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The Contract by Ruthie W

Word count: 3,495

Murdoch Lancer looked up from his ledger and smiled. Their cattle drive was a tremendous success, plus the idea to also drive horses to the Army post for the cavalry added even more income to Lancer Ranch. He also smiled when he thought about his sons Scott and Johnny. Scott was heading up the cattle drive while Johnny was in charge of the horses. The two brothers were going to meet up on the way home so Johnny could collect the money from the cattle sale from Scott and while Scott came on home Johnny was going to Morro Coyo to deposit both checks at their bank. 

Thinking of his sons gave him a feeling of pride. He got up and looked out the window of the library also called the Great Room and thought of how just under two years ago they had come to live with him at Lancer with each of them promised 1/3 ownership of the ranch if they stayed and helped him keep Lancer from being stolen by a notorious gang of murderers. Together they fought and won and over the last two years the father got to know his boys all over again.

Scott’s mother died when he was born and her father, a wealthy powerful man from Boston had taken the boy to live with him. Though Murdoch had fought for custody he did not win. So Scott and Murdoch were strangers to each other when he sent a message to Scott asking for help and promising 1/3 ownership.

Johnny’s past was another story. He was born at Lancer and his mother Maria was Murdoch’s 2nd wife. They had lived together as a happy family or so Murdoch thought until Maria ran off with one of the ranch hands and took 2 year old Johnny with her. Murdoch had tried and tried to locate his boy but failed.

Those 18 years away were hard for Johnny as his stepfather beat him and then this same stepfather murdered his mother. Johnny was 14 when he killed his stepfather in self defense. Then he changed his name to Johnny Madrid and became a famous gunfighter, which was the only way he thought he could make it in this world as his mother told him his father threw them out and wanted nothing to do with Johnny.

When Johnny arrived at Lancer after Murdoch finally located him things were bad between father and son but over the last 2 years they had worked things out though there were times when they fought and cursed each other out and Johnny started to leave but his father refused to give up on him and between his Pa and brother he learned that he had always been loved and wanted.

Murdoch had a big surprise for both his sons when they came home from their drives. For the first time in many years he had planned to hold a party with barbecued steak , good drinks and great deserts and so he had invited the whole town and asked everyone to bring their favorite foods with them. There would be dancing and and he hoped Johnny would take part in all of it as the boy was still shy around people feeling his past caused folks some discomfort. Murdoch was going to be sure that did not happen

Scott was home from the cattle drive first and proudly told his father of the incredible price he received from the cattle buyers. Their idea to bring all the cattle in at once paid off. Scott and Murdoch hugged and sat down for a wonderful dinner. Murdoch had a telegram from Johnny that he would be home later the next day. There was a new general at the Army post and he wanted to give Johnny a check rather than wire it to the Lancer bank.

So after the horses were delivered to the Army Johnny arrived at the post to meet the general he would be doing business with from now on. The first thing he noticed was that scaffolding had been erected which appeared to have been built for a hanging. 

“Johnny, I would like you to meet General Miller our new commander who just arrived at the post” Colonel Mitchell said. Johnny shook hands with the man but noticed a look of distain in his eyes. “So you are the young man who has provided us with horses these days? I must say I did not realize you were so young”

“Let’s go inside and I will write a check for you. While I am doing that I would like you to tell me about yourself. For instance I understand you used to be a gun for hire before your father found you and brought you home. I gather you must have been happy to be reunited again.” 

Johnny sensed this man was trying to get under his skin for some reason so he just nodded his head. Miller went on “I wonder if you know the 4 men we are about to hang for murdering 2 guards and stealing our Army payroll.” Then he proceeded to tell Johnny their names. Johnny recognized one of them, a Joey Monroe, and the general caught the look on Johnny’s face.

“Looks like you know one of them. I guess you were once part of a gang of murders and thieves. Oh by the way do you want this check made out to your father”? Johnny said no and as he started to write again he stopped with the pen held in mid air and said “how about Johnny Madrid.”

Johnny stood up so fast he knocked his chair over. Before he could speak Colonel Mitchell asked the general what was going on and why did he insult the young man who had worked hard and kept his promise to deliver good quality horses.

The general glared at Colonel Mitchell saying “I will not tolerate anymore outbursts from you Mitchell. I want to be sure the people the Army does business with have good character and with Mr. Lancer’s background I am not sure we should be doing business with him at all. I intend to question him further until I am satisfied about his character.”

Seeing that the check for payment was completed Johnny grabbed it and said he signed a valid contract and no one was going to cancel it as all the terms have been made. Johnny kept telling himself to be calm and do what is father and brother have always told him to do. Think before you act out. With that in mind he took the check and started for the door. 

Just as he opened the door he heard a sound like a door shutting and to his horror realized Joey, who was only 20, had just been hung . Seeing him and the other outlaws hanging from the gallows made him remember the day his father found him and brought him home. If not for that he could be hanging there with them. But he said to himself that he never held people up and murdered them in cool blood. He had killed men if they challenged him to a gun fight but he had grown sick of it just before he returned home again.

He mounted his golden horse Barranca and headed out of the fort. But as he rode away he heard General Miller shouting “I am not done with you Lancer, don’t count on selling us anymore horses….” Johnny urged Barranca in a gallop and soon was out of range far enough that general’s voice did not reach him.

Johnny rode hard for many miles then as night started to fall he slowed his horse to a walk but kept going as he wanted to get home as soon as possible. In the early hours of the morning he was about 5 miles from Morro Coyo so he stopped for a hour to give Barranca a rest.

As he sat by his horse he started to think. What had gone so wrong in such as short time? He was proud of his success with the Army contract and so was his father. He worked hard to change from gunfighter to rancher and now he felt like his past was there confronting him once again. He never heard of Miller before today, he knew no one by that name and was never anywhere near an Army post. He knew one thing and that was his father would know what to do. He also knew that no one was going to take this contract away from him.

After a hour he mounted his horse and headed for town. When he got there he deposited the check into the Lancer account then as fast as possible he turned for home. Sheriff Val saw him and waved for him to come in for a visit which he almost always did but his mind was focused in getting home and he never heard his friend Val call to him.

It was late in the evening when Johnny rode under the Lancer Arch and after handing his horse over to a ranch hand he went in the house to find his family. Scott had already turned in for the night but he hoped Murdoch was awake. Not seeing him in the kitchen he went into the library and stood at the large window which overlooked the ranch. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see his father standing there. Before Murdoch could say anything, Johnny had pulled him into a hug and held him tightly. Murdoch, surprised at his son’s response was happy to hold his son close. He had missed his boy very much but sensed something was wrong.

Finally Johnny let go and looked in the face of his father. He saw the look on his boy’s face. There was an expression of hurt and of anger but mostly he saw Johnny was confused. Murdoch sat his youngest son down and said “when you are ready tell me what is wrong son.”

So Johnny told him all that have had happened, from the success of the horse drive, the incredible amount of the Army check and then the meeting with General Miller. “Pa, I have never met this man before but from the start he wanted me to know how much he hated me. He seemed happy when the 4 convicted men were hung and even happier that I knew one of them. His name was Joey and we were together from the time I was 14 until a few years before you bought me home. I will not excuse what he did but he was my friend. And then he told me he was cancelling the contract.” 

By this time it was 1am and Johnny was having trouble staying awake so Murdoch told him to get some sleep and in the morning they would all sit down and try to figure things out. But it was Murdoch who could not get to sleep. It was not the potential loss of the contract to sell horses it was the hurt he saw in Johnny’s eyes. The boy had worked hard to change himself and turn his reputation around only to have it thrown in his face again. Murdoch got up and went to his youngest son’s room and saw that he was sleeping soundly. He gently touched his face then went to bed.

Murdoch was up and dressed before anyone waiting for Scott to come down for breakfast. Johnny was still asleep and he decided not to wake up. He wanted to talk to Scott first.

A few minutes later Scott came downstairs and when he saw the look on his father’s face his happy mood changed. “Sit down son, I have to tell you something and then ask you a question about your time in the Army.” Then Murdoch filled Scott in on what happened to his kid brother. When he was done Scott looked at Murdoch in disbelief. “Scott, do you know this General Miller, have you ever heard of him?” Murdoch asked.

Scott thought for a moment trying to think why the general’s name sounded familiar to him. Suddenly he remembered why. “I need to talk to Johnny to see if it is the same man I remember. If it is then I know why he is trying to cancel the contract that my kid brother worked so hard to get.”

Murdoch decided to let Johnny sleep as he was up for over two days and looked like he was in urgent need of rest. So soon after breakfast Johnny came down to eat and they all sat down for a conference.

Johnny asked Scott if he knew the general and Scott asked him to describe him. “He was tall, around 50 or so and walked with a slight limp and as soon as he heard the name Lancer his whole attitude changed. It was as if he knew me from somewhere but I have tried to remember him and I don’t. Scott do you know him?”

“Yes little brother I sure do know him and I am surprised he is still in the Army let alone a general. During the war the South was desperate for horses and so was the Union. The head of procurement started to wonder why only half the horses the Army had paid for had arrived. The War was coming to an end and things were winding down but we still needed horses for the troops that were going West to fight the Indians.” 

Murdoch asked how Scott was involved with this and Scott told him his colonel put him in charge of finding where the horses were. “I started to ask around and before long a local farmer told me he spotted over 100 horses penned up in at a nearby ranch. We went out and found them and we also found General Miller there too. He was arrested and given a Court Marshall but his alibi was that he was there to arrest the people who had stolen the horses and was on his way back to report them when we showed up. 

“He was found not guilty but his career was over. What I do not understand is why he would be placed in charge of a post again. He was supposed to resign his commission and retire.” As they were talking there was a knock at the door and when Murdoch opened it he was surprised to see Sheriff Val standing there with Colonel Mitchell. Murdoch let them in and immediately the colonel said he had some news for Johnny.

“Johnny right after you left I sent a wire to General Miller’s commander. About 4 hours later a General Walker rode into the fort with 4 sergeants and asked to see Miller in private. Within 15 minutes after the meeting they came outside and Miller was in being led by the sergeants with General Walker right next to them. 

“It seem Miller was never given this post, in fact he refused to leave and was discharged by the Army. He packed up and left saying he was going back east to live with his married daughter and her family.

“Johnny, I want to apologize to you and to your father. Your contract with the Army was never revoked, in fact we love working with you and hope we can do business again as soon as you can get another drive going.”

Johnny smiled as did Murdoch and Scott. It was over and his reputation was intact. Murdoch came over and hugged Johnny and whispered in his ear that he loved him very much. Scott tousled his hair and they all laughed. Murdoch invited Mitchell and his men to stay for dinner and afterward they rode back to the fort.

It was almost 11 o’clock at night before Scott and Murdoch went upstairs to bed while Johnny decided to stay up and see when the next horse round up could start. He fell asleep over his ledger then something startled him and he woke up to see a gun pointed to his head. He became fully awake in an instant and realized it was General Miller holding the gun on him.

Miller sneered at him , then laughed and finally told him why he had come for him. “Boy I am going to kill you first, then your brother Scott who testified against me then it will be your father’s turn to die.” Johnny knew his gun was across the room and that somehow he needed to save his family from this madman. He turned to face Miller and tried to talk to him but Miller’s reaction was to level the gun to Johnny’s head and as he started to pull the trigger Johnny lunged at him.

Johnny was hit in the side of his neck and fell down then Miller made his way to the stairs to find his father and brother but Johnny grabbed him as he walked by and the two of them struggled for the gun. Johnny was shot again this time in his left wrist and with one big effort pointed the gun at Miller and just as Scott and Murdoch came running down the stairs another shot rang out which ended Miller’s life..

Murdoch ran to his son and picked him up as Scott ran outside to tell the foreman to ride to town and get the doctor as fast as he could go. When he came back in his father was sitting on the sofa holding Johnny trying to stop the bleeding. Scott grabbed a towel to use as a tourniquet on his wrist while Murdoch pressed another towel to his neck as the bleeding was bad . Murdoch held his boy and was rocking him back and forth begging him to be alright. “Don’t leave me son, it broke my heart when you mother took you and now I have you back and I forbid you to leave me again.”

It seemed like an eternity had passed before his friend and doctor, Sam ,arrived and got the bleeding in both his neck and wrist to stop and gave him medicine. Then Murdoch carried his son upstairs and put him to bed.

“Sam, is he going to be Ok?”

“ Murdoch he has lost a lot of blood, his recovery will take time however I think he will make it. But if those bullets had been just a fraction of an inch closer to his blood veins he would have died instantly. 

Murdoch stayed with Johnny all night talking to him and asking the Lord to heal him. In the morning Johnny opened his eyes and smiled at Murdoch. “Pa, are you and Scott Ok? Did Miller die?”

Dr Sam had spent the night and when he saw his patient awake and alert he told his old friend that Johnny was going to be just fine. “The best treatment is lots of rest and that means staying in bed for one week. Then he can go outside but no riding or working for two weeks. I want to be sure his neck and wrist wounds have healed.”

Murdoch smiled at Johnny and promised Sam that Johnny was going to follow doctor’s orders even if it meant tying Johnny to the bed. After breakfast Sam checked Johnny once more than left for town saying he would be back later. Johnny was tired and went right off to sleep. Murdoch leaned down and kissed his son’s forehead then he snoozed in the armchair while Johnny sleep.

It was beginning to feel like autumn now with the days much cooler. “What a great day for our BBQ with all our friends” he thought. Then he went to check on Scott and Johnny to see if they were ready to go outside to greet their guests. Scott met him in the hallway but Johnny had not come out of his room yet so Murdoch went to his room and found Johnny trying to fix his tie. “Pa, can you help me to fit my tie I cannot get it to look right?” Murdoch smiled as he fixed it for him being careful not to hurt the wound on John’s neck. Almost a month had passed since he was shot and Johnny was back to his old self again.

“Well boys let’s go downstairs to greet our friends and neighbors who came to enjoy good food and good drinks.” They walked outside together with their arms around each other. This was the Lancer ranch and the Lancer men were proud of the hard work they put into their land but mostly proud to be The Lancer Family, a family separated but back together sharing the love they have for each other.





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