Word count: 1,640
So how can you see what your life is worth, Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man, You must look at your life,
Look at your life through heaven’s eyes
Scott moaned softly as Johnny gently patted the sweat from his face with his kerchief. A fever was building in his brother and Johnny felt as helpless as ever in his life. His brother was dying, he didn’t know how to stop it and it was all his fault.
He’d begged Scott to stay where he was, that he’d face Kilmer alone, but Scott wouldn’t listen. Scott and Johnny Lancer had arrived in the small town of Broken Arrow two days ago to meet with Murdoch on his return from Twin Pines. Their father had taken the stage to the growing town, insisting that he didn’t need their help and that they should make the most of their free time. They’d found the cow town easily enough. The smell assaulted them long before they had reached the dusty streets. On a normal day it was bad enough, but the oppressive heat seemed to carry the pungent smell of dried manure ground to a powder by hooves and wagon wheels out to greet them. The town was like many others that they had seen a few pine-slab houses, some clapboard buildings a saloon that doubled as a church on Sundays and a court when the circuit judge made his rounds. They reined their horses to a halt outside the saloon, both men savoring the taste of the first beer that waited for them.
When they entered the saloon Johnny moved immediately to one side and let his eyes adjust to the murky interior. He surveyed the patrons, looking for any sign of trouble taking in details that most men would normally discard; this had become a habit for him, mostly through necessity and instinct but a habit that had been hard to break. “You okay?” Scott asked out of concern. He knew what Johnny was doing and sighed quietly to himself. ‘When will you ever be free of your past?’ he questioned silently. Scott knew that Johnny would want to sit at a table that would give them the best view of those around them and directed him to one near the back wall. At one of the tables that they had passed six men were seated around it playing a game of high stakes poker. Chips and cash littered the table as the dealer’s fingers danced across the cards with finesse. Scott watched as the cards seemed to float through the air to each of the players, he marveled at the dealers craftsmanship with the cards and studied him a while longer.
“You want somethin?” one of the players asked without looking up. He had his back to Scott and closely guarded his cards with one hand as he spoke while the other snaked down to his gun that rested in its oil blackened holster.
“No. He didn’t want anything,” spoke Johnny, his voice low. He quickly intervened and pulled Scott away from the game. He made sure that he kept his head low avoiding eye contact with the man who sat opposite the one that had spoken. He’d recognized him as Kilmer, a shadow from his past. His dark features and the scar that curled around his left cheek were unmistakable. Johnny had given him that scar when he had been embroiled in a range war between cattlemen and land pirates in Death Valley. “C’mon, Scott. I’m buying,” he added for extra incentive to get his brother moving.
Scott watched Johnny as he slowly sipped at his beer. Something was wrong and he knew it. His brother had been looking forward to a cool beer and now that he had one in front of him it was going to be as warm as the desert they had ridden through if he didn’t drink it soon. “What’s wrong? You’ve been watching the men at the table over there since we got here and I want to know why.” He hadn’t expected Johnny to be so up-front with him but felt that Johnny was doing it to serve as a warning for impending trouble. “Do you want to get going? Find a room somewhere?”
“Where, Scott? This is the only place in town,” replied Johnny. He mentally kicked himself for not taking a few seconds more to evaluate all the men in the room.
Scott sensed his brother’s uneasiness. “Well I can stand another night camped out under the stars if you can.” He tried to keep his tone light but knew that Johnny was worried. When Johnny nodded in agreement, Scott pushed his chair back across the floor causing it to scrape. He flinched at the attention it had drawn.
“Ya smell something?” Kilmer asked as the Lancer brothers tried to make a discreet exit. “Smells to me like a half-breed by the name of Madrid. Johnny boy, I always said that there would come a time and a place.” Kilmer snarled he pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes as he spoke. “Remember this,” he added and traced his index finger over the hideous scar on his face.
“Yeah, I remember,” Johnny replied deliberately keeping his voice low. He raised his eyes to look into Kilmer’s. “I gave it to you.” The light died in Kilmer’s eyes, as Johnny’s limpid blue eyes seemed to bore into his soul. He hadn’t expected Kilmer to move so fast and found himself flat on his back and being dragged out of the saloon. Scott watched in horror as Kilmer signaled his men to pick Johnny up and hold him still as Kilmer cocked his gun and aimed it at Johnny’s head. He instinctively drew his own gun and pulled the hammer back. “Stop!” His voice cracked like a whip as he spoke. He never felt the first shot that had taken him high in his chest before he got a chance to fire, or the second bullet that raked across his right arm. He saw the dirt street rush up to meet him and thought that he heard Johnny call out to him just as the dirt made impact with the side of his face. He felt hands hold him and a voice call out to him. “Johnny,” he uttered, his breath hard and fast. Johnny had pulled free of Kilmer’s men and now cradled Scott’s head against his chest. “Why Scott? Why did you do it?” He heard his brother cry.
“Was it worth it?” Kilmer asked. “Was it worth getting yourself shot to save Johnny’s sorry hide?”
Scott drew in a ragged breath, look at his brother and then at Kilmer. “Yes. Yes it was.” He saw Kilmer aim his gun at Johnny as he knelt beside him. “NO!” He begged when he heard the chamber turn over. It took him a while to realize that it wasn’t Kilmer’s gun chamber clicking over but Johnny’s.
Men had come out of the saloon to watch with macabre fascination the scene before them as it played out. They collectively gasped at the speed that had earned Johnny his reputation as a gun for hire. He’d drawn his .44 and fired six shots in quick succession. The barrel clicked over and over to the next chamber finally spent. The sound of Scott’s voice finally penetrated Johnny’s mind as the rage to kill grew within him. He dropped his now useless gun and gathered his brother in his arms and shakily rose to his feet. “Somebody get a doctor for my brother!” he ordered. For the next few hours he aimlessly wondered the streets of the small town until he found himself on the step outside the doctor’s surgery. He had played the scene over and over in his mind. The unmistakable sound of his brother in sheer agony, the stench of the blood that stained his clothes and the way in which Scott had said it was worth getting shot. It didn’t make sense to him. None of it did. He shuddered violently and buried his head in his hands. “Why?” He repeated over and over. “Why did he have to do it?”
“I thought I heard someone out here,” a fair-haired man said. “Would you like to come inside?” He saw Johnny nod and extended his hand to him, and noticed how shaky the young man was on his feet. “You can go and sit with your brother now.”
Johnny stepped into the room, which was faintly lit with a coal oil lantern. “How is he?” he asked, a lump caught in his throat as he spoke. The words of ‘not good’ and ‘if he gets through the next 24 hours’ rolled round in his mind. “He has to be all right,” Johnny said, his voice barely audible. As he kept his vigil he gently dabbed his kerchief over Scott’s damp brow. “Come on brother, you have to fight.” He exchanged his kerchief for the cool compresses that had been brought into the room and bathed Scott’s fevered body. “You’re doing a fine job,” a soft voice behind him said. “He’s going to die and it’s all my fault,” Johnny rebuked.
“A few hours ago I would’ve said that,” the young doctor replied, “but your brother seems pretty determined to hang on. Don’t give up on him yet. I’ll leave you two alone, but call me if you need me.”
As the sun thrust its morning rays into the tiny room, Johnny felt something beside him move. “Scott?”
“Hey, brother,” a very weak voice replied. “Glad to see you’re still in one piece.” He watched Johnny for a moment and added, “something bothering you?”
“Yeah. Why? Why did you do it? Why did you try and get yourself killed. It wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t worth it.”
“To me you are. You are worth more than you will ever know.” Scott said before he closed his eyes and returned to restful sleep.
So how do you measure the worth of a man, In wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained or how much he gave?
The answer will come; the answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven’s eyes.
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