The Neighbor by Ruthie W.

Word Count – 5,399

The Neighbor

Johnny Lancer was riding in a section of his ranch he had never come across before.  He was headed for home when he started to daydream about how his life had changed since coming home to Lancer after being away for 16 years.  Away for 16 years was one way of putting it. 

 Actually he was taken away from his father and the ranch by his mother when he was 2 years old.  Life with his mother was a nightmare as the men who lived with her were cruel to little Johnny and often beat him. When he got older he earned his living as a gunfighter and changed his name to Johnny Madrid. Then a miracle happened.  His father, Murdoch Lancer, searched for him for all of those 16 years and finally found him and brought him back home. That was two years ago and though his new life had a rocky start Johnny came to love his life as a Lancer.

He realized he was not paying attention to where he was going when his horse Barranca suddenly stopped.  Johnny leaned over to scratch his neck then realized he smelled smoke. He looked up to see a small house and farm in the distance with smoke rising from the chimney.  This was one of the neighbors who lived on the border of Lancer that his father told him about. He continued on to the house but suddenly stopped when an old man came out of the front door holding a shotgun.  “What do you want boy?” the old man said.  

“My name is Johnny Lancer and I was heading home when I noticed your house.  Who are you neighbor?”  The old man said he was Clyde Sanders and then looked at Johnny menacingly and told him to leave or else.   He aimed his gun at him as Johnny started to go.  Just then Johnny looked back for a second when he felt a sting near his ear and thought he was bitten by a bee.  He would be glad to get home.

It was late when he passed under the Lancer Arch and handed Barranca off to a ranch hand and went inside the house for dinner.  His father wanted to know what took him so long and Johnny said he took the long way home when he came across a neighbor named Clyde Sanders.  At the mention of that name Murdoch’s face changed to one of anger.  “What did he say to you son?” Murdoch asked.

“He ordered me off the property at gun point and I left.  What’s that man’s problem”? Johnny asked. Before his father could answer him Johnny took off his hat to get cleaned up for dinner when he felt something dripping down is neck.  When he reached up he saw that it was blood.  

“John you’re bleeding” Murdoch said.  Scott, Johnny’s older brother, came into the room just then and seeing what was going on grabbed a towel which Murdoch put on his young son’s wound.  “When I turned to leave I felt a sting and thought I was stung by a bee, that old man is one hell of a shot”.  

Murdoch asked Scott to get something to clean out the wound and made Johnny lay down on the sofa while he cleaned it.  After that was done and Murdoch was sure the bleeding was stopped he helped Johnny to the table so he could have his dinner.

As Johnny was eating Murdoch answered his sons’ questions.  “Boys, he was living here just before I came and started our ranch.  He was a widower living with his son Clive and his daughter Kate and the whole family always kept to themselves. We got along but they were never friendly neighbors and I respected their privacy.”

“The trouble with him started about 4 years ago.   Out of nowhere he and his son Clive showed up and knocked on our front door.  I invited them to come in and they asked to speak with Teresa’s father.  I asked Paul to come in and join us and that is when Clyde came to the point.  He said “men, my boy Clive here is settled on making Teresa his wife and we want to ask your permission Mr. O’Brien and you as well Mr. Lancer.”

Johnny then interrupted  his father and wanted to know how old Teresa was when his happened.

“She is 17 now and when this happened she was 13”.  Both Scott and Johnny were furious that this man wanted a 13 year old little girl to marry his son.

“What happened next?” Johnny asked.

Murdoch said that Paul exploded and said that his little girl was only 13 and not at all old enough to marry and they asked the men to leave. “But Clyde was furious with us and said he believed the reason Paul said no was because he thought his daughter was too good for Clive.  We asked them to sit down again and tried to explain that Teresa was too young to marry anyone and would not be ready to marry till she was older.  But it did no good and Clyde stated as far as he was concerned the Sanders and everyone on the Lancer ranch were enemies.”

“We thought they would calm down but then things got worse. It seems Clive was out hunting and accidentally shot himself in the leg.   He made it home but they would not send for a doctor and after suffering for weeks in pain and agony his son died.  We attended the funeral out of respect but he made us leave at gunpoint. He said it was our fault that his boy died because he was so sad over Teresa that he did not pay attention while out hunting.” 

Johnny asked if anything happened after Teresa’s father was murdered. Murdoch said that 5 days after they buried Paul, Clyde came to him as he was Teresa’s guardian now and wanted Teresa to marry him.  She was 15 then and according to Sanders she was old enough to marry and could give him a son to replace the one he lost.

Scott and Johnny realized that must have happened right before they came to Lancer which was two years ago.  Johnny and Scott just looked at their father as they could not believe it.  “Pa,” Johnny said, “men like him have their own code and that means in his mind it is only right he marry his son’s intended. I am afraid he will never give her up.”

But there was a question that Murdoch could not answer and that was what set Clyde off again after 2 years since his last visit. 

Murdoch was upset that his son was shot and he decided to go into town in the morning and see Sheriff  Val.  He wanted Johnny to go as well to have their doctor, Sam, look at his wound and then give Val a full report on exactly what happened. 

That was not Murdoch’s first instinct however, what he really wanted to do was ride out to see Clyde and have it out with him once and for all but Scott told him to let the law handle it.  Scott was a college graduate and former Army officer who thought things through before acting. While his kid brother Johnny was quick to act and Murdoch was somewhere in the middle. 

On the way into town the next morning Johnny asked his father what had happened to Clyde’s daughter Kate.  Murdoch told him that Kate had left her family’s home soon after Clive died. “Son, I heard what  happened from the people in town who said that she left with one of Clyde’s ranch hands.  According to rumor she was upset after her brother died because she wanted to get a doctor to treat his wound but her father objected and so did her brother.  They did not trust town people and did not want to spend the money.  I can’t say that I blamed her for leaving.  I heard she married the man and now has two children.”

Johnny thought about what his father just told him and remembered the look in the eye of old Clyde when he was thrown off the property.  He looked like he was full of hate for everyone.

Before going to see the sheriff  Murdoch and Johnny went to see Dr. Sam.  He was not only their doctor but a good friend of the family.   Sam checked the wound on Johnny’s neck and said it was already healing.  However he wanted to know exactly how it happened and Johnny explained that he was riding away then at the moment he looked back he felt a sting as if he was bitten.  

“Didn’t you hear the gun go off?” Sam asked.  Johnny said he thought it was someone out hunting nearby as he could not believe Sanders was that good of a shot and he saw no smoke from Clyde’s gun.

After they were finished at the doctor’s office the three of them went over to see the  sheriff and then Johnny gave his testimony while Sam verified that he was shot. Murdoch suggested Johnny go to the saloon and he would join him there for a drink as he wanted to spend more time with Val and Sam.

After Johnny left, Sam told Murdoch and the sheriff that Johnny was lucky to be alive. He said that after seeing where the wound was if Johnny had not turned around when he did the bullet would have killed him.  Val told them that he would go immediately to arrest the man and would take a couple of deputies with him.  Murdoch wanted to come as well but Val told him to take Johnny back to Lancer and he would meet him there after the arrest was made.

Murdoch sat next to Johnny at the saloon and joined him in a drink.  Johnny was quiet at first then said “Pa, I want to know why you asked me to leave when you we were at Val’s office? I want to know what is going on and not be treated like a child.  It was I who was shot and it was my business to know.”

His father apologized then told Johnny what the doctor said about how close he came to dying. “I wanted to keep you from going after Clyde yourself but you’re right and I am sorry it’s just that I love you and want to keep you safe.”

“Pa, don’t worry I am not going anywhere. I just got here two years ago and I am staying with you and Scott.”  His father smiled and after they finished their drinks they rode back home.

Late in the afternoon Val rode into Lancer and Murdoch’s first question was to ask if Sanders was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The look on Val’s face gave him the answer and it was not good.  “Murdoch when we got there the place was empty. We searched everywhere and he was nowhere to be found.   

 I left Tom my deputy there to see if he shows up and I will keep on this as I do not want anything to happen to Johnny or to you and Scott.”

Murdoch told his sons to stay close to the ranch till Clyde was arrested. Johnny had been planning to help round up more horses for the Army but Murdoch insisted he send some of the ranch hands instead. Johnny was feeling like he was trapped by old man Sanders but Murdoch told him it would not be for very long and he wanted to be sure his sons were safe.

Later that night after Murdoch had gone to bed Johnny knocked on Scott’s door.  “What’s on your mind little brother?” Scott asked.

“Boston, I have been thinking about what Sam told Murdoch about  how  the bullet almost killed me and I think if he really wanted me dead he would not have missed. I think he wanted to get Murdoch’s attention and shooting me was the best way to do it.”

Scott thought about this and asked who Johnny thought was the real target?

“Well I had thought it was our father but now I am wondering if it is Teresa. She was only 13 when this happened but remember in both Clyde and his son’s minds they thought she was old enough to be married so maybe Clyde still thinks she was the one who said no and not her father or ours.”

“Johnny, I don’t think it’s Teresa, that’s crazy , I mean his son is dead and has been for over 4 years.  Why would he suddenly want to make trouble now.”

“Because Murdoch told us he was here two years ago and wanted to marry Teresa himself” Johnny replied.

Johnny had an idea.  “Scott, I just remembered what Clyde said to me or rather what he didn’t say to me”.  Scott looked at him as Johnny explained.  “He looked at me and I could swear he recognized me.  I was waiting for him to call me Johnny Madrid but instead he asked what my name was and when I said Johnny Lancer he told me to leave.  When someone recognizes me they always call me Madrid and when I say that I am now and always was Lancer they refuse to listen but that old man said nothing.”

It was after midnight and the brothers were not getting anywhere so they went to bed and hoped an idea would come to them in the morning.

All three Lancer men were tired at the breakfast table and ate without saying a word.  Suddenly they heard riders coming up to the house and saw it was Sheriff Val with a large posse. Just as they were going out to meet Val he came in and told them what was going on. “Murdoch I went out to relieve the man I left at Sanders place and I found him dead and lying on the road about a mile from the old man’s house. He was shot in the head. That deputy was a good honest man who left behind a wife and three little kids. I looked for Clyde then took Tom’s body into town.  We are going hunting for that bastard and when we find him I promise you he will hang for this. I know you all want to ride with me but you need to stay here to protect Teresa. In fact I am leaving a couple of men at the ranch with you.”

Johnny said he was not going to stay home.  He was going with the posse and no one was going to stop him.  Murdoch asked Val to give him a minute to talk with his youngest son privately so Val went outside to wait.

“Son, I understand why you want to go but remember our most important concern is Teresa’s safety.  We need to protect her and your brother and I need you to back us up.  The deputies are not family and only family would protect her with their own lives.”

Johnny looked up at his father and quietly said “Ok, I am staying but I think we need to get Teresa out of here and far away.”

Murdoch nodded and told Johnny and Scott they needed to come up with a plan that will keep her away for awhile.  “Why don’t we send her to visit her aunt who lives in San Francisco till this all blows over?” Scott asked.  “I think we also need to send someone with her to see her safely away from here.”

Murdoch agreed and they also decided she needed to leave quietly so no one knew she was gone.  Scott spoke up and said he wanted to go with her and stay with her to be sure she would be okay then he would come back in a day of two. Johnny was needed at the ranch in case Sanders showed up there. His skill with a gun and his sharp instincts were needed at home.

One day later Murdoch had his foreman send a telegram to Teresa’s aunt and the reply came back saying her aunt was excited to see her and to meet Scott as well.  Just before dawn Scott and Teresa climbed into the back of a covered wagon and hunkered down so no one would see them.  Cipriano drove the wagon into town making it look like he was going for supplies and they got unto the train early before anyone could see them.  Then the train left destined to bring Teresa to safety along with Scott her protector.

Back at Lancer there was still no word about Clyde and the last report from Val was that they had scoured the countryside with no luck in locating him.  They had arranged for letters from the aunt to be addressed to Teresa at the ranch asking her to come and visit in San Francisco that way in case the letter was intercepted it would seem that Teresa was still at the ranch and that also told Murdoch that all was well with her and Scott.

Murdoch had sent a telegram to Teresa’s Aunt as though it was sent by Teresa herself and it told Scott to stay there so he could bring Teresa home safely when the time came.

Johnny was getting anxious staying at Lancer for so long.  He wanted to go with the posse but he loved his father and did not want him to be left alone. The ranch hands were either rounding up cattle or horses so there was a chance no one would hear any cries for help. The sheriff had left three deputies behind but after a week he took one away leaving just two men there for protection.

Murdoch was worried about how long this was going to go on. Three weeks had gone by and Val had come to say that he may have to end the search as he needed to be a sheriff in town to protect the people that elected him.  Rewards were up and signs were posted but by the end of the week the search would be called off.  

Murdoch sent a telegram to Scott to come back home with Teresa.  They would be coming at the end of the week. Johnny could not believe the danger was past and kept an eye on anyone coming under the Lancer arch.  

It was afternoon when there was a knock at the door. Johnny was in the kitchen getting coffee for Murdoch and had already taken his holster off but when he heard voices he did not recognize he put the gun in the back of his pants.

Before he walked into the Great Room he heard men’s voices that introduced themselves as two of Val’s deputies and Murdoch was asking the two men how and where they caught Clyde.  They answered he was found near his cabin trying to sneak away with some food he had in this pantry.

Just then Johnny entered the room and tried to hide the fact that he recognized one of the deputies.  He was known as Frank Connors a gun for hire with a bad reputation for killing anyone who paid him enough money. 

He also saw that Clyde was not really handcuffed as his hands were lightly tied with rope.  It took him a second to know that Clyde was not a prisoner at all. 

Just then the man who was standing next to Connors pulled a gun but Johnny was fast and pulled his gun from his back and shot at the men as he pushed his father down to keep him out of gun range.

Johnny’s bullet missed Connors and hit the man who was with him.  Then he felt a bullet connect with his shoulder and he went down.  Murdoch caught his son before he hit the floor and grabbed his gun shooting at Clyde as the old man had broken free of the rope that held his hands and fired back hitting Johnny in the leg. 

The shooting went on for what seemed like minutes when suddenly it ended. Murdoch and Johnny were on one end of the room taking cover by using Murdoch’s desk while Clyde and Connors were behind the door of the kitchen.  

Murdoch tore his shirt and used it to try and stop the bleeding in Johnny’s arm and leg.  His son was in a lot of pain but Murdoch had to keep his focus on the two men.

Then Clyde called out to Murdoch.  “Lancer I hired Mr. Connors here to help me find justice for my boy Clive. He killed the deputy but I want to be the one who kills you and Madrid.”

“You see the day Madrid showed up at my house was just after the anniversary of Clive’s death and it came to me that this was a sign that Clive wanted me to avenge his death. See if you had a gunfighter on your side then I needed one and I started to ask around to see who I could hire and Mr. Connors here just showed up.  It was another sign and I hired him to kill you, your sons and then take Teresa to be my wife”

While the old man talked he and his hired killer were reloading their guns. Murdoch was able to open the bottom drawer in his desk where a gun was kept and bullets as well.  

A few seconds later the shooting started again with Johnny trying to aim as well but he was starting to lose consciousness and Murdoch wanted to help his boy but it was all he could do to hold his own with two armed men shooting at him and everything around him.

Murdoch was praying that some of his hands would come back from fixing fence posts. But the weather was nice and the since it was summer the sun would be up late so they probably wanted to get as much done as they could before dark.

Another pause for reloading and this time Murdoch called out to both of the men .  “Listen Clyde, Teresa wants nothing to do with you and the law will never let you take a young girl as your wife. She is over 50 years younger than you.”

“And Connors, ask Clyde how he was going to pay you as he has no money.”  

There was no response then the shooting started up again. Murdoch knew Clyde would fight to the death but hoped Connors would realize he was wasting his time and just leave.

Suddenly Connors gave his answer, “Lancer I don’t care about the money.  I want to be the one who kills that half breed Johnny Madrid and I will do exactly that.   Plus he just killed my partner and we have been riding together for years.”

Before Murdoch could answer Connors, Clyde started shooting. Murdoch was tired of the talking and shooting and hearing his son called a half breed by Connors made want to stop him even more and he knew Johnny needed help or he would bled to death. 

What he knew that Clyde and Connors did not know was that if Murdoch  went into the room behind him he could then circle back and come around behind them and either they surrendered or they would be shot.  He needed to do it and fast to save Johnny.

But before he moved Murdoch heard riders come up to the house.  To his horror the voices were that of Scott and Teresa who had come home early to surprise their family.  

The shooting had stopped and he realized they wanted it quiet so that Scott would walk into an ambush. 

Murdoch started to call out to warn them but Scott and Teresa were busy talking to a ranch hand so Murdoch picked up a statue and threw it out the window. Scott knew something was wrong and told Teresa to run to the bunkhouse for more help. 

Just then Connors stood up to get good aim at anyone coming into the house and in that instant Murdoch shot and killed him. 

Clyde was alone now surrounded and unable to escape. Scott had entered the back way and moved Johnny to his foreman Cipriano who carried him to safety. 

Murdoch called out to the old man who refused to surrender.  “I want to avenge my Clive and I will die trying to do it.  He was the only one who cared for me. My wife and daughter were worthless.”

Murdoch tried talking to him and told him not to die like this. His daughter now had two small boys.  “You can be a Grandfather to them and that is worth living for isn’t It?” Murdoch said.  

When Clyde heard Murdoch say this Clyde stood up and shot himself in the head and fell dead.  Though shocked at what just happened Murdoch immediately got up and went to Johnny to see how badly he was shot.

Scott was tending to his little brother and had just sent a ranch hand into town to get Doc Sam.  Murdoch picked his son up and carried him upstairs to his room and laid him on his bed.

Johnny looked at his father and wanted to know if he was okay and if it was all over.  “Did the old man surrender?”

“No son, he did not surrender he decided to end his torment by killing himself.”  Johnny was starting to lose consciousness and Teresa had joined them in the room to clean the wounds till the doctor came.

Scott helped take the clothes off his brother while Murdoch got a bowl of cool water and tried to make his boy comfortable.  

It felt like hours had passed by before the doctor arrived and when he did he started to work on Johnny while Murdoch stayed by his son’s side.  Finally Dr. Sam was done and left Scott to stay with his brother while he spoke with Murdoch.

“Murdoch” Sam said “Johnny is going to be OK. The wound on his leg did not penetrate very far at all and the bullet in his shoulder went clean through and left minor damage.   I have given him laudanum for pain and he will need bed rest but should be up and around within 5 days.”

Sam stayed till the next morning to be sure Johnny would be okay and then left his father with more medicine.  His fever was almost gone and he had slept through the night.

Considering all that could have happened the Lancer family considered themselves lucky.

But Johnny was not himself at all.  He was healing and could finally get out of bed but by the end of the week he was showing signs of depression.

Just before the family turned in for the night Murdoch came into Johnny’s room to see if he could get him to talk.

“Son, I can see the pain in your eyes and I think we need to talk about this.  You are doing what you always do when a gunfighter from your past shows up.  You blame yourself but the only one who is to blame is Clyde and he has paid for what he did”.

Johnny listened to his father then looked up at him with tears in his eyes. “Pa, if I had not been a gunfighter this would not have happened. You heard that old man. He attacked us after he saw me.  There are days when I think you would be better off if I had not come back home”

“Johnny listen to me. You are and have always been Johnny Lancer. You are loved and respected by me, your brother and everyone on this ranch.”

Murdoch sat down next to his son and pulled him into a hug.  Johnny held on tightly to his father and shed the tears that he had been keeping inside him. 

His father rocked him gently until Johnny looked up at him.  “Son, I need you and so does your older brother. You are the life of this family and we would fall apart without you. Do not ever talk of leaving me or the family again, okay?”

Johnny smiled at his father and promised he would stay as long as he wanted him to stay. Murdoch look at him and said, “then you will stay forever.”

Five weeks later Murdoch looked outside to see who had just passed through the Lancer Arch and saw a man and a woman with 2 small boys.  

He recognized the woman at once. It was Kate, Clyde’s daughter.  Murdoch called for Johnny and Scott to come into the library or Great Room as it was called to meet Kate and her family.

As soon as he opened the door he introduced her to his sons.  Johnny looked nervous but said hello to her as did Scott.

“Mr. Lancer, Scott and Johnny this is my husband Kenneth and our two boys little Kenny 3 and Charlie 2.  We came to settle my father’s property which has been sold to a very nice family.  But the reason I came was to read a letter to you that my father sent to me just before he died.  You see he wanted to come and live with us but my husband and I would only let him come if he changed.

“He needed to leave the hatred he had for you, Paul O’Brien and Teresa behind and stop blaming everyone for Clive’s death.

“We did not want him to be around our little boys and teach them to hate people the way he taught Clive.  I wrote him all about this in a long letter.”

Murdoch told her it was not necessary to read the letter to them if she did not want to.  

“Mr. Lancer you need to know this and so do your sons especially Johnny.  I heard that he told you he decided to take revenge after seeing Johnny who he recognized as the former gunfighter Johnny Madrid.

But that was a lie.   He sent this letter to me after he read my letter telling him he could come only if he changed his ways.” Then she looked at Johnny and read the letter her father wrote. 

 “Kate, I will not be told how to act and how to live.  Your boys need to know that people are bad and they need to learn how to shoot and defend themselves.  Clive was killed by people who would not let him live this life. You daughter are as worthless now as you have always been.  So take your rules and go to hell.”

“You see this was the real reason he started up his feud with you and your sons.”

Her eyes filled with tears and she had to stop reading.  Ken came and held her as she cried.  Finally she stopped crying and spoke directly to Johnny.

“Johnny the day you rode by his house he had already made up his mind to come to your home and attack you and your family.  Please do not blame yourself.  His foreman told me he was shouting and cursing then he rode into town to hire a gunfighter and found Connors.

“Mr. Lancer you could not have known about this when you told my dad to think of his grandsons.  I think he knew that moment that he would never get the revenge he wanted so he ended his life.”

Kate and her family stayed for dinner then left to take the little boys back to the hotel in town as they were leaving on the stagecoach to go back home. The ranch was sold and Kate had finally broken the link she had with her father.

In the morning Murdoch said he wanted the whole family to go and visit their new neighbor the next day.

Later that night Johnny and  his father climbed the stairs to bed. New neighbors were waiting for them in the morning. It would be the best way to start a new day.

The End

November, 2021

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