Word Count 5,682
In response to the Lancer Writers January 2023, Betrayal Challenge
Johnny Lancer used every street fighting trick he knew. Two against one didn’t usually matter, except they both had weapons, and he only had his wits. Still, it took Cal Tucker’s fists and the butt of that crooked sheriff’s rifle slammed into the side of his head to take him down. Once in the dirt, Johnny tried to avoid the punishing kicks by curling his body into a tight ball to protect his belly. But Sheriff Anderson jerked him upright and held him while the deputy beat on him some more. The old asshole couldn’t have done it if not for the handcuffs on him and his head dizzy from the blow above his ear. When he dodged Tucker’s uppercut, it glanced off the sheriff’s shoulder.
“Why you… .” Anderson slammed him up against a tree trunk and took a swing at his jaw. Not the most brutal hit Johnny remembered, but when his head banged on the rough bark, he saw stars for the second time that day. His legs started to buckle, but the deputy popped his knee hard into his ribs. With a few more jabs and kicks, his vision turned gray, and they let his body slump to the ground.
“Keep him alive. Thatcher don’t care about his condition, but he wants him breathin’.” Anderson’s words sounded muffled like he was talking underwater. “Boy, I reckon you’ve learned your lesson about trying to grab a lawman’s gun.”
Johnny kept his eyes closed. His attempt to lift the sheriff’s pistol when they stopped for the night did not go well. As soon as they took off the cuffs, he grabbed for the butt of Anderson’s Colt, but his numb hands missed, and Tucker jumped on him faster than a mad mama grizzly. He had to figure a way out of this mess. One thing for sure; he couldn’t count on his father.
Murdoch Lancer made his position plenty clear earlier in the morning. Deacon Anderson, Blood Rock’s sleazy sheriff, had showed up in the middle of branding. That pendejo wore a smirking grin when he handed his father an envelope. “Mr. Lancer, that contains a warrant for the arrest of your son, Johnny Madrid, for the murder of Jason Thatcher.”
“No way, Murdoch. That’s a bogus piece of paper, a trap.” He dropped the hot branding iron and backed up from his Old Man when he closed in on him with that so-called sheriff and his deputy.
“Give me your gun, Son.”
“We’ll have a lawyer in Blood Rock by tomorrow, the next day at the latest. I’ll send Scott into town. He can talk to Randolph today.”
“Scott? Where is he?” Johnny searched through the men with the beeves rounding up calves for the iron, not seeing his brother’s blond head; he looked back at his Old Man.
“He’s with the crew bringing in the herd from South Range. Your gun, Son.” His father held his hand out. Both lawmen moved toward him; they had Johnny trapped, and his father’s betrayal cut him like a knife.
“Don’t do this.” It went against his nature to beg. He never asked a man for leeway, not like this, not even when they marched him before a firing squad. “Please, Murdoch. Have ’em wait till Scott gets here. At least let him ride with us.”
“Ain’t much daylight left. We need to be on our way, Mr. Lancer.” The foxy old sheriff shaded his eyes and looked at the sun. “I’m afraid it’ll go worse for the boy if we add resisting arrest to his charges. You send your lawyer, and perhaps he can prove his innocence if he goes peaceful like.”
His Old Man tried to put a hand on his shoulder. But he jerked back. “Give me the gun. Now, John.”
His chances of seeing Lancer again or his brother were slim when he placed the gun in his father’s hand. “Will you… ?” Johnny lowered his voice and cleared his throat. “Tell Scott… tell him it’s a trap; the sheriff and his deputy are crooked. They ain’t takin’ me to stand trial. I’ll be headed straight to Thatcher for his revenge.”
“John?” Murdoch grabbed for his arm, but Johnny backed away and gave the Old Man his coldest stare.
Anderson stepped up next to him. “Now, Boy, we’ll start with these handcuffs fastened in front. You give us trouble, and you’ll be wearing them behind your back. Fair enough?”
They rode less than half a mile from the branding site when Anderson said, “Hold up. Cal, change them cuffs to the back. I ain’t takin’ chances of losing our money, be safer this way.”
That asshole Tucker jerked him off the horse, causing him to land in a heap in the middle of the road. “What’s wrong with you, Boy? Can’t step off your horse without falling?” Laughing like a jackass, he bent over him and unlocked the handcuffs. When Johnny attempted to stand, he kicked him hard and turned him over on his belly. The deputy ground his heavy boot in the center of his back, holding him flat in the dirt.
“Hurry Cal, fasten ’em before someone comes along.” The sheriff sounded nervous. Anderson held a rifle barrel to the back of his head, or Johnny would have tried to grab the deputy’s gun. But the cuffs clicked closed, tight as they would go. If they took them off for even a second, and a chance came to take either of their weapons, he’d go for ’em and run for Val. At least his friend would lock him up until this mess got straightened out.
“We’ll all find ourselves a little safer now.” The sheriff took a drink from his canteen. “Mount up Madrid. We’ve got a ways to go until we set up camp.”
As Johnny struggled to find his feet, Tucker took hold of the back of his belt and pulled him upright. “You ain’t so tough without your six-shooter, now, are you?” The deputy’s breath stunk like horse piss. “Mount up, we ain’t got all day.” He managed to put his foot in the stirrup, and Tucker threw him into the saddle.
“How are you explaining my disappearance to my Old Man when he shows up with my brother and a lawyer?”
“Well, Son, your Old Man didn’t seem too sad to see you gone. Can’t say I’d be too happy to have Madrid under my roof.” Anderson pulled out a piece of paper. “This reward, here, two-thousand dollars if you’re delivered in any condition, but still breathing, well, it’s gonna leave me and Cal right comfortable.”
“A thousand for me, right Deacon?”
“And we’ll just tell your daddy that you got away, headed toward Mexico, and that’ll be the end of that.”
Johnny figured as much but hoped that Scott might not go to Blood Rock but track them on the trail. His brother hadn’t showed. Tucker had a thing for hurting people, and when they made their first stop for water, the man started with more kicks and punches. Plenty of men crossed his path, filled with a lust to hand out pain, but he didn’t want to die being tortured by one. He’d rather Judd Thatcher finish him quick and have revenge for his brother, Jason.
It had been three years since Jason Thatcher called him out in Pine Valley; sitting in a saloon full of people, Johnny tried to talk the kid down.
“Ain’t you Johnny Madrid?” The kid wore a new six-shooter, all dressed in black, and the shine of his eyes gave away he had drunk one too many shots of whatever he had in his bottle.
“So, who might you be?”
“I might be Jason Thatcher, and I might be the man to take you down.”
“Why don’t you sit down, and have a drink with me. We can talk about it.”
The town’s deputy, Garth Walker, sat at a table in the corner. “Jason, you need to listen to Johnny. Sit a spell. I’ll join you, and we can discuss your notion of going against Madrid.”
“Ain’t nothing illegal about gunfighting Walker. You can’t stop me.”
“I came in here to have a drink and a bite to eat. My food’s getting cold, and I invited you to drink with me. Go on, have a seat.” Johnny kicked out the empty chair.
Thatcher kicked it out of the way. “Stand up so’s I can show you how fast I am, or have you gone yellow?” Everyone cleared out of the line of fire.
Johnny figured the boy worked on his quick-draw regular-like, hit a few targets, and thought he could be a gunfighter after a few practice sessions. But a few kids like this one turned out to be deadly. “Your move, Jason Thatcher.”
Johnny tried to shoot the kid’s arm, and the fool moved enough that the bullet only grazed him. Luck made the boy’s bullet hit the ceiling. The only choice left resulted in the death of Jason Thatcher.
Garth Walker warned him, “Best you ride out of here fast, Johnny. That boy’s daddy owns a sizable spread ten miles west of here. He’s power hungry and he’s mean. You don’t want to cross paths with him. Not ever.”
Best he could figure, Anderson must have hooked in with Judd Thatcher to collect some kind of personal reward on Johnny Madrid.
“Tie him to one of them trees. We’ll camp here and meet Thatcher tomorrow. He’s expecting us.”
“Up Madrid.” A boot nudged his shoulder hard enough to bruise his collarbone on purpose.
Rather than be kicked again, Johnny opened his eyes or tried to. “K. I’m coming.” Every part of him begged not to move, but he managed to sit, then make an ungraceful stand when Tucker pulled at his belt.
The place bucked like being on a green horse, his ears buzzed, and when his vision darkened, Johnny thought the deputy might finish him off for not moving fast enough. But somehow, his legs worked and took him to a tree where the deputy jerked him down and pushed him back to the large oak, trussing his body against the trunk with ropes.
“Bet you might like a drink of water?”
Johnny hated having the deputy pour water down his throat, but his thirst was too strong to let pride stand in the way of quenching it. “Sure.”
Tucker took a long swallow. “Too bad. They ain’t enough for you and me too, Boy.”
Johnny closed his eyes. He remembered being this thirsty before, crossing the desert. A sharp pain from another kick to his belly, and Tucker grabbed his hair.
“I’m talking to you. Don’t close your eyes when I’m talking.” The deputy squatted down. “Like I was saying, we didn’t bring enough supplies for us and you too. Reckon it would be a waste, what with Thatcher planning to kill you tomorrow.”
Horses were coming. Hell, with Johnny’s luck, Thatcher got tired of waiting. The buzz of voices and louder noises came to his ears as someone started yelling. Scuffling. A gunshot. More yelling. Jerking against the ropes, Johnny tried to turn his head and find out what the fracas was, but the bindings were too tight. Then he heard it, muffled but the sweetest sound.
Scott’s voice. “Warrant…Green River… not legal.”
“I’m back here.” With his throat so dry, it sounded worse than a goose squawking.
“Untie my Brother. Now.”
A minute later, Anderson started fumbling behind him to undo the cuffs and cut the ropes. “I’m a sheriff, Son; you’ll land in a heap of trouble for this.”
“You’re the one in trouble, for kidnapping and assault of John Lancer. Our father is with Judge Coleman now, obtaining legal warrants for your arrest. Wearing a badge doesn’t give you license to operate above the law. And a personal bounty can’t be turned into a legal document. Take both of them out of my sight, Walt, before I beat them senseless.” Scott crouched down beside him. “Johnny?”
Voices in the distance pulled his brother’s attention away. “Scott, we can send a wagon back.” Walt nodded at them; he kept the sheriff and his deputy covered with a rifle as he spoke.
“Why don’t you secure both of them; use these; Scott kicked the cuffs toward Walt, the pair Tucker tightened on his wrists until he bled. “Could you leave me any supplies you might have? I’ll need bandages, whisky, anything else you have to take care of, Johnny.”
“Scott. I didn’t think… You would -make it in time.” His ribs hurt with every breath.
“As soon as Murdoch told me, we started tracking, searching to bring you back. He’s gone to Judge Coleman to straightened this out. I wouldn’t have let them take you if I had been in the yard. How bad are you hurt?”
“Murdoch -he just -handed -me over, -made me give him -my gun.”
“He believed the warrant was legal.”
“But I told -him, Scott. Ain’t -ever asked -not -like that, he…” With his dry mouth and the pain of remembering, his voice gave way.
Scott squeezed his shoulder. “Johnny, it will be okay. You can work this out. I’ll bring you some water. Try to rest.”
“Take a small sip; you’ll make yourself sick. Here’s your gun. I told Murdoch you would want it back.” The canteen was already to his mouth, and he almost choked when Scott held up the Colt. The water went down wrong with Johnny trying to say thanks and drink at the same time; he started coughing. “I’ll help you sit up a little. Is that better?” Johnny only nodded, needing a minute.
Scott’s worried eyes met his. “I’ll wrap your ribs and check for something to ease your pain, and anything else Walt might have left us we can use.” Spreading out a bedroll, then rummaging through some saddlebags, his brother placed a bottle of whisky, some jerky, bandages, another canteen, coffee and a pot, and a can of beans and peaches on the blanket. “You think you can survive a night here on these meager supplies? It’s not likely Walt can bring the wagon back in the dark.”
“I’ll survive. Just got -beat up some. It will -heal soon enough.” Johnny laughed, not that this mess was funny, but if he made light of it, then perhaps he could push away the anger he felt toward Murdoch.
“Here. Drink this.” Scott placed the canteen to his lips. “Tell me. Why did they beat you?”
“That deputy had a mean streak. Seen men like him before. Something lights them up, and they feel like they are in charge when they’re hurting people. Seen people use their power to hurt with words and how they treat others. That don’t heal so quick.”
Scott pulled the canteen back and stared at him. “Johnny? Murdoch didn’t hurt you on purpose. He’s worried sick. You need to talk to him.”
Picking up the gun Scott brought him and remembering what had happened back at the ranch, Johnny didn’t want to be around Murdoch. “Take me somewhere besides Lancer.”
“Johnny?” Scott stopped pulling strips of cloth from his saddlebag. “Why don’t you want to go back to Lancer?”
“You don’t know how it… when the Old Man made me go with them.” Johnny didn’t want to say more, not now.
“Well, we’re going back to Lancer. You own a third of it, outright. I’ll protect you from anything, even our father, if that’s what you need. But you have to face him at some point. Talk to him and tell him what you need from him to move forward.”
Johnny nodded, but his hurt and anger toward Murdoch ached and tore him up inside. But if his brother wanted him to return to Lancer, that’s what they would do when the wagon came tomorrow.
“Scott, I trusted him. I- I … never-mind… .”
“Here.” Scott had two cups of coffee; placing one on the ground and handing him the other, he said, “You’re cold; drink your coffee.”
“Whoa. What did you put in this?”
“Enough whiskey to help you sleep. You can have laudanum if that doesn’t do the trick. I found some in Walt’s saddlebag.”
“Did you put any coffee at all in this cup?”
“Enough to warm it some.” Scott smiled and took a sip from his cup. “Mine has less whiskey. Finish it while it’s warm. You need to rest.” Pulling Johnny around some and adjusting the bedroll, they settled in. “Close your eyes; I’ll keep watch.”
His brother must have understood that being near helped; he wondered if Scott needed to be close too. “I figured we might never lay eyes on each other again. When Murdoch made me hand over my gun, it was like he pulled the trigger on a gun aimed to kill me.” The whiskey must have loosened his tongue. It all spilled out of him, and Scott rubbed his arm and listened.
“As long as I can remember, Murdoch Lancer has been my enemy. I thought we had put all that behind us, me, I’d worked through Mama’s lies. But this morning, the Old Man treated me like a stranger. I told him, said out loud it was a trap, and he still held his hand out wanting my gun. I figured Anderson would take me straight to Thatcher, who would kill me outright. I tried to explain to Murdoch yet my own father still let them take me, even after I asked him to wait.” Johnny felt better telling someone how he felt. The whiskey made him feel sleepy. “I begged him to wait until you were back with the crew, to -wait -just that -long.”
“Johnny.” Scott whispered his name. It was the last thing he remembered until sometime before dawn when someone moaning woke him up.
“Wake up. Take a sip of this. Tell me where you’re hurting.”
His brother held a small bottle to his lips. And the sip he took was bitter; it had to be the laudanum Walt left. Holding his hand up for Boston to take it away, he groaned, “Ain’t anywhere I don’t hurt. Help me up.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yeah, unless you want a wet bedroll, I’m sure.”
“Okay, let’s do this together.” Scott hunkered down and slipped an arm around him to help the struggle to his feet.
“Whoa. Dammit, that hurts.” Johnny grabbed the bruised side where Tucker kicked it so hard; it took a minute for his breath to even out.
“Are you okay, Brother?”
“No, I’m not okay.” He didn’t mean to snap, not at Scott, but all this pain that shouldn’t have happened, made him want to lash out at someone or something. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. Now, come on. Pick a tree.”
He’d pissed red before and gotten over it. The tree Boston left him leaning against held him steady; otherwise, his knees might have buckled. For now, the limb his arm hung over helped keep him upright. “Scott.” Before his legs gave out, strong arms came around his waist.
“Can you make it back to your bedroll? Brother?” He and Boston two-stepped their way toward the campfire. “Johnny!” Blackness closed in on him.
“Give me a minute.” They stopped moving. The sun-kissed the top of the ridge, but the hazy, gray light of the dawn made it hard to tell if his vision had cleared much or not. A pounding headache, the pain in his ribs, trying to breathe, the constant ache in his back, and, worst of all, remembering his father’s betrayal all crashed down on him. Johnny tried to lock his knees so his brother wouldn’t have to take his weight. But the next thing he was aware of, Scott’s face hung over him, and he was lying flat on his bedroll. “What happened?”
“You passed out, that’s what happened.”
“I told you, you have nothing to be sorry for. None of this is your fault.”
“Might be Madrid’s fault.”
“No one deserves this kind of treatment. Rest. Someone ought to be here with a wagon in a couple of hours.” Popping the cork off the bottle of painkiller, Scott handed over the medicine. “Take another sip of this.”
Never liking the effects of laudanum, he still reached for it and took a decent-sized sip. “That’s all I want of that stuff. It helps the pain but sends my mind down paths I don’t want to travel.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need a clear head to deal with Murdoch. The laudanum makes the pain go away but the hurt in here seems bigger.” Johnny tapped his heart. “Like I might as well dig a hole and bury myself.”
“Johnny!” Scott scooted closer beside him. “Don’t say that.
“I ain’t gonna shoot myself if it’s what you’re thinking. But the drug, it draws me in that direction.”
“You won’t have anymore of it, ever.” Boston grabbed the bottle up and put it back in the saddlebags.
“What if I’m hurting bad?” Johnny grinned a bit. “You gonna let me suffer?”
“You can drink whiskey or take morphine. Does it do you the same way?”
“I’m not sure if I ever had morphine. A doctor gave me a shot one time. Felt drunk, kind of happy after taking it, and no, I didn’t think about dying, not at all.”
“You need to tell Sam about this. I’ll tell him.”
“Sure. You still got some coffee?”
“Fresh pot.” Scott brought them both a cup. “The sun’s up. Someone from Lancer should be coming soon.”
“I still wish we could go somewhere else.”
“It’s your home. I told you, I’ll ask Murdoch to keep his distance until you have healed, if that’s what you want.”
“No. I plan to face him. I need a day; want to be standing on my feet first.”
“That’s good. You need to talk him, Johnny. Murdoch should have listened to you should have waited for me, but he never meant to betray you or leave you in danger.” Scott topped off both their coffee cups. “He’s worked since you were taken to make this right for you.”
The sound of horses’ hooves alerted them; someone was coming. “Don’t sound like it’s coming from Lancer.” Johnny put his hand on his Colt.
“You think it’s trouble?” Scott pulled his rifle to his side and stood.
“If it’s Thatcher, I don’t want you caught in the middle. Let me handle him. You understand me, Scott?”
“You’re in no shape to take care of anything.”
“Scott.” Johnny warned him in his sharpest Madrid tone. “Help me stand.”
“You aren’t able, Johnny. Dammit.”
His brother argued about him standing but offered a strong arm to pull him up once he realized that arguing was useless. “Help me over to that oak tree.”
Four men rode into camp, an older man and three hard cases wearing guns strapped low on their hips.
“That’s him Mr. Thatcher.” Burley Calhoun stood in his stirrups and pointed right at him.
“Old Yellow-Belly-Burley. You still hiding out in California. Burley here ran off and left three of us fighting a dozen hired guns. Pretty tight spot but we managed fine without you.” Johnny grinned and forced himself to lean lazily against the tree.
“You, mister, put your gun down, step out of the way, and you won’t be hurt. My fight’s not with you.” Thatcher used his rifle to motion at Scott.
“Scott, do like he says.” Johnny didn’t see any place besides a few skinny trees where they could find cover. He could take three of them, but not four. Thatcher first, with his long gun cocked and ready, then Burley. A drop and roll might give him the time to take the other two. “Do it, Scott. I can handle this. Do it or step behind me and drop to the ground. I can’t worry about you.” He ground it out under his breath.
As Scott moved behind him, Thatcher raised his rifle to shoot. But his bullet went skyward, the man’s white shirt turned red, and he fell from his horse. Johnny fired twice more and rolled on the ground, still shooting, his last three bullets meant for the two remaining riders. Only one dropped, but the other one rode away. His brother stood over him. “You -okay, Scott?”
He couldn’t pull in air. Lord, help him breathe; he must have broken a rib when he rolled. “Scott?” His brother, where did he go?
“I’m here. Don’t move. I think you broke a rib when you performed all those acrobatics.”
“When I -did what?”
“Never mind. I’m worried that a broken rib is compromising your breathing.’
“I -know. Breathing is -okay. Check. Make -sure -they’re -dead.”
Johnny struggled to breathe and reloaded his gun, keeping an eye out for movement while his brother checked to be sure.
Scott returned to his side and crouched beside him, pulling him up against an upturned saddle. “Can you breathe better sitting up?”
He panted like one of Carlos Medina’s hound dogs, trying to pull air into his body, but his brother’s idea of sitting up helped. “This -is -better. Water?”
“Be right back.” Scott returned with a canteen and held it as he drank a few sips. Johnny hoped the last gunman left for Mexico or parts unknown, not for Thatcher’s ranch and another relative wanting revenge.
Sitting beside him, Scott took a drink when he handed the water back. “They’re all dead. I ground-tied the horses; someone from Lancer can take the bodies into town. How’s the breathing?”
“Better. You shouldn’t… .” The sound of a wagon cut off Johnny’s words. His hand went to his Colt. Dammit. Could this day sink any lower? Murdoch Lancer threw on the brake of the ranch’s best supply wagon.
“John? Scott. What happened here?” His Old Man surveyed the campsite, looking first at the dead men, then at him, beat up and trying to breathe. It was a mess, but it didn’t have to happen.
When Murdoch headed for Johnny, Scott stood in front of him. “Hold up, Sir.”
“Let -him pass.” Johnny wanted to stand up and meet his Old Man eye-to-eye, but he wasn’t sure he could stand and breathe. “You -like what -you set -in motion? I reckon you -might be -happier -if it was -me you had to -bury. Was that -your plan?”
“What are you talking about?” Murdoch stomped to where Johnny leaned against the saddle. “Are you crazy? I didn’t set this in motion. Where’s the sheriff?”
“Johnny, slow down your breathing.” Scott moved in front of their father and crouched on one knee in front of him. “Don’t think of anything but pulling air into your lungs. Nice. And. Slow. Better?”
Johnny nodded, and Scott turned his head toward their father. “The sheriff, if you can call him that, should in Green River’s jail by now. Didn’t Walt tell you?”
“No, I missed Walt. I came from Judge Coleman’s house. The judge signed papers for Val to arrest Anderson and Tucker. Crawford wired Pine Valley.” Murdoch took a knee next to Johnny. “The sheriff there confirmed there’s no legitmate papers on Johnny.”
“Diego said Johnny was hurt, and he was taking the wagon to meet you here, along Mason’s Crossing. I brought it instead.” Murdoch eased down next to Scott.
When his Old Man reached out to touch his bruised face, Johnny jerked away and looked at Scott for help. “Please. Leave -me be. I told you -his warrant was bogus. You could have listened.”
“I’m listening now, Son. Tell me. What’s happened?”
“Murdoch, why don’t you sit at Johnny’s feet?”
The Old Man moved further away from him to sit near his feet. “Scott, you tell me. Tell me everything.”
His brother left nothing out, and Murdoch stared at Johnny the whole time Scott talked. His ribs caught with sharp pains as he breathed, keeping him from adding a word. The Old Man’s eyes only left his when Boston confronted him. “Johnny asked you to wait until I returned with the crew. None of this would have happened if you had listened to him. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my brother ask you for anything. He asked yesterday. You let him down.”
Their father didn’t say a word, but shook his head, stood up, and walked back to the wagon. With his back toward them, he started messing with the stuff in the back of the wagon. “That went well.” Scott shook his head. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I hope I didn’t say anything to hurt you.”
“You -saved -me -from having -to explain. Thanks, Brother.”
“I think our father is trying to pull himself together.” After a few minutes, Scott tapped Johnny’s arm. “He’s got a bottle of whiskey, and he’s headed this way.”
“Don’t try to talk, Son.” His father leaned in, put the bottle on the ground, and took his hand.
“No.” Johnny tried to pull his hand back, but Murdoch held on to it, touched the blood-crusted wrist, drew his brows together, and pushed his sleeve up.
“Scott, hand me the canteen and those bandages.” The Old Man used a gentle touch to wash the raw places and then wrapped it. Johnny didn’t resist when he reached for the other wrist and repeated the process. “Better?”
“I’m not offering excuses. And your brother is right, John. I should have listened when you asked, waited for him, or rode with you myself.” Murdoch stared at the up-and-down movement of Johnny’s chest. “Breathe easy, Son.” He looked at Scott, who nodded that he could continue.
“They caught me off guard, being busy with the branding, and my mind on the ranch. It came out of the blue, an officer of the law presenting a warrant for your arrest. My mind went blank. I couldn’t see, hear, or think.” Murdoch made a swipe down his face with his hand. “I don’t think my mind cleared until Scott returned and started barking orders.”
“You sure as hell -SAW well enough- to take my gun -HEARD enough to -send me packing. YOU could THINK – Old Man -knew where your other son was -when I asked, and knew how -to get lawyers. Forget your excuses. Like the -deputy said, you were glad to- see the back of me.”
“No. John. You don’t understand. What I experienced. Fear. I saw the deputy’s hand on his gun, John, I feared you might try to draw your weapon. One of them would have killed you, or if you were faster, you could have faced a hangman’s noose. Son, I’m telling you the truth, I couldn’t think beyond that. “
Scott gave that half smile of his. “Murdoch, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in so much disarray before. And it wasn’t my intention to take over, but my brother’s life hung in the balance. Blood Rock’s Sheriff displayed his character quite well when Ben’s father died. I presumed he might have bad inclinations concerning Johnny.”
“I should have thought along the same lines. I didn’t think, and it cost you too much, John. I’m asking you to give us a chance to build back some of the trust we had. I’ll protect you with my life, from anyone going forward. I’ve never lied to you. I’m asking you, Son. Give me a chance to make this right.”
What little air he had melted away. Maybe he had some of this wrong. Could it be what he thought of as betrayal had been protection? Whatever happened, he sensed remorse. If his body could heal, perhaps with time, his heart could too. “You don’t give me much credit. I need some -time, Old Man.”
“You’ll have whatever you need.” Murdoch pushed his hair off his forehead. “We should wrap those ribs and take you home. Drink some of this first.” He handed him the bottle of whisky.
“Easy Old Man.” His breathing improved some when his father wrapped the ribs. Johnny couldn’t help noticing Murdoch came close to embracing him more than once as he worked the bandages around his middle.
“Son. It has to be tight to help.”
“Leave me -room to breathe, Old Man.”
“That’s my goal, John. I plan to keep you breathing. Are you ready to go home?”
“Yeah. Matter of fact, it wasn’t me that intended on leaving.”
“John.” His father stepped back and stared toward Lancer for a beat. Finally, he looked back into Johnny’s eyes, cleared his throat, and said, “Son, if I could wind the hands of time backward, you’d still be branding cattle.”
“Then take me home, Old Man. Uh, not to brand calves, mind you.”
Scott stood with his arms crossed, watching them, rubbing his mouth and chin as he did, sometimes working on the books. But Johnny caught his eyes dancing.
“What are you grinning about Boston?”
“Who me?” Scott let out a fake cough “No grins here. Dry throat, I need something to drink.”
“Well, Brother once you get something to drink I’d like some help to the wagon.”
“Why don’t we all have a drink on the way home. We can pass around that bottle of Scotch I brought. Will that quench your thirst, Son?”
“It might, Sir. It just might. And I’m sure Johnny could use something to ease his pain a bit.”
“If that were all it took.” Murdoch said.
“Don’t worry, Old Man, I’ll be healed in time to finish out spring branding.”
“Scott, let’s take your brother home before he decides to break those horses Diego and Daniel caught.”
He let them help him to the wagon. The pain still cut both ways, inside and out, but Murdoch’s words rang true. Another truth that pulled like quicksand was Lancer’s hold on him. As painful as the past couple of days had been, he couldn’t wait to be home.
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25 thoughts on “Betrayed by Blood by Sherry”
Great story. Love reading it.thank for writing it.
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Rita, thank you for reading Betrayed by Blood and taking time to let me know that you liked it. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
I enjoyed reading your story. Thanks for sharing it
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Barbara, thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed this story.
I was shocked that Murdoch would take Johnny’s gun, especially after what happened with the sheriff in the past. Scott always comes through for his brother just like a Val. Wonderful story.
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I liked this story better the second time through! Poor Johnny! He seems to attract so much trouble! Murdoch certainly didn’t help, did he? What was the man thinking??? Thanks for sharing this story- I’ll be reading it again!
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Elin, Murdoch’s motives for taking the gun at least turned out to be to protect Johnny, or that’s what what he thought he was doing. But you are right that no matter if it was wrong or right, Scott came through. I’m glad you liked the story. Thank you for reading it. I was pleased to see your comment.
Good story. I would have a hard time forgiving Murdoch without considerable time passing and a lot of sustained efforts to rebuild trust. But I’ve had some experience with family betrayal and the hurt is just so deep. But I did very much enjoy this story. Thanks for writing it.
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Jane Elise, family betrayal cuts so profoundly. It’s as though there is an implicit trust, an expected love that gets broken that adds to the act of betrayal. Perhaps Johnny could take steps to forgive Murdoch since, from his father’s POV, he thought he was protecting him. But any perceived betrayal is hard to overcome. Thank you for reading this and for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Diana, thank you for reading this store again. It’s a great compliment when someone reads your story more than one time. You’ve made my day.
Great story! Loved that Johnny instantly looked to Scott for support and protection.
And as always Scott came through. I know I’ll be reading this again.
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Cheryl, thank you! You made my day when you said you’d be reading this story again. My favorite stories are those where the brothers protect each other. Thank you for your comments.
Many thanks for another great story. I really enjoyed it.
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Helen, thank you for reading and taking time to comment on this story. It means a lot to us writers to hear from readers like you.
Thank you for your story!
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Caterina, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.
Thank you for writing and sharing such a good story. At least Johnny is confident Scott is always in his corner. Poor Murdoch is still just off the mark!
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Collette, thank you for reading and sharing your comments about this story. You are correct that Scott is always there for him. Murdoch missed the mark a few times early on, but he seemed to hit his stride later in the series. He’s not there yet in this little tale.
I loved reading this story. Murdoch always seems to doubt Johnny at just the wrong time. But Scott never does. Thank you for sharing this great story-I hope you never stop writing.
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Scott does always come through for Johnny. Even in CAWH, Scott kept reaching out to Johnny. I love that about his character. Thank you for noting that, and thanks for reading and commenting on this story.
Great story! I couldn’t have let Murdock off the hook so easily. He did Johnny a terrible wrong.
Besides, I’m still mad at him for locking up Johnny when he was accused of the murder the retired sheriff
committed. Johnny could have been hung. Anyway, you did a great job especially in the way you expressed Johnny’s feelings of betrayal.
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MaryAnn, thank you for the nice comment. I’m glad you liked this story of betrayal. Murdoch could mess up sometimes. I think he cared for his boys, but sometimes he struggled with his newfound father role. On the other hand, Scott took to his role of being a big brother just fine.
Scott and Johnny always had each others backs. The
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Seems like Johnny forgave his father to easily. Great story of betrayal and forgiveness.
Lesleymet, some of the other readers agree, and think Murdoch might have gotten off a little too easily. I figured Johnny as the forgiving type. I’m sure it would take a long time for them to rebuild trust but as for being able to move forward at Lancer as a family, I wanted them to do that. Thank you for reading and for your input. It’s always great to hear from readers.