Word Count 7,473
#3 in The Appaloosa Series
This follows on from Ours
The partnership has been in place for 3 months. The first cattle drive has been completed without undue problems.
Well, both my sons completed their first cattle drive. I wasn’t sure Johnny was fit enough after that back shooting but Sam Jenkins gave him the all-clear to work with the horses. Of course, the boy pushed his luck and teamed up with Matteo Ortez chasing strays. I watched him on his palomino. He and that horse are a marvel, but he is too fearless for his own good, ignoring my order to stay safe with the remuda. He had to be told for his own good. Cipriano took me aside afterwards and tried to explain how it was with his sons testing limits. Huh! Limits! If he had been a few years younger I would have tanned his britches for being disobedient.
Now it seems Scott is proving more difficult than Johnny. He has a quiet way of arguing his point of view and persists until he is satisfied with the outcome. Take the issue of the indoor plumbing, which I said was unnecessary, and if he wanted to re-invest his $1000 into Lancer there was a fine bull for sale over at Stockton we should buy.
He simply shook his head and gave a speech about the Lancer family leading the way into the future.
The boy kept quiet. I doubt he had ever been in an establishment that has such modern conveniences. Then when I was calling the tune, saying it would be too disruptive, he looked up and said he cast his vote with Scott, pointing out the work could be done when most everyone would be away on the cattle drive, and that Teresa could easily stay with Aggie Conway during the work. He went on to say he thought the man Scott had brought in to survey for the plumbing who suggested managing the water in the mountain range by building a dam should be given the go ahead. When Scott expressed surprise at his agreement, Johnny just shrugged, saying lots of the range wars he had been involved in were over water rights so it just seemed prudent to take control before someone else did.
Since returning from the drive I find we have indoor plumbing. Scott has reviewed the ranch accounts, bringing his Boston education to bear. He is trying to get me to diversify, to go into wine, for goodness’ sake. I have always found it a good bargaining tool, trading a few head of cattle or a good horse for some wine from business associates—good wine without the outlay or expense.
Johnny showed no interest in the ledgers until I insisted, telling him as a partner he had to take responsibility. The boy muttered something about tune calling, put his head down, and hugged himself. I find that habit of his disturbing and wonder if it is his way of protecting himself. Still, he sat with me without his usual constant fidgeting as I explained the simple principles and asked if he could enter some receipts. I fought hard not to cheer with delight when he picked up the pen and slowly worked his way through them. He can read, write and understands basic cyphering. Those Pinkerton reports gave me reason to believe he had not received much in the way of formal education.
Scott had quietly suggested he was happy dealing with the ledgers for him, but the boy had shaken his head, saying if being a rancher was going to be his new trade he had to learn all the skills.
Johnny, though, remains a mystery to me; one moment quiet and hardworking, the next insolent and angry. He mostly stays quiet when I hand out the work orders, but I know he doesn’t always follow them and can disappear for hours, going who knows where or doing who know what.
And that damn gunfighter reputation…whenever he is taken by surprise or feels under threat his hand goes to the gun slung low on his hip.
He treats almost all the neighbours and members of the Cattlemen’s Association with undisguised distrust. When I challenged him on his attitude he glared at me, saying someone had hired Pardee. This bald statement left Scott and me speechless. I refuse to believe a neighbour would have hired such a man to terrorise the San Joaquin. I told him in no uncertain way he had to learn how to get along with these fellow ranchers. He rode out the next day and was gone for three days, coming back without explaining his whereabouts.
I know Scott is making an effort with him. He has more patience than me with the long silences. Scott tells me the boy is respected by our vaqueros and seems to have befriended the most unlikely residents in Green River: old Mica who swamps out the saloon, Thea Galbraith, the cook at the hotel, and that new young lad who works at the telegraph office. Of all the local ranchers the only one he is at ease with is Aggie Conway. She tells me to recognise his skill with horses and to encourage him, to act as a father to him, not his boss, which is the same advice Sam Jenkins gives me when I complain about the boy’s surly attitude.
While Scott chips away with his ideas and plans, quoting outlays and profit margins and possible stock market investments, Johnny, when pushed, says we should go into horse breeding and trading. He says cows are dumb creatures only good for eating, but there are always buyers for good horses, and Lancer has plenty running free just waiting to be rounded up.
I know I said they were partners but I remind them I call the tune and Lancer is about cattle.
But now Johnny has gone. He left a note on his bed saying he had some business to see to, not to worry, he would be back.
What business? A gunfight, most likely.
I worry, of course. I worry. He was taken from Lancer as a baby…he belongs here. This land is his.
It was me who found his note. My heart stopped beating and I had to sit down. There hadn’t been terrible arguments, well, no more than the usual loud stubborn head-butting between him and Murdoch.
I searched his room. He doesn’t have much of anything. His saddlebags were gone, along with his guns and rifle, two shirts and one pair of trousers. Of course, the nightshirts he hates are left behind. He is a quiet boy of few words, except when shouting at Murdoch, but I have never caught him out in a lie so believe it when he has said he will be back. I do wonder what the business is. Gunfighting is Murdoch and Scott’s big worry. Perhaps some enemy from his past?
I remember, though, his kindness to me when I told him of my Daddy, and how he has time for others who can so often be ignored. People like Harmon Ripley. He is only fourteen years old and an orphan. It was Johnny who found him half-starved in one of the line shacks and got him a home with Mrs Galbraith and the job at the telegraph office.
Maria and Senora Elena tell me to have faith in him and to say a prayer. They fuss and pet me, saying he will return, as Lancer is his.
The cattle drive was interesting for the first hour or so; then just unrelentingly hard dirty work. Johnny, so soon after recovering from the back shooting, was supposed to be working with the remuda. However, he was soon seen on his palomino rounding up stray cows. Even my untrained eastern eye could see he and that horse were a perfect pair with natural talent, both fearless in chasing the strays down.
Murdoch found him at the end of the day and instead of complimenting him on his skill, berated him for not following orders to stay with the horses. The boy had a look on his face that changed from what I saw as disappointment to anger. For a hard-hearted gunfighter, he can wear his feelings on his face even if only for brief moments.
I was surprised he stayed as long as he did.
Murdoch had stated on that first day he had his mother’s temper, which showed during their loud discussions about his gun wearing and his desire to work with horses. But it seemed to me that he had patience and immense control to tolerate being treated as a poor ranch hand rather than a long lost son.
I had a few conversations with him—short, admittedly, with me doing most of the talking, trying to be sympathetic about Murdoch’s attitude. The boy said if he was Murdoch Lancer he wouldn’t want a mestizo pistolero for a son either, then shrugged and simply said it didn’t matter as Lancer was his.
I know the Doc had said not to push, not to herd the cattle; I was supposed to mind the remuda but hey, Barranca is a natural cow pony, and me and my cousin Matteo we make a good pair. It felt good to work like that.
Oh, boy did the ol’ man let rip! Last time I was called to account like that was by Don Andreas when I was nine years old. I deserved the hiding I got as well, for showing off at the expense of a flighty mare. That was a lesson I learnt well. Don Andreas Juan Filipe Mannerino…as a kid I called him Abuelo but really he is my Mama’s uncle, but I’ve only ever known him as Abuelo.
I look at Murdoch Lancer, my father, and wonder what Mama saw in him. She would never have settled to being a quiet dutiful rancher’s wife. ‘Specially when all those gringo neighbours saw her as nothing but a Mexican whore who had caught herself a rich husband.
And he looks at me and I can see he wants to break me like I’m a wild horse into the son he really wants. It’s all tight reins and spurs, but the more he digs in them spurs, the more I’m likely to buck.
Then there is Scott Lancer, eastern rich boy. I’m good at reading a man and I know there is more to him than those five dollar words and fancy manners. He can surely talk the talk, saying a lot an’ telling not much.
When we got back from the drive I got the word I had been waiting for and set off. I couldn’t say exactly what it was I was off doing in case it didn’t work out and I would cause some disappointment. I ain’t one for discussing my plans, but I did leave a note saying I would be back.
No one is going to take what is mine, and Lancer is mine.
Over two weeks of worry, the hacienda unnaturally quiet; no loud head-butting discussions about horse breeding and breaking, no spurs jingling, no teasing comments to wheedle extra sweet treats. Johnny’s presence is missed by all of Lancer. It is like we are all in limbo, waiting. Maria and I have been in his room every day, dusting, even changing the bedding; hoping and praying that would be the day he returned.
Murdoch has retreated into one of the black moods my Daddy used to warn me about. Senor Cipriano talks quietly to him and Maria and Senora Elena make sure he eats, but I know he stays up too late and probably drinks too much. He is too quiet; he is worrying about his missing son.
Scott, with the help of Senor Cipriano, keeps the day to day business of running Lancer going. He is a natural with the ledgers but tells me he prefers being out working with the ranch hands.
One evening he suggested contacting the Pinkertons; after all, they had eventually tracked Johnny down before. Murdoch looked so utterly sad when he said Johnny was no longer a lost boy but a young man who would follow his own path.
I argued that he was still only nineteen and needed a home and family. He belongs here at Lancer; it is his birthright, but Scott conceded to Murdoch.
I worry that Scott has shown no real evidence of a brotherhood connection with Johnny. We, that is Maria, Senora Elena and I have discussed this. We hope his polite aloofness to Johnny and all of us is just part of being from the east and his upbringing. It all sounds so very cold and different from everything I know, and opposite from how I imagine Johnny’s life was.
But now Senor Cipriano has galloped up to the hacienda. The vaqueros have spotted riders approaching from the south. It is Johnny. He is coming back.
Well, Murdoch certainly is living up, or down, to the dour Scottish personality trait. Since Johnny left he is beyond reach; the man is seriously depressed.
I have taken up the slack, discussing with the Segundo the work required on the ranch. Cipriano Ortez shows the respect I am due as the patron’s son, and I defer to his superior knowledge of the ranch and what is necessary. Cattle to be moved, fences to be strung, watercourses to be checked and cleared, supplies to be collected…it is never-ending. The Segundo, his family, the other vaqueros and their families are undoubtedly the most loyal workforce you could wish for.
I have kept the ledgers up to date and have discovered Murdoch Lancer is, as they also say about the Scots, a very canny businessman. Lancer has some very satisfactory investments which I know could provide even greater profits if I could take charge of them.
I have suggested some changes such as diversifying into logging or wine production to ensure income during downturns in cattle prices. Murdoch had shaken his head saying no; he is the tune caller and Lancer was all about cattle. I have studied the partnership agreement and if Johnny stays away without contact for 6 months, his share will return to Murdoch and the partnership would be re-negotiated. I wonder how the partnership will be affected if Murdoch continues his depression.
I did at one point mention setting the Pinkertons on Johnny’s trail, but again Murdoch called the tune, saying he didn’t understand what the boy was thinking and to let him follow his own path.
I am aware of how much Teresa and Maria miss the boy. The fact is the whole of Lancer seems to be holding its breath waiting for him to return. He is one of theirs, and they believe Lancer is his.
Matteo has just raced his pony out to find me with the crew moving cattle in the west blue creek pastures. Riders are coming up from the south and Johnny is with them.
I turn my horse towards the hacienda and ride hard so I will be there when he arrives.
I cannot shake off the black dog of depression. Johnny going ‘on business’; my heart clenches. His business is gunfighting. It should be ranching, but what have I done to show him that? I know the answer. I have been harder on him than any new ranch hand. I have not only kept him at arm’s length, I have pushed him away.
Guilt is eating at me, keeping me awake at night, invading my dreams when I do sleep. The same guilt I buried after Maria left with him. The guilt and anger that turned me so sour. I had to focus on something when she left and that was getting Johnny back and building Lancer so I could fight Harlan Garrett for Scott.
It’s in my nature I suppose to be driven, making me blind to personal consequences. My first wife Catherine had the measure of me. Her quiet but strong personality was the perfect match for me. She understood my ambition but had the words that kept me calm. I loved that woman; my decline into depression started when she died in childbirth. I should have been with her; her health and safety should have been my priority. But I chose Lancer and to see off Judd Haney and his high riders. I should have trusted Paul O’Brien and Cipriano to defend Lancer and been with her.
Then Maria, too young, too mercurial, too full of life to settle down. She was the most beautiful, colourful creature I had ever come across; she ignited a passion in me that blinded me to all the sensible reasons for not making our affair permanent. For a short while we were happy, and when she successfully delivered our son all my doubts about our marriage vanished and I gave my heart to Johnny.
Seventeen years of anger and pain at the loss of my youngest son has hardened me, so much so that when I got him back, I didn’t have the courage to see past his mother and the reputation of Madrid. I fear I drove him away. I know in my heart the Pinkertons could possibly find him again, but I know he will only return if he chooses to do so.
Scott has stepped up, but I still have enough wits about me to rein him in. He would move our holdings of stock and shares about, moving Lancer into different business ventures. I growl like a bear. I will not be pushed or manipulated. I call the tune. Scott bows his head, he keeps his temper— so like his mother. So unlike me or Johnny.
But now Cipriano has reported riders are coming and Johnny is one of them. I should be happy; but why am I afraid?
I always was a quick learner…well, at those things I wanted to do. One lesson I learnt was to keep quiet and my ears open; it’s a lesson that saved my life more’n once
Murdoch and ol’ Boston, I let ‘em think of me as a boy with not much in the way of education. Being underestimated gives me an edge. All the while, though, I was busy thinking on all the information I had found out.
I’d sent out word through young Harmon to my familia in Texas, and word went south to Mexico all the way to Don Andreas Juan Felipe Mannerino, my Abuelo. Soon as I heard back I rode out, left a note for T’resa and mamacita. Not sure if my father would be glad to see his pistolero son gone, but I said I would be back. Dios, a man would be a fool to turn his back on all that is Lancer. It’s more’n that, it’s like a piece of me that’s been missing all my life has been found. I belong at Lancer. It’s mine.
No one takes what’s mine, and that Appaloosa…it’s mine.
Thinking of it, that there horse, it links those strings that hold me together. It was born and ran free on my Abuelo’s land. It was me who caught him. Then I took him to my Madison family, and then he was sold here to Lancer. I know I’m part gringo but I’m mostly Mexican ‘cos of my upbringing; it makes me a naturally suspicious sorta fella. I don’t dismiss coincidences, and believe that fate plays a part in my life. I surely know it wasn’t a coincidence that Murdoch Lancer ended up owning the horse.
Now, with the help of Tio Joe and JJ, I got that horse back. I was right in thinking one of Pardee’s men had got him. Some dealers ain’t too fussy ‘bout brands; course it affects the price, but there are always buyers for a good horse, ‘specially over the border.
I used all my charm and more than some of my Madrid skills to convince Senor Raphael Mendoza of Los Christobel del Mar, who had had the use of my stolen stallion, that it would be in his own best interest to return my property. He also agreed that one colt and two fillies would be fair payment to Don Mannerino.
All in all, I was pleased. Got the Appaloosa with no gunfighting, an’ Abuelo would be pleased.
On the way back, Tio Joe has advised me to tell my father the whole truth. Living with secrets and mistrust don’t make for a peaceful life. Still, there are ugly things I have done and had done to me that are best left unsaid.
Not sure what kinda welcome I’ll get, but I ain’t gonna be driven off. I want my trade to be rancher and mustanero. Had enough of gunfights and range wars and all the blood and being haunted by the dead. I got a second chance when I was rescued from that firing squad and for that, I owe Murdoch Lancer. He may not be perfect—Dios, who am I to judge him?—but he is my father and I owe him, and I take my debts serious.
I found myself laughing and crying and hugged Maria. Not only has Johnny come home like he said he would, he brought Blue, the stolen Appaloosa, home with him.
It seems like most of the hands and vaqueros have heard he was back, and cheers and hats are being waved to welcome him.
Murdoch and Scott are watching his arrival; neither are smiling. As he reaches the hitching rail he sits and looks at us and smiles that lazy smile of his. There are two other riders behind him, both waiting, following his lead. He lightly dismounts, pushing his hat off his head to hang down his back. Barranca stands still while Johnny takes the lead rope of Blue and, having looked first at Murdoch, looks at me and hands me the rope. Oh my, those blue eyes of his smile at me while he says he hopes my Daddy will be pleased. I go on my toes and kiss him on his cheek; he smells of horse and leather and at that moment. I know my Daddy is with us in spirit and is pleased.
Senor Cipriano appears and takes Blue, patting Johnny on his back, telling him welcome home.
Johnny turns to Murdoch and Scott; he stands loose and relaxed, his hands resting on his hips, not at all that tense stance with this arms hugging himself. There is a confidence about him as he looks Murdoch in the eye, not ducking his head.
The two strangers are still on their horses. They don’t look like dangerous gunmen.
The older of the two tips his hat at me and Maria and introduces himself as Joe Madison and the other rider his son, John-Joseph. The young man tips his head forward so his hat falls into his hands and smiles at us. Maria lets out a little gasp and I can feel my mouth drop open. He looks so like Johnny with the same smile and he has blue eyes.
Murdoch hasn’t said a word. Scott though, with his good manners, says welcome to Lancer and that it looks like they have helped Johnny fetch the Appaloosa home. They were welcome to stay; there was room in the bunkhouse.
At that, Johnny laughed. “Nope, my uncle and cousin are staying right here in the hacienda.”
Oh, my word, whatever next!
Johnny’s return was a victory parade, the vaqueros and ranch hands cheering him home. The stallion is the one that Teresa’s father died for and for whom Murdoch carries Pardee’s bullet. It is an impressive beast, but I thought it lost for good. I wonder what in the world made Johnny take off on some kind of romantic mission after it.
And now these two cowboys with him are, he says, his uncle and cousin. I don’t recall the Pinkerton reports having information about these men.
There is something different about him, an air of control. This must be what he is like when he was working in range wars, his strength of personality radiating from him.
Murdoch is like a statue but then turns without a word and goes into the hacienda. I stop Johnny following him, taking his arm and he glares at me, eyes cold. I recoil: there is Madrid. I quickly tell him I am worried that Murdoch is unwell, he is in a bad place. Johnny looks at the open door and nods.
He then smiles at Maria and Teresa and speaks in Spanish. They both quickly say yes and welcome these two strangers into the hacienda and through to the kitchen.
It seems we have house guests.
I wait in the great room for him, no longer able to keep the past at bay. It may be done and gone but my past lives on right here and now in my sons.
I will talk to Johnny. I will answer his questions. I will not retreat behind my own temper or use his insolence as an excuse to rant and drive him away.
He stands there, my youngest son, watching me, waiting. I am reminded of a great cat, all grace and danger. He is his mother’s son but I have also seen my own stubborn determination. He has the Lancer eyes; in them, I see my grandmother Fiona Lancer and my brother Ian. I should tell him this.
We sit facing each other, Johnny on the couch, his right leg crossed over his left leg playing with a spur. He seems relaxed, but his eyes tell a different story. They are dark and piercing into me with an intensity that leaves me breathless. It is his Madrid look; it must be how he faced down his opponents in those gunfights in all those dusty border towns.
I tell him I will start at how I met his mother. I was working as a deputy, needing to raise funds after my failed attempt to retrieve Scott from Harlan Garrett in Boston. I wave my arm out towards the great window. All this, I say, didn’t happen by luck; it took hard work and money. It was in Matamoros at a fiesta I saw her dancing. She was the most beautiful creature; I was enchanted and fell under her spell in an instant.
I look then at Johnny and hazard a smile. His expression gives nothing away. I wonder again what he knows. I mentally tell myself ‘the truth Murdoch, tell the truth, it will release you from the guilt’.
I tell him, “It was a whirlwind romance and I don’t regret it, son, because for a time we were happy, I had a beautiful wife and a son who I was proud of. But I was a fool. I took your mother for granted. I expected too much. I worked every hour, my dream of a powerful business equal to Garrett so I could get Scott back. I became obsessed.
“I am sorry, Johnny. I was blind to what she needed, and it wasn’t until she left I realised what I was sacrificing.
“I searched for you, went to Mexico and border towns. It was like searching for ghosts…so many Marias with baby boys called Juanito…even boys with blue eyes.
“If I was a driven man before, the years spent searching for you changed me. They hardened my heart.”
I take another drink and look down and then up at my dangerous handsome boy, and continue explaining as best I could; that I hadn’t realised Joe Madison was his family. I tell him that I guess he knew it was me who bought the Appaloosa from him. I try to assure him I never knew he called him uncle.
“I had been sent word of a Maria Mannerino who had died and I knew that was your mother’s family name so I went and may the good lord give me strength, I thought the Madison boy was you.”
I look at him, my Johnny; a boy in years, but before me a self-assured man. He doesn’t look angry. There is a hint of sadness on his face. I go on, telling him how the Pinkertons sent word of my son being identified as Johnny Madrid and then tracking him down to that revolution in Mexico.
I admit to him that I should have spoken to him about this before, that I find it hard to even think of the past, but it was selfish of me to keep quiet. A man should know the truth of his roots.
I need a drink very badly; my heart is beating too hard, too fast. Hell, I need Johnny to understand I need my son, his gunfighter reputation included. I still cannot say out loud I loved him and love him still.
Lancer is his.
I listen to this giant of a man, my father, lay bare his soul. I know he is telling the truth as he sees it, maybe missing out some details; it occurs to me this is what a padre would hear in a confession.
He needs to know the other side as I know it, and then maybe answer the questions I have.
I sit quiet for a minute. I ain’t one for talking and want to get this all said right.
I start looking down at my hands, telling him of how my Mama’s folks died when she was real little and how she was raised by her uncle Don Andreas Juan Filipe Mannerino and his wife the Donna Louisa-Maria, and that’s how come I got to call them Abuelo and Abuela. They had their own four kids, all girls, the youngest one also was Maria. She was Maria-Louisa while my mama was Maria-Isabella.
I carry on telling of how my abuelo told me my Mama was always the wild unruly one, how she took a liking to an equally wild unruly young gambler. They disapproved and sent her away to live with her eldest cousin in Matamoros, and next thing they know she’d married a Californio.
I cast a quick look at Murdoch who is real quiet, so I carry on explaining how her family didn’t approve, no siree. Abuela told me Mama was too young and full of life to be settled down, that she was surprised the gringo had married her. But she was familia and they wouldn’t turn their back on her.
I look at him again. This is difficult. He ain’t just any man, he is my father. But he needs to hear the truth, so I begin:
“Seems Roberto SanDecio, that was the gambler’s name, came looking for her; and she took me and left you.” I look at him, telling him, “Murdoch, you need to know it wasn’t all you. She wasn’t made for settling down as a rancher’s wife. Being all polite and dutiful wasn’t her. She wanted to sing and dance, wear bright pretty things, and be among folks like herself. She had a quick fiery temper but Papi, that is, Roberto, would let her shout, wave her arms about, and stamp her feet and then would hold her and make her laugh and all would be good. They travelled about, always on the lookout for their big break.
“I was left with Abuelo and Abuela but Abuelo heard of you and how you were searching for us, so I went to live with my Tia Maria-Louisa, who was then married to Joe Madison and they had their own son John-Joseph. I lived with them ‘till I was nearly 9. I was safe and happy, Murdoch, and I knew nothing of you.”
I need to stop; the hard thing to tell is coming. I drink the tequila Murdoch has poured for me. I can tell he is seeing a different me. Ever since I got here, he looks at me and sees only Johnny Madrid, the gunfighter, and he doesn’t like or trust what he sees. It’s only natural he wants John Lancer, his son and heir. I take a breath and continue.
“Mama and Roberto, they struck it rich. They had themselves a fancy bordello and gaming rooms in San Diego. A real classy place. Mama, she sang and played the guitar and was the Madam in charge of the girls. Papi ran the gambling. I went to live with them, it was very…educational”. I smile at the memory and look at Murdoch. He is, of course, shocked. This is not what was in the Pinkerton reports but the truth.
“I was nearly 12 when they were killed. Man name of Carlos Estoban Vargos. He wanted the business and he just took it.”
Murdoch looks at me, wanting to know, but how can I tell him I saw that bastardo shoot Papi dead and then he raped and killed Mama. I tried to fight but his men they laughed and held me, making me watch, calling me a useless blue-eyed mestizo that no gringo would ever want as a son. I swore that day to kill them all for what they did to Mama and Papi and me. I have to look away. If those memories ever try to haunt me I finger the bracelet the Chiricahua wise woman gave me and go to the safe place in my head.
Anyways, I go on and tell him Vargos was the first man I killed. They were all drunk and busy with the girls so I took a gun and he laughed at me and I shot him and ran. His men were after me, so I reckoned it was best to stay away from my family an’ changed my name. But then my reputation came when two of ‘em caught up with me about two years later, in Nogales. They were drunk and I was lucky but after that, there was no turning back. I was Johnny Madrid.
I look into his eyes and am honest as I can be with him. “Gotta be truthful, Murdoch. At the start I enjoyed folks being afraid of me, not crowding me, not beating on me ‘cos I was just a blue-eyed mestizo living like an alley cat. I was good with a gun an’ I got better.
“When it was safe, I’d go back to visit my familia, an’ that’s when Abuelo told me of you and Mama, of how she had said you only cared about the land, and that I an’ her were too Mexican to fit in with your life. I reckon she may have lost that temper of hers with you”.
He is shaking his head but I ain’t finished. I go on telling him how Abuelo is a mustanero, raising and selling horses. Saying it was me who caught the Appaloosa and took it to Tio Joe Madison as it would fetch a real good price that side of the border. I was there when Tia Maria-Louisa was killed by some no-account gun hand. I called him out and killed him.
I stopped there and looked at him. He is hard to read, but I could see he knew I was telling him on the true. He looked wrung out; maybe what T’resa had told me of how he loved Mama had some truth; trouble being he and Mama weren’t never going to work, not in the long run. Neither of ‘em having an inch of give don’t hold out much hope for me, does it? All that stiff pride and temper running through my veins.
I drink some more, ‘cos of those questions I need an answer to.
I ask him if he is okay and he nods, saying something about the truth setting him free. Probably one of those old quotes him an’ Boston spout.
I tell him I pretty much figured as soon as I heard of the Appaloosa and T’resa’s father, that it was him who had been in San Del Rio using the O’Brien name, thinking Tia Maria-Louisa and JJ were us. I sniff watching him. “That got me to thinking what kind of man would do that? A man with something to hide maybe?”
He shook his head, “No, just a desperate bull-headed man,” he says. I look him in the eye and ask, “My Tia was killed during a failed bank robbery. The fool ran out shooting not having got any money, and Tia Maria caught a bullet. Thing is Murdoch…I tracked that fella down and after I’d killed him found he had close on a hundred dollars in his saddlebag. He was paid to do what he did. Was it you who paid for someone to kill her?”
He goes a sorta grey colour. He says, “No, God help me, Johnny, in my blackest moments I may have wished for it, but I swear all I ever paid for was news of your whereabouts. Is that what you think of me?” I have to laugh at that, ‘cos ain’t that what I said to him before the showdown with ol’ Day?
I nod towards that big desk, telling him I had found and read the Pinkerton reports. Dios, ain’t ashamed; having all the facts in my experience can make the difference between living or not. He looks over to the desk as well and is about to speak and I hold up my hand. I need to have my say.
“I’m guessing from the Pinkerton reports it wasn’t them who mistook John Joseph and his Mama for me and my mine. You sure, Murdoch, of who you hired?” I look deep into his eyes. I find myself wanting to believe he didn’t order her death. This is a man who finds it hard to tell an outright lie. I can see he feels guilt, probably ‘cos he wasn’t unhappy ‘bout it. He swears again he didn’t order a death, that he had spoken of the failure to track his wife down at a Cattleman meeting in San Francisco and one of the other cattlemen had said he would put word out for him. It was through that conversation he received word of the family in Texas. I want to believe him. One day I’ll track that cattleman down though.
Next question is to ask if he knew about the truth of my Mama and step-father. The Pinkerton report about Mama is full of outright lies, suggesting she was a whore who was killed by a drunken man she had lived with. He swears he never heard of Vargos and I believe that. I breathe a sigh of relief. If I did believe Murdoch Lancer had paid for the killings I would have seen it in him, and I would have had to kill him.
Still, I don’t feel any kinship with him; but could this be a start? After all, Lancer is my birthright. It is mine.
I look at Johnny. Oh, no doubt he is dangerous, but I now see a young man with a good heart who deserves this chance to reclaim his life as John Lancer. I know in my own heart he has told me the truth of his and Maria’s life, and he knows more about family life than I.
My own childhood was ruled by a father who was a stern disciplinarian. My dear late mother loved my brother Ian and me but after they both died, taken by influenza, there was no reason to stay. All I had was a future to make my own.
I attempt a smile and say perhaps I should ask the Pinkertons for a refund. He shakes his head. That mop of black hair hiding his eyes, saying they may have some of it wrong about Mama being a whore, but the way she lived her life wasn’t above reproach. At the end of the day though, it was a Pink who got him out from the firing squad so they earned their fee.
Then he leans back against the couch and turns his head towards the hall. I hadn’t noticed the light fading. In that slow cowboy drawl of his, he says to the shadows, “You can step out, Boston; just talking ‘bout those Pinkerton reports.”
Scott approaches and helps himself to a drink of my best scotch; he is standing tall and still with that tilt to his head, no expression on his face.
Before I can say anything, Johnny is playing with that bracelet he worries at and asks Scott who he really is.
My mouth drops and I grip my glass of scotch so hard it may shatter.
The silence stretches; the air is charged with tension. It is me who breaks it, saying he is my son and a brother to you, John.
Johnny doesn’t take his eyes off Scott, saying he’s got questions that need answers. Like according to the Pinkerton reports, Scott Garrett Lancer is the heir to Harlan Garrett’s empire. He has a legacy in Boston, so why did he jump at the offer of the third partnership of Lancer without so much as a pause? Why does an educated well-off city born man like that would need to risk his life in a range war?
Scott doesn’t answer. He sips his drink, his eyes on Johnny.
Johnny glances across at me, saying, “Lo siento. You’ve got to see, Murdoch, as you said that first day: we are strangers to each other. I learnt early not to trust without good reason. Dios. I don’t give most folk too much credit and that includes you and this here Boston dandy.”
I know he is right. I was so desperate to get my sons back I mistook the Madison boy for Johnny and now…is this quiet Bostonian really Scott Lancer? I saw him once as a 5-year-old, but I am sure I can see Catherine in his eyes.
I want my sons home. I want Lancer to be theirs.
I have spoken to the Madisons and have heard most of the conversation between Murdoch and Johnny.
The boy is smart. I suspected as much, but he has intelligence and courage that cannot be taught. He doesn’t look like Murdoch but I have seen the Lancer stubborn in him.
The truth I tell them is that Scott Lancer went off to war like so many other young men full of idealism and hope for the future. What I did and what was done to me changed me, I am afraid, for the worse. I was very sick when released from the war and although mended physically, never the same. I admit to them I have behaved in ways that have brought my grandfather to the brink of disowning me. Oh, it’s not in those reports. A lot of Garrett money has gone into keeping my name as clean as possible. You see before you a man who was, and possibly still could be, a workshy drunken womaniser.
I look at them both watching me. I continue telling them, it seems that Johnny wants to take this chance to change his trade from gunfighter to rancher. Is it too much to imagine I too want to take this chance to turn my life around?
“You and Johnny,” I say, “are right. We are strangers to each other, but we have in common pasts we wish to keep in the past, but which may in the future come along to nudge anyone of us. But gentlemen, we are Lancers and if fighting Pardee and Johnny returning that Appaloosa has taught us anything, it is Lancer looks after its own.”
And I raise my glass as a toast and they both do the same. Perhaps this is the start: Lancer is ours.
I raise my glass. A weight has lifted from my soul. These are my sons. They are mine. And Lancer is ours.
Oh boy, I’m gonna have my work cut out with these two! All that speechifying with those five dollar words Boston uses, that’ll have to stop, and ol’ Murdoch so damn sad and locked up; need to get him a good woman, see what he’s like happy.
Still and all, I always was a curious boy with a sense of humour and it should be interesting, watching how this ‘Lancer looking after its own’ works out.
I raise my glass to my father and brother, and Lancer. They are mine, but I am the one that was born to it.
It is mine.
To be followed by an epilogue
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or Email Olley directly.