The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Rosalind

 

 

Getting Further Acquainted

An episode tag for The High Riders
Leading up to that historic (and hitherto slightly baffling)'Let it stand' moment in the lawyer's office.  

 

'Madrid!'  Scott mused, a little smile on his lips as he repeated the word 'now there's a name to conjure with.  How did you hit on that?' 

He and his half-brother were together on the veranda off the big room that was most of the ground floor of the Lancer hacienda.  Johnny, well padded in place with cushions, was sprawled out in a chair that was dragged out there each day for his especial use while he convalesced from his bullet wound. Scott was bum-hitched on the veranda rail and he was scrupulously obeying his father's instructions to keep the younger man 'amused', in a not terribly successful bid to keep the restless and bored young man still enough for long enough,  to heal up.

He was not perfectly sure than the physical slog of ranch work was not actually the easier task. Johnny was getting his strength back--although not as quickly as he seemed to think he should be and was becoming very bored restless and rude with the frustrations of his confinement.  He had already pushed poor patient Theresa to almost permanent exasperation with his protestations and reluctance to be an 'invalid'.  He had reduced the good doctor who attended him so meticulously, to accepting a good stiff drink after each visit and Murdoch's small stock of patience was very soon exhausted by Johnny's truculence.

Scott however—for his pains—seemed to have caught at the angry young man's fancy and the novelty factor of a hitherto unknown brother, for both of them, had not, as yet, worn off. 

For the best part of two weeks they had played several interesting games of checkers, and some even more interesting games of chess. Scott had been well taught to classic standards and knew that he was a good player. Johnny played an erratic, daring and unconventional game and could either play his scholarly brother off the board or lose disastrously in half a dozen moves.  As neither was a very good loser their games were exceedingly competitive.

Scott read aloud to his brother, they discussed what he read, often with some heat and Johnny had even been persuaded to tackle a book or two for him-self when he had to be alone.

They had shown each other their stock of card tricks, Johnny had shown Scott some nifty moves with a handgun and Scott—to Johnny's amazement—had taught his brother several different (army) ways to deal from the bottom of a deftly stacked deck. 

And they had done a good deal of just talking. Naturally they were both intensely curious about the other—but both equally reticent about opening up to a stranger, each making his own tentative probing into the unknown past of the other and fending off unwanted queries. 

Scott was learning fast just how deeply he could 'probe' and had become very adept at reading the signs that warned him to pull back fast, especially when it came to 'Madrid',  but this time it was Johnny himself who had brought up the subject—and never one to miss an opportunity Scott had followed up sharp.

'It's in Spain.'  Johnny said, in the knowing voice of one imparting little known information to the ignorant.

Scott laughed and nodded. 

'I needed a name.'  Johnny sounded as if he was teasing but his eyes were serious.  'See, I wanted to put some money away, in a bank ya know' he added with a wise little nod 'and you can't do that without a name.'

A bank account?'  Scott exclaimed in open astonishment.  The notorious Johnny Madrid had a bank account?  It sounded suspiciously respectable. 

'Yeah—why not a bank account?'  Johnny was now openly laughing at him 'see—I had all this money—about two hundred dollars it was, from a--' he checked and then went on smoothly 'and there was this bank—just opened, all clean and new and shiny. There was a sign on the window offerin' a free strong box to the first ten customers, so I thought, well, why not.  I had some-uh–things that I wanted to keep safe as well, so I thought I'd have me one.' The blue eyes were suddenly alive with a good humour that was very infectious.

'You are kidding me right?'  Scott began to laugh as well.

'No—I ain't'. Johnny protested, as earnestly as he could for mirth.  'It's what happened.  I swear it'       

'So—?'  Scott leant forward in his chair, encouragingly.

'Well, they were very pleased to have my two hundred dollars deposited, but I had to sign a paper for it all—and I, well—I.'  He looked down and then up, dropping his lashes in what Scott was beginning to recognise as embarrassment. 

'Let's say that I wasn't too keen to use the name Lancer' he went slightly red as Scott made eye contact 'so I had to come up with one fast. I remembered a flyer I saw once on a wall somewhere' he paused on the memory, his head nodding slowly as if pleased with it.

'Some bullfighter from Madrid' he went on, drawing the words out slowly.  'I couldn't remember his name or I mighta used that, but anyway, there was this fussy little bank manager standin' there with his strongbox open all ready for my, um, valuables' the blue eyes twinkled again, 'waitin' for me to give him my name.  It's all I could think of, Madrid—Johnny Madrid.  I kinda liked it too, after I signed it'

{He did not know it—and so could not tell his brother so, but that little strongbox, taken on a whim, and its meagre contents, might just have saved his life. The silver framed picture of his mother, inscribed with her name—Maria Lancer--, and the necklace, which was the same one that his mother had been wearing when the picture was taken, had been the vital clues that had finally confirmed the rumour that the Pinkerton Agency had been so diligently trailing. That the missing blue-eyed mixed blood boy named Johnny Lancer that they were looking for and the now infamous, blue-eyed half-breed ' boy gunfighter'  known as Johnny Madrid were indeed one and the same person. .

Of course the bank manager had had no right to show the contents of the strongbox to even a Pinkerton Agent. However, Pinkerton Agents were good at their job and could be very forceful in pursuit of their enquiries. }

'And what were these valuables that needed a free strongbox?'  Scott asked, curious but careful.

'Oh—nothing much.'  Johnny said quickly. 'Just a picture—and, uh, some jewellery.'

'Did you ever go get them back?

'I did.'  Johnny nodded, smiling again.  'I guess the bank manager—it was the same fella too, was a mite surprised when I strolled in a coupla' years later.  Course he'd heard the name some, by then'

He gave a little snort of laughter and shared, with his appreciative brother,  the memory of the jittery little bank manager who had seemed to be under the impression that Johnny Madrid wanted more than just his own valuables.  It had taken some soothing talk and a flat refusal of the contents of the safe to convince him that 'Madrid' was not a bank robber and they had finally parted quite good friends.

Not sure whether he believed the tale or not Scott nonetheless enjoyed it.  This astonishing brother of his was a born raconteur. He met the smiling blue eyes and the half-brothers laughed happily together until Johnny's still sore back reminded him that he was supposed to be taking things easy.

Johnny's mood switched as the by now familiar pain in his body and his mind,  swept through him. It was too easy to say too much to this man.  If he were not careful, he would even be showing him the damn things he had not intended to even mention.

He had had them in his pockets when he had halted the stagecoach to Morro Coyo, and had made the startling discovery, ten miles down the line, that he had a brother.

This brother. A brother he found he was beginning to like—and respect.

If only, he thought ruefully, he could find the same feelings within himself for Murdoch Lancer. 

However, it simply did not seem to be possible. 

For as long as he could remember, he had hated the name 'Lancer' and all it stood for.

He had planned and plotted improbable vengeance, in the watches of many a hungry, lonely and desperate night and now here he was face to face with the 'phantom' that had haunted his darkest thoughts for so long.  Only to find that his whole life and every thing he had ever been led to believe may have been based on a cruel lie.

It didn't alter the fact though that the rancher intimidated him more than a little, and had done so right from their first traumatic meeting, which did nothing to help his ingrained feelings of mistrust and dislike.  He tried to tell himself that it was because he was feeling weak and vulnerable—that once he was on his feet and had his gun in his hand, he could deal with any amount of Murdoch Lancers, but he knew that it was more than that. This man, his father, was a force to be reckoned with—and Johnny was not sure that he could reckon with him.

But then, there was Scott. He had not allowed for Scott.  His brother from Boston.  Damn the man.  Was this yet another tantalising glimpse of a future that he was going to have to leave behind?  The advent of Scott Lancer into his hitherto unencumbered life was making complications that Johnny Madrid had never even considered.   

**********

'This!'  Murdoch snapped the folded deed almost in Scott's face. It was the same one that he had shown to Johnny, on that first and momentous day. 'This, Scott, is Lancer—and the only name on it is going to be Lancer. I won't have that name on this' he shook the deed again.  'If he can't use his given name then he will have to—to—' his flash of temper petered out as he realised the import of what he had been about to say.

Scott, irritated in his own right, finished for him.                                 

'Leave?' he snapped.  'He will go you know, if you push this too hard, Sir'. 

Murdoch did know. When Johnny had bluntly told him that he did not intend to sign the three-way deed in the name of Lancer but would use his 'own name', John Madrid,  he had reacted badly.  He had been angry—but he had also been bitterly disappointed and in the face of his younger son's stubborn truculence, he had lost his temper and thrown down this foolish gauntlet. Now had no idea just how he was supposed to pick it up again.

With a sound very like a growl, he thrust the deed away and slammed the inoffensive drawer shut with a bang.

'He listens to you.'  He told his elder son, although on what  grounds he was basing this assertion  Scott had no idea.  As far as Scott could tell, Johnny did everything his own sweet way and listened to no one. 'See if you can talk some sense into him will you.' Scott had bitten his tongue on his own protest, and, beginning to think that perhaps he should give up on the idea of becoming a rancher and take up a career in the Diplomatic Service instead, had found him-self agreeing to do just that.

His half-brother had made the most amazing physical recovery.  Scott was impressed by his sheer physical toughness and determination to be well.  He was also concerned now, that this impulsive and fiery tempered 'little brother' of his would, any day simply now have one too many a confrontation with their equally quick-tempered father, pack up his saddlebags and ride away, without signing anything.   He didn't want that to happen. He had dreamed of, pretended and imagined a brother since his earliest childhood and he did not intend to let go of this rather startling reality. At least, not without a fight.

However it seemed that his 'diplomacy skills' were somewhat lacking after all. Johnny had heard him out patiently enough but was apparently unmoved by his eloquence.

'He might be able to just pretend that the last five years never happened.'  Johnny had said, in frustrated tones. 'But I can't. Scott—I can't just stop bein' who I am.  I'm not John Lancer. There's no such person as John Bloody Lancer.  If he wants me to sign his piece of paper, then I'm signin' it with my name, Johnny Madrid'

'Don't yell at me.'  Scott had raised his hands in a gesture of mock surrender.    'I agree with you—well to a point anyway. But  he won't listen to me  on this one, any more than he will listen to you Johnny—and are you really willing to throw all this away,' he gestured largely at the view from the window  'just for the sake of a name on a piece of paper'

'You don't understand at all, do you' Johnny rejoined bitterly 'If he can't accept Madrid—then he can't accept me— who I am, what I am. And if I sign his damned piece of paper with his name, because he says so,   then it's all a lie Scott.'  He had looked for a moment, as if he wanted to leap up and hit something, his face diffused with unusual colour, and his eyes rather too bright—then almost visibly the energy drained from him and he had subsided limply into a chair.

'Just another damn lie' he finished, in a tired whisper.

For a moment or two there had been rather strained silence.  Scott, impressed with his brother's vehemence, thought that he did in fact understand.  What if his Grandfather had changed his name to Garrett? If he had been Garrett all his life, and then Murdoch Lancer had swept along and commanded him to call himself Lancer?

'I think I do understand Johnny.'  He had admitted, quietly, at length, 'but I am not quite sure, yet, just what to do about it'

'Why should you do anything about it?  Johnny had asked suspiciously.  'It's my problem, not yours'

'It's mine if it's going to drive you away.'  Scott had retorted , with a tight smile 'because I waited a long long time for you, little brother, and now I have found you, I don't aim to lose you again anytime soon'

'Little brother!'  Johnny had breathed aloud, distracted, as Scott had hoped he would be, by the epithet he had bestowed on him. 'Who the hell are you calling little brother?'

But his volatile temper had been effectively defused—for the moment at least and with impeccable timing Theresa had  appeared with a tray of coffee and cookies,  which had distracted him further—but Scott had been left frustrated and defeated and Murdoch had been more annoyed than ever when Scott had reported his own failure at persuasion..

********** 

Murdoch paused in the dark of the porch on his way back into the house and listened unashamedly as the two voices, one deep and male, the other female, rose and fell within the Great Room beyond.  He shouldn't be eavesdropping, he knew, but events seemed to be skidding out from underneath him much too fast, out of his control and right now he would have taken counsel from the devil himself had he offered it. Scott's habitual calm good sense and Theresa's blunt outspokenness might be just what he needed—but he knew that both would fall silent and then change the subject if he walked in on them.

'We have to do something.'  He heard Theresa say stormily 'but really—they are both so stubborn—so stupidly stubborn. Scott-you must talk to them again—tomorrow'.

Murdoch could just picture her, standing there with her hands on her hips, and her eyes flashing

'Theresa.'  Scott's voice was slow and deep on the name.  He pronounced it The-RAY-sa Murdoch noted.  'I don't know what else there can be left to say.    It’s the craziest thing I ever heard.  Murdoch spent all that time and effort and, well' he hesitated then went on, 'all that money as well, trying to find him—and now he has,  he's just going to let him ride out again because he doesn't like the way he signs his name?'. 

His anger and frustration was as patent as the girl's was.

Murdoch began to feel a bit of a fool.  Scott was right of course.  He had waited and prayed for his sons to come home to him—and now that they were actually here, he was worrying about a name on a piece of paper.  He still wasn't sure of Johnny. His fear and mistrust of 'Johnny Madrid' was real and palpable—but if he allowed him to ride away tomorrow, on account of a mere signature—then his only chance of redeeming Johnny Lancer would be gone forever and he never would be able to be sure of anything—ever again. 

He made enough noise to enable Scott and Theresa to know that he was coming in.

They were sitting primly either side of the hearth, she with some sewing and he with a book on his lap, by the time he had shed his hat and gun-belt and joined them.

'Where's Johnny?'  The man glanced over the empty sofa that, for the past few days had been the young mans chosen resting place.

'Gone.'  Scott said flatly and was pleased to see that his father went rather white before he responded.

'Gone—what do you mean—gone?

'Gone—left—vamoosed—departed' Scott retorted rather facetiously 'he packed his saddlebags and left.  Said he'd meet us in the lawyer's office tomorrow to—er—now how he did put it—to finalise things with you.'

'HE is going to finalise things is he' Murdoch growled 'now what the hell does he thinks he means by that?' but his frowning anxiety didn't quite match the words. Catching the new uncertainty Scott glanced across at Theresa and she gave him an encouraging little nod. She had heard it too and she knew this stubborn and determined man better than any of them, did Scott thought.

'I think' Scott suddenly remembered something that Johnny had said to him and that he had dismissed as improbable. It was worth a try though. It could send things completely the wrong way, but he truly did think that he had run out of arguments. He took a breath and went for it ' I think' he repeated, resolutely 'that he thinks that you are looking for a way to renege on the deal.'  'Something he said' he went on quickly, as the man seemed about to interrupt him. 'You see--HE didn't kill Day Pardee.  I did--and I think he reckons that as he failed to keep his side of the bargain, you feel you don't need to keep yours'.  He observed, with some satisfaction, the expression of fury that swept his fathers face at this slur on his word.

'Oh he does, does he?'  The man growled and Scott just nodded.

'And -- you let him ride out—thinking that?' Murdoch gasped, in a slightly less robust tone than was usual.

Scott shrugged rather pettishly. He was getting rather fed up with taking the brunt of all his father's irritation.

'What should I have done?' he asked crossly. 'You think I should have tried to throw down on Johnny Madrid maybe and thrown him into that guard-house of yours out there.'  He gestured largely towards the window. 'Or tied him to a chair maybe?

Murdoch helped himself to a stiff whisky and went to his desk, his face lined in thought.  The deed was at the lawyer's office, ready to be signed in the morning.  He had arranged for all of them, Theresa included, to ride into Morro Coyo and, up until almost this very minute, to order the lawyer to remove any mention of Johnny from the document rather than accept the name of Madrid on his precious deed.

Now that suddenly didn't seem like such a good plan after all.  Johnny it seemed was prepared to call his bluff.  Damn it! 

How had something that had seemed so simple have turned into such a complex nightmare.

He tossed back his whisky and poured himself another shot.  Perhaps he should just get good and drunk.

**********

Johnny took as long as he possibly could to set up his little, lonely camp.

He set and lit a fire that he didn't really need, and put a brush over the patient palomino. It was, he thought, with wry humour, a difficult and painful way to get hold of a horse but at least he had made that small gain. This was the best horse he had ever ridden and he intended to offer to pay for the lovely animal tomorrow and get him a bill of sale. He didn't want to be arrested for something as silly as riding a stolen horse after all this now, did he.

He had then eaten the quite delicious food that he had taken from the Lancer kitchen and made some coffee to wash it down. Then he had taken a short, restless prowl through the bushes to make sure there were no creatures wanting to keep him company and filled his canteen from the clear bubbling stream.  But at last he had to admit that there was nothing left to do but spread the bedroll that was to replace the comfortable bed he had been in, only last night, and sprawl on top of it, with only his thoughts and the dull pain of his not quite healed back for company.

He should have known better than to have out-stayed his 'hour of his time' at Lancer in the first place. He ought never to have gotten involved, or he should have taken his money and then joined Day in his crazy schemes for world domination. So he had learnt some new and different truths about some things—but he was not at all sure that they did him any good at all.  All he had done, there, was loose the thread of the lie on which, it seemed, his whole life had been based.  His father had not, apparently, thrown them out into the night. His mother had left the place of her own accord and from somewhere in the whole sorry mess, had arisen the web of lies that had kept him from his home for twenty years.

It was plain as the nose on his face though that the old man had been regretting his rash promise of 'one third' and was looking for a way to renege on the deal. 

What had he, Johnny, challenged him with.

'You haven't signed it.' He had pointed out, on first reading the paper.

'Nothing for nothing' Lancer had thrown back. 'You get your share of this ranch when you have proved you are man enough to hold it... When you get the man who put this bullet in my back'

Well, in truth he had not.  It had been a bullet from Scott's deadly carbine that had sent Day to hell.  In reality, he had not kept his side of the bargain: no reason then for the old man to keep his. 

It had not occurred to him either, at first, that he might have to sign something as well—and when it had been pointed out to him, he had been horrified to find that he was expected to sign his name as Lancer.  Quite why it had taken him so much aback he could not have said—but he had been shocked out of his customary Madrid calm at the idea: so shocked in fact that, instead of keeping his fool mouth shut and thinking things over carefully, he had voiced his objection, loud and strong. So loud and so strong that it had been impossible to take it back and there was no way that stubborn old man of a father of his was gonna back down that was a certainty.

Not that it mattered.  He was sure that the old man was fully intending to write him off his precious deed anyway. All he had done was give him the way to do it.

Tomorrow!  Tomorrow, in Randall's office!  But he wasn't going easily. Before he meekly agreed to let them take 'John Lancer' off that piece of paper he wanted something.  What was the place worth?  Thousands of dollars probably. He didn't think he'd get one third—but another thousand dollars maybe.  What could a man do with his life if he had two thousand dollars?

Not nearly as much as he could do with his life as the owner of a spread like Lancer, he thought wryly. It was a beautiful place; a place that a man could get to love. It ought to be the place he loved. Dammit—he had put his life on the line for it. The dull ache in his back was reminding him of that.  He ought not to be here, lying on the ground. He should be back there, in the big white hacienda, lying in his soft bed.

He'd blown it however.  He had declared quite plainly, that he was not prepared to sign anything in the name of Lancer—and Lancer had declared, even more plainly, that he was not going to accept the name of Madrid on his precious deed. 

He had half hoped that Scott might have spoken up for him.  Scott! Now that had been a surprise and a half.  No one had ever said anything about a brother. But no doubt he would prefer a half a ranch to one third so why would he say anything.  He would have liked the chance though, to get to know his half-brother.  He didn't give a shit about his father—did he?—but he was most intrigued by the Easterner who had fought with such grit and determination for the ranch with his name over the gate.

Another regret to add to the long list of them that seemed to make up his life. Perhaps it would have been easier after all, to have just died in front of those Mexican guns.

Exhausted by his rather too strenuous day, he fell asleep on that thought.

He awoke, with the sun, from a somewhat troubled sleep to a sore back and an aching heart.

**********. 

When Scott accompanied by the buggy carrying Murdoch and Theresa arrived in town the first thing he noticed was Johnny's horse was already tied on the rail outside the saloon. A horse decked out ready to travel, he noted, with saddlebags and bedroll tied on behind the saddle. 

He wondered where Johnny might be. Would he have time to try one last time to talk some sense into the boy? 

Unlikely, he thought wryly. He hadn’t had much luck talking sense to anybody, up until now.  He wondered briefly if it would do any good at all if HE refused to sign the deed as well.  Perhaps they should all wait a little longer.  They had only known each other for a month.  What was the hurry?  But, he was sure that if nothing was resolved today then Johnny would ride out on them and be lost to them all forever. He would turn right around and go back to his old life and he Scott, would be left, tense and waiting, to hear the dread news that Johnny Madrid had fought his last gun battle in some dry dreary town somewhere on the border.  That his longed for brother, briefly met and still unknown, was dead.  All for the sake of a signature on a piece of paper. 

He glanced across at his father.  The rancher had seen the horse as well, and was scowling at it, apparently deep in thought.  Theresa was scanning the street eagerly. She too, Scott thought, was looking for Johnny.  Perhaps SHE could talk some sense into the pair of them.  Johnny had listened to her before, down by the creek.  Perhaps she could get through to him again.

Johnny felt very uncomfortable in the stuffy little office. His large father seemed to have become even larger and the expression on his face was forbidding enough to scare a horse from its oats.

He pushed his hat off the back of his head and moved quietly away, to a spot as close to the window, and as far away from his father, as he could get, and tried to pretend that he wasn't there at all. 

Scott strode in confidently, removed his hat, and took up his position at one end of the lawyer's desk.  Murdoch stood directly in front of it and rumbled something at Randall who nodded and gave a pinched sort of smile.  Johnny watched him from under his lashes.  He had never actually met a lawyer before—but the man matched his idea of one in almost every particular,  middle aged, thin, hair turning grey and prim in his town suit. He even wore a pair of spectacles—something Johnny had rarely seen.  If he had not been feeling so cornered he might have enjoyed the novelty of it

As it was however, his heart was thudding so hard within his chest that he was certain that everyone else in the stuffy office— Murdoch, Scott, Theresa and that rather grim looking lawyer, just must be able to hear it.  He had not been this scared, he thought, at the idea of facing that damn firing squad.  There at least his destiny had been assured. 

Without his realising that he was doing so, he tongued the leather toggle of the storm strap that held his hat against his shoulders, and drew it  into his mouth,  chewing on it, as Randall drew the familiar folded deed from a drawer in his desk, and spread it out, smoothing it meticulously flat,  over the blotter. 

From where he stood Johnny could just make out the places where the three names were printed, with a space above each one, for a signature.  One of those spaces was over the name of John Lancer. For his signature. The one he knew he could not sign. He could not be John Lancer just because the near stranger who was his father so commanded.

Murdoch was smiling—a somewhat wolfish smile Johnny thought.  The smile of a man who was going to get his own way—as usual. Scott was looking worried.  Scott often looked worried he thought, inconsequentially, and Theresa had a rather strained look under her uncertain smile.

Reynolds dipped the new looking nib of a well-worn pen into the ink and proffered it to Murdoch who took it and, stooping over the desk, appended his signature.  Scott then followed suit and Reynolds re-dipped the pen and held it out again, this time in Johnny's direction.

'And you Sir?'  He said pleasantly, with the tiniest of smiles.

'One moment Mr Randall. I should have told you' 

Murdoch spoke in what seemed to Johnny to be an un-necessarily firm voice.  He had let drop the toggle from his teeth—and now his mouth went dry.

This was it then!  This was the moment when Murdoch Lancer was going to disown him. Was the moment he was going to instruct his lawyer to remove the name of John Lancer from his deed—and expunge Johnny Madrid from his life. 

For a minute it seemed as if everything was cloaked over in a thick grey cloying fog which slowed everything down and muffled all sound. He wanted to cry out in protest.—'No! Let me stay! I'll use any damn name you like'

But his tongue seemed to have glued itself to the roof of his mouth and the words were only in his head.

Through the grey fog he could see Scott, his brother, looking more worried than ever, apparently moving in slow motion, away from the desk.

'That last name.'  Murdoch's firm loud voice seemed to be coming from a long way off.  Johnny shivered, suddenly cold. 

'It should read John Madrid—not Lancer'.

Even through the grey fog these words were very clear.  Johnny blinked and turned an incredulous look at the big man that he was so wary off, and found that in some mysterious fashion the grey fog was gone and, for a change, it was the rancher who was now looking anxious.

The silence in the stuffy office was almost tangible.  Scott's worried look seemed to have intensified.  Theresa had opened and closed her mouth but no sound came out.

Johnny blinked again and looked at the floor.

Mr Randall looked a bit surprised then gave a small nod and broke the silence.

'It will only take a minute' he said dryly—in somewhat disapproving tones.  Johnny swallowed hard and raised his eyes again, desperate to see what really was in his fathers face. For a flicker of a moment their eyes met and inexplicably Johnny was reassured.  He had not expected this climb-down from this man—but there was almost a pleading expression in those searching eyes and his own resistance crumbled. He didn't really want to go anywhere but back to Lancer (Home! The word thrummed in his head) after all—and the man—his father—was offering him this enormous concession. Did it mean so much to him, that he, Johnny, should stay, that he was willing to accept the name of Madrid on his piece of paper after all?  And if Murdoch Lancer could give way—so too, surely, could Johnny Madrid.  This might well work out to be the biggest mistake of his life—but he was going to grab at this chance he was now being offered and to hell with the consequences.

For a moment he thought his usually so-ready tongue was going to let him down again—then, to his own intense relief, his mouth began to work, along with his slightly stunned brain.

'No!'  He addressed Mr Randall, who was just about to put pen to paper but everyone in the room was suddenly giving him an awful lot of attention.  He felt his face flush with heat and was dreadfully aware of Murdoch Lancer, with narrowed eyes, turning to glare at him.

Johnny gulped.

Madre de Dios—he would rather face a saloon full of Pardee's cutthroats than this.

He was however, quite pleased with the firm tone of his voice when he next spoke.

'Let it stand' ' He said clearly and stepped over to the desk. For a moment more he wavered, this time because he didn't know quite WHAT to write.  Then---------

John Lancer

He penned the new name, clearly and carefully, in the appointed place—and suddenly the stuffy room seemed surprisingly airy and was full of smiling people.

 

~end~