The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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EM

 

 

Missing Scene from the High Riders

An episode tag for The High Riders

I do not own these characters, I just borrowed them. 
This is a version of what may have happened during Johnny’s recovery from the bullet wound until they signed the partnership agreement.

Johnny woke slowly. ‘This time it’s for real’ He thought.  He had vague memories of struggling to the surface of consciousness only to fall back into the darkness.  Careful of alerting any watching stranger to his current state, he mentally took stock of his situation.  He was long used to the ritual, but he dreaded going through the mind numbing fever and chills that racked his body as he recovered from a bullet wound.

He carefully noted the pain in his back and the soreness throughout his body.  He still could not remember the details of the wound as his mind sought to protect him. He steeled himself for the onslaught as pain washed over him taking his full attention.

In the distance, he could hear a vaguely familiar voice urging him to remain still.  He tried to focus on the words but found they drifted away under the landslide of pain.  Johnny felt a strong hand at the back of his neck and the cool glass at his lips as the bitter medicine was poured down his throat.  His feeble gestures to stop, all but ignored.

The soft voice again fading as the medication dulled the pain and he floated back into the darkness.

 

***

Murdoch sat once again in the chair next to this young stranger. ‘No that’s not right.’ He chided himself. ‘My lost boy. I almost lost him again yesterday.’  Unbidden, his thoughts from that dark day returned. As he saw the golden horse leap over the first fence, then the second and Scott realized it was Johnny, Murdoch’s hopes were raised as he silently urged him on, only to be crushed when a shot found it’s mark and his young boy tumbled from the saddle. ‘What is that boy trying to do?’ He had asked as his disbelieving eyes sought the unmoving figure on the ground.  So close to home, but not quite enough.

Scott started out to his brother.  Something he hadn’t had time to ponder.  His two sons had just met but one was ready to put his life on the line for the other, as they both had for him.  He would have to explore that thought later when his youngest was out of danger.

Forcing his thoughts back into the present, he wrung out a cloth in the cool water and once again washed Johnny’s face to help cool him.  Looking at the son he hadn’t seen in over 18 years, he was reminded of a 10 year old sleeping a fitful sleep after a long day.  Shaking his head, Murdoch couldn’t reconcile this innocent boy with the steely-eyed arrogant youth who arrived two days ago.

It was clear that all he came for was the money.  At least it was made clear to Murdoch by his actions.  He had agreed to help fight Pardee for his share of the ranch, but Murdoch had many doubts about the boy.  He wondered what brought him back?  Was he really working against Pardee and his plan went awry or did he actually think Pardee would win and he would take what he wanted from the spoils.  Could he trust this boy? Not only with the ranch, but with his heart?  So many unanswered questions. Murdoch’s mind was flitting from one thought to the next as he looked down on the grown up child he had lost and loved so long ago.  He desperately wanted assurances the boy would stay.  That he had the grit and determination it took to live on a ranch. 

After a moment, Murdoch chided himself.  Johnny had grit. The boy would have been long dead if he didn’t have that.  When he discovered his son was Johnny Madrid just over a year ago, he was devastated that his sweet baby son had turned to the life of a gunfighter to make his way in the world.  For many years, he had few leads on Johnny’s whereabouts, but now since his identity had been discovered that all changed.  He now had a thick file of Johnny’s life tracing a pattern over the last 5 years.  A young teenager calling out and being called out in the streets of border towns and trail towns throughout the southwest.  His speed and accuracy with a gun had become legendary and his exploits were known as far north as the San Joaquin Valley ranch of his father, Murdoch Lancer.

Murdoch remembered well the feeling of hopelessness when he first found out his son’s identity.  His first instinct was to call off the search for his son.  When he got the report, he hesitated and waited before responding to the agencies query as to further instructions.  It was his good friend Paul who helped him make the decision to get in touch with Johnny.  He told the agency to offer him $1,000 for an hour of his time.  Months went by and the agency reported that as soon as they located him, Johnny disappeared again.

Murdoch asked them to continue with little hope of actually meeting him.  With other troubles looming, he pushed Johnny back to that place in his mind where he kept him along with his other son, Scott.  He was being threatened by land pirates and their attack on the fertile valley was becoming more frequent and more deadly.  Paul kept urging him to get in touch with his sons, both of them as soon a possible.  Their birthright was being threatened. Everything Murdoch had worked for was at risk of destruction.  Murdoch knew Paul had been right and his heart ached for the loss of his dearest friend. Paul O’Brien had been needlessly killed by the land pirates that were plaguing the valley when he and Murdoch tired to rescue a stolen stallion.  Murdoch shook his head in regret for the loss of his best friend, father of Teresa, who left his grieving daughter in Murdoch’s care.

His mind flitted and he smiled at the thought they were both home. His two sons, as different from each other as their mother’s had been.  Would they have the desire to stay and build something here?  Would they stand up to the daily drudgery and back breaking work a ranch demanded?  Murdoch looked out the window at the mountains in the distance with a love for the land and the people loyal to him.  Looking once again at Johnny, he wondered. ‘Would this boy ever understand that love and share it with him?  Would he ever be able to set aside the past and build a future here at Lancer?’ Murdoch fervently prayed Johnny would give it a chance and really come home once and for all.

 

****

Johnny struggled to wake again. Feeling hot under the blankets, he tried to push them off only to have them replaced and held in place.  He cursed his stupidity at getting shot again.  In the last couple of years, he had collected more than his share of bullet wounds.

Determined to get rid of the offending blankets, he threw them off once again only to have ‘the voice’ scold him and replace them once again. “Johnny.” the voice said. “Be still. You’re hurt and you have to stay still.”

Johnny identified a second voice. “How is he?”

“His fever is still too high. He’s been restless for the last hour.”

“Do you want me to sit with him Sir?”

“No, Scott. You go on to bed and I’ll sit with him until he settles down.  I’ll rest then.”

“Goodnight. Sir.”

“Goodnight, Sc...son.”

****

A cool spring morning dawned and found Murdoch asleep in the chair next to his wounded son.  Johnny opened his eyes and rubbed the sleep out of them with the back of his hand.  He looked slowly around the room at his surroundings.  His gaze settled on a figure in the chair next to his bed. ‘My father.’ he thought to himself. ‘I’m in my father’s house.’  He studied his father’s strong features and his gray hair. ‘I wonder how old he is? He looks tired. Was he worried about me?’

Just as he completed his thoughts, his father stirred in the chair and Johnny held his breath.  He was fascinated watching his father wake up, but he said nothing.  Murdoch woke quickly and stretched carefully mindful of the stiffness in his back from sleeping upright in the chair. He turned back to his son, and saw those amazing blue eyes staring at him.  As soon as their eyes met, Johnny’s turned away.  Murdoch reached out and touched his forehead checking for fever while murmuring. “How do you feel Johnny?”

Johnny tried to talk, but the words stuck in his throat.  Clearing his throat, he rasped out. “Okay, I think.”

Murdoch filled a glass half full with water and helped Johnny sit up slightly. “Drink this,” He said with more of a command than a request in his voice.  Johnny meekly took a small sip then realizing how thirsty he was took a larger gulp.  Murdoch pulled the glass away and admonished him. “Slow down. Small sips.  You don’t want to make yourself sick.”

Johnny forced himself to take a couple of small sips and then pushed the glass away.  He lay back in the bed exhaustion washing over him from the small effort to drink.  Murdoch returned the glass to the bedside table and said. “You can have some more in a little while.  Your fever is down a bit.  Just rest son and I’ll get you something to eat.”

As Murdoch rose to get his son his breakfast, Johnny thought to tell him not to bother, but when he opened his mouth to voice the sentiment, he yawned and his heavy eyes insisted on closure as he fell back to sleep.

*****

Later that afternoon Johnny was awake enough to eat some broth that Teresa brought in. Teresa was nervous around her guardian’s son.   She normally was quite a chatterbox but today she was feeling very tongue tied around him.  He didn’t seem to notice and other than thanking her for the broth, he was quiet also.  “I’ll leave if you want to be alone.” Teresa offered.

His dark blue eyes looked at her curiously to gage whether she was uncomfortable around him and wanted to leave or if she, like him was uncertain what to say.  “No... I mean if you have something you need to do...I don’t want to keep you.”

“I don’t mind staying a while, if that’s okay with you?” She said tentatively.  “Do you want to talk about something?” She asked.

He cocked his head at her and waited.  She was twisting the warming cloth in her had until she couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Why didn’t you help Scott?  That day in town.”

Johnny kept his gaze on his hands refusing to meet her earnest eyes.  “I...just couldn’t.” He said softly. Watching her visibly bristle, he was reminded of a mama porcupine he had stumbled across once.  She looked like she was getting ready to let loose on him when he added. “ Ol’ Day had some men watchin’ me.  If I had gone to help Scott they would have known right away.”

“Known right away what?  That Scott was your brother and you didn’t want to see him hurt?” She said with fury.

“That and that I was tied in with Lancer.  That would have gotten us all killed that day.”  He really wanted to ask why they had so incautiously come into town without an escort during a land war.  What was the old man thinking sending a girl and a Boston dandy into a town controlled by the likes of Day Pardee?  Chiding himself, he knew better than to voice his opinion.  What did it matter anyway?  It’s over.  The old man hasn’t said two words about their argument and he wondered if he would.

*****

Johnny woke slowly to moonlight streaming through his window.  He cautiously looked around the room to find himself alone.  He took a deep breath and carefully got out of bed swaying a bit on his feet.  ‘Whoa. Almost fell there.’ He thought as his eyes searched the shadows of the room.  He saw a neatly folded pile of clothes on his dresser.  Holding onto the chair for support as his head cleared, he shuffled over to the dresser.  ‘I made it!’ He congratulated himself. ‘My legs feel like wet straw.  Been in bed too long.’

He put on his shirt and then took the rest of his clothes and made his way back to the bed.  He sat down gratefully and carefully pulled his pants on one handed.  The buttons were much harder, but he managed to get several of them done.  ‘No one’s gonna see me anyway. Just need to walk a round a bit and stretch my legs.’ He reasoned.  He managed to get his socks on, and after letting a wave a dizziness pass, he considered the boots. ‘no way I’m gonna be able to manage them.’ He thought regretfully as he levered himself off the bed and headed slowly toward the door.  He stopped as his hand was on the doorknob and realized he forgot something. ‘I’m slipping.’ He admonished himself as he slowly worked his way back to the dresser and eased his gun out of the holster. Stuffing the gun in his waistband he felt dressed and ready to get some fresh air.  Swaying a bit, he walked out of his room and headed down the hall.

****

Once he got to the stairs, he realized he was going to have to take them carefully or he might wake everyone up.  With each step, his confidence grew as he eased himself down the stairs.  ‘Just four more to go.’ He thought triumphantly.  He put his weight on his leg as he maneuvered to the next step. As he stepped down, his sock slipped on the stair and he felt himself falling.  He tried to hold onto the banister with his good arm, but it was too late, he was off balance and going down.  He tried to let his body go limp as he would falling off a horse, and ended up rolling down the last four steps like a ragdoll to the bottom.  He was winded and the room spun as he tried to sit up.  “Good. I’m down.’ was his first thought and he had to chuckle to himself at the idea.  He checked himself over and decided that other than a couple of new bruises he was no worse for wear.  ‘Just have to come up with a good excuse if anyone asks me about them,’ He thought. He levered himself up, using the wall for support and made his way out onto the verandah.

****

Murdoch awoke to a muted curse followed by several thuds.  Groaning, he forced himself to get up and check out the noise.  He put on his robe and slippers and went out into the hall.  He looked down the hall and everything looked normal expect he couldn’t remember leaving Johnny’s door open when he last checked on him.  He went into Johnny’s room to find it empty, the blankets draped on the floor.

‘What is that boy thinking?’ He muttered as he hurried down the hall.  He looked around the living room, then proceeded into the kitchen.  Finding no sign of Johnny, he returned to the living room in case he missed him.  Upon closer inspection, he noticed the terrace doors were standing open and he hurried outside.  An unfamiliar sense of worry gripped him as he tried to decide which direction his son might have taken.

A gust of cool breeze forced Murdoch to wrap his robe tighter around him as he gritted his teeth in preparation to head toward the barn.  From the corner of his eye he caught sight of Johnny sitting on a bench, leaning his head against a pillar.

Murdoch approached slowly, not wanting to startle him as he had his eyes closed. “Johnny.”

Johnny opened his eyes and turned his head toward Murdoch’s voice. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake ya up.”

“Johnny, what are you doing out here? “  Murdoch asked with concern.

Johnny was silent for a moment and said, “I just needed...I just wanted to get out...” He stopped, not sure how to explain what he was feeling.

“Son, let’s get you back to bed. It’s late and you need to rest.”

He helped Johnny stand and followed as his son made his way toward the house.  As Johnny swayed a bit Murdoch instructed. “Put your arm over my shoulder, Johnny.” With his one arm around his waist, he half carried him into the house, up the stairs back to his room.

Murdoch sat Johnny down on his bed and turned the wick up on the lamp.  He started to unbutton Johnny’s shirt when he realized that Johnny had buttoned them unevenly.  Murdoch bit back a smile as he quickly unbuttoned the shirt.  Checking the bandage, he was relieved to see no sign of bleeding from Johnny’s noisy trip down the stairs.

Johnny was starting to get restless and he tried to push his father’s hands away. “Just a minute Johnny and you can go back to sleep.” He told his son.  As his hand reached Johnny’s stomach, his fingers felt the butt of the gun.  “Johnny, I’m going to put your gun back in your holster. Is that all right?”

“Okay” Came the mumbled reply.

Murdoch removed the gun from the waistband of Johnny’s pants and slipped it into the waiting holster.  He then helped Johnny slide out of his pants and had him lay back into the bed.  Murdoch pulled the covers over his son and looked down at the flushed face of the boy.  He reached down and pushed the hair off his forehead feeling the heat once again radiating off the skin.

“Sorry for causin’ trouble.”  Johnny said sleepily.

“No, Johnny.  It’s no trouble.”

Johnny began picking at a thread on the blanket. “It’s just that I’ve never had a room of my own before.  It feels strange.” He looked up at Murdoch through his long thick eyelashes.

“Johnny.” Murdoch said in a soothing voice. “It’s normal to feel uncertain in a new place.”

Johnny shook his head, “No. I’m used to movin’ around.  Been in new places lots a times.  It’s not that.”  He looked around the room. “It’s all this... This place. I’m not used to all of this.” He hung his head, knowing he failed at getting across what he wanted to say.

Murdoch thought desperately for something that would ease Johnny’s mind.  He got up and went to the dresser across the room.  Johnny watched in amazement as his father pushed the dresser to the side.  Murdoch returned to the bed and said. “Get up.  Come over here with me.”  He helped Johnny over to the wall next to the dresser.  He held the lamp and pointed. “Look.”

Johnny bent over slightly and saw squiggles and lines in pencil on the wall.  “What’s this?” He asked.

“You did this, Son. You were supposed to be taking a nap and somehow you got hold of a pencil.  Your mother came in to check on you and found you standing here decorating the wall.”  He stopped to check Johnny’s reaction. 

He watched as Johnny lightly traced the drawings with his fingers and added. “So you see son, this is your room. it always has been and always will be your room.  This is where you belong.”

Johnny looked at his father, uncertainty written on his face. Murdoch tried to reassure him. “Give it time son.  It will get better.” Clearing his throat, he said in his best parental voice, “Now it’s time for you to get back in bed and go to sleep.  I don’t want to find you out of bed again until the doctor says it’s all right. Do you understand young man?”

Johnny smiled a half smile and looked down at the floor a minute before meeting his father’s eyes.  “Yes sir, I understand.” He said as he started back to the bed.

****

Ten uneventful days went by as the Lancer family adjusted to their new situation.  Scott spent hours learning the skills he would need to work on the ranch. While his horsemanship skills were obvious, he quickly learned that these western horses were as tough as the cowboys who rode them.

Johnny, while now allowed out of bed, was still under the watchful eyes of his new family after his fall down the stairs.  This fine spring morning found him watching his brother as he tried out horses looking for a good match for himself.

“Hey brother. That’s a likely one.” Johnny said pointing to a fat dapple gray pony sized mare.

Scott, who had been practicing roping all week was building a loop to throw at a wiry tall chestnut gelding. Changing direction, he neatly settled the rope over Johnny’s head and around his shoulders, snugging it up tight before Johnny could protest.

“Any more smart remarks Johnny?” Scott asked as he walked over to retrieve his rope.

Johnny grinned and shook his head. “No. I’m good.” Holding up his hands in surrender.

Scott coiled the rope and watched as Johnny began scuffing the dirt with the toe of his boot. Scott waited, as in the short time they had known each other, he already recognized these stalling actions of Johnny’s usually came before the young man said something that was on his mind.

“Hey Scott.”  He said looking up at him. “This dinner tonight.  With this lady friend of Murdoch’s?  Is she his....?” Johnny stopped, not sure of the right words.

“Is she his what?” Scott asked not letting his brother off the hook.

“You know.  Is she Murdoch’s...lady friend?”

“Well, Johnny. She’s a lady and she a friend of Murdoch’s.”  Enjoying the look on his brother’s face, he added. “I think they’re just old friends.  I met her last week and she’s very nice.  You’ll like her.” He added seeing Johnny’s worried look.

“Not all that concerned about whether I’ll like her or not, just wonderin’ if she’ll like me?”  He muttered.

“I’ think she’ll like you fine.” Looking closely at this young man he was just getting to know as his brother he added. “Johnny, are you thinking she won’t like you because of your past?”

“She won’t be the first one.”

“I don’t think she’s like that, but you won’t know until dinner tonight.  We’ll both be meeting all of Murdoch’s friends and neighbors as well as his business associates so you just have to relax and let them get to know you.” Scott advised.

The look Johnny threw him was not reassuring, but he figured Johnny would rise to the occasion as he had since joining them at mealtime this week.  Once they were over the awkwardness the first few times, they had settled down into a routine that Scott could see was fast becoming the pattern of the future. 

During breakfast, they would talk about the day ahead with Murdoch doing most of the talking.  He went over his plans for the day and assigned chores and work crews.  He had just that morning given Johnny a few instructions for the day and Scott knew from experience that these were not suggestions on how to spend the day, but thinly veiled orders that their father expected to have obeyed. 

In the evening after supper Murdoch expected his two sons to join him by his desk to go over the day and talk about work for the following day and plans for the future.  Twice this week, they had worked until after 10 PM on the books or pouring over maps of the ranch.  Both times found Johnny fast asleep whether because he was genuinely tired, or genuinely bored, Scott wasn’t sure which.  He hoped it was the former as he not mistaken Murdoch’s unhappy expression when he noticed Johnny had gone to sleep during one of his lengthy planning sessions.

*****

Johnny dressed carefully for supper that evening.  He didn’t have a lot of clothes to choose from as he always traveled light, but he found that Maria had laid out his best pants and white shirt for the occasion.  The silver buttons on the sides of the pants had been shined and so had his boots.  Johnny’s stomach did a flip as he contemplated the significance of dressing up for this guest. 

With a sigh, he decided he couldn’t put it off any longer. As he stretched to pull on his pants, he felt his newly healed wound pulling sharply in his back. Settling the pants around his slim hips, he twisted around when he heard the door opening. Scowling at his brother’s grinning face in the doorway he growled. “Whadda want?”

“I just came to see if you need any help.”

“Been dressin’ myself for a while now. Don’t  ‘spose I forgot how to do it.” He grumbled.

Scott’s smile got wider as he enjoyed watching his brother struggle to button the sides of his fancy pants.  He got one side done and attempted the other, but the twisting of his wound was getting the better of him.  Scott waited to see if Johnny was going to ask for help, but the stubborn young man kept trying to work the buttons through the tight holes. Johnny was starting to get frustrated and began mumbling to himself when Scott stepped in and without preamble buttoned the last two stubborn buttons.

Johnny stood frozen as he tried to control his embarrassment at having to be dressed like a child. Scott stepped back as Johnny composed himself and he turned his back as he put on his white shirt.

Scott stepped over to the folded clean clothes on Johnny’s bed and saw just the red shirt he often wore, a blue shirt and another pair of pants. He suspected that was it as far as his wardrobe went.

“We’re going to have to get you some more clothes for living around here.” Scott said fully aware he was echoing Teresa’s words.

“Always travel light,” Johnny responded.

“Well, you’re not traveling anymore brother.  Maybe tomorrow after we sign the partnership agreement, there will be time to get you some new clothes.”  With a twinkle in his eye, he said. “I’m sure Teresa will be more than willing to help get you outfitted.”

Johnny’s hand stopped as he was trying to smooth down his unruly dark hair, to look at Scott to see if he was joking.

Scott said with a smile. “Come on Johnny.  Murdoch’s getting impatient.  Mrs. Conway arrived fifteen minutes ago.”

With a big sigh Johnny reluctantly followed his brother down stairs.  As he watched his brother’s back descending the stairs in front of him, his stomach did another flip. He wasn’t used to fancy suppers and Scott’s attire did nothing to calm his nerves. He had on a gray suit with maroon vest and matching tie.  The only thing missing was that silly hat he had brought with him.

Arriving in the living room, Johnny could see the back of a blond head sitting on the couch.  Murdoch rose at the sight of his sons. “Ah, here they are.” he said as he held out a hand to Mrs. Conway.  She took his hand and gracefully turned around in expectation to meet Murdoch’s youngest son.  She had so much to be grateful for from Murdoch and his son’s.  Their defeat of Day Pardee saved the Conway ranch too as she well knew that if Lancer fell, she would be next.

With a smile on her face she walked toward Murdoch’s sons.  She had already met Scott earlier that week, but this was her first meeting with Murdoch’s youngest son, the notorious Johnny Madrid.  Her blue eyes raked over Johnny’s features from his worn polished boots, to his silver studded pants, his embroidered Mexican style shirt, he radiated masculine presence.  When she stared into those amazing dark blue eyes framed by long thick lashes, her heart went out to this handsome young man who looked so out of place in his father’s hacienda. ‘He’s so young!’ She thought as unexpected maternal feelings swept over her.

Johnny watched this woman approach him, quite unexpected for the look she had on her face.  A shadow of a memory flitted through his mind as she stopped in front of him. Before he could identify the feeling she invoked in him, Murdoch began the introductions.  “Agatha, this is my son, Johnny.  Johnny, this is Mrs. Conway.”

She held out her had and he took it tentatively and said. “Ma’am” Clearing his throat he began again. “Mrs. Conway, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Aggie. Call me Aggie.  Everyone else does.” She said as she noticed Johnny’s eyes had cast down not meeting her gaze.

“Yes ma’am. I mean Aggie,” he said as he threw a quick look at Murdoch.

Just as the silence was starting to become awkward, Teresa came in and announced that supper was ready and they turned and went to the dining room table.  Johnny lagged behind as they all became seated.  He took the empty place next to Teresa and looked at all the crystal and silver settings over the elegant table.

Aggie broke the uncomfortable silence. “Teresa.” She said.  “The table looks marvelous.” With a glance at Johnny’s obvious discomfort she chuckled and said. “Whenever I am confronted by so many sets of silverware, I start feeling nervous.  Then I remember something my mother told me, you start with the outside fork first and work your way in as each course is served.  The smaller one closest to the plate is for desert. That always calms me down so I can enjoy the meal.” She finished with a smile.  She felt a motherly warmth as Johnny threw her a grateful glance.

“Is it too much?” Teresa said with worry.

“Oh no, my dear.  It’s perfect.  We don’t get to enjoy a table this elegant very often.  It’s a real treat.”  Aggie had a way with making everyone comfortable and they settled down to enjoy the excellent meal and even better company.  Before long Murdoch and Aggie were trying to top each other with stories about each other that soon had everyone laughing and wiping the tears from their eyes.  “One time,” Aggie started pointing her dessert fork in Murdoch’s general direction. “Your father tried to trick me into buying a bull.  He told me he wasn’t much interested in it, and then he started bidding on it like he could hardly wait to get it for himself.” Scott was leaning forward to hear the details of this particular tale and even Johnny was listening eagerly. 

“Aggie...” Murdoch said with a bit of a threat. “No one wants to hear that old story.  You don’t even tell it right anyway,” he said with a chuckle of genuine pleasure.

“Of course we want to hear it.” Scott interjected.  “Don’t we Johnny?”

Johnny smiled. “Sure we do.” Johnny looked at Aggie and gave her the full force of his brilliant smile and said. “We’d be right pleased if you’d tell us all about it Ma’am.” He finished with a quick glance at his father.

“What a charmer.’ Aggie thought as she spoke to Johnny.  “Well, if it means that much to you boys.”  She threw a triumphant smile at Murdoch as he muttered under his breath.  “You see, after my husband died, Murdoch began advising me on how to run the ranch.”  She hesitated seeing the flush in Murdoch’s cheeks.  “I helped build the ranch right along side of my husband so I knew quite a lot, but Murdoch and my husband had been bringing new bloodlines into the valley and we often traded bulls to upgrade our herds. I knew that much, but Murdoch had bought himself a great big Hereford bull and he was trying to see how they would cross on our rangier longhorn bred cattle.  My husband had planned to borrow that bull and use him on our stock also.”

She paused and took a sip of her wine. “Very nice vintage, by the way Murdoch.” She glanced at the boys and saw by their expressions they were eager for her to go on with her story. Resuming she said. “Another rancher in San Jose had imported a young Short Horn bull, but unfortunately his wife took sick and they decided to sell out and go back east. They put their stock up for auction.  Murdoch wanted that bull so bad he could taste it.” She paused again to see if Murdoch was going to jump in and give his side of the story.

Aggie was obviously enjoying retelling this old story, so Murdoch let her continue.  He trusted her completely and he knew she would never deliberately hurt either of his sons, so she would never reveal why he couldn’t afford the purchase of the bull.

“I bought a few cows and figured that was enough.  Murdoch had mentioned the bull a couple of times over breakfast and said he might throw a bid or two just in case no one else wanted him.  When the bidding started on the bull, Old Joe Kincaid started the bidding.  I remember everyone laughing because Old Joe was a real skinflint and I think he offered five dollars for him.”  She looked over at Murdoch who was taking a sip of his wine and nodding in agreement.

“So what happened?”  Johnny asked.

Murdoch decided it was time he got a word in or two to defend himself.  “I did just what I said.  I bid a couple of times.”  He glared at Aggie daring her to disagree.

“That’s true.  The bid was five dollars and bold as brass your father bid two hundred dollars.  You would not have believed how fast the auction yard fell silent and every head turned to Murdoch.”  Aggie was showing all the signs of a master story teller as she paused to let the image sink into the young minds of Murdoch’s sons.

Aggie laughed at the memory. “Even the auctioneer took a moment to collect himself.”  She paused again.  “Now that bull was worth a lot more than two hundred dollars but it kind of took the wind out of the other bidder’s sails.  They were all looking at Murdoch to see how high he planned to go.”  She chucked at the memory.  “Murdoch was just leaning back on the bench as calm as could be looking as if he had no particular place to go and one by one those wily old rancher’s threw in their cards.  I could see them shaking their heads thinking they couldn’t out bid Murdoch.  So...”  She paused again. “So I bid three hundred.”

Everyone at the table jumped as Murdoch slammed his hand on the table. “Aggie!  You cost me a good bull!  This woman is so aggravating.  I bid three-fifty. She bid four hundred.  I raised by another fifty and she topped that.”

“Oh... Murdoch.  That was over 8 years ago.  Surely you’ve forgiven me by now.” She said with a smile.

Scott could contain himself no longer.  “So who got the bull?”

Aggie looked at Murdoch and then at the three young faces at the table.  “We both did.  I bought him, but we both used him to upgrade our herds.  But your stubborn father cost me two hundred dollars.  If he had just quit bidding sooner, I could have had the bull for three hundred.” She kept to herself her knowledge that Murdoch couldn’t afford the bull right then because he had spent every last penny he had hiring the Pinkerton’s to find Johnny and Maria.

“If you hadn’t bid at all, I could have had him at two hundred.” Murdoch stated.

Laughing Aggie said. “Where would be the fun in that?”

Teresa, giggling got up and urged them all to retire to the living room.  “Aggie, I have your room all ready.”  Noticing the surprised looks on Scott and Johnny’s faces, she added for their benefit. “Aggie, usually stays overnight if she comes for dinner so she doesn’t have to go home in the dark.”

“Yes, and tomorrow after you have taken care of business, you’re all coming to my house for a celebration dinner.  Murdoch has been having supper at my house once a week for 10 years.  With the attacks, we haven’t done that for over six months.  It’s time to resume. Don’t you think Murdoch?” She said casting a coy look at the rancher.

Nodding, he responded. “Tomorrow’s a big day.”  Murdoch said with anticipation.  Glancing at his two sons relaxing on the couch, he filled glasses with his best scotch, and handed one to each of them. Raising his glass in a toast he said. “ Here’s to good friends, peace in the valley, and to my sons, here’s to a long and prosperous partnership.”  He raised the glass to his lips as Scott murmured. “Here. Here.”  and Johnny responded. “Salud.”

 

~end~

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