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Ripples on the Water by SandySha

Word Count 31,020



Episode tag: Chase A Wild Horse

*An A/R- tag to Chase a Wild Horse – blending the original script with the aired episode and my own A/R.
*This one, as promised, is dedicated to Katie States
*I had two inspirations for the story.  One was the poem Drop a Pebble in the Water by James W. Foley. The other was Maureen Olley, who pointed out the episode was about Pride, Regret, and Reconciliation.  
*Lancer Fans will recognize the words from the episode and the original script written by Paul Playdon.   Thanks to Charlene for providing the fandom with a copy of the original script.
*Thanks to Terri Derr (Doc) for the beta and Marilyn for the photo.  


Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.

From the Poem Drop A Pebble in the Water by James W. Foley.



Drop a pebble in the water: in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing, and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river just by dropping in a stone.

When the front door clicked shut, and the jingle of spurs no longer echoed off the tile floor, Murdoch didn’t look.  He couldn’t.   

Knowing it was too little, too late, he tried to speak, but the word came out as a mere whisper, “Johnny.” 

He stood frozen, arms stiff, hands clasped in front of him, his eyes riveted to the open ledger on his desk.  Not daring to move, he forced himself to breathe and slowed his pounding heart. 

The anger he’d felt minutes earlier was quickly replaced by hurt and disbelief.  Surely, the events of the last few minutes hadn’t happened, and the boy he’d searched for all those years wasn’t walking out of his life…again.

Finally, forcing himself to turn, Murdoch walked across the room to the French doors.  Looking out, he saw Scott and Teresa, but no Johnny.

Stepping outside, he stopped at the edge of the front portico in time to see his youngest son riding away, Wes and that damnable black stallion in tow.

More than anything, he wanted to yell for Johnny to stop, ask him to come back, say he was sorry for the words he’d used, and ask for another chance, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to admit he was wrong.  In a near-panicked moment, he started to raise a hand, to call out, only to lower his arm and shake his head.  

“Murdoch, you have to stop him.”  Turning, he saw Teresa rushing towards him with tears running down her cheeks. “Go after him.” 

“No!   It’s his decision.”

Teresa stopped, unsure she’d heard right.  “But…. I know he’d listen to you.  Please.”

The stubborn rancher shook his head, turned his back on her, and went back inside, his pride firmly in place.

Teresa walked back to Scott.  “What are we going to do?”

“I’m not sure.  I’ll give Murdoch time to cool down and then talk to him.”

Scott put an arm around Teresa’s shoulders and pulled her closer.  Together they watched Johnny and Wes ride under the arch and out of their lives. 

In the Great Room, Murdoch paced in front of his desk, and with each step, his temper rose.   He told himself that if anyone else had walked away from that fence, he wouldn’t have wasted a minute in firing him.  But Johnny was his flesh and blood, a partner in the ranch, and he couldn’t just fire him.  

Stopping his back-and-forth movements, the tall rancher took a breath. Maybe it was for the best.  Yes, that was it.  The ranch hands had seen Johnny ride away and knew the Patron wouldn’t stand for anyone, even his own son, to go against his orders.  

Murdoch slowly lowered himself into the chair behind his desk, feeling more tired than he could remember.  He didn’t know how long he stared out the window, watching the day pass and shadows lengthen.  When Scott walked in, the room was lit only by the fading sun.

He didn’t have to look at his oldest son to know he was slowly taking off his leather gloves and choosing his words carefully.  

“Well, what do you plan to do?”

Murdoch knew what Scott was asking but ensured his answer had nothing to do with Johnny.

“After the strays are taken care of, we go over to the east mesa for surveying, and there’s that wooden footbridge that washed out last winter.”

“You know what I mean.  About Johnny?”

Although Scott’s voice was level, his tone rose.

“He made his decision.”

“Oh, did he?” Scott snapped.  “The way I heard it, he got some help!”

Murdoch straightened his shoulders and chose not to look at his oldest.   All he could think was that now he had another son questioning him.  Well, he’d put a stop to that.

“Anyway, the matter’s closed.  It’s not open for further discussion.”

There was no way Scott could hold back his frustration with his newly found father.  “You don’t give at all, do you?  All pride and Johnny’s cut from the same mold.  Not one inch of give.”

Murdoch pushed out of his chair, trying to control his temper.  He walked across the room and turned to look at Scott.

“You want me to go after him?  Beg him to come back here?”

Scott met his father’s hazel eyes, noting hints of gold flaring with his temper.  “Is that so bad?”

“And how long would it last?” his voice raised slightly.  “If he’s willing to let go that easily.  If nothing here has gotten through to him.  If he hasn’t learned anything.  If what he’s running to out there is so important, then let it happen.  Let it happen now.”

“Let it happen!  You claim to have spent years searching for him, and now you’re willing to let him ride away without a fight.  Does he mean so little to you?”

Murdoch turned away, no longer able to meet Scott’s eyes.

“I guess I have my answer.”

Murdoch swung around to face his son.  “Scott, I’m not blind, and neither are you.   You must know the boy’s not happy here.”

“He’s not a boy.  Johnny’s a man, and you refuse to see it.”

“He’s a boy!  Regardless of his reputation or the life he led before coming here, Johnny is still a boy and one who needs to learn to do as he’s told.”

“He has—.” Scott’s protest was cut short.

“No, he hasn’t.  He’s bucked me at every turn, at everything I’ve asked him to do.”

“Asked?” Scott straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin in defiance.  “Sir, you have never once asked him to do anything.  You tell him what to do and when he does it, you make it plain it’s not enough.  It’s never good enough.  Why is that?  Even when he does exactly as you ask, why is it never good enough for you?”

“It’s not like that, Scott.”

“I beg to differ.  It is exactly like that.  Johnny tries to please you, but you can’t see it.”

Murdoch clenched his fists at his sides.

“Scott, if he wants to please me so much, he’d break clean with his old life and settle down.  He’s gone too long without discipline and rules.  Your brother needs to make up his mind who he is and where he belongs,” Murdoch repeated the words he’d said to Johnny earlier.     

“What do you mean, who he is?”

“Your brother needs to decide if he’s Johnny Madrid or Johnny Lancer.”

“I thought he’d done that when he signed the partnership agreement.”

“A name on a piece of paper doesn’t change who he is!  When he signed as Johnny Lancer, I’d hoped he would make an effort to change.”

“Change?  My God, Murdoch, he’s changed his entire life trying to fit in here.”  Scott’s temper was rising along with his voice.  “So, there’s no room at Lancer for Johnny Madrid?  Is that what you’re saying?”

Scott took a step closer to his father. 

“Think about it, Murdoch. Whether the name is Lancer or Madrid, he’s the same person and… your… son!  He was Johnny Madrid longer than he’s been Johnny Lancer.  You can’t expect him to change overnight.  You have to give him time to adjust and stop pushing him.”

Murdoch snorted.  “Funny, Johnny used those exact words.  That he’d do fine if I just stopped pushing him.”

“And he would.” Scott took a breath.  “Murdoch, Johnny’s a hard worker, but he knows little about ranching and needs time to learn, just as I do.” 

“I don’t have time to break him in easily.  I wish I did, but I don’t.”

“Why?   Why don’t you have the time?  Why have you given me time to learn and can’t with him?”

“Because of the very thing that happened today.  I’ve been expecting it.”

“What?” Scott’s frustration was showing.  “Going after those horses?”

“If it weren’t the horses, it would have been something else.  I wanted to find out if he could settle into this life.  Now, we both know what he wants isn’t at Lancer.  You didn’t see him draw on the Stryker boy. The gun was in Johnny’s hand and firing without him even having to think about it.” 

“From what I understand, Eli Stryker drew on Johnny and would have shot him in the back.  Are you upset that Johnny was able to defend himself or that he wasn’t the one shot?”

“Of course not.”  Murdoch waved his hand as if swatting away the thought.  “I’m glad he has the ability to defend himself.”

“Then what?  Murdoch, either you support your son or you don’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  Johnny has a gift.”

Murdoch huffed.  “A gift for killing?  It’s a gift that’s cost too many men their lives.”

“And kept him alive!”  Scott shook his head, not understanding his father’s attitude.  “You never answered my question.  What are you going to do now?”

“Nothing.  There’s nothing to do.” Murdoch turned his back and walked to the picture window behind his desk.  “To him, killing is as easy as breathing.  Well, I won’t have it.  Not here.

Johnny knew what he was doing when he walked out that door.

“He turned his back and walked away from this place and his share of the ranch, and he gave it all up without a fight.  Face it, Scott, he’s not cut out for this life.”

“So that’s what he meant by my owning fifty percent of a ranch.  Was that something he suggested or was it you?”

Murdoch locked eyes with his oldest son but didn’t answer.   

“I see,” Scott slowly nodded and took a step back.  “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to town and look for him.  I’m bringing him back if I can, and, by God, you’d better think of the words to keep him here.”

“I don’t respond well to threats.”

“It’s not a threat,” Scott growled.   He slapped his hat against his leg, turned, and started to walk away.  Stopping, he looked back. 

“Oh, and don’t go rewriting that partnership agreement yet.  If Johnny doesn’t come back, you won’t need it anymore.  I’ll even help you tear it up.”

Scott stomped away without another word, leaving his father to consider the meaning of his words.

Listening to Scott’s fading footsteps, Murdoch collapsed into his chair and put his elbows on the desk.  He ran his fingers through his hair and slowly shook his head.  How had everything gone downhill so fast?

He replayed the last few hours over and over in his mind.

Once he’d seen the horses, he knew without asking where Johnny and Wes had been.  He remembered his youngest son walking toward him with a smile and a bounce in his step.  

The anger was already building inside him, and the boy’s happiness only filled him with indignation.

So, what did he do?  When Johnny enthusiastically told him about the stallion, he vented some of that anger.   But that wasn’t enough.  There was still a smile on the boy’s face, and he couldn’t allow that.

The only thing he wanted to do at that moment was wipe away the smile.  If there was one thing Murdoch Lancer was good at, it was stamping out his youngest son’s happiness.   Why was it important to remove the smile from his son’s face, a smile he hadn’t seen often and not like this afternoon? 

That’s when it hit him. His son had done something for himself, to bring happiness to himself, and was trying to share it with his ‘old man.’ 

Instead of sharing the moment, an angry father shattered it as surely as if he’d struck the boy with his fist.

Murdoch closed his eyes and tried to make sense of what had happened.   He remembered towering over Johnny and the angry words they’d both used.   He also remembered how young his son looked and the voice he’d used, that of a small boy pleading for his father’s approval.   

“I’d do just fine if you didn’t push so hard!”

Murdoch could have stopped and stepped back, but he didn’t.  At that moment, his anger was so overwhelming that he wanted none of it.  He needed to win and needed the matter settled once and for all.  Well, he’d settled it, alright.

“I don’t have time to break you in easy.”

“So that’s it,” Johnny snapped.  “Break the land.  Break the people.  Then mold them…mold them into your image.  Well, maybe there’s your answer, old man.”

“To what?”

“To why people always end up running away from you.”

He’d flinched. The words had hit hard and his response was just as hard and just as fierce.

“I don’t need you to tell me who or what I am!  I already know.  But you’d better decide who you are.”

He remembered pausing, trying to see if he was making an impression on his son. 

“Tell me, John, who are you?”  He hadn’t waited for a response before pushing again.  “If you don’t know, you’d better find out, boy.  Are you Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid?”

Johnny’s head was down, his arms wrapped around him as if trying to protect himself from his father—the father who should have been holding him, not lecturing, not demanding his son make a decision that would change all their lives. 

Then the great Murdoch Lancer, the Patron, pushed even harder and spat out the words he’d regret for the rest of his life.

You need to decide where you belong, and if it’s not going to be here, I want to know it now!”

Wes chose that moment to enter the room, saying he was leaving.   And Johnny…well, Johnny, with his father’s words still ringing in his ears, hadn’t hesitated before telling Wes to pack his gear, that he was going with him. 

So, now he had his answer.   

Murdoch vaguely recalled what happened next, but it was as if he had gone through the motions in a daze. 

He’d given Johnny his pay and then made it plain his leaving meant he was giving up his share of the ranch, his legacy.   

“You realize this makes our contract null and void?”

Johnny nodded but didn’t look him in the eye.  “You want me to sign something?”

Murdoch shook his head, his heart sinking even further.  “No.  I’ll take care of having the agreement changed.”

When Johnny nodded, Murdoch’s last glimmer of hope vanished like sand sifting through his fingers.  

“I can keep my horse?” Johnny’s voice softened, and for a moment, Murdoch saw the boy in him.  “I can, can’t I?  I mean….”

“The horse is yours,” he’d answered more curtly than intended and then softened.  “You broke him, and besides, I doubt anyone else on the ranch could ride him.”

He’d added the last hoping to ease the tension in the room, but it hadn’t worked.  Without looking back, Johnny turned and walked away.

Now, after all the years of searching, Johnny was gone again, this time for good.  There was no stopping it, even if …. No.  Damn that boy, why couldn’t he have settled down?  Why did he have to be so stubborn and headstrong? 

Murdoch sighed at the ledger where the boy had signed for his wages.  “I guess he made his decision.” 

The signature on the line for wages paid was Johnny Madrid.

Scott tried to control his emotions as he rode out of Green River. 

“Stubborn…stubborn…stubborn!” he repeated.  “Hardheaded and stubborn.”

He’d been right about Murdoch and Johnny, both cut from the same mold.  Trying to talk to either of them was like talking to a stone wall. 

Damn Murdoch Lancer and his pride!   And his youngest son wasn’t much better!

During his ride into town, Scott decided what he would say if he found his brother.  He’d been relieved and delighted to find first Barranca in the livery stable and then Johnny in the saloon.

Scott remembered the smile on Johnny’s face when he’d asked if the old man had given him time off, but the smile vanished quickly enough, replaced by a sad and disappointed look when he said Murdoch hadn’t sent him.  

He knew right then that the boy didn’t want to leave, and it would take only one word of acceptance from Murdoch to turn it all around.

Their discussion didn’t go as planned.  When Johnny said he was headed south that night with Wes, Scott’s reply had been quick, “So, you just going to kill time, among other things.  You’ll be dead before you’re thirty.”

He regretted those words and knew they were harsh, but he was willing to do anything, say anything, to keep his brother from going back to a life that would get him killed.

Johnny’s response, “That comes to us all, doesn’t it brother?”  both angered Scott and broke his heart.

He wasn’t sure where his next words came from.  All he knew was that he’d never thought or said a truer statement.  “But when you go, you won’t even leave a small ripple.” 

Johnny’s reply was smug. “That it, brother?  The sermons over, ain’t it?”

Scott fought hard to control his anger and disappointment.  “It’s the only good thing that’s ever happened to you in your whole life, and you’re going to get up and walk away from it and all for nothing.  But I guess that’s all you’ve got going for you from now on.”

It had been his last desperate attempt to change the stubborn boy’s mind, and it hadn’t worked.

He’d stood and reached out his hand.  “It’s nice to have met you, brother.”

Taking Johnny’s hand, Scott felt his brother’s grip. The hairs on his neck stood up as he felt a connection to the young man he’d only known for a few months.  At that moment, he knew neither of them wanted to let go.  

When he walked out of the saloon, it was all he could do not to walk right back in and grab his stubborn, pig-headed newly found brother by the back of his neck and drag him home.

That’s when he realized nothing he said would bring his little brother home.  Johnny’s pride would drive him south with Wes.  In his heart, Scott knew he’d never see his brother again if that happened. 

The only person who could change what would happen was Murdoch Lancer himself.  

Not wanting to waste time, Scott kicked his horse into a gallop.  He needed to get back to Lancer and have a genuine heart-to-heart with his father.

Either Murdoch found the words to keep Johnny from leaving, or he’d be going as well.      


Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them, once you’ve started them to flow.


A lone figure stood outside the hacienda and looked into the darkness.  The silhouette of the corral and barn stood out against the moonlit landscape. 

Overhead a barn owl screeched, flapped its wings, and then dipped from the sky, claws extended, intent on catching something scurrying across the barnyard. Seconds later, a sharp squeal signaled the owl’s success.  As the large bird rose into the air, a tiny mouse struggled to escape an inevitable fate.

The sights and sounds of the ranch were usually comforting, but tonight they were a reminder of the dark place he was in.  For the first time in his life, Johnny thought he’d found a place where he belonged, where he didn’t need his gun to survive., but now… 

He smiled for a moment and then inhaled deeply, the smile fading as he exhaled.  So much had occurred in the past twenty-four hours that he was having a hard time making sense of it.

The tension between him and Murdoch had been building since the first day they’d met.  His father didn’t trust him and hadn’t since he’d refused to ride with Scott and Cipriano into the San Benitos. 

He thought he’d won the man’s trust by taking a bullet in the back, but Murdoch Lancer had shown him day after day that trust wasn’t coming and never would—something else Johnny regretted not getting settled.  He’d hoped someday to be able to talk to Murdoch about Pardee’s attack on the ranch.  Now, it looked like that would never happen.

A small fire ignited in Johnny’s chest, and his anger rose.  He looked back at the last two months and saw nothing he did was ever good enough.  The old man constantly checked up on him like he’d done yesterday at the fence line.  Then there was the work, always the work and more of it.  Murdoch Lancer made sure his ‘boy’ was kept busy, from before dawn to dark each night. 

After weeks of the same routine, Johnny thought he’d figured it out.  The only way to get ahead of the system was to work faster and finish early.  Yesterday he’d pushed hard to wrap up the fence job so he could have a few minutes to himself.  A few minutes to do something that didn’t have a deadline, to enjoy a few moments of freedom—something he hadn’t had since signing that damn partnership agreement. 

It was almost as if Murdoch guessed what he was trying to do and came up with a way to stop him.  The last straw was when Murdoch told him he had to help Scott with the surveying and then spend his evening with the books. 

Even the gift of his father’s watch hadn’t been enough to ease his anger and frustration.  He watched Murdoch drive away and then turned back to the fence.  The damn fence.  That’s all his father thought he was good for, fixing his fences.

At that moment, the old hate for Murdoch Lancer resurfaced.  He hated the man, his land, and especially that fence, and if he could have, he would have torn it all down and turned it to ash. 

Tossing the hammer in the wagon’s bed, he’d turned to put his shirt back on.  Wes was prattling on about town when the sound of running horses caught their attention.   A small herd of wild horses streaked across the range with a black stallion in the lead.

Johnny had seen the excitement on his friend’s face and knew what he had in mind, but he had a job to complete. 

When he didn’t move, Wes pointed to the horses.

‘You’re gonna pass that up?’

“Come on. We gotta get back to work.’

‘You got all your life to work.  When are you gonna find a horse like that?’

Wes hadn’t waited.  He mounted his horse and gave chase to the herd, leaving Johnny behind.

When Wes rode off, Johnny thought about it for a split second before he found himself smiling.  Wes was right. He didn’t owe his life to working and wanted to prove to his father that he could do more than set fence posts and string wire.

So, instead of sticking with the job assigned to him, what had he done?  He’d rebelled like a child and walked away— more accurately, ridden away.   

Riding home after catching the wild horses, he’d been happy, happier than he’d been in the weeks he’d been at Lancer.  He’d felt a sense of accomplishment that he sure as hell didn’t get planting post holes or herding cattle.   He was proud of that stallion and was foolish enough to think Murdoch would understand.  Wasn’t that what he’d told Wes? ‘I think he’ll understand.’

He’d been sorely wrong.  Murdoch hadn’t understood, and his harsh words cut deep and kept cutting.   He’d felt like he’d been gut-shot when the old man announced, ‘Just because you’re my son doesn’t mean you don’t carry your weight around here.’

He’d said it loud enough that half the hands on the ranch heard, and to make matters worse, he’d said it in front of Teresa.  

It had hit him like a lightning bolt from a clear sky that no matter how hard he tried to change or how hard he worked, being Murdoch Lancer’s son meant nothing; he meant nothing. Embarrassed and not knowing what else to do, he’d turned and walked away. 

He was mad and frustrated when he heard riders coming into the yard.  Seeing Sam Stryker and his son, Eli, Johnny knew there would be trouble.  He hadn’t expected Murdoch to give Stryker the time of day, let alone the horses he’d worked hard to catch.

When Murdoch gave Stryker the mares, he’d tried to argue, but the Patron was firm.  Stryker was to get the mares but leave the stallion.

It was too bad Eli Stryker hadn’t been listening.  When Eli tried to take the stallion, Johnny stopped him.  In the end, there was no way to avoid the gunfight with Eli.  After all, the man had drawn on him.

By the time Murdoch told him to make up his mind who he was and where he belonged, Johnny knew there was no turning back; the die was cast.   Like dropping a stone in a pond, the ripples began to spread outward, and once they started, nothing could have stopped what was going to happen.

Murdoch had vented and pushed, and he’d pushed right back.  The memory of those last moments in the Great Room with his father still took his breath away.

When Murdoch said, ‘You’ll need money,’ he’d kept his head down and stared at his hat.  That was the defining moment in their relationship.  He couldn’t look at his father when he replied, ‘Only what you think I have coming.’

Murdoch picked up a ledger and looked it over as if the man he was paying off was any other hand working on the estancia.  Then he’d set a value on his son. 

‘You haven’t drawn pay in two weeks.  That’s twelve dollars.’

Johnny closed his eyes and tried not to react.  All he was worth to the man was twelve dollars, and that’s all he had coming. Well, that was fine.  He signed the ledger with the only name left to him, took the money, and then chanced a look at his father.

If only Murdoch had said anything to change his mind about leaving, maybe things would have been different, but the words never came.  The man wouldn’t even look at him.

Since he was old enough to carry a gun, no man had made him feel as insignificant as Murdoch Lancer did that day.

Johnny walked outside, closing the front door behind him, and turned to place both hands against the warm stucco walls of the building.  For a heartbeat, he thought of going back inside but knew it would do no good. 

He turned to see Scott walking his way.

‘Johnny! Wes tells me you’re leaving.’

‘That’s right, brother.’ Johnny sauntered towards his brother.  ‘Guess you own fifty percent of a ranch.’

‘Don’t do it.  In a couple of days, this whole thing will blow over.  Give it a chance.  I’ll talk to Murdoch -square things—’

‘Naw, forget it. I’ve got a lot of places to go before they box me in.  No, you belong here….’

The sentence was cut short when Teresa ran out the front door, tears in her eyes. 

‘Johnny, I don’t want you to go.’

He’d taken her in his arms and felt her trembling.  ‘You gonna shed a tear for me, Teresa?’

He’d reached into his pocket, pulled out a few bills, and put them in her hands.  ‘I want you to go out and buy yourself a new dress and get out of those jeans.’ He kissed her forehead and started to turn. ‘And wipe your nose.’

As he walked past his brother, Scott grasped his arm.  ‘Johnny, think about it….’

‘I have thought about it.’  Again he reached into his pocket and pulled out two dollars. ‘Will you give this to the old man?  It’s for the stallion’s halter, and don’t worry about me.  I’m going to start living again!’

He’d only taken a few steps when Teresa was beside him again.

‘Johnny, he didn’t mean it. He’s your father.’  

Looking at her, he shook his head. Turning to go, she placed a hand gently on his arm.

‘Listen to me.  You have no idea how rough it’s been on him.  He’s lived alone without feeling or caring for so long that he’s almost forgotten what it’s like.   You’ve got to help him.  He needs you, Johnny.’

He’d looked at her and smiled slightly before answering, ‘He doesn’t need anybody.’

He’d ridden away thinking those thoughts and agonized over his decision throughout the night.   Johnny knew regret was a sure way to get you killed in his line of work.

In all the years he’d hired out his gun, there were only a few times he’d second guessed his decisions and actions, but Madre de Dios, now there was more regret than he could express—two more men dead, Eli Stryker and Wes, one by his hand and the other as good as.  Fifty head of cattle were in a sand ditch, Scott was wounded, and Sam Stryker was still out there somewhere, still seeking revenge, still wanting to kill the man who shot his son. 

He’d ridden into town with Wes, feeling the past month’s pressures lifted from his shoulders.  He was once again free to go where he wanted and when.  They’d been laughing when they entered the livery stable. 

The stableman had wanted to buy the stallion, but Johnny had told him the horse wasn’t for sale.  He’d given up a lot to get that horse and planned to keep him.  Not even the offer of fifty dollars swayed his decision.  That’s when Wes suggested he sell his father’s watch.  At first, he said it wasn’t for sale, but Wes pushed.  They needed money, and all they had was nine dollars between them.

Johnny had taken the watch and looked at it.  It was something his father had given him, something that should have been treasured.  He’d sold the old timepiece for fifteen dollars and handed over the only gift he’d ever directly received from the man he so desperately wanted to call him son. 

It wasn’t until later that night he felt the regret start to seep into his soul.  He fought against it, fought hard.  Regret wasn’t in his nature.

Even Scott coming to town hadn’t completely swayed him, and it was only after…after ….  Thinking of Wes, he swallowed hard and fought the burning behind his eyes.

Poor Wes.  He wasn’t much of a gun hand, but he’d ridden a lot of miles with him.  Wes never took anything seriously and was the laziest man Johnny had ever met, but damn it, Wes was his friend.  The relationship with Scott was too new to tell if they would be more than brothers and partners, and he wasn’t close to anyone else at Lancer.   So Wes had been his only real friend, and now he was gone. 

Johnny closed his eyes.  The events of a few hours ago were still fresh and painful.  It had happened suddenly and without warning.  One minute Johnny was sitting in the saloon thinking about Scott’s visit and his words, the next, he was across the street in the corral. 

The black stallion screamed and reared with his front legs thrashing the air.  On the ground lay the unmoving body of his friend.  He remembered stalking across the corral and drawing his Colt.  He’d raised the gun, pointed to the white spot between the animal’s eyes, and pulled back the hammer.

His eyes dropped to the stallion’s black eyes, and his breath caught.  He saw his own reflection in the terrified animal’s gaze. 

He’d captured something wild and tried to break it, just as his father wanted to tame him. He couldn’t pull the trigger to end the horse’s life.  To do so would have been like shooting himself.   

The only thing he could do to save the stallion was to tame him like Murdoch had tried to tame his wild son.  He didn’t have time to break him in easy.  Dios, did that sound familiar?  The stallion had to decide now to live tame or die wild.

He stepped back and holstered his gun.  Turning to the liveryman, he made a deal: the horse for his father’s silver watch.

The stallion fought hard, but Johnny knew what was at stake. He had to break the horse to keep him alive, and, in minutes, he’d done just that.   The animal that was once wild and free was now just another horse.

When it was over, the liveryman was happy to hand over the watch.  Johnny stared at it and then held it tightly and took a breath.  His father’s watch tied him to something he’d never had before. It took leaving Lancer to realize what he’d walked away from—a family and a home, something he’d never had before.  Now, more than anything, he wanted it back and was willing to fight for it. 

Despite Murdoch’s words, he had to go back, swallow his pride, put Madrid behind him, and start fresh as Johnny Lancer. He had to go back and straighten things out with the old man and hope he still had a home. 

As Johnny mounted Barranca and started to ride out of town, the black stallion stood at the corral fence calling to him, calling to a kindred spirit. 

Johnny’s reflections were interrupted by the sounds coming from the bunkhouse.  A guitar’s crisp, clear tones lilted across the yard, and soon someone began to sing of a dying cowboy alone on the trail.

Johnny pushed the lump down in his throat, remembering how he’d passed Boot Hill while riding out of town.

He’d stopped to watch a tall thin, middle-aged man, with his sleeves rolled up, digging a grave.  Off to the side, wrapped loosely in a blanket, was the partially covered body of his friend. 

He’d suddenly felt sad that Wes wasn’t being laid to rest in the church cemetery, but what could he expect?  Men like him and Wes weren’t destined to go to their final rests alongside decent folks. 

What had he said to Scott before leaving the day before?  ‘I have a lot of places to go before they box me in.’   Well, damn, it looked like Wes wasn’t even going to get the box.  He wondered if it would be the same for him when his time came.  Would he be thrown into a shallow unmarked grave in a nameless town with no one to mourn him?  

Scott’s words came back to him.  ‘You won’t even leave a small ripple.’  Was that his destiny as well?

The undertaker stopped digging and leaned against his shovel.  Pushing his long graying hair out of his eyes,  he looked up at Johnny.


“Howdy,” Johnny replied without taking his eyes off Wes’ body.

“You see it?”


“The way this fellow got his chest crushed?”

Johnny sighed.  “Yeah, I saw it.”

The undertaker chuckled.  “Never get to see the excitement.  Always get there after.”

When the man threw the shovel aside and stepped out of the shallow grave, Johnny’s eyes left Wes.

“You just gonna throw him in there?  No box?”

“He didn’t have a penny on him when he died.”  The undertaker reached for Wes’s body, grabbed his feet, and started to drag him toward the grave.  “He’s lucky to get buried at all.”

Johnny shook his head.  “It’s too shallow.”

The undertaker looked at Johnny, then at the body, and laughed, “Yeah, but he’s not gonna know the difference.”

“Coyotes will have him dug up in an hour.”

“Probably.”  Then the man smiled and straightened up.  “You got any money to give him a proper burying?”

“What about his horse and gear?  The liveryman said he was gonna use them to bury him.”

“Don’t know nothing about that.” The man strained, continuing to drag Wes to his final resting place.  He stopped and asked, “So, you got any money?”

Johnny dismounted and stalked toward the undertaker.  He could see the man’s eyes fall to the gun on his hip.  The expression on the undertaker’s face was one he’d seen many times.  Johnny stopped and reached into his pockets.  Every penny he’d had on him when he left Lancer had been spent at the saloon the night before.

“No, nothing.” 

“Too bad.” The undertaker shrugged and started to roll Wes into the grave.  “You got nothing; you end up with nothing.”

Johnny remembered his temper rising as he took a few more steps closer to the grave.

“Get out of here.”


“Get out of here.  I’ll bury him myself.”   

The undertaker shrugged, dropped the booted feet, and picked up his coat.  “Suit yourself.”

Johnny watched the man walk away without a backward glance.  Picking up the shovel, he jumped into the grave and began digging as hard as he could.  Finally, satisfied it was deep enough, he pulled himself out of the six-foot hole. 

Falling to his knees next to Wes, Johnny just stared at the unmoving form of his friend. 

He raised his head, looked at the empty blue sky, and then around at the desolate graveyard. In the distance, a dust devil appeared and danced its way across the dry ground toward him.   The mini-tornado stirred the reddish-brown California earth, soil aloft. 

Johnny covered his face and closed his eyes as the whirlwind skimmed passed him and across the fresh grave.  When he opened them, he watched the swirling mass continue as if it had lifted Wes’s soul and taken it over the horizon.

Looking down, he saw the wind had shifted the blanket away from his friend’s face, and lifeless eyes stared up at him.

“I’m sorry, amigo.  I’m so sorry,” Johnny whispered.  “It’s all my fault, and you shouldn’t be dead.  None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone after the stallion.”

After several minutes, he wrapped the blanket around Wes and secured it with rope from his saddle.   He lifted his friend and then lowered him into the grave.  Standing over the open hole, Johnny stared down for a long time before picking up a handful of dirt.  He let it shift through his fingers and watched as a fine layer of sandy soil covered the blanketed form at the bottom of the grave.

Picking up the shovel, he began slowly filling the grave. When he finished, Johnny took a deep breath and sighed.  Crossing himself, he said a silent prayer.

A few months ago, he would have ridden away and not looked back, but things had changed; he’d changed.  Even during the battles with his father, there was always the deep hope Murdoch cared about him and would someday show him.  

He took one last look at the grave.  “Adios, amigo.  I have a feeling if things don’t work out, I’ll be seeing you again real soon.”

Mounting Barranca, Johnny Madrid turned towards Lancer, hoping he was making the right decision.   

On the ride back to the ranch, Johnny knew coming back to talk to Murdoch had been the right thing to do, but all hopes of coming to terms with his father vanished when he found the Strykers waiting for him.

The brief gunbattle that followed resulted in Johnny wounding Stryker’s younger son, Davie.  Tempted to put an end to the Strykers once and for all, he’d listened to Murdoch and stopped.  Against his better judgment, he’d let them go, knowing deep down he’d regret it one day.

The Strykers were gone, but Murdoch’s final hurtful words, like nails in his coffin, were a resounding message that he wasn’t wanted and didn’t belong. 

‘The only thing wrong around here has always been you.  Get out… I don’t need you now or ever…Get off my land.’ 

He ran his right hand over the day-old growth on his chin and took a deep breath.


He jumped, not hearing her until she spoke.  Turning, Johnny saw Teresa coming towards him, backlit by the light from the Great Room.

“Johnny.”  Teresa slowed her steps.  “Scott’s asking for you.”

He didn’t answer.  He couldn’t face Teresa; he couldn’t face any of them. 

Teresa put a hand on his arm and squeezed.  “It wasn’t your fault, and no one blames you.”

He turned to look into her glistening blue eyes.  “No one?”

“Oh, Johnny, he didn’t mean the things he said.  He was so afraid….”

“Afraid of what?” Johnny snapped.  “Teresa, if I’d walked outside without knowing Stryker was there, do you know what would have happened?”

She lowered her head and sighed.

“That’s right.  I’d have walked into a trap, but maybe the old man might have preferred that to having me standing here now.”

Her head jerked up.  “No.  That wasn’t it.  Johnny, all Murdoch could think of was to get you away before Stryker knew you were here.  He tried…”  She stopped.

“Tried to save me or get me killed?”

“To save you.  Johnny, Murdoch loves you.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I can’t talk to you about this, Teresa.”

“Why not?”

“I’m angry and don’t want to say something I’ll regret later.  I have enough regrets in my life as it is.”

“All right, but go see Scott.  Maybe he can talk some sense into you.”   Teresa turned and started back into the house.  Stopping at the door, she looked over her shoulder.  “Johnny, please do me a favor.”


“Don’t leave again without seeing me, without saying goodbye.  You owe me that much.”

Johnny nodded and walked over to her.  Leaning over, he kissed her forehead.  “Don’t worry.  I won’t go anywhere without letting you know.”

She smiled and went back into the house.

Taking one last look around outside, someone moving near the corral caught his attention.  His hand rested on his Colt as the figure turned and started walking towards him.

“Senor Johnny.”

Johnny relaxed when he recognized the voice.


“Si, Senor.”

Johnny’s eyes went to the rifle the Segundo was holding.  “Expecting trouble?”

Cipriano nodded.  “Just being careful, Senor.  Those men … they should have been stopped before they reached the hacienda.”  

“So, why weren’t they?  Where was everyone?”

Cipriano dropped his head and looked at the ground.


“The Patron ordered everyone to the south gully to pull out the cattle stranded in the sand.  Only Walt stayed behind.”


“Si.  The doctor says he will be alright.”

Johnny cocked his head.  He hadn’t heard about Walt.

“You do not know?” Cipriano asked.

“Know what?”

“One of Senor Stryker’s men shot Walt when he was going for help.”

Johnny heaved a sigh.  One more man hurt because of him, more blood on his hands because of what he’d done.  

“Is he…?”

“No, Senor, Walt no esta muerto.  La doctora dice que estará bien.”

Johnny nodded, thankful Walt would be alright.

“Senor, I have set sentries tonight.”

“Murdoch tell you to that?”

“No, Senor.  The Patron has been busy with Senor Scott.  It was my decision to post the men.”

“Good, because I don’t think it’s over.”

“I agree, Senor.  Oh, and Senor, I will make sure the hacienda is never left unprotected again.”


“You will stay now, Senor?”

“I … I don’t know yet.  I’ll be here until this Stryker business is settled.  After that, I just don’t know.”

“The estancia has been too long without the Patron’s hijos.”  Cipriano hesitated.  “Juanito, I was here when you were born, and I know the happiness you brought.  I also know of the sorrow when your Mama took you away.  I saw that same sorrow yesterday in the Patron’s eyes when you rode away.”

“He doesn’t believe I belong here.”

“And you, Juanito, what do you believe?”

“Don’t you know your Patron is always right?” Johnny snorted.

“You were born here.  This…..”

“Stop right there.” Johnny stepped back and shook his head.  “The little boy you said brought happiness to the estancia is gone.  Johnny Lancer died long ago, and all Johnny Madrid can bring to your Patron is pain and disappointment.”

Cipriano shook his head.  “Nino, it is hard for men to say what is in their hearts and even harder for the Patron.  Your padre loves you, Juanito.  He does not say it, but it is there all the same.  Give him time to—.”

“Time!  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  Murdoch said he wished he could break me in easily, but he didn’t have the time.  Yesterday he demanded that I decide who I am and if I belong at Lancer.

“Well, I know who I am.  I’ve known for a long time.  As for whether I belong at Lancer, I pretty much told him that when I rode out.

“Look, he made it plain he doesn’t want me here, that I’m a disappointment.”

“No, Senor, you….”

“Don’t say I’m not.  I proved it to the old man yesterday when I committed the ultimate sin and didn’t finish the job he’d given me.  The last straw was going after those horses and drawing down on Stryker’s son.   Face it, he’s done with me.   Well, I’m done with him, too.  I’ve tried, but….” Johnny’s voice broke. 

Cipriano put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “So much pain and hurt in one so young.”

Johnny looked away and took a breath.  “I’ve got to go in and see about Scott.  Just make sure the men keep their eyes open.”

“Si, jefe.  I will take care of it.”

“Not your boss anymore, Cip. The old man’s rewriting the partnership agreement, just him and Scott now, but I’d still appreciate you making sure the hacienda is protected.”

Johnny turned and walked away, wishing he’d never come back.  He should have ridden south and forgotten about Lancer after he buried Wes.

Johnny entered the front door and glanced at the hat tree to the right of the entryway.  He knew Murdoch expected him to leave his rig and hat with the others, but that wasn’t going to happen.  The days of doing what his father wanted without question were over.

Heading for the main stairs, he heard his name.  Turning, he saw Murdoch standing in front of his desk.  

“John, I…” Murdoch straightened his shoulders. “We need to talk.”

Johnny shook his head and kept walking.  “There’s nothing to talk about.”

“I thought you came back to talk,” Murdoch replied in a softer voice.

“I guess I was wrong,” Johnny huffed without looking back.  “Like you said, I did all my talking before I left.  Now, I’m going to check on Scott and then make sure Cipriano’s got the sentries posted.”

Johnny was halfway up the stairs when he heard Murdoch’s next words.

“Are you staying?”

Johnny stopped and, still looking at the top of the staircase, answered, “Until Stryker is taken care of.”

“But Stryker’s gone.  It’s over.”

 “It’s not over!”  Johnny half-turned to look at his father.   “You really think a man like Sam Stryker would go away just because the great Murdoch Lancer told him not to come back?”

Murdoch flinched. The bitterness in Johnny’s voice stung like a hand slapping his face.

Still, he braced himself and walked across the room, stopping at the bottom of the stairs.  Murdoch grasped the railing and put a foot on the first step.  Looking up at his son, he wanted to bring him back down the stairs so they could talk eye to eye, man to man. 

 “You believe he’ll come at us again?”

“Yeah, he’ll come again, and I’ll be ready for him this time.”

“No, John, we’ll be ready for him.”

Johnny dropped his eyes and sighed.  Looking back up, he saw something in Murdoch’s eyes he’d never seen before.  His heart beat faster, and he swallowed hard.  He thought he saw acceptance in his father’s eyes, but it was so fleeting he might have imagined it.

Without another word, Johnny continued up the stairs and down the hall. 

Scott smiled when he heard the quick tap on his door before it opened.  He pushed himself up in the bed as Johnny walked in and sat on the edge of the bed.

“How are you feeling?”

“Good, actually.  It’s nothing more than a scratch.  I think my shoulder hurts more from hitting the ground when I fell.”

Pushing his hat back on his head, Johnny nodded. 

“I’m glad you’re home, brother.”

“Yeah, well, about that.  I’m not sure I’m staying.”

Scott leaned forward.  “Why not?”

“Scott, nothing’s changed.”

“How can you say that?”

Johnny shook his head.  He didn’t want to go into it with Scott or repeat Murdoch’s words.

“Look, you get some rest.  I’ve got to go out and check with Cipriano and the sentries.”

Scott gave his brother a questioning look.  “Stryker?”

Johnny nodded.

“You think he’s still nearby?”

“Yeah, I do.  A man like Stryker doesn’t give up that easy.”

“Teresa told me Wes didn’t come back with you.”

Johnny took a deep breath, thinking about burying his friend that morning.  He hadn’t told anyone about Wes and didn’t think he could bring himself to say the words.    

“No.  No, Wes didn’t come back.”

“So, he decided to go on without you?  You said there was a range war down south.”

Johnny paused and looked away.  “That’s right, but I have a feeling I’ll be catching up soon enough.”

The door flew open.  Johnny jumped and reached for his gun when Teresa rushed in.

Scott hurriedly pulled the covers over his bare chest.  “Teresa, you didn’t….”

“I know, I didn’t knock, but I’m in a hurry.”  She placed her hands on her hips.  “Scott, you’ve got to talk Johnny into staying.  He’ll listen to you.”

“Teresa, I’ve already told you I can’t talk to you about this,” Johnny snapped.

Scott looked from Teresa to Johnny.  “And why can’t you talk to Teresa?”

Johnny stood and started towards the door, only to have Teresa grab his right arm.

“Does Scott know what Murdoch said to you?”

Johnny looked down at her hand and then up to her face.  Realizing what she’d done, Teresa let go and looked at him with tears welling in her blue eyes.

“Johnny, please…”

 “No, and he doesn’t need to know.  Just leave it.”

“I told you he was only trying to keep you safe.”

Witnessing the mini-drama taking place, Scott pushed himself up further in bed.

“What did Murdoch say?”

Teresa opened her mouth and turned to look at Scott, but Johnny raised a hand to stop her before she could speak.

“Tell me what he said!” Scott let the covers slip down his chest and struggled to sit on the side of the bed.

“Who said what?” Murdoch asked as he walked into the room.  When no one answered, he knew what they’d been talking about and who.  “Teresa, I think Maria needs your help in the kitchen.”

Teresa looked at Scott and Johnny before hurrying out of the room.   Once she was gone, Murdoch started to close the door, only to have Johnny dart out.

From the hall, he called back,  “I’ve got things to do.  Scott, I’ll see you later.”

Murdoch stepped into the hallway.  “Johnny!”

“Later, Murdoch,” came the reply as Johnny disappeared down the main stairs.

Murdoch sighed before turning and going back into Scott’s room.  Seeing the look on his oldest son’s face, he knew he would have to tell Scott what happened.

Sitting in a chair next to the bed, Murdoch spent the next ten minutes telling his son what had transpired between the time Stryker’s men shot him and when Johnny helped him into the Great Room.  When he finished, Scott sat with his mouth slightly open, speechless.

Finally, Scott found his voice, “I told you before I left for town you needed to find the words to keep him here.  I can honestly tell you those weren’t the words I’d expected.  You did everything you could to drive him away again.  Frankly, I’m surprised he’s here.”

“I told you I was trying to get him to leave before Stryker knew he was in the house.”  When he saw Scott roll his eyes, Murdoch raised a hand to stop the retort he knew was coming.  “I know it was the wrong thing to say, but at the time, I was desperate.”

 “Have you talked to Johnny?  Have you told him you didn’t mean what you said?”

“Damn it.”   Murdoch shot out of the chair, put his hands behind his back, and started pacing. “The boy won’t talk to me.”

“And that surprises you?”

“No, it doesn’t, but I can’t explain myself if he won’t talk to me.”

Scott sighed, “You know he’s going to leave again?”

“I know.” Murdoch stopped at the window and pushed the curtains aside. He looked out to see Johnny talking to Cipriano.  “Did he say what his plans were?”

“In town, Johnny said he and Wes planned to leave tonight and head south to a range war that was hiring guns.  Frankly, I was surprised to see him here.    Wes has gone ahead, and Johnny plans to catch up with him.  That is unless you can convince him to stay.”

“Wes?”  Turning from the window, Murdoch found his legs couldn’t hold him any longer. “What did you say about Wes?” 

“Just what I said. Why?  What’s the matter?”

Murdoch made his way back to the chair and collapsed.

“Scott, Wes is dead.”

“Dead?  How?  When?”

“This morning in town.  Apparently, the stallion stomped Wes to death.”

“No!” Scott struggled to sit up.   “You’ve got to be wrong.  I just saw him in the saloon.”

“Some of the men were in town. They said Wes came out of the saloon shortly after you rode out and went to the livery stable.  He was trying to break the stallion, but….”

“Why didn’t Johnny tell me?”

“I think it’s too painful for him right now.  Wes was a poor ranch hand, but he was your brother’s friend.”

“We have to make arrangements to bury him.  Maybe….”

Murdoch shook his head.  “It’s already been done.   Apparently, Johnny dug the grave himself.”

Scott lowered his head, trying to think of what he could do, what any of them could do to help his brother.

Murdoch stood, put a hand on Scott’s shoulder, and gently squeezed it. 

“Get some rest, son.”

Scott scooted down in the bed and pulled the covers up to his neck.  “You’ll talk to Johnny?”

“I’ll do my best.”  Murdoch patted Scott’s leg.  “Go to sleep.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

Scott watched his father walk out of the room and close the door behind him.   He still felt the comforting warmth on his shoulder where Murdoch’s hand touched him. 

As he started to drift off to sleep, Scott wondered if the tall stranger he was just beginning to care about had touched Johnny the same way or called him ‘son.’    Before he could wrap himself around the answer, the world slipped away, and a healing sleep took its place.

Murdoch walked down the back stairs to the kitchen and stopped.  Looking around, he was surprised to see the room empty.   For a moment, he wondered where everyone was.  Then he pulled out his pocket watch and saw it was close to eight o’clock.  Maria would have gone home hours ago.

A rustling noise came from the hallway off the kitchen.  Teresa, dressed in her nightgown and robe and carrying a lamp, walked into the room. 

Murdoch looked around the spotless kitchen.

“I guess I missed dinner?”

“Maria left you a plate in the warming oven.  Sit down, and I’ll get it for you.”

Murdoch pulled out a chair and took a seat at the table. 

Teresa opened the oven and removed one of the two covered plates Maria had left.  She placed one on the table in front of her guardian and then went back to the stove for the coffee pot.

“Maria left a plate for Johnny, but he hasn’t come back.  Do you know where he is?”

“No, I don’t.  I’ll go look for him after I eat.”

They sat in silence while Murdoch picked at his food.  Finally, he pushed away the almost untouched plate. 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I don’t have much of an appetite tonight.”

Teresa smiled.  “I know.  I couldn’t eat either.  Too much has happened, and…,” she paused.  “Murdoch, do you think Johnny will stay?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you asked him to stay….”

“No, it has to be his decision.  He has to decide this is where he belongs and not out there somewhere.”  Murdoch waved his hand towards the universe outside Lancer.

“And you don’t want to influence his decision?  You know, all he needs is for you to give him a few words of encouragement.  Johnny wants what we all want, Murdoch.  To be loved, and needed, and appreciated.    Only one person, who matters, can give him that.”  When Murdoch didn’t respond, she stood, put her hands on her hips, and snorted.   “Men!  You never say the words.  You never tell each other how you feel.” 

Murdoch turned his head, unable to look at the girl.

“Murdoch, how do you feel?”

When he didn’t answer, Teresa picked up Murdoch’s abandoned plate.  

“Murdoch Lancer, you know I love you, but sometimes you make me so mad I want to scream.” 

He watched her put his plate in the sink, pick up her lamp, and turn towards the back stairs.   She stopped long enough to look back.

 “Murdoch, Johnny’s not the only one who needs to make a few decisions before it’s too late.”

It was a little after two in the morning when Johnny took one last look around the yard.  He eased the barn door open, cringing when the hinges squeaked and reminding himself to oil them in the morning.

He closed the door and squinted into the poorly lit building.  It was quiet in the dark barn, and the only sounds he could hear were that of sleeping horses.   He grabbed a worn patchwork quilt off one of the tack boxes near the door and walked to the empty stall next to Barranca.  Tossing the quilt onto the fresh straw, he lifted his saddle from the stall wall and placed it at one end of the makeshift bed.

Tossing his hat onto the straw, Johnny sat on his bed, unbuckled his spurs, and laid them aside before stretching out.

Johnny knew Murdoch expected him to sleep in the house, but that wasn’t going to happen.  The hacienda was for family, and he was no longer that.

Putting an arm over his eyes, he sighed.  He was tired, and every muscle in his body ached.

When was the last time he’d slept for more than a few minutes?   It sure hadn’t been the night before.

Last night in town,  he’d sat with his back to a stall, reliving the day in his mind, and did something he’d sworn never to do.  He’d played ‘if only.’  If only he’d finished the fence, if only he hadn’t gone after the horse, if only he hadn’t shot Eli Stryker…if only….

Closing his eyes, he tried to relax, but his mind had no rest.

He had a flashing image of standing on the hill overlooking the ranch and facing Pardee.  His words rang like a bell, clear and crisp.  “This is my land, and I want you to get off.” 

The hill faded, and he was in the Great Room with Murdoch.  He could still feel his father’s hand grabbing his arm.   Although he’d expected them at some point, the old man’s words had hurt.

“Now listen and listen good.  I don’t need you, now or ever.  Now get off my land!”

The images repeated themselves.  Three days after coming to Lancer, it was him ordering Pardee off his land, and now two months later, it was Murdoch Lancer’s land, and he was the one being told to get off.

Johnny opened his eyes and sat up, gasping for breath.

He’d been a fool to think he could make a go of it here.  In the beginning, the old man had him believing he could make a new life at Lancer.  He’d tried.  Dios knows he’d tried, but the last two months had proved he couldn’t. 

It was as if another ripple in the water had formed and spread out from the center, pushing him further from the home he’d hoped to have.

Defeated, he stood.  There wasn’t going to be sleep tonight either. 

Murdoch lay awake trying to figure out what he could do to save his family.

Johnny was back, and he wasn’t.  Trying to pin him down long enough to talk and explain that he didn’t mean any of the things he’d said would be near impossible.   

When sleep did come, it was interrupted by the faint song of jingling spurs wafting through the open window.  At one point during the night, he’d gotten out of bed and peered through the curtains, only to see a shadowy figure disappear around the side of the house.

It had been four o’clock the last time he’d woken to the jingle of spurs.   The realization that Johnny hadn’t slept during the long night only added to his regrets.  Finally, at five, he gave up, dragged himself out of bed, and began his morning ablutions.

Walking into the hallway, Murdoch noticed Scott’s door ajar.  He tapped on the door frame and stepped inside.  Scott sat in a chair near the window, dressed only in pants and a bandage on his left shoulder, his attention focused on something outside.

“Do you feel well enough to be up?”

 Murdoch strode across the room, pushed the curtain aside, and looked out onto the enclosed garden behind the house.   At first, he didn’t see anything, but movement near one of the low stucco walls caught his attention.

Johnny was standing next to the wall with his head tipped back, allowing the first rays of the rising sun to hit him.  Even from this distance, Murdoch could see his son was in need of a shave.

“He’s tired,” Scott’s words echoed the worried father’s thinking.


“I heard him during the night; walking around checking the doors and the sentries.”

Murdoch nodded.

“I don’t think he’s slept for a couple of days.”

Murdoch gave Scott a questioning look.

“He looked tired even when I saw him yesterday morning in town.  I don’t believe he’s slept since the night before he left.”

“I’m not sure what I can do, Scott.  Your brother is long past the age I can order him to his room.”

Scott snorted, “Murdoch, I think you underestimate your influence on your son.   Johnny wants so badly to please you that you might be surprised what he’d do if you just asked him.  I don’t mean order, Sir.  You have to ask him.”

“He doesn’t show it.”

“And you don’t show your emotions either.  You’re going to have to tell him what he needs to hear.  He craves your acceptance and approval and will never settle here without it.  If you can’t tell him in words, you must show him how much you care about him.”  Scott was watching Murdoch’s profile.  The older man turned back to look out the window.  “That is if you care for him at all.”

“Of course, I care for him.  He’s my son.”

“Just as I am?”

Murdoch’s head snapped around to look at his oldest, “Yes.”

“And how do you feel about me?”

Murdoch closed his eyes.  “It’s hard for me to express….”   He stopped as if searching for the right words.    “Scott, I’ve loved both of you since before you were born, and nothing will ever change that.”

“Murdoch, none of us knows how to show our emotions.  You said it that first day.  We’re strangers to each other.  All I know is that the past is not past.  It’s a living, breathing part of all of us.  We need to find a way to talk to each other; to show our emotions.  Right now, the important thing is you need to find a way to pull Johnny back from the edge.”

“The edge?”

“Yes.  He’s walking a tightrope.  On one side is his old life, Johnny Madrid, gunfighter; on the other, he’s Johnny Lancer, rancher and your son.  I don’t think he’s decided  who he wants to be.” 

“That’s just it, Scott.  He’s going to have to decide.  If he wants to leave, then it needs to be now.  I won’t let my heart be torn out again.”

Scott heard the anguish in his father’s voice and remembered Teresa’s words as Johnny was leaving with Wes. 

‘You have no idea how rough it’s been on him.  He’s lived alone without feeling or caring for so long that he’s almost forgotten what it’s like.’

Scott knew his newly found family was falling apart, and there seemed nothing he could do about it.   Murdoch was afraid of being hurt again, but what his father couldn’t see was that Johnny had the same fears.  

Murdoch reached down and patted Scott’s leg.  “I’d better let you get some rest.”

“I’m alright.”  He gave the older man a slight smile.  “Really, I am.”

“I know, but you scared me yesterday.  I don’t like it when one of my sons is hurt.”

Scott watched Murdoch walk out the door without another word.  All he could think was that Johnny was also hurting, and only one person could ease his pain.

Scott sat for a few more minutes and then made up his mind.   He was going downstairs and talk some sense into his father and brother, even if it meant knocking their heads together.

Scott put his hand on his bandaged left shoulder and tried flexing his arm.  It hurt but not as bad as he thought it would.  Stryker’s bullet had cut a furrow across his shoulder, but it hadn’t gone deep.

He slipped his shirt on, buttoned it, and then looked around for the sling Teresa had made him.  Scott picked it up and slipped his left arm into it.   Looking back at the bed, he was sorely tempted to lie down, but he was on a mission, and it couldn’t wait.

Once he steadied himself, Scott walked into the hallway and turned away from the main staircase.

Maria was the only one in the large kitchen to greet Scott when he came down the back stairs.  With a smile, she hurried him to the table.

“Sit, Senor Scott.  You are hungry?”

“No, Maria, thank you.  I’m not hungry, but I’d love a cup of coffee.” 


“Yes, please.”

Scott smiled as the woman hurried to the stove and returned with a steaming cup of the black brew.  She put the cup in front of him, along with a bowl of sugar and a small pitcher of cream,  then placed a hand on his good shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“Senor Scott, I know what the Patron said to Juanito.  Senorita Teresa told me.   The Patron ….,” she paused.  “The Patron did not mean the words he said.  I know, in his heart, he did not mean to hurt his hijo, but ….”

“I know, Maria.  They’re both proud men and stubborn.  They’re alike in that regard.  The problem is Johnny has lived too long without someone to guide… no, that’s not the right word.  He hasn’t had to answer to anyone for a long time.”

“Si, he has been alone too long.  He needs his Papa now, but the Patron does not see it.  He is acting as the Patron of a great rancho, not the papa of the nino he lost.”

“I’m not sure I… any of us can bring them back together, Maria.  Too many harsh words have been spoken, and feelings hurt.”

“Senor Scott, you cannot let Juanito leave again.”  She wiped her hands on her apron and looked towards the door.  Ensured no one else could hear, she moved closer and lowered her voice,   “Many men would do anything to have Madrid’s reputation.  Men on both sides of the border.  I fear if he leaves, we will never see him again.”

“I know, and so does Murdoch.  However, we have to fight one battle at a time.  Right now, we need to get them talking again.”  Scott looked down at his coffee cup and then back to the sad eyes of the older woman.  “Maria, if Johnny leaves, I’ll be going as well.”

Maria nodded, understanding what he was saying.  “Si, I know, Senor Scott.  I pray for this family to find what it needs to stay together.”

“So do I.”

“Senor, Juanito has not eaten since returning to the estancia yesterday, and Cipriano says he slept in the barn for only a few hours last night.   Juanito needs to take care of himself, and he cannot face that evil man again if he is not rested and fed.”

For a brief moment, Scott wondered which evil man Maria referred to and then realized she was talking about Sam Stryker.

In the time he’d been at Lancer, Scott had come to appreciate the Mexican woman who ruled the hacienda like one of Phil Sheridan’s top Sergeants.  Maria was someone you didn’t cross swords with and not feel her wrath.  She could be tough when needed but still found time to hover over the children of Lancer like a mother hen, with particular attention to Johnny.

As Maria returned to work, Scott picked up his cup and headed for the Great Room.  He made it as far as the dining room when he stopped.  Murdoch sat on the sofa, his arm across the back, gazing out the large window behind his desk.  It was as if he was looking at everything and not seeing anything. 

Scott watched the emotions play across his father’s face and wondered if he finally regretted his actions and if he would, at some point, overcome that damn Lancer pride and try to reconcile with his son before it was too late.

Movement outside the French doors caught Scott’s eyes.  Johnny was standing near the closed doors peering through the glass.  The circles under his eyes and two-day-old beard confirmed what Maria said.  His brother wasn’t sleeping nor taking care of himself, and the wrinkled, dust-covered shirt reaffirmed it. 

Scott followed Johnny’s line of sight.  The unshaven boy was staring at Murdoch.  Scott couldn’t help but wonder if Johnny had many of the same regrets as their father.

Scott wanted to grab them both and drag them into the same room.  To make them see what they were doing to each other.  There was no doubt they were both hurting, and only they could make it stop.  

Johnny dropped his head, and Scott could see his shoulders fall. 

When the boy looked up, the expression on his face was one Scott had seen before.  The longing in the younger man’s eyes broke Scott’s heart.  Johnny wanted, no— needed, his father’s approval and, more importantly, his love.

In the next instant, Johnny’s blue eyes had gone hard and cold, and Scott knew the moment was lost.  Johnny Madrid had hardened his brother’s heart once more.

Scott heard a noise behind him and turned to see Teresa watching the French doors.  Tears were in her eyes, and Scott knew she’d also seen Johnny.

Murdoch’s eyes were fixed on the activity outside the large window behind his desk.  The vaqueros were bringing in a small herd of mustangs they’d rounded up near Black Mesa.  The sun glinted off the golden coats of the palominos, reminding him of Johnny’s horse.

Cipriano told him there were at least another forty mares in the herd, and for a brief moment, he wondered if Johnny would like to go with him to Black Mesa. 

Shaking himself, he realized that trip would never take place.

When he let his mind wander, it returned to the never-ending arguments with his son.  They were similar to the repeated yelling matches he’d had with Maria before she’d stolen away in the night.   His son was as strong-willed as his mother, and with his temper, old wounds were reopened and refused to heal.

Finally, deciding there was no use rehashing the past, he forced his mind to the here and now. 

Murdoch regretted the words he’d used before Johnny rode away with Wes and what he’d said when the Strykers held siege to the estancia.   He needed to talk to the boy to make him understand, but he didn’t know where to start because he had no idea where the words had come from.  Is that how he really felt?

He shifted on the sofa, catching movement at the French doors from the corner of his eye.  He turned and looked closer, but no one was there.   Murdoch stood and looked around the room, seeing Scott and Teresa behind him.


“Sir, it’s time you spoke to Johnny.  You need to settle things between you before….”

Teresa stepped forward.   “Before Sam Stryker comes back.  If something should happen to him, you’d never forgive yourself.”  

Murdoch waited as she walked towards the sofa.

“Murdoch, you have to tell him how you feel about him.  I mean, truly feel.  That you want him to stay, to be part of your life.”  She half-turned to look at Scott.  “To be part of our lives.”

“You’re right.” Murdoch nodded and looked at Scott. “It is time.  See if you can find him.”

Scott smiled and headed for the door.

The first place Scott looked was the barn.  Seeing Barranca’s stall empty, he heaved a heavy sigh.

Walking back outside, he saw Cipriano coming out of the bunkhouse and waved.

On seeing the pensive look on Scott’s face, the Segundo lengthened his stride as he crossed the yard. 

“Senor Scott?” 

“Cipriano, have you seen Johnny?’

“Senor Johnny just rode out.  He has gone to the south gully to help the men pull out the cattle.”

“Thank you.”  Scott started to turn back to the house and paused. “Maria said he slept in the barn last night.”

“Si, he did.”

“Did he get something to eat from the bunkhouse?”

Cipriano shook his head.  “I do not know for sure, but I do not believe he did.”  Seeing Scott’s frown, he added, “I am riding out to check on the men’s progress.  I will take him something if you wish and see that he eats.”

Scott smiled and put a hand on the older man’s shoulder.  “Thank you.”

Making his way slowly back to the house, Scott was concerned that his father and brother had missed the perfect opportunity to iron out their differences.

As Scott stepped into the Great Room, Murdoch turned, giving him a questioning look.

“He’s gone to help pull the cattle out of the gully.”

“I was going to ride out there and check on the progress.  I’ll see if he’ll let me talk to him.”

“No.” Scott started to grab Murdoch’s arm and then thought better of it. “Cipriano is going to check on the men.”

“Scott, this is my ranch, not Cipriano’s.  I need to know what’s happening out there, whether your brother is there or not.  I’ll try not to talk to him in front of the men.  The last thing we need is everyone on the ranch watching us argue.”

Scott laughed.  “Sir, the entire ranch already knows you two are arguing.  They’d be deaf and blind not to.  So, if you’re not going to talk to him, why are you going? ”

Murdoch dipped his head, not answering.

Scott nodded, understanding.  “Is it wrong to say you want to see him and make sure he’s alright?”

“No, Scott, it’s not wrong, and you’re right. I do want to make sure John is alright.  Tonight, I want to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with your brother.”

“And that means?”

“I don’t know why he came back, but I plan to find out.”  Murdoch cleared his throat, “In the meantime, I’ll try not to give the hands anything else to gossip about.”

Murdoch sat his horse, arms crossed over the saddle horn, and watched a scene of well-organized chaos.

Thirty sweat-drenched men, both in the gully and up top, yelled at each other while the cattle stuck in the sand thrashed and bellowed.  Three calves on the gully’s edge bleated and bawled, waiting for their mothers to emerge, and over it all, Cipriano calmly supervised every movement.

In the gully, twenty men, up to their knees in the sand, struggled to get the last ten cattle out.   Each scared steer weighed nine hundred pounds and fought with every ounce against those trying to help them.

Looking around, Murdoch saw the uncompleted fence that would have prevented the cattle from going into the gully in the first place.  The work wagon was still there with its forgotten fencing material, right where Johnny left it.   He realized Johnny and Wes had done nothing more to the fence that day after he was out of sight.

The anger he thought he’d pushed aside flared again, and it took everything he had to squelch the flames.   He had to let it go before it tore him up inside and destroyed the family he was trying to build.

Murdoch’s eyes scanned the area and found his son.  Johnny was wrestling a rope around the rear of one of the steers.

Getting his first good look at the boy since the day before, he could see the shadows under his son’s eyes and the uncharacteristic beard.  He was still wearing the clothes he’d worn when he rode out with Wes.

Murdoch heard Johnny call out.  “All right, start pulling!”

The men above the gully tied the ropes to their saddle horns and backed their horses, pulling the ropes tight.   As the horses backed, two men pushed the steer forward.  Slowly the weak cow lumbered forward and up the embankment.   Once on level ground, the ropes were removed from the animal, and she slowly trotted off to find her calf and the nearest water hole.

“Patron,” Cipriano called out and waved as he walked towards Murdoch. 

“Just checking on the progress.” Murdoch straightened in the saddle, taking pressure off his lower back.

“These are the last of them,” Cipriano said as he turned to watch another cow find footing on the level bank.

Off to one side, three men were skinning five beeves that hadn’t made it.  Murdoch could see four had broken legs and suspected the fifth had a broken neck.

“We only lost five?”  

“Si, I will make sure a portion of the useable meat will be sent to the cookhouse for the hands, some to Maria, and the rest to the Mission Orphanage.”

Murdoch nodded.  Fifty cattle went into the gully, and forty-five came out alive.  Yes, it had taken days and most of the ranch hands, but it could have been worse. 

Cipriano knew Murdoch was listening to him, but his jefe’s eyes never left Johnny.

“He works hard.”

Murdoch looked down at the older man.  “Yes, he does.  When he wants to.”

“Patron, it is hard for someone like Juanito to answer to another.  He has been his own man for too long.”

“I know that, but if he plans to stay here, he will have to learn.”

Cipriano sighed.   “Time is all he needs.”

Murdoch was silent.  It was the same thing Johnny had said to him two days ago in the Great Room.  Two days?  Had it only been forty-eight hours since all their lives were turned upside down?

As the last steer left the gully, Johnny climbed out and began coiling his lasso.  He walked over to Barranca and tied the rope to his saddle. 

Murdoch sat patiently, waiting for the boy to look his way.   The ranch hands and vaqueros who’d started clearing up the area kept glancing between them.   Finally, his patience worn, Murdoch tapped his horse’s sides and closed the distance between his son and himself.

With his horse blocking the view of his son from the hands, Murdoch leaned forward in the saddle.

“John, we need to talk.”

Johnny didn’t respond or look up.


That got a response.  Johnny’s head shot up.

“Not now, old….” Johnny looked past his father to see the men watching.  He turned his back to them.  “Look…”

“Johnny, we need to settle this thing between us, and I don’t want to do it in front of the men.”

“Then you need to go back to the ranch.  We’ll talk later.  Right now, I have work to do.”


“Yeah, I’m going to finish that fence, so no more of ‘your’ cattle end up in that gully.  When I finish, I’ll come back to the ranch.  We can talk then.”

“Cipriano can assign men to finish….”

“No!”  Johnny whirled around.  “It was my job, and I’ll finish it.  It’ll probably be the last thing I do on Lancer, but I swear I’ll get it done.”

Murdoch hesitated, torn between doing as Johnny asked or staying as his heart told him.  Finally, he nodded, then directed his horse to where Cipriano was waiting for him.

“Cip, Johnny is going to complete the fence.  I want two men to stay here to help, and the rest can return to their regular duties.”

“Si, Patron.”  Cipriano turned, looked around, and waved two men to him.  “Frank.  Carlos.” 

The two ranch hands looked from the Segundo to their boss and then to Johnny before quickly seeing what Cipriano wanted.

“You two will stay and help Senor Johnny with the fence.   Complete it as quickly as possible and before you return to the ranch. Tú entiendes?”

Carlos nodded.  “Si, jefe.”

Frank glanced at Murdoch and then Johnny.  “We understand, but Cipriano, why don’t you take Johnny back to the ranch with you?  We can get it done.  The boy looks done in.”

“It is something he must do for himself.”  Cipriano smiled.  “I am sure you will do most of the work.”

Frank returned the smile. “We understand.  Don’t worry.”

Johnny realized what was happening and started to protest. 

Murdoch raised a hand to stop the argument he knew was coming and gave his son a look that Johnny knew meant the matter was closed.

“Come on, Carlos, let’s get this fence up.” Frank picked up a shovel and began digging a post hole. 

Carlos walked over, picked up a hammer from the wagon bed, and looked at it in his hand.  Smiling, he held it out to Johnny.

Johnny accepted the hammer with a nod.  Without a word, he slipped on his gloves and picked up where he’d left off two days earlier.

He couldn’t help but remember the last time he’d been here.  Wes was with him.  His friend hadn’t helped much, as usual, but still, he’d been there.  Shaking himself, he pushed the memories aside and went to work.

The three men worked in silence for the next hour.  It was Frank who spoke first.

“Johnny, we’re sorry about Wes.”

Johnny’s hand stilled over the nail he was hammering in.  Without looking up, he nodded.

“Yeah, it’s too bad.  How’d you hear about it?”

“Some of the boys were in town yesterday and saw what happened.  They said you rode that stallion to a standstill after….” Frank hesitated, judging Johnny’s reaction, “after it killed Wes.”

“Yeah, I rode him.”

Carlos unrolled another string of barbwire and held it tight while Johnny nailed it to the fencepost.

“Frank, does the old….does my father know about Wes?” Johnny asked.

“I expect so.  Cipriano knows, and I’m sure he told Mr. Lancer.”

Johnny swallowed hard and continued hammering.  So, the old man knew and hadn’t said a word.  If Murdoch knew about Wes, then so did Scott.  Well, that was alright.  Neither of them liked Wes much, so it was no big loss… at least to them.  

It didn’t matter to them if Wes was gone, and Johnny was sure they were glad of it.   Just like Murdoch would be happy when he cleared out.   Those damn words repeated in his mind, ‘Get out… I don’t need you now or ever…Get off my land.’ 

Watching the boss’s son with concern, Frank asked, “Johnny, you alright?”   

Johnny struck the staple harder than before and answered, “I’m fine, Frank.  Just fine.”

The sun was still high in the sky as Carlos wedged the brace post firmly between the corner and last line posts.  Frank unrolled enough wire to wrap around the corner post, and Johnny hand-knotted it before using a fence staple to hold it in place.   Then the last two strands of wire were fed out and nailed into place.

“There,” Frank exclaimed, “that’s the last of it.”

 The three men stood back and looked down the line of posts and taut wire.

Johnny sighed.  The south gully was finally blocked off, and his final job on Lancer was complete.

Johnny looked at the sun’s position.  There was plenty of time to get the wagon back to the ranch, clean up, and then…. then what?

His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten today.  Thinking a moment, he realized he hadn’t eaten yesterday either.  The last time he’d had anything was in the saloon with Wes.   The thought of Wes brought back other memories he’d rather forget right now.  

Johnny, who had shed his shirt, tossed his hammer into the bucket on the wagon and wiped himself down with a towel.  As he put his shirt on, he looked at the men who’d helped him finish the fence.   Frank was pouring water over his head, and Carlos was leaning against the wagon, rolling a cigarette.

“Frank. Carlos”

They looked at Johnny and waited. 


“Da nada, mi amigo.” Carlos smiled and struck a match to the cigarette in his mouth.

“Glad to have helped,” Frank responded and quickly added.  “No one asked me, but more than you and Wes should have been out here in the first place, if you don’t mind me saying.  It was just a matter of time before those dumb cows wandered into this gully.  The boss should have had a whole crew working on it.”

“Why wasn’t it fenced before?” Johnny looked along the completed fence, feeling pride in what he’d done.  He had a hard time understanding why the fence hadn’t already been in place if it was so important.   

“It was fenced,” Frank answered.  “When Pardee started raiding the ranch, one of the first things he did was tear down our fences.  This one was easy to get to because it went along the road.  The boss hasn’t had the time or the men until now to get the fences back up.”

“Why haven’t any cattle gone into the gully before now?”

Frank shrugged.  “We’ve been lucky.  Every time we started to put this stretch of fence back up, something else came up.  It wasn’t until the other day Cipriano said to put cattle back in this field.  I guess Mr. Lancer thought it was safe as the fence was supposed to be….”  Frank realized what he was saying and cleared his throat.  “Well, it’s done now.”

“Yeah, it’s done now.”  Johnny placed the last shovel into the back of the wagon.  “Let’s get back to the ranch.”

Scott walked to the French doors and looked out.  When Murdoch returned at midday without Johnny, he was concerned.  It wasn’t until his father told him why Johnny wasn’t with him that he started to relax. 

When he saw Johnny ride in with Frank and Carlos over an hour ago and go to the barn, he’d impatiently waited. 

“Scott, come sit down.  He’s not going to come in any faster with you pacing back and forth.”

“I don’t believe he’s coming in.”

“Maybe you should go get him.”

Scott glanced at Murdoch and headed for the door.  As he walked across the yard to the barn, he wondered what he would say to convince his brother to come inside, sit down, and talk to their father.

Johnny was where Scott knew he would be, grooming Barranca.  

Scott watched for a few minutes as his brother ran a brush over the palomino’s shining coat.  He knew the boy was so engrossed in his thoughts that he wasn’t aware anyone was watching him.


Johnny’s hand stilled.  He glanced at Scott and then went back to his task.

“Murdoch wants to see you… to talk.”

Johnny continued brushing.

“Won’t you give him a chance?”

Johnny stopped and heaved a sigh.   “It’s no use.”

Scott took a step forward.  “I don’t believe that.  I can’t believe it.  You have to talk, to work it out before the family’s ripped completely apart, and there’s no way of putting it back together.”

 “You’re right.” Johnny turned, throwing the brush aside. “I am tearing the family apart.  It’s all been my fault.  Everything that’s happened is because of who I am and this….”  Johnny’s gun was in his hand in the blink of an eye.   

“That’s not true, and you know it,” Scott snapped.  He moved forward and put a hand on his brother’s right arm, pushing the gun down.  Johnny slid the Colt back into his holster and lowered his head. 

Silence filled the void between them.

“Johnny, neither of you can go on like this.  You have to talk.  Come in with me, brother.  Let’s clear the air and see if we can’t start acting like a family again.”

Johnny took an extra moment but then nodded.  “Alright, we’ll talk, but I already know how it’s gonna turn out.”

The two walked back to the house.  Johnny hesitated outside the French doors.   

“Just try.  That’s all I ask,” Scott whispered and pulled his brother forward.

Finding Murdoch in the Great Room waiting for them, the brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, waiting for their father to begin the conversation.  When he didn’t, Scott took it upon himself to breach the subject.

“Murdoch, don’t you have something you want to say to Johnny?”

Murdoch fixed his eyes on his youngest son and opened his mouth; only the words wouldn’t come.

Scott glared at his father and cocked his head.  “Murdoch?”

“No, Boston. He’s said all he needs to say.  Isn’t that right, old man?” 

Johnny started to turn when Murdoch finally found his voice.  “No, Johnny, it isn’t right.  We need to talk.” 

Murdoch moved to one of the two armchairs in front of his desk and motioned Johnny to the other.

Scott heaved a sigh of relief, his hopes rising that things would work out.

“I’ll see if Maria has any coffee,” Scott said as his eyes went from between Murdoch and Johnny.  When neither responded, he added, “All right.  I’ll be right back.”

Scott took a deep breath as he entered the kitchen.  Maria turned from the stove and looked at him questioningly.

“Johnny’s talking to Murdoch.  I told them I’d bring in some coffee.”

Maria smiled.  “Bueno.  It is time the Patron and Juanito talked.”  

Maria lifted the large metal coffee pot from the stove and filled a smaller ceramic pot.  She placed three cups and saucers on a tray and added the ceramic pot.  Next, she added a small bowl of sugar and creamer she knew Scott would want.

“Thank you.”

“Da nada.”

Scott smiled and started to pick up the tray when he heard loud voices.  Hurrying back into the Great Room, he stood staring at his father and brother, squaring off and yelling at each other.

“Stop calling me ‘Old Man.”

“It’s better than you calling me boy.”

Scott walked into the room and shook his head.  He walked between the two men and raised his hands in an effort to separate them.

“I was gone five minutes.  What happened?”

“The same old shit, Boston.  Nothing’s changed, and he still expects me to jump when he snaps his fingers.”

“That’s not what I said, and you know it!”

Johnny turned and started for the door.

“Running away isn’t going to accomplish anything.”

Johnny spun around and looked at Murdoch.  

“I’m not running, and I’m not spending the rest of my life punching your cows and digging your post holes.”

Johnny held up a hand to halt Murdoch’s protest.

“Don’t say it, old man.  This place isn’t mine and never will be.  You said it yourself that first day.  You love this land more than anything God created, and that’s all you care about and all you’re ever gonna care about.”

“That’s not true!  But I can see that no matter what I say, you’re not going to accept it.” Murdoch stalked across the room to stand directly in front of Johnny.  “Let me ask you a question.  If you hate it here so much, hate me, then why have you stayed this long?”

Scott’s breath caught.  “Murdoch!  No!”

Johnny cocked his head and looked up at Murdoch with a sadness Scott had never seen before.  Lowering his head, Johnny took a deep breath and let it out.  He turned and walked out of the room, picking up his hat as he went.

Scott’s face flushed red with anger.

“What?” Murdoch asked, not understanding what had just happened and the look he received from his oldest son.

Scott fought down his anger before speaking.

“Murdoch, if you don’t know the answer to that question, then neither of us belongs here.”

Turning, Scott started for the door, stopping when Murdoch spoke.

“Where are you going?”

He looked back over his shoulder. 

“I’m going after my brother.  If he’s right and Stryker is still nearby, he doesn’t need to be out there alone.  And Murdoch, when we get back, I want to discuss your conversation with Johnny before he left with Wes.”

“I told you….”

“No, sir, the subject is not closed.  I have just found out I have a brother, and now he’s going to leave.  You’re driving him away, and that, sir, is not acceptable!”

The front door slammed shut behind Scott as he stomped out.  Murdoch heard the sound of someone sobbing.  He turned to see Teresa standing in the dining room, tears streaming down her face.

“Oh, Murdoch, what have you done?”  

Murdoch collapsed into a chair and shook his head.  “I… don’t know.”

“How could you say that to Johnny?”

Murdoch raised his head and looked at Teresa, not knowing how to respond.

“You really don’t understand, do you?  Don’t you know why Johnny stayed after recovering from Pardee’s bullet?  Why he stayed even with the way you’ve treated him?”

“No.” Murdoch shook his head.  “No, I don’t.”

“Oh, Murdoch, I love you dearly, but you can be so wrong-headed.  Don’t you know Johnny cares about you?  They both do?”

Murdoch bolted from his chair and started for the stairs, then, without stopping, called back, “Have one of the men saddle my horse.  I’m going after them.”

Teresa was smiling as she ran out the door and towards the barn.

Once.  Twice.  Three times the flat stone skimmed across the glassy surface of the lake.  Each time it bounced, it left ripples in its wake.  Finally, coming to rest, the rock made a thunking sound and sank into the dark depths of the water.  The small waves it left behind as it skipped along started to grow, moving further and further from the center of a circle, but they were nothing compared to the size of the ripples where the stone sank.

Johnny watched the ever-growing ring, so intent on it that he hadn’t heard the horse and rider coming up behind him.

“It didn’t take me as long to find you as I thought it would.”

Johnny’s right hand had gone to the butt of his gun, but he’d let it slide to his side, knowing the man behind him was no threat.

“Yeah?  Maybe I should have kept riding.”

Scott stepped up and stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother.  His eyes followed Johnny’s as the ripples on the water continued to spread.

“What’s wrong, brother?”

Johnny moved away from Scott and shook his head.

“Nothing’s changed.  Nothing’s ever gonna change.”

Scott took the opportunity to lower himself onto the ground and stretch his legs out before responding, “What’s not changed?”

“The way the old man feels about me.”

“Johnny, I’ve told you he didn’t mean a word of what he said to you that day.”

Johnny huffed, “Yeah, you’ve told me, and so has Teresa.  The only one who hasn’t is the old man himself.”

Johnny turned and stared down at his brother.  “Don’t you see, Scott?  None of this,” he waved his hand in the air, “is mine, and it never will be as long as Murdoch feels like he does.”  He toed the ground and shook his head.  “It’s best I move on.”

‘Stubborn.  Pigheaded.’ Scott thought.  

Johnny turned his back to Scott and stared again at the water.  The surface was once again still, all the ripples gone.

Pushing himself to his feet, Scott walked over to stand behind Johnny.  He reached out and put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.

“That’s not the answer, Johnny.  You can run from us, brother, but you know as well as I do that you belong here now.  Lancer is in your blood, just as it’s in mine.”

“That’s not what Murdoch said.”

“Scott’s right, son.”

Both Scott and Johnny jumped at the sound of Murdoch’s voice.  Spinning around, they saw him standing only a few feet away, his horse ground tied a hundred feet behind him.

Johnny shook his head and started to speak, only to be cut off by Murdoch’s next words.

“John, if I could take back the words I used, I would.  All I can say is I was trying to protect you in the only way I could think of at the time.   I know it was the wrong way to handle things, but if you believe anything about me, believe this….. I need you, son.  I’ve always needed you here with me.  I need you both.” He looked from one son to the other.

“There is so much I would do over if I could, but I can’t.”  The tall rancher lowered his head and shook it, then raising it, he looked directly at Johnny.  “All I can ask is that you give me another chance to be the father you need.  Can we start over from right now and forget the past?”

Johnny threw his hands in the air.

“It’s you who doesn’t understand, old man!”

Johnny skipped another stone across the water’s surface.  “You see the way the water ripples and shifts?”

Murdoch knew an answer wasn’t expected.

“That’s how I feel right now.  I keep changing and shifting until I don’t know who I am anymore.  I feel like I’ve been torn apart.  You want me to be one thing, and in my heart, I know I’m something else.”

The unexpected outburst caused Murdoch to take an involuntary step back.   He’d held out an olive branch, but now it was as if his son had thrown it to the ground and stomped it to dust. 

Johnny turned and walked away before turning to face his father again.  “I can’t leave the past behind.  I’ve told you that already.  It’s always gonna be with me.  As long as I’m here, my past is gonna be with you too.  The question is, can you live with me being who and what I am?

“You say you didn’t mean what you said.  What about the day before when you told me to decide who I was and where I belonged?”

Murdoch took a deep breath, remembering the events in the Great Room. 

The hesitation was all Johnny needed.  He turned, threw himself onto Barranca’s back, and rode away, leaving Murdoch and Scott behind.

Not for the first time, Murdoch knew he’d failed his son. 

Scott pivoted and stared at his father, trying to find the right words.  Finally, all he could think to say was, “What the hell?”

“I don’t appreciate that tone of voice.”

“It’s the only one you’re going to get.  Why can’t you just tell Johnny how you feel about him?  Tell him you accept him for who he is?”

“Scott, it’s not that simple.”

Scott slowly nodded.  “Excuse me for saying, Murdoch, you’ll have to make it that simple.”

Scott turned and mounted his horse.

Watching Scott ride away, Murdoch knew his hurtful words had been like throwing a stone into the water, and the ripples, the pain, would grow until there was nothing left between father and son except an unforgiving pain. 

Murdoch looked around and knew there was only one road left to him.  He mounted his horse and followed his sons.

Scott was riding at a gallop when he spotted his brother ahead of him on the road.  To his surprise, the boy wasn’t going faster than a walk.  He slowed and fell in beside the palomino.

After a few minutes of quiet, Scott glanced at Johnny’s profile and asked, “Where are we going?”

Johnny kept his eyes forward, answering in a slow drawl, “I’m going to Morro Coyo.  You’re going back ‘cause  I don’t need company.”

“A drink sounds good.  I believe it’s my turn to buy.”

Johnny brought Barranca to a stop.  He turned in the saddle and looked directly at Scott. 

“What part of ‘I don’t need company,’ don’t you understand?”

“What if I want your company?”

Johnny sighed.  “Brother, you don’t know when to let go, do you?”

“No, I don’t suppose I do.  I’ve spent the last twenty-four years wishing I had a brother.  Now that I have one, I don’t plan to let him go easily.” 

“I’m not the brother you need, Boston.”

“Well, you’re the only brother I’ve got.  So, you’re stuck with me.”

“Unless the old man has some other kids we don’t know about.’

Scott paused, thinking for a moment before continuing, “Do you know something I don’t?”

Johnny cocked his head and let a faint smile form on his lips.  “Maybe that’s something you should ask him, you being the oldest and all.  Who knows, you might have another brother somewhere.”

Scott shook his head.  “Believe it or not, you’re the only brother I want.  So are you going to let me go into town with you?”

“Well, come on then.  I’m too tired to argue with you about it right now.”

“Which begs the question, little brother?”  Scott pushed his hat back and crossed his arms over his saddle horn.  “Teresa told me that you hadn’t slept since you came back.  You do know you have a room at the ranch with a very comfortable bed.  Why haven’t you been making use of it?” 

Johnny shook his head.   “Didn’t feel right being under the old man’s roof after ….”

“After…after what?  After what he said to you when you got back?” Scott saw the surprise on Johnny’s face.  “That’s right.  Murdoch told me what he said, and he also told me he didn’t mean any of it.”

“Scott, he doesn’t want me, and he sure as hell doesn’t want me anywhere near his ranch.”

“Is that so?”  Scott looked past Johnny at the rapidly approaching image of their father.  “Then tell me why he’s coming after you?”

Johnny reined Barranca around so he faced back the way they’d come.  Even from a distance, it was easy to see the determined look on the tall rancher’s face.

“Well, this just gets better and better.”  Johnny shook his head.  “How do you know he’s not coming after you, brother?  At least you’re some good to him.  I’m nothing but a burden.”

“Johnny, that’s not true.”

Before Johnny could respond, Murdoch stopped next to his sons. 

Out of breath, Murdoch leaned forward in the saddle.   “Johnny, I want you to come back.  We need to talk.”

“Old man, go home and take him with you.”  Johnny motioned toward Scott.  “I’m going to Morro Coyo.”

“Sir, I told Johnny I wouldn’t mind a drink myself.  Would you care to join us?”

Catching his breath, Murdoch glanced at Johnny. 

“That’s a good idea.  The cantina has a fine reposado tequila.”

“Really,” Scott responded while watching Johnny’s expression.  “I’ve never tried tequila.”

“Then I believe it’s time we introduced you to the experience.” Murdoch smiled and tried to relax, hoping Johnny would allow their company.

For the next thirty minutes, the only sound was horse’s hoofs on the hard-packed earth and the jingling of tack.   

Murdoch started to relax, enjoying the feeling of being with his sons.  Scott, on his right, rode tall and straight in the saddle, while Johnny, to his left, was relaxed.  The tall Scot realized this was how it should have been all along.  They should have grown up on Lancer with him, two sons he could be proud of working with him every day.

Morro Coyo, one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the San Joaquin Valley and possibly the State of California, was part of the original land grant from Ferdinand VII, the King of Spain, to Don Juan Alvarado in 1784.

Don Alvarado started the small pueblo to support his 22,718-acre Rancho.   Eventually, he granted his brother-in-law Don Salvador Vallejo the land in 1838.  By that time, the Alvardo-Vallejo Rancho had spread over 80,000 acres.

When Don Vallejo died in 1843, his family sold the land, much of it going to Murdoch Lancer in 1844 as the beginning of Rancho Lancer. The surrounding property was later deeded to other ranchers and became the sites of Green River and Spanish Wells.

During its existence, Morro Coyo had survived floods, drought, Indian raids, earthquakes, bandits, and land pirates, the latter being the freshest in everyone’s memory.

The town was still suspicious of gunfighters after Pardee and his men had taken over the small settlement a few months ago.  

When Johnny Madrid rode into Morro Coyo, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t remember him drinking with Day Pardee or riding out with his men to attack Rancho Lancer.  They’d heard stories of how Madrid had turned on Pardee and helped save the ranch. They’d also heard the rumor that Madrid was Murdoch Lancer’s youngest son.  No one in Morro Coyo had seen him since that day—until now.

The Lancers reined to a stop in front of the cantina.  The three men dismounted and started tying off their horses.

Scott looked around and shook his head. “Brother, you know how to clear a street.”

Johnny gave him a faint smile.  “Don’t worry.  They’ll all come out of their holes when they figure out there won’t be any gunplay.”

Murdoch nervously looked up and down the mostly deserted street.  It seemed eerily like the morning he’d ridden into town with Paul, searching for the stolen stallion.  His eyes went to the bell tower where Pardee had stood, shooting down at them.  His hand went to his back where the bullet still lay, pinching nerves and causing him pain daily.

“Are you alright, sir?”  Scott was watching his father’s reaction to being in town.  Teresa had told him what happened that morning and when he saw Murdoch’s hand go to his back, he knew what was running through the older man’s mind.

Murdoch dropped his hand and nodded.  “Just a little sore from the ride.  Let’s go inside. I’m buying.”

Scott slapped Johnny on the back and started into the building without a word.  When they got to the door, Murdoch started to go in first, only to have Scott place a hand on his arm, holding him back.

“It’s best that Johnny goes first,” Scott said and nodded to his brother.  When he saw the questioning look in his father’s eyes, he whispered, “I’ll explain later.”

The first time Scott had gone with his brother to the saloon in Green River, he learned to let Johnny go first, check out the room, and pick the table.

Once they were seated, the bartender cautiously approached the table.

“Senors, what can I get for you?”  His eyes never left Johnny, obviously remembering Madrid sitting in this same room with Pardee.

Johnny took his hat off and hung it on the back of the chair.  Looking up at the trembling man, he smiled.  “Tequila, por favor.  Reposado.”

The man looked nervously from Murdoch to Scott and then back to Johnny.  He replied with a hint of fear, “Lo siento, Senor Madrid, I have no reposado.” 

“That’s alright.  Whatever you have.”

“Si.”  He turned to Murdoch. “Senor Lancer?”

Murdoch tried to relax.  The mention of Madrid was unsettling.  “The same, please.”

“Whiskey,” Scott volunteered before being asked.

The bartender hurriedly backed away and was almost to the bar before turning his back on the table.

The three men sat silently until the bartender returned carrying two bowls, one of limes and the other of salt.  

Scott was the first to speak.  “I take it those have something to do with tequila?”

“That’s right, Boston.”  Johnny smiled.

The bartender set bottles of tequila and whiskey on the table, along with three glasses. 

“Gracias.” Murdoch reached for the tequila as the man disappeared behind the bar again.  He poured Johnny a drink and then one for himself.

“This is how you drink tequila, Boston.”

Johnny licked the side of his hand and dipped it into the salt. 

“The salt lessens the burn of the tequila.”  He licked the salt from his hand, downed the liquid, and immediately bit into and sucked the lime wedge. 

“And the lime?”

Murdoch answered, “The sour lime balances and enhances the flavor of the tequila.”

“I see.” Scott watched Murdoch imitate Johnny.  “And you do this on every shot?”

“You do on cheap tequila like this,” Murdoch answered, tossing the spent lime wedge back into the bowl.  “Good Mexican tequila is something to be savored, and you sip it.”

Johnny nodded. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had the good stuff.”  He poured another glass of tequila and repeated the salt and lime.  “With the quality of this stuff, you have to do something to cut the burn and make it taste better.”

Murdoch poured another glass but only took a sip.  “Have you ever had aged tequila?”


Murdoch nodded.

Johnny smiled. “Only once and then only a sip.”

“Why only a sip?”

Johnny laughed.  “That was enough.  I almost choked to death.”

“On añejo?”

“I was six.”

“Oh,” Murdoch took another sip.  “What about reposado?”

“Reposado?  You mentioned that earlier,” Scott asked, relaxing as his father and brother continued drinking.

“It’s another kind of tequila.  Smooth stuff, real smooth.”   Johnny poured another glass and, instead of lifting it to his lips, stared at it.  

“What do you want, Murdoch?”  He leaned back and looked at his father.  “You didn’t come to town with me to talk tequila.” 

“You’re right.” Murdoch placed both arms on the table, meeting his son’s gaze.  “First, I want to say how sorry I am about Wes.  I know he was a good friend.”

Johnny dropped his head and then nodded.  “Yeah, he was a good friend.  We went through a lot together, and he saved my bacon a few times over the years.”

“Then I’m grateful he was there for you.  I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better.”

Johnny looked up.  “Those are real fine words, and I appreciate them, even if you didn’t mean them.  Hell, old man, I know Wes was worthless as a ranchhand, and he wasn’t much good with a gun, but he was a friend and deserved better than he got.”

Johnny downed another drink and reached for the tequila.

“Don’t you think you should take it easy on that stuff?” Scott leaned forward and put his hand over Johnny’s glass.

Johnny pushed the hand away and poured another glass.  “I can hold my liquor, brother.”

“I’m not saying you can’t, but if memory serves me, you haven’t had anything to eat for at    least …  When was the last time you ate?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Can’t remember.”

“Then, before you have another drink, I think you need to eat.”  Scott turned and motioned for the bartender.

The man looked like he would have done anything other than come back to the table. 

“Si, Senor?”

“Can you bring us something to eat?”

The bartender’s eyes went from Scott to Johnny.  Johnny’s faint smile caused the man to nod quickly.

“Si.  I have tamales, frijoles, y tortillas.”

Scott looked at Murdoch, who nodded. 

“That will be fine.”

“It will only be a moment, Senor.”

When the bartender walked away, Murdoch sipped his drink and leaned back.

“So,” Johnny asked, “why did you come with me?”

“I came to talk to you about staying at Lancer.”

“Answer a question for me first.”

Murdoch leaned back.  “Go ahead.”

“I need to know why you trust Scott and not me.”

Murdoch looked confused. “What do you mean?  I trust you.”

“No, you don’t.  You still don’t know whose side I was on, yours or Pardee’s.” 

“We’re going back to that… now?  Son, that was months ago, and it has nothing to do with the here and now.”

“Really?  Is that why you keep checking up on me when I’m working?   No, you think I turned my back on you then, and you’ve been waiting for me to do it again.   Well, I did it, didn’t I?  I didn’t follow your orders, and that’s an unforgivable sin in your eyes.”

Murdoch looked around the cantina, thankful there were so few people there to eavesdrop on the discussion he was hoping to have in the privacy of the hacienda.

“Johnny, I knew whose side you were on when you rode back with Pardee and his men trailing behind you.  And what about you?  You pushed me away, not wanting my help when you were sick after Pardee.”

“And you stayed away.”

Murdoch looked surprised, almost as if realizing it was true.  He thought his son didn’t need him, so he didn’t try to get close to him.  As a result, Johnny pushed back.  The arguments they had were always both pushing and neither giving in. 

“I’m sorry.  You’re right. I did stay away, but only because I didn’t think you needed me.  You’re so …” Murdoch struggled for the right words.  He knew what he said in the next few minutes would either make or break the relationship with his son. 

“I’m what?” Johnny’s voice was soft and low.

“Independent.  You’ve been on your own so long you can take care of yourself.  You don’t need anything from me,” Murdoch sighed.  “I wish you did.”

Thankfully the food arrived, breaking some of the tension.  While Murdoch and Scott ate, Johnny barely touched his plate.

“Now, can I ask you something?”

Johnny nodded.  “Go ahead.”

“Why did you come back?  You said you wanted to talk.”

“And you said I did all my talking before I left.”

Murdoch reached across the table and put a hand over Johnny’s but quickly pulled it back. 

“And I was wrong.”

Johnny huffed, “That’s twice in the same day you admitted you were wrong.  It must be some kind of record.”

“I’ve been wrong about many things in my life.”  Murdoch paused.  “Do you want to stay at Lancer?”

Johnny’s eyes met his father’s.  “And if I do?”

“Who would be staying?”

Johnny knew what his father meant.  His eyes fell on the tequila glass on the table. 

“I…”  He glanced at Scott.  “I know I don’t know how to be Johnny Lancer.  All I know is Madrid.” 

“John…”  It was Murdoch’s turn to pause.  Knowing how close he was to losing or keeping his son made him carefully think about his words.   “You’ve always been Johnny Lancer.” 

“Can’t I be both?” There was a boyish pleading in his voice.  “Can’t you accept all of me, not just the part you think I should be?  The good, the bad, and everything in between.”

The silence that settled between them was so loud it became deafening.

Murdoch studied his drink, thinking.  Looking up into his son’s face, he took a breath before saying,  “All right, say I do accept both.  How do I know you won’t decide to leave again?”

Johnny shook his head.  “You don’t… I don’t.” 

Scott watched the two combatants as if they were playing a game of chess.   He cleared his throat.  “Will you two stop!?  It’s time you met at least halfway.” 

Turning to Johnny.  “You have to stop pushing us away.  You have a family now, one that cares about you.” 

“Does he?” Johnny nodded towards Murdoch. 

“Yes,” Murdoch’s voice rose and then softened.  “Yes, I care about you.  I care enough to want you to leave a life that will see you dead before you’ve had a chance to live.”

“So, the bottom line is, I stay but on your terms.  Is that it?”  Johnny looked at Scott.  “If I come halfway, what about him?”

“Murdoch, you just have to make sure he doesn’t have a reason to leave.”

Johnny looked at his father for a reaction.  “Can you do that?”

“I can try.”

Johnny nodded and looked at Scott.  “And what about you, Boston?  What do you want?”

Scott smiled.  “That’s easy.  I want my brother to live past thirty.  I want him to leave a ripple behind when he goes.  Maybe Johnny Madrid couldn’t do that, but I know Johnny Lancer can.”

Johnny returned the smile.

“Now, eat something before you pass out.  I’m not pouring you into a saddle to get you home.”  

“You sure are bossy.”

“That’s what big brothers get paid for.”

Murdoch relaxed at the banter between his sons.  If anyone could get Johnny to return to the ranch, it was Scott.

Murdoch sat his fork down and pushed the plate forward.  “What do you say we head back to the ranch?  Between the tequila and the food, I’m ready for an early evening.”  

“Johnny?” Scott leaned forward, placing a hand on his brother’s arm.  “Home?”

“I’ll go back to the ranch with you.  I want to make sure I’m there when the Strykers come back.”

“John…,” Murdoch started and then stopped.  “Alright.  We do it your way.”

“Just like that?” The surprise was evident in his voice.

“Just like that.”

“Nothing’s that easy, old man.”

“It can be if you want it bad enough.” 

It had been two weeks since the incident with the Strykers.  The ranch still posted guards in the tower, but the men riding night duty around the estancia were returned to their regular work.

Murdoch and Johnny had reached a truce.  Their conversation in the cantina in Morro Coyo had gone a long way in clearing the air between them. Still, everyone on Lancer could feel the tension between them.  

Johnny spent most of his time on the range, returning only when he needed supplies or a change of clothes.   He hadn’t spent a night under the same roof as Murdoch since before the stallion incident.

“Pig-headed,” Scott grumbled as he left the saloon in Green River and started for the livery stable.  

That morning he’d decided enough was enough.  Tired of playing peacekeeper, he’d taken himself away from the ranch and into town.  He’d told Murdoch he was going into town for the mail, but it was only an excuse to escape, even for a little while.  

Scott arrived in town shortly before noon, picked up the mail, and headed straight to the saloon.  After an hour with a particular lady upstairs and a few drinks, he was ready to return to the ranch.  As he stepped outside, his mind returned to the problems at home.  

“Pig-headed,” he repeated aloud.

Murdoch and Johnny were so full of regret over what happened with the stallion and the Strykers that neither was willing to sit down and talk about it.  ‘Yes, regret,’ Scott thought again.  Their pride had driven them to the brink of destroying the fragile family that was just forming, and now regret over what happened was keeping them apart. 

Scott’s instincts kicked in as he stepped off the boardwalk in front of the alley that ran alongside the barbershop.  Sensing more than seeing movement to his right, he started to turn when a sharp pain in the back of his head sent him to his knees. 

Struggling to stay awake, Scott attempted to stand when he felt hands on both his arms, pushing him back to his knees and then dragging him away from the main street.  

Fighting back, he pulled his right arm out of the grasp of the person holding him.  Taking a swing, Scott connected with the side of the man’s head and heard a satisfying grunt.  He reached for his gun, and before he could touch the butt of the Colt, his right arm was jerked behind his back and twisted upward. 

He heard and felt someone lift the gun from his holster.  

“Mister, try that again, and I’ll wrench your arm clean off.  You understand?” 

When Scott hesitated, his arm was pulled higher.  He felt the muscles in his shoulder burn as pain shot through him.   

“Do you understand?” 

Scott nodded, biting his lower lip to keep from screaming in pain. 

“Alright, now I’m going to lower your arm.  You’re gonna lay on the ground face down while we tie you up.  Don’t try anything.  We don’t want to hurt you, but we will.” 

The man shoved Scott to the ground, releasing his arm.  With the pressure taken off the shoulder joint, Scott breathed a sigh of relief.   

Someone grabbed both arms, pulled them behind him, and tied his hands. 

“What do you want?” Scott managed to spit the words out along with a mouth full of dirt he’d managed to eat when his face was pushed into the ground. 

“Me?  I don’t want nothing.  Just getting paid to pick you up and take you to our boss.” 

“Your boss?” 

“Yeah, the man has a hate so strong…well, let’s say I’m glad it’s not me he’s after.” 

“Get him up,” the man doing the talking ordered. 

The man jerked Scott to his feet, and someone shoved a dirty balled handkerchief into his mouth as he started to speak.  While fighting the bandana tied around his mouth, he was lifted onto the back of a horse and, for the next hour, did all he could to stay on the animal’s back. 

When they finally stopped, Scott got the first good look at the men who held him captive.   

“It’s about time you got here!”   

The gruff voice matched the man who’d spoken.  Scott’s head swiveled around, and he thought he’d done a convincing act of hiding his surprise.  He’d only seen the man from a distance, but there was no mistaking Sam Stryker.   

“Take the gag out.”  

One of the men untied the balled gag and pulled it out of Scott’s mouth.   

 Stryker looked at him and grinned.  “Surprised to see me, Lancer?” 

Scott shook his head and coughed.  His throat was dry, and he tried to create some moisture in his mouth.  Finally able to speak, he responded, “Not really.  We figured you were still in the area.” 

“Is that right?” Stryker snorted.    

“Yes.  It wasn’t hard to deduce you wouldn’t leave that easily.” 

“Fancy talk,” Stryker laughed.  “From what I’ve heard, you weren’t raised around here.” 

Scott ignored the comment. “So, now what?” 

“I’m sending word to your old man.  I want your brother, not you.  We’re gonna find out how much you mean to him.” 

Scott’s brow furrowed.  “You actually believe my father would trade one son for another?  Mr. Stryker, you have a lot to learn about Murdoch Lancer.” 

“I learned a lot about your brother in the last few days.  It seems to me Lancer would be willing to trade you for the gunhawk.” 

“You’re crazy.” The words were out of Scott’s mouth before realizing he’d said them aloud.  That was something Johnny would do, not him – speak before thinking.  Scott almost smiled at the thought that his little brother was a bad influence on him. 

Stryker’s response was swift and predictable.  He drew back his fist and slammed it into Scott’s face.    

“Watch your mouth, boy.”  

Scott staggered backward but kept his feet under him.   He could feel the trickle of blood in his mouth from a cut lip and the pain in his left cheek. 

Stryker turned and waved to one of his men.  Taking a note from his shirt pocket, he handed it to the man.  

“Jake, take this to Lancer.  Tell him to meet me on the road to Morro Coyo tomorrow morning at nine.” 

Jake glanced at the piece of paper in his hand and nodded.   

“And if he don’t come?” 

“Don’t worry.  Once Lancer reads what’s gonna happen if he don’t come, he’ll be there.”      

Teresa and Maria were in the kitchen when they heard someone pounding on the front door.  Wiping her hands on her apron, Maria passed through the dining room to the foyer.  Opening the door, she took a step back and gave the man a stern look. 

Without waiting for Maria to speak, the man asked, “Murdoch Lancer here?” 

Maria shook her head.  “No, Senor.  Is there something I can help you with?” 

The man looked around the yard behind him.  Two vaqueros stood near the corral, watching him; another was coming his way. 

Cipriano stopped several feet from the front portico and looked at Maria.  “Que?”

“No se.  He asked for the Patron.”

Cipriano turned to look at the stranger.   “What is it you want, Senor?”

“I need to talk to Murdoch Lancer,” the man replied with a snarl.  “I have something for him.”

“I will take it, Senor.  I am the Segundo of Rancho Lancer.”

The man thought a moment and glanced around again.  More vaqueros had wandered into the yard, a few with rifles.  Nervously, he took a piece of paper from his breast pocket and started to hand it to the big Mexican.


Cipriano turned to see Johnny sauntering towards him.

“Senor, this hombre has something for the Patron.”

“That right.”  

“Look, Mister.  I have a message for Murdoch Lancer.  One of you take it, and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’ll take it.”  Johnny reached out and snatched the paper from the outstretched hand.

Jake smiled.  “I’d do what it says.”  

Johnny watched the man remount, rein his horse around, and ride back the way he’d come.  Thumbing open the slip of paper, he read it and took a deep breath.

“Damn,” the word escaped before he could stop it.

Cipriano took a step forward, his eyes going from Johnny’s face to the paper he held in his hand. 


Knowing it was no use keeping the information a secret, Johnny handed it to the Segundo.

Cipriano read the note and looked up at Johnny.  “Madre Dios.”

Cipriano looked up to see Johnny turn and head to the house, only to be confronted by his father.

Murdoch glanced towards the retreating rider and then back to his son.  “Who was that?”

Johnny strode past the taller man without stopping.  “Ask Cipriano.”

Murdoch looked from Cipriano back to Johnny.  “Where are you going?”

“To get my other gun.”

Murdoch had to think for a moment before realizing Johnny was talking about his working gun.

“Patron,” Cipriano said, stepping forward with his hand outstretched, “you need to read this.”

Murdoch took the offered note and quickly read it.

‘Lancer, I have your son.  Give me the one that kilt my boy.  If you don’t I’ll kill this one, burn your house to the ground, and then kill you.  Is the gunhawk worth the hell that’s gonna rain down on your head?

Follow the road to Morro Coyo until met.’

He looked up and his eyes met Cipriano’s. 

“What do we do, Patron?”

“I know one thing we don’t, and that’s turn Johnny over to that madman.  How can he even think I’d trade one son for another?”

“I will gather the men.”

The jingle of spurs drew both men’s attention.  Johnny was coming out the French doors, buckling his gunbelt.


Murdoch turned away and then stopped.  Looking back at Cipriano, he nodded.  “Yes.  Get as many men as you can.  I want the guards doubled on the hacienda.  Send someone to the Conway ranch and let Aggie know what’s happening.  Stryker may try to come at us from that direction, and she deserves to know what’s happening. 

“You’ll take the rest and follow us, but not close enough that they’ll know.”

When he saw his son heading for the barn, Murdoch shouted, “Johnny.  Wait.” 

Johnny didn’t slow his pace as he passed his father.

Murdoch reached out and grabbed the boy’s arm.  “I said wait!”

“No!” Johnny pulled free and turned.  “Scott’s already taken one bullet because of me, and I’m not letting him take another.”


“Don’t try to stop me, old man.  I did it your way last time.”

“What do you plan to do?”

Johnny stilled and locked eyes with his father.  “I learned the hard way not to leave an enemy behind.  I should never have listened to you, and I should never have let them walk away.” 

“No.  It was the right thing to do.  How were we supposed to know….?”

“I knew!  I told you they’d be back.”

“Yes, you did.  I should have listened, but now’s not the time to rehash ….”

“Really?” Johnny cut him short.  “You’re still spouting that past is past bull crap.  Let me tell you something, old man. The past is never past!  It’s always with us, always with me.  Now, let me go.”

“I won’t let you go alone.” Murdoch turned to Cipriano.  “Saddle my horse.”

“Si, Patron.  Then I will instruct the men of your wishes.”

 Johnny cocked his head questioningly. 

“I’ve instructed Cip to follow us at a distance.” 

“This isn’t their fight, and I don’t want any of the men hurt.  Enough people have….”  Johnny took a breath, not completing the sentence.

Murdoch was at a loss as to what to say.  Even though he knew Johnny wanted to stay at Lancer, should anything happen to Scott, Murdoch knew there was no way he could keep Johnny.   He shuddered at the images that plagued him nightly of his dark-haired boy riding away from the only home he’d ever known and dying alone in an unnamed town.

“Johnny . . .,” Murdoch grasped his son’s arm. 

Johnny pulled free and looked at Murdoch with eyes that were pleading for understanding.  “You were right.  The only thing wrong around here has always been me, and when we get Scott back and I kill the Strykers, I’ll get off your land and head back to where I belong.”

“The hell you are.  You’ll stay here even if I have to tie you down.”  

Johnny gave Murdoch a faint smile.  “You think so?”

“I know so.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted, for me to leave…to get off your land.”

“I’ve already told you I didn’t mean what I said.  Johnny…”

“Look, why don’t we talk about this later.  Right now, I want to get Scott back.”

Murdoch nodded.  “Alright, but we aren’t done.” 

Johnny turned, headed for Barranca, and swung into the saddle.  He lowered his head and waited for Murdoch to mount his horse before turning the palomino towards the arch, assured Murdoch was behind him. 

Riding in silence, Johnny scanned both sides of the road for any sign of the Strykers.  Seeing no one, he turned his attention to Murdoch.  

He wondered what his father had in mind when they reached the rendezvous with Stryker.  The demand note had been specific—one son in exchange for Scott, the ranch, and his father’s life. 

Was he worth all that to the tall rancher who rode beside him?  The last time he checked, he was worth only twelve dollars, but now…   Johnny glanced at his father and wondered if that had also changed?

Murdoch maneuvered closer to Johnny.  He’d started to speak several times but became fascinated by how Johnny had turned off all pretense of being Johnny Lancer.  

The way his son sat in the saddle, his right hand resting on the butt of his modified Colt, his eyes constantly moving, watching everything at once.  It only confirmed to a weary father he’d lost the battle to regain his son.

He knew right then he’d been right that evening in the Great Room when he’d told Scott that if Johnny couldn’t give it all up and walk away, it was better he left.

Johnny shifted in the saddle and glanced over his shoulder.  When he turned back, Murdoch noticed the boy’s shoulders slump slightly, followed by a sigh.   Johnny’s face softened briefly, and Murdoch watched Madrid step aside for Lancer.  The boy looked tired, and the circles under his eyes told their own story.

They’d reach a bend in the road where boulders lined the way when a voice high in the rocks called out, “Hold it right there!” 

Murdoch’s horse shied when a rifle shot rang out, and a bullet hit the ground next to his left hoof.  

“Off your horses,” Stryker ordered and stepped into the road, followed by his son Davie and two other men.    

Johnny glanced at Murdoch and saw a slight nod.  Both men slowly dismounted, letting their reins fall. 

“Never thought we’d get this lucky.” Stryker was smiling, with his eyes fixed on Johnny.  “Got all three of you now.  Drop your guns.” 

“Where’s my son?” Murdoch barked. 

Stryker raised a hand.  “Bring him out.” 

From behind the boulders, two men forced Scott forward.  Their guns were drawn and aimed at Scott’s back.   

The first thing the worried father saw was the bruise on his oldest son’s left cheek and a cut lip.  

“Are you alright?” Murdoch asked, forcing himself to remain where he was.  

Scott nodded.  “I’m alright, but you shouldn’t have come.” 

Murdoch gave his son a faint smile.  They were still getting to know each other, but he hoped Scott realized nothing could have kept him away.  Turning, he looked at the smirking face of Sam Stryker.      

“Stryker,” Murdoch barked, “I thought we’d settled this.” 

“Nothing got settled, Lancer.  I want your boy there, and nothing’s gonna change that.  I said drop your gun.”  

Davie Stryker strolled over to Scott and pointed the gun barrel at his head.   

Murdoch reached down, lifted his gun from his holster, and tossed it aside.  The weapon landed close to Scott’s feet.

Johnny saw a slight grin on Davie’s face as he pushed the gun barrel gun Scott’s neck.  He knew what Davie was thinking; the roles were reversed. 

“Leave him alone,” Johnny’s soft drawl left nothing to the imagination.  “It’s me you want, not him.”  

Stryker leveled his gun at Johnny.  “Drop your gunbelt.” 

Johnny fixed his eyes on the man trying to kill him but didn’t move.   

“Nope.” The word was soft and low. 

Stryker’s eyes narrowed.  “I’ll shoot you where you stand, boy.  Drop the belt.” 

“Not gonna happen.” 

“I’ll shoot your brother if you don’t drop the belt,” Davie Stryker pulled back the hammer on the gun pointed at Scott. 


“I’m not dropping my gun or belt, old man.  Stryker kills me; he’s gonna have to kill both of you too.”  Seeing the truth in Sam Stryker’s eyes, Johnny gave him a faint smile.  “Stryker knows he can’t kill me and leave you standing.   

“Hell, the man’s not stupid.  He knows you’re the biggest dog in these parts.  No one is gonna kill Murdoch Lancer’s pup and get away with it, even if he is a blue-eyed, mestizo gunfighter from Mexico.”   

Scott watched his brother, marveling at how calm and relaxed he seemed.  He’d never seen Johnny draw on a man before but had heard from the vaqueros about how fast he was, how he’d drawn and fired at Eli Stryker in the blink of an eye.  

One of Stryker’s men, a tall, gangly man with sandy blond hair, stepped up to stand next to his boss.   

“Mr. Stryker, maybe you should let this go.” 

Stryker turned his angry face to the man.  “No.” 

“But Mr. Stryker, I didn’t know who we were going after, and I don’t want any part of it.” 

“I told you we were going after Lancer’s son.” 

“You didn’t say Lancer’s son was Johnny Madrid.” 

“It don’t matter who he is.”  Stryker turned slowly to look at Johnny.  “I heard you were a gunhawk, but no one said you were Madrid.” 

Johnny’s eyes locked onto Stryker’s, giving the man a slight nod. 

“Well, now,” Stryker laughed.  “Imagine that.  The biggest rancher in the valley has a Johnny Madrid for a son.”  He turned to look at Murdoch.  “Bet you’re real proud of your boy?”    

Murdoch didn’t respond. 

“Well, that’s my answer, but we still have a problem.” 

“Yes, you do,” Johnny replied without looking at his father.  He’d not expected Murdoch to say he was proud of his son, and he’d already made it plain how he felt, but bringing it to light in front of a man like Sam Stryker hurt more than he wanted to admit. 

“You gonna draw on me, boy?” 

“If that’s what it takes.” 

Davie Stryker smiled.   “Can I shoot him now, Pa?” 

Davie lowered the gun and started to aim at Johnny. 

“No.” Sam Stryker shook his head.  “It’s me who’s gonna kill him.” 

“Why?” Murdoch asked, grasping for anything he could to back the man down.  “Don’t you think enough people have died?” 

“My boy died!” 

Johnny took a step closer and raised his head to stare at Stryker.  

“Stryker, I pulled the trigger, but you’re the one who killed Eli.”  Johnny could see Sam Stryker’s face reddening and the wavering gun pointed at his heart.  “You’re the one who told him to finish what he’d started.  He drew first, but I finished it.” 

“And you’re gonna die for it,” Davie smirked. 

Johnny gave the younger Stryker boy a hard glare.  “You gonna face me, man to man?” 

When Davie looked away, Johnny smiled.  “I didn’t think so.   At least your brother had the guts to try me.  He wasn’t fast enough, and you won’t be either.” 

“That’s enough, Davie,” Stryker barked.  “Eli was just ….” 

“Just trying to make you proud of him?  Is that it?  Is that why he drew on me?” 

“I was always proud of Eli.  He didn’t have to prove nothing to me.” 

Johnny glanced at Murdoch and wondered if the day would come when his father would be proud of him.  He doubted he’d ever hear those words come out of Murdoch Lancer’s mouth. 

“Did you ever tell him?” Johnny’s voice softened. 


“Did you ever tell him you were proud of him?  Did you ever tell him how you felt about him?  Have you ever told Davie?” 

“Eli was my son.  He knew how I felt.” 

Johnny shook his head and laughed.  “Is that the way all fathers think?   Do you all expect your sons to know how you feel about them?”   

“Johnny!” Murdoch’s tone was similar to how he’d said his son’s name the day Johnny held a gun to Davie’s neck. 

Johnny gave his father a scathing look. 

“Now isn’t the time.” 

Johnny shook his head.  “There’s never a good time, is there?”  

Scott felt the pressure of Davie’s gun barrel lessen as he watched Murdoch and Johnny square off. 

Sam Stryker looked between Murdoch and Johnny and gave them a crooked smile.  “Well, Lancer, it looks like you’ve had your hands full with this one.  Sounds like he didn’t spend enough time in the woodshed.  He needs a strap taken to him.”    

“My son is my concern.”   

Stryker sneered, “And my son was my concern.  My boy died hard, and I mean for yours to do the same.” 

“You’ll never get away with it, Stryker.” Murdoch straightened to his full six foot five inches.  “If anything happens to Johnny, there won’t be any place you can hide.  I’ll find you.” 

“Big talk for someone who’s not holding a gun,” Davie chimed in.  “Let me shoot ‘em all, Pa.” 

“No.  I only want the boy.  The others can go; if they come after us, so be it.  We’ll take care of them when and if they come.  Keep them covered, Davie.”  Stryker walked over to his horse and untied a lariat.   Taking the rope back to where Murdoch stood, he cut a length.   “Lancer, put your hands behind your back.” 

Murdoch hesitated. 

“I’d do as my Pa said.” 

Davie pressed the gun into Scott’s neck a little harder than before, causing him to flinch. 

Murdoch put his hands behind his back.  The entire time Stryker was tying him, he kept his eyes on his youngest son.   If Johnny were to do something, it would have to be soon. 

Johnny looked at Scott and saw a slight smile on his big brother’s face.  He gave Scott a nod.  Looking at Murdoch, their eyes met, and again he nodded. 

Scott raised an elbow and jabbed Davie in the stomach.  The younger man screamed and doubled over, the gun still in his hand.  

Scott dived for Murdoch’s revolver and came up with it pointing at Davie. 

Davie recovered quickly, raised his gun, and started to fire when Scott yelled, “Hold it.”

At the same time, Murdoch turned and put his shoulder into Sam Stryker’s chest, sending the man stumbling backward.  With his hands tied, all Murdoch could do was put himself between the angry man and his sons.   

Johnny’s gun was already in his hand. 

The sandy-haired man who’d warned Stryker about Madrid took one look at the barrel of Johnny’s gun pointed at him, dropped his rifle, and raised his hands.  The second man stood undecided for only a moment before doing the same.    

Johnny swung around and hesitated briefly before shooting the gun out of the younger Stryker’s hand.   

 “Pa!” Davie screamed out in pain and fell back.

Sam Stryker, blocked by Murdoch, threw a hard right, and his fist connected with the tall Scot’s jaw.  Murdoch staggered backward but kept his balance. 

Stryker started to hit Murdoch again when a cold, icy voice stopped him. 


Sam’s arm froze in mid-air, and he looked toward the dark-haired boy holding a gun. 

“You’d better shoot me now, boy.” 

“I don’t want to shoot you any more than I wanted to shoot Eli.  When he drew on me, I didn’t have a choice.”

“Choice or not, you’re gonna pay for killing him.” 

Seeing that Davie was no longer a threat, Scott walked over to Murdoch and began untying his hands.   

Murdoch looked at Johnny, seeing his son for who he was for the first time.  

He’d seen Johnny in action when he outdrew Eli Stryker.  Killing the older Stryker boy had been nothing more than a reflex.  The gun had appeared in Johnny’s hand as if it was an extension of his son’s arm.   The act as normal as swatting a fly.    

Now, he saw a different Johnny.  One who didn’t want to kill for the sake of killing.  He was both Johnny Madrid and Johnny Lancer, which saddened the rancher more than he could say. 

Stryker looked confused.  “Why don’t you shoot?”  

“I just told you.  I don’t want to kill you.  Stryker, the only thing you’re gonna find here is death.  Take your boy, get off Lancer land, and don’t come back.  The next time I see either of you, I’ll make an exception and put a bullet between your eyes.” 

Sam Stryker looked at Davie, seeing for the first time the bloody hand the boy was holding to his chest.   He moved to stand in front of his son.   

“Let me see it?” 

Davie whimpered as he showed his hand to his father.  He turned an angry face on Johnny. 

“He’ll be lucky ever to use that hand again.” 

“He’s lucky to be alive,” Johnny responded in the same soft tone.  “Now, make up your mind.  You want to head out or be buried?  It doesn’t matter to me; I can make it happen one way or the other.” 

Stryker took a dirty bandana out of his pocket and wrapped it around his son’s hand.  He looked at his two men and ordered, “Get the horses.” 

Turning back to Murdoch, Sam Stryker studied the rancher before speaking.  “Lancer, I’ll get my revenge.  Knowing who your boy is, I’ll wait to hear someone’s gunned him down, and then I’ll drink a toast to the man who outdrew him.”    

“His hand needs a doctor,” Murdoch’s eyes went to Davie, ignoring the man’s threat. 

“I’ll take care of him.” 

“Like you took care of your other boy?” Johnny asked.  “If you’d have let us take him to the house, he’d be alive.” 

“Shut up.” Stryker turned on Johnny.  “You don’t know that.” 

“At least he’d have had a chance,” Murdoch joined in. 

Davie looked from Johnny to his father with a panicked look.  “Pa?  Don’t let me die.” 

“Shut up, boy, and get on your horse,” Stryker snapped. 

“But Pa….” Davie’s whine was getting louder. 

“I said get on your horse!  You ain’t gonna die.” 

Davie shook his head as if realizing they were leaving without getting revenge for his older brother.   

“We can’t leave without him.” Davie nodded towards Johnny. 

“Don’t be a fool, boy.  We can’t take all of them now.” 

Something in how Sam Stryker said the word ‘now’ gave Johnny pause.  The senses he’d honed from years of riding the border and watching his back came to full alert.   

Scott’s eyes shot to his brother; he’d also picked up on the tone of Stryker’s voice.   

The Lancer boys’ eyes met.  There was no doubt between them that this wasn’t over.  

“Murdoch.” Scott turned his head to look at his father.  “If he should change his mind and come after Johnny again, who can we turn to for help?  Where is the nearest lawman?” 

Murdoch shook his head.  “Stockton.” 

Johnny smiled.  “You hear that, Stryker.  The nearest law is 150 miles away.” 

Smiling, Sam Stryker turned to face Johnny. 

“I’d take that smile off my face if I were you.  I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen if you or your boy come at me again.” Johnny’s eyes turned a dark blue, and his focus intensified.  “First, I’ll finish what I should have already done with Davie.  I’ve had him under my gun twice and let him live both times.  That ain’t gonna happen again. 

“You don’t know when to cut your losses, so I’m coming after you after I bury your boy, and there’s no law to stop me.” 

Sam Stryker’s smile slipped away, replaced by a sneer. 

“We’ll see.” 

“Yeah, we will,” Johnny replied.  “I know we will.” 

Stryker mounted his horse and took the reins of Davie’s horse.   The four men rode away, leaving the Lancers standing in the roadway. 

“Thank heaven that’s over,” Murdoch said as he took a deep breath. 

Johnny sighed and shook his head.  “It won’t be over until one of us is dead.”   

“They’re gone, John, and I don’t believe they’ll come back.” 

Johnny gave Murdoch a faint smile.  “Seems you’re wrong about a lot more than you’re willing to admit.” 

Striding over to his horse, Johnny swung into the saddle.  “You two head back to the ranch.  I’ll see you later.” 

Murdoch stepped forward, his heart pounding.  “Where are you going?”

“To town.”

“Which town?” Scott moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Murdoch.

Johnny shook his head.  “I don’t need company.”  He turned in the saddle and looked at Murdoch.  “And don’t worry old man, I’ll be back.  We ain’t done yet.”

“We aren’t?” Murdoch tried not to smile.  “Does that mean you’re coming home?  You’re not leaving again?”

Johnny gave his father a ghost of a smile before he pulled Barranca around and raced toward Morro Coyo. 

Murdoch and Scott stood in the roadway staring at the cloud of dust getting farther away from them.  

Scott was the first to move.  Picking up his reins, he stepped into the saddle and looked down at Murdoch.   “Are you coming?” 

“Which way?” Murdoch asked, first looking towards Morro Coyo and then back to Lancer. 

“Morro Coyo.  I’m not letting him drink alone, and I have a feeling someone is going to have to help him home tonight.”

“And you need my help?”

“You’re his father.”

Murdoch smiled.  “That I am.  And we can have Sam check you over while we’re there.” 

Scott rubbed his sore chin and nodded.

Murdoch mounted and kicked the horse’s side, joining his oldest son.


Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;
     But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave
     Till you wouldn’t believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

“There’s Barranca.”  Scott pointed to the hitching rail in front of the cantina.

“Thank heaven.”

Scott glanced at Murdoch, noting the relief on the older man’s face.  “You thought he’d left again?”

Murdoch nodded.  “I know he said he was coming back, but I—”

“You didn’t believe him?  Sir, the one thing I’ve learned about my brother, is that when he says he’s going to do something, he does it. ”

“Well, that’s more than I know about him.”

“You haven’t taken the time to sit down with him and talk.”

Murdoch snorted, “Talking to Johnny is like lighting a match to dynamite.  His temper is worse than his mother’s.  She would blow up at the slightest….” He stopped and shook his head.  “I don’t want to talk about Maria.”

“You’ll have to find a way to talk without either of you blowing up.”

“And you have a way for us to do that?”

Scott heaved a sigh.  “One step at a time.”

“What’s the first step?”

“A drink.”   Scott nodded towards the cantina door.  “I’ve had a rough couple of days.”

“I know you have.” Murdoch put a hand on Scott’s shoulder.  “Maybe we should have Sam check you out—.”

“No!  Drink first, then Sam … maybe.”

They laughed and then stepped through the cantina doors.

Scott felt a sense of relief when they rode home together a few hours later.   They hadn’t talked much while in the cantina, and what little Murdoch and Johnny said had been in civilized tones, neither raising their voices or tempers.  Murdoch again asked Johnny to return to the ranch and, as before, stressed it would be on his terms. 

Scott sat back and watched his brother take a deep breath and nod.  When Johnny didn’t say a word about leaving again, Scott thought it was settled.  He also thought about how much the boy must have wanted a new life to give in as he did.

Topping the ridge overlooking the ranch, they reined to a stop and took in the vista.   Lights were coming on in the hacienda and bunkhouse as the sun’s last rays brushed across the arch.

Scott leaned forward in his saddle and looked at his father and brother.  “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for something to eat and bed.” 

“I second that.”  Murdoch stretched and looked to his left.   “Johnny?”

Johnny pushed his hat back on his head, not taking his eyes off the hacienda. 

Scott held his breath, hoping the last few hours together had turned the tide on his brother’s plans to leave.    “Teresa will be worried.”

Johnny straightened his hat on his head and nodded.  “Best not keep her waiting.”

They could see the front door open when they rode under the arch.  Teresa stepped out with Maria a few steps behind her.  She waited until they stopped at the hitching rail before running out to greet them.  “Scott!”  She threw her arms around him.  “Thank God you’re alright.”

Scott kissed the top of her head.  “I’m fine.”

Teresa pulled back and put a hand on his cheek.  The bruising on his face was visible even in the fading light.  “You aren’t alright.”

Scott smiled.   “It’s nothing that won’t fade.”

Relenting, Teresa looked around to see Johnny still on his horse.  “Johnny?”

“I’ll take care of the horses and call it a night.”

“You will not.  You’ll come inside, sit down to dinner, and then go up to your room.” 

Johnny shook his head.  “I —”

“Don’t argue with me, Johnny Lancer.  You’ll not find your saddlebags in the barn.  They’re upstairs in your room where they belong…where you belong.”

Murdoch stepped forward and put a hand on Johnny’s leg.  “She’s right, Johnny.  It’s time you came all the way home.”

Johnny didn’t move for a long moment, then nodded.  “All right.  I’ll get the horses settled  and—”

“I will take the horses, Senor.”  Pedro stepped out of the darkness, extending his hand.

“Step down, brother.  You’re not going to win this one.” Scott handed the reins of his horse to Pedro.

Pedro was waiting when Johnny dismounted. “Gracias, amigo.”

“De nada.”

Teresa walked out, grabbed Johnny’s arm, and pulled him toward the front door as Pedro led the horses away.  “Come on.  Maria has been cooking for you all afternoon.”

Johnny stopped and gave her a puzzled look.  “How did you…?”    

“How did we know you’d come home?”  She smiled at him and leaned into his shoulder.  “Call it faith or hope or… I don’t know.  We just did, and now you’re here and going to stay.”  The comment was not a question but more a statement of fact.  

It had taken some doing, but with Teresa’s help, they’d gotten Johnny to start staying in the hacienda.  The tension was still there, but at least Murdoch and Johnny could remain in the same room without taking each other’s heads off.

As the days passed, Scott noticed subtle changes in his brother.  Johnny grew more distant towards his family, towards Murdoch.   The Johnny they’d come to know was gone.  Oh, he still smiled, but it no longer reached his eyes, and when he laughed, it didn’t hold the same joy it once did.   

It didn’t take long for Scott to realize old wounds were slow to heal, and words spoken in anger couldn’t easily be forgotten.   In accepting his fate, it was as if a spark was extinguished in the younger man.

What amazed Scott was that Murdoch didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, he didn’t say anything.

Scott stood at the open French doors and watched his brother ride out with the work crew.  Johnny hadn’t said two words at breakfast except to nod and say ‘Yes, sir’ when Murdoch gave him his orders for the day. 

“Is this what you wanted?”

Murdoch was passing the French doors on his way to his desk, his attention on the paperwork he had in his hand.  “What are you talking about?”

Murdoch’s eyes followed Scott’s.  Frank was driving the wagon with the fencing material, and Johnny was riding alongside.  

Scott turned to look at his father.  “Johnny.”

“What of him?”

 “Surely you’ve noticed he’s changed?”

“Yes, I’ve noticed he’s quieter, but—.”

“But you like it when he doesn’t argue with you.”  Scott shook his head.  “Can’t you see what you’ve done?  You’ve broken him, just as you would have a wild horse.  Is that what you wanted?”

Murdoch watched a moment longer and then turned to Scott.  “He needed—.”

“I saw the black stallion at the livery stable when I was in town the other day.” Scott cut him off.  “The owner told me how Johnny broke him–hard and quick.  He said it was just another horse now, but at least it was good for something.

“What he didn’t have to tell me was by not taking the time to break him in easy, Johnny broke the horse’s spirit.   Is that what you want for your son?  To take away his spirit, to make him just another hand on this ranch to work from sun up to sun down?  Someone who says ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ and agrees with everything you say?”

“No.  No, it isn’t.  He was too wild, and I felt he needed to be tamed, but not like this.”

“Well, that’s what you’ve got unless you do something.  Words won’t work this time, Murdoch.  You have to show him how you feel.”

Scott looked out the doors again as the wagon and riders disappeared around a bend in the road. 

“I miss the man who got off the stage with me in Morro Coyo,” he sighed.  “Frankly, if it means losing him in a gunfight or living with him the way he is now, I’d rather see him go back to gunfighting.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Yes, sir, I do.  The man who got off that stage with me a few months ago was full of life.  The man who sat at the table with us this morning is just going through the motions.  He wants this life so badly that he’d do anything to keep it, but eventually, even that won’t hold him here.”

Murdoch’s eyes were glued to the horizon and the faint hint of dust thrown up by the work wagon.

“So, what are you going to do?  I know I’ve asked that question before, and no the matter isn’t closed and it won’t be as long as Johnny feels like an outsider.  Have you even told him he’s still a partner in the ranch?”

Scott headed for the front door.  Taking his hat and gunbelt from the hat tree, he opened the door and turned to look back. 

“You’re going to lose more than just him.  If that’s what you want, you just continue to sit here and believe everything is fine.  If not, I suggest you get out there and see if you can save your… sons.” 

Murdoch once again watched his oldest son walk out the door and slam it behind him.  Scott was right.  He didn’t like the way Johnny had turned inward into himself.  There was no joy in the boy’s eyes, no spark of the young, vibrant man he was.  In his clumsy attempt to forge a reconciliation with his son and force him to fit into the lifestyle he thought his son should lead, he had lost everything that made Johnny, Johnny.

What had Johnny said that day by the lake?  He’d thrown a rock into the water, and the ripples started spreading in all directions.  ‘That’s how I feel right now.  I keep changing and shifting until I don’t know who I am anymore.  I feel like I’ve been torn apart.  You want me to be one thing, and in my heart, I know I’m something else.’

Murdoch had to make peace with his son, accept him for who he was, and pray that in time, the boy would become the Johnny Lancer he’d dreamed would someday run Lancer with his brother.

He grabbed his hat and gunbelt and started for the door.  Stopping, he turned to the kitchen.

“Maria, would you make two lunches for me?  I’m going out, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”

Teresa wiped her hands on her apron and frowned.  “Murdoch?”

The older man smiled.  “Don’t worry, Teresa.  I need to take care of something I’ve put off too long.  If what I have planned works, don’t wait dinner for Johnny or me.”

“You’re going….”

“No questions.” Murdoch held up a hand.  “I’m going to go upstairs for a jacket and I’ll be right back.”

Teresa smiled as she watched Murdoch go up the back stairs.  “Maria, put two pieces of chocolate cake in with the sandwiches.”

The wild herd spread across the valley floor at the base of Black Mesa. 

Johnny smiled and looked to his left.  Murdoch leaned forward in his saddle, arms crossed over the saddle horn.  There was a contented look on the old man’s face Johnny had never noticed before.

It wasn’t a surprise when Murdoch rode up to the fence line where he was working.   Johnny had come to expect the ‘tune caller’ to check on him during the day to make sure he was doing his job and not slacking off.

The old man had ridden up with a smile on his face.  Johnny wasn’t sure what to say when Murdoch announced, “Hey, I missed you when the rest of the work crew came back.”

The man wanted more this time than to make sure his son was working.

What surprised him was when a Murdoch told him about the herd of wild horses and suggested they go after them.  What were his words, “Maybe, there’s even a time that the most important thing in the world is to go out after a wild horse.”

At first, Johnny was suspicious, but when he saw the smile on his father’s face, he jumped at the chance hoping it was the olive branch he’d been hoping for the last three weeks.

Yes, it had been three weeks since the last run in with Sam and Davie Stryker, and as the days passed, he’d felt the distance between him and Murdoch widening.  There were times he wondered why he was still there, except Johnny kept hoping his father would show some sign that he still wanted him, if not as a partner, then at least as his son.

“I was right,” Murdoch’s words broke Johnny’s musings.  “Looks like forty or more down there.”

Johnny nodded.  They hadn’t talked on the ride to Black Mesa, even when they stopped to eat the sandwiches he’d brought along.  Johnny hadn’t wanted Murdoch to think twice about the outing.

“Look at the lead mare.”  Murdoch pointed to a rise to the north of the main herd.  The mare was sniffing the air and looked their way.

“She’s spotted us.”  Johnny couldn’t help the excitement in his voice.

“Let’s see if we can round up any of them before she sends them running.”  Murdoch settled back in the saddle and kicked his horse into a gallop.

Johnny grinned and started to follow. 

Barranca suddenly reared on his hind legs and kicked out with his front before letting out a squeal and heading full gallop toward the herd. 

Johnny leaned low over the flying white mane and let the horse have his head.  He felt Barranca’s muscles bunch, and the power of his stride sent a thrill through him. 

Suddenly Johnny realized that this had been Barranca’s herd just a few months ago.  The golden palomino had been the lead stallion, and these were his mares. Even though he’d been gelded, Barranca was ready to reclaim what was his.

On hearing Barranca’s call, Murdoch pulled up and looked over his shoulder.  He knew what was happening and remembered where Cipriano had caught the palomino.  Seeing his son racing toward the herd, Murdoch kicked his horse into a run to join him. 

As they got closer to the mares, Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief when Johnny veered Barranca away from the herd stallion and cut off three palomino mares.  With a rope in hand, Johnny twirled the coiled lasso and cast it straight forward, allowing the noose to settle over the head of the larger of the mares.

He wrapped the end of the lasso around his saddle horn and pulled back on the reins.  The mare screamed and beat the air with her front legs.

Barranca, caught up in the excitement of the chase, was soon nickering at the mare, trying to calm her down.

Murdoch arrived in time to see Johnny jump from the saddle and grab the rope, pulling the mare’s head down.  The mare reared and struck out with her front leg, one glancing off Johnny’s arm.

“Are you alright?”

Johnny ignored the question and responded, “Look at her.  Isn’t she amazing?”

Seeing the smile on his son’s face, Murdoch sat back in the saddle and relaxed. 

“She is that,” Murdoch responded, feeling for the first time since his boys had come home that he’d done something right.  “She’s a bonnie lass.”

Johnny turned to look at Murdoch.  “I’ve never heard anyone say that before.  What’s it mean?”

“It’s an expression from Scotland.  It means she’s a pretty young woman.”

Johnny seemed confused for a moment.  “You said something that first day about being fresh off the boat from Inv….”

“Inverness.  Yes. Inverness is in Scotland.”  

Johnny turned his attention back to the mare, and Murdoch thought he’d done something wrong to spoil the happy moment with his son.  When Johnny looked back up at him, there was a sparkle in the boy’s eyes Murdoch hadn’t seen for some time.

“You think maybe you could tell me about Scotland sometime?”

Murdoch smiled.  “I think that would be an excellent idea.  It’s time I shared some of your Scottish heritage with you and your brother, and I’d like to tell you about Scotland, your grandparents, your uncles, and aunt.”

“I got abuelos in Scotland?”

“My Da and Ma are gone now, but you have two uncles and one aunt still living there.”

“I’d like to hear about them.”

“It’s settled then, but right now, we have to tend to this mare.  Do you want to try to catch any more today?”

Johnny looked at the empty valley floor.  The herd was miles away by now. 

“No, we’ll take this one back to the ranch.”  

Murdoch nodded.  “Sounds like a good idea.”

“Sure wish we had some more of those sandwiches Maria packed.  I’m kinda hungry.”

“We’ve eaten the sandwiches, but I think she did pack a couple of pieces of cake.  They may be smashed flat by now, but….”

“That’s alright.  I like my cake any way I can get it.” 

The ride back to the ranch was completely different than the ride out only a few hours earlier.  Murdoch found himself talking about the ranch and how he’d got started. 

Johnny listened and asked questions but kept glancing back at the mare, who seemed content in following Barranca.  

When things got quiet between them, Murdoch tried to think of questions about his son’s life that didn’t include gunfighting.  He felt ashamed of himself when he couldn’t think of one question that wasn’t sure to bring back bad memories or start an argument.  His son had been home for four months, and he hadn’t learned anything about the boy.

They were almost back to the ranch when Johnny pointed to the horizon.

“Look there!”

Black smoke rose high in the sky, spreading as the wind caught it.

“It’s the ranch,” Murdoch shouted and kicked his horse’s sides.

Johnny didn’t have to urge Barranca into a run.  The palomino took off, following his stable mate, the mare in tow.

When Murdoch and Johnny topped the rise overlooking the hacienda, the sound of gunfire greeted them.  They could barely see the rifle flashes coming from the house and barn due to the heavy smoke filling the air from a burning outbuilding.

Johnny looked at the mare and shook his head.

Murdoch said sometimes the most important thing in the world was chasing after a wild horse.  Right now, the most important thing lay at the bottom of the hill in front of him.  Johnny reached back, loosened the loop around the neck of the mare, and slid the rope off her.  The mare stood for a moment before realizing she was free.  Johnny raised the lasso and waved it in the air. The mare turned and headed back the way they’d come.

Johnny started to push Barranca forward and felt a hand on his arm.  Turning, he looked at Murdoch.

“We’ll catch her again.”

“It’s just a horse, Murdoch.  There are more important things.”

“Who do you think it is?” Murdoch motioned towards the house.

“One guess.”


Johnny nodded.

“I thought we’d settled with the Strykers.”

“Well, it’s gonna be settled today once and for all.”  Johnny fixed his eyes on the smoke-filled yard.  “How do you want to do this?”

“We circle around and come in the back way.  I don’t see any gunfire back there.”

Without another word, Johnny started down the hill, swinging wide to skirt the hacienda.  Dismounting, they drew their guns and began to work their way through the garden and into the back of the hacienda, only to draw up short when a rifle barrel appeared at the kitchen window.

“Hold up!” Murdoch barked.

“Murdoch?” Teresa pulled the rifle back inside and peered out the window.  “Thank God you’re back.”

The kitchen door swung open, and they saw Maria peeking around the heavy wooden door.  “Rapido, Patron.”

Murdoch and then Johnny slipped inside, and Maria closed the door behind them.

Teresa, still holding the rifle, threw her arms around Murdoch.  “I’m so glad you’re back.”

“When did it start?” Johnny asked as he walked past Murdoch and Teresa towards the dining room.

Teresa released Murdoch and looked at Johnny.

“About an hour ago.  It’s Sam Stryker.  He rode in, wanting to talk to Murdoch, and Scott went out to meet him.  Stryker said the same thing he did last time; he wants Johnny.  When Scott told him you weren’t here, he started to leave, but then his men opened fire.  Scott barely made it inside.  That’s when they set fire to the sheds on the outskirts of the compound.”

“He’s alright, isn’t he?”  Johnny spun around.  “Scott’s alright?”

“Yes,” she nodded.  “He’s fine.  Thank goodness Cipriano has men still watching the house.”


The voice carried across the yard and into the house. 

“We know you’re in there, and your boy is with you!  You send him out, and we’ll leave.  If not, I’ll burn you out just like I promised.” 

Johnny started for the door, and Murdoch grabbed his arm.  The actions were so much like the last time Stryker was there that Johnny expected the same words to come out of Murdoch’s mouth.

“No, John.  This time we deal with him together.”

“You won’t like what I have in mind.  This ends today, once and for all.”

Scott ran into the kitchen in time to hear Johnny’s words.

“He said you were here.  I had to come and see for myself.”

“We just got back…,” Johnny paused.  Now wasn’t the time to tell Scott about his one perfect day with his father. 

“You can’t go out there, at least not like last time.  Stryker will expect you to circle the corral to get to them.”

Johnny smiled.  “I know.  This time I plan on taking him head-on.”

Scott looked from his brother to Murdoch.  Something had changed between them; he could see it in how Murdoch still held Johnny’s arm and how the two looked at each other.

Johnny dropped his hat on one of the chairs in the Great Room as he made his way to the front door.  Easing the door open, he breathed and yelled, “Stryker, I told you what would happen if you ever came at us again.  We gave you two chances, and you won’t get a third.”

Johnny glanced back at Murdoch. 

Murdoch took a rifle from the rack near the door and loaded it.  Jacking the lever, he nodded.

“Call it off now and ride away while you still have a chance.”

A round of gunfire met Johnny’s words, bullets slamming into the thick stucco walls. 

Johnny threw himself through the front door, rolled, and came up behind one of the pillars on the front portico.  Scott and Murdoch ran out the French doors, taking cover behind pillars further along the entrance.  They were all met by more gunfire. 

From the barn and behind the low walls that surrounded the gardens, Lancer men opened up, giving their Patron and his sons covering fire.

Stryker’s men fell until only two or three rifles were returning fire.

“Stryker, give it up!  You can’t win!” Murdoch yelled.  “There’s been enough death today, don’t make us finish you all off.”

“Murdoch, cover me!” Johnny yelled as he left the portico and zig-zagged to the water trough next to the corral.  One or two shots came his way, but still, it looked as if Stryker’s men were being picked off one at a time.

Johnny peeked over the trough to see Stryker kneeling next to Davie.  It looked like the boy had taken a bullet and wasn’t moving. 

Johnny jumped to his feet, yelling as he did.  “Stryker!”

Sam Stryker looked up on hearing his name.  Both his sons were dead now, and he had nothing to lose.   He raised his revolver and fired two shots at the boy he’d come to kill. 

Stryker’s first bullet went wide, but Johnny felt the second one whiz past his head.  He fell to the ground, aiming as he did, and fired once.  The bullet hit Stryker in the chest.  

Johnny could hear Murdoch and Scott still firing from the front of the house.  Suddenly, it got quiet.

After the last gunshot rang out, an unearthly silence settled on the valley.  Nothing moved within five miles of the Lancer hacienda; not one wild animal stirred or bird took wing.  An acrid haze of gun smoke hovered before drifting south with the wind. 

Johnny slowly stood and looked around.  The last two of Stryker’s men were standing, hands in the air.  He quickly looked towards the house and breathed a sigh of relief when first Murdoch and then Scott stood, neither hurt.

Cipriano ran across the yard and herded Stryker’s last two men toward Murdoch.

“Patron, what would you have me do with these two?”

Murdoch scanned the surrounding yard and heaved a sigh. 

“Let them go.”   He looked at the men and stood straighter.  “I gave Stryker a chance to leave and he didn’t take it.  If either of you come on my land again and tries to hurt any member of my family or anyone on this ranch, I’ll personally hunt you down and make sure you’re buried next to Stryker.  Understood?”

The two men didn’t hesitate.  In unison, they nodded and said, “Yes, sir.”

“Then get off my….” Murdoch looked at his sons, “our property and stay off.”

Not having to be told twice, the men hurried to their horses, mounted, and rode away.

Men were hurrying around the yard, tending the wounded.  Murdoch looked back at Scott and Johnny and let his eyes look them over from head to toe.  Assured neither was hurt, he started to go back inside, and Scott fell in beside him.  They both stopped when they realized Johnny was still standing in the center of the yard, his head down.


“Murdoch, I’m….”

“No!” Scott said, his voice raised.   “No, you are not riding out.  You will come inside, and if there is anything that needs saying, we’ll discuss it as a family.”

Scott stalked back to his brother, took an arm, and dragged him towards the French doors.

Johnny looked at Murdoch as Scott pulled him along.  The smile on the older man’s face told him not to argue.

Johnny had stood in the middle of the Great Room, his head high and his back straight.  His right hand had rested on the butt of his Colt.

Murdoch braced for what he knew would be a fierce battle to keep his family together.  He’d made a good start today and felt closer to his younger son than he had in the months he’d been home.

Scott stood back, fully expecting his father and brother to go head-to-head, toe to toe, but it hadn’t happened. 

“We need to settle this once and for all, and we’re going to stay right here until we’ve done it,” Scott announced as he walked to the drink cart and poured himself a tall Scotch.  “Now, one of you, start talking.”

After a few minutes, Johnny was the first to speak, his voice soft and level.

“I’ve thought about riding out, but I can’t force myself to do it.”

“You have a habit of storming off when we argue.  I have to say I’m at a loss as to what to do.”

“I figured when you didn’t try to stop me, you were grateful to have me out of your sight.”

Murdoch searched Johnny’s face for some truth to what Scott said.  He saw a young man who needed a father and a home. 

Murdoch’s voice softened.  “You never answered my question.  Before when you left with Wes, why did you come back?  You said you wanted to talk.”

Johnny dropped his head. 

“John, talk to me.”

Johnny’s voice was so soft it was hard for Murdoch or Scott to hear. “It won’t make a difference.” 

“Why won’t it make a difference?

Johnny looked away.

“Johnny, tell him.” Scott moved forward.

Johnny looked at the man who stood taller than anyone he’d ever known. “You remember what you said about me not being cut out for this life.”

Murdoch nodded.

“Well, I guess you’re right.  The only thing I’ve ever been good at is this.”  He patted the Colt on his hip.

“We both know that’s not true.” 

“All right.  I came back because I wanted to try and make things right with you, to ask for another chance to make a home here.  All I’ve ever wanted is to sit down to a meal at a table and sleep in a bed without worrying about someone gunning me.   You don’t know what it’s like to wake up each morning, see the sunrise, and know you’ve made it through another night.  

“The day I went after the black stallion, I wanted to prove myself to you.  But I figured out I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I know who I am, I always have, and if you can’t accept me….”

“And if I do?”

There was a look of surprise on Johnny’s face.  “Do you?   Just like that?”

“As I said before, it can be if you want it bad enough.”

“And you want me…You want me that bad?” 

“Son,” Murdoch stepped forward and put a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “Love doesn’t run and hide; it stays and fights.   You said you’d consider staying after the Strykers were taken care of.    Well, they’re gone now for good.  Now’s the time to stay and fight for this family.”

Johnny raised his head and took a deep breath.  He knew a lot had gone into what brought them to where they were now.  The tension between him and his father had built until there was no containing the pain and anger, no stopping what was going to happen.

No one could have predicted what was going to happen.  People can’t always see the ripples before tossing a stone into the universe.  

“I’m willing to give it another try if you are, but….” Johnny paused.

“But?” Murdoch asked.

“I can’t go on like we were.  I need time…time to adjust to this life, to learn to be a rancher and to do all the things you and Scott have been doing… time to learn to be a son.  Can you give that to me?”

“I know I pushed you, and I’m sorry. We can’t go back and change what’s happened, but we can start over and change what comes next.  If you don’t understand something, ask me, and I promise I’ll try to explain.  I don’t want us fighting anymore.”

A faint smile crossed Johnny’s face.  “Can’t promise we won’t fight, but I’ll try not to walk out; I’ll try to make you listen.”

“Fair enough.”  Murdoch put both hands on his son’s shoulders.  “Oh, there is one more thing.”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed.  “What?”

“The stallion’s halter was $3.50.  You only gave me $2.00.”

Johnny felt his pockets and found nothing.  He then felt at the waistband of his pants and brought out the watch Murdoch had given him.

Johnny shrugged, “I’m broke.”  He held out the watch in the palm of his hand.  “All I’ve got is this.” 

Murdoch smiled, reached out, and folded Johnny’s fingers over the timepiece.  “Keep it.  After the drive to Stockton, I’ll take what you owe out of your share of the herd.”

Johnny looked at the large, warm hand holding his and nodded.  He swallowed down the emotions quickly building in his chest and throat.  He… no, they, could make this work.

“Does that mean I’m still a partner?”

Murdoch looked at Scott.  “Son, do you remember signing any other partnership agreements besides the one with your brother’s name on it?”

Scott stepped forward, smiling.  “No.  I can’t say I do.  I guess that makes you a third owner in a ranch, brother.”

Johnny looked at his father and brother and smiled. 

From the dining room, they heard a squeal.  Teresa was jumping up and down and then raced into the Great Room.

“It’s all going to be alright, isn’t it?  Johnny, you’ll stay, and you and Murdoch will work it out, and Scott, you’ll stay too?   We’re going to be a real family, aren’t we?”

“Yes, darling, we’re going to be a real family.” Murdoch pulled her into a hug.

Scott threw an arm around Johnny’s shoulders.  “I guess you’ll be leaving a ripple, after all.”

Johnny dipped his head, remembering Scott’s words that day in the saloon when he was planning to ride south with Wes.  Scott said a lot that day, but the one thing that stuck with Johnny was the simple statement, ‘But you won’t even leave a small ripple.’ 

Johnny looked up at his brother through thick-dark lashes and asked quietly, “You think so?”

Scott smiled and nodded.  “I know it, little brother.” 

Murdoch looked from one son to the other.  “What’s this about ripples?”

Scott laughed.  “Just something I mentioned to Johnny a few weeks back.”  He explained the conversation he and Johnny had in the saloon.

There was a sparkle in Murdoch’s eyes when he looked at his youngest son; the son he’d lost and found and almost lost again.   “Scott’s right.  We all leave ripples in our wake of some kind or another, some large and some small.  Everything we do or say sends another ripple through our lives and the lives of others.”   

“So, you think I’ll leave one or two?” Johnny looked around at the smiling faces of his family.

“John, you’ve already left more than we can count.”  Murdoch looked at his children and his smile broadened.  “I’d say, together, this family will leave ripples enough to fill an ocean.”

Johnny knew where his heart was and where he belonged for the first time.  He finally had a connection to something bigger than himself.  Before coming to Lancer, he’d had no ties, no responsibilities.  Maybe that’s why he’d bucked and resented the restrictions that were now part of his life.

Regardless, a new stone had been dropped into the water, and the ripples, like waves, were building.  This time, however, there would be no stopping them.     

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget;
     But there’s gladness still a-swelling, and there’s joy a-circling yet,
And you’ve rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard
     Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.

December 2022


Drop a Pebble in the Water by James W. Foley: as published in the bulletin (1911) of the Market Street Church of Christ in Athens, Alabama, United States of America
James William Foley was born on 4 February 1874 in Saint Louis, Missouri, United States of America. He became a newspaperman and a poet, and was a Poet Laureate of North Dakota. He wrote the poem, “Drop a Pebble in the Water,” for his two adolescent sons. James William Foley passed on at 65 years of age on 19 May 1939 in Los Angeles, California


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19 thoughts on “Ripples on the Water by SandySha

  1. Wauw, this was a very very beautiful story with so much emotion. And Scott did a really good job to make his father think about his actions towards Johnny.


  2. Wonderful story.
    It wouldn’t have been easy for four strangers to bond.
    This is a very believable perspective.
    Enjoyed it immensely.


  3. Another excellent story! You have really captured the struggle the three Lancer men would have encountered as they tried to become a family, especially Johnny to overcome Murdoch’s hurtful words and for a father to accept his son. It could never have been so easy as the filmed episode alluded to because of time and the fact that back then male characters were not normally portrayed showing their emotions to each other. How I wish some of the stories from the wonderful authors like you could have been filmed, but that’s impossible since no one could portray the Lancer men better than James Stacy, Wayne Maunder and Andrew Duggan. Thanks so much for the wonderful conclusion to Chase a Wild Horse.


    1. Joyce, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re correct it couldn’t have been that easy. As many have said it should have been a two part episode.


  4. Sandy, you never disappoint. This was another brilliant story and tag to one of my favourite episodes which, coincidently I watched last night. As with your story “On My Way Home” you are correct that the Strykers would not give up and ride away so easily as shown on screen. This is another story to add to my list of ones to read again and again.


  5. Drop A Pebble In The Water is the perfect poem for this episode tag. It fits JML so well-thank you for writing and sharing this story with us. I know I’ll read it again, and look forward to any new stories you write.


  6. I really enjoyed your story. It was great to see Murdock finally willing to loosen the reins.
    By then, both he and Johnny had learned they’d have to work hard to become a family.
    Very enjoyable. Great job!


  7. Ciao Sandy I read it in chapters and I loved it, but now I think you it’s a masterful, beautiful, emotional story. I put it on the top of my favourites ever.


    1. Thank you Silvia. If not for Doc’s help in the beta I don’t think I would have finished it and I know it wouldn’t have been as good.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sandy I have just had the time to reread all the chapters of your wonderful story in one sitting. You have captured Johnny and Murdoch’s pride regret and reconciliation perfectly. Those early days were difficult and the Homecoming and CAWH deserved these missing scenes. Love the title using Scott’s comment. It is an honour to think my summary of CAWH played a small part in your version of what happened and what should have happened. Maureen


    1. Maureen, it was your summary that brought everything together for me. Thank you and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.


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