Word Count 48,431
WHN for The Buscaderos
Great as The Buscaderos episode is to us Scott fans, it did have some glaring discrepancies or lapses of logic in it. And the ending is just too awful. I know they had about two minutes to wrap everything up and show our heroes ready for another adventure next week, but it is still difficult to suspend belief that much. Here are just a few of my nits:
- What town is Murdoch in? We never find out. The sheriff has no name. It can’t be Green River because Val would be the sheriff (and Warren Oates is too busy being the bad guy, Drago, in the episode) and Gabe is the sheriff of Spanish Wells. Does Morro Coyo finally have a sheriff? The town doesn’t look like the Morro Coyo we see in the pilot.
- Where are all the people who work on the ranch? In this episode, there’s just Scott and Jelly at the place—no one else around. Really? On a ranch of 100,000 acres? In other episodes, there are all sorts of hired help milling around.
- Where does Violet get that yellow dress? Teresa’s closet? Not something Teresa would wear—with a mantilla no less! Why does she take it off? I guess it’s because Drago didn’t think yellow was her color.
- I thought I had the layout of the hacienda pretty well figured out, but this episode seemed to change things around. There are new doorways and doors that lead to unexpected rooms. It was confusing.
- Presumably, Scott is tied up in Johnny’s bedroom (because of the Mexican blanket on the dresser and the gun hidden behind the bedpost). Why is there a door to the attic in his bedroom? Really strange place for it.
- Isn’t Johnny’s room on the second floor? If so, how is Drago outside the window? I guess there’s a balcony outside with a trellis nearby?
- When Scott and Violet are put in the wine cellar, why don’t they escape through the window like Murdoch used to get in and out?
- What is Johnny doing at the Sheriff’s Office at four o’clock in the morning? Wouldn’t he be asleep somewhere? Even if he’s anxious to get home, he’d go straight to the ranch. You couldn’t travel at night in those days. Must have been a full moon. (But it is a spectacular entrance for James Stacy!)
- The physics of the situation do not allow Scott to lose the arm wrestling. Once you go past about a 45 degree angle, the momentum always favors the arm that’s on top. There’s no way Drago can stop Scott right before his wrist touches the coal. I realize that it’s for dramatic effect, but…come on!
- Surprisingly, Scott bears no burn on his right wrist after it’s been slammed onto the hot coal and held there for several seconds. Continuity person, do your job!
- After Scott plays couples therapist, I guess he and Drago and Violet decide he needs to freshen up a bit before dawn comes. They emerge through a previously unseen doorway and Scott has changed his shirt. It’s not torn and dirty like before. I guess he has several identical tan tattersall shirts in his wardrobe. Clearly, there is no Continuity person! The director obviously shot all the Johnny scenes first, so James Stacy could have the rest of the week off. That’s why it’s important to hire a Continuity person to catch these things. (Like the time Wayne Maunder got his bangs trimmed halfway through a shoot. Sometimes his bangs are long; sometimes they’re short. It’s the Welcome to Genesis episode—check it out.)
- How in the world does Johnny make it into the house with his gun? He must have passed about ten bad guys on his way in. Drago has really stupid men working for him if they don’t take Johnny’s gun off of him (or the saddlebags with the money in them for that matter).
- How does Drago and Violet get away when they’re the ones in the (slow) wagon with the (heavy) gatling gun? They should be the easiest to catch.
- Murdoch’s cavalier attitude toward Scott at the end is mind-boggling. Sure, Johnny says they’re all right, but Murdoch saw Scott being pushed down a flight of stairs and imagines him dead earlier. His equivalent of “get back to work” is so callous, it’s ridiculous. Even Johnny should be exhausted after traveling all the way from San Francisco. Those boys have been up all night and need to rest!
I can’t solve all these problems, but this story attempts a new ending and then continues because, let’s face it, Scott didn’t suffer enough to us fanfiction writers in this episode. This is a very, very dark story. I have put warnings in when it goes there.
Johnny Madrid Lancer dropped his gun on the ground and slowly dismounted Barranca. He grabbed the saddlebags stuffed with the tax money and threw them over his shoulder.
“Give it here,” a man dressed in all black demanded.
The man put his gun away. It didn’t matter; there were five more pistols trained on Johnny. The man in black strode over and snatched the saddlebags. He checked inside. Satisfied they contained what he wanted, he threw the bags back at Johnny, but not before taking a packet of bills for himself and concealing it in a pocket. He motioned for Johnny to enter the hacienda.
Johnny’s heart was pounding wildly, wondering if he would find Scott lying dead inside the house. He tried not to look too eager to get in there, carefully schooling his features into Madrid mode and slowing his walk to a casual saunter.
Once inside, Johnny scanned the great room. It was in shambles: chairs overturned, broken glass on the floor, wine stains halfway up the walls, dirty dishes and partially eaten food on the tables and furniture, pictures askew or torn down.
And one very much alive Scott Lancer.
“Scott,” Johnny acknowledged. His brother gave him a nod back, his eyes not quite tracking. It was obvious he’d had a rough time of it.
There was another man and a woman there, too. The man was grinning like a lunatic. “Johnny Madrid,” he crowed. The woman nodded and smiled.
“Here’s your money.” Johnny threw the saddlebags at him. He didn’t have to add, “Now get out.” It was plain enough in his tone.
The man turned to Scott and put out his hand. “You did yourself real proud.”
Scott just stared at the proffered hand dully and rather incredulously, and the man dropped his hand after a few uncomfortable seconds.
“C’mon, Violet. Let’s go!” He grabbed the woman’s hand and they rushed past Johnny, the girl lingering for one second, staring adoringly at him, then being pulled away. Johnny gave Scott a quick glance before starting to follow the couple out of the room. His brother was still staring at the place where the man’s hand had been. Something was definitely wrong, but Johnny had to make sure the bandits left the ranch and that it was secure. Scott would have to wait.
“Wait here,” he told him and went to observe the gang leaving. He found the gun he’d hidden in the foyer months ago. None of the bandits would be coming back into the house and live to tell about it. The woman and the man climbed up on the wagon and in a couple of minutes, the last of them disappeared from view. Johnny walked into the courtyard and then over to the bunkhouse. The doors had been barricaded from the outside.
“Hello?” he yelled, and immediately many voices yelled back at him. It didn’t take long to free them from their prison. They were plenty angry. Johnny filled them in as quickly as possible. Some of the men wanted to go after the bandits. Johnny cautioned them about the posse waiting for the gang and warned them not to get caught in the crossfire. Many of the hands quickly saddled up and left anyway, eager to get revenge on their captors. Cipriano came running up spouting curses. Apparently, the bandits had threatened to use the gatling gun against the women and children and cut off the cluster of houses that held the families who worked for the rancho. No one had been hurt, but it had been a frightening night. They could hear the loud noises from the hacienda. And then there had been the gunshots. Many of them. Someone used the gatling gun, and they had feared the worst.
“Scott’s alive,” he told the foreman, “but the house is a mess. Maria will be very unhappy.” He sent Cipriano to check on the livestock and the rest of the exterior of the house for him. He needed to get back to Scott. He walked past the hole in the wall where Jelly said he tossed the dynamite and saw the bullet holes in the wall and broken pots beyond. What in the world had happened there?
It took Scott more time than it should have to realize that Drago wanted to shake hands with him. Really? After all that had happened that day, why would he shake hands with his tormentor? No hard feelings? Was the man daft? He looked up and saw that he was alone in the room. Everything had happened so quickly. Johnny came and now the bandits were gone. Just like that. He righted a dining chair but didn’t sit down. He’d never be able to get up again if he did. His whole body was a mass of aches and pains.
He didn’t know if he should be doing something more than just standing there, but Johnny told him to wait, so that was what he would do. It was nice that Johnny was here now, so that he didn’t have to think anymore, didn’t have to continually devise ways on how to stay alive. Matching wits with a madman bent on revenge against Johnny Madrid had taxed him mightily. He could relax now that his brother was here and could take charge. Yes, he’d let Johnny take care of things. He would wait like Johnny told him to.
Something caught his eye near the wing chair. He went over and picked it up. It was brown, wooden, and shaped like a tiny cup. He’d seen it before, but where? It finally occurred to him that it was off the ship, Murdoch’s model clipper ship that had miraculously survived the mayhem in the room. It was askew in its mounting, but otherwise intact…except for the crow’s nest that Scott held in his hand. He righted the ship and put the broken piece up by the top of the tallest mast. Yes, it fit there. If Murdoch had some glue, it could be fixed like nothing had happened. Nothing had happened…
Johnny walked back into the great room and found Scott staring absently at the model ship. “So, Scott…”
Scott startled at the sound. “What?” He looked around wildly and finally settled on Johnny’s form.
“You all right?” Johnny asked, slowly walking toward his brother as if he were a skittish colt that needed settling.
Scott nodded. “Fine,” he said much too quickly.
“Yeah, I can see that. Why don’t you just sit down here.” Johnny motioned him toward a dining chair. Scott came over and sat down obediently. There was something in his hand. “What’ve you got there?”
“It broke,” Scott said dully and held out the piece to Johnny.
That’s when Johnny saw the blood peeking out from under the shirt cuff. “What’s this?” he asked trying to grab Scott’s arm, but Scott yanked his hand away and tried to hide it under the table.
“Let me look at it,” Johnny ordered. Again, Scott meekly obeyed. That worried Johnny more than the blood did. Johnny unbuttoned the cuff and rolled it up Scott’s arm. It was a bad burn, a very bad burn. Whatever caused it must have cauterized the blood vessels initially, but now the blood was beginning to appear. It had to hurt like hell, but Scott just sat there, looking at his wrist as if it wasn’t attached to his body and the blood wasn’t his.
“I’m going to get a bandage for that,” Johnny said. “Wait here.”
Scott nodded. He could wait again. That was easy.
The kitchen was also a complete mess, but Johnny didn’t have time to dwell on it. Maria would have it set right eventually. He located the medical supplies, went outside to get some water and break off a leaf of the aloe plant, and brought everything to the great room. Scott was still seated at the table staring at his arm as if it were a strange object.
Johnny washed off the blood as best he could and squeezed some sap out of the aloe leaf and onto the burn. Scott just sat there as if numb to everything. Murdoch came rushing in just as Johnny was finishing bandaging the wound.
“You boys all right?”
“We’re fine,” Johnny answered. “Right, Scott?”
Scott just nodded.
“What happened after they left here?” Johnny asked, putting the bandages back in the box.
“Your plan worked nicely. A few of them got away, but we got the leader, the tax money, and the gatling gun. They won’t be a problem anymore.”
“Good.” Johnny looked worriedly at his father. “Scott needs to rest.”
“You do, too. It’s been a long night for all of us.” Murdoch peered at his elder son closely. He couldn’t get the picture of Scott being slammed against the wall and tumbling down the stairs out of his mind.
“Then you should get some shut eye, too, Old Man,” Johnny suggested gently.
Satisfied that his sons were alive and reasonably well, Murdoch turned back to the door. “I’ve got a ranch to run,” he grumbled and stalked out of the house. Once outside, he leaned against a pillar trying to choke down the tears that threatened to spill. It wouldn’t do for his sons to see him cry. It wouldn’t do at all. He had to be strong; he was El Patrόn. Everyone was counting on him to get the place back to normal.
Johnny watched him leave, shaking his head. He knew the man had been worried out of his mind about Scott, but after one look at him, he’d left without a word of comfort to him. He’d never understand his father. Yawning, Johnny turned back to his brother. Scott looked as dazed as he did the first time Johnny saw him.
“I think we’ve just been given permission to sleep for the rest of the day,” Johnny said lightly. He got up and went to help Scott up. “C’mon. I can’t wait to hit the hay.”
Scott let himself be led toward the stairs and then abruptly pulled up. “No, Johnny, your room…it’s ruined. He ruined it. Glass all over.”
Johnny frowned. That didn’t sound good, but it was the most words Scott had spoken since he arrived. That was something. “I’ll get you situated, then I’ll have a look at it. There are plenty of other rooms I can choose from anyway.” He started pushing Scott up the stairs.
“It was my fault. Sorry,” Scott was saying, but Johnny wasn’t listening. He was too busy silently cursing the assholes that had put his family and the rest of the cowhands through this nightmare. He hoped they all hanged.
The Lancer family and Jellifer Hoskins were making their way to Spanish Wells as material witnesses for the prosecution. It was the farthest of the three towns that surrounded Lancer, so Murdoch had forbidden Scott to ride. Murdoch drove the carriage with Scott and Jelly seated inside. Johnny rode Barranca. As usual, Jelly talked a mile a minute. Murdoch and Johnny took their cue from Scott, who was particularly quiet and subdued. Johnny figured his brother wasn’t looking forward to testifying as to what went on that terrible day and night that Drago and his men occupied the hacienda. Scott’s face was still swollen and bruised from the affair, and his wrist was still covered in a bandage that continued to soak up whatever fluid oozed from the burn. They had to change it twice a day. Scott had borne the pain of the burn and bruised ribs and kidneys in his Stoic style, but Dr. Jenkins had given them some sleeping powders that they put in his bedtime tea so that he could at least get some rest at night. Murdoch had a supply in his valise along with the extra bandages.
Scott wouldn’t talk about his ordeal either. Johnny wasn’t surprised at that. After Dan Cassidy’s attempt to kill Scott had exposed his internment at Libby, Scott had never told them of his year there or how he got the scars on his back. Johnny asked him outright about it soon after the Cassidy’s had left, but Scott’s face took on this pained, faraway look and he’d withdrawn the question apologetically. It was this unspoken pact between them now—not talking about horrible events in their pasts. Johnny appreciated not being grilled about his previous life as a gunhawk. He gave Scott the same consideration about the war. They had learned that Scott kept his pain and demons inside of him, and Johnny suspected having to testify about what happened with Drago was giving Scott fits. The grim set of his jaw was the only sign of his inner turmoil.
It had taken two days for Scott to shake off his malaise and return to some semblance of his usual self. Dr. Jenkins had ordered bed rest for those days, and by the time Scott was up and about again, the damage to the hacienda had been mostly fixed. The wall that had suffered the dynamite blast was still being repaired and there was wood over the window opening in Johnny’s room, but the mess had been cleaned up. Maria had assembled her own army of women to set the house right, and Murdoch had ordered the patching of the bullet holes in the courtyard wall immediately. The stucco was drying and almost ready to be painted white, thanks to the spate of hot weather that had descended upon the valley in late May. Neither Johnny nor Murdoch wanted Scott to be reminded of what had gone on there. It was obviously horrific, if the pattern of bullet holes was any indication.
Murdoch was particularly solicitous and protective of Scott these days, which drove the man mad. Scott was a proud and stubborn man, and any indication that one thought he wasn’t up to any task rankled him no end. He was trying to tolerate his father’s attention, but Johnny thought he may have to take Murdoch aside and set him straight just to give his overwrought brother some peace of mind.
The hotel in Spanish Wells wasn’t as nice as the one in Green River, but it was serviceable. They were given two adjacent rooms. Murdoch put his saddlebags next to Scott’s bed, and Johnny thought Scott was just about to throw a fit in the manner of a polite Bostonian gentleman.
“I’ll room with Scott,” he told his father. At Murdoch’s murderous glare, he quickly added. “’Sides, you and Jelly snore and Boston needs his beauty sleep afore his big day tomorrow.”
Murdoch gathered his things and went into the other room with a few grumbles, but the look of gratitude on Scott’s face made suffering his father’s ire worth it.
“I don’t need a damn babysitter,” Scott groused.
“He thinks he’s being a father to you,” Johnny placated.
“Yeah, now that it’s over,” Scott muttered to himself, and Johnny realized his brother had some lingering anger over Murdoch’s inability to help him while he was Drago’s prisoner. Well, the man had tried…miserably.
“He’s just not very good at this father business is all.” That made Scott smile.
Clarence Peabody was the prosecutor in the case, and he invited them individually over to his office and interviewed them, talking to Scott last. Over two hours later, Scott came back to the hotel lobby looking pale and exhausted and Murdoch had sent him to his room for a nap. It had only been a week since the ordeal had happened and they were all convinced he needed more time to heal. Dr. Jenkins had wanted Scott to stay home, but Scott immediately said no to that. They needed to take advantage of the circuit judge when he was in town. It might be a month or more before there was another one sent. None of Scott’s ribs were broken, just cracked, and the blood had disappeared from his urine, so the doctor reluctantly relented, but he had warned all of them not to let Scott do too much.
Val Crawford was in town, much to Johnny’s delight. He was helping handling the prisoners. They all had dinner at the hotel. There was only so much polite talk to be said before the conversation shifted to the trial.
“Never saw a gatling gun up close before. It sure is a fearsome sight even all busted up,” Val remarked.
“Well, I threw a stick of dynamite on it,” Jelly boasted. “That’s bound to hurt it some.”
“Didn’t see no blast marks on it,” Val contradicted. “Looked like someone twisted the metal on the firing mechanism.”
Johnny shot a look at Scott, thinking his brother probably had something to do with that. Scott looked pale and withdrawn, staring at the napkin on his lap. He changed the subject away from the gun. “How much time do you think they’ll get?” he asked Val.
“Can’t rightly say,” Val answered. “But the army’s real sore they stole that gun. Could get twenty years or more just for that.”
“How much time is justice for terrorizing an entire community, not to mention what they did to Scott?” Murdoch asked.
No one had an answer to that question.
The trial started the next day. Getting twelve supposedly impartial jurors was a challenge. Johnny suspected a few of the townsmen had lied about their neutrality just so they could be on the jury and nail the suckers. Drago and his men were grouped together, while Violet was kept some distance away. There were a major and a sergeant from Fort Miller to testify about the gun being stolen. Then there were the sheriff and the tax accountant and the Lancers and Jelly. It was going to be a full day of testimony. In the end, Peabody had the Lancers testify last.
First up was Scott. The day was hot, the room crowded, and it stank of cigar smoke and human sweat. Nevertheless, Scott managed to look neat and cool as he took the stand, the bruise on his cheek notwithstanding. Johnny didn’t know what to expect; none of them did. Scott hadn’t said anything about what went on at the hacienda during Drago’s occupation of it. Murdoch had asked outright, and Scott’s weary “it’s over now” had made them all stop pestering him about it. Now Johnny was exceptionally curious as to what had happened.
It was clear Scott was uncomfortable talking about it. Peabody had to drag every piece of information out of him with no embellishments from Scott. In fact, Scott sounded embarrassed to be testifying at all. Peabody led him through the initial hostage-taking, beating, and confinement in the storage room adjacent to the kitchen. Next, he brought up the gatling gun. Scott tensed up noticeably.
Johnny could see Murdoch’s jaw tighten with each description of the ordeal Scott related. The Old Man’s teeth had to be hurting, so strongly they were clenched together. Johnny sent Drago a look. The outlaw at least had the decency to be looking at the floor and not at Scott.
Scott’s voice was steady but flat as he recited what was said and what had happened out on the courtyard: how he’d stood there while the bullets rained all around him. Johnny remembered the pattern of the bullet holes in the courtyard wall and the shattered pottery on the courtyard stones. His suspicions had been true, but that gave him no satisfaction, only sadness that they’d been proven right. How had Scott managed to get through that? No wonder he’d been dazed when Johnny came in. How had he managed to speak coherently at all?
Murdoch felt Jelly shift uncomfortably in his seat and swear under his breath. Murdoch felt like swearing, too. If only they’d put that gun out of working order! Jelly had sworn he’d thrown the dynamite on the wagon that held the gatling gun, but from the damage to the hacienda, it was clear the explosion had taken out one of the half-walls of the courtyard and not the intended target. That had led to Scott being used as target practice. It made Murdoch sick to his stomach, but he wasn’t going to show it. He’d be damned if he let it show. Instead, he continued to show Scott a steady, encouraging, and proud gaze. He’d support his son no matter how torn up inside he might be.
Finally, Peabody brought up the burn on Scott’s wrist. He even made Scott unwrap the bandage and show the jury the injury. The wound was still pretty open and oozing impressively. Arm wrestling! Arm wrestling with the loser getting his wrist burned on a piece of coal. Again, Johnny surmised that when Maria had complained about how difficult it had been to pry the two pieces of coal off the tabletop. Looking at the distance between them and knowing about Scott’s burn, he’d speculated some sort of contest with Scott on the losing end.
Content that the jury was sufficiently appalled, Peabody dismissed Scott and called Sam Jenkins to the stand. Johnny knew everyone was surprised at that announcement, but there was the doctor making his way to the witness chair. Scott said something to the judge before stepping away and Sam Jenkins stopped him when their paths crossed. Sam promised to rewrap Scott’s wrist after he was through testifying. Then Scott walked out of the building. Johnny started to rise, but Murdoch laid a restraining hand on him, and he settled back down. Scott was obviously upset at having to describe his hostage situation but maybe Murdoch was right and he needed some time alone.
Doctor Jenkins walked the jury through the extent of the injuries that Drago’s gang had inflicted, not only to Scott but to Jelly and the ranch hands at Lancer and the good citizens who had been on the street the day the gatling gun was used. There had been no deaths, but many citizens had been bruised while diving for the ground and had vivid nightmares afterwards.
Jelly had already testified how Drago’s men had taken over the estancia and imprisoned the ranch hands and him and Scott. Scott hadn’t described the beating, just that it happened. Jelly had happily described the abuse in detail. It made Johnny sick.
That left him and Murdoch. Peabody called Murdoch to the witness chair. He described the attack on the town and his failed attempt to rescue Scott. Johnny sighed. Why hadn’t Scott testified to being pushed down a flight of stairs? Was he trying to help Drago? Why?
In all too short a time, Peabody called Johnny’s name. Johnny looked at the empty seat beside him as he rose to take the stand. He would have liked Scott’s support. But if Scott needed time alone, he wouldn’t begrudge him that, not after hearing his testimony. Johnny sat down and looked over the sea of faces in the crowd of onlookers. There in the back was the tall, slim figure of his brother. He was here! Scott gave him a thin smile of encouragement, and Johnny knew he had Scott’s permission to describe everything that happened when he entered the house and afterwards.
Johnny had to smile when he saw Drago’s face turn cold after he described the man in black stealing a packet of the tax money. That was satisfying. The man in black, though, wasn’t among the prisoners. Then he identified Drago as the man who received the saddlebags. There was little more to say after that, and he was dismissed.
There was no defense to speak of. The jury was simply reminded that no one had died from any of the attacks that day. When the judge sent the case to the jury, the bailiff called Scott over and he disappeared beyond the door the judge had exited. Johnny frowned. Now what was going on with Scott? Murdoch suggested they return to the hotel to wait for the verdict. No one thought they would have long to wait.
“It was a surprise to see you here, Sam,” Murdoch said.
“Got word yesterday that Peabody wanted me to testify. I think he wanted me to say how badly Scott was hurt. He thought Scott was downplaying his injuries.”
“He was,” Johnny affirmed. “He acted like it was nothing, what he went through. Why did he do that?”
Murdoch shrugged. “That’s just his way.”
‘And how would you know what Scott’s way is? You haven’t known him any longer than I have,’ Johnny thought meanly.
“They shore worked the boy over,” Jelly mused.
Johnny’s leg bounced nervously. What was going on with his brother? What was he saying to the judge?
Murdoch asked if they should order dinner, but Val didn’t think they had enough time. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, they got word the jury had come to a verdict. Once everyone was reseated, it took the jury foreman no time at all to declare the lot of them, including Violet, guilty as charged.
The judge nodded in agreement. Everyone waited in anticipation of the judge’s sentencing. It took a good twenty minutes before the judge rendered his decision. He gave each of the members of the gang eight years of hard labor, Drago ten years, and Violet four years in prison. The crowd erupted at what was perceived to be light sentences. The judge banged his gavel to silence them. Then he thanked the jury and prosecutor for their service and fled from the room. Johnny glanced at Scott, who was leaning casually against the back wall, and knew without a doubt that his brother had a hand in it.
Before they crawled into bed, he confronted Scott.
“Judge Hardy didn’t know everything he needed to know about the case,” Scott explained.
“And what facts was he missing?” Johnny challenged.
Scott considered. “Well, I guess he had all the facts. He just didn’t know how to put them in perspective.”
Johnny didn’t quite know what his brother was talking about. “So, you set him straight?” Johnny remembered the weird scene of Drago holding out his hand for Scott to shake and telling him he’d done himself proud. Now after hearing about all that had happened, he knew Scott had done himself proud; big brother always did. But what had caused Drago to make the gesture? “What was it all about?”
Scott took some long moments before he replied. “It was about a man and a shadow from his past. The shadow got so big, the man never thought he could match it,” he said enigmatically.
Johnny frowned. Why couldn’t Scott say things straight out like other people? “I wouldn’t be that shadow, would I?”
“Seems to me Violet mentioned Johnny Madrid.”
“Huh. Never seen her in my life.”
“Sure about that?”
“Pretty sure, but I seen a lot of pretty girls in my life, brother. Can’t expect me to remember every one.”
“No, we couldn’t expect that of you, brother,” Scott said drily and got hit by a pillow. He chuckled and stuck the object behind his head. “Thanks, Johnny. Good night!”
Johnny scowled at Scott but didn’t fight him for the pillow. After what he’d heard in court today, he didn’t begrudge his brave brother an extra pillow. He didn’t know how he himself would fare standing up against a wall with a gatling gun pointed at him. He hoped he had the cojones to stay standing like Scott had. Once again, his past had come back to hurt someone he cared about. It took some time before the guilt died down enough to let him sleep.
The next morning, Scott was late in coming down to breakfast. Val found the rest of them in mid-meal.
“Sit down to eat with us, Sheriff?” Murdoch offered.
Val declined. “Where’s Scott?”
“Still sleeping. What do you want with him?” Johnny asked.
“That Drago feller wants to see him.”
Johnny and Murdoch exchanged worried glances.
“Absolutely not,” Murdoch declared.
Val nodded. “I can see why you’d feel that way, but Scott is a grown man. I’d feel better if I heard it from him.”
Johnny could tell Murdoch was gearing up for a tongue-lashing of the lawman. He cut in to salvage the situation.
“Tell you what,” he said to them, “I’ll talk to this Drago guy and see if Scott needs to deal with him. That all right with both of you?”
They reluctantly nodded.
There were two other members of the gang in the same cell, but Drago sauntered over to the side and leaned against the wall to give himself as much privacy as he could. Johnny did the same on the other side of the bars.
“Scott ain’t comin’?”
“You can tell me anything you got to say to him. If it’s worth anything, I’ll tell him.”
Drago considered that for a minute and then nodded. “Might be best. First off, I wanted to thank him for what he did for Violet. I know she got an easier time of it because of him.”
“You all did. Why was that?”
“Because your brother is a good man, a good man. Feel real bad about what happened with him, but then, I thought he was you.”
“He’s better than me.”
Drago appraised Johnny for a few beats. “Maybe.”
“Second off?” Johnny prompted.
“Needed to give ‘im a warnin’.”
“You’re in no position to make threats,” Johnny cautioned.
“Not me. Chapel.”
“Chapel?” What did a church have to do with anything?
“One of the ones who got away. See the thing is, Chapel took a shinin’ to your brother. He fancies boys, if ya get my drift.”
Johnny nodded. A heavy ball of bile stated to form in his stomach. He didn’t like where this was going.
“He started to get this thing,” Drago continued. “He wanted Scott real bad, kinda stuck about it. Wouldn’t let it go. And ya see, when Chapel gets that way, well, there’s nothing that can stop ‘im. So I wanted to warn Scott about ‘im.”
“Okay, you’ve warned him,” Johnny said rather dismissively.
“No! Now don’t blow it off like that!” Drago said quietly but intensely, both hands gripping the bars tightly. “He’ll go after ‘im. Might not be right away, but unless you know he gets captured or kilt, he’ll be after ‘im. Won’t let it go until he gits ‘im even if it takes years. Don’t let ‘im outta your sight.”
“I can’t ride with him every minute of the day,” Johnny protested.
“Someone hasta,” Drago pressed. “There won’t be nothing left of ‘im if Chapel gits his hands on ‘im.”
“Okay, okay,” Johnny placated the agitated man. “Anything else?”
“No, that’s it. But you heed my words, Madrid. Don’t let Chapel take your brother or you won’t have any brother left.”
Johnny straightened up from the wall he’d been leaning against and started to walk away. He heard Drago’s near desperate plea behind him. “Mark my words, boy! I’m tryin’ to help ‘im like he helped me!”
Johnny managed to get Murdoch alone before they packed up for the ride home. He told him everything Drago had said and sought his father’s opinion about what they should tell Scott. They agreed they’d tell him about Drago’s thanks but that they would keep his warning to themselves. Scott had been rattled enough from his encounter with Drago and his men. If this Chapel fellow had any sense, he’d be out of California by now. No reason to get Scott worried unnecessarily. They’d keep their vigilance up. Knowing they had made a sound decision, they made their way back to the ranch.
Murdoch was quiet as he drove the carriage, pondering what Johnny had told him. He was determined to protect Scott any way he could after his botched rescue attempt. Clearly, he had made matters much worse having tried to take out the gatling gun, which had resulted in them testing it against Scott. His self-recriminations about that were going to keep him up at night. No, there was no good reason the tell Scott about Chapel. He’d make sure his elder son was safe.
Weeks turned into months with all being well at Lancer ranch besides minor cuts and bruises and Johnny spraining his wrist while breaking a mustang. Drago’s warning had faded from their minds as everyone prepared for the upcoming cattle drive. Johnny rode up to the secondary herd they were planning on joining to the main herd. He sat there for a few minutes watching Murdoch haze the cattle. Murdoch was a big man with a big horse, but he worked the steers with as much success as the vaqueros, who had more finesse. Johnny shouldn’t have been surprised. The man had been at it for twenty-five years, but the sight was impressive.
“Your back all right?” Johnny asked his father as he approached.
“Fine, fine,” Murdoch replied slightly amused. “I’m not ready for the rocking chair yet, boy.”
Johnny laughed, looking over the herd. “Where’s Scott?”
“He was here…” Murdoch’s voice trailed off. “Cipriano would know.”
Johnny rode off to catch up with the foreman.
The Segundo greeted him warmly. “We could use your help,” he told Johnny.
“I’ll help Scott. Where is he?”
Cipriano shrugged. “Gathering up strays.”
“Rafael is with him, I think.” He pointed in a northernly direction.
Johnny nodded his thanks and went to find his brother, but Murdoch intercepted him.
“You find him?” Murdoch called.
“I’m going to,” Johnny yelled back.
“I’m going with you.”
“Don’t bother,” Johnny said, but Murdoch was already peeling away from the herd and heading north. Johnny sighed. Sometimes it was useless to argue with the Old Man.
They found Rafael lying among a clump of straggly bushes and trees. Murdoch rolled him over and they could see that the man had been stabbed. It didn’t look good, but he was still alive, groaning as Murdoch inspected the bandana that had been pressed to the wound and had saved the man’s life so far.
“What happened?” Johnny demanded, hunkering down near Rafael’s face to catch whatever the vaquero said as he roused.
“Walked right into it,” Rafael answered in Spanish. “Stuck me right away.”
“Gone. He took him.”
Johnny and Murdoch looked at each other. Then Johnny turned his attention back to Rafael, speaking in Spanish, too, knowing Murdoch would understand all that was said. “How many?”
“Have you seen him before?”
“One of the bandits…from before.”
Johnny stared at Murdoch, his eyes growing wide with panic. “Frank Chapel?”
Rafael groaned again, and Murdoch said, “No more talking, Rafael. Save your strength.”
Johnny stood up. “I’m going after them.”
“We both will,” Murdoch said firmly, brooking no argument. “But first, we need to see to Rafael.”
Johnny nodded. Of course, Rafael came first right now. He got his gun out and fired off three evenly spaced rounds. Help would be coming soon. He retrieved his canteen and helped Rafael to drink. Then he started to scan the ground for any tracks. He couldn’t just sit there like his father waiting for Cipriano and the rest of the crew to answer the distress call. Every minute that slowly ticked by made him much more anxious. If worse had come to worst, his brother had been kidnapped by a madman and every second that they weren’t on the trail was time for Chapel to wreak his revenge.
Finally, Cipriano and some of the crew appeared. Johnny mounted Barranca, who paced around fretfully, sensing his master’s impatience. Murdoch issued all kinds of orders as the men dealt with the again-unconscious Rafael. Finally, Murdoch mounted his horse and Johnny pointed to some trodden grass leading northward.
“How long has he been gone?” Johnny asked.
“I haven’t seen him since early this morning,” Murdoch admitted. He asked among the other hands. No one had seen Scott or Rafael since the beginning of the shift. “If they got caught first thing this morning, it’s been a while,” Murdoch spat angrily. He had left his guard down after promising himself he wouldn’t. But it had been over seven months since Drago’s trial.
“Five or six hours ahead of us then, I reckon,” Johnny replied.
Murdoch nodded. Grim-faced, they both waited until Cipriano nodded that they had Rafael taken care of, and then they trotted off in the direction of the tracks, each man lost in his own dark thoughts.
The afternoon sun was setting when Johnny said, “He’s headed for the line shack.”
Murdoch nodded. “That’s what I’m thinking, too.”
Johnny stopped scanning the ground for tracks and took off at a canter, Murdoch close behind. They stopped some ways from the shack and devised their strategy. Going in guns blazing might get Scott killed. Murdoch circled around back, while Johnny checked out the lean-to that served as a makeshift barn. There were no horses there; nor was there any smoke coming from the chimney.
Johnny crept under the window and peeked in. Swearing, he walked over and kicked the door in. Nothing. It was empty.
Murdoch came hustling in, a look of frustration coloring his face. “Dammit!”
“Yeah,” Johnny agreed, sitting on the bed. “I was so sure this was where he was.”
“You and me both, son.”
Johnny stuck his gun back in his holster and scrubbed his face with his hand. “Guess we’d better get going,” he said, pushing off of the mattress.
“Not tonight,” Murdoch declared.
“We’ve been riding all afternoon. The horses need rest, and so do we. There’s maybe twenty more minutes of daylight left. It’s no good for Scott with us riding blind, maybe getting Barranca hurt.” He knew that thought would hold up his headstrong son. “We’ll rest up here and head out at first light.”
“Right before first light.” Johnny insisted.
Murdoch nodded. “Just as soon as we can. Now take care of the horses while I see what we can eat.”
Johnny didn’t have much of an appetite. Neither did Murdoch, for that matter. They speculated on where Chapel could have taken Scott. Except for the line shack, Johnny didn’t know of anything else up this way. Murdoch had no suggestions. Could they have gone the wrong way coming north?
Johnny stuck by his decision that they were headed in the right direction, and Murdoch knew Johnny to be near expert in tracking after his time spent with the Apache. He wasn’t going to second guess him further. They turned in early, but Johnny suspected he wouldn’t get much sleep if at all. He didn’t hear his father snoring, so he figured Murdoch was probably awake, too, but they didn’t converse, each lost in his own imaginings as to what Scott might be going through in these long hours until dawn. Drago said Chapel “fancied” boys. Johnny turned on his side and tried to keep his meager dinner in his stomach.
Eventually, he heard Murdoch rise and light the lantern. “You up, boy?” he whispered.
Murdoch saw Johnny roll over and get out of bed in one smooth motion that sent a pang of jealousy through him. Oh, to be young and limber again! “I’ve been thinking all night where your brother might be. There was a man who came to a Cattleman’s Association meeting once. Irishman. O’Malley, O’Mulligan or something. Only came the one time, as I recall, but I got the impression that his place was around here somewhere.”
“You never went to his spread?”
“No. He was small fish in a big pond.”
Johnny snorted. “Everyone’s small fish in Lancer’s pond.”
Murdoch grinned. “And I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel!”
Johnny grinned back, then sobered. “You think you could find his place?”
“The general direction.”
“If we’re lucky, not too far away.”
Johnny pulled on his boots. “Let’s hope we’re lucky for Scott’s sake. I’ll ready the horses.”
“I’ll ready breakfast,” Murdoch volunteered.
“Don’t bother,” Johnny told him as he lit another lantern and stomped outside with it to saddle the horses.
Dawn had broken a good hour earlier by the time Johnny had found a good-sized stream to follow, thinking it might be the size of stream perfect to build a house next to. They were zigzagging their way around it when they came upon a path overgrown with weeds. They dismounted and walked the rest of the way to a large clearing.
There was a neat little cabin sitting in the middle, a large corral set off to the left of it. The corral held two horses, one of them Scott’s. Murdoch and Johnny nodded at each other. This was the place. They tied the horses off and crept toward the house. Murdoch nodded toward the outhouse and went to swing around the side of it. It was then Johnny heard the singing coming from the privy.
It wasn’t Scott’s voice.
Murdoch had been in place only a few moments when the outhouse door opened and a man stepped out, naked as the day he was born except for a pair of worn boots and still humming a spritely tune. And very erect.
The erection and the tune ended when he spied Johnny.
“Johnny Madrid, as I live and breathe,” he drawled. “You think you can take me?” he challenged boldly even though Johnny was pointing a cocked Colt at him and he had absolutely nothing.
Murdoch’s loud baritone cut through the morning air. “I’d say between the two of us, we can take you.” Murdoch strode forward with his gun poised to shoot, too.
Chapel looked like he was going to run for it, but a bullet from Johnny’s gun slamming into the ground right in front of his feet stopped him. Murdoch grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and marched Chapel into the cabin.
Johnny spied Scott through a doorway to a bedroom. He would never forget that sight for as long as he lived. Scott was naked, tied to the metal spindles of the bedframe. His hands were tied together and attached to the headboard, while his feet were spread-eagled and tied to each side of the footboard. His right upper chest was awash in blood. Johnny quickly grabbed a crumpled quilt from the floor and draped it over his brother’s body. Then he got his knife out of his boot and started cutting the ropes that bound his brother’s limbs. Once freed, Scott’s feet disappeared beneath the quilt and then his hands. He curled himself into a tight ball and rolled away from them to face the wall. His sweat-plastered hair was the only thing visible.
Johnny turned from Scott to watch Chapel donning his clothes under the murderous glare of Murdoch. Murdoch’s face was almost purple with rage, but Chapel was buttoning up his pants almost leisurely, as if he was unaware of Murdoch’s scowl or the perilous position he was in. Chapel’s outfit was all black, and Johnny realized this was the man who had stopped him outside the hacienda and inspected the contents of the saddlebags, liberating a packet of the bills for himself. So that had been Chapel. Johnny wished he had put a bullet through the asshole right then and there.
Once dressed, Chapel was tied to a chair by both Johnny and Murdoch, each making sure the other had fastened the ropes tight. Murdoch sat on the bed and gently touched Scott’s shoulder as Johnny kept his gun trained on Chapel.
“Son,” Murdoch said ever so gently as he let his hand rest on Scott.
“No!” Scott rasped out harshly. “No, no, no, no,” the chant went on, as Scott tried to shrink from Murdoch’s touch.
“All right, son,” Murdoch soothed. Then he turned on Chapel. “I ought to kill you right now!” he thundered.
Chapel stared right back at him coolly. “But you won’t,” he said laconically. “You’re a law-abiding man, a pillar of your community. You’ll take me into town and hand me off to the sheriff all right and proper like the upstanding citizen you are.”
“You’ll hang for what you did to my son.”
“Maybe. But not before a trial. Not before pretty boy here will have to get up before all assembled and tell the world what happened to him.” Chapel looked over to Scott’s huddled form. “Won’t that be fun, pretty boy?” he asked loudly. “You willing to tell your pa and brother and the state of California what we did in this place? We had us some fun, didn’t we?”
Johnny could see Scott try to become even smaller under the blanket. He could still hear Scott’s litany of soft noes emanating from under the quilt. He cocked his gun. “I say we kill him now.”
Murdoch motioned him to release the hammer. “We’ll do this right,” he said, and Johnny saw the evil grin that spread across Chapel’s face. He wanted to punch that grin right off. “You need to find a wagon. Scott’s in no shape to ride.”
“You got that right,” Chapel said, still grinning. “Not now, maybe not ever. Right, Scotty-boy? You ever gonna be able to sit down again?” he taunted.
Johnny walked over and struck Chapel in the face. That wiped the grin off. Murdoch grabbed his arm. “Go find a wagon and get ahold of yourself. Your brother needs calm heads right now.” He fished around in his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar gold piece, smacking it in Johnny’s palm. “In case you need to rent one.”
“Murdoch,” Johnny pleaded, loathe to leave Scott.
“Go on,” Murdoch ordered. “I’ll take care of things.”
After his imploring look was ignored, Johnny stalked out of the cabin. Murdoch went to the window and watched his son stride to where they’d secured the horses. Satisfied Johnny was off to take care of his task, Murdoch looked back at Chapel. The smirk was back.
Murdoch felt guilty leaving Scott alone in the cabin, but it had to be done. Frank Chapel sat bound and gagged on his horse being led by Murdoch, and he prayed that they wouldn’t encounter anyone as they made their way north. It would be difficult to explain his prisoner. Murdoch was oriented now, and they were headed to a piece of geology that had fascinated him the only other time he’d seen it. Lover’s Leap.* He’d make it there and back again before Johnny could return with a wagon. The place wasn’t that far from the cabin—perhaps a half hour’s ride in a very isolated part of the state.
He hadn’t meant to be in this situation, but Chapel’s incessant baiting of Scott was just too much to bear. He’d gagged him, but even gagged, the man had laughed and had a smirk on his face, which Murdoch could no longer endure. Scott was deep in a place Murdoch couldn’t imagine, continuing to chant “no” over and over again and resisting any comfort. In the end, he knew what he had to do.
Just when he thought he might have misjudged the distance, the distinctive outcropping of rocks came into sight. That was part of what made this spot so amazing. Coming up from the south like they were doing, there appeared to be only a gentle slope up to a unique rock formation. No one would guess that there was a sheer wall on the other side. Murdoch glanced at Chapel. It was clear the outlaw hadn’t a clue to where they were. He wore the same contemptuous and smug look he had every moment that Murdoch had seen him.
They stopped on the grassy knoll leading up to the rocks. Murdoch dragged Chapel off his horse and took the gag off.
“What are we doing here?” Chapel asked.
“You remember when you called me a law-abiding citizen? You may have been mistaken about that,” Murdoch said as his gloved fist impacted Chapel’s jaw. The sound of the jaw breaking was satisfying and the sting in his hand felt good. This was for Scott. This was for his son, who he’d sworn to protect the minute he first saw his blessed Catherine’s child walk into the great room. He’d let Scott down yesterday. He’d forgotten Drago’s warning; they all had, but he was the father. It was his responsibility. After seven months, he’d let his guard down and Scott had paid the price. He wasn’t going to let his son down today.
Chapel fell awkwardly onto the ground, his hands still tied behind his back. “You gonna kill me?” he managed to say from his ruined mouth. He didn’t seem worried about the prospect. In fact, it seemed like he’d expected it for quite some time and was resigned to it. “Won’t matter. Your Scotty-boy’s still dead. He may be breathing, but I killed him just as sure as I put a bullet through his brain. He won’t ever be the same again.”
“Shut up!” Murdoch kicked him hard in the stomach. That stopped the fool from talking any more. He then commenced a beating no man could withstand. He continued to pummel the body long after it was a corpse, his anger so intense he could not stop himself. His gloves were covered in blood. And still the rage inside consumed him. Panting, he fell to his knees and rifled through the clothes, finding no identifying papers. Then he lifted the body onto his shoulders. It felt as if it weighed only a few pounds and Murdoch thought he might be able to climb the rocks with it. But then reason stepped in and he went around them and heaved the body over the side, watching it fall far below. He stood there, chest heaving, waiting for any movement below, even though he knew Chapel was dead before he tossed him over.
Murdoch’s outrage seemed to dissipate the moment the body hit the ground. He took Chapel’s saddle off his horse and made sure there were no identifying marks on it. Then it followed its owner to the rocks below. He’d let the horse go in a pasture where the poor beast had a good chance of surviving. He took one more look over the sheer cliff, and, satisfied, went back to the cabin.
There were a few differences when Murdoch entered the cabin. Scott had used the piss pot, Murdoch was quick to see and smell. It pleased him to know Scott’s body hadn’t shut down completely. The canteen he’d left on the quilt near where he thought Scott’s hands were was gone, hopefully taken under the covering and used. The quilt itself was no longer draped over Scott but wrapped tight around his body. Otherwise, he was still curled up into a ball and facing the wall. But Scott had done something while Murdoch was gone, which meant he had some of his wits about him and wasn’t catatonic. That gave Murdoch a bit of comfort.
Murdoch leaned over the bed and listened intently. Scott’s breathing was deep and regular, signaling sleep. He hoped so. There was no telling how long it would take Johnny to get a wagon. He took a bit of time to investigate the cabin. It was larger than it looked from the outside. There was another bedroom besides the one Scott was in and the main area was roomy and well-appointed. It appeared that the former inhabitants had just up and left, leaving everything except their clothes behind. Had it been kept up, the cabin could have been quite cozy and comfortable.
Murdoch went back into the first bedroom to sit with Scott and wait for Johnny. He caught sight of a leather pouch on the bedside table. On it was an assortment of knives and other, unspeakable items that Murdoch didn’t want to contemplate. All were stained with blood—Scott’s blood, no doubt. He gathered up the pouch with its unholy instruments and went outside with it, looking for something he could dig with. Finding a garden spade in an adjacent shed, he quickly dug a hole and buried the offensive objects, the intense anger returning.
He had never felt such rage before in his life, not even against Day Pardee and what he’d done to Caspar and Marie. He supposed he should feel regret at taking a man’s life, especially taking it with his own hands, but he couldn’t muster anything but a deep satisfaction that justice had been delivered. Lancer took care of its own. He had taken care of it, and now he could take care of Scott.
He was just thinking of rustling up something to eat, when he heard a horse and wagon. He went outside and saw Johnny pulling up with a small, rickety wagon, just big enough to fit Scott. “You made good time.”
Johnny jumped off and started unhitching Barranca. “Found a small place not too far from here. It ain’t much, but they were glad to give it to me for that gold piece. I might have given it to them anyway, they looked so poor. Anyway, figured we got a bargain, getting it so fast.”
Murdoch was thankful the farm hadn’t been closer. He hadn’t been back at the cabin for very long. If he’d still been gone with Chapel, Johnny would have had his hide for leaving Scott alone.
“How’s Scott doing?” Johnny asked, after soothing Barranca’s indignation at having been hitched to a wagon.
Johnny nodded in approval. “I’m thinking we need to get him away from this place as soon as possible.”
Murdoch considered. Obviously, Scott was exhausted and might benefit from resting more. Then he thought of those implements of torture spread out upon the leather he’d just buried. “I think you’re right. If I’ve got my bearings right, we can make it to Sam’s before sunset if we get going now. If we head due west, we’re much closer to Green River than the ranch. Let’s get everything ready to go before we wake him.”
Johnny nodded. They hitched Murdoch’s horse to the wagon with Scott’s horse tied to the back of it. They grabbed the mattress off the second bed and turning the dusty side down, finagled it to fit in the bed of the wagon. It would be more comfortable for Scott to travel that way.
Johnny didn’t mention the absence of Chapel when he walked inside the cabin. Chapel’s horse had been missing from the corral. Murdoch said he’d take care of things; Johnny guessed he had. He regretted not having his own shot at the pendejo. He found Scott’s clothes and held up the torn and shredded clothing for Murdoch to see. “He ain’t getting these back on.”
Murdoch agreed, but Scott’s boots looked intact. They would salvage those. They found Scott’s gun belt and gun in Chapel’s saddlebags and took them. As ready as they could be, Johnny leaned over his brother’s form. “Scott,” he whispered. There was no response. “Scott,” he said a bit louder, laying his hand lightly upon Scott’s shoulder.
Scott jolted awake. “No!” he cried, and Johnny did his best to calm his shattered nerves.
Murdoch joined in. “Son, do you think you can make it outside to the wagon? I don’t think I can carry you.” He thought back to his ease of carrying Chapel’s body up to the rocks. Pure rage had made him strong. He could never muster up that kind of rage here and now with Johnny and Scott present.
“Can you walk a little ways? It’s not far, not far at all, and I’ll help you,” Johnny promised.
They could see Scott’s head nod in agreement.
“Can you try now?” Johnny asked gently.
The canteen appeared from under the covers, and Murdoch snatched it up. Then came the awkward dance of Scott trying to rise without his losing his tight hold on his quilt. Finally, he was off the bed and slowly limping his way to the door, Johnny’s hand steadying his elbow through the blanket.
A bloody scalpel clattered to the floor. Both men stared in horror at it and the amount of blood that had soaked through the linens where Scott had lain. So much blood.
Johnny couldn’t see much of anything about Scott’s injuries. The quilt covered him from chin to mid-calf. They ended up mostly lifting him up and into the wagon bed because Scott wouldn’t relinquish his death grip on the blanket. Johnny couldn’t tell too much. Scott’s ankles bore the marks from the ropes that bound him to the footboard but that was about it. Except for the thin rivulets of blood down his ankles. He hadn’t looked too closely at Scott’s body before he’d tossed the quilt over it when they first got there; he just got the impression it was bad. Nevertheless, his brother was alive and mostly aware. That was more than Johnny had expected when they started following Chapel’s tracks. Doc Jenkins would fix him right.
Once in the wagon, Scott curled up into a ball beneath the quilt and turned on his side, his face inches away from the side of the wagon, but not before he thanked them profusely for finding and saving him. Murdoch gave the canteen back to him, and the three Lancers began their measured journey to Green River.
It was nearly dark when they pulled up at the back of Sam Jenkins’ house, trying to avoid any curious eyes out front. This time, Murdoch climbed into the wagon, pulled Scott into his arms, and carried his son up to the back door, his abject worry giving him the strength he needed. Johnny was already pounding on it.
The doctor opened the door with some disgruntlement but immediately opened it wide when he saw the quilt covered form in Murdoch Lancer’s arms. Johnny and Murdoch were accounted for—the body in the quilt had to be Scott. He was quickly laid on the examination room’s table. Sam went to remove the quilt when Scott started speaking. “Get them out,” he said hoarsely.
“Murdoch and Johnny. Get them out. Don’t let them see me,” Scott demanded.
“They’re here to help you,” Sam explained.
“No! Get them out! Now!” The orders might have been more forceful if they hadn’t been delivered in such a wavery voice. But the anguish in that voice was just as effective.
Everyone heard that outcry, even though Scott’s voice was strained and raspy. Sam looked at his friends helplessly. “I think it best if we abide by his wishes. You can wait in the parlor.”
“We’re not leaving. He’s my son.”
“And he’s a grown man,” Sam explained. “He decides what he wants done medically.”
Johnny appealed straight to his brother. “We want to help you.”
“No!” Scott said again. “Go away! I don’t want you to see me. Only Sam. Please!”
The desperate tone in Scott’s voice made Johnny take his father’s arm. “C’mon, Old Man. Let’s do like he says…for now.” Once the door closed behind the Lancers, Sam returned to his patient. “They’re gone now, son. Let me see what’s under here,” he said as he lifted an edge of the quilt.
“Sam,” Scott said as he relinquished his hold on the blanket. He started sobbing and couldn’t stop.
Sam pulled the quilt off Scott and nearly gagged. In all his years of encountering sick and wounded bodies, he’d never seen anything like this. It took all his years of experience not to completely lose his composure. He found a handkerchief to give to the distraught man and said, “I’ll be right back, Scott.” He didn’t want to vomit in front of him.
Sam went out the back door and stood for a few minutes taking in great gulps of air and girding himself for the task to come. He pumped water into a bucket, and after splashing some of it on his face, he took it into the kitchen and poured it into a large pot lighting the fire. Then he went in search of Murdoch and Johnny. They jumped up from their seats the second Sam walked in.
“How is he?” they both asked.
“I haven’t even been able to assess him yet, but I’m going to need your help.”
“What can we do when he won’t let us in there?” Johnny asked.
“You can keep me supplied with all the water I need,” Sam said. “You can leave it outside the door. Knock when you’ve placed it there. I’ll take it inside the room. Keep me supplied with warm water—not hot—and plenty of it. I’ve just put a pot on the stove. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Scott.”
“Sam,” Murdoch’s voice, rough with emotion, stopped the doctor. “How is it?”
“Bad, Murdoch. Real bad.” He went to collect all the clean towels he could find.
Hours later, Murdoch and Johnny had resumed their vigil in Sam’s parlor. They had formed a water brigade for the first hour until Sam told them they could stop. Then they had taken care of their horses, rented a room at the hotel, and had something to eat. When they had returned to the doctor’s house, he still hadn’t finished tending to Scott’s injuries. That fact had disturbed them enough; the not-knowing was killing them.
Finally, Sam emerged from the examination room and sat down on the settee. “I’ve done all I can for him,” he said wearily. He could have used Murdoch’s and Johnny’s help, but Scott had been adamant against it. That had meant no painkillers because he needed Scott aware in case he needed him to move or drink or something. It had been hard on them both.
“What’s wrong with him?” Murdoch asked.
Sam shook his head. “He doesn’t want you to know.” At Murdoch’s thunderous glare, he added, “I have to respect his wishes on that. You know that, Murdoch.”
“But he’s my son!”
“Which would mean something if he was a child, but he’s not. He’s an adult. He gets to decide on who knows what about him,” Sam explained again.
“Was he raped?” Johnny asked quietly.
Sam looked at him sadly. “I can’t tell you that either.”
But the doctor’s stricken face had told Johnny all he needed to know. He wasn’t surprised, didn’t really need to ask the question. He knew what kind of man Chapel was; Drago had told him. He knew a man like that, who had plotted for months to get his hands on Scott, would rape his brother as soon as he got him inside that cabin. He just wanted Sam to confirm it for some reason, to make it real maybe. And Sam had with his pained expression. “Can we see him?”
Sam considered for a moment. “All right. Let me check on him first. I can’t let you into his room.”
Sam left and returned a few moments later. He ushered them to a back bedroom. “You can look from the doorway.”
Sam pushed the door open so they could see the room beyond. Scott was asleep on the bed, again turned away from them, lying prone with the right side of his chest raised slightly by a pillow. A blanket covered him up over his shoulders. They could see no more of him than they had after he’d disappeared under the quilt at the cabin, but he seemed to be resting comfortably.
Sam closed the door gently. “I gave him some morphine for the pain. He isn’t suffering right now.”
“But who’s going to sit with him?” Murdoch demanded. “You? You’re dead on your feet, Sam.”
“He’ll sleep well into morning. He doesn’t want either of you in the same room with him.” Sam sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s not my decision.”
Johnny tugged at Murdoch’s sleeve. “C’mon. Let’s let the doc get some sleep so he can tend Scott right. We can come back in the morning. I could use some shuteye myself.”
Murdoch reluctantly nodded. Giving his long-time friend a final scowl, he turned and walked away.
“I’ll take care of him, Doc,” Johnny promised. “You just take care of Scott.”
“I will,” Sam promised in return. “And take care yourself, Johnny.”
With one long, last look at Scott’s closed door, Johnny followed his father out of the doctor’s house.
The following morning, Murdoch and Johnny were at Sam’s house, not too early because the doctor needed to recover from his ministrations. They’d gotten up at dawn and returned the wagon, depositing a few more coins in the owner’s hand. This time he protested, but once Murdoch saw the hopeful faces of the young, painfully thin children, he overrode the man’s polite protestations. Now it was mid-morning and they wanted to see how Scott was faring.
“I appreciate you not being here at the crack of dawn,” Sam said as he ushered them inside.
“How is he?” Johnny asked.
“I’ll see him today regardless,” Murdoch proclaimed.
“Not unless he says it’s all right,” Sam insisted. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you. Coffee?”
They sat around Sam’s kitchen table while he gathered the mugs. “When can we take him home, Doc?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know. Not for a while yet. He’s still gravely injured. I want to make sure he’s well on his way to healing with no infections before I let him leave.”
“We can do all that at Lancer,” Johnny assured him.
“Let’s see what Scott has to say about it.” After seeing the extent of Scott’s injuries last night and the nature of them, Sam was sure Scott wouldn’t be going back to the ranch any time soon. “I’ll tell you what you can do. You can get some clothes for him. Maybe a nightshirt, too.”
Johnny looked at his father, who just sat there glowering into his coffee. “I can do that,” he volunteered. Murdoch just nodded his head. “How’s Rafael?”
Murdoch was startled by Johnny’s question. His worry over Scott had sent the vaquero’s condition out of his mind. Another thing to scold himself for.
“I’m sorry, Johnny, he didn’t make it,” Sam said sadly. “He’d lost too much blood by the time I got to him.”
Johnny nodded in sympathy and understanding. The wound had looked bad.
No one had much to say until Murdoch said forcefully, “Dammit, Sam! I want to see him!”
Sam had withstood his friend’s bellowing for years and wasn’t intimidated. “I understand that, but this isn’t about what you want. It’s about what Scott wants and what Scott needs.”
“Come on, Old Man. Scott’s not gonna wanna see us today. Let’s listen to Sam here,” Johnny said softly.
“I need to see him,” Murdoch insisted.
“All right. From the doorway like last night. Let me check on him first.” Sam left the room for Scott’s bedroom.
“You won’t see nothing, just like before,” Johnny gently chastised.
“I don’t care. I’m going to see him.”
Johnny shook his head. Murdoch was one stubborn Scot. Sam came back and told them they could follow him. They stood in the doorway and peeked in. Everything looked exactly the same as it had last night, as if Scott hadn’t moved a muscle. Murdoch gazed at the sheet-covered body for several long seconds, then, apparently satisfied, he headed toward the front door. Johnny followed on his heels. He didn’t like the way the Old Man was acting this morning. It was worrisome.
When he opened the front door, Murdoch turned to Sam. “Take good care of my boy,” he told him, his voice cracking on the last two words.
“You know I will,” Sam reassured him.
“We know, Doc. We know,” Johnny said. “I’ll be back later with Scott’s clothes.”
“No hurry on that, Johnny. It’s going to be a while before he’ll be wearing them.” Sam closed the door after them.
Johnny and Murdoch rode back to Lancer in silence for a good long stretch. Then Johnny said, “You mad because Scott don’t want to see us?”
That roused Murdoch, who seemed deep in thought. “What? No.”
“Well, maybe some. How can we help him if he won’t let us?”
“Maybe it’s for the best,” Johnny mused. “I’m thinking he needs some time to sort through all this. Sam will be able to do that better than having us fussing around him day and night.”
Silence overtook them again.
“How’d you kill Chapel?”
Again, Murdoch seemed startled out of some sort of reverie. He sighed and looked out over the landscape away from Johnny’s piercing gaze. “I’m not going to tell you.”
As expected, that made Johnny hot. “Why not? I wanna know!”
“I know you do, son. If I were in your spot, I’d want to know, too. But if I tell you, that would make you what the law calls an accessory after the fact,” Murdoch explained. “They could hang you with me and I don’t want that. I’m never going to tell you. Or Scott.”
“How’s the law ever gonna find out? You planning on turning yourself in?”
Murdoch almost chuckled. “No. No plans for that.”
“Then what’s it hurt to tell me?”
Murdoch sighed. What made this boy so stubborn? “I’m not going to risk it, so drop it,” he growled.
“Bet it felt good when you hit him, though, didn’t it?”
Murdoch continued to scowl at him, remaining silent.
“I noticed you been flexing your right hand some. Maybe you shoulda had Sam look at it.”
Murdoch flexed his hand again, almost unconsciously. “It’s all right. No need for you to worry about it,” he groused, pinning Johnny with a scowl.
Now it was Johnny’s turn to sigh. “Look, we’re both worried about Scott. No need to turn on each other.”
“You’re right,” Murdoch said, muttering “damn cattle drive” under his breath.
“Look, you take care of Lancer; I’ll take care of Scott.”
“All right,” Murdoch agreed, kicking his horse into a canter when the Lancer arch came into view. He’d handle his guilt the same way he’d handled his guilt over Catherine’s death and Maria’s disappearance—by working the ranch.
Johnny shook his head and kept Barranca at the same steady pace. They were both worried out of their minds about Scott, but Sam was right. They needed to let Scott call the tune about this. ‘Wonder how the Old Man is going to like being on the other side of that!’ It pissed him off no end that Murdoch wouldn’t tell him what he did to Chapel. He understood the reasoning but wasn’t buying it. Protecting him and Scott. Ha! Maybe he thought Johnny would judge him harshly for how he did it. Johnny didn’t care, as long as the asshole was dead. Maybe he was ashamed of being caught out as judge, jury, and executioner after telling them to let the law handle things on so many occasions. Madrid had done that a few times himself; he wasn’t going to blame his father for it. Especially not in this case after what had been done to Scott. Johnny just wished he was nursing a sore hand after getting his own licks in.
Teresa was standing outside when Johnny rode in. She rushed up to clutch at his leg. “What happened to Scott? Cipriano told us he was missing. Murdoch only said you’d found him.”
“Yeah, we did, but he’s still with Doc and will be for a spell.”
She gave him enough room to dismount. “I’ll get my things then…”
She turned toward the house, but Johnny stopped her. “No. He don’t want any of us there.”
“What do you mean? Sam will need us to sit with him and look after him,” Teresa persisted.
“Scott doesn’t want us to see him.”
“That’s nonsense! We’ve seen him through all sorts of things…” she protested.
“Not like this.”
“What makes this so different?”
Johnny blew out a breath of frustration. What should he tell her? If he knew his brother, the answer would be “nothing.” He cast about for something to say. What were they going to tell Cipriano and the hands? Scott didn’t want even him or Murdoch to know what all had happened to him. “It just is,” he finally said, knowing it wouldn’t satisfy her. “Go feed Murdoch some lunch. He’s going back out on the range.”
Having something purposeful to do seemed to mollify her some. She reluctantly walked back into the house. Johnny handed off Barranca to the stable boy and headed for the great room.
Murdoch was there with a drink in his hand.
“Bit early for that, ain’t it?” he asked his father.
“I’d say it’s overdue,” Murdoch growled. “Want your own?”
Johnny ducked his head. “Wouldn’t mind myself.” After he accepted the glass, he said, “Teresa just asked me what was wrong with Scott. She’s not the only one who’ll ask. I figured we’d better get our story straight.”
Murdoch sighed as he sat down on the sofa. “You’re right, of course.” He stared at the cold fireplace for a couple of minutes. “You know Scott won’t want us to say anything.”
Johnny walked over to stare out of the French door. “I know, but we gotta say something. Everyone knows there’s something wrong, especially with Rafael’s death. Since Scott’s not with us, they’ll figure something’s up.”
Murdoch was silent for another few minutes. “We tell them he was tortured but nothing more.”
“And if they ask for more? You know that won’t satisfy Teresa.”
“Well, that’s too bad!” Murdoch barked. “Nothing more!”
Johnny looked at the scotch he sent swirling in his glass and nodded. “Not like we know more anyway…” He downed the rest of the alcohol in one gulp. “She’s making us lunch,” he said as he set the empty glass on the desk. “I’m gonna go collect Scott’s things.”
Lunch was a dismal affair with Teresa near tears as she begged to be allowed to tend to Scott. Murdoch wouldn’t allow it, and when she persisted, he’d lost his temper with her, which sent her fleeing from the room. Johnny said nothing. His temper was frayed with the girl, too. What part of her didn’t understand “Scott doesn’t want us there”? They couldn’t explain it to her; they barely understood it themselves. Johnny thought it was Scott’s stubborn pride getting in the way. He’d felt his own wounded pride lying on his stomach after being shot by Pardee, so he couldn’t blame him. Had the rest of them felt this helpless about it? They hadn’t known each other then. But now Scott should feel more comfortable around them than Johnny did when he was laid up. One thing he knew for sure: Scott didn’t want Teresa anywhere near him.
The widow Yelena Lazorchak was in Sam’s house when Johnny arrived with Scott’s clothes. She informed him Doctor Jenkins was out making rounds and she was watching Scott while he was gone. The only thing was, she was “watching Scott” from the kitchen. Sam had left Scott a bell to ring if he needed the widow, and he had left her strict instructions not to let anyone into the room. Johnny set the valise with Scott’s clothes by the door and rapped softly, telling him it was there. There was no sound from the room beyond. He had half a mind to just bust into Scott’s room, but the widow was eying him suspiciously. The Doc must have warned her about him. She was so kind and dear; Johnny would never think to upset her. Then there was the fact she was as tall as Scott and had Johnny by at least twenty pounds. No, he didn’t want to rile Lainie Lazorchak. She could probably break him in two if she ever got mad enough. Johnny thought he could have been sweet on her if she weren’t twice his age. Scott couldn’t be in better hands other than Sam’s.
Sam found Johnny sitting in the kitchen, a cup of tea beside him, and his hands occupied with holding Lainie’s knitting yarn, which she was wrapping into a ball. Sam smiled in spite of himself. He nodded at Johnny, and said, “Yelena, he giving you any problems?”
“This boy? Never!” She smiled sweetly at Johnny.
Johnny beamed back at her.
“Was Scott quiet?”
“Nary a peep, Doctor. Quiet as a mouse.”
Sam nodded, very pleased with what he found. He picked up the valise outside Scott’s door and entered the room.
Johnny itched to follow him.
Lainie seemed to sense it. “Patience, boy. Doctor Jenkins will patch your brother right up. He’ll be right as rain in no time.”
She had that accent that Johnny loved. Scott said it was eastern European, as if that meant anything to him. Lainie said she was from Moravia, but that hadn’t meant anything to him either. He just liked the way she sounded, especially the way she said his name—more like “Zhohnny” with the hard ‘J’ softened.
Sam emerged from Scott’s room twenty minutes later.
“He awake?” Johnny asked.
“He was,” Sam said. “I just gave him a bit more morphine for the pain.”
Johnny became agitated. “You know he don’t like that stuff. You forcing it on him?”
“Lord, no. He asked for it. You have to realize, he’s in a great deal of pain and extremely ill,” Sam explained.
Johnny wanted to see for himself. “Did you ask him if I could see him?”
“I told him you were here.” Sam’s face dropped sadly. “I’m sorry, Johnny, he still doesn’t want anyone but me to see him.”
Johnny didn’t expect anything differently. It had only been a day, but the rejection still hurt. He got up and walked to Scott’s door. “I’m here for you, Scott,” he called through the door. There was no answer within. He turned to Sam. “I’m gonna take a room at the hotel. Let me know if he changes his mind.” He didn’t want to deal with everyone at Lancer, especially Teresa and her tears. If Scott needed him, he’d be just down the street.
Sam just nodded.
“It itches,” Scott complained, bringing his hand up to scratch the beginnings of his beard. It had been growing for about a week and a half now.
Sam Jenkins intercepted it. The knife wounds that peppered Scott’s neck where it met the jawline were healing well and he didn’t want them disturbed. “I suspect it does, but I don’t need you picking at your scabs. It’ll just make them scar worse.”
“My back itches something fierce.”
“I warned you about that. You need to leave all your scabs alone.” Sam ignored Scott’s frown. There were so many scabs to ignore on the poor boy’s body. He hadn’t sutured the knife wounds, only the worst ones. There were just too many of them. Otherwise, he was content to let them close and scab over on their own. “How’d you get these anyway?” he asked lightly touching the worst of the neck wounds.
“He’d stick a knife up to my throat every time he wanted me to say…or do…something.”
Sam didn’t even want to know what this sadist, whose name was apparently Chapel, had wanted Scott to do. “What did he want you to say?”
Scott got that faraway look in his eyes and his voice went flat, emotionless. “Nothing, really. He just wanted me to hear me scream.”
“And you wouldn’t?”
“Not at first. Afterwards, after he…tore me…and…burned me, I screamed to his heart’s content.”
Sam was sorry he’d asked. Scott had screamed himself hoarse, and Sam had feared he might have permanently damaged his vocal cords until a couple of days ago when the rasp started to clear up. Honey worked miracles. He’d run out of his own stock and had bought up every jar in town, which was two. He wanted to add honey to every fluid he got Scott to drink. It aided the bitter taste of willow bark tea until it was almost palatable and it was good for his sore throat. But there was only one beekeeper within a twenty-mile radius of Green River, which made the delicacy pricey and rare. Hearing that the doctor needed the confection to heal a patient had brought donations from the townspeople, resulting in a handful of jars with varying amounts inside. Their sacrifice had been heart-warming and humbling. But he didn’t tell Scott about the display of affection. The boy acted like he didn’t want anyone to know he even existed. He continued his examination. “I’d like to get a good look at your leg.”
Scott groaned and tried to find the least painful position that would give Sam sufficient access to the wound. It was fairly deep, and Sam had been concerned from the start that he’d hadn’t cleaned it out well enough to avoid infection before he’d stitched it closed.
“Why’d he stab you here?” Sam asked. He was heartened that Scott was starting to open up about what had happened to him, even if it was in that detached voice that set Sam’s worry bells off. However, it was better than the silence of the last week and a half.
“Wasn’t screaming enough to suit him.”
Sam smiled. “You’re one stubborn Lancer!” he said, letting admiration color his tone.
“I didn’t want to give the bastard the satisfaction, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Got hurt worse letting my pride get in the way. Stupid of me.”
“Don’t second guess yourself, son. You did what you thought you had to at the time,” Sam soothed. “And you survived.”
Scott snorted. “No thanks to me! If Murdoch and Johnny hadn’t showed up…” He abruptly went silent, tears welling up in his eyes, and Sam couldn’t prompt him to say anything more about his ordeal. There was still some redness around the sutures on his leg wound but nothing too worrisome yet. Sam would have to continue to monitor the situation.
“You have a bowel movement yet?”
Scott shook his head.
“You’ll have to have one before I’ll let you go home.”
“Then I’ll never have one.” He dreaded the prospect of going back to Lancer, with everyone staring at him and blaming him for Rafael’s death. They couldn’t blame him more than he blamed himself.
“You know that’s impossible,” Sam said sternly. “You can’t impact your bowels. That could cause more damage down there than there is already.”
Scott looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation.
“I’ve been giving you mostly a liquid diet hoping to ease the situation, but I think we need to start adding cod liver oil.”
Scott groaned again in protest. He’d taken the foul-tasting liquid as a child and never wanted to take another spoonful for the rest of his life. “Can we put a hold on that? Let me try some more before we resort to that.”
“All right,” Sam agreed, “but otherwise I’m going to have to get in there and remove the feces by hand.”
Scott looked miserable and Sam hated to add to his already lengthy list of medical woes. The poor boy had been through so much. Once he had surfaced from his morphine-induced haze, he’d immediately asked about Rafael. Sam gave him the unfortunate news of the man’s death, and Scott had sunk into such depths of sadness from which he was still struggling to rise. Or maybe he wasn’t struggling with it at all, more like he was wallowing in it. A severe case of melancholia, which had to be expected. Sam sighed. He felt so out of his depth. He’d never encountered such intentional cruelty as what had been inflicted on Scott. It didn’t help that he thought of the young man like a son. It was hard to maintain his objectivity in the face of such obvious torture. He took out his tin of salve and started the long process of gently rubbing the ointment into the myriad of cuts that covered all of Scott’s back and many other places. He ran out halfway through. “I’ll have to run to the mercantile to get some more salve,” he told his patient.
“Do you need money?” Scott asked.
“No, I’m fine,” Sam assured him, but he could see Scott’s perpetual frown deepen at the remark.
Upon returning from the store, Sam completed his task and confronted a very pensive Scott Lancer.
“We need to talk about your fee,” Scott said.
“No need at this time,” Sam assured him, but Scott would not be put off.
“There’s daily room and board for me, medical supplies, Mrs. Lazorchak’s time, and your fees. What would be fair compensation for that?”
“You needn’t worry. I’m sure Murdoch will compensate me appropriately.”
“No!” Scott said forcefully. “This is going to come from my own funds. I’m not taking a penny from Lancer coffers! This is my fault, my problem.”
“Scott, I don’t want to deplete your private funds on top of all the other burdens you’re bearing now.”
Scott almost laughed. “Deplete my funds? I doubt that’s even possible. Grandfather deposits one hundred dollars every month into my private account.”
Sam almost whistled at the amount. “That’s very generous of him.”
“Generous!” Scott scoffed. “It’s a bribe. He’s promised ten times that amount if I return to Boston. I don’t know what the man is thinking. But there’re projects I’d like to do here in town and at the ranch that I don’t want to risk Lancer money on, so I’ve been accepting the money with gratitude. He hasn’t cut me off yet. I have more than sufficient funds to pay whatever your fee is, believe me.”
Sam did believe him. He wondered how much discretionary money Harlan Garrett must have to be able to afford to give his grandson a thousand dollars a month upon his return to Boston. He would be hard pressed to pass up money like that. They worked out a mutually agreed upon weekly rate. Sam told him about the honey donations and Scott vowed to pay everyone back. Then he rolled over to take another nap. Rest was the best thing for him, and Sam knew the emotional toll his examinations took on Scott was just as exhausting as the physical toll. To all outside appearances, Scott was healing well and coping with his injuries, but Sam knew better. Scott still refused to see anyone else and the level of anxiety that would surface when certain subjects were brought up told Sam that Scott Lancer still had a very long road to recovery.
“Don’t stretch your right arm too much. Here, let me help,” Sam said, bringing Scott’s shirt around so he could slip his arm in more easily. He was pleased that Scott was finally interested in getting dressed. It had been over three weeks since Murdoch and Johnny had brought the young man to his doorstep. For the last four days, Scott hadn’t gotten out of bed. Sam had read about melancholia being prevalent as people healed from serious ailments or trauma. Scott had certainly experienced trauma of the worst kind. While Sam hadn’t been surprised at the listlessness, it was difficult to watch the once energetic young man go through it.
“Thanks.” Scott buttoned up his shirt and waited for Sam’s assessment. “Well, how do I look?”
“You don’t have to worry. The shirt covers everything except the ecchymosis on your neck, which has almost faded away.”
Scott’s hand strayed up to his throat and touched the bruise. “Are you sure it will go away? It still feels sore.”
“I’m sure,” Sam assured him. It had been a particularly deep bruise, as was the one on his inner thigh. Both were taking their time in leaving. “I can get a mirror if you’d like to see for yourself.”
“No!” Scott said quickly. “No mirrors yet.” His hand drifted up to his jawline. “And these?” He traced some of the scars with his fingers.
“Even though there are quite a few, they were small. The scabs have already fallen off, and I think they won’t be noticeable once they fully heal. Of course, if you keep the beard, nobody will know.”
“Hmmm,” Scott considered. “The only other time I’ve had a beard, I hated it.” He’d had a year’s worth of growth during his imprisonment at Libby, but right now the facial hair was serving a purpose. It was hiding scars, while at Libby it had only chronicled how long he’d been imprisoned.
“I’d like you to wait at least another week before you shave it off,” Sam advised. “How are the pants?”
“Besides their being a little loose, not bad. Glad I have bandages around the worst of it on my legs, though.”
“I don’t want the material directly rubbing against your burns or that knife wound.”
Scott nodded. “You going out today or the patients coming to you?”
“I’m in the office today barring an emergency.”
Scott was relieved. He felt better when Sam was around.
“You volunteering to be my assistant today?” Sam teased. He knew Scott would never venture outside his room if there were another person in the house. Now that Scott’s life was no longer in danger, Sam had tried to coax the boy out of his room when Lainie was around, which was often. The woman was his housekeeper, laundress, and sometimes nurse when needed now that his lovely Cordelia was gone. But Scott resolutely stayed in his room. Murdoch and Johnny would stop by when either of them was in town, but Scott continued to refuse to let them see him. Sam had done his best to change his mind, but he wouldn’t budge. The only time Scott would venture out of his room was when no one else was in the house besides Sam.
“Not today,” Scott said. “Will you have time to finish our game?”
“We’ll see. Maybe after lunch.” He had set up a chessboard hoping to draw Scott out of his most recent bout of melancholia. It had worked somewhat, but Sam had yet to win a game. But today Scott was out of bed, dressed, and conversing. He was making progress.
Johnny Lancer paced in front of the closed door that barred him from seeing his brother. It had been a month since they’d brought him to Sam’s, and no one had been permitted to see him…at Scott’s request. Johnny was fed up with it. To make matters worse, Murdoch was sending him on the cattle drive. The Old Man had decided to stay at Lancer and wanted Johnny to take charge of the drive. Johnny had reluctantly agreed only after admitting to himself that he wouldn’t be seeing Scott during that time away anyway.
But now, after gathering some last-minute supplies in town, he was determined to see Scott before he left. “I’m gonna be gone for almost a month. Just let me see you and talk to you without this damn door between us,” Johnny pleaded through the wood.
“I…I just can’t let you in,” Scott stuttered. The thought of Johnny seeing him in the state he was in was just too unbearable. He didn’t want anyone to see him like this.
“Ah, the hell you can’t!” Johnny huffed, and he’d finally had enough. They had done things Scott’s way for weeks. It was time to do things the Madrid way. “Just let me in! I ain’t gonna say anything or do anything.”
“No, Johnny, please!”
Johnny kicked the door in. There was a frightened yelp, and he saw Scott scoot behind the upholstered chair he’d apparently been sitting in and squeeze himself into the corner behind it.
“No!” Scott croaked again and began the litany of noes he’d chanted back at the cabin where they’d found him.
Johnny moved the chair aside and crouched down in front of his brother. “Scott, it’s all right. There’s no need to be afraid. It’s just me,” he said as gently as he could.
But it was as if Scott didn’t hear him as he continued to chant, his knees drawn up to his chest and his arms crossed protectively over his bowed head. “No!” The fright and anguish in his voice was unmistakable.
Johnny wanted to place a soothing hand on his forearm but was too scared to do it. He didn’t know how Scott might react to being touched if just being in the same room had caused this response. “I just needed to see you, brother,” he explained softly. He took in the blemishes encircling Scott’s wrists and how thin those wrists were. Wasn’t the doc feeding him? “I miss you, Scott.”
“No, no, no, no, no, no…”
“What’s going on here?” Sam’s outraged voice boomed from the doorway. “Johnny Lancer, what have you done!”
Johnny rose and left the room as quickly as he could without flat out running. He was surprised that Sam wasn’t hot on his heels berating him for his betrayal of Scott’s trust. He hurried over to the supply wagon; his cheeks red with shame. Maybe he needed to keep Madrid at bay when it came to his brother.
Murdoch heard a buggy pull up outside the French doors and walked out to see Sam Jenkins tug at the reins. His heart leapt thinking his friend had some news about Scott.
“That boy of yours!” Sam was grousing as he alit from the carriage.
“What’s he done this time?” Murdoch asked as he ushered Sam inside.
Sam placed his coat and hat on the sofa and accepted a small brandy. “He didn’t tell you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, where is he? I’d like to say this only once.”
“Then you’re in for quite a wait,” Murdoch chuckled. “He left on the cattle drive this morning. He’ll be back in, oh, a month, maybe? They’re headed all the way up to Sacramento with ten thousand head.”
Sam seemed disappointed that the object of his ire had escaped his due. He took a sip of brandy and calmed himself. He’d worked himself up into quite a snit on the ride over.
Murdoch let the brandy soothe Sam. “What’s Johnny done now?” he asked quietly.
Sam matched his tone. “He went into Scott’s room against Scott’s wishes.”
Murdoch’s face clouded over. That didn’t sound good, but part of him was rooting Johnny on. It was about time they stopped mollycoddling Scott. The boy needed to come home and start working again. He tentatively put that view forward. “Maybe it’s time he thought about coming home…”
“Well, that’s not going to happen any time soon now!” Sam’s anger was back. “Johnny’s interference has set Scott’s recovery back who knows how far.”
Murdoch mustered up a bit of anger himself. “He’s had a month, Sam. A month we’ve done it your way and it seems like nothing’s changed! He should be healed by now. Maybe you need to try something different.”
“He was making progress!” Sam defended himself. “I was hoping he’d be able to come here in the next week or so. Now I don’t know when he’ll be able to cope.”
Murdoch started a bit at the word ‘cope.’ What was Scott facing exactly? “Maybe it would help if we knew what was wrong with Scott, but you’ve kept us in the dark about everything.”
“You know that’s Scott’s choice, and right now, I’m not going to blame him for making it.” Sam knew how frustrated Murdoch must feel to be kept in the dark about Scott’s injuries, and the worst ones weren’t even physical, he feared. “Murdoch, your son…he…he’s been through something you can’t even imagine. I can’t even imagine it and I’ve been treating him for a month. But believe me, we have to let Scott heal in his own time, on his own terms. That he’s even alive is a miracle. That…that…monster tortured his mind as well as his body.”
Murdoch was going to demand more details, but Teresa entered the room. “Good afternoon, Doctor Jenkins. How’s Scott?”
“Doing as well as he can,” Sam answered, which was no answer at all.
She wiped her hands on her apron even though they were perfectly clean. She could sense the tension between the two men. “Will you stay for dinner? With Johnny and Scott away, it would be lovely to have the company.”
Sam considered and accepted. A night of Maria’s and Teresa’s cooking was just the distraction from Scott’s misery that he needed. Lainie would take good care of Scott in his absence.
Murdoch smiled and added his approval. The news about Scott was disheartening, but an evening with Sam and perhaps a chessboard would be a welcome diversion from his sonless house.
Sam plunked down Scott’s shaving kit in front of the boy. “Your cuts are totally healed now. Time for that beard to go?”
Scott scratched it, even though it had stopped itching. He was starting to get used to it.
“It might make you feel better. Might make you feel more like the old you,” Sam suggested. He put a small mirror on the bed and left.
Scott didn’t know whether he wanted to feel more like the old him. Would he ever be the old Scott again? Would making him look like the old Scott make him feel like the old Scott? Maybe he should keep the beard to announce to the outside world that the old Scott was dead and the new, diminished Scott was in his place.
He picked up the mirror and was shocked to see his reflection. He imagined he looked pretty rough, but this was still surprising. The beard was straggly and unkempt. The left side hadn’t filled in as well as the right, adding to the thin and skimpy appearance. It was definitely not a robust beard. His visage threw him right back to Libby. One of the officers had a shard of mirrored glass which was passed around the men periodically. After a few months, no one wanted to see themselves. Then the captain had died and the mirror had disappeared along with him. It had been a blessing in Scott’s view. He had become almost unrecognizable. He was almost unrecognizable again.
Scott stared at his image, heartbroken that he was in such a sorry state. He slowly picked up his straight razor. After his incarceration at Libby, he had sworn that he would be clean shaven for the rest of his life. Now he wasn’t so sure. It felt safer behind the mass of hair. He could change his mind, couldn’t he? The person who had made that oath wasn’t the same person sitting on this bed now. He looked at the razor and was taken back to that night, that horrible night.
(WARNING: SEXUAL VIOLENCE)
His head felt light and dizzy as he awoke. There were hands caressing his chest. That made him rouse himself more quickly only to find his worst nightmare coming true. He was lying on his back, hands and feet tied to the bed with Frank Chapel astride his hips. A totally naked and erect Frank Chapel. Thank God he was still completely dressed except for his missing boots and socks.
“Finally, my pretty boy awakes.” Chapel murmured, still running his hands over Scott’s chest.
Scott stayed silent.
“I wanted you to be awake for all the fun I have planned for you, my pretty boy.” Chapel began to unbutton Scott’s shirt from the bottom up, slowly and deliberately.
Scott tried his best not to hyperventilate. He knew Chapel wanted to see him panic, and he wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He had to keep his head and look for any chance to escape.
Chapel opened the shirt as far as it would go with Scott’s hands tied above his head and cupped his hand over his captive’s heart. “Careful not to let this beat out of your chest!” he warned, clearly delighted that his prisoner was so terrified.
There was nothing Scott could do about the pounding of his heart, which was betraying his pretense of calm with every beat.
Chapel rose slightly and palmed his erection. Suddenly he climaxed and shot his semen over Scott’s chest and face, despite Scott’s effort to turn his head. Chapel just laughed and rubbed his semen into Scott’s skin. Then he got off him, much to Scott’s relief, only to return with a Bowie knife. Starting at the cuff of Scott’s pants, he started to cut the material up toward his hips. Quickly, Scott’s clothes were sliced away from him, Chapel uncaring whether the knife cut skin as well as fabric. Then Chapel ran his hands all over Scott’s naked body, murmuring admiringly all the while.
He left again and returned with a leather pouch that produced new blade—a razor—along with a bowl of water. Explaining that he usually liked his lovers much younger, he began to shave the hair off Scott’s body, starting with the armpits. Similarly, Chapel seemed unconcerned about the razor catching skin as well as hair. First the armpits, then the chest, and finally the pubic hair.
Scott braced himself for the inevitable nicks to his genitals. It caused Chapel such pleasure to pretend to be apologetic for his rough treatment. The blood drawn was purely by accident, Chapel assured him. But Scott wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of crying out in pain. Even when Chapel gave him encouragement to scream, Scott had kept his jaw firmly clenched. Finally enraged by Scott’s silence, he had sunk the razor deep into Scott’s left thigh. That had gotten him the response he wanted.
Scott almost passed out from the pain in his leg, but Chapel wasn’t done with him. He laid down on top of him and started rubbing himself against Scott, genitals on genitals until he was quickly erect again. Scott felt nothing but dread. Next, Chapel produced a bandana heavy with the scent of chloroform and pressed it to Scott’s nose and mouth. Scott began to lose consciousness just as Chapel snatched the cloth away. Grinning like a madman, he began untying Scott’s feet.
Scott had a fleeting thought about escaping, but his mind was too cloudy to form a coherent thought. Nevertheless, he tried to kick out at Chapel, injured leg be damned, but that feeble attempt only made his tormentor laugh. He leaned close to Scott’s ear.
“I like it better when they fight!” Chapel taunted, as he re-tied each leg by the knee to the headboard.
Scott was curled almost in half. He knew what was coming, had known it since he’d woken up, but that didn’t make it easier to deal with. He’d never felt so helpless or hopeless in his life—not even those last months in Libby. The panic welled up inside him as he steeled himself against the first of the rapes and sodomies that night.
(SEXUAL VIOLENCE OVER)
Sam stopped by Scott’s open door. He’d made several trips to restock his examination room, and each pass by Scott’s room had found his patient staring blankly at the razor in his hand. What was going through that boy’s head now? Maybe it had been a mistake to press him about shaving off his beard. He waited to see what Scott would do.
Scott tried to get the memories of that night out of his head, but he knew it was a hopeless task. The images were too ingrained in his mind, the emotions still too raw and close to the surface. He shouldn’t have looked in the mirror. He couldn’t stand to see himself. Even now he could feel and smell the semen that Chapel had rubbed into him, despite his constant scrubbing of his face. Sam had scolded him for it, but Scott couldn’t get it clean. He couldn’t get any of his body clean. When would Sam allow him to take a proper bath? All the stitches were removed, but Sam still wanted him to wait a while longer before soaking his body in hot water and taking a washcloth to his newly healed skin, particularly the fragile skin covering the burns.
Scott shuddered and wished he could shed his skin like a snake. He wondered if even then he would feel clean again. It was so hard, this living. It was so hard to move on with this life, as Sam counseled. He knew he could never meet anyone’s expectations of him ever again. If anyone saw him, they would immediately know he had been raped and humiliated. They’d see it in his sullied face. And he’d hadn’t fought back. He hadn’t gotten the chance, but who knew that? All anyone knew was that he’d been raped and he hadn’t stopped it. He was useless. He’d always been useless and would always be useless. But he could put an end to that with just a few cuts of his own. He poised the razor over his left wrist.
Sam saw the razor swoop down on Scott’s wrist. “No! Stop!” In three long strides, he was at Scott’s bed and had torn the razor from his hand. “What are you doing?”
Scott looked up at him dully. “Stopping the pain.”
“Come on,” Sam said, grabbing the boy’s left wrist to stem the blood and to get him moving to the examination room. Once there, he put in a couple of stiches and bandaged the wound, doubly angry that Scott knew to rake the razor down his wrist rather than across it. When had he picked up that little-known piece of knowledge? It had changed his act from a cry for help into a serious attempt at suicide.
“After all the hard work you’ve done to get this far, now you want to kill yourself?! Not to mention all the hard work I’ve done!”
Scott looked properly chagrined, which made Sam feel a bit better. A belligerent Scott, angry at having been thwarted, would have been much more difficult to handle.
“I can’t do it, Sam,” Scott whispered. “I can’t be me anymore.”
“That’s ridiculous! Of course, you can be you. You’re doing a fine job already.”
“No, I’m not. I can’t bear anyone to see me. I can’t even be around Johnny, and he saved me from that…that…” He let the sentence drift off. He had no word to describe the evil that was Frank Chapel.
“That will come in time. It will all come in time,” Sam consoled, but he was worried. Scott now needed to be always watched if he was contemplating suicide. Sam had a practice to maintain. There were other sick and wounded people in the valley. He couldn’t sit in Scott’s room every minute of the day. “You’ve put me in a difficult spot, Scott. I can’t watch you to make sure you won’t try this again. I’ve got other patients to see.”
Scott just looked away, unwilling to promise he’d not try it again. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too. You’re going to have to tolerate being around another person when I’m not here. Yelena?” Sam could see the panic arise in Scott at the mention of being in the same room with another person.
“No, I’ve learned my lesson,” Scott said unconvincingly. “I won’t try to kill myself again.”
“I don’t believe you,” Sam said bluntly. “If not Mrs. Lazorchak, then tell me who, because you’re not staying alone anymore.”
Defeated, Scott hung his head. “Yelena,” he whispered.
Sam nodded, satisfied. He went back to Scott’s room and gathered up the shaving kit. Clearly, it had been too soon to suggest that Scott shave off his beard, but for the life of him, he didn’t know why. Until he did, the beard stayed.
The time that Lainie was scheduled to watch him was fast approaching. Scott came in from the outhouse to where Sam was going through his black bag, making sure he had everything he might need.
“Well, my constipation’s over,” Scott announced. Sam had been dealing with his constipation for weeks due to Scott’s fear of the pain a bowel movement would cause.
Sam gave him a questioning look.
“Now it’s the other extreme,” Scott explained.
“Actually, I’m rather glad to hear it,” Sam said.
There was a knock on the door and Lainie let herself in. Scott hightailed it to his room. Sam sighed and went to greet Mrs. Lazorchak. He explained the situation as succinctly as he could and asked if she had any questions.
She did. “Does he need nursing?”
“No. Just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”
She shook her head sadly. “Never figured that one as one who’d hurt himself. Too fine a young man.”
“He’s been through some mighty tough times lately, Lainie. You don’t need to do anything else but keep an eye on him.” With that pronouncement, Sam left for Spanish Wells to see his patients there.
Lainie found the closed door and knocked on it. “Doctor Jenkins said I needed to be able to see you, Scott.”
Slowly the door opened and Lainie almost gasped at the sight of the young man standing sheepishly before her. With his longer hair and beard and the dark circles under his eyes, Scott Lancer was almost unrecognizable. His distinctive voice gave him away.
“I know, Mrs. Lazorchak. I won’t make things difficult for you.”
Yelena sat herself down on the upholstered chair. “Just do whatever it is you do behind this door. I’ll be as quiet as a mouse.”
Scott sat on the bed. “I don’t do much—just read and sleep.”
“Then you do that, then. I have my knitting to keep me busy.”
“It would seem rude to ignore you.” He said, although his voice betrayed no desire to converse with her.
“I thoroughly intend to ignore you,” she informed him. Was there relief in his eyes?
He nodded and laid down, his back to her.
She opened her carpet bag and took out her knitting. The clicking of her needles set a quiet, steady rhythm while she contemplated the state of Scott Lancer. Everyone she knew admired the young man. He struck her as someone who was rather particular about his appearance. That he was so unkempt now was shocking. He seemed listless, like he just didn’t care about himself or life in general very much. And Sam had said he didn’t need nursing. He most certainly did! One way or another, she was going to get Scott Lancer back on track—whether he wanted to or not!
Sam walked into his house after a long day and wondered where Lainie and Scott were. Scott’s door was open and the room was empty. That was a change. He finally found his quarry out in his back garden. Scott was sleeping on the garden bench and Lainie was knitting, as usual. She placed a finger up to her lips for silence, put her knitting down, and ushered Sam back into the house.
“You’re a miracle worker,” Sam praised as he accepted a cup of coffee from his housekeeper. It was time the boy got out of that room.
“A little sun on a body works wonders,” Lainie demurred. “He was quite reluctant to go outside.”
“Yes, I know. He was afraid someone would see him. How did you manage it?”
“By convincing him no one would recognize him anyway,” she chuckled. “Not many folks walk behind your house. Only one today, and Scott was so lost in his reading, he didn’t even notice.”
“What’s he got his nose into now?”
“That large volume on anatomy.”
Sam started a bit. His most prized possession—an edition of Gray’s Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. Scott wouldn’t harm the book. It had been a Christmas present from Murdoch a handful of years ago. “He must really be desperate for something to read.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Perhaps I could lend him one of Pavel’s books. He only had two or three, but they’re bound to be more interesting than a medical book. There’s one about a whale that Pavel was partial to.”
“Scott’s read that one, I assure you. But you might ask him about the others. As you can see, my reading material is severely limited in scope.”
The next day they were out in the garden again when she asked Scott about Pavel’s books. He declined, having read all three of them before, and assured her he was absolutely absorbed in the anatomy book.
Then, to her surprise, Scott asked her about her family. “May I ask what happened to Pavel?” he hesitantly asked. “If you’d prefer not to tell me, I understand.”
“No, I don’t mind you asking,” Lainie said, pleased that he was taking an interest in someone besides himself. “He went back to fight in that war. The same one I hear tell you fought in.”
“The War Between the States?”
She nodded, her knitting needles clacking more loudly. “Said it was his duty after all this country had done for him. Trouble was, he took Tomas with him. The boy was only sixteen.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott said, assuming they had died in the conflict. “What battle did they die in?”
“I don’t know. Don’t know that they’re dead. All I know is that the war ended and they haven’t come home.” She stopped knitting and got a faraway look in her eyes. “Yet. They haven’t made it home yet. Sometimes I pretend that they’re on their way, but they keep getting delayed. My boy, Tomas, he loved to help people. Would bring all sorts of strays home with him, too, when he was younger. So that’s what he’s doing. They’re on their way home, but they keep stopping to help people.” The knitting resumed. “But the years keep going by and it’s getting harder and harder to pretend anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott repeated. The army tried valiantly to keep track of the soldiers, but there were so many dead…
“You’re lucky to be alive to tell about it, young man!”
Scott knew he’d been lucky to survive the war, but he didn’t like to tell about it. “Was Tomas your only child?”
“No,” Lainie said quietly. “There was little Michal, too. He was three years younger than Tomas, but we lost him to the fever.” She stopped knitting again. “Oh, he was such a joy, that child! Thought the world of his older brother. Probably like your Johnny looks up to you.”
Scott swallowed the derisive noise he was about to make. If Johnny ever looked up to him, which he sorely doubted, he surely didn’t now. It was more like he looked up to Johnny. “I’m sorry you lost your family, Mrs. Lazorchak.” He saw a tear course down her cheek.
She wiped it off. “It’s been some years since they left me, but sometimes the sadness…” She looked him straight in the eye. “My family was everything to me, Scott, and losing them was so hard, is so hard on me. But you found your family. You should rejoice in the Lord’s goodness to you. You have a family, so don’t be leaving them early by your own hand, young man. Don’t do that to them,” she pleaded.
Scott didn’t know what to say. She had looked right at him and not been repulsed by his semen-stained face. How could she not see the contamination, the humiliation, there? Yes, the Lord had been gracious to him by giving him his father and brother…and then He had taken it all away. He had sent Frank Chapel into his life and made him suffer Hell. He had thought Libby was bad. At least he had comrades there who were suffering his same fate. Some comfort could be taken in that. He’d been all alone with Chapel. What had he done to deserve such divine punishment, something even God couldn’t forgive him for? He rose abruptly and said, “I need to take a nap.”
Sighing, Lainie gathered up her knitting basket to follow him into his bedroom, to watch over the poor boy as he slept. She had pushed too far too soon, she thought. She wouldn’t speak of his attempted suicide again.
Sam set his black bag down in the examination room and heard laughter coming from Scott’s room. I was Lainie’s laughter, of course. You couldn’t get a smile out of Scott. He stuck his head into the room and was amazed at what he saw: Lainie was just finishing shaving Scott’s face. She had already cut his hair, her skill rivaling Jacob’s, the barber’s.
“Don’t you go flattering me, Scott Lancer, until you see the results,” Lainie was saying.
“I must say I think it’s an improvement,” Sam said. With the beard gone, Scott’s face looked too thin. The boy wouldn’t eat, too afraid the food would give him worse constipation. It had been so painful to his torn colon in the beginning. Sam had sewn the worst tears, only to cause more pain when he took the sutures out two weeks later. Scott was completely healed now, but his fear wouldn’t abate. It was just one of the many obstacles the boy was facing, but it was one of the biggest, the other being his anxiety over being with other people. Sam would have liked to have both of those problems under control before he sent Scott home, but he was beginning to think that wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t prepared to have Scott as a permanent house guest, even as pleasant and mannerly as the boy was.
Sam had been heartened over the progress Scott had made in the few weeks Lainie had been caring for him. He was no longer concerned that he’d commit suicide. That had been his only goal when he’d introduced Lainie into Scott’s care. She had proved herself a godsend. She had insisted on caring for Scott beyond the initial crisis, citing some of her own goals with helping him. One of them had been met today: the removal of his overgrown hair.
Scott seemed pleased to see him. “Do I look all right, Sam?”
“Yes, fine. As good as new,” Sam assured him. Scott seemed anxious about any traces of his ordeal with Chapel. He had plenty of scars on his body, but his face had been spared, thank the Lord.
Scott’s hand floated up to his throat and swiped at the spot where the worst ecchymosis had been. It had taken many weeks, but even it had faded away, leaving Scott’s neck unblemished. All the ecchymoses had been reabsorbed into Scott’s body. Only the scars from the cuts and burns remained. Only… Scott’s body was replete with them.
“May I tear your patient away from you, Yelena?” Sam asked.
“Of course! I’m done here. But don’t think we’re totally finished, Mr. Lancer. I still aim to fatten you up,” she warned.
“Yes, ma’am,” Scott said and followed Sam out the door.
Once in the garden, Sam sat opposite Scott who lowered himself onto the bench. Finally, the boy was sitting properly on it instead of semi-reclining on it. Another victory for Lainie’s no nonsense approach to his care, and another indication his anus had fully healed. Hopefully, he’d be back to riding in short order. “I think Mrs. Lazorchak has been good for you.”
“She doesn’t know the meaning of ‘I’d rather not’,” Scott said wryly.
“I’ve experienced her single-mindedness more than once myself.” Sam took a deep breath. He needed to tread lightly. “I’d like her to take a day off. She deserves one, don’t you think?”
“You know what that would entail, don’t you? I’d need your assurance that you wouldn’t attempt to hurt yourself.”
“Do I have your word as an officer and a gentleman that you’ll not try to kill yourself?” Sam was glad Scott didn’t answer too quickly but took his time to consider what was asked of him.
“Yes. I can promise that now.”
“Good. Good.” Sam believed him. He took another deep breath. “We also need to discuss when you’re going back to Lancer.” He saw Scott immediately tense at the mention of returning home. “You’ve healed remarkably well. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow,” he added hastily. “I just want you to get used to the idea. Perhaps maybe next week sometime?”
Scott frowned. “I’m not completely better. There’s still the issue of my…insides.”
“I know, but that has settled down once you got used to Mrs. Lazorchak being with you. I think that pattern will continue at Lancer. It may be a little rough at first, but then, once you get used to everybody, the diarrhea should settle down as well.”
Scott continued to frown. How could he cope with all the men looking at him, seeing his shame and humiliation on his face, knowing he was raped? Suddenly, he felt nauseous. He rose quickly but not quickly enough, depositing the contents of his stomach in a patch of marigolds.
“Here, here,” Sam said, offering a handkerchief, which Scott gratefully accepted. “I didn’t mean to upset you this much.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott said as he pumped some water to cleanse his mouth and rub on his face, “I think I should lie down now.”
Sam agreed and watched him go back into the house. He’d expected that Scott would resist the idea of going home, but he didn’t think it would make the boy sick. He was an excellent doctor at healing the human body; Scott was testament to that. He was less confident of his abilities to heal the mind or the soul, and he suspected Scott needed both. He sighed. He’d done his job. Now it was up to Scott’s family to restore the boy’s soul…if it could be restored at all.
Johnny rode in with the rest of the hands who’d gone on the drive, joining in on their whooping and hollering. It was good to be home. The noise brought Murdoch out of the French doors and Teresa and Maria rushing out from the kitchen. Johnny slid off Barranca and got an armful of Teresa.
“Oh, Johnny, it’s so good to have you home!” she gushed, giving him a warm hug.
Johnny shook hands with Murdoch with Teresa still clinging to him.
“Welcome home, son,” Murdoch greeted. “I take it everything went well?”
Johnny beamed as Teresa disengaged herself from his side. “Everything went great! Thanks for giving us the extra days in Sacramento. The boys and I sure appreciated it.”
“Well, you deserved it.” Murdoch looked at all the men. “You all deserved it. Take the rest of the day off and get some rest. You’ll need it for tomorrow when it’s back to work as usual.”
That pronouncement prompted many groans but also many thanks from the returning hands. Walt offered to see to Barranca, but Johnny waved him off. He was going to pamper the palomino himself. “Let me get Barranca settled, and then I’ll be right in.”
“Take care of Barranca first.”
Johnny frowned. That didn’t bode well. “Did something happen?”
“No. We’ll talk about it inside.”
Johnny nodded. Personal, then, and not meant for the ranch hands’ ears.
Barranca well taken care of with extra oats, Johnny walked into the great room and threw down the leather wallet on the desk in front of his father.
Murdoch rifled through pouch, pleased with the amount of money in it. “Looks like we received all the profit we’d hoped for.”
“And then some. Stevens and McSweeney hadn’t made it up there yet, so I talked Bennings into another two bits a head. Bird in the hand, as they say.”
“Excellent! Nice to see you turning into a first-rate businessman.”
“Instead of a first-rate gunhawk?”
“Johnny, don’t ruin my good mood,” Murdoch warned.
They sat there in silence across the desk from each other, trying desperately not to glare at one another.
“What about Scott?” Johnny finally said. “He still at the doc’s?”
“No, no. Sam brought him home several days ago.”
Another silence. Johnny grew irritated. Would he have to strangle it out of his father? “Well, how is he?”
“Not good.” At Johnny’s alarmed face, Murdoch hastily added, “He’s completely healed physically, but…”
“But he’s not himself,” Teresa said entering the room. “He’s shut himself off from all of us.”
Johnny raised his eyebrows at Murdoch for confirmation, and the man nodded.
“I’ll talk to him,” Johnny offered.
“Good luck!” Teresa said sardonically as she sat on the other chair facing Murdoch’s desk. It was clear she wasn’t happy about it. She hadn’t been happy since she’d been told she couldn’t nurse Scott back to health.
“Now darling, you know Sam told us to expect it,” Murdoch gently chastised.
She crossed her arms in front of her and pouted in response.
“What exactly did the Doc say?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch began to fiddle with his pipe, which Johnny knew now was a delaying tactic. Murdoch wasn’t eager to relate what Dr. Jenkins had said. Johnny waited as patiently as he could while Teresa continued to pout.
“Sam said that Scott was doing well physically, but that he still had a few issues to resolve,” Murdoch said, emptying the last of the used tobacco on the desktop.
“What issues?” Johnny didn’t know if he wanted to know the answers.
“He’s extremely nervous around other people, so much so he avoids them altogether.”
“He hasn’t come out of his room since he’s been back,” Teresa complained. “Not to eat or anything except go to the outhouse, which he does. A lot.”
“Now, Teresa,” Murdoch chastened. It was clear he’d heard this complaint before.
“How are we expected to help him when he won’t even let us near him?” she whined.
“Maybe he doesn’t want help,” Johnny suggested, feeling quite protective of his older brother. He was still feeling guilty over his unwelcome intrusion into Scott’s room before he left on the cattle drive. He should have left Scott alone like he wanted. “What else did Sam say?”
“He doesn’t like to be touched. Needless to say, we shouldn’t sneak up on him. He needs to know who all is in the same room with him and where in the room they are at all times.”
That was understandable after being kidnapped by Chapel, Johnny thought. “And?”
“And Sam said to let Scott do things in his own time. We’re not to push him or he’ll close down completely. Like riding. He hasn’t been on a horse since…that day. We shouldn’t force him to ride again before he’s ready. It has to be his decision.”
Johnny nodded. That sounded reasonable, too.
“And he told us to be on the lookout for Scott becoming excessively sad.”
“How are we supposed to do that when we he’s inside his room all the time?” Teresa wasn’t going to let that drop.
Johnny went over to her and gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “I’ll talk to him,” he promised. He turned to Murdoch. “Anything else?”
“No,” Murdoch lied. “That’s about it.” He wouldn’t tell Johnny about the suicide attempt. The boy had just gotten back after five weeks on the trail. No need to burden him with everything at once.
“We’re going to make your favorite dinner in honor of your return, Johnny!” Teresa smiled at him.
“Can’t wait for that. I’m gonna talk to Scott some, and then get me some shuteye before then,” he said heading for the stairs.
“Scott’s not up there,” Teresa called after him.
Johnny stopped. “Where is he?”
“Out in the storage shed outside the kitchen,” Teresa said, seeming delighted at Johnny’s shocked expression. Maybe he’d start to understand just how bizarrely Scott was acting. “Seems like his old room isn’t good enough for him anymore, and I had cleaned it so well before he came home.”
“Teresa,” Murdoch sighed. “Why don’t you get that dinner started?”
She knew when she’d been dismissed. Murdoch and Johnny were going to engage in some “man talk” and she wasn’t invited. She wanted to march angrily out of the room, but it would only make matters worse. “I’m sorry,” she told her guardian. “I just feel so helpless about Scott.”
“I know, darling, but things will get better in time,” Murdoch soothed.
“What ain’t you telling me?” Johnny asked when Teresa had left.
Murdoch tamped down the fresh tobacco in the bowl of his pipe. “Scott’s nervousness around people…Apparently it manifests itself in giving your brother diarrhea. He’s moved into the storage shed to be as close as he can be to the outhouse.”
Johnny smiled despite himself. Normally, Scott having a case of the runs would have been ripe fodder for some brotherly teasing, but he sensed this wasn’t the time. The image of Scott’s quaking body as it squeezed into the corner at Sam’s house came into his mind. His smile faded.
Murdoch saw the smile fade from Johnny’s mouth. “Your brother’s not as we remember him right now. We’re going to have to tread softly around him. Quite frankly, I’m a bit out of my depth. I’m hoping you might be able to get through to him.”
Johnny was surprised that his usually overly confident father was admitting to being unsure when it came to Scott. Truth be told, he was unsure when it came to Scott. Was his brother still angry at him for busting into his room at Sam’s house? He just nodded to Murdoch and headed for the storage shed.
Teresa shot him a hopeful look as he walked through the kitchen. He idly wondered what they had done with all the boxes and bags that had been stored in the shed. He stopped in front of the shed’s door, took a deep breath, and gently knocked.
Even from the other side of the door, Johnny could hear the fear contained in those two words. Just like at Sam’s house. What had Murdoch said? Tread lightly. Yes, he would have to tread very lightly.
“It’s me, Johnny.” Johnny heard movement from inside and a moment later a latch was being unhooked. The door opened and Johnny got his first good look at Scott since that day they found him in the cabin. He hardly looked like himself. He was much too thin, even for Scott, who tended toward skinny. There were large, deep circles under his eyes that attested to lack of sleep and a haunted look in his eyes. He looked uncertain and frail. The changes momentarily stunned him. This wasn’t Scott!
Scott didn’t miss the look of alarm on Johnny’s face. His brother must have noticed the telltale stains left by Chapel’s torture. Johnny never missed anything. His hand immediately flew to his neck to hide the remnants of the love bite Chapel had made at the juncture of his neck and collar bone. “You’re home safe!” He’d been worried Chapel might have gotten his hands on Johnny, even though he knew he wouldn’t be riding home from Sacramento alone.
Johnny thought Scott sounded more relieved than he should be. It was just a cattle drive, not a range war. He walked into the space and took inventory. The shed had a small window high on one wall. There was room for only a narrow cot filled with bedding and an old milking stool that Scott was using as a bedside table. The stool held a lamp and a book. That was all. It was crowded with just the two of them. Scott closed and latched the door behind them.
“How come you’re in here?” Johnny asked.
“Um, it’s just…better…for me,” Scott stuttered. He didn’t want to explain his bouts of diarrhea to Johnny. He stroked his neck absent-mindedly, as if he could make the love bite disappear by his rubbing at it.
“Well, it’s good to see you and have you home,” Johnny said, suddenly self-conscious to be in this cramped space with his obviously unwell brother.
“You, too. You, too,” Scott said, clearly just as uneasy as Johnny. “How was the drive?”
“Good. Good. I’ll tell you all about it at dinner tonight.”
A look of panic crossed Scott’s face. “Um, I’m eating dinner in here now.”
No wonder Teresa was pouting. “But tonight’s a celebration,” Johnny said lightly. He wasn’t supposed to push. Well, maybe just a little… “It’s just dinner with Murdoch and Teresa.” He waited a few seconds, but Scott didn’t say anything. “Please. For me.”
Scott heard the plea in Johnny’s voice. He could do this, couldn’t he? It would be like having dinner with Sam and Lainie. That had gone all right. He would do this. For Johnny. “Um…all right,” he agreed softly.
Johnny was going to give him a friendly slap but remembered Murdoch’s warning just in time: he doesn’t want to be touched. “That trail just about did me in. I’m gonna get me some shuteye before dinner. See you then.”
“All right,” Scott said again. “Johnny,” he blurted out as Johnny unlatched the door, “Um, I’m sorry about Rafael.”
Johnny had all but forgotten about the vaquero’s death. It had been months ago. “I am, too.”
“It, um, it was because of me that…he died.” Scott hung his head in shame.
“No!” Johnny said sharply. “It was because of that pendejo.”
Scott looked like he wasn’t convinced of that. Johnny was going to give him more assurances, but he felt that Scott wanted to be alone more. Was there a look of gratitude at his departure or was Johnny imagining things? Scott was not back to normal; he knew he wasn’t imagining that. He walked back into the kitchen.
Teresa looked up from shucking an ear of corn. “Well?” she asked. Johnny hadn’t spent much time with Scott.
“He’s gonna join us for dinner.”
Teresa’s face broke into a happy grin that made the girl look irresistible. She rushed over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Johnny, you’re a miracle worker!”
Scott slid into his seat at the dining table just as Maria was setting down the last platter.
“Nice to have you with us,” Teresa said with just that amount of edge to her voice that made it sound like sarcasm.
“Um, sorry,” Scott mumbled to his plate.
“Good to see you, son,” Murdoch echoed, sounding much more sincere.
Scott nodded, his head still pointed to his lap.
“Hoowhee!” Johnny exclaimed. This is some feast, Teresa!” He started passing around the platters of food.
Scott had to look up to accept a platter from Murdoch. He stole a glance at Teresa and Johnny. Johnny was focused on his own plate, but Teresa was staring right at him, a look of horror on her face. He put the platter down and his hand moved immediately to his neck. Had she seen his love bite? It would be unconscionable to subject her to that indecency. He shouldn’t have come to dinner.
“What have you done to your face?” Teresa asked him, shocked at his raw skin.
Scott looked away. “I’m sorry. Um, I just tried to get it clean.”
“Any cleaner and you won’t have any skin left,” she chided.
“Teresa,” Murdoch said in warning.
“I’ll get some aloe for it after dinner,” she said hastily, wanting to make amends.
“Enchiladas verdes, my favorite!” Johnny said with his mouth full. The subject definitely needed changing. And when had his usually very articulate brother started saying “um” all the time? That was disconcerting. He scraped some frijoles onto his plate.
Scott looked at the platters and bowls and sighed. Of course, a celebration of Johnny’s safe return would consist of his favorite foods. Mexican foods. Spicy Mexican foods. He knew his gut would never tolerate them. Should he ask for something else? Would Maria be offended if he did? She had worked so hard to make this wonderful meal for Johnny. He didn’t want to wound the pride she took in her cooking. He’d just try to eat around the spicier items.
Johnny regaled them all with tales from the cattle drive. Scott paid little attention. It took all his concentration to sit there with everyone and try to keep the sensations of a pending diarrhea attack at bay.
Maria came in to clear some of the empty plates. Johnny praised her cooking in Spanish, and everyone chimed in their appreciation.
“You’ve hardly touched your dinner,” Teresa said to Scott. The disapproval in her voice was plain.
Scott ducked his head. She was watching him, watching what he was eating and how much of it. Why was she looking at him? Why was she judging him? It was clear he wasn’t passing whatever she was testing him on. Now everyone was looking at him, looking at his nearly full plate. He lost the war with his bowels. “Excuse me,” he said, and practically ran from the room.
Johnny watched his brother rush from the room. He had a good idea where he was going. He turned on Teresa. “Why’d you do that?”
“What?” she said defensively.
“Make him feel like a kid and you were his mama,” Johnny accused.
“I did no such thing, did I, Murdoch?”
Murdoch sighed. This dinner wasn’t going as well as he’d hoped. “Yes, you did, darling. I know you didn’t mean to,” he told her.
“Well, I’ll apologize when he comes back,” Teresa said, even though she didn’t think she had to.
Johnny exchanged a look with Murdoch. They both knew Scott wasn’t coming back. Not tonight, and maybe not for a long while.
So it was a surprise when he showed up at breakfast the next morning. Maria and Teresa were visibly surprised but hastily made more eggs and biscuits for him. After saying good morning to him, Teresa left him alone. With Murdoch’s chiding, she’d learned the previous night not to make Scott the center of attention.
“You ready to tackle more cattle, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny was feeling great after a good night’s sleep in his own bed. “I can tackle anything today, Old Man.”
Murdoch chuckled despite his being called an old man. It was good to have Johnny back with them and his presence seemed to bring Scott out of his shell. Out of his room at least. “I’m sending you with Cipriano to move that herd in the east pasture down south to meet up with the herd there.”
“Easy as pie,” Johnny said, grabbing the last biscuit and heading out the door.
Scott waited until he was alone with his father and said, “Don’t let Johnny work alone.”
“He won’t be alone today,” Murdoch assured him.
“I know, but as a general rule, he shouldn’t work alone,” Scott repeated.
“Your brother can take care of himself.”
“No! You don’t understand! He mustn’t work alone!” Scott’s voice was low as to not alarm the women but intense.
“What’s this all about?”
“He,” Scott started to hyperventilate. “He might…get him…take him.”
“Scott…” Murdoch objected.
“He’s going to hurt him!”
Murdoch didn’t have to ask to whom Scott was referring. “He isn’t going to hurt anyone ever again. Not Johnny. Not you.”
“You don’t understand!” Scott said, clearly upset.
“No, listen to me,” Murdoch demanded. “You’re safe. You’re both safe. Everyone is safe. Trust me on that.”
But Scott wasn’t listening. “He’ll take him and hurt him so badly…”
“Scott!” Murdoch all but shouted. “Just stop it!”
It was as if Scott had woken up from a dream. He looked around and saw his father, Teresa, and Maria staring at him. He got up and walked into the great room, hearing Teresa’s worried “is he all right?” behind him. He didn’t hear his father’s reply. He walked out onto the veranda and watched the men saddle up and ride east, Johnny mingled with them. That was good. Johnny wouldn’t be alone.
Scott sat down on a bench, welcoming the soft breeze blowing in his face. He hadn’t been outside in a while. It was like being in Sam’s garden. All he needed was the soft clicking of Lainie’s knitting needles. He missed them. He closed his eyes and reveled in the feeling of the wind kissing his face.
Murdoch eventually made his way to the great room. He was going to explain to Scott about Chapel, but the boy wasn’t there. He located him outside and he seemed to be sleeping. Sam had said just to let him be, so he decided not to disturb him. Teresa joined him at the French door.
“How can he be sleeping already? He just woke up!” she frowned. “Could he be sick?”
Murdoch shook his head. Yes, Scott was certainly sick but not in the way she was thinking. It was hard on her, not knowing what Scott had been through. Hell, none of them knew what Scott had been through, and that was the problem. By keeping them in the dark, Scott was hindering them from helping him. Why couldn’t he see that? “No, he doesn’t have a fever.”
They both watched Scott for a minute. Then she said, “Maria and I will make some lemonade anyway, just in case.”
“That sounds like a good idea. We all love your lemonade.” Murdoch gave her a quick hug.
Hours later, Teresa approached Scott and tentatively touched his head. He sprang up and away from her.
“No!” he hollered. After seeing Teresa’s frightened face, he tried to slow his heart down as best he could. “Don’t do that,” he said more calmly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she apologized. “I just wanted to know whether you wanted some lemonade.”
“No!” he said, and then realizing how rude that sounded, he added, “thank you anyway.”
She stared at him for a moment, and he turned away from her, his hand rising to rub his neck. After a beat, she said, “Just let us know if you need anything.” He nodded and she walked back the way she came. He stumbled away in the opposite direction, stopping to drop to his knees and lose his breakfast in the rose garden that lined the side of the hacienda. It was a terrible thing to do to the flowers his mother had planted, but he couldn’t help himself. Teresa had touched his hair…and he was transported back to that night. Chapel was touching his hair, running his hand through it, playing with it all through the night, until at last he’d grabbed it, and with his Bowie knife in his other hand, threatened to scalp him.
A handkerchief appeared under his nose, attached to a large hand. His father’s hand. He took it gratefully and wiped his mouth.
“Are you all right, son?”
No, he wasn’t all right. He’d never be all right ever again. Couldn’t they see that? But the caring in his father’s voice was unmistakable. He nodded. “Just…let me get to my room.” Scott rose and lumbered away.
Murdoch watched Scott stagger away from him. He had no idea what had triggered the boy’s vomiting. But Sam said not to touch him, so he watched helplessly as his son spiraled farther and farther away from them.
Scott made his way back to the veranda in the afternoon but found a different spot to sit. Despite what happened that morning, he was determined to spend more time outside his room. It was the only way to get better, Lainie had said. Fresh air and sunshine. She and Sam would be proud at how hard he was trying to be normal, he thought. All he had to do was not fall asleep. That had been the problem this morning. He’d fallen asleep and so he didn’t see Teresa approach. If he had been awake, she never would have touched his hair.
Scott remembered his quiet afternoons with Lainie in Sam’s garden and tried to relax. He was in the shade of the veranda and not easily seen by the people working near the house. He could let his vigil down. No one was paying any attention to him, and Chapel would never be able to get to him through all these people. He took a deep breath and let some tension out of his body.
He started to watch two men attempt to get a bale of hay up to the barn loft. It reminded him of Glory’s visit when he was doing that task alone. She had been almost seriously hurt when the rope on the raised bale slipped. He had sworn he’d tied it off securely. Now, after her true colors had been revealed, he thought maybe she had loosened the rope herself. If she had, it was an extremely dangerous stunt. What if he hadn’t looked up in time? Did she want him to land on top of her like that? He wasn’t sure whether she had gotten the better of that situation—the touch of her bosom on his bare chest was a pleasant memory. Remembering the lovely if dishonest Glory Smith made him smile to himself. Since that time, Murdoch had decreed that there’d always be at least two men assigned to that job.
But one of the men on the task this afternoon was Slim Johansen, barely a man, and more to the point, barely strong enough to haul the bale up the pulley. Scott watched him jump from the wagon to get more heft, just as he had done, but the bale hardly moved. The other man up in the loft was a recent hire whom Scott didn’t know. Rather than switch places with Slim, the guy simply yelled insults at the boy.
Scott got up and walked over to the corral. “Need some help, Slim?”
Slim looked startled at first but then broke into a wide smile. “I sure could!”
“Come on, then,” Scott said as he took hold of the rope, too.
The bale slowly inched its way up toward the loft. Scott realized he weighed little more than Slim did now. He’d lost weight. He’d lost significant strength, too. It was harder than he thought to lift the bale. Well, he was committed now.
Murdoch rode in from surveying the west pasture and couldn’t believe his eyes. Scott was working! He was helping raise a bale of hay, although it looked like a struggle for him. He used to be able to raise it by himself, but Murdoch was simply glad the boy was doing something useful. Hope for his son flared inside him. He dismounted Achilles and walked the horse over to the stables. He wasn’t going to watch Scott—at least not overtly. He was learning that much. He’d watch discreetly from inside the house after he groomed Achilles.
Scott and Slim finally got the bale high enough for the man in the loft to hook it and drag it into the barn.
“Thanks for the help, Scott,” Slim said still smiling.
“You two should trade places,” Scott suggested. The man in the loft was twice the weight of Slim and looked like he could easily haul the bale up.
“That’s what I told him,” Slim replied. “He wouldn’t do it.”
“I reckon that this is the harder part down here.”
“Hmmm.” That didn’t say much for the new hand. “What’s his name?”
“Parker. Jesse Parker.”
“Ready for the next one,” Parker shouted down.
“Why don’t you change places with Slim here?” Scott proposed.
“Who the hell are you?” Parker challenged.
Before Scott could answer, Slim called out, “This here is Scott, Scott Lan…” He was going to add Scott’s last name, but Parker jumped in before he could do it.
“Well, Scott, why don’t you just fuck off. We’ve got this figured out already. We don’t need no help from you.”
“He don’t know who you are, Mr. Lancer,” Slim explained nervously.
“Well, he’s going to,” Scott said. “Get down here,” he ordered Parker.
Scott was a bit surprised when the man obeyed him. Parker shimmied down the pulley rope, and Scott moved to intercept him when he noticed the man was all in black. All in black…like Chapel. He was shorter than Scott was…like Chapel. But he was heavyset and probably weighed twice of what Chapel did. That should have been enough to end the comparison for Scott, but there was a cruelty around his mouth that reminded him of Chapel as well. Scott stood there frozen.
“I said, ‘Fuck off, Scott.’” Parker sneered.
“You’re fired,” Scott said, his voice coming out thin and reedy and without conviction.
“You can’t fire me!” Parker hit him square in the jaw.
Scott went down hard.
A woman screamed. Slim tried to tackle Parker, and Murdoch Lancer, El Patrόn of the great Lancer ranch, emerged from the stables. He was at Scott’s side in seconds. “What’s going on here?” he bellowed.
“This greenhorn tried to tell me how to do my job, Mr. Lancer. Then he thought he could fire me for no good reason,” Parker defended himself.
Murdoch gave the man a thunderous glare. “This greenhorn is my son and part owner of this ranch. You are fired. You have ten minutes to get your things and horse and get out of here.”
Parker stood there stunned. Son? No, the Boss’ son was that half-Mex. He had dark hair and went by ‘Johnny.’ Where the hell had this guy come from? “I didn’t know, Mr. Lancer.” This job paid better than others he’d had. He wanted to stay.
“Get out!” Murdoch roared.
Parker took off in a hurry.
Scott roused at the sound of his father ordering someone to get out. He looked up to see his father, Slim, and several others peering at him closely. His heart started to thump wildly.
“Are you all right, son?”
How many times was Murdoch going to ask that today? “I’m fine,” he said trying to get to his feet. He had to get out of there. He had to get away from their prying eyes lest they see the taint left by Chapel. Murdoch helped him up and as soon as he got to his feet, he knew he had to make a run for the outhouse. Murdoch held him in place, trying to look for injuries. He had to get out of there! “Let me go!” he almost shouted, and his father immediately released him. He walked off as fast as his legs could go without breaking into a run. Dear God, he hoped he’d make it in time…
Murdoch watched Scott scuttle away, his heart breaking. He’d been so hopeful when he saw Scott helping with the hay. How far would Scott’s recovery be set back now? He turned to Slim to get the story of what happened. The boy seemed just as nervous as Scott, but he told him of Parker’s insolence. Scott had done the right thing in firing the man, but at what price?
Predictably, Scott retreated to his room for the rest of the day and wouldn’t come out for dinner, despite Johnny’s pleas. Scott wouldn’t come out or let Johnny in. Murdoch decided tomorrow he’d send someone to town for Sam to make sure Scott’s jaw wasn’t broken. At least that was the pretense. Truth was, they were all in the dark as to how to deal with him and needed Sam’s advice.
Sam arrived near dinnertime the following day. Murdoch was happy to extend the invitation to eat. Scott quickly ushered the doctor into his room, and Murdoch thought Sam was in there longer than he would have guessed. It raised a pang of jealousy in him—that Scott would talk to Sam and not to him.
Sam finally emerged from Scott’s room and found Murdoch and Johnny in the great room.
“Is his jaw all right?” Murdoch asked.
Sam nodded. “It’ll be a spectacular bruise, but it’s not broken.”
“He was doing so well, then yesterday, he got sick and was punched and he’s retreated back into that damned cell he’s sleeping in.”
“He feels safer there,” Sam explained.
“Safer?” Murdoch exclaimed. “He should feel safe anywhere on this ranch.”
Sam sighed. “Safer to make it to the outhouse in time.”
“Oh.” How could he have forgotten that part of Scott’s ailments? “It’s just been so damned frustrating. He was just beginning to come out of there since Johnny’s been home, and now this.”
“He’s suffering from melancholia right now.”
“What’s that?” Johnny asked.
“It’s a condition of overwhelming sadness and hopelessness. There are several kinds. Scott’s seems to manifest as a general listlessness. He sleeps for long periods of the day and isn’t motivated to do anything.”
Murdoch snorted. “Sounds like pure laziness to me.”
“It’s a significant affliction,” Sam said. “He had it several times while staying with me. It would take several days for him to come out of it. I’d say if it persists longer than a week, you should let me know.”
“A week! That boy needs to snap out of it earlier than that!”
Sam continued as if he hadn’t heard Murdoch’s outburst. “It’s a common condition for ex-soldiers as well. I’ll bet he experienced it after the war. It might be good for you to contact Harlan Garrett and ask. Better yet, see if you can get his health records.”
Murdoch glared at his friend. “I can’t do that. Garrett would want to know why I wanted them. He’d suspect the worst and he wouldn’t be wrong in this instance. The last thing Scott needs is another visit from his grandfather.”
“Last thing any of us need,” Johnny added.
“Well, if you can think of a way you can get them without alerting the man, it would be very helpful to me.” Sam looked at the two men’s anxious and hopeful faces. He knew they thought he could cure anyone of anything, but he was just a country doctor. “Scott’s recovery is going to have setbacks. Both of you have to realize that.” He sighed. “Has he talked to either of you about what happened to him?”
Both Murdoch and Johnny shook their heads.
“I think it might help his recovery if he talked about it.”
“He talk to you about it?” Johnny asked, a hint of challenge in his tone.
“No,” Sam admitted.
“He spent all that time with you and he didn’t talk about it?” The challenge in his tone was evident now.
“I did try,” Sam defended himself.
“Then what makes you think he’ll talk to either of us? Hell, until that Cassidy woman came, we didn’t know he was in a prisoner of war camp. He wouldn’t have never told us, I guarantee that,” Johnny said.
“Scott isn’t forthcoming about himself,” Murdoch acknowledged. “That’s why I was so hopeful to see him outside yesterday. I thought maybe he’d turned a corner. Now he’s back to hiding in that shed.”
“He won’t get better every day,” Sam explained. “He’ll have a good many bad days in there as well. We just have to pray that the good days will outnumber the bad ones eventually.”
“And if they don’t?” Johnny asked.
“Are you prepared to accept Scott as he is now?”
No, Johnny thought, and was immediately ashamed of himself. He had feared for the worst when Rafael said Scott had been taken. It should be enough that he was alive, even if he wasn’t whole and well. But it wasn’t, it just wasn’t. With sudden clarity Johnny realized just how much he’d grown to rely on his older brother. Johnny Madrid had developed a swagger. He’d had to or his career as a pistolero would have been short. Half the battle was to exude the confidence that you were invincible. That confidence had taken quite some time to move from sheer pretense to reality. But having Scott by his side, on his side, had imbued Johnny Lancer with a confidence and swagger he couldn’t generate as Madrid. Scott had a sharp mind, could talk his way out of most any situation, and was damn good with a rifle. Knowing Scott had his back gave him such a sense of calm and power he’d never known before. He needed that Scott. Imagining the rest of his life with this timid and fearful Scott was unacceptable. He knew he should be grateful Scott was simply alive, but he couldn’t be satisfied with only that.
Johnny looked at his father and saw a face that mirrored his—shocked and sad. Murdoch looked like he, too, was unwilling to accept the current incarnation of Scott as permanent, which made Johnny feel better. But they should both be ashamed of themselves. Neither of them knew what had gone on in that cabin before they got there. They only knew it had been horrific. Maybe this was the best Scott or any man could do.
Teresa came in and saw three men staring at each other. What was going on in here? They seemed very tense. Well, Scott was making them all feel tense these days. She’d just touched his hair yesterday and he had exploded. She had almost burst into tears in front of him, but they weren’t supposed to upset him. Instead, he was upsetting them. She cleared her voice. “Dinner is ready!”
Breakfasts were subdued affairs now that Scott was joining them again. No one wanted to say something that might send him back to eating in his room.
Murdoch hid behind his ever-present newspaper, even if everyone suspected he had memorized it by now. Every so often he would lower it to ask for more coffee or to give Johnny the work assignments for the day. Scott hung his head in shame. That had been his task before Chapel had taken him. Now he was too ashamed to face Cipriano. The Segundo must have heard that he’d been raped. At the very least he must have heard about the incident with Parker, how he’d been laid out with just one punch.
Murdoch finally folded his newspaper and looked over to his first-born. “Scott, some shingles blew off the barn during the last storm. Think you could fix the roof?”
Scott knew everyone was looking at him for his answer. Looking at him. Eyes on him, assessing him, judging him. But he needed to do this. He needed to at least try. And it would be just him high up on the roof away from curious eyes. He swallowed hard. He could do this. He could. “Yes, sir. I think I, um, could.”
It was as if the entire room let go of a breath they’d been holding.
Murdoch was very pleased. “Fine, fine. Jelly will give you all the supplies you need.”
Scott just nodded and hunched over his plate again, while everyone else beamed at each other over his bowed head. Scott was going to do something useful today! He was going to be outside! They tried not to look overly excited at the prospect lest Scott catch them grinning.
Scott let everyone else filter out of the kitchen before he went upstairs to do his morning ablutions and put on a clean shirt. Freshly shaved and teeth brushed, he grabbed his hat and headed out to the barn to find Jelly and be on his way up the ladder.
Jelly was waiting for him by the barn with the toolbelt and supplies.
“Thank you, Jelly,” Scott said as he started to climb the ladder that was already propped up on the eave. To his dismay, Jelly started to follow him up. Scott stopped. “There’s no need for you to come up. Um, I can handle this.”
“’Course ya can, but this was supposed ta be my job,” Jelly said, continuing to climb until he was on Scott’s heels.
That was too close for Scott’s comfort. “Go back down and, um, let me do this by myself.”
Jelly turned indignant. “Ya too good ta pass up my help? I only want ta help ya!”
“I don’t need your help!” Scott almost yelled at the man. The last thing he needed was Jelly looking over his shoulder every second of the day.
Jelly was obstinate. The Boss said for him to look out for Scott today and that was what he was going to do. How was he supposed to do that if he wasn’t up on the roof with the boy? He let Scott climb onto the roof and then slowly followed him up. What was Scott going to do about it? Throw him off?
Scott scowled when he realized Jelly had followed him up despite his wishes. Wasn’t he one-third owner of this ranch? Didn’t that make him Jelly’s boss, too? He pointedly ignored Jelly and found a spot where some of the shingles were missing. He’d just get on with it.
“Ya ain’t doin’ it right,” Jelly groused after watching Scott nail some shingles in place.
Scott’s intestines started to rumble. He willed them to stop by taking some deep breaths. After the fiasco with Parker, he needed to complete this task to show Murdoch and Johnny that he wasn’t just taking up space on the ranch. He could be helpful. Why did Jelly have to be supervising him and ruining everything? “Oh, yeah? How so?” he challenged the old geezer.
“Yore usin’ too many nails. Don’t need that many.”
Too many nails? That was the problem? This was typical Jelly behavior—criticizing you over something so trivial so he could look superior. Well, Scott didn’t feel like playing today. “Maybe I, um, want to make sure they don’t come off again.”
“It’s a waste a nails.”
Of course, Jelly had to be right and Scott wrong. Maybe he was using too many nails, but he wasn’t going to change now and give the old man the satisfaction. “Why should you care? You’re not, um, paying for them.”
“Cuz the Boss won’t like it. He don’t want us wastin’ nails.”
Oh, so this all came down to his father and his Scotsman’s frugality. Growing up in wealth meant Scott never had to consider the price of anything. That might have its own drawbacks, but it certainly meant he didn’t have to fret over the cost of nails. They didn’t call them penny nails for nothing. “They’re my nails, too, and I don’t care!” Scott almost shouted. He felt the tell-tale feeling that warned him he had a scant few minutes to get to the outhouse. He made straightway to the ladder, almost shoving Jelly out of his way in his haste, and got down from the roof as fast as he could. Latching the outhouse door behind him, he’d just pulled his pants down in time before the first wave of diarrhea hit. Scott sat on the latrine and cursed his body. If this bout was like previous ones, he’d be back in the outhouse in about ten minutes. He might as well stay put.
A few minutes later there was a pounding on the door. Scott’s entire body tensed in fright. What if the latch didn’t hold?
“You gonna be in there all mornin’?” Jelly’s voice pierced through the door. “We got work ta do, boy!”
How rude to knock on an outhouse door! “Go away and leave me alone!” Scott shouted back. He couldn’t hear whether Jelly had walked away or not. Surely, the man had enough sense to give someone privacy while doing his business. The last thing he wanted was to see Jelly standing there when he finally did come out of the privy. He waited out the second bout of the runs and then hesitantly opened the door. He didn’t see Jelly. Maybe if he laid down for a little bit, his body would calm down and he wouldn’t have to make another run for the outhouse. He headed for the shed.
“Ain’t ya gonna finish the job?”
Scott heard the disgust in Jelly’s voice behind him. “Um, not right now.”
“Well, when then? I ain’t got the time to wait ‘round here all day like some people!”
Scott stopped at his door and turned on the old man. “Why don’t you, um, you just finish the job yourself since you think I don’t do it properly?”
“Now, no sense to git your britches in a twist. Jest offerin’ some friendly advice.”
“Not so friendly,” Scott said and locked himself in his room. The day had started out so hopeful. Now he foresaw a morning once again spent in and out of the privy and then washing up in the bathhouse.
Once he had taken his lunch in his room, Scott braced himself for the inevitable knock on his door. Murdoch, Teresa, or Johnny? It wasn’t long in coming.
“Scott? Mind if I talk to you?”
Murdoch. Scott sighed and unlatched the door, ushering his father in. Murdoch’s bulk took up most of the space. Scott sat down on the cot and averted his semen-stained face while his father towered over him. His gut clenched.
“Something happen this morning? Jelly said he fixed the roof himself.”
Of course, Jelly had ratted him out to his father. For a few moments, Scott thought about denying everything and saying it was fine. But that might make the situation repeat itself tomorrow. “Um, I thought I would be fixing it alone.”
Murdoch frowned. That was the problem? Dear God, how could any of them predict what might set the boy off! “Jelly only wanted to help. He’s worried about you.”
Scott made a sound of disbelief.
“We’re all worried about you.”
That was the problem. “Well, please, stop it! All your worrying is what’s upsetting me! Just let me do things on my own and in my own way.”
“Scott, take all the time you need. No one’s pushing you to do anything.”
Scott made an incredulous noise. “Yes, you are. You all are. Um, I’m just not ready yet. You all need to stop judging me!”
Murdoch was perplexed. “Scott…Son…no one’s judging you.”
“Yes, you are. You’re all sitting there waiting for me to make a mistake or to fall apart or to live up to whatever it is you want me to live up to. I can’t, um, I can’t do it. I can’t be who you want me to be.”
Murdoch was shocked at Scott’s revelation. What was his boy thinking? He was so used to Scott being the rational one, the calm, reasonable one. He wasn’t prepared for him saying things so uncharacteristic, so wild, so untrue. “We don’t want you to be anything, son. Believe me. We only want to help you. We only want you to be happy.”
Scott was incredulous. Happy? When did that ever come into the picture? He was trying desperately not to break into pieces. Since Chapel, ‘happy’ never entered his mind. All he wanted was to be a functional human being—make it through the day and perhaps contribute a little to the ranch. There was no room for happy. He had neither the time nor the energy for happy. Happy was too much to ask of him. “That’s impossible,” he whispered.
Two words said with such anguish and hopelessness that Murdoch’s heart nearly burst with sadness. “What can I do? How can I make this better for you?”
Scott didn’t know how to answer that plea, although he knew it was heartfelt. He took some time to craft his response. “Give me something I can do by myself and not too far from the house. The roof would have been fine, um, but Jelly…” He swallowed hard. “Um, I can’t be around Jelly anymore.” The embarrassment would be too great. Had Jelly been close enough to the outhouse to hear his bowel troubles? Had he smelled the god-awful smell? Scott didn’t want to see that disgust in the old man’s face.
“All right,” Murdoch said, although he was at a loss as to why Scott was so opposed to seeing the trusted hand. Something must have happened there; something Jelly hadn’t told him.
Scott heard the confusion in his father’s voice, but he couldn’t explain his reasons further. They were too personal, too embarrassing. He closed his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“Let’s start again fresh tomorrow, then,” Murdoch said as he left and shut the door behind him.
Scott latched it immediately. He laid back down on the cot and tried to quiet the roiling in his gut. He knew Murdoch was disappointed in him. That was the worst: the disappointment on everyone’s faces when he’d failed to live up to their expectations, meager as they might be by now. Twenty-four years of hurt bubbled up inside him. For all of his childhood and youth he had thought his father didn’t think he was good enough for him and that was why he never came for him. Once he had decided on the spot that first day to stay at the ranch, he thought he’d have a chance to show Murdoch that he was good enough—good enough for his father to want him. And now? Now he’d never be good enough. The feeling of hopelessness washed over him again. It was a familiar feeling these days. He let himself sink into it.
Murdoch caught up with Jelly in the barn. “Jelly? You have a minute?”
Jelly put down the stool he was fixing and walked over. “Shore, Boss.”
“I’ve just talked to Scott. He said he doesn’t want you to be around him for a while.” Murdoch was clearly embarrassed to say it. “Did something happen on the roof? Something you’re not telling me?”
Jelly shook his head. “Nothin’ happened, Boss. Nothin’ outta the ordinary.”
Murdoch nodded. “Well, I’m sorry Scott feels this way.”
“What’s wrong with that boy?” Jelly asked, just as clearly offended that he’d been told to stay away.
“We told you—he was tortured by one of those bandits that took him hostage, one of the ones that got away.”
“There’s more ta it than that. Couldn’t a been too bad. That boy don’t have a mark on ‘im.” Jelly started stroking his beard. “Had me a cousin who was sorta tortured like. His daddy put him right ta work. Said he’d work the boy back to hisself. And it did the trick, too. You need ta stop coddlin’ your boy and put ‘im ta work,” Jelly advised.
Murdoch half agreed with the handyman. Were they coddling Scott? Sam said he needed to do things in his own way and in his own time. Scott had just echoed those thoughts. Making Scott work sounded like a good plan until he saw his son, Catherine’s son. Scott couldn’t even look him in the eye. When he did catch a glimpse of his face, it was so haunted and hollow that his heart ached. Then he thought he’d do anything for Scott, anything the boy wanted. And right now he wanted to be away from Jelly.
“Well, right now I’m going to give Scott what he wants. Do me a favor and steer clear of him.”
Jelly snorted. “Shore, Boss. That won’t be tough ta do—the boy stays inside that shed most the time anyways.”
“You’re still welcome to have dinner with the family when Scott isn’t there,” Murdoch said. That would mean most nights.
“Reckon I don’t feel much like family right now.” Jelly walked off mumbling to himself.
Murdoch watched his friend walk away. What was Scott doing to them? Teresa was always near tears, Johnny was exhausted with worry, and now Jelly was upset. It felt like Scott was tearing them all apart by doing nothing but staying in his room.
After another bout of melancholia, he ended up in the tack room. Usually, one of the teenaged boys cleaned and maintained the tack, but Scott appreciated the assignment. It was away from others, he could take his own time with the tasks, and most importantly, it wasn’t too far from the outhouse. He grabbed the next saddle to soap and threw it on the sawhorse. It took him a second to realize it was his. He placed it on the sawhorse and stopped to admire the craftsmanship. It was a beautiful piece, a treasured Christmas gift from Murdoch last year.
He sighed. Should he try it? He hadn’t sat in a saddle since that day. While he had been at Sam’s, the thought of riding again was unfathomable. But it had been over three months now. Sitting in a chair for fairly long periods of time was possible. He could probably sit in a saddle. Slowly, self-consciously, he swung his leg over the sawhorse and settled in the saddle. If anyone saw him straddling a sawhorse, he would die of embarrassment. To his relief, he wasn’t in any pain. Maybe Sam was right and he was fully healed. It might be a different story, though, when he had an actual, moving horse beneath him.
Sheridan! He hadn’t thought of his horse until now, he was shocked to realize. He quickly got off the saddle and made his way into the stable proper. The building was empty with all the crews out on the job. He went to his horse’s usual stall, only to find it empty. Maybe Sheridan was out to pasture with the remuda.
“Can I help you, Señor Scott?”
Scott nearly jumped out of his skin. “Pedro! I didn’t see you.” He tried to calm his heart.
“Perdόname, Señor,” the teenager said.
Scott’s hand drifted to his neck. “I, um, was wondering where Sheridan was.”
“Today I think Señor Walt is riding him.”
“Walt’s taken my, um, horse?”
“Oh, no, Señor. Many vaqueros have taken your horse.” Realizing how strange that sounded, he added, “We have all tried to keep it exercised.”
Again Scott realized that it had been months since his attack. Of course, the horse needed to be exercised regularly. Feeling like a fool, he started inching away from the boy. He needed to retreat to the tack room. “Gracias, Pedro.”
Back in the tack room, Scott stared at his saddle. The last time he was on it, he hadn’t been sitting on it. He rubbed his stomach absent-mindedly. Chapel had laid him over the saddle and probably tied his hands and legs to it to transport him to the cabin. When he had come to, his stomach muscles had hurt so much. That was not a comfortable way to travel.
Someone entered the room and startled him out of his reverie. It was Jelly. Scott just looked at him dully.
“Hafta get a harness,” Jelly explained, clearly as uncomfortable around Scott as Scott was around him.
Scott just nodded.
Jelly was halfway out the door when he turned back toward Scott and said, “Whatever I did ta upset ya, I didn’t mean ta.”
Scott continued to stare. He wasn’t going to tell Jelly it was all right. It hadn’t been. “I accept your apology.”
Jelly looked at him sadly and turned to walk away.
“Um, don’t pound on outhouse doors,” Scott told him.
Jelly looked like he was about to defend himself but then thought better of it. He walked out of the tack room in silence for once.
Scott put the bar of soap down. He had managed to get through his encounter with Pedro but not with Jelly. He walked to the privy in despair. He’d failed again. Would he never have normal bowel movements that would allow him to do a full day’s work?
Scott hesitantly walked into the barn. The crews had left for the morning, and he couldn’t see anyone in the building. He went over to Sheridan’s stall and found his horse there, as he had requested.
“Hey, boy,” he said reaching over the half door to scratch the gelding’s nose. To his delight, the horse seemed to recognize him. “Think you can give me a little ride today? Test out how I sit in the saddle?”
The horse tossed its head, which Scott took as a sign of assent.
Murdoch looked out of the window and saw Scott enter the corral leading Sheridan on a harness. He started to put the horse through some paces. Intrigued, Murdoch got the urge to do some blacksmithing. He walked out to the forge where he’d have a better look at Scott’s activities without appearing to be scrutinizing the boy. They’d all learned not to get caught staring at what he was doing. He started to fire up the forge.
Scott was enjoying exercising his horse. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed him until now. After about ten minutes or so of trotting him around the corral, he went inside the stables to get his saddle. He fervently hoped he could tolerate it. The thought of not riding again was heart-breaking.
Murdoch watched Scott disappear into the stables. Now what? He was very glad his son was taking an interest in his horse again. He hoped the ten minutes of longeing wasn’t going to be the end of it. Scott returned with his saddle and proceeded to saddle Sheridan. Murdoch was pleased. This was the first hopeful sign of Scott getting back to ranch work. ‘In his own time and in his own way,’ yes, that had been good advice. They were doing the right thing for Scott. He was proud of his son’s initiative.
Scott swung himself up onto the saddle and settled in just as the sound of the hammer hitting the iron began. Sheridan danced a little and then calmed. Scott walked the horse around and around the corral until he decided to practice some lead changes. Sheridan was a cow pony and not a show horse, but Scott hadn’t practiced lead changes for a long time and was eager to test whether he still had the touch. Sheridan responded wonderfully.
Scott looked around. There was no one watching him. There was only Murdoch pounding away at the molten iron on the anvil and trying hard not to stare. Scott was too amused to be angry or anxious. He wasn’t in any pain, just a mild discomfort at having been out of a saddle for months. How long had it been?
Unbidden, his mind went back to the day of his kidnapping. It had been a beautiful but cool day as everyone was readying for the cattle drive. He and Rafael were down by the arroyo looking for strays when Rafael thought he saw some movement in some scrub bushes. He dismounted to take a look. His startled cry for help had Scott dismounting and scurrying down to him. There he found the boy, not much older than Johnny, clutching at his belly. Scott took a quick look around and, seeing no one, untied his bandana and shoved it into the wound to staunch the bleeding. That was when the sickly-sweet odor invaded his senses. He recognized it as chloroform from being in the field hospital after Libby. His attempt to dislodge the cloth was futile. And when he finally came to his senses, he was in the cabin with Chapel.
And Rafael was dead.
Scott closed his eyes against the pain of that memory. He thought he had dealt with the boy’s death at Sam’s house, but it hit him even harder now. A delightful young man with a promising future was dead. Because of him. He remembered Rafael regaling him with a story about an uncle as they made their way down the arroyo. It seemed the man had fallen for a scam involving buying land near a large lake down toward San Diego that had turned out to be saltwater rather than freshwater. Impossible to farm the land with saltwater, the uncle had tried raising pigs, but in the end, there wasn’t enough freshwater available to accommodate that venture either. Scott had felt nothing but outrage and sympathy on the uncle’s behalf, but Rafael had seemed rather amused by the tale.
And Rafael was dead. Because of him.
It had been a senseless, brutal death. Rafael hadn’t said anything or done anything to warrant his demise. His misfortune had been to be accompanying Scott Lancer that day. Because Scott Lancer existed, Rafael Vargas was dead. It didn’t make sense. Chapel wanted him. Why was he alive and Rafael dead? A dark wave washed over his heart. Scott took a couple of deep breaths, but the feeling of dread wouldn’t fade. He got off Sheridan and stumbled toward the shed. Murdoch stopped shaping the horseshoe and watched Scott’s slumped form head for the house, or more precisely, the shed attached to the kitchen. “Scott, what’s wrong?” he called, but Scott didn’t appear to have heard him. He tossed the misshapen horseshoe in the pail of water and extinguished the fire.
Scott’s door was already closed by the time he reached it. “Scott, what’s wrong?” he called through the door.
“Go away!” came the response. Scott’s voice was thick with emotion.
“Can we talk about it?” Murdoch offered. Sam had said it would be good for Scott to talk about his feelings. If he did, it would be a first since his son had been at Lancer.
“Leave me alone!” Scott looked down at the carving knife in his hand. He had snatched it from the kitchen. Why was he alive and Rafael dead? He was the one who was supposed to be dead. Chapel wanted to kill him, not Rafael. He could see the scar left from his previous attempt to kill himself—a thin pink line on the inside of his left wrist. All he would have to do is open it up again…
Murdoch could hear the anguish in Scott’s voice and felt helpless to dispel it. He’d wanted to run over and hug the boy when he saw his dejected form walk away from the horse. Scott Lancer did not slump! But he had. What could he do? How could he make it better? “Please let me help you, son,” he begged.
Suddenly, Teresa was at his side. “Scott, would you like some tea?”
It seemed like they waited an eternity for an answer. Finally, “No, no tea.”
Scott put the knife down. Lainie’s words came back to haunt him: don’t do that to your family. She said he had been blessed to find his family—to find a brother who looked up to him, a “sister” who wanted to make him tea so he would feel better, and a father who wanted to help him. And he had promised Sam as an officer and a gentleman that he wouldn’t take his own life. He was honor-bound to continue to endure this hell that was his life. He’d promised. He was so tired of trying—trying to endure the presence of others, trying to do small tasks that he should have had no problem in accomplishing, trying to be strong. He put the knife on the milking stool and laid down. It was all too much for him, all too overwhelming. He wanted to shut everything out and make the world go away.
Murdoch never did find out what had caused Scott to walk away from the corral so dejected, but the ensuing melancholia lasted long enough for them to send for Sam. He came with Yelena Lazorchak in tow. The widow had immediately gone over to the shed where Scott was hiding. To everyone’s astonishment, he let her in.
Sam and Murdoch chatted the afternoon away, the doctor content to leave Scott in Yelena’s capable hands. When Johnny came in from the range and went upstairs to change for dinner, he found them both in Scott’s old room. Lainie was finishing up shaving Scott’s face. It was evident that she’d trimmed his hair, too. She threatened to trim Johnny’s hair, but he was too quick for her and hid behind his bedroom door until he heard them go downstairs. He was greatly heartened to see Scott out of the shed.
Scott had eaten dinner in the great room with everyone, braving Sam’s scrutiny during the meal. Afterwards, Lainie proposed going for a walk, and Scott agreed.
“She has a way with Scott,” Murdoch observed, a little envious of her ease with getting Scott to do her bidding.
“Damnedest thing I ever saw,” Sam conceded. “One day Scott was holed up in his room and the next she had him sunning himself in the garden as pretty as you please.”
“Maybe it’s because she’s a woman,” Murdoch speculated.
Teresa gave a grunt. “He doesn’t do a thing I say,” she pouted. “I seem to always say the wrong thing and upset him.”
“Maybe it’s because Mrs. Lazorchak is an older woman,” Murdoch placated.
Johnny excused himself and went outside where he could keep an eye on his brother. Mrs. Lazorchak had looped her arm through Scott’s, and they were slowly ambling around the yard outside the kitchen. ‘In sight of the outhouse,’ Johnny thought. He grabbed a harness out of the tack room. No time like the present to get that colt used to a harness.
On the second loop around the yard, they stopped under a tree. Johnny saw Scott sag and put his face in his hands. His whole body screamed anguish. Yelena continued to talk to him, far too softly for Johnny to hear. Eventually, she gently lowered Scott’s hands away from his face and talked most earnestly to him. He sank down to the base of the tree and she followed him, sitting some feet apart as a respectable woman would. They sat there for only a few minutes. Then she coaxed him up again and they continued their walk. The next time they neared the kitchen door, Scott went back into the shed and Mrs. Lazorchak disappeared into the kitchen.
Johnny put the harness away and went back in the house. Sam and Mrs. Lazorchak were getting ready to leave. “What happened?” he asked.
Everyone looked at him in confusion.
“Nothing,” Murdoch said.
He looked at Yelena. “Is Scott going to be all right?”
“I think so,” she said confidently. Addressing everyone, she said, “Scott appreciates your patience with him.”
“What spooked him?” Johnny pressed.
“He’ll have to tell you that if he’s a mind to,” Yelena said as Sam helped her put on her carriage coat.
Johnny sighed. He’d never know then.
They all said their good-byes and Sam waited until they were past the Lancer arch to ask Johnny’s question again. She would tell him; he was Scott’s doctor and needed to know.
Her heart went out to the boy. They had chatted about nothing during the first circle around the yard. Then she had asked about what had prompted the melancholia.
“He was thinking about Rafael Vargas again,” she told Sam. “It hit him harder this time than it did when he’d first heard about it.”
“And that time had been bad enough,” Sam added.
“He doesn’t know why he’s alive and Rafael is dead. He thinks it should be the other way around.”
Sam snorted. “He’d be dead, too, if it weren’t for Johnny and Murdoch. Did you tell him that?”
“No, I didn’t.” That was the last thing she would have told him. “He’s trying to make sense of a senseless death.”
“We all have to make sense of senseless deaths,” Sam grumbled, think of his Cordelia and little Emma and the broken axle that had sent them tumbling down the embankment. “You just have to have faith the good Lord knows what He’s doing. You tell him that?”
Yelena sighed, thinking about her own family and especially little Michal lost to the fever. She had found no solace when friends told her God wanted him more than she did. God couldn’t possibly have wanted that sweet boy more than she did. Somehow, she knew Scott Lancer wouldn’t have found comfort in that platitude either. “No, I didn’t.”
“Did you tell him anything?” Sam asked grumpily. Thinking about his wife’s and daughter’s deaths always had that effect on him.
“I told him what he needed to hear.” Yelena didn’t know why Sam seemed upset with her. Was it because she hadn’t chosen to speak of God and faith to Scott? If so, she wasn’t going to tell him what she had said. She had told Scott to stop feeling guilty and sorry for himself. The poor boy had sunk to the base of the tree when she’d told him that. Then she said if he wanted to make sense of Rafael’s death, he should make something of his own life and not waste it inside some storage shed. To his credit, Scott had gathered himself together and they’d continued on their path around the yard. She didn’t know whether her harsh words had taken hold in his heart, but he hadn’t dismissed her either. Sam would know soon enough whether Scott roused himself out of his melancholia or sunk deeper into it. It had been a gamble to be so hard on the young man, but he had risen to her challenges before. She prayed he would do so again.
Yelena fell silent, and Sam sunk into his memories of his wife and child. He spent the rest of the ride to Green River trying to replay happier times in his mind. Yelena, too, thought of her family and happier times. She was extremely grateful to Sam Jenkins for giving her life meaning by helping him and those who came to him for help.
“You coming to town with me tonight?” Johnny asked this question every Saturday after dinner since Scott had come back from his stay at Dr. Jenkins’. This was the eighth or ninth time. He didn’t expect an affirmative answer. At least Scott was sitting in the great room rather than in his cell of a room by the kitchen. That was some progress. Murdoch had said he had ridden around the corral a couple of times. So maybe tonight might be the night Scott could get out of the house. He wouldn’t bet on it, though.
Scott looked up from the pages of his book. “Um, no, not tonight,” he answered hesitantly. He hated disappointing his brother. Their rides into town and subsequent revelries were some of his best memories. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t. Riding all that way in a saddle? Sitting with people who must have heard the rumors that he’d been tortured? Having them stare at him waiting for any sign that he was about to break down or that he was already broken? He just couldn’t bring himself to do it, even though he realized the longer he put it off, the harder it would be.
“Well, when will you come with me?” Johnny challenged.
“Johnny…” Murdoch’s warning voice came low from behind the newspaper.
“Well, when’s he gonna stop hiding away in the house and do something?” Johnny demanded, directing his question more at Murdoch than Scott. “This ain’t even doing work, it’s just going into town!” Then he turned to Scott. “When are you gonna quit being a dormouse and be my brother again?”
“Sorry,” Scott whispered, his face flushing.
Murdoch lowered the paper. “Johnny…” This time more exasperation than threat.
“No, I mean it, Scott! Everyone’s been walking around on tiptoes around you, so that you don’t get upset. We have to be careful what we say, how we act, hell, even how we look at each other, just so Scott Lancer can feel all right. Well, it’s been months and I’m tired of it! We’re all tired of it!” Johnny took a few steps toward Scott, who quickly got up and backed away.
“I’m sorry,” Scott whispered again, trying to squeeze himself into the corner between the mantle and the table with the reading lamp.
That made Johnny stop his advance. It was too reminiscent of the time he’d burst into Scott’s room at Doc Jenkins’ house. He didn’t want a repeat of that. “I just…I just want my brother back,” he said plaintively.
The brothers stared at each other for long seconds. When Scott made no comment, a clearly frustrated Johnny turned and stomped out of the house. The door slammed shut impressively.
Scott looked over at Murdoch. The newspaper still lowered, his father looked at him sympathetically. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize.”
“What I was doing to everyone.” That was a lie. He knew perfectly well what he was doing to everyone. He was making everyone as miserable as he was.
Murdoch sighed. “You’re not doing anything to us, son. I told you we’d give you whatever time you need. I still stand by that,” he said, but even he was surprised at how long it was taking Scott to recover from his trauma. He thoroughly understood Johnny’s frustration and anger. Scott’s only real contribution to the ranch was mending tack and doing the books and that was only fairly recently. All his former chores had been distributed among Johnny and the hands. It was burdensome on everyone to lose a worker of Scott’s caliber. But there were small changes for the better. Scott didn’t take as many baths as he did at first. He was able to spend more time with the family rather than hiding himself away in his room. Even his time in the outhouse was shortening.
Scott didn’t know what to do. A sense of utter failure descended upon him. He knew he was letting everyone down. He was letting himself down, too. Panic began to rise again inside him and his intestinal tract gurgled. No, that wouldn’t do. He had to get away. “If you’ll excuse me, sir,” he said as he made a beeline to his room, to the safety of the shed.
“Scott…son…” Murdoch called after him to no avail. He watched his elder son practically run from the room. There was no doubt to where he was headed. Scott had just started to join them in the great room after dinner instead of retreating immediately to his room. He wondered if Johnny’s outburst had set him back. He longed to ease the hurt in Scott, but it was not to be. There’d been no accumulation of years of caring for Scott: no rocking him to sleep as a baby, no kissing the hurt away from skinned knees, no cuddling with his son as he read the child a t story, no teaching him the hundreds of little things that fathers taught their sons. No, all of that had been stripped from him by one Harlan Garrett. Scott didn’t see him as a source of comfort or support. He had Scott’s respect but little more than that. The rancor toward Garrett rose in him again, as it did whenever he thought about that man.
He tamped it back down. Who was he kidding? He’d not been in a fit state of mind to raise his infant son. Catherine’s death hit him hard. It was all he could do to save his fledgling ranch from Haney’s raids. It had been only him, Paul, and Cipriano at that time. He worked long hours out on the range. He wouldn’t have had time to be a father to Scott. Plus, he would have had to hire a wet nurse to keep the boy alive. That would have cost him money he could ill afford to pay.
But when he went back for the boy when Scott turned five, yes, that would have been a good time to retrieve him. The boy was out of diapers and would be more self-reliant. But Harlan had thwarted that plan. Now he wondered how seriously he’d wanted Scott. He hadn’t put up much of a fight for him, really no fight at all. And that voyage to and from Boston had cost him Maria and Johnny. Another thing for which to hate Harlan Garrett. There were many.
So now he was left feeling impotent and useless to soothe his son’s pain. He longed to just grab the boy and hug him until the hurt and trauma disappeared. But he couldn’t. Scott’s ordeal couldn’t be simply hugged away, and his proud and private son wouldn’t have allowed the intimacy in the first place. His decision to leave his son in Boston had cost them both the skills to cope with each other in times of sorrow and adversity.
Dejectedly, Murdoch began to wonder if Scott would ever rebound from his attack. Chapel said he’d broken him, destroyed him, killed him as surely as if he’d put a bullet in him. Maybe it was true. Maybe Scott would never return to his former confident self. If so, beating Chapel to death had been too good an end for that piece of shit.
Johnny strode into the stables and saddled up Barranca, but he wasn’t planning to ride into town. He was so fed up with Scott and yet, even so, so despairing for him. He needed some answers, and he knew he wasn’t going to get the ones he wanted from anyone around Lancer. He grabbed a bedroll and some supplies. He was going to be away for a while.
Scott paced for a long while as much as he could within the small space of the room. Mostly he berated himself for being such a coward, for being unable to overcome his anxiety around other people, for being such an utter failure in the eyes of his brother. That hurt the worst—losing Johnny’s respect. He didn’t know how long he paced before he came to his decision: he couldn’t stay at Lancer any longer. He couldn’t turn everyone else’s lives upside down to accommodate him. He was just a useless appendage, taking up resources and not pulling his weight. He didn’t want them to walk on eggshells and give him those piteous looks. He didn’t know what to do; he was so lost. Maybe he should go back to Boston. No one there knew what had happened to him. He could start over again. It would be hard working for his grandfather in that soul-stealing office, but that would be better than this hell, and probably more than he deserved, since he’d been too weak to fight off Chapel. He was such a coward, and now he couldn’t bring himself to even leave the area, to get more than fifty feet from the privy. Chapel had said he would break him, promised him that he would. Scott was terrified that he had succeeded.
The anxiety was overwhelming. He needed to get away from here, away from the people he had let down so thoroughly. There was only one place he could think of to go. One place where he felt safe and understood. He gathered some things and carefully made his way to the barn. No one was there. It felt like to middle of the night. He found Sheridan’s stall. He could do this; he had to do this for everyone’s sakes. One more ride, old friend?
Sam Jenkins was dead on his feet. Mrs. Chavez had had a difficult birth and the midwife had sent for him. At one point, he thought he was going to lose both her and her breech baby, but mother and son were doing well now. He unlocked his door and immediately knew he wasn’t alone in his house. The smell of coffee was a dead giveaway.
“Hello?” he called out tentatively, swallowing his fear as he made his way to the kitchen.
Scott Lancer almost knocked his chair over in his haste to rise. “Sam,” he acknowledged.
“What in God’s name are you doing here in my house at this hour?” Sam sat down heavily at the kitchen table, ruing the day he had told the boy where he’d hidden the key to the back door. He didn’t want to deal with Scott Lancer. He didn’t want to deal with anyone. He just wanted to sleep.
Scott quickly set a cup of coffee down in front of him. “Sorry. I hope you don’t mind. I just couldn’t stay there any longer.”
Sam took a sip. Heaven. Scott Lancer could sure make a decent pot of coffee. He’d missed that when he’d left.
“May I stay the night here?”
“Night’s almost over,” Sam observed.
“Yes, that’s true,” Scott admitted. “Looks like you’ve had a tough night, too.”
Sam chuckled. “Babies don’t know what time it is. They just come out when they want. Scott, I’m too tired to even think right now. All I want is my bed. Do what you want. Just be quiet and leave me be for the morning.”
Scott nodded. “I can do that. I’ll make you breakfast when you wake up.”
“Just like old times,” Sam muttered. “You know where your room is.” And with that, the doctor rose and headed to the stairs that would take him to his bedroom.
True to his word, Scott made a hearty breakfast for him when he came down the stairs at nearly noon. The boy still didn’t know how to make decent biscuits, but everything else was tasty and filling.
“You going home today?” Sam asked after he accepted a second cup of coffee.
There were several seconds of Scott’s fork scraping against the plate. “Um, no. Actually, I was thinking of going back to Boston. Um, I wanted to ask you whether you thought I could manage the travel back there.”
Sam was surprised and yet not. He’d thought Scott was making progress at Lancer, albeit slowly. Maybe not. The number of ‘ums’ invading his speech was increasing, a sure sign the boy was agitated. “Something happen I should know about?”
“No,” Scott answered quickly. Then after a beat, “Um, Johnny’s getting impatient. They all are.”
Sam grunted in understanding. “Not like you to run away from your problems,” he observed.
“That’s just it. I don’t know if I can ever…” Scott took a while before he finished. “…be me again…um, what I used to be…what they want me to be.”
“And you think you can solve that by going back to Boston? Surely, your grandfather will notice the change.”
Scott nodded. “Probably, and he’ll demand that I tell him what happened. But I don’t have to answer him or tell him the truth at any rate. Um, in the long run, he’ll be satisfied that I’ve come back. He’ll have won against Murdoch. That’s all he’ll care about—that and telling me ‘I told you so.’”
They sat in silence for a while, each finishing his breakfast. Then Scott asked, “Um, so what do you think?” He took a sip of water. “About me being able to handle the train ride back?”
Sam sat back and dabbed at his lips with his napkin as he formulated his reply. “Scott, how did you get here last night?”
Sam nodded approvingly. “And how are you feeling today?”
“A little sore,” Scott admitted. “I haven’t ridden in months!”
“But nothing else? Nothing too bad to tell you you couldn’t or shouldn’t be riding?”
Comprehension dawning, Scott let out an extended and almost wondrous, “no.”
“And you know why? Because you weren’t thinking about that. That’s an hour and a half ride from Lancer that you did with no problems.” Sam sighed. How could he get through to this boy? “Scott, you’re fully healed down there. You have been for months. The only thing keeping you from resuming your life is your worry about your bowels. And it’s that worry that’s causing you the very problem you’re worried about!”
Scott looked like he was letting the words sink in, really sink in this time. “What can I do?” he almost whispered.
“Do what you did last night: don’t think about it.”
Scott got up abruptly and started pacing. “How can I not think about it? It’s all I can think about—being on the trail and having an attack of the runs. Um, and it’s never just once. The attacks come again and again on top of each other until it’s so loose it’s like piss coming out the wrong hole. There’s no way I can hold it inside me. How can I be hazing cattle and have that happen to me? The men would never respect me again if I shit my pants.”
“If you could just keep your mind on the task at hand…” Sam suggested, and not on your ass. But he couldn’t say those words to Scott. Sam had never been repeatedly raped until he’d been torn and bleeding and needed stitches. The pain must have been unbearable. Yet Scott had borne it. He’d borne it but had not come away from it unscathed. He was reminded of it every day. He was reminded of being tortured and raped with every bowel movement. It must be unbearable still.
“Sam, um, please just answer my question,” Scott said quietly.
“You’re not going back to Boston,” Sam said confidently. “You wouldn’t have come here first asking my opinion if you were really serious. You would have just bought the ticket and left.”
Scott turned his eyes away from the doctor’s glare.
“Go back to the ranch where you belong,” Sam advised, “and for God’s sake, man, let your father and brother help you through this. That’s what it means to have a family. Be thankful you have one!” He missed his Cordelia and little Emma so much.
Scott just nodded. He looked like Sam had just doomed him to the gallows.
There was pounding on the front door. “Doc! Doc!” a voice shouted.
Sam got up to answer it. “Think on it, Scott. The only thing holding you back is your own anxiety and you can fix that,” he said as he made his way to the parlor shouting, “I’m coming!”
Neither of his sons came down for breakfast. That made Murdoch a bit unhappy. He strode into the stables to discover both his sons’ horses were gone as well. He frowned. Scott missing work wouldn’t cause much of a stir these days, but Johnny missing work would affect the work schedule. He sighed as Cipriano walked up the discuss the day’s work crews.
Perhaps Johnny had gone to town, and Scott, God help him, dredged up enough nerve to follow him there. He could only hope. If that were the case, he’d forgive his boys for being late coming home. But that was just a dream, wasn’t it? He remembered Scott’s demeanor after Johnny had challenged him. No, that man wouldn’t have mustered enough courage to go into town. He’d been a frightened mouse, murmuring apologies and slinking from the great room. Murdoch could barely recognize his older son these days. He was beginning to despair if he’d ever glimpse the young man he’d grown to respect and love. Yes, he’d endured a terrible, terrible ordeal, but that was over now. Scott needed to move on from it. Murdoch was starting to regret that he told Scott he could have all the time he wanted to get well. Johnny was right: Scott needed to get on with it and become the man he used to be. He was still in there somewhere.
If Johnny wasn’t in town, Murdoch had no idea where he could be. If he just needed to blow off his mad, he could be anywhere. One of the line shacks probably, but he didn’t have the manpower to send someone to check it out. If Johnny was trying to calm down, he would come home soon enough. Johnny’s frustration with Scott had finally boiled over last night, and frankly, Murdoch wondered what took him so long.
Murdoch sighed. Sometimes he wondered if his life was harder now that his sons were back. Harder in a way but richer in another. But if Scott couldn’t regain himself, he wondered if the already tenuous connection they all had with one another could bear the strain. It pained him to see his once strong son so lost. Clearly, Johnny was at the end of his rope, and several times he’d heard Teresa sobbing behind her bedroom door. It might be better for all concerned, and especially for Scott himself, if he were to return to Boston. It would be hard for all of them. They’d experienced what it would be like when Harlan had blackmailed Scott into leaving. It would be damned hard. But if it was best for Scott, they’d have to let him go. Johnny’s commitment to the ranch was no longer in question and his younger son had the arms and legs and guts to keep Lancer on the straight and true. Yes, maybe it would be best if Scott left…
Drago walked through the steel doors, utter surprise at who was waiting for him with as grim a face as he’d seen on a man.
“Well, well, well, Johnny Madrid. What brings you all the way up here?” Drago said, snagging a chair and turning it backwards before sitting on it. He was well aware of the prison guard at his back.
Johnny remained silent and the penny dropped.
“He got him, didn’t he?”
Madrid nodded once, slowly.
“He kill him?” For some reason, Drago felt a thud in his heart, thinking that the honorable Scott Lancer had been done in by the slime that was Frank Chapel.
“No.” Madrid quickly replied. “No, we got to him in time. He’s alive.”
Drago was surprised at the amount of relief he felt. Why the hell should he care? “But he wishes he wasn’t, am I right?”
“Yeah,” Madrid answered quietly.
“So, what’s that got to do with me?”
Madrid cleared his voice nervously. “Scott won’t say what happened to him. Well, there were the obvious signs, but beyond that, he won’t say. I thought maybe you might know what that pendejo did to his victims. It might make me understand better if I had some idea what went on.”
“And why should I tell you?” Drago smirked wryly.
Madrid straightened up from his slouch and leaned forward over the table that separated them. “Because you owe him, dammit! Scott kept you from hanging.”
“And put me in this stinking hole! It’s worse than hanging!”
“You’re alive, ain’t ya? It’s only for nine more years.”
“Nine more years of hell!”
Johnny sat back in his chair again. “Coulda been a lot longer if not for Scott. ‘Sides, you were the one who decided to steal the tax money,” he reminded the asshole. It was a useless journey to come and see this scum. Drago wouldn’t help. He’d been a fool to think so.
The silence stretched between them, and Johnny was thinking of motioning to the guard to take Drago back to his cell, when the man started talking.
“It was funny. Always thought Chapel liked ‘em younger, if ya know what I mean. But he took a shinin’ to your brother right away. Then, when he couldn’t break ‘im, when none of us could break ‘im, he thought he could by takin’ ‘im, y’know?”
Johnny nodded. Had Chapel broken Scott by raping him? Had the bastard been right about that? Scott had endured a year in a Confederate prison camp, even a gatling gun shooting at him, and had still come out on the other side strong. Could rape be the final straw that broke his will and shattered his spirit?
“At the end, that was all he could think of. Pestered me non-stop about it—when I’d give ‘im to ‘im. But I never did. Ya hafta believe me ‘bout that, Johnny. Scott deserved better’n that. Not after what Chapel had told me that night. Wouldn’t wish that on no boy…” Drago’s voice dropped off and his head fell to his chest.
Johnny waited him out when all he wanted to do was throttle the man. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.
(WARNING: VIOLENT IMAGES)
Drago started up again, his voice still low and rough. “One night, Chapel and me got drunk, too drunk. Usually, he didn’t get so drunk, didn’t like to lose control, but he was piss-poor that night. He stated talkin’ about what he did to them poor boys…” Again Drago stopped to catch his breath or maybe to gather his courage. “He killed most of ‘em, poor bastards. Least that’s what he told me. But in the worst ways. Chapel had ‘im all kinds of knives. He liked carving his prey. He do that to Scott?”
Johnny had seen the blood on Scott’s chest before he’d covered him up with the quilt. “Some.”
“His face? Did he do his face?”
“No,” Johnny was horrified by the images that brought up.
Drago let out a breath. “Good. That’s good.” He rubbed his thumb over a spot of who knew what that was stuck on the table. “Chapel said he was too pretty, that he shouldn’t be that pretty. I thought maybe…” Drago shook his head.
“No, he didn’t cut his face.” But maybe it had been part of Chapel’s plan if he hadn’t been interrupted, if they hadn’t gotten to Scott in time.
Drago nodded. “Scary as hell, them knives. One of ‘em was long and skinny. Said he’d ram it up their ass and watch ‘em bleed to death through their butt hole. He was like that—liked to watch them boys suffer after he’d had his way with ‘em.”
Johnny’s stomach roiled. Is that what happened to Scott? No, Scott would have died and his brother was very much alive.
“Said with some of ‘em he cut off off their junk, y’know what I mean? He said one time he fried ‘em up in a fry pan and tried to feed the boy his own cock and balls, but the poor bastard died before he could do it. Claimed he ate ‘em himself and that they weren’t bad.”
The thought of Chapel castrating Scott was despicable. But it would explain why he didn’t want their help when they brought him to Sam. No, when he’d thrown the quilt over his brother’s naked form, he was intact. That was certain. He didn’t know how, but Johnny found his voice. “Did you believe him? Did you think he really did it or was it all just blowing shit?”
Drago considered. “Can’t really say one way or t’other, but I did wonder that myself. The man did like to ‘xaggerate. On the other hand, he was the meanest snake I ever did encounter in all my life. Wouldn’t put it past ‘im.”
(VIOLENT IMAGES ENDED)
“How could you…why did you let him ride with you, knowing what he was?” Johnny asked.
Drago stroked his chin. “Sometimes I did wonder, but y’know, ol’ Chapel had his uses. Had such a mean streak that could take ‘im places none of the rest of us would go, and we were downright ruthless ourselves, the lot of us.” Drago gave out a cheerless chuckle. “Yessir, sometimes he had his uses.” Most of all, he had kept the other varmints away from Violet. They were too scared to cross him. He had needed a right-hand man like Chapel to keep some of them other boys in line.
“Do you think he told Scott any of this?”
Drago took no time to think about his answer. “I’d bet on it. Chapel was a talker, couldn’t help hisself. Thought he was real smart and refined. Liked to brag about hisself. A lot. Yessir, I’d imagine he told your brother all about them other poor souls.”
Johnny felt awash in despair, felt he couldn’t possibly go on plastering this bland look on his face while this pendejo kept talking about such abhorrent things. He wanted to scream, stick his fist through a wall, anything but just sit there. But he sat there because he had to know. For Scott.
Drago related two more horrific stories of Chapel’s unimaginable cruelty, and then the guard came forward to end their conversation. Johnny couldn’t have been more relieved, but he’d gotten what he came for. He had a better understanding of what Scott had gone through, and he was stunned that his brother had come out on the other side of it with an ounce of sanity left. Even now, with all the changes for the worse, Scott was an amazingly strong man and truly deserving of Johnny’s love and respect.
“Did you thank ‘im for me for doing good by Violet?” Drago asked as he got up and righted the chair, dragging Johnny away from his guilt over how he’d let his frustration that night get the best of him.
“Sorry about Chapel. I did warn ya.”
“I know. He won’t be hurting anyone else,” Johnny said solemnly.
Drago nodded. “Good. You?”
Johnny shook his head. “Our father.”
Drago gave a rueful smile. “Wish I’d had a pa like that.” And that was the last thing he said before being swallowed by a closing door.
Johnny sat outside the prison taking deep breaths and trying to keep his lunch in his stomach. He had half a mind to ride to the nearest cantina and get drop-dead drunk, but he knew if he did, he’d just throw it all back up. He was deeply ashamed of having lit into Scott. He’d expected his brother to just return to his normal self, to carry on as if nothing truly terrifying had happened to him. Four months—more than enough time to heal and get on with things, huh, Scott? Johnny didn’t know how he would cope with the grisly images Drago’s stories had conjured up. Scott had heard them tied up and at the madman’s mercy, going crazy thinking all of them would happen to him. A hundred times worse! Put the past behind you, Murdoch would counsel, but how could anyone put that behind them? Murdoch—Johnny was working up a good mad at the Old Man, too. He’d deprived him of his own revenge against Chapel. He wanted his turn to strangle him, or beat him, or stab him, or shoot him, or whatever Murdoch had done to kill the bastard.
Johnny finally got up and mounted Barranca for the ride home. He’d work out his feelings of guilt, anger, and helplessness by the time he reached Lancer. Scott needed him, and he wasn’t about to let his brother down again.
Johnny knocked on Scott’s door. “I’ve got dinner, Boston.”
Scott opened the door and took his plate from Johnny. “Chicken for a change.”
“Well, I’ve got rellenos.”
“What’s everyone else eating?”
Scott settled in at the head of his cot, while Johnny sat perpendicular to him at the foot. Johnny saw that look cross his brother’s face and knew that he was upset.
“What did we do wrong now?”
Scott closed his eyes at Johnny’s accusation. They were trying so hard. He was, too. “I’m sorry Maria has to make two dinners because of me.” He hung his head.
“You’ve never liked rellenos, even before. She knows that. She’s still trying to fatten you up and giving you rellenos ain’t gonna do it.”
Yes, that was true. He took a small bite of the chicken. It was moist and tender. He would try to finish it to make Maria happy. “What did you do today?”
“Ended up clearing that stream that feeds Jimsonweed Pond. Damn beavers!”
“Who helped you?”
Johnny knew the answer wouldn’t be to Scott’s liking. “Believe it or not, I can clear a stream all by myself.”
“I thought you were working with Rodriguez today,” Scott said, alarmed.
“His horse threw a shoe,” Johnny explained. “Look, Scott, I don’t need a babysitter like you think. I can do plenty of jobs on my own.”
Scott put his plate to the side, his appetite vanishing. “Don’t do that again, Johnny! Promise me!”
“Not until you tell me why,” Johnny insisted.
“Because…because he could get you,” Scott whispered.
Not this again! Johnny sighed. “He’s dead. Or do you think the Old Man’s lying?”
“Do you know how he died?”
Johnny frowned. “Murdoch won’t say. Said if he told me, that would make me be guilty under the law, too, or some such nonsense.”
“So you just believe him?”
“Yeah, I do,” Johnny assured him. “Chapel hurt you bad. There’s no way the Old Man would let him live after that.”
“But you didn’t see the body.”
Johnny sighed. This seemed like the tenth time they were going over this. Why couldn’t Scott accept their word? “Nope. I was getting the wagon.”
“Then he still might be alive.”
Johnny’s frustration bubbled over. “Scott! He’s dead!”
“Maybe not. You didn’t see the body. Maybe Murdoch only thought he killed him, but he managed to survive.”
“Scott…” Johnny said exasperated. What could he say that would make Scott believe him?
“No, think about it! It could be. You said yourself there were some times people thought you were dead and you weren’t. You managed to survive. What if that happened to him and he managed to live? He could be out there plotting his revenge right now.”
Johnny sighed. “You ain’t never gonna let this go, are you?”
“I don’t want him to get you.” Scott’s worry was very evident and real.
“Eat your dinner. I promise I won’t work alone anymore.” Johnny would have to have a serious talk with Murdoch. They couldn’t let Scott go on this afraid about Chapel showing up. No wonder he was on edge all the time.
Scott studied Johnny’s face for a few seconds and, satisfied that his brother’s promise was true, returned to eating his chicken.
Johnny found Murdoch nursing a scotch in the great room after dinner. Teresa was nowhere to be seen. “We need to talk.”
“What else?” Johnny said plopping himself down on the opposite end of the sofa. Murdoch offered to get him a drink, but he declined. “Scott thinks Chapel is still out there waiting for him.”
“Well, I can’t convince him otherwise.”
“I’ve told him the man is dead. Many times,” Murdoch stated.
“Yeah, well, you haven’t told him you killed him or how.”
“No, and you know why.”
Johnny nodded. “But because of that he thinks Chapel may have survived and will come after him again. Or me.”
They sat some minutes in silence. Finally, Murdoch said, “What can I do?”
Johnny thought. “Show him the grave. Show him the grave and I’ll dig up the body if that ain’t enough for him.”
Murdoch sighed. “There is no grave.”
For some reason, Johnny wasn’t surprised at that. In fact, his father rose in his estimation at that declaration. The pendejo didn’t deserve a decent burial. But that meant the body probably had been decimated by wild animals. There wouldn’t be any remains to verify that Chapel was dead, and that would have Scott looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. Johnny knew what that was like. He didn’t want that for his brother. “I think we need to take Scott to where you left him.”
“Why? After all these months, there won’t be anything there.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but I think it will ease his mind to go there and see for himself that there’s not a trace of him left.”
“He’ll more than likely think the man survived if there’s no trace of him,” Murdoch countered.
“Could he have?”
“No! How many times do I have to say it?” Murdoch’s voice was raised.
“Until you tell us what you did and where you did it!” Johnny’s voice was just as raised.
Silence ensued. Finally, Murdoch said, “Give me a day or two to get things ready, then I’ll take you and Scott there. He up for the ride? We’ll have to camp for the night on the ride up and then again on the way back.”
“He’ll make it,” Johnny assured his father and hoped it was true.
Murdoch told them about Lover’s Leap as they camped the first night. What he described was difficult to imagine, and as they approached from the west, Scott couldn’t quite believe his own eyes. They were nearing a sheer cliff, totally incongruous with the rest of the landscape. According to Murdoch, he’d thrown Chapel down from the top. Scott swallowed hard. He couldn’t imagine anyone surviving that fall. Maybe Murdoch was right. Maybe Chapel was really dead.
They left the horses and climbed around on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. Scott didn’t know what he expected after five months. He didn’t expect a perfectly preserved skeleton, but he wanted something.
Murdoch was surprised there wasn’t a saddle somewhere among the rocks, but he couldn’t find it. He couldn’t find much of anything. Perhaps someone had found the body and saddle and had taken them away. He swore to himself. How could he allay Scott’s fears if they couldn’t find a trace of Chapel?
“Over here,” Johnny eventually called. He was much further left than Murdoch would have guessed. Murdoch and Scott picked their way over to where he stood. There were some random bones lying among the rocks, nothing that would identify them as Chapel’s or even human to Scott’s untrained eyes. Then Johnny bent down and retrieved something wedged between some smaller rocks. He handed it to Murdoch. It was a scrap of cloth, a scrap of black cloth. “Could be off his shirt,” Johnny said.
Murdoch nodded. “Maybe.” He passed the remnant to Scott. “He was down here, son, even if there’s nothing much left of him now.” He was desperate to assure his son that his torturer was dead and could never hurt him again. “Some animals probably got to him.”
Scott turned the cloth over and over in his hands. Chapel had worn black, but was this really a piece of Chapel’s clothing? Lots of men wore black. But if it was, if it was…his hands started to tremble.
Murdoch saw Scott begin to shake, overcome by the situation. He quickly drew his elder son into his arms and just held him like he’d wanted to do so many times since they’d rescued him.
Scott was overwhelmed. His father had committed murder for him! And now he was comforting him like Scott had only fantasized about when he was a child. The tears spilled out of his eyes, and he found himself clutching his father and sobbing into his shoulder. Then there was Johnny throwing his arms around him from behind, adding his comfort and support as well. Scott didn’t know how long they stood there like that, but he could sense his father and brother would stay there as long as they thought he needed it. It humbled him, this love. He realized this was why he had stayed at Lancer. This was what his life in Boston had been missing. This had been what he’d been longing for all his life. And it was here with these people in this place. After a long while, a sense of peace descended on him and he reluctantly pulled away from their embrace. Wiping his eyes, he said, “Thank you.”
Johnny just nodded, but Murdoch said, “I’m sorry, son.”
“Sorry? For what?” Surely, it couldn’t be for killing Chapel. If any man deserved to die, it was him.
“For keeping this from you. I thought I was doing the right thing, not getting either of you involved, but I can see now, I just added to your fears. Whatever troubles we have, we have to face them together as a family.”
“Damn straight, Old Man,” Johnny said.
Scott only nodded, suddenly at a loss for words.
“I threw his saddle down after him,” Murdoch said. “Maybe it’s around here somewhere.”
That started them searching the area again. There were more bones strewn over the rocks but no saddle. Again, it was Johnny who found it, although, again, much farther left of where Murdoch had guessed it would be. He would have bet it would have been closer to where they’d found the bones, but it was a good hundred yards or so left of them. It, too, was much the worse for lying in the elements for so long. As Murdoch had intended, there was nothing that identified it as Chapel’s, but he said it was anyway. Scott needed the confirmation.
“You seen enough?” Johnny asked as he tossed the ruined leather back onto the scree.
Scott nodded and they left to gather their horses. Murdoch rode ahead, scouting for a campsite. Johnny rode alongside Scott, his gut telling him that Scott didn’t want to talk but didn’t want to be alone either. Scott wanted to simply replay what had happened where they’d found the scrap of cloth, so he could relive that feeling of belonging and love that seemed like something wholly new and wondrous to him. These men loved him, accepted him, just as he was: damaged, confused, and ashamed.
Murdoch finally found an acceptable place to bed down for the night. He had made sure they had given a wide berth to the cabin Scott had been held captive in. He’d been worried that Scott might grow panicky at being near it until he realized that Scott had no idea where Chapel had taken him. Murdoch didn’t want to be near it, and he thought Johnny probably didn’t either. He briefly entertained the notion of returning and burning it to the ground.
As Murdoch stoked the fire, Scott said, “I need to show you something.”
Murdoch heard the hesitation in Scott’s voice. “You don’t have to…”
“No,” Scott countered. “I need to do this before I lose my nerve.”
Johnny threw Murdoch a glower. He knew Scott needed to do this for his own sake, and he had to admit, he was quite curious. “Go ahead, Scott. It’ll be all right.”
Slowly, Scott undid the buttons on his shirt and lowered it.
Murdoch looked quickly away, but Johnny stared at Scott’s scarred back. He’d never seen anything like it. The intricate patterns interwove with one another and with the scarring from Scott’s whipping at Libby and the two bullets from Evans’ and Lewis’ guns. It all blended together expertly, as if it were a painting and Scott’s back the canvas. It was both repugnant and fascinating at the same time.
And it had to have hurt like hell.
“Madre de Díos,” Johnny whispered.
“God had nothing to do with it,” Murdoch growled.
“It took him all night, in between… All night,” Scott whispered.
While he and Murdoch had stayed at the line shack, Johnny thought. He had lain awake that night thinking the worst was happening to his brother, only to now know his imagination had been a pale semblance of the reality of the horror.
The designs took up again on Scott’s chest but only on the upper right quadrant. This was where Chapel had stopped to go to the outhouse and had been interrupted by them, thank God. Otherwise, Johnny surmised that Scott’s chest would have resembled his back. Drago said Chapel liked to carve into his victims. There were also different kinds of scars scattered across Scott’s torso. They were almost perfectly round and the size of a penny. Johnny knew what they were: burns from a cigar being pressed hard against the skin. He’d seen them inflicted on a man a rurale was interrogating. He’d never forget the man’s screams. He closed his eyes in a silent prayer for his brother.
“What did that scum do to you?” Johnny whispered. He’d meant it as a rhetorical question, never daring to hope that Scott would break down and tell him, but in the next heartbeat he could tell his brother was screwing up his courage to tell them.
Murdoch was just about to protest Johnny’s request. Scott didn’t need to relive that horrible experience. Then he remembered Sam’s advice that Scott needed to talk to them about what happened to him. He bit his tongue and prepared himself to listen to the harrowing revelations.
(WARNING: VIOLENT IMAGES)
Once Scott started talking, he found it wasn’t as difficult as he’d feared. He told them how Chapel had used the chloroform to subdue him and used it every time he wanted to move him around on the bed. He told them how he’d been stripped, shaved, and raped, avoiding as much detail as he could. He told them how Chapel had cut into him and how he’d stabbed him in the leg when he wouldn’t scream loud enough for him at first. Then Scott stopped. He couldn’t say more, didn’t want to say more. Couldn’t talk about all the thousand and one ways Chapel had made the ordeal so much more terrifying: the “accidental” nicks he’d made shaving him, especially when he got to the pubic hair, the burns from the cigar in very sensitive places, especially that spot high on his inner thigh, the times when Chapel pretended they were intimate lovers and caressed and sucked his skin to bruises. Scott could handle Chapel’s anger and desire to dominate and humiliate him. He had prepared himself for those attacks as best he could. What he couldn’t take was Chapel trying to arouse him and be tender and loving with him. Then there was the worst: Chapel had rammed the barrel of his loaded rifle up his ass. Scott had been convinced he was going to pull the trigger. Chapel had laughed about paralyzing him if he survived the bullet. No, he’d never be able to tell them or anyone about those things. He’d horrified his family enough for one night.
(VIOLENT IMAGES ENDED)
They all sat in silence for a while, until Johnny looked over at Murdoch and said, “Did he scream when you threw him over that cliff?”
Murdoch snorted. “He was dead long before I threw him over.”
“How’d you do it?” Johnny pressed. It was time his curiosity was satisfied.
For one heartbeat Murdoch considered not telling them but then decided against it. He’d told them that they’d face this as a family. “Beat him to death.” It was all still fresh in his mind, and again he was surprised at the intensity of his own brutality that day. But he didn’t regret it. And now, after seeing Scott’s mutilated back and hearing the torture he’d endured, he’d never regret it. Feeling older than his years, Murdoch retreated to his bedroll and laid down, leaving his sons to contemplate the fire they were both staring into.
Johnny decided he wasn’t going to turn in until Scott did. The last thing Scott needed right now was to be left alone with his thoughts while others slept. If that meant staying up all night, so be it. Once he thought Murdoch was asleep, he said, “Drago told me some things about what Chapel did to his victims.”
Scott said nothing, content to continue to stare into the flames. The fire was starting to die down, leaving dark orange and red colors dancing in the bottom of the firepit.
“Said he liked to brag about what he did. Did he tell you?”
Scott nodded. Another unendurable hardship—the talk, the incessant talking and all the unimaginable and terrible things he said about what he’d done and what was going to happen to him. Reflexively, his hand moved up to stroke his neck. It was becoming a comforting habit now.
Johnny gently lowered Scott’s hand. “Why do you do that—rub your neck? There’s nothing there.”
“Yes, there is. You can see it.”
“No, there’s nothing there. Not now. Not since you let us see you.” Then it struck Johnny. “What was there?”
Scott shook his head. He didn’t want to say what it really was. “A bruise. I can’t remember what Sam said the medical term was. It was pretty deep.” He kept his face averted from Johnny’s. He didn’t want to see if Johnny realized what he was talking about.
Johnny knew exactly what Scott was describing. When he was younger and had just discovered the wonders of the female body, he asked the whores to suckle his skin on his neck until it bruised. He thought it made him look more manly and dangerous. He gave it up once he started riding with Val and Val told him how ridiculous he looked with those marks. Once again, he silently cursed Frank Chapel. “It’s not there now, not a trace.”
“I still feel it,” Scott said, wanting to raise his hand and rub the spot some more, but he didn’t. He didn’t want Johnny to think he didn’t believe him.
Johnny needed to change the subject. Nothing like changing it from bad to worse, but he had to know whether Chapel had talked about all the atrocities Drago had described. “So he told you about his other victims, what he did to them?”
Johnny plowed on. “I’m just glad you have all your parts.”
Scott sighed. “Johnny…”
(WARNING: VIOLENT IMAGES)
Johnny plunged on. “But the worst was the hands. He tell you about that?”
“Yes,” Scott hissed.
“Cutting off the guy’s hands…”
“And blinding him,” Scott added.
“Yeah. Did he say he was gonna do that to you?”
Scott was silent for a long time—long enough for Johnny to think he wasn’t going to answer him. Then his brother said, his voice heavy with sorrow, “No. He said he was going to do that to you.”
Johnny was stunned. “Me?”
“Yes. That morning, just before you came, he told me that maybe it would be more fun to let me live to watch you go through life without your hands and blind and know that I was the cause of it. The great Johnny Madrid totally helpless. Not even able to hold his dick to take a piss.” Now Scott’s voice was flat, his tone detached, like he was reciting a horrific passage in a book. His eyes never wavered from the dancing flames, as if mesmerized by them, reliving the conversation in his head.
Johnny had been afraid to bring up Chapel’s mental torture of his brother, but he knew Scott hadn’t told them everything that had gone on in that cabin. Johnny had to know whether the pendejo had tormented Scott’s mind as thoroughly as his body. Now Johnny understood. A big part of Scott’s fear that Chapel might still be alive came not just for himself but for Johnny as well. That was why he had insisted that Johnny never work alone. He wanted him to keep his hands.
“He was going to lame me—cut the tendons behind my knees.” Again, Scott’s voice was flat and disaffected.
“But he didn’t cut your face. Drago thought he was gonna cut your face because you were too good looking.” Johnny snickered. “With his ugly mug, he was probably jealous of you.”
Scott closed his eyes as if in pain. “He told me he was saving that for last. After he cut the rest of me…” He got up abruptly and went off in the direction of the horses.
Johnny couldn’t see past the firelight, but he’d give Scott the pretense of checking on the horses. Sometimes a man had to move or jump out of his skin. He put another branch on the fire and watched it briefly flare up and then crumple back down with the rest of the wood. He’d make sure Scott returned safely before turning in. He didn’t know if he could sleep with all the ugly images churning in his head. How did Scott get any sleep at all? Maybe he didn’t and none of them knew it because he was sleeping in the shed now. There was no one near to hear his restlessness or cries. Maybe that was one of the reasons Scott had moved there. The perpetual dark circles under Scott’s eyes signified a lack of sleep.
It took a while before Scott returned, more than enough time to check the horses twenty times.
“Everything all right?” Johnny asked, knowing that Scott would realize he was asking about more than the horses.
“Yes. No worries,” Scott answered, snuggling into his bedroll. He was exhausted. Maybe tonight would be the night he would sleep through. Knowing that Chapel was dead and having Johnny and Murdoch by his side, maybe he could feel safe enough to sleep through the night for once.
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said, still staring into the fire.
“For this. For everything you went through. It’s my fault.”
Scott was bewildered. “How do you figure it’s your fault?” It was Chapel’s.
“This whole thing began because of Madrid. Don’t tell me you weren’t mad as hell having to pretend you were me.”
“I was at first,” Scott admitted, “until Violet told me the truth. All you did was spend a couple of days in an Arizona border town. Like you said, you don’t even remember her.”
Scott sat up. “Johnny, you were fifteen, for Chrissakes! You didn’t do anything wrong. She was just a lonely, dreamy girl looking for a hero. You understand?” Scott gave him a penetrating look. Apparently satisfied that Johnny understood, he laid back down. “Now let me get some sleep.”
Johnny laid down, too. How could Scott look at him like that—like he’d forgiven him? Díos, what did he ever do to deserve a brother like Scott? His brother’s face showed no blame, only worry that he was feeling responsible for the whole mess. He reaffirmed his vow to see him through this; he would be there to soothe his brother’s nightmares tonight.
It wasn’t Scott who had the nightmare. Johnny found himself awakened by Murdoch crouching down by his side. His father shushed him immediately, warning him against waking Scott, who was sleeping soundly nearby. Johnny nodded his appreciation at being dragged out of his horrific dream, and Murdoch went back to his bedroll. Johnny had been dreaming about life without his hands, unable to do the simplest tasks. Then he was standing in the middle of the street in Morro Coyo, called out by some young buck trying to gain a reputation for taking Madrid down. He couldn’t convince the boy that killing him when he was blind and helpless to hold a gun wouldn’t help his reputation, but the boy wouldn’t listen, drawing his gun. That’s when Murdoch woke him up. Johnny couldn’t shake the images. How did he know he was in Morro Coyo? How could he see the pistolero calling him out if he was blind? Sometimes nightmares didn’t make a lick of sense. But the feeling of utter helplessness didn’t dissipate. Neither had his guilt that Madrid had been the cause. Johnny cursed Chapel and Drago and especially Violet, whose fantasies about him had started all this misery.
Murdoch retreated back to his bedroll. He didn’t know whether to be amused or upset that his sons thought he could go to sleep after hearing about Scott’s ordeal and seeing the knife and burn scars. He would be haunted by them for the rest of his life.
He had promised himself that he would watch over his children this night. But sensing that his sons wanted to talk to each other without him present, he’d feigned sleep so they could have their privacy. For a long time, he thought he had misread the situation, but finally Johnny started talking. And what that talk revealed! Johnny must have gone to Folsom prison to talk to Drago about Chapel. That would account for the time he’d been away and for the change in his attitude toward Scott when he returned. The image of Johnny blind and without his hands couldn’t be shaken. Johnny couldn’t shake it either, apparently. Murdoch was glad he was awake to rouse Johnny out of his nightmare.
What that monster had done to his boy, his poor boy! And what horrors he’d had in store for him: cutting his face and laming him. If he knew Scott, and by this time he was starting to believe he knew his older son, he wasn’t even telling them the worst that had happened. If they hadn’t stopped Chapel when they did… Again, he felt grim satisfaction that he had ended the man’s life. He would probably suffer in Hell for all eternity for it, but if it gave Scott a modicum of comfort to know the man was dead, he’d gladly suffer his eternal punishment.
(VIOLENT IMAGES ENDED)
He let his mind wander to the scree at the bottom of Lover’s Leap. He’d been glad they’d found some meager remnants of Chapel having been there. He hoped it would ease Scott’s mind some. He hadn’t been prepared for his son’s visceral reaction to Chapel’s shirt. He hadn’t been prepared for his own visceral reaction to Scott, but holding his son tight until his tremors had abated had seemed the most natural thing to do. If he had thought about it, he might never have done it. Scott had an innate reserve, at least he used to think it was innate. Now he wasn’t so sure. Scott had eventually melted into his embrace and then hung on for dear life. Had the boy never been hugged before? Was Harlan so formal and cruel-hearted that he’d never hugged Scott? That little five-year-old boy with the angelic face…how could you not want to hug him? Within two seconds of seeing him, Murdoch had wanted to rush over, squeeze the boy to his chest, and run away with him from Boston forever.
For the thousandth time, he cursed Harlan Garrett for depriving him of Scott. Once more, he envisioned Scott’s childhood as strict and cold. Even those relatives on Catherine’s mother’s side could be quite prim and proper, although not as puritan as the Garretts. How could he have entertained the thought of sending Scott back to Boston as if for his own good? His boy needed to be here with him and his brother. He needed to have their support and all of their love. He was so ashamed of himself. He’d never send Scott away now. Never!
Sam had told him that Scott didn’t want to be touched, but this afternoon he seemed to crave it. Maybe Sam was wrong about some other things, too. He needed to be more physically affectionate with Scott, that was clear. He’d loop an arm around Johnny’s shoulders or give him a squeeze on the shoulder, but he never felt comfortable doing that with Scott. Here and now, he promised himself he was going to do better about showing his affection to Scott, to both his boys. Fathers were allowed to do that even with their adult sons.
If Murdoch and Johnny hoped that Scott baring his back and sharing part of his experience with Chapel would bring about a drastic change in Scott once they returned to Lancer, they were sorely disappointed. Scott continued to stay in the downstairs room and avoided the other workers on the ranch as usual. The only thing that had drastically changed was Johnny’s and Murdoch’s tolerance for his behavior.
Johnny asked Murdoch to send him and Scott out on the range for a day. Murdoch was dubious, but he couldn’t deny that Johnny was good at handling his brother. It would be nice to see Scott get away from the house after these many months. The following day at breakfast, Murdoch asked Johnny to check the western fence line and repair it if necessary.
“Why don’t you come with me?” Johnny asked Scott.
Scott immediately deferred, giving Johnny a bit of a glare. He should know better than to ask something like that.
“Sure could use the help, brother,” Johnny persisted.
“You’re well aware of why I can’t,” Scott said.
“You won’t even need to ride,” Johnny continued as if he hadn’t heard Scott’s excuses. “You’ll be driving the wagon with the fencing supplies.”
“Johnny…” Scott said exasperated. “I said I can’t. Murdoch?”
“Sounds like a good idea to me. I’d feel better if Johnny wasn’t doing that job alone.” Murdoch got up and left toward the great room, leaving Scott and Johnny alone in the kitchen.
That was a low blow, after all Scott’s panic about Johnny never working alone. But they had found some of Chapel’s remains, hadn’t they? The man was dead, wasn’t he? It was safe for them again.
Johnny leaned across the table toward Scott. “Just you and me. No reason to get anxious.”
“Yes, there is, and you know it,” Scott hissed at him. They’d be miles away from an outhouse.
“I got that covered. C’mon. Cip’s got the wagon hitched up and loaded. You don’t have to do a thing.”
There was no getting around his brother when he was like this. Scott nodded and made his way to his former bedroom, attended to his daily routine, and took one last stop at the privy. Johnny was impatiently waiting for him atop Barranca when he hauled himself into the wagon. Johnny just gave him a cheeky grin and they set out to the west. Scott realized this was the fence closest to the house. He wondered how long his father and brother had worked on this plan to set him up.
They’d been working a couples of hours when Scott asked Johnny how he had him covered.
Johnny laughed. “I’ve been wondering when you were gonna ask me that!”
“Take a look in your saddlebags.”
Scott did. It was there, right on top. “You mean this?” He took out the garden trowel and held it up to his brother.
“Yup.” Johnny grinned. “I suspected you might need something to dig deeper than your bootheel, the way you were talking. That there will let you dig a hole as deep as you need.”
Scott almost laughed. Almost. He never would have thought he could find any kind of humor in his situation with his bowels, but Johnny had found a way. As it was, he couldn’t hold back a smile, and Johnny’s grin became impossibly wider. “I may not have time to dig as deep a hole as I might need,” he said.
“It don’t matter. It’s just me.”
“You don’t mind if I humiliate myself?”
Johnny became serious. “No. It’s just me, Scott. All you have to do is tell me what you need and I’ll do it. If you need me to ride away from here for a while so you can be completely alone, I will.”
Scott hadn’t thought of that. Somehow it comforted him knowing that Johnny would do that for him. Even more astonishing was that they were discussing his diarrhea and he hadn’t gotten the telltale signs of its onset. Having the trowel did give him some peace. You couldn’t get too deep of a dent in the ground using your bootheel. The trowel could turn out to be mighty handy. He put it back in his saddlebags, and they continued to check the wire.
They returned to the hacienda mid-afternoon, and Scott returned to his shed. He wasn’t used to doing manual labor after all the months away from it. Still, he was rather proud of how much they’d accomplished today. He soon was fast asleep on his cot.
Murdoch heard Johnny’s spurs before he saw his son enter the room. “How’d it go?”
Johnny was grinning from ear to ear. “Just like old times.”
Murdoch grinned back at him. “Good to hear. We’ll keep pairing you up then.”
“Sounds good.” Johnny grabbed some almonds from the bowl on Murdoch’s desk and stuffed them in his mouth. “Once he’s used to that, we’ll gradually add his favorite hands one at a time.”
“Did he need to use the spade?”
“Nope. But I could tell he liked the idea of it. Even got a smile out of him.”
“A smile! That’s really something,” Murdoch marveled. “You’re a miracle worker when it comes to your brother, Johnny.”
Johnny ducked his head in embarrassment.
It was time to put the promise he had made himself at the campsite into practice. “I’m proud of you, son, the way you’re dealing with Scott.”
“Aw, it ain’t hard, once I figured out what happened.” He threw an almond up in the air and caught it in his mouth. “Now Scott, he’s got the hard part. He’s got to actually do it.” He jangled away not knowing that for the first time in six months, he’d given Murdoch a sliver of hope about his elder son.
Scott came back from the stream with the mess ware cleaned. Johnny was already lying on his bedroll, stretched out like a contented cat with his head on his upturned saddle. He was grinning like Scott had imagined the Cheshire Cat had in Wonderland.
“What are you so happy about?” he asked as he stacked their tin cups and bowls next to the fire, ready for use in the morning. This was the second time Murdoch had sent them out on a two-day job, and he had to admit he looked forward to spending the evening with Johnny around the campfire. Even if Johnny didn’t feel like talking, Scott still felt the camaraderie with his brother.
So Johnny felt like talking tonight. “She is a girl to make a man smile,” he commented.
“Yeah, well, she ain’t the only one.”
“You have girls on your mind tonight?”
“No,” Johnny replied like a knee-jerk reaction. Then he said, “Yeah. There’s a dance in Green River next month. Rosarita was hinting I take her.”
“Are you going to?”
“Maybe. There’s also Bernadette. And Sally Mae.”
“You have quite the conundrum, brother,” Scott teased.
“I have what?”
“A sticky problem,” Scott clarified.
“Not so sticky. Kinda fun, actually,” Johnny said, his smile growing wider.
“Thought you didn’t dance,” Scott said, “or did that whole affair with Barker set you straight? It might behoove you to be seen on the dance floor by a lot of people if anything should happen.”
Johnny gave Scott a brotherly glare. “Now don’t be throwing that in my face! ‘Sides, it’s different when you got a date for a shindig like that. Walking in with Rosarita on my arm, seeing all them other fellas green with envy…there’s something to be said for that.”
“Hmmm, Rosarita does turn heads,” Scott agreed, “but so does Sally Mae.”
“And Bernadette,” Johnny added. “Don’t forget Bernadette.”
“So which one are you going to choose?”
“Don’t know yet,” Johnny said, putting his hands behind his head. “Depends on who’s nicest to me.”
“Hah,” Scott scoffed. “Depends on who you think will let you get the farthest.”
“There’s that, too,” Johnny grinned, trying to avoid Scott’s swat of his stomach. He was mostly successful. “So who’re you gonna invite?”
Immediately the playful mood ended. “I’m not going to the dance.”
“Why not? All the ladies love to dance with you.”
Johnny noticed the ‘um’ was back. Scott was upset. “Sure you can. You hafta go to town sometime.”
“I know. Just, um, not right now.”
“It’s a month away. Plenty of time to get used to the idea…and to figure out who to take to the dance.”
“Johnny, just drop it.” Sometimes his brother was like a dog with a bone.
Johnny ignored the seriousness of Scott’s tone. “I would, but the Old Man started squawking about grandchildren the other day. I told him as second-born, I’d have to wait for you to get hitched first.”
Scott could never stay angry at Johnny for very long, especially when his brother was in such a playful mood. “You ass. That doesn’t matter with men. Hardly matters with women anymore. You been reading Shakespeare or something? The oldest marrying first is something out of the Middle Ages.”
Johnny ignored the Shakespeare reference. He’d heard the name before, but it didn’t conjure up anything in his head. Sometimes Murdoch and Scott would bandy the name back and forth and it would always end in a laugh. Johnny realized he ignored a lot of what his father and brother said to each other. It never seemed to hurt him none in the long run. “Anyway, I told him I was waiting on you.”
“Then you’ll never get married.”
“That right? You planning on staying single?”
Scott sighed. No, he hadn’t planned on that; it had been thrust upon him by Chapel. “What girl would want me now?”
Johnny turned suddenly serious. “Any girl worthy of you.”
Scott swallowed down the sudden lump in his throat. Sometimes this brother of his said something so astonishing it left him breathless. He marveled at how unabashedly open and kind Johnny could be. He’d been taught to keep his emotions hidden. “She’d take one look at my back and run for the hills, if she had any sense.”
“You ain’t your back, Scott.”
“No, those are just the surface scars.” The deeper ones were worse; they hurt much worse.
The twinkle returned to Johnny’s eyes. “You just gotta turn on the charm, brother, and them gals forget any scars. I know.”
Johnny probably did know, Scott thought. He’d seen the scars on Johnny’s back when they had stripped his shirt off to get to Pardee’s bullet. Johnny’s scars were a man’s scars, denoting a rough and dangerous life. Bad boy Johnny Madrid. His scars were what? Chapel had wielded that scalpel like an artist’s brush. What he’d glimpsed when he finally got two mirrors together was humiliating. Who could let someone do that to his back? A weakling, an impotent weakling. And that was what he was—impotent. His hand wandered up to his throat, stroking the bruise. “Even if there was a girl who could overlook that, I couldn’t be a husband to her. Murdoch still wouldn’t have his grandchildren unless it was from you and Rosarita.”
Johnny purposefully ignored Scott’s admission of impotence, humbled by Scott’s trust in him to be able to mention it at all. He’d tuck it safely away, unless Scott wanted to make it a topic for discussion. He stretched out as far as he could while seated and gently lowered Scott’s hand away from his throat. Damn, he was committed to breaking Scott of that habit and what it represented. “You mean me and Bernadette?”
“I thought you were taking Rosarita to the dance.”
“To the dance. Marriage is something else. Bernadette, now there’s a gal who knows how to cook!”
“I should have realized your stomach was your first priority.”
“A man’s gotta eat!” Johnny grinned mischievously.
“I’m going to turn in,” Scott declared and took off his boots. The scrap of black cloth was in his saddlebags, reminding him that Chapel was dead, and Johnny was here to keep him safe from anything else. God, what had he done to deserve a brother like Johnny, a brother so devoted to helping him through this nightmare that his life had become? He hoped it wasn’t because of misplaced guilt. Johnny had done nothing to feel guilty for. Two days nursing a sore shoulder in San Luis Rey when he was fifteen. He wasn’t responsible for a young girl’s flights of fancy. He resolved to try even harder at overcoming his obstacles so Johnny could put the whole Drago and Violet thing in the past. Johnny deserved his best effort.
“Sounds good,” Johnny agreed. He let Scott think he had missed his admission that his sexuality was non-existent. He suspected as much. In one of his brief stays in a Mexican prison, he’d met a man who had been raped and had lost his sex drive. Johnny was proud of his manipulation of Scott to find out how his brother was faring in that area without coming out and asking him directly. Scott would have shut down completely if he had done that, he was sure. He spent the next half hour devising a plan to help his brother recapture his manhood. He would need Murdoch to cooperate. He would, if the Old Man was serious about having grandchildren.
Murdoch sent Johnny and Scott on their way, finding it difficult not to wink at Johnny as he did so. Johnny had told him of Scott’s problem and his proposed solution for it. Murdoch had his doubts about whether it would work, but Johnny knew Scott best, and he couldn’t think of a better plan. He wanted those grandchildren!
Scott gave a frown when they turned onto to the road that led to Spanish Wells. Not only was it another two hours to ride, but he also didn’t feel ready to go into a town yet. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Johnny knew how he felt. His brother wouldn’t blindside him, would he?
Another hour toward Spanish Wells and Scott couldn’t contain himself any longer. “You’re not taking us into Spanish Wells, are you? If you’re planning to, I’ll turn around right now.”
Johnny had been waiting for Scott’s protest. He was surprised Scott had kept quiet this long. “Not exactly.”
What was that supposed to mean? Scott brought Sheridan to a halt and gave Johnny a scowl.
“We’re headed to Spanish Wells, but we ain’t gonna go into town exactly,” Johnny explained. He knew it wasn’t much of an explanation, but anything more would surely have Scott turning for home.
“That’s all you’re gonna get, brother. You either hafta trust me or turn around.”
Scott stayed where he was, deliberating. He could feel the panic start to rise inside him. Townspeople. Curious townspeople. Townspeople who would stare at him. Would they be able to see? Could they tell he’d been shamed and humiliated just by looking at him? It had to be all over his face.
“I’d take it as a personal favor to me if you kept on with me, brother,” Johnny said, pulling out every last bit of manipulation he could. He knew he, above all others at the ranch, could get Scott to do things he might be uncomfortable with. He had gotten Scott out on the range, and now Frank and Walt could join them without Scott getting upset. He was rather proud of the fact that he had gotten Scott to that place but prouder of Scott for being able to conquer his fears. Johnny moved Barranca further down the road, pleased that he could hear Sheridan following.
Scott was getting more and more concerned as they approached Spanish Wells. Johnny had asked him to trust him, but it seemed he was about to abuse that trust. Just then Johnny turned Barranca to a large but plain two-story house on the outskirts of town. “Why are we stopping here?”
Johnny just smiled as he looped the reins over the hitching post. “Want you to meet somebody.”
Scott dismounted, too. As soon as he entered the house, he realized it was a brothel. He started to retreat when Johnny grabbed him.
“Just let Maggie take good care of you,” he whispered. “She’s gonna help you get your swagger back.”
That almost made Scott laugh. What an absurd situation! On the one hand, he was a bit insulted and greatly embarrassed that Johnny tricked him into coming here. On the other hand, he was touched by his brother’s thoughtfulness and resourcefulness.
The front parlor held about five girls of various types, and Scott wondered which one was Maggie. The girls sat up straight and provocatively as soon as they saw them. Several jumped up and came over to fawn over Johnny.
It turned out none of them was Maggie. She entered through a side door, walked right up to Scott, and introduced herself. Scott had to admit, she was a fine-looking woman, a bit older than the other girls, with a mass of dark auburn hair and kind, intelligent eyes. Scott acknowledged her with a slight bow when she said that he must be Scott.
“Well, I’ll leave you in Maggie’s capable hands and arms and anything else,” Johnny said cheekily.
“You’re not staying?” Scott asked, his surprise and anxiety clear.
“Not right now,” Johnny said. “I’ll see you in the morning, brother.”
“I’m spending the night?”
“I certainly hope so,” Maggie purred. When Johnny Lancer had approached her the previous week with his proposition, she hadn’t held out much hope. Usually when men approached her about taking care of a “friend,” said friend turned out to be a nightmare: big, clumsy, mean, drunk, or small, meek, and inexperienced. In every case, they were uglier than sin. She had agreed to accommodate Johnny Lancer. It could have been because of his handsome looks or his easy charm, but mainly it was because getting Lancer business might be very lucrative for her business.
But standing before her was a thin, beautiful blond, who looked nothing like his brother. He was just as handsome as his brother but in a completely different way. It was a pleasant surprise, a very pleasant surprise. Johnny had explained Scott’s problem and the reason for it. Her heart went out to this man. She had every intention of making his stay with her a success. The man looked slightly panicked, but she had dealt with these kinds of situations before, maybe not quite like his but close enough that she had several ideas of what to do. Yes, Scott Lancer was going to get his money’s worth tonight—or more precisely Johnny Lancer’s money’s worth.
Scott all but stomped into the stable by Maggie’s brothel the following morning. He found Johnny lazing in the straw near Barranca’s stall. His brother got up quickly, eager to see if all was well. He’d see it in his face.
Scott’s eyes were hooded, and his gait bespoke anger. Johnny’s heart sank. “Everything all right?” he asked anyway, knowing what the answer would be.
“Let’s just get out of here,” Scott said, finding Sheridan’s stall and grabbing his saddle.
They rode home in silence. Johnny had initially talked about how nice the weather was, but Scott’s stubborn frown quickly stilled any hope of a two-sided conversation. Scott’s mind was aswirl with the night’s events, or more accurately, lack of events. Maggie had given it her best, but even her worldly ways weren’t enough to overcome the feeling of dread every time she laid her hands on his body. It had brought back Chapel’s hands on his body with a vengeance that wouldn’t let go. In the end, she had given up and just laid down beside him, telling him to get some sleep. He didn’t. He lay awake and relived every moment of Chapel’s torture. It had been unbearable.
Johnny watched Scott dismount and simply walk away from Sheridan. Pedro ran out of the stable and took the horse to groom. It was very worrisome. Scott never neglected his horse, well, at least before Chapel. Had he made a mistake to take Scott to Maggie’s? He feared he might have done more harm than good. He walked Barranca into the barn and asked Pedro to look after the palomino, too.
Johnny knocked on the shed’s door. “Scott? Can I talk to you?”
Johnny saw Scott laying down on the cot. He sat at the foot, avoiding Scott’s feet. “That didn’t go so well?”
“Putting it mildly.” Then Scott said wryly, “It didn’t go at all.”
“Well, we’ll try again next Saturday.”
“Johnny…” Scott said exasperated. “It’s never going to work.”
“Sure it will. You just hafta give it time.”
“There’s not that much time in the world.”
“Did you like Maggie enough?” Johnny asked. “Maybe you need another girl.”
“No. Maggie was fine. More than fine. I assume you told her about my scars. She didn’t even flinch when she saw them.”
“Yeah, I might have given her the heads up on that,” Johnny admitted. “If you like her well enough, you just need to give her another try.”
That’s what Maggie had said when he’d left. She said she’d try some different things next time that might help. Scott was more than dubious. “It won’t help.”
“What do you do when a horse dumps you, brother?” Johnny challenged. “You get right back on it.”
“Maggie’s not a horse.”
“And you’re not a quitter,” Johnny persisted.
“I’m not a fool either. Why continue to do something you know is bound to fail?” Scott started to rub his neck. Johnny made a move to stop him, but Scott lowered his hand before Johnny could do it for him.
Johnny’s heart soared. His brother was learning! “Cuz there might be a time it won’t fail and everything will be good, great even.”
“I love your optimism.”
“If that means I always have hope, then, yeah, I always have hope.” Johnny’s voice took on a somber tone. “Sometimes it’s all that kept me alive.”
Scott thought about that. Hope had kept him alive at first. Even now, much of his hope had been realized. He was riding again, spending time with his family again. Even if his contact with other people was still pretty minimal, he had thought it nearly impossible when he first arrived back at the ranch. If hope had helped Johnny survive his childhood and gunhawk days, then it might be able to help him, too. But what if it was all for nothing? What if the memories of that night were too strong? “It’s so hard to have hope now,” he admitted.
“But not impossible. I’ll have enough hope for both of us,” Johnny asserted confidently.
Scott couldn’t help but give him a wan half smile.
Johnny took that as a good sign. “So, we try again next Saturday?”
Scott couldn’t disappoint his brother. He knew he was working so hard to help him. “All right,” he conceded. “We’ll try again next Saturday. Now let me get some sleep.”
Teresa was upset. Scott had been doing so well, but now he was back hiding in his room again after his little excursion yesterday afternoon. She had scolded him when he refused to come out for lunch. Now she was laying his dinner plate on the ground by his door.
“Here’s your dinner,” she called. Then she waited. She knew he was listening for her to walk away. “Scott, I’m sorry.”
“What for?” His voice was muffled by the wood door.
“I’m sorry if I said anything to upset you.”
“I don’t remember you saying anything upsetting.”
“I scolded you at lunch. It’s just that I can’t seem to say anything right anymore, and I want to. I don’t want you to be upset because of me.”
He opened the door and took her hands in his, surprising her. “And I don’t want you worrying about me or worrying what you say around me. Just be yourself.” He leaned over and gave her a peck on top of her head. “That’s the best gift you could give me now.”
She gave him her brightest smile and retrieved his dinner. “Guess I can’t persuade you to join us for dinner.”
He shook his head as he took the plate. The last thing he felt like doing was making small talk while Johnny was smirking at him. He closed the door quickly and leaned upon it, forcing the tears down. Teresa was worried about saying the wrong thing. How could ever tell her that her kind offer of tea had saved him from plunging the carving knife into his wrist? That sisterly thoughtfulness had stopped him from committing suicide. Teresa had said exactly the right thing. Yelena’s words came rushing back to him: “don’t do that to your family” and “make something of your life to honor Rafael’s death.” He needed to put his life back together again. Chapel wouldn’t have the final laugh. He wouldn’t let Chapel destroy him or his family.
The following two Saturday nights with Maggie were just as frustrating. Despite warm baths and tender massages meant to relax him, he still was too tense and upset to respond to Maggie’s ministrations. Any hand or mouth on his penis brough back images of Chapel which stifled any arousals. He thought Maggie would grow frustrated with him, but she was always patient and kind toward him, and he started to tolerate her feathery touch on his skin.
Finally, on his fourth visit he awoke to Maggie snuggled warm and soft against his side as usual. He looked down. He was erect! It was the first time he’d experienced a morning erection since Chapel. He quickly wiped that thought from his mind.
Maggie awoke and smiled. “Let’s not waste it,” she grinned.
He rolled on top of her, and she knowingly refrained from taking him in her hand and guiding him in. He was on his own, but he knew his way around a woman’s body and was quickly inside her. She felt heavenly. He thrust twice and then hesitated.
“Don’t think,” she said softly. “Just feel. Just feel how good it is.”
He bent down to kiss her and began his rhythm again, closing his eyes and concentrating on the pleasures of her body. It worked.
Johnny was waiting for him in the barn as usual. “You all right?” he asked, noting that Scott seemed to have a lighter spring to his step.
“A gentleman never tells,” Scott replied, and Johnny punched him lightly on the arm. It was going to be a pleasant ride home.
Scott returned to Maggie’s two more Saturdays, just to prove to her and himself that he could treat a gal to a real good time. She had been most appreciative. He finally asked Johnny what he did while he was with Maggie. Johnny just grinned that enigmatic grin and said, “A gentleman never tells.” Alice’s Cheshire Cat, indeed. Wait a minute, didn’t Sally Mae live not too far from Spanish Wells? And hadn’t Johnny taken the fair Sally to the dance? Poor Rosarita must have been brokenhearted.
Scott sat down in the back of the saloon while Johnny got the beers. He’d picked a table where Johnny could sit with his back against two walls. The room wasn’t very full; it was early afternoon on a weekday. There was a poker game on the other side of the room and a few men scattered in between. Not like a Friday or Saturday night, when the saloon would have been packed with cowboys, saloon girls, and multiple card games. But Johnny said waiting for Teresa to figure out what fancy ribbons to buy was thirsty business. They’d have time for a beer before she had made her selection.
Scott knew all of it was a ruse: Teresa’s need to go into Morro Coyo and Johnny’s need for a beer. All of it was designed to get Scott into town. He sighed. It was hard being perceived as such a difficult case by his own family but, well, he was a difficult case. At least Johnny had offered to buy the beer. The table wasn’t close to anyone else, so Scott could try to relax.
Johnny nodded in agreement to the table Scott chose. “Two beers, George,” he ordered.
“Nice to see Scott again,” George said as he started to fill the glasses. “When was he in here last?”
“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Johnny agreed. He wasn’t going to say it had been over eight months.
“He found a place he likes better?” George said feigning hurt feelings.
Johnny smiled at the dramatic display. “Naw, nothing like that. Just working himself too hard.”
“Well, Josephina has sure missed him. You tell him that.” He pushed two glasses toward Johnny. “Two bits.”
Johnny looked offended. “Two bits? I thought a beer was a dime,” he complained.
“But Scott likes the fancy stuff. Costs him a nickel more,” George explained. “You don’t want to let down your brother, do you?”
Johnny gave George a scowl even though the bartender was right: he didn’t want to let Scott down. He gathered the glasses and turned around to go to the table. What he saw made his heart freeze.
Scott was occupied with straightening the band around his hat when he spied him coming near. What was his name? Parker, Jesse Parker. Run, run, run, every fiber in his body screamed. No! He was tired of running from his problems. Johnny was right there at the bar, his Colt strapped securely to his leg. Johnny was here. He didn’t want to embarrass him by running away. He sat tight.
Parker stopped a few feet away, and Scott tensed as the man cleared his throat. What was he going to say? Would he challenge him to a fight? A fist fight? A gun fight? Would he hit him again? “Johnny’s here” echoed in his mind. It kept him in his seat.
“Mr. Lancer?” Parker’s voice was hesitant, almost shy.
“Parker, isn’t it?” Scott said, swallowing hard. He felt boxed in by Parker on his left and a wall on his right.
“Yes, sir. Jesse Parker.”
He was dressed in black, just like before. Scott just stared at him, scared to death.
“I just want to say that I’m real sorry I hit ya that day,” Parker stammered. “I didn’t know who you was or I’d a never of done it. I liked working at Lancer. I sure am sorry for what I did to ya.”
Scott hadn’t expected this in his wildest dreams. Finally he got out, “I appreciate your apology, Parker.”
Parker didn’t leave, and Scott tried desperately to look blasé about it while his heart was thumping wildly in his chest and sweat broke out on his back. But he wouldn’t embarrass Johnny and run out the door. He wouldn’t. He’d told himself he’d try harder to face his fears. This was quite the test.
“Well, I’m working for the Walkers now, so I ‘spect we might be seeing each other sometimes. Jest wanted ya to know, I got no hard feelings for ya for firin’ me. I deserved it. Anyways, I’ll be seeing ya and I’m real sorry.”
Scott just nodded at him, unable to trust his voice.
“You got business with my brother, Parker?” Johnny’s Madrid voice dripped with venom.
“Not no more,” Parker said and hurried back to the poker game.
Johnny set the beers down and sat next to Scott. “What did he want?”
Scott took a sip of beer to wet his throat so he could speak. “To apologize. He hit me a few months ago.”
“I know what he did. The Old Man told me. Said he fired his ass, too, for it.”
Scott sat back and took a proper swig. “Yeah. And don’t think I didn’t see your hand go down to your gun.”
“Didn’t know what his intentions were,” Johnny defended himself, keeping his tone light. Scott didn’t need any more drama.
“And yet you just sat there.” It wasn’t an accusation. There was pride in Johnny’s voice.
“I’m tired of running away from my own shadow.” He gave Johnny a meaningful look. “Or having my little brother solve my problems for me.”
Johnny grinned. “That would mean you’d have to solve them yourself.”
“About time, wouldn’t you say? Or are you going to babysit me until the end of my days?” Scott gave him a weak half-smile.
“I’m babysitting until you can ride into Green River without shaking in your boots. Reckon that may not be too much longer.” Johnny took a long draw of his beer. He’d been so proud of Scott facing up to Parker. He knew he must have been scared shitless to just sit there not knowing what the man would do. Johnny was scared shitless for him. Yet he sat there, cool as a winter day, and faced him. Johnny couldn’t be prouder. He knew Scott was proud of himself as well. Even just sitting there, Johnny could feel Scott’s calmer and more confident demeanor. One by one the demons would fall away, even Frank Chapel. For the first time, Johnny had real hope of getting his big brother back.
“It would be good to do my banking in person instead of behind a door,” Scott mused, knowing that Johnny would have no idea what he was talking about. The bank manager had kindly come over to Sam’s so the doctor and Lainie could get paid. They had slid papers back and forth underneath the door for him to fill in and sign. He’d felt so ashamed of himself then. He wasn’t ashamed anymore. And now, facing Jesse Parker had made him hopeful that he could cope with the all the people and hustle and bustle of Green River. And if it got too much, there was always the key to Sam’s back door…
“Another one?” Johnny asked as Scott drained the last of his glass.
Scott shook his head. “No, let’s round up Teresa and go home.”
“Sounds good, brother.”
Murdoch saw his boys ride in and now stood at the window waiting for them to emerge from the stable. He was concerned how Scott had done going into Green River for the first time since Sam had brought him home. It was just to do a few errands which Johnny could have done on his own, but it seemed like a good way to ease Scott into town. He knew Johnny was regarding it like a significant milestone for Scott. He prayed it had all gone well.
Whatever was happening in Spanish Wells for the last month and a half, and it wasn’t hard to guess given Johnny’s ultimatum—grandchildren or no—had paid off. Scott’s shoulders were no longer slumped; he was walking tall again. He’d moved out of the shed and back into his bedroom, much to Johnny’s delight. The nervous “ums” that had dotted his speech had all but disappeared. He was smiling that wry, half-smile more often, on rare occasions breaking into a full smile. Maria was happy he was gaining weight. Scott had made peace with Jelly. He was slowly emerging from his melancholia and becoming more himself again. The good days were outnumbering the bad. There had been a time when Murdoch hadn’t dared to hope that would happen. He’d been afraid Frank Chapel had destroyed Scott’s spirit forever.
The boys emerged from the stable, both smiling, and Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief. The sojourn into town must have been a success. Suddenly, Johnny pulled Scott into a headlock. With the grace of a dancer, Scott ducked his head and maneuvered out of the loose hold. He said something and Johnny laughed.
That was when Dewdrop decided to make an appearance. The agitated gander nipped at Johnny’s calf and the ex-gunslinger had his Colt out in a half-second. An outraged howl meant that Jelly was in hot pursuit of his pet. Jelly yelled something at Johnny as he ran past, and his younger son mischievously stuck his boot out and caught Jelly’s shin. Jelly went flying, landing in the perpetually muddy slick beside the trough. Scott looked at Johnny, who broke out laughing, and Scott followed suit. He reached down to offer a hand up to Jelly, who rebuffed it with a huff. That sent a new peal of laughter from Johnny. Scott joined in, and both of them slung their arms around each other’s shoulders and headed for the kitchen entrance.
Murdoch felt someone at his elbow and looked down to find Teresa by his side.
“Did I hear…was that Scott I heard laughing?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yes, it was,” he replied, still smiling at the boys’ antics.
He saw her eyes well up with tears. “That’s the first time I’ve heard him laugh since…before.”
Murdoch put an arm around her. Nine months. It had taken a little more than nine months to get to this place. Not so long, really, given where Scott had started. There was still some way to go, but he had come so far in just nine months.
“Then there’s hope he’ll come back to us,” she whispered.
“More than hope, darling.” He watched his children’s backs disappear around the corner, amazed at his boys—the inner strength of Scott and Johnny’s steadfast devotion. “Much more than just hope.”
*There really is a Lover’s Leap. It’s on the way to Yosemite on Highway 108 (past Knight’s Ferry). Going east on 108, it looks like nothing out of the ordinary landscape until you go past it and look behind you. Then you can see the sheer drop off that’s over 200 feet straight down. I’ve moved it more south for the purposes of this story (forgive me) so it can be in the southernly San Joaquin Valley rather than near the northernly Stockton portion of the Central Valley.
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