Word count 11,093
This is a WHN that has been knocking around in my head for awhile and never would have made it past that point without a helpful nudge (giant push) from my good friend Chris. This is my first attempt at fan fic and it has been a joint effort. Without Chris as my co-writer , copilot and mentor I’d still be looking at a blank computer screen. So to Chris, a heartfelt thanks for shoving me into the deep end of the pool but being there with the life preserver to keep me from drowning. <g>
Linda Rae & Chris
Johnny stood alone, watching the Strykers riding away from Lancer, his pistol still at the ready. It had been close; Scott had been shot and the ranch attacked – all because of him. Closing his eyes and bowing his head, he could still hear Murdoch’s words burning in his ears: “I don’t need you now or ever – get out!”
The gunhawk tensed at the sound of his name and turned to face the source – Murdoch Lancer.
The big man loomed over his son, his hands on hips, waiting for a reply. There was no response – only an awkward silence between them. “You did the right thing, not killing that other boy…”
Johnny turned away and frowned. He didn’t need the old man to put a stamp of approval on his actions; he needed to know where he stood. The same anger that caused him to leave in the first place was once again welling in his chest. “Is that all ya got to say, Old Man?”
Murdoch was startled by the challenge in his son’s tone of voice, realizing that once again, he had managed to say the wrong thing. Taking a breath, Murdoch paused before firing off a quick response. The troubled father fought to control the tremble in his voice, realizing that he needed to reach out to this son if he was to prevent Johnny from leaving again – possibly for good. “Why don’t we go inside and check on Scott? We can talk…”
“Talk? About what?” Johnny’s voice again challenged Murdoch to deal with the words that had been said earlier; words that had struck down any hope Johnny had of returning to Lancer.
“About the work that needs to be done tomorrow, the fence line that needs to be finished…” Murdoch kicked himself as soon as the words left his lips. They weren’t what he needed or even wanted to say.
Johnny snorted at the response. Nothing had changed. The Old Man was only focused on the ranch and how he could use him to get the job done. “Talk to Scott…” Johnny called over his shoulder as he turned on his heel, heading towards his horse.
“I’m talking to you!” Murdoch called after him, afraid the young man would be gone before the right words were ever said.
The gunhawk spun back to face his father like he would face any other man who challenged Johnny Madrid. He’d had enough of being used, of being talked to like he was a nobody. He was Johnny Madrid; a force to be reckoned with. “You ain’t telling me nothin’ I don’t already know. You done your talking back in the house and I heard you loud and clear. You don’t need me here; not now or ever!”
“Johnny, I never meant it like that…” Murdoch cringed to hear his own harsh words thrown back at him.
“Is that right? Well tell me, Murdoch, just what did you mean – ‘cause I’m sick and tired of having to try to figure it out!”
The two men squared off, facing each other when Frank ran up and got Murdoch’s attention. “Mr. Lancer…?”
Murdoch snapped with irritation at the untimely interruption and turned towards the top hand. “What is it, Frank?”
“It’s Scott. His shoulder is bleeding pretty badly. I’ve sent for the doctor but I think you’d better come take a look at it.”
It only took one mention of Scott’s wound to turn Murdoch’s thoughts. He remembered how the wound had been pulsing blood before Scott had joined him on the veranda – trying to protect Johnny. Without a second look at his youngest, Murdoch headed towards the house. Frank struggled to keep up with the long strides of the big man.
Johnny suddenly found himself alone in the yard feeling caught between the need to leave and the need to know the condition of his brother. Finally, his conscience got the better of him and he slowly followed after his father into the house.
A bustle of activity greeted him and he found himself pushed to the shadows. Silently he watched as Murdoch gently tended to Scott who lay prone on the couch. Teresa and Maria stood nearby, each ready to care for the injured man. A pang of guilt crept up Johnny’s spine as he realized his father’s words were true – the only thing wrong at Lancer was him. He was the cause of all of the senseless violence. If only he had stuck to the job and had ignored Wes and that wild stallion. Sadly, he knew the truth – if it hadn’t been Wes, the stallion or the Strykers – something else would have happened to cause his family pain. Johnny was painfully aware that his previous life had ill prepared him for the daily job requirements of ranching, especially the time constraints, that went with his new life. That and Murdoch’s demands that he forget his past: forget who he was and become Johnny Lancer – one third partner of the largest ranch in all of California – made his new life unmanageable. Too many changes; too fast. If only he had time to adjust….
Looking at how Scott’s blood stained Teresa’s white towels Johnny came to another realization. There were a lot of people out looking for a piece of Johnny Madrid and the gunhawk knew that no matter how much he wanted to put that life behind him, his past would always come knocking and ruin his future. What had happened with the Strykers was only a start. Though they hadn’t known who he was, they quickly had come to know what he was – and a rancher’s son wasn’t it.
Johnny’s thoughts crystallized as he watched his father attempt to stem the flow of blood from Scott’s arm. It was no good. Staying at Lancer was a dream but the reality was that his presence was a nightmare for everyone he had come to care about. Without a word, Johnny grabbed his hat from the dining table and silently made his way out through the kitchen. Quickly he gathered a few meager supplies, before heading to the barn where Barranca waited to take him to his future.
Scott was less focused on his wound than he was on his family. “Where’s Johnny?” he asked, noting the one person he needed to talk to wasn’t present. “Is he OK?”
Murdoch paused and winced. He had completely forgotten Johnny and their unfinished conversation in his anxious rush to take care of his oldest son. “He’s fine. I left him outside…”
“Outside? You didn’t tell him to come in?” Scott asked incredulously, trying to struggle to his feet.
“I told him to come in so we could talk. He knows I want to sort things out with him. He’ll come in once he cools off…” Murdoch said, forcing Scott back on the couch.
“No, he won’t!” Teresa spoke up sharply. “Not after what you told him!”
“Teresa,” Murdoch growled in warning, but the girl would not be dissuaded.
The girl continued to speak, providing the answers to Scott’s unasked questions. “Johnny came back and Murdoch told him that we didn’t need him; that he never needed him. He told Johnny to leave Lancer and never come back!”
“They were only words to keep Johnny out of harm’s way!” Murdoch protested, seeing the anger building in Scott’s eyes.
“Did you ever tell him that, Sir?” Scott questioned curtly.
“Then you had better go and tell him…”
“I need to take care of this wound first…”
“Teresa or Maria can help me with this. You only have one chance left to get through to Johnny.”
Reluctantly, Murdoch realized Scott was right. It was easier to focus on Scott and his injury, than it was to try to find the right words to make Johnny stay. “I’ll go and talk to him. In the meantime, you listen to Teresa and Maria. Sam should be here soon.” Murdoch headed out of the house, his eyes scanning for Johnny, but the boy was gone and so was his horse. “Frank!” Murdoch called, seeing the wrangler heading toward the barn.
“Mr. Lancer – Jed should be back with the doctor pretty soon. I have the rest of the men repairing the damage, just like you ordered…”
“Never mind that, have you seen Johnny?”
“I saw him heading out across the south range just a few minutes ago.”
Murdoch squinted against the bright sunlight. Johnny had already disappeared from sight. “Have one of the hands saddle my horse…”
“You going after him, Mr. Lancer?”
Murdoch regarded his top hand for a moment. “I’m not going to lose him again.”
Frank smiled at the comment and headed into the barn to saddle Murdoch’s favorite bay.
The older man returned to the house and packed a saddle bag with a few necessities. He wasn’t sure how long he would be gone, but this time he wasn’t going to return until he had convinced Johnny to come home – for good. Before leaving, he returned to the living room to check on Scott. His eldest son was already asleep; the effect of the laudanum Teresa had given him. “I’m going after Johnny…”
“What do you mean?” the young girl asked anxiously.
With a sigh, Murdoch looked out the large window that faced the south range. “He left – heading south. I won’t return until I’ve found him and convinced him to come home.”
Teresa smiled at the resolve in her guardian’s voice. Hope sprang in her heart that he would be successful and that they could try again to become a family. Going to him, she gently kissed his cheek and gave him a hug. “Bring him back to us,” she whispered.
With a gentle pat to her shoulder, Murdoch headed out on the most urgent quest of his life. For the second time in twenty years, he was going in search of his son. This time, there would be no returning until the boy was found and brought back home where he belonged.
Johnny was in no hurry to get to where he knew he belonged. It was time to return to Mexico and the border towns where he had been raised. Johnny Madrid could find work there – work that didn’t require him to keep time with a watch or answer to a boss. He would be free and easy; like he had been before he had come to Lancer. In some ways he had always known it would end up this way – it always did. Ranchers would use him for his prowess with a gun and when the job was done – it was time go. By Johnny’s way of figuring things, he had worn out his welcome at Lancer the day Pardee was shot.
As Johnny continued to mull over his thoughts there was one thing that he forgot to consider, his father’s tenacity once he made up his mind to do something.
The bay was starting to fatigue when Murdoch finally caught a glimpse of his son in the distance. Whipping the tired animal, he spurred it on trying to catch up with Johnny. As soon as he was within shouting distance, Murdoch called, “Johnny! Wait!”
Johnny reined Barranca to a halt and turned to face the approaching rider. He had heard a horse coming from the vicinity of the ranch and wondered who would be on it. Murdoch was the last person he expected to follow him. Anger still consumed his emotions for his father, but he quickly buried them behind the icy calm that Johnny Madrid was known for. He had already resigned himself to the notion that he could never be a part of a family; Murdoch could have his say – but in the end, Johnny would be riding on.
Murdoch pulled his tired horse to a stop, pleased that Johnny hadn’t bolted. Once again he was face to face with Johnny and he didn’t want to say the wrong thing – again. Figuring out the correct words seemed to be beyond him at the moment. Looking into his son’s cold blue eyes, he saw nothing to help make this easy. “Johnny, I want you to come back to the ranch.”
“You’ve got enough hands without me, Old Man”. The statement was said without emotion as Johnny turned Barranca and urged the animal into a walk.
“Johnny!” There was no mistaking the sense of urgency in Murdoch’s voice. “I can hire other hands; I need my son back”. There, he’d said it; more was needed to make up for the words he’d said in haste but at least he’d given it a start.
Johnny stopped Barranca but didn’t turn the horse back. He turned slightly in the saddle to face his father. “You have a son and he’s back at the ranch bleeding on your sofa. Go back to him”. Barranca started walking slowly forward again.
“You’re both my sons. The words I said at the ranch were ill chosen……..I wanted you to leave before Stryker’s men found out you were there.”
“Why, because you didn’t want Johnny Madrid shooting anyone else on your property? Or maybe you were hoping they’d solve your problem for you by sending me out where you knew they were waiting.” Johnny sneered over his shoulder as Barranca continued walking away.
“NO! I didn’t want to see you killed!” Murdoch was appalled by the direction Johnny’s thoughts had taken but admitted to himself that his shortsightedness could well have caused Johnny’s death. “I handled the situation poorly. Johnny, come back and give Lancer another chance….give me another chance.”
Johnny stopped his horse in surprise. Murdoch wasn’t one to plead and while his tone sounded angry, Johnny was experienced enough at reading men to know what this request had cost Murdoch. He turned Barranca back towards his father and regarded him with a thoughtful gaze. “It still may not work out. I can’t change my past and we’re bound to keep knocking heads over it.”
“I’m willing to work on it if you are,” Murdoch said sincerely, allowing himself the smallest glimmer of hope that perhaps he could say the right thing to get Johnny to stay.
“I’ll give it some thought and let you know”. Johnny turned back towards the south and kicked Barranca into a lope. He needed time to sort things out; he needed to be alone. Johnny focused on the ground eating stride of his horse, letting the smooth rhythm soothe his troubled thoughts – putting distance between Murdoch and himself. After two miles he finally slowed Barranca to a walk while he allowed his mind to review the troubling events of the day. He’d seen two very different sides of his father. Part of him wanted to accept the caring man that had followed him but he kept hearing the earlier accusations from that same man – “The only thing wrong here has always been you… I don’t need you now or ever.” Murdoch had shown clear remorse over that comment but it still stung. What were his father’s true feelings? Until he knew, there would be no turning back.
Murdoch sat for a moment watching as Johnny departed. Johnny’s reaction was a start and better than he had a right to hope for. At least Johnny seemed to be willing to consider coming back to Lancer. With dogged determination Murdoch nudged his horse forward, into a walk, giving the horse the breather it needed after pushing it to catch up with Johnny. Murdoch pondered his next step. There was still no certainty that Johnny would forgive him his ill-chosen words. Thinking back, Murdoch couldn’t argue with his son’s anger. The words, no matter how well intentioned, were mean and hurtful – and they rang in the big man’s ears. He had made a lot of mistakes where it came to his youngest son; it was time that he acknowledged them and made amends.
Once his horse had cooled down and recovered he kicked it into a trot in an effort to shorten the distance between himself and his son. Gritting his teeth he determined that there was no way he was going to let the boy slip through his fingers again.
Without conscious thought Johnny noted that dusk was approaching and selected a campsite that would be difficult to approach without being noticed. He smiled a bit, realizing that a lifetime of habit had guided his actions. As Johnny set about making camp he heard the slow approach of a rider. A quick glance confirmed what he had suspected might happen; Murdoch had followed. He continued his preparations for the night all the while aware that his father was coming ever closer.
Murdoch watched Johnny turn from the main trail. He knew that he had to give Johnny some time to consider the next step in their unsettled relationship. Given the time of day he knew Johnny would likely want to settle in for the night so he followed the path his son had taken, coming up on Johnny’s campsite. From a distance he watched as Johnny efficiently set up camp for the evening. It didn’t escape him that Johnny’s first actions involved caring for his horse, removing the saddle and giving Barranca a quick rubdown before leading him to the nearby stream.
He was uncertain about being welcome in Johnny’s camp and had decided to set up his own camp nearby when he heard Johnny’s voice. “Well Old Man, are you going to just sit out there or are you going to help set up camp?” The voice gave no indication of Johnny’s mood but did let him know that Johnny wasn’t averse to sharing his camp.
“Guess I’ll help.” Murdoch rode in and dismounted glancing at Johnny as he did so. Johnny’s expression gave nothing away leaving Murdoch at a loss. He realized he was grasping at the smallest indications that Johnny was willing to accept him. The invitation to share the campsite was an opportunity he didn’t want to waste. Removing the saddle he started to care for his horse, meanwhile noticing the expert choice of location for the campsite and the skill that Johnny showed in the routine chores of the evening. Without conversation the two men finished gathering wood for the fire, laying out the bedrolls and preparing for the evening’s meal.
From a sack that had hung on his saddle, Johnny removed two rabbits he had shot earlier on the trail. Heading to the stream he skinned and cleaned his dinner while Murdoch started a fire. On his way back, Johnny broke some green sticks from the nearby trees and skewered the animals for roasting. Before placing them over the fire, he generously seasoned them with spices from a small oilskin pouch he kept in his saddle bag.
A heavy silence hung over the camp. Johnny kept busy while Murdoch could only sit back and watch. “They smell good…” Murdoch commented after the meat started to roast.
“Rabbit is my specialty,” Johnny said with a smile, not looking at his father.
Murdoch smiled remembering the first time he had ever cooked a rabbit over an open fire. He had been a lot older than Johnny….the smile faded as he began to wonder just how long Johnny had been caring for himself. “How many years have you been cooking …”
“For as long as I can remember. Since before Mama died. I learned real fast that if you don’t cook – you don’t eat…”
“Johnny….” There was no mistaking the regret in Murdoch’s voice.
“Look, Murdoch. I’ve been on my own for a long time…”
“Too long,” Murdoch muttered shaking his head.
Johnny felt his ire rising. “What are you feeling bad about? The past is past, remember? I survived didn’t I? I learned a long time ago to be responsible for myself and I think that I’ve done a pretty good job of it!”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Murdoch stumbled. “I guess I never thought of how you lived before.”
“What? How did you think I lived – in the saloons waiting for my next victim? I got news for you – I don’t go lookin’ for trouble, but it always seems to find me. Kinda like the Strykers. All I wanted was to catch that horse. I wanted to show you that I was good for something besides digging holes, stringing your wire and killin’ your enemies. I wanted to…” Johnny paused, trying to master the bitterness of the past few days before it consumed him. “I never meant for Scott to get hurt…”
“I know that, Son…”
Johnny’s eyes flashed at the use of the title. “Since when have I been your son?”
“From the day you were born…” Murdoch attempted.
“No! I’ve always been Maria’s half breed; the reason she had to leave…”
Murdoch interrupted not liking where Johnny’s tirade was going. “Johnny, I thought we’d been through this. I don’t care what you heard, besides it happened so long ago…”
“It’s not in the past, Murdoch! It’s how I’ve lived my life for the past 20 years! I just can’t shut it off like you can. I don’t work that way! There’s not a day that goes by that I can’t see the face of every man I’ve had to shoot – just like I can’t forget the taunts and slurs of everyone who pokes fun at me ‘cause I’m neither white or Mexican….”
Murdoch swallowed and closed his eyes. Johnny was right; he had been focused too much on Johnny’s past as a gunhawk and had never considered the rest of it. Obviously times had been very hard for his son and it was to Johnny’s credit that that young man didn’t seem to dwell in the past. “I’m sorry…” the big man whispered finally.
“What?” Johnny asked unsure of the words his father had just spoken.
“I said I’m sorry. You’re right. I didn’t know what your life was like – I didn’t want to know. I thought I was teaching you how to be a responsible member of my family…”
“Your family or your ranch? All you’ve shown me for the past two months is how you want to keep me in line. You tell me to do things, but you don’t tell me why. I’m not a rancher, Murdoch, but I sure would have liked to learn how to be one. All I needed was a little time…”
“Then come back and I’ll teach you….”
Johnny shook his head. “I can’t go back and have things going the way they were…” Johnny checked the rabbits; they were done. He picked up one spit and handed it to his father while he took the other. Johnny focused his attention on the rabbit, cutting off the conversation. He wasn’t truly hungry any longer and ate mechanically because it gave him something to do besides fight with the Old Man.
The two men ate in silence. Murdoch had learned more about his son in the past hour than he had in the weeks since Johnny had returned to the ranch. The elder Lancer had been making his plans for the future without consideration of his son’s past. It dawned on him that he was turning into his own Da – a man who had ruled his home with an iron fist; a man who had left Murdoch no choice but to leave his home and to find his own destiny. Murdoch hadn’t wanted to leave his mother and his brothers and yet, his father had left him no option but to do just that. Looking at Johnny he reflected on his actions of the past weeks and he wasn’t proud. He remembered two days ago how hard Johnny had been working, trying to get a jump on the job so he could have a few well deserved hours in town. The surveying could have waited – why had he pushed the younger man so hard?
Nibbling at the roasted meat, Murdoch was impressed by the flavor of the spices Johnny had used. “This is very good, John…”
Johnny didn’t answer, he simply finished his dinner and when he was done, went down to the stream to clean his cooking utensils and pack them up before he turned in for the night. “I’ll keep watch,” Johnny said finally, picking up his rifle.
“Wake me later and I’ll spell you…” Murdoch attempted to smile, but there was no reading the blank expression on his son’s face. “Good night…”
With a slight nod of his head, Johnny picked up his jacket and moved away from the fire picking a spot where he could watch the road and the site where his father now lay down to sleep. It was going to be a long night; but he welcomed the opportunity to spend some time alone. Too much had happened. The Strykers, Wes’ death; Scott being injured. It was all so needless.
Looking at the full moon, Johnny remembered Murdoch’s words after the Stryker boy had been shot. His father had told him to make a decision – to figure out who he was – that Murdoch couldn’t afford the time to let Johnny figure it out on his own. Bowing his head, Johnny came to the realization that perhaps his first decision was his best choice – for everyone. Although Murdoch had asked Johnny to return to the ranch – Johnny wasn’t convinced that he wouldn’t be returning only to have the same result – they would fight and Murdoch would tell him to leave. Running a hand through his thick hair, Johnny tried to sort out the problem and find a solution. Finally it came to him that Murdoch still saw him as a boy and not the man he had become. Until Murdoch could look at him and see him as an adult – there was no way going back to Lancer would work out.
Back at Lancer, Scott awoke to find Teresa sitting beside his bed. Doc Jenkins had come and stitched the wound closed, giving him instructions to stay in bed for a few days. That hadn’t been what Scott wanted to hear. He wanted to go after his father and find his brother. Smugly he knew that his assessment of the other day had been correct. His father was too stubborn and Johnny was cut from the same mold. The fact that one of them wasn’t with him said it all. “No word from Murdoch?”
The girl shook her head no. “He said that he wouldn’t return without Johnny. Do you think he meant it?”
“He had better,” Scott growled and then winced as he attempted to shift in the bed. “They’re too much alike. Both so independent, both…”
“Wanting to be the boss?” Teresa grinned. “Murdoch doesn’t seem to know how hard this has been for Johnny. He expects too much…”
“And Johnny expects too little.”
Teresa cocked her head to the side, puzzled by Scott’s remark. “How do you mean?”
With a sigh, Scott closed his eyes. “When I met with Johnny this morning, I told him he would be dead before he was thirty….”
“And what did Johnny say?”
“That it comes to us all…” Scott choked thinking of his own last words to his brother. He had told Johnny that when he died, he wouldn’t even leave a ripple – that he was nothing. Scott had taken no joy in saying those words. His hope was to perhaps get Johnny to rethink leaving Lancer. There was no measure of comfort in knowing that his words had the desired effect – only to be totally erased by his father.
“What?” Teresa asked, concerned about Scott’s sudden change in mood.
“I’m not sure that Murdoch can bring Johnny back. How much rejection can a man take from his own father?”
The campfire was smoldering and the sun was fairly high in the sky when Murdoch opened his eyes. “Damn!” he swore realizing Johnny had never woken him up to take a turn guarding the camp. Looking around he immediately noticed Barranca and all of Johnny’s gear was gone. The only thing left was a small pot filled with hot coffee. Scrambling to his feet, Murdoch looked around – hoping that perhaps Johnny hadn’t gone too far. “Johnny!”
The older man’s face was a picture of frustration as he returned to the campfire and poured a cup of the hot brew. Sitting heavily on a log he considered his next move. Nothing had been resolved during last night’s campfire conversation but he had gained insight into the man he had mistakenly treated as a boy. Murdoch knew that if he and Johnny couldn’t to come to terms and accept each other that he would lose his son again – probably for good.
Gazing at the trail, he knew there was no use in attempting to track Johnny. Instead, he chose to rely on his gut instinct that Johnny would continue heading south – towards the border. There was a town several hours south of the campsite. With a little luck he might be able to catch Johnny there or at least confirm that Johnny had gone that way. Having made his decision Murdoch threw out the last of the coffee, skipping breakfast, as he hurried to break camp and catch up with his son. Swinging into the saddle, Murdoch stifled a groan as his injuries from Pardee protested. He had considered himself almost completely recovered but sleeping on the hard ground quickly reminded him of the reasons he had finally contacted his sons to come home; time was not on his side and he had wasted too much of it living without them.
Murdoch walked his horse to the point where he and Johnny had left the trail the night before. Checking the ground, it was easy to spot Barranca’s tracks in the earth that had been dampened by a soft morning drizzle. Murdoch smiled when he saw the clear imprints heading towards the town he knew to be further down the trail. Johnny hadn’t made any effort to conceal his trail. This along with the morning coffee Johnny had left behind gave Murdoch hope that all was not lost when it came to their relationship. Murdoch kicked his horse into a mile eating gait that he hoped would bring him to his son.
Johnny had put the coffee on and then quietly packed his gear. The hot brew was ready by the time he was done rolling his bedding and tying it to his saddle. Before leaving he poured himself a cup and snacked on a cold biscuit he had taken from the kitchen at Lancer. Looking over at Murdoch, who was snoring loudly, he considered his situation. He wasn’t ready to knock heads with the Old Man again. He needed more time to sort out his thoughts first. A small smile raised the edge of his lips as he realized how he automatically pictured a conversation with Murdoch as “knocking heads”. Well, the Old Man had certainly given him reason enough to feel that way. The question remained did he want to live the rest of his life in a constant battle with his father?
The smile left Johnny’s face as he finished his coffee quietly leaving the camp – and his father behind. As the sun rose higher in the sky, Johnny reflected on how he always did his best thinking in the saddle. A large part of his time was spent traveling between jobs and he used the travel time to sort out whatever was on his mind. It was too dangerous to allow his guard down when he was in a town. Being alone on the road gave him the quiet space he needed to regain his perspective and plot his next move.
Staying alive in his profession demanded that he be an expert at reading and analyzing men. All of his training told him Murdoch was sincere in wanting him to come back to Lancer but without some assurance that his father wanted the man Johnny Lancer had become rather than the boy who had been lost 20 years ago, he knew it wouldn’t work. The longer Johnny thought about it, the more certain he became that going back to Lancer could only happen if he was convinced that Murdoch could accept him as the man that had been shaped by his past. He couldn’t go back to being treated as an irresponsible boy, something he hadn’t been since he’d been forced to survive on his own. No – there would be no returning only to have a repeat of the previous week’s events.
Johnny had been traveling casually, varying his speed to suit his mood. He was pretty sure that Murdoch would be following him once he woke up. Once again Johnny grinned at the thought of Murdoch’s likely reaction to discovering he had already moved on. It pleased Johnny to think that his father would be perturbed. The Old Man was so confident the night before that he had made headway with his son. He had, but not enough.
There was no doubt in Johnny’s mind that he was dealing with a different man last night than the man he had left behind at the ranch. This Murdoch apologized – something the old Murdoch would never have done. He had opened the Old Man’s eyes and taught him a thing or two about Johnny Madrid that he hadn’t known before. Johnny also recognized that his own thinking had changed from the certainty that he wasn’t going back to Lancer to pondering under what circumstances he could go back. These thoughts were swirling in his mind as he slowly rode toward the town on the horizon.
Murdoch spotted the town in the distance. It was close to noon and his body was protesting the long hours in the saddle. He’d been careful not push his horse as hard as he had the day before but he’d still kept a good pace as he tried to catch up with his son. He’d had time to think on the trail. Murdoch reflected on the competent way Johnny had taken care of business the night before – setting up camp and the matter of fact way he’d prepared dinner. Obviously his son was no stranger to taking care of himself, surviving in the wild rather than being spoiled by the warm confines of a grand hacienda. Murdoch also went over every detail of the campfire conversation. He now felt closer to knowing what to say to Johnny than he had since he had started following the younger man. He could only hope that when the time came the words would come out right.
Approaching the town Murdoch passed a few scattered houses in poor condition before riding down the main street of the small settlement. Scanning the area, he took notice of the mercantile and several other small businesses. There were only a few people walking about; in fact the only people he took notice of was a group of three young men with their guns slung familiarly low on their hips. Was this how it had been for his son – hanging around dying towns waiting for ‘something’ to happen?
Riding on, he spied the saloon at the end of the street. It disappointed him that Johnny’s horse was not in front. He felt sure that Johnny would have passed through this town on his way south. With a sigh of disappointment, Murdoch dismounted and headed for the hitching rail in front of the establishment. It was hot and he was thirsty. Now was a good time to stop for a break. As he was about to tie the bay to the rail, he spied a flash of gold around the corner of the building. Tying off his horse he stepped around the corner to see Barranca standing in the shade of an old oak tree, his tail switching at the ever present flies.
Elated to have found his son, Murdoch returned to his mount and moved him to the shade next to Barranca. Murdoch felt his stomach clench as he mounted the steps and headed towards the door to the saloon. As he paused at the batwing doors, all of his carefully considered words seemed to have fled his mind; Johnny was here and the need to handle this meeting correctly lay heavy on his shoulders. Taking a deep breath he pushed through the doors and into the cool, dark interior of the saloon.
Johnny had finished his lunch and was nursing his second beer when he saw Murdoch ride up to the hitching rail. He’d been expecting his father and watched as Murdoch guided his horse to the shady oak where Barranca had been tethered. Sitting back in his chair, he watched the Old Man enter the building. It took a few moments for his father’s eyes to adjust to the dimmer light before the faded blue eyes started to scan the room looking for him. There was no mistaking the spark when their eyes finally locked. Inwardly Johnny smiled as he watched his father thread his way through the vacant tables to the back of the room where Johnny sat against the far wall. Johnny kicked out a chair as his father got closer and signaled to the barkeep to fetch the second plate of stew he had ordered when he he’d arrived.
Removing his hat, Murdoch sank down into the chair, his eyes never leaving his son’s face – not even when the bartender placed a plate of steaming food and a cold beer in front of him and then scurried away. “You been here long?” Murdoch asked picking up his fork.
“Long enough; I figured you ‘d be a mite hungry by the time you got here.” Johnny said casually, with the quiet, slow drawl that so often hid the steel within.
Murdoch glanced at Johnny’s empty plate and half empty beer glass. “Sorry it took so long for me to catch up.”
“I wasn’t worried. I knew that you’d come.”
“Why?” Murdoch asked, puzzled by Johnny’s confidence.
“You have this knack for always wanting to get the last say and, well,” Johnny smiled and looked at the glass he was now toying in his hands. “We didn’t get everything said last night.”
“Like what?” Murdoch asked hopefully.
“Like what’s it gonna to take for us to live under the same roof without bumping heads all the time.” Johnny said bluntly.
“Johnny, I’ve given it some thought and…” Murdoch stopped when he realized Johnny was no longer paying attention to him. His son’s eyes had become steely, focusing on the three young men who had just entered the room. “Johnny…?” Before his eyes, he watched his son virtually transform from Johnny Lancer to Johnny Madrid.
“Stay out of this Old Man. It don’t concern you and I don’t need the distraction.” Johnny spoke quietly but his tone of voice left no room for argument. Johnny quickly stood and moved to a position near the end of the bar – putting as much space between himself and his father as the circumstances would allow. Casually leaning against the oak rail, Johnny’s eyes never left the three young men as they approached. He had seen them when he had ridden into town and knew them for what they were – young guns looking for trouble. They weren’t hard to miss in a sleepy town like this one. He had felt their eyes on him as soon as they spotted his rig. It had only been a matter of time for this moment to arrive – the time when they would challenge him. It was a dance he had done many times at their age and with skill he had survived. Looking at the young tough guys Johnny wished this had happened before his father arrived, but there was no second guessing fate.
“Mister…” the tallest of the three stepped forward and pointed at Johnny’s gun, “You know how to use that?” The challenging attitude was unmistakable; almost as unmistakable as the obvious lack of experience in the deadly game that was now being played.
“Use what?” Johnny asked innocently as the bartender shrunk away to the far end of the bar.
“That piece of iron you got strapped to your leg.” The kid’s swagger increased with the need to impress his two companions. They had all figured Johnny was a gunfighter by the way he wore his gun. Now the boy knew he was right.
“That?” Johnny looked down at his weapon, a smile spread across his face. “I get by with it,” he softly drawled.
“I’m calling you out!” The boy nervously licked his lips and widened his stance. His right hand only inches away from his gun.
“What?” Johnny laughed, leaning into the bar. “Go home kid and grow up…”
“I ain’t no kid!” the boy protested. “I’m sixteen years old and I’m calling you out!”
“Is that a fact? And what are you going to do if I don’t do what you want?” Johnny folded his arms across his chest and stared coolly at the younger men.
“Then I’m gonna tell everyone that you’re a yellow bellied coward!” The words came with a sneer but the kid’s nerves showed as his voice rose an octave.
Johnny laughed and turned back toward the bar. “Go home to your mama, Kid, and grow up. You’ve picked on the wrong man.”
“Don’t you laugh at me!” The boy started put pull his gun, but before anyone could blink an eye, Johnny had his gun in his hand and was aiming it at the would be gunfighter’s heart. All three boys’ eyes bugged out at the speed with which Johnny had drawn and aimed his weapon. The two smaller boys took a step back before running out the door.
“Take your hand away from your gun, Kid. Turn around and get out of here…”
The boy swallowed hard and let go of his pistol grip, his eyes never leaving the barrel that was now pointed at his heart. “Mister, I ain’t never seen anyone as fast as you. Who are you?”
Johnny briefly glanced at his father before answering. “Madrid, Johnny Madrid.”
“I thought you was dead…” the boy whispered.
“Nope – and neither are you. Now, git!”
The boy turned tail and ran from the building while the other occupants of the saloon slowly exhaled and returned to their drinks.
Johnny returned his gun to his holster and retook his seat across from his father. “Your suppers getting cold,” was all he could think to say in response to despondent look on his father’s face.
“Is this how it is?” Murdoch asked finally. As a former deputy, he had seen plenty of gunfights, but this was a first. This time it was his son who had met the challenge and had walked away. Is this how Johnny’s life was? A constant series of confrontations – someone wanting to take his life over a piece of metal?
“Most of the time,” Johnny said downing his beer and signaling the bartender for another. “Kids like that think that they know it all when they don’t. I try to scare them away most of the time. It’s the ones with the crazy eyes that I know I’m going to have trouble with.”
“And none of those boys had crazy eyes?” Murdoch asked, resuming his meal.
“Well,” Johnny paused as the nervous bartender brought him a new drink, taking away his used plate and empty glass. “This might not be over yet. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Murdoch shook his head. “I had no idea your life was like this…”
“It’s the way I’ve been living for ten years now. It ain’t steady work like digging post holes, but at least I knew where I stood…”
Murdoch coughed interrupting Johnny. “About that… Johnny I’d like to start over if you’d give me a chance. I was wrong about not having the time to break you in easy to ranch work. It’s more important to me that you come back to Lancer…”
Johnny bristled at his father’s words. “I ain’t looking for no free lunch, Murdoch. I’m not afraid to work. I just have to know what I’m working for and that I can have a life too.” Johnny’s blue eyes blazed at his father and he could see Murdoch was finally beginning to understand.
“I think I can arrange that,” Murdoch vowed quietly. “I think we both have a lot to learn from each other and it isn’t going to happen overnight. I’ll give you all the time you need Johnny…”
“And I’ll dig all your post holes, Old Man…” a smile cracked Johnny’s face as he stuck his hand out towards his father.
“Not my post holes, Johnny – our post holes,” Murdoch firmly shook the offered hand and held it tight. “There is more to owning a ranch than digging post holes and stringing wire. I think it’s time for you to graduate to the next level…”
“Oh?” Johnny asked raising an eyebrow and taking his hand back. “What’s that – surveying?”
Murdoch opened his mouth to make a sharp reply, but realized Johnny was referring to jobs that were normally assigned to Scott. “OK, I deserved that. I’ll see if we can’t have a more equal division of labor…”
“I ain’t complaining, Murdoch. Scott has more book learning that I do and he’s good at surveying. I’d just like to learn it too.”
“Fair enough,” Murdoch smiled. “How about we head home?” Finishing his meal and downing his beer, Murdoch wiped his mouth on his napkin and rose to his feet. He watched as Johnny gracefully stood and headed toward the door ahead of him.
There was no mistaking the caution in Johnny’s movements. His right hand hovered above his gun as he surveyed the open street; a frown creased his tanned features. Murdoch moved to stand behind his son – his height giving him the advantage of looking over Johnny’s shoulder. “Something wrong, Son?”
“I don’t see ‘em…”
Murdoch squinted out into the bright daylight. He could see what Johnny meant. The three boys were nowhere in sight. “What do you want to do?”
“You stay here…” Johnny moved to push through the batwing doors only to have his left arm snagged by his father.
“We do this together,” Murdoch whispered harshly.
Johnny shook his arm loose and glared back at his father. “You might call the tune back at the ranch – but this is my show. I know how this is done. You just stay in here – out of my way.”
Before Murdoch could protest, Johnny was out on the sidewalk, casually walking toward where the horses were tethered in the shade. To his credit, Murdoch did exactly what Johnny requested – just like he would have expected Johnny to act had the roles been reversed.
Ten steps from the door, it started.
Johnny halted – his hand on his gun, his eyes never leaving Barranca. He let the rest of his senses take charge. The voice had come somewhere from his left and he suspected there was someone behind him and someone ahead – just beyond the horses. “Don’t do this, Kid. It’ll break your Ma’s heart!”
“Don’t you worry yourself none about my Ma, Madrid. Now face me like a man!” The boy was now standing in the middle of the street, his hand at the ready.
“Where are your friends?” Johnny asked as he turned to face his adversary.
“Never you mind about them – this is between you and me!” The young tough had taken a ribbing from his friends when they fled the saloon. After a few swigs of whiskey, his ego and bravado returned; in no time he had convinced his companions that with a little planning they could take Madrid.
Slowly Johnny stepped off the boardwalk and entered the street. His eyes never left the face of the boy whose own eyes were darting off to Johnny’s left and then right. Mentally Johnny relaxed, figuring what he would have to do to survive this challenge. “You don’t have to do this, Kid. Just go home….”
“I’m tired of your jawin’, Madrid…”
Taking his place in the center of the street, Johnny shrugged in response to the boy’s taunting. “It’s your funeral…”
The two men stared at each other for a few seconds before Johnny saw the boy make his move. Once the boy’s gun had cleared its holster Johnny drew, throwing himself to the right and rolling. His first shot caught the boy in the right shoulder – his gun arm. Before it could be fired, his opponent’s gun was laying in the dirt. Without a look back, Johnny rolled again, searching for the other two boys. A shot was fired that whizzed by Johnny’s left ear. Functioning purely on instinct, Johnny sent a shot to his left and was rewarded as he heard a young man yelp in pain. The feeling of elation didn’t last long as the third boy fired – this time a bullet hit its mark. A sharp burning bore into Johnny’s left thigh. Johnny was now on his back. He swung the barrel of his gun in the direction where the last shot came from and pulled the trigger. Holding his breath he waited the few seconds before he heard the familiar sound of metal dropping on wood followed by the thud of a body as it hit the ground. It was over.
Murdoch came rushing out of the saloon, his own gun drawn and went to stand by his son. Looking at the scene he was amazed – Johnny had hit all three of his attackers. “You gonna help me up?” Johnny asked finally, extending his left hand in his father’s direction.
For the first time, Murdoch noticed the blood on his son’s leg. “You’re hit!” Disregarding the hand, Murdoch knelt beside Johnny. “How bad?”
Johnny grit his teeth and surveyed the wound. “Not too bad, but it hurts like the devil – get me out of the dirt.”
Murdoch stood and pulled Johnny to his feet. The younger man swayed for a moment as his equilibrium settled. Johnny kept his attackers in view, having learned early on not to assume things were over if his adversaries were still alive. The youngest of the trio limped to his feet, mounted the first horse he could grab and fled in a panic. The street, which had been deserted moments before was now filled with activity. An older man with a badge, who had been conspicuously absent during the gunplay, was herding the young kid from the middle of the street over towards the prone body of the third member of the trio.
A man, not much older than Scott, glanced at Johnny and Murdoch as he hurried past. “I’m the doctor. My office is across the street, two doors down. Go and make yourselves comfortable and I’ll see you there in a few minutes.” He continued on towards the sheriff and his prisoners. The young doctor gave a cursory glance at the arm of the boy who had called Johnny out before he continued to the kid who lay writhing on the ground calling for his mother. Kneeling, the doctor checked the boy’s injury. Johnny’s bullet had caught him in the flesh of his left side. Confident that the boy was not in grave need of medical attention, he motioned to bystanders from the saloon to pick up the inured would be gunfighter. “Take him to the jail. I’ll take care of him there.”
Johnny relaxed, reassured that his attackers were no longer a threat. Leaning on Murdoch for balance, he watched the sheriff escort the wounded gunmen down the street towards the jail. At least the sheriff didn’t seem to be too interested in him.
Murdoch broke into his thoughts, “Johnny, let’s get you over to the doctor’s office and see to your leg.” Glancing at his father, Johnny nodded and allowed the Old Man to guide him down the street. Together they limped through the door the doctor had left open when he rushed out. A second door revealed an examination table, where Murdoch guided Johnny and helped him get settled. While Johnny lay back, trying to master the pain, Murdoch unbuttoned the conchas to the left leg of Johnny’s pants and inspected the wound. Blood was steadily flowing from torn flesh. Murdoch quickly glanced around the room, spotting a clean towel on the sideboard which he grabbed to apply pressure to the bleeding wound. Nervously he watched his son’s pale face while they waited for the doctor. An uncomfortable silence reigned as each man was lost in thought.
The young doctor returned to his office over an hour later. “Sorry for the delay,” he apologized, pumping water into the sink to wash his bloody hands. “I’m Dr. Studdert. Let’s get a look at that leg”. Lifting the bloody towel he examined a deep graze along the top of Johnny’s left thigh. “You’re lucky, the bullet didn’t hit bone; it went clear through. I think this should heal just fine. I’ll need better access to the wound to treat it,” the doctor turned to gather what he needed to clean and bandage the wound while Murdoch undid the remaining conchas on the pant leg.
The doctor went to the medicine cabinet and withdrew a brown vial and a syringe. “You don’t need that,” Johnny intoned in a low voice startling the doctor.
“Johnny…” Murdoch tried to intervene.
Ignoring his father, Johnny continued to speak to the doctor. “I can handle it without medicine. I’ve done it before. Just get to it.”
Seeing Johnny was quite serious, the doctor closed the cabinet door and returned to his patient. The boys in the jail had told the doctor who Johnny was, and knowing the reputation of Johnny Madrid, the doctor assumed that the gunman he was now tending knew what lay in store. While the doctor worked, Johnny remained quiet, focusing hard to maintain control. Not once did Johnny flinch or moan while the doctor slowly sewed up the four inch wound. Small trickles of sweat that ran down the sides of his face were the only signs that Johnny was in any distress.
Murdoch stood back and watched his son and the doctor. He couldn’t help but wonder how many times this scene had been played out before. Remembering the number of scars, both small and large, he had found while they treated Johnny after Pardee’s bullet – he knew that son was no stranger to pain.
While the doctor worked he filled them in on the condition of the two boys now housed in the jail. The older one, who had called Johnny out, had a nasty wound to his shoulder but would be fine. The younger boy, the one who had shot from ambush was also very lucky. The bullet would not be fatal but had penetrated his side, not hitting anything vital but causing enough damage to force a prolonged recovery. There would be no problem from the sheriff since several witnesses had given accounts of what happened; all of the accounts stressed Johnny’s efforts to avoid the shootout.
Murdoch considered the events of the afternoon. Johnny Madrid had been called out and yes, there had been gunplay but Johnny hadn’t killed anyone. Murdoch shook himself from his dark reverie, realizing the doctor was now giving him instructions how to care for Johnny’s wound. “……..no riding for the next couple of days until this starts to heal”.
The doctor droned on with his instructions as Murdoch buttoned the conchas on Johnny’s pants. ‘Right, no riding,’ Johnny thought sarcastically. Well he had heard that before and he was quite certain this injury wasn’t that serious. With a glance toward Murdoch, Johnny swung his legs off the table and gingerly tested his weight on the injured leg. Murdoch reached out to steady him but Johnny shrugged his hand away. “Thanks, Doc. I’ll be sure to take it easy.” With that said, Johnny limped towards the door.
Murdoch didn’t know Johnny as well as he would have liked but he knew Johnny’s idea of ‘taking it easy’ wasn’t likely to match the doctor’s. Stepping out of the doctor’s office they paused, taking in the town. The settlement was too small to support a hotel but Murdoch remembered the saloon had a sign behind the bar advertising rooms for rent. “Why don’t we go back to the saloon and get a room for the night?”
“I can ride,” Johnny said defensively.
“I can’t,” Murdoch responded in the same tone of voice. “Sleeping on the ground last night made my back stiff as a board. Besides, you could use some rest yourself.” Murdoch tried to mask the concern his voice as he looked at Johnny’s pale countenance – a side effect from the loss of blood.
“If you’re sure….” Johnny questioned uncertainly.
In response, Murdoch slipped an arm around his son’s waist and supported him across the street. Much to Johnny’s surprise, he was more exhausted than he thought and was actually grateful to his father for the help.
The bartender led them to a room in the back of the building. It was small, but clean. Johnny eased himself down on the smaller of the two beds and closed his eyes. It had been a long day and he was bone tired. He lay still for a few moments until he looked up to see his father staring down at him. “What?”
“You could have been killed today…”
“I wasn’t,” Johnny responded flatly. “This ain’t nothing I haven’t been through before.”
“I still don’t like it,” Murdoch grumbled sitting on the edge of his bed, removing his hat.
“You don’t have to like it, Murdoch, ‘cause I sure don’t. That’s why I tried so hard to talk them kids out of it. I knew someone was gonna get hurt or killed. In the end it always boils down to them or me.” Johnny was starting to get angry, thinking that his father was blaming him for what had happened.
Murdoch narrowed his eyes in response to the tense tone in his son’s voice. This was not going how he wanted it. “Johnny, you handled yourself well today. It was lucky that none of your shots killed any of those boys….”
“Lucky?” Johnny exploded, leaping from the bed. He stood in front of his father, hands on his hips. “You think my shots were lucky? What, I don’t have any skill with this?” Johnny pulled his gun out of his holster and held it up. “Luck didn’t have nothin’ to do with what happened.” Johnny returned the gun to its proper place, his eyes betraying the pain he was feeling.
“Johnny…” Murdoch stood and tried to move Johnny back to his bed, only to have his hands shaken away.
“I don’t need your help, Murdoch.” Johnny painfully limped towards the only window and looked outside. “You still think that I’m a killer; that I want young hot heads coming after me.”
“No, Johnny. That’s not what I meant…”
“Then what did you mean? ‘Cause it sure sounded like that to me – just like with that Stryker boy! I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen…”
“I’m listening now,” Murdoch said quietly, backing away from his angry son.
Johnny took a deep breath and turned towards his father. “I’ve had some time to think about this – so listen. The only reason I’m here in this town today is because of what happened back at the ranch with the Strykers. Make no mistake, I know I did wrong. I should’a stayed on the job and finished that fence line – digging post holes to make you happy.” Murdoch opened his mouth to protest but closed it when Johnny turned his back. “You had every right to get angry with me over that. What you didn’t have the right to do – was give those horses to the Strykers. I’ve dealt with their kind my entire life. I tried to tell you they were liars and thieves – but you wouldn’t listen. There’s only one way to deal with folks like that – and I know how to do it. What you did wasn’t right, Murdoch. You treated me like I was nothing. If I own one third of that ranch, then you had no right to just give away what I had worked for.
“You opened the door for the Stryker boy to try to take that stallion. You were weak in letting them take the mares. It just made them that much more hungry for the stallion and why? Because they knew that you’d give it to them. Not me! I nearly broke my back catching that horse and I wasn’t about to see them get away with stealing what I had worked for. When that Stryker boy tried to take the stallion he pulled a gun on me. What was I supposed to do? You never answered my question the other day and I want an answer? What should I have done? You tell me!”
Murdoch sat in silence, listening to his son’s logic. Johnny was right. In his anger over the lost cattle, Murdoch had decided to punish Johnny. He now knew he was wrong. As a result, he had placed Johnny in the position of having to defend himself in a shootout with the Strykers. That was a mistake. For the last twenty four hours he had been with a man who knew how to handle himself; a man who made life and death decisions. It was hard to believe that his Johnny, so young and yet so old, should be making those choices and living with the consequences.
When his father failed to give him an answer, Johnny sighed and continued to look out the window. “I’ve faced all kinds of men and boys over the years. I knew what was going to happen with those boys today, just like I knew what was going to happen with the Strykers. If you had let me handle the Strykers maybe no one would have had to die; maybe Scott wouldn’t have been shot…”
Murdoch’s continued silence spoke volumes to the injured man. Nothing had changed. Dispirited, Johnny made his way to the door, grabbing his hat before his hand hit the handle.
“Where are you going?” Murdoch demanded. “We’re not through here…”
“We aren’t? Funny it feels that way to me.” Johnny never turned to look at his father. “I’m tired of hearing the sound of my own voice, and that usually means only one thing…”
“I was wrong.” Murdoch interrupted, hoping that he hadn’t waited too late to salvage his relationship with his son.
“What?” Johnny turned to look at the stranger sitting on the bed behind him. Had his father just admitted to being mistaken?
“I was wrong, Johnny. Please, come back and talk to me.”
There was no mistaking the sincerity in Murdoch’s voice. Johnny turned back from the door and sat on the edge of his bed. A wince crossed his face as he felt the stitches in his thigh pull but not break. Breathlessly he waited for his father to continue. Instead, Murdoch stood; came over and sat beside him.
“Johnny, it’s a hard thing for a man to admit when he’s wrong. I should have said something to you days ago. You deserved an answer to your question then, but I wasn’t man enough to give you a straight answer. There was nothing you could have done to avoid the shootout with the Strykers. If I had done the right thing and sent them away you never would have been in the position to shoot that boy.
“I saw what you did with those kids today. You placed yourself at risk trying to get them to back down and when they didn’t, you risked yourself again to protect me.” Murdoch placed a tentative hand on Johnny’s right thigh. “You’re not the boy I thought you were. You’ve been a man for too many years to have me passing judgment on everything you do. What you’ve shown me today is that you have experience beyond your age and I need to trust those instincts. They are what have kept you alive and will continue to keep you alive – and trust me – that is what I want for you.”
Johnny looked up and read the earnestness in his father’s eyes; the Old Man was telling the truth. A small smile on Johnny’s mouth broke the tension between them. “Does this mean that I can go home now?”
A grin immediately split Murdoch’s face. ‘Home’. It had been a longtime since Murdoch had considered the ranch a ‘home’. With both boys there that is exactly what it was – what it had been meant to be ever since he first started construction. Patting Johnny’s good leg, his smiled broadened. “As soon as you’re able, that’s where we’ll go.”
The next morning, Murdoch awoke to find himself alone once again. “Damn it!” he swore when he saw Johnny’s empty bed. The boy had done it to him again – just when he thought they had worked things out. Furiously he stood, pulling on his clothing. He was just finishing buckling his belt when the door opened and Johnny stepped in carrying two mugs of hot coffee. The big man’s face immediately flushed realizing he had failed in his promise to trust his son.
If Johnny noticed his father’s discomfort, he didn’t say anything. Silently he handed the steaming mug to his father and cautiously sat on the edge of his bed, keeping his leg as straight as possible. “I’ve ordered us some steak and eggs. They’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Murdoch murmured taking a sip of the hot beverage. “How’s the leg?”
“It’s a mite sore, but I should do OK with it…”
“The doctor said for you to rest…”
“Murdoch, I’ve been shot before. I know what I can do and what I can’t. Besides, I have the horses all saddled and ready to go.” Johnny blew the steam off the top of his mug before taking a sip of the strong brew.
The father glanced at his son knowing that the conversation was over. They were heading home – together.
Linda Rae & Chris
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