The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

Riding On The Wind
With thanks to Cat for the beta.

The rain came down in torrents soaking everything and anyone crazy enough to be out in the deluge. Lightning sliced through the dark, angry sky charging the air with heavy static and Johnny swore the hair on the back of his neck and arms stood on end. Moving the cattle today wasn’t one of his better ideas, but with Scott gone on business, Johnny had double duty, and this was something that could not be put off any longer.

He didn’t feel too bad about it; Johnny would rather deal with stupid cows than stupid people any day. His brother had the tact needed for handling these types of issues, so, a little rain seemed a better choice than a lot of stuffy meetings and government red tape. Johnny wasn’t going to complain. All he had to do was move these ornery beeves and fantasize about the hot bath and the soft, warm bed waiting for him at the end of the day. No, he wouldn’t trade places with his brother, even on a day like this.

Scott had been sent to Sacramento, representing the ranches in the San Joaquin Valley, in an effort to convince the powers that be to extend the railroad in a southerly direction rather than the intended northern route, making it more accessible to the ranchers there. There were more ranches south of Sacramento; more beef could be shipped as well as the huge amount of crops grown in the rich California soil. And with the railroad so close the shipping time was much shorter resulting in a greater profit for everyone involved.

However, the opposition had clout. The big names in the north carried more influence with those who were calling the shots, but Scott could be very convincing, and the ranchers south of Sacramento hoped he would be able to pull it off. He had to pull it off…

Boston should be home in a couple of days, and things would be back to normal, kind of. Johnny wondered what Scott was doing at this very moment. Probably havin’ ta read over some boring contracts with a lotta double talk an’ listenin’ ta lawyers tryin’ ta convince ya ta do somethin’ ya know ya shouldn’t. I’ll take the stupid cows and rain! Hafta tell him that there wasn’t much ta do while he was gone an’ I spent a lotta time sleepin’ in the shade… Johnny thought as he snugged his slicker securely around his shoulders.

<><><><> 

Scott, at that very moment, was trying to loosen the ropes that were cutting off the circulation in his hands and fingers. The last thing he remembered was going back to his hotel room early after sharing a drink with a pretty saloon girl. He needed to be up and ready in plenty of time to get to the meeting in the morning. He crossed the street, and that’s the last thing he recalled. Now, here he was, God only knew where, in the dark with a lump the size of Montana on his head, and aching like the devil. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to be herding stupid cows…

Ever since he arrived in Sacramento, there had been a feeling of uncertainty, as if he sensed there was something wrong, and, indeed, there was something wrong. But he’d found out too late. He was sure he’d missed the meeting; the meeting that Lancer and the other ranchers were counting on for him to present their case. The meeting could have awarded the railroad rights to those who could produce a larger amount of product and stock, despite the money talking in the northern counties. Without him, the ranchers in the south had no hope of winning, and now it looked as if the competing side had resorted to kidnapping. Scott wondered what would become of him. Would they simply release him at a later date? Surely, this wasn’t important enough to kill him over… Was it? He wondered. He tried to think who would stoop this low, who was willing to take this kind of chance?

<><><><> 

The hot water felt good as Johnny sat in the tub and let it soothe the chill out of his body. The afternoon temperature dropped suddenly, and as he was already soaked, the cold air made it all the worse. But he’d still rather be here than in Sacramento. Dunking his head under the water, he rinsed the soap from his thick, dark hair and came up spitting suds.

After a quick dry off and clean clothes, he felt like a new man especially thinking of the aromas he’d caught coming from the kitchen. An after-dinner drink of tequila to warm him from the inside and his soft bed calling his name, then he’d be ready to… start the whole thing over again come morning…

“I asked Scott to send a wire and let us know how it went at the meeting. I hope he’s alright, it should have been over and I expected word before now.” Murdoch Lancer spoke as he, Johnny and Teresa shared the meal.

Johnny chuckled around a mouthful of spicy chicken. “Aw, you know Scott, he’s prob’bly busy havin’ dinner at one of them fancy restaurants with a pretty girl. Time got away from him.” Probably getting’ laid, too! But keeping those thoughts to himself, Johnny finished his meal and kept quiet. He was smiling, and Murdoch had an idea of what was going through his youngest son’s mind.

Murdoch had no clue where Johnny got his energy; after working hard all day, he thought about making love all night. Was I ever that young? Murdoch wondered…

“I would expect that Scott had his hands full with Jefferson Tremayne. He is the driving force behind the ranches up north wanting the railroad, and he has the finances to get it.” Murdoch, talking more to himself than Johnny, vented as he downed his second drink.

This has really got the ol’ man riled… Johnny thought as he sat watching his father. Murdoch looked worried, not only about the chance of losing out on the railroad line but more concerned about Scott. Scott was not the type to forget about something like this and to be honest, it was bothering Johnny, too. Boston wasn’t one to overlook details; something could be wrong. If they hadn’t heard from Scott by tomorrow, Johnny was going to Sacramento to look for him.

“Think I’ll ride inta town tamorrow an’ send a wire ta him. Do ya know what hotel he’s stayin’ at?” Johnny asked as he downed his drink letting the tequila spread over him like a warm blanket.

Murdoch thought and frowned. “I’m not sure, but it was probably The Sacramento Lodge.”
Johnny leaned his head back onto the chair cushions, stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles, and relaxed from the strains of his day. But thinking about Scott didn’t help, and Johnny wondered if he shouldn’t just say the hell with it and ride into Green River right now to send the telegram. The more he thought about it, the better the idea became. Sighing, Johnny pulled his legs under him, stood and set the empty glass on the sideboard. He started for the front hall, taking his gun belt from the hook by the door and strapped it on.

Murdoch watched as Johnny buckled the rig around his slim hips and snugged it firmly to his body, then asked the question, although he already knew the answer. “Johnny? Where are you going at this hour?”

Johnny stood spinning his hat by the brim in his hands when he slowly looked up into his father’s eyes. Murdoch saw the anxious, troubled look in the stormy blue depths.

“Goin’ ta look for my brother…” And turning, Johnny opened the door, and shut it quietly behind him.

Murdoch knew Johnny wouldn’t wait, he also knew that Johnny had been thinking about this as long as he had. They both were worried. Murdoch, himself, had thought about investigating instead of waiting.

A thundering of hooves and a pounding at the front door interrupted Murdoch’s reverie.

Johnny was throwing the saddle onto Barranca’s back when he heard the rider coming to the house. Bolting out of the barn, he ran into the back of the house and through the kitchen as he heard Murdoch thanking Tony Smith, Smitty to all who knew him, for coming out this late in the evening. As Smitty closed the door behind him, Murdoch opened the missive and began reading aloud.

Bad news, no railroad to the south. Would have helped to have your support. Where were you? 

Jim Spencer

Without a word Johnny spun on his heels and was, again, headed out to the barn. As he finished with the cinch, Murdoch came into the dark interior.

“Johnny, wait! It’s going to take you two or two and a half days of solid riding to get to Sacramento! Wait until morning, and we will catch the train…”

“Ain’t got that much time, Murdoch! If I ride all night, I can make it ta Stockton at noon or so, an' catch a train from there, maybe cut the time in half, but I ain’t waitin’!”  And with that Johnny threw himself into the saddle and was down the road before Murdoch could come up with another plan. By now, the telegraph office was closed so sending a response would be out of the question and in his heart he knew Johnny couldn’t stay until morning, he needed to start looking for his brother. He needed to move… and now.

<><><><> 

The moon was bright and taking a route that Johnny knew well, he could cut across country and make better time. His heart was pounding in his chest, and his brain was scrambling to make sense out of something that wasn’t making sense. Where the hell is Scott?  He should have arrived the day before yesterday but hadn’t made it to the meeting and apparently hadn’t talked with anyone otherwise they would have known that the ranchers in the south had been represented so whatever happened to him happened soon after he got there.

The first thing that came to Johnny’s mind was Jefferson Tremayne. Did he have anything to do with Scott’s disappearance? Who else would want Scott out of the way? He didn’t know for sure, but he would find out and probably with a little help from Madrid. And when he did find out what happened, whoever was responsible would pay… dearly.

He slowed Barranca to a walk. The horse was strong and fast, but even he had his limits. As much as Johnny wanted to get to Sacramento, he wouldn’t do so at the risk of his horse if he wanted to get there at all. But he was ahead of schedule doing things his way rather than taking Murdoch’s suggestion to take the train from Green River. At this rate, he would get to Stockton tomorrow mid-afternoon, and hopefully, there would be a train leaving for Sacramento in an hour or so. He would board Barranca in the stock car and slip into town without drawing any unwanted attention, and with any luck, he would pick up on something, anything to lead him to Scott and to have him still be alive. Keep a handle on this… Ya don’t know that Scott is in trouble… But I feel it…

The idea of losing Scott was more than he could cope with. For all the years that Johnny had been on his own, he never had to worry about anything or anyone. Now that he had a family, worry was a constant issue in his life, and he’d had difficulty figuring this out; he would have thought being happy with a family there wouldn’t be any worries, that he should be content and worry free but it seemed that once there were others in his life, others that he cared about, worry was consuming all his time…

He had absolutely no idea having a family, people that you grew to love even when you weren’t aware it was happening, was so exhausting. When he was Johnny Madrid, he drifted where the wind blew him. Now he was filled with worry and dread that Scott was in trouble and the thought terrified him, it made his insides turn to icy bricks, and it was unsettling, troublesome thoughts scrambled in his head, and he felt all was not right. How would he make it if he didn’t have his brother? The answer was, he knew, he wouldn’t…

Stockton was a thriving city, much larger than Green River, but where it was not as large as Sacramento, it was still a bustling town. Too much for Johnny’s preference but he was only passing through and quickly. Luckily, the train to Sacramento was leaving in thirty minutes, and three hours later he’d be there, then he could start the search for Scott. The first thing he would do is to check the telegraph office. Murdoch would leave word there, in Madrid’s name, if he heard anything that Johnny needed to know.
Having boarded Barranca in the stock car, Johnny settled in his seat, and what seemed hours later, which in reality was only seventeen minutes, the train began to move.

Appearing relaxed, Johnny sat in his seat, arms crossed over his chest with his hat pulled low over his eyes, but he watched everything that happened around him. A young couple sat fawning over each other, obviously newly married, gazing into the other’s eyes with love and lust; ahead of them was an elderly woman knitting furiously and oblivious to everything around her. Across and two rows ahead of Johnny was a middle-aged man in a business suit reading the newspaper. There appeared to be no threats, but one could never really tell, so one stayed alert.

As he took in all that was around him, his mind focused on Scott and he could not help but wonder what had happened to him. How would he handle this? It would depend on what he found… or didn’t find. He would, of course, have to be discreet; he couldn’t just walk into the hotel and ask for Scott Lancer’s room or inquire as to when he checked out, so Madrid would come in very useful. No one would know him, hopefully, on sight anyway, not this far north and any of the ranchers from the south that were here for the meeting would no doubt be gone by now. But he’d keep a low profile until he found out the situation. Ferreting out specific information, deciding what was fact and what was not was critical and something that Madrid did very well. He had to be good at it; he wouldn’t have lived this long otherwise.

Barranca was offloaded and patiently waited for Johnny to get the saddle secured. Giving the last tug to the cinch straps, Johnny swung into the saddle and turned the horse down a side street away from the main thoroughfare. He needed to keep out of sight, for now. A small out of the way boarding house sat on a corner, an inconspicuous building, but it looked well kept, and Johnny stepped up onto the porch.

The Sheridan House sign in the window said vacancy, so he went in. An old woman, old in appearance but very spry, stood behind the counter. When the door opened, she looked up with clear gray eyes shining over a wide and warm smile.

“Good afternoon, young man! Do you need a room for the night?” she asked, her voice kind and gentle.

“Yes, Ma’am, maybe a couple of nights, if ya have one for that long.” Johnny smiled back, giving her his dazzling Johnny Madrid Lancer grin. And it certainly caught her attention!

“Yes, I do. Would you like one facing the street?”

“Whichever’s the quietest,” he said, wanting to give the impression that he was needing sleep and not wanting to be disturbed. The truth was he would probably be spending very little time in his room.

“You can have room 107, up the stairs, all the way down. It’s quiet, comfortable and, for the time being, you’re the only one up there.” The gray eyes held his and Johnny sensed she was a good woman. The kindness was plain on her face and her smile genuine and welcoming.

“Thank you, Ma’am…”

“Oh, call me Ma, everyone does! Seems like I’ve watched everyone around here grow into adults, an’ I know them all!” Ma laughed. “There’s coffee on the stove in the kitchen if you’re interested and I just baked a chocolate cake this morning.”

Johnny’s brows went up; Yup this was a good stop…

“Thanks, Ma, might take ya up on that, maybe later. There any place close I can stable my horse?”

“There’s a barn out back for an extra two bits a day. Help yourself.” She turned the register around for him to sign. Johnny Madrid was written in a surprisingly neat hand. Now it was her turn to raise brows. She handed him the key and thanking her, he went upstairs.

Ma was right; the room was quiet and comfortable. He laid his saddlebags on the chair in the corner and tested the bed with his hand. Good enough. He turned and left the room, locking it behind him. Tucking the key in his pocket, he went out the door and swung into the saddle heading Barranca down the street.

After checking the telegraph office for a message from Murdoch and finding none, Johnny discreetly checked the Sacramento Lodge for the names of the neighboring ranchers only to find the page ripped out of the register book. His suspicions went on high alert. Who could he trust to tell him anything? Well, the saloon was as good of a place to start as any. He spent the next few hours sitting at the back of the smoky room listening for something, anything that might hold a clue to Scott’s whereabouts. If he couldn’t find something and soon, he would have to take a more direct approach and maybe at great risk.

She advanced slowly toward his table, taking her time appearing to ‘make the rounds’ but she liked what she saw, and she was going after it. She’d been watching him since he came in over an hour ago and all he’d had to drink was one beer, and he hadn’t finished it yet. It was obvious to her that he was waiting for someone, so it was her job to make his wait a little easier.

“Hello, Handsome, mind if I join you?” Callie asked with a bright smile. Johnny looked up into pretty green eyes and smiled back. He shoved the chair out with his foot and took his hat from his head then signaled to the bartender for another beer.
 
“The name’s Callie, what’s yours?” she said as she sat down flinging her long dark hair over her shoulder and turned her large, sparkling eyes on him.

He paid the bartender for the beer and slid it over in front of her. “Johnny,” was all he said. He hadn’t intended on entertainment, but it may be a way to find out something. This was one of the saloons that would be frequented by cattlemen and those from out of town. Maybe she did know something. So he put on his most dazzling Johnny Madrid Lancer smile and watched for the reaction that he hoped to see. He hated to use her but to find his brother he’d do anything that was required to get the information he so desperately needed.

“Ya worked here long, Callie?” Johnny asked, and she seemed to slip into a trance-like state as she listened to the velvet tones of his voice, but quickly snapped out of it to answer his question.

“Too long! Where’re you from, Johnny?” she purred.

“Down around the border. Depends where the wind’s blowin’,” and he gave her another smile, as she sighed. “Anything goin’ on around here? Heard there might be some ‘disagreement’ that needs ta be settled.”

Callie’s eyes widened a bit. “Are you a gunfighter, Johnny?” she asked, her heart beating faster in her breast. Johnny smiled, looking at his hands in his lap, and then raised his eyes to hers before he answered.

“I kinda like ta think of myself as a… persuader.”

Callie suddenly became quiet and a chill settled over her. “Did Tremayne send for you?” she asked, her eyes shooting fire.

He knew he’d hit a nerve. He needed to keep her talking long enough to find out what was going on.

But she had other ideas. Callie stood and started to walk away. As she passed a table a hand snaked out to grab her arm and pull her close. She tried to yank out of the grasp as the strong fingers tightened around her wrist. Johnny was on his feet in a split second and stepped behind the man in the chair as he struggled with Callie.

“Let her go,” Johnny said softly, but the ice in his tone said Get your fuckin’ hands off her or ya won’t see the sunset. Suddenly Callie felt herself stumbling backward as the fingers opened and the hand let her go. Johnny stepped around to face the man. Cold, pale brown eyes stared at him, at his bold, uninvited interruption.

“An’ just who the hell are you?” was belched from the shaggy, mustached mouth of the man sitting before him.

Johnny slipped a cold smile in place as the deep blue of his eyes pierced through to the man’s soul, and the fellow shivered slightly. “The name’s Madrid, Johnny Madrid. Who wants ta know?” Johnny said softly, but with  glacial tones.

The man’s mouth opened, and eyes slightly widened, almost as if to doubt him but thought better of it. “A little outta your territory, ain’t’cha?” Mustache replied.

So much for no one knowin’ me… “My territory is where the trouble is. Who wants ta know?” Johnny asked again, the glare in his eyes took a twenty-degree drop in temperature.

“I’m Red Stiles, foreman ta Jefferson Tremayne. Lookin’ for work?” Stiles rose from his chair and motioned Johnny to the bar. Ordering two beers, Stiles started to talk.

“We might be havin’ some problems with some ranchers, but if ya wanna talk ta Mr. Tremayne, I can have ya come out ta the house an’ ya can talk directly to him.”

Johnny nodded his head. “Let’s go,” he said and took a step away from the bar leaving the fresh beer untouched.

Red straightened. ”Ya don’t waste any time, do ya, Madrid?”

“Nope.” Don’t have any time ta waste…

Callie glared as the young, dark-haired man left with Tremayne’s foreman.

<><><><> 

The ride to the Tremayne ranch was not very long. Apparently, the Tremayne’s didn’t like to be too far away from city life. All the way from town, Red rattled on about the estate and its owner, how the wealth of the man was staggering, and the diversity of the ranch was very impressive, but it was also pretentious.

Riding through the elaborate iron gate, made to keep in as much as to keep out, Johnny made mental notes. He may need to know the how’s and why’s and where’s in a hurry. Armed guards opened the gate to allow Johnny and Red through then swung shut after them with a solid, strong clang as if to announce an irrevocable decision; Johnny felt confined, wrapped as if constricted within the ringing of iron gates.

The house was immense with its three stories and gigantic porch wrapping around the entire structure. He’d never seen so many chimneys on one building and row after row of floor to ceiling windows lined each story. Several balconies complete with comfortable seating and potted plants lined the upper stories and spoke of many bedrooms. What the hell would anyone need that many rooms for? Is he runnin’ a hotel? Johnny thought as he took in all the details of the enormous red brick house. With white trim and black shutters, it looked as if it belonged in San Francisco, like a house that Scott had pointed out on one of their trips. Scott. He’s the reason I‘m here… Where the hell are you, Brother?

Red stopped at the hitch rail, tied his horse and mounted the short flight of five stairs to the front door. He waited after he knocked until a tall, thin, middle-aged man opened the door bidding them to enter. The huge front hall was spotless with a magnificent wide stairway straight ahead stretching another twelve risers before splitting to the left and to the right with several more stairs to the second story. Standing perfectly straight and looking directly ahead, the doorman, Fitch, as Johnny would learn later, held the door and closed it after them, then with an outstretched hand, he motioned them to the second door on the right in the great foyer. Passing a large parlor and dining room, they entered Tremayne’s study.

The thick carpeting silenced Red’s heavy footfalls and had it not been for his loud gravelly voice no one would have known they were in the room. Large upholstered furniture graced the study in shades of dark green and oil paintings of fox hunts, red-suited riders on gallant mounts ranged the forests with hounds yapping, running down everything with four legs. Heavy green drapes with gold tasseled trim hung from the windows, no doubt offering privacy from the outside. A massive fireplace sat opposite the huge oak desk where Jefferson Tremayne sat. Everything in and about this house was huge, including the ego and arrogance of the man they came to see.

Jefferson Tremayne looked up from his books, his stare penetrating from under bushy salt and pepper brows sprouting over dark, cold eyes. A long thin, angular face was framed with the same white and black hair growing in a thick mass on his head. A hooded look washed over his features upon spying the stranger. Tremayne was immediately guarded. He looked at Red with suspicion.
 
“Who is the man, Red? Why is he here?” he asked without waiting for an introduction.

Red spoke nervously as he shifted his weight from foot to foot. Pointing to Johnny with his hat in his hand, he responded quickly. “This is Johnny Madrid, Mr. Tremayne. Under the circumstances, I thought that you maybe would like his help.”

Tremayne left his books and stood to face Johnny, scrutinizing every detail, every inch of him.

Johnny met his stare with his own, unblinking and cold, not backing down. Johnny knew the man was sizing him up, trying to read what he could and forming his own opinions. However, he would be wrong, Johnny knew, so he just waited.

“And just what is it that you think you can do for me, Mr... Madrid?” Tremayne suddenly asked.

Johnny smiled slightly, coldly, his eyes like ice. “Dunno. Can’t tell ya ‘til I know what kinda trouble you’re havin’,” Johnny said, answering honestly and not breaking the eye contact. It was clear that Mr. Tremayne did not like the confident and unshakeable demeanor of this young man.

Tremayne wanted to be feared, he commanded respect, and he could feel neither from this man. Then he would have to learn… thought Tremayne. He pulled himself to his full height of six feet five inches and looking down at Johnny tried, once again to intimidate with his stare. But, again, it didn’t work. Johnny huffed a short laugh.

“Look, Tremayne, if ya don’t want any help then tell me an’ stop wastin’ my time. I can check out other options.” And he turned to leave.

Not used to this audacity, Tremayne was dumbfounded; he’d never been talked to this way before and handling this type of situation was a mystery to him.

Johnny made it to the door and opened it before the big man called him back.

“If I’m going to be the boss then there are a few things that you will have to get straight!” he bellowed.

Johnny stopped just as he would have passed through the portal and saw a woman standing on the stairway coming from the second floor. She met his eyes, and a look of disgust shrouded her beautiful face and pivoting quickly she returned the way she’d come. Johnny turned back to Tremayne and closed the door. Meeting the cold glare with one of his own, Johnny spoke softly.

“I’ll decide if you’re gonna be the boss of me or not. Now tell me what kinda trouble you’re havin’, or I‘m outta here, now…”

Red stood and watched the battle for control. No one had ever talked to Mr. Tremayne that way! But then he suspected that this Madrid fellow wasn’t in the habit of taking any guff, from anyone… The staring contest ended when Tremayne broke the eye contact.

“Sit down, Mr. Madrid, and we’ll talk.”

Johnny sat as Tremayne spoke about his vast empire and how he would fight to his last breath to keep what was his. And to maintain what was his, he needed a railroad. The people opposing him didn’t have as much to lose, but they might retaliate, just may dig up some gumption to cause him trouble and that meant time and money. And that was something that he wouldn’t allow.

Johnny listened, not saying a word but his mind was scrambling with thoughts of Scott caught up in all of this. Had Scott already tangled with Tremayne? He had to find out, somehow.

“There been any trouble yet? Anyone try anything?” Johnny asked, fishing.

Tremayne looked at Johnny, and his eyes narrowed. “You’re asking questions, does that mean that you will help should the need arise?”

“What’re you payin’?” Johnny countered.

Tremayne hesitated then finally spoke. “Five hundred dollars.”

Johnny laughed and, again went to the door.

Tremayne could not believe his eyes. “You think you’re worth more?”

Johnny turned to face him again. “Wouldn’t a lived this long if I wasn’t. A thousand,” he drawled and waited with the stare-down again in play.

Tremayne glanced over at Red and sighed. “Alright, one thousand dollars, when this is over.”

“Got any names? Maybe I’ll go see some of these ranchers, maybe ‘convince’ them ta see things your way…”

Tremayne sat in his desk chair thinking as Johnny waited. “We’ll talk tomorrow. My wife is waiting on me for dinner. Red, show Mr. Madrid where he can bunk.” And with that, Tremayne left the room without another glance. Johnny and Red followed Tremayne to the heavy double doors that led out into the lavish foyer.

The staircase was empty now. Had the woman Johnny saw standing there been Tremayne’s wife, the woman with the look of loathing in her eyes?

Red took Johnny to the bunkhouse and told him he could have his pick of the empty beds and that suited Johnny just fine. There was a bunk in the corner by the back door. Taking the pillow and stuffing it in the junction of the walls, Johnny leaned against it and found it quite comfortable. Getting up he headed for the door, and Red eyed him apprehensively.

“Where ya goin’, Madrid?” Red appeared concerned and nervous.

Johnny shrugged and chuckled. “Red, ya need ta simmer down, ya look like you’re gonna bust open. I’m just gonna take a look around. Gotta know the layout, part of the job.” Johnny dismissed Red, but Red had other ideas.

“Mr. Tremayne don’t like havin’ people lookin’ around…” Red explained, doing his best to keep a handle on things.

“Well, if I’m gonna work for Tremayne, I do things my way an’ my way is knowin’ where I’m at an’ where everything is. If Tremayne don’t like it, then I ain’t workin’ for him. Like I said, it’s part of the job…” Johnny started for the door until Red spoke up.

“Then I can show you around.” Determined that Madrid wasn’t going to be galavanting about without his supervision, Red made to follow when Johnny turned to face him.

“What’s the matter, Red? You’re actin’ like there’s somethin’ ya don’t want me ta see.” Johnny confronted the man, trying to get a few answers. There was something here, on these grounds that Tremayne didn’t want to be known and Johnny would find out what it was, and hopefully, it would lead him to his brother.

“Red, I asked if there’s somethin’ ya don’t want me ta see.” Johnny wasn’t going to let it drop. And Red didn’t meet his eyes. This asshole is an easy read, it’s all over his face Johnny thought as his heart started to hammer against his ribs. The bad part about this was he had to go slow, he couldn’t jeopardize Scott’s safety and let them know he was here looking for his brother, that he was, in fact, Johnny Lancer. What was so important that Tremayne had to kidnap someone? What was he hiding?
 
“Well, I'm takin’ a walk,” Johnny turned and left the bunkhouse. He untied Barranca and started for the corral, appearing to look at the ground and his immediate surroundings, but his eyes touched everywhere. The back of the house, the barn, outbuildings and he even caught sight of Red as the foreman followed, trying to stay in the shadows and not be seen. Johnny told himself that he could always take a midnight stroll and check things out with no one tailing him, maybe even get into the house. The cellar entrance, though only briefly seen, looked like a good place to start. Was Scott right here on these grounds, as close as the house?

Getting closer to the barn, Johnny turned direction along the corral and deeper into the property. At some point, he would duck out of sight and watch what Red would do. Tying Barranca behind an outbuilding, Johnny stepped around the side keeping in the shadows and watched, smiling to himself as he observed Red scramble to find him. How did this idiota get ta be foreman? Johnny thought. He saw Red shrug and quickly walk to the back door.

Going toward the house, Johnny stayed in the bushes as he went from window to window until he found the dining room. He watched as the butler escorted Red into the formal, elaborately decorated area with fourteen plush seats around an enormous table of solid wood. Red was announced to his employer and Johnny saw Tremayne shrug, as if annoyed. The woman at the table with him was the woman that he’d seen on the stairs.

Red entered the room and spoke softly but Tremayne’s irritation at the announcement was unmistakable as voices started to rise and Johnny could hear every word.

“What do you mean, ‘You lost him’! Go find him!  We don’t know if we can trust him and you let him get away from you!” Tremayne was incensed. His face was reddening with rage.

The woman looked horrified. “Jefferson, you must do something! That man looked like a… a Mexican! And he was in this house!” She dabbed at her face with her napkin, looking as if she would faint.

“He’s a half-breed, Ma’am,” uttered Red and Francesca gasped, completely mortified.

Johnny watched and listened at the exchange, not surprised at the reactions of any of them. He’d seen it before, had, indeed, been on the receiving end of prejudices so unspeakable that simply thinking them would assure a one-way ticket to Hell. But then Johnny had heard these things all his life and what most people thought didn’t matter to him in the least. What did matter was that he find his brother as fast as he possibly could. So, he would keep an eye on Red and watch his next moves.

Safely hidden in the shadows, Johnny watched as Red came around the house straining his eyes to locate the missing man in the growing dark. Standing perfectly still as Red passed within feet of him, Johnny waited and watched the foreman search around the barn and a few of the other outbuildings. Johnny backtracked, retrieving Barranca and came walking innocently into the barn with Red right on his heels.

“Boss ain’t too happy with ya snoopin’ around like ya did, Madrid!” Red huffed, thinking perhaps it had been a mistake bringing Madrid here.

Johnny turned and softly replied. “Then he can tell me. Don’t take my orders from you.” And with that, Johnny dismissed the foreman much to his annoyance. Red Styles was beginning to regret bringing Madrid to the ranch. He’d spoken to Tremayne with no respect, too. This one ain’t gonna last long! Red thought to himself.
<><><><> 

“What was the meaning of your unescorted walk last night, Madrid? I don’t like people taking liberties on my property!” Tremayne railed, turning red in the face as his temper began to evade his control.

Johnny stood and let the man burn himself out, let the fire flare up and die. But it didn’t help Tremayne’s temper at the insolent grin the new hired man wore. Johnny had not bothered to answer, but he kept the eye contact blazing.

The dark eyes dared Johnny to respond, but he didn’t, right away. He let Tremayne wait until he was ready to answer.

“Ya finished?” Johnny asked flippantly, letting his audacity chisel away on Tremayne’s rapidly crumbling composure.

Tremayne’s mouth dropped open. In his long career of bullying and pushing people around, having them fold under his glare and intimidation, he was at a loss as to how to handle this brazen and cocky attitude. The total lack of respect, for Tremayne commanded respect and wasn’t getting it from this young man, was incomprehensible. And he didn’t like it…

“I do things my way, Mr. Tremayne. On my terms. I need ta know the layout here. An’ I have ta know everything. There somethin’ ya ain’t tellin’ me?” Johnny asked with full control of his temper and words spoken evenly.

It was as if a shade had been pulled over Tremayne’s eyes trying to prevent Johnny from seeing something that Tremayne wanted to be kept secret. “I am a businessman, Madrid, a very successful businessman. I do whatever is required to get what I want… And I always get what I want.” Tremayne stated with a self-confidence Johnny had heard from other boastful and overly ambitious men; men that eventually learned otherwise, the hard way.

“Always get what ya want, huh?” Johnny smiled.

Tremayne wondered why am I not telling him to get the hell out of this house? I don’t need anyone bucking my authority! But Tremayne had to show this young upstart his place; he felt a need to get the upper hand that had been slipping away. No one was going to tell Jefferson Tremayne anything! So, the challenge was on.

“Yes, I always get what I want.” Tremayne ended the statement with a smug smile.

“An’ whatever it takes, huh?” Johnny persisted.

Tremayne nodded his head. Johnny appeared deep in thought. Ha! I have him! Tremayne mused.

“Even at the cost of, say, murder, kidnappin’ an’ extortion?” Johnny’s eyes were sparkling as they held the large man, challenging him to the next level of their duel.

“Oh, come now, Madrid, we understand each other. Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. You of all people should know that!” Tremayne laughed out loud.

Johnny chuffed at the remark and looked down at the floor, then met Tremayne’s eyes with a hard stare of his own. “Well, I can tell ya that I ain’t never murdered anyone an’ never committed extortion… But I mightadetained… some fellas a time or two, though.”

Tremayne smiled at him. “Then, we do understand each other…”

“Maybe,” was all Johnny said. “But I still need ta know the layout of this place an’ everything that’s happened here up ta this point,” Johnny stated, not backing down.

Tremayne leveled a glacial stare at Johnny. “Why? Why do you need to know what has happened around here? You’ll get paid!” Tremayne spouted, bristling at the confrontation.

“Cuz ‘m layin’ my life on the line. If ya don’t like it, I‘m done here. You decide…” Johnny spoke evenly, too quiet for Tremayne. He wanted to see this gun hawk riled and it wasn’t happening. Tremayne hesitated, wondering just how much he should reveal.

<><><><> 

Scott’s head was aching. How long had he been here in the dark? What was happening with the meeting and the vote? Would the ranchers in the south get the railroad? If he had to venture a guess, he would say no. He was the one to represent the southern ranchers, and he wasn’t there. What the hell happened?

<><><><> 

“Nothing has happened… Much. I just persuaded someone to not vote for the southern ranchers. There have been no killings … Just detained him. That’s what you called it didn’t you?” Tremayne asked watching closely as Madrid stood and met his glare. He was annoyed that he couldn’t read Madrid; what was it about this young fellow that he couldn’t control him? Everyone is intimidated by me, Tremayne thought, why wasn’t he? Tremayne had heard of Madrid, of course, who hadn’t? But normally you didn’t believe everything that was said about someone.

Johnny’s heart was hammering in his chest. Did Tremayne just admit to kidnapping Scott and that Scott was still alive? He had to find out some answers.

“Did ya question your… guest? Maybe he’s got some useful information,” Johnny asked trying to appear as casual as he could. Madrid, don’t let me down…

“No, I didn’t need to. The fact that he didn’t show up at the meeting was all I needed, but after thinking a bit more on the situation I decided that I required insurance, but, you’ll find out everything, in due time. That will be all, Mr. Madrid.”

Johnny was dismissed. He stood for a moment holding the glare that dared him to challenge the order.

The corners of Johnny’s mouth turned in a slight grin. “Have it your way, for now.” And pivoting on his feet, Johnny left the office. Passing through the elegant foyer, he saw from the corner of his eye that Mrs. Tremayne was discreetly watching from just inside the parlor. When he reached the massive front door, he turned to give her a dazzling Johnny Madrid Lancer smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

There was only cold blue ice, and she was shocked, first at being caught staring and secondly for the open display of defiance from someone beneath her. How dare he…? And she was deeply shaken but jarred from her dismay as the front door slammed shut.

Johnny had been watching Red as the foreman went about his duties with no idea of the surveillance, no clue that he was the object of such intense scrutiny. Not picking up much useful information, Johnny was almost ready to call it a day but then thought, hopefully, they would be feeding their prisoner and maybe he could find a couple of clues as to where he was being held.

Hidden safely out of sight, Johnny watched for peculiar activities, like food being taken to an outbuilding. He did not pick up on anything indicating there was someone being kept here. Maybe he would resume his exploring. Then a thought hit him. Answers could be found in other places, and where he hated leaving the ranch, now that he was fairly certain Scott was alive, not to mention probably here right beneath his nose, he wondered about the reaction that Callie had given him when she thought he would be working for Tremayne. She knew something about the man, and he was going to find out what it was, but first, he would stop to see Ma.

<><><><> 

“Missed ya last night, Mr. Madrid.” Ma said as he walked into the boarding house. Ma was sitting in the parlor as Johnny stopped; taking the hat from his head, he offered her a genuine smile.

“Met up with some friends an’ before I knew it, it was mornin’. Any cake left?” he asked with the look that had gotten him what he wanted in the past.

Ma left her chair, and he followed her into the kitchen.

“Sit down, Mr. Madrid.” Then she went about making preparations for their coffee and cake.
 
“Johnny. Call me Johnny,” he said with a smile and he pulled out a chair as she set the table with dishes and the cake that would rival Teresa’s chocolate cake back at Lancer.

“The sign says ‘Sheridan’, that your name?” Johnny started making small talk.

Ma cut him a large piece of cake and poured coffee. “Yes, I married Duke Sheridan in the winter of ’47. Had a small farm just outside of town and together we raised two boys. Had a good life until things started to change around here.” Ma became quiet.

Johnny toyed with his cup as Ma stared at her plate, then a tiny smile graced her sweet face.

“But you don’t want to hear the woes of an old woman. How do you like the cake, Johnny?” she asked with a sincere smile on her face. Now it was Johnny’s turn to smile, and it told Ma what she wanted to know. The sparkle in his eyes didn’t lie, and she realized that she had hit his soft spot. Of course, she’d heard about Johnny Madrid but who would have ever thought that his weakness was something as simple as chocolate cake! She almost laughed.

“Well, Ma, you’d be wrong. I’d like to hear your story, if ya wanna tell it,” Johnny said in his velvet tones.

His deep blue eyes were clear and honest and Ma found herself telling a perfect stranger her sad story. “After Duke lost the ranch in a card game both my boys…” and here Ma stopped talking, she took a deep breath to calm her thoughts.

“I didn’t mean ta bring up any bad memories. I’m sorry,” Johnny whispered.

Ma looked at him and continued her story. “The boys were killed one night after they started asking questions about their pa. There was something very suspicious about that card game…  And whatever happened out there on that lonely road no one knows for sure, but the sheriff said it was a case of robbery and murder.

“Anyway, with the boys gone Duke started to drink heavily; one night he never came home. He was found floating in the river south of town with a bullet hole in his back. I got what money we had and bought this old house and now rent the rooms.” She finished talking and met Johnny’s eyes.

“Ya know who did it?” he asked softly. They were each measuring the other. Could she trust him? She thought, and he wondered if he could trust her. Johnny sighed and took another drink of coffee.

“Why are you in Sacramento, Johnny?” Ma asked softly, her keen eyes watched his. She would see if he was leveling with her.

He made his decision. “I’m here ta find my brother,” Johnny answered honestly.

Ma saw it, and she also saw his worry. And suddenly, Ma understood. Everything was tied together, tied in a big knot, a large web of corruption and deception and the spider in the middle of it all was Tremayne.

“And your name is really Madrid?” she asked.

“Used ta be.” But he didn’t volunteer anymore. Now it was her turn to sigh.

“Well, son, if you need anything, anything, Johnny, please ask me, and I will help all that I possibly can because I am tired of him getting away with this!” And Ma quickly left the table.

He had an ally now, and he knew this would be a tough fight. It was going to be hard to prove unless he actually found Scott and was able to convince the authorities of Tremayne’s underhanded and illegal doings. And chances were that Tremayne had the law in his back pocket. Well, if Tremayne wanted to play tough, Johnny had a few tricks up his sleeve, and he could play the game with the best of them. After all, Madrid hadn’t been paid thousands of dollars for not being crafty and ‘good at his trade’.

With a source of information from Ma Sheridan, Johnny began to feel that, with a little help, the issue of Scott’s disappearance could be solved. It was becoming more and more apparent that Jefferson Tremayne was not afraid of any illegal activities and if something interfered with plans he had, he could snap his fingers, and someone would do the dirty work for him, and it appeared to include kidnapping and murder.

Johnny left the Sheridan House, making sure he wasn’t followed and took the long way around to the saloon where he’d met Callie. If he played his cards right maybe, she could fill in some of the blanks.

<><><><> 

Settling himself, once again, at the back table with a beer in hand, he waited. His guts were tied in knots, he needed to be out finding Scott, but he didn’t know where else to start and couldn’t risk raising suspicions at Tremayne’s ranch. So he’d start at the other end; with the ones that had been the victims of tyrant’s greed and ambitions. He wondered if Callie had any such dealings with the beast. But would Callie even talk with him? She hadn’t been very happy with Johnny the last time he saw her.

And it appeared she still wasn’t. He sat there as she moved around the saloon greeting patrons at the different tables but avoided his. She knew he was watching her and did not meet his eyes, she ignored him completely. Still, he sat and watched her every move and it started to wear on her nerves. She became jumpy, and with uncharacteristic sharpness in her voice when a man tried to entice her to sit with him, she apparently decided to put an end to the stress. She approached Johnny’s table with a hard cold stare.

“What do you want?” she demanded, hands on her shapely hips and a glare in her emerald eyes.

Johnny looked into her stony face and graced her with a small smile, which she did not return. “Like ta talk ta you,” he said softly.

The velvet tones that had melted her before seemed to touch her heart again, but then she remembered who this man was, and with renewed defiance, she steeled herself to reject him once more.

“Maybe some other time…” She whirled away hoping that he would get the message this time, and presenting her back to him she stalked away.

Damn, ain’t got time for this… Johnny thought. He may have to get a bit more persuasive. He watched as she went about her roving at the many tables trying to decide the best way to proceed. He wasn’t getting any closer to finding Scott this way, so he thought of another approach, one that was more direct…

The evening had been long for both Johnny and Callie. Johnny had to bide his time, he had no choice. Callie, as usual, had to deal with promises that would be broken and groping hands and cowboys that smelled of horses and cattle and sweat. But she had done this for a while, she knew what men were like after a few drinks, and she’d learned to deal with it.

But it was seeing the gunfighter, again, that had set her on edge. Just who did he think he was? And what made him think that she would run back to his table and cozy on up to him like he was someone special? But in all honesty, Johnny didn’t know all that had happened prior to his arrival. Maybe she should explain it to him tomorrow if he came back to the saloon. Right now all she wanted to do was clean up and go to bed.

<><><><> 

Callie Marie Davidson, Callie Harris to those in Sacramento, walked briskly home as the moon blazed brightly overhead and cast eerie shadows over the ground. She had always enjoyed the night, enjoyed watching the sun slide behind the mountains and as if by magic the stars blinked on one by one announcing the end of another day.

Turning down the alley to the stairs leading to the second story living quarters, she stopped to take a last look at the beautiful sky. As she turned to mount the stairs, her heart stopped as a hand clamped down over her mouth and an arm held her in an iron grip. She struggled briefly then heard a soft voice close to her ear.

“Don’t mean ya any harm an’ I'm sorry ta scare ya, but I hafta talk to ya, Callie.” The whisper sounded serious, in need and she stopped her struggles. She knew who it was.

“I’m gonna let ya loose, please don’t scream, this is important an’ I need some answers.” Johnny let her go, and she turned to face him. In the moonlight, he could see her eyes, wide and sparkling, the fear fading quickly. “Callie, I‘m sorry, but I really need ta talk.”

As Callie watched him, she could see he was telling her the truth. The years as a saloon girl had taught her much, and she was fairly accomplished at knowing if someone was lying to her or was honest. And he was.

Callie led him up the stairs to the rooms she rented. Opening the door and lighting a lamp, she drapped her wrap over the back of a chair. Her rooms were neat and clean, decorated with taste however not lavish or expensive. On a saloon girl’s pay, extravagance was not an option.

“Coffee?” Callie asked as she motioned Johnny into a chair.
“No thank you,” he answered, and she sat across the table from him, folded her hands in front of her and waited.

“Callie, I need ta know if there’s been any people that’s come ta town in the last week that suddenly disappeared, anyone that was ta be at that meeting about the railroad. There’s a page ripped outta the register at The Sacramento Lodge. A page that would have had the name I‘m lookin’ for.”

Callie’s eyes narrowed as she listened to him, now not knowing if she believed him now or not.

“So you’re looking for someone… Why?” she asked, her suspicions running wild. “Tremayne paying you to find someone?” She was beginning to regret letting him into her room.

“No, Tremayne ain’t payin’ for that, but before I answer anything more suppose ya tell me what ya know about him.” Johnny's demeanor, the voice that held deep concern, everything about him hinted at growing desperation.

There it was again, she saw the truth in his eyes. “Tremayne takes what he wants regardless of who he hurts. He’s killed, he’s ruined people, and nothing is done about it. He owns the law here, and conveniently there are never any witnesses that will testify against him, no one with enough backbone that will stand up to him. So he runs this town and everyone in it. Tell me who you’re looking for.” She stared directly into his face, not shying away from the question and now very curious about the answer.

Is this gamble gonna pay off? Johnny thought as he contemplated his reply. Well, not gettin’ anywhere doin’ like I have been… “Before I answer ya, has there been anyone that ya ain’t seen lately?” Deep blue eyes stared into brilliant green. She took a deep breath, and Johnny thought she looked like she was going to cry.

“Yes,” she whispered with a hitch in her throat.

Now it was Johnny’sturn to breathe deep. Then he spoke. “What was his name?”

“Scott.”

Johnny’s belly flipped over, and she asked: “Who is he?” she said barely above a whisper.

Johnny looked in her misty eyes. “My brother.”

Her eyes flared open, her mind not accepting this answer and she jumped to her feet, her voice raised, and almost shouted, “You’re lying!” And she went to the door, held it open and gestured him to leave.

Johnny slowly went to her side and took her hand off the door. Then he quietly closed it.

She watched him closely, disbelief shrouding her angry green glare.

“He’s my half brother. We have different mothers. Look, I hafta find him, he’s been gone five days or so. Don’t know exactly when he disappeared but I‘m fairly certain that Tremayne has him. He’s a little taller’n me, light hair, blue-gray eyes, talks educated. He came here ta represent the ranchers south of here ta get the railroad down there instead of it goin’ north. He never showed at the meeting they had.”

“I know. I saw him get jumped that night,” Callie answered softly. Could Johnny possibly be telling the truth? Could he find Scott? she wondered.

“Did ya see any faces? Could ya identify anyone?” Johnny asked hopefully, desperate now for more answers, and finally having a lead.

Callie shook her head. “No, he had just said goodnight and was going back to the hotel. I stood and watched as two men came up behind him, hit him on the back of his head and dragged him away. I knew why he was here and knew that I couldn’t go to the sheriff. The sheriff works for Tremayne, always has. Oh, Johnny had I known that you were here to find Scott I would never have treated you the way I did! I’m sorry!” she said in a rush. Her hands covered her trembling lips as the green orbs filled with tears.

“Well, I couldn’t say why I was here but now that ya know, got any ideas where they might be keepin’ him?” Johnny asked as she gave it serious thought.

Trying to overcome the worries that swirled in her brain and the thought of Scott in trouble, she made up her mind that she would help Johnny in whatever way she could.

Johnny took her hands in his and held them a few seconds. “We’ll find him, Callie, we hafta…” He smiled as she dried her eyes and blew her nose. “I’m stayin’ at Ma Sheridan’s if ya think of anything. She can tell me if ya can’t stay around ta see me.”

Callie smiled. “You picked a good woman to confide in. Ma has lost as much as anyone in this town to Tremayne.”

Johnny looked down at his hands. “Yeah, she told me what happened,” he said, not much above a whisper. For a second, Johnny closed his eyes and shook his head, the thought of Tremayne triggering memories of others who had tried to control and dominate, and what it had cost innocent people set his belly to churning.

“What’d ya know about him?” Johnny coaxed, getting as much information on the man as he could.

Callie looked miserable, her chin quivered, and it was very obvious she was trying to get  herself under control. She took a deep breath and began talking. “He came here about five years ago, a pocket full of money and big ideas. Started buying up everything and everyone. A lot of folks have suffered because of that man. He’s evil, so is his wife, Francesca, her real name is Francis, but we called her Frannie. She’s my sister.”

Johnny looked up, surprised at this last statement.

“She married Tremayne and decided that Frannie didn’t suit her anymore, now that she was a rich businessman’s wife. The two of them belong together; one is as bad as the other. She doesn’t know that I am here. Of course, a saloon isn’t the kind of place a lady like her would be seen. I followed her here when I heard they’d settled in Sacramento, figured the city was big enough so she wouldn’t know I was here and I changed my name, just like she did.
 
“Yes, Francis Davidson has been in hiding for a long, long time but since she has all the money and the fine life that goes along with it, I guess Frannie can stay hidden for as long as she wants to…” Callie stopped talking, saddened, again, at the ugly turn that life had taken.

“Why did ya follow her?” Johnny asked, with curiosity piqued.

Callie looked up and whispered something that she’d never before put to words. “Because I want to see them pay for what they’ve done to all these innocent people, not only the people here but wherever they’ve gone. They take and don’t care who they’ve hurt, who they’ve ruined.

“I want folks like Ma Sheridan to be paid for the land that was taken from her. Nothing can make up for the loss of her family, though. Not even Tremayne has that much money, not enough to make up for what he had taken, not enough to make up for the lives he’s ruined, but Tremayne, the sheriff and the Mayor all have a lot to account for.”

Johnny thought for a moment before he spoke. Raising his eyes, the deep blue locked on  tormented green and he smiled.

“Ya think ya could send a telegraph message tomorrow without raisin’ too much suspicion?” Johnny asked as he now began to formulate a plan.

“Tremayne has stepped on a lot of people, and most of them would give everything they own to see him pay, including Sonny, the telegraph operator. You write it out, and I can get it sent.” Callie went to a kitchen drawer and came back with paper and pencil. Without giving away anything, Johnny wrote his message and gave it to Callie.

“When do you want this sent, Johnny?”

“Soon as ya can get it ta the telegraph office in the mornin’,” Johnny sighed then looked her in the eyes. “Thanks, Callie. We’ll find him.” And Johnny got up and left her room.

As he closed her door, she murmured: “I just hope it’s in time…”

<><><><> 

The night passed slowly for them. Each wondered where Scott was and each hoping he was still alive. Callie had told Johnny about the brief time she spent with Scott in the saloon. They had talked for a few hours, and she had been very taken with his respect for her, his gentle manners and touched by his kindness. A girl in this profession didn’t usually see much of anything resembling concern and respect. And she had been badly shaken when she saw him ambushed, knowing there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. As she lay in her bed thinking, she wondered if justice would ever come to call on Jefferson and Francesca Tremayne.

Johnny, on the other hand, knew that justice would come. Thanks to Madrid. It always did. How many times had Madrid fought to make things right? To champion those who couldn’t or didn’t have the means to fight for themselves? And men like Tremayne had to pay, needed to pay, dearly, because of those he’d ruined and who had perished because of his greed. If Scott had been harmed, Tremayne would pay, just like the others.

<><><><> 

Sonny tapped out the message without asking questions.

Val Crawford, Green River, CA

Fishing good- come up and join me. Murdoch can’t get wet. No need to invite him. Hurry. Fish won’t bite for long.
JM

Callie paid him a generous tip and left the office. Making her way back to her room she began to think maybe they just might find Scott and just maybe the Tremayne’s would get what has been, up to this point, a long time in coming.
<><><><> 

“Where have you been, Madrid?” The question came harsh and demanded an answer, a command issued requiring a response from a superior to a subordinate. And it irritated Johnny, but he didn’t show it. Instead, he turned to meet Tremayne’s piercing glare and chuckled, giving a look of defiance and indifference that triggered another searing blaze from Johnny’s “boss”. On the verge of Tremayne exploding, Johnny interrupted his thoughts, thoughts that no one had ever dared attempt to disrupt.

“Told ya b’fore, Mr. Tremayne, I do things my way an’ since ya ain’t been honest with me, I hafta find answers on my own. If ya don’t like it, I can always go work for the other side,” Johnny casually said, and a snide smile covered his face.

“I have had about enough of you, Madrid!” Tremayne railed, his face getting redder by the minute. The man’s hands were trembling at his sides. A grin broke out on Johnny’s face, and Tremayne was almost pushed over the edge. The door to Tremayne’s office opened, and Francesca stood there drawn into the room by the commotion of the irate shouting of her husband.

“Get your things and get out! You’re fired!” Tremayne shouted, control rapidly flowing out of his command. He needed to stop that flood, and now.

“Your call… boss.” Johnny said insolently and turned, and he stepped around the woman standing there. A sweet smile replaced the snide one, and Johnny tipped his hat to her. “Ma’am. Oh, see ya around… Frannie.” Johnny swore her face drained of color.

Her hand went to her mouth, and her eyes went wide with shock. “Get out!” She whispered and grabbed the table for support. “Jefferson, make him leave! He’s filthy and vile!” Francesca’s hand stabilized her from falling to the floor as she leaned heavily on a side table for support.

“I’m leavin’ here but I ain’t leavin’ Sacramento.” Turning, Johnny went out into the elaborate foyer, and Fitch was there to open the door for him.

“Thanks, Fitch, nice job you’re doin’.” Johnny smiled as he walked through the portal and as he left he could have sworn Fitch gave him a grin.

<><><><> 

“Stiles! Get in here!” Tremayne bellowed. Assisting his wife into a chair, he gave her a glass of brandy as she fanned her face delicately with her lace handkerchief. Her eyes were closed and her face pale as Jefferson tipped the dainty glass to her lips.

Red barged through the doors, winded after running across the yard from the barn. His eyes went wide upon seeing the distressed Mrs. Tremayne and wondered what the hell had happened.

“Mr. Tremayne, what…” Red was cut off.

“Follow that bastard! Find out what he’s up to!” Tremayne commanded and saw the question on Red’s face. Tremayne blew up. “Madrid, you idiot!”

<><><><> 

Johnny watched the trail. Red Stiles was truly in over his incompetent head. The man was a bumbling fool, and Johnny would soon be relaying those words to the man’s face. Johnny wondered how long it would take before Val got to Sacramento. The message he’d sent was plain enough, and Val would know there was trouble, but in the meantime, Madrid was going to have to handle things by himself, and Red was going to be his starting point. 

Behind his cover, Johnny waited as Stiles blundered his way toward the rocks. Entering the copse of trees growing amongst the rocks that littered the ground, the trap was sprung. Johnny cocked his Colt and the man didn’t say a word; he simply raised his hands and sat where he was, knowing that he had failed Tremayne and that the boss man would be furious. Briefly, he wondered where he could get another job, that is, if he lived through this one…

“You’re gettin’ pretty sloppy there, Red,” Johnny drawled lightly. “Mierda! If I had me a foreman as stupid as you, I’d be pissed an’ you’d be lookin’ for another job about now!” Johnny laughed aloud, making Red blush at his mistake. “Whatcha doin’ tailin’ me?” Johnny asked with the levity suddenly gone and the words sending a chill down Red’s spine.

“Jus’ wanna make sure ya don’t go causin’ any more trouble for the Tremayne’s,” Red sputtered.

Johnny’s brows went up. Any more trouble? “Geddown offa your horse an’ turn around.” Red dismounted and turned as Johnny tied the man’s hands behind his back, then he shoved him over to a rock and motioned for him to sit.

“What now?” Red asked, wondering what Madrid had in mind.

“We wait,” Johnny said succinctly, not offering any explanations.

The afternoon dragged on, and Johnny watched as Red fidgeted on the rock and tried to get comfortable. He tied the rope tight, and knew Red’s hands were numb. Although Red was in the shade, the sweat ran down the sides of his face as he craned his neck to wipe his cheek on his shoulder. Johnny smirked.

Johnny was still, he watched as Red tried to quiet the turmoil rolling around inside him. His eyes never left Red, and it was getting on the man’s nerves.

“What’d ya want, Madrid?” Red finally asked, hoping to find out something, anything!

Johnny smiled feigning surprise. “Want? Now, why would I want anything, Red? You all have been so accommodatin’, tellin’ me what I need ta know, sharin’ all the information ya have an’ all. Why would I want anything?” I need ta be rid of this idiota an’ be lookin’ for Scott, got a feelin’ his time’s runnin’ out. Maybe if I let Tremayne know Red’s talkin’, he’ll be willin’ to trade an’ let Scott go…  Johnny thought that Val could help Red to talk. Val was good at that type of thing. He just hoped that Val would get there in the next twenty-four hours.

Johnny raised his canteen and took a slow, refreshing drink, his gaze not leaving Red’s hot and sweating face. Red licked his lips as if he could feel in his own body the cool water trickling down his throat, revitalizing energy flowing through his veins. He swallowed, sending his large Adam’s apple in a sticky, dry bob in his neck. Yup, he ain’t gonna be much of a problem. Johnny decided he’d start the ‘inquisition’ without Val. Casually drying his mouth on his sleeve, Johnny smiled and shook his head. He looked Red straight in the eye.

“Sure ain’t nothin’ like a good, long drink on a hot day! Dios! I was parched!” Putting the cork back into the canteen he slung it over his shoulder and folded his arms across his chest. Glancing around, he saw the sun start to lower in the sky. Johnny began to talk as he gazed about the countryside with its beautiful, forested mountains and twilight skies, taking in the calmness, the serenity with a slight smile on his handsome face.

“Ya know, I been at this kind of work a long time, Red. I seen a lotta real bad people an’ a lotta real bad things happen ta good people.” The smile suddenly disappeared, and his eyes turned cold, freezing Red to the spot. Without breaking the visual contact, Johnny reached down and slid his fingers into his boot retrieving a knife with a long and wickedly gleaming blade.

Red’s eyes widened, and he immediately began sweating. Johnny had all he could do to not laugh at this pathetic man with the spine of a worm. He started to caress the blade almost lovingly, wondering what it was that Tremayne saw in this man to think him worthy of the position of foreman to his empire; the empire that had caused the ruin of many.

“What’s Tremayne doin’?” Johnny suddenly asked as Red’s eyes stared at the  blade that flashed in the afternoon sun as Johnny toyed with it.

Red’s dull brown gaze fixed as if a spell had been cast and, actually, it had. The spell of Madrid settled down around Red like a constricting cloud; a cloud that was as lethal as any bullet Red had ever known. He knew there was no escape for him now that he was in Johnny’s ‘custody’ and he also knew there would be no mercy for him. He knew too much, and Madrid knew it.
Johnny could see the worry in Red’s face. Red was aware he wouldn’t be able to hold him off for very long. Madrid didn’t get the reputation he had for being a pushover. But Red tried…

“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Madrid. Mr. Tremayne has a business ta run. He’s handlin’ his investments.” The statement sounded reasonable to Red’s ears. Anyone should believe that… Madrid smiled wickedly.

“Investments, huh?” Red shook his head, finally tearing his eyes away from the blade and into cold, glacial eyes just as deadly.

“Investments like lyin’, cheatin’? Say… kidnappin’ an’ murder?”

Red’s eyes widened in shock. “What‘d ya talkin’ ‘bout?” Red played the innocent card as much as he could, but Madrid pushed on with his soft, smooth voice and easy chuckle; it was beginning to chill Red, and he wondered if this was to be his last day in this world. How could these words, spoken in a near a whisper have such devastating and menacing implications? Red’s belly began to flip over and over.

Madrid’s eyes were dark with the threat of violence and Johnny knew that it was having the effect that he wanted it to. Red was squirming, just like the worm he was, wiggling as if impaled on a hook… which he was.

“How many decent, law abidin’ people has he had killed, Red? You do his killin’ for him? Or do you have others do it, so ya don’t get your hands too dirty? How many families been torn apart? How many kids been made orphans because of Tremayne’s greed? You’re in this just as deep as he is an’ you’ll hang for your part in it.”

Red’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head, and his heart was hammering against his ribs. “What’d ya mean ‘hang’?” Red was fraying at the seams. And Johnny doused fuel on the already burning and soon to be exploding fire. A little more antagonism was necessary, though.

“Ya know, when they put a rope around your neck an’ whip the horse out from under ya, the rope, well, it gets real tight, real fast an’ the knot snaps your neck. Ever hear them bones break, Red? Sounds just like breakin’ a piece a wood ta put on a fire. SNAP! An’ you’re kickin’ a bit at the end of the rope, your bowels let loose an’ then… nothin’. You’re dead.” Johnny explained as if to a child and smiled again as if enjoying the task. Red’s belly was still churning and about to empty.

“I never killed anyone for Tremayne!” Red spat out, breathing hard.

“What about takin’ a prisoner, kidnappin….?” Johnny asked.

Red had to stall. “No, I ain’t had no part in that, neither!”

Johnny shrugged and looked down at the knife in his hands and shook his head. “Red, it don’t hafta be this hard. All ya gotta do is tell me what happened.” Johnny rose from the rock he’d been sitting on, and advanced on Red holding the knife casually in his hand.
.
“Nobody’s gonna hear ya when I start ta cut, Red. Ain’t no one gonna help ya. All ya gotta do is talk…” Johnny kept walking forward, and Red had no time to weigh the options. Madrid, now behind him, grabbed a handful of hair and pulled his head back as far as the neck would bend. Slowly he raised the knife in front of Red’s eyes and brought it to lie against Red’s skin, increasing the pressure the longer it took Red to say anything. The blade bit into the flesh drawing a drop of blood and a sharp sting.

“This doesn’t hafta happen, Red. I told ya before. All ya gotta do is talk an’ if ya don’t talk in the next thirty seconds, you’ll be pickin’ up your head outta the dirt. Now talk!” Johnny said in his ear. And Red squawked like a chicken.

The proverbial singing canary had nothing on Red Stiles, late of the Tremayne Empire. He told Johnny everything. How Tremayne cheated Mr. Sheridan out of the ranch and the killing of the two sons. Of the part that the sheriff and mayor played in all the ill dealings with the locals and how Tremayne was planning to use the railroad when it came through. As he had purchased all the land that the Pacific Railroad would need, Tremayne stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, all at other’s expense.

“What ‘bout the kidnappin’?” Johnny asked.

Red looked surprised that that issue had been raised. “What kidnappin’?”

Johnny brought up the knife and again laid it against Red’s throat. With another deadly whisper in Red’s ear, Johnny made his last threat. Anything beyond this point was a promise to be carried out immediately. With as much venom in his voice that he could muster, Johnny spat: ”I’m gonna fuckin slit your throat if ya don’t start talkin’! Where is he?” and the knife began to cut in earnest. Blood trickled down Stiles' neck and onto his collar.

“Wait! I’ll talk!” Johnny decreased pressure but did not remove the knife. “Mr. Tremayne has someone locked in the basement in a room, no noise can get out. He’s been there five days. Just some sodbuster from the south. Them squatters down there ain’t gonna out bid Mr. Tremayne. Sides, what’d ya care ‘bout him?” Red, disgusted with himself for caving in, wheezed in contempt.

“That ain’t none of your concern.” Johnny yanked Red to his feet and tied a gag around his mouth. Getting Red settled in his saddle, Johnny took the reins and headed into town.

<><><><> 

The back alleyway was dark, almost too dark to walk safely but after Red stumbled and fell a few times they were at the bottom of the stairs that led to the second-floor rooms that Callie rented. Johnny pushed Red up to the landing, and with his knife blade, he tripped the lock allowing them to enter.

“Don’t move or it’ll be your last. I got the knife in my hand an’ you know I ain’t afraid ta use it.” Red stood stock still, not wanting to risk the wrath of Madrid. Johnny lit a lamp and ordered Red on to the floor. Stiles landed with a loud thump on the wooden planks and Johnny bound him, hand to foot with a knot that would require a knife to release. Checking to make sure the gag was secure, Johnny blew out the lamp and went out the door, quietly locking it behind him.

<><><><> 

Callie watched him come through the door. She skillfully excused herself from the boring company that she had been keeping for the last ten minutes. Johnny took her arm and gently steered her toward a table against the back wall. They sat together as Johnny explained what had happened and that Red Stiles was hogtied in her room.

“Johnny! What am I going to do with him in my room?” she all but shrieked but quickly quieted. She loathed the man with all her being.

“I need him alive, Callie, an’ ya said yourself that the sheriff’s in on all this. Val should be here tamorrow an’ if somethin’ happens ta me I need for you ta let him know what’s goin’ on an’ ta turn Stiles over ta him. He’s about the same size as me, dark hair, shaggy mustache, dresses kinda sloppy. Have him get a room with Ma Sheridan,” Johnny explained quietly.

“What are you going to do, Johnny?” Callie asked with concern weighing heavy in her eyes.

Johnny smiled. “I’m goin’ visiting, an’ if I ain’t here when Val gets inta town tell him that Tremayne has a room in the cellar where he’s keepin’ a prisoner. He’ll know what ta do.”

Callie’s eyes widened. “Do you think it’s Scott? He’s alive?”

“Accordin’ ta Stiles, there’s a room that Tremayne is keepin’ someone in. I can only hope that it’s Scott. Who else would it be? Oh, an’ tell Val that Red knows what Tremayne is up to. Val knows how ta get answers outta someone that doesn’t wanna talk.” Johnny smiled and winked, then left the saloon.

Callie sat alone for several minutes silently praying that Johnny knew what he was doing.

<><<><> 

Johnny made a quick stop on his way out of town at Ma Sheridan’s. Stepping into the front hall of the immaculate house, Ma met him as he was about to go into the kitchen. He offered her his grin as she returned one to him. Taking his arm, she led him to the kitchen table and set a cup of hot coffee in front of him along with a plate filled with chicken and dumplings. He wasted no time digging into the delicious meal, and Ma fairly glowed watching as he ate with gusto. Johnny’s thoughts were running more with the idea of ‘eat while ya can’ not knowing what the next few hours would bring.
 
“Been a long time since I watched a young man eat with such enthusiasm. But then, I reckon you haven’t had much today.” Ma quickly dismissed the thoughts about her sons sitting at the dinner table, joking, laughing and wolfing their food after a long day of work. The memories always ended up making her sad, and she had a feeling that things here were about to happen. And she worried about Johnny. She needed a clear head in order to help Johnny with whatever he would require.

Johnny looked up, again with his trademark smile, eyes twinkling and decided to clue her in. “Yup, been a long day. Ya noticed anything unusual taday? Anyone come around that wouldn’t normally be around? One of Tremayne’s men?”

Ma’s eyes widened in surprise. “No, should I expect someone?” she asked as Johnny continued to eat.

“Dunno. I’m hopin’ they haven’t found out I‘m stayin’ here, sort of. Don’t want ya ta get involved. Got no idea when it’s gonna blow up but it’s gonna be soon. They got someone locked in a cellar at Tremayne’s house. You hear of anyone gone missin’ other than Scott?” Johnny asked around a mouthful of the delicious meal.

“No, I haven’t. Johnny? Be careful, please! Tremayne has a mean streak and isn’t afraid to do whatever he deems necessary. And that includes killing.” Ma laid a warm and gentle hand on Johnny’s arm, and he could not help but feel honored that this kind woman was concerned for his safety.

“There’s gonna be a fella come inta town, he’s the sheriff down in Green River, he’s a friend. Name’s Val Crawford. I had Callie at the saloon send him a telegram askin’ ta come on up here. He’s ta get a room here. Tell him what ya know, ‘specially if somethin’ happens ta me.”

At this point, Ma’s face dropped with genuine worry shadowing her eyes to a dark gray.

“Don’t worry, Ma, I'm gonna be careful. This is ‘just in case’. But if ya don’t see me by tamorrow noon can ya get a telegram sent? It’ll be important, so I need ta know it’ll get done.”

Johnny was talking softly, calmly, and Ma was starting to settle her nerves. His effect on her was strange she thought. She knew things were about to break loose and here she was conversing as if they were talking about the weather. She rose from her chair and went to a drawer in the pantry, retrieved a paper and pencil and set it in front of Johnny for him to write out his message. Again, she wondered about this young man, no stranger to violence yet polite, kind, considerate and of all things, had very neat writing.

“If it comes ta this, there’ll be more folks comin’ inta town, one of them bein’ my father, Murdoch Lancer, that’s who this telegram is for.” Johnny looked at Ma one last time and rose from the chair. He stepped away from the table and Ma took his arm again, and then pulled him into an embrace.

“Johnny, please be careful!” she whispered into his ear, and he hugged her back then quietly left her house.

<><><><> 

“Jefferson! He called me ‘Frannie’! He must know something! How could he know?” Francesca reclined in her bed with a cool cloth over her forehead.

Tremayne sat next to her and tried to calm her fears. “How could he know anything, dear? There’s no one to tell him anything. It will be alright. You’ll see, everything will be fine,” Tremayne said. “I need to find Stiles! He’s been gone too long now. I should have fired him when I sent Madrid away!”

“Oh, that filthy half-breed! He was in our house! Jefferson, he was in our house!”  Frannie railed.

Jefferson stood and looked down at his wife. “You rest, Francesca, I will take care of this, I promise.”
<><><><> 

Once again, Johnny used his knife to trip the lock on Callie’s door. Silently entering the room, Johnny closed the door and lit the lamp. Red Stiles lay in a sloppy pile on the floor where Johnny had left him. Pulling up a kitchen chair, Johnny turned it around, straddled it and leaned on the backrest looking down at Red as he casually played with the knife in his hand.

“Ya don’t look too comfortable, Red. Anything I can get for ya?”

Red’s eyes opened not believing what he had just heard.

Johnny laughed. “Yup, I‘m kiddin’. But I‘m gonna ask ya some questions an’ ya better answer me with the truth. Otherwise, I’m gonna finish the job with my knife.” Johnny’s eyes turned cold, freezing Red to the spot on the hard floor.

“I wanna know where Tremayne keeps his valuable papers. He got a safe in his house?”

Red just stared, and Johnny held the knife to Red’s neck, again, pricking the skin. Stiles squirmed pulling away from the sharp point, but Johnny’s hand followed.

“Ya might as well answer my questions, Red. Ya know I ain’t gonna let ya go until I get the answers ta what I wanna know.” The words were soft but menacing. Reaching across Red’s face, Johnny cut the gag so Red could talk.

“It’s in his study, behind the huntin’ picture on the wall. Don’t know how ta get in it. Just Tremayne and his wife have the combination for it. That’s all I know, honest!”

Johnny laughed when Red said ‘honest’. “Tell me what Tremayne has planned. What’s he doin’ tonight?” The questions kept coming, and Red answered them knowing that Tremayne would kill him should he ever find out that Red talked. But, if he didn’t talk, Madrid would kill him, and Madrid was the one that had the knife on him now.

“Don’t know exactly when or where but there’s a meetin’ with the railroad boss, could be tonight. I know he’s goin’ inta town for somethin’.”

<><><><> 

Tremayne walked through the batwing doors of the saloon. Normally he wouldn’t be seen in a place like this, but Herman Wellman of the Pacific Railroad indicated he would like to see what the inside of a western drinking establishment looked like. The two well-dressed men entered the smoke-filled room, Tremayne immediately regretting the decision but Wellman seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. It was noisy and was tantalizingly sinful; just such a place that Wellman thought he deserved after all those wasted years married to the prudish woman waiting for him back east.

He watched the working girls with lascivious eyes not believing what he was seeing. All the exposed flesh, breasts seeming to overflow the confines of the low cut bodice decorated with sequins and feathers! Oh, this was a dream come true! He’d never been unfaithful before, but tonight that was going to change!

Callie had finished delivering a tray of drinks to the cowboys at the back table and returning to the bar she caught sight of Jefferson Tremayne standing not five feet away. She set the tray on the bar and as she turned to leave an arm reached out to catch her wrist.

“Say there, little lady, why don’t ya let me buy ya a drink?” The slur in the gravel voice was loud and drew attention from those around, including Herman Wellman, and he lusted after this pretty brunette with eyes the color of pines. Oh, I bet she smells good, too! He thought licking his lips leaving them wet and sloppy. There was a tightening in his loins, and his heart picked up its beat.

Callie wrenched her arm away from her captor as she turned to flee; but not quite fast enough. Tremayne caught a glimpse of his sister-in-law as she left by the back door.

Racing through the back alleys, Callie ran to her room, taking the stairs as fast as she could.
Johnny, still inside with Red, stood behind the door as it opened up and he cocked his gun in Callie’s ear. She jumped, startled not only by the gun but suddenly remembering that Red Stiles was tied on her kitchen floor.
 
“Only me, Callie, it’s alright,” Johnny spoke softly into her ear as she let him take her weight, knees not wanting to support her.

“Tremayne! He saw me! Johnny, you’ve got to get out of here! I don’t know if he followed or not. I’ll be alright here, just go!” 

Johnny did not like the thought of leaving her alone with Tremayne so close.

“I’ll be alright, Johnny! Get out of here! Now!” Callie pleaded.

Johnny turned and left.

<><><><> 

He was thankful Tremayne’s house wasn’t far from town. The ride was short as Barranca’s hooves ate up the miles and he made excellent time. He approached the house from the far side, and Johnny sneaked onto the property and up to the house. The need to know the layout of the place he worked for, or against, was important for more than one reason. And this was one of them…

He saw the guards on their patrols and adeptly avoided their detection. He slipped into the house by the back door, silently covering the bottom floor room by room. In Tremayne’s study, Johnny crossed over to the picture depicting the hunting scene and pulled it from the wall. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to break into the safe without excessive noise he replaced the picture and approached the issue from a different direction.

Mounting the stairs he quickly went to the second floor, searching silently for Tremayne’s wife. Knowing her aversion to Mexicans, she would no doubt give him a difficult time. At the end of a hallway was an ornate door, carved with gilt trim. This has got to be her room... And he entered, stepping softly as not to alert her and raise the alarm. She slept soundly, her snores filling the room. Wonder if she knows she snores? he thought with amusement. High society types don’t wanna admit ta things like that… ‘specially a woman. A lamp had been lit but was turned very low and not having much time, Johnny needed her awake.

He leaned over and turned the wick to produce a bright light, then sat in the chair next to her bed and watched as her eyes fluttered open. Her snoring stopped with one final, loud snort. She looked confused as her eyes adjusted to the light and suddenly realized that she was not alone.

As she would have screamed Johnny was on her bed in one fluid motion, his hand covered her mouth and squelched the screeching alarm she so desperately wanted to deliver. Her brain finally registered who he was and her eyes filled with loathing and disgust. How dare this filth enter my room and touch me!

“Now I‘m gonna take my hand away an’ your gonna tell me what I wanna know. Understand?” And Johnny’s velvet tones started to sink into her brain. They began to calm her, and they felt good…Wait a minute! Francesca corrected herself; this was that half-breed in her house on her bed with her! What had she been thinking?

“Get out! Get out of my house! You have no right to be here!” Her voice began to rise and in less than a second Johnny’s hand was over her mouth again, and he lowered his face almost to hers, so close that she could smell the male scent of him, the manly animal musk that Jefferson never had.

“Now I ain’t gonna hurt ya, just give me what I want,” he breathed onto her face, and she began to feel a heat deep in her body that she’d never felt before and that she couldn’t control. Was he going to rape her?

Johnny read it in her eyes and laughed at her. “Don’t worry; ya ain’t my type… Frannie. Just give me what I want.” His eyes were bright with amusement, and she was humiliated, burning with bright red embarrassment. She moved her head to let him know she would talk.

“What do you want?” she spat at him.

Keeping close to her, Johnny threw her robe at her indicating she was to get out of bed and get up.

“Why do you call me ‘Frannie’?" she asked, fishing for information.

“It’s your name, ain’t it?” Johnny said flippantly.

With her robe snugged around her, she turned to him. “No! I’ve never used that name!” she quickly denied.

Johnny chuckled at her hasty claim. “That ain’t what I heard…,” he responded, again in his soft voice that she had no trouble losing herself in, the kind of voice that attracted her and made her have thoughts… Francesca!

“Now what?” she demanded as she did her level best to push the vile thoughts out of her head. Filthy vile, delicious… Stop it!

“Downstairs an’ don’t make a sound cuz it’ll be your last.” Johnny followed her out of her room and down the hall. The elegant stairway was dimly lit, but he steered her down with his hand clasped securely on her shoulder into Tremayne’s study and over to the wall to stand in front of the picture. Hoping to throw him a curve she looked surprised and asked if he was going to steal it. Johnny looked at the picture with revulsion filled eyes. Figures Tremayne’d like somethin’ like that. The idea of running down an innocent animal for the demented purpose of watching the hounds tear it apart it for pleasure had always sickened him.

“Nope, don’t hold with slaughter, I want what’s behind it, open it up, now!” His command brooked no delay; it was chilling and froze her with its implications. Her mind was racing; she couldn’t let him have the papers that were in there. Those documents would ruin them if any of the information were to get out. She hesitated, and Johnny set his hand on her shoulder with a slight squeeze.

“Ya know, ya can get outta this if ya play your cards right. Just open the safe an’ you can walk away.” Frannie thought quickly, what else can I do? I can’t fight him off… And she opened the safe. Her thoughts, for now, strictly on herself and her safety.

“Take out all the papers an’ set them on the desk.” Frannie did as she was told. Johnny saw the bundles of money wrapped in tight, neat stacks and was tempted to take them for Ma and any others who had suffered at the greed of Tremayne but he resisted. The law would have to be the one to make that determination.

With the papers on the desk, Frannie was surprised that Johnny passed up the money and it showed on her face.

Johnny smiled widely. “Don’t need it… An’ it ain’t mine…” was all he said.

“You have what you came for, now get out!” she hissed, still embarrassed with her thoughts about this man.

“Not quite…”Still, with the smile in place, Johnny turned to her once more, and she knew she would be ravished, right here on Jefferson’s desk! It flashed through her mind, wondering what he would be like… Then ashamed of where her mind wandered she lashed out again.

What else do you want?”

“My brother…”

And her face went white with shock.

<><><><> 

Callie screamed as her door burst open and Jefferson Tremayne stood with his derringer drawn, ready to shoot down Madrid, Callie and whoever was in on this with them. Eyes widening upon seeing Red Stiles tied and gagged on her floor, he noted the blood around his foreman's neck and knew that he had been persuaded to talk. Rage went through him like a bolt of lightning; all his plans were going right down the river. He turned to look at Red, leveling the gun at his head. Suddenly Tremayne jumped as if stabbed with a hot poker when he realized his sister-in-law was there.
“Where did you come from?” Tremayne ground out through clenched teeth.

Callie would have laughed in his face if the situation had not been so dire. “Why, Jefferson, is that any way to greet your wife’s family?”

Tremayne’s disgusted glare spoke volumes. “I’ll deal with you later!” he spat and turned his rage on Red.

“What did you tell him, Stiles?” Tremayne’s breathing was haggard, and he was puffing, out of breath. Frantically, Red shook his head no, ‘no he hadn’t said anything!’ He lied to himself, but Tremayne saw through, saw it in the eyes that were begging for forgiveness. Damn Madrid! And as Tremayne’s finger tightened on the trigger, Callie grabbed at the coffee pot on the stove and hurled it in Tremayne’s direction. He turned quickly and pulled the trigger, Callie crumpled to the floor. He turned back to Red, and that’s the last that Red would ever know.

<><><><> 

Ma Sheridan wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders. It was chilly tonight as she stepped from the porch of her close friend, Elena Davalos, and turned toward home. Their visit, as always, was charming and warm and as they had known each other for fifty years they were comfortable with each other’s presence, a sisterhood had developed and the bond would never be broken.

Ma’s thoughts, however, were with Johnny, and she wondered where he was and if he was alright. In the short time she’d known him she had become very fond of the young man and especially after finding out why he was here. How he intended on accomplishing anything was beyond her but, as she told him, she would help with whatever he needed to do.

She smiled to herself and thought that it was a blessing in disguise, the trouble here had brought into her life a remarkable young man that she was proud to know and happy for the day… A gunshot followed closely by another broke her reverie, and she took cover in a shadowed doorway to avoid being seen.

She watched intently as the lights in a second-floor room were extinguished, and a door opened slowly. A tall man raced down the stairs and into the alley. Ma stepped from her cover and quickly followed only to see Jefferson Tremayne step onto the boardwalk as he rounded the corner onto the main street. Turning around she hurried back into the alley and up the stairs, and lit the lantern to reveal the horrifying scene in the small second-floor kitchen.

<><><><> 

“Got no time for ya ta play stupid, Frannie. I know ya got my brother locked up in this house.  Take me to him now or I ain’t gonna let ya go. You’ll go ta prison with your husband an’ that I promise. What’s it gonna be, Frannie?” Johnny’s fury blazed out of his glacial eyes, cold and threatening. Francesca went icy inside as she recognized that she was not going to get out of this without giving him what he wanted. But she tried one last time.

“You filthy half-breed! What right do you have breaking into my…” Johnny’s hand was around her throat as he shoved her into the wall hard enough to produce a whoosh of air forced out of her lungs. Her eyes widened in fear, and she thought she’d pushed too far. Her heart nearly beat out of her chest and she took a ragged breath.

“Alright! I’ll take you to him… If he’s still alive!” she spat.

“For your sake, he better be.” His response was so quiet that his words slammed into her brain, deafening her.
<><><><> 

Val saw the lights of Sacramento in the near distance. What the hell was Johnny up to now? he thought as he got ready to disembark. The train rolled into town and pulled up to the platform. But there was no sign of Johnny. Only an older woman who appeared to be watching for someone. As she approached him, Val picked up on her intent look, as if she had been waiting for him.

“Are you Sheriff Crawford?” she asked quietly, and Val knew there was trouble.

“Yes, Ma’am. An’ you are…..?” he was suspicious, but that was his job.

“I am Grace Sheridan. I run a local boarding house; Johnny is staying with me. We need to talk. In private.” Val followed her off the platform, through the train station, and to her buggy. Taking the reins, Val drove under Ma’s directions to the clean little house where she would tell all that she knew.

Val telegraphed to notify Johnny he was coming early. Sacramento’s telegraph operator, Sonny, knew this to be in answer of the message sent by Callie and thought she might be waiting for a reply. But she wasn’t in the saloon. And after he couldn’t find her in her room, he immediately thought of Ma Sheridan. The woman was friends with Callie and maybe she would know where to find her.

Ma knew she would have to meet Val when he came in on the train.

“Then the door opened, and I saw Jefferson Tremayne run down the stairs and try and blend in with the folks on the main street. But it was him, and I will testify to that in court. I got a good look. Johnny left me a message to send to his father if I didn’t see him by noon tomorrow and to tell you the truth, I sure am glad you're here. There's no way on God's green earth that Johnny can accomplish this by himself.”

Val shrugged and let out a breath. “Yeah, he got word ta me that he could use some help, but I didn’t know what it all was about, till now. Came as quick as I could. Got any idea where he is?”

Ma looked worried. “If I had to venture a guess, he would be out at Tremayne’s ranch. Not far out of town, take the road north, and you can’t miss it, but please be careful. Tremayne’s probably out there, and the place is well guarded.”

“So’s Johnny an’ Scott. Ya say that the sheriff an’ mayor are in on this?” Val had to make sure.

Ma nodded her head yes.

“I know this ain’t… right, but can I see that message Johnny gave ya ta send ta Murdoch?”

Ma left the room to retrieve the note and came back into the kitchen, handing the missive to Val. He opened it and read Johnny’s words.

M
Big trouble. Get Steve here. It’s bad.

J

Yup, that’s my boy! Val thought. He looked up at Ma with his sparkling brown eyes and offered her a smile, handing her back the note.

“Soon as ya can, Mrs. Sheridan, get that sent. Johnny’s life might depend on it.” If Johnny thinks that the governor should be here, it’s worse’n I thought. Hope Murdoch can convince Steve Bronson ta get here. I’m outta my jurisdiction… Val got up to leave.

“Call me Ma, everyone does, including Johnny. And I’ve got a room ready for you. This way.”

<><><><> 
The descent into the cellar was chilling. Frannie had always hated going down there, it was damp and dark, and if she were, to be honest, it scared her. Johnny was right behind her as she reached the bottom. Walking straight ahead she stopped at a door where a lamp had been left casting a flickering eerie glow. A heavy, solid oak door stood in the way of what was behind. Johnny looked at the frame; there was a slide bolt at the very top and bottom securing the door and whoever was inside.

Johnny motioned Frannie to the side where he could keep an eye on her. He tugged on the bolts to release them and motioned her inside as he reached for the lantern, her eyes widened in fear. Johnny took her arm and with a bit of ‘encouragement’, forced her inside. The lantern lit up the small cell, and Johnny saw Scott, huddled on the cot as if unconscious.

Son-of-a-bitch! I‘m gonna kill that bastard! Scott! Scott, can ya hear me?”  Keeping an eye on Frannie, Johnny motioned her into the far corner as he checked Scott over. Scott groaned and tried to open his eyes but the light was too bright, and he closed them quickly.

“Scott, it’s me, Johnny. Can ya hear me?” Gently Johnny tried to rouse him but was having no luck. He turned to Frannie with a glare that seemed to wither her spine.

“Siddown!” he commanded and pointed to a small stool in the corner. Doing as she was told and afraid to move, Frannie sat still not risking any more ire from this dangerous, filthy…

Johnny picked Scott up from the cot, slung him as gently as possible over his shoulder and started for the door. Frannie got up to follow.

Johnny turned with his dazzling smile leveled at her. “Uh uh. You’re stayin’ here. Oh, an’ another thing, ya keep callin’ me filthy. Well, I can tell ya that I might be filthy, but at least mine washes off. Adiós…” And he slammed the door in her face. He could just barely hear her screams.

Johnny carried Scott upstairs into the kitchen and sat him on a chair. Pouring water into a glass he held it to his brother’s mouth, letting the life-saving liquid trickle down his throat and surge through his body. Within a few minutes, Scott’s eyes fluttered open and rewarded Johnny with a bit of a smile.

“You sit here a minute, Scott, I gotta get somethin’ out of Tremayne’s study.” Johnny left, and found his way through the enormous house and into the elegant study, he located Tramayne’s valise and stuffed the papers from the safe inside. When he returned to the kitchen, Johnny stopped to help Scott to his feet and they both slipped out the back door.

Holding Scott securely, Johnny managed to get him mounted on Barranca’s back and tied the valise full of documents to the saddle. He was just ready to swing up behind Scott when he heard the gun cock.

“Just a minute, Madrid…” and Tremayne stepped out from the shadows, pistol aimed at Johnny’s head.

<><><><> 

“We need to be quiet. Doc is up there with Callie. I will care for her,” Ma warned Val as they walked softly through the boarding house.

Val stopped. “I think maybe I better get on out to Tremayne’s place an’ see if I can find Johnny an’ Scott. The sun’ll be up in an hour an’ the sooner I can find ‘em the sooner this whole thing’ll be over. Ya wouldn’t happen ta have a horse I can borrow, would ya, Ma?”

“Just my old buggy horse, you’re welcome to take him. Don’t have a saddle but he’s still hitched to the buggy. It may help to drive it out there. Tremayne won’t be expecting anyone  with an old nag and broken down carriage.” Val smiled his thanks and Ma showed him the back door. Quickly, Val was out on the road, hoping to find the Lancer boys.

<><><><> 

“What the hell are you doing here, Madrid? I fired you!” Tremayne boiled over. “You’re in over your head, boy, and now you’re going to pay.” His rage flared when Johnny laughed in his face. This half-breed keeps doing that to me… He’ll pay… But Tremayne’s thoughts were interrupted when Johnny spoke.

“Oh, I don’t think you’ll be shootin’ anyone, ‘specially me.”

Tremayne suddenly looked suspicious. “Oh, no? Why is that, Madrid?” This should be interesting Tremayne thought, and he wasn’t disappointed when he heard what Johnny had to say.

“Welllll," Johnny said as he drew out the word, "cuz I‘m the only one that knows where your wife is…” Johnny let the quiet words sink in as he offered Tremayne a cold smile.

Tremayne went livid. He shook with rage, and for a moment, he couldn’t speak.

“What… where is she?” he sputtered, as he stepped closer.

Johnny smiled in the moonlight, pushing Tremayne, nudging him the few more inches so he would make a mistake. And Johnny was almost there.

“She kinda liked the accommodations ya kept my brother in…” The gun went off, the bullet caught Johnny in the side, skimming along a rib and left a bloody furrow before he could pull out his Colt. He stumbled back a step but righted himself quickly.

“Johnny! Stop! Tremayne, throw down your gun, I gotcha covered an’ I don’t think ya really wanna be up against two of us… Now do ya?” Val stepped out from the side of the house. “Raise your hands, Tremayne, an’ don’t do nuthin’ stupid!”

The sound of shots brought the hands out of the bunkhouse.

“Take them, boys!” Tremayne commanded as the hands started to rush them. Val shot into the air, getting their attention.

“Now you boys don’t wanna tangle with the law… Do ya? I’m sheriff down in Green River an’ shootin’ a sheriff is a hangin’ offense. An’ on top a that, the governor is comin’ inta town ta get all this straightened up. Ya really don’t wanna piss him off, either, so’s ya just get back inta that bunkhouse an’ never mind what’s goin’ on out here. Oh, an' y'all just stick around, you're confined ta this property till things get settled 'round here.” They all looked uncertain but did nothing.

Tremayne's temper exploded. “RUSH THEM, YOU FOOLS! There are only three of them!”

“He’s the law. Mr. Tremayne,” one of them said as no one made an attempt to do his bidding. Tremayne went wild as he advanced on Johnny and Val was there to stop him. The blow to the jaw rocked him backward off his feet. Val knelt down and fastened handcuffs around Tremayne’s wrists as he watched the hands back away.

“That’s right, boys, back away an’ no one’ll get hurt.” He watched as they left then went to Johnny’s side and checked the bleeding.

“I’m fine, just stings bad is all,” Johnny mumbled, and Val shook his head. Johnny was always fine.

Val got him into the buggy to sit beside him, then went to Scott. The blond, though weary and bruised, assured Val he could ride. Val studied the face and made sure that Scott was steady in the saddle, then with a groan, Val wrestled Tremayne in the back seat, depositing the man in a heap behind him and Johnny. Then the four men headed into town.

The ride into town was slow. With both Scott and Johnny needing attention, Val was forced to take it as easy as he could, but he did make one stop before heading to the boarding house. Tremayne was still out, and Val dragged him into the jail, throwing him on a cot and locked the door as quietly as he could, while Sheriff Collins slept blissfully ignorant of the goings on in the back room, his snores ringing loud and uninterrupted. Val took the keys to the cell with him so Collins would not be tempted to free Tremayne, after all, Collins would soon be joining him there.

Val pulled up in front of The Sheridan Boarding House, helping Johnny and Scott up the steps and into the front hall. Ma came out from the kitchen, gasping at the sight that greeted her. With Scott staggering and not knowing where he was and Johnny trying to act as if all was well and not sway on his feet, Val rolled his eyes at Ma.

“The doc still here, Ma? We got two ornery cusses that can’t keep outta trouble an’ need some help.”

<><><><> 

Governor Steve Bronson knocked on the Sheridan Boarding House door, and after several minutes a handsome older woman greeted him and invited him in.
“Ma’am, I’m Governor Bronson. Where might I find Sheriff Crawford?”

“Right this way, Governor. He’s going through evidence recovered regarding the kidnapping and many other incidents occurring around here. The parlor is this way, sir.” Ma led him to the bright, comfortable room where Val had papers strewn everywhere, on the table, stacks on the floor and covering furniture. Val looked up from his task, with a frown solidly in place complete with a wrinkled brow and looking like a man in need of help. He got to his feet as Ma introduced the Governor.

“Thanks for comin’, Governor. Ya ain’t gonna believe all this. Tremayne’s had his fingers in the pie all along. Everything from bribery ta murder an’ whatever else comes in b’tween.” Val scratched his head but very glad to turn this over to the powers that be. The Governor was skeptical. He looked around the room not quite sure what was going on.

“Where is the Marshall, Sheriff Crawford?” Bronson asked, confusion plain on his face.

“Jail,” Val said, turning back to try and make sense out of all the papers, not looking the governor in the eye.

Bronson's eyes widened. “Jail! The marshall is in jail?” Had he heard correctly?

“Yup, jail. He’s in this up to his eyeballs, too. It’s all here in these documents,” Val said with a wave of his arm indicating the mess around the room.

<><><><> 

Sacramento’s jail had never been so full of such distinguished company; everyone from ‘gentlemen’ ranchers to city officials and the marshal, all ready to go to trial. The valise of documents that Johnny had taken from the Tremayne safe would be allowed as evidence since Frannie had been convinced to admit that she gave them to Johnny in exchange for a lighter sentence. Her knowledge of the illegal transactions would have put her away for years, and Francesca just could not possibly deal with those kinds of conditions. With the solid testimonies of upstanding citizens, Ma Sheridan included, Tremayne and his partners would be put away for a long, long time.
<><><><> 

Murdoch Lancer shook his head. How do they do it? He wondered looking at his boys as they sat around the dining room table. How do they find this trouble? I thought the trouble would go away after they got to be grown! The troubles keep getting more serious! But in all honesty, he couldn’t have been more proud of his sons, even looking a bit worse for wear.

Scott’s bruising was fading and with appetite restored he was putting on weight and looking much better than when he arrived home. Thankfully his ‘incarceration’ had not triggered any nightmares associated with the time he’d spent in Libby Prison during the war.

Johnny was trying to act as normal as he could despite the bullet crease, the blood loss had been significant regardless of Johnny insisting it was only a scratch. They both had been relegated to a very light workload until further notice! NO exceptions! The orders were, of course, from Dr. Sam Jenkins and he was not about to back down on his orders, and that’s what they were: Orders to be obeyed…

<><><><> 

Ma Sheridan sat on her porch enjoying the setting sun. The cool of the evening was a pleasant change and soothed the edges off an emotional day of testifying at the trial. The deliberations were still going on, but speculation was it would be over very soon and with the evidence that had been presented the outcome was almost a certainty.

Ma had suffered a great loss at the malicious and greedy hands of Jefferson Tremayne, a loss that could never be repaid or compensated but the thought of knowing that justice was served did give her some peace of mind.

And most all of the others that had suffered would be compensated, among them Callie Harris, no, Callie Davidson, who would make a complete recovery from the bullet wound to her shoulder, a shot fired by Tremayne. Callie was not greedy; she only wanted Frannie and Jefferson to pay for the atrocities they’d caused but instead was rewarded an amount to be determined later after everything was straightened out. Ma would be reimbursed for her ranch that Tremayne had stolen, with interest and there was talk of a reward for Johnny’s part in all of this. Johnny Madrid Lancer, Ma thought, what a wonderful young man! Her thoughts drifted back to the day that he walked into her life. And the events that followed.

Thinking of Johnny, she would have to get busy! He would be here for a visit soon! What will I make for him? He did like my chicken and dumplings and chocolate cake…

But what Ma never expected was for Johnny to sign over his part of the reward for his efforts to be divided between Ma and Callie.

I don’t want it, I‘m just glad this whole thing is over an’ folks can get on with their lives. I don’t need nothin’ outta this. Wait, yeah, I do. I need ta send a bar a soap ta Frannie... Hell, make it a case, she’s gonna need it…

With the cancer cut out of Sacramento, things were getting back to normal, and people were grateful for the help. Although Johnny shrugged it off, he was largely responsible for the wrong put right but would not take the credit; all he wanted was to feel the wind in his face on the way home. Riding on the wind was all the thanks he wanted.

 

 

 

~ end ~

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