Set after the first two episodes which some think are the wrong way round.
Word count: 3,060
Ungrateful beeve: instead of trotting off after me and Barranca pulled it out of that mud hole it charged at us instead. Barranca did what a good cow pony does and swerved away. I didn’t.
I rode in late, exhausted, filthy and bad-tempered.
Cipriano was there saying he would take of my horse, I needed to go to the hacienda.
It wasn’t what I would have done in the past, but now the tune caller was waiting and I knew I was expected to follow his orders.
He was there at that desk with those ledgers.
“You’re late John, go and get cleaned up.”
The man looked down at the ledgers and made a mark.
I snatched my hat off and rubbed my aching head.
“Does it balance, ol’e man?”
He looked up with that frown that look, of… what? I dunno, probably mistrust, maybe disappointment in me. That look that says he doesn’t know me.
“Balance?” It was a growl.
“Yeah, my time, in those ledgers. Measuring my time against what the tune caller demands from my work?”
He looked at me. This tune caller is my father and now I am expected to be his son, someone who will show respect.
“You’re late John, go get cleaned up, I need to balance these books and dinner will not wait for us.”
I turn, biting back a smart reply and go up to the room that I am told is mine. There are so many words racing around my head, telling Murdoch Lancer what he can do with his orders but they are unsaid.
I’m not dumb; I know about ranches and their ledger books and I know I fall into the debit side. I should have taken the tune caller’s $1000 and rode out – I’m not cut out for a life as a son and rancher.
He found me on the floor. One minute I was sat on the bed taking my boots off, then …..
“John, Johnny, come on son, time to wake up.”
Was it morning already? Had I slept in again? I opened my eyes and tried to sit up but everything swam around and I knew I was about to throw up.
Next time I came round it was dark. I was flat out on sweet smelling clean sheets. I lay there, listening, trying to remember.
I wasn’t in a jail cell nor out under the stars. I had a headache – had I been in a fight?
Pardee! Now I remember: I was in a range war, I was shot off my horse, landed hard. With my eyes closed, I waited for the pain to talk to me.
All I had was some stiffness from laying still and my head ringing from a concussion. Maybe the bullet had missed me.
“You awake there, boy?” That was an easterner voice asking me that question.
A hand touched my forehead and then a cold damp cloth wiped my face.
I opened my eyes and tried to focus on the face above me.
“Doctor, he is awake.”
Another face was above me, an older geezer looking all concerned.
“Well hello, John, welcome back. I’ll just take a look at that bump on your head and check the stitches.”
There was a bandage around my head that he was unwinding. Must have landed hard to need stitches. He’s a lot gentler than most Doctors I had seen over the past few years.
His fingers were feeling behind my right ear. His eyes were watching me for any reaction so I kept my face still and waited.
“Good, healing nicely. Now, John, can you tell me the last thing you remember?”
I licked my lips playing for time as I scrambled through my memory.
There was a glass at my mouth and I gulped at the cold water.
“Take it slowly.” He had a kind voice and kept the glass at my lips until I had had enough.
“Came off my horse, hit my head.” I reached up with my right hand and touched the stitches. It was a neat job and only a little of my hair had been cut away.
He was smiling at me. “No fever but I expect you have a headache. I will have Teresa make a pot of willow bark tea; that will help but don’t worry, it won’t drug you.”
There was another voice in the room. “Sam, can I see him?”
There was a hushed conversation and I turned my head to try to see past the doctor.
“John, how are you feeling?”
Dios! He is big even sat down on a chair at the side of the bed.
“Fine.” My right hand instinctively went to my hip searching for my gun. It wasn’t there and then I realised I had been undressed and was in a nightshirt tucked under bedding. What the hell!!
I know not to panic, to not show fear.
The old Doctor took the hint. “That’s just what I’d prescribe: a healing sleep.”
I closed my eyes and listened. At least two people left the room and the door closed, but someone was in the chair by the bed so I lay still and slowed my breathing.
I dream, I know I do and talk sometimes when I have a fever or sleep too deep; that’s why it’s best to hide away when I’m sick. Not sure if what is happening is a dream.
This is definitely a dream; my Mama is hovering over me, her deep brown eyes, her black hair loose. “You just sleep easy Juanito. I am here, there is no need to be afraid.”
“Mama, where are we?” I am a child again. I feel safe knowing she is there.
“Shush, my brave darling Niño, you fell and hurt your head. You are in your own bed; there is no need to worry.”
I smile up at her and sleep.
“Juanito!” My stepfather Alberto Manderilio’s voice was calling me. I was late; I knew I was going to be in trouble, again.
“Where have you been? You should have been home hours ago.”
I am ten years old; Mama and I have been with him for more than five years and he is good to us. I do try not to disappoint him but it is hard. “I was watching over the mother cat, she was giving birth. Lo siento Papi, I will do my chores now.” I look down and stir the dust at my feet with my toes.
He sighs “You will go in and tell your Mama you are home, she worries. You will eat, then do your chores, then you and I will have a discussion about timekeeping and responsibilities.”
I knew what he meant about ‘a discussion’ but nodded. I had been warned before about responsibilities and my temper and having good manners. Later he put his strong arms around my shoulders and spoke gently of how a good man should live his life. There were times, he told me, when to defend his family, friends and his self it would be necessary to be tough and make hard decisions but I should always be true to myself, and try to be kind to those less fortunate or in need of help.
For a long time after I lost Mama and Papi those lessons were buried under the anger.
I sighed; would they approve of my being here at Lancer?
Orders, stupid orders, orders that will most likely get me and the rest killed. Who made this idiot a Captain? I may be a kid but I know better than to follow orders that don’t sit right. Mama always said I was never good at taking orders, I was too stubborn for my own good. She is right, it sure is getting me into trouble.
Nope, never going to blindly follow orders; I’m going to do things my own way.
Breathe, Johnny boy, show no fear. The rifle shots echo in my head. No, I will not dream that dream again. I will my heart to slow down and wait for the panic to pass.
I blink awake, all my nerves telling me of a noise out of place. It is dim and cool, I can hear the sound of a horse calling for its amigo. “Pancho?” No, that’s not Pancho calling, it is a different horse. Pancho was the best horse a boy could hope for, a pinto who had a mind of its own just like me – we made a good team. I dream of riding fast, away from what lies behind me towards who knows what.
I am sat a big desk the ledger book is open in front of me. There is a name at the top of the page: is that me, John Lancer? But I am Johnny Madrid. There is a list of credits and debits. Not so much on the credit side that I can make out; arms legs and guts are there, yep I have given those. On the other side all my failings, time-keeping, my Mama’s temper, preferring to chase wild horses to fencing. Being a gunfighter who is very good at that trade. It’s a long list.
My body was objecting to lying still in the same position for too long. I groaned as I turned over.
“Hey, son, you properly awake this time?”
He was smiling at me and holding out a glass of water.
He held my head up as I sipped at the water; it was flavoured with something and I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“Teresa has added some lime juice to make it more interesting.”
“All it needs is to be tequila and add some salt.”
“John,” he dragged my name out but smiled. “Sam says you must take it easy; you have had a serious concussion.”
I cleared my throat. “Yep, guessed as much.”
“What is the last thing you remember?” He wasn’t angry; I could see there was worry written over his face.
Now that was a question – what was it? My memories were in a muddle with my dreams and that could be dangerous.
So I do what comes natural: I answer a question with my own question. “What day is it? How long have I been out of it?”
“Two days. I found you flat out here in your room.” He was watching me closely. I closed my eyes trying to sort out what was true and what was a dream.
Well, no harm in being a little honest: “It’s all kinda mixed up.”
“There’s no rush, son, it will come and if it doesn’t, don’t worry. I lost my memory once after I fell off the barn roof. Couldn’t even tell Paul my name, lasted for a whole day. I felt such a fool when I woke up the next day.”
I looked at him trying to imagine him on the barn roof. “It’s a wonder the roof didn’t cave in; you’re a big man.”
He laughed. “I am and nowadays when the roof needs fixing I have sons who I can send up there.” He reached over and patted my leg. I managed not to show my surprise at his good humour. This wasn’t the grim, short-tempered man who I remember setting my instincts on edge.
“I think I could eat something.” I risked a smile hoping it would distract him because the truth was I didn’t want to tell him what I could remember because I knew there were holes in my memory and I needed to fill them in and quick.
It worked; he left the room and I lay there for a moment. I reached up past my head and felt for my hidden gun – yes, it was there and it was a comfort. It made me feel safe.
Johnny Madrid without a gun close at hand when he wasn’t sure who to trust or even who he really was – that would have been stupid.
Dios, I knew as soon as I was let out into the fresh air I had a problem; the heat of the Californian summer had given way to cooler air, the garden I remember from those first days was now showing signs of being harvested.
I sat in the shade on the veranda watching the comings and goings, listening to Murdoch telling me about a roundup and drive to market and how he hoped Sam Jenkins would allow me, as a partner, to take part. Partner, not protection; had he really signed that piece of paper or was I still dreaming?
The sun was setting earlier – just how many days had I lost?
I was sure my memory was okay up to the range war against Pardee. Murdoch called them high riders and land pirates, treating me with outright distrust. I know I had been shot off my horse and Scott came to my rescue. After that all I had were flashes and I wasn’t sure what was a real memory or what was a dream.
I let Murdoch’s voice wash over me as I calculated the Pardee fracas was a few months ago, so this concussion was not from that encounter.
I was still here at Lancer and I hadn’t killed my ol’e man; instead, it seems I signed on as a third owner. I was a rancher, ain’t that something… Johnny Madrid was now Johnny Lancer.
All that suspicion I remember Murdoch had for me when I first arrived seemed to have gone; not sure what happened to change that so I’m keeping quiet and on my guard. There are big holes in my memory and figuring out how to fill them in makes me nervous.
Filling in the holes – One
“Hey, brother.” Scott sat himself down. “How’s your head?” He grinned at me and helped himself to a glass of lemonade.
“Still on top of my shoulders.” I turned from watching Barranca trot around the corral and looked at this tall pale brother I have acquired. I did remember I underestimated him; turned out he isn’t a tinpot soldier, he had taken on being a rancher, even doing the dirty jobs.
He looked over towards the corral. “I saw young Ben Wallace today in Green River; he seems to be getting over his mother dying and that trouble in Blood Rock.”
I nodded; so that memory of being at the funeral was real. That boy stood at the grave took me back to when I was about that age and I knew just how lost he was feeling.
“Did that Sheriff claim the reward?”
Scott frowned. “Yes, a bad business, but best to draw a line under it and move on.”
“Yep, wearing a badge don’t make a bad man good.”
He turned and gave me a searching look but didn’t ask.
“The Doctor has given me the okay to ride tomorrow, with orders to take it steady.” I smiled over at my palomino.
“I hope, little brother, that is one order you will follow.”
I smiled again; me and orders, we ain’t natural bedfellows.
Filling in the holes – Two
Murdoch found me in the barn about to saddle up Barranca.
“Johnny, just humour your old man, son, and tell me you will keep in mind what Sam said about taking it easy?”
I looked across Barranca’s back. The tune caller wasn’t issuing an order at me; he was talking to me as a father would to a son. It took me a minute to take that in and I blinked. “I’ll keep it in mind, Murdoch.”
“Good, and please take your watch with you and try to be back in time for supper; Maria worries.”
He handed over a pocket watch and the memory of him passing this timepiece to me flashed in my mind. That time it had been an order and I ignored it to go chasing down wild horses with Wes.
I couldn’t find any words as the memory of those days flooded back so I nodded and looked down at the engraving on the cover. It wasn’t a dream; me and Murdoch had chased wild horses and talked. He had told me how the watch had been a gift to him from his Grandfather, my Great-Grandfather, when he left Scotland for America. I had told him how I wanted to work with horses. It wasn’t a dream; we had reached an understanding about giving each other more credit.
“I cleaned it for you; it was full of mud from that fall you had, but for an old timepiece it keeps good time.”
I looked up and smiled at him. “Thanks, Murdoch. I’m thinking of riding up to Black Mesa and see if that herd of wild horses we saw are still about. Don’t worry, I won’t be chasing after them, at least not today.”
“Good boy, enjoy yourself.”
Well, that went well.
I let Barranca stretch out, not a full out gallop but enough to feel the wind blow away my worries. As I slowed him down to a walk I looked around. I remembered how Teresa described Lancer as the most beautiful place in the whole world – she was right.
Those holes in my memory were filling up. I had arrived at Lancer full of hate for Murdoch Lancer and if I hadn’t been shot by Pardee I would probably have taken my $1000 and ridden off, with my father lucky to still be alive.
I went over the conversation with Murdoch: Maria worries, and so it seems does he. The last time I had been on the receiving end of a conversation asking me to be careful in such a kindly way was with my late stepfather who had tried to teach me some good manners and how to be a man. Now I’m older and maybe a little wiser from the lessons life has thrown at me, I can see I’m being given a second chance and I’m not such a fool as to not grab at it.
I don’t give too much credit, saves being disappointed, but now I can remember the times Murdoch and Scott gave me credit and I’ll try not to disappoint them, and to be true to myself.
~ end ~
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