A companion story to The Hunter
* Death of a major character
Word count: 1,977
The lean blond man rode slowly up to the white house which had been his home for nearly four years. Swinging one long leg up over the pommel he dismounted, tied his horse to the rail and made his way inside the somewhat cooler hacienda. As expected, his father was waiting for him at the massive desk which the Scotsman used as the business center of his vast holdings.
“You took long enough. Did you get the money?” The grey-haired man asked without even looking up.
Scott threw the money on the desk, but said nothing, his throat too constricted to speak.
Murdoch carefully picked up the money, smoothed the folded corner of one bill and then locked it into a metal strong box which he kept in the lower drawer. Then he looked up at his older son. “Where’s Johnny? You didn’t let him stay in town, did you? I know he’s been seeing that Fernandez girl, but there’s work to be done.”
Scott took a deep breath. “Johnny’s dead, Murdoch. He was shot by some kid in a gun fight.”
The older man stared at Scott, his face emotionless. “How. . .did Val arrest him?”
“It was a fair fight. I. . .was there. The kid was good. He rode off while I was tending to Johnny. There was nothing to be done,” he confessed in a shaky voice.
“You were there and you let your brother die?” Murdoch took to his feet, letting the palms of his hands rest on the desk.
“I tried to persuade Johnny to walk away, but you know how stubborn he could be. He was sure he could take him.” Scott wiped his sweating palms on his denims. “He just wouldn’t listen. He kept saying he could take him – – that he was still the fastest.”
Murdoch sat down. “My son. . .he was only 27. He hadn’t lost that much speed in his draw,” he whispered to himself. Looking up into the cool blue eyes, he asked, “Where is he?”
“At the undertaker’s place. I wasn’t sure. . .I thought you’d want to arrange the service and with this heat, it would be better. . . .”
The Scotsman waved off what Scott had intended to say. The weather had been appallingly hot and the undertaker had an old ice house that he used. “I’ll ride in immediately and take care of things. Don’t say anything to Teresa or anyone. I’ll handle it.”
“Don’t you think you should wait until tomorrow? It will be dark soon,” Scott suggested softly.
The tall rancher looked out the French doors. He hadn’t realized how late it was. “Perhaps you’re right. I. . .I can’t do anything anyway. I’ll ride out at first light. I have to collect some. . .clothes for him.”
“I’ll do that. You need to talk to Teresa.”
The big man just nodded then started to walk towards the kitchen before stopping. “You’re sure it was a fair fight?”
“Lots of people saw it. You can ask them if you don’t believe me.”
“It’s just. . .it’s just he was always so fast.”
“There’s always someone faster. I think Johnny forgot that since he’s been here at the ranch.”
Scott carefully folded the red shirt and the black pants with their silver medallions before putting them in a carpetbag. There would be no need for boots. The choice had been easy since these particular clothes always meant “Johnny” to him. His younger brother hadn’t been all that interested in clothes; indeed he had made fun of his older sibling, the dandy from Boston. In the end it had been Scott who had compromised. The suits he had brought with him had disappeared along with the mock Hardee hat.
With the clothes safely tucked away, Scott allowed himself to sit on Johnny’s bed. With one fingertip he smoothed the pillow on the bed. It wasn’t all that long ago that he and Johnny had indulged in a monumental pillow fight over who would squire Lucy Williams to the Saturday dance. Murdoch had been furious to see the cloud of feathers, but they had enjoyed themselves. Rolling about in the feathers, Scott had used one to tickle the younger man. It was as if they were making up for the days they had never had together when young.
Picking up the small carpetbag, Scott could hear the sound of crying coming from the direction of Teresa’s bedroom. For a moment he thought of going to be with her, but Murdoch wouldn’t welcome that. Most likely he would ask Maria to sit with the distraught young woman. Like most men, Murdoch Lancer didn’t like to see his womenfolk in tears.
Carrying the bag, he walked into the great room where he found his father drinking what appeared to be scotch. After a large gulp, the big man huskily announced, “I told her.”
Scott just nodded. That had been obvious. “I picked out the red shirt and black pants. It seemed more appropriate than his one suit.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Murdoch took another drink. “He never was a dandy, not like you, but then he wasn’t Harlan Garrett’s heir, was he?”
“My clothes were proper for Boston,” the blond tried to protest.
Murdoch slammed the cut glass tumbler on the table. “Boston! I hate that word! Lot of stuffed shirts who treat everyone else like they’re dirt. I’m just as good as any of them. Look what I’ve built and I didn’t have family to make it easy for me!”
“I know that, sir,” Scott whispered as he tried to placate his grieving father.
Murdoch ignored him as he poured another drink. “I thought that when I invited the two of you out here, this ranch’s future would be secure and now look what has happened!” The rancher rubbed one hand across his eyes. “I just don’t understand what makes a man so reckless with his life. I gave that boy everything. He didn’t have to be a gunslinger. He was John Lancer, not Johnny Madrid!”
“He was Johnny Madrid longer than Lancer. It’s. . .difficult to forget your past.”
“And you’d know wouldn’t you? You’re still Garrett’s grandson, aren’t you?”
“And your son in case you’ve forgotten, but even more important I’m Scott. I’m more than just someone’s son or grandson. I had hoped you would have realized that after four years,” Scott proclaimed.
Murdoch stared at the determined face of his older – – his only son. There was so much he didn’t know about the young man, so much he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. “I’ll be leaving at first light. I’ll arrange for the funeral to be held day after tomorrow. Make sure the hands all know and that most of them can attend. It’s the least they can do for my son.”
“Yes, sir.” Without another word Scott headed for his own bedroom where he could grieve privately.
Three months later the heat of summer had faded, leaving behind dust and dried brown grasses. Two or three times a week Teresa would ride to the small cemetery where she would place fresh flowers on the new grave. Sometimes Scott would go with her, but no one knew if Murdoch went on his own. Instead, he threw himself into the work of his ranch, asking more of himself and all who worked there.
Words between Murdoch and Scott were kept to a minimum, centering primarily on work. The only one who openly spoke of Johnny was Teresa; but after awhile even she spoke the dark-haired man’s name in whispers, usually to Scott since Murdoch had been known to walk off when she brought up the subject of the lost son.
Late one autumn day Scott rode in, filthy and angry. Once again he and some of then men had been sent to temporarily repair one of the earthen dams which helped to provide water for Lancer, even in the midst of a drought. The dam’s continual erosion was a definite problem, but for some reason Murdoch didn’t seem interested in doing the extensive repairs that were needed to insure its safety.
Pulling off his gloves as he entered the hacienda, Scott bit at his lip to contain his anger. He had to be cool and calm about presenting his case or his father wouldn’t even bother to listen.
“Did you fix the dam?” Murdoch sat not at his desk, but on the couch with a glass of amber liquid in his hand.
“Yes, but it’s not going to last long. I think we have to face it that that last earthquake we experienced has done more damage than you supposed.”
“Nonsense. I’ve been up there. It’s fine and I’m not going to spend money on it right now. We’re going to need to buy some breeding stock and. . . .”
“If we lose that dam, half of our herd could go thirsty. I think we need to spend the money and make sure it’s safe!” Scott glowered at the smirk on the Scotsman’s face.
“And I say it is safe and when it comes to Lancer, my word goes.” The big man took another drink, savoring its smokiness.
“I’m an equal partner and I say we spend the money!” Scott smacked his gloves against one hand.
“What makes you think you’re an equal partner?” Murdoch asked coolly.
Scott felt a chill run down his spine. “Johnny’s share. . .I thought you and I each owned 50%.”
“You thought wrong. I assume you didn’t read the agreement you signed when I gave you both one-third of Lancer. It says that if either of you predeceased me then your share would revert to me – – to me. So you have one-third and I have two-thirds. I assume you can understand that?”
Scott stood there, speechless. He hadn’t bothered to read the fine print in the agreement.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t protect myself? I was afraid that in a year or two you’d walk off or Johnny would run off and get himself killed. You might even have been persuaded to make a will leaving my ranch to someone else! What kind of businessman would I be to let that happen?”
“I. . .I don’t understand.”
“It’s very simple. While I might have trusted Johnny to handle the ranch with you in the background, I certainly don’t trust you to take over when I die. There’s too much of your grandfather in you and I’d burn the ranch to the ground before I’d let him have any say-so here at Lancer.”
“Do you hate me that much?”
“I just hate what you might become if I let you become sole owner of Lancer.”
“How are you going to stop me? Even you can’t live forever!”
“I’ve arranged for the two sons of my brother in Scotland to come here to live. After a suitable period of time, I will give them one-third of the ranch. When I die, they’ll inherit the other third.”
“You’d trust them over your own son?”
“I said I’ll give them a trial period. They’ve worked hard all their lives. They know what it is to make it on their own. Since Johnny’s. . .death, I’ve been thinking about this. It’s the only way to protect Lancer. You’ve learned a great deal since you came here, but I just can’t take a chance that one day you’ll go back to Boston. Besides, one of them might make Teresa a good husband. That will bind them to the land and me even more.”
Scott stood there, his chest heaving, before he turned to walk out.
Murdoch watched the departing figure before musing, “It will be good having family here I can talk to. I wonder just how much Gaelic I remember.”
To The Hunter —>
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