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Madrid: The Gunfight: Scott.
That’s all it took for the good humor of the day to be shattered. Johnny and I had just finished loading a wagon with everything under the sun that it took to run a ranch like Lancer. From coffee to barbed wire. Flour to bolts of fabric. It was coming up on Noon and we decided a cool beer would make the hot, dusty ride back to Lancer a little less brutal. When we flipped a coin and I lost, Johnny took it with his usual grace: a huge smile and slinging an arm across my shoulder as we headed across the street to the Green River saloon. It was a good moment…and then…
I felt Johnny stiffen. His arm dropped from my shoulder. He nudged me to the side as he turned to face the source of the voice. I stepped back onto the wooden walkway, feeling an ice-cold fist grip my stomach, and looked in the same direction. Two men wearing long, black dusters with black hats pulled low over their eyes, stood just into the street. I’d never seen them before, but it was obvious Johnny knew them. He was relaxed. Calm. His own hat pulled low so his eyes could not be see. His face a mask. Then that small, irritating smile played across his lips and there was a lightness to his voice that didn’t belong to Johnny Lancer. Madrid had come calling.
“Joe Buck, Dally…” he nodded. “A little far from home aren’t ya?”
“Heard you were dead, Madrid.” The one call Joe Buck said. He spit a stream of tobacco juice into the dust at his feet. ” I Drank a toast to the rurales that finally took you down. Then I was in Nogales and started hearing you were like some damned ghost that came back alive. A cat with 9 lives…Had to come find out myself and, damned it to hell, there you are.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Joe Buck. If you want come on to the saloon with us and I’ll buy you that drink back.”
“It will take more than that to even our score.” Joe Buck was moving into the center of the street. His partner stayed put. I knew Johnny was watching the both of them. He dipped his head slightly and I saw a slight slump of his shoulders. Just as quick it was gone. With a grace that has always astounded me, he moved into the street.
It was like some macabre ballet being played out. Joe Buck hooked the tails of his duster behind him. Freeing his gun hand. Johnny’s gun hand lingered by his side. His other hand, very deliberately, moved upward to tilt his hat out of his eyes. It worked. Joe Buck parroted the move and suddenly I could see his eyes. They were cold. Black. Looking like death itself. My breath caught in my throat. I kept my eyes on the scene playing out in front of me.
Periphery vision caught the scurrying of the Green River residents. Children being grabbed up. Doors and shutters closing…Well, almost closing. You could feel the eyes looking out. My own emotions were jumbled. I wanted to cry out to halt this insanity. I wanted to step into the street beside Johnny. I knew that to do either was to lose my brother for good. It would either get him killed or, if left standing, he would ride away.
Knowing he was right, and we wouldn’t be able to back away and let him handle such occasions. He would never allow us to risk ourselves because of Madrid. He would leave and never look back to protect us from our own lack of control. But, damned, he’s only been my brother for six months!
I checked the desire to intercede. Trusting my brother’s alter ego and contenting myself to keep an eye on Dally. I could feel the moisture trickling down my back. From the look of things, the two cretins were sweating as well. Johnny? Johnny looked at peace with the world. Standing aloof. Not a movement. His right hand flexed but steady. His right shoulder dropped just slightly. That small, amused smile. It was all working on Joe Buck’s nerves.
“Damned you, Madrid!” He hissed….
And as suddenly as it started it was over. He drew first but his revolver never cleared leather. A hole straight to the heart sent him flying back, landing with a plop in the street as a swirl of dust shot up around him. Dally had started for his gun, then threw his hands up in the air as Johnny turned his gun on him. I didn’t even see Dally attempt his draw…But I had seen Johnny draw. At least I think I did. It was fast. It was fluid. It was…fast. It was so very incredible. Gun still in hand he walked up to the dead Joe Buck. Only after affirming what he already knew did he holster his Colt. Then he stood there for a moment, head down.
I watched him but I also kept an eye, and my own gun, trained on Dally. Until hands still in the air, he backed away to a few horses tethered in front of the mercantile. Loosening the reins of a solid Bay, he mounted and rode away. I put my gun away and walked over to my brother. The crowd was gathering, and the once whispers were getting louder. “You see that draw?” “Like lightning!” “With a gunfighter around what’s this town going to come too?” “Damned! That’s Joe Buck Tolson! He’s S’posed to be the fastest gun alive!” “Fair fight. The boy tried to talk him out of it.”
I could see Val, the Sheriff, making his way through the crowd. He glanced at Johnny, Joe Buck, then me. Nodding toward the saloon.
“Let’s go get that beer, Brother.” I nudged Johnny.
He looked at me and for a second, the briefest of seconds, I saw the most incredible sadness in his eyes. Just as quickly it was gone, He pulled his hat brim low over his eyes. Turned and headed to our wagon.
“I’m going home.” he said.
I looked at Val and he just shrugged. Turning on my heel I started after my brother. As I climbed up on the seat beside Johnny, the cases of liquor ordered to restock the bar after the last Lancer party caught my eye. I purloined a bottle of bourbon and one of tequila. Handing the tequila off to Johnny as I took up the reins. It was going to be a long ride home. But we would get there eventually.
Madrid: The Gunfight: Johnny.
I knew the owner of the voice even before I turned around. I also knew how this thing was going to pan out. Joe Buck was crazy. Always has been. I figured, unless things had changed, that I could outdraw him. What I wasn’t sure of was who might be backing him. There was always someone backing him. And then there was Scott. I didn’t want him mixed up in one of these ‘Madrid’ moments. I gave his shoulder a nudge as we turned around and, to my surprise, he stepped aside. Just like he said he would. Damned. I owed him an apology! When I saw Dally off to the side, I relaxed. Dally was a go-fer…Nothing more. Make a face at him and he would run. I just don’t know what Joe Buck was thinking riding after me with the likes of Dall…I did a quick scan of the street, windows, buildings…anyplace a gun might be hiding. Nary a glint. Well, if there was anyone behind us, we would soon find out.
It played out like I thought it would and Joe Buck was dead in the street. Dally was on the run. No one shot from behind us…and I was sick to my stomach. Usually after an ‘incident’ I would head to the saloon, get a bottle of tequila, and wait for the law, if there was any, to come ask their questions. Unless I picked up a bullet. Then I would find my horse and get out of town. Right now…I just wanted to go home.
So here we were on the way back to Lancer. Scott driving the wagon along, not saying a word. I needed to talk to him but not yet. Not until we were past any points of possible ambush. Just in case Dally grew a spine. Then we were on Lancer ground and there was a nice spot with shade and grass for the horses. And a cold creek that would take the warm off this bottle of tequila Scott had handed me. Scott seemed to think the same way as he steered toward the trees. He looped the reins on a low hanging branch, as I jumped from the wagon and headed for the creek. I stuck the bottle in the gravel bed, letting the water rush over it. It might be hot out, but that water was rolling down from the still snowcapped mountains and it would take but a few minutes to do its job chilling the liquid. I sat cross legged on the bank and watched clear water moving fast but leaving the gravel untouched. I envied that gravel. Meantime Scott was cracking open his bottle of bourbon and took a good slug. When he offered me a pull I shook my head. He just shrugged and sat down next to me. His long legs stretched out.
“Thanks.” I said, trying to find the right words to start the conversation I knew was ahead of us. He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.
“You’ll have to thank Murdoch, Brother. He placed the order.”
I fished the bottle of tequila out of the water and cracked the seal open. Taking a draw of it myself. The cool liquid burned its way down my throat. Scott was too honest to play the waiting game as long as me.
“It wasn’t easy.” He said quietly and took another draw. Bet they never seen him swigging good bourbon out of a bottle back in Boston. Probably would have him kicked out of that high society.
“I know.” I took another swig myself. “I’m sorry.”
“Wasn’t your doing, Brother…” He looked at me then with eyes that were filled with understanding and questions. It made my heart hurt.
I had to look away. But I owed him some answers. He was my brother and he had my back.
“About six years ago I found myself on the same side of a range war with Joe Buck and his brother Jed. They were crazy mean. I come across them burning out some poor sod buster’s place. They’d already shot him and was raping his woman. I stopped them. Jed drew on me and I killed him. I tied Joe up and left him at the farm. How he didn’t get lynched I don’t know…The sodbuster survived, and Joe Buck went to jail. I heard he got out last year. He was always fairly fast. Always thought he was better than he was…better than me.” I took another sip of tequila. A dragonfly skimmered off the water. “He wasn’t.”
“So I noticed.” Scott rolled the bottle of bourbon between his hands. “For which I am thankful…but I have a question.”
“Ask it.” I said. “Right now I might have the answer but after now, right now, we don’t talk about this again.”
Scott smiled slightly and nodded.
“Understood.” He said. He took another sip. Slower this time. Actually tasting the bourbon instead of just needing the jolt to his system. “Is there anyone as fast as you? Because, Johnny, I must tell you…that was incredible.”
Now how do I answer that? I’ve always been proud of the fact I was good at my trade. Confident of my speed. It was what kept Madrid alive. But I was Johnny Lancer now. Son of Murdoch Lancer, a respected Rancher. Brother of Scott Lancer, a Boston gentleman. I looked for my words in another slug of tequila.
“There’s always someone faster.” I shrugged. “Or maybe it’s just a bad day. The sun slants the wrong way. Dust gets in your eye. Fate of the draw.”
Scott was staring at me hard. It made me a little uneasy and I took another drink.
“So speed is only a part of it?”
“Yeah…I guess you could say that.”
“Then, Brother, that scares me even more. Because I can have faith in you but how can I trust a speck of dust?”
Well, I had no answer to that. We both drank from our bottles.
I’d put a good dent in the tequila and Scott was well past half gone of Murdoch’s good bourbon when we finally recorked. For the last hour we’d done nothing but watch the water rush over those stones. All that turmoil on top and yet the creek bed remained calm. I knew that calm during gunplay or when I was on a job. It was when there wasn’t the danger that I felt caught up in the rush. When I first came to Lancer it was to collect $1000.00 listening money and be on my way. Well, maybe come to terms with an old man I thought had thrown his Mexican wife and half-breed son the keys to the highway. Then I found I had a brother and what I always thought I knew about my father wasn’t quite true. I had a family. We all took turns hammering on each other but we were beginning to come to terms. Beginning…Oh, Hell, what about Murdoch?
“Scott!…” I grabbed his arm. Must have startled him because he jumped. “Hey, Scott, what do you think Murdoch’s going to say?”
“Well, he sure isn’t going to be happy we drank up two bottles of booze…or that we’re about 4 hours late…and will be even later…..” He struggled to his feet. “And that you got me drunk.”
“Yeah?” I contemplated that thought. “So you think that will cover up a gunfight?”
Bleary eyed and weaving, Scott’s grin was about as lopsided as he was standing. “Not a chance…” He swung an arm around my shoulders. I wasn’t sure who was supporting who. “But you know he’s going to like that outcome a lot better.”
I wasn’t so sure of that but it was time to head home and find out if my foundation was as strong as that of the creek bed.
Madrid: The Gunfight, Part Three: Murdoch
That was the start, wasn’t it? Rory, the Tinker Man, brought the news to Lancer along with his pots and pans, baubles, and pins. He set up his wagon by the stables, dispensing odds and ends to everyone not out on the range. Ed, the hostler, needed leather snaps. Maria, the housekeeper, was looking for threads and a new cook pot. Rory always did a good business at the ranch. But as I wandered over to say ‘Hello” I got the distinct feeling he had more on his mind than cooking pans.
“Why, Mr. Lancer!” He greeted me eagerly as he handed off a cask of leather soap to one of the hands. He worked his grizzled face into a smile and cocked his good eye up at me. “It’s a blessing day, yes, it is! You must be right relieved.”
“Relieved?” I asked, sorting a finger through some hammered silver belt buckles. But his next words stopped me cold.
“About those boys of your ’n’s.” He said. “Especially that youngest…. Though, I got to tell you true…after seeing what I saw I don’t ‘spect there’s too much to worry about with that one…”
Of course, he knew I had no clue what he was talking about. He must have ridden hard, no stops in between, to be the first with the story of what transpired in Green River. Before he was finished a sizable crowd had gathered. Maria had wrung a dishcloth so tight it looked like a string in her hands. The cloth unravelling mirrored her visible relief when she heard her ‘Juanito’ was okay. Then she did what I didn’t have the wherewithal to do: She shooed everyone back to their jobs and put a somewhat disappointed Rory on the road. I’m sure he was telling and retelling that story to whoever crossed his path. Afterall, he saw Johnny Madrid in action.
I closed my eyes and tightened my fist around a glass of bourbon.
“Madrid in Action.”
My mind had processed the important parts. Both of my sons were okay. Scott did what we had both promised Johnny we would do…stayed out of the fray. Johnny? Johnny did what Johnny does…thankfully well. Those were the tangibles. Now I was working on the intangibles Why now? How many more? Where were they now? Part of me wanted to saddle up and ride out to find them-as if they were some errant schoolboys…. And, I knew, that’s exactly how they would look at it. It probably wouldn’t end well.
Those boys of mine took turns being petulant rascals. I sometimes wondered how we would have fared if they had grown up here at Lancer or returned home sooner. They were both as stubborn and mule headed as…well…as their father. Teresa and Dr. Adams had both managed to point that out to me these past six months. Several times over. Too bad Teresa was in Stockton attending a friend’s wedding. She could usually be counted on to offer a point of good advice. She had her father’s knack in doing so.
I heard the shouts of the lookouts before I heard the wagon.
I headed to the door to see Johnny driving the supply wagon into the yard. My relief at seeing him was palpable. He leapt from the wagon and uncharacteristically handed off the unloading to the hands. Then he walked around to Scott’s side and said a few words I could not hear but Scott nodded and finally climbed down. Scott stumbled a bit, then threw a long arm around his brother’s shoulders and they headed for the door. They stopped short when they saw me standing in the doorway.
“Oh, hey, Murdoch.”
“Sorry we’re late and, ah, well…Something happened in town.”
Scott suddenly got his focus.
“Hey, Murdoch!” He smiled broadly, if a little uneven. “Um…Good news. We tried out the liquor shipment. It’s top line. Well, the bourbon is. You’ll have to ask Johnny about the tequila. I’m…”
He suddenly took on a look of panic, pushed away from Johnny, and headed for the side porch rail. Mumbling what sounded like “Excuse me.”
“He, uh, he…we…had a little to much to drink.” Johnny was chewing on his lower lip. “I need to talk to you Murdoch.”
“Later.” I said. “Take care of your brother first and then we ‘will’ talk.”
Maybe I said it harsher than I meant. Maybe the shadow that came over Johnny’s face would have come no matter how or what I said. They say Madrid was stone cold emotionless when he faced a man down. It seemed only his father could bring him to distress. Head down he started to turn away. I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. The tension radiated.
“John, are you okay?”
Those eyes. Those incredibly blue eyes say more than any number of words ever could. Just like the first time he entered the Great Room. The anger. The hurt. The questions. Then, like now, they were dark with the mixture of emotions. I rubbed his shoulder and he seemed to relax a bit.
“Yes, sir. He replied softly. “Murdoch, I’m…I’m…”
He bit his lip again. Stuck his hands down the waist of his trousers. A habit when he was feeling pushed. But one thing about this boy of mine; he wasn’t going to tell something he didn’t believe. He sighed. Looked away.
“Well, it couldn’t be helped.”
Then he looked me square in the eyes. Unflinchingly waiting for my reaction. The moment wasn’t lost on me. God knows the three of us have had our disagreements. The whole ranch has heard an earful at any given time, but we stick together when it counts.
I gave his shoulder a squeeze.
“You did what you had to do, son. “
“You heard.” He said matter of factly.
“Some. You can tell me the rest after you get your brother to his room.”
“Yeah…I think he’s going to have a hangover.” He smiled slightly at Scott, now hanging on the rail while staring off into the distance. Remembering my own days of over imbibing, he was most likely trying not to lose his stomach…again. “He was really good today.” There was a fondness to Johnny’s voice usually reserved for Teresa or Maria. Or his horse. “He did just what he said he would do. Stayed out of it and I know he didn’t like it one bit. And, then, he had my back all the way. Yeah,” He nodded. “He did good.”
What do you say when one son tells you your other son did well by staying out of a gunfight he was called out on? The outcome could have been different. Would Scott have simply walked away if Johnny had been the one left dead in the street? Would I? NO! Of course not. I could have been charged with burying both sons. Just like down the road, if Scott and I traded places, it would be Scott charged with burying his father and brother. Oh, good God in heavens, John, how do I Iet that happen? It was what Johnny said from the start it would be. It was so much easier saying we could handle it when we never had to confront it. Only now it was confronted and, although Scott stayed true to his word, Johnny himself had said it was hard for him and he was ready to step in with the second man. “He had my back.”
I watched as Johnny took his brother’s arm, steering him past me into the house and then up the stairs. It was going to be a long night.
Madrid: The Gunfight. Part Four: Family
Maria knew there would be no normal dinner that night. Senor Scott would sleep most, if not all, of the rest of the day and night away. The Patron was to upset, even if he was working hard on not showing it. Juanito…her Juanito was always hungry but would probably not eat. If she thought he would she would have fixed him his special chili rellenos…but he had much to talk with his father about and, to often, that meant he would not eat. It also meant she should leave early and let them have privacy. So she left a hearty beef stew on the stove alongside a basketful of those rolls that Juanito liked. She said a prayer for peace and forgiveness before leaving out the door. Praying that all would be well when she returned in the morning.
Upstairs, Johnny washed his face and hands, ran a comb through his hair and put on a clean shirt. He knew he was stalling for time. There was no reason not to go down and talk to Murdoch. He had been surprised, relieved and pleased, when Murdoch had shown concern. But he also picked up on the change right at the last when he mentioned Scott having his back. He thought it over as he got Scott into bed. Pulling off his gun belt and boots and throwing a blanket over him. Yes. Murdoch was understanding and then realization set in. This was reality now. This was what did happen. No longer just a ‘possibility.’ The possibility of collateral damages was real. This time it was in his favor. What about the next time?
He tucked in his shirt and left the room. Outside in the hall he stopped by Scott’s room to check in on him. Scott hadn’t budged. Time to pay the piper…
Murdoch was behind his desk, chair faced toward the great picture window looking out at a grand expanse of Lancer. He had been there since the boys came home. Watching and hearing the sounds of his life. He listened to Maria in the kitchen, then heard the snick of the door as she closed it behind her. He saw the riders coming in over the ridge, heading for the corrals and bunkhouse. So many lives were tied into Lancer. So many lives that he, as patron, was ultimately responsible for. And upstairs…He almost wished Johnny would join Scott in passing out. It might be much easier to handle the conversation he knew they had to have in the morning. But it was not to be. Soft steps heralded Johnny’s arrival in the Great Room. Murdoch swiveled his chair around to take in his son’s cleaned up appearance. The quiet, serious demeanor Johnny exuded kept him from smiling.
“Delroy brought these in.” Murdoch nodded to the two bottles of liquor on the desk. “He figured you might want to finish them off sometime or other. “ Murdoch smiled slightly. “I always thought tequila to be strong. And you seem to have drunk more. Why is it Scott is sleeping it off upstairs and you…”
“Aren’t?” Johnny finished his question. “He needed to get drunk…I just needed to drink.”
“Do you need one now? The bar is completely restocked.”
“I think I’m good for now.” Johnny’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. He turned toward the bar and the fresh pitcher of water Maria had placed there before leaving and poured a glass full. He stared at the mirror over the bar, seeing fully Murdoch’s reflection staring back at him.
“Have you ever killed a man, Murdoch?” He asked softly. “Stood face to face with him…eye to eye?”
“Once.” Murdoch came out from behind his desk to lean against it. Still looking at Johnny’s reflection in the mirror. Wondering where Johnny was heading with the conversation. And, if he would admit it, a little afraid. “It wasn’t easy…. Or easy to forget.”
“That’s what most men say….” Johnny took a sip of the water. Breathing deep, he closed his eyes for a second then opened them to stare back into the mirror. Murdoch never looked away.
“I killed my first man when I was 12.” Johnny’s voice was blunt. “It was very easy.”
Murdoch knew he was being watched. The news caused his gut to clench but he checked his emotions. Letting Johnny set the course.
“I’d been sleeping. Mama and my ‘Stepfather’… “ He said the word with such disdain that Murdoch couldn’t help raise an eyebrow. It didn’t go unnoticed. “Mama had been with Josiah for a few years. He usually treated her good. Unless he was drunk… He was a mean drunk…and he was drunk a lot. He didn’t much like me, so I stayed out of the way. He was gone a lot. I found out later that he ran with a rurale renegade gang.”
(“That man you killed…He was like my brother.” The rurales had him cornered. The commandant decided to let him know what was in store for him. He was 15. With nothing to lose he shot his way out of a village bodega. It was bold. It was reckless. It worked. He left the commandant dead and more than a few of his soldiers. They had come to raid the village. Found him by accident. In the end the village credited him with saving them. Word of mouth about the rescue spread like wildfire and his ‘legend’ grew. So did the requests from other Villages needing a hand. He didn’t sign on for them all. But some he did. That’s what helped put him in front of the firing squad where Murdoch’s Pinkerton man found him. Seconds…he shuddered inwardly. Mere seconds…)
“He’d come home that morning, so they were out to celebrate. Usually when they went out, I kept a listen and would leave out the back when I heard ‘em coming. Sometimes I just left earlier and found myself a place to stay the night. It was best not to be around when they came back from the cantinas…for a lot of reasons.
He took another drink, trying to keep his throat from drying out. He’d come too far to stop now. “But I fell asleep…Josiah had whupped me up pretty good that afternoon ‘cause I came in on him and mama’s…reunion… and I guess I passed out more than slept. “ He crooked a smile. “It was the last time I ever slept that sound…Anyway, ol’ Josiah came in and he snatched me up and I guess he was gonna throw me out the door, only he missed, and I hit the wall. Before I could shake it off, he had taken off his belt and was coming at me. Saying the usual things…” (The usual things? No good mestizo…I should kill you and do us all a favor…)
“Next thing I knew Mama was jumping on his back telling him to leave me be…I don’t know who was more surprised: Him or me.” He set his empty water glass down, stared down at it, biting his lip. Decision made he poured a tequila and drank it down. The familiar warmth settled his nerves…some. He looked back into the mirror to see his father standing quiet. Still watching him. Well, they had stood this much.
“Josiah flung her off his back. I heard the crack when she hit the stone fireplace. She slipped down the wall and lay there. Blood was everywhere and the life just went right out of her eyes. It stunned Josiah long enough for me to grab the gun out of his holster and when he turned back on me…. (‘Look what you made me do, you dirty mestizo! You killed your mama! I will send you to join her.’)”
He took a breath, set down his glass and turned around to face his father. Eye to eye. “I shot him. Right between the eyes. And I kept shooting until all the bullets were gone and all the tears were dried up. Then I covered Mama with a blanket, grabbed up what I could fit in a flour sack, saddled up Josiah’s horse and ran…I don’t guess I ever quit running until I came here.”
Johnny wrapped his arms around himself. Another habit Murdoch had noticed when he was distressed. Hugging himself because no one else was ever there. It broke his heart to now understand the loneliness, pain and fear that had been Johnny’s burden. His own anger at Maria for leaving him and taking his son and at the dead Josiah was threatening to brim over. Tempered only by the despair felt in finally knowing the truth. He wanted to say something, but instinct stopped him. Told him it was not yet time. Johnny walked over to lean against the cold fireplace, needing the support.
“I had choices to make, Murdoch. And I made the ones that kept me alive. I became very good at what I did, and I worked hard at becoming the best. I took pride in my trade and the name Madrid meant something… Yes, I did some bad things, and I had some bad things done to me, but I never reneged on my word. I never back shot a man. Never raped a woman…I’m not looking for salvation or redemption, old man…I am who I am… It’s all I knew to be…” He stared hard at his father and Murdoch again saw that lost, searching look in his son’s eyes that had been there the first day and again during that whole wild stallion fiasco…Johnny bit his lip again, turned and walked to the window to look out at those 100,000 acres. “It’s all I wanted to be. Until I came here. “He smiled slightly. Sadly. “It sure wasn’t supposed to happen this way, old man,” he said softly. Cursing the tears welling in his eyes. “I was coming to collect on the listening money. Find out what you were all about. And then leave. It was still up in the air whether I was going to put a bullet in you first. “ He shook his head at the thought.
“I wasn’t sure about that myself.” Murdoch quirked a smile.
Johnny gave him a quick glance over his shoulder to see if he was serious then returned the slight smile before looking back out at the vista shimmering in the Summer’s late day sun.
“I like it here, Murdoch. I like being Johnny Lancer. I like a pillow under my head and bed that’s not the ground. I like being called Scott’s brother. Your son. But there’s always going to be a part of me that is Madrid, and I can understand that being a problem. And not being acceptable. You say the word, old man, and I’ll leave here tonight. No hard feelings.”
And there it was on the table. Murdoch stared at his son’s back. Seeing a slight reflection of half of Johnny’s face in the windowpane. His brain screamed at him to proceed cautiously. His heart wanted him to rush over, grab his son in his arms and not let go. He took a sip of the drink that had been forgotten since Johnny started talking. Staring at the amber liquid, he debated a second and then tossed the rest of the drink back. He set the glass on the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. Johnny was not one to take an easy road.
“I will admit to having indecisions, John. When I first heard about the gunfight, I was relieved that you were both okay. Then the realization of what could have happened and what could still happen set in. I couldn’t help but think about what you said when you first agreed to stay. How we were fooling ourselves to think we understood what you were talking about…We said we could handle it…We were being naive. But you knew that…I’m not going to lie to you. I have been wrestling with this incident in my head all day. Considering the consequences and obligations to this family. The people on this ranch. Your brother.”
Johnny leaned his head into the window frame. (‘Well, you asked for it.’ he told himself. Wondering if he should head to town first or just hit the trail.)
Then Murdoch was behind him. Hands on his shoulders as he turned him around. For once, Johnny couldn’t bring himself to look his father in the eyes. Figuring it made it easier for the both of them.
“The biggest equation is this: You ARE my son. Scott’s brother. A part of this land that you’ve already spilled blood for, and, at the end of the day, one thing remains. Lancer takes care of its own.”
Johnny did look at Murdoch then. He saw the tears in the old man’s eyes that matched his own. Swallowing hard, he had to make sure one more time.
“It’s bound to happen again.”
“We’ll handle it… again.” Murdoch cupped a hand behind his neck and pulled him into an embrace. Feeling the hot tears on his shoulder that mixed with those seeping from his own eyes. “You’re worth it.”
In the hallway, Scott sat on the stairs, leaning his head against the railing, and smiled. He had waited until he heard talking from the great room to follow Johnny downstairs. Wanting to be close enough to step in if the conversation warranted it. His heart thumped with the pride he felt in both Murdoch and Johnny. “Told you so, brother.” he whispered. Standing, he headed back up the stairs. It was a long time since he’d had the luxury of an afternoon ‘nap’. Might as well make the best of it.
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