The Experiment: Aftermath by Olley

Word count: 1,230

An episode tag for The Experiment


Since returning from the prison farm the evening meals have been conducted in cold silences broken only by Murdoch growling out orders.  He took the death of Billy Kells by that other prisoner Ox badly and had balled out Scott an’ ‘specially me real good. I don’t understand how he can be so concerned about the likes of Kells an’ not see what his tune calling is doing right here.

Scott is simmering an explosion coming. I learnt to read the signals real early.

It would insult Maria if I don’t eat the meal, but the tension in the air has ruined my appetite. Murdoch has been calling his tune about what he expects of us while he’s in Sacramento giving evidence about the fracas at the farm.

“Don’t ya think me an’ Scott should be there as well?”  I should be there. I have more in common with those fellas’, and how they think than anyone else. Dios, if my ol’e man wants to lay the blame for the killing on me, I should be allowed to put forward what I know.

Murdoch glares. “I think that would do more harm than good, just like your spying on me resulted in an unnecessary death.”

Murdoch’s words light the fuse in Scott.

He is on his feet, thumping the table. “You self-righteous, sanctimonious, old hypocrite. Don’t you think Johnny and I have enough dead men marching through our dreams?”

Scott stands straight and tall, all Lieutenant Lancer. The coldness in his voice seems to stun Murdoch.

“Whose gun was it? Whose finger on the trigger? It wasn’t just curiosity that took us to that farm it was concern. We were concerned, sir about our father and his safety.”

I know where this is going ‘cos me an’ Scott talked about it. “Scott leave it, por favor.”

Scott glares at me. “Damn it, Johnny, he should know. If you had followed your instincts it could have been you dead with two bullets in your back.”
He turns back to wait for Murdoch to reply.

Murdoch isn’t  gonna back down. He is on his feet, his hands leaning on the table shouting back, “If you had followed orders, but,…” he looks directly at me, “you don’t follow orders, do you?”

“Nope, Murdoch, I guess I don’t.” My head goes down, I’m sick to my stomach, back to being that mestizo kid in the orphanage, the one Padre Aldus punished for everyone’s misdemeanours. I can’t stay; every nerve is shouting at me to escape.

Scott tries to stop me. “None of it was your fault Johnny.”

“You should know, Murdoch, I talked Johnny into going to the farm. It was my plan to stay and keep an eye on you. If you intend to lay blame, lay it on me.”

I can taste the anger in the room and I can’t and won’t deal with it. I feel hollow inside that my brother is fighting with our father; it hurts more than I have the words to explain.

The stable and Barranca offer warmth and comfort.  I take a few deep breaths, willing my heart to stop beating so fast and I go to the safe place in my head. Murdoch will come to find me wanting to talk, and I have to be prepared.

It is dark when he enters.  I hear him talk all soft and gentle to Barranca, offering him an apple. “Hello there horse. Where is the boy?”

I stay sat down on the floor at the back of the stable. “I’m over here.”

Murdoch squints in the gloom and walks towards me, I stay right where I am with the reins I have been plaiting in my hands. I made sure my gun is still on the rack in the hacienda; couldn’t trust I wouldn’t turn into Madrid if it all got too threatening. I wait.

Murdoch pulls a bale over to sit down. “I’m sorry Johnny.”


“No let me apologise son. I have a short temper, and I was wrong to lose it with you and your brother.”

I peer up and nod, “You prepared to hear me out?”

“Yes, John.”

I lower my head and concentrate hard on getting it said so he will understand. “I didn’t leave that orphanage one day an’ the next be Johnny Madrid a pistolero good at his trade. There were a few years when I was just a kid surviving as best I could, free as an alley cat. Not much different to those fellas would have been.  I know why you wanted to help them. You saw me in them, ‘specially that Billy Kells.”

I shrug my shoulders to release some tension, but I can’t look at him.

Murdoch voice is soft like. “Scott told me you spoke to Billy.”

I look up; there is no sign of disapproval. “Yeah came across him at the well. We spoke some. Told him I was your kid, the reason you got involved in the experiment. I said it was a good thing you were doing.”

The guilt that had eaten me up comes back and I am on my feet, fists clenched, looking down at him. “I asked Kells if everything was okay back at the farm, but it wasn’t was it? He lied, Murdoch, and I knew it, but you trusted him and them enough to send the guards away. So I ignored my own instincts and tried to be Murdoch Lancers obedient son.”…

“Dios, if only I had gone back with him, maybe I could have changed what happened.” I need to hit something or someone, but I turned and kicked the wall instead. All the horses jump and complain.

Murdoch is behind me. “Was it that soft glide away look around his eyes?”

Anger burns at the memory of him dismissing my distrust of the Dane boy and I scowl. “Yeah me being able to recognise that look, you still have a problem with that ol’e man?”

He reaches out with both hands to hold my shoulders. “No son, you taught me some hard lessons about being a father. I am so very sorry Johnny. Too often I ride you hard, not giving you credit while giving it to strangers. The fault is all mine.”

I try to relax and blink, it must be hard for him to apologise to me like that.  This is so typical of my life; just when it seems to be going good something happens to set it all back.

“Is everything alright between you an’ Scott?”  I know Scott is usually the quiet sensible one, but he was so riled up, more than I have ever seen him.  Don’t show it much, – not like me – but he sure does have a temper. I’ve been a victim of it a couple of times.  I don’t want the worry of my family falling apart on my mind.

“Yes Johnny, Scott and I have spoken – quietly, I hasten to add. I have apologised to him as well.”

“That’s good.”

“I need to tell you something else.”

Whoa, my body is immediately on the alert but Murdoch smiles at me.

“You called me ‘Pa’. That cheeky smile of yours took me back to a time I was truly happy. As a child you always had a smile for me even when you were up to mischief. I usually forgave you.”

Well, that was unexpected. Maybe it is gonna be alright Scott wasn’t one to hold onto an argument and me an’ Murdoch have reached an understanding.

 Gotta feeling that calling the ol’e man ‘Pa’ is gonna be my get out’ta trouble key next time I mess up.

I tilt my head an’ smile, that smile I now know charms my pa.


~ end ~
June 2017


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