Word Count 4,120
Three weeks after signing the contract that made the Lancers equal partners in the vast ranch, Scott was feeling more at ease about his ability to contribute to the day to day operations. He had learned quite a bit though he was certain there was so much more to know. Murdoch had been showing him the ledgers, going over the financial aspects of running the ranch, in the evenings. Scott was impressed with his father’s meticulous entries, though not surprised. His impressions of Murdoch Lancer thusfar had told him the man liked to know where every cow was, how green every blade of grass was turning and where every penny was being spent or earned.
He supposed it was a matter of being controlling and Murdoch was certainly a man who liked to be in control. He thought often of what it had to have taken to build this place into what it was today. The long, hard hours, the constant worry, the battles to even keep what was his. He had to admire the voracity of the man. Still, there were those questions that lingered in the back of his mind. Why he couldn’t have been a part of it from the very beginning. What drove his father to leave him in Boston and so many others.
Scott was mending a badly worn portion of fence in the south pasture when he heard a horse approaching. He looked up to see the now familiar golden palomino bearing down on him. He smiled and dropped his hammer, removing his gloves, as he walked over to the wagon and grabbed his canteen.
“How’s it goin’, Boston?” Johnny smiled as he dismounted.
“It’s going slowly. This fence is in bad shape,” Scott replied. He wondered how long Johnny was going to keep calling him Boston.
“Yeah, well Murdoch wants you back at the house. Something he needs to talk to you about,” Johnny said as he surveyed the fence.
“Oh? Something wrong?”
“Not that I know of. Don’t worry, he ain’t gonna turn you over his knee,” Johnny laughed.
“No, he certainly isn’t,” Scott smiled. “What about the fence?”
“That’s why I’m here, Boston. I’ll take care of this old fence. Go on, the old man’s waitin and you know how he hates that,” Johnny said.
The smile left Scott’s face as he felt a surge of anger. “Now wait a minute. This is my job, not yours. He shouldn’t be throwing it on you.”
“Don’t get your back up, Scott. I don’t mind. Besides, it sounded kind of important. Not that he’d bother to tell me what it’s about,” Johnny shrugged.
Scott could only see the side of Johnny’s face but he detected the feeling behind the words well enough. He decided right then that he and Murdoch would be having a little talk about Johnny and why the ‘old man’ never included him in much.
“All right but I’m coming back to help you,” Scott acquiesced.
Johnny simply smiled at him and donned his gloves.
Scott rode into the yard still angry as he thought about the conversation with his brother. Why he hadn’t seen it before was beyond him but the more he thought about it, the more he could see. Murdoch didn’t include Johnny when they went over the ledgers and many times when they discussed ranch business. By the time he entered the house, he was indignant.
“Oh, good you’re here. There are some things we need to discuss about the upcoming cattle drive,” Murdoch said as he sat at his desk.
“Shouldn’t Johnny be here as well?” Scott asked, removing his hat and gloves.
“No, no. Johnny is familiar with drives. I need to go over what’s to be expected from you, Scott,” Murdoch said with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Scott suddenly realized why Murdoch wasn’t including Johnny. He assumed Johnny already knew more about ranching than Scott. He’s teaching me, he thought. Still, there were things that bothered him, maybe Murdoch thought Johnny knew more than he did.
“Sir, I realize Johnny has had some experience in these matters, but don’t you think you should include him? He said he had worked on ranches but mostly with horses. He may not know as much as you think,” Scott reasoned.
Murdoch looked up at him, seemingly surprised by this concept. “Johnny’s a good hand,” was his simple reply.
“He’s more than a hand, he’s part owner. He should know as much about the running of this ranch as you or I. You’ve never once shown him the books,” Scott said, his anger seething.
“Why are you so upset?” Murdoch asked.
“Because, you assume too much, sir. Do you really think he knows anything about keeping books, cattle prices or any of the rest?” Scott asked increduously.
“No, I don’t suppose he does but …. Scott, Johnny hasn’t had the same kind of education as you have. I always thought of you as running the business end of things,” Murdoch replied.
Scott’s anger surfaced then. “Did you? And what if I suddenly decide I don’t want to take care of the business end? What if I get killed? What are you going to do then, Murdoch?!” he yelled.
“Calm down! I don’t understand what has you so angry,” Murdoch shouted.
Scott took a deep breath and forced himself to calm. He looked deliberately at his father and began speaking civily. “I am angry, sir, because you treat Johnny like any other ranch hand when he has a vested interest in this ranch and every decision that is made. He also has a say in those decisions and you seem determined that he not. You said we were equal partners. Yes, you call the tune, but if all you want from us is two more hired hands, then we have a real problem because I do not intend to be a hired hand and I do not intend for my brother to be one either.”
Murdoch took his own deep breath. “Sit down, son. I think it’s time you knew a few things about your brother.”
Scott sat down with a sudden feeling of dread. He knew very little about Johnny. Only what he had heard Johnny say about why he hated Murdoch and Teresa’s resounding defense of the man. He knew Johnny’s mother had left, the reasons were unclear and he imagined Johnny was more confused than anyone now. What his brother had been doing all his life, Scott didn’t know and had not given it a great deal of thought. But he knew one thing, Johnny didn’t talk about his past. Suddenly, he was more intrigued than worried.
Murdoch walked over and sat on the sofa near the chair Scott occupied. He seemed nervous to Scott and this worried him even more. What could possibly be so bad that Murdoch Lancer wouldn’t want to talk about it? He watched as his father rubbed his hands together slowly, deep in thought.
“Scott, Johnny’s mother died when he was eleven years old. He didn’t have any other family that he knew of or …. wanted. For whatever reasons, I believe Maria told him I didn’t want him. Teresa told me about the conversation you all had by the stream. It isn’t true, son. I didn’t throw them out. She left in the middle of the night with Johnny.”
“What happened to him?” Scott asked quietly.
Murdoch closed his eyes and sighed. “From what I can gather, he was alone, survived the best he could until he was a little older. Then, he …. well, Johnny was a gunfighter. A very well known gunfighter, Johnny Madrid,” Murdoch spilled.
Scott sat silently, digesting this information. He knew little about gunfighters. Only what he had read in the very few books about the west he had encountered. They certainly weren’t the kinds of books he usually read but when he had decided to come here, he had picked up a couple to read on the trip. Then there was that dime novel he’d found left on the train. He’d been bored enough to read it.
“I’ve never heard of Johnny Madrid,” he said, unable to think of anything else to say.
“No, I don’t suppose you would have but everyone around here has. He’s, um, famous,” Murdoch said regretfully.
Scott had to smile at this. “Famous? I have a famous brother, eh?”
“It’s not funny, Scott. Johnny’s life was very hard. He’s killed …. a lot of men,” Murdoch’s voice trailed off with the last sentence.
Scott sobered quickly and studied his father’s face. “Are you ashamed of him?”
Murdoch’s silence was overwhelming and, once more, Scott found himself growing angry.
“He survived, you said so yourself. Maybe he had no choice, maybe it was the only or best way he had to stay alive,” he said flatly.
“I know that!” Murdoch snapped.
“You don’t trust him, do you?” Scott retorted. “You think maybe he won’t stay. Maybe he’ll just decide to take off and …. what? Go back to being Johnny Madrid? Murdoch, I don’t know him very well, I’ll admit, but I do know how hard he’s trying to make this work. You have to give some, too.”
“I worry, Scott. Maybe he won’t stay. He’s so used to being on his own, nobody to answer to, no responsibilities. I just don’t know,” Murdoch confessed.
“And you never will until you trust him enough to include him in this family,” Scott remarked.
Murdoch shook his head slowly. “He’s so damned much like his mother. Hot headed and stubborn.”
Murdoch looked up when he heard the laughter coming from his elder son. He looked at Scott as if he’d lost his mind.
“I’m sorry, but …. you just described yourself,” Scott laughed. “Murdoch, don’t you see? Johnny is exactly like you,” he explained.
Murdoch started to buck at that comparison, but he realized Scott was right. He smiled at the blond. “Maybe you’re right. Still, I worry constantly about him.”
“Maybe you should try talking to him like you are with me,” Scott suggested.
“It’s not so easy, son. You listen to me. You may not agree but you listen,” Murdoch said.
They heard the wagon driving up and both walked out to the yard to see Johnny pull up.
“What’s the problem?” Murdoch asked immediately.
Johnny looked at him with a of measure of surprise. “No problem, just need more supplies,” he shrugged. Jumping down, he looked at Murdoch and smiled wickedly. “You keep letting things go like that fence, you won’t have any cattle left to drive to market,” he said.
Murdoch’s anger flashed but then he felt Scott gently nudge at him. He looked at Johnny and saw the playfulness dancing in his eyes. “Well, that’s what I need you two for, to keep me on my toes,” he replied.
Johnny laughed appreciatively at the response, then he noticed Scott staring at him. “What?”
“Nothing, I .. nothing,” Scott shrugged, embarrassed.
“Well, did you two have your talk or do I get to finish this job by myself?” he asked.
“Actually, we got a little side-tracked,” Scott admitted.
“It’s alright, go ahead and help your brother. We’ll all talk about it this evening. I wanted to tell Scott about the drive, Johnny, but it occurred to me it may have been a while since you’ve been on one, so we can all discuss it tonight,” Murdoch explained.
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, it has been a while and it was to Kansas City. I would like to know about the trail,” he said.
“Good, well I’ll help you load the wagon and we can get back to work,” Scott smiled.
The brothers spent the rest of the day mending the fence. Scott kept stealing glances at his brother, noting the way he dressed and the way he wore his gun. When they stopped for a break, he pondered how to approach the subject of his brother’s former profession.
“You been eyeing me all day, Boston. Somethin on your mind?” Johnny asked.
“Was I that obvious?” Scott asked, chagrined.
“Maybe only to me,” Johnny said matter-of-factly.
“Yes, well that’s what I wanted to ask about,” Scott said a bit sheepishly. “I told you Murdoch and I got side-tracked today. We were talking about you.”
“I was upset that he didn’t include you about the cattle drive and we started talking. He told me some interesting things about you, brother,” Scott started.
Johnny pushed his hat back and stared into Scott’s eyes until the blond had to look away. “Told you about my past,” he said bluntly.
“Yes, he did. I was surprised to say the least,” Scott admitted.
“And to say the most?” Johnny asked, still staring at him.
Scott laughed at that astute question. “I’m still trying to take it all in. I have to admit, I have a lot of questions.”
“So ask,” Johnny said.
Scott looked at him with surprise. “You’ll answer?”
“Didn’t say that,” Johnny grinned.
Scott returned the smile. “I guess the biggest one is why?”
Johnny looked down then and sighed. He picked a blade of grass and stuck it in his mouth. “Lots of reasons I guess. Mostly to stay alive,” he said softly.
“Yes, I assumed that was the main reason. Murdoch said you were on your own after your mother died. I guess I’m wondering why you weren’t in an orphanage or something,” Scott said.
“Have you ever been in an orphanage, Scott? Well, maybe the ones in Boston are nice but that ain’t the case in Mexico. No, I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those hellholes,” he replied.
Scott was suddenly reminded of a book he’d read by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. “I can understand that. So, when did you become a gunfighter and how did you get so good?”
“Who said I was good?” Johnny asked.
“Murdoch said you were famous,” Scott answered.
Johnny got up and walked away a few paces. “Yeah, I’ll bet he’s real proud of that,” he sneered.
“No, but he’s worried. He said he worries about you constantly. If you’ll stay here,” Scott said.
Johnny turned to face Scott, who had stood and come to stand behind him. “He said that?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Does he want me to?” Johnny asked, the need in his eyes almost too much for Scott to witness.
“Yes, Johnny, he wants you to,” he said softly.
Johnny dropped his head then and sighed. “Well, I reckon I’m not goin anywhere.”
“So, are you going to answer my questions?” Scott asked.
Johnny looked up and smiled. “When? Don’t think so. How? A lot of practice and some hard learned lessons.”
“You know I’ll find out eventually,” Scott smiled.
“Probably, but for now, that’s all you’re gonna get, brother,” Johnny smiled back.
Scott realized it was the first time Johnny had referred to him as ‘brother’ and his heart felt warm and soft.
That evening after supper they discussed the upcoming cattle drive. Scott had many questions and was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed at the vast undertaking. Johnny was more concerned with the trail and possible problems along the way.
Murdoch was glad they were both so genuinely interested and impressed with Johnny’s astute observations.
“Johnny, I want you to take your brother under your wing. Now, don’t get defensive Scott. Cattle drives can be treacherous and I want you to learn how to deal with all the problems that can occur. Plus …..” Murdoch trailed off, biting his lip.
“Plus what?” Scott asked.
“Well, when someone new comes along, the men, well they …”
“They’re gonna try to give you a hard time, Boston, bein a greenhorn and all,” Johnny interjected.
“A harder time than they already are?” Scott asked with some amusement.
“Most likely,” Johnny laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t let ’em be too hard on ya,” he added.
“No, Johnny. I don’t want you to get involved. I’m serious, I think I should take my initiation on my own. If they’re ever going to respect me, they have to trust that I know what I’m doing. Or at least, that I can figure it out,” Scott said.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Johnny said with a big smile.
“Do either of you have any more questions,” Murdoch said, proud that his son was willing to take some ribbing for the greater cause.
“No, sir,” Scott replied.
“I do. Who’s the cook and is he any good?” Johnny grinned.
“He’s the best, Johnny. You won’t starve,” Murdoch laughed.
“First lesson, Boston. The cook is the most important man on the trail. You treat him with respect at all times, no matter how grumpy he gets,” Johnny said.
“That is excellent advice. Well, I have some paperwork to do,” Murdoch said as he started to his desk. He stopped halfway and turned. “Johnny, come over here. I want to show you something.”
Johnny joined his father and Murdoch pulled out the ledgers. Scott picked up the book he’d been reading, holding it up to hide the silly grin on his face.
Murdoch patiently went over the books wth Johnny, answering his questions and guiding him through the bookkeeping process. After an hour, Johnny’s head started hurting, looking at all the small entries.
“What’s wrong?” Murdoch asked.
“Nothing, you just write so small,” Johnny answered honestly.
“Well, I like to be neat. Here, you put the next entries in. Let’s see what you’ve learned,” he said, turning the book to Johnny.
He took a long wary look at his father and accepted the proffered pencil. A few minutes later, he turned the book back over, holding his breath.
“That’s perfect,” Murdoch said, somewhat surprised.
“Thanks,” Johnny said softly.
Scott couldn’t stand it so he walked over and peered over his father’s shoulder. He read the entires Johnny had made and was impressed.
“Nice penmanship,” he remarked.
“Yeah, my mother used to make me practice for hours. She said a man who could do no better than make chicken scratch didn’t have much of a chance. Never knew what the heck that meant,” Johnny shrugged.
Scott noticed Murdoch stiffen at the mention of Johnny’s mother and wondered if his brother had noticed as well.
“Well, it makes sense. If you can’t read what you wrote, no one else will be able to either. But …” Scott paused for a second. “I think you have a natural talent, brother. The way you curve your letters and print the numbers, it’s artistic.”
“Yeah, that’s me, the artist,” Johnny laughed.
“Well, I think that’s enough for one night,” Murdoch said stiffly.
“Yeah, I’m goin to bed. Goodnight,” Johnny said just as stiffly as he stood up and quickly left the room.
Scott sighed inwardly and figured Johnny had noticed Murdoch’s reaction to the mention of his mother. He wanted to ask Murdoch about it but he was more concerned about Johnny at the moment, so he said his goodnights as well and went after his brother.
Knocking lightly on the door, he waited for permission to enter before coming in.
“See? That’s how it’s done,” Scott joked.
“Oh, okay,” Johnny said mockingly.
“Are you alright?”
“Sure, Boston. Why?”
“Well, you left rather abruptly,” Scott said.
“Didn’t you hear? I was dismissed,” Johnny said a bit harshly.
“Yes, he did seem a little … tense,” Scott fished.
“My fault. I shouldn’t have said anything about her,” Johnny mumbled.
“You have a right to talk about your mother, Johnny.”
“Not around him, I don’t. Did you see how he turned into a tree as soon as I mentioned her? It’ll never change,” he said despondently.
“It will take some time but eventually, you’re going to have to talk to each other about her. If you don’t, you’ll never get past it,” Scott said.
“Why are you so worried about this?” Johnny asked.
“Why?” Scott repeated in surprise. “Well, I want us to all get along. Don’t you?”
“Sure but, look, just don’t expect any miracles here, Scott. Murdoch Lancer is the most hard headed mule I ever did meet,” Johnny said definitively.
“Funny, he said much the same thing about you,” Scott said snidely.
“Well, have you ever seen two mules go at it? It ain’t pretty. Best you steer clear of that,” Johnny grinned.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Johnny. I have quite an interest in the relationship between you and our father,” Scott replied.
“Well, if I can get you two to get along, they rest of us will have a much easier time of it,” Scott smiled.
“Boston, don’t get in between us. You’re liable to get hurt,” Johnny said seriously.
“Do you think things will get that bad?” Scott asked.
“I hope not but if he’s gonna get all prickly every time I mention my mother, we will get into it, guaranteed,” Johnny said.
“Did it ever occur to you to sit down and talk to him about your mother before something ugly happens?” Scott asked.
“Sure it has, but ….”
“He don’t want to, that’s pretty obvious. Besides, sometimes I get the feeling he can’t stand to look at me,” Johnny replied barely above a whisper.
Scott didn’t know what to say to this but it didn’t seem right to him. “Why do you say that?”
Johnny snorted. “You have your mother’s temper. Ring a bell?”
“Well, you were very hostile,” Scott reminded him.
“Sure Boston, that’s it. Has nothin to do with me lookin like her. Nothin to do with me bein around reminding him every day that she ran out on him,” Johnny said sarcastically.
“That’s Murdoch’s problem to deal with, not your’s. You shouldn’t have to carry that around,” Scott said, feeling a bit edgy.
“It is my problem. But it ain’t your’s so you should just stay out if it, Scott. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m pretty tired,” Johnny said.
“Alright, goodnight,” Scott said, feeling a bit defeated.
He went to his room and laid down on top of the covers, staring at the ceiling. Stay out of it. How could he stay out of it? There was much more to all of this than either of them wanted to admit. He believed Johnny was right, it hurt Murdoch to look at him sometimes. He could understand that but he prayed Murdoch wasn’t taking his anger at his wife out on their son. He had to admit, he knew neither of them well enough to say for sure.
Still, he knew he would not stay out of it. Could not. He wanted this family, he needed it and he’d be damned if he’d let those two mules destroy them all before they ever had a chance to get started. No, Scott determined that very minute that he would do everything in his power to keep this family together and to get Johnny and Murdoch talking. He knew his father’s and brother’s issues were deep and painful. More so than his own. He could wait for his answers, but Johnny couldn’t wait forever or even very long. He would need those answers to feel like he really belonged here. That Murdoch wanted him here.
Scott wasn’t sure of much, but he was sure Murdoch wanted Johnny to stay. He had said as much to him that very day. He wouldn’t have confessed how worried he was if not. He wouldn’t even be worried if he didn’t want Johnny there. Another thing was Johnny’s past, his reputation. Scott resolved to find out more about that as well. If Johnny wouldn’t talk, he was sure he could find someone who would. Someone who could tell him something about Johnny Madrid.
He thought about the Pinkerton agent who had approached him in Boston. Pinkerton’s kept files on every case. He wondered if Murdoch had files on Johnny and himself. He must have something. It struck him that Murdoch kept the bottom left drawer of his desk locked. That must be where the reports are. Well, that would certainly be an excellent place to start his search for information on Johnny. He decided right then that he would somehow gain access to that drawer.
Feeling somewhat more comfortable with all this, Scott undressed for the night. He would begin his search for answers tomorrow and he would get the two mules to talk if it killed them all. Cringing, he thought it might just do that very thing. But, if they could survive that, they could survive anything …. together.
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