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Fate is the Hunter by SandySha

Word Count 22,855

*The usual disclaimers.  I don’t own them, sure wish I did.
** My Johnny is 18 and Scott is 22.
** There are references to events in Running Gun in this story.   I want to thank Alice Marie for doing the beta.

2nd in the Riding The River Series

Fate – a predetermined course of events outside a person’s control.

Madrid stood outside the large double doors and wondered what the hell he was doing there.  Wiping his right hand on his pants, he couldn’t believe he was sweating.

Reaching out, he slowly turned the doorknob.   Quietly he pushed one of the doors open, cringing when he heard it squeak. 

The door opened enough that he could slide through.  Once he’d closed the door behind him, he gave himself a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the lower light.

Looking over the large room, he noted all heads were turning towards him.  He paid them no mind as he searched the room for the tallest man seated.

He watched as the man turned to see who had just entered the building.

Their eyes met.

Johnny asked himself again, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’  He felt his heart flip as he saw the smile spread across his father’s face.  His question had been answered.  He realized he was doing this for his old man.

Looking back across the room, he slowed his breathing before starting to walk down the aisle of the church.  He was happy he’d taken his spurs off.   His slow, even stride was the same one he would have used had he been going face to face in a gunfight.  Truth be known, he would have rather been walking out into the street for a gunfight.

He saw the man in the pulpit smiling at him and swallowed.  Glancing left and right as he walked, Johnny saw smiles on the faces of those he knew.  He nodded to those with smiles.  There were just as many with frowns, and he ignored them.

“It’s good to see you, Johnny.” Aggie Conway stood and patted his arm as he walked by her.

He stopped briefly.  “Thank you, ma’am.  It’s good to see you, too,” he said softly, before continuing his walk.

He got to the front of the church and watched his father stand.  Murdoch reached out and took both his arms and guided him into the seat next to him. 

“Thank you, son,” he said quietly with a smile on his face.

Johnny only nodded and sat down next to his father, realizing only then that his brother was sitting next to him.

Scott put a hand on his brother’s leg and smiled.

Finally, everyone’s attention went back to the front of the church.  The new Reverend began speaking.

It didn’t take long for Johnny’s mind to wander back to that morning.


Murdoch walked into the kitchen to sit down for breakfast. He smiled when he saw Scott already seated and dressed for church.

“Have you seen your brother?” the older man asked as he poured a cup of coffee.

“No, sir.” Scott took a sip of his own coffee. “I heard him moving around, but he didn’t come in this morning.”

As if he’d known they were talking about him, Johnny hurried down the back stairs into the kitchen and took his place at the table.

“John, you aren’t dressed for church yet. We don’t have much time before we leave.”

Murdoch watched his youngest son for his reaction.

“Not going to church,” Johnny responded, reaching for a biscuit. “Thought I’d take Barranca for a ride. Too nice a day to spend half of it inside a church.”

“Johnny, you should come with us.” Teresa placed a plate in of eggs in front of him and then sat down. “We have a new Reverend. Aren’t you interested in finding out what he’s like?”

They could all see the excitement in her face.

“No, querida, they’re all alike.”

Johnny bit into the biscuit and reached for another.

“How so?” Scott was watching his brother, who seemed awfully relaxed when it was apparent their father wasn’t.

“They just want to do some soul-saving, Boston.” Johnny looked up at his father. “In my case, it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

“Johnny, don’t say that,” Teresa said with a sense of distress in her voice.

Johnny didn’t say anything else as he continued to eat. He knew he’d upset her.

When breakfast was over, Johnny pushed back from the table. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said and started to stand.

“John, can I speak to you?” Murdoch pushed back and stood up. “In your room.”

Johnny looked at the man and then at Scott and Teresa. He nodded and turned back toward the back stairs. He knew what was coming, and he wasn’t having any of it.

Going to his room, Johnny left the door open. Leaning against the headboard, he waited. It was only a few minutes before he saw his father’s tall frame filling the doorway.

Murdoch walked into the room, noting his son was standing with his arms crossed around his chest. It was a stance he’d become all too familiar with; the boy was ready for a fight. He closed the door.

He didn’t say anything for a few moments while he watched the boy. That stance and the look on his son’s face both were making him angry. Finally, he cleared his throat.

“Johnny, I want you to go to church with us today.”

Murdoch stood facing his son, holding back his temper.

“Why?” Johnny’s voice was low and soft.

Murdoch recognized the voice of Madrid when he heard it.

“I think it’s important that we go as a family. I haven’t made a point of it until now. Sam’s only released you last week,” Murdoch responded, remembering it had only been six weeks since he’d witnessed his son shot from his horse.

“I haven’t been to church since before Mama died,” Johnny responded, watching his father’s face at the mention of his mother. “Even then it was mass at whatever mission was close to where ever we were living. Never been to a church that wasn’t Catholic.”

“I see,” the older man said, trying to figure out what to say next. “Well, I don’t think it matters which church you go to. Your mother and I used to go to the mission in Morro Coyo before she….”

Johnny watched the emotions spread across the older man’s face.

“Before she left?”

“Yes, before she left. We went as a family. You were just a baby and quite a handful, I must say. Couldn’t keep you quiet or in one place very long,” he smiled, remembering the bundle of energy the boy was.

Johnny let his arms fall to his side as the tension of the room evaporated.

Johnny smiled, “Gave you a run for your money, did I?”

“Yes, you did,” Murdoch laughed. Then more seriously, “I can’t tell you how many times I wished I had you by my side again in church; to have both my boys with me. John, I want you there today.”

Johnny took a deep breath and let it out. “Murdoch, I’ve never found a use for church. Had too many priests to tell me I was bound for hell.”

“I don’t believe that son,” Murdoch protested as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Of all the conversations he’d expected to have with Johnny, this wasn’t one of them.

“Don’t believe what? That almost every priest I ever met told me I was bound for hell or that I am bound for hell?” Johnny responded, watching his father’s face.

Murdoch didn’t answer.

Johnny smiled. “It’s alright. I already know the answer. You have to have a soul to go anywhere else. I lost mine a long time ago.”

“I don’t believe that, either.” The distress in the old man’s voice made Johnny’s head shoot up.

“Murdoch, even if I have a soul left, there is no saving it now,” Johnny sighed. “Go on to church old man; you’re gonna’ be late.”

“John….” Murdoch stood, not knowing what else to say. Turning to leave the room, he saw Johnny had moved to look out the window.

Going back downstairs, he saw Scott and Teresa waiting for him. He shook his head as he made his way to the front door. Taking his hat, Murdoch opened the door and walked out to the buggy. Scott helped Teresa into the front seat, and he moved to the rear. Murdoch took one last look up at his son’s window before getting into the buggy and driving away.

Johnny stood at his window, watching the procession of buggies and riders leaving the ranch. The Mexican families would go to the Mission in Morro Coyo for Sunday Mass. The others would go to the church in Green River.

Johnny hung his head. He sat on the edge of his bed and took a deep breath. Why was he even thinking about this? The few times he’d gone to church, after his mother died, brought him nothing more than hurt and disappointment. The priests made sure he knew he was destined for hell. They had also made it clear he wasn’t welcome among decent people.

He looked down at his hands, imagining the blood that stained them. He knew going to church for himself was useless, but what about going for someone else? What harm could that do him?

His thoughts went to his father. He kept seeing the look in his old man’s eyes when he’d refused to go with the family to church. He had put that look there. He’d hurt his father. This time it wasn’t a priest that was causing the hurt; it was him. Why it bothered him, he didn’t know, but it did.

Something was pulling at him. Something telling him he needed to be there today with the man he was just starting to get to know. Johnny suddenly wanted to see happiness in that man’s face and take the hurt out of his eyes.

Standing up, he made a decision.

Looking out the window, he saw Walt walking back toward the barn. Leaning out the window, Johnny yelled, “Hey Walt.”

“Yeah, Johnny.” Walt covered his eyes against the glare of the morning sun. He saw Johnny leaning out of the window.

“Can you saddle Barranca for me?”

“Sure,” Walt responded, “where you going?”

“Church,” Johnny yelled back as he pulled back from the window.

Quickly changing into the only decent clothes he had, Johnny kept thinking he needed to go into town and buy new ones. He hadn’t been off the ranch to get any new clothes since being allowed up. Teresa was kind enough to buy him a new white shirt and a pair of pants the last time she had gone to town, or he wouldn’t have had anything to wear.

He took a quick look at himself in the mirror, admitting he didn’t look too bad. Putting on the new bolero jacket, Murdoch had one of the women on the ranch make for him; he started downstairs. At the front door, he strapped on his gun belt and grabbed his hat.

Walt was bringing Barranca to the front of the house just as Johnny stepped out the front door.

“Thanks, Walt.”

Johnny swung effortlessly into the saddle. He kicked Barranca’s sides and took off toward the arch and the road to Green River, giving the horse his head. It wasn’t long before he reached the outskirts of town.

The church bells were ringing as he rode into town. By the time he pulled up in front of the church, he’d started having second thoughts about what he was doing. He was almost at the door of the church when he realized he still had his gun belt on. He quickly took it off and ran back to Barranca and stowed the gun belt in his saddlebags.


Now he sat, listening, or trying to listen to the sermon. The new Reverend was on a roll. It was when he got to saving the souls of those who were beyond redemption that Johnny started to squirm.

Murdoch knew what his son was thinking. He took his hand and put it on Johnny’s leg and gently squeezed it. The touch of his father’s hand put a smile on the boy’s face.

“Yes,” the Reverend was saying. “You may believe that there are those whose souls are beyond redemption. However, I do not. I believe a man’s soul can be saved. I believe that there is good in every man, no matter what he has done. A man can change.”

Johnny could almost feel the eyes of everyone in the church boring into him. He put his hand up to his neck and tried to loosen his collar. Murdoch’s hand seemed to be squeezing harder on his leg. He looked to his left and saw his brother reaching down for the other leg.

“Damn, between the two of them, I’m gonna’ be bruised good.”

“When you leave here today,” the Reverend was saying, “keep your hearts open to those who need your understanding.  Don’t let ….”

Johnny heard the horses outside begin to whinny.  He knew he heard Barranca.  Turning, he looked toward the door as the Reverend droned on. 

Before he could say anything, he felt the pew under him jump.  He was on his feet instantly.

“What?” Murdoch looked up at his son.

“Not sure,” Johnny answered as he looked around. Had he been the only one to feel it. 

Before he could say anything else, the floor under his feet started to move and then ripple.  The sound of horses screaming and a low-pitched rumbling coming from deep within the earth.   The rumbling became more forceful until the sound filled the church.

“Earthquake,” someone screamed. 

Women and children were screaming as they tried to get up and into the aisle.  The pulpit skidded off the platform at the front of the church and crashed to the floor.   The pews were jumping around them.

“Get everyone out,” the Reverend was yelling.

The next few moments were as if everything moved in slow motion.  The building started to groan as Johnny turned to look at Scott.

“Where’s Teresa?” he yelled, for the first time seeing she was not sitting with the family. 

“In the back,” Scott replied, trying to get to his feet. 

“Go,” Johnny yelled back.  “Get to her.   Get her out.”

Johnny looked at the back of the church and saw people pushing their way through the double doors.    He prayed Teresa was one of them.

The building started swaying, causing the floorboards to ripple even more. 

Scott jumped over the back of the pew and edged toward the outside of the building, trying to get to the door.  He glanced over his shoulder and saw his father and brother moving into the crowded aisle.  

A sudden violent jolt sent everyone to their knees.  Then there was quiet and everything stopped moving. 

“It’s not over,” Johnny yelled, hearing the rumbling start again.  “Get out of here.”

People again started moving down the aisle as the ground began to shake violently.   The building groaned and first one beam, then another crashed down around them.  As the walls moved, windows blew inward, glass raining down on everyone.

Screams filled the building.  The church bell clang as it fell from the steeple and crashed through the roof directly over the middle of the building.

Johnny knew they weren’t going to make it to the door.  He grabbed the back of Murdoch’s coat and jerked him back toward him.

“Get down,” Johnny yelled.  He pushed his father down onto his side and tipped a pew over the top of him.  There was no time to look for Scott as he threw himself next to his father. 

Pushing under the edge of the pew, Johnny buried his face into his father’s chest—Murdoch’s arms surrounded him and tightened,  pulling him in even closer.

“Hold on, son.” 

Johnny had but a moment to think about the arms holding him as the floor rolled like a washboard and debris fell across his back.

The deafening roar of the earth and sounds of timbers crashing down muffled the screams of men, women, and children.  Then as quickly as it started, it was finally over.  The building stopped moving. 

There was a deathly silence until, as if awakened from a daze, a child’s scream pierced the air.   


The Mission in Morro Coyo was full when the ground began to shake.  The Mission had survived many earthquakes over the decades. Still, the walls shook, and loose debris rained down on the people inside.

Cipriano tried to cover Maria as the ground rolled under their feet.  

As suddenly as it had started, it was over.

Everyone looked around and said a prayer that it hadn’t been worse. 

The old priest quickly concluded the service.  “Go with God, my children,” Father Antonio said as he watched people leave the church.

Cipriano took Maria’s hand and guided her out of the Mission into the bright sunlight.  It looked like Morro Coyo had only minor damage due to the earthquake.

The families quickly said their goodbyes to their friends and were getting ready to start back to their homes, when a rider came into town.

“Green River was hit hard,” the rider yelled out.

“How bad is the damage, my son.”  The old priest moved closer to the rider. 

“Pretty bad, Father.    Most of the town is gone.” the young man answered.  “The church over there is gone.  It collapsed.  There are a lot of folks trapped inside.”

Cipriano could feel his chest contract.  His only thought was to find out if the Patron and his family were alright.

Maria could see the concern on her husband’s face.  “You go,” she urged.  “You go to make sure they are alright.  At least Juanito is at the ranch.”

“Si,” Cipriano answered as he looked around.   “Jose and Manuel, you take the woman and children back to the ranch.  Give me your horse.  The rest of us will go to Green River.  Send word to Green River if all is not well at the ranch.”

Cipriano looked around.  He didn’t have to say anything else.  The vaqueros who rode for Lancer were mounted and ready to go before he was on his horse.


Val Crawford was a happy man.   He sat at his desk in the sheriff’s office in Green River and sighed.  Lifting his cup of coffee to his lips, he sighed again.

This was a far cry from the last office he had.  The office in Temecula had been small and dusty.  Of course, Temecula was desert country; dust and dirt came with the territory.   The jail in Temecula was one room with the cells and the sheriff’s desk were just a few feet apart.   Here the cells were in a separate part of the building.   At least he didn’t have to look at the men he arrested.  Thus far, he had only a few drunks on Saturday night to contend with.

It had been a little less than six weeks since he left his job in Temecula.  One day he was in torment, and the next, he’d thrown his badge on the desk and rode north to Morro Coyo.  

A little over two months ago, word came out of Mexico that his best friend was dead, shot by a Rurales firing squad. 

There were no words for the heartache and grieve he’d experienced.

Two weeks after hearing of his death, Val heard Johnny Madrid was alive and in Morro Coyo.   Unable to believe the news unless he saw for himself, he’d quit his job the same day.  Two days later, he rode into Morro Coyo only to learn that Johnny was seriously wounded in a gun battle that would become epic in the history of the San Joaquin Valley.

He’d waited one more day before riding out to Lancer.

He remembered everything Maria told him about Murdoch Lancer.  What he remembered he didn’t like.  He couldn’t understand why Johnny would be here, let alone fight for the father he hated.

Val had slowly ridden under the arch where he saw armed men posted.   He could see more on top of the house.  

Getting closer, he admitted to himself he was impressed with the hacienda.  As he approached the front of the house, a giant of a man stepped out the front door.

“Is there something I can help you with?” the tall man asked as a blond-haired man walked up beside him with a rifle in his hand.  “I’m Murdoch Lancer, and this is my son Scott.”

Val hesitated, looking at Scott, he frowned.  Maria never said anything about another son.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Lancer.  Name’s Val Crawford.  I’ve come to see Johnny Madrid,” Val answered, still sitting on his horse.

“How do you know John?” Murdoch asked, looking the stranger up and down.

“I’m a friend, an old friend.”  Val stepped down.

“He isn’t in any condition to see anyone right now.” Murdoch was watching Val closely.

“He gonna’ be alright?”  The concern in the man’s voice was evident to Lancer’s.

Murdoch hesitated before speaking.  “He was badly injured.  Pardee shot him in the back, and he…”

“Is… he… gonna… be… alright?” Val repeated the question speaking slowly.  “He always gets a fever when he’s hurt.” 

“Yes, he’s going to be alright,” Scott spoke up, glancing at his father.  “The fever broke yesterday.  He’s drifted in and out since.”

Val let out the breath he’d been holding and nodded. 

“Alright, then.  I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be back every day until I see the boy,” Val stated as he remounted his horse.  “See you tomorrow,” he said as he rode away.

He did come back the next day and the next.  Until finally, on the fourth day, he rode in to be told that he could see Johnny.

Val dismounted and tied his horse at the hitching post.  Following Murdoch into the house, Val took it all in.  He’d never seen such a place.  Deep down, he felt anger knowing that Maria and the boy had lived in small one-room shacks while Lancer lived like a king.   

He followed the giant of a man up the stairs to the second floor.

Turning down the hall, Val saw the other son standing outside a door.  He could hear raised voices.  He knew one of them was Johnny.  The door was pushed open, and Val stepped in.

Propped up in a bed with pillows behind him, Johnny had his left arm strapped to his chest.  He was arguing with a fairly short man with graying hair.  The shorter man was standing next to the bed with a cup in his hand.

“What’s all the ruckus about?” Val asked as he stood inside the open doorway.

Johnny looked up and, at first, saw Murdoch standing in the doorway.  After a few moments, his eyes fell on Val.

“Val!” Johnny shouted out, with a catch in his throat.   “Val, you sure are a sight for sore eyes,” he said, shaking his head and with tears in his eyes.

Val quickly moved across the room.    Sitting on the bed, he put his arms around his young friend and pulled him to his chest.

“Damn, Madrid, can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?” Val barked with tears in his own eyes.   “Heard you didn’t watch your back… again. You know better than turn your back on Day.”

“I had a plan,” Johnny laughed, accepting the embrace from his friend and trying to return it at the same time. 

“Sure, you did.  I know all about your plans, boy.” Val put his hand against Johnny’s face and gently wiped a tear from his cheek with his thumb.  He wiped a tear from his own eye.

 “God, boy, I thought you were dead.   Word was you got yourself killed down in Mexico.”

“It was close, Val,” Johnny caught himself as he started to lean into the man’s hand.  “Too close.”

Val pulled his hand back and took a deep breath.  He was doing everything within his power to control his emotions at that moment.   He turned around to see Murdoch and Scott standing behind him.

Johnny took a deep breath and swallowed hard.

“Val, I want you to meet my father and brother.  Murdoch, this is Val Crawford.  Val, this is Murdoch, and that blond fellow is my brother, Scott.  Val is the sheriff in Temecula.”

Johnny wiped his face.

“Brother?  Johnny, you got a brother?” Val looked at Scott with a smile on his face. “Did your mama ever tell you about a brother?”

“No,” Johnny said with sadness in his voice, “there’s a lot she didn’t tell me.  There are also lots of lies she told.”

Val nodded his understanding. He’d known Maria lied about things; now he knew the biggest of them was that the boy had a brother.

Val looked at the man Johnny had been talking to when he had come into the room.

 “I’m Sam Jenkins.  I’m this young man’s doctor. However, he seems to think he has a medical degree.”

“That so?” Val asked as he turned back to Johnny.  Frowning, he said, “He giving you trouble, Doc?”

“Hardest head I’ve ever seen.  He needs to drink the tea to keep the fever down,” Sam replied as he held out the cup in his hand.

Val took the cup and looked at it.  He turned back to Johnny and pushed the cup at him.

Johnny shook his head.  “Ain’t drinking it.  Tastes like horse piss.”

“How would you know what horse piss tastes like?  The Doc says you need the tea; then you’re gonna drink it.”  

Val gave Johnny a stern look.

Johnny shook his head. “Nope.”

“You want me to repeat Tucson?  Don’t care if you’re laid up or not.”

Val didn’t take his eyes off Johnny. 

Johnny blushed and took the cup and, to everyone’s amazement, drank it down without another word.

“Now see that wasn’t so hard.  You do what the Doc says,” Val smiled.   “You doing alright?  Are they treating you alright?” 

“I’m fine, Val.  Yeah, they’re treating me just fine.  You should see how much they feed me.  Haven’t had much of an appetite lately, but for the first night, I was here; boy, they have a woman here that knows how to cook; even had a big piece of chocolate cake.  It sure was good.  You know how much I like chocolate.  And the old man gave me a horse.  Wait till you see him.  He’s a beauty.  Isn’t he a beauty, Scott?  Gonna name him Barranca.  You should see old Boston over there shoot.  He’s almost as good with a rifle as I am with my gun.  You should have seen him take down Day.  Of course, I slowed him down some with the bullet I put in his shoulder, but Boston over there finished him off.” Johnny was babbling on with a grin on his face.

“Whoa, Boy, take a breath,” Val shook his head and laughed.  “I’ll hear all about it.  You need to calm down now and get some rest.”  Val could see the heightened color of Johnny’s face.  He knew there was still a fever, and the excitement of him being there was making it worse.

Murdoch, Scott, and Sam watched the interchange between the two with a smile.  Getting Johnny to cooperate with Sam had been an uphill battle from the beginning.  Now they were listening to him speaking more words at one time than he had since coming home.

Murdoch couldn’t help but wonder, ‘who is this man?’

“So, you slowed Pardee down, brother?” Scott smiled.

“Sure did.  Would have finished him off too if Coley hadn’t butted in up there on the hill.  You don’t have to worry about Coley any more, do you Boston?” Johnny grinned.

“You killed Coley?” Scott asked, looking at his brother.

“Yeah, told you that, didn’t I,” Johnny answered with a frown.

“No, you didn’t tell us that,” Murdoch spoke up. “Where?”

“Thought I did.” Johnny furrowed his brow thinking.  “Got him up on the hill before I rode in.  He clipped me some,” Johnny put his hand to his left side.  “Had a heck of a time getting on my horse.”

“We wondered where you got the wound in your side,” Sam commented.

“Yeah, well, it burned some at the time, but had too much on my mind to let it slow me down.” Johnny smiled at the three men staring at him. 

“I had better send Cipriano up to the hill and get the body,” Scott said.  “Anything else we should know?”

Johnny shook his head. “Don’t think so.”  Changing the subject, “Sure, be glad when I can get some solid food.  Getting tired of that broth, they keep pouring down me and the tea.”

Val turned around and looked at Murdoch and Scott.

“The boy can eat you out of house and home if you let him.  Never seen anyone who can eat as much.  Never could figure out where he put it.” 

“We have already determined that was going to be the case,” Scott answered with a smile.  “The only thing he won’t eat is…”

“Greens,” Val finished the sentence.  “Never could get him to eat any vegetable that was green.”

Murdoch and Scott watched as a blush came over Johnny’s face.  “You know I’m sitting right here, don’t you?”

Val grinned.  “Well, I’ll get going.  I  just wanted to make sure you were doing alright.   I’ll be back tomorrow.” Val gave Johnny one more hug and then stood up.

Johnny’s face fell.   He held onto Val’s arm. 

Val could feel the grip he had on him tighten.  

“No. Val, you’ll stay here.”  Johnny looked at his father.  “It’s alright if he stays here, ain’t it?”

“John….,” Murdoch started.  He had just watched the joy in his son’s face disappear.  The Madrid glare had appeared almost in an instant.

“No, that’s alright, Amigo.  I have a room in town.  I’ll come back tomorrow to see you,” Val said, watching Johnny’s face.  He knew Johnny better than anyone.  It wasn’t like the boy to show his disappointment outwardly.  However, he knew everyone had seen it.

Scott was watching his new brother’s face also. In a heartbeat, he had witnessed Johnny go from a happy youth to the hardened gunfighter they had been living with since the first day they arrived.  It was evident that Johnny desperately wanted the man to stay.

“Sir.” Scott turned to Murdoch. “We do have extra rooms.  I’m sure that Sheriff Crawford would be more comfortable staying here than in a hotel in town.  It seems Johnny would be happier with the sheriff staying also.”

“Well, of course, we have room.” Murdoch didn’t look happy.  He had no idea who this man was, except that he was part of his son’s past.  He was also feeling a tinge of jealousy toward the scruffy looking man.  “Scott, why don’t you show Sheriff Crawford to the room next door.  Will that be alright with you, John?”

“Thanks, Murdoch.  Thanks a lot,” Johnny sighed and then smiled, a smile that suddenly lit up the room. “See, Val, you’ll stay here.”

“If you’re sure, Mr. Lancer,” Val looked uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t want to put you out.  The names Val, not a sheriff anymore.  Quit my job in Temecula when I heard Johnny was in Morro Coyo.”

Val looked at Johnny.  He knew the young gunfighter had questions.

“We’ll talk later,” Val said as he turned back to Murdoch.

“Very well, Val.  Come with me.  I’ll show you to your room,” Scott said with a smile. 

Val followed Scott out of Johnny’s room and down the hall to the next room.  Scott opened the door and stepped aside, letting Val in.

The room was enormous compared to what Val was used to. 

“You’re sure?  I can stay out in the bunkhouse.”  Val looked a little embarrassed.

“Quite sure.  That is the first time I’ve seen my little brother smile, I mean really smile, since we arrived here,” Scott answered.  “You may be just what the doctor ordered.”

Val shook his head.  “Can’t believe Johnny has a brother.  Guessing your Ma wasn’t Maria?”

Scott sighed, “No, my mother was Murdoch’s first wife.  She died when I was born.  I was raised in Boston by my grandfather.  Murdoch married Maria a couple of years later.”

“So, is that why Johnny calls you Boston?” Val asked.

“Yes,” Scott answered. “At first, I was annoyed at the nickname; however, after spending time with my newly found little brother, I am starting to warm to it.”

Val tried to hide a grin.  Johnny Madrid, being called a little brother, was something. 

“Now tell me how he really is?  I don’t buy that ‘fine’ business when it comes to him.  I know he ain’t ‘fine’ when he says he’s ‘fine,’” Val asked with concern.

“He’s still fighting the fever.  It was bad right after he was shot.  We thought we were going to lose him.  The fever finally came down, but it won’t stay down.”

“You been fighting him on that tea?” Val asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes, and I must say I’m surprised he didn’t fight you on it. What exactly happened in Tucson?”

Val shook his head and smiled.  “I tanned his hide.  Had to put him over my knee,” he laughed.  “Thought he was gonna turn around and shoot me when I let him up.”

“Why did you ‘tan his hide’?” Scott asked with a smile.

Val looked at the man.  He didn’t know him well enough yet to tell him about any of his brother’s past.  Val changed the subject.  “I appreciate you letting me stay close.  Don’t think he’s gonna give you much trouble from here on out.”

Scott smiled.  He knew he wasn’t going to get an answer to his question.  Scott didn’t know who this man was or what his relationship was to his brother. However, he knew the man was going to be an answer to their prayers.

Val looked around.  “Well, I’ll go back to town and get my things.  I’ll be back in a bit,” he said as he walked out of the room.

That’s the way it was for the next two weeks.  Val stayed and helped with Johnny’s care.  The fever did come again, this time with a vengeance.  As delirium and convulsions overtook the already weak body, they thought they might still lose the boy.  Finally, the fever broke, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Val and Johnny spent long days talking.  They talked about everything.  Val liked the brother mainly because every time Johnny talked about the blond, he was smiling.  He remembered nights by the campfire when Johnny would tell him how he’d always wanted a brother.

The one thing Val found most interesting was that Johnny talked about staying at Lancer and trying to make it work.  When Johnny explained about the partnership agreement, he saw the opportunity to encourage his friend to settle down and give up the gun.  It was something Val had prayed for many times.   

Once Johnny found out Val turned in his badge in Temecula, he suggested to his father that Val would make a good sheriff for Green River.  Val was impressed that Murdoch accepted the suggestion and put it before the Cattleman’s Association.

So here he was Sheriff Val Crawford, Green River, California.  He’d been in the job a week now.

Yes, life was good.   He took another sip of his coffee before all hell broke loose.


When the quake first started, Val felt only a bump.  His coffee spilled down the front of his shirt.

Cursing, he started to get up and found the floor moving under his feet.

The building moaned and shifted and the floor rose up and re-settled.   Everything was shaking and crashed down around him.    Val could hear noises from outside.  The sounds of horses screaming, windows breaking, and loud bangs as buildings started to fall, filled the air.  As quickly as it started, it was over.  

He started to straighten up when the ground began to shake again.  This time he watched as the building shifted.  The floor under his feet turned rose and fell as he clung to his desk for support.

Val was sitting on the floor when finally, the shaking and noise stopped.   He pulled himself up using his deck for support.   Looking around his new office, he just shook his head.   There was a gaping hole in the back wall, and it looked like the roof was ready to collapse. 

“Well, hell,” he cursed out loud.

Slowly he walked into the street to see the destruction.   He didn’t think there was a building in town that hadn’t been affected. 

The good news was that it was Sunday and the stores and businesses were closed.  There were a few people in the buildings that had collapsed.   He figured the hotel and the saloon would have had the most people in them.   He saw people running up and down the street, calling out for help for others.

Val watched as a young boy ran toward him.  “Sheriff, you gotta’ help.  The church… the church… it fell in.   There are a lot of folks inside.”

Val took off running.  As he turned the corner at the end of the street, he skidded to a sudden stop.  The once tall white building now lay in ruins.     

There were people on the ground outside the church.  A woman held her child in her arms, rocking back and forth.   A man knelt next to a woman who was moaning, blood covering her face.   He stood in the middle of a sea of injured people and looked around.

Val moved forward and started looking at the faces.   One of the first faces he saw was Teresa. 

“Miss Teresa?” Val squatted down next to her.  He could tell she was in shock.  He tried again, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “Miss Teresa, where’s the rest of your family?”

Teresa finally looked at him with tears spilling down her dirty face.  She turned around and pointed at the church.  “In there.  Val, they’re in there.”  She broke down crying in his arms.

Val looked at the building.  The walls had collapsed in on themselves as if someone had set up a deck of cards leaning in on themselves.   The steeple had somehow settled straight down, now teetering.  It looked like one puff of wind would topple the whole thing.

“Lord almighty,” he said aloud.

Sam ran over to him.  “Val. I’ll take care of her.  We need to get those people out of there before the whole building collapses.”  The doctor took Teresa from Val’s arms. 

Val stood up and shook his head.  He wasn’t sure where to start.  He figured trying to go through what was left of the double doors was as good a place as any.

“Alright, I need help.  Get all these hurt folks away from here,” Val called out.  “Doc, where you want them?”

Sam thought for a moment.    He needed a lot of room, and he didn’t know which buildings were still stable and which weren’t.   “We can set up some tents, but for now, let’s move the injured over to the shade of the trees across the street.” 

Val directed three men to help Sam.  The rest he pulled toward the front of the church.

“Let’s move any loose boards out of the way and then see if there is anyone in here that we can get out,” he said as he stood in front of the building.  “Take it slow.  Don’t want to bring it down on top of us.”

Slowly, the few men Val gathered started removing fallen timbers to get inside. 

They had made it only a few feet when they started seeing bodies lying near the door.  Val froze in place when he saw Scott.  Reaching down, he felt for a pulse.   Finding one, he said a prayer of thanks.  He wouldn’t know how to tell Johnny that he’d lost his new brother.

The men carried Scott out the door and across to where Sam was waiting.


Murdoch lay on his side under the overturned pew.   The shock of what happened, together with the force of being shoved to the floor, made him dizzy.   He lay there a few moments before coming to his senses.

He looked at his son lying next to him and took a deep breath.  He realized his arms were around the boy, and he hugged him closer.  Since coming home, he had been afraid to get this close to the young man and was taking advantage of the moment.

Suddenly, he realized Johnny hadn’t moved.

“Johnny,” Murdoch said as he inched his right hand up to his son’s face.  He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt his son’s breath on his hand.   He put his hand behind Johnny’s neck and gave it a gentle squeeze.     

“Murdoch,” Johnny answered, opening his eyes, blinking twice.  “You alright?”

“I’m not sure,” the older man answered.  “I think there’s something wrong with my left leg.  Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Johnny lied.  He felt a stinging at the back of his head and his left shoulder where something hit him.   “You just stay still.  Someone will get us out of here pretty quick.”

Murdoch nodded, but still tried to move.  

Johnny moved his head away from his father and looked up past the pew that was covering them.  “Stay still old man,” Johnny s repeated.  “There’s a beam lying across the bench holding it down.  You shift it, and the whole thing could come down on us.”

“Can you move?” Murdoch asked, looking at his son’s face.

“Not sure,” Johnny answered as he slowly pushed himself out from under the pew and up.  The loose timbers that lay across his back moved with him.  He felt a pain shoot through his left shoulder, where a board hit.

He slowly sat up and looked at the debris he’d pushed away.  Gingerly, he forced himself to his feet and looked around.

The church had collapsed in on itself, leaving a safe haven in the middle.  Looking up, he saw rafters and beam threatening to fall at any time.  Sunlight filtered through what was left of the roof.

Scanning the area, he saw several people lying on the floor covered in blood, some were moaning, some silent.  His eyes fell on the man he recognized as Ray Jones, one of the town council members, lying dead with the church bell on top of him.

He couldn’t see beyond the debris that surrounded them.  He prayed Scott and Teresa made it out of the building.

Johnny peered back down at where his father lay.  It looked like the arm of the pew had come down on Murdoch’s leg, trapping it. 

“Murdoch, I’m going to see if I can lift the end of the pew enough for you got get your leg out.” Johnny bent down, grabbing hold of the end of the wooden bench.

“Be careful, son,” Murdoch cautioned, trying to watch what Johnny was doing.

“I’m going to lift on three.  See if you can move it.   One…. two…. three.”

Johnny strained to lift the heavy bench.  

He felt the pew move a little. “Murdoch?” 

“Just a little more, son,” Murdoch replied, trying to pull his leg free.

“Can’t… hold… it.  Come on… old man,” Johnny grunted as he continued lifting with all his strength and feeling pain shoot through his shoulder.

“I’m free,” Murdoch gasped as he heard the pew drop.

Johnny collapsed onto his knees.  He looked around to see his father wiggling out from under the heavy bench.  Slowly, he moved around to help the older man scoot out into the debris-laden aisle.

“Is it broken?” Johnny asked, reaching for the injured leg.

“I don’t think so, just bruised,” Murdoch answered as he sat with his back against the end of the pew.  “Thank you, son.”   He reached across to put an arm around his son’s shoulder.

Johnny just nodded and smiled.

The moment Murdoch’s arm went around his son’s shoulders, he felt the dampness on the back of Johnny’s jacket.

“John, you’re hurt,” Murdoch said as he tried to turn Johnny’s back to him.  “Take your jacket off.”

“Leave it for now,” Johnny shrugged him off.  “They’ll have us out of here soon.  Sam will take care of it.”

Before Murdoch could say another word, Johnny moved away and was helping the Widow Hargis to her feet.  She had a small gash on her arm. 

“Sit here, ma’am,” Johnny said as he helped her to sit next to his father.

“Reverend Barns.” Widow Hargis pointed to the man who had been lying next to her.

Johnny removed a board from the Reverend’s back and gently rolled him over.  He was rewarded with a moan and the Reverend’s eyes opening.

“Reverend, you alright?” Johnny asked as he helped the man onto shaky feet.

“I think so,” the Reverend replied, rubbing the back of his head.  “Just a bump.”  The Reverend’s eyes fell on the people near them.  “We have to help them.” 

For the next few minutes, Johnny and the Reverend helped several people to move closer to the little area that seemed to be the only part of the building that hadn’t caved in.

When the last person was moved to the relative safety of the center of the church, there were sixteen people alive, eight men, seven women, and one boy.  They’d found six dead, leaving them where they lay.

Johnny and the Reverend helped everyone they could.  The Widow Hargis and Emily Wainwright tore pieces of their petticoats off and handed them to Johnny to use as bandages.

“They should be coming to get us soon,” Johnny reassured everyone as he dealt with their injuries.

“Thank you, John.”  The Widow Hargis smiled and patted his arm. “Now, young man, we need to see about you.”

“Johnny, come over here,” Murdoch insisted.  He’d been watching his son helping the others. When he heard the Widow Hargis’s words, he knew he would finally get his son to sit down.

“Take your jacket off, son,” Murdoch’s tone told Johnny his father meant business.

Johnny slipped the jacket off and laid it next to him. 

“And the shirt,” Murdoch ordered, not liking what he saw.  The white shirt his son was wearing was soaked in blood.

Johnny unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. 

Murdoch frowned at the sight of a gash on Johnny’s shoulder.  Just below it, he could see the still healing scar from the bullet wound that Pardee had inflected.

“This doesn’t look good.  What did this?” Murdoch asked as he tore a piece of his own shirttail to use on the open wound.

“Not sure.  When the ceiling collapsed, I think a timber hit me.”

Johnny grimaced as Murdoch continued to press on the still bleeding wound.

“Lay down, John.  I’ll see if I can stop the bleeding.”  Murdoch moved his son to lay down and placed Johnny’s head in his lap.

“Hell of a note, is it?” Johnny snorted as he positioned his head on his father’s lap.

“What’s that?” Murdoch asked, continuing to put pressure on the wound.

“First time I step inside a church and the whole damn building falls down around me,” Johnny laughed.  “Could have been worse, I guess.  Could have been struck by lightning.”

“I hardly think you caused an earthquake by going to church,” Murdoch laughed.

“Don’t know about that.  Maybe God is trying to tell me something.” Johnny flinched as Murdoch applied more pressure.   “Maybe it’s true.  Men like me …”

“Men like you, son?”  Murdoch looked at the side of his son’s face.  He realized what his son was going to say. 

Johnny shook his head and took a deep breath.  He closed his eyes as pain shot through his shoulder.


Reverend Barns had been listening to the whispered conversation between Murdoch Lancer and the young man next to him.

He’d met Murdoch Lancer when he was hired as Reverend for the church.  Lancer was on the church board.   He’d never met the young man that lay next to him, although he knew more about him than he had told anyone in Green River.

People had told the Reverend that Murdoch Lancer had two sons.  They described Scott Lancer as an educated, well-mannered young man who’d been raised in Boston.  When the Reverend met Scott Lancer, he had to agree with the description the townspeople had used for him.  

The second son was described in less flattering terms.  In fact, some of the terms used for the younger son were, in some instances, unrepeatable.  The Reverend really didn’t know what to expect if he ever met the young gunfighter.

Of course, he’d heard of Johnny Madrid.  You couldn’t live in California, the southwest, or even Mexico without knowing the name.  He was stunned to find out that Johnny Madrid was Murdoch Lancer’s youngest son.

He’d just taken the pulpit that Sunday morning when he heard the doors to the church open, and a young, well-dressed boy nervously walked in.   He’d smiled at the time and wondered who the boy was.  It wasn’t until he saw Murdoch Lancer stand and embrace the young man that he realized that this must be the second son of the rancher.  He certainly didn’t look like the cold-blooded killer people described.

He’d seen the faces of the congregation, a mixture of both smiling and frowning faces.  He decided to reserve his personal opinion of the young man until he got to know him.  It was at that moment he decided to change his sermon for the day to one of redemption. 

He was well into the sermon when the hand of God intervened, and his church literally crumbled around his ears.

He’d watched Johnny help the injured, including himself.  He still couldn’t believe that this was Johnny Madrid.   He made up his mind that if they were to live through this ordeal that he would spend time getting to know the man better.


Outside, Val was still trying to carefully pull fallen timbers out of the church without causing the entire building to cave in.   

They’d found a dozen more injured, including Aggie Conway.  The moment Aggie saw Val she threw her arms around him and held on tight.   Val carried the sobbing woman across the street to Sam.

Val met Aggie at Lancer.  She’d come several times to see how Johnny was doing.  Val liked Aggie Conway, and she always seemed to have a smile for him.  It was thanks to Murdoch and Aggie that he had gotten the job as sheriff.

“Thank you, Val,” Aggie said as Val sat her down under the trees.  “Oh, Val, you’ve got to get to them.  I heard them further in.  They’re still alive.  I heard them talking.”

“Who Miss Conway?” Val asked as he started to turn back to the church.

“Murdoch and Johnny.  I heard Johnny’s voice,” Aggie sobbed as Sam moved to her.

“Johnny’s in there?” Val stood, staring at the church.  His chest contracted.   “Never would have thought it.  Never known him to set foot in a church before.    Don’t worry, Miss Conway; we’ll get them out.”

Val shook his head as he started back toward the church.

‘Of all days for the boy to decide to go to church.’

He’d known Johnny for a lot of years and never, never had he set foot inside a church or mission unless it was either on a job or leaving a donation.

Val smiled, remembering how he’d watched more times than he could remember as Johnny would sneak into a mission in the middle of the night and leave anonymous donations.   Val figured that the boy had given at least half of everything he’d made with his gun to the poor. 

There were times when the two of them worked, south of the border, for nothing because Johnny either gave the pay away or refused to take it.   It finally got to the point where Val started collecting their fee himself so that they would have enough to buy what they needed.  

The sound of horse’s hoofs brought him back to the present.  He looked up to see the Lancer’s Segundo riding in with several vaqueros.

“Senor Val, what can we do to help?” Cipriano asked as he threw himself off his horse.

Val stood shoulder to shoulder with Cipriano looking at what was left of the church.

“We’re trying to get some of that wood out of the way.  We have to be careful.  It looks like the whole thing’s gonna come down.”  

Val looked back toward the town. 

“I haven’t had a chance to check every building in town.  If you could get some men to start searching, I’d appreciate it.    Saw some Lancer hands here a while ago.  Don’t know how many of them were hurt.  Right now, I need to get in there and get Mr. Lancer and Johnny out.”

Cipriano looked surprised.

“Juanito is here?  When we left the ranch this morning, he was there. He did not go with the Patron and the rest of the family.”

“Don’t know about that.  All I know is what Miss Conway told me.  She said Mr. Lancer and Johnny are in there.  Scott and Miss Teresa are over there.”

Val pointed to the trees across the street.

Cipriano turned and saw Teresa sitting next to Scott.  He knew he had a duty to the Patron, but also knew he had a duty to the son of the Patron.  

“I will see to Senor Scott and the Senorita and then come to you at the church,” Cipriano said as he turned away from the church. 

Cipriano gave instructions to his men and then walked to where Scott was lying.   He knelt beside Teresa.  She was wiping a cut on Scott’s forehead.  When she looked up and saw the Segundo, she threw her arms around him and started crying.  

Cipriano could do nothing more than hold the young girl and let her cry.  Finally, he patted her back and pushed her gently away.

“Nina, you must remain strong.  Your family needs you.  Senor Val says the Patron and Juanito are inside the church.  Is that so?”

Teresa pulled herself together and wiped her face with the edge of her dress.  She looked into the face of the older man she had known all her life and nodded.

“Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny were in front.  I was sitting in the back with friends.   Someone yelled for everyone to get out.  The moment I stood up, the crowd pushed me out the door.  That’s when the walls started falling in.”

“Juanita was at the ranch when we left.  Why was he here?” Cipriano asked.

“I don’t know why, but he came in just as the service started.   I was so happy to see him, and so was Murdoch.  Oh, Cipriano, I wish he hadn’t come.”   Tears ran down her face.  

“Senor Scott?” Cipriano looked down at the Patron’s eldest son.

“They found him near the door.  He has a cut on his head.  I just wish he would wake up,” she sniffled.

“I must help Senor Val.  Nina, you will stay with Senor Scott.  I am sure he will wake soon.” Cipriano pushed to his feet.

Teresa reached up and took his hand.  “Please find them, Cipriano.  Please get them out.”

Cipriano patted the young hand that held his.   “We will find them, Nina.  You must have faith.” 

He looked across the street to the church and watched as men slowly moved debris out the front door of the building.   Suddenly, the ground start to roll as an aftershock started and then stopped.

A woman screamed, “Not again.  Please, God, not again.”

Everyone that could stand was now on their feet.  The building in front of them groaned as men scrambled out of the door.  They could see more timbers falling inside. The building looked for a moment as if it was going to shift but held its place.


Johnny sat up and shrugged his father’s hands away.  

“John!”  Murdoch tried to grab his son’s shoulder and pull him back to him.

“It’s fine,” Johnny protested. 

Watching Johnny pull his shirt back on and button it, Murdoch frowned.

“At least the bleeding’s stopped.”

“Do you hear that?” Johnny cocked his head.  He put his ear against the floor and listened for a few seconds.  “I hear someone near the front of the building.  Sounds like their moving some of the debris away.”  

The people around him murmured.   One of the men, Barry Ryder, shouted out, “We’re here.  Help. We’re here.”

Ryder’s voice was soon joined by others yelling.  The sound caused the debris dangling over their heads to shift.

“Quiet!” Johnny raised his voice and then lowered it.  “Quiet down, or you’ll bring this whole thing down.”

Johnny looked overhead.  He knew it was just a matter of time before it all came down on them.

“They aren’t going to get to us in time.  We need to figure out another way out of here.”  He looked around the area they were in.  There was only one option. “Murdoch, what’s under the church?  Is there a crawl space?”

“There is a small storage room under the church,” Widow Hargis spoke up.   “Near the back there.  We keep the Christmas decorations and picnic tables in it.    There is a door behind the pulpit.   The only other way in is through an outside door.”

Johnny looked toward the back of the building.  There was no way they were going to get there through the debris.  He looked down.  He knocked on the boards at his feet. “We need to get these boards up.”

“How?” Murdoch looked around for something to pry the boards loose with.

Johnny smiled and reached into his boot and pulled out his boot knife.  He saw the frown on his father’s face, which quickly turned into a smile. 

Johnny got on his knees and started prying the boards loose.   It wasn’t hard as the earthquake had loosened them.  One by one, he lifted them and tossed them aside.  Soon he had an opening large enough to allow a person to slip down below the church floor and into the crawl space.

He looked down into the void.  It was too dark to see anything. “Anyone have any matches?”

Barry Ryder reached into his pocket and handed a small container of matches to Johnny.  

Johnny slowly slid down into the crawl space and lit a match.  He could see that the church was built on a raised foundation.  There was enough room for him to move under the building on his stomach.  

He poked his head up and looked around.  “I’ll be right back.”  He ducked down and out of sight.

“Johnny,” Murdoch quickly spoke up, “be careful.”  

Johnny poked his head up again and smiled.  He then dropped back down and made his way on his stomach toward the back of the church.   He’d gone only about fifteen feet when he realized the ground under him was dropping away. 

It wasn’t long before he understood.   The drop off was a half wall.  On the other side of the wall was the open storage room.  

He stood up in the room and struck another match.  Looking around, he found a lantern and lit it.  The room was small, but at least the timbers overhead seemed to be intact.

Bending over, Johnny put his hands on his knees as the pain in his shoulder suddenly took his breath away.  Shaking off the weariness that threatened to overtake him, Johnny took a deep breath and started back into the darkness of the crawl space.  When he felt the roll of another aftershock, he held his breath and waited to see what was about to happen.  Fear for his newly found father pushed him on.


As Murdoch was looking into the open hole in the floor, another aftershock struck.  He raised his arms to protect his head as pieces of debris started falling from above.  The building was groaning around them. 

“John?” he called out, leaning over the hole in the floor.   He waited for what seemed like an eternity before he heard a voice.

“I’m alright old man.” Johnny’s head popped up out of the hole.   He pulled himself up and stood on shaky legs.   “The storage room isn’t far.”  He pointed toward the back of the building.   We need to get down there now.  We get another aftershock like that one, and this whole place is gonna collapse on top of us.”

Johnny looked around to make sure everyone understood what he’d said.

“Murdoch, how’s your leg?” Johnny asked, watching his father stand.

“It’s fine.  I can stand on it.  It’s not broken.” Murdoch moved toward the opening in the floor. 

Johnny took his father’s arm, holding onto it tight.  “You go first.  There is a half wall about 15 feet in.  I found a lantern.  Just crawl toward the light.  The crawl space drops off into the room.  Once you get there, call out and I’ll start sending people.”

Murdoch nodded and put his hand over his son’s hand.   He’d waited a lifetime for even this brief touch of his son.

Johnny helped Murdoch into the hole in the floor.  Getting into the small space was a challenge for the tall rancher, but he finally made it.  Once on his stomach, Murdoch crawled toward the light, breathing a sigh of relief when he finally dropped into the storage room.

“I’m here!”

Johnny looked around.  He reached for the Widow Hargis.

“Ma’am, I know this is going to be awkward for you, but there is no other way.”

“Nonsense, young man,” she replied.  “This won’t be the first time I’ve had to crawl under a building.  I had to do it back in ‘48 in Arizona during an Apache attack.  Now just help me down.”

Johnny smiled as he helped the elderly woman slide down into the hole.   

One by one, he helped them all down.  The women and the boy went first and then the men.  The last person he helped down was Reverend Barns.

“Thank you, Johnny,” the Reverend said as he disappeared.

Finally, Johnny took a look around and started to go back down himself.  He saw his jacket lying on the floor and reached for it.  He’d been having chills for the last half hour.  He knew a fever wasn’t far behind and he’d need the jacket.

Johnny lowered himself back into the hole and once again crawled toward the storage room.  It wasn’t long before he dropped back into the storage room and into two strong arms.  He looked at the face of his father and smiled.


Val and those helping at the church looked at the structure and wondered if it was safe to go back in.  The aftershock shifted the building slightly, and they could still hear it groaning.

“Senor Val?” Cipriano looked at the sheriff, knowing what the man was feeling.

“I know, Cipriano.  I know.  We got to get to them, but that building isn’t going to stay together much longer,” Val looked at the Segundo. 

“Alright, let’s try again, but at the first sign, anything is going to come down. I want everyone out,” Val said as he started moving back to the front of the church.


Scott tried prying his eyes open, but the light was too bright, and the pounding in his head was too loud.   A shadow fell across his face.   Slowly his eyes fluttered open and he was greeted with Teresa’s smiling face.

“Thank God.  I didn’t think you were ever going to wake up,” she said with tears running down her face.

Scott laid there a moment, trying to remember what had happened.  Suddenly the memory of the earth shaking and the building collapsing around him came rushing back.  He reached up to grasp Teresa’s shoulder and pulled himself up.

“Murdoch?  Johnny?  Where are they?” he asked, trying to stop his world from spinning.  Teresa didn’t answer right away.  He could see the look on her face.   “Where?” he repeated.

Teresa gazed at something behind him.  Turning, Scott saw what she’d been looking at.  The sight of the partially collapsed church caused his stomach to rebel, and he fought to keep from throwing up.

“Val and Cipriano are trying to get to them,” Teresa said as she held Scott’s shoulders. “Aggie Conway says she heard them earlier, so we know they’re alive.”

“How long has it been?” Scott was still struggling to regain control of his stomach.

“Almost three hours now.  Scott, I heard some of the men talking.  They aren’t sure they can get them out.”  Her own words caused Teresa to start crying again.

Scott struggled to his feet.

“No, you have to stay down.  Sam says you have a concussion.” She pulled him back to the ground.   He sat with his back to her and watched the activity across the street. 

The ground started rolling again.  The earth rumbled, and they knew this aftershock was stronger than the last one. 

Screams and yelling coming from town drew everyone’s attention.  They could hear the already weakened structures of Green River begin to collapse.

All eyes moved back to the church.  Men started to run out of the church as the building groaned even louder.  Everyone watched in horror as the walls, one by one, began to shift and collapse inward.  The steeple that had balanced itself over the middle of the building started leaning backward and fell, crushing what little was left of the back wall.  Within seconds the building lay flat before them nothing more than a pile of broken timbers and beams.

Scott and Teresa watched as the church crumpled in front of them.   Teresa’s scream was echoed by screams of other women and even some men.

Bob Wainwright stood stunned, knowing his wife Emily and son, Jim, were most likely dead. 

Alice Ryder gasped.  Her husband, Barry, had insisted they go to church today even though they had left their sick son, Al, with Barry’s sister.

Val couldn’t believe his eyes.  There was nothing he could do.  When the dust cleared, and the noise of falling debris stopped, Val could do nothing more than drop to his knees.  He couldn’t believe it.  No, he wouldn’t believe that his friend would die like that.    If there was a way to survive, he knew Johnny would have found it.  He wouldn’t believe that Johnny Madrid was dead again unless he saw it with his own eyes.

Val stood and looked around.  He could see the shock on the faces of those around him.  He moved forward toward the pile of rubble.  He was determined to take that church apart piece by piece, by himself, if he had to until he found his friend, alive or dead.

Val stepped to the side of the fallen building and started pulling debris aside and throwing it away from him.   He knew how far they had gotten into the building.  Val knew  Johnny and Murdoch were somewhere near the center of the building.   He wasn’t going to stop until he knew for a fact that his friend was dead.

Cipriano and the Lancer men watched as Val attacked the debris.  Cipriano moved to stand beside Val and started moving the dense rubble away.  He turned to see his men joining him.  Without a word, they went to work.

 They all knew they wouldn’t stop until they found the Patron and his son.


Johnny picked up the lantern and started scanning the small room.  His hopes rose when he saw steps that lead to the door to the outside.  He’d only taken two steps toward the door when the world turned itself upside down again.

The ground started to shake, first a slowly followed by violent jarring.  

Huddling together near the center of the room, they heard the building above groan and start to collapse.  Everything around them shook, and crashing sounds told them the church was no longer standing.  The room filled with dust and dirt as the reality dawned on all of them that the little oasis they had just left was no more.

When the dust settled, they stood up, thankful that the floor joists over their head were still in place. 

Johnny found his father’s arms around him, pulling him close.  He gave no thought of moving away from the embrace and leaned into Murdoch’s broad chest.  When he finally leaned away and looked around, he saw everyone watching them.

Johnny blushed slightly and cleared his throat.    Picking up the lantern again, he moved toward the door.

Like most root cellars, the entrance was flush with the ground.   Pushing up against the hinged wooden door, Johnny found it wouldn’t budge.  Putting his good shoulder against the door, it still wouldn’t yield.  Several of the men came to help.  Even with the added manpower, the door wouldn’t give.  

Johnny stood back.  “It’s blocked from the outside.”

Looking back into the crawl space, they had just come from it appeared that part of it had collapsed when the building came down.

There was no other way out.  They were trapped.  They would have to wait for help to get to them. 

“How will they know we’re here?” Emily Wainwright asked as she looked around at the other people trapped with her.  She held her son, Jim, close to her.

Johnny thought for a moment.  Would they stop trying to get to them now that the building had collapsed?   Surely, they must think anyone who was left inside was dead.  He wouldn’t accept that.   

Johnny knew Val was out there and prayed Scott was with him.  Neither would stop until they knew for sure.  He had faith in both men.

There was nothing left for them to do but sit and wait. 


“Is everyone alright?” Johnny asked, looking around the room. “They won’t stop looking.  They’ll still come for us.”

Johnny saw the Widow Hargis slump to the floor and rushed to her.

“Ma’am, are you alright?” Johnny knelt beside her and put a hand on her shoulder.

She nodded.  “Oh, yes, I’m alright. Just a little shaky.”  She started laughing at what she’s said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Johnny laughed.  “I think we all are.”

Johnny moved away from the Widow and found a place against one of the walls.  Sitting down, he leaned back and closed his eyes. 

Feeling someone sit next to him, Johnny knew who it was without opening his eyes.

“Johnny, let me see your back.”

Johnny nodded and turned his back to his father, slipping his shirt off his shoulders.  

Murdoch frowned when he saw the edges of the cut were beginning to turn red, but thankfully it hadn’t started bleeding again. There was nothing he could do.  They didn’t have any water for him to clean the wound with.

Looking around, Murdoch saw the Widow Hargis tear off another piece of her petticoat and hand it to him.

“Try to wrap this around the boy’s chest and across his shoulder, Murdoch,” she said.  “We can at least try to keep the wound clean.”

He thanked her and wrapped the long piece of cloth around Johnny’s chest and shoulder.  As he tied the bandage off, his hands went to the boy’s bare shoulders.  

His eyes fell on the scars covering John’s back.  It broke his heart to know he hadn’t been there to protect his son.  For the millionth time, he cursed Maria.

“There now, put your shirt back on.” Murdoch reached for Johnny’s jacket.  “Put this on too.  It’s cold down here and I don’t want you getting a chill.”

Johnny almost laughed.  Murdoch was acting the overly protective father, and he was kind of liking it.

“Don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Johnny answered with a smile.  He wasn’t used to someone taking care of him.  

“You have a fever starting,” Murdoch stated, helping Johnny put the jacket on.

“Yeah, I know.”

Johnny started to lean against the wall.  Murdoch guided him against his chest.

“Lean into me, son.  It’ll be more comfortable than the wall.”


Johnny’s thoughts went to his brother and ‘sister.’   Had they made it out of the building before it had collapsed?  He hadn’t meant to voice the question, but it was out before he knew it.

“Murdoch, you think Scott and Teresa made it out?”

Murdoch closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I’m sure they did.  I would wager Scott is out there right now trying to get to us.”

Johnny only nodded, hoping that was the case.

They sat like that for almost an hour.  Hearing something, Johnny sat up.

“John?  What is it?”


The others sat up, straining to hear what Johnny had heard.

“I hear something.”  Young Jim Wainwright was on his feet.

“They’re still looking for us,” Johnny grinned.   “Cover your ears.”

Murdoch knew what his son was going to do.  He’d heard the young man whistle before, and it could puncture an eardrum.

“I suggest you do what he says,” Murdoch said, covering his ears.

Johnny took a deep breath and let out an ear-splitting whistle.  Waiting a few seconds, he whistled again.   When the noise stopped, he whistled for the third time. 

It wasn’t long before they heard sounds of men working start up again.


Scott, with Teresa’s help, walked to the side of the building where the workers were still moving rubble away from the site.  Teresa was trying to convince him to sit down when Scott heard a faint shrill whistle.

“Stop, Val, stop,” he called out.  “I heard something.”

“Hold up, everyone.   Be quiet,” Val called out.

All movement stopped.  They all listened.  After a few seconds, Val shook his head and was about to tell everyone to start work again when he heard the faint whistle himself.  A grin crossed his face when another whistle followed the first two.  Another whistle followed.

“Johnny?” he yelled.  “Can you hear me?” 

There was no response.  

“They’re alive in there somewhere.  Keep going,” Val called out.

More men showed up and started removing debris.   Little by little, they were making headway.  Sadly, as they made their way through the rubble, they found more bodies.  When they found a body, all work stopped while it was carried away. 

Night was beginning to fall, as exhausted men sank to the ground around the remains of the church.

Cipriano looked at his men.   He knew they had no more to give.  They needed rest and food.

Cipriano went to Val.  “We must rest and eat.  We can do no more tonight.  I also worry about Juanito and the Patron, but we cannot see.  We do not know where they are.  If we continue, we may do more harm.”

Val nodded.  He knew the Segundo was right.

“Alright, everyone, we’ll call it a night. We’ll start up again at first light.”

 Defeated, Val sank to the ground next to the church.    Looking around, he saw Scott and Teresa watching him.  Getting to his feet, Val went to them. 

“We’ll find them.  We know they’re alive.  Tomorrow …” Val didn’t finish the sentence.

Sam had been watching from across the street.   He walked over to Val and took his arm.

“Come on. You need to get some sleep.  Scott, I want you to lay back down.  Teresa, can you get them something to eat, and I want you to eat, too.”

Walking away from the church, they wondered how Murdoch and Johnny were doing.


Murdoch pulled out his pocket watch and held it up to the lantern.   It was close to 8:00 at night.

“It’s dark now.  I would imagine they’ll stop looking for tonight and start in the morning.”

Johnny nodded his agreement.  He looked around the small room for anything they could use for blankets.   Seeing a piece of canvas folded in the corner, he started to get up and fell back down against his father.

“Mr. Ryder,” Johnny pointing at the corner, “can you get that canvas?  It’s not much, but it may help keep the cold away tonight.”

“Good idea,” Ryder replied.  Unfolding the dusty piece of canvas, he spread it out on the dirt floor.  “It’s big enough that we can lay on it and fold some of it over us.”

“It’s the tent we use during socials,” Mrs. Wainwright informed them.  “There should be another small one here somewhere.”

The men spread the tent over the dirt floor and folded half of it back.  Once it was down, everyone started to move on top of it.

“We’d better get some sleep,” the Widow Hargis said.  “Johnny, you need to lay down, young man.  You don’t look well.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Johnny gave her a faint smile as Murdoch helped him to lay down..

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s forehead and could tell the fever was gaining strength.  Wishing they had some water, he lay down next to his son and wrapped an arm around him.

“Try to sleep, son,” Murdoch whispered into Johnny’s ear.

Johnny nodded and closed his eyes.  He knew his wound was infected, and the fever was building.  He just hoped Val and Scott would find them soon.


Even before the first hint of morning light, Val was standing at the church with Cipriano beside him.  

Val laid awake most of the night thinking.    They’d removed a great deal of the rubble the day before, and it was evident that the building had been flattened.    He couldn’t figure out how anyone could have gotten out alive.

Val turned as Teresa and Scott walked up.

“Miss Teresa, is there a basement under the church?” Val asked, looking at the young girl.  He could see she looked tired and pale.

“No,” she answered.  “There isn’t a basement, but there is a storage room.”  She looked at Val with a smile on her face.  

“Where?” Val looked back to the rubble.

“It’s near the back of the church.” She started running to the rear of the crumpled structure.  “There’s an outside door.  It’s right…..” 

Teresa turned the corner on the fallen building and came to a sudden stop.  The remains of the steeple were lying across the area where the door would have been.

“It was right here,” she said with a catch in her voice. 

Val looked at the fallen steeple and rubbed his chin.  “Let’s get some men over here.  We need to move all this away.”


Sam was standing near the church and had been since the work started that morning.   He was worried.  He knew Val was playing it safe in moving the rubble, but time was growing short for those inside the church. He caught Val’s attention.

“Doc?” Val wiped the sweat from his face.

“Val, it’s been 24 hours since they were trapped in there.  I’m worried that anyone injured will be in trouble by now.  Most, if not all, of them haven’t had any water for at least 25 hours.  The human body can go without food for days; water is another story.”

“How long can a person go without water?”

“It depends on what condition they’re in.  Let’s just say I’d like to get to them sooner than later.”


It took a few moments for Murdoch to completely wake up, but it didn’t take long to remember all that had happened the day before. 

He tried to move and felt a weight holding him down.  Moving his hands, he realized Johnny’s head was lying on his chest.   He wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders and pulled him closer to him.  He smiled as he felt Johnny snuggle into him.

It had been a long time since he had felt his son sleeping on his chest.  For the first two years of his life, the boy had fallen asleep at night on the broad chest.  Murdoch remembered there wasn’t a night he hadn’t moved the dark-haired little boy from his chest to his crib.

He lay there now, enjoying the feeling again.   He heard a faint moan. 

“John?” Murdoch spoke softly to his son.

“Yeah,” Johnny answered, trying to wake himself fully.   He realized where he was and what he was doing and started to move.  The arm holding him tightened.  He could hear his father’s heartbeat. 

“No, son,” Murdoch whispered, “you stay right there.  It’s been a long time since I’ve held you, and I’m not letting go.”



“You used to hold me like this?” Johnny asked, feeling safe in the man’s embrace.

“Every night and every time you cried.  I was the only one who could get you to sleep at night.  It seemed I was the only one to get you to stop crying.”  

Murdoch stroked the young man’s head.

Johnny sighed and relaxed.

“You were a tiny baby, but you had lungs like no baby I’d ever heard before or since.  Everyone on the ranch knew when you were unhappy.   The day you learned to crawl, we were so proud, right up to the moment we realized we couldn’t keep up with you.  You went straight from crawling to running.”

“Sounds like I was a handful,” Johnny whispered. 

“Yes, you were.  Still are,” Murdoch chuckled.  

Johnny continued to lay where he was for a few more minutes.  He’d almost dozed off when he shifted so slightly and winced with pain in his shoulder.


Murdoch felt his son’s muscles tighten under his arms.

“Some.”   Johnny was thankful his father couldn’t see his face.

“They’ll have us out today,” Murdoch’s voice was confident in what he was saying.

“I know,” Johnny answered, rolling away onto his back.  He moaned slightly when his back made contact with the floor.  “Don’t suppose the devil’s gonna’ collect his due today.  Not with us being in a church and all.”

“I suppose being in a church does have its merits,” Murdoch answered with a look of worry on his face.

“You think the reverend was right?  You think anyone’s soul can be saved, even mine?” Johnny asked with a ragged breath.

“I hardly think you are beyond redemption, son,” Murdoch said quietly. 

Johnny didn’t say anything.  His throat was so dry now that it was closing up.  He wanted to sleep, but there were things he needed to tell his father, things he didn’t want to go unsaid.

He’d come a long way in the last six weeks.  He’d hated this man for as long as he could remember. During the previous six weeks, he’d come to admire him and even start to have feelings for him.  He couldn’t say it was love yet.  There had been too many years of hate.  Now, he could feel the first stirring’s inside him of something more than the hate he’d carried with him  his whole life.

“John, why did you come to church yesterday?” Murdoch whispered.  “You made it plain how you felt about going to church.”

Johnny sighed.  “Because you asked me to.  Because I knew it would make you happy.   I thought about it for a while after you left.  Something told me I needed to be with you yesterday.  Are you sorry I came?”

Murdoch’s heart flipped. 

“Sorry?   I’m sorry you’re hurt.  I’m sorry you’re trapped here with the rest of us.   If I hadn’t asked you to come, you’d still be safe at the ranch.  Sorry, you came to church?  No John.  When I saw you standing inside those doors yesterday… well, you made me very happy.”

“How do you know I would have been safe at the ranch.  We don’t even know what’s happened there,” Johnny answered, thinking about his new home and hoping it would still be there when they got out of the trap they were in.

Murdoch didn’t answer.

“Murdoch,” he whispered as he rolled back toward his father, “need to tell you something.”   He looked at the face of his father only inches away from his.  “I hated you a long time for what I thought you’d done to Mama and me.  I know now what she told me was a lie.  She told a lot of lies.  Well, I just want to tell you I don’t hate you anymore.  Not sure how exactly I feel, but it ain’t hate no more.   Glad I got to meet you and Scott.  Glad ….”  His voice caught, and he started coughing.

Murdoch pulled his son’s head closer to him.   He could tell Johnny’s breathing had become labored and his fever was rising.

“I’m glad, son,” Murdoch said close to his son’s ear.  “I’m glad you don’t hate me.  I love you.  I’ve loved you since before you were born.  I only wish you could find it in you to love me.”

Johnny sighed.  He didn’t know how to answer the man.  He started coughing as the dust settled from above them.    


The little group had sat quietly for hours.

Murdoch eased out from under his sleeping son and sat up. 

Reverend Barns moved to sit beside Murdoch. 

“Is he alright?” Barns asked.

“No,” Murdoch answered.  “He has a fever and a cough.  He hasn’t fully healed from a bullet wound in his back.  I wish I hadn’t asked him to come yesterday.”

“I, for one, am glad he was here.  The Lord moves in mysterious ways, Mr. Lancer.  Would you have thought to tear up the floor of the church to get to this room?  I know I didn’t and wouldn’t have.  The Lord put your son with us yesterday for a reason.  I, for one, am very grateful,” the Reverend smiled.  “How long has he been home?”

“Six weeks.  He’s only been home just six weeks.  We’re just getting to know each other.”

“He’s not what I expected.”

Murdoch looked at the Reverend and frowned.

“I just mean that… well, how old is he?  I knew he was young, but….”

“He’s 18,” Murdoch replied as he reached out and stroked the side of Johnny’s face.  “He’s young, too young.  Unfortunately, the only thing most people know about him is what’s written in those damn dime novels.  I wish I could burn every one of them.”

“Mr. Lancer, I’m from Nogales. Johnny Madrid is quite a legend in Arizona and along the border.  I actually saw him in a gunfight a little over two years ago.”

The Reverend hesitated a moment before continuing.  “I was coming home from school and the stage had stopped in Tucson.

The first thing I saw was two men standing in the street-facing each other.   It’s hard to believe he was only fifteen or sixteen.   He looked so much older that day.  I don’t think I’ll ever get the image of him standing in the street with that red shirt on.  He tried to talk the other man out of the gunfight, but everyone watching knew that wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ve never seen anyone faster with a gun.   I swear I never even saw him draw.  It was little more than a blur.  The other man, a boy really, never got his gun out of his holster.  

“Your son walked away as if nothing had happened.  Another man was waiting for him with a horse.  He swung up into the saddle, looked around, and then rode out of town.   I’ll never forget it.  

“I must admit I have read some of those dime novels.”

Johnny was awake and listening to the Reverend.  He remembered the gunfight in Tucson.  He remembered the young red-headed kid that wouldn’t back down.   It had been Val waiting for him with his horse.  It was the last time he and Val were together in Tucson.

“Can’t believe what you read in them books,” a soft drawl drew their attention.  “About the only thing they get right is the name.”

“How do you feel, son?” Murdoch asked, helping Johnny to sit up.

“Be better if we had some water,” Johnny coughed.   “What time you think it is?”

“Close to noon.  They should be getting close to getting us out,” Murdoch answered as he leaned Johnny back against him.

“We haven’t met. I’m Joshua Barns.  Should I call you Mr. Madrid or Mr. Lancer?”

“Mr. Lancer is my father,” Johnny smiled.   He could feel Murdoch’s arm tighten on him.  “The names Johnny, Reverend.  Don’t think you better be calling me Madrid around Murdoch here.”    

“I look forward to getting to know you better, Johnny.”

“So, you think you can save my soul Reverend?” Johnny asked, giving the man a cold glare.  He’d known men like the Reverend before. 

“Johnny!” Murdoch snapped.

“It’s alright, Mr. Lancer,” the Reverend Barns said with a smile.  “Actually, I thought we might become friends, Johnny.  I don’t have many around here.  I don’t think you do either.   As for your soul, I don’t think it’s as lost as you seem to think it is.   I’m going to go check on the Widow Hargis.” 

Johnny and Murdoch watched as the young Reverend moved to the other side of the room.

“Sorry, I said anything,” Johnny mumbled.

Murdoch put his hand on his son’s forehead and frowned. 

“Your fever is higher.  I think you need to lay back down.”

Johnny nodded and laid down. 

The ground started to shake again.  The beams over their head groaned and shifted. Johnny sat up as the little group heard timbers snapping toward the front of the church.  The foundation of the church was giving way.  The crawl space they’d come through yesterday completely collapsed as the air filled with dust and dirt.

Johnny looked at the massive beams over their head.  He knew they wouldn’t last much longer.  Another aftershock and they would come down.  

Once the ground stopped shaking, and the dust started to settle, so did the people in the storage room.

“You need to turn the light out, Murdoch,” Johnny said.  “I don’t know how much air we have.”

Murdoch looked around the room.  He could see the others had heard.

“I’m going to turn the light out.  Johnny’s right.  I’m sure there is air getting in here somehow, but we need to save as much as we can.” 

He settled next to Johnny and turned the light out.  The room fell into darkness.

The only sounds were the faint noises above them and the breathing of the people in the room. Murdoch looked up when he heard a sound directly overhead.

“Their coming, son.  Hear them.   Listen, everyone; they’re coming.”

Putting his hand on Johnny’s face, he could tell the boy was asleep.  As dirt and dust fell faster, Murdoch pulled the canvas over their heads..


The day was getting hotter as the sun moved higher in the sky.  Every man working knew they were working against time. The last aftershock had caused more of the foundation to shift, and  collapse. 

Val moved a heavy board and saw the storage room door flush with the ground.

“Hold on.  Everyone, stop,” Val called out.

Everyone stopped moving. 

Val got down on his knees and scraped away loose dirt and debris from the portion of the door that was visible.   He beat on the door and yelled.  

There was no answer.

He beat on the door again.   Still, there was no answer.  

He felt someone next to him.  An ax appeared before him.   He turned his head to see Cipriano holding the ax out to him. 

Val took the ax and started knocking a hole in the door.  It didn’t take long before he broke through, allowing a shaft of light to penetrate the dark.  Still, there weren’t any signs of life in the room below.

“Let’s get this cleared.” Val stood up and moved back. 

Standing back,  Val took a deep breath.   He didn’t know what they were going to find down there and that scared him.  He looked around and saw men standing on the now cleared flooring above the storage room. 

His heart sank as the earth started rolling under his feet again.  He waited for it to pass.  Everyone who was standing on the church floor was now jumping to the ground.

What remained of the foundation of the building shifted.  Val hadn’t thought of how the roof storage room roof was holding up under the force of the quakes.  

“We gotta’ get that door cleared and open,” Val yelled.  “If that foundation shifts again, the ceiling in that storage room could fall.”


For sixteen people, it had been over twenty-eight hours since the earthquake.    Twenty-eight hours trapped with no water or food.   Most of those that lay in the small room were hurt to some degree.    All of those hurt had fevers.   

Still, they waited.  No one in the stuffy storage room saw the shaft of light that had broken through the darkness or heard the sound of Val’s voice.

When the earth started to shake and roll once again, none of them woke or heard the timbers above their head groan and shift.


Cipriano lifted the last piece of wood covering the door and stood back.   Val reached down and pulled at the door.  When it wouldn’t open, he tried again.  Finally, the door gave and swung up and out.

The room filled with light as Val quickly moved down the steps. Cipriano and Scott were right behind him.

At first, they couldn’t see anyone.   To the right side of the room, the canvas tarp lifted, and Jim Wainwright peeked out from under it.

Val everyone was under the canvas.   He started pulling it back, searching for the one person he wanted to see most.

Bob Wainwright rushed down the steps.  Seeing his son, he ran to him and grabbed him into his arms.   He looked down to see his wife lying next to the boy.

“Can you walk, Jim?” Wainwright asked his son.   The boy nodded.  “Go…,” Wainwright’s voice broke and pushed his son toward the steps.   

Jim Wainwright slowly walked up the steps and out into the bright sunlight.  Feeling like crying, the boy blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light.    He turned around to see his father coming behind him carrying his mother.  

Sam directed Bob Wainwright across the street.  Turning back, Sam waited for the next person to exit the storage room.  

More men entered the small room to help others out.  Val only glimpsed at Reverend Barns as one of the vaqueros guided him toward the sunlight.

“Here,” Val called out, finally seeing Murdoch and Johnny.  “Scott, they’re here.”

Cipriano didn’t say anything as he pushed past Val and knelt next to Murdoch. 


Cipriano lifted Murdoch to a sitting position.


Murdoch smiled at the sight of the Segundo’s face.  The smile vanished as he remembered where he was. 

Leaning over, he shook his son’s shoulder.   “Johnny.”  There was no response.  “Cipriano get him out of here.  Watch his back.”

“Come, Patron, the men will get Juanito.”

Murdoch struggled to his feet.  It was apparent he wasn’t going to be able to walk.    Cipriano motioned for the two vaqueros with him to help Murdoch.

Scott knelt next to his brother.  Even in the poor light, he could tell he was pale.

“Scott, move on out of the way.”  Val knelt and lifted Johnny into his arms.  Turning, he quickly followed Murdoch up the steps.

Teresa was waiting at the top of the steps.   She sighed a breath of relief upon seeing her family. The relief turned to panic as she saw both men being carried out.

Scott led the way.  Val had reached the last step leading to freedom when the earth started to shake again.  He fell to his knees, holding Johnny close to his chest. 

Behind him, the ceiling of the small room him started coming down. He threw himself and Johnny forward as the storage room filled with timbers and dirt. 


Sam shook his head, looking at the sixteen patients.   He went from person to person, evaluating each person’s injury. 

An exhausted Widow Hargis watched Sam bandage her arm.

“Sam, we’re lucky to be alive.”

“How in the world did you get into that storage room?”

“It was Murdoch’s boy, Johnny. He got us all down there.  He’s an amazing young man.  I don’t know why there are so many around here that don’t like the boy.”

Sam looked at her and smiled.  “Yes, he is amazing, isn’t he?”

“Have you seen to the boy, Sam?” she asked, looking around.  “I think he was hurt more than any of us.”

“I’ll see to him shortly,” Sam replied as he quickly wrapped her arm. “Now then, I want you to get something to eat and plenty to drink.  Then go home and get some sleep.”

She looked around.  “Do I still have a home?”

Sam hesitated.  “I honestly don’t know.  There not much left of the town.”

“Well, I’ll just go find out.”  She stood up and started to walk away.  “See to the boy, Sam.”

Sam looked around to see Murdoch sitting beside his son. 

“I’m sorry old friend.   Let me take a look at him.”

“He has a wound on his back, Sam. The ceiling fell in on us.  He pushed me out of the way and under one of the pews.”

“Turn him onto his stomach,” Sam said as he reached in his bag and took out a pair of scissors.  He started cutting the jacket and shirt off.  “I need him in my office,” he said with a frown on his face.


Murdoch sat in Sam’s office with a glass of water in his hand while Scott and Teresa sat with him.  It had been over an hour now.  

“Are you alright, sir?” Scott asked, noticing his father’s lost look.

“I’m fine, son.” Murdoch straightened up.  “I didn’t even ask.  How are you and Teresa?” 

“We’re fine.  Teresa was pushed out of the building right away.  Val pulled me out early on.  We’ve been worried about you and Johnny.  When we watched the building collapse….”   Scott’s voice broke.  He put his face in his hands.

Murdoch stood and walked over to sit next to Scott, putting an arm around the young man’s shoulders.   It was the first time Murdoch had ever held his eldest son in his arms.   Pulling him closer, Murdoch put his head on top of Scott’s, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.   

“We’re alright, son.  Your brother found a way to get us out of the building and into the storage room,” Murdoch said as Scott continued to lean against him.

Scott pushed back and looked up at his father. 

“Thank you, sir,” Scott said as he wiped a hand across his face.  It was hard for him to show emotions.  Emotions weren’t something his grandfather had tolerated.   Now here he was crying and leaning against a man he hardly knew.  Yet it felt right.

“Your brother and I were worried about you and Teresa,” Murdoch said, knowing the moment was passing.

Teresa watched the interaction between the two men, knowing how much it had meant to both of them.

Murdoch looked at the young girl and saw tears in her eyes.  He held out an arm, and she flew to his side.    He had one arm around Scott and one around Teresa and pulled them both into him.


Finally, Sam walked into the room.  He looked at the three people waiting for answers.

“The wound in his back is infected.  I’ve cleaned it out.  He lost some blood, but it appears not a lot.  Naturally, he’s weak, dehydrated, and he has a fever.” Sam sat down, taking a breath.    “I don’t know how much more I can do.  He’s young, but he is just healing from the bullet wound in his back.  It’s only been six weeks.”

“But he will be alright, won’t he, Sam?” Teresa asked.

“When can we take him home?” Murdoch asked.

“To answer your question, Teresa, he will be alright.  To answer your question, Murdoch, I think you can take him home this afternoon,” Sam answered with a smile.   “The fever is the thing we need to watch.”


“Johnny?”  Scott’s voice was piercing the darkness.  Johnny pressed his head back into the soft pillow and took a deep breath.  He drifted into deep sleep again.

“He started to come around,” Scott’s voice again was drifting toward him as if on the wind. 

“Son?” Murdoch’s voice this time.  

There was something he needed to remember.  He wasn’t sure what it was.  At that moment, it wasn’t as important as sinking back into the darkness and pulling it over his head.  He wanted nothing more than to sleep.

“Sam, he’s not waking up.  It’s almost like he’s coming around, but he keeps slipping away,” Murdoch’s voice was drawing him to the surface.

“Let me see.”  Johnny could tell it was Sam.   “Johnny?  It’s time to wake up.  Let me use some smelling salts on him.”

The terrible odor of ammonia invaded his senses.  He wanted to pull away from it, but it seemed to be following him.  His eyes shot open and just as suddenly closed, as bright light seemed to envelop him.

“Johnny?” Sam gently shook his shoulder.

“Sam?” Johnny responded, coughing slightly.

“That’s right.  Can you open your eyes for me?” Sam smiled as he saw the first sliver of blue under the long dark lashes.

Johnny’s eyes slowly became accustomed to the light of the room, his room, his bed.  That ‘s when he realized what he was supposed to have remembered.

“Murdoch?” he propelled himself upright in the bed only to catch a breath as sudden pain shot through his shoulder.

“Right here, son.” Murdoch leaned over the bed.  “Everything’s alright.  You’re home.”

Johnny tried to swallow but  his throat was so dry it had closed up.  “Water.”

“Here,” Scott held a glass to his brother’s lips.  “Take it easy.  You don’t want to make yourself sick.”

“Scott, you alright?”

Johnny looked into his brother and his eyes fell on the bandage on Scott’s forehead.  He reached up to touch it.

Scott’s hand caught Johnny’s. “I’m fine.”

Johnny looked around the room, “Teresa?”

“She’s alright,” Scott answered, taking the glass away.

“You got us out,” it was more of a statement than a question. Johnny laid back on the pillow and let his head sink into it.

“Val, Cipriano, the Lancer hands, and most of the town got you out,” Scott smiled.

“What about Barranca?   I left him in front of the church.” Johnny hadn’t even thought of his friend until that moment.

“He’s in the barn.  He must have broken loose and come home.  He was here when we got home. He’s fine.   Not a scratch on him,” Murdoch answered.

“The ranch?  Much damage?” Johnny rolled onto his side, trying to get comfortable.

“Some minor damage, but nothing like Green River.”

Johnny frowned.  “How many?”

“All told there were eleven dead in Green River.   Most of them in the church,” Murdoch sat on the side of the bed and put his hand on his son’s shoulder.  “There would have been 16 more if it weren’t for you.”

Johnny didn’t say anything. 

“Are you hungry?” Scott asked, wondering what his brother was thinking.

“I guess so.  How long has it been since I ate?”  Johnny’s stomach was growling.

“You ate breakfast on Sunday morning.  That was three days ago.” Murdoch reached out and stroked his son’s head.

“How long before they got us out?” he asked, enjoying the feel of his father’s touch.

“Twenty-eight hours,” Murdoch answered, smiling at the satisfied look on his son’s face.

“I’ll get you something to eat,” Scott moved to the door.  “Be right back.”

“So, Sam, how bad am I?” Johnny looked at the doctor.

“You took a slight hit to the head and have a deep gash on your back. You had a high fever, but it has come down.  You need to rest and stay in bed at least another day.  Drink as much water as you can and, of course, eat.” Sam said as he lifted Johnny’s wrist and took his pulse.   “I’m going back to town and check on my other patients.” 

“Thanks, Sam,” Johnny said as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep again.


When Johnny woke the next time, he found his father sitting next to the bed watching over him.  He still wasn’t used to someone caring about him like these people did.

“John, you’re awake.” Murdoch moved closer to the bed.  “Do you need anything?”

“Some water,” he answered, watching the tall man move stiffly to the table and get a glass.  He filled it with water and came back to sit on the edge of the bed.

“How do you feel?” he asked as he handed the glass to his son. 

“I’m fine,” Johnny gave his usual answer to any question about his health or how he felt.  He thought for a second and followed his response up with, “Feeling pretty good.   Still sore, but nothing I can’t handle.”   He realized it was the longest answer he had ever given anyone when asked the same question.

“I’m glad.” Murdoch took the glass from Johnny and sat it down.  “Sam said you could get up in a chair today if you feel like it.”

“Guess I’ve been sleeping a lot.  What time is it?” Johnny pushed himself up in the bed and looked toward the window.  He could tell the sun was still bright.  A warm breeze blew the curtains on the window inward.

“Almost lunchtime.  Scott should be coming in soon.  Are you hungry?”  Murdoch asked as he walked to the window and looked out over the yard and corral.

“I could eat a cow, hoofs and all about now,” Johnny laughed.  “Kinda’ tired of broth.”

“I think I can arrange something better than broth today.” Murdoch turned to watch the smile on his son’s face, the smile that melted his heart.

“Did I hear someone asking for a whole cow to eat?” Scott entered the room, smiling.

“So, what have you been doing Boston,” Johnny asked, looking at his brother.

 He could tell that in the few weeks they’d been at Lancer, his brother had gotten a tan, and his hair was lighter due to the sun.  He could also see a more muscular version of the man he had met on the stage almost seven weeks earlier.  

“Working, brother, working.  Something you’re going to join in doing as soon as the doctor clears you.”

“Yeah, I seem to have spent more time laid up than not since we got here,” Johnny grinned. 

“I heard today that they are going to start rebuilding the church in Green River,” Murdoch said.  “Until then, services are going to be held at the Mission in Morro Coyo.”

“Don’t be expecting me to go to church again anytime soon,” Johnny spoke up. “I think I pushed my luck just about as far as I want to when it comes to church.”

Murdoch held back for a few moments and then spoke up, “I was hoping you would go with the family this next Sunday, son.  I know you’re probably not going to be well enough to go this Sunday, but…”

Johnny looked at his father and then at his brother.

“You don’t think maybe I should stay out of church for a while?  I’ve tempted fate and the devil enough.  I told you, old man, no amount of going to church is going to save my soul.  I have too much blood on my hands for that.”   Lowering his head, Johnny turned away from his father and brother.

“Johnny, let me ask you a question.” Scott looked at his brother with concern.  “How many men have you killed?”

Johnny’s head shot up.  Of all the questions, he would have thought Scott would have asked him at that moment that was not one of them.

“Ask him,” Johnny snapped, looking at his father. “He has all the Pinkerton reports.”

“I’ve read the reports.  They don’t tell us everything,” Scott answered.  “Conservatively, how many would you say?”

Johnny looked at him questioningly.

Scott realized his brother didn’t know what conservatively meant.  “A low number.”

Johnny sighed. “Don’t know.  Lost count a long time ago.”

The answer surprised both Murdoch and Scott.

“Johnny, I’ve heard the men talking about you.  The vaqueros talk about Johnny Madrid as a hero.  How many villages did you help in Mexico?  How many people have you helped?  How many people are alive today because of you?” Scott asked.  “I know there are fifteen people alive in Green River because of you, our father being one of them.”

“It don’t work like that, Scott,” Johnny answered.  “I came close to selling my soul when I was ten years old.  Did that Pinkerton report tell you that?  Did the reports tell you about the man I killed?  I sealed the deal when I was twelve, and I never looked back.   Saving one life or a hundred doesn’t change that.  It ain’t ever gonna change that.”

“You’re wrong, son,” Murdoch spoke up.  “We’re just getting to know each other, and I can tell you the young man I know is far from having lost his soul.  I’ve known men without a soul, and you are not one of them.”

“Johnny, you always put others before yourself.  Is that the reason?  You don’t feel your life is worth anything?  You don’t deserve to live?”  The realization had just come to Scott.  He’d seen the recklessness in his younger brother.  Now he understood why. 

“I’m living on borrowed time.” Johnny looked toward the window.   He couldn’t look them in the eye.  “I thought I’d have been dead a long time ago.  Should have been dead.”

“I, for one, am glad you’re not, little brother,” Scott answered.  “I, too, have seen men without a soul.  I have to agree with Murdoch; you’re not one of them.”

Johnny looked at both men knowing what they were saying and still not believing a word of it.  He’d done a lot of bad things in his life.  He knew where he would end up when the end finally came, and it wouldn’t be with a pair of wings.

“So how about something to eat.  I’m wasting away here.” Johnny changed the subject.

Murdoch and Scott knew the discussion was closed.  

“I’ll get you something.” Murdoch stood up.  “Do you want me to bring you a tray, Scott, or will you come down?”

“I’ll go down with you.  I need to clean up some before I eat.  Rest brother.  I’ll see you this afternoon.”  Scott smiled and ruffled Johnny’s hair.   “You need a haircut.”

He didn’t wait for the reply.


Johnny sat outside on the veranda, soaking up the warmth of the sun.  It felt good to get out of his room.  Sam told him to take it easy for a few days, and he’d decided that for once, he was going to do exactly what the doctor told him to do.

As he sat there looking out on the ranch, he wondered how once again he’d beaten the devil at his own game. 

‘Must have nine lives.’    He snorted.  A hell of a lot more than nine when you think about it.   He’d been cheating death for as long as he could remember.  The odds were always against him, but once again, he’d stared death in the face and come out alive.

“Enjoying yourself, little brother?” Scott said as he walked up and sat down next to his brother.

“As a matter of fact, I am.” Johnny smiled, looking at the blond man sitting next to him.  There were times he still couldn’t believe he had a brother.  The reality sometimes felt so fragile he thought if he examined it too closely, it would fall apart and crumble in his hands.

“You’ve surprised all of us,” Scott said as he took his hat off and watched his brother enjoying the sun.

“Surprised you?” Johnny frowned.

“Yes.  You’re doing what Sam said to do.  We figured you’d be fighting tooth and nail to get back at it before you were ready.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.

“Johnny, I know we don’t know each other well yet, but… is there something wrong?”

Scott watched the younger man’s face trying to catch any reaction to his words.

“No, Scott, nothing’s wrong,” Johnny answered, looking down at his hands folded over his stomach. “Everything is right for a change.”

“That so?” Scott smiled.   He could see the change that had come over his brother since their talk the other day.  It was almost as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  “That’s good because as soon as you’re back on your feet, there is a gully that needs to be fenced, and Murdoch wants you to help me with some surveying.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Johnny smiled.  “Guess I better get rested up for it.”  He tipped his head back to let the sun hit him and took a deep breath.   “Just gonna’ sit here and take a siesta.”


On Sunday morning, Murdoch walked into the kitchen and sighed.  Sitting at the breakfast table were two of his children, dressed and ready for church. 

Scott looked at his father and smiled. 

“Good morning, Scott.”

 Murdoch moved to his seat.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning, Teresa.”

“Good morning.”

“Have you seen your brother this morning,” Murdoch asked as he watched Teresa place a plate in front of him.

“No, sir….” Scott started to say.

“Looking for me?” the voice startled all of them.

They turned to see Johnny standing at the bottom of the kitchen stairs.    He was dressed in a crisp white shirt with black buttons, his black calzoneras, and a bolero jacket.  A sling holding his left arm in place was made of a material to match his jacket. 

“Good morning, John.”  Murdoch watched his youngest closely.

“Morning,” Johnny replied as he slid into his place at the table.

“I see you’ve decided to go to church with us today,” he said as he lifted a cup of coffee.

“Thought I might, seeing as it’s at the Mission.  Heard tell it held up pretty good after the earthquake.  It might not fall down around my ears if we have another one.” Johnny smiled and looked at his father.

“That’s true,” Murdoch laughed. “However, I certainly hope we don’t have another earthquake today or anytime in the near future.”

“‘Course it could get struck by lightning,” Johnny grinned.  “Maybe I should stay at home.”

“Oh no, you don’t, little brother,” Scott chimed in.  “I think we’re a lot safer with you with us than without you.”

“I agree,” Teresa spoke up.

“Are you sure you’re up to it?  I don’t want you overdoing it.”  The concern was evident in the older man’s voice.

“I feel fine.”

Murdoch looked at the clothes his son had on.  He didn’t say anything.  He knew he would fit in nicely with the Mexican community attending church today at the Mission.

“Eat up.  We leave in thirty minutes,” Murdoch said as he watched his children eating.  “You do realize you will be riding in the surrey with the family?”

“Figured as much,” Johnny answered, taking his first bite.

“Your gun…,” Murdoch started.

Johnny laid his fork down.

“I’ll take it off and leave it in the surrey when we get there, not before,” Johnny cut him off and waited for a response.

Murdoch smiled. “That will do just fine, John.” 

Johnny looked across the table at his brother and smiled.   He picked up his fork and started eating again.


Murdoch guided the surrey toward the arch, followed by all of the families and men going to church. The procession leaving Lancer that day took only one road, the road to Morro Coyo.

Johnny was sure that by the time they reached town, he was going to be sick.  He was sitting in the rear of the surrey with Scott.  The moment they passed under the arch, he’d stretched his legs out and pulled his hat down over his eyes, trying to relax.

Every bump and shake of the surrey sent pain through his shoulder.  Soon his stomach was churning, and he was regretting what little breakfast he’d eaten.

Scott was watching his brother closely.  He knew Johnny was anything but relaxed.  Every time the surrey hit a rut or swayed, Johnny tensed. 

“Are you alright?”  Scott laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

Johnny straightened up and pushed his hat back.  Scott could see the pale color of the young man’s face. 

“Murdoch!” Scott reached forward and touched his father’s shoulder.  “Let the others pass and pull over.”

Murdoch glanced over his shoulder and saw the color of his youngest son’s face.  He pulled the surrey to the side and waved the others behind him to pass.

“John?” Murdoch stepped out of the surrey and moved to the other side.

“Just need a minute,” Johnny said as he stepped down from the surrey.  He found his father’s hand holding his arm.

The others from Lancer moved past the stopped surrey.

“Patron?” Cipriano called out as he stopped the buggy he was driving.

Murdoch looked at his Segundo without smiling.  “We’ll be along in a few minutes.  Go on ahead.”

Cipriano nodded and continued along.  

Johnny had waited until the last of the procession passed before he leaned against the surrey, taking deep breaths.

“We can go back.” Murdoch rubbed his son’s back in slow circles.

“No.  I’m fine.  Just need to settle my stomach.  Didn’t realize how rough this road was.”

Johnny gave him a weak smile.

Scott handed Johnny a canteen.  Johnny took it and a small sip of water.  Finally, he sighed and nodded.

“I’m alright.  Let’s go.”  Turning, he stepped back into the surrey. 

“No, you’re riding in front with me,” Murdoch said before Johnny could step up.  “Teresa, can you move to the back, sweetheart?”

“Of course,” Teresa answered as Scott helped her down and then back up into the back seat of the surrey.

Murdoch helped Johnny into the front seat and then moved to the other side of the surrey and got back into his seat.  He gently flicked the reins, and the surrey moved on again.


Mission bells were ringing as Murdoch came to a stop in front of the old structure.  As he helped Johnny down, he looked around to find Cipriano and people from Lancer waiting for them.

“Patron, we will go in as all families do, together.,”

Cipriano stepped aside for Murdoch to lead the Lancer family into the Mission.

“John, your gun,” Murdoch said as he looked at the pale face of his son.

Johnny nodded and took off the rig.  He handed it to Scott, who wrapped the belt around the holster and placed it under the seat of the surrey.   Johnny took his hat off and put it on top of the gun.

Murdoch took Teresa’s arm and guided her toward the mission church. 

As they entered the building, all eyes turned to them.   

Johnny noticed Val standing at the rear of the church.  He smiled at his friend and wished he could be standing with him.   Suddenly he had a thought. 

“Murdoch,” Johnny whispered.    

Murdoch looked at his son.

“Val,” Johnny nodded toward his friend.    “Think he can…?”

“Certainly,” Murdoch answered and walked over to the new sheriff.

“Val, would you sit with us today?”

Val thought for a second and nodded.  He moved over to stand on the other side of Johnny.

“Cipriano, where…?” Murdoch turned to the Segundo, asking where they were supposed to sit.

Cipriano took Maria’s arm and led her in.  “This way, Patron,” he replied, leading the Lancers in.

Cipriano knelt on one knee while Maria dipped down, both making the sign of the cross before moving down the aisle.

Murdoch followed with Teresa.  He looked back to see his youngest son take a knee and make the sign of the cross.  He noted that Scott stood beside him and helped him to rise again.

Soon everyone was seated.

Reverend Barns and Father Antonio stood at the front of the church side by side.   Father Antonio began the service with a prayer.  Those that were Catholic moved to their knees and bent their heads. 

Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa lowered their head.  Murdoch smiled as he watched Johnny slide from the pew and onto his knees.   He remembered the last time he’d been in this church with his young son.  Johnny had been almost two years old and was doing everything he could to get out of his father’s arms.

Once the prayer was over, Reverend Barns took the pulpit.

“Friends, neighbors, I want to thank Father Antonio for his welcome.   He and his parishioners have opened their arms and their hearts to us.   We will be rebuilding the church in Green River; however, until that time, we will be worshiping here.

“Last week was my first time to stand before you at the church in Green River.  I must say that it is a day I will never forget for more than one reason.

“My sermon last week was obviously not well received by the Lord.”

There was quiet laughter among those that had been in Green River the prior week.

“I have a new and different perspective on life this week.  I have spent this last week reflecting on what I learned in a short twenty-eight-hour period last week.  I was one of those the Lord chose to spare, and I wondered why.

“We lost so many. However, many were spared.  It reminds us that all things happen for a reason and that all things happen in their own time.   The Lord puts us where he wants us at the time he wants us. 

“We lost friends, family, and neighbors last week and since that day, they have been laid them to rest.  In my limited experience, I have found that someday we will forget the hurt, the reason we cried, and who and what caused the pain.

“Ecclesiastes 3 says there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.

“When we pray, God hears more than we say and answers more than we ask.  He gives more than we imagine, in His own time and in His own way.

“Have you ever wondered why things happen the way they do?    Have you ever wondered why certain people enter our lives, stay for a while, and then exit?    Have you ever had a feeling that you should do something, and that feeling was so strong you couldn’t do anything else?

“Over the years, it’s been called a lot of things.   You may have heard it called Destiny, or Chance, or even Providence, while some call it Karma.  I’ve heard it called God’s will as well.  I call it Fate. 

“As my own father would say, “Yep, Fate jumps right in there when you least expect it.”

“I want to tell you two stories today.   The first story is about me and how Fate and the hand of the Lord lead me to this moment.

“I was born and raised in Nogales, Arizona.  I was orphaned at a very young age and was taken in by a rancher and his wife.   When I was old enough, I attended college in Boston and graduated just over a year ago from Harvard.   It was while I was in Boston I choose the ministry.

“Four months ago, I was in Tucson visiting with a close friend who is the Padre of the Mission in Tucson.  I have known Padre Mateo for many years and admired him greatly.”

Johnny’s head shot up.  He knew Padre Mateo very well himself.

“On the day I was visiting him, he told me that his dear friend Father Antonio had written him of a position at the church in Green River.   Padre Mateo urged me to apply for the post.  It was on this same day that I found Padre Mateo extremely distressed. 

“You see, there had been a small revolution in one of the Mexican communities south of the border.  The people had rebelled against one of the Dons.  The Don’s poor treatment of the people was well known.  Finally, the people could stand it no more and started organizing a revolt.”

Johnny realized what the Reverend was going to say.  He didn’t want his family to hear this story, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. 

“The people asked for the help of a man who was well known to the people of Mexico.  The man is considered a legend—a champion of the people. 

“The champion of the people agreed to help.  This man was not paid for his help, nor did he ask for payment.

“Unfortunately, the revolution failed.  The leaders of the revolution, including the champion of the people, were arrested by the Rurales.  All of them were put into prison and sentenced to death.”

Johnny was getting anxious.  He looked around at his father, “I gotta get out of here.”

“Sit still, John,” Murdoch whispered.  He still hadn’t realized the Reverend was talking about his youngest son.  Johnny looked at Scott.  He could tell Scott knew who the Reverend was talking about.

The Reverend continued, “Padre Mateo knew the young man who was the champion of the people and was upset he was going to be executed.  That day, four months ago, we knelt in prayer for the young man and for the others who were to die.

“I also had a connection with the young man.  Although I had never met him, he helped my foster father and mother two years ago during a range war.  My father’s name is Joe Worthington.  My mother’s name is Molly.  To this day, my father and mother speak warmly of the young man.”

Johnny looked at Val.  They both smiled.  They’d helped the Worthington’s during that range war.  Johnny shook his head.  The Reverend was Joe and Molly’s boy.   He’d been away at school while the fighting was going on.

“I applied for the position in Green River and quickly received a reply.  I traveled here and met with the church committee.  After meeting and talking to them, I was offered the position.  I believe it was Fate that guided me to this valley.

“I returned home to gather my belongings and say goodbye to my family.  While I was at home, I traveled to Tucson and visited Padre Mateo.   On that day, he told me the prayers of so many were answered, and the champion of the people had been spared.

“He said that at the very moment the young man was to be executed before a firing squad, an angel sent by God had ridden in and saved the young man’s life.”

Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, and Val all turned to look at Johnny, who had dipped his head and trying to scoot down in the seat.  

“Of course, I don’t know that the person who saved the young man was a true angel, but the people of Mexico believe that God sent the man who saved their champion. 

“My second story is about a man who had lost two sons.  That man spent years praying for his son’s return.  When he thought all was lost, his prayers were answered.”

Reverend Barns looked directly at Murdoch.  Murdoch glanced around to see everyone also looking at him.

“Almost two months ago, that man’s prayers brought two men to this valley.  Two fine, strong sons.  Two men that the Lord brought to us at the right time, for the right reason.

“I know the valley has had mixed emotions on the arrival of one of these sons, but I know that the Lord guided him to us for a specific reason.   

“Last week that young man was in the right place, at the right time.  The Lord put him in the church in Green River.  This is a young man, I am told, who never goes to church.   However, on that day, Fate and the hand of the Lord guided him into our church, and I am genuinely thankful for it.

“That man saved the lives of fifteen people.  He saved my life.  I don’t have to tell you the man’s name.  Every man, woman, and child here knows who he is.”

Johnny had long since passed the point of being uncomfortable.  Scott had placed a hand on his left knee at the beginning of the service.  Murdoch had taken hold of his right knee shortly after that.  He looked to his left and saw Val with a grin on his face.

“My sermon last week was of redemption.  I no longer feel that there is a reason for that sermon.  There is no one I know, and no one here today who’s soul has not already been saved.

“You may ask yourself, can a person change?  I know people change.  I know people don’t change because we want them to.  People change because they want to.  They have to find their own desire to change in their own and in their own time. 

“Sometimes change is as quick as lightning and other times, change takes time, but we must realize that things unfold in their own way and in their own time.  After all, what matters is not the first, but the last chapter of our life, which shows how well we ran the race.

“I have been asked by all those who were with me last week in a small storage room under the church in Green River to express our gratitude to the young man who the Lord placed with us.  Thank you, Johnny.

“Yes, all things happen for a reason, and all things happen in their own time.”

Reverend Barns stepped down, and Father Antonio stepped forward.   He smiled as he watched the blush on Johnny’s face.

“My children, I could not have spoken more eloquently than Reverend Barns. 

“Reverend Barns has told you two stories.  I have to disagree with him.  There are not two stories; there is but one story.

“I believe in the Lord’s work. However, I also believe that the Lord guides fate.

“You see, the champion of the people escaped the Rurales with the help of a Pinkerton agent.  That was the angel who rode in only moments before the champion was to be executed.  That agent was sent by the father of the two young men who came into our valley two months ago.

“The people of Mexico have long known the man he spoke of today.  Many times, the Lord has sent this man to the right place at the right time.  Yes, he is considered a legend and a champion of our people.

“Last week the champion of the people of Mexico also became the savior of the people in the church of Green River.

“Our champion, Johnny Madrid, rode out of Mexico and into this valley.  He is now the same Johnny Lancer who saved Reverend Barns and the others last week.”

There was a murmur among the people in the church.

“As Reverend Barns said, all things happen for a reason, and all things happen in their own time.

“The Lord does work in mysterious ways.  We don’t know why things happen. However, there is always a reason.

“I ask you to think about this.  If Murdoch Lancer had not sent a Pinkerton agent to Mexico to find his son, that son would not be here today.   If that son had not been guided to church last Sunday, the lives of fifteen people would have been lost.  If Reverend Barns had not gone to see Padre Mateo four months ago, he would not be here today to tell you the story of Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer.

“You see, all things happen for a reason.”


The rest of the service was conducted, and everyone exited the church.

The moment Johnny was clear of the door, he almost ran to the surrey.  He was more than ready to get back to the ranch.

“Johnny!”  The Reverend’s voice was quiet as it called out to him.

Johnny turned to see Reverend Barns walking toward him, followed by his family and Val.

“I’m glad I’ve finally got to meet you and tell you who I am,” Barns smiled.  “My Ma and Pa think the world of you.    If it hadn’t been for you… well, I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”  

“So, you’re Joe and Molly’s, son.  They talked about you all the time.  They’re proud of you,” Johnny said as Val came to stand next to him.  “Val, can you believe this is Joe and Molly’s boy?”

Val reached out a shook the Reverend’s hand.  “Johnny’s right, Joe talked about you all the time.  He is proud of you.  Both Johnny and I owe them a lot.  Your folks doing alright?”

“They’re fine.  They spoke of you also.  You’re Val,” Barns smiled.  “Imagine me telling them that you’re a Sheriff now and that Johnny’s a rancher.”

Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa stood silently by listening to the men talk.  All three had just heard the story Johnny hadn’t told them about Mexico and the close call he’d had with the firing squad.

“Reverend,” Murdoch spoke up.  “I want to thank you for what you said in there.”

“Mr. Lancer, I genuinely believe that all things happen for a reason.    I believe in Fate.  You do realize there is one common denominator in all of this.  That’s Johnny himself.

“If Johnny and Val hadn’t been in Nogales two years ago and helped my parents, I know, I wouldn’t have finished school.  I wouldn’t have taken to the ministry.  I wouldn’t have been with Padre Mateo when he learned of the position at the church in Green River, and I wouldn’t have been in the church last week.”

Scott broke in, “Yes, but if you hadn’t been in the church, you wouldn’t have needed to be saved.”

The Reverend smiled, “Yes, that’s true, however, if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been able to bring Johnny’s story to the people of Green River and Morro Coyo.” 

Johnny started to shake his head. 

“No, Johnny, don’t you understand,” the Reverend spoke before Johnny could.  “You have touched a lot of lives.   We never know why something happens. However, I truly believe that all things happen for a reason.   We still don’t know why some people were spared last week, and some weren’t.  Fate hunted us all out and brought us together.”

“I agree,” Scott spoke up. 

“I understand you went to Harvard as well, Scott,” the Reverend turned to Scott.

“Yes.  I would imagine we have a lot in common,” Scott answered, watching his little brother.  He could see the relief on his face that he was no longer the subject of the conversation. 

“I look forward to talking to you,” Barns smiled.

“Why don’t you come to Sunday dinner,” Teresa spoke up.

“I can’t today, however, if the offer is still open perhaps next Sunday?”

“That’s settled then,” Murdoch smiled.    “John, are you ready to go home?  You look a little pale.”

“I’m ready.  Probably need to get out of town before something happens to spoil the moment,” Johnny laughed.

Murdoch placed an arm around his son and pulled him close.

“Nothing could spoil this moment, son.”

“Don’t be so sure, old man,” Johnny grinned.  “You know you can never tell when something is gonna happen.  What did you call it, Reverend, Fate?   Fate just might be hunting for someone else for me to meet up with right now.”

“You’re right,” Murdoch turned Johnny’s shoulders toward the surrey.  “Val, are you coming to dinner today?”

“Wouldn’t say no to a good meal, Mr. Lancer,” Val laughed.  “I’ll be along in a little bit.”

Murdoch helped Johnny into the surrey while Scott helped Teresa. 

As the surrey moved away from the Mission, Johnny looked to see Father Antonio smiling at him. 

“Truly, all things happen for a reason, and in their own time,” the Father said almost in a whisper.  He said a silent prayer for the champion of the people as he watched the surrey move away.

~ end ~
August 2018

To Madrid’s Army

Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or  Email SandySha directly.


7 thoughts on “Fate is the Hunter by SandySha

  1. I enjoyed this story. I like the way it portrays the growing relationship between Johnny and Murdoch; and the long term relationship between Johnny and Val. Thank you to SandySha for writing and posting.


  2. This was full of drama and emotion. I loved it. After reading Johnny’s last paragraph I have a feeling that Fate is preparing for Wes to appear on the scene and wreck the growing relationship between Johnny and Murdoch, for a short time anyway. It will regrow as we know, stronger than before.


  3. Absolutely loved this. I love how you showed the connection Johnny had with everyone. Loved how resourceful he was in the earthquake and the Johnny Murdoch time even in a crisis. Murdwas enjoying holding his boy.


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