The Cat by Winj

Word Count 8,355


Miguel Vasquez burst through the front door of the hacienda and into the great room. “Senor Lancer! Senor Lancer!”

“What is it, Miguel?” Murdoch asked.

The vaquero took a moment to catch his breath before telling his news. “Senor Lancer, there has been another steer killed by the mountain lion in the north pasture.”

Murdoch frowned as he heard the news. This was the third steer they had lost in the past week.

“Well, I guess it’s about time we took care of this once and for all,” Johnny said softly, with that ever-present slight grin.

Scott looked at him and nodded his head. “I think you’re right, brother. Let’s get going.”

“Now wait a minute you two. Just remember this isn’t a kitten we’re talking about. Be careful.”

Johnny smiled at the thought of Murdoch’s concern. It warmed his heart to think that someone actually cared whether he lived or died. It was difficult for him to get used to though and sometimes, just sometimes, it made him uncomfortable. The feelings he had felt stirring in him since he had come home had been hard to adjust to. Just the same, he liked it.

“˜Home’ How strange it sounded. Even in his head thinking the word was a foreign idea. Still, this was his home and he loved it and the people he had come to think of quite easily as family.

 “Well, Boston, we gonna stand here or are we gonna get that cat?”

“Don’t worry, Murdoch, we’ll be careful,” Scott reassured.

Johnny and Scott headed for the north pasture near the foothills of the mountains that surrounded Lancer at that end of the ranch. It was one of Johnny’s favorite places on the ranch. He loved to ride through here. The air swept down from the mountains during the spring and fall and made the area quite cool. Even on a hot summer day like this, it was much cooler here than anywhere else on the ranch.

“Well, Boston, I guess this is right up your alley.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, you’re good with that rifle and that’s just what we need.” Johnny grinned and added, “of course, you couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a pistol!”

“Oh, really? Let me tell you something, brother,”  but Scott stopped the teasing short as they both heard th e unmistakable cry of the mountain lion nearby.

The brothers looked at each other with equal concern. They knew without speaking a word what the other was thinking. Be careful.

Johnny scanned the area quickly as he was so conditioned to do. He pointed toward a small stand of trees near a long ago fallen boulder.

“Sounded like it came from over there. I’ll just mosey on down that way and see if I can flush him out to you, okay?” 

Scott frowned at the thought of his brother sneaking around on foot trying to scare a big cat. He knew it could all turn very ugly if Johnny wasn’t careful. He also knew it was a good plan and would make it a lot easier to get sight of the cat.

“Okay, just don’t take any unnecessary chances.” 

“Who me?”  Johnny grinned his heart-melting grin and dismounted from Barranca, pulling his rifle as he went. He started slowly toward the stand of trees with his own cat-like grace.

Scott couldn’t even hear him move. He watched intently as Johnny slipped into the trees. Concern tensed every muscle in Scott’s body as he waited for a sign of his brother. He pulled his rifle from its scabbard and waited.

Johnny was right about one thing; he was good with a rifle. Scott smiled at the compliment his brother had paid him, followed naturally by a teasing berate.

Suddenly, there it was. The cat was huge. It came up the side of the boulder with sleek grace. Scott kept one eye on the cat and the other frantically scanning the area for any sight of his brother. He reasoned that Johnny was still in the stand of trees since he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since he had disappeared there. Scott raised his rifle and aimed for deadly accuracy.

Johnny slipped into the trees and immediately came across the cat’s tracks. It was big that was for sure. He followed the tracks through the stand of trees to the boulder resting next to the stand. From the position of the sun, he reasoned that at this time of the day, the cat would be resting someplace shady. And the shadiest spot was on the other side of that boulder. He raised his rifle in front of him and slowly made his way around the boulder.

Scott watched the cat creep down the side of the boulder and stop. It was as if the cat were watching something. Scott’s heart froze as he thought the cat had gotten sight or the scent of his brother. He squeezed the trigger just as Johnny came face to face with the animal.

The bullet seared through the left side of his chest. He felt an instant explosion of heat and pain. Suddenly everything was incredibly bright as if the sun was right in front of him and he couldn’t see. He heard a second shot fired and heard the big cat cry out and then fall silent.

Johnny had been knocked back against the boulder by the force of the bullet. Now he started sliding down the side. He landed on his left side and the exquisite pain tore though his chest as everything started going black. His final thought was how strange it was that everything was so bright for a second and now so suddenly dark.

“Johnny!”  Scott shouted as he ran towards his brother’s still body. He gently rolled Johnny onto his back and gasped at the hole in his brother’s chest.

“Johnny, wake up. Please!” 

Scott looked around frantically. He knew he had to get his brother home, but he couldn’t just leave him here alone either. Suddenly it came to him. He eased Johnny’s head down and ran to Barranca. He took a piece of paper and pencil from his shirt and quickly scrawled a note. He placed the note in Barranca’s saddle. Then, removing the bedroll, set the palomino loose.

“Go home, boy,”  Scott said as he patted the horse’s rump.

Barranca took off and Scott sighed with relief as he saw the animal head straight for the ranch house. He grabbed his canteen and ran back to Johnny’s side. Please God, please don’t let him die, Scott prayed.

Johnny groaned and stirred slightly.

“Johnny!” 

Johnny opened his eyes and looked around confused.

Scott whispered softly into Johnny’s ear. “It’s going to be all right, brother.” 

Johnny looked to his left and saw the cat lying dead where his brother had shot him. “Hey, Boston, you got ‘im.” 

“Yes, but I also got you. God, Johnny, I’m so sorry.”  Scott’s voice was filled with more remorse and sadness than Johnny had ever heard in his life.

“Hey, don’t worry, Boston, just a scratch,”  Johnny whispered as he once again succumbed to the blackness of un consciousness.

Murdoch was coming out of the barn when Jelly yelled for him. He felt his heart drop into his stomach at the site of Barranca galloping into the yard riderless. He knew immediately something was terribly wrong. He reined the palomino and saw a piece of paper snuggled into the saddle.

The note was simple and urgent. ‘Johnny shot, need help, north pasture’ was all it said.

Murdoch yelled for Jelly to hitch up a wagon and lay down a bed of hay in the back. The fear and urgency in his voice let Jelly know that one of the boys was hurt and hurt bad.

He had come to recognize the looks and tones of Murdoch Lancer and the ones that chilled his soul were always the ones that indicated some problem with one of the boys. Usually Johnny, Jelly thought sadly. How could two men so much alike be at such odds with each other so much of the time? Well, that was neither here nor there. Someone needed help and Jelly set about readying the wagon.

Murdoch yelled for Teresa to have the ranch medical supplies ready when they returned. Then he sent Miguel to Morro Coyo for the doctor.

The scene Murdoch and Jelly rode up on was heart wrenching. Scott held Johnny’s head on his lap as he tried fervently to stop the bleeding from the wound he had inflicted. When Scott looked up at him, Murdoch was stunned by the pure agony on his elder son’s face.

Tears welled in Scott’s eyes as he yelled for them to help him. They loaded Johnny into the straw bed in the back of the wagon and headed for home. Scott was by his side, watching intently for any sign from his brother, good or bad.

They laid Johnny in his bed and removed his shirt as gently as possible. Teresa brought hot water, bandages and towels. Murdoch began cleaning the wound and cursing under his breath at the sight before him. His youngest, his sweet boy, lying there bleeding so profusely. His mind went back 20 years.

‘Papa up, up papa,’ Johnny said with his arms stretched up toward his father to hold him. How different things could have been if only… Murdoch shook himself back into the present and the task at hand.

It had taken almost an hour to get Johnny home and though the bleeding had slowed, it hadn’t stopped. Remembering the pool of blood they had left behind when they moved him, Murdoch worried that the doctor would be there too late. He decided he would have to intervene himself.

He looked at Scott for the first time since they got Johnny home and said, “we can’t wait for the doctor, he’s bleeding to death.” 

Scott looked at his father with the same anguished look that hadn’t left his face since he realized what he had done. He could only nod in response. His voice had left him quite a while ago. He was in a haze of pain, confusion and guilt. He had shot his own brother, maybe even killed him.

Scott couldn’t face that thought. He knew if Johnny died, he would die as well. For he knew then what he had known already. He couldn’t live without his brother. They’d only met a year ago but Scott fell into his role as big brother easily and he liked the feeling. He had often thought in the past year, especially when Johnny’s past would come back to haunt them all, that he would gladly give his life for his brother.

And now, he thought, he wished wholeheartedly that he could take this away. If only somehow he could take that bullet from his brother’s chest and put it in his own, he would gladly do it without a second thought.

“Scott! Did you hear me?” 

Murdoch was looking at him, had asked him something and he hadn’t heard. So lost in his reverie, he hadn’t heard his father’s request.

Murdoch asked him again to hold Johnny down as he started to, once more, cut into his own son’s flesh.

Scott nodded, still unable to speak and positioned himself over Johnny, placing his hands on his brother’s shoulders.

Johnny moaned softly as Murdoch began to cut away his flesh. Then, the intense pain brought him back from the edge of blackness. He struggled against Scott’s hold, but Scott held him still. He wanted to whisper reassuring words to his brother, tell him it would be all right and Murdoch would stop soon. But he still couldn’t speak.

Teresa leaned down and whispered something to Johnny that Scott couldn’t hear. Whatever it was it seemed to help because Johnny calmed down and stopped fighting his brother’s hold.

Suddenly, Johnny screamed out, but he didn’t move. Only his head tossed from one side to the other as he fought to control his body’s response to the terrible pain it was enduring.

Scott marveled at Johnny’s self control. He knew how much pain his brother was in; how much pain he had caused and the tears came again, as he could no longer hold them back.

Finally Murdoch was done. The bullet removed, he sewed up the wound and bandaged Johnny’s chest. There was damage to the muscle in the chest but the bullet had missed his heart and lung.

Johnny had long since slipped back into unconsciousness and now seemed to be resting a little better.

The doctor arrived an hour later and surveyed Murdoch’s handiwork. Nodding his approval, he gave them all explicit instructions on caring for the wound and the young man. Because of the amount of blood Johnny had lost, he needed to be watched carefully for the next few days. They discussed a schedule for standing watch and Scott insisted on the night watch.

Murdoch was curious but didn’t question his elder son’s request. He knew what had happened and knew that, of course, it was an accident. But he didn’t ask Scott for the particulars; not now. Scott was still reeling from the whole trauma and Murdoch didn’t want to contribute to his pain by making him relive it. There would be plenty of time for that once Johnny was out of danger.

Johnny spent the next two days slipping in and out of consciousness. He was too weak to talk to anyone but Murdoch and Teresa talked him through the hours. They fed him broth and water as the doctor had instructed and slowly Johnny began to gain some strength. Scott would only come to his room when it was time for his watch and Johnny had been sleeping through the night.

He had wanted to ask Murdoch where Scott was but he didn’t have the strength. On the third day, Johnny felt well enough to sit up in bed for a while. Murdoch sat next to him on the bed, hovering like a mother bear.

This amused Johnny but it also gave him a warm content feeling that was better medicine than anything the doctor could come up with.

He rested against the headboard and listened to Murdoch prattle on about everything and nothing. Suddenly, Johnny had a horrible thought. He bolted upright in the bed and immediately regretted the move as pain seared through his chest. He fought for breath as his father tried to calm him.

“Johnny, what is it? What’s wrong, son?” 

“Ssscott…where’s Scott?” 

“Easy son, he’s here. He’s in his room I think.” 

“I want to see him, now!” 

“Johnny, please you have to calm down, you…” 

“NO!”  Johnny interrupted, “I want to see my brother now!” 

He struggled for every breath but he would not be denied. He had a horrible feeling that something was wrong with his brother and he wouldn’t stop until he saw Scott with his own eyes.

Murdoch knew Scott had been avoiding talking to Johnny. Not wanting either of his sons upset, he tried to reassure Johnny.

“No, something’s wrong. Something must be wrong! Where is he? If nothin’s wrong then why isn’t he here? He…he’s dead, isn’t he?”  Johnny moaned.

“No, Johnny. Scott’s fine, I swear it!” 

“I don’t believe you. You’re lying to keep me from gettin upset!” 

“Johnny, I swear, he’s fine,”  Murdoch said softly, trying to ease his son’s mind.

“Then where is he? Why isn’t he in here? You know he’d be right here if he was okay. If you won’t get him then I will!”  Johnny tried to raise up and starting struggling even harder for breath.

Murdoch grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back down. “You’re not going anywhere! Are you crazy? You’re going to tear that wound open again! Okay, okay, I’ll get Scott but you have to promise to stay still. Please, son.” 

Johnny relented and sank back down into the bed.

With a deep sigh Murdoch left with a quick glance back to make sure his youngest was keeping his part of the bargain. Satisfied that Johnny was staying put, he went to find Scott.

Scott stared out the large picture window of the great room, his mind lost in its turmoil. He didn’t hear Murdoch enter and jumped when his name was called.

“Johnny wants to see you.” 

Scott winced. “Tell him I’m out working.”

Murdoch looked at his son in astonishment and confusion. “Scott, I don’t think you understand. He just tried to get out of bed and come looking for you himself. I had to fight him to get him to stay down. If you don’t come and see him right now, I’m not too sure what will happen. Why don’t you want to see your brother, son?”

Scott sighed deeply. “I can’t face him, Murdoch. I can’t face what I did to him.” 

Murdoch frowned. “Surely you don’t think Johnny blames you!”

“Why shouldn’t he? I almost killed him!”

“Scott, please. If you don’t go in there he’s coming to find you. Now do you really want to see that happen?”

Scott sighed. “No, I suppose not. All right, Murdoch. I’ll go but if you think he’s not going to blame me, you’re kidding yourself.”

Murdoch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He knew Johnny would never blame Scott for what happened. The fact that Scott didn’t believe that told Murdoch just how much pain his elder son was feeling.

Scott stepped quietly into the bedroom. Johnny’s eyes were closed but his breathing was labored and ragged. Scott moved to the window and resumed the same position he’d had downstairs.

“Where the hell you been, Boston?” 

Scott started then turned to see two sapphire eyes staring at him with a playful smile in them so deep it hurt to look too long.

“Just taking care of some business, Johnny,”  Scott replied without much conviction.

Johnny frowned a little then smiled at his brother. “Well I guess somebody’s got to take of the place til I’m back on my feet. Just don’t make too much of a mess for me to clean up, Boston.” 

Scott came closer and said, “Johnny, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I shot you! I…I don’t know what else to say.” 

Johnny looked intently at his brother, seeing his misery. “Geez, Scott, I can’t believe you’re blaming yourself for this! It was an accident. God, I know you weren’t trying to shoot me! Hey, it’s okay.” 

“No, it isn’t okay, Johnny. It’s anything but okay. Look I have to go on a trip to…uh… Sacramento for Murdoch. I’ll be gone about a week or so. By the time I get back, you should be up and around and we’ll talk more then, alright?” 

Murdoch didn’t understand what he was hearing as he stood just outside Johnny’s door. He hadn’t asked Scott to go anywhere. Why was he lying to his brother?

Johnny sighed and looked at his brother tiredly. “Okay, Boston. But when you get back we are gonna straighten this out, right?” 

“Right,”  Scott said, with no more conviction than he felt.

Scott left the room and headed for his own. Murdoch followed him, unseen by his son as he had been standing near Johnny’s door.

“Just what do you think you’re doing? Telling Johnny I’m sending you to Sacramento?”

“You can explain things to him when he’s better.” 

“Explain what? What are you thinking, Scott?” 

“Murdoch, I can’t stay here any longer. I don’t belong out here. I was just fooling myself thinking I could be a…a cowboy. I’m going back to Boston where I belong.” 

Murdoch cringed at these words he never thought he would hear from his older son’s mouth. It was never far from his mind that Johnny could at anytime decide to go back to his old life. But Scott had, from the moment he’d arrived, always seemed “˜at home’.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing! Scott, you can’t be serious. Why this is just insane, son. No one blames you, least of all Johnny. You heard what he said. Scott, he loves you. You know this is going to tear him apart!” 

“Better he be ‘torn apart’ and alive.” 

Murdoch saw the firm set of Scott’s jaw and knew he had made up his mind. He had seen that look before when Scott had set his mind to something and he knew there was no changing it. Murdoch wanted to tell Scott that Johnny wasn’t the only one that loved him, that didn’t want him to leave. But he couldn’t. God! Why couldn’t he tell his boys how much they meant to him?

Instead he said, “you don’t expect me to lie to Johnny for you, do you? I can’t do that, Scott. I won’t do that.” 

“Do whatever you have to and I’ll do what I have to. Just do me one favor and don’t tell him until I’m gone. I don’t want him trying to come after me. I’ll write him a letter, explain everything. Give it to him for me, but wait at least a couple of days, please?” 

“You think a letter is going to do any good?”  Murdoch asked incredulously.

“At least he’ll know why I left. It’s all I can give him now, Murdoch.” 

Scott started packing a bag and Murdoch had to leave the room. He couldn’t watch his son pack to leave his life forever. He also knew that if Scott left, eventually Johnny would leave, too. How had this all happened? More importantly, could he stop it? Murdoch didn’t think so. He didn’t believe even telling Scott how much he loved and needed him would stop the boy from going.

The next morning Scott went into Johnny’s room to say goodbye forever although he couldn’t let Johnny know that.

“Well, I’m going now. I’ll see you when I get back.”  He couldn’t even look into his brother’s eyes as he lied.

Johnny looked up at his brother curiously. “Okay, Boston, have a good trip. I’ll see you when you get back.” 

“Yeah, see ya,”  Scott mumbled, still unable to look into his brother’s crystal blue truth seeke rs.

“Scott?” 

“Yes?” 

“Are you okay? You seem…I don’t know…distracted.” 

“I’m fine, Johnny,”  Scott lied. “Look I better get going. Goodbye, brother.”

“Bye, see ya soon, right?”  Johnny asked suspiciously.

“Right,”  Scot t said a little too quickly. With that he was out the door and gone.

Johnny lay there thinking over the strange conversation he had just had with his brother. Because he was still so weak and tired, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the implications of his brother’s words. Soon he had drifted off to sleep again.

Scott waited for the stage in Morro Coyo with his father. He hadn’t wanted Murdoch to come, but the man had insisted.

“If you’re leaving Lancer the least you can do is let me see you off.”  Murdoch had told him this morning.

Scott had acquiesced. He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to throw himself at his brother’s feet and beg for forgiveness. Forgiveness that he knew Johnny would give him easily and without a second thought. But Scott couldn’t forget what he had done. He wasn’t even really sure how it happened. He’d had the cat in his sights, hadn’t he? But, in that last split second he’d seen movement out of the corner of his eye.

Had he flinched in that last second before squeezing the trigger? Could he have been so easily distracted by a simple movement? He shuddered at the thought for it was this thought that haunted him. It was this thought that had made up his mind that he simply wasn’t good enough to watch Johnny’s back. That Johnny deserved better. Much, much better than that.

In fact, he was sure Johnny expected it. Now he knew he couldn’t be the one to supply that security for his brother. And he wasn’t about to put his brother in another serious situation ever again. The only way to avoid that was to leave. He had made up his mind and he couldn’t change it now. Changing his mind would only prove the point. He couldn’t be trusted when it counted the most.

Scott was so caught up in this reverie that he didn’t hear the stage pull up. Murdoch’s hand laid gently on his shoulder brought him back to the present.

“I guess this is it, son. Are you sure this is what you want, Scott?”  Murdoch searched his son’s eyes for any hint of doubt.

Scott set his jaw and looked squarely in his father’s eyes. “I’m sure, Sir.” 

Sir! Murdoch knew what that meant. There was no talking him out of it now. He helped Scott hand his bags up to the driver then turned to his son for the last time. He could hardly keep the moisture from his eyes. Later, he wouldn’t be able to hold it back.

“Goodbye, son. I hope you find what you need.” 

“Goodbye, Murdoch. Tell Johnny…tell him I’m sorry,”  Scott said with a grimace of pain he couldn’t hide. He boarded the stagecoach without another word.

Murdoch couldn’t speak. His throat was closed against the tears he felt welling up inside him.

As the stage pulled off, Murdoch whispered, “I love you, son.”  He turned and headed for the buggy he’d used to drive his son away forever.

Johnny wondered were everyone was. He hadn’t seen Teresa since she had brought him his breakfast this morning. She wasn’t her usual chipper self. She had seemed sad but tried to keep it from him. He hadn’t seen Murdoch at all and Scott…he just didn’t understand what was wrong with Scott.

Well, when he gets back from Sacramento, we’ll have it out and then everything will be all right again, he thought. He closed his eyes succumbing to the sleep that lately seemed to be his most frequent visitor.

When Johnny awoke it was dark in the room. He could make out a figure standing by the window. As he focused he saw it was his father.

“Hey,”  Johnny whispered sleepily.

Murdoch turned around and smiled. It was a sad smile, Johnny thought and he wondered why his father was so down.

“Where’s everybody been all day? Forgot about me already, huh?”  The smile in his eyes told Murdoc h he was teasing and he smiled back at his youngest.

“Well, we can’t hang around here all day waiting on you hand and foot you know.” 

But Johnny thought it was the saddest smile he had ever seen. Still, he was too weak to make much sense of Murdoch’s mood. He reckoned it was because Scott was gone on his trip. Yeah, that was probably it.

“Are you hungry?”  Murdoch asked.

“I sure am. I could eat a whole side of beef!”  Johnny exclaimed with a grin.

“I’ll have Teresa fix you something then. I’m glad your feeling better, son.”  With that he walked out of the room, still looking awfully sad to Johnny.

Two days later, Johnny felt well enough to get out of bed. After a quick exam and approval from the doctor, Murdoch helped him get dressed and downstairs. He wanted to sit on the veranda and feel the warmth of the sun. Truthfully, he didn’t care if he was sitting in a mud hole as long as he was out of that bed!

Murdoch still had that sadness. He tried hard to hide it but Johnny was getting a lot better at reading his father’s moods and he knew Murdoch was unhappy about something. As they sat out on the veranda together, Johnny decided it was time to ask.

“What’s wrong, Murdoch? You’ve been one sad puppy for days now.” Johnny was never one to beat around the bush.

“I guess I’m just missing your brother,” he said truthfully.

“Yeah, I figured that was it. But he’ll be home in a couple of days, Murdoch. What’s the big deal?”

Murdoch sighed as he realized it was time to tell Johnny the truth about his brother. He took a deep breath. “Johnny, I have to tell you something. Scott made me promise to wait until you were stronger and even though I don’t think you’re there yet, I can’t keep this from you any longer.”

Johnny looked at his father with a sudden feeling of dread but he stayed silent, waiting.

“Scott didn’t go to Sacramento. He went to Boston.”

“Boston? Why’d he go there?”

Murdoch looked at the confused expression on his son’s face, knowing it was about to turn into hurt and anger, and he prayed for strength.

“He went back home. He’s not coming back, Johnny. He left this letter for you.” Murdoch pulled the letter from his shirt pocket.

Johnny stared disbelievingly at his father. He was trying desperately to wrap his mind around what Murdoch was saying. Scott gone back to Boston forever? It didn’t make any sense and he couldn’t believe it. Surely this was some kind of cruel joke.

He took the letter from his father and slowly opened it. He didn’t want to read it. If he read it, that would make his father’s words true, and that just couldn’t be. But he had to read it and he knew it. With a deep breath he started.

Johnny, I’m sorry I had to leave you but I just can’t stay. You need someone you can count on to back you up. Someone worthy of the trust you placed in me, albeit unwarranted and unearned. I’m not that person. I’m not good enough to stand with you in times of trouble. I learned that in the worst possible way. When I let a little movement distract me from killing that cat, I ended up instead nearly killing you. I can’t stay here and look you in the eye and ever expect you to trust me again. It isn’t fair to you. You deserve better and I know you expect better. Please don’t leave Lancer. You belong there. Your Brother, Scott

Johnny could feel the tears welling up and he did nothing to try and stop them from spilling over. That was followed by such an intense anger he had never felt before that it surprised him. Even frightened him a little.

“He lied to me. He stood there and lied to me!”

Murdoch could do nothing but reach out and rest his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. He could see the tears flowing freely down his son’s face and it broke his heart.

“Why!? Why, Murdoch?” Johnny pleaded to his father for an answer. For some kind of sense to be made of all this.

Murdoch couldn’t oblige. He just shook his head. “I don’t know, son. I tried to talk with him. To reason with him, but he had his jaw set and there was no changing his mind.”

“You should have told me before he left,” Johnny whispered miserably.

“He made me promise, Johnny. Besides I didn’t want you all upset and trying to get out of bed again.”

Johnny looked up at his father’s misery and knew immediately what he had to do. “Well you don’t have to worry about that now. I’m up and I’m going after him.”

“Johnny, you can’t! You’re too sick, son. You’ll never make it. Why it’s three thousand miles to Boston!”

“I don’t care if it’s three million miles! I’m going after him and I’m bringing him HOME!” Johnny swore.

“Johnny, I wish you would wait until you’re better or at least let me come with you,” Murdoch pleaded to his son as they waited for the stage just as he had with his older son a week ago.

“I’ll be all right, Murdoch. It doesn’t take much energy to sit on a stagecoach or a train.” Johnny smiled at his father reassuringly.

“You’ll wire me the minute you get there?”

“I said I would. Don’t worry, Murdoch. I’ll bring him home if I have to drag him the whole way.”

“Johnny, just remember, Boston is a lot different than what you’re used to. It’s a big city. I don’t imagine there are a lot of people carrying guns there.” Murdoch glanced down at Johnny’s side.

Johnny smiled and said, “Well, then I’ll have ’em outnumbered!”

As the stage pulled away with his second son, Murdoch said a silent prayer for them both. Whatever happened, more than anything, he wanted his sons healthy and hopefully happy. He just prayed that meant both of them back at Lancer.

The train arrived in Boston shortly after noon. Johnny had changed from his usual black calzoneros and red shirt into a new pair of equally black though plainer pants and a white shirt. He had promised Murdoch he would try not to stand out too much in the big city. This meant he also removed his gun belt. He felt rather naked in this new garb but he figured it was worth anything to get his brother back.

His first stop was a doctor’s office he found near the train station. He wanted to be sure the wound in his chest wasn’t becoming infected. The last thing he needed was to get sick.

After getting a satisfactory report from the doctor and some new bandages, he found a hotel near Harlan Garrett’s home and checked in. It was a pretty fancy place he thought, but he wanted to be close to Scott. After resting awhile and getting a hot meal, he decided it was time to face his brother.

He walked the several blocks to the mansion of Scott’s grandfather slowly, taking in the sites and sounds of the city where his brother had grown up. He had to admit, from what he had seen, it was a pretty place. There were parks and tree lined streets. He could imagine Scott playing here as a boy.

The houses were huge. Johnny wondered where the ‘real’ people lived. The ones who broke their backs so people like Harlan Garrett could live in such finery.

He cringed as he thought of the old man who had tried so desperately to steal his brother from him, and had nearly succeeded. It was dusk when he arrived outside the mansion. And that was the perfect word for it; mansion. The huge white columns spread across the front portico, the green plants hanging in baskets lined the front entrance, the lawn perfectly groomed. Two huge oak doors barricaded the rest of the world from this…Johnny searched for a word….with a chill down his spine he thought of it…this mausoleum.

He stood at the corner of the wrought iron fence that bordered the estate and noticed someone was pulling in front of the house in a carriage. A man and a woman stepped down from the carriage dressed in fancy clothes with ruffled sleeves and sweeping gown. They rang the doorbell and were immediately admitted to the inner sanctum. Johnny was puzzled until he took a few more steps where he could see in through the large plate glass windows. He realized a party was going on.

Well, Scott sure didn’t waste any time getting back into his old life, Johnny thought. Anger welled up in him from deep in his gut. Obviously Scott wasn’t yearning for home! Well, we’ll just see about all this! Without further hesitation Johnny approached the front door and rang the bell. A tall well-dressed man answered and looked at him like he had horns.

“May I help you, Sir?”

“Yes, I want to see Scott Lancer.”

“And whom may I say is calling?”

Johnny grinned at this and said, “Well, you could tell him it’s the king of England but why don’t we just say his brother is here.”

The man made a small gasp then sighed. To Johnny it sounded like a sigh of relief. “Come in, Mr. Lancer. Mr. Scott is in the great room with his guests. I’ll just tell him you’re here.”

Johnny had thought of several scenarios of how this first meeting would happen. None of them included a houseful of dinner guests. He hadn’t counted on that and he quickly ran down his choices in his mind. As the man started to move toward the great room Johnny stopped him, a mischievous grin spreading across his face.

“Just a minute, mister. Why don’t I just let Scott know I’m here myself? You say he’s in there?” Johnny inquired, pointing toward the great ro om.

“Why, yes Sir, but I don’t think that would be a very good idea. Mr. Garrett…”

Johnny stopped him with a wave of his hand. “I’m not concerned with Mr. Garrett or his guest. I came here to see my brother and I’d just as soon make my presence known myself, if you don’t mind.”

The man nodded and stepped back without another word. As Johnny walked past him, he smiled and thought ‘Thank goodness, someone has come to talk some sense into that boy.’

Johnny strolled into the great room as if he had been there a dozen times, confidence exuding from him. He quickly scanned the room as was his habit and his eyes came to rest on the back of his brother’s head. “˜Perfect’ he thought. He hadn’t wanted Scott to see him first.

The old man was standing next to him on one side and a very attractive young lady seemed engrossed in whatever Scott was saying to her.

As Johnny drew nearer he heard the young lady say, “Well, Scott, all I can say is, it’s so good to have you home. We all missed you terribly.”

Johnny spoke softly. In fact, nobody else probably even heard what he said. But Scott heard it.

He recognized the soft drawl of his brother’s voice immediately. He whirled around and came face to face with those sapphire blue eyes. A look of utter surprise adorned his face.

Johnny couldn’t help but give a slight smile to his brother. He had been so angry with Scott for leaving he hadn’t even realized how much he missed his brother.

“Johnny!” Scott whispered the name incredulously.

“Hello, Scott, how are ya?” Johnny replied softly.

There was no hint of the anger and pain he felt in his voice or on his face.

“What the devil are you doing here? Who let you into my home?” Harlan Garrett demanded.

Johnny ignored the old man, didn’t even glance his way. “We need to talk, Scott, now!”

Scott had regained his composure by now. “Well, as you can see, Johnny, I have guests. I can’t just leave. That would be rude.”

‘Rude?’ Johnny thought. ‘Who cares if it’s rude?’ With an anger he could hardly suppress, Johnny fought to retain his own composure. He smiled at Scott but the smile did not reach his eyes.

He took the champagne glass from his brother’s hand and looked at it as if it were the most interesting thing he had ever seen. Slowly, he lifted his gaze back to his brother’s eyes. He had had enough. He threw the champagne glass against the first available wall, bringing everyone’s full attention to what was transpiring in the small cluster of people.

“I don’t care how rude it is, brother! We are going to talk and we are going to do it right now! Now it’s your choice. We can talk right here in front of your “˜friends’ or we can go someplace more private. You choose.” Johnny hissed the words through clenched teeth. The look on his face told Scott he would not be ignored or brushed off.

Scott sighed heavily and turned to the roomful of people. “Excuse us everyone. I need a moment with my guest.”

“Your brother!” Johnny glared. He wanted all of them to know just exactly who he was.

Scott motioned with his hand for Johnny to follow him and then left the great room with Johnny on his heels. He took Johnny into his grandfather’s library and closed the heavy door.

Johnny scanned the dark room and began pacing about its perimeter, picking up little objects and setting them back down. Scott finally broke the silence.

“What the hell are you doing here, Johnny?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I came to talk some sense into that thick head of yours, brother.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Just go back home. You’re wasting your time and mine,” Scott said in his most authoritative voice.

“Really? You lied to me, Scott. You looked me right in the eyes and you lied to me. How could you do that? How could you betray me like that?”

Johnny felt the tears welling up and cursed himself. He had promised himself he wouldn’t do that. No matter what, he wouldn’t show the pain he felt to his brother. Not now when he needed to be strong and convincing.

“Look, I’m sorry, Johnny, but I couldn’t tell you the truth. You were too sick and I knew it would only upset you.”

“So that’s why you ran off like a thief in the night? Coward!” Johnny spewed.

Scott glared at his brother and yelled, “I was just taking a page from your book, Johnny! Anyway, I did what was right. I don’t regret it. So just go home, Johnny, go home.”

Johnny cringed at these words, knowing how true they had been. But not anymore, he thought.

“Not without you.” Johnny’s tone softened with these words. He could see the conversation was about to turn ugly and he knew if that happened, they would accomplish nothing. “Scott, please listen to me. What happened was not your fault. It was an accident. I don’t blame you, I never did.”

“You should blame me, Johnny. Like I said in the letter, you’re better off without me,” Scott replied with obvious pain in his voice.

Johnny sighed. “I’ll be the judge of what and who I’m better off without. And that is definitely not you! Scott, you’re my brother and my best friend. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. I love you. Don’t you know that by now?”

The pain in Johnny’s eyes made Scott turn away. He couldn’t stand to see his brother hurting and he didn’t want Johnny to see the same pain reflected in his own eyes. When he was able to face his brother again he saw more than emotional pain. Now there was something else.

Johnny was holding his left arm close to his side. Small beads of sweat were beginning to form on his forehead. Suddenly, Scott realized it had been barely two weeks since he had shot his brother and Johnny was here. Three thousand miles from home. He must have left for Boston mere days after the injury.

“My God, Johnny, your chest,” Scott whispered with concern heavy on his brow.

“I’m all right. Don’t change the subject. I need you to come home with me, Scott. I…I need my brother. Do you want me to beg? Fine, I’m begging you, come home.”

Scott moved toward his brother and was at his side in a second. He reached his arm around Johnny’s shoulders and felt his brother lean heavily on him. He isn’t all right, Scott thought to himself, he needs me.

“Let’s get you upstairs into a bed. You need a doctor.”

“Oh, no you don’t! If you think I’m spending one second longer than necessary in this house, you’re crazy! Besides, your grandfather would have a hissy fit.”

Johnny tried to grin but the pain that had starting burning his chest was getting worse with each breath he took. He could feel the warmth oozing from the bandages and cursed himself for allowing the stitches to tear. It must have happened when I threw that glass. I just had to use my left hand to do it, he thought.

Scott smiled at his brother and knew he couldn’t argue the point. Oh, he’d argue from here to hell with his grandfather that Johnny needed his help but that wasn’t going to do his brother any good at this point. Sighing he said, “all right. How about a hotel room then?”

“That’s fine, I already have one at the Wesley Hotel.”

“Pretty fancy for a country boy,” Scott teased.

“I wanted to be close to you,” Johnny whispered.

Scott could feel his heart breaking when he saw the utter anguish in his little brother’s eyes. An anguish which he knew he had caused.

“Jenkins!” Scott yelled for the butler.

“So that’s his name,” Johnny said. “Nice guy.”

Jenkins appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

“I need a carriage. I’m taking my brother to the Wesley Hotel and I need you to send the doctor over there, too.”

“Right away, Mister Scott.” With that the butler was gone again.

Scott helped Johnny to the front door and opened it.

“Scotty! Where are you going? You have dinner guests,” Harlan Garrett asked from the doorway of the great room. He had been pacing the foyer ever since Scott and Johnny had gone into his library.

“Johnny is sick, Grandfather. I’m taking him to the Wesley Hotel. He has a room there. I’ve already sent for the doctor so you’ll just have to entertain our guests by yourself tonight.”

“Oh, Scotty, Jenkins can take him to the hotel. Don’t be rude to your guests. After all, this is your party.”

“I am taking my brother to the hotel and that is the end of the conversation, Grandfather.” Scott scowled at the old man.

And with that they were out the door. Johnny had wanted to say something sarcastic to the old geezer but by now he was feeling really sick and all he wanted to do was rest his head on his brother’s shoulder.

Scott helped him into the carriage and sat down beside him. Johnny did exactly what he had been longing to do for two weeks now. He laid his head on Scott’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

Johnny didn’t remember getting to the hotel or into his room. He was suddenly aware of someone hovering over him and that someone was causing him quite a bit of pain. He didn’t like it one bit and tried desperately to let that person know. But he couldn’t seem to get his eyes open. Suddenly the probing stopped and he heard a man say that he had torn the stitches in his wound and he couldn’t be moved.

Damn! Johnny thought. I don’t want to stay here another minute. I’ve got to get Scott as far away from that old fool as I can, and now!

The next thing he remembered was waking up slowly. The room was bright and it hurt his eyes. He searched around until he saw his brother standing by the window. It seemed very familiar to him.

“Scott,” he whispered.

Scott jerked around and was at his side in two steps, a smile on his face. “Hey, brother. I thought you were going sleep for a week. About time you joined the rest of us.”

“I was just making up for lost time,” Johnny teased back. “What time is it? For that matter, what day is it?”

“It’s noon, you only slept through the night.”

Well, Johnny thought, I guess we missed the train I was hoping to take back home today. He sighed and looked up at his brother’s pale blue eyes. “Are you going home with me?” He asked with so much hope in his voice Scott flinched.

“I can’t leave you alone for a second, can I? So I guess I’m just going to have to go back and keep an eye on you, younger brother.”

Johnny smiled his most heart-stopping smile and Scott felt the tears clouding his eyes.

“Thank you, Scott. I need someone to look out for me. You see, I’ve kinda gotten used to it.” Johnny slipped back into sleep.

A week later the doctor said Johnny was ready to travel. He was grateful for the news. Harlan Garrett had come by every single day to try and talk Scott into staying with him. Johnny was afraid the old man would succeed. With each passing day he got more and more anxious. Scott could see this but at first thought it was Johnny’s natural adversity to being cooped up for too long.

After Garrett’s last visit Johnny asked point blank. “Has he convinced you to stay here?”

Scott blinked with surprise and suddenly realized what Johnny’s anxiety had really been about. “No, brother. Not that he hasn’t pulled out all the stops. But I just finished telling him that I’ve made up my mind and if he continues to harass me about it, he’ll lose me forever.”

Johnny didn’t smile although he really wanted to. He knew how hard this was for Scott. Even though he didn’t understand the older man’s loyalty to such a hard-nosed bastard, Johnny would not question Scott’s feelings for the old man. He left it alone.

The train pulled out of Boston station at precisely nine a.m. Johnny sighed with relief as the train rolled out with he and his brother on board. He would not be able to relax about Scott coming home with him until that happened. Finally, he was bringing his brother home.

He had sent a telegram that morning to Murdoch. It was simple and to the point. It read “˜coming home with Scott’.

He settled down in the seat next to his brother and smiled. Scott saw it and smiled back. The love they both expressed with their eyes as they looked at each other was stronger than any words could ever express.

“Thanks for coming to get me, brother,” Scott whispered in Johnny’s ear.

“Thanks for taking care of me,” Johnny whispered back.



Comments:  We don’t have this author’s current email address. If you leave a comment below, if she reconnects with the fandom, then she will see how much her work is appreciated.


2 thoughts on “The Cat by Winj

  1. This was a great story. Always love it when the brothers are very protective of each other. Thank you.


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