AUTHOR: Mistress Marilyn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DATE: November 28, 2009-June 24, 2010
FANDOM: 'Lancer' (CBS-TV western, 1968-70)
PAIRING: Johnny/Scott (James Stacy and Wayne Maunder)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own 'em. They belong to 20th Century Fox, to CBS and the respective actors of the series, and to the ages. This is a work of a fan, done for no remuneration save the satisfaction of the work.
WARNINGS: Slash, implied incest, poetry.
AUTHOR NOTES: This story is set some time after the final episode of the series. I wrote a '3:10 to Yuma/Tombstone' cross-over called "Dime Novel" last year and I'm working on a sequel called "Penny Dreadful," and I couldn't help imagining the life of Johnny Madrid as subject matter for the western tabloids. Walt Whitman's work appears not only as a plot device but as a reminder that he was one of the first artists in America to explore gay themes.
WORD COUNT: 4,500 and change
He picked up the booklet carefully, like a small feral animal that might wriggle in his hand and snap at his fingers. Holding it far from his face, he was forced to squint to read the title:
"Death-Dealing Madrid Rides Again."
The sketch on the cover was of a figure in black atop a rearing horse, gun drawn and hat pulled low over a pair of mean eyes. The face looked slightly familiar.
His smile was one of disbelief rather than delight. It was supposed to be him!
"I found it in the bunkhouse," his brother said. "One of the hands picked it up last week in Merced."
"Did he know?"
"I don't think so. There would have been talk."
It had been long enough now that not everyone knew one of the Lancer sons was formerly known as Johnny Madrid, a caballero who sometimes rode on the wrong side of the law. Many of the men who worked the range of the vast Lancer ranch were only vaguely aware that Murdoch Lancer's boys had been born of different mothers, a fact that only partly explained the brothers' physical and psychological differences.
"Did you read it?"
"Well . . . yes."
"How much 'death' does Madrid 'deal'?"
He watched the hesitation, reading the finely boned face the way his brother read books, books of history and drama and romance. The hacienda was full of books, and many of them ended up in Scott Lancer's room, stacked on his desk or on the nightstand next to his bed. Scott used twice as much lamp oil as anyone else every month. It was a fact.
But Johnny Lancer, Murdoch's younger son, was the more prolific reader when it came to faces. And despite the practiced composure on the well bred features, he saw the interest and curiosity and . . . something else.
"It's a pretty typical dime novel. It's packed with lurid details," Scott finally said.
"I might even say licentious."
Johnny sighed, having grown used to Scott's habit of firing words the way he himself had once fired bullets; when it came to vocabulary, Scott sometimes drew his formal education like a gun, aiming to disarm and intimidate. But this time there was no harm intended, Johnny knew. His brother simply couldn't put his description of the dime novel into everyday words.
"I've read some of those Jesse James stories. Maybe they're fixin' to make some money on poor Johnny Madrid," Johnny said.
Scott frowned. "I don't think they plan on making this a series. They've taken considerable poetic license. Madrid dies in the end."
Murdoch Lancer's entrance cut off Johnny's reaction. The tall rancher typically dominated every domestic scene, and this one was no different. He saw the small tabloid in Johnny's hand and wanted to know everything about it. When had it been written? Who had published it? Did it mention the Lancer ranch or Murdoch himself? The man's righteous umbrage grew by the minute. Before long the little book might spark another range war.
"It could be about any outlaw," Scott explained, sounding deliberately rational. "Someone must have liked the name 'Madrid.'"
"That so?" said Johnny. "There's no truth in here?"
Scott shrugged. "You'd have to tell me, Brother. I don't know all the details of your past."
The two Lancer boys stood locking eyes, a not-unfamiliar sight in the expansive great room of their father's hacienda. For Scott it was a bland assessment that might take place over a chess board. But for Johnny it was a match with higher stakes, a hand of poker, a game he knew well and played even better.
He chose to up the ante.
"Ask whatever you want, Boston. I've got nothin' to hide."
It had been a long time since he called his brother 'Boston.'
Their father interrupted. "Why don't we have supper first?" It was more an order than a suggestion, and it effectively checked the conversation. Johnny rolled up the soft-cover book and stuck it in his pants pocket, his eyes still on his brother's impassive face.
"Good idea," he said. "I'm hungry as hell."
"Something smells mighty fine," said Murdoch, dropping a large hand over Scott's shoulder and pushing him away from Johnny. "Like homemade chili and fresh-baked cornbread. I can taste it already."
"So can I," said Johnny, his eyes focused on Scott's back. "Already."
The talk around the large dining table avoided the subject of the dime novel, centering instead on topics like politics--specifically whether California's governor would run for Congress and leave Murdoch's friend and the current Lt. Governor, Jose Pancheco, in the highest office in the state--and on domestic matters, including speculation on whether Murdoch's ward, Teresa, was enjoying her trip north to visit friends in Stockton. All the while the booklet was bunched in Johnny's pocket, poking him in the thigh, and he didn't forget it for a second. He wondered what it would be like to curl in a chair in his room and read about his fictional exploits and his ultimate death. Would he recognize anything of himself in the story, or would it be no different than reading about a stranger? His eyes lost focus as he considered it and the animated conversation around him faded to a distant buzz. When he recaptured his drifting attention, he intercepted a look from his brother.
Scott seemed to know exactly what he was thinking.
"I want you to give me that damn book," Murdoch said after supper. "I want to talk to Randall about it."
Johnny shook his head, wary of the thought of involving the elder Lancer's lawyer. "Forget it. It's not worth the trouble."
"I'll decide that after I read it."
"We'll talk about it later, Murdoch." This time Johnny was not about to give in; he wanted to read the novel before he made up his mind.
"Yes, Johnny, we will."
Johnny tried to slip past him, but this time the family patriarch was faster on the draw, steering both sons to the great room. "I've got some new cigars," he said. "I'd like to talk to you boys."
"I've got a letter to write," Scott said. "I want to finish before dark."
Turning to Johnny, Murdoch said, "What's your excuse?"
"I can see your mind is somewhere else."
"I ate a little too much supper," Johnny said. "I think I'll take a walk before bedtime."
"Suit yourself," said Murdoch in a resigned tone. "Some other time." He reached for his humidor, shaking his head and smiling slightly at something only he could see. "But Johnny, don't forget about that book."
Johnny didn't hear Murdoch's last words as he grabbed his hat and walked out the front door. He was suddenly restless and uncomfortable, constrained, the way he sometimes felt when he woke before dawn and shrugged off the coverlet of his bed, longing for the touch of fresh air on his skin. He knew the weight he sensed wasn't responsibility or obligation; it was memory, plain and simple. Despite the years, despite the comfortable fit of the rancher's rig, of the hacienda and even the name Lancer, Johnny's shadow would always cast the vague shape of someone from another life and time.
If anyone had told him it was no different for any other man--for all men, in fact--he would have been confused. It didn't occur to him that his brother Scott might feel an even stronger tug from the twine that tied him to a life in the big cities Back East, to men with tightly buttoned leather shoes and women with tightly laced whale-bone corsets. Or that Murdoch himself might occasionally turn a bend in the road to Morro Coyo and expect to see the jagged outline of the tent city that once stood at the outer boundaries of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where as a young man he had happily gambled away money he couldn't afford to lose, well knowing it was being siphoned off to fund the war with Mexico.
Even when Johnny noticed Scott's awkwardness over some bland incident with one of the hands, or sensed Murdoch's discomfort at showing open affection to his two sons, Johnny was still certain that he was by far the most incongruous member of the small Lancer family. He wouldn't have chosen that fancy way to describe how out of place he felt, but if Scott had pointed to the word in his precious copy of Merriam-Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language--a fat volume that occupied a honored place on a bureau in his room--Johnny would have nodded with recognition.
Johnny Lancer, once called Madrid.
Outlaw. Cowboy. Heir.
And now a dubious hero for a generation of readers who had an extra dime to spend.
The sky that sometimes seemed so far away closed in on him now as it darkened overhead. Johnny stopped in his tracks, staring straight ahead. He felt a prickling at the back of his neck that seemed to signal a warning, and he swiveled his head and started to reach for a gun that was still hanging in the hallway of the hacienda. He half expected to hear the sound of a shot, and his legs were automatically prepared to fold under him as he dodged the bullet. But the danger was only in his mind; there was no one watching, no one silently stalking the one-time outlaw.
Johnny's long sigh could have been heard clear to the bunkhouse, a sound of mingled relief and disappointment. A part of him longed for the rush of a gunfight, for the heart-pounding, hoof-pounding thrill of a narrow escape through a hostile town, shuddering in anticipation of the burning impact of a well-aimed bullet. The danger itself was as invigorating as the inevitable victory over death or dismemberment, and Johnny Madrid had often found it a more potent stimulant than even the most expertly brewed cactus juice.
Life at the Lancer Ranch had been rather routine and disquietingly peaceful of late, leaving an indifferent numbness in Johnny's loins.
Turning and walking slowly back to the ranch house, Johnny fingered the bulge in his pocket, wondering vaguely if the writer of the fanciful pamphlet could have possibly captured those feelings on plain paper, doubting that even Scott's heavy dictionary held adequately descriptive words. Despite his skepticism, Johnny's curiosity had been aroused.
He wanted to read the dime novel.
When he entered the hacienda, he could vaguely make out the smell of Murdoch's cigar from the great room, so he shut the door quietly behind him. He was determined to avoid any further conversation about the legal ramifications of the story or the need to summon Murdoch's solicitor.
In the hallway, his boots sounded on the hardwoods.
"Is that you?" Scott called from his room.
"Do you have a minute?"
He paused, biting back a curse. "What?"
Scott appeared in the doorway. "Come in for a minute," he said. "I want to talk to you."
Johnny noticed his brother's chest was bare and his smooth face slightly ruddy. He was evidently scrubbed up and ready for bed, a habit Johnny had never really understood. Cleaning up to face the day made sense, but washing before bed was an exercise for children, a ritual of obedience. Its Christian significance was lost on Johnny. His mother's Catholicism had left him unfamiliar with the teachings of the circuit-riding theologian John Wesley; he had never found any reason to equate cleanliness with Godliness.
"Expecting company?" he asked as he entered his brother's room.
"Just you," Scott said matter-of-factly. Johnny looked at him with curiosity, wondering if his attempted irony had fallen flat. He couldn't be sure.
"Sit down, Johnny. I want to ask you about the book."
The book. Of course.
"What about it? I haven't had a chance to read it yet."
"But I have, remember? And there are a couple things that struck me."
Johnny chose the most comfortable chair in Scott's room, sighing as he sat down. "It's just a book, Scott."
"A pretty detailed book. And the author claims to have known the outlaw Johnny Madrid in the forward."
Johnny pulled the pamphlet from his pocket and peeled back the first page. "Jeremiah Banks," he read aloud. "Never heard of him."
"It could be a nom de plume," Scott said, balancing himself on the corner of his bed. "A pen name."
"What's on your mind, Brother?" Johnny asked.
Scott reached for the book and Johnny passed it over. He watched as Scott turned to a spot that clearly held some special interest.
"It says here that the boy Madrid was ill-treated by his stepfather," Scott said, starting to read aloud. "'He learned to take a wide berth around the man's cruel hands, having fallen victim from time to time to his violent whims. More than once as he matured, the boy was forced to endure the worst possible use by the callous fellow, treatment of the sort that should never be mentioned in polite society. It hardened the young man's heart as it steeled his spirit, and he learned to eschew all romantic ideals.'"
Johnny didn't respond, slowly digesting the words that sat dangerously heavy on top of his recent dinner.
"Is it true?" Scott asked. "Did your step-father hurt you?"
"He sure wasn't afraid to use the strap on me," Johnny said. "And it hurt like hell sometimes."
"But he didn't . . . violate you?"
Scott's handsome face was grave. Johnny watched him with interest, deciding not to make the conversation any easier.
"What do you want to know?" he asked.
"I want to know if he forced you to do things you didn't want to do," Scott said, his voice husky. "I think you should talk to someone about it."
Johnny crossed his legs at the ankles, starting to enjoy himself a little. "Of course he did," he admitted blandly, reaching to recapture the novel and return it to the safety of his pocket. "He made me do a lot of things I didn't want to do."
Both brothers fell silent for a moment, as Johnny studied Scott with his gunfighter eyes--eyes used to assessing both distance and danger--and allowed Scott to imagine the worst. Clearly his older sibling had read the story with some seriousness and for some reason had concentrated his attention on this particular detail of the character Madrid's childhood. There was something there that either concerned or intrigued him, and Johnny had a feeling the impetus behind the inquiry would reveal more about Scott than himself. Finally he continued. "He made me sit down at the table for supper when I wanted to ride all afternoon. He made me sweep the back porch and carry in the firewood and run to the saloon for his bucket of beer every night. And sometimes he even made me wash my face and hands before bed."
Scott said nothing, his expression still stoic. Johnny allowed himself to smile.
"He didn't do what you think," Johnny said. "He never used me like that."
Scott let out his breath. "I didn't think he had. But I had to ask anyway."
"What if he had?" Johnny said, his voice very quiet. "What would it matter?"
"It wouldn't matter. Lots of boys and even men have been used by other men. Some choose it. But if was something that made you hate, I just wanted to know."
"Where I come from, a boy would grow up fast like that," Johnny said. "And he'd kill the man who did it."
Scott's expression finally changed, his eyes narrowing. "It says you did. That when you were 14, you killed him."
Scott stood up, taking in a long, shaky breath. "I have a bottle. How about a drink?"
"Whiskey or brandy?"
Johnny nodded, making note of his brother's uncharacteristic choice of an after-dinner drink. Many things had changed about both of them since their first meeting, more than just the way they dressed or what they drank; although they had learned a great deal about one another, in some ways they were still strangers.
Scott sipped and Johnny chugged, and Scott then offered another shot. Johnny assented, shaken by the little novel and its strangely intimate story, but unwillingly to show it.
"You said some men choose it. Have you known men like that?" Johnny asked, tongue loosened a little by the whiskey.
"Oh, sure. I had a commander who made no secret of it. He went through three or four orderlies before they transferred him somewhere. And then there were the ones who chose it out of necessity, not taste."
"Not enough whores around for you Yankees?"
"Plenty," Scott admitted. "And plenty of disease to go with them. Once you've seen a boy held down so a surgeon can ream him with a rod, you learn to resort to other means. Even self denial," he added with a little laugh.
"Is that what you chose?"
Scott shook his head, easing himself down on the bed. "No. I was never good at denying myself. I got in my share of trouble."
Johnny reached for the bottle and filled his own glass. Sitting forward, he locked his eyes on his brother. "Your turn to tell."
Scott leaned back, propping himself on an elbow. "Maybe we've talked enough for tonight."
"That's bull. I think you've got more to tell than I do. Come on now."
Scott's eyes changed without revealing overt signs of evasiveness, as though a sheer curtain had been lowered over his unwavering gaze. Still, Johnny could almost see the wheels inside his brother's head working, see him wondering whether he could afford to be honest, even after all their time together. It made him more curious, now that he sensed Scott had something he might want to hide.
"I've had my share of experiences that you might call . . . exotic," Scott said. "I was given to a certain amount of experimentation."
"As a boy or as a soldier?"
"Well, yes, in the war. And then in college."
"You bedded another boy?" Johnny asked, his eyes locked on his brother's face. "Or maybe loved one?"
Scott lowered himself down, lying on his back now, staring up at the ceiling. "I was what I'd call self-indulgent," he said. "I had money and position, and I was a leader among my playmates. I got to choose our games and be Sir Lancelot or d'Artagnan or the Count of Monte Cristo. When I was Robinson Crusoe, the other boys would vie to be my Friday. There were probably one or two chums who cast me as a personal hero, although it was all innocent."
"I guess you always read a lot of books," Johnny commented.
Smiling at the ceiling, Scott continued: "I was definitely a bit of a romantic before I ran off to enlist, but I came face to face with reality very soon. I had issues with my grandfather's authority, but I found out that military life is something different altogether. You can't talk back or run off when you don't like your CO's orders. And if he asks you to give him a hand in his bath, there's no one to complain to. If you had a mind to complain, I mean."
Johnny felt a twinge of undefined discomfort as he listened to his brother's deep, rich voice.
Scott sighed. "And there's absolutely nothing romantic about being a prisoner of war, about exhaustion and hunger and dysentery. There were nights I was so cold, I would have welcomed the comfort of another warm body, man or woman. But I didn't dare end up branded a catamite, thrown in with the poor bastards who were forced to serve the commandant and the guards. I was never that desperate."
"Nobody talks about that stuff," Johnny said.
Scott gave a small snort. "Nobody wants to." He stretched his arms over his head, then rubbed the bare skin with his palms. "When I was at Harvard, I liked to think I was different than the average man. I even fancied myself a poet for a while. Another Walt Whitman, appreciating the charms of both sexes."
Rolling over, Scott sat up. "Walt Whitman. You don't know him?"
Johnny shook his head. "Should I?"
Scott shrugged. "I suppose not. But he's a great American poet. I have a copy of his 'Leaves of Grass' right here." He got up off the bed and walked past Johnny, bending to open his small desk and take out what looked like a significant book. Johnny couldn't imagine such a volume being full of poetry, of all things.
Scott opened to a bookmarked page and read:
" . . . 'the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of
his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist
and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.'"
"What does it mean?" Johnny asked.
"He appreciates the male form, for one thing."
"Don't all poets?"
Scott sat down on the hard chair near his desk and laid the book across his lap. "Maybe. But Whitman wrote about the feelings of men who were drawn together as more than comrades. He liked to lovingly describe the physical gifts of both men and women."
"Sounds like a good way for a writer to spend his time. Too bad he can't make himself more plain."
"Seems plain enough to me," Scott said. "Watching a man walk away, admiring his build, his shoulders and backside."
"Okay," Johnny said reluctantly. "But is he saying he likes to lie with boys?"
Frowning, Scott shook his head. "No. I mean, he likes, perhaps prefers, the company of men. The whispers in Boston were that Whitman met up with plenty of soldiers during the war, nursing them in field hospitals. From what he writes, he doesn't want to turn a man into a woman or be one himself. It doesn't have to be that way with two men. I mean, one doesn't have to play the role of a woman."
Johnny tried to imagine anyone trying to cast his brother in such a role. Despite Scott's erudite education and highfalutin vocabulary, there was nothing the least bit effeminate about him. Even an occasional sartorial regression to his earlier dandified days did nothing to disguise his masculinity. A man more obtuse than Johnny might find it confusing. But Johnny had never really doubted his brother's mettle.
"Are you tryin' to say it doesn't have to hurt?" Johnny asked, getting to the root of the matter.
"Of course it doesn't. Good Lord, Johnny, it can feel glorious, like Whitman describes."
Reaching first for another drink, Scott swallowed, cleared his throat and then turned to a different page. The bottle of whiskey was running a little low.
"'I will sing the song of companionship,
I will show what alone must finally compact these,
I believe these are to found their own ideal of manly love,
indicating it in me,
I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that were
threatening to consume me,
I will lift what has too long kept down those smouldering fires,
I will give them complete abandonment,
I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love,
For who but I should understand love with all its sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?'"
Johnny sat quietly, trying to take it in, trying to understand the meaning of the words--the meaning hidden within the words he did understand, like 'burning' and 'abandonment.' He couldn't help imagining the poet was waxing not about an unknown man, but about his flaxen-haired brother, someone he might have encountered during or after the war in some fancy saloon or restaurant Back East. The two might have locked eyes over a hand of cards or intercepted a longing look mistakenly aimed at some haughty heiress. Or maybe they could have met in a hospital after the war, as Scott convalesced from his imprisonment. They would have recognized one another, the way such men did, and they would have found a way to be alone, to turn their flowery words into florid deeds.
As Scott professed, two grown men could have found some way to pleasure one another without causing pain. Unable to picture the poet, Johnny found himself imagining his brother's ecstatic face and his brother's agile form, the expression of the former reflecting the joyous culmination brought on by the exertions of the latter. And in his fantasy it was his own cheek burning against Scott's whiskered skin and his own hand gripping Scott's muscular leg.
"And did you know men like that?" Johnny finally asked, reluctantly allowing his increasingly erotic reverie to dissipate. "Men who set aside their church lessons and reached for whatever--or whoever--caught their fancy?"
Scott nodded. "There are always men like that. Men who appreciate beauty in all its forms and aren't afraid to act on their appreciation."
Johnny poured himself another inch of whiskey. He held the glass up to the light and admired the amber glint before he lifted it against his lips and silently swallowed. "And are you--" he asked in a voice husky with the heat of the liquor, turning his eyes on the face of his slightly older, infinitely prettier, brother. "Are you one of those?"
"I guess I am," Scott admitted.
"I guess you are."
Of course he was.
"Did you know?"
Johnny shook his head and told another lie. "You seem to like the ladies, and they sure seem to like you. Why would I think different?"
Scott shrugged. "I don't know. I just thought you sensed something about me. Maybe I thought things had happened to you, and you figured they had happened to me."
"I told you, nothing like that happened to me."
"I know. You told me."
"You don't believe me?"
"I don't know, Johnny. Maybe I don't want to believe you."
Johnny rose unsteadily, the effect of the whiskey, as well as the conversation, sending the room spinning. "I better go to my room," he said. Scott had surprised him with his own adversarial instincts. Not for the first time he reflected his brother could have been a damn fine gunfighter himself.
Scott stood up and put the book of poetry back in the drawer, blew out the lamp on the desk, then eased himself down on the bed and stretched out again. "I guess you better," he said, not looking at Johnny.
Johnny walked toward the door, stopping to study the lamp glowing on the wall nearby. It cast his shadow across the rug, back toward the bed, and Johnny couldn't keep himself from turning to stare at the way his outline seemed to climb up and over his brother's half-naked form. He paused. Then he reached up and turned down the flame, until the room was illuminated by nothing other than the muted moonlight from the window reflected on Scott's bare chest.
Forcing himself to breathe slowly, Johnny felt his heart flutter, quickening with the anticipation of danger, the same sensation he had fabricated earlier as he contemplated the coming night. Something told him there was much more to be learned about his brother before the moon finally surrendered to the sun, if he dared crack that particular book.
He pulled the dime novel out of his pants pocket and tossed it aside. "Enough reading for now," he said.
"I'm still here, Brother," he said, reaching up to unbutton his shirt.