The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Blood

 

 

First of the Blood series, followed by The Journey and Mothers and Grandfathers


The handsome young cabellero stood on the boardwalk outside the Green River hotel. He was dressed completely in black. He wore a waist length jacket, silver spurs on his boots and a .45 in his holster. His hair and eyes were coal black. He would be a menacing figure except for the easy, soft expression he wore on his face. He watched the comings and goings of the towns people disinterestingly.

Suddenly, he stiffened as he watched the wagon coming down the dusty street and pull up in front of the merchantile across the road. He watched as the two young men jumped down from the wagon with ease and grace but his attention was focused on only one of them. He watched until the object of his interest walked into the store then he slipped into the hotel and up the stairs. He knocked softly on the door.

"Come in," he heard.

As he entered the room he saw the old man sitting in a chair with his book. His glasses had slid down on his nose but he seemed unaware. He was old but stately. He possessed a poise and grace born naturally of those who had wealth and prominence. He demanded respect without having to ask for it.

'My patron", the young cabellero thought. He loved the old man as a son would love his father. He would do anything asked of him, give anything for his patron.

He walked across to the old man and simply stated, "he is here."

"Where?" inquired the old man.

"He and another man just walked into the store across the street."

The old man rose and walked out onto the balcony of his suite. It was the best the town of Green River had to offer. Though it was not nearly what the man was used to, he was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the room. He watched the store front intently, not moving. The two young men came out of the store and stopped for a moment, talking. Then the one he wanted to see turned and walked to the stage office.

"Is it him, patron?" the young man asked.

"I cannot see his face clearly. Perhaps he will return this way and I can see him better."

As if the young man on the street could hear the request, he walked back towards the store with a stack of mail. He had removed his hat and it hung from it's string, resting naturally on his back. He laid the stack of mail in the floor of the buckboard and walked over to the saloon. The old man studied him intently. His eye sight may not be good enough for reading, but he could see like an eagle at distances.

"It is him," he whispered.

"Shall I go get him, patron?" the young man asked eagerly.

"No. I want to wait until he is alone. Go down to that cantina, sit as close to them as you can. Try to hear what they are saying and find out who the other one is that is with him," the old man instructed.

"Si, patron," the young man replied and was gone quickly.

*******************

He entered the saloon as inconspicuously as he could, but he saw out of the corner of his eye that the man look up at him, staring at him for a few seconds then seemingly dismissing him.

They were sitting at the back of the saloon. The one he wanted had his back to the wall. The other one sat to his right. The cabellero sauntered casually over and sat at the table next to them. He ordered   tequila and sat quietly with his head down. To all the world he looked like a man lost in his own thoughts, but he was straining to hear every word the quiet young man at the next table was saying.

He could hear snatches of conversation but nothing of importance to him. The two young men were discussing everything from ranch work to the attributes of girls they knew. Finally he heard a piece of information he could use. The one with him had called him 'brother', he had in turn referred to the other as 'brother' as well. The cabellero stood up and walked quietly out of the saloon. He returned immediately to his patron and relayed what he had heard.

"Brother? Are you sure, Miguel?"

"Si, patron. I heard it distinctly. They referred to one another as brother."

The old man sighed heavily. "So, he has a brother now as well as a father. This may be more difficult than I thought. Did they seem...close?"

"Si, patron. They were talking comfortably with each other."

The old man began pacing back and forth in the hotel suite. He had thought he might have a good chance if he had only the father to contend with. But now, now there was a brother as well. One the boy seemed close with. This meant he had a familia. No, this was not going to be so easy after all.

"What shall I do, patron?" the cabellero asked.

The old man continued to pace. The younger man began to think he was not going to answer.

"I am not sure, Miguel. This is, at best, a tenuous situation. Now there are more considerations. Do nothing for now. By tomorrow, I will have a plan."

******************

The old man awoke from a fitful sleep. He had planned this so well. Every detail had been carefully thought out. Now he'd had to rethink his entire plan. He had come to the conclusion sometime in the middle of the night that this new development really did not matter. He could not turn back now. It had taken so long, twenty years, to find his treasure. This is how he thought of the boy, as a treasure. His last chance. All the other chances he'd had through the years had come to a crashing close some ten years ago.

He had always thought he would have more time but his time ran out. She was gone now and he would never have another chance to get her back. So many years he had tried. He would leave her alone for awhile, always hoping if he just gave her more time she would come to her senses and return to him. But she never did and after the boy, she had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. He had tried to find her, discreetly of course, for he knew if she found out he was searching for her, he would never find her. In the end it hadn't mattered for when he did finally find her, there was nothing left but a tombstone...and the boy. He had disappeared as well.

The old man smiled to himself as he thought 'she taught him well how not to be found.' But the father had found him. After twenty years, he had found him. It was only because of this that the old man had lucked into the information he so desperately sought. The gentle tapping at the door brought him out of his reverie.

"Come in, Miguel."

The cabellero entered quietly and came to stand next to his patron.

"You are so loyal, Miguel. Perhaps I have not told you how much I appreciate you," the old man smiled.

The cabellero looked down shyly and tried to clear the lump that was forming in his throat. "Gracias, patron. You know I will do anything for you," he replied.

The old man smiled again. "Today, I will meet him. We will ride out to the hacienda after breakfast and find him."

"What shall we say to them, patron, when they ask why we want to see him."

"Leave that to me, Miguel. Now I am hungry. Shall we go downstairs and have our breakfast?"

With that they descended the stairs to the dining room.

******************

They headed for the ranchero in the rented surrey. The cabellero had made sure to get one with a covering to protect his patron from the heat of the sun. As they traveled, the old man was quiet, contemplating this first meeting. He knew it would be difficult but he was a determined man. He had all the evidence he needed to prove himself to the boy. He knew he would not be taken at his word. When he had found out about the boy's past, he had been startled and saddened. He knew this one would be hard to convince of the truth he had to share.

They pulled up in front of the great white hacienda just before noon. The old man was impressed by the expansive structure. He stayed in the surrey as the cabellero slid down and approached the front door. When his knock was answered, he found himself looking up at a tall impressive looking man of some age. He had not expected the man to be so overwhelming in stature. He recovered himself as he realized the man had asked him a question.

"May I help you?" Murdoch Lancer repeated.

"Si, Senor. I would like to speak with Johnny Lancer."

The tall man stared suspiciously at him but only said, "he's not here right now. Perhaps I could help you."

The cabellero half turned and looked at his patron for help. Murdoch followed his movement and realized someone was with the young man. He stepped out onto the veranda and walked to the surrey.

"Good day. Johnny isn't home right now. Is there something I could do for you?" he asked.

The cabellero was shocked by this show of disrespect. He was quickly at his patron's side. "Forgive me, Mr. Lancer. May I introduce my patron. Don Fernando de la Ruiz"

"Pleased to meet you, I'm Murdoch Lancer," he replied extending his hand.

The old man shook hands briefly. Murdoch was studying him, it was evident this man was wealthy and probably well-respected in his community. Murdoch took note of the fine, elaborate and expensive suit the man wore. He was well-groomed, his salt and pepper hair brushed back from his forehead, his beard and moustache neatly trimmed. He sat straight with his chin slightly jutted out. A proud man.

Murdoch was curious and a little worried about what this man could possibly want with his youngest son. Whenever anyone came asking for Johnny, Murdoch was apprehensive if he didn't recognize them. He was always concerned that it could be trouble from Johnny's past. The old man spoke.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lancer, but I am afraid it is Johnny I need to speak with. It is of a confidential and somewhat delicate nature." His English was very good and his manner of speech conveyed an educated man.

"I see. Well I don't expect him home for some time, I'm afraid. He's working."

"I see," the old man replied, obviously disappointed.

There was an uneasy moment of silence before Murdoch spoke again. "You're welcome to come inside and wait for him."

The old man had not expected this hospitality, but then, this man had no reason not to be courteous.

"Thank you, Senor. I believe I will."

The cabellero helped his patron down from the surrey and followed the two older men into the house. Murdoch offered refreshments and introduced Teresa to the two gentlemen. They sat and made small talk for over an hour. It was obvious to Murdoch that the man was growing impatient and since he had not been forthcoming with any information about himself or the reason for his visit, the atmosphere was becoming tense.

"If it's that important to you to speak with Johnny, Senor Ruiz, I can send someone out to get him," Murdoch suggested.

The old man was visibly relieved. "Gracias, Senor Lancer. That would be most appreciated."

As Murdoch headed for the French doors leading out into the yard, he saw the golden palomino approaching

"Well, it looks like that won't be necessary, Senor Ruiz, here comes Johnny now."

The old man stood and looked out the doors as well. He could see Johnny approaching. He was riding a beautiful animal. 'Good! He knows fine stock'   the old man thought. 'Look how well he handles the animal, such confidence!' He smiled proudly as Johnny dismounted with an ease and grace unmatched by anything he had seen in his long life.

As Johnny approached the house he suddenly felt himself becoming anxious and more than a little nervous. How would the boy react to the news? Ruiz knew Johnny had no idea who he was or that he even existed. He was certain of that.

********************

Johnny took note of the surrey standing outside the house. He didn't recognize it but he figured it was one of Murdoch's friends visiting. He entered the house and stopped   to remove his hat and hang it on one of the hooks by the door. He walked into the great room and was halfway across when he noticed the young cabellero standing against a wall. He recognized him from the saloon and Johnny became uneasy. He didn't like this, he didn't know why but his instincts had always been good.

He smiled and said, "Murdoch, who's your friend?" nodding toward the young man.

Ruiz stood up for the first time and Johnny looked him up and down with great interest.

"Friends, I mean," he said still smiling, but watching everything going on in the room. Murdoch didn't seem upset so that was a good sign.

"Johnny, this is Don Fernando Ruiz and this is ..I'm sorry young man I never did get your name."

"Miguel," the cabellero replied simply.

"And Miguel. Senor Ruiz, this is my son Johnny." Murdoch finished.

The old man looked deep into Johnny's eyes. Their gaze was locked for a long moment and Johnny started to feel uncomfortable under this man's stare. He finally looked away, turning his attention back to his father

"I didn't know you knew any Mexican cattlemen," he stated.

"How do you know I am a cattleman?" Ruiz asked.

"Well, by the way you're dressed mostly, Senor. Most landowners in Mexico wear similar outfits."

Ruiz laughed softly, "I did not realize I was so...ordinary."

"Johnny, Senor Ruiz is here to see you, not me," Murdoch said.

"Oh? What about?" Johnny asked, now more interested.

"Forgive me, Senor Lancer, but as I said before this is a most delicate matter. Could I impose on you for a little privacy?" Ruiz stated.

Murdoch looked questioningly at Johnny. It was apparent   his son didn't know this man. Johnny saw the look and nodded his head ever so slightly, indicating his approval to his father.

Murdoch relaxed and said, "certainly, Senor Ruiz. Please feel free to make yourself at home. I have other matters to attend to. I'll be out at the corral," he added for Johnny's benefit. He wanted his son to know he wouldn't be far away in case he was needed.

*********************

"Shall we sit? Oh, Miguel, my pouch. I left it in the surrey," the old man stated.

"Si, patron," Miguel answered as he dashed out to the surrey to retrieve his patron's proof.

"Senor Ruiz, before we go any further, I need to ask a question," Johnny started.

"Si,   of course, Juanito, what is it?"

Johnny flinched at the use of his Spanish name but said nothing about it. "Well, did you come here to see Johnny Lancer or Johnny Madrid?" he asked bluntly.

Ruiz smiled. "Is there a difference? I assure you I am not interested in your past as a gunfighter," he replied.

"Ok, then. Have a seat, Senor."

Miguel returned with the precious pouch and then quietly retreated to a corner. He knew he was to be unobtrusive yet still be nearby for his patron.

Ruiz took a deep breath and began. "Juanito,"

"Please don't call me that," Johnny said.

"Forgive me, sometimes I tend to speak in my native language," Ruiz explained.

"Johnny," he started again. "What I have to tell you will not be easy for you to hear. In fact, I am well prepared that you will not believe me, at first."

Johnny looked apprehensively at Ruiz. He already didn't like where this might be going, but he remained silent and listened intently.

"This is about your mother," Ruiz explained.

Johnny visibly tensed at the mention of his mother. Now he knew he didn't like this.

"Please," Ruiz said as he saw Johnny's reaction, "let me finish."

Johnny nodded his head but kept quiet.

"I know now that your mother never told you about her family."

"She said she didn't have any," Johnny replied quietly.

Ruiz shook his head sadly. His eyes betrayed his pain. "Yes, I am sure she did tell you that. It isn't true, however. I am her family. Johnny, I am her father."

Johnny's eyes grew wide, he was stunned silent by this information. His head was swimming as he tried to wrap this idea around in his mind. How could this be? After all this time? The questions starting running rapidly through his mind until it was all just a jumbled mess. He shook his head to try to clear his thoughts, try to make some sense of what this man was telling him.

Ruiz perceived this action as a denial. "It is true, Johnny. I can prove it," he said as he began to pull the papers from his pouch.

He handed the stack to Johnny who just stared at him for a moment before accepting the documents. He read them thoroughly. A birth certificate for Maria Carlotta Ruiz, a marriage certificate for her parents and the most compelling evidence to Johnny, a picture of his mother at a young age standing with her arms tightly around the man sitting in front of him now. There was no doubt in Johnny's mind that this was his mother. She was much younger, but those eyes and that smile were unmistakable. He stared at the picture for a long time. He couldn't speak and didn't know what to say even if he could. Finally he looked up at the man who was watching him closely. He saw the truth there too, in the man's eyes. He could see he was not being lied to.

"Tell me," Johnny said barely above a whisper.

He didn't need to say any more. Ruiz knew what he wanted to know.

"Are you sure, chico?" he asked.

Johnny nodded his head, afraid to speak further for fear he would lose control.

"Very well. She was a difficult child, unruly, undisciplined and fiery. She rebuked any authority. I tried so hard. But after her mother died when she was 14, I lost control completely. She was so rebellious. She left home not long after. I tried to bring her back, I did bring her back a few times, but she would always run off again. After a time I thought perhaps if I gave her some freedom she would get it out of her system and come home. I tried several more times through the years. I always knew where she was. I kept a close watch, as difficult as it was. I didn't want any harm to come to her.

â€úThen, she met your father. When they married, I was not invited to the wedding. I doubt she ever told him of me. But, I thought, now she will settle down. Now she will have her own familia and this....wildness will be gone from her. When I heard of your birth I was overjoyed and saddened. Knowing I would probably never get to see my grandson was very painful, I admit. But knowing my Maria was a mother herself, I was convinced she would be well and happy.

â€úThen came the news she had left your father and taken you with her. I was horrified, Juan...Johnny. I realized then that she had not changed, maybe she simply could not. It was her nature to run free and wild. At first, I thought perhaps your father had been cruel to her, but I found out that was not the case. I would have let go then, I would have given up on her, except for you. If she had left you here it would have been different, but the thought of what kind of life you had....I could not let go.

â€úI searched for you both everywhere, but to no avail. Then, I found her. I finally found my chica." He stopped then, overcome with emotion.

Johnny looked at him quizzically but remained quiet, giving the old man time to pull himself together. After a few moments he continued.

"Forgive me. I found her grave."

Johnny hung his head to hide his own pain at the memory of his mother's death. Ruiz saw this but thought it best to get through his tale as quickly as he could.

"For a while I stopped looking for you. I admit it was because of my own grief. It took me a year to resume the search, but unfortunately, I had no better luck finding you. It wasn't until your father brought you back here that I knew the name you were using. I thought about coming to you immediately but...I thought you would need time with your father. Once I knew the name you used I began to look for any information I could find about the life you had lead. What I found out was difficult to accept, as you can imagine.

â€úBut it was the fact that you were lead to believe your father threw you out that made me wait. I knew you would need time to rebuild your life if you decided to stay here. Now I am here, hoping you will believe me. Hoping you will accept me in your life, chico," he finished with a heavy, exhausted sigh.

The old man was obviously spent from the telling. Johnny had been nodding his head, still hung low, to let the old man know he was listening. When he stopped talking Johnny couldn't look at him for a long time. The silence in the room was deafening. Finally, Johnny looked up, having gotten his emotions under control. He looked long at the old man, studying him. Then he said with a sigh.

"This is a lot to take in. I'm sorry but you're gonna have to give me some time to deal with this."

"Of course, chico. I did not expect you to jump into my arms. I am staying at the hotel in Green River. When you are ready, you will come to me?" he asked almost pleading.

Johnny nodded his head, "yes, I'll come to you."

Ruiz stood up to leave then hesitated, "I am so sorry, Johnny. I know this is very difficult for you."

"And you," Johnny said with a small smile.

He walked the two men out to their surrey. As they bade each other goodbye, Johnny saw Scott riding in.

Ruiz saw too. "Your brother?"

"Yes, half-brother but that doesn't really matter," Johnny smiled.

******************

Scott nodded to the two men as he passed them riding out. He approached Johnny and dismounted Charlemagne. "Who was that?" he asked.

Before Johnny could reply, Murdoch was behind him. "I'd like to know the answer to that myself," he said.

Johnny sighed, suddenly very tired. More tired than he had felt in a very long time. "It's a long story and...well your just not gonna believe it. Let's go in the house and I'll tell you all about it."

Once they had all settled, Scott sitting next to Johnny on the sofa, Murdoch across from them in the overstuffed chair, Johnny sighed again.

"This must be some story, you sound like you sprang a leak!" Scott teased.

The smile left his face when Johnny looked at him. The pain in his brother's eyes told Scott immediately that this was no joking matter.

"Sorry," he muttered.

Johnny related the story Ruiz had told him. He had to make Scott stop asking questions so he could get it all out. Like Ruiz, he needed to just say it. Once he finished, there was a long silence.

Murdoch spoke first. "Son, I don't want to sound like a pessimist, but what proof does this man have?"

Johnny picked the papers up from the table and handed them to his father. As Murdoch studied the documents, his face was expressionless, until he saw the picture. He almost gasped aloud as he saw his wife as a young girl, hugging her papa. He looked into his son's eyes and knew Johnny believed this man, he believed him too. It would be just like Maria to lie about having a family, especially if that family wanted her home.

Murdoch suddenly felt a growing anger begin to take hold of him. He had never regretted marrying Maria because she had given him a son he loved dearly. But this was too much. To deprive Johnny of his father was bad enough. For whatever reasons she had denied him his son, had made sure that Johnny would never seek him out on his own. But to keep this from him as well, when he could have had someone to turn to after she died. If not Murdoch, then a grandfather to care for him, to raise him properly so he didn't have to live that life. Murdoch had come to believe that even if Maria hadn't died, Johnny would have turned to the gun. He had no choices, it was be a gunfighter or a poor peasant. She had left him no other choices. She had robbed her own son of a future. He began to feel hatred for this woman for the first time in his life.

Johnny could see his father's expression was not a good one, but he had no idea what Murdoch was thinking. If he had known, he would have been incensed, for no matter what she had done, he loved his mother and nothing would ever change that for him.

Scott spoke for the first time. "Do you believe him, Johnny?" he asked.

Johnny nodded his head. "Yes, I do, Boston."

"Murdoch?" Scott turned to his father, "do you believe him?"

"Yes," Murdoch replied, trying to hide his anger from his sons. He would never badmouth Maria to Johnny, not ever.

Scott sighed softly and nodded his head. "I believe him, too. Well now that we have a consensus, what are you going to do about it, Johnny?" he asked.

Johnny looked at his brother and shook his head. "I don't know what to do. I'm not sure I need to do anything except accept him," he answered.

"Did he ask anything of you, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Just that I believe him. He said he would wait for me to come to him. He's staying in Green River."

Teresa came out of the kitchen to announce that supper was ready. Johnny wasn't hungry, he felt like there was a knot the size of a boulder in his stomach.

"I guess we had better eat while it's hot," Scott said trying to lighten the mood.

"I'm not hungry. I think I'll take a walk," Johnny replied.

"Do you want some company, son?"

"No, I need to be alone for awhile, ok?" Johnny said.

"I understand but, Johnny, we're here if you need to talk," Murdoch said.

Johnny nodded and walked out the French doors and into the night.

*****************

He didn't sleep well, actually he hadn't slept at all. He couldn't stop thinking about everything that had happened. He marveled at how a few minutes could turn your whole life upside down. It had happened to him three times in his life now. When his mother died, finding out the truth about his father and now finding out he had a grandfather to boot. 'Why mama? Why did you have to make it so damned hard', he thought.

He shook his head, got out of bed and dressed quickly. He still couldn't face Scott and Murdoch. He didn't know how to handle this. Murdoch had been hard enough to accept but at least he had always known he had a father. Now this new surprise had come along and Johnny Lancer did not like surprises. Not this kind, anyway.

He walked quietly out to the barn and saddled Barranca, talking softly to the palomino all the while. He started and whipped around when Jelly spoke. He had been so caught up in his thoughts, he hadn't heard him come in. Great! Something else to worry about, he thought, my defenses are down.

"I said what're ya doin up so early, have ya gone deaf now?" Jelly was saying in his usual gruff manner.

Johnny turned back to Barranca. "I couldn't sleep, thought I'd get an early start," he replied.

"Before breakfast? You'll be starved in an hour!" Jelly protested.

Johnny had to smile at this, Jelly was a mother hen all right. "I'm fine, Jelly, don't worry about me."

"Well, somebody has to!" he proclaimed.

Johnny lead his horse out to the yard and mounted him in one graceful move. "Tell Murdoch I went out to the south pasture to look at those fences," he called back as Barranca galloped away.

*******************

He had been working like a crazed man all morning. He needed it, he needed to get his mind off things for awhile. His head hurt from thinking all night and he just wanted to get tired so he would sleep tonight. He heard a horse approaching and looked up to see his brother coming towards him.

"Johnny, what are you doing?" Scott asked as he dismounted Charlemagne.

"Well, I'm fixin this fence, Boston. Thought you went to Harvard. Kind of a dumb question for an educated man," Johnny grinned at his brother.

"Nice try but youâ€ôre not fooling anyone. Here, I brought you some biscuits since you deigned to not show up for breakfast," Scott admonished.

"Thanks, I am gettin kinda hungry."

"I would imagine since you didn't eat any dinner last night," Scott said.

'Another mother hen,' Johnny thought.

"Do you want to talk?" Scott asked softly as they sat down in the shade of an oak tree.

Johnny took a bite of the biscuit and stared off into the distance. Scott waited patiently for his brother to answer his question. He knew he couldn't rush Johnny, that would only make him defensive. Johnny swallowed the bite he had and took a long drink from his canteen, then he threw the biscuit away for the birds to feast on. He sighed heavily and still Scott waited.

He looked at Scott out of the corner of his eye, saw him resting his head against the tree trunk, waiting. Johnny suddenly felt a great well spring up inside him. He loved his brother so much, he wished he could tell him that with words, but instead all he could do was tell him with his eyes. He turned his head full to face his brother and when Scott looked at him, he could see everything he needed to know in Johnny's eyes. The love, the pain, the confusion and the war that was constantly going on inside his younger brother.

It caused Scott physical pain to see this and he had a hard time returning Johnny's gaze but he knew that was exactly what Johnny expected him to do, so he did and all Johnny could see was love. He smiled full on at Scott and Scott couldn't help but smile back.

Johnny turned serious. "I gotta tell you, I'm having a hard time with this, Boston."

"But why, Johnny? I'd think it would make you happy to know you have a grandfather."

"It does, but it also makes me sad. I have to think about the fact that she never told me about him. That makes me have to think about her and everything she did. And that makes me have to wonder why. So you can see it's not so simple. I've tried so hard to justify what she did, how she lied to me. But truthfully, Scott, I never have been able to figure out. Sometimes I get so mad at her I want to scream, then I get even madder cause I can't yell at her. I can't ask her why and I never had the guts to ask her when she was alive. If I ever mentioned anything about Murdoch, she would get so angry and just shut down. She refused to talk about him unless she was cursing him."

Johnny took a deep breath as he finished venting. Scott didn't quite know what to say. He had thought many times to himself that Johnny's mother was a very troubled woman, a mentally troubled woman. He could never say that to Johnny or Murdoch, but it was the only answer he could come up with for her bizarre behavior.

Instead of saying anything, he put his arm around his little brother's shoulder and gently squeezed. Johnny smiled a little at this gesture, knowing there wasn't anything Scott could say to him. They sat there for a while just listening to the world around them, then Barranca snorted and Johnny jerked his head up. He had almost fallen asleep.

Barranca was thirsty and Johnny felt guilty for ignoring his beloved horse. He walked over and stroked Barranca's neck.

"I'm sorry boy, you must be thirsty," he said softly as he untied the reins and lead the palomino to the little brook nearby.

Scott got up and stretched, then walked down to stand by his brother. "What do you say we call it a day? I don't think Murdoch will mind," he said.

Johnny smiled and agreed. "I'm not much good out here today anyway. Will you ride into Green River with me?" he asked.

"Sure, Johnny. I'd be glad to. Maybe once you and your grandfather have had a good talk, you can introduce us."

*****************

Scott and Johnny rode into town in silence. They tied their horses to a hitching post in front of the hotel.

Johnny stood on the boardwalk for a moment then said, "how about a beer, Boston?"

Scott looked at his brother with some amusement at the lame attempt to delay seeing his grandfather again.

"Johnny, just go up there. I'll wait for you at the saloon," he said.

Johnny sighed heavily, hung his head and went inside the hotel. Once he ascertained the room number, he headed up the stairs. That knot was back in his stomach and had oddly grown so big it now reached his throat. He wasn't sure how he felt about this situation and that made seeing this man again even harder. He stood outside the door for a long time, contemplating a notion he had of hightailing it out of there.

Finally, he shook his head and admonished himself for being such a coward. He knocked on the door and it immediately opened. He found himself looking into Miguel's eyes. No words were spoken between them as Miguel opened the door wider to allow Johnny to enter. Ruiz was sitting in the chair near the balcony with the same book. He looked up with a wide smile. He stood and walked over to Johnny extending his hand.

"I'm so pleased to see you, Johnny. I thought I might have to wait longer than this," he said.

"I'm not really sure why I'm here," Johnny began. "I don't know what to say to you."

"You needn't say anything, nieto. But if you have any questions for me or about me, please feel free to ask. Let us sit," Ruiz said as he motioned Johnny to the other chair near the balcony. "Would you like some coffee or tea perhaps?" Ruiz offered.

"No, I'm fine," Johnny replied not too convincingly. He started down at his hands as he picked at some invisible malady there. "What do you want from me?" he asked the old man.

"No more than you are willing to give Johnny. I do have an offer for you, however."

Johnny looked up at the man and narrowed his eyes. "What would that be?" he asked, suspicious now of this man.

"Johnny, I have a large ranchero near Mexico City. One hundred thousand acres of fine grazing land and ten thousand head of cattle. I am an old man who is getting older by the minute. I have no one to leave my legacy to. Forgive me, I had no one. Now, I have my grandson. My blood to carry on the family business. This is what I want from you."

Johnny considered this and the man sitting before him. He had become very good at reading people and he could usually tell when someone was trying to swindle him. Somehow, this man seemed genuine to him. He could see no evidence of falsity in the old man's words, actions or expressions. In short, he believed him. He smiled at Ruiz.

"Not more than a year ago I got a similar offer from Murdoch. I accepted that one. I'm sorry but I can't accept your offer."

"But why? Johnny I am offering you an entire ranchero, not just a part of one. It is yours, all of it," Ruiz said.

"I know. There are a couple of reasons I can't accept. One is, well my family. I just found my brother and father, I don't want to leave that. I know youâ€ôre my grandfather but it isn't the same," he said quietly.

Ruiz pondered this a moment. "What are the other reasons?" he asked.

"Well, you said you had looked into my past. You must know, even if I wanted to accept your offer, it would be impossible. I can't go back to Mexico, ever," he finished with a sadness in his voice and Ruiz did not miss this.

"What if I were to tell you that I could arrange it so you could return to Mexico anytime you wanted?" he asked.

Johnny stared at him. "I guess you have a lot of pull down there. It would be nice to know I could go back if I wanted to, but the truth is I don't want to leave here. This is my home," Johnny explained.

Ruiz looked at him with a great sadness in his eyes. "That is it then. My ranchero will most likely be turned over to the government when I die, since I have no heir," he sighed.

"What about him?" Johnny asked motioning toward Miguel.

It had not escaped his notice that the young cabellero was very devoted to his patron, or that the old man was very fond of Miguel.

"Why not leave it to Miguel? He's obviously devoted to you and you obviously trust him," Johnny explained his reasoning.

The old man looked at him with surprise. It was not done. No man would leave his land and fortune to a hired hand, no matter how fond he was of the boy. He explained this to Johnny who had been watching for Miguel's reaction to his proposal.

"Why? Just because it's never been done doesn't mean it can't be done. There's no law against it is there?"

Ruiz pondered this then shook his head. "You are telling me you would give up all this land and money to a cabellero you only met yesterday?" Ruiz asked amazed.

"I told you, I can't accept it," Johnny reiterated.

"Pardon me, patron, but may I speak?" Miguel asked.

"Si, Miguel. What is it?"

"It occurs to me that your grandson here should not need to physically be at the ranchero. If he had someone he trusted to run the business, he could stay here with his familia. Perhaps visit on occasion to make sure all is well. In this way, your ranchero would stay in the familia and Johnny could stay where he is happy. It is only a suggestion, patron."

Ruiz and Johnny both looked stunned as they thought through Miguel's idea.

Ruiz looked at Johnny. "What do you think?"

Johnny smiled and said, "I think it's the best idea I've heard so far. I think it could work."

Ruiz nodded his head in agreement.

Johnny added, "And I know exactly who I could trust with such a job."

"Who?" Ruiz asked.

"Miguel is your vaquero, right? He's the only choice and I've already met him so that's a plus."

"You have met him, Johnny, but you do not even know him," Ruiz countered.

"Oh, I think I know everything I need to. You see, I'm pretty good at judging a man's character. It's something that has come in real handy in my life," Johnny said with a smile.

Ruiz returned the smile but Miguel was not smiling.

"What's wrong, Miguel?" Johnny asked.

"It was not my intention...I mean, I did not expect..."

"I know what your intentions were, Miguel. This is my idea and I hope you'll accept the job," Johnny said with an understanding smile.

"Si, Senor. I would be honored," Miguel replied a little embarrassed.

"It is settled then. Johnny, will you join me for lunch?"

"Well, Scott rode in with me.."

"Invite him! I would like very much to meet this brother who has so fully captured your heart."

Johnny reddened a little at this remark, knowing it was true but not realizing how obvious it was to the old man.

"I'll go get him," was all he said.

*****************

They spent a very pleasant afternoon talking. Scott and the old man got along beautifully. Ruiz was impressed with Scott's Harvard background and Scott was impressed with this man's natural grace and elegance. He was a true gentlemen. Scott spent a great deal of time studying this man's speech and movements. He found some similarities between the man and his brother. They both had that easy grace, soft spoken and gentle. Scott had often wondered who Johnny took after as the only similarity he could find between his brother and father was their inherent stubbornness and their eyes.

Johnny never had the education this man apparently had, but his natural intelligence had always amazed Scott. Now he knew from where that came as well. He reminded himself to tell Johnny about his observations when they were alone. He thought how pleased Johnny would be.

It was getting late as Johnny noticed the old man was getting tired. He suggested they leave for home. Ruiz didn't want him to go but knew he was tiring. "Damn old age!' he thought.

They said their goodbyes and Johnny made Ruiz promise to come to the ranch the next day to stay with them until he was ready to go back home. He didn't have to try too hard, the old man was thrilled with the invitation.

When Johnny and Scott got home, Murdoch was waiting for them, he was not a happy man.  

"Just where the devil have you two been all day?" he growled.

Scott took his father's arm and explained everything and Murdoch's anger wavered. Johnny approached him a little apprehensively and told him about the invitation he had extended to Ruiz. Murdoch was agreeable with this so Johnny told him the rest.

It was the first time Scott had heard about the proposal the old man had made to Johnny as well. Scott felt his heart drop to his stomach and thought he might just lose his lunch until Johnny explained their plan and how it would work. Both older men broke out in big smiles as Johnny explained that he was not leaving them.

Murdoch suddenly turned business-like. "Johnny, are you sure about this Miguel. You know running a ranch is a huge responsibility."

"I know, Murdoch, but I'm sure Miguel can handle it. I've been watching him. He's smart and he's loyal," Johnny responded.

They talked all through supper and after until they were all nodding off. Johnny knew he would sleep well tonight. The biggest question had been answered....what did the old man want from him?

**************

Miguel spent the next morning packing their belongings and readying the surrey for the trip to Lancer. He had been shocked by Johnny's proposal the day before. His only thought had been to protect his patron's affairs. It never occurred to him that Johnny would make this offer. He had assumed Johnny would send a trusted ranch hand from Lancer to take care of his grandfather's affairs. He was touched by the offer. He had been wary of this young man for he knew everything about Johnny Madrid Lancer that his patron knew. He was completely surprised by what he saw for this is not the picture of the gunfighter he'd had in his mind.

As Miguel readied for the trip, Ruiz was visiting the only attorney in Green River. After grilling the man on his qualifications and deciding he was capable, Ruiz told the man of his plans. The attorney had a rather stunned look on his face and explained that he had been the one to draw up similar papers for Murdoch Lancer a scant year ago. This actually relieved Ruiz since he reasoned the man had to be competent for Murdoch Lancer to trust him with his sons' futures. He completed his business and returned to the hotel just as Miguel had packed the last of their belongings into the surrey.

As they headed out, Miguel had to ask. "Patron, how long will we be staying with your grandson?"

"I am not sure just yet, Miguel. I want to spend as much time as I can with him," Ruiz replied.

The rest of the trip was spend in quiet anticipation.

Johnny walked out into the yard when he heard the surrey approaching. He had two ranch hands help Miguel with the bags and direct him to the rooms they would be staying in. Then he helped the old man down from the surrey. Ruiz stumbled as he was coming down and Johnny caught him.

"Easy abuelo," he whispered.

The old man stared at him, surprised and touched by Johnny calling him grandfather. Johnny just smiled and ushered him into the house. Once settled, the old man sought out his grandson. He found him, after much inquiry, in the barn currying Barranca.

"Ah, there you are, chico. I've been looking everywhere."

Johnny laughed aloud. "I doubt that. If you'd looked everywhere first, we would've been sending a search party out for you."

"Si, it is a big place, and beautiful," the old man observed.

"Tomorrow I'll show you around a little if you like," Johnny offered.

"I would like that very much, nieto." He came to stand close to his grandson and stroked Barranca's nose. "I cannot tell you how this means to me Juanito...I mean Johnny."

"You can call me whatever you like," Johnny said. "It means a lot to me too," he added.

***************

The next few days Johnny spent all his time with his grandfather. They spent long hours riding about the ranch. Johnny showed the old man most of his favorite places on the ranch. They talked about Johnny's life, the old man's life and his mother. He felt a growing closeness to this old man. He had never met anyone he found so easy to talk to, except for Scott. He was most interested in finding out everything he could about his mother.

One day as they sat next to a small stream under a shade tree, the old man asked. "Why so many questions about your mother, Juanito? You knew her well, did you not?"

Johnny looked away and said softly, "I thought I did but...since I came here and found out the truth about her leaving I feel like I don't know her at all." He finished with a sigh and a sadness in his voice.

The old man put his arm around Johnny's shoulder. "I wish I could give you all the answers you need, nieto. I never understood her myself. There were times when I actually thought...," he stopped letting his voice trail off.

Johnny looked at his grandfather. "Thought what?" he asked.

"Nothing, chico, nothing."

"No, tell me, I want to know. Please," he pleaded.

"Very well. There were times when I thought my sweet chica was...disturbed."

"What does that mean?"

"It means, I think she had some trouble in her mind. She would be happy and laughing one moment, then she would suddenly be angry, full of rage and lashing out at whatever was nearest her."

"Are you trying to tell me my mother was loco?!" Johnny yelled.

"Juanito, please tell me I am wrong. Tell me you never saw her act in this way."

Johnny thought about it, but he didn't have to think long. He knew what his grandfather said was true. He had seen it many times himself. Her moods would swing from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds. Everyone always said she had a bad temper. Johnny was beginning to think that was not the case at all. He turned the conversation a bit.

"You never had any other children?" he asked.

"No, after Maria it just seemed it was not to be," the old man replied sadly.

"And your wife, my grandmother, she was okay...I mean what you said about my mother..."

"Oh no, Juanito. Your grandmother was a solid woman, very strong. Why are you asking me this?"

"I'm not sure. Guess I'm just curious," he lied.

They sat in quiet companionship for a while longer. Ruiz thought he had not felt so at peace in a very long time. The ranch reminded him very much of his own. He missed his home and he knew he would never see it again. This did not upset him because he could not think of anyplace he would rather be than here. This precious time getting to know Johnny was worth all the sadness he had endured. He felt very close to his nieto and wished he had more time.

They headed back to the house. Johnny had an idea and he needed to talk to his brother. It was time he figured out the truth once and for all.

***************

After supper, Johnny opened his brother's bedroom door and peeked in. "Scott?" he whispered.

"Why are you whispering, Johnny?" Scott asked.

Johnny came in and closed the door. "Didn't want to catch you in a compromising situation," he grinned.

"Since when?" Scott teased back.

"Look, I really need to talk to you about something."

"Sure, Johnny. What is it?"

"Just between us, right?" Johnny asked.

"That goes without saying, little brother," Scott said.

Johnny sat on the side of the bed and sighed heavily. He wasn't sure how to approach this subject and wasn't sure what questions he should ask but he knew if anyone could help him, it was his brother.

"Boston, I don't know exactly what I'm doing but just bear with me a minute."

Scott came to sit next to his brother on the bed but remained silent.

"I need some information on something that I really don't know anything about. In fact, I'm not even sure how to ask about it."

"Just tell me what's on your mind and we'll take it from there, ok?" Scott said.

"What do you know about crazy people? See, I don't even know what to call it!" Johnny said exasperated.

"It's called mental illness and I don't know a great deal. I have read about it some and I took a course in psychology when I was at Harvard."

"Sy what?" Johnny asked

"Psychology. It's the study of the mind," Scott explained.

"Oh, well that's what I need to know about all right."

"Johnny, what's this all about?"

"Scott, I'm scared. I think...I'm beginning to believe...oh hell, I can't even say it!"

Scott put his arm around his brother to offer support. "Just between us, little brother. I promise," he whispered.

Johnny relaxed a little and once again sighed heavily. 'So tired again', he thought.

"Okay. I think there was something wrong with my mother. I've been talking to my grandfather. He's told me a lot of things about the way she acted that I've seen for myself from her. I think she was...sick," he ended with a shudder he couldn't control.

Scott was not shocked by what Johnny said but he was surprised at Johnny's sudden insight. "Wait right here, I'll be right back," he said as he left the room.

A few minutes later he returned with a big book. "I knew I saw this down in the living room. Don't worry, nobody saw me take it," he said when he saw Johnny's expression.

"What is it?" Johnny asked.

"It's a book about mental illnesses. Tell me about your mother's behavior."

Johnny told Scott about the mood swings he had witnessed and the ones his grandfather had told him about. He even gave Scott some examples that chilled the older man to the bone. Scott started looking through the massive tome until he found what he was looking for.

"Here, here it is. Sudden mood swings. Violent outbursts. Episodes of crying for no apparent reason. Depression. Johnny, according to this your mother had something called manic depression. There doesn't appear to be any treatment for it. The book says it goes undiagnosed most of the time because people don't seek out help," he finished his recitation and watched for his brother's reaction.

"Does it say if it's, ya know, passed down?" Johnny asked softly.

Scott shuddered a little and started reading again. "It is not believed to be hereditary" he quoted, then quickly added, "no Johnny, it's not passed down."

Johnny visibly relaxed his entire body. Scott realized for the first time what Johnny was so worried about. That this might happen to him as well. He slipped his arm around the younger man's shoulders again and squeezed tightly.

"How did she get it? Does it say?" he asked, his lower lip trembling.

Scott picked up the book again and read on. "They don't know the cause but they say there's no evidence in the research they've done of it running in families."

"So she just had it, period. No cause, no cure and no way to know there was even anything wrong with her," he said more to himself than his brother. He looked up at Scott with a haunted expression.

Scott was stunned at the amount of pain he saw there.

"Johnny. I'm so sorry. But youâ€ôre right, there was no way you or anyone else could have known." He tried to comfort his brother, take away that look.

"Well, at least I know what happened. Why she left Murdoch, why she did all the things she did. She couldn't help it, right?" It was a plea more than a question.

"That's right, Johnny. She didn't know there was anything wrong with her. I don't think there's anyway she could have known. I think she just accepted how she was and lived her life the best way she could."

"Thanks Scott, I really appreciate your help."

"Johnny? Are you going to tell Murdoch about this?"

"No! I can't! He seems to have put it all behind him anyway. Why bring up bad memories? What good would it do him now? He'd just feel guilty because he didn't see it. Probably blame himself. No Scott, I don't want him or anyone else to know about this. It's enough that I know."

"Your probably right about Murdoch. I didn't think about that. Listen, if you need to talk this through some more, I'm here, little brother."

Johnny smiled. "Thanks, Boston. I might take you up on that," he said as he slipped out into the hall.

Johnny spent the night thinking about his mother. He remembered every moment when he thought she was acting bizarre. Every time that she had hurt him and then cried and begged for forgiveness. He could never tell Scott about all those times. She could be so out of control, there were many times as a boy that Johnny was afraid of his mother. Getting smacked around by her boyfriends was one thing, but when she would take their side against him, call him a worthless half-breed and take over the beatings...He shuddered at the memories.

He had tried so hard to bury them, to only think of his mother when she was at least a little happy. When she was a good mother to him and loved him. Now he had to allow all of it to come back. He had to so he could try and finally put it all to rest and come to terms with his mother. It seemed like all the years, all twelve of them came flooding out of him in that one night.

He cried quietly in his pillow as he allowed the pain to wash over him. When he thought he had gotten it all out, another wave would wash over him, more memories and more pain. He never heard the door open, never heard the soft shuffling feet. He felt a hand stroking his hair. He turned to find his brother leaning over him and without a word, Scott laid down next to his brother and held him in his arms for the rest of the night. There were no words spoken, only soft calming sounds as the pain racked Johnny's body and his soul.

By morning, they were both exhausted, but Johnny felt he had gotten through it all. He felt he had summoned up all the memories he had and dealt with them one by one. In fact, by the first light of dawn, he was fervently praying that he was done with it.

Scott got up quietly, not looking at his brother. Johnny knew why, he had felt Scott's tears on his cheek and hair at times through the night and knew his brother was feeling his pain. He didn't stop Scott, it was time to face the day and face his life now. The past was gone, he wanted desperately to continue with his life here on the ranch.

He knocked softly on his grandfather's door but received no answer. He assumed the older man was already up and downstairs although he usually didn't get up this early. Johnny went downstairs to find his father and Teresa at the breakfast table.

"Good morning, son"

"Mornin," Johnny mumbled. He kept his head down, not wanting his father to see his swollen eyes. "Where's grandfather?" he asked.

"He hasn't come down yet. A little early for him, I think," Murdoch replied.

Johnny frowned. "He didn't answer when I knocked on his door."

"Maybe he's still asleep and didn't hear you," Teresa chirped but Johnny was getting an uneasy feeling and he didn't like it.

"Think I'll just go check," he said as he stood and left the kitchen.

He saw Scott in the hall and squeezed his shoulder as he passed. Knocking on the door again, Johnny was becoming more and more anxious. There was still no answer and he had knocked loudly this time. He eased the door open and peered inside. The curtains were drawn against the daylight so he gave himself time for his eyes to adjust before entering.

"Abuelo? Are you awake?" he whispered.

He walked toward the bed and stopped a foot away. He stared at the old man. He had such a peaceful look on his face. Johnny moved to the side of the bed and knelt beside his grandfather. He leaned over and kissed the old man's cheek, then he cried softly. His grandfather had given him so much, not his ranchero or his cattle. Johnny didn't care about that. The time they'd spent together this past week was the treasure for Johnny.

His grandfather had, perhaps unknowingly, given him the answers he was so desperate to have. The mystery of his mother had been solved and he could finally have some peace. Maybe the old man had sensed this. Maybe he knew Johnny had discovered the truth and felt he could leave his grandson now. As he knelt there weeping for the old man, he pulled the sheet up and covered his face, giving him another kiss on the cheek before he gently put the sheet in place.

"Te quiero, abuelo," he whispered.

He went back downstairs and found Miguel at the table. The look on Johnny's face told the young cabellero all he needed to know. He stood and silently went to his patron.

Murdoch stood and came to his son's side. "Johnny?"

"He's dead," was all Johnny could say as he buried his face in his father's chest.

***************

The service had been beautiful. Miguel had told the priest much about his patron and he gave an inspired eulogy. Miguel sat in the buckboard with his precious cargo in the back. He was returning his patron to the land he loved. He looked down at Johnny and handed him some papers.

"What's this?" Johnny asked.

"It is the deed to the ranchero and a paper that says you are free to return to Mexico anytime you want without fear of persecution. He was going to give it to you the day we left," Miguel said sadly.

Johnny shook his head and said, "I'll be there as soon as I can, Miguel. Meanwhile, the ranch is in your hands."

"Si, Senor. I will not fail you." He flipped the reins and started his journey home.

Murdoch came to stand next to his son. He had not been far from Johnny's side since his grandfather died. "Are you alright, son?" he asked.

Johnny sighed and looked at his father's concerned face. He smiled a little, as much as he could manage and said, "no Murdoch, I'm not. But I will be with the help of my family."

The three of them walked into the house to begin the process of healing from their grief.

 

 

~end~

To The Journey---->

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