Word count: 9,800
Jelly Hoskins, foreman of the Lancer ranch had been working in the corral all morning with the new horses. For the better part of the morning he’d worked over the hot forge and had just stood up to stretch his tired back and shoulder muscles. As he wiped the sweat from his eyes he saw in the distance Barranca, the flashy palomino horse owned by the youngest Lancer son – Johnny.
Joyed at seeing the horse ambling along the well-ridden road to the ranch Jelly called out as he ran to the corral gate. “Murdoch! Scott!”
Murdoch Lancer, head of the Lancer family, stopped what he was doing and looked in the direction of his foreman. “Jelly, what is it?”
“He’s home, boss. He’s home,” Jelly cried as he threw the gate open and started to run towards the rider. Murdoch who reached out and grabbed his arm stopped him in his tracks.
“Slow down, Jelly. What are you talking about?”
“Over there,” Jelly pointed. The elation in his voice gave way to one of disbelief when he saw the palomino horse get closer. “Oh, no.”
Before Murdoch had even vocalized his request that Scott go and help his brother; his oldest son had mounted his own horse and was riding in Johnny’s direction. He watched with concern as Barranca maintained an even gait with Johnny slumped in the saddle, his head resting on his horse’s neck. He briefly closed his eyes and swallowed a lump in his throat. His legs were like lead; firmly rooted to the spot where he stood. “Dear God, let him be alright,” Murdoch silently prayed.
Scott reined Johnny’s horse to a halt and eased himself on the saddle behind his brother. All of his efforts to make Johnny aware were to no avail.
“Charlie,” Scott called to one of the ranch hands that had ridden up to see what was going on. “I need you to ride into Spanish Wells and bring back Dr Jenkins. Tell him Johnny’s hurt bad.”
“Sure thing, Scott. I’ll be as fast as I can.” Charlie kicked hard into his mount’s withers and soon had him at a full gallop.
By the time Scott and Johnny had arrived at the house, Murdoch was outside waiting with Jelly and Teresa. They were as anxious now as they had been during the entire time that Johnny had been overdue in returning home.
At Murdoch’s request Johnny had gone to Selenas to bring back the latest acquisition for the Lancer ranch. A Hereford bull. That had been over ten days ago. Now Johnny had returned, beaten, bloody and battered, without the bull. Something had gone terribly wrong
“What happened?” Teresa asked.
“Teresa, get some hot water and clean cloths,” barked Murdoch.
“Not now, Teresa,” said Murdoch over his shoulder as he followed Scott and Jelly to Johnny’s room.
Scott supported Johnny’s weight while Jelly pulled back the bedding. The only sound that Johnny made was a very weak moan, barely audible. “Easy with him, Jelly,” cautioned Scott, protective of his injured brother.
Murdoch watched as Jelly and Scott eased Johnny onto the bed and then took over the ministrations. His work was rewarded with a feeble moan followed by eyes that opened fractionally from Johnny. “That’s the boy, Johnny,” open your eyes encouraged Murdoch.
Johnny opened his eyes and gripped his stomach, trying to quell the rising nausea. Scott who quickly handed Murdoch an empty basin interpreted his actions. After Johnny had emptied what he thought to be the entire contents of his rebelling stomach he flopped limply back against the pillows drifting into oblivion once more. He welcomed the darkness that embraced him and let it wash away all the pain he felt.
“Well, Simon, how’s Johnny?” Murdoch asked. He tried to remain stoic in front of his family but his expression belied his appearance.
Simon finished putting the last of his medical equipment away and cast one more lingering look in Johnny’s direction. He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply before turning his focus on Murdoch. “He’s a very sick boy, Murdoch. He’d lost a lot of blood before I had to operate and as you know he lost more during that. The next twenty-four hours will be the most critical.”
Scott stood in stunned silence, not wanting to believe that he was so close to losing the brother whom he’d just come to know.
“Come on Johnny, you gotta fight. I’m not going to lose you. Not now, brother,” Scott muttered to himself.
“C’mon, Scott, let’s go downstairs and let Johnny get some rest,” Murdoch said, pulling himself away from his youngest son’s bedside. “I’ll be back soon,” he said in a departing shot. He saw Dr Jenkins nod and pulled the door closed behind him.
Murdoch and Scott entered the lounge; both wore long faces etched with worry. Silently they moved to opposite ends of the expansive room. Scott sat on the couch with knees drawn to his chest and his head resting on his hands. Murdoch had opted to sit behind his desk and gaze disinterestedly out to the lush grounds and rolling hills of Lancer. Both were lost in their own thoughts of the man that they had come to know and love – a son and a brother.
‘For so long I’ve waited for him to come home to me. It wasn’t through the want of trying; I just didn’t know where to look next. It broke my heart my heart the day that his mother took him away from – away from the home he was born in. Don’t let me lose him now,’ Murdoch silently prayed, willing the powers that be to watch over and protect his son. He leant his elbows on his desk and pressed his forehead into his upturned palms. He sighed deeply and rubbed his wary eyes with his fingertips.
“Here, Murdoch, drink this,” Teresa offered, breaking the man she had come to love as a father out of his reverie. “Take it,” she insisted when he looked at the cup and turned away once more.
“I can’t… can’t take this,” Murdoch said despondently.
Teresa didn’t know if he mean the drink or the situation. “Murdoch, please. It will help you feel better. Johnny’s going to need you to be strong for him…”
The last of Teresa’s words went unnoticed by Murdoch. He’d returned to his earlier post of looking out the window at the long shadows made by the late afternoon sun. He noticed the colours of early dusk creeping in and once more buried his face in his hands. “Dear, God, why?” he asked, his voice burdened with defeat.
Murdoch thought back to a time not long after Johnny had come to live at Lancer. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth when he remembered the sheer exhilaration on Johnny’s face when they both chased down a stand of wild horses. He also remembered with sadness when Pardee had gunned down Johnny. When he saw Johnny fall from Barranca, it was as if a part of him had also fallen that day.
He had been joyed to see Johnny return to Lancer, clearing the doubt from his own mind that his youngest son had turned his back on his family. The relief of seeing Johnny return quickly turned to fear when he was certain that Johnny had been killed. Despair haunted him once more as he thought of Johnny lying so ill in his room. Murdoch roughly pushed his chair away from his desk and started to walk towards Johnny’s room.
Teresa and Jelly were both startled by Murdoch’s sudden movement and stood as he walked by. “Murdoch, wait,” pleaded Teresa, “the doctor said he would be out to see us as soon as he was ready.”
Murdoch shrugged her hand off his arm. “I need to see him for myself,” he said as he tried to convince himself that Johnny would be okay.
“Scott?” Teresa called.
“Let him go, Teresa. He knows what he’s doing.”
“Does he, Scott?” Teresa asked, her voice tinged with fear. She watched as Scott turned his head away from her and resumed staring at the dark wood of the coffee table. She knew that she had lost Scott to his own thoughts as she had lost Murdoch earlier.
“Good shooting,” Johnny grinned through gritted teeth as he tried to fight the searing pain of the bullet that had struck his left side. He could still see the smile that Johnny had flashed him when he sat with his back against the tree while the rest of Pardee’s men left Lancer. He snorted at the memory of Johnny being so doggedly determined to walk back to the house by himself and how Johnny had collapsed within six steps. ‘Oh Johnny’ … he thought with a sigh.
Murdoch opened the door to Johnny’s room and walked in to see the doctor place his stethoscope on Johnny’s chest once more. “How is he?” He watched as the doctor took a breath and exhaled slowly. The knot in his stomach tied itself even tighter. He had thought of all the things that could have possibly gone wrong. He’d berated himself for not sending someone out earlier to search for Johnny. Was it too late?
The doctor sighed and looked up at Murdoch. He saw the pain etched into the older man’s deep blue orbs – the drawn and tired features of his face. “Johnny has been very lucky – so far.”
“But?” Scott prompted as he entered the room. He fought hard to keep his voice steady and show Murdoch the confidence that he had in the skilled man of medicine before them both.
“But,” the doctor sighed and lowered his eyes back towards his unconscious patient. “Johnny has lost a lot of blood. His injuries alone would have been enough to kill a weaker man. As I said before he is a very sick young man.” The doctor went on to disclose the list of injuries that Johnny had sustained. “Whoever was responsible for this brutal attack on him, nearly succeeded in killing him.”
Murdoch felt a lump catch in the back of his throat – one that he recognized as anguish mixed with guilt. He looked at Scott and saw him also fight a lump that refused to stay hidden. He ran his right hand over his face and bit down hard on his bottom lip. He wouldn’t lose his composure now. Not yet. There would be a time and place for that – the sanctuary of his own room.
“There is a great deal of hope,” the doctor continued quietly, ” he was in excellent physical condition before this happened. His will to live has not left him. He still fights to live. He’s young and he’s strong. He’s had to be to make it this far.”
“But he still may die,” Scott said, vocalizing the words that Murdoch could not bring himself to.
Jenkins sighed. “The next twenty-four hours are critical, as I’ve already told you, but…. I think it would be best to prepare for the possibility that Johnny may not make it.”
“Nooooo,” cried Teresa, tears ran freely down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms tightly around her lithe frame and sobbed openly. Her body wracked by pain filled sobs.
Scott embraced Teresa, much for his sake as her own. He knew that the hold Johnny had on life at present was tangible one at best, for his own solace he held tightly to Teresa and prayed quietly.
Murdoch was frustrated. For the first time in his life he had no control over anything. His own body threatened to deceive him by crumpling into the nearest chair.
“Well, Doctor,” Jelly interrupted in a sharp tone, “I for one am not giving up on Johnny Lancer. No sirree! You can say what you want, but… but I’m not gonna give up. Johnny’s a fighter, he’ll prove you wrong.”
“I certainly hope he does, Jelly. If ever there is a time that I would like to be proved wrong it is now, but…” Jenkins trailed off and touched Jelly’s arm. “I want you to know that I’ll do everything humanly possible to save Johnny’s life.”
The sincere look in the doctor’s eyes conveyed to Jelly the truth of the words that he spoke. Jelly knew without a doubt that Jenkins would do everything possible to save the life of his young friend. The sincere look in Jenkins’s eyes was all that Jelly needed. Confirmatiuon that Jenkins would indeed see that Johnny got well.
Jelly finally persuaded Teresa to go with him, leaving Murdoch and Scott alone with Johnny. “C’mon what say you and me go and do somethin’ about gettin’ some dinner ready. And fix Doc Jenkins a room up for the night. If that’s okay with you, boss.”
“Yes. Yes of course, forgive me; Doctor, my manners seem to be amiss. You’re more than welcome to spend the night,” confirmed Murdoch.
Jenkins gave Murdoch a small smile and nodded his head. “Completely understandable, Mr Lancer. I thank you for your hospitality. It would make it easier for me to be here and check on Johnny. I will be downstairs if you need me.””
Without protest, Teresa went with Jelly, almost relieved to be able to not see Johnny in so much pain. “I’ll be back later,” she said as she departed the room. Murdoch nodded in the affirmative and gave her a small smile. Her own lips twitched a moment in a small smile before she bit her top lip to hold back her silent tears.
“Why, Scott? Why does your brother’s past keep coming back to haunt him?” Murdoch asked, his blue eyes fixed intensely on Johnny as if trying to find the answers hidden within.
Scott placed his right hand on Murdoch’s shoulder, the simple touch conveyed more than words could say. “We don’t know that it was someone from his past. It could have been any number of things. Robbery could have been a motive. More than like a case of Johnny being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I guess you’re right,” Murdoch responded, his voice thick with emotion. It hurt him to see his youngest son struggle for his life; fight for every breath.
Johnny looked awful. His raven black hair was damp with sweat and fell across his forehead. His normally tanned features were as white as the pillowslip that his head lay on, his eyes sunken in, underlined by dark circles. Chrisp white bandages swathed his torso, a sling held his left arm firmly against his chest with his fingers curled over his right shoulder, and pillows cushioned his left leg that had been splinted. When the swelling had eased enough the broken bones would be set in a cast. Another white bandage had been carefully wrapped around his head wound – the injury that had concerned the doctor most of all.
“How did he make it back?” asked the older man. He sat heavily in the ornate chair next to Johnny’s bed and clasped his son’s right hand between his own powerful and weathered hands.
“Willpower. Determination,” Scott supplied in clipped one-word sentences.
“Any other man would have died. Given up hope. Resigned himself to….” Murdoch faltered. He was slowly losing the battle within himself to remain stoic.
Scott edged closer to the bed and kept his gaze on Johnny. “Not Johnny, Murdoch. You… we know him better than that. These past two years have shown us that. He won’t give up without first putting up a good fight.”
Murdoch watched Johnny for what seemed hours… waiting for a sign – praying that Johnny would come back to them.
Scott had remained silent during their vigil only moving to change the now heated compresses for cooler ones. He prayed that his brother would have the strength to fight the fever that raged uncontrollably in his body. “You can’t leave me now, brother,” he whispered when he saw Johnny draw a ragged breath. “I don’t know what I would do without you.” Heavily he sat back down in his chair, laced his fingers together and rested his head on his hands. He waited.
As the first rays of dawn gently caressed the Sierras and her fingers spread light to the low lands of Lancer, Teresa quietly entered Johnny’s room, wishing that somehow a miracle had occurred and Johnny would be all right. Her presence only startled Murdoch and Scott who had both succumbed to their own body’s desire for sleep.
“Teresa?” Murdoch asked, alarmed by her movements beside him. He tried to sit up but fumbled as his body made uncoordinated attempts at such a simple task. Though his mind was active, his body failed him and wouldn’t move, as he’d wanted it to.
“It’s okay, Murdoch,” said Teresa with more confidence than she felt. “I just came in to see if Johnny was awake yet.” She looked at Johnny then back to Murdoch. “How are you feeling?” she asked, and helped him to sit up properly in the chair. She drew the curtains, allowing the hues of gold and dawn-tinted pink to filter into the room. “I brought you some coffee,” she smiled. “His temperature is down some,” she added as she replaced the cloth for a cooler one.
Murdoch reached down and enfolded Johnny’s hand in his own. “I was hoping for some change,” he said.
“It’s too soon to expect any significant change,” Jenkins responded as he entered the room. Doctor Jenkins checked on his patient. Satisfied that Johnny had not gotten any worse during the night; he turned and looked at the two weary men before him. “Why don’t you go and get some real sleep, I’ll call if you if there’s any change.”
“I’d rather be here…” Murdoch started to say, but stopped when he saw Jenkins raise his hand.
“That wasn’t a suggestion. You’re both asleep on your feet and you won’t be any help to Johnny let alone myself if you don’t get some rest. Now go.” Jenkins’s tone was firm.
Murdoch fixed the doctor with steely eyes and was about to rebuke when he felt Scott tug on his shirtsleeve. “Come on, you know the doctor’s right. We won’t be any use at all to Johnny like this.”
“You will call me, if anything happens?” asked Murdoch.
“Murdoch? Murdoch?” called a distant voice. He turned over and tried to ignore it. It relentlessly called his name over and over. “Get Scott or Johnny to sort it out,” he mumbled, and pulled the bedcovers tight around his shoulders.
“Please wake up,” Teresa insisted. Out of desperation she pulled back the covers.
The sudden coldness against his skin woke him from his deep slumber. Murdoch squinted his eyes and rubbed away the tell tale signs of sleep. “Teresa?” he asked, still half asleep. Finally registering as to why Teresa would be in his room he sat bolt upright. “JOHNNY!” he cried in anguish.
“He’s alright, Murdoch,” placated Teresa. “He’s starting to come round,” she added enthusiastically.
“Thank God,” Murdoch said in appreciation. With Teresa’s help he quickly found his clothes and dressed. “Bets tell Scott the good news,” he smiled and tucked his shirt into his trousers.
Jenkins leaned over Johnny and peered into his eyes. “Johnny, look at me,” coaxed Jenkins. He could see Johnny’s eyes threatening to slam shut again.
Johnny hadn’t been conscious enough to recognize the presence of the other people in the room. He could barely focus on the voice that was so insistent that he responded and opened his eyes. “Who are you?” Johnny asked he tried to focus, unsuccessfully, tried to move but a vile sick feeling washed over him. Hands held him down – his energy spent he lay back against the pillows.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” urged Murdoch and released his gently grip on Johnny’s right arm.
“You know me?” Johnny asked, his voice edged with fear. He was hot and couldn’t think straight. He tried to rid his mouth of the metallic taste while he tried to put things into perspective. Unfamiliar faces and voices. “Do I know you?” he gasped out, fear and uneasiness motivating him to sit up. He remembered vaguely being injured, the bandages attesting to his fragmented memories; everything else was lost to him in an impenetrable darkness.
Murdoch cast Jenkins a concerned glance and stepped back while the doctor resumed his examination. The unspoken words that passed between them spoke volumes. Murdoch watched as Johnny fought to remain conscious.
Bright light now filtered into the room and Johnny squinted against it. He tried to focus on his surroundings – a survival instinct that had kicked in. His mind screamed with confusion, the people in front of him knew him but he couldn’t place them. Johnny lay back and closed his eyes, trying in vain to make sense of what was happening to him. Mental images swirled in his scrambled mind – pictures of people, another time, and another place. Not the ones he saw now. Unable to concentrate any longer he let his body slip back to the warm and welcomed embrace of sleep.
“Murdoch?” Teresa felt herself begin to shake in fear. “Is he…” she struggled with the words that refused to come.
Jenkins looked at Teresa and nodded. “He’s asleep. It’s expected. Hs body needs time to heal itself and sleep is a good cure.” He resumed his ministrations, taking his time with the head wound. He cleaned the deep gash and redressed it with fresh bandages.
“What just happened then,” Murdoch said, keeping his eyes locked on Johnny, “is that normal?”
“With head injuries like Johnny’s it does happen – sometimes. It’s still too early for me to tell. It could be a combination of the pain killers with his fever making him confused or.”
“It could be amnesia,” Scott supplied, finishing the doctor’s observations. “If it’s amnesia what are the chances of it being permanent?”
The doctor looked at the fair-haired Lance son and sighed. “We’ll know more when Johnny wakes up,” Jenkins acquiesced. “For now, we wait.”
It was a few hours later when Murdoch saw Johnny start to show signs of wakening. He readied the Laudanum as he had been instructed to by Jenkins and patiently waited.
Johnny slowly drifted back to consciousness. If it were possible to feel any worse than the last time he had awoken this would be the time to rival that feeling. He attempted to move his head and found the concept of moving a bad idea. He groaned in agony and half opened his eyes.
“Here, drink this,” Murdoch said, and held out the measured does of Laudanum.
“Thanks,” Johnny replied his voice thick and hoarse. “Where am I?”
Remembering what the doctor had told him about not overloading Johnny with information, Murdoch answered the question. “You’re at our … my ranch, Lancer.”
“Lancer,” Johnny repeated quietly, and rolled the name round in his mind. Somehow he felt that he should know the name but couldn’t place it. “How did I get here?” he asked between painful bouts of coughing. Each time he coughed his ribs ached in protest.
“Let me help you,” offered Murdoch and helped Johnny to lie in a reclined position with an extra pillow under his shoulders. “Better?”
Johnny merely nodded as another coughing attack assaulted him. He wrapped his right arm around his ribs and winced.
The expressions on his face told Murdoch he was in a great deal of pain. “Easy. It’ll pass… just try and relax.” He was relieved to see Scott enter the room and beckoned him over.
“I thought I heard voices,” Scott smiled. His smiled quickly vanished when he saw his brother in so much agony. “Can I help?”
“Scott, go and get Jenkins,” ordered Murdoch.
“I’ll be back soon, brother,” Scott uttered and spun on his heel.
When Johnny was breathing more freely, Murdoch tried to pick up on the thread of their conversation. “What do you remember? About being here, your accident or even yourself?” he asked, hoping to jog Johnny’s memory a little.
Johnny cast his mind back to being shot. Everything was hazy. He could remember pieces, flashes of pictures of the past. Another time. Another place. His last discernible memory was fighting in a range war, the rest were fragments. “Clint, Spike. I think my name is Madrid,” he mumbled. His voice trailed off as he tried to put the disjointed pictures in his mind together. He knew there was more. He saw friends around him shot and killed; their cries of anguish penetrated his mind. “NO!” he cried unable to withstand the torment that ravaged his own mind, the terrifying fragments of past events. He closed his mind against the vivid memories, hoping to bury them where they belonged. In his heart he knew that these flashes were glimpses of his past, a grisly part of his life. The part of his life that tortured him even more was now. The present.
“Johnny?” Murdoch called anxiously.
“I’m okay … just a little tired,” responded Johnny. He rubbed his right hand across his left shoulder, trying to massage where it ached most. He looked up at Murdoch, bewilderment evident on his features. “That …, that man that was here …the one you called Scott. Uh .. Why did he call me ‘brother’? Are we related?”
Before Murdoch could answer, Doctor Jenkins entered the room closely followed by Scott, Teresa and Jelly.
“Good to see you awake again,” Jenkins said as he tried to keep his tone buoyant. “I thought that you were planning on sleeping the whole day away. Now tell me, how many fingers do you see,” he prompted while he held up two fingers twenty centimetres from Johnny’s face.
“Depend on which hand you’re holding up,” answered Johnny. He sighed warily and rested his head back against the pillows.
Jenkins took his stethoscope from his bag and placed it on Johnny’s chest. Murdoch could tell by Jenkins’s expression that he was not happy with what he heard or what he saw. “Johnny, are you feeling any worse since the first time you woke? Any ringing in your ears?”
“First time?” Johnny coughed. “Mmm., there is a ringing sound… my head aches … and my chest is sore.”
“That is to be expected,” Jenkins grimaced. “You got yourself a nasty concussion, which hopefully will clear itself soon.”
“What about my memory, Doc? When will that come back?” Johnny asked, his voice rising a notch at the realization that he may never get his memory back.
“Johnny, I honestly don’t know. It could be an hour, a week, or a year. I just don’t know,” Jenkins somberly replied.
Johnny looked at the doctor, then at each person in the room. Willing himself to remember them. Wondering what his connection was to each of them. “So what happens now?” he finally asked.
“I know it’s hard for you right now, Johnny, but you need to get your rest. Hopefully things will be clearer later on. It will be okay,” placated Jenkins.
“Do you? Do you know how hard it is for me right now? Have you been through what I’m going through?” Johnny demanded, his voice raised.
“No. I haven’t experienced amnesia,” the doctor replied, trying desperately to keep his own frustrations under control.
Johnny covered his eyes with this right hand and with his thumb and middle finger, massaged his temples as if trying to rub his headache away. Gaining little relief from his actions he withdrew his hand and pushed himself to a semi sitting position on the bed. “Well how can you sit there and tell me that everything will be okay,” he spat vehemently.
“Calm down, Johnny!” Murdoch barked his tone more harsh than he had intended.
Unfazed by Murdoch’s tone, Johnny continued his tirade. “Don’t tell me to calm down. I can’t! I don’t know whom you are, who they are or how I got here. Am I working for you? Am I your prisoner? Tell me. Somebody tell me.” Beads of sweat trickled down his face in tiny rivulets, stinging his eyes as it made contact.
“Doctor?” Murdoch asked in desperation. He knew that his youngest son needed answers but was afraid that too much information at once could be detrimental.
“Murdoch it’s too soon to overload him with everything. It could affect his recovery.”
“Simon, can’t we at least tell him what he wants to know,” insisted Murdoch.
“Would you stop talking about me as though I’m not here. I need to know. Please tell me.”
Murdoch heard the quite pleading tone of his youngest son and sadly shook his head. “Detrimental or not, Johnny had a right to know.”
Scott watched his brother intently. Johnny’s expression had once more become unreadable as he waited to hear something that might free the suppressed memories. “Tell him,” agreed Scott.
Jenkins relented and signaled for Murdoch to divulge some important details.
“Johnny, you asked before why Scott called you ‘brother’. He is your brother and I am your father. Lancer is your home and your name,” Murdoch said. He stopped when he saw Johnny visibly pale before his eyes. He had expected some reaction to the news but not what he witnessed. “Johnny?”
Johnny raised his hand to stop Murdoch talking. He had thought he would be told something simple like who he was where he’d come from. The concept of finding out he was part of a family had thrown him completely. “But my name is Madrid,” he uttered, confusion in his voice.
“It was,” Murdoch smiled, “but you go by Lancer now.”
“No,” rebuked Johnny and shook his head in disbelief. An action he regretted doing. “I don’t believe you. It’s some kind of a trap.”
Jenkins shot Murdoch an angry look. “I told you it was too soon. This sort of thing can’t be rushed.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe?” admonished Jenkins, offended by Murdoch’s off handed reply.
Murdoch pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Johnny, I’m sorry.”
“Please, just get out. I don’t know what to think,” Johnny ground out between gritted teeth. He inhaled sharply, and wrapped his free arm around his ribs. “Arggghhhh,” he moaned.
“I’ll have to ask you to leave,” Jenkins said, and turned his attention to his patient. After administering another dose of laudanum, he waited for Johnny to go to sleep before he returned down stairs.
“How is he?” Teresa asked when Jenkins made an appearance.
“It would be best if we left him alone for a while. Let him sleep. He’s still got a fever and apart from being agitated is also very exhausted,” Jenkins supplied, not daring to look at Murdoch. He knew that he shouldn’t have chastised the older man as he had. In his heart he knew that Murdoch was only trying to help, to encourage his son to remember recent events. Too much information too soon could do more damage than good.
Murdoch gazed miserably at the papers on his desk and nodded his understanding. Scott who made an excuse of going to his room to get a book finally broke the ensuing silence. On his way to his room he heard movement come from Johnny’s room.
Johnny in his drug-induced state has gotten himself out of bed and tried to dress himself, the splint on his left leg made it difficult to get his jeans on. He wavered slightly when he felt the room begin to spin. He fought the rising threat of nausea and silently cursed at his inability to function properly.
His curiosity piqued, Scott entered the room to find out what the noise was that he’d heard. Alarmed at seeing Johnny out of bed, Scott rushed to his side. “What are you doing?”
“I can’t stay here.”
“What do you mean you can’t stay here? You have to, this is your home.”
“So everyone keeps reminding me.”
“You’re not well enough to be out of bed, you’ll kill yourself.” Scott continued to argue. It hurt him to see his brother so helpless, though at the same time he admired his stubbornness to do things for himself as he always had done in the past.
“Maybe it will save whoever did this to me a job. How do I know it wasn’t you?” Johnny hissed.
Dumbfounded at Johnny’s cutting remark, Scott instinctively stepped back. “Johnny don’t be absurd. How could you think something like that?”
“What did that old man call you? Scott, wasn’t it?” not letting Scott have a chance to answer he continued. “Well, Scott, until I can get some answers I’m safer away from here.” “And just how are you going to manage that? I’ll get the person or persons who did this to you. I’m your brother. Johnny, let me help you,” Scott pleaded.
Johnny shook his head in effort to clear the darkness that threatened to close in on him. “You keep saying that but how do I know that? I don’t recall my mother ever having more than one kid. You don’t look like you’ve lived your life around the border towns of Mexico.”
“You’re right. I haven’t. I grew up in Boston,” Scott replied and carefully watched Johnny’s unsteady movements.
“Boston?” Johnny repeated his voice low. He looked at Scott and leaned heavily on the bedside table when a partial flash of a memory surfaced. “You ride pretty good Boston”.
Concerned at Johnny’s growing unsteadiness, Scott reached his hand out to him and briefly made contact with his shoulder. “You okay?”
Before Johnny could answer he pitched forward, Scott grabbed him just before his head made contact with the table. Supporting Johnny’s limp body, he maneuvered him back into bed, and called for Murdoch and Jenkins.
Exhausted and unable to think clearly, Johnny collapsed back against Scott. In his fatigued state he repeated one name over and over. Clint. “Hurts, Clint …tired…CLINT!”
“Shhhh, Johnny. Relax,” soothed Murdoch. He took a cool cloth he gently wiped Johnny’s flushed face with long slow strokes.
“Who’s Clint?” Jenkins asked.
“From what I know, Clint was part of a gang that Johnny used to ride with. I met him when he came to Murro Coyo. It was about the time you became President of the CCGA wasn’t it?” Scott asked, directing his question at Murdoch.
“Yes, that’s right. But I didn’t get to spend any time with Johnny’s friends – I would’ve liked to have done. Selfish reasons I guess, being able to find out a little more of Johnny and his past.”
Jenkins took a moment form what he was doing and studied both Murdoch and Scott. “To have someone here from Johnny’s past could be the catalyst to open up the lost memories. It could be a long shot, but anything is better than nothing – especially for Johnny. If he keeps going like he is, he will kill himself.”
Without being asked, Scott went downstairs and found Jelly. He explained to him the importance of finding Clint and asked if Johnny had confided in him any knowledge of Clint’s whereabouts.
“Leave it to me, I’ll find him,” Jelly eagerly replied, happy at last to do something that could help Johnny. “I’ll leave at first light,” he called over his shoulder and left the room to prepare his saddlebags.
Satisfied that Jelly would not be around to interfere with his own plans, Scott readied his own equipment. He carefully checked his rifle and the extra ammunition; made sure that he had enough food and water supplies and packed his bedroll.
‘I promised you that I would get the man that hurt you, brother, and that promise I intend to keep,’ Scott spoke to himself. He scribbled a note and left it on Murdoch’s desk.
I made Johnny a promise and that promise I aim to keep. Jelly has gone to find Clint; hopefully it will help Johnny remember.
Keep him safe.
He glanced once more at the stairs before he left. “Get better soon, brother,” he said, his voice low.
Jelly had ridden into Green Valley and had been told that the person that he was looking for was trail driving in Spanish Wells. It had taken a while but he’d managed to locate Clint Martin and the crew he rode with. At first Clint was suspicious of Jelly and had thought that the old ranch hand was trying to find out some information about Johnny – information that he did not want to give.
“Please, you have to come,” pleaded Jelly for what seemed like tenth time in as many minutes. When he saw Clint finally relent, he breathed an audible sigh of relief. “How soon can you leave?”
“Is he awake, Murdoch?” Teresa asked and put down the tray that Maria had prepared.
Murdoch glanced up at Teresa and shook his head. “No, he’s still asleep. The doctor said that the rest will do him good.”
Together the pair kept vigil over Johnny, sponging his damp forehead and administered the medicines as they had been instructed to. It was sometime later when Murdoch was alerted to soft groans that came from Johnny. He watched as Johnny’s eyes scanned the room before they finally settled on him. “Well, it’s about time you came back from the dead,” Murdoch smiled and quickly checked the bandages on Johnny’s arm for any more seepage. “How are you feeling now?”
“Like I’ve been set on by a herd of bulls,” coughed Johnny, his words cracking, brittle with dryness as he spoke. “Still don’t remember anything,” Johnny forestalled Murdoch when he saw the expectant look in his eyes.
“You will in time,” the older man assured his son.
A rap at the door interrupted the silence that followed. “Is it to late for visitors?” Jelly asked as he poked his head around the doorframe. “I’ve got some fellas here that are mighty anxious to see Johnny.”
“Well, send them on in,” replied Johnny, in a disinterested tone.
“Is that any way to greet an old friend? The person that dragged you back to health on countless occasions… well okay maybe not countless but there was a few.”
“Clint?” Johnny asked, unsure if it was his long time friend in front of him.
“Of course it’s me. Who were you expecting? Father Christmas?”
“I can’t believe it… it really is you. I thought you had been killed down near Crossed Plains, in a range war…” Johnny’s voice trailed off as he took in the man before him. For a dead man he looked really good.
Clint moved closer to Johnny’s bed and gently embraced him in a hug. “Does this look or feel dead to you?”
“Naw you can’t kill weeds, you should know that, Johnny.” Another voice called from the doorway.
Johnny pushed himself away from Clint and studied the latest arrival. His gaze continued to shift between Clint and Murdoch and then back to the doorway. “Spike, is that you?”
Spike moved to the end of the bed and held the wooden rail. “Gee, Johnny, you sure must a got hit on the head purty hard iffen you can’t remember us.”
“Yeah, I reckon I must have.”
“Spike sometimes you ain’t got the brains that God gave a turnip,” admonished Clint. He could see how much Johnny was struggling to remember and quickly changed the subject. “So what did you do to yourself this time?” he mentally kicked himself when he realized that he had made his own blunder.
“Just broke some bones, from what the doc tells me I’m kind of lucky to be alive,” he managed to get out before another wave of pain washed over him. “Someone took a shot at me, made me fall off my horse,” he added.
Murdoch quickly picked up on Johnny’s recollection of being shot at and falling off his horse. ‘Maybe it was right to bring Johnny’s friends here,’ he thought to himself, happy in the knowledge that Johnny had recalled some events that had led up to his being hurt. He sat back and watched as Johnny started to relax with Clint near him, happy that the stranger before him was a stimulus for Johnny’s ability to remember. At the same time he was saddened to think that Johnny couldn’t be so relaxed in front of him and that Johnny couldn’t recall events that had involved himself, Scott, Teresa and Jelly.
“Do you know who it was who took a shot at ya, Johnny?” Spike asked, eager to dish out some retribution.
Johnny pushed himself up further in his bed and pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed warily at his eyes. “I don’t know. I can’t remember much at all except for having at the saloon and after that – nothing.”
“‘Ceptin’ for that feller that took a shot at ya?” prompted Spike.
“Hey, Johnny?” Clint asked, concerned when he saw Johnny’s already waxen complexion pale further. He watched as Johnny struggled to keep his breathing even. “Spike! Pass me the bowl, now!” he ordered.
Like Clint, Murdoch had seen the tell tale sings of the inevitable and was already acting on what needed to be done. He admired the calm with which Clint had acted, but part of him felt a great deal of sadness. Johnny was his son and all he could do was stand idly by while the men that had become a family to Johnny when he needed one most, cared for his son. “It’s okay, Johnny.” He heard Clint say and watched as Spike handed Clint a cool, damp washcloth. He marveled at the relative ease at which Clint handled the situation.
“I’ve seen him through worse,” Clint said to Murdoch’s silent question, without looking at him. “We all have.” His mind wondered to another place and time. As Johnny’s breathing evened out, he knew it wouldn’t be long before Johnny as asleep once more – worn out by the activity.
‘Spike, take Frank and go and get a doctor. He’s having one whether he needs one or not,’ Clint ordered, his focus remained solely on the man in front of him. Earlier in the day Johnny had forced Clint to bind his leg up tightly, then rode back into the middle of the furore once again.
“Johnny was as mule headed as they come,” continued Clint and wiped the cool cloth over Johnny’s clammy forehead. “Surprised everyone when he got up on his pinto and rode back into the middle of the fighting.” He chuckled quietly at the memory and glanced up at Murdoch. “You’d of been proud of him, if it wasn’t for Johnny a lot of innocent people would have died.
Murdoch pushed himself away from the window frame, sighed heavily and seated himself near his son’s bed. “I’m sure I would have been.” On the outside Murdoch tried to remain calm and focused while on the inside a raging war full of fury held its own battle with his emotions. He desperately wanted to tell Johnny that his old life was over and that he now belonged at Lancer. He had a family that loved him and needed him.
“If you want a break and get yourself a cup of coffee or something, we’d be happy to stay here with Johnny,” Clint offered when he saw Murdoch’s worried expression.
The ride had been long and heard for both man and beast, when Scott finally reined his stallion to a halt. He surveyed the small town, similar in appearance to a lot of others that he had seen – a handful of clapboard buildings, a few pine slab houses and a saloon that also served as a jail. The only difference between this town and ones like it was that this one held the answers to what had happened to his brother. His first stop was to the livery and then on to the saloon, where he could find some accommodation and hopefully some answers.
“That’ll be three dollars for the room,” the burly barkeeper advised, and ran his hand over his unkempt beard. His halfhearted smile revealed several gaps between his yellowed teeth. His less than friendly tone caused Scott to unconsciously step back and rethink his decision about rooming at the saloon. With no other alternative available he was about to rebuke the price of the room when he saw a hard looking man approach.
“Three dollars,” Scott quickly agreed and dropped three silver dollars onto the counter. He looked at man who now leaned against the bar and swilled the last of the beer around the bottom of his glass. The man was stocky in build, his black eyes were surrounded with crow’s feet, and his clothes dirty with sweat and grime. Scott also noted the way the man wore his gunbelt, just off his hip and the way his stubby fingers caressed the butt.
“Room four. Top ‘o the stairs,” the barkeeper barked and deftly scooped up Scott’s money. “Here’s the key,” he continued as he read Scott’s signature with interest.
Scott tipped his hat to the barkeeper and collected the key. “Thanks,” he muttered and threw his saddlebag over his left shoulder.
When Scott was out of earshot the barkeeper gestured for his friend to come closer. “Keep an eye on him, Burke. He looks like he’s trouble.” To clarify his point he indicated to the signature in the book beside the room he’d just allotted.
“Lancer,” Burke mumbled and looked at the top of the stairs to see Scott opening the door to his room. “Ya reckon that feller is gonna start askin’ questions?”
“I dunno, but you can betcha bottom dollar that he probably will be. Just you keep a close eye on ‘im. We got us a good thing goin’ here and we don’t need him snoopin’ around ‘n ruinin’ it fer us.”
“Blake,” Burke said addressing the barkeeper, “I told ya we should a done got rid a that Lancer hand that came here to collect the bull. Maybe he’s told that Lancer feller what happened,” Burke said, agitated at the thought of being found out. His hand snaked down to his holster and withdrew the .44 colt. After he’d carefully inspected that it was fully loaded he slipped it back into the well used holster.
“Like I said, you just make sure he don’t go askin’ no questions. If he does you know what to do,” sneered Blake. He watched as Burke spun on his heel and made his way out the batwing doors.
In his room, Scott watched from his window the people that passed by below. One of the pedestrians that caught his eye was the roughneck from the bar. He ducked back into the shadows when he saw the man beckon some of his friends and indicate to Scott’s room. “This is getting more and more interesting by the minute,” he said in mute fascination to himself. “I haven’t even started asking about what took place here yet.” He continued to watch from the shadows as the small group crossed the road to the livery. After a few moments he made his way over to the Sheriff’s office and was quietly surprised at who was on duty.
At the livery Burke asked to see the horse that belonged to the newcomer in town. The boy who had taken the roan to its stall and grained it when Burke had entered. “Here it is, mister. Whaddya want with it?”
Burke sized up the horse and tossed the boy a silver dollar. “None of ya business, kid. You just go about your work.”
“This the horse, Burke?” One of his cohorts asked.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” Scott asked, startling the men with his silent approach
Burke spun on his heel at the sound of the voice behind him. “No, we were just curious about something.”
“And that curiosity wouldn’t have something to do with my horse or me would it?” Scott asked and kept a wary eye on the men in front of him.
“Clint, ya reckon if ol’ Johnny doesn’t start remembrin’ about this spread and him bein’ a Lancer ‘n all that he might wanna come back with us?” Spike asked.
“Do you really think Johnny would give all this up, to come back and ride with us? Would you?”
“Nah, I reckon not,” agreed Spike, the enthusiasm gone from his voice. Part of him had wanted Johnny to return to his former life with them, going wherever they wanted and working for who paid the highest dollar.
“I’ve been thinking,” Clint began as he wiped the sweat from Johnny’s brow once more. “That it’s about time we all settled down. Can’t keep playing at being a hired gun all our lives. Ranching doesn’t sound like a bad option.” He dipped the cloth back into the basin full of cold water and wrung it out, starting the procedure again. “Yeah I reckon if it’s good enough for Johnny to settle down and make a change in his life it’s good enough for us. You know when Jelly first came and told us of Johnny’s accident and how we might be able to help him remember the reasons I came here to help were for what I could get out of it.”
“Well like you said. If Johnny couldn’t remember about his being here at Lancer it could’ve worked to our advantage, having Johnny Madrid back with us.”
“What changed your mind?” Spike asked, his curiosity piqued.
“His father did,” Clint snorted.
“How? He didn’t say nuthin’ to ya did he?”
“It’s not what he did or didn’t say, it’s more how he acted. Like a part of him was going to die if Johnny wasn’t able to get better and remember where he now belonged.” Clint took a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued. “Spike, Johnny belongs here with his family. He can’t be living one day to the next like we do. It’s not right when he’s got a family that loves him and needs him.”
Downstairs Murdoch had found the note that Scott had left for him. He read the note once and then re-read it a second time.
I made Johnny a promise and that promise I aim to keep. Jelly has gone to find Clint; hopefully it will help Johnny remember.
Keep him safe.
“ Scott what did you do a foolish thing like this for?” chastised Murdoch as he scrunched up the note in his right hand. He clenched his fist tight and let out the breath that he had been holding.
“Somethin’ wrong, Boss?” Jelly asked. He’d been on his way into the living area from the kitchen to let Murdoch know that Maria had prepared the evening meal.
“Did you know anything about this?” Murdoch asked, revealing the screwed up piece of paper. “Did Scott tell you of his plans before you left for Spanish Wells?”
“No. Why is there something wrong?”
“I’m not sure, but I hope not. I just wish that Scott had told me what he was up to. Maybe he mentioned something to Johnny before he left.” Without waiting form Jelly to reply he quickly made his way towards Johnny’s room. “Ill take over now. Maria has some dinner prepared for you both downstairs.” He informed Clint and Spike.
“You’ll call us if he wakes up?” Clint asked on his way out the door.
“I will,” confirmed Murdoch and filled the now vacated seat by Johnny’s bedside. During his very one-sided discussion with Johnny, Murdoch heard him moan a few times and then stop. “I don’t know if I’ve ever told you often enough but I do love you and it means a lot to me that you chose to stay here at Lancer. I see so much of your mother in you. She was a beautiful woman Johnny; she was a slender woman with long black hair and eyes to match. If only things had been different. I often wonder what it would’ve been like if your mother had decided to stay.” He paused for a long minute then added, “like you she had a love for horses. She’d ride all day if she could. I remember the first horse I broke for her.” He stopped talking when he heard Johnny start to talk.
“Barranca” Johnny mumbled his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes opened slowly and studied the figure before him. Somewhere in his scrambled thoughts he knew this man. He knew that there was something about him that made him special. “Murdoch,” he whispered before he closed his eyes again unable to fight the pain that gnawed at him.
“Johnny?” Murdoch cried in disbelief.
Burke took a wad of tobacco from his pocket and put it into his mouth. “Can’t rightly say,” he said around the mashed ball of tobacco.
“Is it that you can’t rightly say or you don’t want to say?” questioned Scott unnerved by Burke’s actions.
Burke grinned and spat out a long stream of tobacco juice, most of it landed on Scott’s shirt. “Sorry about that.” A small smile of satisfaction played at the corners of his mouth.
“I’m sure you are,” remarked Scott and looked at his soiled shirt with disdain. “We’re about the same size,” he added and began to unbutton his shirt, “so you wouldn’t mind if I was to have your shirt. Since you dirtied my one for me.”
“You caint do that. This shirt was only fresh in this morning,” stuttered Burke. He was bewildered that his action hadn’t riled Scott into making a foolish mistake like drawing on him. Burke fancied himself as a gunslinger and professed to be the fastest around and would take any chance he could get to show off his prowess.
Scott had been warned about Burke and advised not to do anything that would foresee gunplay. With his back up waiting outside he continued to unbutton his shirt. “Well in that case it’ll do just nicely.”
“You should never have come here Lancer. What’s so important about the bull anyway?” Burke faltered, taken aback by Scott’s outward calm.
“I never said anything about a bull,” Scott said and pulled his left arm out of the sleeve. “Did I mention anything about a bull?” he asked and looked at each of Burke’s men in turn. “Besides, it wasn’t the bull I was concerned about. It was something else.”
“What was it then? The half-breed ranch hand?” Burke sneered and watched as Scott finished removing his shirt. “He was no loss to anyone. Too many of their kind round these parts anyway.”
Scott folded his shirt, extended his hand to Burke and gestured for him to remove his shirt. “That half-breed ranch hand as you put it is not just any ranch hand; he’s a Lancer. And for those of you that can do the math you’d figured out by now that he is my brother. You chose the wrong man to hurt the day that you ambushed him. I’m here to make sure that you’re going to pay for what you did.”
“Yeah. You and who’s army?” glowered Burke
“Mine,” Val Crawford spoke and approached Burke and his two cohorts. “Just happens that Johnny Lancer is a personal friend of mine. I’m arresting you for attempted murder and aggravated robbery.” He looked at Scott’s naked chest and then to Burke. “Before I shackle you, take your shirt off and give it to Scott.”
It was by chance that Scott had stumbled upon Val. He had been relieving while the regular Sheriff was off sick. Once Val had heard the detailed story that Scott had had to tell, he’d been angered that Johnny had been hurt so badly and wanted to stop the men that were responsible. While Scott set up the plan to get the full confession out of Burke, Val had listened attentively at the livery door.
After a week of complete bedrest had elapsed the doctor finally allowed Johnny some time out of bed, under the proviso that someone was with him at all times. As his memory gradually returned, Johnny was able to put names to faces and recall past events. Occasionally he had moments when he couldn’t remember where he was or what he was doing. The doctor had assured him that it was part of the healing process but it frustrated Johnny and it had begun to show. “I’m getting so sick of this. I start to do something and then have no idea why I’m doing it,” he complained and rubbed at his eyes.
“Give it time, Johnny,” placated Murdoch. “You heard what the doctor said. It’s a gradual process and can’t be rushed. The more you try the more annoyed you’re going to become and you’ll make yourself sick again. Did Val stop buy and see you before he left?”
“Yeah, he did. Said he’ll be back next week. Sure was a surprise when he came in. I remembered he mentioned something about going out of town for a few weeks but I couldn’t recall where.” He paused and looked out the window at Barranca. His horse was grazing near the barn and would look up towards the balcony every so often as if he knew Johnny was watching him. “Did Clint and Spike say when they’d be back? I know they told me but I forgot to write it down.” Although Johnny’s long-term memory had come back to him, his short-term memory would still irk him when he couldn’t remember things he’d been told.
“They’ll be back next week,” a new voice said. “Murdoch, we may have to plan a recovery party for Johnny,” announced Scott. He pulled a seat over and sat down beside his father and brother. “How are you feeling?”
“A little tired,” replied Johnny.
Murdoch stood up and stretched, his shoulder bones clicked as he pulled his shoulders together. “Well if you two don’t mind I’m going to see if Teresa has made a fresh pot of coffee.”
“See you in a bit, Murdoch,” acknowledged Johnny, stifling a yawn as he spoke. “Scott, I can’t remember if I told you but thanks for finding the guys that did this to me.”
“What are brothers for – besides someone had to bring the bull home. Not very clever cattle rustlers, I found it in the corral next to the livery. That reminds me you owe me a new shirt,” Scott grinned.
“Thanks, brother,” Johnny said and returned the smile.
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