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EJ

 

 

Unexpected Events On A Trip

 

 

For the LancerWriters X Marks The Spot challenge, a cross over with Laramie.

Thank you Liette for being my beta on my first chapter story.

 


Chapter 1 

A young man dressed in an eastern style suit stood in the stage depot and nervously eyed the elderly woman talking to the dark-haired gunfighter.  Paul's grandmother had warned him about how dangerous the man could be, so he wasn't about to do or say anything to make the already agitated gunfighter any madder. He also knew he would be helpless to save his aunt should the man decide to act violently.  Sweat ran down his back, so he pulled on his collar to let some of the heat escape, and sent a silent prayer that they would leave soon.  Please without the gunfighter he added.

Across the room a petit, older lady was trying to calm the agitated man who was frowning and tapping his gun butt.  “I don't know Daisy,  you sure ya gonna be okay here?”  Jess looked over her shoulder at the young man standing in the doorway of the stage depot.  “He looks too young.” It came out as a  snarl.

“Nonsense, Jess, my grand-nephew is 19-years-old and quite capable of escorting me to my sister's new home.”  Daisy crossed her arms over her chest and feigned irritation.  She loved the way her ‘adopted son' watched over her.  

“I don't like it Daisy,”  Jess' right hand continued its tap on his gun butt, he obviously wasn't convinced.  The kid looked too young to take care of himself let alone Daisy.

“Really Jess, you worry about me too much, Green River seems like a nice town.”  She had turned and took a few steps toward Paul then hesitated and turned back, “Besides my sister insists everyone has been very friendly to her.”  Unfortunately that statement didn't seem to offer the comfort Daisy had intended.

Paul's relief that they would be leaving soon was dashed when it appeared his aunt wasn't ready to go and had turned back to the gunfighter.  He gave another tug on his collar.

“Yeah, but your sister's only been in California for a couple months…”  Jess leaned down to face her eye to eye.

Before he could finish his sentence Daisy put her hand on his chest and gave a nudge, “Hush, I will be fine.  Now you get going and check out the cows Slim sent you here to buy.” 

Still not sure about the kid, Jess reluctantly nodded. However, the glare he aimed at Paul made it plain to the young man that ‘nothing' better happen Daisy.  Jess bent down, picked up Daisy's valise, and ushered her toward the nervous young man. 

Paul gulped as the pair approached him. He looked to his aunt then to Jess, “Don't worry Mr. Harper, I will keep her safe.”  He was embarrassed at the quiver in his voice.

Satisfied that he made the kid nervous Jess growled, “You better.”  Then he gave the kid his patented gunfighter stare, it worked just as he planned.  So good in fact that he expected to see a wet spot on the floor where the Paul stood.  Jess handed over the valise, satisfied when he saw a slight shaking of the kid's hand when he accepted the bag.

Daisy tried not to laugh at Paul's expression, and gave Jess a ‘behave yourself' glare.  She turned to her nephew and offered her arm, “Come on Paul, Agatha will be waiting for us.” 

A relieved Paul wanted to run from the stage depot, but instead took his aunt's arm and walked out the door, as casually as his shaking legs would allow.

A still doubting Jess shook his head as he watched Daisy leave with Paul. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

It had been a hot and exhausting morning running the fence line, and a relieved Scott stood examining the last section of barbed wire.  He shook his head, he had to agree with Johnny, it's devil wire.  At least for now the job was done, or done until Murdoch decided another section needed checking.  All he wanted now was to go home and enjoy one of Maria's lunches.  He was in no mood for a sandwich in a bag today.

Scott galloped across the lush green pasture of Lancer.  His horse, Ulysses, needed to run and Scott enjoyed the wind blowing in his face.  When Ulysses slowed his pace  Scott pulled the horse to a walk and scanned the valley. A contented smile graced his features as he looked out on his home.  Yes, Lancer was home.  It still amazed him how much Murdoch and Johnny had come to mean to him.  However, his life was here now and he had to admit he loved it and couldn't imagine living anyplace else.  

Reining Ulysses to a stop, Scott leaned forward in the saddle to stretch his cramping back.   He spotted a stream by the tree line and decided to stop and let Ulysses drink for a few minutes.  He bent down at the water's edge and emptied the tepid water from his canteen then refilled it with the cooler water.  Scott slowly stood and stretched again, then he moved to a comfortable spot under a tree and enjoyed the shade and slight breeze.  The only thing missing during this quiet moment was his brother.  When it was just the two of them, Scott could usually get Johnny to talk.  If he just let him ramble without asking too many questions, secrets from the past came out.

He jumped as his daydreaming was interrupted by the sound of gunfire… 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

A hot, tired, and unhappy Jess, well actually a pissed off Jess, rode along the dirt road from Green River.  He didn't appreciate the dust the horse's hoofs were kicking up and wondered just how much farther to this damn ranch.  

As he rode his bored mind drifted back to how he ended up in the mess.  His partner, Slim, had read an article about a man who owned a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Lancer Ranch owned by a Murdoch Lancer was reported to have a line of high quality stock, so Slim decided buying of a few of these special cows would improve the Sherman herd.  Jess couldn't care less about cows, now horses, that was another matter. And, he wondered, why Slim thought it was a good idea to go all the way to California for some dumb cows.

Then came the letter from California that sealed Jess' fate.

The letter was from Daisy's sister, Agatha, it was an invitation to visit her and Paul at their new home in Green River.  So is was decided Jess would escort Daisy and check out the cattle for Slim.  According to Slim, it would be killing two birds with one stone.  Jess thought it was crazy but…there was no way Miss Daisy was going all the way to California by herself.  Nope, not if Jess Harper had anything to say about it.  Which he did loud and clear.

So here he was riding along a dusty road, looking for a ranch, and some dumb cows for Slim.  Jess was fuming and to make matters worse he definitely didn't  think much of the horse he rented at the livery in Green River.  “Damn nag,” Jess growled as the horse tried to brush him against a dead tree on the side of the road.  He missed Traveller, the best horse he ever owned and the smartest.  Jess smiled remembering how many times Traveller got him home while he slept in the saddle.

At the top of yet another ridge Jess stopped.   He pulled his hat off and wiped the sweatband, he was covered in dust and sweat was running down his back.  Shading his eyes with his hat he looked out on the valley below him.  Yeah, it was pretty, nice and green, and some good looking cattle in the pastures.  Jess hoped they belonged to the Lancer Ranch.  If so, that would mean he had to be close and could get off this damn nag he rented.   Off to the north he noticed a stream weaving in and out of the tree line, a perfect place to water the horse and he wouldn't mind a nice cool drink and a rest in the shade for himself.

Jess slapped his hat against his leg then settled it on his head.  Sighing, he picked up the reins and nudged the horse toward the stream.

Then he felt it…a burning pain in his back…a hard fall to the ground…darkness.

 

Chapter 2

Jolted from his daydream, Scott stood up and looked in the direction the shot came from but didn't see anything. He ran to Ulysses and urged him into a gallop and hoped he wasn't about to run into more trouble than he could handle alone.

Up ahead, Scott saw a body lying on the ridge below the road. No one else was in sight but he pulled his gun anyway, one was never too careful out here. He slowly approached the man while scanning the area looking for the shooter. Then he spotted a horse running away from the area, but he couldn't make out the rider. Disgusted, he shook his head, “bushwhacker.” That's one thing he'd never get used to and it reminded him of something Johnny had told him on their second day at Lancer, when he'd commented about back-shooting seeming to be the norm in the West. Johnny had said, “You gotta do it to them before they do it to you”. Was it what had happened to this man?

When Scott reached the body, he holstered his gun and dismounted. The man was face down in the dirt and blood flowed from a wound in his back near the shoulder blade. It looked bad. A shudder ran through Scott as he remembered another wound like that, only it was in his brother's back.

Scott started to kneel by the man when he heard a wagon approaching from the other direction. Leaving the stranger, he climbed up the ridge to the road and hoped whoever was driving the wagon was friendly. Still, he rested his right hand on his gun butt and used his hat to shade his eyes while he watched the wagon come nearer. When he recognized Jelly and Walt he replaced his hat and waved. Then he pointed toward an area off the road, “Jelly, Walt, help me. There's a wounded man down there.”   

The two men jumped from the wagon and ran toward their boss. “Who is it?” Jelly huffed.

“I don't know, but I saw someone ride off.” Scott pointed toward the direction the shooter had taken.

The three men made their way down the ridge. Scott knelt by the stranger, “We need to get him to the wagon. Jelly, you take his legs and Walt his shoulders. I'll try to hold pressure on the wound.” Scott removed the man's jacket and folded it hoping to stop the blood flow.

No one had noticed it before, with all the confusion, but when they picked up the injured man, they all saw he wore his gun tied low on his hip. “Gunfighter,” Walt spoke what the others were thinking.  

Scott wouldn't let a man die on the side of the road, be he foe or friend. Yet he couldn't help feel concerned, what was this gunfighter doing here? Was he looking for Johnny? 

Carrying the wounded man up the ridge was a struggle but they finally reached the road. While Jelly and Walt held the man, Scott climbed into the wagon bed and helped them ease the gunfighter next to him. The wound had started bleeding again, Scott looked around and found an empty cloth bag which he pressed to the stranger's back. 

“Jelly, he's out cold, go as fast as possible.”  

“ ‘kay boss,” Jelly climbed in the driver's seat.

Scott turned to Walt, “Take my horse and get Sam.”

Walt ran down the ridge to fetch Ulysses, mounted up and took off for Green River.

Jelly started the team toward Lancer while Scott continued to press the cloth against the wound. Neither of them spoke but it was clear both were wondering about the gunfighter and what his presence here might mean.

Scott stared at the man lying beside him. He was young, had black hair, and wore his gun tied low on his thin hips…so like Johnny. He wondered, what if this stranger opened his eyes would he see Johnny's eyes? That same sad, far away look he sometimes saw in his brother's. Was he looking at what his brother had suffered? Johnny had told him during one of their private conversations, “When a gunfighter's job's done the man who does the hiring wants him gone.” Was that what might have happened to this man?  He hadn't heard of any range wars in the valley. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Paul and Daisy pulled up to a small but attractive house on the outskirts of Green River. Agatha was sitting in a rocker on the porch fanning herself.  As soon as the carriage stopped by the gate, she stood and waved enthusiastically. 

“Daisy,” she called out as she stepped from the porch and hurried to the gate.  

Paul jumped down and rushed around the carriage to help Daisy. After she was safely on the ground he stood back to avoid being run over by his grandmother. While Agatha wrapped her sister into a hug Paul grabbed the bags and headed for the house. 

When he reached the porch he stopped and looked back at the two ladies. He smiled, it was like they had never been apart and it made him happy. God knew his grandmother needed some happiness back in her life.

The last year had been hard, with the deaths of both his parents, and then his grandfather who had died of cancer.  William's death had been slow and painful and although the doctors did all they could, it had been hopeless. In the end, when his grandfather passed away, it had been a release for William as well as for Agatha and Paul. 

Paul shook his head. No more dark thoughts, this move was the best for both of them, a get away from the sad memories. He continued into the house.

Agatha and Daisy, happy tears in their eyes, parted and then hugged again. 

“Agatha, you are squeezing the air out of me.” Daisy teased.

“I'm just so happy to have you here.” Agatha chuckled, “How about some tea?”

They walked side by side, talking animatedly and went inside the house.  

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Sam… Sam,” Walt called out as he saw the doctor's surrey coming up the road. “Whew,  glad to meet you out here. Been a shooting. They need ya at Lancer.” Walt reached out for the horses' reins to steady them as he pulled Ulysses up beside the team, “They're not far ahead of us.”

“I thought Johnny wasn't due back for a few days.” Sam worried about his favorite and frequent patient.

“Naw, some stranger was bushwhacked.  Back shot, looks bad.” Walt took a breath, “Like when Johnny was shot.” 

Shocked, Sam wiped his chin, “Walt, go to Green River and tell Val. I can get to Lancer on my own.” Not waiting for an answer, Sam flicked the reins and took off down the road while Walt nudged Ulysses and headed for Green River.

 

Chapter 3

Murdoch sat at his desk and entered bills into the ledger. He wished Scott was home so he could turn the job over to his son, he smiled at the thought. He put the pen down and stood to stretch his aching back. While he debated waiting for Scott to finish the books he heard the wagon pull up and the yells of excited voices. He looked through the French doors and saw Scott sitting in the back of the wagon. Worried, Murdoch rushed outside, afraid his older son was hurt. 

“Murdoch, get Teresa and Maria. We have an injured man,” Scott called out as he jumped from the wagon bed.  

Upon seeing his son unharmed, relief flooded the older man's heart. He turned as swiftly as he could, headed back inside and called the two women. At the same time, Cip came running from the corral to help Jelly and Scott with the injured man. 

“I sent Walt for Sam,” Scott, Jelly and Cip pulled the injured man from the wagon bed while he continued to press the cloth on the wound. Together, they managed to carry the man toward the French doors without jarring him too much.

“What happened?” Murdoch held the door open for the men to carry the unconscious stranger into the Great Room. “Follow me.” Murdoch lead the way to one of the guest rooms. He opened the door then headed for the bed and pulled back the quilt. 

By the time the men had placed the stranger on the bed, Teresa had arrived with a basin of steamy water followed by Maria with a bunch of towels.

Murdoch turned to accept the towels and handed them off to Scott. He waited until his ward put the basin onto the table and put his arm around her shoulders to usher her out of the room. “Teresa come with me. I don't want you in there, we don't know who he is…” but before he could continue, she interrupted him.

“But Murdoch, I can help,” she pleaded.

“I know you're perfectly able to help but I don't want you in there.” He gave her his ‘no argument' look before he continued, “Maria is here and she can handle this till Sam arrives.” 

Murdoch crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Teresa, “I mean it, young lady. You are not to go into that room,” he ordered as he pointed toward the guest room.

Teresa nodded, she knew better than to argue, “Alright, I'll go start another pot of hot water.” Disappointed, she turned on her heels and headed for the kitchen.  

As she crossed the Great Room, she saw Sam's surrey pull up outside the French doors. Forgetting about the hot water, she rushed outside. “Sam, I'll show you where they took him.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

It was turning into a lovely day in Green River. Agatha and Daisy were sitting on the porch enjoying the sweetly scented breeze from Agatha's flower garden and drinking tea. 

 

“Agatha, I am so happy you and Paul have found such a nice place to live. I have been worried about you so much. ” Daisy sipped her tea, “However, I have to admit California is a little further than I expected, I had hoped it would be closer to Laramie.”

“Well, a new land for a new start. I love it here and the people have been so good to us.” Agatha giggled, which surprised Daisy.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Oh, it's just that we have some real characters here.” Agatha peeked over her teacup. “Our sheriff,” Agatha placed her cup on the saucer and laughed, “He's… well… he is unusual to say the least.” She leaned toward Daisy and whispered, “But I actually like him. For all his scruffiness, he is an honorable man.”

Daisy couldn't believe her ears. “Scruffiness?” she asked in mock horror. “Why Agatha, you were always so prim and proper,” she added with a grin.

“Well, I have learned out here not to judge by appearances.”

“That's very true. I learned that living at the Sherman Ranch.” Daisy sighed, “Jess is a perfect example of don't stop at the outside because the inside may hide something very special.”  

“Your Jess is that ‘very special' isn't he?” Agatha reached out to pat Daisy's hand.

“Jess has had a very hard life; I told you he used to be a gunfighter, haven't I? His family was killed when he was a boy.” She took a breath and placed her hand over her heart, “He joined the Confederacy.” 

Daisy shook her head at sister's shocked look, “No, I don't blame him for it… Anyway, he was captured and had a bad time in a Union prison.”  

Daisy reached over and poured another cup of tea to give herself a moment. “After the war he drifted, hired out his gun, got into trouble.” She paused, a sad and faraway look in her eyes, “He was even in prison for awhile.” Daisy sighed, “He is at the Sherman Ranch now and has made a new life for himself.” 

She smiled at Agatha's expression, “He and Slim have turned into wonderful fathers for Mike.” 

“I can tell he is your favorite.” Agatha didn't even try to hide her enjoyment that Daisy had found a new family.

“Oh and just how can you tell?” Daisy asked.

Agatha smiled and reached for the teapot, “He's the one you talk about the most.” 

She added more tea to her cup and reached across the table to add to Daisy's cup, “And he's the one who needs you the most.”

“Yes, I think of him as my son now.” Daisy lifted her cup in a salute, “I love him very much and I know he loves me,” she couldn't hold back the smirk, “but like most men, he shows it in actions more than words.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Scott and Cip were in the process of undressing the wounded man while Maria arranged some supplies on the table by the bed. Murdoch stood by the door to intercept Teresa when she returned with more hot water. But, instead of hot water, she came back with Sam who almost knocked Jelly down in his haste to get into the guest room. 

“Hey Doc, they waitin' for ya,” Jelly said and stepped aside as Sam rushed past him without even acknowledging him. “Well, I guess ya don't be needin' me,” he added promptly leaving to see if Teresa, who had been sent back to the kitchen needed his help.

Sam pushed into the room and moved to the bed, “Finish undressing him then turn him on his stomach.” He swiftly put his medical bag on the floor, beside the table, then moved to the bowl of steamy water and washed his hands thoroughly. As he reached to take a towel from Maria's hands he heard a double gasp. They both turned toward the bed and saw Scott and Murdoch staring at the man's chest.

“What's wrong? We need to get that bullet out.” He motioned for Maria to prepare his instruments and moved to the bed to see what was causing the problem. When he looked at his patient, he saw what Scott and Murdoch were staring at. On the young man's chest were knife and gunshot scars, with a very bad one running over his heart. “What has this man been through,” he mumbled and shook his head. He felt like he was looking at Johnny's scars all over again.

“Turn him over.” Sam took the probe Maria was handing him while Scott and Murdoch rearranged the patient as best they could.

Scott swallowed the lump in his throat, the man had been whipped and there were more knife and gunshot scars on his back as well.  

Murdoch felt his knees start to give out, “So like Johnny,” he mumbled as he involuntarily stepped back and sat in the chair by the bed. He bowed his head and stared at the floor, unable to even continue to look at the young man lying in the bed – a young man who reminded him so much of his Johnny that it hurt.

“Either help or move out of my way, Murdoch. Do you want this man to die?” Sam knew this was hard on his friend but he couldn't worry about that now–a man's life was in his hands and he needed to act quickly if he wanted to save the injured stranger. 

Murdoch shook himself and got up to stand beside Scott. He wanted to leave but found his feet refused to move. He exchanged a worried look with Scott. Without needing to speak, he was aware Scott was thinking the same things he was. Had Johnny suffered like this man was now suffering? Was life as a gunfighter always as harsh as it seemed?

And the worst thought of all, was this man here to call out Johnny?

 

Chapter 4

Val was doing his usual walk around town just to make sure all was quiet. He had made the habit of changing the time and direction so no one would see a pattern to his rounds. He had noticed a few strangers in town, so he wanted to check them out, one was a  traveling salesman and two looked like drifters. Val smirked when he saw the salesman walk into Higgs store. “Good luck,” he mumbled as he went past the store. 

When he walked by the saloon Val peeked over the batwing doors. As expected, one of the drifters was playing cards and the other was leaning against the bar, enjoying a cold beer. They looked harmless, so Val moved on but decided he'd still keep an eye on them – he'd check his pile of wanted posters once he'd got back in his office. 

At his turn around spot on the edge of town he noticed that the Widow Reed was sitting on her porch with a woman he'd never seen before. He liked the lady and her grandson, they were nice people. Val paused at the gate, “Evenin' Ma'am, everything okay?”

“Yes, Sheriff. Please do come in, I'd like you to meet my sister, Daisy Cooper.” Agatha waved for Val to come to the porch.

Val removed his hat as he pushed through the gate and stepped onto the porch. “Howdy Ma'am, pleased ta meet ya.” 

Agatha pointed to a chair, “Please join us.” 

“Thank ya Ma'am,” Val nodded to Agatha.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff.” Daisy pointed at the teapot, “Would you like some tea?” She lowered her head so he wouldn't see her grin at his shocked expression.

“Uh… no thanks Ma'am. I'm not much of a tea drinker.” He placed his hat on the floor under his chair.

“My sister is visiting from Laramie. It's been several years since we have been together.” Agatha explained while she picked up the plate and offered Val a cookie.

“Thanks Ma'am.” Val took one. He had added this stop to his walk around and had enjoyed her baked goods before. He especially liked her oatmeal cookies.

“Paul,” Agatha called.

When Paul came to the door Agatha asked, “Would you please bring the sheriff a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, Grandmother,” Paul nodded to Val.  

Val cleared his throat, “Ya gonna be in town for long?” He really hated small talk and wished Paul would hurry up with the coffee. He was saved when a few moments later Paul reappeared with a steaming cup of coffee.

“Thanks.” Val sipped the coffee and took another bite of cookie.

“Daisy is staying for a few weeks; I am hoping to show her the area.” Agatha knew Val was uncomfortable so she offered him another cookie. 

He accepted, grateful that the ladies were carrying the conversation.

“California is different from Wyoming, it is so green here,” Daisy explained as she gave Val a good look. In a way, he reminded her of Jess.

“Where in Wyoming, Miss Daisy?” Val was curious.

“Laramie.”

“Laramie? I have a friend in Laramie, maybe you know him. His name is Jess Harper.”

Daisy started coughing; the tea she was sipping went down the wrong pipe. She placed her teacup on the table before she spilled it on the tablecloth.  

Val and Agatha started to go to her but she raised her free hand and shook her head. When she could finally talk, “I'm fine, really, your question just surprised me.”

“Sorry Ma'am, guess a lady like you wouldn't know someone like Jess.” Val wished he had never mentioned Jess, it just slipped out. How would this sweet little lady ever meet up with a gunfighter?

“No, Sheriff, it's alright.” She cleared her throat, “As a matter of fact, I do know Jess.” 

Val's surprise couldn't have been greater and it made Daisy chuckle. While Agatha hid her smile behind her hand and watched both her sister and the sheriff. He was in for quite a surprise, no doubt.

Daisy was enjoying herself, “You see, I live at the Sherman Ranch and Overland Stage Relay Station with Slim Sherman and Jess. Slim and Jess are partners.” She smiled at Val's shock, “They hired me when they adopted young Mike. His folks had been killed by renegade Indians. I take care of all of them.” It was obvious to everyone that she was very proud of her little family.

Val slapped his leg, “Well I'll be, glad to hear he's settled and doin' good.” Val wasn't sure just how much the woman knew about Jess so decided to wait to see where the conversation would go.  It didn't take long to find out.

“I know about Jess' past, that he was a gunfighter. But that is behind him now and…” She looked Val in the eye, “I love him as a son.”

Damn he didn't see that coming, but he recovered swiftly, “Good for him and when ya get home, tell him Val said, ‘Hey'.” 

She almost laughed out loud at Val's surprised expression, “Actually, he went to a local ranch to look at some cows but will be back sometime this evening.” Daisy was enjoying getting the best of this man and silently agreed with Agatha about him being a good man. But how could it be otherwise… he was Jess' friend after all.

Val grinned, they sure got him good. “Well, you tell him he best get himself to my office.” He toasted Daisy with his coffee cup, “I have a surprise for him.”  

“Well, ladies, thank ya for the coffee and cookies. Pleasure meeting ya, Miss Daisy.” Val grabbed his hat and got up, “Gotta get back to work. Don't want folks thinking I'm lollygaggin.”

At the gate he turned and tipped his hat and resumed his rounds.   

When he completed his rounds, he went back to his office and opened the door. Now was a good time to check his stack of Wanted Posters. As he was about to step inside, he turned one last time to look around the street. He saw Walt, one of the Lancer Ranch's hands, race into town on what strangely looked like Scott Lancer's horse. That meant only one thing… disaster. 

“Well, there goes a peaceful day,” he said aloud as he closed the door and waited on the porch. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Dios, he hated towns and couldn't wait to get out of this one. With that thought in mind, Johnny headed for the livery to fetch Barranca, relieved the meetings had ended early. Now, all he wanted to do was go home. At least the Barkley's had put him up so he wasn't stuck at a hotel in town. Besides, the Barkleys fed him good. Victoria and Jarrod always made him feel welcome and this time even Nick was easier to be around. He still bellowed but not all the time. He guessed Heath was helping to mellow the man. However, Johnny freely admitted with Scott that Audra was a much better view across the table than those cigar smoking friends of Murdoch's.

When Johnny entered the livery, Ben called to him, “You here to get that spoiled horse of yours?” The man stood by a stall with his right hand on his hip and waved a bandaged left hand in Johnny's face, “Tried to take a bite outa me.”

“Yeah. He been giving you trouble?” Johnny grinned. He knew Barranca didn't like being left in a strange stable and wasn't above letting everyone know about it.

“That's for sure. Next time you come to town, I hope ya taught him some manners.” 

Johnny knew Ben wasn't really angry but he sure didn't look happy about his sore hand. This was just a game they played whenever the younger Lancer was in Stockton. Ben knew of Johnny's past but after spending some time with the ex-gunfighter, he had realized that not all the stories were true. Johnny was a surprisingly decent man for one with a reputation such as his.

“Okay, I'll get him outta your hair.” Johnny held up his hands and moved to the stall. “Come on, Boy, time to go home.” 

After Barranca was saddled, Johnny led him over to the hitching rail. He pulled out some coins and handed them to Ben.  

The livery owner nodded when he saw the extra coins, “Thanks Johnny. You be careful getting home.” Then he turned toward Barranca and pointed an uninjured finger at the horse, “And you better behave yourself or next time, I won't give you any extra ration of oats.”

Barranca snorted and shook his head, clearly unhappy at being scolded. Johnny shrugged his shoulders at Ben and hopped into the saddle.   

Once out of town, Johnny let Barranca run off some energy. After awhile he pulled up the horse, “How about we stop in Green River to see Val? Maybe I can get him to buy me a drink.”

Barranca nodded his head up and down. Johnny laughed, “Maybe I could even get you some sweet oats at the livery.” Barranca settled into an easy gait as the pair headed home.

 

Chapter 5

An exhausted doctor walked into the Great Room and dropped onto the sofa. It had taken a while to get the bullet out because it was trapped between the shoulder blade and a rib and Sam's back ached from bending over his patient.  

Murdoch and Scott sat in the Great Room waiting for Sam. They were working on their second round of drinks. When he saw the doctor's face, Scott rose and went to the drink cart. Without a word, he poured a glass of whiskey and handed it to Sam who drowned it in one gulp.  

“I asked Jelly to sit with him. He'll call if something happens,” Sam's voice was weary. 

Scott stood again and walked to the cart but this time he brought the bottle and refilled everyone's glasses.

While the men waited, Maria and Teresa were in the kitchen fixing supper. Murdoch had told Maria to go home and get some rest, but she had insisted that she needed to help Teresa with the meal.

Everyone was quiet in the Great Room as they all wondered about the man in the guest room. Who was he? Was he here to settle accounts with Johnny? Why was he bushwacked and by who? Unfortunately, some of those questions could only be answered by one person and that person was still unconscious.

Their quiet musings were interrupted when they heard a horse ride up, quickly followed by a knock at the door. Scott rose and waved to Teresa, who was coming from the kitchen to answer the door, that he would get it.  

When he opened the door a very angry Val barged in, “What the hell is going on?” he moved into the Great Room. “Well? Walt said a gunfighter was bushwhacked and y'all brought him here.”

“He's in a guest room, Jelly is watching him.” Murdoch rose and motioned for Val to follow. The three men followed Murdoch to the sick room.

When the door opened Jelly jumped up, “He ain't moved but did mutter something I couldn't understand.” Jelly stepped aside and Val stared at the unconscious figure on the bed, eyes widening in surprise. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Agatha and Daisy chatted while they prepared supper and Paul obligingly set the table for them. “I'm worried about Jess. I thought he would be back by now.” Daisy nervously looked toward the door. “What if something happened to him?”  

Agatha put her arm around her sister, “I'm sure he was just delayed, maybe they invited him to supper,” she tried to sound confident. “Besides I am sure there are details to work out for the sale of cows.” Of course, Agatha was clueless about cows and ranches but wanted to reassure her sister. “I bet he will show up when it's time for dessert. Especially since you made his favorite apple pie.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Damn Jess! What the hell happened to you?”

“You know this man?” A very shocked Murdoch stared from Val to the man on the bed and back to Val.

Val turned to face Murdoch, “Hell yes, I know him. His name's Jess Harper.  

“How do yo know him? Is he after Johnny?” Murdoch's voice was harsh and angry. So many things were running through his mind, worry and fear for his younger son the foremost.

“The three of us rode together awhile. So, no Murdock, he ain't after Johnny. He's a friend,” Val growled as he moved past Murdoch to stand by the bed. He turned, “How bad?”

This last comment was addressed to Sam who stepped beside Val and rested a hand on the sheriff's shoulder, “It's bad, he lost a lot of blood and is starting a fever. I've done everything I could and now, we can only wait for him to wake up.”

Val turned and faced Murdoch, “Jess has a friend staying in Green River, send someone to bring her out here.”  

It was an order and Murdoch wasn't happy about being ordered around in his own home. Sam moved to Murdoch's side to intervene if necessary.

Scott stepped between Murdoch and the sheriff, “I'll bring her Val, where is she?” Scott wanted to defuse the tension in the room before Murdoch erupted.

“Her name is Daisy Cooper and she's staying with her sister, Agatha Reed. Mrs. Reed and her grandson bought ol' man Hanson's place.” Val said, watching Jess' chest rise and fall and hoping he wouldn't see it stop.

Scott nodded, “Alright, I know where it is. I'll be back as soon as possible.” He turned to Sam, “Do you need anything?”

Sam looked toward Scott and shook his head, “Just put a note on my door that I'll be at Lancer.” 

 

Chapter 6

Daisy sat on the porch and stared in the direction Jess took earlier in the day, she prayed to see him ride up.  The town was closing for the night, but she didn't notice the several people who walked by and waved.  She was lost to the world, worried as she was about Jess. 

Agatha had sent Daisy to sit outside while she finished cleaning up after supper.  When she was done she joined her sister in her vigil on the front porch.  A little later Paul came out carrying a tray with a coffee pot and thee cups.  Daisy nodded thanks then looked back to the street.

Paul poured a cup and handed it to his aunt, “Please Aunt Daisy, don't worry, everything will be alright.  I am sure he'll be here soon.”  He tried to sound confident but her worry was infecting him and he was no longer sure it would turn out alright. He still had mixed feelings about Jess. The gunfighter frightened him and he didn't understand why his aunt seemed so fond of the man.

Agatha reached out to hold Daisy's hand, “I'm sorry, I wish there was something I could do.”  It broke her heart when she saw a tear slide down Daisy's cheek. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Scott drove the carriage into Green River, and since he passed Sam's place first he stopped to pin the note on the door to the office. 

The town was quietly settling down for the night with just a few people on the street, some waved as Scott passed and he nodded back.  At the edge of town he saw the Reed house, and could make out two ladies and a young man sitting on the front porch in the lantern light. He stopped the carriage in the street, got off, and tied the horses to the hitching rail and walked to the gate, “Excuse me ladies but is one of you Daisy Cooper?”

Suddenly afraid, Daisy choked back the tears, “I am.” 

“My name is Scott Lancer. Your friend, Mr. Harper is at our ranch…”  Scott removed his hat.

Before he could continue Daisy stood up and rushed down the walk to the gate.

“Is he alright?”

Too late Scott realized how distraught the woman was; he opened the gate and went to her. He took her hand and put his arm around her shoulders. “He has been shot but the doctor is with him.  I am here to take you to our ranch so you can be with him.”

Agatha moved to Daisy's side, “Go on Daisy, Paul and I will bring your things tomorrow.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

It had been a long day in the saddle and Johnny had settled Barranca for the night.  He was not looking forward to sleeping on the ground but was too exhausted to continue and he didn't want to risk Barranca stepping in a hole.  

After he gathered some wood and started a fire, he settled down for a supper of jerky and coffee.  Then he leaned back on his saddle and stared into the fire. Boy, he was getting spoiled and he sure missed his comfortable bed. 

His thoughts veered to his family. What were Scott and Murdoch were doing right now? He laughed, they were probably playing a game of chess or maybe they were both reading a good book. Did they miss him?  He missed them, and Maria's cooking, and Teresa's deserts, and… 

After a jaw cracking yawn Johnny drifted off to sleep. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

When Scott pulled up to the well-lit hacienda two hands approached and took charge of the team.  He walked around to Daisy's side and helped her down.  

Once inside the Great Room he introduced her.  Scott motioned to Murdoch, “Ma'am, my father Murdoch Lancer.” Then he turned to Sam, “Dr. Sam Jenkins. He is the doctor taking care of Jess.”  Finally he motioned to Val,  “I guess you already know our sheriff.” 

“Gentlemen.”  Daisy nodded and turned to face Sam, “How badly is he hurt?”  She wasn't going to beat around the bush; she wanted information and wanted it now.

Sam ushered her to a chair, “Let me explain and then I will take you to see him.”

She settled into the chair, “Thank you Doctor, but I was a nurse during the war so don't hold anything back.”

Relieved to hear that, Sam knew she would be helpful caring for Jess.  “It's bad. He was shot in the back and the bullet was wedged between the shoulder blade and a rib.” He waited but she remained calm. “He lost a lot blood and is still unconscious, probably due to the fall after he was shot.” 

When he finished, Daisy stood up, “I want to see him.”  

Sam rose and escorted her to the sick room. When they entered the room, Jelly jumped in his seat. “Ya scared me, Doc. Shouldn't come in silent-like like this.” Then, he noticed Sam wasn't alone.

“Jelly, I'd like you to meet Jess' friend, Mrs. Daisy Cooper.”

“Pleased ta meet ya. Ma'am, I'll help ya any way I can.” He pointed to the chair he'd just vacated, “Please, sit down.” 

“Thank you Jelly. Why don't you get some rest, I'll stay with him.”  Daisy patted Jelly's arm as she moved to the bed.  

Jelly looked to Sam who nodded. “I'll be in the kitchen if'n ya need me.” He smiled at Daisy and left the room.

Daisy sat on the edge of the bed and took Jess' hand in hers, “I'm here Jess, please wake up.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek, and whispered, “Please Jess wake up for me.”

When she sat up two deep blue, unfocused eyes were staring in the direction of her voice.

There was a collective gasp in the room. Sam rushed to the other side of the bed, “Jess, I'm Dr. Sam Jenkins, I have been taking care of you.  Are you in much pain?'

A confused Jess blinked and focused on Daisy then turned toward Sam, “What happened? Where am I?”

Daisy wiped the tears from her eyes, “Jess you are at the Lancer Ranch. Scott Lancer heard a shot and found you on the side of the road. He brought you here.”

Jess nodded and drifted back to sleep before anyone could ask another question.

“I think we should let him sleep,” Sam said. “I'll go ask Jelly to stay with him a few more minutes so we can talk.” 

Daisy nodded and sat in the chair while Sam went to the kitchen to get Jelly.

Shortly after, Jelly returned with a cup of steaming coffee in one hand and a plate with a sandwich in the other. He went to Daisy and whispered, “Doc's waitin' for you outside and don't ya worry none, Miss Daisy, I'll call ya if'n he wakes up.”

As soon as she left, Jelly made himself comfortable in the chair and started eating his sandwich while keeping an eye on Jess.

 

Chapter 7

When Daisy stepped outside the guest room, Sam was there, waiting to take her to the Great Room. Val, Scott and Murdoch were already there and as soon as Scott saw her, he got up and moved to her side, offering her his arm and guiding her to a comfortable chair.

“Are you alright Daisy?”

“Yes, Scott, Thank you. It is just that it's been a long day,” she said as she sat and relaxed into the chair. 

Finally, once everyone was seated, Sam turned to Daisy, “I couldn't help but notice Jess has many scars, can you tell me about them?” 

She stared at him and closed her eyes briefly, fighting the tears that threatened to fall on her cheeks. Sam quickly added, “I need to know if any past injuries could cause problems with the one just sustained.”

Everyone waited while Daisy gathered her thoughts. Murdoch made the first move, “Would you like a glass of Sherry, Mrs. Cooper?” When she nodded he went to the drink's cart and poured glasses for everyone.

Daisy accepted the glass from Murdoch and took a sip, then she waited till everyone had their own drinks in their hands and Murdoch had returned to his seat. She cleared her throat, “Jess hasn't had an easy life.”  

This was proving more difficult than she thought as she was uncomfortable telling strangers about Jess but, as a former nurse, she knew Sam wasn't asking just because he was curious. She sighed and began the sad story. “The burn scars on his hands were from trying to save his family after the Bannister Gang set fire to their cabin…” A tear ran down her cheek, “…his family was inside,” she choked, swallowed and took a sip to give her courage. “They were burned alive.” 

Sam patted her hand and waited for the rest of the story while Murdoch and Scott exchanged a look. They had the feeling this it was going to be a long night.

“Jess rescued one of his brothers and a sister but couldn't get the rest of the family. He was just fifteen but he went after the Bannister's nonetheless. He hunted for them but never found them so he finally went back to Texas.”  

Daisy took another sip of her drink and set the glass on the table, “Jess met up with some of his childhood friends and they talked him into enlisting in the Texas Regiment with them.” She wrung her hands, “He told me he slipped a piece of paper with 17 written on it in his shoes so when they asked if he was over 17 he didn't have to lie. He was too young to go to war.”

Scott felt his heart drop; he knew firsthand what war was like. He had seen boys going to war and was almost afraid to hear what happened to Jess.

“He and his friends were captured. During a failed escape attempt, Jess was… whipped as a punishment.” Daisy reached for her glass and drained it. When she placed the empty glass on the table, everyone noticed that her hand shook.

Scott almost dropped his glass, the story was hitting too close to home. Jess and he shared a horrendous experience, and now, through Daisy's story, he was reliving it all. The worst part was that Jess had been so young. Scott cringed at another thought, Jess was Johnny's age.

Murdoch stood and went to the cart and this time he returned with the liquor bottles. He refilled Daisy's glass and offered refills to the rest of them. He needed to do something and he needed another drink. Jess' story was far too close to Johnny's own story, both boys had been hurt, and both left alone to fend for themselves at such a very young age.

Sam and Val sat quietly. This was turning into a very emotional night for Scott and Murdoch. Even though Val knew most of the story it was hard listening to a sweet, little ol' lady do the telling.

After an uncomfortable silence Daisy continued, “During the war Jess was a sharpshooter. Once it was over and without job skills he went on the drift. He exchanged a rifle for a handgun and became a gunfighter to make a living.” She bowed her head, “He told me once that he didn't know how to do anything else.”

Scott and Murdoch exchanged another look. Johnny had said the same thing.

“Is that how you met him, Val?” Murdoch's voice cracked.

“Yep, we're both Texans and ran into each other while heading home after the war.” Val looked at Murdoch and saw the pain in the man's eyes. “We worked the border and Mexico… and Johnny…” Val stopped in mid-sentence. He didn't want to say any more as he knew Johnny kept some secrets from his father and brother.   

Val's words had just stabbed Murdoch in the heart.

Sam realized Murdoch was in a bad way and decided he needed to intervene, “Daisy, how did Jess get the wound over his heart?”

“Jess went to warn Marshal McGary that the Buckner Gang was planning to rescue Vern Buckner, the marshal's prisoner. When he found the marshal and his deputies, they were under attack. So he joined the gunfight and helped drive Clint Buckner and his men away.”

Daisy sighed and Sam noticed tears flowing down her cheek. He took out his handkerchief and handed it to her.

She nodded thanks and took it from Sam and dabbed her eyes.

“Are you sure you can go on?” Sam placed a hand over Daisy's. This was becoming harder and harder, not only for Daisy but for the Lancers and Val – and himself as well.

“Yes, I'm alright.” Daisy said and after moment she continued, “When the marshal turned to thank Jess he saw that Jess was slumped over.” Daisy dabbed her eyes again. “Jess fell backwards into the lake, that's when the marshal saw he had been shot in the heart.”

“How did he survive?” Sam was amazed. By all accounts, the man should be dead.

“The bullet was lodged next to his heart.” She hesitated, “It's a long story but the marshal finally got a doctor for Jess.” Daisy looked up at Sam, “We almost lost him.” 

Murdoch gulped down his drink. He couldn't take anymore, “Sam, it's late. I think we all need to get some sleep. We can continue this in the morning.” He rose and waited.

Everyone seemed relieved at Murdoch's intervention. Sam and Scott understood all too well why Murdoch needed to end the evening. And Daisy was obviously near the end of her strength.

“Daisy, I'll show you to the guest room next to Jess' room,” Scott stood and held out his hand to her.

“I'm just down the hall,” Sam added, clearing his throat. “So if you need anything don't hesitate to come get me.” He rose and nodded to Daisy, and then he turned and headed for his room.

Daisy took Scott's hand, she felt drained. A good night's sleep would help everyone, then she remembered and stopped in her tracks, “I told Jelly I would relieve him.”

“No, Ma'am. I”ll sit with him. If he wakes up it should be to a familiar face,” Val got up and marched resolutely toward Jess' room, intent on staying awake, no matter what.

 

* The piece of paper in the shoe trick was one used in the Civil War. This information is from Pat2.  She learned this fact on her visit to Gettysburg.

 

Chapter 8

Val slumped in the chair by the bed, he took off his boots, and propped his feet on the bed by Jess' feet.  This evening had been exhausting, he was shocked when he learned about the bullet to the heart.  “Damn Jess.” he mumbled.  

While he watched his friend sleep, Val wondered who bushwhacked Jess and why.  Hell, who knew Jess was in the area?  He didn't and he knew Johnny didn't know Jess was here.  

Then he remembered the drifters in town, too bad he didn't have time to check the wanted posters.  Maybe there was a past between them and Jess.  Maybe they saw him in town and waited for Jess in ambush.  So many maybes, but tomorrow he would go into town and check them out.  

A small moan roused Val from his pondering, he lowered his feet and reached out and touched Jess' forehead.  “Hey Jess, wake up boy.”  Val moved his hand to Jess' shoulder and gently shook, “Wake up Jess.”

Slowly two deep blue eyes opened and looked toward a voice, “Val…”  

L * A * N * C * E * R

Val leaned forward so Jess could see him better, “Yeah Jess, it's me.  Stay with me boy, I'm gonna get the Doc.”  Val nudged Jess again, “Stay awake.”

When it seemed Jess would keep his eyes open, Val rushed to the door, opened it and call out, “Sam, Sam, come on, Jess is awake.”  

Daisy heard the yell and grabbed the robe Teresa loaned her and ran to the door.  When she opened it Daisy nearly collided with Sam as he hurried to Jess' room.

Sam reached out to keep Daisy from falling, “Sorry.”  He took her arm and ushered her to Jess' room.   They found Val beside Jess, he was talking to the wounded man, “Sam's here, just stay with me Jess.”

Sam went to the opposite side of the bed and sat next to his patient, “Jess, look at me.”  When Jess turned toward Doc, Sam checked his eyes, then reached for Jess' arm and checked his pulse.  “How do you feel?”

“Thirsty.”  Jess croaked.

Val stepped out of the way as Daisy moved to the bed with a glass of water. “Here Jess, just a few sips.”  She put her hand behind his head and lifted enough so Jess could drink.

When she pulled the glass away he tried to raise his hand to stop her.  “No Jess, not too much.”  She placed the glass on the bedside table.

Val  leaned over Daisy's shoulder, “Jess, do you know what happened?”

“Just riding along… looking for…”  He seemed confused for a minute, “looking for a ranch.”

“Yeah, what else?”  Val moved to sit on the bed when Daisy slipped out of the way.

“I was going down to the creek to water the horse…then…I was knocked off the horse.”  

Jess raised his head, “I didn't see who shot me.”  He looked around the room, “Where am I?”

Sam pushed Jess back down on the pillow, “Scott Lancer found you and brought you here.  He saw someone riding away but couldn't tell who it was.”

“I don't know anybody here.”  Jess raised his head and looked for Daisy, “Daisy…” 

She moved so he could see her, “I'm fine, I'm in the next room.  Don't worry.”

“Okay.”  He laid back and closed his eyes.

“Jess, did you see anyone in town that looked familiar?” Val hoped that he had.

“Nope, just Daisy's nephew.”  Jess opened his eyes, “Still think he's too young.”

Daisy smiled, “He's not too young, you're just not trusting enough.”  She was relieved that he could tease about Paul.

“Well there is someone you know here.”  Val drawled.

“Yeah, who?”  Jess asked confused as to who he could possibly know this far north in California.

Val grinned, “Johnny”

 

Chapter 9

“Damn, didn't know Madrid was workin' this far north.” Then Jess grinned, “How does that work now with you being a sheriff and Johnny… well bein' what he is?” Jess pointed to the badge on Val's shirt.

It was Val's turn to laugh, “Well it seems our amigo had it all wrong, his papi didn't throw them out after all. His mama stole him and lied to him all those years.”

“What a bi…!” Jess growled, then gulped and looked at Daisy, “Sorry.”

“It's alright, Jess,” She smiled at the young's embarrassment. “I imagine this comes as quite a surprise.”

Val took up the story. “Yep his ol' man's been hunting for him all along, even sent the Pinks after him.” Val shook his head, “Good thing too, they got to him just in time.” He paused; it was still rough thinking of Johnny almost… “He was standing in front of a firing squad,” he almost choked on the words.

“What? A firing squad?” Jess said, hardly believing what he'd just heard. “What happened?”

“Well, I guess he'll tell you himself. It was close, very close. But he's home and safe now. Oh, and he goes by Lancer now, not Madrid.” Val smiled thinking about how both the boys finally had a chance at living a normal life. 

“Hey, I hear you're doing good, Jess. Been told you even have a partner in a ranch and relay station.”  

“Yep, and Slim and me adopted Mike after his folks got killed.” Jess looked up at Daisy again, “And we have the best lady in the world taking care of all of us.”

“So, Doc, when can I get outta this bed?” Jess turned his gunfighter glare on Sam.

“That doesn't work on me. Johnny has tried and failed so just give it up young man,” Sam smirked. “And you will stay in that bed until I tell you otherwise.”

Sam turned to Val, “He reminds me of another troublesome patient of mine.”

Val laughed. “Sorry Doc, but those two never did like bein' tied to a bed, no matter how bad hurt they were.”

“I can attest to that,” Daisy replied, the voice of experience. “Jess is the world's worst when it comes to being sick or hurt.”

“That's just great. It wasn't bad enough with one and now I have two of them.”  Sam pointed his finger at Jess, “I don't put up with it from Johnny and I won't with you, so behave yourself.”

Daisy didn't even try to hide the smile. “Don't worry Sam, he will behave,” she gave her ‘behave yourself' glare at Jess, “Won't you?”

“Yes, Ma'am.” Jess said, dipping his head. He knew when he was outnumbered.

Val couldn't help himself and started to laugh again. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Once Sam and Daisy had gone back to bed, at least for a couple of hours, Val and Jess talked until the young man drifted off.

Val tried to sleep in the chair by Jess' bed but he couldn't get comfortable enough to drop off.  So when he heard Murdoch's voice he headed for the kitchen and hoped for some of Maria's coffee.

“Good morning Sheriff. Did you get any sleep?”

Val sat in the chair opposite Murdoch, “Not much, Jess woke up so Sam and Daisy were with him for awhile. Guess the commotion didn't wake y'all up.” Val accepted the coffee Maria set in front of him. “Thanks Maria.”

She smiled and went back to her stove to stir the eggs.

“No, didn't hear a thing. Why do you think we put him in a downstairs room?”  Murdoch sipped his coffee to hide his smile. 

“How about you Scott?” Murdoch asked his son as he entered the kitchen and took a coffee cup Maria handed to him.

“Thanks, smells good and I'm hungry.” Scott winked at Maria.

“No, I didn't hear anything. Did I miss something?” Scott sat in the chair next to Val.

“Jess woke up. Told him about Johnny. Was a real surprise.” Val took a sip of coffee, and laughed. “He ain't too happy Sam is making him stay in bed.”

“Oh no, not another one!” Scott said as he shook his head, “If we're lucky Johnny will stay healthy.” Scott joked.

“Don't even kid about it Scott.” Murdoch dreaded the thought. Two ex-gunfighters in the same house was bad enough but both injured would be more than he could take.

“Well gotta head back to town. Wanna check up on some things. Send someone if y'all need me.” Val finished his coffee, nodded to Maria and headed out the kitchen door.

“Well this is getting interesting.” Scott toasted Murdoch with his coffee cup.

“Not funny, Son” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Val looked for the drifters as he rode through town. He didn't see them so he supposed they must be sleeping it off somewhere. He dropped off his horse at the livery and headed for his office.

On the office door was tacked a note. Val pulled it off and saw that it was from Agatha asking about Jess. He decided he'd go see her after he'd checked the wanted posters-who knows; maybe he would get a few oatmeal cookies.  

He made himself a cup of pan-fried coffee and sat at his desk, amid a pile of papers and posters. After fifteen minutes of shuffling through the posters, he had found nothing but he still had a bad feeling. Maybe they weren't wanted in California. He would wire some friends in Texas and see if they were wanted there, that is, after he rested a bit.  He didn't have any names and not much of a description.

Within minutes, he was fast asleep until a knock on the door roused him. “Come in,” he yelled, hurrying to remove his booted feet from his desk and pretending to be busy reading a report.

Paul held the door for his grandmother as they entered the office. Agatha got right to the point, “Sorry to bother you, Sheriff Crawford, but… is Jess alright?”

Val jumped up and offered Agatha a chair, “Yes, Ma'am. He was awake for awhile.  He'll just need to heal up.” 

He noticed Paul seemed nervous, and remembered Jess' comments abut Paul being too young. Jess could be pretty intimidating when he wanted, just like Johnny. So, he took pity on the young man. “Sam wants him to stay in bed so he'll be at Lancer for awhile.”

Paul immediately seemed at ease; Val had rightly guessed Jess had put the fear of the gunfighter in the boy. Seems Daisy means more to Jess than he first thought.

“I can give you directions to the ranch if you want to check on them.”

“Thank you Sheriff. I would appreciate that. Paul is a very good driver and I did promise to bring Daisy some of her things.”

Val grabbed a pencil and hunted for a blank piece of paper, finally he gave up and tore off the corner of an old poster. He scribbled the directions and handed it to Paul.  

The kid looked confused so Val told him the directions. Paul borrowed the pencil and made a few notations.

“Thank you again Sheriff. We will go now and make arrangements for the surrey.”  

There goes my oatmeal cookies, though Val as he watched Paul escort his grandmother out of the office. He couldn't help but smile as he noticed the frown on Paul's face when the young man turned to face him before closing the door. He was sure Paul wasn't very happy about the prospect of meeting Jess again, injured or otherwise. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny rode into Green River just in time to see an older lady and a young kid leave Val's office. Barranca stopped in front of the sheriff's office, a spot he knew well. Johnny dismounted and whispered in the horse's ear, “You're too damn smart. You know that, don't ya?” Then he loosened the cinch and headed into the office.

“Hey Val, ya got a new girlfriend? Ain't she a little old for you?” Johnny plopped in the chair in front of Val's desk and put his feet on the desk.

“No she ain't a girlfriend, she's a lady and new in town. Matter of fact you're gonna be meeting her soon. And get yer damn feet off my desk.”  

Johnny looked at Val more carefully and noticed the smug look on his friend's face. It was never a good sign. “Okay, out with it. What's up?”

“Not much, just that… a gunfighter got bushwhacked on Lancer land.” He didn't have to wait long for his amigo's reaction.

“A gunfighter? Do you know him?” Johnny was suddenly on alert.

“Yep, and so do you.”

Johnny glared at Val. “Get is said, Val. Who is he and what is he doing here?”

Val laughed, “He ain't after you, and he's gonna be okay. Sam took care of him.” Val sat back and rested his feet on his desk. He was really enjoying this game.

“As a matter of fact, he's still at Lancer.” 

“What?” Tired of the teasing Johnny growled, “Val knock it off, just who the hell is this gunfighter?”

Val grinned at Johnny. “You don't wanna guess? You sure?”

“Val!” Johnny growled again.

Val smiled…

“Jess.”

 

Chapter 10

Johnny leapt out of his chair and leaned on Val's desk, “Jess is here?”

Val lowered his feet and sat up, “Yep, and he was bushwhacked on the road to Lancer. Lucky for him Scott was nearby and got to him before the shooter could finish the job.”

“Why?” Johnny was obviously worried about his friend.

“Don't know and neither does Jess.”

“Well, why was he here? Hell I thought he was in Texas.” Johnny was now totally confused.

“Nope. He settled down in Laramie. Said he was escorting a lady who came to visit her sister here in Green River - my ‘so-called new girlfriend' you saw leaving my office.”  

“But why was he going to Lancer?” This wasn't making any sense to Johnny.

“Seems his partner wanted to buy some of your daddy's cows.” Val chuckled.

Johnny was getting exasperated. “Okay Val just tell me the story because I have a felling there's more to it.”

Val got up and went to the stove; he poured two cups of pan-fried coffee and returned to his desk. He handed one to Johnny and sat down.

“Okay. Better sit back it's a long story.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

In an alley overlooking the sheriff's office two figures hid in the shadows. The smaller man was watching the street while the other one stayed further back and out of sight.

“I tell ya, it's him. Saw him ride in on that golden horse.” The smaller man, Jake, was shaking and wondered why Madrid went into the sheriff's office? 

“Well ain't that nice, we're gonna get both of them.” Burt smiled. Lady Luck was definitely on his side. 

Several years back Jake, Burt, and his brother, Hank, hired on for a range war, siding with a shady rancher by the name of Landry, who had been rustling another rancher's cattle. Without a sheriff to intercede for him, the other rancher, Travis, was forced to fight back. He had money and hired Harper and Madrid, two very expense and dangerous gunfighters.  

In one of the skirmishes, Hank was killed and Burt blamed Jess and Johnny. If they hadn't hired on, Landry's men would have won and taken over the Travis Ranch.

Broke and angry, Burt and Jake drifted, taking odds jobs when they needed money or robbing if they didn't feel like working. They ended up in California, and wandered into Green River. Unfortunately for them the town had a sheriff so Burt said they needed to lay low for a spell and not attract attention. 

They spent most of their time hanging around town and drinking in the saloon. Burt figured they would wait until the sheriff wasn't around, and then they'd rob the General Store. It would get them some money and supplies for the road. 

But then, Burt saw Jess ride out of Green River. All the old anger resurfaced and, leaving Jake to nurse yet another beer, he followed his prey. He waited till Harper was far enough from town so there would be no witnesses. Luck was with him when Jess stopped on the road overlooking a stream, he climbed into the rocks, positioned himself, took aim, and shot his enemy in the back. As he climbed down from his perch in the rocks he saw a rider approaching and was forced to flee. He went back to the Green River Saloon, where Jake was waiting, fully awake now and not quite as drunk as before.

Jake was getting nervous about hanging around town, especially after finding out his partner had ambushed Harper. That sheriff worried him from the start and then Madrid showed up in town. Why was he with the sheriff? This was getting out of hand and Jake was afraid of what Burt would do next. 

“I hope you got a plan. What are we gonna do about Madrid? You gonna ambush him too?” Jake whispered. 

“Shut up, Jake.” Burt hissed. “Lemme think.”  Damn! Jake was a blabbermouth and a coward. Gonna have to take care of him sooner or later.

“I'll think of something, don't you worry none.” Burt sneered.  Yep I'll come up with somethin' but I ain't telling you. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Paul was not looking forward to another encounter with Jess Harper but he couldn't let his grandmother drive the surrey out to Lancer by herself. He was frowning and his grandmother didn't miss his agitation. 

“Paul, what's wrong?”

“Nothing grandmother, I… I just hope Aunt Daisy is alright.” Paul tried to appear calm but Agatha wasn't fooled.

Agatha took pity on her grandson, “Paul, there is something you need to know about Jess.”

“What?” His ‘calmness' gone in a moment.

Agatha needed to reassure her grandson so she patted his knee, “You're aware that Jess was a gunfighter once. I have to admit I was worried about Daisy being around such a man.”  She raised her hand to stop Paul from commenting. “Daisy loves and trusts Jess and she knows he would never hurt her. The reason he still wears a gun is that with his reputation if he didn't he could be killed. In the past, gunfighters looking for a reputation have called him out. Apparently, it's how their game is played. So he can never let his guard down.”

Paul's mouth gaped open, “And that doesn't scare you? What if Aunt Daisy is caught in the middle of a shootout?”

“Daisy told me Jess warned her to never interfere if that should happen.  She's not to say anything and move as far away as possible from him. If she tries to intervene it could get both of them hurt or killed.” Agatha sighed, knowing she had not really reassured her grandson. “Your aunt feels having Jess a part of her life is worth the risk, and we have to accept her decision.”

Paul nodded, “But, Grandmother, the way he acted in the stage depot, the way he looked at me.”  Paul's voice quivered, “I was terrified. Why would anyone want to face a man like that?”

“Good question. Maybe that's why the shooter ambushed Jess instead of facing him.”

“Yes, it's logical I guess, but logic doesn't seem to fit out here. All this still worries me.”

“I know, Paul.” Agatha patted his knee again. “Just remember, Daisy has always been a good judge of character and if she trusts Jess then we have to trust her.”

“I'll try,” Paul offered his grandmother a shy smile.

As relief to both of them, the rest of the drive was limited to comments about the scenery and Jess' name didn't come up again in their conversation.

 

Chapter 11

Teresa was busy in the garden gathering herbs for Maria's stew when she noticed a surrey coming up the drive. She ran into the kitchen and left the herbs on the table for Maria. Composing herself as she walked through the Great Room, she wiped her hands on her apron then stopped by the hall mirror to fluff her hair. Reassured that  she was presentable she walked out to the patio to greet the visitors.  

Paul reined the horse to a stop by an adobe archway and climbed down. He walked around to Agatha's side and put his hands around her waist to lower her to the ground. As he did, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a young lady wearing an apron, probably a housemaid, approach them. With his grandmother safely on the ground he turned and removed his hat. 

Teresa walked up to the surrey, “Hello, I'm Teresa, are you Miss Daisy's sister?”

“Yes my dear, I'm Agatha Reed, we brought Daisy some of her belongings.” She said as she brushed the dust from her skirt.

Paul continued to stare at the very pretty girl as he fiddled with his hat's brim.  

Agatha noticed her grandson's interest and tapped his arm to get his attention, “Paul.”

Embarrassed, he turned to Agatha, “Yes, Grandmother?”

“Would you please get Daisy's bag from the surrey?” She turned to Teresa to avoid laughing at her grandson's expression and the bright red shade coming to his cheeks.

“Teresa, I hope we have not arrived at an inconvenient time,” she moved to the young girl's side.

“Oh no, we have been expecting you.” Teresa smiled.

She ushered Agatha into the Great Room. “Please sit down and I will let Miss Daisy know you are here.” She stopped on the way to Jess' room and turned to Agatha, “Would you like some lemonade?”  

“Yes dear, that would be very nice.  It was a rather hot ride from town.” She smiled at the pretty girl thinking it was no wonder Paul was smitten.

As Teresa disappeared down the hallway, Paul came through the French doors. He looked around then placed the bag on the floor by a large desk. He moved to sit next to Agatha, “Where is Aunt Daisy?” a hint of relief in his voice.

His grandmother had told him Jess would be bedridden for awhile so he felt relieved that he wouldn't be facing the gunfighter.

“Teresa went to tell her that we are here, then she will bring us some lemonade.”  Agatha smiled at Paul, “She is very pretty, don't you think?”

Paul glowed red again.

To take his mind off of Jess and the pretty girl, Paul looked around the large room. He was amazed to see rows of books, fine art, and plush furniture. He smiled to himself, he had not expected to see such expensive and tasteful decor, although he had been impressed by the size and beauty of the hacienda as he viewed it from the long drive down the mountain into the valley. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy sat by Jess' bed and watched him sleep. She looked up when she heard the knock on the door and was about to get up when Sam raised his hand to stop her.

“Stay put. I'll get it.”

When he opened the door, he found himself facing Teresa. “You are not permitted in here, Teresa.”

“I know, I just want to let Daisy know her sister and grandson are here.  They're in the Great Room.”  She tried to peek around Sam to see the mysterious stranger.

Sam moved to block her view, “Thank you Teresa, I'll tell her.”  He shut the door on a very frustrated girl and returned to the bedside.

“Agatha and Paul are here. Why don't you join them in the Great Room and, if there's any change in Jess' condition, I'll get you.”

“Thank you Sam, I will.” She stood and stretched her back, then she leaned over and kissed Jess' cheek. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Teresa stomped into the kitchen, “Maria, I'm going to take some lemonade to our guests.”  She reached for a tray and placed it none too gently on the table.

“Chica, what's wrong?”  Maria asked, bringing some glasses and placing them on the tray. Then she patted Teresa's shoulder.

“They insist on treating me like a kid.” Teresa sighed, “I'm not a little girl anymore.” 

Maria smiled, she knew why Teresa wanted access to the room. Her little Teresa was now at an age when her heart fluttered whenever she saw a good-looking young man. Señor Jess was a handsome man, almost as handsome as Juanito, and he was very young, too.

“Si, but the Patron wants to protect you. It is not proper for a young lady to be in a man's room.”

“But I've taken care of Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny.”  She was clearly not ready to give up the fight.

“Si, but they are familia, Señor Jess, is not.” 

As far as Maria was concerned, the argument was over, so Teresa picked up the tray and headed for the Great Room and their guests. Just before she went in, she took a deep breath to regain her composure. It wouldn't be good for their guests if she looked angry or anything. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

When Daisy entered the Great Room, Paul jumped up and went to his Aunt. “Are you alright?  I was so worried about you.” 

Agatha also got up and moved to Daisy's side. “You look tired. How is Jess?”

“I'm fine. Jess' fever broke and he finally woke up. He was able to talk to Val. Unfortunately, he doesn't know what happened or who would want to shoot him. Sam will stay till he's sure Jess is stable,” Daisy dropped onto the sofa. 

Agatha sat beside her sister and patted her hand while Paul sat on her other side. “Thank goodness, we have been concerned about both of you.”

A few moments later Teresa arrived with the lemonade, Paul immediately rose and took the heavy tray from her. “Where would you like it…”  

“My name's Teresa, and on the table in front of the sofa will be fine.” She smiled at him.

Paul felt himself blush again, so he placed the tray on the table and returned to his place, by his Aunt's side. Teresa moved over to the table and proceeded to pour the lemonade. Paul kept looking at her and when he saw that she was joining them, he suddenly realized the girl wasn't a maid. That made him blush even more.

Agatha and Daisy shared a knowing look and sipped the lemonade to keep from laughing. 

“Teresa is Mr. Lancer's ward,” Daisy took pity on Paul. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Johnny stood up and paced the office. “Dios, Val. Who the hell even knows Jess is around here?”

“Just Mrs. Reed and her grandson. Near as I can tell Jess escorted Miss Daisy, delivered her to Paul, and then headed out to your ranch. I didn't even know he was in town.” Val was as frustrated as Johnny.

“Well, someone sure as hell saw him and hated him enough to lay in wait and bushwhack him.” Johnny ran a hand through his hair. “I better head home. I bet Murdoch just loves my past popping up again.” Johnny added sarcastically.

Val stood and moved to Johnny's side. “Come on amigo, it might not be as bad as you think. And,maybe your ol' man will even feed me once I return his prodigal son.” Val joked.

“What, I can get home on my own, don't need a babysitter,” an unhappy Johnny reached for his hat.

“I know, I know. But until we figure out who did this and why, you're not going home alone.” Val grabbed his hat, plopped it on his head and shoved Johnny toward the door. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Jake remained in the alley to keep watch on the sheriff's office. He was nervous and didn't want to be involved in bushwhacking. Ever since Burt saw Harper he was getting worse and meaner to a point where Jake wished he could get away from his partner. Killing in a range war was one thing but murder was something else and he wanted no part of it. But he knew if he turned on Burt, Burt wouldn't hesitate killing him.   

Burt had gone over to the saloon, but ordered Jake to keep watch and come for him if Madrid left town. Jake was contemplating how to get out of town without Burt finding out, maybe if he could get his partner drunk…

His thoughts were interrupted when the sheriff and Madrid left the office and headed for the livery.  Madrid was leading his horse so Jake watched to see what the sheriff was going to do.  Then the sheriff returned with a horse, mounted up and rode out with Madrid.

Jake rushed over to the saloon, he peeked over the batwing doors and waited for his partner to finally notice him.  

Burt was downing another drink while casually looking around the room. When he saw Jake standing outside by the door, he threw some coins on the bar and headed out, pushing his partner into the alley. “Well, did Madrid head out outa town?”

“Yep, but the sheriff is with him.  You ain't plannin' on taking them both out are ya?”

Burt rounded on Jake and knocked him to the ground, “Shut up, you stupid bastard.”

Jake crawled backwards as far away from Burt as he could, “I don't want any part of this.”  He stopped and held up his hands.

“Okay, you want out of the partnership,” Burt leered, “I'll let ya out.” 

Jake rose and backed up against the saloon wall, “Ya mean it, really?  No hard feelings?” 

Burt sneered at the quiver in Jake's voice.  “Yeah I mean it.  Get out.”  Burt stepped back so Jake could pass him to get out of the alley.

When Jake was beside to him, Burt suddenly pulled his knife and buried it to the hilt in the man's chest. 

Shocked by the sudden pain, Jake looked down at his chest then up to Burt, who just smiled as he pulled out the knife and wiped it on Jake's shirt. “Don't need no coward at my back,” Burt growled.

Jake's eyes glazed over and he silently sank to the dirt with Burt watching the blood pool around the dead man and slowly sink into the dry soil. Then, Burt stepped over the body and casually walked to the livery to retrieve his horse.

 

Chapter 12

Val and Johnny were finally on Lancer land, both relieved that so far the trip had been uneventful. Of course there was still the explosion with Murdoch to face.  Val took pity on his amigo, “Don't be worrying none about your papi, I told him Jess was a friend.”

“Yeah, but he's still gonna be mad that someone is out there bushwhacking gunfighters on his precious land. And he sure as hell don't want two ex-gunfighters under his roof.”

“Aw just stop fretting, we'll get it straightened out.”  Val wanted Johnny to calm down before he got home.  Lancer and his younger son were like a fuse and a match, particularly when it comes down to Johnny's past. 

“Don't matter Val. He hates Madrid and this will all end up being my fault.”

Val agreed but he wasn't about to say so. Murdoch Lancer was a force to reckon with and Val wished the two could sit together and talk things through. But, for this to happen, Johnny would also have to open up and Val didn't see it happening any time soon. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch saw the surrey as he rode up to the corral from a morning checking fence line. He entered the Great Room where he saw Daisy sitting on the sofa with another woman and a young man. 

Teresa got up and went over to him and taking his arm ushered him to the sofa, “Murdoch, I want you to meet Miss Daisy's sister Mrs. Agatha Reed and her grandson Paul.”

“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Reed, Paul.” Murdoch nodded and moved to sit in the leather chair. “Are you getting settled? Sheriff Crawford mentioned you bought the Hanson place.”

“Please call me Agatha. And yes we did, it is a lovely little home. The next time you and your sons are in town please stop by.” Agatha smiled at Murdoch, “Your sheriff seems fond of my oatmeal cookies.”

Murdoch laughed out loud, “I bet he is.” He was amused at the thought of scruffy Val visiting the very prim and proper Mrs. Reed.  “My younger son has a sweet tooth and if the sheriff tells him about your cookies, I'm sure he will find a way to stop by your place.”

Daisy chuckled, “Men and their deserts, Jess is fond of apple pie. I can get him to finish the most hated jobs around the ranch with the promise of a pie.”

Murdoch smiled politely; he hated small talk and just wished Scott would return from inspecting the clogged creek in the north pasture. He would gladly leave the task to him as Scott was very good at taking control in social settings.

Much to his relief, he saw Scott ride past the large window a few minutes later.  “Ah! Here comes my older son. You will, of course, all join us for lunch?”

Scott had also noticed the surrey so he brushed off as much dust as possible before entering the house.  

“Well, I see we have guests,” he moved into the room and over to the sofa to greet the newcomers. “It's a pleasure to see you both again.”

“I will let Maria know we have two more guests,” Murdoch said, rising from his chair and disappearing quickly into the kitchen. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Jelly had relieved Sam so the doctor could  join the group for lunch.

Once they had all finished eating, they moved to the patio to enjoy some fresh air. 

Bored to tears with the small talk, Teresa took the first opportunity that presented itself and offered, “Paul would you like to see some of the horses in the corral?” 

Paul looked toward Agatha, “Will you be alright here?” 

“Of course, Paul. Go with Teresa.” She looked at the young girl, “Paul is an excellent rider, and maybe the two of you could ride together some time.”

“How about now? Johnny finished training a new bay that I'm sure you would enjoy riding.” Teresa didn't even look in Murdoch's direction.

Before Murdoch could say anything Scott spoke up. “Yes, good idea, it will give Paul a chance to see the area.” 

Paul looked toward the corral, relieved to also escape the small talk. “Thank you, I would certainly enjoy a ride.”

“Well, let's go.” Teresa took Paul's arm and they headed for the barn. 

Scott looked at Murdoch and smiled, he knew exactly what his father thought about his precious Teresa riding off with a boy he didn't know.

“Well, ladies, we enjoyed lunch with you but I'm afraid Scott and I have to get back to work, I hope to see you again soon Mrs. Reed… Agatha.”  He motioned to Scott and the two headed for their horses.

“Think you're funny don't you, Son?” Murdoch took the reins and mounted his horse.

Scott just smiled, mounted his horse, and headed for the creek followed by his father.

Throughout the exchange Sam had sat there and silently enjoyed the show. His old friend was in for it now that Teresa was old enough to be interested in the opposite sex and them in her.

Daisy cleared her throat again, trying to get the doctor's attention. “Sam, Agatha and I are going for a walk. Jelly is with Jess so why don't you get some rest?”

Sam nodded his head, “Sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. You are right, I think I could use a nap.  Enjoy your walk and call me if you need me.”  Sam rose and went to his room, glad for the opportunity to rest a bit. He grinned, let Jelly put up with Jess' complaints about staying in bed. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Daisy and Agatha walked toward the garden, “Agatha, I need to tell you something.” They moved to the far end of the garden and Daisy pointed to a small bench under a tree. “I know how much Jess frightens Paul.” 

As they sat down, Agatha turned to her sister, “He's just concerned, he loves you very much Daisy. Paul will come around, he just needs some time.”

“Oh I know, but Jess told me something and I want you to know first so we can explain it to Paul.”

“What?” Worry clearly showing in Agatha's voice.

Daisy reached over and took hold of her sister's hand. “Jess and Murdoch's younger son know each other.  Johnny Lancer used to be Johnny Madrid, a well-known gunfighter.”  She waited to see what impact her words would have, but Agatha remained silent.

“Several years ago Val, Jess, and Johnny rode together and hired out their guns. A while back, Val gave up selling his gun and became a sheriff. When Jess woke up, Val told him that Johnny was here and going by his real name, Lancer.  He told me that a couple years ago the ranch was under attack by raiders and Murdoch asked his sons to return and help save the ranch.”

Agatha didn't want to interrupt a story she felt was worth listening to, so she waited for her sister to continue.

“Both boys grew up away from their father. Scott's grandfather withheld the true facts making the boy believe his father didn't want him. In Johnny's case, his mother stole him away when he was only two-years-old. She lied to him telling him that his father had thrown them out because she was Mexican, and he's a half-breed.”  Daisy shook her head, “What an awful term, isn't it. But Jess said that's what people called Johnny.”

Agatha finally spoke, “The poor boys, what happened to them?”  

“Well, Scott was safe in Boston, but during the war he served in the Union Army.  Johnny's mother was killed when he was a boy and he grew up wild in Mexico and in time became a gunfighter.”  Daisy took a deep breath and looked at Agatha, “Johnny came very close to losing his life. He was involved in a Mexican revolution, the poor villagers against the rich landowners and federal troops. He was saved by a Pinkerton agent as he stood in front of a firing squad.” Daisy felt drained from the telling.

“Oh Daisy, how this family has suffered.”  Her eyes went wide, “They were afraid Jess was coming after Johnny, weren't they?”

“Yes, but Val told them not to worry because Jess is a friend and would never hurt Johnny. Now we just have to convince Paul that neither Jess nor Johnny is a danger to us.” 

Daisy didn't feel as confident as she sounded so, Agatha took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Sure, Daisy.” She grinned at her sister, “Good luck with that.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Burt mounted and headed out of town, satisfied he had fooled the livery man.  

Burt told he had some information for the sheriff about a wanted man and he needed to talk to the sheriff.  The older man pointed to a direction and said, “Follow the road until ya reach Lancer Ranch. Ya can't miss it. Got a big arch leadin' to the house.”

Content his plan was working, Burt plodded along careful not to get too close to the riders. He smiled when he realized Harper had been headed for Lancer as well. Maybe Madrid and Harper had signed on at Lancer for gun work. 

With an evil grin, Burt started planning.  

When he passed the spot where he had ambushed Harper, Burt dismounted and looked down the embankment.  Finally he spotted what he was looking for, a dark spot in the dirt, where Harper fell.  His smile faded as he realized he had not had time to make sure Harper was dead. But the smile returned to his face. If he wasn't he would be soon and so would Madrid.

Burt mounted his horse and continued toward Lancer. He needed to find a safe place to camp for the night.

 

Chapter 13

Johnny and Val stopped under the Lancer Arch, relieved they got home without mishap. 

“Well, no gunfire.” Val winked at Johnny.

“Yep, but now I'll have to face a Murdoch explosion.” Johnny removed his hat and wiped his forearm across his sweaty forehead. “Well, guess I might as well get over with it.” He replaced his hat and touched a spur to Barranca's side.

Val frowned. He had seen the older man's face when Daisy told them Jess' story, he had seen the play of emotions – heck, an explosion would come as no surprise.

When they pulled up at the hacienda Walt ran up to take the horses. “Welcome back Johnny, didn't expect ya back so soon,” Walt called, then turned from Johnny and nodded to Val.  

Johnny dismounted and looked around. “Where is everybody? Figured Murdoch would be here.”

“Mr. Lancer is checking fence line and Scott is working on a clogged creek.” After Val dismounted, Walt took the reins of both horses and headed for the barn.

Johnny frowned at Val, “My Ol' Man riding fence, that's just great.  Not only will he be mad at me, but he'll be hurting too.” He shook his head, “Should have stayed in Stockton.” Dejected, he headed for the Great Room. 

Val sighed, damn Johnny was probably right. He just hoped Murdoch wouldn't jump on the kid the minute he saw him. He followed his amigo into the house. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy and Agatha saw Val ride up to the house with a man they didn't recognize. The man wore strange clothes, strange didn't begin to describe it. They were shocked to see a man wearing a pink shirt, and pants with silver buttons down the legs.

“I wonder if he's someone Val suspects of the shooting?” Excited and worried at the same time, Daisy rose and started for the house. 

“Wait Daisy, he's wearing a gun.” Agatha went after Daisy and tried to calm her down. She grabbed her sister's arm, “Now if that man was a suspect, don't you think the Sheriff would have shackled him and taken his gun?”

“Of course, you're right.” Daisy stopped and looked to her sister. Suddenly a thought occurred to her. “He's wearing his gun like Jess does, low on his hips.”

They looked at each other and said at the same time. “Johnny?” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Val caught up with Johnny in the Great Room, “Hey wait up amigo.”

Johnny turned, “Where's Jess?”

“Come on, he's in one of the guest rooms.”  Val pointed to the hallway and walked in front of Johnny.

They stopped at the door and Val softly knocked in case Jess was asleep.

Jelly answered the door, “Come on in. Jess jus' woke up.”  He looked at Johnny, “He's just like another young'un livin' here.” He stepped aside for the two men to enter. “He's been complainin' about bein' stuck in bed.”  Jelly turned and shook a finger at the injured man.

Val lowered his head so no one would see him grin and cleared his throat. “Jelly how about you and me getting some coffee from Maria.”

“Fine with me, since I ain't getting no ‘ppreciation here.” Jelly scrubbed his whiskers and sent another glare toward Jess. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

As Val and Jelly headed for the kitchen they ran into Daisy and Agatha coming down the hall. 

“Was that Johnny with you, Val?” Daisy was wringing her hands.

“Yes Ma'am, think we need to leave ‘em alone for awhile.” Val reached out and took Daisy's arm. “How about something to drink, Maria makes a real good lemonade.”

“I know what you're doing Sheriff, but I agree. They probably have a lot to talk about.” Daisy accepted Val's arm and they all headed for the kitchen.

Maria placed coffee, lemonade, and sandwiches on the table. She stopped by Val, “Is Juanito alright?” 

“Si Maria, he's fine.” He patted her hand. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Dios, Harper, what the hell happened?” Johnny sat in the chair by Jess' bed. “Last I heard you were headed back to Texas.”

“I was but ended up drifting and figured it'd be better to head further north.  We… left some enemies behind us, remember?” 

Johnny nodded, “Yep, that last range war was bad.” He grinned, “At least we didn't get paid with a bullet.” 

Jess gave a weak laugh, “Yeah, that rancher Travis was a decent man, not like the other one.”

“Landry and his hired guns were cobardes,” Johnny said in disgust. “So that headed ya north?  Goin' where?”

“Thought I'd try Colorado and Wyoming.” Jess frowned, “Damn it gets cold up there.”

Johnny laughed, “Yeah, know what ya mean. It sure gets cold here sometimes.”

“Anyway, I met up with this guy, Pete Morgan. We drifted together for awhile till one day I woke up with a cracked head and no money.”  

“Damn, hope ya shot him.”

“Long story, but I ended up tracking him down, got involved in a jail break, held hostage in a relay station, one hell of a mess.” Jess bowed his head, “Ended up helping the law… ” 

Johnny couldn't hold back the laughter, “You?”

“Hey, you haven't heard the worst.” Jess smirked, “I ended up hiring on at the relay station and me and the boss, Slim Sherman, became friends. He even made me a partner a little while back.”  

“Dios, Jess, you being all respectable now?”

“Damn Madrid, look who's talking, huh? Ain't you a rancher now?” Jess sobered, “Heard your father didn't throw you and your mama out.”

Johnny nodded, “Yeah she lied about a lot of things, like me having a half-brother. Don't that beat all?”

“Sure does. Glad to hear you finally have the family ya always wanted.” Jess smiled, then sobered, “Now what about that firing squad Val told me about?”

“It was close, ‘was my turn to be shot to pieces when this fat gringo came tearing up the hill yelling at the top of his lungs.” Johnny chuckled, “It was a sight lemme tell ya… He said the Ol' Man was offerin' $1,000 listening money.”  

“So looks like you took him up on it.” Jess grinned.

“The best job I ever took.  Oh, we're still trying to get this family thing right but it's better than hiring out and watching my back all the time.”

Jess got a faraway look in his eyes, “I know what ya mean.  I've got a family now, and it feels good.”

Johnny sighed, “Sí, it sure does.”

No one talked for a few minutes till Johnny broke the silence. “So why were you coming here?” Johnny sounded confused.

“My partner, Slim, read about Lancer cows and thought it would be a good idea to buy some.” Jess grimaced, “You know how I feel about cows.” 

Johnny nodded in agreement. 

“Anyway Daisy's sister moved to Green River and invited Daisy over for a visit. Since it was close to the Lancer Ranch, I escorted her here and then headed out to see about buying some cows. Hey, have you met Daisy yet?”

“No, but guess I will.” 

“You better be your on your best behavior, Daisy's a real special lady.” Jess shot Johnny a warning look.

“Don't worry; I will be the gallant hijo del don.” Johnny stood and bowed.

Jess shook his head, “Yeah, sure.” Clearly he wasn't impressed.

“Hey when was the last time you had a decent Mexican supper?”

“Too long. I miss some spice in my food. Daisy doesn't know how to cook like that.” Jess felt he needed to defend Daisy, “But she does make the best apple pies.”

“Well Maria is one hell of a cook. She'll heat ya up.”

“No such luck. That Doc has me drinking awful broth and tea.” Jess made a face. “Tried to get rid of them but Daisy is too smart. That tea Maria makes tastes like horse piss.”

“Yeah, but you better drink it. Maria takes it real personal if her hard work goes ta waste.  And believe me ya don't want to get a Mexican woman mad at ya.” Johnny unconsciously rubbed his butt. 

“Ain't funny Madrid.”

Johnny broke out in laughter and ducked out the door just before the glass crashed against the closed door.

Jess winced as he felt some of Sam's stitches pull.  He reached behind his back and felt the dampness.  “Damn Sam and Daisy will be giving me hell over this.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny, still laughing, headed to the kitchen to find Val and to get some coffee from Maria.   

“Hey Johnny, I want ya to meet two special ladies.” Val motioned Johnny to the table. 

“Mrs. Agatha Reed.  She and her grandson, Paul, just moved to Green River.” Val smiled at Agatha, “Mrs. Reed makes some mighty good oatmeal cookies.” 

Johnny smiled and bowed to Agatha. “Pleased to meet you Ma'am. Welcome to Green River.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Johnny. Your family has been so gracious to my sister and Jess.”

“And this little lady is Jess' friend, Mrs. Daisy Cooper.” Val said, turning to the other lady at the table.

Johnny moved to the small woman and took her hand, he bowed again but this time he kissed her hand. “Pleased to meet you Ma'am.” He winked, “I've been warned to be on my best behavior.”  

Daisy laughed, “I can imagine.”  She leaned in and whispered, “Jess already intimidated Paul.”

Johnny looked up, surprised, and then grinned, “I bet he did. He has the effect on people sometimes.”

“Where's Paul, I thought he brought you out to Lancer?” Val asked suddenly realizing the grandson was missing.

“Oh, Teresa and Paul went for a ride, she is showing him Lancer.” Agatha answered.

Johnny started choking on the coffee he just sipped; Val reached over and pounded him on the back.

“Dios Val! Stop before you break something.” Johnny had just managed to set the cup down before Val started beating on him.

“Watch yer mouth, there's ladies present.” Val scolded.

Agatha and Daisy hid their grins behind their coffee cups.  

“Lo siento.” Johnny choked out, contrite.

Val shook his head, “He means he's sorry.” He scowled at Johnny, “Speak English for the ladies.”

“I'm sorry, it just surprised me that my… oh never mind.” Johnny stood, “I better get some work done before Murdoch gets back.” He bowed to Agatha and Daisy, “Ladies.” 

Johnny beat a hasty retreat from the kitchen followed by Val's laughter. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Hidden in the trees above the hacienda, Burt waited for Madrid to come out of the house.  

He was surprised to see that the gunfighter seemed so familiar with the hands. Lancer must be a real understandin' man to let the half-breed walk around like he owned the place, not mentioning givin' him free access to the house.

 

Chapter 14

Daisy placed her cup on the table, “If you will excuse me I want to check on Jess.” 

“Do ya want me to get Sam for ya, Daisy?” Val started to get up.

Daisy waved, “No, Val, I don't think I'll need him.” She smiled and patted his arm then headed for Jess' room.

She knocked on the door and without waiting she stepped in only to stop dead in her tracks. “Oh no, Jess!” Daisy cried out seeing the blood on Jess' hand. Then she looked down and saw the mess on the floor. “What happened? Did you throw this?” She pointed to the floor.

Before Jess could answer, Daisy was out the door, down the hall, and calling for Sam.

The doctor rushed out from his room and saw Daisy coming toward him, “What did he do now?” He shook his head and mumbled, “He's just like Johnny.” 

Daisy looked back, “Did you say something?” 

“No, just thinking out loud,” he sighed.

Daisy knew from personal experience that dealing with an injured Jess was no picnic and felt sorry for the doctor. She stopped and faced Sam, “He has blood on his hand and there's a broken glass is on the floor.”

Everyone in the kitchen had heard Daisy's call and headed for the hallway to see what had happened now. Sam waved to them as he and Daisy went in the room.

“Okay, let me have a look.” Sam rolled Jess onto his stomach and was none too gentle about it. “Did you try to get out of bed?” he asked, clearly peeved.

“No,” Jess sighed in resignation. “I… I threw a glass at the door.”

Jess winced as Sam poked at the wound. “Take it easy Doc. Thought you was supposed to heal people not make ‘em feel worse.” Jess grouched.

“I do, but patients who don't obey orders, suffer for it.” Sam glared back at Jess' back, “You managed to pull some stitches. So I'm going to have to replace them.” He was angry, “You're just like Johnny, you can't take orders, can you?”

Jess' latest stunt had upset Daisy, but she wasn't about to interrupt Sam's lecture.  As far as she was concerned, he should take Jess over his knee and warm his backside.

“I'll go let everyone know Jess is alright.” Daisy couldn't help but feel sorry for Sam. It seemed Jess and Johnny shared a lot more in common than being ex-gunfighters. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny stood by the corral and watched as two riders approached him. He raised his hand and called out, “Hey Teresa, y'all have a good ride?” 

When the pair stopped beside him, Johnny reached out for the horse's reins. “You must be Paul,” he nodded to Teresa's companion.

Teresa dismounted and threw herself at Johnny and hugged him. “Oh, Johnny, I'm so glad you are home. Have you seen Jess?” She said it all in one breath.  Then she turned to Paul. “I'd like you to meet Johnny, Mr. Lancer's younger son.” She grinned, “He's the one who trained the bay you rode.”

Paul dismounted and awkwardly offered his hand, “Pleased to meet you Mr. Lancer.” 

“Just call me Johnny, Mr. Lancer is my Ol' Man.” He shook hands with Paul and noticed his soft hands as well as an eagerness to end the handshake. 

Feeling awkward Paul reached out and patted the horse's neck, “A very fine horse.”

“He's a good one,” Johnny looked to Teresa for a way to end the meeting.

Before Teresa could say anything Paul cleared his throat. Still rattled by what Johnny had called his father, he stammered, “I… I should check on Grandmother…” He looked uneasy, “We should head back to town before dark.” Paul bowed to Teresa, nodded to Johnny, and headed for the house.

“What was that all about?” Johnny asked, watching Paul's retreating back as the young man walked as quickly as he could, without actually running, toward the hacienda.

“I don't know.” Teresa shrugged her shoulders and frowned. “He seemed to be having fun during the ride.”

“Well, I take care of the horses, you go look after him.”  Johnny shook his head and led the horses to the barn.

Teresa nodded and ran to catch up with Paul. “Hey, wait for me. What's wrong?”

“It's just… I thought the way Johnny talked about his father was disrespectful.” Paul looked at his feet.

Teresa giggled, “Paul, that's not the way Johnny meant it. He was just teasing; he calls Mr. Lancer that all the time.”

“I'm sorry; things are so different out here.  I should go apologize to him for being so abrupt.” He looked toward the barn, not eager to talk to Johnny again.

“No, it's okay,” she smiled reassuringly. “You check on your grandmother and I'll ask Johnny to hitch up the surrey.”  

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val looked up from his coffee as Daisy entered the kitchen, “Well, what'd he do now?”

“He threw a glass at Johnny and pulled some stitches.” Daisy chuckled. “He has met his match with Sam and I can guarantee he isn't going to enjoy getting those stitches replaced.” She sat at the table and accepted a fresh cup of coffee from Maria.

Val laughed. “Ya got that right Daisy. Sam makes the same point with Johnny when he pulls some harebrained stunt.” 

“Well, at least it wasn't more serious than pulled stitches.” Agatha was releived. “I wonder how Paul and Teresa are doing on their ride?” she added after a short silence. 

“We had a very nice ride.” Paul announced as he came through the kitchen door just in time to hear Agatha's comment. “Grandmother, don't you think we should head back to town before dark?”

“Of course, Paul.” Agatha couldn't help but notice her grandson's uneasiness which made her wonder what had happened to make him so eager to leave.

“Teresa is asking Johnny to hitch the surrey so we can go home.” He shook his head at Marie when she offered him a coffee cup.

“Well, I need to head back too. Got some things to check out so I'll ride along with y'all.” Val nodded to the ladies and headed outside. 

“Hey Johnny,” Val called to his amigo who was leading the team and surrey to the house. “What did you and Jess do?”

“What do ya mean, we just talked?” Johnny removed his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.

“Jess pulled some stitches, Sam is pissed, and Miss Daisy retreated to the kitchen.” Val laughed at Johnny expression.

“Damn, I didn't think about that. Guess I better steer clear of Sam for awhile.” He handed the reins over to Val. “Might even head out to find Scott.

“Ya still have to come home.” Val smirked, “I think Sam is staying the night.”

“Maybe he'll cool down by then,” Johnny called over his shoulder as he headed for the barn.

“Johnny, don't go riding out alone.” 

“Hey, I'll be fine.”

“What if that bushwhacker is out there waiting for you to be alone?” Val was concerned about his friends safety.

“Don't worry, I'm a big boy and can take care of myself,” Johnny bragged.

Val frowned, “Yeah, and so could Jess. And look what happened to him.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Burt watched from his lookout point in the rocks. He was really getting tired of waiting for Madrid to go off alone.  He considered going down and pretend to be looking for work but then, with the sheriff down there, he didn't want to raise the man's suspicions.

So he sat and waited, getting angrier and more frustrated by the minute. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

While Walt saddled the sheriff's horse, Val and Johnny continued to talk as they walked back to the surrey. 

Meanwhile Agatha and Paul thanked Teresa and Maria and said their goodbyes to Daisy before heading out. They met Val and Johnny who were waiting by the surrey.

“Y'all are welcome back anytime,” Johnny aimed his winning smile toward the older lady. Val just shook his head, hiding a smile.

“I enjoyed meeting you Johnny.” Agatha smiled at the young man, then turned to Val. “Thank you Sheriff for riding with us. I feel much safer.” Agatha accepted Val's hand-up into the surrey.

“My pleasure, Ma'am.” He tipped his hat and mounted up.

“Johnny stay close and watch over the women.” Val's glare proved he wasn't going to take no for an answer. 

“Okay Val, okay. I'll stay put but not forever. Comprende?” Johnny said as he tapped his gun butt.

He watched them till they reached the Lancer Arch then he went in the house to check on Jess - and face the music with Sam.

 

Chapter 15

Still hidden behind his lookout point, Burt watched from his perch as the sheriff left Lancer with the old lady and the kid.  Once they were out of sight he mounted up and rode toward the hacienda. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny fidgeted as he sat at the table listening to Sam lecture him about responsibility, “Look I said I'm sorry, I didn't think…”

“That's just it you didn't think.” Sam was exasperated, “It's like dealing with two kids, two undisciplined kids.” He pointed his finger at the miscreant, “Remember the next time you are hurt, I'll be the one taking care of you.”  With that said Sam left the kitchen.

Johnny didn't move, he felt the angry glare coming from Maria, “Hey, I'm sorry. No more teasing Jess, okay.”

Maria smacked her hand with her wooden spoon, “Señora Daisy works so hard taking care of Señor Jess, so you behave… and help.” One more smack, “Sí?”

“Sí, Maria.” Johnny held up his hands and backed out of the kitchen, protecting his backside from his Mamacita's weapon. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

As Johnny walked through the Great Room he heard a horse approaching the hacienda. He looked out the French Doors and saw a stranger pull up near the corral. Walt walked up to the man and then pointed toward the house. The stranger dismounted, threw the reins over the top rail and headed for the house.

Johnny stepped out onto the patio and waited for the stranger to approach. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, y'all doing any hirin'?” Burt's heart was racing at being this close to his enemy. 

“What kind of work?” Something about the man was familiar, but he couldn't place him. His sixth sense kicked in and he knew the stranger meant trouble for him.

“Ranch work… or gun work.'” Burt nodded toward Johnny's low slung gun belt, “I mean since you're here, Madrid, there must be something goin' on.”

“What do you mean by that?” Johnny knew the man wasn't a gunfighter, at least not one with a rep, but he knew he'd seen this man before. He kept racking his brain, trying to remember where and when.

“You don't work cheap and from the looks of this place, well the money must be good.” Burt smirked, “Course I ain't in your league but I know how to handle a gun.” He hoped he had been successful hiding the hate he was feeling from showing on his face.

“Lancer isn't hiring guns so you might as well move on.”  Johnny was getting uneasy, the man called him Madrid and although he'd never kept that a secret, it usually meant trouble. He wanted the man gone and gone now before Murdoch got home.

“Well, maybe I'll be back later and talk the boss man.” He sneered, “Yeah, I need to be talkin' to Lancer instead of the hired help.” And some damn half-breed.

Johnny didn't respond instead he nodded toward the horse by the corral, “Better you just move on.”

“Sure Madrid, guess ya ain't wantin' no competition.” Burt baited.

Johnny easily slid into gunfighter mode, “Don't think ya want to go there.”

Burt realized too late that he'd pushed too hard, “Hey, I ain't facing you.” Burt held his hands away from his gun. “I'm goin'.” But just wait till I have your back in my gunsight.

It had been close and Burt knew he'd been lucky. He slowly moved to the corral, mounted up, and pretended to head toward Green River. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy stood by the bed, tapping her foot.  Jess knew that wasn't a good sign, and that he was in deep trouble. 

“I'm sorry Daisy.” Jess put on his best ‘poor, sick, little boy' look.

“That's not going to work.” Daisy knew that expression only too well and wasn't in the mood to let Jess get away with it. “Do you know how you frightened me, seeing the blood on your hand?” Her voice choked at the end.

“Daisy,” Jess tried to rise up.

She pushed him back down, “Don't try to get up, if Sam has to replace anymore stitches he'll probably use barbed wire.” She shook her finger in his face, “He was really mad at you.”

“I'm sorry Daisy, I didn't think…” Jess suddenly realized how much he had upset the lady he considered his mother. “I'll behave, I promise,” he reached for her hand.

She sat on the edge of the bed and took Jess' hand in hers, “Please, I can't stand seeing you hurt.”

The moment was interrupted by a knock at the door. Daisy composed herself and called out, “Come in.”

Johnny peeked around the door, “Am I allowed in?”

Daisy smiled, “Of course.”

“Sorry Ma'am. It's my fault Jess pulled those stitches.” Johnny remorse was obvious by the look on his face.

“Actually, I believe the fault falls on two shoulders.” She rose and motioned for  Johnny to come into the room. “Can I trust you two alone?”

“Yes Ma'am.” Two voices replied as one.

As Johnny moved to the chair by the bed, Daisy pointed to both of them, “See that you do.” She left the room smirking at the expressions. Two gunfighters, more like two naughty boys caught in the act. By the time she had closed the door, she was barely able to refrain from laughing out loud. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Exhausted and relieved the long day was over, Murdoch and Scott rode into the yard.  Murdoch groaned as he dismounted and Scott was wise enough not to comment. “I'll take the horses, Sir.”

“Thanks Son, I think I'll head to the bathhouse for a long soak.” Murdoch tried to hide the limp as he moved off.

“Scott, I'll take care of them for ya.” Walt reached out and took the reins. “By the way a stranger rode up this afternoon.  Said he was looking for work. He talked to Johnny and it wasn't all friendly ‘cause the guy left in a hurry like.”

“Thanks Walt, do you know where Johnny is now?”

“He went back in the house.”

Disturbed, Scott went in the kitchen in search of his brother, “Maria, where's Johnny?”

“He's with Señor Jess.”

“Thanks.” Scott headed for the guest room, and met Daisy in the hallway.

“Daisy, is Johnny with Jess?”

“Yes.” She noticed Scott seemed edgy, “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, don't worry. I just wanted to talk to my brother about some urgent ranch business. How is Jess?”

“He's in trouble with Sam.” She grinned, “He pulled some stitches but Sam fixed him up, again.”

“Do you think it's safe to go in without being shot?” Scott asked, attempting to sound less worried than he really was.

“Yes, and maybe you can keep them in line.” Daisy laughed.

Scott bowed, “Ma'am, I will do my best.” Scott stood aside as Daisy headed for the kitchen to help Maria and Teresa with supper. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Scott tapped on the door and waited, till he heard Johnny's voice telling him to come in.

He opened the door, saw Jess and Johnny side by side - one on the bed the other in the beside chair - and thought how alike the two were, in looks and actions. “Jess, I hear you are in trouble with Sam.” Scott smiled.

“Yeah, what else is new? Don't know why I can't move around some.” Jess grumbled, “Heal better not chained to a bed.”

“Where have I heard that before?” Scott aimed his smirk at his brother.

“Are ya done raggin' on us?” Johnny shot back. “Jess and me have been talking about a stranger…”

Scott's face paled, “The one Walt told me about?”

“Yeah, was just telling Jess about him; I know I've seen him before.” He paused then dropped the bomb, “He called me Madrid.”

“If he knows Madrid do you think he also knows Jess?” Scott dreaded hearing the answer.

“Yep, pretty sure. Johnny can't place him though.” Jess supplied. 

Johnny moved to sit on the side of the bed while Scott took the chair. “Do you think he might have known you two from a previous job?”

“Yeah Boston,  and I think maybe we just found the bushwhacker.”

“But what are the odds he would track you down here? Most people believe Madrid was executed in Mexico.” Then Scott looked to Jess, “And how could he know you would be in California?” 

“He couldn't. Maybe he was drifting through and spotted Jess.” Johnny sighed, “We need to talk to Val, he mentioned seeing some drifters in town.”

“I'll have Walt go to Green River first thing tomorrow morning and bring Val back.” Scott rose from the chair and walked toward the door. “You two need to stay inside in case he is watching the ranch,” he added before shutting the door behind him.

“Scott's right, but at least you can describe the guy to Val.” Jess squirmed in the bed trying to get comfortable. “You stay close and watch the ladies. If he's the bushwacker he won't care about hurting innocent women.” Jess sighed, “Damn, my ass is getting sore laying here.”

Johnny laughed, “Well you better behave ‘cause I'm telling ya, you don't want to feel Maria's spoon whack your ‘sore ass' or it'll really be hurtin'.”

“Funny Madrid.” Jess glared.

“Jess, I was thinking, remember that range war we were talking about?”

“Yeah. The guy that threatened to kill us, right?”

“Yep, said we killed his brother.” Johnny nodded.

“No way of telling who shot who with all the bullets flying.” Jess stared at Johnny.

Johnny agreed, “But he was so mad, he just needed someone to blame.”

“So he picked us.” 

“You stay put, I'm gonna break the bad news to Murdoch.” Johnny rose from the bed. “He ain't gonna be none too happy about this involving Madrid.”

As Johnny made his way to the Great Room he couldn't stop thinking his Ol' Man would either toss him out or kill him. Madrid was fucking up his perfect life - again. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

The hot bath had done wonders for his many aches, Murdoch changed into the clean clothes Maria had put in the bathhouse for him and smiled. What would Lancer do without her? Teresa was a sweet girl but left something to be desired in the cooking department. She still had time to learn, though, and Maria was no doubt the best teacher his ward could have.  After he dressed he headed for the Great Room and a poured himself a glass of scotch before supper. He relaxed into his leather chair and slowly sipped his drink enjoying the fiery liquid as it went down his throat. The fence line was in good shape and Scott had cleared the north pasture creek. Now if the issue of the bushwhacking could be solved as easily, everything would be perfect.

He closed his eyes and sighed. His peace was interrupted when he heard the jingle of spurs followed by a familiar voice. Murdoch opened his eyes and smiled, surprised to see his younger son home earlier than expected.

 

Chapter 16

Val made sure Agatha and Paul got home safely to Green River. While Paul helped his grandmother down from the surrey and saw her inside the house, Val watched the street.

When Paul came back out he walked over to Val, “Thank you Sheriff for escorting us. Well, I better to take the surrey back to the livery.” He reached out to take the reins.

“No need, I'll take it. I have to return Renegade and get him bedded down, be glad to take the surrey for ya.” 

“Thank you,” Paul smiled. He was relieved he wouldn't have to walk back after an afternoon in the saddle.

Val tapped the rim of his hat, and led the team to toward the livery stable.

L * A * N * C * E * R

Agatha was in the kitchen preparing supper when Paul came in to help her. “I thought you were taking the surrey back,” she was surprised to see him.

Paul took the plates from the cupboard and placed them on the table, “The sheriff took it back for me. He's a very nice man, considering the seeming carelessness in his attire.”

Agatha chuckled, “Well Paul your aunt said something to me and I think it fits here. ‘Don't stop at the outside because the inside may hide something very special'.” She returned to stirring the pot on the stove to hide her grin at Paul expression.

Paul finished setting the table, and once everything was in its proper place he sat down and waited for his grandmother to serve supper. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val watched the street as he rode through town to the livery. He hoped to spot the drifters, instead, he sighed when he saw the Mayor Higgs running toward him. “Damn, what does that ol' fool want now?” he muttered under his breath. He pulled up Renegade and called out, “What ya want?” 

“Only to report a murder, Sheriff Crawford.” the mayor replied as he puffed out his chest. 

“What are ya ranting about, what murder?” He was sure no one in town knew about the attempt on Jess, so he was at a loss trying to figure out what the annoying mayor meant about a killing.

“One of those drifters lollygagging around the saloon,” Higgs was indignant. “The ones that you didn't run out of town.” 

“Ain't against the law to be in a saloon.” Val responded dryly as he wondered how upset the townsfolk would be if he just shot the idiot mayor. Hell they could always elect a new one, hopefully less pompous and more efficient… and more intelligent. In his opinion, Higgs sorely lacked all three.

Angry at being ignored, Higgs raised his voice to get the sheriff's attention, “Well, one of them was found stabbed to death in the alley by the saloon.” He stood with his hands on his hips, “And what are you going to do about it?”

Damn, this was getting crazy and now the mayor was involved. Val glared at the man standing by his horse's head. “Well, once I get my horse settled at the livery I'll check it out. That okay with you?” Val growled at Higgs. 

He tapped his spurs to Renegade's side and rode off leaving Higgs standing in the dust cloud caused by the surrey and shouting, “The body's at the undertaker.” When Val didn't respond Higg's shouted, “Couldn't leave itin the alley, not knowing where you were and when you'd be back.” He huffed and stomped off to his store.  

L * A * N * C * E * R 

“Hey Murdoch, you okay? Heard you were out running the fence line.” Johnny moved to the sofa and sat down.

“You act like I can't do ranch work anymore. Well, I'll have you know I'm not ready to be put out to pasture.” Murdoch smiled, it felt good having sons to worry about him.

“Naw, just worried ‘bout your bad leg. Bothering ya tonight?” He wanted to avoid the bushwhacking subject for as long as possible.

Of course, Murdoch realized what his younger son was trying to do and decided to face the subject head on. “Son, I know about your friendship with Jess and I'm not mad. I am however angry that a bushwhacker is out there.” He watched Johnny's face, “I am worried about you.”

Johnny was surprised. His Ol' Man usually wasn't so… understanding when someone from his past showed up. Not sure how to accept that, he cleared his throat, “We… Jess and me, talked to Scott and think we might know who he is.” 

“Who?” Murdoch was suddenly on alert and straightened in his chair.

“A man was here today, said he was looking for work.  He called me Madrid.” He tensed and waited for the explosion.

Murdoch noticed the tension and decided not to say anything. He had learned from Scott that if he just listened instead of questioning he got more out of his younger son.

Surprised again by the lack of reaction from Murdoch, Johnny continued. “He said he'd be back to see if the boss man, meaning you, wanted his gun. Murdoch, Jess and I are sure we know him.” 

He wished his father would yell or something instead of just sitting there.  “We were in a range war, he and his brother were working for the other rancher,” he waited, still no reaction. “Well, anyway, he blames me and Jess for his brother's death.” 

Not able to take the silence any longer, Johnny rose and went to the drinks cart and picked up a bottle of scotch, “Want a refill?” When Murdoch shook his head he replaced the scotch and grabbed a glass and the bottle of tequila. Reluctantly he returned to the sofa. He wanted to get this over with.

“Near as we can tell he drifted into Green River and saw Jess. No way he could've known Jess was here. Hell Val didn't even know.” He downed his drink and poured another one. Damn Murdoch didn't even react to the cussing, it was making him jittery. “Now he knows I'm here. At least he thinks I'm still Madrid so y'all won't be a target.” 

There was still no reaction from his father, Johnny stared at the glass and nervously rolled it in his hand. “If he comes back I want you to act like I'm hired help, he can't know I'm a Lancer.  He wouldn't think twice about hurting anyone important to me.” 

When Johnny looked up, Murdoch's heart almost broke at the sadness he saw on his son's face.

Murdoch rose and moved to sit beside his son, “Johnny I'll do whatever you say. Lancer takes care of it own.” He patted Johnny's knee, “And our friends.”

“Thanks Murdoch.” He still couldn't believe his father wasn't upset with this mess being dropped at his doorstep. “I'm sorry my past is ruining things again.” 

“Johnny, I hate that Madrid haunts you, he haunts me too, but Madrid also kept you alive and brought you home. Now let's to get down to business, does he know Jess is still alive?” 

“Probably not, Val hasn't said anything and Mrs. Reed and her grandson are new in town so they're not likely to be talking about it.” Johnny sighed, “We got to stop him Murdoch, before he hurts anyone else.”

“I agree and after supper I think the four of us need to talk.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

In the alley, Val toed the blood-soaked dirt and noticed the signs of a scuffle. He took his hat off and smacked it against his leg, wondering what the hell had happened. He replaced his hat and headed for the saloon.

“Hey Joe, what do you know about the drifters?”

“They been hanging around, drinking, and playing cards for a few days. The day it happened the bigger one was in here drinking as usual but left when the little one showed up. He didn't come in just held back by the doors and waited for his partner. That's all I know.” 

“Thanks Joe.” He left the saloon and headed down the street, maybe Mr. Myers, could tell him something.

When he got to Myers Undertakers he called out, “Hey Dave, need to talk to you.” 

He waited in the outer office. After a few minutes a man wearing an apron, that used to be white but was now blood stained, walked from the back room, he was wiping his hands on a towel. “Hey Val, ya here to see the dead guy?” 

“Yep, Higgs said he was stabbed.”

“He was, probably with something like a Bowie Knife. The blade practically went through his chest. Whoever did it sure was mad, the weapon left hilt marks on the chest.” Dave threw the now blood-soaked towel on his desk, “Ya want to see the body?”

“Yeah.” 

The two men walked to the back room where the body was stretched out on a table and covered with a sheet. When Dave pulled back the sheet, Val recognized the man as one of the two drifters who had arrived in town a few days earlier. Now, he found himself with two questions and no answers: where was the other drifter and was he the killer.   

L * A * N * C * E * R 

After supper, Agatha and Paul retired to the front porch to enjoy the evening breeze. She cleared her throat and dabbed at her upper lip, “Paul I need to tell you something but I don't want you to get upset.” 

Instantly on edge Paul knew this was something he probably didn't want to know, “Is it about Jess and Aunt Daisy?”

“In a way.” She watched Paul's face, “Not exactly.” This wasn't going to be easy, “I need to tell you about Johnny Lancer.”

Paul's face dropped, “It's going to be something bad, isn't it?”

“Part of it is bad but it has a good ending. Just sit back and listen.”

Agatha took a deep breath and forged ahead, “Johnny and Jess aren't strangers to each other. In fact, they're friends.” She saw the confusion on her grandson's face. “Both were gunfighters and they worked together.”

Paul shook his head, “Not another one!” 

“Please just listen before making a judgment.”

Paul listened silently as his grandmother outlined another unbelievably sad story. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Burt sat in his camp, his simmering anger was keeping him warm without the need of a fire.  He had been so close, but there was no way he could get to Madrid, at least not while he was at the ranch house. Too many witnesses to suit his purposes.

He couldn't help but wonder if Harper was dead, but how to find out was the problem. Maybe when he goes back in the morning and talks to Lancer he could get hired. Then he'd be free to ask questions of some of the hands, like if Madrid was the only gunfighter hired on at the ranch.

He leaned against a rock, soon Madrid, soon. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Inside the hacienda, four men had trouble sleeping. Each wondered what the next day would bring?  Would they finally catch the bushwhacker? How many more people were going to be hurt or killed? 

Murdoch and Scott had agreed to follow Jess' and Johnny's plan, it had made sense but still the two men worried.

Scott, tossed his book aside unable to concentrate on the words.  Maybe Walt would return from Green River with Val and some answers. He hated that he was required to treat his brother as nothing more than an employee. 

Murdoch also tossed and turned. He was afraid for Johnny being Madrid again. It always seemed to take a bit of his younger son's soul. Would it take his life his time?

In the guest room, also unable to sleep, two ex-gunfighters were talking. 

“Just like old times,” Jess said as he sank lower into his pillow. “So damn tired of it.”

Johnny's expression mirrored his friend's. “Yeah, just when I think I'm clear of my past, it comes back to bite me in the ass.”

Jess' chucked, “Yep, Slim is always telling me, ‘This place wouldn't be the same without you and your troubles.'” Then he looked Johnny in the eye, “Sure your family feels the same way.”

“Don't be too sure, Murdoch especially has trouble accepting Madrid. Scott he says he okay…” Johnny bowed his head and hugged his chest.

“Hey,” Jess reached out to nudge Johnny's arm. “I know it's hard. Hell, Slim and Jonesy knew what I was the moment they saw me.” He sighed sadly at the memory, “Slim even ran me off.”

Johnny raised his head, surprised by Jess' last statement.

“I know but I grew on them. I also put up my gunfighting gun away.” Jess watched for Johnny's response. “I also noticed you ain't wearing yours.”

“It's hidden in my room, but guess I better get it out now.” He sounded dejected.

“Yep, but doesn't mean it will stay out. Hell once we get rid of this backshooting bastard…” 

“I know.” Johnny interrupted.

They sat quietly for a few minutes then Johnny broke the silence.

“Sorry Jess, like ya said, I just get so tired of this.”

“Yeah, I know amigo, but like Slim also likes to remind me, I always have a place to come back to.”

Johnny looked up  and grinned, “Yep. Well I better get some shuteye, the next few days are gonna be busy. And like my Ol' Man is fond of saying, ‘Mornings come early around here.”

 

Chapter 17

Paul hadn't slept much, he was too worried about his Aunt Daisy being in the same house as two ex-gunfighters. Wasn't one enough? He rubbed his eyes and slowly climbed out of bed. Then he grabbed his robe and made his way to the kitchen.  

Sitting at the kitchen table, Agatha was grinding some beans for their breakfast coffee. She looked up when Paul entered and watched him drop into a chair across from her. 

“Are you alright?” She noticed the dark circles under his eyes. “Did you get any sleep?” She felt sorry for her grandson; after all, she had added one more bit of bad news to his worries.

“No, I'm not fine and no I didn't get much sleep.” Paul propped his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hands, he was ashamed at his outburst. He looked up, “I'm sorry Grandmother, but knowing about Jess and Johnny… both of them being gunfighters…” he sighed. “How can you be so calm about Aunt Daisy being alone with them?”

“She is safe at Lancer, Murdoch won't let anything happen to her. And Jess and Johnny will do what they have to… to protect everyone on the ranch.” She tried to sound positive but when she glanced at her grandson again, his expression looked far from being convinced. 

“I wish I knew how to reassure you, dear, we just have to trust Daisy and comply with her wishes.” Agatha rose and moved to the stove to make breakfast. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val scratched his chin as he waited for the pan-fried coffee to boil. Yesterday had only added questions instead of answering any of them. There was no doubt in his mind that the missing drifter was the murderer and, worst of all, the bushwhacker. After talking to the Willy at the livery, Val discovered the missing man had asked about how to get to Lancer. Damn, he shook his head, that was a lot of territory to search.

Finally the coffee was ready; he poured a cup, and moved to his desk. After he'd taken one more look around town this morning, he'd head back to Lancer to let Jess and Johnny know what he'd found out so far.

When Walt burst through the office door, Val jumped and spilled some of the hot coffee on his lap, “What the hell!” He jumped up and pulled his pants away from his burning privates.

“Sorry Val, we need ya at the ranch.” Walt took a breath, “Some stranger rode up yesterday looking for work.” He whipped off his hat and wiped his forehead. “He called Johnny…” Walt hesitated a moment, “Madrid.”

“Shit,” Val shook his head. “Walt head over to the livery and have Willy saddle Renegade.”

“Sure Val.” Walt rushed out the door, he knew the sheriff was pissed and he didn't want to be within hitting distance.

Val went in the back room and changed his pants. While he was strapping on his gunbelt, the office door opened again. He looked up to see Paul standing in the doorway. “What ya want? I'm in a hurry.” He was sorry to sound so abrupt but he didn't have time for chitchat.

“Sorry to bother you Sheriff, but I need to go back to Lancer.” Paul stated firmly.

Obviously the kid wasn't going to take no for an answer, and Val didn't have time for an argument. “Fine but we are leaving now.” He brushed past the young man and left his office.

Paul had to speed up to catch and follow the sheriff to the livery. 

Walt, was already mounted on his horse, and held Renegade's reins while he waited for Val. When he finally saw the sheriff, the man was stomping toward him. Then Walt noticed the younger man following behind but when Val glared at him he wisely kept quiet.  

Val grabbed the reins and shouted, “Willy, get another horse saddled.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sam entered the kitchen and gratefully accepted a cup of coffee from Maria. “I need to head back to Green River and check on Molly Stevens.” He sat down opposite Daisy, “She's due to deliver in a week or so and being it's her first baby her husband is a nervous wreck.” He chuckled remembering his last visit; Hector had almost driven him crazy with his constant hovering.

Scott rose from the table, “I'll have the surrey hitched and Ulysses saddled. I'll go with you. You can't go back alone.” 

“Scott's right.” Murdoch said after taking a sip of coffee.

“Fine, but I want to check on Jess before I leave.” Sam nodded thanks to Maria when she placed his breakfast in front of him.

“Don't worry Sam, I'll make sure Jess behaves himself.” Daisy used her ‘no nonsense' voice.

“I have no doubts about that.” Sam toasted her with his coffee. He really liked this special little lady. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

From his lookout, Burt watched as the day's activities at the ranch began.  He noticed a big man and a Mexican standing by the corral issuing orders for the day. Burt smirked, that tall one had to be Lancer. Damn, his size sure matched his ranch - big.

He watched as a blond man walked across the yard to the barn, shortly returning with a surrey and a saddled horse and then he headed back inside.

Burt scratched his head, wondering what the hell was going on. He waited to see who would show up and hoped it would be  soon as he wanted to get to the boss. Finally an older man and the blond came out of the house and went to the surrey and the horse. He waited to make sure they would indeed head away from the ranch.

Once the way was clear, Burt saddled his horse and rode down to the hacienda. He pulled up outside the arches by the French doors and dismounted.  While he waited by his horse he looked around hoping to spot Madrid. Soon enough he heard footsteps and turned to see the big man he'd seen earlier walking toward him.

“Can I help you?” Murdoch looked the stranger over, not liking what he saw. The man was not only unwashed but he didn't seem to care about the poor condition of his horse either.

“Just lookin' for work. I talked to Madrid yesterday… He weren't none too friendly.” Burt scratched his dirty whiskers, “So I figure'd I best come back and talk to the boss man.”

“What kind of work are you looking for?” Murdoch was following Jess and Johnny's plan even though he hated dealing with the man. He wished that he could throw him in the guardhouse till Val arrived. 

“Gun work.” Burt looked around, “You must have somethin' goin' on if ya need a gun like Madrid's.” He leered at Lancer.

“I'm not looking for gunfighters… Mr?” Murdoch's hand itched to hit the man. He mentally counted to ten to restrain himself from doing something foolish.

“Names Burt Conway.” He didn't attempt to offer his hand. “Okay, then how about ranch work? I can work cattle.” Burt needed to tamper his impatience, he wanted a job and that meant don't piss off the man doin' the hirin'.

Murdoch nodded, “I need ranch hands, but if you cause any trouble you are out of here.” He turned toward Cip and called out, “Put him with the work crew repairing the bridge over the creek in the South pasture.”

He looked at Burt when the man didn't move, “Well, do you want a job or not?”

“Yeah… yes.” He nodded to Murdoch then lead his horse over to the Mexican called Cip.

Maybe he could get some information from the Mex since he seemed to be important around the ranch. If not he knew ranch hands liked to gossip just like a bunch of ol' women.

Murdoch waited until Cip and Conway headed out to catch up with the departing work crew. He didn't like having the man on his ranch but knew he had to trust Johnny and Jess in this. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

From Jess' room Johnny watched the stranger ride out with Cip, “They're gone.” He turned to Jess, “I'll get Murdoch.” 

Johnny rushed out the door and headed for the Great Room where he met Murdoch coming through the French doors. “What's his name?” Johnny didn't give his father a chance to say anything.

“Burt Conway. You recognize the name?” 

“Nope. He was working for the other side or I'd remember him.” Johnny shrugged. “Let's go see Jess, maybe it'll ring a bell with him.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Paul rode along silently watching the way Val and the Lancer hand, Walt, scanned the road and surrounding area. They were alert to everything and not taking any chances. He realized these men were no fools and he found a new respect for these Westerners. Val's appearance may leave much to be desired but he definitely knew his job. Paul also reconsidered the relationship between the sheriff and the two gunfighters; maybe they weren't as bad as he had thought. After all, the three men had worked together and Val had even been a gunfighter at one time. So as Aunt Daisy was fond of saying, ‘don't stop at the outside because the inside may hide something very special'. And if he was honest with himself he had to admit Jess had just wanted Aunt Daisy to be safe, and to Jess' point of view, he must have hardly seemed a great protector. Then there was Johnny, he had been very friendly when they met after his ride with Teresa. And he had done a wonderful job training the bay. Just how many gunfighters could do that? With those thoughts in mind he decided to put aside his doubts and prejudices and work toward befriending Jess and Johnny.

Lost in his thought Paul hadn't noticed they had left the road and were riding across a pasture. 

“Hey, pay attention.” Val had reined in Renegade and waited for Paul to ride up to him. “I've been calling ya. Ya gotta stop daydreaming, it ain't safe not paying attention, ‘specially with that bushwhacking varmint out there.” Val frowned, Paul was so out of his element in the West and he worried that the kid could represent a danger to himself and them. “Let's go we're almost to Lancer.”

Embarrassed, Paul nodded and urged his horse to follow Val and Walt, eager to get the ranch and talk to Aunt Daisy. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch followed Johnny into Jess' room and swallowed his smile when he saw Jess propped on a pile of pillows and fidgeting with a tread on the quilt. Just like Johnny did when he wanted out of the bed. “Maria won't be happy if you damage her quilt.”

Jess ducked his head, “Sorry, just hate being cooped up in this bed.” 

Murdoch moved to the bedside chair while Johnny sat on the edge of the bed.

“Well, got a name for us?” Jess asked barely giving Murdoch a chance to stretch out his aching leg.

Murdoch sighed, the young man was just like Johnny… impatient. “Said his name is Burt Conway. When I told him I wasn't hiring guns he asked for ranch work.”

Jess looked to Johnny, “Don't know the name, how about you?”

“Nope, but I think we're right that he's one the guns that worked for Landry.”

They both nodded, then wrapped their arms around their chests as they mulled over this information.

Murdoch's heart skipped a beat, Scott was right they look and act so much alike. He was relieved the boys were friends. He was just as convinced it wouldn't be good if they ever faced each other. He definitely didn't want to know who was faster.

“What do we do now? I don't like having him here.” Murdoch asked banishing the previous thoughts from his mind.

“I want to wait till Val gets here. Then…” Johnny hesitated.

“We take him.” Jess finished.

Murdoch bowed his head then looked up at the two men on the bed. “I'll go wait for Val.” He rose and left the room, leaving Jess and Johnny facing each other. 

“I always seem to cause him hurt.” Johnny whispered.

Jess sighed; he knew he had done the same to Slim, and on more than one occasion. He was glad he had asked Daisy not to wire his partner about what was happening. ‘After all I ain't dead,' he had told her. 

The two men sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch watched as three men rode across the pasture. When they pulled up by the corral he was surprised to see that Paul was the extra man with Val and Walt.

“Come in, Jess and Johnny are waiting to talk to you, Val.” Murdoch called out as held the door for the men to enter. 

“I would like to talk to Aunt Daisy.”

He nodded, “She's in the kitchen with Maria and Teresa.” 

“Thank you.” Paul smiled and headed for the kitchen.

“Why did you bring him?” Murdoch was confused why Val would bring Paul considering the situation.

“Didn't have time to argue, easier to haul him out here with us,” Val headed for Jess' room.

Walt cleared his throat, “I'll take care of the horses, do you need me to do anything else?”

“What? Oh, no thank you Walt.” He started for the guest room, but turned, “I hired the stranger, his name is Burt Conway. Keep an eye on him.”

“Yes Sir.” Walt left the Great Room. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val barged into Jess' room, “This is going to hell fast. Y'all were right it was one of the drifters. Damned if he didn't kill his own partner, and he did it in town.” He raised his hands and let them drop to his side in defeat, “Shit, now that fool of a mayor is on a rampage.” 

Johnny's smart mouth kicked into action, “Dios, Val. Don't hold back.” 

“Shut up.” Val glared at grinning Johnny. Then he turned on Jess who had his hand over his mouth, but his eyes were alight with humor. “And you better keep quiet too.”

Murdoch entered the room to see the sheriff drop his hands to his side and growl at the two men on the bed.

“Do I need to referee?” He closed the door and stared at the three other occupants. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Maria looked up when she heard someone come into her kitchen, “ Hola, Señor Paul.”

“Paul. What are you doing here? Is Agatha all right?” Daisy was instantly on alert.

“She's fine, Aunt Daisy. Sorry to have frightened you.” He stepped to her side, “I just… may we talk… privately?”

“Of course dear.” She took his arm and pulled him through the kitchen door and out into the garden. 

“There is a bench where we can sit and talk.” She pointed to the same bench she and Agatha had used. Once they were seated, “What's wrong, are you still worried about Jess and Johnny?”

Paul took her hand in his, “No, I finally realize what you and Grandmother have been trying to explain to me. I have been so foolish, Jess and Johnny are good men and I have been unfair in my judgment.” He bowed his head, “I hope I can make up for my mistakes.”

Daisy smiled and patted his hand, “I'm glad to hear it. Jess is a good man and would never do anything to hurt me or anyone he cares for. I see the same in Johnny.”

“You are right.” He looked up and grinned, “And I always liked Scott.”

Daisy laughed and smacked his arm playfully.

 

Chapter 18

“So what does this drifter look like?” Murdoch asked, hoping to divert Val from killing Jess and Johnny. They seemed to enjoy baiting the sheriff. He knew they were old friends but he still didn't think it was a good idea to get on Val's bad side.

“‘Bout their height,” he pointed to his two tormenters. “But add thirty pounds. Light brown hair, didn't get close enough to see his eyes.”

“And did he appear unfamiliar with soap and water?” Murdoch deadpanned.

“Yep,” Val grinned then sobered. “His dead partner was a shorter version but with darker hair. Undertaker said the wound looked like it's been made with a Bowie knife. Said it pert near went though the man's chest.” Val held his hand apart indicating the length of the weapon.

“Damn, wonder what caused the bust up?” Jess mumbled.

“Don't know.” Val shrugged. “So what's this one's name?”

Murdoch's leg was aching so he moved to sit in the chair. “Said it was Burt Conway, but the boys didn't recognize the name.” He rubbed at the pain in his leg.

“Y'all still thinkin' the varmint worked the range war y'all were in a few years back?” Val sat on the other side of the bed opposite Johnny.

“Yep.” Two voices answered as one.

“Well, now what?” Murdoch stopped rubbing his leg. “I don't want that man on the ranch any longer than necessary.” He wasn't happy with the news Val brought them. “I warned the hands this morning that a stranger may show up today and to only use the name Madrid if questioned about Johnny.”

“Is there any proof he that he killed his partner?” Johnny was sure he was even if there wasn't any evidence.

“Joe said Conway was in the saloon but left when his partner showed up. The guy didn't come in just held back at the door waiting for Conway.”

“So how long till they found the body?” Jess too was sure of the man's guilt.

“Not long from what Higgs said.” At the mention of the mayor, Val's expression looked like he'd just sucked a lemon. “I talked to Willy and he said Conway asked how to get to Lancer.”

“How did he know about Lancer?” Johnny was concerned.

“Told Willy he needed to talk to me so Willy told him I was headed here and gave him directions.” 

The knock at the door made all the men in the room jump.  

L * A * N * C * E * R

Scott and Sam rode into Green River and left the surrey and Ulysses at the livery.  As they walked toward the doctor's office they were cornered by Mayor Higgs. “It's about time you got back here; Hector Stevens has been driving me crazy. It's not like it's my fault you have been spending your time at Lancer,” Higgs complained.

“Get out of my way, I don't have time to listen to you.” Sam brushed by the man and headed for the Stevens place. He hoped Hector was at work so he wouldn't have to put up with the nervous soon-to-be-father.

Scott just grinned. Higgs was a fool, and he totally understood why Val was always threatening to shoot the man. To deflect the mayor from fretting over Sam and to keep him from asking about what was happening at Lancer, Scott changed the subject. “Any word on the murder?” 

“No. And our sheriff is off to who knows where instead of staying in town and finding the killer.” Higgs grumbled. 

“Well, mayor, maybe he is following a lead.” Scott tried to placate the man.

“Well, since he's paid by the cattlemen instead of the town…”

“Mayor, the sheriff is paid to protect the town as well as the ranchers. I resent your attitude.” Scott turned on his heels and left the deflated mayor in the middle of the street. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val moved to answer the door and was surprised to see Paul standing at the threshold. “Yeah, what ya need?”

“I… I need to talk to Jess and Johnny.” Paul tilted his head and peeked into the room.

The sheriff shrugged and stepped aside for the young man to enter.

Paul went in the room and stopped at the foot of Jess' bed. “I know what is happening here, and I want to help,” he announced.

“And just what do you think you can do to ‘help'?” Val was doubtful.

Jess and Johnny sat quietly and watched the scene play out, comfortably installed on the bed. Paul was like fresh meat when Val was in a bad mood. Murdoch just sat and waited, too. He wasn't exactly sure that he liked so many people getting involved in this mess. 

Show no fear, Paul reminded himself. “I can shoot a rifle.” At the questioning looks he received he continued. “My father was a constable back East and he taught me to shoot. Before he died, we hunted every season since I turned fifteen-years-old.” He straightened, “I am an excellent shot.”

“I'll be damned, didn't see that coming.” Jess teased. “How good is excellent?” He was still not sure of the kid.

“I always hit my target. If I wounded the animal I always went after it and killed it so didn't suffer.” The pride was evident in his voice.

Johnny stood, “Come with me.” Paul obediently followed Johnny out of the room.

Murdoch looked at Jess and Val, “What's he going to do?”

Jess laughed, “Test him, or call his bluff, your choice.”

“I guess I better check on them, I don't want Paul hurt.” Murdoch slowly rose and limping slightly, he followed the two younger men.

“Ya gonna keep an eye on them?” Jess nodded toward the door.

“Yeah. Damn, what the hell is going on with that kid?” Val shook his head and left the room.

Jess grinned, “Daisy ain't gonna like this.” He relaxed into his pillows, “Boy, is Paul in trouble now.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Agatha was sitting on her front porch shelling some peas when Scott stopped at her gate. “Good morning, may I join you?” Scott called out as he removed his hat.

“Certainly Scott. Would you like some fresh lemonade?” She reached for a glass and poured a drink for her visitor.

“Is Paul about?” As he sat, he placed his hat under the chair, and accepted the glass.

“No, he went out to Lancer with Val? I'm surprised you didn't meet them on the way to town.” Her voice showed her concern that Scott hadn't seen them on the road.

“They may have cut across pastures while Sam and I had to stay on the road. Val often takes this shortcut. Don't worry, Paul's going to be fine with Val.

“Of course, you are right.” Agatha relaxed, reassured by Scott's calm manner. “Can I help you since Paul isn't here?”

“No, just wanted to ask you both not to discuss Jess with anyone. We don't want people to know about the bushwhacking. It may tipoff the person who did it.”

“I understand.” She nodded, “I won't say anything.”

Scott finished his lemonade, “Thank you, Agatha. And thank you for the lemonade, it was very good.” He pulled his hat from under the chair and stood, “I need to get back to Lancer.” He bowed slightly and headed for the gate where he turned, “Don't worry, we'll look after Paul.”

Agatha smiled and waved as Scott turned and headed back into town.

Scott went straight to the livery, he needed to get home and find out why Paul went with Val to Lancer. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny stood, holding a rifle, while Paul waited next to him and watched Walt place six empty bottles on the top rail of the corral. Murdoch and Val stopped on the patio, hoping that Paul wouldn't shoot himself.

When the bottles were in position, Walt moved with Johnny and Paul to a fair distance from the targets. 

“Okay, Paul, let's see how good you are.” Johnny handed the rifle to the kid.

Paul took the rifle and checked to see if it was loaded, then raised it to check the sights. He lowered it and rubbed the sight then checked it again. Satisfied that everything was okay he turned sideways to the corral, raised the rifle and fired six times.  All the bottles shattered and the broken glass trickled to the ground.

Johnny grinned and patted Paul on the back, “Good shooting. You remind me of another Easterner who can shoot a long gun.”

Murdoch, Val, and Walt stood with their mouths hanging open. 

“Damn.” Val was the first to speak.

Johnny turned toward the patio and called to the bystanders. “Dios, if he can't shoot after all.”

The gunshots had drawn the ladies from the kitchen. From the looks on their faces, it was obvious that they were all worried. Maria and Teresa were confused, Johnny wasn't allowed to practice so close to the hacienda and they glared at Murdoch when they saw the younger son walking toward his father.

“It wasn't Johnny, it was Paul.” Murdoch smiled at the surprised expressions on his housekeeper's and ward's faces.

“I guess you all just found out that Paul is an excellent shot with a rifle.” Daisy had a huge smile on her face.

Val snorted, “And you couldn't have told us about this before now?”

“You never asked.” Paul dryly answered.

Johnny slapped his leg and laughed, “Dios, he even sounds like Boston.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

With the show over the men had moved back to Jess' room to tell him about Paul, while the ladies had returned to the kitchen to finish preparing supper.

Daisy was still smiling ear to ear as she thought about the expressions on the men's faces, “Guess my grandnephew showed them he was not just a useless greenhorn.” 

Maria moved to her side and patted the older woman's hand, “Sí. Señor Paul was muy bueno.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“I heard some shooting and since y'all are back in one piece, I guess Paul knows how to use a rifle.” Jess grinned from his perch in the pillows.

“Yep, he's as good a shot as Boston. Hit every one of the bottles.” Johnny patted Paul's shoulder as he moved to the bed.

Val rubbed his chin, “Darnedest thing, never expected it outta a green kid.”  

Murdoch lumbered over the chair, sat, and propped his aching leg on the side of the bed. He sighed, “I have to admit I never thought he was as good as he bragged.” 

Paul stood at the foot of the bed basking in the praise. “Thank you.”

“Okay down to business.” Jess brought everyone back to the problem at hand. “We need to get Conway to tip his hand.”

“Well, my daddy always told me, ‘If yer goin' fishing, son, ya need bait'.” Val tapped his gun butt and looked at Johnny.

“I take it I'm the bait?” Johnny grimaced.

“Yep.” Val grinned then pointed to Jess, “We can't use him; he's supposed to be dead.”

Murdoch sat back listening to the banter. Worried as he was, he still found comfort in the confidence Johnny, Jess, and Val had in each other.

“What do you want me to do?” Paul asked.

L * A * N * C * E * R

Scott raced across the pasture. The murder in town worried him and he needed to get home and find out from Val what he knew about the situation. More importantly he didn't want Johnny and Jess to make a move without him.

Scott pulled up Ulysses at the corral and dismounted. Cip's grandson, Miguel, ran from the barn his hands raised to take the reins. “Señor Scott, I'll take el caballo.” Then he looked around and added in a whisper,  “Jefe Val es aquí.”

“Thank you Miguel.” Scott tussled the boy's hair and headed for the hacienda. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Well, ladies, something really smells good.” Scott smiled at the cooks as he passed through the kitchen and headed for Jess' room.

As he raised his hand to knock on the door he heard Val's voice. So, without knocking, he entered just in time to hear Paul's question.

“What do you want me to do?”

“What's going on here?” A shocked Scott demanded.

Jess was the first to recover; he grinned and pointed to the young man standing at the foot of his bed. “Paul here wants to help us get the bushwhacker.” 

“You can't be serious!” Scott moved to Paul's side, “This is not a game; we are talking about a murderer…”

Johnny held up his hands to stop his brother's tirade, “Dios, Scott, calm down. Paul knows how to handle a rifle and I think we can use him.”

Scott turned to his brother, “What?”

Val decided it was time for him to step in. “Yep, Johnny says Paul is as good a shot as you. And with two rifles we can cover more territory.”

Scott looked to his father, “Aren't you going to say anything?” He couldn't believe Murdoch would go along with this crazy idea.

“Yes, Son. I think we can use Paul.”

Flummoxed, Scott looked from one man to another. Resigned that he was in the minority he raised his arms and let them drop to his side. “Fine. So, what's the plan?”

 

Chapter 19

Burt lugged another board over to the bridge, “So, what's it like having a gunfighter hanging around?” he huffed. 

“Ain't none of our business who Mr. Lancer hires.” Tom hands on hips, stood waiting for the slowpoke to get to him. 

“Yeah, but Madrid has a big rep, can't help but wonder why he's working here.” Burt placed the board against the opening on the side of the bridge. “Where there's one there's more following along.” He glared at Tom, “Is there another one?”

Tom turned and glared back at the annoying man, “Like I said, ain't none of your business. Madrid doesn't bother us and we leave him alone.” He hammered the plank into place.

“Don't it make y'all nervous?” Burt kept pushing. “Especially if there's another one hanging around out there.”

“No. And there is no other gunfighter here.” Tom pounded harder than needed to drive in the last nail.

Burt then looked to Mac but at the frown he received he changed his mind, “Hey no offense. Just wondered what a big gun like Madrid is doing here. Pretty far north for where he usually works.”

“Well, around here, you do what the boss orders. Mind your own business.” Mac pointed to the gap in the railing of the bridge, “Now get back to work, we got a lot to do.”

Hot, sweaty, and not getting anywhere with his questions, a frustrated Burt pulled off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  

Tom and Mac were sick of working with the annoying slacker. The longer they were around him, the less they trusted him. His pushy questions made them uncomfortable.

“Get another board.” Tom tapped his hammer against his leg.  He wished Cip would get back and light a fire under the jerk.  At this rate it would take two days to finish what was supposed to have been a one day job.

Pissed off, Burt grabbed another board from the wagon bed and stomped over to the two men. He decided to drop the subject for the time being. It wasn't a good idea to get on their bad side. The more he pushed for answers, the more it would raise suspicion.

After nailing the board in place, Tom took out his bandana and wiped his forehead. He walked over to the wagon, grabbed a canteen, and drank deeply. He looked up and saw the other two men walking toward him, so he held up the canteen.

“Thanks,” Mac took a long drink, and handed it off to Burt. 

“How much longer do we work?” Burt capped the canteen and put it in the box in the wagon.

At the sound of an approaching horse, Tom looked up relieved when he spotted Cip riding toward them. He pointed toward the rider, “Depends if Cip thinks we did enough.” He hoped the Segundo was going to tell them to call it a day and head back to the barn. He wanted to get as far away from Burt as possible and was sure Mac felt the same way.

“Thought you all would have the bridge repaired with three men on the job.” A disgusted Cip dismounted and walked over to the survey what had been done. He shook his head, “This job was to be finished today.”

Tom glared at Burt then over to Cip who didn't miss the look. “Well, that's how it was supposed to be.”

The Segundo turned on Burt, “You want a job, you do what you're told to do or you move on.” He mounted his horse and addressed Tom and Mac, “Pack up and head back, but tomorrow the repairs better be done.” He turned his horse and rode up the ridge.

“Told ya, now we'll have to spend another hot day out here,” Tom was disgusted.

Burt glared at the man. “Maybe,” he said under his breath. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

“We need to take him out now. The longer he's here the more chance of someone slipping and giving Johnny away.” Jess squirmed, he was tired of being trapped in bed and his butt ached.

“So, what do you want us to do?” Scott pointed to Murdoch and then himself. Frustrated, he folded his arms in front of his chest and waited for an answer.

Johnny leaned against the footboard. “Well Boston, you and Murdoch are going to meet the returning hands, just like normal.” He pointed to Paul, “You will be in the hayloft.” 

“And I'll be in the garden.” Val knew Scott was about to explode. Seems Murdoch's older son had more than a little of his daddy's temper.

“And Brother, just where will you be?” Scott was in sarcastic mode.

“Me? By the corral.” Johnny grinned and tapped his gun butt. Murdoch and Scott noticed that Johnny was back to wearing his gunfighter's gun.

Scott instantly went from sarcastic to angry, “Are you crazy? Why don't you just hang a sign around your neck saying… Shoot Me!”

Unable to resist the opening, Jess' smart mouth took over, “Yep, that would work too.” 

Johnny slapped his leg and bent over laughing, “Got that right, Jess.” 

“That's not funny.” Scott roared, Jess' and Johnny's remarks didn't go over well with him.

“Yeah, Boston, it was.” Johnny continued to laugh. “Shoulda seen your face.”

Jess's eyes were alight with suppressed laughter and his hand moved to cover his mouth. Tired of the teasing, Val reached over and smacked the back of Johnny's head and pointed to Jess. “You two knock it off.”

“Johnny, there's nothing to joke about. That man out there wants to kill you and he almost killed Jess.” Scott didn't understand how the two men could treat the threat with so much disregard.

Murdoch, who had remained quiet, stood, “Scott, they know what they are doing.” He needed to keep things from turning into an argument the brothers would later regret. “Jess, where do you want me?”

“After you and Scott finish with the hands, y'all go in the house and watch over the ladies.” Jess had easily slipped into gunfighter mode. “Make sure they don't get in the line of fire.”

“And you expect me to just stay with the ladies while-”

Jess cut him off, he was the angry one now. “Hell no, you get upstairs and use your rifle to cover the yard.” Jess saw the defeated look come over Scott's face, “Look, Scott, we know how to handle Conway. Ain't like this is the first time for us.”

Scott nodded and looked to his brother, “Are you sure?” He felt helpless and didn't like it, but he had to step back so he wouldn't distract Johnny when he needed to rely on Madrid.

Johnny rose, moved to stand next to his brother and put his arm around Scott's shoulders. “Look, I'm sure. I've trusted my life to Jess and Val in the past and…” He grinned as he patted his brother's shoulder, “… I'm still alive.”

“That's not funny.” Scott sighed, resigned to the situation, but still not sure of its success.

“No it's not.” Johnny's voice hardened, he too had slipped into gunfighter mode. “But it ends now. I don't plan on walkin' around with a target on my back.” 

No one in the room doubted that Madrid had firmly taken control, especially Jess and Val. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Mac hitched the wagon, then climbed onto the seat, he was exhausted and eager to get to the bunkhouse. Tom finished putting the tools in the box and raised the tail gate, he jumped onto the seat next to Mac. “Let's go.” 

In the shade of the tree line, Burt made a show of tightening his horse's cinch and called out to the men on the wagon, “Y'all go on and head out, I'll be along behind ya.”

Eager to get away from Burt, Mac clicked the reins. “Okay,” he called over his shoulder.

Burt watched them drive off and when he felt they were far enough ahead, he mounted up. The day before he had found a perfect spot for an ambush, it was close to the house but offered cover and a quick getaway. When he reached the spot he dismounted, grabbed his rifle, and moved into position. He was sweating, his heart pumping wildly in his chest, and on his face was a satisfied leer. “Got ya now, Madrid,” he congratulated himself. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Paul scanned the area from his perch in the hayloft, grateful that he didn't suffer from hay fever, a sneezing fit would not be good.  He was thankful that so far he hadn't seen anything out of order. Then in the distance he saw a wagon approach… two men were sitting on the seat. When he looked toward the corral he saw Murdoch smile and wave to the men. He sighed and relaxed. 

No way was he going to let Johnny and Jess down, they were good men and he had been wrong in his early judgment.  Not all gunfighters were like the ones in the stupid books he had read. He wiped a hand across his eyes. As much as he wanted to make up for past mistakes he didn't know if he would be able to kill a man. If this Conway tried to shoot Johnny he hoped that instinct would take over and allow him to pull the trigger. Killing is a sin, but is it a sin if the killing was in defense of an innocent person? Paul shook his head, he needed to put those thoughts aside, he would do what was needed. He wasn't a kid anymore. It was time to be a man and protect those he cared about. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch moved up to the wagon, “Where's Conway?” He didn't like that the man was missing.

“He's behind us.” Tom looked over his shoulder but didn't see Conway. “Well, he was supposed to be,” he shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay, take care of the horses and put your gear away.” Murdoch moved over to Scott's side. “Keep an eye out for Conway.”

“Not good,” Scott mumbled under his breath, but he nodded and headed for the house, as if everything was perfectly normal. 

Upstairs, Scott knelt by the window sill in his bedroom. His lookout spot covered an area that Paul couldn't see from his position in the loft. He scanned the pastures; nervous that Conway could be out there anywhere and that his brother was a sitting duck. He whispered a quick prayer that if Paul was needed that the kid wouldn't hesitate to take the shot. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch watched from the kitchen window. Maria handed him a cup of coffee, smiled weakly then moved to the table and sat next to Teresa. The two ladies held hands and waited.

Daisy had moved to Jess' room, she was going to make sure he stayed in bed.  

“Ya know Daisy, ya don't have to babysit me.” Jess drawled, not happy that she knew him so well.

“I am here because I know that at the first gunshot you will be out of the bed and out there.” She pointed a finger at him.

He didn't like the determined look on her face and decided on another tack. “Hey, I ain't getting outta bed. I don't need-”

“And you think I'd believe that for even one moment?” She tilted her head toward the door.

Jess sunk into his bed and looked up at Daisy, she stood before him with her hands on her hips, tapping her foot on the floor, and the familiar ‘behave yourself or else' look on her face. Yep, he wasn't stupid and knew better than to cross the little lady. 

“Okay, okay, I'm stayin' put,” he raised his hands in surrender. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Burt watched Tom and Mac lead the team into the barn. Lancer and the other man moved to the house leaving Madrid standing by the corral. He rubbed his hands on his pants, took a deep breath and slowly let it out.  The most important thing was to wait for the shot, not rush things like he did with Harper. He was going to kill his enemy, he'd worry about Harper later. If the other gunfighter had survived maybe Madrid's killin' would bring him out.

Finally when no one was around he knew it was time for his revenge. He stared at Madrid leaning against the top rail of the corral, the gunfighter's back made a perfect target.

Burt carefully rose and moved into position for the shot. He raised the rifle, took another deep breath and let it out as he squeezed the trigger.

 

Chapter 20

Paul continued to scan his assigned area when he noticed a flash on the ridge. He rubbed his eyes and focused where he had seen the glint and saw something move. He raised his rifle and waited. When he saw a man rise slightly and aim a rifle toward the corral; he squeezed the trigger. 

The sounds of two rifle shots caused everyone to spring into action. Scott, frustrated that he couldn't see anything from his spot, ran from the room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen. He saw Maria pointing to the open door. He nodded and ran outside.

Murdoch was watching from the kitchen window when he saw Johnny fall. “Noooo,” he yelled as he ran from the room and out in the open.

Paul heard the other gunshot a few seconds before his; however he was afraid to look away from his target in case Conway would attempt another shot. His heart was pounding so hard he expected it to burst through his chest. All the while he prayed that he hadn't failed and that Johnny was safe. 

The yard was filled with shouts as Murdoch, followed by Scott hot on his heels, ran to the corral where Johnny lay in the dirt. Cip started for Johnny but stopped when the hands started rushing into the yard. He pointed and shouted for men to check the ridge. Then he ran over to his sobrino's side.

Val saw Paul raise his rifle and aim for the ridge. He jerked around when he heard the first shot. Gun at the ready, he ran from cover but suddenly dropped to the ground when he heard the second shot. When he realized he hadn't been hit he rose and continued running up the ridge, hell bent to get to the bushwhacker. 

In the hayloft, Paul let out the breath he had been holding when he saw Val run up the ridge toward the shooter. Then he looked in the corral and his heart sank when he saw Johnny sprawled on the ground surrounded by men. He grabbed his rifle and ran to the ladder. 

In the yard, Murdoch was holding his handkerchief over the wound while Scott held Johnny's shoulders. He looked at his older son, “Send someone for Sam.”

Scott nodded and looked down at his brother then rose; he saw Tom coming from the bunkhouse. Relieved he waved and shouted, “Get Sam.”

Together, Murdoch, Scott, and Cip gently lifted Johnny and carried him to the house. Maria had cleared the kitchen table while Teresa boiled water and gathered bandages. When the men entered the kitchen, they moved to the table and laid Johnny down on the clean sheet. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Jess jumped when he heard the two gunshots and strained to see out the window.

“Jess, stay down, I'll check.” Daisy moved to the window.

“No, you stay down, don't want you gettin' shot.”

Peeking through the curtains Daisy whispered, “I can't see anything.” She turned back to Jess, her voice rising, “You stay put I'm going to the kitchen to find out what's happening.” 

“Help me up.” Jess panted as he strained to push off the bed.

“Absolutely not, you lie down or so help me…” Daisy rushed to the bed and pushed Jess into the pillows. “Don't you dare get out of that bed.” She rose and patted her chest over her heart. 

“Are you okay Daisy?” Jess was instantly on alert and concerned. Had he finally been too much for her?

“I'm fine. Please just stay put. I'll let you know what is happening but I may be needed before Sam can get here.”

Jess sighed, “I'll stay here, but you be careful.”

“I will.” She rushed from the room.  

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Cip moved aside as Daisy hurried into the kitchen and up to Johnny's side.

“I'll check on the men.” Cip looked to Murdoch then over to Johnny. Without waiting for a response from the Patrón, he slipped out the door and toward the corral.

Daisy opened Johnny's shirt and started cleaning the wound then slid her hand under him and felt for an exit wound. “The bullet went through,” she looked at the worried father, “that's good.” 

“It certainly is.” Everyone turned at the sound of a new voice to see Sam, Paul, and Tom standing in the doorway. “Now everyone but Daisy and Maria, get out.” Certain that his orders would be followed, Sam handed his medical bag to Maria and moved to the sink to wash his hands. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“How did you get to Sam so quickly?” Scott escorted Tom out the kitchen door.

“He was on his way here, to check on Jess.” Tom put his hat back on once they were outside, “Guess I better find Cip and see what needs bein' done.” 

“Thanks.” The loyalty of the Lancer hands never failed to amaze Scott and he was eternally grateful. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

On the ridge Val stood over the dead body of the bushwhacker and used his foot to turn the man over. He grinned and shook his head, “I'll be damned.” When the Lancer hands reached him, he pointed to the body, “Put him in the guard house.” Mac nodded and led the others to follow the sheriff's order. Val moved aside and looked toward the corral where he saw Johnny being carried into the house. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Sam, I'm going to tell Jess what happened so he won't try to get out of bed. Then I'll be right back.” Daisy headed for Jess' room.

Sam nodded and accepted the towel Maria handed him. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Murdoch and Teresa reluctantly headed for the Great Room. Murdoch went straight to the drinks cart, “I need a drink. Paul, help yourself. Teresa, you may have a small Sherry.” Then he poured a generous portion in his glass and exhausted, he dropped into his favorite leather chair.

“No, thank you, if you don't mind I'd like to go to my room. Johnny will need me later.” Teresa didn't wait for an answer and quietly left Murdoch to his drink.

“Of course.” Murdoch replied. He was so lost in his thoughts that didn't notice she had already left.

When Scott came back in the Great Room he saw Murdoch already seated with a drink in his hand. He moved to the cart, picked up a glass and asked Paul, “What would you like…” But he was cut off as Val burst through the French doors. 

“How's Johnny?” As usual, Val did't mince words when he wanted an answer.

“Sam's working on him; it's not as bad as we first thought.” Murdoch seemed to come aware of the others in the room. He sounded worried yet relieved that Sam was with his son.

“Good.” The sheriff moved to Paul, who was sitting on the sofa, and put out his hand, “Hell of a shot.”

Paul stood and shook Val's hand. He was confused, the sheriff previously didn't seem to care much for him. “I don't understand.”

“Neither do I,” Murdoch and Scott stated at the same time. They were also confused about why Val was congratulating Paul.

Val grinned and scratched his cheek, “Well, he…” pointing to the young man. “He got Conway right ‘tween the eyes.”

“He's dead?” Paul gasped.

“Yep, don't come any deader.” Val laughed at the expressions of the men in the Great Room.

“I… I killed him?” Paul dropped onto the sofa, he felt dizzy then sick. He glanced to the door and wondered if he could make it outside before he threw up. 

Fortunately for him, Val recognized the look as he had seen it on Johnny and Jess many times. He reached down and grabbed the kid and rushed him out the door and over to the edge of the patio.  Paul leaned into a bush as his stomach emptied. “Sorry…” he gasped.

Scott had also realized what was happening and followed them carrying a glass of water, “Here, just a few sips.” He laid a hand on Paul's back and reached around the hunched-over figure to hand him the glass of water.

Paul accepted the glass and rinsed his mouth. He straightened and took a few cautious sips of the cool water. He looked up at Scott, “Thanks.”

“Anytime for the man who saved my brother's life.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sam checked to make sure there was no fabric in the wound that could cause an infection. Once he was satisfied it was clean, he applied carbolic, grateful that Johnny was still unconscious. When that was done, he and Maria gently turned Johnny on his side. “Daisy, I'll stitch the front if you will stitch the back. I want to get him into bed and soon as possible.”

“Of course.” Daisy took the needle Maria handed her and began to carefully close the skin. “He is a very lucky young man.” When she finished she placed a pad over the stitches and waited for Sam to finish his side. 

“Okay,” he looked up, “Daisy will you and Maria wrap the wound while I go talk to Murdoch?”

Daisy reached out and patted Sam's hand, “Good job Sam, don't worry we'll finish up here.” 

Maria nodded in agreement and moved to take the doctor's place. Sam left the kitchen knowing that his patient couldn't be in better hands. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

As he headed for the Great Room Sam stretched his aching back. When he saw Val and Scott leading Paul in through the French doors, he rushed over, “What happened? Move him over to the sofa.” 

“He's gonna be okay, Doc,” Val waved off Sam. “Just feelin' a little off.”

“A little off? He looks more than ‘just feeling a little off' he's as white as a sheet.” Sam pushed his way to Paul's side, “Come sit down and let me check you.”

“I'm alright. Please, just let me sit down.” Paul was still shaky and he didn't want to talk about it anymore.

Sam's frustration was bordering on anger, “Is someone going to tell me what's going on?”

With his mind fully back on what was happening in the Great Room, Murdoch rose and moved to Sam's side, “First you tell us, is Johnny going to be alright?”

“Yes, it wasn't as bad as it looked. He has lost some blood but with fluids and rest he'll be fine and pestering me to get out of bed.” Sam wasn't finished issuing orders. “Since Paul claims to be fine…” He glared the young man sitting on the sofa. “I want a bed moved into Jess' room. Now that I have two ‘difficult' patients I want them in the same place. At least that way I only have to give the lecture once.” He shook his head and mumbled, “Like they would listen anyway.”

Murdoch chucked and relaxed, Sam wouldn't be teasing if there was anything to worry about. “Scott, would you please take care of that?”

“Yes, sir.” Scott moved to the French door, stopped and turned to his father. “This should liven the place up… with those two in the same room. Have pity on us all.” Scott closed the door behind him to Murdoch's “Not funny, Son.”

Confused about what was going on with Paul, Sam poured himself a drink and sat down beside the young man. “Is anyone going to tell me what happened?” He took a sip and leaned back waiting for the story.

Murdoch went to the drinks cart, he held up a bottle of Tequila. “Val?”

“Yeah, I could use one.” Val picked up a glass and held it out. After it was filled he sat on the ottoman in front of the fireplace.

“Well?” Sam repeated, completely exasperated. 

Val cleared his throat, “Guess I'll do the telling?” He looked to Murdoch and at the man's slight nod he continued, “Well, Paul here saved Johnny's life.” Before Sam could reply Val pointed to his forehead, “Got the bushwhacker right ‘tween the eyes.”

When the young man paled again, Sam reached over and took his wrist. “Are you-” But before Sam could react,Val grabbed a wastebasket and shoved it under Paul's chin. 

After a few dry heaves, an exhausted Paul leaned back and took several deep breaths. Murdoch handed Sam a towel from the drinks cart. “Try to relax.” Doc used his best bedside voice and gently wiped Paul's sweaty face and neck.

“I have never shot anyone before and now I've murdered a man.” Paul's voice cracked with emotion.   

“Ain't no murder, you shot a man who was tryin' to kill Johnny.” Val waited for a response but Paul seemed to have shut down. “You stopped a bushwhacking, so don't go thinkin' yer a murderer.” Val waited, but Paul didn't look up or respond. He reached down and shook the kid's shoulder. “Do you understand?”

Murdoch handed Sam a brandy, “Maybe this will help.”

“Thanks.” The doctor put his hand behind Paul's head and placed the glass to his lips and ordered, “Drink.” 

Paul's eyes had glazed over and he seemed unaware of what was going on around him. He did manage to swallow the liquid without choking.

Just as Daisy entered the room she saw Murdoch handing a glass to Sam who in turn was trying to revive Paul by making him take a sip. One look at her grandnephew's appearance and Daisy rushed to stand over him, worry all over her face. “Is he hurt?”

“Naw, Daisy.” Val took her hand and moved her to a chair. “He just a little… upset. Guess he don't know how to be a hero.” Val grinned trying to reassure her.

“What do you mean?” She looked from Val to Paul then back to Val.

“He saved Johnny's life.” Val chucked his voice full of pride and amazement, “He got the bushwhacker.”

Daisy rose and moved to sit next to her grandnephew. “Paul, I am so proud of you.” She squeezed his hand. “Would you like to rest awhile? We need to move Johnny to a bed.”

“I'll be fine.” His aunt's voice had comforted him better than anyone else in the room.

“Sam, would you help me get him to my room so he can lay down for awhile?” Daisy looked at Sam, she would ask for details later.

Sam rose with her and together they helped Paul from the room. At the hallway, Sam paused and called over his shoulder, “I'll be back and help settle Johnny.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Meanwhile, Scott led Tom, Walt, and Mac into Jess's room. “Now don't try to move Jess, we're going to slide your bed over to make room to set up another bed for Johnny.” Scott put his hand on Jess' shoulder when the injured man tried to rise. “He's okay, but Sam wants you two in the same room.” He chuckled, “Something about only giving one lecture.”

Jess smirked but didn't say anything and stayed put in bed.

While the men struggled to arrange the new bed Maria waited at the door with the fresh linens.  Finally everything was in place with a night stand placed between the beds along with two chairs. Scott turned to Maria, “How's this?”

“Bueno, Señor Scott,” she moved into the room and made the bed. When done she moved to sit in the chair by Jess.  She straightened her apron then looked at her patient, she frowned and pointed her finger, “You stay put, Señora Daisy will not be happy if you tear stitches.”

“Where is she?” Jess wondered why she hadn't returned.

“With Señor Paul, she'll be here pronto.” Maria relented and smiled as she reached out and patted his cheek, “Pórtate bien.” (behave)

Jess smiled, “Sí. Gracias Señora.” 

He laid back; he'd find out soon enough what happened.

 

Chapter 21

Val and Cip wrapped Burt's body in some canvas and threw it none too gently over a pack horse. Val spit on the ground under the horse, “Better than he deserves.” Cip nodded in agreement and added his spit to the curse.

Now that Val knew Johnny was okay he needed to get Conway back to the undertaker and tell the mayor he got the killer. Murdoch had agreed to send someone for Val if Johnny asked for him. 

Miguel led Renegade from the barn and handed the reins to the sheriff. “Señor Val, I took good care of el caballo.”

“Yer sure did niño, he ain't looked so good.” Val reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a coin that he flipped to Miguel.

The boy's face lit up as he caught the coin, “Gracias, Señor.” He looked to Cip who grinned and nodded that he could keep it. Miguel's smile got bigger as he turned and ran back to the barn to show Jelly his prize.

“Gracias Val, he is a good niño. Like another we know.”

Val patted Cip on the back, “Yep. See ya later.” He mounted Renegade accepted the rope for the pack horse and headed for Green River. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Sam and Daisy checked Johnny over for any damage from the move to his new bedroom. “No fresh blood on the bandages and so far no sign of a fever.” Sam waved Tom and Walt from the room with a thank you.

“How long will he be out?” Murdoch leaned down and brushed the hair off Johnny's forehead.

“I don't know, but at least he's now sleeping and not unconscious.” Sam assured the hovering father. “Murdoch, how about offering a tired ol' Doc some coffee?”

Murdoch recognized the ‘out of the room and stop hovering' voice of his old friend. Begrudgingly and knowing there was no further argument to sway Sam, Murdoch agreed to leave the room. “Alright Sam, I'm sure Maria has some cookies to go with the coffee.” He straightened but took one last look at his younger son as he moved to the door.

“Daisy would you mind keeping an eye on these two?” Sam winked, he knew if anyone could keep those two in line it was that little lady.

“Of course. Don't you worry Murdoch if Johnny wakes up I'll call you.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

When Sam and Murdoch entered the kitchen, Scott was already sitting at the table. Maria had placed a cup of coffee and a plate of fresh out of the oven cookies in front of him.  

Scott smiled and mouthed thank you at Maria.  Then turned to Sam, “How's Johnny?”

“Sleeping, and he'll be okay.” Sam sat, propped his elbows on the table, lowered his head to his hands, and sighed in exhaustion. “Which is more than I can say for me, I have the two worst patients I've ever experienced in my whole life in one place.” He smiled as Maria brought him a cup of her strong coffee and another plate of cookies. “I don't know what horrible sin I have committed to deserve that.” He pointed over his shoulder.

Murdoch took the chair opposite Sam. He sympathized completely with his old friend but that didn't stop the smile he tried to hide behind the cup Maria had handed him.

Scott looked at Sam, “Sleeping? I think I'll peek in on him.” He excused himself from the table. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Okay, Johnny, they're gone.” Jess smirked at Daisy, “He's good at playing possum.”

“He's not the only one.” Daisy shook her finger at Jess.

Johnny smiled but then, he became all-business. “What happened?”

Daisy sat in the chair next to Jess, “Paul shot that man.”

As much as she tried to hide her worry, she failed miserably. Both Johnny and Jess noticed and exchanged a look. 

But, Johnny needed to know if Conway still represented a danger. “I hate to ask but is he dead?”

“Yes, he is. But Paul… killing a man has upset him.”

Jess reached out to Daisy, “I'm sorry, Daisy.”

“He's resting in my room.”

“He'll be okay, don't worry.” Jess held her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

Daisy patted Jess' hand, “I know. He just needs time to come to terms with… this. I think we need to get him home so Agatha can watch over him.” 

“Yeah and away from here,” Johnny understood Paul's feelings at a first kill, justified or not.

“I let Sam and your father know you're awake.”

“Aw Daisy, don't call Murdoch yet I need to talk to Jess.”

“All right. But, if either one of you gets out of bed…” she left the warning hanging and used her patented ‘don't even try' glare. 

“We won't,” Jess held up his right hand.

“Promise,” Johnny mimicked Jess. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Scott stood outside the door and listened; when he heard Daisy telling Johnny and Jess to stay in bed he knew Johnny had feigned sleep. Playing possum was his little brother's favorite ploy whenever he had enough ‘hovering'. 

Before Scott could knock on the door it opened and a surprised Daisy almost ran into him. “Scott what are you doing here?”

“Just checking up on Johnny. When Sam said he was sleeping I was sure that wasn't the case.” He looked over Daisy's shoulder, “I know some of my brother's tricks.”

“You were right,” she laughed. “Go in, but don't let those two get out of bed.” The order came across loud and clear and Scott wasn't going to be the one to get Daisy mad. He saluted smartly and in his best Lt. Lancer voice replied, “Yes ma'am.”

“See that you do.” With her back to the men in bed she looked up and winked at Scott.

He nodded and closed the door behind her. “Well, that went well.” He scowled at the two causes of her warning to him. “If I get in trouble I'm coming after you two.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy chuckled to herself as she walked down the hallway. Just as she was about to go in, she heard Murdoch snicker and offer some guesses at what ‘horrible sin' was the cause of Sam's woes. 

“Sam committing a sin, I find that hard to believe.” She accepted the chair Murdoch held out for her. 

“Well, I must have committed one otherwise how could I have ended up with two of the world's worst, most ornery, and exasperating patients? One was enough? Now, I'm stuck with those two!” He shook his head and bit into another cookie. “What? I need the energy,” he growled in response to the look he received from Murdoch.

“Well, that is the third one,” the big Scot tried to sound serious. “Guess Johnny's sweet tooth has rubbed off on you.”

“As you are so fond of saying, ‘not funny',” Sam swallowed his bite of cookie and sipped some coffee. “Just put it toward the bill you'll be getting,” Sam smirked.

“Are you two through?” Daisy was enjoying the lighthearted moment after all the excitement. “Johnny is awake but…” She held up her hands. “Jess and Johnny want to talk and I left Scott in charge of keeping them in bed.” When Murdoch sat down she continued, “I also made sure they knew I would be after them if any wounds reopened.” 

“That should work.” Sam offered her a cookie from his stash, “I know it would work on me.” 

“Señora, café?” Maria moved to the table with a cup and the pot of coffee.

“Sí Maria, Gracias.” Daisy smiled at the men at the table, “Maria has been teaching me some Spanish. Also some of her recipes now that I know Jess is fond of spicy food.”

“Wait till they are both up and eating normally, poor Scott's stomach won't stand a chance.” Sam laughed out loud, “Murdoch, how's the milk supply?”

“Not funny, Sam.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Okay, the coast it clear, what are you two plotting?” Scott placed a chair between the beds and sat down. “Don't give me those puppy looks, no way either of you can come off innocent.”

“We ain't ‘plotting' anything, Boston, just talking.” Johnny once again adopted his little boy pout.

“Yeah, like that's gonna work.” Jess told Johnny when he saw Scott's doubtful expression.

“All we wanna talk about is how do to keep Murdoch from asking the usual questions.” Johnny sighed, “Like how we know each other, how many range wars were we in, have we ever drawn on each other…” 

The look on his brother's face told Scott that that possibility weighed heavily on Johnny's shoulders. “I don't think you two need to worry about that…” He stopped when both Jess and Johnny turned from ranchers to gunfighters in the blink of an eye. He realized too late that he shouldn't have said not to worry.

“What do you mean by that?” Jess' voice was cold and hard, a voice that Scott had heard before from another gunfighter named Madrid.

Scott sat stunned, he wasn't sure how to continue, so he looked to his brother but Johnny Lancer wasn't there anymore.

“We're waitin' Boston.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Daisy excused herself and went to check on Paul. When she passed Jess' room there was silence, she wondered about it but figured it was better than yelling.

Paul was lying in bed staring at the ceiling when he heard the soft knock on the door, “Come in.”

“How are you feeling? Did you get any rest?” Daisy sat in the chair by the bed.

“I'm fine.” 

“Are you sure, you look like you have a lot on your mind.” Daisy waited to see if Paul would talk about it.

“I've been thinking. Life is so different out here.” He rose and sat on the edge of the bed. “When I first met Jess he terrified me. I had read about gunfighters and none of it was good. Jess acted just like those described in the books and then, the fact that you lived in the same house with him… Well, it made me feel very uneasy.” He leaned his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together.

“How do you feel now, Paul?” She reached out and held his hands in hers.

“He's not like I thought, neither is Johnny. The whole west isn't like I thought. It's a hard life out here and it makes hard people. But not hard like mean and uncaring, although I am sure there are some like that. It's hard like being able to take care of themselves and the ones they care about.”

“That's true.”

He straightened up and pulled his hands from Daisy's. “When I think back on that first day, I know now that he wasn't being mean, he was being protective.” He shook his head at Daisy's smile. “I know he was worried that I couldn't protect you if danger arose. He knew nothing about me and I guess from my Eastern dandy appearance he probably didn't want to know anything about me.”

Paul rose and walked to the window, he stared out at the corral. “When I was in that hayloft waiting…” He sighed, “I wondered if I would be able to pull the trigger. I knew at that moment why Jess didn't trust me. And right then, I have to admit I didn't trust myself either.” He rested his forehead against the glass, “What if I hesitated, what if I just couldn't shoot? Johnny would die and it would be my fault.” 

Paul turned to face his beloved aunt, “But when it came down to it…” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “I did it.”

“And you saved Johnny's life.” Daisy's face showed her pride in her grandnephew.

“Yes, I did.” Paul's smile lit up his whole face. “I did, I did what needed to be done and I don't regret it.”

Relieved, Daisy rushed to Paul's side and hugged him, “I am so proud of you.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Yeah Lancer, we're waiting.” Jess tapped the quilt covering his leg where his gun would have been tied down.

“Murdoch already knows some it.” Scott was never so glad that everyone in the room was unarmed.

“Knows? How?” It was Madrid asking this time.

Scott looked from Johnny to Jess, “Sam needed information about you, Jess. Prior injuries could be an issue in treating your wound so he asked Daisy about…”

“About how I got so many scars?” Jess' hand remained at his side as he glared at the Easterner.

Scott understood now why Paul was afraid of Jess, he wasn't too comfortable facing that stare himself. “Yes, but it wasn't idle curiosity, it was…” Scott hesitated, “Sam needed a medical history.”

“So how does that answer the other questions?” It was Madrid's voice again.

“When we sent for Val about the shooting we had no idea you knew each other. Imagine our surprise when he recognized you.” Scott looked at Jess, he was still in gunfighter mode. “He said he knew you and when Murdoch asked how, he said the three of you rode together.” Scott noticed both men bristle so he quickly added, “He didn't tell us anything other than you wouldn't be gunning for Johnny.” 

Scott wished he had now stayed in the kitchen with Sam and Murdoch. “All we knew at the time was that a stranger had been bushwhacked on Lancer Land.”

He needed to lighten the mood, after all no bad secrets had been revealed. In feigned sarcasm he commented, “Oh and that you were probably a gunfighter since your gun was tied low on you hip.”  

Thinking that he failed miserably with his sarcasm, he continued, “In the past others have come after my brother and if that was your aim, we would have… Well, we would have had Val haul you off to the Green River jail.” 

He waited for the explosion he thought his words would bring but nothing happened.

“Hell, it wouldn't be the first time. Would it Madrid?” Jess looked to his roommate.

“Nope. And damned if ya wouldn't be forced to drink Val's pan-fried coffee.” 

“Shit don't tell me he still makes that brew straight from hell?”

Scott looked between Jess and Johnny and saw they were both choking back laughter. “Very funny, I hope you both pull some stitches.”

“Naw, you don't Boston ‘cause then ya gonna catch hell from Daisy.” Johnny couldn't stop the laugh that erupted until the pain made itself known.

“Yeah Scott, you don't ever want Daisy mad at you.” Jess took a deep breath at the stab of pain in his back.

“Well, if I tell her it wasn't my fault and that I tried to stop you, who do you think she'll believe?” Scott stood and marched to the door then turned to face his tormenters, “She will believe me.” He pointed to his chest then slammed the door behind him. In the hallway, he smiled. Whether his little brother wanted it or not, he would always have his brother back.

“Don't think he's too happy with us.” Jess snickered at his partner in crime.

“Nope. But he'll get over it. One thing about ol' Boston he don't hold a grudge.”

“That's good.” Jess rubbed his chin then looked toward the door, “Yeah, but will he rat us out to Daisy?”

Johnny also looked at the door, “Hope not.” 

 

Chapter 22

Scott stared at the door, relieved that Jess and Johnny weren't mad at him. However, he understood Johnny's concern that Murdoch would interrogate him about his past-again. He would talk to his father about how best to deal with Johnny's worries. 

“Why are you staring at that door?” A feminine voice queried.

Scott whirled around to see Paul and Daisy watching him, “I… those two,” he jabbed a finger at the door, “are enough to drive a teetotaler to drink.”

Daisy took Scott's arm, “Surely you are used to dealing with your brother's antics.”

“Yes, but now he has a twin to join in his game of ‘let's torment the big brother'.” Scott patted Daisy's arm. 

“Well, why don't you join Paul and me in the kitchen. I promised him some of Maria's delicious cookies.” She waved for Paul to follow along, “That is if Sam hasn't eaten all of them.”

“I don't know Daisy, he wasn't in a very good mood when I left him earlier. Let's just hope Maria held some back for the rest of us.”

Three laughing people entered the kitchen. 

“Where did Murdoch and Sam go?” Scott held a chair for Daisy.

“They went to check on Teresa.” Maria approached the table with three cups and a coffee pot.

“Is there any chance that Sam didn't eat all the cookies?” Scott adopted Johnny's sad little boy expression.

Maria shook a finger at Scott, “Niño.” She returned a moment later with a large plate of warm cookies. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“No, I am not going to discuss this any further with you.” Murdoch's countenance a clear indication he would brook no further argument.

Teresa sat on the side of her bed, arms crossed over her chest, and a scowl the likes of which Sam had never seen on the young girl's face. “I…” She stopped when Sam cleared his throat and shook his head at her. “Fine.” She dropped her hands to her lap. 

“Teresa, Johnny is in the same room as Jess, and Daisy and Maria are more than capable of taking care of them.” Murdoch used his placating voice. “You will be needed to help with the cooking and running the house.”

“Fine.” Her tone clearly showed she wasn't ready to be accommodating.

“Or I could ask Aggie or Mrs. Reed if they might consider a houseguest until Jess is healed enough to go back to Green River.” Murdoch was not going to give in on this.

“You wouldn't?” Teresa jumped up from her bed.

“I would and I will if you disobey me.” 

Teresa bowed her head in defeat. “Alright.”

“Now that this is settled, go help Maria with supper.” Murdoch looked to Sam, “I assume you will be joining us?”

“Wouldn't miss it for the world.” 

“Not funny Sam.” Murdoch huffed out of the room followed by a self-satisfied  doctor and a pouting young lady. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val stopped in front of the undertakers; he was exhausted and wanted to get rid of Conway. Unfortunately Higgs had seen the sheriff ride up and hightailed it after him. 

“Well, who is that?” Higgs pointed to the body draped over the horse.

“It's the killer,” Val pushed past the mayor, “Now get outta my way.” He stepped into the office and called for Dave. “Need yer help getting yer customer in here.”

The undertaker followed Val out to the horse only to find the mayor trying to peek under the canvas tarp. “Did you get a name?” Higgs demanded, embarrassed that he had been caught.

“Yeah, it's Conway. Now get going.” Val's palm itched to punch the pest.

Together, Dave and Val struggled to get the body off the horse. Val would have let Conway drop to the ground but there were too many people around. Finally they managed to get Conway to the autopsy room where they contemptuously tossed the body on the table.

Val removed his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “I'll be in my office.”

Higgs was impatiently waiting on the boardwalk in front of his store, he wanted some answers and he wanted them now. He glared when Val ignored him and continued to the sheriff's office. The mayor angrily called out, “I'll expect a report on this.”

Val waved, “Yeah…yeah,” and kept going. When he got to his office he slammed the door and stomped over to his desk. He dropped in his chair and propped his feet on his desk. “Damn, that ol' fool is a royal pain in the ass.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Aunt Daisy, I think I should return to town.” Paul slipped into the chair next to Scott. “Grandmother will be worried if I stay any longer.” He smiled at Maria as he accepted a cookie.

“I think that's a good idea.” Daisy patted Paul's hand. “Jess and Johnny are going to be okay and I'd like to spend some time with Agatha.” 

“I'll have Jelly hitch the surrey and drive you both back to Green River.” Scott rose but sat back down when Murdoch, Sam and Teresa entered the kitchen. The girl rushed to Daisy's side and hugger her.

“Oh Daisy I'm going to miss you.”

“I'll be back. I just want to have some sister time with Agatha and let her know Jess is going to be alright.” Daisy returned the young girl's hug.

Teresa sat in the chair Scott vacated for her. “Thank goodness,” she shot a look at Murdoch, “since I am not permitted to care for Johnny and Jess.”

Daisy peeked at Murdoch and saw his frown, “Well, it wouldn't be proper for a young lady to…” She hesitated a moment, “to care for young men who are… in a state of partial—”

“It wouldn't be the first time I've taken care of Johnny when he's been hurt.” Teresa interrupted and ignored her guardian's angry sigh.

“Well, that may be but Jess is not part of your family,” Before Teresa voiced her retort Daisy continued, “Besides, Jess would not like you being in the room. He is a very modest person around women.” Daisy smiled, “He was mortified the first time I tended a wound requiring the removal of his shirt.”

Murdoch smiled appreciatively at Daisy, he was grateful for her defusing of the simmering argument. He turned to Scott, “I would feel better if you would take Daisy and Paul to town.”

Scott understood his father's unvoiced concern. Jelly would talk too much and Murdoch didn't want to risk having Lancer be the subject of town gossip. “Yes, of course, I'll have Walt hitch the surrey.” He rose and headed for the door.

“Scott, I rode one of the livery's horses out here. So I need to return it.” Paul rose to join Scott.

“Well, I can solve that problem.” Sam said. “After Daisy and I check the boys one last time I'll drive her back in my surrey and Scott and Paul can follow on horseback.” 

“Fine with me. Come on Paul, we'll saddle the horses and hitch the surrey.” The two men left the kitchen.

“Thank you Daisy.” Murdoch whispered as she passed him on the way to the boys' room. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sam rapped once on the door and barged in; he wanted to surprise his patients in case they were up to something.  He was amazed when he saw them both in bed where they belonged. 

“This has to be a first,” he whispered. 

Then he addressed his patients. “Daisy and I are headed back to town so I want to check you both over before we leave.” He sat on Jess' bed first. “Ease onto your side.” There was no fresh blood and the stitches were tight. “Everything looks good,” he pointed his finger like he was going to shoot his patient between the eyes. “Make sure it stays that way.”

Sam then moved over to Johnny's bed, satisfied that the same was true. “Keep it this way.” 

“We will,” they replied in unison.

Daisy grinned, “I'll be back in a couple days and I better not hear about any troubles you two have caused.” She crossed her arms over her chest and adopted her ‘behave yourself' expression, “I won't be happy and if I'm not happy you boys won't be happy.”

Again the reply was in unison, “Yes ma'am.”

In the hallway Sam chuckled, “Daisy would you consider moving to Green River and joining my practice?”

“Sorry Sam, but Slim, Jess and Mike need me more.”

The disappointed doctor shook his head, “My loss.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Jess turned to his roommate, “She means it. Don't let her size trick ya, she can make ya sorry you got on her bad side.”

Johnny smiled, he knew from personal experience with Maria and her wooden spoon. Then he sobered, “Jess?”

“Yeah.” Jess recognized the tone of voice, Johnny wanted to talk.

“What was it like when you… Well, you know when ya first moved in at the relay station?”

Jess eased onto his side to face his friend, “It was hard. Jonesy and Slim knew I was bad news the minute they laid eyes on me.” He sighed, “Like I said Slim ran me off when he found me in one of his pastures. Course I didn't know the relay station belonged to him when I stopped there to ask about Pete Morgan.”

“Andy, he's Slim's little brother, latched onto me the minute I set foot on the ground. See the boy was bored and wanted an adventure and he figured I'd be his best chance to get away.” Jess smiled at the memory. “Anyway he showed me his critters and offered me some pie.” Jess stretched a little to ease the pain in his back. “Well, I kinda fell asleep at the table and when Andy walked in he startled me and I drew on him.” 

“Damn Jess, didn't shoot ‘im did ya?” Johnny half teased.

“Naw, scared the shit outta him, he even dropped the pie. Have to admit he recovered quickly. We were getting along fine until Slim and Jonesy walked in while I was teaching Andy how to cheat at cards.”

“Bet that went over like a fart in church.” Johnny laughed.

Jess smirked, “Worse than that. He let into me and we almost came to blows. Anyway that's when everything went to hell. Like I told ya before, we were held captive, kidnapped a judge, and then there was the jailbreak.”

Johnny chuckled, “Not the best start to a friendship.”

“Nope, but we came to an agreement and I agreed to stay on and see what happened. It was rocky at first but Andy and me got along and I think that made Slim willing to give me a break.”

“Did they pressure you to talk about your past? About being a gunfighter?” 

It didn't take a smack to the head for Jess to realize this was a worry for Johnny, and he rightly guessed that Murdoch and maybe Scott were having trouble accepting Madrid. “Slim had questions sure but he would slip them in during a conversation. One thing I have to say about my partner, he's loyal and once he decided I was worth his friendship…” Jess swallowed. “Well, he backed me all the way.” 

“But when you first stayed on… did ya ever feel like… Did it just get to be too much?” Johnny bowed his head and started pulling a thread on the quilt.

Jess noticed his friend's unease; he had felt the same way. “Yeah, the first year was bad. My past kept showing up… I did leave a couple of times.”

Johnny's head shot up, “What happened?”

“Slim would always tell me we could work it out.” Jess smiled and shook his head, “Damned if he even chased after me a few times.” 

Johnny sat quietly playing with the thread. 

Jess knew Johnny needed time to gather his thoughts and would talk when he was ready. So Jess squirmed back onto his pillows and pretended to drift off to sleep.

Johnny watched his amigo a few minutes then he laid back and stared at the ceiling.  

L * A * N * C * E * R

Murdoch and Teresa watched the surrey and two horses ride under the Lancer Arch, “Oh Murdoch, I'm going to miss Daisy.” 

“I know, my dear, but she'll be back in a couple days.” Murdoch placed his arm around her shoulders and ushered her into the Great Room.

“I'm going to help Maria.” She headed for the kitchen, but called over her shoulder, “Don't worry, I stay in the kitchen.” Got you she smiled to herself, she knew Murdoch was about to warn her to stay away from Johnny and Jess.

“See that you do.” Murdoch could't resist getting in the last word.

He started for the drinks cart but decided to see Johnny and Jess first, so he turned and headed for the boys' room. It was time to talk, and he wanted some answers.

 

Chapter 23

Johnny continued to stare at the ceiling so lost in thought, that the knock on the door caused him to jump. He looked over to Jess who pointed to the door and called out, “Come in.”

Murdoch moved into the room and pulled a chair over so he could sit between the beds. “I want to talk to both of you.” He felt the atmosphere immediately cool. He hated that his younger son always felt the need to go into defensive mode whenever he asked to talk.

“Johnny, I know you think I'm going to blame Madrid for this mess.” Murdoch watched his son's shoulders tense. “Well, Son, I'm not. I want to tell you how proud I am of you.” He then turned to Jess, “And I want to thank you for being a friend to my son.”

The two men sat and stared in shock, Johnny had expected yelling, and Jess had expected to be in the middle of a family argument. However, Jess recovered first, “You're welcome,” was all he could think of to say.

Murdoch chuckled, “Guess you two weren't expecting this. Glad I could surprise you.” 

“Yeah Ol' Man, you sure did.” Johnny teased, but was still a little confused at his father's statement.

“I know in the past I haven't been very understanding about Madrid and I would come across as accusatory.” Murdoch reached out and patted Johnny's leg, “I'm sorry.”

Murdoch pulled his hand back and turned to face the other man, “Jess, when Scott found you and brought you here I was so afraid that you were after Johnny. Then Val told us the three of you are old friends…” He unconsciously rubbed his aching leg. “I was so relieved and concerned at the same time. I couldn't help but wonder why you were here.” 

Johnny cleared his throat and moved his leg toward the center of his bed and patted the mattress. “Murdoch, prop your sore leg up here.”

“Thanks Son.” Murdoch used both hands to pull his leg up on to the bed. Once he was comfortable he continued. “Johnny, if it weren't for Madrid I hate to think I might not have you home where you belong. I wasn't there to protect you, that was something you were forced to do for yourself.” Murdoch sighed and leaned back in his chair. “When you were a baby I was the most important person in your life.” In his mind he visualized his little boy, “You would sit on my lap, we shared cookies and milk, and you even went riding with me.” 

Johnny watched mesmerized by the expression on his father's face. “I wish I could remember.”

“It's no wonder, you were so young.” Murdoch chuckled, “You loved horses even then.” He turned to Jess, “He would sneak out to the corral to watch the horses. I nearly had a heart attack the first time I saw Johnny crawl under the fence.” 

All three men laughed at the thought of a diapered Johnny sneaking out to see the horses. 

Jess pointed to his roommate, “He's still crazy about horses. He even tried to get me to let him have Traveler.”

“Traveler?”

“My horse. Traveler's the best horse I've ever owned.” Jess bragged. “I can't count the number of times he's carried me to safety. I can even sleep while riding and he gets me home.” Jess laughed out loud. “Slim just shakes his head when he sees me do that.”

“Why Traveler?” Murdoch knew Scott named his horse Ulysses and was curious if the name was connected to something from Jess' past.

“I was in the Confederate Army, Traveler is named after General Lee's horse. Guess I shouldn't bring that up since Scott was on the Union side.” Jess leaned back into his pillow.

“You don't have to worry about that, as far as Scott is concerned the war is over.” Murdoch assured Jess.

“You two don't have to answer but I wondered if you would tell me how you met each other?” Murdoch held his breath.

Jess looked toward Johnny, “You want to tell him?” 

“Sure, why not,” Johnny wasn't sure how his father would take the information. 

“You already know how I met Val.” Johnny waited for Murdoch to acknowledge that fact. “Well we were headed for a job in Texas and Val said we needed another gun and he knew just the man.” He and Jess shared a look.

“Anyway we rode into some town, don't even remember the name anymore. T'was on the border somewhere.” Johnny chuckled and shook his head, “Val and I headed for the saloon. Damn if I was about to have my first beer when there was a commotion out on the street.”

“Val poked my arm and said let's go see what's happenin'. I wasn't none too happy, I really wanted that beer. You know Val. When he wants to do somethin', well ya just go along.” 

Jess smirked, “Yeah, it's easier than arguing with him.”

“So we headed out and stood on the boardwalk outside the saloon, it was hotter than hell and I sure was thirsty.” Johnny was getting lost in the memory.

Murdoch chose to ignore the language and wished the two of them would get on with the story. “So what was happening out on the street?”

“What?” Johnny looked at his father, “Oh yeah, sorry. Well there were two men facing off in the street. I recognized the older one, he was mean and fast, didn't know the other one but he sure was young.” 

“And you weren't?” Jess jabbed at his amigo.

Murdoch cleared his throat.

“Okay, I'm getting there.” Johnny held up his hands. “Damn, it was over before I had a chance to ask Val if he knew them.” Johnny looked at Jess, “Glad we never felt the need to try each other, you were so damn fast.”

Murdoch gasped, that fact confirmed his earlier worry. 

“Hey, relax Murdoch, turns out Jess was that friend Val wanted for the job. Jess spoke fluent Spanish, loved spicy Mexican food, and well, any friend of Val's.” Both boys started laughing. 

Jess could see the apprehension on the older man's face. “Don't worry Mr. Lancer, I'd never draw on Johnny anymore than I'd draw on Val.”

Murdoch nodded, “I'm glad to hear that.” He started rubbing his leg again. He wanted to change the troubling subject. 

“So I understand from Daisy that your partner, Slim Sherman, wants to buy some cattle from me?”

Jess was also relieved to change the subject. “Yep he read about them in some journal. He may like cows but I think they're the dumbest creature God ever created-” Jess stopped suddenly. “Sorry, Sir, I…”

Murdoch took pity on the young man, “That's alright; my younger son shares your opinion.” 

“Yeah, they can find the only mud hole for miles and then they just wander right into it.” Johnny shook his head in disgust. 

Jess started laughing, “Slim always makes sure it's my job to get ‘em out of mud, the river, brambles, you name they get in it.”

“Same here, gotta admit though, Scott carries his weight.” Johnny's laughter joined Jess'.

Murdoch sat back and enjoyed the teasing. “Well if you two hate cows so much maybe I should tell Maria not to serve any you any steaks.”

That sobered the boys up, “No, we don't like dealing with them but we do like eating them.” Jess hastened to add. “Course since this is a ranch, and ya got lots of cattle, it sure would be nice to have something to eat that needs teeth. I sure am tired of broth.”

Murdoch found he was enjoying Jess' humor. It turned out this ex-gunfighter was a good man and a good friend. “Well, I'll see what Maria can cook up, but I can guarantee it won't be a steak until Sam gives the okay.”

Jess's good humor faded, “What's the Doc got against real food?”

“Don't fight it. I'm telling ya, the more you argue the more he keeps up the broth.” Johnny crossed his arms over his chest, “I think he does it as payback.”

“Tell you what, you boys behave yourselves and I see if Maria will fix some of Johnny's favorite chili.”

“We will.” They chorused with big smiles on their faces.

“I'll go talk to her.” Murdoch rose and started for the door and turned. “Jess, later we'll talk about the cows Slim wants.”

“Thanks.” Jess didn't sound enthusiastic. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Maria and Teresa were working on supper when Murdoch walked in, “The boys are tired of broth, so Maria would you make some chili for them?” He grabbed a cup and moved to the stove where Maria held up the coffee pot.

“Sí Patrón, Médico Sam said they could have stew but nothing solid yet.” Maria pulled a pepper from the stash on the shelf and tossed it in an empty pot.

“Gracias Maria.” Murdoch snuck a cookie off the table as he headed for the Great Room. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Agatha was sipping on lemonade and fanning herself as she watched the activity on the street. When she saw the procession approaching her, she smiled and rushed to the gate.  She eagerly waved as she opened the gate to greet her visitors, relieved to see her sister in Sam's surrey and Paul riding behind them.

“Daisy, I am so happy to see you. Is Jess alright?” She waited not too patiently while Sam helped her sister from the surrey.

As soon as Daisy was on the ground she was wrapped in a hug. “Agatha, I can't breathe.”

“Sorry, I just missed you so much.” Agatha backed off.

“How about me, Grandmother, did you miss me?” 

Agatha turned and wrapped Paul in a hug. “Of course I did.” She pulled back and patted his cheek.

The three of them walked to the porch, chatting all the way and ignoring the two men on the street.

Sam and Scott waited to be noticed, but Daisy and Paul were too busy telling Agatha about what happened at Lancer. They completely missed their guests' departure.

“I have to get over and check on Molly, so if you all will excuse me.” Sam smirked at Scott and climbed into his surrey and headed for the Stevens' place.

Scott decided to leave and let them share the exciting news. He wanted to check on Val anyway, so he mounted, grabbed the reins of the rental horse and rode off to the livery. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

The loud slam of a door startled Ulysses as Scott was wrapping the reins around the rail in front of the sheriff's office. He stroked his horse's neck to calm him.

“That man is insufferable.” Mayor Higgs grumbled as he stormed past Scott on his way back to his store.

Scott cracked the door and waved his hat through the opening, “Is it safe to enter?”

“Yeah, smart ass, as long as that fool of a mayor ain't with ya.” 

“Scott peeked around the door, “He's gone.” 

Val was at the stove pouring some coffee, “What d'ya want?”

“Just wanted to let you know Sam said Jess and Johnny are healing nicely.”

“Yeah, why are you really here?” Val knew Scott was hiding something.

Scott sat in the chair in front of the desk. “Well, I…”

Val sat in his chair, placed the coffee cup on his desk, and leaned forward, “Spit it out.”

“Well…”

“Ya done said that.” Val was getting angry.

Scott leaned back in the chair to put some distance between himself and the sheriff and prayed Val wouldn't shoot him. “I told Jess and Johnny that you reassured Murdoch and me that Jess wasn't here to call out Johnny and that you were all friends.” The statement rushed out in one breath.  

Scott found himself facing the same expression he had faced when he told Jess and Johnny the same thing. “They… Honestly Val, I told them you didn't tell any secrets just that you all knew each other.” 

Val leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. He was going to let Scott sweat for a few minutes. He reached out for his cup and took a few sips.

Scott waited, and waited. He was beginning to think Val would just shoot him and not waste words.

“Val, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… Anyway, Jess and Johnny aren't mad and I…” Scott was thinking that coming to talk to Val hadn't been one of his brighter ideas.

“Scott, sometimes ya just ain't too smart.” Val chuckled and scratched his whiskers. “Sometimes ya just need to butt out and not always play the big brother ptrotectin' the little brother.”

“I know I just wanted to make it easy for Johnny when he talks to Murdoch.” Scott sighed.

“Scott, Johnny's a big boy, and ya gotta let him and his papi work things out on their own.” He raised his hand when Scott opened his mouth. “You can't make it like you want it to be. You and Murdoch have one way of gettin' along and Johnny and Murdoch have their way. There ain't no right or wrong way that's just how it works.”

“So you are saying leave them alone and just be there when and if they ask for help.” Scott again realized Val was smarter than appearances would indicate.

“Yep, that's about it. Now why are you in here botherin' me?”

“Sam and I escorted Daisy and Paul back to town.”

“Well ya did that so why don't ya head home and annoy them and leave me alone.” Val picked up a wanted poster.

Scott knew he had been dismissed so he rose and left the sheriff to his business.

 

Chapter 24

“I'm bored, I hate being stuck in bed,” Johnny grouched.

“And you think I do? Hell my ass aches, I'm sick of broth, and my teeth have forgotten what real food is.” Jess pouted.

“Look, we both heal better when we can get up and move around, right?” Johnny  grinned.

“Yep, so what ya got in mind?” Jess gave his partner a questioning look.

Johnny slipped out of bed and tiptoed across the room and leaned his ear against the door. After a few moments he peeked over his shoulder at Jess and whispered, “All clear.” He turned back to help his partner out of bed.

Jess threw back the quilt and grabbed Johnny's hand. With a few groans and grunts from both men they managed to get to the door without drawing unwanted attention.

Johnny leaned Jess against the wall and used one hand to hold him in place. He quietly opened the door and peeked out, “Still good, let's go.” Together they awkwardly made their way to the Great Room.

Once Jess was settled on the sofa, Johnny hot footed it to the drinks cart and grabbed two glasses and a bottle of Murdoch's expensive Tequila. He sat the bottle and glasses on the table, then went to the bookshelves and retrieved the checkers. By the time he made it back to the table Jess had poured their drinks. 

Jess took a sip and grinned appreciatively, “Whoa, this is the good stuff.”

“Yep, my Ol' Man has good taste and the money to pay for it.” Johnny chuckled and lifted his glass in a toast.

Jess set up the checker board and two began a night of playing and drinking.

At about 3:00 A.M., the boys were half way through the second bottle of Tequila and the games were getting rowdier. Unfortunately Jess and Johnny decided it was a good idea to start cheering each time a checker was crowned, legal or otherwise. 

Regrettably they were so drunk they failed to notice that the noise had drawn the attention of a very indignant Scott and an incensed Murdoch. The vein on Murdoch's temple was pulsating and that was never a good sign. 

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?” 

Scott looked up to see if the earsplitting roar had shaken the rafters loose. He was surprised to see they remained intact.

However, the bellow had caused the two drunks to jump. Jess almost dropped his glass while Johnny nearly fell off his perch on the ottoman.  

Two extremely intoxicated faces slowly turned toward all the noise and broke out into silly grins when they saw new players had arrived.

“Hey Murdoch, wanna play?” Johnny chuckled and held up a checker.

Jess grinned and waved his now empty glass, “How ‘bout a drink? It's the good stuff.”

Scott didn't know whether to laugh or just try to slip from the room while he remained out of his father's line of fire. He was very sorry that he hadn't been ordered to his room like Teresa as Murdoch stormed down the hallway. He would swear he could hear his father's teeth grinding and see smoke coming out of the man's ears.

Murdoch purposefully strode toward his inebriated younger son. With his hands on his hips he slowly leaned down to come nose to nose with Johnny. He returned his son's silly grin, then sobered and yelled at the top of his lungs. “NO!”

Johnny was so shocked that this time he did topple off the ottoman. Luckily he was so sloshed that he didn't feel any pain when he landed on his butt.  Unfazed by finding himself on the floor he shrugged his shoulder's. “‘Kay, maybe later,” he slurred.

Frustrated, Murdoch reached down, grabbed Johnny's collar and hauled him up. It was then that he noticed a red spot forming on the nightshirt. “Scott help Jess and I'll take Johnny back to their room.”

“Yes, Sir.” Scott slipped past his father, carefully avoiding turning his back on the enraged man. When he reached Jess he wondered how best to get the injured man up from the sofa.  Scott soon discovered Jess like Johnny was heavier than he looked; he struggled to get the drunk on his feet. 

Jess looked up surprised to see Johnny's brother pulling on him. “Hey Scott, ya want a drink?” He handed over his glass; then he held up his other hand with his thumb and finger about an inch apart, “I'll just have a small one.” 

“I don't think that would be a good idea, Jess. You and Johnny need to get back to bed.” Scott had finally managed to get him on his wobbly feet. “Take your time.” They stumbled several times but finally got to the guest room. Where Scott, drenched in sweat, was tempted to dump Jess on to the bed. 

Murdoch was forced to carry Johnny to his bed since walking was out of the question. He placed his drunken son on the bed and began pulling off the now bloody nightshirt. “Scott get some hot water and bandages.”  

Upon further examination, he found that no stitched were torn and while he waited for Scott, Murdoch went to the other bed. “Jess, let me check your wound.” He rolled the patient to his side, relieved to see a clean bandage. “It amazing you didn't pull some stitches.” He helped Jess roll back onto his pillows.

A bleary eyed Jess looked up. “I ain't the one ya blew off his seat.” Jess smirked and wiggled his finger at Murdoch.

Murdoch ran his fingers through his hair. The only good thing about this mess was discovering the ex-gunfighters were happy drunks. He knew it could have easily been otherwise considering their backgrounds.

Murdoch stood between the beds and shook his head in defeat. He was relieved that Johnny only pulled a few stitched instead of tearing them and that Jess came through the drunken fiasco undamaged. A condition that may still change once Sam and Daisy got hold of them.

Scott had returned with the water and bandages, “How bad?”

“Not bad at all, would you clean him up?” Murdoch was exhausted and dropped onto one of the chairs; his back ached from carrying Johnny.

“Yes, Sir.” Scott sat on the bed and washed off the drying blood then wrapped the wound. “The stitches aren't bleeding anymore, that's good.” He pulled the quilt over his sleeping brother thankful that it wasn't serious. “They are going to be sorry tomorrow.”

When Scott moved to the other bed to check on Jess, he found the man was also out like a light. He chuckled, “Sleeping the sleep of innocents.”

Murdoch looked at his older son in disbelief, “You've got to be kidding.” 

“Murdoch, let's go back to bed, as you are fond of saying, mornings come early.” Scott yawned, eager to get back in his nice, warm bed.

“You're right, I don't think they'll be up and around for awhile.” Murdoch groaned as he stood, he waved away Scott's hand. “Thanks, Son, I can make it.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

It had been an arduous few days at Lancer. Johnny and Jess were on the mend and without General Cooper, Scott's nickname for Daisy, the boys were not behaving . Murdoch and Scott had discussed moving the two of them to the guardhouse, but then Maria would have to carry a heavy tray too far. 

Today however they would get their revenge on the miscreants because Sam and Daisy were due back. “Are you going to tell them about the checker game or do you want me to break the news?” Scott hoped his father would let him, but knew that was a hopeless wish when he saw the gleam in Murdoch's eyes.

“No, Son, that will be my pleasure.” Murdoch took another bite of his eggs and smiled the contented smile of a parent whose child was about to get his comeuppance. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

“Well, we face the music today.” Jess had his arms crossed over his chest and glared at his roommate.

“Yeah, but…” Johnny held a hand out.

Jess ignored it. “No but. I've faced a mad Daisy in the past and it wasn't pretty.”

“Hey she's little, we can take her.” Johnny tried to lighten the mood.

It wasn't working and Johnny Lancer was facing Jess Harper, angry gunfighter. “Yeah, I'd like to see you try it. And I can guarantee ya if Sam has to stitch you back together that ain't gonna be pretty either.”

“It wasn't bad and Scott got it cleaned up.” Johnny sounded like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.

Jess continued to scowl, “Yeah, and ya don't think Scott's gonna let that pass? He was really mad at you.”

“I know, mad and scared.” Johnny bowed his head and began pulling a sting on the quilt.

“You already tore it loose in a couple places,” Jess pointed to the thread Johnny was twisting. “If I were you I wouldn't add an angry Maria to the mix. You of all people know better than to piss off a Mexican woman.” 

“Yeah.” Johnny quit pulling the thread, “Hey, you still have my back?”

Jess held out his hand, “Always.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Murdoch and Scott were standing by the corral when Sam pulled into the yard; the ol' Doc wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He was leaning toward bad when he got a good look at their expressions. “Wonder what the boys did this time.”

Daisy reassuringly patted his arm, “Let's just hope it wasn't too bad.”

Murdoch walked to Sam's side of the surrey and Scott stepped over to Daisy's and helped her down.

Sam straightened his suit jacket and reached for his bag, “Okay, what did they do? And how many stitches do I have to replace?” 

Murdoch's face was starting to turn red. “Come into the Great Room and we'll fill you in before you see Johnny and Jess.”

Sam looked at Daisy who sighed, “Try to stay calm Sam, Murdoch seems mad enough for both of you.” He nodded his agreement and together they followed the livid rancher into the house.

Murdoch walked directly to the drinks cart and held up a glass. “I know it's early but I think you may want it after you hear what happened.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Sam and Daisy sat listening in stunned silence at the fiasco perpetrated by two soon-to-be-very-sorry ex-gunfighters. 

“It's a good thing they were drunk, especially for Johnny or he may have tried to stop his fall.” Sam was working on his second drink, his frustration obvious to everyone in the room. “When your son is healed, I want your permission to haul him to the woodshed.”  

Murdoch nodded, “Me first.”

Daisy was infuriated, “They promised to behave themselves.” 

“I'm sorry Daisy, I didn't think they would pull a stunt like that.” Scott felt he had let her down.

“No, Scott, how could you know? It's not your fault.” Daisy smiled and patted his arm. Then she stood, but was no longer smiling. “I think I need to see to my patients,” she stormed out of the room.

Scott looked at Sam and Murdoch, “I'm glad she's not mad at me.”

Murdoch chuckled, “Hope you two don't expect me to rescue them.”

“I don't have a death wish.” Sam finished his drink. “I could use a cup of coffee and some of Maria have any cookies, if there are any left.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Jess and Johnny remained as still as possible, both were afraid to move. 

“I think my head is about to explode.” Johnny whispered. 

Jess started to nod but grabbed his head when the lightning bolt seared his brain. 

Suddenly the door flew open and slammed against the wall with a loud bang. Two groans followed but stopped when the occupants saw the figure in the doorway. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

In the kitchen getting ready to enjoy their cookies and coffee the three men flinched when they heard the door bang against the wall.

Scott's sarcastic wit took over, “General Copper is addressing her troops.”

Murdoch choked on the coffee he had just sipped, and Sam sprayed cookie crumbs.

Scott idly brushed the crumbs off his sleeve, “I think I'll wait in the hallway, I want to hear what she tells them.”

“Wait for us.” Sam stood, “Come on Murdoch, this should be quite a show.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy stretched to her full height and marched into the room; she stopped between the beds and crossed her arms over her chest. 

Jess and Johnny slid lower in their beds and forced smiles to hide the fact their heads were pounding and the room was spinning.

“I know how you two are feeling and don't expect any pity from me.” She was just shy of shouting. “Your promises meant nothing; I am so ashamed of both of you.” She slowly dragged one of the chairs across the floor, causing as much screeching as possible, then let the front legs crash to the floor between the beds. Satisfied that it had the desired effect, she continued in her normal voice. “Sam and I worked hard to save your life Jess. And Johnny, though your injury was not as serious Sam and I worked just as hard on you.”

She reached out and held Jess's hand, “Do you realize how frightened I was when I heard about that latest stunt in the Great Room? You are like a son to me. Do you want me to face losing another son that I love?”

Still holding Jess' hand, she turned to Johnny, “And you, young man, you are very special to me, too. You and Jess are old friends and seeing you hurt causes me pain. I feel like you belong to my family just like Slim, Mike, and Jess.”

Daisy let go of Jess' hand to take Johnny's. “And what about Scott and Murdoch? How do you think they felt seeing the two of you out of bed, and drunk? Can you imagine their fear when they saw fresh blood on your nightshirt?” She shook her head, “Your father and brother don't want to lose you. Did you even care that you caused them to worry?”

“I didn't mean too, I was just… Please Daisy we didn't mean…” Johnny sat with his head bowed.

“I'm sorry too, Daisy. You know I ‘d never do anything to hurt you.” Jess reached for her other hand and squeezed it; he was ashamed at the hurt their actions caused to the woman he loved as a mother.

“All right, I accept your apologies.” She released their hands, rose, and moved to stand behind the chair. “But from now on you two will do exactly what you are told, you will not get out of those beds, and if I hear one complaint out of either of you…” General Cooper was in complete command of her humbled patients.

“We promise.” Jess and Johnny sounded like two little boys.

Daisy waited, her hands resting on the chair back.

“Honest Daisy, we won't cause any trouble.” Jess didn't want her mad at him anymore.

Johnny nodded, and then winced. “Sorry Daisy, I promise, no more trouble.” He couldn't believe how much this little lady meant to him and how sorry he felt for worrying her.

“Good, now after Sam examines both of you and IF he agrees, I'll see if Maria will let me bring you two some of her cookies.”

“And coffee?” Jess asked hopefully.

“How about milk for me?” 

“We'll see.” Daisy walked to the door but stopped and turned, she pinned them with her ‘behave yourself' glare, then pulled the door closed. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Daisy turned from the closed door and found three men grinning at her. Scott saluted her then offered his arm as they returned to the kitsch.

Scott pulled out a chair for Daisy, “Nicely done, General Cooper.”

“Why Scott I meant every word.” Daisy accepted the seat.

“I know, which made it even more powerful. You are a remarkable lady.” Scott passed her some cookies.

“Sam, after you check on them do you think maybe we can let them have some of those cookies?” 

Sam rubbed his chin, “Let's wait till I see how much damage they have done to my stitches.” He relented when he saw how much she cared for her boys. “I guess some cookies and milk won't hurt.”

“How about coffee? Jess lives for coffee.” Daisy pleaded his case.

“Yes, but not until I finish with them.” Sam grabbed a cookie and dared anyone at the table to comment, “I need fortification.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Sam stood outside the bedroom door; he was so tired of dealing with ornery patients. What was he going to say to them? How was he going to make it clear he didn't talk just to hear his own voice? His orders were to make them better not punish them. Well, he sighed, might as well get it over with.

When he finally opened the door and entered the room he saw two very contrite boys and was grateful to see them in bed where they belonged. 

“Hey Sam.” Johnny started to pull on a thread but thought better of it. “Guess you're mad at us?” He looked toward his roommate for help. 

“We're sorry Sam.” Jess took up the apology. “It's just so hard staying in bed.”

Sam moved to the chair Daisy left between the beds and wearily sat down. “Look boys, I am mad but only because of the damage you could have done to yourselves.”

“Jess, what if the damaged rib from the bullet had punctured a lung? I'm sure you know what it means.” Sam continued after Jess nodded.

“And you Johnny, you could have torn the wound open and lost more blood… blood the you still need to replace.”

Sam hesitated when Jess and Johnny went into the familiar pose of crossed arms and bowed heads. 

“Boys, I am not trying to punish you, I am trying to heal you. There are many people here including me that don't want to see you two hurting. So please cooperate, I want you out of these beds as much as you do.” He shook his head, “More than you do.”

Sam moved the chair to Jess' bed. “Let's this get this over with.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Well, I don't hear any yelling,” Scott smirked. 

“And I don't hear any fighting,” Murdoch added.

“You two stop this, poor Sam has enough to deal with.” Daisy admonished the two men.

 

Chapter 25

Daisy sat on the chair between the beds and watched her two favorite ex-gunfighters. However, they hardly looked such a formidable duo in their present state. Actually, they rather looked like two happy little boys, and the cookie crumbs clinging to their cheeks only reinforced the image. Johnny was sporting a milk mustache and Jess was holding his coffee cup under his nose a contented smile on his face. 

“Well, boys, I hope that you two appreciate Sam's benevolence.”

“His what?” Johnny wiped his upper lip.

“His act of kindness, considering your recent mishap in the Great Room.” Daisy pointed over her shoulder.

“Oh yeah,” Johnny bowed his head.

“Johnny, look at me, I'm not scolding you.” Her voice softened when he raised his head. “We care about you, and when you are hurt… your family can't bear it. They never want you to be anything but the boisterous Johnny they love.”

Jess sat back and watched Daisy work her magic on his amigo. Johnny, like himself, had missed out having someone to mother him. He was grateful that Daisy was taking Johnny as one of her own.

“They do love you.” Daisy reached for Johnny's hand when she saw the need in his eyes. “And so do I.” 

She smiled and pointed her finger at him. “You don't want to upset your surrogate mother, do you?”

“You like to use big words like Scott.” Johnny chuckled then tried his best ‘charm the ladies' smile, “So I'm gonna guess yer saying I better be good or else.”

“Jess tries that same smile on me when he's in trouble, and it always fails. Yes there is an ‘or else'.”  

Daisy and Johnny turned to Jess when they heard him laugh. 

“I tried ta warn him Daisy, but sometimes he just don't know when ta listen.” 

“Oh and you do?” Johnny wasn't about to take the heat over the checkers by himself. 

“Boys.” General Cooper was tapping her fingers on the chair's arm.

“Yes, Ma'am.” Two contrite voices answered.

“That incident is over with, now you two have a fresh start. Don't mess up again.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” They also nodded to make sure she believed them.

“Enjoy your treats, I'll check in later.” Grinning, Daisy rose and headed for the door, she turned back to the beds. “I'm trusting both of you.” 

Satisfied that she had loaded on enough guilt to assure compliance, Daisy left them alone. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sam leisurely walked toward his office, relieved that everything seem quiet in Green River. He was enjoying that peace and quiet until…

“Doctor Jenkins, where have you been? Oh, never mind I'm sure you were at the Lancer Ranch.” Higgs hurried to catch up to the Doctor. “Hector is driving me crazy; you would think he's the only father in town.” 

Sam glared at the annoying mayor. “Maybe if more men cared about—”

Higgs cut Sam off, “Yes, yes, fine. But with you out of town for some unknown reason, he thinks I want to listen to him.”

Sam stopped and turned on Higgs, “You are an insufferable, uncaring, and totally annoying man. Just get away from me.” He stomped off leaving the mayor, with his mouth hanging open, and standing in the middle of the street.

Val was sitting on the chair in front of his office getting a kick out hearing the Sam tell off the pain-in-the-ass mayor. “Hey Doc, nice job, couldn't have done better myself.” He tipped his hat then pointed to the empty chair.

“Thanks Val, he's just so… Well, being a gentleman I'll not say in public what I think of him.” Sam stepped up on the boardwalk and sat in the empty chair next to the sheriff.

“So how are things goin' at Lancer?” 

Sam growled, “Those two need a trip to the woodshed.”

“Goin' that good huh?” Val laughed, “So what did Jess and Johnny pull this time?”

Sam sat back, sighed, and gave a blow-by-blow description of the latest fiasco perpetrated by the ex-gunfighters. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Scott and Murdoch carried a table into the room and placed it between the beds. Then they pulled the two chairs up to the table. When everything was in place, Scott slipped from the room.

“Ready for supper, Boys?” Murdoch grinned at the two shocked faces. 

“Yeah, what ya up to Murdoch?” 

“I'm not up to anything, Son. We thought you and Jess might enjoy some company.” Murdoch helped Johnny sit on the edge of his bed, and pushed the table toward him. “Okay?”

Johnny nodded.

Murdoch then moved to Jess, “Easy now let me do the lifting.” When Jess was upright Murdoch centered the table; and since his chair was pinned in-between the table and the nightstand he sat down. “Supper will be here soon.”

Jess and Johnny looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and waited to see what would happen next.

After a few minutes the bedroom door opened. Jelly and Maria carried trays, which they placed on the dresser, followed by Scott carrying cups and a coffee pot. “Gentlemen,” he placed a cup in front of each seat and poured the coffee. Then he stood back so his partners had room to set the table.

Jelly followed up with plates, silverware, and napkins. Then Maria approached the table and presented the evening meal. Jess' and Johnny's eyes got as big as saucers and their smiles split from ear to ear. Johnny blew a kiss at Maria and Jess rubbed his hands together. 

Maria's tray contained tamales, black beans and rice, pico de gallo, corn cakes, and churros for dessert. 

“Ah Mamacita, te amo.” Johnny was in heaven.

“Sí, Señora, muchas gracias.” Jess couldn't wait to get to his first real Mexican meal in years.

Murdoch cleared his throat to get the boys attention. “Sam agreed to this, so out of gratitude I hope you two will follow orders from now on.”

Two eager young men nodded in agreement without taking their eyes off the feast before them. 

Maria went back to the dresser and returned to the table with another plate, this one contained steaks, potatoes, and peas. 

Scott kissed Maria on the cheek and took his place at the table. “Guess I won't need any milk tonight.” He grinned at his younger brother.

Jelly and Maria slipped out of the room to give the men some privacy. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

After supper, Agatha and Paul moved out to the front porch. They sipped lemonade while enjoying the pleasant evening breezes. 

Agatha chucked as she reflected on the interesting afternoon she and Paul had spent with Dr. Jenkins. “Daisy has her hands full with those two. And poor Sam! Well, at least he didn't find too much damage to the boys after their late night of drinking and checker games.”

“When I remember how afraid I was of Jess that first day, well, I can hardly believe…” Paul chuckled, “I never would have thought of Jess and Johnny as jokesters.”

“I'm sure they never saw you as the sharpshooter to save Johnny either.” Agatha toasted her grandson with her glass of lemonade. 

“It sounds like they are recovering. Do you think Aunt Daisy will come back here soon? We haven't had much of a visit with her.” Paul rubbed his finger around the rim of his glass.

“I'm sure she will let us know.” Agatha reached out to still his hand. “Once she feels Jess is all right on his own, she'll be back.”

Paul turned his hand over and clasped his grandmother's. “I love you both so much.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Murdoch knocked on Teresa's bedroom door. 

“Come in.” She was sitting on her bed, knitting.

“Did you notice I knocked?” Murdoch waited for her answer.

Teresa blushed, “Yes, and I have done better about not barging in on Scott and Johnny.”

Murdoch moved to sit in the chair by the bed, “I appreciate that and so do the boys.”

Teresa placed her knitting on the bed beside her. “Do you need something, Murdoch?”

“I wanted to talk to you about Jess and Johnny.” He held up his hand when she started to talk.

“Sam gave permission for them to get out of bed, but they are not to go any further than the Great Room.” Murdoch watched her face light up.

“Does that mean I can help Maria keep an eye on them?” Teresa couldn't wait to see the mystery man. She knew she needed to curb her enthusiasm or Murdoch would send her to Aggie's or Agatha's whichever he'd felt was far enough. 

“Scott and I will help them dress after breakfast and before they move to the Great Room. You can help Maria look after them.” He saw the excitement on the girl's face. “But you are to follow Maria's orders. Is that clear young lady?”

“Yes, I promise.” Teresa couldn't wait for tomorrow.

Murdoch stood and walked to the door where he turned, “I'll hold you to that promise.” He smiled and left the room.

Teresa hopped out of bed and ran to her wardrobe and laid out her favorite dress for the next day.

 

Chapter 26

Murdoch stood with his hands on his hips staring at Jess who quietly sat on the sofa then turned his glare on Johnny who was sitting in the leather chair, “You two will behave yourselves today.” Then he bent down toward his younger son and to reinforce his words, added, “I will be checking with Maria if either of you gave her any trouble. Am I clear?”

Both dark heads nodded, they weren't about to risk their new-found freedom.

Scott stood at the kitchen door and hid his grin behind his hand; he enjoyed watching Murdoch in father mode and was glad it wasn't aimed at him. Val's words replayed in his head, don't interfere playing big brother. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

An anxious Teresa sat at the kitchen table taking care to protect her dress while peeling potatoes for Maria. She constantly peeked over her shoulder; hoping Scott and Murdoch would leave soon.

“Chica, they are not going anywhere so just finish the potatoes.” Maria pulled another batch of cookies from the oven.

“They might like some of those while they are warm.” Teresa pointed to the tray. “I could take them some with coffee and milk.”

Maria shook her head but understood how badly Teresa wanted to see Señor Jess. “Sí, chica, I am sure they would like some warm cookies.”

Teresa rushed to grab a tray and plate while Maria poured a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. The girl finished filling the plate with cookies and once she was sure everything was ready, she nodded to Maria and headed for the kitchen door.

Maria smiled at the young girl's retreating back. Was this puppy love for a man she's never seen? 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Paul sat on the front porch savoring his morning coffee. He stood as Agatha came through the door carrying two cups and the coffee pot. “Thank you, grandmother. I was just going to come in for another cup.”

Agatha set the cups and pot on the table and leaned over to kiss Paul's forehead.

“I am so glad we picked Green River for our new home.” She sat across from him and filled their cups. “The Lancers are so nice and Sam has become a very good friend to us.” She grinned over the cup rim, “Even Val.”

“I have to admit my first impressions on several people have been amended.” Paul shook his head, “I'm glad I was wrong about Jess.”

“Me too.” Daisy moved out onto the porch.

Paul got up and held out a chair for his aunt, while Agatha handed a cup to Daisy.

“This is a very nice town and I am so glad you two have found a home and friends.” Daisy took a sip of her coffee, “However, I do wish it was closer to Laramie.”

Paul heard the gate open and turned to see Sam walking up the walkway. “Good morning Doctor.” He called as he stood and offered his chair to the older man.

“I'll get another cup.” Paul headed into the house.

“Well, Sam, what brings you here so early?” Daisy was on alert. “Don't tell me the boys are in trouble again.”

“No, they have been behaving for the last few days so I let them out of the bedroom with orders to not leave the Great Room.” Sam chuckled. He hoped they were doing as told but didn't really count on it.

“Does this mean they are on the mend?” Agatha was worried the good doctor would take Daisy away again.

“I am going to release Johnny for light duty which means Jess will be alone.” Sam looked up at Paul's return and accepted the offered cup. “Daisy do you have any suggestions for keeping him from getting into trouble?”

“I certainly do.” She laughed at Sam's shocked face.

“What?” He asked hopefully.

“Well, you and I go out to Lancer, and bring Jess back to town.”

Sam shook his head, “And just how is that going to keep Jess…” He started laughing. “You three are going to gang up on him.” He looked at the other smiling faces around the table. “That's a great idea, when do you want to leave?” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Teresa's heart pounded, her hands were sweating, and she was sure she was going to trip and dump the cookies, milk, and coffee on the unsuspecting men.

So she took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders and marched into the Great Room. Over and over in her head with each step she repeated, I can do this…I can do this…

When she reached the table, she avoided looking at either man, and placed the tray in front of them. First she handed Johnny his glass of milk, “I am so glad you are feeling better, I've missed you.”

“Me too.” Johnny smiled and reached out to take the glass then held her hand, “Nice dress.” He winked, “Don't worry, Jess won't bite you.”

Flustered that her nervousness was obvious, “I know,” was all she could think of to say.

Jess and Johnny exchanged a look while Teresa bent over the tray to pick up the coffee cup.

“Daisy said you prefer coffee.” She peeked at Jess as she handed him the cup. 

“Thank you.” He looked directly at her as he reached for the cup.

Teresa's heart skipped a beat, he had the most beautiful deep blue eyes, and he was so handsome. She hadn't expected him to be as… gorgeous as Johnny.  She cleared her throat but it still came out as a croak, “You're welcome.” Embarrassed she picked up the tray and held it in front of her and remainded there, frozen in place for a few seconds, then she fled the room.

“What I'd do?” Jess looked to Johnny who shrugged his shoulders.

“Who knows?” Johnny grabbed another cookie and bit off half of it.

In the kitchen Teresa dropped the tray on the table then stormed out to the garden.

Maria followed, “What's wrong chica?”

“Oh Maria, I acted like such a fool, I couldn't talk, and…” She embraced the older woman and cried on her shoulder. 

“It's alright, I'm sure they didn't notice.” She patted the young girl's back.

“Yes, they did. I heard Jess ask Johnny what he did to make me run away. How can I face them at lunch?”

“You will, now go inside and help me finish cooking. We will eat together here in the kitchen.” Maria pulled Teresa back into the house.

L * A * N * C * E * R 

“Do ya think I made Teresa mad? I thanked her for the coffee.” Jess was confused about why the girl had rushed from the room. “Hey, does she hate gunfighters?”

“Naw, she doesn't hate me.” Johnny wondered too why Teresa was acting so strangely.

Jess grabbed another cookie, “Hope not, don't want to get on the bad side of one of the cooks.” 

“Murdoch wouldn't let her help when we were hurt, she may be mad about that. Don't know why he wouldn't let her help.” Johnny took a gulp of his milk. “She and Maria always help Sam patch me up.” Suddenly a thought hit him, “Bet the Ol' Man kept her away ‘cause you ain't family and he didn't know you.” He chuckled, “Bet that made her madder than a wet hen.”

“What?” Jess looked even more confused.

“Look, Jess, Murdoch protects Teresa like she was his own daughter, And you being a gunfighter who's been shot in the back… well ya just ain't the type he had in mind for his beloved Teresa.” Johnny toasted Jess with his glass of milk.

“I ain't a gunfighter anymore and I didn't ask to be bushwacked.” Jess was suddenly on the defensive.

Johnny raised his hands, “Hey, I know that but Murdoch didn't know who you were or why you were on Lancer Land. Just saying I bet the Ol' Man laid down the law about her getting anywhere near you.”

“That makes sense. Guess if I had a daughter I wouldn't want her hanging around the likes of someone like me.” Jess finished off his cookie. “Decent women aren't for me.”

“Yep, we're definitely not what fathers want for their daughters.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Maria and Teresa surprised the boys with all their favorites. The four sat at the kitchen table in an uncomfortable silence. Finally Maria took charge.

“Señor Jess, tell me how you know Spanish so well?”

“Señora, just call me Jess. I grew up in Texas and there was a Mexican family sharecropping the spread next to my folks; they had a son my age and we became friends. He taught me.” Jess smiled at the memory. “His ma was a great cook and she would feed me when…”

Maria saw the sadness in his eyes and realized that Jess, just like Johnny didn't always have enough to eat. “What were their names?”

Jess chuckled, “The hijo was named Juan. The family name was Navarro.”

The mood had lightened and Teresa felt brave enough to join in the conversation. “So Jess how did you and Johnny meet?” She had second thoughts about the question when she saw the looks the men gave each other.

Johnny grinned, “Well Teresa, I'll tell ya how I met him.” He laughed at the relief he saw on his friend's face. “Val and me needed help for a ranch job and he said he knew just the fella.”

“The three of you have been friends for a long time?” Teresa grabbed another tamale glad that Johnny was going to tell them something about his past.

“Yep, guess we were, what, about seventeen or eighteen?” He looked to Jess for confirmation.

“Sounds about right.” 

The next hour was spent telling ‘edited tales' of their adventures together. Maria enjoyed learning her Juanito had some friends who watched his back. Teresa realized Jess was more than just a gunfighter; he was a very nice man. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sam spotted Walt loading a wagon with supplies and called out to the younger man. Walt looked up and waved.

“What can I do for ya Doc?” Walt threw the bag of sugar in the wagon.

“Would you tell Murdoch that Daisy and I will be a Lancer tomorrow morning?” 

“Sure thing.” 

“Thanks Walt.”  

L * A * N * C * E * R

After a long day, Murdoch and Scott returned to the hacienda, each hoping that neither Maria nor Teresa were on the warpath. 

“Murdoch, why don't you use the bath house first? I'll check on the ladies and bring you some clean clothes.”

“Thanks, Son. A hot bath will certainly do wonders for these sore muscles.” Murdoch headed for the bathhouse not even trying to hide his limp.

Scott entered the kitchen and found two very happy ladies humming as they worked on supper. “Well, I guess today went well.” He peeked over Maria's shoulder.

“Sí Señor Scott, very well. Where is the Patrón?” 

“In the bathhouse, I'll get some clean clothes; do I have time for a bath?”

“Sí.” She waved her hand in front of her nose, “A bath would be good.”

“Teresa, did the boys behave themselves?” He moved to her side but she pushed him back.

“Scott, you're dirty, I don't want my dress messed up.” She checked to make sure he hadn't touched her favorite dress.

Scott help up his hands and backed up, “Sorry, but my don't you look nice, Miss Teresa?”  Then he headed for the back stairs, knowing better than to push his luck. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Murdoch relaxed in the tub and let the hot water soothe his aches and pains. He was almost asleep when he heard Scott knock on the door. “Come in Scott.”

“Here's your clean clothes, Sir. I'll fill the boiler for my bath.” Scott left his father some privacy and hoped he wouldn't be too much longer. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

By 6 o'clock, everyone was seated at the table in the Great Room.  

“So boys how was your day?” Murdoch asked as he carved the roast beef.

“Good.” They both answered.

Murdoch looked at Teresa, “And how was your day?'

“Everything was good. We played checkers; I read some of Johnny's book, The Last of the Mohicans. And, by the way, they slept through most of it.” She smiled at Jess and Johnny. “We had lunch in the kitchen and they told Maria and me about some of their adventures.”

“Really.” Murdoch looked at Johnny.

“It was nothing bad Murdoch.” Teresa was quick to clarify.

“So will you share some of those stories with me and Scott?” Murdoch's voice softened.

The rest of the evening was spent exchanging stories. Murdoch even spoke about when he left his hometown in Scotland to come to America. Scott told about the life he led in Boston.

After the young people had gone to bed Murdoch poured a scotch and relaxed in his leather chair. He had learned that both Johnny and Jess, were remarkable young men. And that he had been wrong worrying they would be a problem for Maria and Teresa.

He swallowed the rest of his scotch and finally went to bed, knowing he'd get a good night's sleep.

 

Chapter 27

“Hey Doc, what ya doing here so early?” Val yawned then scratched his chin while pouring a cup of pan-fried coffee.

Sam sat in the chair opposite the sheriff's desk. “Daisy and I are going to Lancer to bring Jess back to town.” He shook his head when Val offered a cup.

“Why?” Val sat in his chair and sipped his coffee.

“I'm releasing Johnny for light duties on Monday and I don't want Jess left on his own.” 

Val laughed, “So ya don't trust him not to get into some trouble.” 

Sam grinned and nodded, and then he leaned toward the desk. “Daisy and Agatha haven't had much time together with all the trips back and forth to Lancer, this way she can stay here and still keep an eye on Jess.” 

“Okay, so why ya here and not on yer way to the ranch?” Val was on high alert; he knew Doc was up to something.

Sam fiddled with his tie, “I want you to come with us.”

“Why?” Val glared at his visitor.

Sam gulped, “He'll listen to you.”

“He listens to Daisy.”

“I know but I'd be more comfortable if you rode with us.” Sam gave Val his best pleading look.

Val shook his head again, “Okay, but ya owe me one.” Val drained his cup, stood, and grabbed his hat. “Well, let's get going.” He headed for the door followed by an unsure Sam. 

At the door the doctor hesitated, “What do I owe you?” He was starting to get worried.

Val glanced over his shoulder, an evil grin on his face, “You'll find out.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

A relieved Sam and a smiling Johnny joined Scott and Murdoch at the table in the Great Room.

“Well, we didn't hear any yelling.” Scott lowered his hand from his ear as if he had been listening.

Murdoch frowned at his older son, “Not funny Scott.”

Sam slid into a chair, “Johnny understands he can go back to light duties on Monday.” He looked to Johnny for his nod of agreement then continued, “Amazingly Jess agreed to go back to town.” Sam reached out and poured a cup of coffee from the pot in the middle of the table.

“Yeah, he knew Daisy wanted more time with Agatha and Paul.” Johnny grabbed a cookie from the plate passed to him.

A few minutes later Jess, Daisy, and Val joined them. Scott stood and held his chair for Daisy. She nodded thanks and sat down; he moved to the chair next to Johnny. 

“Agatha and I would like to invite all of you to have lunch with us after church tomorrow.” She looked to Johnny, “I was hoping you might come in town and keep Jess company while we are at services.”

“Be glad to.” Johnny grinned, relieved for an excuse to miss the sermon without an argument from his father.

Val hid his laugh with a cough, at Johnny's lack of remorse at missing church. He knew only too well the trouble those two boys could get into without adult supervision.

Jess held up the empty cup when Sam offered the pot. “Thanks Doc.” He took a sip and smiled, “Maria sure does make a good, strong coffee.”

Daisy chuckled, “When Jess makes coffee at home I fully expect it to eat through the metal.”

“Sounds about right for drinking.” Val poured his own cup of coffee.

Murdoch cleared his throat. “Jess I'd like to talk to you about the cattle your partner wants.”

“Yes, Sir, but you have mighty fine stock and I…” Jess looked into his coffee cup. “Well, it's… I don't know if we can afford your price.” 

“Jess, you're Johnny's friend and I think we can come up with a price acceptable to both of us.” Murdoch watched Jess' face.

“What'd ya have in mind?” Jess wished Slim was here, he was better at handling the financial side of business.

Murdoch leaned back in his chair, “Well, I was thinking we might barter.”

Everyone at the table could see the confusion on Jess' face. Murdoch waited for the younger man's response.

“What could I barter that you'd want, Mr. Lancer?” He smirked, “Ya already gotta professional gun if you ever need one.”

Val and Johnny nearly chocked on their coffee.

Murdoch smiled at the humor in Jess' voice. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, “I will loan you one of my bulls and give you two heifers.” He held up his hand when Jess started to interrupt. “Slim may breed as many cows as wishes with the bull; the two heifers will be bred with his bull.”

Jess couldn't stay quiet any longer, “What do ya want in return?”

“It's simple, I want the bull back and one of his bull calves from your cows. As for the heifers I want their first calves. Slim can breed the bull to the heifers before he returns him to me.”

Jess sat staring at Murdoch like he'd been pole axed, when he recovered he shook his head. “Ya mean you'll let us have a bull for seed and all you want for it is a bull calf from him and one of our cows?” He continued after Murdoch's nod. “As for the heifers, ya only want the calves bred from our bull?”

“That's the deal. Are you interested?” Murdoch loved getting something over reticent ex-gunfighter.

Jess laughed, “Yep, ya got a deal.”

“Good, when Sam releases you we will arrange to ship the cattle on the train with you to Cheyenne. Does Slim have someone to help him drive them to Laramie?”

“When he hears this deal ya can bet he will.” Jess reached out to shake Murdoch's hand. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

On Sunday morning the Lancer surrey arrived at the Reed home followed by Scott on horseback. Agatha and Daisy were waiting on the porch for Paul to return from the livery.

Daisy stepped down from the porch and walked to the gate, “Where's Johnny?”

Murdoch slowly climbed out of the surrey and removed his hat. “Johnny is leaving Barranca at the livery.” He grinned, “He spoils that horse.”

Daisy smiled back and pointed toward the house, “Jess is the same way with Traveler.”

Just then Paul returned with Agatha's surrey, Johnny was sitting beside him. When Paul pulled up next to the Lancer surrey he tipped his hat to Teresa, “Good morning.”  

Johnny jumped down and headed for Daisy, “Morning Ma'am.” He leaned down and planted a kiss on her cheek. 

The older lady grinned, “Good morning, Johnny.” He was so much like Jess and she could read him like a book. “I hope you two will continue to behave yourselves?”

“Yes, Ma'am, you can count on me to keep Jess in-line.” 

Daisy shook her head, “I'm sure.” She swatted his butt as he passed her. Johnny jumped and turned to face her, and wiggled his index finger.

Laughing Daisy walked up to Paul for help into the surrey. She waited while he helped Agatha, and once everyone was settled they followed the Lancers to church. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Jess heard the surrey pull up and stepped out onto porch, “Hey Pard, come on in, Daisy and Agatha fixed breakfast for us.”

Johnny bounded up the steps and followed Jess to the kitchen, “Sure smells good.”

“Yep, Daisy and Agatha are good cooks.” Jess poured coffee into the two cups on the table. He winked at Johnny, “Im gonna miss Maria's cooking.”

Johnny sat down and took a gulp of the coffee and smiled, “They made breakfast, but you made the coffee.”

Jess laughed, “Agatha makes it on the weak side, but the rest of the breakfast looks good.”

The two men sat at the table and dug into the eggs, ham, and biscuits. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

In the pew Murdoch sat next to Daisy then Agatha, and next was Scott. Beside him was Teresa and Paul. During the service Paul and Teresa would peek at each other; Scott found it amusing and was sure Murdoch preferred Paul to Jess as a companion for his beloved ward.

When the preacher finally ended the sermon Paul and Teresa slipped out of the pew and made for the door. 

Once they were clear of the handshakes they moved to the yard and sat on the bench under a tree and waited for the rest of the family.

“Well, did Jess and Johnny run you and Maria ragged?” Paul wanted to know just what Teresa thought of Jess but didn't want to ask out right.

“Actually they were very easy to take care of.” Teresa enjoyed being with Paul, he was easy to talk to and so polite. Jess was interesting but now she was thinking of him more as her brother's friend.

“That's good.” Paul was grasping at straws.

“I brought them something to eat and drink, read to them some, but mostly they played checkers and talked. I left them alone since I didn't want to look like I was prying.” Teresa smoothed her skirt.

“They both seem to like their privacy.” Paul pulled at his cuff.

“Several times I saw Jess standing and staring out the big window behind Murdoch's desk. He looked so lonely,” Teresa sighed. “Other times Jess and Johnny would watch out the French doors and talk about Barranca and Traveler.” She laughed, “Those two and their horses, you would think there were no other horses on earth.”

Paul laughed, “I know. Aunt Daisy told me Jess spoils Traveler and takes care of him before he takes care of himself.”

Teresa nodded, “Yep, so does Johnny.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. When Paul cleared his throat Teresa looked up at him. “I heard there is a dance next month… Grandmother said we have been invited.” 

Teresa smiled, “We will be there, are you and Agatha coming?” 

“Yes, Grandmother wants to meet some more of the residents and ranchers.” Paul paused, he didn't want to be too forward but he had to ask. “I hope I may have a few dances with you.” He let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding.

“Yes, I would like that.” Teresa liked the idea of Paul holding her on the dance floor. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

“Scott, have you seen Teresa?” Murdoch came up behind his older son.

“Over there talking to Paul.” Scott pointed toward the tree. “They seem to be getting along well.” He loved baiting Murdoch when it came to his Teresa.

“Paul seems like a fine young man.” Murdoch tried to sound nonchalant.

Scott smirked at his father, “And even better, he's not an ex-gunfighter.” He said as he walked toward the surrey.

“Not funny.” Murdoch called after Scott.

Daisy and Agatha finished talking to the preacher and walked over to Murdoch who was watching Teresa and Paul. 

“Teresa is such a lovely young lady, Murdoch.” Agatha drew his attention from the young couple.

“She is a very special girl.” Murdoch looked down at Agatha, “Your Paul is a fine young man.”

Finally aware they were being watched, Paul escorted Teresa to the Lancer surrey. The rest of the family followed.  

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Jess and Johnny stacked the breakfast dishes in the sink and moved to the front porch. 

“Well, ya think your partner, Slim, is gonna like the deal my Ol' Man offered?” Johnny sat and propped his feet on the porch railing.

Jess shook his head, “Damn, I never expected that.” He leaned his elbows on the table. “Ya know Johnny, he ain't so bad.”

“Naw, I just can't let him get too comfortable thinking he's tamed me.” Johnny grinned at his friend.

“I know what ya mean, I was that way with Slim at first, but now…” Jess got a faraway look on his face. “… now, I'd trust him with my life.” When he saw Johnny's expression he continued. “No, I haven't shared all of my past with him, but I trust him completely to cover my back.”

“I'm that way with Scott.” Johnny dropped his feet from the railing and leaned his elbows on the table facing Jess. “He likes playing big brother, especially when Murdoch and me are going at it. I know he's trying to protect me but Murdoch and me, well we have to work things out between us. Know what I mean?”

“Yep, now ya just have to tell Scott to back off some.” 

“Yeah, that's easier said than done. I don't wanna hurt his feelings.” Johnny played with the beaded bracelet on his wrist. “I care a lot about Scott but sometimes he just don't know when to back off.”

Jess nodded, “Slim can be like that sometimes too.”

“What'd ya do about it?”

“Pushed him in a horse trough.”

Johnny laughed out loud, “I'll keep that in mind.” He sobered, “You're happy in Laramie aren't you?”

Jess looked Johnny straight in the eyes, “Yep, can't remember feeling like I do now, I have a family, home, and roots.” He shook his head, “Oh there is still someone or something showing up from my past from time to time, but now I ain't facing it alone.”

Johnny leaned back, “Yep. Sure is strange not being alone. Sometimes I wish they would stop the hovering, then when I'm alone I miss them.” He sighed, “Dios, I sure have changed.”

“We both have, but I can't say that's a bad thing.”  

L * A * N * C * E * R

Lunch at the Reed house was an afternoon of good food and laughter. 

Much to the relief of two ex-gunfighters Teresa seemed preoccupied with Paul so they didn't have to come up with something to talk about. 

Sam had to return to the church to patch up two boys after a fight over the tree swing. At Sam's insistence Val accompanied him to keep the parents from joining in on the fight. Before the doctor dragged him off he had managed to grab some of Agatha's oatmeal cookies.

“Really Val?” Sam frowned.

“Yeah, a man needs energy to deal with those people.” Val stormed past Doc. “Hope that dumb ass mayor ain't involved.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

On the ride back to Lancer Murdoch smiled as he listened to Teresa make plans for the upcoming dance next month. 

Scott and Johnny followed on horseback.

“She sure is mentioning Paul a lot,” Johnny whispered.

“Yes she is, and Murdoch's vein hasn't popped up once.” Scott deadpanned. “Did you have a good visit with Jess?” He wasn't very good at hiding the curiosity in his voice.

Johnny turned toward Scott, “Yep.”

“Yep, that's it?” Scott wanted to swat his brother but didn't want to draw Murdoch's attention.

“Well, Jess and Val were talking about getting back into the business and wanted to know if I was interested.” 

“What.” Scott almost shouted then lowered his voice, “You can't be serious.”

Johnny shrugged, “Well we'd have to stay on this side of the border.” He tapped his spur to Barranca's side and galloped off leaving Scott with his mouth hanging open.

“Hey, wait for me, we aren't through with this conversation.” Scott spurred Ulysses and the chase was on.

 

Chapter 28

Jess had been at Agatha's house for a week and much to everyone's amazement it had been a pleasant time. Jess answered Paul's questions about the West, carefully editing the subject of gunfighting. Almost every night they played checkers while Agatha and Daisy talked about old times and family. The best part as far as Jess was concerned was that Agatha had finally learned how to make strong coffee. She had even admitted that she actually liked the brew. 

Daisy just sat back and watched Jess work his magic, as she had seen him do many times. When people would first met Jess all they saw was a ‘gunfighter' but after they were around him for awhile they saw the man behind the gun. The folks in Laramie knew him as Mort's part-time deputy, Slim's partner, and one of Mike's fathers. Most importantly they knew Jess was the man they went to for help, whenever they need it.

The biggest relief was for Murdoch Lancer who now viewed Jess as Johnny's friend, and a man with absolutely no romantic interest in his ward. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Johnny rode into Green River and stopped at Val's office before he headed over to the Reed house. The sheriff looked up when his amigo entered the office. “What ya doing in town on a week day?” Then he burst out laughing and pointed to Johnny's face. “What happened to you?”

Johnny dropped into the chair, “Ain't funny Val.” 

“Yeah it is.” Val was grinning.

“Scott didn't like my joke.” Johnny unconsciously rubbed his cheek.

“What joke?” Val wiped his hand over his mouth.

Johnny ducked his head then peeked at Val. “I kind'a teased that you, Jess, and me were thinking about getting together and goin' back in the business.”

Val hooted and slapped his leg, “Damn.” He didn't even try to choke back the laughter, “That wasn't too smart.” 

Johnny just nodded.

“So, I guess Scott convinced ya it wasn't a good idea?” 

“Yeah, and the Ol' Man overheard us fighting and he got in on it. Damn, ya don't want someone that big mad at ya.” Johnny finally smiled.  

L * A * N * C * E * R 

Val and Johnny finally arrived at the Reed house. The younger man firmly believed Agatha's oatmeal cookies were the sheriff's biggest incentive. And thanks to Jess, she had learned how to make a decent cup of coffee. 

Val reminded himself to tell Johnny about Jess and Higgs after they left Agatha's house. He was sure the ladies wouldn't appreciate hearing about it.

***earlier***

Jess had been walking toward the sheriff's office when his enjoyment at being alone and outside was interrupted. He recognized the man as the one Val and Johnny had warned him about, the idiot mayor, and he inwardly cringed.

“I'm Mayor Higgs. I haven't seen you before. May I ask what are you doing in Green River?” He puffed out his chest.

“Nope.” Jess replied and kept walking.

Insulted, Higgs didn't give up and hurried to catch up with the stranger. “Well, this is a nice town and…” When Jess stopped, Higgs pointed to the gun tied low on his thigh. “We don't hold with gunfighters and gunfighting here.”

“Well, then ya better stop annoying me.” Jess leveled his most intimidating gunfighter glare at the pest, then he lowered his hand to rest on the gun butt, “So why don't you just move outta my way.”

Higgs gulped and pulled at his tie, “I…” 

Jess continued his glare. “Yeah?”

“I… We…” Higgs looked around to see if anyone was watching. Several people had stopped and were staring at the two men. In an attempt to save face, “Well, just take this as a warning to behave yourself.”

Jess leaned in, “Well, just take this as a warning, get your ass outta my way before I shoot it.” Jess intensified his glare, “And I mean right now.”

Jess grinned as the mayor stomped into his store muttering something about Val and gunfighters.

Val had been sitting in front of his office watching Jess and the idiot mayor. He called out as his friend approached, “Take it ya didn't get on with his honor.”

“What a pompous ass, surprised ya ain't shot him already.” Jess sat in the chair next to Val's. 

“Yeah, but then I'd have to arrest myself and he just ain't worth it.” Val looked toward the doctor's office. “Sam give ya any orders? He's right partial to issuing orders to Johnny.” Val laughed, “Course Johnny has a way of not following them.”

“What are the odds?” Jess relaxed in the chair. “He said no riding for a couple more days.”

“Sounds like Sam. He seems to enjoy keeping a man and his horse apart.”

“Well, I don't mind too much since I don't have Traveler, and that horse I rented at the livery was a real nag.” Jess leaned his elbows on his knees. “You ain't gonna believe this… I'm missing Laramie.”

Val nodded, “It's home now, why wouldn't ya miss it?”

“Yeah. Sure would be nice if you and Johnny could come for a visit sometime. Did I tell ya, Mort reminds me of you?”

“Ya mean I ain't one of a kind?” Val chuckled.

“Well, I'm not saying he's a twin, but he's honest and treats a person fair.” Jess shook his head then smirked at Val. “Have to say Mort's a might neater than you.”

“Smart ass.”

“Oh and he makes his coffee in a pot.” Jess raised his arm as Val swatted him with his hat. 

*

Yep, Val thought, I gotta tell Johnny about that showdown. Everyone at the table wondered at the grin on the sheriff's face.  Except Johnny, he knew he would find out before he headed back to Lancer. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Several days later, Jess was fidgeting as Sam finished examining his back. “Well, Doc, are ya gonna let me go or not?” 

“The wound has healed nicely, and yes I am going to let you go.” Sam grabbed Jess' shoulder as he started to jump down from the examination table. “I am letting you go since you will be riding on a train and not on a horse.”

“Okay Doc.” Jess slipped off the table and held out his hand, “Thanks.”

Sam shook his head, “You and Johnny are so much alike. Are you aware that the two of you top my list of ‘world's worst patients'?” Then he smiled, “But I'm glad to have met you.” He accepted Jess handshake.

“I am serious though, don't overdo it on the way home.” Sam put his arm around Jess' shoulder and walked the younger man back to the waiting room. 

Daisy and Agatha were waiting in the outer office and both stood when the exam room door opened.

Daisy moved to Jess and looked over to Sam, “I guess since Jess isn't frowning that you have released him.”

“Thankfully yes, now he's your problem.” 

Daisy tapped Jess' chest with her index finger, “I won't have any problems on the way home, will I?”

Sam coughed to cover the laugh at the expression on the dangerous ex-gunfighter's face. 

Jess aimed a glare at Sam then changed his expression as he turned to Daisy, “No Ma'am.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Sunday morning found the Reeds, Daisy, Sam, and the Lancers at church; while Jess, Johnny, and Val had their final visit before taking the stage to the train depot.

After the services everyone had agreed to meet at the Reed house for lunch and goodbyes. 

L * A * N * C * E * R

Johnny, Jess, and Val were sitting on the porch watching the few people walking past.

“Guess we ain't the only ones skipping the sermon.” Val bit into his cookie.

The three men hadn't said much, no one wanted to say goodbye. Val sensed the boys were really dreading the next day and he was running out of ideas to lighten the mood.

“Well boys, guess I better get back to work.” Val swallowed the last of his coffee then grabbed a few cookies. “Church'll be out soon and I gotta keep an eye on those kids.” He stepped down from the porch and headed into town.

Johnny looked at Jess, “Been nice seeing ya again.”

Jess nodded.

Neither one could think of anything to say, so they sat in silence just enjoying being in each other's company. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

When the churchgoers arrived home Agatha and Daisy started setting up for lunch while Murdoch and Scott joined Jess and Johnny on the porch.

Murdoch looked around, “Where did Teresa and Paul get to?”

Scott struggled to keep the smart remark inside and came up with, “I believe they went for a walk.”

“Jess, we will miss you and Daisy.” Scott wanted to change the subject so Murdoch wouldn't press for more information about the walk.

“We certainly will.” Murdoch added. He noticed Johnny and Jess were subdued and saw the sadness in his younger son's eyes. So many times in the past when an ‘old acquaintance' showed up it was bad news, but this time it was different. They shared more than a gunfighter past, they shared a true friendship and they were going to miss each other. The father in Murdoch shared the sadness and wished he could make it better.

Scott also noticed his brother's sadness. “So Jess, did you let Slim know about the deal?”

“Yep, he said he'll have everything ready when we get home.” Jess looked at Murdoch, “He's grateful for the deal and said he'll pick the best bull calf to send to you.”

“Tell him thank you for me.” Murdoch picked up a cookie.

“Hey Ol' Man, aren't ya always telling me ‘don't eat sweets before lunch'?” Johnny smirked at his father.

Feeling the mood lighten Murdoch played along. “Yes.”

“Guess that's what Boston calls ‘do what I say not what I do' things.” Johnny teased back.

Murdoch bit into the  cookie, “Exactly.” 

L * A * N * C * E * R

After lunch the Lancers prepared to leave. Scott and Murdoch wished Jess and Daisy a safe trip then left Johnny to say his goodbyes.

“Miz Daisy, sure am gonna miss ya.” Johnny leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Make sure he…” he pointed to Jess, “…behaves.”

“I will and you do the same young man.” Daisy pulled Johnny into a hug. 

Johnny and Jess moved off the porch and stood under the tree near the fence. They spoke quietly to each other for a few minutes; finally they shook hands and Johnny moved to join his family. 

L * A * N * C * E * R 

The next morning Agatha and Daisy sat together in the depot waiting for the stage.  

Paul waited next to Jess. “Things sure have changed since the last time we stood here.” Paul looked over at the man he now considered a friend.

Jess grinned and shook his head, “Seems like a long time ago.” Then he turned to face the younger man. “Paul, you're a good man, I'm glad I was wrong about you.”

“Thanks.” But before he could say anything else the stage pulled up.

Daisy hugged Agatha then moved to Paul and hugged him. “I'm going to miss you both so much. Think about a visit to Laramie.”

“We will,” they said in unison.

Agatha moved to Jess as he picked up their bags. “It has been a pleasure meeting you Jess and thank you for taking such good care of Daisy.” She paused to gather her emotions. “She loves you so please take care of yourself so she won't worry.”

Jess leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I promise.”

He threw the bags up to the driver and then helped Daisy into the stage. He turned a tipped his hat before he climbed aboard.

Agatha and Paul watched until the stage was out of sight; then they walked to their new home. 

It was a visit neither would ever forget.

 

.

 

~ end ~

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