The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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goldieasj

 

 

Burying Johnny Madrid

There really was no reason to suspect it would turn into a tragic day, nothing to speak of. Certainly things on the ranch had flowed less smoothly than hoped for in the absence of Murdoch Lancer. But did this predictable thing really portend the dreadful news that would meet Murdoch’s sons as they returned to their home at the end of the workday?

The brothers happily noticed the horse of their friend Val tied at the hitching post. Although fatigued from a hard day’s labor, Scott was energized by the possibility of lively dinner conversation with a guest. Although Scott loved his brother Johnny as well as Teresa, who was Murdoch’s ward and like a sister to them, Murdoch’s business absence of the last week had Scott now yearning for an atypical evening, and Val could always be counted on for entertaining stories. Johnny thoughtfully volunteered to take their horses to the barn and Scott went in the house.

But when Scott entered, he saw Val talking quietly to Teresa. And Teresa crying. Teresa didn’t cry easily, and Scott knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.

“Oh, Scott,” Teresa wailed and ran to him. He held her in an attempt to solace her and nodded to Val. “What’s wrong?” he asked in confusion.

Val just shook his head. “Is Johnny coming?”

“He’ll be here shortly. Val, what’s going on?”

Val shook his head again. “Wait for Johnny.”

Scott knew there would be no point in further questioning so he turned his attention to Teresa, speaking softly to comfort her. He was somewhat gratified as he felt her sobs lessen and she began to relax. Watching Val carefully for clues, he was distressed to see him sigh and rub his face with his hands.

Finally, in what seemed like a lifetime, Johnny entered. His keen eyes took in the entire scene before he reacted. He nodded to his friend Val, who nodded back. “Sit down, Johnny.”

Bad news was coming. Johnny had known more bad than good news in his life. He knew. Even before Val said anything, he knew. But he dutifully sat on the other side of Teresa. She looked tearfully to him so he said something comforting in Spanish to her but continued watching Val carefully.

Val walked over to the Lancer family and pulled a piece of paper from his jacket. Long friendship with Johnny notwithstanding, he kept to protocol and handed the paper to Scott, the eldest. Scott scanned it slowly and handed it to Johnny without looking at him. He hugged Teresa again.

Johnny did not read it at first. He continued scrutinizing the scene, his friend Val standing in front of him with a distressed expression on his face, and his distraught brother holding tightly to Teresa as if he needed it more than her, and staring at the fireplace with a vacant expression, and tears, in his eyes.

Johnny knew. But he read the telegram anyhow. The telegram that said Murdoch Lancer had died in an accidental shooting in a barroom fight in Tierra Feliz, a town 80 miles south of the ranch, near the town he had gone to conduct business. The telegram that asked if family wanted to collect the body or would they prefer he be buried there? It was signed by the local sheriff.

Val waited a respectable moment, then said quietly, “I already wired them back and said you’d be coming to collect the body. I figured you would.”

Johnny’s face was strained but he showed no other emotion. He stared at Val, who looked forlorn. Nodding slightly, he walked over to the fireplace and threw in the telegram. He said something under his breath.

Scott worked to control his voice, then said, “We’ll leave in the morning. We’ll take the stage and rent a wagon back. We’ll bring Murdoch home. Johnny, you agree?”

Johnny watched the flames and said nothing.

Teresa had managed to stop sobbing and sat quietly on the couch. Scott rose, and making an attempt to remember his manners, thanked Val for coming in person to tell them. “I’ll see you out,” he said wearily. Val put his hand consolingly on Scott’s shoulder but turned back to Johnny before leaving. “I’m so sorry, Johnny,” he said. “I know how much he meant . . .”

“Skip it, Val,” Johnny said testily, never turning around.

In the yard, Val grabbed the reins of his horse and told Scott, “I’m sorry, Scott. I know you and Johnny are both close to Murdoch. Johnny’s told me how good he felt about his father after their bad beginning. This is going to hurt. See if you can talk to him. He trusts you.”

“I’ll try,” Scott sighed. “I’m worried about Johnny. He had finally gotten to the point where he felt genuine love and trust for Murdoch. He’s taking this hard.”

“The whole valley will. Murdoch Lancer was a name everyone knew and people respected and liked. He’ll be missed. And Scott,” Val added, putting a consoling hand on Scott’s shoulder, “I’m sorry for you too.”

Scott looked down and concentrated on controlling his grief. Val said nothing else; there was nothing else to say. He mounted up and tipped his hat. Before he rode away, he looked to the hacienda but did not see Johnny again.

Scott sighed deeply. There was a lot to do and it appeared Johnny would not be much help. He tried organizing his thoughts but now one thing came to mind – someone had to tell Jelly. Jelly respected Murdoch tremendously. Murdoch had given the old man a job and a home when it seemed no one else would. Murdoch was so important to everyone there.

Scott was about to knock on Jelly’s front door when it opened and he emerged. “Well, now, Scott, if you’re comin’ to get me for dinner, there ain’t no need. I never missed a meal in my life.”

Scott smiled weakly and took Jelly’s arm. “Let’s go back inside. I have something to tell you.”

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -
 
A few minutes later, Scott trudged wearily back to the living room in the hacienda. A brief thought that he would always think of his father dying when he entered this room occurred to him, but he dismissed it. Teresa had disappeared, but Johnny remained in front of the fireplace.

Strangely, Scott felt uncomfortable with his brother. He tried to understand Johnny’s silent attitude of what appeared to be anger but found he could not work up the energy. Everything suddenly seemed difficult and the air itself just seemed to be pushing down on him. The only thing Scott really wanted at that point was empathy with his brother, to see Johnny’s familiar smile, to talk with Johnny, to discuss their plans regarding Murdoch . . . to have Murdoch still be alive . . .

“Oh,” Scott groaned, very softly, but Johnny flinched. He heard.

All that Scott could think of to say was, “Where’s Teresa?”

“Her room.”

“Oh. I suppose she’s packing for tomorrow.”

“She’s not going. And neither is Jelly, no matter what you told him.” Johnny suddenly whirled aggressively to face Scott. “And neither are you!”

Scott desperately wanted his brother on his side right then. He wanted Johnny’s devil-may-care attitude, his worldly experience, his ability to face any threat with dignity and courage, his empathy. He would even have been happy to have Johnny oversee the responsibility of returning their father’s body home. But what he did not want, or understand, was Johnny’s hostility toward him. There was seldom any animosity between them, and – dear God, this was not the time! “What? What are you saying?”

“You’re not going, Scott. I’m the only one who’s going.” The anger was obvious in Johnny’s voice.

“Johnny, he’s my father!”

Perhaps Johnny realized his brother did not need his anger. Whatever the reason, his face and voice softened. “I’ll take care of everything, Scott. You stay here.”

“No, Johnny, he’s my father.”

The illogic of this argument mystified Johnny, who nonetheless realized Scott would be unwilling to stay behind. Not without injurious physical assistance anyhow, and Johnny didn’t want to hurt his brother any more than he had already been. His words dropped almost to a whisper, but his attitude remained stiff. He stared his brother hard in the eyes as he said steadily, “I will handle this my way.”

Scott took his brother’s attitude of strength and command as a condemnation of him personally. He was reminded of the attitude Johnny adopted toward him – and Murdoch – when the two brothers first arrived at the ranch. Johnny – understandably, Scott now knew – was cocky, disrespectful and belligerent. It was obvious he trusted no one. Scott used this observation to win his brother over by showing him love and respect and asking nothing in return. This was his nature anyhow, but Johnny had intrigued him in every way. In addition to Scott’s joy at discovering he had a brother!, Johnny’s graceful accurate moves and delightful witticisms were something to savor, and Scott found himself enjoying every minute he spent getting to know his brother better. Even with their wildly divergent upbringings, they seemed to think alike and to enjoy each other’s company and always to watch each other’s backs.

Until now.

Tonight Johnny had once again become belligerent and unyielding. Scott deeply bemoaned his timing but he was not going to give in. It was, after all, obviously Johnny Madrid who was calling the shots, not Johnny Lancer, so Scott called on his own alter ego for strength. The man he had been in battle, the soldier and then the prisoner of war, was a man he trusted. It was the man he had hoped never to become again, but Johnny was forcing his hand. With great resolve, he stood up straight and decreed, “I agree with you that Teresa’s place is here, for reasons of her own well-being, and we need her here to make arrangements for a funeral. Jelly will stay here, also, and the ranch can run a few days under his direction. Once I finish explaining this to them, I am going to ride into town tonight and take a room at the hotel so I can be there first thing in the morning to take the early stage.” He began to walk stiffly to Teresa’s room.

“Scott . . .”

Scott turned back quickly and attacked. “You can do whatever you want, Johnny, but understand there is nothing in this world that will keep me from the duty of collecting my father’s body and bringing it home for a decent burial on the property he loved! Nothing and no one!” And with that, he turned and began his march up the stairs.

“Scott, you don’t know what you’re . . . “

“This conversation is ended!”

When Scott had knocked on Teresa’s door and disappeared into her room, Johnny sat down on the fireplace hearth. He put his head in his hands and lamented the fact that he could now count his brother among his enemies, along with others. Perhaps unavoidable but still depressing. It was clear now that Scott would not remain behind and Johnny would have to adjust his plans. This he could – and would – do, for he loved his brother deeply. But there was now a vulnerability he had not anticipated and he would have responsibility for both himself and his brother. Johnny lamented this fact, as well as the fact that Val had obviously not understood. It was like the old days, he sighed, he would have to protect himself.

And now Scott.

And Murdoch.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

Jelly magnanimously volunteered to drive the two of them into town that evening so they could be available for the early morning stage. No one spoke on the long ride in, and then Johnny was further discouraged to hear Scott tell the hotel clerk, “Two rooms, please.” Johnny grabbed his saddlebag and watched Scott disappear silently into his room with his valise.

The night was long and Johnny spent it organizing his thoughts and plans. His thoughts were apprehensive but he loyally kept on track until a lucid plan emerged. This was Johnny Madrid in control. At one point, he smiled slightly as it occurred to him that he wished Murdoch could somehow be at his side. This was Johnny Lancer.

It was imperative that the plan would allow for the least amount of danger to his brother. This was Johnny Madrid/Lancer.

And Johnny Madrid/Lancer was a force to reckon with.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

Johnny slept very little that night. The stagecoach arrived early, its noise rousing him from his half-slumber. He jumped out of bed and grabbed his saddlebag. As he passed Scott’s room he intended to knock on the door, but the door was open and Scott was already gone. Unsurprisingly, downstairs he saw Scott stepping into the stage. An older couple stepped in also, so Johnny was forced to sit next to his brother. The two of them acknowledged each other only with looks. Johnny noted that his brother’s eyes looked red but he decided not to say anything until later. As the stage lurched into action, Johnny both lamented and appreciated this animosity between them. The constant motion of the stage, his belief in himself and his plan, and his general weariness lulled him into an uneasy sleep.

The first stop was a small town about an hour away. The coach driver allowed the passengers a few minutes to disembark and refresh themselves. Johnny stayed on the coach, sleeping. When it was ready to leave again, the other couple were not traveling and the coach contained just the two brothers. Johnny watched Scott take the seat opposite him and was surprised and gratified when Scott handed him a mug of coffee. “I know you didn’t have time,” Scott simply said. Johnny nodded his thanks.

No more words were spoken so Johnny drifted off to sleep again when he had finished his coffee. When he woke sometime later, he did not move, as always, and merely opened his eyes. He saw Scott staring out the window with a melancholy expression. Somehow Scott must have known he had awakened, for he spoke sadly. “I don’t think I ever loved my mother.”

Surprised, Johnny sat up and rubbed his face. He said nothing and waited out his brother.

“I never knew her. I was told I loved her, but when I think back on it, it was just words.”

“Scott . . .”

“That’s why it was so important to me to find that I could truly love a parent – my father. And my brother. Certainly the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Don’t . . .”

Scott turned quickly to confront Johnny. “Murdoch’s not really dead, is he, Johnny?”

The best-laid plans. Johnny inhaled before speaking. “I don’t think so.”

The stagecoach suddenly hit a hard bump that made Johnny’s side ache, but Scott appeared completely unaware of the jostling. His suspicions confirmed, he stared happily at his brother. “You mean . . . ?”

Johnny turned on him angrily. “I mean he might still be alive, and I would like to save his life if he is. And mine. And now yours!”

Scott knew it would be prudent to contain his joy, but it was difficult. “How did you know? I mean, how . . . ?”

Johnny pulled a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and threw it at Scott. “You never really looked at this, did you?”

Scott grabbed the paper and realized it was the original telegram the family had received. “I thought you burned this,” he said blankly.

“No, just wanted people to think I destroyed it. Things in this life aren’t always what they seem, Scott.”

Scott read it over twice. “But I still don’t understand.”

Johnny grabbed it back from him and pointed viciously at it as he spoke. “Everything’s wrong with this! Murdoch doesn’t get into saloon fights – and he certainly wouldn’t be stupid enough to get in the way of gunfire if he did! And he didn’t go to Tierra Feliz. He went to Santa Melinda and would have had no reason to visit a smaller town that’s another ten miles south of there.”

“But the Tierra Feliz sheriff said . . .”

“And that’s how I knew, Scott.” Johnny was calming down; Madrid was taking over.

“Knew?”

“There is no sheriff in Tierra Feliz. Never was. How do I know? Because Johnny Madrid lived there a long time ago. And made some enemies there. And some wounds never heal. This piece of paper isn’t Murdoch’s death sentence, Scott. It’s mine. It’s intended to lure me there. And if it was sent by who I think it was, they don’t particularly care if you or anyone else comes with me. We’re all going to die.” Johnny sighed. “You weren’t supposed to be here, Scott. I tried to stop you.”

Scott finally understood. “I see. And where is Murdoch?”

“Probably being held hostage as bait. Unless he’s dead already. I have to take the chance. If he’s alive, I have to try to save him.”

We have to save him. I’ve got your back all the way. I was a soldier, remember.”

Johnny set his jaw. “You were a soldier, but not in my kind of army. This is a different kind of war; there are no rules. No prisoners.”

“I’m a good shot, Johnny, you know I am.”

“With a rifle, brother! Which you did not bring.”

Now Scott was beginning to get mad. “Why would I bring a rifle along to a funeral parlor?!”

“You weren’t supposed to come along, Scott! You should have trusted me!”

“Any time you want to tell me the whole truth, I’ll listen and trust you! Until that happens again, you’re stuck with me!”

A circular argument, they both knew. Johnny’s anger was withering, partly because he was at least a little relieved that the truth was out, and also partly because he knew Scott was a good man to have on his side in a fight. He wished Val would have figured it out like Scott did. But of course he should have been honest with his friend and then Val would have been at his side also.
 
The more the merrier to walk into a trap.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

The stagecoach made a final stop for the day about twenty miles shy of Tierra Feliz. Another small town, this one similar to Morro Coyo. As agreed upon during the ride, Scott had promised Johnny he would do whatever he could to help but would try to keep out of the way if there was trouble. Johnny appreciated Scott and his promise, well aware nothing of the sort would happen. If there was trouble, Scott would be front and center, Johnny knew. His brother possessed all the attributes of a fine soldier – loyalty, intelligence and bravery. Johnny fervently hoped it would not get him killed.

The family who had been traveling with them the last few stops disembarked first, then Scott got out. He headed right for the stage ticket office to turn in the remainder of their tickets. Keeping his hat low over his face to avoid possible recognition, Johnny stepped out last. As often happened, the stage stopped directly in front of the hotel, and Johnny grabbed his saddlebags and Scott’s valise and headed right for the front desk to engage the two of them a room facing the street. He then went to the room and awaited his brother.

An hour later, Scott knocked on the room door. Gun in hand, Johnny let him in. Scott was carrying two plates of food, a pot of coffee with two mugs, and a bag of purchases. Scott sat on the bed to eat his dinner and Johnny resumed his chair near the window so he could keep an eye on the street as he ate. The town was quiet, Johnny had to admit, with no sign that trouble might be brewing nearby.

As if reading his thoughts, Scott said, “Nice peaceful little town. Bartender and storekeeper are friendly. Nobody’s questioning who I am.”

Johnny grunted. “See anyone you know?”

“No,” said Scott. “Did you?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“Not really. Who we’re looking for is twenty miles from here. Didn’t really expect to see any lookouts this far out, but not takin’ any chances. The only way to win a war like this is to attack first. Don’t let them know you’re ready.”

Scott ate thoughtfully. “The livery’s got some good-looking horses that’ll be waiting for us in the morning. This bag contains food for us for tomorrow – fruit, jerky, biscuits. I’ll be ready to go any time you say.” Scott looked as though he wanted to say something else but remained silent.

In a moment, without turning away from the window, Johnny said, “Might as well tell me what’s eating you, brother.”

Scott sighed. “I’m not entirely convinced you’re right about this vendetta.”

Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t have to be.”

“You know, Johnny, I want to believe Murdoch is still alive. More than anything, I don’t want to lose the father I finally got to know and love after all these years. But if he is, then that means you’re right and he might still die, and us with him.”

“Then maybe I’m wrong,” Johnny said flatly.

“What do you really think?”

“No thinking any more. Just action.” Question answered.

Johnny was not in the mood to talk, and he would not allow a lamp in the room, so when it got dark, Scott decided to turn in early. He awoke around 4am and saw Johnny still religiously watching the street. “Get some rest, brother,” Scott suggested. “I’ll watch so you can sleep for a while.”

“Thanks,” Johnny yawned. “Up at daybreak, though.”

“Up at daybreak,” Scott agreed. And, true to his word, he woke Johnny at dawn.

They caught the liveryman as he was opening and rented the two horses Scott had scrutinized the night before. “Two days,” Johnny told the stableman. “No more.” And they rode off in the direction of Tierra Feliz. Scott marveled, as always, at the self-assurance of his brother. Especially under these circumstances.

Before they had gone very far, Scott mused, “I feel sorry for Teresa. And Jelly. They still think Murdoch’s dead.”

“So do you, in your heart.”

This startled Scott. He took a moment to think it over. “I guess I do. It’s very sad. This whole business is very sad. After all these years of . . .”

Johnny suddenly reined in his horse and grabbed the bridle of Scott’s horse to stop it. “Scott!” he yelled. “Listen to me! You’re here for a reason! And it’s not to feel sorry for Teresa or Jelly or yourself or anyone else! If that telegram spoke the truth and Murdoch is really dead, then we’ll bring him home like we said and everybody will mourn and I promise you I will cry as hard as anybody because I loved him too! But if there is even a small chance I’m right - and there is a very big chance I’m right – then we have to fight a war that is not of our making, and it’s only the two of us to do it. And I wanted to do it alone and I’m not sure about you helping! And if we lose this war, then it means death for us and they will kill Murdoch anyway. If he’s even still alive. So I want you to see that you have to keep those feelings hidden, you have no choice in the matter except to be the best soldier you’ve ever been!”

Scott knew where this speech was going after the first few words, and he had to agree with Johnny. Maudlin sentimentality would have to wait for later. “I know . . .”

“Give me your word, Scott! Your word! You know our plan. If you can’t do it, you tell me right now! You turn around and go back. I mean it! I don’t want you if you’re not at your best! I don’t need to have to rescue you, too!”

Scott straightened up tall in the saddle. He had something to prove and he was suddenly in complete control. He felt his body somehow anchor itself and he felt a small smile come to his lips. He was becoming like Johnny Madrid, and he was lucky enough to be aware of it! “I have your back all the way, brother.”

Johnny relaxed and nodded. “Let’s go.”

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -
 
Around midday Scott Lancer rode into Tierra Feliz. He looked around and spied only one building that might pass as a hotel, so he reined his horse in front, grabbed his valise, and entered. A few moments later he used the key to let himself into his room on the second floor. Taking only a moment to brush off the dust, he then went back down into the street in search of lunch. Only two places looked as though they qualified, a run-down but acceptable-looking diner and a decidedly seedy saloon. He spent no time deliberating and went inside the diner. He went out of his way to charm the waitress, a woman in her 40s who was clearly the owner, by complimenting the food and her personally. In return, she gave him all the information he needed, and probably more. After lunch he returned to his room. The room’s window faced the yard behind the hotel. It was not a good view, but Scott sat near the window and watched for any activity in the back of the hotel. Early on, some boys ran through the yard engaged in play, after which a woman emerged from the back door of the hotel with washing she hung on the clotheslines. It was a couple hours later before any other movement was detected, but Scott never took his eyes off the yard. At 3 pm he got up and unlocked and slightly opened the door to his room, then resumed his perch near the window.

A moment later he heard what he expected to hear, the door of the room across the hall being unlocked. An instant later, Johnny quietly stole into Scott’s room and closed the door behind him noiselessly.
“Hello, brother,” said Scott.

Johnny plastered himself to the right of the door and nodded. “Any problems?” He cracked the door a little to listen in the hallway.

“None. Are they following you?”

“Yup! I let them pick up my trail about a mile out of town. Better get ready, they’re at the front desk already, asking my room number.”

Scott abandoned his window post and took a position on the other side of the door, his gun in his hand and ready. He marveled that his brother the gunfighter left his gun in its holster. “How many?”

“Two so far. Mason and some new guy I don’t know. Mason is a gun but a bad one. New guy might be good.  Shhh!” Johnny closed the door crack and shrunk back.

Scott listened intently but could barely discern the sound of footsteps in the hall. He watched his brother’s face for cues. When the footsteps stopped, Johnny opened the door just a crack, making very certain to make no noise whatsoever. He gave his brother a sign with his hand and then flung the door halfway open. He startled the two men in the hallway who had been about to kick in the room door across the hall. They recovered quickly, turned, and were about to draw on Johnny, who pulled his gun on them. Unseen behind the half-open door, Scott marveled as always at the speed with which his brother could wield that weapon.

“Drop ‘em,” Johnny commanded. “Left hands.”

The two men growled and swore but did as they were told. Each of their gunbelts hit the hall floor. Johnny motioned with his gun for them to enter the room across the hall. “No need to kick it in. It’s not locked,” he chuckled.

They did as told. Johnny followed them inside and shut the door behind him. Scott then quietly picked up the gunbelts from the hall floor, grabbed his valise, and left, locking his room behind him. Once out in the street, he mounted his horse, throwing the extra belts across the saddle, and rode out of town.

Meanwhile, Johnny conversed with the two men. “Howdy, Mason. Who’s your friend?” Although they were unarmed, he kept his gun leveled for good measure and tossed a rope to Mason, gesturing that he should use it to tie his friend’s hands to the bedpost. “Lie face down on the bed, friend.”

Mason had had past dealings with Johnny Madrid and obviously knew better than to cross him. As he tied the hands of the other man to the brass headboard as directed, he said, “Howdy, Johnny. You’re not going to like this. This here’s the Nevada Kid.”

The Nevada Kid! And Johnny had gotten the drop on him! He smiled and tipped his hat. “Nevada,” he greeted. “Looks like you got in with the wrong company. Don’t worry – happened to me once a few years ago.” He grinned at Mason, who scowled. “OK, now, Mason, take that pillowcase off that pillow and tie it round his mouth so he can’t make any noise. That’s it. Nope, a little bit tighter, I can still hear him. Ok, that’s good. Now use your belt to tie his feet to the footboard.”

“My belt is holdin’ up my pants,” Mason growled.

“Doesn’t matter, I’ve seen you in longjohns,” Johnny grinned. “You got nothin’ to worry about.”

Mason secured the Nevada Kid safely to the bed and the pants stayed up. Johnny could tell by the way the Kid could barely move that he would be safely there for a long time.  “Nice job,” said Johnny smoothly. “Now, Nevada, you can go ahead and bump around on that bed all you want. If anyone does hear it, they’ll just figure there are some folks in here getting to know each other.” He grinned. “I signed the guest book as Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Newlyweds! No one’s going to bother you until tomorrow.”

Johnny double-checked the bindings of the Nevada Kid and tipped his hat to him. “OK, Mason, you and I are leaving.” In the hall he tossed the room key to Mason. “Lock it. OK, now toss the key under the door. That’s good, Mason. Last I remember you were not so anxious to please me.” Johnny Madrid looked very menacing, so Mason took his cue to precede him down the stairs and out to their horses. “Mount up,” Johnny directed.

“Hey, wait a minute. How come I didn’t see our guns in the hall?”

“Maid,” Johnny deadpanned.

Mason mounted his horse. “Now what, Madrid? Which way?”

Johnny mounted his horse as well, lifting his right arm a little as a reminder that he and his gun were in control. “That depends. Where is Cochran holing up?”

This startled Mason. He hesitated only a second but it was enough for Johnny to detect.

“Couple miles east,” he said.

“Right,” said Johnny, turning to the west.

“I said east!”

“I heard you. My memory of you’s a little fuzzy, Mason, but the one thing I could always count on you for was to lie to me. Get going.”

They kicked their horses into a gentle canter and rode west out of town. Mason said unconvincingly, “You’ll never see Cochran going this way, Johnny.”

“Sure, I will. I watched your face when I asked you and you looked to the west before you said east. Dead giveaway. And, like I said, I don’t think you’ve ever told the truth about anything. But that’s about to change.”

Mason grumbled but settled in to the ride.

In a moment, Johnny asked, “Were you two supposed to kill me yourselves or deliver me?”

“Cochran left it up to us. He’s got Nevada now so . . . “ He suddenly remembered the condition the Nevada Kid had been left behind in and swore at his captor. “Cochran’s not gonna like this, Johnny!”

Johnny smiled. “I expect I can live with that.”

“Maybe not,” Mason said ominously. “You got no idea how much he wants you dead!”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, losing his smile. “I think I got that figured out, too.” In a minute, he said, “Where’s my old man?”

“Who?”

“Lancer. Cochran took him.”

“I thought your name was Madrid. I don’t know nothin’ about anyone named Lancer.”

Johnny looked closely at Mason’s face. He could in fact be telling the truth. It was entirely possible Cochran didn’t confide his plans to every gun in his employ. Most likely not to the lowly ones, and Mason was the lowliest of the low. A complication, but nothing Johnny couldn’t handle. In a couple minutes Johnny made a high gesture with his left arm and told Mason to pull off the road. The two of them rode into the brush a couple hundred yards and then Johnny told Mason to dismount.

A few minutes later, Johnny emerged alone and continued following the road. He was dressed in Mason’s clothes and hat and riding Mason’s horse. But his gun and gunbelt (and pants belt!) were his alone. He shaded his eyes and looked behind him back down the road and frowned. With a very sober expression, he once again looked forward and rode to the task that lay ahead. Alone.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -
 
Since Mason had been good enough to confirm Johnny’s suspicions that Cochran was indeed his foe, Johnny knew what he was facing. Cochran was malicious, intelligent and reckless, but not organized. Johnny assumed there was no hideout per se, just probably an old homestead they took over or more likely just a rudimentary camp off the road. Cochran had sent his seasoned but most useless gun along with his hotshot latest conquest to subdue Johnny and had no idea they had failed. Johnny allowed a bit of a smile as he thought of Scott hidden behind the door, ready to help him at any time. (Unnecessary, of course.) Johnny also smiled a little at the look on Mason’s face when asked exactly where Cochran was and how many men he had. And how quickly that look had sobered when Johnny pulled his gun. And cocked the hammer.

Mason had been quite helpful.

Johnny was holding all the aces. Almost all. He did not know where his father was. The little smile faded.

Trying to keep a level head, Johnny estimated he must be very near the north checkpoint, where Mason had informed him a guard would be posted. Johnny knew where to look, more from experience than from his snitch’s information. He pulled off the road to avoid being seen and dismounted. Moving noiselessly through the brush, he spied the man up ahead, standing behind a rock and watching the road. Johnny easily got the drop on him, knocking him out and then tying him with his own rope and gagging him with his own vest, since he apparently wasn’t smart enough to bring a kerchief. Satisfied at a job well-done, Johnny walked back to his horse. Three down.

He was obviously close. Returning to the road, he continued on until he heard the sounds of men conversing. He steered toward the sound and was moderately surprised to see a rundown house sitting in a cleared yard. He counted the number of men – two in the yard, and neither of them Cochran. Cochran was no doubt inside the house. Johnny wondered if his father was also being held prisoner inside the shack, or if he was being held elsewhere, or if . . .

Later. Needing to maintain the illusion of being Mason himself, Johnny bowed his head as he rode into the camp. The men greeted him as if he were Mason. He raised his hand in greeting, saying nothing and still shading his face. He headed for the house and dismounted and stepped inside when it was obvious no one was going to raise an objection.

He opened and closed the door behind him, and glanced quickly around the room with his hat brim still lowered. He heard a man’s voice say gruffly, “Well?” and recognized it as Cochran’s. Zeroing in on its location, Johnny slowly removed Mason’s hat and looked his enemy in the eye.
 
“Hello, Arn,” Johnny said softly. His body stance made it obvious he was ready for any reaction.

But Cochran registered only a modicum of surprise. “Well, hello, Johnny. Since you’re wearing Mason’s clothes, can I assume he’s dead?”

“He’s alive. I throw the dumb ones back.”

“And Nevada?”

“In town, gettin’ married.”

At that, Cochran raised an eyebrow. “Is he dead?”

“He’s alive. If there’s a price on his head, he’s going to jail after the honeymoon, though. How’d you know Murdoch Lancer was my father?”

“Gets around. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re here now. We’ve got unfinished business, you and me, Johnny Madrid.”

They both were aware that between the two of them, Johnny was by far the faster gun. There was only the two of them in the room, and yet Cochran’s attitude indicated he believed he was holding all the aces. Was he? Johnny proceeded cautiously. “We’ll talk about ‘business,’ Arn, but first tell me where Lancer is.”

“That’s exactly what we’re gonna talk about, Johnny.” Before Johnny could react, Cochran yelled “Deke!” In a second, the door opened and one of the outside men came in. Johnny whirled and drew on him quickly but the man was not holding a firearm.

Cochran chuckled. “Put that away, Johnny. It won’t do you no good here.” The two of them laughed but Johnny, puzzled, continued pointing his gun, this time at Cochran.

Cochran laughed a moment longer, then said: “You might as well give that thing to Deke. I told you it won’t do you no good, and Deke here is gonna show you why.” He nodded to Deke, who smiled broadly and pulled back a curtain at the entrance to another room. Lying on the bed facedown was a man whose hands were tied behind his back. Johnny was reminded of his final glimpse of the Nevada Kid and irrationally wondered if he could somehow have gotten here. But this thought left his head immediately when the man turned his head toward them. Johnny recognized his face, even though it was bruised from a beating. It was his father!

He hesitated for only a moment but it was enough for both Deke and Cochran to pull their guns on him. “Now you see how it is, Johnny,” Cochran smiled. “All your questions answered.”

Johnny was stunned. He knew now, of course, that his father was still alive, but he had never really doubted it. His face was beaten and Johnny suspected he had other injuries as well. He loved his father and knew there was no good reason for anyone to have done this to him. “Madrid” had to be the reason, and “Madrid” meant revenge, pure and simple. Johnny was incensed but thought quickly, trying hard to push emotion to the back of his mind as he had done for so many years successfully. Now he found it difficult but he managed. As Deke pulled the gun from his hand, he plastered the small Madrid smile on his face and looked back at Cochran. He felt Murdoch’s eyes on him from the bedroom and was grateful that his father knew better than to say anything. He knew that he was the only hope his father had now and that he had to keep a straight head if either of them were to get out of this alive. If only one of them could survive, Johnny intended for it to be his father. He cocked his head and waited for Cochran to make the next move.

Cochran’s next move was to nod to his man Deke, who left, but immediately returned with a rope.

“Now, Johnny,” he said with disdain, “I know you’re out of practice. Being a rancher now. But I still got to believe that you haven’t lost too much . . . “

In spite of himself, a twinkle came to Johnny’s eyes.

“And I got to figure you did something to the Nevada Kid, so I’m afraid this here is necessary.” At this, Deke made a move to tie Johnny’s hands behind his back. But Johnny was too quick for him and, grabbing Deke’s arm, bent it backward as he slipped behind the man. Deke cried out in pain and Johnny instantly pushed him hard toward Cochran.

But Cochran knew Johnny Madrid too well and was on his guard. He deftly avoided the stumbling Deke and turned his gun hand to Murdoch. Johnny had made a move toward Cochran but when he heard the gun hammer being cocked, he stopped instantly. Enjoying his power, Cochran chuckled and said, “That’s good, Johnny. Now I know where your loyalties lie. If it wasn’t for that old man, this gun wouldn’t have stopped you. You’ve got feelings now. Makes it easier for . . .”

From the bedroom, Murdoch yelled, “Johnny, run! Get away! Don’t worry about me, just go!” His voice was strained and some of the words were unclear, but everyone in that room took his meaning. Johnny Lancer came dangerously close to making an appearance but Johnny Madrid forced him back inside. He gave his father a glance, nothing more.

Injured Deke now had a score to settle and caught Johnny off-guard with a hard right to the jaw. Johnny stumbled and fell facedown. Deke immediately tied his hands together behind him and pushed him into a kneeling position.

Johnny Madrid, as always, kept a cool head. Well aware Cochran’s gun was once again pointed at him, he asked Deke, “I got to wonder. You got no beef with me. What’s in it for you?”

“Money,” snarled Deke as he stood up. “Just like you, Johnny Madrid.”

For one horrible second, Johnny was ashamed of himself. He took a quick look at Murdoch, who was still on the bed, his hands also secured behind his back. His look was anguished as he saw his son kneeling in front of the enemy, his hands tied as well.

Cochran lowered the gun. A big smile was on his face as he said menacingly, “This is what I’ve been waiting for. A long time now. Johnny, you’re going to do what I want.”

“No,” said Johnny softly through his Madrid smirk.

“Sure, you are. It’s not hard. I’m just gonna ask you to go sit on the bed there. Next to your father.

Johnny had no idea what Cochran had in mind, so he stood unsteadily and did as he was told. He and Murdoch made brief eye contact but said nothing. He sat close enough to his father’s head that it would have been possible for Murdoch to have loosened Johnny’s bindings by grabbing with his teeth, but Cochran motioned with the gun for Johnny to sit closer to his father’s legs. Johnny himself started working the ropes with his fingers but was well aware that it would be hours before he would be successful. Johnny observed Cochran closely and noted that the man seemed to be relaxing. Although Deke kept his gun focused on the two of them, Cochran let his gun hand relax.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Cochran asked.

Johnny said nothing.

“You probably know this, but one of the folks you shot up – slaughtered, Johnny – in the Tierra Feliz saloon that one day – you remember? – was my father! That’s right, my father. You were aiming for me and he just got in the way and you didn’t care. My father, Johnny!”

Several thoughts occurred to Johnny simultaneously. His recall of that saloon gunfight was different. And he observed that Cochran now appeared almost peaceful. And he thought of Scott saying to him just a couple days ago, “he’s my father!”

And he suddenly realized where this was going.

“And you just kept shooting . . .” Cochran shook his head sadly. “But it all ends today. Johnny Madrid is never going to kill anyone again. Deke, go out and get Hiram in here. He might as well enjoy this, too.”

Deke went outside, shutting the door behind him. But Cochran kept his gun hand lowered. “You’re going to die, Johnny. I’m going to kill you. But not before you watch me shoot your old man.”

Against his lower back, Johnny felt his father flinch. He heard Murdoch’s intake of breath but was grateful his father said nothing. The two of them were in a serious predicament and there was no obvious way out of it. Johnny needed a moment to come up with something. He thought hard and fast but nothing occurred to him. He knew he had only seconds before Deke and Hiram would return and Cochran would put an end to his life. He did not care about himself but he was ashamed his past behavior would have in any way caused his father pain, yet alone his life! Murdoch absolutely did not deserve to die! And Johnny knew there was no point in saying anything because any verbal bargain he might make would be broken the minute he was dead, and Murdoch would die anyway. Think, Madrid, think!!

Cochran seemed to be thinking and studying him. Johnny appreciated these extra few seconds, but still no ideas occurred to him. He vaguely heard Murdoch whisper frantically to him, “Run, Johnny! Do what you can to save yourself!” but he ignored it.

In a minute, Cochran yelled, “Deke! Hiram! Where the hell are you two?!” He got no response from outside so he yelled again. No answer. Swearing to himself, he walked over to the door and opened it, standing in the doorway.  Johnny and Murdoch instinctively took full advantage of the break and turned so their hands connected. Johnny’s fingers were younger and more dexterous, but it made sense that if one of them was to be freed, it should be the gunfighter, so Murdoch lost no time grabbing the rope end on Johnny’s hands and attempting to push it back through the loop. A difficult job under the best of circumstances, but both knew it was all they had.

Having lived the life he did, Cochran suspected a trap when he did not see either of his men. He once again held his gun menacingly out in front of him and stepped into the yard.

His gun suddenly left his hand, flying hard to his left. Before he had the chance to react, a fist came up from behind the door and connected with his cheek. Another fist connected with his stomach and he went sprawling to the ground, gasping for air. He tried standing and lost his balance. He tried crawling to his gun but someone got in the way and picked it up. “Get in the house,” he heard. “Crawl if you have to.”

From the house, Murdoch and Johnny watched in amazement. At first, all they saw was Cochran losing control of the situation. Then, after Cochran half-crawled/half-walked through the doorway, they were delighted to see Scott following him, pointing his own gun. Johnny and Murdoch exchanged looks and smiles. “I thought I lost you back on the road when I couldn’t see you anymore,” Johnny said happily to his brother.

Scott was serious and only had eyes for his father. He roughly pushed Cochran down onto a chair and headed for Johnny, who turned so his hands could be untied. Johnny said a couple things to Scott, who wasn’t listening. When his hands were untied, Scott handed his guns to Johnny and mumbled something. Johnny leveled a gun on his enemy and went to the doorway to see what had happened to the two henchmen. Not surprisingly, he saw them lying on the ground with their backs to each other, their hands bound together and their mouths gagged. Johnny laughed and shook his head. Scott! The brother he thought would be in the way!

Scott attended to his father, untying the ropes from his hands. Murdoch sat up and rubbed his wrists. Scott placed his hands on his father’s shoulders. “Thank God,” he said softly.

Murdoch chuckled. “Scott, it’s fine. I’m all right. Just a little worse for wear, that’s all. Thank you, son, you arrived just in time!” He looked closely at Scott for the first time and saw tears in his eyes. Confused, he looked to Johnny.

Johnny Madrid vanished as Johnny Lancer suddenly remembered that his brother had really thought their father was dead. “Murdoch,” he said softly, “It’s a long story, but Scott thought you were dead. At the hands of this idiot!” he added, turning menacingly to Cochran.

“Dead!” Murdoch was stunned. Turning his attention only to Scott, he placed his hand on Scott’s head and drew him gently to his chest. “No, son,” he said very softly. “Not dead.” Scott embraced him and Murdoch continued talking to him in a very quiet voice.

Johnny watched enviously but his attention was drawn back to Cochran, who suddenly yelled, “Madrid! You took that from me!”

Johnny motioned with his gun and told Cochran to get outside with the other vermin. Instinctively he knew his brother needed time alone with his father. When the two of them had stepped outside, Johnny told Cochran, “I didn’t steal your father from you, Arn. Bullets were flying. He was in the way. He was shot in the back, remember? That means it was probably you who shot him.”

Cochran made a noise like a growl. “Give me my gun, Madrid. I’m calling you out.”

Johnny wasn’t in the mood. Johnny Madrid had left and he wanted him to stay away. “Come on, Arn. I’m taking you to the law in the next town. Kidnapping, threatening murder – they’ll lock you away but at least you’ll still be alive. You know you’ve got no chance against me.”

Now, Madrid! I’m calling you out!”

Johnny sighed deeply. He grabbed Cochran’s gun from his pocket, removed all but one bullet, then did the same with his own gun. He then threw Cochran’s gun to him. Cochran checked it before sliding it into the holster and Johnny just shook his head in disbelief.

“Arn, think what . . . “

“Shut up! You ready?”

“After you.” Johnny assumed the gunfighter position, even though it was against his better judgment. Apparently Cochran wanted to die . . .

Twenty seconds later, Cochran got his wish.

Johnny spent a long minute staring at the man he had just killed. It was a bittersweet moment. He knew that the man would never have been satisfied without this gunfight and this thought made him sad. But he also realized that he would not have been able to feel this sadness if he was still Johnny Madrid. He was finally Johnny Lancer, 100%!  Heartened, he looked to the house and saw his father and brother watching from the doorway. Scott’s eyes were damp but he gave Johnny a little smile. Johnny nodded to him and smiled back.

Murdoch looked concerned. “Son,” he said, reaching out.

Johnny Madrid could never remember a time when someone had reached out to him. But he was Johnny Lancer now and he knew someone would reach out to him many, many times from now on. This was just the first. He walked over to his father. Saying “Murdoch” and nothing more, he happily put his arms around his father. He saw Scott still smiling at him and he knew he was home. Eighty miles from Lancer ranch in the middle of nowhere near some Godforsaken lawless town called Tierra Feliz, Johnny Lancer was finally home.

 

 

~ end ~

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