Scott.”

“ Then take some Laudanum.”

Johnny shot his brother a look that was a statement all it’s own. “ Fine Boston.” he said before turning his head away from his brother.

“ I’ll tell him. Was there anything else you needed Johnny?”

“ No Sam thanks.”

“ Laura and Scott know how to treat your wounds. Drink as much willow bark tea as you can John to help with the fever and I know you don’t want to hear this but stay in bed as you are or on your right side if you can handle it. Let Scott help you so you don’t pull out those stitches.”

“ Could you help me brother?” Johnny asked. “ I really hate laying on my stomach.”

“ You know I will.” Scott told him as he stood up

Murdoch walked into the room just as Scott was finishing up helping Johnny get as comfortable as possible. “ I think I will leave you two alone and go get something to eat. I’ll be back brother.”

“ Thanks Boston.” Johnny said as he tucked his right hand up under his pillow.

“ He’s pretty tired. Try not to upset him. Sam doesn’t want him moving around much.”

Murdoch didn’t respond to him. He just walked past and sat down in the chair Scott had vacated.

“ So I have to get permission from your brother or Sam now to see you?”

Johnny closed his eyes for a second. He didn’t want to fight with his father. He just wasn’t up to it.

“ No….I just got some things I need to work out in my head is all.”

“ I see……like what may I ask?” Murdoch said with a touch of anger.

“ Oh I don’t know……how about the fact that you killed Driscoll in cold blood for starts.”

“ I killed him yes……why should that bother you son. You’ve killed plenty of men in the past.”

Johnny raised up on his right elbow and sucked in against the pain. “ I never shot a man down who was unarmed old man. I understand the reason but what I don’t understand is how could you criticize me in the past for defending myself and you go and do that.”

“ I defended my son. I have no qualms about it.”

“ Even if it means going to prison?”

“ Yes. Lancer takes care of it’s own son. I know you had no one to take care of you growing up Johnny and you did what you had to back then just like I did yesterday and will do in the future. I will not stand by and allow you or your brother to be hurt ever again. I’m your father and it’s my place to protect you.”

Johnny was angry inside. “ You don’t get it do you old man?”

“ Get what?”

“ Why I’m angry you killed Driscoll.”

“ Tell me why son.”

Johnny pushed up with his right arm to sit up. “ Because damn it…….I just got you old man. I don’t want to lose you again.”

Murdoch smiled and his body became lax. “ You’re not going to lose me son.”

“ Stay with me……until I fall asleep at least.” Johnny said as he laid back down on his side.

“ I would like that.”

Scott had been standing at the door listening not so much as to eaves drop as he was to make sure the two didn’t butt heads and Johnny tear out his stitches.

Sam came out a week later and checked Johnny’s wounds. The whip marks were healing better than the deep burn. Fever had been stubborn all week and was still present, but down.” Laura lets switch to Plantain Leaf Salve for this burn. I brought some with me.”

“ Alright Sam.”

Johnny was sitting up on the edge of the bed leaned forward a little. “ When can I go home Sam?” he asked sitting up straight and raising his left arm up a little so Laura could apply the cream to his burn.

“ You young man are in no shape to ride a horse yet and riding in a wagon that far back to Lancer will be to rough with those ribs.”

“ I can handle it Sam. I don’t like being a burden on the Lehman’s.”

“ You are not a burden Johnny. You can stay here as long as you need too.” Laura told him as she gently spread the cream over the burn.

.

Murdoch went back to Lancer the following week Scott stayed with his brother and would send word when he could come home. Joe had to be ordered to go back when Murdoch did.

Scott was sitting with Johnny on the porch in the afternoon sun. Sam had allowed him out of bed finally and under a watchful eye from Laura he was allowed as far as the porch only, and only if Scott was with him.

“ I got a bad feeling about Joe brother.” Johnny said out of the blue.

Scott looked at him. “ What do you mean? I thought the two of you was friends?”

“ We are……I don’t know…..It’s a feeling I have in my gut. On the way back how he talked about gun fighting, how he wears his gun.”

“ You think he’s a gunfighter?”

Johnny looked at him before taking a sip of the lemonade Laura had brought out to them. “ I don’t know….I mean I don’t recognize him……Hell Joe might not even be his real name……It’s just I can’t shake this feeling I have about him Scott.”

“ Well little brother I would have to say, listen to that feeling because it has kept you alive this long.”

“ Almost didn’t with Driscoll though that day on the range.”

“ You know, that day when Barranca came galloping in without you I thought maybe I had hit you so hard that you got dizzy and fell off him and was laying out there unconscious…….I have never been so scared as I was then Johnny…….I’m sorry.”

“ Like I said before Boston. I deserved it. I’d been treating you wrong since we got back. I guess hanging out with Joe and ignoring you I was seeing if I could make you jealous.”

“ Well it worked little brother. I am ashamed to say I was.”

Johnny smiled. “ You was right about Sara and I should’ve listened to you about her.”

“ So what are you going to do now?”

“ What do ya mean?”

“ Well, you are banned from the Red Palace saloon.”

“ Yeah, guess I’ll just have to ride to Spanish Well’s ta get laid.” Johnny said as he looked up and seen Sam coming up the road in his buggy.

Sam stopped his horse and sat looking at the two Lancer brothers sitting on the porch. “ I don’t recall giving you permission to come outside.” he said before climbing down.

“ No you didn’t Sam. I’ve been real good. Ask Scott or Mrs Lehman, I haven’t went anywhere alone.”

“ Uh huh……inside young man so I can check you over.” Sam said with some irritation to his voice.

Johnny stood up easy with Scott’ help and slowly walked back in the house. “ Thank you for the lemonade ma’am. It was real good.”

“ You’re welcome Johnny…..Sam I didn’t hear you come up.”

“ I thought I would stop by and check my patient since I was close.”

“ Well Johnny has been a very good patient. I think the fresh air today did him good.” she said as she took a roast from the over. “ His appetite has picked up and his fever has been gone a couple days now.”

“ I see, well I’ll give him the once over and see if he is ready for the ride home.” Sam said before heading to the bedroom where Johnny was sitting on the bed with his shirt already removed.

“ You know young man since I am the doctor and you are the patient don’t you think you should listen to me?”

“ Oh come on Sam. I’ve been in this bed for two weeks. Today’s the first time I went outside.”

“ And what pray tell are you going to do if that burn gets infected again Johnny. That is a serious wound. Honestly I don’t know why I bother wasting my time with you.”

“ Because you’re my doctor, and because I give you a challenge. Come on Sam admit it, If I didn’t give you grief then you’d think I was mad at ya.”

“ Shut up and lay down so I can check that burn. Your father was in town yesterday and he was asking me when you was going to be coming home.”

“ Oh yeah?” Johnny asked as he laid back on the bed. “ Probably needs me to clean out some wash or repair more fence.”

“ You will not be doing any kind of strenuous work for some time yet I’m afraid.” Sam stated as he started checking the burn. “ How’s your back feeling, and don’t tell me fine.”

“ I wasn’t gonna Sam. It hurts when I try to bend over to put my boots on. That’s why I’m in my socks.”

“ And this, how is it feeling?” Sam asked as he checked carefully around the burn.

“ Honestly Sam, I get a stabbing sharp pain or throbbing pain sometimes. This mornin it was real sharp.”

“ Did it feel like it was inside or outside the body pain?” Sam asked amazed that Johnny was being truthful with him. He could see it in the boy’s eyes and hear it in his voice.

“ Both, but mostly outside.” Johnny stated as he sucked in a breath and held it. “ Like right now Sam.”

“ Well the skin is still pretty red around the burn area. The pain you’re feeling Johnny is because the dead skin is gone now and new skin is growing over it. I’m afraid it will leave a nasty scar though.”

“ Like I don’t already have them.” Johnny said with sarcasm.

Sam looked at him with a cocked brow. “ I know John, I think you can manage the ride home now. How are the ribs feeling when you breath?”

“ If I cough they hurt but as long as I don’t move real fast, they’re okay.”

“ You know.” Sam started as he stood up and washed his hands in the basin. “ There is a certain young lady in town who heard about you being hurt and was real concerned about you. She asks me almost every day if I’ve seen you and how you are doing.”

“ Let me guess Sara?”

“ No……no not Sara.”

“ Carrie, she’s been asking about me?”

“ Yes she has. You do know she quiet working at the Red Palace saloon don’t you?”

“ No I didn’t. When?”

“ The night you got barred from there. She works at the general store now and I must say, she is a very nice sweet girl……..Not to betray her trust but she told me that you was the only one she was with there. Said she knew you as Madrid in Laredo or somewhere and fell in love with you but she was too young for you to notice.”

“ I noticed her Sam. She was I don’t know, fourteen maybe. She helped clean up around the place.”

“ You know Johnny, about Sara.”

“ Sara got it in her head Sam that I was her man and gonna marry her when I got back.”

“ Well you are one of two very wealthy single young men in the San Joaquin valley.”

“ I don’t need a woman like that Sam.” Johnny said as he sat up and swung his legs over the bed. “ I won’t be falling in love and getting hitched Sam.”

“ Why you say that?”

“ You know why. What woman would want to marry a man who could be gunned down just for the reputation at any time? No there ain’t no woman around here that would even let Johnny Madrid court her.”

“ Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right places. I happen to know of several young ladies in town who do fancy you Johnny.”

“ What you doin now Sam? You playin match maker for me now?”

“ No, I’m just saying……”

“ I know what you’re sayin Sam, and like I said there ain’t no father gonna let Johnny Madrid court his daughter.”

“ Would you stop it…….you are not Johnny Madrid.” Sam said throwing the towel down he used to dry his hands.

Johnny stood up. “ Yes I am. Like it or not Madrid will always be with me Sam. Yeah I’d like nothing more than to be able to fall in love and get married. I’d love to have a woman to share my life with and be the mother of my children but it ain’t gonna happen Sam. Scott’ gonna have ta be the one to give the old man grandchildren.”

Sam sighed as he closed up his bag. “ You’re wrong Johnny. You will fall in love. In fact I would bet that you are already but don’t know it yet. You can go home but I want you taking it easy. I mean it Johnny. I’ll let Scott know so he can go get a wagon for you to ride home in. I do not want you riding a horse yet. Is that understood?” Sam said firmly.

“ Yeah Sam. I won’t. You have my word.” Johnny said with a smile as he walked with his friend out to the kitchen.

( Authors notes……Comfrey salve and Plantain Leaf salve I got from a book called “ Nature’s Weeds, Native Medicine” I also get my doctoring from another book called “ American Indian Medicine” both of these book were written by Native American Indians and include the recipes they used. A lot of these medicines are still in use today by the white man. Like Willow Bark ( Salix alba) it acts in a very similar way as quinine. It is an astringent and a bitter digestive tonic useful in controlling low grade fevers. By 1852 this substance was copied synthetically and by 1899 acetylsalicylic acid made its way to be marketed as aspirin. Comfrey salve has a high concentration of allantoin which causes a quick turnover and regeneration of skin cells. Plantain Leaf salve although not native to Native America, plantain was adopted as a useful herb for American Indians. It is good for diaper rash, itchy bug bites, and other skin irritations. For minor wounds it checks bleeding, speeds healing and takes the pain out of the scrape. Traditionally, raw leaves were ground into a soothing herbal poultice for use on burns.)

.

Chapter 26

Johnny did as Sam had instructed, for a month he did light work around the ranch. Mending tack and balancing the books. Horses that were rounded up and brought in he would give the once over and cut out what looked good for breeding. The night Angel started her labor Johnny knew that day. She wouldn’t eat and paced the corral fence. When she started laying down and getting back up he had her moved to a stall well padded with straw. This foal was a special one. Even though Barranca had sired others, two of which he still had to deliver in the spring, this foal would never be sold. Scott and Murdoch stood by watching as Johnny talked softly to Angel as the head finally appeared between two tiny feet. Wiping the birth sack away from the foals nose Johnny reached up and touched Angels flank.

“ Good girl Angel…..you’re almost done momma……just a couple more pushes and it’ll be over.” he said as the foal was pushed out more. Angel was soaked with sweat and turned her head looking back at Johnny and her half born baby. Laying her head down in the straw she gave one last hard grunt and pushed. The foal slid on out and shook it’s tiny head and ears as Johnny wiped it down. Angel stood up and turned around and started licking her baby dry.

“ What is it son?” Murdoch asked as he stepped into the stall with Scott.

“ A stud.” Johnny said as he wiped the tiny trembling legs down. Standing up he moved over to Angel’s side and patted her neck. “ You did real good girl.” He said before stepping out of the stall. “ Lets just hope he tries to stand up soon.”

The three Lancers watched as one very tiny foal brought his shaky front feet up so he was sitting up like a dog. After several attempts and soft nickers from his mother the little colt was standing with all fours spread out. When he tried to take a step he wobbled like a bad drunk and fell down. Wanting his mothers milk, the little guy got up again this time he made it. Sidestepping and crossing his

uncoordinated front feet but managing to not trip as he got his balance. Straightening his feet out he took several fast steps and soon stuck his face under his mothers belly and found what he wanted. Tail switching the foal could be heard suckling in the quiet barn.

Johnny walked over and scooped out a double portion of grain and poured it into Angels pail. He had already made sure fresh hay was in her feed bin for her. Stifling a yawn as he put the bucket back and walked over to his Father and brother.

“ So little brother……Is he the color you was hoping to get?”

“ Too soon to tell. He’s got color but he could change. He’s got four white socks though and a white face.”

“ You don’t seem to happy about the white socks.”

“ White socks mean soft hooves Scott. Soft hooves can split and chip easier than black hooves……An old Mexican man down in Cordova told me once that, one you try ’em, two you buy ’em, three you pass them bye. Four white hooves and a snip on the nose, cut out their eye’s and feed ’em to the crows.”

“ That saying don’t hold true though does it Johnny. I mean just because a horse has four white socks. Barranca does and you ride him.”

“ Barranca has black hooves Scott. So does your horse and the old man there. He’s gonna be harder to keep shod…………Look I’m tired, I’m gonna call it a night. I’ll see you two in the morning.”

“ Night son.”

“ Have a good sleep brother.”

Johnny walked out of the barn and almost ran right into Clint. “ Hey, you’re up late.”

“ So did she have her foal?” Clint asked.

“ Yeah, a little stud. Why you still up? You got cattle to move tomorrow.”

“ Yeah I know, I just wanted to know if Angel gave birth was all. I’ll see ya in the morning Johnny.”

Johnny woke the next morning to find the sun already up. “ Shit.” he said as he got up and quickly got dressed. Hurrying downstairs he found his father sitting at his desk. “ I’m sorry I over slept.”

“ You needed the rest son. Take the day off. Your brother and Frank are getting the herd moved with the men.”

“ I need to pull my weight around here. I haven’t been lately.”

“ You’ve been recovering from a serious injury son.” Murdoch said as he stood up and picked up a piece of paper. “ Look go get some breakfast and then you can go to town and get these supplies we need. I’ll have the wagon hitched and ready for you when you’re done eating.” he said handing Johnny the list.

Looking at the list Johnny sighed. “ More wire huh?”

“ Chock it up to owning a ranch this size son.”

“ Seems to me I’ve already strung enough wire the two years I’ve been here to fence off the whole damn place. Stupid cows.”

“ Well son if you feel that way then maybe you would prefer to build wooden fences instead?”

“ No that’s okay. Does Maria need anything from the general store while I’m in town?”

“ I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?”

Inside Johnny was thinking about a certain little lady he intended to stop by and visit with. A certain lady working at the general store. “ Maybe Sam’ right.” he said softly as he headed to the kitchen.

“ I’m sorry son, what did you say?”

“ Huh……..oh nothing. I was just thinking about something Sam said to me is all.”

.

Late afternoon Johnny finished loading the last of the rolled wire into the wagon. Wiping the sweat from his face he moved to the front and hopped over into the seat and moved the team around and down to the general store. Stopping the team in front of the store he set the brake and hopped down. Stepping up onto the boardwalk, the doors were open since it was a sunny, no wind beautiful day. Walking inside he spotted the main reason for stopping here. Maria only needed some flour and sugar. Walking up to the counter Johnny took off his hat and let it fall between his shoulders by the stampede string.

“Excuse me ma’am.” he said softly.

Carrie turned around and when she seen who it was a big smile came to her face. “ Johnny……It’s good to see you out and about. How you feeling?”

“ I’m good.” he said, not really wanting to talk about what happened. “ Sam told me you was working here now.”

“ Yeah. Did he tell you I was never…..”

Johnny took her hand in his. “ I know, don’t be mad at him for telling me. To tell the truth I think I’m flattered.” he said with a smile.

“ So what can I do for you?”

“ Well Maria needs a sack of flour and sugar.”

“ You came all the way in to town for just that?” Carrie said as she came from behind the counter and over to the sacks.

“ No, needed more wire also, but…….you’re good enough reason to come to town.”

Carrie blushed. “ I am huh?”

“ Yes ma’am…..so what day’s you working here?” Johnny asked so only she could hear.

“ I have tomorrow afternoon off. Why?”

“ I was just wondering if there was any chance a cowboy could talk you into say an afternoon ride?”

“ Only if he has gorgeous blue eyes and promises me some fun.” she said with a devilish grin.

“ Oh he does. He surely does ma’am. Pick you up about one?”

“ One it is……Oh will it be a buggy or horseback?”

“ Horseback if that’s alright. Buggy can’t really go where I’m taking you. I’ll see you tomorrow at one then. I’ll bring a good horse for you to ride so don’t worry about that.”

“ Okay……I’ll just put this on your bill.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said as he grabbed the two bags and left the store. A cold beer would taste good before the slow trip home. Thinking better he stepped up on the wagon wheel and released the brake and headed home. Not sure how he was going to work it so he could get away tomorrow afternoon with round-up and moving cattle around Johnny pondered at it all the way back to Lancer. Smiling he couldn’t help but wonder again about what Sam had said to him about love. Maybe he was in love with Carrie? No he couldn’t be, he’d only been with the girl once and seen her when she was fourteen before that. He had thought he was in love with Teresa but found he wasn’t, could it be different with Carrie.

Scott was the one he wanted to talk too about it, but wasn’t sure how to approach his brother on the matter. His father was out of the question. He could hear him now, ranting and raving because Carrie used to work at the Red Palace saloon, even though she wasn’t a whore. That Johnny didn’t care about, hell his father bed his mother out of wedlock and got her pregnant. At least Carrie wasn’t, yet. Could she be the one to tame him, to keep his wild sexual craving in check? Jumping down from the wagon after stopping it outside the barn Johnny felt a slight discomfort start in his groin.

“ Son…..you’re back early.” Murdoch said walking up.

Johnny spun around and dropped his hand instinctively to his gun but didn’t draw. “ Don’t sneak up on me like that old man……..damn.”

Murdoch had frozen in his steps when his sons hand dropped. ‘ I’m sorry, I thought you seen me coming.” he said casually as if nothing had happened. “ Did you get all the wire?”

“ Yeah, I got Maria’s flour and sugar also. Hey Joe…….take care of the wagon will ya?” Johnny said as he grabbed the two sacks.

That night after supper Johnny was still pondering how to get away tomorrow when the opportunity presented it’s self.

“ Scott I need you to ride into town tomorrow and make a deposit for me.” Murdoch said.

“I’ll do it sir.” Johnny said before his brother could answer.

“ You……..you hate going to the bank brother…..why the sudden change?”

“ Because…….I am a third owner of this ranch and well…..I figured I might as well start doing the ranching part I don’t like to do as well as that I do.”

Scott looked at Murdoch and both men had a puzzled look on their faces. “ Alright then….I’ll have the draft ready about mid-morning son.”

“ Great…….I think I’m gonna go check on Angel and call it an early night.”

“ What about the game?” Scott asked pointing to the board.

“ It’s over…..you lost.”

“ It is not over Johnny.”

Johnny made four jumps with his king and laughed. “ See I told you it was over.” he said with a grin as he stood up. “ I’ll see ya.”

Scott just stared at the board. He didn’t think he would ever be able to figure out how his brother could beat him so easily, whether at chess or checkers. “ One of these days brother.”

Johnny just laughed as he bounded up the stairs.

Six weeks passed and Spring was in the air. Johnny spent more and more time with Carrie. Every chance he got he was in town. Sundays was spent with the two of them together, whether making love or just talking. This Sunday Johnny was preoccupied and Carrie could tell as they lay in each others arms after making love. Slowly running his hand up and down her right arm, Johnny sighed.

“ You’re awful quiet today. What’s on your mind?” Carrie asked as she moved her head to look him in the eyes.

“ I’m just thinking.” Johnny said.

“ What about?”

“ You and me……..Carrie I’ve been seeing you for six weeks now and I love the time we spend together. Getting to be with you all day on Sundays…..It isn’t enough……I want more.”

Carrie got a knot in her stomach. She was in love with Johnny and deep down inside she hoped…no she prayed he was with her. “ What do you want?”

“Do you love me?” Johnny asked point blank.

“ What?”

“ Are you in love with me? Cause I’m in love with you Carrie.”

“ Yes.” was all she could get out as the knot turned into butterflies.

“ Enough to spend the rest of your life with me?” Johnny said as he moved so he was laying on his right side facing her. “ Carrie come home with me, be my wife. I want you to have what I have. I want to fall asleep with you in my arms every night and wake up next to you every morning. Be my wife and make me the happiest man alive, Marry me.”

Carrie felt her heart skip a beat or two as she listened to Johnny. Deep down this is what she wanted. She didn’t care about his past. She accepted that and all that could come from it. Taking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out her body started to tremble as a tear rolled down her face. “ You want me to be your wife?…..What about your father?”

“ What about him?”

“ He’s not going to approve of me Johnny because of my past.”

“ I don’t care what he likes. Look Murdoch calls the tune on running the ranch, not what I do in my spare time, and he sure as hell don’t tell me who to fall in love with or marry…….now will you give me an answer please?”

Carrie reached up and gently stroked his face. “ Yes.” she said before kissing him. “ Yes I’ll marry you Johnny Lancer.”

Johnny kissed her back. “ Yeah, really, you will?”

“ Yes……when?”

“ We can ride to Stockton tomorrow and get a license and get married that day.”

Johnny and Carrie did just that. Riding together under the Lancer arch Tuesday evening Johnny knew his father and brother would be sitting down to dinner about now. Frank came and took the horses after Johnny helped Carrie get down. “ Thanks Frank.”

“ Your father has been worried about you boy and I must say he has been fit to be tied. Taking off for two days without a word.” Frank said before leading the horses to the barn.

“ You ready for this?” he asked smiling at his wife.

“ Are you?” she asked back.

Sighing Johnny took Carries hand in his and the two of them walked toward the house. Johnny didn’t notice the angry eyes watching him as he walked away. Opening the door he allowed Carrie to enter first, once  he shut the door he took her hand and stepped down into the Grand room.

Scott looked in his direction. “ Well nice of you to come home brother.” he said with sarcasm.

Murdoch threw his napkin down and stood up. “ Where the devil have you been the last two days?”

“ Stockton….I had some personal business to take care of.”

“ As a third owner of this ranch boy, you don’t take off without telling me. I call the tune around here. Your brother and the hands had to cover your work will you was.” he glared at Carrie. “ Taking care of personal business……..I bet I can guess just what that business was and to bring it into my home.”

“ I suggest old man………that you watch your mouth and how you talk about my wife.”

“ I will talk to you about………..your wife?” Murdoch asked stunned.

Scott couldn’t stop the choked cough that escaped him. “ Your wife?” he asked as he stood up.

“ You heard me.” Johnny said flatly.

“ Little brother I had a feeling you had a steady girl finally. I never thought you would get married this soon but.” Scott stated as he walked over to his brother. “ Congratulations brother.” he said putting his hand out.

Johnny shook his brothers hand but never took his eyes off his father. “ Carrie, this is my brother Scott.”

“ How do you do Scott. Johnny has talked my ear off about you.”

Scott smiled as he leaned in and gently kissed Carrie on the cheek. “ All good I hope.”

Enough.” Murdoch bellowed. “ I want to talk to you alone Johnny…….now.

“ Scott, would you take Carrie to the kitchen and get her some cold lemonade please?”

“ You sure you’ll be alright?” Carrie asked.

“ Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Johnny said before kissing her gently.” Go ahead.”

Johnny watched his new wife and brother head to the kitchen. Once they were gone he turned to face his father who had moved to his desk and sat down.

“ You care to explain yourself to me?” Murdoch asked with anger written all over his face.

“ What’s to explain, I got married.” Johnny said as he walked over to the desk. “ Carrie is my wife and I’m not going to allow you to talk to her in a disrespectful way.” he said firmly.

“ You are my son…..you barely know this girl. What the devil are you thinking?”

“ I know I’m your son Murdoch. I’ve been seeing Carrie for six weeks. Don’t you think that I’m entitled to happiness? A woman to love me? A woman to mother my children?”

“ She’s a whore and I will not have her in this house.”

“ This is my house too old man as long as I’m a third owner of this ranch so don’t  tell me this is your house because as long as me and Scott live here and our names are on the deed as part owners it’s not your house………and don’t you ever,……ever call my wife a whore again. You do and it will be the last time.” Johnny said firmly as Madrid surfaced.

“ She worked at the Red Palace saloon……..I know full well what she is and I will not have it……is that clear?”

“ You better understand something old man………….Carrie is my wife and as my wife she will be sharing my bed in my room with me. Which is more than I can say for you and my mother.”

Murdoch stepped around his desk and faced Johnny,  mere inches from his face he stood glaring angrily down at his son. “ You better remember who you’re talking too……I was married to your mother.”

“ The only reason you married my mother was because you got her pregnant. You wasn’t married to her before you took her to bed.”

“ That is not why I married her Johnny. I loved your mother.”

“ Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t…..I don’t know. All I know is I’m the result of you and your night of sex.”

“ And how many whores have you gotten pregnant huh?………..You think I don’t hear the talk when I go to town about you and those women. Do you think I like it when I go into the saloon for a cold beer and have to hear them talking about you and…..”

“ I don’t give a damn what they say in town about me old man…..Hell if you heard half the shit I have about me it would make you sick. And as far as getting them pregnant, I don’t know. None of them have said anything to me and I’m a pretty regular return.”

“ And what’s going to keep you from continuing to be with them women Johnny? How are you going to be able to go into town Saturday nights and not be with them if one offers herself to you?”

“ I won’t cheat on Carrie. She’ll keep me satisfied in bed so I won’t cheat on her. She loves me and I love her.”

“ Love……just like you loved Teresa? Wasn’t that what you claimed was love when you took her innocence?………..You don’t know the meaning of the word love.”

“ Like you do.”

“ And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“ It means whatever you want it to mean old man……..I learned all about love from my mother remember.” Johnny stated more than asked. “ I guess you don’t want to face that little fact, just like you don’t want to really face the fact that a part of me is and always will be Madrid.”

“ What about that…….does she know about Madrid?………….Does your wife know that you could be called out and gunned down any time?”

“ Carrie knew me as Madrid five years ago Murdoch……Jesus old man……Don’t you think I’m entitled to have a woman in my life,  someone to love and grow old with if I can?”

“ Yes I do son………I just think it should be with a more proper woman. There are plenty of young ladies around who would gladly let you court them.”

“ They would yeah. Their fathers sure the hell wouldn’t.”

“ How do you know they wouldn’t?……..unless you try.”

“ I have tried Murdoch……at the fall church dance you insisted I go too. I tried and I was warned by several fathers to stay away from their daughters. They think of me just like Driscoll and Santee did. Scott he could court any one of them girls but not me, not no half breed gunfighter, even if I am trying to walk away from being that man and have a normal life.”

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “ Son……..I would give anything to take away all the hurt and pain you have suffered in the past……..I’d give anything that you didn’t have to become Madrid but you did. You did so you could stay alive and I’m grateful for that……..Are you sure this is what you want?”

Johnny looked at his father. He could see the concern in the mans face now. The anger was now gone and compassion was all he could see. “ Yeah I am. Please give her a chance and let her be a part of this family Murdoch, because if you can’t welcome my wife into this home then I guess it isn’t my home either and we will leave.”

“ Leave………and go where?”

“ It’s a big ranch…….I have enough money in the bank to build us a home if she’s not welcome in this one.”

Murdoch cocked a brow. “ That money is a part of Lancer business son…….not your personal money to take and use as you want.”

“ Wrong………..It’s my name on that contract with the army and it’s my name on the account at the bank. So there fore it is my money to use as I see fit. So since we don’t have a contract saying differently old man………”

“ Alright…..but you better remember this……..Those mustangs you are rounding up and selling are on Lancer land and as part owner of said land I do have a say in that money.”

“ Lancer land isn’t the only place to find mustangs old man……I’m not going to stand here and continue to fight with you over this. I have a wife I would like to have dinner with and show around before it gets too late.” Johnny said before walking away and heading to the kitchen.

Murdoch stood there and couldn’t help but have a small, small part of him feel joy and happiness for his son. Happy that his son did have a woman to share his life with and mother his children. Walking over to the side board he poured a stiff drink and downed it.

Scott entered the room and walked over to his father. “ She seems like a real nice lady.”

Murdoch just looked at his oldest hard before slamming down a second shot and walking over to his desk.

“ I must say my little brother sure is full of surprises. I never would have figured him getting married. I mean he’s what twenty one, almost twenty two.”

Murdoch turned in his chair and stared out the big bay window behind his desk.

“ She’s going to be the mother of your grandchildren sir. I would think that you could show a little compassion and be happy for Johnny. It is his life after all.”

“ Not when it concerns this ranch it isn’t.”

“ And just how does him getting married concern this ranch? It’s not a business deal Murdoch.”

“ It concerns this ranch because he could get killed at any time and then what? Do you really think that she would be able to do anything?………no……I may not have a say in Johnny marrying her, but by god I do have a say in protecting Lancer and that includes all assets and holdings.”

“ You are really something you know that……….Johnny comes home and what should have been a happy occasion for him you turn into a morbid nightmare practically. My little brother gets married and his own father doesn’t even have the decency to welcome his bride into the family…….Kinda makes me wonder just how you will be when I get married.”

“ I know your wife will be a lady, not a whore.”

“ You know, right now sir, with a remark like that I don’t think I want to even be around you right now. Excuse me.” Scott said before turning and leaving the room.

.

Johnny and Carrie ate dinner in the kitchen. Maria fixed them both plates of pot roast, potatoes and gravy. After a harmless scolding for disappearing for two days and a kiss on the cheek Maria left the two alone to eat their dinner.

“ I’m sorry your first meal at Lancer has to be eatin in the kitchen Carrie.”

“ It’s alright Johnny……Scott seems like a really nice person. I think me and him will get along.”

“ Yeah Boston is a good person. He has a way of getting under your skin so to speak with them fancy words he throws around though.” he said with a grin.

Carrie laughed. “ So tell me my love…….when do you want to start a family?” she asked as she put her hand on his right knee and ran it up to his crotch.

Johnny shoved a fork full of potato in his mouth when Carrie asked. When she touched him he could feel the heat starting. Reaching down he stopped her hand. “ I guess that’s up to you. Me personally I’d like to start a family as soon as possible I guess.”

“ Good.” Carrie said turning to face him. “ Because I want to start giving you as many sons as I can.” she said before kissing him on the cheek. “ I love you Johnny Lancer…..and I promise to be the best wife a husband could have…..I promise to love and cherish every waking moment I have with you……I heard your father asking you if you could resist temptation…….I am going to keep you so satisfied in bed my love that you won’t even think about another woman.”

Johnny put down his fork. “ I don’t doubt that one bit…….I think if we give my old man time, he’ll come around.”

“ And if he doesn’t?”

“ Then I guess me and him will continue to butt heads, we do already about the ranch so why should me and him butting heads about my wife be any different.”

“ You could have a lawyer draw up a paper I could sign stating I have no interest in Lancer, just you.”

“ No……you’re my wife Carrie and everything I have I want to share with you and the children you give me……..I’m not having you sign no paper depriving you of what’s yours if I get killed.”

“ Well……you better not get killed……..I want to grow old with you Johnny Lancer. I want the two of us too watch our children grow up and give us grandchildren. I know someone could show up any time and call Madrid out and I’m willing to accept that. It’s not Johnny Madrid I fell in love with and married. I fell in love with Johnny Lancer even though you are both those men.”

Johnny smiled. “ Come on…..I got someone I want you too meet.” he said standing and holding out his hand to help Carrie up.

“ Where are we going?”

“ Out to the barn.” he told her as he grabbed her shawl and placed it over her shoulders.

Murdoch stood and listened to the conversation between the two. He had intended too apologize to his son’s wife and greet her the way he should have, but when he heard them talking he couldn’t stop himself from listening. What Carrie told his son about loving him as Lancer and not Madrid and didn’t care about the ranch surprised him. Maybe she was going to be good for him. Maybe she could tame him down a notch or two. She knew about his past and that that past could end their happiness at anytime and yet she still married him. Being the father of a gunfighter trying to be a son, Murdoch was learning was turning out to be harder than fighting off an band of Indians.

.

“ So you have two other women in your life I have to compete with huh?” Carrie said with a devilish smile as she scratched Angels neck looking at the beautiful foal at her side.

“ I guess so, Angel here and Stormy, but I think they won’t mind sharing me with you.” Johnny said as he came up behind Carrie and put his arms around her pulling her back into him.

Carrie pressed herself back into his groin moving just right, knowing what she was doing to him. Turning around she ran her hands up his chest and around his neck. “ Are we alone?” she asked softly.

“ Technically, yeah……why?”

“ Oh I think you know why love.” Carrie said as she ran her hand down to his crotch and gently squeezed.

Johnny felt his hardness starting as he leaned his head back a little and moaned at her touch. “ This isn’t really the place to do this.”

“ Then take me to bed.” Carrie said before kissing him passionately.

Johnny delved his tongue into her mouth as he pushed her back against the stall gate and ground his groin into her. His cock was hard as a rock and he knew he couldn’t walk into the house right now, not as hard as he was. Breaking the kiss off he took Carrie’s hand and guided her to the very back of the barn behind the stacked bales of hay where they wouldn’t be seen. “ This isn’t how I wanted our first time too be.” he said breathlessly as he undid his gun belt and set it on a bale of hay.

“ This isn’t our first time.” Carrie said as she raised her dress up and pulled down her undergarment.

“ I know, but it is as my wife here at the ranch.” Johnny said as he slide his pants down and stepped up to his wife and picked her up. “ Wrap your legs around me.”

Carrie did as Johnny slide inside her and placed her back against the stacked hay before he started thrusting upward hard. Crying out in pure pleasure Carrie held on tight. This wasn’t making love. This was sexual desire. Just a husband and wife filling a sexual need. Feeling her climax start Carrie dug her nails into Johnny’s back as she sucked and bit on his neck to stifle a scream as her climax took her over the edge.

Johnny felt his wife’s climax start, felt her muscles tighten. Felt her dig her nails into his back. As he thrust as hard and fast as he could upward, when Carrie bit into his neck it sent him over the edge and he released his seed deep inside her hard as he spared no mercy thrusting into her.

Sweat running down his face he pressed his face into Carrie’s neck and sucked as hard as he could until his climax finally subsided. Stepping back on trembling legs he put a hand under her chin and raised it. “ Thank you….you are one hell of a woman Carrie……I love you.” he told her as he hugged her.

Johnny didn’t know he had been seen walking into the barn with his wife. Nor did he know that the two of them had just been watched. “ Soon Madrid……soon you will get the surprise of your life you murdering sonofabitch.” the figure in the shadows said to himself as he made his way back out of the barn so’s not to be seen. “ You killed my brother and I’ve been waiting a long time to get even with you. Being chummy with you makes me sick but the satisfaction of watching you die makes it worth it. Too bad your new wife will be a widow soon. Maybe I’ll let her watch ya die you bastard.”

.

Johnny and Carrie walked back into the house. Looking Johnny seen his father sitting at his desk. Taking Carrie’s hand the two stepped down into the grand Room. “ Would you care for a drink?” Johnny asked her.

“ No thanks, I never was one to care for whiskey, but you go ahead though.”

Murdoch looked up from his ledger. He couldn’t help but notice a piece of straw hanging in Carrie’ hair. “ I have a nice sherry or brandy if you would care to try one of them?” he asked as he stood up and walked over to the side board.

“ Very well then. Brandy please, but just a little.”

Johnny watched as his father poured the drink and handed it to her. As he reached up and removed the straw he looked at his son. He knew what had took place in the barn and quit frankly he found himself not blaming his son. His new daughter in law was a beautiful woman.“ I’d like to apologize for earlier. My reaction to my son getting married caught me off guard. Please accept my apology.”

“ No apology needed mister Lancer. I would have been shocked as well if it were me. I mean Johnny disappears for two days and then shows up married.”

“ Yes well still I was rude and I’m sorry.”

“ I over heard some of what was said between you two and I would like you to know mister Lancer….”

“ Murdoch.” he cut in.

“ I’m sorry.”

“ Call me Murdoch after all you’re my daughter in law and a part of this family now.”

“ Yes well….Murdoch I just wanted you to know I love your son…..Johnny Lancer. I know he is also Johnny Madrid, but Madrid isn’t who I fell in love with. I know all about his past, I know he could be called out and lord forbid…killed and I’m willing to accept that, because the time we have together now is what is important. The past is the past.”

Johnny suddenly found the floor at his feet very interesting to look at. He knew what Carrie was getting at, he also knew that she was going to face his father head on about her past. Smiling he couldn’t help himself. “ Let ‘er buck.” he said without looking up.

“ Did you say something son?”

“ No.” Johnny said as he stepped closer to his wife.

“ I know you know I worked at The Red Palace saloon in Morro Coyo, and I know you know what type of girls work there…….Well I’m going to tell you that I was not one of those girls. I had only been there a couple of days. Would you like to know why I was there?” Carrie asked as she glanced at Johnny.

“ I know why you was there, and I don’t care to hear about it.”

“ That’s really to bad because you are. I’m not going to let you pass judgment on me and think wrong of me just because of where I worked. I knew Johnny before from Laredo. I used to hear the girls talking about him after he left. I wanted Johnny Madrid to be my first man and a few years later I hear he’s got himself a family and gave up gun fighting. I came to Morro Coyo because of him. I wanted him still to be my first and he was and is the only man I have been to bed with. I’m not a whore and if you ever think  about me in that way again I promise you I will knock your lights out or break my hand trying.”

Murdoch stepped back a little and looked at his son. He was smiling inside but couldn’t let it show.

“ It seems you have yourself a feisty woman son.”

“ I would say so.” came a voice from behind them.

Johnny and Murdoch both turned and found Scott standing in the archway smiling.

“ In fact little brother, I would say your wife is a tiger.” Scott said as he stepped down into the room.

“ Welcome to Lancer Carrie. I’m afraid our father likes to try and call the tune on matters outside the ranch.”

“ Thank you Scott, I’m sure me and your father will get along now that the past has been put to rest.” she said with a smile before taking a sip of the brandy.

Johnny smiled at his brother then looked at his father. He could tell the old man still wasn’t happy about him getting married but he didn’t care. He married Carrie so he was happy. Being a gunfighter who was trying to be an  ex-gunfighter and not knowing when the fatal bullet would come, Johnny wanted to leave something behind if he could. Granted twenty one was a young age to marry but being a third owner of the largest ranch in the San Joaquin and single were two things that didn’t go well. Being the youngest and getting married before your older brother sudden like like he did plainly told his father that he was his own man and would do as he so desired without his permission outside the ranch. Standing there listening to his new bride put his bear of a father in his place, Johnny couldn’t help but feel pride and smile because he was pretty sure not to many people talked to his father the way his wife just did.

“ So…since you are married now Johnny, I think it would be best for you both if you moved to the downstairs bedroom.” Murdoch stated. “ It’s bigger and……”

“ And we won’t disturb your sleep.” Johnny said with a grin.

Scott walked over to him and put an arm around him. “ Well little brother some of us do need our beauty rest……..and the walls are a little thin.” Scott said with a grin and wink at Carrie.

“ Alright…we’ll move downstairs tomorrow……It’s getting late now and I think me and my wife are going to turn in……..We’ll see you both tomorrow.”

“ Goodnight son……Carrie.”

“ Sweet dreams brother.” Scott said with a devilish grin.

.

Chapter 27

Johnny galloped into the yard and was off Barranca before the horse stopped. The past two months he had spent on the trail delivering the two yearlings he sold to the major at Fort Craig. Two months without his wife. As much as he wanted to he couldn’t push his best friend and risk injury to the two yearlings. Barranca sensed his urgency on the trip home, figuring the stallion would be glad to be back home and in a barn with a couple days rest Johnny let the stallion pick his pace as they traveled the familiar trail. No trouble had come to them and Johnny was really starting to enjoy the married life and being a rancher. Married now for six months, two of which he was away from his bride the last day of the trip found him pushing the stallion once they crossed onto Lancer land.

“ Couldn’t someone else take them?” Carrie had asked the night before he rode out.

“ I promised the major I would deliver them and I keep my word……Scott and Murdoch will take care of you while I’m gone.”

“ I know…..it’s just that two months in that big ol’ bed alone without you won’t be easy.”

“ And you think me sleeping on cold hard ground all that time will be?” Johnny asked with a grin.

That was two months ago and now he was home again and couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms.

Johnny rolled off his wife and wiped at the sweat on his face. Slowing his breathing down he slid his right arm under her and pulled her to his chest. “ I think you’re trying to kill me sometimes love.” he said before kissing the side of her head.

“ You’ve been gone for two months and……..”

“And you figured on making those two months up the first night I’m back is that it?”

“ Maybe…..maybe I just want to make love with you while I still can.” Carrie said with a grin.

“ What do you mean…..while you still can?…….I’m not leaving again till the fall and that’s just to Fort Bowie.”

“ I know that, but you see  you don’t have to keep trying to get me pregnant so hard now.” Carrie said with a smile.

Johnny raised his head and looked at her. “ I don’t huh…..well unless you have another way for us to have a child I’m gonna keep……..”

“ I already am.”

“ Already am what?”

“ With child.”

Johnny shot upright in bed. “ You mean you’re?”

Carrie shook her head. “ I seen Sam the other day in town and he confirmed it…….we are going to have a child my love.”

“ When.” Johnny asked with enthusiasm.

“ In the fall….that’s why I’ve been feeling so tired and sick in the mornings.”

Johnny pulled her into his chest and hugged her. “ Oh man……me….a father…….thank you. I never thought I could feel happier than when we wait a minute…..in the fall…are you sure?” Johnny asked.

“Yes I’m sure…..so you might want to think about delivering those horses earlier, unless you want to miss the birth of your first son.”

“ Not a chance sweetheart. No way is that happening. I love you so much.”

“You just remember that when I’m fatter……When do you want to tell your family?” she asked as she got up and put on her robe.

“ We can tell him at breakfast…….I don’t want to wait till dinner to share this.”

“ Don’t you want to wait until Scott gets back and tell them together?”

“ No…….I don’t think I can.”

“ I hope he isn’t upset.”

“ He won’t be…..you two have been getting along good haven’t ya?” Johnny asked as he got up and walked to his wife and wrapped his arms around her. “ You haven’t had any problems while I was gone.”

“ No…..your father has been very nice and I think me and Maria are getting along better. It’s just that……”

“ Don’t. Murdoch will take this news as if it was Scott telling him.” Johnny stated before kissing his wife with passion. “ I think maybe we should go another round before breakfast…….I mean I’ve been gone for two long lonely months right?” he asked as he slid his hands up and removed her robe.

“ Oh I do love how you think mister Lancer.” Carrie said as she reached down and took his hard shaft in her hand. “ Do me like you did that first time in town love. Take me hard like that night.”

Johnny pulled Carrie over to the bed and turned her around. Pushing her forward as his cocked slipped between her legs. Reaching around he started pinching and rubbing her folds as he slipped his cock inside her. “ Raise up against my chest.”

Carrie rose up and when he started thrusting she could feel him hitting her climax spot with every thrust. “ Oh god Johnny……..you do know how to fuck a woman.”

“ Such…..language my wife.” Johnny panted as he thrust hard.

Carrie laughed. “ You bring it out in me…….oh yeah fuck me Johnny……Fuck me harder my love…….ride me like you do those mustangs you break.”

“ I aim to please.” Johnny said before he pushed her down into the mattress and raised her up into him more. “ You want it hard you’re gonna get it hard.” he said panting as he thrust into her with such force that the headboard was now hitting the wall.

.

Murdoch came downstairs and as he walked into the kitchen he could plainly hear what was happening in his son’s room. Shaking his head he determined that he would have a talk with his son about this. Maria had commented about his actions several times as she had heard the two early in the morning going at it.

.

Johnny came into the kitchen all smiles and sat down. Maria gave him a sharp stern look as she poured his coffee. Smiling up at her. “ Gracia’s mamacita.” he said with a smile.

Maria gave a slight hmph and hard look at Carrie when she walked into the room. “ You need rest Juanito…….you are tired.” she said with bitterness as she glared at Carrie  before walking away.

Johnny got up and pulled out his wife’ chair. After sitting back down he looked at Murdoch. He could tell his father had something on his mind, something that involved him. “ When’s Boston coming back?”

“ Your brother.” Murdoch said picking up his coffee. “ should be back from Modesto in a week.”

“ Oh……are you upset with me about something old man?”

“ As a matter of fact son.” he started. “ I do want to address something. It has to do with the two of you and…….how should I say this……your morning activities.”

Johnny glanced at his wife and smiled. “ Yeah…..what about them?”

“ You need too be more considerate for other people in this house son……..Maria has heard the two of you as have I and your brother when we come down for breakfast.”

“ So what ya sayin’ ? I can’t make love to my wife in the mornings because you three got nothin better to do than eaves drop.”

We are not eaves dropping on you……I was walking by this morning and I have to say young lady that regardless of the reasons for it, that kind of language will not be tolerated in this house. Especially coming from a……….”

“ A what Murdoch?” Johnny cut in.

“ I was going to say a lady.”

“ Look I’m sorry you all heard me and my wife’ pleasure but I’m not gonna stop making love to her just because you all hear us.”

“ I am truly sorry about that Murdoch…… with him having been gone two months well Johnny brings out the wild side of me I’m afraid…..We do however have some news to share with you though.”

“ News huh……..what news is that?” Murdoch asked reaching for his cup again.

“ Oh nothin really…just that you’re gonna be a grandpa is all.” Johnny blurted out.

Murdoch dropped his cup and just glared at his son a few seconds. “ I’m sorry but did I hear you right son? Did you say I was going to be a grandfather?”

“ You heard me right grandpa.” Johnny said with a grin.

Murdoch got up and walked into the grand room to the side board and poured a drink.

“ Kinda early for that ain’t it?” Johnny asked as he got up and walked into the room.

Murdoch looked at his son as he poured another shot and handed it to his son. “ No……this calls for a celebration drink son.”

Johnny looked back at Carrie still sitting at the table. “ I know we probably should’ve waited till Scott got home but I couldn’t.”

“ He couldn’t wait till tonight either to tell you at or after dinner.” Carrie said as she got up and came and joined them.

“ So when does my first grandchild make his or her entrance?”

“ The fall.”

“ Uh son….isn’t that when you are to deliver a herd to Fort Bowie?”

“ Yeah…….I’m gonna go into town and let the major there know I’ll be showing up earlier with them. I’m not missing my first born child’s birth.”

Murdoch walked over and sat on the couch. “ You know son, you will get to feel like I did the first time I held you in my arms. I can assure you that there is no greater feeling than holding your son for the first time.”

“ What about Scott…….you held him before Johnny.” Carrie said innocently.

“ I never got to hold Scott, he was raised by his grandfather in Boston and his mother died at birth.”

“ I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“ It’s alright.” Murdoch said solemnly.

“ Murdoch only got two years with me before my mother took me away from Lancer. She knew I had an older brother but never told me about him. I didn’t know until I came here to kill him.”

“ Kill who…..your brother?” Carrie asked with bewilderment.

“ No, Murdoch……..he told me when I was standing in this room with a gun pointed at him that I had a brother and well I  just couldn’t do it……You see Carrie my mother told me nothing but lies about my father and that he threw us out and didn’t want a half breed for a son. When she died I became Madrid.”

“ Did you know he was Johnny Madrid?”

“ No, I found out a few days before he showed up here.”

“ You know that day you and Paul watched me gun down that kid who called me out when I came out of the bordello……..I knew who you was old man……..I knew because it was my job to know my enemy. Maybe you should show Carrie the nice little file you have in the bottom drawer of your desk, you know the one on Johnny Madrid.”

“ I don’t think that is necessary son since you are no longer Johnny Madrid. That file is irrelevant to the matter at hand. It’s the past and you son are the future. You, your wife and that grandchild.”

Johnny could feel his anger starting. This was supposed to be a happy time but once again his father had manipulated the situation and turned it around. Hackles raised he started to speak, only to be cut off. ‘ Mur…….”

“ Now you see that is were you are wrong. When I feel in love with Johnny and married him I knew and accepted the fact that he is * both * Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer. It is Johnny Lancer I feel in love with. I know he can be called out and taken from me at any time but I am willing to accept that because I can.” Carrie said with firmness. “ I don’t think you can…….I think you are afraid to accept the fact that * both * these men are your son………I watch the two of you and I listen to how you talk to him……..and you know what I have learned?………..I have learned that  * you * are afraid of Madrid. You’re afraid to love that part of Johnny. I see it in your eyes and I see the hurt in his every day. Every day I watch my husband bust his………wok hard to please you and every day you do the same thing. I have never once heard you tell him you are proud of him or that he did a good job and I can’t help but wonder why that is and I think you know the answer to that. The answer I hope you come to realize before it’s too late.”

Johnny stood there looking at his wife and listening to words he found himself wanting to say to his father on more than one occasion but didn’t. Looking at his father just standing there he couldn’t help but let a small smile come to his face, his wife had once again taken his father down a notch.

.

Murdoch stood there stunned as he listened to his son’s wife at a loss for words. Words he for some reason found wouldn’t come to him right now. Clearing his throat he looked at Johnny. “ I think you should get going now. I want you to ride up and check the dam at Elk Canyon.” Murdoch said before turning and walking to his desk.

Johnny sighed as he watched his father turn and walk away. “ It’s always easier for you to walk away isn’t it?” Johnny said as he walked over to the desk.

Murdoch sat down and looked up at his son. “ I know who you are and I’m not going to discuss this matter with your wife.”

“ Do you?……..Do you * really * know who I am.”

Murdoch could feel his hackles getting stirred. “ Yes…….you are my son Johnny Lancer and that’s all. This matter is no longer open for discussion.”

“ That’s what I thought.” Johnny said before turning. “ I’ll see you tonight.” he said to his wife before kissing her cheek and walking out.

Carrie watched the man she so loved walk out and could tell he was hurt by his fathers comment and it angered her. “ Why don’t you just put a bullet in his back.”

“ Excuse me.”

“ You heard me………you are more blind than a blind man. You can’t see how badly Johnny wants you to love and respect him. How bad he wants you to accept both of him. * You * are a fool.” Carrie said with anger before turning and walking out.

.

Johnny rode into Elk Canyon about mid-morning. Reaching the dam he got off Barranca and dropped the reins. “ You go ahead and graze amigo.” he told his friend as he patted his neck. Walking to the dam and looking at the water swirling at the base his mind went back to this morning and the last words his father had said to him. Standing there his defenses suddenly went on alert and he could tell he was being watched. Turning as he let his hand drop to the butt of his gun, Johnny scanned the area looking for a sign or anything out of the ordinary. After several moments he set about checking the dam supports on both sides and removed branches and a small tree washed up against the wall. Muddy, wet and hungrier than a grizzly bear just out of hibernation Johnny took a long swig of water from his canteen. Putting the canteen back on his saddle he checked his cinch and swung up in the saddle. “ What say we head for home boy.” he said as he turned the stallion south. “ Sure will be glad when Boston gets back.” he stated as his friend moved along down the trail. Defenses on alert again Johnny stopped the horse and took his colt out. “ Boy, someone is watching us and I don’t like it……Let’s get out of here.” Barranca shook his head up and down and pawed the ground before taking off at a gallop.

Johnny rode into the yard as the sun was setting behind the hills. Dismounting and walking his friend into the barn he spent a little extra time grooming his friend. Walking over to Angel he smiled as he looked at the foal at her side nursing. A dark gold coat now covered the colt. Just the color Johnny was hoping to get. Stormy nickered and threw her head up and down as Johnny walked over to her. After a few minutes of scratching her behind the ear Johnny headed to the house to have what he hoped would be a peaceful dinner. Stepping out of the barn Johnny found his senses once again going on the alert. Stopping about half way across the yard.

Madrid.” a voice yelled from behind him.

Johnny slowly turned around and found himself looking at Clint. There was only one reason a man would call him Madrid and he found himself hating this. Not since Driscoll had he had to kill anyone and now a man he thought was a friend was calling him out. “ Clint……..you know I don’t use that name anymore.” Johnny said calmly as he hoped this wasn’t what he feared.

Murdoch heard his son ride into the yard and knew he would spend time taking care of his horse before coming in. When he heard his son’s name yelled a sick feeling came to him as he stood up from his desk and walked to the french doors that were open letting the cool breeze flow in. Stepping out onto the veranda he knew what he would find. “ Damn it.” he said softly knowing that if he interfered it would get his son killed. Hearing a noise behind him he turned and found Carrie standing there with her hand to her mouth. When she moved to go to Johnny he grabbed her arm and stopped her. “ Don’t, don’t move or say anything. It could get Johnny killed.”

“ I could have killed you today Madrid…….I was watching you from the rocks, but decided it would be better to kill you in front of your old man and wife. I’m gonna let them watch you die you sonofabitch.”

“ Why Clint…….why you doing this?”

“ You killed my brother.”

“ I killed a lot of men, some deserved it. Others, others died because they were foolish enough to call me out.”

“ Not this time. This time you will die.”

“ Just who was your brother you say I killed?”

“ A deputy sheriff in Hays, Kansas…..ring a bell?”

“ Andy Carter…….your father was sheriff Mike Carter.”

“ Still is…….I know’d he would never be able to get you for killing my brother as long as you stayed out of Kansas so I’m gonna get the justice he deserves by killing you myself.”

“ Don’t try it Clint…….go on back to Hays to your father…..you don’t want him having to bury his only remaining son…..Ride out while you still can Clint….I don’t want to do this.”

“ Oh I’ll ride out…….I’ll ride out after I kill you.”

Johnny knew there was no talking the man he thought was a friend out of this but still a part of him felt the need to try. “ Leave Lancer now Clint alive and forget about this.”

“ You have no idea how sick it made me feel pretending to be your friend. How so many times like today I wanted to just put a bullet in your back and kill you.”

“ I guess then if you’re so set on dying……we should start this dance then.” Johnny said as Madrid was now in full play. He knew his father and wife were both behind him to his left a little watching. He also knew Joe and several hands had come out of the bunkhouse and stood waiting and watching. All this he knew and never once took his eyes of the man in front of him. Once again the familiar sign was given

and once again the colt at his side spoke fast and deadly. Johnny drew and fired in the blink of an eye and hit Clint in the shoulder causing him to drop his gun. Standing there he watched as the man reached down and picked the gun up again. “ Don’t Clint……let it drop.” he begged somewhat but his words fell on deaf ears as Clint brought the gun up and cocked it. “ Damn it Clint.” Johnny said before pulling the trigger again. This time his bullet hit dead center knocking the man backwards dead before he hit the ground.

Johnny stood there motionless as his father and wife came up to him. Without looking at his father, his words soft. “ Maybe now you understand.” he said before turning and walking into the house.

Carrie turned to follow him but was stopped by Murdoch. “ Let him be. He needs to be alone right now.”

“ Alone is the last thing my husband needs.”

“ Carrie, I know my son and right now Johnny needs to be alone.”

“ You’re wrong, alone is the last thing he needs right now. He just killed a man whom he thought was a friend and you want to leave him alone……Well you can but I am not.” she said firmly before turning and heading into the house.

Murdoch stood there looking at the dead body and watched as a couple of men carried it away. Heading into the house he found the grand room empty. Sighing the big man walked over to his desk and sat down placing his elbows on the desktop and his face in his hands. “ Oh son…….I do understand. I understand more than you know.”

Scott came home and listened intently as Murdoch told him what had happened to Clint while he was gone. “ Where is Johnny now sir?”

“ Up at Elk Canyon working on the dam……He’s hardly said anything to me son since it happened. He’s not eating much and I can’t get a straight answer out of Carrie about him. I don’t know what to do.”

“ Did you try talking to him afterward?” Scott asked knowing inside what the answer would be.

“ No.”

“ No…….and may I ask why?”

“ I thought it best to let him be alone. I was wrong and I can’t change that.”

“ Alone…..with all due respect sir Johnny has been left alone in his past after something like this happened because nobody cared how he felt……..Why do you think he would go to a bordello, because nobody cared enough to * ask * him if he was alright. He would do the only thing he knew to get rid of his frustration.” Scott said before turning and heading to the door.

“ Where are you going?”

“ To my brother, It’s pretty clear to me that he needs someone besides his wife to care about him.”

Johnny was knee deep in water when he heard the approaching horse. Climbing up out of the water he walked over and picked up his canteen. “ Hey brother, How’d your trip to Modesto go?”

“ It went well brother.” Scott said as he got off his horse.

“When did you get back?”

“ This morning…….I thought I would come up here and help you repair the dam.”

“ Thanks.” Johnny said softly before heading back into the water to attach another cross support.

“ Murdoch told me what happened……I’m sorry Johnny.”

“ He did huh…..Did he tell you everything?”

“ He told me how you was forced to kill Clint…….what else is there?”

Johnny looked up at his brother and smiled. “ I’m alright Boston…..really I am…….Did you see Carrie?”

“ No, no I didn’t. How is your wife.”

“ Well I’ll tell ya, she hasn’t been feelin’ to good in the mornin’s but boy oh boy she sure can put the old man in his place.” Johnny said. “ Oh by the way……you’re gonna be an uncle.”

Scott opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out as he stared at his brother dumbstruck.

“ What’s the matter big brother?…….You forget how to talk?” Johnny said with a grin.

“ I……I could have sworn I heard you say Carrie is with child.”

“ You did.”

“Little brother……I……..congratulations Johnny. I suppose Murdoch knows already.”

“ Yeah I couldn’t wait to tell him. Sorry I should’ve waited till you got back but…….”

“ How’d he take it?”

“ Good…….good.” Johnny said softly as he kicked at the dirt.

“ What happened?”

“ Well he managed to manipulate his words around and make it a Madrid thing. It seems our father just doesn’t want to let me be happy.”

“ Sure he does Johnny.”

“ Yeah……well how come then if he does he refers to Madrid when I get married and when I tell him he’s gonna be a grandfather he again brings up my past. I’m sick of trying to please him Scott………..I’m sick of not being appreciated for all the hard bust my ass work I do for him.” Johnny said with a quiver in his voice. “ Why can’t he be happy for me?……….Hell he tried to claim the mustang money as a part of Lancer and that I couldn’t touch it…….I set him straight on that though.”

“ I see……and just how did you do that brother?”

“ Simple…I told him it’s my name on the contract not his, it’s me rounding up the horses and it’s me breaking them……..I can’t make love to my wife because Maria hears us in the mornings or he does walking by to the kitchen………Face it Scott I’m in a no win situation…….the only reason I’m staying at Lancer now is you and my wife………I can’t take it any more Scott…..Why should I bust my ass to please him when it don’t……Hell I don’t even want to come home at night because he always finds some way of shooting me down. The other day I got home late from repairing fence and he jumped down my throat when I sat down to eat. Said if I couldn’t be there on time I shouldn’t show up, that I was irresponsible.”

“ Did you tell him why you was late?”

“ Whats the point. I was so he just naturally thinks I’m goofing off and not doing my work.”

“ Why was you late?”

“ I finished the fence I was working and decided to check that stretch that parallels Driscoll’s place. I didn’t want any of our cows going on his land even though the place is empty now.”

“ It seems to me brother that you need to get serious and stand up to him. Tell him why you was late.”

“ It won’t make a bit of difference Scott……He only wants one son here…..He doesn’t really want me here.”

“ That’s bullshit and you know it Johnny.”

“ No it’s not Scott…..you’ll see tonight what I’m talking about. I won’t be in that house ten minutes and he’ll start.”

“ I think you’re wrong brother……come on I’ll help you finish this dam.”

“ Thanks……..It’s good to have you back.”

“ It’s good to be back.”

.

The brothers worked hard side by side well into late afternoon. Taking a quick dip before heading home both was lost in their own thoughts. Scott wondering just what all did happen while he was away that was not being told by either and Johnny wondering what his father would chew on him for tonight. Neither brother said a word all the way back to the ranch. When they rode into the yard Scott dismounted and handed his horse off to Carlos and waited for his brother to dismount.

“ Come on Johnny…….you’ll see I’m right brother.”

Johnny sighed and got down. “ I wish it were true but……”

“ Johnny……..I want a word with you now!”  Murdoch yelled through the open french doors.

Johnny looked at Scott. “ Told ya.” he said softly as he walked to the house. Stepping inside he found his father with his back to him looking out the big arched window behind his desk.

“ Did you get the dam work finished?” Murdoch asked sharply.

Johnny sighed. “ Yeah the repairs are done. I told you I would get it done today and I did.”

“ You did only because your brother rode up there and helped you.”

“ What’s your problem old man, why you diggin yur spurs in me every chance ya can huh?”

Scott stepped down into the room with Carrie right behind him.

“ Maybe because you still don’t know the meaning of responsibility boy……maybe when you learn that and learn to complete the chores I assign you. Everyone else completes their chores by days end except you……You better start taking responsibility for your actions because I won’t have anymore of this.  Scott did you help your brother with the dam repairs?” Murdoch asked as he glared at Johnny.

“ Yes sir I did but……..”

“ There….see. If you can’t handle a simple task like that……..how the hell are you going to be responsible enough to be a father?”

Johnny glanced at Scott and started to turn to walk out without a word said, but this was the last straw. Throwing his hat in the chair Johnny walked angrily up to his father. “ Responsibility…….hell old man as I told you before I have been responsible for my life my whole life. I get my work done on this ranch every day. And every day you find a way to chew on me for something and I’m sick of it…….I do twice as much work as the other hands. I work from sunup to sundown. Hell sometimes I don’t get breakfast or dinner because of work. I have taken your shit for the last time. I’m a third owner of this ranch and as such you will start treating me with the respect I deserve like you do my brother. I do the chores you ask and I take care of my contract with the army so do you dare stand there and tell me I’m not responsible……..Your the one who’s not old man.”

Murdoch glared at his son. His jaw clenched tight, teeth grinding. “ How dare you speak to me like that. I call the tune on this ranch and I am your father.”

“ Father?” Johnny said sarcastically with a laugh. “ If the way you have treated me the past three years I’ve been here is what it’s like to be a father then I’m glad you weren’t around when I was growing up. You don’t know the true meaning of being a father.”

“ And you do?” Murdoch snapped.

“ I know my son will have a father to love him and teach him. A father who will be proud of his son, proud of who he is and what he does, a father who won’t look at him with hate in his eyes because of something that happened that wasn’t his fault.”

“ What the devil are you talking about?”

“ I’m talking about the fact that you can’t stand to look at me. You hate my guts old man. Every time you look at me you see that bitch of a mother I had and it angers you. You have so much hatred inside you for what she did it’s made you blind…………I’m not her Murdoch……If you can’t start seeing me for who I am then I guess my mother was right about you……you are nothing but a cold hearted bastard.”

Scott couldn’t help but smile inside at the way his brother was standing up to their father. Knowing this situation was escalating he stepped up. “ Uh maybe we should get ready for dinner now sir……I think the two of you need to step back and cool down a little before one of you say’s something you will regret.”

Johnny never took his eyes off his father. “ I got nothing to say to him Boston that I would regret…….He ain’t worth it.” Johnny said before turning and grabbing his hat. Without so much as a word to his wife Johnny left slamming the door behind him rattling the windows.

“ You are a real piece of work father.” Scott said with bitterness. “ I think you want my brother to leave Lancer don’t you?”

“ Of course not……..I want your brother to be more responsible for his actions.”

“ Johnny is responsible for his actions and he has been his whole life.”

“ Living by a gun is not being responsible. Neither is taking off for two days and coming back married.”

“ And there it is…….you told me and Johnny that good or bad, right ow wrong the past is just that….the past but I see my brother was right. That don’t apply to him in your standings…….as for my brother getting married he had every right….Carrie there is a good wife to him and my brother loves her. If you would just open your eyes you would see that also.”

“ What I see is a boy almost twenty two married and expecting a child and has no real idea what being a family is.”

“ And that’s not his fault……or is it?…….You’re blaming Johnny for Maria running out on you………you know, with all due respect sir my brother was right………you are a cold hearted bastard.” Scott said vehemently before turning to leave.

“ Why do you always stick up for him?” Murdoch shot back.

Scott stopped and turned back around. “ Because he’s my brother and he deserves someone in this family to stand up for him. God knows he ‘s had nobody do it for him in his past.” Scott said glancing at Carrie. “ You know I cannot help but think that you want to drive my brother off this ranch, ever since he and Carrie got married, and this is nothing against you Carrie, but ever since you have been hard on him. I for one would like to know why that is?”

“ I am not going to stand here and explain my actions toward your brother to you.”

“ Then we got nothing further to discuss do we?” Scott said before again turning to leave.

“ Where are you going?”

“ After my brother. He needs to know someone cares about him.” Scott said before slamming the front door.

Carrie stood looking at Murdoch speechless. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for her husband and what he was so desperately wanting from his father, but not getting. “ Excuse me.”

“ You still glad you married my son?…….I can assure you he has just rode out to go to town and be with a whore.”

“ What my husband does is no concern of yours and yes I am glad I married Johnny. I love him and I know he will not cheat on me. To bad you don’t think that highly of your son though.” she said before leaving to catch Scott.

Scott led his horse out of the barn and seen Carrie hurrying toward him.

“ Scott…..I know Johnny went to town, I’ve seen him before when he would come in angry or upset from his father……Tell him it’s alright, that I understand.”

“ Alright or understand what?” Scott asked.

“ He’ll know…….go find him he shouldn’t be alone right now.”

.

Johnny rode into Morro Coyo and dismounted in front of the livery. Handing the reins to the owner and giving the man a dollar. “ Bed him down for the night will ya? I’m stayin in town.” he said before heading to the  Red Palace saloon. In a foul mood he walked inside knowing he was asked not to come back again. That in mind he just didn’t care tonight. Walking up to the bar he threw his hat back to hang by the stampede string and placed his hands on the bar. “ Tequila.” he said gruffly to the bartender.

“ I told you I don’t want you coming in here any more Madrid…….I don’t need the trouble you cause between my girls.”

“ You’re gonna have a lot more serious trouble if you don’t give me a bottle and now.”

The bartender knew by the look on his face Johnny wasn’t one to be trifled with tonight. Setting the bottle down he hurried back down to the other end of the bar.

Johnny poured a shot and slammed it down and poured another. He could feel the men staring at him. ‘Let ’em.’ he said to himself as he poured a third shot. ‘Let anyone mess with me tonight and it will be a mistake.’ Downing the third shot he felt it hit his stomach and remembered he hadn’t eatin anything since breakfast and even that was very little. It seemed that lately his father just didn’t want to let him eat an meal in peace or finish one either. Picking up the bottle and glass he turned and walked over to a table in the corner and sat down.

“ must have had a fight with his old man again.” someone said.

“ Naw, I bet it’s his wife. Maybe she got tired of bein banged by a half breed.” another said laughing.

“ You two don’t want to live long do you. Can’t you see Madrid’ in a foul mood……keep it down. I don’t need no trouble in here from him or bloodshed.”

Sara watched from the back of the saloon and knew that tonight she just might be able to have her man again. Watching as he slammed down the tequila. After the fourth shot she walked over to Johnny’s table. “ Hey good lookin……can I sit down?”

Johnny looked up at her through angry eyes. Madrid in full show. “ Go ahead, I don’t care.” Johnny said as he stood up to leave.

“ Johnny wait….you’re in no condition to be walking around alone. Let me help you?”

“ I don’t need your help Sara, Leave me alone.” Johnny ordered before walking out.

Sara followed him out into the cool evening air. When Johnny turned into an alley she knew why and followed. Finding him doing what she thought. Smiling she walked up to him and was met by a colt in her face.

“ That’s not to smart Sara, sneaking up on me like that. Go away and leave me alone.”

“ I can’t do that Johnny. I know you don’t want to be alone right now. I know what you need, what you want. Let me help you.” Sara said as she ran a hand up around his neck and kissed him gently on the lips. “ Take me Johnny.”

Johnny looked at Sara. When she kissed him  softly on the lips he couldn’t help feeling aroused. The girl knew how to kiss. “ I’m married now Sara, my wife is carrying my child.”

“ All the more reason for us to have some fun Johnny. A pregnant woman loses interest in doing it and I know how you like to……..”

“ Leave me alone Sara……I mean it.”

Sara laughed. Laughed until she felt a hand on her throat suddenly. “ Johnny.”

“ I mean it Sara…….. leave me alone……… is that clear?” Johnny said with anger and just enough pressure on her throat to get the point across.

“ Yes, my god what’s the matter with you? Let go of me.”

Johnny shoved Sara back into a crate and walked out of the alley and headed for the hotel and a bed.

Sara fumed as she rubbed her throat. Not very many people lived to see the sunrise when threatened by Madrid. “ You’re going to pay for this Johnny and I know how. You’ll want me again after I get rid of that wife of yours. You’ll see. You’ll come back to me Johnny.” Sara said as she walked to the street and watched as Johnny entered the hotel.

.

Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was a long shot but deciding to take a chance he went into the Red Palace saloon looking for his brother and was met by a very angry bartender telling him what happened. Stepping out of the saloon, Scott noticed Sara walking toward him and sighed.

“ Why Scott Lancer, how you doing?”

“ I’m fine Sara…..have you seen Johnny tonight?”

“ Why yes I did……..me and that brother of yours just had us a time in the alley down there…….his wife must not be keeping him satisfied because man, talk about rough, eager and hungry all in one. Johnny sure was tonight.”

Scott didn’t want to believe his brother did what Sara was claiming. “ Do you know where he went Sara?”

“ Yeah, the hotel. I wore him out so he went ta get a bed for the night.”

Scott walked away without another word said to the woman. Could his brother have done what she said? Could Johnny have just been unfaithful to his wife? Shaking his head Scott entered the hotel lobby.

“ Scott……..room three. He’s pretty wasted and he seemed agitated so watch yourself.” the clerk said.

“ Thanks.” Scott said as he headed up the stairs. Room three’s door wasn’t locked. Opening the door Scott found his brother passed out sprawled across the bed. Closing the door and locking it Scott got his brother undressed as much as he could and tucked into bed.

.

Chapter 28

Johnny worked hard rounding up and breaking the mustangs for the next two weeks. When he had woke up and found his brother with him the next morning in Morro Coyo he told him Sara was lying about what happened between them and left it at that. His brother knew better than to press the subject any further. He told Carrie what happened that night, leaving out how he threatened Sara. This day he was out checking fence line unaware he was being watched from the tree line lost in thought. Hearing a horse approaching Johnny reined Barranca up and smiled when he seen who it was.

“ Should you be riding a horse?” he asked his wife as he walked over and helped her down.

“ I’m alright, I wanted to bring you some lunch. Maria said you forgot it and didn’t eat any breakfast.”

“ She did huh.” he said more than asked before he pulled his wife to him and claimed her mouth.

“ Thank you my love.” he said as he took her hand and they walked over to some rocks in the shade and sat down.

Johnny and Carrie ate lunch together and made love in the afternoon sun oblivious to the danger that was approaching them. Laying in each others arms after. “ I better get back to checking fence line.” he said as he stood up and helped his wife. Kissing her passionately again. When they turned to walk to the horses the report of a rifle being fired was heard and Carrie dropped to the ground. Johnny grabbed his colt and looked but could see nothing. “ Carrie stay down.” he said. Not getting a response Johnny looked and seen his wife laying on the ground, blood was coming from her chest. Moving to her side he pulled her into his chest. “ Carrie………oh god no……Carrie……love. Talk to me please……Please don’t leave me.” he begged but it was to late. His wife was dead. “Noooooooooooo……you bastard I swear I’ll find you and kill you.” Johnny yelled as the tears began to fall.

.

Johnny led his dead wife’s horse into the yard and got down. Murdoch, Scott, Frank and Joe met him. Standing there shaking Johnny tried to get his emotions in check. “ She’s dead.” was all he could say before walking into the house.

Scott and Murdoch watched him walk past as Frank and Joe took care of Carrie’ body.

Johnny went into the Grand room and with shaking hands he poured a shot of whiskey and downed it. He heard his brother and father come in when he was pouring the second shot. Downing it he looked at the bottle in his shaking right hand and spun around and threw it against the wall above the fire place shattering it and sending flying glass everywhere.

Scott hurried to his brother as Johnny dropped to the floor. “ Easy Johnny, I got you little brother.” Scott said as he wrapped his arms around his shoulders. He could feel his brother shaking badly. Looking up at his father who was just standing there. “ Help me get him to the couch.” Scott ordered.

Murdoch took hold of his son on the left while Scott held his right and together they got Johnny over to the couch to sit down.

“ Stay with him Murdoch……….I’m going to send a hand for Sam.”

“ He doesn’t need a doctor Scott.”

“ Yes he does sir…………he’s in shock.” Scott said before turning and going outside.

Murdoch offered very little comfort to his youngest who just sat on the couch shaking. Not knowing what to do he finally sat down next to him when Scott came back in.

“ What happened Johnny?” Murdoch asked with a stern voice.

“ I……..we…..she brought me lunch and we……..when we walked back to the horses there was a shot and when I looked at her she was on the ground dead.” Johnny said in a quivering voice. Wrapping his arms around himself.

“ A shot from where Johnny?”

“ I don’t know……..the tree’s I think………I never seen the shooter.”

“ Johnny drink this.” Scott said handing him a glass of water.

Johnny took the water but didn’t drink it. He just stared at it as his hand shook. “ Why……..why her?….why’d they kill her and not me Scott?”

“ I don’t know brother…………I don’t know why someone would shoot Carrie.”

“ My son……..I’ll never get to see or hold my son.” Johnny said as the tears began to fall. He didn’t care who seen him crying. Today was the worst day he could ever remember. “ I gotta take care of my wife.” he said standing up.

“ No son……..Frank and Joe are taking care of her for you.” Murdoch said as he put a hand on his sons shoulder.

Don’t touch me……..you never cared about her…….you didn’t like her just like you don’t like me……You thought she was a whore and she wasn’t……….she was my wife.”

“Johnny calm down.” Scott pleaded.

“ Don’t  tell me to calm down Scott……….My wife was just killed because of me.”

“ You don’t know that……….you said only one shot was fired.” Murdoch blurted out. “ How do you know it wasn’t someone after her?”

“ Johnny where were you when this happened?” Scott asked as he put a hand on his brothers shoulder.

Johnny walked over to the big window behind his fathers desk and wrapped his arms around himself.

“ We was by the creek, you know where that small bunch of boulders is at.”

Scott shook his head and glanced at his father. “ Johnny, you need to go lay down until Sam gets here.”

“ I’m fine Scott.” he stated as he turned around. “ Really…….I need you to send for the sheriff in Green River to come here and make an arrest…….I know who it was.”

“ Who son?” Murdoch asked.

Johnny glanced at him. “ Think about it Scott…….the other night in town.”

Scott cocked a brow. “ You don’t think…..”

“ Yeah I do.”

“ I’ll ask again, who?”

“ Sara.” was all Scott said.

“ Sara?…..You mean one of the…….”

Johnny shot his father a hard cold look just as Sam came into the house. “ Yeah old man I do.”

“ Johnny, are you alright?” Sam asked as he walked into the room.

“ Yeah Sam I’m fine.”

“ I heard in town and I am so sorry.”

“ What do you mean you heard in town Sam?………..Heard what?” he asked the old doc.

“ About Carrie and then a hand rides in and say’s you need me.”

“ Who told you about Carrie Sam?” Murdoch asked.

“ The bartender at the Red Palace saloon. He said to give you his condolences and that he was sorry.”

Scott looked at his father then brother. “ There is only one way he would have known about Carrie’s death.”

Johnny headed to the door.

“ Where are you going?” Murdoch demanded.

“ To prove I’m right old man……..even though you don’t really care.”

That’s enough.” he yelled. “ I may not have approved  of your wife son, but she was and she was carrying your child, my grandchild so I will not have you talking to me like this anymore…….Is that clear?”

Johnny just looked hard at his father.

“ Johnny wait till after the funeral to do this……….when your thinking more clearly and calmed down.” Scott asked.

“ Your brother is right son….please.”

Johnny sighed, he knew they were right and he hated it. Hated the fact that right now after years of being in control, this time he wasn’t.

“I want you to go back and spread the word Sam about the funeral takin place day after tomorrow……… Scott I want you to ride back out there with me in the morning to where the shot came from.”

“ Why son?”

“ Because Murdoch…….if it was Sara she she would have rented a horse from the livery in town and ol’ Zeke marks his horses shoes just in case one don’t come back.”

“ And just how would you know this brother?”

“ I seen him doing it.”

.

Two days later Johnny laid his wife to rest. People from town came and paid their respects. Zeke showed up and Scott pulled him aside after and asked him if Sara had rented a horse from him.

‘ She sure did. Brought that horse back all lathered up from running it hard. I told her I would never rent her a horse again if that’s how she treats them.”

“ Thanks Zeke.” Scott said as he went looking for his brother, finding him leaning against the veranda wall.

“ Time to prove it.” Johnny said after hearing what his brother found out. “ Give me a few if she follows me okay?”

“ You be careful brother…….she’s already proved to be dangerous.”

Johnny smiled and walked over to Sara. “ I need to talk to you alone.” he said softly before walking toward the barn.

Sara glanced around and smiled as she followed. Walking into the barn she found Johnny at the back by the stacked hay. “ What did you want to talk to me about?”

“ I just said that to get you in here alone.” Johnny said as he fought to keep his emotions in check.

“ All you had to do was ask.” Sara said as she walked up to him and put her arms around his neck.

Johnny hated doing this but knew it had to be done. “ You was right.” he said before kissing Sara hard and pulling her in to his chest. Breaking the kiss off he ran his hands up and down her arms. “ I know it now Sara……I know.”

“ Oh Johnny…….I knew she wasn’t right for you……..I knew once she was gone you would come back to me……Let me love you and be with you………..

Johnny grabbed her arms roughly. “ You did it didn’t you. It was you who shot my wife.”

“ What?……….You’re crazy.” Sara said as she tried to get free. “ Let go of me or I’ll scream.”

“ I know it was you Sara. How else would people in town know about it that night……..Sam heard it from the bartender and he told us it was you who told him. Zeke at the livery told my brother you rented one of his horses that day.”

“ So…..I went for a ride………That don’t prove I killed your wife.”

‘ Oh but it does………you see Zeke marks his horses shoes and well me and my brother rode back out there where you shot from and well……….I think you know the rest.” Johnny said angrily as he let go of her arms.

Sara slapped Johnny hard across the face. “ You was mine until that bitch came along.”

“ Sheriff……….you hear enough?” Johnny asked as he stepped back.

“ Yes I did.” the sheriff said as he and Murdoch walked out of the darkness behind the stacked hay. “ Sara I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Carrie Lancer.”

“ You set me up…….you bastard……..I’m glad I did it………..you don’t deserve a wife………you don’t deserve to have anything you bastard.”

“ Get her out of here.” Murdoch yelled.

Johnny just stood there as the sheriff took her out. Walking over to Barranca he grabbed up a brush and started grooming his friend.

“ Son……….are you alright?” Murdoch asked walking over to the stall.

“ I’m fine……….I want to be alone for awhile.” Johnny said as he grabbed Barranca’ saddle and threw it on the stallions back.

“ Son you can’t leave…..people came to pay their respects to you.”

“ The hell I can’t………they don’t give a damn about me and my loss……I’m just a half breed killer who don’t deserve the chance to change……..I don’t deserve happiness.” Johnny said coldly as he led Barranca out of the stall.

“ That’s not true son.” Murdoch said grabbing his sons arm when he led his horse out.

“ Yes it is……I have busted my ass for you and tried to change my life for the past three years………Three years old man I have taken the crap from you…….Three years of being nothing more than a hired hand to you……Hell I’m not even that am I………you treat them better than you do me and I’m sick of it.” he said swinging up into the saddle. “ You’ll never really see me as your son……you’ll never treat me like you do Scott but hey that’s alright……..I know you hate me and don’t want me here.” he said before kicking Barranca and riding out of the barn.

Murdoch stood there in shock at the words his son had just spat at him in anger.

Sam heard what was said and walked into the barn looking at his friend. “ You happy now?…… You may have just lost your son again…….Are you so blind that you can’t see how bad that boy want’s you to love him………My God Murdoch he’s practically screaming for you to love him and be a father to him.”

“ Stay out of this Sam.”

No………not till I give you a piece of my mind…….You looked for him for all those years. He comes back home and finds out his mother lied to him about you…or did she?…….he tries to live a normal life and be your son and all you can do is find fault in everything that boy does. Someone calls him out and you blame him for it……..his wife gets murdered and when he needed his father the most you practically turned your back on him……You are a fool Murdoch Lancer……if he leaves here it will be of your doing.” Sam said before turning and walking out of the barn.

.

Joe rode out to where Johnny was working clearing underbrush and got down. It had been three weeks since the funeral and Johnny barely spoke to anyone around the ranch. He kept to himself doing jobs alone. Refused to go to town for anything. Stopped rounding up mustangs or breaking the ones he did have.

“ Johnny.”

“ What do you want Joe?”

“ We need to talk.”

“ Yeah……about what?”

“ Us………you.”

Johnny stopped working and looked at him. “ What the fuck you talking about?” he asked walking past to get his canteen.

“ I need to tell you who I am and why I’m here at Lancer Johnny.”

Johnny got a sick feeling deep down inside. His hand dropped to his gun.

“ No Johnny……not that……..I’m not here to call you out or anything like that……my father is your uncle.”

Johnny poured water over his face to cool down. It was early summer and mid day but the sun was beating down hard. “ My uncle?…….Who?”

“ Your mothers brother.” Joe said.

Johnny walked past Joe and could feel the anger starting up inside. “ I have no uncle.”

“ Yes you do Johnny……He asked me to come to Lancer……..”

Johnny spun around and grabbed Joe by the shirt. “ Why?………he didn’t give a damn about me and my mother when I was little……..He knew what kind of life me and my mother were living and he even came and seen us in Sonora. He knew my mother died and he did nothing to help me so why should I give a damn about him?”

“ He knows he did you wrong in the past Johnny but……”

“ But what…….I’m supposed to forgive him?………..You have no idea what my life was like after my mother died. Ten years old and alone. A father I was told didn’t want me and an uncle who didn’t want me either…….You have no idea what its like to be beaten every day just because you’re a half breed. I got it from both sides Joe and all because my father took my mother to bed and got her pregnant before they were married. I have paid for their mistake my whole life.”

“ Johnny that’s not his fault……..look…..he knows about Madrid and that you are wanted by the Rurales dead or alive in Mexico but he want’s to see you…….He wants to try and be the uncle he never was to you before it’s too late.”

“ He knows I’m wanted but yet he expects me to ride into Mexico……..why don’t he come here to Lancer?”

“ He would but your father made it very clear to him that if he ever seen him again or  showed his face on Lancer property he would kill him.”

“ He said that to him?…….Murdoch told him that?”

“ Yes Johnny he did…….I know about your inquiry about your uncle and I also know my father has sent you at least two letters once he knew you were here at Lancer….When he got no response that’s when he decided to have me come to work here and get to know you. Johnny he has tried to find you when your mother died and like I said he has sent you letters here……….Maybe you should ask your father about them because I personally know of both times those letters were delivered to your father because

I seen them in the mail both time I picked it up when in town for him.”

Johnny remembered telling his father he wanted to find out if his uncle was still alive and meet the man before they left for Fort Craig. His father had said nothing to indicate he couldn’t but at the time his insides were telling him his father did not want that happening. Could what Joe’ telling him now be right. Could his father have received two letters from his uncle and kept them from him all this time? With only one way of finding out Johnny went to Barranca and tightened his cinch and swung up in the saddle. “ You come back and face him with me?” Johnny asked.

“ You bet I will……no one has a right to keep family apart.” Joe said as he went to his horse and got on and took off after his cousin.

.

Johnny rode into the yard at a full gallop followed by Joe. The two men got down and headed to the house. Frank met them. “ You know mister Lancer don’t want you galloping into the yard Joe.”

“ He’s with me Frank so back off.” Johnny said firmly as his father came out onto the veranda.

“ You had better have a good excuse for galloping in here like that Johnny.”

“ I’ll ride in here any damn way I want old man.” Johnny shot back as he walked past and into the house followed by Joe.

“ You want me to stay mister Lancer?” Frank asked. He knew something had Johnny royally pissed at his father, something that involved Joe, he couldn’t help but feel a little apprehension as he watched his boss and friend walk into the house for what was clear to be a showdown of some sort.

.

Johnny walked down into the grand room and took off his hat and threw it on his fathers desk top. He started opening the drawers and rummaging through them when his father entered the room.

“ Just what the devil do you think you are doing?” Murdoch demanded as he stormed over to his desk.

“ Where are they?”

“ Where are what Johnny………I don’t appreciate you going through my desk like this.”

“ As a third owner of this ranch this desk is my property also.” Johnny shot back as he came to the bottom right drawer and found it locked. “ Give me the key.”

“ There is nothing in that drawer that concerns you………..Joe I think you better leave now…….go back to work.”

“ No……..he stays……either you give me the key or……” Johnny took his gun out. “ I’ll open it my way old man……….choice is yours.”

“ You do any damage to that desk and I will take it out of your pay.”

“ Go ahead.” Johnny said before shooting into the drawer lock. The bullet shattered the lock and Johnny jerked the drawer open.

Murdoch stormed around the desk. “ God damn you boy…….I had that desk brought all the way from Scotland.” the big man fumed as he went to shove his son away from the desk. The unmistakable sound of a colt being cocked could be heard before it was brought up to within mere inches of the big mans face stopping him cold.

“ Joe….come on around here and look for them two letters I got from my uncle.” Johnny said as he watched his fathers face and got the reaction he expected. “ Oh I guess I should introduce you to my cousin old man………..Joe here is my uncle’ son………You know the one you told you would kill if you ever seen him again or he came on Lancer land looking for me.”

“ You dare pull a gun on me in my own home. You ungrateful little……..”

“ You better think real hard about what you’re about to say old man because I have had it up to here with you treating me the way you do.” Johnny said as he brought his left hand up to his chest.

Johnny….drop the gun now!” Frank ordered as he came into the room with a rifle aimed right at Johnny’s chest.

“ This is none of your business Frank so go on back outside……This is a family matter.”

“ It is my business when you fire your gun in mister Lancer’s house and I find you standing here with it aimed at him.” Frank stated as he worked the lever and slid a round into the chamber. “ I mean it Johnny…..drop your gun now.”

“ You better tell Frank there to leave now old man because if he shoots me I promise you I will take you with me……you know how touchy my gun is……you willing to risk that?”

“ Go on outside Frank……I’ll handle this.” Murdoch said as he stepped back away from his son. He knew by the look in his son’s eyes that he wasn’t dealing with Johnny Lancer, he was dealing with Johnny Madrid and that was dangerous.

Frank didn’t want to leave but did. “ Alright, if you’re sure you will be alright.”

“ Yes I’ll be alright Frank…….tell the men everything is okay and to go on with work.”

“ You find them yet Joe?”

“ Yeah, I got them both right here.” Joe said as he stood up and handed the letters to Johnny.

Johnny took them in his left hand and slid his colt back in the holster. “ Well would you look at that. You know, before we left for Fort Craig you was okay with me trying to find my uncle but I knew differently with the look on your face……I guess you forgot I got real good at reading people old man……That’s one way on how I stay alive.” Johnny said as he opened the first one and read it.

.

Johnny

I know I did you wrong all those years ago when I turned my back on you in Sonora and all I can say is I am sorry. I would like to get to know my nephew if at all possible. Unfortunately I cannot come to Lancer so I hope that you could come to Madera to my estancia and give me a chance. I will await your answer.

A. Martinez

.

Johnny glared hard at his father as he opened the other and read it.

.

Nephew

I assume that since it has been two months since I first contacted you that you are not willing to let the past lie and give a foolish uncle a chance to redeem his self. I know who you are and I know you would be worried with coming back to Mexico and understand. I hope it is working out with your father and you are getting the second chance at life that you so deserve. My estancia will always be a home for you if you find you need it.

Your uncle Martinez.

.

“ You bastard….Joe leave us alone now please.”

“ Sure Johnny.” Joe said before walking out.

Johnny waited till he was gone. “ You knew I wanted to contact him and all this time…….all this time you had these…….why Murdoch? Why did you keep them from me?”

“ I’m your father, I was trying to protect you.”

“ Protect me from what?…….I don’t need your protection old man, not if it means you keeping things like this from me.”

“ You can’t go back to Mexico Johnny……..Have you forgotten that you are wanted by the Rurales down there? If they find out Madrid is back they will kill you.”

“ Madrid………there it is..the truth of the whole damn matter……..You have never wanted to accept Madrid as your son just like you never really wanted me here also. Oh sure you talk the talk when its convenient but I know how you really feel about me.”

“ The only thing you know is how to live by that damn gun.” Murdoch snapped back.

“ That may be but at least this gun…..” Johnny pulled the colt out again. “ has kept me alive.”

“ If killing people for money is living.”

“ I did what I had to do to survive old man…….you sure the hell wasn’t around…….you know the way you treat me most of the time I’m beginning to think that bitch I had for a mother was right about you.”

Murdoch stepped forward and slapped Johnny hard across the face. “ Don’t you ever,ever talk about your mother like that again in my presence.”

“ You just made the biggest mistake of your life old man.” Johnny said  as he wiped at the blood on his bottom lip before turning to leave.

“ The only mistake I made was thinking you could be my son……….Go ahead and run off….that’s what you’re good at doing anyway.” Murdoch yelled after his son.

“ I’m not running from nothing old man……….I never have. I own a third of this ranch and I’ll be damn if you are going to take that away from me………you try and I’ll kill you.” Johnny said before heading upstairs and slamming his door.

Scott came home from working in the hay fields all day and was told by Frank some of what happened. Walking into the house he found his father sitting at his desk with the Pinkerton report on his brother  in front of him.

“ You care to tell me what the hell went on here this afternoon?” he demanded.

“ It’s nothing that concerns you…….did you get the hay done?” Murdoch asked gruffly.

“ Yes sir……..Frank said Johnny shot off his gun in the house and that………”

“ I said it doesn’t concern you……….the matter is closed…..get cleaned up for dinner.”

“ What did you do to my brother?”

“ I didn’t do anything to your brother……..It’s more like what he did to me, but it is no concern of yours so leave it be.” he ordered.

“ Not when it concerns my brother I won’t.”

I said leave it be.” Murdoch yelled. “ Your brother did this.” Murdoch said angrily as he pointed to the desk drawer. “ This and dared point that damn gun at me in my own home…….I will not tolerate that kind of behavior from no………”

“ What did you do…….or should I be asking * say * to my brother to make him do this?”

“ He started bad mouthing his mother and using that damn language  so I slapped him. I have warned him about talking that way in this house and I will not have it.”

“ You hit your own son?” Scott asked stunned. “ What the hell is the matter with you Murdoch? Johnny has had nothing but abuse most of his life and you go and hit him………where is he now?”

“ He went up to his room an hour ago and I haven’t seen him since nor do I want too.”

Scott turned and headed upstairs. He knew that if his father had hit him like he said then his brother would be really hurt from it. Stopping outside his room he knocked but got no response. Opening the door he found the room empty and the top drawer of the dresser open. Laying on the bed was a note along with Johnny’s copy of the deed signed. Picking it up Scott got a very empty feeling inside.

.

Scott

I’m sorry to run out on you like this brother but something has come up that I have to take care of. Our father lied to me and kept  two letters from me I received from my uncle who you knew I was looking for in Mexico. It seems that Joe is his son, my cousin and told me this this afternoon. I confronted the old man and you know I can understand in a way him wanting to keep it from me, what I can’t understand and what hurts the most is knowing my own father don’t want me. He proved that today when he hit me. It took everything I had to not kill him for that brother, mainly you. I didn’t think it would be fair for you to lose * your * father because of me. After all you’re the perfect son he wants and I ain’t holdin that against ya none. The last three years has been good for me. I got to know you and even though I didn’t tell ya much, you got to know me. I guess the main part you got to know was what the old man will always see in me, Johnny Madrid the killer. He told me today that I was nothing but a worthless killer and that the only thing I was good at was usin my gun. That’s not all I’m good at but I guess when you’re not willin to look beyond that that’s all you’ll see.

You can have my share of this damn ranch brother, I thought I wanted it and told the old man so but after thinking about it I don’t. I don’t want a part of something that means more to our father than his own son. Don’t worry about me, you know I can take care of myself. I made my bed I guess you could say when I picked up a gun ten years ago. I’m going home Scott, back to where our father has made it clear I belong. You take care and the money from the mustangs in Fort Bowie is yours brother. I want nothing to do with it any more. I am also giving you Angel and her foal, I took Stormy with me and Barranca. Treat her good as I know you will brother she’s a good horse.

P.S.

Tell the old man he don’t need to worry, since he loves this land more than anything god created he can have it. His half breed mistake is gone.

Your brother

Johnny Madrid.

.

Scott sat on the bed rereading the words his brother had wrote. * going home * kept leaping out at him. Lancer was his home, his birthright. Standing up and wiping the tears away that fell Scott headed downstairs with the letter. He found his father sitting at the table starting to eat his dinner. Walking up to the man he threw the letter in front of him. “ He’s gone…….I hope you’re happy now?………You finally succeeded in running my brother off……..right back too that hell of a life he had before.”

Murdoch picked the letter up and read it. When finished he dropped it down on the table and sat back in his chair. “ I didn’t run him off…….Your brother isn’t responsible enough to be anything but a gunfighter.”

“ Damn you sir……..you just got your own son killed……..I hope you can sleep at night knowing that.” Scott stammered before turning to leave.

“ Where are you going?” Murdoch demanded as he stood up.

“ I am going after my brother………..he said he was going home. I assume he meant back to Mexico so I am going to find him and bring him back to his * real * home.”

“ And if you can’t find him?……..or he doesn’t want to come back……..let him go.”

“ Then I will not be coming back and * you sir * can have this ranch you care more about than your own son, because I like Johnny want nothing to do with it……or you.”

“ He’ll get you killed……..just as sure as day.” Murdoch yelled.

“ That may be but at least I’m willing to die for my brother unlike his own father is.” Scott said before heading upstairs to pack what little he would need on the trail.

An hour later he was mounted and riding under the Lancer arch headed south. He had left Carlos in charge of Angel and her foal knowing the boy would be good to her until he got back, if he came back.

Not knowing for sure just where in Mexico his brother was headed Scott decided to head toward the one place he remembered his brother speaking of. Sonora. If Johnny went home and all this trouble was because of his father keeping letters from him from his uncle then Scott decided that that was where Johnny would head and seemed the logical place to start looking.

TBC in “ The Betrayal”

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