The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

goldieasj

 

 

Johnnie

This is the story of how Johnnie came to live at the Lancer ranch. Whoa! – not that Johnny! This Johnnie was a lot shorter and had brown eyes and four legs and a cute tail!

The original Johnny himself was the one who first brought little Johnnie home, snuggled up inside his leather jacket for security, wrapped in a towel. Never mind that it was almost 80 degrees outside in the late afternoon, and everyone who passed Johnny on the road looked at him like he was crazy. And maybe he was, but he was mostly hot!

He wanted little Johnnie to love him as much as he loved the puppy, so he stopped every couple miles and let little Johnnie explore the ground and drink some water and chew on something besides his jacket. Frankly, it took Johnny longer than it should have to realize that little Johnnie liked to bite on leather, so after about the third stop, when Johnny removed his jacket to air himself out a bit and saw that most of the inside – in the general dog area – had been gnawed on, Johnny cut off the very end of one of the reins and gave it to the puppy to chew on for the rest of the ride home.

Said ride was a happy one since Johnny Lancer loved the little furball wiggling in its towel inside his jacket. He loved the feeling of the puppy snuggling next to his heart, and then squirming as it decided it wanted to move, and then chewing at the small piece of rawhide and then – ouch! – ignoring where the rawhide stopped and Johnny began. Pain notwithstanding, Johnny enjoyed the little puppy, but his ride was also full of trepidation. He knew perfectly well that his father Murdoch would absolutely NOT allow a dog in the house, and his brother Scott probably felt the same way, and Murdoch’s ward Teresa would complain about her just-cleaned floor or ceiling or something and that tiny innocent little Johnnie would be a terrible bringer of dirt . . .

“Harbinger,” said Johnny out loud. “A harbinger of dirt.” He opened the panel of his jacket and Johnnie stuck his head out. “That’s what Scott will call you – a harbinger of dirt.” Blue eyes met brown eyes. Johnny closed his jacket back up again. They were approaching the Lancer arch, about to ride through and into what almost certainly promised to be a night of . . . yelling.

Johnny’s jacket barked. 

“You’d better stop that,” Johnny admonished his jacket. “I’m going to have enough trouble explaining you without that barking.”

He rode his horse slowly through the yard to the barn, looking in all directions and satisfied that no one had seen him. When he got inside the barn, he dismounted and noticed Jelly, the hired hand, approaching him.

Jelly’s temperament could best be described as grouchy, on a good day. And today was apparently a good day. “Well, here comes The Late Johnny Lancer,” Jelly said by way of greeting. “You know, Murdoch was just in here looking for you.”

“Yeah, I figured, Jelly. I’m probably late for dinner again. Got a good reason this time, though. Listen, can you take care of Barranca for me? I got something to do.”
Jelly glared at the palomino, who glared back at him. “All right,” he grumbled. “Better not make this a habit, though.” He led the horse to its stall and removed the gear. Jelly had just grabbed the curry brush when he heard a high-pitched yelp. He dropped the brush. “What the Sam Hill . . .?”

“Shh, shh, shh” came from a dark corner of the barn.

“Johnny, you still in here? I thought you hightailed it in to supper.” Jelly grabbed the lantern and went over to the area from which the yelp and the “Shh”s had emanated. He was surprised to see a little ball of white fur rolling around on a towel with 24-year-old Johnny Lancer kneeling nearby and staring so happily at it that you’d think he had just found out the Queen of Sheba had said she would leave her husband for him. And bring along her Arabian racehorses to boot.

“What are you doing?!” Jelly asked in a clear tone of admonishment.

“It’s a puppy, Jelly,” Johnny explained with a big sappy smile on his face.

“You don’t say. Johnny, you can’t bring a dog to Lancer! You know how Murdoch feels about pets!”

“Yeah, I know how Murdoch feels about pets. But, Jelly . . . just look at him! Look at how friendly he is. I can already tell he loves you.” Little Johnnie made a sudden advance toward Jelly, as proof, presumably, that he did indeed love Jelly. (Or as a response to Johnny pushing him in that direction.)

Jelly’s grouchy attitude melted immediately as the little guy rolled clumsily in the hay trying to reach him. He chuckled. “He is kind of cute, at that!” Jelly picked up Johnnie, looked into his eyes, and unnaturally and inexplicably resorted to baby talk. “You shore are the cutest thing I ever did see!” He nuzzled the little puppy, who licked him. Then he came to his senses. He set the dog back down on the towel.

“Well, what are you going to tell Murdoch?”

Johnny laid down next to his dog and admired him. “I just don’t know. I’ve been trying to come up with something this whole ride home.”

“Well, why’d you get him in the first place?”

Johnny never took his adoring eyes off the dog as he spoke. “That widow lady who lives next to Doc Jenkins, Mrs. . . . Mrs. . . .”

“Crofty.”

“Mrs. Crofty . . . well, her dog had puppies, and this little guy always seemed to be rejected by everyone. And I . . . well, I felt sorry for him.”

“So, just like that, you decided to give it a good home.”

“Yup!”

“Well, the two of you better start lookin’ for another good home, because once Murdoch finds out . . .”

Johnny stood up quickly. “Jelly, can you keep a secret?”

“Of course I can keep a secret! What’s the secret?”

“Don’t tell Murdoch about this dog until I tell him first.”

“Ho, no! You’re not the one signs my paycheck! Why shouldn’t I tell him?“

“Come on, Jelly, you’re my friend! I’m not asking much! And, besides, I promise you’ll keep your job here. Murdoch is going to be yelling at me, not you. And Scott will be yelling, and Teresa . . . “

Jelly looked down at the dog again, who yawned and lay down. Every time he looked at that little face, he melted. “Well . . . all right. I guess you’ll just have to keep him in the barn tonight.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. Thanks, Jelly!”

Jelly smiled at the little pup. “Does he have a name yet?”

“Yeah, I named him Johnnie.”

The smile disappeared. “Well, that’s original. How long did it take you to come up with that one?”

“He reminds me a lot of me.”

“Uh huh.”

Johnny looked longingly at his new dog one last time. “He was rejected by everyone, and you can tell he just wants to be loved. And he’s got brown eyes.”

Sometimes Johnny had the same puppy-like ability to make Jelly melt. Jelly cleared his throat. “The last time I looked, you had blue eyes,” he said less gruffly than usual.

“I always wanted my eyes to be brown. Well, I better get in to dinner. They’ll be sitting down pretty soon. No sense letting the yelling start before it has to! I’ll check on Johnnie later.”

Jelly nodded and soberly watched his young friend head for the house. He knew why Johnny had always wanted brown eyes. Growing up in Mexico as a mestizo, a half-breed with a Mexican mother and an American father, Johnny had never fit into either world; his blue eyes had effectively branded him. Jelly picked up the little dog and held him to his chest. “Don’t you worry, little fella, you’ve got a new home here at Lancer. Johnny will find some way to make it work.”

 

Johnny washed up for dinner quickly and got lucky as he arrived at the supper table the same time as everyone else. He participated in little of the dinner conversation as he was constantly trying to find an appropriate opening to mention his new pet. A couple of times there was talk of how quiet he was and was he all right? Murdoch seemed in a good mood and things seemed to be going along smoothly and Johnny had just about worked up the nerve to suggest the ranch get a dog when Scott inopportunely mentioned the trouble coyotes had been giving a neighboring ranch and Murdoch said coyotes hang around looking for opportunity and they’re members of the dog family and Lancer had a dog a long time ago that killed all the chickens and blah blah blah blah.

Back to: Johnny, are you all right?

“Not very hungry,” he said despondently. “Think I’ll go check on Barranca.” He left the table, forgetting to excuse himself but remembering to bring the dog-sized chicken leg he had concealed in his napkin.

“Johnny! Your napkin?” said Teresa.

“I’ll bring it back later,” he mumbled, and left for the barn.

“That’s odd,” Teresa said to no one in particular. “What made him take that napkin?”

“Did anyone besides me notice that Johnny was acting a little strangely tonight?” Scott asked.

“Now that you mention it,” Teresa said thoughtfully.

Murdoch rested his elbows on the table and gazed at the door. “He seemed a little down.”

“Not at first,” said Scott, “but as the meal progressed, his spirits seemed to sink. Murdoch, do you think I should check on him?”

Murdoch sighed and said, “Do what you want, Scott, but I think it’s best to just let him work out whatever’s bothering him. You know Johnny. He values his privacy. We’ll keep an eye on him to make sure he’s not sick.”

 

When Johnny entered the barn, he found that Jelly had left and had doused the lantern. He re-lit the lantern and carried it to the back corner where his new puppy was playing with the small piece of rawhide. Johnny was happy, although not surprised, to see that Jelly had assembled a small “dog corral” by placing tools and saddles and hay around Johnnie. It was big enough to give Johnnie plenty of walking-around room when he was awake but tall enough that he couldn’t escape and get into trouble.

Johnny grabbed a clean bottle from a shelf and filled it with water from the trough and put it inside the dog corral. Little Johnnie wasn’t thirsty but, boy!, did he ever go for the meat on that chicken leg! He didn’t have much in the way of teeth yet but he sure seemed to manage. And afterward, well, then he was thirsty.

Johnny checked to make sure no one was in the yard, and then he took the puppy outside for a quick romp around. When the little guy tried to run off, Johnny chuckled and scooped him up. “The grass is always greener, huh?” He nuzzled the little dog, who responded by licking his face. His face, his neck, his jacket collar . . .

Johnny heard the house door open. Quickly he calculated how close he was to the barn to get rid of the evidence. Not close enough! It was dark, but Johnny could tell that it was his brother, and he was heading right for him!

Hastily he stuffed the little dog back inside his jacket. Johnnie tried yelping but big Johnny did his best to stifle the sound by patting his jacket. “Shh!” he strongly suggested.

“What?” Scott called.

“I didn’t say anything,” Johnny said as Scott approached him. “What do you want?” He loved his brother and didn’t mean to sound quite that abrupt, but he sure didn’t need Scott snooping around just then. Having Jelly find out about the dog before Murdoch was already one person too many.

Fortunately, Scott didn’t seem to take offense. “I don’t really want anything, Johnny. You just looked a little down and I was checking on you. That’s all.”

“Yeah, well, thanks, but I’m fine.” Just as Johnny said that, the little dog managed a small high-pitched yip. Johnny quickly clasped his hand to his jacket. “Perfectly fine.”

“What was that noise, Johnny? It seemed to be coming from . . . from you!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Was that your . . .stomach?!”

“Yeah, that was my stomach. I’ve been having a little problem with that lately.”

Scott switched instantly into hovering big-brother mode. “Johnny, is there anything I can do for you? Anything I can do to help?”

“No! Yes! Leave me alone! I mean . . . I’m fine. I’m fine, Scott. I’ll just . . . “ The puppy started squirming inside the jacket and Johnny grabbed at his jacket with both hands.

Startled, Scott asked, “Is it your heart, Johnny? Heart trouble?”

“No! I’m fine, Scott. Really. Just leave me alone, OK?” Johnny was losing the battle to keep the pup from poking its head out the jacket so he made a beeline for the barn. “Just . . . I’m . . . “ He disappeared inside the barn.

Confused and upset, Scott Lancer went back to the house and reported to the rest of the Lancer family that Johnny wanted to be alone and that Johnny’s face was wet with sweat and that Johnny was very. very ill.

 

Johnny Lancer slept well that night, or at least as well as he could considering he decided to stay in the barn until the rest of the family had gone to bed and that took quite a while. At first he was ecstatic that he had time alone with his little friend. He sprawled out in the hay and watched Johnnie roll around gracelessly and he played rawhide-tug-of-war with Johnnie and he tried to stifle Johnnie’s little yips and he threw hay and laughed when Johnnie tried to figure out where it landed. As the hours went by, ecstasy turned into boredom when little Johnnie’s amusement potential peaked and then waned, and boredom turned into downright tedium when little Johnnie fell asleep. Finally the house lights all disappeared and Johnny snuck up to his room, falling asleep on his own bed without disrobing.

His dreams that night were happy ones of his new dog, but, owing to the late start on a good night’s sleep, he slept longer than usual. When he woke the next morning, the first thing he noticed was that his bedroom door was ajar. That meant someone had opened it, presumably to check on him. Although he valued his privacy, he reasoned that it was later than usual and Murdoch probably just wanted to check that he hadn’t gone back into town last night. That premise was acceptable and he hurriedly went down to the kitchen.

Probably everyone had already left to go about their business that day as there was no one on the first floor. No food was sitting out in the kitchen, so Johnny quickly wolfed down a piece of raspberry pie he found in the pantry and grabbed another to share with Johnnie.

Glancing furtively around the yard, he made a dash for the barn. Although there were some hands working with the horses in the corral, no one noticed him. When he entered the barn, Johnny was glad to see only Jelly, who was just about to step up into the wagon to head into town on the weekly supplies run. 

“Mornin’, Jelly,” called Johnny. “Where is everyone?”

Jelly seemed flustered at Johnny’s appearance. “Um . . . Johnny . . . “

“Um to you too. Where is everyone?” Johnny gracefully vaulted a wooden rack on the way to his dog. “How’s my pet?” he added.

“Johnny, wait!”

Johnny turned back abruptly at the tone in Jelly’s voice.  “What’s the matter with you?”

Jelly wasn’t acting like himself. “Well . . . uh . . . Well, you were supposed to help Scott in the south pasture today, and when you didn’t show up, Murdoch went along with him instead.”

Johnny laughed. “Ooooh, I bet Murdoch was steaming mad!”

“Well, no . . . not exactly.”

Johnny was confused. “He wasn’t mad? Why wasn’t he mad?” This was a first. In fact, it was a downright impossibility. Johnny was a hard worker but sometimes felt like taking a day off, after which he heard plenty about it from his father. In fact, the only time he had been able to get by without working and without facing Murdoch’s wrath was that time when he had appendicitis. Johnny shook his head in wonderment. “You know, maybe I should get out there and join them! Jelly, can you tend to Johnnie for me today?”

Johnny turned back to little Johnnie, and, ignoring Jelly’s next “Johnny, wait!”, he reached his dog in two steps. He smiled broadly as he saw Johnnie on the towel, lying still and looking up at him.

Just . . . lying still and looking up at him. With sad brown eyes.

Something was very wrong! Johnny dropped to his knees and picked up his dog. “Hey, little fella, what’s wrong with you?” He cradled the dog in his arms and stroked him and tried to get him to play, but little Johnnie apparently didn’t want to do anything but hold still and whimper. Johnny broke off a piece of the raspberry pie and held it out for Johnnie, but the dog only made a cursory attempt to eat it, and when it fell out of his mouth, it fell on Johnny’s shirt, where it presumably created a raspberry stain, which, when it came to laundry day, would cause Teresa to yell and . . .

“Jelly! My dog’s sick!”

Jelly came over to them and said sheepishly, “Yeah, I know, Johnny. I saw that this morning.”

“Well, what’s wrong with him?”

“I don’t know, Johnny. I’m sorry. Dogs aren’t really my specialty. I know a lot about horses . . . and cows . . . but dogs . . . I just don’t know.”

“I know horses, too. And cows. But this little guy . . .” Johnny looked like he was about to cry. He put his finger in little Johnnie’s mouth but the dog wasn’t even interested in chewing. “Jelly! He’s dying!”

“Now, Johnny, we don’t know that. Maybe he’s just got a touch of the grippe. Or appendicitis, like you had that one time.”

“Appendicitis?! I’ve got to take him to the vet!” Johnny rolled his dog in the towel and set it on the seat of Jelly’s wagon. Then he started quickly saddling Barranca. “Get going, Jelly! Hurry up! Take him to the vet right away! I’ll be right behind you!”

Jelly never could resist a Johnny Lancer request, so while Johnny was getting Barranca ready, Jelly climbed quickly into the wagon and snapped the reins and the team practically galloped out of the barn, which of course caused all the ranch hands nearby to scratch their heads in wonder. A few minutes later when Johnny Lancer galloped out of the barn, they did it again.

Johnny caught up with Jelly and the wagon a short ways out of town, and, leaning down on a gallop, scooped the dog into his arms. Little Johnnie’s brown eyes got very wide at the maneuver, but, huddled in his towel, there wasn’t much he could do about it. 

Moments later, Johnny reined Barranca up short in front of the veterinarian’s office in a cloud of dust. With the little dog cradled in his arm, he pounded on the door until he had the good sense to read the handwritten sign tacked on it that said, “In Riverton. Back Wednesday.”

“No!” This couldn’t be happening! Johnny Lancer looked around frantically. Now what? Now what?! But – being Johnny Lancer, experienced solver and causer of problems – he had an idea. He ran down the street to Sam Jenkins’ establishment. Sam Jenkins, the doctor. Sam Jenkins, the people doctor.

Johnny threw open the door and, ignoring the receptionist, barged right in on Sam, who was, mercifully, sitting at his desk eating breakfast instead of examining a patient.

“Sam! I need help!”

Dr. Jenkins jumped up. “What is it, Johnny? What’s wrong?”

“I’ve got a problem with my dog!”

“You’ve got a problem with your . . . what?”

“My new dog!” Johnny set little Johnnie down on the examining table. “He’s sick, Sam. He’s dying! He might have appendicitis! Look at those sad eyes!”

“Your dog? I thought you were injured, Johnny!” Sam was not looking at Johnny’s dog. He was looking at Johnny’s shirt, which had raspberry stains running down the front of it.

“Me injured? No, it’s my dog! Look, Sam!” Johnny couldn’t figure out why the doctor’s attention span was wandering. He grabbed Sam’s hand and placed it on Johnnie. “My dog, Sam! He’s the one who’s hurt! What’s wrong with him?”

Dr. Jenkins finally caught on. “Hmmm,” he said as he ran his fingers along the puppy. Johnnie looked at him with those big brown eyes and licked him. Sam looked inside the dog’s mouth and ears and turned him over a couple times and felt his ribs and listened to his heart (or where he thought the heart might be), and he said “Hmmm” a couple more times, and then he stepped back and pronounced,

“I have no idea.”

“What?! You have no idea?”

“I’m a person doctor, Johnny. Not a veterinarian. I have no such training.”

“I know that, Sam, but . . . but people and dogs . . . they’re so close!”

“No, I’m afraid they’re not close at all. And veterinary medicine is by no means my specialty. You really should consult a doctor who specializes in this kind of patient.”

Johnny Madrid/Lancer, the famed gunfighter turned wealthy rancher, sank into a chair and looked like he was going to cry. “Sven is out of town,” he said in a small voice. “And by the time he gets back . . . it might be too late.” He and little Johnnie looked at each other and whimpered.

Luckily, the gravity of the situation was not lost on Dr. Jenkins, who said, “Why don’t you ask your father, Johnny? He’s certainly had experience with animals. And as I recall, Murdoch has had dogs in the past. He might be able to help.”

Johnny waved off that suggestion. “No,” he said wearily, “he doesn’t want dogs. None of them do. I haven’t told them about this little guy yet.” He put his head in his hands and sighed deeply. Little Johnnie would have done the same thing if he’d had hands.

A moment of silence passed, during which not much happened except Sam’s breakfast got colder. Finally the doctor had an idea.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Johnny. Give me a couple hours to consult some medical books and I’ll see if any of them might have an idea. You never know – maybe I’ll run across something. Can you stay in town for a couple of hours?”

This perked Johnny up considerably. “Thanks, Sam! Thanks a lot! Johnnie and I thank you!”

“Johnny, and . . . ?”

“I’m going to take my pup back to the ranch and make him comfortable. We have a little place for him in the hay that he likes. But Jelly is in town getting supplies. He’ll be here a couple hours. Can you write something up and give it to Jelly? He’ll bring it to me.”

“Sure, Johnny, sure. I’ll do whatever I can to help. Don’t get your hopes up, though – like I said, I’m a people doctor and these are people doctor books – but I’ll do my best to try to find something that will help.”

Johnny came close to smiling and he scooped up his little pet and shook the doctor’s hand and he left for the ranch. Dr. Sam Jenkins watched him a moment, thinking of Murdoch Lancer being a friend of his and the Lancer ranch certainly sending lots of business his way over the years, but this absolutely was a new one on him!

 

Johnny was back in the Lancer barn by lunchtime, but he was too upset to eat so never went in the house. He lay Johnnie down in his hay bed and spoke consolingly to him. He wanted to entice the pup with the little piece of rawhide but couldn’t find it. Johnnie, apparently happy that he wasn’t being bounced around or handed over on a dead gallop anymore, fell asleep. Johnny’s experience watching his dog sleep was not exciting so he took care of Barranca instead. He spent a good amount of time currying his horse and otherwise tending to him, and when he couldn’t think of anything else to do for him, lay down next to Johnnie and fell asleep himself.

 

In a couple of hours, Johnny and Johnnie were awakened by Jelly returning. Johnny jumped up and ran over to him. “Jelly,” he asked excitedly. “Did Sam have any instructions for me?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah! The Doc gave me a letter to give to you.” Jelly reached in his jeans pocket and pulled out an envelope for Johnny.

Excitedly, Johnny tore off the envelope and read the letter:  

“Dear Johnny, Unfortunately, I have bad news. While I appreciate you had no choice but to bring this health issue to my attention, it is, as I mentioned this morning, far outside my area of expertise. However, at your request I did scan my medical books. There are several maladies that might apply here but nothing clear-cut. Generally, the prognosis varies widely between diseases and between patients but the best chance for recovery seems to depend on the patient’s total inactivity. Most medical guides stress the importance of keeping the patient and his bed warm. Furthermore, I suggest you change the bedding several times a day. Also, water should be ingested in copious amounts while food should be limited. Depending on the malady, it appears recovery is occasionally possible with these simple actions. But some of these diseases are fatal and I am by no means an expert, so when you are able to consult appropriate medical personnel, please do so. I know it’s none of my business, Johnny, but I hope you re-consider your decision to keep your family in the dark about this. They could be a great help to you.

Good luck, Sam”
The only word Johnny saw the first time he read through the letter was ‘fatal,’ so he read it again. This time it promised more hope, but Johnny still stood woodenly, uncertain what to do next. Jelly was unhitching the team and noticed his friend’s dejection. Rather than asking what was wrong, he grabbed the letter and read it for himself. It certainly wasn’t a happy letter, and he figured he should do something to break Johnny’s misery.

“Well, go on, get going,” he commanded, “there’s things you can be doing for the little guy!” When Johnny didn’t respond, he pushed Johnny gently toward his dog. “Well, go on!”

Apparently this is what Johnny needed, so while Jelly was unloading the wagon, Johnny re-read the letter and started doing as it instructed. He removed the hay the little dog was resting on and replaced it with ‘fresh’ hay. He snuck into the house so Teresa wouldn’t see him and looked for another towel he could use to cover the dog but could only find the good towels, which he knew Teresa would notice missing. So he grabbed the blanket she had hand-crocheted for him, as well as a large saucer from the kitchen.  This he filled with water and placed right near Johnnie’s head. He covered the dog with the blanket, leaving only his little head sticking out. Johnnie said thank you with his big brown eyes and made Johnny smile a little.

By this time, Jelly had finished unloading the supplies so he came over by the Johnnies. “How is the little guy?” he asked as un-gruffly as possible.

Johnny sighed. “No change. He looks like he’s in pain or something. Doc said to keep him warm and change the bedding and give him water but no food. He has been drinking. And - to keep him quiet. I’m going to stay with him, Jelly.” He looked down sadly. “Until the end . . . “

Jelly cleared his throat. “Listen, Johnny, maybe you should tell Murdoch . . . “

“No!” Johnny yelled, frightening the dog. “I don’t want anyone yelling and frightening my dog! Don’t you tell anyone about him! No,” he said more softly, “if this little guy is going to die, he’s going to do it right here, in this little bed, where he’s probably been the happiest of his life.”

They both looked down sadly at the little dog, who looked at them with what each of them thought contained a smile in his eyes but they both knew they were seeing things.

 

A few hours later, Johnny was awakened by hunger pangs. He checked out his dog, who was sleeping peacefully. He stretched, and then he heard something. It was Murdoch and Scott! They had apparently just ridden into the stable area of the barn after their day’s work. They were in the process of un-saddling their horses and were chatting. Johnny realized they did not know he and Johnnie were hidden in the dark corner, so he stayed very still and listened to their conversation.

Scott’s voice said, “Barranca’s here. He’s fresh. Johnny obviously didn’t take him out today.”

“I imagine Johnny’s still in his room,” Murdoch’s voice said. And not in an angry tone - in a tone Johnny would almost call caring! Johnny peeked cautiously around the corner to make sure it was really Murdoch using Murdoch’s voice. It seemed to be his father. But why would he not be angry about Johnny skipping work all day?

Scott and Murdoch left the barn, and as they walked out, Johnny watched them. 

“Sir,” said Scott, “do you think I should check on him?”

“No, son,” said Murdoch gently. “Let him sleep. It will do him some good.”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open. Let him sleep???? Let him sleep???? In the middle of the day?

Johnny sat down next to his dog again. He was confused and now he had to worry about his father in addition to his dog. “He’s gone loco,” he said to Johnnie. “Either that or someone who looks just like Murdoch Lancer is pretending to be him.”

He was deep in thought, trying to untangle this puzzle, when little Johnnie let out a little yip. Johnny looked at his dog, and for the first time that day, Johnnie was standing on his own feet. A very good sign! – but his head was down and he was sniffing around, so Johnny scooped him up and took him outside to avoid an accident in his straw bed.

Once he was outside, the little guy acted strangely. He shook his head up and down and wiggled his rear end and made funny noises. “Everybody’s going crazy except me,” thought Johnny. Johnnie wasn’t acting very dog-like, and he concerned Johnny even more than he had before. Johnny pulled the doctor’s instructions from his shirt and re-read them quickly. “Maybe you need some water!” he said, and dashed back in the barn to get some.

By the time he brought the saucer of water outside, little Johnnie was playing and rolling around and yipping and jumping and falling and generally doing everything he had done before he got sick. He was back to normal!

Big Johnny was beside himself with joy! He set down the water and scooped up the little dog and kissed him. But Johnnie showed a real interest in the water, so Johnny set him back down next to the saucer and – boy! – did he lap up that water! Johnny truly wondered at this wondrous event until he looked a little off to the side. And there he saw it – a brand-new little pile of dog poop, with the little piece of partially-chewed-and/or-digested rawhide in it. The same small piece of rein Johnny had given him yesterday to keep him happy and then it had disappeared. Johnny laughed out loud. “That’s all it was!” he told the little dog. “You just bit off more than you could handle!”

He watched little Johnnie frolic until he finally tired himself out again. Grateful to have his little pet’s health restored, Johnny scooped him up and carried him back inside to his straw bed. “You should probably sleep for a little bit. I’m going to wash up for supper, and then I’ll bring you something from our meal. I’m starving! Because I was worried about you!” And he tweaked the little button nose and Johnnie licked him and then fell asleep.

Johnny walked back to the house and realized by looking at the clock that it was a little too early for supper, but it smelled like roast beef cooking! No one was around yet, so he dashed upstairs to clean up. As he passed Scott’s and Murdoch’s rooms, he heard them inside obviously preparing for supper. Once inside his room, he realized he smelled like the barn, so he pulled off all his clothes and thoughtfully threw them in the corner so Teresa could collect them the next time she did the washing. He freshened up and put on all clean clothes and then went down to the great room, where he poured himself a whiskey and sat down to wait for his family to arrive for the evening meal. His thoughts were divided between a determination to absolutely mention the dog tonight (!) and worry over his father’s strange behavior (!!). He had not noticed that the doctor’s note had fallen out of his shirt onto his bed.

A few minutes later, Scott emerged from his room. He hesitated outside his brother’s door a moment, then made the decision to ignore his father’s suggestion and wake his brother. He knocked gently on the door and then went inside.

Johnny wasn’t in his room! Scott looked around and could see Johnny’s dirty clothes on the floor, and he also noticed the wash basin was still wet. Johnny had obviously cleaned up recently. “He’s probably going to try to eat something at dinner tonight,” thought Scott.  “Good for him. He doesn’t want to worry us.”

He had just turned to leave when he spotted a piece of paper on the bed. Curiosity caused him to pick it up. And read it.

A moment later, Scott was in Murdoch’s room and Murdoch was reading the doctor’s note. He was sitting on the bed because Scott had told him he’d better sit down before reading it.

Murdoch slowly lowered the note. He had a very forlorn expression on his face. “I can’t believe it! Johnny! He always seems so healthy!”

“I know. I thought that, too. But if you’d seen him last night, Murdoch! Clutching his heart and running away from me when I asked too many questions. I knew something was wrong. I just never thought it would be . . .” He hung his head. “ . . . this bad!”

Murdoch looked at the note again as if it might read differently the second time. He shook his head and looked up at Scott with pleading in his eyes. “It doesn’t say it absolutely has to be fatal! There’s hope . . . “ His voice trailed off.

“I know,” Scott whispered. “There’s always hope.” 

“I mean . . . Sam couldn’t even figure out exactly what it is. So how can he say . . . ?”

“There’s always hope,” Scott repeated unconvincingly. He sat down heavily. “I was just getting to know him,” he wailed. “We had all those lost years to make up!”

“He’s so young,” Murdoch said, mostly to himself. “He’s too young!”

Scott shook his head. “It’s my fault. I should have seen it earlier. He hardly ate anything last night. You could tell he didn’t feel good – he was moping, just picking at his food. And then I saw him in the yard and his face was completely wet! He had a fever. Or . . .!” He looked up as a horrifying idea occurred to him. “ . . . or maybe his heart really is giving out!”

Murdoch shook his head sadly. “We just don’t know, Scott.”

Scott looked at his father with (unknown to him) puppydog eyes. “Murdoch, what are we going to do?”

Murdoch looked at his son, who looked dejected and glum. As patriarch of the family, Murdoch knew they had to shake this mood they were in before appearing at the dinner table. He stood tall and straight. “We’re going to act like nothing’s wrong. Johnny felt ill enough to pay a visit to Sam, but he told Sam he doesn’t want us to know, remember? We’ll let him tell us in his own way. In his own time. And in the meantime, we’ll do everything in our power to make him as comfortable as possible.”

Scott sighed in agreement and stood. “I guess I’d better go tell Teresa. She has a right to know.”

Murdoch put his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I’ll go with you. It’ll be easier this way. And, Scott, we’re going to have to change our dinner plans. Remember Johnny isn’t supposed to eat anything. Sam wants him to drink a lot of water instead.”

Father and son descended the stairs quietly. Near the bottom of the stairs, they could see Johnny in the living room. His back was to them and his feet were up on the coffee table, a definite no-no, so obviously he was unaware of his father’s presence. When Murdoch first saw the feet he immediately got angry, and then he remembered that the son with the misbehaving feet was dying, and then Murdoch instantly forgave him. And the feet. Scott and Murdoch stole quietly into the kitchen to speak with Teresa.

Johnny had been gazing out the window at the barn, thinking of how strange his father had been acting. He was worried and had been deep in thought, but it suddenly occurred to him there were footsteps behind him. When he turned to look, no one was there. But, just to be on the safe side, he removed his feet from the coffee table.

In a moment, he heard Teresa wail loudly from the kitchen. He knew she was preparing dinner and he didn’t want to do anything that might endanger the earliest possible serving of said dinner, so he resisted the temptation to go check on her. It was tough but when nothing further was heard, he figured he made the right decision.

In a few minutes Scott joined him in the great room. “Hello, Johnny,” said Scott in a low soothing voice.

“Hey, brother!” Johnny said, taking a friendly swipe at Scott as he walked by. “Haven’t seen you since last night.”

Scott sat in the chair next to Johnny rather than the one he usually sat in. “How are you feeling?” he asked gently.

“Me? I’m fine. Listen, I want to talk to you about something.” Johnny leaned forward and lowered his voice, looking around to see if they might be overheard.

This startled Scott. He didn’t expect Johnny to confide in him quite so quickly. But he was pleased that his brother thought highly enough of him to take him into his confidence, so he leaned forward to hear him. “What is it, Johnny?,” he said in a very consoling voice. “I’m here to help.”

“I’m worried about the Old Man.”

“What old man?”

“Murdoch! Who’d you think?”

Scott shook his head to clear it. “You’re worried about . . . Murdoch?”

“You know how he hates it when I play hooky? Well, he didn’t even get mad when I took off today. In fact, you heard him! He said it was OK if I slept all day!”

This was hitting a little too close to home. Scott nervously said, “Oh . . . well, no . . .”

Johnny sat back in his chair. “That’s just crazy, Scott! Murdoch’s gone loco!”

Scott recovered nicely. He resorted to his most caring voice and said, “Don’t worry about Murdoch, Johnny. In fact, don’t worry about anything. You just relax.”

Johnny cocked his head and looked at his also-apparently-loco brother. “What?”

“There’s nothing for you to be concerned about. Murdoch just wants you to be happy, that’s all,” Scott said in a sickeningly soothing voice.

“Since when?” Johnny asked suspiciously.

“He and I were talking, and . . . well, anyhow, I think you’ll see a change in him, Johnny.”

Johnny perked up. “Oh yeah? You talked to him about always yelling at me?”

“Well, no, not exactly. I think he just . . . I think he . . . Well, I think he came to that realization on his own.”

Johnny had a I’m-not-entirely-convinced look on his face. “He did, huh? Well, we’ll see. There’s something I’ve got to talk to him about tonight.”

Scott put his hand on Johnny’s knee. “Good, Johnny! Talk to him! You can tell him anything you want.” He used a cloying tone of voice that Johnny hadn’t heard Scott use since Scott had tried to talk Teresa into making a Boston cream pie which she had never heard of and had never made before and absolutely didn’t want to make because she was planning on making a peach pie and it was the most nauseating voice Johnny had ever heard come out of his brother. He narrowed his eyes and flatly refused to listen to anyone who used a voice like that. At that moment, Murdoch walked into the room.

“Hello, son,” he said to Johnny. “How are you doing?” Different person, same voice.

Both his brother and his father were acting strangely. Johnny looked from one to the other; both had sappy half-smiles on their faces. They seemed, for some unknown reason, very conciliatory. Nauseating voices notwithstanding, this might be the time to bring up the issue of the puppy. It was worth a try.

“Listen, Murdoch, I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.”

“Anything, son. Anything at all.” Murdoch leaned down and put his hands on Johnny’s knees. Scott had to remove his hand to make room.

“Ah . . .never mind! We can talk over dinner.” Johnny felt smothered. He somehow managed to sneak out of his chair around all those hands and make his way to the dinner table. He caught the quick look his brother and father gave each other, and his brother in particular looked sad for a moment. Johnny was completely confused. But Johnny was also very hungry and that beef roast smelled like it was about to come out to the table.

The three Lancer men seated themselves at the dining table, and in a second Teresa came out of the kitchen with dinner. Johnny’s mouth was watering and he noticed that Teresa looked like she had been crying and he figured he’d ask her about that after he got some of that good roast beef in his stomach and then he looked at what she was carrying and he got plenty excited over that delectable-looking water pitcher???

Teresa set the pitcher of water on the table. In the middle. Where the roast beef should go.

She sat down and said, “I thought we’d have water for supper tonight. I think . . . we don’t drink enough water.” She smiled lamely.

“That looks wonderful, darling,” Murdoch said.

“Very good, Teresa,” Scott seconded.

Johnny looked from one to the other of them and watched helplessly as Murdoch poured and set a glass of water in front of him, a glass twice the size of everyone else’s. He stared at it, momentarily ruing the fact that he had left his gun in the other room. The glass of water absolutely did not change into roast beef.

“I smell roast beef,” Johnny said with no hope.

Teresa’s eyes got wide and she glanced at Murdoch. Then she said, “Sorry, Johnny, I burned the roast.”

“You burned the roast?”

“To a crisp.”

“That must have been that caterwauling I heard.”

“Oh . . . right.”

“Well, are there any vegetables?”

“They got burned to a crisp, too.”

“Any rolls?”

“Crisp.”

Johnny closed his mouth tightly and made an attempt to control his breathing, which he noticed was speeding up and was always a sign that he was about to erupt in anger and he didn’t want to do that in front of his (loving?) family since they had all obviously gotten into some locoweed. He looked for answers from each one of them and all he saw was those sappy smiles until he looked at Teresa, who started crying and ran into the kitchen. Now what?

“What’s wrong with Teresa?”

“Oh . . . She’s all right, Johnny. You know how women are.”

Johnny was completely confused and becoming more and more agitated. “They’re like that? All we have to do is cut the burnt part off.” He threw his hands up in the air.

“Calm down, brother,” Scott said.

“He’s right, son,” Murdoch added. “You should try to keep quiet.”

“Keep quiet?!” Johnny stood up so suddenly his chair toppled over. He was very close to yelling. No, actually, he was yelling. “Keep quiet?! I haven’t eaten since yesterday and I was all set for roast beef, (which I can smell somewhere, by the way) and you want me to drink this. . .” He roughly grabbed the water glass and some of the water flew out. “ . . . this water! And you think I’m going to make this my dinner!” He slammed the glass down on the table and more water flew out. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going into town and get myself a real meal!” He turned and headed for the door.

He stopped dead in his tracks when his brother and father both yelled “No!” at the same time. Ignoring them, he grabbed his hat and gunbelt and put them on. Then he heard his father say, in what could only be called a begging voice, “Please don’t go, son. Stay here tonight and relax.”

Johnny had had enough. He turned slowly around to face his family. Scott and Murdoch were now both standing and watching him carefully with pleading in their eyes. In an instant, a hundred things went through Johnny’s mind. There was no logical reason for any of this to be happening. Johnny was hungry and angry and tired of the game. He knew he looked threatening, like the gunfighter he used to be, but he had no desire to threaten his family. All he wanted was food. And his dog.

His dog!

Finally! An opportunity! A very strange one, but an opportunity.

Johnny looked his father in the eyes. “I’ll stay on one condition,” he said.

Murdoch took a step forward. “Anything, son. You just name it.”

“I want a dog.”

Murdoch never even flinched. “If that’s what you want, you’ve got it.”

“Yes, I do,” Johnny said under his breath, and ran to the barn. He had to take advantage of this golden albeit bizarre opportunity, before Murdoch realized what he had said.

He disappeared into the darkness of the barn and headed right for where he knew little Johnnie’s bed was. Johnny happily scooped up his dog and headed back to the open door, where his father and brother had already arrived. The sun was setting and Scott was lighting the lantern. As Johnny approached them, he held out his pup and said, “This is the dog I want!”

Clearly, he took both of them by surprise. Murdoch’s first response was – let’s put it nicely – negative. Then he remembered his son was deathly ill and he remembered his promise . . . but, even so, the only thing he could think of to say was, “That’s a dog!”

Scott’s reaction was much better. He smiled and said, “Well, Johnny, you picked out a very nice pup. Can I hold him?”

Johnny was delighted. “Sure!” He handed over the little guy, who promptly licked Scott’s face and made him laugh. “Don’t jangle him around too much, though,” Johnny cautioned. “He’s been sick lately.”

Scott seemed genuinely charmed. He laughed again and then said, “What’s his name?”

“Johnnie.”

“Johnny?”

“No. Johnnie, with an ‘i-e’.”

Murdoch was a little behind everyone else; Johnny figured it was because his ingestion of the locoweed must have been stronger. “Johnny, you had already gotten a dog!” he announced.

Johnny looked down. “Yeah . . . well, more like he got me.”

Murdoch held his temper in check because the doggy son was dying. “How long have you had this dog?” he asked, as calmly as he could manage.

Johnny’s answer was to take the puppy from Scott’s arms and put it in Murdoch’s. When the puppy began to squirm predictably, Johnny said, “Oh, wait!” He quickly grabbed the little guy away from Murdoch and set it back on the ground, where it (very predictably) piddled and then yipped. (Johnny knew this was coming, but, as a gunfighter, ‘piddled’ and ‘yipped’ were not necessarily in his vocabulary. He would not have been able to explain this to Murdoch so, like a gunfighter, he took action instead.) He picked Johnnie up and placed him back in Murdoch’s arms and turned to Scott and said, “Just looking to avoid a little problem there.”

Scott laughed and said, “Too bad. That would have been amusing!” The brothers laughed together and Johnny’s spirits lifted considerably. Apparently Scott was back to normal! Now all Johnny had to worry about was his father.

“I heard that, boys,” Murdoch said. But his expected gruffness had been replaced by a small smile as little Johnnie squirmed around in his hands and tried to gently nip his fingers and generally acted adorable. “He’s fine, Johnny,” Murdoch said as he handed the dog back to its owner. “You have my approval. He looks like he’ll be a good dog to keep you company.”

Finally! Dog approval from Murdoch Lancer! Johnny was in seventh heaven! He gave little Johnnie a kiss and placed him back in his hay pen. “You’ve got a home, Johnnie. Now mind your manners tonight and I’ll see you in the morning.” Then Johnny started saddling Barranca.

Both Scott and Murdoch looked confused. “Your promise, Johnny!”

“What?”

“You promised to stay in tonight and stay quiet.”

Johnny laughed. “Oh, that! I’m going into town to get some dinner. Why don’t we all go?”

“No, Johnny,” Scott pled. “You have to lie down. And drink your water!”

That damn water again! When Johnny looked appalled, Murdoch said, “It’s all right, son. You can keep the dog in bed with you to keep you company.”

“This dog,” Johnny pointed to Johnnie, “is not housebroken!”

“That’s all right.” Murdoch had started using that sickening tone of voice again. “He’ll help to keep you calm. And besides, we’ll be changing your sheets several times a day anyhow.”

Changing . . . what???

That was it: The Last Straw.

Johnny stepped away from his crazy family, never taking his eyes off them. They looked caring and honest and concerned. But nothing they had said, this entire night, had made sense (except that he could keep the dog, although, technically, that didn’t really make sense either). When they took a step toward him, he held out his hands to stop them. He worked hard to gather his thoughts together and to control his temper. In a minute, he was able to speak, which he did slowly and gently. “All right,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m going to get to the bottom of it right now. I want to know why the two of you – and Teresa – are acting like you all got into locoweed. If you did get into locoweed, then we’re all going to ride in to see Sam right now. He’s a good doctor and he knows how to cure just about everything.”

“Not everything, Johnny,” Scott whispered sadly. Murdoch put a consoling hand on Scott’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Johnny,” Murdoch said as soothingly as he could. “We saw the note.”

Johnny stared at his father and brother. They were still making zero sense. “What note?” he asked vacantly.

“The one from Sam.” Scott slowly pulled it from his pocket and handed it to his brother.

Johnny was lost. “So you knew about the dog then?” he asked blankly.

“No, son,” said Murdoch. “We just found out about your puppy. But I’m glad you have him. He will be a comfort to you as . . . as things progress.”

“Things? Progress?” Johnny took another look at the note, hoping that there might be a clue to his family’s strange behavior in the words Sam had written.

Inactivity . . . limited food . . . change the bedding often . . .

Wait a minute! 

As he read the doctor’s note, Johnny caught on. He started to laugh loudly. “Change the bedding often . . .! And that damn water . . .!” He was laughing so hard he could hardly speak. “No wonder you wanted to waterlog me! You thought this note was about me!”

Very confused, Murdoch asked, “Who else would it be about? Scott found it in your room!”

“My dog, Murdoch! My dog! He was sick earlier and the vet was out of town so I took him to Sam! Sam might know everything about people doctoring but he doesn’t know much about dogs!”

Scott figured it out first. He yelled, “You’re not sick? Johnny, you’re not dying! Really? Truly?” He grabbed his brother and spun him around in pure joy. Johnny laughed and yelled, “Of course not!”

Then Murdoch got it. When Scott let go of Johnny, Murdoch grabbed him in a big hug. All three of them were yelling and whooping it up and little Johnnie started barking, too. There was a lot of commotion, enough to cause Teresa to hear them way in the house and she came to investigate. When she found out that Johnny was going to live, she started in, too, and the commotion started all over again. When Teresa realized that one of the revelers was barking, she went wild over the dog and pronounced him the cutest thing she’d ever seen.

When things started dying down, Johnny said, “I’m glad you didn’t really get into locoweed. I was worried about all of you.”

“We were very worried about you, too, son.”

“I thought you might have a bad heart,” said Scott.

“Yeah,” said Johnny. “Where in the hell did you ever get the idea that I had heart trouble, anyway?”

“Well . . . last night by the barn, we were talking and you suddenly clutched your heart!”

“I clutched my dog, Scott!”

“ . . . oh . . . “

Then Teresa saw her crocheted blanket being used as a dog bed. Her first instinct was to get mad, but there was too much good news for that! “Oh, never mind,” she said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to change your bedding several times a day. We don’t have that many sheets!”

Everyone laughed all over again and then Teresa thought of something. “Hey! Johnny, I didn’t really burn the meal! It’s waiting in the kitchen! Let’s go eat, everyone!”

Johnny and Scott loudly expressed their approval and Teresa said “Race you!” to Scott and the two of them ran off to the kitchen. Johnny and Murdoch walked, Murdoch’s arm around his son’s shoulders. Johnny felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from him. His family was not going crazy, dinner was moments away, little Johnnie was not sick, and Murdoch had said he could keep the dog! It just didn’t get any bet . . .

“Johnny,” said Murdoch solemnly on the way to the house. “Now about that dog . . .”

 

 

~ end ~

Want to comment? Email goldieasj