Word Count 8,125
Second in the I’ll Be There series, following I’ll Be There
Jelly was bed ridden for the better part of two months before Doc would let him out of the bed to sit in a chair. Johnny spent a great deal of his spare time with the older man. Once they had gotten the uncomfortable revelation of their feelings for each other out, they both felt more at ease and talked companionably.
It was a Sunday and Murdoch had taken Teresa to church and Scott had joined them. Johnny fixed up a snack and headed for Jelly’s room. He pushed the door open with his hip and walked in.
“Hey, I snuck us somethin to eat,” he said conspiratorially.
“Well, I always knew you was a smart one,” Jelly grinned as he surveyed the fare.
They sat and talked about the ranch and different things while they munched on their treats. After a while they both fell silent. Johnny kept stealing glances at Jelly, wanting to say something but not quite sure how to go about it. Finally, he decided he would be straightforward like he usually was.
“So, Jelly, tell me about yourself,” he said casually.
“Huh, whatcha mean?” Jelly asked, taken aback by the statement.
“Well, I don’t know much about your life before you came here. Where you were born, for example,” Johnny shrugged.
“Texas,” Jelly answered.
“Ok, what about your folks. Do you have any family?”
“I got a sister in Missouri. You know that,” Jelly replied a bit grumpily.
“I know but is that all? Come on, Jelly, tell me the story of your life,” Johnny pressed.
“Ain’t much ta tell. I moved around a lot. Done most everythin you can think of. Railroad, minin, ranchin, odds and ends.”
“What about your parents?”
“My daddy was a farmer, weren’t much good at it. Never had much more than just enough ta eat but I reckon he done his best. Died when I was sixteen, ma died a year later. Sis got married and moved off so I just hit the trail. Didn’t have no particular ambition.” Jelly told his story as if it were about someone else.
He eyed Johnny for a few seconds. “Seen you once,” he added.
“In Abilene. Seen ya take down two pretty hot guns at once. Thought you were awful good. Ya weren’t too happy about it though, seemed like you was sad afterward,” Jelly said, watching for Johnny’s reaction.
“Yeah, well I guess I never got too happy about killin a man,” Johnny replied distantly. He remembered that day all too well. “Hey, wouldn’t it have been somethin if we’d met then,” he said, his face suddenly brightening.
“Boy, that woulda been somethin alright. And then ta meet up here agin,” Jelly laughed.
“Ya know, when I met you and found out about the kids and what you did for them, I wished I had met you when I was a lot younger. Might have kept me out of trouble,” Johnny grinned.
“I shore woulda, ya might not’ve had such a high name but ya woulda been fed and clothed and …. not alone,” Jelly finished, dropping his tone at the end.
They both fell silent again after that comment and Jelly felt like an idiot for making Johnny feel bad.
“Ya know, my mama and daddy was originally from the hills of Tennessee,” he said to change the subject.
“Is that right?”
“Yep. Had a lot of superstitions back there. Thing about superstitions is, well they had ta start somewhere’s. That’s how come I know things are wrong sometimes.”
“Right, like your elbows,” Johnny teased.
“Don’t make light, Johnny. My mama had the gift. I got it too, not as strong as her but I know when things ain’t right and I know when trouble’s comin most times. I’m still havin them bad dreams about you,” Jelly said very seriously.
Johnny laughed softly. “Come on, Jelly. You think I’m gonna get killed?”
“I ain’t sayin it’s gonna be just like the dream, but I know it, Johnny. I can feel it. All I’m sayin is please be careful,” Jelly pleaded.
“I’m always careful, Jelly. But if it will make you feel better, I’ll be extra careful, ok?” Johnny said a bit patronizing.
“Go ahead, ignore it all ya want. You’ll see I’m right. Just hope ya see it before it’s too late. Don’t go gettin yourself killed, Johnny.”
“Ok, Jelly. Why don’t you take a nap. I’ve got some things to take care of outside. I’ll check on ya later,” Johnny appeased.
He had been thinking of an idea he had for some time now and he decided today was a good day to check it out. He had been studying the map of Lancer and noticed there was a large area of land that wasn’t being used at all. He thought about asking his father about it but decided he wanted to take a look for himself.
Johnny rode out to the north ridge late that morning. It was a hilly area but the pasture land was rich. He was puzzled as to why it was being wasted. With a little work, they could use this for grazing. He rode up to the tree line and noticed it was quite a bit cooler, but then he was closer to the mountains now.
As he rode through the wooded area, his mind was on the land and he didn’t see the building until he was practically on top of it. It was a line shack, or it used to be anyway. The place was in shambles, shingles missing off the roof, the door barely on it’s hinges and the outside was overgrown with weeds and wildflowers.
He opened the door gently, thinking it might just fall down and walked inside. It smelled of must and everything was covered in inches of dust. The air was stifling so he left the door open and tried the windows. He managed to get one open and the other up a few inches. There were no curtains so the light steamed in unveiled.
He walked around the room, noting the small bed, the table and chairs, the fireplace such as it was. It looked like any other line shack except it had been abandoned. He wondered why Murdoch didn’t use it for anything. He figured it could be repaired though it might be easier to just tear it down and start over.
He stood in the middle of the room and turned 360 degrees to take it all in. He spied something lying on the floor in the corner next to the fireplace. He walked over and picked it up, shaking the dust off and nearly choked himself to death. He was finally able to recognize it as a baby blanket.
It was Mexican in style and he stared at it for a long time. He started looking around more in depth and he found a shawl laying at the foot of the bed. He shook it out as well and found it was also Mexican styled. His mother’s? He kept searching and found a few other interesting things, an old bottle of wine still half-full, a baby bottle, an old trunk that contained a dress that was kept away from the dust of time.
He smelled a familiar scent when he brought it close to him and buried his face in the material. It was his mother’s scent, something he would never forget. She spent time here, obviously.
Something else caught his eye in the trunk and he laid the dress on the bed and picked it up. It was a man’s jacket. He held it up and was dumbstruck with the realization that it could not have belonged to his father. It was way too small for Murdoch, closer to his size in fact.
Johnny walked out of the shack and sat down heavily on the step. She had brought him here when he was a baby and met her … him here as well. Was he there with them both while they … he couldn’t think about that, couldn’t even imagine it. He laughed sardonically at himself, why couldn’t he think about it. It was no different than any other time in his life while he lived with her.
She never hid her affairs from him and often they lived in such cramped quarters, he had to listen to it half the night. He shook his head sadly and looked up at the heavens. What a waste! She was so beautiful, so talented, she could have been so much, but she threw it all away. Why? That was all he wanted to know. Why?
He sat there and remembered her, realizing it had been a while since he had thought about her. He made himself only remember the good times, the happy times, but there were so few it was hard not to think about the rest. He finally decided he’d had enough of this trip down memory lane.
As he stood up he realized why Murdoch didn’t use this section of the ranch. He must have known about her … meetings here, maybe even found them here together. He shuddered at the thought and felt sympathy for his father. He decided he would not bring up using the north ridge or even that he had been anywhere near this place. He knew his father would be able to see it on his face if he tried to lie, so why bother? Johnny rode back to the ranch feeling torn in two again, between his love for his mother and his love for his father.
When he rode in he saw the surrey and knew they were back from church. He braced himself to hide his feelings once again.
“Well, where have you been, young man?” Murdoch said with a smile.
“Just went for a ride. How was church?” Johnny asked to change the subject.
“Oh, the reverend gave a wonderful sermon, Johnny. You would have enjoyed it,” Teresa chirped.
“I doubt it,” Johnny mumbled.
“Yes, it was very inspiring. All about the sins of man and the fires of hell that await us all,” Scott said dramatically.
“Well, I don’t reckon I need to hear that again,” Johnny smirked.
“Scott, it was much more than that!” Teresa chastised.
“I just call them as I see them, Teresa,” Scott replied.
“Ok, I’m sorry I asked,” Johnny said.
Teresa shook her head at the both of them. “Supper will be ready soon.”
“Did you check on Jelly?” Johnny asked.
“He’s sleeping, son,” Murdoch answered absently. He was reading the week’s mail.
“Good, I won’t have to listen to his ‘bad feelings’ again,” Johnny said.
“What are you talking about?” Scott asked, a bit amused.
“Oh, he’s been havin these dreams about me getting killed,” Johnny said.
“Since when?” Murdoch asked, putting down the mail.
“Since he broke his leg. He was having nightmares, I thought it was just the fever, but he told me today he’s still having them,” Johnny replied. “Oh come on, Murdoch. You don’t believe in all that hocus pocus!” he exclaimed when he saw the worried look on his father’s face.
“I don’t know, Johnny. There are things in this world that can’t be explained,” Murdoch cautioned.
“Please, just because no one has found an explanation yet, doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” Scott interjected.
“That’s right, brother. To hear Jelly tell it, my days are numbered,” Johnny laughed and Scott joined in.
Murdoch wasn’t laughing, he decided he needed to talk to Jelly about these dreams.
After supper, Murdoch went to Jelly’s room. Tapping lightly on the door, he went on in. “How are you feeling?”
“Oh, not too bad, Boss. Shore will be glad when I can get around on my own again,” Jelly said amicably.
“Jelly, I hear you’ve been having nightmares about Johnny? What’s all that about?” Murdoch asked.
“He told ya bout that? Well, it’s true. I told ‘im not ta ignore it. Murdoch, I’ve had a real bad feelin about Johnny ever since I broke my leg. Them dreams just won’t go away. I thought it was the fever but I’m still havin ’em, near ever night,” Jelly said with some fervor.
“Jelly, I know you have your superstitions, but…”
“It ain’t just superstition! You know I get feelins about things. Oh, I know yall just think I’m a funny old man, but I’m a tellin ya right now, you better watch out after that boy!”
“What is it you think is going to happen to him?” Murdoch asked.
Jelly could tell the man was worried. “The dreams are startin ta change. At first, it was me alone with Johnny and him gettin shot down in front of me, but now, you’re there instead of me. It’s almost the same except for that. A man, I can’t see his face, shoots Johnny and, now you’re the one holdin him.” Jelly shuddered visibly as he thought about the dream.
“Can you tell where this happens?” Murdoch asked.
“Ain’t nowhere I ever been before. It’s like in the woods, lots of trees around and there’s a shack or cabin of some kind, looks purty dilapidated. That’s about all I can remember about it,” Jelly explained.
“Doesn’t sound like anyplace special. No place that stands out anyway. Is there anything else you can remember?”
“No, that’s all, but I’m glad somebody’s listenin to me,” Jelly said with a relief that was evident on his worn face.
“Well, Jelly I’m a practical man but I’ve seen some things in my time that were pretty strange. We have a lot of ghosts and ghouls in Scotland, lots of folklore. I suppose there had to be something that happened in all those cases to start the lore in the first place.”
“That’s just what I told Johnny, almost exactly. Course, he just won’t listen.”
“If you have any more dreams, anything different, you will tell me?” Murdoch asked.
“Course I will, Boss. You watch over him now. He won’t listen like I said and he could be right in the middle of somethin and not even know it,” Jelly cautioned.
Murdoch left Jelly’s room feeling even more apprehensive. He wouldn’t tell anyone, but he’d been having some strange feelings of foreboding himself for a while. He hadn’t had any dreams, he just couldn’t shake that feeling that something bad was going to happen.
The week went on without incident. Jelly’s dreams had not stopped, nor had they change anymore. Murdoch checked with him several times a day to see if he had remembered anything else. He was sure if his sons knew what he was doing, they would have him put away in an insane asylum. But his feelings had not changed either, in fact they were growing stronger every day.
Jelly concreted this with the fact that his dreams were occurring nightly now. They discussed these things at length, Murdoch finally confessing the strange feelings to Jelly. They decided that Jelly should write down as much as he could remember about the dreams as soon as he awoke from one. This way they would have a more accurate idea of what was really going on.
Johnny popped in to see Jelly one afternoon and saw the man writing furiously in a notebook. “Whatcha got there, a diary?” he teased.
Jelly slid the paper under the covers. “Ain’t none of your business. What’re ya doin, playin hooky?”
“Just came to check on you, old man. Do you need anything?” Johnny asked.
“Naw, reckon I’m alright. Doc’s sposed ta come today and let me know if I can try standin on this lame leg,” he replied.
“Good, your work is piling up out there,” Johnny grinned.
“I reckon it woulda been too much to expect anybody to pick up the slack!”
“Why? You would have just told us we did it all wrong,” Johnny shot back, still grinning.
“And I’m sure you would’ve, too. I can’t believe …”
“Jelly, what are you going on about now?” Doc asked as he walked in the door.
“Bout time you showed up, sawbones. I’m goin stir crazy in here!” Jelly said indignantly.
“Well, I’ll leave you two alone. Don’t take no guff from him, Doc,” Johnny called over his shoulder as he walked out.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the north ridge. He wanted to use the land but that would mean bringing it up to Murdoch and he wasn’t ready to do that yet. He knew he would have to at sometime, it just wasn’t something he was looking forward to.
“Watch where youâ€™re going, son,” Murdoch said.
Johnny was about to step right in Teresa’s mop bucket as he walked through the dining room. He side stepped it gracefully.
“Johnny, what in the world could have you that occupied?” Murdoch asked, his concern growing more seeing his son not even watching what was right in front of him.
“I was just thinking about Jelly. Doc’s in with him now,” Johnny lied.
“I know. I hope he let’s him out of that bed,” Murdoch replied.
“Me too, he’s gettin downright obsessed with those dreams of his,” Johnny smiled.
“Did he say something?”
“Not today, but then the day ain’t over yet,” Johnny laughed.
Murdoch looked pensively at his son. “I want you to help your brother out for the next few days.”
“Okay,” Johnny shrugged.
Murdoch sighed silently with relief. It was the only way he could come up with to keep an eye on Johnny without him knowing he was being watched. He hadn’t said anything to Scott about his worry, he knew Scott would balk at it just as Johnny had. He also knew that Scott would watch out for his brother out of natural protectiveness.
Johnny was glad to spend time with Scott. He wanted to talk to him about what he had found at that shack but they hadn’t managed to have any time alone all week. Â He figured maybe if Scott brought it up to Murdoch, his father wouldn’t have to know he had been up there. It wasn’t that he wanted to lie to Murdoch, he just didn’t want to stir up painful memories.
Doc came out to the living room looking very put upon. “Well, he can get up with help. And if he breaks the other leg, don’t call me!”
Johnny laughed out loud. “Problem, Doc?”
“No problem except that he’s a cantankerous old goat! I have real patients to see. Gentlemen,” Doc nodded as he retreated from the battlefield.
“Guess we better go get him before he tries to get up alone,” Johnny sighed.
As predicted, Jelly was sitting on the side of the bed when they came in.
“What are you doing?” Murdoch asked.
“Doc said I could get up,” Jelly replied.
“With help, Jelly. He said you could get up with help,” Johnny reminded him.
“So? Help me!” he grumped.
They both shook their heads and decided he was more stubborn than the Lancer men combined. They got him up and let him limp around a little on his leg then took him out to the veranda.
“How’s that your highness? Can we get you anything else?” Johnny smirked.
“Yes, you can smart aleck. I could use some lemonade and I wouldn’t turn down a cookie or two neither!”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir,” Johnny said as he bowed and made his exit to the kitchen.
“Have you had anymore dreams?” Murdoch whispered.
“Yeah, I wrote it down in that notebook ya give me. Some things was different this time, clearer. Soon as Johnny leaves ya can get it,” Jelly whispered back.
“Here ya go. Now, before I go back to doing real work, is there anything else?” Johnny asked as he sat the tray on the table.
“No, that’ll be fine,” Jelly sneered.
“I’ll watch him, son. You go ahead and meet your brother,” Murdoch said nonchalantly.
Murdoch waited until Johnny was halfway to the gate before he retrieved Jelly’s notebook and brought it back. He flipped to the last page and frowned.
“What is this? I can’t read this, Jelly,” he said.
“Give it here. Why it’s as plain as the nose on your face!” Jelly said.
“If you say so,” Murdoch mumbled.
“Let’s see here. The man still ain’t got no face, well ya know what I mean.” He stopped reading as he remembered the dream all too vividly.
“Yeah, it weren’t Johnny he was after, it was you. Somehow though, it’s Johnny that gets shot. Didn’t make no sense to me, Murdoch. None atall. It was like he was tryin ta protect you but I still don’t know from who or what,” Jelly finished, his brows knitted together in deep concern.
“This is getting more strange by the day. I’m beginning to think we’re just a couple of old fools, Jelly,” Murdoch said.
“Ain’t foolishness! It’s gettin clearer Boss. It’s like it’s gettin closer, like it’s gonna happen real soon. I’m worried, I don’t mind tellin ya.”
“Do you hear anything, like a conversation?” Murdoch asked.
“Can’t hear nothin, but I can tell youâ€™re all talkin back and forth with this stranger. Shore wish I could get a look at his face,” Jelly said a bit distantly.
He jerked his head a little as if coming out of deep thought. “You keep your eyes and ears open for anything different around here. Anythin that comes up sudden like,” he warned.
“I just hope it is all foolishness, Jelly. But I don’t think it is,” Murdoch said, a sadness crossed his face that surprised Jelly a little.
“Ain’t nothin in this world for sure, Murdoch. Most everythin can be changed by the littlest thing. A turn that way instead of this, a word changed in somethin ya say…just anythin,” Jelly said.
Johnny rode out to the east hills to meet his brother.
“What are you doing here?” Scott asked.
“Nice to see you too, brother,” Johnny teased. “Murdoch told me to help you.”
“Oh? It’s not that tough a job. Why would he send you out here?”
“I don’t know but I didn’t argue with him. I wanted to talk to you about something anyway. Come over here and sit with me,” Johnny said.
He told Scott about his discoveries and the reason he had gone there in the first place. Scott listened intently and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder for support.
“I’m alright, Boston. The thing is, that land is being wasted. I can’t talk to Murdoch about it, he’ll see right through me. I thought maybe you could bring it up to him. Just put on that innocent look of yours,” Johnny said then grinned.
“Innocent look? I don’t have an innocent look!” Scott huffed.
“Sure, Boston, it’s natural, right?”
They spent a few minutes wrestling around after that comment.
“I’ll talk to him Johnny. Youâ€™re right, there’s no sense in letting all that good graze go to waste. As long as youâ€™re sure youâ€™re okay with it,” Scott said.
“Sure, I got used to that stuff a long time ago,” Johnny said quietly but Scott didn’t believe him and rightly so.
“Well, are you going to sit there all day or would you like to get this surveying done?” Scott asked after a few minutes.
Johnny made a face. “I don’t know why Murdoch thought you needed help with this, either. Matter of fact, he’s been actin a little peculiar lately,” he commented.
Scott wasted no time bringing up the subject after supper that evening. He told Murdoch of Johnny’s thoughts, pretending they were his own and waited while his father fumed a bit.
“What made you suddenly think about that, Scott?” he asked gruffly.
“I just noticed it looking at the map last week. It’s good grazing, Murdoch. Why waste it?” he half-lied.
Murdoch nodded his head, he was thinking and they could both see it. “Well, maybe we’ll look into it sometime,” he finally said.
“Why not now?” Johnny asked.
“We have more important things to worry about now, John. It’s almost time to drive the herd to market,” Murdoch replied.
“Yeah, in two months! We could look it over, lay out a plan for fence line and get that …” Johnny stopped, he almost gave himself away. “Get that much done,” he finished instead.
Murdoch looked at him closely, he thought he saw something flit across Johnny’s face. “Why are you two so worked up about this?” he asked suspiciously.
“We’re not worked up about it, Murdoch. It’s just such a waste,” Scott explained.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Murdoch said, standing his ground.
Scott and Johnny exchanged glances, they had the feeling they were going to lose this battle.
“Fine, how about this winter,” Johnny pressed. He wasn’t ready to give in so easily.
“Maybe, we’ll see,” Murdoch said.
“Typical,” Johnny mumbled.
“What does that mean?” Murdoch asked.
“Whenever you don’t want to do something or talk about something, you always say ‘we’ll see’,” Johnny explained.
Murdoch smiled. “Do I? On another subject, how’s that surveying going?”
“It’s done, I’ll have the report by morning,” Scott said, feeling defeated.
“Already, good,” Murdoch said, impressed.
“I thought I would take it to Stockton at the end of the week,” Scott said.
“No, I…I want you to stay here. Work with your brother,” Murdoch said a bit too quickly.
The brothers looked at each other again and Johnny was getting suspicious. He started putting things together and a look of unabashed surprise adorned his face.
“I don’t believe it,” he whispered.
“What?” Scott asked.
“You don’t want me to be alone. Youâ€™re worried. Jelly got to you didn’t he? Â Murdoch, I can’t believe you fell for that malarkey,” Johnny said, quite amused.
“I don’t know what youâ€™re talking about,” Murdoch said, but his face was a little red.
“Oh, yes, you do! I just can’t believe you would buy into that superstition!” Johnny said, half laughing by now.
“I have to finish looking through the mail. You two just do as I say and stop all this foolishness,” Murdoch said sternly.
Johnny took Scott outside and filled him in on what was going on. Murdoch could hear them both laughing from his desk. He felt like a fool letting Jelly’s silly superstitions get to him and an even bigger fool for being found out.
He stopped flipping through the mail as he came to a letter addressed to Johnny. Cold shivers went down his spine. Johnny rarely got mail and it was rarely anything but trouble. He stared at the envelope for a long time, there was no return address, no way to tell who or where it was from. He thought for a fleeting moment of opening it, then of just throwing it away but he knew he couldn’t do that. He called to Johnny instead.
“Letter for you, son,” he said when Johnny and Scott came back in. They were both still smirking.
Johnny took the letter and looked at it, then shrugged and opened it as he sat in the overstuffed chair. Murdoch watched him diligently and didn’t like the look on his son’s face. It had turned from a smiling playful expression to stone cold in seconds. Johnny stared at the letter for several minutes. Murdoch could tell he wasn’t reading anymore, just staring.
“Is everything all right, son?” he asked, unable to stand it any longer.
Johnny looked up at him and Murdoch saw the mixture of feelings there, pain, anger, confusion, but only for a second. After that, there was nothing but a blank stare.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Johnny said softly and walked upstairs.
“Who was it from?” Scott asked, concerned over the change in his brother.
“I don’t know. There was no return address,” Murdoch said.
“Well, it couldn’t have been good. I’ll go talk to him,” Scott said.
Murdoch was relieved, he knew Johnny would talk to his brother easier than to him. That knowledge always gave him a little stab of pain, but more than anything he was just glad Johnny would talk to someone.
Scott didn’t bother knocking, he just walked right in.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, coming right to the point.
Johnny was shaking his head. “Read this,” he said softly as he handed the letter to Scott.
Scott read the note and was stunned speechless for a few minutes. “Do you know this man?” he was finally able to ask.
“No, never heard of him,” Johnny said.
“What are you going to do, Johnny?”
“I’d like to hear what he has to say,” he replied.
“Don’t you think it would be better to just let it go? I mean, how much more do you think you can take, brother?” Scott asked, worried for Johnny’s emotional state.
Johnny smiled at his brother lovingly. “As much as I have to, Boston.”
“Are you going to tell Murdoch?”
“No! I have a feeling this is THE one,” Johnny said with a look that told Scott not to ask dumb questions.
Scott nodded his understanding. “And if it is?”
Johnny shrugged. “I don’t know, depends on what he has to say. I know it’s him though, why else would he want to meet me at the line shack?”
“Johnny, let me come with you,” Scott said, almost pleading.
“No, Boston. I don’t want you there. I can take care of myself, besides, I don’t think he wants to hurt me,” Johnny said gently.
“I hope youâ€™re right about that. Murdoch is going to ask, you know that.”
“Yeah, I hate to lie to him, but there’s no way I’m gonna tell him about this,” Johnny said adamantly.
Murdoch did ask Scott about the letter but Scott managed to side step his father, using the old adage ‘you’ll have to ask him’ and it worked much to his surprise. Murdoch had no success with Johnny either, because he couldn’t find him.
Johnny had slipped out early to avoid his father and Murdoch was becoming more and more concerned and a little angry as well.
“Scott, just tell me if Johnny could be hurt,” he said after his unsuccessful attempts at wheedling it out of the man.
“He said it couldn’t hurt him, Murdoch,” Scott answered.
“Yes, but you know your brother. Is he trying to protect us?” Murdoch pressed.
“It’s not like that, Murdoch. It’s not some gunfighter looking for revenge. In fact, Johnny doesn’t even know him,” Scott said, trying to reassure the man.
“Then what is this all about? If he doesn’t know this man, why is he going to meet him? I assume that he is going to meet him?” Murdoch volleyed the questions at Scott.
“I’m sorry, I promised I wouldn’t say anything,” Scott replied.
“This is ridiculous. If he isn’t in trouble, why on earth would he keep it from me? What is he trying to protect me from?” Murdoch asked more unanswerable questions.
“Boss?” Jelly said from the dining room doorway.
“Jelly, what are you doing up by yourself?” Murdoch admonished as he and Scott went to help Jelly to the sofa.
“Had to. Heard ya talkin bout Johnny. You gotta find ‘im, Murdoch. I think this is it,” Jelly said.
“Jelly, not that again!” Scott exclaimed.
“I know ya don’t believe in it but I do and so does your dad. Ya gotta find ‘im, Murdoch. Before it’s too late,” he pleaded.
“Scott, I know it doesn’t make sense to you, I only half believe it, but I’ve had a bad feeling for weeks myself. I want you to tell me what this is about and where your brother is. This is serious, son,” Murdoch insisted.
Scott looked at his father and realized Murdoch was really worried, he started getting pensive himself. “Alright, but I’m never going to hear the end of this.”
Scott told his father that it was Johnny who had the idea to use the north pastureland and that he had found the line shack and what he had found there. He told him why Johnny didn’t want to be the one to bring it up. Then he told him the contents of the letter and the name of the man who had asked to meet him at that same line shack.
“It’s like it was …. whatcha call it … predetermined,” Jelly said in awe.
Murdoch’s eyes turned smoky gray with rage. His fist clenched in anger as he paced the floor for a few minutes.
“Stay here,” he commanded as he headed out to the barn.
Johnny rode to the line shack at a leisurely gait. The letter had said the man would wait there everyday from noon until one o’clock for a week. Johnny figured that time was about up since he hadn’t gotten the letter right away. He was half hoping the man wouldn’t be there.
He saw no sign of anyone as he rode up but he knew someone was there, he could feel it. He dismounted and looked around, waiting. Jed Martin stepped from the corner of the shack and made himself known. Johnny looked him up and down.
He had salt and pepper hair, his face was beleaguered, he looked like he’d had a hard life but hadn’t expected to. Johnny could see that he was a handsome man at one time, but now he looked old and worn out, as if life had kicked him one too many times. The man smiled when he saw Johnny, it was a pleasant smile, likable. He walked closer to Johnny, still smiling.
“Well look at you, all grown up. Youâ€™re a good looking man, Johnny. But then you were a cute little rascal too.”
Johnny didn’t reply.
“I remember you were a handful, always running around. You had more energy than ten kids,” Martin continued, laughing at the memory.
“What do you want, Martin?” Johnny asked in a soft drawl, no expression on his face.
“I just wanted to see you again, son,” Martin answered.
“I ain’t your son and I don’t remember you,” Johnny said flatly.
“No, I don’t suppose you do. I guess your mother didn’t talk about me.”
“She didn’t talk about her men once they were gone,” he replied snidely.
“So, you came home. I heard about your, uh, profession,” Martin ventured.
“I’m sorry about your mother, Johnny. I loved her very much.”
“Mister, I ain’t interested in what you love or your memories. What do you want from me?”
“Johnny, I wish you could remember. We were so happy, the three of us. She wanted me to take her away from here. She begged me. I’ll admit, it didn’t take much convincing. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. I promised her I would take care of you and I did. I promised her I’d love you and I did. She didn’t want to take you but I told her we could be a family. If she just would have stayed with me, we could have been so happy.”
Johnny stared at him in disbelief. “Are you crazy? What would make you think taking me away from my home, from my father would be a good idea?”
“She was going to leave him, no matter what. I knew we could be a family…”
“You knew! Well, I guess you ain’t too smart are you? What happened? Didn’t you make enough money for her or did she just use you to get away?” Johnny yelled.
“It wasn’t like that,” he said in defense.
“Suppose you tell me what it was like,” Johnny said, reining in his anger.
“We were happy. We had a little house with a yard. You were happy, Johnny. Once you stopped asking for your ‘papa’ all the time, you were happy.”
Johnny felt like he had been stabbed in the chest. Once he stopped asking for his papa? He said it like it was nothing, no big deal. He’s just your father, you’ll get over it. But he hadn’t, he had never gotten over it, not even now.
“Why did she leave you?” he finally asked through the lump in his throat that he was sure was his heart.
Martin looked down then, but he couldn’t hide the pain. “I had a string of bad luck. The cards just weren’t falling right for me. I guess she got fed up. I came home one night and you were both gone,” he said huskily.
“Now you know how Murdoch felt,” Johnny said sarcastically.
“He was no good for her! He cared more about this ranch than either of you! He didn’t love you, Johnny. I loved you!” he spat.
“Who the hell do you think you are!? What business was it of yours? You took a man’s wife and child from him and now you try to defend that! There ain’t no justification for what you did, mister. I don’t care how much you think you loved her, it wasn’t right! My father did love me and my mother. What right do you have to decide what’s best for me? Now you know what it feels like to lose everything, just like Murdoch!” Johnny was enraged at the audacity of the man still trying to defend his actions.
“He never paid her any attention. Why do you think she turned to me? He didn’t want her, he didn’t want you!”
Johnny walked the few steps between them and punched him in the mouth. He flew to the ground and looked up astonished.
“Don’t you ever say that again! My father loves me!”
“Then why didn’t he come after you?” he asked calmly.
Johnny was ready to kill this man, he couldn’t speak any longer. His anger was at an apex and he could not control the trembling it wrought through his body. He had never wanted to kill anyone so badly in his life, except for the man who killed his mother and it was a close second.
He reached for his gun and rested his hand on the butt.
“Are you going to kill me for telling you the truth?” Martin asked as he stood up.
“I haven’t heard any truth come out of your mouth yet,” Johnny shot.
“Then why don’t you answer the question? Why didn’t he come after you?”
“I did,” Murdoch answered for him.
He stepped out of the tree line where he had listened to the entire conversation, too choked up at first to make himself known.
Johnny turned quickly to see his father. The pain in his eyes almost broke Murdoch’s heart.
“I did come after him. It took me twenty years to find him,” he finished.
“Sure, Lancer. I guess you bought that load of bull, Johnny,” he smirked.
“You don’t know anything about me, mister. You don’t know anything about my life. If you did, you’d know why it took so long,” Johnny hissed.
“Oh yes, you were a gunfighter so that made you hard to find? Come on, Johnny. Youâ€™re legendary. How hard would it be to find a famous gunhawk?”
“I didn’t want to be found,” he said softly. “She told me the same thing you just did. My father didn’t want me. Why would I let him find me?”
Murdoch was taken aback by this. He had always thought the Pinkerton’s just couldn’t keep track since Johnny moved around so much.
Johnny turned to his father. “I knew the Pinks were lookin for me and why. I didn’t want to be found, Murdoch. The only reason I came when I did was to get away from that firing squad and for the money,” he explained with a trembling voice.
Murdoch swallowed hard, it hurt but he understood Johnny’s feelings about him. Thinking he didn’t want the boy had to be the hardest thing for Johnny to accept.
“You do know now, though. You know I did want you,” Murdoch said.
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to believe it after all these years. I didn’t want to think she lied to me, but I know she did now. I’ve known for some time. I just couldn’t admit it to myself. Can you understand that?” Johnny pleaded.
“Yes, son, I can understand,” Murdoch said softly.
“This is all very touching but it’s a lie. Johnny, he only wants you here to protect his precious ranch. Can’t you see that? He doesn’t care about you, it’s all an act to keep you here, to keep his ranch safe. All he cares about is this damned land!”
“Why don’t you shut up and go away? There’s nothing here for you. Nobody wants you here. Leave us alone,” Johnny retorted.
“I can’t do that, Johnny. I can’t let you go on believing this fantasy. He’ll only hurt you more in the end. The truth will come out and you’ll be hurt all over again,” Martin said earnestly.
“That’s my problem. It don’t have nothin to do with you!” Johnny shouted.
“It has everything to do with me. I was supposed to be your father. I was supposed to be the one you loved and called papa, not him!” he yelled and Johnny saw him reach into his coat.
He pulled the revolver and aimed it at Murdoch. “You will not have him!”
Johnny moved so quickly, it stunned Murdoch. He wasn’t sure what was happening in that instant, but Johnny was in front of him, pushing him down with such force it surprised the bigger man. He hit the ground hard with Johnny on top of him.
Then suddenly he wasn’t there anymore. Johnny rolled to his left and drew, firing almost before his gun was free of it’s holster. He hit Martin in the shoulder and he flew backward. Everything seemed to move in slow motion to Johnny and he laid there after it was over for what seemed like forever.
Suddenly, Scott was there, taking Martin’s gun out of his reach and checking him. Murdoch was next to him, kneeling beside him now. He looked into his father’s eyes and saw the love there. There were no lies, no hidden agenda, no act. It was real just like he knew it always had been.
Johnny tried to get up but he felt a sharp pain in his back.
“Don’t move, son. Youâ€™re hit,” Murdoch said gently.
“Where?” Johnny asked, totally confused. He hadn’t felt the bullet.
“In the back. Easy now, I’m just going to take a look,” Murdoch said.
“How is he?” Scott asked as he came to them.
“We need to get him home, son,” Murdoch said and Scott saw the worry.
“Jelly’s right behind me with a wagon. Sanchez took Martin into Green River and he’ll send Doc out,” Scott reported.
“Jelly? He shouldn’t be up,” Johnny whispered.
“You try telling him that, brother,” Scott smiled.
Jelly arrived with the wagon then and they picked Johnny up and placed him gently in the back. Murdoch rode with him and kept pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding.
Doc got there an hour later, by then Johnny had passed out. He shooed the men from the room and they waited downstairs for news.
“Reckon you’ll listen to me from now on,” Jelly said quietly.
“Yes, I think we will, Jelly,” Scott said, trying to smile. “What happened out there, Murdoch?”
“Not now, son. I can’t think about that right now,” Murdoch said, the pain in his voice evident to Scott and Jelly.
“Of course, I’m sorry. He’ll be alright, Johnny’s tough,” Scott reassured.
“I know he is, I just wonder if his heart is tough enough,” Murdoch mused.
“It is Murdoch, he told me it was,” Scott said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I asked him how much more he thought he could take when that letter arrived. He said as much as he had to,” Scott shrugged.
Murdoch shook his head. “It’s enough, too much, to last ten lifetimes.”
Doc came downstairs then. “Well, he’s lost some blood. I got the bullet out and there’s no damage to the heart or lung. He should be alright, barring infection,” he reported.
“Can we see him?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure, he’ll probably sleep through the night, though,” Doc said.
“Uh, I think you’re forgetting who you’re talking about, Doc,” Scott grinned.
“Oh right, I take that back. He’ll wake up when he’s good and ready. Is that better?” Doc grinned back. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee, gentlemen. I’ll stay awhile just to be on the safe side.”
Teresa was cleaning up after the surgery as they walked into the room. “He’s sleeping now,” she whispered.
Murdoch and Scott took positions on either side of him and Jelly stood at the foot of the bed looking at the boy who seemed to be in a peaceful sleep. Murdoch pushed the stray lock of hair from Johnny’s brow and let his hand linger on his son’s forehead. Scott took his hand and held on firmly, letting Johnny know he was there. They sat there like that for an hour, Jelly pulled up a chair so he could rest his leg, but he wasn’t about to leave.
Johnny moaned a little and grimaced. He opened his eyes slowly to see Jelly at the foot of the bed smiling at him. He turned to his right and saw his father. He felt Scott on his left and he smiled.
“How do you feel, son?” Murdoch asked.
“I’m okay, just sleepy,” Johnny murmured.
“Oh, sure. Youâ€™re just dandy ain’t ya? Will you ever listen to me?” Jelly chastised.
Johnny laughed softly. “Sure, Jelly. I’ll listen from now on, I promise,” he said.
“Hey, brother. Guess we both have a lot to learn about superstitions,” Scott teased.
“Thanks for not keepin your mouth shut, Boston,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Thanks for not being mad at me for opening my big mouth,” Scott smiled back.
“Scott, Jelly, could you give us a minute?” Murdoch asked.
They both left the room without a word.
“Is there anything you want to ask me, son?” he asked once they were alone.
“Can’t think of anything. This wasn’t your fault, you know that, right?” Johnny asked.
“I suppose, I just wish you could have talked to me about what you found up there,” Murdoch answered softly.
“I didn’t want to bring up bad memories. I didn’t need to know about it anyway. I found out more than I wanted to as it was,” Johnny said sadly.
“So did I,” Murdoch said, his voice just as sad.
Johnny reached over and put his hand on his father’s arm, giving it a quick squeeze. “You know what I think? I think we need to put this behind us. It’s gone on long enough, Murdoch. She did what she did and nothing can change that. All we can do now is be together and look at the future.”
“Sounds good to me, son. Johnny, I just don’t want you to ever think I didn’t…”
“I don’t. I know better now. I know you, now,” Johnny interrupted.
Murdoch smiled and ruffled Johnny’s hair. “Get some sleep,” he whispered and left the room.
When he next awoke, Jelly was sitting beside him. “How ya feelin?” he asked.
“Okay, just sore,” Johnny replied sleepily. “How’s your leg?”
“Oh, it aches some but it’ll be fine. Reckon ya had some kinda rough time up there,” he probed.
“It was ugly, Jelly. It’s over now, everything’s alright with me and Murdoch, if that’s what youâ€™re wondering.”
“It is, and I’m glad ta hear it. Your dad was awful worried about you, so was I,” Jelly said a bit embarrassed.
“I know, Jelly. Thanks for looking out for me.”
“You know I always look out for ya, Johnny. Always will, long as I draw breath.”
“Yeah, that would be because I’m so wonderful, right?” Johnny laughed.
“That would be the reason,” Jelly answered solemnly.
Johnny studied him for a minute, his grin spreading into a full out smile. “I don’t know how I got along without you all these years, old man. I’m just glad I don’t have to anymore.”
“Aw, cut that out. Ain’t no call to get all blubbery. You just get well and get back ta work,” Jelly huffed.
He pulled the covers up and tucked Johnny in, then started to turn to leave. He stopped and turned back. Leaning over, he gave Johnny a quick kiss on the forehead then quickly left the room.
Johnny blinked back the tears and snuggled into his bed, falling asleep with a smile lighting his face.
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