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Darla M. Poulos

 

 

Nothing Less Will Do

Beta: Lacy: “Everyone's a stranger till they find a friend.” You are the best of the best! Thank you for all your hours of work and those commas.

Dedication: To Becky- Thanks for the encouragement. “Write faster!” Ya kept me on my toes.

All non-canon characters in this story Cal, Leah, Deputy Tom, Sheriff Colter, Dr. Hert, Mr. Becket, Pippin and Tab are the exclusive works of the author and cannot be duplicated in any way, shape or form unless by express permission of the author.

To the readers: Thank you for choosing to read this story. This is my first western. Lancer has always been my favorite show from the time it first appeared on television in 1968. It's been a wild ride and I have had so much fun! The story takes place a few years after the last show. (1874) After all, time marches on and so does Lancer. So, pull up a chair, kick off your shoes, grab a cold drink and ride into the past.



“Here's the gold! Now, get on that horse and ride, Johnny Madrid!”

Johnny didn't waste any time. He grabbed the saddlebags and quickly tied them behind his saddle. In one fluid motion he was up on Barranca's back, galloping away from the Sonora Lancer mine. Looking over his shoulder, he could see Mexico's finest had crested the arroyo behind the mine. It was going to be close. He had to make the U.S. border, he just had to. Murdock would never forgive him if he broke his promise and got caught.

---1---

Welcome to Uppity Flats

“Well, we made it,” stated Scott Lancer to his bay horse. “What kind of people would name a town Uppity?”

Looking around at the store fronts he couldn't find any of the town's residents. The place looked deserted. He'd come in on the northwest side of town, skirting the railroad tracks and station. There were horses and all types of rigs tied to the hitching posts, but no sign of human life.  They plodded on, following a curve around the street which lead into the main part of town. A banner strung across the street waved in the wind, welcoming the Lieutenant Governor. A new whitewashed, four story hotel was beside it.

Scott brought his horse to the hitching rail in front of the building. The wind had picked up. Looking to the south he could see dark clouds on the horizon. A storm was on its way. It wouldn't be long until it reached them. 

“Take care of your horse Mister?” asked a young, blonde-haired boy about twelve year's old coming down the steps from the front porch. “It'll cost you six bits.”

“Six bits?” smiled Scott, noticing the earnest look of the kid. His clothes were old and worn, but clean. “What will six bits get me?”

“Your horse outta the rain and bedded down for the night,” replied the kid.

Scott dismounted and dug into his coat pocket for the money. “So…boy…what's your name?”

“Cal, short for Calvin.”

“Okay, Cal short for Calvin.” Scott tossed him a coin. “What would a whole dollar get me?”

“WOW! A whole dollar,” exclaimed the boy in amazement. “I'll personally see to all his needs at the livery.”

“Okay, it's a deal,” grinned Scott handing the reins to Cal. Scott reached up, untied his saddlebags and bedroll, tossed them over his shoulder and pulled out his rifle from the scabbard then asked, “Where is everyone around here?”

“Why, down at the railroad depot. The LT. Governor goin to pay us a visit,” yelled the boy running with Scott's horse to the livery stable. “I gotta hurry if I wants to see him! There's gonna be a parade and everything.” He stopped in midstride, looked back at Scott, “But, I promise, I'll take care of your horse first!”

Scott waved and the boy took off again.

As if on cue, a whistle blew and the steam engine's brakes hissed as the engineer brought his train to a stop. Almost immediately music started up over by the train depot. He could hear the big bass drum beating away to the accompaniment of an off key trumpet.

Scott turned and climbed the steps to the porch veranda. A red-headed deputy came out of the hotel door, looked him over and stopped him from entering. Gruffly, he asked, “What's your business here, cowboy?”

Bristling at his tone, Scott replied, “It's personal.”

The deputy pushed Scott roughly against the door growling, “Well, I'm making it my business. The LT. Governor is due here any minute and I need to know why you're here!” He finished by gripping Scott by his coat lapels.

Scott tried to give the deputy his brother's steely-eyed Johnny Madrid stare, only half succeeding. It did make the man release his coat, but the deputy still stayed toe to toe with him. Finally, Scott relented, “I have a reservation and an appointment with the LT. Governor.”

“Dressed like that?”

Scott looked down at his disheveled appearance. Yeah, he was dirty. No getting around that. There was probably a few inches of trail dust all over him. He probably smelled like his horse too. In his mind he could just hear what Jelly, their best ranch hand and friend, would say about it. What? Did they expect guests to arrive as blooming flowers?

Testy and embarrassed Scott retorted, “No, a bath and a change of clothes will be in order.” Looking pointedly at the desk clerk, who had caught the whole exchange, he added, “I assume a hotel of this elk would have plenty of bathtubs for its arriving guests.”

“Of course, sir,” proffered the clerk. The deputy, seeing that the clerk was now in charge, left slamming the door. “What is the name on the reservation, sir?”

Looking around, Scott walked up to the desk, “Lancer. Scott and Johnny Lancer.”

The stairway to the rooms was beside the desk a few feet from the front door. The dining room and bar entrance was located at the back. The bar had a private entrance with bat-wing doors that swung out onto the street. The lobby itself was formally set up with leather couches, settees, chairs and reading tables prestigiously placed for casual use. It reminded Scott of his grandfather's formal house in Boston. Too cold for my taste. The thought made him smile on how much he had changed since coming out west.

The clicking of a lid on a box marked reservations brought his attention back to the desk. The clerk looked a bit miffed.

“Something wrong?” asked Scott putting down his rifle and bed roll on the counter. He started taking off his yellow gloves one finger at a time.

Peering down his nose at Scott in distaste and sniffing like he smelled something sour the clerk replied, “I don't have a reservation for you, Mr. Lancer.”

“Oh, there must be some kind of mistake. My father, Murdock Lancer made those reservations weeks ago.” A shadow of a smile crossed Scott's face. “You'd better look again.”

The man made a big production of taking all the slips out of the box. One by one he slapped them down on the counter. He counted off the names to himself to the end of the stack. Looking up with a detached air he flatly stated, “No Lancer, sir.”

Scott, not to be outdone, returned the stoic look . He pulled an envelope out of his inside coat pocket. Slowly he opened it and extracted a piece of paper. Glancing down at the nameplate on the counter, he said, “Now, see here, Mr. Becket. This is a receipt from this hotel. This is The Four Star Hotel, is it not?” At the clerk's nod of affirmation he continued in a soft voice, the very essence of patience, “Please notice the letterhead on this stationary.”

The clerk bobbed his head again. It was of the Four Star Hotel.

“Now look at the paid in full for today and tomorrow's date of service.” Scott let the man absorb this, then went on, “Now, I've come clear from the western side of the state. I'm dirty, hungry and tired. All I want is a clean room, a tub and a bed!” the last said with emphasis and a slap of his hand on the counter. “Is that asking too much?”

The clerk wavered, then whined, “We don't have a room for you. This is a big day here in Uppity. It's an election year. Important people are at the railroad station. They are due in here any minute.” He looked Scott up and down with disfavor. “We had to use all the rooms for the LT. Governor's party. All I can do is refund you your money and you'll have to go somewhere else.”

“And is there somewhere else?”

“Probably not, sir,” placated Mr. Becket. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” sniffed the clerk, not sounding sorry at all.

In fact, Scott thought he had a haughty attitude. Murdock said it would be this way. Once the railroad comes to a small town, their way of life changes forever. It's in their attitude, their compassion, how they treat one another. When money abounds, people forget the trials and hardships they've been through. Johnny put it best, “Ya mean, they get too big for their britches.”

Before Scott could reply, the front door burst open. In walked the LT. Governor and his entourage of many people dressed in their Sunday finest. For years known only as George to his father, he was one of Murdock's oldest and dearest friends.

“Scott Lancer,” boomed the politician's voice as he came over to shake Scott's hand. “So good to see you again. How's Murdock since he fell out of the hayloft?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott could see the desk clerk's eyes go wide at the turn of events. They had his dumbfounded attention. “Murdock's as ornery as ever since he has to take it easy. He really wanted to make this trip, but Doc. Jenkins totally forbade it,” grinned Scott.

The LT. Governor laughed, “That sounds like my friend Murdock.” He slapped Scott on the shoulder and asked, “How's that jail in Spanish Wells holding up?”

“Fine. It's been built to last. Did old Charlie's heart good. He's so proud of it.” Sobering a little, Scott added, “Johnny's locked horns with the new sheriff you appointed, spent a couple nights as a guest.”

The LT. Governor clapped his hands in amusement. “Why am I not surprised? Wait till I see him. Is your brother with you?”

“Last telegram I exchanged with Murdock stated he's on schedule and due to arrive any time.”

“With the latest ore samples in hand from the Sonora Lancer mine?”

“Yes, sir and I have all the paperwork you requested,” declared Scott, taking his saddlebags off his shoulder and dropping them on the spotless counter next to his bedroll and rifle. Dust filtered into the air, coating everything around the bags, earning him a glare from the desk clerk.  Scott proceeded to unfasten one of the bags and pulled out a sheath of papers which he handed to the LT. Governor.

Tucking them under his arm, George said, “Good. I'll go over these and get back with you later tonight. You and your brother will have dinner with me?”

“Yes, sir. It'll be our privilege as always,” smiled Scott, wanting to snicker, as the desk clerk held onto every word.  

The LT. Governor shook Scott's hand again. Looking down at the gear on the counter he asked, “You are staying here?”

The stunned clerk snapped into action going through the reservations again in quick order.

Scott brought his right hand up to his neck and scratched, “I'm not certain…” The desk clerk cut in with, “I found it!”

                                                   ---2---

At about the same time, on the south side of town, Johnny Lancer rode in on his golden palomino. He came in with the fury of the approaching storm. One storm or another had crossed his path from Sonora up the eastern side of the state. Barranca had out run them numerous times.  He had been rained on and dried out more times than he could count. Now here I am at some flea bitten town bringing rocks to the LT. Guv.

Welcome to Uppity Flats

“What kind of name is that, Barranca? Probably snobby people stuck on themselves.” He laughed a hollow sound. “I am so sarcastic,” he mumbled. “Been in the saddle way to long.” He could hear a band in the distance playing off tune. “Looks like LT. Guv George must have arrived. I can see him now, giving some pretty speech to the town of Uppity. I wonder if Scott made it in yet.”

The flight from Sonora had been a wild chase. It had taken all his knowledge of the land, cunning and tricks to elude the Rurales. Dang , he'd even hidden in a secret room below a pig pen, near Nogales, where the mosquitos had eaten him alive. The whole time there, he fretted about his horse or what Murdock would do if they caught him. 

It had been risky going back there. Murdock had been against it. He didn't want his younger son anywhere near Mexico. His ears still rang from the argument they'd had in the kitchen back home. They'd all been sitting around the kitchen table eating breakfast.

“Look Murdock, we need other assets. This gold mine is a great opportunity. George wouldn't steer us wrong,” said Scott.

“We have other assets. A silver mine in Nevada and Johnny's horses.”

“But this is a working gold mine. It only shut down because of the revolution. Now, the owners want out. We'd be in on the ground floor with George and some other investors.”

“You know Scott, I've never been interested in gold mines. Only beef. If I'd had, I'd of signed on to Jelly's gold mine, the Lorelei.”

“That's not the point Murdock,” cut in Johnny. “Aren't you always telling us we have to look out for the future?” A nod from his father, pleased that his son had actually listened to him. “Well, we're in a drought. Looks like it's gonna get worse, gonna be a long one. We need the money.”

“The money isn't the only thing with a mine, Johnny. You can't just buy in and put it on the shelf. You have to dig in the dirt. You have to be part of it. You have to work with the men and management. You have to know the business inside and out. We know very little about mining.”

“Well, we could learn,” drawled Johnny in a soft voice. “I could go down there…”

“NO! Absolutely not! I FORBID you to step one foot on that side of the border! Have you forgotten you're still wanted down there?” Murdock was on his feet now, arms akimbo, pacing, “NO! No gold mine is going to take the life of my son!” He grabbed the coffee pot off the stove and poured himself a cup.

“Well, that comes to us all sooner or later,” mused Johnny, pleased with the emotion he was feeling. It wasn't often Murdock bared his soul to his sons.

The coffee pot slammed down hard onto the counter, making them all jump. A finger appeared under Johnny's nose. “I'd rather yours be later!” Murdock turned and stormed out the kitchen door.

Much to his disgust, Murdock lost to a two-thirds vote. He was still sore about it, but the ranch needed the extra money. George had put the deal together. The Lancers and the LT. Governor owned 51% of the mine. Johnny, not liking paper things, left it all up to Murdock and Scott, trusting in their judgment. All he had to do was sign on the dotted line and put a vote in, when needed, for whatever decisions came up.

As Murdock had said, someone would have to go down to Mexico from time to time to learn the lay of the land. He was a hands-on type of owner. Mexico, being Johnny's old stomping grounds, made him the logical choice to go and check things out.  It took some real haggling with the old man, and an extracted promise from the son, before Murdock would relent and let him go.

The first few times down in Sonora Johnny ran into what he considered no real problems. Rico, the foreman of the outfit, turned out to be an old friend of Johnny's gun hawk days. The mine turned out to be a producer. They were making a profit on their investment. Johnny had learned all he could from the workers and management. He often went down into the mine, getting his hands dirty, working beside the men and facing the same obstacles the men did. He earned their respect much to the chagrin of management. He didn't know why that bothered the bosses. Rico told him he was working out of his “class.” Investors and owners didn't get their hands dirty.

Johnny's answer to that was, “PFTT.”

Murdock noticed the first hint of trouble. A stickler for accurate paperwork, he found a discrepancy in the figures of the books and the reports he'd been getting. The assay results were never the same no matter which side of the border they were done on. He requested a more in-depth report and didn't like any of the answers he'd received. Something was wrong with the Sonora Lancer mine. He contacted George, who was on the campaign trail. They decided to get some rock samples from their mine and have them tested by an independent U.S. geologist.

Johnny was sent down to Sonora to retrieve a few random rocks. He thought it was going to be a routine visit until he got there. Everything had changed. Management had become cool and uncooperative. There had been a turnover of men who didn't trust him and vice versa. The few remaining men from before were distant and silent.

 Rico was still the foreman of the men. “Rico, you want to help me get some samples to take up north?” asked Johnny, as he headed into the mine, grabbing a pick-axe, his saddlebags over his shoulder.

“Yes, Sir.” The tone was dry and submissive.

As soon as they were out of sight of the office, Johnny rounded on the man, “What's this yes sir, no sir crap? We've been friends for years.” At the man's solemn look, he went on, “You knew me as Johnny Madrid. You taught me things, how to survive. You kept me from starving. We're equals.”

Rico sadly shook his head. “Things change, Johnny.”

“Change? What things?” asked Johnny, perplexed, with one hand on his gun hip. “Why?” He bent over and picked up a piece of gold ore from a nearby mining cart and put it in his saddlebag.

Rico took his time answering, as if he had to mull over the question or maybe it was the answer. With Rico following, Johnny worked his way deeper into the shaft collecting samples with the pick-axe, until his patience ran out.

“Well? Ya going to say something?” The man remained mute. “Look Rico, just spit it out. Get her said!” Johnny slammed the pick-axe into the wall, scattering pieces of ore.

“Okay, I will!” gushed Rico, looking worried. “It's the new stockholders.”

“Stockholders?” repeated Johnny puzzled, as he picked up the rocks and put them into his bags.

“There's a new group of them, greedy they are. Mean too.”

Johnny stopped picking up rocks and looked at his friend. “These stockholders been down here?”

Rico took his hat off, rolled it in his muscular hands. “One of them. The share of interest is different now. Haven't you been reading the reports, you being part owner and all?”

Johnny remembered Murdock and Scott discussing the reports. He hadn't paid close enough attention, his mind occupied on breaking some wild horses. He could kick himself now for the lapse. In hind sight, he knew he was equally responsible, the guilt gnawed at him. What made it worse, he knew these people of the mining camp. They weren't just some nameless souls. They had lives and families.  It was like a cinnamon peach pie, the more people there was to eat it, the smaller the piece you got. Had the new investors knocked LT. Guv. George and the Lancers out of the 51% bracket? No, that wasn't possible. There was only 49% open stock. They would only get control if the Lancers or George sold their share…and that wasn't about to happen. So, what were they up to? Johnny answered his own question, Money, it's always about money.

Hedging now, Johnny replied, “Ya know how terrible I am at that paper stuff.” Dropping his saddlebags, he picked up the pick-axe and swung it hard into the wall, letting off steam. He repeated the motion several times, cracking the rock. As splinters flew away from the wall, a sharp piece caught him high on the left cheek bone. “Ouch!” Dropping the pick-axe, he brought his hand up to the cut, examining the bloody wound with his fingers. Deciding it wasn't too bad, he wiped the laceration with his shirt sleeve, which brought an instant response from Rico.

Pulling Johnny's arm down from his face, Rico chided, “Here, let me see that. You're going to get that wound infected using that dirty shirt. You need to go find my wife, Lupe, to tend it for you.”

Johnny, feeling flustered and still reeling from all he'd just learned, lashed out with, “No, it'll be fine!”

Rico lost his own temper. He grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and gave him a good shake. Astounded, Johnny looked at him with new respect. There were very few people who could do that to him and get away with it. One being his father.

“NOW, you listen to me. It's no longer safe for you here! For a while, under the Lancer name it was okay, but no more. The Rurales know about you now.”

Almost speechless, Johnny could only get out, “How?”

“I don't know how, but they've been here looking for you often.” Softer now, Rico added, “You have to leave soon.”

“But, I just got here!”

“They want Johnny Madrid, dead!”

“Even after all this time?”

“Yes, amigo. I think someone has it out for your head,”

Johnny lost a good deal of his color under the blood still dripping down his face. Angrily he swiped at it, earning a glare from Rico. He felt tired. This was to have been a lark, an easy trip down to collect some samples. Now, it was burdened down with problems and responsibilities. Isn't that what life's all about? Where do I go from here? What would Murdock do? Would he run or fight? Dang, I'm working myself into a pucker, just like an old man. He shook his head. One way or another, they were all in this together.

Handing Johnny a handkerchief, the decision just made for him, Rico picked up his saddlebags and the pick-axe. “Here's what you're going to do. Find my wife in camp. Have her tend that wound and feed you some warm food. Then rest till I come for you.”

Johnny started to protest, “I have to finish collecting the rocks…”

“I'll do it and I'll pack your saddlebags with fresh jerky and hardtack too.”

“But, I can't just run out on you,” balked Johnny, holding the handkerchief to his face. “It goes against the grain.”

“You ain't!  But, you're going to live to fight another day, Johnny Madrid. Besides, your father would never forgive me if I let something happen to you.”

That stopped Johnny where he stood. “My father? You know my father?” It was almost an accusation.

“No, I've never had the privilege to have met your father, but we do correspond.”

“As in writing?” asked Johnny, with fire in his eyes.

“Now, don't go chewing on me Johnny. Have you forgotten I married an educated woman?”

Johnny nodded no, but he had. There never was much time to socialize in camp and the subject never came up about Rico's wife. He couldn't quite bring his eyes up to meet Rico's. Actually, he couldn't remember much about Rico's life after they quit riding together, only that he had fallen head over heels in love with a missionary's daughter. By then, Johnny had joined the Mexican rebels, thereby losing track of almost everyone. Even now, his visits were always short because of the danger of getting caught. Even though he was supposed to keep a low profile, Johnny often went to the cantina with the men. There had been a few hair-raising escapades he hoped Murdock would never find out about.

Rico went on like he hadn't seen the nod, “Well, I did. After I quit being a gun hawk, she taught me a lot about reading, sums and ciphering. I found me a job and management took an interest in my work, found out I was educated, made me the foreman. Who do you think sends all those reports to you investors?”

Amazed, Johnny couldn't help but think how their lives had changed in a few short years. Rico had found something special in his life. He had a family who cared about him and him about them. Much like Johnny's own family. A wave of homesickness went through him. It was a wonderful feeling. He liked it. He belonged. Then, it dawned on him what Rico said about the reports.

“Ah, Rico,” he took the handkerchief down from his face, looked at it, noticed for the first time how much blood there was. “Those reports? Ah, how much did you tell Murdock?”

“Everything.”

Johnny's heart sunk to his toes. “Everything?” he asked, in a choked whisper.

He got the gun hawk's dead-eyed stare. “Johnny, you're just going to have to read the reports. Now, make tracks! Times a wasting. Find Lupe!” To emphasize the point, Rico swatted him on the behind with his sombrero.  

                                                            ---3--- 

Johnny couldn't remember the name of the towns he passed through. One town lead to another as the time and the days went by. About twenty miles from his destination, he stopped to rest his horse and send a wire to Murdock. “ On time to meet Scott. Have ore samples with me. No problems. Johnny.” While waiting for a reply, he had his first warm meal in days. The grub wasn't that good, but he was starved for something besides jerky and hardtack, so he ate it in a hurry.

Still thirsty after finishing a beer, he was tempted to order another one, when a boy ran up to him with the reply to his telegram. Johnny flipped him a dime and tore open the message. It was short and to the point. “Scott on time. Glad you kept your promise son. Murdock.”

With a grunt and a smile he couldn't hide, Johnny climbed back onto his horse for the last leg of his journey.

By the time he made Uppity, he was tired, bone weary tired and he had a bellyache that wouldn't quit. He briefly wondered if he'd gotten food poisoning from his last stop. The meal had tasted all right, but something had been off. He knew from his earliest days growing up in border towns that food was often mixed and served with unsavory stuff.  You couldn't even drink a glass of water unless you knew it'd been boiled. Give it to the poor. Give it to the stupid gunfighters. After all they won't know the difference. Who are they? Dirt, that's what. It was just one of the ways of getting back at you for being different.

 “Barranca, I am so cynical.”

He took his hat off, wiped an arm over his sweaty brow, before squaring it back on his head. The trip had been long. He was halfway up the eastern side of the state, almost to the Nevada line. He was to meet with the LT. Governor who was staying overnight at some hotel on the campaign trail. The Governor was running for re-election and LT. Guv. George was doing his part to make it happen. Scott was meeting them there with all the paperwork and latest reports.

Barranca came around a bend and they found the livery stable. Horses and rigs of all sorts were parked willy-nilly around the building. It was across from the train station. Evidently the speech making part was over, the music had stopped and people were streaming across the road in their Sunday best to find their vehicle. As he walked Barranca through the crowd towards the livery's open double doors he tipped his hat till his arm ached. He didn't know why he did it, for most of the women just turned their heads or shunned him.   Uppity women! He heard bits and snatches of conversation,

“Looks like rain,”

“Parade better hurry.”

“What dish did you bring to pass?”

“See you at tonight's social.”

“Mama, look at the sand man,” pointed a small child at him. Her mother gasped, gave a shy, harassed smile then hurried her daughter along.

Johnny looked down at his filthy, dust encrusted clothes and had to agree with the child's assessment. He probably didn't smell none too pleasant either. A memory of squealing pigs, as he hid from the Rurales in a pig pen, flitted through his mind. Hiding in a hole under a sow's house gave a whole new meaning to “stuck like a pig.” His rescue had come from an unlikely source, a pig bigger than Jelly's Arabella. The sow hadn't liked her babies getting upset and created a real fracas, mowing down the intruders and showing them who was boss. 

A crack of thunder got people moving. The air was hot and moist with expected rain.

Johnny dismounted at the door, his legs nearly giving out. Stiff from riding, he leaned on Barranca as he fiddled with his saddle, willing himself not to fall. Peeking from under the brim of his hat, he was relieved no one was paying him any attention except a red-headed deputy sheriff. The man stood watch just inside the door, keeping an eye on everything around him. There was a puzzled look on his face and Johnny wondered if he recognized him.

Stepping away from his horse, Johnny took off his hat and wacked it against his thigh, creating his own dust storm. He sneezed. His belly rolled and reminded him with sharp pains he needed to lie down.  He hoped Scott had beaten him here and had their hotel room. He wanted to sleep for a week.

Johnny squared his hat while leading Barranca into the stable. Walking past the deputy they exchanged a cold, calculating look. The place was crowded. Cowboys, townsmen, farmers and visitors milling around in and out of the building, talking about what men talk about.

“Need a stall?” asked an old codger, banging on a horseshoe.

“Yup, two nights.”

“That'll be eight bits. Take care of your own horse. There's too much hoopla going on for me to attend every horse. If you're goin to the saloon, I want it now. If you're sleepin with your horse, I want it now.” The old man took a breath, held out his hand and looked him over, spying the colt low on his hip. “I don't want no trouble in my place. If there is, you'll answer to him.” The old man pointed to the lawman, who now stood quietly behind Johnny. The deputy cocked his rifle to drive home his point.

Johnny gave the old man the money without comment.

“Take the stall in the corner. Water and feed are in there. Oats are extra.” The man pocketed the money, cleared his throat and spit into the hay. “If you need a bath there's a horse trough out back. Smells like you could use one. Names Roy, if you need anything else.”

Johnny ducked his head, fidgeted with his horse's reins and then muttered, “Well, we've been on the trail a long time.”

“Hmm, I expect that explains it. You look a bit peaked too.” Before Johnny could respond to the old man's observation, he'd turned back to pounding on the horseshoe.

The place was indeed busy. Most of the stalls were full with various horseflesh. A couple of stable boys were busy mucking out stalls while another was pitching the hay in. A boy of about twelve with blonde hair was brushing down a handsome bay that was Scott's. Walking past with Barranca, he gave the horse a quick pat on the rump, whispering under his breath, “Dang, Scott, how'd you rate?”

“Ya say something Mister?” asked the blonde-haired boy.

“Hmm, no. Nice job though,” answered Johnny, putting his horse in the stall beside his brother's with a big sigh.

“Thanks. I got a whole dollar for it!” boasted the kid. “Gonna miss the parade, but who cares? It's gonna rain anyways.”

Lifting the saddle over the side of the stall, Johnny felt a roll of nausea in the pit of his stomach, followed by a sharp cramp in his abdominal area. The pain made him double over and took his breath away. A moan escaped his lips even though he was gritting his teeth.  

The kid asked from the other side of the stall, “Ya all right, mister?”

When he could breathe, Johnny gasped, “Fine,” A cold sweat overtook him and he knew he had to hurry in getting his horse bedded down. His bellyache was intensifying. As he worked, a litany formed in his mind, “ You can do it. Take care of  your horse first, you second, horse first, you second…find Scott…horse first…come on, you can do it, you can make it…horse…” another wave of pain in the abdomen, worse than the first, dropped him to his knees.  He wrapped his arms around his belly and felt his stomach turn. “No,” he quietly cried, “not in front of all these people.” He staggered to his feet, hissing at the kid, “Privy?”

“Out to your right!”

Exiting the stall, he looked left. Men were staring in his direction. Johnny turned right, walked slow and easy towards the back door, like he had all the time in the world. Once through it, he bolted for the outhouse.

 

                                                            ---4---

Scott sighed in sweet bliss as he climbed into a tub of hot water. “I've died and gone to heaven,” he said to the empty bathing room. He closed his eyes for a few minutes, relaxing, then grabbed a book sitting on the rim of the tub.

“Well, Ralph Emerson , let's see what you have to say?” Keeping the book above water, Scott recited out loud, “What I must do concerns me, not what people think.”

They hadn't gotten the room he was expecting. In fact, by the time he and the chambermaid named Leah, reached the third floor and crossed over to the servants back staircase, he knew something was up. She opened a door marked private, revealing another flight of steps, leading to the fourth floor.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Lancer,” said the contrite chambermaid, walking up the steps. “It's all we have.” They came out on the fourth floor and made a left, walking all the way to the end of the hall. A couple of women dressed in uniforms came out a door beside them and went down the hall.

“The staff's floor?” asked Scott in disbelief.

“Yes, it's what we call the ‘overflow' rooms,” stated Leah, as she inserted the skeleton key and unlocked the door. They entered a small, clean, corner room with sweeping views of the street and livery stable next door. It had a set of twin beds, dresser, wash stand and a table with two chairs. The windows were open letting in the fresh air. The storm to the south was about to break.

Scott walked in and put his gear on the first bed. “Looks okay.” He tested the bed by sitting down on it. “Feels okay.  To tell you the truth, I'm too tired to argue about rooms anymore.”

The nervous maid, looking relieved, hurried up and told him, “This floor has a private water closet connected to a bathing room. Ah, you'll have to share it with the rest of us.”

“Just like home, huh?”

“Yes,” answered the maid, nervous again. “Look at it this way. We're not very far away, if you need anything.”

Scott smiled, “Okay, how about a hot bath?”

The sizzling sound of lightening and the boom of thunder shook the hotel, interrupting Scott and his book. The water had cooled, prompting him to finish his bath and get out. He dried off and donned a robe the hotel staff had given him. Once in his room, he half expected to find his brother there. He wasn't. Looking out the window, Scott watched it rain. “Johnny where are you?”

 

                                                            ---5---

 

When Johnny came out of the outhouse, he was glad it was raining. He was sweaty and his legs felt wobbly. Taking his hat off, he let the cool water beat on his upturned face. He hadn't tossed his vittles, but the lower half of his body sure had taken care of business.

Stopping at the horse trough, he pumped some fresh water into the public ladle and gulped a big amount. The cold water hit his stomach like a rock. Nausea rose to new heights in his belly. Taking light breaths of air, he tried to tame the pain. About the time he got that under control, chills raged through his body. Time was running out. Whatever was ailing him was going to lay him low, and soon. He had to find Scott and their room. But, first he had to finish bedding down his horse.

Cursing the rain, for now he was freezing, Johnny made a beeline for the back door.  Not wanting to draw attention to his entrance, he opened the door slowly.   Most of the men were gone, but a whole passel of deputies were gathered around the forge. The old codger was over to the side, shoeing a horse. A well-dressed gentleman stood by the deputies, talking a mile a minute. Johnny couldn't help but over hear as he crept into Barranca's stall.

“Look, Sheriff, I'm not surprised that the LT. Governor has enemies. Anybody in office has enemies. I'm just astounded anyone here in Uppity would threaten him that's all.”

“I know, Dr. Hert, but we got word from the Secret Service to be on the lookout for anything suspicious,” informed the sheriff. “Now, you and the town council are having a luncheon with the governor, so just keep a sharp look out. That's all I ask. My deputies have their orders and will be out combing the streets for any kind of trouble.”

“Roy,” asked the doctor, “you bout done with my horse?”

“I reckon a few more minutes, Doc.”

“Now, Sheriff, as Mayor of this town, I can say whatever patrolling you do, you do it quietly. Uppity has a reputation to up hold. We are on the map. We don't want any smirches added to our good name. We don't want the LT. Governor getting the wrong impression of our fair town. If there are any wanted men in the area, get them, but do it quietly, ya hear?”

Johnny rolled his eyes. Forgetting about the kid in the next stall, he said to Barranca, “Save me from all do-gooders and politicians,” only to hear the kid laugh. Chuckling himself, despite his troublesome stomach, he asked the boy, “Hey, kid, what's your name?”

“Cal, short for Calvin.”

“Well, Cal, short for Calvin, how'd you like to earn another dollar?”

“You bettcha, Sir!”

“Don't call me sir. My name is Johnny. When you're done with that horse, would you finish mine?”

“Sure, almost done here.”

Johnny felt another spasm of pain as the nausea built in his stomach. His wobbly legs would no longer support him and he slid down the wall of the stall. Bringing his knees to his chest, he was hot all over again with a weariness felt throughout his body. This time, with dread, he knew he was going to throw up.

He heard the sheriff yell, “Mount up!” and was grateful for it. At least he wouldn't be sick in front of all those men. They moved out and it was quiet in the stable.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to stand up, but to his horror found he didn't have the strength. He did the next best thing.

“Cal! Find me a bucket! Now!”

The boy brought a wooden bucket to him just in time. Taking the bucket, Johnny held it between his knees and up to his chin. As he leaned over his hat fell onto the ground. Totally exposed now, he heaved and heaved and heaved. Feeling like he was going to die, he gasped for air between each spasm, as his belly clenched and thrust the hated vomit out of his mouth. After it was over, he put the bucket down beside him and wiped his mouth with his dirty sleeve. His chest was on fire, his body ached, his head pounded and he had a bitter taste in his mouth. He turned to the boy, who had never left his side.

“Cal,” he panted, “end of the string…find Scott.”

Worried, Cal asked, “Who is Scott?”

No response.

“Johnny?” Cal reached over and gently shook his arm. “Who's Scott?” Instead of an answer, Johnny fell over onto his side, in an exhausted faint.

Scared for his new friend, Cal went running out of the stall and crashed into Tom, the red-headed deputy.

“Whoa, Cal. What's the commotion?” He, Roy and Dr. Hert were already heading to the stall after the vomiting had begun.

The doctor and Roy went into the stall as Cal tried to explain, “He's sick. The stranger that just rode in, names Johnny. He's sick and he just keeled over!”

“Johnny…” exclaimed the deputy, getting more excited by the moment, “That's Johnny Madrid! I knew it! I knew, I recognized him.” Looking at all three of their blank faces, he went on still excited, “Don't ya see? He's a gun hawk…a gun slinger from the border towns.”

“A gun slinger way up here?” Roy absently rubbed his chin. “What do you suppose he'd be here for?”

“May be just passin through?” put in the deputy, not taking his eyes off Madrid, as the doctor roughly yanked Johnny's coat off him and threw it by the horse. Tom watched the Uppity Flats doctor, and mayor, as he tried not to get his clothes dirty, as he examined the patient.

“Naw, that can't be it. Why'd he pay for two nights?” put in the old codger. “You don't think he's here on a job do ya, him being a gun slinger and all?” The man spat in the hay, just missing the horse. “Don't they just do it and leave?”

“Now, don't go complicatin it,” complained the deputy. “From what I know'd about Johnny Madrid he never draw'd first, but he always gets first blood.”

“Great” grumbled the doctor, bringing the men's attention back to him. “Just what we need in our town, when the LT. Governor is here. A sick, dirty, polecat smelling gunfighter. I don't even know if I should waste my time.” Wanting to get a better pulse, he unbuttoned Johnny's shirt sleeve pulling it up his arm, and sharply uttered, “Look at all these mosquito bites! He's covered in them!”  Very carefully now, so he wouldn't have to touch him more than he had to, he unbuttoned the other sleeve and part of the front of his shirt. “Same thing. Covered in bites.”

Looking at Tom, he inquired, “Being he hangs in border towns do you think he's been in Mexico lately?”

“Don't know Dr. Hert. But, he used to. At least he did when I lived down there several years ago. What's he got anyways?”

“Well,” said the doctor standing up and brushing himself off, “He has a fever and a stomach ailment of some sort. He has bites from mosquitos, fleas or some kind of pestilence all over him. We don't know if he came from Mexico or that there parts, but chances are that he did. There's been a rumor that the fever is down in Mexico running wild.”

“Fever?” mimicked Tom.

“Yes. Yellow Jack.”

“That contagious?” asked Roy.

“It seems to run the rails.”

“But, he came in on a horse,” recalled the deputy.

The doctor getting exasperated, “Look, I don't know how people get it. It's also called the Stranger's Fever . From what I've read in my medical letters, it follows the whistle stop towns along the railroad lines.”

 

Well, what are we goin to do about him?” fussed Roy, pointing to Madrid. All three men stared at the down and out gunfighter.

“Nothing.” The doctor locked eyes with both men, a cold gleam in his eyes. “I don't know if he has Yellow Jack or not. Only time will tell after a few days. The LT. Governor is here. I can't take the chance of him or his party getting sick. What would it do to our town? You do realize how important this is, don't ya all?”

Both men shook their heads yes, but by their expressions were not convinced to just do nothing.

The doctor tried again, “The railroad is here, prosperity, money, important people. There is only one way this town can go if we make a good impression on the LT. Governor and that is up. Now,” pointing at Madrid, “This man is nothing. No one will even miss him. He came in alone, didn't he?”

Roy and Tom both confirmed it with a nod of their heads.

“Well, then we've got it made. Here's what we'll do. I, being the doctor, will quarantine him to this stall. If it turns out all he has is a fever and a stomach ailment, he'll survive it. And if it turns out to be yellow jack and he doesn't survive, so be it. We don't want to expose the whole town and cause a panic. Now, you two pull him to the back of the stall, leave him a bucket of fresh water and his slop pail. He's going to need it.”

Both men, reluctantly, did as bid and pulled Johnny to the back corner of the stall. Roy collected his coat and hat, dumping it beside the unconscious gunslinger. Tom brought the puke bucket, and left it where he could reach it. On a last second notion, Tom reached down and unbuckled Johnny's gun belt, pulling it off him. He then went to his saddle and pulled out the rifle from the scabbard, taking both guns with him.

Standing outside the stall, the doctor enforced his will, “Now, if this gets out that he possibly has yellow jack, it will ruin us. NO one is to know he's here. Understood?”

The men nodded and walked back to the forge. “Roy, my horse done yet? I gotta get to that luncheon.”

“Comin right up,” grouched the old codger, spitting into the hay.

The red-headed deputy laid Johnny's guns down on a rickety table that doubled for a desk. This was his post while the LT Governor was here. “Looks like it's gonna be a long day.”

 

Cal, who they had all forgotten about, snuck out from the other side of the stall. He watched Johnny's still form for a long time, troubled by all he had heard. He hurried up and finished bedding down the palomino for the night, thinking it was the least he could do, besides, he was getting a whole dollar for it. A soft moan came from the gunfighter as he turned onto his side and drew up his knees to his belly. Cal crept closer, feeling bad for the man. Johnny shivered in the damp afternoon air. The rain was still coming down. Taking the blanket off the top of his saddle, Cal covered the sick man up. Spying his coat, he put it under his head for a pillow. Realizing no one had left any fresh water, he found another bucket and pumped some water from the horse trough in back, then left it beside him. It was all he knew to do. Exiting the stall, he scooped up a wooden box by the back door and took off to find the one person he could count on, to give him some advice. 

                                                            ---6---

Scott was awakened by screams on the other side of the door. He had drifted off to sleep, listening to the steady rhythm of the rain as it hit the ground. He smiled, and still groggy from sleep, assumed his brother had done something outrageous to get the maids all in a twitter. The man had more women practically swooning at his feet than he knew what to do with.

The screams increased in pitch, length and volume, ranging from shrieks to blood curdling yells. Scott jumped out of bed, grabbed his gun and wrenched open the door. He was met with pandemonium.

Chambermaids in various stages of dress or undress were scurrying up and down the hall. Some were running into open bedrooms, while others were running out. All were screaming at the top of their lungs. In the midst of it all stood Cal, next to Leah, with an overturned wooden box on the floor.

In serious distress, Cal yelled above the din, “Ma, it was an accident. I forgot to check the lid. Mary came out of the water closet and banged into me. I didn't mean to drop it, I swear!”

“Why'd you bring them in here for anyways?” asked his exasperated mother.

“Ya know I always keep em in our room, but when we lost the room to him,” pointing at Scott, who had just opened the door. “I took'em to the stable. But, the stable has a cat and ya know I don't like anything gettin hurt,” replied Cal contrite.

“Him, is a paying guest, young man,” reminded Leah, embarrassed. Putting her arm around her son's shoulder as Scott came up to them, she introduced them. “His name is Mr. Lancer to you.”

“We've met and done business,” grinned Scott. “Haven't we Cal?”

“Yes, sir. Your horse is all bedded down, sir.”

Another set of screeches came from the bedroom across from them. A young maid ran out and yelled at Cal, “Do something about them!” Spying Scott with a gun, she shouted, “Shoot'em if ya have to!”

“Oh, dear,” replied Leah, dismayed. “Whatever am I going to tell Mr. Becket?” She began to cry and turned into Scott's arms.

Scott felt as helpless as the next guy, when it came to crying women. He soothed, “It's going to be all right. We'll get it figured out,” while patting her on the back. He bent his head slightly towards Cal and inquired, “What was in the box?”

“Hamsters. A whole family of em. They took off like a shot when I dropped the box.”

“Ya mean, mice, don't ya?” retorted the maid who wanted them shot, still standing beside them.

“No,” exclaimed Cal, “They have short stubby tails and ears. And they're bigger than mice.”

More screams filled the air.

Leah wailed, “Oh, Mr. Lancer, Mr. Becket is going to fire me. I just know it. What are we going to do?”

“Round them up,” flatly replied Scott.

Thus began the great hamster caper on the fourth floor of the Four Star Hotel. Scott went to put his gun in his pants only to realize he was still in his bathrobe. Feeling a bit shy and naked, he quickly ran into his room, dropped the pistol on his bed and pulled on a pair of pants under the robe, leaving his feet bare.

Coming back into the hall, Scott shouted with his best command voice from the cavalry, “QUIET!” To his amazement, the noise stopped. “Now, not a peep from anyone. All this screeching is scaring these critters to death.” He was careful not to mention either hamster or mouse for fear the screams would start again.

Scott requested a broom and dustpan, which he received immediately. “Cal, bring the box and follow me.” Armed with their hamster catching tools, they snuck into the nearest bedroom. Two maids were standing on the bed and another on the vanity stool.

The first hamster was found in a shoe. Picking up the shoe, Scott dumped it into the box. Another hamster ran out from behind a dresser. Scott covered it with the broom and slid the dustpan under it. The second hamster joined the other one in the box.

Two hamsters ran out from the open armoire and high-tailed it under the bed. The nervous maid on the stool took a deep breath, ready to scream, when Scott cut her off. “Enough! One more scream and I'll go back into my room and leave this up to you.” The girl clapped a hand over her mouth.

Scott got down on his stomach, ordering Cal beside him. “Here, take the dustpan. “I'll coax them out with the broom, but first I've got to move this stuff. They're probably hiding back by the wall.”

Burrowed partway under the bed, Scott started pulling things out. He found a couple pairs of mismatched shoes, a hat box, a long dark stocking and a glove. He shoved them at Cal who tossed them aside. Next came a pile of risqué books. Scott paused a moment and ginned at them, wondering which maid they belonged to. He pushed the books towards Cal along with a lacy parasol and a pair of bloomers entwined with a shawl. One of the maids squealed with delight when the items appeared in the open. Scott didn't know if it was over the books or the unmentionables.

Meanwhile, the two maids on top of the bed got down and started claiming their lost belongings.

“Wow, I wondered where that glove went…haven't seen this parasol in months…so, that's where Amber Sue hid those books.”

Scott wisely refrained from commenting on their housekeeping abilities. He was finding the dust bunnies under the bed were as big as the hamsters. He was having a hard time telling if they were real or not for they moved when he did. Finally, the area was clear and he could bring the broom up ahead of him. Light filtered down just beyond the other side of the bed. Against the wall, the two hamsters rested. He quickly brought the broom up beside them, so they couldn't scamper away. Swishing the broom, one hamster came running straight at him, while the other ran down beside him, heading for open range.

“Get'em Cal!”

Cal, who was in position, quickly aimed the dustpan in the hamster's path, catching him dead on. “Got'em!” the boy exclaimed excitedly. He covered the hamster with his hand and carefully dumped him in the box with his siblings.

The hamster that came at Scott ran right down the middle of his robe. Feeling the soft fur, and cold nose moving against his chest, caused him to whack his head on the box springs. Not wanting to squish the animal, he got up on his knees and wiggled out from under the bed, while the maids ogled his raised rear end. Red-faced, he came to his knees and pulled the hamster out of his robe, diverting their attention.

Things went a lot quicker after that. Cal chased one down the hall and caught it with his hat. Scott swept one out from behind the bathtub. One hamster was so afraid that he ran around in circles, then darted into the cleaning supply closet, where the door was ajar. Scott moved the rags and cans outside the closet, finally locating the hamster in a corner. Scooping him up with his hand, he dropped him into the box.

“Is that it?” asked Scott, putting the supplies back away with the maids gathered around them.

Cal counted them. “Yup, all here.”

“Good.” Scott put the lid back on the box, when a stern voice said, “What in tarnation are you doing?” It was Mr. Becket, the desk clerk, walking up the hallway.

Picking up the broom, Scott stood up and said, “Helping out.” Once again the clerk had caught him in a disheveled state of dress. The white hotel robe was covered with dirt and dust-bunnies. His feet were bare and his riding pants even more filthy.

The distain in Mr. Becket's eyes told the story. “Mr. Lancer, we have employees to take care of these things.” Giving a heated glare to the maids, he added, “Paid employees.” The chambermaids all took off in different directions, except Leah. Cal stayed frozen where he was on the floor with the box.

The hall was so quiet you could have heard a feather drop.

Mr. Becket cleared his throat. “I got a few complaints from the third floor about a disturbance up here. You know anything about that, Leah?”

“Well…ya see…”

Scott intervened with, “We just chased a critter out of here.”

In disbelief, Mr. Becket repeated with one eyebrow raised, “A critter? In our hotel?”

“Yup,” quipped Scott, gripping the broom tighter, “It came in through an open bedroom window.” They heard the squeak of a window moving in a room down the hall.

“I see, and what pray tell was it?”

Scott and Leah responded together, “Squirrel. A mouse.”

“Which was it?” chided the desk clerk in a very soft voice.

“It was like this,” affirmed Scott, stretching the story and sticking to the truth as much as possible, “The critter flew through the open window and ran around so fast that we couldn't tell what it was. But, by its color, I think it was a very small squirrel or a very large mouse.”

“Yes,” said Leah, backing up Scott. “It tore through here lickety-split scaring everyone.”

Mr. Becket, not quite believing, “Scared everyone? That's what all those screams were about?”

Scott trying to clarify the situation, “I heard the screams and rushed out to help. At the same time, Cal was bringing this box to me. He dropped the box and we chased the critter around a bit.”  Lifting the broom, Scott added, “That's why I have the broom,” then looking down at his clothes, “and why I'm so dirty.”

Scott turned and put the broom away in the closet, then gestured to Cal for the dustpan which was handed to him. Setting the pan in the closet, Scott shut the door, turned around and scooped up the box of hamsters. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to my room to clean up.”

Rounding on Leah, Mr. Becket asked, “What's in the box and which critter was it?”

Pulling herself up to her full height, Leah responded, “I don't know sir. But, it's Mr. Lancer's business what's in the box. As for the critter that flew in here, maybe it was one of those flying squirrels.”

She could see that he didn't believe her, but she gave him no time to say more. She didn't want him asking why there were dust-bunnies all over Mr. Lancer. One thing for sure, she and the girls were going to have a badly needed talk about keeping their rooms clean. “I need to get back to my duties.” She hurried towards the stairs with Cal right behind her.

Listening in on their conversation, Scott reached his bedroom door and opened it. He was relieved when Leah walked away unscathed. Before he closed the door, he heard Cal ask his mother, “Ma, there's something going on at the livery stable. I need your advice. But, you can't tell anyone.”

 

                                                            ---7---

Johnny woke up the same way he had passed out, with wrenching stomach pain. He was only lucid a few moments when he vomited into the slop bucket. He was short of breath and an odd weakness had taken over his body. Still leaning over the pail, a shadow startled him, causing him to reach for his gun, which wasn't there. His instincts were off. He hadn't heard the deputy walk up.

“Well Madrid, see you're back in the land of the livin. Sorry to see ya so dragged out.”

Johnny knew he didn't mean it. His kind never meant it. They lied through their teeth with a straight face and the worst ones smiled. This one merely mocked him, by using his old name. Saying nothing Johnny looked around the stall, realizing he'd been moved. It boded ill, he wasn't up to it, but he asked anyway, “What's your game?”

“My game, Madrid?” The deputy squatted down with his rifle in hand and out of the gunfighter's reach. “Answers.” He watched a myriad of expressions cross the gun hawk's face, confusion, resignation and pride before the cold Johnny Madrid mask fell into place.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The deputy lifted the rifle.

“It's your party.”

“You got business here Madrid?”

“Yeah.” Well he did, thought Johnny though it was none of the deputy's business. He glanced over to the saddlebags on the back of his saddle, wondering if the gold ore was still there, a small fortune, hidden in plain sight. Then figured that it was, hence the third degree.  Except for the roll of nausea in his belly, he felt relieved, until he noticed the deputy's dark cold eyes.

“Madrid, I'm tryin to go easy on you, ya being sick an all, but I need some better answers, so quit dancing around.” The deputy scratched his cheek. “Now, ya been down to Mexico lately?”

“Yup.” Why lie reasoned Johnny . How'd he even know I'd been down there or is he just fishing? He obviously recognized me as Madrid and knew I hung out in the border towns. “Why ya wanna know?”

“Sawbones here says Yellow Jack fever's down there.”

Surprised, Johnny started laughing, “I don't recall anyone being sick down there.” His stomach did some cartwheels.

The lawman's expression changed, fire sparked in his eyes. He tightened his grip on the rifle.

“What? You think I have it? I have a cold from all the rain I've been through,” he sniffled for effect. Seeing the doubt on the lawman's face, Johnny added, “and some kind of stomach bug, probably from my last meal.” He unconsciously put his hand on his belly.

“Well, that may be so, but I have my orders.” The deputy stood up. “You're quarantined to this stall.”

“What!?” yelled Johnny in shock, standing up now from pure adrenaline, albeit shakily. Livid now, he continued, “I have business here. Legit business! You can't keep me here!”

“With who?”

Letting his temper get the better of him, for his illness was clouding his judgment, Johnny blurted out, “My brother and the LT. Governor!”

“Oh, and I'm the king of England,” taunted the deputy, enjoying the gunfighter's discomfort.

“It's true,” countered Johnny irritated. “Just ask my brother. He's registered at the hotel.” He lifted a hand and pointed in the direction of the building. “We both are!”

“Everyone knows ya don't have a brother Madrid. That you're a loner!”

“That was before I got lucky and found my family,” defended Johnny, wiping his fevered brow with the back of his arm. The information had slipped out way to easy. He wasn't on his game. He never gave away his business.

“You're lying Madrid. You're really here to do a job, to kill the LT. Governor!”

“I am not! He's my father's friend! We're even business partners,” spat Johnny, going eye to eye with the deputy.    

“You're lying and I'm going to prove you wrong!”

“Look, deputy dog, ask him! Just ask him. Better yet, let's go over and find him and you can ask him face to face.”

Johnny started to leave the stall, when the lawman roughly grabbed his arm and swung him around. “You're not going anywhere!” The deputy pushed Johnny hard against the wall with the rifle, knocking the wind out of him.

Breathing hard, Johnny pushed off the wall with his right fist balled. But before he could swing, the lawman hit him with the rifle butt on his healing cheek, splitting it open once again.  Falling into the hay on the floor, Johnny felt his head spin and stomach cramp.

The deputy kicked him in the ribs with his boot, exacting more pain. He leaned over the prone man and pulled him up by the hair, “You're dirt Madrid. You and your kind are all dirt.” Letting go of Johnny's greasy hair, the deputy wiped his hand on his pants and left the stall, whistling.

Johnny was boiling mad. He'd been insulted. Not just to his back, but to his face! It required immediate action. With all his will, he wanted to pound the deputy into oblivion, drop him with his colt, teach him a lesson he'd never forget. But in the end, all he could do was throw up.

 

                                                            ---8---

Cal made his way into the stable with another horse. He didn't get a dollar this time, only a dime. A dime didn't require him to do much except hand it off to Roy or one of the other stable boys. His money was sorely made on tips, except for the last two horses he bedded down. Now, that had been a deal. They had become his responsibility, and no matter how unwittingly, so had the gunfighter, said his ma. Of course, he hadn't told her Johnny was a gunfighter or his name or the fact he might have Yellow Jack or that no one was supposed to know. He sighed, feeling the guilt of his half-truths.  The weight of responsibility was feeling mighty heavy.

“Roy, ya here?” yelled Cal, not seeing anyone except the deputy, who was whistling some morbid tune.

“He's not here, Cal. Got another horse, huh?” Looking around, he didn't find any open stall to put it in. “Just hitch it to a rail. Roy'll be back soon.” The deputy went back to whistling.

Cal did as ordered. Tom the deputy made him nervous. He knew the lawman could be nice at times, but also knew he had a real mean streak in him. So, Cal always gave him a wide berth.

Hearing the tune, he figured the lawman was in one of his better moods. “I have to go check on my horses,” stated Cal. “I made a deal with their owners.”

“Which ones?” asked Tom, immediately on the alert.

Cal pointed, “The two on the end down there.”

“That gun hawk pay you?”

Cal put his hand behind his back and crossed his fingers. “Yes sir.”

“He'd better have or I'll beat him again. Now listen Cal. He's a bad man, stay away from him.” At the look of alarm on the boy's face, he amended, “Don't worry. I fixed him. He won't be botherin ya. Besides, you don't want to be sick with whatever he's got, do ya?”

“Noo…no sir,” stuttered Cal. He took off down the stable, grabbing a hay-rake on the way. To make it look less suspicious, he stopped and cleaned out Mr. Lancer's stall first. It didn't take long, the horse hadn't been there long enough to make a real mess. He could smell the vomit from Johnny's stall, wafting over. It made his eyes water and his stomach gag. When he was done with the bay, he started on the palomino's stall. The lawman had gone back to whistling a different tune. Cal hoped Tom wasn't watching him.  

The boy worked as fast as possible to the back of the stall. Cal dropped the rake when he saw Johnny's face. The man looked dead, lying there as white as one of his mother's sheets. Blood dripped down the side of his cheek, landing in a puddle in the hay. Falling to his knees, he wanted to cry, but knew he had to man-up instead.

Johnny, hearing the sniffles, opened his eyes. Softly, he reassured the boy, “Hey, kid. Don't shed any tears for me. I'm okay.”

Cal, embarrassed to be caught with tears in his eyes, spouted the first thing that came to mind, “I ain't. It stinks in here.”

Johnny actually chuckled. “That it does, son.” He sat up on one elbow, mortified at the mess he'd made. “I, ah, missed the bucket on the last round.”

“Stop it Johnny. I know'd gun marks when I see'em. I ain't no kid. I've been around. I've seen what Tom can do, how mean he is, how'd he likes to hurt people.”  He took a handkerchief out of his pants pocket, dropped it in the clean bucket of water then held it out to Johnny. “Here, clean yourself up, while I rake out this hay. Tom'll be checkin on me soon.”

Johnny was astounded at Cal's perception of life. It reminded him of his own childhood. The cool water felt good on his cheek as he patted the wound. Too bad Tom had busted open those nice stitches Lupe had so painstakingly put in. He dropped the handkerchief back into the water, rinsing it out, then washed the rest of his face. “Where's your ma?”

“At the Four Star,” answered Cal, raking the mess closer to the aisle. “She's head of the chambermaids when there's a big doings in town, like now.”

“And your father?”

“He's dead. Got trampled by a horse years ago.”

Cal finished raking the hay, putting the last of it in the wheelbarrow. He glanced down the way locating the deputy at the front doors. It was still raining.  Picking up a bundle of fresh hay, he went to the back of the stall and spread it on the floor. A moment later, Johnny grabbed Cal's wrist and slipped a five dollar gold piece into his hand. “I'm making an honest man out of you. No more lies.”

“How'd ya know about that?”

“I might've had my eyes closed, but there's nothing wrong with my hearing.”

Looking down at the money in his hand for the first time, Cal's eyes rounded to twice their size, “Johnny, we agreed on a dollar.”

“You earned it Cal, but I want you to listen to me. Sit down.”

Cal sat facing Johnny, but also in a direction where he could keep an eye out for the deputy.

“Cal, I grew up much like you. I was hell bent to nowhere. I had more tears in my belly that I couldn't let go of. I was so angry and alone. My story is a long one, but I'll make it short. I got lucky. My real father found me. We've had lots of arguments and differences throughout the years. But, I've never known him to lie. My father is a decent, honorable man who lives by principles. He taught me to respect his word and because of it, I respect him. Actually, I'm in awe of him.”

“What are princ…sa…ples?”

“It's a code of conduct, Cal.”

“Like the code of the west? I'll get ya, fore you get me?”

Johnny chuckled, “No Cal. It's a set of rules, on how we live, like honesty, fairness, trustworthiness…”

The deputy interrupted with a bellow from down front, “Cal, you okay?”

Cal jumped up and grabbed the two buckets. Heading to the back door he yelled, “Almost done, Tom!”

Johnny laid back down, totally spent. He was freezing cold again, shivering from head to toe. He ached all over, his cheek throbbed and his eye was swollen. His ribs were tender and it hurt to breathe. Above all, his stomach was gearing up for another round of feed the bucket . He hoped he'd gotten through to Cal about lying. By the time the boy returned with fresh water and the empty slop pail Johnny was half asleep, trying to snatch some rest before the cycle started all over again. He almost missed Cal's question, “Johnny, who's Scott?”

Not opening his eyes, he said in a faint voice, “Brother. He's my brother.”  

 

                                                            ---9---

Scott was dressed in his good clothes. His usual western gear was a tan jacket, white shirt with black tie over a pair of dark brown pants. The maids had jumped at the chance to help him press his clothes after he'd rescued them from the critters. It seemed one good kindness deserved another.

The first was Millie, the cook. “Mr. Lancer, I have food left over from the luncheon. Would you like a sandwich?” He ordered a chicken club. It arrived with a plate of cookies.

Next, Mary offered to wash his clothes, being she was the laundress for the hotel. He took up her offer. Clean clothes were always nice, especially on the trail.

A little later, a bottle of wine with sliced cheese was dropped off with a note that just said, “Thanks.”

A basket of fresh fruit followed from Harriet, the maid who'd wanted him to shoot the critters.

“Too bad Johnny's not here. He's always hungry. Boy, if he could see me now,” mused Scott to the hamsters, all snuggled in their box. A guilty pain hit him, taking some of the fun out of the afternoon.

Cal had dropped off some fresh straw for the box and food to feed them, with a promise he'd be back to take care of them. It'd seemed to Scott the boy was worried about something. When he asked Cal if he could help, the kid only stated it was important he find someone's brother. Scott silently commiserated with his own thought, “I wish he'd find my wayward brother.”

Leah had offered to take the hamsters back, but Scott had refused. He didn't want Becket getting wind of them. Cal had let it slip that this had been their room before he, Scott, had arrived. Turned out Cal and his mother had a house outside of town.  But, when the hotel or town had a special occasion, they stayed here in a room reserved for staff, unless they hit capacity, then it became the overflow rooms. Now the former occupants were sharing a room with another maid.

Scott walked over and shut the window for the rain had shifted direction. The window overlooked the livery stable next door. He stood there absently, watching the activities of the livery's business. He noticed the red-haired deputy who had confronted him when he first arrived, standing guard with a rifle at the front doors. “Odd? Wonder what that's about?” The deputy disappeared from view. “Must be added security for the LT Governor's visit.”

He shifted position, glanced over to the corral and the back of the stable. From this angle, the rain almost obscured his vision. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a flash of pink by the outhouse. Hope flooded his heart. Is that Johnny? Cursing the rain, Scott tried to zero in on the color. A brilliant flash of lightening illuminated the whole area. There was nothing there.   

Scott didn't know how long he stood there, trying to find that pink dot. He waited for the outhouse door to open, but it never did. Maybe he was never there. Maybe I only imagined it. Maybe because I want him to be here so bad, I'm seeing things...maybe…maybe…something's happened to him.

A knock on the door interrupted Scott's thoughts. “Come in.”

The maid Harriet announced, “Mr. Lancer, the LT Governor requests your presence in the bar downstairs at your earliest convenience.”

“Tell him I'll be right there.”

 Before leaving, Scott's thoughts turned back to his brother. Once again, looking out the window at the rain, he murmured, “Where are you, Johnny?”

 

                                                            ---10---

“Ma, I gotta talk to you.”

“Cal, this is a bad time, son,” replied Leah, trying to juggle three duties at once. They were at the bottom of servant's stairway off the kitchen. The entranceway to the back door was to the side with a covered porch. Cal sat on a barrel holding the stable's cat named Tab. A scrawny black mixed-breed dog of lab and collie lay beside him out of the rain.

“But, it's important Ma. I gotta find someone's brother. All I need ya to do is look at the hotel's register book.”

“Mr. Becket's pride and joy?” asked Leah.

“Yeah, Ma. You know'd I never get even close to the front desk where it sits. Why, he makes me come in and out the back door all the time, unless I'm with a payin guest.”

All workers and hotel business came through the back door, only guests were allowed through the front. The back door was open, letting in a cool breeze from the rain.

“And young man, how do you think I'm going to get close to that book?”

“Wait till Mr. Becket takes a break.”

“He never takes a break.”

“I could create a diversion,” countered the boy, bending to pet the dog, which was now at his knee. The cat hissed at the dog, struggling to get down. Cal let it go.

“Cal, who has you so wrapped up?” Leah paused, studying her son. “That man in the livery you told me about?”

“Yeah, Ma. His names Johnny and he's sick and all alone. And Tom beat'em and Dr. Hert don't care. He won't even touch him…says he's dirt.” Looking up with tears in his eyes, Cal cried, “All he wants is his brother. He gave me a name, but I don't know who or where he is. We gotta help him ma!”

“Ya say, Dr. Hert wouldn't even help him? Why? He's a doctor for pity sakes.”

Cal balled his fists, spouting the obvious, “He's a pompous ass, Ma!”

“Well, I already knew that. Haughtiness and arrogance of the rich. You just remember the lesson here, son. Treat your fellow man as you'd want them to treat you.”

Cal cut in as if by rote, “And the Uppity quality folks are no better than us. They all look the same naked.”

“Cal!”

“Well, they do. All put their pants and shirts on the same way too.”

Mom and son stared at each other, then burst out laughing.

“Now,” asked Cal serious again, “what are we gonna do bout Johnny? Dr. Hert don't want anyone to know he's here.”

“Why's that?”

Cal fidgeted, He put his hand behind his back, crossed his fingers, then remembered what Johnny said about lying and uncrossed them. Taking a big breath, he said. “Doc said he might have Yellow Jack.”

“What?” exclaimed Leah, “He sure?”

“No, he ain't sure. Johnny don't even look yellow. He looks as white as a ghost, not that I've seen any. But, no how. I heard the Doc say he wants it kept quiet or it'll make the town, and of course Dr. Hert, look bad.” Cal came inside and sank down on the steps, the dog following. The cat stayed on the porch, licking herself.

“Ma, Johnny's so sick he can barely keep his head out of the puke bucket. And that mean old Tom won't let'em out of the horse stall to even go to the privy.” Anxious for his friend, he raced through the rest of the story, “I had to create a diversion. The other stable boys helped distract Tom, so I could sneak Johnny out to the privy, under a blanket, because its rain'in and he has a fever and he can't stand so good anymore.” He took a deep breath, “Then when Johnny was done with business, ya know what he said?”

Leah shook her head no.

“He said he had to go back there, to that filthy stall, though I've tried to keep it respectable, because he didn't want me to get in trouble with Tom. He said I'd done enough and that his brother would find him soon enough.”

“Cal look me straight in the eye and tell me, you're not stretching things, that you are telling me the truth.”

“I swear it Ma.  Johnny already bawled me out about lying. Said it's not honorable.”

One things for sure, thought Leah, this Johnny person had made a good impression on her son. “Okay, Cal. You convinced me. What's his brother's name?”

“Scott Madrid.”

“And the sick man at the livery is Johnny?” Leah's eye widened. “As in Johnny Madrid, the gunfighter?”

Cal mischievously grinned, “Yup, that's him, but he said he's retired. I didn't get to ask'em more, fore he started barfing again.”

“Well what do you know? An ex-gunfighter with principles.”

 

                                                            ---11---

Johnny fell back into the hay, gasping for breath. He'd just gone another round with the bucket.

Looking up at his horse, he panted, “Barranca, the bug is winning. How many times has he bucked me off now?” Hearing his name, the horse just stared at him with ears perked. “You're a lot of help. Who ever heard of a talkin horse, anyways?” Smirking at the animal, Johnny added, “At least you're a good listener.” He briefly wondered what his horse thought of his sharing a stall with him. “He'd probably kick me out if he could.”

He reached into the fresh water bucket, cupped his hand and sipped some water. Rinsing his mouth out, he spit it into the slop pail.  He didn't dare swallow anymore. Whatever went down even more came back up. Where does it all come from? How can one meal create such turmoil? Had to of been those green beans or mushrooms I ate.” He scratched at his mosquito bites, making some bleed.

He was so hot. He knew his fever was higher than a while ago. He felt weak and confused. He was talking to himself and to his horse. “Wait a minute, I always talk to my horse. He's the only one that listens half the time.”

The bouts of vomiting were farther apart, but the intensity of each episode was steadily increasing. His throat was raw, his chest burned like fire and his bruised ribs made it hard for him to breath. To make matters worse, his cold was creating havoc, by adding a cough to the mix.

Turning onto his back with one hand behind his head, the other covering his belly, he felt the hay picking him through his clothes. It made him itch. The more he itched the more he scratched. The mosquitos hovered around him attracted by the scent of blood from his lacerated cheek. “Now I know why horses have tails.”

Johnny rolled and tossed on the floor, trying to get comfortable. He couldn't. His body ached and the cramps in his stomach were unceasing. “Oh, Barranca,” he moaned, “not even on my worse hangover have I felt this bad. If only I could sleep…really sleep.” He couldn't do that either, for he didn't trust the deputy or anyone around him, except Cal. He closed his eyes and tried resting.

The chills were creeping in again. He rooted around for the horse blanket with his eyes still closed, too exhausted to open them. He found the blanket beside him where he'd discarded it earlier. The shivers were upon him now, making his body shake. Johnny pulled the blanket tight around him, getting a whiff of its smell or maybe it was himself. “Cal's right,” he mumbled, his tongue thick in his dry mouth, “it does stink in here…skunks don't smell their own scent, so why can I smell the polecat?” A barky cough wracked his chest. Johnny's voice cracked as he whispered, “Scott, please find me,” He laid there for a time, before drifting off into an uneasy sleep.

 

                                                            ---12---

 

Walking into the stable, Dr. Hert inquired, “Tom, how's our patient?”

“When he's not puking, he's talkin to his horse, acting strange. I think he's got the fever.”

“Get any information out of him?” asked Doc, lighting up a cigar with a match.

Tom made a tsking sound, “Doc. Ya know ya can't smoke in here. Roy be fit to be tied if he caught you.”

“I'm the mayor. I can do what I want, so don't try and bully me.” He shook out the match and threw it on the floor.

Tom bent down and picked up the match, then flicked it into a bucket of water. “Doc. I am the law and I'll uphold it as I see fit. Now, I don't care about that gunslinger down there, but I do care about all these here horses if this here place goes up in smoke!”

“All right! All right, I guess that's what we pay you for. After all, the horses are worth a lot of money.” He stubbed the cigar out on a post. “Now, let's get down to brass tacks, what did Madrid say about Mexico?”

“All I could get out of im was nobody's been sick where he was.”

“That's it?” yelled the mayor, taking his hat off and whacking his leg in disproval. “I thought you were good at this sort of thing.”

“I am. He tried to escape and I had to subdue him, so I couldn't get no more, exceptin that his brother was registered at the hotel and that the LT. Gov. is a friend of his daddy's.”

“That's gotta be a lie,” exclaimed the mayor. “He must've been desperate or something to say that. What'd you hit him with?”

“My rifle.”

“Hurt 'im bad?”

“Maybe ya should just do some doctoring and have a look for yourself.”

“Maybe I will.” Both men started towards the corner stall where Johnny was kept. “What are you telling people who hear him upchucking?”

“That he's a no good account drunk with a hangover.”

Laughter from both men as they entered the stall. “That's a good one,” approved the doctor. “Now, let's see what we got here.”

Johnny was sitting up in the corner with the bucket between his knees, pretending to be dozing. His hat was low on his forehead, hiding his eyes. He wanted to see who this man was that the deputy had been talking to, especially since it concerned him.  Cal would've been impressed with his hearing capabilities.

The first thing that amazed Johnny, but did not impress him, was the mayor's suit. He was dressed in white from the top of his head to his feet. It reminded him of a circus act when he was a little boy, where the ringmaster had been dressed the same.

The deputy kicked his foot. “Madrid, you awake? Dr. Hert wants to take a gander at you.”

Johnny played possum. He didn't have the energy to do much else. The nausea in his stomach was building again.

A harder kick came again, this time by the doctor. “Madrid? As distasteful as it is, I need to examine you.”

The doctor bent down and pulled off Johnny's hat, throwing it in the hay. He wasn't prepared for the blank, blue-eyed stare from the gunslinger's eyes. The open lacerated bloody cheek added to the menace. Nor was he prepared when Johnny said, cold as ice, “Don't touch me.”

“Son, that cut on your face needs tending,” The doctor gave him the slip away look, then asked, “How'd you get hurt?”

Johnny raged inside. The doctor knew full well it was from the butt of the deputy's rifle, given the imprint was still proof on his cheek. And weren't they just discussing that?

Neither man was prepared for the venom in Johnny's hissed reply, “I'm NOT your son. Only ONE man has the right to call me son and he's my father!”

Throwing caution to the wind, Johnny decided to clear the air. “And for the last time, I don't have Yellow Jack either! No one, I repeat no one I encountered in Mexico or on the trail here was sick!” He spit into the bucket. His stomach was rolling now. Determined to get it all said, he continued. “My brother's over in that hotel next door. He's got to be wondering where I am.”

“There we go again! Lying!” chimed in the deputy. Turning to Dr. Hert, he explained, “Madrid has no family. He's a loner. Always has been, always will be.”

“No!” yelled Johnny. Putting the bucket aside, he tried to get to his feet and only made it to his knees. He groped the boarded wall beside him, pulling himself up. Leaning on the wall for support, he faced the men, “I don't go by Madrid anymore! My name is Lan…”

“All right. Just simmer down!” yelled the doctor, cutting him off, all patience gone. He pointed at Johnny. “You! You mind your manners or I'll throw you in a jail cell!”

“What do you call this?” snarled Johnny, gesturing at the stall and stepping away from the wall. “I just rode into town to meet my brother...”

“Ya, mean your partner in crime?” chipped in the deputy, balling his hand into a fist and going at Johnny's middle.

But Johnny was ready for him this time, despite his weakened condition. He side-stepped the deputy, causing him to miss and as he drove past, Johnny elbowed him in the back where the lawman crashed into the wall.

“So, ya wanna play?” growled the deputy, taking a fighter's stance with both hands out and fisted.

Still seething from their last encounter and wanting to get even, Johnny flatly said, “I'm game.”

Facing off, cold brown eyes versed angry blue eyes as the two men sized each other up.

Johnny decided to up the stakes, “And whoever wins, walks out a here.”

“Deal.”

Johnny got the first punch in, a right uppercut to the deputy's chin, but the doctor joined in and elbowed Johnny in his sore ribs, making him double over. The deputy then shoved him into the wall. Out of breath, Johnny's legs crumbled and he slid down the wall.

 

The mayor bent over the prostrate man, “You gunfighters are all the same. Ya pick fights to make your opponent lose their tempers, making them draw on you, then claim it's self-defense. Well, it's not going to work here.”

“Who hired you to come here?” slipped in the deputy. “Who's your target? The LT. Governor?”

“No, that's crazy…I told you before….he's a friend of the family…” wheezed Johnny, breathing hard, then breaking into a coughing fit. He was burning up again. His belly was about to erupt. He couldn't fight this travesty set upon him.

Pride goes before the fall, well here I go, thought Johnny, as he grabbed for the slop bucket. Kneeling and closing his eyes for another dreaded round of vomiting and too proud to beg, he simply said, “Just ask him…ask the governor…who I am.” His stomach turned and he was lost to any further conversation.

“That's disgusting,” said the mayor in repugnance.

“You're a doctor, you should be used to it,” replied the deputy, gagging at the smell and sound.

“It doesn't mean I have to like it.” Turning his back on the gun hawk, the doctor added,
“Even if he's not here for a job and doesn't have yellow jack, we can't let'em leave here and expose all those people in the hotel.”

“What about the LT. Governor? You going to ask him about Madrid?”

“Ask him what?” smiled the mayor. “If he knows a dirty, pole-cat, scum of the earth gunfighter?”

Johnny collapsed to the side of the bucket, totally spent, with one hand resting on the rim. Dr. Hert stood over him, pulling out a cigar. Still fighting for air and using the last of his endurance, Johnny tipped the slop pail over the doctor's feet.  

                                                            ---13--- 

Scott put on his gun belt and headed down the stairs where he found Leah and Cal having a discussion at the foot of the servant's stairway. Cal was petting a dog that had seen better days.

Nodding at Leah, Scott bent down to let the dog sniff his hand.

“This is Pippin,” introduced Cal. “He's my dog. I found im a while back behind the general store, sick. Been nursin im back to health. He likes people. He won't bite.”

Pippin licked Scott's fingers and Scott in return patted his head. “Well Pippin, you found a great master.” Cal grinned ear to ear. “You taught him any tricks yet?”

“A few.”

“You'll have to show me sometime. Now, can one of you tell me where the bar is from here?” asked Scott.

A worker from the kitchen brought out two bowls of scraps and immediately the dog followed her out to the porch. A yellow-tabby cat ran up to the first bowl she'd put down on the floor. The scullery maid scratched behind the cat's ears. “That's it girl, ya eat all that there food. Good for those babies you're a carryin.” The maid went back inside.

“That's Tab, the stable cat,” said Cal. “She's expectin a load of kittens soon.”

“Oh, the bad cat that likes hamsters,” remembered Scott. “You have quite a way with critters here Cal,”

“Someone has got to take care' em,” proudly replied Cal. “Follow me, Mr. Lancer and I'll take ya to the bar.”

“Hope you don't mind going through the kitchen,” asked Leah, bringing up the rear. “It's the quickest way.”

“Not a problem,” answered Scott.

The kitchen staff was surprised to see a guest walking through their domain. Most stopped what they were doing and stared. Scott recognized Millie, the cook who had given him the sandwich and cookies. He gave her a smile. The room was a beehive of activity with various workers preparing food for the dinner hour.

They exited out of the kitchen into a hallway across from the bar entryway. Leah split off to go to the dining room's linen closet. Cal turned around to head back where he came from. Scott headed inside the bar where he was stopped, just inside the door by the bar's lookout man, sitting on a tall spindled chair with a four-gauge shotgun across his lap.  

“Check your gun sir?” asked the armed man. At Scott's curious expression, he added, “This is a civilized hotel. No guns allowed in the bar or dining rooms.”

Cal, hearing the question, came back to the door. “Mr. Lancer, I can take your gun back to your room for ya. I need to take care of some stuff up there anyhow.”

Scott picked up on the stuff, meaning hamsters. “That would be a big help.” Scott took off his gun belt and handed it to Cal with his room key. “Catch up with you later.”

Cal took off for the back stairs while Scott walked up to the mahogany carved bar and ordered a whiskey. Turning, he noticed two green-felted faro tables, getting some action. He would've liked to have stopped and played, but alas, business came before pleasure. The LT. Governor was waiting for him at a corner table by the end of bar. A man stood up with the LT. Governor, who was vaguely familiar. He was tall, dark with a mustache, dressed in a frilly white shirt and black coat. When he spoke Scott remembered who he was.

“Scott Lancer,” the man held his hand out. “How's Jelly?”

“Dr. Theodore Banning, from Genesis. Well, this is a surprise,” exclaimed Scott, shaking his hand. “Jelly is as cantankerous as ever, thanks to you. He had no repercussions from that cougar attack.”

“Thank God for that,” replied the doctor.

They all sat down and the waitress brought Scott his drink. The LT. Governor ordered another round.

Scott was genuinely pleased to see him, “So, Doc, how's that pretty nurse of yours, Sarah Lockwood and her son Billy?”

“You'll be happy to know I married her and Billy is now my son,” proudly replied Banning. “And thanks to Murdock and sons,” he paused, nodded at Scott, “for giving me a loan, I now have my medical license. I'm legal now.”

“That's wonderful!” praised Scott, patting him on the back. Turning to George, the LT Governor, Scott asked, “Murdock's told you this story hasn't he, sir?”

Smiling, George supplied, “He's mentioned it and Jelly too. I bet you're wondering how he hooked up with me here?”

“Well, the thought had crossed my mind.”

“My personal physician and I were on horseback near Genesis campaigning, when his horse stumbled and Jeff chewed gravel, breaking his leg. Ted here, being the good doctor, set it for him. I always travel with a physician when I'm on the campaign trail and since Jeff will be laid up for a number of weeks, they decided to change places.” He swallowed the rest of his drink, then added, “Worked out for everyone concerned.”

“Except, I've found I miss my family and the small town of Genesis. Who would've believed it back when we met, Scott?”

“Things do change,” smiled Scott. “What ever happened to, ah, the man who tried to shoot Murdock and you had to treat him for the bullet wound?”

“You mean, Judah Abbott of Abbott Mining?”

Scott nodded yes.

“He's still around. Keeps to himself. From the rumors I hear, he's still angry about his son's suicide. Shame, that.”

George changed the subject, “Scott, where's that wayward brother of yours?”

Scott sipped some of his drink, “I don't know, sir. He hasn't arrived yet.”

“You're worried about him, aren't you?”

“I'd be lying, if I said I wasn't. Murdock's telegram said he was on time with the gold ore.” Scott swallowed the rest of his whiskey. “He should be here.”

“Well, stop worrying. He's not that late. On time can be anywhere from when you rode in and tomorrow morning.” George lit up a cigar, shook out the match, then added, “Johnny can take care of himself. For land's sake he's Johnny Madrid. He'd been on his own for years before Murdock found him. If any man can take care of himself, it's him.”

Scott shook his head in agreement. But deep down in the pit of his stomach, Scott had a bad feeling that something was terribly wrong with his brother. “That may be true, sir, but if he's not here by morning, I'm riding out to look for him.”

“Tell you what Scott, if he's not here by morning, I'll go with you,” stated the LT. Governor.

                                                            *****

No one paid any attention to the red-headed deputy eating at the bar behind their table. He finished his meal and pondered all he'd heard, then decided to find the mayor and fast.

 

                                                            ---14--- 

Meanwhile, Cal was trying to hatch a plan for a diversion to get Mr. Becket away from the front desk. He was in the stairway taking Mr. Lancer's gun upstairs. He thought about shooting off the gun to see how many people he could attract with the noise. It would surely clear out the lobby, wouldn't it? He lifted the gun to shoot, then chickened out.

“Ma probably get fired. Mr. Lancer be mad as a hornet that I shot off his gun and Mr. Becket would probably have apoplexy.”

He tried for a different plan. “I could find a passel of frogs down at the pond and let'em loose in the dining room.” He smiled. “All that hoppin around, just imagine all the screamin' the ladies would do. Old Becket'd have a cow.” Then, he pictured all the frogs smashed with a broom or worse and couldn't do it. “I can't stand seeing nothing hurt or dead.” A great shudder went through his body.

Whatever he was going to do, he had to do it fast. Johnny wasn't getting any better. He needed his brother. His ma couldn't move the man by herself even with her son's help. They needed protection. They needed someone who could stand up to people around here. Who would willingly help them?

Cal reached the bedroom, unlocked and opened the door. He put the gun on the table. The hamsters were on the dresser. He quickly fed them as he thought about Mr. Lancer, protecting the hamsters and his ma's job, his kindness at helping the maids and not being mad at him, Cal, for spilling the critters to begin with. He thought about Johnny in that stall, so sick, alone and none of it being his fault. How he needed a bath, a warm bed and a doctor who cared. He remembered all the stuff Johnny had taught him about lying, respect and honor. Two men as different in looks as night and day, but the same in kindred spirits. “Too bad their names ain't the same,” murmured Cal to his hamsters. “They should be brothers.”

 

                                                            ---15--- 

In the end, Cal didn't need a diversion. His pets did it for him. Pippin the black dog wolfed his food down first. Seeing the tabby cat was still laboriously eating her food, Pippin decided he would finish it off. Tab was not having any of that and swiped the dog's nose with her sharp claws. The dog yelped and growled. The cat took offense. She arched her back making her hair stand up clear down to her bushy tail and yowled back.  The chase was on!

Only one way to go decided the cat, straight through the kitchen. In a flash, the cat was up on the long wooden preparation-counter, knocking things off, as she ran with the dog nipping at her heels. The cooks screamed, the waitresses dropped trays with dishes full of food, the scullery maid fainted and the bus boy jumped over the dog to keep from getting run over.

The animals left the kitchen and headed up the wide hallway to the front of the hotel. Guests in the passageway leaped aside and ran into each other. Kids clapped, women screamed and the men laughed to see such a sight as the pair of animals headed for the lobby.

Careening around the corner, they'd made the entranceway and Mr. Becket's eyes about popped out of his head. The cat jumped up onto his shining and slippery counter, sliding the length of the desk with Pippin in hot pursuit on the floor.

Mr. Becket grabbed the cat only to have his hand shredded by an array of claws, followed by one good bite to his thumb.  Screaming now and holding his hand he released the cat, which immediately jumped off the counter and headed towards the bar. The dog, which thought it was all a game and not to be out done, was fast on her trail. A crowd of people soon followed the spectacle, taking Mr. Becket with them, as they passed the greeter's desk.

Leah separated from the crowd and grabbed the registry on the desk.  Not knowing how much time she had, she quickly scanned the list of names for the day. “No Scott Madrid.”  Willing her heart to slow down, she tried again, this time looking for the given name of ‘Scott'. She followed the list down with her finger.

William Connor

Mr. and Mrs. Bradly White

Alexander Peterson

Miss Esther Jean Nelson

Scott Lancer

Dr. Theodore Banning

‘Scott Lancer.' “Could this be it?” she asked herself. She put the book back, trying to think of a logical explanation. She could hear the commotion from the bar, shouts and the dog barking repeatedly. Think! She commanded herself. Think! There was something she wasn't remembering when she moved Mr. Lancer to their room. He needed two beds . Why? 

Then, it dawned on Leah. She ran around the desk and grabbed the reservation box. Quickly, she opened it and went through the names. There it was! A Scott and Johnny Lancer for this date of service, paid in full by a Murdock Lancer from Morro Coyo. She put the box back the way she found it. She had to find her son and Scott Lancer, but first she had to rescue Cal's pets from Mr. Becket.

 

                                                            ---16---

The rain had stopped. A crisp fall wind descended down on the town as night fell. In the stable Johnny was slowly regaining consciousness, but he couldn't shake the state of lethargy. Wrapping his arms around his middle, Johnny never felt more vulnerable in his life. The illness was taking a toll on his self-esteem, his pride, even his independence. His thoughts were scattered.

He still felt each kick of the heel as it had landed on his back and ribs, shoving him along the floor. The beating had been worth it. He'd dump the slop bucket again, if for no other reason than to watch the mayor dance around, trying to get the puke off his white shoes.

“My, my, how that must've felt soaking into his socks,” muttered Johnny, curled in a tight ball. It had been the good doctor who had done the kicking. “Nothing like getting kicked when you're down. Lucky he didn't have a gun or I'd probably be dead.” After leaving a warning, “This isn't over,” the doctor had left the livery.

Johnny licked his dry lips and wondered where the water bucket was. It was totally dark and he couldn't see anything. “How long have I been out?” he asked himself. He tried feeling around with his hands without success in locating the bucket. He laid there for a while without moving and just listened. The wind whistled through the rafters. The animals made their normal horse noises. He thought he heard a cat growl and a dog bark. He tried to pick up his last thoughts.

The deputy had turned a nice shade of green too. I wonder which got to him first, the smell or sight? smirked Johnny. He could still hear the lawman cursing and retching, as he ran out of the stall and slammed the back door. Bet he didn't like the smell of the privy either.

Unwinding his body, he found out his back hurt as bad as his ribs. He could only imagine what he must look like with the fresh bruises on his body. “I must look pretty,” he grinned, remembering he'd told Scott that once.

“I must be getting addle headed too.” He needed to cool off. He needed to find the water bucket. He tried crawling around to no avail. Come on, this stall's not that big. Where is it? He sighed, having no luck and tiring out.

Desperate now he zeroed in on his horse's movements and asked, “Barranca, where's yours?”  He crawled in the horse's general direction and banged into the bucket with his head, knocking it over. Rubbing his head, he thought, Dang! Now we're both without water. He collapsed onto his stomach too weak to move again.

“Come on, Johnny, get it together,” he chastised himself. “What did you do before when you were sick and alone? Before you turned into Johnny Lancer?” He couldn't remember. He thought for a while, fell asleep, then woke himself up and picked up the thread of his thoughts, “Talked to my horse, but now, I have my family.” He was proud of himself for remembering.

He was so hot! His clothes clung to his overheated body. He'd give anything for a bath. He rolled over onto his back despite the pain. His stomach was tormenting him again, along with all the other maddening afflictions.  He moaned. He sighed. He ached. The hay stuck to his perspiring skin and irritated the raw mosquito bites, he couldn't stop scratching. He repeatedly ran his fingers though his greasy, sweat soaked hair, hating the feel of it . How long has it been since I had a real bath? Before I left home? Well, I've only been down to Mexico and back. I hit a few lakes and streams that were cold enough to freeze my behind off. Then, there was all that rain.. .

Rolling over onto his side, he accidently swiped his lacerated cheek in the hay opening the wound and causing it to bleed freely again.  Applying pressure to his cheek with his hand, he rolled over to the other side. His ribs protested the move and he became short of breath. He couldn't find any comfort in his inhospitable stall.  His temperature was climbing. His thoughts were becoming jumbled. He was close to panicking, something he'd never done in his entire life. He had to calm down. He turned to his family.

Teresa. His adopted sister. What a joy she turned out to be. Bout knocked Scott's socks off the first day she came bounding into his room unannounced. He chuckled at the memory. Bout as out spoken as they come too. Not afraid to get her said either, no beating around the bush like with us men. She sure can handle a shot gun too. Murdock said she had grit and she does.

Jelly. Ranch hand and friend. Never met anyone who could spout off so many slang phrases. Dependable, trustworthy, kind-hearted, jack-of-all-trades. Loves to take in lost critters. Above all else, he's opinionated. Not afraid to speak his mind, like I told Scott once, He may not always be right, but he's never wrong.'

 He hadn't heard Tom come back in yet. He didn't know where Roy was. He didn't know if he was alone or not, for he hadn't heard any noise from the front of the stable. Maybe they think I'm still out of it and no trouble.

He tried to get up and stumbled away from his horse. He was as weak as a kitten. “Naw, a kitten has more strength.” His back protested by shooting pain through his middle. He coughed, sending another wave of pain through his ribs. The never ending ache in his belly intensified his nausea, which lead to his stomach tightening for another round of vomiting. Falling to his knees, Johnny groped for the slop bucket which he couldn't find. The doctor had kicked it away during his tirade. The hay would have to do. Lying on his stomach, elbows propped on the ground, barely able to hold his head up with his hands, the spasms came long and drawn out.

When he was done he rolled away from the mess as far as he could, landing up against the wall, by the corner. He could feel the cool air seeping through the boards. At first it was a blessing against his fevered skin, then the chills soon followed, making him curse his illness all over again. He rooted around for the blanket, which he thought had been left in the corner before he'd gotten into the fight with the deputy. After a few moments of searching, he found the blanket with his coat underneath it. He put the coat under his head and wrapped up in the blanket that smelled as bad as he did. The chills were relentless, his teeth wouldn't stop chattering. Even though he knew Scott would find him eventually, he fell into despair. Once again, he thought of home.

Murdock. How do I describe my father? He was bigger than life itself when we first met. Only later, did I ever admit to Scott that I had been a little bit afraid of him. I wondered at the time if I'd ever measure up. He was so big and strong and proud and oh so stubborn. Man did we lock horns. Of course, I had to do my part and act like I didn't give a damn. Bout broke my heart when he let me go with Wes after the horse incident. I didn't really want to go, but pride got in the way. In hind sight, I see the logic of having to make up my own mind to belong or not. Lots of things didn't make sense back then, but sure do now. I guess time heals all wounds.

Barranca snorted and stomped his foot. Not knowing if something was wrong, Johnny asked, “What's the matter big guy? Wish you were home?” Of course the horse didn't answer.

“I wish we were home. You'd be in your comfy stall and Scott would be reading some book and Murdock would be doing his paperwork.” He rolled over onto his side, adjusted the blanket. His hand went under his head, the other back to his stomach, rubbing it. “I'd be home sitting in front of a toasty fire, maybe playing a game of chess with Jelly or sleeping on that big couch.”

A wave of home sickness hit him. He tried to tamp it down. He wanted Scott to find him. He wanted out of this stall. His thoughts were running wild. If I could get by deputy-dog and reach the hotel someone could find Scott. Would they though? Or would they just look at me, filthy as I am and throw me out into the street? Will Cal ever find Scott? Did I ever tell Cal Scott's a Lancer? That we're both Lancers and that Madrid is just my gun hawk name? I'm burning up! I'm so miserable! I want to go home. I want off this galloping horse! When's this going to end? When's the pain going to go away? Will I ever stop puking? Why won't anyone help me? Scott, where are you? What's taking you so long? I'M SO HOT!!

“MURDOCK…HELP ME!!!”

Hearing his own voice yelling for his father Johnny woke up, gasping for air. He was soaked with sweat. He reached up and wiped his forehead off with a dirty sleeve. The salt from the sweat stung the wound on his cheek. He swiped at it with trembling fingers, feeling the sticky, congealed blood. He threw off the blanket that felt like an oven. It was still dark in the stable. No lanterns had been lit. He didn't know when he'd fallen asleep or for how long. His fevered dreams had left him shaken. What kind of an illness was this that left him so weak and yes, feeling helpless? His thoughts drifted back to his father. He started talking to Barranca again, trying to keep alert and trying to keep sane.

“One of the proudest days of my life. It was the day Jelly came into our lives. I was loading a hay wagon with supplies and Murdock just came out of the bank, carrying a passbook. He showed me the money we'd earned for three grubbing months of range work. I said something about sitting on silver cartwheels and he laughed. Then out of the blue, Murdock put his arm around my shoulder and I put mine around his and we walked all the way to the saloon like that, both of us grinning ear to ear. I wanted to shout, Hey look! This is my father and he loves me!”  

The horse blew some air and Johnny asked, “Ya want to hear another story Barranca? One that most people don't know about? You know, Murdock isn't one to show affection. Scott and I both know he loves us more than the ranch now. Back then, the ranch was all he had. But, now he has two living, breathing sons with all our body parts...”

The stable door slammed, breaking Johnny's reverie.

“ROY!” shouted Tom, as he stormed past the stall.

“What's the matter?” answered the old codger from the other end.

“You seen the Doc anywhere?”

“Nope, can't say I have since that gunslinger came in.”

“Why's it so dark in here?” grumbled the deputy. “I need to check on Madrid.”

“Hold your horses. Just getting back from supper,” replied Roy, striking a match and lighting a lantern. “Here. Take this. Leave it on the table when you're done.”

Tom took the light, then asked, “What time you closin this place down tonight?”

“Same time as always.”

Tom gave him a blank look.

“Why in tarnation do you care? When I'm good'n ready,” grouched the old man, lighting another lantern.

The deputy stomped all the way to the corner stall. Holding the light high, he passed the horse and looked at the unconscious form of Madrid. He was curled in a tight ball like he'd left him.

The hairs on the back of Johnny's neck stood up. Something had changed. He had no idea what or why, but he could feel the tension in the air. He snuck a look under hooded eyes at the deputy's face in the soft glow of the lantern. It was full of malice. 

 

The deputy stood there a long time. Finally satisfied his charge wasn't going anywhere, he turned and left the stall, leaving the lantern on the table next to Madrid's guns. Walking back to the front of the stable, he informed Roy he was going out to look for the doctor.

Johnny knew that look. It usually meant bad news for the person it was aimed at, in this case him. Something had changed all right. Had they found out who he really was? Johnny Lancer? That he was telling the truth? That he was connected to the LT. Guv? Now, wouldn't that just make them look bad? Sterling reputations down the drain, especially when it came to light how the mayor, a doctor ta boot and a deputy that is supposed to uphold the law, treated a friend, albeit an ex-gun hawk, of the LT. Guv? How they kept him in this stall. Denied him his family, friends, freedom and the rights of a sick patient. How a doctor didn't even care enough to give the most basic care. When I get out of here, I will tell the whole story. I will get even. There's no way they can bribe me or shut me up.

He thought about what Dr. Hert had said about him not leaving this stall Yellow Jack or not. No, he wasn't getting out of this stall unless it's after midnight and he was dead. He'd just disappear, Scott would never be the wiser. He'd just think something had happened to him on the trail. They'd find his horse somewhere, the gold would be missing and that'd be the end of the string.

Good ending for them, but what about Cal? They know he knows I'm here. Would they kill him too? Had Cal said anything to his ma about me? I can't remember. Curse this fever! What about Scott? Would he raise a ruckus? Yeah, he would. I would if it had been reversed. Would he disappear too, just in case he dug too deep? Then, there's Roy. He seems like the decent sort. Would he go along with them or become a victim too? How far are these men willing to go to protect themselves?

“I gotta get out of here, but first I need my gun.”

 

                                                            ---17---

 

Cal bounded down the stairs, still trying to think of a decoy. He was shocked when he saw darkness had fallen. Hadn't it been only six o'clock a little while ago? How much time had he spent playing with his hamsters? He did remember it was fall and that night came quicker now.

“I need to check on Johnny.”

Jumping off the back porch, he noticed his pet's food dishes and wondered why Tab hadn't finished her food.  “Maybe it's getting close to her time.” He continued on to the stable's back door. Opening it slowly, he peered inside.

It was dark, except for a couple of lit lanterns, one sat on the table and another by the front entrance. Roy was standing in the doorway talking to some cowboy about his horse. Tom was nowhere to be seen. Cal breathed a sigh of relief. He slowly crept into Johnny's stall where he bumped into a warm body, holding a gun.

 

                                                            ---18---

 

The three men had decided to eat in the bar where it was a more relaxed atmosphere. “I really needed this beer and steak,” stated George.  “When you're on the campaign trail, there is too much pomp and circumstance. They always feed you such rich and fancy foods.”  He had only been approached by a few people during his meal, one being the local sheriff, to answer some questions, get an update on security and give an autograph or two.

“Amen, to that,” agreed Dr. Banning. “Is that all you're eating Scott?” 

Pushing his half-empty plate away, Scott replied, “I had a few snacks this afternoon.”

“Getting back to the story you were telling us before our food came, do you really think Murdock's fall from the hayloft was no accident?” asked the LT. Governor, finishing up his meal.

 “Murdock swears he felt somebody push him. But, no one saw anything,” replied Scott, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“Was he hurt?” asked Dr. Banning, picturing the agile older man flying over a horse to stop him from escaping years ago.

“We got lucky. He fell into the hay pile below and missed the wagon and pitch fork. But, he threw out his back. It's an old problem he's had since he was a pup or so he claims,” smiled Scott. “But, it kept him from making this trip.”

“That's real troublesome,” said George, looking worried. “In itself, I wouldn't have thought much about it, but that makes two attempts on co-owners of a gold mine that hold majority stock.”

“Two attempts?” asked Scott, solemn now. “Something happen to you?”

The LT. Governor and Dr. Banning exchanged a knowing look. “Yes, on the train here. I was out having a smoke in back of my personal car when someone took a shot at me. He missed because Ted here opened the door by accident, blocking the shot. I thought it was a fluke, but the Secret Service didn't. They went and notified the law here in Uppity Flats about the attempt.”

“Oh, that explains all the extra tin stars on the street,” exclaimed Scott. He turned towards the bartender and ordered another round of drinks for their table. “There's one red-headed deputy that is quite overzealous with his authority.”

“You ran into him too?” asked Dr. Banning, chuckling. “He about gave me the third degree asking what's in my medical bag.”

“You still have that old bag of your father's?” teased Scott, accepting a whiskey from the barmaid, as she passed out the drinks.

“As a matter of fact I do, with a new handle ta boot.” All three men smiled at that.

The LT Governor, getting back to business. “I read the papers and reports Murdock sent with you. It agrees with what I found out. There's been an attempt of a hostile takeover at the Sonora Lancer Mine.”

“I assume management is fighting the unwanted merger,” replied Scott, all business now. He had personally watched his grandfather maneuver stocks and money to obtain companies from unwilling sellers. He did not believe it right to buy a company from underneath its owner by gaining control of the stock.

“Yes, they are,” stated George. “The board rejected the offer, but the bidder, which still remains unknown, is continuing to pursue it. They have bought up all the open stock. Now, all they have to do is put pressure on some of the existing stockholders to give up or buy out their share to gain control of the holdings.”

“So, that's why the assay reports are always off on the gold,” deduced Scott. “To make it look like the Sonora Lancer mine is losing value, so the current stock holders will sell before the mine bottoms out.”

George nodded, impressed, “You might as well finish it.”

“Once the hostile takeover is complete and they have control of the stock, essentially the mine, the value of the gold goes back up to what it's really worth,” concluded Scott, frowning. “But under different management or board of directors and owners.”

“Except for a few particulars, that's it in a nut shell. Once your brother arrives, he'll be able to tell us more of what is going on down in Mexico. We'll get the gold ore assayed and find out where we stand on the value. We must be somewhat on the right track or we wouldn't be getting threats.” He pushed his plate aside and the bar maid picked up all their plates. “Of course, these supple attempts or threats on your father and myself aren't going to work. We're too stubborn to let them cow us.”

“Then they'll be out for real blood to force you to sell your shares. That must include Johnny and myself too.” Scott felt a moment of panic. “I wonder if that's why Johnny hasn't made it in yet.  Maybe he was waylaid or something. I should go look…” He stopped in mid-sentence, seeing the look of concern on both men's faces. “Maybe I should have another drink and see what the night brings”

“That would be a good idea,” agreed the LT. Governor. “You're not going to find anything in the dark tonight. Maybe it's something as simple as his horse throwing a shoe. Remember your brother is resourceful. He'll be okay.”

Dr. Banning punched Scott's arm. “Let's play a game of Faro to pass the time.”

Scott was about to agree, for he knew he wasn't going to get any sleep, when a cat landed on their table, followed by a dog hot on its trail.

 

                                                            ---19---

 

It would be hard to say who jumped the highest, Cal or the man holding the gun, who turned out to be Johnny.

“Cal! What are you…doing here?” gasped Johnny, trying to catch his breath. “You trying to…scare the living daylights out of me?”

“Leaping lizards, Johnny. You're supposed to be resting,” complained Cal, trying to stop his knees from shaking. “What are ya doin with that gun anyways?”

“Pro…protection.” Johnny gently moved Cal out of the way and behind him, as he looked down at the front of the stable. Holding his gun ready to shoot, he slowly studied the layout, seeing only Roy talking to another man about a horse.

It had taken Johnny awhile to work his way on hands and knees to the table to retrieve his gun and slip it out of the holster, leaving the belt on the table. His strength just wasn't there. The hay and dust on the floor hadn't helped things either. The particles had gotten into his nose and mouth, making it hard for him to breath. Now his chest burned, his throat itched, his nose dripped and his eyes ran, mixing with all his other ailments.

“You see…Tom any…anywhere?” He grabbed onto a post to hold himself upright, hoping the kid hadn't noticed.  He wiped futilely at his eyes, to clear them, with the back of his shirtsleeve.

“No.”

Cal silently watched Johnny's antics through the lantern's dull light. He was shocked at his appearance. He had thought Johnny looked like a ghost before, but now, he looked positively dead, but alive dead. The wound on his face was seeping blood, which ran down his cheek to drip on his dirty pink shirt. He was soaking wet from sweat, the odor pungent. His hair was plastered to his head with hay sticking out in various places, reminding Cal of a scarecrow. His touch had felt like fire to Cal's arms. On top of it all, he was swaying like a drunk and breathing like he'd run a mile.

“Good.” Johnny stumbled back to the side of his horse, where he leaned against him for a moment.

Cal noticed the palomino had a blanket on its back. Astonished, he burst out with, “Johnny, ya can't be thinkin of ridin that horse.”

“Yeah, I…can….I have to.”

“But, yer sick. You'll kill yerself for real,” Cal grabbed onto the gunfighter's arm. “I ain't lettin you go.”

“Cal…be reasonable…It's for your own…protection and your ma's…and my brother's.”

“Johnny, yer not makin any sense.”

“I don't have…time…to explain. Gotta…get out of here.” His legs were weakening. He had to move, but he couldn't. He just needed to lean against Barranca a little while longer.

“What am I supposed to tell Scott when I find im?”

“Just tell him…I'll…catch up to him.”

“How ya gonna do that when yer goin to drop off that horse a short ways out?”

“Cal, quit complicating things…I have to go!” He wanted to shout, but it came out as a croak. “Look, if they find me gone, ya all be safe…won't be any reason…to…kill…anyone.”

“Who wants to kill someone?” Cal thought a moment and could come up with only one answer, “Yer talkin about Tom or that weasel of a doctor that's makin you stay in here?”

“Cal, you are…one amazing kid…how'd you get…so smart?”

“Quit pullin my leg, Johnny and give it to me straight. Why do they want to kill ya?”

“Ok, you want it…straight, but first I gotta…sit down.” Johnny slid down the same wall from when he'd first come in. Cal did the same.

“Ya see, I don't have Yellow Jack…and I'm not here on a job.” He took a deep breath, barked a cough and tried to get it all said, “What will happen…when they let me out…and people find out…I never had it? That…they kept me here…against my will…sick.  My brother…for one is going…to be furious…”

Cal thought a minute. “I see what yer tryin to say. The mayor and deputy, they'll be frowned upon. They'll lose face with the town. Right?”

“Yes, Cal…I've seen people killed for a lot less.”

“Ya' really think mean old Tom and the Doc will want to kill ya?”

“Just a gut feeling…they have a lot to lose…I've lived by instincts…most of my life. It's how I survived.”

“You could just not say anything.”

“That wouldn't be right…Cal. No…nothing less will do…I have to tell the truth. You can't…just lock someone up because…they're sick or look different…or don't act like the majority…of the crowd...they might have a good excuse…like me, being on the trail…for days…look at me, I'm filthy.”

That reminded Johnny of the reason he was there. He had to get the gold ore rocks to Scott without telling Cal who Scott was. He knew once Scott knew he was there, he'd never make it out of here. The fever was playing havoc with his thinking processes. He had to get away before anyone got hurt by knowing he was here. If he left alone, the men wouldn't have anything to worry about. They'd think he didn't tell anyone. And if he made Cal swear not to say anything, he could pull it off. Then, after he was well, he could come back, and do what? Get even? Would anyone even believe him then? Now, its back to the big question of what would happen to Cal and Roy once he was gone? Would the men let them be? Or would they silence them in some accident making sure they never talked? Big sigh, he was so confused. What had seemed like valid reasons to leave, didn't now. He was so hot and thirsty and tired. He needed to think this over after he rested for a few more moments. 

Cal on the other hand was more determined than ever to keep the gunfighter here until he found his brother. A thought occurred to him.

“Madrid is your gun fightin name, ain't it?”

“Yup.”

“So, Scott's last name is different?”

“Yup.”

“Ya gonna tell me Scott's last name?”

“Nope.”

“Why, ya need him. Ya said so yourself.”

“Things have changed.”

Ok, thought Cal, I need a new plan. He studied Johnny as he struggled not to fall asleep. His eyes were a bit sunken and he seemed to lick his lips a lot or was he just chewin on his lip? He couldn't tell, but they were crusty and cracked like he'd not had any water in a while. He looked down at Johnny's hands, still holding his gun on his lap, and noticed they were shaking, like old man Hubbard's with his rheumatism. 

“Johnny, ya thirsty?”

“Yeah.” It sounded weak to Cal's ears.

“Okay, I'm goin to get ya some fresh water.”

“Grab some for my horse…knocked over the bucket.”

Cal got up and went to the back of the stall. He couldn't see very well, but he managed to find all three buckets. He hadn't a clue why they were all upside down, but figured it had something to do with Tom. The smell in the stall was enough to choke him. Picking up the buckets, he walked past Johnny and dropped the dirty one beside him. He ran outside to the horse trough and dropped the other two on the ground. Picking up the public ladle, he pumped some fresh water into it and carried it back to Johnny. His eyes were shut and his head was nodding forward. Kneeling down beside him, he held the ladle up to Johnny's mouth.

“Drink,” he commanded.

Johnny, being so long without water, drank his fill with his eyes closed. “Thanks…you're a good kid. Cal…Now. I want you to get…out of here, before…Tom comes back.”

Cal ran back outside and filled both buckets, bringing them back to the stall. He sat one down by Johnny and put the ladle in it, then gave the horse the other bucket. The palomino seemed grateful for he instantly started to drink. Like before, Cal watched Johnny's still form. He pulled the blanket off the horse and covered him. Then he went to find his mother, hoping she had some luck in finding ‘Scott' in the hotel registry.

 

                                                            ---20---

The dog Pippin had started barking as soon as the cat had jumped on the bar table, startling the men. Being out of her domain, the cat was terrified. She hissed and clawed at anyone who tried to touch her. When she was close enough to Dr. Banning, he wrapped his arm around her legs, cradling her and petting her back with his other hand. “Easy now, little one. No one's going to hurt you,” he soothed. The cat began to purr. 

“That's Tab,” said Scott. “She belongs to Cal.” Petting the dog beside him, he added, “And this is Pippin. He also belongs to Cal,”

“Who's Cal?” asked the doctor.

“He's the boy who took care of my horse. He's quite a kid…”

“Mr. Lancer!” bellowed the desk clerk, Mr. Becket, holding a bloody hand and walking up to their table. Pippin growled at him. A small crowd of people had followed him, watching.

“Hush boy,” commanded Scott, comforting the dog with a pat on its shoulder, then leaving his fingers to curl in the nape of the fur.

Mr. Becket, seeing the LT. Governor sitting at the table also petting the cat, changed his voice to a friendlier tone. With a tight smile, he asked, “What are you doing with these animals in here?”

Scott shrugged his shoulders, “They just sort of dropped in.” Scott tightened his hold on the dog's nape as he began to bark at the desk clerk. Looking down at the clerk's bloody hand, he added, “Dog bite?”

“Pippin doesn't seem to like you,” drawled Dr. Banning, earning a glare from the clerk.

“Well, the animals know they're not supposed to be in here,” snipped Becket. “There's signs all over, No animals allowed inside the hotel.”

“I didn't know animals could read,” replied Scott, innocently.

Mr. Becket, getting testy, “Cal shouldn't have let them in here.”

“He didn't!” defended Scott. “The back door was open when I walked by.”

“And why were you at the back door, being a guest and all you enter at the front or were you just trying to help again?” asked Becket, peeved.

“Good evening, gentlemen and Mr. Becket,” interrupted Leah, in her most gracious voice.

The three men stood up, with Dr. Banning holding the cat.

“My you all flatter me. Please sit down,” smiled Leah. She bent over and whispered in Scott's ear, “I need to talk to you as soon as possible.”

“Leah!” gesturing with his good hand, Mr. Becket reproached, “Get these…these critters out of here! And if they ever get in here again, you are fired!”

Scott stood up, letting go of the dog. “Now see here, it wasn't her fault. Things do happen.” Pippin took off out the door.

“I apologize, sir. It won't happen again.” Leah gently took the cat from Dr. Banning's arms and followed the dog out. She didn't notice the LT. Governor's eyes following her.

“Not in my hotel,” Becket sniffed. “They know the rules and rules are made to be unbroken.”

The LT. Governor intervened, trying to be diplomatic, “Mr. Becket, I see you run a tight ship. I commend you for that. But, as a good captain you have to use some common sense. Now, the animals didn't mean any harm.”

“What do you call this?” asked Becket, holding up his bloody hand.

“Dog bite?” asked George, mimicking Scott.

Taking a deep breath, Mr. Becket responded, “No, cat scratches, deep ones too. And the mangy thing bit me.”

“My,” placated George, “you need to have someone look at that hand.”

Dr. Hert, who had been standing in the background with the crowd, stepped forward, “I can take care of that, sir.” He immediately took Mr. Becket's hand and started to examine it. The doctor made a big deal about the wounds and what all he'd have to do to treat them.

Scott gave the blustering doctor the once over and didn't like what he saw. Not one to normally judge, he tried to keep an open mind, but there was something about the man that seemed fake. The man was dressed all in white, except for his shoes, which were black. He smirked, not realizing he'd been caught by the LT. Governor.

“Yeah, Scott,” said George under his breath, “he's a pompous ass. He's also a doctor and the town mayor. I got stuck with him, during the luncheon. He's very full of himself. He's the one that named this town, Uppity Flats .”

“Very appropriate, I'd say,” murmured Scott.

“Well son,” said George, “how'd you like to lose at a game of Faro with the good doctor,” he nodded towards Banning, “and me?”

“If it's all the same to you Sir, I'd like to grab a cup of coffee and get some fresh air.”

“You mean watch for your brother?”

Surprised, Scott smiled, “I'm that transparent?”

“Let's put it this way, for two brothers who grew up apart, I've never seen closer siblings.” 

                                                            ---21--- 

Cal came out the back door of the stable. From his point of view, he could see all three entrances to the hotel, all lit up by multiple lantern lights. There was the front door where the guests came in off the street. The back door was for hotel business such as deliveries, salesmen and employees. The bar's public access was on the side. Mr. Lancer had just walked through the swinging bat-wing doors.

Cal observed the man as he walked the board walk, heading towards the front porch of the hotel. His shoulders were slumped and he seemed to be watching for something down the road as he drank his coffee.

Recalling he had Mr. Lancer's room key, Cal took off at a run, skirting the corral to catch up with him. “Mr. Lancer, wait up.”

Scott, hearing his name called from afar, stopped and waited for Cal. Together, they went around the corner of the hotel and climbed the steps to the porch. They both stood, leaning against the wide rail that framed the veranda. Cal gave him back his room key.

“Everything okay with the hamsters?” asked Scott, finishing his coffee. He put the empty cup down on the rail, secretly wondering if Becket would yell about that.

“Sleepin like babies,” replied Cal. “I need to build em a cage though, so that they'd have room to roam around.”

“We could do that,” smiled Scott. He needed something to do to pass the time.

“Really?” asked Cal, excited. “When?”

“How about in the morning, providing my brother makes it in tonight?”

“You have a brother…Mr. Lancer?” asked Cal, now all ears.

“Cal, if we're going to be building hamster cages, I think it's about time you call me Scott. I'm sick of all the formality around here.”

Cal seemed struck dumb.

Scott, noticing the shocked expression on the kid's face, became worried. “Cal? It's okay. Most people call me by my given name.”

“Mr. Lan…Scott…tell me about your brother.”

“My brother?”

Cal nodded, holding his breath.

“Well, okay, Johnny's his name and he rides this golden palomino named Barranca…”

“YES!!!” yelled Cal, jumping in the air. When he came down, he hugged Scott for all that he was worth.

Scott, not understanding the kid's enthusiasm, felt his hand seized and was yanked off the porch.

At a dead all out run, still holding Scott's hand, Cal yelled, “Come on. I got something to show ya!” When he was sure Scott was following him, Cal dropped his hand and ran towards the back door of the stable.

Once there, Cal put his finger up to his lips. “We have to be quiet. If Tom, the deputy, is there we'll all be in trouble. Ok?” He opened the door.

Scott didn't understand at all, but nodded his head yes. They crept inside. The place was dimly lit. He could smell signs of sickness, vomit, sweat, urine and what was that iron smell…blood?

Scott looked down the length of the stable, seeing an old man working at a forge. He turned left and followed Cal into a stall, which housed a horse. Barranca? He couldn't believe his eyes. He heard his brother before he saw him, leaning over a puke bucket with his gun in hand. As quick as a blink, Johnny had the gun up and pointed at him.

“Johnny. It's Scott.”

Johnny couldn't speak for he was in the middle of a long, drawn out spasm. Relief that his brother was here was tangible. He lowered the gun and dropped it to the floor then grabbed onto the bucket, knowing Scott would have his back. The knot in his stomach was strangling him as it forced the bile upwards. He couldn't breathe until the spasm had passed. When it did another one immediately took its place, giving him only enough time to take in a puff of air.

He felt his brother drop down on his knees beside him and put his hands around his head to hold it out of the bucket. He was grateful for it. He couldn't remember anyone ever holding his head while he'd been sick.

“Dry heaves, huh?”

Johnny couldn't even nod, for his strength was gone. Another spasm came and went followed by another. He shouldn't have drunk the water, but he'd been so thirsty. Scott stayed by his side and talked him through each spasm, never taking his hands off his head.

“Breathe, Johnny…just breathe…relax…breathe...it'll be okay…we'll get through this…just breathe.” Scott looked up at Cal, who was almost as white as Johnny. “How long has he been like this?”

“Hours, Scott. He thinks its food poisonin.”

Scott felt Johnny tense the second he'd asked the question. Knowing his brother well, something had to be afoot. “Yeah, it can lay you pretty low,” stated Scott, having his suspicions confirmed when Johnny's body relaxed. Ah, brother, I have the Lancer's stubbornness too. I will find out what's going on, you just wait.  

Johnny was at the spitting stage, trying to clear out the residue of the bile and Scott let go of his head. Cal handed Scott a dipper of water, who in turn leaned over Johnny's shoulder, putting it in front of his mouth.

“Rinse and don't swallow.” Johnny took the dipper and did as bid, spitting the water back into the bucket. He ended the session with a barky cough and a swipe to his watery eyes.

Sitting up against the wall, Johnny said in a brittle tone, “I don't need a nursemaid.” He had to get Scott to leave now and take Cal with him. He didn't want them involved with the likes of Tom and he was in no condition to defend them. He felt around for his gun. Scott picked it up and gave it to him. Johnny ducked his head.

“Glad to see you too, brother.”

Scott was appalled at his brother's appearance. What is going on? Why is he out here? He reached up and carefully grasped Johnny's chin, turning it so he could get a better look at his lacerated cheek and swollen eye. Surprisingly, Johnny didn't resist,

Scott narrowed his eyes and did his own quick assessment, taking in the hay in the filthy hair, his fever, sunken eyes, wheezy breath sounds, the cough, and the exhaustion that was plain as day on his face.

“I guess you fell, cutting your cheek too.”

“Something like that.” It sounded remorseful to Scott's ears.

Scott was on slow simmer. “Quit trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I know that's a rifle butt impression. You going to tell me how you got it?”

“Nope.”

“I'll find out.”

“It could get you killed.” Johnny's tone was flat and to the point. Scott liked it even less.

“Dang it Johnny! Stop trying to protect me. I know you're a gun hawk and all. That you've been on your own most of your life and can take care of yourself. And that you don't need me, but will you quit dancing around the bush and level with me? I am your brother after all and I've been worried sick about you!”

“I'll always need you, Scott.”

Scott caught and held the blue eyes of his brother, noting the sincerity before Johnny couldn't keep them open any more.

Smiling to himself, the anger instantly gone, Scott murmured, “Well, in that case I'd better get you out of here.”  

 

                                                            ---22---

Scott took charge right away. “Cal, I know he's got a hat and coat, where are they?”

Cal went to the back of the stall, searched around and dug them out of the hay, bringing them back to the brothers. Cal plopped the hat on Johnny's head.

Scott put Johnny's arm in the coat sleeve and noticed the bloody mosquito bites. “Boy, little brother, where'd you get all these bites?”

“Pig pen.”

Scott looked closely at his brother to see if he was serious. His eyes were still closed with no expression on his face, except for the tightening of his mouth.

“That explains your melodious aroma.”

Scott pulled the coat around Johnny's shoulders and picked up his other arm, “Will you please let go of this gun?” Johnny set the gun down on his belly and allowed Scott to put his arm in the sleeve, then picked it back up as soon as his coat was on.

Scott stood up, pulling Johnny with him by his upper arms. Scott kept a tight grip on one of his brother's arms as Johnny teetered, trying to regain his balance.   

Seeing how unsteady he was, but knowing his brother's pride, Scott asked, “You want to ride or walk?”

Johnny squared his hat, “Walk…I can make it.”

Remembering another time and having his doubts, Scott wrapped Johnny's left arm around his neck, leaving his brother's gun hand free. The colt was safely tucked into Johnny's waistband, hidden by his coat. Scott was ready to leave when Johnny stopped him, “Saddlebags.”

“I'll get them,” said Cal, standing next to the saddle on the stall wall. He reached over to untie the bags and pulled them off the saddle, noticing how heavy they were. “What's ya got in here? Rocks?” Cal tossed the bags over his shoulder then did the same with Johnny's bedroll.

The question reminded both men why they were in Uppity and they answered together, “Yup. Yes.”

 “Now, we ready?” asked Scott, starting to realize his brother was sicker than he originally thought. With Johnny propped against him, Scott could feel the tremors coursing through his brother's body, the heat of his fever through his jacket and could hear the wheezes in his lungs more pronounced now, upon exertion. Probably accounts for all these short answers. He can barely keep his head up and his eyes open, let alone talk .

“Rifle.”

Cal quickly informed Scott, “On the table by the lantern.”

Scott walked Johnny out to the end of the stall. “Here hang onto this post while I get your rifle.” 

Johnny wrapped a hand around it and leaned against it not saying a word. Scott walked over to the table where he found the colt's gun belt and put it on. “A lot easier than carrying it,” murmured Scott perturbed. He had reached a slow boil. Bits and pieces of the story surrounding his brother were slowly falling into place by Johnny's own actions. His brother so docile and blindly following orders was not his style. He grabbed the Winchester Murdock had given Johnny for his birthday and went back to his brother and Cal.

Supporting his brother once more, they made it out the back door and as far as the outhouse when Johnny said, “Stop!” Sheepishly, but with desperation he added, “I really gotta go in here.” Scott opened the door and Johnny hurried inside.

As they waited for Johnny to do his business, Scott turned to Cal and in a voice of authority ordered, “All right, out with it. The whole story as you know it and don't leave anything out.”

From inside the outhouse, Johnny yelled, “No Cal!”

There's definitely nothing wrong with his hearing,” thought Scott, as he waited for Cal to begin.

Cal was indecisive. He didn't want to betray a trust, but he wanted to help his friend, a sick friend who was way too stubborn.

 Somewhat out of breath, Johnny yelled again, “Don't say…a word.”

“Shut up, Johnny! The facts Cal!” demanded Scott.

Johnny countermanding with even less breath, “The less he knows…the better.”

Scott more determined than ever, “Brother, I told you, it's not going to work! The story, Cal! The WHOLE story! Now!”

A thump on the door. Scott moved in front of it, holding it shut with one hand while holding the rifle in the other.

Johnny refused to give up, though his voice was weaker and raspier, “Don't do it…Cal.”

Scott just as stubborn, “He's not coming out until you tell me the story.”

Cal didn't know what to think of the brothers' bickering. Johnny inside the privy madder than an old wet hen.  Scott outside, practically gnashing his teeth. He was caught between them. He wanted to do the right thing. Looking at Scott, he could see how worried and frustrated he was. Besides, Johnny needed his brother's help. Isn't that why he'd been asking for him all a long?

Never afraid to speak his mind, Cal yelled back at Johnny, “This is for your own good!” He added for emphasis, “Ya, know it is!”

Johnny inside, kicked the door and said a swear word.

Scott commanded, “ENOUGH!” Turning to Cal, “Get her said, boy!”

Cal did as told, reciting the whole story in a group of run on sentences from the time Johnny arrived to the moment Scott stepped into the stable.

Scott rapped on the outhouse's door. “You got anything to add to that?”

“NO!”

Scott's temper had just climbed to a new level. He was having trouble getting past the fact that his brother had been so badly abused, especially when he was sick. Where's the kindness and compassion around here?  He knew there had to be even more to the story than Cal knew about. Getting it out of his stubborn brother was going to be like pulling teeth. The part that really ticked him off was the fact that he, Scott, had been here all this time. He'd only been a few yards away from Johnny. If only I had known. If only I had checked the stable. I could've spared him a lot of this. Well, I know now and things are going to change in a hurry.

Cal brought him out of his snit. “Scott, were you in the army or something?”

“Yeah, the Cavalry, why?”

“Ya sure know how to give orders.”

“You haven't seen nothing yet.” 

                                                            ---23---

Cal's dog, Pippin, came bounding over to him followed by Leah, still holding the cat.

“Ma, Scott here is Johnny's brother!” Cal bent down and petted his dog.

“Oh, you found him!” she exclaimed. “I saw you two from the back porch. I was just coming to tell you what I found out about your brother, Mr. Lancer.”

“Call me, Scott.”

“Okay, Scott. Have you seen him yet? How's he doing? Is he okay?”

Cal cut in with, “He's sicker than a horse Ma and Tom's out to kill'em.”

They heard a loud kick on the door from inside the outhouse. Pippin growled at the hidden noise, then sniffed around the privy. Scott nonchalantly kept his back against the door, the rife cradled in his arms.

At Leah's alarmed look, Scott tried to reassure her by saying, “Don't worry, we got it under control.”

Cal butted in with, “Yeah, they're at each other's throats over who's doing the protectin.”

Leah, not even surprised at her son's outbursts, exclaimed, “Well, if Tom has it in for him, that might explain the new activity at the hotel then.”

Scott immediately straightened up and looked over to the hotel with Leah and Cal following suit. In the lantern light, they could see the red-headed deputy on the back porch with another lawman. In the front was a lawman standing on the porch. Scott recognized him as the sheriff.  He'd been one of the men who had come up to the LT. Governor during dinner, giving him an update on security. They'd talked about some other business, but Scott hadn't paid attention, his own thoughts wandering.

“Maybe Johnny's feverish theory isn't so far off after all,” muttered Scott. “I need a plan and fast.”

Leah, sensing trouble, put the cat down. Tab ran to the stable, found a hole in the wall and went inside. Standing out of the way beside the outhouse, Leah beckoned Cal to her, as they waited for Scott to think up a plan.

Johnny pounded on the door, peeved. “Let me out!”

“In a minute, little brother.” Scott didn't need Johnny out here as a target, especially in a pink shirt. Scott was wracking his mind for a plan, discarding one plan after another. It was easier when I was in the cavalry.   Emerson went through his mind again, “What I must do concerns me, not what people think.” Then, it hit him, the perfect plan. When in doubt do the obvious, it's not what people are thinking.

He let Johnny out of the outhouse, who was running on fumes. Scott grabbed his brother by the arms before he could do more than give him the cold-eyed look . Making sure Johnny's back was to the hotel, he warned in a low voice, “Tom and extra deputies are at the hotel on the back porch. The sheriff's on the front.”

Johnny turned slightly and peeked over his shoulder surveying both ends. Sure enough, there was Tom yammering with another deputy.

“They don't seem…anxious….You have a plan yet…big brother?” Johnny coughed, sounding like a dog.

Pippin's ears twitched forward and his head turned sideways like he was trying to determine if the bark was real or not.

“Working on it,” replied Scott, taking hold of Johnny's coat and buttoning it.

“What are you…doing? I'm blazing hot.”

“I don't want your pink shirt sticking out like a sore thumb. Besides you're sick and it's cold out here.”

“I told you…I don't need a nursemaid.”

“Well, you got one like it or not.”  

Cal walked up beside Johnny, still holding the bedroll and saddle bags, the dog at his side. Turning back towards his mother, who was only a few feet behind him, he asked, “Ma, is this what it's like to have a brother?”

That seemed to stop the argument. Scott had forgotten Leah was there and Johnny hadn't realized she was.

Cal, taking advantage of the silence, introduced his mom, “Johnny, this is my ma, Leah.”

Johnny reached up and tipped his hat. “Ma'am.”  

“Well, Johnny Madrid, you have quite the way with my son.”

Johnny hoped that was a good thing. “I go by Lancer now.”

“Nothing wrong with the name you were born with. Land sakes alive, you are lookin plum tuckered out. Could use a good bath too, I bet. Scott, ya got a plan yet? We need to get this long lost brother of yours inside.”

Both Lancer men could see where Cal got his perchance for talking.

“Sure do,” proudly stated Scott. “Here's the tune. The more people who know Johnny is here, the safer he'll be and the safer we'll be. Now, the LT. Governor and Dr. Banning…”

“Banning? From Genesis?” asked Johnny, leaning against the outhouse, the dog sniffing at his feet. He wasn't sure if the dog liked the outhouse or him. He hoped the dog didn't have to pee.

 “One and the same. He came in with George on the train. He's legal now. Has his medical license. You'll be meeting him as soon as we get you inside.”

Johnny sarcastic, sighing, “Hmm, can't wait.”

The dog lifted his leg by Johnny's foot.

 Cal saved him, “Pippin NO! Come here!” The dog obeyed immediately.

“So, big brother…the plan?”

“We're going in right through the front door.”

A groan came from Johnny. “Good plan…but, I'm not exactly…dressed for…polite society…” He looked down at his filthy clothes. He ran a hand through his dirty hair, knocking his hat off. “And I swear, I could make…a skunk cry.”

“Johnny, you've always been your own man. Since when do you care what people think?” asked Scott. It had to be the illness talking. The fever making him vulnerable.

“The doc and deputy…they told me…nothing…”he ducked his head.

Cal spoke up, “They called him a bunch of mean names like, dirt…”

Scott cut him off, “Enough, Cal. We all know name callin can hurt.” Cal stood silently by. What Scott really wanted to do was take his brother in his arms, hug him and tell him it didn't matter. But, he knew Johnny's pride would never stand for it.

Instead he said, “You have every right to walk in that front door no matter who you are or what you look like. You are their equal in every way. They are no better than you.”

With his hands wrapped around his ribs, Johnny pleaded, “But, Scott…I could just go in…the back door.”

“Damn it, Johnny. Where's your gunfighter's pride?” Scott wagged his finger under his brother's nose, reminding Johnny of Murdock. “Nothing less will do! You hear me?”

Johnny smiled.

 

                                                            ---24--- 

“You ready?” asked Scott.

“As ready as I'll ever be,” replied Johnny, leaning on his brother. The little bit of effort it had taken to walk from the privy to the corner had used up his energy. The goal of a bath and a warm bed in a clean room were all that kept him going.

“He hasn't faced Becket yet,” reminded Cal.

“That's Mr. Becket to you son,” corrected Leah, carrying the rifle. She'd volunteered to carry it, so it would be easier for Scott to handle his brother, who was having trouble staying on his feet. “Maybe I should go in the back door and get things started upstairs?”

“Too late,” replied Scott, “the sheriff's already spotted us.” The lawman had walked to the end of the porch and was observing them. “We'll stick with the plan. We'll know soon enough what they know about Johnny.”

They walked down the boardwalk a space then crossed the lawn to the front steps. Scott greeted the sheriff as they climbed the steps, “Evening, Sheriff Colter.”

“Mr. Lancer,” acknowledged the lawman, closely studying Johnny. “What do we have here?”

“This is my brother, Johnny. He rode in a while ago. He's a bit under the weather.” Johnny barked a cough that wasn't in the script. He unbuttoned his coat for he couldn't stand the heat.

“So, it would appear,” confirmed the sheriff, taking a step back after catching a whiff of the man. “What happened to his cheek?”

“Fell off his horse and hit a rock,” replied Scott. Johnny barked another cough, stepping on Scott's foot.

“You'd better get him up to bed before he catches his death,” advised the lawman, stepping aside.

“Leah, Cal,” greeted the sheriff, as they too walked by.

Johnny complained quietly in Scott's ear, “Fell off my horse? What kinda excuse is that?”

Leah opened the front door and walked in first. Sure enough, Mr. Becket was at his glorified post, standing behind the reception desk.

“What in thunder are you doing with that rifle?” snapped Mr. Becket, stupefied. “And why are you coming in the front door? You know employees always use the back door!”

Before Leah could answer any of the questions, the desk clerk caught sight of Scott with Johnny, whose arms were wrapped around each other's back, heading for the stairs.

In a tight, barely controlled voice, Mr. Becket loudly exclaimed, “Mr. Lancer! What are you doing with this,” he looked Johnny up and down with obvious revulsion, “this person?”

Scott looked down at his foot, which was on the first step, and mumbled, “Almost made it.”

Leah, who was behind Scott, whispered close to his ear, “I'm going upstairs to get a bath ready for Johnny, providin I don't shoot Becket with this gun first. In that case, you're on your own for I'll be in jail.”

Scott didn't know if she was serious or not, as she started up the stairs.

Cal was the last to come in with Pippin behind him. The dog wandered over by Johnny and sat down.  

The sheriff stood in the doorway taking a gander, seemed satisfied and shut the door, staying outside.

Mr. Becket seeing the dog, exploded. “This is the last straw! LEAH!”

The desk clerk came running out from behind the desk and crossed the short distance to the stairs. Gesturing wildly and pointing in the direction of the dog sitting by Johnny, the clerk shouted, “Leah! Get this shabby, foul-smelling, flea-infested beast out of here!”

Cal totally confused, innocently asked, “Is he talkin about the dog or Johnny?”

Pippin, feeling the tension and not liking the desk clerk's loud voice, started growling.

By this time the noise was attracting people, including the LT. Governor and Dr. Banning, who had been at the Faro table in the bar located adjacent to the lobby.  Another well-dressed gentleman, whose presence gave the feeling of ownership, stood in the background by the bar's entrance. The lookout guy with the four-gage was standing behind him.

Mr. Becket hearing Cal's question, rounded on him in anger, “This is all your fault, Cal. I've warned your mother time and time again what would happen if your pets came in here again!” Pointing a finger at Leah, he shouted, “You're fired!”

Leah, now angry at Becket for taking his frustrations out on her son, yelled back, “You can't fire me! I quit!” Then she cocked the rifle and pointed it at Mr. Becket.

Scott immediately left Johnny and ran up the stairs to confront Leah. Johnny reached over and pulled Cal against his chest. If Leah actually pulled the trigger, he didn't want the boy seeing the results. He could feel the kid's tears soaking his shirt, though he knew Cal was trying hard not to show them.

Leah, already realizing the consequences of her actions turned around and fled up the steps with the rifle, leaving Scott mid-step on the stairs. He turned around and came back down, joining Cal and Johnny.

Putting his hand on Cal's shoulder, Scott softly comforted the boy, “It's going to be all right. I'll take care of things. Now, I want you to go find your mother. She needs you.”

Johnny gave Cal a reassuring pat on the head then the boy, still carrying Johnny's saddle bags and bedroll, went up the stairs with Pippin following behind. Johnny hoped the boy wouldn't blame himself and let the guilt fester over his mother's loss of the job. He'd seen guilt do strange things to people. Would it affect the boy's exuberant personality? It made him heart-sick thinking about it, and angry.

Mr. Becket took a deep breath, about to reprimand the boy about the dog going up stairs, when Johnny stepped in front of him. Johnny gave the desk clerk his coldest Johnny Madrid stare. Johnny advanced on the man, giving Mr. Becket a slight push with his hand, forcing him to back up to the reception desk with Scott following behind his brother's back.

Mr. Becket, unnerved now by the man with the swollen blue eye and ominous-looking lacerated cheek, ran around to the other side of the desk. Feeling braver with the counter between them, he tried to stare down the dark-haired man who hadn't blinked as far as he could tell.  Mr. Becket broke eye contact with the dark-haired man and looked at Scott, who had come up to stand beside the man with the same identical stare. Becoming nervous again and feeling the two sets of blue eyes, though different in shade, staring at him, the desk clerk finally figured out who the dark-haired man was.

Sheriff Colter opened the door and stepped inside with Tom, his deputy, in tow. They stopped and stood by the LT. Governor, watching the Lancer brothers.

The sheriff in a sedate voice commented to the LT. Governor, nodding towards Johnny, “Never having met the man, my deputy tells me this here fellow is Johnny Madrid.”

“Yes, that is correct,” verified George. “But, his real name is Lancer.”

“And that you know him, personally.”

“I can vouch for both men. They are one of my best friend's sons,” Looking closely at the sheriff, the LT. Governor inquired, “Why do you ask?”

“My deputy has told me quite a story and I think you need to hear it.”

 

Mr. Becket, seeing the lawmen and feeling safe again, returned to his arrogant self, “Mr. Lancer, this is your brother, is it not? The one you said was coming. I recognize the trail dust.” He sniffed, “And the smell.”

Scott had reached the boiling point, but didn't show it. “Mr. Becket, this is my brother, Johnny Lancer and you'd better be careful, for you're about to tick off the wrong person.”

“Is that a threat?”

“More like a promise,” said Scott.

Looking down at Johnny with distain, Mr. Becket replied, “He needs to sign the registry.” The desk clerk turned the book around to face Johnny.

Johnny picked up the pen and signed his full name, Johnny Madrid Lancer, trying to intimidate the clerk . Dropping the pen in the book, he watched the ink smear. Turning slightly, Johnny caught the eye of the LT. Governor, who winked at him. Johnny nodded ever so slightly back.

Mr. Becket turned the book around, read the name and picked up the pen, giving Johnny a cool look. Glancing at the lawmen, Mr. Becket said, “I'm not afraid of you.”

“No?” asked Johnny. “You should be.”

Dr. Hert came in from the bar with a glass of whiskey in his hand and stopped next to Dr. Banning, who had along with the LT. Governor heard a mighty interesting story from the Sheriff. Spying Madrid, Dr. Hert choked on his whiskey. Giving a heated look to Tom, who wouldn't meet his eye, Dr. Hert was about to inquire why Madrid was out of quarantine when all hell broke loose at the desk.

 

Mr. Becket, bold as brass and oblivious to the tension surrounding him, said in his usual abrupt manner, “Mr. Lancer, I don't see your room key. Did you not turn it in before you went outside?”

Scott replied, still boiling and exasperated, “No, I have it right here!” he pulled the key out of his pocket and dropped it on the polished counter.

Mr. Becket stiffly reminded, “You know the rules. When you leave a hotel the key must be returned to the desk.”

Scott felt a nudge in his ribs. It was Johnny handing him his gun. Scott took the gun and looked down at his brother, meeting his eyes. He could see the tiredness in them, the anger from Cal's treatment and the determination as he casually leaned against the desk. Johnny only said, “It's your dance, your dime, brother.” And squared his hat.

Annoyed, Mr. Becket butted in, “Mr. Lancer, did you hear what I said?”

Scott finally lost his patience, “I've just about had it with this uppity nonsense!” He shoved Johnny's gun up to the tip of Mr. Becket's nose. “You've pushed me as far as you're going to push me.”

The two lawmen went for their guns, but the LT. Governor intervened and ordered, “No let it stand. It'll be okay. Trust me.”

Sheriff Colter, being a good judge of character and liking Scott Lancer, put his gun away. He then crossed his arms to watch the show stating, “Becket's had this coming for a long time.”

In a deceptively low voice, Scott angrier than he'd ever been asked, “Do you know what kind of gun this is, Mr. Becket?”

The man, his eyes bulging, shook his head no, the tip of the barrel rubbing his nose.

Scott moved the gun away from the desk clerk's face, studying it as he looked down. “This is a Colt. Also known as the Peacemaker. ” Scott pulled the cylinder, spun it and clicked it back into place. Bringing his eyes up to Mr. Becket's face he asked, “How could you?” Scott gestured with the gun at the stairway where Cal had gone after his mother. “How could you do that to a boy like Cal?”

Mr. Becket with a dry mouth, but not getting it. “How could I do what?”

“How could you rip out his heart like that?” shouted Scott. He slammed his left hand down on the gleaming counter top and smeared the polish.

Giving Scott an austere look and in a solemn voice, Mr. Becket stressed, “I didn't hurt him. I never touched him.” He took out a handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped Scott's fingerprints off the desk top.

“You made him take the blame for something that went beyond his control. Doesn't that bother you?”

The sheriff broke in, “That's right. I let the dog in. I didn't see nothing wrong with the dog following the boy in.”

Mr. Becket, not in the least bit fazed, “There's rules and there's consequences to breaking them.”

“There's a right and a wrong way to teach the rules,” declared Scott, totally disgusted with everything. He put Johnny's gun in its holster still around Scott's waist.  

Scott turned around and realized he'd drawn a crowd of onlookers. “What's wrong with this town? Are you so stuck on propriety that you've forgotten how to care for one another? That a twelve-year old kid has more compassion, generosity, hospitality and forgiveness than all you people put together. He doesn't have a selfish bone in his body.”

Scott saw nods of agreement. He was getting through to people. “A stranger rides into town, who's sick, and only a boy took an interest in his welfare.”

Dr. Hert cut in, trying to save face, “If you're talkin bout Madrid there, it's possible he has Yellow Jack. He just rode in from Mexico. He's supposed to be under quarantine. He's contagious.”

“You kept him in a horse's stall!” bellowed Scott. “He should be in a room and a bed with someone caring for him.” Johnny stood there with elbows on the counter, head ducked down, unwilling to let anyone see his true emotions.

The crowd murmured among themselves. Looks of disproval were cast the doctor's way.

Dr. Hert tried to defend himself, “What difference does it make? He's just a no account stupid gunslinger. He'd shoot you as well as look at ya. You can smell him clear over here!”

Scott, losing all reason, went over and punched the doctor in the jaw, knocking him down. Scott would have hit him again, but the sheriff grabbed him and held his arms behind him. Scott struggling to get at the man again, for hurting his brother in more ways than one, angrily yelled, “He deserved that and more!”

“He'll get what's comin to him. They all get their just rewards in the end,” replied the lawman. “Now, calm down and I'll let ya go.”

Appeased for the moment, Scott nodded and the sheriff released him. Scott went over to stand by his brother. Johnny could've been carved out of granite, he was standing so cold and rigid with the Madrid mask firmly in place.

Stumbling to his feet, Dr. Hert rubbed his jaw testily, asked, “What's he to you anyways?”

Scott walked up to the doctor, making the sheriff uneasy, and stared him straight in the eyes, forcing the man to flinch. In a mild tone, but undercut with iron, Scott replied with a tenderness only Johnny could understand, “He's my brother, Johnny Lancer. He's not Johnny Madrid, the gun fighter who's retired now. He's just my brother.”

Glancing over to his brother, who had turned his back on the crowd once again, Scott noticed Johnny's stance seemed less rigid than a moment ago. Upon closer observation, Scott took in the slightly slouched shoulders, the way he was standing propped against the reception desk, his chin on folded hands, his eyes hidden under his hat. His fatigue was more than apparent to Scott. No one else even had a clue he was sick. Time to end the dance.  

The Lancer brothers could hear Dr. Hert and Dr. Banning arguing over the symptoms of Yellow Jack.

“That might be, but he's still got fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, definite symptoms of Yellow Jack,” persisted Dr. Hert. “He's covered in mosquito bites.”

“That doesn't prove anything,” interrupted Dr. Banning, making a point to Dr. Hert. “Why, the Yellow Jack virus never even made it to Mexico. That was just a rumor. The female mosquito has to bite an infected person then carry it to a healthy person with an incubation period in between. If there was no one sick down in Mexico, then there's no way Johnny could have contracted it.”

“Who are you?” huffed Dr. Hert.

“Theodore Banning, Medical Doctor from Genesis traveling with the LT. Governor. Who are you?” asked Dr. Banning, knowing full well, but wanting to get the guy's goat.

“Why, I'm the mayor and doctor of Uppity Flats.”

Johnny, still leaning his chin on folded hands, his elbows on the desk, blew out a, “PFTT,” fogging up the polished wood on Mr. Becket's spotless counter, then he watched it disappear. He wanted to close his eyes. He needed to sit down. He wondered if anyone could tell that it was the counter holding him up. His stomach was doing somersaults again and his belly was starting to cramp. No matter what though, in case Scott needed him, he would stay here.

Obviously, Dr. Hert hadn't realized the implications like Tom had, in finding out he was Johnny Lancer and the story he was going to tell. Scott had only touched on the surface of what had really happened. If his hunch was right, Tom must have sold the doctor out. He'd seen Tom talking to the sheriff, Dr. Banning and the LT. Governor.  He secretly smiled at what the mayor would do when he put it together.

Johnny pondered for a moment on what Scott had said, he was just his brother. It didn't matter what the past was or what he'd done. Scott loved him as only a brother could and he loved Scott the same way. A verse flitted through his mind he'd once heard from the mission where Rico had met his wife. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10. He never forgot it.

 

Scott picked up the room key Mr. Becket had left on the desk and put it back in his pocket. Mr. Becket was over talking to some older gentleman by the bar entrance. The discussion looked heated. The two doctors were still going at it about Yellow Jack. Dr. Hert was losing. Banning sure seems to know his stuff.

The two lawman were also clearing the air. It ended with Sheriff Colter telling Tom he was fired and to clean out his gear. The older sheriff was ticked off that he hadn't been kept apprised of the day's events. “We had a gun hawk in town with the LT. Governor here and you didn't even inform me? I'm the sheriff. I'm supposed to be informed. Who's in charge of security here? Me! Not you! Not the doctor. Not the mayor. Me!”

Scott caught Tom giving Johnny a hated look behind his back as the ex-lawman left, slamming the door. The LT. Governor also witnessed the incident. Walking up to the Lancer brothers he said, “That's one angry man. You'd be wise to watch your backs.”

“What's another one in the long list of enemies we have?” asked Scott, taking a hold of Johnny's arm. Scott pulled Johnny away from the counter and walked him towards the stairs.

“What enemies?” asked Johnny, feeling lost in the conversation. Nothing he hated more than being left out on the range.

“Once you're back on your feet brother, we'll all have a pow-wow and bring you up to date. There's been a few developments with the Sonora Lancer mine I think you'll find interesting.” Especially, Murdock's fall out of the hayloft.

“I have a few…of my own to tell,” wearily said Johnny. He blanched at the sight of the long staircase.

The LT. Governor, getting his first real good look at Johnny, lost some of his own color. He reached up and tipped Johnny's head back to check out his lacerated cheek and shining black eye. In doing so, he felt the heat radiating from the young man.

“I bet that wasn't in the story Tom told you,” said Scott.

“No, it sure wasn't. He painted a pretty rosy picture of himself. I'll be interested in hearing the true one.” Turning to Dr. Banning, who was still stuck listening to Dr. Hert across the room, George called, “Ted, we need your services, now!”

Dr. Banning, only too happy to oblige, came running. Taking a quick look at Johnny and asking a few pertinent questions about his symptoms, Dr. Banning said, “I'll get my bag. What room are you in?”

Scott instructed, “We're using the overflow room in the staff's quarters on the fourth floor.”

 Johnny moaned.

“The stairs exit off each floor or you can come from the kitchen area. It's the only other way up there. Turn left after you get to the top. We'll be in the bathing room.”

Dr. Banning, not at all surprised at where they were located, headed up the stairs.

The LT. Governor was aghast at the location. “Murdock paid for your room weeks ago. What are you doing up there?”

“Becket gave us the no room at the inn story.”

“Would you like to use one of my rooms? There's plenty of room.”

“No thank you, Sir.” Scott braced his arm under Johnny's elbow and encircled his brother's wrist with his hand for added support. Johnny grabbed onto the railing with his other hand. Scott smiled at his father's best friend. “As you know, Sir, Lancers take care of their own. Besides, we have great room service up there.”

George watched as the Lancer Brothers worked their way up the stairs together, Scott patiently coordinating his steps with Johnny's. Out of the corner of his eye, George saw Dr. Hert going back into the bar. Following and catching up to the man, the LT. Governor said, “Now Dr. Hert, I think it's time you and I have a talk about the AMA.”

 

                                                            ---25---

 

The Lancer brothers made it as far as the back stairs before Johnny sagged against Scott. Coughing and wheezing, he said, “I've got…to sit down.” Scott eased him down on a step.

Bending over slightly, Johnny held his forehead with shaking hands, as he see-sawed back and forth, moaning, “I think…I think I'm going to be…sick again.”

Scott looked around desperately for something Johnny could throw up in. But there was nothing, but air on the stairs. Going to his next option, Scott grabbed Johnny's shoulders and pulled him up. “Hold on to your hat!” Scott gave his brother no time to protest or ask questions, as he quickly folded Johnny over his shoulder and ran, as fast as possible, up the stairs.

Johnny holding his hat and clinging to the hem of his brother's coat protested weakly, “Scottttt...”

As Scott dashed up the steps, the dizzying, frenzied ride was adding stress to Johnny's overly sensitive stomach. Closing his eyes to fight off the disorientation, Johnny felt the familiar knot in his stomach tightening to new levels of pressure and gasped out, “Scott…stomach…gonna…heave…”

Scott had made it to the third floor landing in record time. He flew past the door, heading for the fourth floor, yelling at the same time. “Hold your breath…count to ten...We'll make it!”

Johnny had his doubts. He tried holding his breath, but it worked against him, for his cold interfered with his lungs capability of retaining air. He tried counting, but couldn't concentrate enough to get past three, with the jarring to his abdominal area. It had been a mistake to open his eyes and see Scott's boot heels and the perilous way down the long stairwell. Quickly he shut his eyes again and slapped a hand over his mouth, taking in shallow breaths.

Scott slowed down when he reached the fourth floor landing, and wrenched open the door with a bang.

The spasms were coming. Johnny moaned and gasped out, “Hurry!” He gritted his teeth and placed his hand back over his mouth, dropping his hat in their wake.

Cal was at the dummy-waiter unloading pails of hot water when Scott ran by, carrying Johnny over his shoulder, and ordered in a winded voice, “Slop bucket.” Cal ran into the water-closet, grabbed a clean chamber pot, and cut through the connecting door to the bathing room, meeting Scott as he put Johnny down on the changing bench.

Scott, out of breath quipped, “Boy little brother…you've gained weight since the last time…we did this.”

Johnny ignored the wise-crack from his brother. Seeing Cal, he reached for the pot as the hauntingly familiar spasms came, doubling him over.  This time they came excruciatingly hard, scraping the very bottom of his stomach and ejecting only small amounts of yellow bile. Breathing became a luxury between bouts as his stomach wrung itself out, taking no pity on him. Sweat popped out on his forehead, ran down the sides of his face and stung his sore cheek. Scott sat down beside him and once again held his head, amazed at how hot he was.

Dr. Banning arrived and walked up to the brothers, carrying his black bag. Observing Johnny, still vomiting, he said, “Dry heaves. That's good. He's coming to the end of the emesis stage. Unfortunately, the dry-heave stage can last a long time, but I have a home-made remedy that might help.” Dr. Banning put his bag down on the vanity stool and opened it, pulling out three glass vials and a thermometer.

A couple maids brought in two pails each of hot water and dumped them into the tub. Leah followed the maids into the room with a white hotel bathrobe. Another maid brought in a basket of soaps and bathing oils and set them on the vanity.

Dr. Banning asked one of the three maids, standing by the tub, “Do any of you work in the kitchen?”

“I do,” replied Millie.

Handing her the three glass vials, Dr. Banning explained, “Bring some water to a boil. Let it boil about five minutes. Get a teapot and put in the tea-ball one bay leaf from this vial. Add a half a teaspoon of thyme from this vial, add the normal amount of tea leaves, then add the boiling water and let it steep for three minutes.  When that is completed, add a few drops of ginger oil from this vial. Bring me the pot and a mug. Got it?”

“Yes, doctor.” Millie left to carry out the doctor's instructions.

Scott asked, “What does the ginger oil do?”

“It's a natural herb that decreases nausea and vomiting. Mixed with the tea recipe I hope to settle his stomach.”

Dr. Banning took off his coat and draped it over the side of the vanity's mirror. He then rolled up his shirt sleeve and dunked his elbow in the tub water. “Too hot. Johnny's got a high fever. I need to bring the fever down. Add some cold water, but not too much. This water needs to be tepid . I don't want to put him into shock when he climbs in here.”

Leah turned to Mary, who immediately said, “I'll go down to the kitchen and have it sent up by the dummy-waiter.”

“That'll be fine Mary,” stated Leah. Seeing Cal by the Lancer Brothers, she added, “Cal can help you when it gets up here.”

 Hearing Leah's voice, Scott commented, still holding Johnny's head as he spat the remnants of the bile into the chamber pot, “I thought you'd be packed and half way home by now.”

Johnny lifted his head and Scott dropped his hands from his brother's forehead. He took the chamber pot from Johnny's trembling hands and passed it on to Cal. Johnny, no longer able to hold his head up, closed his eyes and sagged against his brother's shoulder.

“Naw,” cut in Cal, carrying the pot to the water closet and opening the door. “She's too mad to fly the coop.”

“Cal!” cried Leah, embarrassed. “Go help Mary with that water!”

Cal went on, ignoring his mother's order. “She wants to go and give Becket part of her mind.”

“Calvin Edward Martin!”

“Ah oh, all three names, I'd best skedaddle,” grinned the boy, heading into the water closet.

Relieved to see Cal was true to form, all three men chuckled, including Johnny, until a thermometer was placed in his mouth. He opened his eyes, getting a smile from the good doctor.  

“Three minutes, not a second longer.”

Too tired to move his head off Scott's shoulder, Johnny complied. All he wanted was to take a bath and fall into bed. He didn't want to be poked and prodded. He didn't want a nursemaid. He didn't want to drink any foul concoction the doctor was going to force on him, He wanted sleep. He wanted to sleep in a clean, warm bed. He wanted his bed or Murdock's couch. Anywhere, but a horse's stall. He just wanted sleep. He was too exhausted to go another step, jump through another hoop.

His stomach made itself known again, the nausea was returning. No, it's too soon for that. I like ginger. Maybe the doc's concoction won't be so bad after all…   

Scott, killing time while waiting for the water to be brought up and curious, asked Leah, “So what part of your mind are you going to give Becket?”

Leah blushed and picked at the bathrobe over her arm.  “Becket really can't fire me. Only the owner, Mr. Stanley Wright can and he won't, because he's Cal's God Father, though we've never used that ploy to better ourselves.”

“Does Becket know?” asked Scott, surprised at the news.

“No and I hope he never does.” She sat down on the rim of the tub, facing Scott and Dr. Banning, who was sitting next to Johnny. Johnny looked like he'd fallen asleep with the thermometer in his mouth.

“Please don't judge the whole town because of a few rotten apples. There are a lot of good people in this town, like the maids here at this hotel and Sheriff Colter. Then there's Roy, from the stable. If he'd had any inkling harm was coming to your brother, he'd have told the sheriff. I know he must've been chompin at the bit to get Johnny out of that there stall. You see, Uppity once was a real dump. People have forgotten where they came from. People used to really care about each other.  Then the railroad came. Along with it money and greed and it changed a lot of people.”

Cal came bounding in with two pails of cold water, his dog trailing behind him. Pippin leaned over the tub and sniffed the water as Cal poured it in. Mary followed suit with two more pails of water and Harriet did the same.

Dr. Banning pulled the thermometer out of Johnny's mouth, without waking him, and read it. A long whistle followed.

Scott, relaxed a moment ago, unconsciously put his arm around his brother's shoulder. “Well?” he anxiously asked, tightening his grip on Johnny's shoulder, unaware he woke his brother up.

 Dr. Banning, staring at the thermometer, slowly brought his worried eyes up to meet Scott's. “It's a hundred and four point eight. We've got to get him cooled off now!”

A flurry of activity took place in Johnny's world with him right in the middle of it.

Leah handed off the bathrobe to Scott. She then hustled the gawking maids, who'd thought the cowboy looked cute sleeping on his brother's shoulder, out into the hall with Pippin following behind her.

Scott got to his feet, while taking his own coat off and tossed it on the bench. Then he proceeded to pull Johnny's dirty coat off him and dropped it on the floor. Next came his sweat soaked shirt, followed by his silver belt, which landed on top of the coat, creating a pile.

At the same time Cal started pulling off Johnny's boots. His feet were swollen and Cal was having a hard time getting them off. First he tried pulling them off facing Johnny. They wouldn't budge. Then he turned around and tried it the other way and they still wouldn't budge.

Johnny, still wheezing and trying to help, told him, “I haven't had my boots…off in days. They're probably stuck…on my feet for good.”

Cal heaved a big sigh. Finally, he sat on the floor straddling Johnny's foot and put his feet up on the bench, then pulled with all his might. The boot slid off with the sock stuck inside that smelled up the whole room.

“Whew!” complained Cal, dropping the boot on the floor. “Them socks are gonna stand up on their own.”

Not to be deterred, Cal did the same thing with the other boot. This one proved to be harder. It took him three pulls before the boot gave and came off, popping out a wad of cash with the sock.

“Gee willikers, Johnny, ya rollin in the dough?”

Johnny didn't answer for he was down to his leather calzoneras. Scott pulled him to his feet.

Dr. Banning had rolled his other shirt sleeve up and had mixed the hot and cold water in the tub. “Okay, in you go. It's going to feel cold, because your temperature is so high.”

Johnny weaved on his feet with three sets of eyes watching him. He pointed at the door, “You can all leave…I can take...my bath by myself.” He took an unsteady step backwards, banging into Scott. His brother latched onto his arm and turned him around to face Scott, exposing his back to Cal and Dr. Banning.

Cal horrified, blurted out, “Johnny, are those bruises from when Tom stomped on you?”

“What bruises?” asked Scott with dread. I knew there was more to the story, I just knew it!  He turned Johnny just enough to get his own look at his brother's back. Sure enough, there were various dark purple bruises, mixing in with the mosquito bites, all over his back.

Dr. Banning summed it up after a fast visual examination, “That's a boot heel over the ribs. The other three look like heel impressions from a shoe.”

Scott saw red.

Johnny could see the fire in his brother's eyes. He had to diffuse the situation. He didn't want his brother near Tom or Dr. Hert. He didn't trust them not to do something underhanded just to get even with him. “Look Scott…Tom's been fired and Dr. Hert will probably be…in trouble with the Medical board.”

Momentarily pacified, but still tense, Scott asked, “What could you have possibly done to make them beat you, when you were in that stall so sick?”

Why does he have to sound so much like Murdock at times? Johnny ducked his head and wrapped his arms around his ribs, feeling a shiver coarse through his body. He couldn't believe he was having this discussion now, practically in his birthday suit, when he'd hoped to take care of the matter of getting even with the good doctor and deputy-dog later, by himself. He was a little embarrassed now, but not sorry. Lifting his head, he looked Scott square in the eye and replied, “I soiled his white shoes.”

“What?”

Defensively, Johnny added with more heat, “I knocked the puke bucket over…and soaked his socks!”

Scott recalled seeing Dr. Hert in the bar, wearing the black shoes with his all white suit, and would've laughed, except Cal butted in with, “Oh, so that's why all the buckets were upside down and ya had no water to drink for so long.”

Scott saw red again and angrily declared, “I'm going to get them if it's the last thing I do!”

Johnny interceded and grabbed Scott's arms, then barked a cough, “No…”cough, cough, “you're not!” cough, cough, cough, “My responsibility,” cough, “I'll take care of it.” The last came out as a croak.

Feeling the heat from Johnny's touch jolted Scott back to the here and now. “Get in that tub! Now! You're in no condition to take care of Cal's hamsters, let alone go after those two men!”

“Cal's got hamsters?” distracted Johnny, smiling to himself as he shucked his pants and drawers and climbed into the tub. Dr. Banning was right. It felt cold to his over-heated body.

“Don't think you've fooled me, little brother. This is not done…only postponed,” harped Scott, in a calm voice.

Seeing Cal's worried face, still sitting on the floor by Johnny's boots, Scott thought he'd better get the boy out of here. Pulling the room key out of his pants pocket, he ordered, “Cal.” The boy stood up. “Here, take the key and open up our room. Do you know where Johnny's gear is?”

“Yeah, ma left it by the door.”

“Okay, you're in charge. Check on your hamsters and get Johnny's bed ready for him.”

Cal left, happy to have something important to do.

 

The ploy worked, thought Johnny, proud of himself for barking those coughs that weren't made up. Then again, maybe the ploys didn't work, for Scott dunked his head under the water.

He came up choking from water that had gone down the wrong tube. Scott took no pity on him as he went to work on his hair.

“You've got enough hay in here to open your own feed store,” flatly stated Scott, pulling out pieces of the stuff.

Dr. Banning, actually enjoying the brother's banter, took a seat on the bench beside the tub. “Johnny, this is important. I need to ask a few questions.”

Johnny just nodded his head. Questions were okay. It was the restrictions afterwards he hated.

“When was the last time you ate?” Dr. Banning pulled his gold watch out of his vest pocket.

“After sun up sometime.” Had that really been only this morning? Dr. Banning lifted his wrist and took his pulse, watching the second-hand move on his watch. After fifteen seconds he let go of his arm.

“How long after you ate did you start feeling sick?” The doctor put his watch back in his pocket and reached for his stethoscope, in the medical bag that was now beside him on the bench.

“Maybe a couple hours. Started with a belly ache. By the time I got here, I wasn't feelin so hot.”

Johnny felt the cold, bell-shaped end of the stethoscope move around on his chest. He was told to take a deep breath, which he did. It ended with a coughing episode.

“Breathe in again.” Johnny did as ordered. “Again.” He sucked in air one more time.

Remember what you ate?” asked Dr. Banning, pulling Johnny forward and repeating the procedure on his back.

“Yeah, a beef steak, biscuits, green beans...” He felt the doctor lightly tap on his back with his fingers, then felt them skimming over his bruised ribs.

“Anything else? Anything at all?” The doctor pulled out a bottle of whiskey followed by a cotton ball. “I've got to clean up that laceration on your cheek. This, I'm afraid, is going to sting.”

It did, but Johnny took it in stride. He'd had a lot worse done to him before.

As the doctor worked, cleaning out the cut, he remarked, “This laceration was almost healed.”  

Scott stopped digging stuff out of his brother's hair and Johnny caught him, out of the corner of his good eye, leaning over his shoulder, watching the doctor work.

“Some of the old stitches are still holding. Whoever put them in, did a good job.”

“That'd be Rico's wife…I got hit by a split rock, getting those ore samples,” clarified Johnny, watching as different expressions crossed his brother's face, curiosity, worry, compassion and protectiveness.

“I've got to irrigate the wound and get the grit out,” stated Dr. Banning, holding the wound open with both hands and creating a small pocket. “Scott, grab that whiskey and pour it in here.” Scott did as instructed, getting a moan from Johnny. It made Scott's stomach turn as he watched the whiskey and blood run down his brother's cheek.  

“Okay, that's enough,” ordered Dr. Banning. “Scott hand me one of those washrags up there on the shelf.”

Scott put the whisky bottle down, wishing he could have a nip to settle his nerves, then grabbed a washcloth off the shelf, handing it to the doctor, who in turned pressed it against Johnny's cheek. While putting pressure on the wound, Dr. Banning said, “Well, it looks like a clean cut. We'll have to get the swelling down before I can stitch it or you'll have a nasty scar.” Switching topics, Dr. Banning went on, “Now Johnny, back to breakfast. Was there anything else you ate?”

Johnny was tiring out again. The catnap on Scott's shoulder had revived him for a few minutes, but now he was getting too tired to think clearly, “Um, the steak had chopped up mushrooms…in a sauce on top of it. I guess to dress it up….Oh, and I had a beer to wash it down.” Johnny noticed the little bit of vapor from the water seemed to be helping him breathe easier and he felt much cooler than he'd had a few minutes ago. He started to relax.

“Could you tell if the beans were home canned or fresh? How did the food taste?” Dr. Banning removed the washrag from Johnny's cheek, satisfied the laceration was only seeping a little blood. He put the washrag in Johnny's hand and moved it to the cut, to hold it in place.

“Hmm, steak was tough and stringy…not good like Lancer beef. The beans…” he thought a moment, while Scott pulled a tangled snarl out of his hair. “Ow!” Johnny pulled his head to the side and gave his brother a nasty look. Scott heaved a sigh and went on with his task.

‘The beans, Johnny,” persisted Dr. Banning, who could see his patient was wearing out.

“Oh, seems they were cooked in bacon grease or something. I remember they had bacon pieces and onions in them. They tasted okay, but not as good as Teresa's.

 

Scott gave up pulling the hay out by his fingers, and started using a fine-tooth comb he found on the vanity. Combing through Johnny's thick hair, he rousted out a few vermin and an occasional clump of dirt with a strong odor.  “What is this stuff? Smells like crap.”

“Pig poop,” volunteered Johnny, having trouble keeping his eyes open.

Still combing through his brother's hair, Scott asked puzzled, “Where'd you get that?”

“Hid under a sow's house when the Rurales were chasing me.”

“Rurales?” Scott, getting tired of bending over his brother's head, moved the vanity stool behind the tub and sat down. “I thought you were protected under the Lancer name? You have been sneaking across the border, haven't you?”

“Yeah, I have and no one saw me…cross the border either.” Scott's repeated combing of his hair felt good, relaxing him further. “Rico thinks…thinks someone tipped them off.”

“Murdock's not going to like that.”

“Murdock? How'd you think I felt?” grouched Johnny, as a fit of coughing took place. “Rico made me leave almost…” cough, cough, “as soon as I got there…I had to hide three times…once for most of a day…it put me way behind schedule…if it hadn't been for the pig pen…I'd would've broken my promise to Murdock.” He shuddered at that thought.

Dr. Banning surmised, “So, you've had very little sleep and been out in the elements most of the trip here?”

“Yeah, the rain followed me here…Barranca and I couldn't seem to shake the weather. It's how I got all these dang mosquito bites…again. I stopped one night to rest my horse by a lake, took my shirt off and washed it and hung it on a branch and fell asleep…”cough, cough. “Turned out, I was next to a swamp not a lake…I was covered by those little buggers!” A huge yawn followed Johnny's story.

Cal rapped on door and came in, carrying Dr. Banning's ginger tea in a big china teapot with a thick white mug. “Ah, just what the doctor ordered,” confirmed Dr. Banning, taking it from the boy.

He poured the tea into the mug, filling the room with a ginger scent, and handed it to Johnny. “Now, sip this slowly. Drink only what feels good to your stomach.”

Dreading the taste of any medical concoction, Johnny brought it to his nose and sniffed it first. Not minding the smell, he tentatively sipped a bit. Finding it actually tasted good and being more than thirsty, he drank another mouth full. To his surprise, he felt the hot tea work its way down into his empty stomach and warm it.

Scott finished going through Johnny's hair and dropped the comb in the bathwater. He picked up a bar of soap and inhaled its fragrance, then put it down and tried the other one from the basket that had been left on the vanity.

“Johnny you want to smell like lavender or ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?'”

“If you're going to quote Shakespeare's entire play of Romeo and Juliet to me, I'll pick lavender.”

“Suit yourself,” grinned Scott, dropping the bar of soap in the bathwater. He took the mug half full of tea from Johnny's hand and sipped it. Putting the mug on the bench, he then dunked his brother in the water again.

Johnny came up sputtering, “Dang it, Scott!”

Scott handed back the mug of tea and found the bar of soap, then lathered up his brother's hair. Scott said to Cal, “Going to need some rinse water.”

“Got it, Scott,” replied the boy, running out the door. He returned in a matter of seconds with two pails of water. “Millie sent them up with the tea.”

Dr. Banning put the teapot down on the vanity and picked up his coat off the mirror, putting it on. “How's the stomach doing Johnny?”

“I, ah, don't know quite how to describe it. Warm, I guess.” He took another sip of the tea.

“Nausea?”

“Maybe a little. Not like before.” Scott dropped the bar of soap between Johnny's legs, then scrubbed his brother's hair with vigor.

“Any belly cramps? Do you have the backdoor trots?”

 “Yeah, how'd ya know?”  He felt Scott squeeze the excess soap out of his hair which landed on his back. A moment later he felt a scrub brush moving up and down his back.

“How often have you gone?”

Embarrassed to be talking about his business, Johnny asked, “Isn't this kind of personal?”

Dr. Banning persisting, “How often? Any blood in your stools”

“No blood that I know of,” ducking his head, Johnny said, “As far as how often…a few times when Cal could sneak me out to the privy.” Scott paused, scrubbing his back. Johnny looked up at his brother and growled, “What?”

“Nothing,” replied Scott perturbed again and remembering the flash of pink through the bedroom window. I wasn't imagining it after all. Damn, they wouldn't even let him use the privy. What kind of men are they to deny such a basic need? He dropped the scrub brush where the soap had landed, and picked up the pail of rinse water. “Close your eyes,” he softly ordered, as he poured the water over Johnny's head.

Cal not understanding the tension that the bathroom question had brought up, tried to help, “I know, I had to empty the slop buckets a couple of times with…”

“Cal!” from Johnny, “Drop it!” Seeing Cal's crestfallen face, Johnny back pedaled, “Cal, it's okay. I, ah, a man just doesn't go around talking about his business, that's all…it's kind of like talking about girls.”

Cal smiled then. Seeing that his mug was empty, Cal asked, “Ya want some more tea, Johnny?” He took the mug from Johnny's hand and headed towards the teapot.

Dr. Banning cautioned, “Drink only what you can tolerate. If you can keep the tea down for an hour, I can give you something for the backdoor trots.” The doctor put the back of his hand on Johnny's forehead. “Fever's coming down. I suggest you finish with your bath and get in bed.”

Bed was like a magic word for Johnny. He found the soap and brush and started scrubbing.

Picking up his medical bag, Dr. Banning motioned with his eyes at Scott to follow him out into the hall. “Now, I have another patient to attend to.” Turning to the boy, Dr. Banning said, “I found your cat on the third floor landing when I came up here. She's in labor and in my room. I think we need to check on her.”

“Oh, wow! Ya mean she's ready to have her kittens?”

“I'm afraid so. Do you have a box fixed up for her?”

“You bettcha. Wait till I tell ma!” Putting the mug down on the bench, Cal opened the door and ran out into the hall.

Dr. Banning and Scott were right behind him when Johnny called out, in his best Johnny Madrid voice, “Hold it right there!”

Both men stopped and turned around. Johnny stood up in all his naked glory, letting the water stream off his body. Scott hurried up and slammed the door, then handed him a towel.

“Johnny there's women out in these halls.” The announcement didn't seem to faze his brother a bit.

Johnny toweled off and got out of the tub, donning the robe Scott had left on the bench. He overheard Scott say to Dr. Banning, “Doesn't look like he's the bashful wall flower now, though he certainly smells like one.”

Dr. Banning sniffed, “Ah, Scott, didn't you just use that same scent a few hours ago?”

Scott smiled, “I believe I did for I was reading Emerson and not Shakespeare .”

From across the room, “Very funny. You two are a barrel of laughs,” sniped Johnny, with his arms crossed against his chest, as he leaned against the water-closet door. “Now ya going to tell the patient, whose not going to be the last to know this time, what's wrong with me?” He felt a big cramp in his lower belly. He tightened his grip on his arms.

“You don't have Yellow Fever, if that's what you're worried about,” assured the doctor.

“Well, I never thought I did, so, what in blazes is it?” asked Johnny, as he felt and heard a wave of gas rumble through his lower half.

“You have a significant case of food poisoning along with a nasty cold.”

Johnny smiled, “I knew it!” He pointed his finger at Scott and said again, “I knew it. I knew that quack was wrong. Wait till I get my hands on him!”

“We get our hands on him, brother,” repeated Scott. “Don't even think, for one little second, you're going after the doctor all by yourself. I have a bone to pick with him too.”

Johnny would've reminded Scott again it was his responsibility, but his body had different ideas. Instead, he turned around and went into the water closet, slamming the door.

Dr. Banning, still by the hallway door, “Get him into bed. He's at the end of his rope. He's going to collapse from exhaustion if you don't soon.”

“Just how bad is he?” More worried than he thought possible and still angry over his brother's lack of medical treatment, Scott squatted down and started picking up their mess. He threw Johnny's pants, drawers, shirt and socks into the bathwater.

“I'm afraid Johnny's one sick pup.” At Scott's anxious look, Dr. Banning explained, “Spoiled food has bacteria, which when eaten can stay in the body's system for a long time. His body is fighting the illness at both ends. Even once he gets the food out of his system, there's a residue of the illness that could affect him for some time.”

“How long does that last and what effects will he have?”

“Usually, not much of an appetite and feeling tired, general malaise can last from two days or in some cases, up to two months.”

“You won't be able to keep Johnny down that long,” chuckled Scott, as he started going through his brother's coat pockets, pulling out some wooden matches wrapped in oilcloth, a pocket-knife, the gold watch Murdock had given Johnny when they'd been at the ranch only a few weeks, identity-papers, stating he was Johnny Lancer, five dollars in one dollar bills and some loose change. In the other pocket, he found an extra box of ammunition for the Colt Scott was still wearing around his hips.

“No, I wouldn't expect too. Johnny will have to govern his own body. It'll be up to him and him alone to decide when he's reached his limitations. I don't imagine he cottons to well to being told what to do?”

“No, not in the least.” Scott gathered up the pile, dropping it all in Johnny's boots along with the roll of cash Cal had found when he'd pulled Johnny's boot off his foot. Scott then threw the coat in the tub to soak with the other dirty clothes.

Hearing Johnny coughing through the water-closet door, Scott asked, “So, what's with the barky cough?”

“He has spasmodic laryngitis better known as croup, probably contributed in part from his cold. His voice-box is inflamed which accounts for the short phases he's been using. He could also have some asthmatic bronchitis thrown in the mix, but his lungs sounded clear, so I wouldn't worry about his breathing.”

“Croup,” repeated Scott. “Isn't that just for kids?”

“No, adults can get it too, though it's rare.” At Scott's puzzled expression, Dr. Banning explained, “Some adults have small airways, in Johnny's case, I'd say restricted. After all, he was in a stall for some time crawling around in dust and hay. He would've breathed in particles from those two elements. Does he have any trouble breathing when he's working in the hayloft or barn?”

“I never really noticed. You could ask him. He has excellent hearing and I'm sure he's heard every word of this conversation.” Looking at the water-closet door, Scott yelled, “Isn't that right, Johnny?”

A muffled reply from the other side of the door, “Yeah,” then, “sometimes.”

“He talking about his hearing or his hay-fever?”

Scott shrugged, “Both.”

Cal knocked and opened the door from the hall, carrying a box with a blanket inside it.

“Speaking of fever, I need to talk to you in the hall,” whispered Dr. Banning. In a louder voice directed at Cal, “We'll see how Tab is in a minute.” He gestured with his hand towards the door.

They started moving into the hall when Johnny called out, “Where the devil do you think you're all going?”

“Hold your horses Johnny,” quipped Scott. “We're just going out in the hall.”

“Oh no! You're not leaving me out!” retorted Johnny, miffed. “You can say what you've got to say, right here!”

Cal, the last one out of the door complained, “You two chewing at each other again?”

Scott replied, with a sly smile, “Cal, I'll let you in on a secret, but you can't tell Johnny.”

“What Scott?”

“We're just playin. It's all part of the game.”

Cal didn't quite understand that. “Ya, mean it has somethin to do with being brothers?”

“Now, you're getting it.”

Dr. Banning smiled, for he had a couple siblings of his own. “Cal, why don't you take that box and check on Tab.” He handed Cal the room key and the boy took off.

Turning to Scott, the doctor said, “Since you're going to be your brother's nursemaid for the night, I need to warn you what to watch for with this fever. We're only over the first hurtle.” 

 

                                                            ---26--- 

Paregoric / Camphorated Tincture of Opium

Best Opium ½ dram dissolved in 2T boiling water                    

Benzoic acid ½ dram

Oil of anise ½ a fluid dram

Clarified honey 1 ounce

Camphor gum 1 scruple

Alcohol 76% and / or 11 fluid ounces

Distilled water 4 ½ fluid ounces

Macerate.

“Good night,” expressed Scott, “he'll sleep for a week!”

“That he will, my friend…well not really, but a few hours will work,” stated Dr. Banning, removing a towel with half melted ice from Johnny's cheek. “Hand me the catgut. I want to stitch his cheek while it's still numb from the ice”

Scott dropped the hand-copied recipe back into the doctor's bag and picked up the curved, metal needle already threaded with black, dense, catgut thread, exchanging it with the doctor for the cold, wet towel.

Fascinated, Scott watched Dr. Banning perform his magic.

“Funny word, Catgut.” As he sewed, Dr. Banning gave Scott a short lesson, “Invented in 1599 it originally comes from the word, Kit Gut or strings for a Kit Fiddle . Actually, it was made from intestines of sheep. It also makes good rawhide rope.”

“Interesting,” agreed Scott. “So, what does Paregoric do for you?”

“Nervous about that are we?” The doctor made another tiny suture through the skin, bringing the edges neatly together.

“Does the word Opium provide a clue?”

“Not to worry, it's no worse than its sister's drug, Laudanum , which contains ten milligrams of morphine per milliliter, 25 times more than Paregoric, both are highly addictive.”

“And the point is Dr. Banning?”

“The recipe in my bag is the original. My recipe is modestly reduced in potency. I can adjust it as I see fit. Genesis being a small town, I mix most of the pharmacy stuff myself. If it makes you feel any better, Johnny is in a normal restorative sleep. His fever and exhaustion created the swoon.” He finished two more sutures, tying each off with a minuscule knot.

“You really mean, he's in a fever induced coma.” Scott ran his hand absently through his own hair, leaving it standing on end. He couldn't watch Dr. Banning stitch anymore for his own stomach had become queasy.

“No, he fainted because his body needs the rest. The medicine will help him get that rest.”

“How? By drugging him?”

“Yes, if need be,” flatly stated the doctor, still suturing.  “Look Scott, the medicine will help him fight what ails him. Paregoric is known as the soothing drug. It does three things at once. It'll take care of his cough, his breathing and the diarrhea. His body is fighting the poison in his system with everything it has, thus the fever. Our job is to help keep his fever down and his body hydrated.”

Scott paced back and forth, knowing by routine the number of steps it took to cross the room in each direction, waiting for the doctor to finish suturing. He recalled the events that lead to the present. He never dreamed nursing could be so hard. Anticipating his brother's changing needs had proved quite a challenge. He'd changed warm compresses for cool ones, gave his brother sips of water and tea and helped him to the water closet numerous times until late into the night. On the last trip back to bed, Johnny had passed out in his arms, scaring him half to death.

Johnny's fever really climbed after that, taking all Scott's strength to hold him down in the bed, so the maids could soak his body with water and rubbing alcohol.  His brother never seemed to sleep. His eyes were open and glassy. He ranted and raved about nothing consequential, making no sense. Dr. Banning said he was delirious. Then, after what seemed like a lifetime to Scott, the delirium ended with a seizure.

Dr. Banning said, “Done,” bringing Scott out of his daydream, “He'll hardly have a scar to boast about.” He threw the needle into the basin of water mixed with rubbing alcohol by the hamsters on the dresser. The doctor took out the bottle of whiskey and a glass from his medical bag and poured a shot. Handing it to Scott, he ordered, “Here, drink this. You need it more than I do.”

Feeling totally out-of-sorts, Scott took the glass and sipped the amber liquid, waiting for it to warm his belly and sooth his nerves, as he watched his brother sleep. It didn't look like he was having a restful sleep, for his eyes were moving back and forth in rapid motion.

Dr. Banning washed his hands in the alcohol laden basin, then cleaned the needle, placing it in his medical bag. Picking up the bowl, he walked over to the window, opened it and threw out the water, returning the basin to the dresser. Wiping his hands on a towel, he came up to the bed and observed his patient. “He's dreaming.”

“More like a nightmare,” added Scott, finishing his drink. “You sure he's past the high fever and seizure stage? I don't want to go through all that again…I don't think I can take it.”

Dr. Banning found a glass on the washstand, sat down at the table and poured himself a whiskey. “It was a bit unnerving wasn't it? Things don't always go as planned. Medicine is not an exact science. There are many variables. What works for one patient doesn't necessarily work for another.”

“Like the tea that was supposed to settle his stomach?” Setting his empty glass on the table, Scott sat down in the chair across from Dr. Banning. The doctor refilled his glass.

“Well, it did work…eventually,” replied the doctor.

“He only had to shoot the cat three more times to get there,” reminded Scott, standing up again.

Scott was restless and worried. He'd never had to be the actual nursemaid, never had to make the decisions on someone's health, least of all his own brother's. There had always been Murdock or Teresa to take care of things. He mostly lent support or had been the patient himself. Even when Jelly was attacked by that cougar, it had been Murdock who had the final say on Dr. Banning operating on Jelly. Sarah Lockwood had done the nursing. All he did was drive Jelly back to the ranch in a wagon. It had been Murdock who had convinced Johnny and himself to loan the money to Dr. Banning to finish his schooling and get his medical degree.

 

Dr. Banning broke into Scott's thoughts, “Look at it this way, Johnny needed fluids, he was dehydrated. The tea made it easier for him to throw up. He didn't have to contend with the painful dry heaves.”

Scott pacing the floor again, “Okay, so what about those seizures?”

“What about the seizures Scott? We've been over this. There is nothing you could've done to prevent them. His temperature spiked suddenly. I warned you it could happen. You followed all my instructions to the letter. Mary came and got me as soon as you made the mad dash with Johnny down the hall. You had it well in hand, by the time I got to the bathing chamber.”

Scott, leaning on the table with his hands splayed, “That's easy for you to say. You're not the one who watched him shake the whole bed. You're not the one who yelled for the chambermaids to help. You're not the one who threw him over your shoulder, buck naked, and raced down the hallway, then dumped him in a tub of cool water with three women looking on. You're not the one who stuffed a washrag in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue. You weren't the one who held his head above water to keep him from drowning, while the women held him down under the water.” Scott grabbed his glass of whiskey off the table and swallowed it in one gulp.

“No, I wasn't. But you were the one who was there for him. You, his brother. Ever since you found him, you've taken charge, you've given the orders. You've had his back and because of your support and devotion, you saved his life. You are your brother's keeper. Your blood-bond is stronger than friendship. Your loyalty unceasing. He'll never remember the seizures or what came before them or what followed afterwards.”

Dr. Banning studied the older Lancer brother as he walked the floor. He looked a nervous wreck. His hair was mussed, his white shirt half unbuttoned and untucked, his sleeves still rolled up from the bathtub. Something was really bothering the man. He couldn't remember Scott acting like this when Jelly was injured. Of course, Jelly wasn't his brother.

“Scott, sit down.” Dr. Banning poured the last of the whiskey in Scott's glass.

Scott stopped moving in mid-step. He glanced over at his brother, who was sleeping peacefully, then sat back down in the wooden chair. Gratefully, he picked the glass up and sipped the whiskey.

“What's eating at you, Scott?”

“Shows that much? That why you're getting me drunk?” asked the too serious young man.

“You're like a caged lion.”

The whiskey was loosening his tongue, thought Scott. The good doctor knew what he was doing. He put the half-full glass down on the table. “Okay, I'll bite.” He leaned forward on the table. “Tell me true. If I'd had found him earlier, would he still be sick like this?” Scott held his breath.

“Ah, the crux of the matter. You're feeling guilty.”

“Okay, you hit the nail on the head. I'll own up to it. Would it have made a difference for him to have been in this room with a real caring doctor, namely you, attending him from the beginning? What if I hadn't found him? Would I have lost him? Given more time in that stall, would he have died?”

“Scott, stop it. What if's and if only's are for fools. They don't or can't change anything. Why stew about them? They'll only drive you crazy or send you to the bottle. Which in your case, I think you've had enough.” Dr. Banning took Scott's glass and drank the rest of the whiskey.

“Putting all the if's aside, for my peace of mind, tell me, would it have made a difference if I'd have found him sooner?” pleaded Scott.

“I'm going to commiserate with you Scott. No . Aside from the beating he received, it wouldn't have made much difference on the course of his food poisoning. Yes, he'd have been a lot more comfortable up here, but it wouldn't have made him any more or less sick, being down in that stall. Food poisoning, like the gripe or various other stomach ailments, has to work its way through the digestive system. Each illness goes at its own pace, creating its own havoc. Understand?”

“But, the fever…”

“The fever is the unknown variable, the wild card. It's definitely part of the food poisoning, but also could be part of the cold and croup he picked up. He could have a touch of influenza too. He'd been out in the rain for a long time. All three illnesses can lay you flat on your back.”

Dr. Banning shifted in his chair. He lowered his voice, trying to comfort the older brother.

“Scott, he's had very little sleep and he's exhausted. Despite popular beliefs a high fever can produce irritability and insomnia. In Johnny's case insomnia for sure. That's why, in part, I gave him the Paregoric, to make him sleep.” The doctor paused, “You following me so far?”

Scott nodded and stated, “Yes. After all, I did graduate from Harvard, the same college Murdock sent you too, so you could finish up your medical degree. I have some knowledge of the medical field.”

Smiling, the doctor said, “Little did Murdock know I'd end up treating his own son.”

“Touché,” replied Scott. “I'll give you that one.”

 Dr. Banning continued, “The cold and influenza are both viruses. There is no cure for them, except time. His lung sounds are good. His breathing is much better since he got out of that livery stable. As far as the fever killing him, well, we'll never know for you found him in time. Let it go Scott and thank the Good Lord you found him.”

Relieved, he wasn't at fault for how sick his brother was, Scott asked, “What do you think he ate that made him so sick?”

“Well, it could've been the mushrooms. If you pick the wrong kind, they can turn deadly. Then, again, the beef steak could have been bad. Probably wasn't stored properly. Of course, the beans could've had a touch of botulism in them, but his symptoms didn't present that way…”

“I hope the saloon that served him that food burns down,” said Scott, getting up to check on his brother. Even in his tipsy state, Scott could see Johnny's coloring was better. He no longer had Cal's description of ‘dead, but not dead' look to him, maybe ghost-like would work, thought Scott.

Dr. Banning peeked over Scott's shoulder and tried to reassure the older brother, “I think he's over the worst of it. He's looking much better. See the roses in his cheeks, well one cheek that is. It'll be a while before the purple fades in the other. Keep an eye on him and keep doing what you've been doing. No one ever said nursing was easy.” He picked up his coat off the back of the chair.

“I'm going back to my room to see if Cal's cat is a mother yet. I left Cal with Leah and George.”

“The LT. Governor?” asked Scott, sitting on the side of Johnny's bed.

“You know any other George who's in office and has an interest in Leah?” chuckled Dr. Banning. “Besides, he owns a ranch outside of Sacramento. He's the perfect candidate to take care of a cat in labor.” The doctor swung his coat over his shoulder, picked up his bag and left.

Scott observed his sleeping sibling. He couldn't find any pink roses on his brother's face. To him, he looked like one big purple bruise on the left side. The doc did do a great job on the stitches, straight and tiny. If he hadn't known better, he'd have thought it was just a pencil mark. Scott put the back of his hand on his brother's forehead. It wasn't cool to the touch, but the heat wasn't there like when he had his seizure. Scott got up and poured some water from the matching pitcher into the basin from the wash stand. He soaked a washrag, wrung it out and placed it on Johnny's forehead.

Time went on, midnight passed into the early hours of a new day. Scott kept his vigil, alternating between reading Emerson and nursing his brother. He checked Johnny's forehead often. The fever remained ever present. He changed the compresses regularly and gave him sips of water or tea, then broth when it had been added to the menu. Dr. Banning said it would help him gain strength. Scott wished Murdock was there, for he could use the strength and companionship of his father.

The chambermaids, including Leah, often brought Scott coffee with something to eat. They helped him pass the hours by way of conversation. Harriet played him a game of checkers, in which he lost badly. Cal dropped in with Pippin on his way to bed, delivering the news he was a father to four tabby kittens.

Both boy and dog silently approached Johnny's bed as he lay asleep. Pippin licked him on the cheek. Cal picked up Johnny's limp, warm hand and looked at Scott with his heart in his eyes, “He ain't gonna die, is he?”

Standing behind Cal with his hands on the boy's shoulders, Scott's own eyes went misty and he had to clear his throat before he answered, “No, son. Dr. Banning swears he'll be right as rain soon.”

“You're sure?” asked Cal, remembering when his own pa died.

“Yes,” reassured Scott, squeezing the boy's shoulders.

Leah came to the door and called for Cal and Pippin. The boy reluctantly let go of Johnny's hand, turned and hugged Scott. “You'll watch over im. He's a good brother.”

Scott was barely able to get the words out through his clogged throat, “Yes, I know, the best. I promise, he'll be all right.”

Cal relieved, left with his mother, taking Pippin with him,

Scott sucked in a deep breath and prayed that he was right.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        *****

“Scott!!”

More tired than he'd care to admit, Scott got up from his bed where he'd been resting and checked on his brother. Sitting down beside him on the bed and feeling his forehead with the back of his hand, a routine that had become so normal to Scott, he at first, didn't realize there had been a change in Johnny's condition. His brother had broken out in a cold sweat and was shivering, not from the fever, but from being cold. Finally, it's over. The fever's gone.

Elated, Scott got up and grabbed the first thing he found, the white terry-cloth robe the hotel staff had given him, and wiped his brother down. Realizing the bedding underneath Johnny was soaked, Scott roused his brother out of bed and moved him to the other twin bed.

Johnny mumbled, “Scott, stay away from blazes.”

“What?”

“Blazes…they're going to hurt us.”

 

                                                            ---27---

By the engrained habit of waking at dawn, Johnny came out of a drug-induced sleep feeling groggy and temporarily unsure of his location. He could've sworn he was in the other bed when he'd last closed his eyes. Still lying on his back, he stretched, trying to work the kinks out of his muscles. His body ached all over from his illness, to be honest he felt like a herd of cattle had run over him, but to his surprise his stomach actually felt hungry. He still felt tired, but not like yesterday.

Glancing around the room he took in its disorder. In one corner stood their rifles and both saddlebags. He wondered if the LT. Guv had collected the gold ore yet. On the table an empty whiskey bottle sat with two glasses, a tray full of dirty dishes, including a teapot and a checker board, with Scott's book by Emerson lying on top. Two white bathrobes, dirty washrags and towels along with a set of sheets were strewn on the floor. He found his brother across the room still fully dressed, except for his boots, sleeping in the other bed, bare of linens, with just the bedspread pulled over him. Scott looked like he'd had an exhausting night. His face was long and drawn out. His eyes were puffy with dark circles under them. Scott turned onto his side as his hand slipped out from under the spread, holding a gun.

All remnants of sleep fled as Johnny came fully awake. Why would Scott be sleeping with a gun? That was something he, Johnny, would only do. In fact, his eyes went instinctively to the holster on the bedpost of the other bed. That was the bed I was sleeping in, I just know it. His gun wasn't there, but his gun belt sure was. Feeling under the pillow of the bed he was in, Johnny came in contact with the curved butt of a gun pushed up by the headboard and pulled it out. Yup, my ace in the hole, this is my gun. Scott must've put it there. Johnny always slept with a gun at the ranch, especially with all the unwelcome visitors they seemed to attract.   Johnny studied his brother's hand a moment. He wasn't just holding the gun, no, he was ready to use it. Something was up.

Johnny climbed out of bed, donned a robe from the floor and yelled, “Scott!”

Scott jerked awake nearly pulling the trigger. One eye aimed at his brother, he grumpily said, “You know how close you came to getting shot?”

“No.”

“About a hair's trigger.” Scott rolled over, bringing the gun with him. “Johnny we're not at home. We're at a hotel. We can sleep in. Go back to bed.”

Confused by his brother's actions, Johnny replied, “But, its morning. Why do you have a gun in your hand and where are my clothes?” He surveyed the room, looking for his pink shirt and found a box of hamsters instead on top of the dresser. He reached in and petted one. These must be Cal's hamsters. I do remember that much from last night. “Scott, why do we have hamsters in our room?”

Scott moaned and pulled the pillow over his head. “So, Becket won't eat them for breakfast,” came the muffled reply.

“Becket,” scoffed Johnny. “That stuffed shirt. How do you figure that character?”

Scott gave up trying to sleep and threw the pillow to the end of the bed. Sitting up, he said, “You don't figure him. He's nothing but a real jug-head.”

“Did I hear that right?” teased Johnny. “My Boston proper brother just called our beloved desk-clerk a jack-ass? Wait till I tell Murdock.” He got a pillow thrown in his face for his comment.

Scott got up and holstered his gun where the belt hung from the post in his original bed. He tapped Johnny in the belly with the back of his knuckles. “Glad to see you on your feet brother.”

“Thanks, Scott.” Their eyes met. No other words were necessary, for the love and devotion had passed between them, unspoken.

“How's your cold? You still look a little rough around the edges.”

“Fine. At least I'm not hacking up a lung.” Johnny did a sweep of the room then bent down and checked under the bed. “You see my clothes anywhere?” he asked puzzled, knowing they had to be here somewhere.

“The last I saw your clothes they were in the bottom of the bathtub, soaking. Find Mary. She's the laundress around here.” Scott sat down on his own bed with the linens on the mattress. “You did bring a change of clothes?”

“In my bedroll.” Johnny looked around the room a few moments, then finally located the lump of oil-cloth under the saddlebags. “The ones I was supposed to wear to dinner last night with LT. Guv George.”

Scott knew they wouldn't be in the tub, for when he'd rushed in with Johnny having his seizure, he'd found the dirty water had been emptied and the tub refilled with clean water in anticipation of the event, if it occurred. It had all been pre-arranged by Dr. Banning and Leah. But, he didn't want his brother to know he'd been seen in the all-together, fighting for his life, by three young women. He really didn't want him to know what had gone on during the seizure or what had happened after the seizure. It was all a natural function, but embarrassing for the patient.

His color high on his cheeks, Scott nodded at the gun Johnny was still holding, “You were a bit out of your head last night. Your paranoia wore off on me.”

Johnny frowned, “When I had the fever?” He remembered the bath and walking up and down the hall several times. Then, he just faded out and didn't remember anything until waking a few minutes ago.

“No, after it broke. You kept yelling at me to get down and watch out for blazes. Do you remember any of it?”

Blazes? Guns firing … “No,” said Johnny, wanting to further evaluate his premonition of the nightmares on his own.

“Well, brother, I've learned to trust your instincts. Later, after we were both asleep, I did hear someone or something at our door last night. It was just a slight rattle of the doorknob, but I know I heard it.” At Johnny's questioning look, Scott went on. “We still have the gold ore in here, so I pulled my gun and slowly opened the door, but there was nothing outside or in the hall. I walked the hall once, but found nothing. I almost shrugged it off, but couldn't quite get rid of the feeling, so I…”

“So, you stashed my gun under my pillow and went to bed with your gun,” finished Johnny. “Just what I would've done.” He smiled at his brother. “Glad to see I'm rubbing off on ya, Scott. Don't ever be ashamed of your instincts.”

“I'm not and that's why, now that you're up,” Scott laid down on the bed, “I'm going back to sleep.” He rolled over to his side, facing the wall, and closed his eyes. “Wake me up when Millie sends our breakfast up.”

“We don't have to go down for it?” asked Johnny, surprised. He knew most hotels you fetched your own food or went to the dining room. In the fancier hotels, you could order it by room service.

“Nope, up here, it's an open-door policy. You'll see soon enough.”

Johnny put his gun in its holster. He went over to the door and unlocked it, tossing the key on the table. He examined the lock on the outside closely, trying to determine if it had been picked or not. There were a few scratches, but he couldn't tell if they were new or not. Giving up for the moment, he decided to go and find his clothes.

Scott heard a couple playful screams while he was trying to go back to sleep. This time he knew it was because of his brother. Johnny was on the mend. He wondered how Johnny would do chasing hamsters down the hall. Scott smiled and decided he wouldn't put the poor critters through the ordeal again.

 

                                                                        ---28---

 

“Scott!! Something strange is going on with the women around here.”

Johnny had burst into the room, clutching the front of his robe. He slammed the door and went straight to his bedroll, picking it up from under the saddlebags.  He quickly went over to his bed, unrolled it and grabbed his clothes, consisting of a white shirt with brown trim and an extra pair of pants. “Scott! Did you hear me?” He searched a bit and found a pair of white socks and his under-drawers tucked up under the fold. He put everything on in a hurry.

Having just fallen back to sleep, Scott's body lurched at the loud intrusion. Lying on his stomach, facing the wall, he didn't move from his comfortable position, but drowsily asked, “What's wrong with the women?”

“They're all staring at me.”

“What's so odd about that? Women do it all the time. In your case, they seem to like the allure of a gunfighter.”

“Ex-gunfighter.” Pleased with the comment, but not pacified, Johnny complained, “But, these ones…the chambermaids are…are laughing at me. No, that's not it, they're…they're giggling at me, though they're trying not to show it.”

“Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

Johnny took a couple steps over to the wash stand and peered at himself in the mirror. Yeah, he looked like a train wreck. One eye was still somewhat swollen with dark purple bruises covering half his face, while a black line of stitches marched across his cheek bone. Odd? When did they put those in? His dark hair was mussed and standing on end at different angles. At least it's clean. He did look kind of funny, then he remembered how the women had looked at him.

“No Scott, that's not it either. I can't put my finger on it. They looked at me differently from other women…like they know something I don't know…did something happen last night that I should know about?”

Scott swallowed hard and didn't turn over. “How so?”

Johnny walked over to the dresser between their beds and grabbed Scott's comb off the surface and ran it through his unruly hair. Putting the comb back on the dresser, he noticed the hamsters were up and about. Reaching in he plucked one from the box and held it in his hand, petting it, as he tried to explain his feelings about women.

“Well, ya know how we men look at a woman from her ankles to her face?” Johnny let the hamster crawl up his arm to his shoulder.

“Yeah, go on.”

The hamster moved from the shoulder, across the back of his neck to the other shoulder.

“Women always look at our faces first, then they follow their way down to our feet.”

The hamster perched on his shoulder by the collar and sniffed his neck.

“Then if they like what they see, they give us men some kind of a sign, like a wink or a smile or something and if they don't, they just cut us to the quick.”

The hamster nuzzled his ear and tickled the underside of his jaw with its soft fur. He could hear it chattering, as the critter moved around his neck, inside his collar.

“It's all in their eyes. Ya know what I'm getting at?”

“Not really.” Scott turned his head on the pillow and brought his arm up to partially shield his face from Johnny. He hoped his ears weren't turning red at the tips. Fair haired people sure are cursed. How'd he catch on so fast? Dang his gunfighter instincts. I haven't even come to terms with it yet. How am I supposed to explain it to him?

Johnny went on talking, still intrigued with the hamster. He let it crawl under his chin where he could feel its cold nose on his neck.

“Something with these maids just don't ring right.” He stared hard at Scott. His Madrid mask just barely discernible. “It's the way they looked at me. Their eyes won't quite meet mine. They look downward and stop at where my gun belt would rest. I feel like they're undressing me, when it should be the other way around. Then they get red in the face, turn away and try not to giggle. Girls giggle when they're nervous. I keep asking myself what I did to make them so nervous.”

He brought his fingers up to the hamster and gently lifted it out of his chest hairs and put it back in the box. “So lay it on the barrel head, Scott. What am I missing?”

Scott finally gave up trying to sleep. He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed his eyes, thinking. How much do I tell him? Do I lay all the embarrassing facts on the line or do I just skim over them? What would Murdock say? He'd probably say, it's all in the past. Leave it there. Easy for him to say. He's not the one Johnny is starring daggers at, looking for answers. Oh, how I need a cup of coffee.

He stood up and walked over to the table where the tray of dirty dishes sat. He moved a plate off a cup and found what he was looking for, a half a cup of cold coffee. He picked it up and drank it straight down. Glancing over to his brother, he noticed Johnny had his arms crossed over his chest, his gun hip was a bit lower as he rested his weight on the same leg and his face held the determination of Johnny Madrid.

Scott put the empty cup down and sighed, as he sat down in a chair. “You were really sick last night. After you passed out your fever spiked. You were out of your head for a while, totally irritable, tossing and turning on the bed. I needed help, in holding you down, so we could nurse you. The chambermaids volunteered. They said, since I saved them from Cal's hamsters, it was the least they could do.”

“So, they're all nervous because they took care of me?”

“Well, they are all Angelicas .”

“What's that got to do with them being young unmarried women?”

“Ah, Johnny you were too hot to wear any kind of a nightshirt, so you were naked under the sheets. They weren't used to all that exposed male skin they saw…but they did a great job of helping me.”

There, it's out in the open. Well, some of it. I hope it's enough to appease him. Scott held his breath. He really didn't want to tell him the rest of the story.

Johnny laughed a moment, then was stone sober. Scott could see the wheels turning in his brother's head as he worked the story out.

A knock at the door saved Scott for the moment and he sprung up to answer it. Millie had brought breakfast up. 

“Oh, good,” said Johnny, “I'm famished.”

Scott gave him an odd look. “After shooting the cat so many times yesterday, I'm surprised you can eat anything.”

 Millie brought the tray to the table and unloaded the steaming plates, Scott received a full helping of salt pork, biscuits with sausage gravy and scrambled eggs. Johnny received two pieces of toast, lightly buttered and a soft-boiled egg. Both men were given a big mug of black coffee. At Johnny's questioning look, she sputtered, “It's what the doctor ordered.”

Johnny glared at Scott, who defensively said, “Don't get your back up, I'm only the nursemaid.”

Johnny turned his face back towards the chambermaid, who'd come around the table and was collecting the dirty dishes from the night before. Sassily and blushing slightly, she said, while avoiding his blue eyes, “Don't blame the cook. I only work here.” She put the tray of dirty dishes on top of the empty tray and started for the door. “Oh, and Leah will be up directly with a pot of fresh coffee.” She quickly left the room, leaving the door open.

The boys tucked into their breakfast with Johnny staring at his brother's salt pork, as Scott leisurely brought a piece to his mouth. He chewed it slowly and swallowed. “So, Johnny, tell me about Mexico.”

“Humph. Rico had me packed up and ready to leave practically before I got there.” He made a sandwich with the egg and toast, then bit into it.

“From what you said last night, it was a good thing he did.” Scott started in on the gravy covered biscuits.

“Yeah, the whole atmosphere has changed down there. Rico said some new stock holder has been nosing around, making life difficult for the workers. A lot of new people hired on and a lot of the old miners are gone.” Johnny took a sip of his coffee and made a face. “This sure doesn't taste like home.”

“Why, because it's not thick as mud, the way you make it?” Scott ate a couple strips of salt pork. He caught Johnny looking over to his plate, as if counting the pieces of meat.

“Better than the belly-wash you drink,” said Johnny.

“I happen to like my coffee weak, that's all. It took me a long time to get used to drinking that rot-gut stuff you drink, brother.”

“Well, when you're on the trail, you make do with what you have. Speakin of which, I think I was followed down to Mexico and up here.” Johnny finished his sandwich and dusted the crumbs off his hands.

Scott, concerned and frowning, “You see anyone?” He finished his eggs. There was one piece of salt pork left.

“Nope. Just a gut feeling.” Johnny picked up the spoon and started toying with it, eyeing the last strip of salt pork.

“That might explain why the Rurales were breathing down your neck so fast.”

“Could.”

“George thinks it's all part of a takeover from one particular stockholder,” informed Scott, finishing his biscuits.”

“Why? The mine's not that big of a producer. We only make enough money off it to get by. It's not like we're making money hand over fists. Besides, there's dozens of mines down in Mexico, what's so special about this one?”

“We don't know why, but he wants control. Someone has bought up all the open stock and they're putting pressure on the current stock holders to sell. Someone already tried to shoot George on the train platform, when he was out having a smoke, but Dr. Banning inadvertently saved him.”

Scott let Johnny absorb that comment, then went on with, “And Murdock swears someone pushed him out of the hayloft, though no one including him, saw anything.”

Visibly upset, Johnny threw the spoon down. His sensitive stomach clenched. The egg sandwich suddenly not agreeing with him. “Murdock fell out of the hayloft?” he asked, incensed. “He's all right isn't he?!”

“He's fine. He just pulled his back out again.” At Johnny's still angry countenance, Scott quickly went on, “He's sore, like a big old bear.” Trying to take the edge off his brother's temper, Scott handed Johnny his plate, “You want the last piece?”

Ignoring the gesture of peace, Johnny raised his voice, “No, I'm full! Why didn't someone wire me? It's been weeks since I've been home. He is my father and I had a right to know!”

“Our father,” corrected Scott, putting the plate back down and watching his brother closely. When he saw a slight smile cross Johnny's face, he added, “Murdock didn't want to distract you from your game. Especially, once you crossed the border,” placated Scott. “He figured you had enough on your plate, just staying alive and it looked like he called the tune right.”

“Yeah, he did,” agreed Johnny, taking another sip of coffee. He grimaced, “I swear, I taste ginger, kinda sweet, but kinda bitter. How's your taste?”

“Fine.” Scott picked up his mug and tossed back the rest of his coffee.

Johnny eyed his mug suspiciously. “You don't think Doc Banning is trying to drug me, do you?”

“Nah. He's a straight shooter. He'd of told you to your face if he was going to give you some medicine. Besides, the ginger was only in the tea.” But, the Paregoric would be sweet and bitter…

“I suppose.” Johnny had his doubts. It would be a long time before he'd trust anyone with his food again. But, you have to eat, so what can you do? “How much of that tea concoction did you force down my gullet last night?”

“A whole pot.”

“Maybe that's why I'm still tasting it.” Johnny got up with his mug and went to the window, opened it, tossed out the coffee, closed the window and came back to the table. He yawned long and loud.

Leah made an appearance in their doorway, holding a fresh pot of coffee and a newspaper. “Did I hear you'all talking about coffee?”

Johnny replied, “Just in time. I,” he felt a little foolish, “just threw the last cup out. I've had enough ginger to last me a lifetime.”

Frowning, Leah walked in and handed the paper to Scott, then poured them both a new cup of brew. “That's strange. Now, how would ginger get into your coffee?”

“Don't know, ma'am,” he yawned again, “but it just didn't taste right.”

“Well, given the circumstances, I can't say as if I'd blame ya for not trustin it.”

Johnny picked up the new cup, sniffed it, then took a tentative sip and smiled. “Now, this is good coffee.”

“Well, thank you kind sir. I'm glad to see you up and about. Cal's going to be thrilled.  He was really worried about you last night. At least you're not the color of my sheets any longer. You're still lookin kinda peaked under that there purple, though it's hard to tell, unless you look at the other side of that handsome face of yours. How ya feeling?”

Boy, does she remind me of Cal . “Ah, shucks, ma'am,” blushed Johnny, wondering if she was one of the women who had helped Scott last night. Wait a minute. Scott said young maids. Cal's ma is in her thirties. At least I can look her in the eyes. “I'm feelin right as rain. Mighty fine breakfast too. It was just enough.”

Scott rolled his eyes and ate the last piece of salt pork, while reading the two-sided paper.

Leah set the coffee pot down on the table, then went to work tiding up the room. She gathered up all the soiled linens and tossed them on the floor in the hall. Harriet came in with clean sheets, snuck a peak at Johnny and turned red. She quickly went to work making the bed.

Johnny, noticing the color of the maid's face, quickly turned away. He sipped his coffee and started reading the back of the paper Scott was holding up, as his brother read yesterday's news on the front.

“Anything interesting?” asked Johnny, making conversation and ignoring the maid. He drank the rest of his coffee, hoping to get rid of the sluggish feeling that was overtaking him.

“Just the happenings with the LT. Governor, the luncheon and the social they had last night.”

“This room needs airing out,” said Leah, opening the window. “Nothing like fresh air to make a room smell clean.” Peering down at the livery, she noticed two men having an argument. She stood and watched them for a moment before saying, “Cal's down at the stable taking care of your horses. I'm afraid he got a late start with his chores this morning with Tab having her kittens and all the doings last night. He'll be up in a while to feed his hamsters.” She turned back to the window.

Harriet finished the bed and made a hasty retreat out the door, picking up the soiled linen in the hallway as she went down the hall.

“That'll be fine,” replied Scott, looking up from the paper. “We're supposed to build a cage for the hamsters this morning anyways.” He started to put the newspaper down when Johnny snatched it from his hands, intently reading something on the back side, all feelings of tiredness gone.

“Doctor Stalls Gunfighter.”

Scott watched with idle detachment as Johnny read the article, until one side of his brother's face darkened in color, making the purple stand out on the other. Johnny's temper was on the rise.

Johnny stood up, practically knocking the chair over. “How can he say that?!” he ranted, angrily padding the floor in his stocking feet. Neither man had put their boots on yet.

“Say what?” asked Scott, reaching for the paper his brother still had in his hands. Scott missed when Johnny jerked it away. He had it crumpled in one hand, the other fisted as he lit into his tirade.

“Dr. Hert, that's who!” yelled Johnny. “I can't believe the gall of the man!”

Scott reached for the paper again, only to be rebuffed when Johnny started re-reading the article, as he continued to walk the floor. Scott threw his arms up in the air, giving up but, waiting for his chance.

The argument outside the window was getting louder. Leah took a new interest when she saw Cal outside the livery, holding the reins of one of the men's horses and a pack horse.

Johnny read part of the story out loud. “Dr. Hert doesn't feel he did anything wrong…that he doesn't owe a no good gunfighter or anyone else an apology…that under the circumstances, he'd do the same thing again…the two diagnosis of yellow jack and food poisoning are similar in symptoms, anyone could've made the mistake, being the gun hawk just came from Mexico…the health of the people in this town is his responsibility…that his medical ethics are above board…that the Medical Board will rule in his favor…”

“Hogwash!” growled Johnny, slamming the paper down on the table. Scott immediately seized it and started reading the narrative for himself, as his brother continued his rant.

“On and on it goes! He's going to come out smelling like a rose. If I'd of been recognized as Johnny Lancer instead of Johnny Madrid the outcome would have been totally different. What right does he have to pick and choose who or how he treats someone? He's supposed to be a doctor!” His fist smacked his other hand. “I tell you, Scott, it's the principal of the thing. I can hear Murdock talking about it right now and what he'd say…”

“Compassion and decency for your fellow man. Doesn't matter what Tom, Dick or Harry crosses your path. Shouldn't matter if they're drunk, poor, down on their luck, be it cowboy, pig farmer or a rich man, all should be treated the same…with care and respect.”

“Yes, that's exactly what Murdock would say,” agreed Scott. He tossed the paper aside and added, “It also said, Tom blames Dr. Hert for getting him fired, that he was only following the doctor / mayor's orders. Wouldn't that be an interesting conversation to hear?”

“You might just get that wish, Scott,” interrupted Leah worried and pointing out the window. “Tom and the Doc Hert are going at it in front of the livery right now and Cal is in the middle of it.”

Both Lancer men rushed to the window. Sure enough, Dr. Hert and Tom were having heated words, wildly gesturing and pushing each other back and forth. Cal stood off to the side, holding the reins of a brown bay and a pack horse loaded with supplies. Johnny stiffened when another man lead a paint horse from the stable and roughly yanked the reins out of the boy's hands.

“Did you see that?” asked Johnny, tightening his fist. There was something familiar about the cowboy with the three horses.

“Yes,” replied both Scott and Leah, who was gripping the window sill. Roy came out and called Cal's name. They both went back inside the livery.

“Scott. You got your spyglass?”

“Yes. You know I always carry it since Juniper.” He went to get it out of his saddlebags. In a few moments, he was handing it to his brother.

Johnny exchanged places with Leah and pulled out the scope to its full length. Looking through the glass, Johnny's whole countenance changed.

Scott recognized it as the Madrid stance. His heart skipped a beat. Something was wrong.

Johnny gave the glass to Scott. Recognize the guy with the horses?”

Scott brought the glass up to his eye and stared. The men were too busy mixing words to notice the spyglass. “No.” Scott hesitated a second, still spying, “Should I?”

“Yeah, brother you should…since he put a bullet in your arm.” At Scott's surprised gasp, he continued, “Davie Stryker ring any bells? I killed his brother Eli when he drew on me. Remember now?”

“When he and his father tried to steal your black stallion?” At Johnny's nod of affirmation, Scott recalled, “I was in the barn. I never saw them. And when I got shot, they were out front. I never saw them then either. Come to think of it, even when you ran them off, brother, I still never saw them.”

“Well, brother, get a good look and see this time, for he spells nothing but trouble. And wherever Davie is, his father must be close by.”

“What do you think he's doing with Tom?” asked Scott, closing the spyglass.

“I don't know, but I'm going to find out,” replied Johnny, lifting his gun belt off the bedpost and fastening it to his trim waist. He picked up a boot and put his foot in it only to feel something inside his boot. Chagrined, he pulled his foot out and turned the boot upside down, dumping all his personal effects in a pile on the bed. Leaving them, he put his boot back on with its mate.

“We're going to find out.” Scott handed the spyglass to Leah and grabbed his boots and gun belt also, putting them on.

“Leah, stay here,” ordered Scott.

Both men grabbed their hats and squared them on their heads. They left and headed down the servant's stairs. Johnny had forgotten how many steps there were, being he'd been carried up half of them yesterday. He was already feeling tired again by the time he got to the bottom. A clock on the wall at the foot of the stairs chimed seven times. Seven in the morning and I'm ready to climb back in bed. I wonder if this is what Dr. Banning meant when he said I'd feel tired for a time. He shrugged it off and followed his brother outside.

 

                                                                        ---29---

Cal had the Lancer horses out in the corral, getting some fresh air, when the brothers made the livery stable yard. Both horses came to the fence, whinnying for their master's attention. Each man gave their mount a rub on the nose and a pat on the neck.

“Miss your roommate?” asked Johnny of Barranca.

Roy came hurrying around the corral fence when the Lancers started for the back of the livery. “I'm gettin Sheriff Colter, the fight in there is escalatin.”

Johnny opened the back door of the stable and quietly stepped in with Scott behind him. The livery had emptied out since they were there last night. The arguing men had moved inside the building with Davie Stryker observing just inside the main double-doors.

The Lancers encountered Cal, holding a rake, standing between their horses' stalls. He had a big pile of soiled hay in a wheelbarrow. The smell of Johnny's illness was still faintly evident. Johnny instinctively put a hand up to his stomach and rubbed it, as if to ward off the memory, as he shied away from the smell. He still wasn't feeling up to his old self, but he'd be danged if he was going to let anyone know.

Cal, seeing Johnny on his feet gave the gunfighter a punch in the arm. “All right!” Excitement gleaming from the boy's eyes, Cal said to both brothers, as he turned back to the fight, “They're done airin' out their lungs and now they've come to blows. Doc Hert's using some kinda fancy boxin and its workin pretty good.”

The men could see blood running down from Tom's mouth as he tried to out maneuver the doctor's punches.

“You have any idea what they're fightin about?” asked Johnny, intently watching, as was Scott.

Tom took a punch in the belly and fell to the ground. Dr. Hert started stomping Tom in the ribs, (making Johnny wince) and Tom grabbed the doctor's leg, twisting it. Dr. Hert fell on top of Tom and both men rolled around on the ground, exchanging punches.

“Tom's mad. He's blamin Doc Hert for getting him fired and somebody double-crossed somebody about some rocks and money.” Cal took in a breath.

The Lancer brothers exchanged glances.

Cal caught the exchange and shrugged his shoulders. “It didn't make a lick of horse sense to me and Roy either. But, Tom sure got mad when Doc Hert said something about there goes the money out the window. Tom wanted Doc Hert to try something again, but the doc refused, saying he didn't want ta get caught and that Tom was on his own.”

“How do you know so much?” asked Scott, amazed at the information.

“I'm a kid. They forget I'm here half the time. I just blend in with the horses.”

 

The fight took a nasty turn with Tom landing in an empty stall, flat on his back. Dr. Hert, breathing hard bent over him and yelled, “You're nothing but a has-been. Get out of my town!” He turned his back and started to walk away.

“Dr. Hert!”

As the doctor turned back around, Tom drew his gun and shot him between the eyes. 

Before the dead man's body hit the ground, Johnny had his gun drawn and Cal pushed into the stall behind him. Scott also had his gun drawn and was ready to fight. Slowly, both brothers crept forward to where Tom was.

Davie Stryker pulled his gun and ducked down outside the front doors.

The horses were neighing in their stalls and pawing at the ground, disturbed by the gunshot.

Tom peeked around a stall wall and fired wildly at Johnny. The bullet pinged off a bucket sitting on a barrel.

Johnny dove into the nearest stall, coming up on his knees against the wooden wall. Scott ducked behind the rickety desk that once held Johnny's guns. Both men returned fire, missing their targets, as Tom ducked down to the floor.

Johnny shouted, “Give it up Tom, you're not getting out of this!”

“No way, Madrid!” Tom fired a few more gunshots as he got up and raced towards Davie Stryker at the main door. One bullet struck the desk, as Scott returned fire, throwing off his aim. Another splintered a stall board above Johnny's head, raining pieces of wood all over him. Dust, hay and gun smoke filled the air. Another couple bullets ripped into a grain barrel a foot from Scott's position and stopped cold in the wall.

“Cover me Scott!” yelled Johnny as he crawled out of the stall, then in a crouched position ran for Tom, tackling him, as Tom reached Stryker at the door. Both men fell down to the ground, rolling in the dirt and hay, as they pounded on each other.

Following the fight's movements with his gun, Davie Stryker tried to get a bead on Johnny. He was about to squeeze the trigger when Scott brought him up short commanding, “I wouldn't! Drop your gun!” Stryker, showing his surprise, let the weapon fall to the floor. Scott grabbed the man by the collar and held his gun to the man's head.

Johnny and Tom were evenly matched. Johnny a champion saloon fighter and Tom a mean bully who loved to fight. One was weak from his illness and the other spent from a previous fight of a few moments ago. Both men had a grudge and were determined to fight to the finish.

Scott kept a hold on Davie, while his brother had a go at Tom. He knew Johnny needed to avenge himself for what had happened yesterday. It was a matter of pride and Johnny had more than his share.

The two men fought, each giving as good as they got. Johnny was thrown into a stall wall, then turned around and rammed his shoulder into Tom's belly. Tom came up with his fist and Johnny blocked him with his left arm only to take a punch on the right side of his face.  

Scott winced and felt his brother's pain, inadvertently tightening his grip on Davie's collar. Davie whined, as he weakly struggled to get lose, in spite of the gun jammed practically in his ear.

Johnny came back with a quick upper-cut to Tom's jaw, shattering a couple of teeth.

The two combatants were breathing hard with one of them wheezing. Scott knew it was Johnny. Odd that he'd not heard his brother cough back in their room. He hoped his brother's cold wasn't going to hamper things. He didn't trust Tom not to take advantage of it. He wasn't willing to watch his brother get trounced into oblivion by the ex-deputy. He'd step in if he had to. Scott decided to wait and see which way the cat jumped first.

Johnny was more than holding his own. His anger prodded him like a sharp-edged knife to keep on fighting. Johnny's chest was on fire. The hay and dust were making it hard for him to breath. But, he was too bent on getting even to stop beating on Tom.

Johnny punched Tom for being kept in the stall against his will. He smacked him for every kick he'd received from the man and the uncaring doctor. He hit him for every insult that had been tossed at his person. He gave him a round-house punch to the jaw for the rifle butt Tom had left imprinted on his face. Worn out, but elated, the last punch was for Cal and all the boys his age who had been bullied by men like Tom. Learning to survive against bullies was one of the first steps on the road to becoming a gunfighter.

Almost unconscious, Tom fell heavily to the floor.

Doubled over and coughing, Johnny barked out, “Had enough?” He wiped his forehead and his bloody mouth on the sleeve of his once white shirt. He was exhausted.

Tom didn't reply.

“Well, no matter.” Johnny reached for Tom's arm. “You're going to jail…for the doctor's murder,” the last said with sarcasm. “Now, who's laughing?”

“Sorry to disappoint you Lancer,” came a voice out of the past.

Johnny whipped around at the same time feeling for his gun. It wasn't there. He'd dropped it on the floor when he'd tackled Tom.

“Looking for this?” asked the man, kicking Johnny's gun further away from him.

“Samuel Stryker,” whispered Johnny, still coughing and breathing hard. His chest burned and his heart almost stopped, when he realized the man had Cal by the collar of his shirt and a gun pointed at his head. The boy was trying to be brave, but Johnny could see the fear in his eyes.

“Let him go. Your quarrel is…not with him,” gasped Johnny, struggling to breathe normally and not cough.

Scott moved Davie a foot closer to his father, making sure his gun was in plain sight, as a warning to the man. “I will shoot if anything happens to the kid or my brother.”

“You boys are startin to grip me just like before. I'll be glad to wash my hands of ya soon enough! All I want is my boy and my nephew, ya beat to a pulp.”

Johnny again wiped his bloody mouth, realizing he had a split lip.  “Tom's your kin?”

“Gee,” razzed Scott, “I didn't see the family resemblance.”

“Make no never mind,” growled Sam. “I just want what's mine. Ya can have the kid in exchange.” He shook Cal by the scruff of the neck, getting his point across.

That didn't set well with the Lancer brothers. Scott cocked his gun, his trigger finger ready to fire. Johnny held his hands up to pacify the man and sidled closer to Scott, placing himself between Sam Stryker, the main door and his brother.

“All right,” said Johnny in a soft voice. “If that's the way you want it.” Stalling, he coughed. More blood ran down the crease of his mouth and dripped onto his dirty white shirt. He wiped his lip with the cuff of his sleeve and spit some bloody phlegm into the hay. 

Johnny glanced out the double front doors, noticing Stryker's men were spread out around the livery yard. They were intercepting the townsfolk as they came to have a looksee, probably brought by the earlier gunshot sounds. There were no signs of the sheriff or his deputies yet, unless they were in the back of the livery, out of sight, where Stryker must have snuck in. Johnny didn't think so. Most likely, it being early in the morning, the sheriff was holed up somewhere out of earshot, eating breakfast and drinking coffee.

Half turned away from Sam Stryker and facing Scott, Johnny caught his brother's eye with his own and subtly motioned at the door, holding up four fingers to indicate how many men he saw outside the door. The odds of their coming out of this in one piece weren't looking so good. Scott moved his gun from Davie's ear to the back of the man's jaw and angled it upwards into his throat.

“Well Lancer, what's it gonna be? Or are we gonna dilly-dally around here twiddlin our thumbs?”

Johnny knew Stryker still hated him for killing his son, Eli and wounding Davie years ago. He could feel the emotion rolling off the older man. He tried to use it as a ploy to get Cal free.

Slowly, making a half turn to face Sam Stryker, Johnny pressed, “Let the boy go. He's innocent in all this. It's me you have a grudge against. Take me as your hostage.”

Johnny also knew the Stryker gang wouldn't leave without taking at least one of them as a hostage. They'd need safe passage to get out of town and possibly protection from the posse that would follow. Tom would be a wanted man now, having murdered Dr. Hert.

Scott could see Sam Stryker hashing things out in his mind. Tom moaned as he staggered to his feet, crisscrossing his arms and holding his belly. Johnny had done a good job of working him over. The hate the man cast at his brother was violent and all consuming. There was no way Scott was going to let Johnny or Cal leave with these men.

Pippin came trotting in from the back of the stable. Sam Stryker must've left the door open. He stopped and sniffed Cal's hand, then went and stood beside Johnny. Cal gave the dog a hand signal to sit, which he did, leaning against Johnny's leg, not taking his eyes off the boy. Samuel Stryker missed the whole exchange, but Johnny hadn't. He realized Cal was waiting for him to start the dance.

The moment to act was here. Johnny could feel the hairs on the back of his neck coming to attention. He wondered if he could reach his gun in time. It was lying only a few feet away. He was going to have to gamble...

Stryker gave an order, “Tom get out there on your horse. Have the boys mount up. We're pullin out.” Gesturing with his gun at Johnny, he said, “Deal, but if you try anything, you'll be dead before you step foot outside this here door.”

Tom brushed by Johnny, elbowing him hard in his sore ribs and knocking him to the ground, close to his gun. Pippin growled and bared his teeth. Tom reached for his pistol and grumbled, “I've always hated that dog!”

Scott, still holding his weapon under Davie's jaw, forcefully moved the man aside with his hip. Maintaining his hold on Davie's collar, Scott kicked out at Tom, catching him hard in the back. Tom's shot went wild into the rafters.

At the same time, Cal suddenly pulled away from Sam Stryker, breaking the old man's hold on his shirt collar, and dropped to the ground. Quickly Cal gave a hand signal to his dog to attack Sam Stryker. Pippin lunged at the crotchety old man, chewing on his gun arm.

Johnny pulled Cal face down on the floor and covered him with his body. Keeping the boy protected, Johnny reached for his gun and picked it up.

Tom, steaming from the kick in the back, rounded on Scott and Davie, slamming into both men with his body, knocking all three of them down to the ground.

Scott, struggling to keep his grip on the gun and Davie, lost to a fist from Tom, who hit him in the side of the face. Davie wrenched free and ran out the door. Scott's gun arm was trapped under Tom's leg, who was kneeling on his ribs. He felt another blow, this time to the jaw. Stars and blackness threatened the edge of his consciousness. Tom leaned in to finish the job, when Scott punched him hard with his left fist directly in Tom's nose, breaking it. The big man reared back and howled as blood spurted all over Scott's chest.

Johnny, having just picked up his gun, heard the ruckus by the door over the growls of Pippin still chewing on Sam Stryker's arm. Keeping Cal flat on the floor, straddled between his knees, Johnny came up into a crouched position and pivoted around to where he heard the caterwauling, only to see his brother, lying in a puddle of blood.  

“Nooo!” It was an anguished sound, which was heard by all in the livery. Johnny brought his gun up and thumbed back the hammer, pointing it directly at Tom.

Scott sat up and yelled, “No Johnny! I'm all right!” He pointed at Tom, who was backing out the door, his nose still pumping blood. “I broke his nose, that's all.”

“That's all?” repeated Johnny, so relieved he felt faint.

The fracas behind Johnny was intensifying with Sam Stryker lambasting the dog with curses and trying to get free.

“Call off your dog, Cal,” ordered Johnny, standing up.

The boy whistled and gave a command, “Here boy.” Pippin instantly stopped and went over to Cal, sitting down beside him.

“Good boy,” praised Johnny, patting the dog on its head. Keeping a leery eye on Stryker, his gun pointed at the man's chest, Johnny reached down, grabbed Cal's arm and hoisted him to his feet. With a gentle push, he prodded him towards his brother, who was also on his feet, now guarding the door.

Quite a crowd of people were outside the perimeter after hearing the gunshots. Stryker's gang of men, including Tom whose nose was still bleeding, were mounted with guns drawn, holding the townsfolk back, while waiting for Sam.

Sam Stryker was a sly fellow who had lived on the lam most of his life. He knew he had the upper hand with all his men outside. “I'm walking out of here, Lancer.” Rubbing his dog bitten arm, he bent down to pick up his gun.

“Leave it,” ordered Johnny, still covering him with his Colt, not trusting him.

The old man cracked a cold smile as he slowly edged to the door. “This don't end here Lancer. You'll see. Not here. Not yet.” Reminding Johnny of another time in the distant past.

Scott, with Cal behind him, backed up from the door, letting Sam Stryker pass through. A moment later they could hear the horses galloping down the street, heading north out of town.

“What did he mean by that?” asked Scott, putting his gun away.

“Don't know,” replied Johnny, “but, he once said the same thing to Murdock, then came back looking for me and shot Walt, our unlucky foreman.”

Johnny holstered his gun. “Ya sure you're all right?” he asked, eyeing the blood all over Scott's shirt. A shiver ran down Johnny's spine reminding him of those few seconds of pure terror, when he thought his brother was dead. He would've killed Tom in cold blood if Scott had not yelled. As it was Johnny noticed the bruises on his brother's face, the cut above his eyebrow which needed stitches, that same eye, swollen and turning blue, along with the split lip, which matched his own lip. His brother's injuries made him want to beat Tom all over again.

“Yeah. You?”  Scott took stock of Johnny's pallor and exhaustion still prominent from his illness, his wheezy breathing sounds, the way he was standing nonchalantly holding his ribs and the new bruises he could see, including his knuckles which were scraped raw and bleeding from his fight with Tom.

“Yeah, I'm fine.” Johnny looked around for his hat and found both his and Scott's partially buried in a stall. He picked them up and handed Scott his hat. Holding his own hat, he wacked it against his knee, then slapped it on his head. Crossing his arms tightly around his shoulders and ducking his chin, Johnny stood there lost in thought.

Scott, trying to lighten up their mood a little, looked down at his shirt, then at Johnny's dirty, white shirt. “Yup, Teresa is going to kill us for ruining our Sunday best shirts.”

Johnny turned away not smiling. “I'm gonna check on the horses.”

After a few moments, Cal asked, “He ain't fine at all, is he?” Both Scott and Cal watched Johnny with his head tucked down, slowly walk to the end of the livery and out through the back door.

“No,” sighed Scott. “He's side-tracked about something. I think he needs some time alone.”

Roy and Sheriff Colter ran into the stable through the front doors with Dr. Banning, the LT. Governor and Leah close behind them. Leah gave a shocked cry when she saw Scott's blood splattered shirt. The lawman, also eyeing the shirt, anxiously asked, “You all right son? What in the Sam Hill happened in here?”

Scott got in a quick answer of, “Yes,” before the animated twelve-year old boy, bursting with the news, told the story.

“Ma!” shouted Cal. “Ma, George, sir, ya'll never guess what happened?” Giving them no time to answer the excited boy blurted out, “Tom killed Dr. Hert! Shot' im deader than a door nail right between the eyes!”

“What?!” yelled the sheriff. “Where?”

Cal quickly led them to the stall where Dr. Hert's body was. “See Sheriff? Deader than a mackerel he is. And that ain't all…”

Sheriff Colter checked the doctor's pulse to make sure he had passed on. Finding none, he ran a hand down his face and sighed, then stared up at the adults surrounding the body. Carefully, he listened to Cal's story with Scott making interjections when needed. When they were done, all he could do was shake his head. He wondered how he had misjudged Tom so easily when he had made him a deputy. Must be in the blood was all he could figure. He left the doctor's body in the care of the undertaker and formed up a posse to go after the Stryker gang.

                                                            ---30---

When Johnny came out to the corral, he was all balled up inside. He was having a hard time gathering his thoughts. In fact, he couldn't. He couldn't even begin to explain how he was feeling right now.

Unnerved might work. No, it's more than that. Helpless.

He couldn't get the picture of Scott, lying on the ground with all that blood, out of his mind. It would be forever etched into his memory. The anguish he had felt at that moment, frozen in time…the pain…the FEAR! The fear of losing the one person who had become a part of him.

He'd never felt anything like it before, even when he'd found Murdock lying by the stream at the South Mesa. He'd half expected something had happened to his father. But, he'd had time to prepare for the outcome when he rode to the line shack. The same with Judd Haney. He was so full of revenge he hadn't had time to mourn his father's death. Thankfully, in the end he didn't have too.

But, with Scott…with Scott it was so…so bizarre. I was right there! Only a few feet away from my brother. So easily the outcome could've been different. Scott could've really been dead.

He felt like he was going to explode into a million pieces. His stomach clawed at him, his heart rate was up and his breathing was deep and angry. Hell, he wanted to howl at the moon, but it was still early morning so, the sun would have to do. He needed to burn the breeze, to smell the air, and feel the sweat of a long, hard ride on his horse. He needed to get out of this stinkin town and clear his mind of all emotion, then come to terms with what he'd witnessed and what he was feeling.

Holding the reins, Johnny led Barranca out of the corral. Not bothering with a saddle, he barely managed to swing up onto Barranca's back with his protesting ribs. He knew it was going to be a short ride, in spite of his desires his body wasn't in any condition to be doing this. He was exhausted and sore from the fight, and yes, the food poisoning had taken the starch out of his shirt. But he needed to get away for a while. Scott will be fit to be tied, but he'll get over it. How close had I come to losing him? I never even saw it happen. One moment he was holding a gun on Davie and the next he was covered in blood. I'm the gun hawk, I should have…

Angry, he took off, heading south out of town.

 

                                                            ---31---

Scott was helping the undertaker carry the dead mayor's body to the doctor's office when Johnny rode by on Barranca bareback. Startled, he almost dropped the corpse in the street. He wondered what had his brother so tied up in knots. Whatever it was, Johnny was sideways about it. From past experience, he knew his brother had to do it on his own and if he needed Scott's advice, he'd ask.

Swearing he wouldn't worry about Johnny, Scott went upstairs to their room and cleaned up. He changed into his brown shirt, silently thanking Mary, who must've left his and Johnny's laundered clothes on the bed. He then let Dr. Banning to do a quick exam of his person and stitch the cut above his eye.

Tying off the last knot, Dr. Banning said, “You're not going to have a scar to boast about either.” After the doctor was finished, Scott watched as the medical man took out a small stone and sharpened the needle with it.

Scott said, “Doc, don't take this the wrong way, but Johnny thinks you drugged his coffee.”

“Why's he think that?” He finished sharpening the needle, cleaned it with alcohol and put it back in his bag.

“He could taste ginger in it and said it was bittersweet.”

“He didn't drink it, did he?”

“Nope, threw it out the window.”

“That sounds like your brother. Who would want to drug him besides me?”

“I don't know. Cal had said Tom and Dr. Hert were arguing about rocks and money. They could've overheard us talking about the gold ore. Dr. Hert would have access to the same kind of medicine.”

“Why just Johnny? Why wouldn't they have drugged you too if it's about the gold?”

Scott shrugged, “Again, I don't know. Maybe they see Johnny more as a threat. Though I can't imagine why.”

Both men chuckled.

Dr. Banning shook his head. “Nope, it wasn't me. When I catch up with your brother, who is still my patient, he'll be getting some medicine straight down his throat. There'll be no questions about it. I'll admit I did order breakfast for him. We need to keep him on a soft diet at least until tomorrow. When you get your gear together for the trip home, make sure you pack some dried fruit. It'll go easier on his stomach than all that hardtack.” 

The good doctor sighed, “I don't know how you're going to do it, Scott, but make him rest often. Sleep in a hotel when you can.”

“Okay, anything else?

“Nope. I really don't envy you your task though.”  Dr. Banning closed his bag and stood up. “You're good to go. I'll catch up with Johnny when he gets back. I saw him ride out.”

He watched a worried frown cross Scott's face. “If it's any comfort, Cal rode out behind him.”

Scott smiled, “That kid doesn't miss a thing. He reads Johnny like an open book.”

                                                            ---32---

Dr. Banning left, passing George in the hall. The LT. Governor came in and asked Scott if he wanted to include anything in the missive he was sending Murdock this morning.

“No, just tell him we're heading home tomorrow and we'll see him whenever we get there.”

“You want me to mention anything about the Strykers?”

“No, I've got to talk to Johnny about them first.” Scott walked over and picked up Johnny's saddlebags with the gold ore inside and handed them to the LT. Governor.

Taking the bags, George stated, “I'll transfer the rocks to a secure lockbox and bring Johnny's bags back.” Not seeing Scott's brother, he asked, “Where is Johnny?”

“Out riding.”

George, concerned, “Should he be doin that so soon?”

“I doubt it. You know Johnny. He's his own man. He does what he wants.” Scott looked down, rubbing his neck and sheepishly said, “If he's fool enough to ride a horse after a fight and everything that happened to him yesterday, I'm not going to worry about him.”

“In other words, you're giving him some time alone to sort things out and if he isn't back soon, you'll go out after him.”

Scott looked at the LT. Governor kind of aw-struck. “Maybe,” he hedged. “How'd you know?”

“Humph,” said George. “I'm not the one who was walking the floor last night.”

“He needs to be more responsible! Not just go riding off half-cocked because he's upset about something.”

“Scott, you're angry.” George put the saddlebags down on the table.

“Heck, yes I am. I have a mind to ring his neck when I catch up to him…riding a horse in his condition. PFTT.”

George smiled, “You're sounding like your father. You have more of the Lancer temper than people give you credit for.” He put his hands on Scott's shoulders, “Now listen to me. How long have I known your father?”

“A lifetime, according to Murdock.”

Chuckling, the LT. Governor let go of his shoulders and sat down in a chair. Scott sat in the other one across the table from his father's friend, a man he respected very much.

“Well, close. We came off the boat together. I'm not going to tell you anything you don't know. Johnny is cut from the same mold as Murdock. When they get hot and bothered under the collar, they have to react. Johnny's had a lot happen to him in the last twenty-four hours, not to mention the trip down to Mexico and back. He needs time to let off some steam or he's going to blow. If it takes riding to do it, so be it.”

“Who gets to pick up the pieces if he shatters?”

“That my boy would be you. After all, you are your brother's keeper.”

“That's the second time I've heard that since being here.”

“Well,” said the older man, “it's true. Now you must remember, Johnny is also your keeper.”

The LT. Governor let Scott stew about that a moment, then added, “Now, the story you and Cal told us in the stable, didn't lots of things happen?”

“Yes. You heard the story,” replied Scott a little exasperated, not wanting to go over it again.

George went on, taking no offense, “Now, Johnny left at the end of the happenings visibly upset. Correct?”

“Yes,” said Scott again, trying to see the man's point.

The LT. Governor reached down on the bed and picked up Scott's white shirt covered in blood. “Tell me again how this happened.”

“I hit Tom and broke his nose. He bled all over me.”

“How'd it feel?”

“Hitting Tom or the bleeding?”

“The blood.”

“It was warm and sticky and smelled like iron,” recalled Scott, not understanding where this was leading to.

“And what happened next?”

Sighing, “I couldn't get up for a second because it made me feel…well…faint.”

“What happened next?”

“I don't really know. There was a lot of commotion. Pippin was chewing on Stryker's arm, growling. Johnny yelled ‘no' during the fiasco.”

“How did the ‘no' sound?”

“What?”

George, asked louder this time, “How did the ‘NO' sound?”

“It was an anguished sound…like he was dying. I remember opening my eyes and sitting up. He had his gun pointed at Tom. I saw him pull the hammer back. He would've killed Tom, but I stopped him.”

“Why would he have killed Tom?”

“I don't know,” replied Scott, confused.

“Did you say anything to him?”

“There was so much noise, so much happening. Tom was carryin on, the dog was growling.”

“Think Scott! When you sat up what did you say to keep Johnny from killing Tom?”

“I think I yelled, “ No Johnny. I'm okay!”

“What did Johnny see?” George shoved the bloody shirt in front of Scott's face.

It gradually dawned on Scott. I was lying on the floor. Tom was bleeding all over me. I heard Johnny's anguished cry of ‘Nooo!'

Looking at the bloody shirt, Scott pictured what Johnny must have seen. “He thought I was dead!” Scott groaned loudly, sick to his stomach. “He saw Tom bending over me. He probably never saw the broken nose. He only saw all that…that blood.”  Scott looked at George in horror. “Johnny thought I was dead. I've got to go find him!”

“No, Scott! You're going to let him ride it out. When he comes back, then you can talk.”

“That's what had him so tore up inside. I knew something was wrong, so did Cal. I thought it was over Stryker's threats and our past history with that family. He's so dog-gone tight-lipped when he puts that Johnny Madrid persona on. I had no idea.”

“Well, now you do. Go easy on him. Seeing your brother dead on the ground could not have been easy.”

 

                                                            ---33---

 

Once out of town, Johnny let Barranca have his head. The horse ran with fleetness of foot. Johnny held on with ease. Any cowboy worth his salt could ride a horse bareback, unless you've just been in a fight and not to mention everything that had happened to him yesterday. His ribs had taken a beating in more ways than one and he found the run was going to cost him. The wind had cleared his head, but the gallop had emptied his stomach. He'd stopped Barranca in the knick-of-time to lean over and toss his breakfast.

Now, lying face down on his steed's back, Johnny moaned, “This wasn't such a good idea Barranca. Scott's going to kill me literally. How am I ever going to make it home tomorrow on horseback? I can't even sit up right now.”  

Barranca just started cropping grass, walking aimlessly where he wanted to go. Johnny just let him go, too tired to move. He thought about getting down, but then, he didn't think he had the strength to get back up. So he stayed flat on his stomach, legs wrapped around his horse's flanks and let the sun warm his back, for he was freezing from the inside out.

“If Scott saw me now, he'd put me over his knee…as if he could.” He chuckled, then sobered, “Murdock probably could.”

He briefly wondered what life growing up with his father would have been like. Oh, how he wished he could've been raised on Lancer.

Instead, here he was outside a strange, one-horse town, no water, no saddle, not even his hat for he had lost it on the road somewhere. He did have a gun, which was good, since the Strykers were around.

Tom Stryker had come close to killing his brother. He shuddered. The memory floated through his mind again. Scott! He had to come to grips with this. He had to get over the fear of losing his brother or any member of his family. Right now he felt paralyzed and not just because his head was pounding and his hands were on fire or the fact that his ribs were battered and bruised, making every breath he took in exceedingly painful.

“Barranca? I know I told you about my family, but did I ever tell you about Scott? Ya know, my blonde-haired brother who runs around with me a lot. Scott made you jump fences when we were all first introduced after coming to the ranch. But, you sure got even with him. Ya tried to buck us both off when Scott received that head wound while his grandfather was here visiting. ”

The horse continued plodding along, stopping to nibble on some fallen leaves. Shortly afterwards, he wandered over to a tree and started gnawing on the bark. 

“Whoever would've believed a Boston dandy could become a gun hawk's best friend? I'll tell you Barranca, Scott took to the Lancer ranch like a duck takes to water. He let no grass grow under his feet. Once he learned the ropes and got past the greenhorn stage, he had the men's respect and they were eatin out of his hand. As Jelly said, “He's big, proud and right.” And I'd bet my last dollar on him every time. He's book smart too and he thinks like Murdock. He's a Lancer through and through, stubborn to the end. But, most of all, he's warm and compassionate and has a heart of gold. Who else could rescue a bunch of hamsters, help some chambermaids in distress and take care of a wayward brother like me?”

He waited for the horse to answer. Barranca slurped some water from a stream he'd waded into and didn't answer.

“No one. That's right.”

The picture of Scott, again, passed through his mind. His brother, lying so still on the dirty stable floor. Tom menacingly standing over him. All the blood, covering his white Sunday shirt. The fear, clutching at his own belly. He felt cold now. So cold, he was actually shivering.

“Don't ever leave me Scott.”

Shouting this time, “DON'T EVER LEAVE ME! YA HEAR ME SCOTT?”

Then softly and broken, “Please don't leave me alone.”

He wept.    

 

After the cleansing storm of tears, a calmness came over Johnny. The warmth of his horse, the heat of the mid-morning sun, the gentle breeze, the chirping of the birds and the buzz of the bees lulled him into a relaxed state of mind, until he heard a snap of a twig. He bolted straight up on his horse, drawing his gun.

“Johnny, you're not gonna drop off that horse, are ya? Cause I don't think I can pick you up,” said Cal, sitting on an old slump-backed horse. “And what are ya doin in the middle of a hay field?”

Startled, Johnny looked around the razed field, holstering his gun.

“Barranca must have wandered in here when I wasn't lookin.” Odd, last I remembered, we were in the stream. I didn't fall asleep, did I? Curse that food poisoning.   “Barranca, why'd ya do a tom-foolery thing like that?”

Cal handed Johnny his hat he found stuck to a picker bush by the road and said, “Yeah right, Johnny. Blame your poor horse. Who's stretchin the truth now? You were dozin. I watched ya for a while.”

Feeling foolish, Johnny squared his hat and said, “Okay, ya caught me nappin. Can't a guy get a little bit of extra rest once in a while?” He cleared his throat. It felt like he'd swallowed a desert full of sand.

“Not out here, Johnny. Ya being a gunfighter and all should know better. A guy can get bush-wacked real easy and just be dead meat in the middle of the road.”

“Yeah, Cal. I know you're right.”

Checking out Cal's old horse, Johnny asked, “Where'd ya get this old crow-bait?” He barked a cough.

“That's his name, Crowbait. Roy gave'em to me when some cowboy left im in the livery.”

Shaking his head, Johnny cleared his throat, then inquired, “Cal, how many animal friends do you got?”

“Hmm, I have a dove, named Doris, that don't fly right. She hangs out at the house. And a banny-rooster who can't crow in the morning. He only crows at night. Some sodbuster was gonna stew em up, but ma saved him. The sodbuster said he needed his sleep at night.”

Johnny, trying not to laugh, “I hate to ask, but what's his name?” Another barky cough followed, making his eyes water.

“Chuck, because he can't cluck.”

Johnny busted out laughing, “Cal, I love your reasoning.”

Cal didn't return the laughter. He was fixated on watching Johnny cough. He noticed the repetitious clearing of the throat, the watery eyes and the dried tears on his purple face. “Johnny, ya havin trouble with this here hay, like ya did in the livery?”

“Yeah, I think so. We'd better get outta here.”

They walked their horses to the stream that ran parallel between the field and the road, crossing over. Turning the horses towards town, Cal said, “I see your right face matches your left face now. Does it hurt?”

“Some.”

“I see'd ya cryin.”

“It's just from the hay, Cal” He didn't want to go into it, especially with a twelve-year old boy.

“I heard your yell. Its how I found ya.”

Johnny didn't say anything, just ducked his head. He could feel the wheezing in his chest, it was getting tighter.

“I seen his shirt. Scott scared me too. Ya know, he's a good brother.”

“Yeah, the best.”

A pause, then, “My pa looked just like that after the horse got im.”

Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt. “Cal, you were there when your pa died?”

“Ah, huh. I was little at the time. I wandered into some wild horse's stall. My pa saved me by pushin me outta the way.”

Johnny could only imagine.

“You and Scott gotta quit scarin each other. Ma said he walked the floor most of the night. That he was really worried about ya. And when ya had that seizure and they dunked ya in that tub, Scott's face was whiter than yours.”

“I had a…seizure?” wheezed Johnny.

“Yeah from the heat. Ma said your fever got too high and that bodies do that sometimes.”

Why didn't…Scott tell me?”

“Probably cause he didn't want ya doin what ya doin right now.”

“What's that?”

“Turnin red under the purple. He didn't want ya to be embarrassed and the women promised not to tell.”

“What women?”

“I can't tell.”

“CAL! Ya told this much…spit it out.”

Big sigh. “Well, I didna promise so, Mary, Millie and Harriet…and ma.”

“Your ma…saw me?” Johnny's face turned beet red, despite the purple bruises.

“Yeah, she said its not like she'd never seen a man before, after all, that's how she got me.”

Johnny really started coughing after that, whether from exposure to the hay or Cal's comment, the boy couldn't tell.

                                                            ---34---

 

Scott found himself on the hotel's front porch, sitting in a rocker drinking coffee and waiting for his brother's return. He tried to finish his book, but found his mind drifting. He knew Johnny wouldn't ride far. He's got to be hurting pretty bad by now. I should've gone after him, but I know he'd be livid. I'm glad Cal went after him. He's the one person who could get away with corralling Johnny, besides Murdock, then again, they've had some pretty wild fights themselves. Once again, he wished his father was there. Thinking of his father made him think of home and how they were going to get there.

The Stryker's had ridden north. That could prove a problem for when they headed home in the morning. When he rode into Uppity, Scott had used the same route Murdock and sons had used to rescue Teresa from her evil stepfather. It was the shortest and most direct way home. He wondered what Sam Stryker had meant about washing his hands of the Lancers and he worried about the comment of it's not over . Was there more to come? Would they lay and wait in an ambush for them? We'll have to be on our toes every inch of the way home.

The question was, thought Scott, Would Johnny be up to the long ride home? He only has one day to recuperate from the food poisoning and look at him now, out riding Barranca, bareback no less. Doc Banning said it could take weeks before he felt like his old self. Scott already knew Johnny would never level with him on how he felt, whether it was good or bad. He'd fall off his horse first, before he'd ever admit to being dragged out.  He snickered to himself. If only Johnny could've seen the look on his face, when I told Sheriff Colter that excuse. Scott wiggled his toes, still sore from when Johnny had stepped on his foot.

The LT. Governor had offered the use of his private railroad car. Said there was plenty of room. Johnny could get the extra rest he needed and the horses would have a comfy stall in the stock-car while traveling in style. The only problem was, the LT. Governor was on the campaign trail and it would take double the time to get back to Stockton. Then, they'd still have to ride home from there to Morro Coyo. Besides, Johnny hates boxed in places, so the train is probably out. I've got to come up with a plan for the way home and I've got to be sneaky about it. Scott smiled, Well Johnny, we'll see how proud of me you are by the time we get home.

Johnny rounded the corner on Barranca with Cal beside him riding an old horse. Scott marveled at how quickly the boy had found his brother. I'm going to miss that kid when we leave. Which reminded Scott, he needed building materials to make a hamster cage.  He went back inside the hotel before Johnny could spot him. On his way he by-passed the desk, noticing Mr. Becket was conspicuously absent.

 

                                                            ---35---

 

Scott walked through the bar, and nodded at the LT. Governor and Dr. Banning who were just settling down to breakfast, on his way to the back stairs. As Scott came out of the kitchen, Cal came barreling into Scott from the backdoor porch.

“Scott!” The boy was out of breath from running. “Johnny got into a hayfield…He can't breathe! He…can't breathe at all!”

“Where is he?”

“Out by the corral.”

“Get Doc Banning. He's in the bar.”

Cal took off through the kitchen and Scott raced out the door to the corral. Johnny was still on Barranca, bent over double with one hand rubbing his chest and persistently coughing. He had one leg over the fence rail and was trying to swing the other off Barranca's back when Scott reached him. Immediately, Scott encircled Johnny's waist with his arm and pulled him the rest of the way off the horse, knocking his brother's hat off. Putting one of Johnny's arms around his neck, Scott quickly walked his brother to the back door of the hotel, where they were met by George, Doc Banning and Cal. George put Johnny's other arm around his neck and they started towards the stairs when Dr. Banning ordered, “No, to the kitchen.”

All three men and Cal hurried into the kitchen with Dr. Banning looking around for what he needed. Spying the woodstove with a big pot of boiling water used for various tasks, among a few other kettles with food stuff, he motioned for the men to bring Johnny over to it. George relinquished his position under Johnny's arm as Doc Banning reached up and put his hand behind Johnny's neck, bending him towards the steaming pot of boiling water.

“Breathe!” the doctor ordered. “Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose.”

 Johnny closed his eyes against the steam and did as bid. He didn't have a choice with the viselike grip the doctor had on his neck. He coughed as he breathed.

“Deep breaths. Keep breathing! I think you're having an allergic reaction.”

“Never had…trouble…with hay before…just itchiness.”

“You can have an allergy a long time before it becomes apparent. Something triggered it. Probably being stuck in that stall all that time. You were down in the hay crawling around.”

Pulling out his room key from his pants pocket, Dr. Banning called, “Cal.” He handed the boy his key. “Get my medical bag. Hurry!”

Cal took off to do the doctor's bidding, running into his mother on the stairs. “Johnny's in the kitchen, he can't breathe.”

“Oh, dear, what now? That poor boy,” said Leah, as her son ran up the steps.

She went into the kitchen and found it quiet as a tomb with all the workers gathered around the men, watching Johnny struggling to breathe into a pot of boiling water.

Johnny's coughs were barky and continuous. His chest hurt from the exertion. The fight with Tom probably hadn't helped. He was hot from the steam and his eyes were watering. He could feel Scott's strong grip on his arm holding him up, and was comforted by it. Dr. Banning finally let go of his neck and he turned to get away from the heat.

“No Johnny. Stay there. Keep breathing. Where in tarnation is Cal?”

“Right here,” piped up Cal, hefting the medical bag onto the counter.

Dr. Banning opened it and pulled out a bottle Scott recognized from last night. Paregoric. Looks like Johnny's getting that dose straight down the throat just like the doctor said he would.   Dr. Banning pulled out the cork and Leah quickly handed him a spoon. Measuring out the dose, he turned to Johnny.

“Now, Johnny, I want you to listen to me. I swear in front of everyone in this kitchen, I did not drug your coffee this morning. But, I am going to give you this medicine, right now, which is going to help you breathe a lot better. It's also going to make you sleep. Understand?”

His eyes closed from the flowing steam, Johnny turned towards the doctor to protest, “Doc, I don't…gulp.” He made an awful face and swallowed.

Scott put a cup of tea he had found on the counter to Johnny's mouth and said, “Drink, brother.”

Johnny took a swig and made an even worse face. “Yuck, ginger!” He coughed even more.

Dr. Banning put his hand back on Johnny's neck and bent him back over the boiling water. “Keep breathing, like I told you. It should start to get better.” He released his hold on Johnny's neck and silently counted out the respirations, while timing them by his watch in his other hand.

“Your breathing is starting to slow down.” The doctor took out his stethoscope and listened to Johnny's lungs and heart, moving it around his back and chest. 

Johnny was starting to wear out. It had been a long morning. He heard the clock in the hall chime eleven times. Have I really only been up five hours? Impossible. His cough was lessening and the tightness in his chest was easing. He could breathe out of his nose now and was able to smell the cabbage and onions in the next pot over . Lunch possibly ? He felt Dr. Banning's fingers skimming his back, checking out his ribs, asking if this hurt or that hurt. Johnny couldn't hold still and squirmed when the doctor touched his left side. Tom had taken great pleasure in punching him in the ribs during the fight.

“Sorry Johnny, I don't mean to hurt you. I just need to find out how your ribs are. I think they're just badly bruised, but I'll know more when I get you upstairs.” He did another set of vitals and seemed satisfied. “Just a bit longer and we'll be done.”

Millie, the cook, walked up to the doctor and handed him a bottle of medicine. “Doctor, this was left on the counter this morning.”

Dr. Banning took the bottle and frowned. “This isn't mine.” He uncorked it and smelled the contents. “Paregoric.” He put the cork back in the bottle. “This isn't mine. This bottle is round and mine is square.” He held up the bottle he'd just dosed Johnny with. It was indeed a square, blue bottle. “Where did you find the round bottle?”

“It was by the Lancer's coffee cups this morning,” replied the cook.

Leah asked, “Did you see anyone in the kitchen who didn't belong here?”

“It's sometimes hard to tell. People pass through here all the time on their way to the back door or upstairs.”

“Think Mille,” added Scott. “Anyone you usually don't see pass by here.”

“Well, come to think of it, Dr. Hert had walked through this morning. I just figured he was going to see a patient and took the back way up.”

Johnny lifted his head from the pot and wiped his face with his sleeve. His patience was at the end. “I'm done with this. I'm starting to feel like part of lunch.” He grabbed the medicine bottle off the counter, pulled the cork and sniffed it. “So, this is what was in my coffee this morning?”

“Evidently,” said Scott.

“Why not yours?' Johnny asked his brother, putting the bottle back on the counter.

Scott shrugged and George suggested, “Maybe he got interrupted. Maybe it was meant for both of you.”

Millie gasped, “Ya know, I do remember Dr. Hert being by those cups. He was sorta upset when I went to pour the coffee in them. Then, I put em on the tray and took em straight up to you guys with your breakfast, remember?”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, remembering her red face. She'd been sassy and had hidden her embarrassment better than Harriet. He looked her in the eyes and she instantly dropped hers, blushing.

Scott socked him in the arm.

“What did you do with the coffee or did you drink it?” asked George, oblivious.

“Tasted terrible, so I threw it out the window,” replied Johnny, weaving on his feet and staring at his brother while rubbing his shoulder Scott had punched.

“Sounds like you,” said George, smiling and winking at Scott.

“Money out the window,” repeated Cal. “Ya think Doc Hert meant since no one drank the coffee that was money out the window?”

“Not money,” said Scott. “The gold ore.”

“Gold?” said Cal. “Real gold?”

“Yes,” said Scott. “You, my boy, carried the gold rocks in yourself. They were in Johnny's saddlebags.”

“Oh WOW! Did ya hear that ma?”

“Yes, Cal,” laughed Leah, along with the men.

“Let me get this straight,” said the LT. Governor. “After the fiasco in the livery with Johnny, Dr. Hert and Tom had lost face with the community. The doctor possibly losing his license and the deputy lost his job. Both needed money and were in cahoots with each other to get the gold ore.  Dr. Hert tried to drug your coffee, but, failed, only getting one cup because he was interrupted. Johnny threw out the cup that was spiked. So, both Lancers were wide awake and on their feet, one being a gunfighter. Tom was leaving with his kin, the Strykers, and needed the money. He thought Dr. Hert double-crossed him, picked a fight and shot him.”

“That sounds about right,” agreed Scott. “What people don't do for money?”

“How'd they know about the gold? I never told them or anyone I was carrying those rocks,” said Johnny, leaning against the counter. “They were hidden in plain sight the whole time I was in that stall. If Tom would have found them, they would've taken them then.”

“But, they were upright citizens, then,” added Scott. “They had jobs, money and prestige. They didn't need the gold until after Johnny was found in the stall and their ill treatment became apparent. Maybe Dr. Hert knew he didn't have a leg to stand on and he thought he really was going to lose his license.”

Leah interjected, “And the newspaper article was all bluster to make Dr. Hert look good to the citizens.”

“It sure got Johnny going,” teased Scott. “He was all fired up.”

Scott got a heated look from his brother.

“I think we slipped up,” said Dr. Banning. “We were talking about the ore yesterday in the bar. Remember Scott? You were worried about where Johnny was and George said, “Johnny Madrid can take care of himself.”

Scott, turning a little red in the face, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Johnny said, “I'm going up to our room.” He made his way to the back stairs, skimming the walls with his shoulder as he went, using them for support. He heard the LT. Guv make a comment, “You know, now that I think about it, that red-headed deputy had supper at the bar when we were talking last night…”

Leah commented, “Johnny looks totally washed out.”

Johnny made it to the bottom of the steps and looked up at the long stairway. Sighing, he said to himself, “It had to be the fourth floor.” Grabbing the handrail, he put one weary foot on the first step, when Scott came up beside him and supported his other arm.

Johnny leaned into his brother. “I…I don't think I can make it on my own.”

“I know, that's why you have me.”

Together they climbed the stairs.

 

                                                            ---36---

 

Johnny was asleep the moment his head touched the pillow. Scott pulled his brother's boots off and stuffed his personal effects, which were still on the bed, back into his boots, dropping them on the floor. Next, he unbuckled Johnny's gun belt, sliding it out from under his hips and putting it on the bed post. Then, he lifted the Colt out of the holster and tucked it under his sibling's pillow.

“Well, he's out,” said Scott to Dr. Banning, who had followed them up to their room.

“Your brother has more gumption than both of us put together,” said Banning, sitting down on Johnny's bed and unbuttoning the dirty, white shirt. “I can't believe he made it up all those steps.”

“Yeah, I know,” proudly stated Scott.

“Let's get this exam done and see how much damage Tom did during the fight, so we can let him sleep.”

Dr. Banning opened the shirt and pulled it back, taking a look at Johnny's ribs. He whistled and Scott elbowed him lightly in the shoulder.

“Will you stop doing that? It makes my stomach hurt.”

A grunt from the doctor, “Well it should, take a look at these bruises.”

Scott did and all he saw was dark purple. “Looks like they match his face.”

With a small smile on his lips from Scott's gest, Dr. Banning ran his fingers expertly over the ribs, pointing out the imprints on Johnny's skin. “Here's the boot heel from Tom. These three are knuckle impressions and according to Cal, this is where he was elbowed. Tom seemed to focus on this particular area, probably because he knew your brother was hurting there.”

“Yeah, he would,” agreed Scott, “since he's the one who originally kicked him there.”

The doctor turned Johnny more on his right side and looked at his back. “Now here are the shoe imprints from Dr. Hert and this must be where he was slammed into something on the wall.” He gently, but thoroughly examined each rib, pushing and prodding, inadvertently bringing moans from his patient.  When he was done, he got up and stood at the window, overlooking the livery.

“Scott, he's never going to be able to sit a horse tomorrow. If he hadn't been in a fight today he might have made it with me wrapping his ribs.”

“I was afraid of that.” Scott walked around the room once. “What about renting a buggy?”

“You could, but it's the jarring motion that will do him in.”

“He doesn't have any broken bones, does he?”

“None that I can tell. He could very easily have some cracked ribs. There's no way to tell. But, his breathing is good. He has to stay away from hay for a while. But, he's not ready to go home.”

Scott blanched. “What are you exactly saying?”

Dr. Banning scratched the back of his head and turned around. “I'm saying he was deathly sick yesterday. He's weak and exhausted. He has a cold that is impeding things. He didn't need the added stress of this morning. He's been through a lot. Even if I wrap his ribs, it's a long trip home. I don't think he's up to it.”

 “What do you suggest?”

“Either wait a few days for him to recover or rail it with George and I.” Dr. Banning lit up a cigar. “It'll take about the same amount of time, either way.”

“Johnny hates closed in places.”

“Scott, the LT. Governor is campaigning for the Governor. Because of that we have the Governor's personal Pullman car. It big and luxurious. There's plenty of sleeping berths and the food is excellent. It doesn't even feel like you're on a train. I think Johnny could tolerate it for a few days.”

“Okay, I'll talk it over with Johnny when he wakes up. What time are you leaving?”

“Well, we were scheduled to leave this evening, but George had the switchyard pull our cars to the side track until tomorrow.”

“Why was that?”

“Hmm, he wants to go a courtin with Cal's mother.”

“Leah,” smiled Scott. “He couldn't have picked a nicer woman.”

                                                            ***

                                               

Despite the fact his brother and Dr. Banning thought he was asleep, Johnny could hear everything that had been said between them. He had learned years ago, just by listening, you could pick up a lot of information. He had felt the physical exam the doctor had performed on his person, but was too tired to care. The medicine finally worked its magic and pulled him into a deep restful sleep.

 

                                                            ---37---

 

For Scott the afternoon passed by pleasantly enough. Millie brought his lunch, a big bowl of home-made cabbage soup with fresh vegetables and a loaf of bread, still hot from the oven. He ate while he read his book by Emerson, finishing it an hour later.

Harriet came in and collected his dirty dishes and asked if he wanted a rematch on the checker game. Scott agreed to meet her later in the evening.

Mary brought Scott his white shirt, smiling broadly when he noticed she'd gotten the blood stains out.

“How'd you ever get it clean?” asked Scott.

“Soap, lye, lots of elbow grease and a little bottle of blue,” replied the pleased maid. She walked over to Johnny's bed. “How's he doing?” she asked, turning red.

Scott had to grin. Johnny had been right. The maids couldn't look at him without blushing.

“He's due to wake up pretty soon. Knowing Johnny, he can probably hear you by now.”

“No. I don't want to disturb his rest.” Mary quickly turned towards the door and fled the room.

Scott could have sworn he saw his brother smirk.

Quite a while later, the LT. Governor stopped in with a stony countenance on his face and gave Scott a telegram from Murdock, which had arrived with his own correspondence. The message was short as usual. Imperative' boys take train home. Do not come by north passage. ML.

Scott frowned, “What do you think he means by that? And why did he send it to you and not us?”

“My guess, Murdock wanted to make sure you received the message. My correspondence is secure. There must be some difficulties back home.”

Hearing that statement, Johnny sat up in bed, groaning loudly when he forgot about his ribs.

“We need to go home, now!” He started to get out of bed, but George grabbed his shoulders and held him in place.

“No Johnny. You're staying right here.” Johnny tried to get up again, but George held him in place, surprising Johnny with his strength. “Listen son, I know I'm not Murdock, but I'm just as tough a bird as he is. Murdock's entrusted your safety with me by sending me that wire and come hell or high water, you are not leaving here until tomorrow, when we get on that train. Do you hear me?”

Johnny tried to intimidate him with his Madrid stare, but it didn't work.

George gave Johnny the Murdock stare and said, “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” answered Johnny and ducked his head.

“Good. I want your word on it.”

“Boy, you are a tough old bird LT. Guv. You sound just like Murdock too.”

“Johnny,” warned Scott, in a perturbed voice.

“Okay, you have my word, but I still think we need to go home now.”

“Johnny, you are your father all over again.” George pointed to the wire Scott was holding, “but know this, Murdock used the word imperative' . That was an order, not a request he made.”

“Okay, I get it.” Johnny got up, looking troubled, and sauntered down the hall holding his ribs.

“Johnny's not himself. I'm…” George held his hand up cutting Scott off. “No he's not. I see fear in his eyes. This is one time he can't hide it under his Johnny Madrid guise. What happened to you and him this morning has rocked him to his core. It's going to take time. Remember what I told you earlier.”

Scott silently nodded.

“Well, I'm taking a lady out riding in a few minutes. I'd better get going.” With that, the LT. Governor left.

 

Johnny went and used the water closet, then went into the bathing room and washed up at the dry sink. He soaked the dried blood off his knuckles and hands, still present from his fight with Tom. The blood bothered him immensely, bringing back the memory of Scott. Now Murdock's having difficulties. Is it something to do with him falling out of the hayloft? The Sonora Lancer mine? The unknown stockholder who's creating all kinds of havoc with his takeover scheme? Why does Murdock want us to take the train home? Did he hear about the Stryker gang all ready? Impossible. He looked up at the ceiling and pleaded , Please, I can't lose them.

Returning to their room, Johnny discovered Scott was not there. The window was still open from the morning, letting in a warm breeze. He laid back down on the bed and listened to the sounds of a small town. Roy banging on his anvil, people talking, horses trotting, harnesses jingling, wagons passing under their bedroom window. Soon his eyes grew heavy and he fell back to sleep.

When Johnny opened his eyes again, Scott and Cal were building a hamster cage on the table. He could hear a strange whirling sound coming from the box on the dresser. Scott must have built some kind of a wheel for the hamsters to run on. He shamelessly listened in on their conversation.

“George is sparkin with my ma. He took her ridin this afternoon. Bought er flowers and everything.”

“Oh?” smiled Scott, nailing two pieces of wood together.

“Last night, while we were waitin for Tab to pop her kittens out, George asked ma if she'd like to work for him. Seems he needs a new house-keepin person at his ranch.”

“Really?” said Scott.

“Yeah, we'd have our own house and George said I could pick out a horse!”

“You know, George's ranch is only a stone's throw away from the Lancer ranch.”

“It…is?” exclaimed Cal, his eyes getting big.

“Well, maybe a day's ride.”

“Wow! We could visit a lot, huh?”

“That we could,” agreed Scott, glancing over to his brother. He knew he wasn't sleeping. He had heard his breathing change a few minutes ago. The quiet snores had stopped.

“What's it like?” asked Cal, gluing four thin slats of wood together to make a tunnel for his critters.

“Like?” questioned Scott, nailing another couple of boards.

“Yeah, what's his ranch look like? Is it big or small? ”

Scott proudly smiled, “Similar to Lancer, the most beautiful place in the world.”

“So, George's ranch is second in being a beauty?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“Do ya think he'll let me bring my pets?” asked Cal, earnestly.

“I don't see why not. How many pets do you have?”

There was a chuckle from the bed where Johnny was resting.

“Scott! Johnny's doin it again!”

“Doing what?” asked Scott, startled and hitting his thumb with the hammer.

“Sleepin with his ears open!”

 

A little while later, Leah came in, floating on air. “Hi boys. George requested that you all, including you Cal, meet him at six for supper.” She turned and floated back out the door.

“Dang,” exclaimed Cal. “She got sparked good!”

Scott smiled, for he'd finally seen someone with roses on her cheeks. 

---38--- 

Supper was a gala affair.  George and Leah made the announcement that she had accepted his job offer. She and Cal would be moving to his ranch in a month. Pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy with all the trimmings were on the menu. Millie served the food. Harriet served the beer, which flowed round after round with Cal and Johnny drinking sarsaparilla, for Johnny didn't think his stomach could handle beer yet. To Johnny's annoyance, he could only eat half the portions on his plate, slipping the other half to Pippin, the ever faithful dog, laying between his feet.

Peach cobbler was served with a glass of wine and Dr. Banning gave the toast, “To friends who used to be strangers. May we have many more interesting times together.”

 

Everyone agreed it was a perfect ending to a hectic last couple of days. Johnny excused himself and started for their room. Scott stayed and helped Harriet set up the checker board. He needed to redeem himself from losing so badly last night. 

                                                            ---39--- 

Johnny, feeling much better after the naps he had taken in the afternoon, made his way up all four flights of stairs. It was a slow process with his ribs reminding him of their abuse. Upon entering the hallway it was dark and quiet, being all the maids were downstairs. Reaching the end of the hall where their room was, he put his hand on the knob, only to find the door slightly ajar.

Odd? I know I shut and locked the door after I changed into my clean clothes.

Ready to push open the door, he reached for his Colt, which wasn't there…again. He instantly recalled the hotel's policy of no guns in the bar or dining rooms enforced by the saloon's burley lookout with the four-gage. Silent sigh. Okay, Johnny next plan of action. Barge in or wait till he comes out? No gun, sore ribs. He decided to wait.

Johnny stood against the wall on the opposite side of the doorknob, where he'd have the most advantage with the element of surprise. He could hear the intruder bumping around in their room. What can he be looking for? The gold rocks are half way to the state's geologist by now and who knows where else George sent some samples. He'd been out on Barranca when the LT. Guv had collected them, so he'd missed the opportunity to ask. Scott hadn't told him much except the gold ore was gone. There's nothing else of value in our room. All our personal stuff is in our coat pockets. Our guns are all that's left and Cal's hamsters. Surely, he doesn't want the critters?

He didn't have long to wait. The door slowly opened. A shadowy person dressed in dark clothing crept out with a gun in his hand, then turned to shut the door.

Johnny reached around with his left arm and hooked the guy's neck at the same time, latching onto the gun in the man's right hand. The interloper's knee hit the door, knocking it against the wall, giving the hallway some shadowy light from the streetlights below. The intruder, being taller than Johnny, struggled to get loose. He brought his left elbow back and caught Johnny in his ribs, forcing Johnny to lose his grip around the man's neck. Johnny, being a scrapper, jumped on the man's back, locking his legs around the intruder's hips. He worked his left hand around the man's neck and over to the gun where his right hand was, to reinforce his hold on the gun, which the thief refused to give up.

The robber wrestled to get loose. He twisted and turned his back, trying to throw Johnny off. Johnny held on, tightening his legs around the interloper's waist and yelled, “Let her buck!”

The man bucked and backed up hard against the wall, trying to force Johnny off. Pain lanced through Johnny's back, radiating through his ribs. Johnny's left hand lost the grip on the gun, forcing him to grab the back of the man's collar. The intruder tightened his hold on the gun, managing to get the hammer down and forced the gun up while twisting and slamming Johnny against the wall again.

More pain shot through Johnny's back and ribs. Hanging onto the robber's collar, Johnny pulled back with all his strength choking the man as the intruder tried to pin Johnny against the wall, thereby exerting pressure on the gun hand, which pulled the trigger. The bullet went wild through the window of an open door, echoing throughout the hotel.

Johnny, sweating profusely, short of breath, in pain and running out of steam, made one last ditch effort to wrest the gun away from the intruder. He twisted the man's collar from behind, thereby cutting off his air and dug his nails into the bad guy's wrist, eliciting pain in the intruder's hand. The robber's hand finally went lax and Johnny pulled the gun free, hitting the man on the side of the head with the weapon and knocking him out. Both men slid down the wall.

 

Scott, still playing checkers, and the people in the bar, heard the shot. Everyone looked in the direction where the noise had come from.

The barkeep said, “That sounded like it came from the back stairway.”

Scott stood up and took off like a shot himself, yelling to George and Dr. Banning, who were playing Faro, “I know that's Johnny! I just know it!”

The men followed Scott, along with everyone else in the bar, including the lookout with the four- gage. In a matter of seconds they reached the fourth floor, flung open the door and charged down the hall with Scott yelling, “Johnny!”

The hallway was in shadows. The only light was coming from a broken window from the room at the end of the hall, their room. Scott almost ran right over his brother when he neared their doorway.

Johnny gasped out just in time, “Here Scott.”

The lookout ordered, “Someone get these sconces lit!”

Scott's eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, when he squatted down next to his brother, who was straddling a man's back on the floor. Johnny was holding a gun to the man's head. “What the devil is going on?”

Johnny greeted him by putting his arm around Scott's neck and giving him a squeeze with his other arm.

The hallway was slowly becoming illuminated. Scott could plainly see his brother now. He couldn't tell who he was sitting on. Everyone was gathered around them. Scott took the gun away from Johnny and handed it to the lookout, who was in charge. After all, he was the hotel's enforcer.

Johnny, with a crooked grin and overly bright eyes replied, “Just a little bronc bustin.”

Cal ran up to Johnny and knelt down on the other side of him. “Johnny! Are ya all right?”

Johnny mussed up Cal's hair and said, “Fine, but I sure could use a shot of Red Eye.”

“Whiskey? Yuck! I tried it once and bout burnt my tongue off,” complained Cal, earning an angry look from his mother.

“Try it again and I'll give you a whoopin,” promised Johnny.

“No,” corrected George, “I'll be doing the switchin.” He grinned and put his arm around Leah.

“Ah shucks, you guys ain't any fun,” grumbled Cal.

The man underneath Johnny began stirring and tried to sit up. Scott grabbed his brother by his upper arms and helped him to his feet.

There was a gasp from more than one person as the man on the floor sat up.

Mr. Becket.

Pointing at Johnny, Becket demanded, “I want that man arrested. He attacked me!”

“Mr. Becket,” said Johnny, “you are sorely vexing my patience.” Johnny bent down and picked up Scott's saddlebags, which were identical to his, from in front of their room's doorway. “I believe you dropped these when you snuck out of our room.”

“I did not sneak,” protested Becket, as haughty as ever.

“Oh no,” protested Johnny. “What do you call snoopin around a room, which isn't yours, in the dark and comin out with a gun in your hand and saddlebags belonging to my brother?”

“Smuggled goods.”

“What are you talking about Becket?” asked Scott, confused.

“You should know, you were in on it from the beginning. You and our esteemed LT. Governor.”

“Are you talking about the gold ore?” asked George, thinking there couldn't be anything else.

Mr. Becket nodded his head, “Affirmative.” He climbed to his feet and leaned against the opposite wall for support.

“Whew,” whispered Scott, “for a minute there I thought he was talking about the hamsters.” He got a giggle from Cal.

Mr. Becket in a very soft voice, smugly said, “The gold rocks are not sorely yours.”

“Wait a minute. Those rocks I bout got killed for came from the Sonora Lancer mine…OUR mine!” growled Johnny.

“Exactly,” said Becket. “But 49% of those same rocks belongs to another stock holder. You stole them without his precise permission.”

“You are plum loco Becket,” yelled Johnny. “I'm going to take you down again and beat some sense into your head.” He started towards Becket when Scott grabbed his brother around the waist and held him back.

Coldly, George asked, “Just who is this stockholder?”

“He wishes to remain anonymous for now. In time, all things will become clear.”

“How do you know so much?” asked Dr. Banning, speaking for the first time.

“A man approached me from the State Department. He enlisted my help, stating gold ore was being transported across the Mexican border illegally.” He looked at Johnny. “That would be what you carried in your saddlebags? Correct?”

No one answered. Becket went on. “I want that gold as evidence. Then, I'm going to have you, Johnny Madrid, arrested for securities fraud and transported back to Mexico, for stealing that gold.”

“You can't do that,” protested Scott. “He's an American citizen.” Turning to George, he asked, “Right, Sir?”

“Johnny is going nowhere!” The LT. Governor stated in an ice cold voice. “That ore is 51% ours. We have control of the stock and mine. As long as he gets his share of the money, he has no say. We are only having an American geologist assay the gold to find its true value. If he wants his cut, he can have it after we find out its net worth.”

“I don't think that will satisfy him. He doesn't trust any of his fellow stock holders not to cheat him. That is why the State Department is now involved.”

“So,” asked Dr. Banning, “why did they come to you?”

“Why, because I run this hotel. I know everything that goes on in it. Everything that comes in and goes out of it.”

“Not everything,” murmured Scott, under his breath.

“Becket, you don't have any proof,” snarled Johnny. “In fact, I'd like to see these rocks before I tear your head off.”

“Why, they're right here,” answered Becket, kicking the saddlebags.

Scott said, “Be my guest. Open them!”

“Don't mind if I do,” countered Becket, bending down and unfastening the flap. Everyone gathered around waiting to see what he'd find.

Mr. Becket, astonished, “No, this can't be right.” He pulled out two of Scott's thick books, one by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mark Twain's, Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

“I'm so put out by you, Mr. Becket,” scolded Scott. “How could you ever think we'd stoop so low as to steal gold ore from our own mine?”

“Wait a minute,” cried Becket. “There's two saddlebags in your room.”

George requested, “Johnny, go get the other one.”

“It's none of his busy-body's business what's in my bags,” protested Johnny.

“Appease me, Johnny.”

“Well, okay.” He went in the room and returned in a couple seconds. “Here ya go, Becket,” Johnny dropped the bags on the floor. A thought came to mind, “You're the one who tried to sneak into our room last night.”

Not denying the accusation, Mr. Becket started pulling things out half hazard from the saddlebags. First he pulled out a Bowie knife, then a box of wooden matches wrapped in oil cloth, ammunition for Johnny's Colt and Winchester rifle, whiskey, dried fruit, jerky, hard tack and air tights of fruits and beans.  

“Shucks,” said Johnny sarcastically, “not a rock to be found.” Looking at the LT. Guv he asked, “Can I scrape my knuckles across his jaw now?”

 

                                                            ******

 

In the early morning hours, Becket tried to high-tail it out of town. A man stopped him dead in his tracks.

“You failed Becket. You know he doesn't cotton to failure.”

A gun fired! Someone blew Mr. Becket away.

 

                                                            ---40---

The LT. Governor had done a lot of telegraphing before daybreak.

As Cal had put it, “He's burnin up the wires, lookin for answers.” Cal had been running the messages and replies back and forth from the telegraph office. “

“It seems there was no man from the State Department investigating any securities fraud, at least not from our mine,” informed the LT. Governor. They were in the bar having breakfast.

“Strange,” said Scott, taking a bite of his flapjacks.

“Who do you think the guy from the supposed state department worked for then?” asked Johnny, eyeing Scott's sausage and counting how many were left. He'd already eaten his share.

“I don't know,” stated George, sipping his cup of coffee. “We might never know, but I've put the Pinkerton's on the case.”

“Well, whoever they are, they must've gotten sore at Becket for something. Of course, with Becket, it wouldn't have taken much.” He rubbed his swollen knuckles. “Too bad they had to murder such a nice man,” said Johnny, reaching for one of Scott's sausages.

“I think Becket knew too much,” said Scott, slapping his brother's hand away from his plate.

“Either that or they just wanted to tie up loose ends,” added George.

                                                            ******

 

Shortly after breakfast, it was time to leave for the train depot. The Lancer brothers rode their horses the short distance to the station and stopped in front of the stockcar, sitting on the side-track, waiting for the Ironhorse to hook up with it.

The hotel surrey brought the LT. Governor, Leah, Dr. Banning and Cal and left them by the LT. Governor's private car.

Johnny soon found out Dr. Banning had been true to his word when he'd said, Johnny wouldn't be able to sit a horse . His ribs already ached from the brief ride over to the station. After last night's events, the doctor had found two broken ribs in his back. Now, they were tightly wrapped. “You want to go on breathing? No more fights,” scolded Dr. Banning.

Scott agilely dismounted from his horse and Johnny with less flexibility, carefully did so at a slower pace. The ramp was down on the stock car. Scott having been in the cavalry, knew what to do.

“We have to make the horses comfortable. Neither of our horses has been on a train before. They're going to be skittish.” Scott took the reins and slowly walked his horse up the ramp to the inside of the car.  Then, he turned around and off loaded the animal. He did this a number of times until his horse was used to it.

Johnny had a harder time with Barranca. His horse didn't want any part of being on the train. He baulked at the ramp. He twisted and turned his head, but Johnny easily soothed his mount, “Whoa, boy. I know how ya feel. I don't like these cabbage stacks myself, but we have no choice.”  He did the same thing as Scott, walked his horse up and down the ramp numerous times until Barranca was easy with it.

The boys then put the horses in their stalls, removing their saddles and tack. The mangers were already full of hay and water was in their buckets. Giving their horses a pat on the rump, the Lancers shut the gate and disembarked as the Ironhorse coupled the stockcar.

Three short whistles sounded. It was time to go.

Saying goodbye was the hardest part. They each gave Leah a hug and kiss on the cheek. Johnny said, “Tell those maids they did good, will ya?” It was all he could get out without turning red under his purple coloring. “And take care of Cal.”

“I will. You take care now and stay out of trouble for a while, ya hear?” replied Leah, grinning.

She gave George a quick kiss, still shy about showing her feelings in front of her impressionable son.  “I'll see ya in a few weeks.” George was coming back by train to move her and Cal

Cal stood silently by. He'd earned a gold eagle from each Lancer brother. He knew he'd never spend them. He'd want to keep them always as a memento. In return, Cal gave each brother a hamster, complete with a smaller cage he had built himself and enough food to get them home.

“Well, Cal short for Calvin, its time,” said Scott. He shook hands with the boy and gave him a pat on the shoulder.

Johnny lowered his chin a moment. “You're gonna write us often?”

“Ya know I will,” replied Cal with shiny eyes.

“It won't be long before you're on the LT. Guv's ranch.  I'll see ya soon, hear?” He shook Cal's hand and then put his arm around the boy's neck and squeezed, a hug usually reserved only for his brother.

The train whistle blew three short times and the bell started ringing. It was time to board the back platform of their car. His sore ribs reminding him to go easy, Johnny slowly climbed the first high step, then the other two steps more quickly. Watching from behind, Scott was secretly relieved about his request to Murdock in having him send the bogus telegram. Being sneaky is hard. I just have to figure out when to tell Johnny it's a fake. But, then again, Murdock's never lied to us, so some part of the telegram must be true.

The Ironhorse pulled out onto the main track and stopped under the water tank, filling the tender. When the tender was full, the engine built up steam and started down the tracks. The Lancers were on their way home.

“What are you going to name your hamster?” asked Johnny.

“Hmm, Emerson.”

“Emerson? What kind of a name is that?”

“I happen to like Emerson.” A moment later. “What are you naming yours?”

“Boston.”

Scott gave Johnny a harassed look.

“Well, didn't Emerson come from Boston?”

 

 

 

~ end of Part One~
Stay tuned for Part Two: Blazes

August 2014

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