Word Count 5,017
*The usual disclaimers. I don’t own them. I wish I did. Happy 50th Anniversary Lancer.
**I always thought it was too easy. Murdoch and Johnny went from letting the Stryker’s ride away to riding off to catch wild horses. I never thought Johnny Madrid would have let it go that easily. This is my take on what happened in between.
*** Thanks to Alice Marie and Susan for helping with the Beta.
1st in Taming A Wild Horse Series
Episode Tag of Chase a Wild Horse (WHI)
Followed by Black Mesa
Johnny seized Davy Stryker’s collar with his left hand, while his right held a gun to the whimpering boy’s neck.
“You sniveling little coward,” Johnny thought as his eyes narrowed. “I should blow your head off.”
He pressed the gun barrel deeper into Davy’s neck. He could swear he heard the boy sob.
“What are you going to do?” Davy whimpered.
He knew what he wanted to do. He knew what he would have done only a few months earlier, and it would serve him right, too.
A single word, “Johnny” stopped him from answering. He looked first at his father and then back at Davy. He released the trigger and slowly lowered the hammer on the Colt.
Everything he knew and had ever learned told him not to leave an enemy standing, but his father was asking him to do just that. He didn’t like it, but he’d do it.
Lowering the gun from Davy’s neck, Johnny pushed the boy toward the corral gate. He ordered Stryker and his men to get on their horses and get out.
His eyes never left Davy as he opened the gate and made his way to his horse.
Sam Stryker held his son’s horse steady for him while he mounted. The older man glared back at Johnny with pure hate in his eyes. As soon as Davy was mounted, Stryker and his men rode away.
Johnny finally relaxed his shoulders and turned to look at his father.
The older Lancer held his gaze for only a few seconds before they heard Teresa’s voice calling out from the house, “Murdoch, Scott’s bleeding. I need your help.”
Turning, Murdoch quickly ran inside without a backward glance.
Johnny watched his father enter the house and the door slam behind him. The now closed door telling him everything he needed to know. He wasn’t welcome.
“Well, I guess that’s it,” Johnny said aloud as he kicked the ground with the toe of his boot. He’d come back to talk to his father, to make things right if he could. Well, it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
What had the old man said, “The only thing wrong around here has always been you. So, get out.”
Of course, it had always been him. His past was always right there to stir things up with the old man, and he wasn’t good at taking orders. He’d told the old man that right from the beginning.
Still, it seemed his father had wanted him to stay. Hadn’t the old man honored the partnership agreement with his sons?
Johnny shook his head. He should never have signed the agreement. More importantly, he should have never signed it as Lancer. The name was Madrid. That’s who he was and would always be.
His father’s words earlier echoed in his ears, “Listen and listen hard. I don’t need you now, or ever. Now, get off my land.”
His land. That was it, wasn’t it? It was Murdoch Lancer’s land, Murdoch Lancer’s home, and Murdoch Lancer’s rules. The final realization hit him. Scott was Murdoch Lancer’s son. The son he really wanted; the son that followed orders and said “Yes, Sir” without hesitation.
Johnny knew now he didn’t fit in here and never would. It was time for him to move on. Yes, move on like the wild herd of horses on the ranch. Ride free. Go where the wind took him.
Johnny slowly walked back into the house and found his hat. He took one more look around before starting to leave. Everything he owned was already in his saddlebags.
Remembering one more thing, he reached into the waistband of his pants and pulled out the silver pocket watch his father had given him. He held the watch tightly and sighed.
He’d broken the black stallion to win it back after Wes convinced him to sell it. The watch meant something to him. It was too bad that he didn’t mean anything to the man who’d given it to him.
Johnny held the timepiece for another moment and then moved to his father’s desk. Placing the watch lightly on the desk, he turned and walked out the side door where he’d left his horse earlier.
Giving the hacienda one more look, he straightened his hat, pulling it down over his eyes. He put his foot in the stirrup and mounted the horse. He turned Barranca toward Morro Coyo and didn’t look back.
He would be back along the border with any luck in three or four days. He knew he couldn’t cross back into Mexico. He also knew finding a job on this side of the border wasn’t a problem; it never was.
The moment he rode under the arch, Johnny Lancer disappeared and Johnny Madrid was back.
Murdoch eased his oldest son into his bed.
“Rest now, Scott.” Murdoch brushed the blond hair from his boy’s forehead.
“Is Johnny alright?” Scott winced as he leaned back against his pillows. Not only was his shoulder hurting but also his side and hip, where he hit the ground when he was shot off his horse.
“Where is he? I would have thought he would be in here by now.”
Scott looked at the closed door.
“I left him downstairs,” Murdoch answered. “I’m sure he’ll be along.”
Murdoch hadn’t given his youngest son a thought since hurrying to take care of Scott.
Both Murdoch and Scott looked up as Teresa entered the room carrying a tray. She set the tray down on a table, picked up a cup of broth, and handed it to Scott with a smile.
“Drink that down, Scott.” Teresa sat in a chair near the bed. “If you can tolerate the broth, I’ll get you something more filling later.”
Scott sipped the broth. “It’s good, thank you.”
Neither Scott nor Murdoch saw the smile slip from her face.
“Can you ask Johnny to come up when he has a chance?” Scott asked as he continued sipping the warm broth.
Teresa looked toward the window and closed her eyes.
“Johnny’s gone. I saw him ride away right after Murdoch came in to help you.”
“Gone?” Scott handed the cup of broth to his father. “Gone where? When I saw him downstairs, I assumed he was back for good.”
Teresa didn’t answer right away. She looked at Murdoch with tears in her eyes.
“Do you want to tell him, or should I?”
“Tell me what?” Scott was pushing himself up and out of bed. “Murdoch, tell me what?”
Murdoch had a guilty look on his face.
“I was just trying to get him to leave before Stryker and his men could get to him. The only reason I told him to leave was to protect him.”
“You told him more than that, Murdoch,” Teresa spoke up. She looked at Scott. “He told Johnny that the only thing wrong around here had always been him. Murdoch told him he didn’t need him now or ever. Scott, he told Johnny to get off his land.” She turned back to glare at Murdoch.
Scott looked at his father and shook his head. “Of all the things you could have said to him, why that? You knew what his mother had told him about you. You knew she told him you’d thrown them out. You knew she told him you didn’t want him. My God! You’ve just confirmed everything his mother told him about you!”
Scott closed his eyes. He was losing his newly found brother. He had told Johnny not to leave; that it would all blow over. Now, his brother would go back to the life he’d always known. A life of kill or be killed. He had to stop him, had to bring him home.
Murdoch had a hand on his son’s shoulder, trying to push him back into the bed.
“Scott, you can’t ride in your condition.”
“I’ve got to go after him and let him know we want him here.” Scott looked his father square in the eyes. “You do want him here, don’t you, Murdoch?”
“Of course, I want him. I’ve always wanted him, but Scott, if he can give it all up so easily….”
“But he doesn’t want to give it up, Sir. Don’t you see? He wants to be here. He just needs you to let him know that he’s wanted. You’ve done nothing but push him since he’s been here. It’s as if you have been pushing him away since day one.” Scott’s voice echoed the anguish he was feeling.
“Murdoch, you know what he’s going to do. He’s going back to gunfighting.
“I saw him today in the saloon. He told me what he was planning. He and Wes are going south to sign onto a range war. I told him he would be dead before he was 30. Do you know what he said? He said, ‘That comes to us all, don’t it, brother.’
“Murdoch, Johnny never expected to live as long as he has. This is the only good thing that ever happened to him in his whole life. Don’t take it away from him. Don’t let him give it up. Fight for him.”
“Scott…,” Murdoch shook his head.
“Fight for him, Murdoch. Go after him,” Scott pleaded.
Murdoch nodded and stood up. “I’ll find him, son.”
“Don’t just find him, Murdoch,” Teresa said, taking the older man’s arm as he passed her. “Find him and bring him home.”
Johnny sat at the back corner table of the saloon, a half-empty glass of beer in front of him. His thoughts were going back over the events of the past two days. How had things gone so wrong, so fast?
All he had wanted was a few hours to himself. A few unplanned hours to do anything he wanted to do. A few hours to feel like he was free again. He wanted to do anything, anything that didn’t have a deadline.
What had Wes said? ‘You sold it all out for a row of post holes.’ Wes had been right.
He sighed, thinking of Wes. Murdoch and Scott didn’t know about Wes… yet. He hadn’t told them, and guessed it didn’t matter. Neither of them would miss old Wes, but he would miss him.
He and Wes had signed onto a number of range wars together. Wes was always full of fun and life and as free as the wind, never taking anything seriously. No, nothing could tie ole Wes down…well, except for the pine box he was in now.
Snorting, Johnny thought back to what he’d said to Scott, “I got a lot of places to go before they box me in.” Well, damn if Wes didn’t get boxed in before him.
He raised a glass in mock salute to his friend.
Johnny took a deep breath and let it out. Tomorrow he would head out, and the range war he’d heard about would be his next job. They were hiring guns, and he was the fastest and the best.
He was just ending another chapter of his life, a very short chapter.
The longer Johnny sat in the saloon, the more he thought about everything. He’d switched from beer to tequila—the fiery liquid felt good as the warmth spread through his body.
He’d always played the hand he was dealt, and the same could be said about his life. Dios, what a mess he had made of his life.
Maybe, it would have been better if the Pinkerton agent hadn’t found him in time.
No. Why was he even thinking that? He hadn’t wanted to face the firing squad. He’d been ready for it, though. He was determined to hold his head up and face the guns like a man.
Johnny shook his head. Who was he fooling? He was so relieved when the short, round man raced up in the wagon his legs almost gave out on him.
His thoughts went back to Lancer. He would miss some things, but a lot more, he wouldn’t.
He wouldn’t miss the disappointment he’d seen in his father’s face after shooting Eli Stryker. He wouldn’t miss the constant battles with the old man. He wouldn’t miss the back-breaking work from sunrise to sunset and then some. He wouldn’t miss… feeling like he was a little boy again, at the orphanage, being scolded for not raising his hand to ask permission to take a leak.
He was going to miss Teresa and Maria. Most of all, he was going to miss his brother. Scott had been the only thing that had kept him at Lancer this long.
“You’ll be dead before you’re 30,” Scott’s words returned to him. “You won’t even leave a ripple.”
He knew those last words were wrong; he’d already left a ripple. He had a brother, a big brother that would remember him, no matter what.
He was studying the glass of tequila in his hand when a shadow fell across the table. He looked up and blinked before looking back down at the glass. He didn’t say anything. He was afraid to. He never expected his father to come looking for him.
“John,” Murdoch said quietly.
“You’re blocking my light, old man,” Johnny drawled as the tall man stood like a statue in front of him.
Murdoch cringed. He was reminded of the soft, quiet voice he heard when he met his son for the first time. “If you have something to say, old man. Say it.” Murdoch knew it wasn’t the voice of Johnny Lancer. It was Johnny Madrid sitting in front of him.
Looking back up at his father, all Johnny could think was, “Dios, the old man is tall.”
The first time he’d seen the giant of a man, he was glad he was standing behind Scott. It had been all he could do not to take a step backward when the old man took a step toward him. Then his father looked him straight in the eyes and said, ‘You have your mother’s temper.’ That statement set the tone for their relationship from that moment forward.
Yes, he had his mother’s temper, and he was her spitting image. Looking just like his mother seemed to set the old man’s teeth to grinding. Maybe, that was why there were times he felt Murdoch couldn’t stand to look at him.
“What do you want, old man,” Johnny spat the words, his face growing dark and his eyes turning to ice. “Come to tell me I’m not far enough off your land yet? Want to make sure I’m leaving? Well, I am, first thing in the morning.”
Murdoch pulled out a chair and sat down.
“No, John, I wanted to ask you to come home.” Murdoch looked into his son’s blue eyes. “Can we talk about this at home?”
“Home? I don’t have a home. I’ve never had a home. Don’t suppose I ever will.” Johnny tried to control his temper, but it was no use.
“Son, you’ve always had a home. Lancer is your home and your birthright. Yours and Scott’s.”
He realized people were staring at them; worse, they were listening to the conversation. “Can we at least talk about this somewhere else?”
Johnny looked around. Seeing everyone watching, he glared back at them. One by one, those who were watching nervously turned away and went back to their own conversations.
“Not to worry, old man. I usually do my business in saloons, and they won’t be listening anymore.” Johnny’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “So, you want me to come back. You need to hire my gun again, or do you need another cowhand around the place? You know you could have gotten either one a hell of a lot cheaper than what you offered me.”
“I don’t want to hire you. I want my son, damn it, not a gunfighter or a cowhand!” Murdoch’s temper was rising. He was saying this all wrong. How was he going to say what he needed to say?
He lowered his voice and calmed down.
“Johnny, I spent too many years searching for you to let you leave now. Not without a fight. Please, come home, son.”
Murdoch hesitantly reached out a hand and placed it on his son’s arm.
Johnny jerked his arm away.
“Why, Murdoch? Why should I go back to Lancer? You don’t want me there, not really. You’ve spent the better part of the last two months pushing me away. Sure, while I was laid up with a bullet in my back, you hovered over me. You were there every time I woke up. You were there every day. The moment I was able to get up and start moving around, you couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”
Johnny’s temper was rising, and he fought to control it.
“Tell me why should I go back?” Johnny took a deep breath and tried to hold back the emotions coming to the surface. “You know what I think? I think Mama was right. You didn’t want me when I was two, and you sure as hell don’t want me now.”
“That’s not true, Johnny. I’ve always wanted you. I didn’t throw you and your mother out. I think you know that. I loved her, and I loved you.” Murdoch swallowed hard as he reached across again, placing his hand on his son’s arm. “I still love you, son. I never stopped, not even for a moment.”
“You have one hell of a way of showing it, old man,”
Johnny sat up in his chair, pushing the glass of tequila away from him.
“Johnny, I locked my heart away a long time ago to stop the pain. First, I lost Scott the day he was born. I never even got the chance to hold him.
“I lost you when you were two years old. Do you know that I loved you even before you were born? You were placed in my arms only moments after Sam delivered you. I was so happy; I thought my heart would burst. When you opened your eyes and looked at me, I gave my heart to you completely. You were the joy of my life. You were the reason I woke up every morning. The day your mother took you away, I almost lost the will to go on.
“I’ve been afraid you would leave and break my heart again. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’ve been so hard on you. I wanted to prove to myself that no matter what, you weren’t going to disappear like your mother did.”
Johnny didn’t say anything for a long time. He realized his father was as scared as he was, and they were both scared of being rejected. Still, he wouldn’t go on feeling like just another hired hand.
He looked at his father’s anguished face.
“I don’t know, Murdoch. It’s not working. You were right; I needed to decide who I am and where I belong. Well, I guess I made my mind up, and I don’t belong at Lancer.”
“You do belong…,” Murdoch could feel he was losing the battle for his son.
“No, I’ve been on my own too long. I told you I’m not good at taking orders. I’m used to doing things my own way. I’m used to going where I want and when I want and not answering to anyone. You said you wanted us to be partners. So far, I feel like I’m nothing more than another hand. Actually, you treat me worse than one of the hands.”
Johnny laughed, and it wasn’t one of happiness. “When I left yesterday with Wes, you paid me off like any other ranch hand. I asked you for what you figured I had coming. Twelve dollars. I was worth twelve dollars for two weeks of work. That’s all you figured I had coming. Just like any other hand. What was it you said, ‘Better sign it. Receipt of wages… Count it.’ Not like a son and definitely, not like a partner, just another hired hand.”
“Do you know you’ve never once asked me to do anything? You’ve only ordered me,” the bitterness evident in his voice. “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be the son you want. You’ve got Scott for that.”
Murdoch took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He looked around the room.
“So, you’re bound and determined to go back to gunfighting. Where is Wes? I figured he would be here with you, pushing you away from me, away from Lancer.”
Johnny dropped his head and sighed. “You won’t have to worry about Wes anymore. Wes is dead.”
“Dead?” A shocked look passed across Murdoch’s face. “How?”
“He was trying to break the stallion. The stallion trampled him,” Johnny answered with a hitch in his voice.
“When?” Murdoch could see the hurt in his son’s face.
“Before you came back to the ranch? Is that why you came back? You said you wanted to talk.”
“Yeah, well, like you said, I did all my talking before I left.”
Johnny pushed back from the table.
“Johnny, the only reason I said those things to you this morning was to get you to leave before Stryker knew you were there. They were after you, and I didn’t want them to find you. I was trying to protect you.” Murdoch bowed his head. “It looks like I did a very poor job of that…. again.”
“Murdoch, there is always a hint of truth behind every lie. That’s why the lie becomes believable,” Johnny said. “Deep down, you know the things you said were true. You don’t need me and never will.”
“That’s not true, son.” Murdoch ran his hand over his face, shaking his head. “I need you.”
“Who do you need?” Johnny asked. “You know who I am. Madrid isn’t going away just because you want him to. I am Madrid.”
“You’re also Johnny Lancer,” Murdoch replied. “You’re my son.”
Johnny didn’t say anything. This was getting them nowhere.
Murdoch reached into his pocket and took out the gold watch. He looked at it and put it on the table before pushing it to Johnny.
“I found something that belongs to you. You left it behind when you left,” Murdoch said, watching his son’s reaction. He’d been surprised when he found the watch lying on his desk. It was as if his son was leaving his last link with Lancer behind.
“It belongs to you. Give it to the son that matters to you.”
Johnny nudged the watch back toward his father..
“No, John, I want you to have it. You matter to me just as much as Scott does. It was my father’s watch, and now it’s yours.”
Murdoch swallowed and hoped he knew what to say next to make his son realize how much he wanted him back. He needed a second chance with his boy.
Johnny stood up. “Let’s take a walk.”
Murdoch stood and watched as Johnny picked up the watch from the table and put it into the pocket in his waistband. Smiling, he followed his son out of the saloon.
Johnny moved through the batwing doors and onto the boardwalk. Murdoch moved to stand next to him. The late afternoon sun was starting to throw long shadows along the street. When Johnny turned toward the livery stable, Murdoch was beside him. There was no way he was letting the boy out of his sight.
Johnny glanced sideways at his father. “You know, I wouldn’t have let the Stryker’s walk away earlier. I learned a long time ago not to leave an enemy alive. You know they’ll come back.”
“I believe they’ve learned their lesson. Stryker won’t come back,” Murdoch replied. It felt good walking beside his son, and it felt good talking to him, man to man.
Johnny shook his head. He knew either Sam Stryker or his son Davy would come back, and it was just a matter of time. When they did, he would handle them his way next time.
Pushing the Stryker’s from his mind, Johnny concentrated on the decision he had to make. Should he go back to Lancer or move on? He knew it wasn’t going to be easy staying. He also knew the rough times weren’t over, not by a long shot.
Johnny’s spurs jingled as the two Lancers walked side by side. People were watching them as they moved along the boardwalk. Johnny felt proud to be walking beside his father.
Imagine Johnny Madrid proud to be walking next to anyone.
“Is Scott alright?” Johnny asked as he stopped in front of the livery.
“Yes. The wound was minor. I think he’s sorer from falling from his horse.”
“It was my fault he was hurt.” Johnny shook his head. “If I hadn’t shot Eli …”
“You had no choice, Johnny. What did you ask me yesterday? “What did you expect me to do?” I didn’t answer you then but I will now. You did exactly what you should have done. Eli Stryker pulled his gun and was going to shoot you. You couldn’t have done anything differently. If I hadn’t been so upset over the cattle we lost or the fact that you…”
“The fact I walked away from a job before it finished or that I was supposed to be back at 2:00 to help Scott with the surveying. The fact that I came back with a wild stallion and the mares. No, it was all my fault, and it was my fault the Stryker’s shot Scott.”
Johnny dipped his chin to his chest and wrapped his arms around his chest.
“It’s over now, John. Scott doesn’t blame you for any of it, and I’m as much to blame for what happened. I shouldn’t have told Stryker to take the horses. You were right, and I was wrong.”
Murdoch reached out and took Johnny’s shoulders in his hands.
“Come home, Johnny. Your brother needs you. Teresa needs you. More importantly, I need you.” He gave his son’s shoulder’s a gentle squeeze. “Come home, son.”
“It’s not going to be easy, old man. I can’t stop being who I am. I can’t stop feeling the way I do. You can’t tame me like one of the wild horses on the ranch. Isn’t that really what you’ve been trying to do? You can’t tie me down. Murdoch, you have to loosen the reins. Do you think you can do that? Because I’m telling you right now, if you can’t, I need to move on. Better to do it now than when… when I start to feel … when I start to …”
“Before you start to love me?” Murdoch held his breath.
“Yeah, before I start to love you,” Johnny answered. He raised his head and looked into his father’s eyes.
Murdoch could see the yearning in those eyes. Standing before him was a man, no a boy, who needed to be loved more than anything. A boy who needed a father. It was at that moment; he realized just how badly his boy needed him. Johnny needed a father, not a partner or a boss. His boy needed him.
Murdoch moved in closer and pulled his little boy into a hug. It was the first time since his son was two years old that he’d held him in his arms. Warmth ran through his body, and he felt the ice melting from around his heart.
Murdoch turned to look at their horses in the livery.
“Let’s go home, son. Your family is waiting for you.”
“My family,” Johnny thought, “My home. Lancer. Yes, Lancer was home and where he belonged.”
“Are you sure?” Johnny looked at his father for reassurance. “I’m willing to give it a try if you are, but I want you to be sure.”
“I’m sure, John. Trust me. We’ll make it work.”
Johnny took a deep breath
“I don’t trust easy, old man.”.
“Maybe, it’s time you started trusting someone. You have a family now, and it’s time to trust us.”
Johnny felt a flutter in his heart. Isn’t this what he wanted? Isn’t this what he’d always wanted; a family and a home? Now he had it. All he had to do was trust it was real.
He looked one more time at his father and took another deep breath. All he had to do was trust the man standing in front of him.
Johnny smiled and then nodded. “Alright, Murdoch,” he finally said, “let’s go home.”
They saddled their horses and mounted up at the same time. Riding side by side, the two Lancers were going to try to make it work. Maybe, this is what they both needed, a second chance.
Johnny glanced at his father as they rode out of town. He remembered what the man in the livery said about the stallion after he’d been tamed, “At least now he was of some use.”
He wondered if it was going to be the same for him. Seeing the old man’s smile, he thought, “Maybe, being tamed wouldn’t be so bad after all.”
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8 thoughts on “Taming A Wild Horse by SandySha”
Love it, Sandy!
Hi, I have just read this story again after many months. I still really like the story and the craft you have used to take me along ever moment. I felt every high and low of all the Lancers.
I am going back to reread your stories and be transported through time.
I always enjoy the stories you write. It was nice to revisit this one.
Can’t wait to read Black Mesa. Thanks for a great story.
Oh I love this. Just the talk they needed.
I loved this. If only we’d seen something like this on the screen. Great job, Sandy.
Thank you Sam. I’m glad you enjoyed it.