Second Chances by Desert Sun

Word count 20,563

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Note from Author:

First Published to Fanfiction.Net
 April 2002

My favorite TV programs have always been Westerns. I especially enjoyed the Lancer series. Until I was able to see a few episodes in 2000 on the TVLand channel, I had not watched this program since the series ended in 1970. Unfortunately, the pilot episode was not among those that were aired. My recollection of the start of this series was very sketchy at the time I wrote this story.

These are the things I remembered. Scott had grown up back east. Johnny had been separated from their father (I couldn’t remember why or at what age). Murdoch had hired the Pinkertons to find his son’s, they arrived at or near the same time, and Johnny had an argument with his father (I couldn’t remember the details). I have enjoyed reading the stories of other fanfiction writers, because they refreshed my memory of some of the details I had forgotten.

This was my first attempt at writing fanfiction. The story focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the Lancer family during the events that took place at the beginning of the series. In no way was this intended to be an exact retelling of the opening episode. It was only my idea of what could have taken place. Therefore, please realize that many of the scenes deviate from those of the opening episode of the series.

The characters and events that were part of the Lancer TV program are the property of their creator(s) and have been used without permission. This was written for fun. No profit has or will be made from it.

My skills as a writer have improved since I wrote this story, so before archiving it on the Lancer Fanfiction Facebook group, I’ve done some minor editing—mostly to clean up punctuation and spelling errors.  I didn’t have a beta reader until after I joined the Lancer groups on Yahoo a couple months after I posted this to the Fanfiction.net website.  Please note, that although, I originally posted this to Fanfiction.net, I removed it when I became active on the Yahoo groups.  Currently none of my stories on that Website.

At the time I wrote this, it appeared that most of the writers were using a pen name.  I chose the name Desert Sun because I lived in the high desert country of Central Oregon and I love sunny weather.  To save confusion, I still write all of my Lancer stories under that name.

Cathy Friend Howes


Chapter 1 – A Chance to Live

He was slender, yet strongly built, and of medium height. His clothes were shabby and dirty. With his disheveled black hair hanging over the edge of his dirty shirt collar and his deeply tanned skin, to the casual onlooker, Johnny Madrid would have been just another poor Mexican bandito. Only his dark blue eyes, the color of the sky on a cold winter day, gave away his mixed heritage.

He stood nonchalantly with his back against the towering stone wall that had once been white but now was marred by bloodstains. His outward appearance of peace and tranquility belied the turmoil he felt. Having faced death on more than one occasion during his twenty years, Madrid was no stranger to fear. Yet, never in his life had he been so terrified as now. Always before there had been a chance, no matter how slim, of survival. This time there was none that he could see.

As the noon sun beat down on him, beads of perspiration appeared on Johnny’s forehead and dripped into his eyes. He wiped his sleeve across his face, took a deep breath and swallowed. His nerve was slipping. What are you waiting for? Why don’t you just get it over with it? Yet, he knew the reason for the delay: the commander wasn’t there to witness the proceedings. He hopes I’ll break. But I won’t. I’m not about to give him the satisfaction. With great determination, the young prisoner continued to hold his emotions in check.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The commander of the Mexican Rurales leaned back in his chair. He looked thoughtfully at the neatly dressed man facing him from the other side of the desk. “This gringo, how much is he willing to pay?”

The other man shrugged his shoulders. “Oh. A thousand dollars.”

The commander leaned his head back and laughed. “Surely you jest! Even for five times that, I would not give up the pleasure of watching that half-breed pup of his die.” He stood and walked around the corner of the desk. “No, Señor. One so young and brave . . . is worth far more than a mere one thousand dollars.” He paused for a moment then harshly added, “The price . . . it shall be ten thousand . . . in gold. You have three days.”

“That is impossible, Captain. I have to contact the boy’s father. It could take a week, maybe more to get that much gold together,” exclaimed the visitor. “Surely it would be worth it to you to give me more time. I assure you, Mr. Lancer will pay.”

The Mexican officer scowled as he strode back and forth. Coming to a halt in front of the American, he said. “One week then. There is a big rock near the road about one mile this side of the border. Be there at noon, one week from today . . . with the gold . . . or he dies.”

Motioning for the other man to follow him, he went to the door of his office. “Now, Señor. We shall see just how brave is this young pistolero.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The captain of the Rurales marched across the compound. A short distance from the squad of uniformed men, he motioned for the American behind him to stop, and then approached his men and spoke to them quietly before stepping a few feet to the side and raising his hand.

Johnny Madrid watched as a dozen rifles were raised to eye level and made ready for firing. With his head held high, he defiantly looked at the captain. All though he was quaking on the inside, he displayed not so much as a hint of fear to his captors. Yet deep inside, he cried out in desperation to a higher being. God, I don’t want to die.

As he saw the Mexican commander drop his hand, Madrid prayed his life would be ended quickly. The blast of the rifles and the sound of lead pelting the stone wall came as a jolt even though he was expecting it. He gritted his teeth as he waited for the bullets to rip into his flesh–he felt nothing. When the gunfire had ceased, he was bewildered by what had taken place.

Why can’t I feel anything? Did the first bullet find its mark? Am I dead? Is that why there’s no pain? But why am I still standing? I must be alive, but why? Is this some cruel joke? It has to be. There’s no way they’re going to let me out of here alive.

Johnny stood transfixed, watching the scene before him: the commander of the Rurales dismissed the firing squad, bid farewell to the American, spoke briefly with the prison guard, and then returned to his office. The young prisoner didn’t move until the guard approached him and gave him a shove.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Awaking suddenly in a cold sweat, Johnny Madrid felt his heart pounding in his chest. He could see the uniformed men raising their weapons, aiming, and firing at him. The sound of rifle fire was still ringing in his ears, and he could feel the hot lead as it tore through him. He blinked his eyes to dispel the vivid picture from his mind but the scene refused to budge. It’s not real. It’s just another dream. I’m okay, he thought, forcing himself to relax.

The dream reminded him of the torment he had been forced to endure during the past week. Anger welled up in the young gunman at the pleasure that the Rurales captain seemed to be taking in dragging out his execution. Three days in a row he had faced the firing squad and each day he had been allowed to walk away unharmed. Then, for the past three days, he had been locked in a wooden box with barely enough room to sit or lie down. The suffocating heat from the sun had left him weak and light headed by the end of each day. The nights had brought relief from the heat only to be filled with nightmares.

Johnny clinched his jaw.  He’s trying break me?  Make me beg. Well, I won’t. No matter what he does, I’ll take it. I can’t let him win. I just can’t.

While lying awake for the next hour or so, Johnny’s thoughts drifted from one memory to another. Men who had died at his hand plagued his mind. Although the lives he had taken had been in self-defense, he still felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. He had never been inside of a church, but he had been preached at on more than one occasion.

This made Johnny sigh.   I guess I’m just getting what I deserve. Reaping what I’ve sown, just like that preacher up in Tucson said I would.

Thoughts of preachers brought thoughts of God with them. Madrid tried to push them away. The God he had heard about was full of wrath, waiting to punish those who broke His laws. In Johnny’s mind, heaven, if it existed, was for good people. A gunfighter, such as himself, had no chance of going there.  It was useless to think it could be otherwise.

Johnny tried to find something pleasant to dwell on, but he couldn’t seem to think of anything. Life had been one hardship after another. Nothing had come easy for him except his quick temper and lightning fast draw, both of which had come too easily. It was his anger at seeing the poor Mexicans treated unjustly and his ability to fight that were responsible for his being in this fix.

With slumped shoulders, Johnny shook his head.  Why didn’t I mind my own business instead of getting mixed up in their fight? Well, it’s the last time. From now on, Johnny Madrid stays out of other people’s battles. If I get out of this alive, which I won’t, I’m not looking out for anyone but myself.

The young prisoner drifted into a restless sleep filled with dreams of his childhood. When he awoke in the pale light of early dawn, it was to memories of his mother. Thoughts of her brought a different flood of emotions. He hadn’t even reached his teens, when she had taken sick and died.

She shouldn’t have died so young. If her life had been easier, she’d still be alive, and then maybe I wouldn’t be here.  Anger surged through Johnny as this thought made his mind shift to the person he held most responsible for his mother’s and his hardships. If my old man hadn’t kicked us out, things would have been different. It’s his fault she’s dead and I’m here. I hate him. I’ll never forgive him for what he did. Instead of getting myself into this mess down here, I should have hunted him up. If I gotta die, it should be for killing him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny Madrid flinched when the guard prodded him from behind. As he approached the main gate, he could see the Rurales commander impatiently tapping the side of his leg with his riding whip. At the hitching rail, two saddled horses stamped and snorted. Wonder what he’s got planned for me today.

A few moments later, mounted on a stocky little roan gelding, Johnny rode through the gateway. The Mexican commander, riding a spirited black stallion, followed close behind him. Young Madrid knew only one of them would return to the compound alive. Other prisoner’s had ridden out in a similar manner. All had returned draped belly down across the saddle. This time would be no different and escape would be impossible.

For the next hour, young Madrid let his eyes rove the countryside as he contemplated on making a run for it.  He continually watched for just the right spot to make his break. To his dismay, there was nothing but scrub brush and a few cacti. Without good cover, there was no way to keep from being shot in the back.

In the distance, Madrid saw a large rock near the road. Beyond it, the brush was a little thicker. A small thread of hope flickered. The border was not much more than a mile away.

A plan began to form in Johnny’s mind. Maybe there’s a chance. If I could dodge behind that boulder, I just might be able to get a little distance between us before I come out into the open.

When they were less than two hundred yards from the rock, the Rurales captain called for a halt and dismounted. His mouth twisted into a wicked grin as he jerked his prisoner off the other horse and instructed the young man to start walking.

As Johnny leisurely strolled down the road, he gave the appearance that he didn’t have a care in the world. He could hear the soft pad of hooves striking the dirt road behind him, but he resisted the temptation to look back. Although he expected to be cut down at any moment, he refused to give his tormentor the satisfaction of seeing his fear.

“One, two, three, four, five…..” Johnny forced himself to stay calm as he counted each step he took. “….. fourty-five, fourty-six.” A puff of dust kicked up a few feet in front of him just before he heard the report of the rifle. He kept right on walking and counting.

The next shot hit the ground just short of Johnny’s heels.  He kept going.  Laughter coming from the Mexican police officer infuriated him, but Johnny refused to let it show.

By the time Madrid reached the edge of the boulder, his nerve was nearly gone. The temptation to make a run for it nearly got the best of him, but he knew it would be useless to try on foot. Besides, he had no intention of letting his captor think he was afraid.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dave Thompson reached the appointed meeting place a little before noon. He dismounted and tied his horse and the extra mount to the only tree in site. He circled to the opposite side and sought what little shade was available. With his back against the trunk of the tree, he sat waiting for the arrival of the Mexican captain.

“Going to be a hot one. Sure glad it’s not far back to town,” Dave muttered to himself as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. It wasn’t even noon and the heat was already stifling. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes for a moment.

At the first crack of rifle fire, Thompson instinctively rolled sideways. From his new position on his belly, he looked around for the source of the attack. A movement a ways down the road caught his attention. He gripped his pistol and waited. Soon, the figure of a man on foot came into view. On beyond the first man, he spotted the uniformed rider and then heard another report of the rifle as the officer shot at the prisoner.

Watching the scene unfold before him, Dave Thompson marveled that one so young as Johnny Madrid could possess such nerve. He recalled the ordeal this same young man had faced a few days earlier and how calm Johnny had appeared in the face of the firing squad. Wish we could hire about a dozen just like him.

The cruel laugh of the Mexican official reached the watcher’s ears. The temptation to retrieve his rifle and blast the cruel captain out of the saddle nearly overwhelmed the agent. A less honorable man would have done just that.

Thompson waited until the prisoner had passed by him.  He rose to his feet and stepped out into the road to confront the rurale commander. “You’ll never break him, so you might as well give up and take your money.”

At the harsh sound of the agent’s voice, the Rurales commander jerked his mount around to face the smaller man and proudly glared down on him. “I could break him. Given enough time.”

When the Mexican official sent another bullet ripping after the man on foot, the Pinkerton man pulled out his own pistol. “Hurt him and you’re a dead man,” he threatened. When he once again had the uniformed man’s attention, he edged over to one of the horses tied to the tree and removed the saddlebag. Holding it out in front of him, he said, “Here’s what you’re after. It’s all there. Ten thousand dollars in gold. Take it and get out of here, before I do something we’ll both regret.”

The Rurales Capitan reached out and snatched the bag of gold from the agent’s hand. Before spurring his horse in the direction he had come, he looked coldly into Thompson’s eyes. “Take him and leave Mexico. Don’t either of you return. You tell him for me, another time he will not be so lucky.”

Agent Thompson kept his gun trained on the Mexican until the man was out of sight. He then gathered up his horses, mounted, and rode after the young man he had come to rescue.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny Madrid felt a burning sensation as a bullet grazed his right arm. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he continued trudging straight-ahead expecting at any moment to feel more lead ripping into his flesh.

Sweat rolled down his back and soaked his shirt. He staggered ever so slightly as the heat took its toll on his weakened body. Only out of sheer determination, did he continue on. He wondered why there had been no more shots and was tempted to look back. Wanting to keep up his fearless facade, he resisted the urge to do so.

Madrid heard the plod of horses’ hooves directly behind him. He’s coming in for the kill. Well, I’m not going down without a fight.

Johnny whirled and staggered into the nearest horse. Seeing a man’s leg, he grabbed for the rider and missed as the horse scooted sideways away from him. He made another lunge at his quarry, stumbled, and went down. He tried to rise but sank back down when a wave of dizziness hit him.

As Johnny struggled to get back on his feet, he had no hopes that he could win. He knew what little strength he possessed was all but gone. In a few minutes his sorry life, short as it had been, would be over.  A hand touched his shoulder, and he put every ounce of strength he had left into throwing a punch at its owner.

“Easy there, boy. Let me help you.”

The voice barely penetrated Johnny’s tortured mind as he crumpled to the ground in exhaustion.

He felt himself being lifted and cradled by firm, yet gentle hands. Something cool and wet touched his dry, cracked lips and trickled down his chin.

Johnny opened his eyes, squinted into the sun, and barely made out the form of a man holding a canteen. “Here, son, take a drink,” he heard as the man’s lips moved.

Madrid took several gulps of the cool liquid. When the canteen was taken from him, he struggled to grab hold of it.

 Again, the voice spoke. “Not too much now. You can have some more in a little while. Right now we need to get you out of here.”

“Who are you?” Johnny glanced about. He wondered where this stranger had materialized from and what had happened to the Mexican commander.

“Agent Thompson of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.”

“Where’s . . .uh . . . what are you doin’ here?” Johnny asked weakly.

“We’ll talk about that later. Right now, let’s see if we can get you on a horse.” The agent’s strong but gentle hands reached down, grasped Johnny by the arms, and helped him to his feet. Then, they supported him as they guided him the few short steps to the side of one of the horses.

The agent’s voice droned on, giving Johnny encouragement as well as instructions.  “You’re going to have to help me, son. Here, get a hold of the saddle horn. That’s it, boy. Now pull yourself up while I give you a boost. There you go. Now just hang on tight. Don’t want you falling off. I’ve got the reins. All you have to do is hang on. That’s it, son. Soon as we get across the border you can rest.”

Johnny could feel the gentle rocking motion as the horse slowly plodded along. In his weakened condition, he no longer cared where he was going or who was taking him. All he wanted was to do was rest, but the voice wouldn’t let him. It kept telling him to hang on a little bit longer.

When Johnny reached the limit off his endurance and felt himself slipping, the forward motion of the beast under him stopped. Two strong hands grasped him as he slid off the side of the horse. He then felt his body being eased gently to the ground.

Once again Johnny was offered a few swallows of water. “That’s enough for now. You’re doing fine, boy. You just rest awhile. You’re safe . . ..” The voice drifted away as Johnny slipped into an exhausted sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny let out a soft moan before opening his eyes. Above him, the branches of a large oak tree shielded him from the late afternoon sun. He started to sit up then froze at the sound of a voice behind him.

“How are you doing, son? Would you like a drink?”

The owner of the voice stepped into Johnny’s vision, knelt beside him, and offered him a canteen. Madrid took several big swallows of water and handed it back to the man. “Where am I? And who are you?”

“My name’s Dave Thompson. I work for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. I’ve been trailing you for some time, Mr. Madrid. You are Johnny Madrid, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m Madrid. But, what do you want with me?” Johnny studied his liberator a moment before continuing. “And, how’d you get me away from the Rurales?”

“Your father, Murdoch Lancer, hired us to find you. As to your release . . . well . . . a little gold in the right hands can work wonders.”

“My old man sent you? He bought my way out! Why?” Madrid stared at the agent. He couldn’t believe that the man, who had had no use for him when he was a child, would be paying to find him. Why would the man want him now? Why should he be willing to put out money to get his son released–and no small amount he was sure. What did the man expect to get in return? Nobody did anything for nothing: he, Johnny Madrid, gunfighter, had learned that lesson long ago.

Johnny listened as the Pinkerton man explained that Murdoch wished to see him and that the man was willing to pay him a thousand dollars just for the chance to talk to him. He whistled at the thought. That’s a lot of money. My old man must be rich. Well, why not take him up on it? He owes it to me anyway. All I have to do is show up, let him have his say, collect my money, and then ride out of there. How hard could that be? After what I just went through, surely I could spend an hour or so with the man without killing him.

Johnny chewed his lip and frowned at the detective. “I’d sure like to collect that thousand dollars. Only . . . uh . . . how am I supposed to get there? I have no horse and no money. And I sure can’t go running around without a gun.”

“Don’t let that worry you any. That’s all taken care of,” Agent Thompson assured him. “First though, we better get a hot meal into you. Do you think you’re up to riding? We’re less than an hour from town.”

A short while later the two were on the road again. Johnny wondered when this pleasant dream he found himself in would turn back into the nightmare of reality. He just couldn’t quite believe that he had actually been rescued, that he wasn’t going to die after all.

After a couple days of rest, Johnny Madrid mounted his newly acquired horse and headed north. His only conscious plan was to collect the money offered him, tell his “old man” exactly what he thought of him, and then find someplace where he could leave his past behind. He had no inkling of the coming events that would change the direction of his life forever, bringing about the fulfillment of dreams he had never even dared to believe possible.

Chapter 2 – Chance Meeting

Scott Lancer was glad his long journey from Boston was nearing its end. After a little over a week of traveling, first by train and now by stage, he was tired of the constant dust and grime. There was nothing he would like more than to lay back and relax in a hot tub of water.

“Whoa. Whoa, there.”

When the stage jostled to a standstill, Scott looked out the window to see why the driver had called the team to a stop. They had left the last relay station less than an hour ago, so he knew it was too soon for them to be in Morro Coyo.

“If this is a holdup, Mister, you’re out o’ luck. Ain’t got nothin’ but the mail and one passenger,” said a crusty voice that Scott believed to have come from the driver.

A dusty form stepped from in front of the team of horses and made its way toward the front of the coach. “Just want a ride, Old Timer. My horse fell and broke his leg a ways back. Had to shoot him. Been walk’n since this morning and my feet are kill’n me. Sure could use a lift into Morro Coyo.”

“Well, I don’t know. Not s’posed to be pick’n up no strays.” There was a pause. “But, you bein’ on foot . . . guess I could make an exception. Throw your saddle up here and climb aboard. Oh . . . that’ll be four bits, if’n ya got it.”

The prospective passenger dug into his pocket, pull out a couple of coins, and tossed them up.

Scott quickly pulled back inside the coach and waited for his new traveling companion to board. The coach rocked slightly and there was a thump as the man’s saddle landed on the luggage rack.  A moment later the door was jerked open and a dust-covered young man climbed into the seat opposite him.

Sitting stiffly with chin up, Scott studied the form now slouching in the other seat. He estimated the other man to be a few years younger than his own twenty-five years. He also noticed the man was clothed in the style of some of the Mexican vaqueros he had seen since arriving in California. With the shaggy black hair that framed the younger man’s handsome oval face and the golden tan of his skin, Scott at first took him to be a Mexican. Then he met the penetrating gaze of the other man’s deep blue eyes. Can’t be all Mexican with those eyes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny Madrid, thankful that the stage had come along when it did, hoisted himself into the coach and took the seat that faced the rear of the coach. His feet were already blistered. They would have been in a lot worse shape if he would have had to walk the rest of the way into town.

Having learned early in life to never drop his guard, Johnny leaned against the side of the coach so that he could relax and still keep watch on whatever might go on outside of the coach. He could also check out his fellow passenger.

Starting at the top of the young man’s head where a precisely positioned stovepipe hat barely revealed a fringe of dark blond hair, Johnny slid his gaze down the finely chiseled planes of the other man’s face, and briefly noted the steel blue eyes, long aristocratic nose, high cheekbones, and pale complexion. His eyes then lingered a little longer on the man’s finely tailored suit, ruffled shirt, and shiny boots.

Well, ain’t he a dandy. Proud as a peacock, too, thought Johnny, noting the lift of the other man’s chin and his stead return gaze.   Probably thinks I ain’t good enough to polish them fancy boots of his. Bet, he’s never done a lick of work in his life—just lives off his old man’s money. What I wouldn’t give to knock him down a peg or two. Oh, the fun I could have taking some of the starch out of that one. A smirk appeared on Madrid’s face and a mischievous glint lit up his deep blue eyes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Neither man spoke as they sat staring at each other. Scott couldn’t help but notice the amusement that gleamed in the other man’s eyes. “Mind telling me what it is you find so amusing about me?” he asked in his soft New England accent.

“Nope. Doubt you’d appreciate it anyway.”

The snide remark made the Boston man nervous, but he was not about to be intimidated by this rough looking westerner. “Just try me,” he challenged.

“Maybe . . . I was trying to place where I’d seen you before.”

Scott looked indignantly at the other passenger.  “I doubt very much that we have ever met; that is, unless you have been to Boston.”

“Nope . . . never been to Boston. That’s back east someplace, ain’t it?”

“About as far east as you can get without ending up in the Atlantic Ocean.” Scott’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Scott bristled at the smirk on the other’s face then tensed as the younger man eased the pistol from his holster, grinned wickedly, and spun the chamber a few times before twirling the revolver up and down as if checking its balance.

 “I’d be mighty careful if I was you, Boston. This country’s plumb full of desperate characters. You sure wouldn’t one of ’em spoilin’ those fancy duds you got on,” the westerner said.

“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” Scott replied stiffly.

“Sure, you are.”

The smirk of disbelieve on the other man’s face was irritating, but Scott refused to be bated into an argument with the gunman. He chose to remain silent and went to watching the passing scenery instead.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After a while, Johnny once again broke the silence. Conversation of any kind would be better than the thoughts that were running through his mind; besides he couldn’t resist having some fun at the other man’s expense. Mustering his most serious expression, he looked his companion in the eye and said, “I sure hope you’re right, Boston . . . about being able to take care of yourself and all.”

“Why?”

“Oh . . . ’cause. . . I heard Johnny Madrid was in the area.” His eyes glinted wickedly as he went on. “He’d as soon shoot you as look at you, from what I hear. Been told, he’s got a real dislike for city dudes.”

“If he’s so bad, why hasn’t he been arrested and put in jail?” Scott demanded.

Madrid shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe . . . nobody wants to tangle with him. Some folks say he’s greased lighting with a handgun. Killed more’n a dozen men in gunfights . . . uh . . . so they say.”

“Have you ever seen this Johnny Madrid?”

Johnny reveled in the apprehension he detected in the easterner. “Oh . . . I’ve seen him all right.”

“So . . . what does he look like?”

With a boyish grin and a soft chuckle, Johnny answered triumphantly, “Me!”

A startled look came over Scott’s face. He took a big swallow then smiled back nervously. “I take it, you’re Johnny Madrid.”

“Uh huh.” Enjoying the other man’s discomfort, Johnny continued to play with the revolver in his hand.

“Are you as good with that as you say, or where you just putting me on?” Scott motioned at the gun in the Johnny’s hand.

Johnny shrugged and looked out the window. “See that dead tree up there. Watch that limb nearest the road.” The words were barely out of his mouth before the gun exploded and the limb went flying into the air.

The sudden jerk of the coach jostled the passengers as the startled team bolted. When the horses were once again under control and the ride smoothed out, the raspy voice of the driver could be heard hollering. “What in tarnation ya shootin’ at?”

Johnny stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Nothin’, Old Timer. Just doin’ a little target practice.”

“Well, next time, give a fella some warnin’. Ya pert neart made my heart give out on me,” the driver called back.

Johnny turned his attention back to his traveling companion. He grinned at the startled expression on the other man’s face. “Looks like I could use some more practice. I meant to hit the other limb.” He pretended to look for another object to shoot at. Spying the hat that had fallen to the floor when the team bolted, he reached down, picked it up, and twirled it around in his hand. “This just might do. Bet I could toss it out the window and fill it full of holes before it hit the ground.”

“That’s a new hat.  I’ll thank you to return it at once.”

The sharp tone in which the words were spoken only added to Johnny’s amusement. He brushed the dust off the hat, studied it a moment, and then handed it back to its owner. When it was once again perched on the other man’s head, Madrid pointed his gun at it. “I still say it would make a fine target.”

The coach hit a rut and caused Johnny’s hand to waver. Noticing the strained look on the eastern dandy’s face, he smiled, “Don’t look so worried, Boston. I hardly ever miss a shot this close.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A tinge of red crept into Scott’s pale cheeks as he stared into the gunman’s eyes. He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to stay calm.  The last thing he wanted was a confrontation with the young killer.

The coach swayed as it rounded a corner and thumped its way over a rocky section of road. The constant rocking and bumping made it impossible for Johnny to hold the revolver steady.

“Don’t you think it would be wise to put that away before it goes off,” Scott suggested. “You wouldn’t want to be executed for accidentally shooting an unarmed man would you?”

When a sudden jarring of the coach once again spoiled his aim, Madrid lowered the pistol. He chewed his lip for brief moment then shrugged. “Guess you’re right, Boston. You’re sure not worth get’n hung for.”

Scott breathed a soft sigh of relief. He couldn’t remember a time, even during the war with the south, when he had felt so close to death. Something about this Johnny Madrid chilled him to the bone. I certainly will be glad when we part company at Morro Coyo. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings any, if I never saw him again. What kind of law do they have out here that allows cold-blooded killers like him run free?

“So, Boston. Tell me, what brings you all the way out here?” Johnny’s soft drawl cut into Scott’s thoughts.

“My father has a ranch outside of Morro Coyo,” Scott replied stiffly. He found it difficult to accept the total lack of convention among these westerners. In Boston, one did not carry on a casual conversation with strangers, and he would have preferred to complete his journey in silence. However, under the circumstances, he felt it would be wiser to engage in idle chatter with his traveling companion than to risk being used for target practice.

“No, kiddin’!” After giving Scott a calculating look, Johnny smirked, “You’re not going to tell me you grew up on a ranch, are you?”

“No. I was raised in Boston. This is the first time I’ve been here. My father left me with my grandfather when I was just a baby.” A hint of sadness crept into Scott’s voice.

After a moment of silence, Johnny said, “So, what brings you out here now?”

“My father sent for me.”

Johnny sneered.  “So, your old man deserts you, forgets about you all this time, and then, when he up an’ whistles, you come runnin’.”

“Not exactly. Actually, I’m not sure why I came. I almost didn’t. Maybe, it’s because I’m tired of my grandfather trying to run my life, or perhaps because my father said he needed my help. I don’t know.” Scott sighed softly. Not wanting to deal with his feelings about his father, he turned the conversation in another direction. “I heard you tell the driver you were going to Morro Coyo. What brings you here?”

“Money.”

Scott’s eyebrows raised a little. “Money?”

“Yeah. I come to collect the thousand dollars I was promised.” There was a tension in Johnny’s voice that hadn’t been there before.

“Oh?” An uneasy feeling came over Scott. He wondered if the money was a payment on the young gunman’s services. From what he had seen of this Johnny Madrid, he was sure the man wouldn’t hesitate to kill in exchange for that kind of money. The whole idea made him sick. He began to wonder if he was a fool for coming here to this barbaric land to meet a father he had never known. For all he knew, Murdoch Lancer might turn out to be as cold-blooded as this young westerner seemed to be?

Johnny answered in a harsh tone.  “Yep. My old man’s got him a ranch south of town. Guess he must be loaded with money. He hired the Pinkertons to track me down. They told me, he’d pay me a thousand dollars if I’d go see him.”

Scott looked quizzically at the young gunman. “Why’d you leave here in the first place?”

Johnny drew in a breath between clenched teeth and held it a moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was ice cold. “He threw me and my mother out when I wasn’t much more than a baby. I guess he thought a Mexican wife wasn’t good enough for him.  That a half-breed son wasn’t fit to carry the high and mighty name of Lancer. Well, I got news for him; I don’t want his name. I wouldn’t have it if he offered me everything he’s got.”

Scott Lancer’s mouth sagged open. Lancer, did he say, Lancer? Surely he isn’t referring to Murdoch Lancer. He gulped hard and muttered, “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.”

“You don’t believe what? You callin’ me a liar, Boston?” Johnny snapped.

The fury evident on Madrid’s face made Scott cringe. “No. I . . . I just meant . . . I can’t believe he did that. Lancer I mean.”

“What do you know about him?” Johnny exploded.

“Nothing, but . . .”

“But what, Boston?” Johnny again cut in.

Scott hesitated. He was shocked at the realization that this fiery tempered young man was his brother. He wasn’t sure how Johnny was going to take the news. Madrid obviously hated their father. Would he hate a brother, too, just because his name was Lancer?

After a moment’s deliberation, Scott softly replied, “My name’s not Boston. It’s . . . Lancer . . . Scott Lancer.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“What?” Johnny stared at the easterner. “You’re . . . uh . . . Murdoch Lancer’s not . . .” he stammered. He couldn’t quite put into words the myriad of thoughts that sped through his mind.

“My father?” Scott completed the thought for him. “Yes. He’s my father.”

Time seemed to stand still as the two young men from vastly diverse cultures sat eyeing each other. Johnny smiled slightly, snorted lightly through his nose, and gently shook his head from side to side. His eyes dropped to the revolver he was holding in his lap. He toyed with it a minute or two, then tapped it against his leg. He’s my brother. Imagine me, Johnny Madrid, with a Boston tenderfoot for a brother–just what I need. And to think I came close to putting a hole in that fancy hat of his. If the stage had hit a bump, I could have killed him.

Johnny looked up to meet the intense gaze of his brother’s blue-gray eyes. The uncertainty he saw there puzzled him at first, then a thought flashed into his mind.  He dropped his pistol back into his holster and smiled shyly. “Don’t worry, Boston. I ain’t gunna shoot ya.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A short while later, a pretty teenage girl with long dark hair stood in front of the stage depot and watched as the coach rolled toward her down the main street of Morro Coyo. She fidgeted nervously with her handbag and wished desperately that her guardian, Murdoch Lancer, could have come with her to meet his son.

The stage rolled to a stop and the driver hopped down to open the door of the coach. A tall young man, in fine tailored eastern attire, stepped out and looked around. When he looked her way, the girl smiled. In a shy, musical voice, she said, “Scott Lancer?”

“Yes, I’m Scott Lancer.” The young gentleman glanced about as though searching for someone.

“Isn’t my father here?”

“He . . . uh . . . he didn’t feel up to making the trip into town, so he sent me to meet you. My name’s Teresa O’Brien. I’m Murdoch’s ward. Oh, and this is Pedro Gonzales. He works for Murdoch.” She motioned toward the short, chunky Mexican vaquero next to her.

“I’m pleased to meet you.” Scott bowed politely toward the girl and nodded his head at the man.

Teresa’s gaze caught a movement behind Scott as another passenger disembarked from the coach. When he stepped into full view, she noted the way his gun hung low on his left hip. A slight chill went through her as her brown eyes met this young man’s intense blue eyes. Another gunman–probably here to join Pardee.

The girl quickly averted her gaze and returned her attention to Scott. “The surrey’s right over there. As soon as we get your things loaded, we can head for the ranch. Unless . . . um . . . there’s anything you want to do in town first.”

“No. I’d just as soon get this trip over with.”

The dark-haired gunman started to move away, when Scott turned toward him. “Where are you going? Aren’t you riding with us?” he queried.

“I figured on renting me a horse. Nobody was expectin’ me. ‘Sides, looks like things could be a little crowded, what with all that stuff you got there, Boston.” The young gunman motioned toward a pile of trunks that had been tossed from the top of the coach.

Teresa was puzzled by the exchange between Scott and the other passenger. Why would Scott be asking one of Pardee’s men to ride out to the ranch with us? Unless . . . It couldn’t be, she reasoned. He couldn’t possibly have gotten here yet. She looked over at the young Mexican and hesitantly asked, “Are . . . you . . . Johnny Madrid?” At the young man’s nod, she added, “But, how did you get here so quickly?”

“I high tailed it up here as fast as I could. Didn’t want to keep the old man waitin’.”

Teresa was disturbed by Johnny’s bitter tone, but she looked him in the eye and smiled pleasantly. “I’m quite sure we’ll have plenty of room in the surrey. There certainly isn’t any need of you renting a horse.”

After a little more persuasion from Scott, Johnny stowed his saddle on top of his brother’s pile of luggage. Teresa accepted a hand up from Scott and joined Pedro on the front seat. The two brothers settled into the back seat.

Murdoch is sure going to be surprised when we get home, Teresa thought as the surrey rolled down the main street of town.

Chapter 3 – Bitter Encounter

Johnny Madrid glanced up at the high stone archway as the carriage passed underneath. Chiseled into each side support was an ornate letter “L” enclosed with a circle. Overhead, in large letters, was the name “Lancer.” His stomach tightened. Meeting his old man was going to be much harder than he had anticipated.

The road wound its way alongside of a meadow. Johnny could see the ranch buildings nestled in a grove of trees about a half-mile away. He felt a stir of regret. This was just the kind of place he had dreamed of having. Even if he asks me to stay, I couldn’t do it. I’d end up killing him. The sooner I get out of here the better.

They rounded a corner, and passed by the barn and corrals. A few moments later, they halted in front of a massive Spanish mansion. While Scott stepped out of the carriage and gave Teresa a hand, Johnny remained in his seat. He desperately tried to control the anger that threatened to consume him. Seeing his father’s obvious wealth only magnified the poverty he and his mother had lived in.

“Are you coming?”

Glancing in the direction of the man he had learned only a few hours earlier was his half-brother, Johnny drew in a ragged breath. Trying to hide his tension, he softly replied, “Yeah.”

Johnny followed behind Scott and Teresa as they entered the foyer. Teresa stepped through the arched doorway on their right and called, “Murdoch.” Her soft voice echoed in the stillness.

“In here.” The deep masculine voice set Madrid’s nerves on edge.

The girl entered a large room with Scott close behind. Johnny slipped quietly through the doorway and leaned against the edge of the bookcase that lined the wall to his left. He watched as his brother and Teresa walked across the room toward the man sitting at a large oak desk. As they approached, the man stood to his feet and moved toward them. His hair was gray, slightly curly, and he was tall. Johnny had seen few men who were taller.

“Scott.” The big man’s voice wavered ever so slightly. “How was your trip?”

“Fine, Sir.” The young man from Boston’s answer was polite, but stiff.

Murdoch Lancer cleared his throat. “I’m sure you must be tired. Teresa can show you to your room. Supper will be ready in an hour or so. Is there anything you’d like before then?”

“Thank you, sir. I would like to take a bath, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

“Not at all.” The older man turned to address the girl. “Why don’t you show Scott his room and I’ll have Marie heat–” Murdoch stopped when his eyes connected with those of the young man near the doorway.

Johnny’s jaw tightened, and he fought to control the rage inside as he stared coldly at the older man. Unconsciously his fingers wrapped around the butt of his revolver.

“Who are you? And what do you want?” Murdoch demanded.

The young gunman took a step forward. He let go of his gun and gripped the back of the nearest chair. With great effort he choked down his anger and spoke in a lazy drawl. “Name’s Johnny, Johnny Madrid. You sent for me.”

“Johnny!” A smile lit up the surprised man’s face. “I didn’t expect you so soon.”

The dark-haired young man sucked in a big breath of air and held it when the older man took a step in his direction. He could feel his hands start to sweat and he tightened his grip on the chair. It would be so easy to put a bullet between his eyes, he thought as hatred nearly consumed him.

You owe him your life, an unbidden thought reminded him. He slowly let the air out of his tortured lungs. The presence of Teresa and his brother, and the fact that Murdoch had bought his freedom, were the only things that kept him from giving in to the desire to take vengeance on the man in front of him.

“He was on the same stage as Scott.” Teresa explained.

“The two of you met on the stage.” Murdoch turned his attention to the young man standing next to the girl.

Johnny barely heard the brief exchange that followed between the other three. He was too lost in his own thoughts and feelings. Only when the older man suggested that Teresa show him to his room, did his icy voice enter the conversation. “Don’t bother. I won’t be staying.”

At his father’s questioning look, a small measure of satisfaction ran through the young gunfighter. He glared at the older man and sneered. “Just say what you got to say, pay me the money you promised, and I’ll be on my way.”

“Don’t you think you should give what I have to say some thought first?”

“I should’ve known you’d welch.” Johnny’s quiet voice took on a deadly note as he dropped his hands to his side.

“You’ll get your money,” Murdoch replied sharply.

When Scott took a step toward him and attempted to reason with him, Johnny snapped back at him. “Stay out of this, Boston. It’s got nothin’ to do with you. This is between me and that old man.”

“Just cool down.” Murdoch admonished his younger son. With a resigned sigh, he proceeded to explain about the Pardee gang that was trying to take over the valley. He finished by offering his sons a partnership in his holdings if they would help him fight to save his ranch.

Johnny stood rigidly listening to his father’s proposition. To his way of thinking, the older man had sent for him for one reason and that was to buy his services. This idea only infuriated him more. “Keep your ranch,” he gritted between clinched teeth. “Do you really think you can buy me that easily after what you’ve done?”

“I’m not trying to buy you. And just what is it that I’ve done?” Murdoch replied curtly.

“Don’t lie, Old Man. You don’t want me. You never did, otherwise you wouldn’t have sent my mother and me away.” Johnny’s voice pitched upward another notch. His fiery temper was fast reaching the boiling point.

“That’s not true. I’ve spent years trying to find you. And your mother left because she wanted to, not because I made her.” Murdoch countered angrily.

As the argument between him and his father continued, Johnny felt his resolve slipping. If he didn’t get out, and soon, Murdoch Lancer would be dead. Once again, he demanded the money owed him.

“I don’t keep that much cash here,” his father explained.

“Then give me a horse and what cash you can. I’ll wait in town for you to send the rest to me,” Johnny demanded.

Murdoch turned and stalked to his desk. He pulled out a couple of pieces of paper and wrote on them. Then he unlocked the bottom drawer and removed a small tin box. He opened it and removed a few green bills from it, before returning it to its place and locking the drawer. He took the items and slapped them down on the table in front of his youngest son. “There’s a bill of sale for the horse and a hundred dollars.” He pointed at one of the pieces of papers. “Give that to one of my men. It says you can take your pick of any of the horses.”

Without so much as a “thank you,” Johnny picked up the notes and the money. He whirled on his heels and quickly left the house. In less than ten minutes, he was riding down the road toward the main entry gate. At the gate, he took one last look back before kicking his mount into a gallop.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What Murdoch had not anticipated was the effect the meeting would have on his own emotions. Memories of his first wife had flooded his mind at the sight of their son’s dark blond hair, fair skin, and blue-gray eyes.  What had hit him hardest, though, was the overwhelming sense of guilt and regret for the years of separation from his son. I should have brought him home a long time ago. What a fool I’ve been. I should never have let Harlan Garrett run me off. I should have taken the boy by force, if need be.

A faint smile parted the gray-haired man’s lips. Despite the awkwardness between him and his elder son, the encounter had gone much better than he had expected. Although Murdoch suspected Harlan Garrett had filled Scott’s head full of lies, there had been no display of animosity on the young man’s part–only a formal politeness. I can’t believe he was so willing to accept my offer of a partnership.

Murdoch felt a dark cloud settle over him as his thoughts shifted to another young man, one with black hair, tanned skin, and deep blue eyes. After spending years trying to locate this son after the boy’s mother had taken him away, he had looked forward with anticipation to Johnny’s homecoming. He had not expected, nor did he feel he deserved his younger son’s rejection.

A deep sigh escaped the rancher’s lips. He could still see Johnny’s smoldering blue eyes, eyes full of anger and hatred toward the father he believed had thrown him and his mother out. No amount of talk had convinced his son it wasn’t true . . . and now the boy was gone again.

Why did Maria have to tell him all those lies? Wasn’t it enough for her to take him from me? Did she hate me so much that she had to make him hate me, too?  Murdoch turned and crossed the room. His eyes fell upon the Pinkerton report that lay on the small table by his bed. He hadn’t even had time to look through it. It had been with the mail Teresa had brought back from town earlier that day.

At the reminder of the money he had spent finding his son and saving him from the Rurales in Mexico, Murdoch felt his own temper rising. After all he had done, he hadn’t deserved the verbal attack he had received from that young man. He wasn’t even grateful I saved his life. This bitter thought added fuel to Murdoch’s anger. Well, let him go, if that’s the way he wants it. I don’t need him. I can get along just fine without him.

A few moments later, Murdoch, sitting propped up in bed, opened the report from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Despite his bitter disappointment in the boy, he had an overwhelming desire to know his son. As he read, a picture of Johnny Madrid, the gunfighter, began to form in his mind and his anger at the young man began to dissipate. He saw a motherless boy, struggling to survive on his own, driven by circumstances into a life of violence at an early age. The pages were filled with accounts of Johnny’s many gun battles; yet, they did not depict his son as a heartless killer.

Murdoch shuddered when he reached the last part of the report. The realization, that Johnny had only been minutes away from death when the Pinkerton agent found him, left the big man feeling weak. He could almost see Johnny defiantly standing before a firing squad–bullets pelting the wall on either side of him. The thought enraged as well as sickened him.

How could anyone be so cruel? I’d sure like to get my hands on that–.  Murdoch halted his thoughts and refused to contemplate on what he would like to do to the Mexican commander who had tormented his son. The anger he had felt earlier toward his younger son all but faded. In its place came a feeling of sadness and self-reproach. It’s no wonder Johnny accused me of trying to buy his services. In his mind, there’s no other way to look at what I was offering him. I guess, after all he’s been through, I can’t blame him for not wanting to risk his life for something that has no meaning to him.

After laying the report on the table and turning out the light, Lancer settled down into his big comfortable bed, but sleep eluded him. He just couldn’t get his son off of his mind. He remembered a happy-go-lucky toddler with a mischievous grin and sparkling eyes–a child’s small, loving arms wrapped around his neck. But, alas, that child was gone forever.  In his place was a sullen, hate- filled young man.

Murdoch tossed and turned, his thoughts shifting back and forth between the Johnny he had known as a child and the Johnny of the Pinkerton report. He wondered if there was any chance that the child he had known still lurked somewhere deep inside the angry young man he had met a few hours earlier. It was late into the night before he was finally overcome by a troubled sleep.

Chapter 4 – Breaking with the Past

It was late in the evening when Johnny Madrid rode into town. After getting his horse settled in at the livery stable, he walked down the street to the hotel. He secured a room for the night,  Finding that the dining room was closed for night, he crossed the street and entered the nearest saloon. He quickly glanced around before making his way to an empty table in a far corner where he could sit next to the wall. He ordered a drink and a meal and sat back to study the other occupants.

Near the door, a couple of rowdy cowboys were talking and laughing with one of the saloon girls. On the far side of the room, five men were playing cards. In the center of the room, a drunken old man struggled to his feet and staggered toward the door. Just as the man reached the swinging doors, a group of tough looking men sent him sprawling as they shoved their way into the room.

Madrid thought there was something familiar about the man in the lead. As he watched him walk toward the bar, he tried to place where he had seen him before. When the man stopped and looked his way, old memories came flooding into his mind. Day Pardee!

“Well, look who’s here!” Pardee strode over to Madrid’s table, slid out a chair, and sat down. “Johnny, my boy, this is a pleasant surprise. I’ve missed you. I can always use a man of your talents.”

“Howdy, Day. I heard you were in the area.” Johnny kept his left hand under the table and next to his gun. He had ridden with Pardee in the past and didn’t fully trust the man.

“Oh? Where’d you hear that?” asked the outlaw.

“Man named Lancer. He wanted me to help him fight you. Made me quite an offer, too.” Johnny watched closely to see what effect his words would have on the land grabber.

Pardee stiffened and the smile left his face. “Lancer sent for you? How’d he know about you or even where to find you? Last I heard, you were in Mexico fighting for some worthless cause. Hope you turned him down, he hasn’t a chance. Besides, I’d hate to have to kill you. I kind o’ like you.”

“Lancer couldn’t buy me even if he offered me all the gold in California,” Johnny stated bitterly between clinched teeth.

“Good! Always knew you were smarter than most. So, Johnny, my boy, why not join up with me? I got plans.  Big plans. I’d make it well worth your while.”

A girl brought Johnny’s meal and drink, set it down in front of him, and went to the bar to get a drink for Pardee. As Johnny ate the greasy food, he listened to the other man’s proposition. He had no intention of joining the man, but he was curious about Day’s plans. It wouldn’t hurt to know what Scott was going to be up against if the city raised Lancer decided to stay and help their old man.

As the two men talked and drank, the effects of alcohol dulled Johnny’s senses and he relaxed a little. Needing a diversion to get his mind off of the encounter with his father, he even let Pardee talk him into joining him and his men in a game of cards. By the time the saloon closed for the night, he was beyond caring about anything. He went right to his room, flopped onto the bed, and immediately went to sleep without bothering to undress.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next couple of days dragged by for Johnny Madrid as he waited for the rest of the money his father owed him. His evenings were spent at the saloon where he drank or played cards with Pardee or his men. After being up until the wee hours of the morning, he would sleep late and get a bite to eat about ten o’clock.

There was little to amuse him in Morro Coyo during the day, so Johnny spent some time exploring the surrounding country. On his third day, while keeping off of the main road, he skirted the boundary of the Lancer Ranch. He found a knoll where he could view most of the valley. The more he saw of the gentle rolling hills, tall green grass, and well-watered grazing land, the more he liked the area. Grudgingly, he had to give his father credit for having chosen an ideal location for his ranch. No wonder his old man was so determined to hang on to it–even at the cost of his sons’ lives.

Johnny slid a hand down his horse’s neck.  Well I’m not sacrificing mine. Pardee’s got too many hired guns. It’d be suicide to go against him. I can’t see what help that old man and a tenderfoot from the east would be in that kind of battle. If that Boston brother of mine wants to get his fool head shot off, well that’s his problem. I’m through risking my neck on lost causes. From now on, I take care of Johnny Madrid and no one else.

It was late afternoon when Johnny returned to town. He was hot and thirsty, so he stopped by the saloon for a quick drink before putting his horse up for the night. As was his usual habit, he cautiously opened the swinging doors and peered inside. Once assured there was no danger lurking there, he entered and stepped sideways so the wall would shield his back.

On the far side of the room, Johnny saw a group of Pardee’s men drinking and whooping it up.

“We sure gave that eastern dandy what for, didn’t we Jake?” boasted Brad who been among those of Pardees that Johnny had played cards with.

A shark-faced man named Jake laughed.  “Sure did. After the beating we gave him, bet he high tails it right back where he come from,”

Johnny edged a little closer so he could hear what was being said. He wondered who the easterner was they had beat up. It didn’t take long to figure it out.  When he heard the Lancer name, he knew it was his brother that was the subject of their conversation.

Brad looked in Johnny’s direction and beckoned. “Hey, Johnny, have a drink.”

“So, what have you fellas been up to?” Johnny innocently asked after taking the offered glass.  He downed the shot of whisky in one gulp.

Johnny was surprised at the feeling of anger that rose up inside of him as Brad gladly filled him in on the details of the fight with Scott Lancer. Despite his efforts over the past few days to convince himself that the man from Boston meant nothing to him, Johnny realized that he had only been fooling himself. By the time Brad was finished with his tale, Johnny was furious inside. He couldn’t believe the strong urge he felt to extract vengeance on his brother’s attackers. The only thing that held him back was the stronger desire to make sure Scott hadn’t been seriously hurt in the brawl.

“Thanks for the drink. I’ll see you boys later. I left my horse tied up out front, and I need to take care of him.” Johnny turned and sauntered toward the door.  Once outside, he quickly swung into the saddle and urged the palomino into a brisk trot. At the edge of town, he kicked the horse into a gallop. According to what the men had said, his brother couldn’t have been gone from town long. Scott had come to town in a wagon and had Teresa with him, so Johnny figured it wouldn’t be hard to catch up to them.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Scott, are you sure you’re all right? Maybe you should have seen the doctor.” The pretty girl with dark hair hovered nearby as the fair-haired son of her guardian dipped his handkerchief in the cool creek water and tried to wash some of the blood off of his face.

“I’m not hurt all that bad. Ooh.” The young man winced as the cold water stung the cuts on his lip and chin. “I’ll be fine.” He sloshed the piece of cloth in the creek to rinse some of the blood out of it before dabbing it on his sore face again.

By the time Scott had finished cleaning up, the sound of a horses hooves striking the hard dirt road could be heard. Teresa looked up as a palomino horse galloped into view. The rider turned off the road, slowed his mount to a trot, and rode down to the creek.

.

Teresa watched Johnny pull his mount to a halt near Scott and smoothly swing to the ground. She could hear the agitation in his voice, when he said, “You okay, Boston?”

“What are you doing here?” Scott snapped. “Or, have you forgotten which side you’re on?”

“I’m not on any side.”

“That’s not what I heard. It’s all over town that you and Pardee are old friends. It’s no secret that you’ve joined up with him,” Scott accused, sounding disgusted.

Johnny clinched his fists. “Look. I just wanted to see if you were all right, so skip the lecture.”

“Maybe that’s exactly what you need, Little Brother.” A sharp edge crept into Scott’s normally calm voice. “How can you turn on your own family and still live with yourself?”

“I haven’t turned on anyone,” Madrid stated belligerently.

“Oh . . . and just what do you call it, when you’ve joined up with your father’s enemies.”

“My father?” Johnny’s voice was filled with bitterness. “That old man may have sired me, but he’s never been my father. Do you have any idea what my life has been like, while he’s been living in that big fancy house of his, sleeping in a soft bed, never having to worry about where his next meal’s comin’ from? Do you, Boston?”

“You’re not the only one who’s ever had things rough,” Scott stated.

“What would you know about rough? You grew up with your rich grandfather. You had anything you wanted. I’ve had nothing all my life. Do you know what it’s like to go to sleep with hunger gnawing at your guts so bad you can hardly stand it? Did you have to watch your mama work herself into an early grave just to put a roof over your head? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a half-breed Mexican kid growing up in a border town where neither side wants you? I’ve had to fight for survival all my life. I’ve been shot at more times than I can count, had more than one bullet dug out of me, and nearly died a time or two. So, don’t talk to me about rough, Boston, ’cause you don’t even know the meaning of the word.” Johnny was gasping for breath by the time he finished his angry outburst.

The red in Scott’s cheeks got brighter and he stepped closer to his brother. “That wasn’t Murdoch’s fault. Your mother left him. Why don’t you put the blame where it belongs?”

“He sent us away. She told me so,” Johnny yelled.

“Your mother lied to you. She ran off with another man. She was nothing but a –.”

Johnny lashed out, smashed his brother in the nose, and sent him sprawling to the edge of the stream. “I’ll kill you for that,” he gritted as his hand flashed downward.

“Stop it!” cried Teresa, running between the two brothers. As the gun that had suddenly appeared in Johnny’s hand was raised, she grabbed at his arm and gave it a shove. The bullet meant for Scott plunked into the creek a few feet beyond him.

“Johnny, he’s your brother,” she screamed as she held onto Johnny’s arm.

Johnny looked at Scott, who was struggling to get back on his feet. Jerking his arm free of the girl’s grip, he shoved the revolver back into his holster, spun on his heels, and walked toward his horse.

Teresa followed the angry young man and grabbed his shirtsleeve as he took hold of the drooping bridle reins. “Johnny, you have to listen,” she pleaded. “Your mother left because she wanted to. My father told me about it. She did leave with another man: a gambler she had been seen with. Lots of people in town knew about it. Murdoch never wanted her to leave. He loved her. He loved you. He never gave up trying to find you and your mother. You should have seen how happy he was when he got the wire that you had been found. He could hardly wait for you to get here.”

Johnny roughly shoved the girl away. “Leave me alone! I don’t want to hear your lies!”

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Teresa watched Johnny leap into the saddle, dig his spurs into the horse’s belly, and send him racing for the road. Her heart ached for Johnny, and she wished there were some way to get through to him.

“Forget him. He’s not worth tearing yourself up over,” she heard Scott say angrily as he gently touched her arm.

Teresa turned and looked into Scott’s eyes. “You’re wrong, Scott. Can’t you see? I don’t think he even knew what he was doing. He’s just so hurt. He thinks no one cares about him. Now he’s being told that his mother wasn’t what he thought she was. How would you feel if you were in his place? He’ll come around; I know he will. He just needs some time to sort it all out.”

“Well he’d better hurry, because time is running out,” Scott stated sharply. He reached down and retrieved his handkerchief then went to the creek, knelt, and dipped it in the water. Holding the damp cloth against his nose to stop the flow of blood, he returned to the girl’s side. “Come on. We’d better be going. We don’t want Murdoch sending out a search party for us.”

Teresa rubbed her watery eyes with the back of her hand tand allowed Scott to help her onto the wagon seat. Wistfully, she watched the palomino horse carry Johnny around a corner in the road and out of sight.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny Madrid was in a sullen mood when he returned to Morro Coyo. Desperately in need of a drink to dull his jangled emotions and wanting to avoid contact with Pardee and his men, he halted his horse in front of a small cantina near the edge of town. He slipped his left foot out of the stirrup, swung his right leg forward over the horn of the saddle, and jumped to the ground. After quickly glancing around, he strolled to the door and pushed it open far enough to peek inside. Relieved that the place was nearly empty, he sauntered in and found a quiet table in the far corner of the room.

An alluring young Mexican girl sashayed over and asked. “What can I get for you, Senor?”

“Whisky.” Madrid grunted. At another time, he might have given the girl a shy smile and invited her to join him, but at the moment he was in no mood for company. He just wanted to be left alone. He wasn’t even aware that the girl gave him a provocative smile before she hurried away.

The pretty señorita soon returned with the glass of fiery liquid and set it on the table in front of the young gunfighter. “Señor, so handsome a gentleman should not drink alone. You would like me to join you, no?” She gracefully moved to his side and let her fingers trail up his sleeve to his collar where she entwined them in his hair.

Johnny roughly pulled the girl’s fingers loose and pushed her hand away. “Just bring me a bottle of tequila and leave me alone,” he snapped as he tossed a few coins on the table. He lifted the whisky glass and downed its entire contents. For a brief moment, he was aware of nothing other than the burning in his throat.

When the girl returned, she set the bottle down with a thump on the table and flounced away. Preoccupied with other thoughts, Madrid didn’t even notice. He uncorked the bottle and lifted it to his lips. He took a few swallows of the tequila, hoping it would help him forget what had transpired earlier that day. However, he could not escape from the memory of his near fatal confrontation with Scott. Once again his fiery temper had almost led to disaster. He hated to think of what would have happened if Teresa hadn’t been there to step in. Johnny knew he would never have been able to live with the guilt if he had taken his brother’s life.

Madrid toyed with the bottle, unable to get the girl’s words out of his head. His mother had not left at his father’s request, but because she wanted to be with another man. It had been common knowledge in Morro Coyo; he could ask most anyone who had lived here at the time. It’s not true. She wouldn’t have lied to me, he silently argued with himself.

After taking a couple more swallows from his bottle, Johnny replaced the cork, rose to his feet, and made his way to the door. He instinctively scouted the street and nearby buildings before stepping outside of the cantina. After making sure that all was clear, he mounted his horse and circled around the edge of town to the livery stable. When he led his horse through the door, an old man met him and offered to care for the animal. Johnny nonchalantly leaned against the side of the barn and watched the man at work. He wondered if the man had been in the area long enough to know his mother.

When his horse was stabled and fed, Johnny summoned up enough nerve to question the stable hand. The answers he heard only confirmed what Teresa had told him. The seeds of doubt already planted began to grow. Had his mother lied? What was the real reason for her leaving? Had his father really tried all this time to find him?

Johnny slipped out the door and made his way to a thick grove of trees not far from the livery. Ever since his release from the Mexican Rurales, he had preferred to sleep out in the open. He had located the secluded spot on his second night in town and was sure no one would bother him there.

After crawling into his bedroll, Madrid uncorked his bottle and took a drink. He knew that in the morning he was going to regret this night, but getting drunk was the only way he knew to escape the unwanted thoughts and emotions. He didn’t want to think about the danger his brother was in–a brother he hadn’t even known existed until a couple of days earlier. Nor did he want to think about the father he had hated for so long. How could he possibly believe the man had told him the truth without accepting that his mother had lied?

More arguments filled Johnny’s mind.  Maybe he wanted her gone but never intended for her to take me. Or, maybe, he changed his mind after she left and just doesn’t want to admit it to me. But, why did he spend all that money trying to find me? Does he want me ’cause I’m his son, or because he needs a fast gun to help fight Pardee?

Disturbing questions continued to plague Johnny while he continued to sip from the bottle until the effect of the alcohol rendered him unconsciousness. When he came to, rays from the mid-morning sun peaked through the trees. His stomach feel queasy and the sunlight shining in his eyes made his head throb. Maybe, if I lay here and sleep it off, in a few hours I’ll feel like I’m going to live, he thought. He burrowed down into his blanket to shut out the light of day and let slumber once again overtook him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Johnny had been sleeping for several hours when he suddenly awoke in a cold sweat. He could still see his dying brother’s accusing eyes, and Scott’s last words were ringing in his ears: “Where were you when we needed you?”

It took a moment for him to realize he had been dreaming. It had been so real: his brother lying on the ground in a pool of blood, their father’s still form nearby, and Pardee, a short distance away, watching triumphantly. He shuddered as he remembered the horrifying scene.

As he rolled out of his blanket and strapped on his gun, Johnny desperately tried to push the disturbing dream from his mind, but it wouldn’t budge. It was still tormenting him as he sat in the hotel dining room a short while later. After he finished eating, he strolled down the main street of town. When he saw Pardee enter a saloon down the street from him, he knew what he had to do. He took a few minutes to formulate a plan then headed after the man.

Chapter 5 – A Fighting Chance

His heart pounded in his throat at the sound of thundering hooves coming closer. Quickly, Johnny Madrid glanced over his shoulder as he galloped his horse across the meadow toward the road on the far side. If he could just make it to the road with enough of a lead, he thought that he would have a chance of outrunning his pursuers. Then he saw them, four more riders bearing in at an angle in an effort to cut him off. He dug his heels into the tired palomino’s sides. Bad mistake, trying to shake them with that little detour. Come on boy don’t quit me now. We’ve got a real race on our hands.

Johnny surveyed his situation. If he slowed his horse long enough to make the sharp turn into the hard dirt road, the new group of riders would be within firing range. If he tried to make that turn without slowing up, he risked his horse slipping and spilling them both. The animal was just too nice to take a chance of injuring him, besides the road was no place to take a stand–no cover. That left only one option: head straight across, and ride like mad for the rail fence on the other side. If he took a slight angle to his left, he would be on the shortest path to the massive stone structure nestled amongst the trees on the far side of the pasture.

The palomino reached the road a short distance ahead of the other riders, faltered slightly as its front feet hit the hard-packed dirt, and then recovered to gather speed as it raced on toward the fence. Johnny heard a volley of shots ring out and the fan of air when a bullet whizzed by his cheek. He leaned a little closer to the flowing yellow mane in hopes of making himself less of a target. The rail fence loomed less than a hundred yards away. I sure hope you know how to jump, ’cause if you don’t, we’re in for a world of hurt.

When the wooden rails were barely two strides away, Johnny felt a tug at his coat sleeve from a bullet that was a little too close for comfort. He leaned well forward and gripped the horse’s heaving sides with his legs as its front-end rose from the ground. The agile golden horse cleared the top rail with ease but stumbled and nearly fell as it landed on the other side. Johnny did his best to aid his mount in recovering its balance and soon they were racing onward toward the grove of trees near the ranch buildings. Just a little farther. Got to make it to those trees. I can make a stand there. Long as my old man’s riders or that city raised brother of mine don’t start shooting at me.

Madrid jerked his six-gun free, looked back and fired two quick shots, and then focused on the fast approaching trees. Thirty yards . . . twenty yards . . . ten yards . . ..

Something slammed into his back, and knocked him forward and to the side. In desperation, he made a grab for the saddle horn but missed. His only choice then was to bail, so he kicked his feet out of the stirrups and rolled as the ground rose up to meet him. He didn’t stop until his back was against the nearest tree, where he scooted around the broad trunk, leaned his shoulder against the rough bark, and opened fire on the nearest rider. One down. Come on, Boston, I don’t plan to carry this battle on alone. Where are you, Old Man? You’re the one that wanted this fight. Well, I got ’em here, now do your part.

~~~~~

Murdoch Lancer snapped the ranch receipt ledger shut. He just was not in the right frame of mind for working on the books. He was still too upset about the beating Scott had received in town two days earlier. Not only that, he was angry and disappointed in learning that his son, Johnny, had been seen in the company of Day Pardee and his gang of land grabbers. He felt his son had betrayed him.

A barrage of rash statements, he would soon regret, filled his mind. All the time I spent searching, all the money I’ve put out finding him, even saving him from that firing squad: none of it means anything to him. It’s all been a waste. I wish I’d never set eyes on Maria; I wish that boy had never been born. I’m through with him. Even if he crawled back here on his hands and knees, I wouldn’t take him in. He’s no son of–.

Scott burst into the room and interrupted Murdoch’s thoughts. “Sir. There’s a group of riders coming in.” The young man stepped around the desk to stand behind his father then looked out the window and pointed. “There they are riding straight for that fence. I counted at least a dozen.”

Murdock joined Scott at the window and, together, they watched as a palomino horse jumped the rail fence and carried its rider across the meadow. Following, less than 50 yards behind him, was a large group of men. As they neared a small grove of trees not far from the house, the first rider turned and fired at those behind him. When his pursuers returned his fire, he hunched forward, pitched out of the saddle, and rolled to the closest tree. After dodging behind its scant cover, he began shooting at his attackers.

“It’s Johnny!” Scott ran to the gun cabinet, grabbed a rifle and a box of shells, opened the French doors, and dashed outside.

Murdoch followed his son’s leading and also snatched a gun from the cabinet. When Teresa ran into the room to find out what was happening, he told her to go to her room, lock the door, and wait until he told her it was safe to come out. The bitter thoughts, he had entertained earlier concerning Johnny, were forgotten. His son was out there, fighting for his life.  He had to help him.

~~~~~

Johnny Madrid heard the click of an empty chamber. He fumbled with the cartridges in his gun belt as in desperation he tried to reload his revolver. For some reason, he couldn’t quite understand, his fingers didn’t want to cooperate.

“Madrid!”

He looked up. Less than thirty feet away stood Day Pardee.

Pardee raised his forty-five and took aim. “You’re dead, Madrid. No one double crosses me and lives to tell about it.”

You just couldn’t quit while you were ahead, could you, Johnny chided himself, as he looked death in the eye. Well, big brother, it looks like you get my share, too. I hope you can take care of yourself as well as you think you can, ’cause I ain’t gonna be here to do it.

Time seemed to drag as Johnny awaited the inevitable. Come on, Pardee. Get it over with. One clean shot, that’s all I ask. I don’t want to hang on for days having people pity me.

Johnny saw Pardee’s gun hand waver then the deafening blast of a rifle fired at close range behind him knifed through his eardrums. Day took a small step in his direction, stopped, and took aim once more. Again there was a loud crack. Madrid watched the gun fly from his enemy’s hand as the man spun half way around, staggered a few steps, and slumped to the ground.  A hand touched Johnny’s shoulder and he jerked away.

“Just me, Brother.”

Madrid looked up into the steel blue eyes of the man from Boston. “You do that?” He nodded in the direction of the fallen land grabber.

“Uh, huh.” Scott, who by now was kneeling beside his brother, kept his rifle ready as he watched for further danger from Pardee’s gang.

“Good shootin’. Wouldn’t a guessed you had it in you.” Johnny’s voice sounded weak as he fought the enclosing darkness. The sound of gunfire seemed to have faded away and shock from his wound was quickly taking its toll.

~~~~~

Murdoch Lancer laid another cool cloth on his son’s fevered brow. He soaked a towel in the basin near the bed. After wringing some of the moisture from it, he placed it on the boy’s bare chest. “Easy, Son. Relax. You’re safe now,” he said, trying to calm the delirious young man.

Sometime later, the big rancher swiped the sweat from his own brow with his shirtsleeve. He was worried, more worried than he’d ever been in his life. Despite his best efforts, he just couldn’t get Johnny’s fever down. He sucked in a ragged breath and slowly let it out. He had never in his life felt as helpless as he did at the moment.

“You could ask for help.”

The rancher glanced behind him to see where the whispered words had come from. There was no one there. Must be hearing things, he thought with a shrug.

Murdoch looked back at the dark-haired form on the bed. He blinked his eyes and looked again. This wasn’t his son.  This was a child. And who was that woman with long, silky black hair sitting next to the bed. Then memory came flooding back of another all-night vigil nearly twenty years ago. I came so close to losing him then. God, why did you spare him if you’re not going to let me have him for a while? He couldn’t stop the bitter thought from flashing through his mind.

“Trust me,” the quiet voice said.

Murdoch let his harsh thoughts ramble on.  I tried that before. The day my father died–remember? I promised I’d be good boy if you didn’t let him die. You weren’t listening then any more than when I begged you to spare Catherine.

The words his mother had spoken to him shortly after his father’s death from a mining accident in Scotland came flooding back.  “God doesn’t make deals, son. He gives to us and He has the right to take away. We have to trust that He knows what is best.”

I lost both of my wives. He took my boys away from me when they were babies. What more does He want? Does He have to take their lives as well? Murdoch argued.

“I brought them home, didn’t I?” The soft voice in his head persisted.

Why? So you could take them away again?

“They’re mine. I’m the one who gave them life in the first place. Haven’t I protected him all these years? And wasn’t it just two days ago that you were ready to wash your hands of him? Give him to me, Son, and trust me.”

Murdoch continued to struggle with his conscience and the bitterness he had harbored toward God for so many years. For another hour, he hovered over his son. The more he tried to bring relief to his son, the worse the boy seemed to grow. His temperature soared dangerously high and he became weaker. Finally the defeated man sat down in the chair by the bed and dropped his head into his hands. All right you win. I’ve done all I can. If you could see fit to spare him, I’d be eternally grateful. If you don’t, I’ll accept it as your will. Immediately, he felt a sense of peace wash over him.

~~~~~

Hours later, Murdoch Lancer stood looking out the bedroom window. He watched the sky change from dull gray to an array of colors ranging from pink to purple. Gradually the landscape before him took shape, and he could make out the rolling hills and fertile meadows. Dawn had always been his favorite time of day. Often, he had stood at that very window and watched the sun come up over the valley, his valley. However, on this day, the empire he had built didn’t seem so important. The price of keeping it had almost been too high.

He turned away from the window, walked over to the bed, and looked down upon his sleeping son. The boy looked so peaceful, not at all like the angry young man that had walked into his home little more than a week ago.

Murdoch reached out, brushed the long dark bangs to one side, and laid his fingers lightly against Johnny’s forehead. Thank God, the fever’s down. I could have lost him.

 A lump came into his throat at the memory of seeing Scott walking toward him with his unconscious brother slung over his shoulder. Murdoch had feared the worst and hoped he was wrong. He would never forget the guilt he had felt for even thinking of disowning the boy. At that moment in time, the only thing that had mattered was his son’s welfare.

Wearily, he sank into the chair by the bed. It had been a long night. He was almost asleep when he felt a hand touch his shoulder and heard his elder son’s quiet voice.

“Murdoch, I’ll sit with him for a while. You’ve been up most of the night. You need to go get some rest. I’ll call you if there’s any change.”

“Thanks, Scott. I believe I’ll do just that. His fever’s finally down and he’s resting better. The doctor is supposed to be here about ten so wake me by nine, okay?”

“I will, Sir.”

Murdoch quietly made his way to the door.  He paused and glanced back at his injured son one last time before leaving the room. He knew that he didn’t need to worry: Scott would keep a close watch on Johnny.

Since his room was being occupied by Johnny, Murdoch trudged down the hall to a spare room. He was so tired that it didn’t matter that the bed was a little too short for his tall frame. He said a quick prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his boy and crawled between the crisp, clean sheets. Within minutes after lying down, he was asleep.

Chapter 6 – A Chance to be a Family

After settling into the chair at Johnny’s bedside, Scott opened the book he had brought with him. Every once in a while he would look up to check on his brother. When he was assured that his sibling was still sleeping peacefully, he would go back to his reading.

Sometime later, Scott heard Johnny stir and let out a soft moan.  He glanced up to find his brother watching him.  “Well, it’s about time you woke up,” Scott said.

“Have I been sleeping long?” Johnny’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Almost three days.” Scott picked up the pitcher that was on the bedside table and poured water into a glass. “Would you like a drink?” At his brother’s nod, he placed his hand behind the sick man’s neck, lifted his head up, and held the glass to his lips. After Johnny had taken a few swallows, he laid him back against the pillow and placed the glass on the nightstand.

“Thanks.” Johnny paused for a moment and studied his brother. “You been there long?”

“Three hours or so.”

“Why?”

That one little word brought with it a host of other questions. Why, what? Why did I sit here? Why do I care? Why would I watch out for you? What are you really asking me, Johnny? Scott could think of only one answer. “Because, you’re my brother.”

The man on the bed looked away and said nothing. When the silence lingered on, Scott thought Johnny had gone back to sleep. He almost didn’t hear his brother’s quietly muttered, “Some brother, I’ve been.”

Scott was unsure how to respond to the self-reproach he heard in Johnny’s voice.

The silence seemed to drag on forever before Johnny spoke again. “Boston . . . about . . .the other day . . ..”

“Forget it,” Scott cut in, suddenly realizing what was bothering his brother.

“I can’t. I could have killed you.”

The sadness in Johnny’s voice went right to Scott’s heart. Remembering their previous encounter, he knew he was as much to blame as his brother was for what had transpired. “I provoked you into it, Johnny. I’m sorry; I should never have said what I did about your mother. If things had been reversed, I would have reacted the same way.”

Johnny lapsed into silence for a few more minutes then said bitterly, “I know she left with another man . . . I asked around . . . but . . . I still can’t believe she lied to me all those years. How do I believe them both?”

“I don’t know, Johnny.” Scott was at a loss as to how to help his brother. He too was struggling with doubts. His grandfather had made him believe that his father hadn’t wanted him either. Yet, somehow, the picture Harlan Garrett painted of Murdoch Lancer didn’t quite fit with what he’d seen of the man. It made him wonder if he had been lied to as well. “You could start with what you know is the truth. As to the rest, you have to decide if it’s worth worrying about.”

“I’m not sure . . . I know . . . what to believe anymore.”

“Maybe, you just need to give it some time.” Even as he said the words, Scott knew he was directing them at himself as much as at his brother.

~~~~~

Johnny steadily improved over the next few days. Within a week after being seriously wounded in the battle with Pardee, he was able to sit up for short periods of time. Although, he was finally out of danger, the doctor had told Murdoch it would be several weeks before the young man would be fully recovered.

During the day, Scott spent much of his time in the sick man’s room. When Johnny was awake, they would talk; otherwise, he read a book or napped in the chair. Occasionally he would relinquish his place to Teresa or his father.

The first few days, Murdoch sat up most of the night with his son. Until he was sure the boy was out of danger, he refused to have him left unattended. As Johnny steadily improved, he abandoned the all-night vigils.  Instead, he would peek in to check on the boy a couple of times.

~~~~~

About a week after his injury, Johnny lay basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun that streamed through the half-open drapes. After savoring the soothing sensation for a moment, he slowly opened his eyes and glanced around him. A faint smile touched his lips when he spotted a familiar form slumped in the chair by the window.

For a while, Johnny lay there watching his brother. He knew it couldn’t be too comfortable trying to sleep in such an awkward position. I wonder how long he’s been there. A strange, warm sensation came over him at the realization he actually mattered to someone.

The sleeping man shifted positions, yawned, and opened his eyes to meet those of his brother. Johnny quickly looked away.  The emotions he was feeling were too new, and he wasn’t about to let the other man guess the havoc that was going on inside of him.

“How are you feeling?”

The concern in Scott’s voice brought a new surge of emotions to the injured young man. Despite his effort to control it, a slight tremor invaded Johnny’s voice as he answered. “F-fine.”

“Can I get you anything? Are you thirsty . . . hungry?”

Johnny avoided eye contact by acting interested in something elsewhere in the room. “No. I’m okay.”

Scott rose to his feet and stretched. “Feel like talking?”

“About what?” A defensive edge crept into Johnny’s voice. He feared Scott would ask him about his past. He wouldn’t want anything to do with me if I told him some of the things I’ve done.

The older of the brothers went to the window and peered out. Without turning around, he said offhandedly, “Oh, nothing in particular. Just whatever you want to talk about.”

Johnny let his breath out in a soft sigh of relief. After a moment of thought, he said, “Okay, Boston, tell me where you learned to handle a long gun so well. Surely your grandpa didn’t let you practice on his China dishes.”

Scott’s softly chuckled. “Little Brother, he’d have skinned me alive.” He moved the chair closer to the bed and sat down then talked a little about his life in Boston and his time as a soldier in the Union Army.

When the brothers had been chatting for nearly an hour, there was a lull in the conversation. Johnny, noticing the thoughtful look on his brother’s face, knew Scott still had something on his mind. “All right, Boston. Out with it,” he demanded.

“Out with what?” Scott evaded, shifting uneasily in the chair.

“Whatever it is that’s bothering you? And don’t tell me nothin’s bothering you, ’cause it’s written all over your face.” Johnny wasn’t at all sure he wanted to know, but he figured it was best to get it was out in the open.

Scott squirmed and avoided looking at his brother. He chewed his lip then took in a big breath of air and let it out slowly. “I was just wondering . . . what you said about Johnny Madrid . . . that day on the stage?”

“What about it?” Johnny tried to remember what he had said. He did recall trying to intimidate the easterner by making himself out to be a desperate character.

“Is it true? About all those gunfights, I mean?”

“Does it matter?” Johnny asked defensively.

“No.” Scott hesitated a moment before going on. “Forget it, Johnny. My good manners were overcome by my curiosity. It really is of no consequence.”

“Boston, could you drop the fancy words and talk in plain English.” Johnny couldn’t resist teasing his brother.

“Sorry.”

Johnny grew quiet. Although he felt a strange desire to open up to this newfound brother of his, he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk being rejected by him. Heaving a sigh, he said, “If you really want to know, I’ve been in a few battles like with Pardee, and I’ve been attacked from behind and had to shoot my way out; but, I’ve only been in three face to face gunfights. Two of those fights were unavoidable. I’ve been challenged several other times, but I was able to talk my way out of it.” He hesitated, debating whether to go on. “There was one . . . that I pushed into a fight. I kept at him ’till I made him mad. When he went for his gun, I killed him.”

“Surely, you must have had a good reason.”

Johnny eyed his brother. “I thought so at the time. Don’t make it any easier to live with, though.”

“Feel like telling me about it.”

“He killed this old man I was working for. Shot him from ambush. Tried to kill me, too. The bullet grazed my temple and knocked me out. I don’t know why he didn’t finish the job, unless he just didn’t look that close.” Johnny looked away so his brother wouldn’t see the pain in his eyes. “I loved that old man, Scott. He treated me better than anyone else ever did, except for my mama. He was the closest thing to a father I ever knew. I just couldn’t rest until I had tracked down his killer and made him pay. I’m not saying I’m proud of the way I did it. I know I should have let the law take care of it, but I was just a hot-headed kid at the time.”

“It’s in the past, Johnny. Right, or wrong, there’s nothing you can do about it now.”

With a little help from Scott, the conversation shifted for a while to more trivial issues. After another lull, Johnny noticed the questioning look on his brother’s face. “Somethin’ else bothering you?”

“I . . . uh . . . I was just wondering what made you do it?” Scott stammered.

“Do what?” Johnny countered, looking puzzled.

“Come back here. I thought . . . you wanted no part in Murdoch’s fight.” Scott turned to look questioningly at his brother.

So that’s it. Johnny rolled his eyes toward the ceiling while he tried to think of an answer that would satisfy his brother. He wasn’t prepared to reveal his true feelings to his brother.  Their relationship was too new.   Instead he did what he always did when hiding his emotions.  He made light of the situation. “Well.” He cast a smug look at his brother. “Someone had to keep you and that old man from getting yourselves shot full of holes.”

“Huh!” Scott snorted in mock disgust. “Look who’s talking. You’re the one with the holes!”

“Exactly, Boston!” Johnny grinned triumphantly. “See how well my plan worked.”

A choked laugh escaped Scott’s throat. Amused at his brother’s reaction, Johnny was soon laughing himself.

“Scott! How is Johnny supposed to get any rest with you in here getting him all worked up.”

The brothers looked in the direction of the scolding voice and Johnny grinned at the pretty girl standing just inside the open door. The stern look Teresa was giving them sent him into another fit of laughter.

When Murdoch Lancer came down the hall a short while later to check on Johnny, the three young people didn’t even notice him look inside and quickly withdraw. They were lost in merry conversation: Johnny sitting with his back propped against the headboard of the bed, Teresa sitting at his feet, and Scott relaxing in the chair close-by.

At that time, the members of the Lancer household had no realization of the strong bond that was beginning to entwine them. In the future, that bond would be shaken, even stretched to its limits, but it would never be broken.

~~~~~

Murdoch quietly opened the door and stepped inside the moonlit room. His sleeping son lay sprawled on the bed, the blankets half kicked off of him. Without thinking, the man crossed the room, grasped the edge of the quilts, and pulled them up over the young man’s shoulders. A bit embarrassed by the performance of a ritual that had started when Johnny was just a baby, the man stepped back from the bed and took a moment to observe his sleeping son.

While he lingered, Murdoch remembered the camaraderie he had observed that afternoon between his sons and Teresa. Hearing Johnny’s laughter had been like music to his ears. A feeling of hope, that his younger son could set aside the past, began to well up inside the man. Somewhere locked inside this fiery tempered gunfighter, named Johnny Madrid, was the mischievous, loving child he remembered.

Someday I’ll have my boy back. He just needs a little time. That’s all. With that comforting thought, Murdoch quietly left his son’s side and retired for the night.

~~~~~

Johnny brushed the dampness from the corner of his eye. His father’s simple act of pulling the blankets up around him had touched him deeply. It reminded him of the many times his mama had performed the same gesture when he was a small boy.

As he lay there, Johnny thought back over the past few days. He knew that his father had been coming in at least twice a night to check on him, and had covered him up several other times. More doubts assailed him. Why is he doing this? Does he really care about me, or is he just feeling guilty? If only, I could be sure.  If only, I could trust him.

The assault of new emotions left the young man feeling restless. He crawled out of bed and paced about the room. After several circles, he stopped at the window and gazed out at the dimly lit valley. Tomorrow, one-third of all this would be his. He still couldn’t quite believe it was really happening. He half expected to wake up and find that it had all been a dream–everything that had happened in the last three or four weeks. In reality, he would find that he was still scheduled to face a firing squad in that Mexican prison.

He continued to walk back and forth wrestling with conflicting thoughts that refused to be reconciled. Did my mother lie? She couldn’t have. But, how can what he says be the truth if she didn’t lie? Can I be sure he wants me here? He hasn’t exactly asked me to stay. Sure, he’s signing over a share of all this, but I earned it. I nearly died for it. But . . . that doesn’t mean he wants me to here. He’s got what he wants–his ranch. He can’t know about the kind of life I’ve lived. If he did, he’d never want me. Scott wouldn’t either.

This line of thought reminded Johnny of the general reaction of people he had met in the past. Even as a child, he had been an outcast. To the Mexican children, he was a gringo; to the Americans, he was a dirty Mexican. It didn’t matter that he was half of each. Being half of anything made you nothing. He had been pushed and shoved around all of his life until that fateful day he had won his first gunfight. No longer was he that half-breed Madrid kid: he was Johnny Madrid, gunfighter. The new title had commanded a certain amount of respect from most folks. After a few more gun battles, few men had the nerve to call him a half-breed. The only trouble was that commanding respect out of fear didn’t change people’s real opinion. They just didn’t voice it to your face. He’d heard plenty of whispered remarks behind his back, mostly from the “good” ladies of the towns he was in. He was quite used to comments such as “killer”, “shouldn’t be allowed to walk free”, “not fit to be around descent folks”, “ought to be run out of town”, and a host of other such remarks. How could he expect his newfound family to react any differently?

Johnny tried to tell himself that it didn’t matter. He didn’t need a family anyway. Hadn’t he managed for years on his own? Besides, who needed that kind of responsibility? If he stayed, sooner or later someone from his past would show up and there’d be trouble. He didn’t want his family in danger because of him.

But, who’s going to take care of them if I leave . . . Boston? Sure, he’s not too bad in a fight–pretty good with a rifle, actually. I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. But he don’t know nothin’ about life out here. First thing he’ll do is get killed. Then there’s that old man. He may have been a fighter in his day . . . and I’ll admit he’s not too bad yet, but . . . face it, he’s getting old. Sooner, or later he’s just not going to be much use in a real battle like what we went through with Pardee. And . . . what about Teresa. She sure needs more protection than what she can get from an eastern tenderfoot or an old man. Maybe, I should stay . . . just for a while. Make sure everything is okay. If trouble follows me here, I can always leave.

Johnny was used to acting instantly to all kinds of dangers. When a life, whether his or that of another, was in danger there was no time for thinking of consequences. He simply acted and hoped for the best. This was different. There were too many factors involved and too many options. He wrestled with the problem for some time before his mind finally settled down enough to let him sleep.

~~~~~

Murdoch sat at the head of the long dining table. His sons were seated on each side of him. A neatly dressed middle-aged man stood at his side and handed him a packet of papers. “Here’s the contract. I’ve done my best to write it according to your instructions. You might want to read it over before you sign it.”

The eldest of the Lancer men quickly read through the pages. “Looks fine to me. I don’t know why these things can’t be written so you can understand them.” He picked up the fountain pen lying on the table in front of him and dipped it in the ink well. Quickly, he scrawled his signature on the line with the words “Murdoch Lancer” under it. He blew softly on the fresh ink to aid faster drying, then handed the papers to his firstborn son.

Scott accepted the packet and took a while to read through it. A look of satisfaction came upon his face, and he took up the pen and neatly signed “Scott Lancer” on its proper line. After giving the ink a moment to dry, he slid the contract across the table to his younger brother. “If you need help making sense of that–.”

“I can read.” There was a defensive edge to Johnny’s voice as he picked up the papers in front of him.

“I wasn’t questioning your ability to read,” Scott replied in a soft, soothing voice.

For the next ten minutes, Johnny labored over making sense of the confusing legal terms of the contract. The only sound was a rustle of paper each time he laid down the page he was reading and picked up the next one. I don’t know how anyone makes any sense out of this. I’m with Murdoch. Why can’t they write this stuff up in plain English? This lingo must be the idea of lawyers. Makes people have to hire them ’cause they’re the only ones who know what it says.

Johnny heaved a deep sigh as he picked up the last page. When he had read to the bottom where the signature lines were, he stopped. He took a big swallow and his hand trembled ever so slightly as he looked at the line awaiting his signature. “This your idea?” He demanded then glanced up to meet the questioning look in his father’s pale blue eyes.

“What?” Murdoch sounded a little testy.

“My name. Do I have to sign the way it’s written here?”

Murdoch averted his gaze and looked at his lawyer instead. “Do you have to rewrite all this if he wants his name changed?”

The lawyer took a moment to think. “No. I guess he can just line through what he doesn’t want and write in any changes. However, you and Scott will need to initial it.”

“I’ll be back.” Johnny picked up the pen and ink well in one hand and the last page of the contract in the other and strode to the far side of the room. He needed to put some space between him and the other men. It was too hard to think with them watching him. Seeing his name listed on the page as “John Madrid Lancer” had brought mixed feelings. He wasn’t sure he was ready to take on his “old man’s” name yet; too many things were still unresolved. Would accepting his father’s name be a betrayal of his loyalties to his mother? But, what if he crossed out “Lancer” and just kept the John Madrid? Madrid was a part of his mother’s name, so it was his name, too. Would his father and brother want him to leave if he refused the family name? Would he just be inviting trouble by hanging onto a name that would link him to his past as a gunfighter?

After a lengthy debate in his mind, Johnny picked up the pen and scratched on the paper. When he was finished, he returned to the table and laid the page down between his father and brother. Without making eye contact with either man, he turned, walked over to the fireplace, and stood with his back toward them.

~~~~~

Scott Lancer sneaked a quick look at his brother’s signature before Murdoch gathered the papers up and handed them to the lawyer. Neither of the Lancer men made a comment about what they had seen written there.

The lawyer arranged the pages of the contract in order and placed them in the envelope he had brought them in. “I’ll get these recorded first thing in the morning, Murdoch.”

“Thanks, Ed.” Murdoch rose to his feet. “Would you like some refreshments before you head back to town?”

“Thank you for the offer, but I need to catch the afternoon stage if I’m going to be at the county office in the morning.”

“I’ll walk you to the door,” Murdoch offered as he followed the man toward the arched doorway leading into the foyer.

After his father left the room, Scott got up and joined his brother by the fire. For a while, neither spoke as they stood gazing into the flames. When the silence became unbearable, Scott nervously cleared his throat. “Well, I’m glad that’s over.”

“Yeah.”

Scott ran his long tapered fingers through his hair. “So . . . what made you change your mind?”

“About what?” Johnny’s soft voice held a slight edge to it.

“Taking our father’s name. Three weeks ago you said–.”

“Yeah, well that was then,” Johnny cut in. He fidgeted with one of the buttons along the outside seam of his dark-brown, Mexican-style pants. When he finally spoke, he sounded a bit defensive, “It’s my name, ain’t it?”

Scott smiled into the fire. “That it is, Brother. That it is.”

~~~~~

Murdoch leaned back in the big swivel chair behind his desk as he leisurely puffed on his pipe. His sons and ward had retired for the evening and the room was quiet except for the steady ticking of the grandfather clock. For the first time in weeks, he was able to relax.

He swiveled toward the window and watched the rising moon cast deep shadows across the dimly lit landscape. A soft sigh escaped his throat, and a hint of a smile appeared on his lips as he recalled the tail end of the conversation he had heard between his sons after he had seen the lawyer to the door. Although he had hid it well, he had been elated that his younger son had left the signature page as it was. Hearing Johnny voice his right to the Lancer name had been the icing on the cake. Maybe, he’ll put the past behind him now and stay.

The man slowly turned back to face the desk. As he lifted his eyes to look in the direction of the kitchen, he gave an involuntary start. His younger son was leaning against the wall just inside the doorway. How long has he been watching me? You’d think he was part Indian. I didn’t even hear him come in.”

“I thought you’d be in bed,” Murdoch stated.

Johnny shrugged as he brushed the heel of his hand across the corner of his mouth. “I got hungry. You don’t mind if I helped myself to that last piece of cake, do you?”

The day had been too good to spoil it now by having a confrontation with the younger man. Although he found the challenge in Johnny’s voice irritating, Murdoch held his peace. “This is your home, Son. You can eat whatever you want to.”

Johnny stepped over to the table that held the large model sailing ship. He trailed his fingers around the edge of the deck railing to the bow before drumming the tips of his fingers against the smooth surface of the table. Next, he picked up a small figurine and rolled it around in his hand.

A smile softened Murdoch’s face. He still has to occupy those hands when he’s got something on his mind.

“What’s so funny?” Johnny’s soft tone held a frosty bite to it.

“Memories, Son. Just memories.” When a puzzled look appeared on the younger man’s face, Murdoch chuckled. “I was just remembering the day you came to tell me you had spilled ink all over my desk.”

“Yeah? ‘Spose I got a wompin’ for that, huh?”

“No. Maybe you should have, but . . . at the time . . . facing me seemed punishment enough. You were so nervous that you couldn’t keep your hands off of things.”

Johnny quickly set the figurine down with a thump and moved away from the table. “I don’t remember that.”

“Didn’t expect you to. You weren’t quite two years old at the time.” Murdoch drew in a couple more puffs on his pipe. He felt uneasy. After their first explosive encounter, he couldn’t be sure what might trigger another angry outburst form this young man. It was so much easier when he was a child. I knew his temper tantrums would never last long. How long am I going to have to feel like I’m walking on eggs around him?

Standing with his hands at his side and fingers loosely curled, Johnny slowly rubbed his thumbs across the tips of his other fingers and chewed at his lip. He then edged toward the hallway door as he hesitantly said, “Well . . . guess I’ll turn in.”

“Think I’ll do the same.” Murdoch laid his pipe down and started to rise.

Johnny paused then spoke in a hushed tone. “Murdoch?”

“Yes?” replied the rancher, studying his son’s face.

“I . . . uh . . . I never thanked you.” Johnny lowered his eyes and focused on the floor.

“Thanked me for what?”

“Saving my life. From the Rurales, I mean.”

So that’s what he’s been working up to, thought Murdoch. He smiled as his son.  “Forget it.”

“I know you put out quite a chunk of money getting me out of there.”

Murdoch’s throat constricted, and he found it an effort to speak in a normal tone. “I’d have paid more.”

“Well . . . I’m grateful . . . and . . . you can take it out my share of the ranch if you want.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Murdoch quickly assured him.

“Thanks,” Johnny muttered and slowly edged toward the hallway. “See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Son.” Murdoch felt a new surge of hope that one day he would be fully reconciled with his younger son.

After Johnny left the room, Murdoch turned down the lights. As he made his way upstairs, he reflected on the day. All in all, it had been the best day he could remember in a long while. His sons were now legally his partners and joint owners of all he had.  Better yet, Johnny had taken several big steps toward letting go of the past.

As the big man crawled into bed, he took a moment to express his gratitude to the God of Heaven. Thanks for watching out for my boys and bringing them back to me. And, thanks, for giving us a second chance to be a family.

The End

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4 thoughts on “Second Chances by Desert Sun

  1. I liked your alternate homecoming very much. It was nice to see a gentler response from Murdoch to the boys’ arrival. Johnny had a lot to struggle through. Your final scene was very sweet. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  2. Little different lean but I liked Scott & Johnny getting to know one another on the stage and Murdoch’s reaction. Good angle.

    Like

  3. It is always interesting to read different takes on how Johnny, Scott and Murdoch met and got to know each other. Murdoch wasn’t as gruff in your story as he has been in others. Thank you for sharing.
    Lesley

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