Home by Robyn B.

Word count 46,011

I don’t own Lancer, not the characters or the stories.  I do, however, take them out to run across the ranch.  The characters of my making cannot be used without permission.  This story will have an R rating, due to language, scenes of mild torture and some adult scenes.  There will be warnings posted prior to these sections.

(Chapter 1)

A tall blonde man was once again pacing in the Great Room.  He’d walk from the huge windows to the fireplace, and then repeat the steps.  For over an hour, this young man did this.

He was waiting for his father, Murdoch Lancer, to return from Morro Coyo.  He had been gone way before anyone else had gotten up.  He was very quiet for such a big man, and rode out of Lancer, just as the sun was peeking over the hills all around Lancer.

Scott had gotten up and gotten dressed.  After he had just pulled his boots on, he stood up and slid the letter to his Grandfather, he was going to put in the delivery pile on Murdoch’s desk, for the next person who goes into town.

He opened his bedroom door and slid into the hallway.  As he started for the main staircase, he passed his brother Johnny’s room.  He knocked, but didn’t hear an answering reply.

When he knocked a second time, Scott had a feeling of apprehension creeping into his gut.  He slowly opened the door, to make sure he wasn’t still sleeping.  Empty!  And the bed looked like it hasn’t even been slept in.

Scott turned and ran down the back stairs, straight into the kitchen, where Murdoch was drinking his coffee.

” Did Johnny come home last night?  His bed hasn’t been slept in Murdoch!”

Murdoch put his coffee cup back on the table and turned to Maria.  

“Did you see Johnny this morning Maria?”

” No Patron.  I have been here since dawn, and I have not seen or heard Juanito. “

Murdoch got up from his chair and without any words, he went to the front door.  He almost ran to the big barn.  And was very disappointed when he saw that Barranca’s stall didn’t look used either.

As Murdoch was exiting the barn, Scott was just coming up to him.   After Scott saw the worried look in his father’s eyes, he knew the answer to his questions.

” Frank!”

The ranch hand came out of the other large barn, where he was putting supplies into a wagon, to take to the line shacks.

” Yes Mr Lancer, you need something Sir?”

” Have you or any of the men seen John this morning?  Were there any problems last night with anyone calling him out?”

” No Sir, no one bothered Johnny at all last night.  In fact, he left for home earlier then we all did.  Figured he was already in bed by the time we all got home.”

Murdoch rubbed his chin and slid his hand into his grey hair.  The troubled look on his face was getting deeper in his skin.

” Saddle our horses Scott.  Frank, get two more men.  We are gonna ride into Morro Coyo, and see if he’s on the side of the road anywhere.”

Soon, the five men were just mounting up, and Scott said,  

“Hold up Murdoch.  That’s Val coming in.  Maybe he knows what’s happened to my brother.”

As Val rode up to where the Lancer men stood, he didn’t have a good look on his face.  In fact, he looked rather pissed off.

” Morning Scott, Murdoch.  Before you move out to where you’re going, I got a message for you.  Was left on the door of the jail when I got there this morning.”

As Val reached out his hand, Scott saw the white letter in his hand.  Murdoch took it and held it for a couple silent minutes.  Then he slowly, like he was moving in slow motion, opened the letter.

As he read it, Scott saw the color drain from his father’s face.  He reached forward and grabbed his huge forearm, as he looked ready to pass out.

” What is it Murdoch?  Is it about my brother?  Is it!!”

Murdoch lifted his head and his pale blue eyes locked on his oldest son’s silver blue eyes.  He had such a look of utter sadness in those eyes, even without knowing what was in the letter, Scott had a feeling of utter dismay.

When Murdoch handed Scott the letter and he read it, his heart and head told him his brother was in major trouble, and he didn’t write this letter.

” Johnny did not write this note Sir.  I can feel it in my heart, this is not his handwriting.  Look at it Murdoch, it’s not his handwriting!”

Val saw the battle brewing between them, and he stepped in.

” Scott could be right Murdoch.  Johnny doesn’t write like that, and he sure as hell don’t use big words like those on that piece of paper.”

Murdoch looked between Val and his oldest boy.  He saw the firm belief in both sets of eyes looking at him.

” Then how do we find him?  Where do we even start?”

Murdoch leaned against his horse, suddenly feeling very old all of a sudden.

” Who do we know has a grudge against Johnny?  From his past, it could be any number of gun hawks who want that God Almighty precious reputation.  The last five years, living at Lancer, who ended up pissed at Johnny enough to risk Val’s anger or our’s Scott?”

Scott’s silver blue eyes flashed with a look of fire and he said, slowly and softly,

” Porter.  He’s been causing Johnny problems in town for months.  Took a couple shots at him and threatened to find a gun hawk who wanted Johnny bad.”

” But that could be anyone Scott?  How do we find out what gun hawk and where they have taken Johnny.”

Val got a wild look in his eyes and the smile that came to his lips was feral looking.

” Why, we go to see Porter.  All three of us, should make him very talkative.  Especially you Murdoch.  You can be a very intimidating man, just with your size.  And when you stand by Porter, who I think is five feet four inches tall, he’ll think he is next to a giant of a man!”

They all mounted up and headed to Porter’s small ranch.  He had maybe a hundred head of cattle and an old plow horse.  He wasn’t a very big contributor to the annual cattle drives.  

The one thing that made him stand out to the Lancers and to Val, was the fact he tried everything he could to get rid of Johnny from the valley.

Making up lies and spreading rumors.  Hell, he even contacted a couple gunslingers to come to town to call Johnny out.

What pissed Porter the most about that was, the gunslingers who came to town, well, they considered Johnny their friend and they weren’t going to call Johnny out.  In fact, Porter saw them and the Lancer Brothers in the saloon enjoying drinks.  Porter left town in a fury.

It took them about an hour to get to Porter’s small ranch.  The Lancers and Val were the ones who dismounted.  Cipriano and the five ranch hands stayed on their horses.

” Porter, I want a word with you!  NOW!”

Val knew that his voice wasn’t a huge threat, and was saving Murdoch’s booming voice to further make their intentions clearer to the little man.

Porter soon came to the door and walked out onto the porch.  He looked at the Lancers and Val, then the five men still mounted on their horses.

” Well, I’m here Sheriff, what you need with yelling like that?”

Val took a deep breath to try and lower the boiling blood inside his body, and then he spoke.

” Want to know what’s happened to Johnny Lancer.  He never made it home from being out with some of the ranch hands from Lancer.  We had a letter that supposedly was written by Johnny.  But we think it wasn’t.  Too many fancy and big words for Johnny to use.  We think someone who moved from back east, with a good strong sense of words, just might have written it for him.  Someone who maybe did something to the boy and just wants him gone from the valley.”

Val paused here and took a few steps closer to Porter and leaned down so he could look at Porter in the face.

” Someone like you Porter.  You fit that description real well.  Let’s see if we can get you to tell us where you have Johnny stashed.  And just maybe, I’ll keep the Lancers from beating the shit out of you!”

You could tell that Porter was getting nervous.  He was sweating and he kept licking his lips and wiping his face with an already soiled hankie.

” I don’t know anything about that half breed!  If he’s left Lancer and the valley, good!  Now we can all enjoy the peace and quiet from not having other gunslingers that come looking for him!”

Scott moved quickly to stop his father from getting on the  porch and strangling this little man.  

” He’s not worth it Sir. Trust me!”

Val stood off to the side, with a small smirk on his face.  He relished seeing Murdoch show his chops at someone so insignificant as this peewee of a man.

Thru gritted teeth, Murdoch pulled his arm from Scott’s grip, and turned to Porter.

” Everyone in the valley knows how much you hate my son.  If you have done something to him, tell us.  Because I swear to the Almighty above, if anything happens to my son, and he dies, I tell you right here and now, I will bring the force of my status along with the legal forces to have you charged and found guilty of murder and kidnapping, and anything else we can find to charge you!”

 Murdoch again walked toward Porter and he grabbed him by the front of his shirt and actually hoisted him off his feet.  He pulled him towards his chest and Porter was so close to Murdoch’s face, he could have touched Murdoch’s nose with his tongue, well, if he so decided anyway!

Murdoch was almost to the point of actually growling, and Scott stood behind his father, hiding the smile on his face.

Val moved towards Murdoch, and put his hand on Murdoch’s forearm, feeling the muscles twitching.  He didn’t know if the old man was afraid he’d kill Porter or was just angry because this damn bastard always riled him when it came to Johnny.

” I suggest that if you know where my brother is and what’s happened to him, you better start talking.  Or the Sheriff and I will let my father go and he will get the answers he needs.”

Porter started to stutter and he said with as much bravado as be could muster.

” I don’t know where your half breed brat is.  I don’t think I’d tell you anyway.  We are better off with him gone!”

Before Scott or Val could stop him, Murdoch threw Porter to the ground.  He missed landing on an old rusty axe lying against a pile of half cut logs for firewood.

Again Murdoch looked down at the little man, and said, very softly and very deadly sounding, just like Johnny Madrid.

” If you know anything Porter, and you don’t say before it’s too late, I’ll see you hang!  Remember that!”

Murdoch turned to go and as he stomped his way back to the horses, he said, ” Let’s go.”

Val turned but Scott stayed right where he stood.  His eyes were filled with a hatred he never knew he could possess.

” You have always had it in for my brother.  Despite the fact he has hung up his gun and is no longer a gun hawk.  He wants to be left alone, to find a family and have a family of his own.  Everyone in this valley loves my brother, they’ve accepted him.  The forts that have purchased the horses he breaks, have said they were perfect.  Before your ranch went under, you yourself purchased a few of his horses.  Johnny didn’t cause your ranch to go under, you did.  All the rumors and the damn bullshit you said about my little brother, not only hurt him, but made everyone want to be around him even more.  He even has a girl.  So all your hatred of my brother is for no purpose.  But if you have had my brother hurt, you will never have a second of peace.   Mark my words!  You had better tell us where my brother is and now Porter.  I’d hate to see the consequences if you don’t!”

Scott glared at him for a few minutes longer, and then turned smartly and walked to his horse.  They left in silence and headed back to Lancer.

As they rode towards Lancer, both Scott and Murdoch were grinding their teeth together.  They rode under the arch and Cipriano said he’d take care of the horses.

When the Lancers went into the hacienda, they were met by Maria.  She asked about her Juanito, and was told by Murdoch, nothing yet, but soon.  She held her tears inside and then informed them dinner would be ready at the correct time.  She turned and went back into her kitchen.

The next week was rough for the Lancers.  Porter had packed up what he wanted and he moved away from the valley.  No one knew where he’d gone.

Scott rode into Morro Coyo everyday after they found out Porter left.  Val had sent feelers out to the Sheriffs he knew all over and everyday he’d check to see if anyone had any news.

In a small town two hundred miles from Morro Coyo, a dark haired man sat on a cot, chained to a heavy dark ring attached to the wall.  He had been in this room, by himself, nearly two months now.  No one talked to him, someone always left him meals.  He could walk around the room. He tried to pry open the rings on the chain but to no avail.

Johnny was, as he’s been for the past two months, when he was attacked on his way home that night from town, mad as a wet hen.  He has never seen who had him kidnapped, nor did he know where he was.

He had been drugged with something, he figured was morphine.  When he woke up, he found himself in a chain in a small room in what could only be a deserted homestead.

Johnny knew there were people in the cabin, how else was he getting hot meals during the day.  No one came to talk to him or see how he was.  Nothing.  Johnny wanted to go home.  He desperately missed his brother and yes, even his father.

Johnny knew Barranca was with him, so he was somewhat calmed by that bit of information.  If he managed to get rid of these chains, he would need a fast horse to carry him home.

He also knew his gun belt was gone.  He hoped, when the time came for him to escape, he had his gun and the gun belt.  Scott gave him that gun belt for his birthday last year.

Johnny tiredly got up from the cot and walked slowly to the window.  He put his forearms on the window ledge and he looked outside.  Johnny saw Barranca, and it looked like he was pacing in the corral.  Johnny put his hand to the window, as if to caress his beloved horse.  It was at that moment, Johnny felt the hot tears sliding down his cheeks.  He did nothing to stop them or wipe them away.  It just seemed too much at the moment for Johnny to deal with.

Johnny wanted to scream, to throw things, anything to get out of this room.  Or just to know why he was being kept here, away from everyone he loved.

That very day, Johnny decided he would figure out a way to escape and go home.  Then he would find out who and deal with him as Johnny Madrid.

Val was on his way to Lancer, the first time since they confronted Porter at his ranch.  In his shirt pocket was another note, written in that same handwriting, and with as many high falooting words as the other note they had gotten at the beginning.

Val tried to get his anger under control as he rode under the white arch, but it wasn’t working.  As he stopped his black horse in the courtyard, he figured he was entitled to once again be angry.  He was, after all, Johnny’s best friend and his Papi.  Either position he was proud to hold.

Scott came out of the hacienda and greeted Val.  He saw the way Val gritted his jaw and knew there was another problem about to unload on Lancer.

” What’s wrong Val?  Or do I maybe don’t want to know.”

” Murdoch around?  He needs to hear this too.”

As they walked into the house, Scott said,

”  No, he rode over to Aggie’s, she sent one of her hands over saying she’s got a few people on her land she doesn’t know.  He went over to see what’s going on.”

As they entered the Great Room, Scott walked to the corner where all the booze was.

” Ya better make them doubles Scott, I think you’re gonna need it.”

Val handed him the note he carried in his pocket.  As soon as Scott opened it and read what it said, he said,

” Oh shit!”

He ran for the front door and yelled for Cipriano.  The big Mexican foreman came out of the barn and Scott yelled across the courtyard.

” Send a couple men to the Conway Ranch.  Keep Murdoch safe, someone is gunning for him!”

Scott watched Frank and Walt gallop out of the corral, heading for the Conway Ranch.  He hoped they got there in time.

Scott walked back into the room and Val was leaning against the fireplace mantle.  Scott refilled his glass and leaned against the corner of Murdoch’s big desk.  Scott unfolded the note and read it again.  He saw the big words, just like the other note.  But this one held a hidden threat to the Lancers.

” Gonna have to catch this guy before you or Murdoch are next to end up missing or dead.”

Scott crumpled the note in his hand and threw the drink down in one swallow.

Val was just gonna head out and Frank and Walt plus a wagon with two men from Aggie’s ranch were just coming to a stop.

” We ran into them about five miles from the ranch.  Mr Lancer had been shot, Mz Conway said it must have been a high powered rifle.  She also sent one of her men to get the Doctor. “

The ranch hands, both from Lancer and from Aggie’s place, lifted Murdoch and carried him into the house and to a downstairs room.  Maria was getting water on to boil and began to gather all her medical supplies.

Maria, Scott and Val went into the room and began to take care of the head of the house.  It was his left shoulder that had been hit.  Scott put a thick pad on the gunshot and Maria handed him a long strip of cloth to tie it down with.

Val was leaning against the door jam and Scott turned to face him.  

” Ok, this is now attempted murder Val!”

” We have to have someone to charge Scott.  Since Porter vanished, we can’t even charge him.  I’ve got feelers out to all the Sheriffs around California, with a good description of Porter.  We’ll get him Scott.  And we’ll find Johnny before something happens to him too.”

He walked to Scott as he sat on the edge of the bed, worried eyes looking at his father’s pale complexion.

” Where the hell is Johnny Val?  I can’t stop thinking that Psomething has happened to him too.”

In the tiny room, Johnny ‘felt’ his brother’s silent plea, and it caused him to feel such a pain in his heart, he almost dropped to his knees.  He wanted so much to answer Scott, to tell him where he was, but he had no idea.  All he saw was out the window in the room, and that was facing the corral his beloved Palomino was in.

Johnny would watch Barranca for hours, as the golden horse paced back and forth along the fence.  Johnny wished he could touch Barranca also, but until he escaped from the chain and this room, he had to settle for watching his horse from this window.

This particular day, however, when the door opened to admit the person with his dinner.  The person put the food on the small table, and then sat down.

Johnny had no idea who this person was.  He reached for the plate and pulled it over to the cot, sat there and ate it.

Soon this person started talking and Johnny was not surprised to hear basically what Porter always said.

” So half breed, you like staying in this room?  Well, get used to it, cuz you are gonna be here a long time.  At least until the ‘Boss’ says different.”

Johnny laid the plate down on the table and crossed his arms across his chest and said, in a soft but very deadly sounding voice.

” And just who is this ‘ Boss’ of your’s?  Too afraid to show his face.”

***** ALERT *****

The other man just sat, watching Johnny with a smirk on his face.  It was then Johnny heard a sound outside, like an animal being whipped.

He shot up and ran to the window.  He saw a cowboy striking Barranca with a small whip.  His beloved horse had been roped and tied to the fence.  He had enough room with the rope to rear and try to strike at his tormentor.

Johnny saw a thin line of blood appear across his neck and he could hear the angry sounds coming from his horse.  Johnny was trying to get the man’s attention by banging on the window, when he felt a white hot pain slice across his shoulders.

After the second strike to his back, Johnny slid to his knees and tried to curl into a ball.  He was struck a few more times and then they stopped.  Johnny remained on the floor in that tight ball, until he heard the door shut.

***** END ALERT ****

Johnny stood up and could feel the blood running down his back and he fought the pain down until he won.  He looked out the window and saw that Barranca was gone.  Johnny turned to look out all the space of the window, but his horse was gone.  Then he saw the rope that was tied to the fence looked frayed.

Johnny put his head against the window and panted softly.  His mind was spinning.  ‘ He got away, I know it.  He’s heading for home.  God, let him make it without any problems.  Please!’

Johnny closed his eyes, but still felt warm tears sliding slowly down his cheeks.  Softly, in a quiet, pain filled voice, Johnny said,

” Please Barranca, be careful my Pal.  Bring Scott and Murdoch here.  Please Barranca!”

Without anyone coming to check on him, Johnny put his fingers on the window and stood there for awhile.  Then after a couple more minutes, he slowly turned and walked to the cot, laid down and stared quietly at the door.  He fell asleep, with his thoughts that Barranca got away.

Johnny’s back throbbed, but he put the pain into that place where things stay until he can sort thru them.  He felt the blood sliding down his back.  If he didn’t move fast, it wouldn’t open and bleed down his back.

A huge sigh slipped from Johnny’s lips, and he got as comfortable as he could.  The small cot wasn’t any too comfortable.  He was so tired, he fell asleep thinking of Barranca running like the wind, hopefully to Lancer.

Johnny had no idea where exactly he was.  He was unconscious when they brought him to this room.  He woke when the door to the room opened, and his tray of food was put on the small table.  He looked at the person and as he stayed on the cot, it looked like this person wanted to talk to him.

As Johnny laid on the cot, and weary sapphire eyes watched him, the guy slowly shut the door.

” The gentleman who has ordered you to be kidnapped and hurt will be here in three days.  I can’t tell you what he wants, he’s been very quiet as he is traveling west.”

Slowly, Johnny sat up and said quietly,

” West?  He’s not from around here?”

” No, I think one of the guys said he was from, what did he say.” Johnny could see this kid wanted to remember.

” Was it Boston?”

The kid’s grey eyes widened and a huge smile slid to his lips.  

“Yes!  That’s where he said the ‘Boss’ was from.  Do you know who it could be?”

As this kid looked at Johnny, he saw the hardness come to Johnny’s sapphire eyes.  They glittered like they were made of glass shards.  It actually unnerved the kid.

Johnny’s voice took on a hardness as well, and he very softly said,

” If it is who I’m thinking it is, my brother and father are gonna, well basically, hit the ceiling!  And I for one, would not want to be in the line of fire when the explosions happen.”

Just then the door flew open and a big nasty looking man looked at the kid and Johnny talking.

 ” You bring in the food trays Marvin, no talking, and then you leave.”

After the kid slid thru the door, this man said,

” That golden horse of yours can sure run.  He out ran our two fastest horses.  He’ll end up ripped apart by a mountain lion or end up lost and die from lack of food and water.  Either way, good riddance!” He turned and smirked at Johnny, and went thru the door.

As Johnny slowly started to eat, his mind began to work faster and faster.  Harlan Garrett!  If he was right, Scott was gonna be mighty pissed off at finding his Grandfather had once again, put his brother’s life in jeopardy.

(Chapter 2)

Meanwhile, in Murdoch’s bedroom at Lancer, the big man was fighting an infection in his shoulder from the sniper’s bullet.  He was feverish and delirious, and Scott was very worried.

Sam was staying at the ranch, to keep an eye on the infection mostly, but the fever and delirium concerned him as well.

Scott was sitting in the chair off to the side.  His mind was being pulled in three separate directions.  His love for his brother and where he was, his concern for his father and if he was going to make it and the most important one.  Scott didn’t think he could run a ranch as big as Lancer, without his father or his brother.

As Scott watched Sam once again clean the infection from the big man’s shoulder, he thought of all Murdoch had taught him already.

Of course, doing the books was real easy for the Harvard educated young man.  He’d even worked on his Grandfather’s books a time or two back in Boston.

What Murdoch has taught him so far since he came to Lancer, was in Scott’s mind, priceless.  In Boston there would have been no reason to learn all he has already.  His Grandfather took every opportunity to bad mouth his father and Lancer.  That was the main reason he accepted the big man’s request to come west.

Scott slowly smiled to himself and thought, ‘ Yeah, that was just part of it.’  Getting a younger brother was something Scott had never thought he’d ever have.  Oh sure, Johnny may only be a half brother, but his love for the fiery tempered young man was all encompassing. He would, without a seconds thought, give his life for Johnny Madrid Lancer.  Scott was also confident, that Johnny would give his life if it meant saving his big brother.

In the first year they were at Lancer, they had formed a bond that left their father speechless at times.  Somehow, the brothers knew what the other was thinking.  That part made Maria cross herself and say a quick quiet prayer.

” Oh Mamacita, don’t worry.  We are not possessed!  We just feel what each other is thinking is all.  That’s how brothers are.”

Then Johnny would lean down and kiss her warm weather worn cheek and go off, searching for the other half of his heart………his brother.

The other half of his heart.  Yes, that’s how he thought of his little brother.  The other half of a whole.  Scott missed and wanted the other half of his heart.  He suddenly felt a lump forming in his throat..  He swallowed hard, and felt his eyes slide to the window.  Where the hell are you Johnny?

Johnny was where he’d been now going on almost three months.  He felt so hot and he knew he had a raging fever running thru his body.  He couldn’t tell how infected those wounds on his back were, but he knew that was why he had a fever taking over his every thought.

Johnny didn’t even have the strength to pick up the glass of water to stay hydrated.  He was really in trouble, but until he could shake the fever, he was in a bad way.

When that kid, Marvin, brought the dinner tray into Johnny, he was just going to leave it on the table.  He turned to look at Johnny, because he was breathing funny.  It was very raspy and Marvin was sure he heard a wheeze in there.

Marvin slid to the floor by Johnny’s side and put his hand gently on his forehead.  He pulled it away quickly.

He began to get panicky, and picked up the glass of water.  He lifted Johnny’s head up and tried to dribble some water into his mouth.  He watched, in horror, as the water ran out of his mouth onto the small pillow.

Marvin picked up a small towel and dipped it into the water and tried to cool Johnny down.  It was no use, he was way to sick.

” Has to be those wounds on his back.  I bet they are infected, because Salazar didn’t want anyone to fix them.”

He had no idea what to do.  Salazar could care less.  He had no clue if anyone had medical training, but he had to find out.  If he didn’t get Johnny some help, he was gonna die.

Marvin went out into the other room and told Salazar that Johnny was deathly ill.  He got up from the chair he was in and went into the room.  One quick look at Johnny lying on the cot, sweating and breathing very shallowly, told him his plan was in trouble.

” Damn!  We have to get this breed at least awake.  The ‘ Boss’ will be here in two days.  If he sees Lancer on death’s door, he’s likely to kill me in his place!”

Salazar grabbed Marvin’s arm and he pulled him closer.  

” You do what you have to do in order to get him well.  You got two days to do it.  I suggest you begin.”

After Salazar left the room with a slam to the door, Marvin began doing what he could.  He opened Johnny’s shirt and saw the sweat covering his chest.  A chest that wasn’t rising or falling very quickly.

He picked up Johnny’s arms one by one and took his wet shirt off, and laid it on the chair next to the bed.  He then rolled Johnny to his side and saw what was a criss cross of wounds, just filled with pus and infection.

Marvin’s eyes began to fill with hot tears, and his first thoughts were ‘ he had to find some way to clean these wounds, at least a little.’  Marvin had to clean them as best as he could and hopefully Johnny’s fever would lower a little bit.

Marvin ran out to the other room, and put a big pot of water on the stove to boil.  Then he reached for soap, thinking he could clean the wounds out with water and soap.

Salazar and the others just sat at the small table and played cards, not even paying attention to what Marvin was doing.

As Marvin began to work on Johnny’s back, there was something very interesting happening at Lancer.

Murdoch was slowly responding to Sam’s medical expertise.  He was still a little on the feverish side, but he was coming out of the delirium.

Scott smiled at his father as his pale blue eyes slowly opened.

” What happened?  Where am I?”

” You are home Sir, in your bed at Lancer.  You were hit by a sniper up on the hills behind the Conway Ranch.  Val has already arrested the guy responsible.”

” Who?”

Scott got a sort of frown happening and quietly said,

” Val doesn’t know just yet, and he’s gonna hold the guy in jail until he finds out.  Val thinks it could be a friend of Porter, who was angry that he was forced to leave the valley.  We don’t know just yet.  Val is still working it out.”

As Murdoch’s blue eyes were closing, he softly asked,

” Johnny, any news on my Son?”

Scott was quiet for a few minutes, and he heard the sigh from his father.  

” Not yet Murdoch, but something will break thru, I promise Sir.”

A small smile slid onto the old man’s lips, and as he slowly fell asleep, Scott looked at Sam and softly said,

” Is he going to be okay Sam?  I mean, is his heart strong enough if we don’t find Johnny soon?”

Sam was looking down at the big Scot.  His longtime friend, the first friend he made when he set up his shingle in Green River.  He always managed to make Lancer his last stop on his rounds, knowing he would be offered a warm dinner, after dinner brandy and some talk with his friend.  On a few occasions, he’d sleep in the guest room that was always kept ready for him.

He lifted soft brown eyes to look at Scott, and was met by stormy silver blue eyes.

Sam signed softly and said,

” I think once we get that infection under control a bit more, he will be fine Son.  My old friend is as strong as an ox, he’ll pull thru this and be ready to start looking for Johnny again.”

Scott softly exhaled the breath he’d been holding.  Relief flooding across his face.  He was just going to pick up the cloth in the bowl of water, when there began a ruckus in the yard.

Scott stood up and ran to the bedroom door and flew down the stairs.  He practically ripped the front door off it’s hinges and stopped on the porch.  His mouth dropped open as he saw what the commotion was.

Cipriano had a hold of a rope that was tied around the golden Palomino, that was Johnny’s best Pal.  Cipriano was trying to calm the animal, who was blowing fast and hard, as tho he had run across the state.

As Scott slowly walked toward the wild eyed horse, he saw the stripe across his nose, the dried blood on his back and neck.  He gently put a hand on Barranca’s neck and the horse’s withers began to twitch.

” Easy Boy, easy.  You’re home and safe.  Where’s Johnny Boy?  Is he okay?”

Scott felt a little unhinged, as he expected Barranca to answer him.  He was silently glad Barranca had escaped wherever he’d been.  It would have been perfect, if his little brother had been on his back.

He patted the golden horse once more, and said to Cipriano,  

“Can you fix him up and make sure he’s okay?  Would hate to tell my brother his horse was sick.”

” Si Patron, I can fix him up like new.  He’s not very hurt. Maybe a little dirty and hungry.  He will be fine in a few days.”  

Cipriano took hold of the piece of rope still hanging around his neck, and the golden horse tiredly walked with the big Mexican foreman into the barn.

Val had been standing off to the side, having just gotten to Lancer a few minutes behind Barranca.

Before Barranca disappeared into the barn, Val looked him over.  Running his hands over every inch of the stallion.

Scott walked over to where he was and he quietly said,  

“What’s wrong Val?”

When Val stood up, he turned to Scott and he said,

” He’s got red clay on his legs.  Scott, there’s only one place that I know of that has red clay.  That’s a ghost town about two hundred miles away.”

” You mean, Barranca was running for two hundred miles to get away from someone?”

Val’s eyes took on a hard edge and he said,

” Yep.  And he looks like he’s been running full out for most of that two hundred miles.”

Scott looked over towards the white arch and he softly said,

“Barranca wouldn’t leave Johnny.  No way Val!”

” He would if he knew he was Johnny’s chance for help.  I saw this once before.  A friend was separated from the rest of us.  Three weeks later, his horse came thundering into camp, agitated and alone.  We took a few days to get him back on his hooves.  Then we took him out of the camp, let the lead rein go and told him to find Tommy.  That horse led us right to where Tommy was.  Thinking maybe we try that with Barranca.”

Scott turned back to Val and said,

” How far was Tommy that the horse could find him?  Val, you said it could be two hundred miles that Barranca ran.  Maybe he just ran thru the red clay, maybe Johnny is being held in a whole different place?”

Scott cringed inside at the way he was not thinking Val’s idea would work.  He wanted to find his brother, but to make Barranca run two hundred miles again, was just cruel treatment of Johnny’s beloved horse.

Scott didn’t know what to do and he felt a pain in his chest, tightening.  Like his heart was caught in a vice.

In a whisper, Scott said,

” I don’t know what to do Val.  I want my brother home.  I don’t know if I could ask Barranca to go back that distance again.  I don’t know what to do Val!”

Val walked up to Scott and put his hand on his shoulder.  

” If it were me, I’d do it.  I know you love that boy, hell I do too.  But if we are ever going to get him back, we have to do this.  Your Pa can’t help.  Scott, it’s up to us and that horse in there.  I’ve seen the look in Barranca’s eyes when Johnny talks to him in Spanish.  That animal knows what he’s saying.”

Scott turned his silver blue eyes to the barn and a soft sigh slid from between his lips.  Finally, Scott came to a decision.

” Okay, we’ll leave in two days.  That should be enough for Barranca to rest up, right, Val?”

The smile that came to Val’s lips gave Scott a little more courage that he wasn’t going to run Johnny’s beloved horse into the ground.

(Chapter 3)

Marvin had no idea what he was doing.  He would clean the wounds out with soap and water, but they didn’t seem to get better.

Johnny was becoming hotter and hotter with every swipe of the wet cloth that Marvin passed over his face and body.

Long into the night, Marvin worked.  Tirelessly trying to keep Johnny alive so he stood a chance of surviving.  Marvin was running on fumes himself, and he so much wanted to stop, even for five minutes.  But he knew, if he did, Johnny’s downward spiral would pick up speed.

In the distance, Marvin heard the sound of feet moving and a door shutting.  When he heard the sound of lots of horses galloping out of town, Marvin put a soaking wet cloth on Johnny’s forehead, and ran to the door.  

His mouth opened and he saw the room was empty.  There were a few cigars still burning, as if the ones smoking got up and left in mid puff.

” No, no no!”  Marvin ran to the door and he saw all but two horses were gone.  He ran into the yard and spun around, looking for the others.

” Oh my God!  He left me here with Johnny!  What the hell am I gonna do!?”

He looked at the two horses, and they looked pretty strong.  He ran around the side of the cabin, and saw that the wagon was still there.  Marvin breathed a sigh of relief.

He pulled the wagon to where the two horses were.  Then he turned and ran into the cabin again.  The cloth on Johnny’s forehead was dry.  Shit!  This fever is leaching all the moisture from his body.  He again wet the cloth and put it on his head again.  He did the same to a towel and laid it on Johnny’s chest.

When that was done, he ran from the cabin again.  He hitched the two horses to the wagon and tied their leads to a railing.  He ran into the cabin four times, pulling mattresses out and putting them into the back of the wagon.  He made as comfortable a spot for Johnny to lie on.

He went back in the cabin, looking for the key to the chain still around Johnny’s wrist.  Just when Marvin was going to give up, he saw the shiny key lying on the counter.

Marvin’s heart was beating so fast, he thought it would jump out of his chest and run around the room.  He began to breathe calmer and got his heart to slow down.  He then turned to open the chain.  Once the chain was off Johnny’s wrist, he slowly lifted Johnny up and slowly pulled and carried him from the cot he laid on.  Thru the room and then thru the other room, to finally rest on the porch outside.

” Okay Marvin, think boy!  How the hell am I gonna get Johnny into this damn wagon bed?  The man must weigh two hundred pounds!”

In fact, Johnny only weighed one hundred forty pounds, but when he was pretty much dead weight being unconscious, he seemed to weigh that much more to Marvin.  He was after all a seventeen year old boy and he himself didn’t weigh too damn much either.

Finally, Marvin’s head finally said,

‘ You get him into that wagon bed boy, or he will die for sure!  Move Marvin!  Now!’

Marvin put his arms under Johnny’s arms and pulled him closer to the wagon.  With a lot of determination, Marvin hefted and lifted at Johnny’s body, and got him to lay across the back of the wagon bed.  Marvin jumped into the bed and reached for Johnny’s arms and pulled him onto the mattresses.

Marvin hoped he didn’t hurt Johnny too much.  But for right now, that was secondary in his mind.  He ran into the cabin and got Johnny’s pink shirt, his hat, jacket and his holster and put them on the seat of the wagon.

Then he ran and got a big barrel and filled it with cool water from the trough.  He lifted it up to the back of the wagon and some spilled all over him and he felt refreshed with the coolness of the water.

He then ran to the little shed in the corral where the golden horse had been and carried his saddle and tack to the wagon.  He knew Johnny would want it, even if his horse was gone.

Marvin wet as many sheets as he could find and laid them on Johnny’s body.  Thinking he was going to have to do this a lot of times before he stopped for the night.

Marvin grabbed all the food he could find and grabbed two canteens and filled them.  He also found two bags of oats for the horses.  When he felt he was ready, he put all of Johnny’s clothes and gun under the bench to keep them protected.  Then pulled up the tailgate and hooked it and as he pulled himself up into the seat, he said a quick prayer and started out.

He remembered Johnny telling him he lived in California and so he pointed the wagon Northwest and began the slow journey.

Meanwhile, Val, Scott and about fifteen of the Lancer ranch hands began their trek to find Johnny.  Scott had a hold of Barranca’s lead rope and they started out at an easy lope.  No sense in tiring out the horses too early, they had a long way to go.

Cipriano stayed at Lancer, to run things until his Patron was well enough.  Sam would come every day and take a look at Murdoch.  He was getting stronger everyday, and would have loved to go search for his youngest boy.  Scott, Val and Sam all vetoed that idea, saying he wasn’t quite strong enough yet.

Murdoch would look out the window of his bedroom, everyday, and pray they would find his son.  Johnny had been gone for so long, he feared that he would become lost to him once again.

‘ No!’ Murdoch’s mind screamed at him. He wouldn’t think of losing Johnny again.  Scott and Val would bring him home.  He had to keep thinking that.  To lose hope was to lose his son again.  He did it once and barely survived, this time he knew he’d never survive it.

Sam arrived at Lancer, after his evening rounds were completed to find the big Scot behind his desk, just sitting.  Sam was at least relieved to see the black sling under his arm.

” Penny for your thoughts my friend.”

Those words startled him and Sam chuckled.  

” Sorry Murdoch.  Couldn’t resist.”

Murdoch smiled at his longtime friend, and lifted his hand towards the table with the booze on it.  Sam walked over and poured some of Murdoch’s finest Scotch in a glass.  He sat in one of the matching chairs by the desk.

” Sam, do you think Scott has found him yet?”

Sam was quiet and he softly said,

” Murdoch, they only left a week ago.  They weren’t gonna push the animals.  They’ll find Johnny and bring him home my friend.”

Both old men were quiet and then Murdoch said,

” Care to join me in a beef sandwich my friend?  Maria made two, she figured you would be here.”

They ate and drank quietly.  Then went into the Great Room and played a game of chess, that seemed to go on forever.  Neither man wanted the game to end.  But by the time it finally did, Murdoch saw the time on the clock above the fireplace.

” Good Lord, it’s two in the morning Sam!  I guess you are tired my friend.  Your room is waiting and so is mine.”

Both men climbed the stairs to the second floor, saying goodnight to each other, they went into their rooms and quietly shut their doors.

They both had a difficult time falling asleep.  Their thoughts, as they had been for several months, on Johnny and where he was.

When they both got up in the morning, both men looked a little ragged around the edges.  They ate breakfast quietly and then Murdoch walked Sam to his buggy.  They said goodbye to each other and Murdoch stood on the porch watching his friend drive under the white arch.

With a deep sigh, Murdoch slowly turned and went back into the very quiet hacienda.  He wished, for the hundredth time, for Johnny and Scott to come home in one piece.  He missed his sons terribly.  It was way to quiet.

He was just debating what he was going to do, when from the corner of his vision, he saw a man trotting under the arch.  

‘Please let him have good news.’

As the Deputy stopped his massive horse in front of Murdoch, he had a huge grin on his face.

” What brings you out here early in the morning Deputy?”

” Found out who that low life is sitting in my jail.  Found out, also, who he’s working for and who has been writing those letters.  And who ordered the hit on you.”

Murdoch’s pale blue eyes took on a sparkle the Deputy had never seen before.  His grin only got wider.

” And who is this person you have in your jail Deputy, and why would it matter to me?”

Murdoch heard a small chuckle come from the Deputy’s mouth as he dismounted.  He stood in front of Murdoch and said,  

“Well, his name is Doug Lawson and he’s not a cowboy.  He’s an apprentice lawyer from back East. “

Before the Deputy could continue, Murdoch’s eyes took on a stormy hard quality and he said, between gritted teeth,  

“Harlan Garrett!”

Murdoch saw the grin turn almost feral on the Deputy’s face and he said,

” Bingo!  He wants Johnny out of the way, along with you so he can show Scott it’s not worth it to stay here by himself, trying to run this ranch by himself.”

Murdoch turned and paced the porch.

” Damn that man to hell!  Not only are my sons in danger, I don’t even know where Harlan is!”

The Deputy twirled the reins in his hand and he said,

” Oh, I wouldn’t concern yourself with that Mr Lancer.  He’s in the hotel in Green River, room 127.  I got my partner watching him.  He’s not going anywhere.”

” He’s in town!”  Murdoch’s roar made the Deputy’s horse move nervously and Cipriano came from around the barn with a rifle in his hands.

The Deputy’s eyes sparkled with sudden mischief.

” Feel like taking a ride into Green River Mr Lancer?”

Cipriano didn’t need a second request, he turned to saddle his Patron’s mount.

The wagon carrying Johnny and being driven by a very scared kid, were traveling thru the terrain, stopping every thirty minutes or so.  Marvin needed to cool Johnny down a bit with cool wet sheets.

Johnny’s complexion was tinged with red no longer, and Marvin could see he was beginning to come around.  He would get as much water down Johnny’s throat as he could, whenever they stopped.

Just about dark, when Marvin was looking for a place for the night, he heard a soft voice from the bed of the wagon.

” Look for a clump of trees surrounded by large rocks.  Should be a pond and some grass for the horses, and shade for us.”

Needless to say, Marvin almost jumped out of his skin.  He turned to look back at Johnny and saw two very bright blue eyes looking at him.

” Johnny!  You’re awake!”  He pulled the horses to a stop and climbed into the back of the wagon.  He dipped out a glass of water and helped to lift Johnny’s head up so he could drink.  When he’d had enough, he pushed the cup away.

” Where are we?  Why did you take me from that cabin?”

Marvin sat on his butt on part of a mattress and said, very softly,

“Well, Salazar and his men abandoned us at the cabin.  I didn’t know what else to do, but maybe get you out of there and to a Doctor.  I don’t know where we are, all I know is we’re heading North.”

Johnny listened, his sapphire eyes closed.  When he opened them, he said, softly and quietly,

” Do you have any medicine with you?”

Marvin shook his head and said,

” Don’t have anything but water and these here sheets I keep laying on you to cool ya off. “

” Damn!  Okay, take a look at my back and tell me what it looks like.”

Johnny’s voice was getting very tired sounding, and Marvin could hear it was also laced with pain that Johnny was trying to hide from him.

When Marvin looked at Johnny’s back, he winced inside, but said they were bad but not as bad as before.

Johnny told him to clean them out again and wrap one of the dry clothes around his torso to keep them clean.  Marvin did as Johnny said, and he marvelled to himself at Johnny’s power to control his pain and not yell out.

Johnny held the screams and the tears inside.  But all Johnny wanted to do was cry because it hurt so bad.  He knew they weren’t as clean as they could be, but he was grateful to Marvin for doing what he could.

Johnny knew he still had a fever raging inside, but if he could keep hydrated a bit more, maybe he could shake the fever, maybe a little bit anyway.

Marvin handed Johnny one of the canteens so he could take drinks of water when he needed.  And that way, Marvin didn’t have to stop.

Praying they’d see someone who could help, Marvin’s eyes would scan all over the terrain as they traveled.  He thought he saw riders once about two days later, but it was a mirage.

Johnny seemed to get better and then relapse with a once again rising fever.  Those were the times he got delirious and Marvin would have to give him something to drink.

They had been traveling for about five days, Marvin was tiring and getting weak with no food or sleep. He wondered how soon before they saw a town or people, to get help.

Later that afternoon, on the fifth day, Marvin’s tired eyes looked at a small collection of buildings.  And what really excited him the most, when he drove the wagon into the middle of them, he saw a sign that announced a Doctor.

Marvin lifted his head and thanked the Gods above for this help.  He felt the tears slip down his cheeks and he reached up a dirty finger and wiped them away.

” Johnny, Johnny wake up!  I found a Doctor.  Johnny you’re gonna be okay now.”

He jumped from the wagon seat and knocked on the door.  An older man with glasses answered.

” I got me a sick man in the wagon Doc.  Can you help him?”

The older man walked to the wagon and looked into the back of the wagon.  His eyes widened and he quietly said,

” Oh my Lord!  Johnny!  Help me to get him into my office.”

Marvin and the Doctor got Johnny into the office with little or no trouble.  Marvin thought it went a lot easier with two people than with just him.

When the Doctor began to examine Johnny, his eyes opened to mere slits.  Johnny’s lips slowly lifted to a small smile and he very softly said,

” Hey Doc, long time.”

” Johnny, you sure are lucky I’m here.  I was getting ready to go to San Francisco to my daughter’s wedding.  Well, let’s see what you did to yourself this time, shall we.”

Marvin leaned against the door and he said,

” You know who this is Doc?”

” Sure do young man.  This is Murdoch Lancer,’s youngest son Johnny.  Been hearing he’s been missing for almost seven months.  You know anything about that Son?”

Marvin’s head lowered and he quietly said,

” Some men kidnapped him, they whipped him Doc.  I been trying to help him.  They left us alone in the cabin and I been trying to get help.”

The Doctor turned kind eyes towards the young man.  He knew when someone was being honest, and this young man was.

The Doc’s soft words eased Marvin’s heart as he said,

” You found him help.  You look like you could use some food and sleep.  Go into the living quarters and tell my housekeeper, Mrs Hanson, that I said to give you something to eat and then to find you a bed to catch some sleep.”

Marvin’s face broke into a grin and he quietly said,

” Is there anyplace I can put the wagon and the horses, until Johnny is well enough?”

Smiling, Doctor Evans said,

” Out back there is a sturdy barn.  You can store the wagon inside and put the horses in the stalls. There is hay and oats for them too.  Then you go find Mrs. Hanson, and get something to eat and then to bed young man.”

After Marvin left the examination room, Doctor Evans turned to Johnny and quietly said,

” Now let’s see to you Johnny my boy.” And he started to examine Johnny.

(Chapter 4)

Two hours later, as the Doctor was cleaning up the examination room, Johnny Lancer’s sapphire eyes opened, very slowly.  It took him about three minutes or so to figure out where he was, and he seemed to melt in relief into the bed he was on.

Johnny heard the Doctor over by his desk and he very softly said,

” Hey Doc, can I get some water.  I feel like I have half the desert in my mouth.”

Doctor Evans turned, with a grin on his lips.  He walked towards the bed and picked up a glass and poured some water into it.  He reached over and helped Johnny to pick up his head.  He took a few sips and then moved his head back to the pillow.

” How you feeling Johnny?  I know it’s a waste of breath, you need anything for pain?”

Johnny’s deep sapphire eyes landed on Doctor Evan’s light brown eyes and he smiled softly.

” Oh Doc, you know better than that, I’m fine.”

Doctor Evans saw the level of pain swirling in those blue eyes, and knew Johnny was masking the pain again.  He wasn’t as good at it as he used to be, because the old wise Doctor could tell Johnny hurt…..a lot.

” I cleaned your back out as best as I could Johnny.  You have deeper infections happening with your back.  I’m going to give you a couple days to rest up and then I will clean them really well.  And Johnny, despite your adamant ‘no’, you will be given morphine for that.  I can’t have you moving around if I want to get all of this infection out.  You understand?”

Johnny tried to lay a Madrid glare on the Doc, but he broke the stare himself.  As the smile came to the Doctor’s lips, Johnny softly said,

” Yes, I understand.  Don’t like it, but I understand.”

” Good.  Now get a little sleep.  I’m going to check on that young man who brought you here.  He was bordering on starvation and exhaustion.”  He patted Johnny’s leg under the sheet and before he even got out of the room, Johnny’s eyes were closing.

The Doc went to a room in the little apartment behind his office.  He walked into the room and saw Marvin asleep in the bed.  Well, more out of the bed than in it!  His legs were hanging over the edge and he had a plate with a few pieces  of the crust of a sandwich left.

Doc Evans chuckled softly and walked to the bed.  He took the plate off Marvin’s belly and put it on a table next to the bed.

Then he reached for Marvin’s boots and took them off and put them on the floor.  Then he lifted each leg carefully so as not to wake the sleeping youth.  He gently laid his legs on the mattress and slid a cover over him.  He picked up the plate and left the room, going to the tiny kitchen.  He laid the plate on the counter and poured a cup of coffee and sat at the table.

Doctor Evans began to think of where Johnny could have been all this time, and to come to his tiny office in such bad condition.  There wasn’t even any way to send a telegram to Murdoch that his son was here and safe.

He was so into the questions in his head, he didn’t hear the knocking on his back door at first.  Finally, he got up and went to the door and saw the Sheriff standing on his little back porch.

” Evening William.  What can I do for you this fine night?”

The Sheriff walked into the room and said,

” I got some interesting things in the mail pouch this morning.  From my friend Val Crawford, he’s the Sheriff in Green River now.  Seems someone very important is missing and to be on the lookout. “

” Wouldn’t be about Johnny Lancer, would it William?”

The Sheriff’s mouth opened and his eyes grew big.

 “How did you know that Doc?!”

Doc smiled and quietly said,

” Because he came here about four hours ago, more dead than alive.  He’s sleeping now and I have a lot of work ahead of me to keep him alive.”

” Wow, according to the flyer I got, he’s been gone for almost six months.  Wish there was some way to contact his family.  I’m sure they will be relieved to hear he’s alive.”

They moved into the tiny kitchen, and Doc poured a cup of coffee for the Sheriff and they drank and talked.

In the San Joaquin valley, Murdoch, the Deputy and a few Lancer ranch hands were galloping into town and headed right to the hotel.

They walked in and the Deputy’s partner said Harlan was still in his room.  Murdoch took a deep breath to calm down and then almost barreled up the stairs.  He all but pounded on the door and waited.

When the door was opened, there stood Harlan Garrett, all smiles.  That is, until he saw Murdoch Lancer standing there.

” Expecting someone else Harlan?  Maybe to pay off the guy who took a shot at me!  Well, he’s in the jail and he’s told the Deputy here everything.”

The Deputy came into Harlan’s room and said,

” You are under arrest Mr Garrett, for the attempt on Mr Lancers life.  Please put your hands behind your back Sir.”

Murdoch sighed happily at hearing the sound of the handcuffs closing that the Deputy had just put on Harlan’s wrists.

As Harlan was being taken out of the room to head to the jail, Murdoch put his large hand on his arm and stopped him.

He leaned close to Harlan and said, in soft, deadly sounding voice,

” You better hope like hell that Johnny is alright.  And that my other son finds him soon.  Or I’ll have the Deputy charge you with murdering my son.”

Murdoch grinned very evilly as he watched Harlan’s eyes get big and watery.

” My Scotty will never let you treat me this way Murdoch!  You’ll see!  He’ll leave you just as I’ve wanted!  He should be back in Boston, where he belongs!”

Murdoch zoned his ranting out and smiling in delight as the Deputy physically escorted him down the stairs, saying,

” We have the King’s cell waiting for you Mr Garrett.  I’m sure you will be just fine waiting for the circuit judge.  I’m sorry to say that won’t be for a month or so.”

After Harlan was gone, Murdoch started to look around the room, for anything pertaining to his missing son.  Just short of blowing the room apart with dynamite, Murdoch didn’t find anything.  Dejectedly, he left the room.

By the time he got to the jail, Harlan was ensconced in his jail cell, looking rather flushed from loudly proclaiming his innocence and he wanted out.

Murdoch walked up to the cell bars and with a gleeful grin on his face, he said to Harlan,

” Well, I’m so glad you are finally in jail, where you can’t do any more harm to my sons.  Soon, Scott will find Johnny, and together they will learn what is going on.  And then, you will lose your precious ‘ Scotty’ forever! “

Harlan glared at Murdoch and he sat on the tiny cot.  He had to get out of here before his grandson came back here.  He turned around and saw the man he’d hired to take out Murdoch Lancer.  Doug Lawson was sleeping on the other cot in the other cell.  He wasn’t gonna say anything to Harlan Garrett.  He was in jail facing attempted murder charges.

Harlan’s mind was busy attacking him.  ‘ If you had been better with that rifle, no one would even know I was here.’

Scott and Val were nine days out of Green River, and Val pointed to a small clump of buildings.  The men all pointed their very tired horses in that direction.

As they rode, Val talked about the tiny town.  Scott was very intrigued.

” It’s called Peterson’s Town.  Don’t know why, never heard of no one named Peterson ever living there before.  It’s just a clump of buildings, mercantile store, a saloon, hotel, Sheriff and jail and a Doctor.  Maybe eight families.  Nothing ever happens, it’s a nice quiet town.  I sent a flyer by post to the Sheriff.  Maybe he’s heard about Johnny.  In any event, we can rest up a bit in the hotel and give the horses a break.”

About an hour and a half later, they rode into town.  When they all got to the jail, every man dismounted and tied their horses to the railings.

Val and Scott opened the door, and saw the Sheriff sitting at his desk.  A big grin came to both faces of the law men.

” How the hell ya been Val?  What brings you out here, that flyer you sent out that I only got in yesterday’s mail pouch?!”

” Yep, that’s why we’re here Bill.  Oh, this is Johnny’s brother Scott.  We been riding for almost ten days now.  Thought we’d stop in here and rest up a couple days.”

The Sheriff shook hands with Scott and he tilted the chair back on two legs, and Scott thought to himself, ‘ I guess all Sheriffs do that.’

” Have you heard or know of anything having to do with my brother Sheriff?  He’s been missing a long time.”

The two front legs of the chair came down, and the Sheriff’s face broke out in a grin.

” Funny you should ask!  The Doc has him over in his office, he’s pretty sick.  And the way Doc says, a kid drove him in a wagon for almost a week to get him help.  Doc’s place is three doors down.  Go on, I’m sure you’re anxious to see your brother.”

Scott turned and raced out the door.  He got to the Doc’s office and flew thru the door.  He was just gonna yell out for the Doctor, and he came out of the back room.

His face broke out into a grin the size of Arizona and said,

” Well, I’ll be!  Scott Lancer!  Have I got a surprise for you my boy!”

Scott just stood there, like a statue.  The Doc reached for his arm, and almost had to pull him along to the back room.

When they got to the room, Scott stopped.  His heart pounding in his chest as he saw his little brother on the small cot.  Scott saw the white gauze bandages all around his chest, and he walked slowly to the side of the cot.

Scott reached his hand out and gently brushed Johnny’s raven black hair from his face.  The Doc could tell that Scott had a rare relationship with his brother, and it warmed the old physician’s heart to see it.

As Scott lifted his hand from Johnny’s soft hair, the sapphire eyes that Scott had been longing to see, slowly opened.  There was a sparkle in them, but Scott figured it was the fever.

Softly, Scott said,

” Hey little Brother.  I see you got into a jam again.  Can’t let you out of my sight can I ?”

Johnny’s lips curled up into a smile and he quietly said,

” About time you found me Boston.  I was beginning to think you never would.”

” Never little Brother,  I’d look for you forever if I had to.”

Scott started to walk out of the room, and Johnny reached for his arm.  Scott felt the vice like grip on his wrist and Johnny’s soft words,

” Don’t go too far Boston.”

” I won’t Johnny, I won’t.”

As Scott watched, Johnny’s eyes slowly closed and he had a gentle smile on his lips.

Scott joined the Doc in the small kitchen and he asked,

” How long has he been here?”

” He came last night.  A young man was driving the wagon, and he was pretty exhausted too.  He’s been sleeping since he got Johnny here.”

Scott held his coffee cup in both hands on the table and then said, very softly,

” How bad is my Brother, really?”

Doc looked at Scott and he said,

” He’s got infections everywhere Scott.  He didn’t have any kind of medical help where he was being held.  That boy, Marvin, tried to keep the wounds clean, but all he had to work with was water and soap.  He said the ‘ Boss’ was supposed to show up two days after Marvin started to care for Johnny.  Never did find out who it was, although Marvin did say he was some hotshot from back East.”

” Back East?  He say where back East?”

” No, sorry Scott, he didn’t.”

Scott looked out the back window into the little yard the Doc had.  It was quiet and peaceful, and he thought of the flower gardens back at Lancer.

” Doc, how soon can I take my Brother home?”

Doc thought for a minute and then he said, ” If I can get that infection down a bit, maybe two or three days.”

Scott stood up and told Doc he’d be back in a bit, he was going to see to the men with him and take care of the horses.  Scott went out and told Val and the others what was happening.  

You could see the relief on Val’s face as he heard that Johnny was okay.  They all took their horses to the building that was kind of like a livery. Scott took care of Charlie and Barranca.  

As he brushed Barranca out, he told him that Johnny was fine and they’d be going home soon.  For an answer, Scott got a headbutt from the golden horse.  He could tell he was happy his owner had been found.

Val found him in the barn like building, brushing Barranca.  He had a piece of straw in his mouth, like Johnny does so often.

” So he’s gonna be okay?”

” Yes.  Doc wants to make sure the infections are under control to make it back to Morro Coyo, so Sam can take care of them.”

Val came into the barn and sat on a hay bale and said,

” How long until we can go home?”

Scott smiled and said,

” Worried about your Deputy?”

” Hell no, worried he might like being in charge!”

They both laughed and Scott told him maybe two or three days.  Scott resumed brushing Barranca and poured a ration of oats in a bucket and made sure there was cool water for the horses to drink.  Then they left to go get rooms at the hotel.

The old lady behind the counter was tickled pink her tiny hotel was filled with the men who just came into town.  She positively beamed as she told the cook, her husband, they had a full house for dinner.

While Val and Scott were finishing up their meal, Murdoch was having dinner with Sam in the Doctor’s tiny house.

” You should have heard him Sam, sputtering and declaring Scott would not let him be treated like this.  Oh, it was such a good feeling to see that vile creature finally locked up.”

Sam watched Murdoch’s face, and he saw the sparkle come back into his pale blue eyes, and he smiled at his old friend.

” Now, if we could hear something from Scott about Johnny.  That would be a real reason to celebrate.”

Murdoch got quiet and softly said,

” I know Sam.  Johnny has been gone so long. I hope he’s alright and Scott will find him.  The only clue they have is the red clay that was on Barranca’s legs.  I hope it’s a good clue Sam.  It’s way to quiet at Lancer.”

After their dinner was over, Murdoch was heading to his horse to head home to Lancer.  He’d sent the men with him back to the ranch after Harlan was put in jail.

As he passed the jail on the way out of town, with delightful glee, Murdoch raised his right hand in a sort of wave.

” Enjoy your evening  Harlan.  I’d get used to bars.”

If anyone had been out on the walkways, they would have heard the big man chuckling to himself.  A sound that had been missing from the man who rode a bit taller out of town.

Scott and Val went to check on Johnny.  After Val ascertained that his Pal was okay, he left the brothers.

Johnny was still very tired, so Scott was not going to stay long.  He just wanted to spend time with his little brother.  Almost eight months without seeing his brother had been a lot for Scott to handle.  But now he wasn’t going to let him out of his sight again.  Well, for awhile, after they got home to Lancer.

” Are you gonna be here tomorrow Boston?”

Johnny’s voice was so soft, he almost didn’t hear the question.  He saw an almost pleading look in those sapphire eyes and he smiled gently at his little brother.

” Sure, if you want me to be here.  Why, what’s going on?”

Johnny got quiet and he said, very softly, as if afraid to even say the words.

” Doc, wants to really clean out these wounds.”

He lowered his eyes and continued,

” And he’s gonna give me a shot of morphine.”

Scott smiled and reached his hand out and cupped his brother’s chin and lifted his head up.  Looking into Johnny’s deep blue eyes, Scott said,

” If you want me here, I’ll be here to watch your back little Brother.”

Scott watched as Johnny physically relaxed into the bed and his eyes closed slowly.  Scott noticed a crystal tear forming in the corner of his eye, but he ignored it.  When he released Johnny’s chin, his brother quickly wiped it away.

They talked about what had been happening that long period of time he was gone.  Right in the middle, Johnny got quiet and turned to look out a small window.

” Johnny?”

” They beat Barranca, with a whip, Boston.  I saw the bloody lines on his face and his body.  When they whipped me, I fell to the floor to escape it.  The next time I looked, Barranca was gone and the rope looked like it was frayed and broke.  I know he got away, but I don’t know where he is and if he would try to get home.  He must have gotten lost or attacked or something.”

Johnny’s eyes closed as tears were really threatening to fall.  He took a small shuddering breath.

Scott gently brushed his black shaggy bangs away from his expressive blue eyes, he leaned over and softly whispered to his distraught little brother.

” Barranca is fine Johnny.  He made it home to Lancer.  Val saw the red clay dust on his legs and we headed this way.”

Johnny’s eyes slowly opened, the dark blue eyes glistening with unshed tears, and looked at Scott.

” He’s alive?”

” He’s in a barn down the road waiting for you to get better so we all can go home.”

Johnny’s breath released from his lips in a soft whisper.  The smile that came to his lips said it all to Scott.

(Chapter 5)

Finding out his beloved horse was alive seemed to have a wonderful effect on Johnny.  He resolved to do whatever he could to get home.

When Doc came the next morning to clean out the wounds on his back, Johnny reached for Scott’s hand and held on tight.

As the needle pricked his arm, Scott felt Johnny tensing his whole body.  Even after Johnny relaxed into the drug induced sleep, he still held firmly to Scott’s hand.

Scott watched Doc, as he cleaned the wounds thoroughly with carbolic.  The scars would always be with Johnny, and he hoped his little brother could adapt to them being very pronounced.  He knew, however, with time they would disappear.  Scott thought about the scars on his own back.  He closed his eyes for a minute, vowing to help Johnny accept them.

When Doc was done, Scott helped him to wrap clean gauze around Johnny’s torso and gently laid his little brother back against the pillows.  He was still holding Johnny’s hand.

Doc took all his supplies out of the tiny room and went to check on his other patient.  He figured three days of sleep was enough for Marvin.  Now, he needed to wake the boy and get some food and water into his body.

As Doc walked into the small bedroom, he saw a tiny youth sitting on the side of the bed.  There was a confused look on his face and a softly whispered question slid out of his mouth.

” Is Johnny okay Doc?”

Doc Evans chuckled and said, ” That the first thing that came to your mind to ask me Marvin?  Johnny is just fine, the infections are cleaned out, his brother is here and they are ready to go home any day now.”

The smile that graced Martin’s lips was a lovely sight to the old Doctor.

” I’m glad he’s okay.  I prayed every day that I could get him help.  Thanks Doc.”

” For what young man?”

” For helping Johnny when I couldn’t.”

” It’s quite alright my boy, that’s why I became a Doctor so I could help people who needed my help.”

Marvin got quiet and then said, a little bit more animated.

” Hey Doc, can I go and get something to eat?  I’m real hungry!”

Doc laughed and Marvin smiled.

” Yea, I imagine you are hungry.  Come on, let’s go see what my housekeeper made for lunch.”

He helped the kid off the bed and together they went to the kitchen.  Doc found a plate of sandwiches and a pitcher of lemonade on the table.

As they sat down, Marvin was drooling as he took one of the sandwiches and began to eat.  His eyes closed and he enjoyed the meal immensely. Although he had to slow down a bit, when Doc said he might get sick if he ate to fast.  Marvin’s eyes had spied a huge chocolate cake on the sideboard and he definitely wanted a piece of that, so he did what Doc told him.

As Doc and Marvin were finishing up their meal, Murdoch was just coming into the kitchen of Lancer.  Maria set his coffee and a plate with two huge beef sandwiches in front of him.

She noticed the smile on his face and quietly ventured a question.

” Patron, was what the Deputy showed you in town good news then?”

Murdoch put his sandwich down and turned to face her.  With a sparkle in his pale blue eyes, he told her about finding Scott’s grandfather in town and how the Deputy locked him up in jail.  

” He’s charged with attempted murder.”

” Jail Patron for attempted murder?”

” Oh yes Maria, and he will remain there until the judge comes thru the area.”

She watched as he all but wolfed down his meal, and then walked with a lighter step to the Great Room.  He set his coffee cup down on the side of his desk and spun the chair to look out the huge window behind him.

” Now, if my boys would only come home.  This would be a great day.”

Murdoch sighed and turned back around and opened up the ledger and began to enter the receipts that had piled up after he’d been shot.

As the great man began to work, the quietness of the hacienda began to anger him all over again.

” Damn that man!  I hope he rots in hell!”

Maria appeared at the kitchen door as she heard the Patron’s roar.  She held her small towel to her chest, as a shield.

” Patron?”

Murdoch looked up and saw his housekeeper standing at the door, obviously worried.

” It’s okay Maria, I just was condemning Harlan Garrett again.  I’m fine, go back to your kitchen.”

She smiled nervously and returned to her kitchen.  Murdoch thought to himself how no one but Harlan Garrett could take his good feelings and turn them into a pile of rubbish with one thought.

Soon the receipts were entered, and Murdoch felt he needed to be around some people.  He left the Great Room and opened the front door.  He walked to the big corral and saw a new ranch hand attempting to break a very scared chestnut mare, who was very obviously with foal.

This angered Murdoch and he bellowed at the ranch hand to stop. The man slowly turned towards the Boss and said, with a very arrogant voice,

” I got me some work to do Lancer.”

” Cipriano! “

Murdoch’s voice bellowed for his foreman.  The huge man came from a smaller barn, where he was tending to one of the horses.

” Si Patron.”

Cipriano stopped when he saw the man in the corral with the obviously stressed animal.  He barreled thru the gate and physically took the rope the man held and gently pulled the mare away from him.

” What the hell are you doing?!  That’s the way I work.  Break the spirit and you get a better horse.”

” I told all the ranch hands no one was to touch this animal.  She belongs to my son.  Get your pay and your things, and leave my ranch at once.  I ever see you on Lancer land, and I won’t be responsible for what happens to you!”

The man started to take a menacing step towards Murdoch, and about fifteen guns suddenly cocked to life.

” I think not Mister.  Now you were told to leave.  I strongly think you should.”

” I got money coming for my wages, I want it.”

Murdoch reached into his pocket and pulled out some money.  He took the amount needed to pay the man, and threw it to the ground.

” Now leave!”

The man didn’t take his eyes off Murdock, as he reached for the few dollars for his pay.

” Job kinda blew anyway.  I was looking to call out Madrid, but I see he still ain’t come back from wherever he is hiding.”

Murdoch felt his hands balling into fists, and it took a lot of willpower to not just slug the man.  But he simply turned and walked to the house.  So much for being around people.

As he heard the man leaving his ranch, he said to Cipriano,

” Put her in the large barn by Remmie.  He will calm her down.”

He opened the front door and then almost slammed it shut.  He leaned against the door, closed his eyes and said, to himself.

” How I wish my boys would come home.  I miss them so much.”

A huge sigh slid from his lips and he walked to his desk and sat down.  He stared out the huge windows for a long time, until Maria announced dinner was ready.  He wearily got up and walked to the kitchen.

After Marvin ate his promised piece of chocolate cake and glass of milk, he asked Doc if he could go see how Johnny was.

” Well, he’s still sleeping Son, but I think his brother Scott would like to talk to you.  I’ll have him meet you out in my gardens.  He expressed a desire to go there before.”

Marvin slowly walked outside and he saw beautiful flowers everywhere.  He was just bending to smell one very pretty colorful bloom, and the back door gently shut.

He turned around and saw a rather tall, thin blonde man walking towards him with a small smile on his face.  He held his hand out and as Marvin shook his hand, Scott softly said,  

” Thank you for all that you did for my little Brother.  I thought I’d never see him again.  I’m so glad you took the chance and left with him to get help.”

Scott’s smile broadened and his silver blue eyes sparkled a bit as the sun hit them.  That caused Marvin to smile too.

” I didn’t know what else to do.  I had to get him help, because no one else was going to.  They all rode off and left me alone with Johnny.”

” You did the right thing and I’m grateful I still have my Brother.”

Marvin kicked at a couple rocks and he said, very quietly,

” Can I see Johnny?  Just want to make sure he’s really gonna be okay.”

” He’s sleeping right now, but when he wakes up, I’ll tell him you want to visit.  He’ll like that.”

Scott left soon after that to see to his brother, and Marvin walked around the yard.  Never had he seen such beauty in a dusty little cow town.

Marvin hummed softly as he wandered around the gardens.  He was glad he got Johnny away from Salazar and the one called ‘ The Boss’.  He was glad his brother was here.  Johnny needed his family around him.

As Marvin was walking in among the flowers, a scruffy looking man soon joined him.  At first Marvin was nervous, but the man quietly said, ” I heard what ya did for my Pal.  Just wanted to say thanks.”

” Couldn’t let him die.  His family had to know where he was and what happened to him.  I don’t know why they picked on Johnny Lancer, but Salazar wanted to really hurt him.”

Val looked at the young man and said, ” Don’t you know why?  Don’t you know who Johnny Lancer really is?”

Marvin looked at Val with a very confused look.  

” No, who is he?”

” He’s Johnny Madrid.  And the Boss who is after him is Scott’s Grandfather, Harlan Garrett.  Trust me, I would love to wrap my hands around his throat.  I’m guessing he was the one who shot Johnny and Scott’s Pa and the one who damn near killed my best friend.”

Marvin looked at Val like he was a crazy man.  Johnny Madrid!  He heard that Madrid had died in Mexico years before.

He turned and ran into the little building that was the Doctor’s office.  He ran until he came to the door that was where Johnny was being treated.

As the door flew open, Marvin saw Scott sitting in a chair, gently wiping the sweat from Johnny’s face with a wet cloth.

Sapphire eyes locked on Marvin and he smiled, shyly at the young man.

” Thanks for what you did Marvin, I owe you my life.”

Marvin slowly walked to the side of the bed and softly said,  

” Are you really Johnny Madrid?”

Johnny’s eyes lowered and then his head followed.  A quiet soft voice said, ” Yea, I am Marvin.  Does it make you sorry you saved me?”

As Marvin moved closer, he said, stronger than he felt, ” You were the only friend I had in that ghost village.  I had to save you Johnny.  I just wish you had told me before.”

Johnny lifted his eyes to lock onto Marvin.  A slow smile came to Johnny’s lips and he said, very softly,

” A friend?  I was your friend?”

Scott and Johnny exchanged looks and as one brother smiled, the other one smiled as well.

” You have a job at Lancer, if you want one Marvin.”

His eyes got big and a slow smile started to come to his face.  You could see he was excited about having a job.  Marvin bit his bottom lip, which reminded Scott of a friend’s little brother being caught doing something he shouldn’t have.

” Yes, you have a job Marvin.  It’s back breaking, but you’ll have a good home, never go hungry and ………..”

” And I’ll still be able to be your friend.”

Johnny’s smile lit up his beautiful sapphire eyes and he softly said,

 ” Yep, and you still can be my friend.”

Marvin and Johnny both kind of chuckled.  Scott looked at his little brother, like he’d lost his mind just then.  It shocked him that his brother would welcome a stranger into his space as a friend.

The day for leaving for Lancer was fast approaching, and Marvin was told to make the wagon up for Johnny to travel in.  Of course, Johnny had other ideas.  Especially after his brother and Val helped him to walk to the barn, where his beloved horse was.

Johnny almost ran to the stall as he watched the beautiful Palomino dance before his eyes.

Johnny wrapped his arms around the warm golden neck, and the tears of joy slowly ran onto the golden hide.

” Oh Barranca, I thought I’d lost you forever!  You really are here Boy!?”

Barranca laid his huge head on Johnny’s shoulder and actually pulled the dark haired man even closer.  A soft puff of air could be heard coming from the big horse.  He’d found his Master and he was alive.

Scott and Val quietly watched the interaction between Johnny and Barranca.  Scott finally knew what drove the horse to find his way home.  His love for Johnny.

” Going home Pal.  Soon, we’ll see Lancer.”

A soft whinny could be heard and then he lifted his head off Johnny’s shoulder and shook his white mane everywhere, causing Johnny to softly laugh.

Scott saw that his brother was tiring and they all went back to the Doctor’s little house.  Doc wasn’t very happy when he checked Johnny’s back, and saw that some of the wounds had opened again and were bleeding.

Doc began to rebandage Johnny’s torso and said, ” A little bit of bleeding Johnny, nothing to worry about.”

” I can still leave tomorrow, right Doc?”

Scott, even Val, saw the hope swimming in his deep blue eyes.  Scott held his breath, waiting for Doc’s answer.

When Doc said that Johnny was okay to go home, Scott opened his silver blue eyes and blew the breath he’d been holding out slowly.

After Doc left, he recommended that Johnny rest for a bit before dinner.  He was relieved when he did, with no arguing.  Usually Johnny would raise very vocal objections that he wasn’t tired.

While Johnny was resting, his dreams filled with thoughts of home, his father, all the things he had missed since he had been taken.

Murdoch was busy riding into Morro Coyo.  He was going to get the truth from Garrett.  He should be ready to talk after being in jail for three days.  He rode at a smooth easy gait, no reason to rush, the old weasel wasn’t going anywhere.

When he got to the jail, he tied his horse to the railing and opened the door.  He saw the Deputy sitting at the desk, looking at some wanted posters.  He smiled when he saw Murdoch coming in.

” Hello Mr Lancer.  Come to visit my wonderful tenant?!”

Murdoch sort of smiled and said,

” Yea, I’m hoping he is a little more talkative now.”

” He hasn’t said a word.  Just sits on that cot, staring at the cell door.”

” Well, let’s see if I can open his mouth a bit.”

Murdoch went thru the big metal door to the back where the cells were.

Murdoch stood in front of the door and just smiled that kind of smile that tells Harlan Garrett he’s nothing now.  The big man watched as he slowly turned his eyes to him.  You could see the venom flowing in his eyes.

” I want to know where my son is and what you did to him, and I want to know now Harlan!”

Harlan looked at Murdoch and he slowly laughed, until it became a loud raucous laugh.

” I’ll never tell you anything!”

” Well, just think Harlan, your precious ‘ Scotty’ is out there too, looking for his brother.  If they both are lost, you lose him also.”

Murdoch could see Harlan was thinking it thru.  Finally, he said,

” They were keeping him about two hundred miles away. They were waiting for my arrival three days ago.  They were told if I didn’t show up, to kill Madrid.  He’s probably buzzard meat by now.”

Thank God there were bars between Garrett and himself, because Murdoch was about ready to kill the man.  His pale blue eyes were suddenly sparking fire.

” Good thing you are in that cell Garrett.”

Murdoch turned and walked back to the front office.  The Deputy saw how agitated the big man was.  He too was kind of grateful there were bars holding Garrett safe, because he really didn’t want to have to arrest Murdoch Lancer for murder.

” If he decides to say anything else, I’ll be over at Sam’s.”

He walked from the jail and headed to the Doctor’s office.  His belly, heart and mind filled with hatred for Scott’s Grandfather.

 (Chapter 6)

Johnny, Scott, Val and even Marvin all ate breakfast in Johnny’s small room.  Scott and Val couldn’t believe the amount of food that Johnny and even Marvin consumed.

Marvin smiled shyly when he saw them watching him.  Softly he said,

” Well, I’m a growing boy. “

That caused everyone to laugh.  Scott shot a quick look to his brother.  He saw the smile and the spark of fun and life in his sapphire eyes.  It wouldn’t be long until he’d see his little brother galloping across the fields of green at Lancer, on his beloved golden horse.  Scott’s chest became lighter with those thoughts.

Doc came in to say goodbye to the Lancer Brothers, saying to say hello to their father for him.  He handed Scott a sack of extra gauze bandages, a cream to put on the wounds to soften the edges and a bottle of laudanum.

” He will need it on the trip Scott.”

Scott turned to his brother and he saw that determined look in Johnny’s eyes.  No, he didn’t think he would, but took it anyway.

What was going to be a fight, was having Johnny getting in the back of the wagon all the way to Lancer.

When everyone went out the front door and Johnny saw Barranca tied to the back of the wagon, along with Scott’s horse Charlie, he only bawked for about ten seconds.  Then he got help to get up into the back of the wagon and slid up to the mattresses.  He didn’t look happy, but he didn’t start to voice his opinion of why couldn’t he ride.  For now he was quiet.

Scott and Marvin climbed up into the seat, and Scott saw Val and the Lancer hands all mounted and ready to go home.  Scott slid the bag that Doc gave him under the seat, picked up the reins and released the brake.  They began their journey home.

As they traveled, Scott turned around and saw that Johnny was asleep.  He smiled softly.  He knew that Doc had put some sleeping powders in Johnny’s coffee at breakfast.  He was glad that Johnny was sleeping.  It wouldn’t bother his back at the beginning of this journey.

About three hours into their journey, Johnny began to cry out in Spanish.  Scott stopped the wagon, reached under the seat for that bag and jumped into the back of the wagon.

Scott gently woke Johnny and when he opened his eyes, they were a bit unfocused.  Johnny rubbed his face and then said softly,

” I knew it!”

Scott sat back on his heels and said, a bit confused.

” Knew what Johnny?”

He tried to give his brother his patented Madrid glare, and then he saw Scott smiling, so he turned it off.

” Doc, he put something in my coffee, didn’t he?”

The soft sigh from Scott signaled to Johnny he was correct.  Scott handed his brother a canteen and as he drank, Scott did confirm that Doc did put sleeping powders in his coffee.

” He just wanted to make sure that you got a bit of sleep Brother.  This is gonna be rough on you, he just thought to help.”

Johnny locked his sapphire eyes on Scott’s silver blue eyes.  As they held the stare, a slow easy smile started on Johnny’s face.  Soon, Scott’s smile was sliding onto his face.  Scott reached up and ruffled his little brother’s soft silky black hair.

” Rest until we stop for lunch.  Val says there’s a town up ahead, we can get something to eat.”

Murdoch had stomped his way to Sam’s office.  He walked in and the bell rang noisily.

” Sam!”

Sam knew that bellow.  Murdoch Lancer was aggravated about something.  He rushed from the back room, seeing his friend pacing his waiting room like a caged lion.

” Murdoch.  Okay what’s wrong?”

He turned to lay a hard glare at his oldest friend and said, a little calmer, but still aggravated.

” Just came from the jail.  It’s a good thing there were bars separating Harlan and me.  Because I wanted to put my hands around his neck and just squeeze!”

Sam reached for Murdoch’s large forearm, and pulled him into the tiny kitchen.

Sam pushed him down into a kitchen chair with one word sliding from his lips.

” Sit!”

He poured two cups of coffee, pushed one in front of his huge friend and sat in the other kitchen chair.

After Murdoch took a few sips, Sam slowly ventured a question to find out why Murdoch was so aggravated.

” Okay Murdoch, what did he say or do this time?”

Murdoch took a deep breath and said, ” He told me he ordered some men who took Johnny, to keep him in a ghost town two hundred miles away.  He also told them that if he wasn’t there, which was the day he was arrested, to kill my son.  He had a look of glee on his face when he said that my son, my beautiful Johnny, was buzzards meat.”

Sam sat very quiet and watched his friend deflate in the chair.  It suddenly hit Sam, like a bolt of lightning.  Murdoch was afraid of losing his son, of never seeing him again

” Murdoch, you’re afraid of never seeing Johnny again, aren’t you?! “

Murdoch’s pale blue eyes glistened with his unshed tears, and he looked at Sam.  He saw his friend, someone who wouldn’t condemn him for how he felt about his youngest son.

” Yes, I am Sam.  He’s been gone for so long now, and what Harlan said about him being buzzards meat well, I’m glad there were bars between us. “

Sam smiled and said, ” You know that Scott and Val will find him, don’t you?  They won’t stop until Johnny is home.”

Murdoch sighed and he softly said, ” Yes, I know that.  I just wish I’d see them coming under the arch at Lancer.  Scott and Val have been gone for almost a month now.”

Sam was quietly drinking his coffee and listening to his friend.  For the first time ever, Murdoch Lancer is having to face the truth.  He genuinely loves Johnny.

Sam got up and went to the cupboard and took a plate of sandwiches out.  He put them on the small table and together, Sam and Murdoch, ate their lunch.

As Sam ate, he thought how it was easy for Murdoch to come to conclusions so easy with just talking to him.  Sam knew the answers were inside the big man, he just had to find them.

While the old friends ate, Scott and the wagon with his injured brother and the others were just coming to the outskirts of a town.  As they rolled into town, Scott saw a cantina to eat and he headed the wagon that way.

The Lancer hands all dismounted and went off to their own diversions, heeding Scott’s warning they were heading out in two hours.  They all took the horses to the livery, which was huge and well kept.

Scott drove the wagon over there followed by Val.  They unhooked the horses from the wagon and untied Charlie and Barranca.  Scott told the owner to cool down their animals and they’d be back in roughly two hours.

Scott helped Johnny from the wagon, waiting by his side until he was steady.  Then the four men walked to the cantina.  As they walked in, Scott saw a couple of the men from Lancer waiting for food.

As Johnny sat down, Scott saw the wince as his butt landed, on the hard seat.

” You okay Brother?”

” Yea, except for this wooden chair.  I need a cushion to sit on.”

Johnny chuckled and Marvin followed suit.  He suddenly got up and ran from the cantina.  All three of the remaining men looked at each other and Scott shrugged his shoulders.

” Beats me.”

Johnny hoped Marvin came back to place his order, or he would be very hungry.

They saw him coming back and he had a small feather pillow that he slid behind Johnny’s back.  He leaned forward a bit and it slid under his butt.

The soft sigh that slid to Johnny’s lips was great.

” Thanks Marvin, now I can sit here without pain. “

Marvin blushed and said quietly, ” Just got a pillow for you Johnny.  No big deal.”

Johnny smiled at the young man and said, ” Yea, it was a big deal.”

Their meals came and as they ate, Val told them they should be at Lancer in about five more hours.

Johnny’s eyes sparkled and said to Scott, ” Boston, could I ride Barranca maybe the last mile before the arch?  I couldn’t bear it to be in that wagon.  Please.”

Sapphire eyes took on a pleading shine and a soft smile slid onto Johnny’s lips.  He looked at Scott and said one very soft word,

” Please.”

Scott looked at Val and his silver blue eyes closed.  He breathed in deeply and opened his eyes slowly.  He saw Val’s gentle nod and he turned to his brother.

” You can if you promise not to go any faster than a walk.  I don’t want you ripping those stitches out until Sam can see you.  Agreed?”

” I promise Boston.  Thanks.”

Johnny rested on the mattresses and he wanted to have enough strength to ride Barranca into the courtyard.  He felt it was something he had to do.

When they got to the outskirts of Morro Coyo, Scott told the hands they could either spend a bit of time in the saloon or go on back to the ranch.  The men opted to spend some time in the saloon, unwinding from their journey.

Val peeled off and headed to the jail.  Scott laughed and said,

 ” Hope your Deputy left you a few people to arrest yourself Val.”

Val frowned at Scott, and just before he turned away, Scott saw the easy smile come to his lips.

Scott, Marvin and Johnny kept going out of town, heading to Lancer.  Scott soon was telling Marvin all about Lancer and what to expect.  He told Marvin what it was like to work on a cattle ranch.  Marvin looked at Scott and quietly said, ” I’ll learn real fast Scott.  I’ll make you and Johnny proud of me.”

” I’m sure you will do fine Marvin.  You seem like an intelligent kid, someone who can learn fast.”

About two hours later, Scott was pulling the team to a halt.  He saw the look on Marvin’s face as Scott told him he was looking at Lancer.

” Wow, that’s a lot of land Scott, how do you keep track of it all?”

Scott laughed and said, ” I don’t know how Murdoch does it, but he seems to know how many cattle are on the ranch.”

Scott gave the reins to Marvin and he jumped from the wagon seat and landed on the ground.  He walked around the back of the wagon and reached for Barranca’s saddle and tack.  Once that was on Johnny’s horse, he gently woke his brother.

Johnny took a couple minutes to wake up fully and let Scott help him from the wagon bed.  He saw Barranca all saddled and waiting, and as he slowly walked to the golden horse, Scott stopped him.

Johnny turned confused sapphire eyes to his brother and was just going to say something and then stopped.

Scott smiled and lifted up his arm.  He was holding Johnny’s gun belt in his hand.

” I think you need this too Brother.”

Johnny smiled and reached for his gun belt.  As he slowly wrapped it around his waist, he pulled the buckle tight.  There was a momentary wince of pain, which Scott noticed.

” If it hurts too much take it off.  Don’t want you to start bleeding again.”

” No, it’s fine.  I do however, need a hand up to mount Barranca.”

Marvin saw a shy grin slip onto his lips and he dipped his head and looked up at his big brother.  Marvin held his breath and waited to see if Scott would indeed help his brother up into the saddle.

Scott smiled softly at his little brother and walked over to where he stood by Barranca’s side.  He made a cup with both hands and lowered it for his brother’s boot to fit in.  Then he lifted Johnny up into the saddle, making sure he was settled before he moved away.

” Thanks Boston.”

Scott smiled up at his brother, patted his lean but muscled thigh and said,

” Anytime Brother.  Remember your promise.  Keep Barranca to a walk.”

As he walked back to the front of the wagon, Scott thought to himself that Johnny had lost a lot of weight since he’d been taken.  Well, Maria would certainly fatten her Juanito up real fast.

Scott climbed up in the wagon and was going to take the reins from Marvin and stopped.  He looked at Marvin, and with a grin on his face, he said.

” Want to drive the wagon on into the courtyard?”

Marvin’s light brown eyes flashed and a huge smile covered his face.

” Really, I can Scott?!”

” Sure, just follow this roadway and go slow.  Wagons can gain speed real fast.”

Marvin got the team going and slowly the wagon began to move.  He noticed that Johnny was riding slowly on the side Scott was on.  He saw, even hurt, he noticed how Johnny almost became one with his horse.

About fifty minutes later, they were coming into the courtyard and suddenly there were lots of ranch hands spilling out of the bunkhouse and the barns.

The front door opened and Marvin saw a mountain of a man.  

The smile broke out on his face and he softly said, ” My boys are home.”

Scott jumped off the wagon and stood waiting for his father.  

Murdoch walked slowly towards Scott, afraid if he moved too fast, both boys would vanish.

Murdoch got in front of Scott and suddenly wrapped his arms around Scott and pulled him close.  His eyes closed and he softly said, ” Thank you for finding him and bringing him home.”

A few minutes passed, and the old man released Scott and turned to look at his dark haired son, sitting on top of his golden horse, wrists crossed over the pommel.  A slight smile graced Johnny’s face and he softly, very softly said, ” Hey Pa, I’m home.”

Murdoch’s smile began to grow as he walked to his young son.  Johnny’s grin was slowly growing as well.  He very carefully slid his right leg over the pommel of his saddle and very very carefully Johnny slid off his horse.  Murdoch steadied him as he did that.

After Johnny was steady on his feet, Murdoch wrapped his big arms around Johnny and pulled him close to his chest.  Johnny’s eyes closed and he seemed to relish the close contact with his father.

Scott saw the wince of pain as Murdoch’s arms laid on the wounds on his upper back.  He was gonna say something, but then Johnny’s sapphire eyes opened and locked on his brother.  Scott knew Johnny didn’t want him to say anything.  Johnny was content to take the little bit of pain to be in his father’s warm embrace.

After what seemed forever to Johnny, his father finally let him go.  Johnny lifted his eyes up and he saw tears forming in his father’s eyes.  Johnny slowly lifted his hand up and he gently wiped the silver tear sliding down his father’s weathered cheek.

Murdock looked at Johnny and the words, soft and with love, said,

” Welcome home Son.  I thought I’d never see you again.  I’m so glad your brother and Val found you and brought you home.  We have to talk, all three of us, about something real important.”

When the brothers agreed, Murdoch saw Marvin still sitting in the wagon.

Murdoch smiled and said, ” And who is this young man?”

Marvin stood up and jumped out of the wagon, held out his hand, and in his most grown up voice he said,

” My name is Marvin Newman.  I sort of tended to Johnny when he was sick.  Scott and Johnny said I could be a ranch hand here.  I’ll be a fast leaner Mr Lancer Sir.  I promise.”

Murdoch chuckled and Scott and Johnny smiled at Marvin.

” Well, my goodness, I think the young man means it.  Help with the horses and put them in their stalls.  Then look for a big man named Cipriano.  Tell him you are a new ranch hand, to give you a bunk and find some clothes for you to wear and to pick out a horse and tack.  You’ll have to take care of the horse yourself.  Check hooves and brush him every night after work is over.  Cipriano will tell you the rest of the rules.  Welcome to Lancer Mr Marvin Newman.”

Marvin took the team of horses and went towards the big barn, with another hand who took Charlie and Barranca.

Murdoch said to his sons, ” Come on, I have something I need to talk to you about, and I don’t think it can wait.”

As the Lancers went into the house, no one noticed the five men up on the hill above Lancer.  They were quietly watching their prize slipping thru their fingers.  Salazar turned his horse and he and the others rode to a wooded area to find a campsite for the next couple nights.

Murdoch and his boys went into the Great Room and he poured drinks for all of them.  When they had their drinks, Murdoch paced in front of his desk.  Scott sat in one of those matching chairs by the fireplace and Johnny slowly lowered his body to the couch.  Scott saw the pain was becoming worse, and he prayed that whatever their father was going to tell them, well he wished he’d hurry up so he could check his brother’s back.

Finally, Murdoch stopped his pacing and he leaned against his desk.  Scott watched as he took a huge breath.  Then he cleared his throat and he softly started to talk.

” Okay, there really isn’t anyway to sugarcoat what I have to say, so here goes.  The notes we kept getting began to weigh on my mind for a while.  When I started to figure out who was writing them, I had no one to tell.  Johnny, you had been gone so long, and Scott, you and Val were gone about a month.  Anyway, the Deputy that Val left in charge, came to the ranch about two weeks or so ago and said there was someone very interesting that was in town.  I asked him and he told me it was your Grandfather, Scott.  He’d been hiding out in the hotel for about two weeks.  So when the Deputy said he was being watched and wouldn’t I like to go see what he’s been up to.”

Murdoch looked at his sons, and Scott was now sitting on the edge of the chair and Johnny was now sitting up on the couch.  Neither son said anything and Murdoch continued.

” Anyway, I rode with the Deputy into town and we went up the stairs to his room.  He was obviously waiting for someone else and when he saw me at the door he got very nervous.  I told him about the man he’d hired to kill me and how he was in the jail.  And how the man had confirmed it was your Grandfather who had hired him.  Well, the Deputy arrested him and took him to jail.  I went a few days later to ask him where you were.  He said that he was supposed to meet up with the men who had Johnny on the day he was arrested.  Just before I left he told me that he’d left those men directions that if he didn’t meet them on the day he had been arrested, they were to kill you Johnny.  I prayed that you had found him Scott.”

Johnny was speechless, a feat that was mind boggling in itself.  Scott however, was beginning to breathe hard.

He jumped up from the chair and he walked around the Great Room, talking to himself.

” Unbelievable!  He takes my brother and for the past eight months I didn’t know if he was alive or dead, or even where he was.  He hires a sniper to shoot my father and he was on death’s door when we left to go find Johnny.  That’s it, I’m done!  I don’t care if he goes to prison or if they hang him, he’s nothing to me.  Nothing!”

Softly, Johnny said, ” Easy Boston.  I’m fine, Murdoch is okay too.”

” That’s not the point Johnny.  He’s hurt my family for the last time.  I am sick of him deciding my life for me.  He never accepted that I made up my mind that being in California with my father and my little brother was what I wanted.  He tried every nasty scheme to make me leave here.  Well, no more!”

Scott walked to the bar cart and poured another whiskey and took a sip and turned around.

” I’m gonna rest up today, have a nice meal with Johnny and you Sir.  Tomorrow I am taking a ride into town and finally have it out with him.  For the last time!”

(Chapter 7)

Dinner with his two sons was something Murdoch just didn’t want to end.  Maria was going to have a great time fattening her Juanito up.   She had already sliced him a good size piece of chocolate cake and a big glass of cold milk.

Instead of going to the Great Room to play a game of chess, Johnny and Scott opted for an early night.  After saying good night to their father, both brothers slowly climbed the stairs.

Going down the hall to their rooms, Johnny suddenly cried out.  Scott knew immediately what it was.  He propelled his brother into his room and sat him on the bed.

He lifted up Johnny’s shirt without unbuttoning it and saw the blood soaked bandages around his torso.

” Dammit!  I knew that was going to happen.  Okay relax Brother.  Let me go get some bandages.  Lie on your belly Johnny, be right back.”

Johnny laid on his belly and tears began to fall from his eyes.  

As Scott came back in, he saw that Johnny was in trouble.  He rushed to the bed and opened the little brown bottle he held.

” Take a sip Johnny.  Don’t argue!  Take a damn sip!”

Johnny turned on his hip and reached for the bottle.  He put his lips around the opening of the small bottle.  As he took the sip, Scott already had a glass of water already to go.

A small smile fell across Scott’s face as he saw the look come to Johnny’s face.

” Dios!  That shit is awful Boston!

” Yea it is Brother, but it works.”

A few minutes passed while Johnny waited for it to begin to take the edge off.  Then he slowly slid the shirt off his arms, and laid on his belly once again.

Scott cut the bandages and slowly peeled it off his brother’s back.  A small piece stuck to his skin, and as Scott pulled gently, Johnny sucked in his hiss as the pain got thru the laudanum.

Scott could feel the pain himself as he pulled the gauze away.  After he got the gauze all opened, he looked at Johnny’s back.

” What’s it look like Scott?  How bad is it?”

” It’s not too bad Johnny.  Let me clean up all the excess blood and I can tell how bad they are again.”

Johnny could feel Scott wiping his back clean with the cool water from the pitcher in his room.  It felt kind of cool and refreshing to Johnny.

After five minutes or so, Scott softly said, ” I think they’ll close back up Johnny.  Let me make an extra pad and then you can sit up and I’ll wrap you up again.”

The brothers shared a look and Johnny quietly said, ” You just like having me as your own mummy Boston. “

Soft laughter could be heard from the brothers as Johnny sat up and Scott wrapped gauze around his middle once again.

After Scott got Johnny all settled and in bed, having helped him off with his boots and leather pants.  He hung his gun belt on the headboard, as always.

As he walked to the door, Scott stopped and turned to look at his brother.  A smile of genuine love in his lips.

” I’ll see you after I have it out with that old bastard.  Don’t do much work tomorrow.  In other words, behave little Brother!”

A soft smile curled Johnny’s lips and he sleepily said, ” I may behave and then again, maybe I won’t Boston!  Have to keep the old man on his toes.  I’ve got eight months of mischief to catch up with!”

Scott was softly chuckling as he gently shut the door.  When he got to his room, his mood changed very fast.  He was angrier than he’d ever been with Harlan and he wanted to keep that feeling alive, at least until he left the jail to come home.

Needless to say, Scott didn’t get much sleep and that only made his mood even more foul.  He dressed and slipped quietly from his room.  It was still dark outside, as he walked to the barn.

He slowly saddled Charlie up, apologizing to his horse for the early morning ride, and quietly rode out of Lancer.  His mood growing darker and darker as he rode.  By the time he arrived in town and tied Charlie to a railing outside the jail, he was bordering on furious.

He walked into the jail, having spied Val in his chair, hat over his eyes, legs up on the desk.  As he slowly moved towards Val, there was a soft gravelly voice that quietly said,

” I wouldn’t do it, if I were you Lancer.  I got no problem shooting you.”

Scott smiled, but didn’t laugh.  Val lifted the hat from his face and looked the older Lancer over.  He saw this simmering anger just under the surface, and Val was tempted to have him sit down to cool off a bit.  But then he thought…….hell with it, this should be interesting to hear.  Besides Scott was entitled.

He slowly got up and as he opened the big metal door, he said,

” Want me to leave you alone Scott?  Sort of no witnesses.”

” Nope, you can stay Val.  You’re entitled to hear this too.”

Scott walked thru the door and stood in front of the cell that held his Grandfather.  The vein in his jaw moved as Scott’s jaw ground his teeth in anger.  Finally, he took a metal tray and ran it against the metal bars.

Harlan Garrett, and even Doug Lawson woke up, falling off his cot to the floor.  Harlan turned around and saw it was his Grandson.

” Scotty, you’ve come to release me from this hell!  I knew you would come to my rescue!”

Scott threw the tray into the corner and he snarled at his Grandfather.

” Don’t call me Scotty ever again!  It’s Scott!  Scott Lancer!  And no, you bastard, I haven’t come to your rescue!  I want to tell you I am washing my hands of you.  I don’t want to hear from you, or see you!  Nothing!  You caused my father and my Brother immense pain.  You have humiliated me for the last time!  I don’t care if you go to jail forever or if they hang you.  I don’t care any longer.  I have bailed you out of one mess after another, and all of them have been because you tried time and time again to hurt my Brother and my father.  Listen well, you old bastard,  I am staying in California and nothing you can say or do will change my mind.”

Harlan got up from the cot and ran to the bars, crying huge alligator tears.

” You don’t understand Scotty.  I did it for you.  That brother of your’s is nothing but a half breed mongrel and your father a low class brute.”

Scott leaned close to the bars and his eyes took on an evil glint and he snarled in Harlan’s face.

” Get this thru your head, because this is the last thing I will ever say to you old man!  I love my Brother and my father.  I love Lancer and I will never return to Boston.  And for your information, Johnny  was rescued from that torture cabin you imprisoned him in.  He’s getting better and when you go to trial, his testimony will be the nail in your coffin.  Don’t ever contact me again.  If you ever dare to have something happen to my father, my Brother or any part of Lancer, you will never survive the wave of fury I will visit on your ass!”

Scott smartly turned and walked back out to the main office, slamming the metal door shut.  Val turned the key in the lock with a resounding ‘ click.’

As Val sat in the chair, he pulled a bottle from his bottom desk.  He reached in his second drawer and pulled out two clean coffee cups.  He poured two cups of whiskey in both and handed one to Scott.  He drank half of it in one gulp.

” Well, that was right fun to hear Scott.  Thanks for letting me hear it.  Most fun I’ve had for a long time.”

” Send word to Lancer when the Judge is here for the trial.  I’m sure my Brother and father will want to be there.  I’m sure there will be more fireworks Val.  I’m gonna head back to Lancer.”

After Scott left to head home, Val sat behind his desk and he chuckled.  It started out low, but quickly built to a real belly shaker.

Scott stopped at Sam’s on his way out of town.  When he turned the knob, he was surprised the door was open.  He heard the bell jingle as he walked in.

” Right there.”

Sam walked into his waiting room and his face broke out into a huge smile.

” Scott!  How nice to see you!  Did you rescue Johnny?  Is he here to?”

” No, he’s at Lancer.  He was really hurt Sam, but managed to get away.  Did you know Harlan was behind it all?  Johnny’s kidnapping and torture, Murdoch being shot.  I just came from the jail, where I had it out with the old man.”

” Yes, your father told me.  He came here a few times after seeing him.  Pretty much in the same condition you are in my Boy.  Want to sit, have some coffee and relax before you head back to Lancer?”  Sam was already turning to start for the kitchen and Scott’s voice stopped him.

” No thanks Sam.  I just came to ask you to come to the ranch and check Johnny out.  I thought his wounds had healed correctly, but they opened up again yesterday.  Just want to see if you can do anything for him.  He’s also in extreme pain and I’m pretty sure before I cleaned his back, he was crying.”

” No problem Scott.  How about I come out to Lancer after lunch?  I don’t have many patients to see.”  After a couple more minutes of idle chatting, Scott turned and headed to his horse to ride home.  A bit lighter in spirit, but still angry that his Grandfather could hurt him like this.  A grandson he professed to love.  Damn bastard!  But, he thought, that felt pretty good, and he chuckled gently.

As Scott rode along, he wasn’t paying as much attention to the area as he should of been.  Or he would have seen the five men watching from deep in the tree line along the road.

Salazar watched the tall blonde man as he road along.  The evil glint in his dark eyes was growing quickly.

” That man has some connection to Madrid.  Maybe we can take him and force Madrid out.  I’m not about to give up on that hundred thousand dollars that pasty damn white man is offering for killing Madrid!”

One of the men with him, named Levy, came up to where Salazar stood and talked very softly.

” I’m not too sure of this Boss.  The one who is forking out the money to break Madrid.  I was almost there when he got sick.  I wonder if that brat Marvin is here too.  I got words for him too.”

Salazar turned to look at Levy.  His left eye began to twitch.  Without any kind of warning, Salazar back handed him.  The impact of the slap, spun his head around.  When he turned back to face Salazar, he said, ” That’s the one and only time you’re slapping me Salazar.  Next time, you’re a dead man.”

Levy turned and walked away from Salazar.  As Salazar watched him, his right hand slid slowly down to the butt of his gun.  He was just going to lift it from his holster, and another hand landed on top of his hand.

He turned and saw his brother Manuel there.

” Don’t do it Sal.  You need him, if you are to finish the contract of killing Madrid.”

As he looked at his brother, Salazar slowly relaxed and his hand lifted from the handle.  He could feel his heart still pounding in his chest.

” Manny, when Madrid is dead, that man will be also.  I’m tired of his mouth and his attitude.”

Manuel was as evil as his brother was, but he would let his older brother have all the glory of handling the deals.  He was basically his brother’s muscle.

His greatest thrill was when he’d gotten to whip Madrid.  He’d watched the man fall to the floor of that tiny room, and that only caused him to whip him harder.  He was really angry his brother had stopped him

But here the brothers stood and watched the blonde headed man riding back to that huge ranch.  Salazar was thinking of what to do and all his ideas, basically, well, they sucked.

He figured Madrid was still dealing with his wounds, and he wasn’t going to be doing much of anything, so he would be easy to find when a plan was finally formulated in his mind.

Salazar also knew the man who was paying them, was in this town, at the hotel, he figured.  So he needed to clean up and get on some clean clothes and go see him.  The men and he mounted up and went to find a stream or a lake to clean up in.

Scott was just entering the courtyard, and he saw Johnny sitting on the porch in one of the chairs.  He had a small table nearby that he had a cup of coffee and some biscuits and a jar of honey on.  He had a blanket over his legs and even tho it wasn’t seen, Johnny had his Colt in his lap.

A soft smile lit up the dark haired brother’s face as his older brother came to a stop by the railing.

” Have a nice visit Boston?”

Scott dismounted and walked up on the porch, pushed his hat back a little and took off his yellow work gloves.  He had a very sinister smile on his face and he said, with a chipper tone than the day before.

” Oh, I had a very nice visit Brother.  You should have been there, you could have kept Val from falling out of his chair he was laughing so hard.”

Johnny chuckled and his deep sapphire eyes sparkled with the sunshine in them.

” Boy, I wish I could have been there Boston, just to hear you give it to the old bastard.”

” He couldn’t get a word in once I started.  He kept trying to justify his actions with trying to keep me safe.  I swear Johnny, like Murdoch said yesterday when he was telling us what happened, I felt like I wanted to reach over and just choke him.  I never was so angry with anyone as I was this morning.”

Johnny’s sapphire eyes sparkled even more.  The slow smile soon became one that lit up his whole face.

” Man, I would have loved to be there Boston.  Just to see that old weasel get what was coming to him.”

Johnny looked at his brother and he saw both triumph and sadness in those silver blue eyes.  He knew, kind of, what saying those kind of words to someone you love feels like.  

The day before Johnny’s mama was killed, Johnny said some harsh words to her too.  She must have thought, in her drug induced mind, her son must really hate her.  He ran from the cabin and when he came back, she was dead.  Johnny was ten years old.

” You okay Scott.  We are gonna have to do this again when the Judge gets here.  You gonna be able to do this?”

Scott’s silver blue eyes took on a more metallic tone as he looked at his little brother.

” Yea, I’m fine Johnny and I can’t wait for the Judge to get here.  I want that old bastard locked up, where he can’t hurt my family any longer.”

Scott was just going to sit next to his brother and they saw Marvin riding beside Cipriano, a big smile on his face.  He waved as he rode by.  He was living his dream of being a cowboy.

” Did you see that smile Boston?  That is a happy kid.”

Scott smiled as he watched Marvin riding out of Lancer with Cipriano.

” Imagine this is better than trying to keep someone alive, basically with nothing.”

Johnny got very quiet and lowered his eyes.  He softly sighed and Scott turned to look at his brother.  He knew something was bothering Johnny, but he had learned not to push him.  When Johnny was ready to talk, he would.

There was something bothering Johnny alright.  He had seen some men on the hill overlooking Lancer.  They were too far away, and when he’d sent Frank to check it out, they were gone.  It had been bothering Johnny all day.  But he wasn’t ready to voice his thoughts, not yet.

Just then, Murdoch came from the forge.  He was sweaty and dirty, but he had a huge smile on his face.  He’d waited so long for his boys to come back, every time he saw them, he just smiled from ear to ear.

” Ready to go in boys and have some lunch.  I bet Maria outdid herself.  She’s determined to get Johnny fat and healthy again.”

As Scott helped Johnny up, there was a small smile on his face and he said softly,

” She doesn’t have to do that.”

” Try telling her Brother.  You’d have a better chance of stopping a runaway horse then telling Maria to stop feeding you.”

As all three of the Lancer men started to go into the hacienda, Johnny quickly turned his eyes back to the overlook ledge.  His eyes took on a very dark look as he followed his father and brother into the kitchen.

As Scott and Murdoch dug into their bowls of chili that Maria had made for lunch.  They both noticed Johnny wasn’t really eating much.

” John, chili not spicy enough?  You aren’t eating.”

Johnny lifted his head off his hand and put his spoon down in the bowl.  He lowered his eyes, as he always does when his father used that tone.

Murdoch moved his hand and slid his cupped hand under his dark haired son’s chin, and he lifted his head up.  Murdoch looked into Johnny’s expressive sapphire eyes and in a much softer tone he said,

” What’s wrong John?  Maria is going to be mighty sad that you aren’t eating her chili.  Tell me, please.”

Johnny tried to lower his head or even his eyes, but Murdoch wasn’t letting go of Johnny’s chin.  He saw a look of sadness and even concern, but he didn’t know why, but he might in a few minutes of talking.

Johnny took a deep breath into his chest and his back let him know that wasn’t such a great idea.  He winced and blew out the breath.

” Dammit!  I can’t even get a deep breath without my back singing to me.”

Murdoch sat back and let go of Johnny’s chin.

” No need for that kind of language John.  Now, what is wrong? And don’t say nothing, because I know better.  What is it Son?”

” On the ridge, just before you both came back for lunch, there were five men on horseback.  Just watching the ranch.  I sent Frank and a few men to check it out.  They were gone before Frank got there.  I felt there was something evil about those men.  But I don’t know who they are.”

Johnny’s eyes lost that sad and concerned look.  The sapphire was just a thin ring around an almost black eye.

Murdoch had never seen Johnny’s eyes do that before, but Scott had……. Just once.  It was about a year ago and a gun slinger came into town.  He called Johnny out and Scott could tell Johnny’s focus was off.  He became Madrid, but like an evil version.  Scott couldn’t explain it to anyone.  It was as tho Johnny went deeper inside himself.   The guy was taunting Johnny about a girl named Calinda and how he’d used and killed her that morning.  She and Johnny had been together and he was going to take her away.  After the gunfight was over, neither man had gone down.  They both were wounded badly.  Scott took Johnny to Sam’s.  When he came back outside, the gun fighter and his gang were gone.

Scott watched Johnny closely until his eyes and his being was back.  Even before they got to Sam’s, Johnny was walking steadier.

Scott saw his brother that same way again.  What was that guy’s name?  Come on Scott, think!”

When it came to Scott’s mind, he softly said, ” Were these the men who beat you Johnny?”

Slowly, Johnny’s head turned to his brother.  A slow, almost evil grin came to Johnny’s face, and Scott believed that the pain in Johnny’s back was non existent.

” Yea.  I think so.  Salazar Morales and his brother Manuel.  It was Manuel who used his whip on me, and I believe if his brother hadn’t stopped him, he’d have killed me.”

How the hell did Harlan Garrett find these men?  Did he know about Manuel’s need to kill Johnny?  Was he aware of what these men could do.  If these men on the overlook turned out to be them. Johnny seemed to think so.

” Johnny, you can’t fight them, you aren’t healed completely.”

Johnny locked his eyes on Scott and in those sapphire ringed eyes, Scott saw a different Johnny.  He wasn’t Johnny Lancer and he wasn’t Johnny Madrid either.  He was darker than Madrid and Murdock slowly took a minute to gaze at his son.  He’d never been afraid of Johnny, but now his mind was telling him that he wasn’t his Johnny.

Slowly, Johnny stood up and walked to the gun cabinet.  He took a box of shells for his Colt, placed his hat on his head and walked out the door, glancing back just once, as Johnny Lancer, to look at his family.  Then he was gone.

Johnny walked with quick steps to the barn.  He quickly saddled Barranca, putting a different saddle on his golden horse.  Blood red. Johnny had it made when he was in San Francisco a year ago.

Before he mounted Barranca, he whispered to the golden horse.

” This is our time for revenge Barranca.  This is our home, and no one is going to take us away.  Remember that Barranca.”

He went to one of the stalls in the back of the barn and found a wrapped box in the shadows.  He pulled from the bag, a holster, same blood red color, and cut down like his fighting holster.  He removed his brown gun belt.  Took the spare bullets from the loops and filled the belt with bullets.  The extras he put in his leather jacket.

Johnny considered changing to the black shirt, but then smiled.  No, he wanted the Morales brothers to know it was him.

Johnny flexed his shoulders and it was as if the pain of his wounds magically disappeared.  He knew he had a bottle of laudanum in the saddle bags on the red saddle.

He led Barranca out of the barn and he saw his father and brother there, worry and concern clearly on their faces.

Softly, his father’s voice slid into Johnny’s heart, for just an instance.

” Be safe Son and come home.  Please come home.”

He mounted Barranca and he even seemed different, taller, more confident than even Scott could remember.

” I promise Pa.  This is my home and no one will take me off it.  I am done with the Morales brothers, I will come home.”

The last thing Scott and Murdoch Lancer saw was Johnny leaving the ranch.  Scott followed his brother until even the dust that was kicked up was gone.

” He’ll be back Son.  He’ll be back.”

(Chapter 8)

The older Lancers turned and Murdoch laid his arm across his son’s shoulders, and they walked into the hacienda.

Just before the door closed, a thundering horse came ripping into the yard.  It was Cipriano and as the Lancers came back out the door, they saw he was breathing real hard.

” Cip, what’s wrong?  Someone hurt?”

He sort of stumbled towards the porch and said, ” Oh Patron, we were ambushed.  Frank and Walt are hurt, not seriously.  I sent that new kid, Marvin, the back way to get the Doctor.”

” Jose!  Load up a wagon with mattresses and medical supplies and some extra canteens.  Cipriano will show you where the men are.”

Murdoch turned to Cipriano and said, ” Rest old friend, then saddle another horse.”

Scott was moving towards the barn and Murdoch yelled to him.  He stopped and he took a minute before he turned around.  Murdoch’s heart skipped a couple beats, as he thought Scott would bolt.

He didn’t, he turned around to face his father.  His silver blue eyes seemed brighter as he was facing the sun.

” Just get the boys home.  Sam should be here when you get back.  Then go to town and tell Val what’s going on. With the ranch and with Johnny.”

As Scott turned back to the barn, Murdoch softly said, to himself,  

“I’ve already lost one son to these monsters, I can’t lose another one.”

Scott saddled Charlie in record time and at one point, it looked as tho his ears were going back.  But he was listening to Murdoch bellowing words at the ranch hands still in the bunkhouse.

When Charlie was saddled, Scott took off towards town.  He pushed Charlie kind of hard, but his faithful horse had stamina to spare.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a rider fast approaching the roadway.  Scott slid his hand to the handle of his gun, ready to defend himself if need be.

Scott relaxed as he saw it was Marvin.  He slowed Charlie’s strides a little and Marvin rode next to him.  He saw that Marvin’s eyes were huge.  Scott took pity on the young man.

” You hurt Marvin?”

” No Scott, I think me and Cipriano were the only ones not shot.  Cipriano told me to head to town and get the Doctor.”

Scott smiled a little bit.  Here this young man was being asked to rescue people once more.  In Scott’s mind, Marvin was the bravest young man he’d ever known.

They gently urged their horses faster and reached town limits about forty-five minutes after they met up.

Marvin jumped off his horse at the Doctor’s office and Scott went to the jail.  He knocked on the door and soon it was opened and the Doctor looked at the young man.

” Yes, can I help you young man?”

” Doc, they need you at Lancer.  We was ambushed and I think six men were shot.”

Sam turned and put extra bandages and medicine and creams he would need into his black bag.  He reached for his hat and slid it onto his head.

” Run to the livery Son, and tell Harvey to harness my buggy for me.”

Marvin turned and ran towards the livery.  As Marvin passed the jail, he saw thru the window.  Scott and the Sheriff talking rapidly.  He continued onto the livery.

He yelled for Harvey and told the very large man who appeared, to harness Doc’s buggy.  Then Marvin turned and ran from the livery.

As he stood on the walkway, he saw Scott and the Sheriff racing out of town, heading to Lancer.  As Marvin saw Doc heading into the stables, and a few minutes later, he was also heading to Lancer.

As Marvin was heading to his horse, he saw a flash of gold.  He turned and saw Johnny’s Palomino heading out the other end of town.

As Marvin looked at Johnny, he saw a difference in Johnny, he’d never seen before.  He sensed an almost evil in his friend.  

He ran to his horse and turned and headed to the other end of town.  Johnny was already moving fast.

In Marvin’s mind, he thought, ‘ I have to be there for Johnny, if he needs help.  Whatever or whoever he is after could hurt him again.’

He hung far enough back to keep Johnny from knowing he was following him.  Marvin had no idea who Johnny was following, but he felt he would be needed.

As both men kept on, he would see Johnny slow at times, as tho he was looking for tracks.  Marvin would stop and move off the main road so Johnny wouldn’t see him.  When Johnny moved, Marvin would move.

When Johnny stopped at night, Marvin would have a cold meal of biscuits and water from his saddlebags.  He didn’t sleep much, but kept watch over Johnny, when he was sure Johnny would leave at first light, he’d get up and mount up also.

Johnny tracked all over, and he was sure they were placing false trails for him to follow.  But Johnny kept at it.  He was determined to stop the Morales gang from harming his family.  

He kept that anger alive inside of his body.  He found the trail going back towards Morro Coyo and possibly back to Lancer.  He followed the trail back the way he came.

As Marvin saw Johnny heading back towards town, he hid in the trees as Johnny passed him.  He was watching for tracks.  It soon led Johnny up into the woods on the side of the road.

At Lancer, Scott and Val were just coming into the yard.  Cipriano and the hands and the wagon were already gone.

Murdoch came out and saw them, and he waited for them to dismount.

He saw his oldest was rather angry and his silver blue eyes were flashing angrily.

” Scott, something happen in town Son?”

” Oh yeah something happened in town!  I went to see that bastard in the jail, to tell him of the monsters he’d hired to ‘ take care’ of my brother.  You want to know what his words to me were?  ‘ I hired them because they worked cheap and knew who that half breed mongrel was.’  Can you imagine saying something like that to me?  God Murdoch, I wanted to kill him!”

” I don’t know Son.  I guess he wants to hurt you like you’ve hurt him not getting him out of jail.”

Val spoke up, gruffly as usual, ” I spent the whole night trying to keep him quiet Murdoch.  He kept saying that maybe those men would break him out and he could kill Johnny himself.  I left him in my Deputy’s care tonight.  He’ll just keep that metal door shut except when he brings his meals.”

Scott was gonna say something and saw Sam’s buggy coming.  

Murdoch chuckled and said, ” I see Sam’s new buggy horse moves a little faster than Maudie did.”

Val piped off, ” Yea, Doc sure misses that old girl, but as I explained to him, she couldn’t pull his buggy any longer.  She has a good home at the orphanage with the kids taking her for rides.”

” Well, he seems to be moving pretty good now.”

As Sam pulled to a stop he said, ” They here yet Murdoch?”

” No, Cipriano left about thirty minutes ago.  They should be here in about an hour.”

He pulled his black bag out and all four of the men walked to the front door.  As they got into the Great Room, Sam sat on the sofa.

” Okay, that ranch hand you sent didn’t really tell me much.  What exactly happened?”

” Well, as near as we can tell, they were ambushed.  Cipriano and Marvin were the only two not shot.  Cipriano sent him the back way to get you.”

Murdoch and Scott both looked around.

” Where is Marvin?  Thought he’d come back with you Sam?”

” No, after he told me about the ambush, I told him to go to the livery and have Harvey hitch up my buggy.  Didn’t see him after that.”

Marvin followed Johnny, far enough back to stay out of his radar.  Suddenly, there were gunshots and lots of yelling.

” Drop the hardware Madrid!”

Johnny took his Colt out of the holster and dropped it to the ground by Barranca’s hooves.  He couldn’t see anyone, but he recognized the voice.

A man came out of the darkness of the woods and picked up Johnny’s Colt.  He then reached into his right boot and pulled the knife hidden there.  Johnny swore softly to himself.

Two men came out of the dark after Madrid was fully disarmed and pulled him off his horse.  The reins fell to the ground and Barranca remained steadfast, as he’d been taught.

As Johnny hit the ground, on his knees, the two men he knew were there came out of the darkness, like Johnny’s worse nightmares.

Salazar and Manuel Morales!  He thought after he got home that these men would vanish.  The smirk was on his face in seconds.

It didn’t take Manuel long to reduce Johnny to a bleeding hurting pile of skin on the ground.  The men holding his arms had picked Johnny up again and held him upright, while Manuel beat him again.  Reducing Johnny to almost passing out.

” Bring him to the camp.  I ain’t done with him.  I plan on getting that money!”

The two men dragged Johnny, he was bleeding from his mouth, his nose and he thought it felt like a couple of his ribs were cracked.  Also his back was bleeding again.  Salazar grabbed the reins to Barranca and brought him to the campsite also.

Johnny’s eyes were slowly swelling shut and he wasn’t even aware of where he was or what was going on.  They’d hit him fast, so he couldn’t brace himself.

He felt his arms being lifted up and then his wrists were being tied with ropes of some kind.  His arms were pulled up so high until his feet barely touched the ground.

Johnny knew what was coming and he tried to block his mind to it.  But he was already hurt, and his mind wasn’t cooperating with him.

Marvin had heard the voices as well.  His mind started to work overtime.  ‘Shit!  Salazar!  God!  I have to help Johnny.  I don’t know how far away from help we are.  Damn!  I have to do something!’

The wagon was just coming into Lancer with the wounded men.  Sam checked them out in the wagon.  Most were superficial, only two men had the bullets still in their legs.  Frank and Walt.

Frank said it wasn’t too bad.  Both he and Walt were shot in the legs and in the upper left back.  The other men on the crew had superficial wounds, mostly in the legs.

Everyone was ushered into the house, and Sam decided to use the dining room as his office.  He’d started with Walt and worked his way thru them all.

Because Walt and Frank were hurt the most, Scott and Val would take them to the bunkhouse, and help them to lay down in their cots.

Frank was already beginning to run a low grade fever, so Murdoch had one of the wives come to take care of the men.  The other wives would take turns to keep the men comfortable while they healed.

Murdoch, Scott and Val, after all the men had been taken care of by Sam, began to question where Marvin was.

Murdoch clapped Scott on the shoulder and quietly said, ” Do you think he took off for his home?  Maybe this work is too hard for him.”

Scott walked to the big windows behind Murdoch’s desk, and looked out over the green rolling hills of Lancer.

” No, he really liked being here Sir.  He felt he had a real friend with Johnny.  And to be truthful, Johnny felt Marvin was a real friend to him.  And you know how Johnny doesn’t easily let people get close to him.  He did with Marvin and I think he really liked Marvin.  I don’t think he would leave.  Besides, his family is long gone.  So he really has no one but us and Johnny.”

******  ALERT  ******

What little Johnny could see, was not giving him warm fuzzy feelings.  He was already hurt badly and with no way to fight back, he might not make it out of this.  Manuel had bad feelings for Johnny and he wanted him dead.

He felt a presence in front of him and then that nasty laugh.  Salazar!  Johnny didn’t think this could get any worse, and then he felt fists attacking his ribs and kidneys.  Johnny tried to get a chance to breathe and as he tried to inhale, another fist would hit his body.

As Johnny was beginning to lose consciousness, someone threw a cold bucket of water at him.  He lifted his head, sputtering out blood and water.  He heard the laughter, like it was coming from a distance and he couldn’t focus.

Salazar grabbed Johnny’s wet black hair in his hand and yanked his head up.  He got into Johnny’s face, and the rotten smell almost made Johnny lose his breakfast.

” You caused me to lose a lot of money Madrid!  And to have my baby brother thrown in a jail in Mexico, was truly enough.  When that old man from back east came to us with the idea of capturing you and torturing you, I jumped on it.  Revenge for all the misery you laid on me and my brother.  And the money that old man promised, hell we can live pretty good.”

Salazar hit Johnny a few more times, and he sagged against the ropes.  He’d be pissing blood in the morning, if he survived this attack.

Salazar reached for his shirt and ripped it down the middle.  He saw the white, now bloody, bandages around his torso.  He reached for his knife, and slit the bandages open.  His knife sliced a bit into his chest, and Johnny sucked in a cry of pain.

Salazar slowly walked around Johnny’s already bruised and bleeding body and looked at his back.  He saw the wounds from before bleeding freely once again.  He saw that some of the stitches were still intact, and he ran his sharp knife down the middle of the largest wound.  He saw Johnny starting to shake, but he still would not cry out.

Before he was done with Madrid, he would cry out in pain.  He wanted to hear Madrid’s cry of surrender,  just before he died.  The old man would still pay him, dead or alive, that’s what he’d told him.

” Hey Sal, stop hogging all the fun!  I want my turn at Madrid too.  I been waiting for six years to get my revenge.”

Salazar put his dirty hand up against his brother’s cheek and said, with evil dripping from his voice, ” Certainly brother, I haven’t forgotten you.  Have fun.”  Salazar turned and walked away, leaving his brother alone with Johnny.

” Oh Madrid, we are gonna have so much fun!  I been waiting for this for a long time.  Before I’m done, you’ll be begging to die!”

Johnny’s eyes tried to focus, but with the swelling it was impossible.  He did hear a sound that he thought he’d never hear again.

Before he could try and brace himself, he heard the unmistakable whine of a whip going thru the air.  As the whip connected with his already abused back, Johnny jerked against the ropes tied around his wrists.

Once more the whip Manuel wielded bit into his back.  He sucked in his breath and bit the inside of his cheek.  He was not going to cry out, he’d die first.

Marvin couldn’t believe his eyes.  He was watching them slowly killing Johnny.  Marvin was getting mad, with each flick of that whip against Johnny’s back.

He saw Johnny’s blood just dripping and running down his back and into the top of his pants.  He slowly pulled his gun.  He checked how many bullets he had.

The last strike of the whip against Johnny’s back, finally elicited the cry of surrender from Johnny Madrid, that Manuel had desired to hear.  Low and long, it was the cry of Johnny’s soul being tortured.  The sound unnerved Marvin.

Manuel walked up to Johnny and he ran his knife slowly down Johnny’s chest and just before he got to the top of Johnny’s black pants, he slid the knife slowly into Johnny’s belly.  He was just going to twist it and slide it up, when he noticed his hand was shaking.  It didn’t want to work.

Manuel Morales slowly slid to his knees, his hand releasing the knife still in Johnny’s body.  As Manuel pitched forward, his brother ran to see what had happened.

When he saw his brother dead, his eyes open and staring at nothing, he looked for what happened.  Salazar was just turning to look at Johnny, and a bullet entered his heart, point blank.  He was dead before he hit the dirt.

*****   END ALERT  *****

Johnny hung by the ropes, not moving not noticing anything.  The knife still in his belly.  He was breathing, but just barely.

Marvin looked around and saw no others coming to see what happened, so he very carefully moved from the shadows, and walked to where Johnny hung, more dead than alive.

” Oh God Johnny!  How the hell am I gonna get you home now my friend?! “

He walked to just in front of Johnny, and gently touched his chest.  He saw the slow and shallow rising and falling of his chest,  and knew Johnny was still alive.  For how long was another story.

He reached for his knife and slid it thru the ropes holding Johnny’s arms up.  He fell into Marvin and they both fell to the ground.  He slowly reached his hand out, and gently pulled the knife out of Johnny’s belly.

It started bleeding fast and hard and Marvin reached for his ripped and torn shirt on the ground.  He wadded it into the wound, and he held it there until the bleeding slowed.

Marvin got up and walked to the camp and took one of the blankets and cut it into strips and pads.  He wrapped Johnny’s body from his neck to his waist.  He hoped he was doing everything correctly.

He saw Johnny’s gun belt and his knife and hat and he grabbed them up.  He suddenly felt tears running down his face, and he ignored them.  He saw Johnny’s golden horse and reached to untie him and moved him closer to where Johnny laid.

He spoke to the horse gently and softly.

” Okay Barranca.  You are gonna have to help me here.  Johnny is really hurt and you need to stay still so I can get him up on your back.  Please, oh please don’t move Barranca, please!”

Marvin dropped the reins to the ground, and sure as he was scare to death, Barranca held still.  Marvin closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.

He looked at Johnny and he thought to himself he might as well do it.  He couldn’t be concerned about hurting him, just get him on the damn horse!

He leaned down and put his arms under Johnny’s armpits and slowly dragged him to where Barranca stood.  He slowly, and with a lot of huffing and puffing and pulling and lifting, he got Johnny to lean his head against the saddle.  His legs wouldn’t hold him up for long, so Marvin got behind him, and pushed Johnny’s body up higher and higher, until he was sort of over the saddle.

He kept at it, until Johnny was on the saddle more.  He went to the other side and pulled Johnny to position him more evenly.

Marvin gently tied Johnny to the saddle, so he wouldn’t fall off.  He put Johnny’s things in the saddle bags on his horse.  He mounted up and reached for the reins to Barranca.

” Okay Barranca, nice and slow okay.”

They started out and Marvin never even looked at the Morales brothers lying on the ground, dead by his bullets.  He didn’t want to think of that, he just wanted to get Johnny home.

Slowly, step by slow agonizing step, Marvin walked the horses.  He had no idea how far he was from Lancer.  He prayed it wasn’t far.  The tears once again sliding from his eyes.  Marvin don’t care.  He had one thought in his mind.  Lancer, he had to get Johnny to Lancer.  That was all he thought.

(Chapter 9)

Val and Sam had gone back to town, telling the elder two Lancers they’d be on the lookout for Marvin and Johnny.

Val told Murdoch the Judge would be coming into town in the next couple of days, and he would send word.

After they left, Scott slowly sat in one of the rocking chairs and rocked very slowly.  His silver blue eyes were looking over the land that was his as well as his brother’s and their father’s.

Murdoch filled his pipe with that pipe tobacco that Johnny had bought him for his birthday.  It was a nice soft fruit flavor with a touch of tang.  Both Lancer brother’s liked the fragrance.

He stood on the porch near Scott, and he leaned his shoulder against the post.  He too looked out across the land that he’d toiled and fought over for years.

It was Home.  Not only to the Lancers, but the ranch hands and the families who lived within the protection of the ranch, also called it their homes.  They had proved that when Pardee came to take it away.  They all fought like wild animals.  But they had won, their Home was safe.

Both men might have been looking at the land, but their thoughts were on their missing family members…….Marvin and more importantly, Johnny.

” I wish we knew something, anything, about what’s going on.  Where is Johnny?  Did Marvin have a chance to meet up with him and are they together?  Did Johnny stay to face these people, or did he run to Mexico?”

Scott heard the huge sigh from his father and his blue grey eyes closed a bit.

Softly, he father’s voice so soft, so filled with his new found love for Johnny, it sort of broke Scott’s heart. That as usual, it takes a crisis for Murdoch to find his real feelings for his youngest.

Scott so wished that Johnny and Marvin would come riding thru the arch.  He didn’t care what excuses they used, as long as they were alright and home.

As the sun was setting for the day, Scott’s eyes glistened with unshed tears.  ‘ Maybe tomorrow they will be home.’

Murdoch tapped the spent tobacco from his pipe and looked over at Scott.  He saw the bunched shoulders and knew his oldest was as tense as an unsnapped bear trap.

” Scott, no sense sitting here and worrying about them.  When they come home, you’ll see them coming thru the archway.  Come inside and let’s see what Maria has made for supper.

Scott slowly swiveled his head to look at his father.  Murdoch saw such pain and sorrow in those now slate blue eyes, it caused his heart to feel like it was in a vice.  He hated to see either of his sons in pain, especially when one of them was missing.

Scott blew out his breath slowly and then stood up.

” I’m not doing any good out here, I guess.  Let’s go inside and eat Murdoch, take our minds off Johnny, even for a little while.”

Both Lancers went into the hacienda and the door shut with a gentle ‘ click.’

Maria had made roast beef, mashed potatoes and tomatoes from the garden.  Both men pretended they were starving, so not to upset the tiny housekeeper/cook.  But Maria was also worried, so she knew they were just pretending.

When the two Lancers got up from the table and Maria came out to clear the table, she saw that their plates were still almost full.  Sighing, she thought, ‘ Well, the pigs will eat well tonight.’

Marvin, with an unconscious Johnny were moving slowly.  He thought a few times that Johnny was tied to the saddle maybe I can pick up the pace and he won’t fall off.

Marvin slowly increased the speed of both horses, looking back at Barranca constantly.  Okay, so far so good.  Johnny isn’t even sliding on the saddle.  He briefly wondered where Johnny got that blood red saddle and holster.  Maybe Christmas gifts from his family.

Marvin kept searching the landscape, looking for landmarks that said he was going in the right direction.

Every so often he’d decreased the speed and even stopped a few times to get his bearings.

” I passed that huge rock formation, I’m sure of it.  Okay boy, you’re on the right path.”

He’d get off his horse and he’d go back to see how Johnny was.  He was breathing still very softly and they were shallow breaths.

A soft sigh slid from between Martin’s lips.  He could feel them tremble, and he pulled his bottom lip into his mouth.  No!  He would fall apart AFTER he got Johnny to Lancer, not before.

For one minute, Marvin thought.  He gently pulled on the ropes holding Johnny to the saddle.  He got an almost far away look in his eyes, and then a slow smile began to form.  

Marvin had made a decision, a decision he hoped would help Johnny.  He walked to his horse with determination in his stride.

Scott went to the barn after the meal he didn’t eat.  He went to Charlie’s stall and the big horse stuck his head over the gate to get some scratches from his Master.

” I know it’s late Pal, but I need to go on a ride into town.  Just want to see where that Judge is.”

Scott chuckled when Charlie shook his head up and down and stamped his hooves on the barn floor.

Scott slowly saddled Charlie and was just going to head out for town, when he heard the alarm go out. ” Riders coming in fast!”

Scott ran from the barn and was met by Murdoch coming from the house.  They both looked towards the road beyond the archway.  They couldn’t tell who it was, the sun was setting and at that awkward height.

” Can you tell who it is Scott?”

” Not yet Murdoch.”

Then Scott inhaled very fast.  He knew who it was.

” That’s Marvin and he’s leading Johnny’s Palomino.  Why is he racing if he’s just got Barranca?  Where the hell is Johnny?”

Suddenly, the sun glinted off Johnny’s rowel on his spurs and Scott jumped into action.

” Johnny’s on Barranca.  And I think he’s hurt Murdoch!”

As Marvin came roaring into the courtyard, Scott reached for Barranca’s halter, to stop in front of them.

Murdoch went quickly to Johnny’s side and saw he was tied to the saddle.  He looked up at Marvin and he quietly said,  

” Couldn’t take the chance he’d fall off cuz I needed to get here fast.”

Murdoch then looked at Barranca, he was breathing hard and was shaking.  As Scott was untying his brother, Murdoch said to Marvin, ” Walk these horses around to cool them off and then take them to the barn and brush them down.”

Scott slid Johnny’s abused body from the saddle and yelled to Cipriano to send someone for Sam.  He no sooner turned to the bunkhouse, and there was a ranch hand racing under the archway already.

” We have to get him inside, so I can see how bad this is, Son!”

Just before they got into the house, Marvin said softly,  

” Watch out for his back and belly.  Whip welts on his back and Manuel stuck a knife in Johnny’s belly.”

” Oh God, Murdoch, in his belly.  Is he still breathing?!”

The older Lancer lowered his head to Johnny’s face and heard a soft raspy breathing going on.

” Yes, he’s still breathing Scott, and we are going to keep him breathing until Sam gets here!”

Thank God Maria was still here.  Scott called for her and as she appeared, without waiting, she pushed everything to one side on the big table.  She then turned and raced into the kitchen and got her basket of supplies.

” Patron?”

Murdoch didn’t look up as he ripped open the blanket tied around Johnny’s body.  Scott saw what looked like Johnny’s pink shirt wedged into a nasty hole in his belly.  He slid it out and the blood began to well up once again.  He put it back into the hole, and applied pressure.

” Forget that Son, Sam can fix that when he gets here.  Help me turn him on his side, I want to see his back.”

Scott gently helped his father turn Johnny on his side and the sight almost made Scott sick.  Criss crossing wounds, even worse than before laced across Johnny’s muscular back.  Scott also saw the stitches down the largest wound had been cut open, probably with a knife.

Scott felt the tears filling his eyes and he tried to think of how Johnny was going to accept this.  These were bigger and deeper.  The others were thinner and lighter, and could vanish in time.  These were going to be very noticeable and he wasn’t sure Johnny would be able to deal with it.

Murdoch saw the teary look in his Son’s eyes and he said very softly, ” Son, help Johnny first, then feel the sadness.  He needs us Scott.  I know this is too much for you to see again.  Your brother needs your strength Scott.  Be there for him.”

Scott closed his eyes and got himself under control.  When he looked at his brother lying so still on the table, he lifted his hand and caressed the shaggy black bangs from his eyes.

Quietly, but loud enough he knew his brother could hear him, he said, ” I’ll be here for you little brother.  Boston isn’t going anywhere.  You’ll get strong and we’ll fight against everything.  Like always.”

He picked up Johnny’s hand and held it tightly in his hand, willing his energy and strength to the young man.

When Maria brought a bowl of cold water and a couple clean towels, Scott picked one up and began to wipe the sweat from Johnny’s face and neck.  He’d wipe it down his arms to cool his body off too.

Murdoch sat and watched the brothers for a long time.  His heart going out to his older son.  To have to deal twice with Johnny being attacked the same way in so short amount of time, had to be hard for Scott to cope with.

Murdoch gently caressed Johnny’s cheek and said softly,  

” Come back to us Son.  Open your eyes and show us you are still in there fighting.  Please!”

Murdoch got up and clapped Scott on the shoulder.  ” I’ll be right back Son.  I want to see what Marvin says.”

Murdoch left and walked to the barn.  He found Marvin just finishing up with his brushing of Barranca.  As he was putting oats in his pail, Murdoch walked in.

” You okay Marvin?  You aren’t hit or anything are you?”

” No Mr Lancer, I’m not hit.  How’s Johnny?  Did I get him here in time?!”

Murdoch saw the tears well up in his eyes, making his eyes seem huge in his face.

” Yes Marvin, you got him here in time.  I’m very happy and pleased you rescued my Son twice now.  You are a wonderful young man.  Thank you.”

Marvin smiled and patted the golden horse’s neck.  Barranca had his nose buried in the bucket of food, so he was happy too.

” What happened Marvin?  Did you see any of what happened to my Son?”

Marvin was really quiet and he put his hand on Barranca’s muscular neck.  He looked down, and Murdoch saw he was beginning to breathe faster, a sure sign he was getting nervous and worked up.

” Marvin, you aren’t in any trouble Son, I just want to know what happened.”

Marvin took a deep breath and lifted his eyes to look at Murdoch.  Softly, he said,

” Yes Sir Mr Lancer, I saw what happened to Johnny.  I saw how he was tied up to a tree, left hanging there, even after they’d both beat him.  Then Manuel Morales began to whip him.  It was a bigger whip, looked heavier than the one he’d used before.  He just began to whip Johnny, goading him to cry out.  Only Johnny wouldn’t.  When I counted to six lashes I shot him.  I shot from the side and it got the hand with the whip.  He dropped to his knees and then I shot him between the eyes.  Salazar came out of his tent and I shot him point blank in the chest.  I’m sorry Mr Lancer, I had to, they were killing Johnny.”

He put his hands on Marvin’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes.

” It’s okay Marvin.  You did what you had to, and no one can fault you for that.  You saved my Son.  That’s all I can deal with Marvin.  Go and rest.  I’m sure you’re tired.  I’ll let you know what Sam says.”

Murdoch stood in the barn and watched Marvin turn and head to the bunkhouse.  He was watching him and Cipriano came from taking care of Marvin’s horse.

” That is a brave young man my friend.”

” Si Patron.  He cares for Juanito a lot, you can see it in his eyes.  I hope all that caring hasn’t gone for nothing.”

” John is strong Cipriano, he’ll be fine after Sam sews his back up.  He will take a lot of time to heal.  I hope you have lots of busy work for him to do once Sam says he can get up.”

The big muscular Mexican laughed and he said, ” Si Patron, I always have lots of busy work for Juanito to do.”

The smile that came to the old man’s lips was full of love for his Son.  Cipriano didn’t miss it either.

As Murdoch turned to go back to the house, he said, ” Send a hand to town to get Val.”

Cipriano smiled to himself.  He’d already told the hand getting Sam to let the Sheriff know to come to Lancer as well.  He turned to go to the bunkhouse to see how Marvin was doing.  As he walked in, he saw the young man curled up on his cot, fast asleep.  Best to let him sleep.  He sure earned a day off from work in Cipriano’s eyes.

Murdoch stood in the archway between the living room and the dining room, watching Scott tending to his unconscious little brother.  Murdock marveled at the level of love and caring the brothers had for each other.

His own level of love and caring for Johnny had increased tenfold after Sam and he had that talk.  He knew he had to accept Johnny for who he always would be inside, for what he was.  No more pushing him, no more arguments about what he did or what he didn’t do.  Even what he could be if he applied himself.  He had to take Johnny Madrid with Johnny Lancer, because they were one in the same.

Murdoch turned and walked into his office.  He sat in the chair behind his desk.  He lifted his hands to cover his face.  He held the tears in and breathed deeply.  

He said a silent prayer to God.

‘ Please, don’t take my Son from me now.  We’ve come so far, please I can’t lose him.  God, please don’t take him.’

(Chapter 10)

Sam and Val arrived at Lancer at the same time.  Sam grabbed his black medical bag and told the hand to take his mare out of the harness and let her rest in the corral, after he cooled her down and she had water and oats.

They went to the front door and Murdoch answered the door.

” Okay Murdoch, tell me quickly what happened to John.”

Murdoch told them both what he knew and Sam bustled his way into the dining room, calling for Maria, and telling Scott to wait with his father in the Great Room.

Maria came in with a pot of hot water and Sam lifted up the pads on his belly first.  He gently and slowly pulled the now blood red shirt from the knife wound in Johnny’s belly.  The bleeding had slowed enough that Sam could see what was happening.

” How can someone be so damn cruel to do this?!  It looks like he started to twist the knife.  That must be when Murdoch said that young man, Marvin, shot him.  Good thing, Johnny would not have made it this far if he had twisted it.”

He reached for a clean rag and the bottle of carbolic, to clean it out and to stop infections from happening.  God only knows what condition that knife was in.

For the most part, if the wound had bled as much as Sam figured, it pretty much kept the wound clean.

” Okay Maria, let’s sew this up and wrap it, then I’ll work on his back.  I don’t know what condition his back is going to be in.  He wasn’t healed from before.”

Maria wiped the blood that appeared as Sam sewed the knife wound closed.  Barring any problems, it should heal correctly and not show any signs of infection.

Sam made a thick pad and laid it over the now sewed up wound.  He slid a long strip of cloth under Johnny’s back and pulled it up to tie and keep the pad on his belly.  He’d tighten the tie up when he was all thru with fixing Johnny’s back.

Both Sam and Maria locked eyes and Sam softly said, ” Maria, if you can’t do this, I’ll understand.  I’ll call Scott in.”

She closed her eyes and briefly said a quick prayer.  ” No, I am fine Doctor.  I can continue helping you.”

Together, they slowly rolled Johnny to his belly and as his back came into view, Maria gasped suddenly.

Sam looked at her and saw her eyes well up, but she took a minute, and got her emotions under control.  As Sam pulled the bloody bandages from his back, Sams anger began to show.

” Damn this bastard!  How can someone whip another human being this badly.  God, what a mess!”

Maria gently touched Johnny’s shoulder and softly said, ” Can you help him Doctor Sam?  Please, don’t let Juanito die, not like this.”

Sam gently patted her hand and said, ” I haven’t lost this boy yet Maria.”

Slowly and with utmost care, they washed, cleaned with carbolic and Sam sewed up the ones that were big and deep.  Unfortunately, he didn’t find any on Johnny’s back that weren’t big and deep.

Finally, after five hours of basically stitching Johnny Lancer back together, Sam threw the needle down on the tray he used.

Maria took away the bloody wipes and the red stained water.  Once she was out of ear shot, she let her tears and emotions loose.  They slid down her weathered old cheeks and she didn’t even consider wiping them away.

Softly, her voice sounding so far away and as old as she felt.  

” Oh Juanito, what those people did to you.  I hope your Papa and Hermano deal with them as they should.”  

She stayed in her kitchen, feeling safe from all she’d seen.  Normally, nothing like that would effect her.  But for some reason, because it was her Juanito, she felt it even more.

Sam went to the door and asked Scott to help him as he wrapped Johnny up.  Scott came into the room and looked at his baby brother.  He still, with all that Sam had done, was still unconscious.  As Sam gently wrapped Johnny’s body up, Scott caught a few glimpses of the stitches lacing across his brother’s body.

Scott swallowed hard a few times and he very softly said,

” Is he gonna be okay Sam?  I know his back is in a mess, but did we get him help in time?”

Sam stopped wrapping around Johnny’s torso, and he smiled at the older brother.  He knew what this new attack on Johnny was doing to his brother.  He breathed deeply and then he softly said,

” I think with the proper rest, nutrition and care, John should be fine, with time.  I’m not going to lie to you Scott, he’s very seriously hurt, and it’s going to take a long time for him to recover.  He will be angry about the time he’s down and he will be even angrier about the scars.”

Sighing Scott lowered his head and said just barely above a whisper,

” Johnny, he prides himself on his body Sam.  His muscles and his dark skin is what a lot of his lady friends love about him.  He’s going to hide from his friends Sam.  I know he is.  He won’t be able to deal with what he will perceive as disfiguring.  How do I help his mind Sam?”

Sam sat in the chair by Johnny’s desk and he took his glasses off and put them on the top of the desk.  He gently rubbed his eyes and Scott could hear a soft sigh.

Scott waited for Sam and soon the old Doctor spoke.

” Scott, Johnny will buck against what has happened to him.  His body and his mind will have to work together to overcome this tragedy.  His mind will be the most difficult to convince.  I’ve seen you with John when he’s been injured before.  You have a way of talking to him, similar to how he talks to wild horses.

” But how do I find the words Sam?  I’m not a psychiatrist.  I don’t want to say the wrong things, that could send my little brother over the edge.”

Sam reached over and patted Scott’s thigh.

” You’ll find the words Scott.  I know you will.  You deeply love your brother and he knows you will not lie to him or try to hurt him.  Lord knows that boy has been hurt many times, but never like this.  Scott, they whipped him so hard, some of the really deep and uglier scars, I saw bone.  He will need care, good nutritious food and the love of his family.”

Scott turned to look at his little brother, wrapped in so many bandages, he did look like the mummy Johnny accused him of making him into.  He felt a small smile lift his lips and he gently caressed the ever falling shaggy black hangs from his face.  

The love he had for his brother coming to the forefront.  Scott was determined he was going to help his brother to cope with all that has happened to his body.

Softly, speaking to his unconscious sibling, Scott said, ” No matter what it takes little Brother, Boston will always be here.  We’ll conquer this together, no matter how long it takes.  I promise you Johnny.”

Sam slowly stood and said, ” I’ll have Murdoch send some of the hands in and we’ll take Johnny to one of the bedrooms down here, for a bit.  Until he’s awake and can understand what’s happened to him.”

Sam closed his black bag and left the dining room.  He saw Maria hurrying down the hall to get one of the rooms ready for her Juanito.  As she quickly went past the old Doctor, he saw the very determined look on her face.  Yes, Maria was also determined her Juanito would survive this assault to not only his body, but also to his mind and his heart.

As Maria bustled in the room, she had chosen, she thought of all the healthy foods she would make him.  She smiled as she thought,

‘ Maybe I’ll even make him some of those churros he loves so much.’

When the four ranch hands brought Johnny carefully into the room, Maria had it aired out, the covers pulled down and a pitcher of cold water was ready.  She also had put a supply of night shirts on the dresser, along with the bandages she had rolled out of ripped and old bed sheets.

As Johnny was made comfortable, Sam, Scott and Murdock were in the room.  This was the largest bedroom on the first floor.   A table with four chairs had been brought in and put over by one of the open windows.

Murdoch and Sam left the brothers in the room, and went into the Great Room.  Murdoch poured them each a glass of whiskey.  As Sam sat on the sofa and relaxed, Murdoch handed him a glass and sat in an over stuffed chair by the unlit fireplace.

A few minutes passed, and then Sam began to tell Murdoch how it was going to be with Johnny, for a while anyway.

” Murdoch, that boy has a back full of my stitches, holding him together.  There will be NO yelling or carrying on for him to at least try to help himself.  He’s going to be sad and depressed and then he will buck against everything we all do to help him.  John will know you all mean well and do not wish him any harm.  But still he will fight you.  I’m sorry to say, it will be every step of the way.”

Murdoch stared a hole thru the Doctor and he finally said,

” How can I help John, Sam?  What do I need to do to help him. I saw the wounds on his back Sam, and they were so deep and ugly.  And the stab wound to his belly.  If that bastard had twisted the knife, John would be gone now?  That made me so sad to think someone could hate my little blue eyed son so much, they would condemn him to such a painful death as being whipped.  I saw what whipping did to Scott when he finally told me about his time at Libby Prison.  Sam, it was a horror what Scott had to endure.  His back is scared, as Johnny’s is now.”

” Yes Murdoch, but there is just one difference.  While Scott was whipped, his lashes were very thin and not very deep into the skin.  Where as Johnny, the man who wielded that whip wanted to inflict the most pain and leave the most damage to his back.  I saw evidence, Murdoch, that he’d been lashed ten times.”

Murdoch’s red rimmed eyes lifted to look at Sam.  As what Sam was saying slowly filled his mind, the anger he felt towards Harlan returned in waves upon waves.

” What do we do Sam?”

Sam smiled at the big Scot, and said, a very small smile on his lips,

” Murdoch, you have to give Johnny the space, and love of his family to accept what has happened.  Scott’s help will be very important to how Johnny receives and processes this event.  Be warned Murdoch, he’s going to buck against everything, even you.  Show him support and love Murdoch.  Don’t treat him any other way, except with understanding and love.  It’s going to be a long time before Johnny will be able to accept this.  Don’t let him fall into despair and don’t let him hide away from friends and family.”

Sam was satisfied Murdoch would do the right thing.  He looked out the big windows behind Murdoch’s desk, and he saw Val pacing back and forth, just like a caged animal.

” I’ll be right back Murdoch.”

Murdoch turned and watched Sam go thru the side doors to the porch and walk slowly to where Val stood.  He knew he was telling him about Johnny’s injuries.  He saw the Sheriff’s head moving up and down that he agreed with what Sam was telling him.

” Don’t turn from him Val.  You are his oldest friend, and yes, even family.  Johnny will need everyone’s love and support for a while longer.”

” Don’t you worry none Doc.  I ain’t ever gonna turn away from Johnny.  He’s my best friend.  Hell, he’s my only friend.  I’ll  do anything you want me to do Doc.  Just name it.”

Sam smiled at Val’s convictions to stand by his friend.  He felt better at having all Johnny’s family together on the same page.  This is going to be a hard trying time for the youngest son of Lancer.  He silently prayed, thru all the support and love, he would not become lost to them.  This was his Home.

As Sam was going to go into the house and check on the wrappings on Johnny’s body, a rider was coming under the Lancer arch.  Val turned and saw his Deputy.

As the Deputy stopped, Val’s raspy but booming voice asked,

” Any trouble in town?”

” No Sheriff, but Judge Crowley is asking for you to return to town.  He’d like the trial of Harlan Garrett to begin by the end of the week.”

Val squinted his eyes and softly whispered,

” Damn!  Johnny won’t be able to be a witness.  And without a witness, we’ll never be able to convict him!”

He turned and went into the house and started to tell Murdoch what was going on.

” I’ll have to go and talk to our lawyer.  He may want to change his case.”

He went to the bedroom down the hall, where his oldest was tending to his youngest.

” Scott, how’s he doing? “

Scott smiled and said,

” Well, he’s made a few signs that he was trying to wake up.  So, I’d say he’s doing very well.  Why, what’s wrong Sir?”

” The Judge wants us to get the case again Harlan to start by end of the week.  We haven’t got any witnesses, except that man named Doug.  Marvin might be able to tell what the Morales brothers did, but they are dead already.”

Scott’s smile faded and he said,

” We need Johnny, don’t we?”

Murdoch’s frown almost matched his son’s frown, and he quietly said,

” Yes we do, but how can he testify?  He’s still unconscious. “

Scott thought for a bit and said,

” How about having Mr Pendleton talk to the Judge, telling him what’s happened to Johnny and maybe have a delay of some kind.”

” Worth a try Scott.  I’ll go into town with Val and talk to Mr Pendleton, see what he can do.”

Scott looked at his brother.  Thinking how peaceful he looks when he’s asleep.  It’s only when he’s awake that he’s in pain.  Not necessarily physical pain, but the pain that squeezes his heart.  That’s sometimes worse than the physical pain.

After Murdoch, Val and Sam left Lancer, Scott went to the bedroom his little brother was in.  He sat in the chair and gently wiped a cool cloth across his forehead and his neck.

” Oh little Brother, I don’t know if you can hear me or not.  Maybe you can.  Wish you’d wake up before the end of the week.  The Judge is pushing the case against Harlan.  We don’t have a good case without you.  I wish you were well enough to be at that trial.  I want him to just be taught the lesson, for one last time……you don’t mess with Lancer.”

Scott continued to wipe his brother down, keeping the fever he knew would be appearing anytime, under control.

Around supper time, just as Murdoch came in to tell Scott to come and eat, there was a soft sigh from the bed and the young man lying on the bed.

Scott turned to his brother and Murdoch reached the other side of the bed.  Scott took Johnny’s hand in his and rubbed it gently.

” Come on Brother.  I know you hear me now.  Wake up Johnny.  You’re safe at Lancer.  Open your eyes Johnny.”

Murdoch put his large warm hand on Johnny’s cheek and softly said, ” Son, you’re at home.  You’re safe.  Come on Johnny, open your eyes.”

Slowly, Johnny’s head moved on the pillow.  Soft sounds of waking up could be heard from the still dark haired young man.

As the two men watched, the eyelids flickered and then slowly they opened.  Two small slivers of sapphire under thick black lashes could be seen.

Murdoch could see the pain lines coming almost instantly to Johnny’s face.  He told Scott to mix some laudanum into a glass of water.  He handed the glass to his father and then put his hand behind Johnny’s head.  Lifting gently, Murdoch said,

” Drink this John.  The pain will ease Son.”

Johnny opened his mouth and he drank the water laced with the laudanum.  He made that face and his father laughed softly.

” Dios, that stuff is horrible Murdoch!”

” If it tasted good Brother, it wouldn’t work, now would it.”

” How long I been down?  This isn’t my room.  How did I get here?”

Murdoch put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and quietly said,

” Your buddy, Marvin, followed you out of town John.  It’s a good thing he did, because you might not have made it.”

“You’ve been home for ten days now Brother.  Sam stitched up your back and your belly.  No infections and no fever, so I’d say you were on your way to a great recovery.”

Johnny laid in the soft bed and he thought for a few minutes.

” I remember the whip on my back Murdoch.  What happened to my belly?”

Scott looked at their father and then he sat on the side of the bed.  He put his hand on Johnny’s forearm and said,

” One of them stuck you with a very large very nasty looking knife little Brother.  Marvin had followed you and it’s a good thing he did Johnny.”

Johnny’s sapphire eyes locked on his brother’s eyes and his voice, getting slurred with the laudanum beginning to work, quietly said,

” What did Marvin do Boston?”

Murdoch looked at Johnny and said,

“He shot them both Johnny.  Then he tied you to Barranca’s back and rode for Lancer.  He saved your life again Son.”

Johnny smiled very softly and said, even thou he was fading quickly,

” Guess I should thank him.”

Johnny started to get up and Scott put his hands on his brother’s shoulders.  He gently pushed Johnny back to the soft mattress.

” Not going anywhere Brother.  Not until Sam comes and checks you out.  You know the drill little Brother.”

Even as Scott was talking, Johnny’s eyes were slowly lowering.  He fell asleep about two hours before Sam came to check his embroidery on Johnny’s back.  He also was going to see how the other wounds were healing.

Scott and Murdoch left and as they were walking out the door, Murdoch said to his oldest.

” Talked to our lawyer this morning.  He said the Judge refuses to delay this trial any longer.  By Monday, he wants to start.  I hope your brother is able to testify, otherwise that man will be released.”

Unknown to them, Johnny had heard what they were saying and he vowed to make sure Harlan Garrett went to prison for a very long time.

A few hours later, Sam knocked on the door and Johnny softly said to come in.

Sam smiled and said, as he layed his battered black bag on the side of the bed,

” Nice to see you awake John.  How are you feeling today?”

” I’m fine.”

Sam chuckled and said, with the twinkles in his eyes beginning,

” That is such an old line John.  How about you tell me how you really feel?  And be honest.”

Johnny’s sapphire eyes sparkled as he smiled at the kind old Doctor.  He certainly had his number down!

” The stitches are starting to pull in my back a little.  When can they come out Sam?”

” Pull your night shirt up and I’ll take a look at them John.”

As Johnny got off the bed, Sam helped him with the night shirt.  He poked and prodded the wounds and said,

” Well, they are healing really well John.  I’m thinking by the weekend, I should be ready to take out the stitches.”

As Johnny slid a clean night shirt on, he turned to Sam as he sat on the bed.

” Can I talk to you Sam, without the old man or Scott knowing?”

Sam pulled the chair out from the desk and sat down.  He looked at Johnny and he slid his glasses off and wiped them clean.

” As your Doctor, John, I do not have to tell them anything you tell me, if you don’t want them to know.  What seems to be troubling you Son?”

Johnny lowered his head and stared at the floor and was very quiet for a few more minutes.

” John?”

Johnny lifted up his head and quietly said,

” Have you heard about Harlan’s trial, I mean what the Judge told Murdoch’s lawyer?”

” Yes, I believe I did John.  What’s the real question?”

Johnny’s eyes locked on Sam and he very softly said,

” If I were to ask you to do something, would you do it without a lot of arguing?”

Sam put both hands on the tops of his thighs, as if he was going to stand up.  He gave Johnny a very intense look and he said,

” First, I’d have to know what it is you want me to do and is it dangerous to your health at all.  Now tell me what you are thinking.”

(Chapter 11)

Scott and Murdoch were in the Great Room, waiting, when Sam finally came back down the hall from checking Johnny’s wounds.

Murdoch looked up first and said,

” How is he Sam?  Can we move him up to his room or should we leave him in the room he’s in?”

Sam sat down in one of the blue chairs and motioned to the coffee pot.  Scott poured him a cup and Sam took a long satisfying sip of the hot liquid.

He put the cup down on the small table in between the two marching chairs.  He looked at both of the Lancers, cleared his throat and said,

” I think for the time being, we should leave John where he is.  At least until I remove the stitches.  Just to be sure that they are healed together and won’t open up.”

Scott and Murdoch agreed that was probably the best thing to do.  Scott was leaning against the mantle and he said,

” How soon do you think before you take the stitches out Sam?”

Sam removed his glasses and said, as he rubbed his eyes,

” Probably early part of next week.  They look like they are healing pretty good, so shouldn’t be a long time.”

Murdoch got up from behind his desk and looked real closely at Sam.  He knew Sam had more to say and was looking for the right words.  He smiled inside as he thought,

‘ That’s exactly what John does when he’s got something bad to tell him, and he’s looking for the right words.’

” Was there something more Sam?”

As Sam slid his glasses back on, he raised his eyes to look at Murdoch.  It took a few minutes for Sam to figure out what and how he was going to say this.

” Yes, there is something more Murdoch.  Johnny heard and knows about the Judge not allowing the trial to be postponed.  He also knows that the witnesses aren’t that many.  He’s worried that Harlan will be set free.”

Scott sat his hip against the desk and he said,

” What does Johnny want to do?  He won’t be able to testify, will he Sam?”

Sam gave Scott a very intense look, but Scott wasn’t really paying any attention.

” He won’t be able to testify for a few days yet, if he can even tolerate the ride to town.”

Murdoch’s sighed and said,

” I don’t know what our lawyer is going to do with just three witnesses.  I truly don’t want to see that man go free.”

Scott was very quiet and he softly said, after a few minutes,

” I don’t want him to go free either.  Not with what he’s done to you and my Brother.  I want him to pay, and pay dearly for what he’s done.”

” I understand you both are at the trial Monday morning.  I will more than likely see you both there.  I have the rest of my rounds to do.  I’ll be out on Saturday to see how John is doing.”

Murdock walked Sam out to his buggy and watched as Sam’s little mare took off in a little cloud of dust.  He chuckled and thought to himself,

‘ Quite the change from old Maudie. ‘

When Murdoch came back inside, it was to see his oldest son with a very intense far away look on his face.  Scott wasn’t even aware his father had come back in, until his father put his large hand on Scott’s shoulder.

As Scott jumped, Murdoch chuckled and said,

” I’m sorry Son.  I thought you heard me come back in.  What had you so deep in thought?”

Scott turned his silver blue eyes to his father and he had a very intense look in them.

” I think my tricky little Brother has talked Sam into doing something.”

” Like what would he be wanting Sam to do, that Sam wouldn’t talk to us about it.”

” Something Johnny swore Sam to silence, as in patient Doctor confidentiality.”

Murdoch turned around to look at his Son and then glanced down the hall towards the room that Johnny was in.

Murdoch started to walk down the hallway towards the bedroom, and Scott instantly followed him.

They walked in and Johnny turned his head on the pillow to look at them.  He had a small smirky smile on his lips.

Scott knew, at that moment, that his little brother was up to something.

Scott stopped at the foot of the bed, planted his feet a bit apart and slid his hands to his waist.  His eyes turned almost slate blue.

Johnny saw the stance and the eye change in color and he smiled at his brother like a Cheshire cat.

” You have something on your mind Boston?”

Murdoch stayed by the door, watching both of his Sons spar.  It was, quite honestly, almost as good as watching John get ready in a gun fight.  His soft, intense glare of his eyes, that smile that just wouldn’t melt butter, the whole relaxed figure of a gun fighter that he displayed.

” I want the truth Johnny, are you and Sam planning to do something at this trial on Monday?”

Johnny starred at his brother with such a look on innocence, Murdoch was grinning from ear to ear by the doorway.

” Do something?  Like what Boston?  He ain’t released me to go into the Great Room yet, and you have me going into Morro Coyo to do something.”

Scoff glared at Johnny for a few minutes longer, saw the sparkles of delight in his bright sapphire eyes and knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his little brother.

He let out a very exasperated sigh and lowered his hands from his waist.

” Well, whatever you are planning little Brother, better not get you hurt again.”

Johnny’s little boy smile came to his lips and the sparkles grew in his eyes.  He was planning on something alright, and he wouldn’t be the one getting hurt.  He actually couldn’t wait now for Monday to come.

A little while later, the Lancers had dinner in Johnny’s room.  Johnny stayed in the bed, propped up by a mile of pillows.  Scott and Murdoch ate at the table.  Johnny tried to sit on the wooden chair, but it was too much for his back.

Just before Murdoch gave Johnny his nightly glass of sleeping powders mixed in water, Scott said someone would very much like to see him.

Johnny was baffled and thought it might be Val.  But when the person came in the room, the smile on Johnny’s face was warm and very genuine.

” Marvin!  Oh man, do I owe you my life!  That took more guts than you can imagine to do what you did.  I’m so grateful to you for saving me again.  I can’t begin to tell you.  If I can do anything for you Marvin, you have only to ask.”

Marvin stood by the bed, a big grin on his face and he quietly said,

” I did it, because you are my friend Johnny, my only friend here.  I couldn’t let them Morales brothers kill you like that.  Wasn’t right.  I only did what I had to.”

Johnny looked at Marvin and he very softly said,

” You aren’t having any bad feelings because you killed two men, are you?  Because I know if you didn’t, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

” No, I ain’t had no bad feelings Johnny.  I guess, I’m just bothered that I had to do it at all.  But I tell you this, I’d do it again to keep you from dying Johnny.  You and Scott are my  friends.”

Marvin laughed a little silly laugh and said,

” Well, maybe Val too, but he’s so prickly at times, it’s hard to know with him.”

Soft laughs could be heard in the room by everyone and Johnny said,

” I’d be real careful calling Val ‘prickly’ to his face.”

It got real quiet and Marvin looked down and said,

” Well, just wanted to see how you were doing Johnny.  Wasn’t sure there for awhile, but I see you had some great help.  I’ll come by again when you are stronger, and maybe we can talk some more.  Good night my friend.”

Johnny watched Marvin leave, with a soft smile on his lips and his sapphire eyes almost at half mast.  He wondered if he would be able to sleep without the sleeping powders.

” Murdoch, I don’t think I need the powders tonight.  Let me try it without them tonight.  Please.”

Murdoch walked to the side of the bed and gently cupped his youngest Son’s chin and lifted his face up.  He saw a very calm and peaceful look in Johnny’s eyes and told him he’d hold off and see how he did on his own.

Johnny’s eyes locked on his father’s, and the two Lancers sent warm looks of love to the other.  Something that had never happened between them before.

Scott saw it and he smiled softly.  Perhaps they both had come to an understanding of sorts.  It gave him a warm feeling inside as well.

Scott patted his brother’s shoulder and warmly wished him a good night.

” See you in the morning Boston.”

” Good night Son.  Sleep well.  If you need something, we won’t be far away.”

Johnny’s drowsy smile was his only answer to his father.  He laid his head on the pillows and closed his eyes.

Scott and Murdoch left the room.  Scott decided to take the room next to his brother’s first, in case he needed him.  He didn’t think he would, but in case he did, he would be close by.

They said goodnight and soon the big house was dark and quiet.  Something that hadn’t happened in a long time.  It was maybe a good sign to the three Lancer men who slept within the walls.

The weekend was very cheerful for Lancer.  Nothing bad happened.  No fences down, all the cattle were accounted for and everything was quiet.  Usually that was a sign something bad was about to happen, but so far everything was good.

Monday morning there was a bit of tension as Scott and Murdoch got ready to head to town for the beginning of the trial of Scott’s grandfather.

Scott was unusually subdued, but assured his brother and father he was just fine.

After they left Johnny’s room, to go mount their horses, they saw that Cipriano and Marvin were ready as well.  They along with Scott and Murdoch would offer their testimony.

The four of them left Lancer and were heading to Morro Coyo, when halfway to town they met Sam heading out.  Everyone stopped and Murdoch asked Sam where he was off to so early.

” Early rounds Murdoch.  I wanted to get back to catch your testimonies at the trial.  I’ll see you there soon.”

And he flicked the reins across his little mare’s back and off she went.

As Sam rounded a bend in the road he stopped his buggy.  He got out and looked behind to the road he just traveled.  He wanted to make sure Murdoch didn’t circle back.

When he was satisfied, he got his little mare going again.  He arrived at Lancer and told the ranch hand to leave her hitched, he was only going to be a few minutes.

Sam went up to the porch and he knocked on the door.  The door was opened by a very surprised Maria.

” Yes Senor Doctor.  Can I help you?”

He smiled at her and patted her cheek gently.

” I’m just here to check Johnny, before I head to the trial.  I’ll only be a minute.”

Sam, who had his battered black bag in his hand, turned and hurried down the hallway.  He knocked gently on the door and Johnny said to enter.

Sam walked in and saw Johnny sitting up in the bed, a big wolfish grin on his lips.

Sam checked his back and belly quickly and saw no problems.  He’d leave the stitches in until this madness was over.

He did however, change the bandages, putting thick pads on his back and rewrapping everything again.

Johnny directed Sam to where the clothes he wanted to wear were and he helped Johnny to get dressed.  When his boots were on, he helped Johnny to stand.  He waited nearby as he got his balance.

Sam reached for his gun belt on the top of the dresser and Johnny slid it around his hips.  He tied the holster side down on his thigh and then said he was ready.

They walked down the hall and at the front door, Johnny put his hat and his short bolero jacket on.

Sam helped Johnny into the buggy and he got as comfortable as he could.  Sam started his little mare off and Johnny smiled.  She was a good fit for the kind old Doctor.

Johnny directed Sam to go the back way into town, in case anyone was on the walkway, he didn’t want to be seen just yet.

Sam left Johnny sitting in the buggy, out of sight, and went into the building being used as the court house.  He saw Mr Pendelton and walked over to him and was in silent conversation with him.  The lawyer shook his head he understood and Sam moved to where Scott and Murdoch were standing and talking to Val.

Harlan was back in the holding cell until the trial resumed.

As the proceedings were called to order once more, everyone sat down.  Sam joined Scott and Murdoch where they sat behind their lawyer’s table.  Harlan was brought out once more and again Scott couldn’t believe the disheveled look he was in.

As the Judge told them to start again and that there better not be anymore interruptions.  Directing his comments towards Harlan, who had made loud entreaties to his grandson to stop this and drop the chargers against him.  That wasn’t going to happen, at least as far as Scott was concerned.

Sam got up suddenly and told Scott he’d be right back.  He walked to the back of the room and waited for the lawyer.

” Your Honor, a special witness was just brought to my attention.  This person is vital to the trial.”

Harlan’s lawyer stood to object and before the word was out, the Judge banged the gavel and said he would allow this new witness.

Mr Pendleton nodded and Sam opened the door.  Everyone stood up, so Scott and Murdoch couldn’t see who it was.

Suddenly, the soft sing song sound of spurs wafted to where the Lancer men sat.  They looked at each other and waited to see if their thoughts were correct.

As the person came abreast of the bench they sat on, they saw Johnny.  He was walking straight, but his swagger was not present.  Murdoch saw the pain lines on his face as his Son slowly turned around.

” Place your left hand on the bible and state your full name please?”

Slowly, Johnny slid his left hand up to the bible and then lifted his right hand.

” Johnny Madrid…… Lancer.”

” Please take your seat Sir.”

As Johnny sat down, his deep sapphire eyes slowly locked on Harlan Garrett, and there appeared on his lips the smallest of smiles.

Harlan began to sweat and he swallowed hard.  He was scared, and would know what facing Johnny Madrid was going to feel like.

Mr Pendleton slowly moved towards Johnny, he spoke quietly to the young man.

” Good morning Mr Lancer, or may I call you John?”

” I go by Johnny, but John is fine.”

Mr Pendleton smiled and said,

” I’m going to take you back about ten months.  Where were you and in what condition were you in?”

Johnny slowly began to talk about the room in a desert, being chained to a wall, the whipping, infections on his back, and watching his beloved Palomino being whipped.

Johnny stopped, because he felt the tears filling his eyes.  

When Johnny got himself under control, he continued.

Johnny told of only seeing one person who helped him.  And when the others abandoned the small building, taking all the supplies, Marvin had to find a way to get him help.

How Marvin put Johnny in the back of the wagon and just rode northwest to get to California.  That Johnny was unconscious with severe infections on his back.  All Marvin had to work with was water and bar soap to keep them clean.

Johnny continued, telling them they found a small town a few days later.  Where a Doctor friend fixed him up and got the infections cleaned out.

Johnny stopped there and Mr Pendleton asked him if he could continue.

Johnny seemed to sit up higher in the witness chair and he told Mr Pendelton he was going to finish.

Johnny told about how the Doctor in that town fixed his wounds and got the infections to vanish.  That he was there a week, and began to figure out who the ‘ Boss’ was the Morales brothers were waiting for.

Scott and Val got there a few days later, and watched over Johnny until he was cleared to go home.  They talked about who was behind it, and their notes and thoughts were the same.

Mr Pendleton stood by the side of his table and he said,

” Who did you and your brother think was the ‘ Boss’, Johnny?”

Without hesitation, Johnny slowly turned his head and his dark sapphire eyes locked on Harlan.

” That man right there, Harlan Garrett.”

(Chapter 12)

Everything got suddenly quiet.  Not a sound was heard.  Every eye in the room was on Johnny.  He neither moved nor said a word.  His eyes just locked on Harlan and a small smile was on his lips.

Scott slowly swindled his head to look at his grandfather.  He saw the sweat pouring down his cheeks, his eyes were huge and he was breathing hard.

Scott closed his eyes and turned away.  He knew that with Johnny’s pronouncement of his grandfather as the ‘Boss’, that would seal his fate.

Mr Pendleton, standing by his table, let Johnny’s words sink in.  The jury had already heard Scott and Murdoch’s testimony.  This just clinched his fate in this trial.

He had to get this next part of Johnny’s testimony just right, with as little pain for the young man as possible.

” John, who had Harlan Garrett hired to hold you and torture you?”

Johnny turned back to face the lawyer and in a strong voice, he said,

” He had hired the Morales Brothers, Salazar and Manuel Morales.  Manuel was the one with the whip and knife.”

” John, this is going to be hard for me to ask.  But this is important John.  Can you show us what this animal did to your back.  Please?”

Murdock and Scott watched Johnny.  His eyes slowly closed and his hands gripped the arm rests of the chair he was sitting in.  Murdoch closed his eyes as well.

Johnny took a deep breath and as he slowly stood, his eyes closed and he looked like he was starting to shake.

Scott felt his brother’s pain and wished he could go to him and put his arms around his shoulders.  He knew Johnny had to do this, for his own peace of mind.  Scott held his breath and waited to see how his brother was going to handle this.

Scott also felt Murdoch tensing next to him.  He chanced a quick look at his father, and his face was a little pale at what Johnny was about to do.

Johnny was breathing hard and you could see the shaking he was doing.  His fingers were trying to open the small white buttons on his shirt, but with the shaking it was taking longer than normal.

Johnny pulled the ends of his shirt from the top of his pants and he slowly turned, so his back was towards the jury.  He let the shirt slide down his arms.

As the soft gasps could be heard from some of the people, Johnny’s eyes closed and two giant silver tears slid down his cheeks.

After about five minutes, Mr Pendleton softly put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and quietly said,

” That’s enough John.  I know how much that hurt you to do that.  Thank you for doing it.”

Johnny carefully pulled his shirt back on, turned back around and buttoned up his shirt.  He tucked it back into the top of his pants and then sat down again.

As Scott watched his brother, with a lump in his throat the size of Arizona, he saw the courage once again slide onto Johnny’s face.  He gently wiped the tears from his cheeks and sat up straighter on the bench.

Johnny gave more testimony, on how he felt about the scars that would now cover his back or the hole in his belly from the knife that was slowly pushed into his belly.

Johnny’s eyes lowered and his voice was very soft, but filled with an inner strength.

” They won’t vanish or get lighter in color.  They will always be there to remind me I’m now disfigured.  All because that old man over there wanted to get me out of the way, so that my brother Scott would go back to Boston.”

Johnny then lifted his head and turned to look at Harlan.  His eyes suddenly took on a harder edge.  Johnny Madrid was now facing the old man.

” That wasn’t ever going to happen you old bastard!  Scott wanted nothing to do with you!”

” Objection Your Honor!”

” Over ruled!  Please continue Mr Lancer, if you need to.”

Softly, Johnny said,

” I don’t have anymore to say Your Honor.”

” Cross examination?”

Harlan’s lawyer stood and with a shaky voice he said,

” No Your Honor, no questions.”

Harlan became very animated and began to yell.

” How can you not ask him any questions!?  He’s nothing but a half breed gun slinger!  His testimony means nothing!”

Before the Judge could reach for his gavel, Scott stood up and turned angry eyes to the person he thought he loved.

” Don’t you ever call him that ever again!  He has more gentleness, more intellect, more everything than you could ever imagine having!  You sealed your fate when you hired that men to kill my father, and when you hired the Morales brothers to torture and kill my brother.  I will never consider you my family, EVER!  I don’t care what happens to you now!  We are done forever.  You are the one who has no breeding.  You have hurt us for the last time.  I’m done!”

Scott turned to the Judge and quietly said,

” My apologies Your Honor.  I did not mean to be disruptive in Your court.  Please excuse me.”

Scott turned and walked down the aisle and went out the door to get some air.

The Judge had the jury taken to a small room to deliberate.  

Johnny slowly walked to where Murdoch stood.  Murdoch slowly and gently wrapped his arms around his youngest.  Johnny laid his head on his father’s chest, and closed his eyes

Johnny felt the soft touch on his hair and then the very soft voice of his father.

” It’s okay John.  You did well up there.  I’ve never been so proud of you as I am today Son.”

Johnny felt his heart beginning to beat faster.  His father was proud of him.  That somehow made showing the scars on his back, almost worth the humiliation and hurt.  Almost.

The Deputy had taken Harlan back to the holding cell, and his lawyer sat at the table in the court house.  He was through with defending that vile creature.

It was not more than fifteen minutes later that the foreman told the Deputy they’d reached a decision.

Harlan was almost dragged back into the court room.  He did not want to be there.

The Deputy and two other officers stood behind Harlan, as the Judge came back in.

The foreman stood up and held a piece of paper in his hands.  

Johnny slid closer to Murdoch and he slid his arm around his Son’s shoulder.

Scott was at the door leaning against it, holding his breath with waiting for the decision to be read.

” Harlan Garrett, stand please.”

He slowly stood and waited.  The foreman opened the paper and he slowly read the decision.  Guilty on all charges.  Johnny softly sighed against his father’s chest and Scott had a satisfied grin on his face.

The Judge then took over.  He pulled his glasses to the end of his nose and began.

” Harlan Garrett, being found guilty of the five charges against you, I am ready to set your sentence.”

Harlan began to cry and it had no effect on the Judge.  As the Judge began, he got paler and paler.

” You are a despicable human Mr Garrett.  To be truthful, I probably would have done what your grandson did, and disown you.  But my opinion has no merit in this proceeding.  I hear by direct you to be transferred to San Quentin Prison.  To be incarcerated for the remainder of your lifetime.  What you tried to do to your grandson’s family was beyond contemptuous.  You had kept him from his family for over twenty years and tried to have his father and brother murdered.  You will be incarcerated in the high risk side of the prison Mr Garrett and therefore will have no visitors allowed.”

” Deputy, take the prisoner away to await the prison wagon.”

The Deputy moved in front of Harlan and put a set of chains on his wrists and a set on his ankles.  He hobbled to the door that led to the cell he would be in until the prison wagon came.

Murdoch and Johnny stood with Val, Marvin, Cipriano and Sam talking about the decision of the Judge.  Scott slowly came down the aisle and Murdoch put his arm around his shoulder.

” I’m sorry Scott.  But he brought this on himself Son.”

” I know Sir.  It’s just still a shock and I think I’ll need some time to get used to it.”

Johnny reached his hand out to Scott’s forearm and softly said,

” We need some time Boston.  He’s done a lot of bad things to us Brother, and it was about time that it came back on him.”

”  I know Brother.  Guess we are done here.  Let’s go home.”

While everyone mounted their horses, Johnny was helped into Sam’s buggy.  He was, as expected, exhausted from his testimony and the Judge’s decision.

As they rode at a sedate walk, Scott rode next to his brother.  He noticed how tired his little brother was becoming, and wished they’d thought to borrow a wagon from the livery.

Johnny’s head was almost to his chest, arms crossed on his chest.  He looked for all the world like a man just resting in a swaying buggy.  Scott, Murdoch and even Sam, knew he was almost unconscious.

When they finally reached Lancer, Murdoch just reached into the buggy and picked his unconscious son up into his strong arms.  He carried him upstairs to his own room.

Scott had quietly followed his father into the room.  Together they stripped Johnny of his clothes and boots.  Scott slid a clean nightshirt on his brother.

Murdoch noted that the welts on Johnny’s back were not bleeding.  For which he gave a soft sigh of relief.  He would put bandages on his back when he woke.

Just before Scott pulled up the cool sheet to cover Johnny, a very tired and sleepy voice came from the bed.

” Thanks Boston.”

Scott gently brushed the black shaggy bangs from his closed eyes and very softly said,

” Anytime Brother, anytime.”

Murdoch stood on the other side of the bed, looking at his exhausted son.  A soft smile slid to his lips and he said to Scott,

” He did the most remarkable thing today Scott.  I am extremely proud of him.”

” Yes Sir.  It was, I think, the testimony that swayed the jury.  I just hope there isn’t any fallout for my brother after he heals a bit and goes into town.  I’m sure they are already talking about it.”

Murdoch was very quiet and he too hoped that because of what Johnny did in court, that it wouldn’t come back to bit him in the ass.

They left Johnny snoring quietly in his own bed and they went downstairs to the Great Room.  Scott headed right to the corner, where the liquor was.  He poured a large glass of whiskey, and sucked it back in two large gulps.

As he put his left hand on the corner of the stand, to steady himself when the warm liquid hit his empty stomach, he felt Murdoch’s warm hand on his shoulder.

” Son, I know you are hurting, but getting drunk won’t and isn’t the way to deal with the anger I’m sure you feel.”

Scott lowered his hand with the glass in it, and his blonde head soon followed.  Murdoch soon heard a small quivering sound coming from Scott.  He slowly pulled his Son around and pulled him to his chest.

Scott’s arms slid around his father’s large body and he shook in his father’s embrace.  A couple soft sobs could be heard and Murdoch closed his eyes.  This was the first time Scott had ever sought his comfort like this.  It was as though both Sons were passing thru the brick wall he’d erected all those years before.

” It’s okay Son.  Breathe thru the pain and it will be okay.  He had it coming Scott.  There was nothing you could do.  You’ve tried four years of trying to convince him you were staying at Lancer.  It wasn’t your fault he chose not to believe you.  It’s okay Son, we have to move on now.  Things will be fine Scott, you’ll see.”

Against Murdoch’s shoulder, Scott cried and then began to talk thru his tears.

” My grandfather, how could he do that to me and my family, and still think he’d done nothing wrong?  He never apologized for what he did.  Even in court, he continued to call my Brother that vile name.  I wish I knew why Murdoch.”

Murdoch sighed softly.  He wished he had the right words for his eldest Son.  He was hurting and he softly said,

” He just didn’t think you would want to stay here, away from all the glamour and finer things you could find in Boston.  He wanted you to hate being here and tried at every turn to prove he was right.  I’m sorry it ended like this Scott.  I really am.”

Scott moved from the warm comforting embrace, wiped his eyes and quietly said, ” I guess I never really knew him.  Now I guess I never will.”

Scott lifted very sad silver blue eyes to look at his father.  He saw the same sadness in his eyes.

Scott turned and slowly walked to the stairs.  He went up one step at a time, very slowly, as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.  He went down the hall and opened his little brother’s door.  He quietly went in and pulled the chair to the side of the bed.

He sat forward in the chair, his arms laid on his thighs.  His eyes looked at his brother softly sleeping.  It did take a lot out of his little brother with what he did at court today.

As he thought about it, his grandfather was the only one in that whole court room that wasn’t deeply troubled when Johnny bared his back to them all.  It was as if he was happy his brother was scarred for life.

Scott suddenly sat up.  He knew what he had to do.  He got up from the chair and quietly left the room.  He went slowly down the stairs and out the door.  He strode with determination to the barn.  He saddled Charlie with military precision and rode out of Lancer.  Murdoch watched from the big windows in the Great Room, as his oldest Son rode out.

Two hours later, Scott barreled into town and raced to the jail, pulling back on the reins.  Charlie almost sat on his launches he was stopped so fast.

Scott leaped off Charlie’s back and quickly wrapped the reins around the railing.  He stomped up the walkway to the door of the jail and pushed the door open.

Val looked up from the stack of wanted posters and saw Scott standing there, breathing rather hard.

” Afternoon Scott, what can I do for you?”

” Open the door and leave me alone with that old bastard!”

Val looked at Scott and squinted his eyes and looked him over very carefully.  He saw the agitated state Scott was in and he thought about it for a few minutes.

He crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair.  He said, in a soft, but deadly sounding voice,

” I don’t think so Scott.  You don’t seem to be acting right.”

Scott’s eyes took on a frosted look and his voice, sounding just as deadly as Johnny Madrid, and he pulled his gun out and aimed it at Val’s chest.

” I don’t want to argue with you Val. I want you to do as I say, or I will shoot you.”

It became a battle of wills and Val looked at Scott, trying to measure his feelings, if he would shoot him or not.  The quiet click of a hammer being pulled back was Val’s answer.

Val reached for the key ring and opened the huge metal door.  

What Scott did next just surprised the hell out of Val.  He laid his gun on the edge of Val’s desk.  He walked into the back room and stood in front of the cell that held the old man who he once thought of as his grandfather.

” Get up!  I want to talk to you for the last time.”

Harlan looked at Scott and remained sitting on the cot.  He had a very peculiar look on his face and it somehow bothered Scott.

” What are you planning now old man?”

The smile that came to his lips unnerved Scott.  Harlan laughed this very evil sounding laugh and he said, in a crazed sounding voice,

” I have the last laugh.  That half breed bastard and that big oaf of a man will still be killed.  I may be gone, but my order will be carried out regardless.  So you see, you haven’t won anything.”

” What have you done!?”

Harlan just looked at Scott and smiled, this sickeningly kind of a smile.

” You figure it out.”

Scott slowly backed out into the main office.  Val saw that he was in distress and moved to steady him as he moved him to a chair.

” Scott, what did he say?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

” He put a contract out on my brother and father.  But he won’t tell me who or when or nothing.  I got to get home to warn them!”

There was the sound of many horses coming into town, and the door to the jail opened.  In stepped Murdoch, and he took one look at Scott and walked quickly to him and knelt down.

He slid a huge hand onto his shoulder and said, gently and evenly,

” Son, you okay?  I knew you were coming here.  What did that snake tell you this time?”

Scott looked at his father, his eyes began to well up, and he quietly said,

” He’s set up killers for you and Johnny.  He won’t tell me who or when.”

Murdoch stood up and said,

” Well, he’s gonna tell me!”  He moved to go to the back room.  Scott’s voice stopped him dead in his tracks.

” He’s crazy Murdoch,  he’s just laughing like a madman, this whole thing has made him mad!”

Murdoch pulled the door open and walked into the back room, closing the door behind him.

(Chapter 13)

At Lancer, Johnny was waking up after a couple hours rest.  The testimony and showing his disfigured back took more out of him than he thought.

Thinking about everyone seeing his back as it is now, bothered Johnny immensely.  He didn’t want anyone to look at him differently now.

A soft knock on the door pulled Johnny from his daydreaming.  He softly said to come in and the door opened.

Johnny’s smile grew as he saw who entered his room, carrying a food tray.

” Hey Marvin, how are ya?  Thanks for testifying.  You helped put that crazy old bastard in jail!”

Marvin smiled back and laid the tray on Johnny’s lap.  He sat on the wooden chair by the side and snagged a piece of bacon from Johnny’s plate.

” Hey, that’s mine!”

Marvin broke it in half and gave Johnny the bigger of the two pieces.  He slid it into his mouth and grinned at Marvin the whole time.

” How long has the Doc given you to stay in bed?”

Before Johnny could answer, Marvin softly said,

“That was a brave thing you did Johnny.  I don’t think I could have done that.”

Johnny quietly ate some of his eggs and took a sip of the hot coffee.  He was very quiet, but as his head dropped a bit, his soft voice said,

” How bad did it look to you Marvin?  Do you think people will look at me differently now?”

Marvin leaned back in the chair and he looked at his friend.  He knew Johnny was deeply bothered by his scarred back.

” Johnny, they looked okay.  They will fade some and then you won’t even notice them anymore.”

Johnny pushed the tray of food onto the mattress and said,

” No, they won’t fade Marvin.  They are too deep into the skin.  That’s what Sam said anyway.  I just have to accept it.  I’m disfigured.”

Marvin started to get an uneasy feeling in his chest.  He was way over his head with this.  He’d have to talk to Scott when he came back.

He picked up the tray and as he stood to leave the room, he said,

” Man, I don’t wanna be in your shoes when Miz Maria sees this uneaten food.  She will come up here with that big wooden spoon she has!”

Johnny smiled, a sad small smile, and Marvin’s gut clenched just a little more.

” I’ll see ya later Johnny, unless Maria has you doing all the mending!”

Johnny’s sapphire eyes sparkled with a sudden light and the smile crept a bit higher on his face.  The second Marvin left the room, the smile and the sparkle left Johnny’s face.

He leaned back against the pillows and he looked out the window.  He saw his beloved horse racing around the big corral.  Johnny sighed.  Barranca was just as antsy as he was.

As Johnny put his head on the pillows, he wondered if he could sneak out and take Barranca for a ride, while Scott and Murdoch were gone.  Then be back before them.

Johnny laughed a soft little chuckle.

‘ That’s the whole thing………be back before they were.  I don’t even know where they went or how long they are gone for.’

Sighing, Johnny closed his eyes and laid back on the pillows.  He’d sleep until one of them came home and he’d find out how long he was laid up for.

Meanwhile, at the jail in town, Scott and Val could hear Murdoch’s booming voice coming thru the heavy metal door.

Scott looked at Val and said,

” If I were that crazy old man, I’d tell Murdoch what he wanted to know, before he ripped those bars apart.”

Val looked at Scott with a very intense deep look, and he thought,

‘ Now, I know where these boys get their attitudes from.  I wonder if anyone can hear Murdoch outside the jail.’

Scott was pacing and Val was getting crazy watching him.  He leaned back in his chair and told Scott to sit down, that he was making him crazy.

Val was just going to say something, and the heavy metal door opened and then slammed hard behind Murdoch.

Scott looked up and said,

” Well, what did he say?  Did he tell you who and when?”

Murdoch stormed over to the window looking out over the main street.  Scott could tell he was really pissed, by the veins sticking up on his forehead.

” He laughed at my questions.  He said, we’d never see it coming.  He said he wished he could see the aftermath of this contract killing, but he would only be able to dream about them.”

You and Johnny have to be really careful until we can figure this out Sir.  I’ll send a telegram to his lawyer and tell him the old man is heading to prison and would not be coming out again.  Maybe I can get an injunction to stop the contract.”

” Anything will help.  Maybe if this assassin knows he won’t be paid, maybe he’ll back off.  I hope so.  Your brother is no way near ready to engage with a gunslinger.”

Scott got up from the chair he finally sat down in and turned to Val.

” How long before that wagon comes for him and Doug?”

” I believe I will have their company for four more days Scott.  Hope you get an answer before that time runs out.”

” So do I Val, so do I.  Let me go send that telegram and I’ll be ready to leave in ten minutes.”

” Okay, I’ll be over at Sam’s when you are ready.”

They both told Val they’d see him again and once outside, they split and went in different directions.

As Scott walked on the wooden walkway, his boots hitting the wood with a precise step.  He was stopped by a pretty brunette girl.  Her name was Mary and she worked part time in the Mercantile in town.

” Good afternoon Scott.  How are you today?”

Scott smiled at her and softly said,

” I’m doing fine Mary and how are you doing?”

She put her arms behind her back and Scott saw she was beginning to fidget on the walkway.  His smile slowly broadened.

” I’m doing very well Scott.  Mr Perez at the Mercantile is thinking of making me full time, since his missus is pregnant and he don’t want her to work now.”

” Was there anything you wanted Mary, I need to do something rather important?”

” Oh yea, but it really isn’t important.”

” Yes it is, what did you need?”

She slowly felt her cheeks getting warm and she softly said,

” Well, can you ask Johnny if I could come visit him?”

As she spoke her soft words, Scott’s heart went out to her.  He’d always known about her interest in his little brother.  Maybe this was just the thing that Johnny needs.  Someone from outside the family wanting to be with him.

” Why don’t you come to Lancer tomorrow after lunch Mary.  I’m sure Johnny will love the company.”

Scott watched her big hazel eyes pick up every sparkle of sunlight around her.  Her smile erupted across her whole face.  Excitedly, she said,

” Oh really Scott!  I can come to Lancer tomorrow?  I’ll be there!  Oh, you bet I’ll be there!  Thanks so much!”

She suddenly stood on her tip toes and planted a soft and very quick kiss on Scott’s cheek.  Then she turned and sprinted down the walkway to the Mercantile and disappeared inside.

Scott stood there a few minutes and just smiled this small little smile.  A few minutes later, Scott turned and continued to the telegraph office.

Scott wrote out the words for the telegram and paid for it.

” When the reply comes in, I’m either here at Sam’s office or at Lancer.”

Scott left and walked to Sam’s office.  He found Murdoch and Sam engaged in an intense conversation.  Scott was reminded of another time he and Murdoch were engaged in an intense conversation.  The shouting could be heard out on the main street.

” Ready when you are Sir.”

Murdoch stood and told Sam he’d see him at Lancer later, also inviting him for supper, knowing he had no other patients after seeing Johnny.

Scott and Murdoch left town at a leisurely gait, Scott’s eyes scanning the terrain continuously for the sun glinting off any metal.  They made it to Lancer with no problems.

Murdoch saw Maria in the large dining room, dusting the large table.

” Maria, we will be having Sam for dinner tonight.”

” Yes, very good Patron.”

Maria thought to herself,

‘ Maybe Senior Doctor can talk to Juanito about not eating.  That won’t fix the scars on his back.

Scott had already gone up the stairs to check on his little brother.  He saw a very antsy Johnny Lancer flipping cards into a bowl on the end of the bed.

” Bored are you Brother?”

” Couldn’t I just come down to the couch, just to see a different set of four walls?”

Scott put his hands on his hips and looked at his brother.  He watched the smile grow, inch by inch, on Johnny’s face, and soon Scott was grinning back.

” I’ll help you downstairs Johnny, and you will stay on that couch until Sam comes to check your back.  Deal?”

” Deal Boston!”

A few days later, Scott came bright and early into Johnny’s room.  Cheery and full of sunshine.  Finally, Johnny rolled over and said,

” Morning Boston.”

Scott helped him dress, all but his boots.  He did put a pair of soft moccasins on his feet.  As they slowly went downstairs, Murdoch watched his Son.  God!  The courage this boy has is just overwhelming!

Scott helped him down to the couch and helped him lift his legs up onto the couch.

” Feeling alright John?  Sam will be here before dinner to probably take the stitches out.  How do they feel?  Like they healed okay?”

” Yes, my back is okay Murdoch, a twinge every now and then, but nothing major, and no bleeding.”

” Good!  How about a drink while we wait for dinner and Sam?”

” Sure.”

After they all had a drink in their hands, Johnny looked at his father and said,

” Did you find out anything from Harlan?”

” Nothing much.  Scott sent a telegram to the old bastard’s lawyer to see if he can stop what he’s got planned.  Maybe if this guy doesn’t get paid, he’ll back off.”

Johnny sat quietly and then looked at Scott and then Murdoch.

” Unless it’s a gun slinger out to get my rep.”

Murdoch and Scott hadn’t thought of that option.  Murdoch assured Johnny they would take everything into consideration.

After that, Johnny got even quieter and put his drink on the coffee table.  He chewed on his bottom lip and finally Scott could stand it no longer.

” Johnny, what has you so quiet over there?  You know no one can get you here at Lancer.  We’ll figure this all out.  Don’t give up hope.”

Johnny smiled at his older sibling and then said very softly,

”  I know Boston.  I just don’t want anyone to get hurt, because of me.”

A few minutes later, all three Lancers turned their heads towards the big door.

” Sounds like company.”

Scott got up quickly from the blue chair by the fireplace and instantly Johnny was suspicious.  Not because it was a visitor, but because his brother was up to something.

Johnny’s eyes slowly slanted as he thought he heard a soft female voice at the door.  His mind began to whirl now.

‘ No, his brother wouldn’t do something like bring one of his saloon girls to the ranch.  Murdoch would have a stroke!’

As footsteps started coming towards the Great Room, Johnny could feel his eyes closing as he got ready to feel the explosion.

” Johnny, Murdoch you both remember Mary from the Mercantile?  I asked her to come visit you little Brother.”

Johnny sat up on the couch and he felt the warmth slowly traveling up his tanned cheeks.  His eyes traveled between Scott, Murdoch and Mary.

Something was different about her.  She had her long hair pulled into a long ponytail.  She was in a pair of soft brown pants and a light brown shirt.  She obviously rode a horse to Lancer, because Johnny’s mind was saying to himself,

‘ I didn’t hear a buggy.  She must have ridden a horse.’

” Yes, I remember you Mary, how are you my dear?  Did you ride all the way here by yourself?  That’s a brave thing to do.”

Mary smiled at Murdoch and softly said,

” Well, Scott invited me here to visit with Johnny.  I thought he would like to have something pleasant to remember.  He seemed to have had quite a time with those nasty men I heard about in town.”

Johnny smiled, sort of a cross between a Madrid smile and his little boy look.  He thought the combination would be enough that his father and brother would leave them alone.  Not that he could do anything, but sit on the couch.

Scott was a little quicker on the uptake and he said, very chipper, as though it was an everyday thing for his brother to have a lady to entertain in the Great Room.

” Murdoch, I want to show you how well that little filly is doing?  The one who had the fall down that mountain in that rock slide last week.”

Johnny’s bright sapphire eyes turned to his father, and there was a pleading in those sparkly depths.

Finally, Murdoch got up from behind his desk and said,

” Yes Scott, I’ve been wanting to see how she is progressing.”

Johnny rolled his eyes at his big brother, and the two older Lancer men said they’d be back in a while.

Now, Mary and Johnny were alone in the house together, and he really had no idea how to act with a lady.  He’d only dealt with saloon girls or the girls at the bordello in Spanish Wells.

” Um, would you like some lemonade Mary?”

Her big eyes lit up at hearing his soft voice and she said,

” Oh yes, Johnny, that would be lovely.  Thank you.”

Johnny turned a bit on the couch and called to Maria in the kitchen.

She instantly appeared and Johnny asked if they could have some cool lemonade.  A few minutes later, she reappeared with a tray holding two glasses and a pitcher of cold lemonade, there was also a small plate of homemade cookies.

After she put the tray down, she smiled at the pretty girl sitting next to her Juanito.  She poured the first glass of lemonade and then went back to her kitchen.

Johnny reached over and then handed her a tall glass and for the briefest of seconds, their fingers touched.  Johnny let go of the glass fast, as tho he was burned.  Mary didn’t seem to notice.

They sat and talked, or rather Johnny sat and Mary did most of the talking.  It was getting close to dinner time, and Mary had to get back to town before it got too dark.

Johnny and Mary slowly stood up and Mary saw the grimace on Johnny’s face.  He was still in pain from all that happened to him.

” I had a very nice time Johnny.  Maybe I could come to visit you again, I mean after you get better.  Maybe we could go riding?”

Johnny smiled easily at her and softly said,

” I’d like that Mary.  I had a nice time too.  Ride carefully.”

Mary smiled and looked at Johnny from beneath her long dark lashes.  If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear she was actually blushing.  That’s something none of the saloon girls he sees even think of doing.  It’s almost like those girls are afraid of showing they like someone.  He thought that was sweet, the way Mary looked at him.

Johnny watched her go out the door and he heard her boots click against the wood of the porch.  Johnny moved slowly to the window behind Murdoch’s desk and saw that she was mounting a huge black stallion.

‘ She handles that horse well.  Wonder how long she’s been riding him?’

Johnny saw her wave to Scott and Murdoch over by the small corral.  They both lifted their hands up to bid her on her way.

He saw them heading back to the house, so he went back to the couch and waited for them.

When they came into the Great Room, Johnny had two sapphire sparkles looking at his brother and his father, arms crossed over his chest.  He had a grin on his face, but it didn’t fill either of the Lancer men with warm fuzzy thoughts.

” So how’d the visit go Brother?  She’s a nice girl, isn’t she?  She looked happy when she left, didn’t she Murdoch?”

” Oh yes, happy.”

” Okay, what was the big idea Scott?  I don’t think me being around a nice girl like Mary will have any good results.”

Scott sat down on the couch next to Johnny.  He put his hand under Johnny’s lowered head and lifted it up.

” Brother, she wanted to come here, to visit you.  I got the feeling she likes you and just wanted to come see you.  Didn’t you like her?”

Johnny pulled his chin from Scott’s cupped hand and said, very softly and more to himself,

” Yea, I like her.  Didn’t say I didn’t like her Boston.  But like I’ve always said, ‘ Pretty girls and gun fighters don’t mix well.’ “

” Ex gun fighter, Brother.  You have been here at Lancer for a long time now, and you are an ex gun fighter.  I don’t ever want to hear you say anything differently.”

Johnny got a sheepish grin on his face and said,

” Okay big Brother.”

Johnny got very quiet and very serious, well serious for Johnny Madrid Lancer.

” I asked her if she’d come visit me again, well after I heal a bit and Sam lets me out of the hacienda.  I thought maybe we could go for a ride.”

Murdoch, sitting at his desk, his usual spot lately, chuckled to himself.

‘ Yep, his baby boy was growing up.’

At that time, Maria called out that dinner was served.  Scott helped Johnny up from the couch.  Their father came around to the other side of Johnny and put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder.  When he flinched, Murdoch was instantly sorry he’d done that.

” It’s okay Murdoch.  Just your arm feels very heavy against those wounds.  Just for a bit longer, until I can get them a little more healed, and I’m not so conscious of them.”

He had such a pleading look on his face, Murdoch felt he would give his youngest the moon, if he asked for it.  He’d made a promise to Sam and even Johnny while he was unconscious and recovering.  He’d do anything to treat his son as nothing less than his son.  Hell, maybe he was growing up as well.

Just as they were sitting down, Sam came in and apologized for being so late.  Maria quickly set a plate for the very tired Doctor.

” It’s quite alright Sam.  We just now sat down to the table.”

Johnny was so thrilled to have supper with his brother and father, and even Sam.  He was just happy to not eat a meal propped up in a bed by a stack of pillows.  He saw that Maria made him churros for later and his mouth watered.

Sam looked at Scott and Murdoch about Johnny’s obvious delight in being at the dining room table.

Murdoch smiled at his son and said to Sam,

” Its his first meal out of his room, Sam.”

The chair he sat on wasn’t very comfortable, but if it meant being out of his room for even a little while, he was up to dealing with a bit of pain.

While they ate, Murdoch began to talk.

” Just wanted to give you boys a heads up.  While you both were gone, we’d had a problem with one of the new hands I’d hired.”

” What kind of problem Sir?”

” Well, he was trying to break that little filly you caught John.  I didn’t care for his attitude.  I paid him and just now his words are coming back to haunt me.”

Johnny and Scott both looked at each other, and then Scott said,

” Who are we talking about Sir?”

Murdoch said the name and Johnny all but dropped his fork to his plate.

” Jeremy. Hobart!  Are you sure that’s who it was Murdoch?!”

Murdoch placed his fork on his plate and picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth.

” Do you know this man John?”

” Oh yea, I know him Murdoch.”

There was a hardness creeping into his voice and he softly said, but with an edge he couldn’t help but have appear.

” What did he say Murdoch?”

Murdoch and Sam each swallowed hard and Murdoch said, very quietly,

” That the job blew anyway, that he’d come back here to call you out John.  That was when you were held by the Morales Brothers.”

Johnny’s sapphire eyes slowly closed and he started to breathe fast.

” That’s the one Harlan hired, I know it is.  He won’t care that Harlan is going to jail and won’t pay him.  He’ll do it for nothing Murdoch.”

Johnny got up and slowly paced behind his chair.  He turned and started to head to the stairs.  Scott quickly came around the table like he was shot from a canon.

He reached for Johnny’s left arm and stopped his forward motion and turned him around to face him.  He put both hands on Johnny’s upper arms, and he could feel the muscles clenching and unclenching under his fingers.

” We made a promise Johnny, remember!  To face anything that came at us.  This is the perfect chance to prove that the Lancer Brothers will always be there, for each other, and for Lancer.  Don’t make me regret my promise Brother.  Please!”

Johnny lowered his head and while his head was bowed, he said,

” I remember the promise Boston, and I won’t make you regret our promise.”

Scott’s silver blue eyes closed and he seemed to release the air he’d been holding.  Johnny’s word was almost law, if he said he wouldn’t make Scott regret their promise, then he wouldn’t.  He’d stay and the brothers would figure it out together

Johnny sat back down in his chair, picked up his napkin, looked at the people around him….his family, and he smiled.

” Who’s gonna join me for some churros?”

All three people at the table were released to laugh, for the time being, peace was restored inside the hacienda.

(Chapter 14…final chapter)

For two weeks, Johnny healed more.  He was back to doing light work around the ranch.  He really longed to break that little filly, but Johnny knew he really wasn’t ready to do that kind of work just yet.

He was whistling while he was in the barn, saddling Barranca.  Mary was coming today and he was going to take her to his favorite place on the ranch.

Just as Johnny was coming out of the barn, he knew he had saddled his Pal exactly right.  Mary and her black stallion were just coming under the white arch.

Mary had a huge smile on her face and her hair was all wild and wind swept, as she stopped her horse in front of Johnny.

Cheerfully she said,

” Good morning Johnny.  I hope you haven’t had Barranca saddled and waiting for me long.”

Johnny chuckled softly and lifted his bright sapphire eyes up to look at her.

” No, I just brought him out.  You all ready?  I’m gonna take you to one of my favorite places in the ranch.”

Mary’s eyes caught the sunshine and as she smiled at Johnny, her eyes sparked as Johnny’s were.  She actually was quite happy, even though it was a Sunday and tomorrow she’d be back to work.

Johnny gracefully mounted Barranca without using the stirrups, and Mary’s heart missed a few beats.  She knew Johnny did that to see her reaction.  She sure didn’t displease him as he saw her eyes widen and her lips formed a perfect ‘O’.

They both turned their horses and started out.  Once they got to the hill behind the corral, Johnny turned Barranca loose.  Mary let her horse follow and soon they were even as they went up the hill to disappear down the other side.

Scott and Murdoch were about ready to leave the ranch as well.  Today was the day that the prison wagon came for Harlan, and both the Lancers wanted to make sure he was on it.

Johnny chose not to go.  He had his satisfaction when he testified in court.  He knew it would be a very long time indeed for him to forget the cruelty that had been inflicted on him by that man.

They mounted their horses and began their ride to town.  Silence hung between both men, and neither really had much to say.  They were in their own thoughts of this day.

Scott had the telegram he’d received the other day from Harlan’s lawyer.  Everything had been cancelled.  When Scott read it, he breathed a long sigh of relief.  They now were waiting for the lawyer to send the name of the man he’d hired to kill Johnny and Murdoch.

Before they got to the jail, Scott said he was going to see if there was any word from the lawyer.  Scott watched Murdoch go into the jail.  Okay, he’s safe and Johnny is at Lancer.  Scott almost ran to the telegraph office.

He asked the man behind the counter, if there was any messages for Lancer.  The man pulled out a letter and it was from the lawyer.  Scott ripped it open in the office and slowly smiled.  Gotcha!

Scott walked quickly to the jail and walked in.  Murdoch and Val were sitting around the desk.  Murdoch had a grimace on his face.  Scott then noticed he had a cup of Val’s frying pan coffee and he smiled.  Yea, that stuff is rugged.

” I didn’t miss it did I?  Because I have the name of the man Murdoch!  It’s that guy you fired, Jeremy Hobart!  He’s the one that old bastard hired to take out you and Johnny.”

” We have to find him.  Where is Johnny’s favorite place in Lancer?  He said he was gonna take Mary there.”

Scott looked very thoughtful and he said,

” He’s got two Murdoch.  The pond in the upper meadow and then Black Mesa.”

Val sat up in his chair and said,

” I can send my Deputy to one of those spots.  Hopefully, it’s the right one.”

Val’s Deputy came in a few minutes later and said the prison wagon was coming into town.

Val gave him the description of Hobart and told him to go to the upper meadow in Lancer.  To make sure Johnny was safe.

Murdoch and Scott stood in the main office and waited for Val to emerge from the back with Harlan.  This would be the last time he ever saw him, and Scott was almost giddy inside.

As the prisoners came out, Harlan had been taken out of his three piece suit and put into black and white striped prison garb.  The same with Doug, who was silently crying.  He would be housed in general population for twenty years, not so with Harlan Garrett.  He’d be in the solitary unit for the rest of his life.  No one to visit, no one to talk to.

Johnny and Mary had ridden for about thirty minutes, and Mary saw the most beautiful field of flowers and a sparkling pond, that had diamonds of sunlight sparkling in the blue water.

Johnny dismounted quickly and went to help Mary down.  She was absolutely in love with this place.

” Oh Johnny, this place is beautiful.  I love it here.”

Johnny had been off to the side, loosening the cinches of both saddles.  The horses slowly moved towards the water and the sweet green grass along the edges.

” I’m glad you like it here Mary.  I don’t bring everyone here.  Just special people.”

Mary smiled at Johnny, that special kind of a smile, that someone who is special knows to give to someone they like.

Johnny gently reached for her hand, and he walked her to the trees for shade and they sat on the soft grass.

They talked softly about all kinds of subjects, and Mary leaned back against her elbows and looked at the pond.

” I’d love to come up here and swim in that pond at night.  The stars and the moon shining on the water.  It would just be perfect.  Wouldn’t it Johnny?”

” Oh, I suppose Mary.  Never had a reason to come up here to swim.  But sure, we can, maybe someday……..if you want.”

Johnny watched her from the corner of his eyes, and he thought to himself,

‘ No time like now Madrid!’

With that thought in his mind, Johnny slid a pretty bloom behind her ear and then leaned over and gently kissed Mary’s soft pink lips.  She felt his fingers under her chin, lifting her face up to his.  She thought she was in heaven, and just like that, it was over.  But her lips still tingled just the same, and Johnny had a soft look on his face as he slowly moved back.

As her eyes slowly opened, there was a horrible voice behind them, one filled with hate.

” Well, isn’t this a touching last moment Madrid!”

As Harlan walked into the main office, he sneered at the one he used to call grandson.

” Well, I hope you and that half breed bastard are happy now!?  I should of had him killed when he was little.  Then you would never have known about him.”

Scott walked slowly to come to a stop in front of Harlan.  He wanted to choke the man, but settled for pulling the telegrams from his pocket.  As he unfolded them, he smiled, what his father swore was a Johnny Madrid smile.

As he spoke, his words were full of venom.

” This is from your lawyer.  He told me that the contract was cancelled, all your wealth and holdings are now mine, since you are going to prison.  And most of all, the name of the guy you had hired as assassin against Johnny and my father.  I’m glad you are going to prison, because I could very easily choke the living hell out of you for all the years of torment you gave my father, my brother and even me.  Enjoy the quiet in prison, no one else will be there to talk to you.”

Scott shoved the telegrams into a pocket of the prison clothes, and turned away from the old bastard.

Val pushed him out the door and the guards helped him and Doug into the back of the metal cage on wheels.  As the door changed shut and the lock placed on the door, Harlan saw Scott and Murdoch coming out of the door to stand on the walkway.  They watched as the prison wagon slowly took off.

Harlan screamed obscenities at Scott and Murdoch.

Murdoch put his arm around his Son’s shoulders and softly said,

” Don’t worry Scott.  He got what he deserved.  Let’s go home and see if Johnny is alright.”

They mounted their horses and took off out of town, towards Lancer.  Scott kept praying that maniac Hobart was nowhere around Lancer.

As Johnny and Mary sat frozen on the ground, Jeremy Hobart came out.  Johnny didn’t know him and wondered if this was the one that Harlan hired as an assassin.

Johnny wanted to move his hand to his Colt, but he was on the ground in an awkward position.  He didn’t wanna chance Mary getting hurt.

” Who are you?  What do you want?  This is Lancer land and I want you to turn around and get off it.”

” Don’t think you’re in any position to call on the Sheriff, Madrid.”

Softly, Mary said to Johnny, her voice shaking.

” Who is this guy Johnny?  Do you know him?”

” No, but Scott and Murdoch figured it out.  Murdoch fired him for mistreating a horse and I guess he didn’t like it.”

Hobart laughed a very evil sounding laugh and said,

” Well, that’s almost right.  Yea, I was angry being fired, but I’d really gotten hired because I wanted to kill you Madrid.  Your reputation is golden.  Then I met this old man, who said he’d pay me ten thousand dollars to kill you and old man Lancer.  Hell, I’d kill you for nothing Madrid!”

Johnny’s sharp sapphire eyes saw the Deputy in the trees behind Hobart.  Johnny played it cool and he whispered in Mary’s ear,

” When the bullets start flying, get down out of the way and stay down.”

Johnny knew the Deputy was gonna shoot Hobart and Johnny kept him busy.

Suddenly, the crack of a gun went off and Jeremy Hobart fell to his knees, a surprised look on his face.  As he fell forward, Johnny moved quickly and pulled his gun from his hand.

As he was dying, Johnny said,

” You weren’t gonna be paid no matter who you killed.”

” I’ll see you in hell Madrid!”  And he breathed his last.

The Deputy came out as Johnny was helping Mary up from the ground.

” You okay Johnny?  How about the young lady?”

” We both are fine.  We’re gonna head back to the ranch.  I’ll send a couple hands with a wagon to take that body out of here.”

Johnny whistled sharply and as Barranca came up to where Johnny stood, Mary’s black stallion followed him.  She was quite impressed.  He tightened the cinches on both of the saddles and they mounted up.

As they rode to the hacienda, Mary softly said,

” Were you really going to shoot him Johnny?”

He pulled Barranca to a stop and he turned to Mary.  There was a look of sadness in those beautiful sapphire eyes.

” Mary, I used to be a gun fighter.  I had to survive by my gun more times than I care to count.  I did things I’ve always regretted, but I also had things done to me.  Since coming home, I’ve tried to put my past behind me.  Sometimes they still come.”

Mary sat on her horse, quietly listening to Johnny’s soft anguish filled words.  She saw his sadness, but also there was something else, out shining that sadness.  As she softly smiled, she knew what it was.  Johnny’s courage and his pride and how he wanted to live as a rancher, sharing all this beautiful land with his father and his brother.

” Johnny, things have settled now.  We are riding our horses and talking and learning about each other.  That is all that matters to me Johnny.  Just being a friend to you and having fun.”

Johnny’s sadness seemed to vanish from his face, and he smiled a genuine warm smile.  That actually curled Mary’s toes in her boots, and sent a warm wave thru her body.

” It’s always nice to have friends who just like being together.  Thank you Mary.  I like having you as a friend too.”

They continued on to Lancer and saw Murdoch and Scott coming under the arch, as they were returning from town.

As they all were dismounting, Johnny got very quiet and lowered his eyes to the ground.  Mary noticed, but was quiet again, and she observed Johnny.

” So did the old man get into the prison wagon?”

Scott looked out over the road past the arch, and he quietly said,

” Yea, he’s on his way.  Good riddance.”

Scott suddenly turned and went into the hacienda, without saying any more about it.  When everyone went into the hacienda after Scott, he wasn’t anywhere around.  Murdoch knew he wanted to be alone, so he was probably up in his room.

Johnny turned to Mary and he very softly said,

” I’ll walk you out Mary.”

They went out on the porch and instead of Mary mounting her black horse, Johnny took her small hand in his and they walked to a big tree with lots of shade.  There was also a bench to sit on.

As they sat there, quiet and just looking at the green rolling hills behind the barns, Johnny very softly said,

” If I was disfigured in some way, would you still like me Mary?”

It was the strangest question she had ever been asked.  She thought for a bit and then she said,

” You aren’t disfigured thou Johnny.  What’s really the question.”

Johnny’s sharp sapphire eyes looked at her and a small smile came to his lips.

” I showed everyone what those men had done to me.  If you were to see them, I was just wondering what you would do.”

” I don’t know what I’d do, if I don’t see them.  But you don’t have to Johnny.  I like you without seeing them.”

He leaned over and kissed her lips and quietly said, his voice quivering,

” I was hoping that was what you would say.”

” One day, maybe, I’ll see them Johnny.  But they don’t define who you are……to me.”

Johnny stood up and pulled Mary to his body and hugged her tightly.  That was where it would remain for a long time.  They would remain close friends, and in the distant future, maybe she would see his back.  For now, Johnny was Home and he had not only a father and a brother who loved him….but a girl who loved him for him.

In a dark, lonely prison cell, an old man paced his cell.  He had a heavy metal door with a slot to get his meals thru.  There was a small window way up at the top, that could be opened from the outside to allow fresh air in.

No one came to visit, he had no one to talk to.  Slowly, this man who had been found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, began to lose his senses.  His sentence was such that he’d never get out and breathe the fresh air again.

This situation did not stop him from planning and plotting to not only finish what he’d started, but to add the one person he had proclaimed to love the most……Scott Lancer.

Harlan Garrett would be home in Boston soon.  He had to believe that.  But as the days went on, his mind began to break.  He would eventually end up as a vegetable.

His grandson Scott never knew of his plans to finish the contract.  He was Home with his family……..

End
September 2021

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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 Robyn B. directly.

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9 thoughts on “Home by Robyn B.

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