Word Count 4,200
The challenge was to take the story opener provided (shown here in italics) and finish the story
Scott Lancer was sitting at his father’s desk studying the Army contracts that Murdoch had requested he review before the meeting next week. Except for the occasional scratch of his pencil when he made a note, the house was silent. His father and brother had left that morning to check the condition of the line shacks on the northern portion of the ranch. Teresa, his father’s ward, had retired hours ago. As the clock struck eleven, Scott realized how tired he was and decided to finish his perusal of the contracts tomorrow. Having made this decision, he gathered the pages together to return them to the bottom drawer of the desk.
As Scott was opening the drawer, he carelessly knocked over a cup of coffee. Fortunately the cup was almost empty and it appeared that only a few drops splattered into the drawer. To be on the safe side, Scott decided to remove all the papers and check that they were dry. As he was doing this, he found a bound report with the words JOHNNY MADRID blazoned across its cover.
With the coffee forgotten, Scott sat staring at the report. He had known the report existed. He probably even knew about a few of the events that the report included … the few that his brother had shared. But Scott also recognized the fact that there was a lot that Johnny had not told him. There were so many things that Johnny kept bottled up inside. Things that Scott would like to know for Johnny’s sake as well as his own. Although Scott loved his brother dearly, he was honest enough with himself to admit that there were times when he just didn’t understand Johnny. Could this report be the key to finally comprehending what Johnny’s life was like before he came to the ranch? Who Johnny was before he became Johnny Lancer? Would gaining this knowledge be worth any guilt he would feel for what could definitely be considered an invasion of privacy?
He sat there for long moments contemplating. Should he? He opened the folder gingerly and peeked inside. It was in chronological order so he went to the back first. ‘I’ll just take a quick look’, he thought.
The first page was background information. Johnny and Maria’s descriptions, etc. The next page listed several towns and villages in Mexico, all with the same listing…. Unable to locate. He sighed and turned the page. This one was dated six months after the first but, except for the date and the names of the towns, there was no difference in the report.
The next one was five years later and Scott frowned at this. What was Murdoch doing for five years that made him stop looking for Johnny? Â He shook this thought off as he read the report. Sightings were reported in three towns but the agent was unable to find them. The next page was another five years. Scott shook his head slowly, feeling some resentment for his father. This one was more interesting.
Evidence that Maria had died but still no sign of Johnny. He was twelve years old then. He turned the page once more and stopped. Three years had elapsed now. ‘Evidence found of one Johnny Madrid; occupation – gunfighter. Shot and killed a man in Nogales in a gunfight. No charges brought.’ Scott stared at the page for a long time.
Johnny was fifteen, FIFTEEN! He kept turning the pages, reading incident after incident of gunfights and killings by Johnny. Always the reports stated Johnny was not the instigator, that he had been called out in every instance. There were range wars and even some that appeared to be revenge, though for what, the report never said.
Reports of alleged injuries Johnny suffered from gunfights. Most of it was hearsay. Time and time again the reports stated the agent was unable to locate him. There was also a list of known associates. Scott recognized a couple of the names like Wes and Isham and some he had heard of by reputation.
He thought he should stop here, read no more, but his curiosity got the better of him. Surely there was something more here. Something besides dates and names. He kept looking through the tome, reading each report carefully but never finding anything personal. He noticed after the first few pages detailing the deeds of Johnny Madrid, that the pages were not roughened as if they had been read.
In fact, they looked as if they had never been touched. Did Murdoch stop reading once he found out that Johnny was gunfighter? Scott surmised that’s exactly what happened, knowing his father. He kept going, hoping he could find some revelation to his brother’s past. He stopped and stared at a page bearing a date that would make Johnny eighteen at the time. His heart dropped to his stomach and he felt a lump rising in his throat. He read it over and over, trying to accept what the ink was telling him.
‘Johnny Madrid shot five times in the back in Santa Rosa. Condition unknown. Unable to locate.’ How could they be unable to locate a person with five bullets in him?! Scott blinked several times and tried to understand, to fathom what his brother had been through.
He got up and poured himself a stiff drink. He wasn’t sure he would be able to continue his snooping but a part of him told him he had to finish. He had to know the truth or what little part of the truth was there. He sat back down at his father’s desk and turned another page. It was dated almost a year after the last one. ‘Probably because he was almost dead’, Scott thought dryly.
It stated another sighting, another incident when Johnny was called out, somewhere in Mexico. He took a bullet in the shoulder this time. Scott sighed heavily but kept on reading. What he saw next almost made his heart stop beating completely.
‘Johnny Madrid located in Sonora, Mexico. Client declines approaching subject.’
He shook his head vehemently. No! No, Murdoch wouldnâ€™t, would he? Did he even read this report? Surely the Pinkerton agent would have verbalized that they had finally found him! And the report said Murdoch declined approaching him which meant he did know! He knew where Johnny was when he was nineteen. A year before he sent for him!
Scott felt his cheeks grow hot with anger. He knew where Johnny was and just like himself, he had not bothered with him until he needed help saving his precious ranch! Scott sat back heavily in the chair. Shock, rage, incomprehension assaulted his senses until he couldn’t even think. Slowly, he forced himself to continue reading. Only a few pages were left. More reports of Johnny’s statistical life.
The last one was the report stating he was in a Mexican prison, scheduled for execution. Well, I guess that got your attention, Murdoch! ‘Client requests contact be made. Offer whatever necessary to free subject and request his presence at client’s home. Offer of one thousand dollars to be made for one hour of subject’s time.’
Scott laughed at this. Sure, buy us off. Money, the great propeller of action. He rebound the file and replaced it in the drawer as he had found it. He thought about going to bed but knew it was a waste of time. Scott sat there for another hour trying to decide what to do with this information. If he told Johnny what was in that report, Johnny would leave Lancer. He was sure of it. If he confronted Murdoch, his father would refuse to discuss it and he wouldn’t get anywhere. He didn’t know what to do but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to keep this to himself. Especially when he saw Murdoch again.
He knew the anger would be almost unbearable and he would not be able to conceal it from either of them. He went upstairs and laid on his bed, not bothering to undress. He knew there would be little if any sleep for him tonight and he dreaded his family’s return the next day.
Murdoch and Johnny rode into the yard just before noon. Scott walked out of the barn and tensed when he saw them. They were talking about something and laughing. Scott shook his head. Liar! He thought.
“Hey, Boston! Did ya miss us?” Johnny called out.
Scott smiled at his brother. “Of course not,” he teased.
“Hello, son. How’s that report coming?” Murdoch asked, smiling.
“Fine, Sir. It’s on your desk,” Scott clipped.
Murdoch frowned at the tone of voice but said nothing about it and went inside.
“What’s wrong?’ Johnny asked, knowing his brother well.
“Nothing, Johnny. Nothing at all,” Scott said and tried to smile though he avoided eye contact. He walked away leaving Johnny staring at his back.
He knew something was eating his brother but he figured Scott would tell him in his own good time. He didn’t see his brother again until supper and Johnny was wary about Scott’s mood. He and Murdoch continued their conversation about the line shacks and the supplies needed for each of them. Scott was quiet and sullen.
“You did a good job on that report, son,” Murdoch said.
“Yeah,” Scott answered softly.
“Is something wrong, Scott?” Murdoch asked.
Scott glared at him for a second then dropped his eyes. “No,” he answered.
“Well, I guess we won’t leave you alone again. You get too grumpy,” Johnny teased.
Scott looked at his brother and his expression softened. “I guess so,” he answered softly, his love for his brother reflected in his eyes.
Johnny returned a similar look and smiled affectionately at him. Â
“I think I’ll turn in. I didn’t sleep too well last night. Goodnight,” Scott said and abruptly left the table.
“Well, at least he’s not mad at me,” Johnny said and eyed his father.
Murdoch shrugged, he had no idea why Scott was being so terse with him.
Johnny knocked on his brother’s door and kept right on coming. Scott was standing at the window staring into the night.
“I thought so,” Johnny said.
“You just wanted to get away from Murdoch. You’re mad at him. What’s wrong, Scott?” he asked.
“Nothing, Johnny,” Scott whispered.
“Yeah, ok. Look, whatever it is, I’m sure if you just talked to him about it, you could work it out,” Johnny offered.
Scott laughed. “How many times have I said that to you?” he asked with a grin.
Johnny smiled back. “So you can dish it out but you just can’t take it. Is that it, brother?” he teased.
“That must be it,” Scott replied.
“Well, if you change your mind, you know where I’ll be,” Johnny said as he opened the door.
Johnny nodded and closed the door behind him. Scott returned to his place at the window. He knew he was going to have to talk to Murdoch about this and he was dreading it. He also knew though that he couldn’t keep it bottled up inside him, not if he couldn’t even say a civil word to the man.
Scott walked into the living room the next day to find his father alone. ‘Good a time as any’, he thought.
“Where’s Johnny?” he asked.
“I haven’t seen him,” Murdoch answered and watched his son.
“We need to talk, Sir,” he started.
“I was hoping you would come to me. Scott, what have I done to upset you?” Murdoch asked.
Scott sighed and looked at the floor. He didn’t have a clue where to start so he thought he’d start slow. “The other night when you and Johnny were gone I was finishing up that report. I decided to put it away for the night and go to bed. I opened the bottom drawer of your desk and spilled a little coffee. When I went to clean it up, I found the Pinkerton report on Johnny,” he said, then let out his breath.
Murdoch tensed immediately, a look of astonishment on his face.
“You read it.” It was a statement not a question.
“Yes, I did,” Scott said firmly.
“I’m sure it was interesting reading,” Murdoch said sardonically.
“It wasn’t pleasant, Murdoch. But the worst of it was what happened a year before you sent for Johnny and me,” he said, his anger growing slowly like embers smoldering in a fire, ready to spark a blaze.
Murdoch averted his eyes then, unable to face the anger he saw building in his eldest.
“Well?” Scott demanded.
“Well what?” Murdoch said softly.
Johnny strolled out of the kitchen and stopped in the dining room as he heard his brother’s raised voice. He started to leave but what he heard next stopped him cold.
“You knew where Johnny was a year before you sent for him. I want to know why, Murdoch!” Scott yelled.
“I had my reasons,” Murdoch said, still speaking in a low voice.
“What reasons? You didn’t want a gunfighter for a son? Or at least not until you needed him!” Scott said indignantly.
“That’s not true!” Murdoch yelled.
“Isn’t it? Then why didn’t you send for him?” Scott yelled back.
“I don’t have to explain this to you, young man! How dare you question me?” Murdoch shouted.
“You can explain it to me,” Johnny said softly from the doorway.
Murdoch and Scott both whirled around to find Johnny watching them. Scott couldn’t read his brother’s face and wondered how long he had been there. Murdoch stared into Johnny’s eyes but saw nothing, no emotion, no expression.
“Johnny, how long have you been there?” he asked.
“Long enough, Murdoch. Are you going to explain it to me or not?” he asked calmly.
“Johnny, it’s complicated,” he said softly.
Johnny smiled and chuckled a little. “Yeah, it always is,” he said as he headed for the front door.
“Wait. Don’t leave, son,” Murdoch said.
“Are you going to talk to me or not?” he asked, his back to them both.
Murdoch said nothing and Johnny walked out of the house.
Scott turned on his father. “How long are you going to keep doing this to him? Why did you ever send for him, Murdoch? You don’t seem to give a damn about him, so why bother?” he spat.
“Stop it! You know how I feel about Johnny. About both of you,” Murdoch said firmly.
“Do I? Do I know? No, Murdoch, I don’t know how you feel about anything,” Scott said and stalked out of the house.
He was in a rage. He hadn’t felt like this for a very long time and he was so sick of his father’s apathy where Johnny’s feelings were concerned. Why can’t he see what he’s doing? Doesn’t he even care? Scott realized he needed to find Johnny and he headed for the barn to saddle his horse. He walked in and the first thing he noticed was Barranca still in his stall. Scott was sure Johnny would light out but he hadn’t.
He searched the barn, then the bunkhouse, finally Jelly’s quarters but could find no trace of his brother. The words from the report came back to haunt him, ‘unable to locate’, and he shivered.
He saw Jelly coming around the side of the house. “Have you seen Johnny?” he asked.
“Yeah, he’s in the garden,” Jelly replied. “I wouldn’t, Scott. He don’t look too happy,” he added.
“I know,” Scott mumbled. He felt guilty about this whole thing. He should have waited until he was sure Johnny wouldn’t be around to talk to Murdoch. No, he shouldn’t have read that damned report at all!
Johnny was standing in the garden with a rose in his hand, twirling it between his thumb and forefinger. He seemed to be extremely interested in the flower.
“Watch out for the thorns,” Scott said, trying to sound light.
Johnny smiled and looked up at him. “I picked ’em off,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me, Scott?” Â
“Oh, Johnny, I was afraid you’d tear out of here, I guess,” Scott said with a sigh.
“You think so little of me, brother?” Johnny asked solemnly.
“Of course not, but I think I would have,” he answered.
Johnny nodded his head. “I quit runnin a while ago,” he said.
Scott smiled at this. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Do? Nothin I can do if he won’t talk to me about it,” Johnny said with a shrug.
“So, you’re just going to let it go. Just like that,” Scott said, a bit aggravated.
Johnny walked around the rose bush and paced back and forth a few minutes. “Scott, I’m not leaving here. This is my home. It belongs to me, a third of it. Murdoch may never be able to accept me, but that’s not my fault. It’s his problem not mine. I have other things to hold onto. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt because it does. I’m just saying I’m not leaving you. Nothing could make me do that,” Johnny said, earnestly.
Scott felt relief wash over him as the burden and stress was lifted from his shoulders. “I’m very glad to hear that, brother. I don’t think I could stay here without you,” Scott said.
“Yes, you could,” Johnny said simply.
Scott looked at him, perplexed.
“You could stay here because you belong here. It’s like … like you’ve been waiting for this your whole life only you didn’t know it. If I had left that first day or a month later, you’d still be here. Besides, you can handle Murdoch a lot better than I can. It’s just … where you belong,” Johnny said with a shrug.
Scott wasn’t sure about that but he wouldn’t argue the point right now.
“Johnny, can I talk to you?” Murdoch asked from the kitchen door.
Scott looked at his brother and walked away. Murdoch walked over to stand next to him but Johnny kept his back to his father.
“Could you look at me?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, Murdoch,” he said softly.
Murdoch sighed and looked down. “I guess I can’t blame you. You must think … I don’t know what you must think,” he said.
“Is that a question?” Johnny asked.
“I guess it is.”
“I think Scott was right. That once you actually knew where I was, you couldn’t handle it so you decided not to,” Johnny said simply, without emotion.
“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think you’re right. When I found out what you were, it was hard. But I guess I didn’t let myself think about it until they actually found you. Then, I was afraid,” Murdoch said.
“Afraid?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, son. Afraid to meet you, to find out you really were a ruthless killer with no feeling, no heart. Nothing in that report could prepare me for meeting you.”
“And now?” Johnny whispered.
“Now, I know better. Now, I know who you are. I’m ashamed of being such a coward. If I hadn’t been, you would have been able to avoid so much trouble and pain,” he said.
Johnny turned to look at him then, eyes wide with amazement. “I didn’t avoid anything. You really don’t get it do you? If I had come here then, I wouldn’t have stayed and I wouldn’t have come back,” he said.
Murdoch looked at him, no understanding on his face.
“Look, if it hadn’t been for Scott, I wouldn’t have stayed this time even though I found out the truth about my mother leaving. You and me, Murdoch, we just can’t be alone together. Without Scott, I would have killed you that first day. What makes you think a year earlier would have made any difference?” Johnny said with sincerity.
Murdoch was astonished by this revelation. He really had no idea how much Johnny had hated him all his life. He stood there stunned speechless.
“I know that’s hard for you to hear but I really did hate you. You know why, too. Even if it was a lie, I didn’t know that. I believed it, I had no reason not to. I wish things were different between us. I wish we didn’t argue so much. I wish we could get along. But that’s just how it is with us and that probably won’t change. You don’t have to love me, Murdoch. That wasn’t part of the deal. I don’t expect it from you.”
“Why not, Johnny?” It was his turn to be confused. “Why don’t you expect me to love you?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny frowned at his father. “Because we’re strangers, like you said. I never have understood why people think they’re obligated to love someone just because they happen to be family. You don’t pick your family and sometimes you don’t like them. Sometimes, you even hate them,” Johnny explained.
“Do you hate me, son?” Murdoch asked.
“No, not anymore. Honestly, as mad as I was at you, when I saw you for the first time I … the hate wasn’t there anymore, just anger. It really threw me,” he said, a smile playing on his lips.
“Johnny, I’m a hard man. I guess I have reasons for that but none of those have anything to do with you or your brother. I’m not very good at expressing my feelings. Maybe if I’d had both of you with me, it might have been different. I like to think so, anyway. But don’t ever think I don’t love you, son. I always have, from the moment you were born,” Murdoch said.
Johnny dropped his eyes as the emotions threatened to overtake him. He had steeled himself from the moment he had heard Scott’s revelation to feel nothing for this man ever again. His resolve was failing him quickly.
“I can’t blame you for not wanting me. I mean, it’s hard to find out your kid’s a killer for hire,” he said.
“I do want you, son. I was a fool. I just didn’t know.”
“What to think of me?” Johnny finished with a smile.
Murdoch smiled back. “I was afraid you wouldn’t stay. I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” he explained.
“Yeah, kind of like I didn’t want to get attached to any of you either,” Johnny said.
“I guess the problem is we’re too much alike,” Murdoch said.
“Hmmm, ya think?” Johnny said with a small laugh.
“Johnny, I do love you, son,” Murdoch said, a serious expression on his face.
“I think the real question is, can you accept me?” Johnny asked.
“Your past is hard to deal with, I’ll admit, but yes I do accept you,” he said as he put his arm around his son’s shoulders and squeezed.
“Now, all you have to do is explain it to Scott,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Yes, you! He ain’t mad at me!” Johnny stated.
“Scott? Are you ready to talk to me?” Murdoch asked as he came into the living room.
“That depends. Where’s Johnny?” Scott said in a huff.
“He’s in the kitchen eating a cookie. We had a good talk,” Murdoch said.
“So he’s alright with everything?” Scott asked skeptically.
“Yes, son. Are you?”
“I most definitely am not!” he said, raising his voice.
“Scott, I understand your anger but if Johnny is alright with my explanation, you should be able to accept it as well,” Murdoch said calmly.
“Alright, let’s hear it,” Scott said, still unconvinced.
“The truth is, I was worried. I didn’t know anything about Johnny except what was in those reports. As you saw, it wasn’t much more than a record of his gunfights. I didn’t know what to expect. You have to understand, son, all I could see was a cold blooded killer in those files. I had no idea it was so wrong. Yes, I was a coward. I never imagined Johnny was so different than what most gunfighters are like. I’m ashamed of it and I told him that. He understands, I hope you can,” Murdoch finished.
Scott looked at his father and considered this explanation. It was true he had no way of knowing what Johnny was really like from that report. And Johnny had accepted the explanation which is all that really mattered. After all, it wasn’t about him, it was about his brother.
“I have to ask one more thing. Did you tell Johnny how you feel about him? How you really feel?” Scott asked.
“I told him I love him and I always have. Just like I do you, son,” Murdoch replied.
Scott blushed a little but simply nodded. “Okay, I accept your explanation. Thank you. I .. uh.. love you too,” he stammered a bit.
Murdoch smiled and walked over to sit next to his son on the sofa. “I know one thing. I never have to worry about Johnny as long as you’re around,” he said and wrapped his arm around his eldest in much the same fashion he had done with his youngest minutes earlier.
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