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On My Way Home by SandySha

Word Count 13,921

*I don’t own them and make no money from their use.
*A/R- Episode tag-WHN- Chase a Wild Horse – with a little twist of my own.
**Thanks go to Alice Marie and Diana for help with the beta.  Any mistakes are all mine.



November 24, 1870

The Tucson saloon was cool and comforting compared to the stifling heat of the street outside.  The darkened room, a brief and welcome reprieve from the relentless Arizona sun.

Seated at a corner table, the scruffy-looking man fingered a glass of rye he’d ordered but had yet to taste.  Rye wasn’t his whiskey of choice, but it was all they had. 

On hearing the saloon doors open, his eyes shot up.  A man walked in, but not the one he was anxiously awaiting.  He’d been waiting for almost an hour and patience…well, he’d never been a patient man.

The batwing doors swung open again and the sound of spurs jingling told him his wait was over. Looking up, he breathed a sigh of relief and let a smile ghost over his face when the dark-haired boy stepped in, scanned the room, and then headed straight for him.

Standing, he watched the young man cross the room. Although considerably thinner than he remembered and looking like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, the boy otherwise looked good. 

Waiting until he was no more than an arm’s length away, Val reached out, grasped his friend’s outstretched hand, then pulled him into a brief hug. 

“It’s good to see you.  Damn good.”

Smiling, the young man answered, “It’s good to see you too, Val.”

“Sit down, let me buy you a drink.  You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Johnny. Why haven’t you kept in touch?”

Pulling out the chair in the corner, Johnny sat and once again checked the room out. It was an old habit, but one that had served him well over the years.

As Val retook his seat, the bartender edged his way closer to the two men and waited.

Satisfied there was no one in the room that posed a threat, Johnny relaxed and glanced at the man waiting for his order.


The bartender nodded, looked at Val who shook his head, and then went to get the gunfighter’s drink.  The bartender had been in Tucson long enough to know it didn’t pay to rile Johnny Madrid.

Once the drink was delivered and the barkeep walked away, Val shifted his chair closer to Johnny’s and waited.  Finally, his patience gave out.

“Alright, Amigo, talk.  Six months and not a word, not one damn word?  Why?  I can understand why you haven’t kept in touch with Murdoch but me…we go back too far.”

Johnny dipped his head.

“I know, Val, I just… well, it was hard at first.  After I left, the old man’s words kept cutting into me like a knife.  I wanted to forget; Lancer, Green River, all of it.  It was too hard to remember.”

The words were as fresh to him today as they were six months earlier.

“The only thing wrong around here has always been you.  So, get out…  Listen and listen hard.  I don’t need you now or, ever.  Now, get off my land.” 

Johnny downed the drink in one gulp.

“I know what he said and why.  You know he didn’t mean it, any of it.”

“Maybe, but it was more than just the words and you know it.”

“Yeah, I know…I know why you left Lancer behind, but you left me behind, too.  That hurts, it hurts bad.  I’ve been worried sick about you, almost as worried as Murdoch and Scott have been.”

Surprised, Johnny looked at his friend. 

“The old man’s been worried?”

Val snorted.

“What’d you think?  Yeah, he’s been worried; we’ve all been worried.  When you first left, Murdoch and Scott were in my office every day, wanting to know if I’d heard from you.  After the first two weeks, they started to come once a week.  Now, it’s once a month.  Neither of them looks good.  I know Murdoch hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since you left.”

When Johnny didn’t say anything, Val went on. 

“They kept track of you some by reading the newspapers.  Now and then, they’d read about a gunfight or you signing up for a range war. The worst was when they reported you’d been hurt and none us knowing how bad.”

Val downed his drink and held up the glass, getting the bartender’s attention.  Once his glass was refilled, he took a breath and asked the question he’d been thinking about since he left Green River.

“So, why now?  Why let me know where you’re at now?  Why the telegram?”

Without hesitation, Johnny answered, “I’m ready to go back.”

Val smiled.  When a similar smile didn’t appear on Johnny’s face, Val thought for a moment about what his friend said and how he’d said it.

“I hope to hell you don’t mean what I think you mean.  You are planning on going back alive?”

“I don’t know, Val.  All I do know is tomorrow at noon I’m walking out there,” Johnny slumped back in his chair and pointed toward the dusty street outside the saloon, “and face the man who’s been dogging me for six months.  Then one way or another, I’m headed home.”


November 25, 1870

Stepping out of the Tucson telegraph office, there was a satisfied smile on Johnny Madrid’s face.  Pulling his hat down to block the glare of the early morning sun, he scanned the street.  It didn’t take long to find his friend.

“Get it done?”

Nodding, Johnny began to walk.

“I got it done.  The man said they should get it today.”

“You sure you shouldn’t have waited until….?”

“I’m sure, Val.   I can handle Sam Stryker.”

The two friends continued walking towards the hotel where they were staying.  Val didn’t like the cocky answer Johnny had given him.  The boy knew better than anyone that nothing was a sure bet, especially when it came to a gunfight.   He had a bad feeling about the whole thing and started to keep his doubts to himself, then decided to hell with it and voiced his concerns.

“Johnny, I don’t like the odds. Stryker’s got three men with him.”

“It don’t matter; it’s ending today. I’m ending it today.  I’ll be damned if I’m spending another six months avoiding Stryker or staying away from Lancer.  I’ve got things to settle with the old man that need taking care of while there’s still time.”

The resignation in the boy’s voice gave Val pause.

“What’d you mean ‘still time’?”

“I just got a feeling…”

As they reached the hotel, Johnny stopped and looked at Val.  “Did I tell you how much I appreciate you coming?”

“You think I wouldn’t?   When I got your telegram, something told me I needed to be here.”  Val dipped his head.  Yeah, he’d had a bad feeling.  “So, when do you want to head back to California?”

“Tomorrow morning.  If we time it right, we’ll be there in time for Christmas.  I bet Teresa’s gonna have the place all fancied up like a picture I saw in one of them magazines from back east.  That’s going to be something to see.” 

The smile on Johnny’s face and the gleam in his eyes reminded Val of a child anxiously awaiting Christmas morning.  He knew the boy had no memory of a proper Christmas.  It wasn’t like his mother celebrated the holiday. 

“That would be something.  Wouldn’t mind seeing that myself.”

“Don’t worry, Val, you’ll be there. Count on it.”

Johnny stopped smiling.

“What’s wrong?”  Val reached out and touched Johnny’s arm.

“I don’t have anything for them.  You’re supposed to give presents at Christmas, aren’t you?  I ain’t got nothing to give them.”

Val laughed.  “Johnny, believe me, you being there is gonna be present enough.  I bet they even ring the bell at Lancer for you.”

“Well, just the same, I think I’ll get them something before we get there.   Like I said, one way or another, tomorrow I’m going home.”

“You just make sure it’s one way and not the other.”

Johnny laughed.  He knew his answer earlier was him being too confident at the outcome of today’s showdown.  There was a chance he’d never see Lancer again and he’d known it for six months; ever since the day he’d ridden away. 

Not for the first time, he remembered the day Sam Stryker and his two sons rode onto Lancer land.  His job that day had been fence posts.  Instead, he decided rounding up a herd of wild horses was more important.

God, if he could only go back in time and change what happened.   If he could go back, he’d have given the black stallion and mares to Stryker and been done with it.  No, he’d go back even further; and finish the fence line and meet up with Scott at 2:00 to help with the surveying like he’d been ordered.

But that’s not what happened.  He’d made a decision that had gone terribly wrong, not the only one he’d made that day. No, his bad decisions fell like dominos.

Because of him, three men were wounded, Scott, Walt, and Davie Stryker, and Wes and Eli Stryker were dead.

With Eli’s death, he’d set Sam Stryker on a path of vengeance that had ultimately cost Johnny Lancer a home and family.  Then there was that final domino.  When it fell, Johnny Madrid was resurrected.   

When Stryker and his men rode away, Johnny knew they’d come back.  He also knew Murdoch would have stood by him, or maybe not, but it was his problem and he had a right to handle it in his own way.   The only thing he could do was to leave Lancer and draw Stryker away. The last thing he wanted was for anyone else at the ranch to be hurt.

Then there were the words Murdoch had spoken.  Words that the old man said he didn’t mean, but they had fired his anger; an anger that burned long and hard as he left California and crossed into Arizona.   Words that still hurt when he let himself think about them.

For six months he’d lured Sam Stryker further and further from Lancer. 

When he learned Stryker had tracked him to Tucson, Johnny knew it was time to end the cat and mouse game.  He planned to meet the man, send him to hell, and then head back to Lancer and settle up with the old man. 

His one hope was that Murdoch was telling the truth about the cutting words being a lie and did want him back.


The sun was high overhead when he stepped off the boardwalk.  The only sound in the otherwise quiet street was the jingling of his silver spurs. 

Sam Stryker and his son Davie stood at the other end of the street. Next to them were two men Johnny didn’t know.  Four to one?  He didn’t mind the odds, not against Stryker. 

Johnny caught himself and fought down the overconfidence.

Coming to a stop, facing the four men, Johnny tried one last time to stop what was going to happen.

“Stryker, you don’t have to do this.  I told you once you’d already lost one boy and now, you’re gonna lose the other one for sure.  Eli brought it on himself.  Davey is going to be on you.”

“You killed Eli. I wanted you to suffer like he did, but this will have to do.”

There was no other conversation; all talking was over. Johnny knew why they were there, and so did Sam Stryker.  He remembered Stryker’s words the day he’d shot Eli.

‘It don’t end here, Lancer.  Not here, not now.’    

“Well, Stryker, it is going to end here, and it’s gonna be now,” Johnny muttered in a mere whisper.

It was Davie who made the first move; Johnny knew it would be. 

Johnny drew when he saw Davie start for his gun.  Fanning his Colt, he sent first Davie and then one of the other men to their graves. 

Sam fired once, grazing Johnny’s right side. It was the last thing Sam Stryker did before he fell face down in the street. 

The fourth man was lucky enough to get off two shots before he followed the other three.  One of his bullets missed, while the other caught Johnny in the left upper chest, sending him crumpling to the ground, blood pouring from the wound. 

Lying in the street, Johnny tried to blink away the blinding sun.  Suddenly, the glaring light was gone, replaced by Val’s face.   The sun behind Val’s head made it look like he was wearing a golden halo.   

“Johnny?”  Val leaned over his friend. 

 Johnny could hear the worry in Val’s voice and see it in his face.  He knew it was bad.

“Val,” Johnny whispered.

“I’m here.  Lay still, I’ll get you to the Doc’s office.”    Starting to raise up, Val felt a hand on his arm, pulling him back down.

“Papi…take me to Lancer.”  Johnny coughed, a trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth.  “No matter what, take me… home.”   

“I’ll get you home, hijo.”

Val’s face started wavering.


Val’s voice hitched as he replied, “I promise.”

Thinking only of Lancer, the faces of his family passed before his eyes.  Finally, there was no fighting the inevitable and like blowing out a candle, the light blinked out.


“Mr. Lancer!”  Walt hurried into the Great Room, trying to catch his breath. 

“Walt?”  Murdoch stood from the chair behind his desk. “Is something wrong?”

“No, sir, Mr. Lancer.  The boy from the telegraph office rode in with this.”

Walt held the telegram out to Murdoch.  

“He said it was important, and I needed to get it to you right away.”

Murdoch took the telegram and tore the envelope open.  Within seconds, he was smiling. 

“Good news, Mr. Lancer?”

“Yes, Walt, wonderful news.   Has Scott come in yet?”

“I saw him ride in about thirty minutes ago.  He’s still in the barn.  You want me to go get him?”

“Yes, Walt, please.” 

“Is it about Johnny?  I mean, it’s none of my business, Boss, but…”

“Yes, it’s about John.  I want Scott to read it before anyone else knows what it says.”

Walt nodded.  “Yes, sir.  I’ll go get him now.”

Murdoch circled his desk and collapsed in the chair, putting his head in his hands.  

“Thank you, God.”

That’s the way Scott found his father when he came through the door a few minutes later.

“Murdoch?”  Scott quickly crossed the room.  “Walt said, you wanted to see ….”  Stopping just short of the desk, his eyes went from Murdoch to the telegram.  “Are you alright?”

Murdoch raised his head.  Scott could see a glimmer of moisture in the older man’s eyes. 

“What’s wrong?”

Murdoch held out the paper that had brought hope back to his life.

Scott took it and slowly read it as Teresa and Maria came in from the kitchen.  An instant smile formed on Scott’s face as he looked between the telegram and his father.

“What is Scott?  Is it about Johnny?”

Grinning, Scott nodded and handed Teresa the telegram. 

It was short and straightforward.


Murdoch Lancer
Lancer Ranch
Green River, California

On my way home. STOP.



“He’s coming home?”  Tears streamed down Teresa’s face as she and Maria hugged. 

Scott took the telegram back and reread it, making sure it wasn’t his imagination. 

“It’s from Tucson,” Scott announced. “That means he’ll be home by Christmas.”

Murdoch stood, taking back the telegram that had now been touched and read by the entire family. 

“Depending on how fast he’s traveling, he could be here in…,” he thought for a moment, “in less than two weeks.”

Murdoch sat back down with a grin plastered on his face.

“He’s coming home,” Murdoch repeated the words.  “You don’t know how I’ve prayed for this.    He’s really coming home.”   

Teresa put her arms around Scott.

“Oh, Scott, I was wondering what to get you for your birthday.  It looks like your present will be riding under the arch in plenty of time for the party.”  

Maria wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at the family she loved as her own.

“Patron, does this mean Juanito is coming home to stay?  When he left, he said he would not return until it was safe to do so.”

Murdoch, Scott and Teresa looked at her and then at each other.

What had changed?  The reasons for Johnny leaving in the first place were still fresh in their minds.  It could be summed up in one word, ‘Stryker.’


Murdoch knew a lot of mistakes had been made the day Sam Stryker showed up.  The worst of them were the words he’d spoken in trying to get Johnny to leave before Stryker could kill him, words that had worked too well. 

He didn’t mean what he’d said, but the boy had taken them to heart.

Once Samuel and Davie Stryker rode out, Johnny stayed long enough to make sure Scott was alright, then mounted Barranca and started to ride away.

Nothing Murdoch could do, or Scott and Teresa could say, would keep him at Lancer.

“I have to go; don’t you see that.  Stryker’s not done.  He’ll be back.  As long as I’m here, you aren’t safe.  Besides, I believed what you said, old man.  The only thing wrong around here has always been me, and you don’t need me.  You got Scott.  You have the son you need.”

“Johnny, the only reason I said those things to you this morning was to get you to leave before Stryker and his men knew you were here.  They were after you, and  I didn’t want them to find you.  I was trying to protect you. It looks like I did a very poor job of that…. again.”

“Murdoch, there is always a hint of truth behind every lie.   That’s why the lie becomes believable. Deep down, you know the things you said were true.  You don’t need me; never did, never will.”

Johnny kicked Barranca’s sides and rode away without looking back.

Heartbroken Murdoch watched until he was out of sight.


“Murdoch?”   Scott’s voice brought the rancher out of his musings.   Looking up, he saw Scott, Teresa, and Maria looking at him.

“I’m sorry, what…?”

“Maria asked if you thought it was safe for Johnny here now?   Do you believe Stryker will come again?”

Murdoch slowly shook his head. 

“I don’t know, Scott.  I just don’t know.  Right now, I don’t care.  My boy is coming home, and I’ll be damned if I let him leave again.”


Head down, hands clasped behind his back, Val paced from one end of the doctor’s waiting area to the other.    He crossed the room, stopped in front of the door where he’d carried Johnny, took a deep breath, and continued pacing.

Four times one way, four times the other, then he’d sit in a chair, his fingers tapping on the arm.  Looking at the clock for the hundredth time, Val shook his head.  It was 2:30.   Doc Spencer had been with Johnny for over two hours.

Standing up, he started pacing again.  Stopping, he looked at his hands and the front of his shirt. His friend’s blood still covered both; so much blood; too much blood.

Images of Johnny’s pale face and the promise he’d made to the boy kept flashing through his memory.

“Take me home, Papi.  No matter what, take me home.”

Hearing a noise from the street, Val moved to the window and pushed the curtain aside just far enough to peek out.  There were still people milling around out front.  His heart started pounding as his attention was drawn to two gunhawks he knew standing on the boardwalk across the street.  

‘Vultures’ was the only word he could find to describe them.  Vultures were circling to see if Madrid was dead or if they should move in for the final kill.

Inching his way to the door, Val started to lock it when the knob turned and the door began to open.  Pulling his gun, he took a half a step back and waited to see whether it be friend or foe who was going to walk in.

A man came through the door, looked around the waiting area, and stopped cold at the sight of the gun barrel pointed at him.   He held up his hands and cocked his head.

“Name’s Wilson, Carl Wilson.  I’m the Sheriff here in Tucson.  You want to lower that gun?”

Val stepped forward, pulling the door back slowly so that he could see if there was anyone else with the Sheriff.  Satisfied the man was alone, he waved the lawman into the room, closed and locked the door, and then slid his gun back into his holster.

“Nervous, aren’t you, Mister?”

“Just cautious.  Noticed a few gunhawks out front and didn’t want them in here.  What can I do for you, Sheriff?”

“Came in to check on Madrid.  I didn’t see the gunfight, but those who did said he was hurt pretty bad.”

“Yeah, he was hurt bad. Doc Spencer’s still working on him.”

“I take it you’re a friend of the boy?”

Val nodded.  “A good friend.  Name’s Val Crawford.  I’m the Sheriff of Green River, California.”

Wilson gave Val an appraising look. 

“You don’t much look like a Sheriff.  As a matter of fact, you look like someone I’ve seen in Tucson before… with Madrid.”

Val didn’t want to go into his and Johnny’s history with the Sheriff but knew the man wouldn’t stop the questions until he had his answers.

“Johnny and I rode together a while back.  I walked away from the game a couple of years ago and put on a badge.  Now, I’m in Green River.”

“There was talk a few months back that Madrid had hung up his gun and was working on a ranch in California.  You know anything about that?”

“I do, but it’s nothing you need to know about.  Look, as soon as Johnny’s up to riding, we’re leaving.  Neither of us wants any trouble.”

“Who were those four men, the ones that called Madrid out?”

“One of them was named Sam Stryker.  I know his son Davie was one of the others, but don’t have any idea who the other two were.”

The Sheriff nodded.  

“I take it they had a problem with Madrid?  None of them looked like gunfighters.”

“Yeah, they had a problem.  Johnny solved it.”

Wilson thought for a moment. 

“Alright, I’ll see if I can keep folks away while Madrid’s here.”  He started to turn to the door and stopped.   Turning back, he looked at Val. “You know he can’t stay in Tucson.  I can’t keep the others away forever.  You’ve got to move on as soon as he’s able.  Let the Doc know I was here.”

“I’ll do that.  Thanks.” 

Val walked back to the door, unlocked it, and let the Sheriff out.    Locking the door again, he looked at the clock on the wall.  It was 3:00.  He wasn’t waiting any longer. 

Val started for the door to the operating room when it opened and Doctor Spencer stepped out, wiping his hands on a towel.  The doctor took a deep breath and looked at the man who’d been waiting for the last three hours.

Val took a step closer.  His eyes went from the doctor to the open door, where he could see Johnny lying on the table.



December 3, 1870

Murdoch was as usual at his desk when he heard the sound of a wagon.  Turning to look out the Great Room window, he watched Frank slowly drive the supply wagon into the yard.  He waited a few minutes, but when Frank didn’t come in, Murdoch stood, walked to the French doors and stepped out to meet him.  

Frank sat atop the wagon with his head down, clutching a bundle of mail and newspapers.


The look on Frank’s face caused Murdoch to move closer to the wagon.

“Frank?  Something wrong?”

“I have the mail, Mr. Lancer.”  Frank handed a few envelopes and newspapers down.

“Thank you, Frank.”

Murdoch started to turn when Frank cleared his throat.

“Mr. Lancer…well, one of those newspapers has an article… about Johnny.  Words all over town.”

“About Johnny?  What are you talking about Frank?”

“It says in the paper… Mr. Lancer, it says Johnny Madrid was killed in a gunfight last week in Tucson.”

The sounds of the ranch faded, replaced by a buzzing in Murdoch’s ears.  Surely, he’d heard wrong.

The mail slipped from the rancher’s hand and fell to the ground as he struggled to open the San Francisco newspaper. Forgetting Frank was still there, he frantically scanned the pages until he found what he was looking for on page 3.


The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin                                              December 1, 1870

‘The following article was posted on November 26, 1870, in a special edition of the Arizona Citizen.  The Arizona Citizen, located in Tucson, is one of Arizona’s most prominent newspapers.  While all the facts are still to be verified, we will repost the article as it originally appeared.

Johnny Madrid: Dead in Tucson

The streets of Tucson are not unaccustomed to the sights and sounds of gunfire.  Yesterday, our main street once again saw death, as four men faced one.

Witnesses report that the four men, yet to be identified, rode into Tucson two days ago and immediately began asking for the legendary gunfighter, Johnny Madrid.  Madrid responded he would meet them at noon the next day.

Johnny Madrid, dressed in his signature red shirt, black leather pants, and wearing silver spurs, stood at one end of the street while the four men took the other. The sun blazed overhead as the combatants faced each other. 

One witness stated, “Facing those four jaspers, Madrid was relaxed and looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.”

Within moments, the sound of gunfire resonated off the buildings.  The fierce and bloody gun battle lasted less than a minute.  When the echoes died away and the smoke cleared, five men lay in the street. 

Witnesses’ stated that Madrid was hit twice.  The first wound was to his side; however, Madrid was still standing returning fire until another bullet hit him in the chest.  It was then that the young pistolero fell to the ground, but not before dispatching the last of his opponents.

A bystander, not identified, immediately rushed to Madrid’s bloodied still form.  It is unknown what the gunfighter’s words were to the man who knelt next to him; however, Madrid was immediately carried to the doctor’s office.   Four hours later, Doctor Jerome Spencer, who has practiced medicine in Tucson for 12 years, told Sheriff Carl Wilson that Madrid was in critical condition.  This morning at a little after 8 A.M., Doctor Spencer and Sheriff Wilson reported Johnny Madrid was gone.

Much of Johnny Madrid’s short life has become part myth part legend.   Madrid, his exact age is unknown but believed to be no older than 21 years, was one of the fastest gunfighters alive and had allegedly killed in excess of 30 men.

Earlier this year, Madrid was erroneously reported to have been killed by a Rurales firing squad in Mexico.  His disappearance for several months seemed to support that claim. Evidence to the contrary found he had escaped the firing squad and just weeks later was seen in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where he helped a ranch survive attacks by land pirates. 

Some believed he had retired his gun and taken up the life of a rancher.  However, six months ago, Madrid reappeared along the border, taking up his notorious career where he’d left off.

There are those along the border who believed Johnny Madrid to be the devil reincarnated, while others in Mexico called him a hero, a champion of the people. Whichever you are, it is clear that with the death of Johnny Madrid, one of the West’s most colorful and legendary gunfighters has met his demise.

It is reported that a close friend of the young man, whose name has been withheld by Doctor Spencer, will be taking the body to California for burial.’


Murdoch stood in front of the hacienda, head down, newspaper crumpled in his hand.  His world was spinning, and his knees felt like they were close to buckling when Frank jumped down from the wagon and put an arm around his Boss’s waist.

“Mr. Lancer, we need to get you inside.”

Murdoch showed no resistance as Frank led him into the house.

“Scott! Miss Teresa!” Frank called out as he helped his Murdoch to the sofa.

First, Scott and then Teresa ran into the Great Room.

“Frank, what the …”  Scott’s eyes fell on his father. 

In seconds, both Scott and Teresa were kneeling in front of Murdoch.

“What’s wrong?   Frank?”

“It’s in the newspaper, Scott.”

Scott pried the paper from his father’s fist and looked at the pages.  Shrugging, he looked again at Frank.

“It’s there, Scott.”

Frank’s hitched voice send Scott back to the pages looking for what had upset his father.

Finally, his eyes fell on the article.   Scott read it twice before looking up, chest heaving, and tears in his eyes.

“No.  It’s not true.  It can’t be true.  Johnny’s coming home.”

Teresa pulled the newspaper from Scott and started reading.  Tears ran down her cheeks as she crumpled to the floor, laying her head on Murdoch’s leg.

“The telegram said he was on his way.  My God, who would have sent it?  Surely it didn’t mean his body was on the way home.  That would be too cruel.  To let us believe he was coming home to us alive and then….”

In a matter of hours, word spread and all of Lancer went into mourning waiting for Johnny to come home.


When he woke again, Johnny was in a room only slightly larger than the bed he was lying in.  Looking around, he saw the door cracked open and noise coming from the next room.  Trying to move was a mistake.  The moment he shifted to push himself up, pain radiated through his chest. There was no way to avoid the scream that followed.

Val was at the stove, starting fresh coffee when he heard a stifled moan and then a scream.  Tearing into the bedroom, he found Johnny with his eyes closed, face contorted in pain, and his back arched.   

“Whoa, boy.”  Val dragged a chair closer to the bed and pushed Johnny’s shoulders down. “You can’t be moving around.”

Catching his breath, Johnny fought back the pain.  Finally, able to focus, he looked at Val and then around the room.

“Where are we?” 

“An old ranch house about five miles north of Tucson.   We holed up here a couple of years ago.  You were shot up then, too.”

Val put a cup of water to Johnny’s parched lips.

Taking a small sip at first, Johnny drank thirstily until the cup was pulled away.

“You remember the gunfight?”

“I remember.  Stryker’s dead?”

“Yeah, he’s dead.  You took a couple of bullets.  The one in your chest was the worst.  After Doc Spencer got it out, we knew there was no way you could stay in town.  Word got out you were hurt and gunhawks were starting to circle.   The Sheriff and Doc helped me move you.”

Johnny nodded and closed his eyes.   Remembering something else, his eyes shot open.

“What day is it?”

Val shook his head.

“You aren’t going anywhere.”

“What day?” Johnny ground out.

“The 3rd, December 3rd.  The gunfight was a week ago.”

A week?  It had been a week.  It wasn’t possible. The last thing he remembered was his body being jarred by movement and the agonizing pain that shot through his chest.


“Hold up a minute, Doc.”  Val looked down at him.  “We’re taking you someplace safe.  Try to keep quiet.”  

Val looked back at the doctor.

“Doc, can you give him something to knock him out until I can get him there?”

Through half-closed eyes, Johnny watched the doctor go to a cabinet and pick up a small bottle and then a syringe.  He filled the syringe with a small amount of the liquid and came back to stand next to the bed.

“Johnny, I’m Doctor Spencer.  You remember me, don’t you?  I’ve treated you before.   I’m going to give you something for the pain.  It’s going to keep you sedated long enough for us to get you moved.”  Doc Spencer looked from Johnny to Val.

A disembodied voice from across the room spoke up. “Hurry up, Doc. There isn’t much time.  We need to get him out of here before it gets light.”

 Johnny could see another man standing near the door.  When the man turned, the lamplight  glinted off the badge on the man’s chest.

“Hold on, Sheriff.  Let the Doc give him something.”  Val looked back at the doctor. “Go ahead, Doc.”

Johnny flinched when he felt the needle slip into his arm.  A warm burn began to pulse in his veins and quickly spread throughout his body.  Almost immediately, all the pain was gone and his world once again went dark.

The memories faded, and resolve set in.  Nothing was going to keep him from going home.

“We gotta’ get moving, Val.  Got to ….” Johnny fell back, panting.

“Johnny, you’re lucky to be alive.  You need to heal up some before we head back.”

“I’ll stay a few more days; then, I’m going with, or without you.”


“No, Val.  I told them I was on my way home.  I’ve got to get there.”

“Alright, lay back and rest.  Doc Spencer said he’d get out here to see you later today. With all the tossing and turning you’ve been doing, I think you’ve opened the chest wound.”

Johnny put a hand over the wound, feeling blood seeping through the bandage.

“You think you can eat anything?  I have broth on the stove.”

Johnny made a face but nodded.  He knew he’d need his strength if he was going to stay in a saddle and get home in time for Christmas.  Truth be told, he didn’t feel all that good.


Jerome Spencer flicked the reins and looked over his shoulder.  He was careful not to be followed, but there were a few times he thought he’d seen someone.  Turning the buggy around, he retraced his route.

After scanning the area again and seeing no one, he set his course back toward the deserted ranch north of Tucson.  

Pulling up in front of the ranch house, Spencer could see the worried expression on the face of the man who met him.

“Doc, I’m sure glad you’re here.”

Val stepped off the porch to help the doctor down from his buggy and get his medical bag.

“How is he?”

“Restless, and running a fever.  I didn’t want to leave him alone, or I’d have already come for you.”

“Let me take a look at him.”

“Go on through, Doc. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Spencer took his bag from Val and made his way to his patient’s side.  He wasn’t happy with what he found.

“How did this happen?  The wound’s opened up again.  Mr. Crawford, I’ll need some hot water.”

“I can’t keep him still.  Caught him trying to climb out of bed a couple of times when the fever started. That’s probably when he ripped the stitches.”

Turning to go to the kitchen, Val stopped cold when a man holding a gun stepped into the doorway.  Standing over six-foot-tall with brown hair and brown eyes, the mustached man aimed the gun at Val’s chest.

“Hands up, Crawford.”

Val slowly raised his hands from his sides and glanced toward Johnny and the doctor.

The man stepped forward and lifted Val’s gun from his holster.  Tossing it across the room, he motioned for Val to step aside.

“Now, get over there and don’t move.  I’m not here for you.”

“Bodine, isn’t it?  Ward Bodine.  I remember you.  You worked with Johnny and me in Texas.”

“That’s right.” Bodine smiled.  “You remember me?”

“I remember you, and this isn’t the man I remember.”

“Doc, move away from Madrid.”

“He needs help.  I don’t have time for this.”   Spencer looked between Bodine and Johnny.  “I need to stop the bleeding.”

“Well, you see, Doc, in a few minutes, you won’t have to worry about Madrid anymore.” 

Val swallowed hard, his breathing becoming hard and fast.

“Don’t do this, Bodine.”

Hearing a moan, Bodine edged closer to bed.  Getting a look at his prey for the first time, he stopped with a frown on his face.   He’d come to kill the hardened gunfighter, Johnny Madrid, but what he saw wasn’t the Madrid he knew.  What he saw was a wounded boy, struggling for breath.

Val started to go to Johnny.

“Stay there!” Bodine commanded.

“Bodine, I’m asking you NOT to do this.  If you want to face him, do it like a man.  Not like this.”

Another moan drew their attention.  When Madrid turned his head toward them, Bodine thought he looked incredibly young.


Val looked at Bodine and then again at Johnny.

“Shoot me if you want to, Bodine, but I’m going over there.” 

Val slowly moved across the room to the bed. Kneeling on one knee, he put a hand on Johnny’s forehead.


“I’m here, Johnny.”

Johnny focused on Val’s face. 

“Val, you promised…,” the boy gasped.

“I remember.  Don’t worry; I’ll get you home.”

“Need…to be there for Christmas.”  Johnny gave him a weak smile.  “Our first…together.”

“I know.  Your first Christmas with your Pa and brother.”

Johnny’s eyes closed and then reopened. 

“I’ll have all of you …whole family.”

Val looked over his shoulder at Bodine and then back to Johnny.  Stroking the boy’s forehead and then his damp hair, he took a deep breath.

“That’s right, hijo.  You’ll have us all together.”

Val stood up and looked at Bodine.

“Bodine, I’ve never begged for anything.  I’m begging now.  Don’t do this.  He’s waited his whole life to have a family.  He’s got one now, waiting for him in California.  Let the Doc help him. Forget you found him and ride away.”

Bodine’s eyes went to Johnny’s young face.  

“Never heard of Madrid having a family.  You’re lying!”

Val slowly shook his head.  

“No, I’m not lying.  His old man found him earlier this year, down in Sonora in front of a firing squad.   He’s got family; a father, brother, sister and a whole lot of people who care about him.  He’s never had that before.   Bodine, don’t take that away from him.   Don’t take him away from us.”

Bodine hesitated.  He’d heard Madrid was killed in Mexico and, like everyone else in the game, believed it.  When word spread that Madrid was alive, few questioned it knowing Madrid’s reputation for staying alive.

“Young man, you need to make up your mind.  I have to stop the bleeding, or all this will be a moot point.”  The doctor inched his way closer to the bed.  

Val could tell Bodine was wavering.

“Alright…. alright,” Bodine lowered his gun.  “Madrid’s reputation wouldn’t be worth anything anyways if I took him out like this.”   Slipping the gun into his holster, he waved the doctor towards the bed.  “Doc, get over there and do what you need to do.”

Val’s shoulders slumped as he stepped out of the way and let Doc Spencer move back to the bed.  Rubbing his hand over his face, he looked skyward, giving a silent ‘thank you.’

Bodine turned and walked out of the room.

“Doc, you let me know what you need.  I’ll be in there with Bodine.”

Spencer didn’t reply, only nodded.

Val looked around the bedroom, finding his gun on the floor, he picked it up and put it back in his holster before following Bodine.

As he stepped into the next room, Val found Bodine looking out the front door.  Before he could say a word, the doctor called out.  Both Val and Bodine hurried back into the room.


“Crawford, I need help.  If we don’t cool him down, we’ll lose him.”

Doctor Spencer looked at Bodine.

“Young man, if you don’t plan to shoot him, then get over here and give me a hand holding him down.  I can’t sew him up while he’s thrashing around like this.”

Not hesitating, Bodine hurried across the small room and helped the doctor move the bed away from the wall.  Together they held Johnny down as he lashed out, trying to free himself.

For the next five hours, the three men took turns bathing Johnny’s heat ravaged body and listening to his rants.   It was well after dark when the fever relented and near midnight before it broke.


Exhausted, Val collapsed on the makeshift bed he’d made near the fireplace in the living room of the ranch house.

Bodine slid down the bedroom wall and looked at the bed where Johnny was now resting quietly.  Ironically, he’d come to kill this man… no, this boy, and ended up helping to save his life.

Too tired for anything else, he leaned his head back against the wall, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

Bodine woke to sunlight streaming through the dust-covered window and the sound of someone in the kitchen.  Standing, he stretched his sore muscles.  Doc Spencer was slumped in a chair, his head on his chest, snoring.  Walking over to the bed, he saw a pair of blue eyes watching him.

Bodine smiled.  “Morning.  It’s good to see you awake.”

Johnny blinked.  “I…you look familiar.  Who are you?”

“Bodine, Ward Bodine.  We worked together in Texas a few years back.  You probably don’t remember me.”

Johnny nodded.  “I remember.”   Johnny’s eyes scanned the room.  “You got some water?”

Bodine reached for a cup and the canteen near the bed.  Pouring the water, he held Johnny’s head up and helped him take a few sips.

Johnny raised a hand, waving the cup away.  Coughing, he settled back onto the pillow.

“What are you doing here?”  

Bodine looked down at his boots.  Should he tell Madrid what he was doing there?

“You come to kill me, Bodine?  Come for my reputation?”

Bodine’s head shot up.  Madrid always was smart.

“Thought about it…for a while, but decided I don’t want your reputation that way.”

“You were here last night helping Val and the Doc, weren’t you?  I remember some of it.”

“Yeah, I was here.”


“The least I could do, considering the alternative.”

Val stood in the doorway listening to the exchange. 

“Bodine, I’ve got coffee ready.  You want some?”

“Sure, sounds good.”  Bodine started to turn when he heard Johnny laugh.  

“Bodine, hope you have a strong stomach.  Val’s coffee is about the worst I’ve ever tasted.  He could use it as paint remover.”

Val gave Johnny a lopsided grin.  “Smart ass, just for that, you get broth.”

Johnny groaned.   “His broth is worse than the coffee.”

Bodine laughed at the banter.

“You get some rest, Madrid.  I’ll try out the coffee and see what I think for myself.”

Johnny’s eyes slowly closed.  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Bodine frowned when he saw Val pouring a cup of dark brew from the frying pan on the stove.   Accepting the cup, he took a sip and sputtered.

“Good, ain’t it?”  Val grinned.

“I can honestly say it’s… different.” Bodine sat the cup down and cleared his throat. 

From the bedroom, they heard a faint voice, “Told you so.”

Bodine put his hat on and started for the door. “I’d better get going.” 

Val held out his hand.  “Bodine, thanks.” 

Nodding, Ward Bodine shook Val’s hand.   Taking two steps toward the door, he stopped and looked back.

“He really does have family somewhere waiting for him?”

“Yeah, he does.  He’s waited a long time to have a real family and a home.”  Val looked back toward the bedroom.  “I promised him I’d get him home…one way or another.   He’s a hard man to keep alive.”

“I’ll do what I can to keep the others away.”

Bodine walked out of the house, saddled his horse, and rode toward Tucson.


December 8, 1870

Val walked out of the telegraph office, feeling like he should have sent the telegram sooner.  He thought Johnny was jumping the gun by telling the Lancers he was heading home.  Now, here he was over two weeks later telling them again.

He was almost to the Mercantile when he saw a familiar face.  Slowing down, he rested his hand on the butt of his colt and waited.

“Crawford.”  Ward Bodine’s eyes went to Val’s gun.  “No need for that.”

Val shifted his hand off the gun butt and let his arm drop beside his holster.

Bodine took a step forward and lowered his voice.  “How’s Madrid doing?”   

Val moved to the side of the boardwalk to let two men walk by.  He looked around to make sure no one was listening.

“Better.  We’re leaving in the morning, heading west.”

Bodine looked surprised.  “He ready to ride?”

“Hell, no, he’s not ready, but he’s gonna be on a horse tomorrow.  The only way I can keep him here is to tie him up.  Don’t really want to piss him off.”

Bodine laughed.  “No, I wouldn’t want to see him mad.”

“Bodine, thanks for your help that day.  I appreciate it.  Johnny knows how you helped.  You ever need anything, let either one of us know.”

“You know, I was planning on heading to Yuma.  You need any help getting him home.   I can ride along at least that far.”

Val straightened and looked at Bodine. A lot was riding on him making the right decision.  Could he trust the man?  He looked into Bodine’s eyes and felt he was willing to take the risk.

“Alright, but if you have any ideas of still trying to take him out, you’ll have to go through me first.”

“Fair enough. I’ll be out to the ranch before dark and ready to ride in the morning.”

Val watched Bodine walk away, thinking this was going to be interesting.


Murdoch stood at the front door of the house with a telegram in his hand.  Shaking his head, he wondered when the nightmare would end.

“What is it?” Scott asked, having seen the boy from the telegraph office.

Murdoch handed him the message.

“Now we know who the close friend is who’s bringing his body home.” 

Scott read the telegram twice.


Murdoch Lancer
Lancer Ranch
Green River, California

Have Johnny with me. STOP.  Expect to arrive by 25th. STOP.



“I don’t understand.  Why didn’t Val tell us he was going to Tucson?”

Scott paced across the veranda and back, realizing he hadn’t seen or heard from Val since they’d found out about Johnny.  He would have expected his brother’s best friend to have come to the ranch to offer condolences and support.

“This doesn’t make sense.  The way the newspaper article read, the friend was there at the time of the gunfight.  If Val was the friend, then he was already there, but how?”

“You’re right.  None of this makes sense.”

“I suppose we’ll have to wait.  Val said he’d be here on Christmas day.”

Scott walked to the drink cart and poured a drink for himself and one for Murdoch.  

“Murdoch, we need to plan what to do when Val gets here.”

Looking confused, Murdoch shook his head.   “What kind of plans?”

Scott took a deep breath, swallowing hard.  “For his …funeral.  We have to plan.”

Murdoch shook his head back and forth several times.

“No.  I’ll not plan anything until I see for myself that your brother’s dead.  I can’t believe any of this is happening.”

“It’s alright, sir, we can wait until…”  

Murdoch fell into his chair, turned it toward the window, and stared out, praying it was all a bad dream.


December 9, 1870

No matter how hard he tried, sleep wouldn’t come.  He’d tossed and turned and finally gave it up as a lost cause.  Easing out of bed, Johnny pushed himself to his feet, clutched his left arm to his side, and waited for the pain and wave of dizziness to pass. 

Dressed only in his long john bottoms, Johnny tiptoed out the bedroom door and past the two men sleeping on the floor in the living room.  Careful not to wake Val or Bodine, he opened the front door and stepped onto the front porch.  

The cooler night air caused goosebumps to form on his bare chest and arms. The last time he’d been outside, he was standing in the street in Tucson.  Closing his eyes, he tried to block the memories of the gunfight with Sam Stryker and the pain from the bullets as they tore through him. 

Moving down the front steps, he slowly walked across the dirt yard, wishing he’d put his boots on before deciding to take a midnight stroll.

Johnny stopped, looked up at the waning moon, and smiled.  It had been Scott that told him about the phases of the moon.

Scott.  Just the thought of his brother caused his heart to flutter and brought a smile to his face.  Seeing Scott again was enough to give him the willpower for the trip ahead. 

Stopping next to the corral, Johnny reached out to balance himself.  He wasn’t as strong as he wanted to be, but there wouldn’t be any stopping him.  If he waited any longer, he wouldn’t get there by Christmas Day.  

He didn’t know himself why it was so important, except he’d waited a lifetime to celebrate with a family and he knew it had to be this Christmas, or maybe not at all.

“You’re gonna catch a cold, standing out here in your bare feet and no clothes on.”

Val moved forward and threw a blanket around Johnny’s shoulders.

“Thanks.”  Johnny grasped the blanket and pulled it tight to his neck, savoring the warmth. “Couldn’t sleep.  Guess I’m anxious to get going.”

“You’re sure you want to go?  I know Murdoch and Scott will understand if you’re not there by the 25th.”

“Val, I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ve got to get back.  I feel like there’s something wrong, and I’m the only one who can fix it.  I’ve got to be there for them.  I’ve got to be there for myself.” 

Johnny heard Val take a deep breath and let it out. 

“Alright, we’ll leave in the morning.  You think you can sleep now?  I don’t want you falling out of the saddle tomorrow…today.  Hell, you stand out here much longer and you’ll get to watch the sun rising.”

Johnny snorted, “Yeah, I think I can sleep.”

Val stayed beside Johnny as they made their way back to the house.  By the time Johnny was back to the bed and lying down, he had no trouble falling asleep. 

When the sun rose six hours later, Johnny forced himself out of the warm bed, wishing he had a few more hours of sleep.  He threw the covers back and eased his legs off the bed. 

“You ready for this?”  Val stood in the doorway, watching Johnny sitting on the side of the bed.  

Johnny looked up at his friend, wanting to say ‘No’ but knowing he couldn’t. 

“As ready as I’m gonna be.  Give me a hand getting dressed?”

Val moved across the room and picked up Johnny’s shirt and pants and helped him dress. 

Less than thirty minutes later, they were ready to ride.  Val helped Johnny into the saddle, made sure he was alright, and then mounted himself.  Waiting for Bodine to pull alongside, the three men headed southwest to Yuma.   


December 19, 1870

Happy Birthday!

Scott sat at the Dining Room table with his family celebrating his 25th birthday.  The party Teresa planned had been canceled.  The only ones to celebrate the day with him were Murdoch, Teresa, Sam, Maria and Cipriano.

Maria brought out a cake and sat it in front of the blond-haired man and then kissed his cheek.

Everyone was trying, but it was no use, and they all knew it.  Scott had envisioned this day as a joyous event that included his brother.  With news of the youngest Lancers’ death, it was as if all joy and happiness in the world had died with him.  Only when they found closure; only when Johnny was finally home would they begin to heal.

After dinner and the small informal party, everyone slowly left the table and went their separate ways.  Murdoch, Teresa, and Sam went to their rooms and Scott to the garden.

Looking up at the night sky, he found one star brighter than the others.

“Starlight, star bright, first star I’ve seen tonight.  I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.” Scott fought the tears that threatened to fall.  “I wish my brother were alive and on his way home to us.”

Scott shook himself, knowing his wish would never come true.


December 23, 1870

Scott walked to the corral and leaning against the top rail.  Turning, he watched his father sitting on the veranda.  Murdoch had been there most of the day, with a void look on his face staring at nothing in particular.  In the last 30 days, his father had aged a dozen years or more.

Murdoch had said little since early that morning.  Actually, he said little on any day.  The entire ranch walked around him as if on eggshells.  

Today was different, however.  Of course, Scott knew what Murdoch was thinking.  Today was Johnny’s birthday.  His brother would have been 22 today. 

Scott felt as if a hand had closed around his heart, and his chest tightened.  Stifling a sob, he looked toward the setting sun and imagined Johnny riding into the blazing rays of the still bright ball as it settled behind the mountains to the west.

‘Happy Birthday, little brother…Happy…’ 

And then there was no way to hold it back, as Scott buried his head in his arms.


In Johnny’s mind, he should have headed home on the 7th.  Then they’d talked him out of leaving on the 8th.    He’d let Val and Doc Spencer have the extra days to worry over him.  But on the 9th, he was going with or without any of them. 

He was surprised when Val told him about Ward Bodine, but he trusted Val’s judgment.  As it turned out, having Bodine with them made their lives easier those first few days.

They rode slowly at first, dropping south, down to the border and then heading west, skirting around any town where Johnny might be recognized.  The last thing they needed was word getting back to the Rurales that he was close. 

During those days, Val watched over Johnny and Bodine watched out for them both.  His gun was always ready to protect Madrid.

They finally reached Yuma on the 13th.   Staying over two nights helped more that he was willing to let his friend know.   Val wanted to stay a third night, but their luck ran out when Johnny was recognized.   He and Val knew they had to move on before someone called him out.  He was too close now to let anything stop him.

Ward Bodine left them in Yuma, although Johnny asked him to ride on to Lancer. 

“Come with us, Bodine.  Spend Christmas at Lancer.”

Bodine shook his head.  “You got me to thinking.  Christmas is about family.  You’ve got yours waiting for you.  My family lives north of here.  I haven’t seen them in a long, long time.  I think I’ll head that way this year.   Maybe it’s time for me to go home, too.”

Val shook the man’s hand.   “Thanks, Bodine.  Thanks for everything you did and… what you didn’t do.” 

Johnny was well aware of what Val meant.  To be honest, he was grateful to Bodine, too, for not shooting him when he had the chance back at the ranch.


On December 19th, four days after leaving Yuma, Val and Johnny rode into San Bernardino, California.

Johnny knew it was Scott’s birthday and wished he was at Lancer to help him celebrate.  That night he walked outside.  Thinking of Scott, a sudden wave of sadness swept over him while looking up at the stars.   He knew right then he had to get home; he had to see his family.

Staying only one night, they headed north the next day.

Now they were close, closer than Johnny ever thought they’d be.

As the light started to fade, Val called a halt next to a small stream.

“We’ll set up camp here.” 

“No.  We’ve got to keep going.  I’m….”  The voice fell away as Johnny slumped forward with a slight groan.

“Damn it, boy.  We’re stopping.  You need to rest.”

“No…can’t…they ’ll be wondering where I’m at.  Just get me home.  I’ll rest when I’m home.”

“You keep going, and you’ll rest, alright.  You’ll be dead.”

Johnny raised his head and looked at his friend.

“At least I’ll be where I belong.  I’ll be home.”

“I’m setting up camp and don’t give me any arguments.”

Val helped Johnny from his horse and settled him against a tree.

“Rest here; I’ll take a look at those bandages after I get a fire going.”

Catching his breath, Johnny fought the dull pain in his chest.  It wasn’t near as bad as it had been when they’d started.  Closing his eyes, he’d just started to drift off to sleep when he felt a tap on his shoulder.  He looked up to see a canteen being handed to him.

“You alright?”

Johnny nodded and took a long cool drink.

“How much further?” 

“We’ll rest tonight and then head out in the morning.  We’ll be there tomorrow night if everything goes alright.”

“Tomorrow?  What day will it be?

“I figure I’ll get you there on Christmas Eve.”

Smiling, Johnny looked up at the night sky.

“That means today’s the 23rd.”

Val nodded.  “Yep.  You didn’t think I’d forget what today is, did you?”

Johnny shook and head. 

“Val, I didn’t think I’d make it.  Wouldn’t have, if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Wouldn’t have had it any other way.  I promised you I’d get you home, and tomorrow you’ll be there.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.  I’d have been dead a long time ago if it weren’t for you.”

Val hung his head and didn’t say anything.

“Not much of a Christmas present for them, is it?”

“You want me to gift wrap you and put a bow on your head?”

Johnny laughed.  “I think I’ve got enough wrapping around me now.  Don’t need no more.”


 December 24, 1870

A tree sat a corner of the Great Room, complete with decorations and a few presents.  Teresa had insisted on the tree, although their hearts weren’t in it.  All she said was, ‘I think Johnny would have liked it.’

Those few words were enough to get the tree up and decorated along with the house, but that was as far as it went.

Murdoch sat in his chair in front of the fireplace while Scott was on the sofa.  Teresa had her usual chair to the side.    They watched the flames and heard the logs popping, but none of them felt the heat. 

For each of them, there was only one word, ‘tomorrow.’  Val’s telegram said the 25th.  Tomorrow, Johnny would be home.


Maria was in the kitchen when she heard someone knock on the front door.   She waited a moment and then heard it again.   Making her way to the Great Room, she looked at the family and shook her head.  They hadn’t heard the knocking or didn’t care.

Opening the door, she stepped back, putting a hand to her throat. 

“Senor Val!”

“Maria, is Mr. Lancer here?”

“Si, Senor Val.”  She couldn’t keep her voice from trembling. “You have Juanito with you, Senor?  You have my nino?”

Val smiled and nodded.

Val’s voice brought Murdoch out of the dream state he’d been in for most of the day.  Standing, he turned and looked at the man who was his youngest son’s closest friend, scruffier and dirtier than usual.

Scott and Teresa stood and moved across the room to stand beside Murdoch.

“Val, it’s good to see you.  We got your telegram.  You’ve got…” Murdoch took a deep breath, a lump in his throat, fighting back the tears. “You’ve got my boy with you?”

Val nodded, giving Murdoch a slight smile.   

“I’m glad it was you, Val.” Scott took a step forward.  “I know Johnny would have wanted it to be you that brought his body home.”

Val looked confused.

“You do have his body?”  Scott asked with a slight panic in his voice when he saw Val’s expression.  “Your telegram said you were bringing him home.”

“Well, I guess you could say that.  You two want to come out and give me a hand.  The boy’s not as light as he looks.”

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other.   They’d waited and now he was finally here; Johnny was home.

Following Val outside, they came to a stop.

Like a ghostly apparition in the moonlight, sitting atop a pale horse, Johnny looked down on them. 

“But…,” Murdoch stammered.

“We….” Scott couldn’t find the words.

Smiling, Johnny looked between his father and brother.  His attention was pulled to the doorway when he heard a muffled cry.  Teresa and Maria stood holding onto each other, both wide-eyed and mouths open.

“What’s wrong with all of you?  Didn’t you get my telegram?  I told you I was on my way home.”

Val was watching Johnny’s face. When there was no reply, the smile disappeared.  For a brief moment, he saw deep hurt and disappointment, then just as quickly it was gone and the hardened face he’d come to know as Madrid surfaced.

“I understand. You don’t want me back.”

When no one answered again, Johnny swayed slightly in the saddle and took a breath.  He’d expected this but hoped they’d have let him stay for just a while, just through Christmas.  The joy he’d felt only moments ago at being home was now gone. 

Taking Barranca’s reins, he pulled the horse’s head around.

“Come on, Val.”

Barranca spooked and sidestepped as four voices called out in unison, “NO!”

Johnny struggled to control the animal and, at the same time, put his hand over the still healing chest wound.

Scott grabbed Barranca’s bridle, holding him steady.  Murdoch stepped forward and put a hand on his youngest son’s leg. 

“My God, John, you’re not going anywhere. That day when I said I don’t need you, now or ever, it really was a lie.  You don’t have any idea how much I need you.  I swear you’re not leaving my sight again.”

Johnny’s head was down; his left arm clutched to his side.  They had to strain to hear the soft low voice.  “I thought ….”

“You thought we didn’t want you?  You don’t know how much we want you. It’s just a shock seeing you.  Now, get down from there and come inside.”

By this time, most of Lancer’s ranch hands, vaqueros, and their families were standing around Johnny, eyes wide as if seeing a ghost.  Cipriano pushed his way through the men to stand next to his Sobrino’s horse.

Val reached up and put a hand at Johnny’s back and helped him slide out of the saddle. 

Murdoch got his first real look at Johnny and realized just how badly he was still hurt.

“Let’s get you inside.” 

As Johnny made his way into the Great Room, Val was close to his side, ready to help.

“On the sofa,” Murdoch instructed, seeing Val hesitate at the door.

Maria and Teresa bustled around, settling pillows in place and readying a throw.  As soon as Johnny was lowered and laid down, the woman moved in.  Both of them smiling when they heard a sigh of relief from their new patient.

Maria stopped what she was doing, bent down, and kissed her nino on the head.

“Madre de Dios, gracias.”  (Mother of God, thank you.) 

Teresa tucked the blanket in around her brother and smiled.  “Johnny, we thought you were dead.”

“I was…almost, but,” Johnny hesitated, then his eyes narrowed.

Johnny looked at his family.  He could see the mixture of confusion and relief on their faces.  Hearing a noise from the other side of the room, he raised up to see Cipriano walking into the room with most of the people who had been outside earlier.

The Segundo stepped closer to the sofa, smiling. 

“Welcome home, Juanito, you have been missed.  Gracias a Dios que estas vivo.” 
(Thank God you are alive.)

“What’s going on?  Why’d you think I was dead?”

Murdoch went to his desk and picked up the newspaper he’d read and reread so many times he had the words memorized.

“This is why.”  He held the paper out to Johnny. “The San Francisco paper picked up a news article out of Tucson.  It said you’d been killed in a gunfight on November 25th.   It was the same day we got your telegram.  When we read this, we thought…,” Murdoch hesitated and took a breath. “We thought you were dead.  It says someone was bringing your body to California for burial.  Then we got Val’s telegram.  He said he had you with him. We’ve been waiting…”

Taking the paper from Murdoch, Johnny read the article and handed it to Val.  Neither said anything for a few moments.

“You’ve been waiting to bury me.  Dios, I’m sorry, Murdoch.  I didn’t know.  I sent the telegram that morning before the gunfight.  I didn’t think I’d have any problem taking Stryker and his men down.  Two of them got off lucky shots and we all ended up in the dirt.”

“Stryker?  He found you after all?” Scott moved closer to his brother.

Johnny nodded.

“Yeah, he’d been dogging my trail for the last six months. I knew when he showed up in Tucson, I needed to put an end to it.  I’d gotten him as far away from Lancer as I could, and to tell the truth, I was tired of trying to stay ahead of him.”

Val moved to the drink cart and poured himself two fingers of Scotch. 

“Tell us what happened in Tucson.” Murdoch poured himself a drink and downed it. He’d been waiting a month for this story and now found he needed to fortify himself to hear it. 

Val started, “Johnny faced Sam and Davie Stryker and two other men.  He caught two bullets and went down.    By the time I got him to the Doc’s office, he was in a pretty bad way.”

“You were there then?  We wondered how you got there so fast.  But how?”

“I telegrammed him to come.”  Johnny shifted on the sofa. 

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other, both wanting to know more, but not wanting to interrupt the story of what happened. 

“Doc Spencer did what he could to patch Johnny up, and he and the Sheriff helped me get him out of town. I didn’t know they’d told anyone Johnny was dead or that I was going to bring him back to California.  If I had, I would have wired you.’”

Johnny laughed.  “Guess, I need to send the Doc a letter and thank him.  I was wondering why no one came looking for me.  Tucson was covered up with gunhawks.”

Johnny glanced at Val, knowing he was also thinking of Bodine. 

Val moved over to a chair and sat down.

“We holed up at a place I knew about a few miles outside of town. It was almost two weeks before I could get him on a horse and keep him in the saddle.  It’s been slow going ever since.  I wanted to stay over in a few towns along the way, but Johnny was dead set on getting here by Christmas, and by God, we made it. You might want to get Doc Jenkins out here to take a look at him.  He’s been pushing himself hard since we left Tucson.”

Murdoch turned to Cipriano, but before he could speak, the Segundo spoke first, “Patron, el medico has been sent for.”

“Thank you.”

Scott moved to sit on the edge of the sofa. He wanted to reach down and pull his little brother into a hug but resisted the urge with so many people present.

“Welcome home, Brother.  You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”

Johnny slowly nodded.  “I think I do.  I’ve missed you…all of you.”

The room fell silent except for the sound the Grandfather clock ticking.  Outside, a single bell began to ring.  It wasn’t the frantic ringing signaling a fire, but a slow reverent clang.

The people in the room turned to look at a smiling Cipriano.

“The bell rings for Juanito, Patron.” 

Val grinned.  He’d always called the ringing of the bells when Johnny entered a town in Mexico, the ‘Madrid Bells,’ and now the bell at Lancer was ringing.

Seeing Val’s grin, Murdoch couldn’t help but smile.   A smile that turned to a grin that soon spread to the faces of everyone in the room.

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder, squeezing it.  “Merry Christmas, Son.”

“Feliz Navidad…Papa.  Feliz Navidad.”


December 25, 1870

“How is he, Sam?”

Murdoch was on his feet and moving toward the stairs before Sam could get halfway down.  Scott, Teresa, and Val were beside him.

Sam shook his head.  “All I can say is that the doctor in Tucson has to be some kind of miracle worker.  The bullet wound is a hair’s breadth from his heart.   I honestly can’t believe you let him get on a horse, Val.”

Val snorted, “Let him.  Sam, there was no way he wasn’t going to get on that horse and come home.  The only way I could have kept him in Tucson was to tie him to the bed.  You all know how he gets when he sets his on something.  He was coming home for Christmas and nothing, and no one was going to stop him.”


Val cut him off.

“Sam, it don’t matter about us getting here.  How is he now?”

“Considering what he’s been through, he’s in pretty good condition.  The bullet wound in his chest is still healing.  The one on his side has healed.  From what you said, Val, Johnny hasn’t allowed himself much rest since leaving Tucson.

“I want him to stay in bed for at least three days, get as much rest as he can, and make sure he eats.  He’s lost a lot of weight since I last saw him.”

“He was too thin when I found him in Tucson, even before he was shot.”  Val looked down at the floor and let out a breath.   Looking up, he saw them all watching him.   “He said he was ready to come home, one way or another.  It didn’t matter to him if he lived or died; he just wanted me to bring him to Lancer.”

“You said he insisted on being here for Christmas?”  Teresa spoke up.

“Yeah, he said this was his first Christmas at Lancer and he didn’t want to miss it.”

Sam smiled.  “I’d say he had a few angels sitting on his shoulders to get him here alive.”

“Sam, you said you wanted him to stay in bed.” Scott looked to Murdoch and Teresa for support. “We…well, we were wondering if he could come downstairs to have Christmas dinner with us and open presents.”

Val shifted from one foot to another with a frown on his face.  “You all know he don’t have nothing for you, don’t you?  It might make him feel uncomfortable with nothing to give you.”

Murdoch put a hand on Val’s shoulder.

 “Val, he’s already given us the greatest gift he could.  He came home.  I have my son back and Scott and Teresa have their brother.  We don’t want anything more than that.”

“I’ve got gingerbread cookies to make and Maria is making churros. We hadn’t planned a big Christmas dinner, but the ladies on the ranch have gotten together, and…. well, it’s turning into a real party.  Oh, Sam, he can’t miss it.  Everyone is looking forward to seeing him.”

“Alright, if he feels up to it.”

“And you’ll stay too, won’t you, Sam.  We have so much to be thankful for this year.  I want everyone to celebrate with us.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.  How about you, Val?”

Val looked at the clothes he was wearing and started to shake his head.

“I’ll loan you some clothes, Val,” Scott said with a smile.  “I’ve got extra shirts and pants I know will fit you.”

“Alright, I’d be pleased to stay.”

“That’s settled.”  Murdoch started up the stairs.  “I’ll check on Johnny.  Everyone else get busy.  We’re celebrating this Christmas like we’ve never celebrated before.”



December 31, 1870

The latest edition of the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin lay abandoned on the large desk, while Murdoch stared out the window that overlooked Lancer.

The rancher turned his chair so that he could see the sofa.   A splash of dark hair peeked from one end and a socked toe from the other.

Murdoch smiled and shook his head. 

It was good to have Johnny home.  He’d been serious when he said he never wanted to let the boy out of his sight again.  The last six months had been almost as hard as the prior twenty years.

Christmas day had been everything they hoped it would be.  In private, with just the family, gifts were exchanged.  Johnny kept apologizing for not having anything for them, and they kept reassuring him they had gotten the only gift each of them wanted.   

When word spread that Johnny was home and alive, the ranch rejoiced with an unplanned celebration.  It started at noon and went well into the evening, with the entire ranch; every man, woman and child joining in.   Tables were set up outside and the ladies outdid themselves with a feast fit for kings.  Music filled the air and songs were sung until finally, exhausted and sated, they went back to their homes, calling out “Feliz Navidad.”

Johnny lasted only an hour into the festivities before Sam sent him back to his room.   

While the rest of the ranch continued with the celebration, Murdoch spent his time checking on his son and praying it was real.  He kept expecting to wake up and find it was all just a dream. 

Standing and stretching, Murdoch took a deep breath and glanced down at the paper again.  He’d read the article several times and would wait for Johnny to wake before letting him read it as well.


The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin                                        December 23, 1870   

Earlier this month, this newspaper reprinted a story initially published in the Arizona Citizen. The story reported that notorious pistolero Johnny Madrid was killed in a gunfight in Tucson on November 25th of this year.

At the time of our publication, the claims of the Arizona Citizen were under investigation and unverified.  The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin has discovered significant errors to the news article and a retraction follows:

Legendary Pistolero Johnny Madrid: Alive

It would appear that the young man who, as the Arizona Citizen stated, is part myth, part legend is alive, and the reports of his death were once again, premature and greatly exaggerated.

As printed in the Arizona Citizen, four men, now identified as Samuel Stryker, his son Davie Stryker, Gene Wallace, and Lum Pearcy, did, in fact, ride into Tucson searching for Johnny Madrid. Madrid agreed to meet them the following day at noon.

At the appointed time, on November 25, Madrid faced the four men.   The ensuing gun battle left Samuel Stryker and the three men with him dead, and Johnny Madrid severely wounded.

Near-death, Madrid was carried from the Tucson street to Doctor Jerome Spencer’s office.  For three hours, Doctor Spencer operated on the young man until his wounds were stabilized.

Knowing a man with Madrid’s reputation was not safe in Tucson, Doctor Spencer and another man, still not identified, quickly and quietly spirited the gunfighter away to an undisclosed location to recover from his wounds. 

In the last two weeks, we have confirmed that Johnny Madrid has been seen and positively identified in Yuma, Arizona and San Bernardino, California.   While Madrid’s current location is unknown, it is believed he has returned to the San Joaquin Valley. 

For the second time this year, Johnny Madrid has been reported as being killed.  It is also the second time this newspaper has printed a retraction.  Rest assured, should word of the young man’s demise reach us again, the editor of this paper will personally verify all information before it appears in print.


Murdoch shook his head.  He’d cursed the newspaper when they reported Johnny’s death.  Now he cursed them for reporting he was alive.  Worse, they’d laid out a map for anyone looking for Johnny Madrid and his reputation  –  a map that would inevitably lead them straight to the San Joaquin Valley. 


The sound of horses entering the yard drew Murdoch’s attention to the French doors.  Standing, he saw three men on horseback coming toward the house.   Going to the front door, he lifted his gun belt from the hat tree and buckled it on.

Stopping for a second, he turned to look at the sofa.  Assuring himself that Johnny was still sleeping, Murdoch opened the front door and walked out.

The riders had stopped a few feet from the veranda and were looking his way.

There was a movement to Murdoch’s left.  He saw four of the vaqueros with rifles in hand spread out along the edge of the yard.  Knowing there was one man in the guard tower on top of the house gave him some sense of comfort.  Since the night Johnny came home, Cipriano had made sure the house remained guarded at all times.

“Can I help you?”

“You Murdoch Lancer?” 

The man stepped down from his horse but stayed next to it.   He was only slightly shorter than Murdoch and had the same graying hair.  To Murdoch, the man looked somewhat familiar.

“I’m Murdoch Lancer and you are?”

“The names Stryker, Jackson Stryker.”

When Murdoch’s face showed surprise and his hand settled on his gun butt, Stryker smiled.

“I see you know the name.  You met my brother, Sam, a few months back.”

“Yes, Mr. Stryker, I met your brother and his sons.  Now, what do you want on Lancer?”  Murdoch snapped.  His voice was louder than he’d meant it to be, but standing in front of him was a threat to his youngest son.

“No need to take that tone with me, Mr. Lancer.  I’m not here for a fight.”

“I’ll ask again, what do you want?”  

“I heard what happened to Sam and Davie in Tucson.  Sam told me your boy went by the name of Madrid.   Can you believe he tried to get me and my boys to go after Johnny Madrid?  I told him he was crazy, but Sam wouldn’t hear it and was dead set on killing Madrid for what he did to Eli.  It didn’t make a bit of difference to him if the boy was a gunfighter or not.”

“And are you here for your ‘justice,’ Mr. Stryker?”

Jackson Stryker shook his head.

“No, Mr. Lancer.   Sam always was a mean son of a bitch.   The way I figure it, my brother and his sons got what was coming to them.”   

Murdoch’s stare at Stryker would have done Madrid justice.

“When I heard that Madrid was dead, I figured Sam got his justice.  Then I heard he was alive and figured he was headed this way.  I just wanted to make sure your boy got home in one piece.”

Murdoch glanced over his shoulder, hoping his son was still sleeping on the sofa.   His heart fell when he heard a noise to his left and knew it was Johnny.

Johnny moved to stand next to his father.


“No, there’s no problem.  Go back inside.”

“I don’t think so,” Johnny responded in a smooth, soft voice.

Stryker smiled at the dark-haired, blurry-eyed boy.  Then his eyes went to the Colt tied low on the boy’s hip, and the smile slipped away.  

“I’ll be taking my leave, Mr. Lancer.  I got my answer.  I’m glad you made it home, Boy.”

Murdoch didn’t say anything as Jackson Stryker mounted his horse and turned away from the house.

Johnny watched the three men ride away.

“Who were they, Murdoch?”

Murdoch shook his head, “No one.  No one you have to worry about, John.”

A whisper of a smile graced his face as he touched the butt of his Colt.   He’d heard the conversation between Stryker and his father.  Johnny looked at Murdoch and then back to the three riders going under the arch.  Scanning the yard, he saw the vaqueros going about their business.

His instincts told him not to trust Jackson Stryker, but maybe, just maybe, Stryker had been honest and they’d never see him again.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, son, I’m sure.  How do you feel?”

“Tired, sore, but not bad.”

Murdoch looked down at his son’s socked feet and shook his head.

“Johnny, where are your boots?”

Johnny bowed his head and wiggled his toes. 

“I don’t know.  Teresa hid ‘em.  Said she didn’t want me wandering around outside.”

Murdoch laughed.

“You mean like you’re doing right now?  I think we’d better get you inside before she sees you.  Come on.” 

Murdoch put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder and turned him back to the house. 

“Are you glad to be home?”

“Yeah, I’m glad.  It took a while, but I finally found the way back.”

“I meant what I said.  I’m never letting you out of my sight again, young man.  I can’t go through another six months like the last.”

“I can’t either.”  Johnny dipped his head.  “All I thought of in that six months was Lancer and coming home.”

Johnny felt the large hand go to the back of his neck and a gentle squeeze.

Before Murdoch pushed him through the door, Johnny turned to look at the retreating riders.   Stepping into the house, Teresa confronted him.

“Johnny, have you been outside?”

Murdoch laughed when he heard his youngest son trying to defend his actions. 

Before closing the door, it was Murdoch’s turn to look down the road.  He watched the riders get further away knowing that if Jackson Stryker or anyone else came for Johnny, he’d be ready. 

Johnny Lancer was home, and that’s where he was staying. 

December 2019


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.


13 thoughts on “On My Way Home by SandySha

  1. I really like this story, not least because it has a well written plot but also because the episode left so many unanswered questions and this addresses one of the key ones: would the Strykers really have meekly left without taking some revenge later? With few morals that we could see, they could easily and without compunction, have ambushed Johnny at some later date. This is a great answer to that question and makes far more sense than the episode ending. I like the portrayal of Johnny’s character and the relationship between Val and Johnny. Thank you to SandySha for writing and posting.


    1. Thank you for the kind words. I agree there is much more that needs to be written about the Strykers. I never saw them just going away and leaving without more of a fight.


  2. This was a beautifully written story, worthy of an episode in its own right. I had tears in my eyes at the Christmas Eve scene. I totally agree that the filmed episode left us with unanswered questions (not for the first nor the last time). I loved Scott wishing on a star on his Birthday and then later we find Johnny is looking up at the stars at the same time. I’m loving these stories. Lancer ended too soon, but here it lives on for ever. Thank you.


    1. I loved this. I never did think the Strykers would just up and ride away. This makes sense. I love Johnny and val together and even Bodine. Poor Murdoch and family b.v ack at the ranch thinking the worst. What a wonderful Christmas gift they got. Just loved this.


  3. Sandysha,

    This was a wonderfully imaginative story describing exactly how Johnny planned to save his family and hopefully salvage his relationship with them. There was much lovely imagery to savor, such as Johnny seeing a halo around Val’s head. I’m glad you not only solved the Stryker mystery, but also found a way to give us a proper introduction to Val. Loved the special side story with gunman Bodine! I also liked the mystery for the family and the gigantic payoff when they discovered they’d misunderstood the telegrams. Very heartwarming! Thanks for a lovely story.


  4. This is the second time I’ve read this wonderful story. I love how you conveyed Johnny’s longing to be home with his family. A wonderful sequel for Chase a Wild Horse. Looking forward to future stories. Happy Holidays!


  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, fanfiction is sooo much better than the television series ever was.


  6. I really love reading stories with Johnny and Val. The way you captured Johnny’s essence is just unbelievable. I’ve read a lot of your stories and I’ve never been disappointed. Thanks for sharing your talents and keeping Lancer land alive. JML always ♥


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