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Pony Alice – The Epilogue by Suzanne

Word Count 10,816

Episode Tag: The Heart of Pony Alice

Part One

He’d stood there with Johnny, in the middle of Witness Tree’s dusty main street, watching Pony walk away, hand in hand with Wilf Guthrie and Miss Florida. It did his heart good to finally see a smile on Pony’s face.

Once they’d disappeared into the café, Johnny turned to  him.  “Let’s go home, huh.”

Murdoch hesitated—and not just because he had a thousand questions he wanted to ask Johnny—but it was possible Johnny’s present state of undress involved some information he might not want to share? The matter was taken out of his hands when a man with a sheriff’s badge came down the steps of the general store.

“You might be needing these.” He handed Johnny his gun belt and hat.

Johnny looked the sheriff in the eye, without a smile, then took them. The sheriff opened his mouth, as if he had something to say, but in the end, he simply tipped his hat to Murdoch, then walked back inside.

Johnny put his hat on and slung his gun belt around his hips. He was still looking down as he did up the buckle, when he murmured, “Wait here while I get my horse, Murdoch.”

“Sure thing, Johnny.”

He watched Johnny walk off with that casual saunter, that was so Johnny, then looked around the town. It was unprepossessing to say the least. A dry, dusty place that had seen better days.

It had been a long hot ride to Witness Tree. Murdoch looked at the steps to the store. Teresa had packed some sandwiches in his saddle bag but he could do with a drink right now. The townsfolk had all moved off about their business after having stood there and watched Guthrie shoot at Johnny. Typical of a small town. A stranger was a long way down in the pecking order.

Murdoch trod up the steps. The store was as dusty as the main street. He didn’t know which way to head when he first walked in. There was a counter to his left, selling general goods, then it looked like a bank towards the back. They had a teller’s grill at any rate. Then in front of him, to the left, was a bar, sitting on wooden kegs. He made his way over to that, weaving his way through a mess of tables and chairs.

“Could I have a whisky, please.” He needed it, after almost making a mistake and shooting Guthrie.

The bartender’s face lit up in a toothy smile. “Murdoch Lancer, himself. Well, I never thought I’d live the day to see a man like you in Witness Tree. No, siree.”

“Well, it’s a…” Murdoch gazed around the room…. “It’s fine town you have here.” Hopefully, the Good Lord would be accepting of a small white lie.

“Ollie’s the name, Mr Lancer. I met you years ago at a Fourth of July picnic. You won. Beat us all.”

“Oh?” Hmmm…this wasn’t something he remembered.

But Ollie was smiling at him as he slid the whisky glass across. “Yes, sir, I remember it like it was yesterday. I told your son, Johnny, all about it.”

“Ah.” He couldn’t imagine Johnny being thrilled to hear about any Fourth of July escapades.

“What about an egg? Cooked fresh this morning. I allus keep a bowl handy for my customers.”

“I don’t mind if I do. Thank you, Ollie.”

He watched Murdoch take an egg, then just as Murdoch was about to take a bite, he leaned across the bar. “I’ve gotta say, that son of yours is a real fine boy. There aren’t many that’d do what he did.”

Something twitched somewhere inside Murdoch but he managed to say, “I’m very glad to hear it. And you’re right, Johnny’s a fine boy.”

Just then ‘the boy’ himself, called from the doorway. “I’m ready Murdoch. Got your horse watered as well.”

Murdoch popped the egg in his mouth and gulped down the last of his whisky. “Thanks, Ollie.”

“You come back anytime, you hear,” were the last words he heard as he walked out the door and  into the hot sun.


It was a quiet trip, back to the ranch, with mostly just the strike of hooves on the road, the squeak of leather, and the odd snort from the horses.

But honestly, after all the excitement of the morning, that was a blessing. He’d had to ride like the wind to catch up to Pony Alice, after she’d left Lancer and lit out for Witness Tree, sometime during the night. She was certainly a brave little thing—but then love and fear are powerful motivators.

Of course, he was itching to ask Johnny exactly what had happened back there but a glance at Johnny’s profile said it wasn’t the right time to be asking questions. It didn’t take a genius to know Pony and he had ridden into a very tense situation, with Guthrie aiming his gun at Johnny. Murdoch still didn’t quite know why Guthrie was shooting at Johnny but, even for Pony’s sake, he wasn’t about to let anyone put a bullet in his son. In that moment, he was all father—with heart in mouth—seeing an unarmed Johnny about to be gunned down.

He had to hand it to Johnny though, that boy of his didn’t lack any grit, the way he stood there in the street, without a gun, facing down Guthrie.

Murdoch pushed his hat back and let his gaze wander around as they rode; he was just taking in the swaying green grass and the shade trees lining the road and if his eyes just happened to land on Johnny’s profile as they swept by… Wait, was that a drop of blood on the collar of his shirt? He’d noticed Johnny rubbing his head, just above his right ear. Good God, could Guthrie have been that good a shot? Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. Thankfully, the rest of Johnny was in one piece but his brows were knotted  beneath the brim of his hat. He rode with his usual easy grace, unlike his father, who sat the saddle like a sack of potatoes in comparison, but he doubted Johnny saw anything of the road ahead.

What was it Johnny had said…that happiness was cheap…it’s here and gone?

‘They’ve got something more.’

It wasn’t the first time Johnny had surprised him.

At least this time, Murdoch could hope that he and Scott and Teresa were the ‘something more’ Johnny spoke of. He was almost sure of…

“Watch out, Murdoch.”

Murdoch looked up just in time to duck as a branch nearly took his head off. He grinned across at Johnny. “And I thought you weren’t paying any attention to where you were riding.”

“Well, why would I do that?” He looked puzzled as he gave Barranca a pat on the neck.

Murdoch grinned. “You wouldn’t if you were sensible. Unlike  me.”

“So what’s got you all caught up, old man?” That note of affection always warmed his  insides, and he was learning to take the name as a term of endearment.

Murdoch eased out a kink in his back. This was the opening he’d been hoping for. “I was thinking about what Miss Florida said. She said Wilf didn’t have much time?”

Johnny looked up at the sky, then blew out a breath. His face was glum. “He’s dying, Murdoch. That’s why he didn’t come back for her.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Guthrie thought if he tricked me into taking Pony, she’d grow up safe at Lancer and wouldn’t end up in an orphanage.”

Good God. “Why on earth would he do that, to a child, who clearly adores him?”

“I know…I know.”

“How much time does he have left?”

“Florida didn’t say.” Johnny sounded tired, in body as well as spirit.

“What will happen to her when…?”

“Florida I suppose. She loves Alice. I don’t know why Guthrie wouldn’t allow Florida to have her in the first place.”

And none of this explained why Guthrie was shooting at an unarmed Johnny from the saloon. It would appear a lot had gone on in that small town.

“And what did all that have to do with Guthrie shooting at you when Pony and I rode up?”

“Ooh, Murdoch, you don’t know the half of it.” But his eyes were set on the road and he didn’t say anymore. Murdoch had a feeling he might never know the full story. Perhaps Scott might prise it out of him but Johnny could be a closed book. As could Scott, for that matter.


It was almost dark when they rode through the Lancer arch. Jelly took their horses when they got to the barn. “So? What happened? I’ve been a’worrying all day long. Could scarce eat a thing.”

Murdoch managed to shut him down with frown and a shake of his head before any more questions started by saying, “Alice is safe, Jelly.”

Johnny swung down and handed his reins over to Jelly. “Yeah, she’s probably tucking into a nice fat juicy stake at Florida’s about now.” Johnny grinned at both of them but it wasn’t his best effort.

Murdoch watched him amble on into the house, using his hat to whack some of the dust from his legs as he went.

“What about the horse Pony took? That uncle of hers has probably sold it off for twice what it’s worth to some greenhorn who…”

“No, I don’t think so. Not this time, Jelly. The mare made her way into town after I carried Pony on my horse, so Johnny left it there for her to ride.”

He didn’t wait to see what Jelly thought of that but followed Johnny into the house. He was pretty damned tired, himself.

His boots clattered on the floor as he walked into the great room, sounding louder than usual with no hum of conversation. He remembered now; Scott wouldn’t be back from Modesto yet and Teresa was visiting with Emily Simpkins, who’d just had her first baby. Teresa had been hoping to take Alice along—before she’d run off.

Juanita came to his side as he took his hat off and asked if they were ready for supper.

“Dentro de poco.” Supper could wait. He wanted to ease out the kinks with a drink before eating.

Johnny had kicked off his boots and was stretched out on the sofa. His eyes were probably closed under the crook of his arm, resting on his face.

“Drink?” Johnny shook his head so Murdoch poured himself a whisky and sat in the blue chair closest the hearth. His eyes lit on an embroidery frame on the opposite chair. A few forlorn stitches showed how little interest Pony had had in embroidery when her heart was fixed in Witness Tree. Johnny hadn’t stirred. “It doesn’t look like you had much sleep last night?”

“Some. I was sharing a room with some noisy varmints.” His lips barely moved, as if talk was too much of an effort.

“The four-legged kind?” Murdoch lowered his voice. “Johnny?”

Nothing. Just some steady, deep breathing.

And no wonder. It had been a hectic week with Alice here. She’d kept them all on their toes, especially Johnny. For someone who’d grown up virtually on his own, it was touching to see how hard he’d tried to make Alice happy.

They all had.

But Johnny was right. It wasn’t just happiness that Pony Alice needed.

Murdoch took a drink, eyes on Johnny’s sleeping form. How had his boy grown up to be so wise?

It was dark outside now. Murdoch put his drink on the side table and picked up the quilt Teresa left folded on one of the blue chairs. Spring was here and already the evenings could be cool. That’s what he told himself, anyway, as he lay the blanket over Johnny. It was a father’s right, wasn’t it, to look after his children?

“Sleep, Johnny-my-boy. You’ve earned it.”


Young Eddie had ridden out to Lancer with the telegram. Murdoch thanked him, then sent him off to the kitchen to get some vittles while Murdoch sat at his desk and fingered the envelope.

Should he have one of the hands ride out to get to Johnny and bring him back? He took out his watch. In the end, he decided no time would be gained and Johnny didn’t need an anxious ride back to the house, from the south pasture.

Murdoch took the ledger out but he was making a poor fist of entering any numbers. It was a relief when the front door opened and the jingle of spurs announced Johnny was home.

“Hey, Murdoch! Scott back yet? He was rounding up those strays on—.”

He stopped short when he saw Murdoch standing there, with the envelope in his hand. “Johnny, this came when you were out.”

Johnny wiped his hand down the front of his shirt, flicking a serious look at Murdoch before he reached out to take it.

Murdoch watched in silence, as Johnny tore open the envelope and read the words, more than once, by the look of it. “Well, I guess I’ve been expecting this.”


Johnny kept his eyes on the sheet of paper, murmuring, “He thought he might’ve had months. Turns out, it was barely six weeks.”

“Poor Pony.”

“Miss Florida is asking me to come.” Johnny looked up at him. “She says Pony would like me there. Murdoch, is that—?”

“Of course, Johnny. When do you need to leave?”

“The funeral’s tomorrow afternoon. I’ll leave first thing in the morning, if that’s okay with you.”


The following morning Johnny was up early. Murdoch found him  in the barn, working on an old saddle, with three puppies clambering over his feet.

“We missed you at breakfast, Johnny.”

“I wanted to start on this before I head out. The saddle on that mare was a size too big for Pony. I thought, if it’s all right with you, I’d get this one ship-shape and take it over.”

“Good idea. Have you got room for one of these little fellers as well?” Murdoch scooped up one of the wriggling balls of fur. “They’re old enough to leave their mother now.”

Johnny grinned. “I was thinking the same thing.” He looked around then picked up the brown and white one that was trying to force his roly-poly body through a hole in one of the stalls. “She always liked this little one the best.” His face sobered. “It’s gonna be real hard on her, Murdoch. She thought the world of Guthrie, though it’s damned hard to understand why. If ever…”

“Well, let’s not speak ill of the dead, Johnny.”

Johnny made a fist and thumped the saddle twice, then sighed. “No, I guess not.”

Jelly came in, leading Johnny’s cream horse. “Here you go, Johnny. And give that little gal a big hug from ol’Jelly.”

“I sure will.” He mounted up then took the saddle Murdoch passed up, placing it in front of him. Then Murdoch passed up the puppy and he tucked it into his shirt. “You happy there, little feller?”

“Give our regards to Pony and Miss Florida, Johnny.”

“I sure will. See yah.” He clicked an eager Barranca forward, and in a few bounds, they were out of the barn and away.

“That poor little tyke.”

“I know, Jelly. This will be hard on her.” And he stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered off back to the house.


Part Two

There was no washing on the line behind Florida’s café this time, even though the sun was shining and a stiff wind blew. He dismounted and left the saddle by her back door, then gave the puppy a chance to stretch his legs and do his business. There was already a dog bowl outside with water, so the puppy drank from that, then Johnny picked him up, gathered Barranca’s reins and walked the way around to the front of the café and the main street.

He got there just in time as a rickety looking wagon, holding the coffin, pulled up outside the saloon. A throng of townspeople had gathered, ready to make the trek to the cemetery he’d passed every time he rode into Witness Tree. Only he’d never thought he’d be seeing anyone buried there, least of all Wilf Guthrie.

He’d  only just hooked the reins over the hitching rail when he heard, a voice call, “Johnny.”

He held out his arms and Pony Alice, dressed in her usual overalls, ran down the steps of Florida’s café and into them, her small body jolting as her sobs took hold.

“I ain’t cryin’ any,” she finally told his shoulder.

“No, course you ain’t. Only you’d better be careful, because you’re squishing my present.”

“A present? You got a present for me?” She got off his shoulder and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. Then her eyes got big as she saw the sleepy puppy in his hands.

“He was real lonely without you. Seems like all we could do was bring him here. Course he’ll probably be a regular nuisance.”

Pony held her hands out then brought the puppy close to her face, rubbing her cheek on the baby-soft fur. “Well, I don’t have any horses to care for no more so I guess I could take this one in.” That glint of devilment was back in her eyes. “Just to do you a favour, of course.”

Johnny tugged on her pony tail. “Next you’ll be telling me I have to pay you for the privilege.”

“Johnny, I’m so glad you could make it.” Florida came out the door. No apron this time, and wearing a bonnet. “After all Wilf put you through, it’s awfully good of you to come.”

“I couldn’t miss it—for Pony’s sake.”

“Well, who’s this?” She reached out and let the puppy sniff her hand.

“Johnny got him for me. It’s a present. Can I take him with me to Uncle Wilf’s send-off?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Johnny scratched the puppy’s neck. “Why don’t I carry him, while we walk, huh?”

“Okay.” Pony handed the puppy over, then tucked her hand into his, but he felt her stiffen as she lay eyes on the coffin. “I ain’t sure I’m  ready to say goodbye to Uncle Wilf yet.”

Florida’s eyes met his, brim full of tears she was trying not to shed.

Johnny knelt down next to Pony. “You want us to wait? We can hang fire a bit longer, if that’s what you want.”

Pony fiddled with the button on her bib then looked across to where all the townsfolk were waiting. “I guess I do. I got the dreads again, Johnny.”

“Maybe you oughtta hold this little feller, while we wait for those dreads to go away.”

Her face brightened when she took the puppy back. It sure liked her, licking her face as soon as she put the puppy on her shoulder. “I bet you’re missin’ your mama and your brothers and sisters but you’ll like it here.”

Johnny stood up and looked down the street. It was a fine turnout for Guthrie. It looked like all the townsfolk had closed their doors for the afternoon and even folk from the local ranches and farms had turned up. He could see men in suits with their wives and cowhands who looked like they’d just ridden in, all milling around the wagon. Miss Florida had been right; he clearly hadn’t double-crossed anyone in this two-bit town.

He pushed his hat back and looked down at Pony. “Well, I don’t reckon Mrs Pumpkin Head over there’ll mind standing in the sun a mite longer.”

Pony started giggling. “That ain’t Mrs Pumpkin Head.”

“It ain’t?” Johnny stared at the woman standing near the steps to the store. “Well, what’s that then?” He waved his hand near his hat. “It’s orange, and it’s on her head.”

She giggled again. “That’s a bonnet. Any half-blind cowboy can see that.”

“Looks kinda like a pumpkin to me. I figure she’s trying to make a mash.”

“That’s Mrs O’Mara. She’s married already, ain’t she Florida.”

“For the past forty years, I’d say, Johnny.” At least he’d made Florida smile.

Johnny made a show of squinting at the woman. “Well, I’ve never been too good a judge of those things. Just as well she’s got a husband though. Hope he’s strong.”

Pony wrinkled her nose. “What for?”

“It’s pretty hot out there in the sun. I figure if she passes out, he’ll be able to catch her.”

Pony gave him that look of hers, that said she knew she was being tricked. “It ain’t that hot.” But her sigh said everything. “All the same, I guess folk’ll want to head to the saloon and drink Ollie’s Kansas sheep dip, real soon.”

Florida walked down the steps. “If you want a decent send-off for Uncle Wilf, we probably need to go now, Alice.”

She rubbed her nose with her fist, then nodded her head. “Uncle Wilf says you shouldn’t let a friend go thirsty.”

Johnny looked into her eyes. “Only if you’re real sure, honey.”

She hugged the puppy that little bit tighter. “Yep. I’m sure.”


Pony was all grit. She kept her head held high as she led the procession, alongside Florida and Johnny.  They walked along a dirt track outside town, following the wagon carrying the coffin of Wilf Guthrie. Everyone stopped at the top of the hill next to a church that had seen better days, like everything around here, and that was where the people of Witness Tree buried their dead.

They didn’t have a preacher so Jasper opened up a tattered bible that looked like it had been left behind years ago by whoever built the church.  All the men took their hats off as he began to read, so Johnny followed suit. Jasper then said a few words about his good friend, Wilf. It didn’t exactly sound like the Wilf Johnny had met but then, he’d never been to a funeral yet where folk told the truth about who they were burying.

Pony kept her head down, the sunlight making her hair shine like a fifty dollar gold piece. She held fast to Florida’s hand while the puppy stretched his legs, stumbling over the tufts of dried grass, then finally curling up next to Pony’s feet and falling asleep.

It wasn’t the Pony he knew. She scarce said a word as they walked back into town. Burying can be the last straw for a kid; there’s no going back once a coffin’s lowered into the ground and covered with dirt.

 His throat ached for the kid. First her mama gone, and now her uncle. He sure hoped Florida was gonna live a long time.


Once the burying was done, the menfolk made their way back to the saloon. Florida was gonna be busy in her café and Pony was going to feed the puppy, so Johnny followed the line of men up the steps and through the doors to the general store and saloon.

Ollie was already behind the bar and holding up a bottle of whisky. “Drinks on the house, in honour of Wilf Guthrie. The best darned horse trader in the county.”

Three cheers went up and everyone rushed to the bar, earning a frown from Mrs Pumpkin Head herself, who was over at the store, looking at a bolt of blue gingham. “Ma’am.” Johnny grinned and tipped his hat to her, while he waited his turn at the back of the line.

“You going to drink to Wilf, Lancer?” Johnny didn’t need to turn to know who had sidled up to him. He didn’t like Jasper. Didn’t like the way he talked through his teeth like he had lock-jaw. Didn’t like the way he ran his town. And he sure didn’t like the way Jasper bid for Pony at the auction. “For Pony’s sake and Miss Florida’s, I’ll drink to Guthrie, but not for yours or anyone else’s.”

“You oughtta watch the way you talk. I’m sheriff of this town. Remember?”

“Some sheriff you are. You played along with all Guthrie’s schemes, ramrodding any poor sucker who came here, wanting a fair deal. Did he cut you in, or something?”

Jasper gave him one of his leery smiles. “I call that my way of keeping the peace.”

“You’ve got a damn lousy way of doing it, then. I didn’t see anything peaceful in getting Jupiter to do Guthrie’s dirty work.”

Jasper just kept that sneaky smile on his face, like he didn’t give a damn what Johnny said. “You know, Wilf weren’t fast on the draw like you. But he was a fine shot, drunk or sober.”

Jasper was just about the last person Johnny wanted to jaw with in Witness Tree, so he sure didn’t aim to sound polite; it was more like a snarl. “I noticed. He took a chunk outta my hair.”

Jasper’s mouth twitched, almost like that news made him glad. “It took guts standing up to him. I admit, I kinda thought you woulda been happy to gun him down after the way Wilf tricked you.”

The anger started in his toes, then all the way up to the tip of his fingers. “You think I’d gun down Pony’s uncle and break that kid’s heart? Huh?”

Jasper stroked his face like he was considering the matter. “I figured the kid I saw in Tucson a few years back, woulda done it. He sure had killing in his eyes.”

Johnny glowered at him. “My brother likes to say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Wilf had his faults—but he was a good friend of mine.” For once, that smarmy voice, was gone. “I’m just sayin’, Lancer, I’m real glad you stood up to him and wouldn’t take him on.”

Johnny didn’t change his expression. Jasper might be speaking the truth but from what Johnny saw, he was as much a flannel-mouthed liar as Guthrie was. “Like I said, I did it for Pony.”

“Ollie,” Jasper called out, as a space at the bar cleared. “Pour a glass for Johnny Lancer, here.”

“And what about an egg?” Ollie winked at him, before pouring his whisky.

“No, I don’t think so.” Johnny took his glass then pulled up a chair at one of the tables. It was only when he sat down he realised this was the seat where Guthrie sat when Johnny first came to Witness Tree, ready to beat the refund out of him.

All about him, the menfolk were crowding around the bar, jostling the back of his chair and telling tales about Wilf and his horse-trading ways. It was still a sore point for Johnny but he let them rib him along with everyone else Wilf had taken in.

Everything was going just dandy until he got up to leave. There, filling the doorway, was Jupiter. Johnny just about walked smack-bang into his belly.

“”If you’ll  excuse me, I’m aiming to use that door.”

Jupiter stared down at him like he was ready to chew him up, spit him out, then throw him under a herd of stampeding cattle. “You got a mean right hook, boy.”

Johnny was watchful. Hopefully, that growl of Jupiter’s was worse than his bite. All the same, he got ready to move back a step or two as he rubbed the side of his face in remembrance. “So do you.”

Jupiter rocked forward, clenching both fists.

Damn-it, not again. The room behind him had gone real quiet. Johnny had his fist ready when—.

When Jupiter threw his head back.

Johnny only just stopped himself from aiming at Jupiter’s chin. “Ain’t he the one,” Jupiter was roaring to the room. “I ain’t never had to throw so many punches to get a man to stay down, specially not a young’un like you.”

Johnny looked around. Wilf’s friends were grinning. “Best entertainment we’ve had in years,” a skinny fella with a bobbing Adam’s apple, yelled out.

“He even managed to knock down the schoolteacher,” a cowboy hooted, and that got more laughter going.

Johnny’s heart went back to beating at its usual pace. He bowed to the room. “Well, I’m always happy to oblige.”

Ollie was still smiling behind the bar. “You was real mad when you came storming in here. Remember that, fellas?” He looked around the room and a few of them nodded. “Ol’ Wilf, had to work hard with you, Johnny.”

Johnny earned a few more slaps on the back before he got outside. What a town.Who knew what they were all gonna do for entertainment, now that Wilf Guthrie was gone.


After a while he wandered back outside into the sun, to see where Pony was. She wasn’t with Florida in the café, so he grabbed the saddle and headed to the barn. The sign for the horse auction was still pinned to the wall and he had half a mind to pull it down, but maybe Pony wanted it there?

Sure enough, she was sitting in the hay with the puppy, holding the brown and white bundle of fur close to her face but she jumped up when she saw Johnny. “Darned fur. I must be ‘lergic or something.”

Her eyes looked red all right, but it wasn’t from the dog. “Pony, still turning the air blue, huh?”

“Miss Florida said she was gonna teach me to talk like a real lady but I expect it will take a while. Only …”

“Only what?”

She swallowed. “I don’t wanna change too much or maybe Uncle Wilf won’t know me when …” Her bottom lip started to tremble so he put the saddle down then put his hands on her waist and lifted her up onto the railing so he could look in her eyes. “Pony, you don’t have to worry none about that.” He said the words as gently as he could. “You’ll be an old woman with grandkids before you see your uncle again.”

“You think so? You sure?” She wrinkled her nose, but sounded more hopeful.

“Sure, I’m sure.”

“What’s that you brought in here?” She tried to see around him, then jumped down from the fence. “Don’tcha know that’s meant to be on the back of a horse?”

“I do happen to know that. I brought it here for you. That saddle you put on the mare was too big. I figure if they’re gonna hang you for horse stealing, they might as well hang your for stealing a saddle that fits, as well.”

“Well, I woulda picked the right saddle if it weren’t so dark in your barn that even the owls had trouble seeing.”

He slung the saddle up on the wall of the stall. “Do you want this one or not?”

“I guess I can take it. Just to help you out, a’course.”

He pinched her nose. “Come on, Miss Florida wants you to come in and have some supper.”

He waited for her while she scooped up the puppy and checked her mare. “I guess I oughtta say thanks for the saddle, Johnny.”

“You’d better thank Murdoch. It’s his saddle.”

The sun was going down but there was still a lot of noise coming from the saloon as they walked past. It looked like they had plenty of stories to tell about Wilf Guthrie and his horse-trading ways. He just hoped for Pony’s sake, that Ollie kept his mouth shut about how Guthrie tried to call out Johnny Madrid.

“Johnny, d’you think Florida is very old?”

He laughed down at her, as they walked. “Now, what makes you say that?”

“I was just wonderin’. A gal can do that can’t she.” And she was all bristles like a porcupine.

“All right, don’t go getting uppity now.”

“Well, is she?”

“No, Miss Florida isn’t old.”

She seemed satisfied with that and went in quietly to the café but she was off her feed and didn’t eat much supper, even though the food being served at the other tables smelled real good.  And it was only Florida agreeing to let the puppy sleep in her blankets that made her smile as she headed off to bed.


There was no-one else in the café when Florida came back into the room. She turned down the lamp at the window, locked the door, then picked up the coffee pot, coming over to sit at Johnny’s table. “What a day. One that I was dreading. Thanks for being here, Johnny.” She filled a cup for each of them.

Johnny raised his cup to hers, then took a drink. “Pony’s had quite a day. How’s she bearing up?”

“You know Alice. She’s a tough little thing, but she’s hurting inside. The puppy helped. Thanks for bringing him.”

Johnny put his cup down, staring into his coffee. Memories were damned annoying things.

He looked up, when he felt a pressure on his hand. “Johnny, I want to thank you for all you did.”

“Oh, I didn’t do anything.”

“Yes you did. You gave Pony the happiest six weeks of her life. Wilf was a changed man after you left. All that time, he’d been pushing Pony away and making her sleep in the barn and trying to make her life as miserable as he could, just so she wouldn’t miss him, when he died.”

“Guthrie was a fool.”

“Don’t judge him too harshly. And I know what he tried to do to you, Johnny. I told him how wrong it was but he just wouldn’t listen to a thing I said. I told him I’d look after Alice but,” she smoothed down her apron, “But he thought I wasn’t respectable enough. Then when you came and you clearly wanted to help Pony, well … ”

“He came up with the bright idea of tricking me into buying her.”

“It tore his heart out, Johnny. He loved that child.”

“Yeah, well, he had a damned strange way of showing it.”

“Oh, Johnny, don’t you see? He was terrified she’d end up in an orphanage. He thought if you felt guilty … ”

“For killing him?”

She nodded, “Then you’d never put her in an orphanage.”

“Well he was about as good a judge of horseflesh as he was of people. I was in an orphanage myself, one time. There’s no way I’d’ve let Pony into one of them.”

“But I thought?”

“I didn’t always live with Murdoch. I’ve only been back a few months. I grew up mostly around border towns. My mother died when I was a little bit younger than Pony.”

“Oh. I see.”

He liked Florida and her no-nonsense ways. No mushy words  from her. She knew he wasn’t looking for sympathy. “So, I know what it’s like to be on your own. And I know what it’s like to have a family that cares for you.” He shifted his cup around, on the saucer.

“And you know which one is better.”  She said the words softly, like she understood.

He looked up and nodded. “And that’s the one Pony deserved to have.”

Florida gave him a tired smile. “I don’t know what you said to Wilf but these last six weeks he stopped drinking. Just took the laudanum when he needed it and he and Pony took rooms here with me. She’s been sleeping in a proper bed since you left. Wilf took her on picnics and read a story to her every night until…” Her eyes filled and she looked away. “It took him so suddenly. One day he just couldn’t get out of bed. The next night, he was gone.”

“And Pony?”

“She cried her eyes out, of course. Wilf wouldn’t let me tell her he was dying. He said he didn’t want her to be sad any sooner than she had to be.”

Johnny winced. He sure knew how hard this had been on Pony. “Well, at least she had six good weeks with him.”

“And she’ll have plenty more with me, Johnny. I’ll send her to school, and she’ll learn to read and write and play with other children.”

Johnny smiled. “I know she’ll do just fine here, with you.”

“There’s one other thing. Wilf asked me to give you this.” She took something from her pocket and laid it on the table with a grimace, as if she was pushing away a glass of sour milk.

It was a dirty envelope, with dog-eared corners. Johnny picked it up and peered inside. Then he stuck his hand in and pulled out a wad of notes. He couldn’t believe it. “You mean to say, that buzzard had my money all along?”

“I’m sorry, Johnny. He’d been keeping it for Pony. He knew he didn’t have long. He asked me to give it to you, the night he died. Wilf said he wanted to meet his maker with a clear conscience.”

Johnny shook his head and snorted. “That Guthrie…hustling right to the very end. He’d have known I wouldn’t take the money back, now.”

“I know what it looks like.”

“You think I’m gonna steal food outta Pony’s mouth?” He shoved the money back in the envelope then pushed it across the table. “Guthrie’s probably conniving his way through the pearly gates, right this moment.”

Florida started laughing. “I’m afraid you’re right, Johnny.”

“Well,” and he started grinning with her, “I guess I can’t stay mad at him.” He wiped his mouth with the red-checked napkin. “Thanks for the meal, Florida. I’d best get going.”

“Can you stay a few more days?”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’ve got family waiting for me.” It felt good saying that. “And do you know the first thing I’m gonna ask my old man?”

Her brows went up. “No.”

“I’m gonna get him to teach me how to tell a good horse from crowbait.”

“Well any darned fool oughta know that.” They both looked over at the door. The little rascal had snuck out of bed.

Florida stood up and put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing up, Missy?”

Pony came across to Johnny. “I didn’t want you to leave without a goodbye.

“Well, I’ll be back, honey.”

He went to stand up but she threw her arms about his neck. “Goodbye, Johnny.”

He let her hug him for the longest time, before he pried her arms free. “I’ll come back and visit. I promise.”

Once he stood, Florida put her hand out. “You do that, Johnny. Don’t be a stranger. Pony and I will be real happy to see you, any time.”


Part Three

Night had fallen by the time he left Florida’s cafe. He’d flipped a coin to a gangly kid, after the walk to the cemetery, paying him to take Barranca to the livery at the other end of town.

Johnny started walking, keeping to the boardwalk. The moon was on its way up but the town was dark, save for the few lights burning in windows along the main street. Well, the only street, really. A cold wind had blown in, kicking up dirt and whistling through the cracks. He had to stop twice and rub his eyes with all the dust swirling in the air. He’d left his jacket tied to his saddle but he could sure do with it now.

All small towns were damn lonely places at night. Kinda spooky. He’d squashed himself into a dark hole, with spiders and cobwebs, in some two-bit town, more times than he could count. Sometimes too darned scared to close his eyes for more than a few minutes at a time. Heck, he must have been around Pony’s age, maybe younger. Well, the wind might be cold enough to freeze his nose, but he still had that warm feeling inside knowing Pony was gonna sleep in a real bed from now on.

By the time he got to the livery, he was more than ready to head for home. If it wasn’t for Pony and Florida, he’d be happy to never see Witness Tree, again.

The livery door was closed. And it was kinda strange there wasn’t even a sliver of light showing through the old planks? Johnny slid the wooden bar across, swung open one of the doors, then peered into the gloom. “Howdy. Anyone here?”

Nope. Nothing.

Woah. He ducked as a bat flew over his head and out into the night. He started grinning. Just as well Scott didn’t see him flinch like a wet-nosed kid.

The livery boy was probably still over at the saloon or sleeping off a sore head, somewhere. There was going to be a lot of those in Witness Tree tonight. Johnny lit the lantern hanging by the door, then held it up and let the light spill into the dark. Like everything in this town, save Florida’s Café, the livery looked like it was ready to be pulled down—or that wind howling outside might do the trick. The only difference between the livery and the barn Guthrie used, was the size.  This one was bigger.

He walked inside a few more steps. Nope, there wasn’t anyone here, just a livery full of horses. The only noises were the odd swish of a tail and a stomp of hooves as they shuffled in the stalls.

Johnny hung the lantern on the hook closer to the horses then headed into the stall where Barranca was stabled with a bay and two pintos. Damn, his shoulders felt tight. He tried pushing them back and stretching his neck. He’d had a helluva tough few weeks, in more ways than one. At least he’d be leaving this town in one piece, for a change.

“Hey, Barranca. You ready to come home, boy?”

He got a sideways glance and a toss of Barranca’s head for his trouble. “So you ain’t happy with me, huh, getting hauled outta bed for the long trip back to Lancer.” It took him a minute to sort out his bridle from the others on the hook. “I know it. You’d rather spend the night catching shuteye with your amigos here.” He slipped the bridle on, then—.

Then he stood and listened.

Was he hearing things? A footstep? A grunt? He’d left the livery door open. Could someone have come in without him knowing?

Barranca tossed his head again, and his ears went back. Johnny patted his neck, “Easy, boy,” then started whistling under his breath, as he threw the blanket on. Don’t go imagining things, Johnny. You’re not eight years old. He took his time, running his hand down the creamy front legs and that meant he was now facing the door. Even from in here, he could hear the piano in the saloon, still thumping away down the street. Some gals had probably joined in the fun. Guthrie’s mourners were most likely aiming to mourn right through the night, if the yelling and hoots coming from the saloon were anything to go by.

And there it was again. He swore he heard something that time. Damn-it. The last thing he wanted now was trouble from some no-account who thought he was an easy mark. He just wanted to get home.

He drew his gun, just in case. “Anybody there?”

Nothing. The only noise was a sloppy thud as a horse in the next stall, dropped its steamy load.

He holstered his gun then grabbed Barranca’s saddle so that he could finish up and ride the hell outta there. “Barranca,” he said the word under his breath, keeping a quick check on the rest of the livery from under his hat brim, “maybe I’m losing my nerve. Or just plain loco.” Once the saddle was on, he untied his jacket from his bedroll and led Barranca out. “Okay, boy. Let’s go.”

And that was as far as he got.

The three of them walked out of the shadows at the very rear of the livery where the hay bales were stacked. One of them he knew right off. The other two might be cowhands who’d come to town for Guthrie’s funeral?

He had a bad feeling they weren’t here to be sociable but they didn’t have any guns drawn. Play it easy, Johnny.

He nodded at the three of them, then slung his jacket over the saddle. “I see you’ve got some friends with you tonight, Jupiter. Howdy boys.”

Jupiter wasn’t looking all that happy to see Johnny, by the way he was glaring like a grizzly. “They’s just with me to keep you from drawing that gun a’yours.”

“And here’s me thinking you’d come out here to be neighbourly and bid me  farewell.” Johnny half-turned and tightened the cinch. “Why the heck would I draw on you?  I ain’t on the shoot tonight. And if you had any sense, you wouldn’t be, either.”

Jupiter lumbered forward, like he was a tree about to fall. “You clouted me when I was shleepin’. I don’t take kindly to that.”

Even a drunk Jupiter could pack a mean punch. “Well, maybe that was a low blow. You want me to apologise? Is that what this is about?”

The skinny cowboy on the left scrunched his face up. “No, he don’t want that,” he spluttered out, like he couldn’t believe his ears. “What kind of a plum fool idea is that?”

The other one shuffled forward, close enough for Johnny to get a whiff of the whiskey they’d been drinking for hours. “Jupiter ain’t never been beat. His pride’s hurting something awful bad. Ain’t it, Jupiter.” And he elbowed Jupiter in the ribs.

He wouldn’t call the two of them hard cases. Coffee boilers more like it, looking for some action after a day of drinking to Guthrie’s … well, it wasn’t to Guthrie’s health, was it. Only thing was, he’d seen fool cowhands die because they didn’t have sense enough to know drunk and dumb were close cousins.

Aw, hell. What was it with this town? “Look, fellas, it’s late. Why don’t you call it a night? Jupiter, you beat me fair and square the first time. Everyone knows it.”

The skinny one started shaking his head. “Uh uh. Jupiter don’t want to forget. Sides, Mort and me, we got money riding on this, ain’t we Mort.”

Maybe it was the freckles but if Johnny was laying odds, he’d say the skinny one was more’n likely just out for some fun.

But Mort had a look Johnny had seen plenty of times; sure, he’d cut a swell with the ladies but he had a mean look around the eyes that said he liked nothing better than seeing Johnny beaten to a pulp. Right now, he was grinning at Johnny, like he was imagining just that. “Ted’s right. We got friends waitin’ to see Jupiter haul your butt back to the saloon, Lancer.”

“Yeah, they was wantin’ some excitement, Guthrie style, real bad.”

So that explained the whole kit and caboodle; one of them, probably Mort, had told full-as-a-tick Jupiter, that he needed to reclaim his crown as the unbeaten bully of Witness Tree. Johnny cocked his head and considered the three of them. “Well, I thought about your offer. The thing is…I don’t think I want to oblige.”

“You hear that, Ted? He says he don’t wanna oblige. We got you dead to rights, boy. You don’t get to choose.”

“We ain’t askin’, we’re telling you.” Ted was fool enough to draw his gun. “You gotta come with us.”

Johnny shook his head. “Nope. I ain’t playin.’ I told you boys, I’m heading home. And you,” he pointed at Ted, “put that damn thing away.” Dios, he was tired of this town.

Ted started to splutter some more but Mort cut in. “Jupiter can smash your head out here in the livery, Lancer, just as well as he can do it in the saloon. Tell the truth, I don’t care which. Long as I get my money.”

Johnny ran his eyes up and down the two of them. Ted, he could handle, but Mort was getting uglier by the minute. He was the type who’d get more thrills on seeing blood spilled than making a few dinero.

Jupiter had been swaying there, between the two of them, all this time. “I had enough talk. I don’t care about no gun. I’m gonna tear this one apart and eat him for breakfast.” He rocked forward, just about knocking Ted and Mort down, as he barged past them.

And that was time enough for Johnny.  He only needed a split second. By the time the cowboys looked up again, Johnny was holding his gun. “Hold it, Jupiter. Throw down your gun, Ted.”

Ted’s eyes went wide and he just about forgot to keep his gun pointed at Johnny. “You see that, Mort? I swear, I only blinked.”

But Johnny’s gun didn’t waver. “I asked you real polite, Ted. Throw your gun down.”

“Um … Mort?”

Mort was staring at Johnny’s gun. “It’s still three against one, Ted. We got this.”

Johnny shrugged. “You two tired of living?”

Mort’s hand was moving slowly, but it was moving. “You draw your gun, Mort; you’d better be planning on using it.”

Jupiter started squinting, first at Johnny, then at Mort, like he was seeing everything through a fog. “Hey, we is just here to bust his head. I don’t want no gunfire, Mort.”

“That’s the first sense you’ve made in years, Jupiter.” Johnny didn’t swing around when he heard the voice. He didn’t need to. He knew exactly who it was. Jasper walked slowly into the livery. “I wouldn’t, if I were you, Mort. And you.” He turned to Johnny. “I thought I told you, no gunplay in this town.”

Johnny almost groaned as he holstered his gun. The last thing he wanted was another night in Jasper’s jail. “Speak to them, sheriff. They’re the ones started all this. Me? I’m just trying to light a shuck for home.”

Jasper’s eyes slid off Johnny, to the other three, like he hadn’t heard a word Johnny said. “Go on. Get going you three, before I lock you up for disturbing the peace.”

Ted just about nodded his head off before running out. Mort shrugged at Jasper. “Okay, Sheriff.” But he’d lost some of his swagger as he walked out, like his plan hadn’t turned out like he’d hoped and he was relieved Jasper showed up. Not that he’d say, of course.

Jasper took the lantern from the hook and held it up. “I guess that’s the last of them in here?” He looked around. “Jupiter, you know those two are trouble every time they come to town.”

Jupiter had his head down, like a kid in trouble. “We was just havin’ some fun, Jasper. And … and …” He looked at Jasper, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do without Wilf.” Johnny thought he was in pain or maybe about to throw up the way Jupiter’s face scrunched up like that. But what the hell—he was bawling like a calf without his ma.

Jasper patted him on the shoulder. “I know, Jupiter. We all miss, Wilf. You’d best be getting home. Off you go, now. The missus will be waiting for you.”

Jupiter lumbered out the door, those huge shoulders still shaking with his sobbing. Johnny almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

“That makes us even now, don’t it, Lancer.” Jasper was back to his oily self.

Johnny shrugged his jacket on. Something about the way Jasper showed up right then had him thinking. “I gotta a feeling, you knew what they were up to?”

“Those two boys like to kick up a row. There’s no harm in Ted but Mort likes to play to the gallery.”

“I could see that for myself. I’m askin’ if you knew what they were planning?”

Jasper gave him that leery smile. “I figured you wouldn’t shoot’em.”

“And just how did you know that?”

“Because you’re not the kid I saw in Tucson.”


The moon had climbed into the sky by the time he rode out. He let Barranca have his head for a few miles as they left Witness Tree behind. Putting as many miles between him and that town felt awful good, right now. The road was even and the chalky white dirt showed almost white against the dark of the grass and the trees on either side.

After letting the wind whip his face and stop his mind from remembering a bunch of stuff he thought he’d forgotten, he brought Barranca back to a walk. “Easy boy. We’ve got a ways to go before we’re home.”

Witness Tree. What a town.

“You mind giving me a hundred?”

“Not at all.”


“One, two, three …”

It seemed like he’d turned Guthrie’s fool plan every which way he could as he sat in the black chair and stared at the empty fireplace. He just about turned himself inside out at the same time. Guthrie was good with a gun. It takes guts to shoot at a man’s head when you’re not aiming to kill him. Every time his skull pounded where he’d been creased, his head said, “There wouldn’t be any shame in taking Guthrie on. He’s skilful. You’re not taking down a greenhorn.”

“What’s another dead man to Johnny Madrid?“

He remembered that time in Tucson, a few years back, that Jasper talked about. Johnny was young and fast with a gun, and he knew it. He never even tried to back out of that fight. “You want trouble, mister? I’m ready.”

Jasper had the right of it. Maybe, in Tucson, he woulda taken Guthrie on.

But back in Tucson, he didn’t have his old man in his life. Or a brother. Back then, no-one cared if he tossed and turned over a fool decision. No-one made sure he had broth and a warm bed when he came a cropper. And Wes sure wasn’t gonna throw a blanket over him, when he fell asleep in some flea-bitten saloon.

All the while he sat in that big black chair, with Ollie counting and Wilf chugging down his laudanum, there was one question he kept coming back to.

And for some reason, the answer to that question was the only one that mattered to him now.


Somewhere, up in the hills, a wolf howled. Then another. Before long, it was a pack of them, screaming and howling loud enough to wake Wilf Guthrie from his slumber.

Barranca’s ears twitched, then he shied at a bush blowing about in the wind. Even Johnny felt unsettled, like something was trying to keep him from Lancer. And Murdoch. And Scott. Maybe his run of good luck couldn’t keep going? Dios, he sure hoped it could.

“Take it easy, Barranca.” He ran his hand along Barranca’s neck. “We’ll be home, soon.”

He spotted a few campfires burning along the way, tucked in behind the trees but cold as he was, he wasn’t gonna stop and ask to share some coffee. Not tonight. Not when he was heading home.


And there it was. He could see a lamp still  burning by the front door, even from up on the rise.

Woo-hoo. Yep, he had to admit, he was damned happy to see the hacienda, even if, dog-tired as he was, he had to stable Barranca himself because Jelly had gone to bed.

Once he’d finished that chore, he shuffled up the steps and opened the front door.

Sure enough, he didn’t have to stumble through the dark; Murdoch had left a lamp burning. He’d only taken a few steps across the tiles, when—.

“Johnny, you’re home.” Murdoch’s big shape loomed up from behind the sofa. His hair was kinda messy, like maybe he’d been dozing.

Johnny just about stopped in his tracks. “What are you still doing up, Murdoch?”

“I thought you might decide to make your way home tonight, especially when you told me you’d had night visitors in your room, the last time you stayed in Witness Tree.”

“Night visitors?” Um? “Oh, yeah.” The mouse he’d chased under the boxes in Jasper’s jail.

“How was Pony?”

Johnny tossed his hat onto a chair. “She’s hurting but with Florida’s help, she’ll be fine. She’s got someone to guide her now, you know. Help her make a way in life.”

“That Florida seems like a fine woman.”

Murdoch yawned and that started Johnny yawning as he undid his gun belt. “You shoulda gone to bed, Murdoch. Morning comes around pretty fast here at Lancer. Or so you keep telling me.”

“Didn’t you know it’s a father’s duty to wait up for his sons to come home, safe and sound?”

Johnny grinned at him. “I guess I didn’t.”

Murdoch pointed to a cup he’d been drinking from. “Coffee’s hot.”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t mind a cup right now.”

“Well, come on. Sit here and take some weight off your legs.”

“I’m warning you; I might not get back up again.” Johnny settled back into the deep cushions on the sofa, then took the cup and saucer Murdoch passed him. Dios, what a day. It felt like it must’ve started a week ago. Right now, he just wanted to sit and not do anything, for a very long time.

“Deep in thought—or just tired?”

The words stirred him. “Maybe a bit of both.” He took a sip of coffee. “I feel for Pony, losing her uncle like that.”

“Yeah. It won’t be easy on the child.”

“Course, Florida will do everything she can—but—those first few months are hard. You know?”

A shadow passed over Murdoch’s face. “Yeah. I know.”

They both stared into the fire.

What’s another dead man to Johnny Madrid? 

Back home, at Lancer, in the great room, with the fire and the bookshelves full of books and the chairs and all the other stuff Murdoch collected over the years, those words didn’t even seem to be talking about him. It seemed like the longer he lived at Lancer, the further away border towns and everything that happened there, got.

When he’d walked in the door just now, all he saw on Murdoch’s face was worry. Sure, Murdoch tried to hide it, but Johnny was getting pretty good at knowing the signs, now. Murdoch would get this small line on his forehead, right between his brows. And he’d have a certain look about him. In his eyes. Like he’s asking. But he’s trying not to.

That look tugged at Johnny. Mostly he could ignore it and keep everything inside him, buttoned up and tight. But now? Tonight? He looked across at his old man. Somehow, tonight felt right. Maybe, he even owed it to Murdoch?

“Ah, Murdoch—”

“So, Johnny—.”

They both grinned at each other. Johnny nodded at Murdoch. “You, first.”

“No, you’re the traveller with the tales. You go first.”

“Okay.” He dug his butt further into the cushions, as he figured out what to say. “Um, I was gonna say, I never did tell you what Guthrie wanted from me, did I, when I went back to Witness Tree?”

Murdoch eased his way into the blue chair, next to the fire. “No, I don’t believe you did.”

“All that ruse about auctioning off Pony—that was all because he didn’t want Pony to see him dying.” Murdoch wasn’t catching his drift. He could see that from his face. “The sheriff told him I was Johnny Madrid. Guthrie’s next plan was to call me out.”

Murdoch took a sharp breath. “Johnny, that’s a dreadful burden to put on any man.”

“I thought about it.” He barely moved his lips as he thought back to that time. “I asked Guthrie to give me a hundred and all that time, I thought about it real hard. I’ve seen men who had to take laudanum to make it through the day, Murdoch. They never died pretty.”

“Pain is a hard thing to deal with. It takes courage.”

Johnny gulped his coffee in one go, then got up and put the cup and saucer on the table near the hearth so that he could warm his butt by the fire. Truth be told, he needed the warmth of the fire, right now. “Anyway, I started asking myself if Guthrie wanted to die and he fired at me and I defended myself, would that be wrong? And what about Pony? What was right for her? Me, riding back to Lancer, and telling her Guthrie had died?” He turned around and kicked one of the logs back into the fire. “One day, the truth would come out.” He kept his eyes on the log as the flames caught hold. His throat was getting tight. “It’s real hard to love someone you think has wronged you.”

The silence felt like it was stretching out, until he heard Murdoch say, “That was a lot of thinking when you only had from one, to one hundred.”

That was one of the things he liked about Murdoch—he didn’t jump to judgment. “Yeah.” Johnny almost laughed.

“So, how did you come to your decision?”

“Well, I said to myself, ‘What would Murdoch do?’” He had to admit, he liked catching Murdoch by surprise. His old man couldn’t hide it, even though he tried to, by clearing his throat.


“It turns out, you and me think an awful lot alike, these days.”

Murdoch started smiling. “Yeah. I think we do. It was a good decision, Johnny. The right one. I’m just glad I didn’t mess things up when Pony and I road into town.”

“Anyway, I just wanted you to know … what happened and all. I kinda wanted to get it off my chest.”

“I’m glad you did, Johnny.”

He yawned again, almost cracking his jaw. “I’m beat, Murdoch. What about it? You going to bed?”

“In a minute. I’ve got some things to put away on my desk.”

“Well, goodnight.” He stood up, stretched, then started for the stairs. But halfway there, he turned around. “Thanks for waiting up, Murdoch. I’m real glad you did. It’s good to be home.”

Murdoch stood up. “That’s okay, Johnny. And you’ve earned a sleep-in, tomorrow morning.”

“Oh. One more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I need some training.”

“You do?”

“Yep. I need you to teach me how to not be bamboozled by fast-talking horse traders.”

That made Murdoch laugh. The one that came from his belly. “I think I can manage that. Goodnight, John.”

“Goodnight, old man.”


Murdoch watched Johnny walk up the stairs. There was nothing graceful in his movements, tonight. Johnny was played out and looked it. Perhaps the stress of the last few weeks were finally catching up on him?

He went across to his desk and shuffled some papers but in the end, he shoved them in his top drawer. His head and heart were too full to even think about filing any of them. Instead, he found himself sitting at his desk, staring at the framed photograph of Johnny. The very one that saved him before Johnny showed up, the night Isham and Sexton Joe came gunning for Murdoch, a few weeks ago. Murdoch fingered the frame. The photographer hadn’t really captured who Johnny was. Not who he was now, at any rate. It was taken when he first came home. When he was wary. Still confused by Maria’s lies.

All I ever wanted to be one time, was, Johnny Madrid, good at my trade.

And after all they’d gone through with the Warburton mess, that night was the first time Johnny had shared anything about himself, with Murdoch.

And now, tonight, without any prying from Murdoch, Johnny had opened up again. He knew something had gone on in Witness Tree that bothered Johnny. He’d even guessed most of it. But to hear it from Johnny himself— now, that was something special.

Murdoch leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. All those times of worrying and wondering if Johnny would stay, could be finally put to rest.

His boy had come home. And he was going to stay.

November, 2022


Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or Email Suzanne directly.


18 thoughts on “Pony Alice – The Epilogue by Suzanne

  1. Hi Jill, thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed this story. I’m thrilled to hear you find it a believable follow-on from the episode, especially as it’s a favourite ep of yours. Your feedback is very much appreciated. 🙂


    1. Hi Tina, it’s so encouraging to hear you enjoyed this follow-up to Pony Alice. I tried to be as true to the episode as I could and seeing as Murdoch was there at the end, it felt right to look at his part in the story, as well as Johnny’s. Thanks so much for your feedback. It always means a lot to me that someone read and then took the time to leave their message. 🙂


  2. Aw, Helen, I love getting feedback! Thanks so much for taking the time and letting me know you enjoyed my Pony Alice story! 🙂


    1. Hi, Suzanne,
      Your episode tag brought this story full circle. Poor Pony… She had Miss Florida to take care of her, but her grief over Uncle Wilf really tugged at the heart! The puppy was a great touch, and would have been a great addition if the story had been a two hour episode. Thank you for sharing!


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Diana, I never want a good episode to finish which is probably why I write so many stories following on from the episode. Poor Pony, she was a brave little thing but it’s sad to think of her grief. Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed my take on Pony Alice. It really means a lot to me! 🙂


    1. Hi Charlene, thanks so much for your encouragement. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed this story! 🙂


  3. Hi Carol, how lovely to hear from you! I’m so happy that you enjoyed my story and I appreciate you taking the time to let me know. 🙂


    1. Hi sds, I always thought this episode needed a longer epilogue and I’m so happy you enjoyed my efforts. Thanks so much for letting me know! 🙂


  4. Wonderful ‘what happened next’ for Pony Alice. (The episode does contrast with the fan fiction that has Johnny such an expert with horses)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi janbrac, yes, there’s become a fandom folklore that Johnny is an expert at everything I believe, lol! I prefer my heroes to be fallible so I stick to canon and I’m quite delighted that Johnny can make a mistake when it comes to buying horses. Thanks so much for reading this one and letting me know you enjoyed it! 🙂


    1. Hi Lesleymet, sorry, for some reason I missed your feedback to this story. Thanks so much for reading and leaving feedback. It’s always a buzz to hear that someone has enjoyed my story. 🙂


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