The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Susan

 

 

Heart Of Chaos

Disclaimer:  Don't own 'em, just play with them a bit
Rated: PG for language
Feedback: All feedback welcomed both on the site and in private.
Thanks to Lisa Paris for her medical advice.

 

Part 1

Murdoch shot a quick glance around the table.  No, just as he suspected, nothing had changed.  In spite of Scott's attempt to make a joke at Murdoch's expense, Johnny still sat staring at his plate, pushing food around it with his fork.  His head was bowed, and his shoulders slumped.  Next to his youngest son, his ward, Teresa, kept her eyes glued to the wall opposite her seat.  She sat unnaturally straight and stiff.  She was managing to eat a bit more than Johnny, but was as equally absent from the room.  His eldest, Scott, was trying to lighten the mood.  In spite of the forbidding air of the room, he continued to make small talk with Murdoch and tried, vainly, to draw the other two into conversation.  His attempts at normalcy were woefully inadequate for breaking the bonds of tension they all could feel. Had it been only two weeks ago that dinner had been his favorite time of day?

Murdoch was beginning to despair that Johnny and Teresa would never get over the hurt feelings that had resulted from their confrontation, or at least he assumed that there had been some sort of confrontation.  Something had happened.  In fact, it was getting downright ridiculous. Things had gone from fine as frog's hair to dismal overnight.  Everyone was being oh so careful about everything around here, what they said, or did, or didn't say or do, since this whatever it was had begun. He knew, or thought he knew, that the two youngest members of the family were the closest of friends, had been close almost from the beginning, nearly two years now since the return of his sons.

When he asked either of them about the silence between them, he was met with a terse, "Nothing's wrong," from Teresa, while Johnny would find something interesting to look at on the floor and would offer him even more silence. Once, early in the situation, Johnny had softly confessed, "My fault, I guess," but would not elaborate.  Since that one phrase, Johnny had been resolutely mute on the subject.  In fact, it was just too damn quiet altogether around this place.  Murdoch had reached a point of simmering anger that was threatening to flare up at any time.  He wavered between--this is none of my business and this is my family, I have to fix it.  He was quite sure that explosive anger and very loud words were going to win very, very soon.  As much as Johnny's smart mouth could boil his blood, this quiet was worse, far worse.

It seemed as though both Teresa and Johnny were trying to act normally, at least with everyone except one another.  Murdoch had heard Teresa and Maria joking while pegging out the laundry, and he had seen Johnny laughing quietly at something Jelly had said yesterday.  But she had taken to spending a great deal of time in her room, and he spent even more time than usual in the barn with Barranca or working until many hours after dark.  Some days, only the painful evening meal brought everyone into the same room at the same time.  At first, it had seemed to the rest of the family that covertly getting the two of them together might help to ease the situation, but generally, every time Murdoch, or Scott, or Jelly, had plotted a "chance" encounter between the two, nothing came of it.  Really nothing.  No resolution, no arguing, no contact, no talking, nothing.  And then, one of them would make a quick, feeble excuse and a hasty retreat.

Scott had no idea what the problem was and, like Murdoch, could get neither combatant to tell him a thing.  He had been in Green River the night the two had somehow fallen out.  Murdoch hadn't witnessed the incident, and if Maria knew what was going on, she wasn't sharing.  The morning before "whatever" had happened, everything had been what passed for normal at Lancer.  After a spirited breakfast which found Johnny flirting his way to more bacon from Maria, and Teresa swatting him with a wooden spoon as he grabbed yet another piece on his way out of the kitchen, Scott had stayed a moment to discuss his  business trip with his father. He had then ridden out, still grinning over his brother's antics, and when his business was completed, he had enjoyed some poker and beer and stayed the night in town. He returned early the next morning to Lancer, and it was as though something intangible had subtly shifted.  He had entered the kitchen to find Murdoch at the table, Maria pouring him coffee and Johnny and Teresa both absent from the room.

"Where is everybody?"

Murdoch shrugged his shoulders, and Maria told Scott to sit down as she slid a cup of coffee in front of him and loaded his plate for breakfast.  "Haven't seen anybody this morning.  Guess Johnny left early to ride the fence line," Murdoch said after setting his cup on the table.

"Senorita Teresa is in her garden, weeding" Maria offered. "She was up very early and has eaten already.  I have not seen Juanito today, but there was an empty cup in the sink when I came in this morning."

Later that day, Scott had caught up with Johnny down by Cricket Creek.

"Hey brother," he called as he rode up.  "Miss me?"

"Missed your help with this fence," Johnny grumped back at him.  It was the last complete sentence Scott would hear from him for the rest of  the day.

Scott had pitched in immediately, but Johnny's mood did not improve as the hot day wore on.  Occasionally he cursed quietly in Spanish, but other than that he was uncommunicative, answering Scott's questions and comments with grunts and shrugs.  Finally, as darkness started to fall, they finished up and headed back to the ranch.

"What's in your craw, boy?"  Scott asked as they made what had been, up to that point, a silent trip home.

"Nothin' at all.  Everything's fine, just fine."

"Sure and we always spend nine hours working without a word passing between us."

"Tired I guess.  Leave it alone, Scott."  And Scott had reluctantly left it alone, only to puzzle on the problem even more after finding Teresa in much the same mood throughout an uncomfortable dinner.

# # #

And here they were, now, two weeks later and nothing had changed.  Another awkward dinner-at times so quiet that crickets could be heard chirping outside the window.

Teresa snapped herself from her self-imposed haze and turned to Murdoch. She didn't even notice that Scott was in the middle of telling Murdoch about something he had read in the latest newspaper that had found its way to the ranch.  "I need to go into Morro Coyo tomorrow," she said abruptly.  "I want to make myself a new dress.  That blue one I have for church is getting so old; I'm going to have to retire it to work dress status soon."

"Sure honey," he answered her gently.  "I need some supplies too.  We'll take the wagon and get everything done at once."

"I'll do it," Johnny spoke quietly, still not looking up from his plate.

"No,"  Teresa snapped a little too loudly in the ensuing quiet.

"I want to," he shot back, louder this time.

"Good idea, Son."  Murdoch figured this could be the chance these two needed to sort out this problem. "I've got a full plate tomorrow.  I'd appreciate it."

"Fine.  I want to leave at first light."  Teresa stood suddenly and left the room without another word.

 

Part 2

Johnny was beginning to think that his brains were well and truly addled.  Can't believe I volunteered for this job, he thought.  Hell, he had practically insisted on it.  When Teresa had needed someone to take her to town for supplies, he had naively believed that maybe, just maybe, now enough time had passed and if he could just get some time alone with her, he would ask her to forgive him, even if he truly felt she might do with a bit of askin' for forgiveness herself.  Maybe things could go back to the way they were before. In fact, he didn't even care anymore who might be at fault; he just wanted Teresa to look at him again.  He wasn't even sure that there was "fault" involved.  Seems he wasn't sure of much with her havin' him so turned around.

She sure had tried to object to his presence on this trip, but then she had quickly lapsed back into lethargy, which was becoming commonplace for the both of them of late. As they prepared to leave this morning, she had climbed into the wagon with resignation and jerked her skirt away from his leg as he settled in beside her.  They had been riding for 20 minutes, and he couldn't even get her to look at him, let alone talk to him. She sat as far away from him as possible on the wagon's seat. One more try, he thought and then I'm quit of it.  He quietly reached to take her hand, but she pulled away and then turned her body away from him as well.  With her back to him, she really couldn't have been more clear if she were shouting at him.  He almost wished she would.

"Stupid idea," Johnny muttered, and for some reason known only to stubborn females, she turned to look at him for the first time since leaving Lancer, in fact, for the first time in weeks.  She studied his face intently for a moment.

He leaned toward her, "Teresa, miel, please..."

She whipped her face away from him so fast, her hair, which was brushed back in a pony tail, flicked his cheek.  It seemed that the scenery, particularly the scenery off to the side of the road, had once again become very interesting.  His hands tightened even more on the reins, and, frowning, he studied the road in front of him. So much for my brilliant idea, he fumed silently.  For Johnny, the trip to Morro Coyo had never taken nearly so long before.  The horses seemed to be walking in molasses, and the wheels on the wagon were practically spinning backward, but at long, long last, houses and shops and people who might actually speak to him started to become more numerous, even though they had made the trip early, before many of the shops were even open.

Johnny pulled the wagon up in front of Baldemero's and jumped down.  He turned immediately to help Teresa, only to find that she was scrambling down the opposite side of the wagon unaided.  As he moved to open the shop door for her, she brushed past him and pulled the door open herself, leaving him in her wake with a bemused expression on his face.  As he entered the store behind her, he was shaking his head and muttering.  This infuriating, tiny woman has reduced me to muttering, he thought.

"Mr. Baldemero," Teresa called.  "How are you this morning?  Were you leaving?  Have we come too early?" she asked, noticing that he seemed to be headed out of as they were headed into the store.

"No, no, Teresa.  I was just going to run up the street to mail this letter, but it can wait."

"That's all right; go ahead on.  Teresa is shoppin' for material for a dress.  You know how long that c'n take.  We'll be fine for a bit.  You c'n start on my list when you get back," Johnny grinned and winked as he held the door open for the shopkeeper.  Mr. Baldemero grinned back and promised to return shortly.

Johnny suddenly felt Teresa looking at him and turned his most charming grin on her-the one that always got him, used to always get him anyway, an extra slice of cake from Teresa, special meals from Maria, or sometimes with some women, something even better, much better, than chocolate cake or tamales.  He was rewarded with rolled eyes and a frown before she turned to the bolts of  cloth stacked along the wall. That particular grin ain't never failed me so miserably before, he thought.  This problem is gonna take some serious fixin'.

Johnny crossed to the far side of the shop and appeared to study the glass jars of candy lined up on the counter.  The real problem is, he thought, I ain't really all that sorry.  The fault is as much hers as mine, more.  Some day I'm gonna learn to keep my trap shut. Didn't used to have all that much trouble keepin' my peace.  I've gotten soft, no doubt about it.  But then, what had he really said or done that was so wrong?  He had tried to fix it immediately, hadn't he?  He wondered how he could have been so wrong.  No, she was wrong. Hell, maybe nobody was wrong. Dios, he was tired of wrestlin' with this.

By now, he should have been able to charm her into forgiving him, although the whole concept of forgiveness just didn't seem to fit this situation. At the very least, he should have been able to josh her into forgetting the whole dang thing. The thing was, Johnny knew that he had a way with women.  Always had. Maybe being raised an only son with a single mother had given him a special kind of knowledge denied to most men.  He knew how they thought, what they liked. Most importantly, he truly appreciated women, not just for their most obvious assets, but for the more hidden, more important ones.  And he also knew from experience that women liked him right back. He wasn't sure what the draw was exactly, but thought it might have somethin' to do with him havin' Johnny Madrid always ridin' with him, close by, never truly gone. One woman had told him that danger was a powerful attraction and that lots of women like "bad boys." Maybe it was the fact that this "bad boy" could be soft as goose down if he wanted.

He was also not immune to the fact that women found him attractive and were particularly drawn to his smile and his eyes.  He wasn't deaf or blind after all.   He could see and hear their reactions to him, had done so since he was no more than 15.  In general, women, those who were not openly disdainful of his mixed blood anyway,  all wanted to mother him or bed him-all but Teresa, she had always insisted she wanted to be his friend.  That was a first.  It was something he truly did not expect and, at first, did not understand.  Not so friendly now are ya missy, he thought.  His mouth turned down in a frown, and he tried for the millionth time to put the whole situation, however briefly, out of his mind.

He fumbled in his pocket for the list that Murdoch had handed him as they pulled out this morning.  Slowly he surveyed the interior of the store.  Golden dust motes floated in the air on an early morning shaft of sunshine that slanted across the main counter, and he took a second to appreciate the beauty of such a simple thing.  A lazy fly buzzed the pickle barrel which stood by the shelves to his left.  Over by the door, Teresa's skirt made a whispery sound as she sorted through bolts of gingham and flowery cotton. If not for the trouble between them, this trip could have been a mid-week treat.  The weather was real pretty for this time of year, and it was nice to be doin' somethin' other than chasin' cows, he mused.

With no warning whatsoever, out of nowhere, Johnny felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

 

Part 3

Out of habit, Johnny quickly reached down to his gun. He then turned to look out of the large windows at the front of the store.  Their horses, standing just in sight of the window from where he stood, were suddenly restless.  He could see them flatten their ears and toss their heads from side to side.  With a sudden, violent jerk, they were free and running down the street with the wagon rumbling behind them.  At the same time, without noticeable provocation, dogs were frantically barking up and down the street.  And then, just as quickly as the disturbance began, for a long moment, there was total, deafening silence.  Johnny's intuition for trouble was hammering at him out of control, and he had to work hard to slow his breathing.  Unconsciously, he moved his hand once again to his thigh as he turned back to look at Teresa. He couldn't help but notice now that bottles and jars on the shelf next to him were suddenly rattling together slightly.  Maybe it's the stage comin' in, he thought with little conviction.

Immediately, Johnny could feel a low rumbling beginning to build from deep within the earth.  In the shop, the rattling of shelved goods was increasing with each second that passed, until finally, inevitably, a single bottle of  rose water, about shoulder height on a shelf next to Johnny, fell to the wooden floor with a shattering crash.  He saw Teresa jump and whirl towards the sound.  With the subtle scent from the broken bottle sweeping over him and the clinking, jangling sounds getting increasingly louder, Johnny and Teresa looked at each other with sudden, shared realization.  Then with single-minded purpose, Johnny started across the room towards her—he needed to get her outside now, out on the street, needed to get to her. Nothing had ever been so important. Everything in his life came down to this moment, to this task.

Suddenly, a keg of nails scooted off of a shelf and exploded spectacularly on the floor in front of him. At that moment, time slowed immeasurably.  Everything stood out for Johnny in exquisite detail.  Hundreds and hundreds of nails scattered in a lazy, intricate pattern across the floor, skittering like drops of water on a hot pan and briefly mesmerizing Johnny. Dragging his eyes up from the nails with some difficulty, he forced his legs to pull him forward. He could see concentric circles slowly working their way to the outside edge of the pickle barrel as he stumbled past it, sliding a bit on nails and other debris that had somehow, without him noticing, accumulated on the floor.

Looking desperately towards Teresa, he watched a coil of rope slide from an upper shelf and hit her on the shoulder before slowly slithering down her arm and pooling on the floor beside her left foot.  His senses were so heightened, and time had warped in such a way, he had time to notice that she had worn her boots today rather than her shoes and that her skirt was getting wet around the hem.  Where was the liquid on the floor coming from?  She seemed to be frozen in place, unable to move.  And most vividly, amazingly, he could see her eyes grow rounder and dilate as he worked harder than he ever had at anything else before to make his way to her side, so slowly, too long.  She was calling his name, swaying with the motion of the floor, and reaching out towards him.

"Teresa—we have to get out of here!  Get out of here! Go.  Now."

She looked at him, hard, but then turned towards the door; she was native to the area and was well aware of what to do when a quake started up.  She was closer to getting outside than he was.  Three steps and she would be at the door.  He was so focused on her, he could see her taking panting breaths; he could feel her indecision and terror. "Please, querida, Move!"

He heard her call his name, but then something, (the air? his senses?) wavered, and time snapped back to normal.  All hell was breaking loose around him.  And it was so incredibly loud.  He heard screeching timbers, saw shattering windows, and then all of Mr. Baldemero's stock was leaping from the shelves at once, an amazing dance.  Bags of flour hit the floor with a thud, and clouds of flour dust filled the air, filled his lungs, choking him, making him gasp for air.  The floor was rolling beneath Johnny's feet, and there was no way he could remain standing.  He stumbled sharply to the side, trying frantically to see if Teresa had gotten outside.  Sacks of sugar and tins of lard were raining down on his head and shoulders, driving him to the floor.  He felt broken glass and peppermint candy crunch under his knees and the palms of his hands before he threw his arms up to protect his head and face, but flying glass, from the window he dimly realized, caught him on his upper back and his left arm was suddenly weak and fell to his side.

Vaguely he could hear a woman screaming—Teresa, Dios, Teresa...  He wanted to call out to her, but he felt caught in the very heart of  chaos.  His mind and his mouth were no longer working in sync with one another. Swirling debris and a world tilted on its axis robbed him of the ability to make sense of anything anymore. Then the floor was tipping up at an impossible angle. He was sliding. Everything was sliding.  He had time to pray that Teresa had made those last three steps to the door before something large and very heavy hit him on the head and rolling darkness swallowed him whole.

 

Part 4

Murdoch was struggling mightily with a particularly thorny column of numbers.  He sighed and dropped his pencil in order to massage his temples.  He could hear Maria singing softly in the kitchen, and he knew she was baking bread and chopping vegetables for the savory stew she had promised him for dinner tonight. He glanced out of the large window by his desk and could see Jelly leading that pretty, new Palomino mare out of the barn.  Johnny was getting to be one hell of a negotiator, he thought as he remembered the deal his son had struck for this particular horse last month in Stockton.  Too bad he couldn't seem to "negotiate" his way back into Teresa's good graces.

As he picked up his pencil in an effort to quit procrastinating, he felt a strange tremor begin to shake his desk and chair.  The sound of pictures trembling on the walls, and his pipe stand rattling on his desk filled him with dread.  By the time he had formed the word "earthquake" in his mind, heavy books were being shaken from the case behind him, and he could hear crockery shattering on the hard, tile floor in the kitchen.  He looked up and saw the picture behind the dining room table shake, pull from the nail in the wall and fall forward to land flat on the tabletop.  His ship...My God, he thought, not my ship!

He stumbled his way across the rolling room and scooped his model ship up into his arms as though it were a baby.  Unable to keep his feet, he slid down the wall and sat cradling it next to his chest.

And just like that, it was over.  He could hear Maria in the kitchen.  Not singing anymore, but close-praying, yes, that was definitely praying. Jelly rushed into the room from the verandah.  He was wild-eyed and breathless.  "Boss?  Murdoch?  You all right?  What in tarnation was that?  Was that a quake?  In all my years...Boss?"

"I'm fine Jelly.  Are you all right?"

"Right as rain.  That was somethin'  Whoo Wee!  That little mare durn near pulled my arm off tryin' to take off, but I got her calmed down as soon as God's solid earth got solid agin."

Murdoch looked up at Jelly a bit sheepishly. "Jelly, can you take this ship so I can get up off the floor?"

Getting up wasn't nearly as easy as getting down had been, but finally, Murdoch and Jelly rushed to the kitchen to check on Maria and found her standing in the middle of the room amidst pieces of broken crockery and a mess of  spilled food.  She was fiercely clutching her rosary beads and still whispering a prayer.  Murdoch threw his arm across her shoulders and gently led her to a kitchen chair which, almost miraculously, had barely moved from its normal spot at the table, although the table itself had moved, halfway across the floor.  "Jelly, check the stove, make sure the flue is intact.  We don't want to come through an earthquake just to lose the house to fire," Murdoch instructed.

Twenty minutes later, the two men left a much calmer Maria to begin straightening out the mess in the kitchen so that they could check on the men who were working close to the ranch and to inspect the damage to the rest of the house and the outbuildings.  They promised to send Rosa in to help as soon as they could get word to her.  Mostly what they found was confusion and a mess, but very little real structural damage.

A bit later, while righting a wooden bench under a tree in the garden, Murdoch looked up to see Scott riding in from the North pasture and, at the same time, further out, another rider was coming from the south, the direction of Morro Coyo.  Murdoch waved and called to Scott.  "Are you all right, Son?"

"I'm fine, Murdoch.  I guess that was my first official quake, huh?"

"A pretty mild one, but, yes, undoubtedly an earthquake.  Much stronger than those tremors we've been feeling the last few weeks, that's for sure."

"Well, from this mess, I would say you got shaken more than we did in the north pasture. Just a bit of rolling and swaying and frightened cows.  It was quite an experience though."  Scott followed Murdoch into the house and shook his head at the destruction.   He took the stairs two at a time to check on the condition of the bedrooms.  Wandering quickly from room to room, he picked up tumbled furniture and placed various items from the floor back in their rightful places.  Johnny's room had fared the best-not much to destroy if there's not much there to start with, he thought.  Teresa's room was in the worst shape.  Lots of bric a brac to fall and break. He could faintly hear Murdoch greet the rider from and town and headed back downstairs for whatever news their guest might have of the quake.

He walked onto the verandah just in time to hear Frank Cragg tell Murdoch that Morro Coyo had been hit hard-buildings down, lots of injuries.  "We need all the help we can get Murdoch.  A portion of the town was just flattened."  Cragg was a big, mountain of a man, but it was clear that the destruction in town had him shaken to the core.  "I'm ridin' to all the neighboring spreads.  We need every able-bodied man."

"You can count on us, Frank.  You come on back to town with us.  I'll send one of my hands on to the next ranch-we'll spread the word."  He turned then to Jelly.  "Load a wagon with anything you think might help, Jelly.  Get some of the men to help you.  Axes, rope, saws.  Get some provisions from Maria.  And fill as many canteens with water as you can get your hands on."

"You got it, Boss."

Murdoch was turning to have one of the hands saddle his horse when Scott stopped abruptly and grabbed him by the arm.  His voice was soft with dread, "Murdoch. Johnny and Teresa."

"Oh my God.  In all the commotion I had completely forgotten.  Frank,"  he called to the big man as Cragg mounted his horse.  "Did you see Johnny or Teresa in town?"

"Sorry Murdoch.  The town is pretty much panic and confusion.  I didn't see them.  But that don't mean nothin' that's for sure."

Scott had a bad feeling about this.  A very bad feeling.  His little brother always seemed to find himself smack in the center of whatever trouble could be found.  He looked over at his father and knew that he was thinking the very same thing.

 

Part 5

The first thing she noticed was the sound of raindrops slowly and softly plopping near her arm.  It reminded her of standing in her garden after a rain shower and listening to the trees and bushes slowly releasing their leftover drops to the ground.  No wait.  This particular plopping was really more irritating than pleasant.  It was more like the rain incessantly dripping off of the corner of the tile roof outside of her bedroom window when she was trying to read before going to bed, or worse yet, when she was actually trying to sleep.  And this rain smelled of pickles. Very strange indeed, but definitely briny.  She could also smell dust.  In fact, for a day filled with pickley rain, there was an awful lot of dust in the air.  Maybe Maria was beating the rugs again.  Hadn't they just done that chore?  Why would she beat rugs in the rain?  And another smell was there too-weaving its way underneath and around the other smells assaulting her nose.  This one was more subtle, more delicate, kind of coppery.

She wondered idly where she was.  But the idea was fleeting, seemed unimportant.  Then she wondered what she was lying on.  It was lumpy, but not too uncomfortable.  In an attempt to solve this little mystery, she moved to sit up.  Lightning bolts instantly shot from the fingertips to the shoulder of her left arm, and she quickly abandoned any thought of moving.  The pain in her arm did manage to begin clearing the fog in her mind, however.

She remembered eating breakfast-this morning?.  Early.  She remembered that she had wanted to get an early start.  She was going to town to get cloth to make a new dress. That blue dress just wouldn't do for church anymore.  Johnny was taking her to town.  Johnny. Dear God in heaven!  Johnny.  They were in Baldemero's.  An earthquake.  A big one.  And Johnny, she had seen him go down as he struggled to cross the store to get to her side.  A huge box had fallen from a top shelf and taken him down, even as the floor had collapsed around them.  Baldemero's has a basement.  Interesting.  I never knew.  I wonder if anyone else knows?  No, Teresa.  Focus.

She tried calling out to him.  Knew he was down here in this mess with her.  Remembered that he was further from the door than she was.  Saw him go down under the heavy wooden crate.  She was rewarded with a raspy squeak when she opened her mouth to call out.  Was that her voice?  She cleared her throat and tried again.  "Johnny?  Can you hear me?  Please be all right."  She listened carefully for the slightest sound, but all she heard was that God awful, incredibly annoying dripping next to her arm. She could feel panic rising in her with each shuddering breath.  Stop it, she chastised herself.  You are the capable one, remember?  You are the strong and practical one. The one everyone counts on.  A constant, Johnny had said.  The memory of his voice echoed in her mind, "I can always depend on you, miel."

All right.  First things first.  She raised just her head slightly, carefully, and looked around at her immediate area.  The first thing she found was that she was lying on the dozens of bolts of cloth she had been examining earlier.  She was very close to the outside, dirt wall of the basement, but there were heavy wooden beams crisscrossing all around her, wherever she looked.  It reminded her vaguely of the games of pickup sticks her family sometimes enjoyed on quiet evenings after dinner—a very large and dangerous version of the child's game, and she was smack dab in the middle of it. The air was filled almost to choking with dust, some of it, strangely, was pure white and very powdery.  She laid her head back down to gather her reserves and to try to catch her breath.

She knew that she would have to move out from under the beam that hung less than a foot above her head before she could deal with her, most likely, broken arm.  She gave herself a stern little talk and very, very carefully scooted down a few inches.  The pain was amazing.  Don't pass out, Teresa.  You can do this.  Don't you dare pass out.  She managed a few more inches, and then a few more. Finally, after many painful minutes, she could sit up without hitting her head on a beam.  She leaned back very carefully on the one that had missed crushing her head by inches and took a moment to gather her resources.  The entire basement was filled with boxes, barrels, broken glass, farm equipment, tools, tins, food, and more than anything else, wood.  Besides the maze of beams, there were floor boards, walls, and a roof all collapsed into the space around her.  The light was dim, and she wondered if the day had passed by and moved on to dusk while she had lay here thinking about rain on the roof.  But the sheer amount of debris which filled her basement prison could very well just be blocking any sunlight.

She called out to Johnny again with a voice that was sounding decidedly more Teresa and tried to calm her breathing so she could hear him, no matter how quiet he might be.  "Johnny, please, please answer me. Please be alive.  I promise I won't be mad anymore if you just talk to me. Please Johnny."  She was so scared, so very scared.  Her arm throbbed, and she felt a trickle of wetness running down the side of her face, mingling with the tears which had been slipping quietly down unnoticed.  She lifted her good arm and wiped at the spot knowing what she would find.  That coppery smell was suddenly very unmistakable.

Well, she thought somewhat inanely, at least I have plenty of bandages.  She tore several strips from a bolt of cheery yellow and white seersucker fabric which had escaped the attack of the pickle barrel and fashioned herself a sling.  She tied it using one hand and her teeth and slipped it over her head.  Holding her breath, she eased her throbbing arm into it.  She took another strip and tried to tie it around her head to stem the flow from the oozing cut on her temple but just couldn't manage the task one-handed.  She had dwindling patience and no time to worry about a tiny thing like a cut on her head.  She had to find a way to get to Johnny.  "Johnny, you answer me right now. I've had enough of your playin' around with me."  Her voice had started out strong, but despair caused her to finish in a whisper.  She put her hand to her mouth to stifle the sobs that were threatening to erupt and blinked her eyes rapidly to stem the flow of tears. And then she heard it.  She tried to quiet her rapidly thumping heart.  She was sure she had heard something off to her left towards the middle of the wooden maze.

"Johnny?  If you can hear me,  let me know you're all right.  If you can't speak, knock on wood.  I know you gotta have wood close by."  And Johnny, or something anyway, did, indeed, knock on wood, no more than five or six feet away.  A tiny, wonderful thump among the creaking sounds of the basement.  It may as well have been five miles away.  Traversing this basement is going to be a Herculean feat, she thought, and her heart sank.  Only the thought that she really hadn't imagined that little thump helped her to begin the trek.

As she began to crawl slowly forward on her knees and one hand, Teresa felt a tug at her skirt.  She pulled at it sharply as a feeling of panic at being trapped even more than she already was swept over her.  And immediately there was a low groaning sound and a subtle shifting within her new, tiny universe.  Pick up sticks, she thought wildly.  One wrong move and things will be shifting on me.  Out of control.  She knew now that she would not be making one unconsidered move on her way across the basement.  She sat back as best she could and looked at what had trapped her. One of the huge floor joist beams sat squarely, vertically on her skirt.  She gave it the tiniest of yanks, and the stupid thing groaned at her again. Well, there's nothing to do about it, she thought, as she carefully ripped a large section from her skirt to gain her freedom.

"Hold on Johnny.  I'm coming."

 

Part 6

"Johnny, please, please answer me.  Please be alive. I won't be mad anymore if you just talk to me.  Please Johnny."

Teresa's voice.  It gave him comfort to hear it.  But it sounded much too close.  Not from far enough away. Why did that bother him?  She's mad?  That seemed vaguely familiar.  He wondered what he had done now?

"Johnny, you answer me right now.  I've had enough of your playin' around with me."

Who's playin'?   Definitely ain't playin' here.  He tried to shift his arm from under a burlap sack that had it very effectively pinned to the ground. Potatoes, he thought idly.

"Johnny?  If you can hear me,  let me know you're all right.  If you can't speak, knock on wood.  I know you gotta have wood close by."

What kind of silly game is this?  Teresa is that really you?  All right.  I'll play.  C'n we do somethin' a bit easier though?  With everything he could muster, he moved the hand he had recently extricated from the potatoes and knocked weakly at a large wooden beam slanting next to his hip.

"Hold on Johnny.  I'm coming."

Not goin' nowhere.  Need to do inventory, take stock. His head throbbed and swam with every tiny movement. This is muy malo, he thought.  What the hell happened? He could see very little from where he lay.  There was a crazy tangle of beams and boards all around him.  His left side, left arm, the dirt floor and pieces of wood on that side were all completely covered by some kind of white powder.  The answer came to him on a sluggish, languid thought. Flour.  He tried to rise up, but his left arm, up high by his shoulder pulled sharply at him when he tried to move it.  He had a vague memory of flying glass. Didn't know glass could fly, he thought and snorted softly at his own joke.  He pulled his right elbow underneath himself a bit and levered his upper body up slightly.  What he saw made little sense.  He was trapped somewhere.  A destroyed somewhere.  With food.  And Teresa was mad at him, but would stop bein' mad if he answered her.

"Teresa.  Where are we?"  he asked softly.  When he heard a choked sob from somewhere over his shoulder, he decided he had managed to actually say that out loud.  "Are you crying?  Don't cry, miel."

"Johnny.  I'm almost there.  Are you hurt bad?  Keep talking to me Johnny."

"What happened to us?  What is s'place?"  His mind seemed to fade slightly out of focus with the world for a moment and then flowed back in again.

He heard a growl of frustration, a soft curse and then she answered him.  "There was an earthquake. Remember, Johnny?  We're at Baldemero's."

"Baldemero's has a basement?"  Well a man just learns somethin' new every day.

He heard a small, desperate chuckle that seemed to end with a sob.  "Teresa?"

"I'm coming, Johnny.  The whole building is on top of us.  I'm afraid to move anything, or even to move very fast for fear some of the larger beams will fall even more.  They're kind of balancing like a puzzle.  It's a pretty tight squeeze."

The whole building is on top of us.  There was very little sense to be made of that particular combination of words. He rolled it around in his mind a second time. The-whole-building-is-on-top-of-us.  And suddenly, the nightmare rushed back at him like a runaway train—the tumbling stock from the shelves, the creaking timbers and splintering glass, those scattering nails, Teresa's frightened eyes and his desperate flight across the store to get her outside. He closed his eyes tightly.  She didn't make it out. I didn't get her out.  And then her hand was on his forehead, pushing back his hair from his eyes.  "Oh Johnny."

"Querida.  You a'right?  Your arm?"  He searched her bruised and dirt smudged face for the truth, but his strength was fading fast.  He felt his eyes slipping closed.  He struggled to hear her answer before he let the blackness take him under.

"Just hurt my arm a little, Johnny.  Nothing to worry about."

Teresa was almost glad that Johnny had drifted away so that he couldn't clearly see the look of horror on her face.  He was effectively buried beneath the debris of the demolished store.  The brunt of the destruction seemed to be centered on him...as usual, she thought. Squaring her shoulders a bit, Teresa set to work clearing what she could off of him.  It was a slow and tedious process.  She hadn't been kidding when she told him that every move she made had to be plotted and executed with care.  Her patience was wearing as thin as that stupid blue dress that had gotten them into this mess in the first place.

She pulled a section of the shop's floor off of his chest and carefully pushed it as far to the side as possible, always aware that she should not touch anything that might be holding up anything else.  Damn this arm anyway.  Everything from maneuvering this maze to moving objects around was a lesson in patience and strength.   Slowly and with more care than she could ever remember using before, she ducked under one beam and squirmed around another to get to Johnny's other side.  There was a small, somewhat open area, a pocket of space in the midst of the destruction, where she could sit, mostly, upright.  A huge sack of flour had hit the floor right next to him here and busted open spectacularly.  If things had not been so deadly serious, she might have found his flour covered body hilarious.  She clutched white, powdery hands to her mouth to stifle the laughter she felt bubbling inappropriately.  She was so very, very close to hysterical laughter and afraid if she started, she would never stop.

Half an hour later she had pushed and pulled and lifted and shifted and was finally getting most of the bulk moved away into a small open gap behind her which had been formed by two large beams that had crossed and held up some of the other debris.  Just a few minutes ago, she had heard voices coming from above, but they were indistinct and gone before she could call out.  It was becoming very clear to her that Johnny was in desperate need of help.  There was a pool of blood spreading beneath his shoulder, mixing with the flour to make a grotesque, pink paste.  She had pulled him up a bit as soon as she felt safe to do so and found a long jagged cut right across his shoulder blade.  Another piece of her skirt was sacrificed  to the cause when she fashioned a pressure bandage and carefully laid him back onto it, trusting the ground to provide the pressure.  When she awkwardly tore a piece of skirt to clumsily tie around his head to stop the bleeding from a wound on the back of his head, she fleetingly hoped she would have enough skirt to go around and thought longingly of the yards and yards of dry goods less than half a room away.

But the sight that made her stomach flip and the gorge to rise in her throat after moving all that she could away from him was the heavy oak beam that slanted across Johnny's legs from his right hip to his left ankle.  The brunt of the weight rested on his ankle which was, in turn, lying on a smashed crate of cans of coffee and suspended by that crate at least a foot above his right leg.  She had tugged at the beam tentatively, but even if she hadn't felt the world-shifting tremor that accompanied her attempts to move anything she shouldn't, Johnny's sharp, sudden cry of pain would have stopped her flat.

 

Part 7

Their first sight of Morro Coyo left Scott breathless, appalled.  He glanced at Murdoch and saw what he guessed was an expression that mirrored his own. Parts of buildings were tumbled in the street, like a careless child's abandoned building blocks.  It was hard for him to take in and process all that he was seeing. Some of the buildings had survived relatively intact, some were damaged but salvageable and some were flattened, unrecognizable.  The people were just as varied.  Some, Scott noticed Doc for one, were striding with purpose, shouting orders, taking control.  Others were doing as they were told, but it seemed automatic, like they were dazed.  A few were gazing blankly, shuffling around randomly and fewer still were panicking, crying.  A block down, on the other side of the street, black smoke poured from the blacksmiths shop. The forge must have been burning, he thought.  He could just make out a line of men organized into a bucket brigade, with Henry Simms, the blacksmith, shouting instructions to them all.

Murdoch nodded sharply at Scott and moved on up the street scanning faces as he passed, calling to people, looking frantically for the rest of his family.

Scott jumped down, looped his reins over a still-standing hitching post and grabbed Sam's arm as he walked by.  "Sam, have you seen Johnny or Teresa?"

"No, sorry Scott. I've started setting up a spot for wounded in the saloon-it's relatively intact.  They could be helping out there.  Here take these things down there, and I'll go back to my office to get more supplies."

"Is everyone accounted for Sam?  Are people trapped in any of these buildings?"

"Maggie Pierce is nearly catatonic with worry.  Any of the able-bodied townspeople not trying to put out the fire at Simms' are down there helping out.  She was out collecting eggs when the quake hit, her husband was in the yard.  Both of their boys were in the house when it collapsed.  We haven't heard a sound.  Haven't gotten to them yet."  Scott grabbed the supplies from Doc and took off at a dead run towards the saloon. When he got there, there was an atmosphere of controlled chaos, with Levi Parmenter giving orders and his wife Bea offering comfort and bandages to the wounded.  She thanked him for the supplies from Sam, and he headed on up the street towards the Pierce house.

The farther he went away from the saloon, the more devastation he saw.  The Post Office was half collapsed and Trevor Frakes and Louis Baldemero sat in front of it.  Trevor was holding a bandage to Mr. Baldemero's head, trying to stem the flow from a badly bleeding cut. Scott stopped to ask the men if they had seen Johnny and Teresa.  Trevor shrugged and said that he hadn't seen them, and Mr. Baldemero stared at him without recognition.  His eyes were unfocused, and Scott made a mental note to let Sam know that he needed medical attention.

Next to the Post Office, the Clayton's Diner was a mass of rubble, but the Clayton's lived outside of town, and it didn't appear that anyone was inside the diner when the building had collapsed.  Baldemero's was nothing more than kindling.  Scott found himself grateful that the quake had hit so early.  The early hour had saved lives-so many more people could have been in these buildings.

"Scott...Scott?"  His father's voice pulled him on in the direction of the Pierce's house.  "Any luck finding Johnny and Teresa?"  his father called as Scott got nearer.

"Nothing.  You?"  Scott turned to see someone carrying a too-still, small body from the wreckage that used to be a home.  Then he could hear a high keening wail, and Maggie Pierce crumbled bonelessly to the ground with her husband by her side trying to support her weight.

Murdoch bowed his head and heaved a heavy sigh. "Young Michael," he said.  "They did find his brother Isaac alive.  Someone went for Sam right before you got here.  Amazingly, the boy seems to have come through the whole ordeal with only a few broken bones."  Scott turned to see Sam hurry past him.  "No one seems to have seen Johnny and Teresa,"  his father said.  If they didn't make it all the way to town, we surely would have seen them along the way," Murdoch reasoned.  "I hate to say it, Son, but I'm really starting to get worried."

"Johnny will take care of Teresa, Sir.  You know he'll do everything in his power to do that."

"But where are they?  Someone has to have seen them. And if they made it to town, where's the wagon?  Maybe they finally headed off somewhere alone to talk out their problem."

"It's possible, I guess."

"Mr. Lancer!  Scott!"  Trevor Frakes was running down the middle of the street, dodging people and pieces of buildings that lay haphazardly about.  "Mr. Lancer, it's Johnny and Teresa.  Louis just said he thinks they might be in the general store.  He ain't thinkin' too clear, but he remembers something about Teresa lookin' for material."

Scott went suddenly cold.  He felt as though his heart was trying to jump right out of his throat.  The store.  Oh my God.  No one could have survived that...He had walked right past them.  He hadn't heard anything.  They were there, within yards of him, and he had walked right past.  "It's nothing but kindling," he whispered, echoing his earlier thought while turning to his father.

Murdoch's face had drained of color, and he clasped Scott around his upper arm for support-whether for his or Scott's he wasn't sure.  "Scott,  Jelly should be here any time now.  Find him.  Find anyone you can to help.  Meet me at the store.  Scott, do you hear me?"

"Yes Sir, I hear you.  We have to hurry. We...They..."  Scott stopped, squared his shoulders and pulled himself to his full height.  "We have to hurry."

Both men, along with Trevor, gathered every man they could on their way to the store-a pitiful number, but so many were hurt or finishing up with the fire.  They rushed to the building and started pulling on wooden slats and sifting through the debris.  More people were joining them as the word spread that Johnny and Teresa had likely been caught in the collapse.  Just as Murdoch wrenched at a particularly stubborn board, everyone could hear a deep groan rumble through the ruins; the tangle of wood, metal and dry goods shifted and a faint, hoarse yell echoed from deep within the pile.

"Stop!  Everyone stop."  Murdoch got as close as he could and called out, "Johnny?  Teresa?  Can you hear me?  Are you all right?  Please..." He had heard something.  He knew he had heard someone call his name.  He collapsed to his knees just as Scott and Jelly ran up to his side.  "We moved something, and someone called out in pain," he told them.  "It was Johnny.  I know it was.  And when I called again, someone answered; Teresa answered.  It was Teresa.  They're alive, I know they are, but the pile is unstable.  We can't just go plowing in there. The whole damn thing will move and change.  For all we know, whatever we do, we could be making things worse."

Scott looked at the remains of the building.  Speed was important, but Murdoch was right, they were going to need a plan.  "We'll figure this out.  We'll get them out," he promised his father.

 

Part 8

"Teresa?"

Startled, she lifted her head and saw that he was looking at her with more clarity than she had seen since shortly after their world had, quite literally, collapsed.  "Hey, nice to see you with your eyes open."

"How long?"

"I'm not sure.  Hours.  Long enough I'd say."  She tried to keep her tone light.

"Your arm.  You're hurt."

"I think it might be broken.  Nothing to be done about it as long as we're in this hole, I guess.  What about you Johnny?  Tell me what hurts."

"'M fine.  Got a headache."

"You had an encounter with a crate of  canned goods. Beans."

"Had a little tangle with potatoes earlier too. Food's not settin' well with me today I guess."

Teresa smiled sadly at him.  "Johnny, I can't get out," she admitted, to herself as much as to him. "You need help, but there's no way I can get out of here.  We just have to wait and hope that they find us.  I'm sorry."  She longed desperately for water to cool down the fever she could see building in him.

"I'm sorry too, querida.  About not getting you out of here, about your arm."  He looked up at her, and she could see sorrow and confusion in his eyes.  "About that evening, in the garden,  the kiss, I..."

An explosion of pain wrenched a cry from Johnny's throat as the beams shifted suddenly around them. Madre de Dios, his ankle was on fire!  He could feel the bones grinding sharply together.  He clenched his fists and fought to stay conscious.

The voice was muffled, but they had both heard it. "Johnny?  Teresa?  Can you hear me?  Are you all right?  Please..."

With infinite relief, Teresa called out as she brushed one of Johnny's clenched hands with her hand. "Murdoch.  We're here."  She looked back down at Johnny.  "They've found us.  It won't be long now." But his eyes had slipped closed, and she was alone again.  She carefully checked his shoulder, found that her skirt bandage was saturated and tore another one. He was beginning to feel much too warm to her, but in spite of all the provisions that were jumbled around them, she had yet to find water in the small area in which she was able to maneuver.  No matter.  Soon they would be out of this hell.

 

Forty-five excruciatingly long minutes had passed since they had first heard Teresa's voice.  With the fire out down at the blacksmith's, most anyone who could walk was gathered now around Baldedmero's ruined store. Everyone wanted to help, but, at the moment, the only thing getting done was talking and planning and arguing.  It was driving Scott crazy to look at the mess and not be able to start grabbing lumber and clawing his way to Johnny and Teresa.  He wanted to shout at someone, but couldn't really figure out who that someone should be.  Calmer heads had prevailed, and no one was allowed to move a single stick.  They all were starting to realize that one wrong move could further collapse what was left of the precarious structure.

Every rope that could be found had been brought to the site when it was decided that a taut web might be able to be constructed to stabilize the supporting beams. Tom's livery, every ranch around, every home within miles had donated coils of rope.  Part of the problem was that no one wanted to be the one to make a wrong move-to be the one to cause Johnny and Teresa any more hurt.  They had been talking with Theresa, knew that she had hurt her arm, that Johnny was trapped under one of the big beams.  Teresa's voice had sounded fragile and exhausted, worried when she spoke of Johnny's predicament.  Johnny hadn't spoken at all at first, but finally, as the minutes stretched out, he had quietly informed them all that he was 'Fine, just fine.'

His father walked up to where Scott sat hunched on the ground, and he was pulled from his thoughts.  "Son, we're ready to start tying off beams.  Are you gonna be all right?  Can you help us?"

Finally.  Inactivity had created so much tension within him, he felt as though he was slowly unraveling.  "Yes sir, tell me what to do," was his quick reply.

The number of people helping had swelled as time moved on.  Every hand from Lancer and many from the surrounding ranches were there to help.  Everyone was shaken, literally and figuratively, by the morning's events, but the chance to prevent further disaster urged them on.  The fact that it was pushing on towards late afternoon was also a concern.

Scott could see Sam standing by the corner of the store closest to Johnny's and Teresa's location, calling down to them, offering encouragement and advice. Big Frank Cragg was there tying a rope around one beam on the north wall that shot out of the pile at an angle.  Trevor , Levi, Jelly, Cipriano, Jed Clayton—everyone from the surrounding area was pitching in.  Jelly was handing out coffee and sandwiches to people as they took turns taking short breaks.  Weaving its way into Scott's consciousness, underneath the pervading feelings of concern and fear, was a deep sense of community, camaraderie—something he had only felt before in the war, never in Boston, never even at Harvard.  These were hardworking people, ranch hands, shopkeepers, friends.  Life was hard and dangerous here, but the people were strong and true. Everyone fiercely took care of and looked after one another. Until coming here, he had never really understood what it meant for people to be so supportive and, well, neighborly.  He knew that not one person there would stop fighting to get Johnny and Teresa to safety.  It humbled him.

The light was fading as they slowly and carefully created a complex structure with lengths of rope. By testing each and every item that was removed from the store carefully, they were able to slowly move parts of walls and smaller rubble away as the larger timbers became more secure.  It reminded Murdoch of peeling away the layers of an onion. The workers were becoming more confident and proficient as they worked steadily on.  Lanterns appeared magically to help guide their hands.

As full dark came on, Scott walked up to Murdoch, who sat between two taut ropes.  His father was rubbing a hand through his hair and draining his coffee cup in one long drink as Scott tried to assess his condition. He appeared to have aged over the course of the day. Scott had a quick, clear picture of Johnny, angry, calling Murdoch 'Old man.'  The 'old man' was clearly exhausted right now, and Scott could tell that he was barely controlling his emotions, trying to stay strong.  "Murdoch, Frank says he thinks we can start moving some of the largest pieces of wood safely.  We thought you might want to be there."

Murdoch looked up at Scott with eyes that were weary and haunted.  "Have you talked to them lately?  Are they holding up?"

"It's gotten pretty quiet down there," Scott admitted. "Doc figures they're as exhausted as we are.  And they have no water.  He's afraid they may be getting dehydrated, depending on how much they're bleeding. Teresa has told him that Johnny has bled quite a bit and has developed a fever. And even though she's not admitting it, she sounds like she's in a lot of pain to me.  Johnny hasn't really said much."  They walked toward the structure as they talked, stepping over ropes and around people as they went.  

"Scott, Murdoch, hurry, we can see them."  It was Doc, and his faced was lined with worry.

 

Part 9

"What's wrong, Sam?  What are you not saying?" Murdoch was concerned that Doc looked more worried now, just as they were finally getting to them, than he had all afternoon.

"I've had a running dialogue going with Teresa all day, Murdoch, but about 20 minutes ago, she just stopped talking.  Now that I can see them, it looks like they might both be unconscious."

All work had come to a stop, and people were milling around waiting to hear news of their two friends in the basement.  Everyone was running on adrenaline and caffeine, beyond exhausted.  As he crawled up to the hole on his hands and knees, Murdoch could see a glimpse of two dark heads huddled together about six feet in from the edge of the south wall.  Then, Doc was there next to him, peering at them, assessing their condition as best he could,  and Murdoch called to them.  "Johnny?  Teresa?  We're almost there. Scott's going to come down.  He's bringing water and medical supplies.  We'll have you out of there in no time."

Just when he was sure that he wouldn't get an answer, finally he heard, "Murdoch, please hurry, Johnny's so hot, and he hasn't spoken or opened his eyes for so long now."  Teresa's voice was quietly desperate, filled with tears.

"We're coming sweetheart.  Be strong just a while longer yet."

 

Scott swung his legs over the side of the basement wall.  He was tied with a rope looped around his back and under his arm pits so that he could be lowered into the hole through an opening that had been cleared, and which tunneled into the ever shrinking pile of debris, without putting his weight on any of the timbers.  With many hands to help, he was lowered slowly down and found himself standing on a pile of sodden dry goods.  Johnny and Teresa were tantalizingly close.  He had to clench the hand which wasn't holding the pack he had brought with him in order to stop himself from rushing forward without considering his movements.  He pulled the loop of the rope from over his head and turned back to the pair visible through a forest of beams ahead of him, "Teresa, honey, look at me."

"Scott?  Are you really here?  Oh my God.  I can't believe you're here."  Tears were flowing freely down her face now, as if she felt she could finally let go. "Scott, hurry, we have to help him.  He's trapped. His ankle."

"It's gonna take me a minute.  We've tried to secure as much of this mess as we can, but it's still not completely stable.  We'll get you out of here, and then we can work on getting Johnny free."  Scott was ducking and slithering through the maze, much as Teresa had on her first trip across the basement, although things were not quite as difficult at this point.

"No, I won't leave him.  I can't leave him here alone. I was mad and...and what if he thinks I'm still mad? He said he can depend on me...I can't leave."

"Honey, you're hurt.  Doc needs to see to your arm. He won't be alone.  I'll be here with him."  He was close enough to her now to reach across Johnny and hand her a canteen.  She grabbed it and turned to Johnny, urging him to wake up and drink.  Scott could see that she was becoming slightly hysterical when he didn't respond to her.  "Teresa, take a drink," he ordered in his "military" voice, and with a slight jerk, she complied, sipping at first and then drinking a long, deep swallow before turning back and shaking Johnny's arm again, calling his name.

"Johnny.  Please wake up and take a drink. Please." She felt so tired, so defeated, so inadequate.

Johnny groaned softly but didn't wake up.  Scott got Teresa'a attention again and handed her a soft cloth from his pack.  She soaked it with water from the canteen and carefully wiped Johnny's face as Scott slowly and meticulously moved to a spot next to Teresa where he could better assess the mess that Johnny had gotten himself into.  There was an area of blood that had spread from his upper back and mixed with the flour on the dirt floor.  Even though the cut appeared to have quit bleeding, the threat of infection in this mess was very real.  He carefully smoothed his hand over the bandage on Johnny's head and found a good sized lump up high in the back.  It had bled, but not too badly.  The real problem, as Teresa had indicated, was his ankle, pinned like a butterfly on a board by a massive wooden beam.  Scott didn't even know where to begin to figure out this problem.

"Scott!  What do you think, Son?  How are they?  Can you get Johnny out?"  He heard his father calling from above.

He looked over at Teresa who was clearly at the end of her reserves.  Bruises stood out in sharp contrast to the pallor of her face.  She had a sharpness about her that spoke of illness and shock.  He didn't want to voice his opinion about getting Johnny out with Teresa listening in.  He called up to his father,  "I think we should get Teresa out of here so Doc can take a look at her arm, and then we'll see to Johnny." He turned back to Teresa, "I promise honey, we'll bring him up after we get you out of here.  Let's get you over to the rope."

She was turned away from him, and he saw her back hitch and heard a small defeated sound, but when she turned toward him, her face was blank.  Her eyes were round and mostly dry and staring into his.  After an eternity, she nodded once and started to make her way back to where she had started this day, in the corner by the door.

Scott waited until he saw her pulled up slowly by the rope, in obvious pain from her arm.  Then he waited even longer until he was sure that Doc had time to walk her away from the site before he called up to his father.  "Murdoch.  Murdoch can you hear me?"

Trevor's head popped over the side of the basement wall.  "He's walking Teresa over to the saloon with Doc, Scott."

"Get Frank Cragg and Henry Simms over here, Trevor, would you please?"

"Sure Scott, I'm on it right now," and Trevor's head disappeared from the edge.

Scott turned back to Johnny and saw blue eyes looking blearily back at him.  "Hey Brother.  What have you gotten yourself into this time?"  With infinite care, Scott lifted Johnny's head a bit and put the canteen up to his mouth.

Johnny was so confused.  Where was Teresa?  How did Scott get in the middle of his nightmare?  Scott needed to get out of here, the building wasn't stable; he could get hurt.  "Baldemero's has a basement,"   he informed Scott very seriously.  "You need to get out of here; the walls are collapsing."  Then Johnny began to panic.  "Where's Teresa?  Scott, you have to get her out to the street; you have to get out of here," he was hoarsely yelling now.

"Johnny....Johnny....calm down.  It's gonna be all right.  The earthquake is over.

Johnny looked at him again for a long moment, the panic fading.  "It hurts, Scott.  Can you help me?"

At that moment, Scott's heart broke.

 

Part 10

Scott dragged in a deep, ragged breath and took the hand that Johnny reached towards him.  "I'm gonna get you out of here in no time at all.  Don't  you worry, little brother."

"...'s Teresa?  She a'right?"

"She's gonna be fine, Johnny.  We got her out.  She's with Doc right now."

"Bueno, muy bien... Scott, c'n I... home now?  Estoy tan cansado—so tired."  Scott could tell that Johnny was fading fast.  When he was tired or sick or hurt, he often reverted to Spanish.

Scott heard someone calling his name and looked up to see Frank, Henry, and Murdoch looking down at him from the edge of the basement.  "What about it Scott?  Can you get him out?"

"Not alone I can't.  He's well and truly stuck.  I need help.  And equipment too.  I'm not quite sure... ropes, a shovel maybe.  He's pinned down tight.  His ankle is trapped between a beam and a wooden crate.  I can't see it very well, but it doesn't look like it's bled much.  It's hard to tell though because his boot is intact.  There's no way it's not broken though. When Sam gets done with Teresa, we need to ask him about what to do when we get the beam off of him."

Murdoch was having a hard time reconciling the fact that while he was busy saving his "precious" ship, two of his children were being buried alive.   "I'm coming down."

"Murdoch, no.  It's not an easy trip through these beams.  Your back and leg are gonna make it nearly impossible to maneuver in the tight spaces.  That's why I asked for Henry and Frank."

"Son, I need..."

"We need to get him out of here as quickly and as safely as possible,"  Scott interrupted, his voice suddenly icy.  He was far beyond worrying about hurting anyone's feelings.  "Henry, do you have something at the shop, something that survived the fire, that we could use as a lever?"

"I'm not sure.  I think...let me go check.  I'll be right back."  His face immediately disappeared from Scott's view.

Murdoch sat back on his haunches, out of sight of the men in the cellar and dropped his face into his hands.  He knew Scott was right.  It just hurt so much to feel so useless.

"Frank, I need your strength.  Are you willing to come into the lion's den?"  Scott knew that Frank was one of the strongest men around.

"You couldn't keep me out if you tried, Scott."

"Good.  Lower down a bundle with equipment first and don't forget to bring an extra lantern."

An hour later, Scott, Henry and Frank were all busy clearing as much space as possible around Johnny. Henry had reappeared with a sturdy iron wagon tongue and a small anvil.  With a group of workers at the top hauling up load after load of debris, by the time Doc called down to them, they had reduced the rubble in the basement to a skeleton of large beams.  Johnny had been conscious off and on, but, typically, had never complained, had even attempted to tease the men about how he was keeping them all from enjoying their night in town.  But he wasn't fooling anyone—he was pale and feverish and in pain.

"Scott, what's the situation down there."  Sam had finished with Teresa and was kneeling next to Murdoch, watching the proceedings.

"Doc?"  It was the first they had heard from Johnny in a while.

"Johnny, I do believe this is the most unusual thing you've ever used to get to see me.  I would have been glad to come out to Lancer for a stomach upset or a sore throat.  You really didn't need to go to all this trouble."

"Always lookin' to be...creative."  Johnny tried to banter a bit with Sam, but really didn't have his heart in it.  He needed to use his strength to ask about more important matters.  "Doc, 's Teresa?"

"Bruised and sore, tired, a bit dehydrated.  Her arm is broken, but it's not a bad break.  I "convinced" her to sleep for a while.  Now, let's talk about you. I'm sending down something for pain, Johnny, and I don't want any arguments from you."

"Doc..."

"Did I just say no arguments?  I mean it.  Now, Scott, tell me what you see."

Doc was already well aware of Johnny's situation.  He knew that he was bruised and cut and probably had a concussion.  He knew that that cut on his back had bled quite a bit, but that it had stopped now.  He knew that he was running a fever.  What he didn't know was exactly what Scott and the others had found when they got everything they could cleared away from Johnny's ankle.

"I don't have to be a doctor to know that this is one broken ankle, Sam."  Scott put the lantern close to Johnny's leg.  "His leg's swollen.  There's some blood, but not a lot.  We think that we can use the anvil as a fulcrum and the wagon tongue as a lever. With people pulling the rope that's tied to this beam, we should be able to get it moved enough to pull him out."

"I'm coming down there."

"Doc, it's already pretty crowded down here."

"I don't care how damn crowded it is down there. The pressure from that beam may be the only thing keeping that ankle from bleeding profusely.  What good is it going to do to get it off of him if he bleeds to death once you do?  It's probably also numbed his leg, keeping him from feeling much pain.  Once you move it, he's going to feel it, believe me.  Now give me a minute to pack up some things and make room for me to tend to my patient.  And don't do anything but that until I get there."

"Really, there is no arguing with that stubborn man," Scott said quietly as he peered up at the lantern lit faces above.  It's a wonder he and Johnny hadn't killed one another by now.

"Give..up, Brother," Johnny spoke softly.  "Doc always wins."

As Sam gathered supplies, he tried to consider every possibility.  So many hours had passed since Johnny's ankle had been pinned, Doc knew that once that beam was moved, their problems were a very long way from being over.  If the fracture was compound, there was a serious threat of contamination.  And unfortunately, infection was just the beginning of the possible consequences.  Because of the length of time that had passed, Johnny may have dead muscle tissue from a lack of circulation. If the weight was crushing enough, there would probably be bone fragments that would have to be removed; if the break was really severe, Sam may have to pin the bones before putting a cast on his leg, but those were things he could deal with once he had the boy out of that damn hole.  Sudden and severe bleeding was his most immediate concern, along with the fact that Johnny was at severe risk of toxins entering his blood stream as soon as the pressure from the beam was removed.  If the release of those toxins was too quick, his kidneys could fail.  He would need to fashion a tourniquet, just in case.  He'd need something to cut that boot off—he'd have to reduce the ankle before they could even think about moving him out of the cellar.  Sterile dressings.  A splint. Ankle breaks were incredibly painful, so a dose of laudanum before anything else.  And more light. They'd have to get more lanterns down there too.

It had been a very long day, and Sam knew that it would be a very long night.

 

Part 11

A ladder was lowered into the basement and stabilized.  Sam handed his medical supplies down to Frank and then slowly descended the ladder.  He worked his way around the remaining beams to his patient.  The transformation from rubble filled disaster to an almost empty hole, discounting the tangle of large beams, was pretty amazing.  "Hey there John.  Ready to get out of here?"

Johnny gave a slight nod.

"I'm going to give you some laudanum before we move the beam."

"Doesn't...hurt...much."

"I'm sorry, Johnny, but I'm pretty sure that is going to change.  Once you get blood flowing again, I think it will hurt more than a bit.  And I'm going to have to set that ankle before we move you; I know you've had bones set before—it's not much fun, huh?"  Without further discussion, he quickly helped Johnny to hold his head up a bit and gave him a dose of  the medicine.  He must have gotten his point across because Johnny didn't put up any more of an argument, or perhaps it was just too much trouble for him to even try.  Doc then organized his supplies while he waited for the laudanum to take effect.  "Are you ready to move that beam, Scott?"

"We're ready whenever you are, Sam."

Sam glanced over at Johnny.  His eyes had closed and his body had taken on a boneless quality that it hadn't had before.  "I think Johnny's ready, let me get a tourniquet fashioned, and you can start.  I need somebody to help me pull him out as soon as the beam is clear.  And, Scott, whatever you do, once you've started lifting the beam, don't let it slip back down until we've got him clear.  We have to get this right the first time."

For a long moment Sam shared a deep look with Scott, then he called to Trevor Frakes to join them so he could help Sam move Johnny when the beam was raised. Moments later, he tightened the tourniquet on Johnny's leg, and he and Trevor each got a grip on Johnny.

Scott, Frank and Henry positioned the wagon tongue on the anvil.  As Scott called up to Murdoch who was supervising those manning the rope tied around the beam, he noticed that Teresa, leaning heavily on Bea Parmenter, had come to check on Johnny.  "All right everyone, on my mark!"

At Scott's command, everyone worked together, and the beam began to creep upwards, inch by excruciatingly slow inch.  Corded muscles stood out in Scott's forearms as he and the others used every ounce of strength they could muster after their long and wearisome day.  They took their time, not wanting the beam to slip from their improvised lever.  Sam and Trevor waited...waited...and finally they were able to grasp Johnny and pull him free from his wooden prison.  As soon as he was pulled clear, the men lowered the beam down again into its original position, the only difference being a decided lack of Johnny Lancer. Johnny lay several feet away from the beam, his head and shoulders supported by Trevor.  Scott ran up to the three men on the floor.  "Sam...Sam, how is he?...what can you tell?...what can you see?"

"Give me a minute here, Scott."  Sam was busy carefully cutting off Johnny's boot.  He noticed that they were his good boots and figured Johnny would have some kind of sass for him about cutting one up.  It couldn't be helped—in addition to the fact that he could be doing further damage to the broken bones involved, the leg was far too swollen to even believe that it might be possible to pull it off.

"Sam, how's Johnny?"  Murdoch called from above.

"I'll let everyone else know what's going on as soon as I know what's going on.  Everybody up there is going to have to take a big whopping dose of patience and let me do my job."   He had explained to Trevor how the tourniquet would need to be loosened up every ten minutes, but for no more than a minute, and with his help with that, Doc could concentrate more fully on Johnny's ankle.  The boot had helped to stabilize the fracture to some degree, but there was a small break in the skin.  Compound, Doc thought, but not as bad I suspected it might be.  "I need more light."

Scott had been hovering in the background, almost afraid to breathe.  He saw that even with the laudanum, Johnny moaned softly and turned his head from side to side.  All of the men playing out this grim scene in the basement were deathly still and quiet, afraid to distract the doctor.  Scott and Frank gathered all of the lamps in the basement, and Henry went to the ladder to accept more from above.  Soon they had the area around Sam and Johnny as bright as mid-day.

Doc saw that Johnny's leg was swollen, and pieces of his sock were imbedded in the wound made from the jagged bone end.  With great care, he cleaned the area with, first, tweezers and then carbolic acid.  He could see that there was dead muscle tissue, had expected there would be.  The threat of gangrene was very real; he would have to cut away the dead tissue as soon as possible.  "Let's get this show on the road, my friend," he whispered to the unconscious Johnny.  "Trevor, let Scott in there to hold Johnny." He knew that Scott wanted and needed desperately to help. In spite of his fear for Johnny and the mind numbing exhaustion that was spreading through him, Scott pulled in his reserves one more time.  He shot Doc a look of infinite gratitude and carefully took over for Trevor.  "Scott, I'm going to set this now; I want you to get a good grip on Johnny.  Hold him around his shoulders.  Don't worry about that cut right now; I need for you to hold him tight while I do this."  Scott nodded, Doc pulled, and Johnny bucked.

"It's okay, Johnny.  Everything will be fine.  Just hold on brother."  Unconsciously, Scott quieted his brother as he had seen Johnny calm a skittish horse-quietly, rhythmically.

After the bones had been hitched into a good position,  Doc set to work fashioning a temporary splint.  He needed to get Johnny to his surgery in order to deal with the many possible complications.  He was again grateful that his office and most of his medical supplies had survived the quake.  Scott's softly spoken litany to Johnny was helping Doc to stay calm as well.  He called to Frank and Henry, who both still stood patiently by, "Can you find a nice, solid plank of this wood to use for a stretcher?  Perhaps Baldemero's door survived intact."

A short time later, Sam and Scott had positioned Johnny on what, indeed, appeared to be Baldemero's door and were strapping him down with more rope. Rarely had Scott appreciated rope as he had come to over this long day.  Johnny was becoming increasingly restless, and time was an issue once again.  Between Henry, Sam, Frank, Trevor and Scott, they maneuvered the door to the ladder.  Then, they wrestled their precious cargo up the ladder in, as much as possible, a semi-horizontal position.  Anxious hands reached from above to help and, after 14 grueling hours, Johnny was finally free.

 

Part 12

Scott awoke with a start.  What on earth is that horrible noise?  It sounded a little bit like a dying cow.  Where in the hell am I sleeping now?  Since he had come west, he seemed to find himself sleeping in some mighty unusual places, places his grandfather would be appalled to think about.  As his surroundings began to become more defined for him, he realized that he wasn't sleeping in the barn as he had feared, but was instead sleeping, mostly upright, in a chair in Sam's waiting room.  His back was yelping at him and he thought briefly that this was even worse than waking up in the barn.  That horrible noise was, he choked back a small laugh, Murdoch, snoring in the chair across from him.  What had happened now?  Why were they sleeping here?  He stretched his back and felt a very satisfying "pop."  Murdoch snorted loudly and jerked upright, his own snores waking him.  Bleary eyed, he looked over at Scott and yawned widely. He cleared his throat once and asked if there was "Any word on Johnny?"

Johnny.  How could he have forgotten?  His body and mind must have completely shut down as soon as he had sat down on this hard, wooden chair and both were a bit sluggish in catching up.  "I haven't heard anything," he finally answered his father.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly 11:00; it's been two hours.  Murdoch, where's Teresa?"

"Levi Parmenter took her back, under protest, to the saloon to lie down.  She took some real convincing, but I think Doc's pain killers were still workin' on her a bit.  She finally went."

Scott stood and wandered over to the window facing the street.  From this spot, he could see that the town had finally gotten quiet.  Many, like Teresa, were asleep on bedrolls at the saloon.  Those who had homes still standing had gone to them.  He could see the wagon from Lancer parked nearby with Jelly's boot clad feet sticking out of the back of it.  A bit further down the street, in the light of the nearly full moon, he could still make out a part of the rope web they had constructed at Baledemero's.  This day was surely the longest ever in the history of Morro Coyo.  He heard Murdoch sigh loudly behind him and walked over to sit next to his father.

Within moments, Sam opened the door and joined them. He slumped into the chair on the other side of Murdoch, exhausted.  He used one hand to push through his hair to try to bring some semblance of order to his appearance.  Between stitching cuts and setting bones, Doc had been going non-stop since shortly after the quake hit.

Scott searched his face, trying to learn something from the doctor's expression.  "Sam?"

"What?" Doc jumped just a bit.  "Oh, well, I'd say Johnny really dodged a bullet today, Scott.  The wooden crate that was under his ankle seems to have actually cushioned the blow.  It's as though it gave around the ankle and then kept the beam from coming down all the way.  That brother of yours is the luckiest unlucky person I have ever met.  Out of all the things that could have gone wrong, I'd say he must have some kind of guardian angel looking out for him or something."

"Or maybe he's just lucky to have a darn good doctor looking out for him."  Murdoch was vigorously pumping Sam's hand up and down and slapping him on the back, he was so relieved to hear the doctor's report.

"Well, don't get too excited.  First we have to get him fever free.  Also, he's had a pretty bad break, regardless of the crate.  I had to remove some small bone fragments from his ankle, and there's still a concern about infection.  I also had to cut away some dead muscle tissue, left a pretty good sized wound, but we'll keep him quiet and splinted until I'm sure that's not a problem.  Then, I'm going to put a cast on that leg, probably in about two weeks.  Once the cast is dry, you can take him home."

"He's not gonna be happy about staying in town for two weeks, Doc."  Murdoch well knew his son's restlessness.

"I'm afraid the real problem you're going to have is that ankles take a very long time to heal.  Months. At least three months.  And then it will take him even more time to get his ankle back to normal."

"He's going to be one angry, hobbled man,"  Scott observed.

"All I can say is good luck to the rest of the household—hell, good luck to the whole valley; we'll all be able to hear his bellyaching before this is over," Doc added.  "Anyway, right now he's resting pretty well; I managed to get him to take some more laudanum, but he's running a pretty high fever.  If I can count on you two to sit with him tonight and keep cool cloths on him, I'm going to go tell Bea to go on home, run down to the saloon to check on my other patients, and then I'm going to get some sleep.  He won't wake up for a while, most likely not before morning, but you come get me if he does.  Oh, and you can do this in shifts you know.  Both of you need more sleep than the two hours you just got in these hard chairs.  There are more comfortable chairs in the back and an extra bed."

Murdoch followed Doc into the room where Johnny lay so he could get any last minute instructions. Bea Parmenter was gathering her things and nodded to him as she turned to leave.  He could see Johnny lying on the bed by the window, nearly as pale as the pillow in the circle of lamp light around him.   He thought he knew about all of Johnny's injuries and was surprised to see that his hands were bandaged fairly heavily, and he had a pretty fine shiner.  "What happened to his hands Sam?"

"There was a great deal of broken glass from the windows and from jars all over the floor of the basement.  He may have been on his hands and knees on the floor at one point—his knees are cut like his hands.  Strangely enough, I not only had to clean glass out of those cuts, but peppermint candy as well."

"And the shiner?"

"Really, I don't know.  Any number of things may have hit him there."

Murdoch fleetingly wondered if the thing that had hit him might have been Teresa before the pair had even made it into town.

He turned to see that Scott had settled in the chair next to the bed and was wiping a cool, wet cloth across Johnny's forehead.  "I'll take first shift, Murdoch.  I'll wake you in a couple of hours."

"See that you do, Son.  If I wake up and it's morning, I will not be a happy man.  You need your rest too." And he settled into the extra bed across from his sons.

 

Part 13

Johnny awoke to the sounds of an ax rhythmically chopping somewhere outside and voices floating past his window.  It was full on morning.  He was getting more than a little tired of sleeping and waking and sleeping and waking and not knowing quite where he was or what was going on.  People making him drink this or that, turn this way or that way.  It's no wonder he didn't know if he was comin' or goin'.  This time he felt much more alert.  He could tell he was at Doc's, so he knew for sure, remembered, that they had gotten him out of purgatory.  That was good.  His head hurt, but not anything like before.  His shoulder pulled at him when he tried to sit up-the stitches, he thought. His hands were wrapped in bandages, and for a moment he wondered what that was all about, but then he remembered the cuts and, for some reason, candy was involved.  For one scary moment, his leg still felt as though it was trapped under that beam.  He looked down and saw that, instead, it was swaddled in bandages and splinted quite thoroughly-good, no beam.  Leg hurts, he thought, but considering everything, he was feeling pretty good.  Doc must be dosin' me.  Sneaky polecat. Just as he began to realize that he had a powerful thirst, the door opened, and Scott walked in with a pitcher of water.

"Hey."

"Hey yourself, Johnny.  Are you really awake this time?"

"Pretty sure."

"What I want to know is why you couldn't even make a quick little trip into town without getting into trouble?"  Johnny's face was bruised, his eye mottled yellow and green, and bore several small cuts, but he was smiling.

"Not my fault the town collapsed."

"Thirsty?"

"Very."

Scott helped Johnny sit up a bit and stuffed extra blankets around him to keep him somewhat upright. He handed Johnny a glass of water, which he took awkwardly between his bandaged hands.  "You're looking much better today, little brother. Your fever broke last night, finally.  You've been drifting in and out for nearly two full days now."

"Scott, Where's Teresa?  Is she okay?"

"Considering what the two of you went through, she's doing very well, better than you, I might add.  She's a strong girl.  I just left her eating breakfast.  She wants to see you, but for some reason, she doesn't think you want to see her.  She still refuses to tell me what the problem is.  Johnny will you please finally tell me what is going on with you two?"

"Can we go home now?"

"Johnny.  Quit avoiding the subject.  Tell me what's going on."

"Scott, I'm not gonna tell you.  It's not my place."

"It's not your place?  What does that mean?  You two are the most exasperating, infuriating..." Scott was so mad he was sputtering.  "After all that's happened and you two are still feuding.  When you were buried in that basement together all either of you could think about was the other one, and now, here we are right back where we were earlier in the week.  I. Give. Up."  He threw up his hands in defeat.  "I'm out of it."

"Wait, Scott, wait, you're right; I know you're right.  Just tell her...tell her it's time we talk this out, okay?  Please, get her to come here."

"Why is it I can never deny you anything?  I'll give her your message, Johnny, but Doc's on his way here to check on you, so your "talkin' out's" going to have to wait a bit."

Shortly after Scott left him alone to fret about Teresa, Sam did come in.  He set a tray on the table next to the bed and turned to look at his most frequent patient. "You'll turn me into a man of means some day John Lancer.  Good thing your father can afford me."

With a small smirk, "You're welcome, Doc; just tryin' to do my part."

"Glad to see that you're more alert.  Now, let me take a look at you so you can have your breakfast." Doc took Johnny's pulse-at his wrist, but even more importantly, in his foot. "Good pulse in your foot, John; that's a very good thing.  Fever's finally gone, too."  He checked on the stitches on Johnny's back and rewrapped that wound and the ones on Johnny's hands. There were a few painful moments as he checked the wound on Johnny's ankle where he had cut away the dead tissue.

"So, am I gonna live?"

"Oh, I predict you'll live to sass another day, don't you worry Johnny.  But you'll be doing your sassing from a bed, or a wheeled chair for a while and, eventually, from crutches for a time after that."

"How long?"  Johnny asked in a small voice.  Suddenly he wasn't feeling quite as "well" as he had been.  In fact, he was feeling downright awful.

"First we put the cast on, which will be in ten days or so; we can't put it on until that wound heals up some; then, the cast takes about three days to dry thoroughly.  Once it's dry, you can go home; but, it stays on for no less than three months.

"Three months."  Johnny's voice was a strangled whisper.

Once you're feeling better, you'll be able to use a crutch, and when you're much better, and the cast has come off, you'll need a cane for, if you're a good boy, another month after that. When the cast is off, I'll give you exercises to do, which will speed up the healing process, but we can't rush it too much.  You could do permanent damage to your ankle if you don't follow my rules with this.  And absolutely no getting on a horse until I say so.  Is that clear?"

"Doc, how long have you known me?  You know I can't do those things.  I'll explode or somethin'.  I don't know why, but I just can't be still that long."

"You better find a way, Johnny, or you can find yourself another doctor."

"You'd do that to me?"

"No, you'd be doing that to yourself.  I've warned you.  I won't stand by and watch you hurt yourself  by not following my instructions.  Do you want to walk normally again?"

"Yes sir."  Johnny's head was down, and his blue eyes were effectively hidden by a black shock of bangs.

"Now eat your breakfast, Johnny.  Start getting your strength back so you can fight this fight.  I'll be back in a little while to give you your medicines.  Do you want me to help you sit up more?"

"No, Doc.  I'll eat in a while."

 "See that you do," Sam said gently,  and then he left quietly to check on Isaac Pierce and several other patients who still needed care.

Not long after Sam left, from the open door, Johnny heard another, much quieter, voice.  "Maybe you have enough strength now to finish our fight."

"Maybe, Teresa.  That depends.  Are you going to slap me again?"

 

Part 14

Teresa made her way into the room, nearer to the bed. "Johnny, that night in the garden, it was none of your business.  You reacted without thinking; you hit him."

"He was kissin' you."

"No, I was kissing him."

"You slapped me."

"You hit him."

"He was kissin' you!"  Louder this time.

"I was kissing him!"  Teresa glared at him, not backing down.

"Teresa, this is gettin' us nowhere.  Please, can't you just see that Riley Miller is a worthless, good for nothin' saddletramp?  He wandered in here with nothin' and he'll wander out with nothin'.  He'll be gone quicker than I c'n spit.  And, I've heard rumors that he's as fast with a gun as he is with women."

"Just when did you become the type of person to listen to rumors about a man's character?  Anyway, I don't care what you've heard; it was none of your business."

"You're my business, Teresa; I can't help it. I can't change it.  Mostly I wanna know—why Miller?  I've seen any number of nice boys courtin' after you, miel.  Why choose someone like him?"

"Exactly because he is someone like him."  She paused, "And because of you."

"No, no, no, no.  You are not tellin' me that you were sparkin' with that slimy bit of trouble 'cause he reminds you of me.  I cannot be havin' this problem right now. No..."

"No, Johnny," Teresa interrupted him, "Not because he reminded me of you, but because of what you said."

"What I said?"  Johnny tried to sit up straighter in the bed.  He felt at a disadvantage having this conversation half reclining.  Teresa reached over to help him as he struggled to pull himself up.  "I never said nothin' to you about Riley Miller before that night, Teresa.  How could I when I didn't know you had ever spoken to him, let alone that you were clenchin' at him?"

"It wasn't about you saying anything about him; it was about what you've been saying about me."  She arranged his blanket carefully over him again as he got settled into a more comfortable position.  Then she handed him a glass of water from the bedside table, helping him to grasp it with his bandaged hands.

"Sayin' about you?  Teresa, I give up.  You have stepped over that line into exasperatin' womanhood." He felt like he was caught in the maelstrom of Baldemero's again.  Nothing seemed to be making any sense.  "What have I been sayin' about you?  I would never purposely say anything to hurt you, Teresa.  Why don't you tell me exactly what awful things I said to send you flyin' into Riley Miller's arms?"

In a very small voice, she answered him.  "You said I was dependable."

"What?"

"Constant.  Steady.  Reliable."

"Of course I said those things...you have all of those as a part of you."

"But don't you see?  I don't want to be those things. I want to be fun and exciting.  Daring.  More like you, Johnny."

"Oh, querida, those things, well, their value is overrated.  Pretty soon, the excitin' things ain't so excitin' anymore, and the fun just becomes work.  What you have, how you are is so much more important.  And you are so much more than just those things."

"Johnny, I'm so boring.  My life is so boring."

Johnny had to put one bandaged hand up to his aching head to hold it still as he burst into crackling laughter.  He was nearly beside himself with mirth, and Teresa could only look on in amazement.  "What's wrong with you?  How can you laugh at me like this?

"Teresa,"  Johnny had to gasp for breath before he could continue.  "Your life is so boring."  He was collapsing into laughter again, practically choking on it. "With everything that goes on around Lancer, you think your life is boring?  What would be exciting, then?  Finding out Murdoch has two more sons somewhere?  Getting buried under two buildings?" Laughter bubbled out of him again.

"Johnny!  This is not funny.  I'm serious."  Her lips were beginning to twitch.  "Stop it right, now."  She smiled broadly at him as he tried to get himself under control.  "All right, you win; I'm crazy.  How could I possibly think that life could be boring with you around?"

"Yeh, you better hold onto that burning desire for excitement. After what Doc just told me, you're gonna have your hands full with me over the next few months."

"I'm sorry, Johnny.  I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly was I?  When I looked at you across the store, with the whole world shaking around us, all I could think of was that we were going to die, and I wouldn't be able to tell you I was sorry about being mad at you."

"I love you, querida.  I will always be lookin' out for you, whether you want me to or not.  Now tell me I don't have to get up out of this bed and hit Riley Miller again."

"You don't.  From what I've been told, he took off right after the quake."

"Yep, quicker than I c'n spit."

"It's okay, I really was just looking for a little danger.  Guess we found it without Riley's help, huh?"   She climbed carefully onto the bed next to Johnny, mindful of her arm and his leg, and stretched out beside him.  "I'm sorry I got so mad.  After all that's happened it sure seems silly, doesn't it?"

"It seems like a real waste of time, miel, a real waste of precious time."

 

Epilogue

Two months later, Johnny felt like all he had was time.  He was about half way through his convalescence and pretty much all of the way through his patience. Except for this heavy piece of  plaster on his leg, he was feeling all right, back to normal.  He had ciphered enough columns of numbers, played enough checkers, snapped enough beans and watched enough of other people going about their daily lives pretty as you please to drive anybody crazy.

He hadn't felt like doing much at first, and then, when he was feeling better, everyone had been very accommodating-Scott had brought him dozens of books and newspapers; Murdoch had found him every possible "sittin' down" chore on the ranch, from mending tack to cleaning weapons to those damn ledgers; Teresa would play board games with him whenever she could find the time and would gossip with him as she went about her daily chores.  He knew he must be becoming unbearable though when Maria had offered to teach him to sew!  Johnny knew he was not an easy horse to break.  His mood became blacker and blacker with each day he spent imprisoned by his leg, and his family became less and less accommodating, or maybe it just seemed that way to him.

As the weeks passed, he sank deeper and deeper into broken ankle hell.  He missed everything- riding Barranca, mending fences, branding cattle, breaking horses, raising a ruckus.  Walking.  Hell, he even missed his bedroom, since it had been decreed that he would not be climbing stairs with a crutch.  He was bored, and he was boring.  With this new insight, he would have had so much more sympathy for Teresa's earlier complaints about her steady nature and even a better understanding of her dalliance with Riley Miller, if only she hadn't recently reverted right back into reliable, dependable, "won't let Johnny do anything fun" Teresa.  He wanted danger.  Excitement. Even a little earthquake would be all right.  Most of all, he needed to do something, preferably something daring.

He reached down beside himself and picked up his ever-present wooden crutch, which lay on the floor next to the couch.  Damn this thing. After much awkward maneuvering, he was mostly vertical, outside, and slowly hobbling towards the barn.  Why couldn't they all see that he was so much better?  He pushed open the barn door and breathed in the sweet smells of leather, hay and horses.  Barranca stood waiting for him, had been waiting for him for months.  Nobody was around at all.  Nobody would ever find out.  A lazy smile started quietly and spread up to crinkle at his eyes.  Just a tiny little bit of excitement, just for a little while, and then everything would be "fine, just fine."

 

~end~

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