Word count: 82,280
Amigos Del Alma
(Friends of the Soul)
Author Note: This is an alternate version of WHI/N (What Happened in between and next) story for the Lancer pilot Highriders. Johnny is 21, Scott is 25 and Johnny was taken off the ranch by Maria a few months before age 5. I changed the spelling for Day to Dey (For no other reason than I like it better). Johnny was shot in his pink shirt not the white one and any other changes from canon are noted as part of the story. Those are the major ones that people might want to try and correct me on. This will be a two-part story. There are sexual situations and innuendo but no horrific violence against women or children. Bad language is only utilized for emphasis in a few situations. There are bad guys that die.
The Lancers have already met one another, and we pick the canon version of the pilot up from the time right after Johnny is shot. Well, sort of. My story basically fills in the space between the Lancer raid by Pardee and the signing of the Ranch ownership which will be at the end in Part 2.
My cast of characters from Vayamos is back only in a different place and time. I own those and any non-canon Lancer characters. You do not have to read Vayamos first to understand this story – it is not a continuation.
All Lancer Canon characters are owned by whoever may be in possession of the intellectual rights for the Lancer story at this particular moment in time. The names of real life people have been slightly changed to protect me from their wrath. There are also a few recognizable “Ladies”. Good luck finding them all.
Thank you to Sandy and Cassie for being my Betas. All the wonderful commenters on Yahoo. My artwork pulled from original Screen Caps turned into illustrations utilizing the online photo application Painnt. Photos came from a combination of the Lancer Yahoo site, Rosey, and mostly from a DVD of photos I bought off eBay. Thanks to Anna for all the work she does on the Lancer Lovers website.
This story has been in my mind and started on paper almost 2 years ago in 2017. I just had to get it out of my system. With that finally over – here’s the story.
AMIGOS DEL ALMA
It was early Spring April 1870. The San Joaquin Valley was erupting in an explosive range war. The smell of smoke, gunfire, and death could be detected for miles.
Sulfur filled the early morning California fog like a civil war battlefield with a blanket of death and destruction lining the road to a place called Lancer Ranch. Rider less horses were scattered over the landscape for miles; the stench of death lay all around.
One lone golden Palomino horse stood out peacefully on the front range against the morning haze as if waiting patiently for the rider who fell off only moments ago.
The peace and quiet of a beautiful April morning had been spoiled with the sounds of gunfire and death, but it could have been so much worse.
Chapter 1: Come on Home to Green River
A Sheriff named Val Crawford always started his morning with a cup of “pan-fried” coffee opening up the latest envelope containing newspapers and wires from across the valley. One notice followed by several newspaper reports from Mexico City distressed him. So much so that Val immediately lost control of his ceramic coffee cup shattering it into millions of pieces all over the jailhouse floor.
The headline read: “Pistolero Johnny Madrid Dead by Firing Squad!”.
“Damn! Johnny!!!” Val screamed to no one in particular. Because no one, in particular, was in the room or listening. He was all alone. Well, Val and his grief buried in a bottle or two of the best tequila.
A hit to the gut like a ton of bricks exploding in waves inside his body. “My boy Johnny – Dead?” A boy he always thought had at least nine lives left in him and the best Amigo a man could ever have without being bound by blood. And, if he really admitted it – the son or brother he never had all rolled into one. Amigos Del Alma (Friends of the Soul) was how Val thought of their relationship.
The two met when Johnny was barely 9 years old. Val always told anyone who’d listen, “Kid started hanging around me and just wouldn’t let go.” Oh, Val tried to shake him, even moved to another city. Johnny found him, just in time to save his life from a gang of outlaws fixing to hang him.
By that time Johnny was a few years older, but even at a young age, the kid was accurate enough to hit the neck off a beer bottle. Good thing, because Johnny needed to slice the rope off the noose hanging around Val’s neck. After that, the two were tied together pretty much like a bunch of rubber bands.
Johnny always said, “Mi Hermano, hermano por elección (My brother, brother by choice). Although Val was more than a brother to Johnny. He was the closest thing the boy had in those early days to a father figure.
Oh, there were times when Johnny would run off to do his own thing. And the kid had made quite a name for himself as a Pistolero along the border by the age of 15.
Once newspaper editors and dime novelists found out the mere mention of his name, “Johnny Madrid” could be utilized to sell more copies, the die was cast. One infamous Gunslinger from Mexican border towns named “Johnny Madrid” became the most popular piece of journalistic fiction in editorial history.
Johnny’s Mexican mother Maria made tracks with the boy running away from a husband and lifestyle she no longer desired. Maria was every bit the nasty scorned woman. Playing the role to the hilt telling anyone who might listen to a woeful tale of how they’d been cast off by her wealthy abusive “Gringo” husband. But it all turned out to be a lie.
Johnny Madrid had been told that his powerful American Rancher father banished him along with his mother when he was barely 5 years old. Maria eventually ended up on the wrong side of a knife dying when he was very young. He had no other family near the border that Val knew of to notify. After the stories he’d heard, Val was not going to let the kid be abused again by his father.
The last job they worked together had been on a range war down in Arizona. The two were inseparable for almost 11 straight years until Val Crawford was offered a Sheriff’s job in California. Val was getting on in years and had decided he wanted to settle into something more permanent. Val had the job for close to a year and a half but was now considering moving on to a town called Green River where he’d been offered a considerable amount of money to move.
The last time Val heard from Johnny was six months ago. He was heading back to Mexico to help with a Mexican Revolution of some sort. Rumor was that he was captured and in a Mexican prison. Then Val confirmed the speculation as to Madrid’s whereabouts with a sheriff who worked on the border.
To Val, losing Johnny at such a young age was more like grieving a family death. Before he died, Johnny Madrid was once the Sheriff’s best pal. His “Boy”. They acted more like brothers, but then there were times the kid needed guidance.
Working together, the two continually finished each other’s sentences. As a team they excelled at detective work, tracking kidnapped victims, working together on shotgun express messenger jobs and generally just had a good time as major amigos for close to 11 years.
With similar backgrounds, each had reasons for choosing a life on the road. Crawford, son of an alcoholic father whose entire family died at the hands of a smarmy Comanchero bunch was an expert tracker and good with a gun.
Val was keenly aware that Johnny’s father owned a ranch a few hundred miles from his current town, one and a half days on horseback. He had a special treat prepared for the mighty ranching patriarch in the form of a file folder full of information. It was to have been his ammunition to obtain money from Johnny’s father to attempt a rescue in Mexico. He knew things were getting bad down there but thought Johnny would be able to last just a bit longer.
Val had a plan, he was going to tap their “Midnight Rider” buddies, people they considered family to attempt a rescue from the hell hole in Mexico known as ‘hotel del hombre muerto’ (‘dead man’s hotel’). Men went in, but often times never made it out.
Unfortunately for the plan to work he needed money – lots of money. And power, the kind of power only men of a certain standing in the state of California might possess. Val had decided to seek help from Johnny’s father.
At first, Val was going to give Johnny’s father a piece of his mind and show him a thing or two about what kind of son he cast out. That all changed about three weeks ago when a swarm of Pinkerton Agents descended on Sheriff Val Crawford asking all kinds of questions about one gunfighter – a kid going by the name Johnny Madrid.
Seems these same Pinkerton Agents had been searching high and low for a kid named John Lancer for close to 17 years. The Pinks were calling it, “The longest missing person case in Pinkerton history”. Boy, they sure did want to find this kid like yesterday. And well what do ya know. Those Pinks were being paid and quite handsomely too, by a man named Murdoch Lancer – Johnny’s father.
Val also knew Johnny’s old man had some powerful connections. He thought perhaps those connections might help him get Johnny freed before the inevitable happened in Mexico. Val had been alerted to Lancer’s search after the first Pinkerton agent stopped by one day investigating Madrid’s whereabouts.
Someone had finally made the Val Crawford/Johnny Madrid/John Lancer connection. Or perhaps they just actually figured out that John Lancer was using the name Johnny Madrid. At any rate, once that connection was finally made, it now meant that a few more Pinks were lurking around Val’s jailhouse almost continually asking a whole lot of questions about his relationship with one Johnny Madrid.
Val always did his homework. After the first Pink slid through his town, he started asking questions. Then he contacted a former Pinkerton agent and a very close friend he’d been acquainted with long ago, Cooper Kerrighan. Cooper was now a rancher who recently moved to the San Joaquin Valley – close to the Lancer spread.
The former agent pulled some files, letting him in on all the Cattlemen gossip regarding Lancer and the search for his son. Val swore him to secrecy until he could get a handle on the situation in Mexico.
Now that Val understood Johnny’s father had no ill intentions toward his son, the man had been searching for him for close to 17 years, he was more open to having Lancer help save his amigo from the jaws of a nasty death in Mexico.
Besides, Val needed to tell Johnny the awful truth. That his mother had lied to him about one of the most important parts of Johnny’s life. His relationship with his father and how his Mama came to leave Lancer.
But that had all changed with one simple telegram and a few newspaper articles landing on his desk this morning stating that “Pistolero Johnny Madrid’s death by a Mexican firing squad” had been successful. Val would never be able to tell Johnny the truth – and that part just killed him. Johnny would never know that his father had actually wanted him. “Damn you, Maria!” Val kept saying it over and over again.
Val was a very capable investigator always taking in both sides of a story prior to making any decisions. Behind his untidy appearance masked a talented and skillful lawman. A novice at detective work, he discovered that the mighty Lancer Patriarch actually doted on his son, practically lost his life trying to find him. Spent what seemed like endless amounts of money in an attempt to locate the boy, even after he found out his son was a notorious gunfighter.
Come to find out Johnny’s father had his own problems. In a town called Morro Coyo outside the Lancer ranch, he had been shot and his Segundo murdered in late November of 1869. Ranch employees were now trying to hold off a gang of high riders threatening to take over Lancer’s land.
There was one more thing, Val had been lured to the same general area, a neighboring town called Green River, by a powerful widow and ranch owner he knew in the San Joaquin Valley into accepting the Sheriff’s job.
Green River was one of those places people liked to call a small town. Now Val loved tiny towns. Tiny towns usually meant busting up weekly Saturday night saloon brawls and making sure the local Bordello customers remember to act like gentlemen.
Small towns progress to all of that plus protecting banks, local shop owners, and any money passing back and forth from one town to the next. Sometimes if you were really lucky you got to sit in judgment over a high-stakes poker game dispute.
Once in a blue moon, you might find an unsolved murder, get to round up a posse, or actually call for a Marshal. For the most part, small towns were always easier to handle than larger ones. Val always stayed away from the biggest ones; those were called cities.
It’s funny sometimes the way things work out. This same town, Green River, was about an hour’s ride by horseback from the Lancer Ranch. So, there he was, Val Crawford – Sheriff of a tiny town called Canoga Falls, packing up his belongings to move to a small and less tiny town called Green River. practically what one might call ‘spitting’ distance from his amigo’s first home and birthright.
On his way up north, Val noticed less dust and more fragrant greenery than he’d experienced in a long time. Smells of sagebrush, lavender, and honeysuckle warmed his soul.
After passing two fine-looking bordellos – Darla’s Darlins and Rosie’s Roughriders – on the outskirts of town, Val entered Green River with a mile-wide smile plastered across his face for the first time in weeks. “Always is nice to know you live in a place where a body can go to relax,” Val said to himself.
Val was slated to take the Sheriff’s job in a week or two, but he always liked to arrive earlier than expected. As he rode his horse Rio into Green River early that morning, a thick layer of fog had just begun to disappear.
Once Val’s horse came upon Green River’s “Main Street”, he noted several first-rate establishments scattered throughout the main streets. He was very happy to see a Post Office in the middle of town. Then there were several small businesses owned by the locals. Terri’s Telegraph, Sherry’s Shooting Star Saloon, and Sandy’s Shady Side Livery were just a few of the shops on the main road.
“Well, Rio seems like this town has a whole lotta women running fine business establishments”. Val wasn’t really sure what exactly Green River had in store for him as the new Sheriff in town, but he hoped they would all just get along. Val also noticed the town was almost dead for mid-morning on a weekday. He at least expected the bank to be open.
Feeling every bit his age, Val shifted on his horse saddle, cocking his head to the right to observe the northeastern part of town. A woman and a young child were scurrying into the doors of what looked like a Doctor’s office up on a hill. So, he decided to head toward the only signs of life he’d been able to detect on that misty morning.
After dismounting and tying Rio’s reins onto the hitching rail, Val stepped up onto the porch of Doctor Samuel Jenkins MD. Before knocking on the door, he turned around and gazed down at what he thought must be the best vantage point in town. From the Doc’s front porch, a person could see all the way down Main Street clear to the stage depot and telegraph office over a quarter-mile away.
Yep, he sure was in the right place to gather information. You can’t get any better than a small-town doctor who can see the comings and goings of the whole Green River neighborhood just by walking out onto his front porch.
After thinking about things for a minute, Val turned around and knocked on the front door. Answering the knock with a shout of “Come on in, the door is open,” was the doctor himself, Samuel Jenkins.
Val walked into the front office waiting room. Although the doctor was unsuccessfully trying to get a young boy’s leg sewn up. This little boy, who never seemed to stop moving, went by the name – Tommy Tulio. Tommy was up on the desk and trying to kick the doctor with his other swinging foot. “Hi, I’m guessin’ you’re the Doc?”
“Well, do I look like the doctor?” Dr. Sam looked up at Val with a twinkle in his eye.
“Just makin’ sure you were the right guy. I am Val Crawford, the new Sheriff.” Val
offered his right hand to shake.
“Nice to meet you, Val, I am Doctor Samuel Jenkins, you can call me Sam,” Sam replied, quickly answering Val’s handshake back. The Doc continued to try and stop blood dripping from Tommy’s left leg while dodging kicks from his right one.
“Aggie Conway told me when I got to town to drop by the Doc’s place first,” Val said, now becoming rather amused by the scene in the doctor’s office.
“Oh, yes. Well, you are a bit early. We weren’t expecting you until the end of next week. I’ve got a key to the Sheriff’s office somewhere around here. You’ll have to wait till I get Tommy Tulio’s leg sewn up and bandaged.”
“No rush, I just like gettin’ into a town early so I can sniff things out and get a feel for the place I’m gonna work,” Val stated.
“Well, we can certainly use you around here, there’s a range war about to break out any minute. At least a dozen ranches have been hit in the past few weeks.”
“Is that so, who might be leading the land grabbers? Do you know?” Val asked.
“Some man named Dey Pardee. He almost fatally injured Murdoch Lancer and murdered his Segundo Paul O’Brien last November.”
“Dey Pardee, now that’s a name I really don’t want ta hear. He is one mean hombre. Most of the men he rides with are useless no good pieces of …. Well, they are some of the nastiest neighborhood varmints.”
“You know him?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, looks like I got my work cut out for me here. If what you say is true about the murder.”
“Well, you need to speak to Murdoch Lancer about that, his ranch is south of here. We are all just happy to have the law back in this valley.” Sam stated as he finished wrapping Tommy’s leg.
“Now Emily, make sure the boy gets plenty of fluids, keep that bandage clean and the leg elevated. I will be out to check on you Tommy in a few days.”
Just then, two horses heard galloping at a fast pace up to Sam’s door.
“Doc, Doc, you gotta come quick! There’s been a whole lotta shooting at Lancer Ranch!”
Chapter 2: Blood on his Hands
Hands, he just kept looking at his hands. Scrubbing his hands. Hands that would not stop shaking. Minutes earlier they were full of blood, his son’s blood. Yet he failed at getting that damn bullet out. At least the bleeding stopped. Blood, there was so much blood.
The blood oozing out of his boy wasn’t the worst of it.
The cruelest blow of all came when they removed his son’s bloody light pink embroidered shirt now laying crumpled on the floor. The scars on the boy’s back told a history of horrible abuse. Abuse he’d only imagined during his worst nightmares. And taking the shirt off had revealed one more thing. His son was painfully thin, his bones were visible as if he had not eaten well in months.
For all of his misgivings about the boy, the last thing he wanted was to witness his son’s violent death on the Lancer front lawn. Especially at the hands of the same man who had devastated the ranch last Fall by murdering Teresa’s father Paul.
“And where did that boy go? Didn’t he tell him to stay put?”
They’d all been in the kitchen trying to get that damn bullet out, and he only turned around for a few minutes, just to wash his hands. Where had they all gone? Why wouldn’t his hands just stop shaking? And where had Johnny run off to? How did that boy move so fast with a bullet still lodged in his back?
Murdoch Lancer, owner of one of the largest ranches in the state of California had struggled unsuccessfully for at least 45 minutes at extracting a bullet out of his 21-year-old son. His wild boy, the beloved son he searched for years to find.
This youngest son in turn, was not in the best of moods. Having a bullet in your back tends to do that to a body. A few colorful curse words in Spanish were thrown about recklessly until Murdoch informed Johnny that just about everyone in the room understood exactly what he was trying to say.
“You keep scrubbing those hands as furiously as you have the last fifteen minutes and whatever skin you might have left will peel right off,” Scott observed as he walked over to the kitchen sink turning off the water spicket.
“Scott, I didn’t see you’d come back. Has it really been fifteen minutes?”
“At least, maybe even twenty. Surviving a range war with close to 35 men attacking your home tends to create an illusion of time standing still.”
“Doesn’t seem possible, does it? Now, where in the hell has your brother wandered off to?” Murdoch inquired.
Scott Garret Lancer was Murdoch’s eldest son from his first wife Catherine. A proverbial ‘golden boy’ raised in Boston by a rich ruthless maternal grandfather. Scott grew up attending elite schools living in a high society historic Back Bay brownstone with the best that money could buy.
Scott arrived on the same stagecoach as Johnny dressed up looking like he was ready to charm any hungry rancher in California out of plate full of steak. The polar opposite of his younger brother in just about every way one could imagine, including their looks. Scott was golden-blond and fair-skinned in contrast to Johnny’s raven hair and darker complexion.
Scott had also recently finished a grueling stint as a Lieutenant in the Civil War and seemed ready to become a newly minted cowboy.
One well-bred son grew up attending all the right schools, having impeccable manners would easily fit in and captivate all the locals. The other, younger son, by contrast, ended up in newspaper stories and the subject of dime novels as the most famous Pistolero in the southwest – drawing all the curiosity of a circus sideshow.
Women in the valley were already falling all over each other for a chance to impress the new Lancer son sight unseen. Scott hadn’t even been home for 3 full days yet.
Murdoch’s 16-year-old ward Teresa had prepared just about every woman in the valley telling them all about the impressive Harvard educated older son from Boston.
Yes, Scott Garrett Lancer knew how to use all the right words along with the forks and spoons at fancy dinners. Thus, making a perfect business partner for his father and an excellent catch for some lucky lady.
“I believe I spotted my mischievous little brother walking toward the room where you keep those rather expensive alcoholic beverages,” Scott answered with a slight grin.
“That’s just terrific. Now he is going to make things worse by getting himself drunk!” Murdoch bellowed back at his eldest son.
“Well, if you do not want your sons emptying the liquor cabinet then you might want to rethink showing us the goods so to speak the moment we walk in the front door. If the horse knows where to find the water, he will go back to it again and again without being led.” Scott was trying his hardest to be amusing and lighten the conversation.
“Scott that’s not the point! Does that boy ever do anything he’s told?” Murdoch snapped.
“Apparently not, so why get upset over it? Look, if I may, can we at least let him be while he has a bullet planted firmly in his back-shoulder?” Scott was asking nicely hoping to contain any further words between his father and newly discovered younger brother.
“Might have helped if the boy would take that laudanum, we offered him. Instead, he sat there in pain cursing in Spanish and squirming like a 5-year-old for the entire time I was trying to help him. Stubborn boy.” Murdoch moved around Scott to pour a cup of coffee. “At least we got the bleeding stopped.”
Earlier while Murdoch was attempting to take the bullet out, Johnny had persisted in driving his father crazy. Once his son woke up from having passed out due to blood loss, there was not a still moment during the entire 45-minute period.
After the battle, Murdoch and Scott had brought an unconscious Johnny into the house, laid him face down on the kitchen table, taking his bloody shirt off. The light coral pink shirt with the fancy embroidery he loved was still crumpled up on the floor in the corner where Scott had thrown it. Murdoch’s housekeeper Maria apparently missed it on the first blood-filled kitchen sweep a few minutes ago.
Maria Valdez had been with Murdoch for years and was well versed in assisting with any and all doctoring for the hacienda. An expert on herbal medicine she provided just about everything any doctor needed. Maria had her own secret box of medicinal teas, broth, anything that didn’t taste good that might make a body heal. She knew Murdoch’s son as a baby and was just about the best multitask master in all of California. “Señor, I will go find him and make sure my Niño is not getting into any trouble.”
“Thank you, Maria. He could never sit still as a child either. I guess I should just be happy he didn’t get killed right out there on the front lawn. Dear God, what have I done?” Murdoch sat down with his cup of coffee and seemed to melt into the kitchen table. His right hand holding up his forehead as he held back tears.
“What you can do is stop blaming yourself, Johnny knew the risks. My brother told me yesterday he had a plan, but I never imagined that plan becoming a suicide mission with him leading close to 35 of Dey Pardee’s men right onto the front range.” Scott poured a cup of coffee and went on, “My newly discovered brother seems to be a bit of a risk-taker.”
“Risk-taker? If you ask me, that was a most foolish plan.”
“Not really Sir. If I may, let me explain.”
“Well, go on.”
“There were close to 35 men out there charging towards Lancer. If even half of them had come at us at the same time from more than one direction, we’d all be dead right now.”
“Johnny, by virtue of somehow convincing Dey Pardee’s men to chase him all at once, eliminated the probability of those riders surrounding us on all sides. My younger brother proceeded to break the Pardee Gang’s original formation leading all of those men straight to us in a blind frenzy. By them charging in almost a straightaway double line, we in turn were able to pick them off one by one easily from our vantage point.”
“When I think about how he could have been killed.” Murdoch took a deep breath squeezing his eyes together and went on, “You know he said something to me before storming off, that he wasn’t ever any good at taking orders.”
“Well, there lies your answer. We can plainly see that he is not. Good at following orders that is – especially when he is already convinced, he has a plan that might work to our advantage. We just decided not to listen to him.”
Scott stood up and paced over to the kitchen window peering out at the mountains. “I actually did use part of his plan when we doubled back. After getting over my younger brother calling me a “Tin Soldier”, I thought about what he’d said earlier and decided it was a reasonable strategy. It also seems as though Johnny has done this type of work before, am I right?”
“Yes Scott, you are probably right about that.” Murdoch then started to shut down offering no further information as he remembered the somewhat heated conversation the three had before Johnny left.
“You know what’s gonna happen up there with a couple a cowhands and a tin soldier? That sun ‘ll be comin’ down in a half an hour. And you’re gonna be stumbling around in the dark blowin’ each other’s heads off!”
“There’s only one man that’s going to run this ranch.”
“Is that an order?”
“Well then, he was the Dey Pardee expert. You and I should have taken the time to hear him out.” Scott observed.
“You know, I all but accused him of working with the other side. Why on God’s earth would he meet slime-like Dey Pardee in town for drinks and then double-cross him?”
“I’m going to take a guess. It’s what we call in the military – working undercover.” At that moment Murdoch gazed up at Scott who finally began to see an element of acknowledgment on his father’s face as if a candle had just been lit on a dark night.
“He went into town yesterday to find Dey Pardee and kill him. But there were too many men in Morro Coyo protecting their leader. He got himself on the inside to find out Dey’s plans for the ranch; when they might strike, which direction they were taking. Teresa and I had a run in with a couple at that retail establishment yesterday. I got the idea that Dey sent those men in there to find out who I was and rough me up. Johnny refused to help. I now understand had he stepped in we may have all been killed.”
Scott walked back over to the kitchen table and sat down to comfort what was now a very pale and shaken Murdoch. “Just to be clear, I do not believe he had any idea about that massacre at Gaspar’s farm. I saw it in his eyes. Johnny did not seem shocked about what happened, but he was just as angry and disgusted as the rest of us.” Scott admitted.
“I wish he had shared those facts with us.”
“I get the impression that for whatever reason my brother does not trust easily. Perhaps he thought you might order him not to meet with Pardee.”
“I guess I owe your brother an apology. Maybe the boy will stop looking at me full of hatred. I just hope he makes it because he did not look very good to me before he left the room.”
“Murdoch, there is one more thing. Teresa and I were down by the river, and Johnny admitted something I think you will find very troubling.”
“What was that?” Murdoch asked.
“His mother told Johnny you threw them out, and for most of his life he has hated you for it. Teresa seemed to set him straight, but I think a few words from you might go a long way to heal this rift between the two of you.”
Those words, spoken so unexpectedly, hit like a knife to Murdoch’s heart. At that very moment, Scott knew he’d just destroyed his Father. Because he witnessed the distress etched in every line of the older man’s face.
“My God! Why would she do such a thing. I didn’t know if I could ever forgive that woman for stealing my son in the middle of the night and now this. What did he say when Teresa told him? Did he believe her?” Murdoch inquired.
“Johnny seemed to believe her, but I could tell he was absolutely devastated that his mother lied about something so incredibly important. I do know from my own experience at finding out my Grandfather lied about you…. Well, this must have been ten times worse for Johnny because he had a home here with you and I think life on the Mexican border with his mother did not treat either of them very kind. She not only lied, she omitted telling him about me. Maria did know about me, did she not?”
“Oh yes, she knew alright.” Murdoch paced around the kitchen staring out the window. “Thank you, Scott for telling me, this gives me something to think about.”
“You need to talk to Johnny straight away and clear the air. Provide him with all the facts about the events that led to his mother leaving Lancer. I know you made that speech when we met about the past being the past. But you did not see the look of pure hatred on Johnny’s face the first day when you made that statement. This information certainly changes the dynamic. Do it now while he is in recovery because you will have a captive audience so to speak.”
“Scott, can you please go check on your brother and make sure he isn’t falling down drunk somewhere in the great room?”
“Didn’t Maria leave to find him earlier?” Scott asked. Murdoch provided a haunting look that told him to turn right around and retrace Maria’s steps.
As Scott moved to the Lancer great room to check on his brother, Lancer hand Walt Whittier rushed in to announce, “Mister Lancer, the Doctor will be here shortly.”
Just then, Murdoch heard horses and a buggy pulling up at the front of the house.
“Must be Sam, you go look in on your brother and I’ll go out front and check for our distinguished Doctor.”
Before Murdoch could get out the back-kitchen door, Sam and a scraggly looking stranger with a Sheriff’s badge waltzed into the kitchen.
Chapter 3: The Doctor Makes Hacienda Calls
“Murdoch! Seems you’ve had quite the party here this morning. How many of your men are going to need my special brand of patching up?” Sam observed as he opened his medical bag plopping it on the kitchen counter.
Val walked cautiously in behind him taking in the rather expansive kitchen, Jesus he’d never seen a kitchen this big or for that matter been in a house this grand as an invited guest.
“One I never want to repeat Sam as long as I live. Dey Pardee’s gang included over 35 men. Once we got the bastard, the rest ran away pretty quickly. Although I think there are about 25 bodies lying out there.”
“You killed Dey Pardee?” Val inquired.
“Murdoch, this is Val Crawford, Green River’s new Sheriff. He just arrived this morning, he was set to start later this month.”
“Well, we can sure use you around here, nice to meet you, Sheriff,” Murdoch said while extending his hand to Val. “One of us did, I don’t know the details, but I have been as sure as I can be that man is dead. Once we got him, the rest of his miserable gang high tailed it out like a bunch of yellow-bellied deserters.”
Scott who went looking for his brother earlier walked back into the kitchen.
“Sam you haven’t met my son Scott yet. Scott this is our doctor Sam Jenkins and an old friend of mine for many years.”
“Scott, so good to finally meet you. Murdoch is surely happy to have you home.” Sam stated as he shook hands with Scott.
Oh, and Scott this is Green River’s new Sheriff, I’m sorry Val Crawford was it?” Murdoch relayed. “Sheriff Crawford this is my son Scott Lancer.”
“Your son?” Val shook his head in disbelief. He was about to ask, ‘what about your other son?’ but the words remained frozen in his throat.
Val began staring around the room hoping to buy himself a second or two to gather his wits together. None of this made any sense. “Your son.” Val stating instead of asking this time as if he needed confirmation repeating the name, “Scott Lancer?”
Val was confused now, wondering if he was in the wrong place. In all the years he knew him, Johnny never said anything about having an older brother.
“Your timing is a bit impeccable; we could have utilized you a bit earlier today,” Scott stated offering his hand.
“Scott, Val is actually here a few weeks early. He was not scheduled to arrive until later this month.” Sam stated. “If others can wait, I would rather see Cipriano’s man first. One of the Vaquero’s told us about him as we pulled in and it is sounding like he won’t make it.”
“How is he, Scott? You think he can hold a few more minutes while Sam checks on one of Cipriano’s men. I’m not sure which one it is, we just know he’s in fairly bad shape.” Murdoch explained.
“He can hold on, but not for long. The whiskey is almost half gone, and I fear your best scotch may be the next victim.” Scott replied while keeping an eye on the Sheriff who was now looking at him like he had just grown two heads.
Val was trying to work his way out of being in a major daze and started to pace around the kitchen and spotted a bloody light pink shirt with Mexican embroidery scrunched over to the side on the kitchen floor. “Mind my askin’ what exactly happened here today?”
Sheriff Val Crawford
“Not at all Sheriff, as I said we could have used you earlier. Land pirates invaded Lancer at dawn. Leader’s name was Dey Pardee.” Scott replied noticing the acknowledgment that the new Sheriff was acquainted with their mangy outlaw.
“You know the man?”
“Yeah, I know him. No great loss for western humanity. How’d you end up lucky enough to get him and 35 men?” Val inquired still keeping his eye on the bloody shirt.
“We fooled them into thinking most of our men were off chasing their camp up in the hills. We picked them off as they rode in on the front range chasing one of our own decoys.” Scott, smiling as he made the move to the sink for another cup of coffee.
Val only knew one person who would attempt a suicide plan like that – one man who had foolishly done it many times before – Johnny Madrid. In two swift moves, Val quickly made tracks over to the bloody pink faded shirt lying in a corner on the kitchen floor.
Upon closer inspection, Val knew exactly who belonged to – what now looked more like a coral-colored shirt. Noting the fine detailed black embroidery on the cuffs and the breast area. The shirt even smelled like Johnny.
“Where’s the man that owns this shirt? Is he dead?” Val’s heartbeat was now racing at a mile a minute. His instincts told him Johnny might actually be alive and that was his shirt. Something had obviously happened to the boy, but where was he now?
Murdoch and Scott were staring at Val like he was a crazy bull that had just invaded their kitchen through the back door. So, Val asked again an octave louder, “Did you hear me? Where is he? Where’s the man that owns this shirt?”
“My brother is in the great room right through those double doors. Next to the large fireplace warming up,” Scott answered.
“What’s this all about?” Murdoch inquired.
Before either of them could ask any more questions, Val vanished running straight toward the room Scott had indicated with the huge fireplace.
Once there, Val stood frozen in place whispering the name just loud enough under his breath.
There guardedly placed on a comfortable leather high-back chair sat a raven-haired young man. Head bowed with no shirt; chest peppered with thick white bandages wrapped around his upper torso area. Still barely managing to hold onto a highball tumbler full of his father’s best Jameson Irish Whiskey in his left hand while balancing the glass artfully on the chair’s exotic wooden armrest.
The bright blue-eyed 21-year-old with a cocky attitude raised his head in a slow even motion, carefully putting down the highball glass. Mastering a sluggish half grin spread across the right side of his face, he angled his head to the right gradually standing up while giving Val the once over.
Johnny always possessed one of those deliberately slow smiles, involving laugh lines and pearly white teeth. His sluggish half-smirk was gradually turning into an unexpected full volume smile, adding a bit of drama when he finally managed to stand all the way up.
Kid always did know how to light a room right up.
“Hey, what’re you doin’ here Val?”
Chapter 4: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
By now Murdoch and Scott had rushed into the room wondering what the hell was going on with a Sheriff they had just barely met. The two Lancers stood to the side observing the interplay between Murdoch’s youngest son and Green River’s new Sheriff.
“Johnny Madrid? I’ve been lookin’ for you.”
“Well here I am Sheriff, where did you come from?”
Murdoch, as usual, was once again jumping to conclusions. Now terrified his son was a wanted man and the Sheriff was going to take Johnny away – gunshot wound and all. He stood frozen in the doorway waiting to see how the situation might play out.
Still holding onto Johnny’s bloody pink shirt for dear life, Val took a deep breath shifting his weight to the other foot and cocked his head to the side. The Sheriff was now holding back tears and grinning from ear to ear choking out, “Where you been boy? We all thought you were dead!”
“Well, I’m not.” Johnny proclaimed beaming through glassy eyes with a gigantic smile plastered all over his face.
“I can see that.” At that moment, Val cut the distance between him and Johnny in two seconds flat grabbing ahold of his boy in a bear hug. He could tell Johnny was beginning to tear up and knew to try and cut the emotional stuff out while they had an audience standing in the doorway behind them.
All of a sudden, Val could tell how weak his amigo truly was and started pushing Johnny back into the chair. Val walked around Johnny to inspect his bandages noticing now how badly his friend had been shot.
“Johnny! Why’d ya have ta go an get yourself shot again? Damn it, Johnny. How many times have I told ya to be careful and stop gettin’ yourself shot! We can’t keep patchin’ you up all the time. Skin on your back already looks like a prickly armadillo lizard. Is the bullet out yet?” Val posed the question while searching for Johnny’s back injury.
“Awe Val, quit motherin’ me will ya. I can’t help it if I run into a few back shooters now and again.” Johnny now was bowing his head and wrapping his arms around himself. Val could tell he was in a great deal of pain.
“This Dey Pardee’s handiwork?”
Johnny nodded, “Yep.”
“Understand he’s dead.”
“Boston over there shot him,” Johnny stated pointing to his brother Scott. “But I didn’t double-check. Val, you need to go double-check, make sure he’s dead. Can you do that Val? No one else knows what he looks like but us.”
Val squatted down placing his index finger on Johnny’s chin, lifting it up. “Hey amigo, you’re getting’ a fever again.” Val’s hand went to Johnny’s forehead and down to his cheeks. “Let’s get you fixed first, then I promise to go look, alright?”
“No Val, you gotta go now. Make sure he don’t get away!” Johnny was beginning to get agitated and grabbed the glass of whiskey off the table taking another substantial gulp. “Besides, Dey’s paperwork may tell us who wanted Lancer bad enough to hire ‘em.”
Val then carefully removed the crystal highball glass of whiskey from Johnny’s hand, noting that his gun belt was wrapped around the other arm. “Thinkin’ you’ve had more than enough of this high-priced whiskey from your daddy’s liquor cabinet. We gotta get the Doc back in here.”
As Val and Johnny caught up with each other, Scott and Murdoch stood in stunned silence at the doorway watching the events unfold next to the fireplace. In the two and a half days since Johnny had arrived at the ranch, Murdoch had never really witnessed a smile on his son’s face once. The boy rarely strung two sentences together unless provoked. Now in the space of five minutes, he had smiled from ear to ear and been talkative the entire time this man had been in the room.
During the time Murdoch and Scott had spent with Johnny, he had been prickly at best. Now he watched as his son allowed this man to fuss all over him and check for a fever, caring for Johnny like a long-lost parent. Nothing in over 1,000 pages of Pinkerton reports prepared Murdoch for his son being good friends with an older Sheriff.
Val gathered an Indian blanket from the couch placing it around Johnny and started walking over to where both Scott and Murdoch stood frozen in place.
“Mr. Lancer, your son is getting’ the beginnings of a fever, any chance we can get the Doc back in here to look at him and get that bullet out? Also noticed he’s bleedin’ again. Not much, but enough to be concerned.”
“I take it my son and you are acquainted?” Murdoch asked.
“Yeah, Johnny’s prone to fevers after getting shot. Now can we get the Doc back in here to look at ‘em?” Val was not about to start this discussion with Lancer, not while Johnny needed tending.
“Scott, run over to the bunkhouse and find out what’s taking Sam so long.” Murdoch followed Val back over to the leather chair where Johnny had firmly planted himself and proceeded to feel Johnny’s forehead.
A now glassy-eyed Johnny was beginning to show signs of intoxication from sipping whiskey for the better part of an hour. When Murdoch touched his son, Johnny flinched. “Johnny? Son, I am sorry I couldn’t get the bullet out – it was too close to the bone. I couldn’t risk harming your shoulder. But the Doctor will be here to look at you in a few minutes.”
Johnny just nodded. He silently watched his father searching his eyes while still with his arms wrapped around his stomach. Johnny seemed to be in a great deal of pain, shrinking into the background squeezing up his shoulders.
As Murdoch gently brushed the hair out of Johnny’s eyes, Teresa Murdoch’s young ward seemed to appear out of nowhere with a basin of cold compresses. “Johnny, son – you are getting a bit of a fever, let’s see if we can cool you down a bit while we wait for Sam.”
Val intensely watched Murdoch Lancer care for his son. It was plain to see that this was not the man Johnny had described for most of his life. Johnny’s father was obviously concerned, which made Val even angrier at Maria for lying to Johnny all those years ago.
Suddenly sounds of chatter were radiating out of the kitchen. Voices calling for hot water, Willow Bark Tea, and bandages. Doctor Sam Jenkins was about to make an appearance and see his godson John Lancer for the first time in over 17 years.
Sam Jenkins followed Scott into the room with his medical supplies and announced.
“Well, young man, it’s about time you came home to us. Would have rather visited you again under better circumstances without a bullet in your back. How are you, John?”
Chapter 5: Doctor, Doctor
There are times when you just aren’t your best to meet someone new. Having half a bottle of your father’s high-priced Jameson’s Whiskey from Ireland and a bullet lodged in a back-shoulder might just be one of those times. Johnny was in no mood to deal with one of his father’s friends.
“Sam, Johnny has a bullet lodged in his shoulder. We’d been able to stop the bleeding earlier, but now it’s started up again, he’s also running a fever. And it looks like he has been working on getting rid of about half a bottle of my best high-priced Irish whiskey.” Murdoch held up the more than half-empty whiskey bottle.
“Murdoch, thanks for all the info but last time I checked, I am the only one in this room who spent the better part of my twenties at a Medical college. If you will let me see my patient, we can get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“Who are you?” Johnny asked.
“I am your godfather and the doctor that is going to take the bullet out of your back. The last time I saw you I was stitching up that crescent-shaped scar you have behind your left ear.” Sam explained pointing to the scar location.
“Johnny, this is the Doc. He’s pretty good too. I saw him stitch up a kid’s leg before we got here nice and neat. He don’t drink before he stitches people up either, so you don’t have to worry like we did with that doctor in Tombstone. Dr. Sam here can stitch a straight line.” Val stopped talking and was aware of everyone glaring at him. He was just so excited at having a decent Doc for a change to take care of Johnny. Most of the time they utilized whatever inebriated doctor the tiny border towns offered.
Doctor Sam Jenkins
“Before you ask, no laudanum.” Johnny, not in the best of shape was adamant about not taking any sort of pain medication.
“Johnny, I won’t take that bullet out unless you get pain medication.” Sam relayed while checking the blood leak from his patient’s bandages. “Right now, you are beginning to lose more blood and have a fever. I will only give you as much as you need, I promise not to overdo it.”
No, Doc, Johnny can’t take Laudanum, is there something else you can give him?” Val asked.
“What do you mean Johnny can’t take Laudanum?” Murdoch bellowed.
Sam, ignoring Murdoch, looked up at Val knowing there must be a good reason for that statement.
“Johnny, I ain’t gonna go through it again, they need to know why you won’t take it. Otherwise, they may give it to you while we’re not lookin’. Doctors do have this thing about using needles on uncooperative patients.” Val was trying to convince Johnny to give up the information on his own, but it wasn’t working.
“Doc can I speak to you for a minute?” Val motioned Sam over to the side.
Meanwhile, Murdoch was beginning to fume.
“What is it, Sheriff?” Sam inquired
“There is such a thing as Doctor/Patient privilege like lawyers, right?”
“That is correct. I cannot divulge any private information that a patient wants kept confidential, even to his father as long as the party is older than 21.”
“Alright, good. Johnny is over 21 ain’t he?”
“I believe his last birthday for that was this past December. You didn’t know?” Sam stated.
“Well, wasn’t sure. From everything I heard, his mother never celebrated anything when he was a boy. I don’t even think he knows when his exact date of birth is, to tell the truth.” Val mentioned catching the grief-stricken glare Murdoch was now supplying. Val moved the doctor to the side where he could not be easily overheard.
“Johnny is allergic to Laudanum. His mother used to give it to him to quiet the boy down at night, at one point as a kid he even developed a dependency on it. She seemed to know not to give ‘em too much. But what ended up happening is that now whenever he takes it – he has trouble breathin’ and breaks out in hives. Bad enough to kill ‘em Doc.”
Val was pacing back and forth trying to keep his voice low. “Problem is if one of his enemies found out, well it would be a death warrant. And that boy in there is proud, but you will be findin’ all that out shortly.”
“I see, he can probably take morphine. Has he taken morphine before?” Val nodded. “Can you help me get him to take morphine?”
“I believe I can do that,” Val answered, returning to his amigo’ side.
“Because if not, then I will have to use chloroform. I can guarantee he won’t like that after he wakes up.” Sam stated.
“Give him the morphine then.” Val agreed.
“Alright Johnny, we are going to give you morphine. You won’t have a reaction to it, and I can limit the dosage, so you won’t get sick.” Doc looked up at Johnny for an answer.
“Val. Le dijiste. Por qué ¿ (Val. You told him. Why?)
“Porque no quiero que alguien te lo dé y te mate.” (“Because I do not want someone to give it to you and kill you.”)
“Yo tampoco quiero tomar morfina.” (“I do not want to take morphine either.”)
“¿Quieres que compruebe que Pardee está muerta?” (“Do you want me to check that Pardee is dead?”)
“Entonces toma la maldita morfina!” (“Then take the fuckin’ morphine!”)
With that statement, Johnny knew Val meant business. He didn’t want anything that was going to put him totally out. Johnny never wanted to lose complete control.
“You good here Doc? He will take the morphine. Johnny wants me to go out and make sure Dey Pardee is actually dead.”
“Oh, he’s dead, shot him myself,” Scott interjected.
“Good, then there’s nothin’ wrong with double checkin’ now is there?” Val asked.
“No, I’m pretty certain I can show you what wagon his body was loaded onto. We’d better hurry, they are getting ready to take them to town.” Scott said.
“Hey, Val. Check that rise above Lancer, killed one or two up there before comin’ down.” Johnny shouted while shifting uncomfortably in the leather chair.
“Is there anything else we should know about little brother, or are we going to be finding bodies all over the ranch for the next few months?”
“Well Boston, you might find a few strewn out on that front range. I picked a couple off their horses. But I thought you saw those guys. For sure Dey’s man Coley is up on that ridge. I winged Dey up there, left it up to you to kill him Boston.” Johnny etched out a smile for his brother.
“I’m glad you put yourself to good use while you were being chased by close to 40 men at more than 50 miles per hour on horseback.” Scott smiled back at his brother then turned around to face Val. “Let’s go, Sheriff, they will be leaving with those bodies soon.”
Chapter 6: Looking for a Dead Man
They could smell the stench of death as they got closer to the buckboard in front of the barn. A dead body is about the worst smell. Well, burning flesh is worse but dead bodies run a close second. Especially a slew of unbathed men who had been camping out for the better part of three months.
“It’s pretty ripe out here, but I assume being a Sheriff you are used to the smell,” Scott stated while covering his nose and mouth with a bandana.
“Yeah, they are a bunch of smelly varmints ain’t they. Know what’s worse than a stack of dead smelly outlaws that never bathe?” Scott shook his head no. “Burnin’ flesh, people dead from fire – nothin worse.”
“A field full of bodies ripped apart by cannon fire must at least run a close second,” Scott replied.
“Yeah, guess that would. Guessin’ you were in the war back east. Know seein’ that much death all at once ain’t pretty.”
“No, it’s certainly not,” Scott replied.
“Good, looks like Dey’s at the top of the pack. Can you get one of your men to pull ‘em off?”
“Certainly. Cipriano, this is Sheriff Val Crawford. He would like to inspect Dey Pardee’s body. What exactly are you looking for Sheriff?”
“Scott, you can call me Val. Lookin’ for any paperwork that might indicate who he is workin’ for. Both Johnny and I will agree on one thing. Dey Pardee did not want your father’s ranch. He don’t know anything about runnin’ one, and besides, he would’ve just taken the spoils.”
“What do you mean?” Scott inquired.
“Doc told me about that scene up at Gaspar’s house. Basically, he’d have done that to Lancer. Let his men have a little fun with any women takin’ anything of value. Then they’d raid that fancy liquor cabinet and torture anyone who’s leftover. Dey didn’t want your ranch, he’s being paid by someone and his pockets probably hold clues to who that might be. Also, might want to check his saddlebags.” Val answered moving around to the other side of Dey’s lifeless body and pulling paperwork and money out of his pockets.
After everything was said and done, Val had found close to three thousand dollars in Dey’s saddlebags, his boots, and other places he’d like to forget.
“We rounded up all the horses, should we be running a search on all the saddlebags?” Scott was now beginning to get worried that this might not be over.
“Yeah, might be best. I’m gonna need that paperwork for death notifications anyway. Did anyone find an Indian? Johnny said the Indian was guarding Dey when he went to town. Thinkin’ if he escaped, then he may lead us to the big gun.” Val observed.
“A few men did get away, but no one noticed the Indian Johnny described.”
“Oh, so you heard all that. Listening in I see.” Val stated.
“Well, the two of you were not altogether totally quiet, and yes I am in the observation phase of all things concerning my little brother right now. How do you know each other?” Scott asked.
“We go back, found him after his mother died. Tried to shake him but he stuck to me like glue. Saved my life a time or two with that gun of his. We’re like family now.” Val explained.
“Well, then what happened in the house makes more sense. You taking charge of Johnny I mean.” Scott observed
“Didn’t mean to take over in there, it’s just Johnny gets a bit prickly when he’s hurt. Thinks he can just get up and walk away after he’s all sewn up. He has an allergy to Laudanum – you did not hear that from me.”
“Your father seems like the kind of man that is used to bein’ in charge and one day might force him to take it. Wanted to make sure the Doc knew what he’s dealin’ with. Johnny don’t like people knowin’ his business. Johnny’s stubborn, he’d die before he told someone about that allergy.”
“Why doesn’t he want anyone to know? It’s a simple thing really. I have a number of food allergies.” Scott stated.
“Well, this allergy can kill him. Some people, his enemies, might use that knowledge and try to murder him with it.”
“So why are you telling me this then?” Scott inquired.
“You are his family now and you need to know. If he stays here, ranches are dangerous places to work. He will get hurt at some point. I almost watched the boy choke to death on that drug once. As usual, he bitched about taken’ the stuff and of course, I forced him to drink medicine that poisoned him. Ain’t goin’ through that again.” Val stated emphatically. “And I still ain’t recovered from thinkin’ he was dead just a few hours ago.”
“Why did you think he was dead?” Scott inquired.
“You don’t know?” Val answered.
“Listen, I only arrived on a stage and an even longer journey from Boston a mere two days ago. As soon as I got here, I found out I had a half-brother and at age 26 met my authoritarian father for the first time. Then once that same father offered us a partnership for this ranch, we immediately started battling fires, Pardee’s people tried to rough me up in town, dealt with a family of farmers who were brutally murdered, and now we’re cleaning up dead bodies after going into battle. I thought the Civil War was bad.” Scott remarked.
“Well, this ain’t anything you can’t find out from the local papers. Your brother had been reported dead by firing squad in Mexico a few weeks ago. Don’t have all the details but Johnny said some Pinkerton Man your daddy sent stopped it. There were guns drawn, some people got killed, and the Rurales wanting to save face reported Johnny Madrid dead.”
“Johnny Madrid? My brother’s name is John Lancer.”
“Well, maybe to you, but he’s been goin’ by a whole different name for most of his life. Well-known in these parts as a famous gunfighter – one of the best. Claim to fame mostly as a notorious gun for hire on the border. Got all kinds of dime novels and newspaper articles written about him. Most of ‘em false, they make things up to sell more copies.” Val let out a breath wondering if he had said too much. “Anything else you gotta ask him about.” Val walked over to a chestnut-colored stallion and looked curiously over the horse.
One of the horses had a very interesting looking saddle along with matching saddlebags Val recognized. It was a prized object Johnny had been given years ago. The saddle had been stolen and Val remembered Johnny moped about it endlessly.
“Well lookie here! Dang, what a small world this can be sometimes.” Val exclaimed.
“Do you recognize that saddle?” Scott inquired.
“Yep, this one is Johnny’s stolen from a few years back. He sure is gonna be happy to see this. Almost couldn’t tell the dang thing’s so dirty. Don’t recognize the horse though. Saddle just needs a little cleanin’ and conditionin’ and it’ll look like new. This might give our boy somethin’ to occupy his self with so he don’t drive y’all to the brink of madness.”
“Will that be enough to keep him occupied?” Scott asked.
“Nope, but it will help.” Val answered. “And another thing. Johnny is an expert horse trainer. We need to convince your Papi to keep these horses long enough for Johnny to look over them. You can get top dollar for them and most of ‘em are already trained. If anything, someone in town may be hurtin’ and need a nice horse donated.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me.”
“Now we just have ta convince your father not to allow any of these horses to go in a fire sale. Besides some of ‘em have brands and are probably stolen. Then you’re dealin’ in stolen goods.”
“That alone will stop my father in his tracks. He is every bit the law-abiding citizen.” Scot proclaimed.
And with that Val clammed up going about the business of searching through dead men’s saddlebags.
Chapter 7: A Measure of Trust
Cold hands. Why do Doctors always have such cold hands? Sends shivers up and down a body’s spine whenever they touch you. Nothing is more irritating than a doctor with cold hands and an even colder stethoscope running up and down your bare skin. And why did doctors always say “we” like the patient was at all capable of helping fix everything that was broken? How are “we” feeling today? Is there someone else in the room that might magically make things better?
“So, Johnny, are we feeling any better?” Sam asked. Yep, nothing more nauseating than being patronized before the doc cuts you wide open.
“We are feelin’ fine. How are you feelin’ Doc?” Johnny replied lying through his teeth trying to get an unsuccessful rise out of Sam.
“You are not fine. You have a fever and a bullet in your back that is causing it. You are too thin and weak from whatever you’ve been up to the past few months. You need to take that morphine and get rid of your gun before I operate and take the bullet out.”
Johnny looked up at the doctor curiously tilting his head to the right guessing the ‘we’ had turned into a ‘you’. “If you already knew the answer, why even ask? Just leave the bullet in, won’t kill me.”
Murdoch walked over and interrupted, “John, that bullet has to come out, when can we get moving on this Sam?”
“Calling the tune again Old Man? Just leave it be.”
“Well, we need the cooperation of the patient first and foremost and right now he is balking at being sedated,” Sam stated with that wiser than an old man attitude.
“I don’t need no sedation. Had bullets taken without it many a time.”
“Johnny, it is not a matter of what you want, it’s a matter of what I am capable of doing at this point. And right now, I refuse to operate on that shoulder without you sedated.” Sam stated emphatically.
“Murdoch, can I speak to you for a moment?” Sam started walking Murdoch to the other side of the room.
“Hey, I’m right here!”
“John, settle down. What is it, Sam?” Murdoch inquired
“We need to get Johnny sedated. He has numerous marks on his back and is weak and malnourished. Murdoch, what happened to that boy in the past few months? He looks like someone pushed him through a meat grinder.”
“Sam, I don’t know. It must have been that Mexican prison the Pinkerton’s found him in. He was actually in front of a firing squad before they saved him.”
“My God Murdoch! Let’s see if we can get Val in here to help. He seems to have some pull with your son. Do they know one another?”
“Sam, I don’t know. The Sheriff recognized Johnny’s shirt and ran in here, he thought Johnny was dead. They seem to have known each other for some time. Why can’t Johnny take Laudanum?”
“Murdoch, I cannot tell you that, but think back to why his mother could not take it and that should provide you with some answers.”
“Maria was allergic to the drug, but Johnny was not. At least when he was here.”
“Johnny was a toddler. Just like children often shed their allergies as they grow, many allergic reactions manifest themselves later in life. That’s probably the case here. Now, I have said too much, but you probably needed to understand why he continues to refuse it. Knowing how stubborn Lancer men can be, you and your equally stubborn son might fight over this for years before letting it go.”
Murdoch looked at Sam quizzically not wanting to belabor the argument of his stubbornness, he moved on. “Let’s go find the Sheriff.”
As both Sam and Murdoch moved toward the front entrance, Scott and Val came barreling in with saddlebags and paperwork in tow.
“What is all this?” Murdoch inquired.
“Evidence. Paperwork from Pardee and his gang of merry men.” Val answered.
“The battle for Lancer is over, we won. There is no need for further investigation.” Murdoch stated objectionably.
“With all due respect, Mr. Lancer. A crime has been committed and I am the new Sheriff. Both Johnny and I believe this land grabbing situation may not be over.” Val stated standing up to the 6-foot 5 tall monster of a man that was immobilizing him in the doorway.
Murdoch opened his mouth to object when Sam interrupted. “Can we argue the merits of an investigation later? Val, we need your help with Johnny.”
“He still bein’ as prickly as a porcupine? Not taken the drugs? Dang it! I’ll go over and have a chat with the boy.” Val stated while strolling over to where a glassy-eyed Johnny was standing his ground, hands caressing his gun.
“Johnny, Dey is dead as a doornail. I got his stuff and we’ll start to investigate who was behind all of this. Now you have no good reason not to take the morphine.”
“Val, no quiero hacer esto no ahora. (I do not want to do this not now.)”
Val bent down and put his index finger on Johnny’s chin, pulling it up to eye level. “Johnny. You got a fever, the bullet is gonna kill you.” Val shifted his weight to the right and cocked his head. “Tu mamá mintió. Tu padre ha estado buscando cerca de 17 años. Puedes confiar en estas personas que todos se preocupan por ti.”
(Your Mama lied. Your Father has been looking for you for close to 17 years. You can trust these people they all care about you.)
“Cómo lo sabes” (How do you know?)
“Let’s say I did some investigatin’. Johnny, do you trust me?”
Johnny nodded yes. “Siempre.” (Always)
“Johnny, I promise to stay here, I’ll sit outside watch over and keep you safe. I won’t leave till you can fend for yourself. You gotta let go, let these people help you or you won’t be alive to worry about it anyhow.”
Johnny looked up at Val and just stared at him. He was thinking. Johnny always had to think before making a decision and right now in his muddled brain, this seemed to be a pretty big one.
Letting go of his gun was one thing, allowing people he didn’t yet trust to deal with him all knocked up with drugs was quite another.
“Johnny? Por favor. Dame la pistola.” (Please. Give me the gun.) Val offered his hand, palm up for Johnny’s gun. Johnny hesitating shifted in his seat, took a long blink of his eyes looking downward and finally complied.
“I want him upstairs to take the bullet out. Once I stitch up the wound, he is to move as little as humanly possible.” Sam stated and continued barking orders as they all marched Johnny up the stairs.
Once in his room, Johnny looked around with a feeling of utter panic, and was about as frightened as Val had ever remembered seeing him.
Johnny, getting weaker by the minute and fearful that he might not make it started shouting for his amigo, “Val, Val.”
Within seconds Johnny was grabbing the Sheriff’s arm as if he was holding desperately onto someone he might never see again. Mi Hermano, hermano por elección (My brother, brother by choice). Te amo Amigo, te amo Val.”
Val bent down to Johnny’s side, “Te amo como a un hijo, eres más que una familia para mí. Mi niño de mi corazón.” Val stated pounding his heart two long beats with his right fist. (I love you like a son, you are more than family to me. Boy of my heart.) Somehow grown men expressing a measure of affection in public was somehow considered alright as long as they hid it in Spanish.
Val got up and started to exit the room gazing up at Johnny’s father knowing full well what the man must be thinking. But he didn’t care. Johnny would always be ‘his boy’. No matter how much family he uncovered, they had built a bond of close to 13 years and nothing could destroy it.
Murdoch let the Sheriff pass, then moved over to Johnny’s bedside. “John, Hijo mío, estoy muy feliz de que hayas venido a casa. Te he extrañado terriblemente. Te amo hijo mio.” (John, my son, I am so happy you came home. I have missed you terribly. I love you my son.) With so many people in the room, Murdoch felt he could make the conversation less embarrassing by using his son’ native language.
Johnny looked up at his father with soulful tear-filled eyes. Wondering how he could have ever believed his mother’s lies. This man wanted him, searched for him, and would have loved him all those years. Right now, he hated his Mama with what little strength he had available.
Murdoch wiped a lone tear with his thumb that started to trickle down his son’s cheek. He placed his palm on the back of Johnny’s head and kissed his forehead brushing back his raven curls. “I know you don’t want to do this, but that bullet is poisoning your body and needs to come out. Now, Sam will fix you up and you will be just like new in a few days. I promise to be here when you wake up.”
Scott walked over to where Murdoch was squatting beside Johnny grabbed his left hand and said, “Get better little brother, we have a big ranch to run together. I can’t do this alone up against the tune caller. I’d appreciate some support.”
With that, Johnny cracked a smile and it was time. Sam moved over and took charge, nudging everyone out of the room apart from Murdoch’s cook and housekeeper Maria. Johnny had finally given in. The Madrid in him had finally handed over to his blood family a measure of trust.
Chapter 8: Clues to a Puzzle
Waiting for Johnny’s body to be fixed up after every gunfight or bodily injury escapade is something Val was used to doing. He found by keeping his mind busy, it lessened the impact. When death was lurking right around the corner or knocking down your front door it was best not to think on it too hard.
Apparently, Murdoch Lancer was not very good at managing his stress over the wounded new arrival. His younger prodigal son in the next few months would more than likely test his limits far beyond anything Murdoch might ever imagine.
Murdoch was now pacing nonstop in front of the large window behind his large imposing desk driving Val to distraction. Scott had placed himself on the sofa watching his father sit down at his desk, shuffle papers and then stand back up only to trace the same track pattern in front of the hacienda window all over again.
“Scott! I could use some help with sortin’ this paperwork out. Might be good to take your mind off of the boy for a while,” Val making a suggestion while shifting around in his seat.
Val had placed himself at the Lancer dining room table with a cup of coffee and about 13 piles of papers, money and just what might only be called junk. Each pile laid out nice and neat. There was one rather large clump of coin bags and assorted gear that had no identifiable owners.
If Val had known that calling Scott over to the table might spark Murdoch Lancer’s attention, he would have remained silent. The over six-foot man covered the great room floor in what seemed like less than a few seconds. Val found himself staring up at the one man he’d been trying to avoid all afternoon.
“What’s going on here?” This seemed to be Lancer’s favorite line, he used it often enough.
“Mr. Lancer. What we have here are the effects of the men that were killed today. At least the ones that had some identities attached to their bodies.”
“We don’t need their money, get it out of my sight.”
“You payin’ for Boot Hill?”
“Of course not.”
“Do you want the town to foot the bill?”
“Then I suggest, you let me sort this out. So far I found enough 20-dollar gold pieces to dispose of their bodies in a humane manner.” Murdoch was about to shout something, but Val quickly held up his right palm to detour the man. “Which I know is more than them neighborhood varmints deserve. Ain’t you even curious how much money Dey was paid to take your ranch?”
“Not really. What about the rest of it? Looks like more than enough for the town coroner and any burial expenses.” Murdoch bellowed seeming to not understand the Sheriff’s job. “I don’t need their extra money and I want their stuff out of my house!”
Val at this point was exhausted and quite comfortable sitting on the cushy Lancer dining room chairs. Everything was sorted out nicely and Val really didn’t want to move an inch because Lancer was having a hissy fit. Besides, Val promised Johnny he’d stay close by. Val stood his ground.
“Well, the extra money can certainly be donated to the town, Pardee victims, or to any of the local orphanages. Your son bein’ one himself seems to have a soft spot for orphans. Johnny and I have done this with leftover outlaw money before. People seem to be right appreciative when there is money left over.”
Val then pointed to the various piles and continued on, “These 13 piles are ones with names attached including our illustrious bad guy – Dey Pardee. His stuff I want to take an extra special look at because I think it will give us some answers to why Lancer was targeted.”
Hearing Val talk about what Johnny would want to do with any extra money for some reason produced new shades of what looked like a purple color all over Murdoch’s face. It was like a gut punch knowing his son had been in an orphanage. Now having a soft spot for children in the same situation.
Misreading Murdoch’s disposition, Val stood up and was almost nose to nose with Johnny’s father raising his voice another octave.
“I am doing this specifically at the request of your son Johnny. He wants to know why Dey was here and frankly as the new law in these parts, so do I.”
Val took a deep breath and went on, “Pardee and his gang were not ranch owners. Those men were not interested in your land. If Dey had a succeeded, they would a come in here, robbed this place of all the best liquor, silver, and smashed all the pretty china. Then they would have kidnapped your women, slaughtered them, took turns and maybe made you watch.”
“Dey was a damn evil son of a gun – and Johnny knew that. Reason why he tried to take him out before this mornin’. Someone paid them well to do this to you. I’d say y’all were pretty damn lucky Johnny cared enough about this place and the women who live here to come back. As his father, I’d at least want to know what Johnny almost died for.”
As chills went up and down his spine, Murdoch then heard the ringing of Johnny’s last words before the Pardee battle in his ears.
“Pardee is suckin’ you out in the open. He’ll either cut your cowboys up to shreds in that pass or go for you in this house when there’s nobody here.
Now you got one chance, fort up here and wait.”
“Till I find Pardee.”
“Maybe you found him already.”
“Well go on.”
“What were you doing in Morro Coyo?”
“Is that what you think of me?”
“I don’t know what to think of you.”
“Well think what you like.”
“Where are you going?”
“I never was much good at takin’ orders.”
It finally dawned on him that his son knew about these men, how they operated, he knew exactly what to do, and Murdoch did not listen. He had the responsibility of making certain Lancer’s men, women, and children who lived all over the ranch were safe. He shivered at the thought of what could have happened because he failed to trust his own son.
As Val saw Murdoch Lancer’s face begin to turn a shade of ashen, he backed down on the volume just a bit. “The remainder will need family notifications. Now I realize you are a bit upset right now over your son bein’ shot. The kin for these 13 bodies have done nothing wrong other than be blood relatives of some really bad men. Think about how you would have felt if someone knew your missing son was dead and didn’t to tell you.” And with that, Val got Murdoch to completely back down.
Chapter 9: Some People Just Can’t Ever Sit Still
Why is it that sleeping children always seem more appealing? There is a soft forever calm that permeates those little bodies when they are dreaming. If Murdoch thought this might be the case for the first day of Johnny’s recovery, he was sadly mistaken. The boy’s body raged with fever and hallucinations so intense, Murdoch did not think he could bear being at his son’s side another minute.
On one of his most feverish days, Johnny kept blurting out in a high-speed version of Spanish that his Mama was in the room. He kept pointing to his old wooden rocking horse in the corner, claiming his mother was riding it with a wicked smile on her face.
“Ella viene a llevarme lejos! ¡Ella viene a llevarme lejos!” (She’s coming to take me away!) Murdoch had the rocking horse removed after that incident.
Murdoch sat by Johnny’s bed continually willing him to live. “I’ll be damned if I will let you take my son away again, even if you are just a spirit.”
If Val hadn’t witnessed the moment with his own eyes, he surely wouldn’t have believed it. Murdoch Lancer cradling his son during one of his worst nightmares.
Took all the ice packs in the Lancer Ice-House and near to five more days for Johnny to come out of his fever-induced nightmares. By that time everyone on the ranch seemed to have had a turn at the bedside Johnny show. Murdoch, Maria, Teresa, Scott, Val, Sam, and even the Segundo Cipriano.
Every member of the household was exhausted from treating Johnny.
At the same time, close to a half dozen of the Lancer Vaqueros had given their lives in the fight against Dey Pardee. Those funerals had also taken their toll.
Johnny woke up in a haze of confusion and panic. His fever had broken the day before and they were all on watch just waiting for the boy to wake up.
Val was there on and off to make sure Johnny wasn’t “playing possum”. Murdoch was drinking coffee looking out Johnny’s window at the Lancer mountains waiting for the sun to rise when Johnny started to panic.
Johnny suddenly sat up and was in excruciating pain. “Who are you? Where’s my gun!”
Murdoch rapidly navigated over to Johnny’s bedside with lightning speed. “Johnny, we’ve all been waiting for you to wake up. Son, settle down.”
Murdoch started to push Johnny back down to less than a sitting position, but Johnny was more than rattled by the giant man holding him down.
Murdoch could see his boy was terrified. It was like he had no idea who Murdoch was, and he was unable to handle his son.
Val heard the commotion and came barreling into Johnny’s room taking over.
“Val, who is he, where’s my gun.”
Val grabbed his amigo by the shoulders but gently enough not to tear any stitches, “Johnny, remember you are at Lancer.” Johnny looked up at Val and back at Murdoch puzzled, his brain still had not caught up with the current situation.
“Johnny, your Mama lied. Remember, Dey Pardee, put a bullet in you. You have a brother named Scott and your father is right here. Maria lied about him. He didn’t kick you all out.”
Johnny blinked and lowered his head squinting his eyes as if to relive the moment he found out the person he trusted the most, had lied about something so important.
“Where’s my gun Val?”
“Son you don’t need your gun here,” Murdoch interjected.
“Val, where is my gun?” Johnny asked again ignoring his father.
“Where’d you put his gun?”
“He doesn’t need it.”
“I’m gonna ask you one more time, and then I will go lookin’ for it myself. Where’d you hide his gun?”
“It’s not hidden, it’s in the drawer over there. But surely you are not going to give it to him, he is barely lucid.” Murdoch bellowed not believing the audacity of this Sheriff.
Val went for the gun and emptied the bullets out one by one. “Here ya go, Johnny. If you can prove to me that you can wake up knowin’ what’s goin’ on, I may put some bullets in there next time.”
Murdoch could see the moment his son grabbed the gun; a kind of eerie calm came over him. No, it was like his hands were fondling and caressing it. The panic and terror in his eyes began to subside. The awful sadness was still there, but at least he didn’t look at his father like Murdoch might hit him at any moment.
Sam had always told Murdoch that his large tall frame, boisterous manner, and booming voice at times frightened people. Murdoch, normally a gentle giant who could stand on his own in any barroom brawl. But most of the time he was a tender peaceful man who cared deeply about the people who worked for Lancer and loved his family.
Murdoch knew he had to set aside time to talk to his son about what happened with the boy’s mother. It was imperative to get his side out there. Right now, he was way too angry with his 2nd wife to see straight and cooler heads needed to prevail.
The terrified look of panic on Johnny’s face when he woke up was beginning to haunt him. How many times had Maria subjected his son to the kind of abuse that would make him react that way? Johnny also needed to heal. “John, do you want anything to drink?”
“Agua, water and don’t put anything in it. I feel like I been sleepin’ for years.”
“Sam will be up in a few hours. Let him check you over before starting to move. We don’t want to rip those stitches out or get another fever. Not sure I can stand going through five more days of that with you.”
Well, there it was again, that ‘we’ business. Guess it not only is doctors that use the ‘we’ it also extends to fathers. “Why you worried about me, Ole Man?”
“Yes Johnny, I have been worried about you for 21 years. Why stop now?”
Chapter 10: Buried Treasure
After Johnny woke up, Scott and Cipriano took Val out to the Pardee camp the two had discovered prior to the battle. Several Lancer Vaqueros had been parked out nearby to watch for straggling Pardee gang members coming back to roost.
When the three arrived, they used a dog Cipriano called Sniffer to find additional gold and worthwhile trinkets hiding in the bushes around the camp. Val was really interested in finding out how they trained a dog to sniff out gold.
True to form. Good ole Sniffer found a buried trunk filled with jewels, stock certificates, cash and gold bars. “Can someone say buried treasure?” Val shouted when they found the trunk.
Val remembered this situation before, but not with a buried box filled with that much booty. Val and Johnny use to ravage the enemy camps during or after range wars and found tidy sums hidden or buried all over the camps.
Although a huge trunk filled with buried treasure was a new one on him and this was a generous sum even for the size of the gang that had been dispatched to Lancer.
More 20-dollar gold pieces and coins were hidden in various spots in camp tents, leather belts, boots, dirty underwear, and more saddlebags. Scott thought with the number of goodies left in camp Teresa could easily open up a leather store.
Scott and Val decided that any money found was to be split several ways after providing the towns of Morro Coyo and Green River five hundred dollars apiece to rebuild whatever Dey had destroyed. The first split went to the families of the fallen men who worked on Lancer, the rest to the Green River orphanage that was run by a really nice Padre who came from New Mexico.
Teresa was considered a victim since her father was counted as Casualty #1 in Val’s paperwork. Scott needed to approach Murdoch gently about that one. Even though Murdoch had vowed to care for Paul’s daughter, Teresa deserved every bit of any money set aside for Pardee’s victims.
Murdoch Lancer was considered Victim #2. But getting him to use the money he’d lost during the past year at Dey’s hands might be a challenge. Scott was just going to set the money aside and wait till the partnership agreement was signed and bring Johnny into the argument.
After retrieving various items that were worth anything, they did a controlled burn and together with a few dynamite charges, a small explosion of the camp down to rubble. The land Pardee’s men were stashing everything on was partially owned by Lancer.
The adjoining property was an unknown but there were markers it had recently been purchased. Not from anyone Murdoch knew of at that point in time. But they were about to find out because Val had sent a telegram in a nearby town requesting a copy of the deed.
Scott and Val got back within a couple of days and were happy to see that Johnny’s fever had not returned and he was mostly awake for full days causing all kinds of mayhem. He was itching to get out of bed – naked or not – and was refusing pain medication, broth and Willow Bark Tea.
One of the hands met them on the way back providing a summary of what the past 48 hours were like at the hacienda with Johnny awake. So, when Scott and Val rode up in the wagon loaded with goodies, they were fully prepared to stay out of it.
Sam Jenkins was just starting to knock on the front door. “Better let him go in, if they see us, we might get pulled into the Johnny drama happening upstairs.” Scott laughed, “I do not think we need to get involved until absolutely necessary.” Besides both of them stank and needed a hot bath first.
“The first thing I am going to have to do is convince my father that full-scale indoor plumbing is a necessity,” Scott remarked
“Indoor plumbing, like in the big cities back east?” Val observed. “Don’t you already have it in the kitchen?”
“Yes, but what is needed is a bath area inside the hacienda. One you do not have to go outside in the cold in the middle of the night to do your business.” Scott replied with a twinkle in his eye.
“Make it a condition of your signing that agreement and staying on the ranch. Seems to me that your ole man wants you two here somethin’ fierce.” Val observed. “Back him into a corner, leastwise if you do that, you might have a good shot.”
“Seriously? You should have heard him the day we arrived. ‘A grey hair for every blade of grass, and nothing he loved more that God created than this land.” Scott bellowed out trying to sound like the old man.
“Well, there’s where you got it all wrong. That arrogant fool probably figures that HE created you two, no God involved there.” Val chuckled. “At any rate, that’s what I would do. And if he balks, you can use Dey’s dirty money or your thousand dollars.”
“Actually, I have plenty of money of my own. I just cannot live here without indoor plumbing.” Scott was adamant. “Spent too much time during the war dirty. I vowed that every day I lived, I would be clean.”
“The war huh? Got a friend just like that. He can never eat enough food or be clean enough. Good ole Marley takes baths sometimes twice a day. Never goes ta bed dirty. Helped me take care of Johnny for a time. Dang! When we get back, I need ta wire him and let everyone know Johnny’s alive.”
“If you want, we can have Sam or one of our men escorting the doctor back sent the telegram,” Scott encouraged.
“Yeah, maybe. Well, you go get your bath. I’m gonna see if I can find some leather string Johnny can keep himself tangled up with for the next few days. y’all got a leather goods store? Might make an order to pick up in the next day or two.”
“Certainly, we can get one of the men running out for supplies to pick up the order,” Scott suggested, confused at why Val wanted the leather.
Val returned to Johnny’s room leaving the horse saddle and leather saddle bag outside his room. Because when he arrived, his amigo was having an all-out hissy fit with both the doctor and Murdoch yelling back at him to take his broth and tea.
“Johnny!” Val exclaimed walking into what he thought might be a family war.
“Val, tell these people I don’t need no more broth and tea.”
“Johnny, you are still sick. That gun wound or the stitches have not healed completely, and you know what will happen if you eat solid food too soon. Now just do what the Doc says to do and stop arguing with every person that walks into your room!”
“C’ mon Val!”
“Johnny, I ain’t got time to come back here every day and babysit ya! We found a whole lot of interestin’ stuff at the enemy camp and I ain’t gonna even discuss it with ya unless you do what Sam tells ya to do.”
“I ain’t a little kid Val!” Johnny shouted
“Then stop actin’ like one amigo!” Val shouted right back at him. With that Johnny folded his arms and began to pout. Boy he sure was cute when he pouted. But that didn’t deter Val one little bit.
“Doc, can I talk to ya outside?” Val motioned both Sam and Murdoch out the door.
“I’m right here Val! I can hear you!”
“What is it, Val?” Sam asked.
Val picked up the saddle and leather goods he’d collected. “Okay Doc, I have a bribe that just may settle him down a bit. Give the boy somethin’ to do and keep ‘em occupied. First, I need to know how his shoulder movement is going. Can we offer him somethin’ working with his hands like braiding leather, conditionin’ this saddle and lookin’ through his old stuff?”
“Since he spent five days motionless, it helped with healing the shoulder. He can do simple things sitting up. This is mostly wrist action I presume, but I don’t want him out of bed yet.” Sam replied.
“Think of it like Teresa doin’ her knitting. It’s that kind a wrist, arm, and shoulder action I’m talkin’ about.”
Sam thought for a minute and then answered, “I think that type of activity will be alright, but nothing strenuous.”
“Good.” Val then fully exited the room pulling both the saddle and saddlebag back in keeping it to the side.
“What is that saddle doing in here? Is that from Pardee’s gang?” Val could see Murdoch was beginning to boil over again. Soon the man would be turning those weird shades of purple he was so fond of.
Val held his hand up to shush Murdoch, and Sam was quite impressed. Nobody but Sam himself was ever able to shut his friend up with a raise of a palm.
“Mr. Lancer, this saddle and the bags were stolen from Johnny some time ago. It’s a very unusual saddle given to him from a special lady. He was heartbroken when it was stolen. I would know this saddle anywhere, and Johnny did some etching artwork on it that is sort a his signature.”
“So, what’s the issue?” Sam inquired.
“If you say he can move his arms, we are gonna use this to get that awful tastin’ tea into him.” Sam knew exactly what Val was saying now. “Only thing is I wanna make sure he’s up to playin’ with all this stuff.”
“You are a smart man, Sheriff,” Sam replied
“What else do you have there?” Murdoch inquired.
“This here is the saddlebag stolen with the saddle. I’m pretty sure his sketchbook is sewed in between the leather with the money the idiot stole from him. Looks like the robber wasn’t bright enough to know that Johnny always puts hidden compartments in his leatherwork.”
Val looked up at Murdoch for a second, and then went on, “I ain’t gonna argue with you on this. Any money sewed into the lining of this saddle bag is Johnny’s property. Pure and simple.”
And with that, Val went all the way inside Johnny’s room to give him the good news about his precious saddle. Murdoch watched Johnny’s eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. It took less than 2 minutes for Johnny to slurp down all the tea and broth Sam had left for him. “You don’t play fair Val.”
“Well, neither do you, amigo.” Val replied smiling ear to ear.
Murdoch stood back and watched in amazement as his ornery pouty son of a few minutes ago went from temper tantrum to happy boy all in the span of five minutes. He observed Johnny checking over the saddle and ripping open the leather bag revealing the sketchbook. He asked Val if he could get him conditioning soap, but he was most happy to get the sketchbook back.
Johnny did not even notice his father frozen watching from his bedroom doorway. It dawned on him his son was an artist.
When Val left the room, Murdoch observed Johnny braiding long strips of leather into beautiful bridals. All Johnny seemed to need was something to occupy his hands. The boy had just been bored and needed something useful to do with his pent-up energy, but it was more than that.
This stranger, the Sheriff knew exactly how to handle his son. Oh, Johnny balked and talked back to the older man, but eventually, he gave in.
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