The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Doreen

 

 

Conflicting Evidence


Scott Lancer lay with his back resting on his saddle, watching the stars and appreciating the silence that surrounded him.

He'd risen at first light after a fitful night's sleep and spent the day alone, riding along the southern fence line looking out for posts in need of replacement or broken wire which required immediate repair.

As dusk drew closer it would have only taken another hour's travelling time to make it back to Lancer and the comfort of his own bed. However Scott had no intention of returning that night. With only his horse for company he'd bedded down in a small clearing within a stand of trees. Rather several hours of discomfort than face a showdown with the brother who now hated him.

Scott knew he was only putting off the inevitable but thought it best to be absent when Johnny returned to the house that day. He'd reasoned with Murdoch it would give his brother a chance to calm down, maybe even clear his mind enough to realize Scott hadn't any choice but to do what he did.

And in Scott's mind he'd done just that. Only done what he had to do. But at what cost?

Johnny's words spoken in a fit of anger and heartbreaking anguish the last time he'd seen him came back to haunt Scott yet again. “I'll never forgive you…ever!”

Scott sighed deeply at the memory. The way things were between them, unless something drastically changed it was obvious both could no longer stay on Lancer together.

Already Scott had inwardly made the decision. It would be he who'd leave and return to Boston ; fulfill his grandfather's dream of having him take over the Garrett Empire. Better that fate than have Johnny depart and take to his old ways; hiring out his gun to anyone who'd pay the highest fee.

Scott swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. He tossed another piece of wood on the campfire from the collection of kindling he'd gathered earlier. Fresh flames licked to life and a plume of smoke rose directly into the air, no sign of a breeze to disperse it.

He took hold of a tin cup containing the coffee he'd just brewed. Holding it in both hands he grimaced slightly at the bitter taste, but even so savored the warmth of the steaming black liquid as it slid down his throat. Once finished, he wrapped a blanket tight around his slim, muscular body and lay back down again.

Though bone weary Scott knew sleep would elude him. Instead with a heavy heart and plenty on his mind, he allowed his thoughts to wander back in time to the events which led him and his brother to grow so far apart; seemingly with no possibility of reconciliation.

***

 

It all started a few weeks before when Scott and Johnny were in town to collect the weekly supplies. With the wagon loaded in double quick time, they eagerly headed towards the saloon to quench the thirst they'd built up. However before making it half way across the street, a voice rang out, deep and menacing, the words all too familiar.

“Johnny Madrid. I've got a score to settle with you.”

At the mention of his former name, Johnny tensed and stopped, fingers automatically flexing above his holster. It seemed it would be a long while before he could shake off his gunfighter's legacy as a fast draw.

Scott had also halted in mid stride, his own hand ready to take hold of his gun and face the danger with his brother if necessary. They both turned and viewed the man watching them from a few yards away.

He looked to be around thirty, lanky with several days' growth of stubble on his chin and his dark brown eyes narrowed threateningly towards them both. However almost at once he let out a loud cry of greeting and his expression changed to a wide faced grin. “Hey Madrid , long time no see!”

There was a brief, stunned silence. Then with a whoop of recognition Johnny rushed over and grabbed the man by the arms, both of them laughing as he swung him around. “Matt, you old horse thief! If you ain't a sight for sore eyes. What you doing here?”

“Ah, you know me Johnny, just heading where the fit takes me. But I could ask you the same question. Last I heard you were fighting some lost cause down Mexico way.”

“And I heard you were taking an enforced break in the State Penitentiary!”

Both men chuckled as Scott ambled over. Still smiling Johnny introduced him. “Matt this here is my brother, Scott Lancer. Scott, this good-for-nothing is my oldest friend from way back, Matt Dunbar. He first saved my life when I was fifteen and a couple more times after that. No man could want for a better partner to back him up.”

As Scott shook his hand Matt looked at him with suspicion, meeting his blue-eyed gaze full on with a darkened stare. “Brother? Never knew Johnny Madrid had a brother.”

Before Scott could answer, Johnny slapped his old friend on the back and grinned affectionately. “Neither did I till a couple of years ago. And it's Lancer now Matt, Johnny Lancer. Madrid is long gone. These days I work a ranch a few miles out of town.”

Matt's frown deepened as he looked back at him. “It would seem we've got a lot of catching up to do Johnny boy.”

Johnny gestured towards the saloon. “You're not wrong and I know just the place to do it.”

As they moved away Scott held back, watching his brother place an arm around his friend's shoulder, and all the while the two men in animated conversation. Johnny had never mentioned Matt before, but it was more than obvious to Scott they must have once had an affable and trusting rapport akin to what he now shared with his younger sibling.

Just about to push through the batwing doors, Johnny sensed someone missing and turned his head. “You coming Scott?” he yelled towards him.

With a forced smile Scott shook his head. “I'll pass on the beer for once. You go get yourself re-acquainted and I'll take the supplies back to the ranch. That way, seeing as you brought Barranca into town you can follow when you're ready.”

For a brief moment Johnny stared at him quizzically, and then with a quick nod of thanks disappeared out of sight.

Scott was left feeling oddly twitchy. Never one to usually form an instant dislike to anyone, for some reason he had this time to Johnny's old friend, though for the life of him couldn't work out why. He turned on his heel, and after taking a final lingering look at the saloon, strode purposefully down the street towards the wagon.

***

 

From then on after a hard day's work, Johnny often sought out Matt's company during the evening in Morro Coyo. Several times he asked Scott to join them, but each time he made some flimsy excuse not to come. Johnny wondered if there was an underlying reason his brother didn't accept his invitation, so asked him outright. To Scott's credit he didn't mince his words. “I'm sorry to say I don't like your friend so best I stay away. Wouldn't want to spoil your fun.”

Although appearing genuinely confused and hurt by the disclosure, Johnny accepted his straight answer with a curt nod and the subject wasn't mentioned again.

As time went on Matt's remarkable lucky-streak during long sessions playing poker left other card players in the town's gaming house viewing him with suspicion. However the sight of a well oiled Colt sitting on his hip soon stopped any accusing voice as he pocketed a pile of winnings again and again.

Late one afternoon a young drifter not yet out of his teens wandered in off the street. He was an ugly looking youth with a permanent smirk on his face. Showing up a couple of days before, he'd already managed to run many townsfolk up the wrong way with his uncouth manners, insolent tongue and confrontational behavior.

He straightway made a beeline for Matt's table intent on a game. However after being dealt several hands and the pot always going to Matt, he'd had enough. Accusing him of blatant cheating by the use of marked cards he jumped up from his chair, his intention clear as he fumbled clumsily for his gun.

However the inexperienced youth hardly had time to take a breath before he heard a metallic click and found himself staring down into the lethal muzzle of the revolver in Matt's hand. He froze and regarded the older man with genuine fear, knowing he hadn't a chance if he continued to make a play for his own weapon. Slowly he backed out though the door, all the while Matt's cold, expressionless brown eyes following him without blinking.

A short while later there was the sound of gunfire in an alleyway at the side of the gaming house. Within moments customers had gathered to see what was going on. There they found Matt in the process of sheathing his Colt, while the prone body of the young drifter who'd argued with him earlier was lying spread-eagled on the ground, clearly dead and his own weapon discarded feet away.

“The fool called me out while I was on my way to the hotel,” Matt explained with indignation to all those now gathered around him. “He went for his gun first and I had no choice but to draw as well. I mean, what else could I do? It was me or him, and that's the honest truth.”

With the crowd's combined opinion the youth's passing was of no loss to the community, Matt's action was accepted and believed without question.

However a voice was heard above the murmuring.

“I witnessed the whole thing and I'm calling you a liar. You held a gun on the kid and indicated for him to take his weapon out of his holster and drop it to the ground. Once he'd done it you gunned him down in cold blood.”

The man who'd spoken stepped closer, his gaze unwavering as he stared Matt Dunbar straight in the face. It was Scott.

***

 

Due to the serious nature of Scott's allegation, by the time Johnny arrived in town his old friend had been duly arrested and placed in jail to await the arrival of the circuit judge. However the shock of finding him accused of murder was compounded with disbelief when told who the only eye-witness to the tragic event happened to be.

As Johnny talked to him through the iron bars, Matt insisted he was innocent of the crime. He begged Johnny to go see Scott, ask him why he was intent on giving false evidence. Johnny agreed to his request.

He tracked his brother down but Scott refused to acknowledge he'd made a mistake. From across the street he'd had a clear view – there was no question of error; he knew exactly what he'd seen.

As the day of the trial loomed closer, Matt still continued to insist he was innocent and couldn't understand why Scott wasn't telling the truth. ‘Persuade him to change his testimony before it's too late,' Matt implored.

Again Johnny confronted his brother, and once again Scott described his version of events almost word for word as he'd done before.

Frustrated by his inflexibility and fearful for the man in jail, the words came rushing out in an angry flow before Johnny realized what he'd said. “I never figured you a liar Scott. Just ‘cause you don't like Matt doesn't give you the right to want him dead!”

His accusation that this was some sort of private vendetta drove a knife into Scott's heart. How could he think him capable of such a heinous crime? After all they'd been through together, didn't he know him better than that?

Almost shaken into silence Scott muttered after him and wondered if he'd been heard as Johnny stormed away. “ Loyalty to your friend is commendable brother, but where's your loyalty to me?”

***

 

Finally the day of the trial arrived.

Matt's lawyer made a clear case for his client. It was self defense, pure and simple. He'd never met the deceased before that day and had no reason to intentionally kill him. The kid got what was coming to him in a fair fight, and he couldn't understand why so much fuss was being made over a no-good who was just looking for trouble.

However when called to the stand the only prosecution witness was precise and unfaltering in his description of what happened in the alleyway. He had no reason to fabricate his story, Scott emphatically told the Court. His only interest was making sure justice was seen to be done for a drifter no one could even give a name to.

It came down to believing one man's word against the other, and the jury took barely an hour to reach their verdict; guilty as charged.

The Judge pronounced sentence. It was to be the first legal hanging in Morro Coyo in four years; the prisoner would die at dawn the next day.

With Matt still loudly professing his innocence all the way back to the jailhouse, Johnny faced up to Scott outside the makeshift Court. ‘I'll never forgive you…ever!'

Then his fist connected with Scott's chin.

Surprised and unprepared for the ferocity of feeling in the attack, Scott had reeled back from the force of the blow though made no attempt to retaliate. As he started to repeat the action, only the intervention of his father's firm grip on his arm stopped Johnny from hitting his elder brother again.

Without another word he headed off towards the jail, intent on staying by his friend's side until the appointed hour. While Scott and his father headed back to Lancer to await his return in the aftermath of the judicially arranged execution soon to come.

***

 

A timber wolf's plaintive wail brought Scott back from his miserable musings to the here and now.

He then heard another sound. At first he couldn't make it out but soon realized it was the steady beat of cantering hooves making towards the camp. He felt for his gun belt which lay at his side, but stopped when by the light of a full moon he recognized the solitary horse as it came closer; the animal's golden coat standing out in the darkened landscape.

Johnny pulled to a halt and dismounted. “The old man said you might be camped out here. I came on the off chance.”

Scott propped his body up on one elbow, bracing himself for another embittered outburst from his brother. When nothing came he spoke first. “I don't blame you for hating me Johnny. But you've got to understand I couldn't let any man get away with premeditated murder, no matter who he was. Though believe me, I took no pleasure sending Matt to the gallows.”

There was a few seconds of awkward silence. “Can't fault you for your principles, you only did what you had to do. I realize that now,” Johnny finally replied. “And I don't hate you, could never hate you.”

His quietly spoken heartfelt response seemed to throw Scott somewhat as if it were the last thing he expected to hear. He pushed away the blanket and eased up to a sitting position.

“I need to talk to you about Matt,” Johnny added and almost nervously he made his way closer and slumped down by Scott's side.

By the light of the fire Scott could see his brother's face looked drawn and pale with grief for an old friend now passed away. “You chose your corner Johnny. There's nothing more to say.”

“Well I chose wrong. I now know any loyalty I felt towards Matt was misplaced,” he replied, struggling to control his voice. “For the first time ever he lied to me Scott. Just before he was…the last time I saw him he told me straight. Everything happened just as you said. Seems it wasn't the first time he'd done the same over the years to someone who'd accused him of cheating, which he admitted he usually did. He said it gave him some sort of weird enjoyment to shoot down a defenseless man that way.”

Scott gave a deep sigh, relieved his brother now knew he'd spoken true. At least he had that to thank Matt Dunbar for.

“I'm sorry Scott. I should've known you of all people would never lie when another man's life was at stake.”

Johnny paused and gave him a sideways glance. “I don't expect you can ever forgive me for being such a fool. And guess it'll be impossible to go back to how it was between us, but...”

“Nothing is impossible if you want it enough,” Scott interrupted as he absently ran a hand over his bruised chin and flexed his jaw.

Johnny noticed the movement and felt a pang of guilt. “Still sore?” he asked with obvious concern.

Scott nodded. “You pack quite a punch when you're mad.”

For a brief moment Johnny's mouth quirked into a faint smile. “You too,” he admitted as the memory of an incident which happened during their first couple of days together on Lancer sprang to mind.

“I don't know about you,” Scott said, breaking in on his thoughts. “But after all that's gone on, I sure could do with a drink.”

He hauled his saddlebag closer and pulled out a second tin mug and a small bottle of whiskey he carried for medicinal purposes. After pouring out two generous measures he handed one over, his eyes never leaving Johnny's face. “A new beginning, brother?”

Johnny looked at him for a long moment with the first glimmer of a hopeful expression. “A new beginning,” he agreed, and they clinked their mugs together, each downing the liquid in one long swallow.

It was only a small gesture, but it was a first step. And for them both that was a good enough start towards reconciliation for now.


 

~ end ~

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