Word Count 4,973
My first story. I hope you enjoy it.
Cooler weather finally arrived at Lancer and the long hot summer was forced out by the October winds. With so many people working and living at the ranch, it was impossible for everyone to have the same opinion on anything, but the joy of saying goodbye to one of the longest, driest and hottest summers on record was shared by all.
Murdoch Lancer and his two sons Scott and Johnny toasted this October day and thanked God they had not lost more cattle and that the fires that sprang up were put out with a minimal loss of livestock. Mostly they toasted that no one was hurt and no one died when the cattle stampeded as the fires were raging.
After the toast and a dinner made by Maria, their cook and unofficial member of the family, Murdoch and Scott discussed ranch business, while Johnny left quietly and went outside to sit on the porch. The Johnny they all loved was always full of life and loved to play practical jokes on his big brother, but he wasn’t himself for over a week now. He was quiet and hardly spoke at the dinner table, which was where he was always telling the family of his new ideas for the horses that he was soon to bring to Lancer.
Now Johnny wanted to be alone and think about the nightmare that had been keeping him up for the last week. He tried staying awake until he passed out, hoping to avoid dreaming, but it didn’t work.
Just as he was getting up to go back into the house, his father came outside.
Murdoch sat next to his son. He put his arm around him then waited for his boy to speak.
“Papa, do you believe that dreams come true, that no matter what you do or say, you can’t escape what happens to you in a dream?”
While Murdoch wondered how to answer Johnny, he was also happy that Johnny had started to call him “Pa.” Eighteen months after the 19-year young man arrived at Lancer, something was changing in his attitude toward his father. That was enough to make Murdoch smile.
Murdoch thought back to the day Scott and Johnny came back into his life. Scott’s mother had died giving birth to him, and though he intended to raise the baby by himself, Scott’s grandfather took him away and used his wealth and power to keep him. Johnny was born at Lancer, but his mother Maria came to hate Murdoch and did not want to be a rancher’s wife, so she left and took their 2-year-old Johnny with her.
Heartbroken at the loss of his little boy, Murdoch spent years and thousands of dollars hiring Pinkerton Agents trying to locate Johnny without success. When the ranch was attacked by men who wanted to take it by killing Murdoch, the detectives finally came through. They’d found his son.
That’s when Murdoch sent a letter to each of his sons offering money and one-third ownership of Lancer.
Scott broke free from his grandfather’s demand that he stay in Boston and run his company.
Johnny also came, but the boy was full of hate for his father. He believed his mother’s story that his father hated him and threw them both out for good. Murdoch soon learned that those 17 years of Johnny’s life were violent and that the boy was shot, beaten, and tortured by his stepfather and the other men in his mother’s life.
At the age of 10, Johnny killed the man who murdered his mother. It was then he decided that to survive, he would be a gunfighter. From that time on, he went by the name of Johnny Madrid, with a well-known reputation.
Then Johnny was shot and almost died saving the ranch. Over the last year and a half, he’d made the change from gunfighter to the rancher he wanted to be. This was often made harder when another gunfighter from his past showed up to see if Johnny could be beaten. But his father and brother stuck by him, and slowly, they all came together as a family.
“Johnny, I’ve had many dreams over the years. Some were good and some were nightmares, but the bad ones didn’t come true and the good dreams did. Having you and Scott with me now is proof of that.”
Johnny was silent, and then finally, his father asked him what his dreams or nightmares were about.
“It is the same dream over and over again, I’m being held somewhere and then I hear you telling someone that you cannot go on because your youngest boy is gone. I start screaming, “Pa, I’m here, I’m alive,” but you don’t hear me. You ride away, leaving me behind. This nightmare has kept me up for over a week and now I am afraid to go to sleep. I think I am going crazy.”
Murdoch pulled his son into a hug and Johnny held onto his father as if his life depended on it. Finally, they got up and went inside. Scott asked if he told their father about his nightmare. Johnny nodded yes.
The family finally turned in, but Murdoch said he would stay with Johnny until he fell asleep. Johnny smiled at him and thought that would help. Scott thought to himself that his little brother must really be hurting to agree, as the kid was very independent and didn’t like being watched over. But this night, Johnny fell asleep with his father sitting in his room and watching him as he slept.
At 2am Murdoch went to his room and fell asleep, but at 3 in the morning, he heard Johnny screaming for help. Murdoch was the first to reach his son, with Scott and Teresa right behind him. He went to his boy and held him tight, talking to him calmly, assuring him he was there as he tried to wake him up. After a few seconds, his young son came out of the nightmare and held on to his Pa as Murdoch gently rocked him back and forth.
“Pa, what do I do? How can I stop this from happening?”
Scott and Teresa suggested that Doctor Sam come out to the ranch the next day to talk to Johnny and see what, if anything, would work for Johnny to escape from his dreams.
Early that morning, Scott road into town to see if Sam would come out to the ranch and on their way to Lancer, Scott filled him in on why he was needed. Sam had been used to his trips to the ranch, but this time he felt stumped as to what he could do to help his young patient.
After a long talk alone with Johnny and then with his old friend Murdoch, the Doctor said the only possible solution was for Johnny to take sleeping powders. However, the young Lancer hated anything to do with medicine that took away his ability to think clearly and to be in control. His years as Johnny Madrid taught him that.
After the Doctor left, Johnny went to work getting the ranch ready for the coming winter and decided the solution was to work so hard that he would sleep soundly and be too tired to dream. And as the week went on, that idea worked as Johnny drove himself harder and harder.
Murdoch went to the barn to talk with Johnny as he was worried the boy was working himself into a breakdown. Before he could even get off the porch, a rider showed up with an urgent message for him. Murdoch read the letter and suddenly slumped into a chair.
Johnny was walking out of the barn and saw his Pa’s reaction to the letter just delivered.
“What’s is it?” he asked.
Murdoch asked Johnny to find his brother as he wanted to talk to both of them.
When Johnny and Scott arrived, Murdoch was in the library, which the boys nicknamed the Great Room. Their father read the letter to them and explained that it was from his oldest friend Tom Walker, a rancher like Murdoch, who also started from nothing and now owned a big ranch about 100 miles east of Lancer. Tom’s letter said that his only child, a boy the same age as Johnny, had died when his horse suddenly buckled under him, causing the youngster to fall and hit his head on a rock. He died instantly. The funeral for Tom Jr was being held in 7 days. The grieving father asked if Murdoch could attend the service for his son.
Both Johnny and Scott told their father they would go with him to extend their condolences, but the round trip would keep them away from Lancer for over 3 weeks and someone needed to stay to run the ranch. Scott volunteered to stay home. Johnny and Murdoch made arrangements to leave by stagecoach the next morning.
During their trip to the Walker Ranch, Murdoch told Johnny about how Tom was there to support him when Scott’s mother died and when he tried to help him get custody of Scott.
Tom celebrated when Murdoch met and married Maria. They’d exchanged cigars when first Tommy and then Johnny was born. But after Maria left him and took Johnny Murdoch and Tom’s letters and visits were less and less as they each built their ranches up, plus Murdoch spent all of his free time trying to find his son.
“Does he know about my past? Does he know about Madrid?” Johnny asked Murdoch.
“Yes, son, he does. I wrote him all about you. We planned to visit each other in the coming year or so, then this happened”.
They talked awhile, then Johnny fell asleep until they arrived at the town near Tom’s ranch.
Tom Walker was waiting for them when the stagecoach arrived. Murdoch hugged his old friend and introduced Johnny. Johnny shook Tom’s hand and told him how sorry he was to hear about his son.
Johnny felt something when they shook hands. It was an uneasiness and his life as Madrid taught him to pay attention to his feelings. But this man was his father’s friend, so he decided he was wrong and he felt sorry for the man’s loss.
Tommy’s funeral service was over and Murdoch and Johnny spent 2 weeks with Tom helping however they could. The Lancer men both asked Tom to come back to Lancer and spend time with them so he could get away for a while and begin the process of healing. Walker refused, saying he needed to keep the ranch running. Then Johnny surprised his father and offered to stay with Tom for another two weeks. Johnny knew his Pa was hurting for this old man, and he wanted to please his father.
“Son, I love that you want to do this for my old friend, but I would miss you and so would Scott. I really think it would be better if you could talk him into coming home with us.”
“Pa, he seems to like me and maybe if I stay, I could talk him into leaving for a while.”
Just as Murdoch started to speak, Johnny looked at him and smiled that smile that always melted his father’s heart.
Finally, Murdoch agreed to the plan and the next day, Murdoch packed up to take the stagecoach for home. Sensing his father’s concern, Johnny again assured him that there was nothing to worry about and he would be back home in just two weeks. Murdoch said goodbye to Tom and told him to take good care of his Johnny and hoped to see him at Lancer soon.
Then Murdoch embraced John and told him to hurry home.
Johnny hugged his father and said, “Goodbye, Pa, I love you.”
“I love you too son, take care of yourself.”
Johnny watched as the stagecoach moved out and then Tom and he rode back to the ranch. After dinner, they shared some whiskey then Walker looked at Johnny very strangely and suddenly started to cry. Johnny put his arm around him but was not sure what to say.
Tom looked at him and said, “Tommy, I knew you were not really gone.”
Johnny couldn’t find the words to reply, then realized he couldn’t talk at all. Panicked, he tried to run from the house but only made it to the front door before the darkness overtook him and he collapsed on the floor.
Over 10 days had passed and Murdoch had no word from Johnny as to when he planned to leave and if Tom Walker was coming with him.
Scott saw his father sitting behind his desk and came right out and asked, “Sir, I’m worried about my little brother. Don’t you think we should send word to him or go to your friend Walker? It is not like Johnny to be gone and not contact us even if he doesn’t want us to worry or hover over him. He knows we would miss him and want to know when he will be back.”
Murdoch got up from the desk and asked Scott to ride into town with him as he had already intended to send a wire to the Walker Ranch. Just as Cipriano was saddling their horses, one of the ranch hands came riding in fast and dismounted from his horse before it had barely stopped.
“Mr. Lancer, an urgent message came in for you. I was asked to give it to you as soon as I got back.”
Murdoch thanked him, took the letter and started to read it. He tried to read the whole message but stopped when he saw the words, “Murdoch, there was a terrible fire in my barn. Johnny ran in to get the horses out, but the roof collapsed on him. I’m sorry. Johnny was killed.”
The letter dropped from his hands. Scott caught it before it hit the floor. He looked at his father, then embraced him and cried out as if he was wounded and in pain.
Murdoch stood there then said, “I would know it Johnny was dead, I would feel it. This is a lie. My boy is alive and I am going to that ranch to bring him back.”
When Johnny came to, he realized he was in a room he didn’t recognize when Walker showed the house to them. This room was cold and damp with no windows and the door was covered with solid wood 5” thick. The only opening he could see was a small hole in the ceiling and that too was kept sealed with a lock.
“What the hell is going on?” Johnny said aloud, then heard the door being unlocked. In walked Tom Walker with a tray of food and something to drink. Johnny was groggy and tried to attack him but realized his left ankle was chained to the wall.
“Walker, goddamn it, let me go now and I mean now. Get me out of here, or I promise I will make you pay.”
The old man smiled at him and started to wag his finger at Johnny as if he was the teacher and Johnny was a little boy.
“Now, Tommy, that is no way to talk to your father. I demand you behave yourself, or you will not be allowed to go riding today with your friends”.
Johnny was startled and yelled, “I am not Tommy. Tommy’s dead. I’m Johnny Lancer. My father is Murdoch Lancer, your best friend, you know who I am. Walker, you’re sick and confused and trying to deny your son’s death isn’t going to bring him back.”
Walker just smiled at him and pointed to the tray. “Tommy, I made all your favorites for dinner, so eat up and get well. Sleep sound and I’ll be back in the morning.”
Then before he left, Walker threw Johnny a blanket then turned and left the room, locking the door behind him.
Johnny collapsed on the floor and said aloud, “Pa, please help me, please come back for me.” He passed out as he was still under the influence of what Walker had put in his drink.
Murdoch and Scott paid extra for a private stagecoach to take them to Walker’s ranch as fast as possible.
While they waited to arrive, Scott tried to talk with his father. “Sir, I don’t want to believe I’ve lost my only brother, but why would Walker lie? After all, he is one of your best and oldest friends.”
Murdoch just stared out the window and for the longest time, he didn’t say a word, making Scott wonder if his father even heard what he said. Then he quietly answered, “I cannot explain it and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I just know that he is alive. I can feel it and until I see his body, I will not believe it.”
They made excellent time getting to the Walker Ranch, stopping only to get fresh horses.
When they arrived, instead of a welcome or a show of sympathy, Walker seemed mad that they were there. He finally shook Murdoch’s hand but barely acknowledged Scott when he was introduced. Then he appeared to recover from their arrival and changed into a friend who was so sorry about Johnny’s death.
Murdoch thanked him then noticed what was left of the barn, which was a pile of cinders. Exchanging looks with Scott, he asked to see Johnny’s body. Walker seemed unprepared to answer this question as he hadn’t expeced Murdoch to arrive so fast.
Walker finally said, “Murdoch, I’m afraid there is no body for you to view. You see, Johnny’s body was in the fire for hours and the fire was so hot we almost thought it would spread to the house. Plus, I had stored tons of hay in there and had wood piled high for fence repairs. In addition, I had stored nitroglycerin for blowing up stumps after we cut the wood for building. So you see, there is nothing to see. Oh, if only he hadn’t tried to save the horses. I know he loved horses and while he was here, he amazed us all with the way he could gentle a horse. Oh, my old friend, I will never forgive myself.”
Murdoch and Scott were stunned. Scott wanted to know what was left of his gun and holster. Tom Walker was caught off guard again and mumbled an answer that didn’t ring true.
“Oh, he took it off when he was working and left it in the house. I think you should have it now.”
Scott exploded at Walker, “You are lying. Johnny never took his gun and holster off even when he was working and would not have done it here in a town with people he does not know and would not trust.”
Murdoch looked at Tom then finally said, “Tom, where were your men? Why didn’t anyone try to put the fire out and why in hell would you store nitro in a barn? It gets hot in the summer, horses are prone to kicking in their stalls when another horse gets too close. And knowing the danger, you let my boy go into the fire. He had almost no chance of making it out alive. Were you trying to kill my boy? Did you want me to suffer like you have suffered since you lost Tommy?
Walker said nothing then decided to let Murdoch and Scott be alone, so he walked into the house.
After a few moments of not saying a word, Scott put his arm around his father and said, “Maybe we should just leave and go home.” With nothing to show for his little brother but his gun and holster. But Murdoch refused to consider leaving until he was 100% sure Johnny was really gone. Scott sensed his father wanted to be alone, so he walked toward the house.
Murdoch started thinking while he walked around the ranch, then noticed a building off by itself. A building with no windows but with locks on the door. He didn’t remember seeing that building on his last trip. In fact, the lumber looked fresh cut and new.
Murdoch walked close to the building and, talking to himself, said, “Jonny, please don’t leave me. I need you and I love you very much. God, please bring my boy back to me.” He lingered there a while, then walked back to the house.
Johnny felt weak and cold. He stopped eating the food Walker brought him as he suspected the food was drugged. He hardly drank anything offered him for the same reason.
He was running a fever, as the chain on his leg had rubbed the skin raw and an infection had started. But he was not going to give up. He thought maybe his father and his brother had arrived and were near. He had to get out. He had to somehow trick Walker and get the keys that would free him. He needed a miracle.
His next chance came that evening when Walker brought him a try. This time he started talking to him instead of yelling or cursing him.
“Mr. Walker, I’m sick. I have a fever and an infection in my leg. If you want me to be your son, I need to be well, don’t I? I need a doctor.” Then he said, “Please, Pa.”
Walker said nothing and walked out of the room. Johnny thought he had failed in his attempt, but it was worth a try. Calling him ‘Pa’ almost made Johnny sicker than he already was, but he had to do it.
He didn’t realize it then, but he would get his miracle before the day was over.
Murdoch and Scott wanted out of Walker’s ranch but weren’t ready to leave yet. They decide to ride into town and get a room at the hotel.
Tom Walker was thrilled but had to hide his happiness at the prospect of them leaving, even if only for a short while. He had told his foreman to go for a doctor but to do it secretly. And the man knew better than to ask his boss why so he made sure he took a separate route to town so he wouldn’t run into the Lancer men.
Murdoch and Scott arrived just as Walker’s man left with the Doctor. After getting a room, they went to the telegraph office to let Teresa, Maria, and the others know they were Ok and unsure when they would be back. Nothing was said about Johnny in the telegram. There is nothing they could say.
Johnny heard the key in the lock and in came Walker and another man. The man was introduced to Johnny as the Doctor he’d asked for.
The Doctor looked Johnny over and left some medicine for him with Tom Walker, then he started to leave the room. The whole time he was treating him, Johnny waited for him to ask what was going on, but he acted as if finding a boy chained to a wall in a locked cold room was ordinary.
“Doctor, what the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you see I’m a prisoner here? I’m sick and need help to get out of here. My name’s Johnny Lancer and my father and brother may be here or in town. Please go to them for me, go to the Sheriff and have Walker arrested. He thinks I’m his dead son,” Johnny begged the man for help, but he left the room with Walker and said nothing in response.
After a few minutes, Walker came back into the room. “Now, Tommy, you shouldn’t have told the Doctor such lies. I’ll be back in a while with your food and medicine.”
Johnny started cursing, but Walker just left and locked the door. The boy was near tears and once again called to his father to come and take him home.
Murdoch and his oldest son left the hotel and walked to a restaurant for dinner. They ate in silence, each lost in his own dark thoughts. A man came in and went to the bar and started drinking. He seemed to be trying to drown himself in alcohol.
The bartender seemed to know the man.
Murdoch heard the bartender ask, “Doc, what’s the matter with you? Why are you doing this and how can I help?”
The Doctor started to cry and replied, “ I took money from a man I’ve known for 29 years, and in doing so, I condemned a boy to die”.
Murdoch and Scott jumped up from their chairs.
Murdoch reached the Doctor first. “Are you really a Doctor? If you are, I need to know about the boy who’s sick. I’m Murdoch Lancer and my boy Johnny has been missing for 5 weeks with no trace of him. Tom Walker told us my Johnny died in a fire.”
When the Doctor didn’t answer him, the big man grabbed him by the neck and told him if he did not tell the truth, he would choke him till he died. The drunken man seemed to sober up instantly and gave the men the answers they needed.
Within 30 minutes, Murdoch, Scott, the Doctor, and the Sheriff were on their way to the Walker ranch.
Walker was just unlocking the door to John’s prison when he saw who was coming. He tried to run, but he didn’t take another step when Murdoch stopped him in his tracks and shook him hard.
“Where’s my son? I know you have him and I swear if he’s hurt, I will kill you.”
Walker looked past Lancer and begged the Sheriff to help him. “You know me, Sheriff. I’ve been here for years and helped the town grow with my money. Now this man is lying, his son was killed, and he will not accept it.”
Murdoch, Scott, the Doctor, and the Sheriff were shouting at each other, trying to be heard. As they grew louder and louder, Johnny realized the door was unlocked and open. He used what strength he had and called to his father and brother though he felt they could not have heard him.
Suddenly Murdoch heard the voice of his boy calling for him. Seeing the door open, he ran into the room and ran to his son. The Doctor followed Scott and, using the key he took from Walker, opened the leg chain.
Murdoch held his boy in his arms, hugging him. Holding his face in his hands and kissing his forehead, Murdoch cried and comforted his son, rocking him back and forth. He picked the boy up in his arms and carried him into Walker’s house. He laid him on the couch while the Doctor grabbed blankets and brought hot water.
“Pa, I knew you would find me. I love you, please take me home. I want to go home.”
Scott held his brother’s hand. “Little brother, I’ll make sure you get home and stay there and stay safe.”
“Boston, I am counting on you for just that,” Johnny smiled up at him.
While the Sheriff took Walker to jail, Murdoch and Scott took one of Walker’s wagons to bring Johnny into town to properly treat his wounds. Murdoch held Johnny in the back of the wagon as they rode out of the ranch that had been his boy’s prison for almost 6 weeks.
As they rode, Murdoch talked to Johnny. “Son, I am so sorry this happened to you. I should have taken you back with me when I left. Tom must have lost his mind when Tommy died. I almost lost you, John, and I will never ever let you go. I love you with all my heart. Please forgive me for bringing this man into your life.”
“Pa, there is nothing to forgive. It wasn’t your fault, please believe me. You remember the dream I had about you believing I was dead and how you walked away as I called to you. That dream didn’t come true and the reason it didn’t was because you loved me enough to know I was still alive and needed you. The best thing that ever happened in my life was the day you found me and brought me home again.”
Johnny fell asleep in his father’s arms. Murdoch held him tight and kissed his forehead, then he prayed to God, thanking him for giving his young son back to him.
It had been three weeks since the family returned home to Lancer. Johnny was much better and his ankle was almost healed.
Murdoch received word that Tom Walker went before a judge and was found to be insane. Two days after he arrived at the asylum, he was found dead in his cell. He had hung himself.
Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny all thought it was probably for the best and that Tom was now back with his Tommy forever.
Christmas was just 3 weeks away and Teresa had the house almost ready for the decorations that she loved to put up. As the snow started to fall, Johnny sat at the window, loving how everything was now white and beautiful. Murdoch sat beside him and put his arm around him.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Pa?” he said as he watched the snowflakes.
“Yes, son, it is and so is our family. Let’s go see what Maria made us for dinner tonight.”
Murdoch, Johnny, Scott, and Teresa walked into the Dining Room happy for their own peace and joy that was God’s gift to them.
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