Word Count 62,440
Johnny was bone tired. It seemed like he had been that way forever, that all he had ever done was work. It never ended. For almost four years he had been here. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Rain or searing heat. It didn’t matter. There was always more work. And for what? It wasn’t like he could even take pride in his efforts. It was simply busy work –work that the old man who called himself boss made up to keep them all busy. And heaven help anyone here that didn’t keep busy. That lesson was learned early and learned well at this place. As his body went through the never- ending motions of his labor, his mind wandered. He remembered back to an incident that had happened about six months after he had arrived at Lancer…….
>>>>>>>>Johnny had never had to justify his actions to anyone before. He had done what he wanted, when he wanted. The only one he had to please was himself. But that all changed when he arrived at Lancer. After recovering from Pardee’s bullet, he had gradually started to do more and more work. Johnny didn’t consider himself lazy – he wasn’t afraid of hard work, although he hadn’t done much physical labor in several years. A faint smile touched his face. In his line of work, about the hardest physical thing he had to do was clean his gun. But since coming to the ranch, it seemed like all he did was work. Hard, backbreaking work.
That’s where he and his Old Man butted heads. Johnny figured that after getting his work done, he should be able to do what he wanted, even if it just meant lounging around or going into town for a drink. Murdoch, on the other hand, figured that ALL of Johnny’s time should be spent on ranch work. He had given Scott and Johnny several lectures about how owning a ranch meant a 24-hour a day commitment from everyone. He said that it was up to them, as owners, to set an example for the men who worked there, and to check up on the ranch hand’s work. He told them that if they didn’t care enough to put in the time, the hands certainly wouldn’t either.
Johnny didn’t know how true that was. It seemed like Murdoch had some pretty top hands, and they were getting good pay. He didn’t think that his taking a break now and then would hurt anything. The last couple of weeks, though, just to keep the peace, he had been trying hard to live up to the Old Man’s expectations.
As he walked in to the Hacienda, he threw his hat onto the table and grabbed for a handful of cookies.
“Johnny!” The shout was loud enough to wake the dead.
Murdoch got up from his desk and approached his youngest son.
“Where have you been? I thought I told you to finish cleaning out that gully”.
Cookies forgotten, Johnny defensively moved back a step and his arms wrapped around his body in an all too familiar gesture.
“That’s what I was doin’ till Lyle rode over and said some of his stock had got caught in that muddy stream below his house.”
“So you just dropped everything and ran to help him with HIS stock!”
Johnny became defensive. “There was no one else to help him, and he sure couldn’t have done it himself – he must be 70 if he’s a day. If I hadn’t of helped, he would have lost the bunch.”
“And that took you all day?”
Johnny was sore and tired, and he was sick of having to explain his every move to his father.
“NO! But after I helped get his cows out, he wanted me to come in and talk for a while and have a drink. He doesn’t get much company. There was only a couple of hours of daylight left, so I decided to take him up on it. I can finish the gully tomorrow morning before I start that fence line.”
“Don’t bother. Scott’s out there right now, finishing it up. He’s getting very good at finishing your work.”
Murdoch shook his head in exasperation. “ I thought you had learned your lesson after that incident with the wild horses, but I guess I was wrong. You’ll never change.
Murdoch glared at his son. “ You’re irresponsible. You need to learn what it’s like to put in long hours on this ranch – to sweat blood if you have to – in order to keep it going. You treat ranch work like a job – something to do quickly so you can fool around. You’re not a hired hand. You are part owner of a very large ranch that requires a lot of hard work from everyone.”
Murdoch’s voice softened just a little. “ Right now is the busiest time of the year. In a few months things will calm down and you’ll have more time to do other things. But for now, this ranch has to take priority over everything!”
Johnny’s temper flared. He had been here six months, and the workload had never lessened.
“I’m not irresponsible, I was helpin’ a friend that needed it. There are more important things than this darn ranch. A man has to have somethin’ besides work to keep him occupied. I don’t expect Scott or anyone else to do my work. I just need you to lay off a little bit. You don’t expect the hands to work half as hard as you do me.”
Murdoch looked like he was going to explode. “Is that the way you feel? That this DARN ranch isn’t important?”
Now Johnny felt like he would explode “Are you telling me none of your neighbors ever helped you? Sometimes things come up that are more important that working on this ranch.”
The words exploded out of Murdoch’s mouth before he could stop them.
“Like killing? Maybe if you’d been willing to work for a living, you wouldn’t have picked up that damn gun. Maybe you would have learned what it was like to be a responsible member of society. You need to learn how to earn things, Johnny, including trust. And to do that, you need to grow up. You have to decide what’s important to you. You have to start acting like a member of this family, not some irresponsible gunfighter. You need to learn what it’s like to work hard for something. Besides, if you’re working, you won’t get into trouble. Half the people in this town think you…
Johnny looked up as Murdoch’s voice trailed off. “Go on, Old Man, finish what you were saying. Half the folks in town think what?”
Murdoch suddenly seemed to realize he’d gone too far. “Nothing Johnny. It doesn’t matter. It’s just idle talk.” Murdoch looked away.
“If it’s being said about me, then I have the right to know. If you didn’t want me to know then you shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“You tell me Old Man, or I’ll ride into town right now and find out for myself.”
Murdoch hesitated. “Some of the townspeople are concerned about your background.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open. Murdoch’s knack for understatement amazed him.
“Really, ya think?”
Murdoch brushed off Johnny’s sarcasm. “I’m not talking about gunfights. They’re concerned that you may decide to ‘branch out’.”
“What the heck do you mean by that?
“They’re worried about you breaking the law.”
Now Johnny was thoroughly confused.
“Look Johnny, they know that some gunfighters find out how easy it is to get away with things. Most people are afraid to confront them, and things get, well, out of hand.”
What Murdoch was saying finally sunk in. Johnny’s voice was like ice. “Is that what you think”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. I hope not. I hope you care enough for your brother and me and this ranch to prevent that. I hope you’ll be content to be just a rancher.” I hope you can leave your past behind you. I hope you can decide what’s really important in your life. And that’s what I’m trying to find out before we all get hurt.”
Johnny looked at his father in disbelief. “So you’re finding out by pushing me to see if I’ll break.” He slowly shook his head. “ Wes told me that day out on the range that you had broken me to the plow. Is that what you’re trying to do? Break me?”
Murdoch was defensive now. “No one is trying to break you, but you need to decide where your priorities are. Are they this ranch and the people on it? Are you willing to give up your old life to fit in here? Even if it means hard work and giving up some things? I just never know with you. I never know if this is going to be the day that we find out that someone or something is more important to you than staying here and being a part of this family.”
With a superhuman effort, Johnny kept his temper in check. “I made my decision, Old Man. Why do you think I’m still around? You think I work here for the fun of it? You think I want to go back to livin’ by the gun? Never knowing if today’s the day when I’ll be lyin’ dead in some alley somewhere with a bullet in my back? With no one givin’ a damn one way or the other? Wonderin’ if I’ll even get a decent burial? You and Scott and Teresa are my family. Nothing is more important to me than being here. Nothing. But you’d better lay off. I don’t need you babysittin’ me to keep me from makin’ mistakes. And I sure don’t intend to be treated like some slave.” <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
The whip cutting into his back brought him back to the present. He quickly picked up the pace, the chains clanking as the hammer rose and fell. He gave a soft snort as he remembered those words he’d told Murdoch. The words that had come back to haunt him. Murdoch had been right. Something had happened. Something that had seemed so important at the time. More important than staying on the ranch. Now? He had lost everything. His home, his freedom, and most importantly, his family. He hadn’t heard one word from them since the trial. Was it worth it? His tired body once again worked automatically as his mind went back again to the one time in his life that he’d been happy. Lancer.
Murdoch stared at the letter in his hand. Finally shutting his eyes, he thought once more about what he should do. The letter had arrived yesterday, and since then he had pretty much not thought about anything else. The letter, sent by the state correctional department, simply stated that one John Madrid would be eligible for parole the following month. As the listed next of kin, would he be willing to be responsible for him after release? Two short sentences. Sentences that threatened to turn his world upside down once again.
His heart said yes, but he wasn’t sure that was the right answer. The trial and the realization that Johnny wasn’t the man they all thought him to be had nearly destroyed them all. He supposed he could ask Scott and Theresa for their opinion, but he would be no closer to making a decision. He knew Theresa would say yes without hesitation. But Scott…. Scott had been destroyed by Johnny’s betrayal. He had made it clear he never wanted to see or hear from his brother again. And he couldn’t say that he blamed him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Johnny back in his life either.
Five years ago, during the trouble with Pardee, Murdoch had agonized over whether to send for Johnny. He had known his youngest son’s whereabouts for almost two years, but had never tried to contact him. He couldn’t imagine his sweet young boy as a hardened killer. When the trouble with Pardee had started, he realized Johnny was just what he needed. A hired gun. And not just any hired gun, but Johnny Madrid. Even before he knew that the infamous gunman was his lost boy, he had heard the legends and stories about the famous pistolero. And the stories were not good. Oh, there were some that classed him as a latter day Robin Hood, but he dismissed those stories as fanciful legends. What he couldn’t dismiss were the stories of Madrid’s deadly gun and cold as ice attitude.
Even knowing that Johnny could be Lancer’s salvation from Pardee, he had hesitated. What kind of a man was he really? He couldn’t believe that any son of his could be as bad as Johnny’s reputation implied, but he doubted that all the stories were false. Could he justify bringing a man like that into their lives? At that point, he wasn’t afraid for himself, but for his ward, Teresa, and his elder son, Scott, whom he had already contacted and was coming to Lancer. After many long and sometimes heated discussions, however, Teresa’s father had finally talked him into sending for Johnny. Said they’d face it together.
Several months later, Paul was dead, and the angry young gunslinger was standing in Murdoch’s study. They certainly hadn’t gotten off to a good start. Murdoch had felt more than a moment’s anger at Paul for getting him in to that fix. After hearing Johnny’s smart mouth and seeing the hate in the boy’s eyes, Murdoch was almost tempted to tell him to take the money and leave. For a second though, he had seen something else. A deep sadness and yearning in those impossibly blue eyes. Something that made him want to learn more about the young stranger. So he had made his offer, and, surprisingly, Johnny has agreed to stay.
When Johnny had seemingly turned against them and joined Pardee, he wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. He knew Johnny had worked with Pardee before. He figured they were better off knowing early on that Johnny wasn’t trustworthy, before they had time to get attached and possibly hurt. What had surprised him was Johnny’s return, and Scott’s determination not to write him off. That’s when Murdoch first began to feel hope.
It hadn’t been easy, however. Even after Pardee had been defeated, Johnny hadn’t trusted them and Murdoch still had his doubts about Johnny. If it hadn’t have been for Scott and Teresa, Johnny probably would have left, and with Murdoch’s blessing. Gradually, however, Murdoch had seen a different side of the troubled young man, a softer side that came out more and more as Johnny became more relaxed with his new family. Murdoch had stopped worrying about Johnny hurting any of them. If Johnny were capable of hurting any of them, Murdoch was sure he would have been the first one to feel Johnny’s wrath. Lord knows he had provoked the boy often enough. But no matter how angry Johnny had become, he never became violent. He’d simply stalk out and disappear for a while. A few hours or a day later, he’d be back, acting like nothing had happened. As time went on, both Murdoch’s and Johnny’s trust grew, with constant help and interference from Scott and Teresa. The arguments and fights became fewer and fewer, and Murdoch began to have hope that it would all work out. That both his boys were home to stay.
Johnny and Scott had been at the ranch for almost a year when it happened. His two sons had gotten so close that he would have sworn that either one of them would have died for the other without hesitation. Murdoch knew that he and Johnny still had their ups and downs, but Scott and Johnny were inseparable. That morning however, there had been an argument between the two brothers. Johnny had wanted to borrow some money from Scott, and Scott had refused. Johnny had tried all of his charm to loosen his brother’s purse strings, but to no avail. When Johnny had tried to make Scott feel guilty, Scott had blown up. Murdoch hadn’t heard the rest, and the boys had left for town a few minutes later, still bickering.
Several hours later, Murdoch was sitting in Sam’s office, holding the hand of his unconscious son.
“What are his chances, Sam?”
Sam wound his stethoscope up and placed it in to his battered black bag before replying.
“I don’t know Murdoch, but it doesn’t look good. It was a pretty hard blow to the head, and there is some indication of brain damage. One pupil is dilated and his reflexes aren’t what they should be. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“He’ll be OK, he’s strong” Johnny’s soft voice came from the other side of the bed, where he’d been since he had helped carry his brother in from the bank.
Murdoch looked at Johnny. There was something wrong here – he could feel it. Johnny hadn’t said two words the whole time. He’d just held Scott’s hand as if he’d been afraid to let go.
Murdoch watched his son for a minute, and then finally decided to ask. “What’s on your mind Johnny? What’s wrong?” I know you’re upset about Scott’s injury, but there’s more, isn’t there?
Johnny didn’t reply but simply lowered his eyes.
“Tell me son.” Murdoch pleaded.
Johnny turned tortured eyes to Murdoch.
“It’s my fault” Johnny blurted as his eyes dropped back down.
“It wasn’t your fault, Johnny, you didn’t know he’d be attacked.”
Johnny wouldn’t look back at his father. “It’s my fault,” he whispered.
Murdoch shook his head and was just opening his mouth to reply when the door slammed open and Val walked in.
“How’s he doin’ Doc? I’ve been over talkin’ to Ben and I need to ask Scott some questions about what happened.”
“He’s not good, Val.” Sam got up and guided Val away from the bed. “It’ll be awhile before you’ll be able to talk to him, and even then he may not remember much.”
Val twisted his hat in his hands and then nodded to Murdoch “I’m real sorry about Scott, Mr. Lancer, but I need to get some questions answered.” He turned to Johnny. “You were the one that first found Scott and Ben in the bank, right?
Johnny glanced at his father, and then he looked back at Val. “Can we talk outside? I don’t want to disturb Scott.”
“Sure Johnny, whatever you want.”
Johnny looked at Scott for a moment, and then stood up. Val held the door open as Johnny slipped past him.
Murdoch looked back at his deeply unconscious son, and his eyes narrowed. “Sam, can you watch Scott a minute?”
Once outside, Johnny grabbed a hold of the hitching rail and closed his eyes, waiting for the questions he knew were coming.
“Johnny…” Val didn’t want to ask this question, didn’t even know if he could. He glanced up. Murdoch had followed them out. This was getting worse and worse. “Murdoch, I need to talk to Johnny privately.”
Murdoch stood his ground. “No. This concerns my sons. I have a right to hear what’s being said. Get on with it.”
After taking a long look at Murdoch he finally turned to Johnny. “You said you were having a drink at the saloon and saw Scott go in to the bank.”
Once again, Johnny just nodded.
“After Scott went in, did anyone else go in to the bank before you got there?
Johnny flinched. There it was. The question that just might cost him his brother. He glanced at Murdoch, but he didn’t lie.
Val continued “And when you got there, what did you find?”
Johnny heaved a sigh. He hated this. Hated doing this to his brother. But he had no choice.
“He and Ben were lyin’ on the floor. Both of ‘em were knocked out. Scott was holding the bank moneybag. Ben started to come to, said he had been attacked.”
“Did he say who had attacked him?
Johnny felt a moment’s relief. “No. He said he didn’t really see whoever it was.”
“Then Sam walked in. That’s all. Ben didn’t say anything more, and we brought Scott over here.” Johnny turned to go back in with his brother. “And if you don’t have any more questions…”
Val grabbed his arm.
“One more Johnny. Jim over at the saloon said you two were arguing about money when you rode up. He said he thought he heard Scott say something about not having to worry about money again.”
Johnny lowered his head. “Yeah.”
Val started to lose his patience.
“Yeah what? Johnny, I need to know what Scott said.”
With a deep sigh, Johnny finally told Val what he wanted to know. “He said he was goin’ over to the bank and fix it so he wouldn’t have to worry about lendin’ me or any one else money no more.”
Murdoch finally intervened. “Val, what are you getting at?
“Murdoch, Ben insisted there was no one in the bank when Scott got there. If no one else went in to the bank after Scott, then Scott’s the only one who could have knocked Ben out.”
“But Scott was knocked out too!” Murdoch exploded.
“Yes, But Ben said he managed to hit his attacker in the head before passing out. He also insisted that no one else was in the bank when Scott came in. That, the moneybag in Scott’s hands, and Johnny’s statement is all pretty good evidence against Scott. I’m sorry Murdoch, but when Scott gets better, he’s going to have to come up with some answers, or face charges.”
Murdoch’s mind reeled. He knew Scott couldn’t have done it. How could Val even think that? There was no way. He looked over at Johnny for reassurance, but Johnny just looked away.
Johnny rolled over on his hard bed and dully watched the ever-present cockroaches that were littering the wall. A small smile came to his lips as he wondered what Teresa would think of his present accommodations.
‘She’d probably think I deserve it.’
Obviously, his whole family did, or he would have heard from them. He really hadn’t expected them to visit him, not after the trial, but he had hoped they would at least write. Guess he couldn’t blame them, not really. He’d done a pretty good job of proving their initial mistrust of him, that’s for sure. He had worked so hard to make them trust him, and then he had destroyed it in an instant. It seemed like his whole life he had yearned for a home and a family. It was all he had ever really wanted. And at Lancer, he had finally found his dream – a beautiful home and loving family.
In those turbulent few months when he’d first arrived at the ranch, he had to keep reminding himself just what he had. Murdoch had seemed bound and determined to chase him away. He actually had a couple of times. But after Johnny had cooled down, he would think about what he would lose and what he could look forward to if he actually left. And he would swallow his pride and come back, vowing to try to do better. Gradually the Old Man had relented and started to give him the benefit of the doubt more and more. Their legendary battles had all but stopped and instead, to Johnny’s amazement, Murdoch had shown him a growing respect and trust. Why had he thrown it all away? Why? He closed his eyes and let his mind wander back to the past.
The trial had been delayed for quite some time because of Scott’s injury. The blow to his head had kept him unconscious for a week. They were beginning to doubt he would ever come out of it, but gradually, he had begun to rouse. Johnny had stayed at his side virtually the entire time. When Scott had finally started to come around, the whole family had heaved a sigh of relief. That relief was short lived.
Scott had seemed confused and disoriented. The possibility of permanent brain damage had seemed all too real. But once again, he had gradually improved, and although his thinking had returned to normal, his memory did not. The farther back in time events had occurred, the more clearly Scott could remember them. His memory was fairly clear up to several months back. The closer things were to the day of the attempted robbery, however, the cloudier his memory became. Any memory of the day in question, however, was totally, and apparently permanently, gone.
At the time, Johnny thought that might be a good thing. He hoped it wasn’t true, but he was afraid that if his brother remembered what really happened that day, it just might destroy him.
While Johnny stayed at Scott’s side, Murdoch and Val had run themselves ragged. They had talked to everyone in town, had followed up every lead, and still couldn’t change the facts:
Several witnesses had heard Scott make the comment about fixing it so he wouldn’t have to worry about money again, and Johnny had seen Scott go into the bank alone. No one had seen anyone else go in to the bank.
Ben insisted that no one else was in the bank when Scott entered. He was also fairly sure he had hit whoever had tried to rob him hard enough to knock that person out.
And, perhaps most damaging of all, after auditing the bank, it was found that the $3,000 found in the bag that Scott was holding was the amount missing from the bank.
Murdoch, Val, and Ben had gone over and over it. Ben had refused to come out and say that it was Scott who had tried to rob him. He knew how that statement would destroy his old friend. Besides having been boyhood friends that just happened to settle in the same place, Ben and Murdoch had a deep respect and trust for each other. They had helped each other more times than either man could count. In the beginning, when Murdoch was struggling to keep the ranch afloat, Ben had loaned him money to keep it going. He had also advanced him the “listening money” to bring his boys home, knowing how much it meant to him and how long Murdoch had been trying to achieve that goal. So Ben kept trying to come up with other possibilities for the crime. He knew how badly Murdoch would take it if his son were convicted. The problem was, nothing else made much sense.
The truth was, Ben probably hadn’t seen the attacker. The blow that had knocked him out had hit him in the nose and eyes, and Sam verified that Ben’s vision, at best, had been blurred immediately following the blow. The only thing Ben could say for sure was that Scott had come in to the bank and said he needed $3,000. Because of the size of the withdrawal, Ben had to go in to the vault to get the money. When he came out, someone had hit him. He remembered swinging around and hitting them back with the moneybag, but then he passed out. And come to think of it, Scott had never said anything about withdrawing the money, just that was the amount he needed.
Scott couldn’t remember why he had needed that much money. It seemed logical that if he had needed that amount of money for something specific, either Johnny or Murdoch would have known about it. No one knew anything. It seemed like it was a spur of the moment decision on Scott’s part, and that certainly didn’t look good.
After exhausting all other leads and every other possibility had been checked out and yielded nothing useful, Val had very reluctantly arrested Scott and notified the circuit judge.
Murdoch had hired the very best lawyer possible, and sworn to Scott that they would not only get him off, they would find the person that did it and make sure he was punished. As the trial progressed, however, the possibility of Scott’s release seemed more and more far-fetched. There just wasn’t any evidence that pointed to anyone but him. The prosecution made Scott’s amnesia look like a convenient excuse.
Johnny’s testimony certainly hadn’t helped matters, either. Just about every statement he made put Scott that much closer to prison. The worst part of it was that neither Murdoch nor Scott held it against him. His being the prosecution’s main witness ate at Johnny however. He knew Scott trusted him, and now he was betraying him in the worst possible way. If only he could point the blame at someone else. But no matter how much he thought about it, Scott’s conviction seemed like the only answer possible.
He hated to think about Scott going to prison. Just a few months previously, after a particularly bad nightmare, Scott had told him about some of his experiences in the prison camp during the war. Johnny had been in prison before too, but somehow the thought of his fastidious and proper brother having to endure the filth and inhumane conditions of a prison had hurt Johnny deeply. Even as Scott confessed he would rather die than go back to a place like that, Johnny had sworn to himself he would never let it happen. Not that there was much chance of it – his brother was the most honest and law-abiding man he knew. But now, because of Johnny, it looked like that was just where Scott was going to wind up.
The longer Johnny was in this place, the more he wondered why he’d done it. And if he’d just kept his big mouth shut, he’d be home right now, sitting by the fire and eating a big piece of one of Teresa’s chocolate cakes. Instead, he was in Hell. A cold Hell. Shivering, he tried to curl up to keep warm. But the stone walls and floor of his cell just sapped his body heat. Smiling slightly, he realized that at least he didn’t have to worry about the cockroaches and rats running over his body anymore. They were long gone. It hadn’t been the first time in his life they’d kept him alive.
The first year had been the hardest. He knew that any man with a reputation for toughness served hard time in any prison. From the beginning, the guards were out to break him, and the other cons were out to kill him. Both did their best to prove he wasn’t so tough. Before when he had been in prison, he’d fought tooth and nail against both. But in the back of his mind, he knew the only way out for him this time was to try to behave. So he had. But it was so hard. Any time prisoners got into a fight they were both punished severely. It didn’t matter who had started it, or if one con was just trying to defend himself. That first year, he had spent plenty of time in solitary, usually with some new whip marks on his back. After awhile though, the other prisoners learned that even though Johnny never started anything, he was the one left standing when it was over. Gradually the attacks stopped and even the guards had backed off a little.
Now his main fight was trying to stay in good enough shape so that he could last long enough to be released. Maybe if he could talk to his family they would let him come home. He really didn’t think they would welcome him back, but without even that shred of hope, he would have just given up and died. As it was, it was hard to keep trying. He was forced to work all day, in all kinds of weather, and then he was brought back to a tiny dark cell that never seemed to get warm. He had made himself eat the slop they called food, but by itself, it wasn’t enough to get by on. So he did what he had to do to survive, just like he always had. He knew he was gradually getting weaker, and he was starting to lose hope of ever getting out.
Johnny had thought that maybe he hadn’t been allowed visitors or letters that first year because he had been in trouble so much. But it had been several years now since he had been in any real trouble, and there had still been no word from his family. He had written them a few times, but there had been no response. At last he stopped when he finally realized how much they must hate him.
Remembering back to the trial, he couldn’t really blame them.
At the trial, the judge had looked down at Scott and told him he didn’t understand why an apparently wealthy young man had thrown his life away on a whim.
“I don’t know why you did this, young man. However, your council has presented evidence that you have never been in trouble before. Given that, and your outstanding military career, this court is inclined to be lenient. I hereby sentence you, Scott Lancer, to the State prison for 5 years.”
Johnny had glanced at his father as the sentence was read, and he was afraid that the big man was going to pass out. A quick look at Teresa told him that she had started crying. But it was when Johnny looked at Scott that he finally made up his mind. Scott was pale and looked totally lost. Johnny realized then that he just couldn’t let Scott continue to take the blame. He hesitated a second, realizing what it would mean for him. Then he took a deep breath.
“Wait!” Johnny looked squarely at the judge. He didn’t want to see the expressions on his family’s face when he said what he was going to say.
“Scott didn’t do anything”
The judge rapped the bench with his gavel.
“Young man, I believe we have covered all of this. Now sit down!”
“I ain’t goin’ to sit down, and you’re goin’ to hear the truth. Scott didn’t do it”.
After a hesitation, Johnny continued in a softer voice. “ I did.”
Johnny could hear a collective gasp from behind him. Then Scott intervened.
“Don’t Johnny, I know what you’re trying to do…..”
“You don’t know nothin’ Scott. I’m tellin’ the truth. I’m sorry. I never meant for you to get hurt. I just needed the money. When you wouldn’t lend me any, I got desperate. I figured I could get away with it. I waited till you left the bank, then went in and knocked old Ben out.” He glanced over at Ben, who was watching him with open- mouthed amazement. “Sorry Ben, but I had to.”
Scott still wouldn’t buy it. “ Johnny….”
“Let me finish Scott. I didn’t count on you comin’ back into the bank. I don’t know why no one saw you leave or come back in after me. Guess it was just luck. But when you came back in, I panicked. Didn’t mean to hit you so hard. I guess I was just nervous and scared. After I hit you, I was on my way out with the money when I saw Sam comin’. I didn’t know what to do, I panicked, and I put the bag in your hand. I knew there was no one else around to blame, except you and me. I’m sorry, Scott. I just couldn’t face goin’ back to prison.” Johnny hung his head. He couldn’t look at anyone.
“I’m sorry,” He whispered again, to no one in particular. He finally dragged his eyes up to look at his brother.
“Scott, I would’ve gone and gotten Sam for you if he hadn’t walked in. Honest. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry! You’ve got to believe me! Please Scott! I never would have done it if I’d thought you’d get hurt.” Please believe me! I didn’t mean for it to happen that way! I’m sorry.” Johnny was literally begging, and the tears in his eyes were all too real.
It was the pleading that finally convinced Scott. He felt like he was going to be sick.
Johnny saw Scott’s expression change from doubt to belief to devastation, and felt his own heart break. “I’m sorry.” He murmured once again.
“QUIT SAYING THAT! I don’t want to hear it again. In fact, I don’t want to hear anything from you again! I trusted you! I trusted you more than I’ve ever trusted anyone!” Scott turned and nearly ran from the room, slamming the door as he left.
Johnny finally looked at his father. “I’m Sorry.”
Without expression, Murdoch looked a long time at the son he’d tried so hard to find. The son he’d found too late. Hardening his heart, he turned and followed Scott out the door.
“Teresa? Johnny’s voice was quivering now.
Teresa broke into sobs and followed her family.
As he watched Jelly leave without a word, Johnny felt Val come up beside him. Val grabbed his wrists and snapped the handcuffs on, then slipped Johnny’s gun from its holster.
The judge continued on as if nothing had happened. As if Johnny’s world hadn’t just collapsed.
“And with you, young man, I am not inclined to be lenient. What you did was inexcusable. You not only attacked your own brother, you purposely tried to get him convicted of a crime you committed. I hereby sentence you, John Lancer…”
Johnny interrupted him. “It ain’t Lancer.”
The judge didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
Johnny managed a wan smile at Val before answering. “No sense draggin’ their name down.”
He looked back up at the judge. “It’s Madrid.”
Comprehension dawned in the judge’s face. “You’re Johnny Madrid?”
Johnny simply nodded.
“If I could add time on to your sentence, believe me, I would. As it is, I hereby sentence you to eight years of hard labor in the State prison. To be carried out immediately.”
He felt Val’s hand grab his arm as the judges gavel fell.
That first night, in Val’s jail, Johnny didn’t think he’d ever felt more alone. Even Val had been distant and cold. He’d shoved Johnny’s dinner under the bars without one word, then turned and left. Even when Johnny was hiring out, he had never felt this awful loneliness in his heart. He tried to go to sleep, but his mind wouldn’t stop reliving the worst day of his life. He kept seeing his family’s expressions. After an hour or so of tossing and turning, he had finally given up and stood leaning against the barred window, looking towards home. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he kept hoping he would see Murdoch or Scott or at least Jelly riding back to see him.
The next morning, he was still standing there, looking towards the ranch. He told himself they wouldn’t ride at night, that they’d wait till it was light. A few hours later, he told himself they’d probably have breakfast first, and maybe do a chore or two. By afternoon, he’d convinced himself that they would be there after their chores were done. By that evening, the truth finally began to sink in. They weren’t going to come see him. They really had washed their hands of him. And when Val slipped the handcuffs on him the next morning in preparation for his ride to prison, he finally realized that he probably would never see his family again.
Murdoch wrestled with the letter another day before he realized that whatever decision was to be made, he would have to make with the help of his family. If it were just up to him, he would bring Johnny home. He didn’t know if he could ever trust the boy again, but no matter how angry and disappointed he was with him, he couldn’t stand the thought of Johnny being in that prison. He knew what prisons were like for men like Johnny.
To tell the truth, he was a little surprised Johnny was still alive. More surprising was the fact that he had somehow managed to stay out of trouble long enough to be eligible for an early release. Maybe he had finally grown up. If that were the case, he deserved another chance. But he didn’t want to give him that chance if it meant destroying the family he had now. He knew how devastated Scott had been, and still was. He had stood outside Scott’s door the night of the trial, listening as his son had wept, his heart broken. Judging from the sounds coming from Teresa’s room, Scott wasn’t the only one. He had stood there, uncertainly, but in the end, he shuffled in to his own room, where the noise of his desolation joined those of his family.
Scott had changed that day. He had become colder and more aloof. Although still scrupulously polite, he had a hard edge to him. Gone was the teasing and bantering that had filled Murdoch’s heart with joy. He became more cynical, more serious, and oh so much more unwilling to trust. Murdoch only knew that part of Scott had closed off, and nothing that he or Teresa did would open him back up. Murdoch didn’t know if seeing his brother again would help Scott, or push him further away from them all. Murdoch decided to try to find out after dinner.
After shoving his dinner around on his plate for the required amount of time, he stood up.
“Scott, Teresa, I have something I need to discuss with both of you. Please come in to the other room.”
As they all walked in to the comfortable Great Room, he stopped and poured himself a drink. Looking nervously at both of them, he took the plunge.
“I have thought about this a lot, but can’t make up my mind.” He stopped and took a sip from his glass.
“Scott, would you like one?”
Scott had had enough of his father’s strange behavior. He had been acting nervous all day, and now it seemed as if he was afraid to tell them what was bothering him. “Murdoch for goodness sakes, spit it out. You’re acting like it’s the end of the world.”
Murdoch didn’t even change expression.
Now Teresa was frightened. “Murdoch. Please, tell us. You’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry honey. There’s no reason for you to be frightened.” Murdoch’s voice softened and he took another swallow of his drink. He finally spoke.
“I got a letter the other day.”
“Go on” Scott prompted.
Murdoch took another huge swallow of his drink and looked away from Scott.
“It’s from the State Correctional Department.”
Teresa immediately started to cry. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“What? No sweetheart, he’s not dead. He’ll be eligible for parole soon.” Murdoch glanced at Scott before continuing. “They want to know if we’ll be responsible for him if they release him early.”
Teresa’s face lit up “He’s coming home?”
“NO! I don’t want him here!” Scott slammed his hand against the chair.
Both Teresa and Murdoch turned to look at Scott.
“Son, I know you’re angry with your brother, but….
“He’s not my brother! My brother died that day in the courtroom.”
“Scott, don’t. You know you still care.”
“CARE? CARE? Did he care about me? He almost killed me! And if that weren’t bad enough, he let me go through that hell of believing that I had done it somehow! I TRUSTED him with my life! And he betrayed me! Why should I care about him?”
Scott was pacing angrily back and forth in front of Murdoch.
Murdoch stood up and approached Scott.
“Because he’s your brother, Scott. You can’t just stop caring because you want to.”
“You did!” Scott spat back.
“No, son, I didn’t. I just thought that Johnny needed to learn a hard lesson.”
Teresa intervened. “Murdoch if you really cared, why didn’t you even answer his letters or at least let me write him?”
“I don’t know, maybe I was wrong. I know I was angry and hurt too. I felt like he had betrayed us all.”
He looked at Teresa. “I was even angrier when I heard you crying over him at night. He almost destroyed our family. I couldn’t forgive him for that.”
“And now you can?” Scott was looking at him in disbelief. “He tore all of our hearts out, and I, for one, am not going to give him a chance to do it again.”
“I don’t know how I feel towards him. But if he’s eligible for parole, he must have been doing his best to stay out of trouble. Maybe he deserves a second chance.”
Scott was still upset. “He got a second chance when he came here, remember? How many chances are you planning on giving him?”
“And what if he really has changed, Scott. Do you think he should still stay in prison?”
“That’s just the point. We don’t know if he’s changed. And if we get him out, we won’t know if he hasn’t until he betrays us again. Are you willing to take that chance? What if it’s Teresa he hurts next time?”
Teresa immediately jumped up and faced Scott.
“Scott Lancer, you know Johnny would never hurt me!”
Scott looked at her sadly, and then he said quietly “I didn’t think he would hurt me either. I was wrong. I’ve never been so wrong about anything in my life.”
Teresa laid her hand on Scott’s arm. “And what if you’re wrong now. What if Johnny has changed?”
Scott pulled away from Teresa. “He still committed the crime, and he deserves to serve the rest of his time.”
Murdoch couldn’t believe those were Scott’s true feelings.
“You’ve been in prison, Scott. You know what it’s like. Do you really mean to tell me you’d let Johnny stay in there if we could get him out?”
Scott calmed down a little bit and hung his head. Taking a deep breath, he finally spoke.
“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
His voice became hard. “But I don’t want him here. There has to be someone else who would be willing to take responsibility.”
Murdoch shook his head. There isn’t Scott, and you know it. We are the only family Johnny has.”
Scott had an idea. “What about Val?”
Murdoch shook his head. “No son. Val doesn’t have the time to watch Johnny. He has his hands full keeping the peace in town.”
“And we have time to baby sit him?”
“There are plenty of people here to take turns watching him. You, me, Cipriano, even Jelly.”
Scott immediately put a stop to that. “Leave me out of it. I want nothing to do with him if he comes here. And if you think Jelly is capable of keeping an eye on Johnny, you’re out of your mind.”
Murdoch took another drink. At least now Scott was saying if Johnny came home.
“Son, I don’t know what’s right. I don’t know if Johnny’s changed, and if he has, if it’s even for the better. Prison can do strange things to a man. I do know I would never do anything to cause you or Teresa or Jelly any harm.”
“And how will you know that won’t happen?
Murdoch turned and looked out the massive windows.
“I don’t know it, Scott, not for sure. But if I think there’s any possibility of that when I see him, I won’t bring him back.”
“Murdoch, how can you know? Scott’s eyes were pleading. “I trusted Johnny completely. I would have sworn he would never hurt me, or any of us, yet he did. And I’m not talking about physically. He had us all fooled.”
Murdoch turned and stared at his older son. “Do you want me to tear up this letter? Do you want me to leave him where he’s at? I’m going to leave it up to you.”
Teresa immediately turned to Scott “Scott, you can’t leave him in that place, you just can’t.”
Scott just shook his head again. “I don’t want him here.”
“Let me finish. I don’t want him here, but I don’t want him in prison, either.” He heaved a deep sigh. “I just wish he could go somewhere else.”
Scott looked out the window. “But since he can’t, I’ll agree to it, but on one condition.” He looked expectantly at his father.
“Go on, son.”
“I don’t want to have to talk to him. I don’t even want to see him. I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I’m NEVER going to let him get close enough to hurt me again.”
Scott turned and started for the stairs. “I mean it, Murdoch. I don’t want him around me.”
Murdoch slowly nodded. “I think that can be arranged.”
Scott stopped and looked at his father.
“I hope you’re right about this, for all of our sakes. If you’re not, and he does anything to hurt anyone on this ranch, I’ll never forgive you.”
As Scott made his way up the stairs, Murdoch whispered, “Do you think I’d forgive myself?”
There was a fine drizzle in the air. For once, it wasn’t too hot or too cold, but the fine mist stuck to his clothes and turned the dirt on his body to mud.
‘Man, what I wouldn’t give to get cleaned up’ Johnny thought. He’d always made fun of Scott for taking so many baths, but he thought if he ever got out, he just might live in a tub for a month or so.
“Madrid!” One of the guards walked towards him.
Johnny turned and faced him, being careful not to make any other move.
“Come with me. Warden Taylor wants to see you.”
Without a word Johnny dropped the hammer and started toward the warden’s office.
About 100 feet from the office, they approached another small building. As they got close, the guard gave him a shove. “Inside.”
Johnny ducked inside the shack, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He didn’t know what this was all about, but he could just about bet that he wasn’t going to like it.
“Take off your shirt.” Another guard’s voice broke the silence.
Johnny slowly did as he was told, wondering what was going on.
As soon as he had gotten the shirt off, the freezing water hit him, taking his breath away. He tried to turn away, but it didn’t matter where he turned, the pails of water kept hitting him. Even as he was trying to avoid the constant barrage, a small smile appeared on his face.
‘Be careful what you wish for’ he thought.
Finally the onslaught ended, and he was pushed down into a chair.
“Warden Taylor says we got to clean you up, boy.”
The first guard grabbed Johnny’s chin and turned his face towards him, as the second one grabbed his arms and pulled them behind him. He felt the rough scratch of the knife as it removed his beard. He was careful not to look the guard in the eyes, knowing that would be enough excuse for the man to “slip” with the knife.
When the shave was finally over, the guard lopped some of Johnny’s hair off, then stood back as if admiring his work.
The second guard tossed Johnny a clean shirt “Put this on and hurry up.”
Johnny chanced a reply. “How about some clean pants, too?”
All he got for his effort was a shove.
“No way, Madrid. Those leg irons ain’t comin’ off. Now get that shirt on. Now!”
As soon as his shirt was on, Johnny was pushed back out the door.
“Come on, Madrid, you don’t want to keep the warden waitin’ do you?”
Johnny still didn’t know what was going on. The other times he’d been called in to Warden Taylor’s office, he’d been in big trouble. He guessed he could be this time, too, although for what he didn’t know. But it didn’t take much to be in trouble in this place. He couldn’t figure out why they cleaned him up though.
He shuffled up the steps to the office, then opened the door and went in. Turning to the left, he started towards the warden’s office. The guard grabbed his arm and pushed him towards another door.
Johnny entered a small room he had never seen before. It was totally bare, except for a couple of chairs and a small table.
The guard shoved him towards one of the chairs. “Sit down and give me your right hand.
Johnny held up his hand, and felt the familiar bite of metal on his wrist. The guard attached the other end of the short chain to a ring on the heavy chair. When he was done, the guard turned and left the room.
Johnny looked around him for some clue about what was going on. The many times he’d been in the warden’s office, he’d always been hauled into the other room. And one memorable time, he’d been dragged there, nearly unconscious. He couldn’t remember how he’d left that time, but he hadn’t been awake, that’s for sure.
He heard the door open and turned to face whatever was coming.
His heart felt as if it had stopped. “Murdoch” he breathed.
Johnny drank in the sight of his father as Murdoch slowly approached the table and sat down.
Johnny swallowed hard. He had to know. “Is everyone O.K.?”
Murdoch looked at his bedraggled son, and shook his head in amazement at the question. “Yes, Johnny, everyone’s fine.”
Johnny dropped his head in relief. “I’ve missed everyone.”
At Murdoch’s silence, he looked up and a small quirky grin appeared.
“Guess you haven’t missed me much, huh?”
“That’s not true, Johnny.”
Johnny stared at Murdoch for a moment. “Why’d you come?”
It was Murdoch’s turn to drop his head. “I’m not sure.”
Johnny remained silent and let his father get his thoughts together.
“I received the letter from the State, about your possible parole.” One glance at Johnny’s startled face told Murdoch that his son knew nothing about it.
“My parole?” Johnny whispered.
“Yes. They wanted to know if we would sign for your release – be responsible for you if you got out.”
Johnny couldn’t look at his father as he asked the question “And what did you tell them?’
The silence was deafening. Johnny swallowed hard, prepared to beg if he had to. “Murdoch, please, I promise I’ll be good.”
Murdoch’s heart gave a sudden lurch. He remembered a dark haired toddler pleading to go with him on a cattle drive. Making the same promise then.
“Johnny, it isn’t up to just me.”
Johnny knew immediately what the problem was. “He hates me, doesn’t he?”
Murdoch decided to be honest. “I don’t know. I do know that he was deeply hurt. We all were.”
Johnny closed his eyes. “Murdoch, I never meant for any of you to be hurt. I promise I’ll never do anything to hurt any of you again.”
“Why did you do it, Johnny?”
Johnny hung his head once more. “I don’t know. It was stupid.”
“But why? If you needed money that bad, you could have come to me.”
Johnny laughed a little at this. “Sure. And you would have just handed it over, right? I did ask for an advance – remember? I told you it was important. Remember your response? You gave me a lecture on responsibility. Told me I’d better stop foolin’ around and get my priorities straight. Told me you weren’t goin’ to bankroll my bad habits.” He dropped his head once again.
Murdoch closed his eyes. He knew it was true. “I’m sorry, John.”
Johnny jerked his head up. “Don’t be blamin’ yourself for my mistake, Old Man. It ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”
Murdoch looked at his son and came to a decision.
“Johnny, if we agree to get you out, there will be some rules. Some are from the parole board, and some are mine. If we get you out, they will be followed. There’s to be no argument. ”
Johnny nodded his head. “What kind of rules?”
“You won’t be allowed to leave Lancer for any reason. You won’t be allowed to handle any kind of weapon, and…..” Here he hesitated.
“Go on” Johnny prompted.
“At night, and any time an armed man can’t be with you, you are to be locked up.”
Johnny looked evenly at his father. “Don’t remember ever hearin’ that last part bein’ part of a parole agreement.”
Murdoch looked Johnny in the eyes. “It is.”
Johnny studied the top of the table intently. “Anything else?”
“Johnny, I’ll be honest. Scott doesn’t want you at the ranch. He made me promise that he wouldn’t have to be around you at all.”
“So how’re you goin’ to manage that?”
“You’ll stay in the guardhouse, not in the estancia.”
Johnny’s voice took on a sarcastic tone. “You goin’ to have me breakin’ rocks too?”
Murdoch stood up as his temper flared. “Believe me, you will work. If I had any sense I wouldn’t get you out at all. WE are RESPONSIBLE if you decide to take off. If they found us negligent, we could serve jail time or even lose the ranch. If you think I’m going to trust you without your earning it again you are wrong. I’m getting you out because I can’t stand the thought of you being in this hellhole any longer. But things are not going to just go back to the way they were. You have to EARN the right to be treated like one of the family again. And if you won’t agree to those rules, and if you won’t give me your word that you’ll behave, then you can stay here. And another thing. If you give me any trouble, if you try to take off, if you don’t work, anything at all, I WILL send you back here, is that clear?”
Johnny’s head had bent lower and lower as his father’s tirade went on. All the fight had gone out of him.
He answered him without even looking up. “It’s clear, Murdoch. I promise I’ll behave. Please, I just want to go home.”
Johnny stepped down off of the bay gelding and stood waiting to be told what to do. He was glad Murdoch had finally called a halt for the night, as he didn’t think he could ride one more mile. His aching muscles reminded him that it had been four years since he’d been on a horse. The trip so far had been spent mostly in silence. Murdoch acted like he didn’t know what to say to him, and he was just too tired to think about carrying on a conversation. He was hurting, too. He knew that his family was mad at him, but he wasn’t prepared for the venomous assault that his father had launched at the prison. It pretty much told him how the next few years were going to go. And to tell the truth, he just didn’t know if he had the strength anymore to handle their hate. A small smile appeared on his lips. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so all fired quick to agree to being paroled. At least in prison, the only thing they could hurt was his body.
Murdoch dismounted and pulled the rifle from his scabbard.
“Johnny, why don’t you unsaddle the horses and I’ll get the fire going?”
Johnny turned and started undoing the cinch of the horse he’d been riding. When it was loose, he grabbed the saddle by the horn and heaved it over his shoulder, thinking it sure would be a lot easier if the Old Man would take the shackles off his wrists.
After a silent dinner of beans and jerky, Johnny leaned back against the upturned saddle and closed his eyes. He couldn’t stand the way Murdoch kept watching him, like he was just waiting for him to try something. ‘Probably hoping I will, just to give him an excuse to haul me back to that place.” He snorted. “Or shoot me more likely. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about it.”
He had just dozed off when Murdoch’s voice brought him back to awareness. He looked up and saw Murdoch standing just above him, holding something that was all too familiar.
“Johnny, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to put these on you.”
After looking at Murdoch for a second, Johnny dropped his eyes, then obediently held out his foot and watched as his father attached the hated shackle to his ankle, then secured the other end to a small sapling by his foot. As the metal bit into his flesh, he looked up at his father, but his father wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Give me your hands.” Murdoch produced a key and slipped the chains off of his wrists. Johnny rubbed his wrists for a minute then lay back down with his back to Murdoch.
It took a long time for either man to fall asleep, each of them wrestling with regrets of the past and fears of what the future would bring.
Several hours later, Johnny awoke. The pain from the too –tight shackle was getting worse. Slowly he sat up and rubbed his leg to try to move the chain a little, but it wouldn’t budge. Johnny knew from experience that the guards in prison would tighten up a chain if a prisoner were acting up. The pain would make a man think twice about any sudden moves. He couldn’t believe Murdoch had done it to him, especially since he’d been doing his darnedest to cooperate. He thought about waking him up and asking him to loosen it, but he wasn’t going to beg. Sighing, he lay back down and tried to go to sleep.
The morning dawned warm and bright, but Johnny was in no mood to enjoy it. Any movement at all of his foot caused a knife sharp pain to shoot up his leg. He heard Murdoch rummaging around and starting the coffee, but he kept his eyes closed and didn’t move.
As soon as Murdoch was done, he decided to wake Johnny up. “John.”
When he got no response, he went over and stood next to the still form and nudged his foot with the tip of his boot. “Johnny!”
The response was immediate. Johnny lunged to his feet with a yelp and stood glaring at his father.
Murdoch stared at him in surprise as Johnny launched a verbal attack
“You enjoyin’ yourself? Tell me, why’d you get me out old man? So you could punish me some more? Didn’t think I’d had it hard enough in that prison?”
Murdoch was totally confused. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothin’ Johnny spat.
“You answer me boy!”
“I said nothin’!”
Murdoch came over and grabbed Johnny’s arm.
“Don’t touch me!” Johnny shoved Murdoch back, causing both men to lose their balance. Before Johnny could recover from the pain shooting up his leg, he found himself staring at the business end of Murdoch’s rifle.
Both men stared at each other until Johnny finally lowered his head. “Take me back.”
Johnny’s voice was perfectly flat. “Take me back.”
Murdoch was stunned. “Why?”
Johnny still hadn’t looked up. “I can’t do this.”
“Can’t do what Johnny?”
Johnny exploded. “I can’t take your hate, I can’t take your distrust, I can’t take you lookin’ at me like I’m some animal just waitin’ to attack. Take your pick. At least in prison I could fight back.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “How can I fight back against someone I can’t bring myself to hurt? Please, Murdoch, take me back.”
Johnny slumped down against the tree. “Please Murdoch. It’s not going to work.”
Murdoch approached Johnny slowly, and started to touch his arm. As he did, his foot touched the chain. Johnny turned away with a hiss of pain.
“What’s wrong with your leg?”
Murdoch looked down and saw a red stain darkening Johnny’s pant just above his ankle. “Sit down.”
Johnny hesitated, and Murdoch repeated the command.
Finally Johnny sank to the ground.
Murdoch pulled up his pant leg, and gasped at the angry wound. He carefully undid the chain and threw it to the side.
Johnny kept his eyes glued on his father. “Sure you want to get this close to me without me wearin’ a chain? I mean I might try to bite your head off or something.”
Starting to lose his temper, Murdoch ground out “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Murdoch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “So I could loosen it!”
Johnny snorted. “What and take away all your fun?”
“You think I did this on purpose? Murdoch bellowed.
At the silence that greeted him, Murdoch glanced up into Johnny’s face. The pain and sadness there just about took his breath away. But worse was the total resignation in his eyes. Eyes that used to sparkle with mischief and now seemed so dead.
“You do, don’t you?” He whispered. “My God, Johnny, how can you think that? But even as he said it, Murdoch knew.
As Murdoch cleaned and wrapped the wound, neither man said a word, but Murdoch was thinking about everything that had happened, everything that had been said. When he was done, he sat down in front of Johnny and tried to get his thoughts together.
“Johnny, I would never do something like that on purpose. I got you out of that place because I didn’t want to see you punished anymore. I didn’t want to see you hurt anymore. You’ve paid for what you did. I would never do something that cruel. I didn’t know it was too tight. Do you believe me?”
After a pause, there was a slight nod from Johnny, but he still wouldn’t look up.
Murdoch kept his voice soft. “Johnny, I don’t want to see you punished anymore, and I’m not going to let anyone hurt you, but I can’t just forget what happened. I can’t treat you like you want to be treated. Not until you’ve proven you deserve it. I’m responsible for you. I took a big gamble when I signed that paper saying I’d be responsible for you. I’m not going to take a chance on losing everything because I made a mistake. Do you understand?”
Again, Johnny nodded without looking up. “I gave you my word I’d be good.”
Murdoch closed his eyes. “I know you did, but…”
“But you don’t trust me, do you?”
“You’re going to have to earn that trust, Johnny.”
Johnny asked the question he had to know. “Do you think I’d hurt any of you?”
Murdoch’s answer surprised even himself. “No. At least not physically. But what happened HAS hurt all of us Johnny, and I’m not going to let it happen again.”
Johnny’s voice was just a whisper “Will you ever trust me again?”
Murdoch shook his head. “I’ll be honest son, I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to take it one day at a time. I’ll try to make sure it’s not so bad. I promised your brother that you wouldn’t stay in the house, and I’m going to keep that promise. But I’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. You’re not going to get punished unless you deserve it, and I’m not going to expect you to work harder than any of the other hands.”
Johnny looked into his father’s eyes. “Is that all I am, a hired hand?”
Murdoch sighed. “I hope not, Johnny.”
It was Johnny’s turn to sigh. “You still goin’ to keep me locked up?”
Murdoch slowly nodded. “For awhile. We’ll see how it goes.”
Johnny was silent for a few moments, thinking about everything his father had said. Then he grinned slightly. “Can I have a hot bath once in awhile?”
Murdoch laughed outright. “That sounds like something Scott would ask.”
Johnny’s face immediately darkened. “Murdoch, is there any chance at all Scott’ll be my brother again?”
Murdoch looked down. “I don’t know, Johnny. I hope there is. You’re going to have to give him some time.”
Johnny looked down and mumbled, “I already gave him four years.”
“I know, but maybe after he talks to you, he can forgive you.”
“Don’t you mean if he talks to me?”
Murdoch stood up and reached down to grab Johnny’s hand. “You ready to go home?”
Johnny gave his father a long, searching look, trying to find an answer in his eyes. At last he clasped his father’s hand and stood up. “Yeah. I’ve been ready for a long time.”
Murdoch reached down and picked up the chains that were on the ground and turned towards Johnny.
Johnny tensed, and then with head down started to walk slowly towards his father.
Murdoch watched him for a moment, and then stuffed the chains in the saddlebag. “You give me your word?”
Johnny looked back at him and nodded. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘cept home.”
The two men rode into the courtyard and dismounted. Johnny was surprised at the emotion he felt upon seeing Lancer again. Even Dewdrop’s strident squawking was a welcome reminder that he was home.
“Johnny!” He turned and watched the pretty young lady run towards him. As she got closer she hesitated, and Johnny glanced over at his father. Given a slight nod, he held his arms out, and she ran into them.
“Oh Johnny, I missed you so much.”
Johnny kissed the top of her head, the pulled back to look at her. “Boy you’re all grown up.”
Teresa blushed, then hugged him again and started to cry. “I worried about you.”
A sad smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I thought you might write me.”
She sniffled and dropped her eyes. “I should have, but I…..” She took a quick glance at Murdoch and Johnny knew why she hadn’t.
Giving her arm a pat he gave her a weak grin. “It’s O.K. honey. Don’t cry.”
Teresa managed a small smile. “I made a chocolate cake for you.”
This time Johnny’s smile was real. “I was countin’ on it!”
Murdoch interrupted “Come on, Johnny. Lets get you settled.”
Teresa grabbed Murdoch’s arm and looked into his eyes “Murdoch….”
Her guardian shook his head. “No, Teresa. Now go on inside.”
The girl turned a teary glance at Johnny.
Johnny gave her another smile. “Go on honey, it’s all right.”
Johnny followed his father into the guardhouse. As Murdoch opened the heavy door, Johnny took a deep breath and forced himself to go inside, telling himself it couldn’t be as bad as his cell in prison. When he got in, he looked around in surprise. What he remembered as a cold, bare cell had been transformed. There was a brightly colored rug on the floor, a comfortable looking bed and a small table and chair. Sitting on the table were a lantern, a pitcher of water and a bowl of fruit. There was even a bookshelf with a few books.
Johnny turned and looked at his father. ‘Thanks.”
Murdoch smiled slightly and shook his head. “ You need to thank Teresa and Jelly. They’re the ones that did this. I only told them to get a bed in here.”
Johnny turned and faced Murdoch with a worried look “You goin’ to be mad at ‘em?”
Murdoch chuckled. “I don’t know, I might be. That rug looks suspiciously like the one from my room.”
Johnny relaxed and sat down on the bed.
Murdoch turned to go. “Dinner should be in an hour or so.”
But when the door closed, Johnny realized that no matter how nice they’d tried to make it, it was still a cell.
The next morning, Murdoch brought Johnny his breakfast and sat down in the chair. “You up to working today?” At Johnny’s nod, he continued, “I thought you could work with Cipriano. He’s going to start working on that bridge in the east pasture.”
Murdoch lowered his eyes. You know he’s got to check up on other projects if the men doing them run into any snags.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“If he has to leave you….Well, I’m giving him the shackles.”
Johnny’s heart dropped. He thought he’d seen the last of those hated things.
“Murdoch, please, don’t humiliate me like that. I’m not goin’ to try anything.”
Murdoch looked into his son’s tortured blue eyes and relented slightly. “I’ll tell Cipriano to use his judgment. But he’ll have them just in case.”
It had been six weeks since Johnny had arrived home, and things had settled down to a routine. Murdoch would bring Johnny his breakfast in the morning, and maybe talk for a while, and then Cipriano would come pick him up for the day’s work. After work was over, Cipriano would lock him back up in the guardhouse, and usually be the one to bring him his dinner, knowing Johnny appreciated the spicy food his wife prepared. After that, he would be left alone with his thoughts till the following morning.
Cipriano made sure he worked hard, but he was fair. And so far, Johnny had managed to avoid the chains the Segundo kept in his saddlebags. It hurt Johnny, though, at the aloofness that his old friend showed. Cipriano kept conversation to a minimum, and then kept it strictly on business. Everyone seemed uncomfortable with him. The only one that didn’t seem the least bit cold was Teresa, who managed to sneak him a piece of cake or some other goody at least a couple of times a week. Jelly would come in and talk to him frequently, and had even played a few games of checkers with him, but the familiar teasing and bantering was strained.
The one he wanted to see the most, however, was conspicuously absent. He’d seen Scott once or twice from a distance, but Scott had never even looked his way.
“Damn it!” Johnny swore as the rope gave away once again. He and Cipriano were trying to clear a gully before the rains came and flooded the ravine. And from the looks of the sky, they didn’t have much time. They had yanked out most of the brush yesterday, but had been forced to return this morning because of a big old dead tree that just refused to budge. It had fallen over and was lying on its side, but the deep roots refused to give up their hold on the earth. It’s large splayed branches would be sure to catch any debris floating by, and if they couldn’t get it out, a flood was almost sure to occur. That was the third rope that had broken, frayed by the stump’s rough surface.
Johnny took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his eyes. The humidity from the waiting storm made it feel like he was working in an oven. “Boy, I hope Lucia’s makin’ somethin’ good for dinner tonight, I’m goin’ to be starved .”
Cipriano stood staring at the stump for a moment, then shook his head. “Sorry Juanito, my wife is visiting her relatives. We are on our own for dinner!” The older man stood a moment longer, then he began to grin. “I have an idea.” He walked over to where his horse was waiting, then reached in and took out the chains.
Johnny watched him warily, but then he realized what Cipriano had in mind, and laughed.
“Good. That old stump deserves to wear them chains for all the trouble it’s caused us!”
The base was too big around for the chain to fit, so Johnny helped the Segundo fasten the chain around one of the huge branches. Then he knotted another rope to the chain. “All right, somethin’s got to give this time!”
Johnny got on his horse, and then he wrapped the rope around the horn. “Ready?”
“Si, Juanito, go ahead.”
Johnny urged the horse forward as the rope tightened. He continued to encourage the straining horse, but nothing was happening. Cipriano leaned over and grabbed at a piece of root to help loosen it. All of a sudden, Johnny heard something give with a snap. He turned around and saw that part of the root and finally given way, but the smile died on his lips as he saw a thin piece of the broken root imbedded in Cipriano’s chest.
Johnny leapt off of his horse and ran back, grabbing the man just as he collapsed. As he fell, the slender piece of wood came out, causing a torrent of blood. Johnny quickly took off his own shirt and used it to try to stop the bleeding. After a few seconds, he knew the bleeding was not going to stop and his friend needed medical attention fast. The problem was, he didn’t know how he was going to get the big man on a horse at the same time he was trying to staunch the flow of blood.
Grabbing Cipriano’s gun out of its holster, he fired a shot into the air, then a few seconds later a second and then a third.
He had just about decided he would have to try to get him to the doctor himself when he heard the rider approach.
The two men stared at each other for a moment, and then Scott jumped off of his horse and ran to Cipriano. “How many times did you shoot him?” Scott growled.
Johnny stepped back as if from a physical blow. “You think I’d shoot him? If you’d take the time to look, you’d see he’s been stabbed…….
“Fine,” Scott cut in. “How many times did you stab him?”
Johnny looked at him in disbelief, then his voice turned hard. “Think what you want. You will anyway. The main thing is, he needs a doctor, and soon. Now are you going to help him, or are you going to take time to lynch me first?”
Scott scowled at Johnny, then angrily turned back towards Cipriano, catching sight of another rider approaching as he did. “Frank, hurry up. We need help down here.” Scott yelled at the man.
As Frank started down the incline, Scott turned back to Johnny. “I thought he was your friend. I guess he made the same mistake we all made and trusted you.”
Johnny launched himself at Scott and they both went flying. Scott landed on the bottom, but before Johnny could press his advantage he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed to the back of his head.
“Make one move, Madrid, and you’re a dead man.”
With a poisonous look at Johnny, Scott quickly scrambled to his feet “Thanks, Frank. Help me get Cipriano on to my horse, and then you’re going to have to help me get him to the Doc’s. We’re a lot closer to town than we are the hacienda.”
Johnny turned and talked towards his horse.
“Just where do you think you’re going, BOY?
“I’m going back to the ranch and let them know what happened, BROTHER.”
Scott walked towards Johnny. “Oh no you’re not. You’re staying right here. You can’t wander around loose, and I don’t have time to take you back to the ranch.”
“What are you going to do Scott? Tie me up?
Scott looked around, and spying the chain that was still securely locked around the huge branch, he walked over and picked it up. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do BROTHER.”
Frank still had his gun pointed at Johnny. “ Get over there and hurry up. We need to get going.”
With a lethal glare at his older brother, Johnny stalked over to the branch. “Just goin’ to leave me here all night? It’s goin’ to rain soon, in case you hadn’t noticed. Not that you’d care.”
Scott clasped the open shackle on to Johnny’s leg. “Don’t worry. I’ll send someone back to the ranch to let them know you’re here. In the meantime, you won’t melt. The storm is hours away. You’ll be back at the ranch before it breaks.”
Johnny watched as Frank and Scott wrestled Cipriano’s limp form onto the horse and then rode away without a glance.
He sat down to wait and watched the distant lightning streak across the sky and shivered. “He could have least left me a shirt’ he groused.
Scott and Frank rode into town and went straight to Doc Jenkins’. Scott wasn’t sure how he had supported Cipriano’s weight for the last hour, but he was sure his arms would have fallen off if it’d been much longer. Frank had ridden alongside in case his arms had given out, but his help had not been needed. By holding the wadded up shirt on the wound, Scott had managed to slow the bleeding to a trickle, but his friend had still lost a lot of blood. He hoped that didn’t mean there wasn’t any blood left to lose. Frank helped him get Cirpriano down off of the horse, then ran up to the steps and pounded on Doc Jenkin’s door.
The doctor came out of the back room and motioned them inside. “Put him on the exam table.”
Scott eased the unconscious Segundo up on to the table and answered the doctor’s silent question. “He’s been stabbed.” As Doc Jenkins closed the door and started to work on the Segundo, Scott turned back to Frank, “Ride on back to the ranch and tell Murdoch about Cipriano and tell him where Johnny is. And hurry up; it’ll be dark soon.”
Scott watched Frank leave, then walked in to the outer room and sank down in an oversized chair to wait.
As the time dragged on, Scott began to replay the day’s events. He knew Johnny hadn’t attacked Cipriano, or he wouldn’t have fired the pre-arranged distress signal. And if he really had attacked him, Johnny would have been long gone. Scott had known from the beginning it had been an accident, but he had been so angry he didn’t care. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from acting the way he did, and he didn’t know why.
Why had the sight of Johnny set him off like that? When he had come over the top of the ridge and seen Johnny and the injured man, he had felt nothing but anger. He shook his head. That anger had overridden every other thought, even concern for Cipriano. He supposed part of it was the surprise of seeing Johnny unexpectedly, after so purposely trying to avoid him. Ever since Johnny had arrived, Scott would find out where his brother would be working, then head in the opposite direction. This morning however, he had gotten up late, and hadn’t stopped to find out where he was. Murdoch had asked him to check out one of the distant line shacks, and that was where he had been headed when he had heard the shots.
He just wasn’t prepared for the surge of emotion he had felt when he saw his brother. Rage, hate, anger and. …and what? Longing? Longing for the camaraderie they had once shared? Scott shook his head. He didn’t know. He did know that the need to punish his brother had been overwhelming. He wanted to see the same pain and sadness in Johnny’s eyes that he had felt in his own when he realized Johnny’s betrayal. That was the thing, though. He had seen that look in his brother’s eyes. At the trial.
The pain Johnny felt when he confessed was real, Scott knew. He could see the remorse in his brother’s face; see the hands trembling with emotion while he tried to make them understand what had happened. And he remembered the pleas his brother had made to him for forgiveness. The pleas he would never forget. The pleas that had come back to haunt him time after time in his dreams.
He sighed, and rubbed his temples with his hands. Over the last several years, he had avoided even thinking about his brother. It just hurt too badly. He had trusted his brother more than he had ever trusted anyone. He had told him things no other person would ever know. And he had loved him beyond reason. That Johnny had betrayed him so badly had killed a part of him, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He hadn’t known at first if he could even stand to stay at Lancer. Everything at the ranch reminded him of what he had lost. Every building had a memory involving his brother, and every chore that he did brought back the times they had done it together. Every single part of the ranch reminded him of the mistake he had made. So he had shut himself off from everyone, friends and family alike. He never wanted to hurt that badly again, and he had made an effort to make sure no one got close enough to him to even try.
The question was, is this how he wanted to live the rest of his life? With no friends, only acquaintances? With no family, only people he was related to? Going through life with no joy or hope? He remembered an old man who lived down the street from his grandfather. The children tormented and harassed him, because he was so quick to take offense. He took no pleasure in anything, and had no friends or family. Is that how he wanted to end up?
Scott had always been serious. It was a fault he had been reminded of frequently in his youth. But somehow, that changed when he met Johnny. Johnny had a knack of bringing out the child in him. Scott shook his head. No, he brought out the child in everyone. His brother could make you see the bright side in just about anything. He could find joy and beauty in the simplest things, and something good in everyone. He could make you feel good about life. He could make you laugh.
Scott had been amazed that his brother could have such an outlook on life after everything he had gone through. That he could be a cold and tough as nails gunfighter was no surprise, knowing the things he had gone through to survive. What was surprising was the remarkable gentleness and sympathetic nature that Johnny was capable of showing. When they first arrived at the ranch, Scott had quickly picked up on the fact that many of the neighbors and even some of the hired hands gave Johnny a wide berth. No one wanted to take a chance on getting on the wrong side of the infamous gunfighter. Scott wasn’t afraid of Johnny, however he was cautious. After a few heated arguments between the two had come to blows, however, Scott realized he wasn’t likely to get shot. The rest of the valley gradually came to the same conclusion, and he had been pleasantly surprised at just how popular his brother had become.
Johnny’s presence had made that first year at Lancer the best year of his life. And Johnny’s absence had made the last four years the worst. Those four years he had existed. That was the word that came to mind. Existed, not lived. The fun, the wonder, the joy of life was gone. It left when his brother left.
He smiled slightly; remembering the way Johnny had tackled him. The last time he was in a fight had been over four years ago, and it had been with Johnny. It seemed his little brother could make all of his resolve to stay detached fly right out the window.
Looking out at the steady rain, he remembered the look in Johnny’s eyes when he had attached the leg iron. He was ashamed of himself now. He did not consider himself to be a mean person; he had never done a vindictive thing in his life. Until today. He’d wanted to hurt Johnny, and he had.
Scott realized that he didn’t like the man he had become. Could he change? To change he would have to care again, he would have to feel again. And that meant he could get hurt again. Was it worth it? More importantly, could he do it? He didn’t know.
Scott thought about his estranged grandfather. He realized that Harlan Garret had stopped feeing anything a long time ago, and look what kind of man he had become. He didn’t care who he hurt or ruined as long as he got his way. Scott despised the selfish way his grandfather acted, his lack of even common consideration for other people.
And what about his own father? The bitterness and anger in him were evident when the brothers first came to Lancer. Scott had tried then to comprehend how a man could let himself get so caught up in self–pity and regrets that he could chase away the people that cared the most, but he just couldn’t understand. He wasn’t sure if he could live with a man like that. A man who blustered and raged to prevent anyone from hurting him again. If it hadn’t been for Johnny, he wouldn’t have stayed.
Scott sat up straight. Is that what he was doing? Acting like his father and grandfather? Wallowing in anger and self-pity? Punishing everyone because his brother had dared to make a mistake? Was he letting one lapse of judgment destroy not only his brother’s life, but also his own? For there was no doubt it was destroying him. When had he become so self- righteous that he couldn’t forgive, even at the expense of himself?
He needed to talk to Johnny. Maybe he could figure out the answer. Maybe he could find his brother again. With that resolved, he sank back down in the chair, and finally, he slept.
Scott started up as Doc Jenkins came in to the room wiping his hands. “How is he?”
“I think he was lucky. He lost a lot of blood, but he should do fine. How did it happen?”
“I’m not sure. He and Johnny were clearing a wash.”
Doc nodded. “Looks like maybe he got impaled on a piece of wood. I dug some splinters out.”
Scott dropped his head. “That’s what I figure happened, too.”
Scott looked up at the doctor. “When will he be able to ride?”
“He’ll need to stay still tonight and tomorrow at least. Maybe in a couple of days, if there are no complications.”
“Thanks Doc, I was really worried. But if you don’t need me here, I’d better get going.”
Doc smiled. “ Oh, think I’ll be able to handle it . But there’s an extra cot in the other room. Why don’t you bunk here for the night?”
Scott got up and grabbed his hat. “No, I’ve got to get home and let Murdoch know he’s O.K. I’m sure he’s worried.”
Doc looked out the window. “It’s raining pretty hard.”
“Yes, and probably still will be tomorrow. The road’s good and I’d rather go tonight. Scott frowned, remembering his words he’d said to his brother. “And don’t worry, Doc, I won’t melt.”
“O.K. Scott, but you be careful. I don’t want two patients!” Sam called as the door slammed.
After only a few miles Scott almost turned back, but the thought of his father worrying kept him going. It was raining a lot harder than he expected and the wind had picked up. It had turned into a pretty good storm. Several times he had to pick his way around fallen branches, but he pushed on and found himself back at the ranch at around midnight. He thought of going and talking to Johnny then, but figured he’d probably be pretty grumpy. Johnny hated missing his sleep.
He removed his boots in the kitchen, and looked on the stove for a snack. Hearing him come in, Maria appeared and poured Scott a welcome cup of scalding coffee.
“Is my father up?”
“No senior, he was not feeling well and went to bed early.”
Scott was surprised. “He didn’t wait up for me?”
Maria smiled. “Your father was not expecting you. He thought you had sense enough to stay out of the rain.”
Scott stood up. “Alright Maria, point taken. And thank you for the coffee.”
Sleep was elusive that night. He kept thinking about his brother. He realized that the only way he had been able to shut him out of his thoughts was to shut off his emotions completely. He still cared, he realized that now. For the last four years he just hadn’t allowed himself to feel that care, or anything else for that matter. He realized that was the only way he could cope with the fact that his brother, whom he had loved and trusted completely, had almost killed him. And for what? Money? He hadn’t known and he had been hurting so badly that he hadn’t cared. He hadn’t cared about anything.
Scott realized that he had been angry about the way his life had gone, angry about the man he had become, angry at losing the one person in his life that meant the most to him, angry at life. And while he had remained outwardly calm, on the inside he had been like a keg of dynamite ready to explode. The shock of seeing the man whom he had blamed for his lot in life had finally caused the explosion. Scott shook his head. He still couldn’t believe he had treated his brother so badly. He had a lot to make up for.
He knew he had to make a decision. He could continue to live the way he had, closed off from all feeling, or he could allow himself to feel again. And that meant accepting his brother back into his life. After a lot of soul searching, he finally realized he wanted to make things right with his brother, that the joy of having him back outweighed the fear of being betrayed again. He wanted to be able to see the joy in life once again. He wanted the camaraderie back. He wanted Johnny back. He thought of what he’d say to his brother, and he was almost giddy at the prospect. He lay awake after that, feeling like he had as a boy, waiting for Christmas morning. He was going to get him back, no matter what.
The next morning Scott was up early. He threw open the drapes to a sunny, glorious morning. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time. A flitting thought of a similar scene involving a character named “Scrooge” made him laugh out loud. He was going to have a much-needed talk with his brother, and explain that although he still hated what he’d done, Scott did not hate him. And he would apologize for what he’d done. Scott knew he needed Johnny back in his life. He just hoped Johnny still needed him. He knew Johnny would be angry and hurt, and Scott was prepared to do whatever was necessary to put the relationship with his brother back on track.
Dressing quickly, he bounded down the stairs, nearly colliding with Maria, who looked at him as if he were daft. Rounding the corner, he stopped in surprise at the sight of his father sitting at the kitchen table.
“Good morning sir!”
Murdoch raised a brow at Scott’s sudden cheerfulness and took a sip of his coffee. “I wasn’t expecting you to be up so early. You got in pretty late.” Then as an afterthought, “Why did you come home in the rain?”
Scott grabbed a plate of bacon and eggs off of the stove and sat next to his father.
“I thought you might be worried.”
Murdoch looked at Scott over the top of the cup. “Should I have been?”
It was Scott’s turn to raise a brow at his father “Well, Doc said he’d be fine, but I thought you’d want to know.”
Murdoch put his mug down and reached for a biscuit. “Who’s fine?”
“Cipriano. Whom else would I be talking about?”
“Cipriano! Why? What happened to him?”
“He….” Scott froze as a horrible thought crossed his mind.
“Didn’t Frank tell you?” he whispered.
“Stop talking in riddles, Scott. Tell me what? Frank’s horse brought him back from town last night so drunk he couldn’t even stand. He’s probably still sleeping it off.”
Scott could barely get the words out “You didn’t bring Johnny back?”
After seeing his father’s blank expression he got up and raced out to the guardhouse. He came to a sudden halt at the sight of the open door and bare room.
Murdoch’s voice came from right behind him. “Where is he? If that boy took off….
“He didn’t take off. He ….. Scott couldn’t finish the sentence.
“All right. What happened Scott?”
“Cipriano got hurt. Frank and I took him into town to Doc Jenkins. We left Johnny in the wash.”
“So? That doesn’t explain why he didn’t come back.”
Scott tried to swallow the bile rising up in his throat. “He couldn’t”
“Why?” his father shot.
Scott hung his head. “He was chained. I chained him to a big tree in the bottom of the gully. My God, Murdoch, the rain…” Unbidden, the vision of his brother, chained helplessly on the bottom of the remote wash swam into focus.
Realization struck Murdoch and without a word he ran to the barn, grabbing a saddle on the way to his horse’s stall. The horses were saddled and mounted in seconds, and the unbreakable rule of never galloping inside the Lancer arch was shattered.
The trip out to the gully took an eternity, each man wondering if there was any hope of finding Johnny alive after the night’s storm. Each man praying for a miracle.
There was debris scattered all over the trail, and the footing was treacherous because of the mud. Scott hated having to slow, and thought of forcing his mount to a faster speed, but the prospect of the horse breaking a leg tempered those urges. Finally, he led the way up the incline, dreading what he would see on the other side.
At the top he stopped and stared in horror at the churning maelstrom that greeted him.
Murdoch reined in beside him “Where, Scott?”
Scott pointed below him to the middle of the 15-foot deep current. “There, I left him there.”
“Scott, are you sure?”
Scott didn’t answer, but got off of his horse in a daze and started down the incline towards the water. He had only gone a few feet when he felt his father’s hand grab his arm.
“Don’t, Scott. It’s no use.” Murdoch closed his eyes. “We’ll have to wait for the water to go down before we can get him out.”
Scott sank to his knees in the mud. “My God, I killed him. I killed my brother.”
The two men stared at the raging water for several more minutes, each lost in his own thoughts. Scott was in shock. Last night he had realized that it would probably take a long time for Johnny to forgive him for the way he had been treated, but Scott never doubted that he had that time. Now he had nothing. The thought that his brother had died hating him was almost too much for him to bear.
Murdoch slowly came to his senses. He reached down and helped his son up. He was afraid Scott wouldn’t get over this. He didn’t know if any of them would. But for right now, the important thing was to get Johnny home.
“Scott, we need to go back to the ranch and get a wagon and some help.”
Scott’s voice was dull “I’m not leaving him.”
“Scott, the water won’t go down for several hours. We need to be able to get him out when it does.”
Scott simply stared at the flooded wash. “You go. I’m staying here.”
Murdoch knew the guilt his son was feeling over what had happened. He was feeling regrets of his own. He didn’t know exactly what was going on in Scott’s mind, but he didn’t like the lack of emotion Scott was showing. He wasn’t going to leave him alone. “Scott, I’m not sure I can make it. Son, please come with me.”
Slowly Scott turned and looked at his father, then after dropping his head, finally nodded and headed for his horse.
Murdoch and Scott rode into the yard and slowly dismounted. When Jelly came up to get their horses he took one look at their faces and knew something was wrong. “All right, you two. Spit it out. Don’t leave me wonderin’ what’s goin’ on.”
Murdoch acted like he didn’t even hear him. “Jelly, we’ll need a wagon and some rope.” He turned to Scott “Do you have the key?”
Scott didn’t understand the question at first, and then answered woodenly “No.” He walked over to a hay bale and collapsed.
Murdoch turned back to Jelly. “We’ll need an ax, one that can break a chain, and…his voice dropped to a whisper …“a blanket.” Murdoch looked lost.
Jelly finally broke in “What in tarnation’s goin’ on? What do you need that stuff for?”
Murdoch stood with his head bowed. “There was …….an accident. Johnny drowned. We need to get a wagon out to the East wash and bring him home.”
“What do you mean he drowned? Drowned? How? Johnny could swim like a fish. How’d it happen?”
“Jelly, not now.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed as he remembered the earlier conversation. “Ya chained him, didn’t ya? Ya chained him and he couldn’t get away and he drowned.”
Murdoch closed his eyes and blew out a deep breath. “It was an accident.”
“Weren’t no accident. You treated him like an animal and he died like one. You’re probably relieved you don’t have to worry ‘bout him no more. I’m surprised you’re even goin’ to bring him home for a decent burial.”
As Jelly’s tirade continued, Murdoch’s face got darker and darker. Finally, he exploded “How dare you talk to me like that! He was MY SON! You think I wanted this?
“Why not? Ya never cared about that boy. He was never good enough for ya.”
“If I didn’t care about him, I never would have gotten him out of that prison!”
Jelly was getting angrier. “Gotten him out? He weren’t out! He was still in prison! He just had diff’ernt keepers.”
“Jelly, you don’t understand. I couldn’t take the chance on losing this ranch if he decided to take off!”
“I understand all right. I understand this ranch was more important to ya than yur own boy. You made yur choice. You chose this ranch over your son. And I’m goin’ to make my choice. I’ll be leavin’ right after the buryin.” With that Jelly turned and stalked off.
Murdoch spun around and hit one of the posts with his fists.
“He’s right you know” Scott said quietly. “About everything. We never gave him a chance, and he died because of it. He would have been better off if he’d stayed in prison. ” Scott turned and walked out of the barn.
Murdoch sank down onto the straw littered floor and put his head in his hands. How had it gone so wrong?
As Jelly and Scott were getting the wagon ready to go, Murdoch walked into the house. He was dreading this with every ounce of his being. “Teresa!”
Teresa appeared from the kitchen, her hands covered with flour. “Just a minute Murdoch, I’ll be right there.”
A second later she reappeared, wiping her hands on a towel.
Murdoch watched as she approached. She and Johnny had been so close. She was the only one who had cast any doubts aside and literally welcomed him with open arms.
“Sit down, darling.”
Teresa perched on the edge of the couch and waited expectantly.
Murdoch looked into her eyes for a moment, and then dropped his head.
“Murdoch, what’s wrong?”
“Teresa, there isn’t any easy way of saying this. There was an accident…. Johnny’s dead.”
Murdoch watched as tears welled up in those brown eyes. “How?” She finally managed.
“It was an accident.”
“You said that. How, Murdoch?”
With a deep sigh, Murdoch told her what had happened.
As he talked, Teresa sat with her head down and never moved. When he was done, she got up and, without a word walked up the stairs to her room. He heard the door click shut, and had the horrible feeling that he’d lost three family members today.
Two hours later Murdoch, Scott and Jelly stood at the top of the wash. The water had partially receded, but they still couldn’t see the stump. Murdoch and Jelly watched in silence as Scott got the rope out of the back of the wagon, and after securing it to a tree knotted it around his waist. He looked out towards the churning water for a moment, and then he started to wade into the still heavy current. He gasped as the cold water hit his legs, then moved slowly towards the spot where he knew the deadfall to be.
Twenty minutes later, after swimming back and forth several times, he still couldn’t find the old tree.
“Are you sure it was here, Scott?” Murdoch finally broke the silence that had reigned since they left the ranch.
“Yes, I’m sure. I remember going around that odd-shaped rock on the way up.”
“And you’re sure the tree wasn’t loose?” Murdoch asked with a measure of hope in his voice.
“No. It was still stuck. I pulled on it really good when…Scott hesitated, then continued, “It was solid.”
Murdoch deflated once more. “Come on out of that water, son. It’s freezing. We’ll just have to wait till the water goes down some more.”
Scott tried again an hour later. This time, he was able to touch the bottom. He made several sweeps, then looked up as his father spoke.
“How high was that deadfall?”
Scott looked around one last time, then answered his father. “High enough that it should be seen by now. It’s gone.”
Scott waded out of the water and without even drying off he immediately mounted his horse. He started downstream and Murdoch followed him, with Jelly trailing along with the wagon.
The three men followed the wash for several miles, checking every snag and pile of brush. Mounting and dismounting dozens of times. Finally, Murdoch sank down next to his horse in exhaustion. “Scott, wait. We need to take a break. In a mile or two, we’ll be off of Lancer land. We need to go home and…..
Murdoch never finished his sentence. Scott exploded “NO! We’re not going home, we’re going to find him. I’m not writing my brother off again. I’m not leaving him out here for the vultures. I’m going to bring him home whether you like it or not!
“Scott. Calm down. Do you think I’d leave without doing everything possible to bring him home?” When he got no answer, he continued “I was just going to suggest we go get some food and bedrolls so we can continue looking.”
In his heart, Scott knew his father was right. They couldn’t continue without supplies. Scott sighed. “All right, Murdoch. Let’s go to the property line, then we can go back.”
Murdoch nodded. They would keep looking, but Murdoch knew that this wash emptied into the main river in about four miles. After that, it was joined by other smaller rivers and creeks and eventually made its way to the ocean. If they didn’t find him in the next few miles, they never would.
After a few minutes breather, the men started out again. Two hours later, they reached the Lancer boundary. At that point, the swollen creek made a sharp turn south. Caught in the bend was a huge pile of logs and branches. New debris was being added constantly, hitting the pile with sickening force. While his father searched the shoreline, Scott made his way out to the pile, dreading what he might find.
Scott had just torn another branch off of the pile when he heard his father’s cry. “Scott, over here!”
Dropping the branch, he quickly fought his way across the current to the bank, where his father was kneeling over an unnaturally still form. As he got closer, he could see that his brother’s shirtless body was littered with cuts and bruises, and his left leg lay at an impossible angle, still attached by the chain to the branch. Scott had seen drowning victims before, and he recognized the ghastly pale complexion and the blue lips and fingers. Scott looked away from the horror and into his father’s eyes, hoping against hope that it was an illusion. That he still had time to make things right with his brother. As if in a dream, Scott watched his father slowly shake his head, and his world collapsed. Again.
No one moved until Jelly finally went to get the ax out of the back of the wagon and brought it over. Dragging a piece of log over by the still leg, he draped the piece of chain it and began to swing wildly, his tears making his aim off.
Murdoch moved over and tried to take the ax away from the older man, but Jelly pushed him away.
“You leave us alone, Mr. Lancer, I’m doin’ this for my friend.”
Scott and Murdoch stood in a daze as Jelly continued the wild hacking, until at last the chain gave way. Throwing down the ax, he dropped to his knees and cradled Johnny’s head in his arms.
Scott dully watched as Jelly crooned over Johnny, his tears mixing with blood dripping from a gash on his brother’s head.
“It’s O.K. now, boy. Them chains are off ya and nobody’s goin’ to hurt you no more. You’re better off where you’re at, but ol’ Jelly’s sure goin’ ta miss ya.”
Scott couldn’t take any more and turned away. He had killed him. As surely as if he’d put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. It was his fault that his brother’s bleeding body was lying in this wash. A thought pulled at him but it was in and out of his mind before he could grasp it. His mind was still reeling over what he’d done to his brother.
Murdoch lifted the blanket out of the back of the wagon and moved over next to Johnny. Kneeling down, he gently straightened Johnny’s leg, and then he brushed a strand of hair from his son’s eyes, speaking to him softly.
“I’m sorry, son. I love you. I was so wrong. I wish I could take it back, take back everything I did wrong from the time you were born. I never meant to hurt you.”
Scott watched as his father continued to say goodbye. The words sickened him, knowing they should have been said long ago. He knew now he would leave Lancer. He could never stay here with these memories, would never stay here again without his brother.
He saw the blood dripping down Johnny’s face and turned away again.
He took a ragged breath to get control, and than turned around to go back to his brother. His bleeding brother. His BLEEDING brother! This time, the thought stuck.
Scott ran the few steps and pushed Jelly away.
“What in blazes….” Jelly started.
“He’s alive!” Scott yelled.
Murdoch grabbed his arm. “Scott, don’t.”
Scott yanked his arm away from his father and put his hand on Johnny’s chest.
He grabbed at his brother’s throat, desperately trying to find a pulse.
“Scott, stop it.”
Throwing off Murdoch’s hand once again, he frantically laid his ear to Johnny’s chest and listened.
Finally, as if from far away, he heard the sound that he never thought he’d hear again. The sound of his brother’s heart.
He looked up at the two men that loomed above him. “He’s alive. Thank God, he’s alive.”
Scott grabbed the blanket that was frozen in his father’s hands. “We’ve got to warm him up – fast. He’s freezing.”
Scott put the blanket over Johnny’s legs then peeled off his own shirt and started rubbing his brother’s chest.
Murdoch stared in disbelief, but finally accepted that his son was alive. “Scott, we’ve got to get him off of this cold ground. Let’s put him in the wagon and get him home.”
They carefully wrapped Johnny in the blanket and placed him in the wagon. Scott got in and pulled his brother up into his lap, putting his arms around him to try to get him warm. While Murdoch drove the team towards home as fast as he dared, Jelly mounted Scott’s horse and tore off towards town to get Doc Jenkins.
Scott tried desperately to get a response from Johnny, but he never stirred. More than once on the long trip home he put his head to his brother’s chest to make sure he was still breathing. His heartbeat was so faint he could hardly hear it, but it was still there. His breathing was so shallow and slow he finally stopped trying to find it. Johnny was still ice cold and Scott cursed that they had only put one blanket in the wagon as he continued to rub Johnny’s arms and legs.
“Teresa!” Murdoch jumped down off of the wagon and ran into the house. “Teresa!” he bellowed once more.
Spying Maria coming out from the kitchen, he turned towards her “Go get Johnny’s bed turned down. Get plenty of blankets on it, and then start heating some water. Hurry!” Bolting back out of the door, he reached the wagon just as Scott was lifting his brother down. Murdoch grabbed Johnny’s legs, and the two started into the house.
They had just reached the top of the stairs when Teresa came out of her room. Red eyes began tearing again as she saw the blanket wrapped body of her “brother.” She looked into Scott’s eyes and said sarcastically “You’re bringing him into the house? Isn’t it a little late? I would have thought you’d keep his body in the barn with the other animals.”
She turned to walk off, but was stopped by Murdoch’s words “Teresa, he’s alive.”
With a wild look of hope, she looked at the blanket wrapped body, and then she ran into Johnny’s room to turn down the covers but found it already done. She had kept this room clean and ready for Johnny for four years, not allowing anyone else to use it, making sure it stayed the way he had left it. And now he was finally back, and she was going to make sure he stayed back.
As Sam worked on Johnny, the other members of his family sat waiting downstairs. None of them noticed the absolute quiet, as each one was lost in their own thoughts. Each one of them had their own regrets to deal with, some more than others.
Upstairs, Sam sat by Johnny’s bed with his own thoughts. He was in no hurry to talk to either Murdoch or Scott Lancer. Jelly had very vociferously filled him in on the last six weeks, and Sam had been shocked by the treatment Johnny had received. He couldn’t believe that they had actually chained him, though. He thought Jelly might have been exaggerating, but when Cipriano produced the key to the shackles that Jelly requested, he had realized just how bad things had become. He would have something to say to both Scott and Murdoch on that count. From the scars on his body, the Doctor surmised that Johnny had been punished more than enough in the last four years. He would do his best to see that the boy was treated fairly from now on.
That is, if he lived.
Sam made his way slowly down the stairs. Sam smiled slightly to himself, wondering just how many times he’d been up and down this particular staircase.
Scott was the first to see the doctor as he made his way down the staircase. “How is he?” he immediately asked as he walked towards Sam.
Sam looked at the young man who stood before him and responded flatly “He’s alive.”
Murdoch got up and approached his old friend. “Sam, tell us.”
Doctor Jenkins turned his gaze on Murdoch, his voice deceptively gentle. “Why Murdoch, do you care? Do either of you really care?”
Murdoch had had enough. “Sam, not you, too. No one meant for Johnny to get hurt.”
Sam spun around to face Scott. “Is that true, Scott? That you didn’t want Johnny to get hurt?
Murdoch interrupted. “Of course he didn’t”
Sam wouldn’t let it go. “Is it true, Scott?”
Scott hung his head. “I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to feel pain – the kind of pain he put me through. But only in his mind, not like this. I never meant for him to get injured. I never meant to put him in any danger. Please Sam, how is he?”
Sam ignored the question. “Of course you put him in danger, even without the rain. But you still left him out there all night. How can you justify that?
Scott ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “I thought he was safe. I thought Murdoch had gone and gotten him.”
Sam was still angry. “And you didn’t care enough to check?”
Scott knew there wasn’t an excuse. He knew he’d made a horrible mistake. “Frank has been with us for almost six months. I’d never known him to be unreliable. And when I got back to the ranch, Bill was working the night shift. When he came to take my horse, I asked him if Frank had gotten back, and he said yes. I also asked him if Frank had spoken to my father, and again the answer was yes.” Scott slowly shook his head. “He must have been mistaken. I know Murdoch would never have left Johnny out there.”
Sam looked accusingly at Murdoch. “Well?”
The oldest Lancer slowly shook his head. “I did talk to Frank last night.”
Teresa sobbed “You left him out there?”
Murdoch’s voice raised a notch. “Of course not! I didn’t know! The only reason I talked to Frank was because his horse wandered into the courtyard, with him on it. I thought he was injured, so I went out to help him. I tried to talk to him, but he was so drunk he couldn’t even speak. I told Bill to help him into bed.”
“And you never even noticed that Johnny was gone?” Sam didn’t understand how that could happen.
Murdoch heaved a big sigh. “Johnny comes in with Cipriano every evening. Lucia gives Johnny supper, and I don’t see him until the morning. I didn’t know either one was missing. And we are through with you questioning us. Sam, I want to know NOW, how’s Johnny?”
The doctor glared at Murdoch for a moment, then started. “ He has a bad gash on his head, which probably caused a concussion; there are couple of broken ribs, and a badly broken leg. Not to mention numerous smaller cut and bruises.” Sam hesitated. “There’s also some congestion in his lungs, so I’m not ruling out pneumonia, too. And Murdoch, I’m NOT through questioning you about all of this.”
Teresa pleaded, “Sam, please, he’ll be all right, won’t he?”
Sam softened his voice when he answered the young woman “I don’t know, Teresa. It’s up to him.
Jelly spoke up. “He’ll be alright, Doc. He’s a fighter.”
Sam looked sadly at Jelly for a moment, and then said quietly “He used to be, now I don’t know. In order to fight, a man has to have something to fight FOR.”
Sam turned and looked at Scott and Murdoch. “And I don’t think Johnny has that any more.”
Scott sat by Johnny’s side, trying to will his strength into his brother. Murdoch had tried to get him to rest, but he had refused. Scott had managed to take some quick naps in the chair, and that was enough. He wasn’t going to abandon his brother again. They would see this through together, although he doubted whether Johnny would be happy for him to be here. He sat back and closed his eyes. He no longer expected his brother to forgive him, what he had done was inexcusable.
He sat up as Sam entered the room.
“Any change?” Sam approached the bed and picked up Johnny’s wrist.
Scott sighed. “No. The fever is still up, and he hasn’t shown any sign of coming around yet.” Scott continued. “Sam, it’s been three days. Why isn’t he waking up?”
Sam glanced at Scott, and then he shook his head. “I don’t know. It could be the head injury, or…” his voice trailed off.
“Or what, Sam?”
Sam looked at Scott’s face, which had aged ten years in the last three days. “Or maybe he’s just doesn’t want to wake up.”
Scott buried his face in his hands.
Doctor Jenkins finished checking Johnny’s injuries, then turned back to Scott. “Do what you’ve all been doing, and talk to him. He needs to know somebody cares. I’m going to send Teresa up to spell you for a bit. No arguments. I don’t need you to get sick, too.”
Scott’s voice was quiet, but hard as iron. “No, Sam. I’m staying here. I’m fine.”
Sam studied Scott for a moment. “Sure you are. I’ll send Teresa up with some coffee. Maybe that’ll help you stay awake. I’ll be downstairs if you need me, I’m going to have a talk with your father.”
Scott nodded as Sam left the room. He could only imagine what Sam was going to tell Murdoch. He probably wouldn’t have to imagine for long, however. He was sure he’d get the same lecture soon.
Sam found Murdoch sitting at his desk, looking out over his empire. “Is it worth it?”
Murdoch spun around in his chair. ‘Is what worth it?”
“This ranch. Is it worth what it cost you?”
Murdoch turned back around and shook his head. “You don’t understand.”
Sam took a step closer. “No, Murdoch, I don’t understand. I’ve known you for almost thirty years. I saw what building this ranch cost you. I saw you change into a bitter man after losing your sons. I knew how badly you wanted them home, and what it cost you to get them home. I saw you welcome Scott with open arms, and push Johnny away. Then, just as I thought you had come to your senses, when I thought you finally had what you wanted, you turned your back on him….again.
Murdoch jumped to his feet. “I turned MY back on HIM? He’s the one that turned his back on US! He’s the one that couldn’t settle down, he’s the one that betrayed and almost killed his brother! He’s the one who decided we weren’t important! What was I supposed to do? Act like nothing had happened?”
“NO, Murdoch, you were supposed to act like his FATHER, not some self-righteous jailer. You didn’t have to condone what he did, but you didn’t have to hate him, either. I can’t believe you allowed your OWN SON to be chained like some animal.”
“I don’t hate him, I just….was afraid.” Murdoch sighed, and then he continued, “Don’t you see, Sam, I wanted to trust him, I didn’t want to keep him locked up. But if I were wrong, I’d not only lose him, but probably the ranch, too. I’d lose both.” Murdoch’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I couldn’t survive that.”
Sam’s voice remained hard. “So you made your choice. You sacrificed Johnny so you could be sure to keep your ranch.”
Murdoch looked at Sam; them said sincerely “I love Johnny, and I’m telling you right now, if sacrificing this ranch would insure that Johnny stayed with us, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
Sam nodded “I’m not the one you have to convince. Johnny is. You’d just better pray it’s not too late.”
As Sam left the room, Murdoch thought about what he’d said. As usual, the old doctor was right. He’d just been so afraid of sacrificing the ranch and still losing Johnny. He saw now how backwards his thinking had been. He’d better get his priorities straight, or he would lose everything, if he hadn’t already.
A half of an hour later, Murdoch carried his oldest son to bed. The sleeping powder that Sam had told Teresa to mix in his coffee had worked beautifully. He had said Scott should sleep at least until the next morning. Sam had left to go to a neighbor’s ranch where one of the hands had been bitten by a snake. He hadn’t liked leaving Johnny, because his fever was going higher, but he told Murdoch that they could do just as much for him as he could at this point. They just had to try to get the fever down.
Murdoch heard the old clock chiming two o’clock. He had been sitting here now for four hours. Teresa and Jelly had worked incessantly to control Johnny’s fever, but nothing had helped, and now both were trying to get a few minutes rest. Murdoch continued to wipe his son’s face and body with the damp rag, but he felt like he was fighting a losing battle. Johnny’s fever had continued to rise, despite everything, and now he was delirious.
Murdoch had been listening to Johnny’s rantings for an hour. He had listened as Johnny re-lived the death of his mother, and his fear and guilt when he had killed the man that had done it. He had heard about Johnny’s fight for survival on the mean streets of Mexico, and how he had finally arisen as Johnny Madrid. He had heard a young boy ask why his papa had thrown them out, and he had heard that same boy as his mother’s “friends” abused him unmercifully. He had heard an ice-cold gunfighter calling men out and being called out. He listened as his son was despised because he was a half-breed. And finally, after hearing it all, he had wept.
>>>>>>>>>>> Johnny was drowning. He tried to fight his way to the surface, but he couldn’t make it. Memories came flooding back, all sorts of memories, but mostly the bad ones. He knew if he didn’t get to the surface soon, he’d be trapped down here forever. But maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. He relaxed again, and dreamed.
He was back in prison, reliving the torture and abuse that he had endured. The never- ending labor, the cold of his cell, the pain of the lash. Mostly he remembered the crushing loneliness, the feeling of abandonment. He knew they were angry, and he understood, but it would have made it so much more bearable if he at least knew they didn’t hate him. If he knew that someday there would be forgiveness. <<<<<<<<<<
Murdoch continued fighting the fever that was threatening to take his son away from him. Once or twice, it seemed as if Johnny might be coming around, but he always slipped back into the darkness. Murdoch had tried unsuccessfully to block out the things that his son was saying; most were just too painful to consider. He cursed himself for all of the unnecessary pain he had caused him. His son had suffered enough for ten men in his short life, and, Murdoch realized, most of it was his fault. Why Johnny hadn’t shot him dead the first time he had walked in the house was a mystery. After hearing about Johnny’s past, he wouldn’t have blamed him one bit.
And he had been wrong not to answer Johnny’s letters. Not to visit him in that hellhole of a prison. In the back of his mind he had known he was wrong, he had known how important it would be for Johnny to maintain contact with them, but he had chosen instead to ignore him. To pretend that he didn’t exist. If he ignored him, he wouldn’t have to face the pain of his failure. Because it was HIS failure, not Johnny’s. He had failed to keep his son safe, failed to keep him home where he should have been, failed to bring him up the way he should have been brought up, failed as a father. That is what he couldn’t face. His failure. He knew now that it wasn’t Johnny that should be punished, it was himself. He swore to himself that his son would never be hurt again by anyone, but especially by him. If he lived.
>>>>>>>>>Johnny floated in the darkness. It was too much effort to try to reach the surface. And it wasn’t bad here; the darkness was comforting in a way. He knew no one could hurt him here, he felt safe, and he hadn’t felt safe for a long, long time. Not since that day. The day it had all started to come apart. Bits and pieces of that day and the days following flitted through his mind. The words escaped him in his delirium-induced dream.
“ Need money….loan………Teresa and Jelly’s birthday……….. please, Scott……….. pay it back ………….. Old Man won’t………Come on Brother…………gamblin’….. owe Jake ………. bank ……….stay here………Scott, come on……. Pay you back…..”
Murdoch wiped Johnny’s face once again, trying to get the fever down.
“Scott, where are you ……………. hurry up …….. SCOTT! ……. alive ……. Ben ……… Money …………. Need Sam …………. Sam hurry …… Scott………. Scott wake up……………… SCOTT!”
Johnny was thrashing now, the thoughts and words tumbling from his fever-wracked mind. Murdoch tried to keep him still, murmuring soft words, and Johnny finally relaxed a little.
“Scott, tell me……….no, brother……….you didn’t……….couldn’t………….my fault, needed money ………………. what happened …………….. Scott ……….. Please, didn’t do it……….please Scott…….no…………no one else………… Couldn’t …….. please …………. tell me ………… remember ………… hit him…… Who……………couldn’t…………..Scott tell me no………..Scott hurt………”.
Johnny had once more became agitated, the words louder now. More insistent. Murdoch began to listen intently. “ Guilty……no……….couldn’t……….. Not Scott……..my fault…….can’t… prison…..not Scott……..not guilty……. No other clues…………no one else…………what happened………….
The words were disjointed and rambling. Many didn’t make sense. But they continued to pour out of Johnny’s mouth, and Murdoch knew that they might hold the key to what happened that day. They might explain why Johnny had done it.
“ Scared………confess……..they’ll hate me…….can’t lose them……lose Scott scared …….. prison ….. can’ t…….. have to ………… Scott couldn’ t………. no one else…………no one ………… joke …went wrong…..had to be joke… Ben didn’t know……………..Scott wouldn’t ………he can’t go…… Libby…………not again………..scared…….will lose everything……..Got to convince them …….. got to believe me……….got to believe me……got to lie.
Believe what, Murdoch wondered as he continued to wipe his son down.
“They believe me…..hate me……..please….couldn’t lose Scott….couldn’t let him go … prison……don’t know what happened….I can handle ….I’ll tell ‘em I did it…………scared….please don’t desert me…… please…..I didn’t do it…….don’t hate me……they hate me ……..thinks I betrayed him couldn’t let Scott go …… prison…..I didn’t do it…gotta protect Scott………couldn’t let Scott get hurt Scott…………..brother ……….I didn’t do it……..I lied……………Scott!!
Murdoch stood staring at his son, the wet rag forgotten. It slipped through his nerveless fingers and hit the floor. The fever – induced words had finally registered. A second later, he was diving for the chamber pot as all of his insides tried to come up.
Murdoch sat as if in a fog. His stomach had finally quit heaving, but he still felt deathly sick. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. He had only been able to make out bits and pieces, but it was enough to send his head swirling. He had to wonder if it were really true. In his heart, he knew it was, but he just couldn’t comprehend it. He couldn’t reconcile it to the way both he and Scott had acted towards Johnny.
And Johnny had continued to act guilty, to accept both prison and their anger without argument. Why? Why hadn’t he said something? Why hadn’t he let them know? After he was in prison and Scott was safe, he could have….Murdoch bolted upright. The letters. The letters that had arrived once a month like clockwork for the first six months. The letters that he had tossed into the fire without even opening. Six letters, then nothing. Had the answer been there all along? Had he, in a fit of anger and regret, thrown away Johnny’s plea for help? The thought made his stomach roil again. How could Johnny ever forgive him? How could he forgive himself? It made their treatment of him all the more reprehensible. He couldn’t believe what Johnny had sacrificed, what he had gone through for his brother.
And what about his brother? He knew his eldest son would punish himself for the rest of his life over what had happened in that gully. Scott had slept very little since Johnny had been hurt, but when he had slept, in his dreams he had seen Johnny drown over and over. Murdoch knew those nightmares would not go away for a long, long time, that they would never go away if he couldn’t make some sort of peace with Johnny. He knew that Scott was deeply ashamed of the way he had acted towards his brother, and was determined to try to make things right. Only Murdoch wasn’t sure he would ever be able to. Especially now.
What if Scott found out that Johnny was innocent? That instead of betraying him, he had sacrificed everything for him? Where would it lead? He shook his head. He didn’t know. He thought that it just might destroy them both. Knowing Scott, he would be angry at Johnny for trying to help, while his youngest son would be angry about Scott’s treatment of him. And Johnny had every reason to be angry. He just hoped that he wasn’t so damaged emotionally that he could never get over it. He hoped that he and Scott could be forgiven, for their sakes, but mostly for Johnny’s. If his son was not able to somehow get past this, he knew all of their lives would be ruined, but Johnny’s would be utterly destroyed. He wouldn’t say anything to anyone else yet, especially Scott. Not until he was able to talk to Johnny. Not until he was able to find out the whole truth.
And if Johnny died? No. He wouldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to have time to try to make some of this up to his son. To prove to him that he really did love him, no matter whether he was guilty or innocent.
His mind swirled again. What if he really were innocent? Did that mean Scott was guilty? How was he going to handle this? Would he now lose Scott to prison anyway? After everything Johnny went through to avoid that? What would he do?
“How’s he doing?” Sam had walked in unnoticed.
It took Murdoch a moment to even understand the question. “Not good, Sam. The fever won’t come down.”
Sam eyed Murdoch for a second, and then went to check on his patient. “How long has he been delirious?”
“A couple of hours.”
“Sam…” Murdoch hesitated.
“Can someone who’s delirious lie?”
Sam’s eyebrows went up. “Lie?”
Murdoch bit his bottom lip as he nodded.
“Not consciously, no. Why? What did he say?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Nothing Sam, I was just wondering.”
Sam nodded, and then started the examination.
Fifteen minutes later, Sam straightened up. “Well, his cuts are healing nicely, and he hasn’t been moving around, so his ribs and leg are getting a chance to knit. But that fever has got to come down. If it doesn’t come down soon, we’ll have to try more drastic measures. I’m not happy that he’s not awake yet, either.
Murdoch stood up and looked the doctor in the eye. “I’ll do whatever it takes, Sam. I’m not going to let him die. Not now, not when I have so much to make up for.”
Doctor Jenkins walked over to his old friend and put his hand on his arm. “We’ll do our best to get him through it. I’m going to put a feeding tube down him, so we can give him some water and nourishment. It’ll give him a little more time to wake up.”
By morning Johnny’s fever had come down a little, but he still wasn’t awake. Sam had said to talk to him, and that’s what they did. They talked and pleaded and cajoled. And they prayed.
>>>>>>>>>>Johnny tried to fight the darkness again. He had been in this place before, and he had always fought it. He knew he should be fighting it now, but somehow, this time was different. The need to fight wasn’t as strong. And he was so tired. He settled back into the void. <<<<<<<<<<<<
Scott sat by the bed, once again wiping his brother’s face. The fever had come up again. It seemed like fevers were always higher at night for some reason. He looked over at his father, who steadfastly remained at Johnny’s side. As the fever climbed, Johnny began to thrash and mumble.
“Scott, why don’t you go lie down for awhile? We both don’t have to be here. If you rest now, you can spell me later.”
Scott remained sitting. “You know I had a nap this afternoon. Why don’t you go lie down? You must be exhausted. I can watch him.”
“I’m not tired. Now go, Scott.”
“I said no. You’re the one that looks like he’s going to collapse any second.”
Murdoch stayed where he was. “I said go on, Scott.”
Scott stared at his exhausted father for an instant. “Why do you want me to leave?”
Murdoch merely shook his head and remained seated.
As Scott wrung out the rag, he thought about his father’s request. He hadn’t brought up the nap until Johnny became delirious. He knew Murdoch had tended him last night when his brother was out of his head. His eyes narrowed.
“What don’t you want me to hear?”
Again, Murdoch didn’t answer, and Scott was more determined to stay.
As Johnny became more agitated, and Scott could understand more and more words, he realized why his father had wanted him to leave. He wished he had. He looked up at his father with tears in his eyes.
“I can’t face this. I can’t face him. How do I ever even start to make this up to him?” Scott pleaded as he got up and left the room.
Murdoch stared sadly after his son. He wished he had an answer for him.
Morning broke, and with it with Johnny’s fever. Sam had examined him once again, and told them that there was no physical reason he shouldn’t be waking up. He just wasn’t.
Murdoch was exhausted. He had nursed his son through illness and injury before, too many times. This time though, from the beginning he had sensed a hopelessness that he couldn’t explain. Before he had always felt that Johnny was trying to come back to them. That he was fighting hard. Murdoch was afraid that his son was fighting just as hard this time, only this time, he was fighting to die.
Murdoch didn’t know what else they could do. He held his son’s hand, idly rubbing his thumb over a scar left by the shackles. All of them had held him, and talked to him, and told him what he meant to them. Empty words. Even if Johnny could hear them, that’s what he would think. Their actions had told him the truth. Although, dammit! It wasn’t the truth. They did love him. Murdoch lowered his head again. They just hadn’t acted like it.
>>>>>>>>>Johnny wasn’t fighting the darkness anymore. It was his haven, his protection from pain. He chose to let it envelop him. In the darkness he didn’t have to think, but more importantly, he didn’t have to feel. He was tired of feeling. For his whole life it seemed like all he had ever felt was pain. Pain and fear and loneliness. He had had enough. He was tired of trying and always failing. He was tired of being hurt. He was tired of living. He wanted to go somewhere where he didn’t have to feel anymore. Where he couldn’t be hurt anymore.
He used to be afraid of dying. He knew what was waiting for him, and he had been afraid. But now? He knew he still had some things he had to pay for in the afterlife. But he figured Hell couldn’t be any worse than it’d been up here. He figured he could handle it, just like he had always handled everything life had thrown at him. And maybe, just maybe when he got done paying, he could just be dead, and he wouldn’t have to feel anything anymore. He could be free. He once again let the soothing darkness take away the pain.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Doc stood up and folded the stethoscope. Sighing, he turned towards Johnny’s family. “He’s dying.”
“Sam, there must be something more we can do.” Murdoch refused to admit defeat.
Sam shook his head. “I really don’t know what. I told you it would be up to him, and I believe he’s made his choice.”
“Sam, please,” Scott’s voice was quivering.
“I’m sorry, Scott. It’s out of my hands. I wish there were something I could do to help him.”
Murdoch looked at the old doctor. “You don’t seem very upset.”
Doctor Jenkins stared at Murdoch for a moment. “I am. More than you’ll ever know. I just can’t accept the fact that his family did this to him. May heaven help you.”
Murdoch and Scott studied the floor, while Teresa slipped down next to Johnny and took hold of his hand. “Please Johnny, don’t leave. Please.”
His family once more continued their vigil.
>>>>>>>>>>>>Johnny finally felt peace. It felt good not to fight, to just accept the inevitable. He should have done this long ago. It would have saved a lot of heartache and pain. He remembered the times he had fought so hard to live, and wondered why. There had been some good times, he guessed. Times that he wouldn’t have wanted to miss. But on the whole, they had been few and far between.
Until he had come to Lancer. He had known it was a mistake to let down his guard. To actually care about anyone, to think that anyone cared about him. All it had ever brought him before was pain, one way or another. But he had thought that this time was different. This time he had allowed himself to hope. He had believed their lies. He had listened to the Old Man and the Boston dandy and believed them.
He had been a fool to think that he would be accepted. Sometimes when you want something bad enough, you’ll believe almost anything. But then a small voice insisted that he had been accepted, had been loved. Until he had ruined it. He had made his choice, chosen what was important to him. And he had chosen Scott.
He wouldn’t let Scott go to prison for something Johnny knew he didn’t do. He couldn’t have lived with himself if he did. When he confessed, Johnny had been desperately afraid. Not just afraid of prison, but mostly he had been afraid of losing his family. He’d known he’d have to convince his family that he really did do it, and if he was successful, they would probably turn their backs on him. He had prayed they wouldn’t, but he was a realist. He knew both Murdoch and Scott had a strict moral code. He had to decide if it was worth it. If Scott was worth it. He had been afraid that no matter what he did, he would lose his brother. He had figured Scott would forgive him for trying to rob the bank, and he probably would forgive him for hitting him over the head, but he doubted that he’d be forgiven for his seeming betrayal. But he couldn’t let Scott go to prison. So he had made his choice. But he had hoped his family, and Scott in particular, would eventually forgive him.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
“Scott, are you O.K.? Murdoch had come down into the great room and found Scott drinking straight from his good bottle of Scotch.
“Oh, yes, Murdoch, I’m fine. Why shouldn’t I be? Just because my brother’s upstairs dying. And don’t you DARE tell me it’s not my fault.”
“I’m not going to.”
Scott took another swig from the bottle. “Well at least we agree on something.”
Murdoch sighed. “It’s my fault too, maybe more than yours.”
Scott angrily turned around “You’re not the one that left him there to die, that put him through that. You heard the things he said, you heard what his thoughts were!”
Murdoch nodded. “I’m sorry you had to hear what he went through in the flood. I tried to get you to leave.”
Scott turned back towards the bottle. “Why? So I wouldn’t hear how frightened he was, so I wouldn’t know how he thought that I had left him there on purpose? So I wouldn’t hear how he thought we all hated him?”
“No, Scott, I’m sorry you had to hear it because I know how much you’re already beating yourself up over it.”
Scott looked into his father’s eyes. “Shouldn’t I be?”
Murdoch took the bottle away from his son and poured his own drink. “We both should be.”
>>>>>>>>>>>Johnny floated, ready to let go. He had nothing to stay for. Did he? No. He had lost everything. It was his fault, he had made his choice. What could he gain by fighting? More pain? He’d had enough of that. Could he get his family back? Maybe. Maybe if he fought. Did he want them back? They had caused him more grief than all the other people who had ever hurt him combined, including his mother. Why? How could they cause him to hurt that badly? Maybe because they were the only ones that he ever really cared about. Did he still care? He didn’t know. Were they worth the pain? Again, he didn’t know.
He thought of all the good times that he’d had with them. The fun, the teasing, the friendship, the trust. Could he ever find it with them again? Probably. Everything except the trust. The trust on both sides was shattered, maybe irrevocably. Even if it weren’t it would need a lot of work and effort to gain it back. Was it worth the fight? Did the good times make up for the bad? But the bad was worse than he’d ever imagined.
He could understand Murdoch’s hesitation in trusting him. Given what he’d made his father believe, he really couldn’t blame him. He knew his confession had hurt Murdoch deeply, more deeply than his father would ever admit, even to himself. And it justified his father’s initial mistrust of him. He knew that his father’s treatment of him was Murdoch’s way of keeping him at arm’s distance, so Johnny couldn’t hurt him again. He understood it, but it was still painful.
He was amazed that Teresa had accepted him so easily. He guessed she was more trusting because she had never been badly hurt by anyone before. She was more able to forgive. She had been the one bright spot in this whole mess. Even Jelly had disappointed him a little. He had helped Teresa fix up his cell, and he had made a point of coming out and talking to him, but the bantering and teasing were missing.
Then he thought about Scott. He had loved him more than anything. Would have suffered anything to keep him safe. But isn’t that what he’d done? He had gone into this with his eyes open. Scott’s reaction to him was only what he had expected. He’d known that Scott would hate him. He had accepted it back then, but it hurt so bad to actually see the hate in his brother’s eyes. Could he live with that hate? Could he ever forget that hate? He didn’t know if he wanted to.
Was the good worth fighting for? Could he block out the bad enough to live with it, so he could have the good?
Johnny thought about all of it, and he made his decision. He’d do what he’d had to do his whole life. Fight. <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Murdoch was sitting on Johnny’s bed, holding his hand, no longer trying to talk to him, but just holding him, letting him know someone was there. He thought he felt Johnny’s hand move. He looked down at his son’s fingers for a moment, and then glanced at his face. It had been wishful thinking. He had done a lot of that the last couple of days.
Murdoch sighed. If only…. How could he have been so blind? How could he have been so cruel? He hadn’t meant to be, no matter what Sam thought. He was just trying to be cautious, trying to make sure he didn’t make another mistake in dealing with his irresponsible son. Only now he knew he wasn’t so irresponsible. That of all of them, he had known what his priorities were. He looked at Johnny’s hand. There it was again. A dream? Maybe, or maybe Johnny was starting to get delirious again.
He looked out the window. The one small consolation in this was that his son would die here, not in prison, and not chained up like an animal. He was as comfortable as they could make him, and Sam had even taken the feeding tube out. He would die in his own home surrounded by people who loved him. Even if he didn’t know it.
He looked back at his son’s face. His dark hair made his skin look deathly pale, and his blue eyes looked dull. They…..
Johnny’s eyes tried to focus as his father squeezed his hand. Finally, he could distinguish his father’s face. But there were more faces, more voices. He tried to make his tired brain sort through them, but he was still too confused. It was easier if he shut his eyes. He decided to take them one at a time. He recognized Murdoch’s deep rumble. And Teresa’s excited chattering. He tried to smile. It sounded like maybe she’d been crying, but she sounded happy now. And Jelly, blustering, telling him how lazy he was, that he’d better quit goofin’ off. His smile grew a little more. Then he heard Scott. Opening his eyes, he searched for his brother. At last, his eyes focused on the tall figure standing by the bed. He looked deep into those pale blue eyes. The eyes of his brother.
Murdoch looked at him, stunned.
“Get him away from me!” Johnny croaked.
Johnny tried to sit up. “Get him away from me!”
Murdoch and Jelly grabbed him and tried to keep him from getting up.
“Don’t touch me!”
“Johnny, calm down. No one’s going to hurt you. Scott, get out!”
Murdoch heard the door slam as Scott left. A moment later Johnny sank back into the pillows.
Johnny refused to look into their eyes. “Leave me alone.”
Murdoch watched his son for a moment. “No son, we’re not going to leave you alone. How about if Jelly and Teresa stay with you?”
Johnny gave a slight nod.
“Do you want me to leave?” When he didn’t get an answer, Murdoch quietly followed Scott downstairs.
Scott was standing and looking out of the window. When he heard his father coming down the stairs, he spoke without turning around. “Is he O.K.?”
“I think so. We need to get Sam out here.”
Scott nodded. “I already sent Juan for him. Did Johnny kick you out too?”
“More or less.”
Scott turned and looked at his father. “He’s not up there alone, is he?”
“Of course not. Jelly and Teresa are up there with him.”
Scott nodded, then turned back towards the window. “Well, that went well.”
Murdoch came up and stood beside his son. “Scott, did you really expect him not to hate us?”
“It’s not you he hates, it’s me.” Scott dropped his head. “I know he has every reason to hate me, I just was hoping ….” Scott sighed. “I guess I was hoping for too much.”
“Scott, It’s going to take time.”
Scott nodded his head. “I know. I’m just worried that even time won’t help, that it’s going to be impossible.”
Murdoch smiled. “We’re talking about Johnny. Did you expect this to be easy?”
A hint of a smile appeared on Scott’s face. “No.”
Murdoch studied his son. “It’s going to be a fight. I guess it all boils down to how much we all want him back. How hard we’re willing to fight for him.”
Scott’s face darkened once more. “That’s just it. We should have been fighting for him all this time, and instead we were pretending that he didn’t exist.”
Murdoch lowered his head. “I know. We were wrong.”
Scott snorted. “I don’t think wrong even begins to describe it.” He thought for a moment. “Do you think we can get past this? Any of us?”
Murdoch shook his head. “I don’t know. All we can do is try.”
Scott looked at his father. “I’m not going to give up.”
“Neither am I.”
Jelly came down the stairs. “He’s restin’. Teresa is with him. Do you want that I should go get the Doc?”
“Thanks Jelly, but he’s already on his way.”
Two days later, Sam once again climbed the stairs to Johnny’s room. Teresa was sitting on the bed, talking to him, but stood up to leave when she saw the doctor.
“He just woke up. He’s been sleeping for the last several hours.” She closed the door behind her.
Sam approached the bed, appraising the young man that they had come so close to losing. He waited until the blue eyes turned towards him. “How do you feel, John?”
Sam smiled at the familiar response. “I’m glad. Now how do you really feel?”
Johnny looked up at Sam and gave him a small smile. “O.K.”
The doctor shook his head in exasperation. “I guess I’ll just have to find out for myself.”
Sam checked his ribs first, and then rewrapped them, because by Johnny’s reaction, he knew that they were still very tender. Most of the small cuts were almost healed and the head wound was also coming along nicely, so at least some of the bandages could stay off. All in all, he was healing pretty well. At least the wounds that Sam could see were healing. He didn’t know about the others. As he put the stethoscope to Johnny’s chest, he glanced at his face, and found his patient staring out the window.
“Well, young man, I think you’ll be just fine”
Johnny looked into the doctor’s face. “You really think so?”
Sam knew he wasn’t talking about his physical injuries. “Yes, John, I do. Some wounds take a long time to heal, but if you really want them to badly enough, they will.”
“Not if everybody keeps rippin’ ‘em back open.”
The doctor nodded. “I don’t think you have to worry about that anymore. They both realize just how big of a mistake they made. They both realize how much they love you.”
Johnny snorted. “They sure have a funny way of showin’ it.” He hung his head. “Sam, I just don’t know if I can get past this. If I can forget about..…that day. I knew he hated me, but……. he left me to die.”
Sam sighed. “Johnny, he did not leave you to die. He was, and still is, angry about what happened four years ago. You hurt him very badly, and I’m not talking about the bump on his head. He hasn’t been the same since then. He doesn’t laugh, he gets into fights, and he’s barely civil to anyone. For the last four years, he’s acted like a mule with a burr under his saddle, not the Scott Lancer that you knew before all of this started. He changed. For that matter, so did Murdoch. I’m not taking their side; I want you to know that. What they did was wrong. But I’ve talked to Scott. And yes, he was angry with you and he wanted to hurt you, but he did not mean for you to die. You can take my word on that. He is deeply sorry about the way he acted. He knows he was horribly wrong, but he did think that you were safely home by the time the rain came.”
Johnny kept his head down. “What happened?
Doctor Jenkins looked at Johnny in surprise. “Haven’t you talked to them?”
Johnny finally looked up, a small smile forming “I haven’t been exactly sociable.”
Sam laughed, “I can’t imagine why.”
Johnny’s smile left. “Sam, I hear what you’re sayin’. I just don’t know if this, any of this, can be fixed. I don’t know if I even want to try.”
The doctor stared at his patient for a second. “You want to try, Johnny. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here now.”
Johnny realized the perceptive old doctor was telling the truth. “What about them?”
“They said they do, and I believe them. They don’t know if it’s fixable, either. But they do want to try. At least talk to them, John, and then make your decision.”
Sam hesitated for a moment, “ Johnny, if you decide you can’t stay here, if you can’t stand to be around them, or just need some time, I’ll understand, and they probably will too. If you need to, when you’re able to travel, you can stay with me in town.”
Johnny looked back at him in surprise. “Murdoch agreed to that?”
“No, but he will.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that?”
The doctor returned Johnny’s gaze. “Yes.”
“The terms of my parole say I can’t leave Lancer.”
Sam nodded. “You can’t, except for medical reasons. If you need to, you’re going to have to be sick for a long time.”
Johnny saw the gleam in his friend’s eyes, and for the first time in a long time, he didn’t feel trapped. Johnny smiled and meant it. He dropped his head. “Thanks, Sam. Thanks for everything. I don’t know,…. I don’t know what to do. Teresa and Jelly have been great the last couple of days, but I don’t know if I can be around Scott. Let me think about it.”
The doctor stood up and closed his bag. “Let me know if you need anything. You have friends, Johnny. Friends that won’t let you down again. But you need to talk to your family, and they need to talk to you. You’ve all been badly hurt, and it’s changed all three of you. The only hope any of you have is to talk to each other. It’s the only way things will ever get better.”
Johnny was watching Sam. “Or worse.”
The doctor slowly nodded. “Or worse. But at least you’ll know.”
Johnny played with the edge of the sheet. “O.K. I’ll talk to Murdoch, but not Scott. I don’t want to see Scott right now.”
“Have you talked to him at all?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope, haven’t even seen him. Don’t want to.”
Sam watched Johnny’s face intently. “Do you hate him?”
Johnny sighed. “I ain’t the one you need to be askin’.”
“Maybe not, but it’s a question you need to ask yourself.”
Johnny lowered his head once more, his voice no more than a whisper. “I know.”
Sam slowly descended the stairs, thinking about what he was going to say to Johnny’s father. He hoped for once that Murdoch’s legendary Scottish stubbornness wouldn’t kick in. Or his temper, for that matter.
Murdoch was sitting at his desk, looking at some papers. He raised his head as the doctor came closer. “Well, Sam?”
Sam sank into one of the large leather chairs by the desk. “His injuries are healing nicely. His ribs are still sore, but they should heal fine. For once he won’t be able to hurt them again by getting up too soon. That leg will take another six weeks to heal.”
Doctor Jenkins paused a moment. “Murdoch, you need to talk to him.”
“I know, Sam. I just don’t know where to start.”
“How about the beginning? How about explaining to him why you treated him the way you did? Anything! Everything! Just talk to him for once! You’re going to have to be honest with each other if this even has a chance of working it’s way out. No more things left unsaid, no more lies and no more avoiding painful subjects. You, all of you, are going to have to TALK to each other.”
Murdoch’s head bowed. “I guess I haven’t been very good at talking things out.”
“That’s the problem. None of you are. I have a feeling that a lot of this could have been avoided if even ONE of you had been willing to talk.”
Murdoch remembered Johnny’s delirious ramblings. “You may be right, Sam.”
The doctor decided that now was as good a time as any. “Murdoch, I told Johnny that if he wanted to, he could come stay with me in town.”
“Now calm down and listen.”
“I am not going to listen! Johnny belongs here, at Lancer, with his family!”
Sam stood up and approached the desk. “Murdoch, if you really care about Johnny. You wil l listen.”
At a slight nod from the rancher, the doctor continued. “Right now Johnny isn’t sure he HAS a family. He’s not sure how he feels about you, or how you feel about him. He needs to be able to think about it, to sort it out by himself. On top of that, he feels helpless. He feels like he has absolutely no control over his own life. And he really hasn’t had any control for a long time. Do you know what that must be like for a man like Johnny? How it must make him feel? Murdoch, you’ve got to let him make some decisions. He’s got to feel like he has some control.
Murdoch thought back to five years ago, when Johnny had first come home. How he would jump on Barranca and take off when he was upset. How independent he was. How he hated to be told what to do. Murdoch began to realize how trapped his son must feel.
Slowly Murdoch nodded his head. “I think I understand, Sam. But what if he makes the wrong decisions; what if he decides to take off no matter what? You know you wouldn’t be able to stop him.”
“Physically, no. But I think I could talk him out of it, and even if I couldn’t, I know Johnny wouldn’t hurt me. Murdoch, you’ve got to take a chance. If you aren’t willing to gamble on Johnny, I can tell you right now, you can’t win.”
Murdoch looked out the window at the ranch that had been his whole life. The ranch that had cost him so much. The ranch that had saved his sanity when he had lost everything else. Was he willing to bet that ranch on his son?
Finally, he turned around with a sigh. “All right, Sam. If Johnny wants to stay with you, he can, as long as you’re in agreement. But I’m going to see if I can’t talk him into staying here instead. I want my son back.”
Sam smiled. “Then you better start working on it. You know how stubborn that boy is.”
Murdoch smiled back at his friend. “Yes Sam, I do. More than you know. But so am I.”
Murdoch approached Johnny’s room slowly, thinking about what he would say. But he figured all of his planning would probably fly right out the window as soon as one of them lost their temper. He was going to do his best to make sure it wasn’t him, but he knew that his volatile son had a way of lighting his already short fuse. He had made sure that Scott, Teresa and Jelly would be out of the house for the day. He didn’t want any interruptions or interference when he and Johnny had their talk.
Murdoch took a deep breath to calm his nerves, knowing how important the next few hours would be to his whole family. He had taken Sam’s words to heart, and he had made up his mind to be totally honest with his son. Finally, he knocked on the door, and when he received a reply, he entered. Johnny was sitting up, propped up with pillows. He went over to the bed and sat down. “How’re you feeling?”
Johnny looked at his father carefully and figured something was up. He mentally braced himself, not sure what Murdoch had in mind. “I’m O.K. I’ll be back at work soon.”
“No, Doc says you can’t work for awhile.” Murdoch looked distracted. “Johnny, we….I have to talk to you.”
Johnny studied his father intently. “Sounds serious.”
Murdoch looked down. “It is. And I don’t want you getting upset or go flying off the handle until you hear me out. I don’t quite know how to say this….”
The uneasy feeling Johnny had felt finally exploded as he figured out what his father was going to tell him.
Johnny looked down, and tried to control his emotions. “When?”
Johnny fixed his father with an icy stare. “I don’t feel like playin’ your games Old Man. Just spit it out.”
Murdoch looked at Johnny in confusion. “ What..? Johnny, I don’t understand.”
“Just tell me when you’re sendin’ me back!”
Murdoch sat stunned that his son thought that was the reason for the talk.
Johnny continued vehemently. “It was part of the agreement, right? I don’t work for any reason, I go back. Well I can’t work, not for a while. Can’t expect you to keep me here when I can’t earn my keep. Can’t expect you to go back on your word, now can I. So when?”
The anger and pain in his son’s eyes took Murdoch’s breath away. He couldn’t believe he had actually said those hateful things to his son.
“Johnny. You’re not going back to prison. Ever. Not if I can help it. I didn’t mean those things I said that day.” Murdoch lowered his eyes. “It was a bluff. I wouldn’t have sent you back, no matter what.”
It was Johnny’s turn to lower his eyes. “I don’t believe you.”
Murdoch sighed. “There’s no reason why you should, but it’s the truth. I would never have sent you back to that place. I’m sorry I said those things, and I’m more sorry that you believed them.
Johnny’s plucked at his blanket. “Then why did you?”
Murdoch sighed once again. “It’s a long story.”
A ghost of a smile appeared on Johnny’s face. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Murdoch sat for a minute, sorting out his thoughts. This wasn’t what he had wanted to discuss first, but it had to be said eventually, so maybe he’d better get it over with. Finally, he started.
“When Scott’s mother died, and Harlan took Scott to live with him, I told myself it was for the best. I told myself that Harlan could raise him better than I could. What I was really doing was trying to forget the pain of losing Catherine. I thought that if I could immerse myself in building this ranch, and if Scott weren’t here to remind me, that I could forget about her. Her death hurt me badly, and I told myself that I would never love anyone that much again.”
“Then your mother came along. I didn’t want to fall in love; I didn’t want to take the chance of getting hurt again. But I couldn’t help it. She was so beautiful, so wild. I forgot about my resolve, it didn’t matter. I loved her. But I was so afraid of losing her.” He looked up at Johnny. “I didn’t give her any freedom. I wanted her with me all the time; I got angry if she wanted to go to town and visit. I…..I made her feel like a prisoner. I realize that now. I loved her so much, I was so afraid of losing her, that I pushed her away.” Murdoch looked down and shook his head. “After that, I swore I’d never fall in love again, and I haven’t.”
After Maria left, I tried to find both of you. You were my little boy, and I wanted you back. It was different with Scott. I wanted him with me, but I knew Scott was safe, even if he wasn’t here. But I didn’t know where you were, didn’t know if you were safe, I didn’t even know if you were alive. And I had held you, told you stories, you had slept in my arms. I loved you Johnny.” Murdoch stopped and closed his eyes.
“Then, all the leads vanished. There was no word of either you or your mother for several years. I went crazy, but after awhile I felt that I’d never find you. I tried to get Scott, but Harlan made sure I couldn’t. I had lost everything I ever cared about and I hardened my heart. I was NEVER going to let anyone hurt me again. So I locked everyone out of my heart and I threw all my effort into building this ranch. This ranch is the only thing that kept me sane. Then, the two of you came home.
“When you first came here, I saw your mother in you, the wildness, the independence. And I was afraid. Afraid you would leave; afraid you would get killed, afraid that I would lose you again. So I decided to push you out before I could love you again. Before I could get hurt again. I know now I was wrong, but it wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. It was Scott that finally made me realize what I was doing, how stupid it was. And I realized that it was too late anyway. I realized that I had never stopped loving you.
“Johnny, when you confessed, I was so angry with you. But not for the same reason Scott was, and not for trying to rob the bank. I was angry because I was going to lose you again. That you had made the choice to do something that would tear my family apart. That would tear my heart out. I was angry that I had trusted you, and that you had hurt me.
Johnny hung his head. “I’m sorry.”
Murdoch stared at him a moment before continuing. “All the time you were in prison, I didn’t even want to think about you. But I couldn’t help it sometimes. And every time I did, I would feel the pain all over again. And I would get angry all over again. I didn’t even have Scott. Not really. We weren’t getting along like when you were here. At times, we were barely speaking. It wasn’t the same here without you. Even Teresa and Jelly were quieter. It seemed like everyone on this ranch was hurting. And I blamed you for all of it. I wanted you to pay for the pain you had caused me, that you had caused everyone. And you did.”
Murdoch got up and paced around Johnny’s room. “I’m so sorry.”
Johnny watched his father for a minute, and then asked a question that had been bothering him. “Why did you get me out? Was it just so you could punish me some more?”
Murdoch spun around towards Johnny. “NO!…” He took a deep breath. “No, I never set out to punish you. I got you out because I couldn’t stand to think of you in that place.” He hesitated a moment. “But at the same time, I was afraid, too.”
Johnny stared at his father. “Of me?”
When Murdoch nodded, Johnny closed his eyes.
Murdoch immediately realized what Johnny thought. “Johnny, I wasn’t afraid of you attacking anyone. I was afraid that you would hurt us again, emotionally. I knew that none of us could survive that again. That’s why I didn’t talk to you more, why I didn’t come visit when you were in the guardhouse. I did my best to keep Teresa and Jelly away, too. I got angry with them if I found out they had been there. I didn’t want them to get hurt either.”
Murdoch dropped his head. “I guess I didn’t learn from my mistakes. Not only was I keeping you a prisoner, trying to make sure that I didn’t lose you; I was trying not to get close again. I’m sorry.”
Johnny looked at his father. “I gave you my word I wouldn’t take off.”
It was Murdoch’s turn to lower his eyes. “I know. But you were a stranger. You had been through a lot. And I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. Johnny, when I signed those papers releasing you, I basically put up the ranch as security against your escaping or getting into more trouble.”
Johnny was stunned. Johnny had heard his father mention it before, but thought he was talking in general terms. He couldn’t believe his father was actually willing to take a chance on losing the ranch because of him. “You put up the ranch? Why?”
Murdoch exploded. “I told you why! Because I wanted you out of that hellhole. Because I didn’t want you hurt anymore. Because I wanted you home. Because you’re my SON!”
Johnny played with the blanket. “But you still didn’t trust me.”
Murdoch’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I wanted to. But if I were wrong, I would not only lose you, but this ranch, and probably Scott as well. I wanted to trust you, but I felt that I couldn’t afford to be wrong about you again. I couldn’t handle losing everything. I just wanted to see how you acted; I wanted to get a feel of what you were thinking before I lightened up. I wanted to make sure.”
Johnny stared at his father. “And are you sure yet?”
Johnny voice turned sharp when there was no answer. “You’re not, are you?
“No. I know what you’ve been through. What your own family has put you through. You have every reason to be angry, you have every reason to want to hurt us any way you can, including causing us to lose the ranch.”
Murdoch held Johnny’s stare. “But if that’s what’s on your mind, then I guess that’s what’s going to happen, because I’m not locking you up any more. You’re going to have to make your own choice about staying or leaving. About whether to forgive us and stay, or to turn your back and leave.”
Johnny closed his eyes. “You really think it’s that easy?”
Murdoch shook his head. “No, son. I know it’s not. I’m sorry we put you in this position. I’m sorry for everything. If I could take back everything that I’ve ever done to hurt you, I would. All I can do is ask your forgiveness, and give you my word that I’ll do my best to make sure you’re never hurt again.”
Johnny kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see his father’s expression. “What about Scott?”
“Johnny, you and Scott are going to have to talk, too. But I will tell you that he loves you, and is sorry for the way he acted. He’s had a lot of anger and pain festering for a long time. I know he didn’t mean for it to explode the way it did. I know he’ll do just about anything to make it up to you.”
It was Johnny’s turn to explode. “That’s not love, that’s guilt. That’s what both of you are feeling. Guilt. Not love. Not trust. Guilt. You don’t like the way you’re feeling, so you think you can just say ‘sorry’ and I’m supposed to forget everything that happened, every harsh word, every slight. Well, it doesn’t happen that way.”
Johnny was furious. “Right now, I could rob that bank right in front of you, and you’d probably swear I didn’t do it. Is that supposed to make me feel any better? Again, that’s not trust, that’s guilt. If you can’t start trusting me, really trusting me, and really caring about me, how the hell am I supposed to care about you?”
Johnny shook his head. “When all of this happened, I had been at this ranch for over a year. In that time I’d never done anything that would make you think I’d betray you or Scott. I hadn’t done anything to make you think I was capable of doing what I said I did. When it was Scott being charged you were so darn sure he was innocent. But when it was me, you accepted it without a doubt. Were you that eager to get rid of me?”
Murdoch was trying desperately to hold his own temper in check. “First of all, Johnny, YOU confessed. YOU TOLD US that you had done it. And don’t tell me we accepted it without a doubt. We doubted it plenty. It took both Scott and I a couple of days to really think about it, and realize that we DID doubt it. Neither one of us wanted to believe you were guilty. And, the more we thought about it, the more your confession didn’t make sense in a couple of places.”
Johnny looked up, startled.
Murdoch’s voice softened. “Do you think that either Scott or I wouldn’t check it all out? That we wouldn’t think that you had just confessed to protect Scott?”
“The first part of the confession that we had trouble with was the fact that Scott had apparently left the bank before receiving the money, then came back in. We did some checking, and found out that it did make sense. Tommy Meyers had gotten drunk and decided to let off some steam at the end of Second Street. The bank sits on the corner of Main and Second. You wouldn’t have been able to see, and probably not hear Tommy from where you were.
After requesting the money, and after Ben went back into the vault, Scott could have heard the commotion and gone out to investigate. Anyone seeing him leave would think that his business at the bank was completed. However, he could have just stayed out long enough to see what the commotion was, and then stepped back into the bank to collect his money. So that inconsistency was cleared up.”
“The next part we had trouble with was Ben’s insistence that he had hit the robber hard enough to knock him out. We knew you hadn’t been hit over the head, at least not hard enough to do any damage. Scott and I went back and questioned Ben. His recollection wasn’t the best, but he did insist he had hit the person with enough force to do some damage.”
When Johnny looked up expectantly, waiting for the explanation, Murdoch realized that his suspicion about Johnny’s innocence was probably true. He decided to find out. “Well?”
Johnny looked cautiously at his father. “Well, what?”
“Tell me why you weren’t injured.”
Johnny hedged. How about you tell me what you found out, then I’ll tell you if you’re right?”
Murdoch smiled sadly. “You don’t have the slightest idea, do you?”
Johnny looked down. “I guess I just have a hard head.”
Murdoch snorted. “Oh, yes, I can vouch for that.” Murdoch stared at his son. “Johnny, tell me the truth.”
Johnny kept his head down. “About what?”
“About what happened that day.”
Johnny refused to look at his father. “I already did.”
Murdoch got down next to the bed and looked into his son’s eyes. “No, Johnny, you didn’t. You lied to protect your brother, didn’t you? Now, please, I need to know the truth.”
Johnny dragged his eyes up to his father. “You said yourself the confession made sense. What makes you think I was lyin’?”
At Johnny’s questioning look, Murdoch explained. “When you were delirious, you talked about it.”
When Johnny remained quiet, Murdoch continued. “Johnny, please. We have to stop the lies. We have to start being honest with each other. No matter what you tell me, I promise you it won’t go any further than this room unless you want it to. Please, son.”
Johnny slowly raised his head and looked at Murdoch. “Did Scott hear?
Murdoch shook his head. “Scott heard a lot of things that he didn’t want to hear, especially about that day in the ravine, but he didn’t hear that. No one else did.”
Johnny’s voice was low. “I lied.” Then, in a rush, “Murdoch, I couldn’t let him go to prison. Not after what he’d been through at Libby. You don’t know….., I couldn’t let him do it. Please understand.”
“I do, Johnny. I don’t know if Scott will, but I do.”
Johnny sat up straight. “You promised. I don’t want him to know.”
“Johnny, he has the right to know. He needs to know.”
“NO! Not now. You promised.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I’ll keep my word. But I think you’re wrong.”
They sat for a moment, each lost in his own thoughts. Finally Murdoch broke the silence. “You hungry? I bet I could rustle up something for us to eat. Give us a break for a little while.”
Johnny nodded, then smiled slightly. “Yeah, sure. But first, I want to hear how come I wasn’t hurt when Ben hit me.”
Murdoch smiled. “Like I said, Ben was certain he’d hit the robber. However, Ben is a very short man. By his own admission, he couldn’t see very well when he hit the person. After talking to him, he admitted that he wasn’t sure just where the blow had landed. He had assumed it was the person’s head, but it just as easily could have been a shoulder. We all know how good you are at hiding your injuries. No one had checked you out to see if you were injured, so we assumed he had hit you in the shoulder.”
Johnny nodded. “Makes sense.”
Murdoch looked at his son. “Yes, it did. I just wish now that it hadn’t”
Murdoch and Johnny ate their sandwiches in silence. Both were thinking of their earlier conversation, and everything that had been revealed. Murdoch could tell that Johnny was not eager to resume their talk by the way he dawdled over his food. He was already done when Johnny finally sighed and put down the uneaten second half of his sandwich, and then looked at his father expectantly. They both knew this conversation was far from over.
Murdoch watched as his son got comfortable once again, and tried to decide what to bring up first.
“Johnny, Why didn’t you tell someone the truth?”
Johnny looked up at him incredulously. “Like who? Wasn’t anybody around I could tell. I hadn’t exactly planned it, and afterwards you and everybody else walked out of the courtroom so fast it made my head swim. I didn’t see any of you again for four years. And for some reason I couldn’t see the guards in that prison fallin’ all over themselves believin’ me.”
Murdoch knew Johnny was right. “I know, son, I’m so sorry. We should have talked to you. It’s just……” Murdoch hesitated. “When we left court that day, I think we were all in shock. Heaven help us, we believed you. The way you looked, and pleaded with Scott to forgive you, you had us all convinced. And everything, including your own testimony, indicated that no one else except you or Scott could have done it. I didn’t want to believe you, but everything seemed to point to you after your confession. Even the things you said before, about it being your fault, they all added up. Everything we found seemed to implicate you. By the time both Scott and I realized we needed to talk to you again, you were gone. You and Val left a little over a day later, and once you were in prison, you weren’t allowed visitors for over a year.”
Johnny fiddled with the edge of the blanket. Without looking up, he asked “What about after that year?”
“Johnny, I was wrong. I know I should have come to visit, but I was still angry and hurt. Not only because you had hurt me, but I could see what it was doing to Scott. And Scott…..” Murdoch paused. “Never mind.”
Johnny glanced up sharply. “What?”
Murdoch considered for a moment, and then went on. “Johnny, after that first day, Scott was adamant that you hadn’t done it. He talked to everyone again, he would stay up nights, we both did, and then, about a week later, all of a sudden he stopped. It was like he had accepted it, like he knew you had done it. That’s when he changed.”
Johnny’s interest was piqued. “What did he find out?”
Murdoch dropped his head. “I don’t know. I asked him several times, but he just got angry and wouldn’t talk about it. That’s when I thought I knew you were guilty. I thought he had found proof against you, and just didn’t want to tell me. I knew Scott wouldn’t give up on you unless he was sure. Johnny, I’m sorry. I was so wrong.”
Murdoch didn’t want to ask the next question, a question that had been bothering him for some time. “”Johnny, those letters that you wrote….” Murdoch hesitated.
Johnny looked up, waiting for him to continue. “What about ‘em?”
“Did they…did they say you hadn’t done it?”
Johnny smiled a small, sad smile. “You didn’t read ‘em, did ya?”
Murdoch couldn’t even answer. “Johnny, what did they say?”
“Oh, nothin’ much. They said I had lied about the confession, and they said who had really done it – stuff like that.”
Murdoch felt like he was going to be sick again. He buried his head in his hands. “Oh, God. I don’t even know what to say.”
Johnny watched his father for a moment, and noticed how he had paled. He sighed. He still couldn’t bring himself to hurt the Old Man. “Murdoch, don’t. There was nothin’ like that in those letters. I had no intention of ever tellin’ anybody what I’d done. I didn’t want you or Scott to know. Those letters were just askin’ about everybody, how things were goin’ – that’s all. There wasn’t anything important in ‘em. And besides, I don’t know who really did it.”
Murdoch looked at his son, some color coming back into his face. He shook his head. “I guess I deserved that.”
“Johnny, I’m sorry I didn’t read them. I’m sorry I didn’t come and visit you. I’m sorry about everything.”
When Johnny hung his head, Murdoch had another thought. “You said you don’t know who did it. You don’t think Scott…?”
“NO! Scott couldn’t have done it. Don’t you go doubtin’ HIM now.”
Murdoch sighed. “Then who?”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know. Believe me, I’ve thought about it a lot. The way I see it, there are three possibilities. One, somebody else was either already in the bank when Scott went in, or came in afterwards and somehow I didn’t see him. Two, Scott went over to the bank and was going to pretend to rob it as a joke, and something went wrong. Three, Ben did it, or is covering for who really did do it”.
Johnny paused. “Scott doesn’t remember anything more?”
Murdoch shook his head in exasperation. “No. So where does that leave us?”
Johnny snorted. “Nowhere, same as before.” Johnny looked at his father out of the corner of his eye. “Unless maybe you want to go have another talk with Ben.”
Murdoch stared at Johnny. “I can’t. Ben and his family moved away about six months after the trial. I received a letter from his daughter less than a year ago, telling me that Ben had died of a heart attack.”
Johnny shook his head disgustedly. “Figures.”
Murdoch sighed. “Johnny, I can’t imagine Ben doing it. He had no reason to hurt you or Scott. He was the one that loaned me the ‘listening money’ to get you boys home. He certainly didn’t need to rob the bank. He and I, well, we were like brothers. We grew up together, and I don’t think he ever did a dishonest thing in his life. I just can’t imagine him doing it, and I certainly can’t imagine him framing one of you for it.”
“Murdoch, I ain’t sayin’ he did it, but I ain’t goin’ to say he didn’t either. You can’t always know what a man will do.” Especially brothers, he thought.
Murdoch studied his son. “I know, I learned that one the hard way.”
Murdoch thought for a minute. You really think it might have been a joke of some sort?”
Johnny just shook his head. “I don’t know. If Ben didn’t do it, there has to be some other explanation, and I really don’t think I would have missed someone goin’ into that bank. I know Scott wouldn’t really rob it. The only thing I can figure is that maybe Scott said something to Ben as a joke, and Ben overreacted. Maybe Scott snuck up behind him and scared him, I don’t know. But if that was what happened, maybe Ben was too afraid to admit the truth when it looked like Scott wouldn’t make it, maybe he was afraid he would be tried for murder. Then when Scott got better, he was afraid to change his story.”
Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Is that what you think happened?’
Johnny met his father’s gaze. “No. But nothin’ else makes sense.” Johnny sighed. “I guess we’ll never know.”
“As long as I know that neither of my sons did it, I guess I can live with it. I just wish we could find out what really happened. If someone else is guilty, I want them to pay for what they’ve done to my family.”
Johnny stared at his father. “DO you know that neither one of us did it?”
Murdoch stared back into those blue eyes. “Yes”
Murdoch took a deep breath. “Johnny, what do we do now?”
“What do you mean, nothing? We can’t just leave it like this. If you’re innocent, we’ll have to get your name cleared.”
Johnny smiled. “How?”
Murdoch looked perplexed. “What do you mean how? We’ll have to…….” Realization hit. He whispered, “We can’t, not without knowing who really did it.”
“Nope. And that’s why I don’t want Scott to know.
“I don’t understand.”
“Come on, Murdoch, think. Do you really think Scott would stay quiet about it? The first thing he’d want to do is confess to clear my name and you know it. It wouldn’t matter to him if he were really guilty or not. It wouldn’t matter how he feels about me. He’d confess anyway. And for what? The time’s already been served. I don’t want those four years to have been for nothing, and that’s just what would happen if Scott thought I was innocent.”
Murdoch thought about it a moment. “But they wouldn’t just take his word for it either.”
Johnny nodded. “Maybe not. But I’m not willin’ to take that chance. Scott’s pretty smart; he might figure somethin’ out. Besides, there’s another reason.”
Murdoch waited. “Go on”
Johnny looked down. “Murdoch, I don’t know if things can ever be right between any of us again. I don’t know if I can stay here after my parole is up. But mostly, I don’t know if Scott and I will ever be able to patch things up. I don’t know if either one of us is willin’ to put in the time and effort any more. Too much has happened between us. But if, and I mean IF it happens someday, I don’t want Scott puttin’ up with me because he feels obligated. I don’t want him pretendin’ to care because he feels guilty, and then both of us findin’ out too late it was a lie. That wouldn’t do either one of us any good. Do you understand?”
Murdoch felt relieved. He hadn’t missed the remark about not being able to stay ‘after my parole is up’; at least he’d have time to try to make things up to Johnny. But the rest of Johnny’s statement finally registered. “I understand. But Johnny, the reason Scott is so angry with you is because of what he thinks you did. He’s angry because of a lie. If you tell him the truth, he won’t have any reason to be mad at you.”
“Yes he will, and you know it. He’s goin’ to be fighten’ mad at me for takin’ the fall, and I don’t know how to prevent that. Besides, there’s somethin’ else goin’ on. Some other reason he’s mad at me too, besides just the robbery.”
Murdoch thought Johnny might be right, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what the problem was. Finally he asked. “Do you want to tell me?”
Johnny shook his head. “That’s somethin’ you’ll have to ask Scott. I don’t have a clue. I just know somethin’ else is goin’ on. It doesn’t really matter what it is, Scott will either come to terms with it, all of it, or he won’t. And if he won’t, or can’t, then I guess I never meant that much to him in the first place. But I need to know, Murdoch, one way or the other. You’re ain’t the only one that’s tired of gettin’ hurt.”
Murdoch dropped his head. “Johnny, I understand that you need to know the truth, but so does Scott. Don’t you ever plan on telling him?”
“I don’t know. Maybe someday. We’ll see. But I mean it Murdoch, I don’t want Scott or anybody else to know right now.”
Murdoch thought his son was wrong, but he decided to let it go for the time being. There were other issues that needed addressing.
Murdoch studied his son carefully. “What about your parole? In the eyes of the law, you’re still guilty. If the terms aren’t kept, you could be sent back to prison if the wrong people find out.”
Johnny closed his eyes. “Then I guess you’ll just have to keep doin’ what you were doin’. I ain’t takin’ any chances of goin’ back to that place.”
Murdoch nodded in agreement, glad that his son realized what needed to be done, and that he wasn’t upset about it. But he would make sure things were different this time. “Don’t worry, Johnny, it won’t be like it was before. We’ll figure something out.”
Johnny looked down. “Are you just saying that because now you think I’m innocent?”
“No, son. I had made up my mind things would be different before I heard your ‘confession’. I realized that whether you were guilty or innocent, the way I had treated you was inexcusable. I had time to sit down and really think about things, and I realized how wrong I was, how wrong I had been for a long time.
Murdoch hesitated, wondering if it was too soon to ask, than decided to ask anyway. “Johnny, I need to know, are you going to stay?”
Johnny picked at the blanket. “I gave you my word, remember?”
“And I told you that you could make your own choice.”
Johnny looked at the older man. “Even if it loses you your ranch?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Our ranch. Not mine. Ours.”
“It ain’t mine anymore. Not sure if it ever was.”
“You’re wrong son. It’s always been yours. And mine, and Scott’s. And as long as we’re alive, it always will be.”
Johnny stared at Murdoch. “Unless I run.”
“Son, if you decide to leave, I’ll be losing something a lot more important than this ranch.”
Johnny smiled sadly. “The only time in my life that I was ever happy was the time I spent on Lancer.” He looked into his father’s eyes. “I’m not goin’ to do anything to lose it. If I decide to leave, I’ll wait till I can do it without jeopardizing the ranch.”
Murdoch smiled. “I’m glad, but I need to know that you’re o.k. with staying here. I don’t want you to feel trapped anymore.”
Johnny thought about it. “I really don’t know how I feel. I’m not exactly feelin’ free as long as I have to stay in this bed, though. Think you could talk Sam into lettin’ me up pretty soon?
Murdoch smiled. “I was wondering how long it would take you to start complaining. I’ll see what I can do. But Johnny, Sam warned you that it’ll be awhile before you get your strength back. You won’t be able to ride for quite awhile.”
Johnny looked down. “Don’t matter.”
A thought occurred to Murdoch. “When you’re up to it, maybe we can round up a certain Palomino that’s been running loose for awhile.”
Johnny’s eyes flew to his father’s. “Barranca?”
When Murdoch nodded, Johnny felt a weight lift off of him. “I thought maybe you’d sold him… or something.”
Murdoch studied his son, feeling an infinite sadness. “Do you really think we’d hurt your horse because we were angry at you?”
Johnny looked down once more. “I didn’t know. I knew he’d remind you of me, I knew you wouldn’t keep him around. I…I just wasn’t sure what you’d do with him.”
Murdoch once more was reminded just how little his son expected from him, and he knew that somehow he had to change that.
“Johnny, I want you home. I want you to stay here always. I want a chance to make things right with you. But if you really feel you can’t stay here, Sam said that you could stay with him for awhile.”
Johnny looked at him quizzically. “And you’d agree?”
Murdoch hesitated. “ It’s not what I want, but if you need to go, yes, I’ll agree.
Johnny nodded. “Thanks. I’ll think about it. Maybe it would be better, at least for a while. Then Scott and I wouldn’t be bumpin’ into each other.”
Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Are you at least going to talk to him?”
Johnny stared off into space. “I don’t know if I can.”
Murdoch sighed. He knew that if Scott and Johnny didn’t come to an understanding, that he would lose both of them. He was very well aware that the only reason they had stayed at Lancer in the first place was because of each other.
“Johnny, I know it’ll be hard, but….”
Johnny interrupted him. “No, it won’t be hard, it’ll be impossible. Murdoch, I can’t do it right now. Let it go. Give us both some time to sort things out in our minds, to figure out if we even want to fix this. Please.”
Murdoch knew that his son was right. They both needed some time. It was just so hard to watch both of them hurting that he wanted to see it fixed. But he knew it would take time, and that they were the ones that would have to take the steps to heal the rift. He just hoped they would.
“What about us, Johnny? You and me? Have I made it impossible for you to get past this, to forgive me?”
Johnny looked down and sighed. “Murdoch, I understand why you did it. Really. But it was the way you did it that hurt. And don’t tell me you weren’t tryin’ to hurt me, because you were. If you had just talked to me about it, told me what was on your mind, and showed me some kind of… I don’t know….’
“Love.” Murdoch filled in.
Johnny slowly nodded. “If I thought you really cared, I could have handled the rest.”
Johnny, I’m sorry for the way I acted. I’ll be telling you that for the rest of my life. I don’t have an excuse. All I can say is that I’m sorry, and…..I was afraid.”
“So was I.” Johnny whispered.
Murdoch’s eyes closed. “I know. Johnny, I was so horribly wrong, and I know it. I will never hurt you again. I’ll never doubt you again, I promise. Please son, forgive an old fool.”
Johnny looked at his father. “Don’t be makin’ promises you can’t keep. You WILL hurt me again, and you WILL doubt me again. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. I don’t want you to be pretendin’ not to doubt me because you feel guilty. And I don’t want to be treated different because you’re tryin’ to get rid of that guilt. All I want is for you to treat me like your son for once, if that’s even possible. But I’m warnin’ you right now, I ain’t goin’ to be anybody’s whippin’ boy no more. And if anybody tries to make me one, I WILL fight back.
Murdoch nodded. “I wouldn’t expect you not to. But you won’t have to, Johnny. You’ll see, things will be different.”
Murdoch tried again. “Johnny, tell me you’ll give me a chance to do better. That you’ll give US another chance.”
Johnny studied the blanket. When he finally spoke, Murdoch had to strain to hear him. “Murdoch, I’m afraid. It’s not that I don’t want to, I do. I want a home, I want my family back. But I don’t know if it’s possible for me anymore. I’ve changed, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. It was hard for me to trust before, but now……. I don’t know if I’m capable anymore of trusting anyone, of letting anyone get close to me. Of really caring. I just don’t know if I can feel anything towards anyone. I think maybe it’s too late for me.”
Murdoch knew he was going to burn in Hell for what he had done to his son. For what he had allowed everyone to do to him from the time he was little. For not keeping him safe. But mostly, for the hurt and pain that he had caused. He didn’t know what to do or how to even start to fix this. He was beginning to think it wasn’t repairable. He just didn’t know what to do or what to say anymore to try to make it better.
Murdoch looked at Johnny, who sat with his arms wrapped around himself. “Are you tired?”
Without looking up, his son nodded.
“Why don’t you rest until dinner.”
After receiving another nod, Murdoch got up and left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.
Sam walked into the estancia. “Anybody home?”
“Over here, Sam.”
The doctor walked over to where Murdoch was sitting at his desk. “Everything O.K?”
Murdoch turned to face his friend. “No” he said in a flat voice. “And I don’t think it ever will be.”
Sam pulled up a chair. “Murdoch, what’s wrong?” he asked gently.
“Everything. I was just sitting here trying to figure out if there was ANYTHING in my life that I’d done right. Anything that I’d done that hadn’t caused pain to someone I loved.”
“Don’t what?” Murdoch bellowed. “Sam, it’s true. Especially when it’s concerned Johnny. I don’t think I’ve EVER made a right decision about him. I have hurt that boy his whole life, one way or another, and I don’t know WHY. Sam, I love him, I just don’t know why I can’t show it, and now it’s too late. I don’t think Johnny will ever recover from this, and it’s my fault.”
“Murdoch, it’s never too late to show someone you love them.”
Murdoch sounded almost desperate. “Sam, it IS too late. Johnny will never believe I care about him now, after what I’ve done.”
“Do you care about him?”
Murdoch dropped his head. Sam, I would do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to regain Johnny’s love, and to convince him I loved him. But it seems like everything I do, everything I say, comes out the wrong way.
“Did you talk to him?”
Murdoch snorted. “We talked more today than we talked the whole year he was home.”
Sam studied his friend. “I take it that it didn’t go well?”
Murdoch lowered his head. “That’s just it, Sam, it did go well, better than I had any right to expect.”
“Then what happened?” Sam prodded.
Murdoch related the last things that Johnny had told him. “Sam, I thought we had a chance up until then. I thought that he might be able to get past this. That maybe we all could. Now, I don’t think so anymore.
The doctor came up and put his hand on Murdoch’s arm. “Murdoch, Johnny has been through a lot. He’s said he wants to try to make things right with you and Scott, and I know how determined both of you are. Give it some time. It’ll sort itself out”.
Murdoch raised hopeful eyes to the doctor. “Do you really think so?
“Yes, Murdoch, I do. Because I know how stubborn all three of you can be. But it’s going to take a lot of effort on the part of all of you, especially you and Scott. You’re going to have to prove to Johnny that he still has a place here. You’re going to have to earn his trust all over again. But the main thing is, you can’t give up when things get hard. And believe me, they will.”
“Thanks for the encouragement.” Murdoch said sarcastically.
Sam grinned. “Any time. Now, how’s my patient doing?”
Murdoch finally smiled. “He wants to know when he can get up.”
Sam chuckled. “That sounds like Johnny. Come on, Murdoch, let’s go give him an answer.”
Johnny watched as Murdoch finished installing the lock on his door. He knew it was part of the terms, but he still didn’t like being locked up. When he had first begun walking and Murdoch hadn’t done anything to make sure he couldn’t leave, he had started to hope that maybe his father would forget about that particular rule. It would almost be worth it to him to take a chance on getting sent back.
Even after all of that time in prison, knowing he was trapped made him feel almost panicky. He could already feel the sweat starting on his forehead, just thinking about it. At least the bars on the window weren’t new. All of the accessible windows already had bars on them from when Pardee was causing trouble.
It had been ten weeks since he had been injured, and he’d worked a couple of hours a day all week. He’d gone out with Cipriano, who was still a little sore, too. Together, though, they’d managed to get their work done. Today would be his first full day back at work. Johnny glanced at the clock. Well, maybe not so full anymore. He had been ready to go earlier, but his father had asked him to wait and leave a little later. Johnny sighed. He supposed Murdoch wanted to talk to him before he left.
At least he and his father were talking, but the same thing couldn’t be said about he and his brother. He had made it plain that he didn’t want Scott in his room while he was recovering, and Scott had complied. When he finally went downstairs, however, it wasn’t as easy to avoid him. Scott had tried to tell him he was sorry several times, but after being rudely rebuffed, he had stopped. After that, he had caught Scott watching him a few times, but his brother would immediately drop his eyes when caught. Now, they simply ignored each other.
Johnny thought that maybe it was for the best. He just didn’t know if he and Scott could ever work it out. He knew he still loved his brother; he always would no matter what. He still could never stand by and see him hurt. It was something he couldn’t help. But that didn’t mean they had to be friends, it didn’t mean they had to be close. He wasn’t going to let himself be hurt by him or anyone else again.
He was brought back from his musings by the door shutting, then opening again. Murdoch closed it one more time, then put one of the keys into then lock to check to see if it worked. When the lock opened, Murdoch grabbed the key and came over to Johnny.
“Here. Put it somewhere safe.”
Johnny merely looked at the offering, and then gave his father a wry smile. “Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of the lock?”
Murdoch held Johnny’s gaze. “No. The purpose of THIS lock isn’t to keep you in; it’s to prevent you from going back to prison in case anyone should check. Just make sure no one else knows about the key. We don’t need Jelly blabbing it all over town.”
Johnny watched his father carefully. ‘You sure?”
Murdoch returned the gaze, “Very.”
Johnny dropped his head. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, Johnny. I’m just doing what I should have done in the first place. I’m just sorry we still need to follow the other terms.”
Murdoch looked at his son appraisingly. He was still too thin, and his eyes looked tired. “You feel O.K.?”
At Johnny’s nod, Murdoch continued. “I don’t want you to overdo it. If you get tired, take a break or come home. Understand?
Again Johnny nodded.
“Alright. The fence in the east pasture needs to be checked; we’re moving a herd up there in a few weeks. Pick up some lunch from Maria and try to be back by suppertime.”
“Lucia always packs a lunch for both Cip and me.”
Murdoch glanced at Johnny. “Cipriano is helping the men with the bridge over on the west side. I doubt if you’ll see him today.”
“Then who ‘em I workin’ with?”
“I thought you might want to work by yourself. If you don’t, you can go over and help the men at the bridge. The pasture can wait until tomorrow.”
Johnny was confused. “I thought I had to have somebody with me all the time.”
Murdoch hung his head. “No.”
“Was that one of your terms?”
“I don’t suppose the part about me not carryin’ a gun was one of yours, too?” Johnny said wistfully.
“Johnny, I wish they all were, but no, that one was the only one that was mine.”
Johnny slowly smiled. “I guess if I run into a snake, I’ll just have to sweet talk it into not bitin’ me.”
Murdoch smiled back. “You probably could. Now go on, before I dock your pay.”
For then first time in over four years, Johnny felt free. There were no bars, no chains, and no one to watch his every move. He lay on the grass, watching the sky and listening to the birds. He had almost forgotten what it was like. He let his thoughts wander. He had spied Barranca yesterday, when they were up by Black Canyon, looking for strays from a downed fence. He had whistled, and for a moment, he thought the horse might respond, but it was just wishful thinking. He smiled. Barranca would probably give him a real fight before he allowed himself to be broken again, but he was looking forward to the battle.
His thoughts strayed back to that morning. He had to admit, Murdoch was really trying. He had been bending over backwards to be fair. He was acting towards him the way Johnny had always hoped he would, he was acting like his father. He just wished he knew if Murdoch really cared, or was just trying to get rid of some of his guilt. He shook his head. He guessed he’d find out eventually. Either way, things sure had improved. Except for Scott.
Johnny rode in from the East pasture, where he had been rounding up strays that had managed to get through a break in the fence caused by last week’s storm. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to understand cattle. They were about the dumbest things God ever created, and sometimes it seemed as if they had been created just to annoy him. He had checked the fence line thoroughly several weeks before, but all it had taken was one downed tree, and about twenty of those stupid steers had managed to find the one hole in a pasture that was composed of hundreds of acres. And just what was so much better on the other side of the fence? Nothin’ except ravines and gullies that they could get hurt in, and of course, that he could kill himself trying to get them out of. He smiled; maybe the steers had conspired to do him in.
And it had been grueling work. The horse he was riding was a good cowpony, but he wasn’t Barranca. Johnny couldn’t wait to catch that elusive Palomino. He had spotted him a couple of times, running with a small herd of mares, but the herd had always disappeared before he could go after them. He smiled. Several of the foals and young horses were spittin’ images of his beloved horse. He knew he’d have his hands full convincing Barranca to stay with him and not hightail it back to the herd as soon as he could.
Murdoch had told him to go after the horse whenever he could, and that was what he had been planning on doing today, but then he had run into those dumb steers. Johnny sighed. Oh, well, he could go after him tomorrow. He had thought about asking Murdoch if he wanted to go with him to catch Barranca, but somehow it was something he wanted to do by himself.
He and the Old Man were getting along pretty well. In fact, things were better between them than before prison, at least so far. He was still expecting to find out it was all an act on Murdoch’s part. His father had hurt him, and those hurts would take a long time to heal, but he did understand a little better now why he had acted the way he had. He didn’t excuse him, and they still had a lot of fence mending to do, but at least there was some hope.
His face darkened as his thoughts turned towards his brother. He knew he needed to talk to Scott, but he had been putting it off. He just didn’t know how he could make things right with him without telling his brother about the deception. And he was afraid that no matter what happened, when Scott did find out about it, it would be the final rift between them. There was also the matter of what happened in the ravine. Johnny knew now that his brother hadn’t left him to die on purpose, but his brother’s callousness towards him still angered and hurt him. He sighed. He knew that he wasn’t completely innocent in this whole mess. He had known when he confessed that if he was successful, that they would all be angry with him, and that he may be causing a break in their relationship that would never heal. He just hadn’t been prepared for the venom that Scott had showed. He thought again about what Murdoch had told him, and he wondered for the hundredth time what Scott had found out that had caused his brother to react the way he had. Johnny sighed once more. The only way of finding out was to ask him, but that meant talking to him, and that meant lying to him about the deception. And he was afraid that if they talked face to face, that Scott might pick up on the lie. His brother knew him pretty well. He frowned once more, thinking about all that had happened. On the other hand, maybe he only thought Scott had known him well.
Johnny walked into the hacienda and threw his hat onto the table. He wondered why nobody had lit any lamps yet; it would be full night in a few minutes.
He noticed a small glow coming from the kitchen, and he walked in, expecting to have Maria descend on him, scolding him for missing supper, but the room was silent and empty except for the lone lamp sitting on the table. He picked up a couple of biscuits and rummaged around for some leftover food. He absently wondered where Teresa was, as she also usually made a fuss over him.
Murdoch was up in Stockton for a couple of days, trying to negotiate a better price on some beef they were shipping. He hadn’t liked the idea of Murdoch leaving, it would mean he had to be here alone with Scott, but at least he had Teresa and Jelly to run interference. Come to think of it, Jelly hadn’t greeted him when he had come in, either. Where was everybody?
Suddenly, all of his senses went on alert. There was ALWAYS someone around, and now the house was as quiet as a tomb. He cursed the rule that said he couldn’t wear a gun, and went over to the counter and picked up a knife. After a second’s hesitation, he picked up a second knife, and slid it down into his boot. He decided he would try to get to Murdoch’s desk, where he knew his father always kept a loaded pistol in the top drawer. If he could get a hold of a gun, he would feel a lot more confident that he could handle whatever or whoever was out there.
Quietly, he opened up the door leading to the great room and slipped out, immediately crouching behind the dining room table. Cautiously looking out, he scanned the room, but could see nothing amiss. No movement, either. He reached slowly up, grabbed a spoon from the sideboard, and tossed it across the room. It clattered against the far wall, but the noise brought no response. Quickly, he crossed over to Murdoch’s desk, half expecting to feel a bullet anytime. He crouched down by the desk and pulled open the top drawer. Reaching in he felt for the gun, but all he could feel were some papers. Cursing silently, he felt again. Finally, buried under the thick stack of documents, he felt the familiar touch of the cold metal. Drawing it out, he quickly made sure it was loaded.
Feeling a lot more confident now, he stood up and stuck the first knife into a loop in his belt, and quietly made his way to the stairs. Avoiding the third step, which he knew from experience squeaked, he made his way cautiously up the stairs. When he reached the top, he ducked into the little alcove and listened. He still heard nothing. Where was everyone? He looked down the hall and noticed that all of the doors were closed. Great.
Taking a deep breath, he inched over to Teresa’s room and opened the door. It was empty, the bed made, and as usual, nothing out of place. He left and worked his way down the hall towards his father’s room. Again, he cautiously opened the door, and again was met with a perfectly neat setting. Crossing the hall, he checked Scott’s room with the same result.
Once back outside Scott’s room he stopped to think. He realized he could be here all night, checking rooms, while maybe his family were somewhere else and needed help. He had just made up his mind to go outside and find some of the hands when he thought he heard a small sound coming from the room next to Scott’s. His room. It was there and gone in an instant, and he wasn’t sure he had really heard it, but he would check it out. The door was closed, but he didn’t know if it was locked. Cautiously, he approached the door and gently tried the knob. It turned quietly in his hand, and he slowly swung the door open. Waiting a second, he watched to see if he could see anything, but the darkness was almost complete now, and the only thing he could make out was the small table by the window.
As he looked in that direction, the wind once more fluttered the short drapes and caused them to blow against a knocked over glass, rolling it into the lamp, and causing the small sound he had heard while in the hallway. Taking a slow breath, he relaxed a little and went over to the window and closed it. He had just finished when his door slammed shut. Whirling, he turned towards the door, taking aim as he turned. Even as he spun around, he knew that he was too slow. That he’d lost his edge, and that he’d probably lost his life.
As he spun around and took aim at the form standing by the door, the light from the window glinted off of the gun. The person in the doorway dove to the left as a bullet gouged into the doorsill where his head had just been.
Finally recognizing both the voice and the shape, Johnny dropped his gun hand to his side, silently giving thanks that his reflexes had been off. After taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he went over to the lamp and lit it, then turned to face the intruder.
“Scott, just what the hell did you think you were doin’? I could have killed you!”
An ashen-faced Scott slowly stood and faced his brother. “I didn’t think you were supposed to have a gun.”
Johnny looked at the gun in his hand. “I came home and everything was dark, and there was nobody around like there should have been. I got spooked, thought somethin’ was wrong. What did you expect me to do?” Johnny put the gun on the table. “Just what were you tryin’ to do? And where is everybody?”
“Teresa is spending the night at Widow Carlson’s, because Sam wanted someone to keep an eye on her for a day or so, and Jelly and Cipriano are up at the north line shack, re-outfitting it and fixing the roof.”
“I have no idea.”
“So why is the house all dark, and what are you doin’ in my room?” Johnny thought for a second, and then added “And why did you close the door?”
Scott took a deep breath. “It’s not closed, it’s locked. It’s dark downstairs because I was up here waiting here for you to get back. By the way, you’re late. And it’s dark up here because I knew that if you saw me in here, you’d turn right around and leave.”
Johnny looked at his brother like he’d lost his mind. “And that’s supposed to explain everything.”
Scott nodded. “Pretty much.”
“Scott…” Johnny’s threatening tone was unmistakable.
Scott sighed and looked at his brother. “Johnny, we need to talk. I knew you’d avoid it if you could; you’ve been avoiding me since I got you got hurt. I wanted to make sure you couldn’t leave until we had at least discussed a few things.”
Scott nodded towards the gun “I’ve got the key. You’re going to have to use that if you plan on getting out of here without talking to me.”
Johnny smiled slightly. “You’ve had worse ideas.”
Scott didn’t smile back. “I know. Like chaining you in that gully. Johnny, I am so sorry. I never meant for you to get hurt. I….I don’t know why I did it. I was just so angry, and I don’t really know why. Will you please talk to me?”
Johnny sighed and plopped down on the bed. This was going to be difficult. He decided he wouldn’t lie to his brother any more, but he just hoped he didn’t have to. He hoped Scott wouldn’t ask the right question.
“Johnny, I’m sorry I acted that way. I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and just don’t know why….”
Johnny interrupted. “I do. You hated me.”
Scott shook his head, “No, Johnny, I never hated you.”
Johnny smiled a sad smile. “Scott, I was a gunfighter. I stayed alive all those years because I was good at readin’ people. And believe me, I know hate when I see it. I saw your eyes, Scott. You hated me.”
Scott dropped his head, his voice barely audible. “I don’t know if I did or not. I know I was so angry…” his voice trailed off.
Johnny couldn’t look at his brother. ‘What about now, Scott? Do you still hate me?”
“No! I just….” Scott stopped and sighed.
“Scott, you said I wouldn’t talk to you. Well, you’re not doin’ a very good job of talkin’ to me. Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind. It’s the only way we’re goin’ to find out what’s goin’ on between us.”
Scott looked up at his brother and nodded. “You’re right. Johnny, that’s why need to talk.”
Scott hesitated a moment to collect his thoughts. “Before I came here, before I met you, I never had really gotten close to anyone. Oh, I had friends, close friends, but there was always a certain detachment. My grandfather didn’t believe in demonstrative relationships, he was always kind to me, but never really warm. I didn’t really know how to get close to people, nor did I want to. That is, until I met you.”
“You were unlike anyone I ever met. You made me want to get to know you, really know you, and I thought I did. I trusted you completely. You were more than my brother, you were my best friend; the best friend I ever had. I confided things in you that I would never tell another living soul. I had total faith that you would never let me down. And I completely believed that you felt the same way about me. When I found out that I was wrong, it was devastating. Not only because I had lost my brother and my best friend, but also because I had been so wrong about how you felt. I had been totally mistaken about our relationship, and it made me doubt my ability to evaluate people. I found it impossible to trust my judgment anymore, so I chose not to get close to anyone or to take a chance on making another mistake.”
Johnny shook his head. “Boy, Scott, I think it would just be easier to accept that you hate me and be done with it.”
Scott looked sharply at his brother. “This isn’t funny.”
“I ain’t laughin’.” Johnny stared at the flame in the lamp for a moment. “Scott, I never meant to hurt you. I want you to know that. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known you were goin’ to get this badly hurt over it. But don’t say that I didn’t care about you. That’s not true.”
Scott studied his hands. “Johnny, I do think you cared, just not as much as I thought.”
Johnny stared at his brother. “You’re wrong, Scott. All those things you said, about not getting’ close to people before and me bein’ your best friend, well, I felt the same way about you.”
Scott turned his head away. “Johnny, don’t. I know better.
Johnny continued to study his brother. “Why, because of what happened that day in the bank?’
Scott looked back at Johnny. “It doesn’t matter what happened that day. Not anymore. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I realized that no matter how you feel, or what you did, that I still care about you. I want you in back my life.” Scott dropped his head. “You’re my brother Johnny, and I love you. It took me a long time to realize just how much I really did care. I’d like to just forget about everything and go on, but I realize you probably can’t forgive me for what I did to you that day. I’m sorry.”
Johnny bowed his head. “Scott, we can’t just go on. You can’t just forget everything because you want to. You’re still angry with me, whether you want to admit it or not, and I’m angry with you. We can go on, pretendin’ everything is fine, but it never will be. Not unless we can put some of these things to rest once and for all. Even then I’m not sure. But I know that for us to have any kind of a chance at all, we’ve both got to come to terms with what happened between us.
Scott looked up at his brother. “I know, Johnny. But I want to get past this. I want us to be brothers again.”
Johnny returned Scott’s look. “We never stopped bein’ brothers.” He smiled slightly. “It’s friends were havin’ trouble with.”
“Scott, you need to get this out. All of it. Now, why do you think I don’t care? Because I hurt you?”
Scott nodded. “That’s some of it. I can understand and even forgive you for knocking me out. I’d like to think that you didn’t mean to hit me that hard. At least I hope not. But how could you let me think that I could have done it? I really thought that I was guilty. I couldn’t remember anything, and there seemed to be no other explanation. I never even thought that it could be you. And you saw how it was eating me up, how could you put me through that and still say you cared?”
Johnny remained silent, his head bowed.
Scott watched him, and continued. “And then afterwards, I still couldn’t believe you had done it. I made a fool out of myself trying to find out the so –called ‘truth’. I even accused Ben of hiding something. Until I found out what you really thought about me from your poker friends. Plus the fact that I found out that you had been lying and stealing from me for awhile.”
Johnny bolted upright. “What are you talkin’ about? I never lied to you or stole ANYTHING from you. And what do you mean you found out how I really felt. Scott, you’re not makin’ sense.”
Scott glared at his brother. “I thought we were supposed to be honest with each other.”
Johnny dropped his eyes for just a moment, and then replied. “I’m tryin’ to be. But I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“Johnny, how long do you think you could keep your gambling problem a secret? How long did you think that I would just keep forking over money to finance your little habit? How long do you think you could keep pretending to care when all I meant to you was an easy money source?
Johnny’s mouth was hanging open. “Scott, where in tarnation did you come up with that?”
Scott turned around and started to unlock the door. “If you’re going to play dumb, BROTHER, then there’s no point in continuing this ‘discussion’. I’m sorry I bothered you. It won’t happen again.”
Johnny scooted off of the bed and reached his brother before he could finish unlocking the door. Grabbing his arm, he pulled him around until they were facing each other. “Scott, please.”
The two brothers looked at each other, both trying to find the truth in each other’s eyes.
Finally, Johnny broke the silence. “Scott, I really don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. At least tell me what you think you know. Please.”
Scott shook his head in frustration. “So you can deny everything?”
Johnny held his gaze. “If I didn’t do it, yeah, you bet I’m goin’ to deny it. And if you accuse me of somethin’ I did, I’ll admit it. But you can’t be expectin’ me to apologize for somethin’ I don’t know nothin’ about.”
Scott sighed and shook his head. “What part don’t you understand?”
“None of it! First of all, what do you mean you found out how I really felt about you?”
Scott shook his head. “I was talking to some of your gambling buddies. They said that you had told them that you only pretended to care about me so I would keep ‘lending’ you money.
Johnny didn’t know what to say. “Who told you that?”
“Does it matter?”
Johnny exploded. “Yes, it matters. Who, Scott?”
“Several of them said the same thing when I questioned them separately. Jim Baldwin, that Corey kid that worked for us at the time, Bill Jenkins, and a couple of others whose names I can’t remember.”
“And you believed them.”
“Like I said, they all said about the same thing. It was pretty hard not to.”
Johnny sighed and sat back down on the bed. “Scott, I really don’t remember sayin’ nothin’ like that. But if they all said I did, then maybe I did. But believe me, if I said it, I wasn’t serious. You should know that! I was probably just foolin’ around. I can’t believe you thought that I meant it.”
“I didn’t, not at first. But then, yes, I believed them after I found out about the other things.”
Johnny shook his head. “Like my gamblin’ problem?”
“Yes, that’s one thing.”
Johnny smiled slightly. “O.K. How did you arrive at the conclusion that I had a ‘gambling problem’?”
Scott was becoming annoyed at his brother’s attitude. “Both Jake and Tom Kelly said that you had been going over to Kingman once a week or so and joining in the high stakes poker games they held there.”
“Then you don’t deny it?”
Johnny stared at his brother. “No, I don’t deny it. I did it for a month or so. So what?”
“Just for a month?” Scott asked, disbelieving.
Johnny shrugged. “Yeah, maybe five weeks, I really don’t remember.”
“They said that they saw you lose close to three thousand dollars only a week or so before you tried to rob the bank.”
Scott was getting frustrated at his brother’s lackadaisical attitude about the whole thing. “Well?”
“JOHNNY! How do you explain it?”
“Nothin’ to explain. I played some poker, and I won some and then I lost some.”
“Just like that.”
“Yeah, just like that.
“And the reason you weren’t upset about it was because the money you lost wasn’t yours in the first place.”
Johnny jumped up from the bed again. “Who says I wasn’t upset. And if it wasn’t my money, then whose was it?”
Scott glared at his brother. “Maybe that’s what you should tell me.”
Johnny was glaring back. “Scott, quit beatin’ around the bush. Spit it out. If it wasn’t my money, just whose do you think it was?”
“Mine! Right around three thousand dollars is the amount that I found missing from my room after the trial.”
Johnny sat back down on his bed and stared at his brother. “And you think I took it.”
Scott met Johnny’s eyes. “Johnny, you’re the only one that knew about it besides me.” Then Scott added sarcastically “Unless, of course you think Teresa found it while she was dusting and decided to buy a new dress with it!”
Scott’s voice lowered. “It was what was left of the five thousand dollars that I brought with me when I first came to Lancer. Between your “borrowing” and both of us spending money in town, it had gone down quite a bit. But there still should have been close to four thousand dollars there. Instead, there was only about seven hundred dollars. It all made sense. Everything. You took the rest to finance your gambling, and then when you lost all of it, you got desperate.”
Johnny sighed. “Scott, I have never stolen from you. Ever. I don’t know what happened to your money, but I didn’t take it.”
Scott approached Johnny, his voice pleading. “Johnny, how do you really expect me to believe that? Did that gambling money just magically appear? You’ve never had that much money since I’ve known you.”
Johnny shook his head. “Scott, do you remember that money I got for sellin’ those horses to the army remount station?
Scott nodded. ‘Vaguely.”
“It was around four hundred dollars.”
“Well, I happened to be in Kingman right after that and I got talked into joinin’ that poker game. That night I won about six hundred dollars. I decided to go back the next week. I hit a lucky streak, and by the night that Tom and Jake went up there, I had a little over three thousand dollars on the table. I was plannin’ on takin’ it and buyin’ that bull Murdoch wanted so bad.”
Johnny shrugged. “I lost it.”
Scott looked unbelievingly at his brother. “You lost three thousand dollars in one game.”
“Nope, I lost three thousand, one hundred and fifty dollars on one hand.”
Scott didn’t even bother to say what he really thought about that. “Tell me.”
“Scott, this guy was good. I don’t think he was cheatin’ or nothin’, but boy, he could play. His name was Bart something. Anyway, we were playin’ five-card stud, and I came up with four kings. I sure wasn’t planning on bettin’ it all, but you couldn’t expect me to fold with that could ya’? I never had a hand like that in my life. Only he kept raisin’ and then I kept callin’ and pretty soon we both had all of our money in.”
“And you lost.”
“Yep. I couldn’t believe it when he tossed his cards on the table. He had a jack high straight flush.
Scott was shaking his head slowly. “What about the other times you lost?”
Johnny looked at his brother. “Scott, there were no other times. I was so mad at myself for losin’ that much money I just about swore off poker.”
“Jake said you owed him some money.”
“Yeah, that was from before. It was only about thirty dollars. That’s what I was tryin’ to borrow the money from you for. Jake saw me lose all that money and thought I was rich, so he wasn’t willin’ to wait till payday. I needed the money for that and some birthday presents for Teresa and Jelly.”
“Those were some birthday presents if you needed three thousand dollars.”
Johnny looked bewildered. ‘Who said anything about me needin’ three thousand dollars?”
“Isn’t that the amount you tried to borrow from me?”
“No! I TRIED to borrow a hundred bucks. You know I always paid ya’ back. I don’t know why you were bein’ so darn stubborn about it.”
Scott glared at Johnny. “For SOME reason, I don’t REMEMBER why. And MAYBE my being stubborn had something to do with the fact that I knew that you had already STOLEN most of my money.”
Johnny was getting angry. “If I’d STOLEN most of your money, then why would I need to borrow any?”
“To pay for your GAMBLING!”
Both brothers were on their feet, glaring at each other.
Johnny had had enough. “I TOLD you, I didn’t need the money for gambling!”
“Well, you sure needed the money for SOMETHING, or you wouldn’t have tried rob the bank and pin it on ME! Or was that just your idea of fun?”
“Yeah, I had as much fun as you had chainin’ me in that gully!”
Johnny lunged at Scott, and a moment later, they were rolling on the floor, trying to tear each other’s heads off.
Johnny thought that if he didn’t move, there was at least an even chance that his head wouldn’t fall off. Although really, moving didn’t seem to be a problem. He didn’t think he could.
From somewhere to his right, there was an annoying moaning sound. He thought about checking to see what was causing it, but then he decided that it was more important to make sure his head stayed attached to his body. He relaxed and tried to get his eyes to focus. Well, eye. One didn’t seem to be working properly. He wondered idly what had happened to him this time. Stampede? Nah. Didn’t smell like cows. Avalanche? Nope. There was somethin’ on him, but it didn’t feel like no rocks, and besides, he didn’t know where he was, but he didn’t think he was outside.
His eye finally focused on some wood somewhere above him. Yep, he was definitely inside. Maybe there had been an earthquake and the house had collapsed. He lay there a few minutes longer, trying to get his brain to work. He figured he was definitely looking at the ceiling, and for some reason it didn’t look like it had collapsed. Dang, and he thought he’d had the answer. Well, there was sure somethin’ holdin’ him down.
He decided that the way his head felt, he really didn’t want it attached to him anyway, so he chose to take a look. His blurry eye finally made out a pair of legs sprawled across his. His eye leisurely followed the legs until they attached to a torso, and then followed the torso till it attached to a head. A blond head. And it was what was moaning. As he studied the head, it turned a bleary eye towards him and moaned again.
Lying back once again, he tried to remember what had happened. Gradually, bits and pieces filtered up to his foggy brain, and he finally recalled the fight that he’d had with his brother. Sighing, he turned towards the head once more, now mercifully quiet, and watched as Scott’s senses gradually returned also. He glanced around the wrecked room, and figured his head wouldn’t be attached much longer after all; Murdoch would see to that.
From beside him, a quiet voice interrupted his thoughts. “You O.K?”
Johnny turned once more towards the voice, and took in Scott’s bloody nose and closed eye, with a deep cut above it. “’Bout as O.K. as you are.”
Scott nodded and rolled onto his back, finally removing his legs from on top of Johnny.
Johnny watched his progress, then asked, “think you can get up?”
Scott nodded. “As soon as this room stops moving. What about you?”
“How about if you get up and tie it down, and then I’ll give it a try.”
Scott gave a small chuckle, and then winced. Putting his arms back behind him, he slowly sat up. “Alright, your turn.”
Scott watched as Johnny pried himself off of the floor. When he was sitting reasonably upright, Johnny moved back and put his back against the door. Then Scott scooted back slightly and leaned back against the bed, facing his brother.
They stared at each other for several minutes as they gradually became more aware. Johnny finally offered an observation. “You look like hell.”
“I feel like it.”
Johnny nodded. “Good. Hate to think my knuckles hurt this bad for nothin’.”
They sat quietly for a few more minutes, and then Johnny declared, “Scott, I NEVER stole any money from you, and everything else that I told you tonight was the truth.”
Scott stared at his brother and then shook his head slightly. “Johnny, I want to believe you, but nothing else makes sense, it never did. That’s the problem. Who else could have taken the money?”
Johnny shook his head. ‘I don’t know.” Johnny wouldn’t meet Scott’s eyes. “Maybe somethin’ happened to it that you don’t remember because of what happened in the bank. Could you have given it to someone, or maybe sent it back to your grandfather?”
Scott started to shake his head, then stopped. “I wouldn’t have sent it back to Boston. And I can’t imagine giving that much money away. Scott sighed. “I just don’t know what to believe.”
Scott continued to look at his brother, and after a short hesitation, started. “Johnny, I am sorry. I never meant for you to get hurt that day. I really thought that you were safe.” He dropped his head. “It was a cruel and thoughtless thing to do. Can you ever forgive me?”
Johnny dropped his head. “It’s not that easy, Scott. I know now that you didn’t mean for it to happen the way it did, but at the time, I thought you wanted me to die. I kept watchin’ that water rise, and kept thinkin’ you’d come back, that you just wanted to scare me a little. But then…..” Johnny’s voice got soft. “I was scared, Scott. Really scared. I hate feelin trapped, feelin’ helpless like that. I remember fightin’ that chain, and…..you don’t know what I went through. And you know what the worst thing was? Thinkin’ that my brother was the one that had done it, and that he had done it on purpose. You said that you were hurt because you had misjudged me, and that I had let you down. Well what do you think I felt about you?”
Scott couldn’t meet his brother’s eyes. He simply nodded. “So where does this leave us?”
“I don’t know.” Johnny whispered.
“Johnny, that’s not good enough. I’m not willing to just give up on us. Not now. I need you back in my life. We both need to get past this, and we need to finish this talk. There has to be some way of getting back what we once had, some way of resolving this.”
“Yeah, well, if you’ve got the idea we’re goin’ to try to settle this with our fists again, it ain’t goin’ to happen. I’ve had enough.”
“That wouldn’t be my first choice, either. You, brother, have a hard head.”
Johnny was looking down. “Maybe, but I don’t think my ribs are quite as hard. I think Sam’s goin’ to be awful mad at me.”
“Johnny!” Scott tried to scramble to his feet, and failed miserably.
“Scott, calm down. I ain’t in that bad a shape. I think I just re – busted one or two of ‘em. I ain’t dyin.”
Scott finally found his footing and shakily made his way to the door.
“Where are you goin’?”
“I’m going to tell Maria to send someone to get Sam. I think we could both use him right now.”
Johnny shook his head. “We don’t need Sam yellin’ at us. You can bind up my ribs and I’ll stitch up that cut on your eye. Besides, Maria ain’t around.”
Scott started to shake his head, and then immediately thought better of it. “You are not going to stitch up my eye, and if I don’t get Sam out here to look at those ribs of yours, I’m afraid both he and Murdoch will shoot me.”
“I told you, Maria ain’t around. If she was, she would have come runnin’ when the gun went off.”
“She’s around. I told her to ignore any noises that she heard up here tonight.”
Johnny stared at his brother. “Like me screamin’ for help?”
Scott smiled. “Or me. Now you stay there. I’ll be right back.”
Scott turned around. “What?”
“Unless you’re in a whole lot better shape than I am, which I doubt, wouldn’t it be a lot easier just to yell for her? After what you told her, you KNOW she’s goin’ to be listenen.’
Scott nodded, and unlocked the door. “Maria!”
He was rewarded by an almost instant response. “Si, senor?”
Scott looked at Johnny and chuckled. “Maria, would you please send one of the men for Sam, and then bring up a bottle of Murdoch’s good Scotch?
After hearing the response of a rapid stream of Spanish, Scott added, “Maria, calm down, nobody’s dying. Just please do as I asked.”
Murdoch dismounted slowly and walked into the estancia. These trips seemed to be getting harder and harder on him. An anxious Maria, who was spewing a stream of Spanish at him so fast that he couldn’t follow it, met him at the door.
“Maria, slow down. Now what happened?”
He only caught the words “Scott”, “Juanito”, “gun” and “killed” before he took off for the stairs.
He came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Sam sitting in his dining room, calmly having a cup of coffee.
“What happened?” Murdoch blurted.
Sam took another sip of his coffee, and then arched an eyebrow at his friend. “Your sons had a much needed ‘talk’. Oh, and I’m afraid they wrecked Johnny’s bedroom during the discussion.”
A slightly dazed Murdoch approached the table. “They’re O.K.? Maria gave me the impression that they’d killed each other.”
Sam shrugged his shoulders. “Scott has a concussion and a few stitches, and Johnny re-cracked his ribs. They’ll both be pretty sore for a while, and won’t be working for a few weeks. They’re asleep right now. Of course, that’s probably because of all of the alcohol in their systems.”
Murdoch sank down into a chair. “Alcohol?”
Sam nodded. “They polished off a whole bottle of your scotch while they were waiting for me to arrive.”
“Who started it?”
Sam shook his head. ‘I really don’t know. They both admitted to starting it when I talked to them, and nearly got into another fight trying to take the blame for each other. In fact, they would have gotten into another fight if they hadn’t been so drunk they couldn’t stand.”
Murdoch was staring at Sam, trying to make sense of what he was saying. Then he asked what he thought was the most important question. “Sam, did they manage to come to an agreement? Are they talking?”
Sam returned Murdoch’s gaze. “They’re talking, but I don’t think they’ve resolved anything.”
Murdoch buried his face in his hands. “They need to come to some sort of understanding. They can’t keep on like this. WE can’t keep on like this.”
“Murdoch, you need to stay out of this. You can be there if they want to talk, but don’t take sides, and don’t push. Both of those boys care deeply for each other. It’s obvious by the way they talk to each other when they’re forgetting to argue and by the way they were both willing to take the blame. I don’t care how mad those two are, they still love each other. They’re just going to have to figure that out.”
“Before they kill each other?”
Sam slowly nodded. “Before they kill each other.”
Murdoch walked quietly into his son’s room, taking in the smashed furniture and broken glass. His eyes were drawn to the bed where his boy was sleeping. He still looked so impossibly young when he was asleep. Murdoch grabbed a chair and pulled it upright, then sat next to the bed. His hand made the customary trip to Johnny’s face to feel for signs of fever. When he had assured himself that his youngest was still cool, he stood up to go check on his other son. On the way out, his eye caught the pale gouge in the dark doorframe. Going closer, he touched it, reassuring himself that it really was a bullet hole. Looking around, he spotted the gun lying on the table, along with two knives. He shuddered, wondering what had really happened in here, and thankful that both of his sons were still alive.
Johnny opened his eyes late that afternoon, awakened by the sound of snoring. Looking around, he first took in the demolished room, then his eyes slowly settled on the form of his father, who was sitting in a chair, fast asleep.
‘Great,’ he thought. ‘He’s not only goin’ to be mad about the room, and the fight, he’ll probably have a backache on top of it. Why couldn’t he have fallen asleep in Scott’s room? Then at least it would have been Scott’s chair that made him miserable instead of mine.’
Johnny reached for a glass of water sitting on the table next to his bed. He gasped as his ribs grated together, and immediately Murdoch’s eyes flew open, locking on his son.
“How’re you feeling?”
Johnny watched his father warily. “O.K.” Johnny’s eyes dropped. “How’s Scott?”
“He’s fine. Sam is in talking to him now.”
Johnny’s eyes slowly met his father’s. “Are you sending me back?”
Murdoch held Johnny’s gaze. “Johnny, I told you that you weren’t going back to that place. Ever. I don’t want you to worry about it any more, do you understand?”
“I got the gun out of your drawer.”
“Johnny, Scott wouldn’t have needed to get my gun. He has his own. I just want to know why you felt you needed it. I assume it wasn’t to use on your brother.”
Johnny looked shocked. “No!” He hesitated. “Have you talked to Scott yet?”
“No, young man, I’m talking to you. Now tell me.”
Johnny sighed. “When I came home, the house was dark, and nobody was around. I got spooked, thought somethin’ was wrong. So I got your gun, just in case.”
Murdoch thought there was probably a lot more to the story, but decided to let it go for now. He’d see what Scott’s version was first. “All right.”
Johnny nodded as a large weight lifted from him. “So you’re not mad?”
Murdoch’s eyebrow went up. “Oh yes, I’m angry. And as soon as I figure out which one of you started this, the repairs AND the cost of a bottle of Scotch is going to come out of your pay.”
Johnny sank back into the pillows. “It’s my fault. I threw the first punch.”
Murdoch closed his eyes and smiled.
“What’s so funny?”
“Johnny, how could I have ever thought you were irresponsible.” He shook his head sadly. “The only thing you were ever irresponsible with was your own life. I’m sorry, son. I’m sorry that I ever doubted you.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders, but immediately regretted the movement. “It’s O.K. I wasn’t all that responsible a lot of times, Murdoch. I guess I still had some growin’ up to do.”
Murdoch looked at him sadly, thinking about where his son had finished ‘growing up’. “I’m sorry.”
“Wasn’t your fault.”
“Yes, Johnny, it was. Most of it anyway.”
Murdoch shook his head. Changing the subject, he asked. “Did you tell Scott the truth about the robbery?”
“Didn’t get a chance. Besides, I already told ya. I ain’t goin’ to be telling him until I know what he thinks of me. I want to know for sure what’s goin’ on his mind before I tell him.”
“I think you’re wrong, Johnny. If he finds out somehow before you tell him, it’s going to make things worse. And even if you tell him, he’s going to be mad that you kept it from him.”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Besides, he can’t be a whole lot madder than he already is. And Murdoch, you’re the only one that could tell him.” He fixed his father with a stare. “Remember, you gave your word.”
Murdoch slowly nodded. “I won’t tell him.”
“Good. I’m not in any shape right now to fight you too.”
“So why did you hit your brother?”
Johnny looked at his father in disbelief. “Why do ya think? I was mad, and wanted to punch his lights out.”
Murdoch looked at his son. “Well, you did that all right. Feel better now?”
Johnny dropped his eyes. “No.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Johnny started to shrug his shoulders then thought better of it. “Murdoch, I want things to get better between me and Scott, but I don’t know if it’s goin’ to happen. He came in here last night to talk, but both of us are still so angry, well, obviously it didn’t work out real well.”
“Johnny, do you really want to work things out with your brother?”
Johnny didn’t even stop to think. “Yes.” Johnny shook his head. “I just don’t know how. He came in here to sort things out. He apologized for what happened that day in the wash, but I wouldn’t accept his apology.”
“Do you believe that he’s sorry for what happened?”
“I know he is. And I know he didn’t mean for me to get hurt. It’s just not that easy to forget.”
“Son, you will never forget what Scott did that day, or the way I treated you. Just like Scott will never forget how he felt when you ‘betrayed’ him. It’s not possible. The question is, can you forgive it, or more importantly, can you trust either one of us not to make the same kind of mistake again. That’s what you’re going to have to decide.”
Murdoch hesitated, debating, and then decided to plunge ahead. He had done a lot of thinking, and he thought he knew what at least part of the trouble was.
“Johnny, I think that you have at least partially forgiven me, at least you act like it. Have you?”
When Johnny didn’t answer, Murdoch tried again. “Please son, I’m asking you for a reason. Please tell me the truth.”
Johnny nodded. “I forgave you. It still hurts to think of you doin’ some of the stuff, but after we talked, I realized what was goin’ on in your mind. Made me understand a little bit why you acted the way you did. I probably would have done the same thing.”
‘I doubt that.’ Murdoch thought. “Johnny, the reason I’m asking is this. You forgave me fairly easily. Yes, we talked, but when we did, you listened to what I had to say. I don’t think that’s happening between you and Scott. Why?”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know. Neither one of us are doin’ a very good job at listenen’. It seems like we lose our tempers way before anything gets settled, and I don’t know why.”
“And it’s harder to forgive Scott than it was me, isn’t it.”
Johnny though for a second before answering. “Yeah.”
“I don’t know. It just is.”
“Johnny, I treated you very badly. I did much more to hurt you then Scott ever did. The only time Scott treated you badly was that day in the wash, and you admit that you know he didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Johnny hung his head. “It’s just different. I don’t know why.”
“I do. It’s because you expected more of Scott. You and I always had our differences. I never treated you like I should have, and you didn’t expect me to treat you right when you came home from prison. You had no reason to. But you and Scott were always close, almost right from the beginning. You trusted him, you believed in him. He never let you down. You loved him.”
Johnny’s eyes shot up. “You think I don’t care about you?”
Murdoch held his son’s eyes. “I know you care, Johnny. And I know you love me. You’d have to care about me to put up with the things that I did, without trying to hurt me somewhere along the line. But you and Scott had something special, and it’s hard for both of you to get over the hurt of losing that.”
Johnny slowly answered. “Maybe you’re right. But I don’t know how to fix it. How to change things.”
“I don’t have an answer for that. But I think you should keep trying. I think it’s important to both of you. If you don’t at least try your best to get past this, I think you’ll both regret it for the rest of your lives.”
Johnny knew his father was right. He would continue to try. He just wasn’t sure if Scott would.
Scott woke up to the sunlight streaming into his room. Squinting, he tried to block out the brightness that seemed to be burning right through his poor head. Then someone moved over and mercifully shut the drapes.
As his eyes finally focused, he recognized the figure. “Thanks, Sam.”
“You’re welcome. Now, how do you feel?”
“I’m all right, my head hurts a little. How’s Johnny?”
Sam picked up Scott’s wrist and felt his pulse. “Johnny’s fine. He re-cracked a couple of those ribs, but he’ll be back to normal soon.”
Scott sighed. “You should be in checking on him.”
“Murdoch is in there with him.”
Scott tried to sit up. “Murdoch? He’s back? I’ve got to talk to him. He’s going to blame Johnny for this whole mess.”
Sam pushed Scott back down. “Calm down, Scott. Murdoch’s not blaming anyone. He’s just talking to Johnny.”
“But Sam, the gun. He’ll know Johnny used it. I’ve got to explain what happened.”
Sam gave Scott another push to make him lie down. “Scott, stop. Murdoch isn’t going to do anything stupid. I think he’s finally learned his lesson.”
As Scott relaxed, Sam continued. “What about you?”
Scott didn’t look up. “What about me?”
Sam sighed. “Scott, when are you going to admit to yourself just how much Johnny means to you? When are you going to understand that you still love him, no matter what?”
Scott looked up at the doctor. “I already know that. That’s why I wanted to talk to him so badly, to try and make things right between us. Instead I made things worse.” Scott took a deep breath. “I just don’t know what keeps going wrong. Sam, I had it all worked out in my head. I knew what I was going to say, even what I was going to do. But then when I actually started to talk to him, it seemed like everything fell apart. I lost my temper; I said things that I didn’t even really mean. And I didn’t listen to what he was saying. Then afterwards, I couldn’t believe that I had acted that way. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve never been like this with anybody else.”
Sam studied the young man in front of him for a moment. “You’re afraid.”
Scott’s eyes flew to Sam’s. “You think I’m afraid of Johnny? That’s ridiculous.”
Sam shook his head. “I didn’t say that you were afraid of Johnny. You’re afraid of getting hurt again. Scott, everyone knows how close the two of you were, and how you were affected by what happened. What’s happening now is that your heart is telling you one thing, and your brain is telling you something else.”
“You WANT to make up with your brother; in fact you know you need to in order to be happy. But then, when it comes right down to it, when you are talking to him and have to make that choice, something in your mind tells you that if you start caring again, you could get hurt again, so you do or say something to sabotage it. You can’t quite overcome what your mind is telling you.”
“Scott, if you ever want to get your brother back, you’re going to have to shut out that little voice, and start listening to your heart.”
Scott sighed. “Sam, believe me, I want to. But I also keep wondering what he really thinks about me. It wasn’t just the actual robbery attempt. It was HIS testimony that would have gotten me convicted. How could he do that? Then, I found out that he was just using me to get money, and that he’d stolen from me.”
Sam stared at Scott, determined to find out the rest of this story. “What did you find out, Scott, that made you think those things?”
Scott was tempted not to tell the old doctor, but then he figured that Sam might be able to figure it out. He didn’t miss much, that was for sure. Slowly, Scott told Sam everything he’d told Johnny the night before.
Sam was troubled. The evidence against Johnny seemed pretty overwhelming, and he could understand now why Scott was so upset with him. Johnny had appeared to betray him in several different ways. The trouble was, Sam just didn’t think it sounded like something Johnny would do. Of course, he hadn’t thought Johnny was capable of robbing a bank and assaulting his brother, either.
“All right, Scott. Let’s take this one thing at a time. Do you really think that Johnny was just using you? That he didn’t care about you?”
Scott dropped his eyes. “Sam, you think I want to believe it? I don’t. But with all of the other evidence, …”.
Sam interrupted. “I’m not asking about all of the other evidence. I’m talking about whether you thought that Johnny never really cared about you. Scott, what does your heart say?”
“He cared.” Scott whispered.
Sam nodded. “I know he did, too, and he still does.”
Sam continued. “Now what about this gambling issue. Did you ever know Johnny to gamble heavily?”
“No, but he would have kept it hidden, at least if he had that bad of a compulsion.”
“All right, fair enough. But wouldn’t you have seen some signs? I know Johnny was usually broke, but you were with him most of the time, you saw how he spent his money. Did you ever suspect something before?’
Scott thought back and had to admit that he didn’t have a clue. “No, I had no idea. But Sam, That money I had in my room WAS gone. And I don’t have any other explanation for it to be missing. Johnny was the only one that knew I even had it. Nothing else makes sense, believe me I’ve tried. Everything I found out just made the case against Johnny that much stronger. And nothing about Johnny doing it DIDN’T make sense.”
“Except for the fact that Johnny wouldn’t do something like that.”
“I know, but I didn’t think he’d try to rob a bank, either.” Scott said glumly.
“Scott, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen some strange things in my life; things that I would swear weren’t possible. I have learned over the years never to say that something is impossible, because it usually comes back to make me look like a fool.” Sam smiled. “And your brother has made me look like a fool more than once, when I told you and Murdoch that he wasn’t going to survive.”
“All I’m saying, Scott, is that it is possible that the evidence is wrong. That Johnny was telling the truth last night. You may never be absolutely sure, and you may never have proof to support it. Now you can continue to doubt him, and believe what you think are the facts. And if you do that, you and Johnny will never be close again, I guarantee it. Are you willing to take that chance? How do you think you’re going to feel if you refuse to believe him, and then find out he was telling the truth all along?”
Sam stared at Scott. “You know, Johnny’s going to have to make the same decision about you. You told him that you cared about him, that you never meant for him to get hurt that day in the wash. And yet you expected him to believe you after what he went through. He knows that you DID want to hurt him, at least at that moment. What is he supposed to believe? His decision isn’t being influenced by so called ‘evidence’. He KNOWS what you did, and why you did it, and yet you’re expecting him to believe something that he knows in his heart ISN’T true.”
“I know, Sam. I know I may be expecting too much.”
Sam stood up. “You’ll just have to wait and see how much faith Johnny chooses to have in you. In the meantime, you’re going to have to think about your own beliefs, and decide what your priorities are.”
Scott raised tortured eyes to Sam. “And what if I choose to believe Johnny, and then find out the evidence was right? Sam, I can’t take being betrayed by him again.”
“I can’t make that decision for you, Scott. It will have to be yours. But there is no half way. You either believe him, really believe him, or you don’t. And you’re going to have to live with and accept the consequences, whatever they are. You can’t keep going on the way you have, you’re going to have to make a decision, and soon.”
“I know, I’m just so afraid of being wrong.” Scott whispered.
Sam opened the door, but before he walked out, he looked back. “Scott, everybody makes mistakes. You need to remember that.”
Murdoch was trying hard to suppress the smile that kept trying to form. His two sons were standing in front of him, looking for all the world like a couple of schoolboys that had been caught trying to put a frog in the teacher’s desk. But what made him really want to smile the most was that they were standing together. Both of them had tried to take the sole blame for what had happened that night. He knew there was still tension between them, but at least they had been talking to each other.
It had been one month since the boys’ ‘discussion’ and Sam had given Johnny the O.K. to resume normal activities the day before. So he had decided to mete out the punishment for the broken furniture and missing scotch.
“All right, since you don’t agree about exactly whose fault this is, I’ll have to hold both of you responsible. I expect you both to do extra chores until the bill for the furniture and the scotch is paid in full. To start with, I want that old dead tree up in the north pasture cut down and chopped into firewood, before it falls and kills some cattle. You can start on it after your regular work is done this afternoon. When you’re done with that, I’ll tell you what else to do. Understand?
Johnny looked at his father. ‘I changed my mind.” He pointed his finger at Scott. “He did it.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Too late. Now get going.”
Murdoch watched as they left, hoping that Sam was right. He had told Murdoch to try to get the boys working together, preferably by themselves, so they would have a chance to talk. Murdoch had told Jelly of his plan, to make sure the old man wouldn’t show up to help them. He had made it clear that they were to work by themselves. He just hoped it would get them to talking more. He smiled. He had a feeling that he was going to have to pad that bill a little.
Scott had already started on the tree by the time Johnny arrived late that afternoon. Johnny swung down off of his horse, wondering again if he’d ever get Barranca back. “How’s it goin?’
“It’s not. Now get over here and help me. My hands are already sore.”
Scott picked up an ax and handed it to his brother. Johnny looked at it like it might bite.
“I can’t take that.”
“What do you mean, you can’t take that? We need to get this tree chopped down. I’ve already done most of it. Now here!” Scott tried to shove the ax into Johnny’s hands, and his brother once more backed off. Scott was beginning to lose his temper.
“I told you, Scott, I can’t take that.”
Scott’s voice was deadly calm. “And why not, little brother?”
Johnny grinned at him. “It’s a weapon. I ain’t allowed to touch it. Remember?”
Scott held the ax out. “The only way this is going to be a weapon is if I bury it in YOUR HEAD. Now take it, and let’s get to work.”
Three hours later, they were both exhausted, hot, and sore. They sprawled on the grass, watching the summer sun slowly sinking towards the horizon.
Scott looked at Johnny, who was chewing on a piece of grass. “I’m sorry, Johnny.”
Johnny looked back at him in surprise. ‘For what?”
Scott returned the look. “‘For everything. For what I did that day in the gully, for ignoring you before then, and for doubting you the night we got into the fight.”
Johnny watched him a moment before replying. “I’m sorry too, Scott, for everything I did to hurt you.”
They lay there a few more minutes before Scott once more broke the silence. “It’s not going to be easy is it?”
“Nope. We’ll probably be workin’ off Murdoch’s fines for bustin’ furniture for quite awhile. Nothin’ worth havin’ is easy, but I figure we got our work cut out for us this time.”
Scott looked back at the setting sun. “I’m willing to work if you are.”
Johnny got to his feet, offering his brother his hand. “Let’s go home.”
Murdoch had noticed the boy’s behavior towards each other had been getting a little better all week. They seemed more relaxed around each other, and less inclined to take offense. They had only gotten into a few minor arguments that he knew of, and they had even played a few games of chess together. They still weren’t best friends again, by any means, but Murdoch hoped that the worst part was over, and that his family would soon be whole. They had finished removing the tree, and had moved on to tearing down an old shack, and then to painting the henhouse. He hoped that the last assignment he was going to tell them about would move things even further along towards a complete reconciliation.
As they ate breakfast, Murdoch decided to tell them what he wanted them to do today.
“Johnny, Scott, I need you to do one last chore to pay off that bill.”
They both looked back at him warily.
“Scott, after you get back from taking Teresa into town this morning, I want you to help Johnny catch a herd of wild horses that were spotted last up by Black Mesa. There’s a lot of Palominos in the bunch, and I want you to bring them in.”
Johnny looked up at the news. “Barranca’s bunch?”
When Murdoch nodded, Johnny spat, “Let him do it” and then turned and left the room.
Murdoch and Scott looked at each other in surprise. Murdoch was the first to speak. “Now what’s gotten in to him? I thought he’d be itching to get Barranca back.”
Scott nodded slowly. “So did I. It must be something else.”
“Like what? I swear I don’t know what that boy is thinking sometimes.”
Scott shook his head. “Neither do I, but I’m going to find out.”
As Scott turned and followed Johnny out, Murdoch wondered if he’d ever completely understand his sons.
Scott tracked Johnny out to Teresa’s garden, where he was sitting on a stone bench with his feet up and his arms wrapped around his knees.
Scott walked up to him, halfway expecting Johnny to take off when he caught sight of him.
When Johnny didn’t move, Scott cautiously sat down next to him. “Want to talk about it?”
“Nothin’ to talk about.”
“Johnny, I thought we were going to be honest with each other from now on.”
Johnny turned and gave his brother an unfathomable look.
“It’s nothin’ Scott, really.”
Scott watched him for a minute, “You’re angry with me, aren’t you?”
After a moment, he saw Johnny’s head nod slightly.
“Why? What did I do?”
Johnny sighed. “Nothin’”
Scott got closer to his brother so he could look in his eyes. He saw then pain and sadness there, but couldn’t figure out what caused it. “Johnny, please” he pleaded.
Johnny finally responded. “I envy you, Scott. You can go into town; you can do anything you want. What good will it do to have Barranca back if I can’t go nowhere? I can’t even go in and have a beer, or buy nothing in the store.” He paused a moment. “I have to let somebody know where I’m at all the time, and I feel helpless out there workin’ without a gun.” He looked down and sighed again. Every time I see you goin’ into town I get angry. I know it’s not your fault, but I can’t help it. “It’s hard, Scott. Harder than prison in some ways”.
Scott came closer and decided to take a chance. He put his arm around Johnny’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I wish I could make it go away, but I can’t.”
When Johnny continued to look down, Scott continued. “Johnny, I know how hard it is for you to be unarmed. I’ll make you a promise. When you’re out, I’ll watch your back, O.K.?” Scott smiled. “And I tell you what, after today, I won’t even go into town for a beer until you can go with me, deal?’
Johnny looked up at his brother. “You don’t have to do that, Scott. No sense in both of us bein’ locked up.”
“I want to, Johnny. And I will watch your back, I promise. That’s what brothers are for, and I’ll never let you down again. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I know you wouldn’t lie to me. I’m sorry I doubted you.”
Johnny bit his lip as he looked at Scott reflectively. “Scott, I need to tell you somethin’….”
“Scott! Where are you, you were supposed to drive me in to town.” Teresa came walking around the corner. “Oh, there you are. Hi Johnny! Come on, I need to get some material for that new dress I’m making for the dance next month.”
Johnny wasn’t sure if he felt relief or frustration about Teresa’s interruption. “Go on, Scott, I’ll talk to you later.”
Johnny sat there a few more minutes, trying to sort out his thoughts. He was almost glad now that Teresa had interrupted them. He knew Scott was going to be mad when he found out the truth, and he hated going back to locking horns with his brother. Maybe he’d wait for a little while before he told him. It sure couldn’t hurt.
Murdoch looked out the big window and watched as his son worked the Palomino horse in the corral. Barranca had sure given Johnny a fight at first. He’d been running free for over four years, and had made it clear that he didn’t particularly like giving up his freedom. But Johnny had persisted, and had gradually won the horse over. Now it was as if the separation had never taken place. Murdoch shook his head. Johnny usually won everyone over, man or beast, if given half a chance.
He was thankful that his family seemed to be whole again. Scott and Johnny were getting along, and things were almost back to normal. Scott had told Murdoch about his promise to Johnny that he’d watch his back, and Murdoch had made sure that the two of them had been together every time they went out for the last four months. He knew that they had discussed things, and were both trying hard to work out their differences. There was still a certain aloofness between them, but Murdoch was hoping it would melt away in time. The only regret that he had was that he wished that Johnny had told Scott the truth when he’d had the chance. Now it was almost too late.
He and Johnny had discussed it at length one day when Scott had been stuck in the house with a bad cold. Johnny admitted that he should have told Scott before, but had decided to let it go for now. Neither one of them knew how to bring it up without getting the feud between the two brothers going all over again, and neither Johnny nor Murdoch wanted that. Johnny had told him that there really wasn’t any point of telling Scott now, since they were getting along O.K., but Murdoch was afraid that they would never be as close as before unless the whole truth finally came out. Murdoch just hoped that Scott wouldn’t find out that truth some other way.
He turned back to his paperwork. He and Scott had been inundating the governor with requests for a pardon for Johnny. They had contacted everyone else they could think of to try to get at least a reduction of sentence, and were willing to pull any strings necessary, but so far they hadn’t had any luck. Murdoch was frustrated. He couldn’t even argue that his son was innocent, not with Johnny insisting that no one know about his deception.
Murdoch would give almost anything to know what really happened that day at the bank. He still wasn’t sure if it was some kind of ‘accident’ or joke gone wrong, or if there was another person involved. He would dearly love to speak to Ben about it one last time, but that was now impossible. He wished he’d tried harder at the time to find out the truth, but he knew in his heart that he had tried as hard as he could. Every seemingly promising clue had just led to dead ends, just like now. Everything that is, except the evidence that seemed to point to his sons.
He wondered again about the other things that had convinced Scott that Johnny was guilty. Scott had spoken to him about them, and Murdoch had understood why Scott had been so bitter about Johnny’s seeming betrayal. He had wondered briefly at the time if the bit about Johnny gambling and stealing Scott’s money might have been true. Because if it wasn’t, then it sure was a strange coincidence that everything had fit so neatly to make him seem guilty. But Murdoch hadn’t expressed his doubts to Scott, not when Scott had made up his mind to believe his brother. Besides, Murdoch knew that if Johnny had taken the money, he would have owned up to it.
Scott had asked all three of them, Teresa, Jelly, and himself if they knew what had happened to the money. He had questioned them all privately, and made it clear that he didn’t care about the money, didn’t care what had happened to it, but he wanted to clear up the mystery. They also discussed it as a group, trying to figure out where it had gone and who else could have had access to it. They all came up empty. Murdoch knew how much it would mean to all of them to find a logical explanation for what had happened to it. He had been sorely tempted to tell them that he had taken it, but had decided in the end that another lie wouldn’t solve anything.
Scott had questioned the two men that were still around that had told him that Johnny had been gambling heavily, and their stories hadn’t changed. They had both seen Johnny bet and lose a massive amount of money at the game in Kingman, and they knew he’d been going up there frequently, both because of his admission, and because the Kingman players obviously knew him well. But Scott had also realized, after talking to them, that Johnny’s story about the events fit just as well. He just hadn’t known Johnny’s side of the story before.
Murdoch sighed. They had lost so much time. He had a lot of regrets in his life, and most of them centered on his youngest son. But one of the biggest was not visiting him or writing him when he was in prison. Both he and Scott would regret that till their dying day. He knew how hard Scott was trying to make up for his mistakes and regain his brother’s trust, and both he and Scott were amazed that Johnny seemed to have forgiven both of them. Scott had kept his word, and hadn’t even been into town for a beer since the day he had promised Johnny that he would wait for him. Murdoch just hoped that neither one would have to wait that much longer.
As Murdoch started yet another letter, he glanced up in time to see Scott and Johnny ride out of the yard, seemingly at ease in each other’s company. Maybe the hard times were finally over.
Murdoch heard the door shut, and the jingle of spurs that told him that Johnny had just come in for lunch. He didn’t hear anyone else, so he took a chance and called Johnny over to his desk.
“Where’s your brother?”
Johnny grinned. “Amos needed help getting’ a steer outa the creek. Scott lost the toss, so he went back to help him.”
“He’s still out there?”
Johnny’s grin faded. ‘Yeah, why? Somethin’ wrong.”
Murdoch tossed a letter onto the desk. “Do you know what that is?”
Johnny merely shook his head.
“That is a letter from Governor Martin. In that letter, he tells me that because of our friendship, he would think about pardoning you, IF I would give him my personal written assurance that I believe you to be innocent! And I can’t do that, not without Scott finding out the truth. Johnny, you have to tell him!”
Johnny sighed and dropped his head. “No.”
“Murdoch, listen to me. Scott and I are getting’ along pretty good. I don’t want to do nothin’ ta mess that up. If Scott found out now, we’d be back at each other’s throats again. And for what? So Scott could feel guilty all over again? And if I’m no longer a suspect, who does that leave? Scott could go to jail for it. Is that what you want?”
Murdoch exploded. “No! That’s not what I want. I want BOTH of my INNOCENT sons to be free men. Johnny, he needs to know, and you need that pardon. Now if you won’t tell him, I will.”
Johnny looked up angrily. ‘You gave me your word.”
“Johnny, you have to stop lying to your brother. It has to stop NOW. He needs to know the truth!”
“The truth about what?” Both Murdoch and Johnny whirled around as the calm voice interrupted their argument.
All three men froze for an instant, before Scott asked again. “The truth about what?” He looked at Johnny. ‘What did you lie to me about?”
Johnny looked into Scott’s angry eyes for a moment, and then turned back to his father. “You wanted him to know so bad, you tell him.” He then turned back to Scott. “IF you want to talk to me later, I’ll be back finishin’ up that fenceline.”
“Well?” Scott asked his father as the door slammed behind Johnny.
Murdoch sighed. “Scott, sit down.”
“I prefer to stand, sir.”
Murdoch sighed again. “I don’t know where to start.”
Scott’s tone was curt. “Try the beginning. That’s usually the best place.”
Murdoch hesitated a moment, and then nodded. “When Johnny was hurt, he was delirious several times.”
“I remember. I also remember that you didn’t want me in there at those times. Why? What did he say?”
Murdoch hung his head. “I wasn’t absolutely sure that what he was saying was the truth, so I didn’t tell anyone. Then afterwards, when I confronted him, and I knew for sure, he made me promise not to say anything. He didn’t want you or anyone else to know.”
Scott had run out of patience. “ABOUT WHAT?”
“That he was innocent, that he never tried to rob the bank.” His voice lowered to a whisper “that he confessed in order to keep you from going to prison.” Murdoch couldn’t look up.
Scott felt like he was going to collapse. He shakily grabbed a chair and sat down. “No.” He whispered, “He wouldn’t do that.”
Murdoch finally raised his head to watch his son. “I’m afraid he did.”
Scott looked deep in his father’s eyes. “Murdoch, you don’t know that for sure.”
Murdoch merely nodded his head. “Yes Scott, I do.”
“But Murdoch, he could be lying about I, he……..”
“No.” Murdoch looked at Scott intently. “Son, I know what I heard, and I know by his reaction. He’s innocent.”
Scott finally accepted what his father was saying as the truth and closed his eyes. His whirling mind tried to make sense of what had happened.
“Why did he do it?”
Murdoch smiled a sad smile. “Why do you think, Scott?”
Scott looked up at Murdoch with tortured eyes. “He didn’t do any of it did he?”
Again, Murdoch shook his head.
“I hated him,” Scott whispered. “I hated him for four years. I almost killed him because of that hate. I thought he had betrayed me, I thought he didn’t care.”
Scott sat for a moment, shaking his head, and then his expression hardened. “He had no right. He had no right to do that.”
“No Murdoch. It wasn’t his choice. It was my problem, not his. Do you know what he put this family through? All of us?”
“What about what HE went through, Scott?”
“Exactly. It should have been me in that prison, not him. He had no right to do something like that.”
“Even to protect you?”
Scott stood up. “Especially to protect me! Did he think I couldn’t handle it? Does he think so little of me? How could he do something like that? All of those talks we had, all of the discussions about what happened, and the whole time he was lying to me. He didn’t mean any of it.”
“Scott, think! Do you really believe that Johnny didn’t mean any of the things he said? Do you really think that he was trying to trick you in some way? Do you really think that Johnny doesn’t care about you?”
Scott stood quietly, with his head down. “I know Johnny cares about me, and he thought he was doing the right thing. But it doesn’t change the way I feel, and it doesn’t change all of the problems between us that his lie caused.”
Scott shook his head. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going upstairs. I need to be alone for awhile to sort this all out.”
Murdoch looked concerned. “Aren’t you going to talk to your brother?”
“No, not until I know what I’m going to say to him.”
Murdoch watched as his eldest son turned and left the room. He got up and went to the sideboard and poured himself a generous amount of scotch. He noticed that he only had a few bottles left, and made a mental note to order more. He figured he was going to need it.
Johnny heard the rider coming up behind him, and braced himself. He purposely didn’t turn around until he heard the rider dismount. When he finally steeled himself and turned around, he was surprised to see Murdoch standing there. He figured immediately that the revelation had not gone over well with Scott if his father was out here.
He stood and watched Murdoch approach. “Well? Did you tell him?”
Murdoch nodded his head. “I told him.”
“Since it’s you comin’ out here, I take it he wasn’t real happy about it.”
Murdoch looked at his son. “No, he wasn’t.”
Johnny sighed. “So I guess we’re back where we started.”
When Murdoch didn’t have an answer to that, Johnny asked another question. “He believed it?”
Murdoch looked at his son in surprise. “Yes, why shouldn’t he?”
“Just didn’t think he would, that’s all. Almost wish he hadn’t.”
“Johnny, the truth had to come out sometime. Scott needed to know.”
Johnny’s voice rose appreciably “Why? All it’s goin’ to do is make things worse. I told you not to say anything; I told you it would just cause problems. Why’d you have to go stirrin’ things up? Why couldn’t you just have left well enough alone? You probably cost me my brother.” He slammed a fencepost down with enough force to crack it.
Murdoch took a step back at his son’s outburst. “Johnny, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for Scott to overhear us. You told me he was out with Amos.”
Johnny’s anger left as quickly as it had come. He closed his eyes. “I know. It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry, I’m just frustrated, and mad, and worried, and I need to take it out on somebody.”
“Son, I know Scott is angry now, but he really did need to know the truth. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”
Johnny smiled. “You still goin’ to call it that when he shoots me?”
Murdoch wondered how Johnny could always keep his slightly quirky sense of humor. “He’s not going to shoot you, son. He’s angry and confused, and he needs some time to sort out his feelings. He knows you did it because you care about him. He’ll come around.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I do. Now lets go home. Teresa baked an apple pie, and I’m sure there’s a few pieces left.”
Sighing, Johnny walked over and mounted his horse. He wanted to get the confrontation over with. As he and Murdoch rode home, Johnny began to think that maybe his father was right, that maybe it would turn out for the best. He and Scott would have no more lies between them. No more secrets. They might really be able to get back the relationship that they used to have.
By the time they walked into the estancia, Johnny was feeling pretty good. He and Scott would sit down and talk, and iron out all of their grievances once and for all. He suddenly felt freer than he had for a long, long time.
Murdoch insisted that they sit down in the great room and have a piece of pie. Johnny shoved his around more than ate it, thinking about the upcoming argument. He figured if Scott didn’t come down by the time he was done, he’d go up and talk to him. He was just putting his plate aside when Scott came down the stairs.
Johnny watched him warily, trying to gauge his mood, but Scott seemed pretty calm. He came and stood in front of them.
“Johnny, I want you to know that I’m very sorry for the way I treated you. I was sorry before I knew the truth, but I’m even more sorry now. I…”
”Scott, don’t, we..”
Scott interrupted him. “Please, let me finish before you say anything.”
At Johnny’s nod, Scott continued. “I know there’s no way I can ever make up for the things I did, the things I accused you of. Once again, I’m sorry. I should have listened to my heart all along, just like Sam said. If I had, I would have known that you never knowingly would have done anything to hurt me. And I know you did what you thought was right, and you did it to protect me. But you had no right to make that decision. It was MY life.”
Scott’s voice took on a pleading quality. “Johnny, Did it ever occur to you that I could have handled prison far better than I could handle what I thought was your betrayal?” At Scott’s anguished look, Johnny dropped his head.
Scott continued. “ I would have gladly gone to prison if I had known that I still had my brother. And as much as I know that you were trying to look out for me, it just proves that you don’t think very much of me. Do you really think that you are so much stronger that you could take prison and that I couldn’t? Do you really think so little of me? Do you think that I’m that weak?”
Johnny started to speak, but once again, Scott cut him off. “I had hoped that you and I could get back what we once had. I wanted that more than anything, I wanted my brother back more than anything, and I was willing to do anything to accomplish that. But then I found out that you have been lying to me all along. That not only did you think I was too weak to handle prison, but you thought that I couldn’t handle the truth.”
Scott turned his attention on Murdoch. “And you sir, went along with it. You treated me like a child that was too young and too foolish to know what was good for him.”
He turned back to his brother once more. “Johnny, you’ll always be my brother, and I will always love you. But I can’t live here knowing that you don’t respect me, knowing how you kept lying to me.”
“Murdoch, unless there are going to be charges against me in the robbery attempt, I will be leaving for Boston. I’ll sign over my third of the ranch to the two of you. I’m sorry I disappointed you both. Johnny, again, I’m sorry for what you went through because of me. And I hope some day you can forgive me for everything. I’ll be leaving as soon as I can get my affairs here in order. Good night.”
Murdoch and Johnny stayed motionless as Scott turned and went back up the stairs. Finally, Johnny slammed his fist into the couch, and sprang to his feet.
“That’s it!” Johnny took two steps before he felt his father’s hand on his arm.
“Wait for what? He and I are goin’ to have this out, once and for all.”
His father didn’t let go of his arm. “Johnny, calm down. You two don’t need to get into another fight.”
Johnny stared at his father. “Stay out of it, Old Man. This is between him and me. Now let go of my arm.”
Murdoch stared at his son for a few moments, and then slowly released his grip. As Johnny raced up the stairs, he wondered idly if he should send for Sam now, or wait until later. He sighed. At least neither of his sons was armed this time, he thought as he poured himself a large drink. He polished it off in four gulps, and then poured another and sat down to wait.
As soon as he reached the top of the stairs, Johnny slowed down and took a couple of deep breaths. His father was right; it wouldn’t help matters to get into a fistfight now. He hesitated outside of Scott’s door, wondering if he should knock, then he figured it didn’t make any difference, he was going in one way or another.
He turned the knob and walked into the room. Scott was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, with a hopelessly forlorn expression on his face. As soon as Johnny saw him, his anger evaporated. “Scott?”
Johnny walked up to a chair next to the bed and sat down. “Scott, I’m sorry.”
When his brother didn’t respond, Johnny tried again. “We need to talk about it.”
Scott turned a disbelieving eye on his brother. “Talk about it? You mean like all the talks we’ve had the last couple of months? The ones where we were supposed to be honest with each other? You mean that kind of talk?”
“Scott, don’t.” Johnny sighed. “I know I should have told you before, but I was scared.”
“Scared? Of what?”
Johnny put his head down. “Of what just happened.”
His eyes slowly met his brother’s. “Scott, we were gettin’ along so good, I didn’t want to do anything to mess that up.”
Scott returned his brother’s gaze. “Johnny, you ‘messed that up’ when you lied about doing it in the first place. I know you meant well, but you had no right to do it. It was MY life.”
Scott sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “Johnny, how do you think I’m supposed to feel about what you did? You gave up everything for me. I should feel grateful, but instead, all I feel is guilt. I feel guilty about what happened, guilty about the way I treated you, guilty that you went to prison in the first place. And I also feel angry. Angry that you gave up so much, and also angry that you put me in this position. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. How am I supposed to live the rest of my life knowing what you sacrificed for me?”
“Scott, I don’t want you to feel guilty, or obligated, or anything else like that. It was my decision, my choice. I knew what I was gettin’ in to.”
“That’s just it, Johnny. It WASN’T YOUR choice. Don’t you understand that?
It never was.”
“So what was I supposed to do? Just sit back and let you go to prison for somethin’ you didn’t do?
“That was different.”
Scott’s eyebrows shot up. “And why was that so different?
“Because I KNEW that I hadn’t done it. I know you Scott. It would have eaten you up, wonderin’ if maybe you really were guilty.
Scott looked carefully at his brother. “Johnny, what happened that day?”
Johnny shook his head. “I don’t know. I wish I did.”
Scott stared at his brother. “Did you tell the truth at the trial? When you testified against me?”
“Scott, I wasn’t tryin’ to testify against you, but yes, I was tellin’ the truth.”
“Then how do you know for sure that I didn’t do it?”
Johnny exploded. “Because I KNOW! You wouldn’t do nothin’ like that.”
Scott shut his eyes, remembering how he had doubted Johnny. “I believed that you had done it.” He said quietly.
“I know. But I’m different than you. You know I walked a fine line between right and wrong for a long time, and I’ve done things before that I’m not real proud of. Besides, I confessed. There was no reason for you to doubt my confession; I wanted you to believe it. It’s the only way it would have worked.”
“And did it ever occur to you that you hurt me a whole lot worse than prison ever could, by making me think you were guilty, by making me think that you had betrayed me?”
“Scott, I never meant to make things hard on you. I didn’t know what it would do to you. I was tryin’ to protect you.”
Scott blew up. “That’s just it, LITTLE BROTHER. What made you think I needed protecting?”
Johnny watched his brother, uncertain. “Scott, I know how hard you had it at Libby. You had nightmares about that place a couple of times a week that I know of. I knew how hard it would be on you to go back to a place like that.”
Scott kept his voice calm although he was seething. “So you just took it upon yourself to rescue me. Your poor, helpless brother. And I suppose it wasn’t hard on you. No, Even though you had been in prison before too, you could handle it. I mean, you’re a hero, right? You can handle anything. Your brother on the other hand is too weak to even know what’s right for him.”
“SCOTT! It wasn’t like that, you don’t understand.”
“Then tell me how it was, Johnny, because you’re right, I sure don’t understand!”
Johnny looked in his brother’s eyes. “ I know you could have handled it if you had to.” His voice lowered. “ I just didn’t want you to have to.”
Scott’s anger partially melted away. “Johnny, I know you did it because you cared about me.” Scott searched for the right words. “And I am grateful that you cared that much about me, that you loved me enough to make a sacrifice like that.” Scott lowered his eyes. “I love you too. But it doesn’t make it right. Don’t you see? You continued to lie to me. You’ve made me feel like my opinion doesn’t count for anything. Like I don’t count for anything. You made me feel like you don’t respect me”.”
Johnny’s voice was sharp. ‘That’s not true. There’s no one, NO ONE who I respect more than I do you.
Scott smiled a sad smile. “You just don’t respect me enough to think I can take care of myself.”
Johnny hung his head. “That’s not true, Scott. Like I said, I just didn’t want you to have to.”
There was silence for a few moments, and then Johnny finally spoke. “I did what I thought was right. Maybe I was wrong, I don’t know. I sure didn’t expect it to tear this family apart like it did. I’m sorry you were so hurt over what happened, it wasn’t my intention. But I’ll tell you this, I’d do it again if I thought I was protectin’ one of my family.
Scott looked at Johnny in disbelief. “Haven’t you heard anything I said, or does it just not matter?”
“It matters. I still have to do what I think is right, whether you’re mad or not. And to tell you the truth, I really don’t know why you ARE mad. I think you just got your feelin’s hurt because I didn’t tell you sooner.
Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “How would you feel if it were the other way around? Are you telling me you wouldn’t be upset?”
“And are you tellin’ me you wouldn’t a done the same thing for me? Scott, if you’re waitin for an apology, you ain’t goin’ to get one. I did what I thought was right at the time, and I’d do it again if I had to, and I ain’t apologizin’ for it.
Scott stared at his brother. “And it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t want you to do it?”
Johnny kept his eyes on his brother’s face. “Nope.”
“And you’d lie to me again about something that important?”
Johnny still held Scott’s gaze. “Yep.”
Scott just shook his head. “Then I guess we’re never going to agree about this, are we?”
Johnny watched Scott intently. “If you’re askin’ whether I am going to agree to just sit back and do nothing if you or Murdoch or Teresa are in trouble, then no, we’re not goin’ to agree.”
There was silence for a few moments, and then Johnny asked, “You really didn’t mean what you said about leaving, did you?”
Scott looked at his brother. With a sad smile, he responded. “I can’t stay here, Johnny.”
Johnny dropped his eyes. “So you lied to me, too, and I guess I’m not supposed to be mad.”
“I NEVER lied to you, Johnny.”
Johnny met Scott’s eyes. “Yes, you did.”
Scott was furious. “Name one time when I lied to you!”
“When you promised you’d stay here and watch my back.”
Scott remained silent for a moment. “Johnny, I can’t stay. Not with everything that’s happened.”
Johnny looked at his brother. “So it’s O.K. to lie if you think it’s for a good reason.”
“It is NOT all right to lie. I wasn’t lying to you, but things have changed. Circumstances have changed.”
Johnny nodded. “And I’m not important anymore.”
Scott blew up. “Quit twisting my words. You are important. You’ll always be important, you’re my brother!”
Johnny simply looked at Scott, and finally Scott lowered his eyes.
“Look, Johnny, you won’t need anyone to watch your back soon. You’re innocent. Murdoch will get this all straightened out, and you’ll be completely free.”
Scott was still irritated. “What do you mean how? You’re innocent.”
Johnny smiled sadly. “And they’re just goin’ to take Murdoch’s word on that, right? Or maybe mine?” Scott started to speak, and Johnny cut him off. “And if you think for ONE MINUTE that I’m goin’ to take a chance on lettin’ you go to prison after I’ve already served four years, you are out of your mind. Don’t even go there, Scott.”
“You may not have a choice.”
“Oh, yes I do. All I’d have ta do is to keep insistin’ I’m guilty, and finish out my sentence.” Johnny smiled. “And it’s a lot more believable that Johnny Madrid did it rather than Scott Lancer.” Johnny’s face darkened. “I mean it, Scott, I’m not goin’ to have served that time for nothing,’ and if you try anything like that, you and me are goin’ to have a BIG problem. You just keep your mouth shut to everybody about this.”
Scott shook his head in frustration. “So I’m just supposed to sit back and watch while you keep getting punished.”
Johnny looked at his brother and shrugged his shoulders. “Nobody’s punishin’ me anymore.”
“Johnny, you’re being punished every single day. You told me yourself how hard it was to not be able to go into town, not to do what you want.”
Johnny sighed. “Yeah, it’s hard. But I’ve only got about a year and a half left. I figure I can handle just about anything for that long.” He looked at Scott. “It’s a whole sight better’n you startin’ all over in prison.”
Scott stared at his brother. “That isn’t acceptable. We’ll have to figure something out; I’m not going to just watch you while you waste another year and a half of your life.” He thought for a moment. “We’ve already written the governor, maybe that pardon will come through.”
“Maybe, but even if somethin’ does come through, it’s goin’ to take some time.” He looked at Scott meaningfully. “In the meantime, I’m still a sittin’ duck if I can’t carry a gun.”
Scott took a deep breath and then shot a piercing glare at Johnny. “So is that how you think it’s going to work from now on? If you want something, you just get me to feel guilty? Johnny tried to interrupt, and Scott cut him off. “Well, it should work just fine, because I feel guilty as Hell!”
Scott paused a moment, then continued. “All right. I’ll stay until you’re freed, one way or another. And I’ll watch your back, like I promised. Unlike you, I don’t lie. But as soon as you can carry a gun, you’re on your own, because I WILL be going back to Boston! Now get out of my room. I want to be alone.”
Murdoch heard the door slam and sat up straight, waiting to see the results. He was relieved that he hadn’t heard any sounds of a fight, but that didn’t mean everything was all right.
A few short moments later, Johnny strode into view. He went right to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink that matched Murdoch’s in size. Plopping down in a chair opposite his father, he went right to work on the drink.
Murdoch chanced a question. “That bad?”
Johnny took another swallow and managed to choke on the fiery liquid. Glaring at what was left in his glass, he set it on the table next to him. “No Murdoch, everything’s normal. Scott hates me and I’m mad at him.”
Murdoch sighed. “Is he going back to Boston?”
“Yep, but first he’s goin’ to finish babysittin’ me like he promised.” He snorted. “Course the only reason he’s doin’ that is because I guilted him into it.”
“Johnny, I don’t care how you did it, we need to keep him here until we can change his mind.”
Johnny looked at his father for a moment. “Then you and Teresa and Jelly had better get to work, because you can count me out. I’m tired of tryin’ to get along with him.”
Murdoch tried to defuse the situation. “Johnny, he’s angry…..”
Johnny interrupted “Yeah, well so am I! I didn’t expect no medal for doin’ what I did, but I didn’t expect him to take my head off, neither. I just don’t understand why he’s so darned mad about it.”
“Johnny, he’s mad because he cares about you. He’s angry because you were hurt trying to protect him, and that was the last thing he wanted. He’s angry because he doesn’t really know what happened that day, and he’s doubting himself. And he’s angry because you continued to lie to him when he thought you were being honest with him.”
Johnny just shook his head. “I don’t understand. I just don’t understand anything anymore.”
After a few moments, Johnny looked back up. “I don’t want anyone else to know about this.”
“Johnny, you made that mistake once…”
“NO! This time nobody’s goin’ to get mad because they don’t know the truth. If Jelly or Teresa knows, pretty soon it’ll be all over town, and Scott may end up bein’ arrested. At the very least, it’ll cause more problems. Just let it go ‘till we figure somethin’ out.”
Murdoch wasn’t sure he agreed, but Johnny’s argument made sense. “All right, for a while. But people are going to know the truth about you eventually. I’ll see to that.”
Johnny nodded. “If it’s possible. But just make sure they don’t believe a lie about Scott at the same time.”
An hour later, a very weary Murdoch Lancer climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He hesitated outside of Scott’s room, and then knocked softly.
A very awake voice answered immediately “Come in.”
Murdoch went in and closed the door quietly behind him. “Are you O.K. son?”
“No, I’m not O.K. Should I be?”
“Scott, why are you so angry with your brother?”
Scott sat up and looked at his father in disbelief. “He did something that I NEVER would have wanted him to do, and then he continued to lie to me about doing it. He had no right to take my punishment. It was none of his business. And then when I confronted him about it, he said he’d do the same thing again, even knowing I wouldn’t want him to!”
Murdoch was stunned. “After everything he went through, after everything we put him through, he said he’d do it again?” He sadly shook his head. “Scott, doesn’t that tell you something? Doesn’t it tell you how much he cares about you?”
Scott sighed and dropped his head. “I know he cares. I just don’t understand how he could throw his life away knowing I wouldn’t want him to do it. Believe me, I care about him just as much. But I just don’t understand how he could do something like that. How he could just sacrifice himself for me like that.”
Scott looked at his father with anguished eyes. “Why, Murdoch? Why did he do it? And then, after knowing how much trouble it caused, and how much grief he brought on himself, how could he say he’d do it again? Murdoch, I just can’t comprehend it.”
“Scott, sometimes love isn’t logical.”
“Murdoch, I know what you’re trying to say. But just because it was done out of love doesn’t make it right. Believe me, I know that it was done with the best possible intentions, and that he did it because he loved me. I know he didn’t mean to hurt any of us But he did. He hurt ALL of us very badly, himself most of all, and he just won’t admit that he was wrong. I guess that’s what makes me so angry. That he would do something like that again, put himself through that again, no matter what the consequences.”
“Scott, maybe if you talk to him….”
“We’ve done enough talking. He’s not going to change his mind, and I know I’m not going to change mine. I told him that I would stay until he could carry a gun again, and I will. After that, I will be going back to Boston.”
“Just like that.”
“Don’t think that it was an easy decision. But I can’t live here knowing that neither you nor Johnny respects me. I DON”T need protecting like you both seem to think, and I don’t see any of us changing our minds anytime soon.”
“Son, I don’t want you to leave.”
“And I don’t want to leave, Sir. But right now, I think it’s the only option that will allow me to keep the little bit of self- respect that I have left. Now please, I’m tired and would like to go to sleep.”
Murdoch sat at his massive desk, morosely staring out of the window. It had been three months since he had sent the letter back to Governor Martin. Johnny had been adamant that no assurances were given about his being innocent. He was afraid that if his innocence was accepted that Scott would wind up in prison, and Johnny refused to even consider that option. For that matter, so did Murdoch. As badly as he wanted Johnny to be free, he would not allow Scott to go to prison after the sacrifice that his youngest son had made, and Scott had grudgingly gone along with that decision.
Instead, Murdoch had assured the governor of the unlikelihood of anything like that happening again, and stressed Johnny’s cooperation and willingness to behave. So far, all he had heard was that the Governor was “looking into it.” Feeling a flush of guilt, Murdoch was glad that he hadn’t gotten a response yet. He knew that if the pardon came through, he would lose his oldest son, and quite possibly his youngest as well.
He wasn’t sure what was taking so long. Probably the Governor was checking into Johnny’s past, which was not a good sign. Or maybe he was checking other possible suspects. Also not a good sign. He sighed. He didn’t know what else he could do if the pardon was denied. He had exhausted almost all of the other possibilities, and there was nowhere else to turn. Johnny seemed to accept the prospect of having to serve out his whole sentence with uncharacteristic composure, but it rankled Murdoch to no end.
What Murdoch really hoped was that one day he could conclusively prove to everyone that BOTH of his sons were innocent, but that prospect seemed highly unlikely. He had dug into every possible clue for the umpteenth time, but to no avail.
What was bothering him the most though, was his son’s attitude towards each other. He remembered the day that he had finally confided in Sam, telling him all that had happened. The old doctor had been horrified when he found out about Johnny’s sacrifice, but had also been sympathetic about Scott’s feelings. He had advised Murdoch to try to make each one see things from the other’s point of view, but when Murdoch had explained he had already done that and failed, Sam had no further suggestions.
Sam had joined the hunt for the truth, however, casually bringing up the case to everyone in the course of his work, fishing for leads, but none were forthcoming. No one appeared to know anything. Desperate, Murdoch had entertained the idea of hiring the Pinkertons, but realized that they might bring under scrutiny the only other suspect – Scott. Dejected, he had finally scrapped the idea.
Murdoch turned away from the window and shuffled the papers that seemed to multiply every day. He just hadn’t felt like tackling them. His main concern had been focused on getting his sons back together. He had tried every trick, every technique he could think of. This time, however, nothing had worked. He thought that it would almost be better if they were really mad at each other. Maybe if they could get into another fight, they would start talking. But the cold indifference that they showed to each other was impenetrable.
He knew they were both miserable. He knew by the look in their eyes when they thought no one was watching. They both needed each other, but they were at a loss as to how to fix the problem. Both thought they were right in their beliefs, and both had decided to make a stand. Murdoch had idly thought that maybe one of them would give in and apologize, but he didn’t think that would happen this time. And he wasn’t sure if it should. He didn’t really think there was a right and wrong in this case; they just needed to know how the other one was feeling.
He had fervently hoped that by working together, his boys would once again talk about their differences and patch them up. But this time, that ploy hadn’t worked. Scott and Johnny had worked together almost every day, and they were no closer to resolving their differences than they had been that afternoon that Scott had found out the truth.
He knew that both of them had valid points, he just wished he could make them see things from the other’s perspective. Just as he had told Sam, he had tried a few times to talk to them individually about it, but had been met with polite disregard from Scott, and angry belligerence from Johnny. He was beginning to believe it would take a miracle to get them back together, and he had just about given up hope.
Murdoch picked up a picture that had been taken three months or so before all of this trouble had started. He had insisted that he had wanted a formal shot of the four of them, but the photographer had also taken one or two others poses on that day. Murdoch had groused at the time about the wasted money, but when Murdoch received the photographs, the last shot taken was the one that he had chosen for himself. The one that showed his two sons with their arms draped around each other’s necks, smiling into the camera. He put the picture down with a sigh, wondering if they would ever be that close again.
He glanced out of the window once more, wondering where his sons were working today. By all accounts, the two of them worked well together during the day, getting whatever job assigned to them done with a minimum of conversation, and virtually no horsing around. The work was done in record time, but for once in his life, Murdoch kept hoping he would receive a report of them goofing off together. Murdoch sadly smiled. He would give just about anything to be able to chew them out for abandoning their work to go fishing or swimming, but so far, that hadn’t happened.
When they weren’t working, they tended to avoid each other as much as possible. At meals and other times when they had to be together, they were polite to each other, but no more than that. The bantering and teasing that had marked happier times had disappeared. Teresa and Jelly had tried, both individually and separately, to get them to lighten up, but it was a hopeless task. Both of his sons had a horribly haunted look in their eyes, and he thought he would be tremendously lucky if he didn’t lose both of them.
Idly watching his ward lackadaisically running a dust rag over the furniture, he remembered several weeks earlier to when Teresa had planned a picnic, hoping to lighten everyone’s mood. Both Scott and Johnny had tried to beg off, but Murdoch had told them in no uncertain terms what he thought of that idea. He had made sure that each of them knew how much trouble Teresa had gone to, and threatened each of his boys with dire consequences if they did anything to ruin the day.
Both of them had obeyed his command to the letter. They had been scrupulously polite, unfailingly helpful, and totally out of character. Teresa had cried all the way home, while Scott and Johnny had ridden in silence. If they hadn’t been grown men, he would have taken a belt to both of them. He still thought that might not be a bad idea. Nothing else had worked, that’s for sure. Murdoch buried his head in his hands. He had run out of ideas. And hope.
Scott and Johnny had been working hard all morning, removing brush from along the fence line. They had gotten almost all of it done already, and were way ahead of schedule. When it was almost noon, Johnny and Scott had silently eaten lunch next to a small stream, and then decided to take a short nap before resuming their work.
Johnny wasn’t sure what had awakened him. He glanced over at Scott and noticed that he was still sleeping, so he decided to let him sleep while he filled the canteens and checked the horses. He had only taken a few steps when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
“Hold it, Madrid!”
Johnny turned around slowly and watched a dark haired man emerge from some large rocks next to the clearing. “Hello, Miguel, kinda appropriate findin’ you among the rocks with the rest of the snakes.”
“Keep your hands up.” The man spied Scott, who had awakened, and turned so that either man would be an easy shot. He motioned the gun in Scott’s direction. “You, get over here next to your friend.”
“He’s not my friend, he’s…”
Johnny interrupted. “Shut up, Scott.”
“It don’t matter who you are. My business is with Madrid. He and I are going to complete some unfinished business. I’m goin’ to take him down.”
“He’s not even wearing a gun,” Scott protested.
“That’s his bad luck, he shoulda been more careful. For a man in his business, that’s just plain stupid. Course his stupidity will just ensure that I can ask anything I want for my jobs. Takin’ him down’s goin’ to give me the reputation I always wanted.”
“What reputation?” Scott argued. “For shooting a man down in cold blood?”
“It don’t matter HOW I take him down, the important thing is that I’m the one left standin’.
Scott faced the man and took a step forward. “How about if you and I find out who’s the fastest?”
Johnny was fuming. “Stay out of this Scott, you ain’t no match for him.”
“Oh, and I suppose you are, even without a gun.”
Miguel was enjoying watching the argument between the two men. “Don’t worry, ‘Scott’, I’ll take care of you right after I take down Madrid.”
Scott stood ready to move as soon as Miguel stirred. A second later, it happened.
“Say good bye, Madrid.” As Miguel started to squeeze the trigger, Scott dove at his brother. Johnny grabbed the gun out of Scott’s holster and fired a bullet into Miguel’s brain as his brother collapsed into his arms.
Johnny grabbed Scott and eased him to the ground. Frantically, he felt for a pulse, and was finally rewarded with a weak but steady beat. Seeing no blood on the front of Scott’s body, Johnny quickly rolled his brother onto his stomach and tore open his bloody shirt. The bullet had entered his back slightly off center and just below the shoulder blades. Tearing off his own shirt, he wadded it up and used it to try to stop the bleeding.
He whistled for Barranca, and when the horse approached, he dragged Scott over and was finally able to heave him up onto the saddle. Mounting awkwardly, he grabbed his brother around the waist, and holding the shirt to the wound, guided Barranca towards home.
He had barely gone a half of a mile when Cipriano appeared, drawn by the gunshots. As soon as Johnny spied him, he yelled at the Segundo to go get Sam and bring him back to the ranch. As Cipriano sped off, Johnny re-adjusted the bandage and checked Scott’s pulse once more. His brother hadn’t stirred since the shooting, and although the bleeding had slowed considerably, his pulse seemed to be getting weaker. Johnny urged his horse to a faster gait.
By the time they arrived at the house, Johnny was as close to panic as he had ever been. He hadn’t been able to find a pulse the last time he’d checked, and he was afraid that Scott was gone. He yelled for Murdoch, then jumped down and dragged Scott off of the horse. Carrying him into the house, he almost collided with his father, who was responding to Johnny’s frantic shout.
Brushing by Murdoch, he laid Scott on the couch, and kneeling down next to him, he anxiously searched for a heartbeat. Murdoch watched worriedly and finally spoke.
“Johnny, is he…..”
“Quiet!” Johnny snapped. Holding his ear to Scott’s chest, he finally was able to pick up a weak rhythm. Relief washed over him, and sitting back on his heels, he nodded at Murdoch. “He’s alive. I sent Cip for Sam, but he’d better get here quick, Scott’s bad off. We need to get the bleeding stopped.”
Murdoch went over and picked up his oldest son. “I’ll take him upstairs, you get his bed ready.”
Johnny raced up the stairs, with Murdoch following close behind. Turning his head, Murdoch bellowed for Maria to bring bandages, and silently cursed the fact that Teresa wasn’t home.
As soon as his father put Scott on the bed, Johnny turned his brother over onto his stomach once more and tried to stop the flow of blood. Murdoch blanched at the ugly looking wound and the precious fluid being lost.
“He was shot.”
Murdoch studied Johnny for a moment before asking “How?”
Johnny blew up. “Look Murdoch, let’s just get him fixed up. You can ask me all the questions you want later.”
Troubled, Murdoch busied himself removing the rest of Scott’s clothing and making him as comfortable as he could.
Sam finally arrived, and although he allowed Maria to stay and help, he chased Johnny and Murdoch downstairs while he went to work on Scott.
Murdoch went to the cabinet and poured them each a large drink. Handing one to Johnny, he walked over to the couch and sat down. “What happened?”
Murdoch watched impatiently as Johnny tried to get his emotions under control.
Clenching and unclenching his fist, he finally spoke. “It was my fault. Someone from my past, gunnin’ for me. Scott took a bullet that was meant for me.” He gulped the rest of his drink, and with an oath, flung the glass into the fireplace.
Johnny swung around and faced his father. “What! That should be me lyin’ up there, not him! It wasn’t none of his business!”
Murdoch watched his son with disbelief. “Son, do you hear yourself?”
Johnny looked at him in confusion.
Murdoch continued. “Scott said those same words about you the night he found out what you had done. He said that it was none of your business.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “That was different.”
Johnny exploded. “Why? Murdoch, Scott’s lyin up there, maybe dyin’ and you ask me why?
Although Murdoch’s gut clenched at the thought of his son dying, his gaze remained steady. He wasn’t going to lose this chance of making Johnny see Scott’s side. “Yes, I want to know why it was acceptable for you to be willing to sacrifice your life, and it’s not all right for Scott to do the same for you.”
“I DIDN”T sacrifice my life! I’m alive.”
“So is Scott.”
Murdoch shook his head. “Johnny, you know how many men have died in that prison, and you knew that before you confessed. I want to know what the difference is.”
Johnny hung his head. “Scott didn’t do nothin’ wrong. He was innocent.”
Murdoch came over and put his hand on Johnny’s arm. “You didn’t do anything wrong either.”
“Yes, I did. It was my past that caused this. He was gunnin’ for Madrid.”
Murdoch met his son’s gaze. Why was he after you?”
Johnny shrugged. “I killed his brother down in Nogales about a year before I came home.”
Murdoch continued to watch his son. “What happened?”
Johnny sighed. “His brother was a punk kid. Thought he was tough, wanted a reputation. Except he spent more time’ braggin’ than practicin’. He called me out.” Johnny dropped his head. “He lost.”
Johnny raised his head and looked into his father’s eyes, expecting to see disappointment or maybe anger. Instead, he saw understanding, and he was stunned.
Murdoch nodded his head. “So it was a fair fight, that HIS BROTHER started. Why was this man so bound and determined to gun you down?”
Johnny snorted. “It was his brother, Murdoch. No fight would have been fair in Miguel’s eyes.”
Murdoch nodded his understanding. “But it wasn’t your fault, was it?”
Johnny thought for a moment, and then shrugged. ‘Wasn’t Scott’s either, and that bullet was still meant for me. There was no call for him to go getting’ in the way.”
Murdoch shook his head, trying to figure out how he was going to get his stubborn son to see certain truths.
“Son, Scott took that bullet because he loved you, and didn’t want to see you hurt. He would rather suffer than see you suffer.”
“Or maybe he was just feelin’ guilty.”
Murdoch couldn’t believe his ears. “Do you really believe that?”
Johnny looked at his father for a second, and then he hung his head. “No.” Then he whispered, “I know he did it for me. It’s just that he’s been so mad at me that I never woulda expected him to do somethin’ like that.”
“Johnny, you know better than that, don’t you? You know your brother loves you.”
Johnny’s head stayed down as he finally nodded. “Yeah, I know it. It’s just that sometimes I think he hates me, too.”
Murdoch looked at his son. “Do you hate him?”
Johnny’s head jerked up, “NO!”
Murdoch smiled a sad smile. “But you are mad at him for what he did today?”
Johnny snapped back. “Yes, I’m mad, why shouldn’t I be?”
Murdoch pressed the issue. “Why SHOULD you be? Didn’t he have a right to protect his family, to protect YOU, even though you didn’t want him to?”
Johnny stared at his father and gradually comprehension dawned. After thinking for several moments, a small smile appeared on Johnny’s face and he shook his head. “All right, I see your point.” Then as an afterthought, he added, “and Scott’s.”
Johnny’s smile faded. “I just hope I get to tell him.”
Murdoch once again squeezed his son’s arm. “You will. Scott’s tough, he’ll be O.K.”
Johnny smiled surfaced briefly once more. “Yeah, I know. Besides, he’ll stick around just to hear me tell him he was right.”
Murdoch silently prayed that Johnny was correct and that he would be able to have a similar conversation with Scott.
Two hours later, an exhausted Sam came down the stairs. Immediately, both men came to their feet.
Sam waved them back down, and fell into the chair nearest him.
Johnny got up and poured them each a glass of scotch. Offering Sam his, he looked at the doctor. “Well?”
“I finally got the bullet out. It was lodged deep near the base of a rib. He lost a lot of blood, both before and during the surgery, but, barring infection, he should pull through.”
Johnny handed his father his drink and then took a sip of his own. “So he’ll be O.K?”
At Sam’s hesitation, Johnny lowered his drink. “What?”
Looking at Murdoch, the doctor continued. “The bullet was lodged near his spine. I had to take it out, or he would have bled to death. However, in removing it, I may have caused damage to the surrounding areas.”
“Spit it out, Sam” Johnny blurted.
Sam swirled the liquid around in his glass. “There is a chance that Scott will be paralyzed.”
The only noise was the sound of Johnny’s glass shattering on the floor.
Johnny took a step closer to the doctor. “Sam, you don’t know that for sure.”
Sam sighed and looked at the young man. “No, Johnny I don’t. But I know there was a lot of swelling and some damage. Also, right now his legs are not reacting to any stimulus. It could be temporary, but you need to be prepared in case it’s not.”
Johnny watched Sam closely. “How long before we know?
Sam shook his head. “I’m not sure. We’ll just have to take it one day at a time.”
“Sam, tell me the truth. What do you think the chances are that he’ll be paralyzed?”
Sam merely sighed and shrugged his shoulders. Noticing Johnny’s despondent expression, he went up to Johnny and put his hand on his arm. “Johnny…..”
Johnny pulled back sharply. “Don’t touch me!” He snarled as he turned and left the room.
Murdoch was shocked. Johnny had always treated Sam with respect, even in the very beginning. Murdoch took a step to intercept his son. “JOHNNY!”
As Johnny walked towards the stairs without even pausing, Sam grabbed Murdoch’s arm. “Let him go.”
“Sam, I’m not going to let him talk to you like that. He has no reason to be angry with you.”
“He’s not angry with me, he’s angry at himself. Now let him go.”
Murdoch turned and walked back to the sofa and sat down. “I swear I just don’t understand that boy sometimes.”
The old doctor shook his head. “Johnny’s blaming himself for what happened to Scott.”
“I told him it wasn’t his fault.” Murdoch bellowed.
Sam smiled at his friend’s belief that he could change Johnny’s mind simply by telling him to. “Do you really think that you telling him is going to convince him? He’s got to figure that out for himself.”
Murdoch snorted. “Like Scott did?”
“Are things any better between them at all?”
Murdoch shook his head. “It’s like living with two total strangers. They’re polite to each other, but that’s as far as it goes. All of us have tried getting those boys back together, but so far, nothing has worked.”
Sam took a sip of his drink. “Well, it’s obvious how much those two care about each other.” Sam voice dropped. “I believe things happen for a reason. Maybe this will make both of them see things in a different light.”
Sam looked at Murdoch. “Johnny’s not in trouble, is he? For shooting that man?”
Murdoch shook his head. “No. Val came and took a report, but it was self- defense. No names were listed and no one else will see it. Val will see to that.”
The doctor nodded his head. “I was worried.”
Murdoch dropped his head. “Sam, what are Scott’s chances, really?”
“Just like I told Johnny. I don’t believe his wound is life threatening at this point. And I won’t know about the paralysis until he’s awake and the swelling has gone down.”
Murdoch buried his face in his hands. “When is this going to end? When is something going to go right for this family?”
Sam came and sat next to his old friend. “Murdoch, you have a lot to be thankful for. You can’t give up hope. Things could still work out O.K. You just have to have faith.”
Murdoch nodded his head. “I know, Sam. But sometimes it’s awfully hard.”
Johnny entered Scott’s room and pulled a chair up next to the bed. Kicking off his boots, he proceeded to get comfortable, figuring he was going to be there for a while. He reached over and checked his brother for fever. Finding him cool, he sat back in the chair to wait.
When Sam came upstairs a while later to check on his patient, he found Johnny sitting in the chair with his head and arms resting on the bed next to his brother, apparently asleep. Quietly walking to the far side of the bed, he picked up Scott’s wrist to check his pulse.
Johnny’s voice was quiet. “I’m sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean to yell at ya.”
The doctor put Scott’s wrist down and took out his stethoscope. “That’s all right, Johnny. I know you were upset. Like I told your father, you just can’t lose hope.”
“How is he?”
Sam finished listening to Scott’s heart, then checked his eyes and breathing. “He’s still deeply unconscious. He probably will be at least until morning.”
Johnny sighed. “Tell Murdoch to get some rest. I’ll stay with him tonight.”
“I’ll tell him. Keep an eye on your brother to make sure he doesn’t get a fever. I’ll be staying tonight, so if you need me, just yell.”
Johnny smiled. “O.K., Sam, and thanks.”
Before shutting the door, the doctor turned around and smiled as he watched Johnny grab one of Scott’s hands before once again resting his head on the bed.
Johnny woke up when a hand touched his shoulder. The sun was just starting to steam into the room.
“How’s he doing?” Teresa whispered.
Johnny automatically checked his brother’s head for any sign of fever, but he was cool. “When did you get home?”
Teresa sat on the edge of the bed. “Just now. Jelly came and got me at daybreak from Sally’s house.”
Johnny nodded. “He’s still sleepin’.
Teresa smiled at him. “So were you.”
Johnny smiled back. “Yeah. Murdoch wanted to spell me for a little last night, but I made him go to bed. His back was hurtin’ him.”
“Why don’t you take a break? I’m here now, I can watch him for a while.”
Johnny nodded, then got up and stretched. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Johnny went downstairs to get a cup of coffee, and found Sam already at the table.
“I was just getting ready to come up. How’s he doing?”
Johnny poured himself a cup of coffee and grabbed a roll off of the stove before sitting down. “Bout the same. He’s still asleep. No fever, though.”
Sam nodded. “Well, that’s good news, anyway.”
Johnny bit his lip as he stared at the doctor. “Sam, he can’t be paralyzed. He just can’t.”
The pleading in Johnny’s voice tugged at the doctor’s heart. “We’ll do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen. But if it does, he’s going to need your help. And before you can help him, you’ll need to decide if you feel bad because of Scott, or because you feel guilty.”
Johnny’s eyes met the doctor’s, and then slowly lowered. “Both, I guess.”
“Johnny, what happened wasn’t your fault. You’ve got to realize that. You can’t spend the rest of your life punishing yourself for it, no matter what happens.”
Johnny lowered his head. “No, Scott’s the one that’ll be payin’ for it, not me.”
“Just like you paid for helping Scott.”
Johnny’s head jerked up and he stared at the doctor. “Murdoch told you.” He whispered.
Sam nodded. “Yes, because he was worried about you both. He knew what he told me would go no further. Now answer my question, Johnny.”
Johnny stared at the doctor for a moment and then snorted. “Scott didn’t see it as helpin’. He was madder than a wet hen about it. Said I ruined his life.”
“He knows better than that. But he’s letting his guilt eat him up. It taints the way he looks at everything.”
“What does he have to feel guilty about? It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do anything. It was my decision.”
“He feels guilty about more than you going to prison. He treated you very badly.”
Johnny shrugged. “He treated me that way because of a lie that I told him.”
“Exactly. I think part of the reason that he’s so angry with you is because you ‘made him’ believe something about you that wasn’t true, that he didn’t want to believe. He never would have believed it without your confession, and so he blames you for ‘making him’ treat you the way he did.”
Johnny stared at the doctor, trying to follow what he was saying. “So he’s blaming me for the way he treated me?”
“Indirectly, and I think subconsciously. I don’t think he really understands himself why he’s so mad at you.”
Johnny shook his head. “Well that makes two of us.”
Sam nodded. “Do you feel guilty about yesterday?”
“You know I do. But that WAS my fault.”
“Why? According to your father, you had done nothing to warrant that attack.”
Johnny looked at Sam in surprise. “Murdoch said that?
“Yes, he did. Johnny, that man might as well have been a complete stranger. You had no way of foreseeing the events. This was no more your fault than it was Scott’s fault when you confessed.”
“I still didn’t want Scott to be doin’ it.”
Sam stared at Johnny. “And Scott didn’t want you to be doing what you did. Both of you did those things to protect someone you loved. It’s just a shame that something that noble on both your parts has almost destroyed what you were trying to save. You need to think about that, Johnny.”
Johnny dropped his head. “Sam, you can save the lecture. I already told Murdoch I was wrong.”
The doctor’s voice rose slightly. “Johnny, you are NOT wrong, but Scott isn’t wrong either. You both need to realize that, and you have to make an effort to understand each other’s viewpoint. I’m sure you can if you try hard enough, and I’m sure that both of you will be much more understanding about what happened before because of yesterday.”
Johnny looked up at the old doctor. “Scott’s pretty mad at me. I don’t know if he’ll even want to understand.”
“Johnny, Scott cares about you very much. If he didn’t, he never would have done what he did. He’s just had a lot longer to be eaten up with guilt. He probably doesn’t know himself why he’s been so angry. We’ll talk to him and make him understand.”
Johnny smiled. “I don’t know, Doc, unlike me, Scott can be pretty stubborn sometimes.”
Sam’s eyebrows went up at Johnny’s statement. “Well, young man, so am I, and so is your father. He won’t stand a chance. We’re going to get this family back together.”
“I hope so,” Johnny whispered.
With a supreme effort, Scott finally was able to open his eyes. Blinking slowly, he tried to make sense of what was happening. At last his eyes managed to focus on a familiar face.
“Scott, how do you feel?
Licking his lips, he tried to form an answer, then gave up and merely nodded.
Sam reached over and taking a glass off of the table, offered him some water.
“Not too fast, just a sip or two.”
Scott again nodded his understanding.
After taking a swallow or two, his head collapsed back onto the pillow, trying to remember what happened. After a minute or so, his memory returned. “Johnny!” he shouted, trying to sit up.
Sam gently pushed him back against the pillows. “Johnny’s fine, Scott.”
After searching Sam’s face, he relaxed, and sleep took him once more.
The next couple of days, Scott drifted in and out of consciousness. He had no fever, but the paralysis still seemed to be present. Much to Murdoch and Teresa’s displeasure, Johnny refused to leave Scott’s side, and insisted on taking care of him by himself. They had tried time after time to get him to take a break, but after a discussion with Sam, they had realized it was a way to assuage some of the guilt he was feeling, and they finally left him alone to do what he wanted.
Three days after the shooting, Scott woke up feeling fairly alert. Teresa had been hovering around him for the last hour, coaxing him into eating a little broth and making sure he was comfortable. After having his pillows fluffed for the fourth time, he was trying to think of a diplomatic way of asking her to leave when Sam walked in and chased her out.
“How’re you feeling?”
“O.K. A little sore.” After a short hesitation, he added “and tired.”
Sam nodded. “That’s to be expected.” He pulled the blanket back and rolled Scott a little more to one side. After examining the wound, he went to the end of the bed and pushed the blanket up away from Scott’s feet. “Can you feel this?”
“No.” Scott had been keeping a tight rein on his feeling of panic for the last several hours. He had noticed earlier that he had no feeling in his legs, and since then he had tried to move them, but to no avail.
As the doctor moved the blanket back into position, Scott could no longer control his apprehension. “Sam, tell me the truth, is it permanent?”
Sam sat down next to the bed and looked at his patient. “You mean the paralysis?
At Scott’s nod, he continued. “I don’t know. And I won’t know for some time yet. We need to give the swelling time to go down, so don’t be getting upset yet. There’s a good chance everything will be fine. You need to give it some time, and concentrate on getting better. These things can’t be rushed.”
Scott nodded. “Is Johnny really O.K.?”
Sam looked surprised. “Haven’t you seen him yet?”
Scott shook his head.
“As soon as he wakes up, I’ll tell him you want to see him.”
Scott glanced out the window at the late afternoon sunlight. “If he’s all right, what’s he doing sleeping in the middle of the day?”
Sam smiled. “It might have something to do with the fact that he didn’t leave your room for more than a minute or two the whole time you were unconscious.”
At Scott’s raised eyebrows, the doctor continued as he walked towards the door. “I’ll make sure he gets the message. Now you rest and concentrate on getting better. That’s an order, young man.”
As the door gently closed, Scott thought about what the doctor had said. A small smile formed on his face as he drifted off to sleep once again.
He woke to the smell of bacon and coffee. Opening his eyes, he saw his brother sitting by the bed, holding a tray.
“’Bout time you woke up. I was just getting’ ready to take care of this breakfast myself.” Johnny moved over and helped his brother sit up, then smoothed down the blanket and set the tray on his lap.
Scott looked at the offering. “Sam said I could have this?”
“Nope, and if you tell him or Teresa, you can go back to eatin’ broth.”
Scott shook his head. “I certainly won’t divulge our secret.”
Johnny nodded his head. ‘Good, ‘cause if they found out, they’d probably make me eat broth too.”
Johnny sat back in the chair and watched while his brother managed to make a sizable dent in his breakfast.
When Scott was finally finished, he leaned his head back against the pillows. “Thanks, Johnny.”
Johnny nodded, and then got up and moved the nearly empty tray to the table, then sat back in the chair. “How’re you feelin’?”
“O.K.” Scott dropped his eyes. “Actually, I’m sort of numb. I can’t really feel much of anything.”
Johnny looked at Scott, a dark expression on his face. He started to say something, and then changed his mind. Getting up abruptly, he grabbed the tray and started for the door.
Caught off guard, Scott called out. “Johnny?”
Without turning around, Johnny growled, “We’ll talk later” as he slammed the door on his way out.
On the way down the stairs he brushed by his father. “I’ll be in the barn.” The terse sound of his voice left no doubt that he was upset.
Murdoch watched him for a few moments and considered calling him back, but instead he decided to approach what ever was wrong from a different angle. He went straight to Scott’s room and, taking a deep breath, walked in.
“Hello son. How’re you feeling?”
Scott was looking out the window. “I don’t know. Until a minute ago, I would have said O.K. Now….” Scott shook his head.
“Son, Sam said there’s still a good chance you’ll make a full recovery. It’s just going to take some time.”
Scott nodded his head. “I know, we talked for little while before. It’s just the not knowing that bothers me.”
Murdoch looked at his son. “You’ll be fine, I know it. You’ve got all of us here fighting for you.”
Scott lowered his eyes and nodded. Changing the subject, he asked, “Where’s Johnny?
Murdoch sat down next to the bed. “He’s in the barn. I met him coming down the stairs. Want to tell me what’s wrong?”
Scott looked at his father in bewilderment. “I don’t know. Everything was fine one minute, then he just got up and left.”
“Before he left, was anything said?”
Scott thought for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing much. He asked me how I felt, and I told him that I really couldn’t feel much of anything.”
Murdoch sighed. “Don’t you think that was the problem? He’s been very worried about you, and he feels extremely guilty about what happened.”
Scott dropped his head. “He shouldn’t feel guilty. It wasn’t his fault.”
Murdoch hesitated, thankful that he had been given this opening, and trying to think how best to broach the subject. “Scott, why did you do it?”
Scott looked at his father in disbelief. “Murdoch, that gun was aimed at Johnny’s heart. I never could have drawn and shot before that man pulled the trigger. Johnny would have been killed.”
Murdoch nodded slowly. “But you knew that by getting between them that there was a good chance you would be killed, too.”
Scott shook his head. “I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing while my brother was gunned down.”
Murdoch continued to look at his son. “But it was his problem, not yours. Why would you risk your life to protect him?”
Scott couldn’t believe what his father was saying. “He’s MY BROTHER! What was I supposed to do?”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe Johnny wouldn’t want you to make that sacrifice? That maybe the guilt in knowing what you sacrificed would be almost worse than his getting shot?”
Scott was totally confused. “Murdoch, I didn’t have time to think it all out. All I know is that I couldn’t let it happen. I couldn’t have lived with MYSELF if I had just stood by and done nothing. Johnny has no reason to feel guilty. It was my choice. I know he would have done the same thing for me.”
Murdoch got up to leave. Before opening the door, he turned around and looked hard at his son. “He already has, Scott.”
Sam walked in to the bedroom, and came face to face with a very subdued Scott. Murdoch had filled him in on what had happened, and he was curious about what Scott’s reaction would be. The young man had had several hours to think about it. Sam went over and opened the drapes, and then turned and pulled up a chair next to the bed.
“How’re you feeling?”
“Like an ass.”
“It’s not funny, Sam. I can’t believe I was so self-righteous about what happened. I just didn’t understand. No, let me rephrase that. I just wouldn’t understand. I was so wrapped up in how badly Johnny’s decision made ME feel, that I wouldn’t even consider his side of it.”
Scott looked at the old doctor. “I was so wrong. I don’t know if he’ll even accept it, but I owe him an apology.”
Sam looked at Scott and sighed. “Yes, you do. And Johnny owes you one, too.
Scott looked up in surprise. “For what?”
Sam shook his head. “Scott, you were both wrong. And right. Johnny probably shouldn’t have confessed to the robbery. Maybe if he hadn’t lied, more effort would have been made to find out who had really done it. Now, it’s probably too late. And it was his actions and lie that caused a lot of the problems between you. He knows that now. But he did it with the best possible intentions. He had no way of foreseeing the consequences. He was also wrong in lying to you for so long, even though he was afraid of what would happen when the truth came out.”
“And yes, you could have been more open to his side of the story, although I know how deeply you had been hurt. He never did it with the intention of hurting you, or to make you feel obligated. And he didn’t confess because he didn’t respect you, any more than you took that bullet because you didn’t respect him.”
“Scott, part of being a family, of being with people that you love, is understanding and accepting the give and take between the members of that family. It’s not ever going to be even. At any one time, any of you may be giving more than receiving, and vice-versa. But you can’t keep score, and you have to learn to accept the giving from them as graciously as you accept the taking. It’s what being a family is all about.”
“When you’re part of a family, you have to accept all of it, good and bad. If you truly love someone, you have to put aside hurts and open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt again. Scott, no one is perfect, and ALL of you have made some very serious mistakes when it comes to your family. But I know you all love each other very much. The decision you’ll all have to make is whether you’re willing to accept and learn from what has happened, and go on, or whether you’re going to give up and go your separate ways.”
Scott looked up at the doctor. “I know that Sam. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Thanks.”
Sam nodded. “Now lets check out your back.”
Sam made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen where Murdoch and Johnny were eating lunch.
Murdoch looked up at the doctor as he sat down at the table. “Well? How’s he doing?”
Sam looked at both men before answering. “He’s got some feeling back in his feet. I can’t guarantee it, but I think he’s going to be fine.”
Johnny and Murdoch both put their heads down for a moment, and gave silent thanks.
“His recovery is not going to be quick, or easy. He’ll probably have to learn how to walk all over again. He’s going to need a lot of help for a while.”
Murdoch nodded his head. “Don’t worry, Sam, he’ll have it.”
“I’m sure he will.”
Murdoch stared at the doctor. “Did you talk about anything else?
“Yes.” He glanced at Johnny. “He said he was hungry. John, why don’t you take him something to eat?”
Johnny looked up in surprise, but after looking at the doctor’s face for a moment, he got up and started fixing a tray.
After his son left the room, Murdoch turned a questioning eye on his friend. “Well?”
Sam smiled. “I think they’re gong to be fine, Murdoch. Both of them.”
Murdoch once more dropped his head in thanks. “I was beginning to lose hope, Sam. I just couldn’t see any way of getting them back together. We had tried everything.”
Sam reached over and put his hand on Murdoch’s shoulder. “Like I said, sometimes things happen for the best. I certainly never want to see anyone hurt, but I think that what happened the other day was a blessing in disguise. It was about the only thing that could have made those two see things out of the other one’s eyes. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to get them past it.”
Murdoch nodded his head. “It will. I know how much they mean to each other. Thanks, Sam, for everything. We never would have made it through this without you.”
“My pleasure, Murdoch. But you know there’ll still be issues that you’ll all have to work through for quite awhile. And you are all going to have to work on earning each other’s trust again, it’s not going to just happen.”
“I know. But I’m never going to do anything to lose either one of those boys again. I know now what is important to me. And this ranch means nothing without the two of them. I know what my priorities are. I learned my lesson.”
Sam squeezed Murdoch’s shoulder. “I’m going back to town. If you need anything, let me know. I’ll be back in a few days.”
Scott was wondering how he was going to get his brother back in to talk to him when he heard the knock. “Come in.”
Surprised, he watched as Johnny walked in, balancing a tray. He kicked the door shut, then walked over and put the tray on Scott’s lap.
“Sam said you were going to be fine.”
Scott nodded. “Johnny, even if I weren’t, I would do it again.”
Johnny shook his head. “Scott….”
“Listen to me, please.” Scott hung his head. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I judged you the way I did, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to what you were saying. What happened the other day made me really realize just why you did it.” I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” He looked up into his brother’s eyes. “I promise I’ll never doubt you again, and I promise that I’ll listen, really listen to what you have to say from now on. Will you please forgive me?”
Johnny watched his brother. “Scott, there ain’t nothin’ to forgive. It made me realize how you were thinkin’ too.” Johnny shook his head. “I was mad at ya. I was so mad that you pulled such a stupid stunt and nearly got yourself killed because of me. It made me feel hurt and guilty about what happened. I felt like grabbin’ ya and beatin’ some sense into ya, and if you hadn’t of been hurt, I probably would of.”
Johnny lowered his eyes. “Scott, you asked me before if I’d do it again, knowing you wouldn’t want me to. And I’d still have to answer yes to that question. But you also asked me if I’d lie to you again.” He looked into his brother’s eyes. “I know I was wrong about that, and I promise I’ll never lie to ya about nothin again. Will you believe me?”
Scott considered his brother for a moment, and then smiled slightly. “You won’t even lie when I ask you about what you’re getting me for my birthday?”
Johnny smiled back. “Who says I’m getting’ ya anything? Besides, you won’t be here. You’re goin’ back to Boston, remember?”
“Now how can I go back to Boston if I have to stay here and make sure you don’t get into trouble?”
“Me? You’re the one that keeps getting’ into trouble. I’m just glad I don’t have to chase your sorry hide all the way back to Boston. I can just see old Harlan enjoyin’ havin’ me for a houseguest.”
Scott nearly choked on his coffee, thinking of THAT possibility. “I guess we’ll just have to make sure that never happens. I don’t think any of us would survive it.”
“What do ya mean? The only one that wouldn’t survive it would be Harlan. He’d probably have a stroke.”
Murdoch stood outside of Scott’s room, listening to his boys bantering back and forth. He didn’t think he’d ever heard anything that made him feel so content.
Murdoch went to the window for the fortieth time in as many minutes. ‘Where are those two?” He groused. “They’re never late for lunch. If they’re off somewhere, goofing off…”
Teresa laughed. “Murdoch, calm down. You know Johnny’s not going to be THAT late if food is involved. Besides, I remember a few months ago you telling me you were hoping that they WOULD goof off.”
“That was then. NOW I want them home.”
Teresa gave up and went into the kitchen to start dinner.
Ten minutes later, Scott and Johnny rode into the yard and dismounted. Unable to contain his impatience, Murdoch went to the door and opened it. “Boys! Get in here, NOW!”
Johnny looked at Scott. “Uh Oh. Looks like you’re in trouble again!”
In answer, Scott swatted Johnny on the arm with his hat, then turned and walked towards the house. “Come on, let’s get whatever it is over with. We still have that whole section of fence to finish.”
As they walked into the house, Johnny stopped to let Scott go first. At Scott’s inquiring look, Johnny explained. “If he’s armed, I figure I can duck behind you.”
In response, he got another swat with Scott’s hat before they both walked in and stood before Murdoch’s desk.
Murdoch looked sternly at both of them for a minute. Finally, he spoke. “First of all, I want you both to know that if you get into ANY trouble whatsoever, I will personally take a belt to both of you. Is that understood?”
Johnny and Scott looked at each other for a second, and then both shrugged.
“Secondly, I want you to remember that tomorrow is a work day. I will not accept any excuses for not starting work on time. Is that clear?”
Johnny took a chance. ‘Murdoch, what’s this all about?”
“Quiet! I’m not finished.” Murdoch rummaged in his desk for a moment. And then came up with some money. “Here’s your pay.”
Scott was shaking his head in complete bewilderment. “Payday isn’t for another three days.”
Murdoch looked up. “I know. I’m giving it to you early. Just try not to spend it all. It’ll be another two weeks before you get any more.”
Once more, the two brothers looked at each other with a perplexed look. Finally Johnny spoke up again. “And just where do you think I’m going to spend it?”
Murdoch looked back at him. “My guess is the saloon.” To himself, he thought ‘One way or another.’
As Johnny’s eyebrows shot up, he handed a piece of paper to Johnny. “It’s your pardon, it came through. You’re a free man.”
Johnny closed his eyes and sank into a chair. Immediately, he felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder. Opening his eyes, he looked up into the grinning face of his brother.
Scott squeezed his shoulder. “Come on, brother, let’s go. The boss just gave us permission to go and paint the town red.”
Johnny remained sitting. He smiled up at Scott, and then turned to Murdoch. “Do you care if Scott and I go into town tomorrow night instead?”
Both Scott’s and Murdoch’s smiles faltered. “No, son, not if that’s what you want to do.”
Johnny nodded, and then gave them a shy grin. “I’d rather stay here tonight, and celebrate with my family.”
Murdoch and Scott exchanged looks before breaking out into wide smiles.
Murdoch finally broke the silence. “I think that can be arranged.”
As Murdoch put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder, he realized the miracle he had prayed for had happened. He had his family back, and they were whole.
Murdoch’s hands were shaking as he sat down abruptly at his desk after reading the first paragraph. He felt like he just might pass out. The letter had been sent from Ben’s daughter. She said that she was going through some old books, and came across the sealed letter addressed to him. She had forwarded it without opening it.
I am writing this letter to you in hopes that one day I will have the courage to send it. I want you to know that I never meant to hurt you or your family. What I did was an act of a very desperate man and I hope that you can someday forgive me. I want you to know what happened that day in the bank, and I want you to know that neither of your sons was guilty of anything.
As you know, my wife came from a very wealthy family from New York. When I married her, I promised that she would never want for anything, if she would agree to come with me out west.
She took me at my word. Shopping and purchasing things from Europe became her way of coping with a life that she hated and a husband she despised. For a while, I was able to keep up with her spending, but gradually I got deeper and deeper in debt. I finally took out a loan against my house, but when the note was due, I found that I could not pay it.
I was expecting a fairly large payment on the sale of some property, so I “borrowed” the money that I owed on my loan from the bank. I figured that when the sale came through, I would be able to put it back. Unfortunately, the sale fell through, with no other buyers to be had.
Then I was informed that the bank officers were going to be doing an audit within a few weeks. I panicked. I had every intention of giving myself up to the authorities. I saw no other way out.
On the day in question, Scott came into my bank. He told me that he wanted to make a deposit in the amount of three thousand dollars to his account. We talked a little, and he told me that no one knew about the money except Johnny, and his brother didn’t know he was depositing most of it. He said that he had decided to leave a little out for spending and to loan his brother, but that he was putting the rest of it into the bank to keep it safe from his and Johnny’s sometimes unnecessary spending. He joked that if he had told Johnny, that his brother would insist on one last spending spree at the saloon.
I asked him to put the money in a bank bag, so I could take it into the safe. I took the money from him, but at that moment there was a commotion outside, and Scott walked to the side window and looked out, with his back both to me and to the door. All of a sudden, I realized that this was the answer to my prayers. I thought that if I could knock Scott out, I could say someone else had come in and robbed us of the money, and I could put the cash into the bank. I would be off the hook. I didn’t have time to think of the consequences. I went over and hit him over the head with the bag. Scott must have seen something out of the corner of his eye, because he raised his elbow and grabbed at the sack as it was coming down. I felt his elbow make contact with the top of my nose, and then I blacked out.
When I came to, Johnny was already there, and then Sam came in shortly after. I didn’t think Scott had seen who it was that hit him, but I was still frightened, because I wasn’t sure. I thought again that maybe my best bet was to confess, and try to pass it off as some sort of an “accident. Then I heard Sam tell Johnny that he didn’t think Scott would make it. Murdoch, I want you to know I never meant to hit him that hard. But it was too late to go back, and I decided that if I was going to have to get caught anyway, that I might as well stick to my plan. So I told everyone that it was the bank’s money, taking a chance that Scott wouldn’t pull through. I also told everyone that I didn’t really know what happened, to give me room to change my story if I needed to.
After the trial, I spoke both to Sam, on the pretext of worrying about Scott, and to a doctor friend of my wife’s. They both said that the chances of Scott remembering what had happened that day were almost non-existent, because of the severity of the blow. They said it took time for short- term memory to become stored in the brain, and that a blow interrupting that process would mean the information was lost forever.
I relaxed a little after that, but I was still afraid that I would be found out somehow. When it didn’t look too suspicious, I moved my family away, and hoped that no one would ever find out the truth. However, I couldn’t avoid the one person that knew the truth – me. It has eaten away at me until I can’t sleep at night, I barely eat, and life has become my own personal hell. I have been miserable to be around, and so I have lost my wife and my children. All of it was for nothing.
I believe my time on this earth is short, and I know I will have much to atone for in the hereafter. Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you or your family. You were always a good friend.
You don’t know how shocked I was when Johnny confessed to the crime to save his brother. You are a very lucky man, Murdoch, to have a family that cares about one another that much. I hope you appreciate them. It is something that few people, and that I especially, will never have. Please forgive me.
~ end ~
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