The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Sharon and Sammi

 

 

Betrayal, Part One

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Johnny Lancer waved to the men on the work crew as he rode off on Barranca, heading in the direction of the Lancer Hacienda. The dark-haired man smiled and his blue eyes glowed as he gave Barranca lead to go at full stride. It had been a long, hot, day branding cattle and he was glad to be on the way home. He hoped that Maria had kept her word; she'd been promising for days to make arroz con pollo with refried beans and fresh flour tortillas. Now, if only Teresa had baked a chocolate cake, the youngest Lancer would feel as if he'd died and gone to heaven.

The thought of his surrogate sister brought a frown to Johnny's face as he looked down at his dark red shirt. There was a big black mark right down the front and he knew Teresa O'Brien was going to have something to say when she saw it. She had just made that shirt for his last birthday, and had warned him that he would seriously regret it if he wore it as a work shirt. He tried to think of an excuse for why he was wearing it but he couldn't come up with one. Johnny had just plain forgotten to put his dirty clothes in the laundry and this was the only clean shirt he'd had to wear.

As he cut across the stream and turned his horse west Johnny noticed a solitary figure standing in the small Lancer ranch cemetery plot. As he drew closer, he could see the breeze stirring the light colored hair on the tall man's bowed head, and he recognized the familiar dark gray shirt. Sighing, Johnny continued riding towards the tiny graveyard, but stopped some distance away, near the patiently waiting Brunswick, opting to give the man the privacy he knew he'd prefer.

A few long moments passed while Johnny waited quietly, even though he had yet to be acknowledged. Finally, the mourner turned towards the man on horseback, replacing his hat as he walked slowly away from the small collection of headstones. As he approached the spot where Johnny sat watching him, he looked up and said: Howdy, Johnny .”

“Hi there, Chad, “ Johnny replied.

Johnny knew that it was Callie's grave that Chad had been visiting. Callie was Chad's sister and Chad had killed her.

“Woulda been her birthday tommorra Johnny, ” Chad observed sadly.

“That right, Chad?”, Johnny responded sympathetically, nudging Barranca forward as Chad mounted Brunswick.

As they continued on together towards the hacienda, Johnny thought back to when he'd first met Chad. He had stopped to get a room for the night in a small town twenty miles from Morro Coyo. Chad had been in the saloon singing a song; Johnny couldn't remember the name of it, but it had been something about a witch woman. Callie, a slightly built young woman with long blond hair, had been collecting money from the people who'd been listening to Chad sing. Some local rowdies had come in and started causing trouble. One of them-- Johnny recalled that the man's name had been “Buck”-- had made a pass at Callie and when Chad objected, Buck had threatened him with a gun. Johnny had had to intervene, wounding Buck and putting himself right in the middle. He'd quickly given up the idea of getting a room and he'd left right behind Chad and Callie. Thanks to his efforts to assist the two young strangers, Johnny had ended up with an injured leg and a runaway horse.

Chad and Callie had introduced themselves as the Bufords, all the way from Kentucky. They'd come to California to kill off the last of a family called the Lancres. It was part of a feud between the two families, and they'd insisted that they couldn't rest until the last of the Lancres were gone. The Bufords had helped Johnny tend to his injury and he had decided to bring the two of them back to the ranch.

Unfortunately, by the time they'd arrived, Callie had convinced herself that Johnny was in love with her. Apparently, it was some backwoods custom that if a man offered to fetch wood for you he was asking for your hand or something. Callie had also figured out that the Lancres that she and Chad were hunting had changed their name to Lancer. It was, in fact, the members of Johnny's own family that his two new friends wished to eliminate.

Johnny frowned as he remembered having to explain to Chad that he wasn't in love with his sister. That had been difficult because Johnny had come to consider Chad a friend. When Chad had in turn informed his sister that Johnny was not actually smitten with her, Callie had reacted angrily. She had told Chad that Johnny was a Lancre and then claimed that he'd taken advantage of her. Chad had gotten so incensed at that, that he had actually called Johnny out. Johnny had gone to meet with Chad to try to talk some sense into him, making sure not to bring his gun along for the confrontation. Callie, realizing that Chad might kill Johnny in cold blood, ran to tell Chad the truth and Chad, thinking she was Johnny, had shot her by mistake. Callie had died, but before she drew her last breath she had confessed that Chad was not exactly a Buford, that in reality he was himself a Lancre. Johnny remembered her words clearly; she'd said: “You are my older sister Ann's boy. And she ran off with a . . Lancre. Ann died and Paw raised ya like his own.”

So Chad was Callie's nephew, not her brother. But regardless of their relationship, Callie had been Chad's only remaining relative. When they had stood together at the graveside on the day of Callie's burial, Chad had said mournfully that it seemed like he didn't know where he belonged. Johnny had said that Chad belonged at the ranch and Murdoch had agreed, assuring the Kentuckian that he was a Lancer and that the Lancer spread was where he belonged.

“You reckon the women folk will have supper ready when we git there?” Chad asked, his question breaking into Johnny's thoughts.

Johnny pulled himself back to the present and smiled. “I sure hope so. That brandin' takes a lot out of a man.”

“What ya thinkin' they'll be feedin us tonight?” Chad wondered hungrily.

Johnny responded with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, I think Teresa said something about . . . . .liver.”

Chad groaned, “Liver! Now Johnny why'd ya have ta tell me that. I reckon I'm gonna…” Looking at Johnny he realized that his cousin was pulling his leg. “Why you….”

“I'll race you home!” Johnny shouted and pushed Barranca into a full gallop leaving Chad behind to catch up.

 

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As he finished his dinner, Johnny smiled contentedly and considered that he needed to do something special for Maria. She had in fact made his favorite Mexican dishes: Arroz con pollo, refried beans and flour tortillas. He picked up his glass and finished his milk.

“Johnny, how'd the branding go today?” Murdoch Lancer asked from his place at the head of the table.

“Fine,” Johnny said swallowing quickly. “Another day out there and I think we'll be finished. We woulda gotten done today but Jordan got stepped on and I had ta send a couple of the hands to take him to see Doc Jenkins.”

Putting his fork down, the elder Lancer turned to Chad, who was seated at Murdoch's left. “Chad, how far did you get on that ditch I wanted cleared?”

Chad looked up from his food and said, “I reckon I'm bout half way done, suh. Should be done by day after tommorra.”

Clearly, Murdoch was not entirely pleased by the young man's estimate. “That long?“ he inquired doubtfully. Then he nodded his white head and said “Well, you just keep at it, Chad. . . . On second thought, why don‘t you work with Johnny and the branding crew tomorrow, fill in for Jordan?“ Chad bobbed his head in agreement and Murdoch, smiling fondly at Teresa, changed the topic of conversation. “Now, I want you two boys to listen up because Teresa said she had something she wanted to tell us at supper.”

Teresa smiled brightly. She got up from her seat beside Johnny and crossed the room to pick up a piece of paper from one of the side tables. “Yes, one of the ladies from church stopped by today and gave me this.” Returning to her place, she handed the page to Johnny. “It's an invitation to a church social; they are having a dance for members of the congregation. It also says that they are looking for anyone who can sing or play an instrument to be part of the entertainment. It's next Saturday night, and I thought we could all go as a family.”

Johnny looked across the table at Chad and said seriously. “Chad, you can do both. I think we should sign you up.”

Teresa chimed in, “Oh, yes! Chad that would be just wonderful!”

Chad shook his head, uncomfortable with the attention that Teresa and Johnny were focusing upon him. “I don't know, “ he replied, looking across at each of them in turn. “I reckon folks round here ain't used to my kinda music.”

Murdoch sat back in his chair and said, “I think Johnny has an excellent idea. Let's retire to the great room and Chad, you can play a bit for us. I'd like to see some of the dance steps from Kentucky too. We could really turn this social into a learning experience for everyone.”

 

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CHAPTER 2

The next day, Johnny greeted Chad when he entered the kitchen for breakfast. Chad nodded soberly in Johnny's direction and sat down heavily in the nearest chair, resting his elbows on the kitchen table, the image of dejection. Johnny immediately noticed that his cousin seemed particularly downcast this morning and then, as he poured himself a cup of coffee, he remembered that today was Callie's birthday.

Johnny poured a second cup of coffee for Chad and handed it to him, but he knew that there was really very little else that he could do. There was certainly nothing that he could say. It had been an accident, but Chad had pulled the trigger, he had shot and killed his sister. There were no words to ease the pain and guilt caused by that stark fact.

Johnny shook his head. He himself had once felt that same guilt over his brother Scott. The Velasquez brothers, seeking revenge for their own younger sibling's death in a gunfight with Johnny Madrid, had set it up so that Scott would have to face him. Johnny remembered that fateful day when he'd had to make the choice between dropping his older brother or watching as the Velasquez' partner, Gordon, shot Scott down in the street. He had made the only decision he felt he could at the time and had wounded Scott himself. There had been a long, dark, period of uncertainty when Johnny had feared that Scott had died or was dying from that wound. And that feeling of guilt was still there. Oh, he knew Scott hadn't held it against him, he'd even understood why Johnny had done it, but the former gunhawk still hated remembering that he could have finished his only brother. He looked at Chad and wondered how his cousin could bear knowing that he'd killed the young woman he had loved as a sister. Johnny knew that he himself would have never been the same again if he had actually taken Scott's life.

Scott Lancer had been away in Sacramento for a week and was due back in Morro Coyo on the afternoon stage. “Hey Chad,” Johnny said, “Ya want ta come with me ta meet Scott in town this afternoon?”

Before Chad could respond, Maria, carefully approaching the table holding two plates laden with food, looked up at Johnny with a pleased expression. “Senor Scott, he is coming home today?”

“Si, that's right. And I'm bettin' he's forgotten all his espanol by now, Maria . . “

Maria fussed at Johnny for saying that, but her pleasure at Scott's imminent return was evident. She began murmuring aloud in Spanish as she considered the evening's menu. Johnny grinned to himself. Quite soon after the brothers had arrived at the ranch, Scott had started asking Maria for Spanish words and translations and the older woman had taken her role as instructor very seriously. It was actually pretty fortunate that Scott had a good memory and continued to pick up the vocabulary fairly easily, since Maria had even threatened, jokingly Johnny hoped, to withhold food on occasion. Boston hadn't had too much success mastering the accent, and Johnny knew that there had been times when his older brother would just as soon not have had to eat some of the spicy Mexican dishes that Maria had prepared. But Maria seemed to dote on the blond Lancer and was forever plying him with her specialties, all of which were new, exotic, and in some cases, difficult to acquire, tastes for the Easterner.

 

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As they trotted down the road on their way to Morro Coyo, Johnny glanced over at Chad and frowned. He'd been pleased when Chad had said he'd come along, but ever since they'd left home his cousin hadn't said three words. Johnny had tried several topics but Chad just wasn't talking. Deciding he'd had enough, Johnny reined Barranca to a halt and stopped in the middle of the road. Brunswick, on his lead behind Johnny, came to a standstill as well. Chad's horse continued on bit, until Chad realized that Johnny wasn't with him. He pulled on the reins and as the horse slowed to a stop, Chad slid sideways almost falling off. Johnny shook his head as Chad turned to ride back to him; it seemed his cousin still just couldn't stay in the saddle.

“Whatsa matter, Johnny?” Chad asked, puzzled.

“That's what I want to know?” Johnny asked with some irritation. “You ain't said three words since we left home. What's eatin' at ya?”

Chad looked down at Buford, his big bay horse, his fingers playing with the reins nervously. “Uh….well, I didn't want ta say nuthin' but . . . I jist don't think Scott likes me much.”

Frowning Johnny said, “What gave you that idea? Scott gets along with most everybody, he ain't all that hard to live with.”

Chad shook his head, “Right before he left he said that he was gonna get me some learnin' books cause I was needin' to be taught some things so I ain't so embarrassin‘.”

“Scott said you were embarrassin‘?” Johnny was quite surprised that his older brother would say something so . . not polite . . . to Chad.

Chad nodded. “I reckon he didn't know I heard him. He was talkin' ta somebody and said he was fetchin' ta straighten me right up.” Hanging his head Chad said softly, “I'm sorry I'm not what ya family expects me ta be.”

“You're just fine the way you are, Chad. We all like you just fine.”

“Yeah, but since he's collige edjucated Scott jist knows he's better'n us, now don't he?”

Johnny stared at Chad, thinking about what he'd just said. “Nah, it ain't like that. Look, I'll talk ta Scott….”

Chad shook his head interrupting him, “No, Johnny! I don't want ya ta say nuthin'. Mebbe I din't hear ‘im right. Scott'll git mad at me an' it will jist make things worse.” Nudging his horse forward. “Sides, I cain't rightly hold it agin him, he did have all that schoolin' an all. But you jist ferget I said nuthin‘, mebbe I was wrong.”

They rode along in silence each lost in their own thoughts. Johnny couldn't get what Chad had said out of his head. Johnny remembered when Scott had helped Josh learn to read. His older brother had been so patient with the ranch hand as he'd struggled with the printed words. Scott had sat with Josh for hours, just listening to him slowly sounding out the words, only murmuring gentle corrections now and then when Josh was unable to come up with the correct pronunciation. Big Josh had been a proud man, but he had been very grateful for Scott's assistance.

On the other hand, Johnny also recalled that when he himself had returned from teaching at that school, Scott had had a few choice comments to make about Johnny‘s suitability for the task. Johnny had assumed that the older man had only been teasing, that Scott had merely intended a few harmless jokes—at least it had certainly seemed that way at the time. But now, riding into town, Johnny wondered if there had been more to it than that. Ol'Boston was always talking about things from books he'd read, things that he knew pretty well by now that Johnny had never heard about. But Scott still kept on mentioning people from history or characters in stories that he called “classics”. Johnny had to admit that a lot of it was pretty interesting, but now he wondered how much of it was just what popped into his brother's head and how much was a deliberate attempt on the Easterner's part to “straighten Johnny right up.”

Johnny shook his head, unhappy with his train of thought. Didn't he know Boston better'n that by now? Scott had never once said or done anything to indicate that he was in any way embarrassed to have Johnny for a brother, in fact, much the opposite. Truth be told, early on, of the two of them, it had been Scott who had been more accepting of their relationship.

But Chad didn't know Scott as well. As they approached the outskirts of Morro Coyo, Johnny wondered if he should abide by Chad's wishes or if he should say something to his brother. Chad was obviously unhappy, and Johnny was worried that Scott might unintentionally say or do something to make matters worse. Johnny decided that he'd let it go for now. There would be plenty of time to talk to Boston later.

 

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The stage had already arrived when Johnny and Chad turned onto the main street. From that distance, Johnny easily recognized the familiar lean figure of his brother emerging from the coach. As Barranca continued his steady pace, Johnny watched Scott turn back to the door and assist an older couple to disembark. Still too far away to make out distinct words, Johnny could tell that Scott was talking with the husband and wife, and saw him tip his hat to the elderly woman.

Johnny slid off of Barranca, handed his reins and Brunswick's lead to Chad, and strolled over to Scott. “Hey, Boston! You have a nice trip?” Johnny asked, lightly tapping his brother's shoulder.

Sighing, Scott managed a small smile. “Yes, but that stage hit every hole between here and Sacramento. I'm ready to go home and sit in a tub.” Seeing Chad dismount from Buford a short distance away, Scott greeted him with a mild, “Hello, Chad.”

Chad replied, “Scott, glad yur home,” and stepped towards Scott. Scott turned to retrieve his gun belt from the driver; he then passed it to Johnny and missed seeing Chad's outstretched hand. Reaching to take the heavy leather bag being handed down to him from the top of the coach, Scott looked over his shoulder and asked his brother a question: “You didn't bring a wagon?”

“Nope.” Then in response to Scott's uplifted brow, Johnny explained that Jelly would be coming into town in the morning for supplies and could pick up Scott's luggage then. “Just leave it at the hotel, if ya think ya can live without it overnight.”

“I might survive, “ Scott said dryly and then wearily carried his bag into the nearby building. When his brother emerged a few minutes later, Johnny greeted him with, ”We brought Brunswick with us, cause he missed ya.” Scott was carrying a few small packages, which he had evidently removed from his valise, and he slipped them into Brunswick's saddlebags. He then had a few words for the chestnut and gave the horse a couple of strokes on the neck. The animal nickered softly at the sound of his voice. “Chad's been exercising him for ya,” Johnny added.

“Oh really? . . Well, thanks, Chad,” Scott said glancing his way and then back to Johnny. “Anything new at the ranch?”

“No,” said Johnny, handing Scott his gun belt. “'Cept that Teresa and Maria were cookin' up a storm when we left.” Johnny smiled as they walked to their horses. “Seems the women are afraid you mighta starved while you were gone.”

Scott grinned back at him as he strapped his weapon in place, “I can smell their cooking already!” The three Lancers mounted their horses and headed out of town.

Scott looked around at the landscape appreciatively. “It feels good to be home . . .

“So what'dya do in the big city?” Johnny prompted him.

“Visited with Will, mostly,” Scott replied slowly. “Talked about the cases he's working on. There is an art gallery that just opened in Sacramento, it's the first one here in the West, . .” Then, as Scott paused, Johnny interrupted him, turning to Chad. “Hey, we better get out there and help finish the brandin' or Murdoch's gonna wanna know why it ain't done.” As Chad nodded in emphatic agreement, Johnny turned back to his older brother. “Sorry, Scott, what'd you say?”

Scott shook his head, “Never mind. I'll talk to you tonight.”

Johnny and Chad broke off, and spurred their horses, heading across the open field. Scott continued on alone to the Hacienda.

 

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Scott had more than enough time before supper to take a bath and change out of the dusty clothes in which he had been traveling. He buttoned his dark blue shirt and tucked it in, fastened up his pants and walked over to the mirror. He ran a comb through his still damp hair and then picked up the gift-wrapped box which was lying on the dresser. The paper was a delicate pink with tiny little rose buds on it. Scott smiled, knowing that Maria would love the paper almost as much as the gifts inside.

He walked downstairs, avoiding the dining room where he heard the voices of the family gathering, and entered the kitchen. Maria and Juanita were busy preparing the food for the evening meal. Scott quietly glanced at the dishes and smiled. They'd made a roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and a blueberry crunch for dessert. He walked over to the counter and leaned on it. Juanita smiled shyly in greeting, but Maria, intent upon her task, had not noticed his entrance. Scott watched her work for a moment.

“Como esta, Maria?” Scott said finally.

Maria turned around putting her hand on her chest. “Muy bien, Senor Scott. You scared me! Usted es una calma como un león de montana.” Though Scott had learned a lot of Spanish from Maria, he had a hard time keeping up with her rapid words. He did catch the words “quiet” and “mountain lion”.

Scott smiled. “I'm really not as quiet as a mountain lion, but you were busy at work and didn't hear me come in.” He handed her the box, struggling to find the right Spanish words with which to accompany the gift. Maria wiped her hands off on her apron before accepting the box from Scott.

“Gracias,” Scott said gesturing to the present. “Para….. teaching me espanol.”

Maria sat down in a chair near the kitchen table, placing the package in her aproned lap and commenting on how “bonita” it looked. Scott settled in a chair beside her. She finally began to unwrap the box, being careful not to rip the paper. She would certainly save this beautiful paper, never had she seen anything like it in all her life! She set the box on the table and removed the cover. In the left hand side of the box, nestled in the tissue paper was a milk white perfume atomizer with pink flowers painted on it, and a matching powder box. On the right hand side was a collection of bundles of silk embroidery thread. Maria ran her fingers delightedly through the colorful silk skeins. There were at least a dozen, maybe more, and the hues were both beautiful and unusual.

“Gracias, Senor Scott. They are….bonita!.” Maria smiled as she stood up, and in her enthusiasm, actually leaned over and gave “Senor Scott” a quick hug and a pat on the cheek. “But you should not have! They must have cost mucho dinero.” Scott was pleased with Maria's delight in his gift, but somewhat uncomfortable with the display of motherly affection. It was not something that he had often experienced. He stood up, giving Maria his own quick hug, then moving away as Teresa walked through the door.

He looked down at Maria with a serious expression and said. “Si, Maria. I should have.” Scott would have liked to say more but felt uncomfortable doing so with Teresa in the room. He turned to the girl to inquire “Are they waiting for me?”

Teresa nodded and turned to Maria. “Give us five minutes, Maria.”

“Si, Miss Teresa.” Maria said nodding as she turned back to her preparations.

Scott put his arm around Teresa's shoulders and asked, “Shall we?” They walked out of the kitchen.

In the dining room, Scott quickly noted that the place at the end of the table, opposite Murdoch, was set. He sat there, since Chad was now occupying Scott's accustomed seat across from Teresa and Johnny.

The conversation over the meal centered on the recent branding of the herd. Murdoch had been none too pleased when Scott had announced that he was planning to be away for part of that major undertaking, but Chad had filled in fairly well, and there were numerous other projects in the works, including the fencing of a new pasture area. After carefully interrogating Johnny and Chad about the final day of branding, Murdoch immediately began outlining the preparations that were necessary before the task of fence construction could get underway.

At the start of the meal, Maria and Juanita had carried out the platters of food and served portions to each of the family members. From time to time, one of the women would reappear in the dining room to replenish a dish or to remove an empty bowl. When Murdoch finally concluded his talk about fence posts and wiring and the various tools needed to outfit the work crews, he requested that Scott pass him the mashed potatoes. Johnny looked at his brother and noted that the platters and serving dishes seemed to have congregated at Scott's end of the table: “See, I told ya Maria was afraid you'd starved.”

After the meal, the family adjourned to the Great Room. Murdoch settled down with a book and Chad and Johnny set up the board for a game of checkers. Teresa finally had the opportunity to ask Scott some questions about his trip to Sacramento. Scott had just started to describe the case that his friend Will had been working on, when Jelly came in, hoping for a game of chess with Johnny. Seeing that the younger man was occupied, the grizzled horse wrangler settled down to watch the checkers match, greeting Scott as he did so. “So, ya decided ta come back, didya? Get tired of the big city?”

“Hello, Jelly,” Scott replied with an amused look. “I was just telling Teresa about my activities there.”

“I bin ta Sacramento. Like ta stay as far from them gov'ment types as I can.”

“Well, my friend Will is a lawyer. . .”

“They's too many of them too,” Jelly decreed.

“I considered becoming a lawyer once myself, Jelly,” Scott informed him.

“But ya didn't now didya? Neva said ya weren't smart.“ Jelly folded his flannel-clad arms across his vest and focused his attention on the checkers competition.

Scott resumed his account of life in Sacramento, telling Teresa about a concert which he had attended there with his friend Will. Will Hayford was a fellow Bostonian, a childhood friend of Scott's, who had also attended Harvard. Like Scott, a Union Army veteran, Will had come West seeking a change of scenery and had joined a Sacramento law firm only a few months previously. Although the young men had exchanged letters, the recent visit had been their first opportunity to meet in person since Scott had left Boston two years previously.

Hearing about the concert reminded Teresa of the church social, with its promise of musical entertainment. She described the upcoming event and then informed Scott of the identity of some of the local talent. “Chad is going to sing some songs from Kentucky . . and play the mandolin.”

“Is that right?” Scott responded. “Well, that should be . . . interesting.”

“Scott, do you play any musical instruments?” she inquired.

“Teresa, I spent untold hours taking piano lessons when I was a boy,” was his response, shaking his head at the memory.

Waiting for Chad to make a move in the checkers game, Johnny had been listening to the last part of the conversation between his brother and surrogate sister. When Scott mentioned piano lessons, Johnny interjected a quick question: “You any good?”

Scott shrugged slightly. “I suppose I wasn't too bad.” Then he added: “I do have the hands for it,” holding up two large ones. “Long fingers. ”

“So what kind of music did you play?” Teresa asked him.

“Oh, mostly classical pieces-- Mendelssohn was always one of my favorite composers. I'm not sure that I could play any of them now. It's been a long time.”

Chad moved one of his red checkers forward, then added his own comment. “Wall, in Kentucky we laike to play music ya kin dance ta, not just sit still an' lissen.“

Scott was saved from having to respond to Chad's remark when Johnny let out an exclamation and jumped over two of his opponent's pieces. “King me!”

“Don't look too good fer ya, Chad,” Jelly observed.

Teresa left the room for a moment and Scott sat back to casually observe the checkers game as the play continued. He was surprised to see that his brother, who had become a more than fair player at chess, had left himself dangerously open. Scott watched more attentively, expecting Chad to take advantage of the situation. Instead, Chad pushed one of the red pieces into a position that allowed Johnny to swiftly and easily defeat him. Scott noted his brother's expression of disbelief, then delight, as he declared his victory. Chad looked crestfallen, but for some reason Scott had the impression that their “cousin” had deliberately allowed Johnny to win the game.

Gesturing for Chad to relinquish his spot, Jelly commented on the play. “Don't know what you was thinkin' there. Not much, I guess, “ Jelly said, shaking his head. Chad shook his own head ruefully. “He sure got me agin,” he observed as he eased out of his seat. Jelly and Johnny set to work arranging the checkers on the board.

“So Scott, do ya play checkas a'tall?” Chad asked as he settled into the spectator position that Jelly had just vacated.

“I do,” was the response. “But I really prefer chess.”

“Yeah, I kinda thought that.”

Teresa came back into the room, resumed her seat on the couch beside Scott and asked a few more questions about his visit with Will Hayford: “So will your friend ever come here and visit us at the ranch?”

“As a matter of fact, he's just finishing up a case this week and may have the opportunity to visit very soon. I have invited him.”

“You knew him in Boston, is that right?”

“That's right, Will and I grew up together. He was a few years older, and he and his family lived nearby.“

Murdoch looked up at that remark. “I understood that your friend was an army veteran. I assumed that you served with him.”

“So we got us anutha Yankee comin'?” asked Chad with a grin.

Scott responded to Murdoch's inquiry: “I've known Will a very long time—he was very much like an older brother to me. And he did serve during the War, but not in the cavalry. He was a captain in the Infantry.

Johnny had looked sharply up at the word “brother”, but asked a different question: “So what were you?”

Scott carefully considered his younger sibling, not immediately certain exactly what he was asking. Finally, “A lieutenant,” Scott responded, in a somewhat reluctant tone. His experiences during the War were not something that he spoke about very often, and only rarely had he referred to them amongst his family.

Chad whistled and Johnny grinned and gave his older brother a friendly mock salute. Jelly gruffly informed Johnny that he better be concentrating a little harder or he'd be surrendering pretty quick.

Once the game was concluded, Johnny stretched and yawned and announced that he was turning in. “We got that ditch to finish tomorrow,” he reminded Chad. Murdoch nodded his assent, observing that the project needed to be completed the next day. “And Scott, you might do some work on the books tomorrow. Since you've been away, I haven't had any time to work on them.” “I'll take care of it, sir”, Scott replied, choosing to overlook the faint hint of resentment in Murdoch's words.

 

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CHAPTER 3

A few days later, Johnny, Scott, Chad and some of the hands rode out to work on fencing in the new pasture. Once they arrived at the site, Scott immediately set about giving the men their assignments for the day.

“Boy, Johnny, you kin sure tell who's gonna give th'orders when Murdoch's not aroun'.” Chad murmured under his breath to Johnny, shaking his head.

Johnny frowned at Chad's statement, “What d'ya mean?”

Chad nodded his head toward the men. “See how they're all goin' off in pairs? Scott matches ‘em up,--he's makin' sure that th'ones that he thinks ain't so likely ta work hard are workin' with one a them that gits the job done.” Chad looked at his cousin and smiled. “Now, when you run a crew, you jus' tell em what needs ta be done and let ‘em go do it.”

Johnny observed Scott closely, waiting until he was finished with the men. Normally, none of this would have bothered him, but he could see that Chad was right. Scott had just jumped right into army mode or something and started assigning everyone his duty for the day. Leaning against a tree, Johnny played with the string on his hat as he waited impatiently for his brother, good ol‘ Scott “Lieutenant” Lancer, to get around to him.

Finally, Scott did turn his attention to Johnny and Chad, who were standing together by the tree near their horses. Striding over to them, Scott gave Johnny a smile.

“You ready to go to work?” Scott asked as he pulled his gloves on.

“Just waitin' for you to get to me with my orders.” Johnny said in a slightly irritated tone. He pushed away from the tree. “What do ya want Chad and me ta do?”

Scott started to speak and stopped, considering Johnny's comment. He wondered if perhaps he had come across as too commanding. He knew that the men often didn't respond to that very well.

Instead of answering Johnny right away, Scott turned to Chad, pointing to the nearest pile of fence posts and wiring. Similar stacks were already positioned, spaced evenly along the proposed fence line. “This isn't even half the material we're going to need to get this job done. Chad, why don't you head back to the barn and get some more posts and wiring. By the time…”

“Now I was thinkin', Scott, maybe you should go get the supplies.” Johnny said interrupting his older brother. “I'll work with Chad, that'll give ya a chance to catch up, you havin' been on vacation and all.”

Scott started to object but thought better of it. He really didn't want to argue with Johnny in front of anyone, even Chad. It seemed that his brother was already annoyed with the way that he'd handled the crew so Scott decided that perhaps it would be better to just do as Johnny had suggested and go back after the supplies himself. Without another word, the older sibling nodded and headed quickly towards his horse. He mounted Brunswick and then watched as his younger brother and Chad headed out with the rest of the work crew. Scott pulled on the reins and spurred the chestnut back towards the Hacienda.

As Scott rode along at a moderate pace, he realized that it would take Johnny and the others most of the morning to use up the materials on hand, and therefore there was no real need to hurry. He had ample time to get more supplies and return to the work site. Cresting the hill, he looked over the expanse of land which was Lancer, took a deep breath and sighed. This really was one of the “most beautiful places in the whole wide world.” He smiled as he recalled the day that he and Johnny had first arrived at the ranch. Teresa had referred to it as such, when she'd stopped to show them their father's land from the perspective opposite this one; it had truly been a spectacular view.

His initial interactions with his brother, on the other hand, had been far from spectacular. Over time, that had changed significantly. As they'd gotten to know each other, the two had become quite close, and, despite their many differences, the young men had generally gotten along surprisingly well. Scott was puzzled and concerned as to why he and Johnny didn't seem to agree on very much lately. But perhaps that was to be expected. After all, they had come from such very different ways of life.

Following his mother's death, Scott had been raised from infancy by his maternal grandfather in Boston, Massachusetts. Harlan Garrett was a wealthy man, and had been able to provide his only grandson with many advantages. In addition to his grandfather's loving guidance, Scott had received a fine education and had enjoyed the opportunity to travel. Prior to his military service, Scott's life had been filled with many positive experiences, although he had often wondered about his father's absence from his life.

Scott crossed the stream, turning south towards the ranch. Johnny's story on the other hand was very different. Maria, Murdoch's second wife, had apparently packed up one night and fled the ranch, taking her baby with her. Johnny's mother had left her son an orphan at a young age; his formal education had evidently been spotty and Johnny had grown up in the area around the Mexican border. Murdoch Lancer had spent a lot of time and money trying to find his younger son, without success--at least not until two short years ago, when a Pinkerton agent had finally tracked him down.

In contrast, Murdoch had always known where Scott was, but for reasons which were still unclear, he had left his elder son in Boston. Scott sometimes wondered what life would have been like if things had been different—if the two brothers had met sooner, had even been raised together. He smiled to himself now, shaking off the thoughts of “what if”. The fact of the matter was that he and Johnny were just two very different people and it was inevitable that they would clash on certain subjects. One example of their dissimilarity was that his younger brother had a tendency to be more relaxed and flexible and to live for the moment while Scott was more methodical, he preferred that things were done in an orderly fashion; he liked to have a plan. It really wasn't surprising at all that the two siblings didn't always get along perfectly; it would be quite unrealistic to expect that the two strong-willed young men would always agree.

 

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A few hours later, Scott returned to the work area driving a buckboard laden with supplies. The young man watched approvingly as the scattered members of the work crew toiled on the fence line. Scott jumped down from the wagon, grabbed a basket off of the seat and walked over to where the first pair of men were hard at work. Frank, a tall black man originally from Pennsylvania, and a veteran employee, was working with Andy, one of the newer hands. The two men looked up and then paused in their labors, reaching for their canteens as Scott approached. Expecting to receive some new instructions, they were pleasantly surprised when Scott lifted the lid of the basket, revealing freshly baked biscuits and a jar of jam which Teresa had provided. Frank greeted Scott and Andy grinned appreciatively as he helped himself to the welcome refreshment. Scott knew that Frank was extremely reliable. As a former soldier himself, having served in one of the Negro Regiments during the War, the older man was more than familiar with the chain of command. Andy, the new hire, seemed to be an affable young man. So far he had been content to follow the lead of the more experienced hands, while still pulling his weight. There was no question that the fresh biscuits were welcome and would help keep the men going until Jelly arrived with the chuck wagon at noon. After assisting Frank and Andy in unloading their share of the new fencing materials, Scott continued along the line. Each pair of men responded enthusiastically to the food that accompanied the additional supplies. Noticing how hard the men were working, Scott made a point of complimenting each pair on a job well done.

When he got to Johnny and Chad however, Scott immediately recognized that they had made comparatively less progress. Chad, bareheaded, with his shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows, was holding a post upright, while Johnny filled in around it with dirt. If this was what they had been doing all along, then it was no small wonder that they hadn't progressed as rapidly as the other men. Like most of the men, Johnny was more than capable of holding his own post and packing the dirt in around it. Johnny was usually one of the hardest working members of any crew. Chad should have been stringing the wire around each post while Johnny moved on to set the next one. Seeing the disgruntled expression on his younger brother's face, Scott decided to refrain from comment. He casually inquired, “So how is it going?” as he handed Johnny and Chad the basket containing the remainder of the biscuits.

“Movin' right along, Scott,” was Chad's reply as he grabbed for a biscuit and hungrily wedged most of it into his mouth. “Ain't that right, Johnny?” “That's right, Chad,” was the dark-haired man's quiet response. Johnny reached for a biscuit of his own and then proceeded to methodically spread some of Teresa's preserves over the crusty surface. He did not look at Scott.

Scott frowned. He set about unloading the last of the posts from the wagon bed, even though Johnny and Chad still had quite a few left in their pile. It seemed clear to him that Chad was holding Johnny up rather than helping him. Scott wondered now whether Johnny didn't let Chad get by with a lot because of what had happened to Callie. He noticed that their “cousin” was sitting under the shade of a tree, eating another biscuit, while Johnny, bare-chested and perspiring, was already back at work. Scott carried a post down the line; Johnny was intent upon his task and did not look around when his older brother approached.

Setting the post down on the ground, Scott straightened and regarded the younger man with a concerned expression. Slowly, Scott lifted the strap of his canteen off of his shoulder, removed the lid and took a drink. “So . . .” he started to say, and finally Johnny stopped shoveling and looked up at him. As he handed over the canteen, Scott couldn't help quietly commenting. “It does seem to be going more slowly than usual,” and then winced inwardly at his own words.

Johnny took a drink from the canteen, seemingly undisturbed by his brother's remark. “Yeah, it's a hot day. I was thinking maybe Chad should go after the next load and you can work with me. Give ‘im a break.”

Scott resisted the urge to say something critical about Chad. To be fair, he hadn't been out here all morning and it could be that Chad had been doing his share of the work; perhaps it only seemed as if Johnny had had to carry the load.

Scott glanced over at Chad and back at his younger brother. “All right. Whatever you think best.”

Johnny leaned on the shovel, turning to Chad, “Hey Chad, why don't you take the wagon back and pick up some more supplies. Jelly should be headin' out here the same time as you to bring lunch.”

Chad looked uncertain. “Wall . . okay, sure, Johnny. If'n that's what ya want me ta do.” After looking from one brother to the other, Chad got up reluctantly and wandered towards the wagon. The big Kentuckian slowly clambered up into the buckboard seat. Taking up the reins, he managed to turn the team and headed off towards the hacienda.

“Let's get to work then, Boston.” Johnny said smiling and punching Scott lightly on the shoulder. “Don't want to look bad in front of the hands now do we?”

For the next hour, the brothers worked steadily in a companionable silence. Scott dug the holes, put the posts in and filled around them with dirt while Johnny strung the fence line. As Scott methodically pushed the shovel into the ground he wondered what would be the best approach to take in talking to his brother about Chad. Chad had been at the ranch for a while now, and the young man still didn't seem to be fitting in. The elder Lancer had a feeling that if Chad was really trying his hardest, then the Kentuckian simply did not have what it took to be a rancher. As he piled the dirt beside the hole and then brought up another shovel full, Scott glanced over at Johnny who was running the wiring around the previous fence post. He shook his head. Johnny seemed to be very protective of their “cousin”. Maybe it would be best if he spoke to Murdoch about Chad.

Johnny took a break and stretched, his muscled torso glistening in the sun. Reaching for his canteen, he took a sip of water and then paused for a moment and watched his older brother at work-- sleeves rolled up, beige shirt untucked and partially unbuttoned, the fabric darkened with sweat. Scott sure had come a long way since his early days at Lancer. He had been a “city boy”, a “greenhorn” back then. Thanks to his military experience, the Bostonian could ride and shoot and was comfortable being in charge. He also excelled at bookkeeping and actually seemed to enjoy handling the accounts. But Scott hadn't known the first thing about real ranch work. A few aspects of ranching had been new to Johnny too, of course, but he had been somewhat familiar with most of the tasks and had tried to advise and encourage Scott when he'd needed it. It hadn't always been easy for the elder brother to accept that support, but Scott had demonstrated a desire to learn and a determination to succeed, even when things hadn't gone well for him. Initially, he'd had difficulty with some of the new skills that he'd attempted, but with patience and perseverance Scott had turned into one of the better ranch hands the dark haired Lancer had ever known. He frowned when he thought about Scott's lack of patience with their cousin. All Chad needed was some time and someone to help him--just as Scott had. Johnny picked up the fencing wire and started to attach some more to the next post.

“The rate we're going we'll have this pasture fenced in by the end of the week,” Johnny commented glancing at his brother.

Scott paused, looking down the distant line of men hard at work. “Yes, we will, as long as everyone keeps busy.”

“Some people just work faster than others, I guess.”

“And some men work harder than others,” was Scott's smooth rejoinder.

Johnny bristled slightly, “Sometimes it takes a while to learn something new. Took you some time, I seem ta recall.”

Scott nodded, “That's true,” he said mildly. He was about to make a direct observation about Chad, but to his surprise, it was Johnny who finally referred to their cousin by name. Johnny stood staring down at the canteen that he was still holding in his hand. “I heard from Chad that you were gonna bring ‘im back some books from Sacramento,” he said carefully, then looked at Scott, waiting for a reply. When his brother, leaning on his shovel, nodded in the affirmative, Johnny continued. “You know, Scott, some folks who don't have much book learnin' don't like bein' reminded ‘bout it.”

“I suppose you're right,” Scott said slowly, then picked up his shovel and returned to his task. He couldn't help wondering whether his brother was speaking just for Chad or for himself as well. He was uncomfortably aware that he had stepped on his younger brother's toes upon occasion, whenever he'd made the mistake of blandly assuming that Johnny was familiar with things that Scott remembered from his own studies. Hearing a footstep, he looked up to see that Johnny was now standing only a few paces away. The younger man looked down at his work gloves as he slowly removed them. “I'm wonderin' what you got against Chad,” he said softly.

Scott sighed. He knew that this was a fair question, and he'd been asking himself the same thing. Then this morning, as he was driving the buckboard back from the hacienda, the answer had come to him. Resting his gloved hands on the top of the shovel handle, Scott gazed off towards the distant mountains. “I suppose that it may be that he reminds me of someone . . . .”

Holding his work gloves in one hand, Johnny folded his arms across his bare chest and waited quietly to see if Scott would say anything more.

“There was a guard named Carter . . . he was almost affable when his superior officers were around. But at times he was quite . . . brutal.”

Back when former lieutenant Dan Cassidy and his “friends” had shown up looking for Scott, Johnny had been amazed to learn that during the War his brother, the “pampered city boy“, had spent a year in a notorious Confederate prison camp. Even worse, Scott had been the sole survivor of a doomed escape attempt, and wrongly accused by Cassidy and others of being a traitor. In the days following Cassidy's departure, there had been moments when Johnny had glimpsed a haunted look in his brother's eyes and it had been painfully obvious that Scott had no desire to talk about his experience. It had been almost a year and a half since then, and Johnny still didn't know any more details about his brother's military service or his time in Libby Prison. Now it took Johnny a moment to realize that Scott was volunteering information on the very topic which they had avoided for so long.

His older brother looked down at the ground, then met Johnny's eyes with his customary direct gaze. “There's no real physical resemblance between them, but the accent's the same. Perhaps Private Carter was from Kentucky.“

Johnny still could only hazard a guess at the sort of treatment that Scott might have received at the hands of this Private Carter and others, but he was dismayed to think that his brother might hold it against Chad simply because he sounded like one of those guards. “Well, we're here now,” Johnny ventured in what he hoped was a sympathetic tone, and watched as all the expression on Scott's face drained away. The older man picked up his shovel and turned away as Johnny added lightly, “You sure don't need to worry ‘bout Chad; I mean, if I was you, I sure wouldn't lose any sleep over ‘im, Boston.”

At that last remark, Scott turned back towards Johnny, his face a mask, his eyes cold. “I'm not ‘worried' about him. But I'm not certain that he's as simple as he appears to be.” Turning away, Scott headed towards the spot where Brunswick was tethered, quickly putting distance between his younger sibling and himself with just a few long strides.

Johnny kicked at the ground, while mentally kicking himself for his choice of words. From spending time with his brother out on the trail, he was well aware that the man didn't sleep all that well at night. Once he'd learned of Scott's wartime imprisonment, the cause of the frequent nightmares had seemed evident. Not that they'd ever spoken about them at all. Of course, the last time Scott had woken him in the night, Johnny had heard his elder sibling say something about a gun; he'd caught the name “Drago” too.

As he slowly bent down and picked up his shirt, Johnny recalled that Scott had revealed only a very few details of his captivity at the hands of Drago and his crew. Johnny understood from Murdoch and Jelly that the outlaw had somehow been convinced that Scott was the gunfighter, “Johnny Madrid“. When Drago and the girl Violet had finally been apprehended, Johnny had ridden into town with Murdoch to file the complaint against them. That Drago sure was a piece of work; with Murdoch standing right there, he'd actually complimented Johnny on his “daddy” and how much “spunk” he had. But then the man had added, “Much as I've heard ‘bout you Johnny, you'd have a ways ta go ta match that brother of yours.”

Evidently, after Murdoch and Jelly had attempted to sabotage the Gatling gun, Drago's man Chapel had decided to test the machine, using Scott for target practice. Johnny and Murdoch had listened in stunned disbelief as the loquacious Drago had gone on and on about the “damned miracle”. The outlaw confided that he'd wanted to find out if the blond man--- who he at the time still believed to be Johnny Madrid--- would stand tall in the line of fire or fall to his knees “when the time came.” Shaking his head in wonder, Drago had repeated a phrase, not once but twice: “I guess no man really knows, til his time comes.” That's what Scott had said, according to Drago at least, and Johnny could almost hear just exactly how his brother would have spoken those words. The gun had dispensed its hail of bullets and at the end, somehow, Scott had still been standing. Johnny had been amazed to hear Drago's story. The account had made an even stronger impression on Johnny because he'd come very close to having a similar experience. When he'd finally been located by the Pinkerton agent that Murdoch had sent to track him down, Johnny had been about to face a firing squad. Kneeling on the ground, waiting for his turn, Johnny's worst fear had been that his body might betray his will, that his knees might buckle, “when the time came”. Then the Pinkerton man had arrived and Johnny had never actually stood in the line of fire. But Scott had . . .

With Drago's account echoing in their ears, the ride back to the ranch had been a quiet one. Neither Murdoch nor Johnny had said anything about the outlaw's tale, not even when they dismounted and walked side by side to stand and contemplate the wall. They had simply stared at the pattern of holes edging the spot where Scott must have been, neither of them addressing the other, although Johnny had allowed a Spanish epithet to escape his lips. Murdoch Lancer had wasted no time in directing some of the men to make repairs to the damaged wall.

And Scott had refused to testify against Drago and Violet. Johnny shook his head as he slowly slid his sweaty arms into his shirt. Scott had helped Dan Cassidy too, protected him from the other ex-soldiers, Lewis and Hardy, even though the man had traveled three thousand miles to kill Scott for something that Cassidy himself had inadvertently done--betray the escape attempt. Well, Murdoch had called it “compassion”; Johnny hadn't been sure what to call it at the time, but the word “loco” had been one which had come to mind. It seemed that ever since he'd known him, his brother had been quick to help people, even when they didn't seem to deserve it. Scott always seemed ready to give a man---or a woman---the benefit of the doubt, although he'd had ample reason to regret it more than once. But Scott usually persisted in helping whoever it was regardless. Which just made it more disturbing that Scott didn't seem to be able to do the same for Chad. Their cousin was too young to have fought in the War, but he was from the South . . . <<Well, I guess every man has his limits>> Johnny thought, <<maybe even my big brother.>>

 

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Determined to avoid getting into an argument with Johnny about Chad, Scott walked swiftly away from his younger brother. Johnny's words followed him, repeating themselves in his head, << I sure wouldn't lose any sleep over ‘im, Boston.>>

Scott knew that his brother couldn't have helped noticing the frequent disturbances in his sleep, but he had appreciated the younger man's discretion in thus far refraining from comment. Perhaps it was inevitable that something would be said eventually. Scott removed his hat and wiped the damp hair from his brow with a gloved hand before settling the hat back once more on the crown of his head. He was feeling especially tired today; Private Carter had in fact invaded Scott's sleep the night before, which he realized was probably why he'd finally made the connection between his memories of the prison guard and his attitude towards Chad.

He could hardly feel proud of himself if the basis of his negative view of their Lancer cousin was simply that he came from the South. <<But there's more than that . . . >> Scott ruefully recognized that part of his resentment of Chad might possibly stem from his observation of Johnny's relationship with the younger man. Johnny and Chad did seem to be spending a great deal of time together. Despite what he'd said just now, Scott did view Chad as “simple”; there was certainly nothing sinister about him, unless it was his propensity to “throw” checkers games . . .

Scott approached Brunswick and absently stroked the chestnut's neck before removing the gun belt that he had hung on the pommel of his saddle. When Johnny was at work, he often preferred to be free of the confining fabric of whichever shirt he was wearing, but his gun belt always remained in position, slung low across his hips. Scott, on the other hand, was always ready to be unencumbered by the weight of a gun. Holding the holster in one hand, he used the other to slip the ends of his shirt into the waistband of his pants before wrapping the gun belt around his hips. He was suffering from a lack of sleep, it was a hot day and he was hungry. Johnny must be too, and they both had been pushing themselves very hard, an unspoken agreement between them that they would try to make up for the ground lost by Johnny and Chad earlier in the day--they'd made good progress too. Scott told himself that any one of those factors would explain why he had heard a disparaging tone in the name “Boston”, why his brother's fond nickname had rankled a bit just now.

Not that he was ashamed to be from Boston, not by any means. His home city had much to recommend it . . But when he had first arrived out West, Scott had learned quickly that hailing from a city, being from “back East”, even possessing a formal education, none of these things were likely to be considered points in one's favor, but rather black marks against a man so identified. The Bostonian had come to enjoy his new life out West; he relished the challenges, the hard work, the sense of belonging to a family. But he did occasionally miss the familiar faces and well-known streets of his home city. Scott had to admit that it had been very pleasant to spend some time in Sacramento with a good friend from “back home”. Perhaps he needed to do a bit more of that . . .

A far off sound caught his attention and, looking over Brunswick's back, Scott could see Jelly approaching with the chuck wagon, followed by Chad driving the buckboard. Even from this distance, he could see that the supply wagon was not filled to capacity. Scott sighed and resolved to refrain from voicing criticism. Chad could simply head back again after the crew had finished with lunch. Scott glanced over towards Johnny, who was just finishing buttoning up his shirt.

“There's Jelly,” he offered.

“Guess I'm hungry enough to eat no matter what he's fixin'”, was Johnny's drawling response.

Scott nodded his assent. “So am I.”

“Well, what are we waitin' for?” Johnny asked with a grin. The brothers mounted and rode off to join the others.

 

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CHAPTER 4A

Carefully carrying a rimmed tin plate filled with Jelly's hearty stew, Scott found a seat on the ground under some trees, near Andy, the new hand, and young Walt.  Dark haired Walt was a local boy.  His father, a solidly built man with prematurely white hair, shared the name Walt and was also employed at the ranch.  Scott first chatted briefly with Walt and was asking Andy a few questions, trying to find out how things were going for the recent hire, when Johnny joined the group. 

After a few joking comments about Jelly and his cooking, the four men lapsed into a short silence as they concentrated hungrily on the food. Once the edge had been taken off of his appetite, Johnny slid a question of sorts over to his brother, "So this friend of yours in Sacramento, tell me ‘bout ‘im."

"Will?  We grew up together--though he's a few years older than I."

"Ya said he's a lawyer?" 

"That's right. He specializes in criminal cases," Scott grinned at his brother, the former gunfighter.  "So if you're ever seeking representation, I'd recommend him."

"Yeah? Thanks," was Johnny's response, causing Scott to smile even more broadly down at his stew.  Andy was bewildered by the comment, but Walt was amused.  He was familiar with the easy relationship between the two Lancer brothers, and also knew something of Johnny's past.  Walt had witnessed the ex-gunslinger in action versus Sam Stryker's boy, before the young ranch hand had himself fallen victim to one of the elder Stryker's bullets.  Speculation about the career of Johnny Madrid was rife among the Lancer employees; they often compared notes about the known facts as well as the myriad other details which they merely believed to be true. But none of them had ever questioned Johnny directly or even made reference in his presence to what they thought they knew about his past. Scott Lancer was the only one who ever did that. 

"While I was in Sacramento, Will was just finishing up a very interesting case, a murder trial.  But his constant complaint is that the legal profession entails a great deal of routine paperwork----divorces, deeds, wills, tax documents . . ."

"You got a will, Boston?  Cause you might need one some day," Johnny said darkly.
Scott reflected that it had been too long since he'd enjoyed this type of easy banter with his younger brother.  That nickname, "Boston", sounded good too.  It was amazing, the difference in one's attitude that a little food and a bit of shade could make. "Don't worry, I'm well prepared," was Scott's response.  "Will is drawing one up for me."

Johnny set his almost empty plate on the ground beside him and leaned contentedly back against a tree trunk, settling his hat over his eyes.  "Good ta hear it.  So what ‘re ya leavin' me?"

"Oh .  . A photograph of myself."   Seeing Johnny grin under the shade of his hat brim, Scott continued in the same vein.  "A hairbrush.  And a few books.  Some clothes." Johnny rolled his eyes at that, not that anyone could see. "My trust fund," Scott added, and immediately wished that he hadn't brought that up.

"What's a trust fund?" Johnny asked, raising the brim of his hat so that he could look at his brother. 

"Oh . . It's  . .well, it's money that was left to me by my mother and grandmother."

Skirting the more sensitive aspects of this piece of information, Johnny simply inquired, "So, how much?"

Aware that Andy and Walt were silently listening to this conversation, and in any event, reluctant to discuss the topic of his personal finances, Scott avoided specifics.  "More than enough--- thanks to my grandfather's prudent investments."

"That mean I'll never have ta work again?"

"Well, there is one minor legal technicality," Scott said dryly.

"What's that?"

"You need me out of the way first."

Johnny snorted at that.  "That ain't no problem.  I just gotta stop keepin' you out of trouble."

Johnny had to laugh at the annoyed look that flashed across his older brother's face.  In retaliation, Scott turned to Walt and Andy and in a very serious tone informed them: "If anything happens to me, you two are witnesses."  Walt nodded his head, "You got it.  We won't let you down, Mr. Lancer."

Johnny noticed that the new man, Andy seemed pretty uncertain as to how to take this conversation, and decided that it was about time to change the subject. "Time to get back to work," Johnny told his brother. 

Scott got up slowly. He was already feeling the effects of those few hours of setting fence posts; it had been a good length of time since he had engaged in such strenuous physical activity, and the week spent in the city certainly hadn't helped.  When he stumbled slightly, catching his foot against a tree root, Johnny was quick to shoot a comment at him: "Hey, don't hurt yourself, Boston. . . “. “Or if ya do, you just make sure it's Real Bad," he added with a laugh. When Scott straightened up from retrieving the spoon he'd dropped, Johnny caught his brother in a brief neck hold before the two of them headed over to return their utensils to the chuck wagon. 

 

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It was Saturday night and the church social was in full swing. Playing with the Mexican bolo tie which Teresa had encouraged him to wear, Johnny watched as Chad prepared to perform yet another Kentucky tune. Johnny was not feeling altogether comfortable in his black dress pants and jacket, but as he looked around the room he could see that everyone else seemed to really be enjoying the evening. There were several other musicians, but it seemed that his cousin was the hit of the town social. Even Scott appeared to have enjoyed Chad's music.

His older brother hadn't stepped off the dance floor all evening; at the moment, he was twirling Corinna Cushman around the room, in time to Luke Hanson's fiddle music. Normally, Johnny would have been out there beside Scott, dancing with some pretty partner of his own, but tonight he'd wanted to be sure that no one was laughing at Chad. It hadn't been that long ago that many of these same people had been doing just that. Chad had met up with an old man named Otto Mueller. Otto had been convinced that he could build a machine that would allow a man to fly and Chad had believed him. His cousin had even taken time off from ranch work to help ol' Otto build his flying machine. At one point, Chad had even strapped on some wings that Otto had made and run through the countryside flapping them. Some of the ranch hands and a few other local residents had seen him, and the story had rapidly spread. Chad and Otto had been the laughing stocks of Morro Coyo for quite a while.

Well, Otto had finished building his machine, but before he could fly it he'd had a heart attack and died. Chad knew that Otto had devoted his whole life to proving that a man could fly, so he decided he would test Otto's contraption himself. Johnny had been able to see that the thing would never work, so he‘d destroyed it in order to prevent Chad from killing himself. Chad had been very angry at first, but he‘d come around, eventually. He'd understood that Johnny had just been looking out for him.

When the fiddle tune ended, Scott bid a smiling goodbye to his dance partner and then headed in Johnny‘s direction. Scott was wearing a pair of brown dress pants, matching jacket, and a white shirt with a string tie. Johnny noticed how the young ladies looked admiringly at his older sibling as he passed by. One thing about Boston, he sure cleaned up good.

“Chad's popular tonight, ain't he, Boston?” Johnny asked as Scott served himself a glass of punch from the nearby refreshment table and then came over to lean against the wall next to his brother.

Scott took a sip of his drink before answering Johnny. It seemed they'd finally found something Chad was good at. Too bad it didn't relate in any way to ranching.

“Yes, he is,” Scott replied quietly watching as Chad made his way toward the makeshift stage. The young Kentuckian looked rather nice tonight. Following Scott's suggestion, he'd left his suspenders at home, and had worn a new shirt that Murdoch had bought him just for this occasion.

As the Lancer brothers stood side by side and listened, Chad began to play a song about a “witch woman”. Johnny had heard him sing it more than once, but the tune was unfamiliar to Scott.

“Mountain tops are wearin' smoke in the land where I come from.

And that blue haze stays to this day from the guns of ‘21.

Mountain grow blue . . . . valley run red . . . . Witch Woman says.

Mountain stay blue . . . . valley stay red. ‘Til the last of the feudin' kin lies dead.

Witch Woman says.”

“Well, that was certainly a, ah, different sort of ballad.” Scott ventured.

“Yeah, there's nothin' like a good feudin' song ta liven up a church social.”

Scott grinned at his brother's response, but they were both uncomfortably aware that the tune had received noticeably less applause than Chad's earlier pieces. Evidently Chad recognized this as well, because he immediately began strumming another song, this time one which was well-known to many in the audience. Chad's lyric voice movingly carried each verse of “My Old Kentucky Home”, while many of those present joined him in the chorus:

Weep no more, my lady,
Oh! weep no more to-day!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.”

This time the applause was very enthusiastic and there were calls for Chad to sing another song . Scott, however, recalled the remark which Chad had made to him, that in Kentucky they liked to “play music ya kin dance ta, not just sit still an' lissen.” He was about to make a clever comment to Johnny about that, when Chad began his next piece. “Old Dan Tucker” was another familiar favorite, as well as a much livelier tune and therefore proved even more popular, especially with the couples that took to the dance floor. Chad concluded with short ditty entitled “Goober Peas”. After coaching his listeners on the chorus, he launched into the lighthearted song:

“Sitting by the roadside on a summer day.

Chatting with my messmates, passing time away,

Lying in the Shadow, underneath the trees,

Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas!

Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas!

Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas!”

As the crowd shouted out the last lines along with him, Chad's smile was a yard wide. When he departed from the stage, it was with much praise and plenty of back slapping from the members of the audience.

Johnny was happy to see that his cousin was being so warmly received, although he didn't quite understand some of Chad's music. “Ain't never heard a song like that one before,” Johnny said, shaking his head.

“I have.”

“Yeah?” Somehow Johnny just couldn't picture his older brother singing a cheerful little song about peas.

“It's a marching song. It was used by the Confederate soldiers during the War.”

Johnny didn't have an opportunity to reply to that information, as Chad drew near. Scott pushed himself away from the wall and went over to the nearby refreshment table. He returned with a glass of punch, which he handed to Chad. “You're very talented, Chad.”

“Well, thank ya, Scott. Guess I noticed ya have some talents of yur own” Chad drained his glass and set it down. “Seems every purty girl in the room is lookin' at ya.”

Before Scott could reply, a beautiful young woman approached the punch bowl. Chad quickly stepped over and poured her a glass of punch.

“Ah, would ya like ta dance?” Chad asked her nervously.

“Oh, I'm sorry.” Emma Anderson replied with a smile. “I'd love to, but I promised this dance to Johnny.” She turned and gazed up at Johnny who , although surprised by this announcement, was more than ready to take her arm.

“Sorry, Chad,” Johnny said smiling at his cousin. “Maybe the next dance, huh?”

Scott and Chad stood against the wall together and watched as Johnny and Emma moved out onto the dance floor.

“Johnny shore can dance, cain't he?” Chad commented as Johnny and the young woman danced by them.

“Yes, he can.” Scott commented. “It was difficult at first though. The dance steps here are a bit different from what he knew in the border towns and in Mexico. But Johnny's a quick learner.”

“Ya know, Scott, it's shore funny when ya think on it. We all come from different parts of th' country and ways of life. You bein' a Yankee an' all. Yet we all seem ta' be fittin' in here jist fine. I'm mighty grateful that ya been so good ‘bout me learnin' things. I know I ain't been a very fast learner.”

Scott felt a twinge of guilt. He knew that if he was honest he hadn't been very patient with Chad at all. He'd decided early on that perhaps Chad just didn't have the drive to make it at Lancer. But Scott now realized that his negative feelings about the Kentuckian were, least in part, tied to his memories of the War, and to thoughts of that guard at Libby Prison. Deciding that it was time to give his cousin the benefit of the doubt, Scott pushed himself away from the wall once more.

“Come on, Chad.” Scott said looking across the room. “I see a couple of young ladies who look like they would just love to dance. I'll introduce you.”

“That's mighty kind of ya', Scott.” Chad said following him across the floor. A few moments later, Scott, Chad and two very willing young ladies joined Johnny and his partner on the dance floor.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


CHAPTER 4B

As he set down his coffee cup, Murdoch Lancer looked around the table and smiled to himself. Teresa was chattering up a storm, going on and on about the previous evening's festivities, praising Chad's musical performance and teasing Johnny and Scott about their popularity on the dance floor. It seemed that they had all had a good time. Waiting for a lull in the conversation, Murdoch looked from one of his children to the other. As he glanced around the table his gaze rested for a long moment on Scott. His eldest son was pushing his food around on his plate, apparently lost in thought. The Lancer patriarch doubted that Scott was even paying the slightest attention to what Teresa was saying. His older son had been at Lancer long enough now for Murdoch to recognize what this meant. Scott had something he wanted to say; he was simply trying to figure out how to go about presenting it to the family.

“Something on your mind, Scott?” Murdoch asked, interrupting Teresa's chatter about the social.

“As a matter of fact, yes, there is.” Scott said pushing his plate away. “I received a wire from my friend Will yesterday.” He paused, and took a sip of his coffee. “He'll be arriving on the ten o'clock stage tomorrow.” In a characteristic movement, Scott glanced briefly down at the tabletop, and then looked up and addressed the family members who were waiting expectantly. “I know that I mentioned that he fought in the War but there are a few things that I didn't tell you about Will.”

When he had something important to say, Scott was usually very direct. When he hesitated once more, Johnny noticed it immediately and while carefully keeping his tone casual, he prompted his brother. “Yeah? What's that?”

“He was very seriously injured.”

“What happened to him?” Teresa asked in a concerned voice.

Scott rested his elbows on the edge of the table, the fingertips of his two hands meeting in the space above his plate. “Will was in the 20 th Massachusetts infantry. He fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and served under Colonel Paul Revere—a grandson of the Revolutionary War hero. As in the ‘midnight ride',” he explained, glancing around the table. Seeing facial expressions that ranged from comprehension to confusion, he continued on. “The 20 th played a key role in repelling the Confederate charge. . .” Scott realized that he was in danger of digressing too far into battlefield history, sighed and then finally got to the heart of the matter. “Will was hit in the right arm . . .the damage was so extensive that the doctors had to amputate just above the elbow.” Scott paused again, looked down at his coffee cup and then picked it up in both hands. “They told him he was lucky.” Scott said quietly. “And, I guess in a way he was; over 23,000 Union soldiers died at Gettysburg. Forty of them were from the 20 th , including Captain John Hayford, Will's older brother.”

Murdoch finally broke the solemn silence. “From what I read, a lot of young men came back from the War minus a limb.”

“Knowed a few men laike that back home.” Chad volunteered.

Johnny was quiet, wondering about Scott's little history lesson; he also couldn't help thinking that the right hand, well, that was his gun hand . . . .

Scott pushed on. “Will lost his right eye as well . . . so he wears an eye patch.” “He's been able to adapt remarkably well, actually,” Scott added, admiration for his friend evident in his voice. “I . . .well, I just didn't want you to be surprised by his appearance when he arrives. . .”

Ready to be finished with this topic of discussion, Johnny pushed his plate away. “So, what didya think we'd do Scott? Ask him all kinds of questions about his war injuries ?” he asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

Scott replied quietly, “No Johnny, I didn't. I just wanted you all to be prepared. While I was with Will in Sacramento, we encountered some people who were meeting him for the first time. They would try to hide their surprise, but their facial expressions would give it away. It's a normal reaction.”

“I think Scott's just trying to save us all from feeling uncomfortable,” Teresa said, trying to soothe the tension between the brothers.

“Yeah,” said Chad, nodding his head in between bites of biscuit. “Scott's jist lookin' out for his friend, tryin' ta' make sure he gits a warm welcome from alla us, them bein' like brothahs an' all.

“Well,” Murdoch said unhappily. “It appears that Scott won't be available again tomorrow, so we'll put off the surveying until the next day.” Scott winced inwardly as Murdoch put the emphasis on “again”. He knew his father wasn't very happy that he'd gone to Sacramento in the first place and here he was already taking another day off.

“I'll get to that surveying first thing Tuesday morning,” Scott said stiffly.

“I'm hoping that having your….er….friend from Boston here isn't going to interfere with your work, Scott. That you won't be so busy taking care of him that you won't be able to do your share.” Murdoch said gruffly.

Scott sat back in his chair and looked directly at his father. “You don't have to worry, Murdoch. I can assure you that Will is quite capable of entertaining himself while I'm occupied.”

Murdoch turned to Johnny and Chad, “Johnny, you and Chad can take some of the hands and move the cattle to the south pasture tomorrow. We'll worry about the surveying later in the week.”

Johnny nodded, then turned to Teresa and asked her a question about a young neighbor with whom she'd shared a dance or two. Teresa blushingly denied that the young man had paid any particular attention to her and Scott attempted to rescue her by interjecting a remark about Johnny and Emma Anderson. Johnny grinned wickedly and came back with a comment about a certain young woman named Corinna and how much time Scott had spent dancing with her; how it was a good thing for him that Zee was no longer in town. While Chad looked on, even Murdoch became a focus of romantic speculation when the Widow Hargis' name was mentioned . . .

 

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The next day Scott stood outside the mercantile waiting impatiently for the stage to arrive. It figured that the stage was going to be late. Murdoch was already upset that Scott was going to be away from the ranch this morning; it was now looking like it might turn into the whole day. Sighing, he walked to the corner of the building and looked down the street to see if the stage was coming. Nothing. He removed his hat and then resettled it squarely on his head, before sitting down on a chair outside the store.

About ten minutes later, Scott heard the familiar rumble of the stage approaching. He slowly stood, pushing his hat back on the crown of his head , and watched as the stage pulled up. First, two giggling young girls disembarked, with their mother right behind them, fussing at them to behave. Finally, he saw his friend exiting the coach. Will Hayford was a tall, broad shouldered man with curly brown hair. He wore a patch to cover his missing right eye and the lower half of his right sleeve was folded and pinned to the shoulder of his jacket.

“Will, it's good to see you.” Scott said with a smile. Placing his right hand on his friend's shoulder, Scott offered his own left hand, which Will grasped in a firm handshake.

“It's good to finally be here,” Will said with a sigh, his brown eye showing the weariness of the lengthy time spent on the stage . The two young men watched as the driver and his outrider started unloading the bags from the top of the coach.

Will grabbed one bag and set it aside on the ground near Scott's feet, then leaned over to pick up the heavier of his two cases.

“I'll get this one,” Scott commented, picking up the smaller bag and leading the way down the sidewalk towards the surrey. “Are you hungry? Would you like to get something to eat before we head out to Lancer?” Scott knew that Murdoch wouldn't be pleased, but his good manners dictated that he at least offer to stop for lunch before they headed for the ranch.

Shaking his head, Will said smiling slightly. “No, that isn't necessary. I'm about an hour late and from what you've said about your Senora Maria , I'm sure she's got something planned for lunch.”

“I'm sure she has .” Scott reached for the work gloves that were resting on the handle of his holstered gun, and drew them on. He then lifted Will's luggage into the back of the surrey and untied the horses' lead. The two friends climbed onto the seat and headed out of town.

En route to Lancer, Scott pointed out areas of interest and finally stopped at that vantage point from which the expanse of Lancer could be seen. He loved this view, it reminded him once more of that first day, when Teresa had paused in this very spot and showed the newly met brothers their father's land. He had been awed then by the beauty of this scene; after all this time, he still often had to catch his breath at the sight.

“This is Lancer,” Scott announced proudly.

Will got down from the surrey seat, grateful for an excuse to stretch the legs that had been confined to that bumping, rolling stagecoach for more hours than he cared to recall. Gazing out at the beauty of this land, the faraway mountains, the scattered cattle, the men hard at work, the gleaming white hacienda in the distance, he shook his head. “All this time I've wondered why you would give up your life in Boston. I even agreed with your grandfather that you were insane to stay here, to have anything to do with Murdoch Lancer.” He gestured at the scene with his good arm. “But I can perhaps begin to see it now.”

Scott nodded his head not quite knowing how to respond. Of course, his long-time friend was well aware of Scott's youthful hatred for his father, the feelings of hurt and resentment that had been the result of the older man's neglect. Young Scott had certainly expressed his feelings strongly enough, whenever the topic of his father had come up. During his recent visit to Sacramento, Scott had tried to answer Will's many questions about his new-found family. But there were some things that were simply hard to explain, topics which were difficult to discuss even with an old friend. Scott walked over and stood at Will's left side.

“When I came here,” he said slowly, “it was with no expectation of staying. Simply to satisfy my curiosity.” He paused searching for the right words . How could he explain why he'd stayed, when he didn't entirely understand it himself? “But…as I've told you, the ranch was under attack . . .” “I know,” Will interrupted, “and you just leapt at the opportunity to play soldier once more.” Scott looked up sharply at Will's disparaging tone, but his friend kept on speaking. “You risked being injured, risked your own life even, to help a man who'd never given you a second thought . . . “ Instead of getting angry, Scott sighed and nodded. Will had already said as much to him during their earlier visit; then as now, Scott had to acknowledge that he simply had no logical explanation for his actions. “They were trying to run him off of this land, it .. it wasn't right.” “And don't say it,” Scott added holding up one hand. “What Murdoch did or didn't do all those years wasn't right either, I know that better than anyone. But if I was ever going to get to know him at all, I had to stay. So I accepted a third of this ranch . . . .”

“And now, to the utter amazement of all of our good friends back East, you are a rancher!” Will gave his friend a genuine smile. “It's like a new world, a new way of life. And I must say that I envy you that.” Then, turning to admire the view once more, he added, “And this.”

“I like it out here.”

“And now you finally have a father . . . and a brother as well, something you always wanted, growing up.”

Scott nodded at the truth of that statement. Will might in fact envy him now, covet his “new way of life”, or perhaps his friend was merely being polite. But when they were growing up together, it had been Scott who had envied Will Hayford. He could still recall how reluctant he had been whenever it was time to return home with his grandfather after spending a day in the hubbub of the Hayford household. Scott had practically been adopted by the Hayford clan, and by Will in particular. As the youngest of the three Hayford sons, Will had reveled in the opportunity to play big brother to little “Scotty” Lancer. Still, as close as Scott and Will had been, nothing could match the bond that Will had shared with his middle brother, John.

And now Scott Lancer had a younger brother of his own. When Scott had first arrived in Sacramento, Will had had a great many questions about Johnny, and had been especially curious about his past as a notorious gunfighter. Johnny had again become a topic of discussion when Will had been at work drawing up the will. Now Scott expected his friend to steer the conversation in that direction once more; he was rather pleased when that was not the case.

Scott clapped Will on the shoulder. “Come on, Will. I'm anxious to introduce you to my family.” They climbed aboard the surrey once again and headed down the road toward Lancer.

As they stopped in front of the house, Scott jumped down and called to one of the hands. Jose came over and took charge of the horses and the surrey, while Scott grabbed Will's bags. Host and guest then headed into the house. Scott set the cases down just inside the entry, and then led the way to the Great Room. There they found Murdoch Lancer at his desk, reading some letters. Johnny was ensconced on the couch discussing the afternoon's work with Chad who was seated across from him in a chair by the fireplace.

Scott walked into the room with Will and, removing his gloves, addressed Murdoch. “I'm sorry, we're late,” he said apologetically. “The stage was a bit behind schedule.”

Murdoch looked up, frowning, “You're just in time, actually; Teresa is just seeing about getting lunch on the table.” The elder Lancer stood and came around his desk.

Scott made the introductions. “Will, this is my father, Murdoch Lancer. Murdoch, my very good friend, Will Hayford.”

Murdoch stepped forward and paused momentarily, until Will extended his left hand. The elder Lancer grasped it in his own and addressed the visitor in a serious tone: “It's nice to meet you, Will. Welcome to Lancer.”

Will smiled politely, “Thank you, Mr. Lancer. It's good to finally see your ranch. Scott's told me so much about it.”

Scott turned to Johnny, “And this is my brother, Johnny.”

Johnny stood up and put his left hand out, “Hello, Will.”

Will extended his hand rather slowly, his one eye examining Scott's brother very intently. “Johnny,” he said, acknowledging the younger man with a nod. Relinquishing his grasp on Johnny's hand, Will then turned expectantly to face the third man in the room.

Scott gestured towards Chad, “And this is our ….cousin, Chad. From Kentucky.” At the word “cousin”, Will glanced at Scott with mild surprise. As Will once more offered his left hand, Chad reached towards the newcomer with his right.

“Oh, uh sorry,” Chad mumbled in embarrassment, dropping his right hand and putting out his left hand to shake Will's. “It's real nice ta' meet ya' Will.”

“Oh, Scott you're home!” Teresa exclaimed happily as she entered the room. “Lunch is ready!”

“And this is my father's ward, Teresa O'Brien.” Scott said as Teresa approached them. “Teresa this is my friend, Will Hayford.

“It's very nice to meet you,” Teresa said with a welcoming smile. “I've heard a lot about you from Scott.”

“And I've heard a great deal about you, Miss O'Brien,” Will said smiling in return. “But it's only now that I understand that when Scott was describing the beauty of this ranch, he was not referring solely to the scenery . .”

Teresa blushed, “Oh, Mr. Hayford….”

Abruptly, Murdoch interrupted, “We better sit down and eat lunch.” Then, without looking at Scott, he added, “Johnny and Chad have work to finish this afternoon.”

To Scott's annoyance, there was no mistaking his father's tone; it was quite clear to everyone in the room, including their guest, exactly what it was that Murdoch Lancer was implying. “And I'm going to go over the books later this afternoon while Will gets unpacked and settles in,” Scott informed him quietly as they all headed into the dining room.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

CHAPTER 5

The frustration of having to go over the recent accounts for a third time was wearing on Scott . Something just wasn't adding up, but he was having great difficulty locating the discrepancy. He looked up briefly and nodded as Will Hayford entered the room. Scott noticed that his friend had changed into a dark green shirt and casual black pants and was glad to see that Will hadn't made the mistake of bringing only his business clothes. Reluctantly, Scott returned his attention to the pages of numbers before him. When he got halfway down the column, he finally found the error, and then set to work correcting it.

“Problems?” Will said walking towards the desk.

Scott looked up again. “Nothing major.” He closed the book and sat back in the chair. “Are you all settled in?”

“Yes.” Will said, changing course, and moving towards the big picture window. “This is a splendid view,“ he commented as he turned, looking at Scott. “Have you ever thought about hiring someone to do your books, keep your records? It would save you a lot of headaches.”

Scott sat unconsciously playing with the pen in his hand. “Murdoch would never agree to that. He's very protective of this ranch and the finances. In fact, he insisted on personally teaching us how to do the books when we decided to stay.”

“He taught you? Didn't you tell him that you went to Harvard?” Will asked.

Scott smiled. “Oh, he knows. But there's the Harvard way and Murdoch Lancer's way. You won't be here too long before you realize that at Lancer, it's Murdoch who calls the tune.” Brief pause. “Or so he likes to think. Truthfully, we are all still trying to fine tune our three way partnership.”

Will turned to look out the window once more. He frowned as he watched Johnny heading towards the house.

“Must have been pretty difficult for Johnny to learn to keep the books,” Will commented speculatively.

“We've both had things to learn about life on a ranch,” Scott responded quietly. “Johnny's still learning and so am I.”

They both turned as they heard the front door slam. Johnny came walking into the Great Room, tipping back his hat, without removing it.

“Hey, Boston, where's Murdoch?” he demanded impatiently.

Scott sat up. “He went to a cattlemen's meeting in town. Is something wrong?”

“Nah, he told Cipriano he wanted ta see me before I left for the north pasture,” Johnny replied, heading for the door. “Tell him I'll---”

“Johnny, wait a minute,” Scott said, gesturing for him to come over to the desk. “While you're here, let me show you something.”

Johnny reversed direction and walked over to stand beside his brother. Scott opened the book on the desk in front of him.

“You might try to be a bit more careful when you work on the books. Your writing here is hard to read and----“ Pointing to a set of digits, Scott picked up a slip off the desk. “And here you transposed the numbers.”

Johnny looked at Scott, then over at Will, and back at Scott again. He stood back with his arms crossed. “Well, that's pretty good, seein' as I don't know what that means.”

“Transposed? It means that you altered the sequence…switched the numbers around.”

“Well, if you don't like the way I do the books then why don't you stay home and do ‘em? While you're traipsing all over California, I'm here doing your work and mine.” Johnny replied coldly.

Disconcerted, Scott struggled to choke back his reply. He stared back at Johnny, who looked meaningfully at Will, and then stalked angrily out of the room.

“Johnny, I---”

Silently, Scott swore to himself. Another bad move. He had forgotten that though Will was like family to him, he was a stranger to the rest. He pressed his lips together as Johnny slammed the front door.

“Well, he seems to have quite a temper,” Will said, breaking the silence that filled the room after the echo of the closing door faded away.

“He has a right to be angry, Will. I could have picked a better time,” Scott said regretfully. “No one likes to be corrected in front of someone they don't know.”

 

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Will and Scott were still in the Great Room when Dr. Sam Jenkins arrived a short time later. The local doctor had been paying a call on a family nearby and had stopped in to visit his old friend Murdoch Lancer. After introducing Doc Jenkins to Will, Scott extended to Sam the expected invitation to join the family for the evening meal, explaining that Murdoch was in town and that he would be back shortly.

Mealtime conversation was relaxed and far ranging. Murdoch recounted his discussion with his fellow cattlemen in town, Doctor Jenkins relayed news of the neighbors and Scott and Will shared the details of some of their activities during Scott's recent visit to Sacramento. Johnny and Jelly updated everyone on the day's accomplishments on the ranch. Teresa was still happy to reminisce about the church social, which prompted another round of compliments to Chad for his musical performance that evening.

When the meal was finally concluded, Sam Jenkins reluctantly pushed himself away from the table and voiced his intention of heading back to town. Will looked meaningfully at Scott, who promptly addressed the doctor: “Sam, before you go, perhaps you might help me out--- I need a witness to my signature on a legal document.” As the rest of the seated company listened with curiosity, Scott explained about the will that his friend had drawn up for him. Dr. Jenkins readily assented, and then Scott turned to Chad. “Chad, would you mind being the second witness?” Despite the puzzled expression on his face, Chad nonetheless nodded his agreement. Will, Scott and the two witnesses withdrew to the other side of the room.

Will removed a set of legal documents from a folder and placed them on Murdoch's desk. As Sam and Chad watched, Scott affixed his flowing signature to the bottom of several pages, the crossing of the ‘T's in his first name starting the large looping “L” of Lancer. Next it was Sam's turn to sign in the spaces which Will indicated. “So now, why're askin' me ta do this, Scott?” Chad inquired of his cousin, but it was Will Hayford who explained. “In order for Scott's will to be legal, there must be two witnesses to attest to the fact that he's signed it. And the witnesses should be people who are not beneficiaries.“

“What's that? A bene . .?”

“A beneficiary is someone who stands to inherit property, or money, from the deceased.”

“Oh. Well, you ain't fixin' ta be deceased any time soon, now are ya, Scott?”

“No, Chad, that's not my plan,” Scott replied with an amused look. “I might not have even thought of having a will made if I didn't happen to have a very good friend who's a very good lawyer.

Chad slowly and painstakingly added his name to the document and then Will gathered up the pages. Johnny sauntered over. “Hey, Chad, how about if we ride on into town with Doc Jenkins here, see what's happening, have a few drinks?”

“Sure thing, Johnny,” was the pleased reply. Sam Jenkins welcomed the prospect of the young men's company on the ride. . . . .

 

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“Elmer, pour us a couple beers will you?” Johnny asked as he and Chad walked into the saloon.

“Sure, Johnny,” Elmer said reaching for a couple of mugs.

“Grab our beers Chad, and I'll get us a table,” Johnny said heading for the back of the room. The habit of always having to have his back to the wall was hard to break and Johnny still liked to sit at a table located where he could see who was coming and going. As he sat down, Johnny looked around the room. A card game was going on in the corner, and he nodded at Jorge and Reese, two of his card playing buddies. Over to the left, Johnny noticed with a frown, Lumas and his buddy, Reno were sitting with some of their friends. Those two loved to pick on Chad, calling him, “Hilly Billy”, among other names. Johnny glanced up as Chad sat down, and handed him his drink.

“Thanks, Chad,” Johnny said appreciatively.

“It sure is slow in here ta nite' ain't it, Johnny?” Chad said glancing around.

“Well, most of the ranch hands around here don't come to town during the week. Sun up comes early enough as it is,” Johnny replied, and then flashed a smile one of the saloon girls as she passed by with some drinks. “This is what I needed,” he added with a soft sigh. “A little time for myself away from home.”

“Yeah,” Chad said grinning as he sipped at his beer. “I know what ya' mean. We shore been workin' hard lately—what with Scott bein' so busy an' all.”

“Hey, Lumas!” Reno yelled from the table across the room. “Look, who's here. Johnny Lancer and his cousin, Hilly Billy.”

“I thought I smelled somethin' funny a minute ago,” Lumas said loudly laughing. “Hey Hilly Billy, how'd ya get to town? Did you come in your new flyin' machine?

“Ignore ‘em, Chad,” Johnny said quietly. “They're just trying to get us goin'.”

“I know,” Chad responded glancing over at the cowboys.

“Ya' know, Lumas, we shouldn't be pickin' on them Lancers,” Reno said as he stood up and walked over to the bar. He leaned against the polished wood surface as he continued. “They're really nice people. They took in that cousin, what's his name?” Reno paused and then looked directly at Chad. “Oh, yeah, Useless.” Reno laughed heartily at his own joke. “Anyway, I heard they took him in cause he's a bit touched in the head.”

“You sayin' he's loony?” Lumas asked, laughing as he walked over to join his friend. “Everybody says he ain't the only Lancer that is .”

“Let's get out of here.” Johnny stood, and Chad followed suit. They started walking towards the door.

“Well, any woman who would marry ol'Murdoch would have to be plum crazy.”

Johnny abruptly changed direction and walked over to the bar, hitting Reno squarely on the jaw and knocking him down. Lumas swung at Johnny, but Chad was there with his own fist, knocking Lumas down. Reno quickly regained his feet and his fist connected with the side of Johnny's face. Johnny immediately landed a solid punch into Reno's stomach. The poker players started hollering, cheering Johnny on. They quickly moved out of the way as Reno pushed Johnny into their table, money and poker chips going everywhere. Chad and Lumas continued to fight, matching each other punch for punch. Then Lumas grabbed a chair and swung at Chad, catching him across the arm.

Realizing that the fight was getting out of hand, Elmer ran outside, yelling for the sheriff. The four men continued their brawl, throwing chairs and punching each other. A few minutes later, the stocky, mustached, sheriff entered the saloon with a couple of his deputies. One deputy pulled Johnny off of Reno, while the other one separated Chad and Lumas.

Sheriff Sam Jayson walked over to the men shaking his head. He removed his hat, setting it on the bar and ran his hand through his graying sandy colored hair. “What happened?” he asked looking around at the overturned tables and broken chairs.

“He started it!” Reno shouted belligerently. “Lancer came at me.”

Frowning, the round faced sheriff turned to the dark haired Lancer. “That true, Johnny?”

Johnny looked at Sam Jayson and then down at his boots. “Yeah, Sam, I hit him first.” He looked at the saloon owner. “Sorry, Elmer. I'll pay for the damages.”

Jayson turned to Elmer. “That okay with you?” Elmer nodded his head and the lawman addressed the four men. “I want you all to head home. And Johnny, I'll have Elmer make up a bill for me and run it out to the ranch when it's ready.

Johnny nodded, leaned over and picked his hat up from the floor. Chad and Johnny walked out of the saloon and headed for their horses.

En route to the ranch a few minutes later, Chad groaned at the pain in his arm as he turned in his saddle to look at his cousin. He addressed a morose comment to Johnny. “Yur pa's gonna be mighty sore when he finds out we busted up the place and now ya gotta pay for the damages.”

“Don't worry, I can handle my old man,” Johnny said wincing at the pain in his jaw.

They rode on a ways in silence. Johnny was wondering how he was going to explain this to Murdoch. The “old man” wasn't going to be happy, that was for sure, especially when Johnny had to ask for yet another advance on his wages to cover the bill. Johnny was trying to recall exactly how far in debt he was, when Chad's voice broke into his thoughts.

“ So, Johnny, how come yur brother had a will made?”

Johnny shrugged. “I don't know, Chad. I think maybe his friend talked him into it.”

“Well, do ya' know what he's leaving ya?” Chad asked interestedly. “I mean is he leavin' ya anythin' worthwhile?”

“Yeah, I know. He's leavin' me plenty,” Johnny replied testily, clearly not really wanting to pursue the subject.

“Sorry, Johnny, I guess ya' jist don't' want ta' talk about it.”

“My brother dyin' isn't anything I feel like talkin' about,” Johnny said soberly.

“I kin understan' that Johnny, I surely can.” Chad said. They rode the rest of the way in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts.

 

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Late the next morning, Scott returned from completing his surveying task to find Johnny in the corral working with a horse and Will leaning with his good arm resting on the top of the fence rail, watching. Scott reined in Brunswick, dismounted and walked over to stand beside Will.

Will greeted him with a relaxed smile. “Hi Scott. Your brother's been demonstrating some of the finer points of breaking a wild horse.”

Scott looked over at his younger sibling, but Johnny continued to work with the horse, without even glancing in Scott's direction.

“I was hoping that you'd find something to do while I was gone,” Scott said in response to his friend.

“I would have gone with you, but you left pretty early.”

Scott grinned at that. “Well, the day does start quite a bit earlier here than in Boston . . . or in Sacramento.”

“So it appears,” was Will's dry response.

“But since you're awake now, perhaps I can take you on that tour that I promised,” Scott said warmly.

Will's expression eased a bit. “Sure, just give me a few minutes, ” he replied and then headed for the hacienda.

Scott stood at the rail, removing his gloves as he once more regarded his brother. Johnny was still intent upon the horse. “So how's it going?” Scott asked.

Johnny looked around at that. Seeing his brother standing alone, Johnny released the animal, which quickly trotted to the far side of the corral. He strolled over towards Scott, shrugged and replied, “All right,” in a tone that was difficult for the older sibling to decipher. Then he added, “Your friend sure asks a lot of questions.”

At that, Scott shook his head and grinned again. “Asking questions is something he does well. Will's a lawyer, from a family of lawyers. And he doesn't really know anything about ranching.”

Johnny looked directly at Scott, and speaking now with an undertone of anger, said “He sure seems ta know plenty ‘bout me.”

“What do you mean?” Scott asked carefully.

“I mean that my past is none a his business. I don't appreciate som'a th' things he was askin' me about,” Johnny responded coldly.

Scott looked down uncomfortably. “Well, Brother, I don't know what to say.”

“Well, Scott, it seems like maybe you said plenty already.” Scott looked up sharply at that, but Johnny was already walking away. Scott stood for a moment with his hands on hips, looking at the ground and thinking.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Later that afternoon, Scott, on Brunswick, allowed the white-footed chestnut to pick its way up the trail. Will was a few yards back, seated on Rambler. Scott had saddled his secondary mount for his friend, and they had set off on an afternoon‘s tour of the ranch. Will had never been much of a horseman, but so far the former infantry officer seemed to be managing fairly well, despite the disadvantage of having only one hand on the reins.

“If Harlan's associates could see you now, they'd never recognize you.” Will commented. There certainly wasn't much left in Scott's appearance that reflected the Boston dandy he once was.

“They would probably feel sorry for my grandfather,” Scott acknowledged, as he crested the rise and reined in his horse. “Spending all those years raising me in the ‘proper' manner, preparing me to take over his business.” Looking out over the view, he added, “And here I am in California.”

“Wade is having a fine time in your absence,” Will informed him. “He's acting like he's Harlan's grandson. Which I suspect he's always wanted to be.”

With a short laugh, Scott thought of Wade Garrett for the first time in months. He was the son of Harlan's first cousin. Wade was a squat, ugly, little man and the butt of many jokes. Scott looked at Will. “My grandfather is an intelligent man. He knows what Wade Garrett is after.”

“And perhaps he should give it to him, since you don't seem to want it,” Will shot back. “Your grandfather is still hoping you'll come back, you know,” he added.

Scott patted Brunswick's neck as he replied. “I know.”

“You do stand to inherit a considerable estate from Harlan,” Will reminded him.

Scott looked off in the distance once more. “Well, we aren't exactly on the best of terms,” he said with a sigh. During his visit with to Sacramento, Scott had shared a few of the details of his grandfather's visit to Lancer. It hadn't taken much listening between the lines for Will to recognize how deeply wounded Scott had to have been by the man's actions. Now he chose to skirt the topic of Garrett's betrayal of his grandson's trust.

“You're the only child of his only child, he'd never disinherit you. But what will you do when he does pass the company on to you?” Will asked curiously.

Scott sobered at the thought of something happening to his grandfather. “I don't know, Will.” He paused, at a loss as to what to say. “I just don't know.”

Will shrugged. “Well, maybe you can get Wade to stay on and run things for you,” he said lightly.

Scott's response was serious. “I'm not sure that would work. You know, I've always had the feeling that Wade just doesn't like me very much,” Scott reminded his friend.

“Well, as I said, I'm sure he'd love to replace you as Harlan Garrett's grandson.” Will shot Scott a sideways look before he continued on. “And, you know, it wasn't just “Toads” like Wade who disliked the amazing Scott Lancer,” he added, making reference to Wade Garrett's unfortunate childhood nickname. Will couldn‘t prevent the smile from curving his lips as he continued. “I assure you that all of us were, quite frankly, simply in awe of your intelligence, charm, and good looks, not to mention your inestimable way with the ladies. Everyone of us hated you for it, too.”

“You forgot to mention my being a rather remarkable dresser as well ... Or, at least, I used to be,” Scott said, deadpan.

Will laughed and gestured at Scott's beige work shirt. “Yes! Such sartorial splendor! Simply elegant! But, seriously, it's those gloves that complete the outfit!”

They both laughed at that comment, then Will sobered. “Truthfully, Scott, I received a letter from my brother George. As your grandfather's attorney, of course he couldn't be specific, but he did know that I'd be seeing you.” Will paused, frowning. “I may be reading into it more than George intended, but I wondered whether he was suggesting that your grandfather might decide to leave Garrett Enterprises to Wade.”

“I had a letter from Grandfather myself. He did mention that he was revising his will and that he intends to name cousin Wade as his secondary beneficiary. If anything happens to me, or if I decline to accept that part of the inheritance, the company will pass into Wade's hands.” Scott said quietly. He and his grandfather had exchanged several letters since the ill-fated visit, but the older man's missives had taken on a noticeably more formal tone than previously, even for him.

“I know you like it out here, Scott,” Will stated firmly. “But don't you miss Boston? Wouldn‘t you go back, if you inherited Harlan's estate?”

Scott looked at Will, carefully considering his response. “If Grandfather were no longer there, I'd have much less reason to return. If you're asking me if I miss our friends, the social life, the entertainments, yes, there are times when I feel homesick for all that.” He paused, adjusting his hat to block out the sun. “But do I miss working for my grandfather? No, Will, I don't. When the Pinkerton man handed me that card, I was tempted to throw it away. But by the next afternoon I knew that I would be going West. Partly to find meet Murdoch face to face ………and partly because …..well, quite frankly, I was bored.”

“And chasing cows isn't boring?” Will asked incredulously.

“There's more to ranching than chasing cows, Will.”

“I didn't mean to belittle the ranching business, I just can't imagine it being as lucrative as working for Harlan,” Will commented.

“It isn't really about the money. We do own considerable acres of some of the best land in the San Joaquin valley, with over 20,000 head of cattle. We each draw a salary, but most of the profits are put right back into the ranch. No one goes into the ranching business to get rich, I‘m afraid. But you know my finances.”

Scott decided that in addition to a change of topic, a change of scenery was in order. “There is one spot that I really want to show you. Let's stop along the river before it's time to head back to the hacienda.” The two young men turned their horses and headed back down the trail, Scott taking the lead and Will following on Rambler.

When they reached the riverbank, the two friends dismounted. The river was wide and slow at this spot, but the water flowed much faster just a short distance downstream. They stood for a time, contemplating the current and discussing their surroundings. In response to a question from Will, Scott explained that there were several streams and rivers that flowed through Lancer land. Will was surprised to learn that in addition to tending to livestock, stringing fences and surveying, Scott had also had to learn about building bridges and repairing dams.

They walked a short distance downriver until they came to a few overhanging trees and found themselves some comfortable seats in the leafy shade. Will settled back against a tree trunk, while Scott sat down on Will's left side, his long fingers absently tying knots in a strand of grass as he watched the river flow past. This particular spot was one of Scott's favorites, despite its association with his memory of a rather unpleasant event from his early days at Lancer. He and Teresa had stopped along the river on their way back from Morro Coyo following Scott's ill-fated clothes shopping trip and the altercation with three of Day Pardee's “land pirates” in Senor Baldemerro‘s store. Outnumbered, Scott had ended up being tossed out into the street, only to look up and see his brother seated in a chair on the boardwalk, just watching.

While Teresa and Scott were still at the riverside Johnny had ridden up on Barranca. Teresa had not been terribly pleased to see him, and had flounced away, but Scott had waited calmly while Johnny sauntered towards him. When Johnny had reminded him that he'd “told ya ta stay outta it,” Scott had “thanked” his brother for his “help” with a strong right hand punch which had sent the gunfighter tumbling down the banking. Johnny had gotten to his feet pretty quickly and come charging back up the slope, yelling that Scott was “nothing” to him. Teresa had intervened to prevent them from doing further damage to each other. Scott had been embarrassed at his loss of control, the more so because the girl had been a witness to it. In attempting to apologize, he had commented that the two of them were at Lancer for the same reason. Johnny had quickly pulled a twenty dollar gold piece out of his pocket, and announced that ‘that' was why he had come.

Scott had not told Will about all of the events of the brothers' first encounter, but he had shared with his friend his initial impressions of Johnny. Some of those thoughts had proven accurate, while others had not been borne out on further acquaintance. Despite their rocky start, the brothers had since forged a relationship, a strong bond, really. Unfortunately, things had not been going particularly well between them of late, and Scott realized unhappily that this was due in part to some of his own actions.

It was Will who brought up Johnny‘s name, with a joking comment about having heard him address Scott as “Boston”.

“Speaking of Johnny . . .” Scott paused uncomfortably. “What exactly happened between you two this morning?”

“Why?” Will asked. “What did your brother say?”

“That you were asking him questions. I assume about his past.”

Will gazed thoughtfully at Scott. “There were a few things that I wanted to ask him about. And I'll own up, Scott. I've done a little research into the career of Johnny Madrid.”

“He's Johnny Lancer now,” Scott reminded his friend.

“But you told me yourself, that he wasn't altogether certain, when he first arrived here, which one it would be.”

“That's right,” Scott acknowledged. “But then he made his choice.”

“Did he?” Will asked in a skeptical tone.

“Yes,” was Scott's forceful response. “He could have sided with Pardee. He chose Lancer.”

Abruptly, Will broke eye contact with Scott. Looking down at the ground, he said, “That was what I wanted to ask him about, actually. But our discussion didn't last long enough.” Will looked up at Scott once more, managing a slight smile. “Your brother isn't exactly a sparkling conversationalist.”

Scott disregarded that comment. “So what was it that you wanted to know, Will?”

“It seems that he worked with that outlaw, Day Pardee several years ago. . .did you know that Scott?”

It was evident from the look on Scott's face that he hadn't been aware of it. Still, he recalled that during the initial meeting with Murdoch, Johnny had made it clear that he'd known quite well who Day Pardee was. “Why does that matter, Will? Pardee is dead.”

Will stared out at the river. “Who killed him, Scott?”

“I did.” Scott had already described that incident to Will, explained how Pardee had been just outside the hacienda, how the rest of the land pirates had quickly dispersed once their leader had gone down.

“And how did your brother feel about that?” Will asked, without turning his head.

Surprised by the question, Scott took a moment to consider his response. “I'm not sure,” he said slowly. “Though I do recall that he complimented my shooting,” he added wryly. There was a brief pause, then Scott remembered something else. “Johnny said that he had shot Pardee himself, before he started riding toward the hacienda” Scott shook his head. “It looked for a moment as if he was leading the charge . .but then we recognized him and--”

“--he said that he shot Pardee?” Will asked quietly.

“Yes, that's right---”

“But you were the one who killed him?”

“Yes.”

“That's interesting,” Will said musingly. “You'd think that someone as good with a gun as your brother appears to be would have been able to do more than inflict a minor wound. If he had wanted to.”

Scott considered that. He could certainly understand why Johnny, or anyone else for that matter, would be very reluctant to kill someone with whom he had a past history, regardless of the present situation. But no matter how close his brother may have been to Pardee, Scott could not imagine that Johnny would hold the outlaw's death against him in any way. “Will, Johnny is my brother. You can stop worrying about him.”

Will sighed, then fixed his gaze on Scott. “It's you that I've been worried about. Your tendency to be too trusting.” He gave an embarrassed laugh. “Like it or not, I guess that I still think of myself as your big brother.”

Scott looked down, smiling to himself. Then he looked up and clasped his friend on the shoulder. “Thank you for that,” he said sincerely. Scott shifted his position so that he was seated with his back to a large rock and facing Will directly. “I do trust Johnny. And I don't believe that that trust is misplaced.”

“But he was a gunfighter, a killer for hire. That would bother most people.”

Scott smiled. “Well, as you might imagine, Grandfather was certainly horrified by the news. Of course, he seemed to be disapproving of just about everything about Johnny, even including that nickname which you seem to find so very amusing.” Scott became serious. “As far as Johnny's past, most people simply avoid the topic. Murdoch, and Teresa, well, I think that they just try not to think about what he once was.”

“And you?”

“And I? . . . Well, . . .given his circumstances, I can understand it.”

“He killed men for pay.”

“Will, we were soldiers, we killed . . .”

Will didn't allow Scott to finish that statement. “That was different. We were fighting for a cause,” he said, his voice taking on a hard edge.

“A cause. . . ,” Scott said slowly. “Yes, when I enlisted, it was for the cause. But out on the battlefield . . . . .how many men really thought about that?”

Will looked away. Seeing only the damaged side of his friend's face, with the black circle of his eye patch, Scott found it difficult to anticipate his reply.

“So you stopped believing in the Union? That's what my brother died for.”

There was a long pause. Scott looked down momentarily before looking up to meet Will's regard. “There weren't really any causes in Libby,” he said softly. “Will, I did things that I would never have believed that I'd do.”

“You were never a traitor.”

Scott nodded in agreement. “Yes, that's true. But Dan Cassidy believed that I was. And, given the right circumstances, perhaps . . .I might have been. What I learned in the War, was to never say ‘I would never' . .about anything.”

“There but for the grace of God . . .?”

Scott nodded.

“And so that's why you turned around and helped him . . . But, Scott, I know you,” Will assured him. “There are things that you would never do.”

“Are there? I hope so. I'd even like to think so. But no man ever really knows, until he has to choose. . .”

“Well, then, if you can't trust yourself, if you would never say ‘that you would never', then how can you be sure about anyone else, including your brother Johnny?”

For that question, Scott had no ready answer. Will Hayford, the lawyer, saw that there was no further need to press his point, because Scott Lancer had already made his argument for him.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Chapter 6

It was late the next morning and Johnny had already returned to the hacienda after riding fence lines for several hours. Now he was headed back towards the stable, but he stopped when he noticed Jelly pulling up with a loaded supply wagon, the new man, Andy, seated beside him. Johnny shook his head.

“Where have you been, Andy?” Johnny demanded, walking over to the buckboard as the young ranch hand clambered down. “I told you to go work with Chad today.”

“Mr. Lancer sent me to town with Jelly,” Andy Stovall replied, looking nervously up at him. He was a bit shorter than Johnny, stocky with black hair. “I told ‘im you said I was suppos'd ta work with Chad and he said I should go with Jelly instead.”

“Well, okay then, I guess you'd better help Jelly get the supplies unloaded,” Johnny said frowning. He was wondering why Murdoch had overruled him on this. After all, Jelly frequently did the supply run to town on his own. Johnny started to walk away, but turned towards the wagon once more when he saw Scott and Will Hayford approaching. Scott and his lawyer friend were about equal in height, but the one-armed man was broader in the shoulders than the blonde haired Lancer. A hat that Johnny recognized as one belonging to Scott covered Hayford's brown curly hair.

Scott greeted Jelly, and asked him about his trip to town. “Waal, the trip never seems ta get no shorter, Scott,” was the grizzled horse-wrangler's reply. “You'll have to let us know when that changes,” Scott said in amused response. Then he turned to address Andy. “We'll help Jelly get the wagon unloaded, Andy. I asked Frank if he would show you how to do repairs on some of the harnesses— I believe he's in the stable.”

“Okay, Mr. Lancer,” Andy replied, and quickly headed for the large building nearby.

“Wait a minute, Andy,” Johnny said quietly, as the young man walked past. “When you said “Mr. Lancer” told you to go with Jelly, who were you talkin' about?”

“Well…uh …Scott.” Andy answered uncertainly. “He's in charge of who does what, isn't he?”

Hearing the question as well as Andy's reply, and noting his brother's displeasure, Scott quickly stepped in. “Andy, why don't you just go ahead and find Frank.” Turning to Johnny, Scott started to explain: “I don't think that he meant----”

“He didn't mean what?” Johnny interrupted coldly. “He didn't mean that he thinks you're in charge around here?”

Scott pushed his hat back onto the crown of his head and looked his brother in the eyes. “Look Johnny, Andy's new. I know you wanted him to work with Chad but I just thought-----”

“ You thought!” Johnny said, with emphasis on the pronoun. “This ranch is a three-way operation, Scott, and you ain't the one that calls the tune.”

“I know that and I've never wanted it otherwise. I simply felt that it would be good for Andy to spend time with Jelly . . .”

“Or Frank? Or Walt? Anyone but Chad.”

Johnny flashed on the memory of how Chad had backed him up in town. When Johnny had launched himself at Reno, Chad had quickly taken on Reno's buddy Lumas.

Scott stood for a moment, hands on hips, staring at the ground. He was painfully aware that Jelly and Will were standing by the wagon, within earshot of the brothers' less than friendly conversation. Will couldn't see them, as they were standing off to his right, but he was listening intently. Jelly was in the process of loading Will up with a stack of mail and a few small packages to take inside the hacienda, all the while shooting worried glances at the two brothers. Andy had almost reached the open stable doors. The young man turned back to listen as Johnny's voice increased slightly in volume with his next statement.

Johnny took a step closer to his brother. “I'd sure like ta know what the Hell is wrong with you,” he said to Scott's profile. “It ain't like you to hold it against Chad just cause he sounds like some guard.”

Scott's head snapped up at the word “guard”, though his expression was unreadable; behind him, Will Hayford also reacted visibly to Johnny's comment.

“One of the guards at Libby?” Will asked in a concerned voice, looking directly at the Lancers and taking a few steps towards Scott.

“Leave it alone, Will,” Scott said in a low voice, turning his head briefly in his friend's direction, without really looking at him. Scott started slowly removing the work glove from his left hand, focusing his attention on that activity.

“Who does Chad sound like--- Carter?”

“Will, I said, leave it alone.”

Seeing Hayford's expression turn grim at being twice rebuffed, Johnny couldn't help but smile. He did sort of wish that he hadn't just brought up what Scott had confided to him about that prison guard, but it was pretty evident that Will Hayford already knew plenty about Scott's time at Libby, probably a lot more than Johnny did. The ex-gunslinger's voice was stone cold as he said, “Yeah, that's right, let's not talk about the past, huh, Boston? Not yours, anyway. . . though it seems like you and your friend think mine is fair game.”

Will stepped up. “I'm the one who was asking questions. Don't think that Scott has revealed any of your “secrets”.”

Johnny folded his arms against his chest. “So mebbe you're lookin' for something you can use against him? Well, it ain't gonna work. His grandfather already tried it.”

Will began an heated retort: “Against him?! You're just . .” but Scott cut him off with a harsh, “Shut up, Will.”

Hayford whirled away and moved angrily back towards Jelly and the wagon. The satisfied expression that was just crossing Johnny's face swiftly disappeared as Scott rounded on him. Holding his left glove in his still covered right hand, Scott gestured emphatically at his brother. “And you can leave my Grandfather out of this,” he said with fierce intensity.

Johnny looked down and shrugged. Truth be told, just like Scott's time in Libby, Harlan Garrett's behavior during his visit to Lancer wasn't something that Johnny would have ever planned on bringing up. “Yeah, well, at least he wanted ya,” Johnny offered.

Scott had started to walk away, but he now froze in place, then turned and fixed a searching, squint-eyed gaze on Johnny's face for a long moment. Then without saying a word, Scott turned his back once more.

“But hey, don't worry Boston, I'll still keep watching out for ya.”

Scott bristled at Johnny's announcement. “I can take care of myself.”

Johnny straightened up, looking Scott straight in the eye. “Fine. If that's the way you want it. You just better watch your back, cause I'm not gonna do it anymore.”

“Well, since that's settled, I think I'll go back to work.” Scott said, slipping his left hand back into his glove.

“Hey,” Johnny said, stepping up and grasping his brother by the arm. “Maybe you oughta be careful who you listen to,” he said, nodding in Hayford's direction. Scott's friend was headed towards the front door of the hacienda.

“I've known Will a very long time,” was Scott's cold response.

Johnny couldn't help asking, “Just like your grandfather?” though he stopped himself from adding: “He turned on ya.”

Scott shrugged his arm out of Johnny's grasp. “Well, neither one of them has ever . . .” His usually mild blue-grey eyes had stared hard into Johnny's sapphire colored ones, but he broke eye contact as his voice faded.

“Has ever what?' Johnny asked angrily, when Scott failed to complete his statement.

“Nothing.” Shaking his head, Scott turned once more, this time putting distance between them with a few long strides.

Johnny stood with his hands on his hips. “ They ain't never shot ya, like I did? Was that what you were gonna say?” Johnny demanded of Scott's departing figure. “Guess you really do think you can take care of yourself, if you're turning your back on me.”

Johnny's words filled the silence of the yard. On opposite sides, Will Hayford and Andy Stovall each stood motionless in stunned surprise at Johnny had said. Jelly held onto the edge of the buckboard and bowed his head. He had heard something about that, how one time Johnny had been forced to wound Scott in order to prevent his being killed by some gunmen who were out to get revenge on Johnny Madrid. No matter what the reason, it had to be something between them, that Johnny had put a bullet in his brother.

Jelly stood there shaking his head in dismay after the brothers moved off in their opposite directions. He remembered when he first met Scott n' Johnny, he'd been just like pretty near everybody else, he hadn't been able to believe that they were brothers. The two of them sure didn't look anything alike. They didn't act much alike, neither; which was no surprise, them having grown up so different, on opposite sides of the country. But once he'd gotten to know em, Jelly'd seen what it was that they had in common, they were both just good men. The boys'd each been able to see through their differences to find that in each other, too. And from what he knew about their upbringing, they'd each needed a brother somethin' awful. Jelly had heard enough to figure out that Johnny‘s mother had gone off and left Murdoch, she taken Johnny with her and then she'd up and died on him. And Scott, well, he'd never had a mother or father a'tall, just that sorry excuse for a grandfather of his. Jelly didn't know all the details about why those two boys hadn't been raised right here at the ranch, but one thing he did know, if'n they'd been his sons, neither hell nor high water coulda kept him away from ‘em. But it was something he sure hadn't ever asked the Boss about.

Murdoch slowly walked over from the front door of the hacienda and stood next to Jelly as they watched the boys walk away. Jelly wondered how much the Boss had heard of his sons' “discussion”. Plenty of people on the ranch were noticing, and commenting on, the fact that the two of them hadn't been getting on too well lately. The grey-bearded handyman slid a comment over to the tall rancher. “Someone oughta talk to them two.”

Murdoch stared out at the distance. “I'm going to send them out to check on that dam up at Grand Creek. Tomorrow, both of them.” Jelly thought about that. The dam was a passable distance away, seemed like Johnny and Scott would pretty much have to do some talking to each other, if they didn't just decide ta kill each other first and git it over with. Jelly sighed, then glanced up at Murdoch Lancer's grim profile. For someone who'd never raised any boys, the Boss sure did seem to know just what to do most of the time.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

The next morning, Johnny was up earlier than usual. He already had plenty to do and now Murdoch was sending him and Scott out to check up on that dam. Since he didn't have to meet Scott there until noon, Johnny hoped to get out and take care of a few things so that he wouldn't have so much work to do later in the afternoon.

Shirtless, clad only in his boots and tight black pants, Johnny stepped over to the armoire and opened up the right hand door. Damn if he didn't have only one clean shirt again. Well, it sure made it a lot easier to get dressed in the morning, no big decisions to make. He slid his arms into his old familiar faded-to-pink embroidered shirt. As he started to button it, he stopped, shook his dark head in disgust, and then looked into the empty armoire once more. Johnny heaved a sigh, continued buttoning up his shirt and then opened the left hand door and reached for a belt.

His gun belt, was of course, hanging on the bedpost; he never liked to have it far away, even when he was asleep in his own bed. There were several regular belts hanging on the hooks inside the cabinet.

Johnny had recently been doing some leatherwork, tooling designs into the smooth surface, and had crafted a few belts for himself. Scott had been interested in what he'd been doing and had asked Johnny quite a few questions about how he'd learned the skill. Reaching for his favorite belt, one that was rather wide and covered with intricate designs, Johnny recalled asking Scott what he'd thought of it.

“It's a lot of work,” had been Scott's mild response.

“Ya, but how d' ya like it?”

Scott had hesitated a moment before saying, “It's very . . . . decorative.”

Johnny smiled sardonically at the memory. Well, this belt he was putting on just wasn't Scott's style, though of course his well-mannered city boy brother had been too polite to say anything that might sound critical of Johnny's handiwork. But while Scott had been off in Sacramento, Johnny had purchased two belts that were similar to the ones that Scott usually wore –a plain black leather belt and a matching gun belt with simple silver buckles. He'd incised some small star-like designs into the surfaces of each of them, and on the gun belt a Lancer “L” on the left hip. He had hoped that Scott might like them, since they were nothing too “decorative”. Of course, Johnny had been planning on telling his brother that the “L” was for “left”, just in case he got confused in the morning when he was getting dressed. But given how things had been between them lately, Johnny didn't feel much at all like offering his older brother a gift. In fact, if he thought real hard, he figured that he just might come up with a few other things to do with a couple of belts . . .Johnny shut the door to the armoire a bit harder than he had intended, and headed downstairs for breakfast.

He was none too happy about Murdoch sending him and Scott out to check on that dam. Scott hadn't looked any more pleased when Murdoch had announced the project the previous evening, but neither of them had objected in front of the assembled mealtime audience. Grand Creek was more like a small river and it was true that the dam had been a concern for a while now, but it was pretty plain what the Old Man was trying to do. There sure wasn't any good reason for both of them to ride all that ways out there just to take a look at a pile of logs. Any one of the hands could have done it just as well. Johnny was pretty certain that if they spent all that time together going out there and back, they'd just find something else to disagree on. Well, the ride back, anyway. Johnny was heading out to the north pasture first and Scott probably had some other tasks of his own before they met at noon, and then they were supposed to both ride back to the hacienda.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Breakfasting on a slice of toast and cup of coffee, Will Hayford was reading in the Lancer Great Room when Teresa O'Brien entered, carrying a basket of mending. Will smiled at her and said “Good morning.” Teresa returned his greeting and then set to work on one of Johnny's shirts, shaking her head in dismay at how hard he was on his clothing.

Ever the hostess, Teresa made friendly conversation with Scott's guest, answering his questions about ranch life. After several minutes of listening to Teresa's descriptions, Will expressed his frank surprise at seeing Scott so comfortable in this new and different environment.

Teresa smiled uncertainly at that; Scott seemed to have adjusted quite well to life here at the ranch, but she had often wondered how much his missed his family, his friends, his “other life” back in Boston. Rather than responding right away, she concentrated on threading her needle, and Will went back to his book. The needle conquered, the girl looked over at him. After momentarily contemplating his visible profile, with the dark circle of his eye patch, she finally ventured a question of her own: “So how long have you known Scott, Mr. Hayford?”

“It's Will,” he reminded her with a quick smile. Hayford closed the book, and shifted slightly in his seat so that he could more easily focus on the young lady sitting across the way. “Scott and I grew up together, our houses were on the same street. If Scott hadn't been so blond, people would have mistaken him for the youngest Hayford, he spent so much time at our house.” Will shook his head. “He was all alone with his grandfather--- and my brothers and I allowed him to tag along with us.”

A shadow clouded the man's damaged face, and he lowered his gaze. “Of course, if it hadn't been for my example and my brothers', Scott might not have enlisted . . .”

Teresa was curious: “You all fought in the War?” she asked. “And how many of you were there?”

“There were three of us,” Will replied. “My oldest brother George was in the cavalry; now he's in legal practice with my father in Boston. John was killed at Gettysburg . . . . .we were in the infantry there together.”

“I'm sorry,” Teresa murmured.

“I was home by the time we received the news about Scott being captured and imprisoned at Libby . . . .it was like losing another brother.”

“But you knew he was still alive.”

“Yes, but the conditions in the Confederate prisons were notoriously bad. We had no way of knowing if he was sick or injured. There was no guarantee that he would survive his time there.”

“But he did,” Teresa observed soberly.

Will nodded. “Thank God.” He eyed Teresa speculatively. “Do you know about the escape attempt?”

“Yes. He survived that too . . . but it all must have been just a horrible experience.”

“I'm sure that it was. When Scott finally got home, he was still pretty sick and very thin. He didn't have an easy time of it. And the memory of those sixteen men who died weighed very heavily on him.”

Teresa looked down at the mending in her lap. “I'm sure that was very difficult,” she said unhappily.

“It would have been much more difficult if I hadn't had the help of a good friend,” was the quiet comment from a familiar voice. Startled, both Teresa and Will looked quickly towards the doorway, both wondering how long Scott had been standing there. Will recovered first, shaking his head ruefully. “I'd like to think that I was of some assistance,” he said. “But you had to sober me up first.”

Scott entered the room, placing his hat on a tabletop. “You had some difficulties of your own to contend with,” he commented mildly.

Will looked at him searchingly. “And hating you was one of them,” he stated flatly.

Teresa was startled by that remark: “Why??”

Hayford continued to keep his one good eye trained on Scott as he responded to the young woman's question. “He wouldn't allow me to get drunk, for one thing . . . For another, . . . he came back alive, and well.”

Scott crossed the room and took a seat near Hayford, placing himself on Will's left side. Resting his arms on his thighs, he looked down at his clasped hands, then back up at Will. “Alive at any rate. And in one piece.”

“Though not exactly whole. And definitely not the same,” was Will's quiet comment.

Scott stared at his hands and uttered only one short phrase: “That's true.”

“And true of a lot of men. Not whole. Not the same.” Will laughed mirthlessly. “Though I guess that that was an improvement for some.”

Partway across the room, Teresa sat motionless as she tried to fathom the hidden thoughts and meanings beneath the words of this conversation. She wondered whether the two men even remembered that she was in the room.

“No one could stay the same, Will. The War changed all of us.”

“Some more than others,” was Will's quick rejoinder.

“That's true,” Scott soberly agreed. Then he looked up and smiled apologetically at the concerned expression on Teresa's face. Placing his hands on his knees, he slowly stood, announcing that he had a full morning of ranch work ahead of him.

Inclining his head in Scott's direction, noting his friend's apparently typical uniform of beige checked shirt and black pants, Will smiled. “I did notice that you weren't exactly dressed for a ni . . …….socializing.” Scott, eyebrows raised, gave his friend a look, well aware of some activities that Will might have been tempted to mention if Teresa had not been present.

“Well, don't worry about me,” the lawyer added. “I have a few letters to write, and it will take me most of the morning.”

Scott nodded in comprehension. Will had had to painstakingly teach himself to write left-handed; while he could now do so with a fair degree of legibility, it was still a slow and tedious process.

Teresa rose and accompanied Scott to the entryway. “You're meeting Johnny later today?” she asked tentatively, when they had reached the front door.

“That's right,” he assured her. “Murdoch wants us to check on the dam at Grand Creek,” he added, quite unnecessarily.

“Scott…”

He fastened his serious pale blue eyes on her own darker, troubled ones. “Don't worry, Teresa. I do plan to talk to Johnny, square things.” Teresa smiled and nodded.

The young woman watched the tall blonde stride away. Once outside he slid his hat onto his head and headed towards the stables. Teresa thought about that day at the river, when she and Scott had been returning from Morro Coyo. Both she and Scott had been so angry at Johnny for not helping his brother in town, when Scott had had to fight off three of Pardee's men. Then Johnny had shown up at the riverside and Scott had punched him, knocking him to the ground. Teresa recalled that when she had scolded them for fighting, Scott had apologized right away, but Johnny had still been very angry. “It would be so like Scott to apologize,” she murmured to herself. “Even when he isn't entirely at fault.”

 

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Hours later, Scott Lancer was riding along, unaware that he was being observed from a distance. His own telescope was used to track his movements as he and Brunswick traveled in the direction of the dam that needed to be inspected. Scott kept the horse to a leisurely pace, since he was still early yet. From past experience, he knew that his younger brother was not likely to be ahead of schedule.

Dismounting in the small clearing opposite the dam, Scott saw that the ground was covered with horse prints. Apparently Johnny had been early, he noted with mild surprise. Glancing around, he saw no other sign of either his brother or Barranca. Scott assumed that Johnny had ridden further downstream, and would be back shortly. Looking out over the racing water, he realized with dismay that the dam had, in fact, been breached, and badly.

Scott slowly untied his canteen and approached the water's edge. He stepped over some large rocks and pieces of “driftwood”, the weathered and bleached wood that was called “dry kai” up in Maine. The water level in the creek was very high; the fast flowing current reminded him of some of the rivers that he had canoed up north. Glistening black rocks protruded from the swirling white water; at the moment it was certainly not a waterway that he would be anxious to navigate. Scott crouched down with his canteen in hand. Once the container had been filled, he removed his hat and leaned forward, putting his hand in the cool water and splashing it on his face. Hearing movements behind him, Scott half turned. “Johnny?” he asked. There was no response. Suddenly, he was stunned by a blow to the top of his head which caused his body to start to pitch forward. There was no other sound except for the loud splash as Scott Lancer hit the water, and quickly disappeared from view.

Satisfied, the assailant tossed the heavy piece of silvered wood to the ground. “Boston” had never seen it coming.

 

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CHAPTER 7

Late that afternoon, Johnny was riding back to the hacienda, keeping Barranca at a slow and steady pace, in no particular hurry to get home. Not surprisingly, his thoughts were focused on his brother and the recent hostilities between them. He shook his head, wondering how it had all escalated to this point. Yesterday's argument had started out just being about giving orders around the ranch and before Johnny had realized it they'd been talking about everything from Harlan Garrett's failed blackmail attempt to the time that Johnny had been forced to put a bullet in his older brother.

For all that Johnny had been told his entire life that he'd inherited his temper from his mama, he knew that Scott had one too. His brother might be able to hold a lid on things longer, keep a careful guard on his words, but every once and a while he'd explode into action. Johnny tended to be more verbally impulsive; it seemed he was too often saying things that he'd regret, but he was usually firmly in control of his actions. It seemed as if for the past week, maybe longer, the unexplained anger had just laid there between them, simmering, waiting to boil over. After yesterday's argument, the two of them hadn't said two words to each other; they had even managed to avoid spending much time in the same room. This morning, Johnny had left the house very early. Then, when he'd arrived at the river, he'd been waiting for Scott and . . ..

“Johnny!” Teresa's voice broke into his thoughts, greeting him as he rode past the front door of the hacienda. “Supper will be ready in an hour.”

“All right,” Johnny replied quietly, continuing on to the small stable where some of the family's horses were housed. He had plenty of time to feed and groom Barranca before he had to get himself cleaned up for the evening meal.

 

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Johnny and Chad entered the dining room together, both moving to their customary seats at the table. Teresa, wearing a blue dress this evening, was already seated to Murdoch's right, and Johnny settled himself beside her. Chad sat on Murdoch's left, in the chair that had formerly been Scott's. Will Hayford, wearing a jacket and tie, was beside Chad, and Scott's new place at the end of the table, opposite Murdoch, remained empty.

“Aren't we going to wait for Scott?” his friend inquired.

“I'm sure he'll be along directly,” Murdoch replied. “It's time to begin.”

Teresa commented in a concerned tone on Scott's uncharacteristic tardiness, but Johnny assured her that even Scott wasn't always on time. The company reached for their napkins in anticipation of the start of the meal.

Three long white tapers were lit in the silver candelabra in the center of the table. The surface was set as usual, with white dishes decorated with pale blue violets. The silverware had the Lancer “L” etched on the handle of each utensil. A crystal glass filled with water, a glass for wine, and a cup and saucer for coffee after dinner accompanied each table setting. Juanita bustled out of the kitchen to place a serving bowl filled with corn and another one of mashed potatoes on the table. Maria followed closely behind her carrying a platter of roast beef that she deposited beside Murdoch. In her other hand she had a dinner plate that she set down in the empty spot in front of Will. Senor Scott had requested that she please have his friend's meat cut up for him before it came to the table. Maria hurried from the room and quickly returned with a gravy boat and a basket of biscuits.

As the assembled diners began to serve themselves, Murdoch commenced his inquiry into the day's activities. “How did riding the fence line go today, Chad?” Murdoch asked as he lifted several thick slices of roast beef onto his plate. Johnny was ladling vegetables onto his plate while still listening intently for his cousin's response. He recognized that Murdoch was trying to build up Chad's confidence by giving him some tasks to perform all on his own.

“Shore looks like we need ta' replace a section of the fence up towards the Eastern line shack,” Chad said putting a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.

“We'll get a crew out there tomorrow to work on it. Perhaps Scott . . .” Murdoch glanced again at Scott's empty chair. “Were there any other sections that you noticed needing repair?”

“Waal, there are some parts ta' the fence ‘bout a mile past the road ta' town that could use some work,” Chad replied. “That shore is mighty pretty country up there,” he added. “The birds was a singin' and I even saw a coupla deer while I was up that way.”

“We'll have to get a crew out there, before winter sets in, ” Johnny commented as he accepted the meat platter from Teresa.

Teresa politely addressed a question to their guest. “Mis. . .Will, what did you do today?” she asked him with a smile.

“Oh, I spent most of the day in my room, getting caught up on some reading, and I wrote those letters to people back home,” Will replied, taking a sip of wine.

“You must not have heard me then, when I knocked. I did some baking today and thought that you might like a taste.”

“I'm very sorry to have missed that Teresa—both the baked goods and the pleasure of your company,” he assured her. “It was such a nice day that I did go outside for a walk.” Then nodding in the direction of his friend's vacant place, Will added, “I had expected to see Scott this afternoon.”

“Murdoch.” Teresa said worriedly. “What do you think is keeping him?”

“Is he upstairs?”

Johnny supplied the answer. “He ain't back here yet. I just came in from the stable and Brunswick's stall's still empty.” Johnny had spent more time grooming his palomino than he had planned and was still wearing the faded pink shirt that he had worked in all day.

“You didn't ride back from Grand Creek together?”

Johnny looked up from his plate and set down his fork. “Murdoch, Scott never showed. I looked around and checked out the dam. Waited half an hour or so for ‘im. I figured when he showed up, he'd take a look and we could talk about it at dinner.”

“He may have been helping the crew with the bridge,” Murdoch mused aloud. “That group isn't back yet.” He knew that it wasn't like Scott to ignore his “assignment”, but perhaps voicing this possibility would keep Teresa from growing even more concerned. One thing was evident; wherever Scott had been, Murdoch's plan to force his sons to spend time together had been thwarted.

Will addressed Johnny across the table. “He did say that he would be back here after meeting you at Grand Creek.”

“Like Murdoch said, he probably got busy helping the crew finish that bridge.”

“Isn't it unusual for them to put in such a long day?” Will asked.

“Normally, yeah,” Johnny replied, somewhat irritated by Hayford's probing tone. ”But they were gonna to stay out til the bridge was finished. Without it we can't get to the cattle in the east pasture without having to go out of our way.”

“Just the same, Johnny,” Murdoch said seriously. “After you finish eating, maybe you should head out and meet your brother.”

The dark-haired Lancer nodded, drained his glass of milk and then pushed his chair back. “Might as well head out now.” He looked over at his cousin. “Chad, you wanna come with me?”

Neither of the young men noted the displeased expression on Murdoch Lancer's face as he listened to Johnny's invitation and Chad's quick response. Replying with a “Shore, Johnny,” Chad stood up, grabbing a biscuit from the basket and snatching a piece of roast beef from his plate. Johnny strode over to the front entrance and paused to remove his gun belt and hat from the tree near the door. Just then there was a knock on the heavy wooden panel. Johnny opened the door and said, “Hi Sam, come on in.”

Sheriff Sam Jayson entered, removing his hat. “Hey, How are ya Johnny? Chad? Hungrily eyeing the food on the table, he addressed Murdoch. “Sorry to interrupt your dinner, Mr. Lancer. I just wanted ta' drop this bill off for Johnny.” He pulled a slip of paper out of his vest pocket.

“Bill?” Murdoch asked, his eyes narrowing as he slowly stood. “What bill?”

“For damages to the saloon. Johnny agreed to pay after he got in that fight with Lumas and Reno.” Sheriff Jayson explained as Murdoch approached.

“Fight?! Johnny, how many times are you….” Murdoch started to say, but Johnny interrupted him.

“Murdoch, you can yell at me later.” Johnny said, grabbing the bill out of the Sheriff's hand. “If we're going to go meet Scott before dark, we need ta head on out.”

Murdoch started to ask Jayson another question, when Cipriano Sanchez appeared in the doorway.

“Senor Lancer,” the Segundo announced solemnly. “The bridge is finished.”

“Scott, was he out there with you?” Murdoch asked gruffly.

“No, Senor,” the foreman replied, shaking his head. “I have not seen Senor Scott today.”

“Cipriano , Scott didn't meet up with Johnny at noon.” Murdoch explained, concern written on his face. “He's probably fine, maybe his horse went lame or threw a shoe.” The big rancher paused, while everyone present considered that if something like that had happened to Scott at noontime, he would have to have been walking very slowly not to have made it back to the hacienda by now. “We'll follow both routes to the dam. Johnny, you and Chad head to the tree line and go along the river; Cipriano and I will cut across the pastures, meet you at the dam site.”

“Hey, I'll come along,” Sheriff Jayson offered. Murdoch nodded his acceptance. “Then you ride with me, Sheriff.” He turned to his Segundo. “Cipriano, you head out with Johnny and Chad. You know where to check. The Sheriff and I will take the direct route to the dam.”

Johnny moved towards the wall of shelves, then turned back to address the room, a puzzled expression on his face. “Anyone seen Scott's telescope? Thought it might come in handy . . .”

Murdoch's brow furrowed. “It's usually there on the shelf with my stereo-opticon,” he said, referring to the instrument that Scott had purchased as a gift for the first birthday that Murdoch had celebrated after the boys' return home. It was actually the second stereo-opticon that Scott had ordered from “back East”, after he had given the first one to the girl Trina so that the house bound young artist could “see the world”.

Will Hayford rose from his seat and joined the discussion, Teresa following him from the table with an anxious expression on her face. “Look in the stable,” he suggested. “Scott wanted to bring it along when he gave me a tour of the ranch, but then we both forgot about it, and it was left behind.”

Johnny nodded. “Let's get saddled up,” he said to Chad and the two of them headed for the door. Cipriano also prepared to depart, quietly stating that he would ready the patron's horse.

“Mr. Lancer, I'd like to come along also, if you don't mind,” Will requested politely.

Murdoch looked at his son's one-armed friend. “Fine,” Murdoch said, after a brief hesitation. “You can ride with the Sheriff and me.” Murdoch reached for his own gun belt as he shouted out the door—“Johnny, saddle up Rambler for Mr. Hayford, he'll be joining us.”

While Cipriano hurried towards the smaller stable to prepare Murdoch's mount, Johnny paused in the doorway of the larger building where Rambler was housed. Chad was already inside, heading directly to Buford's stall to saddle up the big bay. Johnny noticed Andy Stovall just unsaddling his horse; he didn't recall hearing that Andy had been assigned to the bridge crew and briefly wondered where the young man had been today.

“Hey, Andy, could ya saddle up Rambler and take him to the house for Scott's friend?”

“Yes, sir,” Andy responded, heading for Rambler's stall. Johnny hurried off to the next building to get Barranca. A few minutes later, Johnny and Chad each exited their respective barns, joined Senor Sanchez and rode out to look for Scott.

 

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The sun was lowering when the two search parties met as planned near the Grand Creek dam site. As they headed towards the clearing opposite the dam, Cipriano rode alongside Murdoch Lancer. The Segundo informed his employer that he, Chad and Johnny had seen no sign of the rancher's elder son. As the group entered the small open area, those in the lead were surprised to see Brunswick standing there. The spirited chestnut reacted nervously to the approaching group of riders, and Cipriano quickly dismounted and walked over to calm the animal. Murdoch scanned the area, but there was no other evicence of Scott. Will reined Rambler to a halt behind Murdoch, but Johnny on Barranca continued past him, shouting his brother's name. Cipriano handed Brunswick's bridle up to Johnny and started towards the river's edge.

Chad tried to edge Buford past Will. “Wait!” Hayford exclaimed forcefully. “Wait . . . before we tramp all over the area, perhaps we'd better let the Sheriff take a look at the tracks on the ground?”

Murdoch Lancer turned in the saddle, pushing his hat back on his head to regard his son's friend. “Scott is missing, after all,” Hayford explained in response to Murdoch's questioning look. “We wouldn't want to destroy any evidence . . that might help us find him.” “Right, Sheriff?” Will asked, seeking support from the man on horseback directly behind him.

From his place at the rear of the company, Sheriff Sam Jayson appeared to be somewhat disconcerted by suddenly having everyone's attention focused upon him. The way was parted for the sandy haired lawman to ride to a position alongside Murdoch. He slowly dismounted. As Jayson stood staring at the ground at his feet, Johnny couldn't help but feel a grim amusement. He remembered the time when he and Sam had ridden out after Scott, Jelly and the Calhouns, father and daughter. Johnny had busted his brain trying to out guess Scott, to figure out what his brother would to do to throw him off the trail. It had been pretty evident that Sam hadn't known the first thing about tracking. If it hadn't been for Johnny, they would have never found the fugitive miners' hideout and all of those people would have died from eating the contaminated food that Scott and Jelly were unwittingly bringing to them.

It now fell to Cipriano to point out to the Sheriff the two sets of hoof prints—Barranca's and Brunswick's. The big foreman crouched down near the ground and calmly indicated Barranca's distinctive treads; Johnny's palomino had wider hooves than Scott's chestnut.

“Juanito said he was here, and here are his tracks.” Then, Sanchez addressed Johnny in Spanish, pointing out that Barranca's front shoes seemed to be quite worn.

“Se, Tio,”Johnny replied. “Been meaning ta take care of that,” he added in English. In response to the quizzical glances from the other men, including the already puzzled Sheriff, the Segundo indicated the rounded edge of one of the horseshoe marks. “These here are from Senor Scott's horse,” he added, gesturing towards another series of prints.

“No other horse?” Will asked from his place behind Murdoch.

Eyes quickly sweeping the area, Cipriano shook his head. “No, Senor.”

“What about foot prints?” was the lawyer's next question.

Sam Jayson looked around, trying to make sense of the tracks on the ground. “Hey, here's one set . . . and these over here are a little bigger.”

“That'd be Scott,” Johnny said quietly, indicating some of the clearer prints. He slowly dismounted. “These here are mine,” he announced. Meanwhile, Cipriano walked once more towards the edge of the creek bed. Carefully stepping onto some of the large rocks at the shoreline, he bent down, with his back to the company. Straightening, he turned held up a canteen.

“That Scott's?” Chad asked.

“Guess so,” was Johnny's response as he took a few steps to meet Cipriano and accepted the container. “It's full,” he informed Murdoch as he handed the canteen up to his father.

“Any sign of him?” Murdoch asked his Segundo in a concerned voice. Cipriano shook his head in response and then returned to the river.

Chad awkwardly lowered himself to the ground and he and Sam Jayson followed Cipriano back over to the water's edge. Behind Murdoch, Will Hayford began to carefully dismount as well.

As the Lancer foreman scanned the waterway, studying the breached dam, Chad peered downstream. “I see something,” the tall Kentuckian announced. As Murdoch watched from astride his big bay horse, with Johnny standing alongside him still holding Brunswick's reins, Chad ducked his head below some branches and moved off to the left, disappearing from view. Will moved into a position between Johnny and Murdoch, the three of them waiting to learn what Chad had seen. Although no longer visible, he could be heard splashing along the creek. When Chad came back into sight, he was holding an object in his hand. “Uh, . . looks like Scott's hat,” he announced in a worried tone, holding up the damp piece of headgear.

Both Johnny and Will stepped towards Chad at the same time. Chad moved directly to Johnny and placed the sodden hat into his cousin's hands.

Behind him, Cipriano turned and addressed Senor Lancer. Johnny had already alerted the searchers to the condition of the dam; now the stolid foreman issued his own terse assessment. As he commented as well upon the force of the current, something to the right caught his eye. There, protruding from the branches of a thick bush, was one end of a piece of river “driftwood”. Grasping the heavy, whitened chunk of wood, Cipriano pulled it from the brush and examined it carefully; he then grimly approached Murdoch. Even Sheriff Jayson registered that the log would make a fine club, before hearing Murdoch's verdict to that effect. Noting the dark stain on the silvered surface, the dour faced rancher shook his head in disbelief. “That could be blood,” he stated flatly, handing the piece of wood to Johnny, who nodded his agreement. “I guess I'd better hang on to it then,” Sam Jayson observed, a mixture of hesitation and self-importance in his voice. With a stunned expression on his damaged face, Will Hayford walked slowly over to the creek's edge and stood with his left hand in his jacket pocket, contemplating the racing current and the dark rocks looming in the fading light.

Not one of the men spoke. Apparently no one wanted to be the first to give voice to the possibility that Scott Lancer had somehow ended up in Grand Creek, let alone speculate aloud as to how that might have happened. Finally Murdoch Lancer forced himself to take charge, giving directions from astride his large horse. “Johnny, you and Chad head down stream on foot, see how far you can go. The under brush may be too thick to go any distance,” he warned.

While Johnny and Chad headed downstream along the creek bed, Cipriano canvassed the clearing once more. In the deepening twilight, the other men could hear Johnny and Chad thrashing in the underbrush, slipping on the rocks and splashing in the water, all the while shouting out for Scott. There was no response, just the constant noise of the rushing water. The two young men hadn't gotten very far when Murdoch resignedly called them back.

When Johnny and Chad rejoined the others in the clearing, they looked damp and discouraged.

“There's no moon tonight, not much we can do after dark, Murdoch,” Johnny said. “We're gonna have ta wait for daylight to do much lookin'”. Chad nodded his head in emphatic agreement, while Sheriff Jayson started to offer to return early the next morning to assist in the search.

Will interrupted the lawman. “I think we'll certainly need you, Sheriff,” he said from his spot by the water. “It looks as if Scott may have been attacked.”

“Now whoever mighta done somethin' like that would be long gone by now,” Chad pointed it out.

“Perhaps,” the lawyer answered. “Johnny, I believe you said that you were here at noon?”

Johnny bristled at the emphasis on “said”, but answered the question in a neutral voice. “That's right.” “Like I said ,” he added, placing his own emphasis on the word, “Scott never showed.”

“Well, obviously he was here at some point. And you never came back to look for him?”

“No,” Johnny said, folding his arms across his chest. “I waited for ‘im a while, then I went for a ride, til it was time to head back to the hacienda.”

“Johnny already tole us alla this,” Chad objected. Sheriff Jayson stood between Johnny and Will, his head twisting back and forth as he followed the discussion. Cipriano Sanchez stared grimly at Will Hayford. Murdoch Lancer did not seem to be following the conversation as he sat staring out over the water, his eyes gazing unseeingly at the remains of the dam.

Will looked down at the ground, apparently lost in thought. Abruptly, he glanced up at Johnny. “How long have you been missing that button?” he asked.

Several pairs of eyes focused on the front of Johnny's pink shirt. The second button was indeed missing. Under this scrutiny, Johnny replied in a voice that was deadly calm. “Well, Will, since ya think it's any of your business, it was missin' when I got dressed this mornin'.”

“But you put that shirt on anyway?”

Under the circumstances, it seemed like a stupid thing to be asking, and Johnny was not about to admit to Scott's damnably inquisitive friend that he'd only had the one clean shirt to wear. Before he could offer any sort of retort, Hayford bent down and picked something up off of the ground. “Is this it?” he asked, approaching Johnny with his hand extended. Will was holding a small barrel-shaped white button similar to the ones on Johnny's faded shirt.

Johnny reluctantly accepted the object. It sure seemed to be the missing button all right.

Will directed his next comment up to Murdoch Lancer, who was still on horseback. “It could have fallen off in a struggle.”

Johnny and the others stared at Hayford in disbelief. “You ain't suggestin' what I think you're suggestin' . . .” Johnny said menacingly, dropping Brunswick's lead as he clenched his fists and stepped towards the one-armed man. Cipirano placed a hand on the Johnny's shoulder as Chad exclaimed: “Johnny would neva do nuthin' like that!” Cipriano nodded his head in emphatic agreement while Murdoch regarded Will with a stone-faced expression. Behind Will, Sheriff Sam Jayson rubbed at his moustache, looking both apprehensive and concerned.

“It wasn't a random act—robbers would have taken Scott's horse or at least emptied his saddlebags,” Will pointed out, gesturing towards Brunswick's back. The saddlebags did indeed appear to be full, the straps still secured. Even Scott's carbine remained in its sheath.

In the face of hostile glares from the men before him, Will Hayford stood his ground. Moving his head in order to fix his one good eye upon each of them in turn, he stated forcefully: “There were only two sets of prints here, Scott's and Johnny's . .. and every one of you is a witness to that.”

Cipriano gripped Johnny's shoulders with both hands, speaking to him in a low voice in Spanish. Responding in the same tongue, the furious young man shrugged off the restraining hands and moved towards his horse. Leaping up onto Barranca's saddle, Johnny spurred the animal and quickly left the small clearing behind. Chad hastily clambered up onto Buford and noisily followed his cousin.

Murdoch Lancer glared down at Will Hayford. “Hayford,” he said coldly, “You don't know Johnny, so you can't possibly understand how far off the mark you are here.” He paused ominously. “All I can say is that if you weren't Scott's friend and our guest . . . “

Without completing his statement, Murdoch wheeled his horse and left. Cipriano hurriedly mounted his own horse, and taking Brunswick's lead, rode after the angry rancher.

In the growing darkness, Will Hayford, a determined expression on his face, laboriously climbed aboard Rambler. A thoroughly bewildered Sheriff Sam Jayson was the last man to leave the clearing.

 

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Chapter 8

Once he had put some distance between himself and the accusations that Will Hayford had made in the clearing, Johnny eased Barranca's pace. The shadows were deepening, and there was nothing to be gained in risking having the horse stumble. A few moments later, when he recognized the heavy tread of Chad's horse Buford coming up behind him, Johnny slowed Barranca to a walk. Chad reined in his own animal and the two young men rode side by side in silence.

Chad made several half-hearted attempts at conversation. His feeble assurances that Scott Lancer was bound to turn up unharmed, his stubborn insistence that no one with a lick of sense would think for one minute that Johnny had turned against his brother, even his angry castigation of the one-eyed “Yankee” lawyer, all were met with monosyllabic grunts from his dark-haired cousin.

It was only when Chad posed a direct question that he received any real response from Johnny. “So, Johnny, did I hear right that you and Scott had some kinda big argumint yestiday?”

“Yeah, you heard that right,” Johnny replied with a heavy sigh. He didn't bother to ask his cousin just how he had heard about it. With so many people living and working together every day, there weren't too many secrets on a ranch. Johnny knew that Hayford, Jelly and the new man, Andy, had all been witnesses to the angry “conversation” between the brothers, but there was no telling who else might have also been within earshot. Evidently Murdoch had heard plenty, since he had been so determined to send the two of them off together to investigate the dam.

Murdoch and Cipriano, with Scott's horse Brunswick trailing behind them, finally caught up with Johnny and Chad. The two older men did not offer a greeting; the foursome continued on without a word. Further back, Will Hayford and Sheriff Sam Jayson were conversing; Johnny could hear snatches of the exchange as their voices carried over the sound of the hoof beats in the still night. It sounded as if Hayford was quizzing Sam about his experience as a lawman. Johnny smiled sardonically to himself; the Harvard lawyer was not likely to be much impressed. Sam was a decent enough man, he tried to do a good job, but he sure wasn't any great shakes as a lawman. No one would ever claim that Sam Jayson was the smartest person that ever pinned on a badge.

Although outwardly calm, as he sat in a relaxed posture, moving with Barranca's gentle rhythm, Johnny's mind was brimming with dark swirling thoughts. Chief among them was the cold fear that Scott had, somehow, ended up in the dark, flowing waters of Grand Creek. As infuriated as he had been by Will Hayford's insinuations, Johnny reminded himself that no one else was very likely to pay attention to that kind of talk. He certainly couldn't allow himself to be distracted by the man's accusations; he had to find his brother and then figure out what had actually happened. The thing that was the most disturbing was the discovery of the button. Johnny knew, he absolutely knew for a fact, that it had been missing when he put that embroidered shirt on early this morning. He'd checked several times since just to be sure that there was still only one missing. How could the button have gotten out here? He'd seen Hayford pick it up off the ground with his own eyes.

If that button raised a host of questions, well, on the face of it, the piece of wood with the dark stain was a lot less mysterious. When Cipriano had been holding the log, it had looked like nothing so much as a club. The rocks and the cold temperatures of the rapid current would be bad enough, but if a man went into the water already injured . . . . Murdoch had speculated that the dark spot could be blood and Johnny had quickly agreed with him, but now he considered that the whitened length of wood could have any sort of discoloration on it.

Johnny tried not to think about what it meant that Chad had located Scott's hat a little ways down stream. He shook his head now, suddenly wondering what had happened to that hat. Johnny could recall taking it from Chad, but then later he had been holding the piece of silvered drift wood in his hands, and still later balling them into fists, wanting very much to shut Will Hayford up by planting a punch on the man's jaw. At some point, he must have unthinkingly dropped the hat or passed it off to someone. Johnny half turned, about to question his cousin, then thought better of it. He didn't really feel like starting up any conversations. If no one else had picked it up, then his brother's hat would still be there in a few hours. Johnny didn't figure on getting any sleep tonight, just getting back to the hacienda and gathering some gear together, then heading back to the creek in time to be there by first light.

Imagining what they might find sent an unpleasant chill traveling down Johnny's spine, and he reflexively spurred Barranca to a slightly quicker pace. In an effort to avoid dwelling on that topic, he tried to direct his thoughts to more pleasant images of his brother, alive and well. But rather than a smiling Scott, his troubled mind instead latched onto grim faced recollections of the previous day's argument. As different as the two of them were, it really was kind of amazing that he and Scott argued so rarely. What bothered Johnny the most about yesterday's confrontation was that both he and Scott had simply walked away, neither one of them making the least effort to “square“ things. They'd sat within arms length at supper last night, without saying one word to each other the whole time. Even when Murdoch had announced that the two of them would be riding out to Grand Creek to check on the dam, they'd focused their attention on him, hadn't even so much as glanced at each other.

What was most surprising was that, although usually Scott was pretty quick to apologize whenever he thought he'd done or said something wrong, he hadn't done so this time. Johnny's thoughts drifted back to that first day soon after the brothers had arrived at the ranch, the day that they'd fought down by the river. His new brother had been pretty angry that Johnny hadn't tried to help him when Scott had been attacked by three of Day Pardee's boys in town. That was the only time that Johnny could remember that Scott had ever actually struck him and ol'Boston sure had thrown a pretty strong punch. Unconsciously rubbing his jaw, Johnny recalled Scott saying that he couldn't resist “thanking you for your help, Brother.” He shook his head; it was funny how Scott had started calling him that right away, “Brother”, even when the Easterner probably hadn't been all that happy about the fact that they were related. Well, Johnny figured he'd had it coming then, even though a big reason why he hadn't helped Scott was that he just hadn't been ready yet for his old friend Day to know about his connection to Murdoch Lancer. And Scott must have managed to hold his own pretty good against Coley and the others, at least judging from the length of time that passed from when Day's boys went into the store after him to when the city boy had been sent rolling out into the street.

Anyway, when Teresa had gotten all fired up and scolded them about “brothers fighting,” Scott had been real quick to offer an apology. He'd meant it too, no question there. Apologizing was always a bit more difficult for Johnny. He'd wait and worry. Of course when he knew he was in the wrong, he wasn't one to back off, he had every intention of accepting the responsibility. It wasn't that. He just hated that feeling of vulnerability, wondering whether the reason that he had to offer, if the regret that he had to express would actually be accepted by those he cared about.

Scott had never been one to let his pride or anything else stand in the way of the two of them being on good terms, or at least he hadn't up to now. If he was in the wrong, he'd step right up and say so. Even when Scott was right, he'd still like as not say he was sorry for getting angry, or for something particular that he'd said, which made it that much easier for the other man to come back with an apology of his own. Not this time though.

Realizing that things had gone too far, Johnny had been more than ready to make the first move. He'd made a point of arriving at the dam site early, determined to patch things up with Scott. He'd grown more and more irritated when his typically punctual brother didn't show, and after waiting until a good half hour past noon, he'd left in disgust, gone for a ride to clear his head. Obviously Scott had gotten there sometime later. And maybe someone else had turned up too, someone who had taken Scott by surprise. But it was true that there didn't seem to be any sign of anyone else, so perhaps his brother had simply slipped and fallen. Johnny bowed his head and expelled an audible breath. If only he'd waited a little longer. If only he'd gone back to check for Scott before he'd ridden for home.

 

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Having unsaddled Barranca, Johnny went through the grooming ritual once more. He'd already spent considerable time currying the palomino earlier, but he needed to go through the motions again. His own emotions were in such a state of upheaval that he was reluctant to go inside to face the concerns, fears, and unanswered questions of the rest of the household. In the past, he'd found that the rhythmic movements of brushing the horse's hide seemed to help smooth his own tangled thoughts.

But it didn‘t seem to be helping now.

“At least he wanted ya.” As it had several times since yesterday, the phrase echoed in his mind. Johnny could once more hear those words, uttered in his own voice, what he‘d said to Scott about his grandfather. “At least he wanted ya.” Each time that he recalled the phrase, Johnny mentally berated himself once more. He never should've said anything about the man, but strangely enough, he'd really intended it as a compliment of sorts to Garrett. After all, Scott's grandfather had raised him, done a damn fine job of it too. Johnny had suspected that back at the beginning, there had been a decent length of time when Scott could have gone either way—decided to remain at Lancer or headed back to Boston; after all, his brother had family in both places. There was no question that his grandfather had been willing to fight for Scott. Even though there was no way around the fact that Garrett's behavior during his visit to the ranch had amounted to a betrayal of his grandson's trust, Johnny had to credit the old man for making an effort. Sure, he'd fought dirty, but at least he'd fought. Which was a lot more than Murdoch Lancer had ever done, even when his eldest son had been about to head back East. Murdoch hadn't put up any kind of fight at all; he hadn't even told Scott flat out that he wanted him to stay.

And evidently Murdoch hadn't done much fighting when Scott was a kid, either. He'd always known right where Scott was, just hadn't done anything about it. The brothers hadn't ever really talked about that very much. Scott had made a comment once that made it sound as if he suspected that his Grandfather would have put up some kind of big legal battle to keep him in Boston, speculating that perhaps Murdoch hadn't wanted to put his son through that. Johnny hadn't been at all impressed with the theory, though of course he hadn't let his brother know it. Hell, Scott had been just a kid, even if he had been badly “hurt” by a custody case, Murdoch could have had twenty years to make it up to him, instead of twenty years of nothing.

What Murdoch had done during those twenty years was to spend a lot of time and money looking for Johnny and his mother. Those Pinkerton reports were the proof of it. Johnny knew that his brother had read most of the documents on “Johnny Madrid”. At one point Johnny had even resolved to read what information Murdoch had on Scott, planning on giving his brother a hard time if the Bostonian's history wasn't as purely fascinating as his own gun slinging career. Well, there had just been a thin folder with a couple of pages inside, information that was only a year old. That had been it. It had been something they both had to have recognized--how much effort Murdoch had made over the years trying to bring Johnny back to the ranch and how he'd done nothing about Scott, but neither one of them had ever said anything about it.

When Johnny had uttered those words, “At least he wanted ya,” Scott had frozen in place. Then he'd turned and squinted at Johnny appraisingly. And that's when Johnny had seen it, a flicker of pain, quickly masked. And he'd known, he'd just known deep down, that his brother had believed that he was being taunted with a reference to the fact that Murdoch Lancer had not wanted him. Well, Johnny had spent his childhood believing that his father hadn't cared about him; Scott must have felt the same way. The difference was that Johnny now knew that hadn't been true, but Scott, well, Scott didn't. But Scott had obviously decided that the past was past and he was now trying to forge a relationship with Murdoch, man to man. Most of the time it seemed to be working too.

Johnny sighed. The disparity in Murdoch Lancer's actions in respect to his two sons was something else he would never have planned on bringing up. He didn't see how he was ever gonna apologize to Scott for something that he hadn't really meant to say, that he only suspected that maybe Scott had taken the wrong way. Seemed like bringing it up would make it worse rather than better, especially if he'd been mistaken, misread that flicker he was convinced that he'd seen move across his brother's face. Of course, he realized, he might never have the opportunity to bring it up at all. Johnny rested his head on his arms across Barranca's broad back, while cold fear gripped his heart.

 

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Jelly stared sympathetically at Johnny's motionless figure as he entered the stable with Brunswick. He knew that the younger Lancer had to be very worried about his older brother, but he resolved to wait and see if Johnny felt like talking about it. Hearing Jelly enter, Johnny resumed brushing Barranca, but failed to acknowledge the older man. Jelly led Brunswick to the adjacent stall and removed his saddle and bridle. Once each piece of tack had been hung in its designated spot, the grizzled handyman grabbed a brush and began working on Scott‘s horse.

“Come on now, Johnny,” Jelly finally said gruffly, pausing in his task. “Ya gotta keep yur hopes up.”

“Hope for what, Jelly, a miracle?“ Johnny asked dejectedly, “cause it looks like Scott's gonna need one.” Turning away from his friend, Johnny directed his next words to the walls. “If there ain't one, seems like some people think I could've…..” Johnny let the sentence trail off unable to say the words, “killed my brother”.

Jelly walked quickly around to the entrance to Barranca's stall. “Aint' nobody t'all gonna think ya could have done anythin' ta hurt Scott,” he blustered. “Only darn fool who'd think somethin' like that is that Eastern dandy.” He walked over to Johnny, pulling nervously on his suspender straps. “Sides, we're gonna find yur brother in the mornin'. Probably he's on foot somewheres after this persnickety horse of his threw ‘em.”

Johnny turned and looked up at Jelly with weary eyes, unable to voice his appreciation for the older man‘s vote of confidence. “I'm not too sure bout' us findin' Boston…..alive anyway,” he said softly, shaking his head. Johnny haltingly told Jelly about finding his brother's canteen and hat, and about the piece of wood. Then the words flowed out of him in a quiet torrent as he proceeded to explain what they had seen at the dam site: the structure that had been badly breached, the rapidly moving water, the many large rocks. Although Johnny didn't say it, they both knew that not far from the dam site the creek flowed into a deep gorge, which was why it just hadn't been possible to do much searching in the dark. The plain truth was that anyone or anything that had been caught up in the current would most likely travel quite a ways downstream.

Jelly scratched his beard, trying to find a way to ease the young man's pain. “Well, Johnny, I'll tell ya', that city friend of Scott's did say one thing worth givin' thought ta.”

“Now what's he saying?” Johnny asked angrily, his eyes narrowing at the unlikelihood of Will Hayford saying anything that was worth listening to.

“Now, don't ya' start gettin' yurself all in an uproar,” Jelly grumbled. “He said that yur brother is a darn strong swimmer. That he used ta' go swimmin' in th' ocean.”

Johnny frowned; it seemed that even after two years of living together there were plenty of things that he still didn't know about Scott. He tried to ignore the stomach clenching fear that he might never get another chance.

“I just can't see anyone bein' able to swim that Creek,” Johnny said quietly, concern evident in his voice. “And specially not if he was injured.”

Jelly just stood there, at a loss as to what he could possibly say to ease his young friend's mind. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Johnny would never do anything to hurt Scott. He remembered how they'd all been so upset that time when Scott was gonna go back to Boston with his grandfather. Johnny hadn't been willing to let his brother go without putting up a fight; it had been Johnny who'd gone to town and met the Degan brothers and then figured out Harlan Garrett's plan.

Jelly stood with his hands on his hips and watched as Johnny slowly left the barn. The horse wrangler‘s own heart was heavy with worry. He knew the chances were pretty poor that any one could survive falling into Grand Creek; he had just been trying to give Johnny a little hope.

 

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The search party left on horseback at first light, heading for the creek even before dawn broke. Once there, they planned to split up into two groups. Johnny, Chad, and young Walt were going to attempt to cross the creek at the dam, and then work their way on foot downstream on the far side, while Cipriano, Jelly, and Frank would stay on the near side. Big Jose was driving a buckboard out to the clearing and would remain there with the horses. Conceding that his chronically bad back and leg would prevent him from being able to negotiate the rough terrain along the creek, Murdoch Lancer supervised the assembling of tools and provisions and then resigned himself to remaining behind. He was sending his best men to search for Scott; but there was still work to be done, a ranch to be run.

True to his word, Sheriff Sam Jayson caught up with the group right before they arrived at the dam site. The men surveyed the area around the breached dam, assessing the best route to employ to cross the rapidly flowing water. Cipriano and Johnny conferred and then motioned young Walt to their side.

”What do you think?” Johnny asked, pointing at a large tree stump on the opposite side of the river. “If you could get the lasso over that, there seems to be enough rocks sticking out of the water to try to cross here.”

“That shouldn't be a problem, Mr. Lancer,” Walt replied, gauging the length of throw that was needed. The dark haired young ranch hand made several attempts before his noose finally snagged the stump. He put his weight against the rope to test its hold on the stump. Walt then tied his end around a large tree, making sure it was pulled as tight as possible.

Johnny volunteered to cross first, securing a second rope around his waist. Moving slowly and carefully from rock to rock, keeping one hand on the line that stretched across the creek, he finally made it to the opposite bank. He then lashed the second rope around a tree, providing two handholds for the men who would follow.

Walt crossed next, carrying a pack laden with food, water and first aid materials. Chad followed, similarly burdened with supplies. There was a moment when each man held his breath as Chad's foot slipped out from underneath him and he almost let go of the rope. He managed to hang on, and pulled himself up onto a large boulder. At Johnny's insistence, Chad waited there while his cousin worked his way back out into the stream and relieved him of a few of the items that he was carrying. Johnny turned and slowly moved back to the shore again, with Chad close behind him.

Once safely across the creek, the three young men began moving down stream. The leader was prepared with a hatchet and a machete to use if necessary, while the other two followed carrying the packs. They had agreed to rotate their roles and positions as the morning wore on. On the opposite shore, Cipriano, Jelly, Frank and the Sheriff left Jose with the animals and set off as well. Their order, which would remain essentially unchanged, placed dusky skinned Frank in the lead, with the mustached Sheriff puffing along in the rear.

As with any search, the members of the party set out with hopes of making a quick discovery, eagerly scanning the water and the rocks. After twenty minutes of level walking, Johnny, Chad and Walt began a rugged ascent to the top of the rock wall edging Grand Creek on their side, while the older men were forced to continue to fight their way through thick underbrush.

There was little conversation on either side, as the men set about their grim task. By unspoken agreement, whenever anyone spied a shape in the water, he forced himself to wait until he could ascertain that it was only a rock, a log or some reflection on the water, and not Scott Lancer.

 

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Later in the morning, taking his second turn in the lead, Johnny looked up ahead and noticed that they were approaching a bend in the water. Pushing the pace, breathing hard with the unaccustomed exertion of spending so much time traveling on foot, he allowed himself to imagine what he hoped to see around that bend. In his mind's eye, Johnny could picture his brother, seated on a rock midstream, patiently waiting for them. Elbows resting on his knees, Scott would be a bit battered and bedraggled looking, but he'd glance up at them, raise those eyebrows of his and make some mild comment like “It's good to see you, Brother.” Johnny figured he'd have to come back with some question, maybe ask Boston something about how much he'd enjoyed the ride.

Of course, when he turned the corner and the creek came into view again, there wasn't anyone in sight, perched on a rock or otherwise. There was a very nice view; Johnny could see quite a ways from atop the outcropping of rock. Off in the distance there was another bend in the water, where the creek widened and slowed considerably; there looked to be some kind of a sandbar formation as well. In the foreground, the swiftly flowing waters shone and sparkled in the bright sunlight and the dark rocks glistened. The branches of the trees around him moved with the light breeze and the birds were singing. It was a real pretty day. Which made it that much harder to face the fact that they were most likely looking for his brother's body.

Johnny clenched his jaw and pushed on. No matter what, he wasn't about to give up until he found Scott.

 

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On the opposite bank, the older men were moving at a slower pace, and had, in fact fallen further behind as they traveled around the outer edge of the bend. Now they came to a halt. Chad, trailing some distance behind Johnny and Walt, alerted his cousin.

“Hey, Johnny, looks like they found somethin' over there.”

As all three of the younger men watched, Frank, directed by Cipriano, clambered down several feet of rocks on the lower side of the gorge, not stopping until he reached the eddy below. From his vantage point, Johnny could see that Frank appeared to pick something up. It was impossible to tell what it was, although Jelly seemed to have plenty to say about it. Scaling back up the rocks once more, Frank handed the object to Cipriano; the Segundo and the horse wrangler conferred, while Sam Jayson stood by. Then the foursome moved on to a position opposite Johnny, Chad and Walt.

“-----Scott------?“ Jelly hollered up at them. The creek bed was narrower here, but the water was still very deep and the noise of the current quite loud. The older man had to repeat his shouted question several times.

“What was Scott wearing yesterday!?”

Johnny shrugged in an exaggerated manner and shook his head to indicate that he didn't know the answer. He'd left too early; he hadn't ever seen Scott. He looked askance at Walt, but the ranch hand shook his head.

“Johnny, ah saw ‘im, right afore ah headed out ta ride th' fence line,” Chad volunteered. “He was wearin' one a them tan shirts a his.”

Johnny relayed this information, shouting across to the others, concluding with a loud “Why?”

“------piece of ----“, Jelly yelled back, holding up what they assumed was a scrap of Scott's torn clothing.

Johnny quickly turned away and continued walking down stream.

Jelly carefully tucked the piece of fabric into his pocket. He was growing more and more concerned about Johnny. He'd been watching how hard Johnny had been pushing himself; he was most frequently in the lead, with Chad and even young Walt trailing a ways behind him. The kindhearted older man was almost beginning to hope that they wouldn't ever find Scott. The further they went, the worse the missing man's condition was likely to be. Jelly had seen men pulled out of rivers before and it hadn't been pretty. It might be best if Johnny never had to see his brother that way.

Evidently Cipriano was starting to think along the same lines. When the men stopped for a quick meal, the stolid foreman suggested that it was time to turn back. Obviously, it would take as long to return as it had taken to follow the creek this far, and the Segundo also pointed out the difficulty of transporting Scott such a distance, should they find him. Frank agreed, suggesting that the next step would be to go to the spot where the creek entered the larger river and work their way upstream as well as downstream from there. Both men looked expectantly at Jelly, clearly assuming that he would be the one to convey all of this to Johnny. Reluctantly, Jelly stepped over to the edge of the banking and called up to the three men on the other side.

Johnny's response to the suggestion that they head back upstream came as no surprise. “I ain't stoppin'!” Even after Jelly had explained Frank's suggestion that they go to the mouth of the creek, Johnny was still adamant. “That'll take another day!” he shouted.

Jelly agreed, though it did occur to him that Murdoch Lancer was back at the ranch; perhaps Frank's idea might also have occurred to the Boss. But Jelly wasn't about to try to shout all that up to Johnny.

Across the way, young Walt kept quiet; he wasn't about to disagree with Johnny. But Chad took a chance. “Now Johnny, we've gone an awful long ways aready, and seen no sign of Scott, ‘cept mebbe a piece of his shirt,” Chad pointed out.

Johnny was about to insist that he wasn't going to leave Scott out here another night, but then he looked at his cousin, and at young Walt. From the expressions on their faces, he knew what they were thinking, even if they wouldn't say it to him; that it probably didn't matter. Across the creek, Jelly and Cipriano apparently were of the same opinion. Feeling defeated, Johnny simply turned and began trudging back up stream.

Each member of the party seemed to share the same sense of discouragement. Since in retracing their steps, the men no longer were motivated by the anticipation of possibly discovering Scott Lancer or finding some clue as to his whereabouts, the return trip was laboriously slow and plodding.

 

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It was still very early in the morning when Will Hayford walked out of the hacienda and noticed Teresa hanging laundry. He quickly approached her.

“Good morning, Teresa. Where is everyone?” He asked with concern. “Aren't we supposed to go back to the creek and look for Scott this morning?”

Teresa paused and gave him a long look. “They left before first light,” she replied coolly, as she resumed hanging the clothes.

“I wanted to go with them!” Will stated angrily.

“Lancer takes care of its own, Mr. Hayford,” Teresa informed him, bending down to take one of Johnny's shirts out of the basket.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

Teresa kept her attention focused on Johnny's green shirt. “It means that Johnny and the others didn't want you to go. They'll find Scott and bring him home.”

“I take it that you are upset with me about the questions I was asking last night in regards to Johnny.”

“How could you accuse him?” Teresa asked angrily. “Johnny couldn't….he wouldn't do anything to hurt Scott. They're brothers.”

“Brothers who haven't really known each other very long,” Will replied quietly. “ I was just trying to figure out what happened to Scott. And although no one seems to want to admit it, the fact is that the evidence does appear to implicate Johnny.”

Teresa turned her back on him and fastened Johnny‘s green shirt to the clothesline.

“Teresa, if I'm mistaken, then of course I'll be glad to apologize . . .”

“Just like that!” she spat without looking around at him.

“Oh, I'm sure it wouldn't be enough,” he said pointedly. “Because people here seem to much more upset about my suggesting that Johnny might be capable of wrongdoing than they are about the very real possibility that Scott Lancer is . .. dead.”

Teresa whirled around to face him, eyes welled up with tears. “They'll keep looking, they'll find him,” she insisted in a grief stricken tone.

“I hope so. But if Scott has been killed, I promise you that I'll do whatever I can to ensure that the person who did it will not go unpunished.”

He slowly turned away. Teresa was surprised to see him head towards the bunkhouse. She watched for a moment as Will Hayford walked off and then turned back to finish hanging her laundry.

 

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CHAPTER 9

Once the members of the search party had returned to the dam site, Johnny, Chad and young Walt still had to work their way across the swiftly flowing creek waters. They did so with extra caution, unwilling to allow their fatigue from the extensive ground they had covered throughout the day to cause a miss-step that they knew would send them all too quickly downstream.

Johnny was the last of the three to make the crossing, and as he stepped from the final water-washed boulder onto solid ground, he looked immediately for Jose. Before setting out, Johnny had made a private request in Spanish to the vaquero. He was hopeful that Jose might have some information for him now.

Walt and Frank were occupied taking in the ropes, but the other men –Chad, Cipriano, Jelly and the Sheriff--were moving around the clearing, placing their gear in the back of the buckboard, checking on their horses. Unconcerned about the rest of the group hearing the answer, what ever it might be, Johnny posed his question to the big man out right. “So Jose, you find anything? Any sign of anyone being here, ‘sides me—and Scott?”

Jose shook his head. “I looked every where, Senor. Nothing.”

Expecting Johnny to be dismayed by this response, Jelly stepped up quickly. “Now, Johnny, you already know no one here's gonna be fool enough to think ya had anythin' ta do with it. If there weren't nobody else here, then Scott must have slipped and fallen into that there creek--“

“And he couldn't get back out?” Johnny asked with some emotion.

Jelly shook his head. “Now Johnny, look, could be we won't never know what happened, exactly . . .”

“Coulda hit his haid on one a them rocks,” Chad offered.

Johnny forced himself to choke back his angry reaction to that suggestion. He turned away and tossed his gear into the back of the buckboard. Frank and Walt silently followed suit and the rest of the group moved soberly in the direction of their respective mounts. Once he was astride Barranca, Johnny glanced over at Jose, now seated in the buckboard. Beside the driver on the bench seat was Scott's hat. An unfamiliar feeling of rage mixed with despair washed over Johnny again and he fought the urge to spur the palomino to a gallop, to just get away from that clearing.

He knew that what Jelly and Chad were saying must be true. If no one else had been here, then Scott hadn't been attacked. Which meant he had simply fallen into Grand Creek and been swept away. And a part of him wanted to shout that that just wasn't right. Scott had survived the War, he had survived a year—an entire year—in a prison camp, and he had been the only man not shot dead in that escape attempt. Hell, Scott hadn't been shot down when he'd stood in front of that damned Gatling gun. But here he'd stood on the banks of a mountain stream and fallen in ? It just wasn't right. Most of all, Johnny could not accept that only two years after his brother had entered his life, he might have been lost so quickly, all because of one careless step.

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Murdoch Lancer rode slowly back towards the hacienda. It had been a long day, one filled with lingering dread. He knew that, good news or bad, it might still be too early for Johnny and the others to have returned from the dam site. The terrain along the banks of Grand Stream was largely unexplored territory; there was no telling how far downstream the search party had been been able to go. Late morning, Murdoch had sent out a well-provisioned crew, including Walt senior, Miguel, and Cipriano's oldest son Alfonso, on the long trip to the spot where Grand Creek emptied into the Green River. Once there, the men were to break into two groups, one moving up stream, the other down, looking for some sign of Scott. With all of his most experienced, trusted, men participating in the search for his elder son, the determined rancher had taken it upon himself to visit each of the far flung work crews in turn, checking on their progress. His aching body was already paying the penalty for the day's effort.

And there was still work to be done. Once he was back at the main house, Murdoch would first and foremost need to find out if there had been any word about Scott. Then he intended to find Mr. William Hayford, Esq. and have a few well-chosen words of his own with his son's friend.

 

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One of the hands, the newest man, dark-haired young Andy, hurried over to take charge of Murdoch's horse as he wearily dismounted at the front door of the hacienda. Teresa came running out, calling his name.

“Have you heard anything?” they asked each other simultaneously.

“Johnny's not back yet?” Murdoch inquired. The girl shook her head sadly and then rested it against her guardian's chest as she entered his embrace. After a moment, Murdoch slowly pushed her to arm's length. “We have to keep our hopes up, honey.” Teresa nodded her agreement, not trusting her voice, certain that it would betray her by revealing how very little hope she had.

“You go on in the house; I need to clean up.”

Teresa reluctantly nodded again. She slowly entered the hacienda through the glass paned double doors and sank into one of the easy chairs facing that entrance, so that she would be able to see Johnny, Jelly and the others when they returned. When she heard footsteps enter the room behind her; she turned and looked over the back of the seat. It was Will Hayford, who came to a standstill to gaze out of the large window behind Murdoch Lancer's desk. She wasn't able to tell whether Scott's friend was coming in, or on his way out; he wore a tan jacket, the lower portion of the right sleeve fastened to his shoulder, but no hat. Since Teresa was partially hidden from view by the chair back, and additionally, was seated on the man's blind side, Hayford was unaware of her presence. Having successfully avoided him since their angry exchange earlier that morning, and having no wish to converse with him now, Teresa shrank further into the big chair and kept silent. She continued to remain so when she heard Murdoch Lancer come into the room a few moments later and start to pour himself a drink.

“Mr. Lancer, is there any news?” she heard Hayford ask anxiously.

“No news about Scott, no,” Murdoch responded heavily. He limped over to one of the sofas and stiffly lowered his body into it, then sipped his drink contemplatively before glancing back at his son's friend. “I understand you've been keeping yourself busy, Hayford.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” said Murdoch Lancer, his voice rising in volume, “that I hear you've been bothering the hands with a lot of questions about my sons.”

Before Will Hayford could reply, everyone in the Great Room heard it: the sound of a buckboard and numerous saddle horses. The search party had returned. From her secluded vantage point in the blue chair, Teresa peered anxiously out the glass paneled doors, willing herself to see the familiar figure of Scott Lancer seated alongside Big Jose in the front of the buckboard. But Scott wasn't there. From the somber expressions on the faces of the members of the group, she concluded that either they hadn't found him or that he was dead. In despair, the young woman buried her own face in her hands.

A few moments later she heard, someone shouting “Murdoch?!” It was Johnny's voice, calling for his father as he passed through the front door. Allowing Cipriano, Jelly and the others to tend to the horses and gear, Johnny hurried inside to report on the search. Sheriff Sam Jayson followed the young man into the Great Room; neither of them was very pleased to see that Will Hayford was there with Murdoch.

The weary rancher struggled to his feet, giving his younger son a searching look, but refraining from asking the obvious question. It was Will who spoke first, dejectedly, “You didn't find him.”

Ignoring Hayford, Johnny focused his serious blue-eyed gaze on his father's face, as he quietly outlined the day's efforts. Murdoch Lancer listened in grim silence, his own visage becoming more and more furrowed as Johnny's account continued.

“We found this, “ he said finally, holding out the scrap of beige checked fabric, “quite a ways downstream.”

Hayford stepped forward, “Is that a piece of Scott's shirt?” Barely acknowledging him, Johnny merely nodded.

“You found that, and then you turned back?”

Murdoch bristled at the words and was about to issue an angry retort, when Johnny held up his hand. Rather than a recrimination, in Hayford's tone he had clearly heard an echo of his own sense of loss and discouragement. “Yeah,” Johnny said softly, “we turned back.” Then bowing his head, thinking of the distance they'd traveled, the speed of the current, the number of rocks, he added, “I guess it ain't looking too good.” Instead of the overwhelming sense of pain that he would have anticipated feeling when he heard himself utter those words, Johnny only felt numb. He continued to feel nothing, other than a sense of detachment, as Murdoch explained about having sent Miguel and the others to Green River to search from that end of Grand Creek. As if from a distance, Johnny heard Sam Jayson ask Murdoch a few questions, about how many men had gone and who, heard Murdoch say something about how it would take that group most of today just to get to the spot where the Creek emptied into the river, so they probably wouldn't get to any real searching until morning. Then it would take them most of another day to get back. Johnny was relieved to know that someone was still out there looking for Scott; he wished he was with them.

“If I had known, I would have gone with them,” Will announced in an aggrieved tone. “I would have gone this morning . .”

“It was my decision, who to send. My ranch, my son,” Murdoch stated emphatically.

“He was my friend . . .” Will started to say in protest.

“ I stayed behind .. “

“That doesn't surprise me!”

“I stayed behind for the same reason you did—“

“Which was—?” Will addressed Murdoch in a challenging tone, glaring at him defiantly.

“No one was going to slow down the search. No one,” was Murdoch's harsh response.

“Of course not, Mr. Lancer,” Hayford said bitterly, crossing his good arm across his body and turning away from the other three men. “Forgive me. You must be so concerned about Scott.”

Murdoch Lancer stared in consternation at Will Hayford. Behind Johnny, Sam Jayson shifted his weight uncomfortably, started to try to say something optimistic about the second search party maybe finding something. Johnny stepped up. “Everybody here's worried about Scott.”

Hayford looked around sharply, biting back another sarcastic remark. “I hope so,” he said instead. “But you don't exactly have much of a history, now do you?”

Johnny's temper flared. “Now what's that supposed to mean? You got something ta say, just say it!”

“All right, I will. Apparently no one here cared anything at all about Scott until rather recently.” As he voiced this accusation, Hayford directed his one-eyed gaze straight at Murdoch Lancer, who glowered back. “At least not until you needed his help, that's when you sent for him.”

Johnny pointed angrily at Will. “Now that's between Murdoch and Scott; ain't your place to say anythin' about it.”

Will shifted his gaze to Johnny. “There's no one else to say it,” he stated tonelessly. “You don't know how it was for Scott growing up, I do.” Murdoch Lancer continued to remain silent; Johnny was concerned to see how his father's expression had slackened, but he just didn't know what to say.

Will sat down wearily. When he started speaking again, it was without looking at any of the other men in the room. “Scott was a friend to me my entire life and he was there for me when I most needed him. To think that he survived the War, and a year at Libby, that he came out here and faced that Gatling gun, and now he ends up in a river . . .”

Johnny was disconcerted to hear in Hayford's words something that so closely paralleled his own thoughts. But he was stunned to learn that Will Hayford knew about the Gatling gun. Johnny could tell from the expression on Murdoch‘s face that the older man was equally surprised. The two of them only knew about the incident because the loquacious outlaw Drago had gone on and on about it. Neither of them had ever broached the subject with Scott; Scott had never said a word about it to either of them. Somehow, realizing that his brother must have shared the story with Hayford felt akin to a slap in the face.

“What's this about a Gatling gun?” Sam Jayson asked in a puzzled tone.

Will Hayford kept talking. “If we've lost him now because of one careless step, then there is no justice in the world.” Johnny nodded woodenly in agreement; the words were again an echo of his own thoughts. Then Hayford continued, his voice growing stronger as he rose to his feet and stared directly at Johnny. “But if, as the evidence indicates, someone pushed him into that water, there will be justice, at least if I have anything to say about it.”

Johnny took one quick step towards the man, before Murdoch held out a restraining arm. “No one pushed him,” Murdoch asserted loudly.

“How do you know he wasn't attacked? What about the piece of wood with the bloodstain on it?”

Johnny fielded that question. “Ain't no way a knowin' for sure if that was blood.”

Then Murdoch jumped in to address Hayford's assumption. “You just heard Johnny say that there was no sign of anyone else having been there.”

“Oh yes, I did hear him say that.”

“Scott must have slipped on a wet rock and . . . . fallen . . . I don't like it neither, but that's what musta happened,” Johnny concluded, avoiding direct eye contact with either his father or Will Hayford. He left the room quickly as the impact of his brother's loss finally hit him.

Murdoch watched his younger son depart then lowered himself into a chair. “Sam, go ahead and pour yourself a drink,“ he said to the sheriff, who was still standing uncomfortably in the middle of the room. Then Murdoch turned his attention to the man in the eyepatch. “I'm trying very hard to remember that you are Scott's guest,” he ground out. “But you need to understand that Johnny would never have harmed his brother.”

“Are you that certain, Mr. Lancer? Because it's not likely that Scott simply slipped and fell. His footprints near the canteen were in sand, he was not standing on a ‘wet rock',” Will stated firmly. “If you don't believe me, ask the Sheriff here, he knows, I pointed it out to him before we left the clearing last night.”

Pinned by Murdoch's inquiring gaze, Sam Jayson reluctantly nodded his head.

“Scott's a strong man, Mr. Lancer. If he'd simply fallen, he would have been able to get out of the water with no harm done, except for some wet clothing.” Hayford concluded his case: “The fact that he was carried so far downstream indicates that he was injured; that he was attacked.”

“Not by Johnny,” Murdoch stated firmly.

“I do know something about his past; I've seen his temper . . .”

It was only with great effort that Murdoch Lancer was managing to restrain his own temper. “It was not Johnny. There has to be some other explanation.”

“The only other person who was at the site was Johnny,” Will replied coldly. “But I guess that if you have to choose between your sons, well, we all know which one it will be.”

“That's it!” Murdoch thundered as he rose to his feet. “I want you to pack your bags and get out….now!” Murdoch turned to Sam, anger blazing in his eyes. “Sam, you go find one of the hands, tell him to harness a buckboard. Tell him to come get Mr. Hayford and his bags and take him to town.”

“Sure, Mr. Lancer. No problem,” Jayson said worriedly, looking from one angry man to the other. Glad of the opportunity, he quickly made his escape.

Murdoch gave Will one last look of angry contempt then limped out of the room.

Instead of heading immediately to his room to pack, Will Hayford hurried out the front door to catch up with the Sheriff. “Jayson!” He called loudly. “Sheriff, wait a moment!”

Sam, en route to the stable, paused and turned as Hayford caught up with him.

“Before you leave, I'd like to talk to you.”

“Go ahead,” Sheriff Jayson said frowning, clearly not eager to converse with the young lawyer.

“It's about Johnny. How much do you know about his past?”

“Well, I guess I know about as much as I need ta know,” the round-faced Sheriff replied doubtfully. “Johnny came right on in and had a talk with me right after I signed on for this job.”

“You must see that there are indications of foul play in Scott's disappearance. I assume that you will be considering Johnny as a suspect.”

“You really think Johnny Lancer could kill his brother?” Sam asked incredulously.

“Sheriff, we both know that Scott Lancer didn't just stumble into that creek or throw himself in.”

“But . .well, I dunno, Scott and Johnny always seem ta get along so good . . . “

“Apparently, they've been having a number of disagreements lately. Look, Sheriff, Johnny had opportunity, he had motive. He admits he was there,” Will pointed out.

“Yes, but why—“

“Ownership of this ranch, for one reason. And Johnny's the primary beneficiary of Scott's will, there's your motive.” Hayford paused, giving the discomfited Sheriff a moment to try to consider all this. “I'll stop by your office in the morning. I'd better get my things packed, before Mr. Lancer comes out and demands that you arrest me for trespassing.” He headed back towards the front entrance.

Sam Jayson stood for a moment, shaking his head in bewilderment. He looked up as Andy Stovall came out of the stable. The Sheriff roused himself to approach the young ranch hand and relay Murdoch Lancer's message. Andy nodded and quickly set off to hitch up a team.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Once upstairs in his room, Will placed the larger of his two bags on the bed and began taking items out of the dresser drawers and tossing them into the suitcase in a haphazard fashion. Suddenly Teresa O'Brien pushed open the door and stormed into the room.

“How dare you!!” Teresa exclaimed, hands on her hips.

Hayford briefly paused in his task, and calmly addressed her. “Now what did I dare to do, Miss O'Brien? Are you still defending Johnny? Because it's completely unnecessary, I assure you, he has plenty of partisans it seems.”

“How dare you say those things to Murdoch! That he never cared about Scott!! You . . . you don't know how happy he was when he found out that Scott was coming to Lancer!! I do know, because I was here!”

Hayford kept his eye attention on what he was doing, responding in a tight voice. “Oh, I believe you. I'm sure that he was very happy that someone with military experience was on his way to help him save his precious ranch.”

“That's not true!”

“Isn't it? Hayford inquired, gesturing with the shirt he was holding in his hand. “Then tell me, why did he wait until Scott was twenty-four years old to contact him?? Why not years earlier? Why when he turned twenty-one, when Scott was expecting it--- hell, he was still hoping to hear from the man, even then. And I know that, Miss O'Brien, because I was ther e.”

Teresa stood in the center of the room, glaring back at him and trying to think of an answer. She had none. She had never understood what her guardian's reasons might have been for not communicating with his older son.

Will closed the now empty drawer and leaned against the dresser. “The fact is Teresa, that Murdoch Lancer never gave Scott the time of day until he needed him. And I'll never understand why Scott did it, why he came out here and risked his life to help the man.”

“But he did come! And he did stay, he stayed, because he wanted to!” Teresa insisted.

“Yes, that's all true,” Hayford acknowledged. “Apparently Scott was willing to give his father the benefit of the doubt, that there was some explanation for his years of silence. But to my knowledge, Scott was never informed as to what those reasons might be.” He paused, picking his shaving kit up off the dresser. “Now he may never know.”

At these words, Teresa turned away, a sob escaping her lips. Hayford sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, staring at the leather case in his hand, a sorrowful expression on his damaged face. When he spoke again, it seemed as much to himself as to the tearful young girl.

“Just after Scott's twenty first birthday, he actually got drunk with me. He told me that he'd always thought that if he was ever going to hear from his father, it would be on his birthday. I guess when he turned twenty one and didn't . . . I guess he gave up hope then. I remember he made a toast to Murdoch Lancer . . .Scott said he wished the man might some day have an idea of just how much he hated him.”

Her face streaked with tears, Teresa turned and looked down at Hayford. “Scott doesn't feel that way any more.”

“No, I suppose he doesn't.” Staring at the floor, Will recalled other moments from the past that he had shared with Scott. “You know, Teresa,” he began slowly, meeting the girl's eyes once more. “Scott's mother died a few days after he was born. . . and that, that made his birthday a difficult time for Mr. Garrett. Some years, he'd go all out, plan an elaborate party, other years, almost nothing. One year . . . Scott must have been eight or nine, his grandfather was planning something special. I don't remember what it was, but Scott was very excited; he was at our house and he was telling us, my brothers and I, all about it.” Will paused and sighed a bit. “Well, at one point he said, “everyone will be there.”—I think he was talking about his aunt, Mr. Garrett's sister and her husband, coming down from Maine. My older brother George, cynical adolescent that he was, he just couldn't resist making a comment. “Everyone except your father ,” he said.” Will paused again. “I can still remember that, the silence in the playroom, the look on Scott's face. My other brother John, he started to lay into George for that, but Scott interrupted him, said that maybe his father was coming. And George, he just laughed, kept asking questions about when he was coming and how did Scott know, things that Scott couldn't answer of course.” Will shook his head. “He even asked Scott how he'd recognize his father if he did show up. Scott did finally back down, said that maybe his father wasn't coming, but that he was sure he'd be sending something, a special present of some kind. Of course that never happened either. Never. And you know what I think?” he concluded forcefully, “the loss was all Murdoch Lancer's.”

Will rose and resumed filling the suitcase once more. When Teresa continued to stand there motionless, silently watching him, he addressed her once more. “Mr. Garrett should be informed that Scott is missing. You can let Mr. Lancer know that I'll send a wire to Boston as soon as I get to town.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Andy Stovall drove Will Hayford into town, and willingly stopped at the telegraph office in compliance with the Boston lawyer's request. Hayford sent several wires to Sacramento and to Boston, before checking into the local hotel..

Early the next morning, Will appeared at Sheriff Jayson's office. “Is there any word?”

“You mean about Scott? I haven't heard anything.”

“Are you ready to listen to me now, Sheriff?” Will asked as he entered the office, closing the door behind him.

Sheriff Jayson looked up from cleaning his rifle, sighing, his sandy colored brows furrowed with concern. “Well, you can go ahead, tell me what you've found out.”

Will took a seat beside the Sheriff's desk. He quietly repeated his assertions about Johnny having both opportunity and motive. The young lawyer also reminded the Sheriff about the button that had been found at the dam. “He lied, he said it had been missing when he got dressed in the morning.” Sheriff Jayson paused for a moment to consider that, then returned his attention to his gun.

“He was a gunfighter,” Will stated, in a tone that implied that this fact was the most damning piece of evidence of all. “A good one. A killer.”

Sam Jayson smiled at that. Maybe there were a few things this well-educated Easterner didn't comprehend about life out West. “Johnny was real good, you've got that right, Mr. Hayford. But you see, what you maybe don't understand is that round here, being a gunfighter ain't all that bad a thing. Most of the good ones manage to stay on the right side of the law.”

“Oh, I think I understand the ‘ethics' involved, Sheriff. A trained gunman calls out his victim and forces him to draw first. Then he can claim self-defense.”

“Yeah, well, somethin' like that,” Jayson replied uncertainly.

“Sheriff, did you know that Johnny shot Scott once?”

Sam's head jerked up and he stopped his work. “Johnny shot Scott? You've got to be mistaken.”

“No, I'm not,” Will stated firmly. “Several of the hands know about it; he shot him down in the street, right here in Morro Coyo. Of course, he claimed that he was trying to ‘save' Scott from being killed by someone else.” He paused for a moment, then pressed on. “If Scott doesn't turn up soon….you may have no choice but to charge Johnny with murder.”

“Now hold on, ah….I—I think I'll wait to start chargin' anyone until that other search party Mr. Lancer sent out comes back. They'll have to come through town on their way back to the ranch.”

Will shook his head in frustration. “Sheriff, with each day that passes the chances of finding him grow more slim.”

“Just the same, I'd feel better if I waited for ‘em to get back.” He stood up and carefully replaced the rifle in the gun rack on the wall. “In the meantime, I'm gonna head over to the hotel and get me some breakfast.” He picked up his hat and placed it on his head and waited while Will slowly stood up and walked out the door ahead of him. “The search party won't be comin' through here til tomorrow or the next day. I'll let ya know when I hear something.” With that promise, Sheriff Jayson quickly took his leave of the lawyer and headed across the street.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Two days later, the stocky Sheriff had word that some of the Lancer hands were in the saloon. Pushing his way through the swinging doors, he saw the older Walt, Miguel, Alfonso and two other men seated at a large front table. It appeared that Walt had just made a toast, as his solemn faced companions raised their glasses. All five of the men downed their whiskey. As the bottle was passed around for refills, Sheriff Jayson approached the group.

“Well, did you find anything?” Sheriff Jayson asked hopefully.

“No,” Walt said shaking his head. “No sign of him.” The senior Walt was a silver haired man with a receding hairline. “Searched up and down both sides of the river, and up into the creek too. Came across a cabin, but the man living there said he hadn't seen anyone.” He paused, reaching for his hat. “If you don't mind, Sheriff, I think we're going to head for home.” He looked around at the other members of the search party, who joined him in pushing back their chairs and preparing to leave. “We have a ways to go yet, the men are tired and I know Mr. Lancer is waiting for us.” Then, evidently feeling that some explanation was in order, he added, “It's been a hard coupla days. We wanted ta stop and raise a glass to Scott.”

The sheriff watched as the men slowly rode out of town. He had seen the disappointment on each ranch hand's face. They had hoped to be able to bring Scott Lancer home to his family…..one way or the other, but here they were returning empty handed. He didn't envy them at all.

He turned to head back to his office, intending to send one of his deputies to notify Mr. Hayford. As he looked up he saw the one armed man standing across the street, watching the departing Lancer hands. The significance of the determined look on Hayford's face was evident to even the simple-minded sheriff. Will turned and walked down the street and Sheriff Sam Jayson reluctantly followed him.

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

As it had been the previous evening, mealtime at the Lancer hacienda was once more a somber affair. Scott's empty place was a stark reminder of his disappearance, not that any of the family members had managed to forget for more than a few moments throughout the long day. The second search party, led by Walt senior and Miguel, had returned only a few hours before, to report on another fruitless effort. Johnny had immediately announced his intention to spend the next day along the banks of Grand Creek, and both Jelly and Chad had quickly volunteered to join him. Johnny was relieved that his father had not raised any objection to the plan. The younger Lancer had acceded to his father's insistence that he not spend a second sleepless night riding out to join Walt and the others, and had reluctantly agreed that heading out the next day would have only meant joining the men on their return trip. Johnny knew that the next day's search would simply be a recovering of the same ground, but he needed to do something.

Finding himself pushing his food around on his plate, Johnny looked across the table at his cousin. Nothin' ever seemed to put much of a damper on Chad's appetite, that was for sure. But Johnny hardly knew how he would have gotten through the past few days without Chad's quiet support. Johnny knew he hadn't been anything like fit company, but Chad had stuck by him, been willing to listen whenever he'd felt like talking about Scott.

Glancing around the table, Johnny noted that neither Teresa nor Murdoch seemed to have much enthusiasm for the meal that Maria had prepared. As for Maria herself, it seemed that every time he entered the kitchen, he was interrupting her murmured prayers; he knew she was praying hard for Scott. They were just about to finish the meal; Murdoch had just risen up from the table and poured himself a stiff after dinner drink, when there was a knock on the door.

“Hello, Sam,” Murdoch said as he opened the door. “Come on in.” Teresa came up to stand behind her guardian.

Sam walked in, nervously looking around. “Ah…..Murdoch…..”

“What is it?” Murdoch asked, concerned by the look of apprehension on Sam's face. “Do you have some news?”

“Ah….Mr. Lancer..” Sheriff Jayson stammered edgily.

“What is it!” Teresa cried, dreading what she was sure the lawman was about to tell them. “Did you find him? Is he…..” The young woman found she couldn't say the words.

“No, we didn't find Scott,” Sam replied, holding up the paper in his hand, looking toward the table. “I…..I ah….I'm here to …..see…Johnny.” 

Chapter 10

“Hello, Sheriff, . . is Johnny in trouble?”

Seeing Sam Jayson standing in the doorway reminded Johnny of Scott coming into the Great Room to get a couple of bottles of Murdoch's good sherry, “for medicinal purposes”. When he'd seen Johnny, Jelly and Sam talking, Scott had smiled and made the joking remark as he'd walked by. Scott hadn't known yet that Sam had come to tell them that those people, the Calhouns, the ones who had rescued him in the desert, were wanted for murder, for what had happened up in Cripple Creek.  Johnny hadn't been at all anxious to give his brother the bad news.

Now it seemed that Sam was here with worse news. Johnny sighed, pushed back his chair and strolled over to the door, Chad following behind.  "So what did ya want ta talk to me about, Sam?" he asked with studied casualness.

Sam Jayson looked around at the group clustered in the entryway.  "I'm awful sorry, folks," the mustached lawman said.  He belatedly removed his hat with one hand while extending the paper in his other hand towards Murdoch Lancer. 

Murdoch reluctantly unfolded the single sheet and started to read.  "An arrest warrant!" he exploded.  "You cannot be serious!"  Chad seemed stunned: "Who's he arrestin'?" Teresa looked stricken.  A concerned expression settled across Sam Jayson's round face, his cheeks were flushed and a few beads of perspiration were faintly visible on his forehead.  "I'm guessin' that's for me," Johnny said quietly, reaching for the paper.  "What's the charge, Sam?"

Chad looked over Johnny's shoulder.  "Attempted murder?!" he asked in surprise. “Waal,  . . . I s'pose that's better'n murder," he added lamely.

"But Scott's not dead!" Teresa cried out.  "And Johnny wouldn't ever hurt him! You know that, Sam Jayson!"  Murdoch Lancer glared at the hapless sheriff.  Sam shook his head and held up his hands. "Now, I'm just doin' my job, it was the judge that signed the charges."

"Well, who was it that asked the judge for the warrant, if it wasn't you?" Murdoch demanded angrily.

It was Johnny who supplied the answer, in the same calm, quiet voice. "Somethin' tells me that maybe it was our friend Hayford."

Sam nodded his head emphatically. Murdoch swore and stalked over to the side table where he had left the drink that he had poured just before responding to the knock on the door.  Tossing back the liquid, he slammed the glass down hard on the tabletop. "I should have kept him here," he growled. He addressed Jayson, gesturing to the sofa.  "Come on in, Sam, sit down, let's talk about this."

Sam hesitated.  Again, Johnny interceded.  "Ain't nothin' ta talk about, Murdoch, he's got that paper,” Johnny said nonchalantly.  “I'll just go with 'im, sleep in town tonight," he added, smiling reassuringly at Teresa, before looking directly at Murdoch again.  "Mebbe you can have a talk with the judge in the mornin'."

"Of course, Son.  We'll get this straightened out."

"Shore thing, Johnny," Chad chimed in.  "Don't you worry none." Johnny gave Teresa a quick hug, then grabbed his hat off of the tree by the door and headed out.  Sam started after him, only to stop when Johnny turned back to say that it would take him a few minutes to saddle up his horse.  Left standing by the door, Sam Jayson looked apologetically from Murdoch, to Teresa to Chad.  Seeing no sympathy or understanding on their faces, he hurried outside.

Sam Jayson clambered aboard his horse while the rest of the family filed out of the hacienda after him and waited silently for Johnny to emerge from the stable leading Barranca. He mounted the animal and rode up to the front of the house. Reining his palomino to a halt, Johnny looked down at his father.  "Murdoch," he said seriously, "You gotta keep lookin' for Scott."  Murdoch nodded in solemn agreement. "You know," Johnny added slowly, "I'm thinkin' that lawyer friend of his sure has been kinda anxious ta pin somethin' on me." Seems like he's pretty set on the idea that Scott didn't just have an accident. Could even be he knows somthin' the rest of us don't." 

"Well, he's the one that said that he hated Scott!' Teresa blurted out.  Every man's head turned towards the dark haired girl.  "He said that?" Murdoch demanded. "When?"

Teresa haltingly explained about the conversation she had overheard between Scott and Will Hayford in the Great Room the morning that Scott had disappeared.  "They were talking about what happened . . . after the War. Will Hayford said that Scott stopped him from drinking. Then, well, I think they both forgot that I was there.  It . . it sounded as if he was saying that he resented Scott, because he came back home in  . . .in one piece." Johnny nodded his head; it made sense to him that Hayford might be jealous of Scott. 

“Are you listening to this?” Murdoch asked Sam Jayson harshly.

Teresa thought of something else.  "He had a brother too, that died, maybe that has something to do with why he's accusing Johnny."

Chad shook his head in evident dismay. "That lawya fella's gonna be hard ta shake." Murdoch drew himself up to his full height and looked Johnny in the eyes. "Don't worry, Son.  We'll shake him.  You'll be back home tomorrow."  "Tomorrow, " he repeated, reaching up and grasping Johnny's hand.  Casting a baleful glance in Sam Jayson's direction, Murdoch bid the sheriff a caustic good night, and stalked back inside.  Teresa spoke with forced cheerfulness.  "We'll have a special dinner tomorrow night, Johnny," she assured him.  "That'll be real nice, Teresa," was all that Johnny said in reply. It meant a great deal to know that he had his family's support, though of course he couldn't tell them how grateful he was.

"You jist take care now, Johnny," Chad said as Sam and Johnny rode off into the night.  He and Teresa stood and watched even after the two men had disappeared into the darkness, listening to the fading hoof beats.  They stood for a few more moments in silence, Teresa supporting herself with her hands on the hitching rail and Chad leaning one shoulder against an archway support. When Chad snapped one of his suspenders and let out a loud sigh, Teresa cast a worried glance up at him.  "It'll be all right, you know that, don't you?  He didn't do it.  Johnny will be home tomorrow."

"Ah hope so, T'resa."

"But you don't sound as if you believe it," she said in a sad voice.

"Waal, that Yankee lawya fella shore seems ta have some things ta use ‘gainst Johnny.  Leastways he was able ta convince tha judge."

"What sort of things?" she asked, turning to face him.

With the night sounds as a backdrop, Chad slowly recounted some of what Will Hayford had said and done at the dam site that first evening that Scott had gone missing.  He also explained what Teresa already knew, that Scott and Johnny had had some kind of big disagreement the day before, that Johnny was supposed to meet Scott at the dam, that there was no sign that anyone else had been there.  It appeared that Scott had ended up in the creek, and, according to Hayford, Scott must have had a little help. 

"But Johnny would never hurt Scott!" Teresa protested.

"Ah know that," Chad responded patiently.  "Ahm jist tellin' ya what all that Hayford'll be sayin' ta try ta prove it was Johnny that killed Scott.

"I'm sorry, " she murmured.  "Go on, tell me again."

Chad listed once more what the men had seen at the dam site: Scott's horse, all of his things left untouched, his canteen on the ground, his hat a short ways downstream.  When he mentioned the club-like piece of wood with the stain on it.  Teresa's eyes welled up at the thought of Scott being hit.  "But none of that proves it was Johnny," she said impatiently.

"Waal, there was that button."

"What button?"

"Off'n Johnny's pink shirt. It was lyin' there on the ground."

"So it just fell off of Johnny's shirt while he was waiting for Scott."

"Mebbe.  But that Hayford said it coulda come off in a . . in a struggle."

"It wasn't like that! It couldn't have been!" 

"Mebbe not."

Teresa wondered about the funny look on Chad's face.  "What is it?"

"Johnny said the button was missin' from his shirt that mornin' . .  so how did it get all tha way out there, less'n he weren't tellin' the truth?"

Teresa stared at him. Pinned by her gaze, Chad Lancer shifted his weight uncomfortably. "T'resa," he ventured, "Ah know ya ain't eva gonna wanna hear this, but . . .waal, Johnny does have himself a temper and mebbe . . ."

"Chad Lancer! You can't think that Johnny would . . !  Don't you dare say anything like that, Chad!"

"Sorry," he mumbled.  He sighed and stared at the ground.  "I  .. I jist don't want ya ta git yer hopes up any more T'resa.  I know yer still thinkin' Scott's gonna turn up and now ya don't wanna believe that Johnny coulda ever done nothin' wrong. . .I don't neither, but . . .."

Teresa put her hand on Chad's arm, tears flooding her eyes and rolling down her cheeks.  "Scott will turn up," she said with conviction. "And Johnny didn't do it.  We both know that." Chad nodded, but the hopeful expression on his face, quickly clouded over.

"So how'd tha button git out there then?"

Teresa thought about that.  "Chad couldn't someone else could have put it there?"

The big man looked down at her doubtfully.  "Ya mean laike mebbe that Hayford fella?  Teresa nodded emphatically.  "Now T'resa, how would he eva get ahold of a button off'n Johnny's shirt?  And, well, if'n he did, he'd kinda hafta know that Johnny'd be wearin' that same one, right?"

Teresa pondered those questions for a long moment.  "Johnny's always running out of clean clothes,” she said, thinking aloud. "There have been lots of times that he has only had one clean shirt to wear.  And a lot of people have probably heard me scolding him for not putting his things in the laundry."

"Yeah, I rememba that nice new shirt ya made 'im, tha red one that he spoilt workin' in it, cause he didn't have no other ones ta wear." 

"So, someone could have taken a button off of Johnny's shirt and put it there."

"I s'pose,” Chad said doubtfully. “Still, shore seems laike a lot of trouble for someone ta go to.”

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Very late the next morning, Murdoch Lancer arrived at Sheriff Jayson's office. Frustrated from his encounter with Judge Roy Hill, the tall rancher greeted Sam Jayson curtly, and without another word removed his gun belt, dropped it on the desk and proceeded through the door to the back part of the building that contained the jail cells. Johnny was stretched out on the cot with his hands behind his head when his father entered; he quickly got to his feet, grasping the cold bars with both hands. From Murdoch's expression, it was pretty obvious to Johnny that he wasn't going home anytime soon. Instead of interrogating the older man on his visit to the judge, Johnny posed another question, one that was of more immediate concern. “Is anyone still out there lookin' for Scott?” he asked.

“Yes,” Murdoch responded, sighing heavily, “Jelly and Chad headed out again this morning. But Son, I'm afraid it's no use.” Johnny looked down at the floor; each of them silently contemplating that statement for a long moment. When Johnny finally spoke, it was with a quiet intensity. “You still gotta find ‘im, Murdoch, bring ‘im home. Can't just leave ‘im out there.” Murdoch nodded in grave assent, but Johnny, still staring at the floor, didn't see. When his son finally looked up at him, Murdoch repeated his assurance. “Johnny, we'll keep looking . . . .”

Sighing, Johnny folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the black iron bars. “So, I guess I ain't gettin' outta here anytime soon. . . .”

Murdoch wearily shook his head. “I spoke with Judge Hill. He won't cancel the warrant.”

“So now what?”

Reluctantly, with a lingering note of disbelief in his voice, Murdoch explained that since a process had been set in motion that could very well mean a trial, he had sent a wire to Jarrod Barkley. Johnny nodded his acceptance. He didn't have that high an opinion of lawyers in general, but he knew that Murdoch had been friends with the Barkleys for a very long time and that Jarrod was a good man.

“Where's Hayford?”

“Gone back to Sacramento, evidently, “ Murdoch replied in disgust. “And, I understand that he sent some wires of his own ---including one to Scott's grandfather in Boston.”

 

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The next several days were a flurry of activity once it became evident that there would in fact be a trial in Sacramento. The Lancer ranch, which has been silently reeling from the impact of Scott Lancer's sudden disappearance, now became a beehive of rumor and speculation. The lingering question of Scott's fate, the suppositions about Johnny's gun fighting past and the accusations leveled against him were all topics of conversation amongst the men. Conjecture as to what had happened was rife as well, but the inevitable conclusion was that if Scott Lancer had not yet been found, then he must surely be dead.

This was certainly Murdoch Lancer's conviction as well. The veteran rancher had sadly identified a quiet spot on one of the overlooks and quietly instructed his Segundo that should his older son's body be recovered, it was to be buried there rather than in the small ranch cemetery. Instructing Cipriano as to what should be done, Murdoch added, “It isn't necessary to send word to Sacramento.” Initially puzzled, Sanchez nodded in understanding as comprehension dawned and he recognized the impact that such news might have upon the trial. “There will be time to plan a memorial service after we all get back from Sacramento,” Murdoch concluded despondently, thinking aloud.

The sympathetic expression on Cipriano's face clouded over; he was still very angry that he would not be making the trip to the capital to testify in “Juanito's” behalf. Murdoch droned on, giving his foreman detailed instructions concerning what should take place at the ranch during the family's absence, an absence that might prove to be quite lengthy.

Sheriff Sam Jayson had already left for Sacramento, with Johnny in custody. The others from Lancer would be departing early the next morning. Murdoch had also received a wire from one Wade Garrett, writing on behalf of Scott's grandfather. Apparently, the Boston businessmen had been in the midwest when Will Hayford's communication had been forwarded to them there and the Garretts were even now en route to Sacramento as well. The wire addressed to Murdoch announcing this had concluded with a blunt “answers expected.”

Murdoch wanted answers as well. It was an unbelievable situation, Johnny on trial for killing Scott. Murdoch had had his own disagreements and tensions with each of his sons, but he had long been envious of the brothers' seemingly instant rapport with each other. After the initial difficult introduction and period of adjustment, the boys had gotten along very well, or so Murdoch had believed. Upon reflection, he now had to admit that their seeming closeness had not been a constant; there had of course been tensions, arguments and competition between the two, in addition to the friendly banter and other signs of genuine mutual affection that he had witnessed. But there had been nothing between his sons that could have prompted this nightmare of a murder charge, of that Murdoch Lancer was certain. No matter whether the charge was murder or attempted murder, both were hanging offenses. Jarrod Barkley had expressed a reluctance to take on the case, citing his lack of extensive trial experience in defending against such serious charges. The Barkley family's long association with Murdoch Lancer and Jarrod's recent friendship with both Scott and Johnny had prompted the Stockton attorney to contact one of the pre-eminent defense lawyers in the state, his mentor, Nicholas Reed. Murdoch had yet to meet Reed, although he had, of course, heard of the man. To everyone's relief, once he had understood that Jarrod would still sit as co-counsel, Johnny had promised to co-operate fully with the big city attorney.

 

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Nicholas Reed welcomed Murdoch, Johnny and Jarrod once more to his well-appointed office. Reed was a patrician man of average height, expensively dressed and well-coiffed, with an elegant head of prematurely white hair. An Easterner and a Yale man, he thought very highly of Jarrod Barkley and had completely rearranged his schedule, distributing casework amongst his associates, in order to comply with his young friend's request that he take on the Lancer case. Reed, quite frankly, had been intrigued by the brief Lancer family history that Jarrod had provided: the story of the father and his adult sons who had become acquainted only two years previously. Equally interesting were the differences between the two young men themselves. Although Jarrod had spoken highly of both of the brothers and had assured Reed that he would be representing an innocent man in Johnny Lancer, it had been evident to his mentor that young Barkley had had a stronger affinity for the elder son, Scott, and was greatly saddened by his friend's demise. But it was Johnny Madrid Lancer, and his career as a notorious gunfighter, which Reed found utterly fascinating—and challenging. How best to defend such a man?

At each of their meetings, Reed was polite and professional, clearly eager to forgo pleasantries and focus upon gathering information and plotting trial strategy. His plan, as he had presented it to Johnny, Murdoch and Jarrod, was to confront the issue of Johnny's past as Madrid, and to openly acknowledge the recent disagreements between the two brothers. “Not in detail, you understand, but to address these facts in the hopes of decreasing their effectiveness as a weapon to be used by the prosecution.”

Murdoch Lancer was apprehensive about references being made to his younger son's past, but Johnny was agreeable. “I got nothin' to hide. My past is my past, I ain't gonna lie about it.” He looked the white haired lawyer directly in the eyes. “There's things I've done . . things I ain't proud of. But I did not kill my brother.”

Reed nodded too quickly, somewhat dismissively. Most defendants proclaimed their innocence; some, he knew, were even telling the truth. Reed was a firm believer in the concept of “burden of proof”, innocent or guilty, every accused man deserved a vigorous defense. He said as much now: “That isn't quite the essential issue, Johnny. No matter if you are innocent or guilty, you still deserve---“

His posture in the chair remained relaxed, but Johnny's blues eyes glittered harshly as he interrupted the self-assured man behind the large desk. “It matters,” he said forcefully. “I didn't kill Scott.”

Reed smiled. Even after all these years, the dedicated defense attorney still greatly preferred to do battle for those he truly believed in, and he found that he believed in this young man. “Then shall we go over what happened one more tim?” he suggested. “The jury will be impaneled tomorrow, the trial begins the day after. I have a list of the prosecution's witnesses, we need to talk about what we think they are likely to say . . .”

 

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The day of the trial dawned and Johnny Lancer was dressed in the new dark jacket and matching pair of pants that Teresa had picked out for him. He was seated at one end of the defense table next to Jarrod Barkley, with Nicholas Reed at the opposite end. He didn't look around, but he knew that his family was seated behind the rail and that most of the other people in the courtroom were strangers.

The courtroom was called to order and Judge Timothy Blackwell, a large, imposing man, entered the chamber. Both Reed and Barkley had assured the Lancers that the judge had a reputation for fairness and for running his orderly courtroom with a great deal of efficiency. True to form, the Judge had barely taken his seat when he motioned for the prosecutor to make his opening statement.

Johnny steeled himself as he watched Marcus L. Webster, the tall, lanky prosecutor, slowly and deliberately approach the jury box. Jarrod had tried to prepare him for the day's events, which would feature the opening remarks from each of the opposing attorneys. Whenever Johnny allowed himself to think about Scott's absence, the pain was still sharp and raw; hearing himself characterized as his brother's would be killer was going to be like rubbing a salt block into that wound.

The panel of twelve jurors, most of them middle-aged and moderately well-dressed, many of them associated with businesses in the city, regarded Webster attentively as he began to speak. Marcus Webster was a middle-aged man in glasses, with a mustache and receding dark hair. Tall and angular, there was an austere, ministerial aspect to his appearance that coincided with his reputation for having an evangelical zeal in seeking harsh punishment for evildoers. There were those in Sacramento who regarded Marcus Webster as a champion of justice, an avenging angel seeking retribution for the victims of heinous crimes, a reputation that the dedicated prosecutor cherished.

Clearly, concisely, Webster outlined for the court the case against one Johnny Madrid Lancer. He eloquently drew the contrast between the two brothers, depicting Johnny, “the defendant here present before you” as a dark haired, hot tempered young gunslinger, the infamous Johnny Madrid, widely known along the uncivilized Mexican border region, renowned for his deadly prowess. On the other hand, blonde haired, blue-eyed Scott Lancer was described in some detail as a mild mannered and well educated Easterner, a concerned and caring civic minded individual, a Union army veteran and a decorated military hero. Webster sorrowfully reminded the members of the jury that the crime of fratricide, brother killing brother, as unfortunately not a new occurrence in the history of mankind, drawing comparisons between the Lancer brothers and the Old Testament siblings, Cain and Abel. Johnny glanced sideways at Jarrod, who was jotting notes on the sheet of paper before him. Jarrod had written those names in large letters and then circled them in recognition of the accuracy of Nicholas Reed's prediction. Beyond Jarrod, Johnny could see Reed, seated with his arms crossed and his head bowed, listening intently to Webster's every word. A small smile flitted across the white haired lawyer's face in response to his opponent's anticipated Biblical reference.

So Reed was good, and Johnny took some comfort in that. But there was no question that Webster knew his business pretty well too. The prosecutor described the clearing near the dam site as if he'd been there himself; from the looks on their faces, he was able to make the men on the jury see it too. The spare lawyer movingly described Scott in this idyllic setting, crouched and dipping his canteen in the water, then brutally struck from behind and plunging to his death. Behind him, Johnny heard Teresa attempt to stifle a small sob. He kept his own gaze on the table before him, as Webster gestured in his direction, identifying Johnny Madrid Lancer as the man that Scott Lancer had expected to meet on the banks of Grand Creek that day, the day that “the unsuspecting Scott Lancer was so cruelly betrayed by his own brother.” Webster carefully explained to the enthralled jurors that the defendant had both motive and opportunity to commit his horrible crime and assured them that the prosecution would present evidence to clearly demonstrate his guilt.

When his turn came, Nicholas Reed proceeded with his plan. He looked the jurymen in the eyes and announced that “Yes, the defendant, Johnny Lancer, now a successful businessman, a rancher, was, in his past life, a skilled gunfighter. Yes, the Lancer brothers have only known each other for two years. Yes, on the surface, the two brothers are very different from each other, and yes, like all brothers, they have sometimes disagreed. But did Johnny Lancer kill or attempt to kill his brother? No, he did not.”

“Is Scott Lancer dead? Let me remind you that no body has yet been found . . . There is, sadly, admittedly, some indication that Scott Lancer may have fallen into the rapid flowing waters of the mountain stream so eloquently described by my colleague Mr. Webster. A tragic accident, which Scott Lancer is unlikely to have survived. He may have slipped, struck his head---- we may never know. The prosecution will try to persuade you that Scott Lancer was attacked; they will present circumstantial evidence to that effect. He may well have been struck from behind and pushed into those waters; again,----- we may never know. What we do know , is that Johnny Lancer would not, could not perpetrate such an act against his own brother.”

Reed paced back and forth in front of the jury box. “The prosecutor would like you to view this alleged crime as a modern day Cain and Abel story, casting Johnny Lancer here as Cain, with Scott Lancer in the role of Abel.” He stopped still in front of the jury. “The defense freely, eagerly, stipulates to fact of Scott Lancer's sterling character. His loss is deeply felt.” Reed paused for a moment, turning to indicate Johnny, who sat with his eyes lowered, and the visibly sad faces of the family seated behind him. Facing the jury once more, he continued with his remarks. “But the fact that Scott Lancer was a good man does not by default, make his brother an evil one. It cannot. For we will show you that Scott Lancer, even after only a relatively brief acquaintance, held his younger brother in high regard; Scott Lancer accepted Johnny “Madrid” Lancer as his brother, past and all.”

“Ain't that the truth,” Johnny thought to himself, the feeling of intense loss threatening to overwhelm him. He continued to sit with his head bowed, staring hard at the table as Reed described his own good qualities, “characteristics which are recognized by all those who know him”, including his late brother. Inwardly wincing at the use of the term “late” to describe Scott, Johnny listened to his attorney talking about a young man who had demonstrated his own personal sense of honor, and who was loyal, caring and kind; Johnny wondered whether the members of the jury would ever believe that he was that young man.

Reed concluded his remarks. “One son has been cruelly taken from this newly created family. Do not, gentlemen of the jury, allow the prosecution, on the basis of flimsy evidence and hasty, biased accusations, persuade you to deprive them of the second son as well.”

 

GO TO PART TWO

 

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